Tuesday, July 31, 2007

In the Amazon Trail Again...

Don't worry about me, I'm not going insane (slowly or otherwise). Just noticed something yesterday and thought I'd report on it.

In the morning, there were 18 copies of The Concrete Maze for sale at Amazon under the Used & New section - that is, sellers who are not part of Amazon directly but to which you can connect from Amazon. I checked to see who was selling my stuff used. It turned out all the copies were new ones. Fine by me of course. Get the book at a discount.

But then, in the evening, there were only 12 copies in that same category. Sounds good, no? I mean, that means six books were moved. Now it could be that the books were stripped and pulped, but since today is the day it officially goes on sale, I'd say that's unlikely. Next week? Maybe... But here's the thing. I always thought sales from these other distributors would positively impact my Amazon ranking. Instead, I sank 98,000 (give or take...mostly give). But...I think I figured out what may have happened. These vendors advertise elsewhere. I think some of them were real brick and mortar type stores. Maybe the books were bought through other means. Amazon gives no credit to those transactions since they weren't involved. As far as they're concerned, I did no business for them so 98,000 other titles skipped ahead of me. Presumably anyone who sold a book there yesterday.

On the other hand, I leaped ahead by 260,000 at Barnes and Noble. That's gotta mean something, doesn't it? Doesn't it?

Next I'll refuse to move when flies land on my hands...

Monday, July 30, 2007

I should have said...

But I don't think I did, that my story "Early Fall" in the Bronx Noir collection (edited by SJ Rozan) is actually a prequal to my latest novel, The Concrete Maze. You don't know the whole story (as it exists so far in my mind) until you've read "Early Fall"...and another novel I'm working on called The Concrete Heart. That's also a prequal, but I've no idea whether it'll ever be published.

Anyway, get your copy of Bronx Noir. It's good for you.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Amazon again

Since I brought the thing up in the first place I thought I update - the book is out now and after a second trip down past the million mark, I'm currently (midnight or so) at 95,622. Pretty good. That must mean I've sold at least one. Probably two or three.

Now if I could only rack up a few (positive) reviews...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Beckhams...

So the absolute last thing Tony Blair in office as Prime Minister was to somehow get the Beckhams to move to America? And we're thinking of invading Pakistan? I haven't seen Victoria Beckham's TV show, but I have seen a commercial for it in which she explains the word "major" in a way that's supposed to be interesting. Kind of the way NASCAR advertises races by showing crashes.

Right then and there I decided I had to make a list of obnoxious celebrities. Just started. So far I've got Victoria Beckham in the lead (she used to be one of the Spice Girls - they sang a song about wanting something...that's it, no joke). In second place, but primed to move up, I have that rich, beautiful young star who got arrested recently. No, not that one. The one with the addiction. Not that one either. The one who thinks she can sing...Anyway, if you've got suggestions for rounding out the top ten, I'd love to hear. Just don't put me on it...

The thing of it is - I can't see how David Beckham, even were he to somehow lose his wife, could be worth a quarter of a billion dollars. I mean, it's a sport that nobody in America watches. And I'm guessing his best years are behind him. Sure he'll be great in America. Not sure that's saying much. Don't know enough about soccer. But no one will tune in just to see him play. He won't pack stadiums. He'll sell T-shirts, true. But how much other merchandising can his team get out of him? Maybe a sneaker? I mean a pair of sneakers of course - selling them one at a time wouldn't work. Beckham key chains?

Now this is not a rant against paying entertainers a lot of money. As finaicial investments, a lot of them are worth it. Tom Cruise is worth his $25 million paycheck, so is A-Rod. They earn the money back for whoever writes their check. I just don't see how David Beckham is going to do that. Make me hip people. bring me up to speed. Did soccer catch on while I took my mid-morning nap?

Russel McLean Likes My Book

Russel McLean has reviewed The Concrete Maze for Crime Scene Scotland. There is the saying in the publishing world "If Russel McLean likes your book, then you have nothing to fear..." Well, he likes it. I knew throwing in references to Kilts, Rob Roy, Haggis, and Sean Connery would be to my benefit what with the rage for tartan noir. In any event, I'll let the review speak for itself. Take a look.

I should say that he also interviews Sean Chercover. So if you don't like the review, it's not like there's nothing for you to do...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Bronx Noir now for sale...

Just found out today that the most incredible anthology of noir stories ever* is out and about in the online bookstores. If you just can't wait until copies of Bronx Noir hits the shelves in your bricks and mortar store (hard to blame you) then try Amazon and Barnes and Noble .

If, on the other hand, you'd like to support an independent, be my guest. Even better, if you're in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday, stop by at Parnters and Crime around 7pm. There'll be loads of authors signing copies. I'll be among them.

