Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fun Link Roundup

This week, I'm setting aside my banal ramblings to introduce you to a few links I think are funny. Some of you may already be familiar with some of them, but maybe you'll find something you didn't know about in the mix. 
Go browsing through Amazon's bookstore, and as soon as you get out of the best-sellers you'll start seeing covers so awful you'll sometimes stop to take a second look because, you think, surely no one intentionally saddled a poor innocent book with such a cringe-inducing cover.
But the truth is, the place is littered with hilariously awful cover art. 
I found a site that catalogs such covers. It's worth a look, if you're bored and you have a strong stomach. Consider it a crash-course in how NOT to make a cover.
The premise sounds strange, but give it a chance. The folks make hilarious 'rap battles' between fantasy princesses. There are quite a few, but here are a couple of links to get you started.
Ariel versus Snow White: click here.
Hermione Granger versus Katniss Everdeen:  click here.
Tolkien versus George R. R. Martin, and a host of others. You'll love these.
Tolkien Versus Martin: click here.
The Hillywoods do parody videos, and they do them RIGHT. My favorite is the one I'm linking to, which is a musical Dr. Who number set, of course, to 'Let's do the Time Warp Again.' Brilliant stuff -- the Walking Dead entry is hilarious too.
Do the Time Warp: Click here.
Hope you enjoy the links above!
I've been working hard on the new Mug and Meralda this week. Made a lot of progress. I also started a new Meralda art project, and while it's a long way from being done, here are a couple of test renders.
Meralda is seated at the controls of a huge clunky walking engine. Here's a render of her atop it.

And here's another test shot, of her taking the engine on a stroll through Tirlin's famous park.

I'll be refining these as I have time. But the actual book takes first priority.
In Markhat news, I've started on the second round edits for WAY OUT WEST. Which means a release isn't far off. I also have a cover, which I'll be revealing here as soon as this round of edits is done.
That's it for this week! Take care, people. Smile at someone. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words

There are few worse things to befall a writer than the discovery of a new addiction.

Last week I posted a few images of Meralda Ovis, and indicated I might post more from time to time.

I didn't expect to spend so much time making more of them so soon, but I did. Oh, I wrote too; I haven't abandoned the new Mug and Meralda book, which is coming along (finally) at a good pace.

I've found that making these images helps me stay focused on the book. Creating them is time-consuming and tedious, yes, but it also lets me explore my characters in an entirely new way. 

I think you'll find these new pictures are a good bit more detailed and realistic than the first offerings. I've been playing with lighting and posing -- if none of that interests you, by all means just scroll down to the pics. 

But if you're curious about how the pictures were made, here's a behind-the-scenes look.

First, posing. 

Every 3D default character available has an internal skeleton, right down to the small bones in the fingers and the toes. You select your bone, and then you can move it left to right, up or down, or with a twist. The trick is to select one of the pre-shaped poses and tweak it to your needs. For these pictures that will follow, I selected a sitting pose, took the come-hither aspect of it down several thousand notches, and then put her hand on her chin. Then you wrestle with clothes, because they don't just automatically fit your figure's body (well, sleeves do, and the top, more or less, but shirts? No way).

Add a Victorian settee and a room with appropriate wallpaper, and you've got yourself a scene.

Here's the first render I took, which was a close up of Meralda's face.

It's not bad. Her fingers are perfectly positioned. She stands out from the dark background. There are realistic shadows.

But it lacks drama. I used the classic 3-point lighting system, which consists of a bright spotlight close to her face, just above her head, positioned not directly in front of her but at about 45 degrees to the right of her. That's called a 'key' light.

To keep the left side of her face from being lost in shadow, I added a second light, the so-called 'fill' light. It was close to the floor, not quite as bright as the key light, and aimed up at her face.

Finally, I added a third light, right behind her, aimed at the back of her head. This is the 'kicker' light, and it serves to put a highlight around her silhouette, so she doesn't get vanish against the dark background.

The lights worked, more or less.

But I wanted a touch of shadow on her face. Too, her eyes -- I wanted to try and have her looking at the camera, and thus you, the viewer.

A word about messing with eyes. You have to adjust them one at a time, which means you can easily come up with some truly bizarre pictures while you're adjusting them. It's also possible to accidentally pull them right out of their sockets. But don't worry, I quickly put them back in.

You can't really see what you're doing except in the most basic, cartoonish way while you're doing it. Until you render the scene, which takes 3 or 4 hours each for the images presented here, you can't be sure what you're going to get. You can spot-render small areas, which I did, but that too is an iffy proposition. My kicker light kept spilling onto her ear lobes and cheek, resulting in weird white patches that ruined every one of those full renders.

So I changed things around, and came up with a new image. Same pose, but with changes to her eyes, camera angle, and intensity of all the scene lights.

That's a little better. But I still didn't get the shadows I was looking for. So I tried again, knocking the lumens down on every light by nearly half.

After some tweaking in PaintShop, I wound up with the image above. It's my best portrait so far. 

I've got one other Meralda image to show. This one isn't a portrait; she's outside, in one of the Palace gardens, dressed in her Laboratory work clothes.

