Sunday, December 16, 2007

December Internet Review of Books is out!

Yesterday the Internet Review of Books published its third issue! This is a monthly collaborative effort among Carter Jefferson, Ruth Douillette, Gary Presley, Jane Elioseff, and me. It's a lot of work and a lot of satisfaction. My main responsibility is maintaining the website, but I also write monthly reviews.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cuando los Puercos Vuelen

Our friends Jim and Robie sent along this photo from Mazatlán, Mexico today, and I promised Jim I'd steal it. This is an out-of-business restaurant named Cuando los Puercos Vuelen, or When Pigs Fly. On the left is a detail of the li'l porker.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Old novel, new book?

Old mill, Lowell, MassachusettsIn the last year, I haven't written as consistently as in the past, partly because I've been busy marketing When Pigs Fly. I have begun a couple of new novels in a comic vein, though neither is far along. Probably, it'll be necessary to set one aside and push on with the other. It's a certainty that neither could be ready for publication in 2008, not at my writing pace.

This morning, my wife was telling some friends about my prize in El Paso for Little Mountain, and she suggested I self-publish the novel. I'd had an agent for it back in the '90s, and it made all the usual publishing rounds without success. One small publisher expressed great enthusiasm to the point of calling me several times and doing a free copyedit in anticipation of publishing it, but then he went out of business. Since then, the darned thing had been sitting on my hard drive for so long, it was going to start collecting mold.

So this poses an interesting question. whether to publish and market a northeast-based ethnic mystery that is so different from When Pigs Fly, which is pure comedy and largely southwest-based. I've decided that life is to short to waste circulating my novels to agents and traditional publishers anymore, spending months or even years searching for the approval of strangers. Screw that, to coin a phrase. Barring unforeseen circumstances, any future novels of mine will be either self-published or unpublished.

Dancer, Cambodian New YearA plus to publishing Little Mountain in 2008 is that it would give me the time to finish a new project and publish in 2009, thus giving me a record of publishing almost annually.

Folks who have read my comic novel speak well of it. They laughed with me, but will the same readers be willing to read a serious mystery about a Cambodian homicide detective in Lowell, Massachusetts? Or am I going to have to look for a different set of readers?

The photo shows a Cambodian dancer in Lowell, Massachusetts, circa 1981.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A writing award

Don't you just hate it when you don't blog for six weeks, and no one notices? Lately I've been deeply involved in The Internet Review of Books, but lots of my energy, what energy there is, spins out in a dozen directions.

Today I won an award at the El Paso Writer's League, second prize for book-length fiction. I'd submitted a portion of my unpublished ethnic mystery, Little Mountain, which is set primarily in the Cambodian community of Lowell, Massachusetts.

Here are some mountains with a dusting of snow in southern New Mexico:

Organ Mountains, outside Las Cruces, New Mexico

Monday, October 29, 2007

Battling Bastards of Bataan

Bataan Memorial Statue, Las Cruces, New MexicoLess than a mile from where I live in Las Cruces is a small park honoring those Americans who suffered so much in the Bataan Death March in the Philippines in World War II. The captives included a large contingent from the New Mexico National Guard. Frank Hewlett wrote a poem that begins:

We're the battling bastards of Bataan
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam...

We owe our freedom to such men, and I won't forget them.

Of memes and things

My friend Ruth posted about memes, a word that sent me scurrying to my dictionary without success. A Google search found me frEdSCAPEs 0.1, which defines a meme as "an idea, project, statement or even a question that is posted by one blog and responded to by other blogs. Although the term encompasses much of the natural flow of communication in the Blogosphere, there are active bloggers and blog sites that are dedicated to the creation of memes on a regular basis."

Pronunciation? Who knows? My guess is "meem," but maybe it's "me me," as in a little boy clamoring for attention, or Mimi the seamstress in La Bohème. Either way, I won't be using it in conversation anytime soon.

So Ruth has tagged me with a meme, to write about my writing strengths. Ummm, well, the usual, you know, like my way with words and stuff.

Discipline is a strength I wish I had. Oh, the butt-in-chair part is easy enough. The question is, what then? Does endless checking of email get the writing job done? Reaching down to pet the cats? Rearranging the papers on my desk? Stopping to write a to-do list? In my pre-computer days, I used to come home from work with multiple lists stuffed in my shirt pocket. Now those lists go on the computer, and I won't hesitate to stop whatever else I'm doing to add to a list.

Anyway, my real strengths. I am always open to improvement and willing to accept constructive criticism. My writing process is slow, because I tend to edit on the fly. How does that sentence sound? Can someone take it the wrong way? Is it grammatical? Is there a better word? I'll write a sentence or two, then go back and read the paragraph. Long bursts of creativity? Not from me.

I am a nitpicker, which works both for and against me. Against, because it slows down my work. For, because my work is better. All in all, it serves me well.

Whom to tag? Let's try Kathy, Moni and Richard.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

ArtForms of New Mexico

My writing friend Cheryl Fallstead is also a talented artist and photographer here in New Mexico. Recently I spoke to her art group about how people can create web sites for free. I must say, she's done an excellent job with the information. Here is the website she created for ArtForms.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Of book sales and book reviews

Is it my hard but intermittent promotional work finally paying off? The last time I'd checked, my novel's Amazon ranking hadn't budged much from the million-one, million-two mark, a fairly pathetic sales ranking that had lasted for months and required no small rationalization on my part. And I checked tonight to find my ranking at 165,000. Lordamercy, someone bought When Pigs Fly online. Bless you!

