Friday, February 24, 2012

Caught in the middle: Amazon vs IPG

A little over a year ago - February 10, 2011, to be exact - Medallion Press released my thriller, FINAL VECTOR, in ebook form. Sales were sluggish for most of that year, until finally beginning to hit their stride in early February of this year.

Following the phenomenal success of my next thriller, THE LONELY MILE, FINAL VECTOR began to develop a following, spending most of the first three weeks of this month hovering between #75 and #100 in Amazon's Political Thriller category. Sales, while not earth-shattering, were steady and increasing.

On February 19, I made the disturbing discovery that FINAL VECTOR was no longer available for sale at Amazon. Not wanting to overreact, and assuming there was some sort of computer glitch going on, I did nothing. The book remained unavailable the next day, and by the 21st, when it was STILL not available at Amazon, I informed a representative of my publisher, assuming the situation would be rectified.

It wasn't, and I have no idea when it will be, if ever.

Medallion Press uses IPG as their distributor, and when negotiations over the terms of a new contract between IPG and Amazon fell through, Amazon made the decision to pull all IPG ebook titles from their digital marketplace. According to IPG President Mark Suchomel, " is putting pressure on publishers and distributors to change their terms for electronic and print books to be more favorable toward Amazon...I have spoken directly with many of our clients and every one of them agrees that we need to hold firm with the terms we now offer."

I'm being advised by Medallion Press that they support IPG's decision and am being asked to support Medallion in the interest of fairness and balance. Here is my take: Not being privy to the details of the negotiation between IPG and Amazon, it would be presumptuous of me to support either side.

I am being asked to take on faith that Amazon's contract demands are unfair to IPG, and perhaps they are. But without seeing those demands I cannot know. Here is what I do know, though. Amazon is the largest ebook retailer in the world and they are growing, and any distribution agreement for one of my books that does not include Amazon is unacceptable to me. Period.

Amazon is perceived as the big, bad bully on the block, and if IPG, or anyone else, wishes to make a stand against them on principle, that is their right. More power to them. But their principled stand is affecting plenty of other people who may or may not wish to be affected.

I'm not here to shill for Amazon. I don't know whether they're trying to bully IPG or not. But the nature of negotiation is that the side with the power gets to dictate the terms of the agreement. The more the power rests with one side, the more that side can set the terms. It's the way of the world.

And here's the thing. Amazon is the eight hundred pound gorilla in the ebook world because they are not afraid to try new things, to innovate. My thriller, THE LONELY MILE, has become successful largely due to promotional processes Amazon has developed and used to promulgate their success.

Anyone who does not like the way Amazon does business is free to shop elsewhere, and, in fact, should do exactly that. But my goal as an author is to entertain readers, and being asked to do so without having the opportunity to entertain the millions of readers who routinely shop at Amazon does not work for me.

FINAL VECTOR is still available at other outlets, such as Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million and others, and of course Kindle Fire users can download apps allowing them to purchase the book elsewhere and still read it on their Kindle. But all of that is beside the point, which is this: IPG's job is to distribute my book to where the readers are. If they are unable or unwilling to do that, they should step aside for a distributor who will.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Adventures in email

I received a very distressing email this morning, informing me my entire career is at risk. The email came from Robert Reed of the American Institute of CPA's, and Robert told me...well, maybe you should read it yourself:

Dear valued AICPA member,

We have received a notice of your alleged assistance in income tax return fraud on behalf of one of your employees. According to AICPA Bylaw Paragraph 700 your Certified Public Accountant license can be cancelled in case of the fact of submitting of a incorrect or fraudulent tax return on the member's or a client's behalf.

Please find the complaint below and provide your feedback to it within 21 days. The failure to respond within this period will result in termination of your Accountant license.

Mr. Reed then very kindly provides a link below his notification, titled "Complaint.doc" for me to click on in order to provide my feedback. Within 21 days, of course, lest I risk termination of my Accountant license.

See what I mean? Distressing.

I'm apparently suffering from some sort of multiple personality affliction, becase I didn't even know I was an accountant! I don't remember going to accounting school or passing the accountancy exam. Hell, I barely even know how to use a calculator.

So to find myself at risk of losing this career I only just now discovered I have, well, that's the ultimate irony. And because I submitted "a incorrect or fraudulent tax return on the member's or a client's behalf."

Hard to believe, isn't it? Not only am I an accountant, but I have actual clients! If only my dad had lived to see this day.

I've never actually read AICPA Bylaw Paragraph 700, and only partly because I just discovered I'm a CPA twelve hours ago. Let's face it, I'm a lazy bastard, and even had I been aware all along of my wizardry with numbers, I probably would never have gotten all the way to Paragraph 700. I would have read through the first five or six Paragraphs and thrown the damn Bylaws aside. Who needs all those rules and regulations, anyway?

I checked the AICPA website and discovered, on their home page, a link stating, "Alert: Fraudulent 'Phishing' Scam Email Not from AICPA." Now, this is obviously important; you can tell by the generous use of capital letters.

So I ask you: How dare these Phishers try to take advantage of a longtime accountant like me? These people are messing with my livelihood, and all because of "the fact of submitting of a incorrect or fraudulent tax return..."

I don't know what I'm going to do yet. But on the bright side, I can't wait to attend the AICPA annual convention this summer. I hear those CPA's really know how to party.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Review - APOCALYPSE ISLAND, by Mark Edward Hall

Strange things are happening to Danny Wolf. Imprisoned for a murder he claims he did not commit, Danny is tormented nightly by horrifying dreams; nightmares filled with death and destruction and chaos. Bizarre fugues torment him, during which time he becomes violent and uncontrollable, remembering nothing afterward.

Offered an opportunity for early release from prison subject to intensive psychological counseling, Danny eagerly accepts. But the minute he hits the streets of Portland, Maine, a series of ritualistic murders begin occurring. The common thread? Each of the victims is a young female; all have slept with Danny Wolf.

The nightmares intensify and Danny begins to doubt his own sanity. Perhaps he really is a homicidal madman. When young female detective Laura Higgins is assigned to the case, with instructions to get close to Danny in order to gather evidence, things begin to spiral out of control, leading to a shocking conclusion in a secret underground lab, far beneath a small island with a horrifying history off the rocky Maine coast.

APOCALYPSE ISLAND is an ambitious thriller, written by the talented Mark Edward Hall, an author I discovered about a year ago. It's a novel not easily pigeonholed: Part political thriller, part police procedural, part supernatural gothic horror and part action-adventure, all rolled into one fast-moving book. There are rogue CIA operatives, dirty cops, ghosts, corrupt church officials and double-crossing colleagues.

But at its heart, APOCALYPSE ISLAND is a tale of one man's desperate attempt to find his identity, when his history is a complete blank and his motives - and even his sanity - are called into question by all, including himself. The tension builds slowly but steadily, until by the end of this explosive book, you simply cannot put it down.

Simply put, APOCALYPSE ISLAND is a winner.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Making of a Bestseller

You've undoubtedly heard the expression, "overnight success," right? It's one of those things people say when someone comes out of nowhere and does something noteworthy. Sometimes it's meant as a compliment and sometimes it's not, but I think it's safe to say almost no one ever means it literally.

Except me, right now. I literally became a bestselling author overnight.

I know how ridiculous that sounds, but it's true. Here's how it happened:

My thriller, THE LONELY MILE, was released back in July in ebook format by StoneHouse Ink. I promoted the hell out of that book every way I could think of - blog tour, Facebook and Goodreads advertising, Kindle Nation Daily sponsorship. You name it, I tried it.

And for the first month-and-a-half the book sold decently, although it was far from making a splash on Amazon's radar, or anyone else's, for that matter.

In September, sales lagged, and in October, they picked up a bit with the release of THE LONELY MILE's trade paperback edition. November and December came and went with the book not really selling much. A copy one day, a couple of copies the next.

Along about then I heard of Amazon's newest strategy: The Kindle Select Program. In it, an author could agree to make his or her book exclusive to Amazon for at least ninety days, and in exchange, the author would receive up to five days of free promotion. The only catch was that the author had to agree to make his book free for the length of the promo.

