Category Archives: Writing
Two WILL win free paperbacks of my latest

Hey all.

I’m trying something new, with some help from Amazon.com.

While ebooks are great, some of my fans still prefer print.

That’s fine, but often spendier than eBooks.

Until now… at least two fans will win a free print version of my latest, SPOILED ROTTEN, featuring that spiffy all-new cover design by the one-and-only Victorine E. Leiske.

It works real simple, too: every 21st entrant will automatically win, until we have given away BOTH Free copies. And you don’t need to worry a whit about fulfillment… It’a all being handled by the reliable folks at Amazon.com! Just go here to enter, and do it soon! While there are still copies remaining!

Thanks for your time. My next post will probably be related to my next new title!

I’m back… and SPOILED ROTTEN!

C-Cover-2500I know, I know, I’ve been quiet for quite a while. Hey, back on June 5, I had a stroke that nearly killed me. Now, I’m back, m’kay?

And there’s MORE good news… I have something NEW coming out soon, and it’s gonna be affordable, too!

Go here for your preorder info.

Here’s what I shared on Facebook about it:

Hey all… good news! I am now in pre-order mode on Amazon for SPOILED ROTTEN, the updated and revised edition of the trilogy of titles I released in 2014 or so, as the still-available standalone titles, SPOILED, ROTTEN, and RIPE, This new edition is mildly revised to correct some errors that slipped out in 2014, but does feature a new Author’s Note and a brand-new premium cover by Victorine Lieske.

The preorder price will be only $0.99 during the preorder period, which should begin on Tuesday, March 28, and run through it official release date of Friday, April 8. For you, my loyal fans and readers (some of whom may have bought the original trilogy, I’ll be keeping the super-low price of $0.99 USD through the month of April, at least. Some time after April, the eBook price will rise to a new-normal level of $2.99 USD, which is still super-low, compared to the $5.96 USD price of the three original books, bought separately. Yes, print fans, there is also a paper version in production that is expected to debut at only $10.99 USD.

Also, visit my author web site here and learn how to join my First Screams Team, and I’ll personally send you a free copy of SPOILED ROTTEN as a thank-you (offer valid to new members). Don’t be afraid to be the first to scream for me!

That gum you like…

The WoodsmanIn the words of The Man from Another Place, “I have good news! That gum you like is going to come back in style.”

And what the heck does that mean, you ask? Well, anyone in at least their thirties will know: It’s a line from Twin Peaks, a show I was addicted to while I was in my master’s program in college, and one that influenced me creatively ever since. In fact, that was the year I wrote my very first version of Most Likely for my creative master’s thesis, even though it wouldn’t see print until 2011, about twenty years later, after an update and polishing draft, when I first became an indie novelist.

Memories.

I’m not suggesting that I write in a Twin Peaks style; however, the show reeked of atmosphere … spooky atmosphere … and was one of the major influences on me when I started conceiving of Veritas County and Hope, Wisconsin, where I set much of my fiction.

Northwest Wisconsin, much like Twin Peaks, Washington, is a heavily wooded area with vast stretches of deep, dark forests where anything could be going on, unseen and largely undetected. That inspires a creative mind like mine.

So imagine my joy when I discovered, along with the rest of the internet, that Mark Frost and David Lynch have reunited to produce nine brand new episodes of a show that will turn twenty-five years old by the time it hits the air in 2016. It’s a long time to wait, but as I’ve waited over twenty-three and a half years already, I think I can manage another eighteen months or so.

Best part? Frost and Lynch will be writing, and Lynch will be directing, every single episode. How amazingly cool is that? That gum I like is coming back in style, indeed!

And in a way, they even predicted it, kinda: In a Red Room scene, Laura Palmer uttered some of her famous final dialogue. “I’ll see you again in twenty-five years. Meanwhile…”

Indeed, we will, God willing and we’re all in good health!

Okay, so, early-90s-fanboy moment over.

Here’s the other good news: The Woodsman in eBook form drops in about a week, on Friday, October 17! However, the print version is already live and available now! So if you’re a fan of the tactile experience of reading a paper book: get a jump on the debut! Order your paper copy today!

I now return you to my regularly-scheduled ramblings…

Coming Soon: Most Likely in Audiobook format!

Most-Likely-AudioBook-2500x2500It’s been a long time coming, but I have finally been brought to the point where I can make this announcement: the audiobook version of Most Likely will debut soon, with professional narration by the talented Jen Harvey!

Jennifer Harvey, who can be found here, has rented her voice out to books as varied as The Enemy We Know, Spinning Blues Into Gold, Rescue Me, Saving Tristan, and Saying Goodbye.

Now she’s giving voice to the very first novel I ever published, Most Likely, and her work is a home run, in my biased opinion. I’m hoping the title will debut before the Christmas holidays, but it’s all in the hands of ACX right now. It should be listed on Amazon.com, Apple iTunes, and Audible.com soon, though.

Harvey joins a tiny but talented club of voice artists who’ve brought my works to life; the first was Chrissy Swinko, a little over a year ago, with the audiobook version of Shada.

Look for the debut of this long-awaited title, coming soon!

Why I’ve Been So Quiet Lately

I know what you’re thinking.

You’ve been dropping by my Web page off and on since December and wondering the same thing each time you visit. Why has it been so long since Craig’s updated his blog, and why on earth is that Hanukkah post still at the top of his page?

I’ll admit, I’ve been letting things slide a bit here on the old website. But for a reason. Or two, actually.

