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GUEST AUTHOR: Jonathan Dunne: A View of Characters

Thank you for inviting me on the blog. In all my crime books I continue to be heavily influenced by Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang. In these classics we watch two canines go from extremes of domesticity to violent savagery and vice versa. The environment moulds both animals and they find a natural balance in the world in which they inhabit.

Like it or not – there are people in perfect sync in a world which terrifies most of us. Jacob Boylan is such a man. He is at peace in the eye of the storm.

The novel introduces Jacob in his natural habitat. Despite the forces gathered against him, Jacob knows his terrain and unleashes the full force of will upon his enemies. He is devoid of fear or anger – he just walks a well-worn path. The violent road he knows too well.

The Black Hand is also a force of nature. A force hidden behind a cloak anonymity and an identity known to nobody. Of this we do know; his genius is terrifying. But how do you terrify a man who is not afraid to die? Jacob holds no fear of death -in fact he knows his days are numbered so his body count is measured in steps to the grave.

Like light and dark – Jacob is full contradictions. He fights for the underdog and empathises, yet his barbarity is without a moral compass or any measurable limit.

The Black Hand’s genius is also incomparable. How so? Here’s a taster.

Excerpt:

Alfie Giles was considered one of Ireland’s most talented criminals. His capacity to avoid publicity was a rarity among the criminal fraternity. Alfie was that rare breed who was driven by money, and money alone. He detested loud-mouths and flashy criminals. Most criminals – he surmised – that ended up in the papers, wanted to be in the papers. Alfie was a top-class logistics man and his genius lay in the aftermath of a robbery. He was the man who took over once the job was done.

Three of Ireland’s most high-profile robberies had Alfie’s stamp all over them. Unlike most of his community, Alfie kept abreast of the latest developments in DNA detection and had a voracious appetite for learning when it came to technological advancements in security. At the tender age of forty, he had completed two degrees; one in mechanical engineering and the other in criminology. He completed at least two courses a year in security installation and cyber security.

Throughout his criminal career he had built a network of associates that were paid well and trusted implicitly. Whether it was steel works, scrap yards, or undertakers, Alfie kept them as close as a wallet nestled in his inside pocket.

Alfie was nondescript in every respect; his features were forgettable, as was his height, weight, and dress sense. His car was small, and his home was a three-bedroomed terrace house on the periphery of the north inner city of Dublin.

His criminal contacts were the elite of the criminal underworld. He never dealt with anyone involved in feuding, or who was a movie-star gangster. Quite simply, no criminal’s stock was higher than Alfie Giles. He was trusted, efficient, low-key, and quite simply, a genius in his field.

So, when a new outfit offered him a job – he politely agreed. However, they were stone cold murderers and they were slowly and methodically taking over the criminal landscape. Alfie knew they had butchered a dozen major criminals, so he was on-board almost immediately – at least, that’s what they thought.

Alfie had a contingency plan in place for this type of situation. He had helped many criminals flee, and the ones that followed his rules had never been found. Only once in his career had he broken his own rules, and that was for Jacob Boylan.

Alfie’s own flight required no logistics. It had been planned for years. When that day came, he wanted it to be effortless.

Alfie was ready. His new name was George Armstrong, and he had a bustling restaurant and car dealership in Warsaw, Poland. A plastic surgeon was prepared, but he deemed it unnecessary. His flight was in the guise of a holiday, and Alfie (now George) would travel on forged documentation by boat, train, and car, where he would detour across the vast terrain of Europe. In all, it would take one week. Alfie was diligent when it came to other people’s lives; even more so when it was his own.

In the meantime, he continued to work with the new outfit. His own research had alerted him to their sophistication; however, they were not in Alfie Giles’s league. He worked diligently for his new masters, but just before the job was due to go ahead, Alfie was gone.

His escape had been patient and meticulous. And one week to the day, he finally arrived in his Warsaw apartment.

On arrival, the barrel of a gun was placed to his head as he dropped his bags. Alfie was so stunned that speech deserted him.

‘Mr Giles, you have reneged on our agreement,’ said the voice in the shadows. ‘Your stock has fallen. Follow me, please.’

Alfie couldn’t comprehend the wretched scenario unfolding before his eyes. The street lamps cascaded through the living room, revealing two armed men with weapons ready.

‘Why did you betray us?’ asked the voice.

As Alfie tried to find his voice, he heard the weapon being cocked.

‘I was afraid,’ he replied nervously.

