Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Front Matter

As you may be aware, I recently published an omnibus edition of the first three Surviving the Dead novels. However, if you are a long-time reader of the series, you probably did not purchase the omnibus edition because you already have those novels. Consequently, you are most likely not aware of the author's note I included at the beginning. So, to avoid depriving you of what I think is a warm and heartfelt introduction, I have decided to post it here to my blog.

At the very least, it will help you kill some time.




Author’s Note 

When I was twelve years old, I decided I wanted to be a writer.

I told my father about it, and I remember the look on his face when I did. The reaction I expected was a smile, a word of encouragement, perhaps a gentle punch on the shoulder.

That is not what I got.

My dad is a big man, possessed of gravitas, solemnity, and an intensely intelligent gaze. He has little patience for nonsense, and if you ask him for his opinion you had better be prepared for a strong dose of honesty. Because that is exactly what you are going to get. I knew this when I made my pronouncement, but in my boyish foolishness, I expected the old man to share my enthusiasm.

He did not.

Rather, he shuffled his feet a bit and focused on me, eyes narrowing, mouth twisting to the side. He took a step closer, his big workman’s hands moving to his hips, head tilting a little. It was his trademark stance of reluctance, the mannerism which told me that whatever he said next, I was not going to like it.

“Writing is fine, son,” he said. “But most writers don’t make very much money. It’s a tough business to break into. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try, or that you shouldn’t write, but you might want to do something else to pay the bills while you’re at it.”

My father is a practical man. Always has been. Which is understandable, considering he supported six people on a single income.

I let the matter drop until I was sixteen and facing the prospect of my senior year of high school. Unlike many of my peers, I had no plans after graduation. No job waiting for me, no real prospects to speak of, and no chance my parents would put up with me mooching off them for very long. So one bright summer day, I sat down and weighed my options.

The first thing I considered was college. I knew in order to get into a proper university, one needed good grades and a high SAT score. I had not yet taken the SAT, and my grades, at least until the second half of my junior year, were not very good.  I had been a lazy student for most of my scholastic career, doing the bare minimum necessary to get by.

Then, halfway through my junior year, I had an epiphany:

If I didn’t graduate on time, my dad was going to kill me.

So I started working harder, and in the space of about six weeks, went from being a C student to being on the honor roll. I practically floated when I showed my old man that first much-improved report card.

“I always knew you were smart, boy,” my father said, jabbing me in the chest with one thick finger. “Ever since seventh grade, your test scores have been in the stratosphere, but you always get Cs on your report card. Ain’t it amazing how much better your grades look when you get off your lazy ass and do your homework?”

I know. A beautiful father-son moment.

Anyway, despite my newfound diligence, the damage was done. Even if I could maintain my good grades all throughout my senior year, my GPA upon graduation would be, best case scenario, two point one.

Not exactly Ivy League material.

Compounding this difficulty was the fact that I had no money, no college fund, my father couldn’t afford to pay for my education, and my car was a piece of shit. Which meant I would have to start out at community college, find a part-time job, finance my education with student loans, and arrange transportation when my car broke down. Which it did, frequently.

College was out, at least for the time being.  

Okay, I thought. If I don’t go to college, I have to get a job.

But that wasn’t such a great option either. I lived between two small towns in rural North Carolina—which is to say, I lived in the middle of nowhere—and there wasn’t much work to be had. I could apply at the grocery store in Waxhaw, or try to find something over in Monroe, but how would I get back and forth?

Car a piece of shit. No public transportation. Maybe I can talk dad into helping me buy a better car?

I looked at the condition of his old red pickup truck. Scratched paint, busted side view mirror, rust on the fenders, tires nearly bald. He couldn’t even afford a better vehicle for himself, much less for  me. Not that I didn’t think he would do it; he most likely would have. But I didn’t want to create any more financial burdens for my father. The way I saw it, he had sacrificed enough for me and I was not about to ask him for anything else.

So what was I going to do?

I had not explored the military option yet, nor did I consider it at the time. It would be another seven months before I walked into the Navy recruiter’s office in Monroe and made a decision that would change my life forever. Before I would hold up my seventeen-year-old right hand, swear an oath, and feel the gravity of the situation begin to sink in.

What I did, rather, was climb into my 1985 Chevrolet Cavalier—blue, bald tires, crumpled left-front fender, hairline fracture in the windshield, broken spring in the driver’s seat that constantly poked me in the ass, suspicious stain in the back from the time I let my older brother borrow it to drive his girlfriend to work—and proceeded to one of my favorite places in the world.

The public library.

I found a book about publishing. It was written by a successful author whose name I forgot long ago. He laid it all out for me. Query letters, agents, publishing houses, editors, the contentious relationship between publishers and bookstores, the difficulties, the years of fruitless toil, the thousands of rejections, the heartache, the struggle to get noticed. And, finally, the sweet redemption of landing his first book deal.

