Saturday, January 26, 2013

I Sing the Book Electric

Hold on a sec. Just getting my stuff together before I leave the house.

Let's see... My cell phone. Check. My music player. Check. Where did I leave my still camera? I'm sure I put it right here. Or was it over there? Here it is, next to my video cam. Can't forget my handheld gaming machine, either. Man, I need more pockets.

How often does that little vignette happen at your house? Not a whole lot since about 2007, I'm guessing. All right, maybe 2009 or so with that bit about the video cam. Still, the bottom line is when you shove your smart phone in your pocket, you're also grabbing your music player, your still and video cam, a game console, an untold array of apps and the entire Internet in your pants before you saunter out the door to start your day.

Admittedly, there are professionals, aficionados and die-hards who'll never abandon the latest or favorite iterations of a given purpose-specific technological tool. For one among their number, the new Nikon Coolpix S800c is simply de rigeur, just as Ashton Kutcher says.

But for the ever-growing majority of us, convenience trumps all. Why pay for, attend to, and lug around a handful of devices when we can enjoy all those devices' disparate functionalities in one compact, pretty machine?

The answer is, increasingly we don't. Nor should we. Unless you're making your living as a professional photographer or videographer, the photo and video features on your smart phone serve perfectly well for all your creative visual imagery needs. The music player works great. The apps and the Internet are always at your twitching fingertips. Oh yeah, and it's a phone, too.

One machine that does many things well is what you want. And there's nothing wrong with that. It makes perfect sense. And there's a vast global community of hardware and software engineers, designers and programmers who toil constantly to invent and refine your phone and what it can do for you, giving you opportunities to use that pretty little machine in ways you never knew you wanted to until you knew you could.

So when's the last time you bought a stand-alone camera, regardless of Kutcher's pitches?

Exactly, and that's also the fate of dedicated e-readers, for the same reasons.

Consider the burgeoning popularity of reading books in electronic format. Last December, a study released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported that the number of Americans choosing to read e-books escalated from 16% to 23% over the course of 2012. The same study said the number of adults who read printed books declined from 72% to 67% over the identical period.

That's intriguing. But what's more intriguing, particularly for authors and publishers, is this: in 2011, nine out of ten e-books were read on dedicated e-readers, such as Amazon's Kindle or Barnes & Noble's Nook. In 2012, that declined to only three out of four. In other words, in the 24 months from January, 2011 to December, 2012, reading books on dedicated e-readers declined from 90% of the e-book market, to 75%.

Where did the e-book reading migrate to from Kindles and Nooks? You guessed it -- to tablets. This is a trend that will accelerate for a long time before it decelerates.

Amazon sells a whole lot of books, and it wishes to continue doing that, so it recognizes and accepts this trend very clearly. Thus its introduction of the Kindle Fire, which is a sophisticated, multifunctional multimedia tablet device rather than strictly an e-reader. The Fire is designed to compete with iPads, Google Nexuses, Nook HD+, and the like, tablets all.

Remember, the iPad was introduced to the world not even three years ago. Technology research firm IDC predicted that when the 2012 sales numbers are finalized, over 122 million tablets will have been sold worldwide. That's up from 65 million tablets sold in 2011, and barely 17 million in 2010.

How will that affect the dedicated e-reader? Let's go back to our friends at IDC. They estimate 2012 global e-reader shipments declined 28% from 2011, from nearly 28 million e-readers in 2011 to less than 20 million in 2012.

What do these statistics foretell? Lee Rainie over at Pew says, "We haven't reached this point yet, but there are reasonable thoughts that the book experience of the future will be dramatically different than today. It will be multimedia, highly social and maybe even incorporate a wiki experience."

Gazalapalooza agrees. As a matter of fact, we agreed quite some time ago, in a post called "The E-lluminated Manuscript" that we published here in October, 2011. Now would be a great time for you to pop over and read that post, as it ties in directly to this one.

The bottom line is that as readers hustle from e-readers to tablets, a significant portion of them will expect, if not demand, that the books they buy to enjoy on those tablets take advantage of more than one of the machine's features. This will be true particularly for younger readers, who've been inundated with multimedia machines since (if not before) they escaped their cradles.

One thing is sure -- these newfangled books will be costly to produce, and so costly as well to purchase. It won't be easy to make an interactive, multimedia e-book on a typical book budget, rather than one usually associated with producing a video game, much less a movie. Talent other than authorial will have to be recruited and paid, and rights to audio, visual, and imagery elements will have to be secured without violating copyrights. But that's not stopping publishers from venturing into this largely undiscovered literary terrain. Penguin says it plans to release about 50 fiction and nonfiction "enhanced e-books" this year. Simon & Schuster has around 60 of them slated for publication in 2013, and Knopf and Random House also have enhanced e-books heading toward a tablet near you before this year's end. Of course, Apple is jumping into the deep end, though its concentration is on enhanced, interactive e-textbooks.

