DEAD BEFORE MORNING BESTSELLER IN ALL CATEGORIES!

This morning, Dead Before Morning is No 28 in UK Police Procedural Bestsellers in ALL categories, including print! Woo! Hoo!

BESTSELLER ON KINDLE!

DEAD BEFORE MORNING is today number 23 in the Police Procedural (Top 100 Paid) Bestsellers on kindle UK. I’m above Donna Leon’s Acqua Alta (24), Laura Lippman’s to the Power of Three (29) and Karin Slaughter’s Blindsighted (30)!

The book is also in the Top 100 under Crime – Thrillers and Mysteries – Police Procedurals at No. 33 and No 56 under Books – Fiction – Humour.

And it’s not even only priced at 70p. It’s currently selling for £1.79. Though I priced it at £2.12, amazon alters the price depending on what it’s selling for on other devices.

Under all categories, it’s at No 1,968 – not bad when you consider the number of books up for sale on amazon. It’s quite made my weekend!

BARGAIN BOOK! 99 CENTS / 71P

For a short time only! Death Line, my latest Rafferty & Llewellyn mystery ebooks is going cheap! 99c / 71p.

Blurb of Death Line
Jasper Moon, internationally renowned ‘seer to the stars’, had signally failed to foresee his own future. He is found dead on his consulting-room floor, his skull crushed with a crystal ball and, all, around him, his office in chaos.
Meanwhile, Ma Rafferty does some star-gazing of her own and is sure she can predict Detective Inspector Joe Rafferty’s future –   by the simple expedient of organizing it herself. She is still engaged on her crusade to get Rafferty married off to a good Catholic girl with child-bearing hips. But Rafferty has a cunning plan to sabotage her machinations. Only trouble is, he needs Sergeant Llewellyn’s cooperation and he isn’t sure he’s going to get it.
During their murder investigations, Inspector Rafferty and Sergeant Llewellyn discover a highly incriminating video concealed in Moon’s flat, a video which, if made public, could wreck more than one life. Was the famous astrologer really a vicious sexual predator? Gradually, connections begin to emerge between Moon and others in the small Essex town of Elmhurst. But how is Rafferty to solve the case when all of his suspects have seemingly unbreakable alibis?

READ AN EXCERPT:

WATCH A TRAILER OF DEATH LINE:

DEATH LINE – available now on kindle for 99c/71p. Soon to be available on nook, iPad, iPhone, sobo, android, Mac, etc. Buy it. You know it makes sense.

DEATH LINE PUBLISHED WITH TRAILER

Well, it’s now up on kindle, minus the cover at the moment, as I received this after the book content. But that will adorn the book shortly. But what I’ve done differently with this one is to embed my trailer into the actual book. How advanced is that? Needless to say, I wasn’t responsible for it – I just asked and it was done by my lovely ebook formatters hitch@Q.com and her staff.

Here’s the trailer:

Hitch thinks it’s a hoot, but she may be biased!

Have any of you embedded a trailer in an ebook? I have to admit this is a new concept for me. I’m still gobsmacked about the whole ebook revolution. It seems like some sort of miracle to an ignored midlister like me. Now we can perform on something like a level playing field with the bestsellers.

I love being able to set my own price, decide on my own cover and control what extras are put in the book. For the next one, I think, as well as an embedded  trailer, I’ll probably put the first chapter of Absolute Poison, the next in my Rafferty & Llewellyn mystery series.

How about you? What plans do you have in this mad ebook world? Going to bring out an anthology of your short stories? Or your writing tips articles? Admittedly, with the latter, you can’t begin to compare to the king of tips, J A Konrath and his Newbie’s Guide to Publishing (see Blog List at right). This thousand-page book, made up of countless blogs about the publishing industry and marketing and epublishing, is a phenomenon. It helped to persuade me to join the revolution. I’m glad I did: by the time I publish Absolute Poison, I should be earning £400 a month. Maybe more, as it’s said that the greater the number of books up on kindle, the better the all-round sales. We’ll see. But I’m not complaining. How about you? And if you’ve yet to join the revolution, you could do worse than buy Konrath’s Guide. You’ve nothing to lose and maybe everything to gain. I think it’s the best advice book I’ve ever bought.

