Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Nothing More Than Feelings

A couple of weeks ago, I opened a small package and pulled out my first copy of Blown Coverage. When I first started writing, I thought that the initial moment I held a copy of a book I had co-written would be one of hooting and hollering and doing middle-age, out-of-shape cartwheels (which would pretty much entail putting one's hands on the ground and shifting one's hips from side to side). I thought the adrenaline would surge and my entire body would be filled with the warmies.

What I've found instead is a feeling that can best be described as surrealiciousness. Now for those of you with somewhat of an educated background (i.e., those who do not write sports blogs and who do know the difference between a regular book and an ebook ['nother story, 'nother time]), you might realize that according to Webster "surrealicious" is technically not a real word. However, I figured since the Apostle Paul could just make up a Greek word whenever he couldn't find one that perfectly expressed what he had to say, then so could I. After all, the only differences between what he did and what I do is that Paul wrote life-changing Scripture inspired and aided by the Holy Spirit, while I write pulp fiction thriller novels inspired and aided by an NFL kicker. Okay, so there's no comparison between us, but I'm still going to make up words.

Flipping through Monday Night Jihad and Blown Coverage for the first times were truly surreal moments. All those hours of conversation between Jason and me, all those nights spent typing away at a computer while sitting on my couch with a computer on my lap, all those edits and changes and rewrites and cover choices, everything suddenly (and almost magically) coalesced into these slabs of colored and printed pieces of paper that I now held in my hands. Then came other bizarre moments: seeing the book at a Barnes & Noble, keeping track of reviews, watching the growing waiting list on the Douglas County and Arapahoe County library sites, realizing that people all over the country are reading (and enjoying) the words that were written on that computer on that lap on that couch.

It's surreal, but delicious. I grew up with an aversion to carrot cake. I hated carrots. And cream cheese - that just sounded nasty. Then one day when I was in my 20s, I decided to give it a shot. I remember taking the bite, and not being initially overwhelmed. But as I chewed, my taste buds began experiencing every diverse flavor - the subtlety of the carrots, the warmth of the cinnamon, the sweetness of the raisins, and the sharp tang of the cream cheese. I was in flavor heaven. It was so far beyond what I thought it would and could be.

Publishing a book is a bizarre experience, but once the strangeness begins to wear off the wonderfulosity (a term we'll save for another blog) just builds and builds. What an amazingly surrealicious feeling!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Tacky, Plastic Wave of the Future

There's an old saying: If you can't beat 'em, complain about 'em!

I just received our monthly sales report for Monday Night Jihad yesterday and noticed that we had taken a huge jump in our ebook sales. Admittedly, "huge jump" means we sold 43 in October, but, compared to the 17 we've sold in the previous nine months, that is quite the increase (a 2,150% increase in monthly sales if my high school accounting class is still working - which it's probably not).

Looking at that number, I have to admit that I'm a little torn. While it's great to see people buying the book (although I have no clue what Jason's and my percentage is off of an ebook, and I'm not quite interested enough to fire off an email to our agent to find out), I'm still not sure how I feel about the ebook revolution - "revolution" probably being a bit too strong of a word; it's probably akin to calling it a revolution if the states of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire would suddenly rise up and secede from the Union (seriously, apart from the spike in maple syrup prices, who would notice?).

I guess it comes down to what exactly is a book. My Mac dictionary widget was less than helpful, giving me two definitions: one describing a "paper-glued-to-binding" tangible work; the second describing it as a literary composition intended for publication. I tend to lean toward the former.

To me, books have a feel and a smell. There's just something about the way words look printed on an actual sheet of paper that has actually come from an actual former tree. I get a rush of excitement when I can see how close I am to the end of a story by tilting the book and eyeballing the pages I've read compared to the pages left to go. I love the way I can measure my progress through a thick, classic paperback by watching the wrinkles spread slowly across the spine. I doubt that even the rumored 2.0 version of Amazon's Kindle will let you do that.

