Brown River Queen cover art

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Things That Go Bump #2: Thomas House Edition

As I mentioned last week, I'll soon be taking a trip to the Thomas House in Tennessee, in hopes of recording some of the haunting activity frequently reported there.

I'll take a camera, of course, but my strategy is concentrate on capturing audio phenomena. To that end, I've collected my gear, and here's what I'll be taking:

* A homemade Velleman stereo super-ear amp, with digital recorder onboard.

* A homemade magnetic sensor. This device is extremely sensitive, and it transduces EM signals down to audio. Which means if everyone's K2 meters light up, I can stick my nosy 2-foot-long probe near the spot. If the source of the reading is, for example, common house electrical current, the mag box will retun the unmistakable sound of 60 Hz house current. It's also sensitive enough to pick up cell phone emissions, which I suspect are another common source of K2 readings. The mag box also has full-time digital recording (like the Velleman, by means of a small digital voice recorder Velcroed to the side.)

* A parabolic mic with full-time digital audio recording. The parabolic is too large and unwieldy to walk around with, so I'll just set it up in some lonely, out of the way spot, turn it on, and let it record. Maybe a ghost will get careless and complain about all the live people tramping around and I'll catch that.

* A so-called 'Tesla radio,' also equipped with a digital recorder. This is basically an untuned AM radio, with weird antennas Signals drift in and out willy-nilly, and since some researchers believe communication is possible with such a device, I'm bringing one. 

* Finally, my trusty Zoom H1 field mic, which is tough, sensitive, and capable of truly detailed recordings. 

Below are some snapshots of the gear.

Why yes, it is homemade. Since parabolics run 600 and higher even for small ones, I won't be buying one anytime soon. Recording is straight to a Dell netbook. This little rig works well, even if it is basically a squirrel-shield and leftover parts from other projects. Oh, and why does it having a blinking red LED? 

Clear disk. Dark, unfamiliar room. With the LED blinking away maybe I won't walk into it again.

Next up, the Tesla.

There's a story about Nikola Tesla building a very primitive radio in his laboratory and listening to it late in the night. The story goes that he heard things he couldn't explain, and since this took place well before the advent of commercial radio stations, and since Tesla invented basically every bit of electrical technology we enjoy today, a lot of people take the story seriously. 

Hey, it looks cool, it's sensitive to a broad spectrum of radio frequencies, and it cost me 13 bucks to build. You've got an old-school germanium diode, a tiny capacitor or two, and then I added a preamp and topped it off with a quarter-watt audio amp and a cheap digital voice recorder. So speak into the spiral antenna, Miss Ghost, and be heard.

Last, a couple of items. Pictured below are the Velleman super ear and its recorder, on the left. On the right of the Velleman is the mag box, also with its recorder. The small black box on the far right is a Ramsey Electronics Tri-Field recorder, which can reveal the presence of electric fields, magnetic fields, or RF fields. 

Also shown is a sonic screwdriver, because who goes ghost hunting without one, right?

The mag box has a two-foot-long probe. Here's a picture of the magnetic sensor at the end:

I hope it's safe to say I'll be able to cover the entire audio spectrum and a good wide swath of the EM spectrum, too. 

The downside of all this, of course, will be the mind-numbingly boring task of listening to each and every minute of everything recorded by all the recorders. 

That's the real glamor of engaging in paranormal research -- listening intently to fifteen hours of audio in hopes of catching a single muttered 'Hey.' 

Switching gears from ghost hunting to writing for a moment, noted book reviewer Big Al reviewed the latest Markhat novel, THE DARKER CARNIVAL.

You can read the review by clicking here. The reviewer liked the book -- always a nervous moment, believe me, reading a book review of your own book -- so I'm thrilled. 

Here's an excerpt from the review: "It is a rollercoaster ride of twists and dead-ends until puzzle pieces start falling into place. Then Markhat finds himself confronted with something he never imagined he would find himself doing or having the will to carry out."

Now that's what any writer wants to see!

If you're curious, you can still buy THE DARKER CARNIVAL from Amazon by clicking here.

Things That Go Bump #1: Thomas House Edition

I've always wanted to spend the night in an alleged haunted house.