MY EBOOK EXPERIMENTS

Have you got an ebook experiment going on? I have. My sales figures were very small when I started at the end of 2010, but they’ve improved with each month and February’s sales figures were 216 in total across my two ebooks. March is shaping up to be even higher. The high February figures are understandable because I did a 17-date Blog Tour during the month. But I’ve done nothing this month, yet the figures are on a par or higher, which is very encouraging.
I find Dead Before Morning has better sales than Down Among the Dead Men. I believe this is down to the book cover because DBM is much more striking than DADM. I think I’ll have to consider changing the cove of the latter.
As part of my ebook experiment, I changed the price of both my ebooks from $2.l99 / 2.12 to 99c / 71p for a month. The sales difference was marked. I sold twice as many books at the lower price. But I was also considering the earnings aspect and even with half the sales my books earned me more money at the higher price. Three times more money, so although I’ll probably do a 99c / 71p cheap Introductory Offer on Death Line, which is my third ebook (out later this month) and hope to make more sales on the other two books off the back of the new one, I’m not going to lower the price of the first two.
But it’s been an interesting experiment, one which will continue as long as I have ebooks up for sale. There are a lot of us experimenters out there, each of us no doubt astonished at how well we’re doing. Okay, most of us aren’t coming anywhere near Konrath’s figures, which are stellar, but I’m pretty happy. More sales would be nice, of course, as more always is. But considering I’m a little-known midlister, I can’t complain.
I’ve got another experiment coming in  April when, on 13/14, I’ll get a mention in Kindle Nation Daily. This is a first for me. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s a hike in sales.
So how are your ebook experiments going? Leave a comment and let us know. It would be good to compare notes.

PREPARING DEATH LINE FOR EPUBLICATION

Death Line is the third of the out of prints in my Rafferty & Llewellyn humorous mystery series that I’m publishing as an ebook. I’ve just reread it while I was adjusting the format after its conversion from an Amstrad disc and it strikes me as more serious than the other books. Its plot is also far more complicated. Whether those are good or bad things….

Anyway, I’ve just sent the book over to America to my ebook formatting lady, Kimberly Hitchens. If any of you are looking for a reliable and reasonably priced formatter for your ebooks you could do worse than use Hitch’s services. You can contact her at hitch@Q.com. This is also the third of mine that Hitch will ready for epublishing. I’m looking forward to working with her again.

Although I’ve selected a photo from iStockPhoto.com for use as the basis for the cover, I thought I’d experiment a bit myself, just in case I could save myself a bit of money. I decided, because the book’s called Death Line with a murder centred around a New Age business that deals in hand analysis (palm reading) and astrology, I thought I’d have a picture of a human hand with blood following the curve of the Life Line (to symbolize death). I also used a black cloth and pix of astrological symbols. What do you think? The one below is probably my best shot.

I tried to cut my own hand to get some blood, but apparently we have a houseful of blunt knives! Certainly none of them would cut your throat to oblige you. So I had to resort to other means. I didn’t have any tomato ketchup, so I used tomato puree. Then I tried red nail polish. Nothing if not inventive!

Each time I set my props up, got the tomato gunge on my hand, took the shots, then cleaned up and put everything away, my husband complained there was this wrong with it or that wrong with it. So I did it again. Four attempts later…

Well, I thought it was pretty good for a book cover. Not too cluttered, limited colour palette, stark. Though Rick Capidamonte, who does my jacket graphics wasn’t as impressed as I’d hoped. So we’re going with the picture I first thought of from iStockPhoto with Rick adding various elements to the basic hand picture. I really like it. I love the colours and think it’s pretty striking. What do you think of it?

Have you ever attempted to do your own book cover? Tell us about your experiences and if the experts rejected your brave attempts as they did mine or if you went on to use it in an actual publication. Put a link in your comment so we can see what you did.

THRILLER WRITER CJ WEST

                                                   

Thriller writer CJ West is my guest today. CJ says about his latest novel, The End of Marking time:

‘The End of Marking Time is a special book for me. I spent years reflecting on the ways family and society affect the development of criminals. When I sat down to write this book (I had no choice because I had torn my ACL and was ordered to sit still) the ideas came so fast my forearms hurt from the constant typing. I drafted the book in six weeks, a process that normally takes me four months.’
Just shows what wonders a minor incapacity can do for one’s writing speed!

Here are a couple of reviews for The end of Marking Time:

This book was the most original and inspired work of fiction I have read in years…
        C. Clift, Jersey City, NJ

“…mind blowing ending.”
        Anna Roudenbush

Now, back to CJ.

Are You Afraid of Big Brother?

