Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Second Time Around (Part 1)

By guest blogger Lance Charnes...

Love's more comfortable the second time you fall
Like a friendly home the second time you call…
-- The Second Time Around, by Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen

I recently launched my second published novel, the near-future thriller South, almost exactly a year after my first (international thriller Doha 12). A year’s not all that long – Miley Cyrus is still around, after all – but in the fast-moving independent publishing world, time seems to move in dog years.

The first-time publishing experience is, frankly, not any fun at all. There’s a lot of administration, signing contracts, researching artists, editors, distributors, publishing platforms, beta readers, review outlets, publicity outlets, and so on, and then dealing with your chosen ones. You spend far more time on minutiae than on writing that second book. But how does it work for the second and subsequent books? Here’s what didn’t change over that year; next post will talk about what did change.

Things That Didn’t Change – and that’s Good

My support structure was already in place, which saved me perhaps hundreds of hours this go-round.
·      I’d already set up my Kindle, Nook and Kobo accounts, set up all the payment details, found Draft2Digital for dealing with iTunes, finally finished signing contracts with Lightning Source, and figured out how to work the CreateSpace system. By now I know where the holes are, too, and I’ve plugged all the ones I can.
·      My author profile and photo was already set up in Amazon Author Central in the various storefronts where that exists (including a French translation for Amazon.fr!).
·      I already had my stash of ISBNs, and I already had my account with the Copyright Office, so I could polish off those issues in a single evening.
·      I already have a cover artist (Damonza) from Doha 12, his product is a known quantity, and I know how he works. I didn’t have to worry about what I’d end up with for a cover – I knew it would be great.

Similarly, I’m already established on Goodreads and Kindleboards and some of the other promotional websites. The Twitter feed’s already there, the website and Facebook author page are already set up, and all have some history behind them now.

The process for creating ePubs for Nook and Kobo is pretty much the same as before. I used Calibre, validated the results through the IDPF ePub Validator (another discovery from last time), and uploaded direct. I also already knew the rules for what I could link to from each of the channels and had a system to create the different versions without fumbling it. I wish I could say the same for Kindle, but… (see Why Did That Have to Change? in the next post)

Things That (Unfortunately) Didn’t Change

The economics of POD still make it virtually impossible to place printed copies in bookstores. I’ve had indie bookstores turn up their noses at the 35-40% discount I offer through Lightning Source; they don’t want to hear that I make less than a buck on each copy, and that if I set a 55% discount, I’d have to price the book so they’d never be able to sell it.

The indie-pub platforms still have woefully inadequate sales reporting. You’re lucky if you can figure out what country your book sold in; forget sussing out which channel sold it (Kobo partner site reporting, anyone?). You can’t even get the exact sale date on the ‘Zon. Trying to figure out whether your promotions are working? Good luck.

Trying to sell a book is still an ugly, grinding slog, especially if you’re trying to push non-Amazon sales. The promotional infrastructure for Nook or Kobo is simply not there. Also, a great deal of the ‘Zon-centric promotional machine is still geared to free books, even though Amazon has tightened the noose on book-giveaway affiliates.

Getting reviews: ditto. Review sites big and small still have multi-month backlogs, assuming they don’t go out of business before they get to you. Only about 10% of readers (if you’re lucky) will post reviews. And even if you get reviews, you might not be able to keep them (see Why Did That Have to Change? in the next post).

You’d think that bookselling websites would be able to pick up the pertinent data about your book from the distributor’s catalog (such as Ingram) or its partner (such as Kobo). After all, we’ve been doing database-to-database transfers for, oh, fifty years or so. But noooooo. The explosion of online booksellers (see Things That Changed for the Better, next post) has also led to an explosion of places that can lose your cover image, mangle your book description, fail to link to your other books, and otherwise cause you headaches. Some will fix the problems if you ask; others won’t even return your emails.

Nook author support is still atrocious. The “help” operators can’t do anything but follow very simple scripts, and the chat operators appear to just cut you off when you ask too many questions. There’s no escalation and, according to the phone and chat people, no supervisors. Say what you will about the ‘Zon, but KDP will get back to you within a day and Author Central lets you talk directly to people who seem to be able to fix things. If Nook customer service is as bad as its author service, it’s no wonder the device is failing.

As this shows, stasis can be both good and bad. If only we could choose which things will change, and which won’t! In the next post, I’ll cover some areas that changed (for better or worse) in the past year. See you soon.

