Brazil: In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle

Brazil Travel post #10: The Mighty Jungle (intro post is here).

So now that I’ve officially exhausted jungle-themed songs as titles, let’s actually go into the jungle.

A great place to…reflect. Heh.

Each day, we had 2-3 excursions from the main boat. Morning, afternoon, and night. Some of those days included jungle hikes into the pure, unadulterated wild. This wasn’t like those jungle hikes in Rio, where the trail is wide and flat from thousands of tourists. From what the owner of the Tucano told us, the areas we went in only we went in. Judging by the machete-clearing techniques used by our guides, I believed it.

Our guide, Edgivan, teaching us about jungle fruits.

The main problem, however, was footwear. We didn’t bring hiking boots, we brought hiking sandals. Which wouldn’t really be a problem except for the fact that we could sink into six inches of dead leaves and other rotten vegetation with each step (where, of course, spiders, scorpions, and vipers love to hide).

Good luck little toeseys.

So…that part was unnerving. The hikes themselves, however, were extraordinary.

The “skeleton” of a leaf after its “flesh” has been eaten.

While the Amazon jungle has the greatest diversity of life in the world, it actually has low density of each kind. So each type of animal you come across should be treated like an unexpected gift.

A gift that comes easier when you have an amazing camera zoom! (Photo by Jerry Peek)

Here, you’ll see the “greatest hits” of our jungle hike excursions.

This moth has about a foot-wide wingspan!
Wasps love mangoes.
Bullet ants, very painful and very big. About the length of my forefinger.

Story time: Bullet ants (pictured above) are known to have one of the most painful stings of any ant. In fact, apparently, it feels like you’ve just been stung (with fresh pain) for about 24 hours. It’s so bad, that there’s a tribe whose “manhood ritual” involves wearing a glove filled with bullet ants. Once a boy does this, he is now a man, and can accomplish anything.

Occasionally it does rain in the rainforest…who knew?
Even the trees around us were exotic.
Learning. (photo by Jerry Peek)
Edgi showing us a rubber tree.
Pure rubber! (photo by Jerry Peek)
Life under every leaf.
“Ruins” of a rubber labor camp.

Story time: The site pictured above was run as a “company store” and the natives that worked here were essentially tricked into indentured servitude. Those that tried to speak out were never heard from again…. Despite all the natural beauty here, it’s important to keep in mind the history (and current activities) of exploiting the rainforest. It’s a fragile ecosystem, despite its size.

So many butterfly varietals, I dont think I saw the same one twice. (photo by Jerry Peek)
Tiger butterfly? Im not sure. And, there are so many species, that not all are named. (photo by Jerry Peek)
Yes, he is actually trying to get ants on his hand.

Story time: Souza showed us this specific type of ant (which frenzies in response to noise) that doesn’t sting, but their body fluids make for a great natural mosquito repellent. All you have to do is clap nearby to get them to rush out of their nest, then you let them on your hand, and rub them onto your skin.

And, incredibly, it worked!
So we both tried it!
“What’s up?”
A baby sloth, that’s what!
Souza “spider charming.”

Story time: The protagonist in this story is our guide, Souza. The antagonist a giant bird-eating tarantula. Here’s the setup. Souza is a self-proclaimed “Coboclo” (a person of mixed ancestry where half is a native) and grew up in the jungle. So he knows his stuff. He knows hundreds of bird calls. Can identify dozens of types of ant nests. Hundreds of plant types, along with their uses. And…he knows how to “charm” giant spiders out of their burrows.

Here it comes…

He put his scent (sweat and spit) on a stick, the tricked the spider into defending its burrow against said stick. When the first spider came out, there was a collective gasp from the group.

Collective gasp! This sucker is as big as my hand and probably three times as large as any “pet shop” tarantula I have ever seen.

Though we had some adventure and excitement, mostly what we found was natural beauty and new experiences.

