Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 - My Year In Review

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season!

This is the time of year when I always like to stop to take the time to reflect just before we turn the page on the "old" year. Time is a funny thing. In our day to day lives, we measure it with clocks, but I like to measure time with all the stuff that I've learned.

1) Even though I published my debut novel, Dragonfly Warrior, in mid-December of 2013, I still consider my publishing experience to have really launched in 2014. I really had no idea what was in store for me, and the not-knowing was both thrilling and scary.

2) Publishing is not only constantly changing, but it's seriously one of the hardest things to do. Not just the writing - but the marketing and promoting. All of it. Very tough. If I would have known it was this tough, I probably would not have thrown my hat in the ring.

3) I became an Amazon Best Selling author with my three releases this year. That's pretty cool to think, but the reality is, I didn't sell a ton of books. Apparently, it doesn't take much to crack the Top 10 in many categories on Amazon. I averaged a little more than ONE book sold per day for all of 2014. 380 books. From what I've heard from others, that's about average for an indie these days.

4) I love selling my books at shows. Love it. I love everything about it. The best part is getting to talk to all kinds of people. I plan to do more of this in 2015.

5) I turned 42 years old just six days before Christmas. Starting to feel a little old. I really thought I would know more by this age.

6) I made the same mistake twice...I once again devoted a lot of time and energy into mentoring a young writer who just wasn't ready. The ego is something that always gets in the way of us moving forward and improving. A person can only learn when they're ready to learn. Did Bruce Lee say that once? Or maybe Obi Wan Kenobi?

7) I changed jobs and industries this year. I completely underestimated the stress and emotional toll such a move would make. Still trying to get my feet under me, but I'm going to stay positive and keep on truckin'.

8) Just like I did last year...and the year before...I did not see many movies in 2014. I did, however, see the final Hobbit movie last week, and it was awesome. Honestly, I can count on one hand the number of films I saw in the movie theater this year.

9) Along those lines, I also neglected television. I did not watch Sons of Anarchy or Walking Dead. I just don't have time. And in my spare time, I'm usually surrounded by little kids. So those two shows are out. I did catch up on Green Arrow, however. And I have been following The Flash.

10) Finally. I have to say that 2014 was a tough year. In recent memory, I can't think of a year where I've experienced such highs and lows all wrapped up in one year. Pretty sure it all has to do with entering the publishing world. I want to thank you for all of your encouragement and support with this endeavor, and I hope to keep learning.

2015 will be my (gasp) tenth year blogging, and I hope to make it my very best year EVER.

Happy New Year, my friends, and I will see you in 2015.

Every new year is like a Phoenix being reborn

Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Songs - The Good, The Meh, and The Ugly

Now that the holidays are in full swing, I allow myself to listen to Christmas music on the radio.

Over the years, I've found that there are some Christmas songs I still love. Others are just okay. And then there are the holiday songs that is akin to fingernails screeching against a chalkboard.

The Good... (in no particular order)

1. Christmas Time is Here (from A Charlie Brown Christmas). We watch this animated movie every year. Love it! The song itself is a Vince Guaraldi masterpiece. It's sweet and gentle...and it always gets me in the holiday mood.

2. The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole. It's Nat King Cole! 'Nuff said.

3) Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth - David Bowie and Bing Crosby. I remember seeing this
video on MTV as a kid, and I was mesmerized. My brain flipped out just seeing these two very different artists singing together. Apparently, David Bowie hated Little Drummer Boy, so the Peace on Earth part was written for him. Bing Crosby died just five weeks later.

4) Home for the Holidays - The Carpenters. To this day, there isn't a voice that possesses as much purity as Karen Carpenter's. So sad how she died, but hearing her sweet vocals makes me smile...and hungry for some pumpkin pie.

5) Star Bright - Vanessa Williams. I believe Vanessa Williams is highly underrated as a singer. This song showcases her talent. I associate this song with my oldest child, as he loved this song when he was little. It's a gorgeous song with a beautiful, smooth, jazzy melody.

6) 12 Days of Christmas - The McKenzie Brothers. It's crude, but it makes me laugh. I know many people hate this song, but anything that cracks me up is a winner. I learned a lot about Canadians from this song.

7) Christmas Eve/Sarajevo - Trans-Siberian Orchestra. This song packs one helluva punch. I imagine Santa on a giant sled being pulled by fire breathing dragons. He raises his battle ax as thunder and lightning fill the dark sky. Yeah, I know. I'm weird.

8) Mary Did You Know - Pentatonix. Yes, this is a brand new song. I've been a fan of this a capella group since they won The Sing Off. This song is simply amazing. It's hard to believe there's no music here; all all five members' voices are perfect. This version blows Kenny Rogers and Clay Aiken out of the water. Especially Clay Aiken.

The Meh...

1) All I Want for Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey. I used to own her Christmas album. Maybe I'm burned out on it. I don't hate it, but I don't like it like I used to.

2) Jingle Bell Rock - Hall & Oats. I'm a fan of this group, but I'm not as keen on this holiday staple.

3) Same Old Lang Syne - Dan Fogelberg. This song used to make me stop and listen to it every time it came on the radio. It's just so...sad. It's still a good song, but it's depressing. Don't let sad alcoholics hear this song.

