Halloween Hangover?

I don’t know about you, but Spooky Season is one of my favorite seasons. After that, it just gets cold and…merry…(shudders).

So, I’ve got a bit of a Halloween Hangover (and not just because my Vella just released part three of three in its Halloween party episodes!).

The HAUNTED: Deluxe Illustrated Collector’s Edition has been well received, so thank you to anyone who picked up a copy to keep the spooky times rolling.

I’m currently working on a collection of short stories centered around death and extinction (sounds fun, right?), which will likely also make its debut on Vella.

Now it’s November, and I need your help. If you’re not aware, Vella has these things it calls “faves” — basically a vote for your favorite story you read that week.

I kind of love that my Vella about a teen pretending to be a vampire…is the #2 fave in vampires.

They reset at the start of the month, and there’s a lot of shifting and vying for positions in these early days.

So…I need your help. 5 minutes of your time.

A new month means it’s time to crown the new kings and queens of Vella! This is the NUMBER ONE way for new people to learn about the story. I hate to ask, but it makes a huge difference.


If you’re in the US, go to my SOCIAL VAMPIRE page (https://www.amazon.com/kindle-vella/story/B0BDGM1J8J) and unlock any episode (past 1-3). Then you get to vote for your “fave” — this should pop up automatically after you like the episode at the bottom, but if not, you can click the icon noted in the image below:


If you’re not in the US, I’m sorry they STILL haven’t made it available for you to read. Fear not, it will be available in print & ebook (and I’m looking into audiobook) in 2023.

Now I’m going to go crawl under a rock and try to recover from how awkward it felt asking this of my fans.

Does anyone have any bonus spooky stories they can give me? I’m enjoying Cabinet of Curiosities on Netflix. What about you?

Flash Sale – Kindle Vella

In case you missed it… 
15 chapters of “Social Vampire” are waiting for you!

We had a long holiday weekend, so in case Wednesday’s post was lost in the shuffle, today is the FINAL DAY of the Kindle Vella sale. There are 15 episodes waiting for you to unlock on Social Vampire, and best of all, I still get an author royalty. Win/win!

I’m at almost 1,000 chapter reads for the week thanks to this promo. Can you help me reach my goal? Check out Social Vampire now: https://www.amazon.com/kindle-vella/story/B0BDGM1J8J

Some final points:
-Even after this flash sale ends, Prime Members will receive 200 free “tokens” to unlock future episodes. Which is great news, because episode 16 drops tomorrow!
-If you’ve started reading and you’re following the story, THANK YOU. Please consider leaving a review before the story has completed. The idea is to get people to jump on the bandwagon while the wheels are still in motion.
-I appreciate you. This is different from my other works, but if you appreciate my prose, the humor I generally suffuse into my writing, and the care with which I try to craft compelling narratives — then I think you’ll love Social Vampire as much as I do!

Have you started reading "Social Vampire" yet?

Read Now

At a new school, you get a chance to reinvent yourself.
So…why not be a vampire?

HAUNTED: Special Edition

It’s here, and it’s extra spooky. In fact, it’s Spooktacular! The HAUNTED: Deluxe Illustrated Collector’s Edition hardcover is now in stock.

I was supposed to write this blog post yesterday, as I’d already teased it in the “steps forward” portion of my newest blog post but I spiked a 105*f temperature and was busy with lucid fever dreams. Which is rather apropos, as that’s exactly what this alternate cover art is meant to convey.

What else makes this Spooktacular edition so special? All new content, available for the first time, including:

  • An interactive author foreword.
  • New cover art, bound in hardcover. An impressive tome any respectable necromancer should own.
  • Fully illustrated interior; a mix between original line drawings and road hazard signs to help signpost and guide your path.
  • Expanded maps and floorplans detailing more of the Tansky House than ever before.
  • A flowchart story map to help you navigate the twists and turns of this fiendish book.

Of course, you can still enjoy HAUNTED as an ebook or paperback. I just thought it would be fun to make something extra special for collectors, which is available in time for Halloween and will keep you up at night all spooky season. Ready? Here’s the sales page: http://hyperurl.co/HAUNTEDillustrated

With that, it’s time for more Tylenol. I’ll leave you with more fun previews of the interior:

What do YOU think? Excited? Unenthused? Ready for special editions of more in the Click Your Poison series? Let me know in the comments below and keep it spooky!

A Novel Idea

And now for something completely different.

After yesterday’s post about some recent setbacks, I’m excited to tell you about my current project, and the timing couldn’t be better.

