Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's done. For now.

After considerable flatulating about yesterday with Photoshop Elements and three years' worth of forest and bird photographs, I came up with this banner for my books web site.

The previous portrait of a red-tailed hawk stayed. I tried various other birds of prey, including a great horned owl and even a turkey vulture, but nothing suggested the nobly hawkish gaze of a Lakota lawman as well as that red-tail.

Many other web sites feature a large portrait of the mystery writer on the banner. This is fine so long as the writer is impossibly handsome or an out-and-out knockout, but not if he or she is grizzled, bald, jowly, and dumpy. That hawk is far more photogenic than I am.

Briefly a gun and badge appeared on the banner, but the result just looked too cluttered.

Solution: Simplify, simplify, simplify. That hawk, a forest background to suggest Sheriff Steve Martinez's wilderness jurisdiction, and the words "THE MYSTERY NOVELS OF . . ." rather than "THE BOOKS OF . . ." to sharpen the marketing focus.

I tried a number of fonts for the text, but kept coming back to Charlemagne. Love those bold serifs.

More changes may be afoot, but this banner will do for now.

I also changed the sub-banners on the linked pages from a sunset to a forest-and-hawk. This added a bit of unity to the site.

And that's my story. What's yours?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Something like this, maybe . . .

The illustration above is the latest idea for a new banner for, the web site devoted to my books. It's by no means the final version, but it's getting there.

A number of folks suggested the site's focus be sharpenened -- on the mystery novels, not my books in general. And so the language in the banner (see the blog entry for September 27 below) was changed.

More than one proposed the addition of mystery-novel symbols, such as a badge and gun. Done. (My series hero, Sheriff Steve Martinez, carries a retro weapon, an old-fashioned but highly reliable revolver.)

The red-tailed hawk portrait perhaps should give way to a fresher woodsy photograph for a background, but I haven't found the right one yet. More rummaging in the archives will be required.

Stay tuned, and please keep on with the suggestions. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Now that the novels are all e-booked and half the storm shutters have gone up on the Writer's Lair before we start south this weekend, I'm taking a mop, bucket and paintpot to the old web site. Until a few days ago it hadn't been updated for more than a year, and the cobwebs and dust-bunnies are showing.

Maybe all it needs is a fresh banner, the home-page photograph that bears the name of the site. Here's the present one (click on it, and all the others, for larger versions):

That red-tailed hawk portrait is one of my favorite bird shots, but after a year it's too much the same old same old. Maybe one of the summer's better merganser photos:

On the other hand, maybe those piggybacking babies are too cuddly-cozy for a Web site that features murder mysteries. Perhaps a young bald eagle would be more macho:

Briefly last year there was an eagle banner, but the photograph made the home page a little too deep to be viewed without scrolling on most monitors:

For a while I used a couple of grizzly bear shots taken during an Alaskan trip, but eventually they seemed not quite appropriate for the Web site of a mystery author who writes about a region that harbors only black bears:

That Alaskan trip also yielded a picturesque shot of a White Pass & Yukon train entering a tunnel, but probably the photo would work better as the herald of my rail travel blog:

Same, perhaps, with this shot of the West Texas desert taken from the last car of Amtrak's Sunset Limited:

There's a soft spot in my heart for Lake Superior sunrises and sunsets, but are they really effective illustrations for a mystery author's web site?

Last year I simply loved Arches and Canyonlands National Parks for their breathtaking scenery and tried a couple of banners, but let's face it, Utah just doesn't convey the green forest-wilderness ambience of Upper Michigan, where my sheriff hero works:

I'd appreciate your thoughts. Which of these banners, in your opinion, would be the most effective for an Upper Michigan mystery writer's home page?

Monday, September 26, 2011

'Season's Revenge' online at last

Season's Revenge, the 2003 novel that was the first in my Steve Martinez mystery series, has finally joined Cache of Corpses and A Venture into Murder on Kindles and Nooks.

Pretty soon it'll be available along with the others in the series, for iPads, iPhones, iPod Touches, Sony Readers and other e-book appliances, as soon as Smashwords (the big e-book clearinghouse and publisher) gets it out to the vendors.

By the way, Char Searl, my old colleague on the Chicago Sun-Times who, among other things, designed layouts and provided art for the book section I edited, did the illustration of the slavering bear on the cover.

Now I can get away from the computer and do something else for a change -- such as button up the Writer's Lair for the winter. The leaves have changed, the wind is blowing and the surf's up on Lake Superior.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hogan 1999-2011

Hogan on the beach at the Writer's Lair, summer 2011

I don't believe in "dog heaven" or any kind of afterlife, but I do believe in human memory, and I think Hogan will live on as long my mystery novels have readers. He first appeared in Cache of Corpses as Tommy Standing Bear's companion:

Hogan “had the graceful, alert conformation of a Lab and from a distance could be mistaken for a purebred. But the vet said his deep-set teeth, broad chest, narrow waist, slim tail, basketball head and steam-shovel chops suggested pit bull somewhere in his ancestry and probably not far back, either. . .

“At home, boy and dog immediately became inseparable. Hogan lay under the desk while Tommy worked, under the table while Tommy ate, and by his bed while Tommy slept. Out on the beach, they played for hours, chasing each other up and down in great explosions of sand. Despite his Labrador genes Hogan showed absolutely no interest in swimming and just gazed at Tommy in puzzlement when he threw a stick for the dog to fetch. Instead, Hogan displayed the pit bull’s propensity for dashing about in happy abandon, butt tucked underneath, eyes rolling, ears flying. . . .

