Now Accepting Applications

There are many things I do wrong as a writer.  This year, my goal was to work on it.  It’s been slow going, but the changes are coming, slowly but surely.

One of the areas where I am a dismal failure is my use of beta readers.  Most of the authors I know have between 10 and 20 (some more).  I have 4.  I need to change that.

The purpose of a beta reader is to double check the editor’s work (finding spelling and grammar errors that may have been missed), offer critiques to the author when something fails to flow well or doesn’t add anything to the story, and generally improve the quality of the novel or novella.  If they are extra nice, they will put up a review of the book – an honest review, no sugar coating just because they’re a beta reader.

In return, the reader gets the book early, before it’s released to the public, for free.  The feedback is more valuable than the $2 or so the writer would have made from the sale.  Also, because the beta reader is doing me a huge favor, I tend to send them swag items – bookmarks, magnets, and the occasional coffee mug.

So, I’m taking applications.  The main requirement is that you have read the Dreams & Reality books, have an overall interest in the series, and don’t mind reading.  If you’re interested, message me on Facebook, Twitter, or, if you ask nicely, I’ll send you my email.

Weird Sales Trends

I’ve been watching this year and I’ve discovered something a little strange.  Something that wasn’t there last year.  It’s a weird sales trend.  I’m going to use easy (fake) numbers to demonstrate.

In December, I sold 400 books.  In January, I sold 100 books.  In February, I released Dark Legacies and sold 200 books.  In March, I sold 400 hundred books.  In April, I sold 100 books.  In May, I released Explosive Dreams and sold 200 books.  In June, I sold 400 books.  In July, I sold 100 books.  Now it’s August and the release of Cannibal Dreams has been delayed, I’ve sold 100 books.  However, I have pre-orders piling in, so that number should raise significantly on the last day of the month.

Last year however (2013), book sales were more steady; January 100, February 200, March 200, April 300, May 300, June 400, July 400, August 400, September 500, October 500, November 400, December 400.

Now, making Tortured Dreams free has lead to a significant increase in book sales, but the bizarre trend continues.  It appears that the month before I release a book, I have the worst sales.  The month after I release a book, I have the best sales.

I don’t know how to explain it.  Also, the months that the Dreams & Reality Series was enrolled in KDP Select (September, October, and November), I had the best sales.  I didn’t sell any on other sites of course, but my sales on other sites are less than 10% of my total book income.  So, the lack of sales on these sites, didn’t actually hurt me, because I sold more than enough on Amazon to cover any losses from the other book retailers.

I’m not much on exclusivity though and after I got through the ordeal with the series, I released them again through other retailers.  I am noticing an uptick in sales on Apple, but not B&N, even with the two free books being offered.  They still account for less than 15% of my total sales and they seem to fluctuate less (I hold pretty steady at a certain amount each month from the two major retailers mentioned).

Why I have such a large decline in book sales the month before I release a book is still a mystery.  I’ll continue to follow it and see where it leads me.

Why Smaller Cities?

After releasing the jacket copy (the blurb) for Cannibal Dreams, I got email from a reader who asked why I kept putting serial killers in small towns or small cities?  Why wasn’t the team travelling to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or even Kansas City, where they are based?

There is a good answer… check out the crime stats.  Sure, Chicago has a lot of murders, although I currently believe New Orleans has the dubious honor of being the Murder Capitol of the US, but on a per capita basis, well, let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to live in Flint, Michigan… a town roughly close to Columbia, Missouri in size and demographics.  Or Washington, D.C. for that matter.

I haven’t a clue how many murders there have been in Columbia in 2014 or 2013 for that matter.  I do know that in June and July, there was a sudden, very serious increase in gun violence.  For the space of a couple of weeks, it seemed we had shootings every night or every other night.  Last year, the same thing happened.  My hometown, for all it’s great things, has a high crime rate.  Violent crimes and property crimes are both on the rise.  For the most part, it isn’t murder.  It’s other violent crimes – rape, armed robbery, assault, gun violence, etc.

