Monday, April 28, 2014

Thank you, sir...may I have another!

As some of you may know, I am currently involved in obtaining a certification in editing from UCSD. My decision was based on wanting to provide cleaner work not only of my own, but also for those I edit for on the side. I was not happy with being "good enough" for the indie market. I believe that I should be providing work that is just as clean as the stuff coming from the major publishers.

I was of the belief that I had a pretty good handle on things, and that this series of classes would really be nothing more than refresher training and confirmation of things that I already knew. I could not have been MORE WRONG!

While I still believe that I provide excellent editing, I also learned how much I DID NOT KNOW. That revelation came on the heels of the very first quiz that was really only designed to give you an idea of your strengths and weaknesses. My score was too embarrassing to share. Since then, I have been studying hard and learning every single day that I don't know nearly as much as I thought I did in the realm of English Grammar and Usage (which happens to be the title of the text that I am using for this class).

In the end, this will be a benefit to me as well as those who contract me to edit their work. And while I will still be very human and not catch every single mistake, I do think that the books that I edit will be better because of this certification program. A person should strive to improve every day; if they don't, then they will stagnate. Wish me luck.

Friday, April 25, 2014

DEAD TREES...environmentally fatal, but a damn good read.

As a writer, I find that I learn a great deal from reading my favorite genre when penned by female authors. They tend to delve more on the inner-psyche of the characters and allow the reader to obtain a more personal feel for the people whose shoes they are now treading.  Eli Constant makes my list beside Claire Riley of names to watch.

Get your copy HERE!

DEAD TREES is a morlock-esque take on the apocalypse. This reads much different than what you will find in the zombie genre (NO, this is NOT a zombie book, but rather a post-apocalyptic tale with "Beasties"  as they are dubbed by the narrator hat have emerged from underground a la H.G. Wells.) First, know that there is some exceptional attention to detail here that is often lacking in the genre.

One thing that makes this book stand out is a strong female protagonist. SO often this genre is dominated by uber-military MacGyver types that have all the answers and can get out of every scrape. Elise is a mother simply trying her best to keep her daughter's alive, and while she does "hook up" with Jason, you get the impression that she can do with or without him just fine.

What lurks in the mind behind that sweet smile?
What you need to know is that this book is a page turner. It has plenty of action and strong character development. There are time when it gets "sciencey" but those times flow within the scope of the story and are not cumbersome. There are some editing flaws, but nothing that will make you pause or detract from the flow of the story (and the author has worked to make improvements in that area for those wondering). This is a strong book and you WILL be pestering her Ms. Constant about the sequel.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Warriors, Maniacs and Spartans...oh my!

As spring draws closer and I am now (mostly) done with moving into the new house, I have returned my attentions to getting in ready for the "extreme" runs coming up. After last year's Warrior Dash, I finally found something that made running suck less. I don't like running...never have...never will. I am a gym rat sort of guy. I like the clang and clank of weights. When I run, you want to use a calendar instead of a stopwatch to time me. But for some reason, throw in some obstacles, mud pits, and fire...sign me up!

This year, I will be hitting several such events. The cool thing is how many of them also raise money for things like St. Jude's and the Wounded Warrior Project. Seriously, that is the only reason I can think to pay for being tortured. Coming up at the end of May...Rugged Maniac!

After that, it is a slurry of events that include the Atlas Race...

The previously mentioned Warrior Dash...and then, the one that only a fool would underestimate (as well as under train for)...The Spartan Run!

Wish me luck. And if you want to try something new...there are worse things.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Unchained performs the first Van Halen album...and then some.

Who remembers the first time they heard Van Halen?
It was like stepping into Mr. Peabody's Way Back Machine. The club was small and the crowd was anxious. Unlike my very first time seeing Van Halen live, I went into this show WITH expectations. After the opening act exited, I stood at the lip of the stage and waited for that sound...the blaring of car horns that signaled the start of the first Van Halen album as well as the start of this show.

The beauty of a live show is in its imperfection, and the night started with a test of Unchained and their ability to overcome as they blew the power twice in the first three numbers. True to form "Diamond Dave" simply used the glitch to play with the crowd. 