Book Promotion...Part 3

Probably the most important part of promotion is making the personal connection with the reader. Not an easy task. There are millions of them and only one of you. And substitutes for the personal connection - websites, blogs, myspace pages, etc are just that - substitutes. And overall, I don't find that they work well, at least not for me, not so far. Here's the thing with the substitutes - they take a lot of time and many readers are not going to be able to find them. Let me explain.

In order to get people to my website, I need to advertise it. I put the address on pens to give away (usually to people who have just bought the books...) it's on the covers of my books, I mention it in any print advertising I do, and I try to get people to link to it (though I haven't been very aggressive about that...and don't intend to be). Now the website is very useful because I have had a couple of interviews and invitations come up because people had heard about me, gone to my website and decided they wanted to talk with me. But I don't think any of this actually sells books. Not, mind you that I sell all that many anyway.

There again, blogs mostly seem to have the same readers coming back to them. Great as a community, but not as a promotional tool. I've found that talking directly to readers at bookstores, at libraries, and in reading groups, generally gets me a fair number of sales. People want my books once I've talked to them enthusiastically about them. Onthe other hand, I don't think a single sale has been made through this blog.

The problem, as I pointed out earlier is that it is a difficult thing to talk to potential customers. Assuming you sell a book to 5% of the people you talk to, (and probably a tenth that for those who stumble across your website) you'd need to talk to tens of thousands of people to have any impact. Still, the success ratio is high.

Here's the deal then on public appearances...Read very little. And read out exactly one page in my last appearance at a public library but did well with sales. Seems strange, but I think the people wanted to hear about...themselves. They had questions about the writing process, the road to publication, how I came up with my ideas, etc. They weren't all writers, but none of them wanted an excerpt from the book or an author gassing on about his own concerns. They wanted funny stories, exciting stories, moving stories, and they wanted to learn about what they wanted to learn about. They got those things and bought books.

Now this book talk was in a relatively disadvantaged (or as we used to say "poor") neighborhood. A couple of ladies asked if there was a way to buy titles that I hadn't carried with me. I said Amazon, and they asked what that was. I told them and they asked if they needed a computer... Both these ladies bought books and many book buyers are in the same position. They're not spending their time online, they're spending it in libraries or in bookstores or they're reading reviews in the local newspaper.

Of course, if anyone has pointers about how I CAN promote online and make sales, let me know. I'll post it.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Book Promotion...Part Two

JA Konrath, author of the Jack Daniels series, knows a thing or three about promotion. I may not agree with him on all things promotional, but I do on at least one issue - writer's write and the best way to introduce yourself to readers is through that writing.

Now the fact that I say this is the best way does not mean that I think it necessarily will make you more sales than other things. If I were to chose, based on the number of sales generated, between publishing a short story in Crimespree (a magazine I love and subscribe to) and getting my publisher to pay for a full page ad in the New York Times, I'd have to go with the ad. If either of my publishers is listening...

But the good thing, is that it isn't a choice between writing stories and essays and paying for ads. There are other choices to make perhaps - writing short stories and articles and submitting them all takes time. Driving to bookstores and meeting booksellers takes time. A choice may need to be made. Last year, Konrath famously drove to hundreds of bookstores over the course of the summer. Valuable? Absolutely. Did he get much writing done? I'd have to doubt it (though Joe has a lot of energy so I wouldn't count it out...). But writing stories doesn't conflict with placing ads or getting reviews and handing out bookmarks.

So what have I done? I have done two things that are (hopefully) worthwhile in an of themselves and helped to promote me as an author. First, I have conducted interviews. The list of people who have been willing to consider my questions and actually put together responses has been staggering to me. Nobody (yet) says no. Take a look. There are Edgar winners; there are bestsellers; there are some truly interesting people on my list. Aside from the people I linked to (I'm especially proud of the AHMM interviews. That took some coordination.) there are also interviews with Megan Abbott, Jonathan Santlofer, Al Guthrie, and Con Lehane that I've done for Crimespree this year. Each and every one has been a stellar interview subject.

The interviews started as a way for me to introduce myself to others in the field. After all, one doesn't want to just say "I'm an author; like me" does one? I've seen, however, that the interviews draw readers to my site who perhaps wouldn't normally go there - people looking for more info about Laura Lippmann or SJ Rozan.

Then I've also written short stories. Some I've gotten paid for. Some I haven't. It is a very nice thing to get a check for telling lies. I have a short story coming out in the upcoming Bronx Noir. I have another one, a Viktor Petrenko story, coming out in the next edition of Demolition Magazine. The people who like my stories might just buy one of my books. Or they might recommend me to a friend. In fact, if you like my Bronx Noir story, you'll love The Concrete Maze. Guaranteed.

The good thing about short stories is that you do, sometimes, get paid for them. This is as opposed to most other forms of promotion. The good thing about the online stories is that though they rarely pay, they're always there, archived, ready for a new reader. Ready to sell for you. Best of all, if you're a writer, you may well have enjoyed yourself while writing it.