When I was young I had a conversation with my father about morality and behavior. He told me that God and I see everything I do. I should act accordingly so that I don’t disappoint God or myself. This was an eye-opening conversation for me at the time. The idea that God’s watchful eye was inescapable was a little frightening. Imagine that every moment, no matter how private, is being observed. Not only that, but I also believe that God can read my innermost thoughts and some of those aren’t exactly pure. Combine this with the anxiety of knowing you are being judged by the Almighty and it is a powerful motivator to follow the straight and narrow.
The other element of this new awareness is that we form our opinion of ourselves based on a long history of deeds both good and evil. There is no escaping our self-knowledge save hypnosis, anesthesia, or amnesia. I wasn’t a troublesome kid. I did my share of stupid boy tricks, but I’m sure my behavior improved for a little while after this talk. Perspective it s tricky animal. Even if I was a rotten kid (which my parents assure me isn’t true) could I really picture myself that way? Would I have jumped off a bridge if I thought myself evil? Maybe. I think no matter who we are we have to see ourselves in a positive light to be able to get through our day even if our daily routine involves stealing candy from neighborhood children.
Self-knowledge and constant observation plague Michael O’Connor, the protagonist in The End of Marking Time. Michael has been a criminal since he was very young. He has stolen cars, jewelry, credit cards, cash, all manner of things. After a life financed by criminal pursuits and government handouts, Michael tries to see himself as a good guy. It makes me wonder if maybe we are a poor judge of our own character no matter who we are. If he looked at himself the way I see him, he couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Then again, if he had my perspective, he wouldn’t be who he is.
During the novel, Michael realizes he is being watched and he slowly realizes that his circumstances are being manipulated to the extent that he cannot tell where his reeducation program ends and reality begins. When I talk to people about this they cringe. Why should it be so disturbing for someone to watch us? Is what we do that different from anyone else? What are we hiding? Are we thinking evil thoughts? Doing evil deeds? Or do we just not want anyone to see us naked?
Could you live with someone watching you 24/7?
BOOK BLURB
Gifted housebreaker, Michael O’Connor, awakens inside an ultramodern criminal justice system where prison walls are replaced by surveillance equipment and a host of actors hired to determine if he is worthy of freedom. While he was sleeping, the Supreme Court declared long term incarceration to be cruel and unusual punishment and ordered two million felons released. The result was utter chaos and the backlash from law-abiding citizens and police departments reshaped the United States. Felons now enter reeducation programs where they live freely among the population. At least that’s what they think. In reality they are enslaved to an army of counselors and a black box that teaches them everything they failed to learn from kindergarten through adulthood. Michael believes he’s being tested by the black box, but what he slowly begins to realize is that everything he does is evaluated to determine whether he lives or dies.
C.J. BIO

C.J. West is the author of 5 thrillers set in New England. His latest, The End of Marking Time (a free e-book from www.22wb.com), pits a gifted housebreaker against a futuristic prison system then asks you to decide his fate. Sin and Vengeance, the first book in C.J.’s Randy Black series, is currently in development for film with Beantown Productions, LLC (screenplay by Marla Cukor).

