Friday, December 9, 2011

My Three Favorite Reads of 2011

I used to read a lot; roughly seventy books a year. I would finish one novel and immediately start on the next. My library card probably spent more time out of my wallet than in.

Then I started writing seriously and found that making time to write cut deeply into my  reading time. Don't get me wrong, I still love to read and always will, but instead of reading seventy books a year, now I'm probably down to around twenty.

That being the case, I almost never try a book any more that I'm not reasonably sure I'm going to enjoy, which in some ways is a shame. It's kind of fun to take a chance on an author or a book title I've never heard of, with a description I'm a little leery about.

But on the other hand, reading only books I believe I'm going to enjoy makes it really difficult to pick my favorites. Plus, as a writer, I know how much blood sweat and tears it takes to write a book, so I'm not about to trash anyone's work.

And I want to be clear about one thing: This is a list of my favorite books of 2011, not necessarily the best books of 2011. I didn't read anything close to the number of books to be able to venture an educated opinion on the best books. But I sure do know what I like, and I really dug the following three titles.

So, without further ado, here we go. My three favorite books of 2011:

#3 - The Bastard Hand - Heath Lowrance, New Pulp Press

This book was my introduction to Heath Lowrance's work, and it held me spellbound from the first page to its final, shocking conclusion. Lowrance uses exquisite powers of description to evoke a rich southern aura, while weaving a tale of sex, violence and corruption.

I reviewed The Bastard Hand back in April, if you're interested in a fuller description of the book, but if you enjoy noir, or even just outstanding fiction, you're doing yourself a disservice if you haven't yet checked out this debut effort.

Heath Lowrance has followed The Bastard Hand up with a short story collection and several standalone shorts, and you can't go wrong with any of them. Rumor has it he's working on a second novel.

#2 - The Paradise Prophecy - Robert Browne, Penguin

Robert Browne is a former screenwriter who penned his first novel just five years ago. I had read most of his previous work and enjoyed it when I picked up The Paradise Prophecy, but had no idea what I was getting into. Robert Browne has stepped up to the next level with this book, writing a thriller that puts him in a class with the best of the best.

The Paradise Prophecy is based on John Milton's Paradise Lost, but if that premise sounds dry and uninteresting, all you have to do is open the book and you'll lose yourself in a globetrotting thriller filled with intrigue, deception and a final, supernatural apocalyptic confrontation.

I was fortunate enough to interview Robert Browne in October, and found him to be not just a talented author, but a gracious and humble individual as well. Considering the ability he demonstrates with his latest book, that's saying something.

#1 - Every Shallow Cut - Tom Piccirilli - ChiZine Publications

I love genre fiction, and one of the elements of genre fiction I love the most is noir. It's gritty and brutal and honest, and for my money, the leading practitioner of modern noir fiction is Tom Piccirilli. Every Shallow Cut might just be the best thing he's ever written.

It's a novella - a noirella, as he likes to call them - and not a full-length novel, but that didn't matter to me and shouldn't matter to you. Every Shallow Cut cuts like a knife and packs a punch that will stay with you long after you've finished reading. Piccirilli picks at scabs we can all relate to with his work, and he's going to have a hard time topping this beauty.

I reviewed Every Shallow Cut back in March, if you're interested, but if I were you I wouldn't bother checking it out. Just go to Amazon or wherever you prefer to buy your books, and get this one. You'll be blown away.

Actually, I can say that about all three of my favorite reads for 2011. You can't go wrong with any of them.


You still have more than four weeks, but why wait? Check out this post to find the three simple requirements to qualify for my Free Kindle Fire promo. Someone's going to win it on January 9, and it may as well be you...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Excerpt from my Delirium Books novella, HEARTLESS

My second Delirium Books horror novella is titled HEARTLESS. Release of the limited edition hardcover is scheduled for January 17, but the ebook edition became available yesterday.

I'm very excited about HEARTLESS, because it's not only one of the darkest things I've ever written, it's also a damned good story. You can check out the novella description here or here if you're interested. You can also purchase an ebook copy at either site.

An excerpt is available at the DarkFuse site, but if you'd like to check out a slightly longer excerpt, you've come to the right place. Here ya go:


The bodies of the sacrificial victims were lined up side by side on the massive stone altar, naked and spread-eagled, wrists and ankles lashed securely. Some had been drugged into unconsciousness but most were awake and aware. And terrified.

The sun slid gradually below treetop level, bringing shade but precious little relief from the brutal heat to either the spectators or the participants in the upcoming sacred ritual.

Some of those awaiting sacrifice sobbed and moaned, some begged for mercy to uncaring ears, some few even lay stoically, their faces impassive, their fate understood and accepted. From off in the distance a drumbeat pounded out a slow but steady rhythm, its purpose known only to the holy men at whose command this ritual was to take place.

Despite their nakedness, the victims’ bodies were coated with a sheen of sweat, the result of intense fear and the oppressive jungle heat. Mosquitos and other insects buzzed and swarmed, feasting on the exposed flesh with impunity, adding to the misery of those waiting to be sacrificed.

Almost imperceptibly the pace of the drumbeat began to increase in intensity and a sense of excitement rippled through the crowd of onlookers. Over the rim of the temple a group of holy men appeared, arriving atop the hundreds of stone stairs dressed in colorful ceremonial garb, surrounded by wives, aides and elders. Frightening masks depicting birds of prey and other wildlife covered the holy men’s faces, and the men chanted softly to themselves, their language indecipherable to the majority—but not all—of the sacrificial victims.

The first holy man moved with a deliberate pace to the restrained body occupying the northernmost position on the altar, a young boy perhaps fifteen years of age, a prisoner of war chosen to be the first sacrificial victim. The boy’s features were contorted in terror and his body quivered and shook but he refused to cry. He looked the holy man in the eye, refusing to beg or plead, choosing instead to die with his dignity intact.

In his hands the holy man held a sacred short-bladed knife, its handle inlaid with jewels and precious stones. The holy man lifted the knife to the sky, still chanting softly, his robes fluttering briefly as the barest hint of a hot jungle breeze passed over the temple like the breath of a demon and disappeared. Then the holy man bent over the young warrior and with a smooth stroke, sliced into the boy’s skin, his hand steady and sure, and the boy cried out more from shock than pain.

Blood spilled out of the warrior-child, leaking down both sides of his skinny body and onto the reddish-brown stone of the altar, the discoloration the result of countless similar ceremonies conducted over the course of countless centuries. With shocking swiftness, the holy man plunged his hands into the open chest cavity of the prostrate warrior, and now the boy screamed, his panicked voice loud and horrified, issuing out across the treetops of the jungle, echoing back to the blood-crazed onlookers from some faraway hillside.

The holy man completed the ancient ritual and stepped back, sated, as a second holy man moved to take his place, stopping in front of the next terrified sacrificial victim. In his hands he, too, held a sacred knife, which he brandished to the sky, imploring the gods of darkness to accept this holy sacrifice and remain at bay. Then he bent over the next victim, as sure-handed as the previous holy man had been.

The man lashed to the altar screamed. And the ceremony continued.

1 - Gary

Gary Newton waited impatiently in line, backpack slung over one shoulder, wishing for shelter from the intense heat of the late-summer sun. The ice cream stand—his intended destination—nestled comfortably in the shade, the tiny building ringed by a half-dozen towering fir trees, but the line of anxious customers waiting for service stretched at least a hundred feet across the dirt parking lot. Gary guessed it would be a minimum of ten minutes before the line inched forward to the point where he could take advantage of the shade.

Impatient young children, hands clutched tightly by bored parents, shared the line with teenagers on first dates, young married couples looking for a way to get out of the house without breaking the bank, and entire Little League baseball teams celebrating a win (or a loss) the way Little League wins and losses had been celebrated in small American towns for decades.

And there were girls. Lots of girls.

Some stood in rowdy groups of a half-dozen or more, others in pairs, even a few who seemed to be in line by themselves. They ranged in age from very early teens to very early twenties, but they all seemed to have one thing in common—they were dressed skimpily. Tank tops and jeans shorts seemed to be the uniform of the day, although plenty of girls flaunted their individualism by featuring athletic shorts or bike shorts, and T-shirts.

This incredible array of girls was the reason Gary found himself here today, although the prospect of enjoying an ice cream was just fine with him as well. Gary Newton was somewhat of an expert on girls at small town ice cream stands, having sampled dozens of them—both girls and ice cream stands—over the last few years. It had been his experience that the hotter the day, the better the pickings, and with the thermometer nudging one hundred degrees, today’s outing had the prospect of being damned successful.