I thought it was stupid. Why the hell would I give my book away? What possible benefit could there be? The idea of making my book exclusive to Amazon for three months didn't bother me - my sales were lower at the other outlets even than they were at Amazon. But the thought that there might be some benefit to giving my work away made no sense at all.

Then I began reading reports from other authors, people with more guts than I, who were willing to give it a shot. The reports were all basically the same: Make your book free for anywhere from one to all five days, and when you start charging again your sales will spike for a while.

It still didn't make any sense to me, but by now it was mid-January and sales of THE LONELY MILE were still averaging around thirty per month. One a day, give or take.

Being the sharp-witted guy I am, it occurred to me that risking sales of one book a day for a few days would be pretty painless, given the potential for a sales spike which might follow. I talked to my publisher, Aaron Patterson at StoneHouse Ink, and he enthusiastically endorsed the idea.

He set up the Kindle Select free promo of THE LONELY MILE to run for two days last weekend, Saturday and Sunday. I figured the book would be downloaded by maybe five hundred brave souls, maybe even - gasp! - a thousand, and then we would resume charging for the book and instead of a sale a day, we might see five or ten a day.

Then all hell broke loose. THE LONELY MILE started Saturday at something like #11,000 free in the Kindle Store. Then it started climbing. By Saturday afternoon in had landed on the Top 100 Free list, and by the time I went to bed Saturday night it was #2 on the list.

Sunday morning I woke up and discovered it was #1 free in the Kindle Store and it stayed there all day. Aaron suggested we ride the wave and extend the promotion another day, into Monday. We did, and the book spent a good portion of the day at #1 before beginning to lose steam, finishing Monday at #5 Free.

We decided it was time to end the promo and begin charging for the book again. The final tally was 42,000 downloads of my thriller over the course of three days, and an untold amount of free (literally) promotion.

I was ecstatic, as you might imagine. The thought of gaining 42,000 potential fans was intoxicating. However, I was still uncertain what to expect once the book was no longer free.

Well, here's what happened. Tuesday morning, THE LONELY MILE started the day ranked at #13,612 paid in the Kindle Store. Those 42,000 downloads were nothing but a happy memory.

Then the book started climbing in the Paid rankings, this time thanks to interested readers forking over their hard-earned cash for my work. Within one hour, the book was ranked #5529, and by noon it stood at #453. We entered the Top 100 at 5:00 pm and continued climbing.

As I write this, THE LONELY MILE stands at #22 in the Kindle Store, #15 in Fiction and #2 in Suspense Thrillers, sandwiched between Lisa Gardner and John Grisham. It's a thriller writer's wet dream. We sold 6000 copies of the book in the first two days after the free promo ended. That's compared to one (1) sale in the two days prior to the promo.

To say I'm flabbergasted would be an understatement. I'm stunned, amazed and extremely, eternally grateful to everyone who has shown an interest in my work, both when it was offered for free and in the three days since.

I'm working hard to maintain my newfound success and build on it, and to prove myself worthy of the vote of confidence people have shown in this novel. I wish I could thank, individually, every single person who has taken a chance on a mostly unknown author, not to mention StoneHouse CEO Aaron Patterson, a guy who has made a living out of understanding the potential of ebooks, and is now helping me do the same.

So there you go. I think it's safe to say there was definitely a spike in sales thanks to giving stuff away, and I fully expect that spike to continue for the foreseeable future. I'll keep you updated as this Big Adventure continues.

*P.S.: THE LONELY MILE is an international bestseller, too, currently ranked #80 in the Kindle Store at Amazon UK, and #6 in Suspense Thrillers. Thanks very much, Merrie Olde England! I continue to shake my head in amazement.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

PASKAGANKEE Excerpt - Chapter Six

Day Seven of my free PASKAGANKEE excerpts brings Chapter Six. If you're here for the first time you might want to check out the first six posts before reading this one:

Chapter Five

Now here's Chapter Six:


The auditorium on the University of Maine campus was big, old, drafty and, at the moment, nearly empty. Professor Kenneth Dye looked out at the smattering of college students seated in a more or less random pattern throughout the room and wondered if even one single person was paying the slightest bit of attention to his lecture. Judging by the bleary looks on most of their faces, he guessed not.

It was 8:30 on a stormy, icy morning, which meant it was roughly four hours too early for most of these kids to be awake. The few that did seem chipper and bright-eyed, large Styrofoam cups of coffee fueling their engines, seemed much more interested in text-messaging, game-playing, and whatever the hell else kids could do on their cell phones these days than in paying much attention to Professor Kenneth A. Dye.

The professor paused in his lecture, looking up from his notes, not even really needing them. He had been giving the same stock presentation for more years than he cared to remember. The only reason he was still teaching at this institution of higher education located in the middle of nowhere was that he needed a reliable source of income so he could afford the purchase price on his next bottle of Tennessee Sippin’ Whiskey. In fact, now that he really thought about it, Professor Dye decided he probably looked more bleary-eyed than most of the kids slumped in their seats in the unnecessarily large auditorium.

Lecturing in the monotone he had perfected over the past two decades about material he had been teaching for nearly that long, Ken Dye reflected on the incident that had become the turning point in not just his career but his life.

At one time, he had been an up-and-comer, an aggressive young teacher and researcher rocking the academic world with controversial theories based on extensive research in his chosen field of Native American studies. Dye didn’t just peruse historical accounts of life in North America prior to the European invasion of the 1600’s and 1700’s, he traveled extensively in the field, interviewing Native American tribal elders all over the United States and even going so far as to live with a number of different tribes in different regions of the country for several illuminating years.

After completing his research and reaching some controversial conclusions regarding the mysticism inherent in virtually all Native American cultures, Kenneth Dye made the fateful decision which would change his life forever and not for the better. He wrote a book detailing his findings and almost overnight was reduced to a laughingstock, both in his beloved academic community as well as the real world outside the ivied walls of academia.

Dye came to consider publication of the textbook the biggest mistake of his life. Publish or perish indeed, he thought wryly. More like publish, then perish. Following the book’s release, other professors gradually stopped coming by his office to discuss campus politics, invitations to academic affairs dried up, and colleagues began crossing to the other side of the quad when he approached so they wouldn’t have to be seen with him. Ken Dye became a pariah; the guy no one wanted to get too close to, lest his disease of insignificance rub off on them as well.

He had never married—who had time for romance when there was so much research to be done?—and after the release of his book, the professor became such a celebrated kook that the only women interested in dating him were either a little unhinged themselves or curious to discover whether he was really as loony as he was portrayed in the media.

Eventually, Professor Dye retreated into his solitary prison of semi-academia, lecturing bored kids who needed an easy elective with which to pad their schedules without expending too much effort. Administrators at the University of Maine at Orono were only too happy to let him keep his job—in the beginning—because he brought a measure of welcome attention to the out-of-the-way school.

After becoming the subject of near-universal academic scorn, though, the administration felt it even more prudent to retain the man, if only to keep an eye on him. Out on his own in the world he could potentially do real damage to the school’s academic reputation. Better to keep him under wraps.

Outside, the storm pounded the centuries-old building with high winds. Rain pelted the campus, freezing solidly on every surface within minutes. Professor Dye tried to convince himself that the low turnout for today’s lecture was due in large part to the treacherous weather—college students will take advantage of any excuse to ditch a class—but he knew from long experience that even if the conditions were seventy degrees and sunny, there wouldn’t be many more bodies in the lecture hall than were here right now.

Dye shot a glance at the portable alarm clock he had placed on the podium. It was important to track how many more minutes he had to suffer through before he could get home and dive back into his bottle of Jack. Eight-fifty-five. Ten more minutes and the day’s first class would be in the books. Only three more tedious, boring, mind-numbing lectures to go. He wished he had poured some whiskey into his water bottle before leaving for work this morning. A powerful thirst was starting to build, and it was barely past breakfast.


