Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Along Came a Spider

That's Millicent above, our resident Argiope aurantia (or, more commonly, the Black and Yellow Garden Spider). Millicent maintains a tidy two bedroom, two bath web above our box hedges, and is easily one of the best neighbors I've ever had (though not the first neighbor to subsist entirely on a diet of insects).

I'm careful to leave her web alone when I trim the hedges, because everyone deserves a place to live regardless of the number of their legs.

Reviews are Pouring In!

The most recent installment in the Markhat series was reviewed last week on Big Al's Books and Pals site.

I'm happy to report that The Five Faces garnered a 5 stars out of 5 rating, and the reviewer has nice things to say about not only this book but the series too:

Mr. Tuttle has a talent for developing his characters with dialog that I really appreciate. I love the banter and self-deprecating humor that he excels at. I also like the elements from our world that he weaves into his unique fantasy world of human characters along with wand-wavers, undead, trolls, banshees, soothsayers, and vampires.  I am not quite sure what to make of the slilth, but I like what he did with it at the end of the story. I am laughing right along with Stitches. I also have to laugh at the Brown River Bridge clown patrol, they add an interesting touch to Rannit’s unsavory population.

Which means I did exactly what I set out to do, this time.

You can read the entire review from the link below:

The Five Faces review on Big Al's Books and Pals

In other writing news, the new Mug and Meralda should go out for proofreading next week. Which puts the release of the book just a few weeks away!

Frank's Marketing Tips for Authors

If you read any online writing blogs or discussions, one of the first topics you'll encounter will be that of marketing your new book. There are mobs of new authors out there who appear to be convinced that the only thing standing between them and a stack of money high enough to climb and roll down is some uber-secret marketing plan.

Don't believe me? A cottage industry has sprung up overnight on Amazon alone, as hundreds of how-to books appear, each with titles like How to Make a Million Dollars Overnight Before You Even Finish That Pesky Novel or 100 Sure-Fire Tips and Tricks to Reach Best-Sellerdom and Quit Your Day Job and Show All Those Nobodies in the Crit Group That Grammar Doesn't Matter After All So Ha. 

I'd be a lot more impressed if these sure-fire can't-miss tell-all books weren't mostly written by people I've never heard of. I'd be even more impressed if many of them were longer than 15 pages, or contained fewer than half a dozen formatting and grammar errors on the first couple of pages. But hey, what's a fewe spellinging errorz between budding billionaires, right?

No marketing efforts can do more than temporarily boost sales of a bad book. And even good marketing plans can't propel goods books instantly into the sales stratosphere -- for every best-seller, I believe there are ten or a hundred equally good books languishing in the weeds, left behind out of caprice, not incompetence.

But of course there are actions and strategies any author can undertake to make the most of a fickle and ever-changing market. And since I'm a generous sort, I'll give my tricks and tips away for free (although donations are gladly accepted, after all, Millicent above needs a new central air unit).

Thus, I give you Frank's Marketing Tips and Tricks for Authors. Use them with care, lest ye summon down a furious plague of reviewers and movie producers!

Frank's Tips

1) Branding is crucial to the success of your marketing efforts. Not the kind of branding done to cattle in Westerns, though. Don't make that mistake no matter how many hits the YouTube video is likely to get.

2) Keep readers engaged with a series of high-profile crimes and arrests. Strive to have your booking photos featured on The Smoking Gun website at least once per quarter, and right before every new book release.

3) When using the Tweeter, maximize your content with lots of hashtags, abbreviations, and acronyms. HEY #AGHTY & CPHY @ASJESDF,#LOLOLOL SPDER/GHTY says what mere words can't.

4) Constant blatant self-promotion is ineffective and annoying, except when you do it. Automate Twits and book-face posts to remind readers to buy your new book every few minutes, or you'll be lost and forgotten by all.

5) Invite bloggers to blog on their blogs about your blog and then blog about their blog concerning your blog.

6) Google yourself. Pull the blinds down first, you pervert.

7) Always approach editors and agents from behind, while wearing cork-soled shoes, or they'll hear you coming and you'll struggle to force the chloroform-soaked rag over their mouth.

8) Book signings are a powerful way to reach and build an audience. Bookstore owners are busy people, so don't waste their time by asking permission before you set up a table and start signing. An attitude of quiet self-assurance and a pair of burly roadies named 'Big Mike' and 'Butcher-knife' are all you need to establish your presence.

9) Receiving a bad review is part of any author's life. But you're not any old author, so respond to a poor review with calm, professional mercenaries, who can be found for hire in the pages of Soldier of Fortune magazine.

There is a 10th tip, but it is so powerful and potentially dangerous I must wait and publish it in my own upcoming how-to book, which shall be entitled Writing For Big Bucks: How to Command Financial Mastery of the Publishing Industry With Only Two Small Ice Cubes, the Shinbones of a Hamster, and a 42-syllable Sanskrit Word Spoken Beneath a Total Eclipse, Part 1 (available in October for only $39.99).

Finally, the Inevitable Ice Bucket Challenge Video 

I leave you this week with a video.

I was challenged by my wife to undertake the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS research, and of course I agreed, because this is Mississippi in late August and a bucket of ice water poured over one's head is a thing devoutly to be wished for. 

There's another reason, too. My Mom died of ALS three years ago, and I believe I can say without reservation that I've never seen anything so cruel and so devastating as ALS. Every dollar raised by the Ice Bucket Challenge is a blow against the disease, and for me, that's a very good cause indeed.