The sun beat down on his shoulders and he could feel the back of his neck beginning to burn. A baseball cap protected the top of his head, covering the embarrassing hereditary issue of premature hair loss. Gary had read once that male pattern baldness skips a generation, which he counted as very bad news, since his father still had a thick, full head of hair in his fifties, but his grandfather had been bald as a fucking cue ball.

The line moved slowly, people shuffling forward as those at the ice cream stand’s sliding screen window seemed to be choosing their flavors with agonizing slowness. Aside from the fact he wanted to get out of the sun, though, Gary didn’t care. He had nowhere to go and no particular timetable in which to get there. The heat was uncomfortable, sure, but the slow-moving line provided plenty of opportunity for scoping out the girls. For checking out the merchandise, so to speak.

Members of a girls’ softball team, probably high school age, milled about a few feet in front of Gary and he watched them closely. A couple of the players looked as though they may merit closer observation, but on the whole, the pickings were pretty slim on this team. He had seen plenty of softball teams in plenty of small towns, and Gary was of the opinion that softball uniforms in general did nothing to accentuate the female form. A girl would have to be a real stunner to look like anything other than a bag of potatoes in the typical softball uniform. He knew his attitude was small-minded and sexist. He didn’t care.

So he ruled out the softball players. It didn’t matter; there were plenty of fish in this particular sea. And sitting at one of the ancient picnic tables provided by the owner of the ice cream stand were two of finest-looking guppies Gary had seen in a long, long time. They looked as though they might be college students. Both girls sat facing the ice cream stand, sharing a long wooden bench, leaning with their backs against the edge of the table.

Girl One’s long, bare legs were stretched in front of her and crossed at the ankles, her pink sneakers coated with dust kicked up by cars driving in and out of the dirt parking lot. Her long black hair was tied up in a ponytail and she had threaded it out the back of a baseball cap very similar to Gary’s. Even from this distance, close to a hundred feet, he could see her skin was bronze and flawless.

Her friend—Girl Two—sat next to her, their shoulders almost touching as they worked on their ice cream cones. Girl Two was nearly as pretty as Girl One, with the same olive skin and jet-black hair, the color of a moonless night at three a.m. Her hair was cut short, though, where Girl One’s was long, but aside from that minor difference, they almost looked as though they could be sisters. Girl Two sat atop the bench Indian style, legs crossed beneath her.

Both girls worked their ice cream cones furiously, clearly anxious to finish the treats before they melted away to nothing. Despite their best efforts, thin rivers of melting ice cream—Vanilla fudge? Chocolate chunk? At this distance Gary could not be sure—began trickling down the wafers of the cones. The girls ate faster. The ice cream melted faster, eventually being smeared around the cones by their delicate fingers.

Girl One shook her head and popped her fingers into her mouth one at a time, sucking them clean. Girl Two said something to Girl One and Girl One dissolved in laughter, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees. Girl Two barely cracked a smile. Then, to Gary’s astonishment, they turned at exactly the same time, as if their movements had been choreographed, and stared directly at him. Girl Two lifted her right hand and placed it in front of Girl One’s face and Girl One sucked the fingers clean, one at a time, exactly as she had done with her own hand just moments before.

Both girls continued to gaze directly at Gary, who stood, mouth open, entranced by the semi-erotic display. How the hell had the two girls known he was watching? They were separated by dozens of people, and neither girl had given any indication of being aware of his presence until they turned together. And, in fact, he had only become aware of them seconds before.

The whole thing was almost creepy, but Gary didn’t much care about that. If the girls were trying to embarrass him, to make him avert his eyes, it wasn’t going to come close to working. He locked onto Girl One’s gaze, his lips curling into a sly smile. People walked between them and he didn’t notice. Somewhere in the distance a baby cried and he didn’t notice. The air was filled with the ambient sounds of people talking and he didn’t notice.

Striking up a conversation with two girls rather than one went against every rule Gary had established for himself over years of carefully planning and executing his crimes. There were too many ways things could go sideways with two victims. It was foolish to even consider taking both of these girls. It was also exactly what Gary Newton had decided to do.

If you're interested in reading more, please consider downloading the entire novella. It's 19,000 words in length and is available in all ebook formats, at DarkFuse, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.

And, oh yeah. You may think you know where the story is going with this excerpt, but you're wrong...


A quick reminder: there are still nearly five weeks remaining in my "Win a Free Kindle Fire" contest. If you'd like the opportunity to win a brand-new Kindle Fire, a $199 value, you can enter here!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Interview with Horror Author Andrew Wolter

About this time last year, I learned of a brand-new charity drive founded by horror author Andrew Wolter. The charity was called Horror Against AIDS, and the goal was to provide toys for Christmas to children in the Phoenix, Arizona area affected by the epidemic of pediatric AIDS.

I had gotten to know Andrew Wolter through social media and our shared love of horror and dark fiction, and when he asked if I would consider supporting his cause, all I needed to do was check out the charity's website and I became an enthusiastic supporter.

Andrew is now in the middle of the second annual Horror Against AIDS toy drive, and as December 1 marks the twenty-fourth annual World AIDS day, it seems the perfect time to post my latest author interview.

Andrew Wolter is the author of the novels The Rules of Temptation, Nightfall, Much of Madness, More of Sin and the upcoming Seasons in his Abyss: A New World Mythos, as well as numerous short stories. He very graciously agreed to undergo a lengthy interrogation without the benefit of his lawyer...

You’re in the middle of your second annual charity drive, Horror Against AIDS. For those who may not be familiar with this cause, can you tell us a little bit about it?

I formed the Horror Against AIDS fundraising group in 2010 to help bring awareness and raise funds for children who are affected by HIV/AIDS. As both a dark fiction author and non-fiction columnist for a nationwide LGBT publication, I felt it would be a great idea to pull my resources from leaders and fans in the horror and LGBT communities to help in the battle against this horrible epidemic.

The funds raised through my Horror Against AIDS fundraiser go toward the purchase of toys for the children of Logan’s Playground (A Sanctuary for Children Affected by HIV). Logan’s Playground is located in Phoenix, Arizona and houses approximately 150 children whose lives have been affected by HIV. Without the help of such fundraising, these kids wouldn’t have the means to enjoy Christmas.

A toy drive seems like an unusual choice of charities for a dark fiction author. Why this particular cause?

I have always been a major supporter in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Throughout the years, I have seen a number of friends and loved ones affected by this epidemic. I have looked this untamed beast in the eyes and have suffered the horror which it has brought to the lives of those around me. It made me realize that some of the most terrifying plots in the world of horror fiction couldn't compare to the pain and hell of those affected by AIDS experience. Four years ago, I witnessed the last days of my best friend pass away from his longtime battle with HIV/AIDS. It caused my rage to come out, stronger than ever, in advocating AIDS awareness to all.

Since then, I have used what free time I've had to get involve with a number of projects revolving the LGBT community. From being an active member of the Human Rights Campaign to Thanksgiving drives benefitting the homeless, to being a strong voice in the “It Gets Better” campaign, I have done my best to use my voice to bring both tolerance and awareness to the issues affecting the LGBT community (my community).

Last year, I decided I wanted to do something more for the LGBT community. Not that everything I had done and was currently doing wasn't enough; rather, I felt the need to take the next step in making my voice heard on the issues that were closest to my heart. I thought to myself, Imagine the possibilities if you could take your strong followings from both the horror industry and LGBT community! Hence, I decided to create the group Horror Against AIDS.

During the Christmas season, many charities compete for a seemingly shrinking pool of resources. What would you say to readers who may be trying to decide what charity to donate to?

While there are many fantastic charities from which people can choose to donate, my biggest concern in this is how much of the money is truly going to the cause. Many charities claim to be “non-profit”; however, a number of them don’t consider certain overhead as an actual expense. Thus, I’m aware of several “large” charities in which 100% of the donations do not go to their cause. When donating monies to any charity, I always take it upon myself to ensure that 100% of all funds are going to the cause. This might mean having to talk with charity organizers or directors, but to know that every dime donated goes to the actual cause (this is the case with the Horror Against AIDS fundraiser) is the only factor in my decision to donate to certain charities. While I am by no means putting down charities that are household names, I prefer to stick with organizations where I know that every dime donated is accounted for.

You say you want to be known as an author without genre limitations. In an age where the so-called experts claim book sales rely on “branding” and marketability, how do you feel this affects your work?

