Category: Uncategorized (Page 2 of 293)

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 6

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Museums (preferably art museums)

POP-UP

The museum appeared suddenly, without notice, in the old sporting-goods store.  At first Clara Achziger thought it was a Halloween store, the kind with the plastic tarp sign strapped to the front of the hollowed-out storefront, fake walls put up inside to block off any unused square footage.  Costumes, plastic masks, makeup, stubby weapons that small children would wack against their parents’ thighs.  Spiderwebs spun out of plastic.  Candy bowls that grabbed back.

But no: The Pritchford Museum of Arts & Sciences, Now Open! The lettering was all wrong for a Halloween store, the sans-serif font self-respecting yet easily read.  The museum’s logo of a Greek temple in a circle clinched it: surely nobody would bother to make their Doric columns properly if the place was only meant to be a joke.

She paid seven dollars and went inside.

The rooms were arranged to make it feel like you were traveling on a time machine through history.  The first room was a cave, where a wax Neanderthal painted shimmering buffalo on the wall.  The major inventions of the era (fifty to ten thousand years ago) were language, art, farming, and culture.  The next room was set in 3200 B.C.E., showing the art and sciences of the Mesopotamians.  Cuneiform script was presented on re-creation clay tablets.  A children’s table—had their been any children on that Wednesday morning—featured a kind of polymer surface in which messages could be written with pointed styluses.  Childishly, Clara wrote “Kilroy was here” and, down in one corner, drew a little bald man with nose and fingers hanging over an edge.  Strange, winged, half-human gods in bas-relief looked at her from niches in the walls.

Time passed as she wandered through the rooms.  In 604 B.C.E. was the birth of Lao-Tzu, the founder of Daoism.  In 500 B.C.E., the caste system of India was established.  In 124 B.C.E., Alexander the Great’s empire reached its furthest extent.  In 408 C.E., Theodosius II became the emperor of Byzantium and contructed his walls around Constantinople.

Slowly, gradually, with increasing tension in her shoulders and a slight ringing in her ears, she worked her way back to the present.  She lingered in the room spanning the lifetime of the Persian poet Abu al-Qasim Firdawsi (940 to 1020 C.E.); she practically set up shop in the Ghenkis Khan room (1206 C.E.), she blew a kiss to Marco Polo (1271 C.E.); she sat on a carved stone throne in the Aztec Room (1502 C.E., lead by Auitzotl, conquerer of the Mixtec) and contemplated the tastefulness of blood sacrifices versus standing in line at Starbucks; across the hall (also 1502) was the memorial room of the first slaves reported in the New World, where she knelt and wept until her knees felt like they were made of stone; she skipped the Columbus room (honestly, who needed it?); she drifted through the room of the Emperor Wanli in China (1572 to 1620 C.E.) wearing a complimentary silk robe that she returned carefully to its hook by the door as she left; she looked through Galileo’s telescope in 1604 to peek at other worlds than these; she invaded Egypt with Napoleon, calling him a syphilitic ass the entire time; she grieved over the Taiping Rebellion; she bled with the Crimean War and then, in short order, saw the bodies stacked like wood in the photographs from the American Civil War and thought, I think I’m getting a migraine; World War I arrived and left her coughing and stumbling to grab one of the gas masks on the wall; in the World War II room the floor was made of bits of something that crunched underfoot and which she didn’t dare look at; the Korean War and the Vietnam War made the back of her throat raw and her joints ache, her eyesight dimming; the Cold War echoed in her ears like a million-voiced punk rock concert; the Second Civil War was a room covered with yesterday’s headlines—she covered her eyes with her arm but walked bravely onweard through the room anyhow; and then she was at a black door marked EXIT in glowing neon letters.

Clara lingered there until two security officers told her it was closing time.  And then when they tried to make her leave she fought; she fought to stay; she fought to return to a room, any room, no matter how terrible, in the past.

They threw her out and nobody has heard from her since.

I couldn’t help but think of The Circus of Dr. Lao, written by Charles G. Finney in 1935, as I wrote this.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 5

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  The smell after it rains.

DON’T

Don’t trust anyone with a banjo; don’t trust anyone on a day in which you have heard a banjo, even banjos on the radio, even the smell of banjos on the air.  Don’t take a shower during a thunderstorm, or when you’re alone in the house, or at the cabin on the lake; don’t take a long, hot bath anywhere near a radio, especially if there are banjos playing on it.  Don’t be alone; don’t be alone with a man you just met; don’t be alone with a girlfriend because after all there are only two of you; don’t split up; don’t go down into the basement, the cellar, the mine shaft, the canyon, the pool, the lake, for God’s sake don’t go down into the ocean, especially on a stormy night when the waves roll in and roll in and there’s no way to tell whether that roar comes from things beyond or just a wave and it doesn’t take monsters to drag you under, only a wave that you didn’t predict and you can never predict the waves; that large dark shadow that lingers in the storm is a rock one second but one flash of lightning later it’s a thing, oh God in the dark, something ancient and strange.  Don’t make fun of this town; don’t come back to a town where you grew up; don’t pray at that church, it’s the wrong one; don’t listen to the laughter coming out of the drains.  Don’t answer the phone; don’t not answer the phone; don’t go near the horrible rough bleating of a phone off the hook; don’t pick up the knife-cut telephone cord and stare at it in horror, ain’t nobody got time for that; don’t call the cops; if only you had called the cops; why didn’t you tell anyone what happened to you when you were sixteen, fourteen, twelve, four? don’t you dare say those things about Grandma. Don’t forget what I taught you about guns; don’t aim a loaded gun at someone you don’t want dead; don’t just assume that you should want a man dead who is trying to kill you; don’t jump to conclusions; don’t assume that a gun is unloaded or for that sake loaded; you don’t want to be holding a pistol in the face of the man wearing a hockey mask and have the trigger click over and over as you realize that you have nothing to defend yourself with and that you never did; don’t think that you can just shoot someone and get away with it, even if they’ve broken your ribs and your leg and you’re leaning against the wall with blood dripping down your face; don’t assume your attacker is alone and for fuck’s sake don’t assume that they’re dead after you’ve shot them; don’t you know that women can be psychopathic home invader murderers, too? Don’t be a babysitter if you can help it, and if you are don’t be the kind that wants to steal another woman’s baby for your own; you know that women can’t be trusted.  Run don’t walk; don’t run they’re going to shoot you from behind and it would be better to wait behind that tree while holding your breath and waiting for you to be grabbed from the wrong side ’round; don’t watch horror movies with someone you don’t intend to fuck; don’t fuck someone you’re watching a horror movie with; don’t fuck, drink, or swear because if you do it’s all your fault, whatever happens to you; don’t stop to see if the animal you hit out in the middle of nowhere while you were driving alone is dead because it’s no animal; don’t get into the car, whether it’s your car or a car belonging to some boys you don’t know and who are driving who knows where; don’t let anger and pride drive you away from someone who didn’t mean to hurt you; don’t get so uppity; don’t expect to have a happy ending, there’s always one last thing; don’t sit out beside the lake with a cup of coffee with a shot of bourbon in it, sipping as you look across the water after the rain, just soaking in the smell of it, and thinking thank God it’s over.  The gods who look over you aren’t those kinds of god, the forgiving kind; the gods who look over you demand the sacrifice of your sense of safety every moment of every day, a tithe of fear and terror; don’t call their attention; don’t look their way.  The banjos are coming and your boyfriend is possessed; the car rolls up its windows and the windup clown doll in the attic (did I remember to warn you about attics?) begins to laugh again.

