The relaunch of the Detroit Next series.
I have a “new” book out! It’s a re-issue of a book my co-author and I wrote a few years ago called The Caline Conspiracy. Now it’s called Twisted, which is a way better title. It’s also got a better cover and we’re both listed as the author instead of relying on a shared pen name.
Twisted introduces PI Aidra Scott, who is investigating whether a genetically engineered dog killed its owner. The widow of the victim doesn’t think her pet is a killer and hires Aidra to clear her name. Aidra doesn’t want anything to do with dogs, genetically engineered or not. But the more she investigates, the more she’s convinced an innocent animal is being framed. And murder is just the beginning of the conspiracy.
About that cover… If the book is about a genetically engineered dog, why isn’t there a dog on the cover?
Because when readers are shopping for fiction, genre is their first consideration. It’s more important than plot and it’s way more important than the byline, unless the author is well known. This is an uncomfortable truth that was hard to accept. Most authors want some sort of illustration on the cover, a scene from the book. But that’s not what will catch a reader’s eye. Readers know what they’re looking for, and first and foremost, they’re looking for their genre.
Harry and I write cyberpunk. You can call our books near-future thrillers if you’re feeling fancy. We abide by the tropes of our genre, giving readers exactly what they want. The new cover tells readers that yes, this is the kind of book they are looking for. It’s up to the blurb and the first few pages to ultimately sell the book, but if our novel’s cover doesn’t scream “cyberpunk!” then the reader won’t even get that far.
Plus, the new cover just looks really, really cool. That glowy effect? It’s not just in the backlit ebook. The paperback has it too. See?
For now, Twisted is available exclusively here at Amazon.com. We’ll list it at the other retailers soon. Book two in the “Detroit Next” series is coming December 15.
Goodbye pen name, hello real names.
I used to share a pen name with my co-author, Harry Campion. We released four novels in the Detroit Next series under the name MH Mead. However, it’s not working for us anymore. In fact, we’re not sure it ever did. Starting this fall, we’re killing the pen name and re-issuing the novels under our real names.
A shared pen name seemed to make sense at the time. Back in 2010 when we were starting our collaboration, indie publishing hadn’t taken off yet, and traditional publishing was still an author’s best choice. But when we approached editors and agents, they said, “Readers don’t like co-authored books.” A trip to any bookstore would show how false that was, but we were still told that over and over.
When we started submitting our co-authored novel under a single pseudonym, we quickly got several offers of representation from agents. So we started to think that maybe there was something to this idea of a single pen name. Our agent was cool with a co-authored novel, but he still thought it was better to submit it under a single name.
Within a year, we’d fired our agent and turned our back on traditional publishing, but some of the bad advice we’d been given along the way stuck with us, including the idea of a shared pen name.
Four novels later, we’ve come to see that a shared author name comes with numerous downsides and few—if any—upsides.
A shared name makes it harder to promote the books, since any blog posts or social media we engage in has to make it clear who the author is. Guest blogs and interviews always start with a long paragraph of explanation about our co-authorship. Readers had to figure out who we were before they could hear what we had to say. The short stories we’ve written by ourselves aren’t linked to the novels in Amazon’s system, so no cross selling is possible. Even hand-selling books to people we know has a barrier, since readers can’t readily identify with an author who doesn’t actually exist. We also lost street cred with our students. Teaching is a huge part of our identities, and having books with our names on them helps our credibility.
I’m not exactly sorry that we tried this experiment. Now that we know what doesn’t work, we can try rebranding the books with our own names in hopes that it works better. The timing is good, too. Harry and I have a new novel ready to go, and we’ll be able to reissue the older books quickly. We hope to get some momentum for the series by publishing the novels every few months.
We’ll be updating the covers as well. The first one is ready to go and we’re excited to share. Look for a new novel in the Detroit Next series by Alex Kourvo and Harry R. Campion coming to (virtual) bookshelves this fall.
Please play along as I give my quarterly update.
Back in January, I made an ambitious goal. I would write 2017 pages this year. At 250 words per page, that’s 504,250 words in one calendar year.