This question comes up often.

I think my ability to go against and blend genres has definitely affected my sales (not necessarily the work itself).

I don’t feel a writer should be limited to a scene or characterization because it may be considered “over the top.” If a tale contains the fundamentals of a plausible story (beginning, middle, end, etc), it deserves to be both published and read. I don’t limit myself at all. My characters can be crude and my scenes tend to be graphic (layered with sex and gore). Ultimately, there is a moral to each of my tales and novels. That is what my readers have grown to love. I’m not afraid to mirror the pure reality of our daily lives (as much as we may want to keep certain exploits secret) into the actions and mannerisms of my characters.

Being that I don’t believe in limitations, I think the only boundaries that haven’t been pursued are those silenced by the voice of the author in the name of current trends and which books are selling thousands of units. I may not be a bestselling novelist, but my voice is strong. I’m not afraid to use it, and that is what readers enjoy about my works.

What’s most important to me is that I am content with the work I produce.

You recently released an updated and unabridged version of your 2008 novel, NIGHTFALL. What’s been added to the new version and why re-release it?

Two factors went into the re-release of NIGHTFALL. One being the availability to my readers at an affordable price; the other being the book being available with it’s original content.

One of the battles I faced with selling the initial manuscript was that the word count exceeded 150,000 words. In addition, another reason the novel was "passed up" by a couple publishers was that they felt two scenes in particular were potentially too graphic for readers (one of them incorporating bestiality). While I took such rejection in stride, I continued to shop the manuscript to other publishers. Ultimately, my persistence paid off when a small press contracted the novel. However, part of the publisher's decision to put the novel in print included cutting back the length of the book and toning down the two scenes in question previously pointed out by other potential publishers.

In August of 2008, NIGHTFALL became available to purchase. Although the original manuscript was altered and scenes omitted, the novel still made for a long book (almost 100,000 words). In a publishing world that was beginning to feel the excessive cost of printing, manufacturing and shipping such a lengthy novel, NIGHTFALL would see this reflected in its retail price. As a result, the book became available as a “collector's hardcover edition” with a hefty price tag. While it sold well, I longed to have my readers experience the book the way it was intended and at a cheaper cost.

Fast forward to 2011. With a brimming technology providing various electronic book platforms, I discovered that I could allow NIGHTFALL to be released the way it was initially intended. With the advent of Amazon Kindle, along with the growing interest in e-books, not only did I discover a way to forego the worries of a publisher's manufacturing and shipping costs, but I also found that I could present the original content of NIGHTFALL to the reader.

While the story remains the same, the unabridged version of NIGHTFALL contains additional references and those two “questionable” scenes to help further the readers experience with the characters.

Can you name some of the authors and/or works which have influenced you the most as a writer?

While there are so many great authors and works that have been a major inspiration, the following authors (and their works played a pivotal role in helping shape my writing):

Poppy Z. Brite’s DRAWING BLOOD and EXQUISITE CORPSE made me unafraid to create gay characters as major players in a story without having their sexuality become the crux of the plot.

John Rechy’s CITY OF NIGHT and THE COMING OF THE NIGHT taught me how to use sex between my characters as an instrument to move a plot forward.

Armistead Maupin’s TALES OF THE CITY series of books gave me insight on creating memorable characters with which readers could easily identify.

Of course, the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker taught me how to incorporate the most fantastic creations in a tale in which I could induce fear without compromising the belief of the story as a whole.

Hypothetical situation #1: You are marooned on a desert island, but before your ship sinks, you are given the opportunity to grab any one book of your choosing. What book do you choose, and why?

My choice would be Oscar Wilde’s THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. I never tire of reading Wilde’s prose. The ideology expressed in that particular book (the purpose of life being to experience everything without any limits or boundaries) would make for a great mantra on an island that would offer a new, unexplored territory for me.

Hypothetical situation #2: You are given a choice by the Gods of Publishing. Your books can either bring you tremendous monetary wealth or they can be universally acclaimed as outstanding by the critics. Which do you choose, and why?

I would definitely choose the outstanding acclaim by critics. I’ve never seen myself making millions of dollars as a writer. In fact, I’m content with my writing allowing me to pay my bills and have a few nice things. Thus, the monetary wealth wouldn’t tempt me at all. However, to know that world of my tales are being praised and shared with others is enough to keep the stories coming for a long time.

What are you reading right now? What’s next on your “To Be Read” list?

I just finished reading Robert Dunbar’s MARTYRS AND MONSTERS . I must say that the book was a breath of fresh air in a world in which the horror genre is becoming less literary. Next up is Clive Barker’s ABARAT: ABSOLUTE MIDNIGHT and a return to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES (the latter being research for an upcoming project).

Thanks very much for taking the time to visit A Thrill a Minute. Any last words of wisdom you’d like to share with my thousands hundreds dozens handful of readers?

I’ve always been a firm believer in going after your passions and “owning the dream.” Quite often, I tell people that they are the only ones standing in the way of all they can achieve. Thus, I’ll end the interview on that note.

Thank you for having me as a guest. I truly appreciate it!

As the Christmas season gets into full swing, there's no question we're all bombarded by people and causes, all seemingly itching to get their hands on your wallet. In a shaky economy, it's not always easy to determine what charities will be receiving your hard-earned cash.

If you have the means and opportunity to donate and are looking for a worthy cause to support, please consider checking out Andrew Wolter's Horror Against AIDS. I did and am proud to be able to help provide a Christmas for children facing a future most of us cannot even imagine...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Win a FREE Kindle Fire!

I read today that Amazon expects to ship six million Kindle Fire tablets this quarter alone. Most of the people receiving one will pay two hundred bucks, as it seems Amazon has no intention of discounting their brand-new product so soon after its release.

But you can get one absolutely free! I will be giving away one Kindle Fire to one lucky winner, and you only need to follow three easy steps to qualify:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cheating your way to a best-seller - Achieving sales the Q.R. Markham way

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for Q.R. Markham. His novel, ASSASSIN OF SECRETS, was receiving good reviews, presumably selling okay. Then comes the charge that whole paragraphs, maybe even sections covering several pages, of Q.R. Markham's novel were ripped off from other books.

It's a dark and stormy night for lots of red-faced reviewers, too, including Kirkus, which gave ASSASSIN OF SECRETS a starred review, and Publishers Weekly, which also awarded it a starred review and even mentioned an "obvious Ian Fleming influence," the ultimate in irony, apparently not realizing it was less "influence" and more "stealing."

Author Jeremy Duns did a little digging, and according to a story in the Wall Street Journal, came up with "at least 13 novels" whose copyrighted material was lifted word for word by Q.R. Markham for his novel. Duns, who was fleeced into providing an author blurb for the book, calls it "the worst case of plagiarism I've ever seen."

Frankly my dear, Q.R. Markham - which isn't the thief's real name - doesn't give a damn, apparently. He at least has the good sense to hide behind a pseudonym, not that a fake name will do him any good now.

The frustrating part of this farce for any author who has worked to create entertaining fiction and labored largely in the shadows of anonymity is that this shameless thieving dirbag, devoid of any shred of integrity person is now selling copies of his book hand over greedy fist at Amazon, despite the fact ASSASSIN OF SECRETS (Kind of an ironic title now, if you think about it) has been pulled by it's publisher, Little, Brown, and is no longer available.

As I write this, ASSASSIN OF SECRETS is ranked #234 in all books at Amazon, including #5 in Spy Stories & Tales of Intrigue, and #73 in Suspense Thrillers, all stratospheric ranks I have yet to approach as the author of two thrillers.

So, Mr. Q.R Markham (I did a little digging and discovered Q.R. stands for "Quite Red-faced), congratulations. You are now famous. Maybe not in the way you wanted to be, but hey, in today's society any sort of fame is worthwhile, right?

Personally, after seeing how your book has benefitted from your shameless, shameful thievery, I've decided the time has come for me to come clean about an incident from my past. In the ninth grade, I got caught cheating on an algebra test. That's right, the kid behind me ratted me out to the teacher when I wouldn't share the answers with him.

It was both the beginning and the end of my criminal career, as I decided a life of crime and deception was not worth the potential embarrassment of being caught, something Q.R. Markham might be discovering even as we speak.

But here's the thing. I did it. I cheated. I think it's time now that you went straight to Amazon and ordered my thriller, THE LONELY MILE to discover what all the fuss is about. Teach me a lesson just like you're teaching Q.R. Markham a lesson by ordering his book.

