Book Marketing Tips and Farewell to Net Neutrality



If you read any online writing blogs or discussions, one of the first topics you'll encounter will be that of marketing your new book. There are mobs of new authors out there who appear to be convinced that the only thing standing between them and a stack of money high enough to climb and roll down is some uber-secret marketing plan.

Don't believe me? A cottage industry has sprung up overnight on Amazon alone, as hundreds of how-to books appear, each with titles like How to Make a Million Dollars Overnight Before You Even Finish That Pesky Novel or 100 Sure-Fire Tips and Tricks to Reach Best-Sellerdom and Quit Your Day Job and Show All Those Nobodies in the Crit Group That Grammar Doesn't Matter After All So Ha

I'd be a lot more impressed if these sure-fire can't-miss tell-all books weren't mostly written by people I've never heard of. I'd be even more impressed if many of them were longer than 15 pages, or contained fewer than half a dozen formatting and grammar errors on the first couple of pages. But hey, what's a fewe spellinging errorz between budding billionaires, right?

No marketing efforts can do more than temporarily boost sales of a bad book. And even good marketing plans can't propel goods books instantly into the sales stratosphere -- for every best-seller, I believe there are ten or a hundred equally good books languishing in the weeds, left behind out of caprice, not incompetence.

But of course there are actions and strategies any author can undertake to make the most of a fickle and ever-changing market. And since I'm a generous sort, I'll give my tricks and tips away for free (although donations are gladly accepted, after all, my one-way Mars rocket isn't going to pay for itself).

Thus, I give you Frank's Marketing Tips and Tricks for Authors. Use them with care, lest ye summon down a furious plague of royalties and movie producers!

Frank's Tips

1) Branding yourself is crucial to the success of your marketing efforts. Not the kind of branding done to cattle in Westerns, though. Don't make that mistake no matter how many hits the YouTube video is likely to get.

2) Keep readers engaged with a series of high-profile crimes and arrests. Strive to have your booking photos plastered all over the net  at least once per quarter, and right before every new book release.

3) When using the Tweeter, maximize your content with lots of hashtags, abbreviations, and acronyms. HEY #AGHTY & CPHY @ASJESDF,#LOLOLOL SPDER/GHTY says what mere words can't.

4) Constant blatant self-promotion is ineffective and annoying, except when you do it. Automate Twits and book-face posts to remind readers to buy your new book every few minutes, or you'll be lost and forgotten by all.

5) Invite bloggers to blog on their blogs about your blog and then blog about their blog concerning your blog.

6) Google yourself. Pull the blinds down first, you pervert.

7) Always approach editors and agents from behind, while wearing cork-soled shoes, or they'll hear you coming and you'll struggle to force the chloroform-soaked rag over their mouth.

8) Book signings are a powerful way to reach and build an audience. Bookstore owners are busy people, so don't waste their time by asking permission before you set up a table and start signing. An attitude of quiet self-assurance and a pair of burly roadies named 'Big Mike' and 'Butcher-knife' are all you need to establish your presence.

9) Receiving a bad review is part of any author's life. But you're not any old author, so respond to a poor review with calm, professional mercenaries, who can be found for hire in the pages of Soldier of Fortune magazine.

There is a 10th tip, but it is so powerful and potentially dangerous I must wait and publish it in my own upcoming how-to book, which shall be entitled Writing For Big Bucks: How to Command Financial Mastery of the Publishing Industry With Only Two Small Ice Cubes, the Shinbones of a Hamster, and a 42-syllable Sanskrit Word Spoken Beneath a Total Eclipse, Part 1 (available in December for only $39.99).

And now, a few words about net neutrality in the US.

One word, really, and that word is 'goodbye.' The FCC, which is an acronym for 'F*ck Consumers Constantly,' is now run by a former Verizon lawyer who is going to wreck the whole net so he can buy another pair of summer yachts. 

Oh, you signed one of the many online petitions? Hate to tell you this, but Pai and his minions aren't even *reading* them. Or the comments, or the emails.

They respond to only one thing -- money. The ISPs have it, and you don't. 

So we're screwed, at least in the US. Of course we're screwed so many ways here these days Turkish whorehouses are taking note of the new positions. 

So it's back to dial-up speeds or higher bills, and maybe no access at all if you enjoy sites that lack the clout to lobby for special treatment. And won't it be convenient now, for some power-mad oligarch to take control of your access to the net? Yeah. Good times.

Well, there's always the old fuzzy blue-ink mimeo machines, snail mail newsletters, and 1990s style BBS sites, I guess. 

The future really isn't what it used to be.




Testing, Testing, One, Two, Three...

Okay, you caught me.

I'm testing an RSS feed and the only way to know if it's really working is to post something new and see if the blog shows up in the appropriate places. 

That's what I'm doing now. I'll delete this entry as soon as I've got it working.

But hey, you came all this way, and I don't want you to go away empty-handed, so here's an amusing image.


I remain untroubled by the presence of spectral phantasms!



Wine 101: Tips For the Vintage Impaired


Knowing wines is a requirement to being a sophisticated, worldly adult. 

One cannot command respect by telling the wine steward at a fancy restaurant that your choice for the evening is 'the purple one.'

No. You've got to have a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips. You've got to toss around terms such as 'cork taint,' which sounds like something that violates at least seven of the Ten Commandments but actually refers to the presence of either 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or 2,4,6-tribromoanisole in the wine. You don't want to drink 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or 2,4,6-tribromoanisole, do you?

Actually, considering my miniscule knowledge of both wine and chemistry, I might drink it, on a bet, but only for ten bucks or more. 

Wine lore is very complicated, and wine-lovers are intensely passionate about it. Well, except for Willie, who hangs out around the Wine and Dine. He's passionate about drinking some wine, preferably right now, but he doesn't care whether it's a nice Zinfandel or a bruised Pinot Noir which has been splashed liberally with lighter fluid. 

I have more in common with Willie than with most sommeliers. Sommeliers can sense this, and usually regard me with the kind of glare one reserves for clogged toilets or Roy Moore. Truth is, I've enjoyed wines which were poured from a $3.99 bottle of Wild Blue Yonder twist-cap just as much I have from more sophisticated beverages. Like Willie, I tend to rank alcohol content above such nebulous qualities as mouthfeel and texture. 

But this isn't a blog about truth. It's a blog about wine, and its place in polite society. Considering the state in which we find 'polite society' these days, truth has no place at the table, and probably shouldn't even be in the dining room.

That said, there are eight basic types of wine. Or eleven, or four. Depends on who you ask, and how much wine they've had. But we'll go with eight. They are:

1) Cabernet Sauvignon (pronounced 'Cab-er-nay Saw-vine-yawn.' Or, if in Mississippi, 'Cab-er-nay That-purple-one'). Cabernet Sauvignon is best served with gas-station fried chicken on a stick or suspect leftover Chinese take-out. Also lamb or smoked meats, which if you had any, you wouldn't be reading this blog, so forget all that. Not available at the Wendy's drive-thru. A good choice if you don't know wines because it sounds vaguely French and affords you an opportunity to lord it over that jerk Skeeter when ordering.

2) Syrah, also called Shiraz, because like I said the wine fanciers can't make up their damned minds about anything. Pronounced 'Sear-ah' or possibly 'Qrccktyhsty' or even with a loud brief whistle, for all it matters.  Suggested pairings include Hungry Man frozen dinners, a simple fist-sized lump of monosodium glutamate, or a live Cape buffalo. This is a full-bodied red wine that may have been made in Australia. If so, it probably contains a component of outlandish venoms which may or may not prove fatal. But anybody that can choke down a Hungry Man brand hamburger steak is probably immune to hairy monkey spider cobras anyway, so down the hatch.

3) Zinfandel. Pronounced 'Cirque du Soleil.' Zinfandels are usually favored by circus folk, mainly the chain-smoking chimpanzees. Delicious when served with government-issue cheese or a tempting assortment of squirming mollusks garnished with lit fireworks. A Zinfandel is a red wine, because the circus chimps like watching something dark spiral its way through those complicated loop-de-loop straws. Often associated with a faint aftertaste redolent of sawdust with hints of nitroglycerin.

4) Pinot Noir. Pronounced 'Pee-no More' by persons who consider themselves to be fabulous wits and aren't. Pinot Noir is most often selected for enhancing the subtle flavors of traditional German dishes. Since traditional German dishes are composed almost entirely of sausages and consumed amidst the eye-watering fumes of weapons-grade sauerkraut, no one is really sure what, if any, flavor Pinot Noir presents. I asked Willie, and he just muttered something about galoshes and stump water before shuffling off in a somewhat uncoordinated pursuit of a middling-good Chardonnay.

5) Chardonnay. Pronounced 'the yellow one.' Chardonnays are white wines, which go best with chicken, shrimp, or pre-trial bond hearings. Oak-aged Chardonnay may present spicy, bourbon-y notes. Chardonnay aged in a box, I suppose, will offer imbibers the insouciant flavor of recycled Amazon Prime shipping cardboard, but that's just fine for most informal bachelorette parties. Generally associated with regret, impulsive and unwise eBay purchases, and the phrase 'you've been served.'

6) Sauvignon Blanc. Pronounced 'That one there' while pointing to the wine list. A bitter, tart wine, Sauvignon Blanc hates you, hates your stupid face, hates your shirt and your hat but it especially hates that monocle you though would make you look dashing. Best served with blackmail or murder-for-hire deals, Sauvignon Blanc wants you to know you'd better watch your ass, pal, because your day is fast approaching. Sauvignon Blanc doesn't care what you're serving, as long as you choke on it, and it will leave bits of broken glass on the back of your tongue just to make the point. Enjoy.

7) Pinot Gris. Pronounced 'My, Ain't WE Fancy.' A light-bodied white wine, Pinot Gris is the Millennial of wines, in that all the other wines swear it is lazy, shiftless, lacks any sort of work ethic, and wouldn't have lasted ten minutes back in the day. Sick of being unfairly labeled by older, more acidic wines, Pinot Gris just keeps its earphones in and listens to Green Day while you pour, because who the Hell are you to cast blame when you wrecked the economy and made everything so expensive and what do you know anyway, Grandpa.

8) Riesling. Pronounced 'Baggins, we hates it.' The most reclusive and secretive of all the wines, little is known about Riesling, aside from its fascination with some outlandish ring or other and an unfortunate tendency to strangle passers-by. Originally crafted in the Gladden Fields (near the banks of the Anduin, during the Third Age), Rieslings are still a bone of contention in wine circles. Some insist Rieslings are best accompanied by raw fish or scraps of Orc, while others look on in confusion and assert they are Star Wars fans and wouldn't know about all that 'Elves and fairies nonsense.' At any rate, serve Rieslings with caution, and only to people for whom you have no great affection.

Congratulations! Armed with this newfound knowledge, you are now a worldly, urbane person of elegance and wit. 

Now I'm off to have a beer. See you next week!

Cover image copyright ID 29057871 © Steven Cukrov | Dreamstime

Markhat Cover Reveal: Brown River Queen

I've been asked a couple of times lately how the Markhat series revival is going.

Good news: the new covers are nearly done! And of course, once they're done, all that remains is the conversion of the Word documents into the various commercial formats -- epub, mobi, and the one for the Apple bookstore whose name I can never recall.

That sounds simple. So does climbing Everest, after all, you just keep going uphill until there's no more up and no more hill, right?

As usual, I'm here to help, by clarifying the whole ebook creation process.

If you've ever Googled 'how do I create an ebook' or 'how do I quickly dissolve a corpse,' you probably found dozens if not hundreds of books with titles such as 'Create Your Own Ebook in Three Easy Steps, Before Supper, With no Errors and Also Gain Perfect Teeth and a Desirable Body Shape.' 

I've read a lot of these books. They're all eager and helpful, in a Boy Scout way, full of earnest advice and simple, straightforward, step-by-step instructions.

They are also deceptively slippery pavers on the spiraling path down toward madness.

It ought to be simple. It really ought to be. Microsoft Word is a known actor, right? It's designed to lend itself toward easy conversion into Kindle format, among others. And the how-to books, and the conversion software, truly are written to help you move from manuscript to ebook.

But I am here, with a carefully-concealed bald spot and a seething inner rage, to tell you there is NO easy way to do this, and errors are going to creep in and turn your shiny new ebook into a festering mass of amateurish drivel the moment you hit publish.

