The So-Called Rules of Writing

Every so often, a writer steps out of the woodwork and proclaims to have it all figured out. This pretentious individual then declares themselves to be a master of the English language, and posts an article on the Internet outlining the rules of writing according to them. I have read many variations of these rules, but they all share one common trait: The author is never well-known.

So, am I saying that an author must be famous to have valid advice? Not at all. But, let me phrase it another way: Would you follow the rules of parenting from a person that once babysat?

My point is this: I object to the notion that anyone has the authority to establish the rules of writing. I do believe that an experienced writer can offer advice and share guidelines to help you color within the lines, but there isn’t an exact formula to follow. Or at least there shouldn’t be. The best part of being a writer is developing your style and making your signature recognizable to the reader. What fun would reading be if all of our books sounded exactly the same? The covers would all look different, but on the inside, just pages of passed down textbook without any personality or flair.

In saying all of this, let me make it clear that I do understand the difference between good and bad writing. Not everyone can flow sentences together in a seamless fashion, but I don’t begrudge anyone for trying. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, is it not? I’ve seen books get rave reviews that I thought were terrible, and I’ve read critically panned books that I thought were great. The experience depends entirely on the reader.

Writers and editors alike all regurgitate the same rhetoric that gets passed around as the gold standard. As a writer, do I follow the “rules?” I suppose I do for the most part, but I also know when it’s okay to stray from them. Let’s examine some of the most popular rules:

Use Strong Verbs to Replace Adverbs – I agree that most adverbs can be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence, but I say if an adverb feels right, go ahead and use it. Who cares? Would you really deny use of an adverb because one out of every ten readers is going to complain about it? Don’t overdo it, but sure, an adverb doesn’t have to be a plague. Some adverbs aren’t as easily replaceable and fit the sentence. Do I use adverbs? Yes, but I try to use them sparingly (get it?).

Use Strong Nouns to Replace Adjectives – You have got to be effing kidding me! While we’re at it, let’s use binary code to replace nouns, and clicks and whistles to replace weak pronouns. Look, the English language is vast and beautiful. Why are writers always developing rules to reduce its size? Must we continue to chip away at it until there’s nothing left to use?

Show, Don’t Tell – I agree, though, I also think there needs to be a limit as to how much you should show. I recently read a book where the author was still describing the environment after ten pages of text. I was bored to tears. At some point, you need to move along with the story. If you’ve already shown me the most important things in a scene, I’ll give you a pass if you tell me the rest.

The list goes and on, and if you’re a writer, you’ve undoubtedly heard them all.

In today’s day and age, there are countless entertainment options competing with books that offer instant gratification. Let’s face facts, authors: Between Lady GaGa records, DVR’d episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and Nintendos, we’re fighting a losing battle against the ever-decreasing attention span of our younger generation. I don’t know about you, but that scares the living shit out of me.

You want a rule of writing? How about this: Write the way everyday people speak. If you’ve ever said something and had a friend say, “Um, okay, Professor,” then you don’t know your audience (Don’t even get me started on the annoying subculture of Twitter’s “grammar police”). I believe in my heart of hearts that more people do want to read, but when they’re smacked in the face with five dollar words and obscure references to sixteenth century playwrights on the very first page, it discourages them from picking up books. As writers, we need to keep in mind that not everyone is fortunate enough to go to college, but that doesn’t make them any less deserving of entertainment.

I know this blog may sound like blasphemy, but I’m not calling for a “dumbing down” of the literary arts. I’m merely saying that if you’re a well-educated English major, good for you. You should be applauded. However, being a pretentious jackass is going to limit your reach as an author.

Write the stories that you want to write, just don’t tell me how to write mine. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

Choosing an Editor: Glinda or Elphaba?

Do bears bare? Do bees be?
This one’s for you Bethany & Laurie.

I recently joked around on Twitter about the very strange bond between an author and editor. I said that it reminded me of a “David & Maddie” type of relationship. I was amazed at how many “LOL” and “Amen” responses that I received from other authors. Well, from those old enough to catch the reference, anyway. 🙂

For those that have never had the pleasure of working with an editor before, I’ll try and describe the process: It’s a little like asking someone to take a look at your finest painting—the one you’ve spent countless hours on, perfecting the brushstrokes and use of color—and then pay them to smear pooh on it. Why? Because your brushstrokes weren’t as perfect as you thought, and your use of color wasn’t varied enough. Sure, your feelings are hurt and your gut reaction is to tell them that they don’t know what they’re talking about, but here’s the stone cold truth: Yes, they do.