4) Feliz Navidad - Jose Feliciano. I actually don't like this song very much, but it's fun to scream it at the top of your lungs in the car. It takes 0.231 seconds to learn all the lyrics since there's only about a dozen words. It's the song that never ends.

5) Do They Know It's Christmas - Band Aid. When this song came out, it was a big deal. I was in the sixth grade, and it was on the radio all the time during the holidays. These days, the song's lyrics are pretty condescending when you think about it. Half of Africans are Christians!

The Ugly...

1) Winter Wonderland - The Eurythmics. I think this song just sounds terrible, and I love The Eurythmics. The whole thing is a mess. Makes me want to throw a sleigh bell at Annie Lennox.

2) Last Christmas - Wham! My daughter loves this song. Me? I hate it. I often stick up for George Michael. Just not here. This is one fart-of-a-Christmas song.

3) Baby It's Cold Outside - Every version of this song. This song is creepy as hell. It's like the guy is slipping Roofies into the girl's drink. Just wrong. Date rape ain't festive.

4) Christmas Don't Be Late - The Chipmunks. I want to jump off a cliff when I hear this.

5) Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer - Elmo and Patsy. I've got a sense of humor, but this song frays my nerves. It's a bad song with bad lyrics...and an equal bad message. When I was a kid, it was funny, sure. But not so much now. I guess it's because I know how expensive it would be to fix a mortally wounded Grandma.

6) Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney. This song sounds like a 7 year old wrote it. The keyboard playing sounds like a horrible video game soundtrack from 1982. Yuck!

7) Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt/Madonna. Gold digger!!!

8) Christmas Shoes - Newsong. I'm sorry, but this has to be one of the worst Christmas songs EVER. Cheesy-to-the-max! It's over-the-top melodrama that makes me physically ill. I'd like to smack the songwriter in the head with my own Christmas Shoe.

So I don't end this post on a negative note, I'd like to leave you with Pentatonix's Mary Did You Know.

I will be taking a little Christmas holiday, but I'll be back before the end of 2014. Until then, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and take care!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

December's IWSG

Oh yeah. I'm feeling insecure right now...

So, this is my last Insecure Writers Support Group post for 2014. I'm so glad I decided to join this gaggle of amazing and supportive writers. For a couple years, I shared in everyone's struggles and felt their pain. It's so much more cathartic to jump in and share my own insecurities.

This writing/publishing gig has made me manic. My highs are really high, and my lows are pretty darn low. And my mood about this first year seems to change as quickly as the forecast here in St. Louis.

As I wind down 2014, I'm left with that same tug-of-war of conflicted feelings. On the plus side, my paranormal YA thriller with Miranda Hardy broke into the Top 20 on Amazon's Best Sellers List thanks to a nice little promotion that gave us some sales. On the minus side, sales of Dragonfly Warrior have sputtered. Sales of its sequel, Shadow Warrior, have been pretty abysmal.

Here's what I've learned though fighting all of these insecurities:

1) I suck at marketing online. Despite my 9+ years as a blogger, I'm terrible at promoting myself on here.

2) I suck at being patient. I've only been at this for twelve months now. Dragonfly Warrior came out a week before Christmas last year, so I need to give it more time. Not so easy to do.

3) I suck at pulling myself out of my writing slump. I got burned out right in the middle of NaNoWriMo, and I'm still in that abyss. Nothing creative is coming out of my brain.

4) I am awesome at selling books at events. Seriously. Maybe it's because I'm a sales ninja in my day job, but no one will outsell me at an event. No one. I will toot my own horn here: I kick ass at selling when I'm face to face with readers.

5) I'll be okay. The crazy heights and terrible lows that come with living this life is enough to make me into a drinker. But in the end, I'll be alright.

Oh yeah, I'm still feeling insecure. But that's what happens when you take risks.

Monday, December 1, 2014

City on Fire

I'm sure everyone reading this knows about the Ferguson protests and riots stemming from the grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson. Facebook has been engulfed in all kinds of debates and arguments praising the grand jury's decision and condemning it.

Having grown up in that part of St. Louis, I have a very personal perspective on the whole mess. It was painful to see my hometown being destroyed, but the longer term ramifications are more profound to me. St. Louis is still dealing with racial issues, and my city has become a microcosm for a much larger social problem.

It's too bad people are actually taking "sides" on this, but this is a complicated matter. Is it about Mike Brown and Darren Wilson? Or is it about racism in this city and country? Or does it go even deeper, harking back to deep-seating issues stemming from America's past: from slavery, to segregation, to desegregation, to urban decay, to white flight...we can point to any number of things.

I've taken the time to understand many of the aspects around this matter, and I hope others do the same. I've learned about why prosecutors use grand juries instead of straight up indicting somebody. I learned why cops aren't trained - or even allowed - to intentionally wound somebody. I have not read all 1200 pages of the evidence that was released by the prosecutor, and I doubt any of us will. It's amazing to me, however, the level of unreliability eye witness accounts are.

The day after the first night of rioting after the grand jury decision was announced, I called a couple business owners I know in Ferguson. Both of their businesses were looted and damaged. One of them had to deal with tornado damage just last summer, and now they have to go through it all again. It's sad, since they both employed local people and provided the people of Ferguson with much needed medical services.

