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The Black Sea – Chapter One – The Fall

The Black Sea by VP Von Hoehen


The Fall

“DERANGED SCIENTIST, TERRORIST, MURDERER, CON MAN, gangster, arms dealer, genius thief . . . there isn’t much you haven’t done, is there? Is it the dark and evil side? The bad guy that women hate to love, but fall for anyway?”

“A’, Miss Allen, you might ’ave stumbled upon the real me,” René quipped. “Per’aps I am a rogue at ’eart.”

Kate Allen was sitting on a high-backed armchair half, taking in the golden hue of the sun setting over Philadelphia through the bay windows and half the opulent reception room of René Socarov’s penthouse suite at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. As she took in the view of the city below, Étienne, the smartly clad PA who had greeted Kate when she arrived at the hotel to interview René, entered the room and called René in an urgent tone.

“Please excuse me, Miss Allen,” the French actor said and dis­appeared behind the internal doors.

After a couple of moments, René returned, let down the blinds a little to soften the direct sunlight flooding into the window bay. Then he slid elegantly back into his chair and turned his attention once more to Kate and the interview.

“Sorry, Miss Allen, I ’ate to be interrupted, but these media circuses are riddled with interruptions.” He hesitated, realizing his obvious faux-pas. “Forgive me. I didn’t mean to imply you area circus performer or anything of the sort.”

“Please, I understand perfectly,” Kate said sympathetically, knowing that “circus” was an apt description of the average media junket.

For a celebrity of René’s magnitude, it was nothing short of a miracle that she had been granted time alone with the star.

He smiled at her response and sipped at his water. Kate studied him quickly. His short and dark hair was shot through with just enough grey to show gravitas without compromising obvious good looks. The years had been very kind to him, she thought, and wondered how could everybody believe he had never been under the knife. She almost let out a sneer at the thought. René had grown up in a wealthy French family, and of course, he had always been accustomed to having things his way — public image included. Right now, René Socarov was doing nothing else but maneuvering his very public image exactly the way he wanted it. His perfectly attired, well-cut black Armani suit and the impeccable white shirt open at the collar were part of it.  He seemed to have acquired few wrinkles as a result of his persistent smile and his occasional sinfully sardonic laugh, but his face did not lack character. For a man of forty or “around forty”, he was truly in his prime.

The competitor magazine had said that a smile from René could put an entire room instantly at ease with his classic European manners. What else can she add to his description for her magazine? She mused that his manner was very kind and open. Even though this was probably his hundredth interview in the last week. His accent was intoxicating and made it easy to think of more questions to ask him. He certainly wasn’t rushing Kate out of the room and she certainly was going to take advantage of that. Twenty minutes into the interview, Kate knew she had enough information for a great article, already titled in her head: “René Socarov: the French Are Coming.” What else could be more suitable for the readership of WMA, a women’s lifestyle magazine published in the northeastern states?

The interview had overrun by some time, but René showed no sign of bringing it to a close. Étienne returned to the room and offered Kate another bottle of sparkling water, which she accepted with a smile.

Kate took a sip of her drink and looked around the room, while René stopped to light a cigarette. He had, of course, already offered one to Kate and asked her permission, noting that Americans are funny when it comes to smoking. She declined the offer, but nonetheless gave her assent politely — puzzled that even he would be allowed to light up indoors in this day and age.

She took a brief moment to review the long list of questions she had already asked René. The interview had been a breeze. René was articulate and expressed himself in short, clear, simple thoughtful answers — the perfect interviewee. Despite the ease of the interview though, Kate thought that, behind the good looks and considerate manner, he looked a little tired and a bit tense. The woman in her again.

The night before he had attended the national premiere of his movie, a movie that had been filmed in and around Philadelphia. René had had to deal not only with a demanding press, but also the scrutiny of the public, not to mention the customary pushing and pulling of his security brigade. He had signed autographs and smiled in a roguish, movie-star kind of way, but said little, if anything, to anyone, as he was managed through the crowds. What René didn’t attend to, Étienne did. Naturally, he left the public wanting more, as truly great stars do. The public had an insatiable appetite for anything related to René Socarov — the George Clooney with a French and sexy accent.

Kate was merely acting as one of many “go betweens” for the star and his fans. WMA was René’s link to the hundreds of thousands of women who read Kate’s publication and openly fawned over every move of celebrities like René.

Kate’s hand cramped as she continued to take notes. It was a physiological response to how many times she had asked the very same question for the very same purpose: celebrity interviews. Lately, her hands were cramping more and more. Her best friend, Bea, had even, half-jokingly and half-seriously, given her a flexi­ball to help her cope with the constant cramps in her hand. “What does Bea know about hand cramps, of all things?” she wondered as she was desperately trying to keep up with the notes describing René Socarov. Do pediatricians treat hand cramps? Hmm, no. Do English aristocrats? Her best friend, Lady Beatrice Spencer, knew nothing about hand cramps, she concluded, as she wiped one eyebrow. She put her pen down.