More on how to use short stories to promote yourself later.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Buy the Way...

Yes, yes. You can buy The Concrete Maze now. It's available online like at Barnes and Noble and Amazon and Powells. I don't think it is in bookstores just yet, but if it is, here is another good place to go looking. Here's another place.

Want to know what all the hoopla is about? Besides Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton, steam pipes exploding in NYC, Barry Bonds smacking homeruns, etc. Take a look at some info BJ Bourg was kind enough to post for me at his site Mouth Full of Bullets. While you're there, take a look around. It won't hurt you. Not a bit.

Now the only question is whether this book will get me nominated for any awards...One can dream.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

In the Mails today...

I got a box of author copies of The Concrete Maze. Dorchester did a really nice job on the cover and inside I have a page of advance praise. Never had that feature before. Towards the back I have a set of Reading Group questions. I made them up myself, but I find it more than a little difficult to imagine a reading group actually discussing the book as it is rather noiry. Still, if you're in one of those groups and have been casting about for the next book to discuss, you could do worse.

Later in the day I got my copy of Mystery Scene Magazine. They ran a photo of me in reference to my win of a Derringer from the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Does that count as one of the impressions that readers need before they'll remember my name? Not sure. Feels good though. Whatever else it may be in fact, it feels like recognition.

Book Promotion...Part One

I've been promoting my books and myself since 2002 when my first book came out, so what have I learned? Well, first the negative...

One of the mantras one hears from publishers is that advertising a book in newspapers, magazines, on the radio, or on the air does nothing but waste money. After all, who ever heard of a person buying something they saw advertised...? The problem is, of course, that the publishers know this to be utterly false. They spend plenty of money on print advertisements when they have a potential bestseller on their hands. Frankly, how else are consumers to know what is out there? They don't generally read Publisher's Weekly or Library Journal. They definitely do read newspapers and non-trade specific magazines. Yes, I could travel the country going from door to door introducing myself personally, but have you any idea how many people in this country would be terrified by the sight of a Puerto Rican on their doorstep asking for a little of their time to talk about murder?

They say a certain number of impressions must be made upon a potential customer before they are remember you. Some say as little as three. I think it's higher like seven or ten. Still, the thing of advertising (especially when it comes to books since there are so many out there) is that it helps to create those impressions. Sure reviews do that for free, but how many reviews can you get? How many is a potential customer likely to read?

Now for some positive. Remember the image of the Puerto Rican on the doorstep? It turns out this is a way to promote sales. Not the doorstep, per se, but the local library and bookstores. (Churches or other public spaces may also have programs where authors can come in to speak depending on the nature of your book, etc.)

I spoke at the DeKalb Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system last night. There were about a dozen people, maybe fifteen. Had a great time. The interaction was lively. We laughed a good deal. I got to read precisely one page of my work. The conversation- their questions - is what drove the hour and a half. It went by quickly and I feel they got to learn what they wanted to about the book business and about me. Sold seven books. Won't make me rich, but it is about a 50% sell through rate. If every event got me that rate, I'd be very happy with my sales. So would my publishers... (Thanks Zeslie! Keep at it, Nicole! Thanks for the support, Ray! See you in the movies, Chris!)

Fielded a lot of questions about The Concrete Maze. Didn't have a single copy, but I gave out coverflats and told people about Amazon and about talking to their local independent. (Not sure there is a local store in East New York...) Anyway, this personal connection with people who love books, works. Not in-your-face-buy-my-book selling, just conversation, teaching, letting people know your book is out there and it might be right for them. I was also pushing Dope by Sara Gran last night. (Pun intended...)

Anyway, more about what works and what doesn't later.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Torres vs. Rowling

Thought I'd let people know that there are two things going on today. First, my book The Concrete Maze is in-stock at the online places like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Bookstores are probably soon to follow. This is very exciting for me since I made a vow recently to displace JK Rowling from the top spot at Amazon starting as soon as the book actually hit the shelves. No doubt she's feeling the heat and I do wonder whether this Sunday's Times or next Sunday's will show the results of all my efforts... Of course, the book officially hits stores on the last day of the month and is considered an August title. That should give her a little breathing room.

Secondly, Beth Tindall has made over my website front page with new news, a few of the blurbs for the latest book and, yes, a contest. Does Rowling have a contest? I doubt it. Just checked her site. No contest...Hell of a site though. Click through for a look...but then buy MY book.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Just figured out...

Beth Tindall has recently updated my website. The front page is neat and clean (I think anyway) and there is even a contest which you won't want to miss if you are a fan of hardboiled/noir novels. Check it out.

Thrillerfest - The Books...

