Thursday, December 29, 2016

New release: Iron Horse 4 available NOW!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone! I’m sure you’re all wiped out from the holiday parties, turkey dinners, and traveling, so what better time to curl up next to the fire with a good book? Well, it just so happens that I’ve finally uploaded book four of the Iron Horse steampunk series! How lucky is that?

This book was a lot of fun to write, but as always, it was a real challenge stuffing so much adventure and excitement into a limited number of pages. On one hand, it seems like the adventure has just barely gotten started, on the other… well, I’ll just let you read it and see what you think.

Clockwork Legion picks up where The Dragon’s Breath left off:



Events are spiraling out of control inside Dragonwall, as Shayla’s enemies seek to turn the tables on her and Kale finds his position as the knights’ commander challenged. When the queen asks Kale to report to a nearby village that has been raided, he jumps at the chance to get away from the politics and intrigue. Little does he realize he’s about to uncover a terrifying secret that may change the course of history… 
Meanwhile, the Iron Horse makes a surprise stop when Socrates and his team discover a train wreck filled with the mummified remains of an ancient crew. While studying the site, they make another unexpected discovery: The crater beyond Dragonwall is home to a previously unknown civilization; a race of humans living in a city of pyramids and possessing strange, powerful new technologies.  
The crew’s excitement is soon tempered by the realization that these timid farmers are not just shy of strangers… they are in fact slaves. Worse yet, their overseers are a race of creatures unlike any the crew have previously encountered. They are dangerous. They are powerful. And they are legion.


Yes, there will be more books coming in the near future. I’m not quite sure how many, but I do have a good idea of where the story is going and what happens to certain characters. The only problem now is finding the time to write these books, and juggle them with the others I’m concurrently writing. Expect at least one book next year, if not two. In the meanwhile, I’ll also be publishing the next two Hank Mossberg books very soon (looks like January-February) and they will wrap up the series for now. That’s not to say I’ll never write another Hank Mossberg story, just that this part of his story will be done, and I’ll definitely be taking a break of indeterminate length.

One last thing: Clockwork Legion is on sale for only $0.99 so my regular readers can grab a copy at rock bottom prices. The price will go up, so if you want to add this one to your collection, now is the time! Thanks, and have a great 2017!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

New Release! He said, She said Book TWO available now!

If you didn't get my newsletter, you may be missing out! Last weekend, I published a new title, and it's on sale now at a special introductory price for all my regular readers. Allow me to introduce book two of the He said, She said mystery series:


Murder on the Lost Coast: 

When Joe and Tanja Shepherd set sail on their newly renovated sailboat, they are expecting a relaxing vacation on northern California’s remote Lost Coast. Little do they know that a tropical storm is headed their way, and that a killer is making alternative plans for their weekend.
After a harrowing boat ride through the storm, they reach the Lost Coast Inn and Joe promptly has a run-in with a local fisherman named Jacob that almost turns violent. When it’s all over, they’re exhausted, cold, and soaked to the bone. Thankfully, the inn is just as beautiful, luxurious, and welcoming as they had hoped it would be.
It seems the worst is over, until they learn that the owner has sold the resort and is about to lay off the entire staff. Tensions are rising as the storm hits, and it hits with a vengeance. The phone lines are down, the cell phones aren’t working, and Jacob -the old fisherman who also happens to run the lighthouse- has gone missing. The next morning, the local sheriff makes an emergency helicopter trip out between storms. After a brief search, he is dismayed to find Jacob dead. Worse yet, after Joe’s earlier altercation with the man, it looks like the detective might be the sheriff’s only suspect.
The sheriff warns the Shepherds in no uncertain terms that they are to remain at the inn until the autopsy is complete, and that they are not to even consider investigating Jacob’s death. Naturally, they do just the opposite. After all, Tanja isn’t about to let Joe be arrested for murder. Unfortunately, proving his innocence won’t be as easy as it sounds.
As you can tell from the description, Lost Coast takes my detective couple even deeper into the world of cozy mysteries, while retaining that sense of action and adventure that used to define the early pulp mystery novels. This is the direction I’ve always planned for the series, but it’s tricky to introduce a new set of characters and a new premise. The first novel had to be something of a set-up for the other books, and this new novel keeps the ball rolling. I think it worked pretty well, but we’ll see what you guys think. As always, I’d love to hear your feedback, and of course, I always appreciate your reviews!
Murder on the Lost Coast is available now at Amazon for an introductory price of only $0.99. This price will go up, but I want to give my subscribers the chance to grab it at a discount. After all, what’s better than having it first? Having it first and at a fraction of the price!
Last but not least, for the Valkyrie fans: I’m sorry, but she’s running late. I really hoped to have Book Two published this winter, but it’s taking a little longer than expected (like everything else this year). Don’t give up on me! I’m working on the book, and I will post updates on my blog. I’m in the process of wrapping up another fantasy series right now, so that should free up a little more Valkyrie time in 2017. Maybe I’ll even manage to get book three published next year… And yes, my next steampunk novel will be out momentarily... almost, anyway.
That’s it for this time. Thanks for your patience and for your kindness in reading, reviewing, and passing on word of my books. I feel very blessed to be able to do this for a living, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all my readers who make it possible. Thank you, and have a great Christmas and holiday season!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Kindle Giveaway this weekend!

As you know, I like to give away books now and then, and occasionally even a Kindle. This weekend, I've partnered up with BookGorilla for a great promo. They're giving away Kindles -Lots of 'em!- and I'm sponsoring a giveaway on Sunday. There are a few caveats:

1) BG is handling the giveaway. You'll have to enter the contest through the link they give you, follow their rules, and...
2) You'll have to subscribe to their newsletter or go to the contest page to enter the contest. (That's how you get the link.)
3) There are limited slots for these giveaways. If you wait too long, you'll miss your chance to enter.

You can view the details on how the promotion works HERE. The link is also there (I think it changes daily). The link will take you to Amazon to apply for that day's giveaway. If you don't win the Kindle I'm giving away, don't give up! You have quite a few more chances to win this year.

