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Bouchercon World Mystery Convention

I normally write something about writing in general or about my life in my blog, but this month I hope my publisher will pardon the account of my adventure of the last several days.

Bouchercon, the annual world mystery convention, this year began Wednesday, September 5th and ended early Sunday afternoon at the Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Florida. It is named for Anthony Boucher (rhymes with voucher), famous writer, reviewer and editor, is held each year in a different city and is organized by a group of volunteers. The authors represented are literally from all over the world.

The people who attend are fans, authors, agents, publishers, booksellers, and other people who enjoy reading mystery and crime fiction. This year we numbered almost 2,000. The first Bouchercon was held in Santa Monica, California in 1970 and there have been others in New York, NY; Chicago, IL; St. Louis, MO; Anchorage, AK; Austin, TX; Madison, WI; Washington, D.C.; Denver, CO; Toronto, Canada; to mention just a few.

Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine announces the Barry Awards each year at the Bouchercon opening ceremonies. This year those prizes went to:

Best Novel: The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

Best First Novel: The Dry by Jane Harper

Best Paperback Original: The Deep Dark Descending by Allen Eskens

Best Thriller: Unsub by Meg Gardiner

Attendees of the convention register and receive a book bag filled with books from publishers along with a Bouchercon book which contains ads for books and author’s biographies complete with photos, so we can recognize authors we don’t know by face, a schedule of events, maps of the hotel so we can find our way to various panels, Guests of Honors’ biographies and a listing of candidates and their books for the prestigious Anthony Awards which is announced at an awards ceremony on Saturday night.

Each day we all traipse to different panels that might be of interest covering all sorts of subjects. Some are funny, some are about the craft of writing, some are about helpful thoughts or experiences authors have had and are eager to share. After the panels, we rush to the book signing area to get authors to sign books we have purchased in the on-site book store and often to get a photo taken with said author.

In between all this, there are times when we may see an author we admire sitting in an alcove in the lobby area. They are always so friendly and willing to talk and share their experiences. It’s just amazing how giving mystery authors are.

The Guests of Honor this year were:

American Guests of Honor: Sean Chercover and Karin Slaughter

International Guests of Honor: Mark Billingham and Sara Blaedel

Lifetime Achievement (And Not Done Yet) Honoree: Ian Rankin

Toastmaster: Lisa Unger

Florida Guest of Honor: Tim Dorsey

Fan Guest of Honor: Judy Bobalik and Ayo Onatade

Ghost of Honor: John D. MacDonald

This Years’s Charity: Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library


And the nominees for the Anthony Award were:  (Winners in bold print)

Best Novel: 

  Bluebird Bluebird by  Attica Locke

The Force  by Don Winslow

Glass Houses  by Louise Penny

The late Show  by Michael Connelly

 Magpie Murder  by Anthony Horowitz


Best first Novel:

The Dry  by Jane Harper

Hollywood Homicide  by Kellye Garrett

The Last Place You Look  by Kristen Lepionka

Ragged; or, The Lovliest Lies of All  by Christopher Irvin

She Rides Shotgun  by Jordan Harper


Best Paperback Original: 

Bad Boy Boogie  by Thomas Pluck

Cast the First Stone  by James W. Ziskin

The Day I Died  by Lori Rader-Day

  Uncorking a Lie  by Nadine Nettman

What We Reckon  by Eryk Pruitt


Best Critical or Nonfiction Book:

Chester B. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson

From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon by Mattias  Boström

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

  Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction by Jessica Lourey

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards


Best Short Story

  “God’s Gonna Cut You Down  by Jen Conley

“My Side of the Matter”  by Hilary Davidson

“A Necessary Ingredient” by Art Taylor

“The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place” by Debra Goldstein

“The Trial of Madame Pelletier”  by Susanna Calkins

“ Whose Wine Is It Anyway” by barb Goffman


Best Anthology

Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea- Andrew McAleer & Paul D. Marks, Editors

Just to Watch Then Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash-Joe Clifford, Editor

Killing Maimon-Dan & Kate Maimon, editors

 The Obama Inheritance: Fifteen Stories of Conspiracy Noir-Gary Phillips, editor

Passport to Murder, Bouchercon Anthology 2017-John McFetridge, editor


Best Online Content

  BOLO Books

Do Some Damage: An Inside Look at Crime Fiction

Dru’s Book Musings

Jungle Red Writers

Writer Types Podcast


Bill Crider Award for Best Novel in a Series

Dangerous Ends (Pete Fernandez #3)  by Alex Sequra

Give Up the Dead (Jay Porter #3)  by Joe Clifford

Glass Houses (Armand Gamache #13)  by Louise Penny

Two Kinds of Truth (Harry Bosch#20)  by Michael Connelly

  Y is for Yesterday ( Kinsey Millhone #25)  by Sue Grafton


All in all, Bouchercon this year was another exhilarating and exhausting few days of events. It was wonderful seeing old friends and making new ones, finding authors I had not read before and connecting with established ones, seeing some getting their well-earned rewards and being disappointed for others. And for you, dear readers, perhaps I’ve given you some names of authors to try for the first time. Next year Dallas, Texas will be the host city. Until then…



Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.


Filed under books, Contests, marketing, writing

Crazy little thing called blog

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By Jonna Ellis Holston

You know how when you meet somebody at a party who sells insurance and you suddenly want to be as far away from this person as the room will allow? Quick, find an excuse. Run away, fast, before you hear the words ‘indemnity’ or ‘term’, you think. Your eyes scan for an exit and then you spot, Sue.

“Oh there’s Sue, I need to go and say hello,” you say… in spite of the fact that Sue reported you to the HOA for the pot of begonias on your door step, and has breath rancid enough to kill a pterodactyl.

Now I tell you, my family brimmed with columnists and authors. Even the great Jack Kerouac married my uncle’s sister, Stella. I remember him and I remember how it used to be, years ago, when new authors were revered. If someone we knew had a book that was about to be published, everyone wanted to know them. We welcomed them, invited them, immediately, to our next party. Now, it seems that everyone has a book. Even I have a book.

A sane person would be discouraged, right? Not me. I find it immensely satisfying to know that this many people have stories so compelling and that they, courageously, sat at a desk for a year or more, perhaps typing with just two index fingers, and wrote their truth. I’m thrilled to know that the publishing industry now provides more options for these emerging authors.

So, recently, I met an author at a party. When I shared with her that my book would soon be published, I saw her eyes scan the room for escape. She settled on doing the polite thing and asked me what my book was about. “It’s a funny account of divorced women who are looking for another chance at love,” I told her.

“Oh,” she said as she took a step back, “that’s a tough sell. Everyone wants murder these days. Violence, madness, they only want to read about twisted serial killers. That’s what sells.” And she walked off to talk to someone else (probably an insurance agent). I had to laugh.

Does she not know that books are magical? They’re not autumn leaves that fall on cold ground only to be crushed by footsteps. Books are the blowpuffs of spring’s new dandelions, seeds propelled onward by angel’s hair that have the potential to soar on towards forever. They find their place; caress fertile soil, cultivate ideas and nurture others who may someday write their own stories, their personal truths.

Blogs, like these, are a wild willing breeze. You never know who will read them. They can make all the difference on earth… to us and to another, would be… story teller.

Write on, authors! Write more… more sex, more murder, more mystery and more love triumphant, because when Nationwide happened, State Farm thrived. And readers, my friends, abound. The world of literature is now limitless.

Note to reader: No insurance personnel were harmed in the writing of this blog.


Filed under books, writing

Torture Your Characters

“Torture your characters more,” she told me after we talked for fifteen minutes about the book I’d just finished writing.

More? I thought. Torture her more?! I’d already done some irreparable damage to her physically, and mentally she was a total mess, I thought. What more could I realistically do to this poor character. People don’t go through that much torture in so short a time, not in real life…

But, the thing is, they do.

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but we live in a horribly broken world. People, good people, are tortured every day by disease, accidents, relationships, good decisions, bad decisions, inevitable decisions…

They say it never just rains, and clichés are cliché for a reason, aren’t they?