Hope you enjoyed the pics! There will be more. One day I'll manage to create a convincing Mug, but that day is not here. A 3D model of a plant with 29 eyes is going to take more skill than I've got at the moment.

And now, a small rant about the clothing usually depicted for fantasy females.

Look, no one, barbarian warrior queen or powerful spell-hurling sorceress, can go around fighting in a handful of straps, a thong, and high heels. I know, book covers sell books, and sex sells -- well, anything, but sheesh. A little realism wouldn't hurt, now and then. And though I'm not a woman, would most women go to their closets and say "You know what? I think I'll head into some deadly conflict wearing this Victoria's Secret lingerie. Yes, that is certainly the right choice. And these six-inch stiletto heels. Maybe a single brass bracer on my left arm, just in case things get rough. Oh, and Spandex panties. Yeah, that's the ticket."

I doubt it. I have nothing against the female form. Quite the contrary. But maybe it's time we stopped using women as marketing tools 24/7. Rant over.

I'll leave you with two final images. First, another of Darla, from The Markhat Files.

And now for something completely different.

Ever wonder where toads hide during the day? Well, in our case, they take refuge from the sun inside concrete cinder blocks. I give you four friendly toads lounging in the cool shade. Have a good week, folks! Be careful out there.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Rendering Meralda

I've written here before concerning my status as a talentless and therefore frustrated graphic artist.

Pens, pencils, brushes -- I wield them all with the same skill and artistic flair as would last October's Halloween pumpkin. In fact the jack-o-lantern, despite its lack of appendages, would probably produce better art than me about half the time simply by rolling its mushy decaying bulk over the blank pages.

I'm that bad.

But I do know my way around a mouse and a keyboard, and at long last, I've found software I can use to actually create images worth looking at.

The software, DAZ 3D Studio 4.9, is free. You can download it yourself, if you have a desire to try your hand at 3D graphic imaging. I did so last week, and after watching the tutorial videos, I set out to create Meralda Ovis, the heroine of All the Paths of Shadow and All The Turns of Light.

If you haven't read the books, Meralda is a bookish, shy genius who single-handedly revolutionizes flight on her world while saving it. The setting is vaguely Victorian, though Meralda's home isn't on the Earth we know. I've described her as having reddish-brown hair and brown eyes, but I always had a picture in my mind of what she looks like.

Now you can see that very same picture. So, without further adieu, I give you Meralda Ovis, Royal Thaumaturge to the Kingdom of Tirlin.

The image above may be my favorite one of the bunch. I love her expression; she's clearly up to something. I think I made her hair just the right amount of messy -- she's got better things to do than sit in front of a dressing mirror all day.

More of the coat in this image. Yes, I know her brooch vanished. Mainly because this is an earlier render, and I realized it was gone and replaced it in the first image.

But the detail is pretty amazing, considering my machine is hardly ideal for use as a graphics engine. I believe this picture took at least two hours to 'render,' which is a term describing the processing that takes place between the cartoonish first image and the final product.

Different placement, noonday lighting. I also changed her expression slightly. These are the clothes I tried to describe in the books -- long skirts, coat, sleeves, all that. Meralda as quite clear on several points, one being that if she was EVER dressed in a leather mini-skirt (as cover art fantasy females are often portrayed) I might find myself with the head of a duck. One does not meddle with Thaumaturges if one values one's human appearance.

Another version. I liked it, but the eye makeup was a bit overly dramatic when it rendered. I can't see her wearing that to the Laboratory, knowing she'd need to touch it up half a dozen times during the day.

If you're curious, setting up each of these images takes me a couple of hours. Posing is the hardest part, at least for me. Each model has a fully articulated internal skeleton, and you move the subject by selecting the bones and adjusting them. It's not a speedy process. There are stock poses, of course, but even those require tweaking so clothes fit correctly.

Meralda against a plain white background, with a different expression. Yes, she has long fingers. And the shoulder ruffles of her coat need work, but overall I was pleased.

A close-up. There is a flaw in this image; a stray reflection from her right earring splashed light on her cheek, and I don't have time to move my lights in the scene and render a new image for today's blog. The rendering process is insanely detailed -- every object reflects or absorbs light as a real physical object would, and individual rays are traced and wind up in the final scene. I've had to learn a lot of lighting and real-world studio photography to produce faces that aren't washed out on one side and hidden in shadow on the other.

So, tell me what you think in the comments! If you've read the books, does this image match yours? I'm curious to see how my image compares to yours.

One last note -- I'm still offering fantasy-based diplomas for sale, so if you'd like a degree in Applied Thaumaturgy to hang on your wall, click your way toward my fantasydiplomas site.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Top of Your Class

Self-publishing, done right, ain't cheap. 

Yes, I know the correct phrase is self-publishing, done right, isn't cheap. But the use of ain't adds folksy emphasis. Perhaps it is even endearing. Pardon me while I look down at the worn toes of my battered shoes and mutter 'Aw, shucks.'

Now that the initial embarrassing moment is out of the way, I'd like to announce a new business venture aimed squarely at defraying some of the costs of bringing the new Markhat book to market. 

No, it's not a Kickstarter or a GoFundMe. You actually get something, for your 5 hard-earned bucks. 