Yes, I totally wrote this after reading Jamaica Kindcaid’s excellent flash fiction piece “Girl,” and of course her story is better than mine!

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 4

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Random Acts of Kindness.

THE CURSE

You’ve always had problems containing yourself into the person that other people think you should be.  That one time you spent all the money in the joint account on video games, the other time that you seduced that teenaged kid in the back of the church—don’t worry, it wasn’t like in the middle of a wedding or anything and anyway you think he was homeless, the time you put bleach in your alcoholic father’s bottles of booze, but only the really cheap shit he was hiding in the garage, not the good stuff that your mom might drink in the cabinet over the old green fridge.

Why shouldn’t you do these things?  Nobody seems to be able to explain it to you.  Then one day, it’s like the slobs all rise up.  It’s a witch hunt.  Friends don’t answer your calls, or texts, or emails, or messages.  They don’t answer the door even though you know they’re home, you can see the flickering of their TVs.

You go back and try to refine the past down to a point.  Was it something you did?  Didn’t do?  You work it over in your mind until you’re almost sure you know what it is: when you knocked over your latte in Jeremy’s car, which you were borrowing, and you didn’t clean it up, and he couldn’t get rid of the smell.

Jeremy’s a sucker, though; that’s probably not it.  Then you remember last Tuesday, leaning your head against the door of a vending machine at the community college, hungry and watching a protein bar dangling from the ledge and thinking, You have to wait until nobody can see before you kick it, if they see you it’ll be bad, and this guy gave you two dollars that you didn’t need so you could feed it into the machine and you said thanks and he said no problem and that was it, really.

Saying thank you to a sucker. That was the moment everything went to shit.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

How to Study Fiction: Part 10a: Scenes, Part 2a

Ugh…I should have written this earlier.  The number is my guesstimate for where this will go eventually.

This is part of a series on how to study fiction, mainly directed at writers who have read all the beginning writing books and are like, “What now?!?”  The rest of the series is here.  You may also want to check out the series on pacing, here, which I’m eventually going to fold into this series when it turns into a book.

Scene structure terms.

I’m going to be using some terms about scene structure that may not be familiar, or that may not be used exactly as other writers have been using them.  These are terms that I developed for my own benefit as I was studying novels and short stories.

I found that breaking down books into smaller and smaller parts helped me see what the author was trying to do.  It can get really overwhelming, trying to sit down and say, “How did the author pull off this one cool thing in that book?!?”

I made up and adapted some terms so I could take smaller bites.

For the purposes of this blog series, I’m breaking down stories into the following:

  • Scenes, which are groups of text between one blank row and another, and which have a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Chapters, which are groups of text that has a first-level header line, such as “Chapter 1” or “1,” and which may cover multiple scenes or only one scene.
  • Sections, which are groups of text that covers multiple chapters.  May also be called “Parts” or “Books.”
  • Mini-scenes, which are bits of text within a scene that has its own beginning, middle, and end and has a change in time, setting, or the characters in that section.
  • Beats, which are bits text that has a beginning, middle, and end but is connected by transitional material within a scene or mini-scene.
  • Transitional material, which are bits text that transitions the reader from one unit to another unit, usually a beat or a mini-scene.  This is often a summary.

I may also use the following term in my movie examples:

  • Sequences, which are series of related scenes as a character tries several different tactics to achieve the same thing.

A chase “scene” is often a sequence covering may different locations and different tactics as the characters attempt to outwit each other.  For some reason, in movies this tends to be told through different scenes, while in fiction this tends to be mini-scenes within the same scene.  I’m not sure why that is.

Text, for our purposes, can either be summary or real-time.

  • Summary text sums up things that happened.
  • Real-time text demonstrates things happening.

For example, if a flashback is summed up in a few paragraphs or as an aside in dialogue, it’s summary text.

If a flashback is played out in a scene with dialogue, action, and description, it’s real-time text.

I don’t know if anyone else is using these terms the way I do–but I’ve found that I needed them to help identify pieces of structure.  Summary text is often used as transitional material; scenes are often in real-time.

The rule of thumb that is given to beginning writers is to “show, don’t tell.”  And, for the most part, that is a good rule of thumb–for beginners.  For intermediate writers, it’s important to be able to summarize actions to move the book along at a reasonable pace.  Do we need to know about each characters’ morning routine in detail?  When is it better to skip a morning routine entirely?  When it is better to summarize?  When is it better to write the scene out?

These are judgment calls that intermediate writers have to make all the time, and the rule “show, don’t tell” doesn’t really help at all.  Different writers will make different calls on these questions:  some writers love to write all their backstory in real time.  Others summarize, summarize, summarize.  Some writers love to connect beats and mini-scenes with transitional material; others don’t.

This is what I’ve observed from my studies:

  • If you want to lie to or mislead the reader fairly, write in real-time.
  • If you want the reader to take something for granted, summarize.
  • If you want to draw attention to the events of a scene, write in real-time.
  • If you want to focus attention elsewhere, summarize.