With the holiday season in full swing, I hope my city can find a way to learn from all of this and somehow bride that widening gap that has divided us. This issue isn't just a St. Louis thing as evidenced by all the other protests that have sprung up all over the country.

Many St. Louisans are hopeful, are there are signs of love and understanding within this entire hateful mess. It's not easy to ignore all the sensationalism, rash judgments and sweeping generalizations, and the divisive language spoken by a lot of people. I've seen a lot of UGLY here in St. Louis, but I can still hear the voices of those that hope for a better future.

It's that hope we all have left to hang onto.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Oh How I Miss You Blogfest

It's time for the second annual, Oh How I Miss You Blogfest. Thanks to Andrew Leon, Alex J. Cavanaugh, and Matthew McNish for hosting.

The bloggers we miss, and the bloggers we would miss...

Since I've been at this bloggy-thing for a pretty long time, I want to take the opportunity to introduce you to some blogs none of you have probably ever visited. When I first started blogging, blogs really were just online diaries. Over the years, my best blogger friends have dropped like flies, and for awhile, there were a handful that kept on going like me. But alas, three of them have decided to stop blogging just this year.

RIP - Blogs I Miss

The Weird Girl (2005-2014) Mary was a new mother who juggled home life and her work life as a writer/editor. Recently, her blogging slowed down, and her last post was early September. "Back in the day," she was one of only a few writer-friends I had. We're still great friends, and I have come to rely on her as a beta reader. We keep in touch on Facebook too.

Shaken Not Stirred (2004-2014) Angel Jr. started blogging a year before me, and his blog was a true online diary. He talked a lot about his favorite shows, his struggle with passing his medical licensing exam, and every day stuff. He was also the very first blogger I got to meet in person in a tiny airport in West Virginia. Although his blogging days are over, we're still friends and talk via Facebook.

Phats (2005-2014) Phats became a blogger just a couple months before me. He often posted about his love for anything Purdue Boilermakers. We have a lot in common: I was a high school tennis coach (and Phats still is to this day), we both have a similar sense of humor, and we each had to death with near death health scares. He shut down his blog this summer, but we still talk all the time through Facebook.

Notice a pattern here???

Blogs I Would Miss

The Blog (2004-Present) Cube has been at this for a long time, and she celebrated her 10 year blogiversary just this October. Her posts have gotten much much shorter the last few years, and she doesn't really visit others as often as she used to. Her blog has also taken a political slant since 2010 or so. But Cube is still at it, which is why I listed mentioned her last year. If she ever stops before me, it'd be sad to lose yet another long time blogger.

Confessions of a Dumb White Guy (2005-Present) Shife started blogging in January of 2005, and his posts always make me laugh. It's been pretty cool keeping up with Shife's life throughout the years since discovering his corner of the blogosphere - he had become a father twice and his his book (based on his blog posts) FINALLY came out this Fall. Shife and I are good buddies, and it's been great watching him realize his dreams. Go visit Shife right now!

Thinking about all of these "old-line" blogs, I've come to fully realize that next August 3rd will be my ten year blogiversary. A whole decade of blogging! Any ideas as to what I should do to celebrate with all of you???

Monday, November 17, 2014

I Got Nothin'

I tried this, and it works

So I skipped a post last week, as I was out of town on business. My day job is very demanding, and I just didn't have time to publish a post before I got on the plane.

I was in Kalamazoo, Michigan (yes it's a real place) from Monday through Friday night. During my time there, I had very little time to write. I tried my very best, but it was just not to be. With each passing day, I saw my wordcount stall. And my stats showed that it would be damn near the 4th of July when I'd hit 50,000 words.

Not totally accurate, but it's not looking good, folks.

I'm such a Type-A, and I think all the stuff going on in my life is taking its toll. I had TWO books published in September, and then I had author events every weekend through October. The day job is also kicking my arse. All of this stress is actually manifesting itself physically.

I quit!!!
I don't mean to gross you out, but I get horrible canker sores when I'm stressed. Lets just say I had to stay away from orange juice for a week, and today is the first day I can actually eat a handful of peanuts and not feel like I'm chewing glass.

I'm not a quitter. And I hate losing. But I think I have to throw up the white flag.

So for the sake of my sanity, I'm not going to kill myself to get 50,000 words in before the end of the month. Instead, I think I'm just going to write whenever I have the time and energy.

If you take American commercialism as gospel, it's been Christmas for nearly three weeks already. But, the holidays are right around the corner. In fact, everything in St. Louis is covered in snow. I think I'm going to slow things down and enjoy the holidays without deadlines and tough goals hanging like a dark cloud over my head.

Christmastime is already stressful as it is, right?

How about you? Stress creeping into your life? What do you do to handle it? Is this time of year tough for you too?
I'm gonna be like Ang

I hope to just take it easy, visit all of your blogs, and try to get myself centered for the duration of 2014.

Monday, November 3, 2014

NaNoWriMo Kickoff

Last year, I wasn't very confident about doing NaNoWriMo since I had a huge optical certification exam. I had not studied very much several months leading to taking the test the third week in November, and I was cramming. Big time.

Somehow, I had written enough before cramming and after taking the test for me to hit that 50K word count goal and win for the second year in a row. It was a miracle.