As a child, I remember having a classmate that was arrested for arson.  He was about my age and I was in seventh grade, so approximately 12 years old and already an arsonist… that’s sort of scary when you think about it.  In ninth grade, one of my classmates was arrested for rape.  These are the ones that stand out.  Several other classmates went to juvenile detention centers for other crimes; drugs (dealing and/or using), theft, burglary, vandalism, and who knows what else.  I do remember thinking that there seemed to be a revolving door for juvenile offenders.  They’d disappear for a few months and then return, then disappear again and then return.

Does this mean you’re going to get raped, robbed, and have your teeth kicked down your throat if you visit?  Probably not.  Also, it isn’t likely that a stray bullet is going to hit you in the back of the head.  However, the reality remains that for those of us who live in this pretty little city with an emphasis on education and arts, the seedier side is always there.

So why do I like to put serial killers in small cities like Palmyra, Missouri or even my own hometown?  It’s because crime happens here more than you think.  And as much as we would love to hide it, Columbia has had a serial killer or two or six.  The most recent serial killer was before I was born, in theory.  Sometimes, it’s hard to know if a serial killer is working in your town.  A great example of this is the former senator who lived north of town and liked to feed farmhands to his hogs instead of pay them for their hard work.  It took a while to catch onto his dastardly deeds.  Also when I was a child, a pedophile kidnapped a little girl from Marceline, Missouri.  He returned her body, nude, strung up from a tree with a barbed wire noose.  Hard to believe the boyhood home of Walt Disney could have such a brutal murder, especially since the town has a population of roughly 2,000 people.  I know the story because my parents were friends with the little girl’s grandparents.  They never caught the guy and I have been led to believe that she was not his first or his last, although she was the only one from Marceline.  You want a way to teach your children about the dangers of the world, pass along information like that.  My parents hadn’t intended for me to know about it, but like most children, I was very curious when my parents whispered.

Back on point, no, small towns don’t have the high murder rates of larger towns.  For starters, there’s less people to kill and fewer people to do the killing.  However, in some cases, it is easier to hide a serial killer in a small town.  There’s more places to hide the bodies, fewer people to catch you in the act, rural areas to use as lairs, and reputations are pretty powerful, even today.  No one wanted to believe that a church president could be BTK, but alas, that was the case.  He’d been hiding in plain sight for decades and still would be if he had known a few things about computers.  Wichita has a population of almost 400,000 people, no where near the 2.7 million living in Chicago… Although, I’m sure Chicago has had more serial killers over the course of decades, it is these smaller town killers that bring the most fear.

 

Pre-Orders Now Available on Amazon

Last week, Amazon decided to offer indies the opportunity to put books on pre-order for up to 90 days.  This is huge.  Smashwords already offers this service and I’ve been thinking for a while about how beneficial it would be if Amazon would jump on that bandwagon.

Now, they have.  This means that the night before my book is set to release, I’m not scrambling to get it loaded to Amazon.  Occasionally, there are issues getting books loaded and I have been known to release books a day early just in case there are complications.

So, Cannibal Dreams has been scheduled to release on 31 August.  It is available now for pre-order.

However, before you dive in and start setting up release dates 90 days in the future, there’s a catch.  Ten days before the book releases it has to be submitted to Amazon in finalized form.  If you mess it up, you lose your privileges for a year.  I think this is fair.  There is no penalty on Smashwords, they just release your crappy, unfinished novel or expect it to be finished when you put it up for pre-release.  For most, I don’t think this would be a problem.  However, in the case of Cannibal Dreams, it would be and I haven’t put it up for pre-order yet on Smashwords because I need the next three days to make all the changes.

Ok, off to work.

Really?!? Still?

We had a very busy weekend.  I’m trying to learn to identify myself as a writer.  This is harder than most people think.  When you have a “traditional” job and someone asks “what you do for living?” it’s very easy to say “I’m a nurse” or “I work in construction.”  I don’t really have that luxury.  When I say “I’m a writer.”  There’s an onslaught of questions “what do you write?” “are you a journalist?” “are you published?” “how much money do you make?” (on a side note, I’m not sure why it’s okay to ask a writer about their income but not a nurse)  So, I haven’t been great at saying “I’m a writer.”