Please. It's the right thing to do.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Review: "That Damned Coyote Hill," by Heath Lowrance

I was introduced to Heath Lowrance's work last spring, when I read his debut novel, THE BASTARD HAND, and was blown away. My full review of that book is here, if you'd like to check it out, but suffice it to say I discovered, in THE BASTARD HAND, an author who can mix it up with the best of them, creating fictional worlds where you're never quite able to get comfortable, where the good guys ain't necessarily all that great and the bad guys might not be exactly what you think they are, either.

In other words, I discovered a guy penning material more or less in anonymity that any big-time author could be proud of, if only he had the balls to write it.

That feeling was reinforced when I read Lowrance's short story collection, DIG TEN GRAVES. I meant to post a review here but never got around to doing so, being the lazy slackass I am. Let me just say this about DIG TEN GRAVES. If you don't get chills down your spine when you finish reading the first story, "It Will All Be Carried Away," you might as well drive to the funeral home and have them shoot you up with embalming fluid right now, because you're already dead.

The rest of the collection is just as good, and I spent a lot of time after I ifnished reading it trying to figure out why it held such a strong appeal for me. The answer? Heath Lowrance writes the kind of stories I try to write. He's like a good football running back, getting you to think he's going one way, and then he turns on a dime and goes in a totally different direction. I love that.

All of which brings me to the latest Heath Lowrance gem, a digital short released by Trestle Press titled, "That Damned Coyote Hill." It sounds like a western for good reason - it is.

Also, it isn't. I'm not a big fan of westerns - I got more than my fill watching Gunsmoke every week as a kid. It was one of my dad's favorite shows and we only had one TV. If you don't know, Gunsmoke was on TV forever and I'm pretty sure I saw every freaking episode. Twice.

So it took me a while to get around to reading "That Damned Coyote Hill." Well, let me tell you, I'm a damned fool. This quick-reading tale - somewhere in length between a short story and a novellette - grabs you from the very beginning and doesn't let go of your ass until the last word, when you put it down, shaken, trying to figure out what the hell just happened.

It's something out of Quentin Tarantino's worst acid-induced nightmares. It's something entirely different than what you expect. Believe it. Whatever you think you're getting into when you begin reading "That Damned Coyote Hill," I'm here to tell you you're wrong.

I've said it before and I'll say it here: Heath Lowrance is the writer I want to be when I grow up. Do yourself a favor and download "That Damned Coyote Hill" to your Kindle. It's only ninety-nine cents. You won't regret it. Unless you're just waiting for that last dose of embalming fluid.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The genesis of a short story

One question I get asked all the time is "Where do you get your ideas?" Usually by people that have read some of my darker stuff, and usually as they glance around uneasily, trying to remain casual while they map out an escape route while trying not to be too obvious about it.

You might think it would be an easy question to answer, but just the opposite is true. Many of the stories I write started out going one way before being hijacked by the characters or the situations, and moving off in an entirely new direction, with me simply scrambling to keep up. Sometimes they start out as snippets of song lyrics, or snatches of overheard conversation, less often they're inspired by news stories or personal experiences.
The one thing they usually have in common is that when I'm done, they rarely resemble what I envisioned when I started.

Every once in a while, though, the genesis of a story is perfectly clear. My story in the latest issue of Needle Magazine, "The Ticket," is a perfect example.

You may or may not know - or care, for that matter - that in my second job (AKA, The One That Pays The Bills) I am employed by the FAA as an air traffic controller. It's a job I've been doing for nearly thirty years, and one which I enjoy, because it keeps my interest while I'm working position, and especially because it affords me a fair amount of time to devote to writing while on my breaks, away from the radar scopes.

About a year-and-a-half ago, one of my coworkers took a few days off suddenly. Why? He was celebrating winning half a million bucks on a lottery scratch ticket! I'm not the most knowledgeable gambler in the world (Buy me a beer if we ever meet up and I'll tell you my Las Vegas slot machine story - I guarantee you can't top it for sheer embarrassment value), but I had no freaking clue you could win that much on a scratch ticket.

I don't play them very often, maybe three or four times a year at the most, and probably the biggest jackpot I've ever scratched off is five bucks. My daughter won $75 on a scratch ticket a couple of years ago and I was blown away by that. So when I heard this guy had won five hundred grand I immediately thought two things:

1 - That lucky bastard, why couldn't it have been me? and,

2 - How can I use this in a story?

Or maybe it was the other way around, I can't really remember. Anyway, out of that serendipitous event, "The Ticket" was born. Beyond the circumstances of the jackpot - a scratch ticket - there's not really any resemblance between the real-life event and the story.

I embellished the jackpot amount in "The Ticket," figuring if a half-million dollar scratch ticket was cool, a million would be even cooler, and in my story the air traffic controller suddenly became a guilt-ridden gangland enforcer who views his unexpected windfall as the perfect opportunity to leave his old life behind and go straight. Unfortunately, his sense of timing sucks, and he scratches the ticket in the presence of his boss, Fat Tony Filichiccia, who decides he deserves a cut, too.

How my lottery winner works out his dilemma is something you'll have to buy Needle to find out. I can tell you my coworker didn't have to go through anything close to what my character does. Unless his wife is particularly greedy.

And that's the genesis of a story.

Strange but true addendum: About a year later, the same coworker won another hundred grand. On, you guessed it, a scratch ticket.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Interview with bestselling author Robert Browne

"I wouldn’t want to drop dead and leave behind a manuscript full of holes."

It's always interesting to me to discover the different routes authors take to publication. In the case of Robert Browne, this meant chucking a career writing screenplays to sit down half a decade ago and pound out his first novel, KISS HER GOODBYE, on nothing but faith.

Four more novels have followed, each garnering sales and acclaim, including Browne's latest release, THE PARADISE PROPHECY, which for my money qualifies as the thriller of the year.

In addition to being a kick-ass writer, Rob's extremely approachable and a truly nice guy. If you're not familiar with his work, you need to change that, and as soon as possible.

He agreed to wire himself up to my lie detector and answer every ruthless question I threw his way. Here is the result:

Your background is in writing screenplays. What possessed you to leave an established career and embark on another path as a novelist, when you had no clue whether you would be successful? Did you just wake up one day and decide to write a book?

Well, the first mistake is assuming it was an established career. I had been knocking around Hollywood for over a decade taking pitch meetings, doing the dance, but after a sale to Showtime and several close encounters that fell through at the very last moment—as is typical of Hollywood—I found myself writing cartoons like Diabolik and Spider-Man. Not that this wasn’t fun and fairly lucrative, but it just wasn’t what I had envisioned for myself.

Ever since I was thirteen years old I had wanted to write a novel. I had a few aborted attempts in the drawer, but figured at my advanced age it was time to do or die. So I sat down and wrote KISS HER GOODBYE, never believing for a moment that it wouldn’t sell. I don’t know why I felt that way, but fortunately, I was right.

Along those lines, I picture authoring a screenplay as being a much more collaborative process than authoring a novel. Is that the case, and did that play any part in your career change?

There are pluses and minuses to collaboration. When I was writing cartoons, I collaborated with a great guy and showrunner named Larry Brody. Brody and I hit it off and became friends and the collaborative process was great. He plotted and outlined the stories, I wrote the scripts, adding dialogue, etc. We were both, essentially, doing what the other guy didn’t want to do, so it worked out well.

With movies, the collaborative process can be great until you disagree. Then screenwriters are fired and replaced. They’re disposable. Most screenwriters understand this going in, however.

The only thing that really played a part in the career change was the desire to finally sit my butt down and write what I’d always wanted to write: novels.

Would you ever consider returning to your screenwriting roots?

Sure. I enjoy writing screenplays. I also think they’re relatively easy to write. Certainly a lot easier than novels. For me, at least. When the pilot for KISS HER GOODBYE was shot for CBS, the producers asked if I was interested in writing any episodes if it went to series. Any guesses what my answer was?

Your latest novel, THE PARADISE PROPHECY, is a sweeping supernatural thriller that takes the reader on an adventure through the centuries and around the world. Having read it, the book strikes me as potentially career-defining. Do you agree, and did you originally intend for THE PARADISE PROPHECY to be such an ambitious project?

The Paradise Prophecy was not really a book I had planned to write. It came about through conversations with Dutton, in a discussion about the ultimate bad guys. The fallen angels from Milton’s Paradise seemed to fit the bill and it took off from there.