And lots of colors!
We had a brief stop to see some villagers, but they had left on a holiday soccer trip. (photo by Jerry Peek)

Seeing the jungle “up close and personal” was definitely worth it. And no bites or stings! Next time I’ll show you all the things we could see from our expeditionary watercraft. Hint: A lot more animals!

PS — I’m taking the weekend off. Michaela’s mom is in town, and I’m meeting up with a friend from out of town for some quality dude time. Catch you on Monday!

Click to continue: Brazil: Rollin’ on the River.


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Is that sloth the cutest or what?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Come with me, Vamos o Brasil!

I’m back from spending the holidays with my wife in Brazil! As promised, I’m going to tell you all about it.

The trip was split into two parts. First, we took a riverboat deep into the Amazon jungle. The Amazon river itself is far too settled for a true rainforest experience, with industry and cities crowding her mighty banks. Instead, we went on the adjoining Rio Negro, living on the boat for a week. During this time we took day excursions into the jungle on foot and explored the islands, inlets, and archipelagos with smaller watercraft.

The Tucano! Our home on the river.
The Tucano! Our home on the river.

It was a magical, crazy experience that included fishing for (and eating!) piranha, seeing our guide “charm” an enormous, bird-eating tarantula bigger than my hand out of its burrow,  watching giant river otter chase a large caiman alligator onto land, and much, much more.  I’ll blog about these stories (with pictures!) day-by-day as we go along.

For the second half, we journeyed to Rio de Janeiro, a vibrant city home to more than 12 million people, and the setting for the vast majority of the events featured in MURDERED. Here we saw the sights, ate like locals, strolled the beaches — and found adventure as well.

One of Rio's many "favela" slums. Yep, we went here.
One of Rio’s many “favela” slums that dot the hillsides. Yep, we went here.

Each day, I’m going to share with you pictures and stories from the trip, as well as highlight those experiences that you can live for yourself in MURDERED.

I’m not going to present all the photos and stories chronologically, lest I risk turning this into a family vacation slideshow. Instead, I’m going to share my experiences in Brazil by subject. I’ll show the people, the places, graffiti, food, the jungle, and more. Because my book begins in Rio and moves out to the jungle, so will this blog. Each day will be something new.

How many days? I’m not sure yet, but I hope you’ll join me in reliving this truly epic journey.

Click to continue to the first topic: Brazil: Resort, Hostel, Palace, Guestroom


Thanks for reading! What parts of Brazil are you most excited to see? Have you ever been? Requests for stories or anecdotes on travel?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

My Big Trip — To Brazil!

Redeemer
Can you guess how excited I am? Thiiiiiiisss much.

In a few days, my wife and I are headed on the trip of a lifetime. A bucket-list trip, if you will. We’re going to Brazil, first to take a boat down the Amazon, see the jungle, and then head to Rio de Janeiro to see the sites like the one above.

I know what you’re thinking–didn’t I release MURDERED two years ago?

Sure did, and I made the setting as authentic as I could–for someone who had never visited Brazil. And in doing that research, I created a travel guide of sorts that I now aim to follow.

Originally, I thought I’d blog about the trip as I went, but after some thought I’ve decided to delay that until the return. I don’t want to have to rush to an internet cafe everyday and I don’t even think it would be feasible for my river/jungle portion. Instead, I’m going to blog each day as it happens, day by day, then publish it when I get back in daily episodes as if the whole thing were only on a delayed timer.

So when I get back, I’ll tell you all about it.

I’m going to stay in the hostel your character is staying in at the start of the book. Eat at the same Copacabana Palace you can eat at in the book. Ride the cog train up to the Christ statue. I’ll even head into the favelas! During the day, of course. I know the consequences…

Test your detective skills in the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro's favelas.
And, more than anything, I’m going to paint the town red.

I hope you all enjoy your Christmas break as much as I will and I’ll catch you in the new year!

Edit: I’ve started blogging about the trip. Check that out here.


So, what do YOU think? Have you ever been on a trip like this? Doing anything fun over winter?