In the past month, I’ve had to redefine how I think about myself.  I am a writer.  That means I’m going to have to explain that yes, I’m published, I write a couple of different series, and no, I’m not going to give you a rundown on my monthly income.  I’m not making as much as James Patterson, but I make more than unemployment would pay me…

I love hard-core, gore-filled, thrillers.  I also like fantasy and mystery.  So, I write in those three genres. My favorite compliment about the Dreams Series was when someone told me “It was like reading a Saw movie, with a better plot.”  Oh yeah, that was the goal.

Back on point; so with this redefining of my own identity as a “writer,” I just expect to get asked what I write.  And I’ve been willing to tell them.

I forgot why I hated it.  As the weekend progressed and I answered the question a couple of different times, I realized that as long as I talked about the mystery series, it was fine.  However, if I mentioned the fantasy series revolved around a demon/witch half breed or that my thriller series is about serial killers, people tend to take a step back.  They literally take a step back from me.  I don’t even have to mention that I write chapters from the serial killer’s perspective to get this reaction, I just have to tell them it’s a series about a team of US Marshals that chases serial killers, they ask a few questions (like is there a romantic angle – um, no) and then it’s like “wtf?  I have to get away from her, she’s nuts!”  Or with the fantasy series “how very sacrilegious, holy shit, I’m going to be struck down with her.  Run away!”

For the record, God has not smited me for the fantasy series.  I think he has other things to handle without worrying about my brain cranking out books about demons being misunderstood, not evil.  Also, I’m not nuts.  I do have a mental illness, but it doesn’t make me crazy.  It stresses me out, for no reason, and I worry about weird things like meteorites slamming into the car in front of me while I drive and creating a crater that sucks my car into the core of Earth.  Well, that might be crazy, but it isn’t like I’m plotting to kill and eat people.  It’s called “imagination.”

Moths & Butterflies

This will be a short post.  It doesn’t take a lot to explain my fascination with the winged-insects.  I was interested long before I knew there was a family of moths called Hadena.  That was just a bonus.

First, moths and butterflies do not seem to fear humans.  I find that unique and intriguing.  Why don’t they have the natural fear that most insects have?  From beetles to earthworms, most harmless insects flee at our presence.  Those that don’t flee, tend to suck, usually blood; mosquitoes, ticks,and fleas can cause pain and disease.  Flies may not suck our blood, but they are nasty and their regurgitation techniques can leave painful welts.  Some flies are worse than others (common flies aren’t that bad, horseflies are rough, tsetse flies make me cringe).

Second, they have a wide range of colors, shapes, and sizes.  The designs can be delicately beautiful, delightfully intricate or stunningly simple, yet they are all attractive.

Third, and this one is a little morbid, as beautiful as they are, they serve a purpose.  Both are known to feed on decaying flesh, whether it be human or animal.  Dying in a butterfly house is a really bad idea because they enjoy feasting on the rotting flesh.  I don’t know why, I have always been told they like sweet things, but I suppose that they like not so sweet things as well.  I believe this is why they are so often associated with spirits and spiritual communication.  It is much better to think these beautiful creatures are giving us signs from beyond the grave than to think of them hanging out, hoping to catch a meal after a loved one has passed.

This sums it up.  My fascination is a mixture of curiosity and wonder.

Amazon v. Hatchett

I wasn’t going to get involved in this, it isn’t my fight.  But I got tired of reading articles where authors were whining that Amazon was killing their sales.  Wake up… Amazon isn’t ruining your sales, your publisher is…

Now, before we get into the hate mail, I’ll address a few of those before they arrive.  I don’t hate traditional publishing.  I don’t like it either.  I’ve been offered a dozen contracts, give or take a few, during the last 16 years.  I’ve never accepted one because they were never right for me. These nuggets of hope, in the form of legal jargon, used to excite me.  Now, they depress me.  I’ve been offered two in the last year.  However, Indie Publishing is right for me, that’s why I do it.  Yes, it’s more expensive; editors, cover artists, formatters, etc.  I also keep more money and price my books cheaper.  It makes sense to me.

Back to the point, Amazon isn’t ruining your sales, your publisher is.  I’ve fallen behind reading some series that I really like.  None of them are Hatchett authors, but they are traditionally published.  About two weeks ago, I decided to drop the money to buy a few and I was fully expecting to pay through the nose for the Kindle versions.  Imagine my surprise when I didn’t have to… Several had dropped their price tags from $10.99 and higher to a nice $4.99 or $5.99 or $6.99.

And here’s the big secret… if I can buy 3 Janet Evanovich Kindle ebooks for the price of one of yours, guess who’s getting my money?  It isn’t you.  The other big secret… Most of the authors I like are doing this.  I can buy a Clive Barker or Terry Pratchett ebook for a little less than their paperbacks.  I love Discworld, but it got pushed to the back of my reading list for a while after book 11 (there are 40 of them now), because I just didn’t have the time.  Now, I can buy two or three of them for the price of your ebook.  Even Dean Koontz has dropped prices on his older books.  I have only read one Jim Butcher book, however, the price for the Kindle version of his older titles is now $5.99.  I wasn’t real impressed with the first Dresden Files book, but at that price, I might give the second a try, because I know so many people love them (and I loved the TV show).

See, I don’t have to spend $14.99 or something just as ridiculous to buy your ebook because I can get great quality, traditionally published, books much cheaper.  The newest Evanovich novel is only $10.99 for Kindle, but by the time I read 15-20, the price will probably be lower.  There are going to be die-hards who spend the $10.99 (my friend already has), but for me, I don’t need the book today, I have tons to read and tons to be read, so if your book stays priced at $14.99 or whatever, chances are good, I’m never going to read it.  Therefore, your publisher has lost you my money… Not Amazon.

 

Cannibal Dreams – The First 2 Chapters

This is the raw, unedited first two chapters of Cannibal Dreams.  

Prologue

 He put on the clean room gear.  The helmet, jumpsuit, gloves, and boots were connected together with Velcro. The clean room was a nice model.  He’d ordered it off the internet over a year ago.  It worked to keep the mess out of the rest of the house and it was easy to clean when he finished.

The body was already on the table.  Rigor had come and gone.  Most of the blood had congealed and settled, leaving dark spots visible through the skin.  The wounds on the boy’s body had scabbed over.

August plugged in the Sawzall.  It whirred to life with a high pitched hum.  The pitch became deeper as the blade bit into the first piece of flesh.  The blade shredded the skin, severed the ligaments, nerves and tendons.  The teeth ate through the windpipe with ease.  Even when it hit the spine there was very little resistance.  It sheered through the bone quickly and effectively.  The boy’s head fell to the floor with a thud that couldn’t be heard over the motor of the saw.  Dark, almost black, fluid oozed from the wound.

He moved to the arms next.  These required bracing.  Straps hung from the ceiling.  He took his time securing each wrist into its designated strap.  If he didn’t, the arm might move and the saw would get into a bind, causing it to not cut through the bone.

The legs were the hardest.  He started at the ankles, cutting just above the joint.  He repeated the procedure just about the knee.  Getting through the femur was always tricky.  It dulled the blade.  He had to cut it twice on each leg.  The saw made a loud whine and the blade broke.

Under his mask, he swore vehemently.  It took him a few minutes to replace the blade.  The gloves were great for protection, not so great for manipulating small parts.

After he replaced the blade, he went back to cutting off the legs at the hip.  He shoved everything except the right foot inside a large, heavy duty bag.  Now, he had to work on the torso.  He still hadn’t figured out the best way to do it.  He knew he had to remove the organs, which was always disgusting.

The saw tore into the chest.  Miniature bone slivers filled the air.  Bone dust flew up.  The flesh was shredded as the saw yanked it away from the body.  This is why the body sat for a day before being cut apart, there was less blood to be strewn about the room.

He removed the organs and put them in the bag.  He took the saw and began cutting through the ribs.  The torso was tedious work.  It had to be cut five or six times, in different directions, before it would fit in the bag.

When he finished, he zipped the bag closed.  Everything was inside except the feet.  He used a sprayer hose to rinse the table.  The water splashed and flung droplets cascading across the room as the stainless steel table was cleaned.  Drains built into the table, carried away the messy leftovers of his dismemberment.  Next, he dried it with a plush, soft dark blue towel.