This year, I'm no longer working in the ophthalmic/optical industry, but I've still got a HUGE obstacle looming for this year's NaNo. I will be out of town for work for an entire week. Monday-Friday. I'll be in Kalamazoo, Michigan and there won't be time for writing at all. Lots and lots of medical training will be going on. So yeah, five whole days...

It's funny, because whenever November rolls around, you hear the debate emerge all over again. There's one school of thought that believes NaNoWriMo is not only stupid, but is actually detrimental to many writers. One author buddy explained it to me simply: writers are pressured to hit that word count, and they burn themselves out by writing "crap." After NaNo, the writer is left with 50,000 words that are unpublishable and the manuscript will need heavy demolition and reconstruction to make it halfway decent.

The other school is thought is that NaNoWriMo is a way to kick the procrastination monster. To stop talking about writing and get your ass in that chair and finally, you know, write. I can't tell you how many so-called-writers don't actually do much writing. It's sad.

Obviously, for me, NaNoWriMo is not only a way for me to kick it into high-gear and get some stuff down on my screen, but it's an opportunity to be part of a writing community. I have forged a comradery with my regional group here in St. Louis. Although I'm not super-involved with all the events and write-ins because of my travel schedule, I still participate when I can. We all support each other, which is pretty cool.

I tend to be an over-thinker, so NaNo forces me to just let it all out.
The Mothman

My NaNo novel this year is titled The Gateway Mothman. It's about the legendary creature, The Mothman, coming to St. Louis. It's been so much fun writing about my hometown, although all the names have been changed to protect the (not-so) innocent. If you're doing NaNo and we're not buddies, look me up: Jay Noel.

Although it's unlikely that I'm going to slay that 50K word count dragon, I've posted my NaNo wordcount graphic in the upper right corner of my blog to motivate me. I'll try my best, but even if I don't win, I'll still have more words down than I did on October 31st.

See you at the finish line!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Spooky Stores #2 - Payne-Gentry House

Payne-Gentry House - Bridgeton, Missouri
I grew up living very close to a historical home here in the St. Louis area that probably every single kid had toured at least once during a school field trip. Over the years, I was fortunate to tour the Payne-Gentry House in Bridgeton, Missouri twice.

The home, built in 1870, is maybe a couple miles from Lambert Airport, and it sits in the middle of a really nice park. What makes this historic home is that it's the only site listed on the National Register of Historic Places with a doctor's office inside.

This beautiful home was built by Elbridge Payne, and was handed down to his son, William. William was a physician, and he practiced in his basement for 17 years. It's documented that many patients under Dr. Payne's care actually died in the house. In fact, there's a small cemetery in the back underneath a big tree where several children are buried.

The Payne-Gentry house is supposedly haunted by 23 separate entities, and most investigators suspect that most of them are the spirits of patients who died there. The most famous patient-haunting is that of a young woman who died during childbirth. Some have heard a baby crying in the house, and there are reports of people seeing the ghost of a woman holding a baby in her arms.

Interestingly, the most widely reported haunting is from a dog. Residents have seen a dog laying under a tree, only to disappear. During tours, people swear they felt a dog brush up against them and nuzzle against their legs.
The ghost dog has been seen by the cart

In fact, it was during one of my field trips that a parent-volunteer screamed right in the middle of the guided tour. She jumped up and ran out of the house. The entire fourth grade class exited the home along with her, and I remember the parent swearing up and down that she felt a dog rub up against her leg and lick her knee.

It was both funny and terrifying.

As a teenager, I played tennis quite a bit on the tennis courts at the park near the house. I remember one day, in broad daylight, me and a buddy of mine both saw a dog running around a tree. Fee Fee Rd. runs right next to the park, so we ran over there to make sure the lost dog wouldn't get hit by the many cars that drove by.

Lots of amputations during the Civil War
I saw - with my own eyes - what looked like a black and white shepherd dog of some kind. And when we approached the house, the freaking dog disappeared on the other side of the tree. There was absolutely NO WHERE for this dog to run off to and not be seen. It had just gone around the big tree, and *poof* gone.

Countless paranormal groups have investigated the Payne-Gentry house. Some have found nothing, but more often than not, they've seen moving shadows, heard strange voices, and they've felt the ghost-dog brush up against their legs. The doctor's office, which still has Dr. Payne's amputation tools on the desk, seems to be the most active.

If you ever visit St. Louis, maybe you should take a tour.

Unless you're allergic to ghost-dogs.

Have a great Halloween!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Survive and Thrive Bloghop


Survive and Thrive Bloghop: a blogfest meant to help bring awareness of disease prevention and
early detection regarding medical conditions that may be averted or prevented.

Thank you Stephen Tremp, Michael Di Gesu, Diane Wolfe, and Alex J. Cavanaugh for hosting.

Early this year, I read a book that changed my life forever. Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis. For years, I dieted and exercised, and I'd reach a plateau. No matter what I did, I couldn't break through that ceiling. So I'd get frustrated and go back to my old ways.

After seeing Dr. Davis on the Dr. Oz show, so much of what he said made perfect sense. Here's a cardiologist that sees so many patients who need to lose weight, take control of their lives, and often struggle with issues like diabetes and high cholesterol.