Good luck everyone, and have a great Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hank Mossberg promo this weekend, and New Covers!

I'm working on book six of the Hank Mossberg series right now, and getting book five ready for publication. As part of this process, I've decided to update a few covers in the series. When I suggested this idea to my wife, she said, "Nah, leave 'em. They're fine."

She was right to an extent, but something had been bothering me about those covers. It wasn't until just recently that I figured out what it was. When I devised the HM series, I was having a lot of fun playing with the idea of a private eye living in the fairy world. Yeah, it's a little gimmicky, but it's also a lot of fun, and I think that makes all the difference. A gimmick can be clever or it can be stupid, and while I always aim for the former, I desperately hope and pray to avoid the latter. In fact, I've dismissed quite a few story ideas because they were just too gimmicky.

At any rate, I felt like I had come up with a pretty good series, and when I published H1 I decided I wanted a cover that mimicked the pulp detective novels of the fifties. The cover would scream "pulp" and only hint at the fantastical aspects of the story. In that aspect, I hit the mark, but in the world of book promotion, I missed the mark by a mile.

The thing I didn't understand back then was that in order to sell a book, you have to entice a reader to pick it up. That's what the cover does. The old proverb that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover is completely fatuous. We all judge books by their covers. The covers are what make us look at them in the first place. And putting a pulp cover on an Amazon page full of fantasy covers is a sure way to make sure nobody touches that book. Fantasy readers aren't looking for Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. They're looking for Frodo Baggins or Jon Snow.

That's not to say the HM series has done poorly. The reviews and word of mouth have been enough to give me quite a few sales in that series, but I just don't think it has reached its full potential. And the only way to get those books in to the hands of the right readers, is to attract the right readers with the right cover. 

So here's what I've done:

 The old H1 cover was simple and pulpy. Not bad, but nothing here to really attract a fantasy reader.

The new cover is clearly fantasy. Hank is gone but now we have a hint of what the Mother tree might look like, and there's no doubt that the story behind this cover will contain elves, fairies, and so forth... The spilled wineglass echoes the word murder in the title, but these elements are subtext now rather than forefront. Special thanks to my son Jack for his help with the title layout, fonts, and photo editing. The kid knows what he's doing!

H2's cover wasn't terrible either, but definitely not great. It had some issues with lighting, layout, and aesthetic appeal in general. I decided to simplify...

As you can see, most of the original elements remain: the gloom fairy is still here, the sword in the stone, even the city (a different one) in the background. But the changes I've made are obvious, and I think the effect is rather striking. When I showed my wife, she immediately said "What are you waiting for? Hit the upload button!"  We'll see what the fans think...
I think H4 was one of my better first efforts. The character is front and center, displaying lots of attitude and no doubt about his personality or supernatural nature. That being said, it was a bit rushed. The lighting wasn't great and the colors were a little off, lending the cover a very two-dimensional appearance. And the way the image is cut off on the bottom just looks weird. I didn't think it would be that obvious, but it is.

More simple changes, but with pronounced effect. Sam looks considerably more three-dimensional now, thanks to the changes in lighting. Still a little cartoonish I guess, but he is a goblin...

Speaking of Sam, I'm running a promo this weekend. You can pick up book four in the series for nothin'! That's right, absolutely free, this weekend only. So grab a copy and tell your friends. The next two books will be out soon, and if you haven't read this one, you're missing out. You can download it at Amazon by clicking this link.


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Hank Interview

Earlier this year, blogger Assaph Mehr approached me with a unique idea. He wanted an interview for his website, not from me, but from my detective ogre Hank Mossberg. It sounded like a fun opportunity, so I jumped on it. In addition to being a fun writing exercise, it gave me the chance to reveal a few clues about Hank's background and his thoughts on the future. The interview is now live, so if you're a Hank fan, head over there and check it out!

Thanks Assaph, this was a cool idea and I enjoyed it immensely. 

In related news, I'm all finished with book five in the Private Ogre series, and beginning work on book six. As I've said before, I won't publish the former until I have the latter finished because of the cliffhanger ending. At most, the two will likely be published a few months apart. As things stand now, look for H5 before the end of the year and H6 by the end of winter. In the meanwhile, I'm working hard to have He Said, She Said II and Iron Horse IV ready by the end of the month. It may take a couple extra weeks to get the paperbacks approved, so I'll have to decide at the time whether to go ahead and publish digital first.

As always, I will update here, and I'll try to get a newsletter out at publication time.

Friday, August 5, 2016

2016 Publishing Schedule Update

I can't believe how quickly summer has flown by! In less than two weeks, my kids will be heading back to school. I've tried to make the most of this time, but I was juggling many different things, and it seems like the entire summer has been a constant scramble. Maybe I'm just getting old, but I feel like I haven't had a summer at all.

After finishing my new koi fountain, my wife and I spent a lot of time cleaning up and landscaping the yard. I tilled and fertilized, installed new sprinklers, and planted new grass. I hauled what was left of the old aquaponics system to the dump, along with the lumber scraps from the previous couple years' worth of projects. I also hauled off the remnants of my old garage recording studio, which my sons tore down last winter. Currently, my guitars and recording equipment are housed in the loft, which is my new office.

I'm also in the process of getting rid of my old shed. This was another project I hadn't sought: the roof leaked last winter, leading to some water damage, and a rat (or several) moved in at some point and destroyed a lot of stuff, not the least of which were several prints of boat plans I had saved. I found myself facing a complete rebuild, which naturally led to thoughts of a complete re-design. Ultimately, I decided I'm just too busy and too exhausted to take that on right now. I ordered a shed online. Nothing fancy, just one of those plastic things. If nothing else, it buys me some time to finish up everything else. But that still leaves me with a couple truckloads of junk to haul to the dump, and a lot of cleanup and reorganizing.

In the meanwhile, I've done my best to write a little each day, in the mornings before making breakfast for the kids. I allowed them to sleep in a little -until 9:00 or 9:30- which gave me a little over an hour to write. Throughout the late mornings and afternoons, I spent time with the kids and worked on household chores and projects. I also made an effort to spend "extra" time with my kids at least once a week doing something special, like a trip to the archery range, or a hike in the redwoods.