‘Why?’

‘You’ve…killed a lot of people.’

There was a chuckle from the other two men. It chilled Alfie to his marrow.

‘Mr Giles, we only remove people who break agreements. Like you’ve just done. If you had completed the task at hand, you wouldn’t be in this predicament.’

‘I’m sorry. Your organisation is unknown, and the stories…’ replied Alfie. ‘I’m a careful man. You’re too bloodthirsty for me. Can we make this quick?’

‘Make what quick?’ came the reply.

‘You’re here to kill me?’

The three men turned to a shadow sitting in the corner. Through a single ray of light, Alfie could see nothing but a black, gloved hand. The black hand gestured ever so slightly, and the three men turned to Alfie.

‘Finish the job. And you will live,’ came the order.

Alfie crumbled to the floor in relief. His breath came in short rasps and flashes appeared before his eyes. When the panic subsided, he was alone.

When he regained his senses, Alfie Giles was sure of two things: one, he had been outsmarted by a superior enemy; and two, that enemy had a name – The Black Hand.

Blurb:

In the aftermath of Ireland’s most deadly gang war, Dublin’s ruling family has scattered to the wind.

Into the void steps a criminal genius known only as The Black Hand. His organisation’s powerful grip is ruthless, bloody and barbaric.

With Europe’s biggest crime in play, The Devil needs a distraction. And The Black Hand needs Jacob Boylan to return to Irish shores. He will stop at nothing to provoke Dublin’s most lethal criminal out of hiding.

But has the wily genius misstepped? As all eyes are on Jacob, the Dublin exile carefully plans a gangland wipeout, for he is nobody’s pawn.

Buy links:

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2I6LyRP
Amazon US:
https://amzn.to/2I4Wjnw
Barnes & Noble:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1128305853
iBooks:
http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/isbn9781370854424
Kobo:
https://store.kobobooks.com/search?Query=9781370854424
Smashwords:
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/808034?ref=cw1985

Author Bio

Jonathan Dunne is a native of Dublin’s north inner city. The Black Hand is his second novel in the crime genre. The Takeover – his first crime novel went on to wide acclaim and regularly featured in Amazon’s bestseller lists.

He is also an avid MMA journalist who has penned articles for some of Ireland’s biggest publications. He holds a Degree from the Dublin Institute of Technology and is a strong advocate of lifelong learning and education. After returning to complete his leaving certificate as an adult in Jonathan has went on to have four novels published.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dublinauthor/

GIVEAWAY!

Make sure to follow the whole tour—the more posts you visit throughout, the more chances you’ll get to enter the giveaway. The tour dates are here: http://writermarketing.co.uk/prpromotion/blog-tours/currently-on-tour/jonathan-dunne/

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Taxes for Authors: Before You File and the Year Ahead

I’m not an accountant, but I have seen the movie and written about a few in my books. Not that any of those things make me an expert, but I have filed my own taxes as a freelancer and author for the last 10 years or so, and for five of those I had no “traditional income” from an employer: I started with only stacks of 1099 forms and a list of business expenses.

Before you panic thinking I am going to launch into some professional jargon, don’t. I’ve got some solid, simple advice for you that might affect how you file this year, and will certainly affect how you look at the year ahead.

Get Organized

This used to mean getting out a shoebox, or a file box if you were really organized, and labeling and cataloging your receipts. It also meant sitting down with 1099’s and your company books and totaling up your income. Much of this can be done digitally now but gathering all of your data into one place is still a necessary task.

Note that small businesses have longer to file than individuals, and even though your individual return is actually the same as your small business return, you can take advantage of these extensions if you need more time to get your paperwork together,

Tracking Expenses

You sit in front of a computer all day, and that computer should do some work for you. You should use a single debit or credit card (or a combination of the two) for business expenses. You can then use an accounting program that will track and categorize your expenses for you. These programs are not 100% accurate, so you should check them monthly to make sure expenses are properly labeled, but you can keep the manual tracking you have to do to a minimum.

You can then export these into a spreadsheet to share with your accountant or import them directly into your tax software when tax time comes around.

Where You Work

There are many different places you can work if you are an author or freelancer, from coffee shops and libraries to your own office at home or outside of your residence. When choosing where you will do your work, taxes should factor into it.

Home: Even if you work at coffee shops and libraries, you should also have a home office if possible. For one thing, you will be more productive in a structured environment, even one you have created yourself. The second is that you can write off a part of your expenses including mortgage, rent, and utilities as business expenses.

