Sunday, May 28, 2017

Novels, memory triggers, and your personal “story track”

I’m certainly not the only person who has memory triggers associated with pop songs—and many of these memories are highly specific.

For example, every time I hear John Lennon’s ballad, “Woman”, I am transported to a long-ago skating rink. It is early winter, 1980. The overhead lights are making kaleidoscopic patterns on the hardwood floor. I am a somewhat clumsy seventh-grade boy trying to stay on my feet. (I never did master roller skates, by the way.)

Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You” takes me to an eighth-grade sock-hop, January of 1982. 

That was an extremely cold winter that set records in Ohio. I can still remember the way my skin stung as I walked out of the school cafeteria, and into the frigid night air. I remembering smoking a cigarette with some other boys in the freezing parking lot. (That was easier than getting up the gumption to ask a girl to dance.)

One more: Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” catapults me to a gloriously warm, sunny afternoon in the spring of 1983. I’m standing in the parking lot of my high school. I’m a freshman. An older boy (I can still remember his name, but I won’t mention it here) is carrying a boombox with the song playing. (Note to readers under thirty: Boomboxes were the iPods of the pre-digital era.)

And so on…

But what about books? For me, at least, certain books have almost the same power to pull me into the hazy realm of memory, and often with equal specificity. 

I will always remember the summer of 1979 in terms of two book series.

First there were The Great Brain books. These were written by John Dennis Fitzgerald at mid-century, and aimed at preteen boys. (I was 11 years old in 1979, so they perfectly fit me.) 

There was also Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. This was another series written for adolescents, by Robert Arthur, Jr.  As the name implies, it is a mystery series. Somewhat to my dismay, I had never been able to get into The Hardy Boys. I was therefore glad to find Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, which was much faster-paced, and peopled with far more engaging characters. 

I read every title in the series that I could lay my hands on that summer, which was most of them. My mom, who always encouraged my love of reading, drove me around to bookstores, local libraries, and even garage sales. 

I recently reread Stephen King’s vampire novel, Salem’s Lot. This one took me back to my first reading of the book, in the winter of 1984 (another very harsh winter throughout most of the United States). I picked up a copy of the book up from my school library on a whim. I was blown away. For two or three days, Salem’s Lot completely consumed me. I went on that year to read everything King had published to that point. 

One more from my high school days: Watership Down. Throughout the summer of 1986, I was working on a landscaping crew. A good part of each day consisted of riding around in a truck. During these periods, I had plenty of time for reading. Watership Down is the book I most recall from that summer, most of which I spent walking behind a big industrial lawnmower. 

Okay, enough of my childhood. I’m forty-nine, for goodness sake. I recall reading Lonesome Dove during a long flight to Japan (is there any other kind of flight to Japan?) in 2009. I was well into middle age by 2009.

If you’ve ever read Lonesome Dove, you’ll know that it’s a huge, sprawling story that you can get lost in—perfect for a long trip on an airplane. (And if you haven't read Lonesome Dove, you should get the book and read it now.)

In the summer of 2014, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room, anxious to hear how my mother’s heart surgery went. I was very tense about the outcome. To distract myself and pass the time, I read Frederick Forsyth’s spy novel, The Odessa File. Whenever I see a copy of that book, either online or in the real world, I am taken back to that waiting room. It was a bad time, but the book helped pass the hours. 

To return to my original metaphor of pop songs: I’ve often heard people speak of the music of their adolescent and early adult years as the “soundtrack” of their youth. In a similar way, perhaps the books that we love form a sort of “story track” for our lives. 

Good books have enhanced my life in happy times, helped me through challenging times, and provided a narrow margin of escape when my situation seemed really, really bad. 

It is no surprise that I have distinct, real-life memories associated only with the books that I loved. I’ve read hundreds, maybe thousands of books in my life. (Like I said, I’m now pushing fifty.) But the vast majority of these books do not have specific memories attached. 

I might be able to tell you that I read this book (probably) during high school, or that book (maybe) during my twenties. But if I can readily associate a book with a unique moment in my personal history, it’s because the book made a deep impression on me. Only the truly memorable books make their way into the “story track” of my life.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

It’s the story, not the genre

This past week I’ve been binge-watching Downton Abbey, of all things.