PAKAGANKEE is priced at $2.99 and is available here. Have a great day!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Interview with crime/thriller author J. Carson Black

J. Carson Black has done it all. Traditionally published author, struggling midlist writer, self-published novelist, and now one of the charter crime writers signed by Amazon's fledgling imprint, Thomas and Mercer. She represents thousands of writers to whom the success of a Connelly or an Eisler or a Child has at times has been tantalizingly close, and at other times, seemingly a pipe dream.

She's also one hell of a nice person, not to mention a talented and engaging writer.

Today is release day for her thriller, THE SHOP (Thomas and Mercer), and she agreed to set aside a few minutes and answer my questions, some of which even make sense:

After selling over 60,000 copies of your thriller, THE SHOP, you seem to be one of the new breed of overnight success stories: Someone who toiled for years as a novelist before hitting it big in electronic media. Can you describe your journey, and were you ever tempted to pack away your typewriter and go sell insurance?

I sold my first book in 1990. (I was three.) DARKSCOPE is a horror novel inspired by Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY and Stephen King’s THE SHINING, although of course it’s not in their league. I thought I’d make a million dollars (even though I was paid $2500) and from then on it would be clear sailing.

But instead of a Carnival cruise, I ended up on a carousel in the parking lot. I’d sell a book, then get kicked off the carousel. I’d get back on and after another couple of books get kicked off again. It was the ultimate game of Rope a Dope. It wasn’t just me. That happens a lot.

Each time I got kicked off I’d go nurse my wounds and try to become a better writer. Raising my game became a way of life. I wrote a thriller I’m very proud of, DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN. I sold it in a two-book deal to New American Library, and got a very nice paycheck for once. Naturally, I thought I’d made it to the Promised Land, and all I had to do was write more books for NAL. Then came The Great NAL Bloodbath of 2006, where any book that wasn’t hot romance, urban fantasy, vampire, or cozy mystery was purged from the roster. My third book, THE DEVIL’S HOUR, never made it into print. I’ll never forget my wonderful editor, who is responsible for the Signet Classics, giving me the bad news, then asking, “Do you know anyone who writes erotica?”

So I went back to the drawing board and came up with a thriller called THE SHOP, which managed to net me my top choice of an agent, one who could open every door in New York. Once again, I thought: this is it. Turns out, not so much. We were turned down by somewhere between thirty to thirty-five editors at every big publisher in NY. I lost count around thirty.

Meanwhile, my husband Glenn was getting the rights back to our books and putting them up on the internets. I said, “Are you kidding? Ebooks? That’s never gonna happen.”

Turns out, I was wrong. I’d been so busy chasing the Big Six publishers like Ahab after Moby Dick, I’d missed the bigger picture.

We put up DARKNESS, and I sold one book the first month and one book the second month. By December, we’d gotten up to a whopping fifteen books a month.

DARKNESS had a spike in March – surprised the heck out of me. It dropped back down, but suddenly I began to see that there was something to this ebook thing. So I told my agent I was going to put THE SHOP up on Amazon, which I did the last week of March.

You originally released THE SHOP last March. When did you begin to get an inkling you might be on to something special in terms of sales?

I had a lot on the line with this book. Had I improved as a writer? Was it better than the Laura Cardinal novels? Would it bomb? It sure bombed with the A-List editors in New York. We put it up at $3.97 at the end of March, but planned to take it down to 99 cents starting in April. It didn’t do very well. Two days before the end of March, we dropped the price. On April 2nd it took off.

This started me on a number-counting kick that kept me busy for three months. It was ridiculous, but I couldn’t stay away from the numbers. I was like a day trader. I forgot about being a writer and became a small businessperson with aspirations of grander things. Four of my books did very well--THE SHOP and the Laura Cardinal novels, DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN; DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, and THE DEVIL’S HOUR. But what goes up must come down (or, in amazon parlance, what goes down must go back up) and by August I was lamenting those golden days of summer. The spring and early summer saw me through the loss of two of our animals to old age and my year-long struggle with my new book, ICON, which I’d neglected for long stretches of time. I’d almost given up on the book when Thomas & Mercer showed interest. Let me tell you, I whipped that baby into shape in a hurry, and in doing so, rediscovered how much I loved it.

You recently signed with Amazon’s brand-new imprint, Thomas & Mercer, for the release of an updated version of THE SHOP, releasing today. Do you have any idea what to expect after selling so many copies of the first edition of the book?

I thought Thomas & Mercer would be different, and it is. They consult with me on everything—the cover, the cover copy, marketing, down to who I see as my main audience and what my personal style is (so the copy editor won’t mess it up). They hired a topflight developmental editor who worked me over good. I never had that at any of the traditional publishers. The marketing team knows what they’re doing and they’re with us every step of the way.

Judging from the other Thomas & Mercer books I’ve seen, THE SHOP should do well, but nothing’s a given. Thomas & Mercer is giving us a lot of marketing help and training, but it’s up to the book. Thankfully, I have my secret weapon: my husband (and publisher) Glenn. He guards the ramparts. He. Never. Sleeps.

Your second Thomas & Mercer book will be ICON, scheduled for release in June. Can you talk a little bit about that one?

Max Conroy, an A-list Hollywood actor, escapes a rehab center in the Arizona desert. He’s sick of his life and disillusioned by stardom. He sees this as a chance to get back to his roots. A couple of things, though. One, he’s suffering from hallucinations and has lost pieces of his memory, and two: somebody’s coming to kill him. Only one person seems to care whether Max lives or dies—Bajada County Sheriff’s deputy Tess McCrae. Tess has an “autobiographical memory”---she remembers virtually everything she sees.

What is a typical writing day for you? Do you set goals in terms of word count? Pages written? Hours spent playing Scrabble when you should be writing?

I know how to goof off so I have to guard against it. “Procrastinate” is my middle name. I’m an early riser so I have to hit the book first thing in the morning and go. When I’m writing a book, I write at least 750 words a day, every day. (If it’s good enough for James Lee Burke, it’s good enough for me.) Once I start writing, it’s unlikely I’ll stop at 750 words. But it’s a bite-sized piece that I can commit to getting down on paper every day. I do have to take time-outs for continued plotting, since I don’t outline the whole book.

I like Elizabeth George’s way of writing a novel. She comes up with several scenes--say, six to ten of them. She outlines some briefly, deciding on point of view, what the point of the scene is and how it moves the story along, what the character is feeling, a description of where they are and what they’re doing or about to do. She doesn’t go farther into the book than those scenes—which go out ahead just enough to keep her from hitting a dead end. I try to do that, although I’m not always successful.

Sometimes when I’m really stuck, I work on a jigsaw puzzle. There's something about physically putting pieces in place, having to work one section and then another, spotting a piece and realizing it will fit—I think it helps, subconsciously.

At what age did you first realize you wanted to write books? Was there any one person most influential in guiding or inspiring you to make that decision?

I was just a little kid when I started “writing and illustrating” books. I think I was four when I started a story about the Easter Bunny—crayon scribbled on the backs of my father’s old test papers (he was a schoolteacher). The title was THE EASTER EEG. I wrote a ton of Chapter Ones, with titles like HOTSPUR: A STALLION, or DARK MISTRAL OF WHISPERING PINES.

I read a lot in school. When I read Ray Bradbury’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, I wanted to write a book like that, to own something that wonderful and say I’d produced a book. He made me really want to be a writer. Stephen King also inspired me, which led to the writing of DARKSCOPE many years later.

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

I just started Lee Child’s THE AFFAIR. I haven’t had as much time to read as I would like, but finally, with ICON almost in the can, I get to indulge. V IS FOR VENGEANCE (Grafton), THE DROP (Connelly), TAKEN (Crais), VICTIMS (Jonathan Kellerman), THE JAGUAR (T. Jefferson Parker), THE HUNTER (John Lescroart), NIGHT VISION (Randy Wayne White)—these are some of the books I plan to read in the coming months. I try to read the best in my genre and learn from them. I buy physical books and then I write in them: “Look how he did that! He set it up perfectly.” I also plan to read your book, THE LONELY MILE; M.H. Sargent’s books, Dani Amore, Robert Bidinotto, to name a few of the indie and small press authors on my list. Traditional publishing doesn’t have a monopoly on good writing.