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Most of my sales have come from signings and (can you believe it?) a restaurant and a gift shop. Last Saturday morning I spent a couple of hours at Coas Bookstore in Las Cruces, where foot traffic is greatly enhanced by the farmer's market in the pedestrial mall. My table by the front door was a great venue for people watching: tall, short, fat, skinny, plenty of exposed skin with tattoos—ankles, arms, necks, faces, on the exposed breasts of low-cut blouses; a Chinese woman with a handbag from "The Forbidden City"; a handsome African couple; children; retirees with canes; browsers carrying huge bags of popcorn with an aroma that triggered my salivary glands. Anyone who looked in my direction got a free smile, which they usually returned. Most kept moving, eye contact or not, smile or not. Women were more likely to stop and chat than men, and they were slightly more likely to buy. In the past, it's seemed that if someone picked up a copy, flipped through it and we conversed about it, I got a sale. Today was different—I had a nice chat with a woman and her husband for about ten minutes before she finally walked off, saying, "Well, I don't have any money." On the other hand, there was the woman who said, "Oh, it's funny? I'll buy it." A man stopped by to tell me that one of the vendors outside had a winged pig built out of a propane tank, but I never got to see it.

Thanks to the inspiration of Carter Jefferson and no small amount of work by him, Ruth Douillette, Gary Presley and Yours Truly, The Internet Review of Books has launched. We plan to publish a wide range of thoughtful reviews to help you, dear reader, find books worth your valuable time. We're rather pleased with what we've done in this first issue, and we plan to get bigger and better from month to month.

By the way, we four are all members of the Internet Writing Workshop, a terrific online place for writers of all skill levels. If you're a writer, check it out.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Pigs do fly

Halloween haystack outside Johnson City, TexasHere is a Halloween hay bale in some scary part of Texas.

We’ve made a couple of trips to Austin recently to see our son, a recent emigre from Boston. On our way home last month, we stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant where I noticed that they had locally published books for sale at the counter. The boss wasn’t in, so I emailed her when we got home, proposing that she offer my novel for sale as well. What a delight when she promptly replied that she’d take a whole carton—26 copies—which I promised to deliver on my next trip through town. So I delivered them this week, along with an invoice.

Later that same day, we drove through Johnson City, the boyhood home of LBJ, where I sold another seven to a gift shop. What drew me to the place was the banner on the side of the building. The proprietor said she'd been told pigs would fly when she started her own business, so she proudly announced to the world that pigs do fly.

All told, I sold 34 copies over the weekend. It feels good.

The Denton Writer’s League had me as a guest speaker at the local library on Saturday. Denton is a small city north of Fort Worth with an appealing downtown area and a good-sized modern library, the Emily Fowler. My audience was small and receptive, not to mention kind enough to treat me to a local Chinese buffet.

By the way, in case you think these trips are little spins around the block, prepare to be disabused. Las Cruces to Austin is about a 1300-mile round trip. And Austin to Denton is another 450 there and back.

Did I mention that Texas is a big state? Believe it, y’all.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Writing practice

Our Mesilla Valley Writers met today, and the speaker, Susan Long, presented us with a brief exercise. We were to pick out a photo or postcard from a stack and write a brief story based on the picture. I happened to pick a postcard with an old photo of a swimming pool surrounded by lots of sunbathers. There were a few tall palms, and I guessed the photo to be from the 1940s or 50s. The large pool was empty except for one person in the middle. The idea was to scratch out whatever we could in ten minutes. This was my take:

We all stood aghast as the body floated in the swimming pool. The gunshot had seemed to come from nowhere. It seemed just fantastic luck that the victim was the evil maitre d' whose repellent squid soup had so recently brought us all such gastric distress. We were all innocent of the deed, but on reflection we all wished to buy the killer a margarita.

Lord, that's bad writing. It was fun, though, and the most creativity I've shown in days.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Southwest scenes

Part of the Organ Mountains, within sight of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Nearby, a highway rises through a mountain pass and descends toward the White Sands missile range and the White Sands National Monument. That’s not my house; would that it were.

A few weeks ago, we drove with friends to White Sands to watch a balloon festival. Hundreds of people showed up, only to learn that the wind was too strong—and blowing in the direction of the nearby mountains. The children didn‘t seem to mind the event's cancellation, because they got to climb and slide on the soft gypsum dunes. They often use plastic sleds.

A daisy outside the T or C Public Library, which hosted a book signing for me. T or C is the area's shorthand for Truth or Consequences, which renamed itself in honor of an old television program. T or C used to be known as Hot Springs.

The long, lonely road from Marathon to Fort Stockton, Texas. Most of the road looks just like this: straight and empty. Behind me were a fence, a field, and a small family of longhorns. Dad’s picture is in the previous blog entry.

Crape myrtle in bloom, Austin, Texas.

A drive through south Texas

Longhorn steer outside Marathon, Texas
We recently took the long way from Las Cruces to Austin, heading south to Alpine and Marathon and the Davis Mountains. In Marathon we stayed at the old Gage Hotel, dating back more than a century. Floors creaked, the bedroom door barely closed let alone locked, and the floor had a common bathroom down the hall—unless you paid extra, as we did. We had no television and no telephone, and across the street, freight trains rumbled through the night on an hourly basis.

The next morning, we drove the lonely road up to Fort Stockton. Often we’d see no other humans for long periods. But there were hawks and eagles, deer crossing the road and leaping a fence, and a family of longhorns.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Great review

Didn't win the Author of the Year award given this year by the Friends of the Branigan Memorial Library. Ah, well. But in their awards program, they published this review:

"When Pigs Fly is a fast paced, action-oriented quest. Better still it's funny, laugh out loud funny. Bob Sanchez has created a very humorous tale of mis-adventure, sparkling with unique and believable characters. It is packed with plot twists, humor and a picture of the great Southwest. Once you start reading When Pigs Fly, you will not want to put it down until the last page."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Back yard rose

As I sat in the chaise supposedly intent on reading Bless Me, Ultima, my eyes wandered out the window, past the doves and finches scrabbling for seed around the feeder, and settled on this fine blossom. I read a few more pages and then tucked a bookmark inside the book. On went my shoes, out came my camera, out I trotted. Tonight, Anaya's fine novel waits patiently on the chaise.