In case you don’t know, Downton Abbey is a British period drama that ran from 2010 to 2015, originally on ITV in the United Kingdom. The series concerns the lives of a family of British aristocrats, and their household servants, during the second decade of the 20th century. (The 1912 sinking of the Titanic is referenced in the first episode.)

As far as the elevator pitch goes, that’s pretty much it. At first glance, Downton Abbey might seem to be relegated to the sort of viewer who thinks that George Eliot’s Middlemarch is the most exciting novel ever written. Downton Abbey also has an undeniable feminine tilt: Many of the series’s plot lines linger on who will marry whom, and the intricacies of female friendship that are beyond the ken of the troglodyte male mind. 

There is little in the way of physical action in Downton Abbey. Yes, there are a few scenes at the Battle of the Somme in World War I. But let’s be honest: There are more gunshots and fistfights in any ten minutes of any Dwayne Johnson movie than there are in all six seasons, all fifty-two episodes, of Downton Abbey

And since I’ve mentioned the troglodyte male mind: I am a little bit defensive about the fact that I’ve enjoyed Downton Abbey so much. (The NHL Stanley Cup finals, which I’m also watching, are currently underway. When I mention that I caught an episode of Downton Abbey, I often feel compelled to mention that I watched the Pittsburgh Penguins play hockey immediately afterward.)

Why am I watching the series? Simply put: Because Downton Abbey is that good. Who cares if there are no car chases, no real shootouts to speak of, and only a handful of violent deaths? Downton Abbey achieves what all expertly created film and fiction achieves: It pulls you into another world, makes you care about the characters, and involves you in the story. 

The many elements that make up a good story are beyond the scope of this blog post, of course. But here is the big takeaway: Good stories (and bad ones) can be done in any genre. And what’s more, a good story can potentially appeal to any audience. 

Consider yours truly, as a convenient example: Ordinarily, I prefer television shows with a strong action/physical conflict quotient: Blue Bloods, Hawaii Five-0, that sort of thing. But I’m open to a strong story in any genre. This, I believe, is the case with all viewers and readers, if you can only get them to try something new. 

There are lessons herein for the writers of romance fiction who would like to have at least a few male readers, as well as action/adventure fiction writers who would like to sell more books to women. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Remembering veterans on Memorial Day

I have lots more fiction coming here, as well as over on my YouTube channel

We should take a break now, however, to give thanks to all veterans as the U.S. heads into the Memorial Day weekend. 

I will freely admit that I never served in the military. This wasn't a deliberate choice on my part, really, but rather a default one. 

I came of military age as the Cold War was winding down, but before the war on Islamic terrorism heated up. My parents were able to help me with college costs, so I did not have a pressing financial need to take advantage of the military's educational benefits.

I sometimes regret that I did not serve. To serve in the U.S. military is to put yourself on the line for freedom, and yes, against the bad guys--whether we're talking about the communists of the Cold War, or the jihadis of the War on Terror. That is no small thing; and anyone who interrupts their life for two or four or twenty years to stand on the line for freedom deserves our gratitude. 

So on this Memorial Day, let's not forget to thank the vets who are still with us, and remember the ones who aren't. 

Best wishes to all presently serving U.S. Armed Forces...and perdition to their enemies. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Adolescent emotions and fear

12 Hours of Halloween is a coming-of-age novel. It is also a novel of supernatural horror. 

Three young friends—two boys and a girl—set out for “one last Halloween” on Halloween night, 1980. 

Thanks to a curse (explained in the novel), the suburban landscape around them is transformed into a dreamscape of supernatural terror. 

(If you would like to read a sample of 12 Hours of Halloween, please see the book’s Amazon description page. You can also listen to readings from the book on my YouTube channel.)

As chance would have it, I was in junior high in 1980, too. 

The main character of the story, Jeff Schaeffer, is not a stand-in for me. (I make it a rule never to make my stories too autobiographical.) But he does struggle with many of the same conflicts that I remember from that age: the chafing against parental rule, bullies, and, of course…a deep, unrelenting, and sometimes disconcerting fascination with the opposite sex.