Feel free to comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

New Author Bio, And It’s a Weird One

Now that I’m prepping for my third book, I thought it time to update my bio. The old one was a little outdated anyway; it still had me living in California and talked about achievements prior to 2011. But I also wanted to shake it up. Write something a little…different…from your standard Amazon author page.

Here’s what I came up with:

One February day, when Hephaestus was hitting on The Muses, they began a playful argument: Is it possible for a mortal man to be *too* creative? What would happen to his primitive brain if it were to suddenly overflow with ideas? Zeus, never one to leave an argument to the fate of mere words, sent a lightning bolt to earth where it struck upon a hapless young man–your author, James Schannep.

Thus Click Your Poison books were created as a repository to store the overabundant brain fruit. Each of Schannep’s books split into three unique storylines and contain over 50 possible endings. But the fate of each book; nay, of mankind, rests with YOU, dear reader. For it is your choices that will shape the story in these books.

So dive in and find out:

Will You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? (INFECTED)
Could You Solve a Murder? (MURDERED)
What if You Had Superpowers? (SUPERPOWERED – Coming soon!)”

How’d I do? Is it sufficiently odd enough to attract your attention without adding the fervent desire sit far away if we were on the subway together? Let me know in the comments below.

And as long as we’re talking about bios, there’s a rumor going around that Amazon’s promotion algorithms take into account how many “likes” an author page has. I’m sure some of you didn’t even know you could “like” an author on Amazon, but if you fee like hopping over to my author page and clicking LIKE, I’d be much obliged.

Celebrating Heroism

I’ve had this image in my head for a few years now, and as I’m writing a superhero book this year, I thought it an appropriate time to post on my blog for Patriot Day.

Now, I’m not normally one to reminisce or to be filled with sudden bouts of patriotism just because it’s a holiday. I spent nearly a decade in the military (9/11 was a big reason I joined), so I probably see these days of remembrance a bit differently from the general public. However, as part of writing SUPERPOWERED, I’ve been analyzing the nature of what it means to be a hero on just about a daily basis. Maybe that’s why the sacrifice of our first responders and soldiers has hit home a little more this year.

I’m not sure how many of you have seen the above picture before; probably quite a few. But take a look at it again, and maybe give a few seconds to consider what it means to put a total stranger’s well-being above your own. On my more cynical days, I tend to think the simplistic “Women  and Children First” should be updated to “Cancer Researchers and Nobel Laureates first” but there’s something powerful in putting value in another human being, simply because of that shared humanity. You don’t have to make the ultimate sacrifice to be a hero. Everyday heroism can be just as inspiring. And today, I hope to inspire a few of you to make a difference in everyday life.

Here’s how:

A while back, Amazon introduced their Smile Program.  Basically, whenever you shop on Amazon, if you enter “smile” instead of “www” in the web address, you may select a charity and Amazon will donate a small percentage of your purchase to that charity (at no cost to you). I use The Wounded Warrior Project for my purchases and I encourage you to do the same! This may only be a small “thank you” to those who’ve sacrificed their health for our freedoms, but if every Amazon shopper chooses to use the Smile Program, it can make a powerful difference. Obviously, there are numerous other ways to support charitable organizations, or even volunteer in your community, but I do most of my bookselling on Amazon so I wanted to help spread the word on this program.

I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank those of you who read my blog and books. After my time in the military I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, and it’s truly a gift to be typing away at my dream job day after day. I can’t say it enough: I’m only able to be a writer because you choose to be a reader! Thank you!

-James Schannep
11 September 2014


 

Feel free to share, comment, and like!

On Having a Thick Skin

“Have a thick skin.” If you’re a writer, whether you’re a hobbyist or a pro, you’re probably given this piece of advice dozens of times throughout your creative lifetime. The gist of the sentiment is: “Don’t take criticism too personally.” And while this is a lovely aphorism, it’s also easier said than done.

“Get tough, writer!” Image courtesy derausdo.

To follow the metaphor, having a thick skin makes my professional persona armored like an elephant or a rhinoceros. But here’s the thing–those noble beasts are born thick-skinned, whereas a creative person is nearly always the opposite.

