Chainsaw Honeymoon—My BookLife Journey (Cont’d)

“[Daredevil]”
Photo courtesy of Mr. Nixter via Creative Commons

Okay, so the BookLife quarter-finalists were announced today—and I made it! That means Chainsaw Honeymoon is off and running toward the semifinals.

As a reminder, last month I decided to take a chance with my new unpublished novel, Chainsaw Honeymoon, and enter it for a chance to win the BookLife Prize in Fiction. As part of the process, I received a critic’s report , which you can read here.

The semi-finalists will be announced on Halloween. This is from the contest site:

All submissions advancing to the quarter-finals will be critically assessed by the editorial staffs of Publishers Weekly and BookLife. Of the quarter-finalists, five from each of the six categories will be selected based on merit by PW and BookLife’s editors to advance to the semifinals.

As I stated last time, my category is General Fiction, and I am up against some serious literary fiction competition. But, hey, anything is possible, right? Stay tuned.

By the way, if you would like a taste of ChainSaw Honeymoon, you can go here to download a sample.

Chainsaw Honeymoon—My BookLife Journey

“[Daredevil]”
Photo courtesy of Mr. Nixter via Creative Commons

A few weeks ago, I decided to take a chance with my latest novel, Chainsaw Honeymoon, and enter it for a chance to win the BookLife Prize in Fiction. That’s five thousand smackers, people! Ambitious, right? Well, what’s Life if you can’t take a few chances?

Recently, I received a critic’s report I’d like to share with you.

 

Title: Chainsaw Honeymoon
Author: Steven Ramirez
Genre: Fiction/General Fiction (including literary and historical
Audience: Adult
Word Count: 54000

Assessment:

A satire of Los Angeles, of fractured relationships, movie-making, and growing up, Ramirez’s novel features fantasies, sibling rivalries, a judgmental doll, and even a couple of comic deaths, as one story line morphs into another making the result often seem like one extended dream sequence. The characterizations are lively, though sometimes needlessly exaggerated, and the wildly improbable plot, which features the merging of the screenplay of a maudlin romance hopefully entitled Endless Honeymoon with another of a horror story called Chainsaw Chuck, is generally well controlled and cleverly sustained.

Score:

Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 8 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 8.50 out of 10

Not bad, right? So, what happens next? Well, the good folks over at BookLife will announce the quarter-finalists on October 17th. Though I received a decent score, I am up against some very impressive literary works, so… But if I do make it to the first round, you can bet I will be writing a follow-up post. Fingers crossed!

By the way, you can go here to download a sample.

Pulp or Poet?

[Size Mismatch]
Photo courtesy of Miguel Castaneda
via Creative Commons

A writer’s life is nothing, if not angst-filled. Each day, we struggle with dilemmas—most of our own making and many imagined. As for me, I like to battle my demons in private. The best course, I feel, is to put that kind of drama into my writing and let my characters live in Hell. But, frankly, I just can’t take it anymore, and I need to spill. So please, bear with me.

I’ve been writing for more years than I care to admit. In my twenties, I devoted my energy to screenwriting. Great idea, jefe. Get to the end of the line behind the thousands in LA already slaving away at what they hope will become the next ‘Captain America.’ Though I did manage to sell one screenplay and see it made into a movie, I never really enjoyed the success I was hoping for.

When indie publishing came along—mostly thanks to Amazon—everything changed for me, as it did for many other aspiring authors. For years, I had been amassing ideas for novel-length books, and the only thing stopping me from ordering my sport coat with the suede elbow patches was the terrifying thought of trying to secure a literary agent. Weak, I know. But enough about that.

My Eternal Dilemma
I’ve always aspired to write well—as opposed to banging stuff out fast for the money. And, believe me, if you’ve ever downloaded free books to your Kindle, you know what I’m talking about. There’s a lot of crap out there—a lot. And what frustrates me is the fact that this drivel sells—way better than anything I have written. Which brings me to my current dilemma—am I a poet who wants only to create beautiful things (that don’t sell), or a successful pulp writer who’s in it for the money?

My personal belief as to why a lot of indie books sell has nothing to do with quality. Sure, they have to have some semblance of plot and structure. Of course, the cover shouldn’t make you puke. And the formatting has to be at least good enough for you to be able to read the thing without getting vertigo. But what these books have going for them, I feel, is that they are catering to a successful genre. Like Romance.