I had issues with borderline Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a belly I just couldn't get rid of. So I read Wheat Belly and tried it for one week. I felt horrible the first three days...then I felt amazing. I continued for two weeks, then three. Its' been eight months and 42 pounds later.

Here's the quick and dirty of Wheat Belly:

1) The "modern wheat" we eat today is genetically different from the kid of wheat we ate 50-100 yrs ago. Scientists have crossbred, intergrossed, and hybridized it several times in order to increase yield per acre. Modern wheat even looks totally different than more ancient wheat. It's short, but grows outwards. Ancient wheat is more robust and tall (remember the "heaven scenes" in Gladiator?)

2) Modern wheat has some dangerous components. Gluten is one of them, but GLIADIN is the real problem. It's the most abundant protein found in wheat. Gliadin releases exomorphins into your brain (crossing the blood-brain barrier) and produces an opiate effect. Yes, many of us are literally addicted to wheat and moderns grains. We eat, and we need to eat some more.

3) For those struggling with Type 2 diabetes, whole wheat bread has a higher glycemic index than a freaking candy bar. Dr. Oz even did an experiment proving this. Those products being marketed as GLUTEN FREE are even worse, as they're made with replacement flours that send your blood sugar levels skyrocketing!

4) High blood sugar = high insulin levels = visceral fat accumulation = lots of problems. It becomes a circle that's tough to break.

5) This is not Atkins. Nor is this Paleo (although it's got a lot in common with it this lifestyle)

*My vice: very dark chocolate (70% dark or greater). I have it every day.

I recently had blood work done. After the initial shock of my doctor seeing me, my A1C1 showed normal insulin and blood sugar levels and my cholesterol numbers improved (good is up and bad down). I've NEVER had such good numbers.

My blood pressure was perfect. I just bought new pants yesterday in a size I haven't worn since being a senior in high school twenty-four years ago.

This is not a diet or a fad. I'm eating more similar to how our bodies were designed. I don't feel like I'm starving myself or making crazy sacrifices. After that first week, the cravings stop. I no longer crave bad food or late night snacking - two things that made me pretty unhealthy. When I go out to eat, I do my best, but wheat still gets into my food. No biggie, although I can definitely feel it the next day. My stomach is upset and my joints get a little achy.

With my blood levels evening out, I can even fast for 24 hours and feel perfectly fine. Before, if I went six hours without eating, I got cranky and developed the "shakes." Signs that I was on my way to Type 2 diabetes.

I obviously was a major carb addict, and going wheat/grain free has made a huge difference in my life. If you or someone you know is struggling with weight loss, high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol and nothing seems to work, give Wheat Belly a good read.

* * * * *


Matt Shifley is one of my oldest blogging buddies. Okay, he might not be old chronologically, but we've been following each others blogs since 2005. His posts about his life always cracked me up, and he's finally compiled his ditties into a book.

Here's Matt...

Confessions Of A Dumb, White Guy: Tales About Life, Love And The Risks Of Wearing White, Thong Underwear

About the Book
Welcome to my world. My name is Matt Shifley (a.k.a. Mr. Shife) and for the past eight years, I have been chronicling my odyssey from a really dumb newlywed in 2005 to an even more mindless, married, stay-at-home dad in 2013. This book is a collection of short, distinctive anecdotes from my blog, Confessions of a Dumb, White Guy. A lot has happened over those years. Some of it funny like discovering that pleated pants can make you look like a sex addict. Some of it heart-warming like becoming a dad and holding my child for the first time. Some of it painful like dealing with the unexpected death of my mother and the aftermath: trying to recover from the worst moment of my life. And through it all, I’m still learning, discovering, laughing, writing, and enjoying life in my little corner of the world. I’m proud to share these tales with you, even the one where you learn exactly why white thong underwear can be a weapon of mass embarrassment.

About the Author

Matt Shifley is a stay-at-home dad but has been a sports reporter, copy editor, copywriter, marketing manager, marketing consultant, and Mountain Dew addict. When he is not being one of the most celebrated and sought after bloggers in thehistory of the world (Matt also particularly enjoys embellishing his own bio), he lives in Boise, Idaho with his wife, their two children, and Tank the basset hound. Matt’s eyes are blue and his relationship status is complicated with his favorite sports team, the St. Louis Cardinals. You can visit him at

The book is available at

Monday, October 13, 2014

Spooky Stories, 2014

Every single year since 2005, I've always done a series of posts during the month of October to celebrate Halloween. I love to share spooky stories with all of you, and this year, I'd like to share some freaky ones from my hometown of St. Louis.

But first, if you haven't signed up for my newsletter, I hope you'd consider signing up now. Most recently, I gave away a coupon for some free stuff. No SPAM, and I promise not to flood your inboxes with a bunch of crap.

I plan to only send out a quick newsletter with some exclusive stuff for my subscribers a mere four times a year. Just once per quarter. So please join the 21 people currently signed up (I know, that's pretty sad). For the love of Zeus, I promise to make your wildest dreams come true.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Email Format


Old bridge on Zombie Rd.
Here in Western St. Louis County, there's a road with quite a number of urban legends surrounding it. For as long as I can remember, this 2.3 mile stretch of country road in the middle of suburbia has always been a source of tales of the supernatural.

Also, cops hate it. Teenagers often go there seeking a thrill and end up making a ruckus.

