New-siteAs of this moment (Tuesday, May 28th, 2013), I've relaunched my website. I built this site using Joomla 3.0, and a handful of modules. Joomla isn't the most popular CMS (the most popular is either WordPress or Drupal), but I've got a lot of experience with it, so I find it easy to use.

I've simplified my site quite a bit for the relaunch. I didn't bother with short stories, or advertisements. If you're looking for a novel, I think you can find it here. I don't think you need reminders all over the site that novels are for sale at Amazon.com. I'll probably put a signature at the end of my blogs in case anyone finds the site through Google. With the old site, I had some Google traffic, so I can probably expect that in the future.

Please let me know what you think of the new site. Thanks! 

Hunting Tree KidI've had a lot of luck lately with my third book, The Hunting Tree. The success it's having is unexpected, and so was the book itself. The two books I wrote before it (The Vivisectionist, and The Eight-Cell Stage) were fairly well-formed in my mind before I started writing them. At least the premise and the main event were formed; other details found their way in as I wrote. With Eight-Cell, I knew one of the plot lines before I wrote, but the other line was invented during the writing. Over the course of those first two books, my approach evolved.

The idea for Hunting Tree came from two places: a news story and a dream. The news story was about a group of Native Americans who jumped off a cliff, committing mass suicide. Honestly, I remember very little about this story. In fact, it was probably something I misheard on the radio while driving and then spun into my own version. The other part, the dream, was odd. In it, a boy was marked. He always had a physical mark to show that he was diseased and dangerous to the survival of those around him. With these two thoughts in mind, I set about writing Hunting Tree without having any idea how the ideas would come together. The result was very interesting because I didn't plan it--I experienced it.

Here's a quote from Stephen King's On Writing:

... I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonble precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible. It's best that I be as clear about this as I can--I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course). 

I read that passage before I started Viv, but it didn't really sink in. I had to learn the process on my own, through inventing a sub-plot in Eight-Cell while I constructed the main plot from a previous idea. For me, this approach is the only way I can imagine writing a book now. There's work to do making sure that all the pieces line up, and there's plenty of opportunity to strengthen an amplify themes in the second draft. But the first draft is virgin snow. King describes his writing as unearthing a fossil. You can't go in with jackhammers and heavy equipment and expect to pull out the entire fossil intact.

I think of it more like trying to photograph a snowflake, because for me, the beauty of the piece can so easily melt away just from handling. Speaking of snowflakes, another author (Randy Ingermanson) has a very different approach:

... Good fiction doesn't just happen, it is designed. You can do the design work before or after you write your novel. I've done it both ways and I strongly believe that doing it first is quicker and leads to a better result. Design is hard work, so it's important to find a guiding principle early on.

taxcatRandy's best selling book is about how to write a novel. In his approach, you start with a complete summary of the book and fill in the details. I've experienced this approach and I can tell you this--at times it feels like you've got the skin and you're stuffing it with cotton, trying to make it appear lifelike. To be fair, I haven't read any of Randy's books. They're probably great.  

As I'm writing this, Hunting Tree is number 35 in the Kindle Horror category. The Stand is 23, It is 51, and The Shining is 53. Of course, those books by King have been on the list for years, and years, and mine will disappear in four days. I can pinpoint this exactly, because that's when sales picked up for Hunting Tree. On that list, you're ranked by a rolling thirty-day average. So thirty days after sales rose, when that first spike moves out of the window, Hunting Tree will fall.

No worries, I'll promote it again soon and hopefully it will be noticed by an even larger group of people. Hopefully. Meanwhile, I'm on to the next book, which should be out in February. I like this new one. I think I managed to get most of it without destroying it.

Digging0The most extraordinary thing just happened. You have to picture the setting. I was in outside in the yard at 10pm. This is the yard on the north side of my house. We're supposed to get a nor'easter overnight. In fact, it's already started. The wind was whistling through the trees and blowing light snow flurries through the beam of my headlamp. I was digging.

I was digging because the nor'easter is coming, and I wanted to have my hole dug before the storm comes and makes the earth too soggy to move. I was outside in this miserable weather in the pitch black because it would just be more miserable and blacker tomorrow night. I need to dig my hole before Friday. That's when the septic guy comes to pump the tank. 

He already visited last Friday. After an hour of messing around, trying to find the lid of the tank, he gave up. He suggested that he could come back in a week with better equipment, but if I wanted to save time & money, I should try to locate the lid of the tank myself. I'm all about saving money, but somehow I didn't get around to digging until tonight.