Now, before you get all huffy and threaten to take my lunch money, let me explain. I am not trying to say anything bad about Romance writers. In fact, sometimes I wish I were one so I could sell more books. What I am saying is, must I write in genres that sell, rather than what I am interested in? It’s a great question.

Romance Rules
So, why did I pick on the Romance category? Take a look at the May 2016 Author Earnings report, which you can find here. This is what they say about indie author earnings (bold text is mine):

Turns out there were 43 [invisible authors] lurking unseen in the dark spaces between Amazon’s bestseller lists, including one author invisibly earning more than $250,000 a year. Unsurprisingly, 30 of the 43 invisible six-figure earners — including the top earner — were self-published indie authors. Most were writing in the Romance Fiction genres, but there was also an indie author of editor’s-choice Cozy Mystery Fiction, and even more surprising, a traditional-award-winning indie writer of Literary Fiction. We happen to think that’s pretty cool.

Cool, indeed. I have a number of writer friends—many of whom publish Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Contemporary and New Adult Romance. It’s my sense that they are doing pretty well. But here’s the thing—from what I can tell, they actually enjoy writing Romance. So for them, this is the best of all worlds.

A Genre Comparison
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I would like to provide an illustration of what I am talking about. The following excerpt is from my horror thriller novel, Even The Dead Will Bleed: Book Three of Tell Me When I’m Dead. Notice that the writing is purposeful and dark—just the thing for pulp fiction:

The girl was pretty with long, light brown hair and frightened blue-grey eyes that were almond-shaped—slightly Asian—and ringed with dark circles. Her full lips were pink and moist, her skin fair and blemish free. She couldn’t have been more than nineteen or twenty. I looked at the back of her hand and noticed a red needle mark—probably from an IV.

“Are you in danger?” I said.

Still nothing. I glanced left and right to see who might be watching. Then I released her arm and took a step back, my open hands away from my pockets. I thought she would bolt, but she stood there unsure, looking at her bare feet, which were dirty. Her shoulders jerked up and down and I realized that she was crying. I remembered what Becky had said when the alarm went off—someone’s escaped.

I wasn’t sure what to do. She must’ve broken out of Hellborn, and now they were looking for her. I didn’t want to leave her there—not like this. She needed help. But I didn’t want to get mixed up with a kid. Griffin, the girl Holly and I had rescued in Tres Marias, had turned out well—and I thanked God for her—but I needed to be alone to complete my mission.

“I’m Dave,” I said. “What’s your name?”

She looked at me steadily. I didn’t know what new hell I was signing up for. It was pretty obvious that it would involve more than slipping her twenty bucks and wishing her good luck. When she spoke my blood went cold.

“Don’t let them find me!” she said.

 

Here is another excerpt—this time from my latest, unpublished Young Adult novel, Chainsaw Honeymoon: A Ruby Navarro Disaster. Not to brag, but this might even border on the literary. See if you agree:

A loud yawn startled me. It was Dad. How long had he been standing there?

“Come on, Rube, it’s late,” he said.

And by the way, when did he get all parental? Mom must’ve had a talk with him.

“No-uh,” I said. “I need to figure out this sequence.”

Between you and me, I was struggling to keep my eyes open.

Gently, he closed the laptop and guided me to my bed. As I dug through the duffel bag for my pajamas, I felt something foreign. Removing my hand, I saw Mr. Shivers. How had he gotten in there again? I thought I’d left him in the closet back home. Too exhausted to care, I tossed him into a chair, where he landed in a sitting position.

“Tomorrow, I could use your help setting up the Roku,” Dad said.

“Aghh, you’re so pathetic. Fine, I’ll see what I can do.”

I let go of a major yawn. Smiling, he gave me a bear hug, practically squeezing the air out of me.

“Ooh, I thought I heard a fart.”

“Dad, that’s so rude!”

“It used to make you laugh.”

“When I was five.”

“Good night, Rube. Brush your teeth.”

He and Mom had definitely spoken. I wondered vaguely if he was going to go off and practice The Beggar’s Sideshow per Mom’s instructions. Before he left, I broke down and decided to spill. After all, the man deserved to know the truth. I picked Ed up and put him on my lap for moral support.

“Dad?”

“Yeah, baby?”

“She is moving on, you know.”

He was leaning against the doorframe, staring at me intently. I could almost see the man hormones keeping his emotions in check. Barely. His face was a mosaic of disappointment, anger and disbelief. He smiled sadly and, without another word, closed the door behind him. See, this is the difference between women and men. I would be throwing things at this point.

