Friday, November 9, 2012

Magnum Annum

Disclaimer: I am not making this post to brag. I generally try not to do that, unless it’s about my son. The purpose of this post is two-fold: 

1: My friends and family often ask me how many books I have sold. The purpose of this is to answer that question for everybody at once, instead of just waiting until I see them severally and individually.  

2: To reinforce a point I often make on my blog, that the advent of ereaders has changed the face of publishing forever. Not since the invention of the printing press has the world of literature been so radically altered.  

Now to my first point. On November 8th, 2011, I published my first novel, No Easy Hope. It has been one year exactly since I first put my work up for sale. During that time, on July 15th of this year, I published a second novel: This Shattered Land. In the space of that year, the total number of books that I sold is this:  


To some authors, this is no big deal. Stephen King probably does that in a month, but hey, I’m not Stephen King, nor am I trying to be. I’m a guy from rural North Carolina who has always loved literature, and spent thirty years wondering if he had what it takes to write a book that people would actually want to read.  

To me, the number of books I have sold is huge. I never thought I would sell a hundred books, much less over thirty thousand. Considering the fact that I am self-published, I don’t work with an editor, I do all my own marketing (such as it is), and the only distribution networks I have access to are Amazon, B&N, and other small-market ebook websites, 31,930 is a fairly impressive number. Furthermore, I did almost all of it by myself, with the exception of my cover art. Huge thanks to Keary Taylor, talented author and graphic designer extraordinaire, for that.  

Which brings me to my second point. To a major publishing house, 31,930 is chicken feed. If I had tried to get published through one of the Big Six (Simon and Schuster, Penguin, Random House, etc.), it never would have happened. My first novel would probably be sitting in a shoebox in my garage. But with the advent of ereaders, and all the various direct publishing programs, it is now possible for anyone to publish, and quite a few people have. Unfortunately, however, most of them don’t do very well.  

Quite often, I get messages on Facebook from other writers just starting out who have read my work and liked it, or are struggling to drum up any sales for their own books, and wondered what I did to get where I am (not that I’ve gone all that far, really). My answer is always the same:  

I have no freaking clue.  

All I did was write a book, put it up online, and wait. Amazon’s marketing engines did the rest. Maybe it was timing, or eye-catching cover art, or maybe it was just dumb luck. I don’t know. What I do know is that I am grateful, and that the best part of being a writer is when someone leaves a nice review, or goes on Facebook and tells me how much they enjoyed my work.  

And that is what it’s all about. The money is nice, but money isn’t everything. I get to earn a living doing what I love, and there are thousands of people out there who read my work and genuinely like it. On top of that, I have a beautiful wife, a son that I love more than anything in the world, and a kind, supportive family.  

A man can’t ask for much more than that. Thanks everybody, for all your love and support. Having all of you believe in me, helps me believe in myself. And equally as important, massive thanks to all of my readers. Without you guys, I’m just a dork pecking away at a keyboard.  

Here’s hoping that this year is as good as, if not better, than the last. There are plenty more books to come.  

I hope you enjoy them all, and thanks for coming along for the ride.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Teaser Trailer

Many of you, my dear readers, have heard me allude to an urban fantasy series that I've been working on. For your viewing pleasure, I'd like to present an excerpt from chapter one of the first volume of the Jeremiah Cain series. Enjoy.


Chapter One



I was angry with my friend,

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe,

I told it not, my wrath did grow.


-William Blake, Poison Tree.


A cold wind blew swirls of dust over the empty blacktop as I stood by the side of the road leaning against the van I picked up in Albuquerque. The engine was still hot through the fabric of my duster, warming me in the chill night air. I checked the horizon again, making doubly sure that the sun had fully retreated from the sky. It wouldn’t be long now. After nearly a month of tracking, the possibility of my quarry being so close had me itching for a fight. My hands wanted to stray toward the twin kukris at my back, but I forced them deeper into my pockets. The blades would have to remain sheathed for now. It wasn’t time to cut loose, not yet. For the moment, I needed to concentrate.

The bar across the street stood out garish and loud in the barren New Mexico night. Blue and red neon splashed like bloodstains on the ranks of chrome-lined motorcycles clustered in the tiny gravel parking lot. I shut my eyes to block it out.


Running my tongue along the crease between my cheek and gums, I worked loose a small plastic pill, no bigger than a peppercorn. There were three others to use, my emergency reserve, but one was good enough for now. Just a little kick, I didn’t want to use a full dose only to have this place turn out to be a dead end. The taste of copper hit my tongue as I bit down and swallowed, letting the heat flow through me.

Heat turned to fire. Fire turned liquid and roared through my veins, soothing the raw crawling feeling that had been plaguing me all day. I took a deep breath and let the blood run its course. Let it strengthen me and expand my senses, my mind uncoiling from its mortal confines with practiced ease. My eyes snapped open, glittering and pale in the cold desert night.

The neon signs that barely cast a dim glaze over the parking lot a moment ago now stood out like an inferno, bright and blinding. My eyes quickly adjusted, dialing the ambience down to a muted glow. A phosphorescent grey replaced the chill darkness of the empty night, revealing every crack and pit in the endless hardpan. Scalding bright heat signatures of bugs and rodents scurried through the brush, while undulating wisps of the Earth’s magnetic field soared high overhead, bending and flowing beneath the light of unnaturally brilliant stars. The dusty odor of the desert gave way to a raging kaleidoscope of scents; oil and rubber on the highway, hot metal and gasoline from the motorcycles in the parking lot, and underneath it all, the sickening sweetness of death. Remnants from the bones of things long dead.

With no rain to cleanse the dust, that’s what it always smelled like out here in the desert. Centuries of dead things lying all around, layer over layer until you couldn’t tell where the sand started and the stench ended. It made me wonder how the bloodsuckers put up with it.

Then again, any vampire desperate enough to flee to the American Southwest probably had bigger things to worry about than how the place smelled.

I shook my head; I was letting my mind wander again. Background noise, nothing more. I took a deep breath and focused on the singing, roaring heat blasting through my veins.