The funny thing is, I was slowly gravitating away from doing supernatural stuff and suddenly here I was writing a book that’s more supernatural than anything else I’ve ever written. A big, rousing epic about angels and demons and a conspiracy to destroy the world.

You told me once that you spend as much time as it takes to make your work as clean as possible on the first go-around, and rarely write more than one draft. This is exactly opposite how I write, so I find it fascinating. Did you really write a book as complex as THE PARADISE PROPHECY in a single draft, and if so, how long did it take to complete?

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t think THE PARADISE PROPHECY is all that complex. Complex emotions, maybe, a lot of history and intersecting storylines, but if you step back and look at it, the story is pretty straightforward.

But Paradise is the exception to my usual rule, because it took two drafts. I wrote the first one is four months and wasn’t happy with it. And when I turned it in, I knew my editor would request changes. It was great to have his objectivity, because I went back and spent another four months completely rewriting the second half of the book. I had the story down, but what I needed was more historical and emotional depth—and I worked hard to include that.

And when I say draft, by the way, a draft for me is probably about ten drafts for someone else. I don’t leave a scene or a chapter until I’ve rewritten it a dozen or more times and feel it’s ready for the printing press. My mother always told me to wear underwear without holes, to avoid embarrassment in case of an accident. I guess I took that advice to heart. I wouldn’t want to drop dead and leave behind a manuscript full of holes.

I read on your website that Batty and Callahan will be returning in future books, making this your first series after authoring four stand-alone novels. Can you drop any hints as to where the reluctant partners will be heading next?

If and when they do return, I’m sure it will be to explore some of the things left open in the first book. Like the mysterious D.C. connection. But it’s all up in the air at this point. I won’t put a word to paper until I feel I have an idea that warrants it.

Can you name some of the authors who have influenced you as a writer? When did you know you wanted to devote your life to the written word?

The two writers who have influenced me most are William Goldman and Donald Westlake. I read a Westlake novel when I was thirteen and was so enthralled that I immediately knew this was what I wanted to do for a living. Tell stories. A few years later I read MARATHON MAN by Goldman and was completely blown away. If you compare my style of writing to either of theirs, you’ll definitely see the influence.

Hypothetical situation #1: You are marooned on a desert island, but before your ship sinks, you can grab any one book of your choosing. What book would that be, and why?

I’m going to cheat and say it would be my Kindle, with several books on it by my favorite authors like Westlake, Goldman, McBain and Donald Hamilton—to name just a few.

Hypothetical situation #2: You are given a choice by the Gods of Publishing. Your books can either bring you tremendous monetary wealth or they can be universally acclaimed as outstanding by the critics. Which do you choose, and why?

The money. Critical acclaim doesn’t pay the mortgage.

While I do enjoy reading a good review, I honestly couldn’t care less what the critics think. The only reviews I’m interested in are reader reviews. There’s nothing more satisfying than an email from someone who responds positively to your work. If I can give to them what my favorite authors have given to me, I’ll be a happy man.

I do care about money, however. Quite a bit.

What are you reading right now? What’s next on your “To Be Read” list?

Right now I’m reading OBSESSION by Debra Webb, which hasn’t been released yet. Next on my list is THE HYPNOTIST by Lars Kepler, which I’ve heard good things about.

Thanks very much for taking the time to visit A Thrill a Minute. Any last words of wisdom you’d like to share with my thousands hundreds dozens handful of readers?

Words of wisdom would require me to be wise. But the truth is, I’m just struggling to figure it all out like everyone else—especially with the rapid and radical changes the publishing industry is facing right now.

I’ll let you know if I succeed.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I'm on Twitter and the world will never be the same

A couple of years ago, in July of 2009 to be precise, I wrote a blog post in which I questioned why in the hell I would ever join the Twitter craze. "Why would anyone care what I've eaten for lunch?" I wondered.

I still wonder that, especially since I often just have black coffee for lunch. I admit it, my diet is horrendous, but my point is this: What could be more boring? What's kind of funny about that post, though, is that in it I said, "Maybe the light bulb will go on with me someday, typically a couple of years after everyone else, and I will begin tweeting like mad, updating my thousands of followers on every facet of my fascinating existence."

Well guess what, folks? That day has arrived, roughly two years later, as I so presciently predicted back in July, '09.

That's right, I'm now broadcasting live on Twitter, @AllanLeverone, allowing my thousands hundreds dozens of followers to learn my every waking thought, from what I'm having for lunch (again, coffee, probably) to the latest review of one of my books (but only if it's a good one, probably), to whether I have any chance at all of getting that suddenly available Red Sox managing job (not freaking likely).

As I said at the end of that post two years ago, "...maybe I'll get the attraction of Twitter in a few years. When I do, watch out; you're going to learn my every waking thought. Yikes."

All I can say is I apologize, because here it comes.

But if you'd like to be on the cutting edge of learning about my coffee addiction or being among the first to know when I have a new book coming out (hint: it might be sooner than you think), I invite you to follow me and if you do, I'll likely follow you back.

Every once in a while I get a flash of inspiration and actually say something interesting. And you can always ignore all my other tweets.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Of Book Reviews and Sock Puppets

For authors who do not sport household names, life's eternal quest is for ways to get your work in front of readers who enjoy the genre you write in but who may not have ever heard of you. I'm no exception, and for months I read and heard that spending time on Kindle Boards was potentially valuable in terms of building exposure.

Well, I've recently been more active on Kindle Boards, not just as a way to raise my profile, but also because there are some truly interesting discussions taking place twenty-four hours a day there, and it's a place where authors and readers can gather to discuss issues surrounding the thing we all have in common - books and the written word.

And it's been pretty enlightening. The subject of book reviews is always one that generates enthusiastic responses, both from authors and readers, but sometimes not in the way I would have expected. Case in point: Sock puppets.

Up until a few weeks ago, if I saw the words, "sock puppet," I would have pictured a Muppet or maybe a Fraggle. But in the world of Kindle Boards, a sock puppet is not a good thing. It refers to an author who convinces his friends and family to write flattering reviews - or even worse, who generates accounts under false names and writes reviews for his own work - on Amazon or Goodreads, with the intention of artificially inflating the book's appeal and hopefully gaining increased sales.

The practice is distasteful and dishonest and pretty much universally decried by both authors and readers alike, and for good reason.

The thing I find interesting, however, and which I've wondered about in the back of my mind as the reviews have come in for my newest thriller, THE LONELY MILE, is the fact that many posters on Kindle Boards feel they have a sharp eye and are quite skilled at picking out "sock puppet reviews." It's easy, they say. Find a book with universally good reviews and there's a decent chance many, if not all, are sock puppet reviews.

Here's why I've wondered about that: The reviews for THE LONELY MILE have been universally good. On Amazon, to this point, the book has received nine five-star reviews, with four four-star reviews mixed in, and no threes, twos or ones.

And I can't help wondering, is that fact costing me sales with people who have never heard of me? Has anyone checked out THE LONELY MILE's Amazon page because he was considering buying it and then shaken his head, clucking and smug, and passed on trying it out because the reviews are simply too good?

I hope not, and not just because I would like to sell as many copies of my books as I can. I believe in doing things the right way, and I hope you won't think I'm hopelessly naive when I tell you it would never have occurred to me to open multiple Amazon accounts for the purpose of reviewing my own book. My mind doesn't work that way.

In fact, I've expressly discouraged my family and close friends from reviewing my work precisely because I wanted to avoid any hint of dishonesty. I believe in my work and I'm confident that most people who try it, assuming they enjoy a good thriller, will feel they've gotten their money's worth when they reach the end.

Now, this is not to say THE LONELY MILE hasn't received reviews from people who have been introduced to my work either through FINAL VECTOR or POSTCARDS FROM THE APOCALYPSE, my short story collection, and enjoyed them so much they went on to read my other work and then review it.

Also, I'm nearing the end of my second blog tour hosted by Pump Up Your Book Virtual Book Tours, and many of the reviewers of THE LONELY MILE are the same book bloggers who reviewed FINAL VECTOR when I toured for that book. They enjoyed my first book so much they were anxious to review my second, and I'm not about to apologize for that; just the opposite, in fact. I'm proud that my work prompted people who read books all the time to want to read more of my work!

But sock puppetry? Not here. I wouldn't even wear socks except it gets darned cold here in New Hampshire.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Writer's block? We don't need no stinking writer's block!

There are a few things I get asked a lot when people find out I write books. Probably the most common question is, "Are you making any money?"

The answer, of course, is "Yes." The minute I sell one book I'm making money. A better question would be, "How much money are you making?", but most people are too classy to bring themselves to ask it.

