Nov 15, 2015

Masks & Mysteries - a chat with EM Kaplan

I recently had the privilege to sit down with the awesome EM Kaplan. For those of you not in the know (for shame!) she's an award winning Fantasy and Mystery author and an all around epic Tweeter.  Seriously, if you're on that social media platform, you should be following her. Anyway, I asked her to discuss her newest release, her mystery series, and what we can expect from her next and she was good enough to not immediately file a restraining order ... yet anyway.

Take it away, EM...

You recently released Unbroken, the 2nd novel in your Rise of the Masks series. Tell us a little bit about it and why you think people will enjoy it.

As the story begins, we see Mel and Ott (the main characters from the first book) setting sail with a rag-tag band of misfits to try to help a young woman find her younger sister. The two sisters have been separated by events out of their control (which happens in the first book). The cultural climate of their world is evolving—it’s on the brink of industrialization—but an array of throw-back, old-world gods and monsters explode on the scene, disrupting the course of change.

Unbroken has the same cast of lovable, fascinating, and occasionally deadly characters as Unmasked, plus a couple of new ones. If you haven’t read book one, the second book has a little prologue that will help you get some context. I don’t think you’d be lost if you haven’t read the first one, but I admit I’m the kind of reader who likes to start at the beginning.

What sets Unbroken apart from other books in the fantasy genre?

I call this series epic fantasy because it has all of the markers of that sub-genre of fantasy—magic, swords (or axes, daggers, and spears, as the case may be, because I’m not all that swordy…I’d rather be a mage or a rogue), it’s set in an unrecognizable world, and it has the potential to be long. But the truth of the matter is all the world-building and plot mechanics are secondary. Characters are most important to me.

Ott, the berserker, isn’t just the muscle of the group. He also has a sense of humor, a checkered past, and a few self-esteem issues. Readers should have a good idea of how he’s going to react when a buxom barmaid, Daisy, tries to jump him—but also be surprised when he acts in an unexpected way that still makes perfect sense.

Mel is a strong person with powerful abilities—but also with a major social disability. She’s a failed Mask—Masks don’t show their emotions—so she hasn’t interacted much with normal people. Yet, she’s making her way in their world…finding friends and her own kind of fantasy Cheers-level acceptance. Go ahead, I know you want to sing the Cheers theme song now.

Well, yeah. Who doesn't want to be in a place where everybody knows your name? You’re also known for your Josie Tucker Mysteries. As someone who can neither write nor solve mysteries, I envy you greatly. Tell me a little bit about your mindset and process for setting up the plot and the clues for readers to follow.

I’m interested in the dumb things people do for smart reasons. And the smart things people do for dumb reasons. Although I’m fascinated by forensics shows on TV, I don’t really want that level of scientific detail in my books—there are plenty of good puzzles lying around caused by personal motive and opportunity.

On the other hand, I’m a terrible liar. My face is like glass, and the same goes for my writing. So if I’m trying too hard to manipulate plot kinks and red herrings, it’s going to crumble apart. Sometimes the most ridiculous situations are caused by the simplest things.

I didn’t answer any of your questions, did I?

Not really, but I'll just assume that's another mystery I wasn't meant to solve. :)  Do you ever wonder if you’re giving away too many or too few clues for someone to figure out whodunit?

Yes. All the time on the “too much” side. Sometimes the clues aren’t even in the body of the book. Shhhh. I’ll say no more.

You're killing me here. Okay, moving on ... Mystery or Fantasy?  Is there one you enjoy more?  Is there a genre you’d like to write in, but haven’t yet?

I like both mystery and fantasy—but my mysteries have found an audience quicker than my fantasies. Sadly, fewer sales might mean a longer wait before I wrap up the Rise of the Masks series. I write two books a year, and 2016 might be the Year of Two Josies. We’ll see… I have some other books half-written, but any more genre-switching might require a pseudonym. Marketing books in different genres is exhausting and sometimes confusing for readers. It’s probably better to stick with one genre. Then again, I’m an indie writer. I make the rules. Kind of.

Tis the blessing and curse of being an Indie Author.  Speaking of, which authors do you enjoy / have inspired you. Favorite book from each?

I really dug Neal Stephenson’s Interface. A lot of people didn’t like that book because it’s a social rant, a political farce. It was West Wingish before West Wing was around. I’ve read Interface a few times, but not in the last decade. Yet, it still comes to mind first.

Then there’s Agatha Christie’s The Man In the Brown Suit—a quieter, more romantic one of her mysteries, atypical because it doesn’t star either of her famous detectives.

And Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which features an older, more mature heroine…also atypical of the author. Are you sensing a pattern here? I never noticed that before.

My friends tease me because I rant about how I read A Game of Thrones not long after it came out. (I was working in a book store.) And I brought it to them to read. It’s a modest claim to fame in my small circle of nerds.

When did you begin writing?  If you could contact your fledgling author self, is there any advice you’d give her?

I used to write in the middle of the night when I was a kid—maybe nine or ten. I’d use a flashlight and a pen and notebook. If I met little Emily, I’d say, “Good job, Pem. But could you stop training yourself to be an insomniac?”

Wait ... Pem?  Okay, maybe we'll save that for next time. Gotta leave a mystery author a little mystery in their life. What’s next for you?

I’m writing a Josie Tucker Christmas story—I have a free Halloween story about her on my blog. I agreed to write Valentine’s Day and Easter/Spring stories with her, too. Maybe I’ll collect them in a book eventually. When my day job quiets down over Christmas break as it always does, I’m diving into the next full-length Josie Tucker novel, tentatively titled, The Cut-Throat Coed.