Okay. Maybe not for YOU, since you're an intelligent person, a methodical person, a person of fine wit and no small skill with the key-mice and the compute-ors and the Interwebs.

I, on the other hand, am a magnet for inexplicable disasters and one-in-a-million software conflicts that bubble up out of the quantum foam just long enough to twirl their little Snidely Whiplash mustaches and mutter 'Let's see you figure THIS one out, wee man.' 

Word dumps a lot of invisible codes into even simple documents. You can try to strip them out. You can make a heroic effort to leave nothing but text and the most primal, basic formatting instructions. You can clap your hands like a seal and gnaw on raw halibut for all the good your work will do in the end, because -- and I have seen this happen -- the final ebook will look great until someone buys it.

Then you'll find out the hard way that everything after the first comma on page 16 is rendered in all-caps Greek, the page margins are now four inches wide on both sides, and any attempt to turn the page redirects the Kindle user to a website in Ukraine devoted to a certain, er, unseemly interest in goats wearing Nixon masks. 

Okay. Could just be me.  But that's my luck. 

So here's Frank's Handy Guide to Creating Your Own Ebook:

1) While creating the manuscript, don't use the tab key. Ever. Seriously, burn that key off with a small propane torch. When you start the document, go into your paragraph settings and define everything there. No tab keys. Ever. 

2) Don't EVER swap between versions of Word. I once wrote a novel in alternating sessions on my laptop and my desktop, saving and swapping as I went. Word is compatible with Word, right? So what if I was using Word 2010 on one machine and Word 2013 on the other? Well, don't do that. There was stuff buried in that manuscript -- even in text versions of it -- that drove two programmers and a seasoned publishing-industry format pro to the brink of insanity. Get a subscription to Microsoft Office 360. You can load Word on 5 computers. Those docs will hand off flawlessly, and you can save everything on the cloud.

3) When everything is done, when the last edit pass is complete, when you are well and truly ready to convert to ebook format, make sure you are stocked up on hard liquor, Prozac, hand grenades, and money. Take a deep breath. Also take a moment to reflect on the choices that lead you to this grim juncture. Too late now, though, and anyway you know you'd have been a lousy investment banker. 

4) This is the crucial step, the real kicker. Look that Word document right in the eye (yes this is metaphorical, but if your document does appear to have eyes, maybe lay off the Old Overcoat, hmm?). Lock eyes with Word, say aloud "I am the boss of you,' and then for the love of all that is holy hire someone to convert the thing. That's right. Sometimes the best way to win a game is not to play. Steal the silverware on your way out. 

5) Don't hire just anyone. The Web is awash with 'ebook format specialists.' Many are legitimate and competent. Many will simply run your document through the same conversion stuff you can get yourself, usually for free, and declare the process complete. Um. Maybe so, maybe not. Be sure you check out a few titles they've converted before you start throwing money around. If they're not willing to divulge any titles, move on.

Now, I know people who do a marvelous job of doing their own conversions. I'm not one of those people. I'll be using the folks at ADSmith, because I've worked with them on the covers, and they know the ins and outs of the pernicious little buggers that lay in wait between Word format and an ebook.

Speaking of covers, I promised you one, and here it is. This is the new one for BROWN RIVER QUEEN, and it's a Darla cover, and I hope you love it as much as I do.


Brown River Queen

I love it! It'll be on sale soon. Although, and hear me well, gentle reader -- if you already own the Markhat titles, you don't need to go out and buy the new ones. At least until THE DEVIL'S HORN hits, and that won't be for a while yet. 

Until next week, stay safe out there, folks.





Things That Go Bump: Yes, Leave Us Honey Buns

Come on in, no waiting...

Come on in, no waiting...

For today's October 'Things That Go Bump' entry, the three of us conducted a brief EVP session in the cemetery at Tula, MS.

The three of us being myself, Karen, and Daimos, the dog. 

The ability of animals to sense invisible presences is literally the stuff of legend. Dogs and cats have keener senses of smell and hearing than we do. Maybe they can sense other things as well. 

I do recall an incident from many years ago that I still can't explain. At the time, Spot was my dog.

Spot was a junkyard puppy. She was mostly Malamute. She was a beautiful dog -- and she was absolutely the most ferocious and protective canine I've ever met. 

I once saw her attack a hot-air balloon. She had no fear, of anything. And while she loved me, she pretty much hated everything and everyone else. She was not, as someone once told me, 'a warm and fuzzy doggy.' 

One day Spot and I were taking a walk across the back field. It was fall. There was nothing there, save some low grass that had been bush-hogged nearly down to nothing. The field was empty. There was a chill in the air. The sky was overcast, the color of old lead.

We were walking along, dog and man, when, without warning, Spot goes into full-blown furious wolf mode. Her hair stood on end. She went stiff, on point, snarling and growling at -- nothing.

She was not looking at the ground, as though at a snake, or something hiding in the stubble. No, she was poised just as she would have been towards a person -- her eyes and muzzle  uplifted, as though staring at a face.

But there was simply nothing there. I tried to calm her down, but she was having none of it. Her snarling and growling gave way to short lunges and rapid bluff-moves.

When I tried to step ahead, she put her wide butt in front of me, and wouldn't let me pass.

Spot wasn't on a leash. I stepped back, told her to follow. She ignored me, stayed planted where she was, growing more and more agitated by the moment.

I saw nothing. I felt nothing. But seeing Spot go into fight mode over a patch of thin air was unnerving. I'd never seen her do that before, and I never saw her do it again, either.

After about three full minutes of snarling at the unseen, she just stopped. She barked a couple of times, her hackles fell, and after another few seconds she was fine.

We went on our way.

So, did Spot come face to face with something only she could see?

Looked that way. But I'll never know.

So. Daimos, who IS a warm and fuzzy doggy, went with us to Tula today. Karen took Daimos and the Zoom H1 field mic. I took a homemade device I call the magbox, with a digital recorder affixed to it so I could record the session.

The Magbox is something I built. It's simply a very sensitive amplifier with a magnetic pickup as its input source. I use it mainly for debunking, because it can register the distinctive hum of 60 Hertz house current or even the buzz of a nearby cell phone from many feet away. That K2 meter going off? I can sweep the magbox probe by it, and instantly pick out electrical lines or RF signals. In many instances, that's a mystery solved.

But today, I took the magbox to the cemetery. There are no power lines there. No house current. Nothing that should give the magbox anything to amplify.

Turns out, though, I may have made the amp a little *too* powerful, because as soon as I switched it on, the magbox started humming, picking up intermittent stray radio signals from who knows where. Still, I brought the thing, so I decided to keep it on.

About three and a half minutes in, I ask 'Does anyone have anything to say? Anything at all?'

A male voice seems to reply, saying 'Yes, leave us honey buns.'

Look, I just record this stuff, I don't script it.

I offer this recording with a grain of salt. As I stated, the magbox was picking up intermittent RF bursts. Is that what this is?

Could be. Could be something else. I just don't know.

Anyway, listen for yourself by clicking the link below. I looped the reply so you can hear it several times without restarting the clip.


Karen got a single odd BOOP noise, which sounds so mechanical it's obviously something striking the Zoom case, or Daimos' tags clanking together.

We'd only been there about seven minutes when a pickup pulled in behind us.

I've got a rule when out tramping around cemeteries with weird-looking gear. The rule is this -- when pickups pull in, my butt pulls out, with a quickness. I'm not treating the cemetery with any disrespect. I'm not trying to raise any spooks, or commune with evil spirits. I'm not on the Devil's payroll, or even his mailing list -- but trying to debate metaphysics with some furious Deliverance extra is A) usually a waste of time, and B) concussions hurt. 

So we left. 

You can watch the video by clicking the link below. The camera mic didn't pick up a thing, though I did throw a subtitle in the video at the point I was asked to leave pastries.


I hope you've enjoyed these October spooky blog entries. Until next week -- beware the things that go bump in the night!

And Happy Halloween!

Top image 

© Fernando Gregory |

File ID: 28594204




Things That Go Bump: Haunted Hill and Devil's Tower

welcome jack.jpg

I've tromped around reputedly haunted cemeteries in the middle of the night. I've walked the halls of haunted houses -- the real kind -- in the wee hours. I've seen and heard things I can't explain.

What I've never been in those situations is afraid. 

Which isn't to say I'm fearless. I'm not. In fact, I like a good scare.

Since it's October, haunted attractions are up and running, so what better place to go get scared?

Friday night I visited two local haunted houses. Not the actual kind, but haunted attractions run by some very nice people who let me wander around with cameras running.



Haunted Hill and Devil's Tower, both located in north Mississippi, were an absolute blast. I plugged in the address -- 433 County Road 1057, Tupelo, MS, and Google Maps took me right to the parking lot. 

They're located next door to each other, so you don't have to pack up and drive to the next once you're there. Parking is plentiful and well-marked. There is even rope lighting to help you avoid stumbling in the dark.

Admission to each house is a mere five bucks per person (ten total, for both houses, which is a real bargain). I suggest you bring cash. 


These are not hastily-tossed together spookhouses you'll walk through in a minute. They've got light effects, sound effects, animatronics, actors. The scares are the good-natured kind, light on gore. You can bring kids. They'll yell their little heads off, but they won't be so traumatized they'll wind up in therapy. 

I cam equipped with camera gear. One of my cameras is an ancient Sony that shoots in IR, just like you see on ghost-hunting shows. The IR light is invisible to the eye, but the camera can see it just fine.

Most of the footage you'll see in the video I made was shot on the Sony. Keep in mind that I was walking along in the near-dark, blind as all the rest. I didn't see the actors until they were within a foot of me. Jump-scares abound, and due to the unique acoustic qualities of both attractions, it may seem as if I shrieked aloud more than once. But don't be fooled; those cries were those of, um, feral possums. Yes. Roving bands of possums, which sound much like a suddenly frightened fifty-something human. Just one of nature's little tricks. 

I didn't include everything in the video. Just enough to give you a flavor for Haunted Hill and Devil's Tower.

I hope you enjoy it


Again, my thanks to the owners and operator of Haunted Hill and Devil's Tower. You were gracious, and you're running wonderful attractions.

Happy Halloween, folks!




Things That Go Bump: Spirit Boxes


People have been trying to communicate with the Other Side for as long as there have been people, and a need for a little extra income.

That sounded cynical. Well, so be it. Because the history of talking to dead folks is rife with tricks, cons, and sleight of hand. Look no further than the Spiritualist movement of the early 20th century, and the shenanigans that went along with that.

Am I saying that every medium, through all of time, was a money-grubbing fake?

No. I will say that the majority were, and are (I'm looking at you, Theresa Caputo). 

Chicanery as a profession in the form of calling up ghosts is a lucrative one. One one hand, you've got desperate, heartbroken people desperate to find comfort. And when I say desperate, I mean not just ready but eager to empty their bank accounts to hear a few words from the Other Side.  

The dynamic practically creates the fakers and the con artists. Look, you've got a vast flock of sheep bleating to be fleeced -- it's just human nature that some people rush in with shears.

I do know a few people that I believe have genuine talent. They aren't the ones on TV, though. They're out there, working quietly to ease tormented souls. They don't drive fancy cars, or tool around in private jets, and they certainly don't fill arenas at a hundred bucks a head.

Which, in a roundabout sort of way, brings me to tonight's topic -- that of so-called Spirit Boxes.

What is a spirit box, you ask?

It's an AM/FM radio with a seek-and-find feature. You've seen them. You press a button, and the radio finds the next clear station, saving you the trouble of turning a tuner knob. 

But the spirit box radios have been modified, so that the seek feature works, but the 'find and stay put' feature has been disabled. So the radio just keeps cycling through the band (either AM or FM), endlessly looping through the spectrum. 

Listening to such a radio, you'll here random snippets or words, or songs, of commercials, of music. There's nothing magical or paranormal about that. It's just a radio. Take any old-school radio with a tuning dial, turn it rapidly, and you've got nearly the same thing.

Spirit boxes have taken off in the last few years as a paranormal research tool. They're cheap, easy to get, and they speak. 

I've seen quite a few online videos in which a breathless operator claims to have captured a ghost voice using a spirit box. Um.

I take some issue with most of these claims. 

Of course you're getting voices. Words, even. That's inevitable. It doesn't mean there's anything unusual going on.

Unless, in my mind, two conditions are met.

First, the communication would need to be genuine. If I ask the spirit box my name, and it says 'Corolla,' either the spirit is confused or I just caught part of a car commercial. That seems an obvious concept. 

