Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everybody! I hope you enjoy this holiday as much as I do. I plan to paint myself with green food coloring, wear a witch hat, and scare the trick or treeters who dare to come to my door.

Catch some Halloween fun at Saffina Desforges blog, where she's featuring spooky stories this week. Saffi is the author of the bestselling crime thriller Sugar & Spice. It's the kind of book you need to read with all the lights on and five other people in the house.

While you're at it, bop over to my friends at Wicked & Tricksy, a blog by four talented writers who talk about craft and speculative fiction (Claudie A., Margo Lerwill, S.B. Stewart-Laing, and Sommer Leigh). I guest posted this week and thank them for having me.

Haunted Ground: Ghost Photos from the Gettysburg Battlefield is free right now on AmazoniTunes, and Smashwords. I'm trying to make it free on Amazon UK, but in the meantime, people in the UK can download a free copy from Smashwords. 

You can download a color version on a free Kindle app for your computer or phone, or download a color PDF from Smashwords.

This is a good time to think about buying the new Kindle Fire tablet. I'm excited about Amazon's new tablet, which will allow book lovers to see lots of books with color photos and beautiful color illustrations.

And that's it for now. It's snowing like crazy here. I plan to stay by the fireplace with my collie snoring at my feet and watch the blizzard pile up. Have a great Halloween.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Amazon Free Train: why make a book free?

My novel Lost Cargo is shooting along on the Amazon Free Train. Amazon made it free on Friday, September 30 (I requested it ten days earlier).

Since then it's held steady in the #1 spot on Amazon's free charts for both Science Fiction and Fantasy (I hope people enjoy the story!). About 10,000 people have downloaded it as of this post.

I know that some people just stock up on free books. When I check to see how Lost Cargo is doing on the free charts, I always see some interesting free books and pick them up.

Lost Cargo is also free on Smashwords, but its free status has yet to trickle down to the iBookstore, the smaller retailers through Smashwords, or Amazon UK.

Why make a book free?  Well, I'm new to this, but here's what I understand. I have two books online (and a third is almost ready). A free book (for a short time, not forever) will hopefully attract readers and book reviews. Some readers who like this novel might like also like Haunted Ground, or the third book I'm about to put online. Going free puts the spotlight on your work.

The nuts and bolts of getting a book to go free are part of a big, mystical enterprise. Amazon won't put a $0.00 price on a book, but they will price match it if the book is free on another major online retailer, the iBookstore or Barnes & Noble. These retailers, though, won't allow you to price your book at $0.00 either. That means you have to upload your book to one of these two retailers through our friend Smashwords. I did this with the iBookstore.

Then, once the book is free on the iBookstore or Barnes & Noble, you have to report the lower price to Amazon. "Tell us about a lower price" is on the book's Amazon page below the product details. Somebody other than you, the author, should report it several times.

I've heard that making a book "unfree" can take quite a while, a month or more. The process is the reverse of making it free: put a price on the book on Smashwords, let the price change trickle down to the retailers Smashwords distributes to, and contact Amazon. An experienced writer told me to let the book stay free for just a couple of days and then begin the "unfree" process, so the book will gain its price tag back while people are still aware of it.

* * *

Lost Cargo's product description says (drumroll!):

When college student Travis Maguire chases his dog into Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park wilderness, he finds more than the dog -- he discovers a camera with photos of a mysterious black triangular aircraft that crashed in the woods. Obsessed with the photos and the unknown photographer, Travis searches for the wreck, accompanied by two friends: beautiful Lexie Collins, who’s convinced a UFO came down outside the city, and her brother Burke, who argues that the photos must be fake. Their lives take an unimaginable turn when they encounter a six-eyed galactic animal control officer and the murderous creature he was transporting. Lost Cargo is set in the shadows of Washington’s famous streets, with wicked twists and turns and unforgettable aliens.

* * *

Stewart A. Williams of Stewart Williams Design created the cover. The blue stars in the background are the Pleiades star cluster. The monster foot is actually an alligator foot, taken by nature photographer Gene Thomson, who graciously gave his permission to use it on the cover. Gene's amazing photographs can be seen at http://genet.smugmug.com.

Lost Cargo is for sale on Amazon, Amazon UK and DE, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, the iBookstore, and other retailers. Right now, October 2011, it's free on Amazon and Smashwords.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Haunted Ground is on YouTube

This weekend I made a short YouTube video with some photos from my ebook Haunted Ground. Of course, I drove my friend Barbara crazy because I kept changing the video every ten minutes. I must have emailed her twenty times saying, "I'll bribe you with blubber buns and cheese bagels if you'll watch it one more time!" Now that it's up, I think it looks pretty good. Actually, I made two videos, changed one title to include "Gettysburg," and added two extra photos to the longer one.

I used One True Media software. The program is beautifully designed and easy to use.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Halloween Bash: Win a new Kindle 3G, Amazon gift cards... and free books from 33 authors

Red Rash of RedTashBooks is having a Trick or Treat Bash between now and October 16 to celebrate the launch of her new book, This Brilliant Darkness. Visit http://redtash.com for a chance at great prizes, including a new Kindle, gift cards, and 33 free books. I'm giving away a copy of my own books in any ebook format: my sci-fi novel Lost Cargo and my ghost book Haunted Ground:Ghost Photos from the Gettysburg Battlefield.

From Red Tash:

On my journey toward publication, I’ve received a lot of help from other writers. Some are established best-sellers, others were critique partners, even more still were blazing a trail through marketing efforts out on the web.

The Trick or Treat Bash is my way of saying “Thanks” to the online community of authors who have so generously shared their experience and wisdom with a newb like me. It’s the best kind of payback, I think, especially because no one asked me for a *thing* in return for their goodwill.