In the midst of all this, my oldest son, who has joined the local union and become an electrician, has developed an ongoing issue with migraines. He's tried several different medications and we hope he's finally getting a handle on it now, but during the first half of the year, he missed a lot of work. Which meant he was at home. And I've learned that having anyone at home tends to make writing an exercise in futility. To write effectively requires concentration. Anything that distracts, even in the smallest way, makes it difficult (if not impossible) to immerse oneself in the story. Thankfully, I am getting better about working through or around these distractions. But I'm also very much looking forward to some quiet time this fall.

So here's what writing I have done, and what I expect for the year:

He Said, She Said II: Written and revised. Will undergo another revision before seeing the editor, and then at least one more revision and final edit. Hope to publish in October or November.

Hank Mossberg, Book V: Written and revised. Needs minor revisions before going to my editor. Should be ready by October???

Iron Horse Book IV: First draft only. Needs major revisions. Publication by the end of the year if not sooner.

Valkyrie Book II and He Said, She Said III: Both started and ongoing throughout the fall. Probably won't be ready for publication until winter or early next year. I'm further along with HS/SS, but I know readers are chomping at the bit for more Val, so I'm trying to make it a priority. Be patient with me, please!

Hank Mossberg, Book VI: Not yet started, but I want a first draft done before I publish Book V. Hint: there will be a cliffhanger between these two books, and I refuse to make you guys wait a year to find out what happens. Thankfully, as an Indie author, I don't have to :)

Whew. Looking at that list, I don't know whether to jump for joy for all the progress I've made this year, or kick myself for not working faster. The truth is that I'm behind schedule, which is disappointing, but I do tend to bite off more than I can chew. I guess it's my way of pressuring myself to work harder and achieve more -sort of the way a boss might, if I had one. I don't know if it's a good thing or not. I tend to feel pretty stressed out this time of year, just from trying (and failing) to live up to my own expectations. But don't think I'm complaining. I wouldn't trade this for the world.

My next update on the subject will probably be when I'm getting ready to publish. Until then, I'm going to work hard on getting caught up so I can publish as many of these titles as possible before year's end. As always, tune in to this blog for updates, and sign up for my newsletter if you haven't yet!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Projects 2016: Aquaponics, and a boat!

Last year, I didn't get to do much in the way of fun hobby stuff. The lion's share of my extra time and cash went into building a loft over my living room (my new office!), furnishing that loft, and working on other home maintenance and improvement projects. This year's project fits in with that theme.

A few months ago, I decided to rethink my aquaponics system. I decided it was time for a massive overhaul. Part of this decision was due to the fact that I want to expand my tiny galley-style kitchen into a more functional and comfortable space. In order to do that, I'll have to push out onto the back patio, which is where the fish tank for my aquaponics system had been located. Right around the corner was my greenhouse, where my wife and I grew tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, kale, cabbage, potatoes, and on and on... Now, all of that is gone.

I decided to dial back the aquaponics a bit in the process. It's a great hobby, and frankly a technology that I believe can help save the world (I'm not exaggerating), but I really don't have the space for it here, nor do I have adequate sunlight in my small backyard. I decided to do something that would be nicer for my remaining fish (two large koi) and integrate into the design a grow bed for a small herb garden or something along those lines.

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the backyard before the project started, but this is what it looked like halfway in:

As you can see, I dug a hole about three feet deep in the corner of my yard for a new fountain/pond. I built forms out of lumber and plywood, which turned out to be far more complicated than any masonry work I've done in the past. Shaping concrete into curves and tiers like that is a nightmare and I never want to do it again. (Well, maybe. Ask me in a few years.) To further complicate matters, I went with a serious design: four to five inch thick walls with rebar. Yeah, this thing ain't going anywhere. Ever.

After pouring the concrete, I cleaned up the edges and smoothed it all out with a stucco finish. At this point, I could have painted it and let that be the end of it. After all, it's a perfectly decent design. It would look nice next to a fashionable contemporary or art-deco home, but my house is a farmhouse type, so I wanted to go with something a bit more nostalgic.

My next step was to mix up a huge batch of limestone, which I textured and colored to make the fountain look like medieval stonework. I experimented with half a dozen different colors, but eventually decided on charcoal. I painted the interior with a food-safe coating called Thoroseal, and then ran the system for a while to prepare it for my fish. This is what it looked like at that point:

Once the system was ready, I put rocks and clay pebbles in the grow bed, and transferred my fish to their new home. As part of my effort to turn this corner of the yard into a quiet retreat, I added two Japanese maples:

Since then, I've tilled, landscaped, and reseeded the grass. I also had to rebuild the sprinkler system, and I'm now trying to figure out what to do with the rest of the yard to make it a little more harmonious. I'll probably add some cobblestones around the base of the fountain to complete the look, and I'm considering rebuilding my old shed at the opposite end of the yard. But for now, I'm tired... I just want to relax and enjoy life for a while. Which brings me to the next part of my story. 

Even before building my canoes, I had been researching boats. For a long time, I've wanted something that I could use to take my entire family out on the lake. I wanted something that had enough room for all of us, plus occasional camping and fishing gear. To please my wife, it had to be something fairly large, stable, and safe. To please my children, it had to be powerful enough to pull a skier or inner tubes. To please me, it had to be something I could afford on a writer's salary, and use right away with minimal work. This is what I found:

1979 Corwin Enterprise E17

Actually that's not my boat, but it's the same model. Mine is a different color and it no longer has the original full-length top, but it came with a ton of accessories, including the factory 115hp outboard motor and a second trolling motor. It's a little funky-looking -you don't see many of this design around here- but it meets all of our needs, and I think it will be a great starter boat. The hull is in incredibly good shape, and according to the seller, the engines are in fantastic shape. I haven't had a chance to test them yet because I just got it, and I've been busy repairing the boat's one minor flaw: a rotted floor section in the back, near the transom.

