author, blogger and book reviewer

Recent Posts

“Jack:” A Short Story by Horror Author William Todd

     I hope you read my recent interview with fiction author William Todd. If not, it’s still available here and definitely worth your time and trouble. I would again like to thank him for being so gracious with his time, and for sharing a lot more than his thoughts. The following is one of the chilling tales from Dead of Night, Todd’s new collection of 19th century horror stories.  I’d set the stage for you but the true beauty of a guest blog is that it gives me the opportunity to turn the keyboard over to someone else for a change.  If you need me I’ll be hiding under my bed.

 

     As a lover of all things Victorian I could not write a compilation of horror stories without including a story about the infamous Jack the Ripper. Next to Sherlock Holmes, Jack is my favorite person from that era. I’ve read the stories of possible suspects, examined the gory photos, and watched just about every cable show devoted to the serial killer. Every time someone purports to have “new evidence”, I listen, read, or watch. It’s one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of all time, after all, and who wouldn’t want to know who Jack the Ripper really was? Now, I do have my own opinion, of course, and that is how my story Jack came about. The story is told from the Ripper’s point of view and in the present tense, as the killer sets out on the night of the infamous “double event” where Jack kills both Elizabeth Stride and Catherin Eddowes. I dare you to take a walk, side by side, through the streets of White Chapel in 1888 with Jack the Ripper. Enjoy.

                –William–

 

 

Jack. Jack. I like that nickname. Only my closest acquaintances call me Jack, but the newspapers are proof my inner circle is ever widening.

Jack. It has certain qualities to it that appeal to me. It is a one-syllable name, and no one should waste lung capacity on any name longer than one syllable. It is also a hard, uncompromising name. There is nothing in the sound of it that denotes indecisiveness.

Jack. I kill like my nickname—quick and decisive.

Tonight is the night. The moon knows. It is hiding behind a wet blanket of clouds the color and consistency of drab wool. On occasion it may peak out momentarily, but once it sees my distinct silhouette upon the cobblestones of Whitechapel, it whips up those dingy covers over its head once more.

Gaslights barely cut through the vaporous filth that is the atmosphere of London, leaving most anything beyond ten feet of their golden, glowing halo in undulating darkness. But the darkness and I are inextricably linked. It envelops me like the welcoming hug of a friend and ushers me along the back mews unseen. That is where I prefer to do my business. That is where the whores and prostitutes dole out their vile bodies for nothing more than a drink or drug or food.

Tonight, another lucky one will confer her body to me, but it will be for my pleasure and not hers.

For some reason, this amuses me and I smile, but my friend the darkness sweeps it into the shadows under my rimmed felt hat as I pass under a lamppost and turn left onto Duke Street.

A little farther, and I will turn down Church Passage toward Mitre Square. I have business there.

I feel inside my caped coat and find the long, polished steel that I will use in my endeavor. It is long, sharp, and slightly slick with the blood of my first catch. I wiped it in haste on the trollop’s dress, but it did not come completely clean. I can feel its coldness through my leather gloves. It transfers to my touch a longing that entices me to quicken my pace—just a little.

My hands also trace along the bulge of my belly through the thick lining of the coat. Tucked into the front of my shirt is a linen bag from the hospital. My employer never misses them. They have more linen bags then they can ever account for. Within the bag is my post mortem clothing. The bag sits in my front in such a way as to make me look paunchy, like so many Englishmen. In reality, I am lean, so my torso amalgamates with the linen bag quite well. Any abnormalities from concealing this under my shirt are further hidden under my full-length coat.

I also feel, but do not rattle, my full change purse. It is the bait that will be cast into the slimy sea of prostitutes.

The fish are hungry. They are always hungry.

So am I, yet my hunger doesn’t subside with a full belly but with bloody hands.

As I begin to turn into Church Passage, the onset of my affliction is quick. I have to stop. Everything is silent when my footfalls cease. This area between the street lamps and the passage is coffin dark but not reassuring to my sense of seclusion.

I look around at the stone and glass cemetery around me for an even darker refuge. None is darker than where I am about to proceed.

My head is pounding as though being pummeled under the hoof of a draught horse, and my equilibrium leaves me like an exhaled breath.

I take refuge in that narrow, walled walkway. Its darkness is soothing and complete, but its length and narrowness fosters within me a feeling of staring down the mouth of a well that stretches to the very bowels of the earth. My dizziness lies to me, telling me that lifting my feet would be tantamount to lunging headlong down that forever-falling fount.

After a few steps into the tarry gloom, so as not to be seen by any improbable passers-by, I clutch and pull myself to the cold, wet wall just in case that fabrication of falling transforms into fact.

I squeeze my face, as if the pressure I produce will force the vileness within me out through my ears. This vileness is Syphilis. My experience tells me that it is in its final stages.

In this tertiary stage, Syphilis will manifest itself by causing severe pain and vertigo, hallucinations, and dementia, to name but a few.

Some of these symptoms affect me, but it is not dementia that inclines me to slice the throats of and eviscerate prostitutes. One of those bottom dwellers infected me so many years ago. I was young and adventuresome, a free spirit who was willing to try anything for the sake of pleasure. I was ruled more by my groin than my brain or my heart. It was folly, I now know, but the young always seem to think their humanity is covered in a suit of armor. I was different in many respects, but in that respect I was a rank-and-file youth who thought could get away with eating the poisonous mushroom and come out unscathed.

Now, that poison is eating my brain. I am not so far gone as to think I can rid the world of all of its overgrowth of weeds, but I can certainly give it a trim around the edges.

Besides, I have found by the purest of happenstance that I also like doing it. There is a certain feeling of contentment that wells within me after my business is done, not unlike, no doubt, that which Michelangelo felt when completing one of his frescos. Like him, I am a master of my medium.

