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.