Donations can be made via

Below is my video. Please note the appearance of the large fused ice-chunk, and the velocity at which it contacts my formidably sturdy skull. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Words With Author Elyse Salpeter

Today, I'll be stepping out of the spotlight (you didn't know we had a spotlight? Well, we do, and it takes three trained monkeys to keep it aimed at me) to feature an interview with author Elyse Salpeter. Enjoy!

Why look, an author with a book!

Last week, I sent Elyse a series of questions carefully constructed to make it appear as if I have a rudimentary command of English. She kindly obliged by answering each, and consenting to have her responses posted here in the Board-certified, gluten-free pages of my blog.

But first, here are a few links to Elyse, and her books!

Elyse's Amazon Author page (includes links to all of her books!)

So who is this writing madwoman? What is she all about?

I give you the Official(tm) Elyse Salpeter Author Interview!

QUESTION from FRANK: Your new book, Flying to the Fire, is the latest installment in a series featuring a deaf protagonist. What led you to feature a deaf child as the hero of the series?

ANSWER from ELYSE: I’ve been asked this a lot and I have to say, when I first wrote Book #1, FLYING TO THE LIGHT, I had no intention of making any sort of statement by introducing a deaf child as the main character. It’s just that when I was developing the story, this young boy popped into my mind and I said to myself “what if he can’t speak and no one has any idea about the amazing secret he holds?” I was more concerned about his age. How no one would take this child seriously at the age of six, so his secret would be safe for awhile. In book #2 I move him to the age of thirteen because I really wanted him to be the driver of the story.

I didn’t want this child’s deafness to be construed as a disability and it was simply a part of who he is. I have the family all using sign language to communicate with him and I treat him very typically. 

QUESTION from FRANK: You've established a unique cosmology for Flying to the Light and Flying to the Fire. Both books are set in the world we know, in the present, but your young protagonist knows something about the afterlife we don’t. Without giving away too many spoilers, how did you come up with the plot twist that’s central to the books?
ANSWER from ELYSE: No one really knows what happens to us when we die. We think we might have an idea. We believe in faith and religion and spirituality concepts, but none of us actually has the answer. Unless you’re a complete agnostic that believes you’re worm food at the end of the day, most of us think there “something,” though I’m hard pressed to say what it is. 

I love the idea that good souls have somewhere to go and bad souls have some place where they do penance, or are simply tortured for eternity for their heinous crimes on earth! When I came up with the idea for the FLYING series, I thought to myself “what if our souls don’t necessarily go where we think they do?” I also liked the idea that this wasn’t a plot scenario that I’ve seen anywhere in the field, and death and the afterlife have been covered a lot. I think readers will enjoy this twist on the age-old question of “what happens to us when we die?” 

QUESTION from FRANK: Let’s shift gears for a minute and talk about Elyse the author. Walk us through a typical day -- when do you write, how much do you try to write, and what’s the biggest obstacle you face trying to get all that done?

ANSWER from ELYSE: Ah, you see, when you said typical day and then discussed writing, that’s where my creative side gets skewed. You see, I never have set times to write. Between a full time job, married and with kids, I find my time to write to be a “plead, beg and steal” routine. A typical day is me turning on the computer in the morning and blasting out some social media promotions before I jump into the shower to get ready for work. Then, if I’ve dragged the laptop with me to work, I get two twenty minute sessions, on two different trains, to write. Sometimes I’m lucky and then can get some time in at lunch, and then also on the way home. 

Writing at night happens after the kids go to sleep, but by that time, I’m pretty much wiped out from my day. That said, when I’m deep into writing a new novel, I’ll negotiate with the family time for me to write and usually it involves me leaving the house in order to get the space and time I need. “Ideal” this is not. 

QUESTION from FRANK: The publishing industry. You’re a writer, so you’re a part of it. If you could change one thing about the business of writing itself, what would that be, and why?

ANSWER from ELYSE: I wish so many things. I wish there were more brick and mortar stores. I wish more publishing companies took on new writers. I wish it were easier to reach readers. I wish it were easier to get respected companies in the field to do reviews of self published work. I wish agents were more responsive and open to also taking on new writers. I wish it were easier to break into Hollywood. As you can see, I’m a big wisher. 

QUESTION from FRANK: What’s next for you? Got any new projects on the horizon you’d like to talk about? 

ANSWER from ELYSE: I do! I have a horror novel that I’m presently editing that I’m hoping to release for Halloween. It’s called THE MANNEQUINS and is about a film crew that disappears after breaking into a deserted mansion. After that I’ll start working on Book #3 in the FLYING series. The tentative title is called FLYING HOME. 

QUESTION from FRANK: Advice for aspiring authors -- it’s a Federal law that I ask this question in any blog interview. So, what’s worked for you, and what hasn’t, and what would you suggest new authors concentrate their efforts upon?

ANSWER from ELYSE: I would tell people to persevere. There are so many different levels of success. I know that now with five novels out I can be considered successful and I should be happy, but I’m not. I want to be able to do this full time and so I implore aspiring authors to keep writing, keep promoting and keep trying new things. With this ever changing social media and publishing landscape, who knows where the industry will be in ten years? Continue to keep writing and put out quality work and sales will come. I can’t tell you if you’ll be able to make a full time job out of it, but if you can reach a few people who enjoy your work, then you can certainly call yourself a success. 

Elyse is hosting a book launch for her new novel, Flying to the Fire. The official launch is August 30, but since you're a person of taste and no small wit, you can grab a copy right now by clicking your clicky little finger on this brightly-colored easy to use link

Thanks, Elyse, for joining us on the blog today!

Writing News

Despite a trying week, I was able to finish the second draft of the new Mug and Meralda book, All the Turns of Light.

This new draft is now enjoying a stay with a Secret Beta Reader. Meanwhile, I do as all serious authors do after completing one book -- I've started another. 