If you could pick one character someone else has written that you wish were your creation, who would it be and why?

Gus in LONESOME DOVE. Or Call in LONESOME DOVE. Damn it! I can’t decide!

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

LONESOME DOVE. (Are we beginning to see a pattern here?)

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?

Both and neither. I try (often unsuccessfully) to ignore what critics say, whether or not they think a book of mine is good, because ultimately, it’s only one person’s opinion. I’d like enough money to stave the wolf from my door and be comfortable, but I’m doubtful my lifestyle would change if I had a lot of money. Mainly, I just want to write. Writing isn’t just a profession. It’s not even a choice. There’s something that makes me want to write, and if someone took that away from me I’d lose all sense of identity.

Thanks 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?

Does a hot tip on a horse count? I’m betting the filly Royal Delta to win the Dubai World Cup in March.


THE SHOP releases today from Thomas and Mercer and is available here. I read it a few months ago and highly recommend it. You can also preorder ICON here, or check out J. Carson Black's other books here.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

PASKAGANKEE excerpt - Chapter Five

Day Six of my free PASKAGANKEE excerpts brings Chapter Five. If you're here for the first time, you might want to check out the first five posts before reading this one:

Now here's Chapter Five:


Ida Mae Harper had lived in Paskagankee her entire life. Eighty-six years and counting, all spent in the little town a few miles south of the Canadian border, and Ida Mae was still going strong. She had gotten married at age 16 to a young man by the name of Wallace Harper, eight years her senior, a laborer at the leather mill located hard by the Penobscot River. The couple spent nearly fifty years together before Wallace’s sudden death more than two decades ago turned Ida Mae into a widow.

A stroke, they had told her after Wallace buckled and fell to the floor one Sunday afternoon over boiled dinner. Ida Mae thought to herself that they could call it a stroke if they wanted to, but she knew what had really killed Wallace—too many decades of sixty hour work weeks at the mill. Regularly scheduled double shifts, the occasional triple shift, week after week of working without a day off, you name it, and Wallace did it because he wanted to provide the best life he could for his Ida Mae.

The couple had never been able to conceive children, so Wallace’s death meant Ida Mae was all alone for the first time in her life. She had moved from her parents’ home straight to Wallace’s tiny but comfortable house when they married, and in that little house she still lived. Their inability to conceive had been a blow to Ida Mae and Wallace, but they had come to terms with the heartbreak after years of trying and had been happy for the most part ever since.

After Wallace’s death, Ida Mae bought a golden retriever puppy, Butch, for company, needing a living, breathing subject upon which to lavish all her love and attention. When the first retriever passed away, Ida Mae bought another, naming him Butch II. Now, Ida Mae was on the phone to the Paskagankee Police Department, sobbing and requesting assistance immediately.

“What’s the nature of the difficulty, ma’am?” the dispatcher asked.

“It’s Butch, something’s happened to my poor Butch,” she wailed into the telephone receiver.

“Who is Butch, ma’am, and what has happened to him?”

“Just send an officer, please, and tell him to hurry,” she said, tears running down her face. She provided her address to the bewildered dispatcher and hung up.

Now the cruiser moved slowly up the long dirt driveway, sliding and lurching from one pothole to another, nearly bottoming out in spots but making steady progress, finally easing to a stop in front of the house. Ida Mae opened the front door and shivered violently as a gust of cold air blew freezing rain into her home, soaking her housecoat and plastering her silver hair to her head.

Two police officers exited the cruiser, simultaneously pulling the collars of their jackets up against the wind and rain and running clumsily on the icy ground for the shelter of Ida Mae’s small porch. She opened the door further to allow them to enter the house, then quickly slammed it shut, moving to the thermostat and cranking up the heat, despite the fact the temperature inside the house already hovered around seventy-five degrees.

She turned to see the two officers, a man and a woman, holding their wet hats in their hands and dripping water on to the hardwood floor of the foyer. “Oh,” she exclaimed. “Where are my manners? Please, come in. Have a seat on the couch, officers.”

“We’re fine, ma’am,” the male policeman said. “What seems to be the problem? The only information we were given is that something has happened to someone named Butch. Is that your husband?”

“Oh, goodness, no,” she said. “My husband was named Wallace, and he’s been gone since probably before this little thing was born,” she said, nodding at Officer Dupont, who smiled back at her. “No, Butch is my dog. It’s actually Butch II, but I just call him Butch. It’s easier for me, you know, and he doesn’t know the difference.”

“I understand,” said the man, who seemed to be in charge. It only made sense, thought Ida Mae; the young man looks to be at least ten years older than the young lady. “So, can you tell me what has happened to Butch?” he asked.

“Oh, dear,” sniffled Ida Mae. “I put Butch out to get some air and, you know, to do his doggie business, earlier this afternoon, and when he hadn’t returned within a couple of hours, I went to the back door to call him and, well . . .” The elderly woman burst into tears, leading the two officers through the kitchen to the back door. She opened it and gestured bleakly toward the yard.

The two police officers crowded into the doorway, hips and elbows touching. They cringed simultaneously at the sight that greeted them. In the elderly woman’s back yard, just visible in the waning grey light of the late afternoon, were the gruesome remains of a golden retriever dog. The animal had literally been ripped apart; its body parts strewn around a circle roughly ten feet in diameter. A portion of a foreleg had come to rest midway up the wooden steps leading to the door, and blood was everywhere. The dog’s head was nowhere to be seen.

The petite, young female officer placed her hand on Ida Mae’s elbow and guided her back into the small living room to the couch. She sat her down and held her hand, doing her best to console her. The other officer, the man who seemed to be in charge, closed the door and stood uncomfortably as Ida Mae wrapped an afghan tightly around her shoulders. The little house seemed to have gotten much, much colder.


PASKAGANKEE is priced at $2.99 and is available here. Have a great Super Bowl Sunday!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

PASKAGANKEE excerpt - Chapter Four

Day Five of my free PASKAGANKEE excerpts brings Chapter Four. If you're here for the first time, you might want to check out the first four posts before reading this one:

Now here's Chapter Four:


Mike McMahon and Sharon Dupont buckled themselves into the cruiser and Sharon prepared to drive out of the Paskagankee Police station parking lot. “So,” Mike said, “What was that all about?”

“What was what all about?”

“That guy we just tossed into a holding cell, the one you called by his first name even though you never looked at his driver’s license; he taunted you about your father. You two know each other.” Mike phrased it as a statement, not a question.

Officer Dupont was silent for a moment, making a show of checking both directions for oncoming traffic before pulling out of the lot and turning north on the tiny town’s Main Street. The rear tires spun on the slick pavement before gaining traction, then the cruiser accelerated slowly along the mostly empty thoroughfare. Finally she answered. “Yes, I know Earl Manning. He was a couple of years ahead of me in high school. After he graduated—a minor miracle in and of itself—he became a regular at the Ridge Runner where my dad used to spend most of his time.”

“The Ridge Runner is a bar, I assume.”

“That’s right. Out on Ridge Road. Original, huh?” The young officer flipped her hair behind her ear in what Mike McMahon was already beginning to recognize as a subconscious reaction to stress.

“Is this something you’d rather not discuss?”

Another hesitation, shorter this time. “No, it’s okay. It’s just that I’m not used to talking about myself, that’s all. Besides, this is a small town, in case it had escaped your notice. Eventually you would hear all about my dad anyway. And about me, too, I suppose.”

Mike watched two cars slide partway through a four-way stop a couple of hundred yards ahead. The storm was worsening as temperatures continued their downward spiral. The driving conditions were iffy now and weren’t going to improve any time soon. He hoped people would have enough sense to stay off the roads, this being a Saturday, but doubted that would be the case. “So your dad is pretty well-known around here?”

Officer Dupont coughed out a laugh, short and bitter. “You could say that. He held down a bar stool pretty much twenty-four hours a day at the Ridge Runner for most of the last ten years, starting the day after we buried my mother.”

