Monday, July 31, 2017

End of July: FREE books and YouTube updates

Whoa, it's the last day of July already. (How the heck did that happen?)

To celebrate the end of the month, I'm giving away two books:


A young family. A dream house with a psychotic ex-owner and a horrible secret. A claustrophobic suburban thriller that will keep you guessing!


Supernatural zombies in the Ohio countryside in the 1930s. What could be more fun?

Please note that these giveaways apply to July 31st only. But if you'd like to be informed of additional giveaways, follow me on Twitter or join my mailing list!

And oh, by the way: I've also more story videos to my YouTube channel. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

ELEVEN MILES OF NIGHT: The scariest novel you'll ever read

A young filmmaker. A cash prize. A ghostly walk down the most haunted road in Ohio. Nonstop supernatural terror for fans of Stephen King.

4.4 (out of 5) reader-reviewer rating on Amazon

Preface: The Bridge

He stepped into the darkness of the covered bridge and told himself: Only a few more miles to go, if only your nerves and your sanity hold out, that is. 
The inside of the bridge’s enclosure smelled of mold, mildew, and the unseen waters that ran beneath it. It had the dank, black feeling of the bottom of a well. 
As he placed one foot down on the first creaking plank of the bridge, he half-remembered a nightmare: a dream of an evil presence that was vaguely female—or no, that pretended to be female. She (it?) might be a ghost or possibly something much worse. And she was lying in wait for him, like the evil witch in the children’s story, Hansel and Gretel
He took another step into the all-consuming darkness. The wood creaked again, practically groaned this time. She’s waiting for you, he thought. Whatever she (or it) is, you’ll find out before you reach the other side of this bridge.
Now why would the sound of that creaking wood trigger such thoughts?
Then he remembered: Because she had told him that she would be waiting for him here. At the bridge.
He looked ahead and saw the moonlit pavement of the open road not a stone’s throw away. He could not go back now. Even worse things were waiting on the road behind him. He had to move forward.
Just walk, he thought. Take some long strides and you’ll be out of here in no time. 
And so he walked, observing how narrow the bridge was, and reflecting that surely two cars coming from opposite directions could not pass through here at the same time. 
The wood beneath his feet continued to creak, but that was nothing to worry about. The bridge supported the weight of cars, after all.
He heard a sound above him, from the rafters of the enclosure. It was like a hiss, like air escaping from a poorly tied balloon. Then he heard another sound: the sound of weight shifting, of something moving around up there.
Don’t look. Just keeping walking. If you look up there, what you see will drive you mad, even more so than the other things you’ve seen this night. 
He was now in the middle of the bridge; the open, starry sky and the solid pavement were only a few paces away. He could make it in a short dash.
The thing above him seemed to sense his impending flight. He heard it scratch against the wood overhead.
And now he had the feeling that he must look upward and confront it—that this was the central task that he had set out tonight to face. It would also be true to say that the malevolent presence aroused his darkest curiosity. Like Lot’s wife fleeing from the burning wreckage of Sodom, he felt compelled to see the worst, and suffer the consequences.
Slowly and deliberately, he stopped his forward trek, steeled himself, and looked up into the rafters of the covered bridge.

