Where’d My Horror Go?

So, I’m currently working on a short novel (maybe novella) called A Light Beyond. I left a Western novel called Badger’s Bend to work on this one. Before that I wrote another Western novel called Orphan. And before that was a realistic — or mainstream — novel called The Teacher.

What do all these (so far unpublished) works have in common? Not a whiff of the supernatural.

For 30 years I was all about the horror genre. The movies I watched, the books I read, and almost everything I wrote had werewolves, ghosts, demons, or some trope of otherworldly origin. But I’m not feeling the need for those kinds of monsters anymore.

It’s kind of annoying. I know a lot about werewolves and demons and such. What am I supposed to do with that knowledge if I’m not writing about them? I don’t know. But instead I find myself looking more and more at the pain we cause ourselves psychologically, emotionally, and physically, and what we do to each other. A Light Beyond is really an examination of the events that led Robert, the main character, to where we find him when the story opens, beaten nearly to death in an abandoned subway.

My theory is that the tropes of horror appeal to younger people. Young people haven’t experienced enough life to see the beauty and pain in everyday things. They need to add zombies and vampires and other things that go bump in the night to make up for the lack of wisdom that comes with age and experience. It’s just a theory.

If I was to write a new horror novel today, I’m sure it would be a ghost story. Old people understand ghosts, because ghosts are often some representation of regret or past decisions. We get that. We’ve had time to really screw up our lives and have the wisdom to be able to look back and say, “Yep, right there, that’s where I went wrong. I should have done X.”

The irony here is that the last agent I had tried to get me to abandon the supernatural and write mainstream, especially mainstream young adult, and I refused, so we parted company.

Anyway, I don’t think I’ve completely left the supernatural behind. I want to continue The Werewolf Saga. I wrote the first book of a YA series with ghosts and I’d like to finish that. I also want to finish a sword-and-sorcery fantasy series that features a lot of monsters. It’s all about prioritizing and finding the time for everything these days.


Free Sample of Love Curse

love curse frontHere’s a PDF of the first two chapters of my new young adult horror novel Love Curse, coming June 7 from MoonHowler Press. It’s available for pre-order from Amazon (link in the PDF).

Love Curse MHP 1-2

From the back cover …

Keith’s mother is dead, but that doesn’t mean she’s stopped trying to help him turn his life around. His dad, however, doesn’t see any reason he or Keith should stop drinking or using drugs.

Ashlie and her two best friends have never known real love. When the girls take a road trip to go shopping, they stumble upon a book in an estate sale that might be the answer to their romantic problems.

When the school’s renowned drug user approaches Ashlie, she doesn’t think there’s any way she’d ever fall for Keith. As her friends use the grimoire to wreak havoc on the boys of the school who have mistreated them, Ashlie can’t help but wonder if Keith’s interest is real or the result of the spells her friends claim to be creating.

Then their rural Oklahoma high school erupts in chaos and the unlikely couple have to fight against the evil that has been unleashed on their small town.

My Indie Publishing Rebirth

Sometime back Facebook’s Timehop feature showed me I’d posted about how many words I’d written that day on a young adult novel called Afterlife. The original post was four years old. I reposted it with a caption about how the book still wasn’t sold.

Inheritance front low resHarvey Stanbrough, the man who once accepted my novella Inheritance for his StoneThread Publishing company (then returned it because he stopped publishing other authors), commented about how that’s four years Afterlife could have been making money for me.

“But … but …,” I stammered back, “The editor at Tor who accepted the second collaboration between me and Carrie Jones said she’d look at it when the collaboration is in the editing process.”

This led to more comments, e-mails, research, and soul searching. Harvey sent me to explore the vast and deep Web site of self-publishing mastermind Dean Wesley Smith, and it truly opened my eyes. I’ve read a few of Dean’s books on self-publishing and running a business now, and all this has caused me to completely re-evaluate my career.

(Turning 50 last week probably added a little prod to the backside, too.)