We wouldn’t need a battlecry to “toughen up” if it came naturally. We’re told to desensitize ourselves to criticism because it’s the opposite of our instinctual reaction. When someone judges a writer’s work harshly, this tends to feel like a judgement of the author on a personal level. How can it not? You pour yourself onto the page, whether it be genre writing or memoir, and dedicate months or years to perfecting the product.

Okay, so what inspired this newest bout of self-reflection (and/or pity)? A negative review, of course.

A thoughtful, honest, and thorough skewering of MURDERED appeared on Amazon yesterday in the form of a 3-star review and it’s been eating at me (read the review here). And before you say, “3-stars isn’t negative,” allow me to direct your attention here:

Exhibit A: See the titles? "Most Helpful Critical Review". The defense rests its case.
Exhibit A: See the titles? “Most Helpful Critical Review.” The defense rests its case.

While the reviewer has some lovely things to say about the book and its author (he said in third-person), there’s quite a bit in there that I can only describe as “scathing.”

But I digress. The point of this blog post is for me to expand on how it is that I’m able to have a thick skin. How I “take a licking and keep on ticking.” Sure, I allow myself a moment of self-pity (and by “allow” I mean I accept the fact that I will experience these emotions and resign myself to it). But then I move on. What’s my secret?

My thick skin doesn’t come naturally, it’s formed from callouses.

That is to say, it’s built up as a defense against injury and assault. Each affront, no matter how small, toughens me up. Now, I’m able to look past the surface review and ask myself, “Okay, what did the reviewer really not like?”

The reviewer in my personal example compares MURDERED to a Rubik’s Cube, in a negative way. Their impression is that the book is nothing more than a simple curiosity; fun for a few minutes until the novelty wears off. And yet when I was writing the book, I actually told several friends I felt like I was creating a “literary Rubik’s Cube!” I naturally meant this as a positive–as a challenge. As a game that is fun to pick up and play with from time to time, but actually difficult and time-consuming to solve in full.

Not everyone loves a Rubik’s Cube. Then again, there are whole clubs and competitions formed by those who do. Not everyone will love my books, and some of those people will review them, but there are others who enjoy what I do and I’ll keep writing for that audience. The negative reviews still sting, but with my callouses I’m able to move past them more quickly.

Soon, I’ll be charging forward and there’ll be no stopping me.

James Schannep
9 June 2014

Artwork by Judith Powers, Ragged Edge Studio.

 

Mystery/Thriller Sale!

Starting now, MURDERED is on a Kindle Countdown Deal — so it’s $0.99 today, up to $1.99 on Friday, $2.99 on Sunday, before going back up to the original price of $3.99 next Monday.

On Sale 21-27 April
On Sale 21-27 April 2014, only on Amazon.

3 Unique Storylines. Over 50 Possible Endings. Just one question… Could YOU Solve a Murder?

MURDERED is a mystery novel unlike any other — YOU are the main character. Follow clues, interrogate suspects, and piece together the puzzle before the killer gets away! It’s up to you to solve the case in this action-packed, dark and humorous thriller. Each link represents a choice, and the story evolves based on your decisions.

You’re in a dark alley, a lost tourist in Brazil, when you stumble across a woman’s body and a revolver atop a grisly note which reads, “PICK ME UP.” That’s when you realize you’re not alone….

What starts as an exotic vacation ends up as the opportunity of a lifetime when you inadvertently witness a man fleeing the scene of a murder. Work side-by-side with US Diplomatic Security agents (DSS) and Brazilian Police Officers inside the lawless slums of Rio de Janeiro — but choose wisely, no one is who they truly seem to be.

Get MURDERED!

Test your detective skills in the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro's favelas.
Test your detective skills in the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

★★★★★ “I grew up with Choose Your own Adventure Novels, and I love how the Click Your Poison books take the conceit into the digital age. …a gripping mystery packed with action set against an exotic Brazilian backdrop. This is a novel that you control.” — William Massa, Hollywood screenwriter and Amazon bestselling author of Fear the Light: Who Murdered Dracula?