C.J. interviews thriller and suspense writers on his Blog Talk Radio Show and hosts creative events including high performance driving courses, firearms training, and live murder mystery shows. Find C.J. at http://www.22wb.com/.
LINKS
US:
UK
Social Networking
Excerpt
Chapter One
I wasn’t surprised when the Plexiglas partitions shot up out of the floor and locked me in front of this window. I had seen the breaks in the tile floor and I knew what was underneath because Wendell has done this to me before. I know this time is different. I’m not going to pretend I’m not scared to face your decision. If you were on this side of the glass, you would be scared, too. You can tell yourself you’re too good to end up where I am. That you’re not like me. But how different are we really? I wish I could see you, to see the difference for myself, but I understand why Wendell is hiding you. You probably have a steady job, a house, and credits in the bank. You could never imagine doing the things I’ve done. All you want is to get this over and go back to your life. You might even be ready to push the red button and get on with it, but put yourself in my place. For the next few hours I’m going to tell you my story. I hope you’ll give me a chance.
It was my destiny to be trapped in this tiled hallway with you watching me through the one-way window. Maybe not from birth, but certainly from the time I opened the can of peaches I stole on Longmeadow Drive. I had been on my own five years by then and I was at the top of my game. I was cocky, but I had good reason. I chose my targets well and I moved like a ghost when I worked. I hadn’t been arrested in three years, not even a close call. Maybe that’s why I watched Leno from behind the couch while the middle-aged fat guy drifted in and out of consciousness right in front of me. He snored one minute and laughed at some politician’s latest gaffe the next. I watched the show, ate my peaches, and wondered how this buffoon afforded such a huge place all by himself. It wasn’t just him. The whole street was full of little kings and I couldn’t imagine there were so many kingdoms in America. Don’t get me wrong. I was glad to have them around because I worked my way through the royal suburbs week after week. I should have been paying attention instead of wondering why someone with so much money lived by himself. Unlikely he had a mother like mine. Or maybe he was just like my father.
Usually I cleaned up after myself so well that my marks weren’t even sure they’d been hit. Plenty of them blamed the shifty-eyed kid next door or raged against a child they suspected of buying drugs. Normally I would have cleaned the fork and put it back, then rinsed the can and left it with the recycling, but that night I left the can on the end table, the fork leaning down into two inches of syrup. I knew I could never come back. I had been through half the houses on this street, pinched a wad of cash here, a diamond necklace there. After I slipped out with the Mercedes that night, the neighbors would take a closer look around their houses and the emails would start flying. There would be meetings with the police, talk of a neighborhood watch, a few of them would even buy guns. Sometimes when I was done with a place like this, I’d tip off a real bungler, a smash-and-grab type hyped up on drugs, and send him stumbling into a hornet’s nest of nervous housewives and angry husbands. Sometimes the druggie barged in and out so fast he got away the first time, but eventually he would end up cuffed in the back of a cruiser. That satisfied the neighbors and covered my trail nicely. Everyone was happy except the guy forced to detox in a six-by-nine.
I should have sent one of them in my place, but I wanted the Mercedes. It took me five minutes to creep out of the living room and up the stairs to the master bedroom. The keys to the Mercedes were right on the bureau in plain sight, as was his wallet with five credit cards and six hundred forty in cash. Who carries that much cash anymore? I left him twenty for breakfast and took all the plastic. If he had more cash lying around, I couldn’t find it. I checked the sock drawer, then felt under the bureau and along the back edge with no luck. He might have had a safe behind one of the oil paintings, but I couldn’t risk taking them down with him in the house. I was sitting at the desk in the corner with his checkbook in my hand when he decided he’d had enough of Leno and lumbered upstairs. The room was massive, but there was only one way in and one way out. I gambled. I could have headed for the door and whacked him when he came in with his eyes half open, but that wasn’t my style. I slipped to the floor, crawled into the opening under the desktop, and pulled the chair in behind me. He topped the stairs, trudged past me, and flopped face first on the bed without even looking in my direction.
It took him ten minutes to start snoring regularly. I got back up onto the chair, reassured by the irregular nasal bursts. My gamble paid off. There in the top drawer I found a two-sided sheet of paper that listed every credit card, bank account, and Internet site logon the guy had, complete with passwords. I had his debit card and his PIN, but I wasn’t stupid enough to walk into an ATM and use it. I could find some kid I’d never seen before and split the max withdrawal with him, but that was risky. The magic was the plastic. Since I had his list of customer service numbers, it’d take him a day to contact the banks. All I needed was a few hours and he’d be asleep longer than that.
I stopped at the bedroom door to look back and wonder if I’d ever own a place like this. With an eighth-grade education, probably not, especially where I went to school. But for the next thirty minutes, I’d be driving a top-of-the-line Mercedes with a pocket full of cash and plastic.
The garage door opened smoothly. I drove out and hit the remote like I lived there. I was pretty full of myself when I made the corner out of the neighborhood without a soul to see me. I couldn’t stop thinking about what the fat guy would do when he woke up. He might not notice his wallet was lighter, but he’d definitely be pissed when he couldn’t find his keys. He’d have a fit when he went down to the garage looking for them and realized the Mercedes was gone.
The whole thing would sink in then. He’d call the cops and he’d stomp around the house looking to see what else I’d taken until they got there. It would really hit him when he found the empty peach can on the end table. Eventually he’d remember hearing the fork tap the bottom of the can. He’d turned around once but hadn’t really been looking. He felt safe in his home until that night. All people did. They had to. Otherwise they’d go nuts jumping at every noise and shadow. They knew there were criminals out there, but not in their houses, not while they were home. The poor guy wouldn’t sleep for weeks.
He’d turn the night over and over in his mind until he realized he’d picked up the clicker just a few feet from where I was hiding in the shadows against the wall. He’d be terrified then. He expected criminals to be violent and unpredictable. He never expected someone like me. I never panic. I know the cops take twenty minutes to get most places and that’s more than enough time to disappear if you’re not in a rush. I always plan two exits, a hot one and a cool one. I always keep my head and most of the time, like that night, I glide along the cool road home, careful not to get stopped.
Unfortunately, I had no idea who I’d just hit or the shit storm I was about to set off when I sold those credit cards.
Thank you, CJ. It’s true that none of us know how we might have turned out if circumstances had been different. Here are CJ’s other books.

NEW AUTHOR, STEPHEN BRAYTON

 Today, I give my blog over to new author Stephen Brayton. As well as being a novelist, Stephen has a black belt in Taekwondo and also works as an instructor. He is epublished by Echelon Press. He describes how he decided on the kind of characters to appear in his book. Here’s Stephen.