Thankfully, after pulling back the carpet, I found the culprit to be a rotten piece of plywood about 2'x2'. I pulled the rotten wood out, replaced the rotten support underneath it with a heavy piece of aluminum plate, and I'm fiberglassing the replacement wood today. Tomorrow, it will be back in one piece, and ready for the water, "God willing and the creek don't rise," as my father likes to say. The truth is, I made the repair a little more work than it had to be. I could have slapped in a piece of plywood and it would have been good for a few years. But I'm of the opinion that if you're doing the work, you should do it right so you never have to do it again. Trust me, this floor won't rot again for a long, long time. It'll probably outlast the rest of the fiberglass hull surrounding it.

So that's the status of my summer. I hope you're all having a great one, with no landscaping, and lots of water sports, or whatever else it is you like to do this time of year! As for me, I'm chomping at the bit to get this beast out on the water and put all of my projects behind me for a while.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Gaming the system: Will Amazon Sue "Helpful" Voters Next?

I can't imagine what this must be like for Amazon. It's hard to fathom that there are so many dishonest people out there, worse yet, so many dishonest writers! These are the people with whom I always thought I shared a certain simpatico; people of a like mind with unique ways of looking at the world and a love of all things literary. I have since learned how naive I really was.

In the five years I've been publishing, I have learned that writers will post fake 5-star Amazon reviews on their own books. I have learned that they will post bad reviews on books by authors they consider competition, and they will pay for dishonest reviews by the hundreds towards these aforementioned ends. Sometimes, they will band together to attack a writer because of some perceived slight, whether real or imagined, and do everything they can to slander and/or sabotage that person. Editing services will contact authors offering their services, and if rejected, will barrage that author with reviews slamming the book's need of a better editor. I've seen cover artists and book formatters use similar cons. I've even seen people within the traditional publishing industry admit to seeking out independent authors to slam their books, just because they were Indies! It seems there is no depth to which people in this industry will not sink. It's disheartening, and frankly, it makes an honest person consider doing bad things.

It really does. Because sometimes, it seems like the scam artists get away with everything, while honest hardworking people just get buried. I've seen this before, in office politics. I worked for a Fortune 500 company for almost ten years, and I've seen people do the most horrible things to each other in order to climb a little further up the ladder, or in some cases, just to hang on. These were people I otherwise would have thought were good people. I've seen a female manager fire or otherwise sabotage several women because she felt threatened by them, in some cases not even because of their skill and work ethics, but by the fact that they were younger and more attractive than she was. I've seen a male manager who stole finished projects from his underlings and then logged them into the system under his own name, so that he would get credit for all the work. After doing this, he would often put out a memo chastising the employees for not working as hard or being as productive as him!

I've seen managers promise worker bees bonuses and other perks if they agreed to take on a big project. This project demanded that the workers skip breaks and lunches, arrive early and leave late, and even bring work home for the evenings and weekends. In the end, despite finishing the work as agreed, the managers found some loophole to screw the workers out of their bonuses. I've seen this happen more than once, and in fact, I had warned a new employee of this scheme just a few days before my termination. Obviously, the managers of this company didn't admit that this was the reason I was fired, and I certainly can't prove it, but it goes to show you the sort of people who are out there.

The sad thing to me is that when I became an Indie publisher, I thought I had put those days behind me. Instead, I seem to have found myself swimming in a real big pond with a whole lot of sharks, and no ability to tell the sharks from the other little fish like me. It seems there's a new conspiracy revealed every month. Recently, after the crackdown on fake reviews, some scammers have started posting seemingly positive reviews -3 or 4 star reviews titled something like "I liked it" or "It wasn't bad"- but then, in the body of the review, they actually slam the book as being terrible. Meanwhile, services that provide fake reviews or purchases have started "diluting" their abuses by manipulating a number of titles at once, so that the true target isn't suspected by Amazon's algorithms. This means in some cases, that purchased reviews are being posted on the works of authors who never paid for the service. Or, instead of reviews, sometimes these manipulations come in the form of borrows from the Kindle Library.

Amazon is aware of these and many other schemes, and at least from my outside perspective, it seems that they are constantly putting out fires in forest full of arsonists. One that has also come to their attention lately is the use of paid-for "helpful" votes. There are a number of services out there who offer to "boost" good reviews (or in some cases, to boost negative reviews) using the "Was this helpful?" button on each review. The reason for doing this is that by "up-voting" the right reviews, you can manipulate an item's page on Amazon to show only good reviews, or only bad reviews. Obviously, when a shopper compares two products from two different sellers -even if it's the exact same product and the exact same price- they'll be more inclined to go with the item that has better reviews on the front page. This same service can also help a high-ranking Amazon reviewer to maintain a good rank, and thereby continue to receive free products.

I've discussed this with KDP and Amazon, and they have assured me that they are aware of the problem and that they're taking it very seriously. In the past "taking it seriously" has usually meant lawsuits would follow. When Amazon started suing fake review services, I predicted that soon they would go after the customers buying those fake reviews. I was right. So, if past experience is any predictor, Amazon may follow a similar pattern with these other abuses. The trick of course, is in nailing down the real culprits. It's easy enough to set up a fake Amazon account or spoof an I.P. address, but neither of these techniques are foolproof. In the end, these scam artists usually get caught and banned, and more and more, they also get sued. Unfortunately, for those of us caught in the middle, it never seems fast enough. When our sales are harmed, when our businesses and our families suffer, we want to see something happen right now. We want it fixed.

Thankfully, Amazon's getting pretty good at this. I have a feeling that a few years from now, most of these scam artists will have moved on to greener pastures.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

He said, She said Giveaway!

I'm running a promo this weekend on He said, She said "Murder."  I'm giving away three paperbacks in a Goodreads contest, and you can grab the eBook for free -this weekend only!- at Amazon. If you already have this book, by all means let your friends know.

Amazon only allows me to run these promotions for a limited amount of time, so it may be a while before you get another chance. (Then again, the normal price for this title is only $0.99US right now, so that ain't bad, either.) Anyway, this is Book One of the He said, She said Mystery Series. I hope to publish Book Two this fall, and -God willing- Book Three this winter. I have rough drafts for each title ready to go, but they need some serious revising, followed by some time with my editor, and then more revising. I'll update on my progress here. In the meanwhile, enjoy!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Short stories, FREE this weekend!