The framing effect is thanks to Paint Shop Pro version 8.

Tonight I learned that I didn't win the author of the year award I'd hoped for. That's disappointing, but I'll just have to get on with another project.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A radio interview and more

This week I interviewed on the telephone with Toni Child for The World of Publishing. Toni was subbing for Jeannette Cezanne, aka Dr. J., and we had quite a good time, with the hour of live broadcast just zipping by. Sometime next week the link to the recording will be available, and I will post it. Our conversation ranged over various aspects of the self-publishing process, with some emphasis on my own book.

I'm under consideration for the Doña Ana County Author of the Year award for my novel. This week I received a letter telling me that the committee has decided, but they apparently announce that decision at a September 16 luncheon. This area has some excellent writers, but maybe there is a chance for me. Wouldn't it be sweet irony to win with a novel that a comparable organization (Friends of the Library) in Alamogordo thought unsuitable for a public reading?

There's also a contest sponsored by the El Paso Writer's League for members only, and I am entering 20 pages of an old mystery that I'd slaved over but didn't publish.

Lately I haven't done much new writing. Today we headed up to the mountains of Cloudcroft where the temperature was 72 vs. 96 at home. The first photo shows that we're no longer in the desert!

Couldn't resist this one:

And this is in downtown Cloudcroft:

Saturday, August 18, 2007

"Don't let anyone stop you from writing."

One of the nicer venues for selling books in Las Cruces is Coas Books in the downtown pedestrian mall, particularly on a Saturday morning when shoppers wander in from the twice-weekly Farmer's Market. They sell a mix of used and new books, and are hospitable to local authors. The owner, Mike Beckett, sets up a table by the entrance to maximize the author's exposure.

Today I set up shop there for the third time and had a good day chatting with dozens of folks and selling a half dozen copies of When Pigs Fly. Early on, a stranger stopped by to say she'd already read the book, loved it, and planned to read it again. No sale for me this time, but the compliment was satisfying. It took nearly an hour to get my first sale of the day, but business improved. Some people picked up the book, asked about the price, and said they couldn't afford it. Many folks come into Coas looking for bargains and finding them. There were plenty of people saying they'd "think about it," and I'd send them away with a bookmark to remember me by. Maybe I'll meet them again; sometimes, the people who buy from me have heard about the book a few times before.

Plenty of people just walked on by the table, giving me the chance to just watch them. A very large number of folks down here, men and women alike, have tattoos. Young men in shorts with purple art on their calves, arms, necks -- young women with flowers decorating their shoulders or just below their collarbones, sometimes well below. The weather gets warm down here -- mid-90s today -- and maybe the resultant bare skin encourages the body art that seems so common here. It seems generational, though; tats and wrinkles don't go together often.

Getting people's attention required me to be active, though some folks walked right up to my table. Others would look at my display and walk on by. Whether they stopped or not, I'd always try to make eye contact and say hello. If they showed the slightest interest, I'd say, "It's a humorous crime caper." (Pause.) "It's gotten great reviews everywhere except in Alamogordo." That typically raised an eyebrow or two. They'd look at the book and then at me, then ask "Why?" Then we had the makings of a conversation. "Well, I sent chapter one to the Friends of the Library," I'd say, "and it starts out with the villain. They objected that the villain has bad moral character and uses bad language, and that readers in Alamogordo wouldn't like it."

At this point, much eye rolling ensued. Many folks knew about Alamogordo's reputation (though I'm still not sure how to characterize the city myself). Yes, that's Alamogordo, they'd say. One gentleman who bought my book shook my hand and said on his way out the door, "Don't let anyone stop you from writing."

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Speaking at SouthWest Writers

Nancy and I drove the 225 miles to Albuquerque Friday in anticipation of my Saturday talk at SouthWest Writers. We treated ourselves to a nice room at the Marriott and took an enjoyable tram ride to the summit of Sandia Peak. This photo from the back of the tram shows the city below:

And here is the tram, which travels 2.7 miles and climbs about 4,000 feet:

The talk the next day seems to have been a success. SouthWest Writers is a large and congenial group with over 600 members, of whom over 100 were there to listen to me. The title of my presentation was "Publishing Your Pride and Joy," which focused on self-publishing and subsidy publishing. Earlier in the week I'd prepared a six-page handout and run off 110 copies, which turned out to be not quite enough. I'd practiced my talk over and over again, and it never came out the same way twice, but the practice got me through the real thing nicely.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


A while back, I contacted the Friends of the Library in Alamogordo about doing a reading of When Pigs Fly. My initial query was greeted with interest, but then their program chair read the first chapter of the novel on my website. Afterward, I received the following email:

Bob, After reading the first chapter of your book, I do not think the Friends of the Library would be a good sponsor of a reading of your book. Because of Diet Cola's language and lack of moral character, members of the group would not be interested in his "adventures" or "misadventures". I cannot think of any other group who might sponsor a reading and I regret that your book does not fit the criteria for our group. ______, Program Chairman

This is from the city where in 2001 a minister held a public burning of Harry Potter books. Maybe since I missed that event, I can arrange for the good reverend to purchase a couple hundred copies of my book for a special burning. Why should only big-name authors get all the attention? I would happily pay for the gasoline.

I am honored to join the ranks of authors who have written unacceptable works.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Speaking of self-publishing

Twelve days and counting; will it be terror or triumph? Public speaking is one of those great betes noires of human existence. Which do you fear more, a terrorist attack, or standing in front of a group of strangers and giving a talk? For some people, it's a close call. On the last night of one of my business courses many years ago, I had to present my project in front of class. Every molecule in my body felt like it would shake loose in a separate direction-God, the fear.