The question is, are these interactive, multimedia tale-telling things "books" in any true sense? They spin stories and impart information, which are the most essential functions of books in their traditional paper iterations. But they also incorporate one or more of music, 2- and 3-D photos, maps, videos, games, puzzles, social media, and wikis. Is it a book, or is it a digital app, or is it a video game? And if it's more than a book, is it really a book at all, or is it something other? If nothing else, the evolution forced on authors and book publishers by readers armed with tablets will twist the definition of the word "book" in ways unforeseen just a few years ago. It may well twist just as profoundly the definition of "author."

And all this enhanced e-book noise may be just a passing fad. Book publishers have stumbled down a path not unlike this one before, when they experimented with multimedia books on CD-ROMS a few years back. To put it charitably, the experiment was not a success. Or, as e-book publisher Open Road Integrated Media's CEO Jane Friedman said recently, "The consumer is not asking for this. It takes it from being a reading experience to something else..."

Still, despite what she says, Friedman's company is dipping its toes into the enhanced e-book market. This spring Open Road is set to release Gift, a novel by Andrea Buchanan for young adults that incorporates original music, graphics, diary entries and a music video by Swedish YouTube superstar FreddeGredde.

All this swirls in my fevered brow as I'm writing the hotly-anticipated sequel to my thriller, Blood of the Moon. For enhanced e-book purposes, am I an author, or a producer? Seemingly the latter. If so, I'm thinking Dave Grohl does the soundtrack. Maybe I can get Steven Spielberg to direct. And a holographic appearance by Marilyn Monroe would surely boost marketing and sales, don't you think?

"Simplicity is the glory of expression."
~~ Walt Whitman ~~

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Author Spotlight: Brad Meltzer

It’s easy to miss Brad Meltzer, today’s guest on the Gazalapalooza Author Spotlight. To do so, all that’s required is a simple three-pronged strategy: First, stay out of bookstores and away from online booksellers, for otherwise you’ll surely encounter any number of his nine bestselling thrillers. Be warned — the newest of them, The Fifth Assassin, was released today, so it’s particularly ubiquitous. Of course if you’re successful dodging his fiction work at the stores, you still run the risk of running into his pair of acclaimed nonfiction books, Heroes for My Son, and Heroes for My Daughter. Nonetheless, you might think you can sneak into your bookshop and still exercise Meltzer avoidance by secreting yourself in your bookseller’s graphic novels section, but you’d be out of luck there. Superhero luminaries like Superman, Batman, the Green Arrow, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have all benefited from Meltzer’s touch. So, no bookstores. Now, go with prong #2 and bypass bestseller lists all over the world, where Meltzer’s novels have staked out lofty territory consistently since the 1998 publication of his first novel, The Tenth Justice. Then implement the third prong: sprint home and get rid of your television. In a vain effort to keep your TV, you may have deluded yourself into believing it’s a Meltzer-free zone. But no, my friend, the TV has to go. You’ll be doing yourself a disservice, though — especially if you’re a fan of compelling mystery and conspiracy theory investigation — because you’ll lose out on being thoroughly entertained by "Brad Meltzer’s Decoded" on the History Channel.

Meltzer is everywhere, and that’s a good thing. For 15 years our guest has worked very hard to entertain, thrill, mystify and educate us, and we think he’s done a spectacular job of it. That’s why we’re pleased Meltzer has carved some time out of his ridiculously busy schedule to visit the Author Spotlight and commemorate with us today’s release of The Fifth Assassin. Notice that it seems all his canoodling with superheroes has rubbed Meltzer the right way, since he appears utterly unflappable in the unforgiving wooden chair, even with harsh klieg light reflecting off his trademark spectacles. Meltzer looks ready to go. We are too, so without further ado, let’s get this edition of the Author Spotlight underway.

Gazala:    In my omnipotence, I've sentenced you to be stranded alone on a desert island for offenses best left unnamed. In my beneficence, I've decided to allow you a limited amount of reading material to make your stay a little less bleak than it would otherwise be. I'll spot you your religious text of preference, and the collected works of William Shakespeare. In addition to those, name the one fiction book, and the one nonfiction book, you'd choose to take with you, and why you choose them.

Meltzer:    To Kill a Mockingbird is the novel I'd take. But that's such an obvious answer, even if it's a true one. So I'd take Watchmen by Alan Moore for fiction. For non-fiction, I'd take my family photo album. Suck it. That counts for non-fiction.