I repress a tormented wail that has boiled up to my lungs from the pot of pain in my belly. If it advances any further I will give myself away. I squeeze my face even harder to keep my torment within me, lest it escape with the ferocity of a North Sea gale.

I have a small bottle of laudanum to ease the pain, but I loath drinking it before doing my business. It numbs my senses and lessens the enjoyment I might otherwise have playing with a wench’s internal organs. I will use it, if need be, but I decide to wait and see if the ordeal passes. Sometimes it will come and go within a matter of minutes, but sometimes the agony lasts for hours at a time.

Just when I think the pain is at its most unbearable and reach for the small bottle in my coat pocket, the pain relinquishes its iron grasp on me. It leaves me weak and exhausted. I resist the urge to retch, because I am strong.

Syphilis will eventually win the war, but I have won every battle since taking up the fight.

I inhale deeply to give much-needed oxygen to my body. This renews me, and I need as much strength as can be mustered tonight. A lot of energy was used up just a short while ago with the first one but not as much as I would have liked; someone in a dogcart was boorish enough to interrupt my opus.

This grip of pain was not entirely unexpected, but its intensity, though short in duration, was one of greater magnitude than any previous. It takes several more deep inhalations to regain my vigor.

Then, the sudden footsteps at the end of the passage sober me fully. She is coming from the direction of Mitre Square. How convenient it is that the prey comes to the predator this time.

The outline to most at this distance would be indiscernible, but the darkness is my friend. It whispers in my ear in the form of quick, delicate steps that this is a woman. As if ushering her to her demise, fingers of fog wrap themselves around her as she starts down the passage.

There is only one kind of fish in the sea at this hour. It is time to cast another lure.

As our paths narrow, my steps are longer and faster; we are nearer to Mitre Square than Duke Street, from which I had just turned. I can sense apprehension in the woman—just a little. Her step slackens then resumes its original pace, scraping a heel of her shoe on the walkway, almost stumbling. Considering the deeds I’ve done over the last few weeks, I suppose one should not blame her. She has reason to be fearful; fate has put her in the path of Jack the Ripper.

See, even Destiny is unwilling to protect those such as this creature, who will give away her most precious asset for the smallest morsels of sustenance, not even being civilized enough to keep herself clean for those to whom she sells.

Horror Author William Todd

I will now free her of that burden.

She is within striking distance.

I rattle my change purse loud enough for her to realize my intentions.

She slows down and nods. “Evenin’, sir.”

I tip my hat, and disguise my voice, though I probably have no reason to do so to catch this fish. “Will you?”

She stood a moment perfectly still, as though ascertaining my qualities through the inky night between us.

I can smell apprehension in the small space between us.

She begins to walk past without reply, but I grab her by the arm.

I once again rattled my full change purse. “Twice what you usually ask, if you will. If you will, please.”

I think it beneath me to plead, but I am in character. A paunchy old Englishman like myself would no doubt have to plead, even if a little, to get a woman to open up for me.

Her shadowed head turns briefly inspecting the coal-black walkway behind her. She turns her head back to me, up the passageway, then back to me, once more. I can tell by the slight widening of her shadowed cheeks that a smile has creased her face in acquiescence. It is too bad that her last smile would be wasted on me.

She begins lifting her dress as she says in a whisky-hardened voice, “Twice it is, then, and you won’t regret what I give you, if I do say so myself, sir.”

This is when I am at my best. I am an expert at this grizzly business. I know precisely when to strike and how. I am ambidextrous in this obscurity and know my way around a body by a sense few others possess. It is this awareness that strengthens my bravado to do something no other would dare try nearly sightless and with stepped up patrols in every quarter of Whitechapel.

My hands are surprisingly lightning-quick and tourniquet-tight, and they strike at the woman’s neck while her hands are busy with her dress.

I force her back towards Mitre Square then up against the gritty wall, as my hands clench off the blood supply to her brain and her windpipe, refusing her the ability to scream.

She struggles violently, as they all do, but she is quickly using up what little oxygen she has in her lungs. She only manages a push against my face. She swings her hands wildly, but she manages only to land fruitless blows to my shoulder.

There always arises in me at these times a revulsion-induced strength that I would never otherwise have. My hands compress like the coils of a constrictor around her neck, and I almost believe that I have the force to pop her head completely off her shoulders.

She tries with what little energy she has left for one last attempt to free herself from my grip, but my forearms are plastered against her shoulders, my legs are firmly between hers, pressing outward to keep her off balance, and all she can do is wiggle like an insect on an entomologist’s pin board.

Instead of striking at me, she tries to maneuver her right hand to her body. She is surprisingly quick as she reaches for something hidden under her shawl.

I might have misjudged how close she was to death. Some succumb quickly to my grip. Others aren’t so ready to give up the ghost. This one is a fighter, and that only heightens my arousal for blood.

I feel the tempered steel brush up against my forearm.

Halloa! She carries protection. Since my implement is sullied, I will use hers when the time comes.

Though she manages to retrieve the knife, I do not give her enough use of her arm to use it with any effect. She manages to stick its point into my coat sleeve, cutting the outer shell, but it is not with enough force to rend all the layers and get at my skin.

I momentarily free my left hand from its death grip around her neck and place it firmly around her right wrist. I then continuously smash it against the rough wall behind her. Each connection of knuckle to stone elicits a muffled cry of pain, until at last she loses her grip of the knife, and it falls to the ground.

I give her credit. That was an admirable attempt. But even with one interrupted session and an unbearable attack of pain, I, even in a weakened state, am more than she can manage.

I feel her muscles begin to ease. The hiss of her cut-off screams lessens.

I begin to move her along the wall as I squeeze the remaining pathetic life from her. I like moving them around. I know from experience that a dance with death will help use up what little strength they may as yet have. Usually they die quickly when we dance, and I have to be quick.