I am gearing up to deliver to you, my readers and friends, a great 2012. The recent facelift on the website here is only a preparatory step. Believe me, a lot more is on the way.

I still know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, “Yeah, I’ve heard that sort of thing before, but man, you haven’t just gone silent for a while, it’s like you dropped off the face of the planet.”

True.

But believe it or not, it’s because I’ve been busy. I’ve been writing. And 2012 is going to see the fruits of all that effort. Efforts that are still ongoing, but will start to show up, well… I won’t promise when just yet. But trust me, things are brewing.

Like what?

EMBER

First of all, let’s talk about the long-awaited, long-promised, long-in-development sequel to SHADA, known as EMBER. That’s coming. I’m making progress and if you thought SHADA was fun, believe me, the next adventure awaiting Ember Cole is even more fun. But it’s a longer tale, and these things take time. So thank you, dear readers, for bearing with me while I craft Ember’s next adventure to get it just right for you.

Sure, I could be like a lot of other indie authors, rushing things out the door, not striving to get them “just right” before release. But that’s not me. If you know me, you know that about me. And if you’ve read my work, you should know that much about me.

I’d love to tell you more about EMBER, but I don’t want to spoil one second of the fun. For now, let’s just say that some of the hints that were dropped at the end of SHADA will pay off in a big way in EMBER. Others? Well, others might have to wait for another book, but there’s so much going on in Book Two that you won’t really notice.

But one thing I will promise you is this: you will find out what happens to Willow. Ember might not, at least not right away. But you will, dear reader. You will.

So if you haven’t done so already, go to your favorite eBook retailer and grab a copy of SHADA now, just to get yourself warmed up and ready.

EyeCU

This is the other project I’m working on. Simultaneously with EMBER, I might add. But it’s for a slightly different audience.

You see, SHADA and EMBER are books that are aimed at a young adult audience, primarily. But Hope, Wisconsin has a lot of stories swirling around inside it, and some are, shall we say, a bit more intense than others?

That’s what EyeCU is all about. It’s a more intense story for a slightly older audience. That’s not to say it’s nasty, full of cussing and sex and such. But it is more intense. Perhaps more disturbing.

So what’s it about?

Well, I don’t want to give away too much, but for now let me tell you a familiar tale.

Long ago, and not so long ago, Hollywood loved to make movies and TV episodes and such revolving around a now-cliche plot. The tale of the innocent young man or woman who becomes the recipient of a revolutionary new form of eye surgery that just might restore their sight. They get the surgery, learn to deal with the world as a sighted person, but then the other shoe drops: either they start seeing ghosts, or they have visions of crimes or something else disturbing.

They ultimately find out that the eyes they received came from someone sitting on death row. Then they either end up solving one of that prisoner’s unsolved crimes, or they turn evil themselves and pick up where he left off.

It’s a familiar tale.

EyeCU’s not like that at all. In fact, it could almost be said EyeCU is the opposite of that sort of tale.

Kind of.

Interested?

Good. Because that’s the other big project I’m working on. And if all goes well, both of these tales will see release in 2012.

That’s the plan, anyway.

And now, dear reader, you know what I’m working on and why I’ve been so quiet lately. Are you excited yet?

Posted on April 4, 2012, 4:56 AM By
Categories: Writing Tags: ,
Hanukkah Musings

As this is my writing blog, I don’t often delve into religious matters in this space. There’s a good reason for that; religious content can be divisive. For as many people as it draws to you, it can repel many others. That’s why I keep a separate blog for my religious and theological writing, at MessianicMusings.com.

However, when I was invited to take part in the Festival of Books, it was not difficult to decide to take part. I won’t go into the spiritual reasons here, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll share part of why I am taking part in a book giveaway that focuses around the festival of Hanukkah, also known as the festival of lights, rather than a more typical Christmas-themed giveaway.

You see, when most people think about Hanukkah, the thing they know about it is the miracle of the lamp oil. A one-day supply burned for eight days, when the supply of lamp oil was replenished. On the scale of the miraculous, even the most devout and Orthodox of rabbis will admit, the miracle of the oil doesn’t exactly rank up there with, say, the parting of the Red Sea.

But there’s a deeper story to the festival, one I’m about to share with you.

The Maccabean period in Israel’s history covered the years 167-160 BCE. At that time, Israel was under the rule of the Greeks; specifically, the Grecian ruler Antiochus Epiphanies. Under the Greek system of occupation, it was expected that any occupied territory conform completely to Grecian culture. That posed a problem for Israel, which had a strong tradition of honoring the “God of Avraham, Yitzak, and Yaakov.”

There were two primary impulses in Israel at the time. One was embodied by those who desired peace and were willing to water down and integrate their worship of God to fit into the norms of Greek society and culture. This movement was called the Hellenizers.

Then there were those in Israel who insisted that the worship of HaShem should not be compromised, watered down, or integrated with the worship of other, false gods. This movement became a militant group lead by the Maccabees, who vowed to fight for Jewish sovereignty. It became a revolutionary war movement over the issue of religious freedom.

To make a long story short and to the point, the Maccabees fought and won that battle, driving the Greeks out of Israel, restoring the worship of God to the Second Temple, and gaining – at least temporarily – Israeli sovereignty.

It didn’t last long. Roman occupation of Israel soon replaced Greek occupation, but the Romans learned a lesson from the mistake of the Greeks. Rather than enforce religious compliance to Roman culture with an iron fist, Rome allowed local religions to be practiced freely under Roman rule, so long as Roman civil authority and taxation were observed, and the establishment of separate Roman worship sites were tolerated.