On August 4, Southwest Writers will allow me, the world's leading authority on nothing at all, to speak to an estimated assemblage of 100 to 110 of their members in Albuquerque. The topic will be "Publishing Your Pride and Joy," and here's the pitch:

"When should you consider self-publishing, and what does the term mean, anyway? In this talk you will learn about print on demand (POD), self-publishing versus subsidy publishing, and the advantages and pitfalls of the do-it-yourself approach. The speaker will use his own experience with iUniverse as a case study, freely sharing the lessons he has learned."

The schedule says it'll last two hours, though the talk itself will likely be less than half that, with the floor open to questions thereafter. In my nightmares, the first question will be, "Why are you wasting my valuable Saturday morning?"

My scant experience in public speaking is mixed, really. Somewhat unexpectedly, I am comfortable with public readings and answering questions about my book. My tentative conclusion is that a high comfort level with the material is the key to reducing anxiety about public speaking. It is (fingers crossed here) all in the preparation.

So how to prepare? This week I'll be working on an outline and practicing sections of my talk. My wife knows well after lo, our forty-two years together, that I tend to go off and talk to myself, and she will hear lots of that in the next week or so. I'm counting on lots of mini-rehearsals to carry the day.

Ideally, it would be nice to speak without notes, but that might be a tad ambitious. I hope to have some solid handouts - "Don't worry about taking notes, folks, 'cause it's all in the handouts." We'll see.

By the way, they'll not only sell my book for me (for a $1 commission) but they'll pay a small honorarium. How cool!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Remembering Larry

My brother Larry died ten years ago tomorrow, July 21, 1997. I no longer think of him every day, but his birth month of March and death month of July always bring back memories. Every year on March 1, he used to breeze over to Mom's house and recite, "The stormy March is come at last!" He loved to make people laugh, and he did it with ease. He would phone me to chat, and then when we were through talking, he would invariably say, "Hey, thanks for calling." He loved to read but had little use for formal education. Most of his jobs consisted of manual labor, and he did tree work for many years, generally freelance work without the highest regard for safety standards. One time in the 70s he nearly dropped an enormous pine tree on me; if I hadn't dived out of the way at the last second, it would have killed me. On another occasion, one of his co-workers allowed a large tree branch to hit him in the head. It was one of the few times I'd known Larry to wear a safety helmet; I saw him in his hospital bed that evening. His entire head was purple, and he had a hairline fracture in his face.

One of his safer jobs, and probably his favorite, was working as a guard at the county house of correction. I liked asking him, "How's life in the can?" He lost his job once because an inmate accused him of brutality during a scuffle. I never learned what really happened, but the Lowell Sun covered the incident with a banner headline, mentioned Larry by name in the opening graf, and declared him guilty. Months later, the county reinstated him, but he never forgave the newspaper, which he henceforth called the Lowell Scum.

Larry and his wife took on the burden of raising several of their grandchildren. He loved hiking and fishing, and did his best to instill those interests in his grandkids. On the evening before he died, Larry reminded me that he was taking two grandsons, 8 and 10 if I recall correctly, with him to climb the 5,000-foot Mount Lafayette in New Hampshire. They made it to a high ridge a short distance from the summit and and close to an AMC hut. Larry stopped to take in the splendid view while the boys walked on a few yards. When they looked back, he had collapsed.

That evening, the telephone woke me. I had an unlisted number at the time, and the operator was calling to say that someone was trying to reach me and claimed it was an emergency. Trudy had forgotten my number and couldn't get it from the phone company. But when we finally spoke, her sobbing message hit me like a sledgehammer to the chest. Nancy held me for hours after that as I struggled to breathe normally again.

At the wake, I met one of Larry's former supervisors at the jail, a tall, strapping fellow in uniform with lots of dignity and bearing--I wish I could remember his name. He recalled a night shift where he walked in on Larry, who had fallen asleep on the job, his head on his duty desk. "Larry!" the boss said. "What the hell are you doing?" Larry sat right up, opened his eyes, and said, "Oh, I was just praying." That was typical Larry; no one could stay mad at him, and he even caused us to laugh at his wake.

Years later, his eldest daughter Lisa went to work at her job as a department store supervisor. She said she felt ill, went into a back room to rest, and was shortly found on the floor in a coma from which she never recovered. She was 39.

Larry would have been 70 now. Our mom, who outlived him by six years, liked to tell me, "I miss that rascal." So do I.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Self-Publishing - Ten Great Tips to Make Your Book Shine

We self-publishers fight a lonely battle, finding readers for our wit and wisdom. We write alone, and now we sell alone and search for ways to market our work. How do we entice readers to open their wallets?

Those questions are often premature. Before asking how you’re going to cope with all those book orders, you need to make sure you have a quality product. So here are ten tips to make your book, fiction or non-fiction, the best it can be.

#1 Use a spell-checker, but only as a first line of defense. Then you look for misspellings the spell-checker won’t catch, such as then/than, to/too/two, tail/tale, or its/it’s.

#2 Read your manuscript critically, as though you weren’t the author. Some things to check include complete chapters, well-organized paragraphs, complete sentences, and accurate punctuation.

#3 Be consistent. If you capitalize a word once in the text, chances are you always want to capitalize it. Decide whether you want one space or two at the end of a sentence, and stick with it. Never change your font or type size without good reason. If your work consists of more than one file, be sure that every file is formatted identically.

#4 Get honest, competent critiques. Leave your mother and spouse alone; your family has better things to do than fawn over your work. Avoid critiques from anyone who has an emotional stake in making you happy, because that isn’t what you need. The Internet Writing Workshop ( is an excellent source of constructive, informed criticism.

