Friday, February 23, 2018

Exclusive to Patreon - Seance on a Summer's Night

I posted a few weeks back about my decision to start a Patreon account.

One of the things I'd really hoped for from building what has turned out to be part community and part super-fan club, is simply the energizing effect of interacting with truly engaged readers. This has turned out to be the case. It is energizing--and it's also inspirational in a way I didn't expect.

Anyway, one of the "rewards" I'm giving at the three dollar contribution level is access to an exclusive serialized novel called Seance on a Summer's Night.

It is a wacky tale of possession and murder and, well, male/male romance.

Here's the Blurb:

Theater critic Artemus Bancroft isn’t sure what to expect when his aunt summons him home to California with vague but urgent pleas about being unable to cope with “the situation.”

What the situation turns out to be is the apparent haunting of Green Lanterns Inn--and rumors that Auntie Halcyone may have murdered her philandering husband.

In fact, the rumors seem to have been started by the late Mr. Hyde himself—from beyond the grave. 

And here's a wee snippet of an excerpt:

I started down the brick walk leading to the lower garden but found the path ended in a tangle of weeds. Looking beyond, I saw that the maze, an intricate pattern of hedges covering an acre of ground, was as neglected as the rose garden. Good luck finding your way out of there now. The shrubs, which had always been clipped to geometrically precise forms and whimsical topiaries of deer and lions, were now unkempt blobs, the new leaves a pale, eerie green. The smooth velvet lawns that had rolled like a carpet down to the swimming pool were dotted with yellow dandelions.

What the hell was the excuse for this? Okay, Aunt H. and Liana were currently living like nuns, but what did their lack of social life have to do with the upkeep of the grounds?

I turned back toward the house, cutting through a break in the vegetation. Turning the corner, I spotted a man leaning on a hoe and staring intently at the house. He wore one of those brown felt Aussie hats, and though it was still early and cool in the shade, he was shirtless. Though his back was turned to me, I knew he was a stranger. Presumably the new gardener, who wasn’t afraid of ghosts. He had an exceptionally nice back—lean and lithe. Wide shoulders and narrow hips. What was he looking at so intently?

The gardener must have heard something because he turned suddenly, studying me with a hard, blue appraisal. Or maybe I imagined the hardness because the next instant he was smiling cheerfully.

“Hey there. Lose your way through the woods?” He was about my age, his voice friendly.

That broad white grin was hard to resist, like stepping into sunlight after miles of deep shade. My spirits rose for the first time since my return to Green Lanterns.

“Nope. I’m Artemus Bancroft, Mrs. Hyde’s nephew.”

“Ah.” He cocked his head, his gaze quizzical. Really, his front was just as appealing as his back. In fact, he was unexpectedly good-looking in a rugged, dirt-under-the-fingernails way. His eyes gleamed in his sunburned face. His dark stubble looked almost fashionable. “Right. Ulyanna said something about you visiting. Well, I’m Cassidy, the head—and so far only—gardener.”

“Nice to meet you, Cassidy.”

To be honest, he was not like any gardener I’d ever met before. A feeling reinforced as he reached automatically to shake hands but then realized his were stained with mud. Not that I’m a big believer in the Upstairs Downstairs paradigm, but I’d never known one of the gardeners to try and shake hands before. I stared at his hand. His fingers were long and slender, his palm newly blistered.
“I was weeding the dahlias,” he said. 

I glanced down at his feet. He wore boots, which were firmly planted in the midst of a clump of the flowers he had been weeding. “Those aren’t dahlias,” I said. “They’re begonias.”

His brows knitted. He gazed down at the flowers, then offered that grin again. He probably got a lot of mileage from that expression. “You say potato, I say potahto.”

“Oh? Because it seemed like you were saying tomato,” I retorted.

He laughed. “They should have told me you were a horticulturist.”

“Nope, just a regular subscriber to House and Garden.”

“Gotcha.” He continued to smile at me. “What is it you do, then?”

Again, I couldn’t ever recall a gardener—or any employee at Green Lanterns—asking me what I did for a living. It wasn’t that I minded him talking to me like a peer—he was a peer, if we were going to get philosophical about it—but it also wasn’t typical behavior.

“Theater critic.”

His brows rose. “You don’t say.”

