High Praise for “Burning Shield”

PWThis gripping biography of Jason Schechterle’s battle for life and justice celebrates the resilience of the human spirit while condemning corporate greed. In the telling of Schechterle’s story—from his becoming a Phoenix police officer to the March 26, 2001, auto accident that nearly killed him—Napoleon offers up suspenseful prose replete with all the crucial elements of a legal thriller. Schechterle’s accident—a taxi hit his police cruiser, which inexplicably burst into flames—turned out to be part of a nationwide spate of similar auto explosions. Legal crusader Patrick J. McGroder, who worked with Schechterle in his case against Ford Motor Company, is depicted as a feisty, down-home everyman.

This enthralling biography injects the intimacy of fiction into a true story of human endurance. Readers are continuously reminded that Jason Schechterle is flesh, bones, and blood, not a fictional character, and they are invited to experience his terror, frustration, and ultimate triumph.

—From Publishers Weekly, June 27, 2014

National Book Tour and Media 2014

Coming late January 2014

Amazon TOP 100 Second week of release

• February 26 Casa Blanca Book Club: Scottsdale AZ

• March 2 Feature profile as “The Arizona Republic Recommends” selection

• March 12 & 13 Corporate Event: Baltimore, Maryland

• March 26 National Public Radio “Here and Now” 11-noon: KJZZ Phoenix AZ

 

• March 28 Worldwide Launch, Changing Hands Bookstore: Tempe AZ

Former Arizona Governor Endorses Book

BurningShieldKindleFront

From Avery Press 2014

“This book is a powerful, inspiring story of one man’s will to survive and to thrive in the face of horrific injuries.  It is also a keen look into the workings of our police men and women and the close bonds that knit them together.  We admire them, and we especially admire Jason Schechterle.”

Janet Napolitano, former Arizona Governor (2002-2009) and Arizona Attorney General (1998-2002).

Coming February 2014

Coming late January 2014

From Avery Press 2014

“Sad, exciting, life-changing and emotional, Burning Shield: The Jason Schechterle Story is an amazing story of one man’s triumph over tragedy with the support of an entire community.”

—Jack Ballentine, former homicide detective and author of Murder for Hire

“Faithfully documented… This true story reads like a novel.”

That’s an advance review excerpt from my new book, a nonfiction biography, that’s now in production and scheduled for release in February 2014 by Avery Press. The book tells the amazing story of a rare individual; that’s all for now. Stay tuned!

New Book Debut

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20-CITY BOOK TOUR: IN ONE NIGHT

Leslie's

In addition to my own works, I write for-hire books, memoirs and corporate histories. On Saturday night, February 16, 2013, one of those corporate clients rolled out the red carpet and, for a night, gave me the celebrity author treatment. The project and the big book launch imparted several other valuable lessons.

The book I wrote for Leslie’s swimming pool supplies, an 800-plus store national retail chain, began in November 2010 and was finally rolled out to 1,000 of the company’s managers and executives at a hotel on Harbor Island in San Diego. The book documents the 50-year history of the company from inception in 1963, by the namesake Phil Leslie himself, through to the modern era. If the subject matter seems obscure, these are five-figure book commissions that are also a lot of fun to research and write. It’s storytelling with a steady paycheck.

The culmination of the company’s 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday night came when the CEO called me to the stage and told each of the 1,000 people they’d be receiving the hardcover book, and that I would be available to sign them. Then, without warning, the CEO turned to me and said, “Would you like to say a few words?” I was under the glare of the bright lights, with no “Oscar acceptance speech” notes, and 1,000 people quietly waiting for me to say something witty and insightful. And this was a rare opportunity: A 20-city book tour with 50 people every night would net me the same audience of 1,000 people.

Herein were two lessons:

• When you go out to promote your book, be prepared for the unexpected.

• Get comfortable with public speaking.