Gazala:    Your latest book is an excellent and gripping thriller titled The Fifth Assassin, featuring the return of archivist Beecher White to confront a terrifying presidential assassination conspiracy spanning a century. I've read it. I enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly. Shockingly enough, however, from time to time my bare recommendation doesn't always motivate a book's potential reader to become a book's actual reader. Tell us something about The Fifth Assassin, and why its potential reader should make the leap and become its actual reader.

Meltzer:    I spent two years studying presidential death so I could write about a serial killer who's recreating the crimes of all the presidential assassins, from John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald. You'll get to see the secret tunnels below Camp David. And you'll find out where the government really does keep the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln. 

Gazala:    What are books for?

Meltzer:    Stories aren't what did happen; they're what could happen.

Gazala:    W. Somerset Maugham said, "There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." Do you agree, or disagree, and why?

Meltzer:    It's the number one rule of writing: There are no rules.

Gazala:    A mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper is knocking on my front door. Ask yourself a question, and answer it.

Meltzer:    Q: After nine books, is writing still hard? A: The day it's easy is the day I'm done.

Sure, you can try avoiding Meltzer and all his good work. The question is, why would you want to? If you’re an admirer of timely, intelligent and gripping entertainment, you wouldn’t. Resistance to Meltzer’s engaging wiles is not only futile, but an exercise in pointless self-denial for any self-respecting thriller fan. Don’t take our word for it. See for yourself by grabbing a copy of Meltzer's new book, The Fifth Assassin, right now. All you have to do to order your copy from Amazon is click here. You can thank us later, and we know you will.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Author Spotlight: James Grippando Returns

This is a great time to be New York Times bestselling suspense author James Grippando. Today marks the release of his twentieth novel, Blood Money. Blood Money is Grippando’s tenth book in the highly acclaimed series featuring Miami criminal defense attorney Jack Swyteck. You can catch Grippando talking about Blood Money very soon on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" program. You don’t want to miss that, and after reading Grippando’s interview here, you certainly won’t want to miss reading Blood Money.

This interview marks another career milestone for Grippando. Grippando’s appearance with us today makes him the first our august alumni to appear twice on the Gazalapalooza Author Spotlight. We’ll begrudgingly admit that perhaps Grippando’s return to our Spotlight’s glare doesn’t have quite the cachet of writing 20 successful novels, or hobnobbing with Joe and Mika on MSNBC’s morning show, but we still think it’s pretty cool. We’re confident you’ll think so too, once you indulge yourself with this edition of the Author Spotlight.

Having been here before, Grippando knows his way around. See how he’s already seated on our hard wooden chair, looking unflappable despite the unrelenting blaze of our klieg light array. We’ll see if he’s so serene come the interview’s end, come which Kardashian may to read his innermost thoughts. Intrigued? We don’t blame you. So without further ado, let’s get this Spotlight underway.

Gazala:    What is the most surprising occupational hazard to being a novelist?

Grippando:    Personal safety. I used to think you had to be a megastar like Salman Rushdie or Steven King to worry about such things, but that’s na├»ve. I want to be accessible to my readers, but there is risk in putting yourself “out there.” The good news is that each time I’ve had a bad experience, I’ve worked it into a book.  My scare with a heckler at a bookstore became a scene in Lying with Strangers. When my identity was stolen (in part because so much info about me is publicly available), I used that experience in Money to Burn. And my most recent book, Blood Money, also grew out of one of these, shall we say, “inconveniences.” In the summer of 2010 I was wondering which way to go with my next work, and my agent called. 

“I want you to talk to Jose Baez,” he said.

There was a hint of excitement in Richard’s voice, and I could tell that he wanted me to be just as excited. I disappointed him. “I feel like I’m supposed to know the name,” I said, “but I don’t.”

“Yes, you do,” said Richard. “He’s Casey Anthony’s lawyer.”

For several years I had considered writing a work of nonfiction. Jeffrey Toobin’s much acclaimed book about the O.J. Simpson trial had, in my mind, set the standard for the flood of books about the most watched trial in the history of American television. Public interest in Casey Anthony rivaled that of Simpson, and I wondered if there was a place on the bookshelves for a Toobin-like work on the Anthony trial. I had several telephone conversations with Mr. Baez over the summer of 2011. It turned out that he was a fan of my work, having read my first Jack Swyteck novel, The Pardon, while he was still in law school. He had yet to watch the Anthony trial from start to finish, and he suggested that we sit down together and watch it, so that he could explain to me what was going on behind the scenes. That meeting never happened. Our discussions ended abruptly with another telephone call from my agent.