I was reminded of that this week. Through conversations with new people, but then it struck home when someone I love, someone dear to my heart, was dealt more torture than I thought fair for one person. From cars dying suddenly to fights with insurance agents she was already battling with the trials of being a new mom and then suddenly she found herself unexpectedly rushing to the emergency room with a close family member…and honestly, that’s not even the half of it. They’ve had enough torture to fill the pages for days to come.

So why on Earth would people want us to torture our characters then? Aren’t they sick of that from their own lives? They experience it themselves—why live through it with characters too?

I thought about this, and concluded that characters who experience life difficulties remind us of two things:

  • We are not alone in our pain.
  • Things always get better after the rain.

In the midst of pain, it is so easy to forget that there are others who share our burdens, sorrows, and even our experiences. There are those who DO know what we are going through and CAN give us hope. Sometimes we aren’t willing to hear that from our friends, so fiction can help—at least until we are ready to go back to our real world again.

Both of these lessons are hard to hold on to when you are going through the fire yourself, but when you’ve connected to a favorite character whose gone through the flames and come out on the other side refined, and not burned, it helps us remember that we can too.

So go ahead, writers, torture your characters. And readers, remember, it’s going to be OK.

Ashley Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow, a Christian Romance which can be purchased at Second Wind Publishing or Amazon. Follow Ashley on twitter @amcarmichael13 and Facebook.


Filed under writing

January’s Paradigm, Second Excerpt—J. Conrad Guest

I thought I would include as part of this excerpt the first poem I ever wrote (I’ve written maybe three more, and there’s a reason for that!). It opens the novel, prior to Part One, so it’s a little out of place in this excerpt.

Love Me Little, Love Me Long

Love is not a forest fire that burns intensely,
hotly and out of control for a brief moment until,
its expendable fuel spent,
it sputters,
seeking in vain for something else to consume,
to sustain itself before, finally,
it dies:
cold, black ash the only evidence of its passing.

Love is, instead, a campfire:
it provides ample heat and comfort
to the twosome who sit before it,
and although its flames may at times wane,
a well-tended campfire’s embers can be nurtured and fanned
until the flames once again dance brightly and cheerfully,
providing comfort to the couple who care
to cherish the gentle warmth it ministers.

Part Three

Heart don’t try so hard this time.
There’s another lover waitin’ around another paradigm.
These tears we cry are just a waste of water don’tcha know?
We got to learn to see when somethin’s finally gone … and just let it go.

Little Feat

Chapter Ten

“Mommy,” came the squeal from around the corner.

A moment later, Sarah Jane – Susan had told me her daughter’s name on our way up to the second floor apartment – flashed into view. She wore a pink jumpsuit overlaid with a colorful floral pattern that I guessed Susan had allowed her to pick out for herself. She leaped into her mother’s outstretched arms. Unable to conceal her excitement, her laughter betraying unconditional love, she threw her arms around Susan’s neck and hugged her with all the might her tiny six-year-old limbs could muster.

I could make out her features, features that undoubtedly had belonged to Susan at one time. The same square jaw and dimpled chin, as well as the identical pouting upper lip and the same high and elegant cheekbones. The brown eyes beneath the finely arched brows hinted at some hidden mischief; and the hair – full, wavy and lustrously black cascading down her back nearly to her waist.

The reunion was complete. Now it was time for introductions.

“Joe, this is Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane, I’d like you to meet Joe January.”

I saw the child got a charge out of the formal introduction. I suspected Susan rarely talked down to her, preferring instead to treat her as an adult, her reasoning that a child treated as such would respond as such.

She offered me her hand.

“Hello, Joe,” she spoke with alacrity. Then, suddenly aware of her inadvertent rhyme, she giggled as she hid her mouth politely behind her hand.

I felt my face flush.

“And I thought I was the only one who could do that to you.” Susan’s smile mocked me affectionately, and I felt the heat rise higher as my discomfort grew.

“Have you had lunch yet, Sarah Jane?”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“And what have you and Monica been doing with yourselves all morning?”

“Watching Fantasia.”


“It’s a classic,” Sarah Jane replied with perfected adult inflection; I couldn’t keep from smiling.

“Well, go ahead and finish watching it while I visit with Monica and Joe, okay?”

“Won’t you watch it with me?”

“Just for a few minutes. I don’t want to be rude to our guest. Later this afternoon Joe and I will take you to the park.”

Sarah Jane’s face lit up at the prospect.

“Can I have an ice cream, too?”

“We’ll see,” was Susan’s measured reply.

I detected a glimmer of triumph in the child’s eye, as if the trophy had already been awarded.

“Come on,” Susan said, taking the child by the hand and leading her through the archway to the dining room and beyond.

And then they were gone, leaving me alone with Monica. Susan had briefly introduced us at the door, just before Sarah Jane’s entrance. Since then I’d been only dimly aware of Monica’s scrutiny of me. Although she’d been discreet, her appraisal hadn’t gone unnoticed.

Taller than Susan, her figure was also more boyish – flat-chested and long-waisted with narrow hips. Her facial features were masculine: large pores and leathery skin, as if she’d spent too much time in the sun. Her voice was deep with testosterone. Even her movements betrayed what I presumed when she first opened the door; confirmation came with the attitude she’d been displaying toward me since our arrival – indifference at first, now, jealousy.

Does she view me as a threat? I wondered.

If her affection for Susan was what I thought it was, then I was certain she had made her feelings known. I was equally certain that Susan had rebuffed Monica’s overtures toward anything but a strictly platonic relationship. She would be gentle yet firm, for she would view Monica’s friendship as a commodity much too valuable to be terminated. Did Monica still harbor hope for a physical relationship with Susan? I guessed yes, but I also knew it would never happen.

The silence between us since Susan’s departure stretched on uncomfortably. Finally, at a loss for anything of much substance to say, I broke the ice.

“That coffee sure does smell good.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, although I doubted she was. “Can I get you a cup?”


Even though I really didn’t care for any, I felt gratified that I had gained an advantage through this exchange. Not that I felt threatened. While it was obvious Monica was very protective of Susan, I didn’t wish to come between her and Susan any more than I wanted her to come between Susan and me, and so I would have to be careful.

“How do you take it?”


“Please, sit down. I’ll bring it in.” Her courtesy seemed forced.

I sat on the sofa, knowing that Monica would then be forced to opt for the chair in the corner. That would leave the spot on the sofa next to me open for Susan when she returned, leaving Monica further disadvantaged. Certain she would recognize my ploy, I wondered how she might counter.

Just then she came around the corner bearing the coffee, one cup for each of us, on a circular serving tray. The cups chattered noisily on the matching saucers as she strode gracelessly into the room, trying not to spill any of the contents of the too full cups. She set the tray on the coffee table in front of me and I noted happily that she’d failed in her effort to keep from spilling any of the liquid.

“Thanks,” I said politely while making a show of ridding the saucer of the spillage onto the bottom of the serving tray. I smiled my gratitude at her.

Mute, Monica took one of the remaining two cups and proceeded to settle herself into the corner chair. The seating arrangements hadn’t gone unnoticed.

Determined to coerce her into conversation, I ventured a comment on the arras hanging on the wall adjacent to her.

“Beautiful tapestry. What do the symbols represent?”

“It’s a chakra chart,” she replied icily. “The icons symbolize the centers of spiritual energy in the human body.”

“Oh,” I said with feigned interest. “You practice occultism.”

“I’m not a witch.”

I’ve managed to insult her. Good.

“I’m psychic,” she announced proudly.

“You mean there’s a difference?” I wondered if she’d caught my intended barb.

“I don’t cast spells. I’m a receptacle for psychic vibrations. I inter­pret those energies for those not blessed with the gift.”

I indicated the crystal globe, supported by a wooden base and cen­tered on a purple silk scarf adorned with the signs of the zodiac that was, in turn, centered on the coffee table. “You read crystal balls?”

“That one is glass, merely decorative. I keep my crystal wrapped in silk in another room. It is important that it be kept free of unwanted influence.”

“I see.” I tried to sound impressed.

She’d spoken of her crystal with reverence, I noted with amusement. I was enjoying this dialogue immensely, even though I didn’t have the slightest interest in her supposed “gift”. But then that’s what made it so much fun.