#5 Use your judgment. Even good critiquers may give you conflicting advice. Remember that it’s your project, so the final decision is always yours.

#6 Refer to a style manual such as the Chicago Manual of Style, which is the most widely accepted guide for standard writing.

#7 Make a style sheet. A novel or other large manuscript can involve lots of small stylistic decisions by the author. Keep a pad of paper with a running list things you don’t want to have to keep looking up. For example, a cartoon I liked showed a bank robber writing a note and asking the teller, “Is holdup one word or two?” Think of words you often misspell or don’t know how to capitalize, and write them correctly on the list.

#8 Follow your publisher’s guidelines religiously even if they don’t insist.

#9 Repeat tip #2.

#10 Review the publisher’s proof carefully. When you receive the publisher’s proof isn’t the time to look for typos; you should have done that already. At this stage, the publisher may even charge you if you fix many of your own mistakes at this stage. Instead, look for their errors. Are illustrations in their proper places? Are pages and chapters numbered properly? Look at every page’s overall appearance. Is each one properly aligned? Is any text missing?

If you follow these simple (but not always easy) tips, I can’t guarantee best-sellerdom for your book, but I can promise you this: Your book will be far superior to the vast majority of self-published books. You will have a quality product.

(This article originally appeared in EZineArticles.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Back by popular demand...

My fan base, Ruth Douillette, has challenged me to get off my lazy butt and blog again. She and Carter roped me into joining them as admins on the Practice section of the Internet Writing Workshop, which if you are a writer and haven't seen it, you must visit. I've made all the predictable jokes about the pay scale--my pay doubles daily and all that--but it's an honor to join a doughty band of volunteers who help make the list run smoothly, productively, and flame-free.

Ruth asks that I not use my IWW duties as an axcuse for failure to blog. I won't. A bad cold is my alibi du jour, and I am milking the sucker. All my book-marketing tasks I have put off 'til next week, when my telephone voice has been restored--who the hell wants a phone call from a frog?

My laryngeal discomfort did not prevent my appearance at a book fair 0n Saturday, sponsored by the wonderful people of the El Paso Writer's League. My friend Maria Kruse took the photo below of me reading from When Pigs Fly to the assembled throng, which is something of a lie. I was scheduled to read, but it was getting late, the vendors were beginning to pack up, and my voice box wasn't up to the task anyway. So Maria consented to take some photos of what I'd like to have happened: me wowing the literati.

See that lady? She's wondering what I'm doing, talking with the microphone off.

So my natural sloth finally has just cause, and for the next few days I shall take full advantage. I have my wife, our cats, our chaise, and my Robitussin. Life is good, misery notwithstanding.

Here's a photo of George on the chaise with a book I'm reviewing.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Checking in from Indy

We arrived tonight in Indianapolis from Buffalo, having logged around 5,000 miles on our trip so far. Much of what we saw is lovely farm country, like southern Indiana; no pix, since we've been single-minded about covering lots of ground, and our cameras are probably buried under a ton of junk in the car anyway. We're anxious to be home now, and will be there on the 4th if we keep up this pace.

Here's a photo from the other day when I met with Carter Jefferson (the handsome fellow on the right) and Ruth Douillette.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Meeting friends and heading home

Not often does a person get to meet the folks he corresponds with online, but I recently had the pleasure of meeting Carter Jefferson and Ruth Douillette near the end of my vacation in Massachusetts. They are—surprise! just as nice in person as they are in their emails in the IWW.

Writing habits don’t change easily. My new novel is not writing itself, alas, nor have I put more than a couple thousand new words into it during this family vacation. Tomorrow we leave Cape Cod for Vermont, the home of Nancy’s 101-year-old grandmother. Barbara is tiny, blind and frail now, but her mind is as strong as ever. We have known each other for well over 40 years, and I can attest that she is a genuine lady. When she heard about my novel, she had a friend order a copy from her local bookstore; she wouldn’t hear of accepting a copy as a gift if she could boost my sales instead.

After a day visiting her, we’ll begin our trip home in earnest. Our plan is to skirt the Great Lakes, pass through Kansas and Colorado, and drop into New Mexico from the north. We expect to arrive home on July 5, or July 6 if we get lazy. It’s been a fine vacation, but Nancy and I are both ready to have it done now. I suspect that our travel companions, George and Gracie, will also be happy for familiar turf. When Nancy started cleaning the big carrier the cats travel in, G & G hot-pawed it out of sight. Gracie quickly forgot her worries and wandered back to greet us, but not George. We began to worry that he might have slipped out, which would have been serious, but we eventually we found him hiding under the bed.

Here is an old photo of the cats who rule our lives (Gracie is on the left):

Once we’re home, I have to figure out how to improve book sales. I’ve had a couple of radio interviews, have been featured on the cover of a (small) literary magazine, received glowing book reviews, and so on. My online sales are insignificant. At book signings, my sales to date have ranged from two to six copies. I do have a couple of upcoming events where I expect to sell a good deal more, but hand-selling won’t move copies quickly.

Wow. What a whiner. The fact is, having a book in print—a good book, one that makes people laugh, is a lot of fun.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A month on old Cape Cod

We’re on Cape Cod in Massachusetts for the month of June, 2500 miles and a week’s drive from our New Mexico home. Our rented cottage sits on quiet Buzzard’s Bay, where we could hide undiscovered for a very long time. There are no superhighways, no police sirens, no pimped-up hot rods with thundering stereos. But there is peace, and there is time to write. On many days, a stiff northerly breeze creates whitecaps on the bay, which I can see from where I sit. Now and then, a small recreational boat putts past.