You get an ornate, custom-designed diploma, printed on good heavy paper, suitable for framing. A diploma from a wholly fictional school, created entirely by me, customized with your name and your desired degree. Suitable for framing (I'll even send you a link to a seven dollar frame that works perfectly with the document). 

Curious? Then click your eager little clicky fingers on the URL below, and have a look at the offerings. All designed and executed by me. Website hand coded (obviously) by me. 


There's a diploma, signed by Mama Hog herself, from Mama Hog's School of Divination and Potions and Hexing. There's also one from Meralda's alma mater, the Tirlin College of Science and Thaumaturgy. And several others as well, so go have a look!


The Universe often plays mean tricks on its inhabitants.

Take me, for instance. I've always wanted to draw, or paint. While I've painted many a wall, badly, and drawn quite a few circuit diagrams or plans for sheds or roofs, I couldn't draw a marginally-convincing stick figure if you dangled a sack of money over the page.

I just don't have any talent in that area. No, that's not right.

I have a lack of talent so profound it's actually a negative talent in that area.

Which hasn't stopped me from trying. Most of my pen-and-paper efforts simply experience spontaneous combustion well before they are complete, presumably out of shame. 

My digital efforts were no more successful. I tried Poser 10, a well-regarded character creation program, until it started returning error codes that read 'Look, can't you find ANYTHING else to do?' and 'Seriously, dude, go outside and enjoy some sunlight.'

But hope springs eternal. 

I don't have Photoshop, because that bag of money I mentioned earlier was snatched away as soon as I tried to draw a stick-man's stick foot. But I do have two fairly powerful graphics programs, that I use to create images for this website, and just for fun. They are:

Corel Paint Shop Pro X8  (about 79 dollars new, for the Ulimate Pro edition)

Corel Painter Essentials 5 (20 dollars)

I play with them when I'm stuck writing. Now, from time to time, I'll post some of the images I've created using them here, in case any other hamfisted artist wannabees are curious.

The one below is of Darla, from The Markhat Files. In the new book, Darla and Markhat spend some time in Bel Loit, and go out dancing at a night club called Tall Thin Louie's. In the image below, Darla is passing in front of one of Bel Loit's many tumbledown cemeteries, in her evening gown.

Bel Loit, unlike Rannit, doesn't have a halfdead population (well, they do, but it's very small, and fiercely secretive). So no crematoriums, no dead wagons. Just graveyards. Which may or may not be peaceful places, after dark...

Markhat isn't pictured because he still looks like a crack-crazed Gumby and that's no fun for anyone. 

Coming up -- Meralda, Mama Hog, Slim, Evis, and anyone else I can manage. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Markhat News

It is with emotion bordering on giddiness that I announce my Markhat series titles will NOT be fading into oblivion in the wake of February's announcement that Samhain Publishing was shutting down.

After restructuring, Samhain has decided to remain in business. Which means my existing Markhat titles will remain on sale, in both print and ebook formats, just as they've been for the last several years.

Better still, the new Markhat book, WAY OUT WEST, may hit the stands in the next couple of months. 

And the new Markhat book, tentatively entitled THE DEVIL'S HORN, is already underway.

I know, that's a surprising turn of events. But that's publishing -- change is the only constant.

To those of you who sent emails and messages of encouragement, thanks. You will never know much your words meant to me. I'm not ashamed to say that news of Samhain's shutdown gutted me. 

So, Markhat and Darla live on. With any luck, you'll be able to join them on a new adventure before the weather even cools off.

So what's in store for the series, from here out?

I can't reveal everything you know. But there are changes afoot. Big ones. 

No, no, I'm not talking about killing off Darla or anything daft such as that. I'm not George R. R. Martin (just look at our sales rankings, that will prove it). I'm not saying what Martin does is wrong or bad -- I'm just saying I don't want anyone finishing one of my books feeling like they just got punched in the face with chunks of a still-warm corpse. 

I think there's plenty of room for both styles of storytelling. Which doesn't mean every recurring character in my series is safe -- no, Markhat's world is a dangerous one. But I am stating that when I say 'changes,' I don't mean what so many of us have come to expect, i.e., killing off a bunch of series favorites.

I've had enough of that myself. My enthusiasm for The Walking Dead has even begun to dim, because frankly I'm weary of watching the characters I've come to care about get shoved into meat-grinders week after week. Okay, we get it, the show isn't afraid to eat its babies. Hurrah for them.

But that doesn't mean I will continue to sacrifice an hour a week to watch what to me is becoming blatant torture-porn. 

I grew up reading fiction from a different era, I suppose. Take the Nero Wolfe detective series, all seventy-some books of it. There was a sort of unspoken contract between the reader and Rex Stout, author of the books.

Stout would give us Archie and Nero and the brownstone. There'd be banter and a look inside the complex friendship between the gregarious, outspoken Archie and the reclusive, taciturn Wolfe. We readers would be presented with an intricate clockwork mystery. The clues would be right there in the open. We'd always fail to see them, until Wolfe recounted them at the end. Each tidy resolution was a blast.