This isn’t a big deal to anyone but me. A writer’s secret scribbling doesn’t matter much. Only output matters. At the end of a year, how many books are in reader’s hands? That’s what counts. My brother has been an awesome accountability buddy, but talking about my goals in public helps me a lot, so please play along and ask me all the hard questions about what I’ve been up to the last three months. Thanks.
You: 500k words a year equals only 1400 words a day. Isn’t that low for a professional?
Me: A professional writer would scoff at this, thinking it was way too easy, but I’m not doing this full time. I’m still squeezing writing time around my part time jobs and volunteer work. To make things worse, I’m trying out a new genre, which means I’m a beginner all over again.
You: Okay, so you should be at 126,063 words by March 31. Did you hit your first quarter goal or what?
Me: Yes, I did.
I wrote 126,749 words, which puts me over my goal by nearly 700 words. I had a few days in January where I didn’t write at all, but I put my fingers to the keyboard every single day in February and March.
You: What did you write?
Me: I wrote 107,778 words of fiction plus 18,971 words of nonfiction. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the final numbers, because I was afraid I was spending too much time on nonfiction, but it came out to 15%, which seems just right.
You: Nonfiction? That counts?
Me: That totally counts. I bring a ton of creativity to my nonfiction. Blog posts, book reviews, and class materials for my writing workshops all count toward my goal. So do editing letters. (Those are the three or four page letters I write for my editing clients, telling them what’s working in their books and what isn’t.)
Some nonfiction doesn’t count, though. I don’t count social media updates or emails. But that other stuff? I bring my A game to things like book reviews and editing letters, using every bit of my creativity, so I add them to my daily total.
You: But editing your own books doesn’t count as new words, right?
Me: Right. I’m only tracking raw output, which is why on some days, I can work for hours and hours and have only a few hundred words to show for it. Editing is time-consuming, but it’s not something that I can skip in favor of new words. That’s not how books happen.
You: But I haven’t seen any of these things. Are you sure you’re not just a poser?
Me: Some of the nonfiction went on this blog and my book review blog. The materials for my writing workshops went to the attendees. The editing letters went directly to my editing clients. Writing doesn’t have to be published to be considered worthy.
You: But what of all this fiction you supposedly wrote? 100k words is more fiction than many writers write in a whole year. Where did it all go? Why isn’t anyone reading it?
Me: People are reading it. They just don’t know I wrote it.
Some of those 107,778 words are still work-in-progress, which will be published later. Some was just for practice, and I won’t be publishing it at all.
But most of it was published. So far this year, I’ve published eleven short stories (about 9k each) under a super secret pen name. The stories were experimental, trying out a new genre, and I’m not comfortable revealing this pen name. So you might have read some of my short stories without knowing it.
I loved writing them. Those stories mean a lot to me and I’m happy that I brought them into the world, even if I can’t claim them.
And by the way? This blog post has 706 words in it. I’m adding those my total for next quarter.
About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She likes sticking to her goals.
Just because you’ve got nothing to hide doesn’t mean you’ve got nothing to fear.
You’ve got spies in your house.
You let them in.
The day you bought a smart phone, an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or a smart remote for your TV, you placed an always on, always listening device in your home. Even Siri is always listening for her name, meaning she’s always listening, period.
You don’t care. You think “I’m not that interesting” or “I’ve got nothing to hide.” But there are three problems with that.
First, if you think that surveillance programs are only there to catch bad guys, think again. Second, the “nothing to hide” argument puts the burden on you to prove your innocence. Constantly. “Why are you so worried about privacy?” law enforcement will ask. “are you doing something you’re not supposed to?” Third, you’ve given up the choice of what you share and when. Are you okay with the government reading your email? Out loud? In public? How about searching your house and car and body any time they want? Why not publish your bank balance and parade around naked while you’re at it? After all, you have nothing to hide.
Everyone is probably breaking some law at some time. I speed. I also routinely run the bullshit stop sign at my corner unless there’s a car coming from the other side. Chances are 100% that you, too, break the law in ways big and small.