A few things you should keep in mind about your office expenses, especially if you are a new homeowner:

  • Don’t Overspend. You may be tempted to buy a new desk and totally revamp your office, but not only are you limited on how much you can deduct, but you also need to stay within your business budget. Resist temptation and be patient, doing things as you can afford them.
  • Get Good Insurance. You will need good renters insurance that is enough to replace all of your items in case something goes wrong. Be sure you have enough in savings to cover the deductible so you can get back to work as soon as possible.
  • Save for Unexpected Expenses. Just as your household budget should include emergency savings, so should your business account. This should be enough to cover your operating expenses including the salary you pay yourself for approximately three months.
  • Keep Records of Everything. Printer ink. Paper. Batteries for your mouse and other computer accessories. Carpet cleaning and other cleaning supplies. Upgrades to furniture and decorations. All of these are deductible.

Even though you should be careful not to overspend, once you do undertake improvements and remodels, be sure to take advantage of the tax benefits that offers.

Commercial Space: Some freelancers do not work as well at home and find it to be distracting. You can office share or use other creative ways to rent your own commercial space. The best thing about a commercial office is that all of those expenses are deductible, and they are easy to keep separate. Remember to include all of the expenses related to an outside office when doing your taxes, including your commuting time and mileage.

Health Insurance Coverage

One of the toughest things about being an author or a freelancer ins finding and keeping health insurance, especially if you are not covered by a spouse or significant other. You have a couple of choices.

Individual Coverage: You can use an insurance agent or even on your own search for individual coverage. With the ACA, there are some tax credits available if you do so, but that may change under the current administration.

This is still more expensive than group coverage, but you can choose if you want a lower premium and a higher deductible plan supplemented by a health savings account, or a more traditional insurance plan with co-pays and lower out of pocket costs in the case of an emergency.

Group Coverage: Even if you do not have a regular employer, you can find group coverage. One of the best places to compare coverage and options for writers is Freelancer’s Union, although they do not have coverage in every state. However, there are insurance co-ops for contractors and other self-employed individuals, and you should search for those in your area.

Google has shut down its insurance comparison tool because it was not working well, but there are dozens of other places to compare insurance coverage, including healthcare.gov and private insurance comparison tools.

Retirement

As a self-employed person, you need to provide your own retirement. You don’t have the benefit of an employer matching your contributions, but you should still donate the maximum amount allowed each year into a 401 K of some sort. You can choose either a Roth or a traditional IRA, depending on how old you are when you start, and what you anticipate you will need to retire and maintain the lifestyle you want.

Since you are self-employed, limits are higher for you as you can contribute as both your employer (since you employ yourself) and as an employee. Be sure to factor in these limits when deciding how to handle your taxes.

These contributions are tax deductible, as are other investments. A large consideration of how you invest for your retirement will depend on your tax situation, and how much you can afford to put towards it. Remember that as a freelancer, you will have to pay your own social security as well, and because you do not have an employer matching your costs it will be more expensive.

Tax Savings Accounts

More than likely you will owe taxes at the end of the year no matter how diligent you are with deductions, investments, and savings. To prepare for this, you need to have a tax savings account. You should save approximately 30% of your income, and make quarterly estimated tax payments. The self-employment tax is the combination of social security and medicare that an employer would normally contribute to you paying and is 15.3%. This is separate from income taxes, which is why you should save 30%.

The IRS demands that taxes be paid on money when it is made, so if you fall behind on quarterly payments not only will you have a huge bill at the end of the year, but you also may face penalties for not paying on time.

There are countless other tax tips and deductions for freelancers, but these are a few of the more common and often overlooked ones. As you prepare for tax time, be sure you are organized and know all of the deductions you have a right too.  Use what you learn from preparing for your taxes this year to plan for next year.

While doing taxes is not fun, having a solid tax plan is essential to having a profitable business and being an effective entrepreneur.

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The Dirge of Distraction

conquer-distractionI try to be a helpful guy, sharing with others the things I have learned the hard way, so they do not have to experience the same pain I have. I hope it frees them to make mistakes of their own. But there are times when being helpful becomes a huge distraction, and I lose the focus that has driven me to this point. Distracted, I am no longer learning and progressing myself. So my ability to be truly helpful diminishes. Anyone else know what I mean?