Oh, those days…

Adolescence is a time that we tend to remember, even as we age. (In case you didn't do the math implied by the above information, I’m now in my late forties.) 

This shouldn't surprise us. Adolescence is a time when the whole world seems to change—even as we’re changing so entirely. 

And while the change never really stops, there is probably no period in our lives that rivals adolescence in terms of the scope of personal change. (With the possible exception of our final days, of course.) 

No wonder we remember the period so vividly. 

Another thing I recall about adolescence: Feelings are very intense when you’re between the ages of 12 and 19. This is where the terms, “adolescent drama” and “teenage drama” come from. 

There is plenty of adolescent drama in 12 Hours of Halloween, even amid the characters’ battles with the ghosts, vampires, and homicidal creatures of a supernaturally transformed suburbia. 

To find out what it’s all about, listen in on YouTube, or get the Kindle version of the book from Amazon.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Corporate/workplace conspiracy thrillers galore

Do you like corporate thrillers? Workplace conspiracy thrillers?

You've come to the right place.

My ongoing serial, THE EAVESDROPPER, continues over at my YouTube channel.

The plan is to serialize THE EAVESDROPPER on YouTube first, and then publish the book in ebook and paperback form on Amazon.

If you're enjoying THE EAVESDROPPER and would like to try something similar from me, you might check out my earlier corporate thriller, TERMINATION MAN.

TERMINATION MAN is a novel about a corporate business consultant with a unique specialty: He goes undercover in workplaces, and manipulates "problem employees" into compromising situations, where they will be forced to resign.

There is a lot more to TERMINATION MAN, of course: the snake pits of office politics, a dash of sex, and even a murder mystery. (You can read a sample on the book's Amazon description page, and then download a larger sample to your Kindle.)

If you've been looking for a thriller in a cubicle farm near you, start by listening to THE EAVESDROPPER, and then try TERMINATION MAN.

Oh, and one last thing...TERMINATION MAN is presently enrolled in Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program, so you can even read it for FREE if you're subscribed to the service.

And even if you're not, the Kindle book is priced dirt cheap. So what are you waiting for?

The neighborhood haunted house

From my YouTube channel. In this reading of 12 Hours of Halloween, Jeff, Leah, and Bobby observe strange lights coming from the windows of the Shipley house, which has a reputation for being haunted.

I was therefore not especially surprised to see that the windows of the Shipley house glowed with an odd purplish light. As we drew closer, I could see exactly what Leah was talking about: All of the windows were covered with drapes and shutters; but the light behind them sent shifting shades of violet and amethyst radiating outward. 
The Shipley house was active tonight—I suppose that we should have expected as much.
The house was presently vacant, after all. Whatever forces did hold sway there would be emboldened by the absence of the living. And needless to say, the unique presence that was terrorizing us tonight (the “curse” as the three of us had now generally taken to calling it), had exposed and awakened whatever spiritual entities ordinarily lied dormant around the neighborhood.
Consider Elmira, for example, and the malevolent presence in the pin oak tree that had been so intent on keeping her captive—or holding her back, at the very least. How many times had I passed by that house, riding my bike on summer days, or riding in the back seat of my parents’ car? But I had been completely unaware that either Elmira or the pin oak tree had existed at all. 
Likewise, the Shipley house had never assumed a prominent place in my imagination. I suppose I avoided the house by default—but no more than the other kids in the neighborhood did. It was simply my custom to pass by it quickly. Where reputedly haunted houses are concerned, there is no point in taking unnecessary chances....

Monday, May 22, 2017

Can you trust your workplace mentor?

In Chapter 3 of the  corporate conspiracy thriller, THE EAVESDROPPER, Frank Joseph meets with Sid Harper, his manager and workplace mentor.

But can Frank trust Sid? This is a question that will be explored in future chapters of THE EAVESDROPPER. Until the book comes out, catch all of the action over at my YouTube channel.