An editor isn’t paid to be your friend and give you the warm and fuzzies about your work. They’re not going to stroke your hair, tell you everything is going to be all right, and sing songs about puppies and rainbows. They’re paid to make sure that you don’t embarrass yourself and release something into the marketplace that will represent you poorly. Are they going to step on your feelings in the process? Absolutely. Are you going to get a better book because of it? Without a doubt.

As long as we’re being honest here, I don’t know that I could ever trust an editor that was overly nice and complimentary about my work. What if their feedback could have saved my book from obscurity, but they were too afraid of hurting my feelings? That doesn’t help anyone. I must be insane, or at least part masochist, but I prefer an editor’s words to sting. Why? Because someone needs to be impartial enough to tell you the truth.

It’s too easy to feel content because “My mom said that my book is great,” or “my husband/wife said I’m the next Charlene Harris.” It’s safe. It feels good. It’s comfortable to believe that. However, you’ll be in for one hell of a reality check when the general public gets a hold of it. No matter how ruthless an editor’s comments can seem, they pale in comparison to the heartless rantings of an Internet troll.

You'll thank them later.

Working with an editor can be difficult to ease into. Take me, for example. Before working with my primary editor, Bethany, I was attracted to her ad because she promised to be gentle and respectful. You know, to really work with the writer and help them fine-tune their inner voice. Sounded great to me! After working with Bethany for three days, I was ready to fire hire. Well, punch her in the face and then fire her. She was brutal! I couldn’t believe that I was paying someone to talk to me the way that she did. She sliced and diced my manuscript, nitpicking every little thing to death, and then had the nerve to outline every tick and mistake I had made. I was furious! I thought to myself, “Oh yeah? Well, where’s your book, hot shot?”

The thing is, as I made the adjustments and fixes that she recommended, I could see the improvements to my manuscript begin to take shape. I started to see the original draft for the clunky mess that it was, and how much better it became under her keen eye. It was at that point that I realized just how valuable an editor can be.

Now days, I trust Bethany implicitly. She goes to great lengths to not only polish my manuscripts, but also to make sure that I understand the rule of thumb behind her corrections so that I can apply that knowledge to my future works.

The moral to my story is this: Don’t be so sensitive. It can be uncomfortable granting someone unrestricted access to something so personal, and sure, I do sometimes still get angry at comments that editors make. But as odd as it sounds, that’s how I know that I’m working with a good one. An editor doesn’t rip your book to shreds because they’re mean. An editor rips your book to shreds because it needs it. I’m not made of glass, and you shouldn’t be either. Have faith in your ability to write a good book, but never take for granted the power of a good editor.

2011: It’s Been a Wacky Ride

Like most people, at the end of every passing year I enjoy looking back and evaluating how I ended up. Call it a self-administered report card, if you will. Did I meet my goals set from the year before? Did I accomplish new goals that I hadn’t even considered? What mistakes did I make this year and what did I learn from them?

2011 was my first complete calendar year as an author. I published my first novel on October 16th, 2010, so I’d barely had even a taste of the lifestyle before I rang in the New Year. Being as green as I was, I started in with the mistakes right away, which included beginning work in January on my second book, Malevolent.

What’s that? You mean you’ve never heard of my book Malevolent? There’s a reason for that. I had a great concept, but absolutely no structure or grand ideas to connect the thin plot points together. Did that stop me? Of course not! I was going to write the book and blow minds, come hell or high water! That mentality lasted for about eight chapters and forty-thousand words before I took a hard look at my work-in-progress and grasped what a giant piece of monkey crap it was. I made the only play I could: I took the book out back behind the toolshed and put a bullet in it. Malevolent was out of its misery, but at the cost of four months of my time with nothing productive to show for it. The timing wasn’t right, but mark my words: Someday this one will rise from its grave and become the story that it’s meant to be.

I took a couple of months off following the Malevolent debacle before starting work on my next book, The Jumper. This story fared much better creatively, and before I knew it, I had a manuscript that I was proud of. I released The Jumper on August 9th, 2011.

Being almost a year since Noble’s release, I started writing a sequel in July while The Jumper was undergoing the editing process. I enjoyed returning to Miller Brinkman’s universe and felt as though I were crafting something that was going to take the series to a whole new level. The trouble was, the original Noble sat an unedited mess. Unless readers enjoyed the first book, there would be little hope of them giving the sequel I was so proud of a try. I put the sequel on hold and spent the next couple of months putting Noble under the knife. On November 10th, 2011, I released Noble: Revised & Expanded.