A century ago, the bloodrush was novel, an intriguing departure from the mundane, but now all the mystery and allure had faded, leaving behind only the grim practicality of the hunt. I ignored the rush and reached deeper, past the ordinary mortal senses, past the prosaic smells and sights and sounds. Beyond the taste of the air and the crackle of cold against my skin. I reached for something darker, a cold void of emptiness in the deepest pit of my being, a place that exists in all of us, but where few can bear to look. I grasped at what dwelt there, black tendrils of anger roiling beneath the thin veneer of sanity, razor spines and talons threatening to tear their way out.

The Beast.

It was awake, and it was hungry.

As it always did, the Beast fought against its bindings. Like the mustangs that used to roam freely on the western plains, it had to be ridden into submission, bucking and thrashing, until I had proven that my will was the stronger. In the beginning, this had been difficult. Quite a few times, if not for the other hunters guiding me, I would have lost it completely. But that was a long time, and a tall hill of corpses ago. The long, weary miles of my life’s path had forged my will from raw iron into sharpest steel. I would not falter here. I would not fail. Not with my prey so close.

It was over in a second. The Beast was a part of me, after all. A visceral extension of my subconscious with a quasi-sentient urge to kill. Now connected to my waking mind, it knew that the struggle was hopeless. I was no green apprentice. I was a full-fledged hunter, and I didn’t have time to put up with any nonsense from what was, for all intents and purposes, my imaginary friend created by a conscious effort of will.

Hungry. It sent.

The Beast didn’t really speak, as such. More like spikes of impressions that evoked singular emotions.

Patient. I sent back. Soon.

The Beast replied something between contentment and anticipation, and receded back to wait. I had a vague impression of deep red eyes glittering in the darkness, the black leviathan of its body settling down into a coil. Its eyes were wide, and they did not blink.

This is you. Collin’s words drifted back to me from across the years, this is your sleeping mind given form and shape. It will strengthen you, but all strength comes with a price, lad.

I repressed a shudder at the memory and turned my mind back to the task at hand—killing a vampire and stealing his blood. I was down to my last flask, and without it, without the bleeding, and the sigil, and the incantation, I was just another mundane. Another mortal waiting to die a nameless death.

This I would not allow. Not while so many still walked that deserved to burn. Creatures like Damon and his sick, depraved familiars. They all had earned death, and I had come to render payment.

Over three weeks it had taken me to find this place, to puzzle out Damon’s hiding spot among all the abandoned husks left to crumble under the desert sun. The last thing I expected was to find him hiding in plain sight, the proprietor of a legitimate establishment catering to a bunch of mundanes. And bikers, no less. Fairly clever on Damon’s part, especially considering how young he was. I would have to be careful when I went in to take him down, assuming he really was here.

 He had to be here. Had to be.

Or he might be underground, or he might be a hundred miles away. Vamps are fast, after all.


The withdrawal was getting to me. Time to do something about it.

I started across the street, boots crunching against asphalt, and kept my eyes down. It would be easier for the leather-clad mountain watching the door to forget me if we didn’t make eye contact, which meant that if things went south I would have less reason to kill him. I try to avoid slaughtering normal humans whenever possible; it’s bad for business, and it has a tendency to bring down the law. With my last hunt in Texas still making headlines in Dallas and Austin, I needed to be careful. This had to go smoothly.

“Where’s your hog?” The bouncer grunted when I handed him my ID. It was a fake, but a good one.

“Back of the van.” I said, affecting a thick Texas drawl and jerking a thumb across the street. “Blew a fucking gasket. Had to call my brother in law to come get me.”

He peered where I had pointed, eyes squinting in the darkness, then back at me. I could smell the whiskey he’d drank before his shift started, and the mouthwash he’d gargled to cover it up. He stank of a bad liver, too much greasy food, and the remnants of an impressive array of narcotics working their way out of his system. His body odor was a physical thing that threatened to knock me over.

“Where’s your brother in law?”

I shrugged. “Probably at home gettin’ drunk and beatin’ on his wife. That’s what he usually does most nights.”

“So what are you here for?” He pressed, his eyes narrowing.

I twisted my mouth into a lecherous grin. “The hell do you think? Beer, pussy and blow, like every other asshole in there. The fuck else is there to do around here?”  

He stared at me for a moment longer, and I risked looking him in the eye. My vision narrowed down into the tiny mirror image reflected on his iris, seeing the same man he saw. Tall, but not as tall as him, lean, scalp a few weeks out from its last shave, and a thick goatee surrounded by a shorter, more recent growth of beard. He couldn’t see any of my sigil tatoo’s, but then I wasn’t showing much exposed skin under my long jacket. Between the leather and the scars on my face, I could have been any random ex-con between Juarez and the Black Hills.

After a moment, the bouncer grunted, handed me my ID, and went back to looking bored. I guess I had done a good enough job of looking the part. Now it was time to get to work.

As soon as I pushed through the door, Molly Hatchet blasted my hyper-sensitive ears from the speakers of a run-down old jukebox. Spider web cracks dotted the cover over the album titles, and no one had bothered sweeping up the cubes of glass on the floor beneath for at least a couple of years.

 The usual collection of neon beer logos dotted the walls, along with broken mirrors, mounted animal heads, and gaudy, flea market Native American art. Burly, bearded bikers hung out in drunken packs around pool tables while scantily clad women lounged nearby vying for their attention. Some of them were even moderately attractive in an ‘I just started using meth a few weeks ago’ kind of way, while the rest of them were a haggard reminder to the younger ones of what came from hanging around these unsavory types for too long. More than a few sported black eyes and track marks, which was only a quarter step up from the increasingly common meth-mouth. Classy.

I made my way over to the bar as quietly as possible and took a seat. A few eyes followed me over, and the look in them was not friendly. Strangers were an uncommon occurrence in a place like this. The patrons here were not accountants and marketing VP’s out for a weekend ride. These hombres were hard-core, had rap sheets a mile long, and if you rolled into this place wearing the wrong colors, you were apt to get seriously fucked up. By the strong scent of blood on the filthy concrete floor, there were probably more than a few unmarked graves in the nearby desert directly attributable to this place. All the more reason to be careful.

As I sat down, a bartender with pale, hostile eyes, a braided beard, and a frame that looked like beef jerky stretched over a skeleton approached and wiped a greasy rag over the bar in front of me.

“Whad’ya have?”

“Whiskey.” I replied.

Honestly, I didn’t want anything from this place, but it would look strange if I didn’t order a drink. The bartender stared for a moment, then grabbed a bottle from under the bar and poured me a shot. By its scent, it was much better suited for degreasing engines than for drinking.