Second, the voice recorded would need to extend past the scan rate of the spirit box. In the examples to follow, I set my box for a scan rate of 150 milliseconds. That means it doesn't stay in any one place long enough to capture a long word, or series of words. 

I have heard recordings that match both criteria. They are rare. I have never personally captured an example of such.

No, when I use the spirit box, I get the sorts of things you'll hear below. 

Some might assert that this lack of communication is due to my own lack of any mediumistic abilities. That might be true. It might not. I have no way of testing the claim, so all I can do is shrug.

In any case, I conducted a spirit box session of my own this afternoon, using the popular P-SB7 Spirit Box unit. I recorded the session using my Zoom H1 mic.


The full session is about ten minutes long. 

My first 'response' occurs about 2 minutes in. I ask the box 'Does anyone have anything to say?' and a few seconds later, you hear faint voices. I have no idea what they are saying, and they are obviously just snippets of a radio show. I wouldn't consider this evidence of anything except the presence of at least two nearby active transmitters. Click below to listen.


Next, we have an apparent response to the question 'What is your name?' A few seconds after I ask that, a male says 'stupid.' So, we either have a ghost with low-self esteem, or again, I captured a stray word from a radio program. 

But had the stray word been 'Roger' or 'Penelope,' some might claim that as evidence of the paranormal. That's why I impose my second criteria on spirit box recordings -- unless the reply is longer than the scan rate allows, it's just coincidence, in my mind. Had the voice said 'Well hello, my name is Roger, I'm quite dead, and you need a haircut,' okay, I'd be inclined to suggest something unusual was taking place.

Click below to listen.


Finally, I'm putting up a link to the full ten minute session, in case anyone is curious. If you find something I missed, please email me and let me know.

I intended to take the spirit box to a local cemetery, but it looked stormy. Getting both soaked and struck by lightning doesn't appeal to me, and anyway if ghosts can use radios I can't imagine why they'd have any trouble beaming voices into my house.


Finally, here's a link to a spirit box session that, if genuine, does appear to consist of actual communication. I make no claims as to the veracity of this material -- it's just an example of what I think real communication might sound like.


See you next week!




Things That Go Bump: The Powerful Bad Luck of DD Dupree


In honor of the Halloween season, I'd like to share something spooky with you tonight.

I sold a short story called 'The Powerful Bad Luck of DD Dupree' to Abyss&Apex back in 2004. It's one of the few stories I've set in the so-called real world. It takes place in 1974, in a small Southern town very much like the one in which I grew up.

It centers around a curse. A very Southern sort of curse, one born of drunken hatred and a wasted life. I was, and am, very proud of the scene in which DD Dupree comes face to face with the source of his infamous bad luck. It's probably one of the best scenes I've ever written.

You can read the story by clicking the link HERE.

Or, you can sit back and listen to the story being read aloud, by yours truly.

Here's the link to the audio version. Just follow it, and click the red PLAY arrow by the title. No downloading, no messing about with apps or podcast stuff. Just click play.


Several of the people and places in the story are based on real people, and real locations. The Browney Woods was actually called the Old Dump Road, and it was a community open dumping ground, the kind of 1970s environmental horror that would never be allowed to exist today. But back then, people simply collected all their trash and drove it down the winding dirt road, until they saw an open spot in the heaps of rotting trash. Then they pulled over, dumped their garbage, and went their merry way.

I always hated that place. It stank. No, it reeked. And there was something in the air, below the fetid odor of decay. Something injured. Something angry. Something that almost welcomed the decaying, the cast-off, the unclean. I always felt eyes upon me there. Cruel, hungry eyes, eyes that looked out of a face shaped by Hell itself.

I still believe something dark crept among the dunes of trash. Today, the heaps of garbage are gone. Bulldozed flat, covered with hard red clay. It's a subdivision now, peppered with cheery red brick houses. I doubt any of the homeowners know what lies beneath the clay.

I don't ever drive that road.

Wade Lee, he was real, too. He lost both his legs and one arm to a corn picker, and he was given a tin-roofed shack as compensation. As a kid, I drank from his rain-barrel, talked to him on his porch. He wasn't bitter, and I suppose that was why I always suspected he had magic of some kind. Maybe he did. 

I hope you enjoy the story. And if it raises the hair on the back of your neck, or causes you to look up when the wind moans as it rushes past, well -- that's a Halloween gift, just for you.





Things That Go Bump: Tula Cemetery EVPs


It's October!

And that means the commencement of my annual 'Things That Go Bump' series, in which I poke the things with which Man was not meant to meddle with a stick. 



And because it's fun. Today, we'll be discussing EVPs. For those unacquainted with the term, EVP is the acronym for 'Electronic Voice Phenomena.' 

EVP voices are captured by ordinary recording devices. The recorder operator generally doesn't hear the voice, which is only heard during playback of the recording. This phenomena was first recognized by Friedrich Jürgenson in 1959, when he heard voices on a recording he made while out trying to capture bird songs. Since then, paranormal researchers have made EVP phenomena a main focus of their investigations, with some fascinating results.

Link to 5 examples of EVP 'voices.'

Are these the voices of the dead, somehow captured by microphones and recorders?

Beats me. I set out to hold an EVP session in a graveyard years ago, right after the rise of the show 'Ghost Hunters.' My intent was, to be honest, to mock the whole concept.

My mockery never materialized, because I caught an EVP my first time out. I know it wasn't faked, and it wasn't audible during the recording. 

So, I was forced to admit the phenomena was real, and I've been capturing them ever since.

I make no claim as to the source of the voices and sounds. I just state that they exist. 

Take today, for instance. My wife Karen and I went to a small cemetery in Tula, Mississippi, a short distance from here. I was armed with my trusty Zoom H1 field recorder, and she had my homebuilt stereo super-ear. Both record digitally. Both were equipped with windscreens. The homebuilt rig, which is insanely sensitive, feeds a pair of Sennheiser earphones and a digital recorder, allowing the operator to listen in as the recording is created. 

We arrived around 1:40 PM. Broad daylight, in other words. I leave that night-time tramping about bit to people who don't have to worry about rattlesnakes and pointed questions from local law enforcement.

We stayed for about 15 minutes. I took photographs at random. While I am sure each and every headstone concealed a ghastly, spectral phantasm, none peeked around to appear in any photos. 

I reviewed my Zoom audio, which contained nothing out of the ordinary. I did become briefly interested in a faint sound toward the end of the session, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a bug flying close to the Zoom's left mic. 

Karen, on the other hand, caught some interesting audio.

Now, EVP voices, most of the time, are faint. These examples are. They are best heard through headphones, or a powerful PC audio system cranked up loud. A tiny laptop speaker may or may not be able to make them audible to you. Just a word of caution.

The first thing we noticed on arriving was a road being cut along one side of the cemetery. Bulldozers are seldom subtle, and the road work got very close to a number of graves. 

Karen commented on this, and asked anyone present if they were bothered by the excavation.

A few seconds later, I found what sounds to me to be a male voice saying 'We don't like it."

A link to the segment is below. First, there's the full recording. Next, I've amplified and looped the odd voice. You can decide for yourself if it is indeed a voice, and, if so, what words it says.

Tula EVP, Full Segment -- "Has it disturbed your rest?" EVP voice is 3 seconds later.

And below is the possible reply. I've amped and looped it, to make it easier to hear. To me, it sounds like 'We don't like it.'

Tula EVP voice, 'We don't like it,' looped.

Yes, it's faint. But, and this is significant, it does at least appear to be a direct response to the question posed about the road construction. If so, that's amazing.

And spooky.

For some examples of other EVPs I've captured, as well as a very plain recording of a glass door rattling without any apparent cause, I refer you to an earlier blog entry. In April of 2016, we spend the night as the Thomas House in Red Boilings Springs, Tennessee, and the phenomena there were very impressive.

Link to the full Thomas House report

This is just the first installment of October's Things That Go Bump series. See you next week, for new exploits in spookiness!










Markhat Cover Reveal: The Broken Bell

The Markhat series revival is still in progress! Today I decided to give you all a sneak peek at the new cover for THE BROKEN BELL.

THE BROKEN BELL is a turning point in the series. Darla's transition from supporting character to full partner begins here, so it's only appropriate that she joins Markhat on the cover.

Thanks again to the fine folks at AdSmith, who created this cover. I can hardly wait to see the next one!


I love the way the artist worked in various elements from the book. There's the Broken Bell itself, of course. The red and white fireflowers. Even the fireworks in the background are significant. 

It's been great working with people who take the time to get the small details right.

If you haven't read the book, THE BROKEN BELL centers on Markhat's search for a missing groom. His fiancee is convinced the young man didn't simply take off, as his family insists. The titular broken bell is part of a long-standing Rannite tradition, which holds that couples married under the so-called broken bell will enjoy long, happy marriages. 

If, that is, anyone manages to live long enough to say 'I do.' 

The Broken Bell also introduced gunpowder and guns to the series. Created in the labyrinth of laboratories hidden beneath House Avalante, rifles, cannon, and revolvers bring about a subtle change in the series narrative. Whereas magic has long been the primary weapon of the rich and the powerful, guns quickly begin to level the field. Magic in Markhat's world is unpredictable, and quite often just as deadly to the practicioner as to the target. But as weapons begin to be mass-produced, the balance of power begins a slow shift away from mercurial sorcery.

But all that happens in the background. What the book is really about is commitment. When faced with the apparent end of the world, Markhat and Darla make what I believe was a brave choice. I hope readers agree.

I'll leave you with a (long) excerpt from THE BROKEN BELL. In this scene, Markhat and his friend Evis the vampire have been whisked away, via sorcery, to the Corpsemaster's secret R&D site, where she is preparing the kind of monstrous weapons that will be employed should war once again visit Rannit. 