And that's good, because I wouldn't answer anyway. At least, not until I'm making a shitload of money.

Probably the second-most common question I hear is, "Where do you get your ideas?"

That one's a little tougher, because in most cases, it's not the sort of question I can answer with one word, or even one sentence. Most of my plot ideas come from a mish-mash of sources, some of which I don't even understand.

Sometimes it's a song lyric that strikes me and gets my imagination racing. Sometimes it's a real-life situation, although when that happens, my story usually strays far from the actual situation that inspired it. Sometimes it's a dream, and I know that sounds silly, but I've gotten more than one idea for a kick-ass story that just popped into my head in the middle of the night.

Most often, though, the honest answer is, "I have no idea." A hint of a thread of an plot takes hold inside my head and begins to grow, like a plant. Or a cancer. In most cases, the idea has to simmer for awhile before I do anything with it. I mulled over the initial idea for my Derringer Award-nominated story, "Independence Day," for months - over an entire winter, as I recall - before I ever wrote a word on it.

But the question I really wanted to talk about today is the one that I would estimate I get third-most often: "Do you ever get writer's block?"

Easy answer: No, because I don't believe writer's block exists. Bestselling author Vincent Zandri wrote an outstanding blog post that included this subject a couple of weeks ago, one which I agree with wholeheartedly.

The gist of that blog post is this: If you're serious about selling your work, writing is a job. It's a fun job, to be sure, and it's a job where you can make your own hours and work in your underwear and take as many breaks as you want, but at the end of the day it's still a job.

And if you approach it as a job, you begin to realize that what many people view as "writer's block" is really nothing more than either laziness or a reluctance to put in the time at work. I suppose you could consider those two things to be one and the same.

Writing fiction is the act of stringing words together in entertaining ways while telling a story, so an unwillingness to put time in at the keyboard is the kiss of death if you consider yourself a writer. There are days when the words flow with an almost ridiculous ease, and there are other days when writing anything that makes even a minimal amount of sense is like pulling teeth, but at the end of the day, under either condition you need to sit at the keyboard and do your job.

As Vincent Zandri says, "If you're a writer your job is to show up at work every day and write...If your dad was a lawyer, did he ever get lawyer's block? If your mom was a nurse, did you ever hear her complain, 'I've had absolutely nothing to nurse about for the last six months'?"

That answer is perfect. Of course, it's also kind of long-winded to give to someone who really doesn't care that much, anyway. So most of the time when I'm asked the question about writer's block, I sort of mumble my way through an answer, saying something about working hard and continuing to write my way through it when it happens.

Okay, maybe I'm being just slightly less than honest, but, hey, I can only stay on break for so long; I've gotta get back to work!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Google Plus must be lame because here I am

If you know me at all, you know I'm not a "tech guy;" I've never exactly blazed any kind of a trail in the digital revolution. And I know that may seem kind of strange considering my first two novels have been published exclusively electronically.

The fact of the matter is I don't enjoy electronic gadgets, mostly because I don't care about taking the time to learn how to use them. This explains why the years when VCR's were changing over to DVD players was such a stressful time for me.

Sure, I have a cell phone - I have three kids, how could I not? - but while the rest of family owns Droid smart phones, and I'm constantly suffering serious pressure to join the club, I'm happy with my LG something-or-other that doesn't get the Internet. Although I can check my email on it, so maybe it does, I'm not quite sure.

See what I mean? I don't care much about that stuff.

But here's the thing: When I decided to start writing books, I knew I needed a way to market my work, as well as to network with readers and other writers.

The solution? I opened a Myspace account (or, to be more accurate, my wife opened it for me)! But just about the time I cowboyed up, everyone else was jumping the Myspace ship for that shiny new Facebook thing. I didn't want to leave Myspace, because, after all, I had taken all that time to learn how to use it and Facebook seemed so . . . foreign.

Eventually, though, I could no longer ignore the mass migration. I would make a post on Myspace and could practically hear it rattling around in cyberspace.

So, when I could no longer convince myself Myspace was where it was at, I opened up a Facebook account (or, to be more accurate, my wife started it for me)! But, you guessed it, just about the time I figured this Facebook thing out, everyone else had discovered that shiny new Twitter thing.

Well I haven't quite worked up the courage to start a Twitter account yet, although I'll probably do that fairly soon (are you listening, honey?). I still find it very hard to believe anyone besides my immediate family would want to hear my 140-character thoughts on anything, and I know even they're ignoring me most of the time.

And now there's another problem: there's a newer shiny thing taking off, called Google Plus, or maybe just Google +, I'm not too sure. This is supposed to be like Facebook, only better, and of course Facebook was supposed to be like Myspace, only better.

What's a Luddite to do? I'm just about ready to dip a toe into the Twitter ocean and here comes something else! Pretty soon the world will be all social media, all the time. Or maybe we're already there. As you may have noticed, I tend to lag a bit.

Anyway, I'd like to apologize to the folks at Google who, I'm sure, have worked very hard on their Google Plus (or Google +) project. I just joined, thanks to the possibly misguided invitation of Chris White at StoneHouse/StoneGate Ink.

This, of course, means you are no longer cool, Google Plus, because by the time I find you, all the cool kids are on to something else. Sorry about that.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Digital Revolution Continues

I saw a couple of different things this week that really reinforced to me how much the digital revolution has taken over the publishing industry.

HarperCollins released their sales figures for the year, and my first thought was, "What the hell kind of calendar are they on?" I always thought the fiscal year went from October through October, but apparently that's not the case at Harper. Anyway, they claim ebook sales for the year of twelve percent, but for the third quarter of nineteen percent.

My suspicions have been that by Christmas ebook sales will account for close to twenty-five percent of book sales overall, and if the nineteen percent figure at HarperCollins for third quarter sales is accurate, I don't see anything to make me believe twenty-five percent won't happen. Unless the percentage goes higher.

On a related note, bestselling author Scott Nicholson blogged about the accelerating trend of bookstore closures, and how that fact doesn't necessarily mean shelf-space is declining. In fact, he says, it's just the opposite when you consider virtual shelf space. "The decline in new paper books is way more than offset by the avalanche of new digital titles."

"We aren't killing bookstore," he says. "We are birthing a new Golden Era of literature, by writing and reading and sharing ideas..." Whether you'd rather hold a paper-and-ink book in your hands or prefer the convenience of an ereader, it's a fascinating post and one well worth your time.

Another blog post from another of my favorite authors dealt with the digital publishing revolution as well. Noir author Heath Lowrance released his first book, THE BASTARD HAND, back in March as a trade paperback edition. The book is available now digitally as well, and in this post, Lowrance analyzes the pluses and minuses of both options:

"The feel of an actual book in your hand, one that requires you to turn pages and stuff, is comfortable to me and I suspect I’ll always prefer that...But: if you’re milling around Amazon, window-shopping at the Kindle store, you come across so many great books for SO cheap… a book for anywhere from .99 cents to 3.99 is, honestly, just a killer deal, especially considering that you get to read it within SECONDS of finding it."

Lowrance goes on to say his sales of THE BASTARD HAND have been much more brisk digitally than for the print edition. As an author, the whole point is to get your work in front of the readers' eyes, and he seems to recognize that the price advantage and ease of delivery for digital books makes a big difference.

My own experience is pretty one-sided. Both of my novels and my short story collection are available only digitally, and while I would love to see them all in print, I understand and accept that the vast majority of my sales would still come from the digital editions. It's much easier for readers to justify spending 99 cents or $2.99 or even $7.99 for a digital book from an author they don't know than spending much more than that for a hardcover edition or trade paperback.

Either way, I keep writing, knowing I can tell a story, taking full advantage of the breaks as they come my way...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

When a recommendation is not a recommendation

I'm the first to admit the nuances to technology escape me most of the time. When I was a kid there was no Internet, no computers. "Television" meant a huge black and white TV set with rabbit ear antennae sticking out of the top which received three stations. Four, if you counted PBS. Five, if you wanted to watch Channel Nine out of Manchester, NH, which came in as mostly snow.

The point is, while I'm as up on technology as a fifty-one year old man with little interest in tech stuff can be, a lot of the rules of the road associated with that tech stuff mystify me.

Case in point: Like most authors, I'm constantly looking for ways to promote my work. I thought I had stumbled upon one when I discovered the "Recommendations" section in Goodreads. If you're not familiar with it, that's where readers can go to post genres or other information they are looking for from potential books, and other Goodreads members can suggest books fitting their requirements.