Do you base your characters on people you know?  If you woke up tomorrow in the world of Rise of the Masks, do you think you’d get along with Ott and Mel?

For the most part, I try to create characters I wouldn’t mind knowing. But if I woke up in Mel and Ott’s world, I’m not sure if I’d approach them. They’re a center-stage kind of people. I’m definitely a behind-the-scenes person. However, Ott has an older sister named Jenny, who I think would totally be BFFs with me.

And now for a little fun. You wake up tomorrow with the power of a Mask.  Tell us a little bit about your new powers and how you would use them in your day to day life. PS: It’s okay if some of the things you’d use them for aren’t exactly legal.  We don’t judge. 

I’d like to think I’d use my powers for good and not evil—I’m mostly good with a side of chaotic. So I might have a Gandalf-caliber light show over my house during the holidays. I’d get a lot of enjoyment out of doing good things for the people around me…I know what you’re thinking, with this level of ambition, I should probably go live in the Shire with the hobbitses.

Nah, not at all.  Like I said, I don't judge ... even if I'd probably use that power to immediately set up a secret lair and rename myself Doctor Doom.

Thank you so much, EM! It was a pleasure having you here.

Award-winning author, EM Kaplan, was an 80s kid, spoonfed on six channels of a VHF dial TV. She grew up reading Agatha Christie and Edgar Rice Burroughs in rural Arizona where there were no sidewalks but plenty of tumbleweeds. A former wannabe spy, trombonist, toilet-cleaner, beginner ninja, and subversive marketeer, she currently lives in the frozen north with her husband, author JD Kaplan, kids, and dog.

Learn more about EM Kaplan at:
Her Webpage

Oct 13, 2015

Rating the Publishing Platforms - part 2

In Part 1 we took a look at the major ebook stores that authors have options to load direct to when / if they decide to go wide. It's not exhaustive by any means and I apologize if I missed any that you might have interest in. However, the list presented is typically considered the major players in the field.

Now, though, let's expand upon that and take a look at some other popular options for authors looking to branch out.

Smashwords (Smashwords & Aggregator)
Pluses: Lots of options offered for categories, formats, and keywords. Accepts many different formats for upload. Friendly for those who know Word, but not how to create an ebook.
Minuses: Their meatgrinder tool can sometimes produce odd formatting. Feedback for their premium catalog can be difficult to understand. Timing to reach their other channels can be highly variable. Ugly, not particularly user-friendly interface.

Pluses: Quick updates to the Smashwords store.
Minuses: Updates to their aggregated stores aren't always quick. Some of the stores themselves are frustrating to update or remove. Confusing interface between the various dashboards.

Marketing Resources
Pluses: Coupons and permafree allowed. Affiliate program is offered.
Minuses: Smallest of the stores. Difficult to market in. Sales and payment reports can be confusing.

Overall Grade: B-
For a time Smashwords was the go-to ebook aggregator for many. These days, it feels eclipsed both as a storefront and an aggregator due to its dated look and feel.

Draft2Digital (Aggregator)
Pluses: Lots of options offered for categories, formats, and keywords. Accepts many different formats for upload. Friendly, easy to follow interface. New options for adding introductory, promotional, and biographical pages to your books. Tooltips offered to guide the user through the experience. Allows access to some ebook stores that are difficult to get into otherwise.
Minuses: Time to publish at the various other stores can be variable, but is generally pretty quick.

Pluses: Quick updates to books, as well as updates for the various specialty pages they offer.  Email support is generally considered pretty good.
Minuses: Updating requires republishing to external stores, which again can be variable for timing.

Marketing Resources
Pluses: Not a store in of itself, but allows for customization via search keywords and bisac categories
Minuses: N/A.

Overall Grade: A+
As picky as I can be, I find very little to dislike about Draft2Digital as a platform.

Createspace (Paperbacks)
Pluses: Offers both a guided step-by-step setup, as well as a streamlined "expert" setup for CS veterans. Once setup is complete and everything is approved, can be easily linked up with your ebook on the Amazon store.  Formatting, cover, and other additional services are available for a fee. Multiple options available for ISBNs for all budgets. Downloadable templates and guides are available.
Minuses: Mandatory wait times for files and covers to be checked for print-worthiness. Make a mistake, and you could be waiting up to 24 hours to fix it. Their additional services tend to be pricey for what you get. Can often do better shopping around for freelancers.

Pluses: Relatively easy to update. Digital proofer works as a pretty good substitute for actual print proofs for minor updates. Owned by Amazon, so shares their good customer service.
Minuses: Several options are locked once you publish. Need to change trim size, paper type, or ISBN then you'll need to retire your old book and start from scratch.  Subject to the same time-out period as initial setup.

Marketing Resources
Pluses: Options for creating a Kindle version directly from CS.  Expanded distribution options for other storefronts and libraries.
Minuses: Expanded distribution often requires in a price increase, making long books expensive for consumers. Creating a kindle edition from CS can result in an ebook of iffy quality. Typically not considered a viable outlet for true wide distribution as CS does not work like other print wholesalers. Questionable value of expanded distribution.

Overall Grade: B
The go-to place for indies when it comes to paperback options. Expanded distribution is iffy, so might be best to utilize CS for the Amazon marketplace and Ingram Spark for expanded distro as a long-term strategy.

Ingram Spark (Paperbacks)
Pluses: Offers a guided step-by-step setup. Industrial, but functional design. Tooltips offered for ease of setup. Hardcover options offered as well as lots of trim sizes.
Minuses: Pricey if setting up multiple books. However, they do run sales throughout the year, so it's recommended to keep an eye open for those. Not nearly as user friendly as Createspace.  Considered an advanced took for paperback distribution, so best to do one's research before diving in to set up books.