Lance Charnes is an emergency manager and former Air Force intelligence officer. His international thriller Doha 12 and near-future thriller South are both available in Kindle, ePub and trade paperback editions around the world, in case you want to buy a copy in Finland. He tweets (@lcharnes) about scuba diving, shipwrecks, art crime and archaeology, among other things.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Trip Through a Classic: Murder on the Orient Express

As a big-time thriller fan, I find it refreshing from time to time to indulge in a classic murder mystery. Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express is certainly one of the most read of all time. Since I have an obsession for train travel anyway, and, frankly, felt a bit embarrassed never to have read this book, it seemed like a good idea. And what a fun adventure it was.

The first thing that struck me about the novel was the structure - so different from the thriller structure to which I am much more accustomed. Instead of leaping from scene to scene and character to character, Orient Express strolls along at a downright leisurely pace, following the perfectly ordered logic of M. Poirot, who never allows either characters nor plot twists to get ahead of themselves. The novel is literally organized into three sections (no spoilers here - there's a table of contents) in which 1) Characters are introduced and crime is committed 2) The evidence of every character is presented in turn, and 3) Poirot solves the case in a supremely logical fashion. It's quite fascinating to watch it all develop so cleanly.

In the first couple of chapters, I found myself consulting my old, battered globe to follow the precise train paths through the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Of course, a few chapters in, we become snowbound (again, no spoilers - it's on the back cover) and then, the adventure begins.

Something else that amused me was the blatant stereotyping central to a novel first published in 1934. While it might have gone over by today's author like a lead balloon, Christie's use of such "evidence" as "Italians use knives! The English are too proper!" is both hilarious and ultimately ironic when one reaches the climax of the story.

Overall, a delightful story which I would highly recommend. It would have been a one-sitting read for me, and I'm slow, if I had had the luxury of sitting long enough to read it all at once. As it turned out, with a busy schedule of real life, it took me a few days. To my snowbound friends (which means, almost everyone in the world right now except for me,) do yourself a favor and pick it up before the snow melts. Murder on the Orient Express pairs perfectly it with a cup of hot chocolate and a fire in the fireplace.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Vesuvius Isotope Photo Tour

Here's The Vesuvius Isotope photo tour, which I'll be showing live at some of my upcoming events. This is literally a trip through the novel from beginning to end, excluding the Black's Beach footage to keep it rated PG. No spoilers here, but I'm hoping that you'll look at these and wonder what the heck all of those pics have to do with the story! Enjoy...

Purchase the novel here!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What is the Future of Bookstores?

Can bookstores survive in the era of ebooks and ecommerce?

Dramatic changes in the publishing industry have impacted the way authors get their books to readers. Traditional book publishing and retail models have been battered by the rise of online retailers. The ebook revolution has given us more books to choose from, but all too often good books are lost in the virtual churn.

Many brick-and-mortar bookstores, including the US-based Borders chain, have closed in recent years, unable to compete or adjust. Will we see more closings in the years to come, or will bookstores innovate in order to stay relevant and solvent?

My friend Carmen Amato has been asking this question of authors, book bloggers, store owners and publishers. Carmen has now published the first in a 5-part series featuring responses from each group. The next article, with blogger responses, will be published in February 2014.

To see the full article including responses of the 25 authors, visit Carmen's website here!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Setting the Scene

I've heard it said that it's always a good idea to start a new story or segment with a one- or two-line intro to who is where. As a thriller writer, I have to disagree.

Consider these two approaches to the same passage:

Approach 1:
By the time they caught up with him, he had forgotten to keep running. Lawrence Naden was incoherent and scarcely recognizable—the sloughed, discarded skin of a human being. 
It had been a rainy week in Tijuana. A small river of brown water carried trash along the gutters of the squalid street. Piles of refuse collected in rough areas, generating dams that would eventually break with the weight of the water and garbage behind them.
A burst of static preceded the heavily accented warning from the megaphone. “You’ve got nowhere to go, Naden!” 
Approach 2:
It had been a rainy week in Tijuana. A small river of brown water carried trash along the gutters of the squalid street. 
Except for a handful of onlookers, most of them ragged children, the street was abandoned. The regular residents had fled at the first rumor of approaching law enforcement. This time, however, drugs were only a secondary concern; the federales were looking for a single individual. 
A burst of static preceded the heavily accented warning from the megaphone. “You’ve got nowhere to go, Naden!”
The first starts with action and a character. The second begins by setting the scene. Which is better? I favor the first, but then again, I wrote it. So I already know where the scene is set. As a reader, do you find the first approach jarring? Is it easier to follow the second? Which approach does a better job of pulling you in?