For me, public speaking used to invoke severe nervousness and butterflies. In terms of both lessons, over the years I started giving writing workshops. At some point in there, the nerves disappeared: I was prepared for any audience, any time. I stepped to the lectern, grabbed the book I wrote that was perched there and pretended that I was reading the opening. I said, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

That got a good laugh from the crowd, which put me further at ease, and then I just spoke from my heart. That led me to another lesson: Always Be Closing. It’s the old ABC sales adage as I ended with a plug for my other novels available online. I got another laugh when I told the audience of 1,000 that book royalties are how we’ll send our kids through college. When trying to move copies of your book, it never hurts to beg.

After my successful impromptu speech, I was whisked through a mob of people to my signing table where I put my name to hundreds of books. All the lessons were in play as I interacted with the multitudes and answered questions about my other books. Overall, Lesson #5 is the most important: Have fun with it all.

Authors and creative artists live the 95/5 life: Our work is 95 percent working our craft in isolation and five percent under the spotlight. So when the spotlight comes, soak it up, enjoy it and revel in it. There’s nothing to be nervous about: The creative life is both a difficult and privileged existence. When good tidings come your way, breathe in and enjoy the wonderful and brief vistas from the mountaintops.

New Tricks

Deep Wicked Freaky final coverI’m an old dog. Not literally, of course, but anyone who can remember the dawn of cable television—with that utlilitarian black channel changer box the size of a small watermelon, which had to sit prominently on the 200-pound wood grain finish TV—is ancient in our nano-second world of changing technology.

So as a lifelong book lover and reader, and for the last 20 years an author, I was firmly entrenched in what constitutes a “book”: felled trees, words stamped onto pulp and pages stitched and glued into various hardbacks and paperbacks for infinite pleasure both cerebral and tactile. “Real” books emit sounds and, over time, collect dust. They crack, yellow and age like old friends. They march through our hands and the world and back onto used bookstore shelves to await a new home. To find the soul of a home and its residents, I would say: Show me the book shelves. No books, no soul. (To wit visit the tony suburbs lined with McMansions in any American city).

Against that worldview, I soundly rejected any notion or even mention of eBooks, a passing fancy for technology wonks and prolific text-sters who can’t stop staring at their smartphones. But then something happened that affirmed the cliche and has this pooch doing a new two-step.

Tradition Bound

I traditionally published my first novel ZigZag in 1999. “Traditionally published” means I spent the eight years prior to 1999 writing, submitting and organizing a truckload of form rejection letters into neat files. Whether to a prospective agent or publisher, the general tenor and template of a form rejection letter usually includes, “This might be one of the single greatest narratives penned since William Shakespeare himself was living and breathing and writing with only the light of a warm fire and dim lantern, your words rich and eloquent and miraculously capturing that same palpable essence of raw humanity… However, it’s not right for us.”

ZigZag final coverSomehow, in 1999, during perhaps the final waning chapter of a newbie being able to crack into a major New York house with nothing but writing ability, I breached the outer walls: Henry Holt paid me a handsome five-figure advance. Bloomsbury in London followed suit as did publishers for translation deals in Germany and Portugal. Barnes and Noble selected me for its Discover Great New Writers, and I was a finalist for that year’s overall award. Then Hollywood A-lister David S. Goyer came along—he’s part of the story writing team behind the most recent trilogy of Batman films—and adapted my novel into a smart and touching independent film starring John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt and Wesley Snipes. I racked up great reviews, including high praise from Publishers Weekly and starred plugs from Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal, and figured at that point I’d summited the highest peak I’d ever face. However, if you think selling Book #1 to a major publisher is difficult, just wait until you try to sell Book #2! First novels, at least, have the shiny allure of untapped potential. But unless Book #1 is a runaway bestseller, Book #2 is anchored and doomed by the black flag of publishing death: sales figures (unless 100,000 or more, but 500,000 would be better).

