The Perfect Snack

We all have our dietary weaknesses.  That one food that tempts you more than any other.  Maybe it’s a cheeseburger, or pizza, or ice cream.

Reese's

I know it will come as a shock to anyone who’s read this blog, but Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are my dietary Achilles heel.  I mean, whoever came up with this perfect snack food should be canonized— Saint Harry of chocolate-peanut butter goodness, patron saint of snack time and hyperactive children.

Harry Burnett “HB” Reese invented the snack in 1928 in Hershey, PA.  He worked for The Hershey Company as a dairy farmer but was inspired to start his own candy company.  Inspired is the only way to describe this delicious treat.

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As a fantasy author, I’ve been asked what historical period I’d like to live in if I had my choice.  The answer is easy— anytime after 1928.  Can you imagine life without the peanut butter cup?

“Hey Georgie, finish your porridge and you can have a nice piece of fruitcake.”

No thanks, I think I’ll stay in the modern world and use fruitcake as a doorstop like any sensible person would.

If you have never eaten a Reese’s cup, don’t deny yourself any longer.  Head to the nearest store and grab a pack.  Don’t be fooled by all the choices either.  The standard double-pack is the only way to go.  These standard size cups have the perfect ratio of chocolate to peanut butter.  The minis have too much chocolate and the Big Cup has too much peanut butter.  And don’t worry about the white chocolate, dark chocolate, crunchy, or any other variant.  Why mess with perfection (Although the Reese’s Fast Break bar is pretty good too if for some unfathomable reason the store is out of cups).

I could go on until the Hershey dairy cows come home, but now my mouth is watering and I have to run out for a little bit of chocolate-peanut butter heaven.

“Hey, you got chocolate in my peanut butter!”

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Filed under Culture, Food, musings

Free Book Marketing?

Deciding how to spend your marketing dollars on your indie book is tough.  After paying for an editor and book cover, now you have to decide how much to spend on marketing.  You’re already in the hole, and you wonder if your book will ever earn enough to recoup what you already have in it.  So how much more money do you spend on marketing, and will it make a difference in sales?

Well then, it’s time for some free marketing, right?

Unfortunately, nothing in life is free (Somebody famous said that I’m sure).  The majority of the free marketing sites I’ve run across require you to give your book away for free to join.  Most of them want you to have your book free on Amazon.  Basically, you have to be in KDP Select to really take advantage of these opportunities.  So it’s more like: If you want something for free, don’t write a book.  Yes, these sites are free for the reader but lost revenue for you.

The philosophy is that you need to get your name out there in order to build a following and eventually sell books.  Another philosophy I’ve heard is to price your book higher so that readers feel it has value and will buy it.  So like every other aspect of writing, there is no one path to success in marketing.

I’ve had my books on Amazon and Kobo and recently entered a few giveaways on Goodreads and Instafreebie (I also did an Amazon ad campaign).  I’ve been giving away book one of my series for several months to build readership.  I’ve given away about 600 copies of The Order of the Wolf.  I’ve also sponsored a Blog tour for my series and a book blitz for my new book release.

The net result of my efforts is three new book ratings/reviews on Goodreads, one on Amazon, and one on a review website.  I have sold a few copies of The Eastern Factor that just released, but not enough to get excited about.

My take away from all this is that people are more than willing to download a free book.  In fact, I think a lot of people are grabbing all the free e-books they can get their hands on.  Whether they read them is another matter.  I’ve actually heard people brag about how many books they have on their e-reader—more than they’ll read in their lifetime. If they read your book, they have to like it in order to rate it or buy the next book.  Finding readers to take your book isn’t so hard when you’re giving it away, but finding the right readers that will want to read more is the key.

Takeaway number two: I need to do more with ARC reviews and pre-order sales.  Much of the marketing is targeted for this period vs. after the release.

Another takeaway is that I need to have my giveaways on Amazon to harness the power of, well, Amazon.  I’ve resisted KDP Select for awhile, but I recognize that it is the best marketing platform to use when you’re trying to get established.  So this week I’m taking my books down from other sites and switching my series over to KDP Select and I am going to use their marketing features going forward.  Well, at least for the next 90 days.