But would Lily, Archie's lady friend, wind up slaughtered with a butcher knife? Would Cramer catch a bullet to the back of his thick New York cop head?

No. That was part of the implied contract. You came back again and again to enjoy the company of certain characters. 

Killing them off for shock, to wrench an easy emotional reaction from a fan -- that just wasn't done.

And I won't do it either. 

Which isn't to say what's on the horizon for Markhat and Darla isn't profound. It is -- but I'm trying for something more subtle than grief.

I think we've all had enough grief lately.

So that's my big news of the week. 

Now, I need to ask a favor. 

If you've read a Markhat book, and liked it, and left a review on Amazon, thanks. 

If you haven't left a review yet, please, click the link below, then find the book, and leave a review. 

It's important, now more than ever, and I'll tell you why.

Books with more than 25 reviews, I understand, get picked up by Amazon's 'bots and those are the books that get pushed in the 'You Might Also Like' emails and such. Which sells more books. Simple as that.

So here's the link to click. Markhat and Darla would really appreciate it -- they've got a houseboat to maintain, after all...


Sunday, June 19, 2016


There are a lot of terrible jobs out there. At this very moment, some poor soul is hosing out a porta-john after a chili festival. Elsewhere, someone is struggling to maintain a smile while some rage-fueled diner demands a full refund because the steak they just ordered and consumed contained (gasp) meat. 
But my vote for Worst Job of the Week goes to whomever administers the Facebook page for the new Ghostbusters movie.
You guys and girls know me. I'm a hard-core Ghostbusters fan. I've built my own proton pack, cosplayed a steampunk Ghostbuster. I love the films, I own all the animated episodes, I watch the movies whenever I can. 
I'll never forget how much fun I had watching Ghostbusters for the first time. It was the perfect blend of humor, science, comedy, and good storytelling. I knew it was a classic within the first three minutes. It was obvious that the right cast met the right script at the right time, and the fusion was sheer magic.
That was 1984. There was a second film, perhaps not as exciting as the first, but still quite good.
After the second movie, we fans endured years of silence, broken only by the occasional rumor that the fabled GB 3 might finally happen.
It didn't. The feud between Ramis and Murphy, changes in the industry, any number of factors doomed the continuation of the series.
So when I heard about an all-new Ghostbusters reboot, I was thrilled. When I later heard the leads were going to be an all-girl crew composed of SNL alums, I was ecstatic. Who better, I thought, to pick up the mantle and re-tell the story with a fresh new twist?
But this news of a female GB crew wasn't so well received by everyone.
The backlash on the net was immediate. Purists snarled. Hordes of naysayers emerged, quickly dismissing the film as an abomination before the first trailer aired.
It got ugly. Really ugly. YouTube comments section ugly. The ire spread to Twitter and Facebook and everywhere else, even following the actresses and the director and finally to Ghostbusters grand-master Dan Aykroyd himself, who was viciously attacked for daring to defend the new movie.
Now, most of the detractors will huff and puff and claim misogyny has nothing to do with their palpable hatred of a movie none of them have seen.
Riiiight. I've read the comments, and even the ones that are careful to avoid the appearance of misogyny can't avoid being tainted by its ugly stain.
Ghostbusters was a boys' club, and a very vocal segment of fandom isn't happy about letting girls in. Unless of course they serve as romantic interests or comic relief.  
I'll probably get hate mail for even saying that. But it's okay, because I'll NEVER be forced to deal with the kind of nastiness I've seen directed at the movie via the Ghostbusters Facebook page.
If anyone posts anything enthusiastic or positive about the film, they are quickly shouted down by the detractors. 
I can imagine the posts we don't see. The ones that have to be removed.
I truly feel sympathy for the person behind that page. The one who has to read all that hateful spew, all day every day. 
It's got to be hard on the cast and crew as well. You pour your time and effort, your heart and soul, into a project that is, after all, meant to be fun. It's entertainment, but that doesn't make bringing it to life easier.`
So you do all that work, and instead of the usual friendly buzz and anticipation, you get a steaming bucket of hateful bile thrown in your face. 
That's got to hurt -- and all because there are women in the lead roles?
What the hell is wrong with people lately?
I know, I know, it's just a movie. But I think sometimes this undercurrent of irrational rage is a symptom of something far worse, lurking just beneath society's surface like some hungry crocodile. The scary part is this -- we can't see under the water, and we don't know where the crocodile is going to strike next. Maybe it's a movie. Maybe it's a real person, or real people, somewhere. We've seen that too.
There's just too much hate in the air. 
Maybe hate starts small. Maybe all those furious online rants are akin to a single miniscule droplet of water, part of a growing dark cloud. 
But when enough of those tiny drops come together, we get storms. 
Bad storms, that leave wreckage and horror in their wake. 
Am I claiming that online nastiness directed at a movie is somehow a driving cause in mass murders?
No. Not directly. But I am offering up the proposition that our current environment of vicious online exchanges and the exercise of anonymous fury as the new normal is slowly -- or not so slowly -- desensitizing some people to violence. 
It's just a thought. I'm sure someone will be quick to point out what a deeply flawed and wholly ridiculous thought it is. And it may well be.
But is there any real defense for such rampant outright mean-ness directed toward strangers on a continual, even relentless basis?
If there is, I don't see it.
Now, I know many of the people who read this blog. You're nice folks. You've been nothing but friendly and supportive to me, and I am deeply appreciative for that.
In fact, it's you guys who led me to try and say something positive somewhere online every chance I get. To bite my figurative tongue when I feel the urge to show off my sarcasm arm. 
So I'd like to encourage all of you to do the same. Go say something nice to a stranger. Heck, go to the Ghostbuster's Facebook page and just tell them you liked a trailer. 
Somewhere out there, you might make a weary admin smile. Better still, the dark clouds that hang over us now might shrink, just a tiny bit.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Behold the Mighty Pear

I'm back!