 

The point is, I didn’t research the markets for either of these works—I just sat down and wrote them because I felt like it. We’ll see if the charming and perspicacious Ruby is enough to help me sell some books.

Sage Advice
I am currently reading How to Make a Living as a Writer by the well-respected author and teacher James Scott Bell. His book offers clear, practical advice on how to actually pull off what he promised in the title. One thing he suggests is studying bestselling categories on Amazon and making a conscious decision to master that market, then cranking out your own novels. Here is what he has to say:

I believe a writer should love his genres. But you can learn to love a genre. Sort of like an arranged marriage.

Nicholas Sparks did this with his own career. He went into it like a businessman. He looked at the bestselling genres and discovered that each one had two big names that dominated. At the same time, a surprise book emerged called The Bridges of Madison County. It was a tear-jerking love story written by a male author. And it exploded.

Sparks decided he could be the second name on this unique subset — men who write tear-jerking love stories.

He’s done pretty well.

Now, from a business point of view, he’s absolutely right. But in the words of Jerry Seinfeld when asked to wear the puffy shirt, “But I don’t want to be a pirate!”

If I were more practical, I would begin immediately my own market research and get to writing that puffy shirt book. But to be frank, Romance isn’t really my thing—unless guns or time travel are involved. Besides horror, I am drawn to Thriller, Mystery and YA. Having said that, though, if I follow Mr. Bell’s advice, I am still going to have to research what sells within those categories. And I’m not sure I want to write a political thriller, for example. So, I am almost back where I started.

In On Writing, I seem to recall Stephen King referring to himself as a “journeyman writer.” Here is a guy who consistently cranks out solid work in a genre he loves—and who makes a very good living. But he is practical, too. He knows he is a business. I’m still working on that concept.

What to Do?
As I said, I have a new book coming out, written without the benefit of checking in on bestselling categories. I hope it does well. If it doesn’t, I may decide that my next novel needs to have the word “girl” in the title. It doesn’t take a ton of research to know that those seem to be doing very well lately.

Fiction and Profanity—F-Bombs Away!

[Slim Pickens Riding the Bomb]
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

Recently, I reread an autobiographical novel I had written a number of years ago, thinking I could tidy it up for publication. Though I enjoyed much of the writing style, I was horrified at the frequency of f-bombs. Why? Because I don’t write that way anymore. And I couldn’t even defend the use of these words as critical to the genre. This book is essentially a dramedy—Life, Love and the pursuit of sex.

Some time after, I read an interesting post by PJ Parrish, which is a pseudonym for sisters and writing partners Kristy Montee and Kelly Nichols (see “Profanity in Crime Fiction: Reality or Lazy Writing?”). In it, they state …

There are different reasons why readers dislike profanity in their fiction. It can [be] colored by religious conviction, personal morals or just plain old taste. Authors are guided by the same impulses. Mark Henshaw, a Mormon crime writer, wrote a blog “Why I Don’t Use Profanity,” saying, “My short answer to the question is: because my mother reads my books. My long answer is a bit more involved.”

A Religious Debate
There are any number of articles and blog posts about whether foul language belongs in good fiction. If you’d like to test that assertion, try a Google search on “fiction and profanity.” According to Montee and Nichols, some authors write blue because they feel it’s required to make their novels realistic. Others, like Mark Henshaw, leave it out because their mothers are reading their books.

Now, I am not a prude by any stretch of the imagination. I have been known to let go, using strings of colorful expletives the way Rumpelstiltskin spins straw into gold. And I don’t happen to think most good writers choose profanity out of laziness either. Nevertheless, I’ve chosen to leave that kind of language out of my writing. Not because I feel I am better than everyone else. It’s mainly a marketing decision. In other words, I don’t want to turn off any potential new readers because they can’t get past the swear words.

Being “Authentic”
Not to take sides, but I do want to address the question of authenticity in fiction. Apparently, some authors feel that in order to depict realistic worlds (e.g., war, crime, etc.), they need to use lots of swear words. Well, I don’t think that’s true. If it were, then why isn’t urban crime fiction littered with liberal doses of the N-word? I don’t care how “realistic” you think your fiction is. The fact that you are telling a story means you are creating a world that doesn’t exist. Sure, it can resemble the real world, but in the end, it’s fake. And thank goodness!