If you want to show that one character is taking something for granted (but that the reader should have some doubts about the statement), have them summarize the situation in conversation.  You can see this all the time in mystery and crime novels.  The investigator questions someone.  That person makes a statement.  Something about that statement, the investigator thinks, is off.

Most backstory involves conflict.  It’s possible to turn any summary into a real-time scene with conflict in it, and it’s possible to turn any scene, no matter how dramatic, into a summary.  Especially when you need to sum up the events of book 1 in the beginning of book 2…

Back to Endings next time!  Sorry about the side note!

Live, die, rewind… The Clockwork Alice

 

Tales of the Normal: 31 Days of the Horrific & Mundane, Day 2

Flash fiction project: one dark story per day, all the way through October, each one based on one normal thing gone wrong. More of this year’s stories here.  You can find last year’s stories here, or at Amazon as October Nights.

Normal thing:  Bookstore.

FINAL CLEARANCE EVERYTHING MUST GO

For years I lived next to a bookstore. The books were all battered and cheap and used, a lot of them with yellowed pages or marginalia, underlinings, the small and secret marks of a person who marks every book they read on page seventeen so they don’t reread the same damn book sixty times.  There was a coffee pot with syrupy burnt coffee so strong it would stunt your growth, and a bulldog that sat in square of moving sunlight in the front door, waiting for kids and customers.

The owner was a nice guy.  He was always giving us free books. He was so nice that, behind his back, we pretended he was a serial killer and the locked cased of first editions next to his desk was really full of books made out of human skin.  We loved the thrill of catching his glance: “He looked at you, Daprizio!  That means you’re next!”

Then one day the bookstore was closed.  We were sure he’d been arrested.  Three cop cars and a white SUV was parked in front of the store.  The white SUV pulled out of its parking spot and drove off as we watched.

We peeked inside, watching dark and shadowy figures moving around the front desk.  Where was the shootout?  Where was the blood? The yellow line of police tape?

A man in a suit walked over to the half-empty coffee pot, glanced at us, then touched the carafe with his fingers.  He jerked them away like he’d been burnt.  That coffee pot.  It was always too hot.  He put his fingers in his mouth and yelled at us through the door to get the hell out of there, bunch of stupid kids.

Later, like ghosts, we smashed windows and broke in through the back door. We were evil little shits. When we didn’t find what we were looking for, we smashed open the glass case full of first editions, took them out to a vacant lot, and burned them, chanting, Killer killer, you deserved what you got, you deserved what you got.

It’s all been downhill from there.

Dark, strange, twisted, and wonderful – #paranormal #horror and #mystery stories from Wonderland Press.

Interview with Shannon Lawrence, author of Blue Sludge Blues & Other Abominations

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Welcome to fellow author Shannon Lawrence!  Previous interviews with Richard BambergRob ChanskyP.R. AdamsMegan Rutter, Jason Dias, and MJ Bell are also available.

1. This collection is made up of short, creepy horror tales, not necessarily splatterpunk but not broodingly gothic, either. What made you decide to write in this particular vein of horror?  It feels both adventurous in the classic pulp adventure sense, and very thick with detail and observation that lead inevitably to creepiness and suspense.

It was never really a decision. These were the stories coming to me, and I wrote them in whatever way spoke to me. It wasn’t until more recently that I started really experimenting with different types of horror, including some quieter horror. However, I do love the classic, blue collar sort of horror, and that’s probably always what I’ll write the most naturally. My first influence in horror was Stephen King, and I feel he’s telling blue collar tales, too. I like straight forward, hopefully identifiable characters, doing normal things that prove to be a mistake in the end. Life is unpredictable, and I hope I reflect that to an extent.

 

2. This collection contains the locally infamous Blue Sludge Blues story that I heard you read part of at an event. Please briefly describe the setup for the story…and the reactions you received at the event.  (I know, I’ve heard the story behind the story before, but it’s a good one and I want you to share it anyway because heee hee hee!)

That was the most fun I’ve had reading a story! When I set out to write Blue Sludge Blues, it was meant to be an experiment in visceral horror. I asked people what words grossed them out or gave them an automatic negative feeling. And then I wrote about one of the most disgusting, uncomfortable places a person can go: a rest stop port-a-potty.

The story features a man moving across the country. He stops at a rest stop, where something waits for him, deep in the blue sludge of the chemical toilet. Something with tentacles. A quick bathroom break becomes a fight for his life.

When I read it at an open mic night, I wanted to see how people would respond. It wasn’t quite finished yet, but the gross details were there already. It was nerve-wracking, because I thought I might offend someone. Instead, there were groans, exclamations, and laughs at all the right places, and it was impossible to read it with a straight face as people sounded off around the room. They were grossed out and horrified, as I’d intended, and it remains my most requested short story.

 

3. How do you decide what kind of ending you end the stories with–from happy to tragic? It sounds like it’s a process, with some endings on some stories garnering some pretty harsh rejections.  What was the worst reaction you’ve ever received, and did you decide it was all about the person rejecting the story, about the ending being wrong for the story, or something of both?

I hate to say it for this answer, too, but I don’t plan most endings. I’m a complete pantser, sometimes not knowing where I’m going until I’m in the thick of it. I’ve been told I tend to write circular stories, with the ending doing a bit of a callback to something in the beginning, so I’d say the endings are instinctual. I had no idea I was doing that until someone pointed it out. Admittedly, I lean toward more tragic endings or the false happy ending. Likely because those are the types of endings I grew up reading and watching in horror films.

I haven’t had anyone ask for a new ending, but I’ve had issues with details within the story. The one I had the most issues with was for a story called Cravings, about a pregnant couple dealing with some disturbing cravings. Originally, the couple had a dog. At one point, the husband came home to find his pregnant wife gnawing on the dog’s neck. It lived. My first rejection came from an editor who said I should have gone all the way and killed the dog, and he was disappointed I hadn’t done so. I went ahead and changed it to see what would happen. Sure enough, personal rejections came in because I’d harmed a dog (and to be clear, I was not submitting to markets that blatantly forbade harm to animals in their guidelines). They weren’t nasty (in fact, they were complimentary of my writing style), and they said they liked the idea of the story, but they wouldn’t publish it because the dog died. Or, as one woman said, she couldn’t handle “the slow, awful death of the dog.” (It was intentionally not slow and awful—I don’t do animal torture—but it obviously bothered her). I stubbornly went on submitting the two versions of the story to various publications, and it netted me the most personal rejections I’ve ever gotten on one story. They liked the idea and the writing, but that dog (poor Jauncy) was trouble, no matter which direction I went.