     Once Evis was shielded from the sun, we set out.
     The cobblestone circle, Lopside explained, was just the point of arrival. Leading away from it was a cobblestone path that bore the same metallic swoops and turns as the circle. I learned quickly not to try and follow their meandering path, because that made one’s walk unsteady. Piper and Lopside were clear on the deadly consequences of stepping off the path.
     The things lurking in the grass, they explained, were always hungry.
     The path, like the circle, was lined with waist-high wooden stakes each painted a cheery white.
     Human skulls watched from atop each stake. Fresh white skulls, so new they gleamed. Each skull bore an equally preserved pair of bright blue eyes, and every set of eyes in every gleaming skull followed you as you passed.
     “Twenty-two thousand, eight hundred and six,” said Lopside as we walked.
     Evis was faster to catch on than I.
     “How long did it take you to count them?”
     “A month. We get bored sometimes.”
     Skulls. They were talking about the skulls. Twenty-odd thousand.
     I moved my ass to the center of the path.
     “How much farther?” Evis’s voice was strained. Even beneath yards of black silk, I imagined that impossible sun was bright enough to nearly blind him.
     “Not much.” I heard a far-off shout, and Lopside waved us to a halt.
     “They got the oh-threes ready a day early,” he said.
     I was about to ask him what the Hell he meant when something louder and sharper than thunder split the air.
     Bam. Bam. Bam.
     The blasts were so loud I felt them in my chest, felt them rattle my teeth.
     Unseen things in the grass made waves on its surface as they fled. Piper laughed.
     “Reckon they got the mixture just right that time.”
     “Shut your mouth,” Lopside spoke. “Let’s make sure they’re done.”
     Smoke billowed up in the distance. The blasts faded, and the smoke dispersed, blowing over us in gouts.
     It stank. It was strange, but not entirely alien. I realized I’d smelled something like it, once before.
     “Cannon,” said Evis softly. “Remember that smell from Werewilk, Markhat? Same thing.”
     “Ours are better,” said Piper. “They’re still using a two-to-one ratio of—”
     “I said shut your mouth,” snapped Lopside. “No talking out here.”
     Piper reddened and fell silent.
     Evis pulled back enough silk to let me see his dark lenses. “Well. This should prove interesting, after all.”
     A horn blew ahead of us, then again, and again.
     “All clear.” Lopside motioned us forward. “Keep walking. Stay on the path. When you get to the painted red line, close your eyes and take one more step.”
     “You’re not coming?”
     “Orders. Get moving. He doesn’t like to wait.”
     Evis was already in motion. I shrugged and caught up.
     “You know what’s going on?”
     “Not entirely,” he whispered. “But I’ve heard rumors. It seems Avalante’s research into mundane projectile weapons has been resumed by the Corpsemaster.”
     There was nothing around us but a prairie. Ahead was just more of the same, cut only by the curving path we followed.
     “It’s flatter than ogre-stomped. And empty.”
     “I suspect not.” We walked on a bit in silence, and there it was—a thick red line of paint directly ahead, marking the end of the cobblestone path.
     And nothing on the far side of it but weeds.
     Evis paused. I looked back but Piper and Lopside were hoofing it toward the carriage.
     Evis and I were privy to a few of the Corpsemaster’s most intimate secrets. I knew the location of the house she called home. We both knew of the army of the dead she kept hidden in plain sight across Rannit.
     Knowing such secrets doesn’t help either Evis or I sleep soundly.
     Because if we were to both vanish suddenly, say after being eaten by whatever lurked amid those tall grasses, the Corpsemaster could sleep more soundly.
     “I’ll go first, if you wish,” Evis offered.
     “Bah. You’d just snatch up all the good beer. Better we go together, don’t you think?”
     Evis laughed and nodded. We made our way to the painted red line. Evis threw his hood back and grimaced at the sun, and I loosened my collar and pushed down my hat.
     We stepped across at the same time. I’ll have to ask Evis if he closed his eyes, like Lopside suggested. I know I damned well didn’t.
     There was a flash, and a sensation of falling, and then the sneaky sun swung around so that it shone not in my face, but on my back.
     And then there was noise. And men. And wagons and horses and the fall of hammers and the smell of wood burning.
     Hell, we had just stepped into the midst of a bustling work camp. A line of canvas Army field tents stretched off as far as I could see. Stables and barns followed it. Tall brick smokestacks attached to tin-roofed sheds dotted the landscape haphazardly. The stink of a nearby outhouse filled my nose. Men ambled, marched or idled by the hundreds.
     All of them had just appeared from nowhere.
     I turned around.
     The cobblestone path was gone. Behind us was a smaller circle, twin to the big one we’d left behind, ringed by a thick band of bright red paint.
     Beyond it was sand. Red sand, red rocks, shadows that fell long and dark over a wasteland the color of rust.
     My head began to pound anew.
     Evis pulled his hood back over his face.
     “Hurrah. We’re not dead.”
     “Not yet.”
     “Always the ray of sunshine.”
     A dozen armed men trotted toward us. The one in the lead slowed and met my gaze. He had a pair of vertical silver pips on the front of his cap, barely big enough so see.
     “Mr. Markhat. Mr. Prestley. Welcome to the Battery. Come this way.”
     The man was bellowing. Bellowing, but smiling. I bellowed right back.
     “Says who?”
     He frowned. “The Corpsemaster. That good enough for you?”
     I sighed. “Sorry. We’ve been knocked out and sent on a hike and the sun keeps changing places. It’s not been a good morning.”
     A wagon rolled up behind the troops eyeing Evis and me. I didn’t even notice at first it was being driven by a corpse.
     The ponies whinnied and stamped their feet, looking back over their shoulders nervously.
     “Well, you won’t be walking anymore. Get on.”
     He turned and dismissed his detail. They faded into the milling crowd with obvious relief on their faces.
     “I’ll come along, give you the two penny tour.” He stuck his hand out. “Call me Rafe.”
     I shook his hand. He was still shouting. I began to wonder if the man was partially deaf. If so, he was getting an early start. He was probably ten years my junior.
     “I’m Markhat. You knew that. This is my friend Evis. He’s a deaf mute.”
     “I am nothing of the sort.” Evis shook Rafe’s hand as well. “Just Rafe? No rank?”
     Rafe shrugged. “Orders. We don’t talk rank with outsiders.” He climbed aboard the wagon, sliding right up to the corpse without any sign of hesitation before turning around and motioning Evis and I into the bed of the wagon. “You probably have questions.”
     We clambered aboard. The dead man stank, but there wasn’t a fly to be seen.
     The corpse snapped his reins, and we rolled forward, winding our way between men and mounts and stacks of lumber and wafts of odd-smelling smokes.
     “So this is where the Corpsemaster is building his cannons.”
     I hadn’t phrased it as a question. I certainly hadn't referred to the Corpsemaster as 'she.' That was going to remain our little secret.
     Rafe nodded. He was sun burnt and peeling. His hair was sticking out in shaggy red clumps beneath his cap. The skin on the backs of his hands was pocked with tiny burns. “Has been for ten months. How’s the weather back home? Storms been bad this spring?”
     “No worse than usual. You haven’t been back?”
     “Nobody goes back, unless it’s in a bag. But the pay. Oh, the pay.” Rafe grinned.
     Evis leaned forward. “So, the cannons? They are operational?”
     “You’ll see for yourself. But yes. We can blow the shit out of ten-foot thick walls from a mile away. Knock down infantry by the hundreds with one shot. In another month, we’ll have the big aught-eights ready to ship back home.” He waited for a response, obviously under the impression that either Evis or I had any idea what a big aught-eight might be. “An aught-seven can put a hundred pound shell nearly six miles. We figure the eights can do nine.”
     Rafe raised his hands at our blank faces. “Sorry. I’m getting ahead of myself. Look. You know how cannons work?”
     “A thick iron tube is packed with a powder that explodes when lit by a spark. This propels an iron sphere out of the tube at great speed.” Evis looked at Rafe over the tops of his dark glasses. “Is that correct?”
     Rafe nodded and grinned. “That’s exactly how the first cannon, the old Henry, worked, Mr. Prestley. Were you on the halfdead—er, the Avalante team—working on them, during the War?”
     “I was not,” replied Evis. “But I’ve read their reports.”
     “Then you know about the problems they faced. The unstable powder. The balls that got stuck and cracked the cannon bodies. Misfires. Duds.”
     Evis nodded, with a sideways glance at me. Whoever Rafe was, one thing was clear—the boy liked his cannons.
     Rafe waved his hands. “We’ve fixed all that. No more random explosions. Well, hardly ever. No more cracked shafts. And the rounds—Mr. Prestley, we have explosive rounds now. Timed rounds. We can penetrate walls or burst them in the air over troops or…”
     Rafe went on, describing in intricate, enthusiastic detail a brand new method of slaughter. I couldn’t follow all of it. There was talk of trajectory calculators and paper fuses and friction primers, delivered in a throaty bellow that got hoarser as Rafe grew more animated.
     I shrugged at Evis and quit trying to follow Rafe’s running description of Parrot guns and howitzers.
     I watched the camp instead.
     Everywhere I looked, there was more of it. More and more of the structures were brick. The largest brick buildings were set apart from other structures and flanked by thick mounds of sand. I spotted a couple of suspicious building-sized holes in the ground, also flanked by mounds and heaps of rubble that had been left where they fell.
     And everywhere there were men, moving with a purpose. They wore the same plain uniforms. My original estimate of hundreds was quickly giving way to thousands. No one shied away at sight of the dead man driving the wagon.
     In the distance, I heard crashes and booms. Not thunder, as it lacked the volume and intensity, but something much like it.
     Rafe grinned. “They’re just burning old powder kegs,” he shouted. “Can’t re-fill ’em. They tend to blow.”
     “Wouldn’t want that,” I agreed.
     Rafe turned back to Evis and resumed his cheery recounting of the wonders of an aught-eight, which could apparently be crewed by six men and fire twice a minute.
     I thought back to the weapons Evis and I had seen that day, many months ago, at Werewilk. They had been small affairs, and yet a few of them had brought down the entire House within moments. The things Rafe were shouting about were, I gathered, rather more destructive.
     A chill ran up and down my spine.
     Thousands of soldiers. A frantic, secret weapons development program. Funding that flowed from a bottomless purse—hell, just feeding several thousand men would require tens of thousands of crowns a day. But if you also have to clothe them and house them and pay them and provide them with big Aught Eights to fire, you were getting ready for something bigger than just another Victory Day parade.
     “Rafe,” I yelled, cutting him off in mid-sentence. “When’s the big day?”
      “The big day? Sir?”
     “When do the first of the big ones ship back to Rannit?”
     I was guessing. But it was plain Rafe didn’t know how much or how little we knew.
     He almost answered me. But then a ghost of caution whispered in his sunburnt ear, and he bit back the words.
     “Best ask the Corpsemaster, sir. I’m just an engineer.”
     I didn’t need a date anymore. I’d seen such a date existed.
     And that scared me worse than any number of dead carriage drivers or mysterious booms.
     Evis regarded me over his glasses and then drew Rafe back into a spirited recounting of something called a back-handled caisson stabilizer.
     I put my head in my hands.
     Rannit was going to war. The words ran hobnailed through my mind.
     The carriage driver turned and winked. I stared at my boots for the rest of the ride.
     “Mr. Prestley. Markhat. Welcome to the Battery.”
     The Corpsemaster had shed her customary female body for a male one. Her new body showed no signs of trauma or decay, save for a paleness of features and dark circles under his unblinking eyes. The body was maybe twenty-five. Its hands were smooth. He looked like a banker would look the morning after he breathed his last.
     I nodded a greeting. Evis did the same. Rafe stood shifting from foot to foot, staring at the dirt.
     “Prepare a Howler crew,” the Corpsemaster said to Rafe.
     Rafe straightened, beaming. “Solid or explosive round?” he asked without a hint of fear or any honorific. “The new short delay shells are ready.”
     The Corpsemaster chuckled. “You choose,” she said. “Make haste.”
     Rafe charged away, bellowing at the gaggle of soldiers who lingered nearby.
     The Corpsemaster smiled a dry little smile and began to walk. She was setting a brisk pace on the dead man’s legs.
     “I trust your journey was not unacceptably unpleasant?”
     We had to trot to keep up. 
     “Not at all,” I said. “Very restful, as a matter of fact.”
     “Liar.” The Corpsemaster glanced sideways at me. “The secrecy under which the Battery operates is paramount. I can make no exceptions, even for old and trusted friends.”
     Old and trusted friends. Neither Evis nor I dared comment.
     “You nearly saw me bested by a pair of cannon, not so many months ago,” continued the Corpsemaster. We were climbing a small hill toward a perfectly flat top. “I will not be bested again. Behold, gentlemen. I give you the future of warfare. Angels help us all.”
     Below us stretched a long, shallow valley. The other side of it was maybe three hundred yards distant, and the bare, sandy soil was blasted down to the reddish bedrock in some places.
     A dozen or so flat-topped hills lay beside ours, all in a careful line. I wondered how many thousands of shovels had worked to create this.
     Wheels rattled up behind us, and a dozen men with them.
     And then something else.
     I’d seen such a thing before—a thick-walled iron cylinder taller than me, and fatter, and hollow. Fixed to a pair of wagon wheels, and the wheels were fixed to a sturdy wooden tail that kept the cylinder aimed upwards at a slight angle.
     “Follow,” said the Corpsemaster. We did, barely getting out of the way of the cannon and its crew.
     Rafe trotted up, wiping his hands on a rag. “Now?” he asked.
     The Corpsemaster pulled out a shiny brass pocket watch. “Now,” she said, starting it with a click.
     Rafe whirled. “Load,” he bellowed.
     Six men snapped from stillness to action, handling tools and descending on their machine with the studied precision of a bawdy hall dance troupe. One dipped a sponge set on a pole into a water bucket and ran it down the throat of the cylinder. Another shoved a burlap parcel into the barrel as soon as the sponge was out. The sponge man whirled his pole around and pushed the burlap parcel to the back of the barrel while a man at the rear slammed something shut on the cannon’s back end.
     Evis poked me in my gut and then stuck his fingers in his ears. I followed suit.
     It dawned on me why Rafe seemed half-deaf despite his youth.
     The contrivance was aimed quickly by a man in the rear, who sighted along the tube and adjusted the rear-facing tail with a hooked wooden rod set into the end of the tail. Two other men fussed with a massive iron sphere and hoisted it expertly into the cannon’s maw despite its apparent weight.
     That was rammed home and tapped twice. All but the spongeman were behind the cannon by the second tap, and he joined them a heartbeat later. There was motion, one of the men at the rear shouted “Ready,” and then Rafe bellowed, “fire.”
     The Corpsemaster clicked her stopwatch.
     The cannon cried thunder, and heaved a great gout of smoke, and the blast hit me in the chest with sufficient force to knock the fool breath right out of me.
     On the far wall of the Corpsemaster’s young valley, something struck and exploded, sending up a vast plume of shattered earth and leaving behind a smoking crater large enough to hide wagons.
     “Twenty-six seconds,” said the Corpsemaster.
     The Corpsemaster repeated herself. Rafe heard it that time, and started bellowing at his crew, who were by then halfway ready to fire the awful thing again.
     The thing—the cannon—needed only a crew of six stalwart young men. No years of sorcerous schooling. No decades of perfecting spells that themselves took years to create.
     Just six men, a cannon and whatever bits of iron and powder they stuffed into the thing.
     “Heaven help us.”
     I didn’t realize I’d spoken aloud.
     “That, gentleman, was a Howler. Firing an explosive ten-pound round fused to detonate a half of a second after firing. Its effectiveness as a projectile weapon is formidable, especially considering it can be fired twice a minute until the barrel begins to soften.”
     “That’s twenty-two rounds with this barrel,” shouted Rafe. “Then we have to douse it with water and wait twenty minutes. The newer ones will go twenty-seven rounds.”
     “Indeed.” The Corpsemaster smiled. “I trust you gentlemen are favorably impressed. I shall never again be caught lacking appropriate firepower.”
     “It’s a big chunk of Hell put on cute little wheels.” I couldn’t force a smile. “And I gather this is a small one, at that.”
     “It is the smallest of the mobile units. Designed for use against infantry and enemy guns in a changing battlefield environment.”
     “And just when do you foresee this battlefield being joined?”
     “Fire,” bellowed Rafe, and again the cannon belched fire and raised a rain of shattered rocks on the far side of the valley.
     “Thank you, Rafe. That was three seconds faster. Return the weapon to the armory.”
     Rafe nodded and barked out the orders.
     Within moments, Evis and the Corpsemaster and I were alone on the flat-topped hill.
     I surveyed the far side of the valley. It was blasted and scarred down to the bedrock, and that too was shattered and pitted. I thought of Rannit’s old walls. Centuries to build.
     Hours to be felled.
     The Corpsemaster sighed. Even for a dead man, she looked suddenly tired and sad.
     “What I am about to tell you is unknown, outside the High House. I trust you will keep it so. Because, gentleman, war is coming to Rannit.”
     Smoke from the cannon drifted over us. In the distance, Rafe’s powder kegs burst, one after another, with the sound of infant thunder.
     Evis spat a cuss word.
     The Corpsemaster smiled through pale lips. “Don’t despair, gentlemen. This time, you’ll both be officers. With rather handsome pay.”
     I groaned, plopped my ass down in the red sand, and narrowly avoided crying like a fresh-spanked baby.