Recently, this Dirge of Distraction had risen in volume in my life, to the point where I had to do something about it. So following a particularly discouraging e-mail, and a quick accounting of the money and time I have expended over a few short months. I sat down with my business plan and my brain engaged, and did what I should have done a while ago. I evaluated what I am doing based on passion, income, and distraction. I needed to get back to the why behind what I do. Here are my original business rules, revisited, in the hope they will be helpful to you as well.

1) Do what you love. If you are going to leave the grind of a day job, and also sacrifice the security of, say, a regular paycheck, it pays to do something, or even several things you are passionate about. If you have a number of passions, you should (read must) narrow your focus. But this is only step one.

mailmoney2) Do whatever related to number one that PAYS. “It’s my passion.” “It’s my art.” Wonderful. Can you pay rent with that? Likely not, unless your landlord takes payment in poetry, prose, or painting (I’ve tried, with no takers). So you also need to make money with the thing you are passionate about. In the digital world, there are a variety of ways to do so, and the same creativity that fuels your passion should be applied to the business side of your endeavors.

3) Evaluate distraction vs. opportunity. Sometimes you can sacrifice short term loss for long term gain, in other words gambling and betting on the come. This is often the case with authors, as in a way you are betting the next book will sell as well or better than the last one. But it is the same with other opportunities. When it becomes evident the long term gain is not likely, or at least not likely to arrive before you starve, it’s probably a distraction rather than a great idea.

4) Be careful what, and how much, you give. This is the eternal downfall of the helpful. I like to see others succeed. Just be careful you are not doing so by sacrificing your own success. If there is no hope for reciprocity, or your charitable endeavor consumes too much of your time, energy, and money, it may be wise to stop giving, at least in that area.

Opportunity and success are often just as much about evaluating what to say ‘yes’ to, and what to pass up. ‘No’ is a very empowering word, and so is the phrase, “No more.” Don’t be afraid to stop, evaluate who and where you are, and where you want to go. Return to your passion. Those around you will thank you for it in the long run.

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The Value of Critique

There are times as an author when you need to seek the opinion of other authors and readers. You might not even find all of those opinions valid, but you just might find gems in their opinions. Gems that can do nothing but make your work stronger.

There is one issue with critique though, and for many writers it’s a big one. Ready? You have to let your work go BEFORE it is ready, so others can help you get it ready. I’d repeat that, if I was teaching a class. But it’s written, so just read the sentence above one more time.

Letting go is uncomfortable. Let’s face it, some authors even struggle with letting go after their work has been edited, and is supposedly ready. But without feedback from readers before the work is released, the author really only has the opinion of one or two people. People who may be close to, and even vested in, the words on the page.

The reader, or critique group has no such investment or love for your turn of phrase. Likely they will see plot holes and places where disbelief has not been suspended adequately, and places where you, as the author, just stepped over the line a bit too far. It’s hard not to take at least a part of it personally, because it is, after all, your work. But discomfort leads to growth, and that has great value.

Not everyone is right. Look around the room. Wait. If you are an author and reading this at home, wait until you next visit a coffee shop or restaurant. Then look around. Likely, if it is still summer (you should try this outside stuff. The smells are amazing), there will be people with iced drinks topped with whipped cream sitting next to folks with hot coffee decorated with colorful straws. Some will have two straws of different color, some will have one. Cream, no cream, a different bean here or there… You get the idea. Now look at the menu.

Everyone likes different things. Your story and style will not appeal to everyone, so stop trying. Some people will misread what you are trying to write, while others will “get” it. Take the advice offered, and apply it to what you are trying to do. If you take every piece of advice, likely you don’t have enough confidence in your own ability.

Critique hurts, and isn’t always constructive. Writing is pain. Get used to it. Often our stories flow from a place of pain, and are very personal. Sometimes others who offer to critique your work are jealous for some reason, and lash out as a result of their own pain. Don’t judge them, or strike back. It’s pretty likely you do the same thing from time to time.

As much as writing is pain, it is also fraught with risk. Even when your work is as “done” as you can get it, well edited and proofed, putting out into the world is risky. There are those who will not like your work, and will tear it apart. Let them. Draw strength from it, and move on.

To make yourself the best you can be, you need to be able to take and apply criticism of all forms, constructive and otherwise. It’s frightening. It’s painful. It’s risky. But it’s worth it.