Finally, the time has come. Soon I'll be joining the Historical Haunts crew for an overnight stay at the famous Thomas House Hotel, a site rumored to be positively teaming with ghosts, spectres, haunts, haints, boogers, poltergeists, shades, revenants, tulpas, pookas, shadow people, and at least one confused Irish leprechaun who wishes people would stop laughing at the buckles on his shoes.

Seriously, the Thomas House has a certain reputation for frequent unexplained phenomena that stretches back quite a few years. Built in 1890 by the Cloyd family, the Hotel was a lavish estate, catering to the wealthy who flocked to the area to partake of the hot mineral springs thought at the time to promote health. 

There was a golf course, riding trails, and at one point a pet bear was housed on the premises. There were also a number of deaths (a child drowned in a swimming pool, and a rider suffered a fatal fall from a horse) and several fires. 

Most of the activity seems to be fairly typical -- knocks, disembodied voices, cold spots, dragging sounds, even a few moving apparitions. 

People have captured a few interesting experiences. Here, for instance, four musical notes sound and are captured by a video camera:


And here is a clip of a child's voice, in a room where no children were present:


I'll be thrilled if I can catch anything so clear.

Since I plan to focus primarily on capturing EVPs on this visit, I'm bringing out the big guns. Namely, my homebuilt parabolic microphone, which I plan to install in a quiet place somewhere, preferably with a nice long line of sight. 

I've added a new feature to the parabolic. This time, it will be connected to an old Dell netbook, which will record directly from the mic. This way, I'll be able to quickly scroll through the recording while I'm at the Thomas House, without waiting to dump the audio file from a tiny digital recorder before sitting down to listen to the whole file. 

Here's what the whole rig looks like. Please excuse the state of the lab; Igor is visiting relatives in Transylvania all this month.

The parabolic element (the clear dish-shaped thing) is actually a $20 'squirrel shield' built to hang above bird feeders. The tripod is an old junker with a bubble level that does a nice job of holding up the dish. The mic is held at the dish's focal point by a band of sheet metal. A small battery-powered preamp boosts the signal, and the little Dell netbook records it live, using Audacity sound processing software, which is free.

Here's a close-up of the Audacity monitor screen:

The pre-amp has a gain control, and I can also adjust input levels from the Audacity dashboard. So once I'm at the actual location, I'll tweak everything to catch very faint whispers, and just let it go.

That's just one piece of gear I'll be taking. Next week, I'll show another. 

Anything captured on a recording will also be revealed here. 

If anyone has any suggestions for other gear, let me know!

MidSouthCon 34 Roundup

There are few constants in life. Cars and friends and yes, even publishers all come and go.

But one event I look forward to every year is MidSouthCon. 

MidSouthCon is, of course, the premiere science fiction/fantasy con held every March in Memphis, Tennessee. 

To me, it's more than just a gathering of like-minded fans of a genre I love. It's become a place to see old friends and make new ones. The people who run the con work their asses off to bring order to the chaos that is fandom, and they do a marvelous job every year. So let me start with a shout-out to the Con staff, who herd cats, wrangle authors, appease editors, placate publicists, and generally make sure everyone has a great time.  You guys and girls rock!

The 34th MidSouthCon was no exception. I had a blast, met a lot of fascinating people, grabbed some incredible art (from Ann Stokes, Mitch Faust, and Sam Flegal), hung out with ghost hunters (Historical Haunts), and finally got to spend some real time with authors I respect and admire (Rosalie Stanton, Cecilia Dominic, Steve Bradshaw, Tim Bohn, and Robert Krog, among many others). 

Meeting and actually speaking with artist Ann Stokes was also delightful. I'm constantly amazed at the innate, well, niceness of the artists, authors, and other creative people at the Con. It's not artifice, either -- the Con simply has a friendly vibe that resonates year to year.

I was on a number of panels this year, on topics ranging from cryptozoology to character development. I've come to love panels, not so much because I get to talk, but because I'm sitting next to people who have profound things to say. I learned something valuable I can apply to my own writing every time I sat down, and there aren't many other venues that provide me with that experience.

I also took pictures. It;s hard to sit in the lobby and catch everyone in cosplay when you're a panelist, but I did the best I could. You can follow the link below to Flickr to see the best of the pics I took. 

Link to Frank's MidSouthCon 34 pics:

I was eligible for two Darrell Awards this year -- one in the YA Novel category, for All the Turns of Light, and one in the novel category, for The Darker Carnival.