For a lousy four-grand advance.

And a seven percent royalty.

After twenty years of trying.

I put the book back on the shelf, got in my car, and drove home. It would be fourteen years before I considered writing again.

So what changed, you ask? Why, after fourteen years, did I decide to take the plunge?

Kindle Direct Publishing. That’s why.

I learned about KDP after my wife bought me my first Kindle back in 2010, not too long after Amazon launched the KDP platform. I remember thinking to myself, so let me get this straight. No editors, no agents, no query letters, no publishing contracts, and no rejections. All I have to do is write the book, make a cover, and publish it.

What was I waiting for?

This decision was facilitated by a mini-crisis I was going through at the time. A crisis aptly titled, My Thirtieth Birthday. You see, my twenties just sort of flew by. I joined the Navy and did that for six years, got out, started college, found a job, finished college, fathered a child, and then one morning, out of nowhere, my twenties were over with.

 Gone. Finished.

And me standing around looking confused, vaguely pointing in the direction of those lost years mumbling, “What the hell happened here? I just turned twenty-one, like, three weeks ago. How am I thirty, now? Is this how all my birthdays are going to feel from now on?”

 In response to this anxiety, and as a way to try to control the uncontrollable, I took stock of my life. I reviewed all that I had accomplished up to that point. I thought of what I had done, what I wanted to do before I died—a prospect that seemed much more visceral and close that it once had—and I made a list.

I won’t bore you with the whole list, lest I engender your pity and contempt. But at the top of it, with a big number one beside it, were three words:

Write a book.

KDP. Thirtieth birthday. Lifelong dream. The unavoidable imminence of death.

I remember thinking, let’s do this.

And I did.

Ten months later, I published No Easy Hope. Seven months after that, This Shattered Land went live. Then Warrior Within. The Passenger. And now, well on its way to completion, Fire in Winter.

At the time of this writing, the Surviving the Dead series has sold over 89,000 copies in just over two years.

Burn Them All is next.

Then, Savages.

Gladiator of Corsryn.

Bronze Star.

And that’s just the next couple of years.

What happens after that, I don’t know. But I’ll figure it out, and I will enjoy every single minute of it. Because all those years ago, despite his father’s warning, that kid was right. Writing is the best damn job a person can have.

If you are already a fan of the series contained herein, I want to say thank you. Seriously. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you. You are the reason I am able to do what I love and make a living at it.

If you are new to the series, thank you as well. I hope you have as much fun reading these books as I did writing them, and I hope you come along on future journeys.

If your name is Keary Taylor, and you are the wonderful young lady who did all the cover art for this series, thank you as well. A good cover helps an author get noticed, and without your efforts, I doubt this series would have found nearly as much success.   

Last, but most importantly, thank you to my wife and family for supporting me and encouraging me to stop dreaming and make it happen. My life wouldn’t be worth much without you.

Now do me a favor. Stop reading this and turn the page.

And enjoy.



James N. Cook

Charlotte, NC


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Anno Secundo

Saturday marked the second anniversary of the day I published my first novel, No Easy Hope
I didn’t post about it then because I was in Key West with my wife celebrating our tenth anniversary. It was the last day of our vacation, and I spent most of it either waiting for flights, flying, or drinking. Lots of drinking. (Double rum on the rocks, dash of diet coke, squeeze of lime, serve, and repeat until I damn well say stop.)
Don’t judge me.

I despise air travel, and no matter how many times I engage in it, my hatred remains undiminished.  
Anyway, the things I have learned in the past two years about writing and publishing could fill a book. Most of it I obtained through hard experience, but I also learned a great deal by heeding the advice of other writers and by studying various books on the subject. I would like to take a little time to share some of those lessons learned, as I have done in previous posts, and hopefully prevent other aspiring authors from running afoul of the same pitfalls I have. Perhaps, in addition, I can make a bit of an apology for those early, amateurish blunders.  

The first step to finding success in writing, even success as limited as mine, is to practice, practice, practice. In retrospect, I wish I had spent more time refining my technique before posting my first novel on Amazon. No Easy Hope has gone through a great many revisions since its initial iteration, and the edition available now is a far cry from the original. But still, I cringe a little when I go back and read that first awkward, halting literary attempt. My second novel was better in my opinion, which seems to be borne out by its more favorable reviews and higher star rating, but it was rough in places. I think Warrior Within was a vastly superior effort to the first two, although it received criticism for not featuring enough zombie violence. And while it certainly showed room for improvement, it gave me confidence my writing technique had progressed significantly.  

The Passenger was a unique experience in that it was my first attempt at writing in third-person. I thought making the switch would be difficult, but as it turns out, writing in third-person is really not that different from writing in first-person. The adjustments are relatively minor, and third-person provides the added benefit of allowing additional perspectives to create a more vividly realized story. That said, I still think first-person is the best way to help readers connect with characters, and I have no plans to change this aspect of the Surviving the Dead series. 

