Review Tip

As an author, I understand the need for reviews. As a reader, I understand it’s a giant pain in the ass.

However, I have a tip. If you are reading a series, you don’t have to review the first book. Review the most recently released or review your favorite. If I was reading/reviewing the Dreams series, I would probably leave my review for Explosive… Her long moments of introspection cracks me up. Especially when she realizes she’s boring.

There you have it. If you love a series, you don’t have review every book or the first book… Just review the ones you really enjoy.

Too Much Gore

I received a message this morning about Tortured Dreams.  The person expressed their interest in the series, they even claimed to have been enjoying it, right up to the part where the gore kicked in.

I am aware that the Cain novels are not for everyone.  I am also aware that there are some very gory scenes.  It isn’t gratuitous gore, but it’s gore none the less (my favorite comparison is “they’re like reading a slasher flick with a plot.”).  However, I don’t believe Tortured is that gory.  As a matter of fact, the goriest scene I have ever written was in Explosive Dreams when Aislinn tosses a severed hand to Lucas.  This was a case of psychological gore, not written gore.  I didn’t put that the hand was dripping blood or that pieces of bone were sticking out the ends, both of which I could have done and were considered.  Instead, I just let the scene speak for itself, a young child holding the severed hand of her mother, while both lie unconscious on the ground.  And then Aislinn comes along, plucks it from the child like it was nothing worse than a candy bar and tosses it to Lucas, who catches it without a second thought about it being a severed hand.

The most physical gore came in Elysium Dreams, as I describe the killer heating the knife and sliding it through the flesh of his victim, intent (and content) to watch her die of shock and pain.  The skinning lacks the hallmarks of gore; no blood, no brain matter, no oozing wounds or fluids that aren’t blood.  But the very act of skinning something alive is gruesome.  Actually, now that I think of it, this is also a matter of psychological gore.  I didn’t point out that when you slice through the skin, as the killer did in Elysium Dreams, that a sticky clear fluid drips out.  I know, I’ve shoved a wood burner into my thumb and while it didn’t bleed, it did seep that clear liquid that is trapped between the layers of skin.  Actually, I’ve done this twice, both times accidents (burns hurt like nothing else on the planet and I’m not a huge fan of pain).  The first time, it went deep enough that I could see the middle knuckle when I flexed my thumb.  The second time (on the opposite thumb), it didn’t go as deep.  There was no bone visible, no ligaments or nerves to watch move.  It was superficial… this was the one that oozed that sticky clear fluid that made my mom turn green.  Needless to say, I gave up my attempts at learning the art of wood burning, but both thumbs still bear the scars of the misadventure.

So perhaps, Cannibal Dreams is the goriest book I’ve written to date, at least with physical gore.  The Butcher’s visit to Aislinn’s stalker was violent and I didn’t pull any punches.  There was indeed buckets of blood.  The first two chapters of Butchered Dreams, written as The Butcher, were also blood-soaked nightmares.  The third isn’t, but I’m sure the trail of blood will resume in the fourth.

It does provide an interesting observation though… In a world where brain matter can be visible and drug dealers can chop off body parts on basic cable, the written word is still more powerful.  It’s nice to know some people can still use their imagination to fill in the blanks and make any “gory scene” I write, that much worse.

Um… What? That Can’t Be Right!

This morning, as I did my daily stat count and paperwork on book sales (because I’m very particular about this and have the giant spreadsheet to prove it), I noticed something very odd.  Something that has been going on for a while, but was somehow missed.  Something weird to say the least.

I have two free books on Amazon; Dark Cotillion and Tortured Dreams.  From time to time, I’ll drop the prices on a book to $0.99, usually when I’m about to release a book or just because I’ve gotten a wild hair.  This skews the numbers slightly, but only for a short period of time.  For example, I dropped the price of Mercurial Dreams for two days in May from $3.99 to $0.99.  And sold a ton of copies, enough copies to make it look like I had a 102.54% reader return rate.  As the month ended and we moved into June, the numbers balanced out and I went back to having a 84.67% reader return rate for Mercurial Dreams.

However, the odd thing is not with the Dreams series, it’s with the Strachan series.  If a reader manages to struggle through book one, I have excellent reader retention for the series (from book 1 to 2 is about 4.43% from book 2 to 3 is 98.11%).  This morning though, I realized that I had a 156% oversell on book 4.  What that means is that for every 100 copies of Dark Resurrections that I sell, I sell 156 copies of Dark Legacies.  That can’t be right… My formula must have gotten a glitch.  I checked it, same number came up.  So I moved to the master sheet.  This tells me exactly how many of each book has been sold over the course of its life.