I wondered if she suspected what my actual thoughts regarding her psychic abilities were, and nearly laughed aloud at the lunacy of that notion. If indeed she could read my thoughts, then she would know with certainty that I believed it was all hogwash.

“I also read cards.”

“Really? Well perhaps one day you could read mine.”

Just then Susan returned.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Joe.”

I liked the way she said my name, sweetly melodic.

“Sarah Jane and I get so little time together during the weekend, sometimes I just can’t say no.”

“I understand.”

“That coffee’s for you, Hon,” Monica piped in. “Cream and sugar, just the way you like it.”

I was certain her affectation of affection was intended for me.

“Thanks, Monica.” Susan’s tone, I noted happily, was purely pla­tonic.

“So tell me, Susan. How do you and Joe come to know each other?”

She’s fishing: how long have we known each other, how serious are we? Ad infinitum.

“From The Oasis,” Susan said.

“I supply Susan’s demand for Coke,” I said. My joke was ours to share alone, for Monica found nothing amusing about the pun; but then, I had counted on that.

“Joe was just telling me of his interest in the esoteric.”

“Interest born of ignorance. I’ve always been fascinated by that about which I know very little.” With a wink at Susan, I finished, “The detective in me, I guess.”

Susan smiled. She understood my allusion.

“Perhaps you would like a little firsthand education?”

I caught the look of rascality in Monica’s eyes. This was her chance to tip the scales in her favor.

“I don’t think –”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” Susan gushed.

Roguishness turned to triumph. “I’ll just be but a minute,” Monica said, crossing the living room to exit down the hall.

When she was gone I turned to Susan to protest.

“You don’t really believe she can read the future, do you? I mean, isn’t this against your religion or something?”

“She’s really very good, Joe. She uses her gift to help people, and there’s nothing in the Bible that prohibits that.”

Laughing, she put her hand on my knee.

“Besides, it’ll save me a lot of time and trouble getting to know you.”

“But –”

“Unless you’ve got something to hide,” she said ominously.

“No.” My denial sounded uncertain.

Initially, I’d fretted that Monica might use this opportunity to tell lies, to fabricate untruths to undermine my status in Susan’s eyes. But now I was forced to acknowledge the possibility that the truth – the truth I’d been hiding from Susan as well as myself – if indeed Monica held in her power the ability to decipher it, could be more damning than anything she could make up. Either way, I’d be at her mercy.

“In here,” Monica called from the dining room.

Resigned, I went to confront whatever fate awaited me.

In the dining room, Monica was arranging a midnight blue silk scarf, similar to the one in the living room that served as a doily for her imitation crystal ball, on top of a piece of wood that looked like oak, although it was stained a dark brown. The wood, about an inch thick, was approximately twenty-four inches square. From a small, ornately carved hinged box she procured a deck of Tarot cards.

“These have been in my family for three generations,” she announced.

What a pity, I reflected sardonically. With your sexual preference there will be no fourth generation to pass them down to.

I wondered if she’d contemplated that, and if she had, how she was planning to overcome that little obstacle.

Monica removed a card from the pack and set it down on the cen­ter of the silk scarf.

“This card, the King of Swords, represents you.”

“Why that one?”

“Of all the cards of the Minor Arcana, he looks most like you – fair, with blond hair.”

“I think he’s very handsome,” Susan said.

I’d never been able to take a compliment. Blushing, I glanced over at Susan and found her smiling warmly at me. The affection behind her smile warmed me further.

“Too bad the card can’t blush,” she added.

Embarrassed further, I took recompense from the daggers of jealousy that came at me from across the table, where Monica had been silently appraising our exchange. She caught my look, and in that moment, she knew that I knew. Embarrassed by her own transparency, she quickly averted her eyes.

“What’s the Minor Arcana?” I asked, trying to forestall the reading.

“Fifty-six cards make up the Minor Arcana,” she explained. “Like the four suits of a deck of playing cards, only with Kings, Queens, Knights and Pages. These cards deal with love, pain, gain or loss. Any­thing that has to do with earthly affairs. The remainder of the deck contains the cards of the Major Arcana. They represent primal cosmic beings. Unlike the cards of the Minor Arcana, they cannot portray a person.”

She handed me the pack of cards.

“Shuffle the cards well. Then cut them twice, using your left hand.”

My mind swam as I tried to think of some way to delay the inevitable. It was impossible. If I backed out now I would appear suspicious, and so I could only hope that Monica’s “gift” was a sham and that this would amount to nothing more than a parlor game.

After shuffling the cards, I cut them into three piles.

“Past,” Monica said, indicating the pile on my right. “Present and future,” she assigned to the remaining two piles. “Select one.”

I already knew what my future held, in 2047. And my past I could read about anytime in the biography on the coffee table in Porter’s apartment.

I pointed to the cards that would depict my present.

Monica looked askance at me, as if my choice surprised or puzzled her. She took the cards I’d indicated and squared them.

I watched Susan as she peered intently at the cards Monica turned over and positioned around the King of Swords. The first she placed across it at ninety degrees. She next placed four others around it, one above, one below and one to either side. Finally, she placed a column composed of four cards along the right edge of the silk scarf.

I held my breath. The cards meant nothing to me; yet not knowing what else to do, I carefully scrutinized the images that would, truthfully or not, reveal my present.

I’d wanted Monica to reveal my present first because it was that aspect of my life that I knew least about. Suddenly aware of the silence around me, I looked up to find Monica studying me intently. I saw distrust in her eyes. I let out my breath and …

Silently took another, grateful to see Susan still studying the cards.

“You are not who you pretend to be.” It was not an accusation; an assessment perhaps, based on uncertainty. Monica continued.

“The Two of Swords crosses you. You keep many secrets.”

She stared at the card a moment, as if seeking to discover some­thing more about it.

“You are a man shrouded in mystery.”

I felt my heartbeat quicken.

“The Justice card, reversed,” Monica said, pointing to the card. “You will not receive remuneration for that which you thought you had paid.

“Here, the Three of Pentacles. This card indicates material gain that was lost because of your own selfish reasons.

“The Two of Cups,” she said, eyeing me with suspicion. “The Two of Cups is the marriage card. You are estranged,” she added, her voice barely audible. “This relationship is flawed. You thought you loved her, but you were only in love with the idea of being in love.”

She paused a moment, perhaps for dramatic effect, perhaps listen­ing to some inner voice of her own.

“The relationship cannot be fixed, it is gone. Even though it is something you still want, you can never have it – it will never be.

“The Ace of Cups indicates you gave material things to this person out of love, expecting to receive love in return. This woman you gave these things to was materialistic, but it was never enough for her.

“The Strength card, reversed,” she said, touching the card.

“You must let go of this woman in order to go forward. Forget her,” she advised.

“The Hanged Man reversed. The Hanged Man provides strength – you will discover yourself, who you really are, through the guidance of this person.”

I chanced another glance at Susan, who was caught up in everything Monica was saying.

Monica continued with the reading.

“The Emperor reversed. An invasion of your privacy by another man.” Was that a glimmer of triumph in her eye? “The Strength card,” – she pointed to it again – “is also the Devastation card. You were unable to control your emotions over what was done to you, so you escaped. You must look to the Hanged Man for guidance.”

Monica now directed my attention to the last card, the bottom card of the column of four along the right side of the scarf.

“The Moon card indicates psychic ability.” She eyed me with amusement. “You knew she would do this to you, but you were unable to prevent it. Or perhaps you chose to do nothing. The Moon card also tells you to surrender and start over. This is a brand new beginning for you. But only if you choose.”

Here she stopped; the silence became deafening.

Not knowing what was expected of me, I looked from the image that depicted the Moon card – a dog and a wolf both baying at the moon – to Susan, who was staring at me, waiting expectantly for me to say something.

There was truth in Monica’s reading. How I knew I didn’t have a clue, but I knew. Images of the dark-haired woman from the hidden photograph haunted my mind’s eye.

Embarrassed by the idea of a past love, I felt myself redden.

Driven by the searching beauty of Susan’s warm brown eyes, I sought exile in Monica’s cold, calculating, masculine stare. She wore a look of superiority, born of the discovery of intimate events about my life.