Think about it. What if you were to write about real life exactly as it is? Wouldn’t it be kind of, I don’t know, boring? People don’t like to read fiction that depicts real life—they read to escape to a different life. And, yes, you should see things that are familiar. But a good writer is drawing you in with great characters and a powerful made-up story. So, if you agree that this is the case, then who is to say you have to include the f-word just to make things seem real?

Profanity and Violence
Very often, violent stories go hand-in-hand with profanity. Just watch any R-rated action movie. But this is not always the case. Take ‘The Conjuring,’ for example. This film received an R-rating from the MPAA. Why? Because it’s scary and violent. Yet, there is no hardcore swearing anywhere in the movie, according to the parents’ guide. So to those who think you need this kind of language to appear realistic, let me ask you this—What better time to let off a few f-bombs than when your mother is possessed by a demon? Yet, none are found in ‘The Conjuring,’ and the story still works.

Many of you know I wrote the horror thriller series TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD. At the time, I made a conscious decision not to use certain expletives. Sure, there is some mild cursing but nothing hardcore. And, again, if you’ve read the work, you’ll know that these books are violent as hell. Some may disagree, but I believe I have created a balance that works. In my fictional world, people can find themselves in horrible danger and not swear like merchant marines. And readers can still enjoy a powerful story.

So what are your thoughts?

Getting Away with Murder

[American Psycho Poster]Spoiler Alert!
If you plan on reading the TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD series but haven’t gotten around to it yet, then stop right here! Go ahead—I’ll wait.

Okay, you know the title of this post is total clickbait, right? Admit it, though. It got your attention. Anyway, I want to talk about killing someone and actually getting away with it. Before you call 911, let me explain. I am a writer and I create characters. Many times the characters are expendable—bad guys, helpless bystanders … But sometimes I am forced to grapple with killing off a character who is not only central to the story but beloved.

This is what happened when writing my horror thriller trilogy TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD.

Plotters and Pantsers
Before I go any further, I must tell you there are two kinds of writers—plotters and pantsers. Plotters like to create vast, detailed-filled outlines before writing a single word of their novel. When they are finished, they know exactly where they are going and how they will get there. Good for them. I hate plotters. Which brings me to pantsers …

We pantsers like to fly by the seat of our pants. We have only the vaguest notion of where we are going, and we have no frickin’ idea how we will get there. Welcome to my world, by the way.

Pantsers manage to move the story along through intuition and serendipity. When we are inspired, we happily travel in a westerly direction. When we are stuck, we curse and throw things and gain fifteen pounds. But here’s the dirty little secret—and it’s why no one in the history of writing has ever proven once and for all that plotters are better at writing than pantsers, or vice versa. Why?

Because we all end up in the same place.

Now, you could argue that plotters write faster because they already have the story down pat. But that’s not entirely true, since they must spend a fair amount of time creating their outline—a step pantsers like me happily skip.

So what does all this have to do with murder?

Death in Venice
I made the decision to kill off a main character in Book Two. And I did it after discovering she needed to be dead in order for the protagonist Dave Pulaski to fulfill his destiny in Book Three. For those of you who read Books One and Two, you’ll know I’m talking about Dave’s wife, Holly. And this was no easy task. Here’s the pivotal scene …

Holly stood there on the platform, paralyzed. Her slender body trembled. She couldn’t even cry. Next to her, Griffin and Fabian stood mutely, his fingers reaching for her hand and gripping it. I wanted to will myself to Holly’s side and made a move to reach her. The cop standing next to O’Brien pointed his rifle at my head. Warnick gripped my shoulder. Balls of red light streaked across my eyes. My heart raced. I wanted to rip out the throats of everyone who meant to harm my family.

“You took away everything from me!” the mayor said. “My wife, my sons … my future!”

“We didn’t kill your family,” Warnick said. “Someone attacked our convoy.”

The mayor let out a pitiful wail that echoed throughout the cavern. O’Brien eyed him uncomfortably. His voice softer, he said, “If you hadn’t come after me, they’d still be alive.”

Warnick wasn’t finished with him. “Why did you leave them behind? You could have saved them.”

“You don’t understand. This was supposed to be my ticket …” Choking up, he forced himself to go on. “It’s bigger than you can imagine. They got me out of there, they …”

“You abandoned your wife and children,” Warnick said, unafraid.

“They promised me,” the mayor said, weeping.