Now, I don't want you to get the impression that I'm some modern day Luddite. I'm all for progress. I love the latest electronic gadgets. I'm still waiting for the day when God causes an iPhone to fall out of the sky and into my hand (and then miraculously lets me use it with a service other than AT&T). However, there are some things that should just not be messed with. Think how much better our society would be if we had not allowed so many other things to fall by the wayside in the name of progress, e.g., vinyl records, glass bottles, banana seats for bikes, styrofoam containers from McDonalds [no styrofoam, no McDLT, 'nuff said], the original members of Van Halen, the staunch refusal of all my friends to allow use of the phrase "24/7" into their common parlance, and Sean Connery as James Bond).

But, for all my blustering reminiscences about the way things were, I look at my life now and see that I drink sodas out of cans and enjoy watching Daniel Craig as OO7 (although you'll still never catch me saying "24/7" or listening to any post-"Eddie's-learned-to-play-the-keyboards-so-let's-way-overuse-his-new-found-skill" CD). And, honestly, I have no doubt that in the same way I reluctantly left vinyl for CDs (and now iPods), there will come a time when I will hold some plastic book substitute in my hands just because it's the wave of the future. I will eventually bow to progress, even if it takes the form of a cheap-feeling, slow-page-turning, weird-button-placed "wireless reading device."

So, for all you Kindle users out there, some day I'll join you, dragging my heels all the way. In the mean time, if you so desire, feel free to keep purchasing the ebook versions of Monday Night Jihad and of Blown Coverage (when it's out) - I promise I won't hold it against you.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Chance Meeting

You never know who you're going to stumble across on a simple errand. Yesterday was a great publicity day for Monday Night Jihad. Nora St. Laurent published a great online interview with Jason on her blog "Finding Hope Through Fiction". Her creativity and humor added a wonderful spice to her questions (and to our responses). You can check out the interview here: Finding Hope Through Fiction: NORA INTERVIEWS JASON ELAM and STEVE YOHN.

Neither one of us have ever met Nora, although I have had some email contact with her. Later in the day yesterday, Jason decided to make a quick run to one of the Atlanta area Christian bookstores. He got what he wanted, went to pay, and heard from the lady at the cash register, "Hi, Jason, I'm Nora St. Laurent. I published your interview today." That chance meeting soon turned into an opportunity for Jason to meet the manager of the store, as well as many of the other employees. He said it turned into a virtual party!

Sometimes when we look at coincidences, we have to ask ourselves, "What are the odds?" After spending a few minutes computing the numbers, it often becomes apparent that it's much more reasonable to attribute the events to intentionality than to chance.

God's constantly working in our lives. Whether we see Him or not, He's always there - interested, active, and intentional.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What's That In Your Hand?

The Ideal - Jason and I holed up in a hotel room with a white board and two dry erase pens; a full night of brainstorming plot ideas; caffeine in tasty forms; a true symbiosis of the brains some time past midnight that leads to a final plot twist that has both of us hooting and hollering and waking the neighbors. This is how the skeleton for our upcoming book, Blown Coverage, was created.

The New Reality - Jason sitting in his home office in Atlanta, I on my couch in Denver; both of us staring at a Skyped video-version of the other on our respective computers; a white board set on Jason's desk chair and me trying to make out the pixelated words; ideas really starting to flow, but our time being cut short by a knock on my front door from the guy who's come to blow out my sprinklers. This is what the first brainstorming session for book three of the Riley Covington series looked like yesterday.

The situation reminds me a bit of a story in Exodus 4. Moses is standing shoeless in front of the burning bush. God is telling him to go to the most powerful ruler in the world, and say to him, "Uh, Pharaoh, you wouldn't mind if I took your free, pyramid-building work force and skedaddle, would you?" Moses, sensing that the process might not be quite as smooth as God was making it out to be, asked, "What if they don't believe me or won't listen to me?"

God: "What's that in your hand?"

Moses: "A big wooden staff."

God: "Throw it on the ground."


God: "Now get back here and pick the snake up."

Moses: "You made it into a snake, You pick it up!"

God: ". . ."

Moses: "Okay, okay. Hey, it's a staff again. Cool trick, God."

The line that has always stood out to me is God's question: "What is that in your hand?" In the same way God used whatever Moses happened to be holding at the time, God can take whatever we have and whatever circumstance we're in and use them to accomplish what He wants.