I’ll admit, I’m a slow processor.  I have to mull over a problem for a while before deciding which way to go.  My wife says I’m hard-headed and will argue with a wall (I am not!), but I do eventually work out a path forward.  Let’s see where this one leads.

Oh yeah, don’t forget to get your copy of The Eastern Factor.    You’ll find it on Amazon.  And you can buy the complete Kingdom of Haven series there as well if you’re so inclined.

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What’s Your Age Animal?

An old guy called me Sir the other day and I about fell over.  What the hell!

Okay, he was probably younger than me (maybe?).  I admit I suck at guessing ages, but he was definitely beyond middle-age and had no business showing me old-man respect.  Yeah, so my hair is more grey than black these days, and I’m sure my hairstyle is what they call vintage, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to be put out to pasture (Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad).

I just don’t feel that old.  I was talking to my mom about this the other day, and she said she doesn’t feel her age either.  I don’t think this is uncommon.  According to a (fairly) recent study:   Older people tend to feel about 13 years younger than their chronological age.

Okay, that makes sense.  So even if this guy was ten years younger than me, I’m thinking he’s older.  Not because I’m hung up on age, but because I’m just as deluded as the rest of the old people out there.  That (kinda) makes me feel better.

To be honest, I rarely think about age, or how old I am.  My wife says I lie about my age all the time, but I really just forget that I had another birthday (or two).  And this isn’t a new thing.  I was thirty-five for something like five years before I remembered (she reminded me) that I was older.

This thinking I’m younger than I am stuff is too confusing.  I think I’ll just come up with my own aging methodology.  If I feel younger than I am then I’ll just start using another scale.  You know, like human years vs. dog years.  They say one year for a dog is like seven for a human, but that’s not quite right.  There’s an actual chart and everything.  While my wife says I’m a dog sometimes I’d be about 8 if I went by the dog chart.  So I decided to look around at the different animal-to-human age comparisons to see which one works better:

  • Sheep – 10 — Still a bit young and I’ve not ever been one to follow the herd.
  • Pig – 10 — All men are pigs, right? Still too young though.
  • Donkey – 17 — While I’ve been known to act like an ass a time or two, it’s still a bit young (Although 17 wouldn’t be bad, I doubt I could pull it off).
  • Elephant – 32 — Now that sounds more like it.

So from now on, I’m going to convert my age to Elephant years.  It makes sense in a way because the older I get the more round I become (It has nothing to do with the Reese’s Cups), and besides elephants are my wife’s favorite animal.

I’m all set for the next time some fortyish dude calls me Sir.  I’ll just give him a look and say, “Yo, I’m thirty-two bro.”  Then I’ll stomp past him trumpeting in triumph.

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How Many Times do you Sneeze?

Ahhhh-chooo!

Sounds like a strange question, right?  Let me take you on a guided tour of my mind (Buckle up, this could get bumpy).

I always sneeze twice—not once, not three times, but twice—every time.  I can’t explain this.  When I sneeze, my wife will just stop and wait for the second one.  No use in continuing the conversation, because we both know it’s coming.

Maybe this isn’t all that odd, but then again…my son always sneezes three times.  Same thing, if he sneezes, we just wait until he gets all three out.  Just a strange coincidence, right?

Then I start to think about it.  I’m a junior, named after my father.  My son has the same first name, which makes him Freddie the third.  If he had a son and named him Freddie, would my grandson sneeze four times?

Then my mind starts to churn.  Maybe it’s a sneezing curse laid upon one of my long dead ancestors.  Let’s say my ancestor was attending a sacrifice in Tenochtitlan and happened to sneeze just when the priest was slicing open his victim.  The knife slips and the priest stabs the heart before he can pull it out of the victim’s chest.  Of course, this is a bad omen which eventually leads to the Spanish invasion and the fall of the Aztecs.