I was finally getting back to work when I felt a hand clap my shoulder. My first thought was Donnie. (He had still not returned from whatever excursion he had gone on after our sort-of confrontation in the men's room.)
I turned around, looked up, and saw Sid Harper instead. 
As I've said, Sid was the manager over our group. (Sid, in fact, was one of the senior managers in the entire purchasing department.)
Somewhere back in the last century, there developed a stereotype of what the corporate senior manager should be. I can say without exaggerating too much that Sid Harper fit this description. 
In his late forties or early fifties, Sid Harper was tall and broad shouldered, with the trim build of an ex-athlete. Most women, including women decades younger than him, would have described him as handsome. He had that perfect square chin of the classical heroic figure. There were small traces of gray around the sideburns of his black hair, which had not yet begun to thin.
Now, if you think that I was jealous of Sid Harper, you'd be wrong. Yes, I was indeed in awe of him, to a certain degree. But more than that, I was  immensely grateful for what he had done for me. Sid had taken an interest in me early on, perhaps recognizing that I was determined to make the most of my job at Thomas-Smithfield. He had encouraged me and helped me along where he could. 
And, of course, Sid had been responsible for my recent grade promotion—the promotion that had driven Donnie and Bethany so batty with jealousy.
“Got a few minutes to talk?” he asked me. “I’d like to go over the McDonnell bid. If you can spare the time, that is.”

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Adventures with toxic coworkers

In Chapter 2 of THE EAVESDROPPER, Frank returns to his desk, only to be confronted by coworkers who obviously don't have his best interests in mind.

I started back toward my desk. (As I had told Donnie, I really did have work to do.) The third floor of the building—like the rest of the Thomas-Smithfield headquarters building—was arranged in an “open office” configuration, which, I believe, had been originally popularized by Japanese companies. Or maybe it was based on the older American concept of the “bullpen”; I’m not too sure. In any case, the office was set up so that the average employee had minimal privacy. 
Each person had a desk, surrounded by low cubicle walls, which never blocked either the view or the sounds of one’s colleagues. The managers had offices, of course, but they were in a different league.
The entire third floor was allocated to the company’s purchasing department, and we were subdivided into groups and sub-groups, based on the suppliers we handled. Donnie Brady, Bethany Cox, and I formed a sub-group. Needless to say, I was the odd man out...


What if you overheard three of your coworkers plotting a murder?

Frank Joseph was content in his job as a purchasing agent at Thomas-Smithfield Electronics. Then he overheard a conversation that not only changed his life, but put him on a collision course with homicidal colleagues and mobsters. 

The EAVESDROPPER is a workplace conspiracy thriller that will keep you guessing to the end.

Listen now at my YouTube channel

Bullies in the workplace

In this video, the hero of THE EAVESDROPPER, Frank Joseph, contends with a case of workplace bullying. 

To catch upcoming episodes/chapters of the THE EAVESDROPPER, please visit my YouTube channel.



Donnie Brady and I were both standing before the mirror in the men’s room on the third floor of the Thomas-Smithfield Electronics headquarters building. I was doing my best to ignore his presence, but I knew that he wasn't going to let me off that easy.

“So,” he began, “All that sucking up you’ve been doing has finally paid off.”
Donnie was about my age, give or take a year or two. We were both in our early thirties. The main difference between us was our relative sizes. I was five-ten and weighed maybe a hundred and sixty pounds soaking wet. Donnie was six feet, three inches tall. His frequent gym workouts were apparent even beneath the white fabric of his button-down oxford shirt. He usually left the top button of his shirt unbuttoned and worse his tie loose. His neck was that thick.
“I’ll take that as a congratulations on my promotion,” I replied. Truth be told, Donnie Brady made me more than a little uneasy—even before everything happened. He had always given off the aura of a hoodlum in business attire. But I wasn't going to back down; I was determined not to let him rattle my cage.
Donnie noisily expelled a puff of air out through his lips, a universal expression of sarcasm. 
“More like you’re just a big suck-up,” he said. He stopped checking his hair (although he was often disheveled, he was simultaneously vain about his appearance), and took a step closer to me. 
Donnie now towered over me, and I couldn't ignore the disparities in our heights, sizes, and physical strengths. I had thought that concerns about bullies were twenty years behind me, in the distant memories of junior high. Well, you just never know what aspects of childhood are going to come back to bite you in early middle age, do you?....