I actually finished this novel back in 2019, but I told myself I’d try the traditional publishing route because it was a book I was both extremely proud of and one I thought had an important message and needed to be put in as many hands as possible. But, as it turns out, sitting in a folder on my computer for three years has put the story in as few hands as possible.

Equal parts heartwarming and humorous, “Social Vampire” is a coming-of-age story about a kid who pretends to be a vampire at his new school to get the attention of a girl. It’s about young love, loss & grief, and growing empathy. I think it’s the best thing I’ve written.

Early draft cover image for “Social Vampire”

I decided to do an initial run publishing the story serially on Kindle Vella. If you haven’t heard of the platform, it’s only available to readers in the US right now, but it’s for short, episodic reading. After this initial run, which is going from now through December, I’d look to publish the book as a paperback and ebook in April, 2023.

You can wait until then, orrrrrrrr, you’re in luck. Amazon is running a promo that starts today. You get to read Vellas for free (including mine) and I still get paid royalties. For the next week, which will include two new chapters being released, you get a free look at “Social Vampire.” Amazon is taking the hit, hoping you’ll want to continue reading on this new platform.

You can head to my Vella page now, or I’ll tell you a bit about the story.

At a new school, you get a chance to reinvent yourself, so…why not be a vampire? When we first meet Gordon, he claims he can’t physically tell a lie, yet says he’s stopped aging and that his peers believe him to be a vampire. He tells us his mother left him, but doesn’t give us the full story.

It’s soon clear that Gordon is an unreliable narrator, if an entertaining one.

Gordon is a California native, a theatre geek, and an aspiring screenwriter. His life starts to unravel when his special-effects artist dad loses his job and relocates the family from Los Angeles, CA to Bozeman, MT. If that wasn’t hard enough, through a comedy of errors, Gordon’s new classmates—who are obsessed with self-pubbed vampire fiction—think he’s secretly a vampire.

With help from Gordon’s improv background, Dad’s special effects gear, and a little luck, this new school might be the perfect place for Gordon to shine—or, better yet, sparkle. But will the costs of living a lie outweigh the newfound popularity that comes with being a social vampire?

Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/Social-Vampire/dp/B0BDGM1J8J

Setbacks (and Steps Forward)

The Setbacks

This is a difficult post to write, but one that’s long overdue.

If you were to have asked me at the start of the year, I’d have told you that 2022 was going to be my best year ever. I was hitting my 10th anniversary as a published writer and I had a lot to look forward to on the horizon:

  • INFECTED had just been turned into a fantastic audiobook app, with both the narrator’s production company and the app developers hungry for more Click Your Poison content. We were scheduling 2-3 new CYP apps per year, starting right away.
  • The CEO of a board game company commissioned me to write a follow up to the most successful gamebook Kickstarter of all time, offering a very generous payment with tons of creative freedom and collaboration with game designers to add board game elements.
  • A pair of Hollywood producers asked me to write an interactive film for streaming on a major platform, with an eye toward producing my CYP books as interactive mini-series as well.

I was, of course, over the moon.

No, even more, I was terrified that I wouldn’t have time to do all of these projects. We were set to move from California to Colorado in May due to my wife’s job, and with two kids under two-years-old, the complications were myriad.

One by one, each of these projects fell through in some form or fashion. I went from feeling like working on interactive books for a decade was finally starting to pay off in some life-changing ways, to feeling like I wasn’t anywhere further along my writing journey than when I started.

By April, it was clear none of them were moving forward.

All of this has led to a deep and profound depression, one that I’m only beginning to climb out of. Instead of throwing myself into work, I threw myself into moving. The new house turned out to be quite the fixer upper, so I spent most of my days learning new skills on YouTube and working with my hands, trying not to rest long enough to be left alone with my darker thoughts.

It’s been a sabbatical that was useful, even if it wasn’t fulfilling my wildest dreams. Still, it gave me time to examine my thoughts and feelings more deeply.

Some Reflection

I’ve realized a few reasons why the loss of these opportunities hurt so much.

First, was a sense of validation. It feels petty to say that out loud (or write those words, as it were), but it’s true. I’m “just” a self-published author. I had never sought out a publisher for my interactive books, but for the past three years I had been querying a traditional novel without success. Each rejection letter had been a small blow to my confidence, which weakened my resolve to the point where these three larger blows completely knocked me over. I felt the sting of imposter syndrome. Like a fraud. It felt like anyone with internet access could accomplished what I had professionally.

Second, I’m equally ashamed to say, was due to money. I’ve been a working writer for the last decade, but not because I can afford to do so. I’ve long called my wife the patron of my art, and I’m grateful that her career gives me the freedom to pursue my dreams, but I’d like to be able to return that favor and offer her financial freedom as well. These projects promised a payday more than I had earned in a cumulative ten years and at least some of that validation I craved was financial.