So, there I was, tossing the dirt over my shoulder and occasionally doubling over with a lung-racking cough. In the middle of the night. With the snow swirling through my headlamp. The wind making the trees creak and moan.Digging1

I was standing in my hole, looking for the pipe that would lead to the tank. That's when my right foot plunged through. I know what you're thinking, but I didn't find the septic tank. I found a cavern a few feet under the surface of my yard. The top of it was partially covered by a big flat rock and my foot broke through just to the side of the rock.

I bent down and moved my light from side to side. The part I could see was at least four feet deep and had walls lined with stacked rocks. I immediately thought that it might be an old well. But the dimensions aren't right, and it looks more square than round.

I called Tom and beckoned him outside. He didn't share my fascination. He said it was too cold out to be poking around some hole in the yard and went back inside. I tried to take some pictures, but then I gave up as well. It's creepy down in there. I thought I saw bones. Here are the pictures I took.

The whole thing reminded me of a scene from Lies of the Prophet, where a woman is entranced and forced to dig portals. I wonder where this portal goes.

Digging2

Digging3Digging4

In Maine, the winter brings slate-gray days that portend the coming snow. My grandmother used to say that the snow was falling because the ground was trying to match the sky. Mid-December, an afternoon lasts about fifteen minutes. Dark creeps in around the edges of the sky around 1pm, and it's dusk by 3:30. TheElmsSnow

It's easy to romanticize those cold winter scenes when we're peeling away the husky dry days of fall. Summer, when I'm outside sweating, I have no ability to imagine the same landscape covered with two feet of snow. In winter I'm incapable of picturing a day when I'd wear shorts and a t-shirt and walk barefoot through thick grass. But autumn is just a transition. Nothing is real; it's only the echo of what summer was or the shadow of what winter will be. 

In the fall I'm scrambling to get the hay put away, the leaves raked, and everything outdoors squared. I put off any indoor chores, knowing that I'll have all winter to ignore them. When winter finally arrives, it's never like I pictured. It should begin with huge storm, predicted and prepared for. We should wait, warm and insulated, eating comfort foods and enjoying nostalgia. We should be content with, and absorbed by, the mere act of surviving until the thaw. Instead, we drift sideways into the weather, fighting the elements and struggling to get to work before the roads ice up, or wishing we could get home before another accident snarls the traffic.

TreesSnowWe should be left fallow to restore our fertility. Trees know this. Bears and snakes understand. In November, my imagination knows what winter should be like. By December, I'll forget again.

On  Thursday, August 16th (2012), The Hunting Tree - Book One will be free on Amazon. I know what you're probably thinking: "Isn't this just a cheap ploy to get me to read the first book in a trilogy so I'll have to go buy the other two books?" Yes; yes it is. Well, it kinda is. To tell the truth, if you like the first book of Hunting Tree you won't have to wait very long to get the rest of the book for free. Sometime in September I'll make the whole trilogy free at least for a day. HT-Book1-thumb

It might seem a little weird—why would I give away books that I want to sell? I've got a few reasons. Giving away books is the most reliable way to sell books. As an independent author, I don't have a big marketing effort to help me reach new readers. I suppose I could spend money trying to market my stuff, but trying to target readers who have a Kindle, like Horror/Suspense, and want to try a new author, would be a tough task for me to puzzle through. But somehow if I give a book away to 10,000 people, the book will start to sell and continue to sell for a few weeks. We're not talking blockbuster numbers, but at least I'm reaching people. 

I'm a featured author at Freebooksy

The alternative is to give away zero books, and then continue to sell zero books. I didn't start self-publishing my books in order to make money. My whole point was to get my current books in people's hands so I could put together a list of people interested in my next book. When I started, I priced everything at $0.99, but then I realized that by under-valuing the titles, I was inviting the audience to do the same. Would you respect a book you got for $0.99? Who knows. Maybe I'm wrong on that point.

The other great reason to give away books is that I can get featured on free sites like FreeBooksy.com. Tomorrow, Hunting Tree will be listed on FreeBooksy, Squidoo's Top 100 Best Free Kindle Books, PixelOfInk.com, FreeEBooksDaily.com, and more. Those sites reach a bunch of people who might never have heard of my books, and who might enjoy and then seek out more of my books.

The last great reason to give away books is that you get lots of new people who might review your work. Reviews are a great way to learn what's working and what's not. I've found that a lot of people feel I end books too abruptly. That's something I might correct in my next book. I know how frustrating it is to build a relationship with characters and then wonder what happened to them as the story closes. Here's another great thing I've learned from reviews:

MOST OF THESE REVIEWS ARE FAKE!