The legends include stories of Native American ghosts haunting the road, Confederate soldiers' spirits making spectral appearances, and there's the one about the angry ghosts from the insane asylum that used to be there.

Lawler Ford Road, or "Zombie Road" as it's affectionately called by the locals, does have some real
history, however. It served as a path over the Meramec River for the Osage Indians. When settlers came to the area, the dirt road was often a site of intense fighting between the natives and the pioneers. A train went through the area, and a local woman was killed by being struck by the train back in 1876.

The Meramec River itself is known to be quite dangerous because of the deadly undertows that pull people down. Every year, there's at least one or two drownings that occur in the small river.

Zombie Road is deep set between high ridges, giving the area a really ominous feeling. It's also naturally cooler there because of its geography. Huge trees serve as a canopy over the road, blocking out any light from the night sky.

If you're ever in town, let's go!
I always scoffed at all the urban legends surrounding Zombie Road. But a few years ago, I was at a close friend's gathering, and a guy that I consider family started talking about his recent trip to Zombie Rd. My friend is a good ten years younger than me, so that would put him at around 17 years old at the time. Prime age for these stupid teenage stunts.

But his story was quite chilling. He and four of his friends, who he professes were not drunk, decided to go ghosthunting on Zombie Road. They drove a Jeep Cherokee, and they maneuvered through the dark, winding path. They had to go slow since it was so dark and pretty trecherous.

Something banged the side of the car next to my friend who was seated in the rear. They all jumped, but got a laugh out of it. It could have been a pine cone or branch falling from a tree or something. Another loud thump struck the other rear passenger side, followed by more blows against the SUV's body.

That's when everyone panicked, but and they all screamed at the driver to back up and get out of there. But all hell broke loose at that point. It sounded like their car was being attacked by at least ten people kicking and slamming all sides of the vehicle, but there was no one and nothing visible hitting it. The driver did his best to hit reverse and maneuver out of there without going over the cliffs, and they hardly spoke until they hit a McDonald's nearby.

All of them were shaken up by the experience.

Old ironclad in the Meramec off Zombie Rd.
So at the party, I asked if my friend would take us out there now to see if the same thing would happen to us, and his face totally blanched. He shook his head and gave me a firm, "Hell no."

Zombie Road might be mostly urban legend, but there's been A LOT of local and regional paranormal investigation teams who have scoured the area with their high tech equipment. I poo-poo on pictures of orbs, as I believe they are just insects or dust showing up on film.

However, once in awhile, I'll come across some evidence that maybe there is something strange about Zombie Road. And to this day, my friend professes that his experience was the truth. And no matter how many beers I give him, he refuses to return to Zombie Road.

Monday, October 6, 2014

My First Big Convention

My very first author event was in March of this year in Madison, IN. Since then, I've been to three local toy shows and an author's convention called Imaginarium in Louisville, KY. But all year, I had my sights set on one event...


Archon is St. Louis' biggest and longest-running science fiction/fantasy convention (38 years). Past guests of honor include George R.R. Martin and Stephen King. I actually attended this con last October just to scope things out, and I was determined to sell my books here in 2014.

So hopes were high, and I was nervous. I love selling in person, actually. I'm a natural extrovert, and I always engage with prospective buyers. At this convention, I felt like I was with my true audience. Steampunks and non-steampunks alike wanted to know more about my books.

I love meeting new people anyway, but I had so much fun getting to know my fellow book-lovers. This is why we do what we do, right?

So here's what I've learned this weekend:

1) Presenting your books to the right audience is crucial. The people attending Achon love science fiction/fantasy, so my genre was a perfect fit.

2) You need to ENGAGE with people. So many authors just sit behind their tables and passively wait
Me and G.P. Ching
for people to come up. I stood up the entire time to be eye-level with people. You need to connect with others. To me, I'm not just selling a book. I'm asking someone to go on a journey with me. Sounds hokey, I know. But people who give you money for your book deserve, at the very least, your time and your attention. Every buyer is more than a buyer. I made real friends who I hope will enjoy my stories.

3) Some people at cons are a little...weird. We all know this, but there's a certain segment of the sci-fi population who are socially awkward. I still tried to reach out to them. Some of them welcomed the opportunity to make friends, so much. And it was truly painful to see one of these awkward guys trying to talk to a girl. Crash and burn.

4) Visuals are key. Invest is a professional and sturdy banner and display. Don't go cheap. Save up your pennies and do it right. A 6 tiered book rack puts your books up at eye-level, and a banner with your kick ass cover art attracts attention.

5) Which leads me to #5. If our cover art is not eye-catching. It's worth it to spend the money to get one that will draw people's attention. People passing by stopped and looked at my cover art. Oh, and we did have a giant bowl of candy out too. That helped. (We went through 12 bags of candy). I lost count of the compliments and "wows" I got from my cover art. Thank you Enggar Adirasa.

6) The amount of dedication and skill it takes to be a cosplayer is mind-boggling. Tony Acree, author and CEO of Hyra Publications, took a ton of pics. We shared a table and we had an absolute BLAST. We were for sure the two loudest people there. Here's just a few of my favorite cosplayers:

She made this herself. Amazeballs!

Steampunk family. They bought my books!

This big dude saw my books and had to have them.