When I go to a convention, I bring money for books. This time, the bookroom situation was a bit strange - I usually like to support independents at the bookroom (in fact, that's usually all there is). Nothing against Barnes and Noble's or Borders, but I support independents at conventions because they bring a variety and knowledge to the table that B&N often doesn't AND I want to see that variety the next time and the time after that. For instance, at B'cons I buy from the Canadians. Not that I have a Canadian fetish, but I want to see them back the next year and that clearly won't happen if going to B'con is always a losing proposition for them. Anyway, that's me. Bought a bunch of books from Mystery Mike's in Indiana this time around.

Of course, I bought books by Con Lehane, Jonathan Santlofer, Richard Aleas, and Michele Martinez - friends of mine. I've read their stuff before and they've never failed in providing a good reading experience. But this post is about the other books I carried home:

First, Mr. Clarinet by Nick Stone who I didn't get a chance to meet at the conference. I picked up the book - hard to say why now, it might be that I thought the title was goofy -- Anyway, the first page sucked me in as did the second and the third. The jacket flap also worked. I was reading a B&N copy, put it down went over to Mystery Mike's and picked up a much fatter copy that had an $85 price tag. I like supporting independents but not to the tune of $60 more per book. Luckily, they were able to hand me a $24 copy. Not sure what the difference in price was from. Anyway, I'm about 75 pages in and the book hasn't disappointed yet though there are a few strange typos - for instance, a spot where the narrator is counting off what happened to a dozen men and adds up 6+4+1 to get there. That used to be called eleven. Another spot where a ( occurs but with no ). A couple of others, but such strange things that they're becoming a second mystery unto themselves. Highly enjoyable reading.

Second is Tim Maleeny's Stealing the Dragon. I met Tim in the hallway outside a conference room and recognized the name. I had read his interview with Robert Ferrigno in Crimespree. We traded books after a short chat. The cover art - a beautiful woman with a back covered with a dragon tattoo - was scary I told him, and he said that was about the right mood. I believe this is my first purchase of a Midnight Ink title, and I read the first dozen pages or so on the train ride home. Wonderful stuff again. It seems there's a female assassin who can climb walls like a spider...I'm hooked.

This makes three books I'm currently reading - Jason Pinter's The Mark is another terrific debut. I'll be blogging about it soon.

I spent the entire weekend looking for an ARC of Laura Benedict's novel Isabella Moon. They were supposed to have been everywhere, but it wasn't until the bitter end, the brunch to end the festivities, that I actually put my hands on one. Then, out of nowhere, a little old lady put her hands on it as well. Tried to claim it for herself. A right cross to the jaw and an elbow to the bridge of her nose and it was mine.... Haven't started it yet, but I've heard much about it so it's got to be good, no?

More impressions of the conference later.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Thrillerfest, Friday

First the namedropping fun stuff: had good conversations with many people. I won't remember them all, but among them are Keith Raffel of Dot Dead fame, Con Lehane, author of Death at the Old Hotel, Zoe Sharp, her of the umlaut, Lee Child, Rosemary Harris, Tim Maleeny, Jonathan Santlofer, Michele Martinez and my editor Marcia Markland. Andy Butler described the kick of a Desert Eagle with panache.

Went to two panels hosted by Doug Preston and Lincoln Child. Noticed that if one was drinking water, the other was always silent. Eerie. Also went to a panel with Deborah LeBlanc at the helm. That was about how the supernatural world informs some thrillers.

So far, not much time left for questions fromt he audience at any of the panels. Shame. But the panelists are funny. Bravo!

Probably the most instructive thing about Thrillerfest so far is the bookroom. Compared to a Bouchercon, the bookroom here is quite small and the foucs on thrillers is strange in a way. The number of secrete agents saving the world from holocausts nuclear, biological, ecological, etc is rather astounding. Essentially, the jacket blurbs of a hundred books chosen at random will instruct in at least fifty different ways the world could end if mad billionaires, secret organizations, or loner scientists who have stumbled upon hidden formulas of unimaginable power could only get their wish. The book I'm currently writing has the billionaire and the sciencetist, but not the organization...yet.

The other fifty novels would be be smaller stories perhaps but the odds against the hero are long and the consequences of failure dire. Perhaps this sums up the thriller. The same description is not applicable to the mystery genre as a whole. In a police procedural, for instance, the odds must be against the perpetrator since, in real life, the police usually do get their man. Also, the consequences of failure are that the bad guy gets away. Could be worse. Like if he gets away with a vial of some viral strain that would wipe out life as we know it if released...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Amazon again...

Somehow, The Concrete Maze jumped from 1.5 million to 108k. Maybe I sold a book. Maybe Amazon simply weeded out their stock and pulped the 1.4 million books that were ahead of mine. Hard to say. Still, I won't rest until I've taken control of the #1 spot. Who's there now? Harry Potter? My Tio Luis can kick his patootie as we say in Wisconsin. In the words of George W. "Bring it on!" (Said with Braveheart fervor...)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Furthermore...Thrillerfest and MySpace

A bit scatterbrained lately, preparing to go off to Thrillerfest. This is a last minute thing made possible by Stephen Blackmoore's willingness to part with his ticket to the event. Many thanks go to that corner.