Pluses: Minor updates such as pricing and meta-data allowed from their tool.  Revisions can be made as well, but are not free..
Minuses: Revisions are not free. Can get pricey with multiple books.

Marketing Resources
Pluses: Options for selling to book sellers who otherwise will not do business with Createspace.
Minuses: You are treated as a publisher, which means you assume risk and responsibility for returns (not really a minus for someone pursuing this business seriously, but more a word of caution).

Overall Grade: B-
A great service, but probably better for those who are more advanced in their indie author career. For those just starting out, Createspace is recommended.

ACX (Audiobooks)
Pluses: User friendly setup. Multiple options for finding narrators. Multiple pricing options for paying for narrators. Different options for distribution offered. Exclusive distribution offers access to Audible, iTunes, and Amazon storefront.
Minuses: Stipend system is a crapshoot. Graduated royalty system abolished in favor of set 40% royalty scheme.  No control over pricing. Can be pricey depending on quality of narrator. ACX has a long review period, sometimes several weeks, between your approval of a book and it actually being put on sale. Audible distribution term lasts for 7 years.

Pluses: Fairly quick customer service.
Minuses: Once an audiobook is approved, you're pretty much done. Cover changes can be made, but must be done via contacting their customer service.

Marketing Resources
Pluses: Some tips are offered. A fairly robust market if one can tap into it. Audiobooks are linked to ebooks and print on Amazon, offering expanded visibility.
Minuses: ACX offered very little in the way of marketing services. Their financial reporting is fairly obtuse. Often difficult to calculate what royalty one is receiving until such time as one is paid.

Overall Grade: B
If more competitors enter this field, this grade could easily be lowered. For now, though, they're the go-to outfit with regards to cracking the quite-large audiobook market.

Oct 9, 2015

Rating the Publishing Platforms - part 1

The advice often given to new indie authors is for them to start on Kindle, via the KDP Select service, before branching out wide. The logic there is multi-faceted: KDP is the largest ebook store, they offer good tools to build a readership, and it's usually easier for a new author to focus on one platform at first - so as to learn the ropes.

When the time comes to branch out, though, this can be a terrifying proposition as, just when you think you've mastered one platform, you need to start again from scratch elsewhere. In actuality, going wide usually means learning multiple storefronts at once.

Many will turn to aggregators for this task - Smashwords and Draft2Digital being the two most prominent. The upside there is learning one new platform, which will then seed other platforms for you. The downside, you're paying a percentage of your sales for them to do so.  In some cases, this might also result in a bit less control over your marketing efforts than going direct allows. And, well, sometimes you get control freaks like me who just want to have their hands in all the cookie jars.

As you may have noticed, the bulk of my books are currently enrolled in Amazon's Kindle Select program, meaning that they're exclusive to Amazon until such time as my commitment to them ends.  However, this is a fairly recent development for me. Before this Fall, I had been wide with my distribution, with multiple years of experience on the other platforms. As a result, I wanted to give my thoughts to any fellow authors who may be considering branching out. While I don't claim to know it all, I've experienced a good chunk of the plusses and minuses the other major ebook platforms have to offer. Before we get to the rest, though, let's tackle the big dog...

KDP (Amazon)
Pluses: Loading a book to the KDP platform is a pretty simple process, guided by FAQs and tooltips as you go. There are lots of options to fill out, but options are typically a good thing as they offer you more opportunities to customize your experience and hopefully find your audience.  KDP allows uploads in multiple file formats. There's even a tool to suggest optimal pricing for you once you're ready.
Minuses: The category options given to you don't necessarily match up with what's on the Kindle store, which can be frustrating. Once you hit submit, there's a typical 12 hour delay before you can make changes again.  Make a typo on anything and you'll be sitting there helpless to do anything until your book unlocks again.  During peak hours, KDP can slow down considerably.

Pluses: Making changes to a book is a relatively painless process once you know the system. If you have any issues, KDP customer service is typically both fast and helpful.  You can use Amazon's Author Central website to make updates to your book description without worrying about the KDP tool lockout period.
Minuses: Author Central can occasionally be a little buggy with regards to formatting, sometimes necessitating multiple updates to get a book page to look right.

Marketing Resources
Pluses: Hands down, Amazon offers authors the most tools for marketing.  There's KDP Select marketing opportunities, Author Central's ability to further customize your book page, Shelfari for adding additional details to your book, and Amazon Associates to help you both market and earn some additional income. Sales reports can be customized and run at any time. Author Central accounts can be established at Amazon's various international storefronts too.
Minuses: Amazon can be a little stingy when it comes to data sharing. Once you use a platform like Facebook Advertising, Amazon's feedback can feel rather sparse. Creating a permafree book requires a price-match to another platform. Many of Amazon's on-site marketing options require the 3 month exclusivity of Select.

Overall Grade: A
Amazon is the 600lbs gorilla in the room. Though some have a love/hate relationship with them, they are constantly evolving and adding new services. Their desire for exclusivity, however, can be a turnoff for some.

Nook Press (Barnes & Noble)
Pluses: Nook Press offers multiple dimensions for setting up a book, including the ability to edit your manuscript on the fly.  There is also space for editorial reviews to help further market your book to your fans.
Minuses: Nook's cover requirements can be a little frustrating. They require certain dimensions, but a low overall file weight - which can lead to having to load a highly compressed cover. HTML highlighting isn't allowed in their descriptions, taking away that ability to customize one's page. Their previewer can be both buggy and slow. Nook Press offers additional services for a charge that are outsourced through Author Solutions, a paid-to-publish company of dubious reputation.