Chapter 1

Four days earlier…

The portly, fortysomething stranger hailed Jason Kelley in the corridor of the University of Cincinnati’s Old Chemistry Hall, just as the latter was exiting Video Journalism 201. And Jason, oblivious, walked right by the unknown man without even slowing down.
Jason’s thoughts were still lost in the lecture that had just ended. The professor who taught Video Journalism 201, Dr. Reinhold, was a transplanted Californian, a PhD who had worked for a time with Universal Studios. Dr. Reinhold had feverishly lectured the class through the end of the hour, even though it was the last week of classes, and everyone was feeling lazy in the early June heat. That was Dr. Reinhold for you: He was passionate about his subject matter, unlike so many other profs, whom you could tell were only going through the motions. 
But school was not the only thing on Jason’s mind; and he immediately began to daydream about other matters. (This was why he did not hear when the stranger addressed him by name a second time amid the hum of the crowded university hallway.
Jason was daydreaming about Molly Russell. Molly was a coed who on one night several weekends ago had quite unexpectedly spent the night in his apartment. Thoughts of Molly simultaneously stirred feelings of deep longing and unease. Jason was aware of the paradoxical and contradictory nature of this combination of feelings, and was wondering how it could be so.
Jason was thinking about the way he had treated Molly since their encounter, and feeling guilty about it. Jason knew that he had been a bit of an insensitive jerk lately. He was also thinking about his mother and father; that meant even more feelings of guilt. 
And his sister, Amy—no, he didn't even want to think about Amy now.
Jason was about to walk around the corner of the hallway—the one that led to the main exit—when the stranger called out yet again.
Jason Kelley! Excuse me!
This time the sound of his own name snapped him out of his reverie. Jason stopped, turned around, and saw the source of the voice: an older man who looked somewhat out of place in the swirl of late teen and early twentysomething students.
“Hello?” Jason responded. Jason knew immediately that he had seen this man somewhere on television—or perhaps on the Internet. Jason was barely twenty-one years old, and he could count his middle-aged acquaintances on two hands—not including professors and relatives. This man, who was balding and had flecks of gray in his beard, was neither of the above.
“I thought you were going to keep walking,” the man went on. “I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to run you down and tackle you.” These words were phrased as an offhand joke; but Jason could detect a slight ripple of irritation beneath the observation. This was obviously not a man who was used to being ignored.
“You are Jason Kelley, aren’t you?” the stranger said, when Jason continued to look confused. 
“I am,” Jason said neutrally. “And you are—”
Where have I seen this guy before? Somewhere, I’m sure. But I have no idea where.
“Ah,” the man said. “Allow me to introduce myself.” Clearly he had expected Jason to recognize him on sight; so he was obviously some sort of a celebrity—albeit a minor one, in all likelihood. 
“Thank you.”
“My name is Simon Rose. Does that name ring a bell?”
Simon Rose! Now Jason got it: 
“It sure does,” Jason said, brightening. “Of course I recognize you: Ghost Hunting with Simon Rose.”
“Guilty as charged,” Simon Rose said. He removed a business card from his shirt pocket and handed it to Jason. The business card contained Rose’s contact information, plus a little logo that featured a stylized cartoon ghost. “And I know this is strange, approaching you like this, but Dr. Hoffman said that I could find you here. With this being the last week of school and all, I wanted to make sure that I caught up with you before you took off for the summer.”
Jason nodded, his excitement growing. Now this was starting to make sense. Dr. Hoffman was his academic advisor. And this was indeed one of his last classes of the school year. He would be exiting his campus apartment in a matter of days, though his residence during the summer was still a contentious issue. That made him think of his parents again, and he quickly stifled those unpleasant thoughts. This was Simon Rose who had sought him out. Simon Rose of Ghost Hunting with Simon Rose.
Students milled about them, their pace and conversations buoyed by early June levity. A warm summer breeze swept into the corridor through a set of metallic doors that were propped open to allow a flux of students in both directions. To Jason’s surprise, no one else seemed to recognize Simon Rose, either. Cable television and the Internet had minted a lot of second-tier celebrities in recent years, Jason knew. 
Simon Rose’s domain was cable TV. Ghost Hunting with Simon Rose was a regular staple on the Biography Channel—or possibly TLC. (Jason couldn't remember which one for sure.) And, of course, both authorized and pirated clips of the show could be found throughout the Internet.
“I was very impressed with those two short films you entered in the Southern Ohio Regional Scholastic Film Competition last month,” Simon said. “No—I didn't attend the actual event; but I saw them on the Internet. You’ve got real talent, Jason. Now, I have a proposition for you. Would you, by chance, be free for lunch so that we might discuss it?”
“Absolutely,” Jason said. His next class was not until the late afternoon. And he would have gladly skipped it anyway. It wasn't everyday that a man like Simon Rose paid a personal visit to an Electronic Media major at a public university in Ohio.
“Perfect,” Rose said. “How does Indian sound?”