Activity at my own MoonHowler Press has ramped up. I’m nowhere near Dean’s WMG Publishing, or even Harvey’s StoneThread Publishing, but I think I’m on the right track. Here’s what I’ve done in the last week or so:

  • Restarted my use of Smashwords to accommodate non-Kindle e-readers
  • Cancelled KDP Select options on my already-published Kindle e-books
  • Finally published the new edition of Call to the Hunt (paperback and e-book; audio is Call to the Huntin production)
  • Formatted the interior, made several sample covers that were test marked to my high school students, and set up Love Curse for paperback and e-book publication, with a June 7 release date
  • Created an Amazon Advantage account to offer pre-orders of Love Curse (coming soon!)
  • Changed the prices on my electronic novels to put them more in line with major publishers
  • Created a template for individual short stories to be released electronically
  • Published the first of the above short stories (Nocturnal Caress) for Kindle (other formats and titles coming soon)nocturnal caress2
  • Began working with a very talented student who has agreed to create art for a children’s book I wrote way back when Kim was pregnant with our first baby (he’s 23 years old now)
  • Began laying plans to independently publish several other novels I’ve been submitting to agents over the past few years (usually getting no response at all); in other words, a business plan

love curse full coverSo, why? It’s true the collaborations with Carrie both earned us nice 5-figure advances, and I do like receiving large sums of money. But I’m not naive enough to believe I had anything to do with that. She’s a New York Times best-selling author who brings name recognition to our collaborative work. Would I get a similar advance for a solo novel? Doubtful. Also, that editor at Tor who agreed to look at Afterlife made that promise over three years ago. What if I’ve waited all this time for a rejection? Yeah, maybe it means the book isn’t good. But maybe it means that one person simply didn’t like it and I’ve wasted however many years waiting. Afterlife is in my business plan, but it isn’t immediate; I’m still hoping for a big chunk of money and the major label marketing that comes with it.

I did all the above while still teaching both high school and one section of college Comp 1. I’m looking forward to the summer, when I have time to really buckle down on this. Look for some updates to this Web site and a serious effort to make MoonHowlerPress.net look legitimate. It’s a lot of work. I do have a young friend who is interested in publishing and teaching English who wants to help me with MHP. We’ll see how that works out this summer.

In the meantime, how about a poll? I haven’t done one in a long time.

Little Graveyard for FREE

lgotpStarting today, you can get my ghost story novella Little Graveyard on the Prairie for free on your Kindle or device with the Kindle app. This free promotion is good for three days, Feb. 15-18. Click here to take advantage.

I would greatly appreciate it if you leave a review of the book after reading it. Books need at least 25 reviews before Amazon will start recommending them to readers.

Dead ain’t gone, and gone ain’t dead.

Harley Shaw’s life is falling apart around him. His best pasture is ruined. His cattle are gone. His wife is gone. His daughter is gone. His sanity is slipping away, and there may be dead people taunting him.

The farm in the story is based on my paternal grandparents’ farm. My grandpa developed Alzheimer’s, and having that is probably my biggest fear. Even more than birds.

Therapy in 88,404 words

So, yesterday was a good day. I finished the first draft of a novel tentatively titled The Teacher.  This is the first new novel I’ve completed in three years. Needless to say, finally getting over some issues that kept me from writing and actually finishing a new book felt really, really good.

Back when After Obsession was published in 2011 I thought I was finally going to get the break I’d been working toward for so many years. Yeah, Carrie had already made the NY Times bestseller list and was a name, but I wrote half the book, so surely a publisher would be interested in a solo book from me, right? Who knows? The agent we shared for a while seemed dead set against me writing anything with paranormal elements. I wrote two young adult novels, both of which he had me revise more than once, only to tell me he didn’t think there was a market for them. He never sent them anywhere. This led to a lot of self-doubt that really just crippled my creativity. I started a novel last year, but gave it up halfway through because I figured nobody would be interested in it, either. That was my only writing project until I started writing The Teacher in jerks and fits this past spring.

Sometime during the writing, though, the old fire came back and, if you followed my Twitter or Facebook you know that I was hitting pretty respectable word counts for the last couple of weeks of the project. I’m sure it annoyed my wife and kids that my head was always in the story, even when I wasn’t sitting at the computer. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and really only wanted to be unspooling the tale until it was all told.