"He had both the Lab’s sweet, clumsy nature and the pittie’s unbridled, tail-wagging exuberance—a singular and sometimes dangerous combination for delicate objects on the coffee table, especially since he quickly filled out, soon reaching a solid eighty-five pounds of muscle and bone. When asked if he wanted to go for a walk or to be fed, Hogan would suddenly burst into an excited little dance Ginny called 'the pit bull two-step,' his claws drumming an Irish dancer’s rat-tat-tat on the wooden floor.”

He was a hell of a dog, and I believe he knew it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Now 'Venture' is live as an e-book

Today the second novel in my Porcupine County mystery series, A Venture into Murder, went online in both Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook editions. The price: $2.99.

Along with the third, Cache of Corpses, Venture is also awaiting distribution by Smashwords, the online publisher that sends e-books out to a variety of vendors, including Apple's iBooks and Sony's eReader.

It has required a lot of sweaty labor at the keyboard, but this endeavor has taught me that the electronic manuscripts of my books were nowhere as pristinely formatted as I had thought they were.

Now to wait for the revenue stream--er, trickle--to begin.

Meanwhile, we (my sainted volunteer proofreaders and I) are working on the first in the series, Season's Revenge. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

‘Cache’ finally goes live as an e-book

The reason I’ve been so silent lately is a nose-to-the-grindstone devotion to preparing my mystery novels for e-book publication—and getting them published in’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook formats.

The $2.99 Kindle version of Cache of Corpses went online last night, and the Nook edition (same price) went live today.

It took a while to get ’er done. Self-publishing old printed books as e-books is not rocket science but requires time-consuming attention to detail.

An unedited electronic manuscript for Cache—the one submitted to Forge Books away back in 2006—existed, but the hardcover publisher's edits had to be applied to it, a few mistakes rectified, and the end result carefully proofread.

Fortunately a couple of loyal readers volunteered to proofread the cleaned-up e-version, and they found quite a few typos as well as a couple of infelicities the publisher's copy editors missed. To protect their privacy I will not name these volunteers, but hey, I’m grateful. You know who you are.

Because Forge did not give me the rights to the jacket art when it returned author's rights to me, I had to come up with a new cover—and my friend Tina Davidson, a gifted artist, was an immense help here.

The next step was to convert the e-manuscript from Microsoft Word to Kindle and Nook formats. First I saved the manuscript (with maps) as a HTML file, then ran that file through a keen (and free!) program called Calibre, which quickly coughed out pristine versions in Kindle’s .mobi format and Nook’s ePub format.

Publishing the result (and the cover) on Kindle Direct Publishing and Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! wasn't difficult, but I wish I’d gone through all the steps (except for actual publication) for practice before actually posting the book. That would have saved a lot of backing and filling, looking up bank routing numbers and old review quotes to post on the book's web pages. I also had to redo the cover—both Amazon and Barnes & Noble want rather large versions for their web store pages, though the original was fine for the actual e-books.

The most difficult decision was whether to apply Digital Rights Management encryption to the book to prevent freebie hounds from pirating it. After talking with a few other mystery writers, I decided against DRM. In their experience, applying DRM irritates readers who might want to share good reads with a few friends. Only pathological tightwads, they said, would avoid paying the $2.99 pittance. If they’re wrong I can always go back and check the DRM box.

Now the hard part begins: getting the word out that the book’s available. Social media will help, but it’s going to require a lot of electronic shoe leather to reach mystery fans.

And, oh yes, there's Season’s Revenge and A Venture into Murder to get online. Very soon now.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Bell 407 N723PH landing at Ontonagon, Michigan, Sept. 2, 2011

You know all those sentimental stories about octogenarian former B-17 crewmen once again riding, with mighty lumps in their throats, aboard a preserved Flying Fortress, the bomber in which they survived enemy fire over Europe during World War II?

Something a little like that happened to me this afternoon when a Bell 407 medevac helicopter visited Ontonagon, Michigan, for a little show-and-tell at the town's annual Labor Day festival. N723PH is the very same aircraft that almost exactly two years ago, on August 23, 2009, ferried me from Ontonagon Hospital to Aspirus Hospital in Wausau, Wisconsin. I had just had a heart attack and two days later would undergo a triple bypass.

Not that I wanted to ride in her again. Once was enough. But it was nice, very nice, to say hello again to a machine in which I had survived a memorable—to say the least—morning of my life. Lump in the throat? Sure.

My "battle station" in the helicopter.


Here's the A Venture into Murder e-book cover art again, adjusted according to the suggestions from commentators yesterday.

I'm thinking maybe the skull-and-pickaxes could be even smaller than they are now, but maybe we're getting close to the final version.

Possibly the background color could be different, maybe a pale green? Or would the red title clash with that?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Another Venture into cover art

The above is a preliminary cover for the forthcoming e-book version of my second Steve Martinez novel, A Venture into Murder (2005). What say, people? (I'm thinking the space above the title and below "A Steve Martinez Mystery" ought to be equalized.)

The novel concerns murders past and present involving an old copper mine in Upper Michigan. The title font, Pickax, is a free one, and the illustration elements are in the public domain.

Tina Davidson helped me learn how to move stuff around in Photoshop Elements to produce this hopeful work of art.