René’s phone beeped and, seeking Kate’s assent, he scanned the text message he received and rapidly typed a reply. Kate finished reviewing her notes and turned her attention to the suite. It was a stunning Art Deco room refurbished down to the smallest detail. The overall effect was elegance from a bygone era, elegance that fitted René’s style to a T.

“Miss Allen, we are getting along famously, I wonder, would you care to join me in a light meal — an early supper?”

René had finished texting and Kate’s fleeting thoughts were easily interrupted. She almost jumped.

“Yeah . . . yes, that would be very nice,” she rushed.

She immediately regretted not having spent more time at the mirror, preparing for this interview, even as she quashed the thought with an inward roll of her eyes. Once again, she had to rely on the information from the enemy’s magazine. Of course, René had a long-term girlfriend. Of course, he was notoriously faithful to her. It was part of his well-manufactured public image that women such as WMA readers loved to see. Being a Frenchman, he was almost expected to be flirtatious, which he delivered with every opportunity.

Kate preferred pants to dresses, shirts to blouses, flats to high heels, but she liked to think that she was never anything less than well-presented. Kate’s style was simple, yet functional. She wore low-heeled brown leather shoes, a chocolate cashmere sweater over a pink shirt with a button-down collar and beige chinos. Her long and straight, copper blond hair was worn in a no-nonsense ponytail.

“What might I order for you?”

“Uh, normally I have something like soup or salad, but whatever you are having is fine with me.”

“Zen, if you agree, two Caesar salads. And to drink?”

“A Diet Coke would be fine, thank you.”

René called out to Étienne and asked him to order the food.

“O, and pommes frites please, for two.”

Étienne glided out of the room to place the order.

“Étienne seems very efficient. How long has he worked for you, René?”

“Only about eighteen months, but I ’ave known ’im since ’e was a child.”

“He seems to enjoy working for you. I have met the PAs of many stars over the years and last night, at your premiere, he was certainly charming and delightful in carrying out his duties. He really seems to love his job.”

“Really? ’ow kind of you to say so. No one ever says anyzing about staff, so it is good to ’ear that someone appreciates ’is work.”

René’s response left Kate feeling pleased that she had mentioned Étienne.

“It is gratifying to ’ear such zings. If you don’t mind, I shall tell ’im zat you said so, after you ’ave gone.”

The mention of her departure reminded Kate how much her interview had exceeded the de rigueur fifteen minutes; it was now closing in on two hours and she was about to join him for a meal, too. He must be exhausted, she thought, he had been doing inter­views all day and hers must be the last. Perhaps she shouldn’t have agreed to join him for supper, but she knew her boss, Thelma, would be thrilled with this result and furious if she hadn’t. The interview was part of a major studio’s effort to promote René’s new film, The Crest of the Wave. A mediocre film at best, she thought, but she understood that she, like most of the other press, would support the film with cleverly worded phrases in exchange for the sales and advertising revenue that came from interviews such as this one. That was the way Hollywood worked, and restructuring Hollywood was not within Kate’s remit, even though at times she wished it were.

She knew exactly why she was here and, even though her aspi­rations might have been higher than a silly little WMA, doing fluffy fan interviews, Kate reluctantly accepted her place in the pecking order.

Conscious that the interview was drawing to an end, Kate made an effort to ask a few final questions that would elicit good copy for her story.

“So what makes you think this film will appeal to American audiences, René?” asked Kate, knowing that it all had to do with his sex appeal.

René responded with a wink.

“Dare I ask if American audiences are capable of appreciating a good film? I suppose we are about to see.”

“That sounds a little crass for someone like you. Do you really want me to print that?”

“Hmm, per’aps no, Americans can’t always find it wizin to laugh a little bit at zemselves, can zey? Yes, let’s keep zat remark just between you and me.” He winked again. “Let’s just say that America loves a good film and zat zis is a good film. How’s zat?” he offered as though asking Kate’s permission with a slight smirk on his face.

“Better, but not exactly a page turner,” she replied.

“It isn’t a book we are writing here — are we, Mrs Allen? Or is it Miss Allen?”

He smiled slyly.

“Kate, just Kate is fine,” she deflected his flirtation graciously.

Kate felt she was being very gracious with René, given how much she had come to deplore knowing winks. He was only getting away with it because of his suave French manners. Her ex­ boyfriend, Jimmy, used to wink at her all the time, as if to say, “Do you get it? Do you get it?” Of course she “got it”, he wasn’t that bright to begin with. She remembered what her grandmother had always told her, smart girls scare even the smartest of boys.

Focusing her attention on the conversation with René, she broke into a broad smile.

“You are being way too forward and obvious for a man who is very attached. I know you have a beautiful girlfriend, and just as you don’t need to stereotype Americans, you also don’t need to play the French stereotype of the womanizer either — you are famously faithful, despite the reputation of your countrymen.”

“Whatever are you talking about? We, Frenchmen, are obliged to be charming in the presence of beautiful women — it is the essence of being a Frenchman. Flirt is such an ugly word, isn’t it? But, alas, it is the cross we bear for being the most romantic people in za world.”