Pluses: Making changes to a book is typically painless. One simply needs to edit or update a new manuscript and hit the publish button.
Minuses: Nook Press can be slow during peak hours. There is no feedback provided as to when an update will hit their site. Barnes and Noble's customer service does not have a particularly good reputation when it comes to helping their clients.

Marketing Resources
Pluses: Nook Press offers the ability to modify your categories and search keywords. Up to five categories are allowed for each book. They also partner with the Rakuten network for an affiliate program. Editorial reviews are allowed to help customize your book page.
Minuses: Sometimes keywords will disappear from their engine. The keywords allowed are also of potentially dubious value given the small character count and amount of books on their site. The Rakouten network is not the easiest affiliate program to use. B&N's website itself often puts far greater weight on big publishers than they do independent books. Will not price match permafree, can only do this through an aggregator. The future of Nook itself is questionable.

Overall Grade: B-
B&N's online platform is quite mature, but often feels like an afterthought compared to Amazon's. Their continued financial woes make it questionable how sustainable they are in the long-term. They still have a large and loyal following, making them worthwhile, but they are rapidly losing their place as the Pepsi to Amazon's Coke.

Kobo Writing Life (Kobo)
Pluses: Kobo Writing Life offers a platform that allows one to enter a book's details quickly in a step by step manner. There are additional author services that one can purchase through them, such as cover art and editing. However, these are a relatively new addition. Unfortunately I don't have much data on these so it might be best to approach them with a degree of skepticism.
Minuses: No ability to enter search keywords. While their engine is pretty good about accepting files, error messaging can be somewhat esoteric. The wait time between when one hits the publish button and a book actually appears on their site can be highly variable.  Their cutesy loading messages get old quickly.

Pluses: Making changes to a book is typically painless. One simply needs to edit or update a new manuscript and hit the publish button. Though their email support leaves a bit to be desired, members of their executive staff are online at various author boards and are often enthusiastic and helpful.
Minuses: The online help doesn't seem to be updated all that often to match changes to their platform.

Marketing Resources
Pluses: Kobo often runs sales and will reach out to indies to participate in them, leading to potential opportunity. Permafree is allowed.
Minuses: The lack of search keywords can be maddening. Lots of trial and error is required and even then the results can be questionable. Their ease of loading and updating a book is negated by the frustrating experience of trying to build visibility in their store.

Overall Grade: C-
Kobo is full of potential, but I wonder if that potential shall ever be realized.  It it probably the most frustrating platform when it comes to attempting to gain traction.  Though they have a dedicated and passionate staff, indie success stories from them seem to be few and far between.

iBooks (Apple)
Pluses: A relatively thorough interface (through iTunes Producer) to upload books, their details, and pricing.
Minuses: You either need to own a Mac, know someone who owns a Mac, or rent virtual time on a Mac to participate. In the year 2015, when everyone else offers a web interface, this is a fairly ridiculous requirement. ITunes Producer's error messages are often useless with regards to figuring out formatting issues. Sometimes with a new release Apple will completely revamp iTunes Producer, thus requiring one to figure out a whole new interface.  Uploading can sometimes be slow.

Pluses: iTunes Connect (website) can be used for basic maintenance of descriptions, pricing, sales, distribution.
Minuses: iTunes Producer is required to update manuscripts and cover art. iTunes Connect can be buggy at times, depending on browser.

Marketing Resources
Pluses: Apple allows permafree and also offers an affiliate program. They also reach out to authors for marketing pushes and sales. Apple is a solid company and iBooks is considered a good potential growth vehicle for indies. Books created through iBooks Author can be enhanced with additional media capabilities, potentially making them more attractive to customers.
Minuses: Another platform with a lack of search keywords. Outside of their marketing pushes, it can be difficult to figure out search optimization and visibility on their platform. The web interface for their affiliate program leaves a bit to be desired. Can be difficult to find their affiliate program if not bookmarked. If not chosen for one of their pushes, it can be difficult to gain traction in their store.

Overall Grade: B
Would be a B+ if not for their ridiculous requirement to utilize Apple equipment. Nevertheless, I would consider them a serious contender in the ebook space. If you can gain momentum in the iBooks store, it can offer significant growth opportunities.

Google Play (Google and Android)
Pluses: Lots of options offered, with tool tips to help.  Google is often quite fast to add a book to their catalog.
Minuses: Lack of a discrete keyword section (seriously Google?). Keywords can be entered into the description, but this isn't obvious.  Google automatically discounts EVERYTHING. Their pricing is maddening because this can lead to unintended price-matches from Amazon and others. Requires a lot of trial and effort to get pricing down correctly. Uploading cover art and ebook files isn't obvious. Probably the most frustrating of the major platforms to master.

Pluses: Quick updates to the Google Play store once new info is entered.

Marketing Resources
Pluses: A growing market. Search can be fairly robust once it's figured out. Allows permafree.
Minuses: Aside from search and sales options, not a lot in the way of marketing. Tends to be a dead platform for pushes from other marketing platforms such as Bookbub. Prices can be changed at Google's whim. Reviews appear to be aggregated, but unclear how this works.

Overall Grade: B-
Google Play offers equal parts potential and frustration. Some days they appear to be a viable competitor and on others they seem to exist to do little more than be a fly in Amazon's ointment. It's a good market, but carries with it potential for lots of headaches as well.

Next post: I'll take a look at some of the other platforms (Print, aggregators, and audio).

Sep 23, 2015

The Wicked Dead - Teaser 1 and Cover Reveal

THE WICKED DEAD (The Tome of Bill 7) is coming.

I am pleased to share both the cover and the first teaser from this, the penultimate chapter in The Tome of Bill series.