Grand Taj India Restaurant was located in the Gaslight District of Clifton, the inner-city neighborhood that was home to the University of Cincinnati. They made the short drive in Simon Rose’s car, a sleek red Audi S5 Cabriolet that attracted numerous stares along the way. When Jason made an appreciative remark about the car, Simon seemingly could not help adding, “This is the car I use when I drive in the flyover states. When I’m in California, I drive an R8 GT Spyder.”
Jason had been told numerous times that a display of excessive eagerness was one of the worst mistakes that a young person could make, so he contented himself with small talk during the ride to the restaurant. Once there, they were efficiently seated by a sari-clad hostess; and each of them placed an order for lunch. Simon Rose didn't come to the point until he was digging into his appetizer, a beef-filled pastry called keema samosa
“You entered two films in the competition we talked about,” Simon said. 
“Yes, sir,” Jason said. The first of these, Community Portrait, was a sort of inner-city community immersion film—arguably low-hanging fruit for a student who lived within the confines of the city. The film had been well received in the competition. In retrospect, however, Jason was less than proud of it. Community Portrait, with its preachy script and stilted portrayal of the lives of the urban poor, now struck Jason as sanctimonious and self-serving. He had intended to produce a Film with a Message. He had ended up looking like just another affluent white film student who pesters the residents of the inner city for “material.” 
The second film, A Haunting at Travis Books, was a bit more interesting. A bookstore owner in a nearby Cincinnati neighborhood had complained of paranormal activity. The one-hundred-fifty-year-old building in which Travis Books was housed had a troubled history: Sometime around the First World War, a young woman had apparently hanged herself in the attic. This woman, it seemed, was dead but not yet departed. The bookstore’s owner and a handful of his patrons had reported hearing the creaking sound that a rope makes when it swings back and forth with a heavy object attached to one of its ends. Cold spots suddenly chilled the air without warning, even during the height of summer. Books and other objects would occasionally disappear from the main downstairs store area, only to appear later in one of the bookstore’s back offices. According to the owner, these missing objects sometimes even made their way to the very attic where the long-dead woman had taken her own life. 
Jason had learned of the allegedly haunted bookstore when he read a brief article about the place on one of Cincinnati’s news websites. He had sensed immediately that the bookstore’s owner’s predicament had short film potential. Moreover, he believed that he could take the story itself to another level, one that the local journalist who had written the ho-hum article could never grasp. So he contacted not only the bookstore’s owner, but also a representative of one of the many ghost-hunting organizations in the Cincinnati area. These groups, Jason had heard, were always eager for exposure. 
Jason began A Haunting at Travis Books with a series of interviews with the bookstore’s owner and several customers who were willing to participate. He included a short sketch of the woman who had hung herself—a woman whose name turned out to be Lena Caudwell. But the main portion of the film consisted of an onsite paranormal investigation, complete with EMF readings and EVP recordings.
The results, as Jason had half-expected, were inconclusive; and the tormented spirit of Lena Caudwell failed to oblige him with a dramatic appearance. Nevertheless, Jason knew that he had nailed both the subject matter and the presentation. He had woven a piece of local lore into a compelling human interest story, then combined it with a detailed study of a textbook ghost-hunting investigation. A Haunting at Travis Books contained no irrefutable proof of paranormal activity. But then, no films about the paranormal contained such proof.
“I assume that you were most interested in the second one,” Jason said now. A waitress in a colorful Indian sari brought them their entrees—tandori chicken with naan and saffron rice. 
“Good guess,” Simon said with a smile. “You showed a real intuitive grasp of the subject matter. Tell me, do you have a special interest in the supernatural?”
“Not really,” Jason said honestly. It was tempting to lie; but Jason figured that a man like Simon would be able to instantly spot a response that was sycophantically or opportunistically dishonest. “I have a special interest in making good films.”
“Fair enough,” Simon said, before putting a forkful of tandori chicken into his mouth. “But the project I have in mind for you is—as you might expect—supernatural in nature.”
Jason felt a pleasant tingle of excitement. Rose was finally coming to the point. 
“Have you ever heard of a stretch of road called the Shaman’s Highway? It’s located in Carey County, just a little past Osborn Lake State Park.”
Jason shook his head. “Can’t say as I have. But then, I’m not from around here. I grew up in Columbus. I’ve heard of Wagosh, though. Isn’t that in Carey County?”
“Another good guess,” Simon said. He removed an iPhone from his pocket and manipulated its screen for the better part of a minute. Then he laid the phone down on the tablecloth and scooted it toward Jason. 
The phone’s screen was filled with a Google Maps view that showed a stretch of U.S. Route 68 running south from Wagosh, Ohio. Jason picked out Osborn Lake State Park on the map view, as well as a few small towns lying south of Wagosh. “This is the Shaman’s Highway,” Rose said.
“It looks like a pretty remote area,” Jason observed.
“It is,” Rose said, taking the phone back. “About sixty miles northeast of here. As you probably know, central Ohio is fairly unpopulated to the east of I-71 between Cincinnati and Columbus. The area you would be walking through is rural. Note that I specified that you would have to complete the entire study on foot, for reasons that I shall explain shortly. There are houses and towns along the Shaman’s Highway, but you’d be a long way from the city—a long way from anything resembling a comfortable, brightly lit suburb. And you would be walking at night, through an area with a reputation for paranormal activity. Would that be a problem for you?”
Jason sensed a slight air of baiting in the question. “I’m not afraid of the dark.”
“That’s good, Jason. Mighty good, because a lot of people living in Carey County have been scared by the Shaman’s Highway late at night. And from what I hear, the majority of them were anything but cowards. When my team was conducting its initial research, we spoke to a 38-year-old man who had done two tours of duty in Iraq. He told us that nothing—not even a midnight patrol in Fallujah—had scared him as much as what he saw on that little stretch of U.S. Route 68. Now, are you still interested?”
Jason smiled. “I’m very interested, Mr. Rose. Let’s hear what you have in mind.”