Eavesdropping and corporate politics

From my YouTube channel: The Prologue of my new serial project, the workplace conspiracy thriller, THE EAVESDROPPER.

THE EAVESDROPPER is being serialized (in video/audio format) on YouTube. It will be be subsequently published as a novel on Amazon, in Kindle and in paperback.


My name is Frank Joseph. What follows is the story of what happened when I eavesdropped on a conversation at work one day. 
I was a purchasing agent at a company called Thomas-Smithfield Electronics. 
Yes, a humble purchasing agent. I spent most of my day in a cubicle, hunched over a computer, often with a phone in my ear. I attended meetings. I did my best to finesse the intricacies of corporate politics. 
A typical boring desk job, you might say.
Well, that typical boring job almost got me killed. Or to be more precise, what I overheard one day at work almost got me killed.

Before I tell you what happened, let’s talk a little bit about eavesdroppers and eavesdropping, shall we? We all claim to look down on those who eavesdrop. 
And yet, we all do it. Be honest—if not with me, at least with yourself. 
This is especially true in office settings. The cubicle farm that has become the fixture of modern corporate life encourages eavesdropping.
Sometimes you simply can’t help but listen in on a discussion that doesn't concern you. (This is largely because, corporate politics being what they are, any given discussion very well might concern you—or it might even be someone talking explicitly about you.) 
Of course, many of the conversations we overhear in passing, both intentionally and unintentionally, are indeed inconsequential: People talk about their weekend plans, their preferences in food and entertainment, a fight with a spouse or a significant other. People talk to pass the time, especially at work. 
Most of this stuff simply floats in one ear and out the other, forming the white noise of the modern workplace.
But every once in a great while, you overhear something that really does change your life. Sometimes people reveal the darkest of intentions when they think no one is listening.
And that’s what happened to me. 

The right thing for the wrong reasons

From my YouTube channel: Reading #45 of 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN. Jeff reflects on his near fatal encounter with the hideous tree, and wonders if he did the right thing for the wrong reasons:

For a while after that Leah walked on ahead of us, and I walked alone with Bobby. 
He had been unusually silent after the incident with Elmira and the tree, and I thought I knew what was bothering him. He was downcast, avoiding direct eye contact with me even as we walked along shoulder-to-shoulder.
Our plan was to continue walking down Applegate Drive, and then we would turn right onto a street called Farrow Lane. Farrow Lane would eventually lead us back home.
There was to be no more trick-or-treating, of course. The streets were practically empty, anyway. Every once in a while we would pass a cluster of trick-or-treaters. But I noticed a pattern: If I looked away from them for any length of time, I would find that they had vanished when I looked back at them. 
Leah, Bobby, and I were walking through our neighborhood, and yet we were walking through someplace else, too. It was as if we were constantly shifting back and forth between two worlds. 
“You beat me back there,” Bobby said without malice. His tone suggested that I had just bested him at some childish game, like pick-up basketball or arm-wrestling.
“What are you talking about?” I asked. My question was somewhat disingenuous. I did know what Bobby was talking about; and yet I wanted to hear him explicitly affirm it. Leah was still walking a few paces ahead of us, but I wondered how much of our conversation she could overhear.
“You know darn well what I mean, Schaeffer. I panicked when that tree—became whatever the heck it was. To tell you the truth, I was even afraid of that freaky girl. I saw the other side of her head, and it scared me.”...

Friday, May 19, 2017

Total horror on YouTube

Just in case you didn't know: You can listen to all the videos for my horror novel, Eleven Miles of Night on my YouTube channel.

Eleven Miles of Night is the story of a young filmmaker who agrees to document supernatural phenomena on a notoriously haunted road in rural Ohio. 

The book is available in Kindle as well as in paperback. But you're also welcome to listen along on YouTube (or sample the book there before buying it.)

Fear in Mexico: a terror-suspense tale on video

Below are the video readings for my Kindle short story, "Thanatos Postponed: a short tale of terror"

Mark Bonner is a young college graduate from Ohio with an exciting new job. He has been hired as a private English tutor at the estate of Raul Garcia, a wealthy businessman of Zacatecas, Mexico. 