Because I clearly have mental issues, I took up yet ANOTHER side project all the while I was elbows deep in work. I wrote a short story called Mabel for the Kindle All-Stars anthology, Resistance Front. The process was more laborious than I imagined, but that just made it all the more worthwhile when the anthology came out earlier this month. Seeing my name among the likes of Harlan Ellison, Alan Dean Foster, and Bernard Schaffer was more than a dream come true. It’s more like a dream that my dream had and came true.

I am very proud of publishing two books and a short story in 2011, but the year wasn’t just about my creative accomplishments. It was also a year of meeting some amazing people that have quite literally changed my life. It will be the year that I remember meeting my editor Bethany for the first time. It will be the year that I remember meeting my cover designer James for the first time. And it will also be the year that I met some gifted fellow authors that both entertain and inspire me. Authors like Tony Healy, Liz Borino, Michael Hicks, Joshua Unruh, Richard Roberts, William Vitka, and Court Cantrell. Indie publishing no longer has to be something I do alone because I have met great people doing the same thing.

2011 was the year that I met Bernard Schaffer and Laurie Laliberte, both of whom have gone to great lengths to make sure that I’m writing something worth reading. They’re readers, not fans, and they tell you the truth no matter brutal it might be. Every lesson that I learned about writing in 2011 can be attributed to them completely.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that I got engaged on Valentine’s Day? I was about to get my butt kicked if I failed to mention that.

Last, but certainly not least, 2011 was the year that I gained actual readers. At the close of 2010, I had exactly seven followers on Twitter. As I type this blog entry, I’m almost up to 5,700. Sure, a lot of those are bots and other authors that are trying to sell me their books, but among them are real readers that have bought my books and taken the time to write and tell me that they liked them. There is no greater feeling in the world than that.

In conclusion, 2011 was a great year full of several accomplishments and new beginnings, but it’s just a taste of what’s to come in 2012. As of the time of this writing, Noble: Bloodlines is about ready to enter the beta reading stage. Early feedback has been: “Did you write this? No… seriously. Did you?” I’ll take that as a compliment. 🙂

In addition to a new book in the Noble series, I will also have a themed short-story collection, a new novella, and if time permits, the finale to the Noble trilogy. It feels like I just started the series yesterday and already I’m talking about the final book in the trilogy. It’s bittersweet for sure. I don’t know that I’m ready to say goodbye just yet.

If you’re reading this right now, then you’re absolutely one of the people that helped make 2011 my most successful and memorable year yet. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! I hope that your year rocked as much as mine, and I hope that the New Year brings you even greater happiness!

Viva la Revolution!

Kindle All-Stars Presents: Resistance Front
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned since becoming a published author, it’s that when Bernard Schaffer comes knocking, you answer the door. You answer the door even if you forgot to put on pants!

A few months ago I received an email from Bernard, talking about this crazy idea he had called the Kindle All-Stars. As a devoted fan of Harlan Ellison, Bernard dreamed of following in Unca Harlan’s footsteps by collaborating with a group of independent authors and delivering an anthology of work that would shape the future of independent publishing. “The punk rock of literature,” he called us.

Bernard’s vision didn’t include any of us making money. Instead, he wanted all profits from the book’s sales to go to one of his favorite charities: The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. How could I refuse such an invitation? I sifted through my project pile of ideas and found a “Frankenstein” piece that I had been tinkering with. I submitted it to Bernard right away and awaited him to accept my submission with open arms.

He hated it.

I have received constructive criticism many times. It’s a part of the process of being a writer. In all my experience, I’ve never had another human being deliver constructive criticism like Bernard Schaffer. I was told he was a harsh editor, but I hadn’t anticipated threats to kill my pets. I took Bernard’s feedback to heart, and with a photo of my beloved Welsh Terrier, Tobi, at my side, I worked hard to implement the necessary changes. I resubmitted my short story the following night.

He hated it.

This process of editing, submitting new drafts, and re-editing continued for a total of NINE drafts before Bernard gave me one last chance. “Write hard,” he said. Simple enough, but oh, so much more difficult to execute. Bernard had woken the beast. Through squinted eyes and a fire in my belly, I took my “Frankenstein” piece and deleted it. All of it. I kept only the names of the characters and rewrote the piece from scratch. I submitted it first to an editor assigned specifically to my story, who replied in less than ten minutes and said, “Wow.” My confidence was restored and I was proud of my contribution. I submitted it to Bernard with a grin on my face.