The strains of RUNNIN' WITH THE DEVIL fade when it was time for "Shreddy Van Halen" to fly into ERUPTION. That is a piece that will make or break a Van Halen tribute band. What makes Unchained special is how each member has worked to really personify the roles of the people they portray. Down to that trademark smile, Unchained's Eddie is something special to behold.

As Unchained shook off the early power issues, the band put on a show that could have stood by itself with JUST the set consisting of that first album being played from start to finish. Without a doubt, this band rates as one of (if not outright) my favorites in the "Tribute Band" scene. Having caught my share, I can say that it takes more than just a wig and some Spandex. People seeing these bands are usually big fans of the original group. The tribute band can't get away with being so wasted that the music suffers...they have to nail the sound (and feel of the band they portray) if they want to win over the audience. By the time they played ON FIRE, they owned the crowd.

Look...but don't touch!
After a brief break, they returned in new costumes that gave that 80s vibe and launched into a set from the remaining Roth-led collection of VH. What makes Unchained so special is that they give all the bluster and bombast of the band they assume the identity of while making each member of the audience feel as if they are being performed for individually. "Alex" holds the band in time with his tight rhythm. "Eddie" smiles and makes eye contact with fans who are watching in rapt amazement as one of their guitar gods comes to life before their eyes. "Michael Anthony" stalks the stage with his bass and belts out the backing vocals like his real life counterpart. And you are so close that you can touch them. But don't worry, "Diamond Dave" will flirt, touch, tickle and cavort with anybody he can reach. At one point, he actually came out because, as he told the audience, he wanted "to see what it looks like from out there with all you crazy people!"

David Lee Roth never sounded so good live!
By the end of the show, the audience was hot, sweaty, and happy. Unchained delivered the goods with interest. What makes them stand out is their dedication to putting on a great show and making the audience feel like it matters. 

Bottoms Up!

Having seen Unchained before, I wanted to add a few observations. It is obvious that the band has been focusing their energy on being better with each show. The backing vocals were polished and it is apparent that they have been either in vocal training or simply practicing very hard. "Michael Anthony" had a few moments where he was able to truly shine as he carried a solo line or two of the chorus on some of the songs.

If you are in the Portland area, I highly suggest that you catch these guys at any of their future shows. If you were/are a fan of the DLR era, these guys will give you more than your money's worth. If you search just a little, you might very well find your favorite band being given the tribute treatment. Get out there and show some love.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Almost Returning to the Normal Routine.

I have been absent for a while. Moving takes up A LOT of your time. I want to thank all of the people who sent their well wishes and let you know that I will be back to full strength on Monday as the last pieces of the puzzle that is the new house should be in place. (I am actually borrowing my wife's computer to do this as my office is not yet set up and functional as I wait for my desk to arrive.)

So, if you have emailed or written a review or just said "hello" and heard nothing in response, it is simply because I have not been able to get to the internet and find your missive. It is sort of like being on an island and cut off from the world.

A few people who deserve some thanks (and I will do so more formally soon) are James Thorn--that collection is super and I am so honored to be a part of it with all of the other talented writers. The Bookie Monster--Shana Festa has written some spectacular reviews for Ava and the DEAD series that you can find on Amazon. If you have not been to her site really are missing out on some good stuff. Go see. 

Well...I would love to stay and visit, but more delivery trucks arrive today and I have to get the vacuuming done before they arrive.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Love letter to my readers (part 2)

The view from my living room window today!
Looking back, I still can't believe things have panned out to where they are today. I have to pinch myself to confirm that it is not a dream. (Although I don't actually know if that works.) I get to do what I love for a living, and along the way, I have met some amazing people. I could also say that I have met some real bastards...but I want to focus on the positive. Maybe I will revisit the darker side of this at another time. It would be full of betrayals, lies, and vile hatred. Makes for a titillating read, but it can also make the writer seem like a venomous jerk. I try to rise above such things these days. It doesn't mean I don't feel them, but lambasting others is so petty. On to the good stuff...