“You must be new in town.” He said.

I shrugged. “Something like that.”

The bartender leaned forward to slide me my shot, his hand passing less than a foot underneath my face. A hot, tingling sensation burned in my nose for the barest of moments, and then the hand withdrew. It was only by an effort of will that I didn’t reach out to grab it. At least now I knew I was in the right place.

I downed the shot and did my best not to grimace at the foul taste. Traces of copper, lead, and a rancid menagerie of fungus ridden grains sizzled on my tongue like a wash of acid. God in heaven, where did he make this stuff, a Tijuana pay-toilet?

“Have another?” The bartender said, pulling a pack of menthols from the pocket of his leather vest and lighting one.

“I’d love one, but how about something that didn’t come out of a can with fucking ‘turpentine’ on the label?”

He grinned, showing his missing teeth. “What, you don’t like the homebrew?”

“I think if you poured that shit in the reservoir, half the pregnant women in town would have a miscarriage.” I reached into my jacket pocket, pulled out a small plastic vial, and held it up for the bartender to see. “How about something I can mix my little friend here with.”

He nodded and grabbed a bottle of Southern Comfort off the rack behind him.

“Not that I particularly give a shit,” he said, “but if your lookin’ for ass, you don’t need to go wasting money on roofies. Most of these cunts in here’ll fuck you for a ten-spot and a hit of dope.”

 Again, he slid the shot across the bar, and again, I caught the scent mark. Deep in the back of my mind, I heard the Beast begin to growl, its coils slowly unfurling.

“You don’t seem particularly concerned. You’re not worried about the cops?”

The bartender coughed out a wheezing laugh. “Son, the pigs don’t fuck with this place. They know better.”

He emphasized his point by stubbing out his cigarette, pulling a joint out of the same pack, and lighting it. The acrid scent of marijuana smoke billowed across the bar. The shit smelled bad enough without heightened senses; with them, it was like tear-gas at a riot.

Good. I thought. Less cops, less attention.

“Want a hit?” He said, holding the joint out to me.

“No thanks.” I said, twisting the top off my little vial. “Got everything I need right here.”

The bartender leaned closer, looking down his broken nose at the dark liquid as I poured it into the whiskey.

“The hell is that?” He asked.

I held up the glass, swirled it around a couple of times, and threw it back. The effect was immediate. The burning in my veins increased exponentially, the sigils on my skin tingled with power, and the Beast came gliding forward, riding on crimson waves of raw energy.

Borgras, Vorastus.” I muttered, triggering the sigils on both my wrists. The flames in my blood dampened, like dialing down the heat on a gas stove. The fuel was still there, I just didn’t need it yet. If I tried to use it now, it would quite literally burn me up. What I needed was a conduit, a safety valve, a way to control the flow of energy until it was time to wield it. That was where the Beast came in.

Its usual whisper voice grew in volume, hammering in my head like a gunshot, Hungry. Feed. Urgent.

I sent it an impression of a harness and reins emblazoned with the same sigils that were drawn into my skin. It growled and narrowed its eyes, but did as I asked.

All this happened at the speed of thought, and when I opened my eyes, my waking mind and my sleeping mind were linked, functioning as one. I could feel the power singing through me, begging to be unleashed. The Beast was under my control, and the sigils on my skin were fully charged and ready to trigger. I allowed a little power to creep into Vorastus, the Fist of Iron, and into Atas and Rozas, two of the sigils drawn in a circle on my chest. Iron, air, and force. Three words of power, and more than enough to deal with the bartender when he went for the gun at his back. Now that I was at full strength, I could smell the gun oil, and hear the pounding of his heart.

“Damn son.” The bartender chuckled. “You look like you just blew one in your shorts. Mind if I have a hit o’ that?”

I smiled, and pointed at a tattoo of an anchor on his arm.

“You serve in the Navy?” I asked.

He glanced down. “Yeah, long time ago. Why you ask?”

“Learn anything about sonar while you were in?”

He furrowed his brow and frowned. “Not really.”

“There are two kinds of sonar,” I explained, a smile creeping across my face, “Active and passive. Passive sonar is basically just listening and recording sound waves. Based on the wavelength, amplitude, shit like that, there are computers that can tell you what’s out there under the water. Problem is, if something doesn’t make any noise, you won’t know where it is.”

The bartender had noticed the strange way the neon reflected from my eyes, the afterglow of a wolf in the headlights, and was beginning to register alarm. “I don’t know what the fuck you just took, but if you go all batshit on me, I’ll crack your fucking skull and toss you out on your ass, you hear me?”

“Then you have active sonar.” I went on, ignoring him. “You send out a ping. A loud noise that bounces off of everything in a wide radius. It tells you who’s out there, and exactly where to find them. The risk you take with this is that the other guy can hear the ping too, and now he knows exactly where you are.”

A couple of bouncers who had been lounging in corners got to their feet at a signal from the bartender.

“Son,” he said, edging away “it’s time for you to go. Head first or feet first, your choice.”

The other two closed in, looming close behind me. The scents of sweat, grease, and cocaine oozed off them in billowing swells, elevated heartbeats hammering in my ears. Underneath it all, they bore the same scent mark as the bartender. Good. Three birds with one stone.

“If you send a ping,” I said, my grin widening, “you better have set up a damn good trap for the other guy, ‘cause shit’s about to get real messy, real quick.”

The next part, for anyone with the ability to transmute vampire blood, was easy. Day one stuff. I didn’t even need to trigger a sigil, I could do it by pure force of will. I drew in a small pocket of power, envisioning it at the core of my being, and compressed it. Smaller, smaller, smaller, and then…

Kestas.” Release.

A pale blue detonation of energy pushed out of me, staggering the three familiars closest to me and radiating outward through the ground and into the night. Faster than the speed of sound, I felt what I was looking for—a psychic hit. A very specific one. An impression left in the dying mind of a young girl in Texas that had started me on Damon’s trail.

The energy came back to me, and in my mind’s eye, I saw a handsome young man lying on a pallet in the basement beneath me. The power registered with him, waking him from his slumber.

His eyes snapped open, wide with alarm, and an instant later, the floor behind me exploded.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Author and Swashbuckling Hero, Josh Guess

Continuing with my series of author interviews, I'm happy to share a conversation with fellow urban fantasy and zombie author Josh Guess.