Frank's Guide to the Great Eclipse of 2017


I suppose it was inevitable.

I'm losing my sense of wonder. Yes, I know the shadow of the Moon will sweep across North America on Monday, bringing a few moments of darkness to the middle of the day in a rare event swathed in splendor and wonder.

Truth is, if I was forced to choose between watching a new episode of 'Rick and Morty' and viewing the eclipse, I'd seat myself comfortably and silence my phone, because...Rick and Morty. Every time.

So where did I go wrong? Is my lack of awe the result of age, or creeping cynicism, or just sheer laziness?

Heck if I know. But, since so many people are genuinely excited about the eclipse, here are my tips and tricks for viewing it safely. Have fun, and remember, you cast a shadow too pretty much all the time. But hey, to each his own.


Scientists will tell you the eclipse is caused when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, thus casting a moving shadow upon the land.

Sure. That's what they WANT you to believe. But as our friends the Flat Earthers teach us, this is poppycock and doggerel. What's really happening, you ask?

In reality, a great battle will take place between the Ascended Spoon-Flingers of Seventh Hell and the sinister celestial armies of the seraphim, the Nephilim, and the Nephilim Ladies' Auxiliary, whose combined forces are referred to in ancient texts as the 'Haints and Boogers.'  This epic clash between the forces of light and darkness will, for a few moments, blot out the Sun, plunging the Earth into chaos and confusion.

Oops. Okay, looks like the 'chaos and confusion' bit got here a few years early. Anyway.

As the battle rages, darkness will fall. Or, more accurately, move in a mathematically predictable path across the Earth's surface. Given the average human's grasp of celestial mechanics, this will be pretty scary. In ancient times, this roaming circle of midnight would be greeted with human sacrifice, with terror, with shouted imprecations toward cold, unfeeling gods who themselves fled from the malevolent darkness.

Today, it's met with mass purchases of overpriced and highly suspect eclipse glasses, which are manufactured with less care to technical precision than a midnight-shift batch of Gummi Bears. But hey, you KNOW you can trust those high-dollar cardboard sunshades, because Ebay is the foremost purveyor of medical devices, right?

But I digress. 

Far above the Flat Earth, a battle will rage. Unimaginable arcane forces will be hurled. Good shall strike at the dark heart of Evil, and Evil will look up from the comments section of YouTube and hurl something nasty involving snakes and hemorrhoids right back. Angels will fall. Demons will perish. You may experience brief pixelation events on your satellite TV, or persistent dryness of eyes and mouth. Small hotels in the path of totality will be blessed with massive but short-lived profits. Dogs will bark. Birds will call up unto the wounded sky, crying out in the ancient tongue, hey, knock it off, we're trying to lay eggs down here.

Such are the ways of the Old Ones. Quail, mortal! Fall to your knees, being careful not to spill your latte, for primal energies writhe and coil about you. 

Then, after about two minutes, everything will return to normal. Look, since worship of the Old Ones has shrunk pretty much to particularly spirited D&D games, budgets aren't what they once were. 

I may even look up from Rick and Morty, and honor the celestial marvel with an eye-roll and a sigh of annoyance at all the racket.


The best time to view the eclipse is the next day, when you're bored, and have two minutes and access to the net. Just click on one of the 11,789,345 available eclipse videos and enjoy the spectacle from the comfort of your donut-encrusted lair. Wow, see that? It got dark. The sun's disc changed shape. Awesome. Hey look, kittens playing with a Gummi Bear!

But if you insist on viewing the eclipse as it occurs, BE SAFE. Those Dollar Tree visors are probably not what they're cracked up to be.

You know the Sun is a blazing ball of fusing hydrogen dumping out enough energy every second to incinerate a billion times a hundred billion pairs of beady little human eyes, right? That's fusion taking place up there. Even the Nephilim wear Kevlar robes when they decide to make a close pass. 

The best way to view this event is by projection, and you've already got all the stuff you need, right there in your kitchen. A cereal box. Heck, basically ANY cardboard box. A piece of aluminum foil. Tape. Scissors. Maybe a razor knife.

Here's how you do it.

1) Cut out one end the box. That's where the scissors come into play. Leave your blowtorch in the garage. If you're using a cereal box, I suggest cutting off the top, because it's a mess anyway. I suppose there are people who start their day by carefully opening the flaps and tabs and then closing them neatly after the Count Chocula is dispensed, but I've got things to do so I just tear into the thing with all the finesse of a rabid leopard. Anyway, remove one end. 

2) Replace the box end you just removed with a nice flat sheet of white paper. Typing paper? Cool. White cardboard? Equally effective. Just so it's flat.

3) You did empty the box of cereal, right? Okay. Good. Just checking, because not everyone thinks these things through, ARNOLD.

4) On the OTHER end of the box, tape it over, sealing it. You need two more openings, each about two inches square, one on each side. Precision isn't really important here. 

5) Okay, now it gets all technical. The opening on the RIGHT side of the lid will be the viewing port. Leave it alone.

6) Cover the opening on the LEFT side with a smooth-ish square of aluminum foil. Tape it down tight.

7) In the center of the foil, take a needle, a small nail, or a pin and carefully poke a small hole in the foil. The bigger the hole, the larger the image -- but for every increase in pinhole size, you add a bit of fuzziness to the projected image.

8) You're done. To view the eclipse safely, stand facing away from the sun. Hold the box up over your left shoulder and aim the pinhole at the Sun while looking through the viewing hole. Orient the box so that an image of the sun is projected on the far back of the box, right onto the white paper you taped there in Step 2.

9) Enjoy the raging battle in the Heavens. Those screams you may hear are those of the people who chose poorly when buying their silly eclipse glasses. 

Below are pictures of the box I made, as a visual reference.



The projected image is probably going to be the size of a pencil eraser. If you're looking for a mind-blowing visual experience, quick, run out and drop three or four grand on high-end telescopes and solar viewing gear. Otherwise, you're messing around with boxes and tape, so don't expect too much.

The moments following the eclipse are the best time to pick a few pockets as the people permanently maimed by those bargain-bin eclipse glasses writhe in agony on the ground. 

Yep, it's a world of wonder out there. Darkness in the afternoon, big rocks moving in circles, strange shadows cast briefly upon the ground. What's next? Regular tides? Wind? 

Call me when sand dunes start break dancing. 

I leave you with a brief clip of a truly amazing confrontation between the ancient forces of Science and Evil. Beware, mortal, this is not for the faint of heart...

Rick Meets The Devil






Nazis. Seriously, Nazis.

Grocery shopping in America, circa 2019  

Grocery shopping in America, circa 2019


I'm about to break one of my own rules for blogging.

Rule #6 clearly states 'Never blog about politics. No good can come of it.'

That rule held true for many years. But that was back in a kinder, gentler time, when politics was, for the most part, a question of semantics. I believe there was a time when both parties here in the US honestly believed they were working for the good of the quasi-mythical Average Joe.

Debate that if you will, but it's all irrelevant now. Because now we have Nazis roaming the streets, plowing cars into crowds, and even drafting policy in the White House (Bannon and Miller both have strong ties to the so-called alt-right; that's a fact, not an opinion). 

There. I said it. Maybe it pissed a few people off. But at this point, I just don't care. 

Like it or not, modern America is becoming the Weimar Republic. And we all know how that turned out. 

Don't believe me? Look outside. Swastikas are waving. Rallies and violence are sprouting like fungi. The net is festering with a growing undercurrent of poorly-spelled, grammatically-suspect hate. Worse, this hate has learned to shave, put on a tie, and give interviews that only serve to normalize the whole degenerate movement.

And it is degenerate. Anybody that has to look to the color of their skin to feel superior to anyone else is a moron of the lowest order. No. Let me amend that -- anyone who has to feel superior to anyone else is a moron. We're not being graded by color, or religion.  We're not being graded at all. There's no actual need to put a boot in anyone else's face. No black man or woman has ever taken a thing from me. Neither have gay folks. Neither have Jewish people, or anyone else.

But that's all very esoteric. Let's make things a bit more concrete.

Heather Hyer is dead, after being run down by a Nazi in a car. On an American street. 

She's DEAD. Not inconvenienced or injured. Dead. Because somehow America has become a place where Nazis and other assorted flag-waving lunatics are crawling out from beneath their damp rocks in increasing numbers. 

Which is why I'm breaking Rule 6. 

It's up to those of us who aren't xenophobic racist nutjobs to stand up and make our voices heard too. It's up to us to make it clear to the cockroaches that, for all its flaws, America is in fact a melting pot, that we are all brothers and sisters, that hate has no place out in the bright light of day.

So screw Rule 6. I won't be counted as another silent German, who saw what was coming but decided to remain silent and hope things worked themselves out somehow. History teaches us that's too big a risk to take.

Stay safe out there, friends. Hate and rage is in the air, hanging like a fog composed of gasoline. The wrong spark, at the wrong time, and we could all be engulfed.






Yet Another Markhat Cover Sneak Peek!

A couple of weeks ago, I posted the cover for THREE MEAN STREETS.

Today, I'm going to reveal the covers for the next books in the Markhat series revival, HOLD THE DARK and THE BANSHEE'S WALK.

For anyone not familiar with the series, HOLD THE DARK is the book in which Markhat meets Darla. He also meets Evis, the bookish gangster vampire, who becomes a series regular as well.

Darla leaped into the series like she'd been waiting impatiently all along. I was still on the fence in the matter of any romantic involvement for Markhat, but any indecision vanished the moment Markhat was ushered into her tiny office at the Velvet.

If you looked at the very broad outline I'd prepared for the book, Darla was there simply to provide a few clues and some light comic relief. But she was having none of that, outlines be damned, and within a couple of chapters I realized my detective series was now a party of two. 

Here's the moment Markhat and Darla meet. Markhat has been hired to find and bring home a seamstress named Martha Hoobin. Markhat's search for clues takes him to the Velvet, a renowned house of negotiable affected where Martha made clothes. 