By June of 2012, I was already scanning the classifieds. Sales were good...not great...and Denise was one of those people you heard about on the news. Masters degree and an accountant unable to find a job because she was "overqualified and probably prone to move on as soon as the economy improved." She was told that so many times and it was REALLY starting to discourage her. I was making enough to pay the bills almost, but we were still struggling to stay afloat. One car problem or medical issue and we were done for financially.

Any time she caught me looking for work, she shut it down saying that my books were gaining momentum and that was where I needed to focus my energy. It was around that time that I landed a pair of editing contracts that made all the difference in the world. (As you read this today, I am actually starting on my editing certification through UCSD distance education!) 

I still remember the first time we broke 1,000 units sold in a single month. I was so happy. Sure, it wasn't King or Koontz money, but it was better than minimum wage and I was doing what I love. As the year pushed on, the numbers continued to grow (despite efforts from some) and with the release of DEAD: Siege & Survival (book 5 of the DEAD series) I saw my first appearance on the Amazon Top 100 Horror Books within a day of release. It was the first time I had a book release to triple digit sales the FIRST day! There was some dancing around the living room that night I can tell ya.

With each release, the sales were growing. At one point, book one, DEAD: The Ugly Beginning was actually on the top 100 at the same time as Book 5! And with that, the snowball began to grow. I also began to start to feel the pressure. I had a "best seller" of sorts and I had a growing audience that looked forward to the next release within days of the latest book becoming available. I was also smart enough to know that I had to start cultivating a new audience for when DEAD eventually concludes. My "That Ghoul Ava" series is where I have those hopes pinned. Horror/comedy with a dash of darkness...if you have not tried her yet, you really should. 

My little girl!
As the year 2012 came to an end, I was blessed by spending it with my daughter Ronni who I had not seen since she was two. We  have become so close in this past year...I really am the luckiest man in the world. Anyways, as 2013 arrived, Denise was getting small temp jobs and my books were still picking up steam. This is when many of you starting discovering the DEAD series. And I owe a great debt to those of you who had been along for the ride and told your friends, family, and random stranger about my little zombie series.

In November, Denise finally landed her dream job. My books were now being released on Audible by the amazing crew at Falcon which was opening me to an entirely new market and I started looking at the possibility of buying my first house (using my VA loan).

In February, I made the move. In March, Denise and I went to look at houses. The one she fell in love with just happened to be a house that I had delivered phone books to back in November of 2011. This was one of those houses mentioned in part one that I could never imagine living in. On Friday, April 4, 2013, I picked up the keys and drove out to see a sign in the front yard of MY new house.

I just put my car in park and stared for almost 10 minutes at this sign.
This house is amazing. I will post some pictures in the near future once all of the furniture arrives. But for now, take a peek at my backyard with a waterfall and koi pond and about 75-100 various species of plant. It is a dream come true. It is YOU and your support that made this happen.

All mine!!!
So I want to thank you. Each of you who has read my books. Whether it was just one...or all of them. (20 titles at last count!) YOU made my dreams come true. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will never be too big or too successful to remember that it is YOU who make me what I am. It is YOU that I work for. I may be technically self-emloyed, but it is each of YOU that are my employer. I hope to continue to earn a place on your shelf or ereader or playing device. So, do not take these two words lightly. They are meant with utmost sincerity...


Friday, April 4, 2014

A love letter to my readers.

It is hard to believe that my life has changed so much in less than three years. I have pondered how I was going to approach this post. A lot of feelings are fighting for position at the moment. it goes. Just fasten in and hang on because I have no idea where this ride will be going. The one thing I hope you all take away from this is that YOU ALL have a huge part in making my life into the fairy tale success story that it has become. I will never be able to thank you enough. So as you read this, understand that to get from where I was to where I am...I could not have done this without EACH OF YOU!

Most of you know where I was three years ago (prison), and so I am not going to spend a lot of time on that. Lord knows we have beat that topic into the ground enough and I made it clear that I was done talking about it (except when I go back each year as a motivational speaker). This is about the journey that started in June of 2011 when I came home, and how it led to where I am right now. When I came home, I was just wrapping up the third DEAD book, (DEAD: Fortunes & Failures) and on a good month between three Zomblogs and the two books in DEAD, I was MAYBE selling 20-30 books a month.