Mike looked down at the cruiser’s bench seat and then across at Sharon Dupont. She stared straight through the windshield, concentrating on navigating the slick streets. If she noticed him looking at her, she didn’t give any indication of it. “I’m sorry about your mother,” he said. “I didn’t know.”

“No reason why you should.”

“How old were you at the time?”


“So you went through your teen years with no mother and a father too busy drinking Budweiser to raise his daughter properly?”

“Yeah, that pretty much covers it,” she said. “My dad was always an enthusiastic drinker, but after mom died, alcohol took over his life. I think he single-handedly kept one shift working overtime at the Anheuser-Busch plant down the road in New Hampshire.”

The big Crown Victoria police cruiser slid to a stop in front of the Unitarian Church on the corner of Main and Elm Streets. Officer Dupont angled into the parking lot and turned the car around so they could monitor traffic on the two cross streets and stay off the increasingly dangerous roads for a while. She cranked up the car’s interior heat to combat the chill permeating the vehicle.

Mike turned in his seat to look at the pretty, young officer. “Sounds like the sort of situation you’d be anxious to escape.”

“Oh, I couldn’t wait to get out all right, and eventually I left Paskagankee to attend the FBI Academy, but of course you know all of that from my personnel file.”

“True enough,” Mike answered. “But your file doesn’t explain why you suddenly came back to this tiny, little place in the middle of nowhere. Nothing against Paskagankee, but it seems to me you wouldn’t be too quick to return, especially since you were doing well at the academy. I saw your performance scores, and you were kicking ass down there. What happened?”

“My dad was diagnosed with liver cancer a couple of years ago, and for a while he did okay. About six months ago, though, he started going downhill fast. I have no brothers or sisters, and with my mother gone . . .” She lapsed into silence and stared out the windshield at the empty streets, now rapidly glazing over with a thin coating of ice. Something like defiant regret hardened her features.

“You came back to care for your father.”

Sharon nodded. She fiddled with the turn signal and looked everywhere but at Mike. “I made a promise to my mom before she died that I would look after my dad. She knew he would have trouble coping after she was gone. I came back for my mom, not for him.”

Mike said nothing, and she continued. “Then my dad died a few weeks ago, after I got hired by Chief Court, your predecessor, and I haven’t gotten around to leaving town for good yet. I don’t know why. Inertia, I suppose. So now you know the sorry, little life story of Sharon Dupont, some of it, anyway. Would I be out of line asking my boss what you’re doing here? Why you gave up a real career in a thriving city where you could actually make a difference to come here and take over a little Hicksville police force?”

Mike laughed. “Subtlety doesn’t work for you, does it, Officer Dupont?”

“My friends call me Shari.”

“Okay, Shari then. Yeah, it probably would be out of line, but I guess it would only be fair to dish a little dirt on myself since I have the scoop now on you.”

The cruiser’s radio crackled with an incoming call. Mike shook his head in mock remorse. “Looks like my little sob story will have to wait. It seems we have work to do.”


PASKAGANKEE is priced at $2.99 and is available here. Have a great day!

Friday, February 3, 2012

PASKAGANKEE excerpt - Chapter Three

Day Four of my free PASKAGANKEE excerpts brings Chapter Three. If you're here for the first time, you might want to check out the first three posts before reading this one:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Now here's Chapter Three:


The drizzle turned to freezing rain and began falling more steadily as George Hooper crossed the uneven muddy track and approached the log cabin. The temperature seemed to have grown noticeably colder during the time he spent studying the granite foundations scattered around the deserted village. It stood to reason, though. George wasn’t sure how long he had been standing motionless in the cold rain, but he knew it had been a while.

For some irrational reason, he was having trouble forcing himself to complete the short walk to the cabin to ask for help. The sense of dread and foreboding, which had begun gnawing at him almost the moment he stumbled into this clearing, had grown rapidly until it threatened to freeze him—literally—where he stood.

“Just do it, you freakin’ wimp,” George muttered to himself. His voice sounded somehow foreign and his breath crystallized in the chilly air, swirling into the rain and disappearing. He reluctantly resumed trudging through the mud and weeds, the footing becoming more treacherous. The ground crunched under his boots and George realized for the first time he was shivering violently. How the hell long have I been standing out here?

The entire area seemed deserted but George felt certain it was not. Someone had started a fire inside that cabin, and George was positive no one had left while he was standing out here. Oh really? Are you sure about that? You were zoned out; you don’t have the slightest clue how long you’ve been staring at those gigantic granite blocks, now, do you?

The feeling of dread mushroomed, worming its way through George’s intestines and growing in inverse proportion to his distance from the cabin. Finally he reached the front porch, and as he mounted the steps, the panic exploded, threatening to overwhelm him. He looked frantically from window to window, certain someone (something) was staring out at him, waiting and biding his (its) time until George wandered close enough to launch an attack.

No one was visible in any of the windows; George could see that quite clearly because the glass in all of them had been cleaned to a smudge-free shine, and the rooms inside were as empty and vacant as the eyes of a zombie, a shambling undead monster intent on cracking his skull open like a coconut and devouring his brain.

Where in the hell did THAT come from? When have you ever watched zombie movies?

George’s hands were shaking violently, and he knew it was not just from the lousy weather conditions. There was something evil about this place, he could sense it. Sense it, hell, I can almost taste it. There was no point in kidding himself. He wanted desperately to leave, to run somewhere, anywhere, to get out of this cursed place while he still could, but he had no choice but to continue. If he turned around now he would freeze to death, his soaking wet clothes stealing his body heat and inviting hypothermia.

A couple of loose floorboards in the porch creaked and groaned as George worked his way hesitantly to the closed front door. He thought it odd that the otherwise immaculate and solidly constructed log cabin would have loose floorboards for him to trip over. Had it been built that way on purpose?

George thought the only way things could get any worse at this point would be to fall through the porch on one of those loose planks and break an ankle. That would leave him at the mercy of the malevolent force stalking him. Stalking and preparing to attack— watching with red-rimmed eyes and stinking dead breath redolent of rotting flesh, watching and waiting for the perfect moment to rip your throat out.

After what felt like an eternity George reached the front door. His movements were becoming slower, clumsier, a sure sign of the onset of hypothermia; it was imperative that he shed his wet clothing and begin to raise his body’s core temperature.

The cabin door stood before him and still George could not shake his conviction that something evil was lurking on the other side, inches away. It was listening intently, just as he was, separated from him by nothing more than a slab of oak with hinges on one side and a shiny brass knob on the other.

George raised one gloved hand and banged on the heavy wooden door and was surprised to see it swing slowly open. It creaked loudly, as if only reluctantly complying with the laws of physics. The noise sounded eerily like a scream. George was certain that when he had examined the house from a distance the front door had been tightly closed. Or had it? His mind seemed to be working just as slowly and clumsily as his body. Maybe he only thought the door had been closed; maybe he had never really even checked at all; it was so hard to remember, so hard to think.

He eased his head warily through the partially open door. “Hello?” His voice sounded fearful and hesitant, even to him. Clearing his throat and putting a little more conviction into it, George tried again. “Hello, is anybody in here? I got lost hunting and I could use some directions . . .”

By the time he finished speaking, George’s voice had diminished until it was barely more than a whisper. If the cabin’s owner was here, he clearly did not wish to reveal himself.

George took a few hesitant steps into the house, finding himself in a large open room, a combination kitchen/living area with a short hallway branching off to the left. The hallway featured three doors placed side by side, presumably opening onto a bathroom and maybe a couple of bedrooms. The entire home appeared empty now, but it was plain it hadn’t been for long. To George’s right, a massive fieldstone fireplace took up most of the side wall, and inside the fireplace red-hot ashes still glowed, the flames only recently having been extinguished.

But where was the person who had been warming himself in front of the fire? There was only one entrance to the cabin, at least as far as George could tell, and he had been standing in front of it for a long time. Had the cabin’s occupant departed just prior to George discovering the tiny abandoned village? Or was he even now hiding in one of the rooms behind the three closed doors lining the hallway?

