Monday, June 1, 2015

December 16

That's the official pub date for Tracking the Beast, the fifth Steve Martinez novel. And that means I'll have to arrange library talks and signings in January and thereafter: two or so down in the Chicago area, half a dozen in Upper Michigan and northern Wisconsin. Writing a book is only half the task; the rest is getting out there and selling it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Going to the dogs

It has been three years since Hogan, our somewhat eccentric half-Lab, half-pitbull, departed this life. Only recently have I mustered the courage to get another dog. Losing Hogan had unmanned me, and I just didn’t want to go through that heartache again.

But you can't take the dog out of dog people. Other folks’ pooches have always been a delight, and often I’ve wished I could take one home. In January I decided it was finally time, but thought perhaps that in the 75th year of my life a new dog ought to be useful as well as companionable. I am deaf, and maybe a dog trained to alert me to environmental sound—the doorbell, the landline phone, my cell phone, the smoke and CO detectors, the oven timer, the calling of my name, and so on—would be a sensible idea. 

Hearing dogs alert their people by bumping their hands (or, if they are small dogs, jumping up on them) and leading them to the source of the sound.

Such a dog would become a companion closer than any other dog we’ve had. It would sleep on the bed and lie at my feet all day long, and because it is a certified service dog would go everywhere with me—the library, restaurants, aboard trains and planes, to the movies and even swimming pools (although it would have to stay out of the water). We would be joined at the hip.

Debby could leave me alone to my devices without having to worry that advancing age was adding to my isolation. Service dogs with brightly colored working vests always attract friendly attention and help break down unseen barriers between the the able-bodied and people with disabilities.

And so I started the search, applying to several providers of hearing service dogs. One highly regarded outfit sounded very good, but it trains only Labs and golden retrievers that it has bred for the purpose. We have been Lab lovers, but in our mid-seventies big dogs are less practical, especially since we have moved from house to condo. Another source was also promising, but I heard of several failures among dogs it had trained. Finally I settled on an Oregon-based group forthrightly called Dogs for the Deaf. (Their web site is

Dogs for the Deaf seeks out and rescues smart, lively and highly trainable young dogs, usually terrier sized, at animal shelters and works with them on obedience and service tasks for approximately six months before the ones who make the cut are ready to be placed with their new people. (The ones who don’t are put up for local adoption; they never go back to the shelters.) 

Meanwhile, Dogs for the Deaf also does due diligence with prospective clients, reviewing complete medical records as well as sending volunteers to interview applicants, judge their personalities and capacities, and scope out their living arrangements. The idea is to train a dog to match a particular client’s needs as closely as possible.

Just a few days ago Dogs for the Deaf informed me that at last I had been accepted into the program, and as soon as they receive my good-faith check, the official waiting period would begin. That can take up to a year before a trainer finally appears at my door, dog in tow. The trainer would stay in town for up to five days making sure dog and new client bonded, and that I myself was taught not only to provide for the dog but also keep its skills sharp.

This will be an adventure.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Steve Martinez in large print

Now available on and its allied booksellers (and soon to be available on are the first three volumes of the Steve Martinez series, done in large print for visually challenged readers.

They're print-on-demand paperbacks produced with a 17 point Century Schoolbook font and published by

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Scene of the crime

This is a covered hopper car. Covered hoppers provide the scenes of the crime in the next Steve Martinez novel, Tracking the Beast, coming in December.

Now why would covered hopper cars be useful to a serial killer? You'll just have to wait to find out.

Meanwhile, I am buying that hopper car above to use in library and bookstore presentations. It's a G scale model, about two feet long. That ought to be useful for an author with murder on his mind.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Print-on-demand, continued

The experience using CreateSpace,'s online self-publishing software for paperback books, to produce an omnibus version of my first three Steve Martinez novels was so satisfactory that I decided to give it a go again with Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America, my 1994 nonfiction book.

Month in and month out, Zephyr is the best performing of all my ebooks so far as sales are concerned. It stands to reason that a print-on-demand paperback edition might do well enough at the cash register to be worth all the painstaking and sweaty work getting it ready.

And so, after another transcontinental trip on that train earlier this month, I updated the 2012 ebook edition with some new facts, new observations and new photographs. The Kindle and Nook ebook versions are now online, and the print-on-demand paperback will go live on and its allied outlets within a few days.

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Yesterday a print-on-demand paperback of Porcupine County, the omnibus edition that gathers in one volume the first three Steve Martinez novels, went on sale on for $25.95 list. That's steep, but Amazon's POD entity, CreateSpace, insists on setting mandatory prices according to the number of pages in a book—and Porcupine County checks in at a hefty 768 pages.

This is a bit of an experiment to see how do-it-yourself print-on-demand works. and its allied outlets don't have to carry a large number of copies in inventory—nor does the author if he wants to hand-sell the book— but can just print new ones to order. That saves warehouse space and nobody gets caught with a lot of unsold inventory.

I decided to go with a cover different from the ebook version simply because it was easier to use CreateSpace's electronic templates rather than to puzzle out how to transfer the ebook cover design.

At 2.8 pounds the finished paperback seems awfully thick and heavy. After a while I'll redo the text with 10 point Book Antiqua rather than the present 12 points in the same font. That will likely shrink those 768 pages down to fewer than 600 and will also result in a sharp drop in poundage and list price, probably to $22.95.

Putting the book together was a lot of sweaty busywork. I downloaded a 6 x 9 template from CreateSpace and poured the electronic manuscript into it, then tweaked it for upload. The problem here is that the template doesn't quite forecast accurately how CreateSpace will actually format the text once it's uploaded. The book ended up at ten pages longer than the template said it would. Getting it publishable required about six or seven tweaks with the template, then the same number of re-uploads.

I kept trying to get rid of "widows"—those lonely one-word lines at the top of a page—but this was like trying to trap puppies under a rug. Zapping one widow tended to create another on a following page. There is probably an efficient way to de-widow one's electronic text, but I haven't found it yet. And so Porcupine County still contains a few widows.

Otherwise the POD paperback is of surprisingly high quality, with a handsome cover and sharp print in an attractive font on good paper.

Over-all, the experience with CreateSpace wasn't bad at all. It's not only for amateur self-publishing. When a professional author has won the rights back from his original publisher for out-of-print volumes, as I did, he can re-publish the books himself in a new form and extend their earnings.

The royalties from the POD version of Porcupine County, as with those of the ebook version, will all go to the Friends of the Porkies, the civilian auxiliary of the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in upper Michigan.

Monday, March 2, 2015


On the other day, I published a new e-book, Porcupine County. Or, rather, three old books in a bespoke new suit. Porcupine County packs the first three Steve Martinez mysteries in one handy e-volume—Season's Revenge, A Venture into Murder, and Cache of Corpses.

Price $9.99. That's a $2 savings off the combined $3.99 for each e-novel.

The purpose is not to squeeze more royalties out of these old books, but to honor the Friends of the Porkies, the nonprofit organization that benefits the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in upper Michigan. (Of course the Porkies are called the Wolverine Mountains in the novels.)

The Friends do good things. They keep the roadsides in the park absolutely immaculate, and police trash on the trails as well. They run a fine Folk School that teaches people folk arts. They sponsor an artist-in-residence program for visiting writers, artists and artisans, putting them up for as many as two weeks in a cabin deep in the woods. Late every August The Friends sponsor the highly successful Porcupine Mountains Music Festival, which draws thousands of people from all over the Midwest. They also provide volunteers for many other activities in the Porkies.

Every nickel from the sales of Porcupine County will go to the Friends. It's tax deductible, of course.

The book is also available in Nook form.