Tag Archives: hang a crooked number

How to Predict the Future at Exactly the Wrong Time

Years ago I wrote a novel. It did not exactly set the world on fire, though the same can be said for 99% of everything written ever. However, I’ve been thinking about that book a lot of late because I believe it may have suffered from the fact that it came out at exactly the wrong time.

The book was called Hang A Crooked Number, and its central conceit was that professional baseball was a front for a domestic intelligence organization. The conflict of the novel occurs between that organization’s established leadership, which prefers low-key data-driven work, and a faction of cavemen types who want the organization be more brazen and brutal in their methods. The main character is an aging prospect who has yet to break into the bigs. When he finds himself caught up in the wonks vs. cavemen fight, he spots a chance to make his mark and finally earn his way to The Show. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t go so well for him.

I began writing the book as a thinly veiled allegory for the reality-bending horror of the Bush Years, with a healthy serving of the Stat Nerds vs. Jocks wars that flared up in baseball during the mid-2000s. But by the time I actually finished writing the novel, both of those eras had long passed. Obama was already into his second term, and everyone was eager to think of the Bush years as a distant memory. Meanwhile in the baseball world, the nerds had definitively won the data wars, and only the get-off-my-lawn-iest cranks argued otherwise.

In other words, the novel had two strikes against it before it even stepped up to the plate. This may explain why I failed to interest any agent in the novel, and why, once I self published it, no one wanted to read it. I’m also inclined to think that the novel wasn’t that good, probably? That may possibly have been a factor.

Nonetheless, Hang A Crooked Number has come to mind a lot lately. When I wrote it, I tried to create a world that was slightly more grotesque than the reality of the moment. Lo and behold, Bush Years + 25% More Horror = something that looks a lot like TrumpAmerica. To wit:

  • The world doesn’t quite work, and no one expects it to anymore. Things are broken and don’t get fixed. Roadblocks and train stoppages set up to combat terrorism do little more than annoy commuters. Severe storms level whole neighborhoods with such a frequency that the events are no longer shocking. There is no expectation that any of these conditions will ever improve.
  • Apart from the protagonist/narrator, the most important character in the novel is a former superstar trying to work his way back to the big leagues, nicknamed The Swing. He is an incurious dolt who keeps succeeding almost by accident. He has no interest in learning anything about his own abilities or the world around him, yet makes continual word-salad pronouncements on these and many other subjects. He is eventually promoted to the majors purely as a publicity stunt, by a team that has zero chance of winning anything.
  • The main character (referred to only by his nickname, Backstop) has a handler who also serves as the only source for extremely valuable intelligence. The caveman wing of the organization tries to recruit Backstop by insisting his handler is actually a double agent for a terrorist group. In his attempt to find out the truth, Backstop inadvertently sets up a sting operation that, for all intents and purposes, forces his handler to commit the crime his enemies had already accused him of, making their accusation retroactively correct.
  • Backstop then finds out that the cavemen who hoodwinked him aren’t as dumb and primitive as he thought. They wanted access to his handler’s source, and with his handler out of the way, now they have it. They also wanted Backstop to rope The Swing into their schemes, and he unknowingly does this as well. Their main goal was obtaining power, and they obtained it by feigning stupidity in a way that some found appealing.

Granted, there is plenty in this book that is not at all relevant to modern times. There’s almost no use or mention of social media in it, for instance, or of the oddly Ayn Rand-ian world of the modern technocracy. Straight-up white nationalism makes no appearance, either. But the above items are enough to make me think that the novel may have failed as much for its timing as for its overall quality. I’m good at some things and bad at many others, but one of the things I am least skilled at is timing. This would be my Exhibit A in that case.

Had I know a Trump presidency would have made my novel more relevant…well, actually, had I known a Trump presidency would even happen, a novel would’ve been the least of my concerns.

Consider Doing More Than Nothing

I’ve pulled my book from Amazon.

Doing this will cause me no hardship whatsoever, either now or in the foreseeable future. My novel Hang A Crooked Number has sold as many copies as it will ever sell, having gone over like the proverbial lead balloon. I have no writing career that a break from Amazon could damage. I’m no threat to acquire such a career any time soon; I once thought writing would be my vocation, but I’ve accepted that it will be nothing more than a hobby.

In other words, this move involves almost no sacrifice on my part. The stakes could not be lower for me. I’m pulling my book anyway.