And if he was hiding, why? Could it be he was afraid of George? Certainly he couldn’t be any more fearful of George than George was of him at this very moment. A strained chuckle forced its way out of George’s constricted throat. He wasn’t sure whose voice rang in his ears, but it sure as hell didn’t sound like his.

Scattered throughout the interior of the cabin was the spoor of various small animals that had apparently taken up residence, and George was forced to step around their droppings as he made his way cautiously toward the hallway. He couldn’t see any animals—or any living thing at all, for that matter—but it was clear the embers cooling in the fireplace across the room had not been built by any wild animal, large or small.

George hesitated, unsure of how to proceed, unsure whether he even wanted to proceed but unable to stop himself. He had to see who or what was in here with him. His intuition screamed he wasn’t alone, and he was not about to strip off all his clothes and spread them out in front of the fireplace without fully scouting the interior of this creepy house first.

The question was simple—a cliché, really—but perplexing: which door should he open first? The crushing silence weighed on George with an almost physical presence. The only sound he could hear was the rushing of blood in his ears. He felt (knew) if he chose the wrong door he would be trapped inside a room with no escape and some God-awful, red-eyed, foul-smelling monster closing in to do who knew what to him Oh, you know what; yes you do, don’t kid yourself Georgie boy. It’s a cold-blooded killer, and it will rip your head right off your body, and the last thing you hear will be your skin tearing and your bones breaking, and the thing will drink your blood and snap off your limbs one by one, and you will never be found, not ever.

Every fiber in George’s terrified body was telling him to run, to sprint out of the cabin NOW into the freezing early evening drizzle and take his chances with a slow death from hypothermia. The only reason he didn’t bolt was he felt (knew) that if he tried to run, he would be pursued by the creature and taken down from behind; that he would never see it coming. The die was cast, George thought, with the emphasis on die. He had no choice but to confront the monster now.

George unconsciously shrugged the Mossberg 464 lever-action hunting rifle off his shoulder as he stood in front of the three closed doors, holding the gun in front of his body like a shield with two stiff arms, knuckles white, hands shaking.

Decision time.

He chose the middle door to open first for no particular reason other than it was the one directly in front of him. Grasping the knob in one sweating, shaking hand, George turned it slowly, listening intently for the slightest hint of a sound from the other side of the door, something that would give him an indication whether anyone (anything) was inside the room.

Silence. Deathly silence, George thought to himself as a hysterical laugh bubbled up from his gut. He choked it off in what sounded like a sob.

Predictably, the door creaked as it opened. George thought it was the most terrifying sound he had ever heard. It swung wide to reveal a bedroom, devoid both of furniture and of people. In fact, beyond the straw, animal droppings and other detritus of wildlife habitation, he could see nothing inside the room at all.

Relieved, George stepped into the bedroom and poked his head warily around the door, and when he did he leaped back, a strangled scream escaping his throat, as he found himself face to face with . . . something. His panicked eyes registered a massive form, a mountain of shaggy hair covering a head placed atop a gigantic body. Straw and leaves and dead grass stuck at odd angles out of the filthy, unkempt head of hair and small worms or maybe even maggots appeared to be wriggling inside it as well.

And the smell. It was horrific. A stench of death, of rot and decomposition, assailed George with an intensity beyond anything he had ever experienced. In the back of his racing mind he wondered why he had not noticed it when he first opened the door, and he realized he had been holding his breath in fear.

He had to escape, to get away, to run. George tripped over his own feet and fell to the floor, heels scrabbling as he scuttled backward, his rifle useless and now forgotten after dropping it in his mindless panic. One of his fingernails ripped off as he grabbed at the pine floor, and he didn’t notice. A splinter embedded itself deep into his palm, and he didn’t notice that either.

A whimpering sound filled George’s ears and he realized it was coming from him. He couldn’t stop it and didn’t care. His only conscious thought was to get away from that horrible thing stepping out from behind the door. He shoved himself desperately across the dirty floor as the monster shambled after him, and he kept going until he smashed into the far wall of the empty bedroom. The thing followed, eyes red as George had known they would be, breath stinking and foul as George had known it would be, and George now knew he was going to die; he was going to die all alone somewhere deep in the northern Maine woods at the hands of something foreign and inhuman.

The massive creature kicked the Mossberg across the room, whether on purpose or by accident George couldn’t tell. It clattered against the wall and fell to the floor. For one brief moment George thought the shotgun might go off when it struck the wall, blasting the creature to kingdom come and saving his sorry ass. But of course it did nothing of the kind.

The thing turned and advanced on George, a blood-chilling growl of fury issuing from deep in its monstrous chest. It grabbed George, slapping one meaty paw onto each ear and shaking his head violently from side to side. George heard a terrifying SNAP and knew it was the sound of his own neck breaking. He felt one instant of the most incredible pain he had ever experienced, and then a tingling numbness filled his extremities.

He began to drift, to lose consciousness, and was amazed to discover the fear was gone. He could see blood splattering the floor, lots of it, and although he knew it was his own blood, he found he didn’t care. George’s last conscious thought was that the creature’s putrid breath wasn’t quite as disgusting as he had thought it would be.

Then he was gone.


PASKAGANKEE is priced at $2.99 and is available here. Have a great day!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

PASKAGANKEE excerpt - Chapter Two

Day Three of my free PASKAGANKEE excerpts brings Chapter Two. If you're just finding this blog, you might want to check out the first two excerpts before reading this one:

Chapter One

Now, here's Chapter Two:


“That is totally disgusting.” Sharon Dupont shook her head, her pretty mouth drawing down into a frown as new Paskagankee Police Chief Mike McMahon attempted to navigate a large steak bomb in the passenger seat of their parked cruiser. He grinned at the petite officer’s horrified expression as he chomped away, bread and cheese and bits of steak, onions and peppers littering the cruiser’s cloth bench seat, forming an ever-growing circle around him.

He swallowed and licked his lips. “You’re just jealous. You decided to pass up this traditional American feast and now you’re sorry you didn’t get something too, so you could join in the fun.”

“Are you kidding me?” she countered. “After being subjected to this display, I might not ever eat anything again, never mind dead animal flesh.”

McMahon reached across the seat and waved the partially eaten sandwich in front of her, drawing another frown. He nodded knowingly. “Jealousy. It’s very unbecoming.”

Mike McMahon had been in town for just over a week. He had edged out a total of zero other applicants for the chief of police job in the isolated northern Maine town of Paskagankee—population four thousand, give or take. Outgoing Chief Wally Court—a fitting name for a law enforcement officer, McMahon thought—had reviewed Mike’s application and conducted a thirty-minute telephone interview followed by a two-hour personal meeting before hiring him within a matter of days.

In neither of the interviews had Court asked Mike the obvious question of why he wanted to move from Revere, Massachusetts—a hardscrabble community just north of Boston—to a sleepy hamlet like Paskagankee while still in the prime of his career, and for that Mike was grateful. Maybe the chief had heard about the shooting last year and understood Mike’s need to get away from Revere, or maybe he just didn’t give a damn why anyone would want the job and was just thankful someone did. Either way, though, Mike had escaped his old life, which was exactly what he needed.

Mike had been surprised by the apparent contradiction that was Chief Wally Court. His office, where the in-person job interview had taken place, had been neat to the point of obsession, with the obligatory citations and photos of the chief glad-handing dignitaries adorning his walls and with a shipshape desk devoid of any hint of clutter.

The outgoing chief’s personal appearance, however, had been a different story. His graying hair badly needed a trim, as did his beard. He sported at least a three-day growth of salt and pepper on a face clearly unused to the intrusion. His uniform was heavily wrinkled and appeared slept-in, and Court sweated profusely throughout the interview, looking extremely uncomfortable, as if he had somewhere else he needed to be.

Mike thought it all added up to something strange; there was clearly more to the story of retiring Paskagankee Police Chief Wally Court than met the eye. Perhaps the man was ill. Whatever his situation, it didn’t really matter. Mike had been notified three days after the unusual interview that the job was his if he wanted it. Furthermore, the town needed him to start as soon as possible due to the imminent retirement of Chief Court, a circumstance that fit Mike’s desires perfectly.