Getting to the main point of this post, let us explore some of the most common transgressions many new  writers—myself included—frequently commit. I discovered these snafus through a combination hard experience, tips, and hints from authors such as Patrick Rothfuss, Jim Butcher, Stephen King, and Elmore Leonard, as well as suggestions from fellow writers in my chosen genre and editors whose services I have employed from time to time. While I freely acknowledge I have been guilty of all of these infractions in my own writing, I can honestly say I have learned from them, and avoiding these mistakes has improved my craft significantly. The following is a brief index of said blunders, but as you read it, please note this list is in no way comprehensive. I’m still learning, and I am certain by this time next year I will have plenty more items to add to the list. But for now, here is the distilled inventory:  

1) In writing, you almost never need to use the word ‘that’. In most cases, it is filler material which detracts from a sentence’s core message, clutters up paragraphs, and adds unnecessary wordiness. For example: 
John shot a man that he hated with a gun that he found in the bedroom.
John shot a man he hated with a gun he found in the bedroom.  

The second sentence is shorter, more concise, and easier to read. The litmus test for whether or not to use ‘that’ in a sentence is to simply write it both ways, once with ‘that’ in place, and again with 'that' removed. If it reads just as well or better without ‘that’ (as it will in most cases), get rid of it. Doing so will tighten up otherwise slack writing.  

2) Simple past tense vs. past participle. I see people screw this up all the time. Here is an easy guide:
Simple past tense (this is the voice you want to prefer in your writing): John walked down the street.
Present perfect participle (used heavily in first-person, present-tense writing, which is popular in mysteries and noir fiction): I have seen John walk down the street.
Past perfect (used very commonly in most forms of writing, but can often be replaced with simple past tense for more concise structure): I had seen John walk down the street.
(Think about it. Does ‘I saw John walk down the street,’ sound any worse?)
Future Perfect (rarely used, mostly found in dialogue): I will have seen John walk down the street.
3rd Conditional (used mostly in dialogue, or in first-person narrative): I would have seen John walk down the street.

Each usage has its place, but in most cases, simple past tense will suffice.  

3) Active vs. passive voice. Example:
Active voice: I killed a man.
Passive voice: A man was killed.

One describes a person doing a thing in direct terms. The other describes a thing that was done by someone in indefinite terms. Defense attorneys, convicted criminals, and politicians are very fond of the passive voice. It softens the verbal impact of describing their actions. (Don’t believe me? Watch an episode of Meet the Press, Lockup, or Nancy Grace sometime.) You do not want to use too much passive voice in your writing. You want your writing to be profound and hard-hitting. However, passive voice has its place. One of the most celebrated instructional manuals on writing, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, says to prefer the active voice whenever possible. However, for stylistic purposes, passive voice is not necessarily a capital offense. Remember: the rule is to prefer the active voice, not use it exclusively with no exceptions allowed. That said, you should write nine sentences out of ten in the active voice. It will give your storytelling a more forceful impact.  

4) Adverbs are not your friend, especially as applies to speech tags. Example:
“I’m going to kill you, but not until after I kill your family. I’m going to track down and murder every last person you ever cared about. Then I will catch you when you least expect it, I’ll lock you up someplace where no one can hear you scream, and before I’m done, you will beg for death. I warned you not to cross me, David. You didn’t listen. Now, you’ll suffer the consequences,” John said angrily.
Let’s explore this for a moment. Given the content of this snippet of dialogue, is it really necessary to insert the adverb ‘angrily’ after ‘John said’? Does not threatening to murder a person, as well as his or her family and friends, in and of itself constitute a statement of anger? I mean, it’s not exactly the kind of thing you promise when you are in a jaunty, bubbly mood. Also, there is the question of placement of the speech tag. For which, generally speaking, sooner is better. Let’s try it a different way:

“I’m going to kill you,” John said. “But not until after I kill your family. I’m going to track down and murder every last person you ever cared about. Then I will catch you when you least expect it, I’ll lock you up someplace where no one can hear you scream, and before I’m done, you will beg for death. I warned you not to cross me, David. You didn’t listen. Now, you will suffer the consequences.”

For a detailed description of speech tags and their proper usage (which I did not discover until I was halfway through Warrior Within), consult the Chicago Manual of Style online, or go on Amazon and purchase a copy 

5) Their, there, and they’re. To, two, and too. Your and you’re. It’s and its. A simple Google search can explain these distinctions. If you’re not sure, look it up. I’m not saying I never messed this up—I have—but these are not difficult mistakes to correct.

6) When writing an action scene, do not interrupt the action with a bunch of character introspection and excessive description. Readers will flip through this material impatiently and curse you for not advancing expeditiously to the goddamn point. If you must add something to the character’s experience, do it with as much brevity as possible, and do it either before or after the part where your character or characters kick some proverbial ass.