The impending end of the world is weighing heavily upon Bill Ryder and things are looking worse than ever. His partner Sally has been mind-wiped. His friend Christy is on the verge of going postal. And his roommate Ed is seemingly on everyone's hit list.

And that's just the start of Bill's troubles. He's been tasked with the impossible - taking down Vehron The Destroyer, an ancient vampire so far out of his league that Bill is going to have to completely rewrite the playbook to have any hope of winning. And that's not even counting the scores of other enemies - both new and old - that he'll have to get through if he's to stand even one chance in Hell of surviving to see tomorrow.

Action, adventure, and a whole lot of snark awaits. Who says Armageddon can't be fun?

Roughly two hours later, I stepped out of the cab onto one of Newark’s main drags. The streetlights were still lit, which told me this place probably was hanging on pretty well. The ride hadn’t been too bad either – a little slow, and we’d had to take the long way as the bridges from Staten Island to Jersey were closed off. Fortunately, the roads were otherwise mostly clear. The world might be going to shit, but it was still in its early stages. We hadn’t yet reached a point where the highways were littered with cars full of people who’d decided to just pull over and die right there.

Don’t ask how much the whole thing cost. Let’s just say I was glad that nobody was stopping by these days to ask for a rent check. Thankfully, I had planned the trip in advance and had left home with a pocket full of bills – albeit probably not enough to get me home again. Oh well. I’d cross that proverbial bridge when I came to it.

My plan of action was simplicity itself: try Dave’s apartment and then, if that didn’t pan out, make my way to the hospital where he once worked as a resident. Dave was a smart guy, but a shitty doctor – at least when it came to bedside manner. However, the hospitals were doubtlessly overflowing with patients these days. They were also home to a generous supply of bagged blood. I was pinning my hopes especially on that latter. If so, maybe Dave was still responsible for saving lives and not taking them. It was a longshot, but in these crazy days hope was the one commodity that was still free.

I hiked several blocks toward my first destination – noting the rapidly deteriorating state of the neighborhood as I went. No wonder my cabbie hadn’t wanted to go any further.

Dave’s apartment complex wasn’t exactly in the upper crust section of the city to begin with, but it had previously been safe enough for a group of guys to gather for a weekly D&D game. Now, though, I could easily envision the rest of the group not so politely bowing out of the game. I saw burnt out buildings, graffiti proclaiming the end of the world, and bizarre scratches in the sides of some dwellings. All of it combined into a sense of being watched. If I hadn’t been an unholy creature of the night myself, I’d have said fuck it and found myself a nice, well-lit place to loiter until the sun came up.

But I was a vampire, more so, I was a Freewill – a special breed of vamp with powers above and beyond the rest of the rabble. Or at least I kept telling myself that as I struggled to maintain my new outlook on life. Let me just say, it’s one thing to stand in your own bathroom and proclaim you’re gonna face your fate head-on. It’s quite another when you’re walking through what looks to be the set of a fucking John Carpenter movie.

I thought back to my early days as a vampire – remembering how Sally had told me that appearance was ninety-nine percent of everything in the world of the unliving. If you acted like a victim, you’d be torn a new asshole. If you walked in like you owned the place, your chances of seeing the next sunset were much better.

Heh, the Sally living downstairs from me wasn’t so different from the one I’d first met, I mused as I turned down the block where Dave’s old apartment lay. I mean, weren’t they in the same boat, essentially getting to know me from scratch?

No, that wasn’t true. Despite Alex mucking with her brain, she was a different person from those days – a lot less likely to cause a bloodbath just because someone was walking too slow in front of her. Well, maybe not a lot. Either way, she had definitely changed. In some ways, it was hopeful because...

The thought scattered as something hit me from behind with the force of a small truck. Before I could open my mouth to cry out, I was airborne – flying across the parking lot leading to Dave’s place. The blow and subsequent landing – allowing me to experience the gentle tug of the scarred asphalt against my face as I skidded to a halt – would have been more than enough to stun most humans or worse. Pity for the asshole who blindsided me, I wasn’t a...

More like pity I wasn’t allowed to finish that thought. A pair of hands grabbed me roughly by the back of my jacket and hauled me to my feet. I was spun around and shoved into the wall of the building. Just then, the scent of vampire caught in my nostrils, something I should have noticed earlier rather than getting caught up in Sally daydreams.

“You’re more than thirty minutes late,” my attacker growled. “We get a free pizza and your life.”

Huh? The attack had caught me by surprise, but I was otherwise relatively unhurt. Whoever this asshole was, he was either a newb or didn’t realize who I was. It was going to cost him.

Make that them.

I looked up to see two more figures join the first. Though the darkness couldn’t conceal them from my eyes; they were all wearing masks.

They rushed forward and I took a wild swing at the nearest. My fist connected with a solid *clonk* of flesh meeting metal as I realized too late this one was actually wearing a medieval-style helmet – a pretty decent replica if my bruised hand was any indication.

Regardless, the blow got the job done. My attacker went down – a big-ass dent in the middle of his faceplate.

“Motherfucker!” a muffled voice cried from within.

Something about the cadence caught my attention and I hesitated for a second, allowing the other two to close the distance and attempt to pin me. The one on the right wore a green knit ski-mask, with Cthulu-esque tentacles hanging off the front. The other stared at me through the rubber face of a Cyberman. All the fight went out of me as I realized that I recognized their headgear.

No wonder the voice of Sir Dipshit had sounded so familiar.

I was being attacked by my own D&D group. Guess I’d missed more games than I realized.

The Wicked Dead - coming late Fall 2015.