Whenever I see a new book with lots of 5-star reviews, I check out who the reviewers are. In this case, most have never reviewed a book before. Most likely, these reviews were written by friends of the author or perhaps ever the author himself using multiple profiles. I wish Amazon would find a way to crack down on this.

You can find this review here if you'd like to comment back to this person or perhaps report this review as abuse. I think the review is an abuse of the review system because Linda is not commenting about the book, but is asserting that I've faked the other reviews. It seems she should have commented on those reviews, not composed her own fraudulent review. In case you're wondering, I did not submit any of the 54 (at the time of this blog) reviews on Amazon. Sure, some of my friends did. Wouldn't you review a friend's book positively? But I know less than 20% of the people who reviewed Viv and I'm certain that nobody created multiple profiles to make fake reviews. 

How did this nice, sunny post turn into a rant against Linda? She's poison.

Anyway, checkout The Hunting Tree - Book One on Thursday, August 16th. It's free. If you miss it, send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I'll send you a free copy of it. It's just a cheap ploy to get you to buy my other books and to get you to write fake reviews!

tractorI recently had the opportunity to help my aunt rebuild my tractor. Although we split the work—she did most of the grinding and I did most of the engine lifting—you'd have to classify it as her project. The tractor's frame sat in my basement for three years. During those three years, the blown engine and replacement engine rested up in the garage. After that amount of time with no activity, we can safely attribute all the forward momentum to my aunt. Just days after she arrived for a visit, progress resumed.

It wasn't just a simple engine replacement. The old engine was a Kohler 321AQS. The "S" stands for Special oil pan. The pan is shaped like an upside-down hat, and the piston rod has a little fin on the end that dives down into the bowl to pull up oil. On the replacement engine, the oil pan is flat with the bottom of the block. This means that mounting points and height are totally different. In order to fit the new engine in the old tractor, we had to create a new place to mount it and transfer a number of parts from the old engine over to the new one.

We started with the flexible coupling that connects the engine to the tractor's transmission. The new engine was outfitted with a big orange pulley rusted to the flywheel. That's what had stumped me years ago—I couldn't figure out a way to get that part off. Fortunately, my aunt is a machinist. She's not afraid to start cutting into metal. We had that orange thing off in no time, just to find out that the mounting points on the flywheel were slightly different on the new engine (of course). In order to mount the flexible coupling, we had to drill a new hole for the coupling's pin. Again, it's good to have a machinist around.

Once we'd built out the drive side, we could test-fit the engine and determine how to mount it. We figured we'd have to weld in supports, but we actually found a way to fit it in with little more than drilling some new holes in the frame. Everything lined up well. The cowling was a little harder to figure. With lots of subtle differences, we had to refit almost every piece. We also had to move the coil and condenser to the other side, remove the fuel pump (the new engine is gravity-fed), replace the carburetor (pulled from old engine), rewire the stator and the points.

It was a great time. My aunt scraped the old gasket off the carburetor and cut new gaskets while I rewired the electrical system. Then I installed the new gaskets while she ground a new hole in the frame to give access to the oil plug. It's been a while since I worked on something that rewarding and fun.

On Goodreads.com (a social book review site), someone named Amy G. recently reviewed my book Lies of the Prophet. Amy said:

Great mix of action, spooky and three kick ass female characters who don't go running off into the forest in high heels and skimpy lingerie! These woman are not the first (or last) to die, instead the story revolves around them and their ability to save the world from the undead - and WORSE!

[Thank you, Amy, whoever you are]

Growing up with my awesome mom and three amazing aunts in my life, I don't know that I really had a choice about how to write the female characters in Lies of the Prophet. I have a pretty good imagination, but it's not that good. The women in Lies had to kick ass and save the world. What else would they do—I forgot to write a broken tractor into that story.

MoosePupSeveral weeks ago, I had a very scary day. Moose couldn't walk. He's an English Mastiff; they're known to live about ten to twelve years, and Moose is already nine. It seems like yesterday that he was a bouncy little puppy. I was with him all day when he went lame and I couldn't see that anything had happened to him, but he wouldn't even touch his right rear leg to the ground. I took him to the vet immediately and they gave me some bad news.


I went to a Christmas party last December with a friend and ending up meeting a lot of new people. One woman, Wanda, asked me about my books. She was very interested in reading one of my books, but she had one crucial question first:

"No animals get hurt in your books, right?" she asked.