“Sure I do.” I had the funniest feeling he’d already known what I did for a living before I answered.
He continued to give me that direct blue stare. Not just direct. Admiring. It had been a while since anyone looked at me like that. And while I can’t say I minded, this too was kind of odd coming from the new gardener.

“So you’re out here taking your morning constitutional?” he inquired. There was a little edge of mockery in his tone.

I responded in the same tone, “Surveying my domain.”

“It’s Mrs. Hyde’s domain, isn’t it?”


“Your aunt’s a late sleeper, is she?”

“Not really. She didn’t use to be.”

“And the other lady. Mrs. Hyde-Kent? On the eccentric side, I’ve heard.”

Yeah, not like any gardener I’d ever met.

“Where did you hear that?” I inquired.

He shrugged. “Holds séances, doesn’t she?”

I stared back at him. Said nothing.

His eyes flickered. “Well, duty calls.” He lifted his hat in a parody of servility. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d tugged on his forelock. Assuming he had one under that wide brim.

“Uh-huh,” I said.

His eyes continued to search mine, and disconcertingly, I saw a smile lurking in those blue depths.

“I’ll see you around.”

My momentary irritation vanished. Rude, impertinent, odd, whatever, there was something inexplicably likable about Cassidy.

“Like it or not,” I said.

The smile was back. “I do like it,” he said.

I decided to get the last word by saying nothing.

As I went up the stairs to the front portico, I couldn’t help considering Cassidy. He was attractive, no question, but there was something…off about him. Kind of like his clothes. It wasn’t that they were wrong—although I’d never seen a gardener in one of those Akubras before—but they reminded me of a costume rather than work clothes. That was it. Something about Cassidy reminded me of an actor playing a part—and a slightly miscast actor at that.

Never mind not knowing the difference between a dahlia and a begonia. Shouldn’t a gardener, someone who worked day in and day out in the open, be a lot more weathered-looking? He was as sunburned as any frat boy on the first day of spring break. And surely, if he used garden tools over any length of time, his hands would have become hardened, calloused, stained. They weren’t. He had blisters.

The way he spoke too. Not just the choice of words. His very voice. He sounded, well, more educated than was usual in the gardeners I’d known through the years. And a hell of a lot nosier. Not just nosy—there had been a certain assumption of authority. Like he thought he had the right to ask questions. No, not even that he thought he had the right, because no thought was involved; he simply took it for granted he had the right.


And strange.

You can start reading the first two chapters when you subscribe through my Patreon page here.

Friday, February 16, 2018


Good morning!

This morning I'm sharing a snippet from The Magician Murders, Book Three in The Art of Murder series. This book goes live March 27th, come hell or high water.

The book is still available at the preorder price on Kobo, iBooks and Barnes and Noble. If you follow this blog regularly you know Amazon is not currently permitting me to do preorders, which means no preorder price on Amazon. :-(  Way to go, Zon!

So personally, I suggest you preorder from one of the other sites--it's not hard to send your Kindle an epub file. OR maybe the convenience of Amazon is worth paying a bit more?

Here's the Blurb:

Nothing up his sleeves. Nothing but murder...

Jason West, hot shot special agent with the FBI's Art Crime Team, is recuperating from a recent hit-and-run accident at the Wyoming home of BAU Chief Sam Kennedy when he's asked to consult on the theft of a priceless collection of vintage magic posters.

But before Jason can say "presto change-o," the owner of the art collection turns up murdered in a National Forest.

When the dead man is revealed to be the Kubla Khanjurer, a much-hated part-time magician accused of revealing the highly guarded secrets of professional illusionists, it seems clear this is a simple revenge killing--until Jason realizes an earlier suspicious death at the trendy magic club Top Hat White Rabbit might be part of the same larger and more sinister pattern.

And here's the Excerpt:

Chapter One

Rain flicked against the apartment windows in random, off-beat splash and dissolve.

It was sort of soothing, and Jason had not had much sleep the night before, but he could not afford to drift off in the middle of a conference call with his boss.

“If the legendary West charm has failed to convince Ursula Martin to file charges against Fletcher-Durrand, maybe Uncle Sam should take a swing at her,” Karan Kapszukiewicz was saying.
Kapszukiewicz was chief of the Major Theft Unit of the Criminal Investigative Division. She oversaw the Art Crime Team agents from her Washington DC office, which was where she was calling Jason from. Jason was on his cell phone, lying on Sam’s sofa in Sam’s apartment in Stafford, Virginia. The apartment was not far from the training academy where Jason was attending routine in-service refresher training.