I'm not a Trekkie, but I got this one!

My #1 pick. These two were so darn authentic.
Of course, I had to dress up too.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Insecure Writer's Support Group for October - Happy Anniversary. Publishing and Beyond!

Three years ago on September 3rd, IWSG was born. One year ago, the IWSG website and FB page were conceived. So happy anniversary, my fellow insecure writers!

I read many of the IWSG posts for almost two years until I decided to join in the fun. It's been a great way to vent, and it's been great getting so much support from everyone. The IWSG is a safe-zone for all of us to unleash our fears and insecurities without being judged or mocked. It's quite cathartic.

Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for starting this awesome group, and thanks to all the others who got the website and Facebook page up and running.

This month, many of us are contributing to an anthology of great ideas revolving around publishing and beyond. For the last several months, I've been REALLY working hard to collect marketing ideas. It's getting tough and tougher, my friends. I'm pretty sure just about every single IWSG post I've done all year revolves around marketing.

I wanted to find ideas that went beyond the typical blog tour and cover reveals. It seems these conventional marketing methods are losing its luster, so I sought other ways to spread the word. Some of these might or might not work for you, but I hope I at least got you thinking.

So in that spirit, I give you my contribution:

Creative Marketing Ideas

1) Create an author website. Not a blog, but a true author website to market your work, Include awesome EXTRAS you can't get anywhere else. Put up unique content like character sketches, copies of initial outlines, early first drafts, etc. Stuff YOU would want to see from your favorite authors.

Or, get Rocket to market for you
2) Creative contests. Go beyond the Twitter posts and FB likes. Hold a contest that's different. You could have readers name a character, create a book trailer, write a flash fiction piece in the setting of your book (like M. Pax did), or have fans post pics of actors who could play the part in a movie based on your book. Make it fun, but make the prizes worthwhile too.

3) Give! Donate copies of your books to your local VA Hospital, retirement home, local library, rehab centers, etc. Just get your name out there.

4) Sell books elsewhere. Try a local coffeehouse. Especially during Black Friday! Just set up a table, offer a discount if they purchased something from the cafe. Or maybe try a festival, craft fair, or gypsy caravan. Try something new beyond the typical conventions and such.

5) Try the other online book advertisers (beyond Book Bub). Check out: Book Gorilla, Kindle Nation Daily, E-Readers News Today, People Reads Story Finds, Ebook Soda, The Fussy Librarian, and Digital Book Today.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Death Knocks RELEASE DAY

Two years in making!

If you count when I first posted about the Black-Eyed Kids phenomenon back in 2011, then it's taken three years for this book to see the light of day. I have been posting spooky stories on my blog during the month of October since 2005. But when I did a series of posts about these freaky Black-Eyed Kids three years ago, it struck a chord with Miranda.

That began our brainstorming sessions, which eventually led to us collaborating on this manuscript. It wasn't easy, and we put this book through the ringer. But we're happy with the final result.

Miranda Hardy and I are proud to finally get Death Knocks, a paranormal-thriller, out into the world today.

Here are the linky loos for Death Knocks:

Barnes & Noble

Have a great weekend, and I'll see you back here for October's Insecure Writers Support Group!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Imaginarium and Underrated Treasures Blogfest

My vendor table
It's late on Sunday, and I'm exhausted. Spent five hours in the car, and I just want to crash.

I spent all of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at an amazing new convention called Imaginarium in Louisville, Kentucky. It's a unique con specifically for creative writers. There were panels galore for everyone. Whether you write novels, short stories, songs, screenplays, poetry, or anything else you can think of, there were panels for you.

I spent almost all my time manning my vendor table where I sold all three of my books: Dragonfly Warrior, Shadow Warrior, and Death Knocks. Overall, I know many of the vendors were disappointed. After all, we were all selling to fellow writers.

So I didn't do as well as I had hoped, but I did way better than most. And I had a NY Times and USA Today Bestselling author actually buy my book. Believe it or not, we met at a bar in downtown Louisville, and when I told her that I wrote "Asian Steampunk," her curiosity was piqued. First thing next morning, she sought out my table and bought a copy of Dragonfly Warrior. I hope she likes it.

The best part was getting to see my fellow writer friends and make a bunch of new ones. I hope to see them all next year, and maybe the con will open up the vendor hall to the public and get more pure readers in there.

Underrated Treasures Blogfest!

Underrated Treasures Blogfest time! Everyone has a favorite movie or band that no one else has ever heard about. For whatever reason, they remain undiscovered and underrated. Now is my chance to tell the world about my underrated treasure! Thanks so much to Alex for creating this fun blogfest. I decided to share with you an underrated movie and book.

Underrated Movie: The Power of One. This powerful movie from 1992 was based on Bryce
Courtenay's novel of the same title. It featured Morgan Freeman, Stephen Dorf, and a very young and unknown Daniel Craig. The film is about being of English heritage while living in the 1930s in South Africa. It's full of the racism and violence associated with Apartheid, and there are parts of it that are downright disturbing.

But this movie packs a punch. Literally. The sport of boxing becomes central to the story, but it's vital symbol of the struggle many South Africans had to overcome during a very dark period in South African history. This film didn't do much in theaters, and critics were lukewarm to it. I personally thinks it's a pretty amazing film.