I looked towards the floor and bit my lip. Moose1

"Well... Actually..." I said. I had to tell her—of course animals get hurt in my books. In fact, terrible things happen to animals in all my books. Nothing worse than what happens to the humans, but Wanda didn't care about that. She just wanted to make sure that she wouldn't have to read about a dog getting killed. I want you to feel an emotional reaction when you read one of my novels. Would you enjoy reading them if you didn't? Perhaps it's a cheap approach, but I know that you're going to feel a much deeper reaction if a beloved pet comes to harm. 

Wanda is a woman of conviction. "I won't read it then," she said.


Back to the vet—the doctor looked Moose over, listened to the symptoms, and then took some X-rays. She had a couple of theories and they all spelled trouble. She suspected that he had a big tumor under (or part of) his quadriceps. Surgery was the only option, and it wasn't surgery that they (at that office) were prepared to undertake. I had to take Moose to a specialist in Portland. I made the appointment. The earliest I could get was four days out. I settled in for some serious angst.

Moose2A wonderful thing happened over the weekend before Moose's appointment. He got better. The leg became less and less painful, and by the time I took him to his appointment, you could hardly tell which leg had been affected. The specialist looked him over and pronounced him to be in fine condition. You might imagine how relieved I was. Surgery at Moose's age is a dangerous option. Surgery where they might have to remove a big section of hind leg (on a dog who weighs more than 170 lbs) is pretty much a death-sentence. 

At his age I should be ready for the day when the news isn't so good. It's coming soon. Even though I know I should be ready, I was paralyzed with fear. I wrote earlier about scary moments and how I'd like to capture some of that fear in my books. Something about holding that scary moments in your hands and being able to turn away from the danger turns the fear into a thrill. Maybe that's why a pet is always in harm's way somewhere in each of my books. I know that if I can put the danger onto the page it will be emotional, but manageable. 

Every time I've had to euthanize a dog, I first sit down with them and tell them the story of their life. I start with the first day I brought him home. I tell him everything I can remember about the place where he was born and his siblings. I describe how lucky I felt to have him in my life and how I tried to give him the best possible life that I could. I recount the times that I let him down and I apologize again and again for all my shortcomings. I miss them so much. It's so hard to say that final goodbye and feel the life ebbing from their limbs as they exhale their last breath. You think, "Oh no, what have I done," but you know you had to. 

I'm so glad that it's not time for that conversation with Moose quite yet.

HTBook1-3D-smallAs I mentioned in an earlier post, you can create a 3D version of your book jacket by using some of the free and paid sites out there. Those are simple and produce pretty good images, but what if you want something really complicated and slightly lower quality? For that, I turned to POV-Ray. POV-Ray is a free raytracer. It's the same kind of technology used to create all the explodiest and dinosauriest scenes in your favorite movies. In another life I worked at writing 3D rendering software. So when I wanted to create my own 3D book jacket, I grabbed the latest version of POV-Ray and started designing a model.

I started with a model created by Gilles Tran (Copyright 2004 Gilles Tran http://www.oyonale.com). He licensed his work under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which means I can use (and derive from) his work as long as I give him credit (thank you, Gilles). His model created books, shelves, and a library, so I just pulled out the book part. I also updated his model of the pages, wrapped my image of my cover on the book, and removed a bunch of options I didn't care about. 

If you download POV-Ray and install it, you can use these files to create your own 3D rendering of your book (right-click and save):

makebook.inc

3dbookjacket.pov

HTBook3-3D-smallYou'll have to experiment around with POV-Ray to get the hang of it, but it's not that hard. Just put the image of your book cover in the same folder & udpate 3dbookjacket.pov to point it it. In that file, you'll find a line that says

  mBook(0.5,2.0,1.5,"YourImageFileName.jpg")

The first three parameters are the X, Y, and Z size of the book. X is the thickness--if your book is really long, crank that up to 0.75 or even 1.0. Y is the height of the book, and Z is the width. You can see from my parameters that my book is 2.0 tall and 1.5 wide. That matches the width/height ratio of my cover image, so it will look right. If your book image's height/width is not 1.33, then you'll need to adjust the Y and Z appropriately. If math isn't your bag then you might want to go find a thirteen-year-old. If they can't help, find a fifteen-year-old. At least a fifteen-year-old (even if they can't help) will tell you that you're stupid. That's always fun.

HTBook3-3D-zoomI did some fun things with the pages of my model. I wanted the edge to look a little rough so the texture would show up well. My method introduced some stripes into the shadow, but I think it looks pretty cool. I doubt you'd know about the stripes if I hadn't mentioned them.