Aug 29, 2015

Militant Anything: AKA the Assholes Among Us

I write vampire dick jokes. Let's just get that out of the way. I write to entertain, not educate. Mind you, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. As a result of this, though, you might notice this blog, my Twitter, and Facebook pages tend to stray away from topics which are too heavy.  Should I ever stand on my soap box and proselytize - run!  See again what I write. Chances are you shouldn't be listening to me about any cause anyway.

That being said, this is probably one of the few times I'm going to venture into so-called troubled waters a bit before steering us back to the relatively calmer waves of wondering how many times I can kick my hero's ass in one book.

If you're online at all (or watch the news), it's hard to avoid controversy of the "us vs them" variety. With regards to books, there's the infamous Sad Puppies / Rabid Puppies / what the hell happened to the Hugo Awards issues. But it goes far beyond that.  Gay marriage advocates vs. "traditional" marriage, pro choice vs. pro life, religious dogma vs atheism, iPhone vs. Android, feminists vs. whatever an anti-feminist is called etc etc.

In short there is no shortage of sides to pick. That in of itself isn't a problem. We're a diverse people with individual free will.  That's gonna happen. The truth is, in most cases there is no right answer so much as an answer that is right for a particular individual.  So why do we keep reading about these things then?  I think that answer is simplicity itself: because no matter what side you're representing, there will always be militants among them. Militants make good press. Militants inspire interest. Militants generate controversy.

The press might love them, but that still doesn't change the fact that militants of pretty much any cause are, for the most part, assholes.

Now what makes someone militant (aka an asshole)?  It's not the belief itself.  We all have them, so what's the difference?  The difference is how much you go out of your way to shove that belief down someone-else's throat?  The further you go down this path, the bigger the asshole you are.

Not convinced?

I'll give as much of a non-inflammatory example as I can think of. Let's say I'm a Godzilla fan. Liking Godzilla doesn't make me a militant fan. Enjoying his awesome movies doesn't.  Heck, even engaging in some lively debate with some hapless Gamera groupies doesn't make me anything more than a fan. It's all cool. I keep my opinions to myself unless the subject comes up and at that point the worst I do is say my piece and move on.  All is right with the world.

So where does the trouble start?  Well, for starters, the second I start thinking that anyone who likes, say, Gorgo is inferior to me. That's a problem and most likely the first stages of booking my trip to asshole-ville, but for now I just keep it to myself. I'm still a functional member of society and no real problem to anyone.

The rabbit hole gets deeper, though.  Maybe one day I decide to make it a point to steer all conversations toward my belief that Godzilla is the superior monster. Heck, cousin Jimmy might be getting married to the girl of his dreams, but before I congratulate him, I'm gonna make sure he knows all about the King of the Monsters (forget the fact that my gift to him and his new bride is a boxed DVD set of the best of the big G).

Next up, I'll probably start purposely picking fights with those of opposing viewpoints. It's no longer about what's right, so much as it is about telling the other side they're not. Yeah, the rules of that online forum might say "Voltron fans only!" but those guys can suck a dick because I'm on a mission from God(zilla) and there isn't anyone who'll tell me otherwise.

Oh what's that? A fellow rabid G-fan just called me and said there's a Cloverfield convention three states over. I'd better grab my picket signs, load up my car, and drive for the next fifteen hours because there's non-believers who need to be shown the light. Yeah, they're minding their own business, but who cares - they're wrong!

But that's still not enough for me. I'm a pretty massive asshole by now, but I'm not a Godzilla-sized one yet.  I must complete my transformation, achieve my final form.

I know!  There's a quiet, unassuming woman who lives a few blocks over.  She doesn't seem to bother anyone, but one day I was walking my dog Godzuki and happened to glance in her window and what did I see?!  She was watching fucking King Kong on TV! Sorry, lady, but now I have to blow up your house. Yeah, her kids might be inside at the time, but by their very association with her they're unclean.

Sounds pretty ridiculous doesn't it?  Well, change the above example to pretty much any cause and you will have the ingredients for the perfect asshole sandwich - from mild all the way to extra spicy. 

I don't care if you're a bigoted jerk, a progressive male, a feminist, a sad puppy, right to life, pro choice, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Republican, Democrat ... WHATEVER!

There is a vast difference between having beliefs, being proud of those beliefs, or even expressing those beliefs versus being intolerant of the opposite belief and existing to essentially be a walking talking (sometimes exploding) billboard for that belief.

Now, don't get me wrong. Sometimes militants are a necessary evil for change. Good can come from the fringe. At the same time, I often must wonder if the truly extreme of any faction are so much true believers as much as those looking to latch onto anything because it gives them purpose to act out their own personal forms of insanity.  Were it not one cause, it would simply be another.

Something to think about. 

In closing, it's fine to have an opinion. It's cool to have a cause. It's awesome to be passionate. But once you cross that line where you lose respect for any other belief than your own, you have pretty much put your house on the market and reserved a space down in Asshole Acres.

The only question is - how far in are you planning to move?

Aug 18, 2015

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner!

I just got some awesomely good news.

Last year I had the honor of seeing The Mourning Woods nominated for best Horror Novel at the 2014 eFestival of Words.  When the smoke finally cleared, much to my amazement, it actually took a Runner-up award in the category.

Well, then imagine how blown away I was this year to learn that two of my books had been nominated for the 2015 eFestival of Words

Goddamned Freaky Monsters for Best Urban Fantasy
Bigfoot Hunters for Best Horror

The results are now in and BOTH of them won.  Needless to say I am flabbergasted, especially since this is one of those awards where the books are voted on by readers and I very seldom do "VOTE FOR ME!!!" type posts via my social outlets. I like these things to be organic, not the result of who can shout the loudest and longest.