I've been following Josh's Living With the Dead blog for a couple of years now, and I've recommended his novel Beautiful to everyone I know. You can check out Josh's work here.

James: Okay, first interview question (coming at you from sunny San Diego): Living with the Dead has been going strong for over two years now. How large do you estimate your audience to be, and how do you keep coming up with new ideas to keep the story engaging?

Josh: The question of audience size is hard to answer. If you're asking about daily readers and people that subscribe to the feed, it varies from 150-500 on any given day. I'm never quite sure if my analysis of the numbers is accurate. As far as readers of the collections go, I've sold or given away more than I can recall offhand.

As far as keeping the series interesting goes, I just write the things that interest me. I come up with a lot of ideas I love, then research the hell out of them to figure out how to make them work. As far as content goes, I have a nearly infinite supply to draw from. I think the truly engaging and unique aspect of the series is the characters and how deeply the reader gets into their lives. I mean, how else can I make a series that contains little action and no dialog work over a long period of time?

James: Who would you say are your most important literary influences?

Josh: Different people at different points in my life. I'm a huge Raymond E. Feist fan from way back, but since I've been writing I keep coming back to Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, and Jim Butcher. I don't really feel as though my writing is specifically influenced by anyone (though that's hard for a writer to judge) but those four guys are everything I aspire to be in terms of skill and talent. Style-wise Jim Butcher has been the person I tend toward, and I've learned a lot from constantly rereading his books. Of course, Stephen King is huge for me as well. I like writing pop fiction, and he's the best. Not to mention having thirty million dollars. I'd like to manage that as well.

James: Beautiful was a great novel. I've recommended it to my friends, who have invariably liked it. It's got the potential to become a great urban fantasy series. So where the hell is the sequel?

Josh: I'm working on it. I feel bad that the sequel, called 'Monster', is taking so long but I'm also putting out two books of Living With the Dead each year, and writing a third book on top of that is really difficult. Add to the mix my full-time job, which is very demanding on me physically and mentally, and you begin to see why writing quality material takes time. Thanks for the kind words, by the way--that series is a true labor of love. It's near to my heart.

James: How did you first learn about self-publishing?

Josh: Like many authors in the self-publishing age: through J.A. Konrath's blog. I read him for a long time, looking at his efforts in self-publishing and studying his results, before I took the plunge. He's the biggest reason for that decision by a wide margin.

James: What are your thoughts on independent publishing versus traditional publishing, and what terms would you require before signing with a major publishing house, if at all?

Josh: I think both have their merits, depending on the author. Obviously, traditional publishing is great for people who already have name recognition, but with the advent of eBooks and a truly accessible platform traditional publishing is now a legacy system. I think that's a great thing, because you don't have a middleman deciding what you should read any more. I could write a book on this, really. I don't want to slam big publishers here, but there are good reasons why so many authors with deals are choosing to self-publish.

For me, self-pubbing was always the way to go. LWtD is a property that by its very format could never be published, as I give away the story for free every day. I've actually had an offer from a publisher to purchase the rights to the first two books, but I turned them down. They offered me no advance and I would have had to shut down the blog itself.

To even consider a traditional deal, I would have to be offered enough money that I wouldn't have to worry about work for a long, long time. I would require some say in the e-rights to my work, and retain the right to publish anything I want on my own.

Doesn't seem likely they'd agree to that.

James: How has writing changed your life?

Josh: In a lot of ways. I'm much busier than I once was, but that's part of the process. Once I got into the groove of writing and coming up with ideas for stories, I kind of couldn't stop. Now my problem is a lack of time to explore those ideas.

I tend to think of most things in terms of writing now. What would make a good plot element, how I would structure something out of real life in a story. Just going to the grocery store is an entirely different and fascinating process now.

The strangest change since becoming a writer has been having fans. That's weird. It's completely awesome, but not something life really prepared me for. I was never in sports or super popular. Having people like my various pages on Facebook and send me messages telling me that they like my work is unreal. The idea that I'm this guy who sits on his couch (soon to be relocated into an office because my wife wants her couch back) and writes, and that people actually buy the things I come up with? That's totally nuts to me. Even after a few years of it, I still don't quite believe it.

James: What reaction did you get from your family and friends when you first started self publishing, how did it make you feel, and how have things changed for you from then to now.

Josh: My family was very supportive, even when I told them that I would be keeping at it until I was full-time. No going back to school or anything to hedge my bets, because that was energy and time I would need to put into my writing.

It felt pretty awesome, to be honest. My family has backed me to the hilt, and I couldn't ask for better. They've been my cheering section and my reality check at every turn.

Not that much has changed. I've learned a lot of lessons in the last two+ years, and I've got a better idea of where my career is headed and how to get it where I want it. Luckily I have a boring, normal family. We're all friends and totally honest with each other. I guess it's good that I'm making progress toward being full-time, or their faith with my ability to do it might have gotten shaky by now.

James: What made you choose the Zombie Apocalypse genre as the kickoff for your writing career, and where do you see that going?

Josh: LWtD started out as daily writing practice. I decided on the story and format because it was the zombie story I wanted to read. I had no idea it was going to turn into something so popular, though I admit that part of why I wanted to write it as a free blog was to build a following as I went along. I just didn't expect to accomplish so much, so quickly.

James: Where do you see yourself, and the publishing industry, five years from now?

I have hopes for myself, not expectations. I'd love to have huge name recognition and millions of dollars, but I'd settle for writing full time. That's the end goal for me, to be able to provide for my family doing the thing I love.

Either way, I'll still be writing. The publishing industry is going to be a whole different ball game. If the big publishers don't make some major structural changes, they're going to fall. Maybe not a complete collapse, but if they keep on the way they are--trying to take advantage of authors and treating the people that produce their product like indentured servants--then at the very least they're going to become irrelevant. At worst they're going to fold totally as the services they provide become more widely available by independent contractors. The industry now is based on the gatekeepers controlling the flow of product. Five years from now, they might be guarding the gates, but the walls will be knocked flat.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Next Episode

I just posted the sequel to NEH to Amazon.

I can't tell you how exciting it is to publish another book. The first one was a bit nerve wracking, but the second time around has been a much more positive experience. Big thanks to all my followers on Facebook for all of your kindness and encouragement. You guys are the reason I do this. Without you, I'm just another guy pecking away at a keyboard.