Some other models I've seen have some diffuse reflection in the upper-right corner, and more specular highlights on the edges. I underplayed those to give more focus to the cover. In fact, the cover image on my book is almost 100% ambient-lit, to make sure that the image is consistent. It looks a little less realistic, but only if you think about it too hard.

If you like messing around with Photoshop and CGI stuff, give POV-Ray a try. It's incredible if you put in the effort. I didn't do that much with it, but I got what I wanted--a nice free 3D book cover to use in my ads. Let me know if you give it a try.

  

Small Hunting Book1 3DOne of the great things about publishing on Amazon is that I've learned how to find all the good free books. They don't make it easy to find them. Drop down the "Search" selector, click Kindle Store, then click Kindle eBooks, then find "Best Sellers" in the left column. That gets you the top 100 paid and free Kindle books. If you dig deeper in the left column, you can click "Fiction," then "Horror," where (at the time I'm writing this) The Vivsectionist lives at #7. I'm sure it will be back down to #42,295 by Tuesday. 

I love trolling these lists and picking up free stuff. You have to pay close attention to the reviews though. Don't grab anything with less than four stars or less than ten reviews. If you like free Kindle books, you should also check out these sites:

Those are my favorite sites, but only because they're the ones who listed my book today. Once I get enough reviews for Lies and Hunting Tree, I'll promote those books with free days as well. 

The other thing I've been having fun with today is my new 3D rendering of The Hunting Tree. I took the mediocre cover I created and then wrapped in on a kickass POVRay model. After playing with the lighting for a few hours, I came up with the image above. It's hard to see in this thumbnail, but I spent a long time on the pages, too. They look great at 2400x2000 (also known as: a resolution nobody will ever see). You know what's great about creating your very own raytraced 3D model to generate book covers? There's about a grillion sites out there that will do it for free:

http://getbookcover.com/real_covers/new

http://3d-pack.com/

I like to do stuff myself though. I'll post the 3D model at some point. You just pass in the filename of your cover and it does the rest. I guess I could make my own crappy website to generate book covers for free. Hmmmm.

huntingtree3dThis week I published The Hunting Tree - Book One: Stage of Possibilities. It's a very long name for a pretty short book. With all three parts, the whole thing is about 350 pages, but I thought it would make sense to market it in the smaller pieces. The story breaks nicely at a couple of spots and you get a little cliffhanger action to engage you. I don't have much of an audience yet, so I thought it might make sense to have a short, low-commitment offering on the table to draw new readers in. 

I gave a lot of thought to the pricing scheme. Book One is $1.25, Book Two will be $1.50, and Three is going to cost $1.75. So if you buy the installments, you've paid $4.50. Amazon will keep most of that money though. Anything less than $2.99 and Amazon keeps 70% (I get 35%). That's why the whole thing collected (Books 1-3) will be priced at $2.99. Try the first one, then buy the collection, and you're only out $4.24. Or, if you prefer, wait until July and you can get them all at once. Actually, please don't wait. If I don't move any copies of Book One, I'll get really depressed and then I might not even finish putting together the collection.

This weekend (actually, Sunday 6/3, and Monday 6/4) I'm also running a big promotion on The Vivisectionist. I've promoted it on Amazon with free days before, and I've gotten some decent walk-up traffic, but it was totally random traffic. I had no plan in place to help people find the book. That was primarily because I didn't have enough reviews to get listed on all the free book sites. You need a good ten reviews before the listing sites will pick you up. Now that I've got 11 reviews (thank you everyone who has taken the time), I sent word to every site I could find. I'm hoping to get listed on FKBooksAndTips, eReaderNewsToday, PixelOfInk, and many more. I have no idea what will happen though. It's my first attempt at marketing a free day. 

the vivisectionistSpeaking of reviews, I've had the tiniest bit of controversy on the comments page for Lies of the Prophet. A potential reader (Emerald Coast) walked away because he/she didn't trust the reviews posted there. At that point, all the reviews were from posters who lacked the "Amazon Verified Purchase" tag. It's a simple explanation–those reviewers got Lies of the Prophet directly from me via email before it was released. I routinely give out copies of a book before its published so I can get help proofing, and have reviews ready to quote for the title page. Oh well, one less reader. 

In conclusion, go buy The Hunting Tree - Book One (please!), so that when you review it, you'll be Amazon Verified. I promise to offer the conclusion by July 4th, unless I get really depressed about the low sales of Book One. Thanks in advance!

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