And I was shocked.  I had indeed sold more copies of Dark Legacies than I had of Dark Resurrections.  Not just ten or fifteen more books, but hundreds.  I did another formula to check.  I’ve sold more copies of Dark Legacies than I have of Dark Illumination too.  The rate isn’t quite as high, but it is higher.  The conclusion I’ve drawn from this is that some people read Dark Cotillion and then skip to the end and read Dark Legacies.  What a peculiar thing…

Weekly Word Goals

I’m having trouble meeting my weekly word goal of 7,500.  It could be the shingles, but I think it’s the gabapentin.  I’ve taken it once before, for migraine pain.  I remember it making me very sleepy, but that’s the only side effect I remember.

Today, after realizing I was having some trouble with focusing and that I had awoken with vertigo (unusual, since I never got a migraine, just a small headache), I called the pharmacist to see if I could take my migraine meds anyway, as a precaution.

She talked to me for a few minutes about everything I’d taken today and said “oh, you’re on gabapentin.  That’s the problem.”  Um, huh?  Dizziness is a common side effect of gabapentin.  But I didn’t have dizziness, I had vertigo.  Meclazine helped, I popped a pill and it went away.  She then told me that most people didn’t realize “dizziness” and “vertigo” are essentially the same thing.  Oh, duh!  I knew that.  So I pointed out I was feeling a little dim witted as well.  She said “yep, that’s the gabapentin.”

That’s a side effect not listed in the paperwork.  It says it might cause mood changes, behavior changes, depression, and anxiety, but those are the serious – you need to seek medical attention side effects – I just feel dim, like my brain took a vacation.

She again told me that “yes, it was fairly common for people on gabapentin to complain of it.  It isn’t in the literature, but it seems to be fairly common.”  Well, Hell’s Bells, Batman…  I’ve lost some eye/hand coordination (no, I’m not driving this week), I’m sleepy as all get out, now I have to be a zombie too?  Just once, I’d like to take a medication where the side effects are “increased brain activity” and “feelings of euphoria.”

I tried to go off the medication yesterday and I’m not doing that again.  It still hurts and burns and itches… I’m not sure which is worse, the itch or the burn.  So be a zombie or be miserable… decisions, decisions…  However, there is always a silver lining.  Since I’m not writing much, I’m reading tons.  I read two books today!

Sometimes My Job Sucks

I didn’t spend the evening writing.  I spent it researching.  During the fourth hour of research, I realized that sometimes, my job sucks.

I don’t mind research, I really don’t.  It’s a way to gather new information to store in my already overcrowded brain.  Unfortunately, researching serial killers (around the world, captured and not, from now to the beginning of recorded history) can be a bit depressing.  As a writer, I occasionally ask myself where these depraved ideas come from… The truth is, anything I can think of, someone else has probably already done.

For example, tonight, I discovered a serial killer in France before the French Revolution, who enjoyed feeding his victims to dogs, while they were alive.  It isn’t a jaguar or another human being, but does it matter?  No, absolutely not.  It doesn’t say if the feedings were sexually motivated, it was the 1600’s after all and that stuff just wasn’t recorded or talked about.  But I have a feeling it probably was.

And it isn’t just serial killers and mass murders that are required reading.  I read books about murders that aren’t perpetrated by serial killers or mass murderers, because sometimes, they have the more useful information.  After my journey into historical serial killers ended tonight, I grabbed a book on unsolved murders in the US.  It was pretty much a book of gruesome murders that had taken place before the publication date.

I learned some new stuff.  It gave me some ideas.  It also filled my mind with death and destruction.  I try not to pick books that have photos, my imagination is sufficient (I’ll never get the crime scene photos of poor Elizabeth Short – The Black Dahlia – out of my brain) and my memory seems to store those sorts of things all too well.

Ah, but research, even for a fiction novel, must be done.  Can a handful of people kidnap ten women in a single night?  As a matter of fact, they can.  There is a not so famous case of this happening, three men kidnapped 8 women in the space of five hours.  When one of the women managed to escape, they shot her and replaced her within the hour with a “substitute” that had already been picked out.  They had stalked the women for nearly three months before they kidnapped them, intending to make them sex slaves.  They screwed up and were caught a few days after the kidnappings and with the exception of the woman the shot the night of the kidnappings, all the women were found alive.  Can a person be skinned alive?  Absolutely, but it’s hard to remove the skin from the hands, feet and wrinkly part where the calf and ankle meet and it doesn’t take days.  It can be done in just a few hours, with the right experience.  And yes, mercury is relatively safe to drink (I wouldn’t recommend it!), but the fumes are toxic and when injected into the blood stream, the heavy metal has trouble flowing through the arteries, resulting in death, not by poisoning, but by internal hemorrhaging as it causes the blood vessels to rupture and organs to fail.