Overlapping voices echoed in the cavern, and I struggled to make sense of them. Sweat dripped into my eyes, and the vague forms of Holly, Griffin and Fabian wavered in front of me like ghosts in the harsh orange light, pleading with me to do something. I wiped my eyes, and Holly screamed. When I looked up I found her on her knees in front of the mayor.

“Dave!”

The mayor tore the weapon from O’Brien’s hand and pointed it at Holly’s head. My heart thudded—I couldn’t breathe.

“Dave, I love you! I’ll always love you!”

“Please,” I said. “Please don’t.” I wept, unable to control myself. I was completely helpless—at the mercy of a madman. There was nothing I could do.

“I lost everything,” the mayor said, his voice a monotone. “Let me show you what that feels like.”

It was a dream. The bullet—a .45, I think—left the chamber so slowly. I could see it spinning as it raced home to its target. Every thought in my brain vanished, my mind laser-focused on the deadly projectile. And when it struck my wife in the head, exploding out the other side in a burst of blood, brains and bone, I died for a little while. That picture—that memory of Holly—the impact of the bullet twisting her sideways and down into the dirt—that photograph is burned in my memory forever like a cattle brand. And it’s always accompanied by the sound of screaming—Griffin maybe—and Greta’s desperate, urgent barking.

It was a dream—I knew it was. Not real. A nightmare. But if it was, why couldn’t I wake up?

Because it was real. There was no escaping it—not this time. If I’d been holding my weapon I would have used it to join Holly. There wasn’t any point in going on. She was all I had lived for. Nothing else mattered. And the baby. So blessed to be conceived but not to be born. I fell to my knees and could only remain there, sobbing.

I’m sure you’ve heard of writers who weep when their characters die. After I wrote that scene, I cried like a baby. Really. I loved Holly deeply, and I wanted with all my heart to let her live. But she couldn’t. She had to die in order to give Dave the hate he needed to exact his revenge in Book Three.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I wanted you to know that writers do care deeply about our characters. When they suffer, we suffer. And when you think about it, doesn’t that make for a better reading experience?

KU—Taking a Chance on Amazon

Photo Courtesy of Randi Deuro via Creative Commons
[Party Pooper]In my previous post I announced that I planned to make my horror thriller series TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD available in Kindle Unlimited. Well, I did it! This means that if you are a subscriber, you can now read all three books as part of your subscription, instead of paying for each one. That and the fact that there are well over a million Kindle titles makes the subscription a pretty good deal. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not here to sell you on Amazon’s subscription model. What I am doing is reaching out to those who already signed up or who have seriously contemplated doing so.

This was not an easy decision for me, because when you enroll your book in KDP Select (the program that enables authors to participate in Kindle Unlimited), you must be exclusive to Amazon. A lot of authors reject this kind of arrangement. They prefer having their books available in multiple distribution channels, hoping to increase sales by reaching readers everywhere, regardless of platform. And who doesn’t want more sales?

Reality 101
A harsh reality in the bookselling business—and one even detractors must accept—is that Amazon is the biggest fish in the pond. They sell more books than anyone else—even Wal-Mart—mostly due to low prices. Take a look at this recent eBook sales chart, courtesy of AuthorEarnings.

[AuthorEarnings Chart]
Overall Market Share of US Ebook Unit Sales Held by Each Retailer
And books aren’t the only category where they win. Take a look at this recent New York Times article where, regarding Wal-Mart, they write, “Amazon’s prices were lower on every item, in some cases substantially ($150 less for the dishwasher, $7 less for the Grisham book).” And what about convenience? Free two-day shipping for Prime customers? Hellz yeah! I never have to set foot in a store.

Now, you can love Amazon or hate them, but that’s the reality I am living in. So why not embrace it?

Free Books!
Here’s another benefit of being in the KDP Select program—I can run free book promotions. Granted, I may only do this for a maximum of five days out of every ninety, but free sometimes is better than free never, I always say. So why not let readers share the good times?

Reaching More Readers
I’ll admit, this is where things get tricky. Just because my books are available to KU subscribers to read “for free” doesn’t mean they will. As I mentioned before, there are well over a million titles to choose from, so how will anyone even discover me, let alone download my books? Well, that’s where some serious marketing comes in.

Nothing Is Forever
So, what if my little experiment doesn’t work out? I can always go back to the way things were—publishing my books at Barnes and Noble, iBookStore and Kobo, as well as at Amazon. The contract period lasts ninety days, and I can always choose not to renew.