Before I dive, or more precisely slide carefully into, the blog, let me invite you all to tune into a special live talk show tonight, where I'll the guest of host Renee on her weekly radio show, 'Renee LIVE!'

Renee is a great host, and a fascinating person, and as long as I keep my trap shut and let her talk it'll be a great show! That's 9 PM Eastern or 8 PM Central, tonight, June 5th. I'll slap some links below:

Listen live via the internet by clicking me at 9 PM EST / 8 PM CST from TVM Cafe Radio!

Listen live via the internet by clicking me at 9 PM EST / 8 PM CST from Diversity Broadcasting!

Just browse to either place, then click the 'listen now' or 'play' buttons, and you're there. No fees, so signups. 

What will we be talking about? The usual plugs for my books, which I will keep to a minimum, and lots of paranormal / unusual stuff. It ought to be lots of fun. 

So tune in! I've showered, had coffee, shaved my legs. See you there!


Good question. For years, I've been a fanatic about weekly blog postings. But last month, I only made two entries.

My reasons are twofold. 

First, I pulled back from the net for a while. Look, I try to keep things positive and upbeat here. There's enough negativity out there for any five planets, and to be perfectly honest, I got got overwhelmed.

I don't have to tell you, especially if you live in the US, how downright mean it's gotten online. Nothing and no one is safe, even people and topics well removed from politics. 

New Ghostbusters movie? Misogyny firestorm. I got actual hate mail for posting something enthusiastic on the Ghostbusters movie Facebook page. Which means a stranger was so incensed by my comment 'Looks great, I can hardly wait to see it' that they took the time to describe, in detail, what a terrible stupid person I am.

Which, by the way, made me chuckle as I hit delete. I'm a writer. My skin is rhinoceros hide covered in Kevlar and topped with a fashionable adamantium sweater vest. I've been savaged by editors, people. Lesser beings don't even leave dents.

But not everyone is so well armored. I got so sick of seeing the vicious back-and-forth exchanges online I just said 'enough' and spent more time with books and music, which are always good company.

It's not just online. You can't watch the news without being smacked in the face with nastiness either. Once upon a time, the phrase 'if it bleeds, it leads' was a joke among journalists.

Now, it's a business model. 

That's Reason One for my temporary social media pullback.

Reason Two is a lot more down-to-earth. Karen and I have been involved in a massive home improvement project. A project of such scope and measure that a crew of four to six really should have been involved, but since there's just us and our band of loyal but thumbless dogs, we've done all the work. 

It's nearly killed us both. 

The last three Saturdays have been intense 12-hour slugfests outdoors in the infamous Mississippi heat. My back isn't what it once was, which means Karen has done most of the heavy labor. We go out. We work until we simply can't move. We come back in, shower, and then spend Sundays communicating in moans and hand-gestures ('More painkillers, dear?' usually followed by 'Why are we doing this again?'). I tried to write a blog last Sunday, and got as far as 'T' and 'h' before my hands clenched back into fists and I was forced to lie on the floor and cuss for six straight hours.

Good times. But the project is winding down -- another Saturday, maybe two -- and we'll be done, at least until the next one.

I do miss the days when I could have done everything by myself and laughed about it without so much as a wince. But years of office work have rendered me, to put it kindly, pear-shaped, and also possessed of the pear's legendary strength and physical prowess. 

But it's getting done, nevertheless. Even lowly fruits can dig 300 foot trenches and haul 100 pound panels long distances by hand, if they must, and in this case, they must. 

In other news, the new Markhat book, Way Out West, is still looking at a summer release.

Oh, and I ran over my beloved laptop. We won't go into the details, since they involve a lot of absent-mindedness on my part, but I do have to give a shout-out to Lenovo. The laptop in question was run over by a Toyota RAV-4, and despite all expectations, it lives. The screen is wrecked, sure, but that's being replaced. The keyboard, hard drives, motherboard, and case all survived intact. Not too shabby, in my opinion.

Don't forget the radio show, and tune if if you can! Both hosts have chat rooms (TMV works best if you have IE), so you can talk along with us, if you want.

See you tonight, and again next week!

Now go hug a puppy or something. Life isn't as horribly vicious as the net might make it seem.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Putting The Band Back Together

Finally, some good news.

The folks at Samhain have graciously reverted the rights to WAY OUT WEST, the new Markhat novel bought by Samhain shortly before the shutdown was announced.

Which means the book is mine again, and I'm free to do with it as I will.