    I eased my pace and counted monstrous trees. I passed beneath sixteen scarred blood-oaks before reaching the intersection of Broadway and Hent. And there, at the corner, loomed the Velvet—three slate-roofed, glass-windowed, brass-worked, brick-walled stories of steamy adolescent fantasies come absolutely positively true.
    The big oak front doors faced south, toward me. The Velvet was set back from the street a stone's throw, surrounded by lush meadow-grass, bubbling fountains, and knee-high beds of fireflowers. A flight of wide, shallow marble stairs led from the cobblestone walkway to the brass-worked oaken doors. A single bored ogre leaned against the door, his arms folded across his chest, his eyes ahead and unblinking. 
    You seldom see ogres dressed in anything more than a sarong and sandals. The Velvet's doorman, though, wore a long-cut red tail-coat, black dress pants, black boots and white silk shirt with ruffles at the sleeves. All specially made and generously cut, of course, to accommodate his bulging ogre muscles and furry ogre frame.
    I emerged from the shade of the last blood-oak and marched toward the Velvet. The ogre's wet brown gaze picked me up as I darted across Hent, and he watched me every step of the way after.
    I eased onto the cobblestone walk, took a deep breath. The air smelled of fireflowers and a faint gentle perfume, and it was cooler there than even in the blood-oak’s shade.
    I ambled through the flower-beds, halted at the foot of the stair. The ogre hadn’t moved.
    I nodded and lowered my gaze briefly in greeting. Which may have been a mistake. I doubted that the Velvet’s clients were terribly concerned with matters of ogreish etiquette. But it never hurts to make friends.
    He didn’t blink, or return my eye-dip.
    I shrugged. “May I enter?”
    He let my words hang for a moment. Then, with a great show of elaborate grace, he doffed his three-cornered, feathered hat, stepped out of my path, and motioned me to the doors with a grand, easy sweep of his clawed four-fingered hand.
    “Enner, ’ordship,” he growled, grinning around his tusks. “Enner.”
    The doors opened as I hit the top step, and then I was inside, leaving sarcastic ogres and the clatter and rumble of downtown Rannit behind.
    The doors shut. You know the Velvet doors are shut because all the street noise stops. You take a breath and the scent of the beds of fireflowers is gone, but something sweeter and more subtle rides the air.
    My jaw dropped. I’d been inside the High House, right after the War, but the Velvet put the Regent’s digs to shame.
    I was alone for perhaps ten heartbeats. I breathed the sweet air, gawked at the gleaming marble tiles, the dark rich walnut paneled walls and the general glowing opulence of the place.
    The gold-plated coat-hooks by the door were probably worth more than my entire building, fifteen blocks away.
    One of the three tall white doors on the far side of the foyer opened, and a woman entered. It was then I realized the Velvet kept a sorcerer in its hire.
    He or she knew the business. The woman that approached was absolutely the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen, human, Elvish or otherwise.
    She glided to stand before me. She was blonde and tall and had eyes the color of the high noon sky in the country.
    “How may we serve you, sir?”
    I mopped sweat off my brow, and I had to clear my throat twice before words would come.
    “You could turn down the charm a few notches. I’m not here as a client. I’m a finder, looking for one of your associates. Her name is Martha Hoobin. I’m told she was a seamstress here.”
    The room tilted and I jerked, as though the floor had dropped an inch or two.
    When I looked back up, she was still there, still beautiful, but I wasn’t mentally counting my life savings and wondering if all of it would buy me an hour.
    “Hooga,” she called out, not to me. “Wait here.”
    The twin to the ogre at the door came thump-thumping from behind an alcove concealed by thick red drapes. He moved to stand at my side.
    The woman turned and retreated, gliding through her door without a glance or word of farewell.
    My heart broke. I took a deep breath, mopped more sweat away and turned toward the well-dressed ogre.
    “Greetings, Hooga,” I said, dipping my gaze. “I am Markhat. How do you stand that mojo, all the time?”
    Hooga didn’t reply, but he did dip his gaze and grin.
    Maybe I’d made a friend after all.
    The doors at the far end of the room opened again, and another woman stepped out.
    The blonde lady had floated in, all promise and lace and gauze. This new arrival was a brunette, clad in a high-necked brown shirt and comfortable-looking black pants. She was tall and thin, and she was not smiling.
    The mojo lingered, though, and it did its best to turn my thoughts from purity, which meant it was reduced to the arcane equivalent of whispering things like “see how she wears that pencil seductively behind her right ear” and “those pants are rather tight, in a loose sort of way, are they not?”
    She crossed the foyer, her sensible black shoes tap-tapping a quick cadence on the marble floor. She got within a pace of me, halted, smiled and stuck out her hand—not flat, palm down for milord to kiss, but held out to shake.
    “Hello,” she said, in a good strong voice. “I’m Darla. I keep the books here. Wendy tells me you’re asking questions about Martha Hoobin.”
    I took her hand and shook it.
    “I am. My name is Markhat. I’m a finder. Martha’s brothers hired me.”
    “They waited long enough.” She freed my hand. “Shall we talk in my office?”
    I nodded, and she looked at Hooga and dipped her gaze. “Thank you, Hooga,” she said. “I don’t think Mister Markhat will need a beating today. I’ll call out if he changes his mind.”
    Hooga snuffled a chuckle and shuffled off to his post. Darla turned her big brown gaze back to me and motioned toward the leftmost door.
    “If you’ll come this way.”
    “Gladly,” I replied. My mouth was still nearly too dry to talk. She smiled at me and set off, leading the way.
    The white door opened after she tapped out a complicated knock and mouthed a long harsh word. No one was on the other side.
    The door shut itself behind us, and I heard it click as the spell locked it down.
    “You’ve got more spells here than the High House,” I said. Our steps fell quiet on thick red carpet. We walked not quite shoulder to shoulder in a long and narrow hall.
    “They cost a fortune, but so does trouble,” she replied, as we ambled along. The hall was high-ceilinged, lit only by lamps set every ten paces or so along the wall. Doors showed here and there, and moving light at bottoms of some, but absolutely not a sound. “You’re not exactly being held in thrall though. Most men couldn’t resist Wendy and the conjure at once.”
    She wasn’t looking at me, so I mopped sweat and wiped my hand on my pant leg.
    “I was in the Army for eight years. I’ve had more hexes cast on me than the Court Stone. They don’t stick very well anymore.”
    Darla laughed. “I’ll have to tell Wendy. She was nearly in tears when she found me. No one has ever noticed the conjure. She thinks she’s losing her touch.”
    I shook my head. “Not at all,” I said. “Tell her that my priestly vows forbade me to view her in other than a pure and sisterly light.”
    She halted at a door, turned, put her hand on the plain brass knob. “Do come in, Father. Don’t mind the clutter.”
    She went, and I followed.
    Darla’s office was small—about, in fact, the size of mine. She had a battered oak desk that showed scorch marks on one side, a rolling leather-backed chair that squeaked when she moved it, a cracked crystal flower vase for holding pencils and a dented brass spittoon set to the right of the desk for a wastebasket. A magelamp hung from the ceiling on a plain steel chain, the walls were lined with bookshelves and the bookshelves were lined with ledgers. Each ledger bore a neat handwritten label—a string of nonsense numbers and a date, written out in a neat, precise hand that I knew immediately was Darla’s.
    Her desk was covered with ledger sheets and a pile of ragged-edged store receipts and one of those newfangled adding dinguses that the Army introduced a few years back—colored beads on wires in a square wood frame.
    A second chair faced Darla’s desk. Like the one in my office, it lacked wheels, and was probably intended to provide a seat without making its occupant so comfortable that they overstayed their welcome.
    Other than a new black coat on a hook on the back of her door, that was it.
    Darla smiled, moved behind her desk, sat and motioned for me to do the same. “I’ll help however I can. Ask away.”
    I sat. “You know Martha Hoobin.” I knew she did. She’d even pronounced her name correctly—Mart-ha, not Martha—out in the foyer.
    “She’s our best seamstress,” replied Darla.
    “Seamstress,” I said, with no particular emphasis. Darla laughed. The magelamp’s warm gold light flashed in her eyes.
    “Martha had a gift for sewing, and an eye for clothes. The outfit Wendy was wearing—that was one of Martha’s. An early one, in fact. She’s improved since then.”
    “How long has she been with the Velvet?”
    “Six years. We were friends,” she added. “I’ll miss her.”
    I nodded. “So you don’t think she’s coming back?”
    “Would you be here, if she were just away on holiday? Would she have left her brothers without a word if she ever meant to return?”
    “I don’t know her, but from what I’ve heard, probably not.”
    Darla shrugged, and the twinkle went out of her eyes. “She left without collecting her pay. Do you find that unusual?”
    “I do.” I meant it. The Hoobins hadn’t mentioned that. And while I have seen people walk away from money, I’ve only seen them do it when they’re terrified. Finding that terror. That’s the tricky part.
    I leaned back in my chair and sighed. “You’re her friend. So tell me. Who is she? Who is Martha Hoobin?”
    Darla leaned forward. She took the pencil from behind her ear and began to doodle on a scrap of green ledger-paper, and I doubt she even realized she was doing it.
    “Martha.” She frowned as she scribbled. “Martha, well, Martha is a Hoobin.”
    I laughed.
    “You’ve met her brothers?”
    “All ten tons of them,” I replied. “Stalwart lads, each one. You could cut the air of their rural stability with a knife.”
    Darla nodded. “That’s a big part of Martha. Work hard, never complain, be polite—”
    “Whoa,” I said, gently. “I got all that from the brothers. What I want to know from you are the things they didn’t know, or wouldn’t tell.”
    “The deep dark secrets all us girls share you mean?”
    “The very ones.”
    Darla frowned. “Damn.”
    “Oh no. Surely you don’t mean there aren’t any.”
    She shrugged. “Martha was a saint.” She noticed the pencil for the first time, and put it down on the desk, neatly aligned beside the ledger. “She didn’t drink. She didn’t carouse. She sewed, she fed birds in the Park at lunch, she loved violin music and all the girls liked her.” Darla spread her hands. “Hooga and Hooga brought her ogre hash every Armistice Day,” she said. “You know anybody ogres actually like?”
    I didn’t. I nodded no.
    “She ate it, Markhat. If it tasted like it smelled, it was awful. But Hooga and Hooga were standing there watching, and she thanked them and tore off a chunk and ate it right there. Ate Gods know what just so she wouldn’t hurt an ogre’s feelings.” She sighed. “That’s Martha Hoobin. Good to the bone. Now where does a person like that run away to?”
    “I don’t know. Yet. And it’s entirely possible she didn’t leave of her own volition.”
    “True. But Martha wasn’t stupid. You wouldn’t catch her roaming the streets after Curfew, or counting her pay out on the street. Don’t think she was some kind of wide-eyed New People bumpkin, finder. She hadn’t been in Rannit long, but she knew the lay of the land.”
    I leaned forward. The mojo still whispered suggestively in my ears, and I caught myself breathing in her faint, subtle perfume and admiring the way her face moved when she spoke.
    “Let’s talk about men. Did Martha have any I should know about?”
    Darla laughed, showed her teeth. “Aside from the Hoogas, no, she had none. The Hoobins are Balptists. Ever heard of that?”
    “Balptists? Nope. I assume it’s a faith?”
    “It is. The New People brought it with them. Balptists marry Balptists, or not at all. Martha was opting for ‘not at all’.”
    I lifted an eyebrow, kept my mouth shut.
    “It wasn’t men Martha had a problem with,” said Darla. “Just husbands. I think a lifetime of picking up after her brothers left the thought of doing the same for a husband less than appealing.”
    “I gather Martha pretty much ran the Hoobin household.”
    “She cooked, she cleaned, she handled the money,” replied Darla. “And I suspect she handled it well. Have you ever been inside the Hoobin house?”
    “Not yet.”
    “You’ll be surprised. They’ve done well. The Regent may have done them a favor, flooding their farms.”
    “That’s the kind of favor the Regent is best at.”
    “You’re a cynic,” she replied. “I like that.” She picked up her pencil and twirled it around. “Tell you what. I’ve already asked around, but no one knew anything about Martha. But I’ll ask again. And I’ll see if I can round up any of her things that might still be in the sewing room.”
    “That would be helpful. I’ll come back around in a day or so.”
    “Don’t bother. The Hoogas will be told not to let you back in.” She lifted a hand before I could speak. “I don’t run the place, finder. The management won’t admit pesky finders who set Wendy to crying and leave without spending a fortune. You’re a waste of good conjure, you are. Don’t know rare beauty when you see it.” She smiled when she said it, leaned forward and batted those big brown eyes. The lingering charm gave me one last good flush, and a fresh layer of sweat. Darla leaned back in her chair and laughed again.
    “Surely I can wait outside until you head home some night?” I asked, with as much dignity as I could muster. “Or will the Hoogas have orders to smite me on the street?”
    “That depends on your manners and your deportment,” she replied. “Keep that in mind. Anyway, I might just come and see you. You have an office, I assume?”
    “I do.” I made a note to carry a clean handkerchief, when next I called on Darla. I sweated more in the Velvet than I had on all-day marches. “Down on Cambrit. It isn’t the best part of town. If you come, come early. You can wait at Mama Hog’s if I’m out.”
    “Cambrit’s not so bad,” she said. “And I’ve heard of Mistress Hog.” She gave me a sly sideways look. “She your lady love?”
    Blame it on the mojo, but a mercifully fleeting image of Mama Hog wrapped in a gauzy nightgown ran hobnailed through my mind.
    I stood. “Miss Darla,” I said. Mama Hog waved gauzy veils at me from the dimmest corners of my mind. “They don’t make a charm that strong.”
    She stood too. “I’m sorry,” she said, offering her hand, to shake. “About the mojo. I just couldn’t resist.”
    I took her hand. It was warm and dry and her fingers slipped easily through mine, like we’d held hands a thousand times before.
    She spoke a nonsense word, and I felt the last of the mojo slip off my shoulders and well and truly fall away.
    “Now you’ve got nothing to blame but the innate depravity of your soul. Still think I’m pretty?”
    I gobbled something complimentary and let go her hand. We stepped out into the hall, hadn’t gone three steps before Wendy popped out of a door and pretended she didn’t know we were there.
    Wendy had an extensive wardrobe, though it didn’t appear to take up much room. She turned, spoke, batted her eyes and was about to join us when Darla grabbed my hand again and gave her a glare. “Ease off, sister,” she said. “This one is mine. Aren’t you, honey-chunks?”
    Wendy giggled. I left, and the Hoogas even dipped their gazes in farewell.
    And—God help me—that was Darla.  