★★★★★ “MURDERED…solid writing, humor, mystery, thrills and…the opportunity to investigate and solve a murder…” — Zach Tyo, reviewer, indiebookreviewer.blogspot.com

If you’ve read the book, now would be a great time to leave a review on amazon or to share your thoughts on goodreads. Please tell your friends about the sale and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog (toolbar on left) for future sales and specials!

Final Results (Freebie Promo)

Final post in the series Lessons Learned from the INFECTED giveaway.

Okay, I promised a final analysis and now–two weeks after the promotion–I’m ready to deliver. Here you’ll see the good, the bad, and the ugly. Time for some results, flaws and all.

Thanks, random sign holder!

The Good

If you recall the results from Day One, my pre-promo sales of INFECTED were low (if not stable) and my sales ranking was a sad state of affairs (jumping between 40k and 100k depending on how recent the day’s sale occurred). INFECTED had never cracked the 20k sales ranking in its history.

The giveaway crushed those numbers.

Best sales rank post-promo, 12 January.
Best sales rank in the paid store, post-promo, 12 January.
January Sales Data: Red indicates the Free promo days. Yellow is a holiday.
INFECTED January Sales Data: Red indicates the Free promo days. Yellow is a holiday.

My post-giveaway numbers are (knock on wood) staying higher than they were before the promotion. The weekend after the promotion saw 79 combined sales and borrows and nearly paid for the whole promo just using those two days. Note that these numbers do not include foreign sales or paperback units, both of which have increased.

Another huge win in the ‘Good’ category is increased discoverability. This may seem strange, but before the promo I had to tell people to search amazon for “Click Your Poison” to find the book, because there were too many things called “Infected” in the kindle store (164 as of publishing this article). Now, I’m the #1 search result, which is huge.

Top INFECTED searchLESSON LEARNED: This is tangential to a promo, but important enough to share. When I originally wrote the story for INFECTED in early 2008, there was nothing out there with that title. When I published the kindle version a little over a year ago, I didn’t bother to check if the title was taken. Granted, you can’t copyright a title, but you don’t want to exist in the shadow of another book either.

The Bad

I did not crack the Top 20 overall free kindle books. This was one of my goals, and I’d missed it. I wanted to be the #1 free book if truth be told, but that didn’t happen. Still, I feel like I did everything in my power to promote the book. In the end, horror just isn’t as popular as genres such as romance. Nothing I can do about that. I write books that I would like to read.

MURDERED sales numbers have not seen a significant post-promo boost. In fact, the sales are worse than they were before the promo.

MURDERED January Sales Data: Green indicates the Free promo days. Yellow is a holiday.
MURDERED January Sales Data: Green indicates the Free promo days. Yellow is a holiday.

You’ll see there was a boost on the last day of the promotion which carried only so far as the day after. Why the drop? I’m not doing anything to promote the book right now, and the buzz is centered directly around INFECTED, so my new release is starting to stagnate. Will it go up once people have more of a chance to read the first book and start looking for more in the series? Time will tell.

The Ugly

The book has gained 12 new reviews since the promo began. This is a good thing. What makes it ugly, is that 1/3 of them were negative. From what I’ve read and seen from other authors, this isn’t all that uncommon. I’ve also heard that negative reviews can help your book, because it makes it seem more genuine. Pre-promo, my 48 reviews were all 4 or 5 stars, giving some people the (false!) impression that I’d paid or begged for positive reviews. If I’m lucky, this’ll shut some of those people up.

What makes some of these reviews ugly isn’t that some people didn’t like the book (I can deal with that), it’s that they actively tried to hurt my success. The first negative review was entitled, Don’t pay for this.” Not much of an opinion so much as a command.

Another reviewer attacked the originality of the book, stating that I stole ideas from The Walking Dead because I set my survivor group up in a prison. Tangent alert! When I wrote the book, I set my survivor group in a prison a year before the cast did so on The Walking Dead. It’s a smart place to go in the event of the zombie apocalypse. But Parallel Development does happen.