Trying to navigate the Thrillerfest website has been a nightmare, but I'm sure I'll get a program in paper form once I get there. I'm not on any panels which normally wouldn't be so bad because I'd just have that much more time to spend in the bookroom (I assume there'll be one at Thrillerfest but I couldn't find evidence of that on the site) or schmoozing (couldn't find a complete list of people attending either). I feel woefully underprepared. Ah well. Story of my life really.

On the other hand I was also trying to verify claims that myspace works wonders for an author's sales. I actually went to myspace to check it out. I had always thought it was a site for children to either meet friends or predators. Apparently it is also a site where people thank each other for invitations and additions. I suppose that's one way to make friends. Couldn't figure out how I'm supposed to make use of this (assuming I made up a page, how would I get people to know or care?). If anyone has positive or negative feedback, let me know. Few experiences have made me feel like more of an old man.

The Launch party for BRONX NOIR (the greatest of the NOIR collections...) is at Partners and Crime in NYC on July 24th. Should be very nice with some greta authors on hand for the free wine and beer. Nore on that after Thrillerfest.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Amazon Numbers, redux (x-posted from Crimespace)

My Barnes and Noble numbers are very different from my Amazon numbers. At B&N, my numbers, at the moment, are 467,137. My Amazon numbers, however, have dropped into the 1.4 million zone. I hope to start turning these numbers around in about ten days (that is, the 18th or so) which will still be about ten days before the book is officially out in the world. Here's what I'll be doing and you judge whether you think I have a chance of getting some attention.

1 - I'll be attending Thrillerfest. I won't be on a panel (boo!) but I will be schmoozing and if anyone asks me if I have a book coming out, I'll proudly tell them about The Concrete Maze. Net sales? Maybe one book.

2 - I'll be giving a booktalk in the DeKalb branch of the Brooklyn Public Library on the 18th. I'm told this will generate some interest and draw a decent crowd.

Net sales? Probably another book.

3 - I have a full page ad and two interviews that I conducted running in the forthcoming CRIMESPREE. I spoke with Con Lehane and Al Guthrie, both of whom have recently produced excellent books. I think (but I'm not sure) that Jon Jordan is also running a contest to give away my books. Oddly, I expect giving books away to increase sales. By how much? Not sure.

Net sales? Quite possibly as many as ten books.

On the 24th, I'll be on hand at Partners and Crime in NYC for the launch of BRONX NOIR from Akashic. I'm one of the writers. I figure this might get me a few more sales.

Net sales? 3 books.

Now the net sales (which, if I do my math correctly add up to 15) are online sales. At least as many net sales in stores etc. So 3 trips into NYC (a 250 mile roundtrip) and a full page ad plus two interviews (which were actually fun so I shouldn't count them, but I will) nets me 30 sales. Sweeeeet! No, wait. There's got to be something wrong here...

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Amazon Ranking...

I checked my Amazon ranking for The Concrete Maze today. Oh boy... The book isn't due out for another three weeks or so, but 1,372,424 isn't very encouraging. Of course, it's way better than 1,372,425... Also, there are two things for me to keep in mind (beside the fact that it isn't out yet): first, it can only go up from there. Not entirely true. I don't doubt I could see this drop to the two millions. Not sure how many books they track, but I could hit bottom before they actually start selling. I think.

Secondly, so far, though about a hundred ARCs went out, none are up for sale yet, so that 1,372,424 isn't an inflated figure bloated by the sale of used books. Of course, if that were the bloated number, then I'd have much to cry about.

Friday, July 06, 2007

I forgot to say...

On Sunday, I posted a story here called Doubleplay. It was my first story ever published. (scroll down to take a look at Steven Torres juvenalia.) I forgot to add any commentary on Monday however about the writing process or the origin of the story. For my millions of fans (okay, for Patti) I rectify that situation now.

The story was first published in a little journal of sports fiction called Aethlon. It came out in the tail end of 2001, but I didn't actually get my copies until Spring of 2002, a few days after I got my copies of my first novel. So I count it as my second publication overall. Strange that I should get a novel published before I published anything else in my life. Strange to me anyway.

The writing of the story was pretty straight forward at first, then got complicated. Here's the genesis - Tim McCarver used to be the announcer for the New York Mets (before becoming the announcer for FOX baseball). I loved his commentary and he's one of the few players to have played in four different decades (1959-1980). As a catcher for the Cardinals, he caught for some of the greats of the game including Bob Gibson during his mystical 1968 campaign. More importantly for this story, however, he used to talk about catching for Steve Carlton. And when Carlton went to the Phillies, McCarver went with him and caught him there as well. Carlton was a 300 game winner and McCarver, not Hall of Fame material himself, was a large part of that. He spoke admiringly of the man, but I figured it would be good to see what would happen if the admiration withered. That's what we get here. The story almost wrote itself.