And now, the new cover!

I love the film noir look, and the retro fonts. Again, the folks at ADSmith did a phenomenal job.

Best of all, though, is the look they're exchanging. Welcome aboard, Darla. 


The next entry is the series is THE BANSHEE'S WALK. This adventure takes the gang beyond Rannit's city walls, to an artist's retreat deep in a forest rumored to be haunted. 

Hired by the eccentric but wealthy Lady Werewilk, Markhat believes he's on the trail of greedy relatives bent on making a grab for the Lady's sprawling estate. But despite his initial skepticism, he is quickly forced to admit that the woods are in fact haunted, and the legendary banshee is all too real. 

The tiny banshee also becomes a series regular. Markhat dubs her Buttercup when they first meet, hoping to win her trust with a hunk of hot buttered cornbread.

Here's the scene in which Markhat first encounters Buttercup, alone in a cornfield:


    The corn rustled. Leaves and limbs made dry furtive noises overhead. I imagined all manner of creeping horrors, slinking up behind me.
    I’d had my back to the barns for maybe three long minutes—just enough time for Marlo and Gertriss to reach the House—when I heard a twig snap behind me.
    I judged the distance to be maybe twenty feet.
    And that, I decided, was plenty close enough.
    My hand was already in my pocket. I moved it slowly.
    I turned around. Slowly. Calmly. In my outstretched right hand was a slice of warm corn bread with a chunk of butter still melting in the middle.
    And there she was.
    Just standing there.
    A banshee.
    Every hair on every spot of my body stood on end.
    She appeared to be a tiny woman, naked save for a liberal coating of dirt and spider-webs. I don’t mean a woman of small stature—I mean a human woman who had grown to full size and then been somehow shrunk down to a stature befitting a child. I’ve seen trick mirrors at Yule houses that can either shrink or enlarge reflections. The banshee might have stepped out of the former.
    Except for perhaps her ears. In the dim light, and under all that matted hair, I couldn’t be sure, but it looked as though her ears might be pointed, as those of the Elves were said to have been.
    Her hair was the color of dusty hay. It was wild and matted, encrusted with spider webs and leaves and twigs. Her eyes, though, were big and bright and blue.
    I looked into them. The ghost of the huldra let out a scream that nearly brought my hands to my ears. But it made me look away, and that spared me the experience that had nearly overwhelmed Gertriss.
    I fixed my gaze on the tiny woman’s filthy chin. Her face was a mask of indifference.
    No fear, no anger, no emotion whatsoever. She just stood there, halted in mid-step, watching me with those wide blue eyes.
    “I’ve never met a person of your lineage before,” I said. “What do I call you?”
    She tilted her head and eyed me quizzically, but neither spoke nor howled.
    “My name is Markhat. Do you have a name?”
    Again, a blank stare. A vagrant breeze arose, and carried a whiff of her scent to me. I had to fight not to gag. I’d have to tell Mama banshees weren’t strong proponents of bathing.
    My banshee kept staring. But she still wasn’t running.
    I laid the corn bread and the napkin down on the ground and took three long steps back away from it. The corn bread was mashed a bit, but the butter had melted into it and the smell was heavenly. “Well, I’ll call you Buttercup for now. Is that all right with you? May I call you Buttercup?”
    I heard voices from the House as Marlo and Gertriss brought out the servants. The banshee heard them too.
    She just—left. Vanished. I saw only the briefest suggestion of movement, and then there was just an empty spot where she’d stood. No footfalls, no sound at all. I couldn’t even guess at the direction she might have taken.
    I didn’t even notice, at first, that the hot buttered corn bread was gone too.
    She’d left the napkin, but not a crumb.
    I scanned the shadows.
    “Good night, Buttercup.”
    An owl hooted. A couple of dogs began to bark. People and torches began to fill the night.
    “Next time, I’ll bring a biscuit.”

For this book, we decided to let Buttercup take center stage. After all, the title is THE BANSHEE'S WALK, so why not feature the banshee?

My only criteria were that she not be overly sexualized. Yes, she is clad in nothing but dirt, leaves, and spiderwebs when we meet her in the book, but she's also an innocent being despite her undetermined but certainly advanced age. I wanted her to be portrayed as mysterious and ethereal, and again I got exactly what I wanted. 

So there you have it! Soon I'll be posting images for the rest of the series, so stay tuned!






New Releases and Markhat Cover Art Sneak Peek!

Why, hello there.

Yes, it's been a while. But I'm still here! Work on the Markhat revival is continuing, and I'm thrilled about the new covers.

We'll get to that in a moment. First, I want to tell you about a sale over at Bear Mountain Books. From now until July 25th, you can get some great deals on a slew -- yes a slew -- of books by some very talented authors. My friend Maria Schneider is among them.

So if you're eager for some great book bargains, and who isn't, click your way over to the Bear Mountain Books blog by hitting the link below:

New Release Sale at Bear Mountain!

While you're there, please consider grabbing Maria's titles. She writes excellent fantasy books, and three titles are featured here -- Fairy Bite, The Dragons of Wendal, and the Dragons of Wendal box set. I'm a fan of Maria's, and I guarantee you you won't be disappointed.

I also promised you a sneak peak at a Markhat cover.

I'm putting the first three Markhat novellas into an anthology entitled THREE MEAN STREETS. It will contain Dead Man's Rain, The Mister Trophy, and The Cadaver Client. The novel series will then start, with HOLD THE DARK being the first.

So here it is -- the new cover for the soon-to-be-released new edition of THREE MEAN STREETS.


I love it. It's a departure from the cover style of the original Samhain edition. We're going for a consistent look for all the new covers, and they'll all have a film noir edge. 

The folks at ADsmith are doing all my new covers. So far I've seen THREE MEAN STREETS, HOLD THE DARK, and THE BANSHEE'S WALK. All are excellent, and yeah, I'll be posting more sneak peeks in the days to come. 

That's all for now. Stay tuned!






Markhat News

Darla says hello!

Darla says hello!

Well, boys and girls, bipeds and echinoderms, Markhat will be returning soon, with all new covers and a slight change to one title.

Here's the plan. The first three Markhat entries -- Dead Man's Rain, The Cadaver Client, and The Mister Trophy -- will be combined into a single book entitled Three Mean Streets. 

Now, when I was with Samhain, they issued a print-only anthology of these same titles as The Markhat Files. There was no ebook edition for this, although each title was available as a stand-alone ebook.

This time around, there will be an ebook entry for Three Mean Streets. And a print version later, too. I'm changing the title of this one because the series has become known as the Markhat Files, and thus the old title can be a bit confusing.

The rest of the titles will remain unchanged. Below is the list of the books, and the order I suggest for best reading.

  • WAY OUT WEST (currently on sale; here's a link)

My main concern with the re-issue is that people who bought the Samhain books might accidentally buy the new versions because they have new covers. I hope that doesn't happen; I will make sure a notice is included in the sales page information for the various booksellers.

The new covers are in the works. I haven't seen any of them yet, so I'm extremely curious about how they'll look. I offered to provide shirtless photos of myself for use as a cover model, but oddly enough haven't received a reply yet. 

The pricing will also change. Every book will sell for $2.99, and I'll be running free promos for Three Mean Streets on a regular basis. Prices for the print editions will be higher, naturally, but I will offer them for the lowest price Amazon will allow.

Just as a side note to other authors who might be reading, I won't be enrolling in KDP Select or whatever they're calling the program these days that pays you by the number of pages read. That smacks, to me, of being paid in exposure, and that's another rant entirely. I will gladly make ebook editions free to people who buy the print books.

So, that's where things stand now. Won't be much longer. 

Thanks for sticking with me!







The Agent Query Letter

Sitting down and pounding out 60,000 words or more is hard enough.

Sure, you can simplify the process by pounding out the same word, but the market for such works is limited. Hey, dinosaur porn is a thing, so I'm not saying the market for 'Repetitions of Oatmeal' is nonexistent -- I'm just saying pitching the book is going to be a vertically uphill climb.

As hard as writing a novel is, writing an effective agent query letter is harder.

You've got about five paragraphs, maybe 300 words, to distill your wit and wisdom down into something that will lift you above the other 30 or more query letters the agent will slog through with bleary eyes during their first cup of coffee. Every word is crucial, every sentence must be a glimmering thing of rare beauty. There is no room for error, even of the tiniest sort.

Writing a good query letter is akin to walking through a minefield. 

Are you scared yet, Grasshopper?

Well, don't be, because I'm here to help. 

Now, you're a smart egg armed with 'the Google' and years of experience in the publishing industry (i.e., you drink a lot). So you've already perused a dozen or more articles with titles such as 'How To Write An Effective Agent Query Letter' and 'Query Letters That Made Slugs Just Like You Rich' and even 'How To Briefly Conceal Your Towering Incompetence Behind a Throne of Lies.' You've made notes. The latest version of Word is open, blank page beckoning. The voices in your head are even silent, largely in anticipation of the delicious screams of agony they know are imminent.

Even so, may I offer a final few words of advice, gained at great personal cost?


Here are a few suggestions concerning tactics NOT to employ in your agent query letter.

  • Bribery is a no-no. Especially if your sole remaining financial asset is a powder-blue Chevrolet El Camino. I don't care what they go for an eBay. Strike that sentence, and you've got an extra 35 words to play with.
  • Claiming you are the next Harry Potter is a dumb move, because A) Harry is a fictional character, thus ruining the metaphor, and B) the agent started crying ten letters ago after seeing that six times already. Show some imagination. Game of Thrones is the new black.
  • Sly insinuations that the agent will spend their golden years kicking themselves out of remorse and chagrin if they pass on your project just won't work. You're the one tooling around in an El Camino, remember? Stick to writing fantasy, and leave the financial planning to people who doesn't consider 'under the couch cushions' a retirement fund. Just saved you another 60 words.
  • Your offer to appear at the agent's office and present the theme and story arc of your novel through the magic of interpretive dance must be omitted RIGHT NOW. Yeah, okay, the leotards set you back eighty bucks, but like the manager at Golden Corral said as he was tossing you out, 'this is a family restaurant, sir.'
  • Comparing your book to the latest best-seller by claiming to have ghost-written the latest best seller is bold and audacious. It's also fraud. Stop that.
  • Animated fonts, while clever, are seldom appreciated. Save that for correspondence with the IRS. 
  • Don't follow up your initial query with a query query, especially after a five-minute wait. Agents are busy people, and she may require up to an hour to reply to you.