Also a big thanks is in order for my family and friends, especially my beautiful wife. The lady has the patience of a saint.

This Shattered Land really was a labor of love, and I am tremendously happy with it. Is it perfect? No. But no book ever is. Is it good? I think so. I really do feel that my writing has improved. I'll have to leave that up to the readers. Like anything else, I imagine some people will love it, and some people will hate it. My goal is simply to entertain, and I sincerely hope that anyone who buys it enjoys it.

I'm going to take a break from writing for a couple of weeks, and then I'll get to work on the Jeremiah Cain series. For Surviving the Dead fans, never fear. I'll be working on volume three at the same time. Both novels should be released within a couple of months of each other.

Happy reading!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

DJ Molles: The Remaining

I am very happy to have the opportunity post this interview with DJ Molles, author of the highly successful post-apocalyptic series: The Remaining. This is the first of several interviews I'll be posting with self-published authors that I believe show significant talent and deserve recognition.

Needless to say, if you haven't checked out DJ's work yet, do it now. NOW!! DO NOT WAIT!!

Seriously, I've read it, it's awesome. Here's the interview.

1: When did you first start writing, and what inspired you to do so?

I've been writing stories of some kind since I was old enough to type. When I was very young, my father read Tolkein and CS Lewis aloud in the evenings. I think hearing those amazing stories from Middle Earth and Narnia really got me thinking.

2: What other work have you done that your current readers may not be aware of?

I have about a dozen short stories, and a few books that sit languishing in the digital dungeon of my computer, most likely never to see the light of day. There are a few of them that I think I might be able to polish up so that people might enjoy them. I enjoy the current genre I'm writing in, but it's definitely not the only thing I write.

3: Where did you get the idea for The Remaining? How did the story come to fruition?

I'm very interested in the TEOTWAWKI genre, and the "prepping" movement. I also love "zombie" stories. So I wanted to see if I could combine these two loves of mine in an interesting and realistic way. I decided to write The Remaining simply because I wanted to write something that I enjoyed writing, and really had no intention of letting anyone read it. Then, when I was finished, I thought, "well, this is actually half decent...maybe someone else will like it."

4: Who are some of your influences/authors you admire? Favorite books?

Aside from the mountains of Star Wars fan fiction I devoured when I was a kid, the first adult novel I purchased was The Taking by Dean Koontz, and I've enjoyed his writing ever since. Jack Ketchum is another amazing author, that really took me by surprise because he's never made it big. I will say that I have to be cautious with my writing after reading a Cormac McCarthy novel, because his voice is so strong it tends to influence me a bit.

5: What plans do you have for stories outside of The Remaining universe?

I have one book that I wrote several years ago. It needs some work, but I still really like the story, so I would like to fix it and get it out there. I'll also admit that between The Remaining: Aftermath, and the third book that I'm writing now, I pounded out a good portion of another story I had rolling around inside my head. I'm actually really looking forward to finishing that story.

6: What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing?

I hate to say it, but I think traditional publishing is a failing industry. And this is not based on any prejudice of mine, but simply on the overpowering digital age. I think if traditional publishing can get its act together and start selling their digital books at reasonable prices, they might eventually survive, and actually come out on top.
Self-publishing also has its flaws. It is to books what YouTube is to videos: most will be unseen, some will see mild success, and a select few will become huge. Because there are so many, it makes it difficult for the consumer to find the good ones. In a perfect world, traditional publishers would use things like Amazon's Kindle Store as a way to make their jobs easier. You can see how popular a product is without spending a dime on it. Unfortunately, they're very stuck in their ways.

7: Would you accept a book deal from a major publishing house if the terms were favorable?

At this point in time I have complete and total control over my story, without interference from other outside sources trying to make me fit a mold. I'm able to write what I want, and not what someone else thinks the public wants. That being said, I wouldn't be opposed to a traditional publisher, but the terms would have to be VERY favorable.

8: What advice would you offer to a first time writer?

Write because you love to write. If you enjoy writing the story, people will enjoy reading it.

9: Who would you like to give special acknowledgment for helping you achieve success as an author?

My dad has been a very encouraging force in my life. I feel bad for all the crap I made him read when I was a kid, because I thought I had written some amazing tale at 10 years old. He was always encouraging, but honest. If he didn't like something, he would tell me why. I think that helped a lot.

10: Who does your (awesome) cover art?

My wonderful wife is responsible for my cover art. She is a professional photographer ( and she does amazing work.

11: How did you feel when you published your first book, and what kind of reaction did you get from friends, family, or co-workers when they found about it?

I'll be honest, I kept it very quiet. I was almost a little embarrassed by it. Only my family and close friends knew, and they were very supportive. Then it started to do really well, and people started coming up to me and saying, "Hey! I didn't know you wrote a book!" It still kind of surprises and humbles me when that happens.

12: How did you feel when you broke the 10K copy sold mark.

I set out with extremely low expectations, because I hate to be disappointed. So for me it was the 500 copy mark. Up until that point I had kept telling myself that it was only my wife's facebook friends being nice and buying my book. Then I looked at 500 and thought, "Not even my WIFE has that many facebook friends. Holy crap, people are actually reading this!" I think that was the first time it hit me that complete strangers were actually reading and enjoying my writing.

I hope you enjoyed this, and in the next few days I'll announce who the next author interviewed will be. Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Powers of Ten

It's been quite a while since I've made a blog post.

It's also been quite a while since I was on Facebook, and there is a good reason for that: I've been trying to finish the sequel to No Easy Hope. This week, I finally completed the manuscript and I can't tell you how exciting it is to know that this project is almost complete. I have to do a couple of rounds of editing to polish things up a bit, but it probably won't be more than a couple of weeks before the finished product is ready to go. The cover art has been ready for a couple of months now, thanks to Keary Taylor, and now that I know how to properly format and convert my own documents for upload to Amazon and Nook, things should go much more smoothly than the first time around.

In gratitude to everyone who has been patiently waiting for this book to be released, let me provide a bit of insight (no spoilers) to the story.

