Cheap Books = Lots of Reviews


My first novel, “FantasticLand”, was on sale in ebook edition for $1.99 a few weeks back and as a result, something happened that I’m still trying to process.

People seem to really like my book.

I’m not trying to be self deprecating. I mean, I like my book and there’s a team of editors and agents and such that also like my book. I trust in their taste but it’s one thing to get a book published and another thing to read reviews like this:

“I knew this book was going to be scary. The reviews on the back and word-of-mouth prepared me for that. But I’ll admit, when I started the book and saw it was written as a series of interviews, I thought the level of action and suspense would somehow be muted or diminished. Boy, was I wrong! I was hooked from the beginning and stayed up way too late reading, and even after I put the book down, I kept thinking about the story and the characters. I love how each interview built on the previous one but added a new perspective and dimension to the story. It gave enough information to get your heart rate up and left just enough to the imagination to really freak you out at all the right moments. I’ve never read a book quite like this, but I loved it. I highly recommend it!”

Or this one:

“FantasticLand is a fantastic voyage into the depths of the human soul and what lengths one might stoop to when faced with a tragedy. It is written in the style of interviewer and interviewee and quite believable at points. If you are a fan of the technique of investigative reporter ala Max Brooks and the post apocalyptic World War Z, this book is for you. While there are no zombies in this story, the real monsters are the young men and women who are set in a circumstance where there are no consequences to actions taken. Some times the real horror of this story is the things that are not said but rather implied. People pushed to extreme limits and the struggle to hold on to one’s own humanity give this book chops, a difficult thing to accomplish when dealing with horror fiction.

You have to ask yourself. “To which tribe would I belong?” I hope I am never put in a circumstance where I have to find out.

I look forward to other books by Mr. Bockoven.”

Of course, there are negative reviews, but just a few and none of them are of the “you suck” variety but more of the “I was disappointed” or “not what I expected in a negative way” sort of thing. And I’m used to disappointing people. OK, I’m being self deprecating.

You can visit the book on Amazon and read all the reviews here.

What’s the point, then? Two fold. One, I like pointing out any and all “gold stars” I get because part of me is still in awe that all this is happening. And I like selling books. But, secondly, I really want to give a hearty, heart felt and humble thanks to everyone who read and reviewed the book. I can’t go into this too much, but right now some folks are looking at my book for a project and while I’ve been told it’s selling “modestly” (I don’t find out until June), I was able to point to the reviews of “FantasticLand” as something impressive. I could not be prouder to do so or more thankful for everyone who took the time.

It’s going to take a while to process all the positive reviews but it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to have to work through.

Entry 2/20/17 – Escape…Good


HT to the Lincoln Escape Room, a place I’ve been to twice and enjoyed myself thoroughly each time. Check them out at lincolnescaperoom.com

Over the past few months everyone has heard varations on the theme “I want to bury my head in the sand”. This isn’t a political thing. I live in Nebraska and this winter we’ve received almost no snow and we wore shorts in February this week. Of course, it’s climate change, mankind’s greatest challenge that will eventually be the source of unimaginable misery and suffering but hey…70 degrees in February!

It’s easy to want to bury your head in the sand, is my point.

Of course, this is why many people read and read fiction in particular. It’s an escape, it takes up space in your brain that might otherwise be filled with some impending crisis, worry, fear or anxiety. I think that might be why anxious people read. You can worry about fictional characters with little or no consequence.

I’ve found this extends to writing, or at least the kind of writing I do, which was a surprise to say the least. As I’ve talked about before, I’m a discovery writer, a process which my fellow Nebraska writer Liz Boyle says is like “letting the characters take you for a ride”. I like that description because I’ve found it to be true. In the short amount of time I’ve carved out for myself to write each week I can count on coming out of that time in a pretty good mood, just like I do when I’m reading something particularly compelling. Not that my stuff is particularly compelling, but I’m surprised and sometimes thrilled at where a story is going and that functions as escapism.

This has two practical effects.

  1. It makes “working” on the writing part of my job pretty close to play time and
  2. It’s lent me a better understanding of why so many people take up writing.

The last few months have shown me there are a lot of writers out there – secret writers, aspiring writers, people who dream of having a bookshelf full of their work if not something more. I understood the appeal (obviously). The solitude is nice, the control is unlike anything else, the results concrete. But now I think there’s a bit more to it. Writing is an escape as much, if not more than reading is.

It makes sense. The characters you create occupy that same space in your brain as the characters you read about. Your sense of imagination and plotting kick in whether you’re reading or writing. The mechanism is the same, just slowed down in the case of writing.

The point is this – if you want to write, try to take into the process that same joy you find in reading. I think this applies for fiction and nonfiction (although as a former reporter, nonfiction takes a lot more work in my experience). The more you can enjoy what you’re writing as you’re writing it the more likely you are to come back and the more likely your brain is to have fun with it.

