Friday, June 22, 2018

An Indie’s Fire needs YOU

Did you know that right this very minute you could motivate someone beyond your wildest dreams? It’s true. If by any chance you’ve ever read an indie author’s work, and enjoyed it, the power is in your hand to fuel that person’s fire.

Does it require any additional investment? Well if you’re referring to money, then no. But if you’re talking about time, then yes, although not that much to be honest.

You see, motivation is a funny thing like that. You might ask: what difference can one review make in the life of an indie writer.

The answer: A TON.

In general, people have no idea how hard it is to get a review for your work. And by review, I obviously mean a legitimate review. I will speak in depth in regards to other types of shady reviews eventually, but for now, let’s focus on a genuine and real review. I’ve talked about this before and it’s something I’ll continue talking about because people so often take themselves for granted and just how much of an impact small actions can have, ESPECIALLY on the Writer Journey of an indie author or any indie artist for that matter.

To explain a bit better, let’s see my stats for my books. I’ve been at this indie game now working on my fifth year. I’ve sold a sizeable amount of books, connected with hundreds of people, thrown every fiber of my being into the work, and I post un-monetized randomness all 5 business days of the week to get people to smile. This includes Visual Typos, Teactionary, Tasty Tuesdays, SkyThoughts, Sock it To Me, and the random yet popular 00 Bananas. I connect with people, email thank you notes, never spam, reply to every single comment, and try to have as much fun as possible. I also have people who borderline harass me for Book 3 in the Human Cycle. People seem to genuinely like my work. Yet my reviews are in the lower double digits if I’m lucky.

Some people might say I’m not using the right tactics, not contacting the right people, not searching for those opportunities and all of these are valid points, but I do things my way, hate to pester people for a review, and alas, Only Human has 28 reviews on Goodreads and my next most reviewed books are the Daydreams onthe Sherbet Shore (11 reviews) and Between the Tides (9 reviews). I have 12 books out and between them, most of them have single digit reviews. Not only that, 3 of them don’t have a review to them (For Writing Out Loud, Peace, Love and Maki Rolls, and Pensando en Metáforas). So this means that the lion’s share of motivation honestly comes from within, which should be the case anyways if you choose to be an indie artist. But just one review, one comment, one share that is received and not hustled for or solicited is huge. And although we appreciate a rating, it’s never going to be the same. Sorry, but that’s the truth.

A good review can pump me up when the ink isn’t flowing, when I wonder if the effort is worth it, when I question the how in regards to the things I do. And I don’t keep this a secret. I tell everyone how happy it makes me to show my appreciation. I have dozens of friends who are on the same boat and when we review any work, we don’t hold back. If it’s a pile of dung, you’ll get the truth. But when the books hit the mark, we say so in as many ways as possible. And it fuels us for days and weeks. Hell, on low days, checking an old review can give new wind to our sails. I’m not joking. On Booktube, when people talk about my work, it’s pretty awesome, especially when you listen to a comment where it shows that the person got the concept or paid attention to some tiny detail you thought most people wouldn’t notice. It hasn’t happened often that people talk about my work in a video, but trust me, every single time it does, I’m giddy for days. The same when someone sends fan art or takes a selfie with a book or tells a friend about a book. All things that cost nothing, yet are priceless.

So you see, in your power is the ability to talk about something different from the norm. On your BookTube channel, there is the chance to talk about something that isn’t a trend, isn’t the fad of the moment, although, hell, you could help make a trend. That’s something a lot of people don’t realize. If enough people talked about someone’s work, interest would rise, and more people would give that author a chance. It’s not science, it’s word of mouth and it’s a hell of a lot more effective than a facebook ad.

