Brown River Queen cover art

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.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Around Each Corner They Lurk

I teach a (free) writing class hosted by the local public library. It's a good way to meet and get to know other writers, and torpedo their careers by spreading lies and misinformation -- er, I mean, to give back to the community. Also, people bring snacks. Just kidding about the lies and misinformation

But not about the snacks. I do love a homemade cookie now and then, sooner or later, and indeed at all other times.

The class format is pretty simple. I invite everyone to read a sample of what they've written since the last class. If they're not comfortable reading it aloud, I read it for them. Then we all talk about what we perceived as the strengths and weaknesses of the sample.

I also try to inject a few bleak realities of the publishing industry from time to time. One of my students had fallen prey to a certain scam outfit we all know and loathe. He'd wrecked himself financially, had a garage full of printed books no bookstore would touch with a twelve-foot battle lance, and he was still convinced all he needed to do was buy a little more 'advertising' and he'd surely make the leap into the heady air of best-sellerdom.

I was as gentle as I could possibly be, but I explained why that leap would likely end in bankruptcy.

Never saw the person again -- in the class, or on the NYT Best Seller list.

Reality is tough to face. I'm certainly no fan of it. I remain deeply and wholly convinced that in any truly reasonable world, the Markhat series would pay all my bills, the Paths of Shadow movie would fund my world travels and my hobby of restoring antique aircraft, and I'd be forced to stop writing this because my agent called with good news about yet another seven-figure bidding war over a book I haven't even started yet.

Now that is a world controlled by rules of which I approve.

If anyone knows how to get there, please let me know. Until quantum jumping becomes commonplace, though, I'm stuck here with you folks, and we have to muddle along as best we can.

I had a book come out on the 17th. It's the 8th book in the series, so I'm not exactly new to the process. I will say the thrill never gets old -- there's nothing quite like finally seeing the fruit of all that bloody awful labor out there on the shelves at last.

Of course, anytime people see you thrilled, there are a small but vocal subset of them who decide your joy MUST BE SQUASHED in the most heartless and violent way possible lest, I suppose, happiness spreads unchecked.

Let me state up front that none of these people are in my writing class. No. They might be work-place trolls, or distant relatives, or strangers from across the world with access to email and possession of severe personality disorders.

I'm not quite sure why writers are the targets of so much unsolicited offhand ire. I don't see insurance salespeople met with smirks and asked "Why do you sell insurance? There's no money in that!" As far as I know, people don't accuse my dentist of having graduated medical school because he 'was friends with the Dean.'

But if you write, the trolls will mass, and they will find you, and they will speak.

So, writing class, here are the kinds of people writers should ignore, especially right after a book release. Because assault with battery and outright gleeful murder are still frowned upon, and video cameras are everywhere these days.

1) The Gimmee a Freebie. "Oh," they'll say. "Got a new book out? Give me a copy." I encountered a Gimmee the day of the new release, and while on previous occasions I apologized for not having a copy handy, this time I merely fixed them in a steely-eyed glare and said "You can buy it like everyone else." And you know what? It felt wonderful. Now look -- I do in fact give away a lot of my books. I do so freely, and with a joyful heart. But I give them to people who will appreciate the book. Not to someone who is merely engaging in low-level passive-aggressive bullying.

2) The Nobody Reads Nay-sayer. Their opening conversational gambit is "A book? Nobody reads anymore," delivered with a smirk. I heard this last week too. I bit back my response of "I'm sure you don't read, favoring instead the refined arts of nose-picking and theatrical flatulence, but you are hardly representative of primates, much less the average reader." I hate coming up with the perfect retort hours later, but I will confess I saw this person coming later the same day and sent the elevator up before they could catch it. No vengeance is too terrible for the harried author scorned.

3) The You-Must-Know-Somebody Industry Expert.  "Oh, you have a book out? Who do you know?" Who do I know? Well, I know Mr. Write Every Day, and his friend Miss Submit Your Work to the Appropriate Markets After Careful Research. And I'm well acquainted with the unpleasant couple Mr. and Mrs. Edit, Revise, and Revise Again. But hey, you're right, I said hello to a famous New York editor at the laundromat in 1997 and everything I've scribbled since then gets turned into a 9-book series, you've discovered my secret, woe is me, I am undone. I swear if I hear the 'who do you know' question this time around I'm going to scream the lines above right in their face until the SWAT team opens up with those pesky rubber bullets.

4) The 'It Must Be Nice to Have Time to Write' Troll. This creature is by far the most common of the killjoys. They always deliver their trademark phrase with just a hint of condescension, making it clear that they could effortlessly fill whole bookstores with their deathless prose if only they weren't so burdened with more worthy pursuits. The only reasoned and proper response to such creatures involves bear traps, lamp oil, and the furious wraith of Barbara Cartland, and the specifics are too terrible to describe here. Simply turn and walk away.

Of course most people, especially readers, are only too happy to offer support and well-wishes. The people above are the exceptions.

They do serve one noble purpose, however -- they get mentions in my blog.

As someone once said, it is unwise to anger the man who buys ink by the barrel. So to speak.

New Kobo Banner!

I know I have a regrettable tendency to harp on the Amazon versions of my books. Sure, Amazon is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, which may be the only creature that makes me look thin by comparison, but there are many other sellers of ebooks out there as well.

Chief among them is Kobo, and my good friend Maria Schneider made this fantastic banner for my books, which are availble through the Kobo ebook store in every format imaginable, and a few that aren't!

Thanks Maria! And by the way, you should be reading Maria's books too. Here's a handy-dandy link:

My favorites of hers are the Moon Shadow books. They're urban fantasy set out west, with real (wait for it) -- bite. If Roger Zelazny had set out to write urban fantasy, he'd have come up with something very much like Maria's Moon Shadows books. And that's high praise, because I love Zelazny's books in much the same way Gollum loved his Precious, right down to the lisp and the loincloth, but we won't go into that here.

That's it for this week! I'm still working on the revisions to the new Mug and Meralda. And please keep your fingers crossed for the new Markhat, The Darker Carnival, which is still under consideration at Samhain.

Stay safe, folks, and buy some new books!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Honey Moon

Above, the Moon! That's an image of the so-called 'honey moon' taken this past Friday the 13th. Full zoom, 50X, no tripod. Love this little Finepix camera.

Full disclosure, though -- that image is the best of the 43 images I shot that night. Many are indistinct blurs. But that's the beauty of a digital camera -- you can shoot hundreds of times, if you want, in search of that elusive perfect image.

Speaking of new book releases (I still haven't gotten to 'Elegant Segues' in the Big Book of Writing Secrets), you have noticed I have a new one out. It's called The Five Faces, and you can get it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Books, Itunes, Samhain, or other fine booksellers.

I loved the cover of this one so much I mounted a print of it in an oversized picture frame I made from leftover cabinet trim. The frame has waited years for a worthy picture, and now it hangs on the wall!

My new desk mascot, Mr. Dragon, approves.

Those weird blue patches on the ceiling aren't the result of a demented paint job. They are in fact lights, emitted from the case lighting of my PC, which periodically emits Cherenkov radiation. Small price to pay for having a really fast video card, though, and the extra fingers do come in handy when using chopsticks.

Other dragons lurk nearby. And no, I don't really have purple walls, because I'm not Prince. I messed with the colors in this image; the big dragon is actually purple, but I needed him to be green, and the wall was collateral damage.

You're using a lot of pictures tonight, aren't you, Frank?

Yes I am. Had a bout of vertigo last night and my brain is still running at half-capacity. Earlier I tried to plug the vacuum cleaner into an AV wall jack. Twice since starting this blog entry I've wandered downstairs to retrieve the coffee cup that sat inches from my right hand.

I should probably let dog Lou Ann finish the piece, even if all she did was chew on the keyboard.

The Five Faces has done pretty well since its release. The Amazon rankings are good, and holding steady. I'd like to extend a special thanks to everyone who left a review on Amazon -- reader reviews drive sales like nothing else. If you've had a chance to finish the book, please consider dropping a few stars on Amazon. With 30,000 other new titles clamoring for attention, Markhat and I need all the help we can get!

If you're new to the series, you're in luck -- Barnes and Noble dropped the price on The Mister Trophy to 99 cents this weekend, to give readers a chance to start the series on the cheap, just to see if they'll like it enough to continue. Amazon spotted the price drop and matched it, so you can get The Mister Trophy from either bookseller for less than a buck!

I leave you with an excerpt from a previous blog, one written when the room was not engaged in gyroscopic precession. It involves an email from my reluctant Muse Visavarevagsitaga, and it applies today just as much as it did a few years ago. Enjoy!

Date:  Sun, 3 Feb 2013 11:52:43 -0600 [12:52:43 PM EST]
From:  Visavarevagsitaga <>
Subject:  HEY MORON

I see you're working on a new book. If one defines 'working' as pecking at the keyboard between screwing around on Facebook. But I'm feeling generous so we'll call it working. Idiot.

As your Muse, I've got a few things to say. Most of them involve being removed as your Muse, but that request was denied. Twice. So.

The book is a train wreck. A flaming, toxic spill, nuclear-waste-hauling five-alarm evacuate the surrounding counties smoke plume seen from space train wreck, and that's just the dedication, and it's all downhill from there. What were you thinking? What were you *drinking?* Can I interest you in another hobby? Origami? Animal husbandry? Spelunking? Anything that doesn't involve words?

The sad bit, the part that truly makes me want to lay waste to all of Mesopotamia and then weep abut it for a dozen centuries thereafter, is this may be the best thing you've ever written. Let that sink in, and then Google the many joys of spelunking.

Great. My third request for a transfer was just denied. Sigh. I miss the Bronze Age. So much less paperwork.

If you insist on pursuing this book to completion, the first thing you need to do is STOP BEING SO NICE TO YOUR CHARACTERS. Honest to Zeus, are you writing a murder mystery or hosting some demented fictional tea party? Here's a quick tip from an ancient Muse to you, bub -- for it to be a murder mystery SOMEONE NEEDS TO DIE.

So kill one of them off. Kill two of them off. Take my advice and kill them all off and try your hand at origami -- it's soothing and there's never a risk of dangling a

Lackwit. Fine. Ignore my advice, what do I know, I'm only older than recorded human history and I once held the fate of millions at my whim. But hey, you read an article about Stephen King's writing habits, so obviously you're the expert.

Even if you refuse to kill off whatshisname, Muckrat the finder, or his wife Duller, consider smiting one of the minor characters. Zeus knows nobody will miss any of them. And if you can't bring yourself to kill them, at least maim them a little bit this time. You've got to thin the herd, pal, or by book ten you'll be drowning in supporting cast and forget I said that, we both know there will never be a book ten because you cant' stay off Twitter long enough, can you, monkey boy?   

I give up. Or rather I would give up if Central Assignments would let me. This email constitutes my official dispensation of my Muse duties for this Julian calendar month. To summarize:

1) Give up.
2) Seriously, give up. Woodworking! That's a good hobby for someone with your literary skills.
3) Give your characters nothing but grief. Grief, trouble, and constant turmoil, followed by epic disaster, and all before you type the words CHAPTER TWO.
4) Stop referring to me mentally as Visa-veggie. I can hear your thoughts, you ungrateful chimpanzee. 
5) Moron.


Visavarevagsitaga (See #4 above)

PS Don't reply to this email. Or any of my emails. I'll delete your replies unread and if you think a rain of toads isn't impressive wait until it happens in your bedroom with high-velocity toads.

Have a good week, everyone! Leave a review -- prove my Muse wrong!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Five Reasons for The Five Faces

Today is release day! The book is now on sale at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Samhain, everywhere!


5. It's less than five bucks. Seriously. I paid twice that to see Pacific Rim, and it was just Independence Day shot with stompy robots. I promise you that at no time during your reading of The Five Faces will you feel led to stand up and shout 'This is freaking STUPID' in a movie theater, partly because it's too dark to read in movie theaters but mainly because my editor won't allow stupid bits in our books. 

4) I used every letter of the alphabet. I'm not one of those lazy authors who can't be bothered to reach all the way up to the top row of keys. No, due to my strict workout regime and meticulous pre-writing stretch sessions, I am equally adept at hitting QWERTYUIOP as I am the other rows. I've even received high praise for my stylistic choices involving T and W, which were once described as 'Coffee is on aisle 9' and 'Sir, you can't park in the drive-thru.' So there's that.

3) My hero, Markhat, is real, and can see you through the pages.  Hard to believe, but it's true. Fans of the series describe brief meetings with Markhat himself, who sometimes appears as a sports team mascot or a bookstore advertising standee before dispensing nuggets of wisdom, encouragement, or household cleaning agents. "Markhat appeared in my kitchen, made himself a sandwich, and got me free HBO," reports one fan. "I turned around to thank him, and he was gone, leaving behind a tattered paperback copy of The Banshee's Walk and an outstanding balance at a rent-to-own place, which he still hasn't paid." 

2) My muse, the short-tempered and plain-spoken Visavarevagsitaga, is ready to quit and install a marmot in her place.  "Look," she said in her last email to me. "You're nice enough for a no-talent hack with delusions of grandeur and a skill-set better suited to a sled dog, but unless this book gets some numbers, kid, I'm putting you on the Small Mammal Circuit, nothing personal, I hear they like peanuts." 

1) Due to a complex series of unlikely events and activities which might not be what most Grand Juries would label 'legal,' the Russian Mob warned me that unless The Five Faces breaks the Amazon Top 500 within a week of release a series of even more complex and unlikely events will befall me, many of which involve farm implements and antique firearms. There's a lesson is this -- mainly, don't steal 45 million in Bitcoins from people named Vladimir -- but that aside, good sales numbers mean an author (me, for instance) can keep writing books in a series, and readers (you, let's say) can keep reading that series. Too, the way Vlad described the use of the anvil and the plow still gives me nightmares. So buy a book? Please?

'Nuff said. Here's are links!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Things That Go Bump 2014 Issue #2, and BOOK RELEASE!

Pictured above is the improved Tesla Radio featured in last week's entry. Note the pair of sadly unadorned black boxes on the right and left sides of the receiver chassis -- the box on the left houses a simple single-transistor pre-amp circuit, while the box on the right contains a basic LM386 amplifier chip with all the trimmings and a speaker large enough to easily be heard.

As you may recall, last week I hooked the receiver directly into my PC's sound card and recorded its output for later playback. That's all well and good, if one is willing to drag around a heavy tower PC, a monitor, a power supply, and of course a desk to put everything on. One will look awfully silly setting that up in a graveyard, so I built some amps.

The idea here is to put my portable microphone next to the LM386 speaker. That way I can conduct EVP sessions simply by speaking, and have the mic record both the Tesla radio's output and the sounds in the area.

That does mean walking around in cemeteries and haunted houses with some odd-looking machinery, but ghost hunting is itself a rather odd hobby.

With the solder-joints on the new amp still warm, I headed up to the big cemetery in Oxford yesterday. I've captured several EVP voices there before, and I was hoping the Tesla might catch a plaintive ghostly moan or two as well.

In case anyone is curious, below are the plans for my LM386 amp. The plans for the little pre-amp don't exist; it's just a single NPN transistor, a 9 volt battery, a couple of resistors and a capacitor or two. You can find that circuit all over the web. There's nothing special about any of this gear.

I use 1/8 inch mono cables and mono jacks to connect everything.

So, what mysterious and phantasmagorical sounds did I capture, armed with such fancy equipment?

Um. Well. That is to say, er, nothing. Okay, around ten minutes and 43 seconds in, there is what might be a very faint whisper. A whisper which says, after nearly 30 dB of amplification is added, I hate your horse. 

But anything you have to amplify to that degree is almost certainly just noise, so I'm not even going to post the sample.

Look, we're just not in the mood today.
I will put up a link to the entire session, which runs a little over 15 minutes. I was planning to go longer, but both my Zoom mic and my camera batteries died at the very same moment, and I was starving, so Science was defeated by Supper and I headed for home.

Here's the entire session, including bird songs, hoarse radio preachers, and one exuberant drunk, who yelled HEY MELANIE from his window a number of times while the unfortunate Melanie walked briskly away.

St. Peter's Cemetery Full EVP Session Here

I'll head back again soon, this time with plenty of spare batteries and a bucket of BBQ ribs. In the interest of Science, of course. Science!

Tuesday Book Release!

As I may have mentioned here before some eleventy-seven zillion times, the new Markhat book The Five Faces goes on sale this Tuesday, June the 17th. 

Just look at that gorgeous cover, courtesy of artist KaNaXa. Note the fierce determination on Markhat's chiseled face! See the courage in the set of his manly jaw! 

He's sure, you see, that this book is the one that catapults the series to heights of fame never before experienced by yours truly. In fact, the image above depicts him striding resolutely toward the nearest bank, the better to deposit his sudden windfall and just possibly purchase a new pair of shoes. 


5. It's less than five bucks. Seriously. I paid twice that to see Pacific Rim, and it was just Independence Day shot with stompy robots. I promise you that at no time will you feel led to stand up and shout 'This is freaking STUPID' in a movie theater, partly because it's too dark to read in movie theaters but mainly because my editor won't allow stupid bits in our books. 

4) I used every letter of the alphabet. I'm not one of those lazy authors who can't be bothered to reach all the way up to the top row of keys. No, due to my strict workout regime and meticulous pre-writing stretch sessions, I am equally adept at hitting QWERTYUIOP as I am the other rows. I've even received high praise for my stylistic choices involving T and W, which were once described as 'Coffee is on aisle 9' and 'Sir, you can't park in the drive-thru.' So there's that.

3) My hero, Markhat, is real, and can see you through the pages.  Hard to believe, but it's true. Fans of the series describe brief meetings with Markhat himself, who sometimes appears as a sports team mascot or a bookstore advertising standee before dispensing nuggets of wisdom, encouragement, or household cleaning agents. "Markhat appeared in my kitchen, made himself a sandwich, and got me free HBO," reports one fan. "I turned around to thank him, and he was gone, leaving behind a tattered paperback copy of The Banshee's Walk and an outstanding balance at a rent-to-own place, which he still hasn't paid." 

2) My muse, the short-tempered and plain-spoken Visavarevagsitaga, is ready to quit and install a marmot in her place.  "Look," she said in her last email to me. "You're nice enough for a no-talent hack with delusions of grandeur and a skill-set better suited to a sled dog, but unless this book gets some numbers, kid, I'm putting you on the Small Mammal Circuit, nothing personal, I hear they like peanuts." 

1) Due to a complex series of unlikely events and activities which might not be what most Grand Juries would label 'legal,' the Russian Mob warned me that unless The Five Faces breaks the Amazon Top 500 within a week of release a series of even more complex and unlikely events will befall me, many of which involve farm implements and antique firearms. There's a lesson is this -- mainly, don't steal 45 million in Bitcoins from people named Vladimir -- but that aside, good sales numbers mean an author (me, for instance) can keep writing books in a series, and readers (you, let's say) can keep reading that series. Too, the way Vlad described the use of the anvil and the plow still gives me nightmares. So buy a book? Please?

'Nuff said. Here's the link again:


Don't even think about clicking the link below, or sending it to your friends, or Tweeting it, of Book-facing it or whatever it is you crazy kids do out there on the Interwebz these days. Seriously, don't. Just close the browser. CLOSE IT NOW.