As if transferring her life force into me, her limp body empowers my now weakening muscles. This has been a grueling night, even for the likes of me. But the dead give off a scent. This scent is like perfume to my nostrils. It reinvigorates me to finish gutting my catch.

I retrace the distance from the end of our death dance to where it had begun. I find her dropped knife in a shallow pool of rainwater at the base of the passage wall. I retrieve it and I set about doing my business happily and swiftly.

I am midway through my business when my affliction strikes me, once more. The pain sears me like a hot iron poked into my eyes and into my brain.

Recently, I have begun to notice the onset of my attacks becoming more frequent. For the most part, they have been bearable, and I have been able to disguise the painful attacks or seek temporary refuge until they subside. The only one who knows about my affliction is my friend the night. That is the way it shall remain until such a time arrives when I can no longer keep control of my senses. I will not spend the rest of my days locked in an asylum room, staring out at the drab London fog, watching the pestilence peddle their wares on the streets below. I will take my own life when the time comes. I am the only one worthy to take the life of Jack the Ripper.

Instead of trying to repress the pain, I turn it into an all-consuming anger that jolts my hands like lightning strikes. These seething bolts of hatred are concentrated around the woman’s face. I stab, I slice, I cut, I gouge, until I am completely winded.

The shadow-hidden knife drips the aftermath as I clutch my head once more and drop to my knees.

I decide prudence at this point is best if I am to carry on my business beyond this night, and I pull the laudanum from my coat pocket. It won’t take affect right away, but by the time I am a block away, my head will no longer swell to its bursting point.

I also take from my coat pocket a small leather satchel. I put a few trinkets from my handiwork into it for later use, pull the drawstring and my onyx companion whisks me into the damp and foggy night as unseen as the cowering moon.

Two blocks down, I find a small alcove hidden by the night that services a butcher shop. It is here that I change into my post mortem attire. I put my bloody gloves, ripped coat, trousers and shirt, even my felt hat into the linen bag and replace them with more proper attire.

I walk several more blocks to London Bridge. There, before I start across, I pick up a large and heavy stone from the walkway and place it into the linen bag and secure it tightly. This I toss into the Thames’ muddy waters when I am at the bridge’s midway point.

I spend the next hour walking about with my friend the night, reliving the precious moment in my mind over and over: the muffled, desperate cries of terror arouse me; the tension as the blade touches the skin then the release as the sinew parts sends my spine tingling; the viscous fluid that sprays from the wound warms me like a hot cup of tea. All this brings a sigh of satisfaction to my lips from a good night’s work, but every artist must rest between masterpieces, and the sigh is quickly replaced by a yawn.

 

It is nearly three-thirty in the morning when I finally arrive back home. I try to be as quiet as possible when entering the flat. I even left my taxi a block away to keep the hoof-upon-cobblestone noise at a minimum.

Instead of going directly to bed, I spend some time in the toilet room. Candlelight flickers my distorted shadow across the wall as I pour cold water into a basin and splash its coolness across my beaten features. I return my gaze at the stranger who is staring back at me from the mirror. The stranger looks weary.

My hands shake.

My ears ring like the inside of a tolling bell.

I know that my playtime is nearing its end.

From another room I hear a tired voice call out, “Jack? Is that you?”

I say nothing. I just stare at the wilting face before me. At one time it was such a beautiful face. Now, it is a haggard shell of what it used to be.

There is a knock at the door then a sleepy-eyed face peaks in. “Jack?”

I still can only stare unblinking at what Syphilis has done to me. My eyes, once as blue as a country sky, are now dull and gray. My cheeks have sunken and my chin protrudes like the desiccated ruins of a mummy. The once delicate features of a woman are now being eaten away. This transformation has seemingly happened within the time span of an evening.

“Jacqueline, are you alright?” he asks again, using my given name.

I unfasten and let down my long, blond hair then run my hands through their thinning strands.

I sigh. “Sorry, love. It’s been a long night.”

 

 

If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Turn the Page book review blog. Visit michaelsova.com, or find me on Facebook and Twitter @Micsova. My two novels, A Shot at Redemption and Parlor City Paradise, are available at Amazon and wherever e-books are sold.

19th Century Man: An Interview with Author William Todd

I first met author William Todd on a sort of writers’ forum on Facebook. He was seeking reviews for Sherlock Holmes: and the Mystery of the Broken Mirror . As a longtime fan of the sleuth, I was only too happy to oblige.    Feel free to read my Turn the Page review.

Now if you’ll pardon me for just a moment while I once again beat this very dead horse.   Book reviews are extremely important. I can’t stress that enough and it is especially true when it comes to independently publish authors like William Todd and yours truly. If you read a book and if you liked it, please take a few seconds to give a rating and make a brief comment or two. We’d be eternally grateful.

So bottom line, I was impressed enough with the new Sherlock Holmes adventure that I not only published a review but then offered to read and review Todd’s latest release, a military tale titled Uncommon Valor. That got me thinking. Why has this guy, who identifies himself mainly as an author of 19th century horror stories, penned a classic-style Holmes mystery and a story about the war in Iraq? I wanted to pursue that so asked if I could interview him for my blog and he graciously agreed.

William Todd has been writing for about a decade and a half and he was the second most popular author on storiesbyemail.com until the website folded about eight years ago. Todd’s first book, a collection of horror/supernatural stories called Bumps in the Night was picked up by Mystic Moon Press. The publisher promptly folded and he never received any royalties. Kinda seems like he’s bad luck; doesn’t it? I hope my site doesn’t crash after this interview goes live. Let’s see what else we can find out about Mr. Todd while we still have the chance.

 

Q: Why did you become a writer?

 A: I think I was first drawn to writing in college. It started out with writing reports, term papers, etc. My professors said I had a knack for words and always made reading whatever assignment I was given more enjoyable. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I actually started reading novels, but I made up for lost time. I was in my mid-twenties when I took an online course in writing in the internet’s early years (mid 1990’s). I’ve been writing ever since.

 

Q: Why are the majority of your stories set during the late 1800’s?

 A: One of the first stories I ever read was Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle. I loved the setting, the style of writing (which I try to emulate), and the characters of Holmes and Watson. I was hooked from that point on. Bram Stoker’s Dracula also added to the allure of how a Victorian story was written, as much as when it was written.

 

Q: What would you say is your greatest strength as an author and why?

 A: This may sound weird but I think one of my strengths is my ability to live inside my head. What I mean is that I can picture an entire story, almost like a movie, in my head. I see it vividly, every character, every color, every emotion, every detail of setting. I then transfer what I’m seeing in my mind to the paper.

 

Q: What is your biggest weakness?

A: I will say that my biggest weakness is coming up with new material. I am very picky about what I write. I will not write for the sake of putting words on paper. If I don’t have something very specific to write about, I don’t write. That usually means that I can have droughts where I’m not writing anything.

 

Q: What or who inspires you?

A: My family inspires me. My son, at least in his creative writing ability, now in high school, is getting the same compliments from his teachers that I was getting in college. My hope is that he will be better at it than I am.

 

Q: What made you decide to write a new Sherlock Holmes story?

A: I had never intended to write a Sherlock Holmes story at all, let alone two. I am drawn more to traditional horror/supernatural tales, and that is the bulk of what I write, rarely leaving the late 1800’s in any of my stories. But I love Sherlock Holmes so much—and his character lived in my favorite era—that I felt a pull to write at least one Holmes and Watson mystery. I had never attempted a mystery before. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it was received. It managed #70 on Amazon for mysteries and thrillers even though it was a short story. I got lots of friendly feedback on how to make the story a better mystery, so, not leaving well enough alone, I set out for another longer Holmes Mystery.

  

 

Q: What did you find the most challenging about writing fan fiction?

 A: Capturing an authentic Conan Doyle voice for the Characters was tough. The only thing in my favor was that I was already writing in a Victorian voice in my horror stories. I’ve read every Holmes tale at least twice and some several times so it was a matter of just writing what and how I thought, based on what I’d already read, Holmes and Watson would say. I will also add this: my second story strays, just a bit, from the original voice of Conan Doyle. I’m not sure why, but as I wrote I felt more inclined with this story to give a more intimate tone between Holmes and Watson. They bicker more, are a bit more playfully sarcastic to each other. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law creeping into my mind’s eye as I wrote this one.

 

Q: When it comes to fan fiction, are there any guidelines/protocols/criteria  you need to be especially aware of?

A: Yes, POV is critical. While not exclusive, Conan Doyle used first person (Watson) for most of his Holmes stories. If you are not very careful, you can unintentionally veer out of first person while writing and not even realize it. Also, do lots of research. Phrases of the day, terms used that aren’t used now, lots of maps of Victorian London. I write thinking that people are going to look this stuff up to see if what was said was true or if I was just lazy and made it up. I spent a week researching train routes in West England just to make sure I was correct in what I wrote.

 

Q: What books or authors have had the greatest impact on you as a writer?

A: Obviously Conan Doyle, but also, Dean R. Koontz. He is probably the author I have read the most over the years, with Conan Doyle a close second.

 

Q: What are some of your interests when you’re not reading or writing?

 A: I love old movies. I used to love running until a fickle back decided it didn’t like it when I ran. The rest of the time, I work as a pathologist’s assistant and histology lab supervisor in a local hospital to keep my family fed and a roof over our heads. My work week is about 50 hours a week. With two teens, one with Down Syndrome, the rest of my time not writing is fully engulfed in helping my wife referee, taxi, and feed them.

 

Q: I have read your Sherlock Holmes as well as your military story.  I have not yet had the opportunity to read any of your horror. What can you tell me about that?

A: As far as my horror/supernatural stories are concerned, I love anything that goes bump in the night. I try not to be a slasher horror writer. If the story warrants it, I will give detail but I try to let the reader use their imagination a bit. I am a religious person—I’m Catholic—so I am naturally drawn to Good V.s Evil, demons and devils, and wickedness and redemption. There is usually a moral hidden somewhere in just about every horror story I write. I rarely write a scary story just for the sake of being scared, but I do on occasion indulge my baser instincts.

 

Q: You obviously cover a lot of ground with your fiction. Is there a work you are especially proud of? If so, which one and why?  

A: I think my favorite is my collection of short stories titled Dead of Night: Tales of the supernatural and the macabre. These stories really represent the entirety of my writing career so far. “Three–Bumps in the Night,” “Jack,” and “The Whitaker House Curse” are some of my first stories. “The Whitaker House Curse” is about a man who unwittingly makes a deal with the Devil. “Jack” is a romp through the streets of London with the famous serial killer with one of the best story twists ever, and “Bumps in the Night” is about a little girl with Down Syndrome who has a dad with a certain affliction that manifests itself every full moon. “I’m still Alive,” “The Thing in the Shadows,” and “It’s Only Johnny” are my newest works (minus the Sherlock Holmes I just finished). These stories deal with the consequence of a guilty conscience, an ancient family curse, and what all little kids fear in the middle of the night. Fall and Halloween are my favorite times of year and these stories are quintessential dark stormy night, leaves falling from the trees, ‘was that strange noise the wind’, cover up on the couch kind of reads. They are more along the lines of Dickens and Poe and Lovecraft Than Stephen King. Although I am beginning to spread my wings a bit with different genres, what I like to call ‘traditional horror’ will always be my favorite.

 

Q: You identify yourself primarily as a horror writer and most of your stories are set in the 19th century. “Uncommon Valor” is contemporary military fiction so you really broke that mold. What was the inspiration for something so far out of your normal comfort zone?

A: The impetus of the story came from an episode of NCIS. The main character, Gibbs, investigates the death of a Navy Admiral. At the end of the sad episode, Gibbs says to the widow, “Fair winds and following seas, ma’am.” My entire story revolved around that one little phrase and “Uncommon Valor” was the result.

 

Q: Do any of the characters in “Uncommon Valor” have a special and/or personal significance?

A: I think I put a little bit of myself into Corporal Davis. Some of the things he went through growing up I went through myself. Even my joining the National Guard, like Davis joining the Marines, was on a whim. I never gave it the deliberation I probably should have, and before I had time to back out, I had signed all the paperwork and it was too late. Eleven years later….

 

Q: What literary genre do you think would be the most difficult in which to write and why?

 A: I think the hardest genre to write would be science fiction. I have a lot of respect for science fiction writers, but I just don’t think my brain is wired for that. I think I would have a hard time getting the right combination mixing a science (real or made up) with a story line. I’d either focus too much on the story and forget the science aspect or focus so much on the science the story would be terrible. Either way, I don’t see any space odysseys in my future.

 

William Todd’s books are available on Amazon.com. You can also connect with the author on Facebook.

 

If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Turn the Page book review blog. Visit michaelsova.com, or find me on Facebook and Twitter @Micsova. My two novels, A Shot at Redemption and Parlor City Paradise, are available at Amazon and wherever e-books are sold.

 

There’s Gold in Them There Curses: A Curious New Trend in Publishing

As an independently published author of two suspense novels, I am always looking for ways to get noticed. It’s no mean task either. Amazon is the largest book retailer in the world and they currently have somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 million print and e-book titles available, give or take a few hundred thousand. In other words, I am a broken needle in a haystack the size of Mount Kilimanjaro; but at least I’m not alone. We’re all in the same over-sized boat, if you’ll please pardon the mixed metaphor. What to do… what to do.

The publishing industry has changed drastically over the past decade and a half. On the plus side, it’s quicker and easier than ever for an author to get his/her work into the marketplace. However, the size and scope of said marketplace has increased exponentially. It’s sort of a double-edged sword. Sure, you can get your masterpiece published tomorrow, but it’s going to be tucked away somewhere in the vastness of an ever-expanding virtual bookshelf. Remember when the only way to purchase a book was to find it in an actual store? Those days are over, and bookstores are rapidly going the way of phone booths, arcades and drive-in theaters. They’re not extinct yet but definitely on the endangered species list.

Whether self published or represented by a “traditional” publishing house, it’s increasingly the responsibility of the author to shoulder the burdens of publicity, marketing and promotion. That isn’t a problem for a guy like, well, let’s just say Stephen King. But for every one of him, there are thousands upon thousands of Michael Sovas, M.L. Stoughtons and EM Kaplans. How do we, the collective anonymous, even begin to make a name for ourselves? Good question.

When I published “A Shot at Redemption,” my debut novel, I scheduled a signing event at a recently defunct local bookstore. I was deathly afraid no one would show up so I thought outside the box and came up with a little insurance policy. Without going into too much detail, I arranged for a high school music group to perform in conjunction with my appearance. It was a tremendous success, thanks mostly to them, but I knew at the time it wasn’t sustainable. As nice as it might be, I can’t travel around with my own personal minstrels.

When it came to “Parlor City Paradise,” my second release, I decided to try something different. I sponsored a photo contest and announced that the winning entry would be featured in the book’s cover design. I not only ended up with a great cover but also got some free publicity in several area newspapers, on websites, etc. My strategy was effective to a degree, but once again, not sustainable. It likewise failed to reach beyond my local market.

The vast majority of book buyers are now doing their shopping online. They go to Amazon or wherever, type an author or title into the search box and that’s it. That whole browsing thing has sort of gone away because it’s no longer possible to randomly wander aisles until you see something that looks good. If you don’t know what you want going in, your best bet is usually to pull up a book you already read and liked and start investigating related items. Here’s the point, if you’re not familiar with Michael Sova, M.L. Stoughton or EM Kaplan already, the odds of stumbling upon them by chance are somewhere between slim and no f***ing way… and that might be the key to this whole thing.

I was listening to a recent episode of NPR’s “Wait… Wait… Don’t Tell Me” and I learned about a new trend in publishing that’s both interesting and kind of disturbing. There is apparently a concern that millennials aren’t buying enough books and a concerted effort is being made to change that. What, you might ask, could make boring old books so enticing that they can compete with Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, Candy Crush and the slew of digital media that’s available 24 hours a day? The answer, apparently, is profanity.

It appears that more and more books are being released with deliberately vulgar titles. Yes, I’m bleeping serious. Adult coloring books have suddenly gotten very popular so now there’s one called “F*** Off I’m Coloring: Unwind with 50 Obnoxiously Fun Swear Word Coloring Pages.” And for the culinary-minded, perhaps you’d like to pick up a copy of “Bake Sales are My B*tch: Win the Food Allergy Wars with 60+ Recipes to Keep Kids Safe and Parents Sane.” That’s a perfectly legitimate sounding book, with a B-bomb dropped in to make it more marketable.

As distasteful as it may sound, this idea does have some merit at least in the practical sense. Think about it. With works of non-fiction, it’s easy enough to use keywords to attract readers. Let’s say you wrote a book on classic muscle car restoration. Put those words in the title and anyone interested will find it in pretty short order. That, however, doesn’t work so well with most other literary genres…  until now. You want to sell books? No problem. Incorporate a few of the most popular curse words in your title and you’ll be able to quit your day job in no time. My next release will be a football-themed cookbook. I was going to call it “21 Sundays of Fantastic Football Food.” Upon further consideration, I’m going with “21 Sundays of F***ing Amazing Football Food.” Bestsellers list here I come!

For the record, that last bit was a joke and I will be sticking with my original title…   probably.

 

If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Turn the Page book review blog. Visit michaelsova.com, or find me on Facebook and Twitter @Micsova. My two novels, A Shot at Redemption and Parlor City Paradise, are available at Amazon and wherever e-books are sold.

 

Still Plugging Away: Progress Report on Projects Old and New

   In my last blog post, Recharged and Ready, I discussed 21 Sundays of Fantastic Football Food and my plans to have the cookbook ready for publication prior to the start of the 2017 NFL season. I am happy to report that all systems are GO! I have begun the final round of revisions and they should be complete in the very near future.   After that, it’s a simple matter of formatting and page layout. I say simple but I expect it will be nothing of the kind. I’ll have to set things up one way for print and another way for digital and, given my near total lack of tech savvy and artistic ability, the entire process will likely be an absolute nightmare.  At least I’ll get to learn a new skill and there’s something to be said for that. Now where did I put the Tylenol?

As for my other on-going project, a third suspense novel, I have some news on that front too. For starters, chapters 1 through 15 are now complete and I’m really happy not only with the direction of the story but the way everything is coming together. This is my most ambitious literary endeavor to date and I don’t think I’ve screwed it up…   yet. Of course, I’m only about a third of the way through so there’s still plenty of time. Oh, and before you ask, I don’t have a time table for completion but I’ll let you know as soon as that changes. I do have a few little tid-bits I can share now if you’re interested.

Although my new novel is not a sequel to either Parlor City Paradise or A Shot at Redemption, a character from one of those books does make a return appearance. I’m planning on posting an excerpt sometime over the next couple weeks. Once I do, I’d love to know who you think the return character will be and why. The story will also feature a first person POV character, which is a first for me, as well as a character with a fairly significant autobiographical component. The reason is that it’s integral to the plot. Are you intrigued? Oh, and I have a working title. Unless I come up with something better, the novel will be called Blind Switch Do you like?.

Just because I have things on both the front and back burners, that doesn’t mean I’m neglecting my prior works. In fact, I recently started a promotional campaign with seriousreading.com. It’s a great website for anyone interested in books and authors. Here’s my Advertorial for Parlor City Paradise.   In addition, a new author interview has been published, and I have the opportunity to provide a guest blog post. I’ll do that as soon as I figure out just what to write about. This is really my first attempt at a semi-organized campaign and I’m anxious to see how it goes.

 

If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Turn the Page book review blog. Visit michaelsova.com, or find me on Facebook and Twitter @Micsova. My two novels, A Shot at Redemption and Parlor City Paradise, are available at Amazon and wherever e-books are sold.

Recharged and Ready

Punta Cana1My wife and I recently went on a real vacation together for the first time in well over a decade. Real, in this sense, means that our children did not accompany us. We even stayed at an adults only resort so we did not have the pleasure of other people’s kids either.  The resort in question was on Bavaro Beach in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. We spent the better part of a week doing next to nothing. It was wonderful but I won’t bore you with the details other than to say that it took walking along the beach, feeling the soft sand between my toes, the gentle surf swirling around my ankles Punta Cana2and the warmth of the sun on my back for me to fully realize just how much I’d needed that brief respite from reality. I’m back now and once again settled into my small home office in Upstate New York. The weather outside isn’t very Punta Cana-like but that’s okay. I’ve got my mug of hot chocolate, fresh from a Dominican cocoa bean plantation no less, and I’m all charged up and ready to go.

I have, for the past couple months, been in something of a writing funk. I’ve got two projects in the works. The first is my 21 Sundays of Fantastic Football Food cookbook. The manuscript, if that’s even the right term to use, is complete, or was anyway, but I’ve been sitting on it for so long it now requires further revision. The other project is my third novel.   It is, without question, the most ambitious and challenging literary journey upon which I have ever embarked. More on that shortly. With Super Bowl LI (why can’t we just say 51?) rapidly approaching, the sports world is all about football right now so let’s begin there.

Based on title alone, you might be led to believe that what I’m offering is nothing more than a carefully selected collection of game day recipes, not that there would be anything wrong with that. My Cincinnati Chili recipe alone is worth the price of admission, even without the companion beer bread. However, this volume is on a far grander scale. There are, in my humble opinion, two things most cookbooks have in common. They lack entertainment value, and they lack humor. My goal is to serve up Thanksgiving-size helpings of both.

 

    That, as you have certainly already surmised, is an excerpt from the introductory material of “21 Sundays of Fantastic Football Food.” It is, as I’ve tried to explain, more than a cookbook. The recipes are great but it’s entertainment too and the presentation is really solid, at least in my less than humble opinion. You get 21 weeks of tasty tailgate-type treasures interspersed with mostly humorous reminiscences of games and seasons gone by. Good stuff, right? I think so; but here’s the thing. No one seems to care.

The biggest challenge for any independently published author is to get noticed. That’s especially true for fiction writers because there isn’t much you can put in the title of a novel that’s likely to come up in a keyword search. Believe me. That stuff makes a difference.  And for that reason, my little cookbook has far more potential for commercial success than anything else I’ve written. In addition to football and food, I can tag it with search-friendly terms like NFL, cookbook, tailgate and/or any of the individual recipes. In other words, potential buyers could find my book even if they didn’t already know of its existence. That’s a good thing. However, I’ve mentioned this project on numerous writing forums. I’ve likewise sent the manuscript to a few perspective beta readers for feedback. The response has been… well, let’s just say nonexistent. I was really excited about this but no one seems to share my enthusiasm. I’ve started wondering if the idea wasn’t as great as I thought. That’s why I’ve been sort of dragging my heels in terms of getting the thing published. Cookbooks need photos, and/or videos if I go the digital route, and that translates to time and money. I’ve been reluctant to invest too much into something without at least the hope of some sort of return. That said, I do have faith in my efforts thus far and I’ve decided that, one way or another, “21 Sundays of Fantastic Football Food” will be available prior to the start of next season. I’ve said it and put it in writing so now I’ve got to follow through.

I’d planned on transitioning into my latest novel and the struggles I was having with that but, at this point, I think I’ve probably rambled on quite long enough for one blog post.  I promise I will return to the subject soon and, if the mood strikes me, maybe even give you a sneak peek at what I’ve been up to. I was feeling rather… inferior for a while but I’m in a good place now and it’s full steam ahead!

 

If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Turn the Page book review blog. Visit michaelsova.com, or find me on Facebook and Twitter @Micsova. My two novels, A Shot at Redemption and Parlor City Paradise, are available at Amazon and wherever e-books are sold.

Here Comes Stana Claus: Book Deals, Blog Posts & Newsletters

fat-santaHard to believe there are only two pages left in the 2016 calendar. They say time flies when you’re having fun but it seems to me that it goes by pretty quickly regardless. I officially began my writing career when my youngest child was an infant, I became a stay-at-home dad, and I needed something to do to keep me out of the rubber room. I now have two published novels, a football-themed cookbook that’s complete but I haven’t quite decided what to do with it, and a third novel, my most ambitious work to date, is well underway. I don’t have a timetable or even a title at this point but I know those things will come. Oh, and that infant responsible for getting this ball rolling is now a freshman in high school. Her older brother is away at college. Yeah, time flies and I’m suddenly feeling very old.

A shot at redemption 3d  Thanksgiving is only a few short weeks away and that mean Santa will be doing his annual breaking and entering routine before we know it. Being the kind and generous soul that I am, I’ve decided to lighten his load a bit while at the same time giving you a wonderful gift idea for the booklover on your list and at a cheerfully low price to. From now through Christmas Eve, A Shot at Redemption, my debut suspense novel, will be available on all e-book platforms for just $1.79. That includes Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Smashwords, Kobo, Oyster, etc., etc.   You don’t have to deal with the holiday crowds. You don’t have to wrap. You don’t even have to see the recipient which is sometimes a good thing. Just use the gift option at checkout, enter an email address and preferred delivery date, and you’re good to go. It doesn’t get any better than that… except it might because I’m considering lowering the price on Parlor City Paradise too. Stay tuned for more info on that. Hey, it’s the season of joy and I’m just trying to do my part. All I ask in return is that you share this post with anyone you think might be interested, and if you read and enjoyed either of my books, please post a review. It only takes a couple minutes and it makes a huge difference, especially to lowly indie authors like me.

I do have one other small request. If you have not already done so, I would greatly appreciate it if you would sign up for my newsletter. Being a blog subscriber is not the same thing. And actually, I’m pondering some changes to my website and the blog post may go away or at least become a lot less frequent. You may have noticed that I’ve sort of scaled back on that already. I’d like you to stay informed, though, and getting on my email list is the best way to do that. Simply visit michaelsova.com, enter your email address in the field on the right and click Subscribe. You have my personal pledge that I will not fill your inbox with junk. You’ll barely hear from me at all. However, when I do have news on an event, a sale or a new book release, I want to be able to get the word out. Take a second to subscribe and please ask others to do the same. Thank you kindly.

And on that note, it’s time for me to get back to work. I need to finish the new manuscript so I can offer another great book deal at about this time next year. Let the Christmas shopping begin!

 

If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Turn the Page book review blog. Visit michaelsova.com, or find me on Facebook and Twitter @Micsova. My two novels, A Shot at Redemption and Parlor City Paradise, are available at Amazon and wherever e-books are sold.

 

One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

You may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging a heck of a lot lately. Or, maybe you didn’t notice… and that’s sort of the problem.   With about as much fanfare as a passing cirrus cloud, my second book, a suspense novel titled Parlor City Paradise, hit the shelves a little over four months ago. The story is set in Binghamton, New York, a once extremely affluent city which has been grabbing a lot of headlines recently thanks to a group of kids from nearby Maine-Endwell winning the Little League World Series for the first time since 1964. If I’d had the slightest inkling something like that might happen, I could have easily drawn some literary connection. Maybe Skid Row, one of the novel’s main characters, actually played on that team before dropping out of school at a young age. Sadly, though, I lacked the proper foresight and that bandwagon has long since passed me by. I can almost hear the driver, who bears a striking resemblance to Clark W. Griswold, saying,” Let’s burn some dust here. Eat my rubber!”

frontThe point is, I’ve got kind of a bad taste in my mouth because my book, which I’m really rather proud of, did not make the big splash I’d hoped for. I shouldn’t be surprised. The independent publishing revolution is both a blessing and a curse. Regardless of the quality of the work, any author can have his/her novel, memoir, poetry collection or how-to book on the best technique for screwing in a light bulb, not only published but in the marketplace within a matter of hours. You don’t have to edit, proofread, or even run a spell check. That’s the curse. The blessing is that masterpieces such as A Shot at Redemption, books that may not have made it past the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, are now available to the general public. There are, so far as I can tell, somewhere in the neighborhood of two million books currently available on Amazon. A lot of them are really great too. It’s just getting more and more difficult to find the diamonds amidst all that rough.

If I’m sounding sorry for myself, that’s really not the case. I’m just in a re-evaluation period. Perhaps re-focus is a better term. If I’m going to get my head above water, I know I need a straight and clear path to the surface. It’s simple enough in principle but involves self promotion, marketing and advertising, three things I enjoy about as much as brussel sprouts, Chlamydia and the New England Patriots, not necessarily in that order.  However, we do what we gotta do, and the main thing I gotta do is continue to write and improve on my craft. I’m well into my third novel and, although I’m not ready to share plot details, I can tell you it’s by far my most ambitious and personal endeavor. How’s that for a teaser?