But there is more to the Garcia family than meets the eye. The Garcia's oldest daughter, Ana, is inexplicably missing. And there is something about one of the guesthouses, which the rest of the family avoids. The maid, Marisol, crosses herself when she passes near the guesthouse, and whispers, "¡Brujas!"--the Spanish word for "witches".

Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher", "Thanatos Postponed" is a tale of a family with more than one secret, and a story of death "postponed".

You can view the video "Thanatos Postponed", and many other story videos, over at my YouTube channel.

The battle with the ghostly tree: conclusion

Reading #44 of 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN: In this episode, Jeff endures the last moments of his battle with the ghostly tree.

If you would like to listen to the rest of the available readings for 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN, please visit my YouTube channel.

Also keep in mind that the book is available on Amazon Kindle. 

I saw that Leah was looking up at some new development, and so I looked up, too. Against the moonlit sky, I could see several of the oak tree’s huge branches gradually bending downward, as if long-dormant and stiffened joints were being exerted into action. The bending motion was slow, and it was accompanied by much cracking overhead; but it was happening.
I had been in this spot too long already, I suddenly realized. Without so much as another glance at the tree, the newly exposed back yard, or the open gate, I bolted back in the direction of my friends...
I was halfway to Leah when I heard a particularly sharp series of cracks and a loud whooshing sound. 
“Jeff!” Leah screamed. “Duck!”

Roger Ailes, 1940 - 2017

I don't have any comments on the recent controversies at Fox News, nor indeed on Fox News itself. Those are other topics for other days.

The Roger Ailes I first met (figuratively, of course) had nothing to do with Fox News, because the network didn't exist yet.

I was a college student when I discovered Roger Ailes's book on personal communications: You Are the Message: Getting What You Want by Being Who You Are (1989). Books of that kind were relatively rare in those days, and I snapped it up.

As an early twenty-something making the transition into full adulthood, I found You Are the Message to be insightful and extremely helpful. I was just then beginning my first round of job interviews, and the book served as an invaluable resource. 

Whatever else happened (or didn't happen) in more recent years, that is the Roger Ailes I'll always remember: the author whose book helped me with my college job interviews.

Roger Ailes, 77, RIP

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Never-before-published stories on Youtube in May

Below is the most recent welcome/introductory video for my YouTube channel. 

There aren't many fiction authors telling their stories on YouTube at present, so what I’m doing is somewhat “experimental”, to say the least.

Nevertheless, I believe that YouTube has solid long-term potential for authors. Video is an excellent way for an author to share his or her stories with existing and potential readers. 

If you aren't yet familiar with my stories, I would invite you to peruse my YouTube videos for samples of my suspense fiction. 

Since last summer, I’ve been reading from my already published novels, including BLOOD FLATS, ELEVEN MILES OF NIGHT, and 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN.

This month, I’ll be starting something new: I’m going to read from a work-in-progress, called THE EAVESDROPPER. 

THE EAVESDROPPER is a workplace conspiracy thriller, like my earlier novel, TERMINATION MAN. 

Subscribe to my YouTube channel, or check back here for updates. 

Are writers sick of talking to each other online?

I am a frequent lurker and occasional poster over at KBoards, an online community for indie and hybrid authors. (A hybrid author is one whose work has been both traditionally and self-published.)

There was recently a post at Kboards to the effect, “Hey, the forum seems dead! No one is posting much here anymore.” The sentiment was echoed by other posters.

While Kboards is not exactly dead, I have noticed a drop-off in activity. The veterans are posting less. The newbies have become a fleeting, constantly rotating crowd.

What gives? Well, here are a few ideas.

1.) The end of the novelty phase has arrived: Many of the original indie author hangouts were focused on rebutting the arguments of agents and traditionally published authors who said, “How dare you publish your own books!” (Joe Konrath’s blog comes to mind here.)

Times have changed. With indie authors like Andy Weir, Hugh Howey, and Blake Crouch getting movie and television deals, the need to constantly reinforce the legitimacy of self-publishing is no more. (There is a new problem, however, which I’ll get to shortly.)

2.) A forum is not necessarily the best source for concise, pertinent information: An open forum like Kboards attracts a lot of beginners who ask the same questions over and over. There are still useful nuggets of information in the mix, but you have to dig for them. That takes time.