Lastly, I think I’m ready for something different. I love movies, I love games, and I love audiobooks — and I loved the idea that I could write these things for a living. Even if the novel I was querying took off, I have several non-interactive books inside of me and would have been happy to turn to that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my Click Your Poison book series and I’m grateful for every one of my readers. But I never planned to solely write interactive books and I think I can reach a wider audience with something different. It’s my hope, that if you like my writing, you’ll follow me to whatever that may be.

The Steps Forward

Before I tell you my plan to dig myself out of this hole, I’m going to appeal to you to join my author mailing list. Much of what I’ll be working on for my steps forward will be released at a later date, and if you don’t want to miss those announcements, you’ll want to subscribe to both that and this blog.

1) I’m getting that novel out into the world. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever written and I feel like it’s too important to keep it hidden because I can’t find the right agent to champion the book. I’ll be the one to champion it. My readers will champion it, I’m certain. I’m starting by publishing it serially on Kindle Vella, and you can follow that journey now. I’ll tell you more about “Social Vampire” later, so stay tuned

At a new school you get a chance to reinvent yourself, so…why not be a Vampire? https://www.amazon.com/kindle-vella/story/B0BDGM1J8J

2) I’m going to make a Deluxe Illustrated Collector’s Hardcover of every Click Your Poison book, starting backwards. I did INFECTED first, and that’s available now, but the HAUNTED hardcover has also just launched. That also deserves its own post, but suffice it to say these are beautiful editions that take a lot of time and care to create. For the time being, however, these will be the only CYP launches on the horizon.

3) There will be more novels. I have plans for a zombie western, an entire sci-fi series, and more. And there will be audiobooks of those, eventually. If there’s an appetite for it, I could see a CYP tie-in book. For example: a full, sprawling sci-fi epic with world building and multiple trilogies, that then has a Click Your Poison book allowing you to play in that world.

4) There (might) be other games. I’ve been tinkering with the idea of a Kickstarter or something similar for an interactive book that also has gamification elements. I’m not sure about this yet, but it’s a strong possibility.

5) Stop feeling sorry for myself. I apologize for a rambling, self-pitying rant here, but I think it’s worth sharing my struggles with other creators and my fans, as well as documenting the way I feel at the end of my first professional decade. Because one thing is for sure — I’m not done. Will I read this one day and think, “Well, not much has changed”? Or will it be something to point at when I feel like I’ve reached greater heights to inspire others to push through dark times? We’ll have to wait and see.

Until then, I remain faithfully your author,

PS – I still have hopes that more CYP audiobook apps will arrive at some point in the future, but it won’t be this year. The Hollywood folks have never “officially” cancelled on me, I’m just reading between the lines due to a lack of progress. The board game, however, appears that not just my project was cancelled, but the whole company has gone caput.

Behind the Veil: A Look Inside HAUNTED

Come with me into Tansky House, where I’ll give you a behind-the-scenes peek at the world and inspiration for the book. Reader Beware: SPOILERS follow!

First, let’s judge a book by its cover. The house on the cover art was inspired by the historic Carson mansion in California, which Wikipedia calls, “the most grand Victorian home in America.” I knew I wanted Queen Anne style architecture for my story, and the house has already served as inspiration for several haunted house digital models, so it fit my needs perfectly.

But what about the interior?

This piece of inspiration came from another real-life source: a house listed for sale, that had a secret jail hiding inside its walls. A former sheriff’s residence, now an inconspicuous single family home.

You’ll notice that kitchen door looks very familiar…

As for the events of the story itself? Well, at the start of the book, it’s claimed that “the following horrors are inspired by true events.” While this is an overt nod to horror films where even the most outlandish story is claimed to be true, it’s also not a lie…

Many of the events in the book are taken straight from the headlines.

For example: the man who found a woman living in a crawlspace in his celling.

In addition to story moments ripped from the headlines, I binged horror movies, books, and television shows. The one that left the most profound mark on my own story has to be the one that arguably started it all: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

The Haunting of Hill House was my favorite read while I was researching and diving deep into haunted house stories. It’s safe to say, part of what I loved was the ambiguity. You, as the reader, had to choose what to believe. Was the main character losing her mind? Was the house truly haunted? Or was she manifesting the paranormal herself?

On the whole, interactive stories let the reader choose what to believe while reading: and thus make different choices. There are many different possible explanations as to what’s happening inside the house for HAUNTED, and I left bread-crumbs for you to collect based on your own beliefs. I have my own version of events, as will you. I’m excited to hear what people think they’ve experienced while exploring Tansky House.