The feet he put on the table and began examining them.  They were dirty; caked with mud and blood.  This would never do.  He turned the water back on, making sure it was warm, and began to clean the feet.

He’d been very careful to remove them about an inch or so above the ankle joint.  Ensuring to cut the tibia and fibula with the precision that would have made a doctor proud.  The feet were mostly just scratched and cut.  The result of being barefoot when forced to walk through the property into the house.  However, one wound caught his eye.  It was bigger than the others, deeper.

Augustus reached for the filet knife that he kept close by.  Very carefully, he began to scrape at the wound, removing the tissue in layers and chunks until the bone was visible.  This done, he washed the foot again.  It was ready for the final step.

A package of tube socks, protected by a zip lock bag, set on a counter top in the room.  He dried his hands and made sure they were clean before opening the package.  The socks were bright white and brand new.  He took them over to the feet.

Moving with ease, that was only learned through experience, he put the severed left foot into a sock.  He did the same with the right.  Using the extra material, he tied the socks together, ensuring that the feet dangled in them like sausages.

It took both hands to carry the duffle bag full of dismembered body parts out to his truck.  He returned to his house and grabbed the socks.  Outside the clean room, he now disrobed from his clean suit.  He picked up the socks and headed back outside.

He drove the twenty-one miles to the river and tossed the duffle bag into the black water.  It gurgled as it sank.  Even on the best days, the visibility was practically zero here.  At night, only the nocturnal creatures with great night vision could see his deed.  He got back into the truck and drove into town.

It was late when he arrived.  The bars had all closed.  A few drunks loitered in the streets, talking loudly or stumbling, as they went wherever they went.  He turned into a residential neighborhood.  It had once been one of those fancy ones, the kind that everyone with money wanted to live in.  But those days were gone, it was mostly starter homes for young families now.  The streets had become crowded.  The small yards unappealing.  It had been replaced by bigger houses in better neighborhoods.  He drove slowly down the street.  No lights shown from windows.  No security lights flashed on.  A few houses had left their outside lights burning through the night, more out of forgetfulness than anything else.

He stopped the truck in the middle of the road and tossed the socks.  They wrapped neatly around a utility wire.  He tried not to giggle as he got back inside, pulling his door shut very quietly, ensuring not to wake the neighborhood.  Slamming doors would be unusual here at this time of night.

With the feet now safely out of his possession, he turned the truck around.  He drove out of the neighborhood and was gone, disappearing into the night on an old highway that was hardly ever used.  He headed east, homebound.  The night was clear and cold.  It had snowed a few days earlier and cinders had turned the snow black.  His headlights reflected off the blackened mounds of dirty ice and onto clean, undisturbed fields of snow.  He’d used his tractor to clear his driveway a few days earlier.

His tires crunched over frozen gravel as he returned.  He got out of the truck and walked to the old barn.  Inside, the clean room still needed to be cleaned and dismantled.  He set to work.  By sunrise, his muscles were starting to ache, but the room was clean.  All the pieces were stacked against the wall, looking like pieces from an abandoned office building.  He left the heat running in the building and went to the house.

The house was colder.  A chill had crept in as the fireplace had slowly began to die out.  He piled wood in it, bringing it back from the brink of death.  The new wood hissed and popped as it soaked in the heat and flames and fueled the fire back to a roaring inferno.

Augustus was about to sit down when he remembered he hadn’t put the meat up.  He sighed heavily and put his coat back on.  He trekked back out to the barn and hung the meat he’d fileted off the back and ribs of the boy he’d just dumped in the river, into an old section of the barn.  It had once been used to cure pork, but those days were long gone.  Something growled, he turned and caught a glint of light from Genevieve, his pet jaguar.  Her cage took up the largest part of the barn and cost a fortune to heat, but it was worth it.

“Genny,” he cooed at her.  She gave a low, guttural growl in response.  A second, higher pitched growl followed it.  It came from the darkness behind Genny.  Vera, his other pet, was hiding, but didn’t want to go completely unnoticed.  “Good girls,” he cooed at them again before leaving.

 

One

 The guy in overalls rushed me.  His shoulder slammed into my gut, lifting me off the ground.  The air was forced from my lungs as we hit the wall behind us.  I had a gun and could hit my attacker in the back of the head with it or shoot him, but killing a serial killer on the job, produced a lot of paperwork and death was always a possibility when a gun was involved.  My other option was to rip off his ear.