How much does she know? More than she lets on.

But why hold back? Why not destroy me now, in front of Susan? Maybe she was playing a game of discretion, waiting to relate the rest of the damning evidence later, after I’d gone.

But if Monica was indeed psychic, then it was also conceivable that she already suspected the outcome and was content to allow Susan to make the discoveries on her own.

No. More than likely she merely wants to observe my discomfort.

“Wow,” Susan breathed.

“There is truth in what I have seen in the cards?” Monica was dar­ing me to refute the facts as she’d presented them.

I couldn’t.

And I’d already told enough lies.

So I conceded.

“Yes, there was a woman. She was unfaithful to me.” Somehow I knew this to be true. “She’s gone now. I don’t know where she is. She hurt me.” I sensed loss and felt pain in my breast, pain as real as truth. “But I’m working through it.”

Monica, I saw, was disappointed. She’d expected denial. On the other hand, my response elicited sympathy from Susan.

“Oh, Joe, I’m sorry.”

Susan’s response served to displease further, for Monica had ex­pected to see my esteem in Susan’s eyes fall, not rise. Her reaction to the ensuing silence was harsh as she gathered up the cards from the reading.

“Select,” she said. “Past or future.”

“Future,” I said, thinking there just might be more to my alleged future than I’d at first thought. There was my future in 2047, certainly. And being a part of my past, I already knew much about it; but there were questions regarding my future here in 1992 as well.

Curious, I waited in silence as Monica squared the pack of cards that contained my future, and then proceeded to turn them over, one at a time, placing them as she’d done before. I nervously glanced over at Susan for a measure of reassurance.

Her smile calmed me. I drew further assurance from the hand she placed on my arm. I drew in a breath and listened as Monica began the second phase of my reading.

“The Ten of Cups crosses you,” she said.

This time it was Monica’s turn to sneak a peek at Susan; in dismay, she went on.

“You will find that which you seek, your paradigm – that which has seemed so elusive to you. Because of her, you will be able to finish that which was started long ago. Also, a lost child will seek to renew a rela­tionship with you – this is indicated here, by the Ace of Swords.

“The Queen of Wands shows herself as an unfaithful lover. She will try to rekindle your love for her, but beware, she tells lies. Here,” she said, indicating the next card, “the Page of Wands, are those lies. But the truth is, if you take her back all will be lost.”

She paused again, head cocked, as if listening to a voice that was hers alone to hear.

“This woman caused you much suffering. You feel she must be punished because of the man who removed you from your place and subsequently caused you to lose your ambition. This man shows up in your reading as the Five of Swords reversed. He will be defeated in battle and will no longer perform for her what she needs. Therefore she will return to you.

“The Six of Swords tells of future travel. You will have business re­garding your work.

“A long lost brother will seek you out, as shown by the Knight of Wands. He is very angry with you, as well as disappointed. Listen to what your brother has to say. It will be easy for you to distrust his words, but he speaks the truth.

“The Ace of Pentacles, reversed, shows a loss of business or opportunity for continued success. You will regain all, but only if you spurn the Queen of Wands –”

“That’s enough.”

My outburst surprised everyone at the table save myself. My deci­sion to halt the reading was the only thing that hadn’t surprised me since this nonsense began.

“But I have not completed your reading.”

“I don’t need to hear more.”

“But, Joe, what about your past?” Susan asked.

“I already know what resides there.”

The truth was that the reading she’d completed thus far, concern­ing my present and the one that lay incomplete before me, didn’t be­long to me. None of what she was talking about dealt with me. Un­faithful lovers. How could a lover be unfaithful to me when in turn I had never been faithful?

Untrue, a part of me argued back.

But I was already moving on.

A child? Impossible. I’ve sired no offspring. And I have no brother. It’s all a sham.

Or meant for someone else. Who, then?

I stood, upending the board the cards had been positioned on, sending them into Monica’s lap and onto the floor; the reading had come to an end, of that I’d made certain.

I strode purposefully into the living room, where I stopped in front of the window to gaze at two fags strolling hand-in-hand past Monica’s second floor apartment.

A moment later, I felt Susan’s light touch on my arm. That simple gesture sparked anger in me – that she could make me feel the way she did just by the gentleness of her touch.

I turned, preparing a reprimand but was stopped short by the concern in her eyes.

Now my anger was directed inward. The very idea that I could even consider reproaching her was reprehensible.

Suddenly, I was nearly consumed with a passion to cup her face with my hands, to taste the sweetness I knew resided on her lips, and to hold her close and bury my face within the soft, luxurious texture of her wondrously dark hair, inhaling its fresh fragrance.

Ashamed, yet not knowing the source of my abasement, I turned away.

“What is it, Joe?”

I ached for her, and because I ached for her, it pained me to have to do what was becoming more and more common although no less difficult – lie.

There was trust in her eyes, but like the cards had foretold, I was a man shrouded in mystery. I held secrets that, were the truth known, could not be believed. Even I was finding it more and more difficult to believe the facts as they unraveled, so how could I expect her to com­prehend them?

I took a deep breath. I could see, peripherally, Monica leaning against the archway to the other room.

How much did she actually know?

Would she contradict what I was about to say?

It didn’t matter. I had to say something; maintaining silence at this point was just as damning.

“I’m sorry. It’s just that … well, I thought I had that part of my life under better control. I thought I’d put all that behind me. But to see, in the cards, that I’ll have to deal with all that again, it’s painful.”

“Ah, but the cards also say you have the option of closing the door.”

“What if I can’t?”

“A better question would be what if you don’t want to?”

Then, in response to my exasperation, she added, “There is a dif­ference.”

“I know that.”

“Isn’t it better to recoup at least some of what you lost as opposed to losing it all, including yourself?”

I smiled down at her.

If you only knew, I reflected. If I opt for what you think is the best option the cards offer, then I will lose myself.

My smile seemed to reassure her.

“Come on,” she said, taking my arm and leading me back to the dining room. “Let’s have another cup of coffee.”

Thirty minutes later, Susan left to get Sarah Jane while I offered muttered apologies to Monica for upsetting her cards; she in turn ac­cepted them graciously enough. I thanked her for her hospitality and for reading the cards; she seemed indifferent.

She may now believe the advantage has shifted in her favor, I reasoned. That might very well be the case, but I’m still leaving with the prize, while she’s being left behind to play fifty-two card pickup.

J. Conrad Guest, author of: 500 Miles To Go, A Retrospect In Death, A World Without Music, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine Innings, January’s Thaw, and One Hot January

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The “Good Old Days”

When I was very little, I remember thinking that forty, thirty, and even twenty was old.  I couldn’t imagine being that age.  Surely someone at that advanced of an age would do nothing but sit around and talk about “the good old days.”  My parents, wanting to make sure I understood how easy of a life I had, what with color television and the invention of HBO, made sure to frequently tell me stories of their youth.  These stories mostly involved some version of how they had to walk to school uphill, in the snow, both ways, or some variation of this story that was meant to ensure I realized how tough their lives were in comparison to mine.  I can remember thinking that I would never be that person.  I would never be someone who would tsk, tsk at the poor habits or laziness of those younger than me when I was twenty, thirty, or (gasp!) forty.

I am now forty five years old and have begun to notice certain things that make me pause and shake my head in disgust.  And the thing is, it’s nothing really.  There aren’t any huge infractions or circumstances that make me want to leave this country for another.  There have been, however, countless times where I look at those younger than me and wonder how they’ve managed to survive this far with the stupidity they are demonstrating at the moment.

For example, youth today can’t count change.  For the most part, they are incapable of giving change back to a customer unless it is staring at them from the computer screen.  And if, after you’ve given them a twenty dollar bill find you have that four cents in your pocket?  Well, forget it.  They can’t figure it out.  They’ll look at you with a look between horror and confusion and say, “I already punched in the twenty.”

Then there’s this whole ‘can’t tell time thing.’  Even my own children will look at me with utter confusion on their faces when I answer their “what time is it?” question with, “Quarter of four.”

“What?”  They will cry.  “What do you mean, ‘quarter of.’  How many minutes is that?”