We are in an old carriage house next door to the lovely Federal-style home that our landlord and her husband live in. Our place is comfortable, although the dimensions are such that I’ve bumped into shelves and cabinets more than once. The sharp pain has taught me to shuffle around the house with more care. Our Bengal cats, George and Gracie, walk through the fireplace and then leave gray paw prints on the white bookshelves. Nancy cleans up behind them, but initially she worried about the damage the cats would do to the assortment of knickknacks on the shelves. Our landlord, a nice lady, assures us that nothing is valuable.

Rhododendrons are in bloom, and some of the bushes in the neighborhood appear to be ten feet high. This is also a friendly environment for roses, especially the wild ragusa that I have always associated with Cape Cod.

Our landlord’s advertisement specified Internet access, but they only have it in their house. The wireless is kaput until her son can come and fix it; perhaps I could troubleshoot the problem—maybe it’s as simple as a loose connection—but I don’t intend to. Nancy and I bring our laptops to the Falmouth Public Library now and then, and we check our emails. Yesterday, we showed up when the library was closed, so we sat in our car and used the library’s wireless signal. It worked fine.

We had lived in Massachusetts for nearly 60 of our years (over 40 of them together), so our trip back here from New Mexico is a good test of how much homesickness we feel. So it may sound odd to say that while I have always liked Massachusetts and been proud to live here, I don’t miss it at all. Today the skies are blue, but for twelve of our first 14 days in this cottage we had heavy, dismal clouds and harsh winds. Our landlord’s elderly husband told the tired joke about New England weather, that if you don’t like it, just wait a minute, it will change. (He told it three times in a half hour the other night, because his memory seems to be slipping.) Anyway, the weather can change quickly around here, but not necessarily for the better.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Crossing the Mississippi

Today was much better, with the sun shining and the cats not caterwauling. We drove to East Memphis, Arkansas and then north into Missouri, where we stopped in New Madrid for a close look at the Mississippi. The view was hazy, but here is one photo:

We passed through mile after mile of flat farmland, and it looked to me as though they were growing crops enough to feed the world. We crossed the river over a single-lane bridge at the point where the Ohio flows into it. There was no place to photograph the confluence of the two rivers, but my, it was impressive. Kentucky lay on the other side, and the landscape promptly goes from flat to gently rolling.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Now we're beyond Hope

We woke up to heavy rains in Dallas this morning. Parts of the city had ten inches overnight, and I read tonight that floods washed an SUV into the Pedernales River and drowned six people. By the time we were underway, the rains were off and on, and conditions gradually improved as we very carefully drove east about 20-30 mph under the speed limit.

The closer we got to Arkansas, the taller and denser were the trees. A portion of our ride reminded us of the old Route 3 heading towards New Hampshire, which used to have a heavily wooded median strip. It's very green down here.

I wanted to see President Clinton's birthplace in Hope, Arkansas, so we took Route 67 off the main highway. Hope is larger than I expected, about 10,000 people. Here is his first home:

All in all, our drive to Little Rock was dull. In the evening I'm trying to keep up with my fiction writing.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Texas wildflowers

We woke up to fog and rain in Midland, with 60-degree temps, not the kind of weather we normally associate with Texas. Our destination for the day was Dallas, which we made easily. The countryside has turned green, with plenty of trees and a slightly rolling landscape.

Texas highways display wildflowers in abundance this time of year. We stopped to take some photos, and here is a sampling:

Friday, May 25, 2007

Are we there yet?

Today, we (two humans and two cats) got into our jam-packed car and departed from Las Cruces to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, a roughly 2500-mile trek. George, our male Bengal, protested from inside his carrier, and I presume he was also speaking on behalf of his more mild-mannered sister Gracie. We made it across West Texas hill country, land of Texas limestone, mesas and buttes, 80-mph speed limits, and lots and lots of nothing much. We'd had rain for a couple of hours, which brought out the strong smell of the creosote bushes. There is something clean and appealing about that smell, even though it reminds me of telephone poles and railroad ties.

Here is a Texaco station where we'd contemplated a quick rest stop. Frankly, their offerings were limited.

Somewhere past Van Horn, the land flattens out into a plain. The land has no trees to speak of, but lots of smaller bushes, and in the towns we begin to see lawns, small but lush. Oil wells begin to dot the countryside, small rigs that bob slowly up and down and look like praying mantises devouring their mates. Then the cities of Odessa and Midland appear, apparently so closely linked that billboards refer to Midessa.

So we are spending our first night in Midland, which proclaims itself "the home of President George W. and Laura Bush." Lacking an invitation to join them, we are staying in a La Quinta Inn.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Toni Causey's very (very, very, very) good debut

I just posted this review of Bobbie Faye's Very (Very, Very, Very) Bad Day on Amazon. The author is Toni McGee Causey, and it's published by St. Martin's Griffin.

Bobbie Faye Sumrall is the type of gal a guy could really be attracted to--in the same way a moth is attracted to a flame. This tart-tongued Cajun's day starts out with the destruction of her trailer and with her accidental parcticipation in a bank robbery, and this is before things start going downhill. Bobbie Faye is Contraband Days queen, and at the center of this insane romp of kidnapping, intrigue, suspicion, threats, car chases, gunfire, voodoo and a string of utter disasters is Bobby Faye's homely tiara. Bad guys want it and will kill to get it, even though it seems to be worthless; Bobbie Faye won't give it up because it represents her family's highest achievement.

Toni Causey's achievement is to pack so much disaster (and laughter) into a single day. Bobbie Faye's Very (Very, Very, Very) Bad Day is a lively, thoroughly enjoyable summer read.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Recently, online sales of my novel have been slow. I check my Amazon rankings frequently—too frequently for my mental health, probably—and have watched my Amazon sales rankings sink, sink, sink from a high of 125,000 to a low of over 1,000,000. I haven’t shared this pain with my wife, because I know she’ll say what she always says: “Relax. You're supposed to be having fun!” (Nancy has this annoying habit of telling me what I need to know.)