“We’re out,” Richard told me.

A New York Post report (July 25, 2011) that Jose Baez had “met with” my agent went viral over the Internet. The backlash was overwhelming. Bloggers posted the agency’s contact information, urging readers to clog phone lines and e-mail boxes with a simple message: “NO WAY JOSE.” Simon & Schuster's Facebook page was hacked based purely on rumors (untrue) that the publisher was to sign a book deal with Anthony. In Oklahoma—twelve hundred miles from the Orlando courthouse—twenty-six year old Sammay Blackwell was run off the road and almost killed by a woman who thought Ms. Blackwell was Casey Anthony. I quickly realized that the book I wanted to write wasn’t a nonfiction account of a trial that was already overexposed. The story—my novel—was in the phenomenon that turns certain law-abiding citizens into vigilantes who will accept nothing but their own sense of “justice.” 

Gazala:    Your latest book is an excellent and gripping thriller titled Blood Money. I know it's a special novel for you in terms of milestones -- your 20th overall, and the 10th in your acclaimed "Jack Swyteck" series. I've read Blood Money, enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly. Shockingly enough, however, from time to time my bare recommendation doesn't always motivate a book's potential reader to become a book's actual reader. Tell us something about Blood Money, and why its potential reader should make the leap and become its actual reader.

Grippando:    My goal with each book is to make the new one more entertaining than the last one. By novel number 20 the bar is pretty high, but I think I cleared it with Blood Money. 

Jack represents an attention-hungry cocktail waitress and party girl named Sydney Bennett, who is accused of killing her two-year-old child—a fictional Casey Anthony. She is convicted in the minds of millions of viewers who are riveted to the nonstop television coverage of the trial—but the jury finds her not guilty. In what seems to be a spontaneous act of vigilantism, a college student is attacked and left in a coma. Her only crime is that she looks like the wrong woman, and she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or is there more to it than that? To Jack’s surprise, the victim’s parents beg him to get justice for their daughter, to discover what really happened and why. Jack’s investigation twists and turns in startling ways, ultimately uncovering an evil more threatening than mob violence, and that is lurking just beyond the glare of the media spotlight.

Blood Money is not just a “ripped from the headlines” retelling of the Casey Anthony trial. My story picks up where the “trial of the century” left off, and the real focus is on the dangers of “TV justice” administered by certain sensationalists in the media. As overblown as the hype and hoopla were in the Casey Anthony trial, my inspiration came from the young Oklahoma mother I mentioned earlier, who was run off the road because she looked like Casey Anthony. Sammay Blackwell was able to save herself by pretending to be dead when her attacker got out of her car and came to Sammay’s overturned truck—not to help Sammay, but to finish her off. That blind fixation—a nationwide fascination that, for some, escalates to the point of dangerous or even deadly obsession—is the inspiration for my twentieth novel. 

Gazala:    Have you ever killed off one of your characters only to greatly regret the death later? If so, whose death do you regret, and why?

Grippando:    Sadly, yes. Jack Swyteck first appeared in The Pardon in 1994 as a young and idealistic lawyer who defended death row inmates for a legal aid clinic called “The Freedom Institute.” Neil Goderich, a pony-tailed relic of the hippy generation, was Jack’s mentor. I didn’t write The Pardon with the intent to create a series, but I went back to Jack in 2002 with Beyond Suspicion. Neil was of course part of the cast, and he was an important part of Jack’s life…until Afraid of the Dark (2011). Readers immediately reacted and said I would regret it. Now I feel like James Caan in "Misery," tormented by Kathy Bates and trying to figure out a way to resurrect a character I should never have killed off.  

Gazala:    If you could take credit for writing any one book not your own, which would it be, and why?

Grippando:    Well, since you didn’t exclude the Bible, that’s an obvious choice. Three hundred years at the top of the best seller list with translations into more than a thousand languages would even put me ahead of J.K. Rowling. 

Gazala:    If you had to empower one person unrelated to you by blood or marriage to read your thoughts for a day, who would you choose, and why?

Grippando:    It would have to be someone who is totally self-absorbed, too wrapped up in his or her own thoughts to bother with mine. Pick any Kardashian.

Any Kardashian? Wow. Even though Grippando’s been here before, we did not see that coming. We can’t decide whether that’s a good call, but it’s certainly a gutsy one. Unsurprising, though, since Blood Money is a gutsy book in times like these. Find out for yourself by ordering your copy of Blood Money from Amazon. All you have to do is click here, and soon enough you’ll be enjoying a gripping read. Have fun.