Ultimately, I removed the dog entirely and rewrote the story to actually be slightly more extreme on the one hand and more discreet on the other. No harm to an animal was directly depicted.  I was deeply frustrated, and couldn’t decide between the two courses of action, so I figured out a third instead.

I definitely felt it came down to personal preferences for the different editors, not so much this detail being wrong for the story. My critique group was sad to learn I’d changed the story to remove the dog. I’d gotten exactly the reactions from them that I’d intended when they read the original piece, but sometimes it’s best to let it go. With such mixed reactions from editors, the readers were going to have equally mixed reactions.

 

4. You, M.B. Partlow, and I have been reading through several lists of horror novels over the last few years (it feels weird to say that, but it’s been going on for a while, hasn’t it?). Who do you feel that you’ve discovered through those lists that you most relate to, as a writer?  Not necessarily the book you enjoyed the most, although feel free to mention that.  What techniques have you stolen or borrowed?  What have you simply said a big fat “nope” to?

It has been a few years, hasn’t it? That’s hard to process.

The story that struck me the most (so far) was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It gave me a new understanding of horror. I was already familiar with monsters, both human and animal, but this book has varying levels of human monster, and the big ones, the ones that put this dystopian landscape into play, are never seen. We only see the results of their actions. Other than that, they’re faceless. It’s astoundingly well done.

Other than that, I learned a LOT about what makes up horror. In the beginning, there were books I’d read and I had no idea why they’d been classified as horror. But I’d think about it, tear my ideas apart, and eventually expanded my definition of horror. All horror authors should have an epiphany like that one. As it is, I still have people argue with me about The Handmaid’s Tale being horror. People also have trouble understanding that a story can be horror-plus. As in, it can be horror and science fiction. We don’t have to pick one genre. The film Aliens can be both horror and science fiction. In fact, it can be horror, science fiction, military sci-fi, and action/adventure. It can be all those things without diminishing it or changing its meaning to any one person.

Overall, the entire project helped me become bolder and more experimental with my writing. I’m more willing to play because of what I’ve experienced in the books on the list. For the most part, I’ve also stopped saying, “That wasn’t horror,” instead immersing myself in it and picking it apart until I can see why someone else might have defined it as horror.

One of the skills it’s made me work to hone is holding back. Sometimes I rush forward, so excited to get to the big freaky thing. It’s more effective not to do that, and it takes finesse.

My big nope? The nonsensical, bizarro, political weirdness of William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. Too abstract for me.

 

5. Where do you think you’ll go from here with your writing? I know a lot of short story writers end up writing novels, often because it pays more (at least, in theory).  If you were able to make a living at short stories, would you stick with those, or still work your way into novels?

I was actually working on novels first, and I do have a few in the works, but I enjoy my time with short stories so much more that I rarely work on the novels. There’s a roller coaster high-low addiction to short story writing, submitting, and publishing. Instead of one or two novel releases a year, I have a bunch of releases, and the excitement involved in them. Sometimes I’ve got multiple releases at once! Plus, there’s a kinship with the people sharing the tables of contents with me at times, as well as the editors. It’s a fantastic community, and one that’s growing.

Novels move at glacial speeds. Short stories are rapid and exciting. I’ve been published with big names that I’d never share space with in writing any other way.

In short? I’d love to also have novels published, though not for the money so much as the fact that some of my story ideas simply turn out to need a novel’s length to tell, and they want out as much as the short stories do. Well, almost as much. I don’t see myself ever giving up short stories. I’m making the same amount monthly from my collection of short stories that friends with one novel out are making. It’s not a lot…for either of us (bearing in mind I’m speaking only of self-published friends with a single novel out), but we’re running parallel in terms of royalties. And in addition to that one book, I sell short stories throughout the year, which is a meager additional income they’re not bringing in.

I’m also playing around with short memoir/creative non-fiction and working on a craft book on short stories, so we’ll see where that takes me.

 

and last but not least, the bonus question:

6. Is there any note that you’d like to leave your readers on? (Hint:  the additional promo question.)

Writing short stories has led me to opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise had. At the same time, I’ve had a lot of the same benefits and opportunities as novelists, such as being picked up to speak at conferences, be a panelist at conventions, do standalone workshops, participate in book signings, etc. Short stories have a natural ebb and flow, like many other aspects of writing, but right now they’re flowing. It’s a great time to try your hand at short stories to see how you do. Short fiction is selling especially well in the speculative fiction realm, so give it a go!

And those opportunities I mentioned? I’ve got a piece coming out September 4 in an anthology with some of the most amazing, up-and-coming women in horror. I’m incredibly excited about it, and there are already rumblings of an award nomination for the book, as well as a review in Publisher’s Weekly. If nothing else, it’s made a stir. Most of the stories are reprints (including mine), but there are also new stories written for the anthology. That book is Fright Into Flight, put out by Word Horde, edited by Amber Fallon.

And I’m in an anthology of novellas and novellettes, due to be released September 15. The Society of Misfit Stories, Volume II can be found here.

A fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes primarily horror and fantasy. Her stories can be found in several anthologies and magazines, including Space and Time Magazine and Dark Moon Digest, and her short story collection Blue Sludge Blues & Other Abominations is now available. When she’s not writing, she’s hiking through the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there’s always a place to hide a body or birth a monster. Find her at www.thewarriormuse.com.

What Am I Selling, When I Sell a Story

I’ve been working a lot on studying marketing lately.  Not just indie book marketing, but the principles behind selling stuff.

When I started out as a writer, I thought writing was mostly about putting one’s thoughts and feelings down on the page, and then some magic would happen, and people would like what I wrote and want to pay for it.