Okay, enough of that. Time for…

The Final Word

LESSONS LEARNED:
DO use BookBub.
DO prepare beforehand.
DO share word of the promo with your fans, and if people spread the word, DO say thanks.
DO NOT sweat over the results. What will be, will be.
DO NOT let the bad reviews get to you.
DO learn from your mistakes.

INFECTED Promo Results (Day Three)

Continued from Lessons Learned from the INFECTED giveaway.

One of the many promo pics I made to entice readers.
One of the many promo pics I made to entice readers.

January 10th
Today starts the final day of my free promotion, and it is with some apprehension that I begin. I’ve read that the “magic number” is 20k downloads. If you get less than that, your promotion was not worth it. You also need to make it into the Top 20 free books (overall) on Amazon’s best sellers list. Bearing those stats in mind, let’s see how we’ll start off the day:

NOTE: CLICK ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE

Downloads as of 0600, January 10th.
5640 Downloads as of 0600, January 10th.
Somethin'
No change (save for category updates).

Woof. No update in the ranking and a measly 300 downloads overnight. Fear is sinking in… Am I doing this for nothing? Have I spent all this money advertising only to fail? But I can’t think that way. Today is my BookBub day, they’re supposed to be the best of the best, and that announcement hasn’t gone out yet. Holding out faith for “BookBub the Almighty” I’m still worried. I’m listed in the horror category which is one of their smaller lists. As you can see in the pricing chart below, the average downloads for a free horror book are 6,700 with a historical maximum of 10k over the entire promotion.

I really need to get MURDERED on a promotion... possibly to coincide with the launch of book 3?
I really need to get MURDERED on a promotion… possibly to coincide with the launch of book 3?

Seeing as how I’m only using a single day of BookBub, I’m thinking I’ll be lucky to get 6k. Which means <12k downloads. Which means… failure. Well, at this point what’s done is done. Best to let it play out and hope for the best (along with continued plugs on social media). Yesterday’s lesson was to be patient and not to panic, so I’ll try to keep that in mind as the day progresses.

Here’s a mid-day update, after BookBub has gone out:

14090 Downloads as of 1400, January 10th.
14090 Downloads as of 1400, January 10th.
Holy Crepe! Look at those numbers...
Holy Crepe! Look at those numbers…

Whoa! Now that the BookBub announcement has gone out, the downloads are gushing forth like spray from a firehose. I can literally refresh the page every few seconds and see more and more downloads. #26 overall! Maybe I’ll make the Top 20 before the day is through?

LESSON LEARNED: BookBub rocks. Until something changes, don’t do a free book promotion without them. This is my honest advice.

With numbers like this, I’m very very hopeful again. Though I’ll only be “On top of the world!” for a fleeting instant, it’s nice to bask in that accomplishment. When you do your own promotion, don’t forget to do so as well.

LESSON LEARNED: Enjoy yourself.

Topping the combined SciFi & Fantasy chart as of 1800.
Topping the combined SciFi & Fantasy chart as of 1800.
Best in horror as of 1800.
Best in horror as of 1800.

Everything’s going my way! This is amazing! I’m climbing the chart, I’m absolutely killing it, I —- just got a 1-start review. What? Ugh. Hours before my promo ends, someone shows up and says “Do not buy.”

Surprise! Kinda changes the experience, doesn’t it?

LESSON LEARNED: Shrug off the haters. As much as it sucks getting negative reviews or bad press (someone also posted in the comments of an INFECTED blog review how much they hated it…), if you manage to give out 20k copies, you’re bound to have some readers that don’t like what you’ve done. There’s no pleasing everyone.

Okay, time for one last check as the promo ends…

Over 20k downloads!
Over 20k downloads!
Agh! So close...
Agh! So close…

The best INFECTED was rated during the promotion was #22 Free in Kindle Store, so I didn’t quite make the Top 20, but I did (barely) make 20k downloads. Will it be enough? Time will tell…

Up next — Two Week After a Free Promo!