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The “Easy “ Life

laptopThere are times when I understand why authors used to, years ago, simply retreat from the world to do what they loved most: write. The publicity, the marketing, even the personal appearances went away once they reached a certain level of success. I’m on a different path: if anything I feel too visible at times. Everyone knows I am an author, nearly everywhere I go. Much of the time I deliberately reach out, in groups, by organizing conferences, and even holding author events like potluck BBQ’s with no agenda other than easing the journey we are all on, and steering others to avoid the many mistakes I have made along the way.

As writers, it often helps us to realize we are not alone. Kristen Lamb has built an entire model based on the principle: WANA, with an annual on line conference and thousands of followers. But sometimes to be effective at what we do, we need to be alone. In fact, there are times when I am sitting in a room with you, talking writing, sharing stories, while at the same time dreaming of being alone on an island, with nothing but me and my computer, and occasional but limited bursts of Wi-Fi.

The public eye is scary. Yes, it is great to feel a sense of community. But people can be cruel and petty. Jealous of each other’s success, and under the odd impression that everyone has it better than they do. And then there are those who simply do not like your work, or you as a person. There’s not a thing you can do about it, and no matter how good or nice you are, those people will exist.

Anyone can tell you they don’t take those things personally, but more often than not, those who say so are lying. The insults and cruelty, even indifference, hurt. And sometimes for writers, who often have large but rather fragile egos, it would be much easier to hide out and just be alone.

Creative people are often rebels. We are told, and rightly so, that to sell books we must be in the public eye. And we must, to one extent or another. On line, in person, or both. But when you tell a creative like a writer they have to do something, often the tendency is to do the opposite just to prove we don’t have to do anything “they” tell us. As necessary as it is, fighting that instinct is hard for us to do. It takes effort, and that kind of effort actually makes you tired.

Even a conversation, when I would rather be writing, or my muse is knocking at the back of my head with ideas can be not only exhausting, but infuriating. But there is no socially acceptable way to respond, especially if you don’t want to alienate fans and even your family. So I often smile and nod, while the whole time placing the person addressing me into a gruesome scene in my next novel.

We are busier than you think. Working at home as an author is far from easy. Not only do we have the responsibility everyone else has, but you must keep writing, every day. We must market the work we have already written. Most of us do other things to make money, like editing. We must study our craft, get better at what we do. We need to meet with other writers. Some of us must source cover designers and editors, maintain websites and blogs, and interact with you, our fans, on social media.

Being a writer is one of the greatest things you can do with your life. But it is far from the easy life some picture it to be. I’m not complaining, mind you. I often work really long hours many days in a row. But if you could see me when the words are flowing, when the stories stir within me, you would see I cannot contain my joy.

So in that way, at least, being a writer is the “easy” life.

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Idaho Author Guest Post: Jane Munro

Today, a fellow Idaho Author, Jane Munro, tells us why she is a mystery writer. See her bio and more about her books below. Read and review to support local Idaho authors!

BookCoverImageWhy am I a Mystery Writer?

Anybody who’s already a writer knows the answer to that question. There are probably as many answers as there are writers. As for the genre…I write what I love to read.

I’ve always loved mysteries, starting with Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and the Hardy Boys. Then I graduated to Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy Sayers. I know, I’m dating myself here. Now there’s Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell.

People always compare me to that other pathologist who writes, now what’s her name? I say I don’t know, because I don’t know of any other mystery series written by a pathologist. But I know they’re thinking of Patricia Cornwell, who isn’t a pathologist, but a reporter.  I suspect that Kay Scarpetta is based on Marcella Fierro, the real chief medical examiner in Richmond VA.

What I want is for those people to be thinking of me when they ask that question.book cover

But I digress.

I can’t say exactly when I started wanting to write. I imagine I thought it would be something to keep me busy after I retired. Doctors have a way of working well into their seventies, and then when they retire they die. I don’t want to work into my seventies, and I don’t want to die, either.
I didn’t actually start writing until my husband gave me a word processor in 1992. I started writing Murder Under the Microscope then. I finished it in 2002, and sent it to an agent I had met at Murder in the Grove in Boise that year. She liked it, but said she couldn’t sell it. She said it needed a subplot. So I put in a subplot (Robbie) and sent it back. No dice. She chewed me out for making Toni such a wimp. So I fixed that and sent it back. Still no dice. I gave up.

bookcover Too Much BloodIn 2007, I had been divorced for 3 years and was introduced to a gentleman with whom I’m still keeping company today. He nagged me unmercifully until I went online, picked a publisher by the close-your-eyes -and-point method, and sent them Murder Under the Microscope.