Like many things in life, if you want the magic to happen, you have to make it yourself.  And when you do, the magic turns out to be completely mundane.  I eventually figured out that the magic, in this case, was selling things.  The connection between making something and have people want to buy it is…selling things.

Duh.

A lot of people seem to grasp this instinctively; I didn’t.  Here’s what I’ve been reading to study up:

  • The Copywriter’s Handbook, by Robert Bly.  If you read one book on the subject, do this one.
  • Kickass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, by Susan Gunelius.  Pretty good, another approach on much of the same material.  For people who need more structure.
  • The Well-Fed Writer, by Peter Bowerman.  This is more of a “why” than a “what” book for freelancers.  Very good.
  • Six Figure Author, by Chris Fox (and related titles).  Translates Bly into action steps specific to indie writers.

And some other books that I abandoned after they made my eyes roll.
Two things stuck out to me:

  1. I had no idea what I was selling.
  2. I had no idea why anybody would buy it.

Erk.

I had come a long way from the standard indie writer approach to marketing and promotion, which is basically, “I have a new book out, if you are so inclined, please buy it,” which I tend to refer to as the buy my crap approach.

Telling people to buy your book without telling them why they want it is poor salesmanship, and can’t possibly do your book justice.

But I (and it seems most writers) didn’t actually know why anyone would want my books, or books in general.  What do books do for people?  And how do you demonstrate that your book does that in general, and specifically that one thing that the reader wants from your book and no other?

(This is called a “unique selling proposition,” by the way; you have to identify it before you can do anything else.)

I had to back up.

Why do people read books?

  • To be entertained in the way that they specifically find entertaining.
  • To escape from their lives.
  • To process the problems in their lives in a safe way.
  • To empathize with other people, to become them for a little while.
  • To totally geek out over something.

Why do people read my books?

  • To escape from the normal world, but not necessarily too far.
  • To feel like they’re part of an intelligent, insightful conversation.
  • To see something they’ve already seen, but with a fresh perspective (often ironic).
  • To see something they haven’t already seen or cannot see, as if it were real.
  • Alice in Wonderland geeks (yay!).

There’s something that gets discussed in the process of selling stuff, features versus benefits.  The features are the things about your book that make it what it is.

The Queen of Stilled Hearts is a book about Alice in Wonderland; it has zombies.

The benefits of the book are what the reader gets out of it.

The Queen of Stilled Hearts is a dryly ironic book that sets you right in the middle of a Victorian Oxford class war and provides insight into Lewis Carroll, Alice Liddell, her family, and even Queen Victoria.  The story is a darkly true coming of age story, where Alice doesn’t so much come into her own as get bullied into taking her place as an upper-class daughter.  Sometimes there is no happy ending, because people are jerks, and it’s nice to have that dragged out into the open rather than, once again, prettied up for the family photo album.

The difference between features and benefits is emotion.  Features are about stuff that exists; benefits are about how the audience feels about it.  The magic is in the feels.

I’m still struggling with how this works, and until I’m a millionaire I probably won’t feel like an expert on the subject, but I have reached the point where I can see other writers screwing this up.

Nobody wants to know the plot of your story, per se, before they read it.

People want to know how you’re going to make them feel.

When someone writes a story, they are writing an experience for the reader.  Everything else builds toward making the reader feel something in particular.  When I write, I am selling experiences.  What people want to buy, when they buy a book, is a particular experience.

Selling uses the features of the book to focus the reader’s attention on the experience they’ll have.  “You’ll have a great time reading this book!” is not a convincing argument.  Why?  What if I’m not the right reader for the book?  How will I know?  So you do have to use the features somewhat. They just aren’t the focus.

“If you like Alice in Wonderland and zombies, you’ll like The Queen of Stilled Hearts!”

Pretty much true.

“If you like dark historical fiction with a horror bent, you’ll like The Queen of Stilled Hearts!”

Also true.  Genre is a way of identifying clusters of experiences in books.

I’m still not to the point where I can pull an effective book description out of my butt, but I’m getting closer.  I’m also finding that it affects my writing; I’m thinking more about what readers will experience as they read.  This is a real pain in the ass at the moment.  I’m thinking waaaay too hard about it as I write (and it’s me saying that).  But I feel like I’m getting closer to what readers actually want.

What do readers want?  They want a good time, the time you get from visiting old cemeteries and wondering whether that statue covered in moss and stains is an angel or some kind of fallen demonic entity.

Or something like that 🙂

I don’t just send out Wonderland Press updates via my newsletter, but articles like this one.  More of the same here.

The Art of Lockpicking

On June 23, I went to an introductory lockpicking class, The Art of Lockpicking, hosted by Atlas Obscura and taught by Jeremiah Jensen.

It was held at the Lighthouse Writers’ Race Street location, which I’d never been to before.  It’s a charming location aswamp in parking issues, so I was late getting there.  Fortunately, although most of the people there were not writers, it was still like herding cats, and they didn’t start without me. (Whew!)  I want to say there were about sixty people, but that’s just a guesstimate.

Each of us received a lockpicking kit, a pen case big enough to hold the lockpicks (sneaky), and a clear practice lock, so you can see all the little pieces inside the lock.  And a piece of fine-grit sandpaper.  More on that in a bit.

The class started with a lot of rustling, scraping, and cursing as people tried to figure out how to use their lockpicking sets unaided.  Some of the people were actually able to open their locks!  I found out later that some lockpicking enthusiasts had attended, though, so I suspect that a) they were able to open their very easy practice locks, and b) they were teaching other people as they went.

As for myself, I resisted the urge.  I was late, it was time for the class to start, and if I started working on the lock I would either break something or not be able to pay attention to what was going on until I got it figured out.  Counterproductive.

Eventually we started.  The teacher was a tall man with a beard, tattoos, and a swirl of green hair on top of his head, named Jeremiah Jensen.  He had got his start with a practice set in high school that he never used–or, rather, he had dug out the practice set once he had started working at the lock station at Home Depot.

Here are the ethics of lockpicking, somewhat paraphrased:

  • Never open a lock without express owner permission.  It’s easy to break a lock.  HEY IT’S EASY TO BREAK A LOCK MAYBE DON’T DO YOUR FRONT DOOR ‘KAY?
  • Never help people who want to use your lockpicking skills in a criminal manner.
  • Be mindful of laws about lockpicking equipment.  It’s legal to have it in Colorado, but that’s not always the case.