I was ambivalent at best about putting my book on Amazon to begin with. Did I really want to associate myself with a company that had destroyed Main Street as thoroughly and ruthlessly as Wal-Mart, if not more so?* One that’s laid to waste thousands of stores across the country, and apparently has its eye on taking out shipping companies, too?

I weighed Amazon’s force of evil against my desire to see lots of people to read my book and eventually decided to side with the latter. Since my novel was only going to be available in ebook format, I wanted it to be available in the format most people use to read ebooks. I saw a caravan full of demons barreling down the road and stuck my thumb out to hitch a ride, figuring As long as they’re going my way…

I believe the word for this kind of reasoning is “chicken-shit.”

We all do this in some form or another, making explicit or implicit compromises with distasteful organizations because they might make our lives easier for a moment. It’s not that we don’t care. We just don’t want to care all the time. Life is hard. We treasure those brief moments where one minute hassle has been removed from our days.

Many people who use Amazon are fully aware of, and have issues with, the company’s lowballing and bullying tendencies, its rapacious hunger to devour all competition, and its pitiful record of charitable donations compared to other giant corporations. We hit pause on these concerns because we really want to be able to pick up a deck chair and a pair of shoes and a DVD set without driving to three different stores.

Just a few weeks ago, I ordered a few items from Amazon, reasoning that it was hard to find them at local stores because there weren’t many local stores where I could find those items. It wasn’t until my package arrived that it occurred to me Amazon was the reason those local stores had disappeared.

By all accounts, this was Jeff Bezos’s intention from Day One: Become so large and eliminate so much competition that concerns about how you play the game become immaterial, because you are the only game in town. If you could bring to life a Gilded Age robber baron’s wet dream, this would be it.

Amazon’s current tiff with Hachette is just the latest example of what happens when you let some evil slide for a while for the sake of convenience. In a fit of caprice befitting an inbred Renaissance monarch, Amazon has stopped selling certain books because one publisher dared say no to them. The company actually has the balls to tell customers to seek these books out elsewhere, knowing full well that there are few elsewheres to seek out (especially when it comes to books), and that they’ve trained their customer base to look upon any offline shopping experience as an insufferable ordeal.

I don’t know if I’ll ever write another book, or if I’ll write much of anything in the future. I do know that I would like someone to keep writing books, and I would like those books to be available in as many channels as possible. I do know that I don’t want publishing to devolve into the same state as other culture industries, to become a Brazil ruled by a small coterie of the super-elite perched atop a sea of dog-eat-dog favelas stretching out in every direction.

And so I’d rather not be a part of something that is actively working toward that end, however infinitesimally small my part might be. On the off chance anyone still wants to read my novel, it can now be purchased here. I’ll trade the loss of hypothetical reach offered by Amazon for the knowledge that whatever future pennies are spent on my book won’t line Amazon’s pockets.

Pulling my book from Amazon is barely doing anything, but it’s not doing nothing. Consider doing more than nothing.

Hang A Crooked Number: Now Worth Nothing

Today marks the start of another Mets season. To celebrate the occasion, for a limited time you can join another lost cause at minimal cost. Which is to say, no cost. From March 31 through April 4, Hang A Crooked Number is on sale at Amazon for the considerable markdown of 100 percent. If I’ve done my math right, that means it’s free. As in, zero dollars. And zero cents.

If you’ve missed/ignored my many posts about this novel since it came out last year, this is Hang A Crooked Number in a nutshell:

Backstop lives a double life, and both are crumbling. He is a minor league catcher and an operative in training for The Moe Berg Society, a secret intelligence group that uses baseball as a front for its spy work. The mysterious disappearance of Backstop’s fellow trainee, Mark, has plunged him into a career-threatening slump. He gets one last chance at redemption when his handler asks him to investigate a connection between rumors of a mole and The Scouts, a faction of old-school spies hell-bent on seizing leadership of The Society. Backstop’s mission is complicated by his new roommate, The Swing, an aging slugger working on a major league comeback, and by Brooke, a tenacious reporter who suspects Backstop holds the key to her investigation into Mark’s disappearance. With one eye on his plummeting batting average and the other on the mounting casualties of his mission, Backstop attempts to unravel a conspiracy that could change the game forever before he unravels himself.