7) I hate weak heroes. I hate when a protagonist wins the day by getting his or her dumb ass saved by his or her friends. I hate protagonists that are constantly getting their asses kicked, getting captured, and making bone-headedly stupid decisions. This is common in literature. It is also formulaic, hackneyed, and cliché. It is literary laziness, and I have no patience for it.

8) Avoid excessive use of the word ‘very’. Don’t get me wrong, it has its place. But in most cases, you can get along just fine without it. ‘Very’ has a tendency to diminish that which it seeks to amplify. Ask yourself this:

Should a character be ‘very angry’, or should he be ‘infuriated’?

Should a character be ‘very upset’, or should he be ‘distraught’?

Should a character be ‘very happy’, or should she be ‘elated’?

There is almost always a better word to use than very, except when there isn’t, or if it doesn’t matter one way or the other. Use your best judgment. 

9) A few things no one wants to read about are as follows: poop, snot, bad breath, any body function described as ‘sour’ or ‘fetid’, and sweat on a person's upper lip. Just don’t do it.   

10) You may have seen this, but here are ten writing tips from Elmore Leonard, as well as my agreements and amendents:

1. Never open a book with weather.

(Unless it is vitally important to the story.)

2. Avoid prologues.

(Notice he said 'avoid', not 'never use'. Generally though, I agree.)

3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.

(Asked, replied, shouted, and screamed are acceptable as well, but should be used sparingly.)

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.

(Agreed. In most cases.)

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

(Depending on the context, I would say you can get away with more than two or three. But use them with the utmost caution, and if a sentence can stand on its own without an exclamation point, get rid of it.)

6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

(Agreed. Just don't do it.)

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.


8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

(Unless it is important to the story. But don't give it away all at once. Take your time, and spread it out evenly over the course of the story.) 

9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

(Again, unless it is absolutely necessary to the story, or adds color and richness to the prose. But, as always, don't overdo it.)

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

(Agreed. How do you know if readers will want to skip a section of text? Simple. If it is boring to you, it will probably be boring to your readers. That said, you will be guilty of this sin sooner or later, so don't beat yourself up for it.)
A full and comprehensive list would be a lot longer than this post will allow. But I have covered the most common and important bases, and I think it will be helpful to anyone just starting out in writing. If I used any terms in this post you don’t understand, a simple internet search should clear it up for you. Most importantly, don’t ever give up if writing is what you really want to do. It takes diligence, and you might never find the success you hope for, but for those who really love it, it is its own reward.  

Go forth and be fruitful, my friends.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Passenger: A Preview.

I've been posting recently on Facebook about my new novel The Passenger. The feedback from you guys has been overwhelmingly positive, but there does seem to be a bit of confusion as to what what role this story plays in the Surviving the Dead universe. So I thought I'd take some time today to make it a little more clear what The Passenger is all about.

First, this is not Surviving the Dead volume four. Eric and Gabriel are not in this novel. This a standalone novel set in the Surviving the Dead universe, but features characters you may recognize from my first novel, No Easy Hope. Although it does tie in with the central plot of the main series, it is not a crucial element. You can ignore this novel and still follow the series just fine, but I think you will be missing out if you do.

As you may have noticed me mentioning before, I'm writing this novel in collaboration with Josh Guess, author of the Living With the Dead series and it's parallel, Victim Zero. Josh is a very talented writer who enjoys writing in the zombie apocalypse sub-genre just as much as I do. We first started talking about doing a collaboration about seven or eight months ago, but had to put it on the back burner while we finished other projects. After I published Warrior Within back in April, both of our schedules cleared up and we finally had the opportunity to make the collaboration happen.

There were two central ideas, one from each of us, that we ran with to create the story that would eventually become this novel. For my part, I have wanted to revisit Ethan Thompson's character for a long time, and explore what happened to him after he joined the Army and relocated to Fort Bragg. Ethan's story is interesting to me because it illustrates the difficulty of trying to be a good person in a rotten world, and lets us see through his eyes how drastically the world has changed since the Outbreak. We also get a better idea of just how dimished the U.S. military has become, and how difficult and thankless of a job those soldiers still loyal to their country have to face. These are all important themes in the Surviving the Dead series, and following Ethan's journey lets me display them from a fresh perspective.

The second idea came from Josh's fertile imagination, and I thought it was fascinating. His idea boiled down to a question: What would it be like to awake--fully cognitive just like a living person--inside the mind of a walker? To be forced to see through its eyes, hear with its ears, feel its hunger for flesh, to kill and feed, all while being completely helpless to interfere? What kind of an effect would that have on your sanity?

Gives me the creeps just thinking about it.

We realized we both had pretty good ideas, and wanted to find a way to weave them together. The question then became how to do it, and after much brainstorming, we came up with the answer.


You don't know Gideon yet, but you will. And if you're anything like me, you'll quickly learn to hate the bastard. Gideon was my idea, but Josh brought him to life, which is why I now kind of think that Josh might secretly be a serial killer, and why from here on out I will only meet with him in public where there are lots of witnesses. (People of Frankfort Kentucky, consider yourselves warned.)