“Respectfully, I don’t think that’s the approach we want to take with Martin,” Jason replied. “I think there’s still a good chance she’ll ultimately come through for us, but not if we push her. Her situation is complicated.”

“Isn’t everybody’s?”

Jason waited politely.

Karan sighed. “I had a feeling you’d say that, so…okay. I’ll let you make the call. she’s your complainant. Or was.”

Jason winced. The collapse two months ago of charges against the Fletcher-Durrand art gallery was still painful. He had worked his ass off building a prosecutable case of fraud, grand larceny and forgery—only to have the rug yanked out from under him when his original complainants had agreed to settle out of court with the Durrands.

There had been a hell of a lot more to it than that, of course, but the bottom line was the US Attorney’s Office would not be filing charges against Fletcher-Durrand at this time. Especially since the Durrand most wanted by law enforcement and everyone else seemed to have vanished off the face of the planet.

Not that Jason was so naïve as to imagine hard work and determination alone ensured the successful prosecution of every case—luck always played a role, and his luck had definitely been out. At least as far as the Durrands were concerned. In other ways…

His gaze traveled to a large Granville Redmond painting of California poppies beneath stormy skies, hanging on the opposite wall. 

In other ways, his luck had been very much in, which was how he came to be lying on BAU Chief Sam Kennedy’s sofa waiting for Sam to get home. Two months ago, he’d feared his relationship with Sam had run its blink-and-you-missed-it course, but against the odds, here he was.

“All right,” Karan said more briskly, her attention already moving on to bigger or more winnable cases. “Keep me posted.”

“Will do.”

She was clearly about to ring off, but Jason being one of her protégés, Karan asked suddenly, “How’s training? You’re still at Quantico?”

“Yeah. I fly out tomorrow night. Training is…training.”

“Always,” Karan agreed gravely. “Okay. Have a good flight home.” She did hang up then. Her timing was perfect. Jason heard Sam’s key in the front door lock.

He clicked off his cell and rose as the front door swung open. The scent of April showers and faded, but still slightly jarring, aftershave wafted in.


Sam was a big man and he filled the door frame. Instantly, the quiet, slightly dusty rooms felt alive again. Occupied. The stale, centrally heated air seemed to break apart as though before a gust of pure, cold oxygen.

 “Hi.” Sam looked tired. He always looked tired these days. His short blond hair was wet and dark, the broad shoulders of his tan trench coat splattered with rain drops. He was not exactly handsome—high cheekbones, long nose—hard mouth—but all the pieces fit perfectly in a face that exuded strength, intelligence, and yes, a certain amount of ruthlessness. His blue eyes looked gray—but they warmed at the sight of Jason coming towards him. He dropped his briefcase and took Jason into his arms, kissing him with full and flattering attention.

Sam even tasted tired—too many cups of coffee, too many breath mints, too many conversations about violent death. Jason kissed him back with all his heart, trying to compensate with a sincere welcome home for what had probably been a shitty day.

Not that Sam found a day of murder, rape and abduction as depressing as Jason would. Sam wouldn’t be so very good at his job, if he did.

As always, the softness of Sam’s lips came as surprise. For a guy who was rumored to have a heart of stone, he sure knew his way around a kiss.

They parted lips reluctantly. Sam studied him. “Good day?”

“It is now.”

Sam smiled faintly, glancing around the room, noting Jason’s coffee cup and the files and photos scattered across the coffee table. “This looks industrious.” His pale brows drew together. “It’s hot as hell in here.”

Jason grimaced. “Sorry. I turned the heat up. I was freezing when I got in.”

Sam snorted, nodding at Jason’s jeans and red MOMA t-shirt. “You could always try putting on a sweatshirt. Or even a pair of socks.”

“True, I guess.”

Sam grinned. “You California boys.”

“Known a lot of us, have you?” Jason was rueful. At forty-six, Sam had twelve years and a whole hell of a lot of experience on him.

“Only one worth remembering.” Sam pulled him back in for another, though briefer, kiss.