My fingernails dug into the cartilage at the top of the serial killer’s ear.  I yanked.  Blood gushed into my hand, running down my arm in a crimson line.  The flesh between the tips of my fingers became spongier.  I pulled harder.  The suspect let out a yell and pushed harder against my mid-section.

Gabriel and Xavier had guns drawn.  John Bryant, our newest member, was holding a Taser.  None of them were firing.  I was too close to use either weapon safely.  I’d feel the jolt of the Taser, even though it wasn’t set to high.

My ribs began to hurt.  If I didn’t do something soon, the brut would break a rib just using his shoulder and the wall behind me.

“Now?”  John asked.

“Um,” Gabriel seemed to waiver for a moment.  I took the moment to finish the damage I had started.  The ring of the ear, including the lobe, completely came off.  I dropped it to the ground and grabbed the other ear with my other hand.  As soon as my fingers touched it, the killer moved back, letting me fall to my feet.  I kicked him in the knee with the heavy work boots I always wore on the job.  The steel-plate in the toe connected with his knee cap.  The steel-plate in the bottom of the boot connected a little lower.  The monster went down to one knee.

He growled at me.

“Well?”  I asked the men in the room, wondering what the hell they were waiting for.  John fired his Taser.  The man in front of me took the voltage and began trying to stand, despite the Taser and the dislocated knee.  “Jesus Christ,” I muttered, kicking him again, in the other knee.  There wasn’t a pop, it didn’t dislocate, but he grunted louder.  I was running out of options and time.  I really didn’t want to shoot him.

“John, stop,” Gabriel commanded.  John took his finger off the trigger of his Taser.  Gabriel moved in.  He began to put cuffs on the serial killer.  The monster moved like Flash Gordon, turning, he managed to grabbed Gabriel and swing him over his knee.  His hands clutched at Gabriel’s throat.

“Let him go, now,” I put my gun to his forehead.  Gabriel’s face was turning the same shade of red as his hair.  Now, I wanted to shoot him.  Instead, I hit him in the forehead with the butt of my gun.  He crumpled to the floor, his hand spasming and releasing Gabriel.  Gabriel gagged and coughed.

“Thanks,” he croaked.  “You could have done it a few seconds earlier.”

“I was trying to convince myself not to execute him.”

“This is better,” Gabriel agreed.  “There would have been a lot of paperwork if you had shot him at point blank range in the forehead.”

“Hey, I offered him the chance to surrender twice before he rushed me and then, I only removed his ear instead of busting open his head.  I think it showed a lot of restraint.”  Restraint wasn’t exactly my strong-point on a good day.  Lately, I hadn’t had many good days.  Lucas was still off work.  Michael was still dead.  His killer was still out there.  He’d gone dormant and every killer we’d caught in the last two months was a surrogate for the one that had got away.

However, while waiting for our first case in December, I had taken the initiative to use our Killer’s Database to track his work.  He’d been killing fair queens for years, all over the country.  Until three years ago, then he’d stopped.  Our sniper had re-emerged after the carnival bombings began in June of last year.  He’d gone dormant again after killing Michael.

It was late January.  We had at least four months until fair season began again.  That didn’t stop me from checking the database for his MO weekly.

The new guy, John Bryant, seemed to be working.  He hesitated more than I liked and he still made some mistakes, like Tasering a suspect a few weeks earlier while Gabriel was tousling with him, but there was a steep learning curve.  He’d either figure it out really quick or he’d die.  So far, it didn’t matter to me either way, unless it effected one of the others.

“Xavier, check her over.  John, help me with the suspect,” Gabriel ordered.

“I’m fine,” I said before Xavier could reach me.

“You just had four hundred pounds crushing your ribs.  You might be tough as nails, but you are going to be looked at before we leave this house,” Gabriel informed me.  “And get the crime scene people in here.  There are at least parts of seven victims in the guest bedroom.”