Authors: how do you tackle setting the scene? Do you tend to start with action, or with a short description? Readers: which do you prefer to read?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Both Brains Required: Getting the Most Out of Left and Right When You Write

I was working on my WIP yesterday and I started falling asleep. I take it as a bad sign when my own manuscript is putting *me* to sleep. The words just weren't flowing. The sentences were awkward. The dialog, not credible. What happened?

Faced with writer's block, or a simple lack of enthusiasm, or whatever you want to call it, I like to go back to the beginning. I start reading through the current draft with the freshest eyes I can muster, imagining myself in the shoes of a reader, picturing the opening scenes of the movie (yes, this does help!) In going back to the beginning, I find I can usually identify the place where I would be getting up for popcorn instead of riveted to the screen. That's the part that needs fixing.

I often find (as I did yesterday) that the issue is a left-brain* one, rather than a right-brain one as I would have expected. It often turns out that the creative juices are flowing just fine, but they don't have the right channel to flow through. This is when it helps to go back and turn on the left brain. Start asking those basic questions again:

  • What would my protagonist really be thinking at this moment? What would her actions be?
  • Would that secondary character react as I currently have him reacting? Or would he be likely to do something else, given what we know about him? 
  • Are we in the right POV for this scene? 
  • Is it even the right time for this scene?

Yesterday, I found that the problem was a plot hole. The sentences were awkward because I had put my characters into a situation that wasn't very strong to begin with. The dialog was not credible because it was out of character for the characters. Once my left brain figured this out, I spent the latter part of my day butchering said scene and then reworking the plot to make more sense. A total left-brain activity.

I find that the creativity tends to follow a strong plot and strong characters. If I'm excited about what's going to happen and who it's going to happen to, I find it easy to write the scene in a captivating way. That's when the right brain gets its time in the spotlight.

*Disclaimer: I'm using left-brain and right-brain in this post in the classic sense: the right-brain being responsible for creativity, and the left-brain for analytical thinking. So please don't go all left-brain on me here and point out that recent studies suggest this is not the case as we previously thought. I know that. It's a metaphor.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Most Over-Used Protagonists in Today's Novel Part III: The Porn Star

OK. So Fifty Shades of Grey sold fifteen gazillion copies. I get it. Sex sells, and we have known this ever since the first sexually reproducing hermaphroditic flatworms evolved out of an amoeba's binary fission gone wrong. But please understand something, dear reader (by which I actually mean, dear writer.) The fact that sex sells does NOT mean that writing porn is going to make you E.L. James. It won't, indeed.

To put a little bit of perspective on this "new" trend of writing porn disguised as literature, let's take a moment to review the evolution of porn.

In the beginning, there was Ron Jeremy.

For those of you who are too young to remember him, Ron Jeremy was the Christian Grey of his time. In fact, he was the Christian Grey of everyone's time, even more so than Christian Grey.

Jeremy starred in more than two thousand smut movies over the course of several decades. He was ranked number one by Adult Video News (AVN) on their Top Fifty Porn Stars of All Time, and for those of us who don't watch these goofy flicks, he's probably the only name in the biz that we can even come up with. I see the resemblance to Christian Grey, don't you?
Ron Jeremy
But then, Jeremy's life and career took a turn for the worse. In the natural course of human evolution, the species came to understand that, actually, pornography is stupid, and anyone over 13 years of age doesn't need to watch porn and pretend to be all dark and devious in order to have sex. 

At the same time in history, another trend was occurring. Our species began to figure out that the music inevitably associated with pornography sucks.
1970s: Disco Kills the Porn Industry
The 8-track soundtracks and the VHS videos began increasingly to grace the bargain sections of adult bookstores, and the popularity of the industry faded. The ruin of his career forced Ron Jeremy into a life of terrorism. He later confessed to plotting the September 11 attacks.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
So you see, dear reader (and by that, again, I mean writer,) writing porn will only land you in Guantanamo Bay. And...your novels will suck. So please, stop doing it. Just stop it. Thank you.