I know many people believe that spending money for anything on the internet is an affront to their human rights. Such folks contend that their function as consumers is so important that it is above such piddling concerns as paying people who make the things they consume. Under normal circumstances, I’m not inclined to encourage such beliefs. But I would also like people to know that Hang  A Crooked Number exists, and one way to do that is to give it out for free. There are other ways to do this, but they involve the spending of money that my family insists is better spent on shoes and rent. So, free it is.

I recognize that people who don’t want to pay for things on the internet also don’t like it when they’re asked to do anything on the internet. (I’m not sure what these people do like to do, other than scream that video games are art and tell other people to die in fires on Twitter.) However, if you choose to download this book that I worked on for years and you find you enjoy it, I ask that you at least consider giving the book a few stars on its Amazon page. And if you’re feeling really generous, maybe leave a nice review. Stars and reviews mean a lot to Amazon, so the more you leave, the more often my book comes up in searches for other books and hammocks and whatever the hell else Amazon sells. Damned if I can figure it out, but Bezos works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.

Thanks.

Hang A Crooked Number: Now At Insultingly Low Prices!

cover_art_insideHey there, cheapskates! Perhaps you’ve considered purchasing a copy of my book Hang A Crooked Number—guaranteed to be the year’s best novel about baseball, spies, and failure—but balked at its retail price. Personally, I believe $2.99 is more than reasonable for a full-length novel written by one actual human, but I also recognize that ideas about what constitutes “reasonable price” has changed considerably in our modern age, what with all the computers and hula hoops and fax machines. I also recognize that nobody knows who the hell I am and thus may need extra incentive to drop any amount of cash on my weird ideas.

So, for a limited time, I am slashing the price on my novel. From now through November 15, Hang A Crooked Number can be yours for the frankly insulting price of 99 cents. This is literally the least amount of money I can charge for it without making it free altogether. (I have just enough dignity to not do that.)

If you want a better idea of what 99 cents buys you, check out excerpts of the novel at Stymie Magazine and The Classical.

If that does it for ya, you can purchase Hang A Crooked Number for the low, low, insanely low “price” of 99 cents at Amazon, Apple, Smashwords, or sort-of direct from me in either epub or PDF form.

Remember: If you likes what you read, I’d sure appreciate it if you’d leave a star-filled review on Amazon or Goodreads. I know, I’m asking you to leave a review after you paid a whole 99 cents for this book. A thousand pardons, sirrah, but I need the scraps from your table to survive. Please take pity upon me, a lowly beggar.

Hang A Crooked Number, Now With Middleman Removed

Hi! Lately, I’ve been begging asking people to purchase my new novel, Hang A Crooked Number, at the ebook retailer of their choice. The reception thus far has been heartening and supportive, and the death threats have been kept to an acceptable minimum.

However, I’ve received some queries from folks who don’t own an e-reader of any kind yet would still like to read the book. And while there are no plans afoot to publish this book the traditional way (i.e., using dead trees), I did want to make some concessions to folks who are interested in Hang A Crooked Number but don’t have a Kindle or an iPad or what have you. It also occurred to me that there are many folks who’d rather not put dough in the pockets of Amazon and their ilk, an attitude for which I can hardly blame you.

If you fall into one or more of these categories, you’re in luck as of today. I’m now making Hang A Crooked Number available for purchase from Scratchbomb itself (via Gumroad) in both epub and PDF formats. This should satisfy the needs of both people who don’t have e-readers and people who hate Amazon for one reason or another. Plus, I get a bigger cut of the retail price when you buy it via Gumroad, if that does anything for ya. I know it does something for me. So, in summation, purchase away!

Buy the epub

Buy the PDF

Hang A Crooked Number: Available Now

cover_art_inside
Cover art by Tony Morais

I wrote a novel called Hang A Crooked Number. It is about a world where baseball is an elaborate front for the operations of a domestic intelligence organization called The Moe Berg Society. It is narrated by a minor league recruit who is mired in a horrific slump on both sides of his work, unable to work his way to the big leagues as either a hitter or a spy, while being caught between rival factions fighting for control of the organization. It’s about some other things, too, but we’ll start there. And it has serious parts and funny parts (parts I intended to be serious and funny, anyway). I’m letting you know about this because I think some people might like it.