Finding a job was my top priority, but it was not going well. I finally got a job delivering the paper. That meant (for those who don't know) that I went to work at midnight, waited for the truck to show up to the station, stuff the ad inserts, load my car, and hit the road. I had one of the largest routes (450-550 papers), so I usually got home between 6 or 7AM. Denise was also out of work (construction got hit hard in that financial meltdown and she is a construction that was not good) and barely squeaking by on her unemployment. We had separate residences until November so we were taking our already thin finances and maintaining two households.

With things getting worse by the week, I took another job delivering phone books door to door that November. I would stack bags of phone books in the back of the truck and hit the road around 7-8 in the morning until around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. My goal was to keep Denise's car from being repo'd and to try and provide a little bit of a Christmas for her that year. This was also when we dipped our toes in the KDP program and gave Zomblog away over the course of a two day freebie weekend that saw 10,000 units fly away. That was to be the event that kickstarted my book sales.

Here is a shade of irony. This is where my life mirrors one of those cheesy holiday movies. One day I was delivering phone books to a VERY nice neighborhood. It was cold and a bit of sleet was falling. My beard was a bunch of ice crystals and I could not feel my fingers or toes. I was toting between 10-15 bags of books--one bag weighing about 8-10 pounds--each time I got out of my truck. I would go up one side of the street and down the other, placing a bag of phone books on each porch by the front door. All the houses looked warm and beautiful as many were now decorated for Christmas. I could see all the people inside looking warm and happy. I remember this one area VERY specifically because it was just so beautiful and the houses were amazing. Denise and I had been talking about our dream of some day having a house and I recall very distinctly thinking it would never be one of those beautiful homes up on the hill. (We will get back to that later.)

That year, Denise did not lose her car...we had a nice little Christmas, and something was starting to happen to my book sales. We had gone from 20-30 a month to breaking a hundred! It was exciting. People were actually starting to read my books. Reviews were showing up on Amazon from people that I did not know (in real life or through Facebook) and people were really liking my stuff! But then the numbers kept rolling...and we went past the 300 books sold mark in one month! By the time April of 2012 came, Denise had convinced me to write full time and quit my job. She was still looking for work, but we would find a way to get by. She believed in me and convinced me that my time was better spent writing. It was the toughest thing I ever did...but on April 5, 2012...I devoted my life to being a full time writer.

Come back Monday for the rest. This got a little long winded and I know that most of you don't want to spend your entire morning with some silly little blog.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

If I had only known...

If you have ever bought a house, then you can either continue on and laugh, or just shake your head.

Today, if all goes well (and it has NOT up to this point, so why should it start now), then I will be signing the docs for my new house today. I should tell you that I am not ever going to be confused with an optimist. I am simply used to bad things happening the moment stuff starts to look too rosy.

I will say that this house is a dream house. When I saw it, I considered it a house I would go to when visiting friends...certainly not the house that I would own. It is out in the foothills of Mt. Hood and has a three-tiered backyard with a waterfall, pond, and about 100 different exotic plants. 

I will save you much of the tale and just say that this experience was almost too much for me. I would have shut the deal down if not for my wife. Honestly, I don't need the stress and all of the nonsense. The person from the mortgage broker was a nightmare, telling me on FOUR separate occasions that it was a "done deal" only to have the underwriter ask for something else. I had to cancel furniture deliveries and ended up TOTALLY depleting my savings to get this done. We have two rooms left to furnish and a refrigerator to purchase and no means to do any of that until the end of the month (if we are lucky). 

The part that made it bad was the misinformation that I was given on multiple occasions that I believe should have resulted in a person losing their job. I did not realize that blatant lies were something an employer allows from his or her employers. Still, I have been told that this will all be worth it when I walk through the door. As I sit here, I can't honestly say I believe that, but I will let you know in a few days. I hope to be back to my normal routine in about a week or so.

Until then, if you are so inclined, my "That Ghoul Ava" story is in a bit of a contest. If you vote for it by following the link below, I would be thankful.