It was a subtle difference, but it was enough to relegate rebellion movements to a far smaller minority.

That’s the brief history lesson. But what is the transferable concept to be derived from it?

Perhaps this: when faced with a choice of either “complying with the majority,” or retaining their own identity, that generation in Israel refused to be dissolved into the majority culture.

And, in a small way, that spirit is honored by the modern movement toward independent writers seeking success outside of the New York publishing system. Have you ever noticed how much of mainstream fiction is set in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Washington DC?

Sure, there are exceptions; Stephen King writes about Maine a lot, for example. But there are always exceptions, and you’ll noticed that James Patterson’s Alex Cross doesn’t patrol the “mean streets of Portland, Maine.” The mainstream publishing culture is most often interested in thrillers when those stories happen on main, coastal towns. Everything else is “flyover territory” to them; unimportant; a setting relegated to writers who engage in “local color” and nothing else.

Or how about this? Have you ever noticed that the majority of fiction coming out of the big New York houses is easy to categorize, clearly conforming genre fiction? Heaven forbid that one try to stir together a fictional brew that combines, say, suspense, the supernatural, comedy, and high school angst? (Sure, that described Buffy the Vampire Slayer to a tee, but before Josh Whedon created it definitively on television, who was writing anything like that? No one.)

While the rare independent voice has broken through the traditional publishing world on occasion, the truth is that those cases are exceedingly rare. Recent visits I’ve made to the Web site of a popular literary agent, who posts regularly about the sorts of novels he’s currently looking for, only underline this conformance to the majority culture of New York houses: the only suspense he was interested in were police/serial killer procedurals “set in New York City.”

In other words, he’s looking for the next James Patterson.

Prior to the development of the independent author scene that has flourished in the age of digital publishing, conforming to that majority culture was the only way to break into print and find some success. Only after building some success could an author take a risk and start trying to publish something different.

That’s no longer the case. Now, thanks to devices like the Kindle and Nook, and the markets they open up to independent authors, we no longer have to wait to write the novels we really want to write. We don’t have to serve time writing generic New York police procedurals; we can skip directly to writing about the strange goings-on in a remote northwest Wisconsin town – or whatever our personal obsessions and fascinations might be.

Like those ancient Maccabean rebels, today’s independent authors have an incredible opportunity to be true to themselves. For us today, that means writing the type of novels we really want to write, in the setting and voice that we want to write them. Rather than having those elements dictated to us.

Below this post is a list of writers who embody that spirit of revolution and independence. I encourage you to Follow, Tweet, Browse them all, and try out each of their offerings. That would, truly, make this a Festival of Books that honors the true spirit of Hanukkah.

===

Stephanie Abbott writing as Emma Jameson, author of Ice Blue (a cozy mystery): Blog and Twitter.
Danielle Blanchard, author of Death Wish (paranormal romance): Blog and Twitter.
Justin Dennis, author of Through The Portal (YA fantasy): Blog and Twitter.
Lisa Grace, author of Angel in the Shadows and Angel in the Storm (YA fantasy): Blog and Twitter.
Jonathan Gould, author of Doodling and Flidderbugs (both humorous fantasies): Blog and Twitter.
Craig Hansen, author of SHADA (YA thriller): Blog and Twitter.
Larry Kahn, author of The Jinx (thriller) and King of Paine (suspense): Blog and Twitter.
Emily Ann Ward, author of Finding Fiona (YA Sci-Fi) and Passages (YA short stories): Blog and Twitter.

How Stephen King saved my life

It’s not uncommon for people to admire Stephen King as a writer these days. His rebel years when he was the maverick genre writer of the publishing field, lacking the respect of the more august literary voices of the 1970s and 1980s, bucking trends to write horror fiction to a mass audience, are now well behind him. Now, he is an august literary voice himself, his novels having influenced one, and perhaps now two, generations of young writers.

So it’s nothing new or unique for me to cite Stephen King as a primary influence on my own writing, as I did frequently throughout my recently-completed blog tour for SHADA. Yet I have a different, more unique link to the master of modern horror than most writers. I can honestly say this:

Stephen King saved my life.

I mean that, literally.

No, Stephen King did not perform a life-saving operation on me in some secret second profession as a rival to Dr. Gregory House. Nor did he leap in front of me when we were walking down a lonely Maine road together as a dog-distracted driver bore down on us with his van.

Truth is, Stephen King and I have never met face to face. I’m not sure we ever will.

But despite the fact that we’ve never so much as shook hands or even passed each other in the airport, despite the fact that I’ve never even been to a book signing or writer’s conference where he was in attendance, one hard, cold fact remains true.

Stephen King saved my life.

How, you ask? Well, even though it’s true, that is a story in itself.

Allow me to set the scene.

The year was 1983. I was 16, in the middle of my high school career. And for probably the first time, I had some friends close to my own age.

That was an entirely new experience for me, and it had only developed over the past year or so. I was and had almost always been a bookish, shy kid. I preferred the company of books to the company of my classmates. Heck, I preferred hanging out with adults, for that matter.

Why? Well, I’d always been a bright kid. And not to verge on immodesty, but the gulf between me and my peers was significant enough to make me seem… I don’t know. Stuck up? Stand-offish? You’d have had to ask them, back then, at the time. Whatever the case, I didn’t “join in any reindeer games,” and generally kept to myself.