For additional examples of the Most Over-Used Protagonists in Today's Novel, click here and here.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Launched! I'll Sleep When You're Dead, by E.A. Aymar

E.A. Aymar's new book is here! And it looks creepy. Here is the trailer and a bit about the book, now available from Black Opal Books.


“I'll Sleep When You're Dead is a haunting tale of vengeance and its toll. It is both thrilling and tender. The domestic scenes are every bit as gripping as the action sequences. E.A. Aymar weaves a touching tapestry loaded with surprises.”

- Michael Sears, author of Black Fridays, winner of the Shamus Award for Best First Novel

Tom Starks has spent the three years since his wife’s murder struggling to single-handedly raise their daughter, Julie, while haunted by memories of his dead spouse. When he learns that the man accused of her murder, Chris Taylor, has been released from prison, Tom hires a pair of hit men to get his revenge.

But when the hit men botch the assassination of Chris Taylor, Tom is inadvertently pulled into their violent world.

And now those hit men are after him and his daughter.

Set in the DC, Baltimore and northern Virginia triangle, I'll Sleep When You're Dead is a thriller about assassins, one man’s search for vengeance, and also parenting.

But mainly vengeance and assassins.

And it’s available now through Black Opal Books. Click the links above to order your copy.

A short prequel to the novel, When the Deep Purple Falls, featuring original artwork and photography by Angela Del Vecchio and Janet Bell, is available for $0.99 from Amazon.com.

5% of all of my royalties for I'll Sleep When You're Dead will be donated to BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter). Learn more information about BARCS here.


CHAPTER 1: Just Fall

I was going to kill someone later in the afternoon, so I canceled classes that Monday and spent the morning on the couch, watching crappy television judge shows and trying to keep calm.
I took a long shower at eleven then, at noon, drove my truck out of Baltimore and toward D.C. The sky grayed as I headed around the curves of the Beltway and, eventually, thick rain splashed against the windshield. You could never tell what November weather was going to do. Neither Baltimore nor D.C. had real seasons. It was always too hot or too cold, buried in snow or heat, running back and forth between extremes like rats or people who believe in politics or religion.

I finally reached my destination, a neighborhood in Falls Church, Virginia. I slumped down in my truck and slipped on sunglasses and a black baseball cap. It was probably obvious that I was trying to disguise myself—completely defeating the purpose—but I didn’t want to take the chance of getting spotted.

I waited.

An hour passed, then another, and my nervousness rushed ahead of my impatience. Light rain bounced off my windshield. I reached over to my small gym bag on the passenger seat and touched the edge of my Glock 30. I touched it every few minutes to calm myself down, even if petting a loaded gun wasn’t the smartest idea in the world.

Using it probably wasn’t too bright, either, but Chris Taylor was out of prison. Three years ago, he’d been sentenced for killing my wife, Renee Starks.

“I haven’t talked to her in years,” Chris Taylor protested after his arrest.

I, myself, in a daze, was one of several people who’d even told the police that, to my knowledge, Renee and Chris hadn’t spoken since their brief relationship in college—so brief that she barely ever mentioned him. But his initials were on the baseball bat found in the bushes near her naked body and so were his fingerprints. He was given a life sentence, but released in three years when a retrial cast enough doubt on his conviction to overturn it.

Renee was so palpable—even now, such a presence, that sometimes I lost myself in thoughts of her. Sometimes I felt her return, like she was sitting here in the passenger seat of my truck, looking at me with her wide brown eyes, one hand brushing bangs away from her face.

‘What are you doing, Tom?’ she asked.

“Trying to kill this guy.”

‘How are you going to do that?’

“I’m going to wait until he’s alone then shoot him.” I paused. “That’s not much of a plan, is it?”

Renee shook her head. ‘You were never good at planning things. That was one of my complaints about you.’

“You know,” I said, “you’re awfully critical for a dead chick.”

A door slam startled me. I peered out my window and, through the hedges, watched an elderly woman emerge from the house with a man I didn’t recognize. But I remembered the woman. Chris Taylor’s mother had been tall and delicate with long, black hair—which was now short and gray. Throughout the trial, she bore a constant expression of determination on her face. Now her face was old and pained, droopy as a melted candle, all signs of her previous determination gone. She looked like a shrunken version of herself.

Chris Taylor came out of the house behind them.

End of excerpt.