It might be a new Markhat adventure. It might be a new Markhat adventure involving a long train ride. All these rumors might be true, although it must be pointed out that I could very well be lying about the whole thing, and have instead immersed myself in Cheetos and video games while I await the verdict on the second draft of Turns of Light. Frankly, I'm such a devious, deceitful fellow that I'm not even sure anymore. Why are my fingers stained yellow?

Other Writing News

There has been much ballyhoo and hullabaloo concerning the so-called Authors United Open Letter To Amazon, which you can read for yourself here

The crux of the matter is the ongoing dispute between publisher Hachette and bookseller Amazon over, um, whatever it is they can't agree upon. The right of Amazon to price ebooks as they wish or Hachette to fish inside the hundred-mile territorial waters limits of Norway or possibly over whether Han shot first.

Truth is, I don't know. Look, I have a full-time job, an elderly diabetic dog, and a closet-full of demons and skeletons of my own to deal with each and every bloody day. Bad author, I know, but Amazon and Hachette are going to do whatever it is they wind up doing regardless of my opinion on the matter. It's all I can manage most days to just keep putting words together; I don't have the time or the energy to spare on what amounts to a clash of the Titans over the hills and far away.

I do hear the crash and thud of battle, though, and that itself is disturbing enough. 

Publishing isn't an easy. It wasn't easy when I dived in back in the 1990s and it isn't easy now. But Frank, you say, aghast at my statement -- why, publishing is easier than ever, today! Anyone can upload their ebook, and instantly become an author!

My point exactly. I read somewhere that Amazon introduced more than 70,000 new ebook titles in the last two months alone. Seventy thousand. 

As a veteran of the publishing industry, I will leave you with this comment, which is of course open for debate.

It has never been easier to publish one's own book, and it has never been more difficult to place one's own book in front of the right audience.

Awash and bobbing amid an ever-widening sea of titles, each clamoring for rescue by a reader?

That's how it feels, much of the time. 

So whether Amazon is right or Hachette emerges victorious is secondary to someone treading water and hoping to stay afloat. 

And with that, gentle reader, I bid you good evening. 

How about a book to read?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hot Blue Summer Sky

D 31095903 ©  |
Maybe it's the heat. Maybe I've got a case of the midsummer doldrums. All I want to do is lie down and have a good long nap. And by good long nap I mean I want to wake up no sooner that mid-October.

I've had it with summer. It's an inferno out there -- even the copperhead snakes are sticking to the shade and passing out cards that say CONSIDER YOURSELF BITTEN, THANKS instead of coiling up and striking, and I don't blame them one bit.

I believe Lou Ann agrees. We went for a walk earlier, and instead of running ahead and bouncing around and generally displaying boundless doggy exuberance, she headed right for the trail camera, waited quietly while I swapped data cards, and made a bee-line back to the house as soon as I locked the camera case shut. She's been in her chair, belly-up, under the study air conditioner ever since.

And still the sun blazes down. I can almost feel the heat of it, hear the merciless sizzle, just a couple of feet away on the other side of the study's A-frame roof. Part of me truly appreciates Lou Ann's sudden dedication to the air conditioner. I too want to curl up in a cool, dark place and hide from the sun's fiery glare.

I can't do that, of course, because there's too much work to be done. I'm down to the last five or ten pages of the new Mug and Meralda book, All the Turns of Light. That's the last place you want to stop when you're working on a book. There's a rhythm, a cadence, a delicate pace to be maintained near the end, and if I stop now, even for a day or two, I'll lose my sense of that pace. Getting it back would be difficult, if not impossible, so I'll let Lou Ann keep the chair and I'll sit here and tap away instead.

Turns of Light has taken nearly twice the time to complete than I estimated. But that's fine -- I'd rather blow my timeline and end up with a great book than stay on schedule and produce a mediocre one. If you're a fan of the first book (All the Paths of Shadow) I believe you'll love this one too.

Publishing News

My friend Maria Schneider, who is a talented author, animal lover, and licensed airship pilot, just released the sequel to Dragons of Wendal, which you should grab and read if you love fantasy and you haven't read it already. It's lots of fun, and it reminded me of the classic fantasy I grew up on. 

The new book is entitled Dragon Kin and you can get it from the Kobo bookstore or from Amazon by using the links below:

I loved the first book, The Dragons of Wendal, so I'm excited to snatch up the sequel!

Here's the sample blurb from Kobo, to give you an idea of what the book is about:

Drissa needs a place to hide, and she needed it yesterday. Wendal, with its rumors of inhospitable shifters, unknown terrain and wild magic, is not a territory many want to explore, making it the perfect place to disappear. Now, the last thing Drissa needs is to adopt more trouble, but what can she do when it hatches at her feet and then insists she drag it and a half-dead stranger to safety? But she’ll do whatever is necessary to survive, because her younger sister can’t wait forever to be rescued. Of course, Wendal and its inhabitants aren’t necessarily interested in her long-term plans or her survival.
Dragons of Wendal is book one in the series.

Okay, it's back to work for me. Take care, folks, and be wary of the heat!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

In Case You Haven't Heard, Plus Amorous Frogs!

New Markhat is on the Way!

Just in case you haven't heard, Samhain Publishing accepted the new Markhat novel, and we have a tentative publication date of April 2015.

The book will be entitled The Darker Carnival, and if you think this one might be set in a carnival there's a really good chance you might be right. 

I've always wanted to include a traveling carnival in a Markhat book. Even a perfectly innocent carnival provides a rich and exotic setting for a book, but if the carnival is Evil(tm) -- well, that's just plain good fun.