But then, the editor at Aethlon wanted a story that wasn't as dark. The original ending has the catcher intentionally going out of his way to sabotage the pitcher. I toned that down and made things a bit more ambiguous (I think). When the Aethlon editor finally accepted the story, he made some note to me about still thinking it was darker than he normally liked. Don't know what he would make of THE CONCRETE MAZE.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

First Review is in...

Spinetingler Magazine has just posted what I think is the first official review of The Concrete Maze. It made me very happy.

Yes, Yes you should take a look at the many fine stories, interviews and reviews, but...well, allow an author a moment of pride and look at what Mr. Einarson has to say.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

My first published story...

Steven Torres

So there he was, on the dusty road. Nineteen years a major leaguer. Nineteen years squatting behind the plate. Over two thousand games. Six thousand plus at-bats. More than fifteen hundred hits. True, not a Hall of Fame career, but not a hand-me-down company car either. One hundred and ninety-two thousand miles. He wondered how many more miles would be clicked off before the day was done. With the road stretching blankly out before him as it did, he would not have been surprised if another hundred and ninety-two thousand miles showed up on the odometer. Bastards at the front office would probably make him pay for the mileage.

Nineteen years on the field for one team, and he had no more than a minor scouting position with them now. The last four years had been Hell, and he told his wife sometimes, “I can feel Evil growing in my heart.” Then she would check the gun cabinet, making sure it was locked and that she had the key.

The dusty road turned into no more than a dirt road. He was sure he had strayed into Nevada desert plain and simple but there were road signs that told him otherwise and not caring at the moment, gripping the steering wheel so hard it hurt at the moment, he accelerated, watching the cloud of dust forming in his rearview mirror.

Lo and behold, out of the desert sand, like a mirage, like the palace of some Arab sheik, a ranch shimmered in the distance.

“Well, that’s Jimmy alright,” he mumbled to himself.

From the dirt road he was on there was a dirt road leading to the gates of the ranch and from the gate to the home itself, there was a mile more of dirt road.

“Nineteen thousand acres. The bastard couldn’t possibly leave any acreage for other people to…”

He stopped himself, looking around as he drove. There was no one he could think of who would want to be stuck all the way out there in the land of scorpions and cacti. He tried to remind himself that Jimmy, after all, had never been a bad guy. In fact, hadn’t Jimmy offered him the car, the convertible they gave him in honor of his retirement?

And there was Jimmy, on the porch of his ranch, really just a front deck. He raised an arm into the air and waved from the elbow.

“Hey, Tom!” he shouted when the car was still a hundred yards away.

Tom steered toward a small arrangement of planted flowers circled with pebbles and ran over it and parked. Jimmy kept waving.

“Hey Tom! Tommy boy! Long time no see,” he said offering Tom the hand that had been waving.

“Yeah,” Tom said. “Long time no see.”

“Yep, definitely is long time no see. I didn’t know if you’d come. I didn’t think you’d be over today at least. I mean, I know you’ve got responsibilities and such. You’ve got a whole office and everything, ain’t you?”

Tom shared an office with an accountant who still had pimples and had never played ball. The accountant’s company car had seven thousand miles on it.

“Well, they told me you had something important to discuss with me so I…”

“Didn’t they tell you nothing else?” Jimmy asked.

“Well, Jimmy, they said something I thought sounded a little strange…”

“Why strange? Happens all the time, I think. Look at Sandberg.”

“But you’re what? Forty-two?”


“Fine but how long have you been out of the game?”

Jimmy’s head lowered with discouragement, and that was part of what Tom was there for. He looked up again.

“I’ve got a Juggs gun. I’m not just dreaming about all of this. Look here. I got you a mitt, chest protector, mask, everything. Come on, Tom. Just one more time. If I don’t got it, we’ll have a couple of beers and you go on back and tell them I ain’t got it. If I do got it, you know what that could mean?”

If Jimmy had it, the team could bring the most popular player in their history out of retirement. They could put a Hall of Fame caliber left handed pitcher on the mound. If he had anything left in his arm, the team might be able to climb out of the cellar. But there was nothing left in the arm. Team doctors don’t tell a player, especially a left-handed pitcher, that he’s washed up unless he’s washed up. There’s no profit in throwing away what’s still good.

“Your rotator cuff was worn out, Jim. You don’t come back from that, not at forty.”

“Just put the gear on. Could you do that for me? Can you just get the gear on? Let me throw you a dozen pitches. I got speed, I got location. I got movement on the ball. I’m not like I used to be. I’m not going to win the Cy Young, I’ll tell you that right now. I’m not conning anyone. I’ll tell you what though – I’m better than that Jackson kid you guys brought up. You brought him up too early. He’s not good, I can tell you that, but he will be. Give him two years and he’ll be good. Until then, I’m telling you, I can tide the team over. Will you put on the gear already?”