Anyway, during that whole dismal slide, the Amazon message on my book's page said, “Only 4 left in stock—order soon.” That “4” never changed for a couple of weeks. Then tonight after watching a movie I sat down and acted on one of my more harmless compulsions and checked my Amazon ranking. Well, lordamercy, my book had risen to 76,000! The Amazon message said “Only 3 left in stock—order soon.” THEY SOLD ONE BOOK and my ranking rose by about 935,000 places. That's the highest ranking the book's ever had. So I thought at that rate I'll be #1 if only somebody else will buy my book. So, compulsive person that I am, I refreshed the screen and learned that I'd dropped 40,000 places.

Is there a pill to cure my Amazonitis? Don't tell me that I'm supposed to be having fun. I AM having fun, damn it. I AM!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Joel Frey's new book

The other day, I met Joel Frey and his fiancee at an El Paso Writer's League meeting. Joel has written a memoir of his not-so-distant college days, entitled Two Sides of a Cypress Wall. I'm looking forward to buying and reading the book when it's published this summer.

Deming book signing

Here is a nice photo published today in the Deming (NM) Headlight. The caption reads:
'When Pigs Fly'
Bob Sanchez, author of "When Pigs Fly," signs a copy of his book on Friday at the Marshall Memorial Library. Sanchez is a Las Cruces resident and first-time publisher of the crime caper set in the Sonoran Desert. (Matt Robinson/Headlight Photo)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

This Li’l Porker Goes to Market

For years, the idea of self-publishing was anathema to me, all tangled up in my mind with vanity publishing. Serious Writers Don’t Go There, I thought. We are supposed to write our novel and then beg perfect strangers for approval.

But life is too short—and in my family that’s more than a simple cliché. Why waste it chasing after agents and publishers? I decided to make my latest novel, When Pigs Fly, a test case for self-publishing. My friends called my book “the li’l porker,” and it was time to go to market.

Granted, some self-publishing companies give off a bad odor. But research showed that iUniverse has a good combination of quality, reputation and price, so I signed up with them.

For the most part, they’ve done well by me. They have an orderly and businesslike publication process requiring input from the author; in fact, they leave most decisions to the author, the biggest exception being the pricing. For my 300+ page book they selected $18.95. That’s high for a paperback, but apparently not for one printed with print-on-demand (POD) technology.

Is the $18.95 a gating factor for buyers? I think so, but some people are buying it at full price. For a while, Amazon offered it at a 30% discount, but not anymore. iUniverse sells it at full price and always has. I keep a stock in the back of my car for readings I do in the Las Cruces area, and those copies generally go for $15, a price that leaves me a little margin. My goal is not to maximize income, but to maximize readership while recouping the bulk of my expenses.

Before you join me on the self-publishing path, you need to decide on your goals and evaluate companies with those goals in mind. My own goal is to gain a wide readership while earning back my investment. I no longer care about agents or traditional publishing houses, and will almost certainly self-publish any subsequent novels. On the other hand, credibility for my work is important.

Oops. Do "credibility" and "self-publishing" belong in the same paragraph? A lot of people turn up their noses at the whole business as though they were passing a pig sty. Just try to get your book reviewed. Very few people will review your book. Kirkus Discoveries reviewed mine, but I paid them for it. Midwest Book Review specializes in reviewing self-published and small-press books, so they reviewed mine. A couple of other reviews are in the works, and I actively sought out all of them.

Anyway, when my book came out in November 2006 I sent an email to all of my friends and some of my old neighbors and acquaintances. I tried to use a light tone in keeping with that of the book, so I made silly but true statements along the lines of "It'll make you laugh, but won't improve your love life." It was a reasonably effective launch to my most likely market niche, and sales got off to a good start.

Also, I converted my personal website into a platform for promoting WPF, though driving traffic to that site is an ongoing conundrum. An inexpensive Google ad seems to make a small difference.

It's not clear how much help Amazon reviews are for sales, but I solicited friends to post reviews if they liked the book. Right now I have 14 reviews, 12 of which are there because I asked for them. Mind you, not everyone values Amazon reviews, because they are assumed to be biased.

It's hard to gauge my online sales in the short term, as iUniverse reporting lags two months behind (they have to wait for reports from Amazon, etc.). So sales reporting is one area where I'm not completely satisfied with iUniverse.

Selling books directly is quite satisfying. So far, my sales in signing events have averaged five books-modest, but the interaction is fun. The other day I even turned down a sale, because a lady who hadn't heard me read wanted a copy for her 13-year-old granddaughter. I explained about the profanity ("only a little") and adult situations, and we agreed my book was a bad choice for a child. The nice lady was probably thinking it was like Charlotte's Web. But then other customers give me a big smile and say how much they're looking forward to the read, and that personal interaction I'd miss if only bookstores and websites carried the li’l porker.

(The above article appeared in the May 2007 issue of The SouthWest Sage, published by SouthWest Writers.)

On the road in Deming, New Mexico

Yesterday I drove to a book signing in Deming, New Mexico, an hour west of Las Cruces across desolate desert landscape. The Marshall Library hosted my quiet little event, which despite local publicity and a large outdoor marquee that read, "Bob Sanchez -- Author Book Signing May 11," attracted only two librarians and a local newspaper photographer. So I sat and read the first chapter of When Pigs Fly to a pair of very nice ladies, and I sold two books. I also donated one copy, so the event was a financial loss. Big deal. It was fun.

