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.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


That's the ISBN number, just issued, for Tracking the Beast, No. 5 in the Steve Martinez series.

That may not be earthshaking news, but it is evidence that things are progressing normally at the publisher, Five Star Mysteries. December is still the pub date.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Steve Martinez No. 6 off to the publisher

Yesterday I emailed off to my agent the electronic manuscript of the sixth novel in the Steve Martinez series, The Riddle of Billy Gibbs.

It begins with the discovery of a black veteran hanging from a tree in the forest, the victim of an apparent hate crime.

Yes, the novel treats the subject of racism, and it also has a subtext about chicanery in the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. There is also a terrible winter and a violent summer storm, a church soup supper and a citizen complaint involving chocolate chip cookies. And more.

Send your best good thoughts that the publisher will like the novel and accept it for publication some time in 2016.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Copyedited MS. under my belt

Today the copyedited manuscript of Tracking the Beast arrived in the morning email. Four hours later I'd looked over the edits, commented on a few of them, and returned the file to Five Star Mysteries.

Seems that I got off easy. There were no snarky comments from the editor about spellings, sentences, or plots. Mostly the fixes had to do with conformation to house style. Five Star believes in the serial, or Oxford, comma. As a longtime newspaper copy editor I'm used to the other kind. Also, Five Star lower cases the names of the military services, while as the son of a Navy officer and the father of one, I habitually upper-case them without thinking.

I did get caught in one minor mistake and caught the editor in one minor mistake, so that was a wash.

Now to wait for page proofs and the jacket art, and my job will be done . . . until publication day in December, when I'll have to go out and promote the thing.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Updating "Zephyr"

In a few weeks the Lady Friend and I will embark on a ten-day trip to the West Coast aboard Amtrak's California Zephyr, subject of my 1994 book Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America, updated as an e-book in 2012.

The journey is in the service of still another update to see what has happened to the train and its environs in the last three years. I lost exact count some years ago, but this seems to be about the 25th or 26th trip I've taken on that train. I have yet to grow weary of the sameness.

This time I think that instead of adding still another epilogue to the book, I'll write a complete trip report in travel-writer fashion, and append that to the end.

We'll be staying overnight in Denver, where a new hotel has opened inside the grand old Denver Union Station, and in Glenwood Springs, where we will once again Take the Waters in the Hot Springs pool. We'll also stay a night in Emeryville before returning on the eastbound Zephyr.

It ought to be a nice break in the routine of mystery writing.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


Some days are better than others, especially when an email praising an old book—something that does not often happen—arrives. Yesterday the following came in from Oklahoma City:

"This brief note brings you a word of thanks for sharing your cross country flying adventure in Flight of the Gin Fizz.

"I first read the book in 1999 when as a new pilot I was grounded throughout a harsh winter in the upper mid-west. Again the following year, I borrowed it once more from the local library and soothed my winter-imprisoned aviation soul.  This past summer, I came across a copy being sold by one of the aviation booksellers at Oshkosh.  I immediately snatched it up, and have again traveled with you in your beautiful C-150.

"Thank you, Henry, for documenting the great joy that comes only from flying, and for sharing your wonderful journey. May one ask, do you still have the Gin Fizz?

"Here's wishing you tailwinds!

"With appreciation,

"Scott Dorsey"

My Cessna 150, named Gin Fizz in honor of Cal Rodgers' Vin Fiz, the first airplane to fly across the United States in 1911, was sold in 2009 after I had a heart attack, but there's still a photograph of her on my office wall.