Share a post, like, comment, all things that can help improve our performance with algorithms, that are so detrimental to smaller authors. Did you read a book you really enjoyed? Suggest it to a friend or a book club. Work at a school? See if it’s something you could recommend to the administration so kids in your class can read. You know why? Because it’s free and it can help someone’s dreams come true. Don’t wait until these creators have a bad day. Seize the day and let them know if their work matters. And if the work sucks, say so as well, but be constructive. All of this feeds the fire and trust me, as indie authors, often times we’re braving the elements while cupping our hands around a small flame. It hurts. It’s aggravating. But that flame is our dream and we’ll be damned if we don’t do everything in our power to keep that light lit. Still, some kindling is always welcome, and some motivational gasoline is much obliged.

Peace, love, and maki rolls

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Separating Kids from Parents is NOT Normal

I have no idea how anyone can justify the things we are seeing in the news. Beyond political pettiness, jingoism, and sheer blindness to amorality, I just can’t wrap my head around separating kids from their parents.

That we see this and still have people justifying, normalizing, rationalizing taking kids from their parents in the manner in which we’re seeing is worrying. It’s past baffling, frustrating, and confusing. I’m worried at the state of madness we’re entering where anything is justified because, well they’re immigrants.


Have we reached such a new low that anything can be justified for the supposed greater good? What does it say of someone who is supposedly Christian who not only turns a blind eye but nods in approval at what we’re seeing?

Do not get me wrong, I’m not naïve enough to think that the media coverage does not have a role in how we're talking about this. But even if it’s skewed towards one political side, that does not change what’s happening. If even one of these cases were real, that would be bad enough, but it’s not an isolated case. It’s a new norm. It’s the new US.

There are a LOT of topics to be talked about with the current state of affairs, but when it comes to immigration, the level of ignorance in general is part of the problem and I am still very ignorant because being from Puerto Rico, I had no idea how hard it is to get US citizenship. People say, why not get a Green Card? Why not apply for citizenship? In these fast-food times, how long do you think it takes to become a US citizen? By the way, I don’t mean people who enter illegally as so many people are quick to mention, as if it’s a cardinal sin against the US. No, I mean professionals with degrees who pay their taxes, are law abiding citizens, and actually contribute to the country. Do you think it only takes days or months? I’ve worked with people from countless countries and the immigration process varies from case to case, meaning that if you're from one country, it's probably easier to get citizenship than another. The process can last a year, or two, or five, or eight, or ten, or more. It can cost thousands upon thousands of dollars and even so, there’s no guarantee. I know people who have either HAD to leave or given up on the immigration process because even with all of what they have to go through, even all the hoops they jump through, they still have to deal with the fact that a LOT of people don't want them in the country.

Regardless of your opinion of immigration and immigrants, the case of immigrant children being separated from their parents and how politicians, officials, lawmakers, and fellow citizens want to normalize this is a new low and by all means, you can stop calling yourself Christian if you are for this. That’s a bold blanket statement but I can’t see any way in which a compassionate God would not only allow, but condone and encourage what we’re seeing as if it’s a good thing. To me, there is honestly no moral gray area on how this is all being carried out. There is no justification where I see this and say, OK I see your point. Calling this a bargaining tactic is even more disgusting and it’s been used in the media and by politicians. And you know what? The only other instances where I’ve heard something similar is from dictators and terrorists.

If you do a search on the topic, it becomes more worrying because people are intensely defending this. "If they entered illegally, it's their fault. The blame is on them. Get out of our country." OK. So you want to deport people because of your beliefs and because someone entered illegally. Why do it in the manner in which they are doing it? I'm not saying you have to give a free pass to everyone and I'm not even talking about the immigration process in general, which has its countless areas of opportunity. I'm talking about how these separations are being carried out and people saying it's not only allowed but correct. That this is just like when someone commits a crime and either the state takes the children or they are sent to their relatives as if it were even remotely close to as organized as they say.

It may be a matter of opinion, but I honestly feel we need to be better than this. And not just a little but A LOT. Alas, people insist on supporting their party no matter what and conveniently turning a blind eye to things they would easily condemn if the same happened to them. It’s all about rooting for your team unconditionally and with this topic and during these times, it’s becoming harder to just accept someone else’s opinion in matters like this.

This isn’t about taxes. This isn’t about guns. This isn't about Social Security or taxing the healthcare system. This isn’t even about immigration. This is about infant children being taken from their parents. Don’t add adjectives. Don’t add categories. Don’t add nationalities. Don’t add immigration status. Take it for what it is. Kids taken from parents. Want to deport them all? That's a different topic and one I disagree with as well, but that's a matter of opinion. Taking a three-year-old from their parents' arms and putting them in a cage is not. That's just messed up and please don't describe it like a summer camp, as some media outlets are. Auschwitz was not a summer camp. Japanese internment camps were not summer camps. Cuban concentration camps in Miami during the 60's were not summer camps and what we're seeing is riding on similar lines. 

Please, don't look at this from a conservative point of view. Don't tell me how liberal logic is flawed because they support abortions but are against deportation or how this is being carried about. Don't tell me that it's the parents' fault. Don't view this from a political or ideological point of view. View this as a human and tell me how you feel about it. I have and I'm telling you right now, this is a far cry from whatever "great" is supposed to mean.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A.L. Mengel: A Retrospective

Think back about twenty years and what computers were like in those days.

There certainly weren’t any touch-screens or tablets, or smartphones or Kindles. Audio books were regulated to expensive compact discs, and Audible wasn’t even a glimmer in its creators’ eye. In those days, Createspace and Amazon were unheard of, and aspiring authors needed to do things the old fashioned way: with a black and white composition notebook, type up a manuscript, mail submissions from the mailbox, and hope and pray that a publisher would want to print it.

Although he might be published in the golden-age of Kindle uploading, supernatural and sci-fi novelist A.L. Mengel started writing on similar notebooks while still in high school, in his creative writing class. “My writing in those days was pretty abhorrent,” he said. “I remember writing a short story about dice ‘making love’ to a craps table.” The story was about a couple of women trying to overtake a casino, and Mengel recalls pulling the ‘dog ears’ off of his spiral notebook paper. “I used to toss the pieces of paper on the floor, and watch them fall. I’m sure the janitors didn’t appreciate it. But it was in those little fleeting pieces of paper that my dream was born.”

After his creative writing classes in high school, Mengel did not write again until years later, after he had graduated college, on a story that he had deemed would become his first novel. “I think it was quite bad,” he said. “I think I was just regurgitating some of King’s stuff that I had read as a teenager. The computer crashed and I lost about 80 pages. Between my awful short story in my high school creative writing class, and my ‘novel’ that had zero originality, I’m glad those works were lost forever. I think it’s for the best. That was all just practice.”

But what did A.L. Mengel do after losing the writing?

“I honestly threw myself into life,” Mengel said. “And that’s really what a writer needs to do. Especially a younger writer. We have to go out there. Make our mistakes. Have our cash crunches. Look for love. Have our own experiences that can shape our storytelling style.” But Mengel knew, deep inside, that he wanted to be a novelist. Despite a fifteen-year career in the Hospitality Industry, that took him to such cities as Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and Miami, he felt that the fulfillment just wasn’t there.

“I knew that I wanted to write a novel,” he said. “I remember telling friends about the novel I’d lost. And I remember shortly after the year 2000, I started writing what was to be called A Vampire in London. I think I wanted to write a vampire novel, at least at that time. But so many were enthralled by Anne Rice’s work, and I got discouraged, and abandoned the project.”

It wasn’t until 2002 that Mengel started the novel that was to become Ashes, his debut, which would not be published until a full decade later. “That novel started as The Last Nail in the Coffin. I wrote it off and on for years, while working as a manager in the Hospitality Industry in Florida. I’d finally completed it in 2007, but put it away again for two years. I just wasn’t ready. I got so used to talking about being a published author, but just not ready to take the step of sharing my work with the world.”

It wasn’t until 2009 that Mengel decided to take the step and shop The Last Nail in the Coffin to New York. “It was met with rejection after rejection,” he said. “I lost count.”

But after many edits, re-edits, rewrites and a new title, the book finally had a chance to be read by others when Mengel uploaded the first part to Kindle in April of 2013. “Ashes has four parts, and I initially published it in parts on Kindle, so I could relive the excitement of publishing several times, leading up to the planned paperback release in Fall of 2013.” So Mengel split the novel into four parts and released them each a month apart. 

“It was initially a good move,” Mengel said. It put him and his brand on the map instantly with multiple titles, and readers were picking up the first parts of the story. There were some positive reviews coming on Amazon and hope for a successful release. “Although I haven’t done a partial release since and probably would not do it again. Some readers didn’t notice that the partials were not the entire story. But Ashes, to this day, remains one of my most widely read novels.”

2014 brought the era of The Quest for Immortality. “I started that novel in 2007, right after I had finished The Last Nail in the Coffin [published as Ashes in 2013].” Mengel recalls putting the novel away for years while he focused on Ashes. “I didn’t look at the manuscript for The Quest for Immortality until March of 2014. But by then, I felt more confident. And the initial hurdle of sharing my work with the world was surmounted, and I was excited. I knew I had a process.”

So Mengel advertised his release date on social media for the Fall of 2014. “I chose October 28th, the same day that Prince Lestat was to be released by Anne Rice. It was the first release date that I promoted heavily on social media. The Quest for Immortality was also a story that really helped me grow as a person. I think I dispelled a lot of personal demons writing that title.”

But it wasn’t until the following year that Mengel would become a recognized name in the literary community. “After The Quest for Immortality released, I immediately started writing The Blood Decanter.” Mengel had left his career in hospitality management, and started bartending to keep a healthy cash flow while he wrote his novels. “I remember complaining to my editor that I didn’t have enough time to write as a much as I wanted to. I wanted to be a full time novelist.” But Mengel knew then, that it wasn’t practical in those days. He had made a strong debut, but still felt the need to keep his bartending job. “So I developed what I would be best known for, and that’s #Writestorm.”

Mengel entered the Online Literary Community with his #Writestorm concept in early 2015, and shared it with the group The #Awethors. It was quickly embraced and writing contests were held. It wasn’t until summer of 2015 that the book outlining the concept was published. “The #Writestorm book came like a whirlwind, and changed my life. It’s one of my most easily found titles, and I will always be associated with it, as its creator. I was writing The Blood Decanter when the #Writestorm project took precedence.” Once #Writestorm released, Indie Authors around the globe snatched it up, read it, and some reviewed it. Author D.M. Cain uploaded a YouTube review outlining how it “revolutionized [her] writing career.”

But 2015 was not over yet.

In the early Fall, The Blood Decanter released on print, and was shortly after under consideration for a Bram Stoker Award by the Horror Writers Association. “I remember mailing copies to jury members across the country,” Mengel said. While the book did not make it to nominations, the prestigious awards gave much needed exposure to the novel. “It’s my easiest title to find,” Mengel added. “A reader can just Google The Blood Decanter and a wealth of information will come up. My book dominates that search. Great for word-of-mouth marketing!” The popularity of the title comes with a price, however. “It’s also my most pirated title,” Mengel said.

In late 2015, Mengel decided that he needed a break from the dark supernatural stories that he’d been writing. “I wanted to challenge myself as a writer,” he said. “I didn’t want to get too comfortable in one genre. I knew that if I wanted true mainstream success, I’d have to branch out to other genres.” Shortly after The Blood Decanter released in print, Mengel started a short story in science fiction after a brief period of research. “I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time,” he explained. “I was writing in a genre that I loved, but never had written in before. Using words that I had never written before. It all seemed so technical to me.”

The short story that Mengel was working on was called The Wandering Star. As he started to write it, he commented on how the story quickly outgrew its short-story status. “I really was enthralled about the idea of the planet stopping its rotation, and what might happen,” he said. “And as I wrote and continued my research, the story grew. And for a while, I thought it was going to be a novella. But it grew again, and soon became a novel project, and The Vega Chronicles were born.” 

Mengel explained that he had not expected to write a science-fiction novel right after releasing The Blood Decanter. “When The Wandering Star grew into its britches, Parchman’s Press put it on the docket to release in Spring of 2016. So it quickly became an official project. The story concept was testing well with audiences, and it became my number one pre-order seller.” That project, Mengel explained, delayed the production of War Angel, which had been in pre-production since Fall of 2013. That title originally had been scheduled for writing production in January of 2016. “I now couldn’t start War Angel until May of 2016, and I had four less months to write what was to be a major, epic release.”

With The Wandering Star’s strong debut and reviews [The Penalty Box called it “one of the best sci-fi reads of 2016”] Mengel could sit down and focus on War Angel. “I was initially daunted by the project, because of its grand scale. But when I started writing production, it actually flowed quite smoothly. I had three previous novels to draw from in The Tales of Tartarus and my fears were unfounded.”

War Angel released in October of 2016 quietly, as readers were still in the process of discovering A.L. Mengel as a storyteller. But those who read War Angel called it his best work to date. “Michael Elliott over at Dark Realm Diaries posted a pretty amazing analysis of the story on his YouTube channel,” Mengel said.

With the advent of 2017, Mengel now was known as a multi-genre author. “I felt compelled to continue The Vega Chronicles. I really wanted to write a story set entirely in outer space, and that is how The Europa Effect was born.” That novel, Mengel explained, was probably his weakest release in terms of sales, but one of his favorite stories to write. “I just had a blast with the research, and loved writing the space-opera style sequences. Worm holes and such. And I seem to have this cosmic connection with Jupiter. The Jovian System plays a large role in the story.” When asked about whether he was disappointed that readers have yet to discover the title, Mengel responded: “The Europa Effect will find its way.”

Mengel recalls discussions with his editor saying that he needed to take a creative refueling break, but he knew that he needed to return to his roots first. “I’d had an idea for a spin-off series from The Tales of Tartarus series. I wanted books to focus on smaller characters from the series and give some of the minor characters a chance to tell their story, who didn’t get much page time in the Tartarus books. I knew I wanted to start with the narrator of The Tales of Tartarus, who just so happened to be a mortician by trade.”

And The Astral Files were born.

The Mortician was my most personal title to date,” Mengel said. Besides conducting research that many run away from, Mengel used personal experiences to build the story and characters. “I’ve never been a mortician, but some memories I had as a child…playing kick-ball in the street…burying a childhood pet…some of those memories come across in the story.”

Mengel explained that he also had a unique challenge while writing the novel. The Mortician is a period piece that tells two simultaneous stories, in two time periods separated by decades, with two protagonists and separate and complete casts. “I don’t write with chapters, but rather parts, so I had to find ways to transition the story without losing the reader.”

Mengel turned to art, photography and music to weave back and forth between the two time periods and separate casts. “A character might be listening to a particular piece of music, and then the story transitions to another character listening to the same piece of music, separated in time by decades. Therein lies the connection.”

After The Mortician was published in December of 2017, Mengel took a writing break, and focused on touring and promotion. “It was much needed,” he explained. “I’d been getting pressure from my publisher to focus more on promo.” So the Take A Journey Book Tour with author Jeremy Croston was born. “The concept was a long running tour, so dates could be added or subtracted without it seeming overwhelming.” The Book Tour also contains unusual stops. “It’s not your traditional comic-con tour. Take A Journey has #BookOnABench and the #AuthorDiscussionSeries, more intimate tour stops, and invitation-only VIP receptions.” Along with some more traditional book-store and comic-con stops.

As of June 2018, Mengel has started to write a new project. “Colonia is the biggest writing project I have ever taken on,” he explained. He is referring to the conclusion of The Vega Chronicles, a two-volume set which he intends to release same-day. “It’s been a challenge getting Colonia moving with the Book Tour, but I’ve really needed the break. I was writing books back-to-back-to- back for several years.” He hopes to release the dual novels together by the end of 2018, but explained that an early 2019 release would not be out of the question.

“The creative process, most certainly, cannot be rushed.”