Jimmy tossed the bundle of catching gear at Tom’s chest. Tom took off his sports jacket and put on the black, plastic baseball helmet.

“What kind of speed you got in that arm?” he asked.

“High eighties, consistent. Figure in another two weeks I might hit ninety. Curve’s going too. Screwgie’s coming along, but I wouldn’t throw it to a batter yet. Just a matter of time.”

Jimmy put his cap on and his glove. He flexed the glove with his pitching hand a few times as Tom strapped himself into a chest protector that was a little more snug than he remembered. Tom put his face mask on and then his mitt.

“Alright. I’m ready to go. Ready as I’ll ever be, anyway.”

“Follow me,” Jimmy said and jogged away off towards the back of the house.

Tom followed at a walk. How long had it been since he jogged in gear, he wondered. Charity softball game a year ago. Not as long as he would have guessed.

Behind the home Jimmy had a garage almost the size of Tom’s home. In front of that there was a regulation height pitching mound complete with pitching rubber. On the garage door there was a bullseye painted crudely. There were smudges where the ball had hit on target. There were also a few smudges on the rest of the door where the ball had hit wildly off target. Off to one side there was a fifty-five gallon steel drum with a car tire tied onto it. This was another target.

“Now just set up and call a pitch, fastball, curve, change. Screwgie’s not so good, remember. I’m warmed up already, so you’ll get the best I can do, okay?”

Tom squatted in front of the garage door, in front of the bullseye. There was no point to any of this. The chances of a comeback for Jimmy were astronomical. Everyone at the office knew it. They wanted him to go away quietly, but he was the franchise. If he wanted to make a comeback, the fans would back him. Refusing him outright would be a public relations nightmare. Having him embarrass himself on the field would be no better.

“Humor him,” they told Tom. “Besides, you owe him,” they told him.

There he was in the hot Nevada Sun, melting in catcher’s gear and humoring the Great Jimmy Lind, a man who, if he left well enough alone, would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in a few years.

Tom thought about his pitch selection for a moment: it was an automatic response to the gear and the squatting. He thought how he would pitch to a batter but there was no specific batter in mind. He caught himself and flashed a single finger, looking for the fastball.

A second later, after a long windup that seemed to flow in a kind of time made of molasses, the fastball popped into his mitt. The pop was audible and the pitch found his glove like it belonged there. Tom looked at the ball, then his pitcher. Jimmy was doing his patented celebration – a double pump in the air – as though he had just struck someone out.

“I heard the pop,” Jimmy yelled out.

Tom tossed the ball back from his knees and resumed his squat.

He signaled another fastball, and again the ball popped its way into his glove. He called four more fastballs and each popped into his glove. Tom figured Jimmy was hitting maybe eighty-eight miles an hour, but that was just a guess. For all he knew, Jimmy really had nothing. The pop in the glove can be created at lower speeds. There was no evidence that the throws weren’t coming in at eighty, and eighty is not a fastball in the major leagues. In the major leagues, eighty is a homerun. He flashed two fingers for the curve.

A great curveball is an odd thing to catch. It looks like a fastball that is going to go over the umpire’s head. One has to have faith that it will break sharply in the last fraction of a second and drop into the glove. This curve dropped perfectly, and for some reason Tom thought of Jimmy’s first year in the majors when he was young and likable and everything went right for him. They were roommates – Tom was older by a year or two and more experienced and the manager said, “Take care of him. He’s the future of the team.”

Tom threw the ball back. He wiggled two fingers for the curve again. Then he shifted his position a little as though he were moving in on a right handed batter.
The pitch back to him was perfect. Not the perfection of a twenty year old; it was the perfection of age and cunning. Tom tried but couldn’t think of a single hitter who could have hit the ball well – the really good hitters would have laid off it completely.

He called for ten more fastballs and each one popped into place, proud of themselves. Tom took off his helmet and mask, tucked them under his arm and jogged out to the mound.

“I’m going out to cover first; try your pickoff move a few times, okay?”

“Sure, Tommy,” Jim replied. There was sweat covering his pitching arm and forehead just as there used to be when he was twenty-two. “How’m I doing?” There was a sparkle in his eye just as there used to be when he was twenty-two.

“Not bad for forty,” Tom said. There was no point in raising hopes just yet.

Four throws to first were enough to prove that his move was still his weakest point. But he had rarely needed it. He had led the league in strikeout four times in his career. Not too many ever got to first base anyway. Tom shouted from first base.

“How ‘bout those beers?”

Jimmy dropped his glove and ball and jogged into the house. “Meet you out front.” He said. When he came out, Tom was sitting on the front deck, his sports jacket draped across his knees, his shirtback soaked through with sweat.