“Can I use that as a direct quote?” Kate enjoyed this banter with her subject. She did in fact find him clever — and charming.

“Of course. I wouldn’t want you to zink me boorish.” He smiled devilishly. “I’ll leave that for you Americans — you know — but of course, I am joking again.” “Off the record, agreed? You really don’t like America or

Americans, do you?”

She realized that she was beginning to sound a bit defensive.

“No, please don’t zink that, Kate. I love America, I love Americans . . .”

“Yes, I am sure some of your best friends are — ”

René’s cell phone rang and, as he picked it up off the table, Kate could see he recognized the number immediately. He excused himself and answered the call.

“Bonsoir, ma chérie. ’ow I miss you. I don’t want talk in French because I have a journalist in the room.”

René stood up and moved off to the bedroom as he spoke and, by the time he entered his bedroom, he was speaking only in French. She quietly went over her notes while sipping her water and admiring the room some more. She couldn’t help but overhear the conversation in the other room and, for a moment, wondered why René hadn’t bothered to close the door for privacy. She grimaced at the thought that he had assumed, correctly, that she would not be able to follow a conversation in

French. Not that she would eavesdrop on such a conversation in any event.

René’s conversation was clearly with his girlfriend, the myste­rious Céline — of whom little was ever been printed in the press other than her status as a very beautiful Parisian socialite. Kate smiled again, half listening and almost being drawn in by the romantic tone now in René’s voice. Although he was speaking in French, Kate could understand the occasional word and phrase. In any case, the sound of a voice in love is unmistakably interna­tional.

Kate looked out of the window as her mind drifted briefly to love. She wondered if she could ever fall in love again. Her rela­tionship with Jimmy had been a mistake from the start. She glanced down from the darkening sky to the table, where the small digital recorder lay. The recorder, ironically, had been a gift from Jimmy. He had given it to Kate on her last birthday, when they were still together. Kate still hated to think that her falling in love with Jimmy had been only a matter of convenience — to fill in a missing piece in her life she felt she was “supposed” to have. It comes with working for women’s magazines.

Despite the reminder of Jimmy, she kept using the recorder. It was, after all, useful for her work, allowing her to continue the flow of an interview without interruption and leaving her hands free to take notes. It crossed Kate’s mind that one of the great things about working at a women’s magazine was that you didn’t have to put up with men like Jimmy — covertly misogynist — but it all came out in the end.

René’s beguiling murmur continued to flow from the room next door. Even though the words weren’t meant for her ears, she couldn’t help but feel slightly seduced by them. Was there still a gap to be filled in her heart? She shook inwardly. Maybe it’s time for her to move on and step up to a proper newspaper soon.

René reverted to English as he reached the end of the call and moved toward the reception room once more.

“So, I will see you at your place in Paris after I drop my bags off and ’ave a shower. I can’t tell you ’ow much I am looking forward to spending some quiet time with you. This promotional tour ’as really been too long — much too long. I feel like I ’aven’t slept in weeks. I love you too, my dear. I will see you soon. Chill the champagne. Bonsoir. Je t’aime.”

René slid back into his chair once more.

“Forgive me the interruption, Kate, but sometimes I zink Céline is busier zen me,” René commented apologetically. “I ’ave been trying to speak to ’er for two days. Look, I ’ave left the phone in the ozer room.”

Kate nodded politely, it was a nice gesture, although they were both aware that that made no difference. If it rang again, he would almost certainly have to answer it. It was his personal cell. Normal calls would surely go through Étienne first — he was after all René’s gatekeeper.

“There is nothing to forgive. I should let you get some rest.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that we needed to rush. And we have just ordered our supper. Seldom do I feel as comfortable with journalists as I do with you. Per’aps during lunch you will permit me to ask some questions about your life. Quid pro quo, Clarice,” he said, doing a horribly French impersonation of Anthony Hopkins’ character.

It was amusing and Kate found it impossible not to agree to stay.

“You implied nothing and you need your rest. I understand perfectly.”

René’s face had become more relaxed — even more attractive. He excused himself again and sat down.

“Please continue, Kate.”

They returned to the interview. Kate was curious about Céline. She wanted to know more about her, partly for the magazine and partly to satisfy her own interest. She wanted to know something more personal about her, strictly off the record. She smiled, trying to imagine what it would be like to live your life in Céline’s shoes.

Étienne entered the room and informed René of yet another call, this time on the hotel phone.

“I beg your pardon but it seems urgent,” Étienne’s tone was stressed.

Seemingly irritated, René got up to take the call in the bedroom, once again leaving the door ajar as Étienne slipped away.


Within seconds, the tone of René’s voice became terse. Feeling a little awkward listening in this time, Kate got up and began to walk around the large reception room. As she passed by the door of the bedroom, she saw his back turned to her and heard him talking animatedly. She paced up around the room, stopping by the huge dining table and admiring the intricate flower display of the centerpiece. When was the last time she received flowers? It must have been Bea again for her last birthday. She felt a weight pressed against her heart at the thought. Maybe she did need a man in her life, but now she needed to focus on getting the hell on with her life and with her silly little job.