Of course, I can’t just write and publish books unless I can also find some way to let you (aka the entire literate world) know I have these great things available for your reading pleasure.  Ideally, each person who does buy and read one of my books would not only enjoy the experience but post a glowing review and then rush out to tell a dozen friends. That… um… doesn’t happen so much. Plenty of folks have told me they love my books but that’s about as far as it goes. So much for getting you to do my work for me. Unlike Tom Sawyer, it appears I’ve got to paint my own damn fence.

just front coverFor now, that fence painting will mostly take the form of attempting to expand my horizons. As I’ve mentioned before, radio station owner, morning man, voice over expert and blog interview subject Mark Andrews is producing the audio book version of A Shot at Redemption. The recording work is done and the book is now in the lengthy editing phase. Once it’s ready, I will plan some sort of release event that will likely include some radio advertising and/or promotion. I’m also still figuring out what to do with my 21 Sundays of Fantastic Football Food cookbook. I think it has definite commercial appeal. I’m waiting on feedback from a couple beta readers and then I’ll decide what the next step(s) should be.

My final effort at horizon expansion is out of the literary realm altogether. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about blogging is getting the opportunity to meet and interview some really interesting people. Thus far, those people have all had some connection to writing or publishing. I guess I did make one exception when I interviewed Fantasy Football Today podcast host Adam Aizer. That was a bit of self-indulgence. I’m envious of anyone who makes a living talking about sports.  And in my next blog post, I will make an even larger exception when I interview Still: The Series creator, director and executive producer Jonathan Holbrook. What happens when an alien infection takes over a small Northwest town? You’ll have to watch the series to find out. You can, too. It’s available now on Amazon Prime . I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout makin’ no movies but I’m very much looking forward to finding out. And if you have any questions for Jonathan, please drop me a line and let me know.

 

If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Turn the Page book review blog. Visit michaelsova.com, or find me on Facebook and Twitter @Micsova. My two novels, A Shot at Redemption and Parlor City Paradise, are available at Amazon and wherever e-books are sold.

July Update: Nothing to See Here

Would you be surprised if I told you the year is already more than half over? We are, after all, well into the month of July. Check your calendar. You will find that I speak the truth. Days are getting shorter, and we are closer to our next new year’s celebration than we are removed from our last one. Hell, at the time of this posting, there are only about 165 shopping days left until Christmas! Hmm…. Is it inappropriate to use the words hell and Christmas in the same sentence? Where was I going with all of this anyway? I’m honestly not sure. And that, it occurs to me now, is sort of the point of this whole thing.

Before I attempt to plow forward, please allow me a few moments to sum up what’s happened over the past several weeks. First and foremost, Parlor City Paradise, my second novel and a work I’m quite proud of, finally hit the market. I’d like to say there was much fanfare but, in actuality, the release of the novel was about as earth shattering as Jimmy McMillan’s 2016 presidential campaign.

radar blip You’ve surely heard of Jimmy. He’s a karate expert, former postal worker, former stripper, and founder of the well-known Rent is Too Damn High party. Oh, and he officially ran for president, not that anyone really noticed.   And it appears James “Jimmy” McMillan III and I have something in common. We both tried to do something significant, resulting in two tiny blips on one big ass radar. Here’s the difference. Jimmy’s political aspirations are dead and buried. I, on the other hand, will continue to fight the good fight in the hopes that someday, somehow, someone will start giving a crap. In the meantime, I would greatly appreciate it if you would do me one small favor. If you read and enjoyed either of my books, please tell a friend and perhaps even post a review. With your help, I can begin to get this ball rolling.

For independently published authors, it typically takes a minimum of three books to even begin to establish a brand, a fan base, a following, etc. That’s what I’m told anyway, and that’s the fragile lifeline I’m currently clinging to. If I keep producing quality work, that effort will eventually be acknowledged and appreciated. That, at least, is the prevailing theory. And if it doesn’t pan out, perhaps I’ll go back to cleaning grease traps at McDonald’s. I used to be really good at that. I also once dumped a 55 gallon drum of hot oil right across the drive-thru lane. I probably won’t mention that on my employment application.

Okay, so 3 is the magic number and that means my next book has to really be something special. I’m facing a bit of a dilemma there.   I’ve mentioned my 21 Sundays of Fantastic Football Food cookbook a few times before. The manuscript is now complete and I think there’s a lot of commercial potential because the recipes are easy and delicious and the overall concept is new and different. Here’s the thing. I’ve inquired about beta readers in a couple writers forums I belong to and, so far, I haven’t gotten so much as a nibble. Am I reaching out to the wrong people or is my totally awesome idea not so awesome after all? I don’t have an answer to that one and, at this juncture, I’m not sure how best to proceed.  A book such as this would require a fairly significant investment on my part and I haven’t decided yet if it’s an investment worth making.

Rest assured I am not spending my days staring at the computer screen while pondering the age old question of to publish or not to publish. I have started work on a third novel. I don’t have a title and I can’t divulge any plot details just yet either. That’s not because I’m afraid of spoiling surprises. I simply don’t have anything to tell. I’m three chapters in and, although I’ve got a few thoughts, assumptions and disjointed ideas, I have no real clue where the story will take me. Characters thus far include a comedian, an assassin and a fiction author. At least one of those characters will not be around at the end of the book and may not even make it to the end of the current chapter.  That’s all I can offer for now. I might be able to share a bit more in next month’s update… but I wouldn’t count on it.

 

If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Turn the Page book review blog. Visit michaelsova.com, or find me on Facebook and Twitter @Micsova. My two novels, A Shot at Redemption and Parlor City Paradise, are available at Amazon and wherever e-books are sold.