I will groan inwardly and wonder why our schools are not teaching the basic fact that the hours can be divided into four, equal fifteen minute increments.  But alas, our children can only tell time if they are looking at a digital letters on a screen.  It’s sad, really.   I shudder to think what will happen if, forty years from now, the power goes out in the nursing home and I’m relying on these bozos to give me my meds.  I can only imagine the scene as people who’ve never seen a clock with only twelve numbers on it, try to determine what time I am due for my next dosage.

And then, perhaps the most annoying to me is this business of not keeping a register of all your purchases and checks you’ve written.  With the age of on-line banking, most of our youth today feel they don’t need to keep track of, say, an outstanding check.  They simply look at the balance on the screen and assume they have said amount of money in their account.  What they don’t realize is that they’ve written a check for something that has dropped the balance in their account by several hundred dollars.  But these people go about their business as though they have more money than they actually do!.  The kicker is, if you are the unfortunate business to whom they’ve written their check to, you are the one to receive the astonished, angry call from the customer who blames you because their mortgage came out of their account and then you had the audacity to cash their check!

This has happened to me and I’ve actually had to tell grown men that they should keep track of all their checks so this sort of thing doesn’t happen in the future…But they don’t get it.

This past week, I took my fifteen year old to the bank in order to open a checking account for her.  The first thing I did was ask for one of those paper check registers.  I explained to her that while she can look at her balance on-line, the bank may not show the true amount of money she has.  I gave her the example of writing a check to a friend who, instead of cashing it, keeps it in her pocket for several weeks.  The money is, in essence, spent, but the bank doesn’t know about the check because it’s in someone’s pocket.

Imagine how thrilled I was when I saw the lightbulb go off above her head.

Others may not get the whole checking account thing, but my kid?  She’s going to get it.

Oh.  I’ll also teach her to how to tell time.  When my health is failing, I want to make sure someone around me can tell time and ensure I get my meds!

Donna Small is the author of three novels, Just Between Friends, A Ripple in the Water, and the forthcoming, Through Rose Colored Glasses.  Her books can be purchased here:


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Don’t Love My Characters, Please by L.V. Gaudet

where the bodies areI do not want you to love my characters.  I am quite serious about that.  I do not even want you to like them.  They are all fallible creatures who do not always do what they should.  They are full of idiosyncrasies, flaws, and sometimes downright poor judgment.

Revile them and admire them.  Root for them to win and cheer when they fall.  Get passionate about getting angry with them.  Pity them and feel vindicated at their suffering.  Share their emotions and their troubles, love them, hate them, and empathize with them.  But please don’t just love them.

A character who seems endearing, drawing you to their side in their pursuit of evil, might just reveal their true driving force is not entirely for purely good reasons.

The victim who you might sympathize with, rooting for when things get rough and cheering them proudly when they rally their strengths to pull him or herself out of trouble, may prove to be more the cause of the trouble than the antagonist is.

The bad guy, committing atrocious behaviors, pulling you into his web of evil until you despise him and want only to see his downfall come to him in a most inglorious way, might throw you with a show of tenderness.  He might just make you sympathize with him when you know you should hate him.

Making characters that draw the reader in is not about making the reader simply love or hate them.  They need to feel what the character feels.  They need to love, hate, and sympathize with that character.  Root for them even as they want to see them fall because you are supposed to want to see the bad guy lose.

Characters do not have to be all good or all bad.  In fact, I would say they should never be all one or the other.  They should be a complex layering of traits that include both.  Even the vilest creature has feelings; dreams and desires, loss and sorrow, loneliness and love.  They have a flaw and that flaw is their own emotions.  The gentlest of characters, pure of heart and soul, have a dark side beneath.  They are capable of anger and resentment, even of acts of revenge.

Every character should have a hidden back-story.  This is what gives them life.  Even the smallest bit player should have one.  That waitress who served the coffee looks tired, but really, she is sad.  You don’t have to reveal why she is sad.  That is just one more mystery that gives a little more depth to the scene where the true focus is your protagonist or antagonist.  Make the mystery of the waitress’s personal life draw on the personality of the character who is the true focus.  After all, your character did notice the lines of exhaustion hide a deeper sadness.

Drop hints and clues about your characters’ back-stories.  Make the reader feel they are slowly drawing the character out of their shell and learning just a little bit about them as they progress through the story.  Let the reader be drawn a little at a time into your character’s life, their personality.  Let them yearn for more, drawn to dig deeper into your character’s psyche as you see fit to reveal it.

The reader becomes more familiar with the character with each revelation, feeling a little closer to them like a new friend, wanting to know more.  As you draw out a little more back-story, those secrets add to the drive that pushes the story forward.  That simple story is no longer so simple.  What other secrets do the characters have?  What flaws?  What strengths?  What new lines of drama will wind into the story, adding more layers of sub story?


WHERE THE BODIES ARE (available now in paperback and eBook)

Detective Jim McNelly is perhaps the hero of the story, if anyone can be described as such.  He works with missing persons and homicide cases, taking each case personally as his own personal failure for not stopping the victimization of the victim before it could happen.  For a hero, he has a lot of flaws.  He is obese by as a result of his own failings, which is the cause of additional health problems and exacerbates his insomnia, which in turn causes him to feed his obesity.  He is no people person and doesn’t much like most people.

And yet, Jim McNelly honestly cares about his job and the victims.  He has a lot of back-story that has not been revealed, including hints dropped about his wife.

Detective Michael Underwood is a likeable kind of guy.  He is described as being the kind of guy who is just as at ease at grandma’s quilting group as watching sports with the guys.  Even the nervous and suspicious nurse Molly can’t help but feel a tingle of excitement at the idea he could possibly have an interest in her, as impossible as she knows it is.

Michael Underwood is perhaps a bit too obsessed with protecting their victim, an obsession that itself has its own back-story, almost a personality of its own.

Lawrence Hawkworth is an investigative reporter with the InterCity Voice, who is described as being a man of less than moral morals.  And yet he and Jim McNelly have a shared back-story.  He is the one person McNelly would trust with his life, despite McNelly’s dislike for the man.  It’s kind of a love-hate friendship, like unrelated brothers.

Jane Doe, the victim and the sole survivor of the killer’s madness doesn’t even know her own back-story.  Her own weakness, her amnesia, puts her directly on a path to her own destruction.  Or does it?  She has a surprising reserve of personal strength, something gained from her own unknown past.

Kathy Kingslow is a train wreck of a woman.  She is a weak creature who knows only one thing, how to survive an abusive relationship.  She does not even know how to escape one, if she could get up the courage to.  She also has the potential to become one of the most powerful characters in the story, if she can pull herself up off the floor and put a little courage into her spine.  She has a hidden strength, the killer’s own inexorably being drawn to her.

The Killer is nothing but evil, right?  The killer is driven by a compulsion, his reality blurred between past and present, with a dark secret locked in a fractured mind.  But he is also tormented by his own actions and desperate to stop killing.  The search for the killer will lead to his dark secret buried in the past.

The appearance of the mystery man is the embodiment of the ultimate back-story of Where the Bodies Are.  He enters the story just at the moment when the as yet unidentified killer is reaching a plateau of temptation by the dangling bait that is Jane Doe, the one victim who escaped alive.  He quickly becomes McNelly’s prime suspect in the kidnapping and murders of multiple women.   His arrival embodies the pivot point where the story climaxes and the killer is being drawn into the readers’ sight from the shadows of the story.  That back-story is revealed when you take a step back in time with The McAllister Farm to learn the secret behind the bodies.

THE MCALLISTER FARM (coming soon in paperback and eBook)

William McAllister is a hard man.  He demands respect from everyone he encounters and absolute obedience from his family.  His children respect him with the fear of a harsh disciplinarian.  He keeps his family apart from the community around them, not allowing them to have friends or participate in the community.  Visitors to his farm are threatened off, and his children know well the sting of his hand.  William is also absolutely dedicated to the safety and well-being of his family.  As stern as he is, nothing matters more to him than his family.

The entire community is distrustful and hateful towards William for his strange ways, but that does not stop him from doing what he thinks is the right thing to do without hesitation.

Marjorie McAllister is a frightened deer of a woman, always nervously wringing her hands.  She silently disapproves when William strikes the children, not brave enough to stand up to her own husband.  She leans on his strength too.  As desperately lonely as she is, his keeping her apart from her family and community is like a safety net for her.  She does not have to face awkward situations if she never leaves the farm.  But, when push comes to shove, Marjorie finds a hidden well of strength to stand against the hostility of the townspeople against her family.

Jason McAllister is the oldest child of William and Marjorie.  He has the expected problems of a ten year old who is different because his family is different.  He takes the brunt of the community’s sense of his family’s strangeness through his difficult interactions with the kids and teachers as school.  Jason is expected to be more man than child and it weighs heavily on him.  He is a troubled youth, something that his father comes to realize just how deeply troubled in the most disturbing way.

Sophie McAllister is the youngest child and as such has the childhood freedoms and innocence her brother Jason envies and is not afforded.  Naturally, this breeds some resentment in Jason.  She also in a way symbolizes the need each family member feels to protect the family as a whole.  Her very innocence acts as a contrast to the events surrounding her family.

Sheriff Rick Dalton certainly is not a favorite of the community when he fails to both catch the killer stalking young women in the area before another body turns up and listen to the needs of his frightened community.  A man of the cloth is threatened, the school principal is sent scurrying, and everyone except the sheriff seems to know just what kind of a monster the McAllister man is.  Or, Rick Dalton is simply a wise sheriff who knows that what appears to be is not always what is.

Book three, which is still a work in progress, will bring both of these stories together, finally revealing answers to some of the questions left hanging as the characters of both books are brought together in a disturbing conclusion that may very well leave a new trails of bodies.

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The Secret in Whitetail Lake 10th Installment

The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department found two bodies in an old vehicle recovered from an area lake, opening up a decades old cold case. And meantime, the sheriff has gone missing. This picks up where the last entry left off.

After Smoke dropped me off at my car, I climbed in and headed to my Gramps’ house. It wasn’t a minute later that Vince Weber called. “Hey, Sergeant.”

“Hey, Vince. What’s up?”

“Touching base. Quite the day in the drink, huh?”

“Man alive. Good old Whitetail was finally forced to give up her secret.”

“I’m kind of wondering if Warner’s gonna go crazy and do a search on every lake in the county.”

“Could be. At least until it hits home that three hundred lakes is a lot of lakes, and he’s got all of his other duties.”

“That’s the truth.” He paused a moment. “And what’s up with the sheriff vanishing like that?”

My heart speeded up at the reminder. “I can’t imagine. Between you, me, and the lamppost, I don’t know who I’m more worried for, the sheriff or my mother.”

“Yeah, your mother takes things pretty hard, doesn’t she?”

“She does. She’s been at my grandfather’s house today so she didn’t have to be alone. In fact, I’m turning into Gramps’ driveway now to pick her up.”

“I’ll let you go then.”

“See you Vince.”

I gathered every ounce of optimism to display that I could pull out of my body as I walked into Gramps’ house. Gramps was in his usual chair watching a news show, and I heard Mother in the kitchen. I gave Gramps a kiss on the cheek then checked on Mom who had thrown herself into cleaning out Gramps’ refrigerator. She was setting the milk back on a shelf when I said, “I’m back.”

She jumped half a foot and turned around. “Corinne! You know better than to sneak up on me.”

“Sorry. I guess the TV was too loud for you to hear me.”

She threw the dish cloth she was holding onto the counter. “It’s so loud I can’t even hear myself think.” She half-shrugged. “Maybe that’s not such a bad thing when I’m this worried, imagining the worst.”

I put my arms around her for a comforting hug. “I know you’ve been praying, and so have I. You can’t make yourself sick over this.”

“I called John Carl earlier and even he seemed upset.”

“Of course he did.” I took a small step back. “Do you want to go home, or stay here, or maybe stay at my house?”

“Oh dear. Well, I guess I’ll go home. In case Denny calls.”

“You think you’ll be able to sleep?”

“I don’t know, but that would be true wherever I was.”

“I guess so.”

“What about my car?”

“We’ll get it tomorrow. And I best get going or Queenie will wonder where I am.”

Mother put her arm around my waist and steered me into the living room to say goodnight to Gramps.

After Mom was safely in her house, I drove home and rescued my energetic Queenie from her kennel. After she licked my hand and we’d run around the yard for a few minutes, I gave her the command to sit. “Do you want to go for a ride, girl?”

She jumped up and moved her head back and forth telling me she did. “Okay, let’s go.” I opened the door to my GTO and she hopped in the back seat, like she’d been taught. “Good girl. You probably think we’re going to Gramps, but I need to go over to Whitetail Lake for a while.”Queenie gave a single bark.

I drove the short distance, did a quick U-turn, and pulled to a stop on the north side of Whitetail Lake. In the cloak of night, with illumination from a half moon and twinkling star, the houses on the far hill were visible but not well defined. The middle house was dark, indicating that Harry Gimler had likely gone to bed after all.

I was lost in thought, studying the lake when a car pulled up behind me and parked. I turned in my seat instead of relying on my rearview mirror. “Queenie. Guess who’s coming to visit us? Detective Dawes.”

Queenie barked, and when Smoke opened the passenger door she barked some more. “Can I come in?” he said.

“You don’t have to ask.”

“I get the feeling that Queenie is more excited to see me than you are.” He reached in the back and patted Queenie’s head.

“I think that is probably true given the fact that we were together all day, and my doggie hasn’t seen you for a while. No offense.”

Smoke chuckled. “I’ll give you that. So why are you here, are you trying to pull information out of a lake even though it can’t talk?”

“Something like that. I’ve driven by this lake probably thousands of times; so have you. It’s not much of a swimming lake since it has no beach. But there are fishers out now and then. I keep looking up that hill where the car came down. It must have been at a pretty good speed. It had to have gone airborne, or it would have gotten caught up in the weeds at the edge of the lake. What do you think?”

“That’s a sound theory. Speed is a decided factor. The one big question is why they’d be over there. It’s not like we’ve heard about in other cases, where people leave the roadway and end up in a lake or pond or river. The other question is why did no one hear them, or notice the evidence the vehicle tracks had to have left behind.”

I traced the wheel with my finger. “So what made you come here?”

“I just finished up at the office and spotted you when I drove by. And nosy as I am, I thought I’d see what you were up to, although I’d pretty much figured it out.”

“I’m curious about what the ME’s report will say. I don’t suppose there’s any way to tell if they died in the crash, or drowned after they were submerged.”

“The victims could show evidence of head trauma. That’s what I’m hoping happened: they got knocked out so they didn’t know they were drowning.”

A shiver trickled through me. “Which is why I don’t like driving on the ice in the winter, even when should be perfectly safe. There is always that minute chance.” I thought of an embarrassing event from Smoke’s past, and couldn’t resist teasing him. “You know, like if you burn your fish house down. I mean, that must melt the ice around it, huh?” I held my smile to a minimum.

Smoke leaned in close to me and I smelled cinnamon—probably from tea—on his breath. “I wonder how many times that whole fiasco with Wendy is going to come up during this investigation?”

I resisted the temptation to close the small gap between our faces and kiss him, which took some doing. I held onto the hope that someday he would realize we could break through any barriers he thought prevented us from having an intimate relationship. My grandma had told me Smoke and I were intimate, without the fun part.

I rubbed my nose lightly across his. “Old secrets have a way of bubbling to the surface when we least expect them to, my friend. I promise not to bring up the subject with anyone. And if the guys catch wind of it and try to pry it out of me, I’ll send them your way.”

He reached over and squeezed my hand. “Thanks. Yeah, every stupid thing we do in life seems to come back to haunt us. I sure never expected that humiliating, not to mention costly, incident with Wendy to be brought to light through this awful discovery.”

Queenie let out a small bark, followed by a whine.

Smoke gave my hand a final squeeze then turned and scratched Queenie’s head. “You’re reminding me I need to get home and take care of my own mutt. He’s used to my unpredictable schedule, but I know he doesn’t always like it. Goodnight, you two.”