This landed me in trouble, more often than not. I’d be targeted for bullying. My mouth … I tended to be a smart-alack, as so many brainy, bookish kids are … often played a role in drawing such negative attention to me. And that happened enough that I ended up in a group counseling setting with some other kids close to my age. Kids who, like me, just didn’t fit in with “the general crowd” for one reason or another.

Slowly, I made a handful of friends. I started hanging out with them. The core group of us included three guys and one girl. The girl was dating one of the guys. (Not me.)

Anyway, we formed a bond and hung out whenever we could. We’d go to public parks and hang out until dark. We’d sing together. Whenever I was learning a part for a school play, they’d help me run lines. If I was memorizing a speech for speech competition, I’d recite it for them.

In fact, flash forward to my senior year in 1984-85, and the story I’d recite for them was “Strawberry Spring,” by Stephen King, a story out of his NIGHT SHIFT collection that was just short enough to… with a little selective editing to brief it up even more… fit within the time limit for the Dramatic Interpretation of Prose. I performed that piece well; in fact, I came one horror-hating judge away from going to state that year. But that’s a story for another time.

The point is, I learned to spook my friends out by reciting “Stawberry Spring” to them over and over again. They loved it, and loved getting spooked by it. And if we got too spooked out, we’d go back to singing Billy Joel and Wham! and Duran Duran songs to lighten the mood. I never would have come close to going to state with that piece without my friends being such a willing audience. I simply wouldn’t have practiced it enough without them.

But that’s not how Stephen King saved my life.

That’s yet to come. But what I need you to appreciate first is how important these friends were to me. These were not just my favorite pals from a certain time period. They were pretty much the only friends I’d made, ever, to that point in my life. At least among those who were my age, or close to it.

When a person has no close friends their own age at all, it’s actually easier to cope with. You don’t know what you’re missing. Because you never really had that. But once you’ve really had a tight group of friends, friends who accept you as you are… it creates a sort of magnetic field. You want to keep those friends. You don’t want to give them up. Even if it means making some personal sacrifices in your own life.

What kind of sacrifices?

Well, by the time I was in my junior year, I knew I was heading to college. I wanted to; I needed to. Grade school had been no challenge at all for me, and I knew I needed what college could offer… a chance to study in a way that would cause me to grow, to expand what I know, to push me harder than I could push myself. Because in high school, that’s the only time I learned anything: when I pushed myself.

But here’s the thing: it was also becoming clear to me that my three friends, the ones I was hanging out with as often as possible and who meant so much to me, were not heading to college with me.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with where they were headed. It’s just that my path was drawing me toward college, and their paths were drawing them toward different goals than I had.

It’s natural. It’s part of growing up. It’s almost inevitable.

And it terrified me.

You see, having lived sixteen years as a loner, my best friends being books instead of people, had it’s up-side: for example, I had published my first short story at the age of 14. I had written a few novels and a lot of short fiction since, though it would be a while before lightning struck again. And while I was generally a creative kid, involved in acting and singing and speech club and writing… I knew writing was where I would land. Had to land. It was my biggest strength. And for that I needed college. Needed it because I required more than what my tiny public school was able to offer me in terms of writing mentorship, even though they did what they could.

So, as much as I knew about my intellectual needs… I also understood, perhaps for the first time, that I had social needs as well. I needed that group of friends. I wasn’t convinced that if I left them behind, I could ever replace them. After all, look how long it took me to find these three, right?

I began to wonder if college was the right path for me. If my friends were going a different direction, then maybe I needed to change mine.

Of course, that would have been a disastrous path for me. I lacked both the skill set and the interest level in the sort of opportunities that awaited me on the non-college path, to be successful by going that direction. I’d have ended up on a career path that wasn’t right for me, never excelling at it, all to keep the only three really close friends I’d ever known.

I’m about to tell you how Stephen King saved my life.

In 1982, Stephen King published his collection of four novellas, DIFFERENT SEASONS. I held off buying it right away. I kind of liked his short fiction, such as NIGHT SHIFT, but mostly I loved King’s long novels. CUJO, CHRISTINE, and PET SEMATARY were all books I’d grabbed right away.

But for some reason, I held off on DIFFERENT SEASONS for a year… maybe two. If I recall correctly, I bought it sometime during my junior year, and let it sit before reading it later that summer, before my senior year.

I learned I didn’t care for all the stories in the book, in fairly short order. “Apt Pupil” held no appeal. “The Breathing Method” was boring, to me, back then.

But I read right away, and loved “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” Cool prison tale.

And then there was “The Body.”

I had no idea what I was in for. But that story was written for me. Whether Stephen King realizes it or not, “The Body” was written directly to a seventeen-year-old Craig Hansen, about to enter his senior year, both looking forward to college, and secretly dreading it because it might mean leaving his friends behind.

Maybe Stephen King lived through a similar time in his youth. Maybe one of his sons, Joe or Owen, faced a similar dilemma at some point. I’m not sure what his direct inspiration was. But “The Body” was written to an audience of one: me.

Because as I started reading “The Body,” I began to understand on a subconscious level, that Gordie LaChance was me. Gordie had three friends, just like I had three friends. And he feared entering college-track courses in high school that would separate him from his middle-school friends, just as I feared entering college would separate me from mine.

Gordie, you see, had a gift. He could write. He could story-tell. He had talent. Just like me.

And like me, “The Body” revealed, he was considering setting aside that talent to remain with the friends who meant so much to him. Just as I was.