*   *   *

Text entry entitled “The Shaman’s Highway”, from the paranormal website,

“Between the small city of Wagosh, Ohio and the town of John’s Mistake, there lies an eleven-mile section of U.S. Route 68 that locals refer to as ‘the Shaman’s Highway.’ Over the past one hundred years, there have been numerous reports of paranormal phenomena along this roadway. These include unexplained voices and sounds coming from the surrounding woods, and sightings of ghostlike apparitions, hellhounds, and various other unidentified creatures. Near the southern terminus of the Shaman’s Highway, there is a nineteenth-century covered bridge that is believed to be haunted by the spirit of a witch. The witch reportedly lived in the area around the time of the Civil War. 
In 1997, a Carey County Sheriff’s Deputy was interviewed by the Columbus Dispatch regarding the road’s reputation. “South of Wagosh, Route 68 drops off into a remote part of the countryside. It’s a section of road that will play games with your imagination if you aren’t careful,” Deputy John Porter stated. 
There are several theories that are commonly cited as explanations for the disturbing occurrences. Carey County, Ohio was home to multiple Native American tribes prior to widespread European settlement of the area—most notably the Shawnee. When Route 68 was paved in the early 1930s to accommodate vehicle traffic, workers reported finding Native American artifacts, including arrowheads, shards of clay pottery, and stone amulets. There are also unconfirmed reports of skulls and other human bones being unearthed during the roadwork. This has led to speculation that a Shawnee burial ground may have been located in the area. 
Another theory links the strange sightings to rumored satanic cult activity during the 1960s and 1970s. In the mid-1970s there were persistent stories about satanic rituals being carried out in an unspecified part of the woods along the same portion of the highway. These reports, like those of the unearthed human remains and the burial ground, were never confirmed.” 