I did a fair amount of research on turn of the century (i.e., the turning of the 19th and 20th centuries) carnival folk. They lived rough and tumble, hard-luck lives, especially the 'freaks,' but even so carny life was preferable to the alternatives in the early 1900s. Some amassed quite respectable fortunes, for the time, and enjoyed long and hopefully fulfilling lives. 

So in this new book, you'll meet, among others, the Man of Bones, Vallarta the Swamp Witch, Elisabet, Queen of the Elves, and the Living Dead Girl. Oh, and mastodons, because how else are you going to haul your Ferris wheel and carousel across the war-torn wastelands?

I believe I had more fun writing The Darker Carnival than I have any of the others, which is a good sign that you'll enjoy reading it too. 

I can't wait to see the cover. A carnival setting? This one ought to be really good!

But in the meantime, don't forget about the other eight Markhat titles, such as the one below!

Available from Samhain, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes!

Here There Be, Um, Frogs and Snakes. Mostly Frogs.

©  | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Finally, a short bit of audio.

I live in north Mississippi. So do some of you -- but to many of my readers, Mississippi is a far-off land, a strange and exotic place peopled by barefoot hillbillies and over-run with beat-up Chevy pickups.

First, I would like gently point out that I own numerous pairs of shoes, which I wear on special occasions (formal tractor-pulls, court sentencings, the annual We Hope We Get The Lectricity Real Soon Now festival). Also, my truck is a Nissan, and I washed it once. 

We all live in unique settings. Whether you're in New York or Singapore or you're aboard the ISS looking down on us all, your moment is utterly unlike anyone else's. Communicating the differences of our experiences is part of what writing is all about.

I can't replicate for you the aromas of the dining room at Taylor Grocery. I can't describe to you, in more than the crudest terms, what you might see and hear and smell walking around Oxford's pre-Civil War town Square.

But I can record the sounds of night-time here in sleepy Yocona, which is what I've done and linked to below.

My summer nights are filled with a tireless orchestra of creeping, jumping, flying things. Crickets and toads. Frogs and katydids. Plesiosaurs and Sasquatch, probably, since anything could be back there in the dark.

It's only a 30-second clip. I promise it's not a screamer, because I find those things annoying (first rule of being funny: BE FUNNY. Screamers aren't funny and haven't been since 2007). 

Night in rural Mississippi. Enjoy, and mind the water moccasins!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Big News: The Darker Carnival has been accepted! Markhat lives!

An actual MRI of my current brain activity
Good news! The very latest Markhat book, The Darker Carnival, has been accepted, and will join the rest of the Markhat books under the Samhain banner in April of next year.

Which is something of a milestone for me and the series. This will be book 9 in the series, which means I've written nine more books than even I ever expected to write when I first sat down at a typewriter that sultry afternoon in the Late Cretaceous. 

I hope fans of the series will like this new book. I will say there are some big surprises in store, and things will never be quite the same for Markhat, Darla, Mama, and the rest. But that's life -- change is inevitable, whether we like it or not, and I'm hoping you'll like these changes. 

As soon as I finish the edits on the new Mug and Meralda, I'll dive right into book 10 of the Markhat adventures. I already have a good portion of it mapped out.

But for now, I shall revel in the sheer joyous sound of the words 'we want this one too!' 

If anyone wants me, I'll be over there, grinning like a fool.

Thanks, everyone!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Things That Go Bump, Mad Science Edition: The Parabolic in the Cemetery #1

Speak into the clear plastic dish...

Today, I have something genuinely spooky to offer you. 

As you can probably guess from the image above, I took my newly-constructed parabolic microphone rig to a local cemetery. Not just any cemetery, either, but to the very same place I've captured EVP phenomena before.

Before we get to the sounds themselves, though, a few words of explanation are in order. What you see above is the dish, of course, and the electronics. The black box on the bottom is the power supply and volume control for the mic itself. Poised atop that is a small general-purpose audio amp I use for signal tracing and low-level amplification (it has a gain of around 50, I think). Perched precariously above that is the Zoom H1 field mic itself, which is recording via its auxiliary cable input, and not its stereo microphones.

Oh, and that bit of fuzz, peeking over the top? That's a windscreen, which is placed over the electret mic at the focal point of the dish. 

I built the dish to use the 3000X super-amp, but I found that amp's output is well in excess of what the Zoom expects, wants, or can tolerate. So I'll need to add an attenuator circuit to the big-gain amp before I can use it with the dish. Bummer, but the little general-purpose amp performed quite well this trip.

My 20 minute recording session netted a couple of interesting audio samples. As usual, I don't claim to know the source of these sounds. I'm not claiming they are ghosts. I'm not claiming they aren't. All I'm saying is that I get odd sounds -- some voices, some not -- when I go to St. Peters Cemetery in Oxford, and I don't get these same strange noises in my backyard or other such mundane locales. Make of that what you will.

Let's start out with the most impressive of the sounds, which occurs around the 13 minute mark on the full session recording.  The image below shows what the dish was pointed at.

It's facing a hill. Just out of frame is a vase of flowers which has fallen from a marker.

I'll put the clip in context. Thirteen minutes in, and I've moved the dish around a few times. It's facing up a hill. I wander off, spot a vase of fallen flowers, and note aloud I'm going to right them. Shortly after that, you'll hear, quite clearly, the sound of a music box (or perhaps wind chimes).

It plays for several seconds. I did NOT hear even a hint of any such thing during the recording.

Could it be an actual wind chime, the sound of which was carried on the wind?

Maybe, I suppose. But the dish is very directional. It's aimed at a hill on purpose. And it's quite loud.