Have you gotten HAUNTED yet? Let me know your thoughts below. Haven’t jumped in yet? Consider this your official invitation to spend three nights in the most haunted house in America…if you dare!

-JS

Chillingly Good

This review of HAUNTED posted on the eve before my birthday was a lovely gift. You don’t have to write a review this thorough, but I’m sharing because I think it represents the book nicely.

Have you gotten HAUNTED yet? If so, reviews are most welcomed. If not…don’t wait until the afterlife!

https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1C65T5GULFLTJ/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B09JL76H72

Holiday Sign & Ship ’21

Signed books for Christmas! Or any holiday. Or birthday. Or no special occasion; just because you want to buy something for that special someone (who could be you!). 

It has now been over two years since my last in-person book signing, and I miss you guys. But — that means my garden shed is overfull with paperbacks ready to be signed and shipped directly to your doorstep! This is my first major signing event since releasing SPIED, and likely your first chance to pick it up with personalized graffiti on the inside cover. Want me to scribble an encrypted message for you?

“On the sixth day of internet shopping, my true love gave to meeee….”

Shipping rates have gone up in recent years, so here’s the new deal: $25 flat rate for a signed book anywhere in the US. Shipping can be combined on any order above four books. Once you go above four titles, it becomes $20 per book. That means if you get five books, one is essentially free. Plus, if you do happen to order the whole series, I’m going to throw in a little something extra…

  • One book: $25
  • Two books: $50
  • Three books: $75
  • Four books: $100
  • Five books: $100
  • Six books: $120

Shipping rates are fairly obscene elsewhere in the world right now, but if you’re not put off by the thought that you might pay more for shipping than for the books themselves, feel free to contact me for an international quote.

What’s more, I still have some first editions of PATHOGENS, so if you act fast, you can choose your cover art. Or, if you’re a super collector like me, you can get both:

The only book I *can’t* offer to sign and ship to you is the new 10th Anniversary Deluxe Hardcover Edition of INFECTED. Unfortunately, hardback books are more expensive to produce, and I can’t get author copies the same way as paperbacks. But I do want to remind you that you can get it off Amazon, because (signed or not), this would make an amazing holiday gift.

That’s it for now. Want some signed books? Reach out to me on my contact page and we’ll make it happen.

Merry happy,

The Pros and Cons of Branching Out

This is a blog post that I originally wrote for the website Serious Reading as part of promoting PATHOGENS. Side note/plug: PATHOGENS just received a coveted 5/5 from Awesome Indies reviewers, so if you haven’t checked out my latest book, do that too.

Without further ado:

The Pros and Cons of Branching Out

“Know Thyself” was the command inscribed at Delphi by the ancient Greeks, who arguably invented the drama and the tragedy.

“Pigeonhole Thyself” is the advice given to today’s dramatic writers, words which some would argue are a tragedy.

The idea is to pick a genre, find a niche, and build yourself a lovely summer home there. But is this advice for good or for ill? Let’s flesh out the pros and cons and find out.

branchingout
“Branching Out” by ATWhim on Etsy.

PROS

Marketability. Far and away the biggest tally mark in the “pro” category, setting your writing within the confines of a single genre can help make lifelong fans. After all, readers who loved your heartwarming WWII love story might not enjoy your vampire detective novel. But if you’ve got a Civil War love story waiting in the wings? It’s that much easier for them to click the “buy” button on Amazon. It’s the same logic behind the advice, “write a series, not multiple stand-alone novels.” Brands sell. Agents think this way, publishers think this way, so why not writers? You’ll need to wear all three hats if you’re going to make it in the era of self-publishing.

Honing Your Craft. Writing and reading, that’s what will make you a better writer. Lather, rinse, repeat. And guess what? If you write, read, sleep, eat, and excrete RomComs, you’re going to get better and better at that genre.

Be memorable. Stephen King is a name that can give people goosebumps. Why? He’s a master of horror. That’s what he does, and he does it well and consistently. If you want to make a name for yourself, it might be worth doing the same.  

kyle_-_branching_out
“Branching Out” via Martian Chronicles blog.

CONS

Marketability. Yes, it can be marketable both to stick to one genre or to diversify your portfolio. The market is fickle like that. If you write only Sci-Fi novels, a thriller fan might never discover your books. But if you wow him/her with your murder mystery, they might fall in love with your writing style and seek out your other books, regardless of the genre. By casting a wider net, you open up new possibilities. You want readers to fall in love with your writing, not simply to take advantage of the love they already hold for the genre.