Jason smiled beneath the pressure of Sam’s firm mouth.

When Sam let Jason go, he said, “Sorry I’m late. Any idea where you want to eat tonight?” He absently tugged at his tie, probably a good indicator of what he’d prefer. Jason too, for that matter.
“We don’t have to go out. Why don’t we eat in?”

Sam considered him. “You’ve only got another day here.”

“I didn’t come for the night life. Well.” Jason winked, but that was just in play. He suspected it was going to be a low-key night. Sam pushed himself too hard. There wasn’t any good reason for it because the world was never going to run out of homicidal maniacs. There was no finish line in this race. “Anyway, it’s not like I don’t get to eat out enough.”

The corner of Sam’s mouth tugged in acknowledgment. “Yeah. But you must’ve noticed there’s nothing to eat in this place.”

Jason shrugged. Sam’s fridge reflected the state of his own—the state of anyone whose job kept them on the road most of the time.

“I did notice. Not a problem. I’ll run out and pick us something up.”

Sam opened his mouth, presumably to object, and Jason said, “You look beat, Sam. Let me take care of dinner.”

“Why, thank you.” There was the faintest edge to Sam’s tone.

He didn’t like being reminded he wasn’t Superman. Jason had learned that over the past ten months. Sam worked hard and played—when he did play, which was rarely—harder. He had the energy and focus of guys half his age, but part of that was sheer willpower.

“You know what I mean.”

Sam grimaced. “I do, unfortunately.”

“So? You must have a favorite Chinese restaurant.” Jason was smiling because he didn’t take Sam’s flickers of irritation all that seriously—and because the first meal they’d shared had been Chinese food.

Ah, memories. They’d pretty much detested each other back then. Which had made the sexual tension that flared instantly between them all the more—and mutually—exasperating.

“Sure. But…”

Sam didn’t finish the thought. Weariness vying with his sense of obligation. Their relationship was such—the nature of their jobs was such—that there was not a lot of time for dating as most of the world understood it.

Jason got it. Anyone in law enforcement got it. But Sam still suffered these occasional bouts of guilt. Or whatever. Sam’s obsession with the job was always going to be a challenge to their relationship. Initially, Jason had figured it had to do with losing Ethan, but for all he knew, Sam had always been like this.

And maybe that single-minded drive had been an issue between Sam and Ethan too. Ethan had been Sam’s boyhood love. They’d grown up together, planned to spend their lives together, but Ethan had been murdered while they were still in college. That was about all Jason knew because Sam was not informative on the topic of Ethan.

“Take out and staying in is actually what I’d prefer,” Jason said.

“Yeah?” Sam scanned his face, then relaxed. “Well, if that’s the case. The China King restaurant on Hope Road is pretty good. Tell me what you want—”

“Nope. You tell me what you want. I’ve been sitting around here for a couple of hours. I need to stretch my legs anyway.”

Sam hesitated. “You sure you don’t mind?”

Jason half closed his eyes, consulting his memory of that first night in Kingsfield. “Hot and sour soup, shrimp with lobster sauce…what else? Steamed rice or fried?”

“Steamed. Good memory,”

“You need it in my line of work.” Jason wiggled his eyebrows, as though he was involved in some nefarious occupation and not just another cop with a fancy title. He hunted around for his shoes, locating them beneath the coffee table. His leather jacket was draped over the autumn colored accent chair in the corner of the room.

He was pretty sure Sam had taken this “apartment home” furnished, because the décor had a definite vibe. Comfortable, attractive, generic. Other than the four paintings by Granville Redmond that decorated his living room, office and bedroom walls, the place could have doubled as a very nice hotel suite.

“Hope Road, you said?” He checked his wallet.

“Go north on US-1. It’s less than a mile.” Sam was shrugging out of his raincoat, preparing to get comfortable, and Jason smiled inwardly.

“Got it. I’ll be back in a few.”


Jason glanced back. “Mm?”

Sam grinned. “Don’t forget the fortune cookies.”

“Roger that.” Jason touched a finger to his temple in mock salute and stepped outside.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Look Before You Leap

I was reading another of those despairing I'mgivingupwritingforever posts on FaceBook the other morning.