It was also therapeutic in that it was an opportunity for me to deal with things, through characters, that have bothered me lately. Things like having a daughter become a woman and not needing her daddy so much, spending so much time on the job that you neglect your family, and losing friends due to various circumstances. This isn’t a horror novel. There are no werewolves or ghosts or anything paranormal, and the only person to die is someone we never actually see “on stage.” It was definitely a new experience for me.

I have a couple of weeks before school starts again. In that time I’m going to try to hold on to the rekindled fire I have and finish that Western novel I began last year. There are syllabi to create or update and lesson plans to begin, but … I have to write!

Prometheus Syndrome Available Now

prometheusJosh Cooper has always had trouble managing his anger. His rockabilly band in Florida went through so many personnel changes that finally Josh’s best friend, Tony “Boozer” Curtis, called it quits and moved to Nashville. But then Josh got a call from Boozer, asking if he’d like to join him in Nashville for a fresh start, but only if Josh can keep his cool and stop firing other musicians. Josh and girlfriend Rana pack up and head north … until Rana convinces him to take a scenic turnoff.

Josh and Rana find themselves prisoners of a man reverently referred to as The Professor by his ignorant hillbilly followers. Disgraced and terminated from his research position at a university, The Professor now carries on his experiments in an abandoned coal mine modified for his use. Josh’s anger is just what he’s been needing to complete his work.

Capturing human emotions, distilling them, and injecting the serum into corpses to create an undead, rage-powered army is The Professor’s plan for revenge against those who wronged him. Controlling his anger now is more than a professional necessity, Josh realizes. People will die if he gives in to the rage he feels over his captivity, the loss of his guitar, and what The Professor made him do to Rana.

Can he do it?

The Prometheus Syndrome is actually the first novel I ever completed, and that was back in about 1988, proudly pounded out on a Smith-Corona Electra XT typewriter. Then I rewrote it (really, it was mostly retyped) and it languished on Smith-Corona PWP-3 portable disks for years after I gave up sending it to publishers and agents. I finally came to realize I wasn’t very good at several things in the ’80s, but I always liked the story idea. So, about 15 years later I dusted off the disks, ran a clean hardcopy of the manuscript, then fed it through one of those newfangled copiers that would scan text and save it electronically. Over the next few years The Prometheus Syndrome received a complete overhaul.

Bad Moon Books was the first place I sent it after that. It was accepted for publication sometime after Amara’s Prayer was to be released. Years rolled by, until I finally withdrew the book, and it did nothing for a while. Then I sent it to Permuted Press, where it was again accepted. And we know what happened there. As I said in the post linked to there, that was pretty much the final straw for me and the small press field. So, I’ve published The Prometheus Syndrome myself under my MoonHowler Press imprint.

Quick shout-out to friend and fellow teacher John Carey for providing the eyes you see on the cover.

The novel is available in paperback and electronically for the Kindle and Kindle app. I’d love to hear what you think of it. I will have copies at SoonerCon 24, too. Click my STORE link above for more buying options.

(I am willing to make a few PDF proofs available to reviewers, but only if those requesting it have a track record of reviews to show me. Contact me with your e-mail address and a link to your reviews, if interested.)

Thoughts on Self Publishing

Is there a more controversial topic among writers than the dreaded one about publishing your own work? Probably not. As little as 10 years ago it was unthinkable for anyone aspiring to commercial success to even consider vanity publishing. Of course, back then it was pretty dang expensive, unless you got tied up with a place like PublishAmerica.

Today? Well, there is still a stigma, but the practice is becoming more accepted. For those who haven’t caught on yet, my books published under the MoonHowler Press logo are self published. For the most part these are books that have been previously published in various small presses but the rights have come back to me. I want to recap my experience with the small press before continuing.

3F Publications — The original publisher of Shara. The company published around 200 copies, never paid me a dime other than some free copies, and went out of business within a couple of months after publishing my book.

Double Dragon Publishing — The original publisher of Seven Days in Benevolence as an ebook. To date I have not been paid anything by DDP because the book doesn’t sell. Bad book? No marketing?

Scrybe Press — Republished Shara and was the original publisher of Murdered by Human Wolves, Call to the Hunt, Ulrik, and Seven Days in Benevolence (in paperback). In the beginning they actually paid the Horror Writers Association minimum professional advance and royalties. Then they paid nothing, became unresponsive, and the company is finally gone.

Fine Tooth Press — Publisher of Darkscapes. I never know about sales unless I ask, sometimes multiple times. Not that there have been very many. I also think the book is overpriced. And I hate the cover. Many of the stories have been pulled out and self-published in various short ebooks.

Graveside Tales — Re-released Murdered by Human Wolves, but never paid royalties so I got the rights back. The company is on hiatus. In lieu of owed payment, I asked if the publisher had the rights to the cover art, was told he did, so I asked for those to be given to me. I self-published the book reusing Russell Dickerson’s great cover, only to find out GST didn’t own the rights to transfer to me. Fortunately Russell is okay with me using his work.

Bad Moon Books — Original publisher of Little Graveyard on the Prairie and Amara’s PrayerLittle Graveyard was a straight purchase for a limited edition book, no royalties or anything, and the purchase price was very generous for such a short book. Amara’s Prayer is a trade paperback that is only available through BMB because the company won’t allow a distributor to take a cut and so it has virtually no visibility and thus, very low sales. Plus it’s overpriced, in my opinion.

StoneThread Publishing — Was set to be the original publisher of Inheritance, but less than two months after requesting I send a manuscript, has decided to close its doors. See below for further details.

I’m not dredging this up to blast these publishers (again, in some cases). This has simply been my experience and has led me to recent decisions regarding self publishing. Other authors have worked in the small press with great results, and there are some small press publishers out there that do fantastic work in publishing, promoting, and paying their authors. There are a couple I’d still like to work with. For the most part, though, it just isn’t worth the hassle with the tools now available to anyone with a manuscript.

Amazon’s CreateSpace program is the best thing to happen to authors outside the major publishers. It can also be a slap to the reading public if the author doesn’t do his or her pre-publication work, but we’ll come back to that. CreateSpace makes publishing easy, and for a minimal cost of $10 you can put your own publishing imprint on the book, like I did with MoonHowler Press. For a while it cost $25 to get your print title wider distribution to make it available outside Amazon, but they’ve eliminated that cost now. Then you have Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords for ebooks, all of which is free.

Now, with all that said, self-publishing still churns out a lot of paper that could have been better used on a small roller hanging in a port-a-potty. As an author, you owe it to your readers to make sure your books are edited. If nobody in your critique group has ever worked in the publishing field as an editor, you need to hire someone who has. You also need to put out the money for a good cover artist. There are online sites where you can buy nice stock art for pretty low prices, but you have to consider you might not be the only one buying that piece of art.

The benefit of self-publishing is that I am in control. I set the prices on my books. I do the marketing, so if they fail, I can’t say it’s because so-and-so wouldn’t use a distributor or because the publisher slapped on a stupid cover or whatever. I get to track my own sales; there’s no begging the publisher for a late royalty statement only to find your 23 cents isn’t enough to trigger the minimum $5 payout. There’s also not the fear of waking up tomorrow to find out the company has gone out of business or is still refusing to answer your e-mail or didn’t run the ad they’d promised or has delayed publication because the wife’s car payment had to be made.

There are downsides. Many brick-and-mortar stores won’t carry your books. You won’t have the kind of editing you’ll get at a mainstream publisher, so your work might be published with mistakes (but trust me, people will tell you and it’s easy to correct those and upload an edited version). Your story might be garbage … but look at Twilight. You won’t get rich, but I do know some authors who make a nice second income off their self-published books.

Let’s get on thing straight, though. Traditional publishing with the major houses that pay big bucks is still my goal. I’m still thrilled Tor is releasing the next book from me and Carrie Jones, and I’m hopeful I’ll someday have my own solo contract with Tor, or another major player. I like to be paid and I like the many other benefits of working with a big established company.

NOTE: I’m going to stick with the April 1 release date for Inheritance, but instead of coming from StoneThread it will come from my MoonHowler Press; the owner of StoneThread is a stand-up guy and turned over the formatted manuscripts and the cover he designed for my use, so there are no hard feelings there and it will make my first venture into Smashwords much smoother.

NOTE 2: Nadia’s Children was my first self-published book that had not been previously published by someone else. Sales have been slow, but I am free to try any promotion I can dream up to boost those.