So, here Jason and I are in a less than ideal writing situation. We've prayed it through, and know that God wants us to continue the work we've been doing. I guess the question is what's in Jason's and my hands? Well, we've got a lot of great ideas, we've got a strong friendship, we've got a good working history, we've got Skype, and, most importantly, we've got a calling from God. Compared with a big wooden staff, I guess we're actually doing pretty well.

Friday, September 12, 2008

These Books Are Made For Walking

On any given fall day, there are three types of walkers one might find circuiting the park. The first are the strollers – these people are in no rush and have no greater purpose in mind but to saunter along filling their lungs with the cool afternoon air while they enjoy the beautiful sights of the changing leaves.

The second are the exer-walkers – easily identifiable by their steady pace, these folks take pleasure in their surroundings and their companions while never forgetting their overarching goal of getting the legs moving and the blood pumping.

The final group are the power walkers – these are the funky ducks-on-speed-looking people who don’t really care where they’re at as long as they’re keeping up their 5.5 mph.

If you transfer this to the book world, the first group is made up of those who are primarily out for a good story – a wild ride, a steamy romance, a well crafted who-dun-it. The third are the literary equivalent of Sergeant Friday’s, “Just the facts, ma’am!”

The second group, however, is a blend of the two, and this is where you’ll find most successful fiction written. In these books are great stories that have the added benefit of educating, challenging, and changing. The reader will experience new cultures and new situations. They will go to the front lines and behind the scenes.

Many people have asked Jason and me why we write our books. Unashamedly, we answer that our primary reason is to tell an exciting, frightening, and, often times, humorous story. But that’s not where our vision ends. Along the way, we want our readers to confront truth – this is who the real Jesus is, this is what true sacrifice means, this is why we don’t grieve like others grieve, this is why we have such hope. There is no hidden agenda – we’ll come right out and tell you our motivation. We write fiction with purpose, and our hope is that our readers are changed as a result of reading our books.

So, to the strollers we say, “Pick up the pace a bit. Enjoy your environment, but stretch yourself while you’re at it.” To the power walkers we sing (along with Simon and Garfunkel), “ ‘Slow down, you move too fast.’ There’s nothing wrong with taking the time to laugh, gasp, or even shed a tear.” And to all we say, “Grab a book, kick your feet up, take a ride, learn something, and, most of all, have fun along the way!”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Tale of One Cover

Being a fairly laid-back guy, it’s not often that my jaw drops. That’s why this two-drop weekend was so unusual for me. The second instance came when Dante Rosario snagged that bullet from Jake Delhomme with no time left on the clock putting the Carolina Panthers over the top of the San Diego Chargers. Wow… nothing else to say, just Wow.

However, my first instance of plummeting mandible occurred when I turned on Fox & Friends earlier Sunday morning. Former NFL tight end Mark Bavaro was being interviewed about a book he has just written, Rough and Tumble. Football + Fiction? That’s worth delaying a shower for.

The jaw droppage happened when I saw the cover of the book. It was the exact cover of Blown Coverage, Jason Elam's
and my upcoming January 2009 release. I’m not talking similar or bearing a very close likeness. Minus the writing, it was identical! Not believing my eyes, I quickly confirmed the bad news on Amazon. Un-stinkin’-believable!

Not content to let the news ruin just my morning at church, I immediately shot off an email to our publisher. Soon, I received the answer, “Not great news. We’ll get our heads together first thing on Monday.” When Monday rolled around, Tyndale House decided to pull the cover. However, they still will have to send out the already-printed advanced reader copies, but with stickers saying "Not Final Cover". Good quick fix – three cheers for Tyndale.

Not really knowing the publishing industry, I shot off a griping email to my agent. His reply? No big deal – “Covers get changed all the time.” Yeah, I suppose. But, dang, I really loved that cover.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish Bavaro nothing but the best on his book. In fact, I went out and picked it up this morning, and am looking forward to the read. He’s got great endorsements and a fantastic cover – a really fantastic cover; a really cool fantastic makes-you-want-to-pick-the-book-up-and-read-what’s-inside cover – our cover. But as the Stones have oft reminded us, “You can’t always get what you want.” Okay, Mick, I hear you. And I’ll just have to trust that you’re right, and, instead of having the cover we wanted, we just might find that we got what we needed.