Perfect! I figured I could network with readers looking for the things I write about, and respectfully suggest my book to those readers. Which I did. To probably a dozen or so readers, before being informed that what I was doing was highly inappropriate and could result in me being banned from Goodreads.


If you know me, you know self-promotion doesn't come easy to me under any circumstances. If I had my way, I wouldn't do any of it. The last thing I want to do is be known as someone who tries to skirt the rules. I looked at the Goodreads thing as an opportunity to connect with people looking for what I was offering. I didn't mass-email anyone, I personalized every contact I made, and I only contacted people interested in thrillers who were looking for a new book to read.

Obviously, I won't be doing that any more, although it still seems to make sense. Supply and demand, and all that.

I've always felt that if you didn't make a few mistakes every now and then you weren't trying hard enough, and it was an honest mistake, so it doesn't really bother me that much, but to everyone I contacted on Goodreads who was seeking a thriller recommendation, I apologize, although most of them didn't seem to mind.

So now I'm back to trying to think of ways to get my book in front of motivated readers' eyes. Anyone have any ideas? I'm open to suggestions...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

THE LONELY MILE excerpt - Chapters Eight and Nine

Today is the final day of my week-long introduction to my brand-new thriller, THE LONELY MILE ($2.99 from StoneHouse Ink). Here we go with Chapters Eight and Nine...


—Martin shoved the girl hard, directly at the guy. The pair went down instantly in a tangle of arms and legs, crashing to the tile floor with a thud.

The moment they fell, he turned and sprinted for the entrance, barely slowing as he raced through the glass double doors, smashing into them and rocking them back on their hinges. He burst into the brutal May heat radiating off acres of pavement and sprinted toward his truck, passing the confused sheep who had been lucky enough to rush out the plaza doors at the onset of the confrontation. They huddled in groups of two or three, staring dumbly at him, no one quick or daring enough to try and stop him.

Martin tumbled inside the cab, fumbling with the key, finally jamming it home and cranking the tired engine of the ancient vehicle. It grumbled and complained and eventually turned over, and Martin yanked the wheel to the left, heading toward the interstate and freedom. It was a shame to have to give up his trophy. He already knew this failure would rankle him for days, and he could expect a brutal dressing-down from his contact, a person who was never a model of patience, even when Martin delivered on time.

He had been incredibly lucky; he knew that. He had recognized immediately what the hero’s play was going to be; it was the only one he had when he didn’t pop Martin from behind in the first place.

And the guy had only made one, little mistake; a tiny one, really, which would not have made any difference at all were it not for Martin’s superior intelligence. When he was roughly four feet away, the wannabe hero removed his left hand from his weapon—a Browning Hi-Power, Martin had noticed—and, when he did, instead of lowering his gun closer to his body where he could use his bulk to protect his grip and keep it away from Martin, he left his arm straight out, holding it away from his body. The moment Martin shoved the girl, the gun became useless, taking the brunt of the collision, and the hero’s arm lifted toward the ceiling. Had he been holding the gun closer to his body, he might still have been able to squeeze off an accurate shot.

A pathetic rescue attempt by just another pathetic loser. Martin flashed a triumphant smile at no one, grinning easily despite the adrenaline-fueled tremors wracking his body, enjoying the moment before getting down to the business of completing his escape.

He had no doubt that someone, probably several people by now, had already punched 9-1-1 into their cell phones and reported something bad going down at the rest stop. Undoubtedly, even now the police were speeding toward this interstate exit, sirens wailing, blue lights flashing, the cavalry riding in on their white horses to save the day. Well, they were going to be disappointed, because they would be too late.


Before they even hit the floor, Bill knew he had blown it. Not majorly blown it, not dead-teenager-bleeding-out-on-the-floor blown it—after all, the girl was safe and sound, even now beginning to untangle her arms and legs from his as the kidnapper exited the scene like Usain Bolt running the hundred-meter dash—but still, there was no denying he had committed a huge error in judgment by getting close enough to the kidnapper to allow the guy the opportunity to make such an obvious play.

Still, what else could he have done? Maybe the guy hitting the bricks was the best thing that could have happened, all things considered. The alternative was unthinkable—a desperate man loose inside the building with a lethal weapon in his hands and several dozen potential victims just waiting to be slaughtered. Not a pretty picture.

The girl moaned as she rolled off him, and Bill pushed himself to a kneeling position. A sharp pain radiated from his left elbow, offering a convenient reminder of which body part had made impact with the floor first, although the back of his head had placed second in a photo finish. He could feel an egg-sized lump rising already.

He shook his head to clear some of the cobwebs and concentrated on the young girl lying next to him. “Are you all right?” he asked, and she shot him an incredulous look that would melt steel, a look only a teen can pull off.

Then she giggled nervously. It was probably a reaction to the pent-up stress caused by the terror of the attempted kidnapping, but the sound was incongruous and unexpected and reminded Bill of his own daughter, Carli, who was roughly the same age. He wondered where this girl was from and whether she might have been friends with Carli if they had grown up together.

They sat on the floor staring at each other, and, in a shaking voice, the girl said, “That was him, wasn’t it?”


“Yeah, you know, the I-90 Killer,” the girl said, with a heaving sob and a shudder that wracked her entire body.

Bill had no doubt that was who it was; the likelihood of some other lunatic haunting highway rest stops, stalking and kidnapping teenage girls using exactly the same methodology as the I-90 Killer was practically nil, and although Bill had foiled this kidnapping attempt, the pathetic dirt bag was going to get away while he sat here on the floor rubbing his sore elbow.

The girl seemed okay, at least physically. And her mother and father were even now running across the glass-littered floor of the plaza toward the two of them.

“Oh, God,” the girl whimpered, her chalk-white face crumbling as her parents drew near. Allie’s father lifted her from the floor, and her mother drew her into her arms, her father hovering protectively over both of them. Allie turned her face into her mother’s shoulder and started to cry.

Bill rose to his feet, staggered, and dropped to one knee, spitting out a curse. His head was swimming. He must have knocked it harder than he realized. He picked up his Browning off the floor where he had apparently dropped it in the violence of the collision—some hero, dropping his gun at the critical moment—and began moving in an unsteady gait toward the rest stop doors that the failed kidnapper had blasted through just moments before.

By the time Bill crossed the fifteen feet to the doors, he felt a little more like himself. He was suffering the beginnings of what he suspected was going to be a whopper of a headache, and lightning-bolts of pain radiated from his left elbow, but overall, he knew it could have been much worse. He was still alive and so was the girl.

He picked up the pace, hitting the doors at a dead run, jarring them violently backward for the second time in less than a minute, and was rewarded with a metallic screech that sounded like an accusation. The unseasonable heat and humidity descended on him like a wet blanket as he leapt the four steps from the plaza to the concrete walkway, staggering slightly upon landing and continuing forward into the parking lot. An elderly couple approaching the plaza did a double take. Bill wondered what he looked like to them and decided he was probably better off not knowing.

In a way, he supposed he must look like a freaking lunatic, chasing after a guy armed with a deadly weapon, who—if, in fact, he really was the legendary I-90 Killer—was rumored to have murdered at least ten people, probably more. And Bill had no doubt the guy would not mind adding one middle-aged fool to his tally.

By the time he had taken three running steps onto the hot pavement, Bill realized it was hopeless. There were probably over a hundred cars in the mammoth lot, and while it wasn’t even close to being full, the odds of picking the I-90 Killer’s vehicle out of all of the ones glittering in the bright May sunshine when he had no idea what it even looked like were stacked overwhelmingly against him. For all he knew, the guy had been parked in the first row and was already gone, even now speeding down the highway, anonymous and safe.

Bill slapped his hands together and screamed in frustration, and as he did, his headache spiked and the I-90 Killer roared past him, not twenty feet away, tearing along the parking lot access lane toward the on-ramp leading to the eastbound lane of the interstate. He was driving a battered, off-white box truck that trailed blue smoke as he made his escape. The vehicle had obviously been repainted, and not professionally, containing no apparent markings. Bill shuddered, thinking about what horrible fate might have awaited that young girl back inside the rest stop had the man gotten her into the back of that truck.

He peered at the rear of the vehicle in an attempt to decipher the license plate, but the heavy blue smoke pouring out of the exhaust made an effective screen. Bill could see the plate but could not make out any of the numbers or letters; he couldn’t even tell whether it was a New York or a Massachusetts tag, or maybe neither. He cursed again and wondered if the escaping kidnapper realized how lucky he was right now to be driving a vehicle that needed a ring job.