Many things I’ve learned over the years are self taught. When I worked as a graphic designer at a local newspaper, I was unfamiliar about the software being used to create advertising. Slowly, through the months, I discovered new things to be done with the program others hadn’t.
So it was with writing. I didn’t know anything about outlining, or formatting, or even too much editing, but throughout the years, I developed a system that worked for me. When I started writing my first action mystery, I knew what type of character I wanted as my protagonist. Since, she has developed into a deeper character with more flaws and more personality. At the time, though, I sat with pen in hand and wrote a very basic character outline. Along with her general description, I listed her favorite color, flower, food/drink, car, clothing, music, books. Nobody told me to do this and I didn’t read any guidelines out of a how-to book. This just made sense to me to do this to better understand about who I was writing.
Years later, I read about a more in-depth character outline. This included background information, childhood memories, past employment, etc. Also included was a guideline to understand the character in that particular story. I liken it to actors preparing for a scene. What’s the motivation? What’s the goal? What are the obstacles? How are the obstacles overcome? These series of questions can be used for every character in every scene and for the story as a whole. However, the trap into which some writer may fall is taking this too far. I know a writer whose character description included almost soap opera like dimensions. While this may be fine to jot down, do those miscellaneous factoids have any bearing on the present day story? If not, I think time has been wasted when actual writing could have been done.
One of the difficulties I encountered was in the physical description of the characters. Brown eyes, dark brown hair, and medium build are so common, and I get bored reading about the same person in many books. For me, I had to develop a mental image of each character and I based the looks on various people I knew whether they be friends, classmates, or people in the public eye such as movie or television actresses.
Mallory Petersen, in Beta (release date July 15), was an easy character to develop. Basically, she is me as a female, with a little more flair, better looks, and better martial arts skills. I just took many of my traits, likes and dislikes, and improved them to create Mallory.
For Night Shadows, background plays a large role for each of the two protagonists. Harry Reznik is married to an attractive woman and feels lucky to have her for a wife. He attended almost three years at the university unable to decide upon a career choice…until he met his future wife. So she, in essence, helps to develop his character throughout their marriage. For Lori Campisi, her background is mystery, and her struggle against amnesia and the revelations are part of the story. I knew the personality I wanted to portray and had a mental image of her features.
For other characters, I use familiar people to describe them. The medical examiner has, “Tom Brokaw handsomeness.” The Lieutenant is drawn from a model in a magazine. Reznik compares Campisi to Spock because of her control over exhibiting emotions.
Good authors will bring their characters off the pages and put them into the reader’s mind’s eye. Of course, every person’s conception of a particular character may be different than another’s, but differing views are the beauty of imagination and what make the books enjoyable.
BLURB:
Description
Des Moines Homicide detective Harry Reznik and F.B.I. agent, Lori Campisi, have their hands more than a little full when they team up to investigate a series of gruesome murders.

With life throwing them one obstacle after another, the unlikely pair has no choice but to put their personal issues aside as they battle malevolent creatures from another dimension. With everything to lose, they have no one but each other to count on in a wicked game of survival.

Bio:
Stephen Brayton owns and operates Brayton’s Black Belt Academy in Oskaloosa, Iowa. He’s a Fifth Degree Black Belt and certified instructor in The American Taekwondo Association.
Stephen began writing as a child; his first short story concerned a true incident about his reactions to discipline. During high school, he wrote for the school newspaper and was a photographer for the yearbook. For a Mass Media class, he wrote and edited a video project.
In college, he began a personal journal for a writing class; said journal has been ongoing. He also was a reporter for the college newspaper.
During his early twenties, while working for a Kewanee, Illinois radio station, he wrote a fantasy based story and a trilogy for a comic book. He has written numerous short stories, both horror and mystery.
Excerpt:
Des Moines, Iowa
Midnight, Saturday

It is a special time. The Night. A special place.

Where things are seen but not witnessed. Where promises are made and broken. Where dreams and wishes are fulfilled.

During the day, there is a rushing and frantic pace. When night falls, movement is quieter and mysterious. Breezes blow through tree branches and the soft slap of leaves are heard, but those leaves are not noticed as much as their silhouettes caused by streetlights.

The streetlight’s sodium vapor fizzes to life, palely illuminating its own small section of the world, at the same time creating shadows.

Moving shadows.

Elongated shadows such as the dog and its owner out for a walk along a quiet residential street. A familiar route for both, but a chance for the canine to track new scents and continue the age-old instinctual, if nowadays needless, practice of marking and re-marking its territory. Its owner is allowed a chance to breathe a bit of cool air after being cooped up in a stuffy cubicle by day and a stale apartment all evening.