The first thing McMahon had done upon his arrival in town was to introduce himself to his small force of officers and announce he would not be changing any procedures or assignments right away, but rather that he would take the next month or two and accompany an officer on routine patrols in order to familiarize himself with the town and its people. He had chosen rookie Sharon Dupont to train with for no particular reason other than she was relatively new to the force, so he assumed she would be less likely to kick and scream and raise a fuss about having to babysit the new boss than a more established veteran would be.

Now the two were trading barbs like partners and friends, despite the fact Dupont had been on the job just six months and McMahon brought fifteen years of law enforcement experience to Paskagankee, all of it on a busy metropolitan police force.

A light-falling mist drizzled around the cruiser as the two sat in the otherwise empty parking lot of the town’s only funeral home, using a hand-held radar gun to clock cars passing by on Route 14. The effort was mostly for show, an attempt to discourage townspeople from speeding rather than actually to ticket drivers.

Mike prepared to wave what was left of his sandwich in Officer Dupont’s face again, just to enjoy her reaction, when a muddy, faded maroon Ford pickup flashed by, at least fifteen years old, losing the battle to rust and traveling a good twenty-five miles per hour over the posted speed limit of forty-five. The truck roared through a massive puddle, kicking up an impressive rooster tail of spray and fishtailing momentarily before regaining traction on the wet pavement and continuing along the road. The driver was clearly in a hurry and had not noticed the police cruiser, despite the fact it was parked in the middle of an otherwise empty lot.

Dupont looked a question at Mike, her short black hair framing her face in a very appealing way. “Go get him,” he said, nodding, and she hit the gas, pulling smoothly out of the lot and overtaking the pickup within a quarter-mile, an impressive feat considering the truck’s speed.

She hit her blues and the driver of the pickup traveled another several hundred feet before apparently noticing the cruiser and pulling to the side of the road without benefit of a turn signal. Sharon eased up behind the truck and prepared to step into the falling drizzle. Mike asked, “You want some help?”

“Nah,” she replied. “No sense in us both getting soaked.”

“Good answer. You’ve really got a future in my department.” He grinned as she whacked him on the arm with her hat and climbed out of the cruiser. He admired her slim form as she walked away—she looked good even in the unflattering blue uniform blouse and dark grey slacks of the Paskagankee Police Department.

Officer Dupont approached the battered pickup truck and Mike was unsurprised to see the occupant hand his license and registration through the window immediately upon her arrival at the door. It was obvious he had fished the required documents out of his wallet and glove compartment while they had had their brief conversation inside the cruiser.

“Had a little experience at this, have you?” Mike muttered to himself and then sat up straight in his seat as the driver’s side door of the truck opened abruptly and a man stepped unsteadily to the pavement. His first instinct was to rush to the rookie’s defense, but he forced himself to wait and watch, to stay in the cruiser and see how she would react. Had he not been riding shotgun to learn the ins and outs of this small town, she would have been patrolling this remote stretch of road alone, best to let her handle the incident by herself.

Standard department procedure dictated that the officer instruct the driver to wait in his vehicle while she returned to her cruiser to check for outstanding warrants. Mike was certain she had done just that as she approached the truck, so the man’s exiting the vehicle in spite of that warning constituted an aggressive action and cause for concern.

Mike’s concern turned to amusement, though, as the obviously drunk driver proved no match for Officer Dupont, despite his being at least eight inches taller and probably close to one hundred pounds heavier than she was. No sooner had his feet splashed down on the wet pavement than she grabbed him by the wrist, forcing his hand backward and using the resulting leverage to spin him around and slam him face first into the side of his truck. She kicked his feet apart and quickly patted him down for weapons, then slapped cuffs on his wrists and marched him to the rear of the cruiser, dumping him unceremoniously into the back seat while he sputtered indignantly about police brutality.

As soon as the man looked up through the cage separating the back seat from the front and saw Mike, he stopped complaining and slurred, “Who’re you?”

“New police chief,” Mike answered. “My name is Mike McMahon and I understand you have a problem with my officer?”

“You’re damn right I do! You saw her beat on me for no good goddamned reason, and I want to file a complaint.”

“That’s certainly your right,” Mike told him. “But you do understand I sat in this cruiser and watched the entire little episode, and aside from the ease with which she subdued you, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. I’ll be happy to testify to that in court if necessary.”


“But nothing,” Mike interrupted. “Did Officer Dupont instruct you to remain inside your vehicle?”

“Well, yeah,” he reluctantly admitted.

“And you stepped out of your vehicle anyway?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Then all I can tell you is you’re lucky it wasn’t me out there because you’d be on your way to the hospital right now, rather than to a warm, comfortable holding cell.”

The man slumped back in his seat and shook his head petulantly, turning to look out the side window as Sharon Dupont steered the cruiser off the side of the road and accelerated back toward town. Mike winked at her and she smiled.

In the back seat, the man suddenly found his second wind. “Hey, girlie, how’s your daddy?” he taunted.

Mike glanced at Sharon and held his tongue. Her face reddened, and she stared steadfastly through the windshield as she drove, ignoring their passenger.

“I said, how’s your daddy?” he repeated in a louder voice as if perhaps she had not heard him, despite the fact it should have been obvious she had, even to a drunken lout.

“He’s dead, Earl, you know that. Now do yourself a favor and shut your mouth,” she said sharply.

“Your new girlfriend tell you her daddy used to be one of my best drinking buddies?” This time, Mike decided, the man in the back seat must be addressing him. “Or at least he was before the pretty little thing sitting next to you replaced him. ‘Course, I s’pose it goes without sayin’ that he don’t come around too much no more. You know, what with his being dead and all. Ain’t that right, baby doll?” His voice resumed its taunting tone as he again addressed Sharon Dupont.

Mike glanced sideways at his officer and saw a hard set to her jaw. She was grinding her teeth and a vein throbbed in her forehead, and she looked like she might explode at any moment.

Mike decided enough was enough. For whatever reason, this drunken idiot was getting to the young officer, and it was time to put a stop to it. “Hey dumbass, open your mouth one more time,” he said, turning in his seat and staring down the man in back, “and we’ll add assaulting a peace officer to the drunk-driving charge. You mull that over in your tiny little brain, but remember, just one more word and you’re going to be sorry you ever opened your toothless mouth. That’s a promise.”

The drunk’s mouth dropped open comically but the remainder of the fifteen minute ride to the police station passed in silence. The pair brought the man into the station and deposited him into holding. Mike sipped a coffee while Officer Dupont processed the drunk-driving suspect. One thing common to police stations everywhere, he mused, was the consistently bad coffee. It was as if the worst coffeemakers in the world were reserved for the cops, to be filled with the stalest coffee and brewed with the nastiest water.

As he considered the feasibility of buying a brand-new coffeemaker and some fresh coffee with his own money in a gesture of mercy to his new employees, Sharon Dupont’s shapely form rounded the corner. She smiled tightly. “He’s a barrel of laughs, isn’t he?”

“Aren’t they all,” Mike replied, choking down the last of the bitter brew and following his temporary partner out of the station and back to their cruiser.


PASKAGANKEE is priced at $2.99 and is available here. Have a great day!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

PASKAGANKEE excerpt - Chapter One

Day Two of my free PASKAGANKEE excerpts features Chapter One, which makes no sense at all until you realize Day One featured the prologue. Anyway, here we go:


Present Day

George Hooper was lost. He was also hungry and wet, thus completing what he had come to think of as his own personal trifecta of misery. A steady drizzle fell silently from the slate-grey skies, making George shiver and long for the warmth and comfort of his living room. He tried to take his mind off the chill by picturing himself sitting in front of a roaring fire, three fingers of bourbon warming his insides as he sat in a rocking chair doing nothing in particular, maybe watching the Yankees on TV or reading a good book.