Locksport is the art of lockpicking as a competitive sport.  The r/lockpicking subreddit is an excellent resource, including its own wiki.  (As with all things reddit, Read The F@#$%^& Manual before asking questions.)  Masterlocks are cheap and a good place to start, although you may be disappointed with how easily it is defeated.

The most famed year in lockpicking history was 1851.

It was London, and the Great Exhibition had just started up.  A sophisticated, unpickable lock had been created by Jeremiah Chubb.  Not only was it a damnably hard lock to pick, but if one nudged it just a bit too hard, the tumblers would jam in place.  A second key was required to unjam the lock, turning it the opposite direction as the key that would unlock the lock.  (This second key wouldn’t unlock the lock, just unjam the tumblers.)

An American gentleman named A.C. Hobbs picked this lock in about 25 minutes…as a warmup to a second lock, the famed Joseph Bramah safety lock, which had proved unpickable for about 60 years.

Hobbs picked it in 14 days, at the Great Exhibition.

Every lock since then has been crafted in the knowledge that cannot provide perfect security.

There’s always something.  (Here’s a link to an article about Hobbs’s challenge.)

We were then given a tour of the lockpicking set.  There were several tension bars, basically thin, l-shaped sheets of metal sturdy enough to turn the machinery inside the lock, but delicate enough to help transmit the vibrations inside the lock, to aid in sensing where everything is when you’re not working on a clear plastic lock.

Inside that clear plastic lock is a plug, or the turney bit where the key rests.  Resting inside the plug in the most inconvenient way possible are several pins held in place by small springs.  The pins are in two parts, with half of the pin above the plug, and half of the pin inside the plug.  If the pins are lined up exactly with all pins half above and half inside the plug, then the plug can be turned.

A key lines those pins up in their proper and convenient location.  With a little luck, a lockpicker can line the pins up manually.  The pins aren’t perfect, see, so you can nudge them into place one at a time, and, if you’re putting the most delicate amount of pressure on the tension bar, they’ll kind of stick in place.

The actual lockpicks come in several flavors.  Every lock (even two locks of the same brand and model) has its own personality; likewise, every lockpicker has their own personality.  So there is no “perfect lockpick,” only the right lockpick for that lock at that time, used by that person.

Our lockpick sets came with “hooks,” which looked as described, in which one pin at a time could be nudged in place.  They also came with “rakes,” which look like tiny key sections with triangle-shaped teeth that can be raked across the pins so that more than one pin nudges into place at a time.  There were some other tools, too, like a tiny set of tweezers for repairing and resetting pins after you’ve pulled a lock completely apart, and a fish-hook-shaped one that was for digging out busted pieces of key or lockpick.

“All right,” the teacher said.  “Now let’s work on opening our locks.”

Step 1: Insert the tension bar into the practice lock.  The plug in a pin lock turns clockwise only!  I’m left-handed, so this caused me issues at first, since the way I was holding it gave a counter-clockwise turn.  Delicately insert the short piece of the tension bar into the keyhole.  Turn it clockwise (lockwise?).  Gently.  GENTLY.  You will almost certainly turn it too hard at first.

Step 2.  Insert one of the rakes, preferably one with two or three top triangles. If you feel resistance to doing so, it’s because you’re turning the tension bar too damn hard.  What did I just tell you?  Don’t turn it so hard!

Step 3.  Move the rake back and forth so you can see the pins moving around in the practice lock.

  • If the pins aren’t moving at all, then you’re not touching the pins with the rake.
  • If the pins rise and fall, you are turning the tension bar the wrong way.
  • If the pins rise but do not fall, great!
  • If the pins rise so that you can see both pins, they’re up too far.  Release the tension bar and go “damn it!” as the pins drop back down.  You have to be patient about this.  Do not become so annoyed by this that you put too much tension on the tension bar.  Tension is not the answer here.
  • What did I tell you about that tension bar?!?
  • When the space between the two pins lines up with the plug on all the pins, victory!  You should feel the lock kind of give in your hand.  Increase the tension on the tension bar (finally), and the plug should turn inside the lock.
  • Congratulations!  You just spent like 45 minutes opening your first lock!
  • Now do it again!
  • Optional:  If your pick is sticking on the pins, you can give the pick a bit of a rub with the old sandpaper to smooth the points out juuuust a smidge.

Seriously, once I had the clockwise thing figured out, it only took about ten minutes.  (Your mileage may vary.)  But I wouldn’t expect to be able to pick up a practice lock and magically all better it in ten seconds.  There’s a real “feel” to it that you can’t know before you know it, which is annoying to try to explain.  (When I came home that night, I tried to explain it to Lee and Ray and failed miserably.) It takes time and intelligent trial and error.

The set we had was fairly cheap; a good site for quality premade lockpicks is Sparrow.  You can make your own tension bars from the metal strip on a windshield wiper and probably should.  You can also cut your own lockpicks using a template and a Dremel.

Some other notes:

  • Zipping is a lockpicking technique where you use a diamond (one point) rake by sticking it all the way in and pulling it out in a steady motion across the pins.
  • Rocking is a lockpicking technique where you use a city rake (it looks like a toothy skyline) to gently rock against the pins until the magic happens.
  • Single pin picking is where you use a hook to nudge one pin at a time, for more fussy locks, such as ones that have a…
  • A security pin, which is a pin specially build to jam into place if you screw around with it too much, causing you to have to constantly start over.  There are other tricks to annoy you on more sophisticated locks as well.
  • If it’s not a pin lock with one side of uneven teeth on the key, then it’s probably either harder or impossible to pick with a standard lockpicking set, and you’ll need more tools.  See the r/lockpicking subreddit.
  • The Victorian type locks are lever locks, and require different tools and techniques.
  • You can get a lot of vintage and uncommon locks at ReStore (locally, the Highlands Ranch one is especially good).
  • Check YouTube for helpful videos.
  • Hacker conventions almost always have a locksport alley, because people who love security…love all types of security.
  • Your new recommended reading list is A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh, and The Complete Book of Locks and Locksmithing by Bill Phillips.