You be the judge:

Music Box Sound Sample Click Here

The next sound occurred just before the 18 minute mark in the full recording. I'm explaining that the devices I carry can't do anyone any harm, and that they might be able to record faint voices. Just after that, there is a noise of some sort that over-rides my next statement about their voices being detected in the background. The image above depicts what the dish was aimed at.

Is this a voice? I can't tell. I can only say I didn't hear it, and since it comes across as even louder than my own voice for an instant, that's weird.

Might Be Able Sound Click Here

Here's the sound isolated. It still doesn't make any sense to me.

Might Be Able Clip Isolated Click Here

Finally, and I almost didn't include this one, a very faint voice, captured at the 11 minute mark. I have no idea what it's saying. I was walking around, with the dish facing as in the last image above.

You may have to crank this one way up.

Unintelligible Voice Click Here

If you'd like to listen to the entire unedited session, click below. Be warned; there's a three and a half minute period right after I say I'm switching to the parabolic that things are just a buzz because I forgot to switch on the mic pre-amp. Duh. I noticed and switched it on at the 5 minute mark. I've got to get a cheap label-maker so I can at least denote the ON and OFF positions of my switches.

I hope you enjoyed the chimes and the other weird sounds.Sometime soon I'll have to have a talk with the Oxford Police Department and see if they have any objections to me setting up my gear after dark. Anybody want to slap on a proton pack and join me?

Random Catfish Sunsets

No. No I did not eat this handsome fellow, who surfaced to gobble down an easy meal of fish-food in the lake behind a friend's house. That is a Mississippi catfish, long may he live and prosper.

And here is a sunset, taken over the same lake:

If you squint just right, you can see Bigfoot waving from the trees, and of course Nessie is lurking below the surface. 

Writing News

My news this week is much the same as it was last week. Still finishing the re-write on the new Mug and Meralda (less than a hundred pages to go, yay!). The new Markhat is still out for consideration with Samhain. 

I know I've asked before, but since The Five Faces just came out and many of you might have only recently finished it, I'll go ahead and beg abjectly once more for reviews. Seriously, if you liked it (even if you hated it), if you've got a second to drop by Amazon and leave me a few stars and a handful of words I'd really appreciate both. We live and die by rankings, and rankings are related to ratings. It's a sad old world, but it's the only one I've got.  Thanks!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Thrift Shop Parabolas and Cut-Rate Supermoons

Okay, you whispering ghosts, you low-talking specters, I've bloody well got you now.

Pictured above is my home-made parabolic microphone. 

What is a parabolic microphone, and why do I want one?

A parabolic mic uses a curved dish to collect and focus sound. A parabolic mic can pick up faint sounds long distances away, because the whole surface of the clear dish part focuses every bit of noise right onto the actual microphone, which is suspended in front of the dish at the precise spot where all the sounds come together.

Why do I want one?

Because ghosts are always muttering or whispering. Honestly, ghosts, spit out the ectoplasmic gum and enunciate! Most of the EVP (electronic voice phenomena) samples I've collected have been so faint and indistinct it's hard to tell what the words are. So I keep hearing things like "Flog the carrots, Matilda" or "My goats prefer Norwegian steering, forsooth." 

Enter the parabolic dish. Faint sounds are gathered and amplified. Distant whispers are rendered distinct. Casper's least utterances will finally be revealed as plain speech -- well, maybe.

Now, if you go out and start pricing commercial parabolic dish units, you'll quickly find they are divided into two groups. At the bottom, you have your $50 wonders, which I am sure break into small, sad plastic bits as soon as they are unboxed. Most of the 'dishes' are six or so inches in diameter. That's barely enough collecting area to even bother with.

The next level of parabolic mics starts at $500 or so and quickly ascends into the stratosphere, where even Bill Gates recoils from the price in terror. Just the parabolic dish part -- not the actual mic or the electronics, just the clear plastic dish bit -- runs close to 500 bucks. I get this. There's a lot of math involved, some precision engineering, and frankly outside of ESPN and movie makers the demand for dish mics is exceedingly small, being composed of myself and two dozen other amateur ghost hunters. 

Which is why I haven't had a dish before this. Seriously, do you know how much obscure fantasy authors (hi there) make? 

Well, I'm not buying $500 worth of anything unless I can drive it, eat it, or live beneath it.

This isn't my first attempt at making my own parabolic dish. We won't speak of the others, save to note they were all dismal failures. One burst into flames out of sheer shame. Another ran away and now pretends to be a derelict umbrella. 

But then one day, while crawling beneath the shelves in Home Depot with a dagger clenched between my teeth, I came across a clear plastic dish, 18 inches across, formed in a quite decent parabola. Instead of Tenga's $400 price tag, this one set me back eleven bucks and change.

Eleven bucks.

It's a squirrel shield, intended to cover a bird feeder. A humble squirrel shield. Some nameless, faceless hero out there cast it as a quite serviceable parabolic dish.

The rest of the components share equally humble origins. The tripod is a thrift-shop special I picked up for 5 bucks (thanks Holding Hands thrift shop!). The rest of the hardware is mostly plumbing scraps, with a metal mending plate and a piece of flexible steel serving as the actual mic mount.

The mic element itself is a simple electret single-element mic from Radio Shack. The black box that sits behind the dish contains the mic's power supply, volume control, and output jack. I'll post schematics and so forth next week. A single resistor, a capacitor, a 50K pot, a switch, a jack, and a 9V battery to run the thing -- that's it.

The output feeds my 3000X super-amp. The initial test in the backyard revealed some impressive pickup. When you hear bees buzzing about but can't see them because they're too far away, your dish is probably working.