Nowadays, I find myself relying more on authors who are professionally curating that information. In most cases, they have packaged their research into some sort of a business model, even if it’s only a podcast. These curators are also increasingly working together in teams.

My favorite authors/teams in this field are The Creative Penn (Joanna Penn), the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast, the Sell More Books Show, and Sterling and Stone. Chris Fox and Mark Dawson are also very good resources. 

In a fifty-minute podcast, I can get a lot more information from any one of the above curators than I can from hours spent poking around on Kboards. (And I can listen to the podcast while I’m walking on a treadmill at the gym.)

3.) Writers need to communicate more with readers, and less with other writers. If you’re a writer and you identify yourself as such on Twitter, you’ll immediately be followed by scads of other writers. 

The vast majority of these writer-followers have little interest in your content. But they’re following you because they’ve been told that following other writers is the thing to do on Twitter. 

Then you get the counterproductive situation of several hundred authors marketing their books on Twitter—to each other.

Hanging out with other writers is not necessarily bad, but it shouldn't be the focus of a writer’s online activities. 

Every component of my online presence—this blog, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube—is unapologetically focused on readers, not other writers. 

4.) Yes, writers are competitors. There is something of a myth among independent writers that we are all on the same team, that there is a “community of writers” in which writers all join together, hold hands in a circle, and sing Kumbaya. 

The most frequently given rationale for this fantasy-based viewpoint is that, “No reader reads only one author.”

That much may be true. It is also true that no reader consumes fifty books a week, which is the approximate reading rate that would be required for all independent authors to find a sufficient readership. 

Since the advent of the Amazon Kindle, the number of ebooks available on the retailer’s site has grown faster than shower mold. An article from last year gave the figure of 5 million, and that’s already obsolete, I’m sure. 

Once an author breaks out, the discoverability issue is well, less of an issue. (This is why indie authors who have already broken out typically underplay the competitive aspects of the endeavor.) 

To put the matter in terms of traditional publishing, Stephen King doesn't compete with Danielle Steel, because everyone knows what kinds of books they both write, and there is little overlap in their target markets. Stephen King and Danielle Steel rarely compete for the same dollar of book sales, in other words.

Theoretically, the same can be said about independent Kindle authors. The more practical truth is that right now independent Kindle authors are locked in an intense competition for discoverability.

This has made available advertising options—Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) ads, Facebook ads, etc.—far more expensive and far less effective than they once were. Even well-known authors now struggle to get a place on a Bookbub mailing, so saturated is the service with authors hawking their wares. 

The longer-term implications of this situation comprise another topic for another day. In the short run, though, the bottom line is that authors are very much competitors. 

*        *        *

This means, again, that if you are an author, you are better off spending your time online talking to potential readers, versus jabbering away with other authors in a forum. 

There will likely always be author forums on the Internet, but one can make the case that their period of peak usefulness has reached its end. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Supernatural horror on a haunted road

If you haven't yet checked out Eleven Miles of Night, here are some reasons why you might consider doing so:

1.) Eleven Miles of Night is set in present times, but it’s an “old-school” horror novel with lots of supernatural scares (versus a reliance on sadistic violence, as is too often the case with horror novels today.)

2.) Readers love Eleven Miles of Night, as evidenced by the Amazon and Goodreads reviews.

3.) Eleven Miles of Night will keep you up at night. Reader after reader has remarked on how scary it is.

4.) You can read Eleven Miles of Night for free on Amazon Kindle Unlimited. If you don't belong to Kindle Unlimited, you can get the Kindle version for the dirt-cheap price of $3.99. The paperback version is only $8.99. description:

Jason Kelley is a young, struggling filmmaker looking for his first big break. When the semi-famous cable television ghost hunter Simon Rose approaches him about a freelance project, Jason is understandably thrilled. 

He isn’t fazed by the fact that his assignment is a walk down the Shaman’s Highway, an eleven-mile stretch of rural Ohio roadway that is reputed to be haunted by malevolent spirits, hellhounds, and demonic forces. Jason is an agnostic in regard to the supernatural. 