Smoke got out of the car and drove off a minute later. I needed a little more time at the lake, pondering the night’s events from long ago, a few years before I was born. Smoke was troubled by the secret Whitetail Lake had been keeping. So were the victims’ families, of course, and any number of friends, including my mother. But wondering where her fiancé was filled her with far more immediate distress.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series. The Secret in Whitetail Lake is the 6th in the series.


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To Offer it Free or Not – Marketing Your Work

Free BooksAs with everything to do with the art of writing, publishing and marketing books, there are different views on the worth of offering your books free.

Some will argue that you should not work for free.  And, in essence, that is what you are doing when you offer your books free.  You have spent countless hours writing, editing, perfecting, and polishing your writing.  You chose the perfect cover, formatted the book for eBook, and finally are rewarded with seeing your hard work available to the world.

Of course, you want some monetary gain from all that hard work.  Who wouldn’t?

But, unless you are already a well-known author, will the world even know you exist?  Will they (the readers) buy your book when you are an unknown quantity to them?  When there are so many badly written, badly edited, and just plain bad, stories out there, the reader needs to have a reason to want to invest their money in your book.

Possibly one of the more appealings ways to an author is the free sample chapters.  However you get that out there, through posting them on social media, allowing partial sample downloads on Smashwords, or ther means.  Free samples let the reader get sucked into the story, and just as they get hooked they are cut off with no option except to stop there or get your book.

I see offering books free as a marketing tool.  Companies do it with other types of products all the time, offering try me samples in the hope you will love it enought to buy it.  The buy one-get one free offer.  Buy that and we’ll toss this in with it.  Get one month free.  Even the grocery stores get in on the action with their free sample days.  These are all teasers to encourage you to buy or try their product.

If there is one thing everyone loves, it is getting something for free.

How many books have you passed over buying because you didn’t know if you would like the author?  The write up on the back cover looks good, the cover art is enticing, but you just don’t know.  So you decide instead to buy that new book by the author you love.

This does not mean you have to give it away free forever.  Offer it free for a limited time. With so many companies marketing other products by this method, it must work.  Otherwise, they would invest that marketing money in other ways to market their products.  You can always offer it free again if it suits your needs.

You can also offer limited time coupon codes so that those who get the code can read it free while others have to purchase it.  Coupon codes can be used in a targeted marketing campaign.  For example, let’s say you are publishing a humor book suitable for grade school kids about survival while camping with scout groups.  Offer the coupon code to your local scout groups, giving the kids the eBook free.  If they read it and love it, they’ll tell their friends about it.  Target book clubs for your genre.  If your book is about gardening, offer the coupon code for free limited time download of your book to a few garden clubs.

Knowing they got something free that others have to pay for makes people feel special.  They feel like they got a prize, they feel superior, they feel a small sense of empowerment.  They feel like they matter just a little bit more.  They feel like someone cares.  Each feels special in a different way, depending on their personality.  It doesn’t matter how they feel special, you made them feel that way and they like you more for it.

The hardest part of selling books is getting readers to know it exists. If free offers help, then it is worth it.  The first job of selling your book is getting someone to read it.  If you did your job right in writing the book, then they will do your second job for you – getting them to talk about it.

People talk about books and share information on them for three reasons:

(1) They loved it,

(2) They found it controversial and it got their blood boiling,

(3) They hated it.

Nobody talks about the book that isn’t noteworthy.  They also won’t talk about it if they haven’t read it or even heard of it.  If they loved it, they will talk about it, and they also will want to read more.

Another way to get free samples of your work into your potential readers’ hands is short stories.  Offer short stories for free eBook download.  Blog them, Facebook them, share them.

Consider this:  work together with another author who writes similar stories in the same genre.  You both offer a free short story written by the other with the purchase of your book.  Both authors have a vested interest in promoting the books, one to earn the royalties and the other to get their reader audience to grow through the free short story.

Always remember to plug your other work.  Whether a book or a short story, free or for a price, always remember to include a plug for other published work that is available.

Every piece has to be your best.  Whether free or not, a 100 word flash fiction or 150,000 novel; every bit of writing you put out there needs to be good.  Advertising yourself with mediocre short stories will not increase your readership.

However you choose to market your work, the goal is the same – getting potential readers and buyers to notice you in a sea of possible authors.

L. V. where the bodies areGaudet is the author of Where the Bodies Are

What kind of dark secret pushes a man to commit the unimaginable, even as he is sickened by his own actions?

Watch for book 2 of the McAllister series coming soon at Second Wind Publishing, LLC:  The McAllister Farm.  The secret behind the bodies is revealed.

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January’s Paradigm—by J. Conrad Guest

Robert Porter is enjoying the fruits of success: a best-selling detective novel featuring a hard-nosed detective circa 1947 named Joe January, and a lucrative contract for the sequel. But his world comes crashing down around him when he witnesses his wife’s infidelity. 

As Porter sinks into a morass of grief over her abandonment, only one person can help him regain his self-esteem and dignity. One man alone can help Porter set things right … and that person’s name is Joe January. But he doesn’t even exist … or does he?

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler


January’s Paradigm is the novel that started it all.

It’s been nearly fifteen years since the second edition of January’s Paradigm went to print, and nearly twenty-five years since I sat down to write the first words: I stepped out of the dark, smoky habitat of Earl’s Place.

Two more January novels followed, and I’ve since seen six more of my children published. I’ve learned much over the years, about myself and also about the craft of writing. Should the learning ever cease, I will lay down my pen.

I was pleased when Indigo Sea agreed to publish this fourth edition so that the entire trilogy would bear their imprint. However, I was resistant to even read January’s Paradigm these many years later. I cringed at the prospect for fear that I would wish to rewrite large portions of it. Certainly there were many sections of narrative I would write differently were I writing it today.

In preparing this edition, I wished to maintain the integrity of as much of the original text as possible, not only to show where I was in my life twenty-five years ago, but also to show the progress I’ve made as a writer and a stylist.

The changes are minor, mostly to do with formatting and structure. I resisted the urge to add or revise narrative, with a very few exceptions – what can I say? I’m a perfectionist and never could refrain from tink­ering, which is why I rarely revisit my novels once they go to print. I can always find ways to improve a text; never perfect, I can only achieve “closer to perfection.”

January’s Paradigm holds its rightful place in my body of work, and I remain proud of this endeavor.

Below appears an excerpt.

“Come any closer and I’ll cut her, I swear,” the punk with the knife said. The fear in his voice was obvious, making him all the more dan­gerous.

While I’d been busy disposing of the first two goons, this one had managed to take Susan hostage. He stood behind her, his left arm wrapped tightly around her waist; Susan’s heavy breasts rested on the forearm that held her in check, while the punk’s right hand held the knife to the soft pale flesh of her throat. The corner streetlight glinted intermittently off the shiny blade, evidence of the kid’s nervousness.

I saw the stark panic reflected in Susan’s dark eyes, and the unspent portion of my rage ascended to a new apogee. That Porter would subject his supposed ideal to the rigors of this assault was beyond my capacity to reason, and I hated him for it. I hated him for being respon­sible for the terror that now resided where before I’d seen only laughter and love, brief respites of concern for me, and hurt (that I’d been the cause of); the sum of which had managed to endear her to me. But even they paled beside the intensity of what was now being reflected in her eyes.

Suddenly, I was uncertain of how to proceed, as I was equally un­certain of Porter’s intent for orchestrating this sequence of events. Did he intend to eliminate Susan from the story? If he did, would her ab­sence from this fantasy cause him to stir from his torpidity, or merely serve to drive him deeper into an already nearly fatal state of denial?

I was no longer certain, as I’d been moments before while dis­patching Porter’s other two lackeys, that Porter knew what would tran­spire in the next few minutes. To me, it felt as yet unscripted. The choice, it appeared, was mine to make. Just as it had been my choice the other night to deal with Kate in the manner I had.

Yet never before had the consequences of my options weighed so heavily.

To act might spell Susan’s demise, for by taking action there was al­ways the chance of success. But to turn around and walk away from this situation would certainly spell doom for her.

Some dim part of my consciousness knew that, in Porter’s reality, this is precisely how situations such as this ended. The assailant’s sexual climax was predicated on violence, and so the pinnacle of that act of passion was really in the aftermath, when the ultimate climax ended with the victim’s death.