I'll post some sound files too. One day soon, I'll take this unit with me on a cemetery run, and see if I catch any more voices!

Here's another 'super moon' pic. This one was taken on July 13, when the Moon was looking the other way. Not shown is the Arcturan scout saucer which exited the frame milliseconds before this image was taken. Darn camera-shy aliens. 

Writing Update

My new book is still on sale! If you haven't checked my Markhat series out, I invite you to do so. A good place to start, and it won't set you back a fortune, is with The Cadaver Client. 

The new book, The Five Faces, is the 8th entry in the series. Grab a copy today!

For the folks waiting on the new Meralda and Mug book, I must once again beg for your forbearance. The re-write of the first draft is continuing, as fast as I can. Which obviously isn't very fast, but I hope you'll agree quality is more important than speed in this instance.

I won't lie. The realization that the first version of All the Turns of Light was fatally flawed was a punch in my gut. I knew the only way to fix it was to essentially start over, and that flew right in the face of my profound and determined laziness. Whoah there, laddie, said my lazy side, which by the way covers 89 percent of my total surface area. It's bad enough I have to write these books in the first place -- now you're saying I have to start all over? I don't think so, Buttercup.

I was then instantly overwhelmed by a powerful desire to catch a marathon of 'Supernatural' on TNT, because my lazy side really knows which buttons to press.

Truth is, I nearly didn't rewrite the book at all. I was ready to chuck the whole Turns of Light series and start a new Markhat, and I would have, except for a couple of emails asking about the new Mug and Meralda.

I dived back in, and when the re-write is done an actual good book will be in the place of the original first draft. 

So a few more weeks of re-writes. Then the painful conversion to ebook format(s) and all the fun that will entail.

I have decided to self-publish this new entry in the Meralda and Mug series. If Samhain dealt with light fantasy, I'd sub there in a minute, but they don't. Too, I've already obtained a cover for the book -- yes, it's an original, by none other than Kanaxa -- and I feel comfortable with the ebook conversion process, if by comfortable one means 'will only wake up screaming at the prospect once or twice a week, tops.'

I plan to make the new Mug and Meralda available across a number of platforms -- Kindle, of course, and Nook, and Kobo, certainly. The price will be $2.99, which I think is A) fair, and B) the price-point most likely to result in the most sales. I hope that didn't sound greedy, which it was, but it's important to never appear to be greedy in public.

So that's it for this week! Time to get back to the re-write. Thanks for reading, and wish me luck!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bonus Friday Rage Rant!

It took a few hours, but I have been reduced to a quivering, tooth-gnashing fiend, a fiend bent on violence, vengeance, and possibly also velocipedes.

The source of my furious derangement?


What is Poser 10, you ask, from what you hesitantly deem a safe distance?

Poser is a software package that, ostensibly, confers the power of artistic creation on hapless, ham-fisted fellows like myself. I can't draw a stick figure without getting sympathy cards or, in numerous instances, death threats. I've devalued museum paintings just by looking at them. Invertebrates lacking even rudimentary appendages have executed artworks many orders of magnitude better than mine simply by excreting slime on smooth surfaces.

In my case, art is something that happens to other people.

I wanted to see if I could change all that. So I bought Poser 10, because (I thought) if there is one bloody thing I can do, it's make a computer do what I want.

Hah. What a fool I was!

I installed the Poser 10 software. No issues. It worked the first time, which I can only assume is a cruel ploy to lull the unsuspecting into a false state of confidence. That trick certainly worked with me.

Now, Poser comes pre-loaded with all sorts of objects and figures. Basic human figures are among these, but even my brief exposure to the subject revealed that Poser figures are considered crude and unfinished. No, it's DAZ Studio figures you want, my lad!

Word is you can buy DAZ figures and simply install them in your Poser library. Why, the process is even automated! It's so simple a recently-stunned blowfish could do it!

Well, my recently-stunned blowfish just walked off the job, and I remain convinced that the whole wretched Poser / DAZ Studio relationship is nothing but a devilishly cruel prank.

It should be simple. The trick appears to be getting the DAZ files installed in the proper Poser directory. I understand file structures. They're not some esoteric mystery.

But regardless of what I do, how often I do it, or how many user guides I consult, the process always fails. Always.

I swear I hear faint laughter in the distance.

It's not always the same error, either. DSON errors? Sure. Python fails? Got 'em. Sometimes Poser just locks or crashes.

My machine is a monster. It has enough memory and CPU cores to run ten simultaneous copies of Poser. And land space shuttles. And fling Bitcoins in every direction as it does so.

But nothing I do works. Because via some odd violation of cause and effect, wherever I put the files is the worst possible place they could conceivably be. 

Here are the guidelines for installing DAZ files into Poser libraries:

"You must install your DAZ files into the proper Poser directory. Remember that last folder you tried? Not even close. The one you're looking at now? Hah! YOU ARE CRACKING US UP. Seriously, all your DAZ files should go into the Poser Runtime folder, except they must NEVER enter the Poser Runtime folder. They should go instead beside it, or under it, or maybe inside it before quickly being removed and written to 1.44 MB floppies which are then hidden under the couch. Go ahead, try anything, it's a slow night and we love the way your right eye twitches involuntarily when you get that DSON runtime error over and over and over..."

Oh, and before you suggest Googling the errors, I've done that. Google returns the same tired half-dozen help links and then starts listing suicide prevention hotlines, because apparently it's been through this before.

I thought I had the DSON errors beaten, but now I'm seeing Python Object Call warnings. I could Google that, or strike myself in the face with a fan belt. I'm leaning toward fan belt, impact of, repeated. It will be just as effective as messing with Python.