It picks up three months after the epilogue in NEH. Gabe and Eric have just survived a bitter, freezing nuclear winter and are starting to run low on supplies. With pickings grown painfully thin near their remote Appalachian hideout, they decide to embark on their journey to Colorado, but not before meeting and befriending some unexpected allies. This book covers the beginning of their trek westward, but does not cover the entire journey. That is far too big of a story to fit into just one book; it will probably take two or three. It does, however, tell the story from both main characters perspectives rather than just Eric's as in NEH.

Although Eric is still the primary focus of the story, Gabriel's role takes on much more signifigance as we learn more about the kind of person he is, and what his life was like prior to meeting Eric. This Shattered Land becomes more than just a story of survival, it becomes a testament to the power of loyalty, friendship, and perseverence through the most difficult of times. Surviving the Dead, as a series, is meant to be a story about the power of the human spirit to endure and to overcome, and I think the second installment in this series embodies that  idea very well.

The book itself is about 110,000 words long, slightly longer than standard novel length. I think it's probably between 350-400 pages in standard paperback print, about the same length as NEH.

Finishing this book comes right on the heels of hitting the 10,000 copy sold mark for my first novel. As of today, it's 10473. (yes, I check it everday because I'm OCD like that) I can't begin to describe to you how much of a sense of accomplishment that gives me. I know for some people 10,000 copies is no big deal, but for me it's huge. For most of my life, I never imagined I'd ever sell 10 books, much less 10,000. I consider No Easy Hope a resounding success, and I am more motivated than ever to keep writing, keep improving, and keep coming up with fast paced, entertaining stories that will keep readers coming back for more.

So what's next for Surviving the Dead?

I think the end of This Shattered Land makes it pretty clear what direction the story is going. I don't want to give away too much, so I will just say that this series is only getting started. There is a lot to tell, and it is going to take me a long time to tell it. The plot thickens, the action scenes will get larger and more dramatic, and the story will take several dark twists and turns in the years to come. I'm looking forward to it.

After TSL is published, I'm going to take a short break from the series so that I can start on a project I've had on the back burner for quite some time now: Jeremiah Cain: Vampire Hunter.

Where Surviving the Dead is my contribution to the Zombie Apocalypse genre, Jeremiah Cain is my contribution to Dark Urban Fantasy. And no, it's not going to be a bunch of smutty porn. If you want that, go read Fifty Shades of Grey. It's going to be a thriller/action adventure series. Expect lots of fighting, blazing guns, flashing swords, and hard boiled anti-heroes. Should be a hell of a ride.

Lest you grow impatient with me, and the dragging snail's pace at which I write my books, I ask you to remember that I have to work a full-time job to support my family and my writing addiction. I also have a two-year old who pretty much runs my life, and takes up all of my free time while he is awake. Not that I mind, I love the little guy, but spending time with him makes it tough to find time to write. Maybe one day I'll be able to make enough money at writing to do it full time, but I'm not there yet. Not even close.

In the mean time, I'll keep plugging away at it and hopefully someday things will work out for me. I write because I love writing, and I'm going to keep doing it because I want to. If people are kind enough to spend a few bucks on my work and enjoy it, then that's even better.

As always, thanks so much for reading my work, and if you like it, go tell a friend. Or at least leave a good review. You keep buying 'em, and I'll keep writin' 'em.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


I have had a lot of interesting conversations over the last few months with friends and co-workers.

 Most people find me quiet, innocuous, and somewhat boring until they find out that I wrote a book. Then I'm interesting all of a sudden, and people want to ask me lots of questions. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you. I like talking about writing, I just wish I had some other personality trait to make me a more engaging person. Maybe I should watch more sports, or take dance lessons or something.

Anyway, I thought I'd write a post about some of the more common questions I get. I've probably touched on some of these subjects in previous posts, so if some of this stuff seems repetitive, that's because it is.

Let's dive right in:

Q: How do you do it? Like, how do you just sit down and write a long story like that? Do you use an outline?

A: I do it because I enjoy it. I like writing. It's my stress relief after a long day at work, or after an especially patience-testing evening with my two-year old. Writing has kind of a flywheel effect with me. It takes me a few minutes to get rolling, but when I do, I'm off to the races. I can't remember how many times I have sat down with my laptop at nine pm, pecked away for a while, and then looked up to realize that it was one o'clock in the morning. Probably why I feel like crap when I wake up at seven to go to work. As for outlines, unless scribbling a few ideas on a scrap of paper between phone calls and meetings at work counts, then no, I don't use them.

Q: Why did you write a book about zombies, of all things? Isn't that kind of...dorky? Isn't there something better you could write about?

A: My actual response to this question was, "Tell you what, when you get off your ass and write the great American novel, or any book at all for that matter, then you can criticize my choice of literary subject. Until then, go back to reading about the Kardashians on your stupid gossip website. And seriously, why do you care about that bunch of talentless fame-addicts anyway? Isn't that kind of...dumb? Isn't there something better you could waste your time with?"

 It should come as no surprise that the individual I said this to hasn't spoken with me since. Sometimes I forget that I'm not in the military anymore, and people who have spent their entire lives within a one hundred square-mile area of the central Carolinas may not be as thick skinned as my compatriots from the Armed Services.

Go figure.

My point is, if you don't like zombie books, or if you think they're dorky, then don't read them. There are plenty of other genres out there. I really don't have patience for ignorant, judgemental comments like that from people who have no literary work whatsoever to their credit. I will never understand why people with no accomplishments of their own constantly strive to tear down the people who do. 

Harsh? Yes. True? Absolutely.

I wrote a zombie novel for three reasons: I like the genre, there were not a lot a good zombie books to choose from at the time, and because I felt that fans of zombie apocalypse horror novels were a grossly underserved niche market. Furthermore, just because the book is about zombies doesn't mean it isn't still an engaging, thought provoking read. Judging by the fact that it has sold well over nine-thousand copies, and received 97 four and five star reviews between and B&N, I feel confident in saying that NEH is at the very least entertaining. Some people may disagree, and that is fine. Zombies aren't for everybody. 

Q: Are you going to write another one? 

A: Hell to the yes. I'm about three-quarters of the way through This Shattered Land, and have plans for at least two more in the series. That's not even counting my plans for the Jeremiah Cain series. Writing is my opiate of choice, I'm slapping my arm with a feverish gleam in my eyes, and I'm looking for something to steal. Unless somebody invents a methadone equivalent for people who are hopelessly addicted to creativity, then I will continue churning out novels for the forseeable future.  

Q: How hard is it to self-publish? Can anybody do it?