This leaves a couple of options open to me. 

I could shop the book around, to agents or publishers. There are a number of advantages to this approach. First, of course, is getting a publisher's marketing and editorial engines behind the book. An agent could maybe get the book on the right desk, and make that happen.

My second best option is to publish WAY OUT WEST myself. With some help, of course.

I'd no sooner try to edit my own book than I would drill my own teeth. I'm a lousy editor of my own work. 

But as it happens, my former Samhain Editor, and the former FLE (first line editor), and both now doing freelance work. 

So what I've decided to do is hire them, go through the same process we used at Samhain, and put the book out myself. 

You'll be getting the very same book you would have if Samhain was handling it, because the same people are doing the same jobs. I'll be confident we're turning out a really good book. I don't think most readers will even realize the process has seen some changes.

The upside to handling WAY OUT WEST this way is time. 

Let's say I pitched WAY OUT WEST around. Months would pass. The wheels of publishing grind slowly. Even if a publisher picked it up, it would probably be middle or late 2017 before the book came out. 

That's a long time to wait for the new book in a series.

By hiring my own editors and cover art, I'll probably have WAY OUT WEST on the stands in June or July. Of this year.

That's the upside.

If the upside is time, I'll bet you can guess what the downside is.

Money. That's right, filthy lucre. Professionals don't work for free. Nor should they.  

I want WAY OUT WEST to be every bit as polished and professional as the Samhain titles were. It will be, because the same team that produced the other titles will be right back at work on the new one. None of the first ten titles were a solo effort, and I've worked too hard and have too much respect for the series to do anything less than the best I can for it. 

So, for everyone wondering about the future of the Markhat Files, you can look forward to a new book this summer. And of course you can still buy the earlier titles in the series as ebooks right now, and keep buying them until Samhain actually shuts down. I wish you would buy one or two. The longer the lights stay on at Samhain, the better for me and all the other authors sharing the situation.

Now if a publisher should drop down out of the blue and offer me a deal, I might take it. Might. It would depend entirely on the publisher, and the deal. At the moment, I have complete faith in Holly, my editor, and I'm honestly not even considering the need for a change. To be quite honest, despite the costs, I'm oddly comforted knowing that by doing this myself, I don't have to worry about a publisher closing their doors again. 

If you're a writer in need of an editor with genuine real-world publishing experience, you can find Holly here:

That's the plan. I thought some of you might enjoy a peek behind the scenes.

So what is WAY OUT WEST about?

Well, without saying too much, this one involves a long ride on a train. Murder. Magic. More murder. Darla is there, of course, and some new faces, as well as the usual crew.

It was a blast to write. I hope it'll be just as much fun to read. 

And I'm thrilled that it will be read. 

I'll post progress reports here along the way. 

And I'll beg a little bit, too. There is one thing you could do that doesn't cost a dime, and only takes a minute. 

If you've read any of the other Markhat titles, and you liked them, please consider going to Amazon and leaving a review. 

If you've already left a review, thanks!

Reader reviews on Amazon play a huge role in whether people see the books or not. 50 seems to be a magic number -- a book with 50 or more reviews winds up featured in those "You might also like this book" emails Amazon sends out from time to time.

I know that's true because the Paths books, which have more than 50 reviews each, show up in those emails all the time.

So if anyone is so inclined, please just follow the link below, pick any book of mine you're read, and leave a quick review. 

It could help the series live on!


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Things That Go Bump: Thomas House Edition Report

Thomas House.

Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Reputed to be one of the most haunted sites in the US, home to half a dozen colorful ghosts who aren't shy about making their presence known.

That's where I spent last weekend, in the gracious company of Historical Haunts, a TAPS family member group based out of Memphis. 

So Frank, you may be asking. Did you see anything? Hear anything? Is the Thomas House actually haunted, or is all the hype merely a mish-mash of publicity and eager amateur ghost hunters mistaking knocking water pipes for poltergeists?

Well, have a seat, my inquisitive friends, because answering that question is going to take some time.

I arrived at the House well-armed with an array of recording gear. My emphasis was on audio, but I had a bit of everything. Here's my gear, laid out on the small second bed in Room 18.

Parabolic mic and netbook recorder. Magbox and recorder. Tesla radio and recorder. Zoom H1 mic/recorder. Velleman Super Ear and recorder. Ramsey Tri-Field meter. Non-contact temperature gun. Camera. Batteries. And of course the ubiquitous K2.

Did I capture anything with all this gear?

Oh yes. I certainly did. I think the best way to describe my stay at the Thomas House is to proceed in chronological order, incident by incident.

Before I start posting things, though, a reminder. Most of what I captured is audio, and some of it is fairly faint. I can hear everything just fine through the speakers on my PC, but my PC is an old-school tower unit with external speakers. If you're listening on a laptop or a mobile device, the device's tiny speakers may not be able to accurately reproduce the softer sounds. If that's the case, even plugging in and listening through a simple pair of earbuds will present a vast improvement in what.

That said, here we go!


We arrived at the House around four in the afternoon. The projected five hour drive turned into nearly seven hours after a detour from the Natchez Trace sent us straight into bumper-to-bumper traffic through several middling small towns stretched across the interstate. 