It seems the Universe is trying to tell me dabbling in art is a waste of time. I wish the Universe had just sent a card.

If anyone from Poser or DAZ is reading this, for the love of all that is holy make at least a token effort to ensure your products can move between platforms without inducing insanity. Or warn buyers with a disclaimer, perhaps something along these lines:

"Thank you for purchasing Poser. We hope you will enjoy our software. We also hope you have easy access to a mental health care facility if you dare attempt to install DAZ Studio products for use on our program, because <snicker> we value you as a customer <snort> you do realize we can watch your face turn purple with impotent rage via your webcam, that never gets old, watch as we issue another Python runtime error, Google THAT, buttercup <giggle> oh man he's losing it WHAT A MAROON HAHAHAHAHA!"

I give up. I suppose my only option now is to go nuclear -- un-install everything, that is, and start all over. Possibly after sacrificing a flawless young goat.

Seriously, DAZ and Poser, if I can't figure this out, the problem isn't entirely mine.

If anyone needs me, I'll be in the corner, drooling and rocking.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Head Full of Fog

Foggy. That's how it was was when I took the picture above.

Foggy is also how I feel today. It's as if the fog in the photo didn't burn away in the morning sun, but retreated into the vast empty space between my ears instead.

Which means I should probably shut up and let my characters do the talking today. They are, after all, usually far more clever and amusing than I am anyway. 

Favorite Character Quotes

"Deception wears many masks. Take care to remove them all, should you undertake to see the face of truth."
-- Wistril the Wizard, from Wistril Compleat.

"The stuff of legends is nothing but trouble to the persons unfortunate enough to make them. On the whole, I’d rather have been off fishing.”
-- Tim the Horsehead, from All the Paths of Shadow

"You know you're having a bad day when vampires drop by to chat and you're pleased by the sudden distraction."
-- Markhat, from Hold the Dark

"I don’t believe in ghosts. Except when I do."
-- Markhat, from The Five Faces

“If I were privy to the secrets of Creation, I’d kill your ass where you stand. But I know about the arcane seasons.” I put my gun down on the table and forced myself to sit. “So you’re the god of chance. Nice to meet you. Hope you die screaming real soon.”
-- Markhat, The Five Faces

“It’s not much of a universe these days. If it unravels, so be it. Let the gods amuse themselves with an eternity of vacuum.” Her eyes took back their old steel. “What sort of a surprise do you have in mind, Captain?”
-- Stitches, The Five Faces

Sneak Peek: The Darker Carnival

I'll close tonight with the first few pages of the new Markhat book, which is so new it's still under consideration with the publisher. But I don't think they'll mind if I post the opening here.

So, here it is, the world premiere, so to speak, of the latest Markhat adventure, The Darker Carnival!


My body lay sleeping, snug in my bed, but I walked the woods far away.

Once upon a time, I’d have called my walk a dream. Called it a dream and dismissed it with a laugh, if I acknowledged it at all. 

Once upon a time, I'd been a damned fool.

I’ve grown far too intimate with magic, though. First I told the huldra my name, let it sneak into my heart when I thought Darla dead, when rage drove me to throw away my soul for a whispered promise of vengeance. Then I’d walked with the huldra, cloaked in its dark sorceries, spilled blood while it rode me and took root.

I’ve dreamed with the Corpsemaster. Danced with things Hag Mary dredged up from some timeless deep. Stepped out of time itself, seeing this tired old world through a banshee's ageless eyes. I’ve brushed up against so many dark and deadly powers even the Corpsemaster and her kin can no longer see the truth of the stains the old magics have left.

So when I found myself striding through the night, with the mightiest and oldest of the forest oaks brushing my knees, I knew damned well it was no mere dream.

I was outside Rannit’s walls, well south of the city. The Brown River lay like a silver ribbon in the moonlight on my left. The low hills the Regent recently clear-cut to make ties for his new railroad shone bare and ravaged at my feet.

I walked, three hundred feet tall, now and then, but I did not walk alone.

The slilth ambled along at my side, its flexible clockwork legs coiling and curving in the moonlight, each leg a narrow shaft of quicksilver glinting in the night. It made no noise as it walked, not so much as a whisper, its legs slipping between bough and branch as deftly as a dancer’s, and as light.

The slilth has no face, no body, no head. It is merely a gaggle of legs which hold aloft a smooth, featureless ovoid lacking eyes, ears, or any visible orifices at all.

Stitches the sorceress claims the slilth to be an ancient construct of immense and irresistible power. 

It dipped its ovoid head at me, as if in silent recognition, and together we crossed the river, one step, two steps, three.

The barren hills lay below us, scraps of bare timber and freshly wounded earth all that remained of the ancient forests. 

The slilth paused, turning its eyeless face this way and that across the midnight sky. Then it diminished in stature, until its silver not-face barely peeked above the closest hill.

I followed suit, shrinking myself, fixing my eyes on the spot I judged the slilth to be watching. We waited together in silence.

An hour passed. The slilth, ever silent, raised a delicate silver tendril toward the east, and it was then I saw the first balloon.

The first, and the next, and the next, sailing in line as if tethered. They floated out of the night, soaring high, but dropping until I saw the lanterns that hung like yellow-gold jewels on the cables that held them together.

Five balloons, then ten, then another and another and another. Thirteen in all, each larger than the last, all lit by cautious lanterns.

I didn’t hear the mastodons until they came charging over the crest of the nearest hill. A line of the brutes three strong appeared, and the tread of their furry tree-trunk feet shook the ground beneath me.

The beasts wore enormous yokes, from which ropes rose up, vanishing into the night.

“So that’s how they do it,” I said, to my silent silver friend.  