“I’ll call the techs,” a uniformed officer who had made entry with us said from the doorway that led to the kitchen.  He was ashen and shaking.  We had told him not to come in, but he had insisted.  It wasn’t just the body parts in the other room or the fact that entire place smelled like road kill.  He had lost some blood from a bite mark and watching me pull off a serial killer’s ear seemed to disturb him.

“Arms up,” Xavier told me.  His fingers instantly went under my shirt and began prodding my ribs.  They were bruised, his touch was akin to being stabbed, but nothing felt out of place, loose or broken.  “She’s good,” Xavier told Gabriel.

“Are you ready for this?”  Gabriel asked John.  John nodded, but looked a little unsure.  The press was outside.  This was the first time he’d be face to face with them as we took a suspect out of a house.

This killer wasn’t really special by our standards, but living in a town of only 400 people in Pennsylvania seemed interesting.  The fact that he was Amish made it newsworthy.  Add to it that no one knew there was a serial killer until a tornado left body parts strung across three miles of Pennsylvania and it was worthy of national news.  It was also the reason we were here.  The tornado had destroyed his barn where he’d been storing the dismembered corpses.

“Am I bleeding?”  I asked.

“No,” Xavier told me.

That was a plus, it meant my battered body wouldn’t end up being broadcast across the country.  As long as I could walk, upright and unassisted, without blood gushing from some part of my body, my cell phone wouldn’t ring constantly.  Besides, Lucas tended to freak out when it did, blaming himself for not being there.

“Shall we?”  Gabriel pointed towards the door.

“Xavier or me first?”  I asked.

“Xavier,” Gabriel answered.  I stepped aside, taking a position at the rear of the group.  If our killer attempted to escape, I could shoot him on TV.  That would be interesting.  I was willing to bet the live broadcast would be interrupted.

Noise washed over us first.  Evening was starting to set in, not yet dusk, but almost.  There was still enough sun that most of the cameras didn’t require extra lights.  Some reporters were shouting our names; others were busy giving their spiel to their cameras as we walked past.

None of us made eye contact.  We focused our gazes on the vehicle borrowed from the Marshals’ Service in Pittsburgh that would be transporting our suspect.  The back was an enclosed cage.  The doors were already open.  Several men in tactical gear with large weapons stood at the back of the doors.  Xavier walked with determination, a good gait that didn’t require me to walk fast to keep up, but kept us all moving past the crowds that lined our way.

“Marshal Cain, is he missing an ear?”  Some reporter asked, trying to shove a microphone in my face.  I walked past, unwilling to make a comment.  Losing an ear was a lot better than being dead in most people’s opinions.

“Nice,” one of the Marshals’ standing guard at the van said to us as we handed our suspect to him.

“He should have known better,” Gabriel shrugged.  We were out of ear shot of the cameras and reporters.  This area was sealed for their protection.

“By the blood on her hands, I’d guess it was her work,” one of them smirked.

“Better than a bullet to the back of the skull,” Xavier answered.  “The ear will heal.  Most bullets in the head don’t.”

“Are we using your plane to get him to KC?”  Someone who looked to be in charge asked.

“No, they have something lined up for him in Pittsburgh.  We’ll follow you into the city,” Gabriel answered.

We may not get invited to other Marshals’ parties very often, but we were respected by our fellow officers.  They might yank our chain once in a while, but the death of Michael had proved we were just as much a part of the Marshals’ as anyone else with the badge.  Every Marshal with a day off out of the eight states that touched Missouri had shown up for his funeral.  All of them had given their condolences to both his family and us.  Michael had been buried with the full rights and rituals due to a fallen Marshal.

After handing off the Amish serial killer, we got into our SUV.  There was a collective groan.  It was my turn to pick the music.  I hooked up my iPhone to the stereo.  Angry Johnny by Poe instantly began to blare from the speakers when Gabriel turned the ignition.  This was a new thing we were trying for long car rides.  None of us agreed on music, so we each took a turn playing music for an hour.  I had built a playlist with the intent of annoying my fellow passengers.  They made me listen to Johnny Cash and Nelly, I could make them suffer through girl grunge bands and German industrial.