We arrived, dumped everything in room 18, and set out to have a quick look around and stretch our legs before unpacking and getting set up.

The Thomas House is old. Built in 1890, and it shows. Walls bob and weave. Floors creak and doors don't quite shut. Dull painted eyes peer down on you from the hundreds of paintings and old photos that cover every inch of vertical wall space. Even the scale of the place is a reflection of the smaller people of the 19th century. 

One of the House's more famous ghosts is that of Sara, a little girl who died in the hotel in 1920. She'd been brought to the Thomas House to partake of the mineral waters that flow beneath the hotel -- at that time, such hot springs were thought to be a panacea. Sadly, they did nothing for poor Sara, who died after only 3 days there.

At the end of the hall shown above, on the left, is a small sitting room. Sara is said to play along this hall, and in the sitting room. We wound up in that room to take a break and rest a bit. There was already a child's ball there.

There were four of us in the room. Mike, Kelly, my wife Karen, and myself. We were all seated. Talking casually. There was no air movement in the room. No one stomping past in the hall. No one striking the floor from below with a jack-hammer. It was quiet and still.

Karen encouraged the spirit of Sara to move the ball. 

Like everyone else in the room, I watched.. I wasn't expecting anything. A brightly-lit room, in the early afternoon? It seemed an unlikely place for anything ghostly to commence.

So when she said, 'Sara, move the ball,' I wasn't anticipating any movement. Nothing in the environment seemed capable of inducing any kind of motion.

Until the ball simply rolled, on its own, half a full revolution.

We all saw it. The floor didn't shake, a passing truck didn't thunder past. The ball simply moved.

I took a photo immediately after this, as I cursed myself roundly for not gearing up when I left the room. So I can offer no video evidence to support my claim -- but like everyone else in that sitting room, I saw the ball move.


After a delicious supper (the cook at the Thomas House is extremely skilled), we split into three groups. My group was the first to enter the infamous Thomas House Chapel, which is said to be inhabited by two spirits.

The first is the Reverend Blankenship, the former pastor, who hung himself above the pulpit after he realized years of shady business dealings were about to be exposed. The second ghost is reputed to be that of Miss Polly, a poor homeless woman the church took in as a resident.

We entered the Chapel around 10:30 PM. I had my magbox, my Zoom, my thermal gun, and a so-called 'spirit box.' Karen had the Velleman Super Ear mic.

As we enter, we caught the first EVP. I heard nothing at the time, but on replay, a voice seems to say 'Meet her.' You can listen by playing the YouTube video linked below.

MEET HER EVP click here

Which is strange, but hardly the only strange thing going on at that time.

My magbox is a simple but effective machine. A magnetic pickup on a two-foot-long extension rod feeds a sensitive audio amp. It's quite capable of identifying 60 Hz house current and nearby cell phones in use. If noncorporeal entities somehow manipulate EM fields, it could detect that too.

It was dead silent on the walk to the Chapel. Because we were well away from electrical lines or circuits. As soon as we entered, though, it began picking up the usual 60 Hz hum present in all buildings with electricity. There was a 'dead spot,' about waist high, where the buzz fell to nothing. But that's not unusual.

Unless you consider that the Chapel HAS NO ELECTRICITY. No supply line. Even that was taken down years ago. I didn't know that when I entered. 

So what was my magbox finding? Ghost circuits? Some odd localized electric field?

I have no idea. I turned the magbox off because the hum was so loud. When we left, a mere hour later, I turned it back on -- to find the new battery was completely drained.

I can't explain that either. I once forgot the magbox. Left it on a headstone in a cemetery in Birmingham. It stayed there running all night, for a total of something like 16 hours, and the battery wasn't drained.

But an hour in the Chapel, in the presence of electricity that wasn't there?


Anyway. On to the next!


I've used my trusty Zoom H1 mic for years now. It's a sensitive, reliable machine with a truly excellent recorder built in. Musicians and journalists use H1's for recording in the field. 

I noticed something strange, though, on the Chapel recording. Present throughout the entire event was a constant, soft noise that my ears didn't hear. As I listened to the recording, though, I kept hearing a dub-dub, dub-dub dub-dub. A sound rather like that of a beating heart.

I did NOT have the mic in a jacket pocket. It was resting on a table. It is not built to pick up heartbeats from people sitting a meter away. 

So what the heck is the sound?

I have absolutely no idea. You can hear it for yourself below by clicking the link.



We found chairs in the cramped, junk-filled Chapel, seated ourselves, and the EVP session began in earnest.

I heard nothing at the time, but when a speaker invites any entities present to speak, a faint little voice chirps 'hi.' You can hear it below; the 'hi' is about six seconds into the clip.

HI FROM CHAPEL Click here to listen


Many visitors to the Thomas House report being touched.

I myself was not touched. But Karen, my long-suffering wife, was touched not once but twice during our session in the Chapel.

She described both events thusly: First, a sudden rush of extremely cold air, approching from behind. Followed immediately by a cold touch on the back of her neck, moving from just above her collar to her hairline, as though a cold fingertip stroked her. 