Once all the ideas were in place, we took these three characters--The Passenger, Gideon, and Ethan--and set them on a collision course. The Passenger is the mayhem that ensued, and it's been a hell of a ride.

Now, for long-time fans of the series, I want to set a few expectations up front. First, Josh and I have very different writing styles. About half the book was written by me, the other half by Josh. I think it will become clear very quickly who wrote what.

Second, much of the story is told from the third-person rather than my usual first-person perspective. I normally write in first-person because I like writing that way, I like reading books written in first-person, and I think it's a great way to connect with a character. However, third person gives a writer a great deal more flexibility as far as storytelling, and to be honest, I just wanted to try it. How did I do? I don't know. I think I did all right for a first attempt. I'll have to defer to your wisdom on that, dear readers. But just know that all the portions that I wrote in this novel are third-person. (Josh wrote a little in third-person as well, but mostly from first-person. He's equally good at either one, the cocky bastard.)

Also, this novel will not be quite as long as my previous work. I tend to be a long-winded storyteller, as evidenced by the length of my other three novels. (Word counts as follows: 116,000 for No Easy Hope; 105,000 for This Shattered Land; 136,000 for Warrior Within.) The Passenger should weigh in somewhere in the neigborhood of 60,000. Still novel length, but more concisely told than my other work.

(The word count isn't set in stone yet because it's still in the editing process, so it could go up or down.)

Last is the price. It will be set at 3.99, just like all my other work. I think 3.99 is a fair price that compensates me (and Josh, we're splitting it 50/50) enough to allow me to continue writing for a living, but doesn't ask my readers to bust their wallets. And considering the prices that the big publishing houses charge, I think four bucks is pretty reasonable.

So there it is, folks. I hope this clears up any confusion, and I hope that you enjoy reading The Passenger as much as Josh and I enjoyed writing it. And as always, thank you so very much for being the best readers a guy could ask for. As long as you keep demanding, I'll keep writing.

Now...where did I put the files for Fire in Winter?...that's Burn Them All...no, that's Gladiator of Corsryn...Savages...ah-ha! Here it is.

Okay. Back to work.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


A week ago today, I released my third novel: Warrior Within.

It was the culmination of not just the ten months it took me to write it, but of the last two years of my life. It was in early March of 2011 that I first started writing, and considering how much has happened since then, it’s hard to believe that it’s only been a little over two years. Sometimes it feels like a lot longer than that.

A lot has happened in those two years. My son is almost three years old. My wife finished her MBA and got a new job. We sold the old townhouse and moved into a single family home. (It has a yard and everything.) My brother, who is thirty-five and once compared girlfriends to underwear—restrictive, uncomfortable, and entirely unnecessary—is now engaged to a very nice lady. It will be a happy day when we welcome her into the family.

Oh, and I wrote three books.

And I left my job to write full time. That was back in August, you may recall.

I could probably write a whole post about what it was like to quit my job, but I’ll sum it up with this: It was nerve-wracking. I lost sleep over it.

You know what, to heck with it. I’m going to elaborate.

I had a good job. I was an investment advisor in the high-net-worth division at Vanguard, one of the largest mutual fund companies in the world. I had a 41K a year salary, medical, dental, 401K, and even an annual bonus. (The 41K salary may not sound like much, but consider where I live. Charlotte is a low-cost-of-living city. The median per capita income is only about 31K.) I had a series 7 license (still active, actually), and my career was on a good trajectory.

In other words, I had a lot of reasons to stay.

When I started telling people I was leaving to pursue writing full-time, I expected to get pushback. I expected people to tell me I was nuts, and that I should hang on to my job with both hands. I expected people to tell me I was being selfish and irresponsible.

That’s not what happened.

Everyone who was privy to the decision had read my work. Well…most of them had, anyway. They told me I should go for it. At the time, this was encouraging, but in retrospect, it’s difficult to believe. I mean, I had a wife and a kid. Unemployment in Charlotte is around 10 percent—way higher than the national average. Competition for employment is fierce. There were thousands of people who would have killed to have my job. Much less to have my job and have success as a writer. Nevertheless, they all told me I was doing the right thing.

I’m glad I listened.

I gave up the 9-5. I gave up the cubicle, and the uncomfortable chair, and the florescent lights, and the crappy coffee. I gave up the salary, and the benefits, and the security of having a well-paying job at a respectable, successful financial firm. I traded it in for spending my days at home, and sitting in the living room with my laptop perched on my thighs, and my dogs sleeping on the couch next to me.

I’ve never been happier.

But happy wouldn’t really describe Warrior Within. In fact, taken as a whole, it’s a downright dark story. Dark, but not hopeless.

I wanted to do something different with Warrior Within. My first two novels were crafted to be entertainment, pure and simple. I wasn’t trying to make a serious literary work out of either one of them, I just wanted people to read them and have a little fun.

Along the way, however, I began to question whether or not I could write anything else. Anything better. Richer. More complex. Could I take an action-adventure/zombie apocalypse novel, and give it heart? Could I make it a statement about humanity, and relationships, and the things that drive us, and weave that into the Surviving the Dead storyline?

Back in July of last year, I didn’t know. So like every other challenge I’ve faced in my life, I decided to tackle it head-on.

I drummed up bad memories. It wasn’t hard to do, I’ve got plenty of them. All the way back to when I was a little kid. Hell, my mind is a fucking torture garden—festooned with anger vines, lush with the flowers of melancholy, and trimmed with thorny hedges of regret. I had plenty to draw from.

I took all of that, distilled it down into a soupy, gelatinous napalm, and I set it on fire. You might notice that things get a little prose-y in the last few chapters of Warrior Within. This was not an accident.

It took a lot out of me. I find myself a little lethargic, now. I spend a lot of time looking out windows and sitting alone in the silence. My writing is different. Clipped. Shorter. None of the long sentences that I’ve been so fond of up to this point. I think I just don’t have the energy.

But don’t worry, folks. It won’t last long. I get like this every time I accomplish something big. It happened when I got out of the Navy. When I graduated from college. When I got the job at Vanguard. When my son was born. After my first and second novels. It’s just a cloud that comes over me, shades me for a while, and then blows away.

This cloud will clear, and when it does, I’ll get back to work in earnest.

Speaking of.

I have my next project lined up already. I’m doing a collaboration with Josh Guess, a fellow zombie author whom you may have heard of. We’ve been corresponding for a while now, discussing writing and such, and he threw an idea at me that I found intriguing.

I would like to set some expectations up front, so as not to upset people.

It is a stand-alone novel. It is set in the Surviving the Dead universe. It features characters you will recognize.
It is told from two perspectives, one in first person, one in third person.
It is not pivotal to the Surviving the Dead storyline. Josh and I are just writing it for fun.
It will be shorter than my other novels, probably around sixty thousand words or so. Still novel-length, but not excessively so.

This book shouldn’t take us that long. We each only have to write half of it. We should be able to knock it out in a month or so. I think you’ll like it.

After that, the tale of Gabe and Eric will continue, and I’ll get started in earnest on the vampire hunter series that I keep promising, but have yet to deliver. Not sure of the timeline yet. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

With all that said, let me again express my sincere and profound gratitude to each and every one of you. To all my readers, thank you. You are the reason I do this. Without you, I’d still be sitting in my cubicle and listening to rich people complain. I really don’t miss listening to rich people complain.

You rescued me from that, one book at a time.

Thank you is a paltry phrase. It strives and fails. Badly.

But still. Thank you.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Earshot: An Indie Author's First Foray into Audiobooks

Recently, I announced on my Facebook page that I was working on getting my first novel, No Easy Hope, on audiobook format.

Like most things in my life, the path that led me to pursue this endeavor was not a straight one. It started with a private message on Facebook from a publishing house that I have exchanged messages with in the past. I will not state their name here, because I don't want my experience with them to color anyone's opinion. They are, for the most part, a reputable organization. But my dealings with them have not been altogether positive.

They contacted me a while back to buy the rights to the Surviving the Dead series. Long story short, I turned them down. They couldn't do anything for me that I wasn't already doing for myself, and with the royalty stucture they were offering, I would have had to take a pay cut. No thank you.

Later, they contacted me again to purchase the audiobook rights. This came as a surprise; audiobooks were not even on my radar at the time. Their rather hefty price tags have always been a turnoff for me, and I didn't think there were enough people buying them to make them worth my time.

I could not have been more wrong.

I contacted a friend of mine--a fellow zombie author with whom you're no doubt familiar--and asked him for his opinion. His response was (and I quote):

"Audiobooks are fuckin' huge. My first novel has been out for three years now, and it has, like, three-hundred reviews on Amazon. The same book has only been on audio for about ten months, and the audio version has over a freakin' thousand reviews. I'm  telling you, audiobooks are fuckin' huge."

Maybe it was the sincerity in his tone that got me, or the thick New England accent, but I believed him. So I entertained the publishing house's offer. I even agreed on the advance and royalty.

Then they sent me the contract.

Now, there are a lot of authors out there who jump at the chance to sign on with a publisher. I have never been one of them. I am a paranoid person, I don't trust anyone or anything, and I always assume that anyone who comes to me with an offer for anything, no matter what it is, is trying to screw me. This attitude has saved me from a lot of grief.

So, being the pedantic, untrusting soul that I am, I forked over a few hundred dollars to have a reputable attorney review the contract for me. A few days later, I got his response via email.

Oh. My. God.

I won't bore you with the grim details, but suffice it to say, what they were asking for was not NEARLY worth what they would have been paying me. As you can imagine, I wound up turning them down.

Now I had a dilemma. I knew that I would be leaving money on the table by not putting my books on audio, but I didn't have the cash it would take to pay for production. Making a well-engineered, professional audiobook can be an expensive proposition.

Enter: ACX.

Amazon's Audiobook Creation Exchange platform. It is, in a word, awesome.

There are three parties, generally speaking, involved in creating an audiobook. The rights-holder (me), the producer (most of the time, but not always), and a narrator. Some narrators do their own production, but many work with private studios or production companies. In the past, it was difficult--nigh impossible, in fact--to bring these three entities together without involving a major publishing house.

If there is one thing Amazon it good at, it is spotting opportunities.

They created an online, B2B marketplace where all of these separate parties can come together and make audiobooks. Here's how it works:

As a rights-holder (author), what I did was create a profile for my book (which is essentially a sales pitch) and posted it for auditions. When you create a profile, ACX gives you two options for paying for the production: You can either name a budget in terms of how much you are willing to pay per finished hour of audio, or you can offer a royalty share agreement.

With royalty share, the deal is simple: The author pays nothing up front, the producer or narrator records the audiobook on their own dime, and then the two parties split the royalties fifty-fifty. This is a great deal for indie authors; you don't have to come up with thousands of dollars up front, and all of the risk essentially falls on the producer. If the book doesn't earn out, it's no skin off the author's back. For me, it's all profit no matter what happens. My up front cost is ZERO.
Shortly after posting the profile, the auditions started rolling in. Some were kind of crappy, but most of them were actually really good. In fact, I was kind of taken aback at how talented some of the voice actors were.

Right about the same time, I got another message on Facebook. This time it was from Gregg Savage, the proprietor of Sunny Day Audio. He has done some quality work in the past, and has been in the audiobook business nearly his entire life. I called him, heard what he had to say, and hedged my bets by asking him to submit an audition.

Gregg went above and beyond by actually submitting two auditions from two different narrators on his payroll. Both were good, but I wound up going with Guy Williams. He has quite a bit of work available on the various audiobook platforms, and I think he is genuinely talented.

I have to hand it to Gregg, he brought his A-game. The narration was good, the engineering was crisp and clear, and the overall production was thorough and professional. He impressed me, and that is not an easy thing to do.

The production is now finished, ACX has the final product, and hopefully in the next week or two, it will be available for purchase. For any authors out there who read this blog, and haven't considered the possibility of getting your books on audio, my advice is this: ACX is your huckleberry.

Look into it.

Audiobooks are fuckin' huge.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Interview with author Brian P. Easton

I've mentioned before on both this blog and my facebook page that I'm a big fan of Brian P. Easton's werewolf hunter series comprised of two novels titled, in order, Autobiography of a Werewolf Hunter, and Heart of Scars. (Click the link if you'd like to purchase a copy through Amazon.)If you haven't checked them out yet, both novels get my highest recommendation for horror fans. Be warned, however: These novels are honest-to-God, no-holds-barred horror, and they are NOT for the faint of heart.

For clarification, the main character's name in both novels is Sylvester Logan James. So if you see SLJ, that's what we're talking about.

Now, as Arnold said in Conan the Destroyer, ENOUGH TALK!

J: Where did you get the idea for the SLJ series?

B: That’s a question that doesn’t have just one answer because the idea itself and the character both evolved from a youthful fascination with classic horror. A host of influences helped shape the story into what it is today. My inspirations ranged from my Dad and our mutually admired border-hero Lewis Wetzel, to an obscure scene on an episode of Laverne and Shirley, circa 1977.

As a kid I saw lots of vampire killers in movies and comic-books, but there was a conspicuous absence of werewolf-hunters. I decided to remedy this apparent oversight by creating one of my own, but Sylvester Logan James would be barely recognizable in his earliest incarnation. The character who would become SLJ first starred in my home-made comics as the Werewolf Stalker, and then graduated to a career in typewritten short stories. I started taking the character seriously around 1998 when I gave him a literary makeover in When the Autumn Moon is Bright, which would become Autobiography of a Werewolf Hunter. To this day I have six unpublished, SLJ based manuscripts that bear little resemblance to the AWH storyline.

J: What has your experience working with Permuted Press been like?

B: I couldn’t have asked for better people than Permuted Press; they’re an exceptionally author-friendly, forward-thinking outfit. I have nothing but good things to say about Jacob, who has the best interests of his authors at heart. I’m fortunate to be associated with him and such a talented stable of writers.

J: How has becoming an author changed your life?

B: I was self-published for a number of years and I can tell you at this point it’s mostly bragging rights. Naturally, if you’re a writer being published is a big deal; just ask one who isn’t. I mean tell someone at a party you’re a writer and they’ll probably tell you about poems they’ve written or the idea they had for a novel back in high school. On the other hand, if you say you’re a published author you might get a, “Oh, really?”