A: Easy, and yes.

Q: How did you get so many people to buy No Easy Hope?

A: I didn't. All I did was write it, hire a cover designer, format and convert it, then post it to market. Amazon's amazing meta-data driven marketing technology did the rest for me. Hell, it was three months before I ever created a blog or a Facebook page. Couldn't have been easier. No wonder the Big Six are crapping their pants over e-readers. If a small-timer like me can build a following and sell books with little up-front investment, then those guys are in big trouble. I don't understand why any new author would even bother with the traditional publishing route at this point. If you don't know how to edit, format, convert, or do cover art, there are so many resources out there for you it is ridiculous. Look into it.

Q: How much did it cost you to bring the book to market?

A: Ninety bucks, and ten months of my life. The ninety bucks was for cover art. (Thanks Keary!)

Q: How do you get paid?

A: I publish through B&N and Amazon, and they both work the same way. I get a royalty payment sixty days after the last day of a month in which I earned the minimum sales required (ten bucks for EFT, I think).
To illustrate: I first published the book in early November. I got the payment for that month's sales at the end of January. The December check came at the end of February, and so on and so forth. After the initial sixty days, you get a check every month on the first. Comes in handy when the mortgage is due.

Q: Do you know any other writers?

A: Yes, I do. Indie writers tend to be fairly approachable people with minimal egos. The community forums on KDP are a great resource for information, tips, and getting questions answered.

Q: What does Amazon do to help? How much do they charge to publish on their site?

A: Not to be overly critical, but the support Amazon provides is minimal to moderate. Pretty much everything you need to know is on the help section of the KDP site, but it is up to you to dig around and find what you need. It can be a time consuming and frustrating process, especially if you are new to self-publishing. Again, the community forums are your friend. Use them.

B&N's Pubit site is, in my opinion, much more user friendly than KDP. Too bad B&N has such a small market share.

As for what they charge, it is free to post a book on both sites. For books priced between 2.99 and 9.99 on Amazon, the royalty is 70%, less a small delivery charge. (Usually 8 cents for me.) B&N pays 65%. Both are way better than the 10-20% maximum that authors see on traditionally published work, although you do not get an advance.

Q: Have you been approached by a publisher or an agent to buy your book from you?

A: No, I haven't. This does not bother me in the least. Unless a publisher is willing to pay me a six-figure advance, I would most likely turn them down. I prefer to retain control over my work, especially the content, cover art, and all-important publishing rights. To learn more about the horrible way that authors are treated by traditional publishers, check out JA Konrath's blog.

Q: How do you find time to write with a wife, son, and a full-time job? Have you ever thought about quitting your job to focus on writing?

A: It is definitely a challenge to find time to write. The obligations of work and family can take a toll on my literary aspirations at times. My goal is to one day make enough money as an author to change careers and focus on writing full-time. When will that happen? Hell, I don't know. A couple of years? Five? Never? I have no idea. Until then, I put one foot in front of the other, finish one thing and start on the next, and eat the elephant one bite at a time. I'm not in a hurry. I know if I work hard enough, someday I'll get there.

Q: Aren't you worried, with it being so easy to self publish, that the market will be flooded with books making it hard to sell yours?

A: No, I'm not. First of all, it takes a lot of time and effort to write a good book. Time and effort that most people are not willing to expend. Second, the ranking and review system on Amazon and B&N are pretty good at separating the wheat from the chaff. If a book is bad, it gets bad reviews, no one buys it, it goes down in the rankings, and you most likely never see it. The ones that sell, or have good reviews, get shuffled to the top of the list. It's not a perfect system, but it works pretty well most of the time.

Q: If your book is in e-format, aren't you concerned about piracy?

A: Not really. If you price your work reasonably, most people will buy it rather than pirate it. It's the books that are going for more than ten bucks that usually get stolen. I don't condone online piracy, but I am pragmatic enough to see it as a fact of life, much the same way that a car accident is the potential outcome of driving to the grocery store. I firmly believe that if I keep my prices down around 3-5 dollars, piracy will be a minor issue.

Q: Where do you get your story ideas from?

A: I have a fertile imagination. I grew up watching cartoons, reading comic books, playing video games, and reading about four or five novels a week. Stephen King, Louis La'mour, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, and Robert A. Heinlein are a few of my old favorites. I still have a voracious reading appetite. There are a few genres out there that I especially like, and I want at least my first few books to be contributions to those genres. Zombie Apocalypse, Urban Fantasy, and Military Sci-Fi are my starting points. We'll see where things go from here.

All these questions aside, the most common response I get from people when they find out that I self-published a book is, "Dude, that's awesome."

And you know what? It is. I was very apprehensive about this whole thing when NEH was first published, but I'm glad I did it. Self-publishing has been an incredibly interesting and overwhelmingly positive experience.

If you're thinking about writing a book, do it, and self-publish the hell out of it. It's worth the effort.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Learning Curve

In an earlier post, I described what it was like writing my first book and what my thoughts and feelings were during the process. For anyone else who is thinking about self-publishing some work of their own, I would like to take some time to share a few lessons learned.

First off: You do not need to hire someone to format your book for you. Use Microsoft word, save your work as a 97-2003 document, and set up indents through the Paragraph function. DO NOT use tabs to indent the first line in a new paragraph. This will leave annoying little dashes on ereaders. Don't underline anything, and don't put any text in bold. This will only cause problems for you. Italics is fine, it won't hurt anything. Center your chapter titles, and use left alignment for paragraph text. Use twelve point print and Times New Roman font. These few simple rules will ensure that your work looks and functions well on Kindle readers. The Amazon KDP website has instructions for converting the word document to HTML. I go a step further and use Mobipocket Creator to convert it to a PRC file before uploading it to the website. This allows me to upload cover art as part of the document. A quick web search can usually answer any questions you have about carrying out these functions.

If you don't have the time or the inclination to do this on your own, then there are plenty of people who will do it for you, but be prepared to shell out some cash. KDP has a comprehensive list of service providers. I did the formatting and file conversion for NEH myself, and it worked just fine. Learning to do it on your own is worth the time and effort if only for the money you will save by not having to hire someone to do it for you.