For those who are not authors, you are probably wondering how in the world I get paid under this arrangement. Great question! Amazon has come up with a formula based on Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP). Essentially, the more pages of my book readers actually read, the more I get paid. As far as I can tell, Amazon is gaming the system, because there are stats floating around out there demonstrating that just because a person starts your book doesn’t mean they will finish it. Also, if you’re like me, I may have two or three books going at the same time. So I may not finish a particular book for a while. Some authors, like Joe Konrath, insist they are making money with Kindle Unlimited. Of course, I should mention that Joe has a humungous backlist. You can check out his post here.

How long do I plan to try this? Honestly, I have no idea. But, at a minimum, I am in the program for ninety days. Personally, I don’t think that’s enough time to measure success, so I will most likely stay in for at least two rounds. Either way, I will keep you posted. In the meantime, if you are a KU subscriber and you love horror thrillers, check out TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD. And don’t forget to read to the end!

[TMWID - 3D Transparent Shadow]

Urban Friday Facebook Event—November 6, 2015

[Urban Friday]Check out this Facebook event, which is happening on Friday, November 6, 2015. This is just one incredible day in the week-long Virtual FantasyCon, which runs November 1—8. Why am I excited about Urban Friday? Because I will be there, chatting with authors, artists and fans about edgy, urban horror thrillers. Oh, and I will be giving away copies of Books One, Two and Three of TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD.

Event Description
Come meet all the fantasy authors who write Urban Fantasy as well as the bloggers and artists who take part in this genre. Participants include …

Alexandra Engellmann
Arie Farnam
D.L. Colon
Danielle Annett
Emma Adams
Hannah Gordon
Ismael Manzano
J.P. Sloan
Jaq D Hawkins
Jason P Crawford
Jay Norry
Jen Leigh – Fantasyworks Publishing
Jena Baxter
Jennifer Fisch-Ferguson
K.N. Lee
Kara Ashley Dey
Kia Carrington-Russell
Kindra Sowder
Lauren Dawes
Lesley Donaldson
Lu J Whitley
Maer Wilson
Michelle Irwin
Nadja Losbohm
Nessie Strange
Pavarti Tyler
Rachel Tsoumbakos
Rissa Blakeley
Sarah Buhrman
Shannon Dearing
Shea MacLeod
Sherry Robinson
Steven Ramirez
Thais Lopes
Tommy Hancock
Victoria Foster – Artist

And if you can’t make it Friday, there are still two more days of fun!

November 7—Steampunk Saturday | November 8—YA Fantasy Sunday

Hope to see you there.

THE GHOST FILES—Taking on the Dead with Style

[The Ghost Files Cover]I can see why this book is popular—and why it’s headed for the big screen. (Supposedly, it went into production this past summer.) I’m sure with the right cast, the movie could be a lot of fun. Oh, how I wish Roddy McDowall were still alive to play Dr. Olivet! Never mind. Maybe Brian Cox is available.

I only had a couple of quibbles with the story. Mattie sure has a lot of guys in her life who she thinks are “the one.” Hey, maybe that’s sixteen-year-old girls. Who am I to judge? That, and the ending is a little convoluted. No spoilers here, but I thought the reveal was a bit messy. These are minor points, though, so please don’t let them stop you from reading this very entertaining book.

Book Blurb

[The Ghost Files Cover]

Cherry blossom lipstick: check
Smokey eyes: check
Skinny jeans: check
Dead kid in the mirror: check

For sixteen year old Mattie Hathaway, this is her normal everyday routine. She’s been able to see ghosts since her mother tried to murder her when she was five years old. No way does she want anyone to know she can talk to spooks. Being a foster kid is hard enough without being labeled a freak too.

Normally, she just ignores the ghosts and they go away. That is until she see’s the ghost of her foster sister … Sally.

Everyone thinks Sally’s just another runaway, but Mattie knows the truth—she’s dead. Murdered. Mattie feels like she has to help Sally, but she can’t do it alone. Against her better judgment, she teams up with a young policeman, Officer Dan, and together they set out to discover the real truth behind Sally’s disappearance.

Only to find out she’s dealing with a much bigger problem, a serial killer, and she may be the next victim …

Will Mattie be able to find out the truth before the killer finds her?

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

More Reviews
Did you enjoy this review? Check out my other Amazon reviews here.