She stared at the clock on the tower of Philadelphia City Hall, looking incredibly close to the bay window of the penthouse, for a full two minutes. A bird sat on William Penn’s statue and broke her stream of life-inventory thoughts.

A moment later, there was a knock at the door, but Étienne was nowhere to be seen. Feeling uncomfortable about answering the door without permission, although she realized that it was probably room service, she ignored it at first. Then an angry looking René briefly put his head around the door and motioned that Kate should answer it. She crossed quickly to the door and looked through the spy hole to see that it was indeed room service.

She opened the door and invited the waiter in, telling him to set the trolley next to the dining room table where she assumed René and she would be dining. The waiter carefully prepared the table for the meal, gingerly moving the floral centerpiece on one of the side tables. When he had finished, she signed the bill and gave him a five-dollar tip, wondering how much René would usually tip. The waiter closed the door behind him as René returned to the room.

She looked straight at him, noting that his expression was now grim and his hands were trembling. His charming and warm face gained a harsh tone, as if in pain. He went over to Kate, who was still standing by the dining room table.

Nonetheless he swept his hand over the table.

“I see our meal has arrived. Shall we sit down and eat?” he said rather perfunctorily. They sat, but René did not speak again, instead he glared distractedly at the empty space where the flowers had been, and then started rubbing his temples. Kate was nonplussed and unsure of what to do, if anything. Her time on the

showbiz beat for WMA meant she was accustomed to tempes­tuous star behavior, but this seemed to be something else.

A few moments passed before René said, lacking focus, “Kate, please forgive me. I am afraid …I apologize. I must end zis now. I have lost my appetite and, I zink, I need to lie down. Do you ’ave enough to finish your article?”

He didn’t even wait for Kate to answer.

“If not, Étienne will see to it that you get anything else you need. I truly beg your pardon, per’aps we will ’ave another occasion on which we can share a meal and just chat.”

His demeanor was so changed that Kate wondered who had been on that call and what could have been discussed, that could upset him so much. Her instinct was to ask, but she checked it. Kate wanted to remain professional and, in light of the abrupt change in the atmosphere between them, she was wary of annoying René when the interview itself had gone so well.

Instead, she agreed she had everything she needed, responding simply to his apologies.

“Not at all, please, think nothing of it. You have very kindly given me an extraordinarily long interview and I know that you are tired.”

“Zank you for your gracious understanding, Kate.”

Taken aback by the abrupt end to proceedings, she hurried over to the table in the bay window to shut off the recorder and began to gather up her things.

As she prepared to leave, René stepped closer to Kate and grabbed her hands. He drew her near as if to give her the two kisses of a traditional European farewell, but then he brushed past her cheek and whispered in her ear, holding her steady so that she would listen.

“If something happens to me, please find Andreas.”

Then he kissed her cheeks with hasty courtesy and tried to smile as he moved her gently, but forcibly, toward the door.

“It ’as been a pleasure to meet you, Miss Allen. I am sorry to end on this note. I trust you will forgive me.”


Her head was spinning with questions, but she didn’t feel able to ask what the hell was going on. She felt her heart racing as though she shared René’s sudden distress in some way. She was worried about him, though she had no idea why. The interview was over without another word or pleasantry; Kate was guided firmly through the door and into the hotel corridor beyond.

She felt like she had been thrown out of a fast moving car.

The Black Sea is available on Kindle and in hardback in a limited number of copies.

The next two chapter will also be published on the VP Von Hoehen blog in the coming weeks.


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Creating Black Mary Press

I first decided I wanted to be a writer when I was 16, but took me until my mid-thirties to commit to focusing on it wholeheartedly. Some would even say I still have too many other interests to class myself as a full-time dedicated author. Once the decision was made and I started to bring about the changes to my life to make it happen, I consulted the people I already knew were already successful writers. After years of thinking about it, I was finally going to do it: all I needed to do was find a publisher.

One of the authors I consulted about finding a publisher gave me some rather surprising advice. He is well into his career and a best-seller: he has sold literally hundreds of millions of copies of his books and he told me in complete sincerity that, if he was starting his career over in this new world of publishing – the electronic world – he would not choose to go with a traditional publisher.  Instead, he would keep control of his own material and set up his own publishing imprint. This conversation took place in 2005 and, six years later, his advice has proven to be right on the mark. In fairness, he said that being who he is (and I am not going to mention his name so as not to upset the apple cart), at this point in his career, he would hardly change.  He is one of the few authors who can literally demand pretty much anything he wants from his publisher and they will meet his needs without demur, but if he were to do it over again from scratch, he insisted he would go it on his own. This pretty much had the right amount of influence over me, and so I created Black Mary Press.

In April of this year, Black Mary Press published The Black Sea, the first in a series of book featuring lead character, Kate Allen. The novel was launched officially at the London Book Fair, where the imprint was also introduced to the publishing world. There are five books planned in the Kate Allen series. All of these will be developed into screenplays with the intention of creating a global franchise for the character in the cinema and/or including network and cable television. The screenplay of The Black Sea is already in development.