I didn’t have any spare locks to practice on until Saturday this week, when I picked some up at a flea market.  I have yet to dig into them with the lockpicking set–my first non-clear locks–so I don’t exactly feel like a “real” lockpicker yet.  And it really makes me want to find out how to pick Victorian locks of the cheaper sort, the lever locks.  But I haven’t dug into that yet, either.

I feel somewhat changed overall, though.  Knowing that I can learn how to pick a lock quickly (well…) makes me realize that there are a ton of people out there who a) can do this, and b) will just break down or pry open doors and windows.  It’s happened to me before; someone broke into our house in 2015 as we were moving.  A prybar to the door with the real estate agent’s lockbox on it, and they instantly achieved free rent + everything we still had in the shed in the back.

Security is an illusion.  “Locks are to keep honest people honest,” as Mr. Jensen kept saying.

True.  It feels weird to be on the other side of that equation now, though.

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I Survived Denver Comic-Con, and All I Got Was This…

I survived Denver Comic-Con, and all I got was a stupid Nakitomi Plaza Parking Permit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actually, I got a few other things, but none of them cost more than a dollar.  Or were eaten before I left for home.

Friday:

I was on a panel for Indie Book Publishing with Marla Bell, Lisa Manifold, and Michaela Mills.  We could have talked about marketing for hours.  One of the things Lisa said stuck with me:  “Find your tribe.”

Yeah,  yeah, right right, says me, I’ve found it.  Then she said, “For your genre.”

D’oh!  I’m in several indie publishing groups, but nothing for indie sf/f, horror, or mystery.

Hmmm…sounds like it’s time to do some research.

Then came Letters Written From Hell, a pleasant sort of panel about what makes horror writers tick.  I moderated that one, and was sure to establish that horror writers weren’t nuts…or at least handled their issues better than the average bear.  That panel starred Shannon Lawrence, Jason Dias, Emily Godhand, and Patrick Hester.

We established that horror writers may be slightly weighted toward people raised Catholic (3 of 5 panelists), and that in a hypothetical novel written by all five of us, the audience greatly preferred to have Shannon as the psychotic antihero, and darling Emily Godhand writing the bad guy.  Apparently, readers like plot twists.  Who knew?  And also Patrick’s space spiders…

Friday’s panels were wrapped up with Favorite Horror Tropes, moderated by Melissa Sauer Locy, and also starring Veronica R. Calisto, Emily Godhand, Stace Johnson, and Shannon Lawrence.

Okay.  I’m gonna admit that I mostly blanked this one out.  There were soooo many people and my brain was kind of on static by that point.  I remember talking about child abuse and The Babadook.  That’s about it.

Friday photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rincewind and Twoflower from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.  I first spotted Rincewind from behind, circled around to check that it was a “wizzard” hat, slyly pulled out my phone, and said, “May I take a picture?”

“If you wait a moment, you can get Twoflower, too.”

!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure if these are particular furries or just furries in general.  But the girl was 100% delighted to get a selfie with them.  I couldn’t help but smile.

Saturday:

The first panel of the day was Creating Believable MonstersMatt Bille moderated.  He has a love of scientifically valid monsters that I just can’t equal.  The important thing to me is that the characters believe the monsters they face, not that the monsters could really exist.  But we discussed that ahead of time, and Matt handled the disagreements gracefully.  Also on the panel were Fleur Bradley, Veronica R. Calisto, Stace Johnson, and Shannon Lawrence.

Looking at my notes (I always bring paper to these things, because someone always makes a book recommendation that I regret not writing down), Xenomorphs are underlined twice and the word aliens has an exclamation point and a box around it, which cracks me up.

My favorite monsters were:

  • Hannibal
  • The Tunnbaq from The Terror
  • Zombies

Shannon Lawrence pointed out that all my monsters were either cannibals or were known to have eaten people, and that I should probably figure out why that was.  (I had mentioned earlier that my short story collection A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters & the Macabre is full of cannibalism.)  But I already know the answer.  I’m a foodie; everything wonderful is delicious and everything terrible is rotten.  My stories always have someone vomiting in them, because that is the worst.

Then came Not Just Novels: Writing Different Lengths, where we talked a lot about short stories and the mysterious Novella and Novellette lengths, where nobody’s quite sure what they’re trying to accomplish (even writers).  The panel was moderated by Shannon Lawrence, and included Fleur Bradley, Jason Dias, Stace Johnson, and Carolyn Kemp, who was wearing a wonderful gothy steampunk costume that made me realize I wouldn’t recognize her to see her again.*  I become easily confused when people change their hairstyles, and I can rarely recognize people from their Facebook photos if they’ve done their hair differently.  At all.

Which is kind of ironic because I don’t keep my hair the same.  I have a bob, but it needs help; right now it looks like generic Mom Hair, so I have it pulled back in a ponytail.

*I looked her up online in her civvies.  I think I got it.

Saturday photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

This gentleman seemed to be completely unaware of the possibility of this young and very hungry dino baby turning around and eating his face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mad Moxxi and Handsome Jack from the Borderlands series.  I reeeeaaaallly wanted them to do the voices, but they couldn’t do them.

“Hey, sugar…”

Other Saturday Stuff:

I met Paul Roman Martinez, who is doing a cover for an anthology that Jamie Ferguson and I are putting together–more news on that soon 🙂

I helped distract a baby on a changing table.  MOM powers took over.  He was like “Imma roll off this table,” and his mom was like “Oh no you won’t.”  So I stood there and distracted him while costumed characters walked behind us.  Which makes me more interesting then Harley Quinn, at least according to one six-month-old kid.

I stopped for lunch at a retro diner called Sam’s No. 3, where I sat at the bar with two people who spotted my badge and wanted to know if I was from that comic-book thing.  I told them that it was a farm & home show for nerds.  “What about all those costumes?” “It’s really just like supporting your favorite sports team.  Just for fun.”  I feel like I fought the good fight for nerdery, but did not win any wars.

Sunday:

I only had one panel on Sunday, the Black Mirror and the Evils of Technology Panel, which I moderated.  I assumed it was at 5:30 in room 405, because of course I did.  It was at 4:30 in room 605, which I checked at about 2:30, because I’ve lived with myself long enough to have learned to double-check things.