He is cautious, however, for while he may favor the night, others less innocent also occupy the patches of darkness. So when his best friend, hardly a breed to cause hesitation to a potential attacker, stops to sniff a scraggly bush, the man swivels to look in all directions. Ears strain for the lightest footfall or rustle of clothing from someone hidden. Darting eyes pick up all movements. The back and forth flow of those tree leaves, the silent streak of a darting rabbit not noticed by the dog.

There! Did he notice a curtain edge dropping back into place in the darkened house he and his dog now face? Maybe. The house is single story, a small box really, with the requisite low pitched roof, dollhouse windows. No porch, just irregularly shaped flagstones leading to a gravel driveway. Nothing special, nothing unique. Nothing to be scared of.

Man and dog continue down the sidewalk, their shadows sometimes guiding, sometimes dissipating.

Inside the house, a figure steps back, letting the curtain fall from his hand when the dog walker turns toward the window.

Did he see me?

Eyes peek around the edge of the curtain and watch as the pair walk out of sight.

No, everything is fine. Nobody suspects.

A gasp and another step back as car headlights spear the darkness and disappear. Startled, the figure waits until his breathing is even, heartbeat normal. Well, maybe a little faster than normal considering what is about to happen.

Obsessive compulsive behavior urges another quick check outside. Nothing. Nobody. A blue flicker of a television from a house across the street, but no worries there.

They won’t know.

Without as much as the softest whisper of carpet fiber, the figure steps away from the window to a door. Beyond it lies a flight of descending stairs. Before advancing below, the wraith-like figure double locks the basement door.

Absolute darkness, but there is no concern. The number of stairs is known, as is the number of steps to reach the wall. A scratch, a brief scent of sulfur, and flame burns one end of a wooden matchstick. The fingers holding the other end are nail bitten yet clean. They spread the fire to the wicks of several candles resting on makeshift shelves around the room.

The basement is small as befits the structure above. Not many items are in evidence. The candles, of course, some new and fat, others thin with castle-like moldings of dripped wax. Others are stubby and ready for replacement.

All colored black or red.

A dais stands at the far end of the basement. Next to it is an old wooden chest with an ornate metal lock and hasp.

No windows, no vents. Only the candles, the dais, the chest…and him.

The merest glimpse of a figure behind a curtained window, now a solid man in candlelight, stands stooped. His face and body show the years of a hard life’s struggle, an ever striving to find that one elusive…something. The creases in his forehead, the scars on his limbs, the gray hairs on his chest and head, the involuntary twitches of leg, arm, and back muscles all belie the fact the man has only aged to his late fifties. The robe he wears is inlaid with intricate, complex, and alien designs on a background of rich deep purple.

He pauses after disposing of the spent match. His heart thuds in anticipation. He listens to the quiet and watches the shadows created by the candles’ flames.

The shadows, yes…

A loner by choice for many years, he sometimes wonders why he lives in the city. Rural life would suit him better, away from the people and the noise. Midnight in the metropolis is tolerable, however, and the traffic on his block is sparse, even during the day.

Unlike Mexico City with its twenty-four-hour-a-day traffic jams, thirty million plus population, and the smog turning his snot and lungs black. He barely survived the ordeal, but he obtained his prize. The old chest…and the treasure within.

Years of research and travel led him to the filthy, corrupt capital where he traced the old Guardian to a forgotten alley in the Zona Roja–the Red Zone–one of the ugliest, dirtiest, crime ridden, rat and human debris infested parts of the city. In a sub cellar of a neglected building negotiations went awry. A stubborn, worthless, withered old man lay dead, and the chest and its contents stolen away in the night.

Now, in another capital city in an American heartland state, his dreams can be fulfilled. Power will be the reward for all his tribulations. Power…

From the Book of Sarmangous.

After unlocking the chest, he withdraws the large tome, its cracked bindings, strange textured cover, and brittle pages all handled with infinite delicacy. The cover bears strange, timeworn designs, some vaguely human, others more monstrous in nature. Some of them spell out in an ancient language the book’s title.

Sarmangous.

He places the book on the wooden dais’ felt-lined holder. Inhaling one sharp breath and holding the air in his lungs so as not to so much as breathe an internal foulness upon the pages, he opens the cover. He turns to the correct page deep within the thickness of the ancient writings, selects the specific text. He squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, still holding his breath. His entire body aquiver with heightened nerves, then…then opening his eyes, the words, the phrases, the weird combination of sounds are uttered.

The candles burn a little brighter.

* * *

Another room elsewhere in the city

One second there is darkness, the next there is a flash of swirling purple.

A door has opened.

Whispers like water flowing over rocks fill the air.

In the middle of the churning purple maelstrom is a blackness, a malevolence, almost…prescient.

A shape, burnt gray, slithers from the black, into the room…into existence.