One of the interesting things about attending the Bouchercon Mystery conference in Toronto last fall was the startling realization that traditional publishing is continuing along happily oblivious to the, er, "revolution" happening over here in indie publishing.

Yep, they're still producing hundreds of thousands of books and earning millions of dollars over there in mainstream. They're not worried about the revolution.  I spoke to dozens of people who didn't even know what Kindle Unlimited was!

I'm serious.

And, believe it or not, that's the good news.

Now before anyone goes on defense, I have a KU membership and I like browsing new books and new authors for what-feels-like free. As a consumer I totally get the appeal of KU. As an author I see it has its uses, like any tool. But there's a reason I rarely use it. Actually several reasons. But that's a post for March, when I have the final numbers of my latest KU experiment.

This isn't a Bash KU post. It's a stop thinking you're out of options post to aspiring (and perspiring) authors. Because I too started thinking I was running out of options last year when I saw that the lists--any and all bestseller lists on Amazon--were dominated by Kindle Unlimited titles.  I too felt that surge of panic.

Ohmygodwe'reallbeingforcedintoKU. No one will see my book if I'm not in KU!!!!! ETC.

And then the recent panic when Amazon appeared to be in the process of lowering royalty rates by twenty percent (which is coming--trust me on this one).

You know what hurt my earnings last year? Not writing much.

I've lost count of the number of posts I've read on social media by genuinely desperate authors teetering on the edge of breakdown who've got themselves locked into the tiger trap of Kindle Unlimited and see no way out. Most of these posters seem unaware that traditional or legacy publishing even exists--and the ones who acknowledge its existence usually comment as to how it's some outlandish, impossible goal or how nobody makes money in traditional publishing anymore.

It's nonsense.

If anything, a traditional publishing career is more accessible than ever before. One thing traditional publishing has learned is take note of indie success stories. And as for the complaints about the lack of earning potential? Uh...this from writers earning less than half a cent a page?! :-D

Bitter brew
Here are some facts and figures for you:

Bureau of Labor Statistics  (please note that 61K figure is based on all kinds of writing work, not just authors of fiction)

An older but interesting article that leads to other older but interesting articles

The Author's Guild disturbing 2015 report

Digging deeper into those numbers

The fact of the matter is the earning pyramid in indie publishing works pretty much like it does in traditional publishing. We have a few big earners at the tip top of every genre, then a narrow strata of authors making a decent living, and then the millions of everybody elses who earn a few thousand a year at best. Less than 12K, according to statistics.

In fact, I'm speculating authors in legacy publishing earn more overall because A-That's not saying much, B-Less than half a cent a page C-The virtual invisibility of most indie authors, new or old, whether in KU or not, and D-There are just so many more indie authors competing with each other without any real tools to do so. (Yes, it's speculation, but that's certainly the way the data trends--and it confirms what I hear from other authors.)

I'm afraid what some of these despairing authors are really saying when they dismiss the very idea of traditional publishing is they don't want to take the time to learn their craft (hence bitter remarks about "gatekeepers"). They want to start earning money Right Now.

The problem is, most of these authors--hell, most authors, period--don't, aren't, and won't earn any real money (i.e., a living wage). Particularly not if they're in Kindle Unlimited. You need millions and millions of page reads to earn money in KU. That means you have to write a lot. A LOT. And by A LOT I mean MORE THAN THAT. Hence the burnout. I mean, if those of us not in KU periodically dance with burnout...

For those people who see writing as a get-rich-quick scheme, well, whatever. This post isn't for you. But for those aspiring authors who do actually really want to have long and creatively satisfying writing careers, who care about writing, love writing, have something to say and can't wait to say it... you have loads and loads of options. Maybe you don't see that right now, but you do. Truly, there has never been a better time to be a writer.

Okay, and yes, in some ways there has never been a tougher time to be a writer. The amount of
competition--not just with other indie writers--heck, not even with writers still living!--the pressure to constantly produce, the distractions of social media... Yes, these (and other things) are challenging. But writing has always been a tough gig, and we now have tools and support and avenues for success that never existed before.

And one of those avenues is still traditional publishing.

Don't instantly dismiss the idea before you've really evaluated it. Traditional publishing remains one of the best--if not THE best--place to learn your craft (as well as other author basics).  I'm not saying it's for everyone--but then, a writing career per se is not for everyone. If you're desperate enough to consider giving up writing (your supposed "passion") -- Goodbye, Cruel World!!-- aren't you desperate enough to at least consider trying an alternate route?