Black Mary Press does not conform to the traditional narrow view of an imprint. It is a company dedicated to developing creative talent across a wide variety of media to the best benefit of the content creator.  The objective of Black Mary Press is to find more creative properties that can be developed over a wide variety of formats in order to extract the greatest benefit for the artist and thereby drive revenues for the company. Black Mary Press, therefore, is more than just a publisher. It is a creative incubator that looks far beyond the limited parameters of traditional publishers.

Traditional publishers are desperately trying to hold on to classic paper-based distribution and are failing to adapt to new market demands. They are keeping their authors, like the friend I mentioned earlier, tied mainly to the paper-based distribution. Part of the reason he chooses to stay with his current publisher is that they are willing to pay him very well – perhaps above the market rate – because he is one of the few whose books people will buy on paper and pay the higher price. His publisher intentionally keeps the paper versions of his books close to the price of the electronic price of his books (even though the development and distribution costs of the e-version is next to nothing).

The traditional publishers are burdened with costs linked to how they have done business in the past. Realistically, for their survival, they need to write off a lot of their investment as sunk costs and come out fighting in what is the new publishing market; but kings fight to the death to protect their kingdoms, even after their time has passed. Andrew Wylie, a well-known agent, has taken over the electronic publishing of many of his big name clients, including Rushdie and Naipaul. These authors’ publishers simply weren’t doing the job for them, so the agent stepped in to do it.

New publishers need to be more flexible and less restricted in their approach to new media markets. They need to exploit all possible avenues of generating revenue for their clients and their clients’ work beyond mere book sales and rights sales. Black Mary Press was founded with a fresh perspective on traditional publishing and we are dedicated to taking this approach, not only with my own creative works, but with those of all of our talent.

We are currently looking at great projects from a number of highly talented fiction and non-fiction writers (including some world-class chefs) – but we are certainly not limiting ourselves creatively. Our goal is to bring a select group of authors to a global audience by targeting ideas that can be exploited across several media formats. We believe our authors offer strong, unique talent and we work with them to provide passionate readers from around the world with exceptional quality and engaging content.

Author VP Von Hoehen

Author VP Von Hoehen

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Kate Allen? – Is She Really the New Bond? The Black Sea

Kate Allen is the protagonist in my novel, The Black Sea, and she is really a synthesis of a number of strong, intelligent women in my life – all of whom I adore. The original inspiration for Kate was Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. I wanted to create a female equivalent to Ryan, someone who would manage the situations in which Kate finds herself in the ways I’d expect the women I know to deal with them. Kate has no super powers.  She has no Lara Croft or Lisbeth Salander super skills and/or gadgets and, unlike James Bond, she’s not a killer in the “for Queen and country” model.



Too often woman in fiction are endowed with these unrealistic attributes and this is something that I really dislike, so I created a character that –  much like the women in my own life – is more than capable of looking after herself. Moreover, while Kate is romantic with men she never lets them distract her from her goals or what she is determined to do. While it is easier for a male protagonist to sleep with women and cast them away unapologetically, Kate’s character strikes a careful balance and is neither callous nor careless with her emotions.

Kate is a very savvy, ambitious journalist who is more capable than she knows. She uses her intuition and prefers to take action rather than doing nothing – I think it is indecision that keeps most people from realizing their true potential. Kate finds herself in endless dubious and dangerous situations, but she doesn’t get paralyzed with fear and do nothing. She makes decisions with the best information she can gather and then moves forward, for better or worse. At the same time she absorbs knowledge and events very quickly and critically adapts to the environment around her. That is part of what makes her such a great heroine.

Recently, I have been asked a lot about how I came up with the character of Kate Allen the heroine of The Black Sea. So I have decided to give a little background information about Kate and how she came into being:

For me, Kate always needed to have attributes that allowed her to resonate in the mind of the reader and, most importantly, I wanted her to be appealing to both men and women. I strove for men to like Kate as much as women do and, from the reviews and feedback I have had so far, I’ve succeeded:  men find her as appealing as female readers do.  In Kate, I hope that I have created a character who simply does what most women would do when confronted with circumstances in which she finds herself.  And I hope she’s a character who is capable of being convincing both in print and on the screen.

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Old World vs New World Publishing

Things have changed so quickly in the world of publishing. It wasn’t so long ago that the BIG publishers were willing to reward best selling authors with huge advances. Now the game has changed and the huge advances are about as likely to happen as winning the lottery. The days of Donna Tartt are over. The new e-world order for authors is publishing their own work via a number of different distribution methods but the one that seems to be working the best at the moment is e-publishing. A lot of writers, including some very big names, are setting themselves up to publish their own material. Thus, authors are taking control over the future of their writing back from the bigger publishers – and that in most cases is a win-win.