As this novel made its final steps to becoming a Real Live Book, my first impulse was to write a huge post detailing its journey from idea to reality, why I took so long to write it, commentary on those Other Things alluded to above, the evolution of my thoughts about fiction in particular and writing in general…

I wrote this very lengthy post, more to remind myself of the journey this novel took from the time when the idea first came to me. Then I crumpled up that post and tossed in the trash, because it would be of no interest to anyone outside of my head. Maybe you’d care about how long it took me to write this novel or what I went through in the intervening years if I was Some Important Author, but I ain’t. Last time I checked, I was known (if at all) as a semi-pro enthusiast of Edgardo Alfonzo, Action Park, and Steampipe Alley. You are well within your rights to not give a shit about my “process.”

Furthermore, I shouldn’t attempt to explain a piece of work whose primary function is to explain itself. I’m reminded of something Elvis Costello once said during a live show: “People are always asking me, ‘What does that song mean?’ If I could have said it in a way other than how I said it in the song, I would have written another song, wouldn’t I?”

So, though brevity is not my strong suit, I will keep this as short and sweet as I can:

Hang A Crooked Number is now out in the world, available to eyes that might enjoy a novel about baseball and spies and some other things. If you believe you own such a set of eyes, it can be purchased at Amazon, iTunes, or Smashwords for the ridiculously low price of $2.99. (Other retailers to follow.) I figure that’s plenty cheap for anyone to take a chance on a novel about spies and baseball written by Some Dude. If you are fortunate enough to own an ebook reading device yet consider $2.99 too much to spend on an ebook, all I can say is good luck to you, sir or madam.

If you do take a chance on this novel and find you like what you read, leave a nice review on Amazon and tell a friend. Leave something nice up on Goodreads, if that’s a thing you do. Tweet or Facebook about it. Every little whisper helps. I’m just one person without any sort of machine working for me, so this is how more eyes will get a chance to read it. That is all I want and all I can want.

Thank you.

Contested

I may have mentioned this before several thousand times, but I’ve written a novel. It’s called Hang A Crooked Number. Here is what I say about the novel to people who may wish to represent or publish it:

Backstop lives a double life, and both are crumbling. To the outside world, Backstop appears to be a minor league catcher of rapidly diminishing skills. In truth, he is an operative in training for The Moe Berg Society, a secret intelligence group that uses baseball as a front for its spy work. The mysterious disappearance of his fellow trainee, Mark, has plunged him into a career-threatening slump. Backstop gets one last chance at proving his worth when his handler asks him to investigate a connection between rumors of a mole and The Scouts, a faction of old-school spies hell-bent on seizing leadership of The Society. His mission is complicated by his new roommate, The Swing, an aging slugger working on a major league comeback, and by Brooke, a tenacious reporter who suspects Backstop holds the key to her investigation into Mark’s disappearance. With one eye on his plummeting batting average and the other on the mounting casualties of his mission, Backstop attempts to unravel a conspiracy that could change the game forever before he unravels himself.

This is the logline (industry terms!). Out of necessity, this omits a lot of what the book is. At the risk of explaining a thing that should serve to explain itself (like art is supposed to do), I can say that Hang a Crooked Number is about a lot of things that have almost nothing to do with spies, or baseball, or an imaginary world that has spies in baseball. A friend of mine who read it described it as “very New York,” which I took as a compliment. What I’m saying is, if you don’t dig baseball and/or spy novels in the slightest, I think you might still enjoy it.

The reason I’m going on about this is because I would like you to know Hang a Crooked Number is currently in the running for something called the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The novel has made it to the quarterfinals, in fact, and is one of about 100 titles under consideration in the General Fiction category. I entered the novel in the general fiction category because despite the novel’s genre shell, I think it’s closer to literary fiction than anything else. (See: defensive overexplaining above.) I’m normally suspicious of any contest that would allow me to advance this far, but they haven’t asked me for any money or to crash on my couch yet, so I think I’m safe.

If you want a tiny glimpse of the novel, Amazon is offering free ebook excerpts of all the quarterfinalists; mine can be found here. If this were in print form, what you get would only be the first 10-15 pages or so. But hey, it’s free, innit? I don’t think people downloading and/or reviewing this excerpt on Amazon will have any bearing whatsoever on whether or not Hang a Crooked Number progresses to the next rung on the contest ladder. But I don’t think it will hurt its chances either, if you catch my drift.

This novel will see the light of day, one way or another. If it’s via this contest, great. If it’s via the more old school method of agent pitching to editor over a three-martini lunch, great. If I have to make and distribute an ebook myself, great. If I have to tattoo it on my back and walk down the beach, great. My primary interest is to see it available to as many people as possible. That probably eliminates the tattooing option, but never say never.

Alright, as you were.