*   *   *

As Simon Rose finished his description of the Shaman’s Highway and its history, Jason feared that the hint of a repressed smile would show on his face. Jason did not define himself as a coldly rational atheist. To the extent that such matters occurred to him at all, he supposed that he would have acquiesced to the existence of God and the human soul. However, Simon’s story was over the top.
“I sense a skeptic in the room,” Simon said without a trace of resentment. No doubt the ghost-hunter was accustomed to dealing with skeptics.
“Well, I—” Jason began, struggling to decide how honestly he should respond.
“No hemming and hawing,” Simon preempted him. “Just so you know, your belief in the supernatural—or lack thereof—is in no way a prerequisite for your participation in this project, which I’ll outline in detail shortly. For now, I want you to tell me what you think. Be honest.”
“Okay, then,” Jason said. “Here goes: I can accept the idea—in theory, that is—of a wayward spirit, or some sort of residual energy from a past event producing a rapping on a wall, or maybe even traces of an apparition. I can deal with the notion of words being articulated on EVP recordings, and unexplained cold air pockets in rooms where a person was murdered or committed suicide. But dead witches and a who’s who assembly of spirits haunting a highway? And hellhounds? I’m sorry Mr. Rose, but it all strains my sense of credibility. I don’t know exactly what a hellhound is, but it doesn't sound like something that’s likely to exist in the woods of Ohio.” 
Simon laughed indulgently, his good humor not yet flagging. “The hellhound,” he said. “Is a universal element in folklore. In one form or another, the creature can be traced all the way back to the Ancient Greek myths. Have you ever heard of the three-headed dog known as Cerberus? The Greeks and the Romans believed that it guarded the gateway to the underworld, and kept those who had crossed the River Styx from escaping back into the world of the living. Multiple iterations on the theme of the hellhound can be found throughout the world, from the Barghest of northern England, to the black cadejo of Latin America.”
“Fair enough,” Jason said. “But hellhounds in Ohio? You’ll pardon me if I say that it all sounds a little bit hard to accept.”
Simon chuckled. “I can see that I don’t have to worry about you being overly credulous. That’s okay. I’ve often found that some of the best ghost hunters are skeptics, anyway. And certainly there would be a problem if you were too eager to believe. But let me tell you now what I have in mind, exactly. Are you physically fit, Jason?”
The question surprised Jason somewhat. “I ran track in high school,” he said. “My event was the two-mile. I went to the state finals my senior year.”
“Excellent,” Simon replied. “Then you would have no trouble walking eleven miles. And an eleven-mile walk is exactly what this project entails. My crew will drop you off just south of Wagosh shortly after dusk on the day of the film project. Then you’ll hike the eleven miles to the end of the Shaman’s Highway. Along the way, you’ll document your findings with notes, video, and whatever sound recordings you can gather.”
“I’ll be walking by myself”? Jason asked. “Without a crew?”
Simon smiled. “I thought you said that you didn't believe in any of this stuff.”
“I’m not scared,” Jason clarified. “What I’m worried about is the video quality. As you know, you can’t shoot a good film without the proper equipment: a professional camcorder with a 64-gigabyte or so hard drive, boom mics, lighting, etc. I can’t carry all of that with me.”
Simon shook his head. “Don't worry about that. What I have in mind is more like an eyewitness video, the sort of thing you see uploaded onto sites like YouTube. I understand going in that the footage you’ll be able to gather will be fragmentary and incomplete. I figure you should be able to carry a prosumer camcorder with you. You’ll need something that has night-vision capabilities, though.”