According to a local resident, Deming is a city with no "nice" neighborhoods, only those that are tolerable and those that aren't. Methamphetamines and housebreakings are apparently a big problem there, and there is some spillover of violence from Palomas, Mexico, about 30 miles to the south. (In Palomas this week, five people were murdered, including one person who arrived at U.S. Customs in a bullet-riddled car.) Well, this all came as a surprise to me, as I'd pictured Deming as just a sleepy little burg.

So my novel travels ever so slowly toward immortality, one lonely copy at a time.

(Oh, by the way, the Marshall Library has a display of YA books, which prominently includes copies of The Killing Sea by Richard Lewis, my online acquaintance who lives in Bali, Indonesia--which, if it isn't paradise, it's the next island over.)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

My Pig Squadron

Here are flying pigs friends have given me since my novel came out. These winged wonders occupy a place of honor on my desk.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The power of advertising

…or not. iUniverse has a cooperative advertising program where you pay a certain amount of money to share an ad in a publication having wide circulation. When I asked them about the efficacy of the ads, they said they had no idea. So I thought I’d do a quick little study of my own. This is unscientific for all kinds of reasons, but it may provide an interesting glimpse into what your ad money might buy.

One of the companies providing co-op ads through iUniverse is The New York Review of Books. For $250, you can purchase advertising for your book, and it will appear in a single larger ad identified as promoting independently published books.

On March 29, I looked at their most recent and relevant ad, which had 13 titles in a single large display. Of course, independent books sell by various means, but the only information I had access to was the Amazon ranking, which only indicates their own sales relative to all other books they sell. They don’t divulge hard sales numbers.

Today, April 8, I looked at the rankings again.

Here is a summary:
—Six of the titles had no significant change in sales ranking.
—Two of the titles fell significantly (from 70,000 to 900,000 and from 500,000 to 1,000,000).
—Five improved significantly, the biggest change being from 1,800,000 to

It will take more than this to know for sure, but this quick look suggests to me that authors should be careful about how they spend their ad dollars.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Some new articles

El Paso Magazine just published two of my articles in their April issue, so that has made my week! One article is about the Border Book Festival being held in Mesilla, NM on April 20-22. (Sadly, the magazine doesn't link to their content.) The accompanying photos were supplied to me by some of the participants, such as Sandra Cisneros. The other article is entitled Trekking to the Copper Canyon, and all the pictures are mine. I'm very pleased with how everything came out. This weekend I'm working on a short article on self-publishing for The SouthWest Sage, a publication of SouthWest Writers.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

My WPF isn't for kids

One day, it was bound to happen. A lovely lady on the staff of a local retirement home had missed my reading of When Pigs Fly in their library yesterday, and she sent word to me that she'd like to buy a copy. Her friend's email passed along a request that I inscribe the copy "to Darian." So today I swung by with a copy for her, then asked her who Darian is. "My thirteen-year-old granddaughter," she said. I replied that this is an adult novel with some profanity and adult situations, and didn't think it was an appropriate gift. She completely agreed, and I lost the sale.

This has been a concern of mine, that some people might mistake WPF for a children's book. Even before its publication I wondered if there were a better title, but the one I chose seemed best to fit the story line.

Of course sales are important, but so is being remembered well.

Friday, March 09, 2007

An honor from iUniverse

Well, iUniverse just awarded When Pigs Fly its "Editor's Choice" designation, based on a couple of good reviews from Kirkus Discoveries and Midwest Book Review. The icon thingy on the right will start appearing on the back cover of
my books. Cool!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Spitting nails

Stand back whilst I spit virtual nails.

I’d wondered why several people had come up to me and said they’d visited Barnes & Noble to see me at a December book signing only to be told B&N didn’t know anything about it. The signing was elsewhere. I’d never realized until yesterday that the Sun-News entertainment writer had run an article about me and several other authors. I had personally delivered to the newspaper a copy of my news release (which didn’t mention the signing), my business card with contact info, and a complimentary copy of the book. So this morning I went the Sun-News website and paid $2.95 for the full article so I could post it on my own website. Here is the relevant portion of the

Tis the season to get a book signed from a local author

S. Derrickson Moore Sun-News reporter LAS CRUCES — A signed first edition is a rare gift that can be easy to give ? [one of several declarative sentences ending with a question mark, but maybe that's only in the online version.]


Just out is "When Pigs Fly" by new Las Crucen Bob Sanchez, (iUniverse, paper, $18.95) a recently retired technical writer who also writes short stories, book review [should be plural] and magazine articles.

He chronicles the adventures of retired Massachusetts policeman Mack Dugan [NO! It's DURGIN! That's right on first line of the back cover!], who is asked to scatter his friend's ashes over the Grand Canyon. In his quest to fulfill his friend's request, he encounters colorful characters that include "a pair of loony housebreakers, a bald Elvis impersonator and a dopehead with an outline of his brain tattooed on his skull."

A winning lottery ticket and a javelina are also involved.

Critic David Daniel calls the book "part road trip, part crime caper, part love story? 'When Pigs Fly' reads like it was written with an ice pick, and he drives it right into the heart of the American dream of the Golden Years."

He [No! Misplaced pronoun. It should say Sanchez.] will sign books at 7 p.m.
Wednesday at Barnes & Noble at the Mesilla Valley Mall [NO! I never told her this. It was held at the library].

**Then in a sidebar she repeats the incorrect location and gives my website instead of my email address as a source of more information—and she gets my website URL wrong.**

Shoddy work. Just shoddy work. Grr.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Internet Writing Workshop

So I don't post for a month, and nobody notices? What's up with that? Well, never mind. No offense taken. Meanwhile, may I commend you to the Internet Writing Workshop, a superb online venue where writers critique each others' work in a safe and friendly environment. They have a variety of mailing lists where you can submit your work for critique. It's open to writers of all skill levels, and it's quite well run by dedicated volunteers. No flamers allowed.