I quickly inspected the area for anything that might have hung down or reached in from the side. In both cases, the area was clear. No cobwebs, no hanging lamp cords, no bric-a-brac in the vicinity. The chairs all had low backs. And it was way too cold for bugs of any sort.

I had 3 mics running at the time. My Zoom. The recorder on the magbox -- yes, the magbox was switched off, but the onboard digital recorder was still recording via its own internal mic. And she had the Velleman Super Ear. 

All three of the mics picked up a faint whisper spoken by parties unknown shortly after the second touch. All three mics. 

Let's start by listening to the entire second touch incident, recorded on my Zoom. The whisper is very faint, about 35 seconds into the recording. You'll hear us discuss the touch, hear me verify nothing is near, hear someone say 'there's nothing around here,' and finally you'll hear a woman add 'that we can see.' Then, if you have headphones or loud speakers, you'll hear a faint rustling whisper. Don't worry, the next video contains an amplified looped whisper. But I wanted you to have the full context before I present that.

SECOND NECK TOUCH INCIDENT click here to listen

I listened to all three recordings, from all three mics. I isolated the whisper, added some amplification. Then I combined all three recordings onto the same track. What you'll hear below is a looped recording from the Olympus recorder, followed bny a loop from the Velleman, and finally a loop from the Zoom. It sounds like someone is whispering "He's coming out the door."

WHISPER AFTER TOUCH click here to listen


We spent about an hour in the Chapel. Later, several of us moved to the hotel's conference room. 

Note the door on the left side of the image frame. See the panes of glass that make up the door. That will be important later.

We seated ourselves around the table. By now, it is well after midnight. An EVP session is begun -- at one point Stephen mentions that the 'door is open,' speaking metaphorically, because that door is actually closed.

But I suppose something wants in, because after we've been in there about 15 minutes the door begins to rattle and shake. You can easily hear the noise in the clip below. Our reactions are also there, as Sarah, seated at the head of the table with a clear view of the door, reports no one is there.

RATTLING DOOR Click here to listen

What made the door move?

I don't know. Something did, but it couldn't be seen. I can offer nothing in the way of physical explanations.

That wasn't the last conference room event, either. None of us hear anything after the door rattle. The REMpod beeps and boops, as the temperature in the room fluctuates. But no one is touched, and aside from the door nothing moves.

Toward the end of the session, Sarah notes that 'it seems very still now.' Maybe not so much, because the Velleman mic caught a single word from nowhere, that seems to say 'repent.'

REPENT Click here to listen to the unaltered audio

Odd, especially in light of Kevin's own visit to the Chapel, in which he spoke about forgiveness, hoping to offer the Reverend some comfort. 

Below is the word again, this time amplified.

REPENT amplified. Click here to listen. 


Once upon a time, I worked nights. I lost count of the number of days I worked until the sun rose. I was a night owl's night owl.

But those days are long gone. By 3:00 AM, I was barely able to function. So I took to my bed -- my tiny, tiny bed, which, of course was haunted.

The story is that the tiny second bed in Room 18 was once owned by PT Barnum. It was one of two beds that were said to disturb occupants by shaking all during the night.

I volunteered to sleep in the bed, and I did, but honestly the thing could have launched me through the roof and halfway to Nashville and I doubt I;d have noticed. 

Nevertheless, the Thomas House wasn't done with us.

Karen brought along a noise machine, because I snore. I know, shocking, but it's my one flaw. So she retired to the slightly larger, possibly less haunted bed in the main bedroom and fired up her sleep machine while I collapsed onto the PT Barnum bed and waited for the poltergeist to arrive. 

The door between bedrooms was open. I heard the steady hiss of the sleep machine start up, heard her go to bed.

A few minutes later, the sleep machine went off. Came back on. 

This was repeated three times. I wondered why she was fiddling with the thing, could hear her get up and down, but I was too exhausted to comment.

Unknown to me, Karen wasn't turning the sleep machine off. It turned itself off, three times, forcing her to get up and turn it back on. On the third and final time, she says she told whatever was causing the machine to turn off that she was very tired, and would it please stop playing with the machine?

It did. 

I may have audio of this. I left my parabolic mic running in the small bedroom. But since I took so many mics, and I have a day job and I am trying to finish a new book, I haven't had time to process the audio from the parabolic yet. 

But it happened. I heard it, she witnessed it. Something caused the sleep machine to shut itself off three times, and the phenomena stopped when asked to stop.

 Make of that what you will.


 I witnessed strange events at the Thomas House. I saw a child's toy ball move, without apparent cause. I witnessed inexplicable equipment malfunctions. I recorded a number of anomalous sounds and voices.

And I haven't even finished processing all the audio. But what was captured, and what I saw, is sufficient to convince me the Thomas House is home to activity that defies mundane explanation.

I will of course continue to analyze my remaining audio, from both the Tesla radio (which spent the entire night on the porch) and the parabolic, which was stationed by the shaking bed in Room 18. Any further events of interest will be displayed here. 

Thanks for reading! Thanks as well to Stephen, Tanya, and Kevin of Historical Haunts.

Stay spooky, people.

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

--Hamlet, Shakespeare