“My Sony has night vision,” Jason said. “But it’s like you said, ‘prosumer’—not the sort of camcorder that you would ordinarily use for television. The audio is decent but not completely clean. There may be some static. And the hard drive isn’t big enough to record the three to four hours that it will take me to walk eleven miles. I’ll need to be selective about what I capture.” 
“That’s fine,” Rose said. “Do what you can. The point here isn’t to generate hours and hours of footage. Film as much as you can. Just get me something. Hopefully something that I can use on the show.”
 “I don’t understand, Mr. Rose,” Jason said. “Why are you doing it this way? I mean, I don't want to sound ungrateful, because I am. This is an excellent opportunity for me. But why don't you simply bring in your regular crew, and have them do a walk under full lights, with all the video equipment you need in a pickup truck?”
“An excellent question,” Rose replied. “When I saw those films of yours, I knew right away that you’re a young filmmaker who knows how to identify and ask the proper questions. And so I’ll give you an answer: I filmed the Shaman’s Highway last year with a full crew, and we saw nothing. Just a dark wooded highway that was a little spooky, but completely devoid of any concrete phenomena.”
“So why not have a member of your crew complete the walk solo?”
“It all comes down to manpower, logistics, and scheduling. If you watch our show, it might seem that we function in an ad hoc, random sort of way; but that really isn’t the case. We plan projects out months in advance. Our second attempt at the Shaman’s Highway—what I intend to hire you for—has been on the schedule for nearly nine months. It isn’t the only project on the schedule, though. This week most of my team will be shooting down in Tennessee, investigating a house where a man murdered his wife and two children in 1965. The house is said to be crawling with malevolent presences. So the Shaman’s Highway project, while important, is not at the top of the priority list. I can spare only two crew members for Carey County. One is a pregnant woman; and the other is a somewhat overweight and out-of-shape man who would be unable to complete an eleven-mile walk. You can see, then, Jason, why I want to outsource this job to you: You have the right mix of video and journalistic skills, physical fitness, and, I hope, availability.”
“I should be available,” Jason said. “What is the timing for the project?” 
“This weekend. Friday night, in fact. The timing is important because the road is said to be more spiritually active during the full moon. The full moon arrives this Friday night—about a hundred hours from now.”
Jason contemplated the upcoming weekend. What else did he have going on? That reminded him of Molly Russell; and now he had one more reason to accept Simon Rose’s offer—provided that the pay was right, of course.  
“Everything sounds good,” Jason said. “I can be available this Friday. I have only one question, really.”
Rose smiled. “Of course you do; and I know what it is: Your compensation as a subcontractor on this project will be $2,000, plus expenses,” Simon said. “The walk itself should take about four hours, with an additional hour for the post-walk interview.”
That’s $400 per hour, Jason thought. It was money that he could definitely use. His financial resources were minimal—a combination of loans and part-time work, and a partial scholarship that he had cobbled together. His parents, despite their declaration of best wishes for his educational endeavors, had been unable to provide him with any financial assistance. The two of them were barely able to take care of themselves, after all.
“That will be satisfactory,” Jason said, recalling again those admonitions against displays of excessive eagerness. 