Your Home Workplace—5 Things to Start Using Right Now

[Emily Johnson]Guest post by Emily Johnson

This post contains new, original material, and is based on the article “How to Organize Your Writing Space at Home,” which appeared at GalleyCat in September.

As a writer, if you know how to organize your home workplace, that’s great. If you know which items can help you stay more productive, that’s even better!

It’s simple: try to use these things to boost your productivity.

1. A digital highlighter. This device can help you scan, translate, and transfer texts. Once you start using this gadget, you’ll start boosting your productivity. Create texts and just transfer them to your computer or phone.

2. Mini elliptical trainers. If you want to stay productive and focused, you need to pay attention to your health. Using mini elliptical trainers helps to prevent health problems and promote a good posture.

3. A USB cup warmer. We often drink coffee or tea while working. If you want to take a cup of hot tea, you should use this gadget. Plus, try to drink green tea only, as it contains L-theanine and caffeine that lead to improving brain functions.

4. Live plants. As soon as you decorate your workplace with live plants, you will see spirits boost. Plus, it goes without saying that live plants freshen the air. No matter what type of plant you like—whether a cactus, an aloe, or an Orchidaceae—you can make your writing place look cozy.

5. A painting or quotation. Every writer needs to find his or her muse. If you want to get inspiration, find a corner where you can hang your favorite painting or a quote. It will motivate you to work harder and better!

Is there anything we left off the list? Add your own ideas in the comments section below.

[Your Writing Cabinet]

About the Author
Emily Johnson is a writer and a blogger at OmniPapers.com, an academic writing extravaganza. You can find her on Twitter.

The Monster Mash—Creating Believable Beasts

[Lauren Scharhag]Guest post by Lauren Scharhag

I grew up in the 80s. It was a magical time when bug-eyed, glowing-fingered aliens crashed in suburban back yards, when heroes rode luckdragons, when David Bowie danced with goblin puppets, when nightmare creatures battled for the fate of a flawed purple gemstone … well, you get the idea.

For me, the creatures of science fiction and fantasy are just as compelling as the main characters in the story. Anybody writing in the genre knows how important world-building is. Part of good world-building is creating believable creatures for your distant planet or magical realm.

Here are some things to consider when designing your monsters from the claws up:

Magical or Cryptozoological?
Is your creature born or conjured? Did it hatch from an egg, or did a rabbi scoop some mud together and slap a sign on its head? The way a creature comes into being tells a lot about what its habits will be like, where it lives, what it subsists on, etc. Magical creatures don’t have to be as convincing from a biological standpoint—or stand up to close scrutiny at all, for that matter:

  • Don’t feed a mogwai after midnight. Um, isn’t it technically always “after midnight”?
  • How the hell does a Pegasus fly? Does it have hollow bones like a bird?
  • What about Beholders? How do they—ahhh, you know what? Never mind.

As magical creatures, it’s part of their charm. But if we’re talking about an animal that is born or hatched, this takes a little more thought.

What Is Your World Like?
What is your world’s climate like, its ecosystem, its culture? Animals adapt to their environment to survive. Consider how the animal might have evolved in relation to where it lives. Is the animal native to the area you’re writing about or did they come from someplace else? If they’re not native, how did they get there? How do they interact with other species?

Some of my favorite fantasy beings are the elephant-like Mulefa from Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass. Now, it helps that he was writing them from the point of view of a scientist who made keen observations regarding their anatomy, habitat, social behavior, etc. But Pullman obviously put a lot of thought into their ecology. A species of pod-bearing tree combined with some solidified lava beds gives the Mulefa the means to move—and I don’t mean that in the sense that they use pods for transportation. I mean they have evolved in such a way that they now require the pods to peregrinate, attaching them to spurs on their legs and zooming around on them like Tony Hawk.

I was blown away by the level of detail, planning, imagination and originality the Mulefa required. How in the world did someone dream something like that up?

Real Creatures, Alive or Extinct
Start with real critters. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but coming up with good, convincing and memorable creatures for your book has to be more than a Horse of a Different Color (enchanting though that rainbow-hued equine was, he was still just a horse with a dye-job).

I co-author a series called The Order of the Four Sons with Coyote Kishpaugh. It takes place across multiple dimensions. In the second book, the heroes find themselves marooned in an inhospitable, desert world called Carcosa. Keeping the Mulefa firmly in mind as we began to design the world, we gave a great deal of thought to what sort of flora and fauna could thrive under its harsh conditions. We researched animals and plants that live in the Australian and Saharan deserts, as well as Death Valley. To give the animals an otherworldly bent, we turned mainly to creatures that have gone extinct like the Tasmanian tiger for inspiration.