So when Gordie shares his fears and his plan to blow off college-track courses to his best friend of the group, Chris Chambers, he expects approval; he figures Chris wants him to stick around, too.

But anyone who’s read “The Body” or seen STAND BY ME knows what happens next.

Chris threatens him to wise the hell up. “It’s like God’s given you this gift,” Chris basically tells him, “and if you throw it away, you’re an idiot.”

(Stephen King wrote that scene better than I’m retelling it. Go read it. Or rent STAND BY ME.)

The point is, with that scene, the older, wiser Stephen King was speaking directly to the teenage me. King was Chris Chambers to my Gordie LaChance, and he was telling me I was about to be a complete idiot. That my plan to hang onto the friends I had at age 17 at all costs … tossing aside my writing talent as a result … would be a completely bone-headed thing to do. A mistake. And one I’d come to regret only after it was too late.

King, through “The Body,” reached through the span of fiction, time, and space, shook me by the shoulders, and shouted, “Don’t be an idiot!” at me… just when I needed to hear exactly that.

Was King the only person who would have told me that? Probably not. I’m sure my mom would have said the same thing. Perhaps even my friends might have said it. But King is the one who said it… at the right time, and in the right way, so that it sank in and made a difference in the trajectory of my life, before I made that mistake. His was the one voice I wouldn’t have blown off, at that point in my life.

Now, had Stephen King written me a personal letter telling me the same thing blatantly, it probably would not have had the same impact. At all. I was bull-headed back them. Still tend to be.

But through the art of story, the gift of fiction, the creativity and craft of tale-telling, King reached me. He convinced me that however scary leaving my friends behind might be, it’s what needed to happen. That however frightening a prospect college was, it would benefit me in the end and I needed to embrace it.

So, I did. I listened as Stephen King/Chris Chambers read the riot act to Craig Hansen/Gordie LaChance. And I did go on to college. And eventually, I did lose touch with those three friends, for a time.

And ultimately, one of them even came back into my life recently as a long-lost pal who I still share a bond of friendship with. We’re both older, carry more weight and have wives now. But at least one of those friendships came back to me, over time.

But if I’d not gone to college? Not pursued writing? Not had the courage to grow up and move out? Who knows where I’d be today? But it probably would be nowhere good.

And that’s how Stephen King saved my life.

And that’s why it was so important to me to write something like “The Body.” That’s why it served as my inspiration for SHADA. And while SHADA might never save some young girl’s life the way “The Body” saved mine … well … I’m sure Stephen King never imagined “The Body” would save anyone’s life, either.

A Paranormal Confession

Those of you who are not authors may or may not know this, but one of the most common questions writers get asked is, “Where did you get the idea for this story?” Considering I’ve just launched my newest book, SHADA, the first book in the EMBER COLE series, I expect to hear this question a lot.

Well, let me share with you a secret. At least one of the core episodes in SHADA is based on a personal experience. A paranormal one.

That might shock some people who know me. After all, I’m the author of a Christian fiction book, MOST LIKELY. And furthermore, those who’ve bothered to do any digging know I’m a Messianic Rabbi In Training (MRIT). (Though it’s more like In Waiting these days.) People who read this might say to me, “Hold on! Aren’t you kind of a religious guy? Are you really saying the paranormal is real? You, a guy who believes in God?”

Well, let me tell you my own personal tale. My brush with the paranormal, as it were.

You see, I haven’t always been an MRIT. A few decades ago, I was a kid, like anyone else. Bright for my age, perhaps, but not always wise. We’ve all been there, right?

Now, I loved to read from the my earliest years. And once a topic caught my attention, I’d devour stacks of books until they became repetitive and had nothing new to teach me. That’s how I became almost an expert on old films, TV shows, and radio dramas and comedies that had gone off the air long before I was even born. I studied dinosaurs, the planets, archeology.

And, of course, like most young boys, eventually my fancy turned to monsters and ghosts and the like. Whether it was Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, vampires, werewolves, UFOs or haunted houses, once my attention gravitated there, I had to read everything I possibly could on the topic.

For a period of time, séances fascinated me. Why? Just the very idea of being able to talk to people who lived before you did was tempting. What entranced me about séances was the same tantalizing question that Jeni Taylor poses to her friends at the opening of SHADA:

“If you could talk to a dead person, anyone at all, who would it be?”

Eventually, I became so excited by the possibility that I shared the idea with my sister. We sat down and made up a list of everyone we might possibly want to talk to. My sister was three years younger than me, so she couldn’t think of many people. That’s okay. I’d soon filled up two sides of a sheet of paper with different folks.

I had dead musicians, dead politicians, military leaders and other historical figures. I know Abe Lincoln was on my list. So was Elvis Presley. The problem for an imaginative kid like me wasn’t coming up with names, it was narrowing the list down.

I didn’t prepare as well as Jeni, Ember, Willow and Shada. When it became clear we were going to attempt a séance of our own, we simply waited for a time when our parents were going to be out of the house for a while. My sister wanted to invite two of her friends over, because she knew Elvis was on my list and her friends would want to talk to him, too, if we actually made contact.

This was the late 1970s, mind you. Elvis had died only a couple years prior to my little séance brainstorm. He was still quite popular, and some kids still remembered him and missed him.

I was maybe twelve at the time. It’s hard to remember for sure. That would have put my sister at around age nine. Her friends were ten and seven. I think I agreed to let them come just so we could have a group of four for the séance.

Now, as much as I’d read about séances, I’d never been to one, nor did I have a clue how to properly conduct one. I knew it would be good to have a candle or two lit. I knew the room had to be dark. And I knew, or thought I did, that we needed at least four people. How did one conjure forth a deceased spirit? As far as I knew, you just called them forth.

I figured the worst that could happen was … nothing. I was wrong.

Anyway, one day my parents announced they were going into town to get some groceries. That guaranteed us at least an hour to ourselves. Paulette asked if she could call her friends and have them come over. Mom and Dad agreed, and left before they arrived. We were just beyond the age when we needed a baby sitter for short trips like this; or, at least, I was.

Once my sister’s friends arrived, we gathered the candle and matches and went up to my sister’s room, where we’d decided to hold the grand event. I had my list of names with me. It took some time to calm my sister’s friends down. They were all excited. We argued a bit about who to call forth first, but finally settled on Elvis.

Never once did it enter our minds that those who are dead, even if they could hear us, might have better things to do than come and chat with a bunch of pre-teen kids. Sure, they might have been too busy in life to have time for us, but now? They had eternity, right? It also never entered our minds that there might be, at any given time, dozens of other groups of kids, and maybe even some adults, attempting to call forth the same exact folks at the same exact time.

I think we assumed the omnipresence of God somehow extended to anyone who was dead. Or something. Maybe we were just too young to know any better.

Anyway, after a lot of hassles, we got settled, got the candle lit, and began our little séance. I hadn’t kept track of time very well, but I knew we need to “get the show on the road,” as my parents might say.

So, there in the candle-lit dark of my sister’s bedroom, the four of us joined hands. I began, for some reason, by reciting the Lord’s prayer. Not sure why. Then I cleared my throat and said the following:

“We call to the spirit of Elvis Presley. Elvis, if you are here, please give us a sign. Let us know you’re with us.”

What happened next scared all of us. But to understand it, you have to appreciate a few facts first.

First of all, my parents were not much into rock and roll. They loved country, polkas, ragtime, big band music, gospel, and jazz … but mostly, country. They had never before owned anything by Elvis Presley.

Second, you must understand that we lived in a small enough house that we ought to have heard my parents pull up and come in the house, returning early from their grocery run. But none of us did.

Third, you need to realize that what happened next took place perfectly on cue. As in, within a couple seconds from the moment I finished saying, “Let us know you’re with us.”

Here’s what we heard: The sound of Elvis Presley singing “Blue Hawaii.” And it was coming from downstairs!

We all screamed. My sister’s two friends turned five shade paler than pure white, jumped up, and ran down the stairs, past my confused parents and out the door and all three blocks home. Their mother and father didn’t let them come over for another visit for a month.

My sister screamed, too. I screamed a bit less, but I did scream at first. In the confusion, though, the candle got knocked over onto an old blanket we’d spread out and I had to put out the flame before it really caught on fire. As I was doing that, my sister high-tailed it out of the room and down the stairs.

The next thing I heard was my mother’s stern voice: “Craig Allen Hansen! Get down here right now!”

Being only twelve, and with all the commotion that had been caused, I had no choice but to confess to the whole thing to my parents. Fibbing about what we were up to didn’t even occur to me. I told them all about our séance plans and how, right when I asked Elvis to let us know he was with us, the music had started.

My mom told me their side of the story as my dad silently sipped coffee, his eyes sparkling with mirth.

When they went in to get groceries, there had been a stack of records on sale, most of them only a couple bucks, which was really cheap for album-length music, even back then. So, out of the blue, Mom decided to grab some Elvis records, even though she hadn’t listened to him much when he was alive, except for his gospel stuff.

When they pulled in the drive and carried the groceries in, Mom wanted to hear “how the record sounded,” and the first thing she did, even before hollering, “We’re home,” was put the Elvis record on.

Right as I was asking for a sign of his presence.

It was freaky, weird timing. Pure coincidence.

And it scared both my sister and me enough to know that séances are nothing to mess around with.

There are echos of that personal paranormal experience in SHADA. Whether the girls in my novel learn the same lesson I did, well … that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

But now you know, as Paul Harvey often said, the rest of the story.

New price for MOST LIKELY

After three and a half months at $2.99, I’ve decided to lower the eBook price of my debut novel, MOST LIKELY. The price change, which is now at $0.99, is not a reflection of the quality of the novel, but an admission of where I am in my career as a writer; very few people know me yet. I need to make more friends who are readers and willing to give me and my work a try.

It reminds me of a story. When I was a kid, I was into comic books, big time. I knew a couple of other kids in my town who were, too. We sometimes traded comics; other times, we bought issues we wanted off each other.

Once, one of those friends had decided he wanted to buy a “rare, even back then” copy of “Spider-Man vs. Superman,” which back then was a whopping $2.50! That represented at least one week’s worth of comic books back in the mid-1970s. It was, at that time, a major investment.

So he was selling off some of his comics and showed me his collection and asked me if there were any I was interested in. Of course, there was. At the time, I was big into TOMB OF DRACULA, written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by Gene Colon. He had an issue I’d missed when it first came out a year or so earlier, and I’d never been able to find another copy.

“Look,” he told me, “the cover price is thirty-five cents, but this one’s hard to find, and I only need another fifty cents to get Spider-Man vs. Superman. So I’ll let you have it for fifty cents.”

That seemed reasonable to me, so I paid the slightly-inflated price. A few weeks later, I ran into the other friend in town who collected comic books. He was eager to show off to me his latest acquisition: a Tomb of Dracula issue about a year earlier than the one I’d bought. I had my own copy, so I wasn’t jealous. But I was curious where he’d found it. So I asked.

He’d picked it up from our mutual friend. (The three of us were about the only comic book geeks in our small town of 350, by the way.) So I asked how much he’d paid.

“A quarter,” he told me. An issue a year older than mine, for half the price? That didn’t seem right, so the next time I saw our mutual friend, I asked him why he’d charged me twice as much for a newer issue of the same comic.

“I had something you needed, and something I wanted,” he told me. “I needed fifty cents for Spider-Man vs. Superman, and you had fifty cents.”

He’d charged our other friend less, later on, because he’d already acquired Spider-Man vs. Superman.

Even though I understood his reasons, I couldn’t help feeling he’d overcharged me. Even if only by a quarter.

So, back to the present situation.

I still believe that $2.99 is a fair price for an eBook; but it’s a fair price for an eBook by an author with a following, a group of friends who love his work. That circle of people is, right now, very small for me. And recent history has shown that $0.99 is an appropriate price for a new author looking to make new friends; friends who read.

So, today, I initiated a price drop on MOST LIKELY. The new, lower price represents a two-thirds savings over the original list price, and should remove any barriers to trying the book out. With eight reviews on Amazon and four on BN.com, MOST LIKELY has been consistently well-reviewed, garnering mostly four-star and a few five-star reviews. Now, the new price makes it easier than ever to try out.

The new price is already live on Amazon, BN.com and Smashwords. So go ahead and try it out! I’m moving to this price in celebration of my 45th birthday in September and if people perk up and remain interested, I’ll probably keep it right there for the foreseeable future.

And remember, later in September, I’ll be releasing SHADA, the first installment in the EMBER COLE series of young adult paranormal suspense books. That’ll be only $0.99, as well.

Enjoy these low cost of entry introductions to my writing. Let me know what you think. I hope you’ll find both worthwhile, and that these books will form the beginning of a longstanding friendship.

Second Sunday update

Wow, things went very swimmingly today.

After conquering the climactic scene of SHADA, I became very motivated and productive. I wrote a couple thousand more words, wrapped the novel in a bow and typed: THE END. In its current draft, the novel runs just under 30,000 words. That’ll change as I send it out to beta readers and my editor, I’m sure.

I’m still probably a month away from seeing SHADA reach publication, but this is an exciting moment in the history of this short novel. So it’s time to update my Round 3 goals:

DONE 1. Finish SHADA, the short novel prequel to EMBER.

The deed was complete around 5 PM CDT on Sunday, July 31.

DONE 2. Send SHADA to my beta readers.

Technically, it’ll be done before I hit the sheets tonight.

DONE 3. Audition editors and select one to handle duties on SHADA, since my regular editor is unavailable.

Did this earlier this week. I think I’ve found the editor I’m looking for, so I’m counting this as done.

That just leaves the following. I’ve pushed some of my tasks until after the move because my wife and I have a lot to do yet to prepare for the move. So… there’s that.

4. Revise SHADA based on feedback and send to editor.

5. Move to Oregon.

6. Revise SHADA based on editor’s feedback.

7. Publish SHADA to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

8. One-week blog tour supporting release of SHADA.

9. Following move, publish print/CreateSpace version of SHADA.

10. Work on EMBER whenever I have time to fill out Round 3. Attempt to finish EMBER by the end of Round 3.

Wow. Just… wow.

Never tell me that everything in a novel has to be obsessively plotted out and planned. Not after what I just experienced today.

When I began writing this afternoon, I was well over 25,000 words and the big, climactic scene in SHADA was about to begin. I was completely at a loss as to what to do with it. I know the typical expectations of the paranormal suspense genre. I understood the conflicts and inner turmoil that had brought all my characters, but especially Ember, to this point. And the best idea I had involved a vague notion of EVPs or a floating Ouija board spontaneously responding to questions.

In other words, cheesy genre concepts I wasn’t completely happy with. And even what I had written so far was evidence of my aversion to those solutions. It was as though my creative instincts were telling me no, even though my conscious mind had no firm Plan B waiting in the wings.

But I began to write, and, well…

…don’t tell me that everything in a novel has to be obsessively plotted out and planned. It doesn’t. It just doesn’t.

As I was writing, I just let the characters and the situation take over. I wrote without thinking about it. I wrote the moment and just let things happen.

And a solution appeared.

I’d love to tell you about it. Really, I’m burning up here with anticipation to see what others think of it. I want to shout for joy and share this experience about how I solved the biggest conundrum in all of SHADA … what to do with the climactic scene … and how the best possible, most unexpected way of handling things just … appeared on paper as I wrote.

It’s a perfect, perfect moment that, in a real out-of-left-field way, but in a way that completely works, just does everything that needs doing in a way that will take readers by surprise and, hopefully, leave them satisfied.

But.

If I did that … if I shared what appeared as I typed the scene out here … it would spoil the entire SHADA short novel. Absolutely ruin the surprise. No, this is something I simply have to keep to myself. It has to be part of experiencing the story, or it might never make sense. And it certainly wouldn’t be fully appreciated out of context.

No, I’m keeping my trap shut on this little tidbit. If you want to know, you’ll have to wait until SHADA is released. You’ll have to buy the book and read it for yourself. And since it’s going to be released at only $0.99, there’s practically no sane reason not to.

But that’s a ways off yet. I am at just over 27,000 words and have a few thousand more to go before everything wraps up, giving the novel closure. Then there is the beta-reading and the editing and the revisions yet to come. But trust me, I can now say with full confidence, it’s going to be worth the wait.

SHADA has a resolution that will take you by surprise. Guaranteed.

And until I actually wrote it, I never even saw it coming.

So, again, never tell me that everything in a novel has to be obsessively plotted out and planned. Not after what I just experienced today.

What constitutes a story?

Over at KindleBoards.com, there was a recent discussion thread where a fellow author wondered about whether he should publish his novel as a novel, or as three shorts novellas. He was concerned because he knew of a reader who had read an eBook and expressed a preference for reading a complete novel, rather than, “a one-act novella.”

He asked for feedback and I posted my response before reading what anyone else wrote. I’ve adapted it here for my writer’s blog because I think it’s an important question to consider.

You see, I think novellas are a wonderful thing.

But only if a complete story is being told; something with a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying resolution. A one-act story that’s obviously part of a longer work, where there’s not much middle and no resolution/end, is not, to me, satisfying.

I think of some of the short novels and novellas I’ve read and loved over time.

RITA HAYWORTH AND THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION by Stephen King:

This short novel by King contained more plot, detail, story and memorable characters than many authors offer up using twice the number of words. It wasn’t part of a series, though; King resolved everything that needed to be resolved within that form.

THE BODY by Stephen King

Again, a short novel by King that offers a complete reading experience, in and of itself. And one of the most influential novels on MY life that I’ve ever read.

These are a handy pair that leap to mind immediately.

What is less satisfying is when one is offered a short novel, but all it does is introduce and establish the cast and the basic conflict, without really telling any story. That’s a sin that, I contend, is exactly what the first two books of Stephanie Meyer’s TWILIGHT series do. There’s really nothing in those first two novels.

And a lot of paranormal romances are like TWILIGHT.

Now, I’m all about writing novels that are part of a series. It can be a fun thing to do. They can even be a pleasure to read. But each installment must have a sense of something happening, and something being resolved by the end of it, even if more story lay ahead.

Think of it this way: The Hardy Boys Mysteries by Franklin W. Dixon were a very popular series from the 1930s on. Each novel followed Jim Shooter’s rules for storytelling (even though they were written before Shooter was born).

Introducing characters, establishing conflict, building suspense, and reaching a resolution to… something! That’s not the complete list, but that’s the essence of it.

Would the Hardy Boys have been as good a series, as popular with readers, if it were structured like modern-day paranormal roamnces? Here’s how that might look.

MURDER AT BLACK ROCK: Book 1

Joe and Frank go to Black Rock Summer Camp and find themselves … accused of the murder of nerdy science geek and fellow camper, Brad Brent!

MURDER AT BLACK ROCK: Book 2

Joe and Frank escape from police custody and are on the run from the law as they seek to discover the identity of the real killer of Brad Brent before he strikes again. But then another camper shows up dead: head counselor and Joe and Frank’s main suspect, Robert Worrell!

MURDER AT BLACK ROCK: Book 3

Accused of both the murder of Brad Brent and Robert Worrell, Joe and Frank call their police-chief father to come to summer camp and help them solve the murder. On the drive up, he pulls to the side of the road and takes a nap. When he wakes up, he’s being held captive by… Camp Founder Nathan Vean!

MURDER AT BLACK ROCK: Book 4

Joe and Frank elude capture as their father fights for his life against Camp Founder Nathan Vean. They stumble upon the cabin Vean is holding their father in, overcome Vean, and expose him as the culprit of the crime. END OF MURDER AT BLACK ROCK.

Be sure to buy our next Hardy Boys Saga, A SERIOUS EYE INFECTION… a mystery in SIX PARTS!

Would that have led to success for The Hardy Boys?

No. Of course not. Readers would have been ticked off.

We need, as writers, to realize that novels are NOT episodic television. What works for DOCTOR WHO or THE KILLING does not work in novel form. And the fact that DOCTOR WHO novelizations gather the old Tom Baker serials (and the serials of other Doctors, too, of course) into one novel per story, instead of taking a seven-episode story and making it seven short novels, should tell us something.

I have an interest in how to approach this sort of conundrum.

I am working on a series next myself. The EMBER series of novels. There are certain character arc elements to my series that will carry over from novel to novel.

But one thing I won’t be doing with EMBER is telling an incomplete story and calling it a novel, or even a short novel.

I’m working on the first installment, SHADA, which is a prequel of sorts to EMBER. Call it “Ember, Book Zero” if you wish.

It’s already over 25,000 words and will go at least 30,000, maybe even 35,000. It’ll go as long as it goes, I guess.

Why?

Because as much as I want SHADA to be a short novel, I want even more for SHADA to be a complete reading experience in and of itself. Some of the characters will move on to the next book. Others may fade out.

New characters definitely pop up as the series goes on. But the main story of SHADA is the story of a camping trip these four friends go on and their adventures during it. When the words THE END appear at the conclusion of SHADA, that camping experience that the novel is about is done, over, told.

The ramifications of it may ripple into future novels, sure. That’s fair. But that particular adventure is complete.

So, these are my thoughts.

I love short novels.

I love series.

I don’t love incomplete reading experiences, though. So if something needs to be novel-length to be complete, make it novel-length. If something’s a short novel length and is complete, let it be a short novel.

GOLDEN RULE: Short stories, novelettes, short novels and novels are not episodic television. Each story needs a beginning, middle and resolution/end. Anything less, and whatever it is, it’s not a story.

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