“Walk away, man. I just want the girl. Walk away now and I just might let her live. Make any more trouble, I’ll cut her for sure.” I could hear the tension in the voice rising, while Susan’s eyes implored that I pay no heed to the voice coming from just behind her right ear.

In the past, I had always reacted on the pretense of right and wrong; those reactions usually benefitted the underdog.

To walk away now would serve Porter right; let him deal with his own tortured reality.

Yet to walk away would also be wrong, for by doing so I relegated Susan, the aforementioned aggrieved underdog, to certain doom. 

What should that matter to me? She’s just a product of Porter’s imagination, same as the kid threatening to spill her blood, same as everyone I’ve ever met, pre­sent, past and future. Hell, the same as me.

That’s not true, that other part of me rebuked. You are real. You must be.

“Come on, man. Don’t make me ask again.”

I noted the look of fear in the kid’s eyes and something else as well, something behind the eyes. Another presence. The same presence that was responsible for all that had, and would, transpire in this fantasy. It wrote the words the kid recited with such uncertainty; yet unsure how I might react, itself terrified that I might abandon it, that other presence betrayed its own uncertainty in the eyes of Susan’s captor. A look that was totally out of character for the character, it pleaded with me. It begged me not to abandon it.

That same presence existed in Susan’s eyes as well.

I closed my eyes as I became painfully aware that there was more at stake here than mere right or wrong.

Walking away to spite Porter would surely sign Susan’s death war­rant, and Porter’s shame at being the instrument of her degradation would be too much to bear. He would cut short her suffering because never again would he be able to look into her eyes through mine and bear the pain of having been the author of her fate. 

Yes, I reasoned, it would be wrong to punish you at Susan’s expense. She is but an innocent bystander. 

But why? I argued back. She’s not real. 

But what she represents is. The voice of the gargoyle.

“Porter’s paradigm is mine also,” I muttered.

“What was that?” the kid said.

I ignored him.

I saw the truth in my rationale; but it was a truth that remained blurred, just out of focus. That I should desire what Porter desired was only natural; it was no secret I desired Susan, as did Porter. We were, after all, one and the same. A derivative of Porter’s more abject nature, I allowed Porter the avenue of escape to investigate a lifestyle more glamorous than his own mundane existence permitted.

But I had discovered an unnatural attachment to Susan these past several days. Not only had I grown protective of her, but fond as well. In a way that my own equally mundane existence between the covers of One Hot January had not permitted.

In a sense, Susan was more real than anyone I’d ever encountered, because of Porter’s attachment to her. He’d modeled her after an ideal. She wasn’t just a fictional creation for one of his novels, but instead someone he wished with all his heart he might find in his own an­guished reality.

I recalled the way Susan relished teasing me, but instead of embar­rassment, I now felt the warmth of affection at the image of her making sport of me, playfully mocking my odd dialect. Coming to my rescue when my inhibitions allowed me to only blush. Her eyes, full of life and love and laughter, and the way she looked at me with those eyes; not with selfish lust as others had, but with selfless kindness, understanding and genuine affection, as well as concern, just as genuine, as she had when I’d arrived unexpectedly at The Oasis just an hour ago. Her laughter, warm and resonant, a wonderfully melodic sound to my ears. I recalled the way she touched me when I least expected it, and all of the other special gifts that made her uniquely her.

All the attributes that Porter coveted, and believed himself worthy of, were the same traits that I now discovered equally desirable yet un­obtainable, because I saw myself, in view of my checkered past, as un­worthy.

In short, I was in love with Susan Anders. The realization brought my eyes open.

“Don’t even think it, man,” the punk said, but the look in his eyes said otherwise. “I’ll cut her, I swear I will.” The statement lacked con­viction. Not a declaration of certitude, it seemed to invite a reply. I obliged.

“You do and I’ll kill you.” I spoke the words softly, yet the weight they carried was obvious.

The kid’s eyes went wide with fear; a moment later a puddle of water appeared on the sidewalk between his feet.

“You’re freakin’ nuts.”

“No,” I said. “Just pissed.”

If this had been a book, I might’ve found the moment humorous; but this wasn’t a book. Although the setting was fictitious and teeming with fictional characters, the outcome of events held life and death ramifications for Robert Porter and all he held near and dear. Susan Anders, for one, or more importantly the ideal she represented. The hope that she, or someone like her, existed in his reality.

And me, too, I suddenly discerned for the first time. Hadn’t I been a paradigm of sorts to Porter, albeit flawed as I was?

I now understood what the voice inside my head meant about be­ing stronger together as one. I also understood why Susan wanted him – Porter – to soften January’s character and make him more real.

In One Hot January, Porter would’ve found some way for me to come to Susan’s rescue in some fancifully violent way that would’ve left her assailant bloodied and broken, and somehow glorify the ferocity of my wrath by having the damsel in distress repay her debt to my hero­ism with sexual favors.

But this was not One Hot January.

I merely dismissed the kid with a nonchalant wave of my hand.

“Go on,” I said. All of the controlled anger of a few moments ago was gone.

“Get out of here before you get hurt.”

The kid didn’t wait around to be told a second time. Dropping the knife, he released Susan and, with a look of relief mingled with thanks, made good his pardon from my rage. The thanks, I was certain, be­longed to that other person I’d briefly glimpsed, the person who had pleaded that I not walk away. The rapidity of the kid’s departure left me momentarily amused.

The next moment found Susan in my arms, her body wracked by sobs, the release of her previous anguish.

In the past, I would’ve had some humorous anecdote ready, a segue into what would’ve brought the chapter to a sort of anti-climax.

But this wasn’t the past, so I kept silent, offering comfort in a strangely different way.

There was nothing I could say to assuage her distress, so I simply returned her embrace, stroking her soft hair, inhaling its fragrance, amazed that the adrenaline high of a moment ago, coupled with the firm reality of Susan’s close proximity, hadn’t resulted in the usual sex­ual arousal.

A minute later, the violence of her sobs ebbed, and she managed to say between hiccoughs, “I thought … for a minute I thought … I thought you’d leave me.”

“Never,” I whispered, and felt her grip tighten.

The word was meant to reassure her; but even as I spoke it, I knew it was a lie, for I now knew I would be leaving her. And soon.

Inside, I grieved over her loss from me.

J. Conrad Guest, author of: 500 Miles To GoA Retrospect In Death, A World Without Music, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine InningsJanuary’s Thaw, and One Hot January

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Excerpt from ‘Betrayal’

My novel, Betrayal, published by Second Wind Publishing, will be launched on June 1st. To give you a bit of a preview, I have chosen an excerpt from the book to post to my blog. I hope you enjoy it.

Ben stood for a moment, staring blankly at the closed door. He was trying to assimilate everything that had happened today. The arrival of the girl had been a surprise, and he had suspected all along she was hiding something, but now it was confirmed. Now he knew that not only was she hiding something, but it was something dangerous. Tori had had a very good reason not to follow the road back into town. She was running from someone and that someone had just come knocking at his door.

The two strangers had obviously followed her footprints through the snow. Ben had no doubt Tori had made no effort to cover her tracks. It had taken a lot of explaining on his part to convince them it was his footprints leading to the cabin, and he wasn’t so sure they were entirely convinced.

There had been no question in his mind of handing her over to them. True, he valued his private time alone in his cabin and he would have preferred Tori had chosen someone else’s lake to fall into, but he was not cold-blooded enough to turn her over to a couple of goons. She was in trouble and he wasn’t going to make it worse for her. Ben pivoted and looked speculatively towards the bedroom where she was hiding.

He knew she had heard everything that had been said, but hadn’t been able to understand. He also knew she had probably recognized the voices at the door and remembered them as belonging to the people who had inflicted those bruises on her neck and face. He was sure they were responsible for her injuries. Several pieces of the puzzle fit together now. There were still some gaping spaces, but, if he handled this carefully, he might be able to fill them in. The question was whether he really wanted to. After all, this cabin was meant to be his refuge, not a hotbed of intrigue.

A.J. McCarthy is the author of Betrayal, soon to be published by Second Wind Publishing.


Filed under Excerpts, fiction