We also took into consideration the symbolism of the place. We have stranded the heroes in a world where everything is either aggressive or toxic. We looked at some of the fiercest-looking desert dwellers we could find, like the Solifugae, an order of desert spiders that can get quite large and look like an ungodly mixture of arachnid and scorpion, with pale, segmented bodies and pincer-like mandibles. They’re not terribly threatening to humans, but the point is, they look scary.

Another type of creature we looked at was some sort of animal to transport people around our deadly fantasy desert. Ultimately, we found our way to tapirs, an endangered South American animal with a prehensile snout (maybe Pullman influenced me even more than I realized!). Related to horses and rhinos, tapirs are decent runners, so with some alteration, we thought they would make fine pack animals. In the course of researching them, we found out that tapirs appear in Asian folklore. In Korean, their name is maek, so we named the creatures “meks.”

Finally, there are the real, live animals that share space with you. I can’t tell you how many creatures in my oeuvre have been influenced by an ugly, runty, squinty-eyed, foul-tempered little cat I found by the side of the road one day and decided to bring home. She has way more attitude than a five-pound bundle of dirty-looking orange-brown fur ought to have, but she’s my little beast, and I love her. Without her, I wouldn’t have stories full of dragons, mermaids, ehlems and man-eating blobs. At least once a day, I pay homage to my little feline muse with offerings of tasty treats. She seems as pleased with this arrangement as I am.

So all those hilarious pet stories you love to tell at parties? Yeah, turn those into fantastical adventures.

Barring that …

Tap into Some Folklore
There’s an entire world of myths, legends, fairy tales and folklore from which to draw inspiration. From kitsunes to skin walkers, from djinn to Baba Yaga—there’s always some creature or entity begging to be remade into a new story.

Obviously, you have the perennial favorites: vampires, werewolves and zombies. Personally, I find those to be a bit tired, but even they can have new life breathed into them—reanimated, if you will. (I know, I know. Feel free to throw things.)

To use another example from our books, in The Order of the Four Sons, we have an Eastern European sorceress who practices necromancy. Eastern European folklore is rich with blood-suckers and the undead. We came up with creatures called eretics, a sort of zombie en flambé. The amount and type of magic it takes to raise and sustain them burns their flesh, so they’re blackened, red and quite disgusting as they lumber about, flaking off patches of skin and doing their mistress’ bidding.

Another resource is the good ol’ D&D monster manual. I’m not saying to blatantly rip something wholesale from the Eberron or Forgotten Realms playbooks or whatever. What I am encouraging you to do is a monster mashup—create composites. Synthesize. It’s amazing what sort of literary Frankenstein might emerge. A fang here, a bit of drool there, some galvanic action and voila! Your creature will be up, wreaking havoc on a poor, unsuspecting populace in no time.

I hope you find my thoughts on monster-making helpful. Thanks for reading, and best of luck dreaming up your own ghoulies, ghosties and three-legged beasties!

Book Blurb

[The Order of the Four Sons Cover]

For centuries, two ancient, magical sects, the Order of the Four Sons of Horus and Starry Wisdom, have battled for possession of the sacred, powerful Staff of Solomon. Whoever possesses the staff can open doors to other dimensions—or rip open the very fabric of existence.

The staff was broken into pieces and scattered across the cosmos.

Now, a member of the Order, Fernando Rios, has disappeared in a small Missouri town.

When a team is sent to investigate, they discover that Rios was close to finding one of the lost segments.

The problem is, he wasn’t the only one.

The Order of the Four Sons by Coyote Kishpaugh and Lauren Scharhag is a classic tale of good versus evil. An epic, magical journey of fantasy and adventure.

Join members of the team, Colonel JD Garnett, novice mage Kate West, Detective Ryan Murphy, scholar Doug Grigori, and field techs Bill Welsh and Cecil Morgan, as they race to stop evil from destroying not just Earth, but a myriad of worlds.

And life as we know it.

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

About the Author
Lauren Scharhag is a writer of fiction and poetry. With Coyote Kishpaugh, she is the co-author of The Order of the Four Sons series. She lives in Kansas City, MO with her husband, two cats and a squinty-eyed beastling. You can find Lauren on Twitter, on Facebook and on her blog, www.laurenscharhag.blogspot.com.