Underrated Book: This book isn't underrated, but it is quite unknown. It's the young adult novel, Fade, by Robert Cormier. It's about a young man who discovers he has the power of invisibility. It's apparently an ability handed down from uncle to nephew. Although it sounds like a run-of-the-mill paranormal YA book, it's not. Holy crap. Not even close.

The main character, at first, thinks being invisible is awesome. I mean, many of us would think so. But as he starts to wander around town spying on his neighbors, he witnesses all kinds of horrors. He sees things he can't unsee, and it really messes with him.

As he ages, he finds that he cannot control the power of The Fade, and he'll just turn invisible at any random time. And then he learns he has a nephew who has been using his invisible power for evil, and he has to confront him.

It's just an incredible book, and I strongly recommend you check it out. It happens to be one of Stephen King's favorites.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Curse of the Comma

It's been a VERY long time since I posted about writing. And it's even been longer since I've talked about something very boring, yet essential, for writers: grammar.

(Insert sigh HERE)

I'm a stickler for grammar. It probably stems from my days as a high school English teacher. As a writer, my eyes are just naturally drawn to grammatical mistakes. Interestingly, I'm not nearly as sharp when it comes to seeing errors in my own writing (a topic I want to blog about in the near future).

So let's tackle the dreaded comma, shall we? Why? Because the poor comma is being abused by a lot of writers and even editors. Using "gut instinct" or putting in a comma when it "feels right" won't cut it. Here are three common comma issues. We'll start with easy and work our way to the most difficult one.

1) Use a comma after an introductory clause.
After we went shopping, we went to eat lunch.
I don't usually see this one abused, as there's a natural pause there. So gut instinct doesn't get this one wrong. Easy as pie.

2) Use a comma between two INDEPENDENT clauses joined by a conjunction (and, but, for, so, or, yet, nor)
The car broke down, and I didn't have a cell phone.
I will sometimes see problems when the writer left off the conjunction and used a comma by itself to join the two independent clauses. Most writers got this!

3) Do NOT use commas to set off essential clauses.
The apples that fell out of the tree are delicious.
Okay. Now this is where I see a lot of writers mess this one up. I know several of you are just dying to put a comma before that and one after tree. But you should resist the power of the comma in this example.
...that fell out of the a relative clause, followed by the noun apples. Any clause that begins with that and follows an ambiguous noun is always essential. Remember, an essential clause is also a relative clause. A relative clause's job is to simply help limit a broad, ambiguous noun.

...that fell out of the telling you which apples are delicious, since the noun apples is so general, it could be the apples in the basket, or the ones at the store, etc. Comprende?

Here's another example:
The guy wearing jeans was underdressed.
Again, it's easy to feel the itch to put commas around ...wearing jeans...
But you would be wrong. Which guy? Oh. That guy in shorts? In a t-shirt? No. The guy who wore jeans! So it's an essential clause. It's defining the very broad noun guy.

How about this one?
My daughter, wearing jeans, was underdressed.
Ah, but I used commas here. Why? Because ...wearing this case is NON-ESSENTIAL. How so? Well, my noun here is very specific. It's MY daughter. Proper nouns are also the most common specific nouns. Proper nouns, or very specific nouns, don't need defining.

Another example:
Mr. Wilson, wearing jeans, was underdressed.
It's non-essential, thus you need commas here. The proper noun Mr. Wilson is very specific.

Let's make things even more complicated. Hopefully my explanation will help.

*If the clause becomes more of an accessory (non-essential), then you will set them off with commas. These "decorative clauses" just add a bit of information.

My new house, which was purchased last week, cost me a fortune.
Mr. Wilson, who paid for dinner, was very nice.
I went to the store yesterday, I think, and bought some apples.

The above three examples have commas setting off the clauses because the clauses are non-essential. They are decorative and not defining.

I hope that helps! There's a ton of more comma rules out there, but let's start with baby steps. 

* * * * *
Carol Kilgore, a great blogger-buddy of mine over at Under the Tikki Hut, wants everyone to know that her novel, SECRETS OF HONOR, is now available!

By the end of a long evening working as a special set of eyes for the presidential security detail, all Kat Marengo wants is to kick off her shoes and stash two not-really-stolen rings in a secure spot. Plus, maybe sleep with Dave Krizak. No, make that definitely sleep with Dave Krizak. The next morning, she wishes her new top priorities were so simple.

As an operative for a covert agency buried in the depths of the Department of Homeland Security, Kat is asked to participate in a matter of life or death—locate a kidnapped girl believed to be held in Corpus Christi, Texas. Since the person doing the asking is the wife of the president and the girl is the daughter of the first lady’s dearest friend, it’s hard to say no.

Kat and Dave quickly learn the real stakes are higher than they or the first lady believed and will require more than any of them bargained for.

The kicker? They have twenty-four hours to find the girl—or the matter of life or death will become more than a possibility.



Carol sees mystery and subterfuge everywhere. And she’s a sucker for a good love story—especially ones with humor and mystery. Crime Fiction with a Kiss gives her the latitude to mix and match throughout the broad mystery and romance genres. Having flexibility makes her heart happy.

You can connect with Carol and her books here:
Under the Tiki Hut blog:
Website with Monthly Contest: