Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ghostbusters

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!

WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN, FRANK?

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!


Thanks!


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!



THE MOVING BALL

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.




MEET HER

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?

Dead.


Anyway. On to the next!



THE TELL-TALE HEART

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.


PULSING BACKGROUND IN CHAPEL click here to listen



WELL HELLO THERE

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



THE TOUCH

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



THE CONFERENCE ROOM


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. 



THE SLEEP MACHINE

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.

SUMMARY

 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

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Things That Go Bump #2: Thomas House Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below are some snapshots of the gear.


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

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


Next up, the Tesla.


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

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


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



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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Now that's what any writer wants to see!


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

Things That Go Bump #1: Thomas House Edition


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

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

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

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

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

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

MUSICAL NOTES

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

CHILD'S VOICE

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Anything captured on a recording will also be revealed here. 

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

MidSouthCon 34 Roundup


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to Frank's MidSouthCon 34 pics: https://flic.kr/s/aHskwwDRrk

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

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

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

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

The Darrell Award:


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


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


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






Sunday, March 6, 2016

Used E-Books For Sale, Cheap.



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

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

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

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

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

And that's where I take exception.

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

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

No, that takes actual money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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









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

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sad News, Bad News, and Good News



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are still selling ebooks.

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

 And that's the very definition of class. 

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

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

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

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

You tell me. 

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

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

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

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

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

There will be setbacks. Disasters. Heartbreak. 

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

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

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

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

We will go on. 

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

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

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

When will that take place?

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

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

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

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

I won't be idle as I wait, though. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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