As punishment, the priest cursed my ancestor.  With each generation, another sneeze is added until eventually, the line dies out from chronic sneezing.  The only way to beat the curse is to not pass on the name of the ancestor who caused the calamity.  The family will actually have to forget him in order to survive.

Of course, I come from a wily family.  Their solution was to alter the name every few generations to reset the curse.  So a few generations after the curse began, one of my ancestors switched the name to Spanish – Fernando.  My grandfather switched from Spanish to English, but now the curse has caught back up to us.  Now, I have to find a way to beat the curse without losing the family name.

Yeah, I have a weird imagination, but that’s where stories come from.  I think writers are always putting together these strings of strange facts and coincidences and weaving stories out of them.

Of course, if I have a grandson named Freddie who sneezes four times, I’m going to have to take a trip to Mexico City to sort this mess out.  Do you think that priest’s spirit is still kicking around the place?  On second thought, maybe we’ll move to China.

How do you say Freddie in Chinese?

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Filed under Humor, musings, Writing Process

Fred on the Head

Tomorrow my wife is going to have her head examined.  I don’t know what took the doctors so long.  I’ve been telling her she needs to have her head examined for years.  Of course, this is a CT scan to check her sinuses (or so they say).  I’m thinking I’ll go along and slip them a fiver to look a little deeper.  No one in their right mind chooses cleaning over cooking, or eats Brussels sprouts voluntarily (Or lives with me for as long as she has).  I’m guessing they’ll find a few screws loose.

Of course, I wouldn’t dare let them look inside my head.  I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t let me back out of the hospital.  Luckily, if you really want to know what’s floating around up in my noggin it’s easier and cheaper than a CT scan.  Just head over to Amazon where The Eastern Factor is being released today.

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Words are so interesting.  Why do we “release” a book?  Is it a wild slavering thing that must be tamed before we dare release it into the wider world?  Actually, that does make sense.

So if you want a peek inside my head, go get yourself a copy.  I can’t guarantee the book is completely tame, but I’ve tried my best to housebreak it (Sort of).

Also, you can still get a free copy of The Order of the Wolf as part of the Secret Worlds— Fantasy Giveaway.

Also also, I’m giving away 5 copies as part of my Book Blitz today.

 

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Filed under Books, Fantasy, Free, Reading

Emotions Matter

We writers all have our philosophies about what makes a good story.  For me, it is all about the characters and the emotional content.  Characters matter because how interesting would a story be about a chair?

Not only do characters matter, but the reader has to feel something about the character for the story to work.  Love, Hate, disgust, sympathy—getting your reader to feel these is what makes your story enjoyable to read.  In order for the reader to feel them, your characters must show them.

In The Eastern Factor, the protagonist has issues.  He hasn’t had the best childhood, and if you read Stenson Blues, he made a mess of his first chance at love.  He’s damaged goods, and he has a hard time trusting—especially women.  So of course, one of the biggest hurdles he faces is learning to trust Neasa, the woman that becomes his strongest ally.  Here is the scene where they begin to bond (sort of):

 

Traveling in a litter makes you feel like a king. It was a heady feeling—lounging on cushions while strong men hoisted you down the street—or maybe I was light-headed from being enclosed with Neasa after our bath.

I was still a bit warm, and she smelled of some exotic spice that reminded me of the spearmint that grew wild in the woods outside Kartoba. Neasa seemed to revel in the experience, stretching on the cushions next to me like a cat and giving me a look that I preferred to ignore. Instead, I peered out through a gap in the curtains and watched the scenery go by. The fresh air on my face helped clear my mind.

There weren’t many people walking the street, and the houses we passed were more lavish than the one I had borrowed from Factor Einhardt. It seemed like a different town than the one we’d marched through earlier.

“Close the curtain, Olaf,” Neasa said. “They’ll think you’re an oaf from the west.”

“They who?” I replied as I pulled the curtain shut. “The streets are empty.” The minty smell became stronger with the curtain shut. It made my eyes water.

Neasa reached out and patted my arm. “They are watching, believe me.”

I fought the urge to pull away. The litter was wide enough for us to recline side-by-side, but with little room to move otherwise. Besides, I didn’t want her to realize how frightened I was of her.