As a writer, I can only ask you to suspend so much disbelief and with the Cain novels, it is the reality that she lives in (The Rise of the Serial Killer as I call it), I can’t ask you to also believe fantastic means of murder… For that part, I must do research.


Um… Again?

So, I thought I had gotten a spider bite or some strange insect bite on Friday.  Today, when the cortisone cream and Benedryl cream were doing nothing to relieve the pain, itch and burning, I broke down and went to my doctor.

Last year, in late October and early November, I had shingles, on my neck.  It’s a “nerve junction,” making it a common place to get shingles.  When I walked into the doctor’s office this morning, I was still convinced it was a rash, most likely insect related.  Nope, it’s shingles… again… in the exact same freakin’ spot.

The rash is worse this time.  Last time it was a small spot.  This time, it’s several spots in a line along my neck and turning down my back to go about two inches below my T-shirt collar running along the spine.  The key to shingles is to A) not scratch your skin off, B) not place ice packs on it, and C) not tear your skin off.  It hurts.  It burns.  It itches.

It’s really too late to start the antivirals and they didn’t help last time.  My doctor gave me gabapentin for the irritation and told me that since my shirt collar was going to rub it, cover it.  I left his office and immediately picked up the gabapentin and band-aids.  For the record, the spots are roughly the size of a… I don’t know, they’re smaller than a dime… maybe a pencil eraser?  Yeah, that’s a good analogy.  However, I bought the biggest band-aids I could find because they feel like their the size of a large house.

Also, I’ve had gabapentin before, it is supposed to help with prolonged migraine pain, to break the pain cycle by doing something to the nerves.  Last time, it made me sleepy.  I took the pill about 30 minutes ago and it hit me like a freight train.  I can hardly keep my eyes open.  I’m trying to fight the urge to go take a nap.  I believe it’s a losing battle.  I don’t remember it making me feel like the Sandman had just dumped his entire bag of sleepy dust into my eyes last time.  I’m not taking a stronger dose.  Yet, this time, I just… wow… I’m soooo tired all of this sudden.  I have a feeling I’ll be sleeping on the couch for a few days…

For those that don’t know, shingles is caused by the Chicken Pox virus, which happens to be a form of herpes.  Most of the world has been exposed to the virus, regardless of whether they had chicken pox or not.  This means the majority of the population is at risk for shingles.  It’s more likely to happen when you’re older, but once reactivated, it can come and go as often as it pleases.  Stress and immune system problems make it more like to have a bought of shingles.  Since I have an anxiety disorder and my allergies have been bothering me for two weeks now… bring on the immune depression and the shingles.  Ain’t the human body grand?

Writers Get Distracted

One of the writers in my group posed this question: have you ever been so wrapped up in your writing while you’re driving that you missed your exit?  The answer is “yes.”  As a matter of fact, I think writers are some of the most easily distracted people on the planet.  Once we’ve started writing, whether we’re in front of a keyboard or at a stoplight, it’s hard to pull ourselves out of that.

I have driven on “autopilot.”  Not just a few hundred feet, but miles.  One minute, my attention’s on the road, the next thing I know, I’m at my destination and have no memory of the trip.  I think the worst was a trip to St. Louis.  Sometime around Kingdom City (about 30 miles from my house), I entered the “writer’s world” and when I exited for Grand Avenue, I suddenly realized I was in St. Louis (this is roughly a 2 hour drive).

We also talk to ourselves.  These conversations are not always in our head.  I didn’t realize I did it until I went on a road trip with a friend.  We left at the same time, but I was planning to come home a day earlier, so we took separate cars.  She actually video taped me sitting at a stoplight having a conversation with myself.  Since then, I’ve occasionally started talking and realized the people in the cars next to me are staring at me.

This isn’t limited to car rides, although it is fairly common, it’s a great place to think.  However, I’ve found myself talking out loud at home.  I was doing dishes one evening and realized that I had an entire conversation between characters while I worked.  Dishes got done!  I also talk to myself in the shower, folding laundry, and vacuuming.  Household chores when you’re home alone is a great place to work out ideas and occasionally, the thoughts are out loud.

The other thing, I can be in the middle of a conversation and if it sparks an idea, I won’t finish my sentence.  At least, not the sentence that sparked the idea.  Sometimes, I just become very silent as the ideas buzz through my brain.  Sometimes, I start talking about the idea.