I guess that finally makes me one of those "award winning authors" I'm always reading about. Cool! So where is my fame and fortune?

(waits around patiently until it is blatantly obvious fame and fortune were given the wrong address)

Oh well. As cool as this is, don't expect me to relabel myself or anything. Bottom line is that winning awards like this are both flattering and humbling, but I also don't want to make this about me. As a reader, I often couldn't care less what awards an author won or what lists they made. To me it's all about the stories. I want nothing more than to be entertained when I read and, conversely, when I write a story my number one concern is entertaining those who have picked it up.

So that being said, I'm off to finish up The Wicked Dead (the Tome of Bill - 7). This Fall should be a good one for Tome of Bill fans. In September I'll be releasing Night Stalker (a Tale From the Tome of Bill) as part of an anthology. Can't really share too many details yet, but from what I've seen there's some awesome talent joining me in that one. After that, it's all about book 7, leading up to the grand finale and ...  I'll stop right there. Much more would be telling.

I'll just get back to work now.  Oh what the hell?  Let's just drop this here too.  Sorry, kids, but daddy needs to use this picture. I'm sure you'll understand one day.  ;)


There are reasons we fear the night. Bill Ryder is trying to stop them.

Three months have passed since the fateful encounter in New York City that ended with the disappearance of Bill Ryder - gamer, geek, and legendary vampire. Now he's back, awakened halfway across the globe with no allies, clothing, or clue as to how he got there. The only thing he's certain of is that his captors plan to use him for their own nefarious ends and don't care how much blood they spill in the process.

Escape might be the least of his worries, though. Civilization teeters on the brink of chaos. Mythical beasts, once thought the stuff of fantasy, are breaking through the veil, intent on waging war against mankind. At their forefront stands an ancient evil, the last remnant of a cult thought long dead, and it's about to cut a swath of destruction through the world not seen since biblical times.

Bill's only chance is to reclaim his life, reconcile with his friends, and muster every bit of attitude he can - because if he fails, Hell on Earth will become far more than just a corny saying.


When Harrison Kent suggests an outing to the dense forests of Colorado, his friends are all eager for a few days of fun and adventure. What awaits them, though, is far more than they ever bargained for.

They learn that Sasquatch is real, but these are not the shy creatures that legends speak of. A madness has claimed them, erasing their once peaceful nature and leaving in its place a ravenous horde of monsters that's about to descend upon the unsuspecting residents of a remote town.

The woods hold more than one secret, however. A low budget reality show is filming in the area and they have information that could even the odds. Harrison and his friends must make a desperate last stand against the rampaging beasts, but if they can survive long enough they might just be able to reclaim mankind's place atop the food chain.

Jul 8, 2015

Guest Post - The Infected by Ruby Cruz

I recently had a chance to sit down with my good friend, and fellow author, Ruby Cruz. She's just recently released her latest book:


I personally found it to be a fascinating read, with believable characters, lots of suspense, and enough darkness to sate even a weirdo such as myself.

Anyway, Ruby was good enough to tolerate my pestering and answer a few questions about her new book, her style, and herself. But first...

“The nanites have…evolved into something we did not account for.”

Slowly being consumed by cancer, Jess Parsons is ready to die. Instead, she awakens from a months’ long coma to discover that she’s been cured by an experimental nanotechnology therapy. Instead of celebrating her miraculous recovery, though, she is devastated to learn that her salvation has become the world’s damnation.

Everyone who has come into contact with the nanotech has suffered. The lucky ones have died. A handful of survivors are left horribly scarred and traumatized, but otherwise intact. The rest have been driven mad by the so-called cure. The hospital where Jess is recovering is one of the few sanctuaries remaining against the homicidal rage of the Infected. But Jess soon discovers there is no safe haven in this new world. As her body begins to exhibit changes caused by the nanites, she realizes she has a strange connection to the Infected and that she possesses something they want very badly – something they’re willing to obtain at any cost.

You just recently released your 3rd novel The Infected. Tell us a little bit about it and why you think people will enjoy it.

The Infected starts with the main character, Jess, waking up from a coma. She had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer but finds out she’s been cured by an experimental nanotechnology treatment developed by her father. While the nanites cured her, they morphed into something that infects everyone else who comes in contact with them, resulting in one of three effects: death via organ failure, immunity via excretion of the nanites through disfiguring skin growths, or psychotic breakdown. The Infected follows Jess as she slowly discovers what has happened during her coma and her role in finding a cure for the survivors.

I think this book has a bit of something for everyone interested in this genre. It has a dystopian feel, but because it’s set only a few months after the “apocalypse”, the world is still somewhat familiar despite the changes that have occurred. In addition to the scientific aspect of the book – which should appeal to all those science nuts out there – it has a bit of romance for those who enjoy reading about character relationships. Finally, for the teen readers, I’m hoping they can identify with Jess and her inner struggles in finding her way through the changed world.

Sounds pretty awesome. What sets The Infected apart from other books in its genre?

I feel like The Infected is sort of a mash-up from a few different genres. There is a dystopian feel, it has a post-apocalyptic theme. The main protagonist is a teenager so it could appeal to more mature teens. The nanotechnology aspect has some science, and with the introduction of the Roids there is a thriller aspect. As I mentioned before, there’s a bit of something for everyone, even a bit of romance.

Which authors do you enjoy / have inspired you. Favorite book from each?

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are among my favorite authors. I loved their collaborative works of The Relic and Reliquary and the way they incorporated well-researched science with exciting and thought-provoking plots. Marie Lu is another author I admire – I still think about the ending of her Legend series because it was so beautifully written. As much as I love a happy ending, I think the bittersweet endings are the ones that haunt me.