Bill began sprinting toward his vehicle to give chase. How hard could it be to catch that crappy truck?


Bestselling author Scott Nicholson says, "Allan Leverone delivers a taut crime drama full of twists and conspiracy," and acclaimed crime fiction author Dave Zeltserman says THE LONELY MILE "will carry readers along..."

If you like what you've read over the past seven days, please consider purchasing your own copy at one of the following links:


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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

THE LONELY MILE excerpt - Chapters Six and Seven

Day Six of my week-long introduction to my new thriller, THE LONELY MILE ($2.99 from StoneHouse Ink), brings us, appropriately enough, to Chapter Six. But I wanted to thank everyone for the positive response to the book in its first full week, so here are Chapter Six and Seven. Sometimes my generosity astounds even me...


Martin froze, instantly aware the shouted warning was meant for him. For perhaps two seconds, nothing happened—the silence was all-encompassing and unnerving—and then, like a dam bursting, chaos erupted in the plaza. A shrill, high-pitched scream echoed off the ceramic tiles in the big, open room. Trays filled with dishes fell to the floor, glasses shattering and dishes breaking as their owners spotted the guns and dove for cover. Tables crashed onto their sides, and the more physically gifted among the travelers vaulted the counters, thudding to the floor on the other side. Those lucky few near the plaza entrance simply ran out the door.

And still Martin did not move. He hugged the girl tightly, frantically calculating the possibilities. It could not have been a cop who shouted the warning—they were required to identify themselves. So it had to have been a citizen; an ordinary Joe who had seen the kidnapping go down and decided to play hero. That was good; he might still be able to get out of this.

Martin turned slowly and carefully, avoiding any sudden or unusual movements that his attacker might interpret as threatening. He kept his handgun firmly planted in the girl’s side, shoving it hard against her ribs in an unspoken warning not to do anything stupid, like running toward her misguided—and soon-to-be dead—savior.

In front of Martin, the girl whimpered softly, breathing hard, clearly terrified, her weight heavy on his arms as he pulled her tight against his body, using her as a human shield. He completed the turn, dragging her around with him, and found himself face-to-face with the same man who had bumped him just seconds ago. The man was crouched, his weapon held in a two-handed shooter’s grip, the barrel trained steadily on the center of Martin’s body, which meant it was now also trained on the girl.

Martin smiled, knowing that, no matter how powerful the man’s handgun was, it was useless unless he could shoot like Annie Oakley. The odds were that he would hit the innocent victim if he attempted to fire now, and, unless the guy was totally off his rocker, he would not do something so rash. The man had had his chance to take down Martin when his back was turned, and he had blown it.

If the busybody had just fired his weapon, then this would all be over, with Martin lying face down on the cold, plaza floor, blood and life soaking out of him. Instead, the fool had offered a ridiculous fair-play warning, like he thought he was Marshal Dillon patrolling Dodge City, and just like that, his only chance at taking the advantage away from Martin had evaporated. Now Martin was back in control.

His smile widened into a cocky grin. The buttinsky was dressed in a blue windbreaker with “Ferguson Hardware” stitched on the breast pocket. It should have been a dead giveaway to Martin that the dude was carrying. It had to be ninety-five degrees outside; there was no possible explanation why someone would don a jacket in this heat unless it was to cover a concealed weapon.

Martin mentally kicked himself, careful not to let the guy see his anger. He didn’t want the wannabe hero to know he was anything other than supremely confident. But there was no way he should have overlooked such an obvious warning sign—it was one of those careless mistakes he had sworn he was too smart to make. Well, he could still escape this disaster, and, when he did, he would chalk the episode up as a valuable lesson learned; one that was annoying and stupid and inexcusable, but one that he would never make again, that was for sure.

Martin knew he was in control. He continued backing toward the doors, pulling the girl with him. He smiled at the man with the gun, oblivious to the chaos around him as the sheep bleated pathetically, roused from their torpor and completely lost now, confronted with this frightening and confusing new reality.

The hero still had not moved. He remained in a crouch, holding the gun on Martin and his new girlfriend. Martin wondered if it had occurred to the Good Samaritan yet that he had lost control of the situation. Probably not, this guy was just another idiot. He was brave, Martin would grant him that, but he highly doubted this hardware store man could match Martin’s intelligence or cunning.

The idiot would find that out soon enough.


Bill kept the Browning trained on the kidnapper who still held the girl tightly in front of his body. The guy had a creepy grin plastered on his face, and the girl was wearing an expression of sheer terror. Bill was suddenly thankful for his long-ago military training and the hours spent firing weapons in the desert blast-furnace of Iraq, honing his technique until he had total confidence in his ability with firearms. He had been an expert marksman in the service, and he hoped the intervening years hadn’t dulled his accuracy.

The panicked noises in the food court—the sounds of screaming, cursing, running feet, and breaking glass—were dying down. Out of the confusion, came the plaintive sound of a wailing woman’s voice. “Oh God, he has Allie! He has Allie!”

Bill ignored the tortured voice, tuning it out along with all the other chaotic, background noise. They were distractions he didn’t need. He knew he had to remain sharp and focused, because the next few moments would determine whether this whole mess ended well or disastrously.

The kidnapper continued to smile, his eyes sharp and predatory. Maybe it was a trick of the harsh fluorescent lighting inside the rest stop, but his teeth appeared long and yellow—wolfish even.

He stared Bill down as he slowly edged backwards, the challenge in his eyes unmistakable. The kidnapper had regained the advantage, and worse, he knew it. There was no way Bill could fire on him now without risking hitting the hostage. For just a moment, he was back in Iraq, the intense heat and dust and life-and-death pressure returning with a vengeance, so real he felt that, if he opened his mouth, it would fill with burning desert sand. He hesitated, his hand beginning to lower, and then he shook his head, clearing it of the cobwebs, and once again raised the weapon, training it on the scruffy-looking man and his young victim.

It was a classic standoff. Bill knew he couldn’t fire on the kidnapper because of the hostage, but the kidnapper couldn’t shoot the girl either because he would lose his shield and open himself up to a bullet. What he could do, however, was shoot Bill and back straight out the door.

The kidnapper seemed to reach the same conclusion as Bill, and at the same time. His grin widened. It was unnerving. He slid the gun smoothly away from the girl’s body and pointed it at Bill, who rose from his crouch and began moving forward ever so slowly, matching the kidnapper step for slow step. The two handguns were now pointed almost directly at each other.

Now what? If he could move close enough to the girl, maybe he could grab her and pull her out of the scumbag’s grasp, using his own body to shield her from harm. What he would do after that was still a little unclear. As plans went, Bill knew it was pretty thin, but he couldn’t come up with anything better, and felt control of the situation slipping away, sliding inexorably toward a disaster involving death, tragedy, and regret.

He crept closer, neither man speaking, the girl sobbing quietly in the man’s arms, pulled tightly against his body. Under the circumstances, Bill thought, she was doing an admirable job of keeping herself together. From his peripheral vision, he was aware of the rest of the people in the crowded plaza watching the confrontation from behind overturned tables, peeking over counters and around booths and chairs. The chaos of a few seconds ago had resolved into a low murmur, a buzz of shocked excitement as the observers began to realize that they, at least, were not in any immediate danger.

The pair with the weapons pointed at each other were now eight feet apart…now six…four. The gunman holding the hostage shuffled steadily backward, dragging his reluctant companion with him, and Bill moved forward, steadily closing the gap.

Still, neither man spoke. Neither man fired. The tension was palpable. Something was about to break, something had to happen soon, but no one had a clue what it was, least of all Bill Ferguson.

He continued moving forward, finally reaching a point where he could smell the rancid stench of the kidnapper’s fear. Outwardly, the man appeared calm and in control, an arrogant smirk pasted on his face, but the sweat dripping from every pore revealed his tension. The odor was sour, and Bill nearly gagged.

He was close enough now. It was time. He stopped moving and pulled his left hand off the grip of the Hi-Power, leveling the gun with his right hand in the direction of the kidnapper and his hostage. Still operating mostly on instinct, Bill reached forward to grab the girl’s right shoulder and yank her toward him, to spin her behind him to relative safety, to shield her with his own body. He moved as quickly as he could, his hand flashing out toward the girl, and as he did—


The final installment of my preview follows tomorrow! If you like what you've read, please consider downloading a copy to your ereader for just $2.99 at one of the following purchase links:

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