And here we are. There are now 3 Toni Day mysteries out there, one more in the final stages of publication, and a 5th one in the works. I’m addicted. I never travel without my laptop. I look at every adventure as a possible plot for a mystery. The sixth Toni Day mystery may very well take place on a cruise ship.

Friends are always giving me suggestions for plots. My 4th book is called Death by Autopsy because my BFF said I had to write a book with that title, and I had to come up with a plot that fits it. It was a challenge, but I did it. Then I had to edit it, and that completely changed the second half of the book. I’m hoping to have it out in about a month.

Now I’m going through the same struggle with the next book. I have an idea for a story. I know who’s going to get murdered, but not who the murderer will be. That will become clear as I write. I hope.

Exciting, isn’t it?

And that’s why I write mysteries.

munjan015_4x5 300 dpi0002Jane Bennett Munro, M.D., is a hospital based pathologist who has been involved in forensic cases during the course of her thirty-five year career. She also spent 8 years on the Idaho State Board of Medicine and was chairman 1997-1999. Now semi-retired, she lives in Twin Falls, Idaho, where she enjoys music, gardening, scuba diving, and skiing. She is the author of Murder Under the Microscope, winner of an IPPY Award, and Too Much Blood.

 

TOO MUCH BLOOD

Pathologist Toni Day returns in this gory tale of a sleazy lawyer and his scam involving the doctors at Perrine Memorial Hospital, in which their earnings go directly into his hedge fund via an offshore leasing company, avoiding taxation. That is, until the economy takes its worst dive since 1929, and Jay Braithwaite Burke’s hedge fund is revealed as a Ponzi scheme. The Feds move in. Jay declares bankruptcy and disappears, only to reappear two months later, dead in his car in the middle of the snowy interstate.

At autopsy, Toni discovers that Jay bled to death. Shortly thereafter, Jay’s partner also bleeds to death. Jay’s widow and four children are kept on the move by a series of house fires, and soon everybody ends up at Toni’s house. Toni’s life is already complicated enough; her work schedule is brutal, and she fears that her husband, Hal, is having an affair. In the meantime, a mysterious illness casts a bloody pall over the Christmas season. Toni must use all her pathological expertise to keep her loved ones from a similar fate, and in so doing nearly comes to a bloody end herself.

GRIEVOUS BODILY HARM

A new administrator is hired to ease the transition when overcrowded and landlocked Perrine Memorial Hospital is bought out by a behemoth hospital system that covers much of the Pacific Northwest and promises to build a new hospital in Twin Falls. But Marcus Manning, a good ole boy with roots in Twin Falls, far from making anything easier, manages to earn the enmity of medical staff and employees alike as he ruthlessly goes about eliminating anyone who might oppose him in his quest to become not only CEO of Perrine Memorial, but CEO of the entire system.

Unwisely, he starts his campaign with pathologist Toni Day, who blows the whistle on Marcus’s twisted campaign of lies, blackmail and sexual abuse until the medical staff finally considers firing him, but is saved the trouble by someone with a more permanent solution … of cyanide.

Toni, as one of the prime suspects, is forced to solve the mystery of Marcus’s murder to keep herself out of jail, and as she delves further into the private lives of those involved in Marcus’s life, finds herself forced to kill in order to save her life and finally learn the truth.

MURDER UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

“There was a dead body in my office. It wasn’t mine, and I didn’t put it there.”

Dr. Antoinette Day, a young and successful pathologist in a small rural hospital, had no idea what she was in for when a beautiful female general surgeon came to the hospital to fill in for a colleague recovering from a heart attack.

The newcomer makes Toni’s life a living hell while taking every opportunity to discredit her with her other medical colleagues. When the surgeon is conveniently murdered, Toni is the obvious suspect, especially since the body is found in her office.

Now Toni finds herself in the position of having to solve the murder to keep from being convicted of it herself. The last thing she needs is to have a former boyfriend show up and start stalking her and threatening her husband.

Stubbornly, Toni continues to delve into the mysteries surrounding the deceased and soon finds that it’s not just her freedom that’s at stake, but her life.

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The Debate is the Distraction

In one of my seminars, I make the blanket statement that publishing is not changing. It has already changed. The new paradigm is still working itself out in many ways, so in that sense, many things are still changing. But many more have already, and will never go back to the way they were before. Did you read that? Read it again: will never go back to the way they were before.

The Hachette-Amazon debate is a great distraction from the real truth here. So let me present it here for you simply, in a few points:

  • Few traditional, Big 5 published authors are making a living. Perhaps the top 1% We are the 99%. Stop asking us to support your obsolete model because it works for a few of you.
  • Amazon Publishing and small presses have resurrected and begun the careers of several mid-list authors. Bookstores can afford to ignore them, because not selling those titles will do them little harm, at least for now. But they do so at their own peril. Where are the next bestselling authors coming from? Mid list. Do retailers think those authors will forget mistreatment, or will leave their lucrative deals with their current publishers for inferior traditional ones to get their books carried locally?
  • More authors are making a living today from small press and self-publishing than from traditional publishing. This is clearly illustrated by data recovered by authorearnings.com and released by Smashwords. This has turned the Author’s Guild on their heads, and left them wondering what their future role is.
  • Amazon Unlimited, Oyster, and Scribd have become, as some of us predicted, the next outlet for authors, like a Netflix for books. This is where we should be focusing our attention: on authors being treated fairly and assuring income from such services, rather than battling the single largest source of writer income (at least currently)

Hachette is right. Booksellers and publishers have every right to price their products (books) at whatever level they desire. Amazon is also right: booksellers and bookstores can choose to carry whatever books and products they like. They are under no obligation. In fact, many Indie and local bookstores boycott Amazon Published writers and self-pubbed titles printed by Create Space already. There’s no outcry over that inequity.

The debate is a distraction. Most readers don’t care any more who publishes a book or how, as long as the story or content is good. Writers and publishers are fighting for their literal lives and livelihood, many with no idea where the real battle is, raging and tilting at windmills.

Writers, it’s time to get back to work. Write more, not about the debate or the industry we all know has changed, but more books. Stories. The things your readers want.

Publishers, it’s time to adopt a new program. Many small presses have. Survival means you will follow suit. Pay reasonable royalties. Offer readers content at reasonable prices. And don’t snub, and ask authors to snub, the biggest retailer on the planet.

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The Hazards of in Person Book Signings

(and the benefits)

BuyMyBookIt’s a Wednesday afternoon, and I feel like gambling. Do I go down and purchase a lottery ticket? Nope. Instead I set up a table at the Kuna Library during summer reading events. There is tons of promised traffic. And traffic there is. But People come to the library to borrow books, not to buy them. At least, that has been my experience. The traffic consisted of harried parents, lulls of almost no patrons, and several curious kids (who my books are not appropriate for). For most authors who have done or attempted signings at libraries, this is not news. Far from it. It is simply fact.

But there are things to be learned from these and other experiences.  The idea was never to sell a ton of books. But to do two things: make my local librarians who may recommend my books happy, and increase local exposure. This forces any author to brand themselves, something with its own value. So below is a little advice when you are next invited to do any in person signing.

1. Manage expectations. Be realistic about how many books, if any, you expect to sell. And keep that in mind. Sometimes just reinforcing your public image is enough return on your investment. Especially with patrons of libraries who are obviously already readers.

2. Use your time wisely. Don’t just sit and stare at the walls, or the celling. Watch people and their reading habits. If you are at a bookstore, observe buying habits as well. See what they pick up, and what they pass by. Be ready to answer questions, even if the person does not look like they read your type books. You never can tell. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or a person.

3. Make fans and friends. Even if it is one at a time. Even if they pick up your book cards, and buy them later on Amazon or elsewhere. There is no value you can attach to a lifelong fan. You never know who that might be.

4. Assign value to your time, and be careful with it. Orchestrated book signings and readings can enhance both your image and your opportunities. But Be careful they are not the only, or the primary marketing efforts you make. They are time consuming and minimally profitable. You could be writing the next book rather than sitting behind a table waiting for readers to come to you.

In person book signings are like many other things: they are best in moderation, for a purpose, and handled with care. Use these potential tools the way they are intended. As a gateway to the fans you don’t have yet.

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Say Goodbye Author Stand

AuthorstandI remember when I posted my first article on AuthorStand, for a short story competition. It turned out the contest was more about who you knew more than anything else, and as a relative newbie to the fiction author realm, I didn’t do so well. It didn’t go viral, and I didn’t win.

But I learned some vital things about building platform, mu audience and I also saw some cool writing over the years. I didn’t use the service much recently, instead turned into a lurker. So when I saw the news about Joe Niewierski, the founder, selling out to Book Country I was crushed: Book Country is a subsidiary of Penguin Books. What now?