Paying it forward feels good, too, and it’s the right thing to do. When you visit the various blogs and websites of the “Bashers,” you’ll find slick, highly-produced websites, barebones mobile blogs, and everything in between. Some are new writers who aren’t tech-saavy. Others are established pros giving everything they have to their readers in the form of a polished presentation.

All of them—every single one of them—wants to entertain you with their stories. Look, anyone can sit down and hack out a few hundred words at a time. But putting them ALL together into a cohesive story? That takes a lot of work, and a pure dedication to the process of writing, editing—if writing a book were easy, everyone would do it. Heck, think of all the people you know who can’t even tell a joke! Storytelling is a gift.

I hope that among the big kids and the little guys, you find several authors you truly enjoy. And though pretty much ALL the covers from these writers are unique and breath-taking (yes, really), don’t judge a book by its cover, either—or a writer by his website.

Read the books they’re giving you. Give ‘em a chance. It’s a free read—what have you got to lose? If you like ‘em, leave the writers a review. It can really make an author’s day.

Okay, off my soapbox now. Off to add AUTHOR NUMBER 33 to the bash! You’ll be reading for years, for free, on your free Kindle, dear Grand Prize winner! (What do you mean you haven’t entered yet? What are you waiting for?)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Astronomy Picture of the Day is one of my favorite places on the Nasa website. The website says: "Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer."

I write lighthearted science fiction and draw a lot of inspiration from the sky. And when I get tunnel vision about my life, the sky is a reminder that the stars are all around me, even under my feet.

Reflections on a field at sunset

I took my collie down to Pickett's Charge field this evening to look at the sunset. Jennie is getting old. Nobody knows how old she really is, probably between eight and ten. I love walking with her on the battlefield, but this summer she started sitting down on me, which is a problem when we're in the middle of nowhere. She's just too big to carry back to the car.

So this evening I coaxed her down to the field. We stood on Long Lane, a road that was a farm lane during the Civil War and divides our subdivision from the field where Pickett gave his command to the Confederates in 1863 and so many people died a few minutes later.

I think of that field as spirit ground. It's been storming all day. This evening a steamy fog hugged the ground along the creek and hovered between the trees in the orchard. Because I have a vivid imagination the fog made me think of spirits rising from the earth as they must have done after the battle.

Why do people go to war? I'm not a pacifist or a hawk, but the question has fascinated me for years. I know I could kill someone, if I had to do it for a good reason. In 1997 a man robbed me at gunpoint and threatened to kill me if I didn't turn over my purse. I was volunteering at the time in a Mother Teresa house in a bad neighborhood in Washington, D.C. The sisters gave me one day off a week, and I didn't want to ask them for pocket change for coffee or a newspaper, so I found a part-time job proofreading for a newspaper. The robber was waiting for me when I walked to the bus stop in front of our building. The robbery wasn't personal; I felt like a zebra that had walked in front of a lion at a waterhole. After he took my purse and jogged away, I didn't know if he was going to turn around and kill me. If I'd had a gun I would have shot him without hesitation, so I found that out about myself.

The thing about me, though, is I would need a reason to kill. I know I couldn't kill somebody just because my government told me to do it.

Back to the big scale, some wars are clear cut. Hitler was burning people in ovens and gobbling up countries left and right. It was right to stand up to Hitler. What about murkier wars? Why do we march to our deaths by the millions just because a government tells us to do it?

I believe it's a defect in our species that will eventually cause our extinction. Responsible people don't band together and take down bad governments. Most people just live for themselves. We each have our own little crumb of something that we want to protect, our humble homes, our families, our 10-year-old collies, and we don't want to go beyond that.

This evening when I was watching the fog move along the ground and the sunset between the remnants of the storm clouds, I thought about nature. Whatever wars are about, political reasons, money, territory, or plain old insanity, they're also about energy. Opposing sides meet like clashing storm fronts. People have always speculated about why life exists on earth, but no matter who you are and what you think about that, one thing is very clear to me: the thin film of life on the surface of the earth absorbs energy, changes it, and radiates it back out. Whatever we think we are, we have a place in nature that we don't have a clue about. Nature doesn't waste anything and nothing is an accident.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lost Cargo is free on Smashwords

Lost Cargo, my science fiction/fantasy novel, is now free on Smashwords. I've heard it will take several weeks to make its way into the iBookstore, Kobo, and other retailers. Hopefully, it will go free on Amazon this fall, but until then, you can download a free copy here: Lost Cargo on Smashwords  I plan to keep it free for several months.

I grew up watching classic science fiction movies and reading sci-fi books with my dad. He was an attorney who liked to unwind from a day at the courthouse by watching Twilight Zone and those awful Godzilla movies (which did have symbolism about the nuclear bombs that struck Japan). My novel has a philosophical streak, too. One of the aliens falls in love with earth and wishes he could stay, until he finds out about the Great Garbage Patch and nuclear bombs. The book is mostly fun, though, so if you download a free copy, I hope you enjoy it.

Here's the book description:

When college student Travis Maguire chases his dog into Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park wilderness, he finds more than the dog -- he discovers a camera with photos of a mysterious black triangular aircraft that crashed in the woods.

Obsessed with the photos and the unknown photographer, Travis searches for the wreck, accompanied by two friends: beautiful Lexie Collins, who’s convinced a UFO came down outside the city, and her brother Burke, who argues that the photos have to be fake. Their lives take an unimaginable turn when they encounter a six-eyed galactic animal control officer and the murderous creature he was transporting. Lost Cargo is set in the shadows of Washington’s famous streets, with wicked twists and turns and unforgettable aliens.