Publishers have a vested interest in selling paper. That is the main reason they often keep the price of the e-books so high relative to their hard and soft back editions – especially for their proven authors with large backlists. Traditional publishers only understand distribution of a paper product. They want you to choose the paper versions over the electronic version so they keep the prices close – therefore encouraging the purchase of paper based product. That they do so doesn’t serve the needs of either the author or the public. Moreover, that the traditional publishers have stuck to their guns on this issue, only helps to self-servingly prolong their crumbling empires and outmoded marketing models. They have been shortsighted, and much like the railroads that never realised that they were in the transportation business last century and so fought a futile fight to maintain market dominance, mainstream publishers are increasingly finding themselves irrelevant. Of course they won’t disappear entirely, but they are relegating themselves from the mass market to a niche market: paper based distribution.

Another industry was too involved in protecting its empires to learn and adapt to the needs of the marketplace. The music industry did not embrace the pace and tide of change – which was against them. They suffered the consequences at their own peril. Now they haven’t disappeared but they can be said to have been marginalized.

Now, authors can publish their own work quickly and cost effectively via electronic distribution allowing the author to achieve a higher return on their investment of time and energy and the public to pay prices that allow them to read more books. Paper books won’t disappear. People will still want to have paper-based cookbooks, art books and the like, but paper will just be one form of distribution among others. This is good news for authors who are increasingly ready and capable to publish their own content. This benefits both the writers and public who are increasingly buying new books by name authors under a threshold of £4.99 – something that seems to be able to happen only in the new e-world order of publishers. Even with lower prices for the public, authors end up much better off in almost every respect.

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Writing a Book is Only the Beginning: It Needs to Sell

Writing is Selling: Ideas

Writing is Selling: Ideas

Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realise it’s just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it. D. Sedaris

I have wanted to be a writer since I was in my English Lit class when I was, like, sixteen. As I have mentioned in an earlier blog it was in that class I received an F grade for the first time. It stung. Moreover, it still stings. Since then I have tried to improve my writing with a long and constant effort: not entirely successfully (so far), but mostly I would say it has been worth it. I give a lot of thought to what I write, but it does not always return an equal reward. The fact of the matter is that I am getting better and I have published my first novel. Now, that may seem like a triumph, and it is in a way, but what really counts is the book sales – and writing the next book, of course.

I find selling books a more difficult task than writing. I was advised early on with my writing ambitions that in the modern world of publishing it would be more effective to write and publish my own books – not as a “self-publisher” as such, but rather as a small independent publisher. The world of book publishing is changing. A leaner more focused and flexible approach would be needed if I wanted to find my books on the bestseller lists – never mind my personal goal of seeing what I write translated onto the big screen. Creating my own publishing company was about keeping control, being nimble and quick to respond to the demands and opportunities of the market place.

The Black Sea, my first novel, was a long time in the making. It took years of work – and not to create something anyone would want to call a literary masterpiece, quite the contrary, I consider myself an entertainer. I want to write books for the moment that allow people a moment of escapism – an easy read and a good story. I have not learned enough to even get close to writing a book that would be considered something literary: although it is my ambition to do so one day. That day, however, remains in the distant future as I focus my efforts on writing quality thrillers. Now, my first effort has had some earned some good comments from most people who have read it. And, no, I do not mean from those closest to me: quite the opposite really. Those closest to me have been the hardest on me and thankfully so. I am lucky enough to hear the good, the bad and ugly about my work from those closest to me and inevitably, that makes me want to be a better writer. The people around me have been amazingly supportive in my work but that doesn’t mean they’ve been easy on me.

For some would-be authors, their efforts to become a writer are mocked by those closest to them. Sometimes, because they do not really want to see others succeed or are dealing with their own demons, insecurities or financial pressures.  This type of person frequently tries to plant seeds of doubt that often plague, entrepreneurs, actors and other such “dreamers.” However, if you have the right people around you, it is more likely that they want to help – and that is what I have found. I am very lucky in that regard. Not everyone has constructive help and criticism to guide their progress. There are many naysayers out there who will try to hinder you, but the best practice is to listen and reflect on what they say. If you find their comments helpful, take the advice and improve yourself. If it is destructive, ignore it, much as you ignore a wasp or a bee hovering over the food on your table. Do not pay it attention: just allow it to pass through and avoid the sting.

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. M. Gandhi

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Filed under Black Mary Press, Book Launches, Bookselling, Bookstores, Getting Published, Independent Publishers, Marketing, New Authors, New Novels, Novelists, Novels, The Black Sea, VP Von Hoehen, Writing

“We’re Talking About Money Money.”

Slot Machine by Corpse Reviver

Slot Machine by Corpse Reviver

August 23rd, 1978.  The Brown family were shocked, each for their own reasons.  Mrs. Brown sat silently next to her husband.  The older children’s eyes spun wildly like  $1,000,000 slot machines.  The two younger ones weren’t quite sure of anything.  Why him?  Why now?  What rationale?


In July 1978 the Browns were to travel to Europe, but while they made their plans, the mumps had made their plans too and had settled into the neck glands of Trevor, my charge. Mumps were a problem.  While women and children survived the disease well, in adult males it could lead to sterility or death. Mr. Brown tried to keep Trevor’s hopes up but eventually the doctor ruled out travel.