It is followed by another and another and…

Pinpricks of red pierce the darkness. The gray shapes start to expand, to grow.

As does their hunger.

* * *

The man in the purple robe stands in front of the dais, in front of the Book of Sarmangous. He smiles as he feels the energy within him. Eyes closed, he revels in the moment. He has unleashed an unstoppable power, one only he will control.

The candles flare once and settle back, their flickering erratic, and the created shadows dance.

Some of those shadows move against the dancing silhouettes…move on their own.

And it begins…

* * *

Ewing Park, four nights later

“Come on, Betty. It’ll be fun. Don’t you think this is romantic?” The youth coaxed the reluctant girl deeper into the grove of trees and large bushes, the sweet odor of lilacs heavy in the air.

“Joey, we’re gonna get caught. Somebody’s gonna see us.”

“No, they won’t. It’s the middle of the night.”

“The car, Joey.” Betty pulled back, causing her date to stumble. “A cop is going to find the car and catch us. I don’t want to go to jail.”

“We’re not going to jail,” Joey whispered, “unless you don’t lower your voice. Even if we do get caught, we’ll just be thrown out. We’re not going to get arrested.”

He sensed her hesitation wane.

“Come on, honey. You always complain about how I’m not spontaneous enough. Well, here we are.”

“Joey,” she said, hands on hips. “You’re carrying a blanket, a flashlight, and a condom. How spontaneous is that? You drove directly here after we left the club. Don’t tell me you didn’t plan this.”

“Well…” Joey shrugged. “Do I at least get points for originality? Maybe…a kiss?”

Betty pursed her lips in mock consideration. “I have to admit this is different.”

“Uh–huh. What about the kiss?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe…more?”

“At least turn off the flashlight,” Betty said. “It won’t make any difference how loud our voices are if they see a light.”

“Mmm…”

“What?”

“I just…well, I just wanted to see you…”

“Yes?”

“I want to watch you…undress.” Joey leered.

“Joey!”

“It’s sexy. The way you look at me and take off your clothes so slowly.”

He closed in and nuzzled her neck, whispering more seductive words in her ear. She giggled, then sighed as Joey’s insistent body warmed her, overwhelmed her senses, and eased her fears. He touched her skin, brushed her arms with soft fingers, and she reached for him.

“Wait.” Joey backed off.

Betty moaned at the broken moment. “Why?”

“Not here. I know a good place. Follow me.”

They ran nearly pell-mell, hand in hand, to a circular clearing within a copse of trees almost in full bloom. The heady lilac scent only served to push their pulsing hormones up another notch. He quickly spread the blanket on the grass and removed his shoes. Kneeling, he pointed the flashlight at her.

“All right. Show me,” he whispered.

“Don’t shine the light in my eyes,” she said.

“Sorry.” He aimed the light lower, but could still see her sultry expression. She licked her lips with the tip of her tongue while her hands slid across her stomach and up to her breasts. Her fingers played with the first button of her blouse.

“Oh, my!” Joey’s eyes widened, excitement building.

Betty moved her hips to some silent rhythm as she popped the first button out of the hole. Then the second button, the third.

A faint sound upon the breeze wafted through the branches.

Betty stopped moving.

“What?” Joey narrowed his eyes, upset by the interruption.

Betty cocked her head to one side. “I thought I heard something.”

“Ain’t nothing out here. Come on, keep going. I’m about to drill a hole in my pants.”

Betty giggled again and resumed her routine. Finally, she slipped off the blouse, crossed her arms in front of her breasts which all but spilled from her half bra.

“You like?” Her words were overly breathy.

Joey only nodded.

She reached for the zipper on her skirt and soon the garment joined the other.

“Black panties,” Joey said. “My favorite.”

“Yes, but it’s your turn.” Betty pointed. “Time for you to get out of those clothes.”

Joey stood, handed her the flashlight, and hastily removed his shirt.

“Not so fast, lover boy,” Betty chided. “I like it slow, too.”

He moved his hips in a poor imitation of a Chippendale dancer taking off his pants.

“Mmm, looks very interesting,” Betty said.

Joey stepped towards her, his hand reaching for her breast. He hesitated when he heard a slithering sound, like a snake on loose gravel.

“What was that?” Betty aimed the light around her.

“I don’t know. Probably a small animal.”

“Joey, m–maybe we oughta get out of here.” Betty reached for her clothes when the sound altered from a slither to a harsh shush as of two pieces of satin rubbing together. The volume increased and the noise became an incensed hiss.

“Joey!” Betty whirled around, flashing the light in every direction. “What it is? What’s happening?”