By the way, I don’t know if “autopilot” driving is dangerous.  So far, I’ve never had an accident during it.  It can be a pain in the ass.  Yes, I’ve missed an exit.  Yes, I’ve had to turn around because I forgot where I was going.  And I’ve arrived at my destination without my stuff because my mind was on writing and I didn’t remember along the way.


A picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words. I can think of more than that to describe this one.


Butchered Dreams, The Dysfunctional Wedding, Hunting the Spell, and My Writing Goals

Have I mentioned that I actually despise the new WordPress set up?  In case I haven’t, let me say it now.  I hate it.

Ok, onto the post.

I have set lofty goals for myself over the next few months.  Butchered Dreams is supposed to be finished by 10 October.  This means I have to write at least 1,300 words per day (excluding weekends).  I can actually do this.  On Thursday night, I put down 3,000 in under two hours.  As long as I don’t get distracted or thrown a curve ball, this is an achievable goal.  It will publish on 14 November.  Beta readers should get it on 15 October.

After I finish Butchered Dreams, I’m going to really dive into The Dysfunctional Wedding novella.  Thankfully, it’s a novella, and if I start on it 11 October, it will be written by 1 November.  I’m thinking a December release.  This will require 1,600 words a day, another easily achievable goal for me.  

1 November is the start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  The goal is 50,000 words in 30 days.  I’ve reached this goal every year but one (and I failed dismally at CampNaNo in July due to my father’s health).  My NaNo novel will be Hunting the Spell: Book One of the Callie Strachan Trilogy.  My goal is to have the 50,000 words done by 30 November.  However, 50,000 words doesn’t really make much of a novel, so in December, I’ll be adding onto the word count.  I’ll finish it 1 January.  It will release February 15, 2015.  

I like to publish a novel every three months (February, May, August, and November, with a novella or two thrown into the mix).  This year, I was sidelined by my father’s health and my father-in-law’s health as well.  And I hate to admit it, but for a while, I was worried that my father and my father-in-law were both going to pass this year.  It was a scary place to be, not just for me, but for everyone.  I’m overjoyed that they are both on the mend and while they aren’t completely out of the woods yet, both have good prognoses.  It’s amazing how much different I felt Thursday after my father-in-law came out of surgery with a thumbs up… which is why Thursday night, I managed to be incredibly productive in a short time.  It’s been months since I wrote more than 1,000 words per hour.  However, we’ll deal with fathers in tomorrow’s post.

The Real Writing Process


This is my computer screen, hard at work on Butchered Dreams. It has no real significance, but people often think I’m furiously scribbling outlines for scenes and checking timelines for plot points… As the screen proves, that is not the case. The stuff on the left is the written chapters. The main stuff is the actual text. I use WriteWay and I like it! Lots of authors I know use Scrivener and I tried it, I even own it. But I prefer WriteWay.

As I took the pic, there was a Cardinals game on. My SO was relaxing on the couch, wondering what crazy hair brained scheme I had come up with that required a picture.

On the table next to me is a full can of Coca-Cola which says: Share With Your Soulmate. There’s an empty one too, I haven’t gotten up to put it in the recycling bag. There’s also a tube of lip balm (I make my own and it’s peppermint), a tube of cortisone cream, a pink ink pen, and a deck of cards. I’m a lip balm addict, part of having Sjögren’s Syndrome, although I do not seem to have any other immune disorders. The cortisone cream is there during the summer (I am becoming the Queen of Bug Bites), during the winter it’s replaced with Aspercreme for the soreness in my hands. The ink pen is pink so no one will steal it. I don’t have a notepad, because it’s a thinking toy, not a writing implement when I’m writing. The deck of cards are the same, when I’m stuck, I’ll take them out and shuffle them repeatedly while I think. In July, it was a deck of Budweiser Frog cards. In August, those were rotated out, replaced by a brand new deck: Battles of the Civil War. Who knows what will be next… I collect decks of cards, last count, there were over 700 decks in my collection.

There’s other miscellaneous crap on the table; a copy of Cannibal Dreams, a grocery list that was forgotten when I went to the store, a newsletter that won’t be read, white duct tape, nail clippers, a business card for lawn care services, and box of Trivial Pursuit Genus III cards. However, none of these are writing essentials. The others are…

I can’t sit in an “office” and write. I don’t mind the clutter around me, it reminds me of life outside the computer and sometimes, I do require a reminder. I’ve sat so long typing, my legs have started to tingle and my behind’s gone numb despite sitting on a couch.

There’s nothing terribly romantic about being a writer. There’s no secret lairs that produce manuscripts for you. It’s my computer and few tools to help me think and me.

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