I'm happy to report that All the Turns of Light won 1st runner up, and my Markhat novel The Darker Carnival won the Darrell Award for best novel of 2015!

That sounds like bragging. Maybe it is, just a bit. But writing is a lonely business. Sometimes I wonder if anyone is reading me anymore. Having the Darrell awards jury choose one of my books tells that nagging little voice in my head, the one that whispers "you're wasting your time, moron, no one likes your stuff" to shut up for a while. That's always welcome.

I'll be honest -- I'm exhausted. It was fun, but at my age, fun comes at a price. So I'll leave you with a couple of extra images from the Con.

The Darrell Award:

My prized Ann Stokes image, 'Arachnafaria.' Taking good pictures of art is hard, please forgive the image quality. The actual piece, which is on canvas, is stunning:

Finally, a pic of the author presenting a professional, properly authorial image on a panel:

Night night, kids. I'm off to take a huge dose of Vitamin C and hope to avoid the onset of the dreaded Con Crud...

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Used E-Books For Sale, Cheap.

The Interwebs are awash in rumors that Amazon, everyone's favorite monolithic bookseller, may be quietly making plans to allow for the re-sale of 'used' e-books.

I know, I know. Print books have been resold as used books for decades, even centuries. And I'm fine with that, even though I don't make any money off the resales.

But I don't see the move to allow e-books to be sold as 'used' as the equivalent to the resale of paper books.

A used paper book is, judging by the used books I've bought over the years, obviously used. Sometimes, apparently, as both a door-stop and an impromptu combat shield. Which is fine; I like giving a book someone obviously enjoyed a new home.

But e-books never age. The covers don't fade. The pages don't get dog-eared. The dog doesn't chew the corners. The thing Amazon is itching to label as a 'used' e-book is absolutely indistinguishable from a 'new' e-book except in one respect -- the price.

And that's where I take exception.

Oops. See, I mentioned price, which implies I'm concerned about the monetary reward for my writing. I forgot that as an author I should be slaving away strictly for the fun of it. In fact, as an artiste, I should be deeply insulted at the very mention of filthy lucre, preferring instead to take my sustenance from the lofty magical essence of my Muse's ethereal whisperings instead.

I'd be glad to do just that. But Microsoft doesn't have an ETHEREAL WHISPERINGS button with which to pay my Office 360 subscription. My computer parts can't be bought with an IOU from my Muse, and she claims the same is true for her liquor store tab.

No, that takes actual money.

My publisher, assuming I have one, also can't exist without some form of small remuneration.

But lately, Amazon -- the 900 pound gorilla in the small hot room that is Publishing -- seems determined to push authors and publishers as far to the side as possible.

First, Amazon started charging publishers for better placement in the 'algos.' Algo is shorthand for algorithm, as in the algorithm that decides where each of the eleventy zillion books they sell will fall on page searches and so forth.

In effect, Amazon is poking publishers in the chest and saying 'Dat's a nice book you got there. Be a shame if nobody ever saw it. How's about a little donation to make sure dat nice book don't fall off the list, and go boom? Fugheddabouddit."

Which was bad enough. Smaller publishers, already operating on the slimmest of margins, sometimes found themselves unable to turn a profit and keep their books from falling down so low they have to order canned sunlight. But of course the bigger houses can pay, and they do, because a book nobody can find is a book nobody will buy.

And now the Zon is plotting to further undercut publishers and authors by allowing 'used' sales of their e-books?

I can't think of a better way to devastate an industry. If the product page for my books shows a new Kindle version at $1.99 and a used Kindle version, which is the same bloody thing, at 99 cents (or whatever, always less than the price of 'new'), is there any way such a listing will NOT choke my sales?

Even if I get a small cut -- and I have no idea if that will happen, or how -- I and my publisher just lost all control over how much our books will cost. And since the publisher set that price for a reason, it's going to hurt us.

I hope I'm wrong about all this. Maybe recent events have left me jumpy. That could well be the case.

But even if Amazon does start offering 'used' e-books, I won't ever buy one. 

(Image at top: Everett Collection Inc. | - image52027862#res5678350)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sad News, Bad News, and Good News

By now, you've probably read half a dozen blogs concerning the announcement that Samhain Publishing is embarked on a six-month journey toward closing their business.

If you haven't, well, now you have. This affects me because my Markhat books found their home at Samhain in 2007, when they bought Dead Man's Rain.

Since then, I've published nine Markhat titles there.  

Before I go any further, I'm going to make one thing plain. Samhain has always been a wonderful publisher. They did everything right, and with a lot of class. My covers were works of art. My editing was always challenging but professional. They made every book better than the book I first submitted, and they worked hard to get them in the hands of readers.

Things are no different now in the way Samhain is doing business. They're still unfailingly professional. Still working hard to do right, as my grandmother always said, by their authors and staff.

So while I'm sad, there's no anger here. Quite the contrary.

Many other publishers have decided to shut down by simply disconnecting the phones and changing the locks. Emails go unanswered. If they comment at all, it's just a generic smattering of legal boilerplate designed to obfuscate and deflect. Or worse, to give them time to finish packing before that flight to Aruba takes off.

Samhain is doing none of that. They are still in business. 

They are still selling ebooks.

They will continue to sell them while the orderly shutdown continues. Authors will still get royalties, just as we always have, right up until the day sales cease.

 And that's the very definition of class. 

I've been asked a few times 'What happened? Why did sales slump so low?'

I don't know. I just write books. What makes them sell, what makes sales falter, what drives the engines of profit and loss? I have a better grasp of quantum thermo-electrodynamics than I do the bookselling industry, and I'm pretty sure I just made up the term 'quantum thermo-electrodynamics.' 

I do know that Samhain marketed my books. They got them to booksellers, both electronic and print, in markets that spanned the world. 

So was the fault with me? The ebook sellers? Was there some preternatural configuration of planets and sunspots that caused sales to sputter? Did I cut off an old Gypsy woman in traffic on I-55 in 1997, and this is the result of her muttered curse?

You tell me. 

Being a publisher takes courage. I do know that. You can find and polish and offer books that are treasures, marvels of the written word, only to have them languish while Snooki's latest reality-show tell-all flies off the shelves. 

It's risky, being courageous. You're taking a chance, hitching your fate to a work of art that you believe in.

Sometimes the price you pay  for courage is temporary failure. A passing defeat. Loss of a battle during a long-fought war.

I know the folks at Samhain are hurting now. For any of you reading this, please take heart.

Writing books, selling them, editing them, running the business. It's all, to borrow a phrase Markhat would probably use, a long game. 

There will be setbacks. Disasters. Heartbreak. 

I spent most of Friday night, right after the news broke, in a hastily-born chat room filled with Samhain staffers and Samhain authors.

Everyone was shocked. Bewildered. Confused. Wholly and utterly dumbfounded, as to what to do next. 

Well, not entirely dumbfounded about what to do next. We are, after all, writers and editors. So, 'get drunk' is our collective go-to solution for Life's cruel arsenal of heartbreak. 

But even so, I noticed a collective and surprising attitude emerging, even as the shock (and booze) of the day's events still bore down like the tragic weight of a funeral. 

We will go on. 

The writers will nurse their (not inconsiderable) hangovers and glare at a blank screen and eventually their fingers will start hitting keys in the old familiar rhythm. My former editor is hanging out her shingle as a freelancer, and I am here to tell you, boys and girls, if you want an editor who will beat you prose into sale-able submission, EVIL EYE EDITING is the way to go. I'll be using them -- more on that a few paragraphs down.

The cover artists will keep making art. The marketing folks will find other homes. We are scattered, yes, but we'll keep going.

The Markhat series isn't dead in the water. The first nine titles will still be available while Samhain suspends operations. At some time after that, the rights will revert back to me, and I'll find a way to get them back out there. The covers will change, probably, but the books will be the same. 

When will that take place?

Like Markhat claimed earlier, this is a long game. The proper unit of time to apply in this instance isn't days, or weeks, or even months.

Am I basing my assertion on things I've been told by Samhain? By whispers in a chat room?

Nope. It's a wild guess. Like every thing else in publishing, I suppose.

But I figure I have a year, probably, to plan how to re-introduce the first nine Markhat titles.

I won't be idle as I wait, though. 

A new Markhat book will, a little bird tells me, be appearing soon (as in months soon).  It will be edited by the very same people who edited the last several Markhat titles. The cover art will be done either by the same people or by someone equally talented. 

As an experiment, I've decided to publish this one myself. 

In this instance, it makes perfect sense. While the bulk of the series is unavailable for submission to a new publisher, why not get the new title out there? The series has an established audience. Sales of the first nine books are still steady. The same team that brought the first titles to life is ready to get started on the next. The only thing that will change is the publisher's name on the product information page.

Well, not the only thing. I will lose the marketing engines that Samhain brought to the table. But I can climb aboard Amazon and Barnes & Noble myself, and even create print versions of the ebook.  

Whereas I received free editing and free cover art and free marketing from Samhain, I'll now be footing all these bills myself. 

This won't be cheap. Good editing, by someone who is in fact an editor, someone who has actual publishing industry experience, that is going to cost what Markhat would label as 'real money.' So is cover art. One thing I will NOT do is try editing or art on my own. I'm a lousy self-editor. My artistic skills are routinely matched by pufferfish and nails. The series deserves better than that. You, the readers, deserve better than that. 

It's a risk, sure. Is the book good enough to pay for itself and still make a profit?

If deep down in my shriveled little soul I can't answer that question with a defiant 'Hell yes,' then I need to write a better book, or stop writing altogether.

I am aware that Kickstarter and similar sites allow authors to seek fan funding for their projects. I even considered that, for about one-quarter of a Yalobusha Brewing Company's Larry Brown Ale. But that's not for me. I don't question or impugn the writers who do use Kickstarter.  I wish them every success. But that is not my path. 

Even with the costs and the risks piling up, I think this is the right decision, at this moment. Keeping new titles coming is the only way to keep the series alive. 

Self-publishing the new title feels like an experiment worth trying. 

Most readers will never be aware of any of this. I'm revealing my plans here just in case anyone else in my situation is ever curious as to what steps one Samhain author took next, or if fans enjoy the occasional peek behind the scenes about what it takes to put a new book in their hands.

Will I crash and burn? Skyrocket to fame and fortune?

Probably neither. I'll be happy with somewhere in the middle.

I'll provide a few details, now and then, as this experiment progresses. 

Oh, by the way -- the Mug and Meralda books, All the Paths of Shadow and Every Turn of Light, are not at all affected by the Samhain situation. They weren't Samhain titles, so their status is unchanged. 

Ill leave you with better words than I'll ever write. Samhain brothers, Samhain sisters, we are none of us done. Just keep those furry feet moving.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

--J. R. R. Tolkien, from Roads Go Ever On 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Best Opening Lines

“It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark little clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.” 

― Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

That is, and will probably always be, my favorite opening to a book. Raymond Chandler started writing late in life, but when he did hit the ground, he hit it running.

The Big Sleep's opening lines do it all. They put you, the reader, in a specific time and place, and they introduce not only the protagonist, but his unique voice. The book is a wonder, and if you haven't read it, you should. Even if you're not a fan of detective fiction -- the writing is just that good.

Douglas Adams wrote one of my other favorite opening lines.

"In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move." -- from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Finally, Jim Butcher, from Blood Rites:

"The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault."

Of course these are just three examples from a fields of possible millions.

What are your favorite opening lines? I thought it might be fun to swap a few in the comments section. Heck, we might all discover a few new great books that way. 

One last thing -- I'm going to be a guest on PAIRANORMAL this Friday night, at 10 PM EST (9 PM CST for my local friends). PAIRANORMAL is an internet radio talk show focusing on all things weird, paranormal, or just plain out there. Who will play the role of the skeptic? Who will assume the mantle wide-eyed true believer? Click LISTEN LIVE on the TMV Cafe webpage at 9 PM CST Friday night and find out!

You can also hop in the chat room and comment live while the show airs. Stop by and say hello!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

One Keyboard To Rule Them All

I never took a typing class. Never bothered trying to emulate people who knew how to type, either. But I've worked in IT, and thus with keyboards, since 1982, and I've also been writing that entire time.

So bereft of training or common sense, I've developed my own two-fingered typing style that has been variously described along a spectrum ranging from 'violent'  to 'dude, what the Hell is wrong with you?'

Which means I go through keyboards. A lot of keyboards. 

This wanton destruction of innocent keyboards isn't born of malice, or done with intent. The keyboards I learned on were 1970s and 80s era commercial mainframe computing units. They were solid steel affairs with sturdy mechanical keys and you had to hit them like you meant it. They were durable, too. We ran three shifts, every day, which meant those keyboards were in use nearly all the time. I can't ever remember replacing one of those metal monsters, either. You could probably drag them out of whatever landfill they now occupy, knock all the grated cheese off, and start banging away again like thirty years haven't passed.

A lot has changed since then. I'd bet my lunch money that the keyboard in front of most of you reading this is a plastic affair that would fly apart at the first solid whack over an ogre's pointed head. 

Those flimsy new ones are the keyboards I beat  to death on a regular basis. Even when I moved up to the more expensive gaming keyboards, I didn't solve my problem. Yes, the gaming sets tended to last longer, but their fate was ultimately the same as the rest -- a key would stop working. Then another. Then it was time to pony up for a new one, because you really can't finish a novel without using 'a' or 'e' at some point.

This time, though, I decided to go all out and see if I can't finally put a halt to this endless parade of hapless tortured hardware. I did some research, and learned a few things that might be of interest to any of my heavy-handed writer brothers and sisters out there. 

My criteria for finding a new keyboard were simple. I wanted the following:

* A metal chassis. No more plastic.

* Real mechanical keys. No membrane keys. 

* Lighting. I enjoy writing with the lights down, and while I don't look at the keys once my Two Fingers Of Hammering find their places, lighting is handy when you need it.

You may be wondering what makes mechanical keys different from the usual membrane keys found on most keyboards. 

For a full rundown on the difference, check out this article at the ever-helpful Tom's Guide  site. Then come back here. We'll wait.

The short version is this -- membrane keyboards are cheaper because you're just squishing a plastic wafer down with every stroke. Yeah, it works well enough for most, but if you're spending serious time typing, you really ought to consider treating yourself to a mechanical keyboard.

Mechanical keys have springs and plungers and other assorted bits of machinery. So you get a lot of 'feel' with each keystroke. The keys actually plunge down under your fingers, offer resistance, and pop back up. There's genuine tactile feedback, and none of that mashing on a pancake feeling I always got from membrane keyboards.

So I poked around, searching only for mechanical keyboards. I found plenty. Yes, they're pricier than their membrane counterparts, but I'd buy a single expensive keyboard every several years than a cheaper one every six months.

I wound up getting a Corsair K70 gaming keyboard. It's a beauty, too -- the base is aircraft-grade aluminum, with laser-cut keys and red LED backlighting. The space bar is textured. It's a corded model, not a wireless, and the USB cord is a heavy braided one, with a pair of USB connectors at the far end. It comes with extra keys and a textured detachable wrist rest.

It's heavy, weighing in at almost 3 pounds. 

Since 'unboxing' seems to be a thing now on social media, here's the unboxing of the K70.

I'm thrilled with this keyboard. It's every bit as sturdy as the old IBM mainframe units we banged away at back in the day. I'll be shocked if I have to replace it anytime soon.

Do mechanical keys make that much difference? Listen for yourself. Below, I recorded the sounds of a membrane keyboard being used.


Now, click below to hear what the mechanical K70 keys sound like. 


I hope you can tell how much 'clickier' these are. The feel is also entirely different -- the keys have travel, and resistance. Typing on this keyboard is a joy.

The mechanical keyboard is louder than the membrane. A lot louder. I imagine I'd drive any roommates nuts with this thing, but writing, like other unsavory pursuits, is best done alone.

(Top image: © Elnur | - Young Employee With Keyboard Isolated On White Photo)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Way Out West

Attractive young people break out into spontaneous, unstaged celebrations upon hearing about the new Markhat book.   

WAY OUT WEST, the new Markhat book, has been accepted by Samhain Publishing, and will see release in early 2017 (there's a small chance that date may change to an earlier one).

 Which means the Markhat Files series is now ten titles strong. Eleven, if you count the print-only compilation of the three novellas (The Markhat Files).

Either way, it's a milestone.

I've spent a lot of time with Markhat and Darla and the gang over the last several years. I've watched the characters and their world change.

WAY OUT WEST will present the biggest changes to the series thus far. I've already revealed that the book is set on a steam locomotive, but that's all I'm saying right now.

I'd like to say thanks to everyone who's kept the Markhat series alive by buying the books. Ultimately, there is no better way to support any art than by buying it. Markhat would have died long ago had you people not clicked BUY, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

So what's next, now that WAY OUT WEST has found a home?

I plan to finish two novels this year. The new Mug and Meralda, of course, which has a working title of EVERY WIND OF CHANGE. And I've already started a new Markhat, entitled THE DEVIL'S HORN.

Which sounds ambitious until you realize that just by churning out a thousand words a day, one can finish a rough draft of a full novel in about 80 days. Of course there's still a lot of work to be done even when the draft is complete, but even if you need three months of editing and honing, it's still entirely possible to write a book in six months.

The trick, of course, is to write a good book in six months.

As I chug along with the Markhat books, I do keep wondering when I'll jump the shark. More importantly, I wonder if I'll realize what I've done before an editor has to spell out my failure in brutal, gruesome detail.

Of course there have been authors who managed to write tens on books in a particular series without a fatal misstep. Rex Stout did it with -- what? 70 titles? -- in his brilliant Nero Wolfe series. Roger Zelazny's Amber books never hit rock bottom. I did get a bit bogged down at one point with Glen Cook's Black Company series, but he recovered in the next book and the end was one of those rare times when you can't even stand up for a while after reading the last page of the final book.

So I have hope. And I'll keep turning books out. That little voice that whispers, the one that seeks to sow the seeds of doubt, that's one voice you've got to ignore.

So it's back to work for me. Take care, all, see you next week!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Devil's Horn

The new Markhat book is underway. The working title is THE DEVIL'S HORN, and the image above may or may not contain clues as to the book's content. 

I'm never entirely sure where books come from. The Markhat series was born in an instant as I listened to a Billy Idol album. DEAD MAN'S RAIN was inspired by a thunderstorm and a dark old house. THE DARKER CARNIVAL was born during a break-room discussion of writer Harry Crews and his time spent with a traveling carnival. 

THE DEVIL'S HORN sprang to life in an instant, in the shower, as I reached for the soap.

Hardly the stuff of literary legend. You never heard Hemingway say 'I applied shaving cream.  THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA popped fully formed into my head.'

But that's how it happened for me. 

I have to believe the book has been brewing subconsciously for a while now. There's too much detail, too many intricate moving parts, for it to have taken shape so quickly. I'm not that smart. 

I think it's going to be a great book. Markhat's world is changing.  The changes are drastic, and coming fast, and I suppose that aspect of the book may be driven by what I see going on in our tired old world. 

I just wish I had as much control over events in the here and now as I do on paper.

But would that be a good thing? Sure, some might say so. Just like I'm sure you'd do, given some mystical power, I'd try to eliminate hunger. Wipe out poverty. Put an end to war. Ignorance. Want.

Even so, for every person that lauded these things, I've come to realize there'd be a more or less equal number who would decry such efforts, or the means taken to accomplish them. 

Interesting how halos or horns are entirely a matter of perspective, when the focus is shifted from the wearer to the world. 

I should shut up now. The book is begun, but hardly complete. 

That's the news I have for this week. I'll close with a book cover and a link, because I've grown fond of what we call 'food.'

The author, upon learning he has been binge-drinking turtle juice.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Words For Your Ears

I've always wanted to see one of my titles in audiobook format.

I've even tried recording a couple of my short stories myself. Unfortunately, my Mississippi accent is both thick and omnipresent, and I simply can't do convincing character voices. If I can find either of the audio files, I'll prove both points by linking to them at the end of this entry.

But my friend and fellow author Maria Schneider doesn't suffer from my limitations, so she's made four highly entertaining audio versions of her works free for the listening on her blog, Bear Mountain Books. 

Here.s the link. I suggest you start with the first one, Bingo. It's less than 15 minutes long, and it's a hilarious variation on the old Faustian deal-with-the-Devil trope.  I felt pretty sorry for the Horned One by the end.


You'll love them all, though. Take a listen!


My Story THE KNOCKING MAN was included in an anthology back in 2011. The anthology was entitled  SHADOW STREET and while I don't think the book is still in print, you can listen to me read it aloud by clicking the YouTube link below. I'm not sure why you'd want to listen to me read it aloud. Maybe you have neighbors you don't like -- in that case, crank this one up, and go grocery shopping. They'll probably have moved by the time you get back.

It's a heartwarming tale of the walking dead, and a young man finding refuge and purpose in a dangerous world. It's a safe listen -- this isn't a zombie story at all. Well, okay, there are corpses that get up and run errands, but nobody gets eaten. Anyway, have a listen.

Have a good week, everyone, see you next Sunday!