If anything, the persistence that got me published in the first place only increased. I continued to write and submit and collate more form rejection letters. By 2009, I’d written a legal thriller The Rules of Action that later garnered some high praise from Kirkus Reviews (more on that in a minute): “Briskly told and well-drawn… this legal thriller does what many courtroom-based novels and television shows do not: It stays true to the actual practice of trial law… A fast-paced tale of justice in action and a remarkably accurate portrait of a trial lawyer’s daily grind.”

High and Deep

My agent in London was so excited by the prospects of the manuscript he carefully plotted a plan for world domination: a simultaneous submission in London and, with a top co-agent stateside, in New York. Anyone who’s worked with agents knows it’s a rare feat to submit a narrative that elicits any response much less works them into a giddy frenzy and breathless lather: We had as sure a thing in publishing as sure things go. The major houses would step up and squabble amongst themselves to see who could throw the biggest suitcase of money at us. Biggest wins! Another film deal would surely follow. My new novel would breakout and be stacked high and deep in the brick-and-mortars. To kick it all off the big dual-country, simultaneous submission went live and, drum roll please… nothing happened.

Bewildered and increasingly perplexed, my agent’s notes to me with each subsequent rejection, by yet-another major house, carried stronger and stronger expletives. Some would make a sailor cringe. In the end, we had no takers. Instead, I pressed on and released my own print edition in 2010, which was the beginning of learning my new tricks.

Down to the River

The marketing director at Changing Hands Bookstore, one of my all-time favorites and one of the country’s last great independents, took notice of the book, me and my labyrinthian 20-year journey as a writer. Sitting daily at the fore of the book world and publishing, Brandon Stout had two bold proclamations: 1) Change the cover—just compare the old cover to the new one—and  2) Do a digital edition. After recoiling and then recovering from such blasphemy—from Mr. Stout, a diehard book devotee and 100% indie guy who won’t touch Amazon with a 100-foot stack of 50 Shades of Grey—I had to take notice. In January of 2012, I began my digital conversion on two fronts.

Rules final coverOn the first front, I went to work to create new digital editions of my four novels: ZigZag, The Rules of Action,  Deep Wicked Freaky and The Flatirons. The latter two were previously unpublished altogether and required major editorial work. In the digital arena, one becomes one’s own publisher, so the first key is to hire the best supporting team. To do it correctly, at least for me, converting to digital is not a hit-the-button-and-next-week-you’re-Kindlelized process. For me (old dog), a new edition means upgrading everything: prose, cover and format. And to do that to four books simultaneously, while supporting myself otherwise with my ongoing workload of paying writing work, is no small feat.

Embracing the Process

Luckily, Brandon is also a crack designer and, coupled with his all-around book prowess and prescience, I hired him to create  four new covers. Brandon found the perfect cover image for The Rules of Action, taken in a park in Argentina by an amateur photographer named Javier Vargas, which had me tracking him all the way to South America and setting up a Western Union account to wire usage rights fees. I hired my go-to copyeditor Jim Moore to vet all the books. And Brian Schwartz did the digital conversion. In the end, we spent an entire year—much like the major houses in New York—and collectively produced four eBooks of a high standard. Now back to that Kirkus Reviews praise: In this new age one can plunk down $425 for an objective review from one of the most respected purveyors of prose. The pay-for-play Kirkus Indie program doesn’t guarantee a good review, only that the book will be reviewed. But it’s another sea change in the book industry that was previously not available to the masses of “uns”: the foul and despicable un-agented and un-published.

Flatirons final cover

Seeing the Light

Equally important, my longterm spiritual conversion is now complete. As I took complete creative direction of my books in a way I never had, month by month my anathema to anything digital started to fade. And then, it disappeared altogether. I will always love my traditional books. But I also saw that rejecting digital was just plain silly: sort of like digging my heels in and refusing to get a car just because I’m so comfortable with traveling by horse. I grew to love the idea of just how green an eBook really is: no trees, no ink, no printing plant, no cardboard boxes to ship books and no trucks and trains delivering books. No brick-and-mortar warehouse to build and heat and cool. I love that authors can create their own works and set their own price and garner a commensurate royalty percentage. Sink or swim, now authors can’t blame the idiot publisher for the horrible cover. (See the first edition of my novel ZigZag for a prime example. Ugh!). I love that eBooks are a fraction of the cost of traditional books. eBooks are also searchable and allow reader-specific niceties such as adjusting the font size, brightness and layout. I love that we can select a book and be reading it almost instantaneously. And in the end, reading is words hitting your cerebral cortex: The delivery medium is essentially irrelevant to the personal experience (unless we make it otherwise).