Let me say before I go further that Penguin, by purchasing Book Country and opening itself at least to considering self-publishing as a potential path to publication, or at the very least the talented pool of indie authors as a pond worth fishing in for new talent, does show some willingness to adapt. They still have horrible contracts, too low of royalties to authors especially for e-books, and two high of prices for what is the paperback of today. Still, knowing folks who work or have worked there, the company may wake in time to save itself, and join the emerging trends in the industry.

However, AuthorStand was one of the more independent ways to distribute ones work, and was filled with competitions and other opportunities to get real feedback and hone your writing craft. There’s no question that Penguin has talented scouts and editors, and opportunities may arise for authors to jump into the traditional pond if they so desire.

But what about those who wish to remain independent? Who are really what AuthorStand was all about? That remains to be seen, but with a parent company with an intrinsic interest in converting Indie authors to a more traditional publishing path to publication, the outlook is questionable at best.

RIP AuthorStand. Welcome Book Country. I just hope it stays a country of free and independent individuals rather than a corporate farm.

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Here, Taste This

What Scotch Night can teach us about Books and Reading

2014-04-04 20.39.19There were perhaps a dozen of us, although I never got a definite head count. And there were at least a dozen bottles of Scotch on the bar. Plus a Japanese whiskey. It was a tasting party, so no, we did not plan to drink a bottle each. However, we did all get quite buzzed, even sampling several varieties. Like nearly everything else, all that tasting made me think about books, reading and writing. There are some clear parallels.

Some people like, and relate to different regions. Scotch is created in different regions, or settings if you will, and the taste of the scotch takes on the character of that setting. From peaty lowlands to the woodsy highlands, even the smooth, almost sweet 20+ year olds, everyone likes a different region. Some are even more popular than others.

Books are set in different regions as well, most often the region the author is from or familiar with. That region has a character of its own, and some readers like certain regions better than others. From settings in the Northeast and along the East Coast by Allan Leverone, to tales of the deep South by Heath Lowrance, to my own works set in the Northwest, there are a variety to choose from. Each story inevitably takes on regional characteristics, just as scotch aged certain places takes on the characteristics of the surrounding environment. So if you do, or even don’t like a book, the setting may have as much to do with your “taste” as anything else.

2014-04-04 19.32.28Aging makes a difference. Young writers create fiction not as polished as that of more mature authors. This is not to deny that some first novels are break out pieces. Nor is it to deny that some writers get worse with age, are not edited as well because of their name or status. Also, in most cases more mature writers (and by that I mean authors who are physically older) have experienced more, and tend to have more experiences to draw from.

Note I said aging makes a difference, not that different is better or worse. The stories just take on unique characteristics depending on age of the author, age of the reader, and the age of the story. Scotch is similar. There seem to be certain ages that appeal to specific drinkers more than others. Whether 12, 14, 16, or 21 years old, each scotch has characteristics defined by age. No certain age is “bad” but liking that age is a matter of taste.

Blending changes the taste. Some of the best stuff I have read, or written, has been a result of collaboration. The novel Satanarium, written by me and Poppet, a brilliant and prolific author, is a unique work because it contains two distinct voices. Some people like it (it is dark and sinister) and some don’t, but it’s a good book either way. It is not like my other books, and in some ways is not like Poppet’s other books. It’s a blend, and when done well blends work.

Scotch is often blended as well. While all blends are not created equal, sometimes the combination created has an appeal all its own. Some lower end blends are designed with affordability in mind, while others are designed to create unique flavor. Either way, some people like the blends better than each original, while others would never drink a blend. It’s a matter of personal preference.

2014-04-04 19.34.40Finally, Price does not always indicate quality. Is the most expensive Scotch the best? Not always. The most expensive, over 20 year old scotches do not appeal to some aficionados, but they are more expensive simply because of the time involved in creating them. Just because something costs more does not mean it is better. Those scotches have their appeal, and their following, but not everyone likes them.

Books, especially e-books follow a similar pattern. I’ve read some great work I paid 99 cents for, like the recent offering of the Deadly Dozen. I’ve also read some great e-books that cost me nearly $10. Traditionally published books have a higher price point, but they are often no better edited or created than a small press or self-published book. In fact, they are often lower in quality, but that is another discussion for another time.

The point is that while price, blending, aging and region all go into both Scotch and books, sometimes the differences are just a matter of taste, not an indication of quality. So as a reader, don’t be afraid to taste something new. You might find something you really like.

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