“Excellent,” Simon said. The waitress brought the bill for lunch. Jason reached for his wallet and Simon waved him still. “Lunch is on me,” the semi-famous filmmaker said.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

ELEVEN MILES OF NIGHT trailer: "Haunted Roads"

OUR HOUSE: about the novel

Eleven Miles of Night: 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? 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What fiction writers can learn from television and movies

From my YouTube channel: A viewer asks me to discuss the useful storytelling techniques that writers can glean from watching television and movies. 

In television and film, screenwriters have to move a story along within a set time period and they have to do so visually. 

This is the gist of the video. But there is more--including the connection between shorter attention spans and the push to shorten baseball games from nine innings to six innings. 

12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN, Reading #66

From my YouTube channel: Reading #66 of my coming-of-age supernatural thriller set in 1980, 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN:

Some of the houses that we passed by were totally dark. This might have meant that they were submerged beneath the spell that had given rise to so many horrors this night. On the other hand, it might have meant that the owners of the houses were simply gone for the evening, or had turned off the lights in an effort to discourage trick-or-treaters.
Speaking of trick-or-treaters—we saw no more of them at this stage. I half suspected that we might have stayed out past the allotted time for trick-or-treat; but I knew better. We hadn’t been out that long. There should still have been some late stragglers, at any rate. 
Other houses had lights in the windows. Theoretically, we could have stopped at any one of them; but we had no way of knowing who and what would be behind any given door.
And besides, that wasn't the point. This was a journey that we had to finish. Taking refuge in someone’s house would only delay the inevitable. 
I had a crude game plan for getting us home, too: We were about halfway through our normal Halloween route, maybe a little more. 
I was daring to trust that this would all work out. We had made it this far; and we would make it the rest of the way home, if only we could evade these things out here for a little longer. While these forces were formidable, they were clearly not all-powerful.
I was walking evenly with Leah and Bobby now. As inconspicuously as possible, I raised the ax in my hand, appreciating its heft. (I did not want to appear to be showing off or grandstanding.) When I got home, where the world would hopefully be normal again, I would stow the ax somewhere—probably in my father’s woodpile. Then I would find a way to return it. Yes, that would be a good thing: to have the time and the space to worry about a mundane problem like the return of a pilfered ax.
“Oh, man,” Bobby said suddenly. “Get a look at that, will you?”
We all saw the forest green ’74 Chevrolet Nova—or rather, what was left of it. 
Jimmy Wilson had loved that car, and it had been the object of much envy around the neighborhood. No one, however, would ever drive this car again. 
The damage was so vast, it was difficult to take it all in at once. 
The windshield had been smashed into a thousand tiny fragments. Shards of glass still clung to the frame, of course, but most of the windshield was scattered all about the pavement. All four tires had been slashed. There were dents all around the body: not shallow dents, but the deep sort of dents that could only be made with a sledgehammer or another heavy bludgeoning tool. The hood was a mess of scratches, and, I saw, some deep punctures that went clear through the metal. 
Obscenities were spray-painted on the hood as well, along with a crude drawing of both male and female genitalia. Ronald, Jerry, and Larry would be in middle age if they had been alive today; they had been dead for twenty years. But they were still teenage hoodlums. For some reason, that made them all the more terrifying. Supernatural versions of Matt Stefano, I thought. 
The front driver’s side door had been left open, and looked to be askew on its hinges. The upholstery of the front seat had been torn as with a boxcutter or butcher knife. 
“That car might possibly be drivable,” Bobby said, appraising the destruction. “But it’s totaled for all intents and purposes. Jimmy Wilson’s pride and joy is good for nothing but the scrap heap now.”
Leah wasn't as interested in the car as she was in the perpetrators of the damage. She wrapped her arms around herself and said, “Are they still around, do you think—the boys who did this damage?”
They aren’t boys, I thought. If they ever were boys, they aren’t boys anymore.
“It doesn't look like it,” Bobby offered. “If they were around, I think that they would have shown themselves by now. They don’t exactly seem like a shy bunch, do they?
“They’re gone, I think,” I said. I involuntarily raised the ax again. If the long-dead vandals were to show up, would the ax be of any use against them? I had no idea. “We should just keep moving. It isn’t safe for us to stay here, and there’s nothing for us to do here, anyway. Jimmy Wilson deserted us, after all. The car is his problem.”
“Damn right,” Bobby said, nodding.
“Okay,” Leah said. “But I have a bad feeling about this.”
“I have a bad feeling about the entire night,” I agreed. “But we can’t stop moving. Let’s go.”