Now, I like the show, even though it also makes me miserable, but I only started watching it recently; my husband Lee told me that I’d hate it (based on the first episode).  But I had volunteered to moderate panels, damn it, and there I was, moderating a panel that was now no longer on the 400 (writer) track, but on the 600 (general fandom) track.

Which meant that almost everything I had prepared was no good.

Fortunately, my panelists were excellent.  They were Shannon Lawrence, Veronica R. Calisto, Stace Johnson, and David R. Slayton.  They adjusted on the fly in front of what looked like several hundred people.

Erk…but it was the best of the panels I was on, in my opinion, because everyone there was so filled with energy and delight–over a rather horrific show.

Sunday Photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local signage.  This might be my new motto.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delirium, from Sandman.  It was too crowded to catch her shoes, which didn’t match.

Other Stuff:

You may have noticed that a lot of the panelists were the same–that’s because Shannon Lawrence did all the organizing to set this up, which turned out to be a lot more organization than she expected. Kudos to her.

Going into Denver Comic-Con this time, I carried the attitude that the con was just going to make me miserable, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it again.  I had a great time, though, and feel like I learned quite a bit by observing people and what they loved, from their costumes to what they carried around with them.  I may write something up about that later.  But now I feel like I’d like to do this again, if I have the opportunity.  And I recommend going if you have the chance.

The Tale of a Book that Failed…


…or that at least didn’t succeed as hoped.

Once upon a time, I wrote a book for a ghostwriting client.  It was one of those dream projects that paid pretty well and that I had a lot of freedom on.  The only requirement was that it have some kind of sci-fi element to it.

The client and I went back and forth on what the book would be like.  I told him I wanted to write something cyberpunk-ish about an element of technology that had gone horribly wrong.  But not so much a gadget or a gizmo that had gone wrong…how about a drug? He loved the idea, and we went forward with designing the tale of a detective investigating an empathy drug gone wrong.  The drug ends up causing permanent and debilitating brain damage to the users–it makes them so empathic that they have trouble defending themselves from bad people–which a serial killer with a strangely apt sense of empathy (but no mercy) takes advantage of.

The Giver was born.

The client loved the book.

And then, somewhere in the middle of writing book 2 in the series, his business died.

Normally, I take this kind of thing in stride.  However, I had put a lot of myself into this book.  I’m the kind of person that gets targeted by life’s little sociopaths–or at least I was.  (I decided, not coincidentally, near the end of 2016 that it was time to stop suffering fools gladly.)  So when I heard this book would never see the light of day, well, I was disappointed, to put it mildly.

And broke, because suddenly I’d just lost my job working on book 2.

The client gave me a choice:

Take back the rights on book 1, etc., and write off all the money he owed me, or…get paid.

I took back the rights and decided to make something of what I’d written.

Here was my thought:

  • The book was designed to be published under a male pen name.
  • The POV character is male.
  • There were some sexist things I left in the text because I believed that the character would see the world that way, and I didn’t want my (female) name to be a distraction because of that.
  • And I’ve always wondered:  would it be easier to make sales under a male pen name?  I’ve heard that trying to publish romances under a male pen name is excessively hard*; maybe trying to publish cyberpunk under a female name would be similarly so.

Dean Kenyon was born.

The book came together, and I still liked it, so I published it May 7th and set it up for five free days on Amazon to start with, hoping to generate a review or two.  I sent it out to this list, crossing my fingers.

The giveaway went great.  I had previously run two similar giveaways for books under my me-name (DeAnna Knippling) and a middle-grade pen name (De Kenyon).  Neither one made half of the numbers of the Dean Kenyon giveaway.

And then…crickets.

I’ve advertised this book as much as I do my bestseller, but…I can barely get any views.  There are no reviews on this book!  I can’t get anywhere with it.

So, a month later, I’m just going to conclude that I can’t get the answers I want about the male vs. female pen names without reviews to help assure readers that the book isn’t complete crap.

I have to swallow my pride.

I wrote this book I really love.  It’s quite the adventure, a lot of fun in my opinion.  But I need help getting reviews out.
I’m going to hit up everyone I know and ask them if they’d like a copy.  And I’m going to try to wrassle up some reviews.

You are, of course, under no obligation to read the book.  You are even under less obligation to like it.  And, seriously, no hard feelings if you don’t review it.  (Although I will note that if you review it and hate it, it still helps me out, as strange as that might seem.)

But if you know someone who might be interested, I’ve got a free copy for them.  Just send them my way, at

publisher [at] wonderlandpress [dot] com

And I’ll send them a review copy.  Or send them to the Instastafreebie link.

Thank you, and wish me luck 🙂

*Except for the redoubtable M.L. Buchman, who uses his initials.

The link to the free Instafreebie copy (multiple formats) is here.  You can buy a copy here, but it’s only Amazon so far.

Mindsight:  Company Justice #1

No idea is so good it can’t go bad.

Frank Mallory is a private detective working for a new type of detective agency: a well-organized one. Private Eyes, Inc., has the latest in data analysis, training techniques, cross-discipline integration, illicit back-door deals, and cynical programmers who don’t care what they have to do as long as they don’t lose their benefits.  PEI has it all covered.

The right mix of idealism and plausible deniability can work wonders.

But that doesn’t mean that Frank’s in the clear when he starts work on a case involving the new designer drug Mindsight.  Mindsight is a miracle drug.  It won’t give you telepathy, but it comes close, triggering a wave of pure empathy that helps treat everything from domestic violence to schizophrenia.

The problem is, if you take too much of it, you’ll understand someone else’s point of view…all the way to death.

Of course a serial killer starts butchering Mindsight addicts.  As if nobody could see that coming.  All he has to do is ask nicely.  And maybe offer a little something the victim can’t refuse.

The real twist is when one of his victims fights back…and takes down a cop, saying that he admitted to being the serial killer before he died.

Frank’s hired to find solid, incontestable proof that the man, someone he used to work with, is actually the murderer, so a rich man’s daughter, the purported victim, can walk free.

Seems straightforward, right?

Right.

Book 1 in the Company Justice series, starring Frank Mallory.

(Some violence, not much gore or strong language.  Some unpleasant empathy moments.)

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