The Relic is one of my favorites too. When did you begin writing stories?  If you could contact your fledgling author self, is there any advice you’d give her?

I wrote a lot short stories in high school. They were written in long hand in composition or spiral notebooks, and I remember passing them around to my classmates who were kind enough to read them and give encouraging feedback. I still have them, although I never re-read them because they really weren’t very good. One of those stories, however, inspired The Infected, so I guess my ideas couldn’t have been completely bad.

And to my fledgling author self…the advice I’d give her, and what I still struggle with today, is to maintain focus. I have half a dozen stories I never finished in high school or finished hastily because I never took the time or effort to complete them properly. I’d tell her to keep working at them, to keep writing, and that even though the completed draft may not be what you set out to accomplish, it’s better than having half a dozen unfinished works languishing in a notebook or hard drive.

What’s your writing process?  Plotter, Pantser, somewhere in between?

I’m definitely more of a pantser than a plotter. I almost always know what my beginning and my end are going to be. In fact, I already have the ending written for The Nanotech Series (and, no, I’m not going to tell!). The middle of my novels are somewhat amorphous until I sit down and start writing them. I’ve found that in writing this way, I get myself into a lot of trouble with inconsistencies in the plot, so I’ve had to become somewhat of a plotter during the editing process to compensate for that.

Your main character Jess, is she based on anyone you know?  If she was a real person, do you think you’d get along with her?

Jess isn’t really based on anyone I know other than parts of my own personality. In writing this, I imagined how I would’ve acted if I’d been a teenager faced with death and the end of the world. Because of her traumatic experiences being intubated and feeling trapped, despite saying that she wanted to die, she’s spent so many years fighting to survive she’s become somewhat self-centered. In a lot of ways, she’s still trying to find herself and figure out where she fits into this new world. As for whether I’d get along with her, I think the question is whether she would like me! She’s sort of choosy with the people she gets along with and opens up to and she’s more outspoken than I tend to be myself. I think I’d like her once I got to know her but at first meeting her might be put off by her bluntness.

The Infected is kind of a post-apocalyptic techno-thriller - think The Walking Dead, with a serious hardware upgrade. However, you also write romance.  Which do you enjoy more?  How do such divergent genres mesh inside your head?

I grew up watching soap operas with my grandmother. I loved watching all those characters form relationships, however fleeting they may be. And that has translated to my enjoyment of watching people fall in love, either in film, television, or the written word. As I grew up and learned that the world isn’t made up of puppies and rainbows - there are many dark corners and facets within people and in the world - I’ve become more enamored with darker themes and genres.

As for which I enjoy writing better, it really depends on my mood and what’s inspiring me at the time. I’ve become enamored with novels that incorporate a darker theme and yet have a bit of romance in them – the light and hope, if you will, that keep the protagonist yearning for something. Even though the romance might not be central to the plot, it is essential to it, e.g., the Divergent or Hunger Games series.

In some ways, writing romance is both easier and more difficult than writing The Infected. So many romances retread the same plots and characters. so to write something fresh is difficult. My first novel, First Impressions, a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, was fun to write but not as easy as you would think – I had to try to stay true to Jane Austen’s plot and characters while still finding my own spin on things. My second novel, My Nemesis, was more freeing because it was an original story, but I think I enjoyed writing The Infected the most because I could change the rules as much as I wanted and didn’t need to adhere to anyone else’s expectations but my own.

What’s next for you?

I’ve promised my romance readers a sequel to my first novel. Second Opinions is a continuation of the Lizzy and Dr. Darcy story. This novel will be different from the first one in that the storyline, while using the same characters, will be original rather than a further adaptation of Jane Austen’s work.

After that, I’m hoping to dive back into the Nanotech series and finish Book 2 for 2016. I have the beginning already written but, unfortunately, I need to honor my commitment to my romance readers to finish Second Opinions before I work any further on it.

And now for a little fun. The world is ending and tomorrow you’ll wake up in the hellish wasteland you crafted for The Infected. You can only take three items from your former life with you into the apocalypse. What are they and why?

First thing would be would be a weapon of some type. Since I don’t currently own a gun, I would have to grab the axe from the garage. I couldn’t guarantee that I’d be able to wield it without hurting myself more than my attacker, but it’d be better than nothing.

Second thing – my stash of Advil – to ward off those headaches and to barter with.

Third thing – would I be cheating if I said I would take my backpack full of survival gear? I have a backpack for camping trips. It contains a water bottle, mess kit, iodine tablets, matches, and first aid kit. I could also use it to carry that axe I want to take with me, as well as my bottle of Advil and anything else I might find useful in my travels.

Technically that would be cheating, but at the same time so would saying, "I bring my shotgun and more than two bullets", so I'll let it slide ... this time.  ;)

Ruby Cruz has a masters degree in Chemical Biology and worked in the pharmaceutical industry before switching gears and obtaining her bachelors in nursing degree. In addition to her interests in science and healthcare, she's always had a passion for writing, scribbling short stories and novellas into spiral notebooks she would pass to her classmates in high school.

More recently, she has refocused her energies to incorporate her love of Jane Austen and her experience in healthcare into her first novel, First Impressions: a modern retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Ruby is currently writing a sequel to First Impressions as well as developing other projects in the young adult and romance genres.

Ruby currently lives in West Virginia and is married to a wonderful husband who begrudgingly tolerates her love of Jane Austen and is the mother to two young girls who graciously allow Mommy to "play on her computer."

You can find The Infected as a Kindle / Kindle Unlimited exclusive at