Monday, July 17, 2017

Scammers, Kindle Unlimited, and Amazon

Over at his self-publishing blog, David Gaughran highlights the problem of scammers in the Amazon Kindle store:
On Friday, a book jumped to the #1 spot on Amazon, out of nowhere; it quickly became obvious that the author had used a clickfarm to gatecrash the charts. 
The Kindle Store is officially broken. 
This is not the first time this has happened and Amazon’s continued inaction is increasingly baffling. Last Sunday, a clickfarmed title also hit #1 in the Kindle Store. And Amazon took no action. 
Over the last six weeks, one particularly brazen author has put four separate titles in the Top 10, and Amazon did nothing whatsoever. There are many such examples.

As Gaughran goes on to explain, most of the scamming involves fake borrows through the Kindle Unlimited program.

To be sure, there were various forms of scamming before Kindle Unlimited. Fake reviews have been sold on the Internet for at least a decade. But the borrowing system in Kindle Unlimited particularly incentivizes scamming, because scam activity is directly linked to payment. If you buy 50 fake reviews, you might or might not make money on subsequent sales. If you buy 50 fake borrows, you're guaranteed to earn KENP page read commissions. 

This system works two ways: In the first instance, unscrupulous authors and publishers pay the click farms for borrows of legitimate, but underperforming, books. In the second instance, the scammers themselves publish fake books that they subsequently borrow through other accounts. (Since a Kindle Unlimited membership only costs $9.99 per month, it doesn't take long for an organized click farm to turn a profit this way.)

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The Kindle Unlimited system has long been controversial. To begin with, it forces authors to compete with each other for a limited amount of money that Amazon determines. It also changes the nature of the competition

A large portion of the KU inventory consists of the Asian carp of the publishing world: the romance genre. There are romance authors who crank out short, formulaic titles every two weeks. You simply can't write an epic fantasy, a military thriller, or a police procedural as quickly as a hackneyed boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-regains-girl romance title. 

Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a factor for writers in other genres. Crime and thriller writers aren't competing with romance writers for the same readers, after all. Therefore, it doesn't matter to the police procedural writer if a romance author wants to publish a Taken by the Roguish Alpha Male title once every fortnight. 

But under the KU system, all writers compete for the same KU money even though they aren't competing for the same readers. 

This makes me groan when I see romance titles popping up like dandelions at Amazon. And I have to wonder: Is KU really a good deal for me? (I write thrillers and suspense fiction.) 

And now with the scammer problems mentioned in David Gaughran's post, I have to wonder: How well is Kindle Unlimited really working for Amazon? 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

"You can't be a team of common men."

Tonight I splurged and spent $5.99 for the movie Miracle (2004), the Kurt Russell film about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that defeated the Soviets. 

The DVD will arrive Monday. I saw this movie when it was first released, but I'm ready for another viewing. (And it hasn't appeared on TMC yet.)

Watch this movie for the inspiration it provides. ("You cannot be a team of common men, because common men get nowhere.")

Miracle also perfectly captures the mood of the country in 1980. 

This was a good time for me personally, but a rather depressing time for the U.S. as a whole. There was stagflation, Soviet aggression abroad, and high unemployment. 

The U.S. need a win, which is what the U.S. hockey team provided in that long-ago year.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN: Reading #65

Reading #65 of 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN. In this episode, Jeff acquires a new weapon: an ax. But he wonders what kind of power the ax really signifies.

Bobby, meanwhile, is forced to acknowledge the change in their relative statuses.

Leah resents being left out of the conversation.

As Halloween night continues, Jeff, Leah, and Bobby walk on, toward the next round of horrors.

Remember: You can listen to all the available readings of 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN on my YouTube channel. 

If you prefer to simply read the book (and it’s dirt cheap!) you can get it on

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

YouTube update: 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN, Reading #64

In reading #64 of 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN, Jeff, Leah, and Bobby are deserted by an older boy whom they had briefly seen as their protector. 

Jeff picks up an ax, which he may find use for later...

And that hellish night of Halloween, 1980 drags on.

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You're welcome to listen to the videos on my YouTube channel. If you'd like to read 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN, you can get it instantly on

And it's dirt-cheap, too!