The slilth made no acknowledgement. The mastodons thundered down the hill, shouldering aside the few bent saplings the lumberjacks had spared. 

A trumpet blew, and the furry beasts came to a halt. They stood swaying, tusks worrying the ground, snuffling and stomping and head-butting, but remaining more or less in place.

The stink of them washed over me, dream-state or not. I pushed it aside with a casual tug at the shadows that hid me.

The balloons bobbed into sight above us. Trumpets sounded in the sky, were answered by ones on the ground. Ropes fell. Men shouted. More horns blew.

The slilth dipped a silver tendril down and scribbled in the mud left by the lumber-jacks and their wagons. The pattern the slilth traced out was foreign, alien, a thing that wasn’t quite letters and wasn’t quite a drawing and wasn’t quite a warning, but something in the sweep and swoop of the lines it drew in the moonlight sent shivers up and down my fifty-foot spine.

The first two balloons touched down. Men leapt from the boat-shaped baskets, swarming about like ants, driving stakes and casting lines and making them fast.

A mastodon raised its trunk and trumpeted. Soon, its fellows joined it in a primal, ancient roar.

The slilth never made a sound. But the tone of its silence changed, in some subtle sense my slow poisoning by magic allowed me to discern.

The slilth’s not-words, had they been spoken, would have been something very much akin to ‘here we go again.’

I cussed.

The slilth’s scribblings flared, as if each furrow was filled with oil and set suddenly alight. Just as I was about to make out the meaning of the spiraling lines my fool body woke and my wandering spirit fell headlong into it as the slilth  absently waved goodbye.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fireworks for the 4th!

Snapped this photo Friday evening, at Oxford's annual 4th of July fireworks show. The show gets better every year; not bad for a small town pryotechnics display.

I was using my FinePix SL1000 on the 'fireworks' setting. This was my first time out with that camera and that setting. Partway through the show, I managed to change a setting with my nose, and never quite managed to undo what I did (it was dark, I foolishly neglected to bring a penlight, and the fireworks show waits for no man). So of the 212 pictures I took, I got seven images I liked.

Before the city moved the fireworks show to the baseball stadium, they held it at Avent Park. The park is tiny, but there's a big grassy hill upon which the crowd would throw down blankets and lie back to watch the show.

The usual procedure, in those days, was for the fireworks to be set out in rows of tubes. Each tube was anchored to a wide plank. A fleet-footed fireman would run down the plank, lighting fuses as he went, and the various rockets would launch themselves skyward, to the delight of the by-then moderately pickled crowd of townsfolk.

I was there when, after the final firework was lit, the mounting plank fell over, aiming the entire row of powerful fireworks directly into the crowd reclining on the hillside.

Pandemonium ensued. Explosions rang out. Trails of fire criss-crossed the park, each terminating in a deafening blast and blinding shower of sparks and secondary explosions. People ran, stumbling, gasping, tripping over kids and coolers and each other in a blind panicked charge toward safety.

It was the most amazing, awe-inspiring fireworks show I ever attended.

There were no injuries. People laughed and gathered their stuff and because this was a far simpler time, there were no lawsuits, no public outcries. Just a lot of laughing, some scuffs and bruises, and the fireworks moved out of the park after that.

I missed a couple of good shots this year because a bevy of half a dozen imbeciles chose the middle of a fireworks show in which to parade around talking. Seriously, who goes to a bleeding fireworks show and then ambles around in front of my camera while the show is in progress? Where was it the lot of you pea-brained pachyderms just had to go, in a herd, at that precise and specific moment?

And who puts their backs to the fireworks?

Next time out, in addition to my small flashlight, I'm going to put a Super Soaker water cannon in my toolkit. I'm going to fill it with blue dye, and I'm going to paint those suckers the moment they amble, cavort, gambol, sashay, or otherwise promenade or creep in front of my tripod. Take that, ambulatory arse-heads.

Thanks. I feel better now.

Markhat News

As by now even remote tribes deep in the Amazonian jungles know, the new Markhat book is out. It's gotten a number of five-star reviews on Amazon so far, which is always great to see. 

The book is also available from Kobo. I've been looking at their e-readers and marketplace, and I'm  impressed. Amazon should be too -- those are some nice e-readers, and the Kobo store supports every format imaginable, not just a single Kobo format. In fact, Kobo offers all the Markhat books!

The new Markhat title, The Darker Carnival,  is still out for consideration. I will of course let you know the nanosecond word is received. Unless the word is 'no,' in which case I will remain silent and motionless in the fetal position until next Arbor Day. Such is the way of my people.

The deep re-write of the new Mug and Meralda book continues.

Ghost Machine

Pictured below is the  prototype for my new ghost-hunting gadget. I don't have a name for it yet, and I won't go into the specifics because A) that would probably be boring and B) it doesn't work yet. 

Please excuse the state of the work-bench. It The surface is clean, believe it or not, but it endures all manner of abuse, chemical, thermal, and mechanical. Oh, and the plain black box in the middle (more or less) of the photo?

That's an amplifier with a gain of 3000. It's so sensitive I can plug a magnetic probe into it, and hear music played over my phone with the speakers turned off and no headphones inserted -- the amp can easily pick up the tiny electrical signals being pumped into the headphone port, from a distance. It's just a single part of the new gadget, but I'm really proud of it anyway.

I'm hoping to snatch truly faint EVPs out of the air with this rig. Right now, I'm a long way from that, but those coils were just to test the oscillators anyway. The real ones will be much larger.

Hey DARPA -- feel like funding some really out-of-the-box stuff?

Last Words

Okay, all this writing isn't going to do itself. Take care people!

See you all next week.