Passion. If you love reading children’s books, slasher fiction, and comedies, why can’t you write all three? Although, to avoid angry parents, you might want to do a nom de plume for one of the first two, lest the kiddos accidentally cross over. But the point is—writing should be fun! That’s why we all do it, or at least why we started. Write what you love and love what you write.

Conclusion

I’m bringing it back full circle here. The right answer? “Know Thyself.” Weigh the pros and cons, discover your own motivations, and pick what’s right for you. What motivates you to put butt to chair and fingers to keyboard? The prospect of sales? If so, you might want to take the hardline marketability approach. Or if you have a story that needs to emerge, but it’s not in your usual genre, write the damn thing. A book written with passion is so much more enjoyable to read than a book written out of duty. Your readers will notice the difference.

As for this author? I’ve tried to do a little of both. My Click Your Poison series hops from genre to genre, yet each book “feels” like it’s part of the same series. My goal is to have fans/readers pining to read what I want to write, not to be a writer who tries to write what I think readers might like. I love writing my books. That’s the first step in finding fans who love to read them.



Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? On the money of off-base?

Leave me a comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Last-chance: PATHOGENS sneak peek

Editing COMPLETE

Last month after I finished the first draft of PATHOGENS, I sent out a call for Beta Readers.

Well, my edits are complete and the book is ready for feedback! If you already volunteered, your character is waiting for you in your inbox.

Want to get in on the action? It’s not too late! Hit me up on my contact form. All you have to do is send me your top three preferences for which character you’d like to read. You’ll find a short description of each character in PATHOGENS below.

PS — If you’re not into feedback, here’s your update: PATHOGENS should be in your hands sometime in August or September!

Sims

Technical Sergeant Robert Sims, National Guardsman and electrician in the greatest Air Force in the goddamned world. Divorced, no kids, fourteen years of service given to your nation thus far. You’re a “Prepper” (a dedicated survivalist), and you’ve been looking forward to the zombie apocalypse for as long as you can remember. Your unit was mobilized and now you find yourself at the tip of the spear.  When it comes to idioms you’re not the smartest crayon in the box, but you’re an electrical genius.

Cooper

Kaeden Cooper, known as “Kay” to your friends. Daughter of a NASCAR driver who turned to the bottle and lost his shot at stardom. You’ve since done your fair share of racing on the motorbike circuit, but it’s still very much a man’s world, and no one wanted to give you sponsorship unless you posed by the bike in a bikini. Instead, you turn wrenches for a living, working for the weekend until you can ride again. Little do you know that this shift under the hood will be your last. Soon the world will learn it’s those who know how to change their own oil that will survive.

Tyberius

Work nights at the call center, days at the bank. Sleep? Yeah, right. It’s all you can do to provide for you and Mama, who lost her own job in the recession. She still hopes you’ll find a nice girl and settle down, but you’d settle for an apartment in the better part of town. So you use any spare moment; while eating, even while shitting, to take online courses on a smartphone, angling for a promotion at the bank. But all that effort is about to be in vain when the global economy tanks in 3, 2, 1…

Rosie

Smart, cute, spunky redhead. 17-year-old high school student. Your father is a combat-veteran Marine and you work weekends at the family-owned shooting range. Sarah is your real name and truth be told, you’re more interested in boys and music than you are bug-out-bags and MREs, but you play along for dad’s sake. Ever since mom died he’s had a hard time and he’s not the type to get a pedicure so for quality time you learn about pyrotechnics. Unfortunately, Sarah’s world is about to end and you’ll have to fully embrace his training to become the “Rosie the Riveter” of the apocalyptic wasteland.

Lucas

Lucas Tesshu, middle aged man who handles crisis with the same serenity a stone handles the river. As a child of Japanese immigrants, you’ve lived much of your life as an outsider, making solitude a revered mentor and friend. As a Kendo instructor and master of swordplay, you’re more than capable of defending yourself, but as a disciple of Bushido, you are committed to helping those in need. So the question becomes: Can a man unable to leave someone for dead still survive the Zombie Apocalypse?

Hefty

Poor as dirt, good ole southern boy. Thin as a rail, and yeah, the nickname is ironic. Known to the State as inmate #: 080620-06. They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but you can cook some up in your kitchen using a few household ingredients as fertilizer. Like literal fertilizer, for one. But you’re over that now, clean, back on the straight and narrow, and ready to be a productive member of society once you get released from the Big House. Which is about to come early, courtesy of the Apocalypse.


Thanks for reading! Excited? Ready to start reading?

Leave me a comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!