And we all have tracking devices in our pockets, meaning government officers know, or can easily find out, what we did. Since they can’t arrest everyone, laws are selectively enforced. Marginalized groups such as young people, minorities, immigrants, and the poor are the ones who get arrested for stuff we all do.
Your friends, your colleagues, your children, your children’s friends. I guarantee at least one of them has something to hide from the government. Not because they are doing something illegal or wrong (technically, we all are), but because of selective enforcement.
We can’t do anything about selective enforcement. And in most cases, we can’t live without the spies in our pockets. But at least we can minimize the harm they do.
One easy step you can take is to encrypt your text messages. Instead of sending plain texts, that are easily read by anyone with a search warrant (or in many cases, without one), you can easily encrypt your messages, so that no one but you and the recipient can read them.
Think of it as herd immunity. Journalists and human rights activists around the world encrypt their texts, for good reason. But the problem is, simply encrypting texts by itself can throw suspicion on someone. However, if we all encrypt our texts, it becomes the new normal. Nothing to see here, journalists and humans rights activists and young people and minorities are simply doing what everyone else does.
It’s free and seamlessly replaces your usual texting app. You need zero tech know-how to use it. You send texts just like you always do. If you’re messaging someone who also uses Signal, it encrypts the message. If you’re texting someone who’s not using Signal, then a regular message goes out as normal.
Signal uses strong, tested end-to-end encryption tools, which means that even if a court order demanded it, the developers of Signal would be unable to deliver your messages to the government. It’s not that they’d refuse to do it. They simply couldn’t.
You can’t afford to be passive about this issue. Not now. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for the most vulnerable among us. And with free, simple, and seamless apps that will help, there is no excuse not to.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She sends as few texts as possible, and encrypts every one.
Writing 2017 new pages this year? Why not?
A few weeks ago, my brother asked me what my 2017 goals were. When I said I didn’t have any, he asked me, “Could you do two thousand seventeen of something?” The question intrigued me. It seems like such a huge number. But spread through an entire year, it comes to just over five and a half per day. But five and a half of what?
My sister joked that she wanted to nag her children 2017 times, but was afraid she’d go through her allotment in a single month. A friend I spoke to later said he wanted to pet 2017 dogs.
They didn’t take this challenge seriously, but my brother did. He’s committed to running 2017 kilometers this year. As for me, I immediately saw how it could be applied to writing, and right there, on the spot, I committed to writing 2017 pages this year.
Then I did the math. Let’s assume 250 words per page. In order to write 2017 pages, I’d have to write 504,250 words. Okay, huge number.
But is it so huge? Really? 40,020 words a month. About 1400 words a day.
And you know what else is huge? My ambition. Lately, I have been coming up with idea after idea, with no clue how I’m going to write everything. I don’t just have three novels I want to write, I have three series in my head. They’re all pulling at me saying “write me now, now, now.” I’m also working on a set of linked short stories and I want to try my hand at a new genre and suddenly, writing half a million words this year doesn’t sound like a challenge so much as what I simply must do.
Of course, that’s half a million words of rough draft. Those words will have to be edited, and if I want to publish them, I’ll have to either send them out to publishers or format them for indie pub, which is time-consuming either way. I’ve taken on two part-time jobs, and I volunteer at my kid’s school. I’m also going to be involved in some political campaigns, since Michigan desperately needs a new governor. Fitting all this writing into a busy life? That’s the true challenge.
Does anyone want to join me? Not just writer friends! Anyone can do this. If you’re trying to eat healthier, how about 2017 servings of vegetables and fruits? Or 2017 glasses of water? If you’re trying to be more positive, how about giving 2017 compliments? Could a seamstress sew 2017 seams? Could a photographer take 2017 pictures?
What I love about this is that it focuses on the positive. It’s not about giving up a bad habit or trying to lose weight or save money. It’s about doing.
Let’s do this.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She’s glad she’s not running 2017 kilometers this year.
[Photo: Ilya Lobanov | Dreamstime Stock Photos]
I don’t trust our country to do the right thing. I’m not buying it. Literally.