George didn’t own a rocking chair, nor did he have a fireplace in the living room of his small house in Teaneck, New Jersey, didn’t even like to read all that much. But he figured, what the hell, it’s my daydream, I might as well enjoy it. He knew he should not have come hunting alone in the dank, desolate woods of Northern Maine in late November, but none of his buddies could make it this weekend, and George was damned if he was going to let his five-day break from the job at the paper mill pass by without getting out and enjoying some fresh air and solitude.

Going off by himself in the woods was a piss-poor idea, George knew that—common sense dictated that you always take at least one person with you as well as let someone else know exactly where you will be when you’re traveling into thousands of square miles of mostly uninhabited forest—but he had hiked and hunted his entire life in some of the most remote and rugged areas this country had to offer, so it wasn’t like he had no outdoor experience. Besides, with his trusty hand-held GPS, how bad could things get?

Pretty bad indeed, George now decided. The goddamned GPS had crapped out on him two days ago for no particular reason that George could determine. It simply made the decision, somewhere inside its freakin’ soulless solid-state electronic guts, to take a break from operating, maybe a permanent break; George didn’t know. What he did know, though, was that without a working GPS and after his map book had been washed away during a river crossing, he was more or less totally screwed.

George unzipped the right front pocket of his insulated hunting jacket and pulled out his cell phone for what he guessed might be about the two hundredth time in the last two days, knowing what he would see when he powered it up but doing so anyway. The device clicked and whirred, eventually awakening from its slumber and informing George that, so sorry, there was still no cell coverage in this part of the God-forsaken northern Maine woods, and furthermore, its battery was getting dangerously low, so if he wished to make a call, this might be a good goddamned time to do it. He cursed under his breath. The damn thing was about as useful to him as the broken GPS. Two electronic paperweights.

His hands were shaking as he shoved the cell phone back into his pocket and re-zipped it. He had only removed his gloves for a couple of minutes, and his fingers were already stiffening and losing feeling. Dammit, it was cold!

George stopped in a small clearing and tried to get his bearings, knowing it was pointless but not having the faintest clue what else to do. The lowering sky was a dark grey, almost black; the sun a distant memory even though it was the middle of the day. Orienting himself direction-wise was a no go. The drizzle which had fallen pretty much constantly since, incredibly, just about the exact moment his GPS had given up the ghost was now increasing in intensity from a soft mist to a steady, slanting rain. The temperature was falling, too, and George knew he needed to find shelter and hole up until the weather cleared.

He had been walking nonstop for almost two days now and exhaustion hung on him like a cloak. Conventional outdoor wisdom dictated that when someone got lost they should stay in one place and wait for help, but George knew while that was good advice for a twelve-year-old who had become disoriented during a Boy Scout hike, it would do nothing to help him in his present situation. No one knew he had even come here, and as far as George could remember from his map book before it decided to go for a swim and never return, there was only one small town within twenty miles in any direction, so the chances of some random hiker or hunter stumbling upon him and helping him out of this mess were pretty slim. Almost nonexistent, when it came right down to brass tacks.

That being the case, George figured he might just as well keep moving. Maybe he would get lucky and stumble upon the little hamlet, and if he didn’t, well, he would be no worse off walking when the sun finally came out than he would have been had he stayed in one place. Either way, if he didn’t find that town, he was going to have some serious hiking to do once he was able to determine which way was south.

But now, hungry, tired, depressed and drenched, with a steadily lowering body temperature as an added bonus, George Hooper decided the number one priority was to seek shelter and wait out the rest of the storm, at least until he could get warm and dry. But where? Most of the trees in this thickly forested area were towering pines, their branches sagging from the weight of all the water collecting on their needles the past two days. Perhaps he could burrow under the branches toward the middle of one of the mammoth firs in the hopes of finding some dry ground.

George looked around for the most likely tree to begin burrowing into, and as he did, he again glanced up at the dark sky, at the clouds roiling high above the treetops. His breath caught in his throat as his brain at first refused to believe what his eyes were telling him. He stared without moving for a good sixty seconds at a thin column of smoke rising above the forest and disappearing into the rain and mist. A fire!

Whether the smoke was coming from a fireplace or a campfire or a cook stove, George had no way of knowing, but one thing he did know was that someone was near, and if someone was near then that meant food and warmth and directions out of here and maybe even a ride back to civilization if he got really lucky.

He couldn’t believe his incredible good fortune. He almost laughed out loud at the thought that he had been seconds away from crawling on his belly through the mud under a tree where he would have spent the next twenty-four hours or more cold and miserable, and now, because he just happened to look skyward at the right time, he might just be on his way home with a full belly and warm, dry clothes within hours.

Hefting his pack, which had started out heavy but was now even more so thanks to the water soaking the canvas, George angled in the general direction of the smoke, zigzagging through the trees, ducking under branches and putting up with ice-cold water dripping down his neck. He kept his eyes on the prize: that thin column of nearly-invisible wispy smoke, fearing that if he lost sight of it he might never relocate it.

After roughly twenty minutes of struggling, he trudged through a particularly thick line of trees into a large clearing and stopped dead in his tracks. Spread out before him was what had once been a tiny village, clearly abandoned years ago, probably decades ago. Hell, maybe even centuries ago. The remnants of about a half-dozen small granite foundations lined each side of a narrow, rutted dirt trail, which was barely wide enough to accommodate a car, not that any car would be able to navigate this rough terrain; even a four-wheel drive vehicle would get stuck trying to make it out here.

In addition to the ancient stone foundations, which George assumed had at one time held houses, a couple of similar but larger foundations—perhaps supporting a general store and maybe a police station or jail—sat in disrepair at the far end of the clearing. Weeds and scrub grass and even some fairly large trees sprouted out, around and through the foundations, giving the area a look of utter abandonment. The forest had nearly completed its reclamation of the lonely and isolated village which had been hacked out of it at some point in the distant past.

In his shock at stumbling upon this tiny deserted village, George had almost forgotten the trail of smoke he had been tracking and now looked around to see if he could find the person or persons responsible for the fire. At first he could see no sign of the smoke—he thought for a moment he had lost it completely and almost panicked—but after a few seconds caught sight of a wisp drifting lazily up and out of a red-brick chimney sprouting from the roof of a small log cabin off to George’s right.

The home was tucked into the very edge of the abandoned village and was clearly not part of the original town; it looked almost brand new. The construction looked square and shipshape, with windows and a door and a farmer’s porch running the length of the house.

George’s heart leaped with the thought that he was about to get out of this mess, then he was struck like a hammer by the obvious question—who in the hell builds a home way out here in the middle of nowhere, at the edge of an old housing graveyard? Even Ted Kaszinski, the old Unabomber himself, the guy with the grudge against modern technology who had terrorized the country for a time in the 1990’s with bombs delivered through the United States Postal Service, had lived in an area that was at least accessible to some conveniences. What had George stumbled upon? Some antisocial lunatic who might chop him up into little pieces and then feed them to his equally antisocial dog?

George laughed uneasily to himself at such a ridiculous notion. He just needed a little help, that was all, and undoubtedly whoever lived here would be happy to provide it.

Of course they would.

Jeez, get a grip.

But his nervous body refused to cooperate with his calm, rational brain. His breath came rapid and shallow and sweat dripped down his back as he stared at the strange village laid out in front of him, not a pleasant sensation considering he had been wet and freezing cold to begin with. George couldn’t imagine why he was so nervous and jumpy. He wasn’t a guy who spooked easily, and he should be jumping up and down screaming his damn fool head off in delight at the prospect of getting out of this mess, not standing motionless in the rain like some four-year-old kid afraid of his own shadow.

Grunting in disgust at himself but still unable to shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong, George forced himself to slow his breathing and made a concerted effort to calm his frayed nerves. “Get ahold of yourself, dumbass,” he muttered and began slowly walking toward the only recent construction, the log cabin. The smoke from the chimney had now almost completely disappeared, and George hoped the person or people who had been burning the fire inside the house wouldn’t mind lighting it up again for him.


Tomorrow will feature Chapter Two. If you like what you've read, please consider buying the book!