The title says it all. I took a peek at my Kindle Select numbers and realized my short stories were about to reach the end of their contract. I hadn't done any promotions this time around, so I figured I'd better give them away while I still can!

You can find my Jamie Sedgwick titles Here

And you can find my Mystery/Thriller stories Here

Remember, it's just the short stories that are free and it's just this weekend (starting today and running thru Monday, June 6). My other perma-free books are still available also, of course! Enjoy, and have a great weekend.

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Huge "Thank You!"

This is just  a quick post to thank everyone who downloaded Should Be Dead over the weekend -and especially for those people who've taken the time to read it and post reviews already!

I published this book at the end of November, and since I didn't have any sequels ready, I sort of let it languish. I had hoped it might garner a few reviews in the meanwhile, but otherwise didn't expect much. After all, people can't read a book they don't know about. Well, Valkyrie had a few sales here and there, but in six months, she didn't even have one single review. Ouch.

I decided it was a good time to run a freebie, and do a little bit of promotion. I ran a few ads and did a Goodreads giveaway simultaneously. Nothing fancy, just a little push for visibility. And of course, I made sure you guys were the first to know. The results? Pretty awesome:

For the first few days of the 5-day promo, Should Be Dead was getting 200-300 downloads per day. Then, some of the ads hit over the weekend, and downloads just blew up! The book was downloaded about 5,000 times on Sunday alone. In fact, I gave away about 6,000 copies just in the U.S.!  I feel pretty good about that, and based on the reviews I've seen so far, I'd say this was a fantastic success. Now, I just wish I had a few more books in the series for you guys to read. Oh well, a career is not made in one month, and certainly not on just one book. I do plan on writing book two in the series this year, but I also have sequels to publish in the He said, She said series soon.

I'd better get back to work, but before I go: Once again, Thank you all very much! I really hope you enjoy the book.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Valkyrie Giveaway!

I'm running promos on Should Be Dead this week/weekend. First is a contest for three paperbacks over at Goodreads (link above). I'm also running a 5-day FREE promotion at Amazon for the e-book. The giveaways will run from Thursday, May 19 thru Monday, May 23rd.

If you don't have a copy yet, this is a great opportunity to pick it up for free. Did I mention it's free? Let your friends know! And if you enjoy the book, I'd be grateful for a review over at Amazon. Valkyrie's feeling a little lonely with not one single review next to her cover :)

Here's the Amazon link:

And here's the description:

Keep your eye out for more giveaways coming this summer!

Valkyrie Smith should be dead. None of the killer’s other victims have survived. Yet somehow, after spending two long nights trapped at the bottom of a dry well with a broken back, Valkyrie miraculously came through. She lost everything that night: her husband, her son, her dreams. Lying at the bottom of that well, staring up at a tiny circle of sky and waiting for the killer to find her and finish the job at any moment, Val lost one more thing: She lost her fear.

The doctors told her she might never walk again, but Val refused to give up. After years of rehabilitation and relentless determination, Valkyrie regained her mobility. She didn't stop there. Valkyrie went on to take training in self defense and firearms, and developed a strategy to track down the killer. She dedicated her life to bringing him to justice. She walked away from her past forever, and began moving from to town to town in search of the man who had slaughtered her family.

Now, after a series of missed opportunities, Valkyrie finally has her chance. An anonymous phone call informs her that the man she has been hunting has surfaced again in Sequoia County, a rural California landscape of redwood forests, vineyards, and isolated coastlines. Valkyrie knows it could be a trap. She doesn’t care. Armed with her skills, her intellect, and her determination, Valkyrie heads straight into the heart of danger. She thinks she’s prepared for anything. She’s wrong.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Amazon Sues Reviewers (again) - And How Can You Get Honest Reviews?

Yep, again. According to the Seattle Times, Amazon has once again filed suit against numerous companies offering to sell fake reviews. You know the drill: these guys will write whatever you want, for a price. They'll post as many phony 5-star reviews on your book as you can afford. Or, they'll 1-star your competition right out of publishing. Here's what the article says:

"The lawsuit, filed Friday in King County Superior Court, pointed the mallet at Chris Embry, allegedly the New York-based operator of a website dubbed, which Amazon says promises to help sellers peddle their wares through falsified reviews, at least some of which it outsourced to a hacking website.

"Also named in the lawsuit is Jane John-Nwanko, a Californian who Amazon says stands behind, a site that offers to purchase an author’s book and “post positive comments” about it on Amazon. Amazon also sued five other people it couldn’t identify, but who ran sites with names such as, and"

According to the article, Amazon has sued over 1,000 people for this in the last year. Unfortunately, tackling these websites is like chopping heads off a hydra. You have to find alternative methods. Amazon can keep going after them -and they will, no doubt- but in order to nip this in the bud, they'll have to hit where it really hurts. This means not just suing the services, but also the clients: 

"In addition to damages, Amazon is requesting from the defendants information that would help the company identify the party that paid for the reviews and the people who created them. Such data have allowed the company to ostracize unscrupulous sellers and review writers, Amazon said."

 I predicted this a long time ago. These lawsuits aren't about playing whack-a-mole with these websites, they're about discovery; about rooting out unethical sellers and writers and banning them. Ouch. Anybody who publishes through KDP knows that Amazon is the bread and butter of Indie publishing, and without it, most writers would be lucky to earn coffee money in any given month. Losing Amazon as a distributor is painful, but getting sued by them? Imagine what it could be like for writers who bought these fake reviews. They could have their books pulled, their accounts banned, and on top of it, they might get sued! Yikes.

Back in December 2010 when I first started self-pubbing, I was unaware that anything like this existed. To be honest, I'm not sure it did. I am sure that some forward-thinking writers and coders were already manipulating the system, but it took a while for the rest of us to realize how important those reviews were. It became obvious all too soon. Several writers were busted for posting fake reviews, and strangely enough, they almost seemed proud, as if gaming the system and cheating Amazon and its customers just meant they were really smart businessmen.