Just for the record, I am not a fan of “The Man in Black.”  I like my music hard, Rob Zombie and Rammstein were the chart toppers, along with Nine Inch Nails, Garbage and Ozzy Osbourne.  They didn’t need to know that in private, I listened to Carrie Underwood, Lady Gaga or Simon and Garfunkle.  Nor did they need to know that I liked the song The Highway Man which featured Johnny Cash or that I had over 48,000 mp3s in my music collection.  There were some things that were still private.

Keeping Up Appearances, not the TV show

I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about my image in the last few weeks because I’m a planner and in 2 months, I will be doing my first public appearance.  For most, two months is a long time to start planning things like wardrobe, make-up and hair.  In my world, I’m not sure 2 months is long enough for that kind of planning.

Anyway, so I did a lot of discussing it with others and there was a lot of input about creating an “image.”  I was told I had to wear suits, nice blouses, slacks, dress shoes, hire someone to do my hair, get a manicure the day before the public appearance, hire someone to do my make-up, etc.

That’s all well and good, but let’s be honest, if I do all that for my book signing, no one is going to randomly recognize me on the street.  I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but while I’m creating this “image,” I’m actually creating a very fake me.  I get it.  Readers want to know that I put effort into coming to the event.  However, is it more important to see a fake me or a cleaned up version of the real me?

While I was sorting through the advice, one writer made a good point: Don’t create an image that is too high maintenance to maintain all the time.

Huh… Ok, so… I had to prod that deeper and think about it.  The realization was this: the answer lies somewhere between the two.  Yes, I should make an effort, but no, I shouldn’t give my readers the impression that I’m this perfectly manicured, nicely dressed Barbie doll.  For me, this means I won’t be dressing up too much… anyone expecting to see me in a suit, slacks, uncomfortable blouses, or a dress is going to be disappointed.  I have spiffy boots that look great with a nice pair of jeans.  I have a beautiful hand-crafted leather belt covered in Celtic knots with a fancy Celt buckle that also looks great with a pair of jeans.  If I tuck in my T-shirt, you can see the belt and it stops it from looking “sloppy” and makes it look “casual.”

I will have my hair done.  If someone else doesn’t style it for me, I’ll be wearing my hair in a ponytail or bun.  And today marked Day 1 of attempting to wear make-up every day, because as one writer told me; make-up can tame or hide a multitude of sins.  If I get a manicure, it will be because I’ve given in to someone else’s desire for a “Spa Day” and god forbid what else will happen to me during that time (I’ve never had a manicure, pedicure, or any special beauty treatments… I’ve never even been tanning).

All of this has a point, aside from just explaining my own inner turmoil.  As writers, doing public appearances, we have to create an image.  That image can impact our sales.  But it also impacts how we feel about ourselves.  While I debated going blouse shopping, I realized that I was already starting to dread the signing.  I didn’t want to have to play dress up.  I spent years in an office cubical, wearing all the right suits and blouses… and my favorite part of being a writer, is not being forced to dress like a doll every day.  So, create an image you can maintain and wish me luck on the whole “wearing make-up every day” thing.

Cannibal Dreams

I’ve been incommunicado the last week or so, typing my fingers off to finish Cannibal Dreams… which I did, tonight.  It’s supposed to release tomorrow, but that isn’t going to happen.  It did get sent to the editor tonight.  It was also formatted for Kindle so that I could read through it.

As hard as it was to write, it has been my favorite so far.  The Clachan family’s sordid family history is exposed.  Malachi’s sordid family history is discussed (more on him in another book).  The Butcher makes more than a fleeting appearance.  Eventually, everything fell into place and the novel turned out to be good.  It’s my new favorite.  Unlike everyone else, I do not think my books get better each time.  This one did.  There’s less gore and I’m disappointed by that, but there’s only so much I’m willing to explore in depth, and this was where I drew the line… You’ll have to read the book to get more details.

I’ve made the decision that Butchered Dreams will be the next Dreams & Reality novel.  I have a great idea for the cover that I can’t reveal yet… I should at least tell my cover artist first.

So, another book done or at least, mostly done.  There’s still editing and tweaking to be done, but otherwise, it’s done.  I always feel sort of lost when I finish writing a book.  Oddly, not this time.  I’m ready for the editing to be done and the writing to begin on Butchered Dreams.

 

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