The points above aside, below are a few suggestions and tips which will help you compose a sure-fire query letter.

  • Stick to standard business letter format. Place your name and address in the upper right hand corner, being careful to use a name which won't trigger any FBI fugitive search engines. 
  • Use the proper salutation and complementary closing. Never refer to a  potential agent as 'Bitsy Bookums.' Never end a business letter with 'Best, Georgia Correction Facility Inmate Number 2345235' even if that is legally correct.
  • Keep the tone formal and polite. Remember, the agent has a job, and an office, and expects a certain modicum of professionalism. You're a writer, which -- stop laughing! -- look, you should be able to PRETEND to be a functioning adult for ten minutes. Channel your inner Yoda and get to work.
  • Try to incorporate something of the tone of the book in the letter. But do NOT extend this thought to writing the query letter in the viciously belligerent persona of the book's villain. She got that letter already, and it wasn't funny then, either.
  • Be sure to include a word count. In plain old base ten arithmetic. Showing off your knowledge of hexadecimal by stating your book is 1396A pages long when it's really 80,234 words may be literally accurate, but is not going to win you any points.

Once you've sent the query letter, there's nothing to do but wait for a response. Lay in a sufficient stock of writer's foods -- Hot Pockets, oversized cartons of big box store Ding Dong knockoffs, and pure grain alcohol -- and wait. Experts agree that hitting refresh on your email page speeds responses by up to 9F# percent, and shaving is a socially-mandated form of oppression designed by the Lizard People to keep humanity bound to a crippling regimen of time-consuming personal hygiene.

It is never acceptable to follow up on a query by leaving voice mail messages which consist solely of muted sobbing. Hiring private detectives for clandestine observation of the agency is also a waste of money. 

You may be plagued with visions of the agent reading your query aloud to other agents, where the reading is met with gales of derisive laughter. These visions are entirely true, and the laughter is happening RIGHT NOW. Have another Ding Dong.

Next week, a two-part entry -- how to write an effective novel synopsis, and dealing with self-inflicted blunt-force trauma.

Keep writing, fellow writers.

Image at top: ID 28076311 © Gemenacom |

MidSouthCon News, and Ghost Stuff

Way Out West won the 2017 Darrell Award for best novel at MidSouthCon 35! Which was quite an honor, considering the stiff competition this year. If you haven't read the other nominees, you ought to give them a try. 

The Brotherhood of the Wheel, by R.S. Belcher, is the book with everything -- truckers, magic, the Knights Templar, and murder. Too, Mr. Belcher is a cool guy, and I really enjoyed meeting him at the awards.

Also up was Eagle in Exile by Alan Smale. If you enjoy alternate history sagas, you're in luck here. Alan's series explores the Roman expansion into North America, in a world in which the Empire is still going strong in 1218. Fans of Harry Turtledove will love this! Alan and I were a panel or two together, and he's a heck of a guy.

This MidSouthCon was, as always a blast. I didn't get as many pictures as I planned to, due to a busy schedule, but it was great seeing old friends and making new ones.

To everyone who signed up for some free books -- you will get them! I got sick as soon as we got home, and was in bed until last Thursday. So I'm a little behind, but you are not for gotten.


Switching gears for a moment, I'd like to introduce you to my latest DIY ghost gadget. Behold, the the hardware store miracle that is <drumroll please> the Fogbox.

Simply put, the Fogbox is a transparent, lighted enclosure into which an inert gaseous particulate is introduced. The Fogbox is then sealed, to prevent airflow disturbances from outside the container. The small trigger objects inside the container are then monitored.

The 'fog' shown in these images is merely a fraction of what would be used in a real investigation. Firing up the whole fogmaking apparatus also means cleaning it and all that afterward, and my internal Sloth Circuit is still stuck in lazy in the aftermath of my recent cold. But you get the idea.

After I witnessed first-hand the movement of a child's ball and the shaking of a nearby door at the Thomas House, I wondered just how force was applied to the ball and the door. That's how the Fogbox was born. Surround the toys with a thick but visible mist. If an object is moved, maybe the mist surrounding it will also be disturbed somehow. Would a ghostly hand be made visible? Could an area of influence be photographed and identified?

Heck if I know. But it's worth a try. 

Now, I know what some of you are thinking -- that's just a WalMart 10 gallon aquarium with LED lightstrips affixed to a plywood lid. Well, you're right, that's just what is is. But the lid was carefully cut, and the seals are airtight, after the addition of rubber gaskets. The gas is introduced through the valve on the right. The valve on the left allows un-gassed air to escape as the tank is filled. Both valves are closed once the fog fills the box. The big box and switch on the top houses the batteries. There's also a DC power connector, though I prefer to run on battery power to eliminate possible electrical interference by the wall plug.

The bottom of the aquarium is mirrored to enhance the 'glow' from the fog. 

Total cost? I didn't count everything up, but I figure around 50 bucks for the box, and another 40 for the stage fog machine. 

Expect a report and pics from a real site investigation soon!



I spent a couple of hours on the air Friday night, as the guest on TMV Cafe's radio show Pairanormal. Hosts Annie and EW and I had a blast talking about a number of topics, from hauntings to modern conspiracy theory. The show will be up on the Pairanormal Archives soon; you can check for it here.

Finally, a pic of my Tesla radio, because a listener in the Pairanormal chat room asked for it. Here ya go! It's a creey little rig, which works best late at night. There's some scary Children of the Corn radio going on out there, haunting the emptiness with that old time religion...







Something a Little Different


MidSouthCon 35 is coming up, and I'll be there. 

I'm on several panels, and of course I'll be at the Darrell Awards ceremony, as WAY OUT WEST was nominated this year. You can check out the full schedule here -- hope to see some of you there.

I'll also be on Pro Row this year. For anyone unfamiliar with con-speak, pro row is a hallway outfitted with tables. Seated behind the tables are authors, usually in various states of hangovers. The purpose of Pro Row is to allow parents to bring their children face-to-face with actual writers. That way, when the parents issue dire warnings to the kids against ever taking up fiction as a career, the sunken, hollow faces of the writers add conviction to the admonition. It's a public service, really. 

Naturally, the writers also hope to sell a book or two, and introduce their works to new fans.

I've done Pro Row a number of times, and it's always fun. 

This year, though, I find myself in an odd position. My publisher is out of business, and my stocks of printed books are down to the single complete set with which I simply cannot part.

So what's a writer on Pro Row to do, if he is (temporarily) out of paper books to sell?

My first thought was to simply hide under the table. But the hotel staff was adamant I never do that again. The tables won't support my weight, so pole-dancing is out. 

So I'll be giving away free ebook copies of the Markhat Files series to anyone who asks. Free, gratis, no charge. Give me an email address and a preferred format, and I'll send you the whole series, just for the asking.


Why not? I'm between publishers right now. Maybe I'll pick up a few new fans. 

I'm bringing along some of my handmade art to decorate the table. The steampunk proton pack will be there, and Meralda's latching wand, and probably a vampire-built revolver or two. 

So look me up, folks. Get free stuff. I might also hold a raffle for a signed copy of a Markhat book, if I can scare one up between now and then.

See you at the Con!

Not Dead Yet

© Cherokee4 |

© Cherokee4 |

The title of this post comes straight from Monty Python. You know the scene, as the dead wagons collect plague victims, and one of the 'dead' keeps protesting, only to be thumped on the head and carted off.

That's been an excellent summary of the last few weeks. Watching the Markhat titles vanish, one by one, from Amazon was gut-wrenching. 

But that's part of the business. Publishers do close shop, now and then. It's not the end of the world, though it certainly feels that way as your books poof into oblivion with a single refresh of the page.

I am engaged in a number of efforts to bring the series back as soon as I can. Whether they will return with a new publisher, or as self-published titles, remains to be seen. I am working as fast as I can.

In the meantime, if you're a fan and you missed a book in the series, just email me. I'll send you a free one, in whatever format works best for you. It might take a day or two, but I'll get it out. It will have a plain text cover, but at least you'll be able to complete the series. My email address is franktuttle at franktuttle dot com (put in the right symbols, you know the drill). 

And of course you can still buy WAY OUT WEST by clicking below. 

WAY OUT WEST on Amazon as ebook.

WAY OUT WEST as print book.

The Mug and Meralda books weren't affected, either. 





I'll keep everyone posted here with any relevant news.

Thanks to everyone who emailed or messaged with expressions of support. Those meant a lot. 

In other news, it's nearly time for my annual pilgrimage to MidSouthCon, where WAY OUT WEST is up for a Darrell Award. If you're there too, look me up! I'm on a bunch of panels and I'll be out and about the rest of the time. This year, I won't be cosplaying -- I just didn't have the heart or the time to come up with a new costume, and the weight of the steampunk proton pack I've been taking is just too much. I came home from last year's Con a full three inches shorter than I was when I left, and my spine made funny crunching noises for weeks after wearing it. 

You can check out the schedules and events for the MidSouthCon on their webpage, which is here.

So stop by and buy me a drink, I mean, see me and chat. 

See you at the Con!





Markhat Interrupted

© Penguinline | - Cartoon Girl Working on Notebook

© Penguinline | - Cartoon Girl Working on Notebook

Well, folks, the other shoe has dropped.

February 28th of 2017 will be the last day Samhain Publishing offers any titles. After that, all the Markhat titles (except WAY OUT WEST) will go dark -- on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, Itunes, everywhere.

Samhain officially ceases operations on the 28th. 

Rights reversions of the Markhat titles begins right after that. So I will retain ownership of the series, and will be free to do with the titles as I will shortly after the 28th.

So, all that said, just what will I do?

Beats me. I have several options open, which are:

  • Shop around for another publisher.
  • Self-publish all the titles myself.
  • Go hide in a damp hole, learn to gnaw on raw fish, and make a gollum sound when short furry strangers approach.

Frankly I'm leaning toward the third option at the moment. Damp caves are relatively cheap to own and maintain, and I already have the Gollum look down pat. Seriously, you've never seen me in a tattered loincloth, I can DO this.

But assuming I decide to remain part of polite society, I must choose between options one and two.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. Finding a publisher relieves me of the time, work, and expense involved in getting new cover art. Of marketing. Of file conversions and distribution and a host of other practices required to put out a book.

But it also means finding another publisher. That will take months, and could very well take years, and might never happen at all.

Yes, the Markhat books did sell. Pretty well, at times. But modern publishing isn't just a jungle anymore -- it's a freshly-nuked radioactive mutant feral jungle, where each and every one of the surviving publisher-beasts is concerned not just with sales but with enormous sales. I know too many awesome mid-lister authors who are starting GoFundMes because their books got pushed into near-oblivion and the authors can't afford a five-hundred-dollar roofing job anymore.

Too, the time factor comes into play. A year from now, people will just scratch their heads and ask 'Markhat who?"

Which brings us to self-publishing. I can do that. It allows me to set my own prices. Package and brand the series as I choose. Pick my own cover art, my own look. 

Which is all very well and good, until one considers the cost of all that.

The Markhat books have been extensively edited by real professionals. I won't need to go through that process again. Even so, there will be costs. Cover artists don't work for free (nor should they). I could buy back the old cover art, but buying back ten covers even at reduced rates isn't going to be cheap.

So that's where I am with the series right now. There are a number of hard decisions to be made, and there will be an interruption in availability of the titles no matter what I do.

That's life as an author. I wish this was television, where every author is a fabulously wealthy lady or gentleman who travels about solving crimes or having adventures, but reality just looks at us writers and says 'Shut up and eat your Ramen Noodles, loser.'

If you're a Markhat fan, you can help by telling anyone who might like the series to snatch it up RIGHT NOW. Maybe by the time they're done reading them I'll have new books out, somehow.

If you're a publisher sitting atop stacks of cash, you can help by emailing me. Really, that would be incredible, and I won't even bring my loincloth to signings. 

Although I've always said I'd never do this, I'm seriously considering a Kickstarter or Patreon or GoFundMe page of my own now. Just out of curiosity, how many of you reading this would consider kicking in 20 bucks or so? And would anyone think I was making a mistake even asking for help?

I would like to close by thanking Samhain Publishing for all their support through the years. They were great, and I'll miss them.

Mamas, don't let your kids grow up to be writers.