Here's the thing about being dishonest: It's not clever. It's easy to lie. It doesn't take much intelligence at all. Liars never realize this until their lies start catching up with them. Only then do they realize that they're not all that smart; certainly not smart enough to get out of the messes they've created.

Obviously, posting or buying fake reviews is bad, but are there other options? At one point, on his blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, Joe Konrath was promoting a review service called Book Rooster -or something similar. That name might be wrong... it's been a few years and I can no longer locate the service. (Not to be confused with, an ad service that advertises on his blog now.) What was different about Rooster was that instead of selling fake reviews, it was essentially a distributor. You paid them to give your book out to readers who wanted free books and were committed to writing reviews. Personally, I felt this was an honest and legitimate service. After all, the rules were clear: You could get bad reviews. That is what it comes down to right? If you're paying someone for a five star review, it's unethical and against Amazon's rules. If you're paying a service to distribute your product to honest reviewers... well, that's not only honest, it's basically the same thing Amazon does through its Vine program, and traditional publishers have been doing with professional reviewers for at least a century. It's also worth noting these distribution sites have never been mentioned in one of Amazon's lawsuits. So it seems at least, that Amazon feels the same way.

Unfortunately, for honest authors, there really are no shortcuts to getting reviews. You could try a site like Book Rooster or Bookplex -if its still around and if you can afford it- but you do run the risk that at some point, Amazon may change their minds on this policy. And you've heard all the other advice: Contact Amazon reviewers and book bloggers asking for a review, ask for reviews at the end of your books (and provide a link to the Amazon page), and give your book away for free (at least temporarily) to bump up the number of downloads and -hopefully- reviews. And get people to sign up for your newsletter!

Blah blah blah. You know all that, you're probably already doing it, and results are inconsistent at best. So what else can you do?

One thing that does seem to work quite well, and I don't really know why or how, is to hire a publicist. These companies specialize in Author P.R., and they know how to get not just reviews, but also visibility. In most of the Indie success stories I've seen in the last few years -and by success, I mean huuuuge success- I've learned that the authors had paid a P.R. firm. Unfortunately, these services are beyond affordable for most of us (as in several thousand dollars at the low end), and I wouldn't even begin to know how to vet a business like this. And if you do choose one, they will probably want you to do things like radio interviews and public appearances. Are you up for that? I'm not sure I am. But if you happen to be an outgoing and highly articulate extrovert, this may be your ticket to the big time. Unfortunately, I can't really offer advice here because I've never tried it, and I don't personally known anyone who has.

In the end, other than the obvious advice already given, your best bet is just to be patient. If you have a good book (which you should!), promote it. Get it into the hands of as many readers as possible. Even if that means giving it away. After all, if you're a writer, your career will not be built on one book. It just won't. Try signing up for KDP and doing giveaways. Buy ads promoting the free dates so people know. Or, at least lower the price to $0.99 temporarily. In the end you must get your book into people's hands. If nobody knows who you are, how will they know about your books?

Well, that's about the extent of my knowledge and experience, for what it's worth. Maybe I'll do a post in the near future about how I plan and coordinate promotions. Hint: It requires a calendar! If you have any advice or experience with book promotion and review gathering, I'd love to hear your stories, especially regarding publicists and P.R. firms.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Spring Update 2016

It's hard to believe we're into spring already . It's still raining here in NorCal, but that's not unusual. I've seen winter rains start in October and continue through June the following year. Ironically, we're often able to canoe down the streets while politicians are waving their arms in the air and screaming, "Drought, drought!" 

Yeah, the sky is falling:
But this is NorCal. Millions of people live at the other end of this massive state, in a terrain commonly known as desert. For some reason, they never seem to have enough water, no matter how much we send their way. 

So this is the state of the writing:

I'm writing two books right now, one of which is the next Hank Mossberg title (Book 5, currently untitled). As I've said before, I'm expecting the next Hank Mossberg to end on a cliffhanger, so I want the proceeding book written, if not ready to publish, before I make book five available. I don't want to wait any more than a couple months between publishing the two because, well, I wouldn't want a writer to do that to me, so I don't want to do it to you.

I'm also working on the next Iron Horse book, and I hope to have this and Hank #5 finished by summer. I don't usually do releases during the summer, so if I do this time, it probably won't be until late summer.

I've also written two sequels in the He Said, She Said mystery series. One is finished -in rough draft form- the other is sitting at 35-40k words, so a little over half done. I hope to have all the above-mentioned published by the end of the year. If it all works out, that will be one more steampunk title, two more mysteries, and two more Hank Mossberg titles.

Can he do it? I don't know, we'll just have to wait and find out. But I will update again soon, to let you know my progress. I may also put out a newsletter and schedule a few promos. I'd like to give away a Kindle again, or do something big like that, but I haven't figured out what exactly I want to do yet. Of course, it also depends on how much time and expendable income I have, so no promises.

Stay tuned for more, coming soon!

Monday, March 14, 2016

And Speaking of Conspiracies... Happy DST!

The other day, The Passive Voice featured an interesting interview with Barry Eisler about researching conspiracies for books. Eisler said -and I agree- that while investigating conspiracies can be a lot of fun, sometimes you find out things that are a little frightening. Things maybe you didn't expect to be true, or just hadn't ever considered. Today's subject isn't really frightening, but it certainly is irritating.

Happy Daylight Savings Time...

For those who don't know, DST is the practice here in the U.S.A. of setting the clocks back an hour in the spring and returning them to standard time in the fall. According to our brilliant elected leaders, this practice saves candle tallow... er, wait... energy, by giving us more daylight. They felt so certain about this that a few years ago they even lengthened DST by a couple months, adding several weeks in the spring and fall. DST officially began this Sunday and won't end until October... or is it November now? I'm too tired to look it up.