He isn’t prepared for the reality that awaits him on his walk through eleven miles of night—nor the more human violence and heartbreak that he will face along the way.

*        *          *

Chapter 10 Excerpt: "Eyes at Honeysuckle Pond":

The total area of the pond would have perhaps equaled a football field, though its shape was irregular, roughly that of a lemon wedge. At various points along the bank there were little fork-shaped wooden stands where customers could place their cane poles and graphite and carbon fiber rods.

Jason guessed that the pond had closed at dusk. This would mean that people had been fishing here less than two hours ago. In the darkness, however, the pond seemed lonelier than that, as if no humans had walked along these banks for a long, long time.

Jason added these sentiments to his narration. "Any place on Shaman's Highway is a lonely place after dark," he noted. "Even a public fishing pond." In the nearest corner of the pond, he could see lily pads and tangled mats of algae that were encroaching on the water, along with some clumps of cattails. The pond gave off its own odor: a green, gamey smell that suggested this would be an active breeding site for mosquitoes and aquatic gnats. As he walked closer to the water's edge, he heard the plunk! of a bullfrog taking a dive into the water.

He scanned the near bank of the pond with the camcorder, taking in the shoreline's green and black night-vision-enhanced shapes and adding a few more bits of narration. He pushed the camcorder's pause button and lowered it. What more could you say or record about Honeysuckle Pond after dark?

A moving flash of white caught his attention in the glow of the moonlight. Then another, and another. His heart accelerated momentarily, until he realized that it was a small gaggle of geese. There were four birds in total. These specimens were not the black-necked Canadian geese. These were the white-feathered variety; and their snow-colored plumage seemed to be made for a moonlit night. Jason marveled that he had not noticed them sooner.

The geese were swimming around in the middle of the pond, in the spot that would be the farthest from any of the surrounding banks. The birds were moving in a tight, disciplined circle (as disciplined as geese could be, anyway). From the shoreline, Jason could hear the sounds of them gently paddling through the still water.

He raised the camcorder and began recording again. The birds were green and far less impressive in the night vision.

"It seems like I'm not alone here," Jason said. He made an effort to make his voice sound eerie and suggestive, as Simon Rose and his ghost-hunting underlings sometimes did when narrating footage. But what was scary about geese?

Nothing scary, but strange: To the best of Jason's knowledge, waterfowl weren't nocturnal. Wouldn't the geese ordinarily be nesting on the bank during the night?

Unless they were afraid of something on the bank.

The idea came to him unbidden; and he immediately dismissed it as his imagination on overdrive yet once again. But then he reconsidered: There were plenty of perfectly mundane and natural creatures that could spook geese. It didn't have to be something supernatural. The geese might have been made restless by a raccoon or a stray dog. There might even be lynx or coyotes in these woods. Both of the latter were indigenous to Ohio, Jason believed.

Jason looked away from the geese, abruptly lowering the camcorder. In the woods behind the pond, something had moved in the amorphous mass of trees. And whatever this was, it was not likely one of the tiny animals that he had heard earlier. Nor had the sounds been made by a raccoon or a bobcat. This was something big. Beyond the initial tree line, the woods melted into pockets of impenetrable darkness.

About seven feet off the ground, Jason saw--or thought he saw--a pair of red eyes flash briefly among the trees. The eyes disappeared. Then they flashed again.

He felt his legs turn to jelly.

Jason felt the impulse to run. But no--he would not allow himself to be scared away again.

You're here to do a job, dammit. Get control of yourself. 

The graveyard had been nothing more than an old cemetery made spooky by its isolation and the moonlight. This was something else entirely:  Since setting out along the Shaman's Highway, this was his first sighting of something that might be fairly called a phenomenon. The eyes in the trees were not his imagination; and there was no natural explanation for them.

He held the camcorder up to his shoulder and aimed it in the direction of the forest. Through the camcorder's eyepiece, there was not much that he could make out: little more than an indistinguishable mass of trees and blank darkness.

Yet he had seen something--something that had briefly shown itself, either intentionally or unintentionally. And now that something had withdrawn--but perhaps not completely. And Jason faced a question:

Will you pursue it into those woods--whatever is attached to that pair of red eyes?