Like a good host, Jimmy opened the bottles and handed one to his guest. The beer was icy cold and Tom rubbed the bottle across his forehead and on his neck in a way he had learned not to since his playing days had ended. Jimmy sat next to him, and they were silent through the first sip or two.

“How’d I do?” Jimmy asked after a moment. He looked away to the desert as though afraid of the response.

“You did pretty good. I’ll admit it, I didn’t think you would have that much. I mean after surgery and all…”

“I’ve been working out. Never stopped. I jog three miles everyday. I lift weights, I swim. I’m in shape. I swear to you – I don’t have the arm of a twenty year old, maybe, but I have a better arm than some thirty year olds. And I’d come cheap. Hell, they can pay me the minimum – What is that these days like a hundred thousand a season?”

“Do you need the money?” The worry in Tom’s voice was genuine.

Jimmy looked at him confused a moment.

“Money? No, I don’t need the money. I’ve got investments. I’ve got property. My accountant told me. I’ve got nine million, liquid. It’s not about money…”

“What’s it about then?” Tom asked, but he knew.

“It’s about the game, it’s about glory. It’s about finding that place in the world where you fit just right and getting applauded for being there…”

“You’re going to the Hall of Fame…”

“I have two hundred and seventy-eight major league victories under my belt. I want three hundred. I figure it’ll take me two…”

“You don’t have anything to prove, Jimmy. You’re the Great Jimmy Lind. Your number is being retired this season coming up. You’ll be in the Hall. People will talk about you for decades…”

“I’ve got more, Tommy. I know I have more. You can’t deny that pop. You can’t tell me your hand doesn’t sting a little. I got more, Tommy, that’s all there is to it. Nobody likes to walk away from any job while they got something to give. Not even a coal miner does that. You understand me?”

Tom paused before answering and took a swig from his bottle.

“We could both come back, Tommy. Remember how it was? You and me. Remember in ’91? They were gonna let you go. I told them I needed you as my personal catcher. They didn’t refuse me then. They won’t refuse now. I can bring you back to the game. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t love it…”

“I’m forty three years old…”

“So what? If I get the fourth starter’s role I’ll do thirty, thirty-five games. You can catch that, I know you can. You can fill in at first, you can come off the bench. Come on, Boone did it, Pudge did it…”

“I don’t know, Jimmy. You saw what happened in ’95.”

“Those bastards tricked me. They scared me. You know something? I didn’t know it, but I had all the cards. They said… They told me they wouldn’t take me back if I insisted on you being my catcher… I was afraid. I didn’t realize how few lefties there were on the market. I could have kept you in the game, I know I could have. I want to make that right for you, Tommy. I gave you up in ’95, but I can bring you back now.”

“I’ll think about…”

“Come on, Tommy. You know, I looked it up. You caught two thousand seven hundred and nine of my strikeouts. You caught two hundred and thirty-six of my wins. Come back with me.”

“I said I would think about it, Jimmy. Look. I gotta go, okay? I’m sure someone in the front office’ll call you about their decision either way, okay?”

Jimmy looked away to the desert and finished his beer with a final swig. He threw the bottle to the sand.

“Just tell them what you saw here. I got it. I can work out nice for them. I can tide them over ‘til that Jackson kid fills out. In fact, I could teach him a few pointers. I’ve got something to give, Tommy.”

Tom drove back to the office arriving as the bulk of the front office people were preparing to go home. The assistant general manager who had sent him out in the morning in response to Jimmy’s call met him in the hallway.

“Going to type up your report?” He asked.

“Yeah. Figured I’d get it over with so I can rest easy tonight. Going out to Michigan in the morning to see that kid, Grice. I’ll leave it on your desk…”

“Anything useful gonna be in it?”

“I… I don’t like to say…”

“Just give me a heads up here, if we can use him, I’d like to start talking to him. Does he have anything?”

“He… He throws without pain. I can say that much.”

“That’s it, huh? Throws without pain, no velocity, no location?”

“I was going to write that we should invite him to spring training. That will give him a few weeks to build up his strength, get into a grove…”

“Forget it. Leave that suggestion out. If he’s got no pop left in his arm, spring training ain’t the place to start looking for it. Anything else?”

“Well… I’ll tell you… He doesn’t like Jackson too much.”

“Badmouthing Jackson, huh? Well, forget him. I know you love Jimmy like a brother, but if he’s got no pop, and he’s badmouthing Jackson… He’s got no clue what the future of this team is going to look like…”

“Well… I mean…”

“Don’t think twice about it, Tommy. No pop, bad attitude. Probably wants a million dollars to pitch mop-up. Forget it. Don’t feel too bad about it. When he gave you up in ’95, he knew it was all about production and business. It’s not personal. Hell, he was my hero. He was great. Now he ain’t got it. I’ll let him know gently, it’s time to move on. Now you just type up your report and get some sleep. I hear this Grice kid can throw the ball through a brick wall.”

The End.