My family woke up this morning to a dark and chilly home. Darker than last week, thanks to DST. By the time I was up, my wife already had the heater on, and a number of lights turned on. I got up and showered, and my children got out of bed, and we proceeded to turn on pretty much every light in the house. These are lights and heat that we hadn't used in weeks. Thereby saving energy by using them for a few more weeks. Wait, what?

Meanwhile, millions of people all across this great and beautiful country did the exact same thing. They turned on lights -and maybe heaters- that hadn't been necessary for a month or so. Then, bleary-eyed with exhaustion, they headed out to work or school. Today, there will be more accidents than usual. Some of those people will crash their cars on the way to work. Some will get in accidents at work, or on their way home this evening. The number of fatal heart attacks will rise. The number of workplace injuries will rise. The number of on-the-job mistakes will rise, costing companies money. Also, a higher than usual number of people will show up late, or not bother to show up at all, all because of this helpful little practice we call Daylight Savings Time.

Everything I've stated here so far is fact. Studies have proven that accidents, injuries, and deaths all rise for at least a week proceeding the switch to DST. This costs our economy millions of dollars, and hundreds of human lives. You can read about them here, here, or here. Or Here.

Admittedly, on the face of it, DST seems pretty harmless. So we have to get up an hour earlier for half the year. What's the big deal? But then you start looking at the facts, and it makes you wonder what all those politicians were thinking. Of course, the mind instantly jumps to the usual response: Politicians are just bungling incompetents who screw up more than they fix because they're so desperate to look busy. But wait a minute. You and I know that when you drag a couple hundred million people out of bed early, in the dark, it's going to cost you in both money and injuries. That much is common sense, isn't it? How is it possible that these privileged, ivy-league educated politicians (many of them lawyers!) couldn't figure that out? We even have studies proving that fact. These leaders of ours can read a study, can't they? Of course they can!

So what is their motivation? It has been said we should never attribute to malice that which can be ascribed to incompetence. When asked why we have Daylight Savings Time and why we expanded the season, every single politician will tell you it was to save energy. This leaves us faced with the option that either these politicians are ignorant of the facts, or that they're liars. I'm not entirely willing to discount the former, but a good argument can be made for the latter. An old rule of thumb in politics: Follow the Money. So where, in this circumstance, can we find the money?

An obvious answer would be energy companies. They know better than anyone that when we switch to DST, we actually use more energy than before. This translates to profits for them. Increased revenue every spring without lifting a finger. And of course, when there's money to be made, getting a law passed in your favor isn't exactly heavy lifting. It's a well-known fact that most of our politicians in the U.S. are bought and paid for by lobbyists and big corporations. Does that jive with the facts we have so far? Check, and check.

Now, I'm not saying for a fact that we have DST because our corrupt politicians are getting kickbacks from energy companies. I certainly can't prove it, and frankly I don't have the energy or resources to launch a full-on investigation. And if I did, nobody would really care. Because nobody considers it a big deal, and when you rant about it -like I just have- they tend to give you that "Oh, another crazy conspiracy theorist" look. And they always will, until they're presented with the facts from a news source they trust, like FOX or MSNBC. Don't hold your breath for that to happen. In the meanwhile, we'll all pay a little more on the heating and electricity bills. More cars will get totaled. More people will be injured and some even killed. But hey, there will be plenty of candle tallow to go around.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Karma Covers: 2016

The focus of this post begins where the last post left off. I'm going to look at the changes I've made to Karma Crossed over the years. One of the difficulties I've had with this cover is that there were so many elements I've always wanted to integrate into it. The main character Jonah -who is sort of a superhero- seemed obvious. So did the '68 Dodge Charger, a vehicle which in my humble opinion is worthy of a thousand covers. But then there were the other elements.

This story, after all, is a supernatural urban fantasy. It involves witches and werewolves and magic; all the usual stuff you find in urban fantasy, plus a heavy dose of Christian/pagan mythology. Plus monsters, magic, beautiful women, and a little bit of a mystery. So where to start?

My first Karma cover was an obvious Photoshop job (or to be more accurate, a Gimp job) with simple fonts and images. I don't think it was a terrible place to start. In fact, if I'd been a little more experienced I can think of a few things I may have done to greatly improve this cover. Even so, I never was really happy with it.

So I moved on to some different stuff:

This time, I went all out. Crazy fonts, bright colors, fiery yin-yang symbol in the back, and a full-on 3d rendering of the main character. Unfortunately, a lot of good ideas combined into a cover where everything sort of went wrong. The worst part, in my opinion, is Jonah. The model never did look quite right, nor did the lighting. I still think the fonts are cool, but it would have been best to follow the old rule of using only one fancy/exotic font per cover. This cover is a perfect example of why that rule is so strictly adhered to.

Moving on... this variation on the previous version has a bit more to offer. I did a better job with the fonts and the beautiful witch front and center is certainly eye-catching, although far from perfect. Unfortunately, all the bright colors are eye-catching, too. The reds, oranges, and yellows are just overwhelming, and the contrast that was meant to make the cover pop in small sizes becomes blinding at full size. The result is that the fonts just sort of disappear. They're actually hard to read. The cover would have been better without Jonah and the car, also. Too much clutter.

Which brings us to my latest attempt.

This time, I toned down the colors as well as the clutter. I started with a whole new concept; something simple but subtly conflicted: an angel with black wings and a tattoo of a cross. The idea here is to raise lots of questions and entice readers to take a closer look.

The angel's posture implies a sense of deep thought, or possibly remorse or anger. The color of his wings and his tattoo both imply that he is a bad angel... or maybe a good angel who's misunderstood? Hopefully, the reader will feel compelled to delve deeper into this story and find out what the symbolism is all about. Also, you might notice that I've retained a couple very important elements from earlier versions. The cross is still there, but so is the yin-yang symbol. Trust me, it's there. Can you find it?

I like the new cover a lot, but I'm not sold on it one hundred percent. I think there might be better fonts, for example, but I just haven't been able to find them. But even as it is, I think this is going to be a lot more accessible for the average reader who's looking for a supernatural-type urban fantasy.