To be sure, publishing is still a lottery: For every breakout Twilight success about which we hear, there are 10,000 titles we’ll never discover. If my new efforts push me into that rare category of “bestselling author” that will be the ultimate icing on the cake. But I certainly don’t recommend any author, artist or musician tie self esteem and the notion of success to sales figures; I think there are some factors we can control that influence sales (write a good book and market it well) and most of the other factors—including which books get a sprinkle of that magic pixy dust—are completely out of our control.

Indie Heart

What’s most important are the things the savvy self-pubber gains in this new age: artistic integrity. Creative control. Complete ownership of one’s works and the ability to market directly to readers. The business model of publisher as all-knowing gatekeeper may not be completely obliterated, but it’s rapidly crumbling. Along with its deterioration is the vanishing of any stigma for the self-pubber, which is actually the new indie cool. Sure, the digital “big box” (Kindle Store) is moving a large chunk of eBooks sold, but there are cool indie options such as Kobo as well. Their eBook partnerships with Changing Hands Bookstore and other top indies—Books Inc., Book People, Tattered Cover, Village Books and others—ensure that you can purchase eBooks without selling your independent soul to Amazon.

Rise up readers and authors: If this diehard book aficionado can see the light and give eBooks a try, surely anyone can. I think when you do, you’ll be pleasantly surprised*. My reading life will now include both: traditional books and eBooks. And unless a publisher somehow gets a severed horse head beneath my bedspread, my professional life going forward will be to “publish” and release my new works solely as digital eBooks. And in three to five years, certainly seven to ten, that will be the most unremarkable statement an author could make.

(*Please allow 6-9 months for full conversion to occur)

Let’s chat: Please comment on this post and/or email me.

Thumbs Up from Kirkus Reviews

Here’s the full text of my latest book review from Kirkus Reviews:

A fast-paced tale of justice in action and a remarkably accurate portrait of a trial lawyer’s daily grind.

In Napoleon’s novel, a struggling lawyer befriends a local bail bondsman and takes on a case that will change his life. Fresh out of law school, Connor J. Devlin is struggling his way through traffic tickets and he-said, she-said misdemeanor cases in the Maricopa County courts. He decides business might improve if he ingratiated himself with the local bail bondsman, “One-Armed Lucky.” Devlin’s client, a tenacious woman named Kay Pearson, is convinced that substandard nursing-home care killed her mother, Ann, a greyhound-racing devotee and one of Lucky’s best friends.

There’s only one problem: In 1970, no one even thought of suing nursing homes for wrongful death. Dying people were what nursing homes were for. Over 10 years, Devlin dedicates his fledgling law practice to getting to the bottom of Ann’s painful, haunting death, culminating in a dramatic civil trial that challenges not only the nursing home, but the very notion that death should be neither seen nor heard. From the start, Napoleon’s novel is briskly told and well-drawn, but this legal thriller does what many courtroom-based novels and television shows do not: It stays true to the actual practice of trial law.

Legal tales often circumvent the dense lawyering to keep the action moving; Napoleon, however, proves that realism needn’t be sacrificed to pace or plot, and, despite its dry reputation, legal procedure can provide as much action, suspense and whodunit excitement as any shootout or car chase. Prospective law students are frequently encouraged to read law-student memoirs or legal hornbooks, but for a realistic view of litigation and a great deal more action, they’d do well to add this legal thriller to their reading list.

—From Kirkus Reviews

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