Monday, March 26, 2018

My Town and March Madness

The not-so-thriving megalopolis of Amasa, Michigan (where I get my mail) isn’t known for much, but if you are a March Madness fan, you should learn its name and why it’s an important place for the tournaments.

Why, you ask?

From Connor Sports website
Because the basketball game you are enjoying is being played on a floor most likely manufactured in Amasa by Connor Sports. A few years back, the court may have even contained wood from a tree that grew on my property.

Many of you know that my official home is located deep in the woods, fifteen miles north of Amasa. The upcoming Seamus McCree novel, Empty Promises, is set in that locale. My property contains a mixture of maple, birch, hickory, oak, aspen, tamarack, and various conifers. The woods up by us are working woods—much of it is harvested sustainably, although some areas are clearcut. The logging industry plays its part in Empty Promises.

A few years back I selectively cut some hardwoods to enhance the long-term viability of my forest. Most of the wood went to make good-quality magazine paper, but a few sticks (100” logs) went to the Connor Sports mill. Someone, somewhere, may have bounced a basketball off my sugar maple.

The process Connor Sports uses to make a basketball floor is fascinating (and if you’re interested, read on). The “sticks “ are stored in a landing area until they are needed, at which point they are stripped of bark, and a rip saw slices them into boards of specified lengths. Those boards are planed to be exactly 25/32” thick. Any blemishes are cut out (only the whitest of the white wood is used for basketball floors), and after being kiln-dried, the remaining stock is put through machines that convert it to tongue and groove along both its long sides and short ends.

The boards are matched to construct 4’ x 7’ pallets using a staggered brick pattern so two boards don’t end at the same spot. This provides a consistent bounce. The panels also interlock and eventually create a court that, in the case of the men’s Final Four, will be 70’ x 140’ (9,800 sq. ft.). After assembly, they are seal-coated to protect the maple, then the court markings and logos are painted on, and it is seal-coated again.

Board curing over winter to create my hardwood floor

After curing, the court is broken back into pallets and shipped to the location for reassembly. These courts are portable (the typical gym floor is permanently installed), and can be placed over temporary stages built in football stadiums or even over ice rinks! Connor Sports employees supervise the onsite court construction and, in the case of the NCAA tournament, remain on-site throughout the games in case any adjustments are needed.

Once the final whistle blows, championship courts are offered for sale to the winning teams. Sometimes they buy them and install them on campus. Other universities have bought them and sold souvenir pieces to their fans. If the winning team doesn’t buy the court, they are offered for sale to the market.

Seamus played soccer, not basketball, but that won’t stop him from watching the tournament and taking vicarious pleasure in knowing the courts were manufactured in his neck of the woods. And now, you too can ooh and ahh over the court and maybe even win a bet with your friends about where that court came from!

A version of this blog first appeared on Writers Who Kill 3/25/18

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


With less than three weeks before the official launch of Empty Promises, my life is consumed with marketing efforts. I have blogs to write, interviews to complete, reviews to post. The list is as endless as I want to make it, and therein lies the problem.

I think that the biggest issue I have with the Seamus McCree series is exposure. Goodreads reviews for books in the series average 4.4 out of 5. Except on those days of self-doubt when I’m convinced I can’t write anything more engaging than a grocery list, I realize readers who enjoy my kind of story, enjoy my stories. But only if I can get my books into their hands. And so I search for blogs and reviewers with the right audiences.

So many choices, so many unknowns.

Iceberg off Antarctica in the early morning
One mistake businesses (and writing is most assuredly a business) make in attempting to gain new customers is to neglect their current customers. JC Penney provides a wonderful example unrelated to books. The brand was in difficulty, as were most of its competitors. Their new CEO tried to make the store a “hip” place to shop. Its customer base wanted traditional goods at a fair price. The CEO decided a fair price meant low everyday prices: reduced retail prices, but no more coupons and sales.

The net result was the hipper crowd never thought JC Penney was the place to go, and their loyal customers liked feeling special with coupons and sales events—even if it meant higher list prices and the same net prices. The CEO managed to alienate his base and attract no one to replace it.

The Three Tenors (Chinstrap penguins)
Now, besides writing more great books, how can I keep my fans happy customers? I provide my newsletter subscribers with discounts, free stories, and inside scoops. But I write at the tortoise pace of one book a year. How can I keep fans engaged in between book launches?

It turns out lots of my readers like my photography, especially shots taken while on trips. Since I recently finished an excursion to Antarctica, I’ve been taking time away from what I “should” be doing to promote Empty Promises and, instead, selecting and posting pictures from the Antarctica trip. My approach was to have people take the trip with me by posting a day at a time. (Sometimes with really busy days, I posted morning and afternoon separately.)

Gentoo Penguins in the rain
Antarctica has nothing to do with Empty Promises, which takes place in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but I’ve discovered that penguins may be better than cats for getting likes on Facebook. Who knows how I might use that information in the future? Maybe Megan McCree (Seamus’s granddaughter who debuts in Empty Promises) will get a penguin doll for the next book.

That’s the choice I made: share commentary along with a very small subset of the 2,700 pictures I took rather than spending the time on more traditional marketing activities. The “vacation reprise” ended earlier this week, and now I’m full bore on writing interesting blogs. I hope my fans have been entertained and maybe even mentioned my posts to a friend or two and remembered to include the information that I write the Seamus McCree series. Well, that’s my hope anyway.

Readers, do you ever discover an author from an activity divorced from their writing—like, say, Facebook posts about an Antarctica trip? Authors – how do you balance promoting to new audiences with keeping fans happy? 

A version of this blog first appeared 3/12/18 on the Writers Who Kill blog.