In keeping with the update, I've also done a minor revision to remove a lot of the profanity. I had forgotten (or maybe never really noticed) how much cursing there was. That's not unusual in this genre, so I suppose I was probably just following the lead of others who came before me. Reflecting back on it, I really don't see any reason so much profanity is necessary. Not that I get deeply offended by it, but... how can I explain it? I've written before about how swearing is really just using a crude version of another, more socially acceptable word. It's silly to be offended by one word and not another if they both have the same meaning. But some people are, and because of that, other people enjoy using profanity. They do it so they can watch the offended party squirm. And when a writer uses too much profanity, that's how it comes across. Like he just wants to offend somebody. Whether it's true or not, it doesn't matter. If it pulls readers out of the story, it's bad. One of the most important rules of writing is that the author should be invisible. Get out of the way and let the readers enjoy the story. So, to that end, I've cleaned the book up a little.

I've also redone the blurb, which I'll post below. If you already own this title you should be able to update your cover by deleting it from your device (but not your account!) and then re-downloading. If you don't own it yet, Karma Crossed is back in the Kindle lending library. You can borrow it for free if you have Amazon Prime, or you can wait for it to go on sale. I'll try to post a notice here when that happens. Or, you could just buy a copy. It's only $2.99, and that ain't bad for over 300 pages of witches, werewolves, and fallen angels. It's also available in paperback!

There are angels and demons. Then there are those caught between.

There are Angels and Demons. Then there are those caught between...

In the battle between heaven and hell, those trapped in the middle suffer the most. It's Jonah's job to help them. Jonah's mysterious past may have something to do with his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, but unfortunately, nobody's perfect. When Jonah fails to save the life of a Berkeley professor, the consequences may be cosmic.

Jonah wants to set things right, but it's hard enough when you're being attacked by angels, demons, and renegade magicians.Throw in a pack of werewolves and a beautiful but deadly sorceress, and things are bound to get nasty...

Buy it here.

Friday, January 22, 2016

New year, new art!

One of the advantages Indie writers have over traditional publishers is our ability to turn on a dime. If a book has errors, we can correct them. If it's not selling, we can tweak the blurb and cover art and see if that helps. Sometimes, we don't change a book because of a problem, but just because it could be better. Today, I'm talking about The Clockwork God. 

I really like the original cover and I plan on leaving it as-is on the paperback, at least for now. But one of the difficulties with publishing in this new paradigm is to design a cover that still works at 3/4 of an inch high. That's harder than it sounds. I talk about this in my "Cover Secrets" page. The idea is to keep a cover simple and use high-contrast colors in order to draw the eye. This is supposed to make the art stand out on the page when it's lined up with dozens of other books. In some genres, like mystery & thriller, this isn't too hard to do. It's common to use very simple artwork in these genres. Just enough to draw the eye, but leaving much to the imagination. And then you have fantasy and science-fiction...

Sci-fi and fantasy covers are often quite elaborate, depicting scenes with multiple characters, weapons, armor, even magical creatures and larger-than-life backdrops. Unfortunately, what looks great on the cover of a paperback sometimes turns into a blob when you shrink that image down to thumbnail size.

So, even though Clockwork is now FREE, and even though downloads have been pretty spectacular, I still thought I should take my own advice and tweak it a little, bringing out the strengths of the artwork and minimizing the distracting busyness of the rest. Here's the original alongside the new version I came up with:

What do you think?

As you can see, I pulled in, making River not only the focal point, but essentially the entire cover. I increased the size of the Iron Horse in the backdrop, dulled the colors, and intentionally blurred it out. I hated to do this because I put a LOT of time and work into the model I used for the Iron Horse, but unfortunately it just became noise at thumbnail size. Now, it's practically invisible until you really start looking at the image. However,  the overall effect is a cleaner, even clearer image. To a certain extent, I would even say the new version seems to have more depth than the old one. My wife commented on this, saying that in comparison, the older one looked more like a cut and paste job, while the new version really looks like my character is standing before a massive locomotive.

Ironically, the opposite is true. The original image is 3D render of the train and River all in one scene, with just enough forced perspective to give the reader a good look at the Iron Horse. Ironically, the new version is a cut and paste of two different images rendered separately. This allowed me to do my photo effects on the train and River separately, which ends up giving the image a heightened realism. I think I could even tone down the background saturation more, and brighten up River, but I wanted to stop tweaking the image before I went too far. If I make any more changes, I'll save them for my next update.

So for now, this is the new e-book cover for Clockwork. I haven't tweaked any of my other covers yet, but I do have a few ideas I want to experiment with. If I go ahead, I'll do another post about the changes I've made. As always, if you prefer the new cover, you can delete the file from your Kindle and download the new version (there is no cost for this because it's free, AND because you already have it in your Kindle library, which is stored on Amazon). 

Monday, January 11, 2016

R.I.P. David Bowie

"David Bowie, the infinitely changeable, fiercely forward-looking songwriter who taught generations of musicians about the power of drama, images and personas, died on Sunday, two days after his 69th birthday.
His death was confirmed by his publicist, Steve Martin, on Monday morning. No other details were provided.
Mr. Bowie had been treated for cancer for the last 18 months, according to a statement on his social-media accounts. “David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family,” a post on his Facebook page read." -New York Times

A sad day for music lovers. Bowie was one of a kind: one of the first big stars to blend theater and music, always testing the boundaries, trying things others didn't have the insight or courage to try. Growing up in the eighties, I became aware of Bowie's psychedelic pop-rock in my early teens. Although hugely talented, I always found his music elusive, lulling me in with almost-too-precious pop sounds that quickly evolved into distorted guitar riffs, bluesy rhythms, and outer-space sound effects. On first listen, I found myself latching onto the music and thinking "I know where this is going" only to find out a moment later that I had no idea. Bowie's music didn't just evolve over decades, it evolved with every passing second. Despite his curious songwriting style, Bowie is responsible for some of the most memorable songs of his generation. He had an indescribable talent for melodies and an all too rare understanding that sometimes one note is better than a dozen.  Not only that, he was a talented actor as well. My wife and I have always loved Labyrinth, and my children have grown up with that film. Rest in Peace David Bowie.