In the life-changing department I’d like to say being an author has made me independently wealthy and won me national acclaim, but I can’t so you might want to ask me again when I’m a NYT bestseller.

J: How do your family and friends feel about your choice of genre?

B: My friends love it, but of course you can pick your friends can’t you? Family is a much harder sell, because they’ve probably put up with our ramblings since adolescence and won’t see us for the polished wordsmiths we’ve become. My family isn’t much in the way of horror and I don’t think they understand its appeal, so for the most part I get an occasional “atta-boy” but that’s about all. Truthfully, that’s enough because while they might not fully appreciate what I write, they’ve always been supportive. In fact, each of my parents played key roles in my decision to be a story-teller. When I was only 10 my mother gave me her old typewriter on which I wrote my very first stories, and thus instilled in me a love for writing. My father’s attitude towards the concept of werewolves is the very foundation of SLJ, and defined my interpretation of “The Beast” once and for all.

J: What do you do when you’re not writing?

B: Basically, I chase a toddler all over hell’s creation. I’m also teaching him to hunt werewolves and cast silver bullets in between periods of wiping the snot off his cheeks. Other than that I’m a bit of a firearm and motorcycle aficionado, though the seldom get a chance to indulge both interests at once. I also dabble in graphic design and have created a line of horror/sci-fi themed labels which I put on antique bottles and sell on Ebay around Halloween.

J: What can your fans expect in 2013? Any new releases coming up?

B: This year with a bit of luck I’ll be able to finish The Lineage, which is the third and probably last installment in the AWH series. I’ve been working on this thing for what feels like way too long, but when you add a 20-month old to a pre-existing penchant for working slowly I guess that’s bound to happen.

My buddy Miles Boothe has edited a nice anthology series for Pill Hill Press called Legends of the Monster Hunter, to which I’ve contributed a Foreword and other supplemental material. The first two books, Leather, Denim and Silver and The Trigger Reflex are available right now and the third installment Use Enough Gun should be out sometime this year. There are some real gems in these books that are worth the purchase price all by themselves.

J: Would you ever consider writing a zombie novel?

B: I don’t think so, it’s not my niche and I have no vision for it. I’d have to have a real epiphany of an idea to even consider it. You know, something that’s never been done in a field where almost everything’s been done? No, I believe I’d write another kind of monster novel first, maybe an Aztec mummy or something.

J: Who do you think could play SLJ in a movie? Any other cast picks for characters from your novels?

B: My dream cast is pretty well established for a movie treatment: Gillian Anderson as Tanya Clemons, Gabriel Byrne as Daniel Rogier, Christopher Walken as Diego etc., but SLJ has always been harder to cast. It’d have to be someone with a talent for portraying anger and grief with equal enthusiasm; someone who is masculine without being loutish and visually striking without being pretty. When I think about movie characters who with these traits I settle on Bill the Butcher (Gangs of New York) and Nathaniel Bumppo, aka Hawkeye (Last of the Mohicans), both as played by Daniel Day Lewis. Sam Eliot would also be my first choice to play Foster, SLJ’s father.

J: Do you have any book or movie recommendations for your fans?

B: You know, tastes vary so wildly from person to person that I’m always hesitant to suggest books and films to others. However, there is one book I would recommend to anyone interested in tales of violent redemption and that’s Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece, Blood Meridian. To say the least it’s not for the faint of heart or the easily befuddled, but for me it’s become the gold standard.

In these days when horror seems to have been watered down or glitzed to the nines, I think it behooves those of us with an abiding interest in the genre to re-visit its roots and the classic authors who pretty much defined it. I think reading the old grandfathers like Jacobs, Derleth and Blackwood could give us some perspective and re-calibrate our palate for what bumps in the night.

As far as movies go I’ll just drop a couple titles that I think are underrated. Ravenous (1999), starring Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle combines my two favorite genres (horror and western) into a bloody, funny and downright cool-as-hell romp through the American wilderness with a genuine Windigo. Also, if you’ve never seen Angel Heart (1987) with Mickey Rourke you’re really missing something as far as I’m concerned.

J: What would you tell anyone who hasn’t read your books yet to get them to give it a shot?

B: All I can promise is that my monsters don’t sparkle and my protagonist doesn’t gratuitously take off his shirt. My werewolves aren’t romanticized, bare-chested love-puppies and my hero only looks like the “good guy” because of the company he keeps. I paint a hard-boiled, sometimes noir world of teeth on the floor and hair on the wall and make no apologies for it. I strive to make the existence of werewolves as realistic as possible, and since I see them as demonic creatures I’m going to take you to places that are pretty messed up.

I’d also add that these stories have a larger tale to tell than just a vengeance-seeking anti-hero at odds with supernatural monsters. The heart of the series is a running commentary on the effects of hatred on the human soul, but you don’t necessarily have to appreciate that to enjoy the story.