Reposted from http://eaymar.com/novel

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Night Before NaNo: A Halloween Poem for the Eve of NaNoWriMo

In honor of Halloween, and, more importantly, in honor of NaNoWriMo Eve, here's a happy little diddy for those who will spend NaNoWriMo writing mysteries, thrillers, and horror stories. Get ready to get the NaNo murders started!

Twas the night before NaNo, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, except for my mouse.
The outlines were written and plotted with care,
In hopes that a massacre soon would be there.

The children were huddling, scared, in their beds,
With visions of Leatherface sawing off heads.
And mamma in her sweatpants and I in my socks,
Were just rousing our brains for a month with our Glocks.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed just to watch the blood splatter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters with a butcher knife's slash. 

The moon in the cemetery from which I rave
Cast shadows of ghosts upon headstones and graves.
When, what to my horror, should appear through the fog,
But a skeletal carriage and eight demon dogs.

And, inside, a Grim Reaper, his scythe like a ruse,
I knew in a moment it must be The Muse.
More rapid than vampires his canines they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Killer! Now, Slayer! Now, Strangler! Marauder!
On, Hangman! On, Headsman! On, Hit Man! And Slaughter!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now suffocate! Sacrifice! Execute all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to my window the canines they flew,
With their carriage of mayhem, and The Murderous Muse too.

And then, with a scratching, I heard, like a saw
The scraping and slashing of each little claw.
And the window grew weaker, until, with a bash
In through my window The Muse came with a crash.

He was dressed all in black, his robe flowing like oil,
And his scythe like the death of me made me recoil.
His eyes! How they cauterized! Searing like fire!
His face like a skeleton, bones for the pyre!

A bundle of murders he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
Pulling out my next carnage, then he turned with a jerk.

His guillotine mouth was as silent as blood,
But the murders inside him spilled out like a flood.
And I felt my new novel pouring forth from his hand,
And the torch of his vision scorched through like a brand

With the gnash of his teeth and the bones of his skull
He released my new novel, unleashed it in full
And a flash of his evil eye, twist of his head,
Soon filled my poor mind with the story he bled.

And I staggered straight backward and clutched at my breast
As it slammed into me like a demon possessed
The inspiration engulfing me forced me to writhe
And he graced my new story with a flash of his scythe

Then he sprang to his carriage, and called to his dogs,
And away flew the demons, back into the fog
But I heard him exclaim, as he forded the swill,
"Bloody NaNo to all, and to all a good kill!"

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

South on the Horizon: Lance Charnes' Anticipated Follow-Up to Doha 12

Lance Charnes' debut thriller, Doha 12, is a "High Quality, Compelling Thriller. Terrific Reading!" Today, Lance's highly anticipated second novel is on the horizon. Here we reveal the details of South. For more information, visit the South website. See an interview with Lance here.

by Lance Charnes

Luis Ojeda owes his life to the Pacifico Norte cartel. Literally. Now it’s time to pay.

Luis led escaping Muslims out of the U.S. during the ten years following a 2019 terrorist attack on Chicago. He retired after nearly being killed by a border guard. But now in 2032, the Nortes give Luis a choice: pay back the fortune they spent saving his life, or take on a special job.

The job: Nora Khaled – FBI agent, wife, mother of two, and Muslim. She claims her husband will be exiled to one of the nation’s remote prison camps to rot with over 400,000 other Muslim Americans. Faced with her family’s destruction, she’s forced to turn to Luis – the kind of man she’s spent her career bringing to justice.

But when the FBI publicly accuses Nora of terrorism, Luis learns Nora’s real motive for heading south: she has proof that the nation’s recent history is based on a lie – a lie that reaches to the government’s highest levels.

Torn between self-preservation and the last shreds of his idealism, Luis guides Nora and her family toward refuge in civil war-wracked Mexico. The FBI, a dogged ICE agent, killer drones, bandits, and the fearsome Zeta cartel all plan to stop him. Success might just free Luis from the Nortes… but failure means disappearing into a black-site prison, or a gruesome death for them all.

In a day-after-tomorrow America where government has been downsized and outsourced into irrelevance, and none but the very wealthy few can afford hopes or dreams, Luis and Nora must learn to trust each other to ensure the survival of the truth – and of the people they love.