His older sister, Lilith, who was in the throes of a young romance insisted on staying with Trevor.  In a house with twenty-two bedrooms and twenty servants Trevor didn’t need or want Lilith to look after him.  He, like the rest of the staff, could barely tolerate her.  We used to call her the Anti-Christ.  It may even have been me who started it.  I was Trevor’s driver and bodyguard.  I cared for Trevor – more than his own parents.  Like Trevor, I was never fond of his siblings.  The older boys had grown up during a period when Mr. Brown’s vast industrial fortune was still growing, so they were lean years for the older children.  By the time Lilith and Trevor came along their lifestyle was extremely opulent.  The older children despised the younger ones for the privileges that their father’s wealth provided them in their childhoods.

The Family Home

The Family Home

Mr. Brown pressed ahead with the trip for him and his wife.  Childhood illness would not be permitted to interfere.  Although the others were in the dark, Trevor and I were the only ones to know the real reason that Mr. Brown was so adamant they continue – it would be the couple’s last trip together.  Unknown to his wife or the other children Mr. Brown had spoken to Trevor a few weeks earlier out by the larger pool.  He simply sat down and announced:  “Trevor, your mother and I are getting a divorce.  Who do you want to live with?”  Trevor was dumbfounded, but his reaction was immediate.  He would stay with his father.  On July 4th, 1978 Mr. and Mrs. Brown left for Europe on their Canadair private jet.

Lilith and Trevor stayed at home and, as anticipated, she was rarely seen or heard from.  I was one of the few staff members who had had the mumps so I stayed with Trevor night and day as he ran a high fever and his neck glands became rock solid.  Though there was little Trevor could do, he did look forward to a daily call with his father, with whom he shared a dry, sardonic sense of humor.  Nobody offered an explanation for Lilith’s constant absences, but her escapades were known: Mr. Brown had eyes everywhere.

About two weeks later Mr. Brown called from Paris; it was a memorable call for two reasons.  First, it was Lilith’s birthday, and despite a large party planned for her by the staff, she neither attended nor thanked them.  The second reason was that the phone call triggered a domino-like reaction, which took four weeks for the final domino to fall.

Mr. Brown had not been feeling well and was diagnosed with the mumps in Paris – one side of his face had swollen and turned hard almost in an identical fashion to Trevor’s, so it seemed a logical diagnosis.  Trevor meanwhile had recovered and was the only Brown on the estate.  He was spending most of his time with the horses at the far end of the grounds, playing tennis with me, or swimming in one of the two pools. .  And now, with that call, he was awaiting the imminent return of his parents

The next night the parents’ call came from London.  The following night it came from New York.  Then the house manager contacted all the children and asked them, in no uncertain terms, to be present for the Browns’ return the next day.  The family was rarely together in one room.  Several times I had to tell Trevor who his elder half brother was when he attended the estate.  In fairness he had only seen him five or six times in his life.  That is how unusual such a family gathering was.  Something big was about to happen.

The next day all the children were settled in the drawing room in an unnatural manner that avoided conversation and eye contact.  A lot of families are dysfunctional, but in my experience wealth amplifies dysfunction exponentially.  There was no love lost between any of them.  The only sound in the room was the clank of tea spoons, a sip of a drink and the crunch of the odd biscuit.

Mercedes 600 by Benutzer-Vic Dorn

Mercedes 600 by Benutzer-Vic Dorn

Finally the Mercedes 600 limousine pulled up out in front of the pillars of the Georgian mansion.  All the staff were outside on the front steps waiting to greet the Browns.  Once in the house, pleasantries were exchanged at a distance with the children: no kisses, no embraces.  There was a dangerous but unspoken discord in the air – as though the smallest of sparks would have set off the largest of explosions.

Mr Brown ordered a Dubonnet on the rocks with a twist, and his wife a Crown Royal whiskey.  There was silence while the house manager saw to the drinks.  Mr. and Mrs. Brown left momentarily to freshen up.  I was standing, as I usually did, a meter or two behind Trevor – the staff hadn’t been asked to leave.  The room was writhing with melancholic energy and the strange artificiality of the situation.  When returning from other trips Mr. and Mrs. Brown would be greeted and retire to their apartment in the mansion.

This was uncomfortable.  Lilith rather cruelly suggested the meeting was to announce their mother’s pregnancy.  The eldest, Roy, looked Lilith dead in the eye and replied that perhaps the family was broke.  Sinisterly he continued that perhaps her father knew about her underage “fuckfest,” and she would be written out of the will like their other brother Jeff had been for a similar offence.  Roy had managed two shots across the bows of two siblings with one attack.  Trevor, no doubt, thought it was the news of the divorce.

Back Gardens photo by PvH

Back Gardens photo by PvH

Mr. and Mrs. Brown returned.  They took their drinks from a Tiffany tray, and had a sip.  The father stood, the mother sat.  Mr. Brown began: “you all know we have returned because of a medical problem.  When we informed the staff of this, we thought it was the mumps.  Doctors in London, however, were not convinced.  They sent us to New York where I underwent further testing.  Unfortunately, the hard swelling in the neck had moved down to the collarbone and they biopsied it.  It is cancerous.  I have been told I have four weeks.”

Mr. Brown died on September 24, 1978 one of the richest and poorest men in the world.  In his wake he left many questions about love and money and family.  Mr. Brown had left Trevor a letter which I leave to the reader below.  In a move I thought cruel and unnecessary, Mrs. Brown directed me to tell Trevor his father’s last words: “between family and money… choose money every time.”  The others used this to mar the father’s memory but I wanted Trevor to see it from a different perspective: What is a 42 year old man with such a vast fortune going to say?  Losing the money doesn’t hurt.  Losing your family does.  No family, no pain.

September 23, 1978

Rest in Peace

Rest in Peace

Room 1072
Timberland Hospital

Hi Trevor,

This weekend was the best on record.  The days seem brighter with you around, but they pass too quickly.

I can see I have at least brought one good thing into this world when you came along.  You are growing up so fast it is hard to believe it was ten years ago that I had to visit you between meetings while you were fighting for your life in the hospital.

I see a young man who is strong, but gentle, who loves life and seeks wisdom, who is polite and thoughtful, but forgives others their foolishness.  Never lose this ability to see the world as it is.  Never let people use or hurt your pride.  Always be proud!

Use that intelligent mind to make you happy and wise.  Your mother and I were never going to make it together but we both knew you were the one good thing we did together.

Love Dad
Ps.  Between love and money, choose love.

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Filed under Cancer, Capitalism, Consumerism, Death, Death of a Parent, English, Family Feuds, Getting Published, Healthcare, Journalism, Novels, Wealth, Writing


IMAGINE if it had been an American ship attacked in international waters… by let’s say Morocco for the sake of argument: WHAT WOULD HAVE AN AMERICAN PRESIDENT DONE?

Alliances Can Be Tricky: photo by James Emery wikicommons
Alliances Can Be Tricky: photo by James Emery wikicommons

***** I think everyone knows the answer to this question.  America is famous for the protection of its own citizens.  It would hardly tolerate a country attacking at boat gangland style while delivering aid to the long suffering Palestinian people regardless of the affiliations of anyone on that boat.

Can you imagine Morocco justifying such an attack to America by saying that, “hey, don’t blame us, there were Christian extremists from the Republican Party aboard.”

Israel systematically uses terror to coerce the Palestinian people (this is the very definition of TERRORISM).  Now, not only has Israel needlessly killed innocent Palestinians but they can add among the count the 12 dead Turks.  There is no justification in the world that can or could be acceptable for the action of the Israelis, unless the Israelis are actually anarchists (abolishing responsibility) and masquerading as democrats.

Turkish Ship in Home Waters: photo by Rey Edu

Turkish Ship in Home Waters: photo by Rey Edu

I am not talking about Jewish nationalism is which only a stones throw from Islamic nationalism.  Countries that claim religious superiority and use it as a means to kill those of other faiths MUST are contrary to very essence of their own teachings: surely I am not mistaken!

Forget Islam, and forget Judaism.  This was an overtly aggressive attack on the citizens of a sovereign foreign nation.

I hoped that Turkey would respond like the Americans would have: an appropriate attack on Israel in the SHOCK AND AWE style of the American ‘foreign policy.’  After all this was an act of war by any sensible definition of an ‘act of war.’

Alliances Can Be Tricky: foto by Lokum wikicommons
Alliances Can Be Tricky: foto by Lokum wikicommons

It was not that long ago that I watched Tony Blair declare on the The Daily Show with Jon Stewart say that no two democratic countries have ever gone to war (I dispute this as Mr Blair is clearly playing it pretty fast and loose with the definition of democracy and, perhaps, war).

Well, Mr Blair, Israel – democracy – Turkey – democracy – so if not war, it must be terrorism even by your own standards.

There are some times in this life when you must turn to world leaders and simply say, ‘you’re full of shit.’  This seems to be one of those occasions.

Argentina attacked the tiny little, almost forgotten islands, called the Falklands.  Britain called it the Falklands War.


I know what you are thinking, I should go easier on Mr Blair because clearly his memory has gone the way of Margaret Thatcher but don’t be hood winked by the geriatrics – and one might argue that Argentina was under a repressive military regime, but it is worth reminding those with failing memories that that Argentinian government was aided and abetted by the democratically elected American government and the CIA vis a vis Operation Condor.  There wasn’t much that regime did, without America knowing about it.  I wonder how much America knew about last week’s boarding prior to the event?

Please Turkey.  Stand your ground.  Protect your citizens as other countries that call themselves your allies would do themselves.  Don’t shirk against the Israeli terrorist state.  They have brought this upon themselves.  They have over stepped the mark with their murder of innocent Palestinians.

Now, innocent or not they, have attacked another country in their efforts to spread terror.  Please, I beg of you respond, and show the world that you are a strong, proud and an equal nation on the global stage.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace


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