The one area that I would recommend hiring someone, at least initially, is cover art. JA Konrath features his cover art guy on his blog, and I have to admit that although he is a bit pricy, he does great work. Personally, I employ the services of Keary Taylor, a fellow author and talented graphic designer. The cover for No Easy Hope, and the one I just had done for This Shattered Land, were only 90 bucks each. That is a bargain. If you would like to contact Keary, this is her website.!

Now on to less technical matters.

When you first publish your work, you will feel like an idiot. You will feel anxious, embarrassed, and you will doubt yourself. You will ask yourself, over and over again, what the hell was I thinking? Sales will be very slow at first, and you will wonder why you wasted your time. You will find yourself obsessively checking your sales figures every few hours to see if anything has happened, and you will feel despair when you go hours, or even days on end, without any sales. The first few weeks are pretty tough mentally and emotionally. Here is my best advice to you:

Suck it up. Get through it. It was worth the effort, and here is why.

Once the final version of your book is published, no further effort on your part is required. The book is published forevermore into perpetuity, and your work on it is finished. It will continue to be on the market and make money whether you do anything else with it or not. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. If your first book doesn't do well, try again.

Now for a few tips on how to get sales, a subject near and dear to every authors heart (and bank account).

It goes without saying that social media is of critical importance to indie writers. I strongly recommend creating an account on Twitter and Facebook for your work. Facebook is especially helpful because you can create a page for your work. To clarify, I have a PROFILE on Facebook that is just my close friends and family, and then I have  PAGE for my book. You want to create a PAGE, not a PROFILE. A Facebook page is open to the public, and anybody who wants to can like it, and post messages or wall content. It is a fantastic medium for getting in touch with your readers and building a loyal following. Creating a blog, as time consuming as it may be, is also an absolute must. Blogger makes it easy. I would also recommend creating a profile on Goodreads and getting active within that community.

To get an initial sales kick, make sure that you tell absolutely EVERYONE you know that you published a book. I don't care how embarassed or insecure you might feel, just do it. Post it on your Facebook profile and get as many friends and family members as you can to do the same. Plug it on twitter, take out ads on Goodreads if you can afford it, do whatever you can to get the word out. The more sales and reviews you get, the more metadata you create, and the more your book will show up on searches on Amazon and other ebook websites. Amazon searches and recommendations will be your best friend in the first few months. The section titled "People who bought this book also bought..." is pure marketing genius, and the farther up that list you can get, the better off you will be.

Ebooks, like any other product, go through a sales cycle. The holiday season, between the end of November and mid-February, is the peak sales season. Once you get into March, things slow down significantly. That being said, there is no such thing as a bad time to publish a book, but don't skimp on quality, editing, and content just to get a book to market. 

Although my work is available on B&N Nook, Amazon is by far my largest source of sales. If you publish nowhere else, publish there.

A few pitfalls to avoid, and some do's and don'ts.

First pitfall: Despair. Do not give in to it. Remember, you write because you love it. It is a long and difficult journey, but anthing worth doing is life is going to be difficult. If it was easy, everybody would do it and we'd all be millionares. Trudge forward, ever forward, with all the determination and focus you can muster. Let nothing sway you from the path of realizing your goals. If you feel overwhelmed, break the task in front of you down into small component parts and do one little thing at a time. Finish one task, then move on to the next. Whatever you do, make sure that progress, no matter how small, is being made.

Second pitfall: The way you react to negative reviews. When some naysayer comes along and rips apart the prose that you spent so many long hours struggling to perfect, you will want to post a comment on their review and lash out at them. DO NOT DO THIS. You must remain above the fray. Never, EVER comment on the reviews people leave unless you are thanking them for taking the time to give you valuable feedback. Remember, no work of fiction is ever going to please everyone. There will always be someone who will not like it, and will be mean-spirited enough to leave a bad review.

The Stand, by Stephen King, is one of my favorite books of all time. Go on Amazon, and it will have bad reviews.

Dune, by Frank Herbert, is pure Sci Fi genius. Go on Amazon, and it will have bad reviews.

Don't get worked up over bad reviews. Nothing you write will appeal to everyone. If you go to NEH's page on Amazon, you will find bad reviews. Not many of them, but some. I don't worry about the people who didn't like my book because I'm too busy being grateful to the overwhelming majority of readers who did. I read the bad reviews, I take their comments under advisement, and I move on.

DO respond to each and every comment and post made on your Facebook page. DO NOT be rude, vindictive, or disrespectful no matter how vile a comment a person may make. If you reprimand someone for being ignorant, vulgar, or disgusting, you must do so in a positive, constructive way. Stooping to name calling or vulgarity will avail you nothing, and will make you look just as wretched as the trolls who have nothing better to do than slam the hard work of others. Remember, these people have no accomplishments of their own; that is why they try to break yours down. Don't stoop to their level.

Make sure you communicate with the people who read your work as often as possible. This engenders loyalty, a sense of friendship, and goodwill. Give away signed copies, and never hesitate to offer an autograph or a kind word of encouragement. Always thank people for taking the time to reach out to you. 

Some books take off, and some don't. Why, you ask? I believe it comes down to four things: 
Cover art,
and most important of all, Quality. 

Get a good looking cover that embodies the overall theme of the book. 

Write a captivating intro, or get someone to write one for you. 

Edit thoroughly. The biggest criticism I have from NEH is editing oversights. I will be much more careful about this in the future. A good copy editor is worth the price, within reason. 

Last, but most definitely not least, write a good story. It helps if you study what is popular in the literature market and write something that is either very popular, or an underserved market. Zombie fiction is a prime example of this concept. That being said, make sure you write about something you like, and tell stories that you would want to read yourself. Also, don't be afraid to branch out and write in more than one genre, write novellas, or short storys. If you write something other than a full length (at least 100,000 word) novel, make sure you price it appropriately. .99-1.99 is okay for short fiction, 2.99-5.99 for full length work. Only go higher than this if there is significant demand for a book. Personally, I doubt I will charge more than 3.99 for anything in the near future regardless of demand. If you have more than one book in a series, offer the first one at 99 cents to help build a readership. Don't be afraid to use KDP Select to do free promotions. This will help get your name out there.

I could probably spend a couple of days writing everything that could be useful to a new author, but this post covers the most important points. I hope you find it helpful if you are an author, and if you are a reader, I hope this provides some insight into just how much goes into making a book available for you.

It is a long and difficult process, but it is also tremendously rewarding. Keep at it.