It was hard to admit, but I finally had to:  Neasa terrified me. She was pretty and powerful and deadly—and, worst of all, she had decided that we were destined to be together. I hoped that she saw us as allies and nothing more, but I was afraid to ask. My body lay stiffly on the cushions and I stared at the curtain in front of me, waiting for her to pull her hand away.

Instead, she ran her finger down my arm. “Why are you so tense, Olaf?”

When I didn’t respond, she finally pulled her hand away and let out a sigh. “I just want to talk.”

I peeked at her from the corner of my eye. She looked back at me with a serious expression. I wasn’t sure if that was better than her teasing.

“Olaf, we are allies in this. I know that I might have …” She paused as if choosing her words carefully. “I know I startled you during the New Year celebration.” She looked contrite, almost sorrowful, with a little frown on her face and a tearful gleam in her eye. “I keep forgetting how spooked you Uplanders get when there is talk of the gods, but I’d had a vivid vision, and I could not keep it to myself.”

I didn’t want to hear about her vision again. I could feel my chest tighten as soon as she mentioned the gods. Anyone from the Seven Kingdoms would have had the same reaction.

“I’m sorry for springing this on you, but you have had plenty of time to think about it since.” She moved to reach for my arm again, but I shied away. Her hand paused, just out of reach. “Know this, Olaf. I will not try to trick you or force you to do anything. We are allies and our destinies are intertwined.” Then she lowered her hand to rest it on my arm. “Your enemies are my enemies.”

Even through my coat sleeve, her touch sent a thrill through me. It was nothing carnal, but more like a shiver of fear. I suddenly felt as though the gods were watching our every move.

The litter came to an abrupt halt and she pulled her hand free again. “We have arrived.”

 

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A Thick Skin Wins the Match

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There was an article in Archeology Magazine a few years ago about the diet of Roman gladiators and how it helped them maintain a fat layer to minimize the damage from being cut.  Basically, they consumed a vegetarian diet high in carbohydrates which supposedly maintained this fat layer.  for superficial cuts, the fat layer would help prevent serious injury.  Who knows if it’s true, but the idea has merit.  Who wouldn’t want extra protection when someone is swinging a sword at you?

This reminds me of a very true expression you hear about writing:  If you want to be a writer, you need to have thick skin.  While writing a book isn’t as treacherous as entering the Roman arena and someone eviscerating your story isn’t the same as someone trying to slice you in two, a metaphorical thick skin comes in handy for a writer (that’s why we like chocolate so much — it’s for our own protection).

I’ve worked with a variety of writing groups over the years, some online and some in person.  There are always writers who politely thank you for your input, no matter how brutal they felt it was, and then there are some who haven’t eaten their porridge.  They haven’t worked on developing their thick skin, and they are not ready to listen and learn.

Bottom line, if someone is volunteering their time to give you feedback, at least listen and consider what they are saying.  Thank them, take what is useful, discard the rest, and move on.  Getting defensive and combative is not a productive use of your time.  Of course, I can say this now, but it is not easy when you first start out and have not developed your protective fat layer. (Thick skin does sound better, doesn’t it?)

It took me awhile to realize that writing is a group activity.  The only way to improve and learn the craft is to work with other writers in one fashion or another.  It’s like sparring with your fellow gladiators in the practice yard.  The purpose is to practice and learn from each other.  It does you no good if they’re hitting you will pillows instead of practice swords (unless you do this), and if you can’t take a smack or two, you’ll never get any better.

So smile and thank the people who are trying to help you.  Eat your porridge (of course I prefer Reese’s Cups) and let those superficial cuts slide off you like so many pinpricks on a gladiator’s fat layer.  You’ll come out stronger for it in the end, and maybe even prevail in the writing arena.

And if you run across one of those bullies who likes to draw blood without trying to help you get better, just walk away.  When you meet them later in the arena, they’ll still be at the same skill level and you’ll have grown into a lean (fat?) writing machine.   And we all know how that fight ends.

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Filed under Critique Groups, Philosophy, Writing