Let me know how that works for you.

On Stallone the Oscar Nominee



Sylvester Stallone was up for an Oscar last night. For anyone who’s ever seen “Rhinestone”, that might take a minute to sink in. I’ll just leave this here.

But we all have embarassing turns, right? Who amongst us don’t have a “Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot” somewhere in our past? Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever failed quite that hard. I’m sure we all have made mistakes and taken on embarassing personal or professional projects, but has anyone fallen as flat on his face as many times as Sylvester Stallone? Has anyone survived Cobra AND SOMMWS AND Oscar AND The Expendibles 3 and…and…and…

Factoring out serious issues like mental illness (Hey, Mr. Gibson!) or serious crimes and speaking from a place of assessing someone’s life’s work as an artist, there’s no one who has been dismissed and whose career has been “over” more than Sylvester Stallone. The man has a remarkable pattern of doing something personal and impressive, showing his chops, making a serious impact on the culture nad then following it up with the most head scratching of misstep. I’ve heard analysis that attributes the pattern of hits and misses to ego and there might be something to that, but I’m more inclined to think it’s a misread of his appeal, audience expectations and what the big bag of meat is capable of. The man who pulled off a wounded vet with such lean vulnerability and anguish turned around and, despite evidence to the contrary, believed he sounded good singing country music next to Dolly Parton (he really didn’t). The question I’ve been pondering is “who the hell does that and why the hell does he keep getting chances to do it again?”

The answer to the question is central to Stallone’s appeal – the dude has confidence and he puts in the hours. The story of what Stallone did to make “Rocky” is the stuff of Hollywood legend. He wrote the script and turned down lots of money to let someone else star and direct even though he didn’t have a penny to his name. The movie became a touchstone and Stallone became a legend. Add Rambo to that a few years later, which is a serious and somber reflection on how Vietnam veterans were treated, and Stallone was considered one of the great actors of his age. It’s hard to imagine now that we’ve seen “Bullet to the Head” but there was a time when the words “Stallone” and the words “Brando” existed in the same galaxy.

But then came “Staying Alive” and “Cobra” and “Over the Top” and he became a marble-mouthed action buffoon. It didn’t help that The Italian Stallion did little to stop that image from setting in the public consciousness, bulking up to a stupid size, marrying Brigitte Nielsen and making Rocky 4, one of the best “bad” movies ever made. There were a few winners in the 80s, but by and large it was hit and miss, hit and miss, miss and “oh dear God, no one can get up from that. His career is over.”

Then a funny thing happened – something lit a fire under the man’s ass and he started relying on himself again. It started with Rocky Balboa, which (up until “Creed”) was as perfect a revisit of a beloved character as there’s ever been. Stallone wrote it, he directed it, he starred and the entire enterprise is damn good. Then he did the same thing to the Rambo franchise, creating the most bat shit crazy mainstream movies of the past decade, easy. Resembling Frankenstein’s monster Stallone takes the Rambo character, which had been turned into a cartoon in the 80s, and turned it into the most satisfying, ugly yet somehow brilliant in it’s excess actual grindhouse movie. That movie is out of it’s damn mind and it was made by a man in his late 60s.

And just when you think he’s got it back, he falls back into derivative action flicks and “Grudge Match,” which is in the running for the worst DeNiro movie ever. Old patterns, right? That’s what I thought until I saw “Creed.”

In a career controlled by of ego, for better and for worse, Stallone made three unbelievable decisions when it came to “Creed.

  1. He allowd an untested, young director (Ryan Coogler) to take control of the franchise he created and shepherded through more than three decades
  2. He took a back seat to another actor (Michael B. Jordan, my current man crush) in a franchise he created and shepherded for more than three decades
  3. For the first time in his career, he showed vulnerability

In other words, it’s a performance as free of ego as you’re ever going to see and coming from Sylvester Stallone, it’s mind boggling. It’s unthinkable. And it was absolutely one of my favorite performances of the year in one of my favorite movies of the year.

SIDEBAR: The fact that Michael B. Jordan wasn’t nominated for “Creed” is evidence enough to burn the academy down and start over. Jordan had a mammoth job and he made it look effortless, flushing out Adonis Creed into a character that can stand right along side Rocky Balboa. He’s an amazing actor and I can’t wait to see what he does next. The academy, on the other hand, needs to look at the Oscars So White campaign and internalize it, be ashamed and make changes and anything less is shameful.

I have no idea why Stallone made the decisions necessary to make “Creed” a reality, but I’m very glad he did and I think his Oscar nomination is deserved. In my opinion, it shows that you can be an artist, lose your way, but still have a core that wants to create, explore and care about your work. Yes, “Rhinestone” should have been the end of Stallone’s career. But I’m glad it wasn’t.

That being said…