“I don’t–”

Another evolution of sound cut off his final words. The hiss became a mushy scrunch, like shuffling footsteps in sand or finely broken glass. Something shifted in the darkness. Too late, Joey realized it wasn’t something in the shadows, it was a shadow. No, a lot of shadows. Shifting, expanding, forming.

Coming closer.

“Betty!” Joey’s scream ripped through the night air, but Betty couldn’t respond. The shadows enveloped her and her screams ripped through the night air.

Although not for long.

Joey tried to run, but other dark shapes cut off his escape…cut short his life.

The flashlight clunked to the ground, its switch still set to the ‘on’ position. The bulb shone, providing fuel for the attack.

Because with no light, there are no shadows.

The purchase link is:
Stephen’s website is: www.stephenbrayton.com and his blog is http://stephenlbrayton.blogspot.com/
Thank you, Stephen. Don’t forget to click on Stephen’s website to learn more about him and his book. Good luck with it, Stephen.

NOW PREPARING DEATH LINE FOR EPUBLICATION

Death Line is the third of the out of prints in my Rafferty & Llewellyn humorous mystery series that I’m publishing as an ebook. I’ve just reread it while I was adjusting the format after its conversion from an Amstrad disc and it strikes me as more serious than the other books. Its plot is also far more complicated. Whether those are good or bad things….

Anyway, I’ve just sent the book over to America to my ebook formatting lady, Kimberly Hitchens. If any of you are looking for a reliable and reasonably priced formatter for your ebooks you could do worse than use Hitch’s services. You can contact her at hitch@Q.com. This is also the third of mine that Hitch will ready for epublishing. I’m looking forward to working with her again.

Although I’ve selected a photo from iStockPhoto.com for use as the basis for the cover, I thought I’d experiment a bit myself, just in case I could save myself a bit of money. I decided, because the book’s called Death Line with a murder centred around a New Age business that deals in hand analysis (palm reading) and astrology, I thought I’d have a picture of a human hand with blood following the curve of the Life Line (to symbolize death). I also used a black cloth and pix of astrological symbols. What do you think? The one below is probably my best shot.

I tried to cut my own hand to get some blood, but apparently we have a houseful of blunt knives! Certainly none of them would cut your throat to oblige you. So I had to resort to other means. I didn’t have any tomato ketchup, so I used tomato puree. Then I tried red nail polish. Nothing if not inventive!

Each time I set my props up, got the tomato gunge on my hand, took the shots, then cleaned up and put everything away, my husband complained there was this wrong with it or that wrong with it. So I did it again. Four attempts later…

Well, I thought it was pretty good for a book cover. Not too cluttered, limited colour palette, stark. Though Rick Capidamonte, who does my jacket graphics wasn’t as impressed as I’d hoped. So we’re going with the picture I first thought of from iStockPhoto with Rick adding various elements to the basic hand picture. I really like it. I love the colours and think it’s pretty striking. What do you think of it?

Have you ever attempted to do your own book cover? Tell us about your experiences and if the experts rejected your brave attempts as they did mine or if you went on to use it in an actual publication. Put a link in your comment so we can see what you did.

I JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MYSELF

I’ve felt a bit footloose since my Blog Tour ended. Okay, I’ve been forcing myself to work my way through a second draft of Kith and Kill and I’m sorting out the formatting of my next ebook, Death Line, prepatory to sending it across the Pond to Hitch, the lovely American lady who turns my out of prints into ebooks. so you can see I haven’t been idle. Just dealing with my email inbox takes half the day as I’m on so many lists. But, apart from all that, I don’t know what to do with myself. And I don’t know why. It’s not as if I haven’t done intensive stints before – God, I’ve had eighteen novels published (not to mention the unpublished ones) – but this seems different, somehow.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve actually – in responding to the comments – been interacting with other human beings. I don’t get to do this a lot as I rarely do signings or attend conferences. I, like other midlist authors, have found bookshops not much interested in hosting us for signings. And conferences are so expensive that I wouldn’t be able to afford anything else if I attended all of those I’m supposed to attend as a crime author. So, apart from my husband, I spend a lot of time alone, just working. and no, it doesn’t seem to make me noticeably more productive as part of the time is spent in replying to all those emails that flood my inbox.

Do many of you get to signings, conferences and other events? Do you sometimes feel that they take up an awful lot of time or money and that you get little back? I put up a link to a video made by another writer a little while ago and it showed the reality of signings for the majority of writers: sitting, staring into space, surrounded by your books, but alas no punters. And the one conference I went to seemed full of snobs who only wanted to know you if you were famous. So it seems I’m not really missing much. What do you think? Perhaps another Blog Tour beckons, one where I can interact with all those lovely readers who do love midlist writers. The only question is: can I find the stamina?