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Amazing Story Generator

A few years ago a reader sent me a copy of THE AMAZING STORY GENERATOR.

This is a book--a tool?--that "Creates Thousands of Writing Prompts" for writers having trouble coming up with ideas. Now, in my experience, ideas are not a problem for writers (and by "writers" I don't mean those people who decide to create books as a get-rich-scheme--those folks actually do have trouble coming up with ideas, judging by the bizarre comments in some of the groups I belong to). FOLLOW THRU is the challenge for the rest of us.

Right? Ideas are a dime a dozen. It's the work--work--of writing the book we'd all love to find a short cut for. :-D But I digress.

Anyway, I was idly flipping through this book (Mix-and-Match-Creative-Writing-Prompts!) and I started to think about the very nature of storytelling. Why are some ideas so compelling--and some ideas so...not?

Why are some ideas so universal, so timeless that they become tropes? I mean, I understand why falling in love and trying to build lasting relationships is timeless and universal. Most of us at some point in our lives fall in love and attempt to build lasting relationships. But amnesia, marriages-of-convenience, solving a murder, anything to do with cowboys or firemen or policemen? Why are those so enduring?

The way the AMAZING STORY GENERATOR works is it takes three different elements which can be combined to create "unique" story ideas.

For example, if you just go with the first three panels you get:

Upon winning the lottery
A reformed hit man
Meets the ghost of Ernest Hemingway

I don't know about you, but for me this was a Wah Wah Wah Fail Sound Effect.

So close and far. I mean, yes, it worked for Woody Allen, but it's a hard sell for most romance readers.

A few more page flips and we've got...

Upon winning the lottery
A reformed hit man
Assumes a new identity

Okay, workable, right? Not my kind of story idea, but I can see others turning this into a workable, even winning idea.

Some of these are just weird.

Upon winning the lottery
A sassy nun
steals a baby

WTH. I do not like nuns stealing babies or playing the lottery. Just saying.

Honestly, I find the whole "winning the lottery" trope SO boring. So flip a few pages...

Ugh... post-apocalyptic worlds (kill me first) suffering from amnesia (okay, I do like amnesia) while dog sitting (where's my sad trombone?) hoping to impress an old flame (oh! okay...)

Hoping to impress an old flame

A sassy nun (NO!!!!) a gold prospector (Thar's gold in them hills...REALLY?) a clown in training (hahahahaha NO) a computer hacker (sigh...okay)

Hoping to impress an old flame
A computer hacker
steals a baby

WHAT??? No. NO.

Discovers who really killed JFK (Spoiler alert, it was the CIA, MOVE ON) Makes a deal with the Devil (BO-RING) Receives a very important phone call (Huh? That's not a hook, that's an inciting incident) Discovers plans for an impending alien invasion (so...more baby stuff...) Develops the ability to fly (WTH -- how would this aid in your romance?) Accidentally runs over the family dog (sad trombone...wait...if it's a certain kind of black comedy...maybe...not in this story though) GROWS AN EXTRA ARM (...the better to grope you, darling...) Refuses to leave the bathtub (I. Give. Up.)

Clearly the third part of the equation is the tricky part.

I flipped through the entire book and all the options were equally bizarre: Stumbles upon the fountain of youth, is elected Mayor of Chicago, Inadvertently starts World War III, Burns down house (hmm...again, black comedy MAYBE) creates a family of robots...finds a 17th Century Treasure map (I love that idea, but does it work with the first part of the premise? IMHO no)

I think it would be REALLY fun to put one of these together for romance writers. Just imagine.

First piece of the premise: An embittered cop...A disgraced journalist...A retired fireman...A suicidal grad student...A widowed rancher... 

Second part of the premise: And his estranged former partner...Discovers a plot to...Is trapped in an isolated cabin with...Learns a trusted friend is...


Third piece of the premise...

No, wait. I'll leave that to you. :-D

You choose the first two pieces and come up with the third part of the equation.

Generate your Amazing ROMANCE Story idea in the comment section below.

I mean, could you possibly do worse than:

After too many cups of coffee
A Shakespearean scholar
Slowly transforms into a centaur