Things I’d planned on buying in the next six months:
A dining table
Gutters for my house
Service people I’d planned on employing:
A gutter installer
A landscape company
Things and services I’m actually going to buy in the next six months:
In fact, I might not buy any of that stuff for a year or more. I’m joining the protest economy.
People who look like me, people with the same privileges I have, elected a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic rapist as our President. And gave him lots of friends in congress to play with. They will hurt people who don’t look like me.
My peers claim they aren’t racist or sexist. They say this election was about “smaller government.” They say it was about “the economy.” That is a lie. They voted out of hate. And that hate has put me and my family in jeopardy in countless ways. I will probably lose my health insurance. My brown, queer children fear for their very lives.
My peers claim this election was about “bringing jobs back.” If jobs come back, it won’t be on my dime.
I’m not hiring anyone to fix my gutters or to deliver a new table or sell me a computer. I’m opting out of this economy as much as possible in the coming year. I won’t buy anything I don’t have to. This includes movies, restaurant meals, and even books. If my rake breaks, I’ll duct tape it together. If I lose my umbrella, I’ll get wet. I hope my family likes donations to charity for Christmas because that’s the only gift they’ll get from me.
This capitalist country is racist as hell, and I’m going to leave it the only way I can, by removing myself from it economically.
And the money I’m not putting into our broken system? That’s going to three places: Planned Parenthood , EMILY’s list , and the Sierra Club. They are doing the work I want to see done, and the only work I’m willing to pay for right now.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She is completely okay with nobody buying her books for a year.
[Photo credit: © Ridiculousbroomstick | Dreamstime Stock Photos]
Saying goodbye to my old computer…and the old me.
My computer died last week. I used to think “died” was a silly word for computers that had stopped working. It’s not like computers are alive. It’s not like they’re our friends.
Then I got Pinky, a fully functional Asus EEE pc. She had a ten inch screen, weighed less than three pounds, and had a white keyboard surrounded by a shell the color of bubblegum. Pink is my favorite color and cute is my favorite size, so it’s no wonder I chose this computer. But looks and function weren’t the most important things about Pinky. The most important thing is how I got her.
In 2009, I won the Ann Arbor Book Festival writing contest. The prize was $250. It was the first real money I’d made writing fiction, and I bought Pinky as soon as the check cleared. This was mostly symbolic. Our household budget could have covered the cost of a new computer, but so what? Writers deal in symbols every day. And this was huge. After years of striving, I’d finally earned money with my fiction and I spent it on something that would help me write even more. This computer symbolized my transformation from new writer to working writer.
I wrote three novels and a dozen short stories on little Pinky. And book reviews, and blog posts, and Twitter updates. My fingers touched her keys every single day. I loved having her at home, and I loved taking her to coffee shops. She not only fit in my backpack, she fit in my purse. People always asked what kind of computer I was using as they smirked at what looked like a toy. If they asked what I was working on, I’d tell them I was writing high-tech science fiction. Then I’d silently sip my coffee as they did a double take at me and my Barbie computer.
Even when she got slower and the battery was all but useless, I was never tempted by newer, shiner machines. I loved Pinky too much. But eventually her battery wore out and so did her processor. First, Pinky wouldn’t boot up if she wasn’t plugged in. Then, she wouldn’t boot up at all. The techs at Computer Medic couldn’t revive her. Pinky was dead.
I’m writing this post on a perfectly usable gray Dell, also bought with money I earned by writing, but it’s not the same. My new computer isn’t colorful. It’s not cute. It doesn’t even have a name.
And as for Pinky…well, she still sits on my desk. A couple of times, I absentmindedly put her in my backpack before I remembered that she doesn’t work. Eventually I will have to take her to the recycling center. She’ll be sent to China to be stripped for her metals.
As I finally say goodbye to the best writing buddy I’ve ever had, I will probably shed a few tears, because I will also be saying goodbye to the newbie writer I once was.
Rest in peace, Pinky.
About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories on a boring, gray computer that desperately needs a nickname.