Lance Charnes has been an Air Force intelligence officer, IT manager, computer-game artist, set designer, Jeopardy! contestant, and now an emergency management specialist. He’s had training in architectural rendering, terrorist incident response and maritime archaeology, but not all at the same time. Lance tweets (@lcharnes) on shipwrecks, archaeology and scuba diving.

Contact Details

South by Lance Charnes

Released by Wombat Group Media
Distributed through Ingram
Word count: 128,000
SRP: $2.99 (e-book) $14.95 (TPBK)
ASIN: B00AOYOMQK / 0988690306
ISBN: 978-0-9886903-4-9 (Kindle)
978-0-9886903-3-2 (TPBK)
Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Indiebound, Collins
Also on Nook, Kobo and iTunes

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Secrets of Inferno - A Review of an Analysis

Dan Burstein and Arne de Keijzer are the world's leading authorities on the novels of Dan Brown. Their first fact-checking analysis, Secrets of the Code, was in its own right a mega-bestseller, topping the charts for more than six months solid.

Much like the author they analyze, Burstein and Keijzer have found a formula that works, and they aren't afraid to use it. Each time Dan Brown graces the world with a new novel, Burstein and Keijzer recruit the leading experts on the subject matter explored in that book. The experts offer short, easily-digestable commentaries, interviews, and essays. Burstein and Keijzer also include their own two cents based on meticulous research of the subjects at hand. In 2003, it was the Priory of Sion and the workings of a cryptex. This time, it's population control, transhumanism, and most of all...Dante.

The thing that surprised me about this book was that it actually gave me a new respect for some of Dan Brown's apparently horrific writing. Although I have read Dante's Inferno, I certainly don't proclaim to be an expert on the subject, nor can I recall every stanza from memory. Secrets of Inferno highlighted several places in Dan Brown's Inferno that were in fact tongue-in-cheek references to Dante's Inferno disguised as classical suck-tacular Dan Brown literary technique. Here's an example:

One of the most crap-arific Dan Brown-isms in the novel, at least on the surface, is this one:
"As Langdon stared into his own weary eyes, he half wondered if he might at any moment wake up in his reading chair at home clutching an empty martini glass and a copy of Dead Souls, only to remind himself that Bombay Sapphire and Gogol should never be mixed."
This sentence may go down in the Cheese Hall of Fame, but look beneath the surface and you find something a bit more interesting:
  • Langdon's amnesia at the beginning of Dan Brown's Inferno parallel's Dante's Inferno in that neither protagonist has a clue how he got where he is at the beginning of his descent into Hell.
  • Dead Souls, by Nikolai Gogol, was almost a Russian version of Dante's Inferno, originally intended as a three-volume work that would parallel Commedia.
  • Dante's Purgatorio opens with a reference to the "sweet hue of Oriental sapphire," signaling the start of a new day and the beginning of Dante's climb out of the Inferno.
  • Today's Bombay (Mumbai) is the location of one of the original surviving manuscripts of Dante's Divine Comedy.
With this kind of analysis at one's fingertips, it is tempting to go back to awkward sentences throughout Dan Brown's Inferno and look for secret parallels to Dante's Inferno. Which is exactly what Brown wanted, and exactly what Burstein and Keijzer have done.

Because Secrets of Inferno pulls so many experts into the equation and gives each of them free reign with their commentaries, there are a lot of redundancies. I think I read about thirty times the same observation that it was Dante who originally coined the word "transhumanism" (or a variant thereof) and that Dan Brown (for whatever reason) failed to make this observation in the novel. On the one hand, the redundancies are a bit annoying, but on the other hand, they lend credibility to the statements.

Like so many Dan Brown admirers and simultaneous bashers (myself included...read my own review of Inferno here) Burstein and Keijzer do not mince words, and they are never afraid to point out the awesome badness in both Dan Brown's writing and his plots. Some of their comments made me giggle, others made me cringe, and still others made me feel a bit sorry for Dan Brown - until I remembered that he sells more novels than just about every other author in the world combined.

I would love to see what these guys would do with The Vesuvius Isotope.

**Addendum: This just in: a couple hours after I posted this, Dan Burstein picked up the gauntlet I threw down on that last line. I got an e-mail from Dan saying he is buying The Vesuvius Isotope and will let me know what he thinks. Holy crap! Excited and nervous...

****See the symbolism behind Brown's use of the caduceus here, and the caduceus versus Rod of Asclepius here.