He hated it.

Though Bernard was still not a fan of my particular style, he did something amazing for me. He took the time to dissect my story line-by-line and tell me what worked and what didn’t. Not only that, but he explained to me why. In a moment of pure surrealism, I was receiving a writing lesson from my favorite contemporary author, free of charge.

The end result was my short story “Mabel” being accepted into the Kindle All-Stars Anthology Resistance Front. It blows my mind to think that my work is included alongside authors such as Alan Dean Foster, Jon F. Merz, and even Harlan Ellison himself. I keep waiting for someone to pinch me. That is the best part for me as a writer. As a reader, the best part for you is that this painstakingly created collection can be had for a mere .99 cents.

So, now you know what the Kindle All-Stars project means to me. Here’s what it means to some of my fellow authors also included in the anthology:

“The Resistance Front project has been a bright spot in my day ever since I joined. Pour a cup of strong Garuda and see what the KAS team is up to. I’d say my favorite part has been reading contributors’ excerpts and getting an enticing taste of things to come.” – Toni Dwiggins, Excerpt from BADWATER.

“It’s been absolutely awe-inspiring to have my work stand alongside such talented authors, from the unknown to the famous. This is the anthology to read in the Internet age.” – Miles Cressman, Deconstruct.

“Kudos to Bernard and his team of minions, especially Laurie Laliberte. This brilliant project would never have materialized without your dedication and hard work. – JJ Toner, Children.

“The Kindle All-Stars Project is the most intensely, frustrating, humbling, rewarding, exhilarating, life-changing, roller coaster ride I’ve ever been on and it’s an honor to be in such good company.” – Laurie Laliberte, Fear of the Dark.

“Is being part of Kindle All-Stars a dream come true for me? No, it’s not. My dream used to be a book deal with a major publishing house. I didn’t want to be famous; I just wanted to be published. I never imagined that I’d get something even better: the freedom of indie publishing, the intimate-though-far-apart connection with fellow dreamers and word-lovers, and the chance to use my writing to help the innocent. KAS isn’t a dream come true – It’s a vivid, new reality that is more alive than anything I ever imagined before.” – Courtney Cantrell, If This Were a Stephen King Story.

Get your copy of Kindle All-Stars Presents: Resistance Front available now!

Marketing: The Plight of an Independent Author

I lost a follower on Twitter. It’s a fairly common occurrence when you’re gaining several hundred new followers a week. Perhaps I wasn’t entertaining enough. Perhaps I said something that conflicted with someone else’s opinion about a topic. I don’t take it personally.

This follower was different. Not trying to be overly dramatic, but he was special. When I first joined Twitter in November of 2010, I had seven followers for a very long time. That number increased gradually—a great portion of which were spam bots—but then along came a real person. He followed me quietly and had even purchased my first book. He began to tweet me and tell me about his experience reading my book. It was sincerely the most flattering thing I’ve ever experienced as a writer. It’s always fantastic when a reader cares enough to leave a review, but to care enough to describe their experience as they’re reading? That’s something else entirely.

When he finished my book, he wrote a nice review for it. He mentioned both the positive and the negative elements of my book, but overall he came away with the experience that I hoped everyone who read my book would. It was the first review I’d received from someone outside of my circle of friends, and his approval filled me with hope that I was onto something. That I could tell a story that would entertain readers. I enjoyed our chats, but over time they ceased.

I hadn’t heard from this follower in a long time, so I looked him up to see how he was doing. I was disappointed to discover that he had long since unfollowed me on Twitter. Even though I had never met this person, I legitimately felt as though I had lost a real life friend. My mind raced with the scenarios of what I could have done to lose his interest.

Not that I wanted to become a Twitter stalker or anything, but my curiosity got the better of me. I tweeted him and asked him why he’d stopped following. He was very polite about it and told me that while he still enjoyed my writing, he had become tired of my “incessant” marketing. My jaw literally dropped when I read that. I’d never considered my marketing to be incessant.

Sure, I advertise my products, but I’m not a broadcaster by any stretch. I share random thoughts, jokes and opinions every day that have nothing to do with book sales. I respond to every tweet I receive from followers. I am a human being of real flesh and blood. My tweets are sometimes funny, sometimes inspirational, and yes, I’m sure sometimes boring, but that’s real life, isn’t it?

I whole-heartedly agree that being marketed to via Twitter can be annoying. Every time I mention something as simple as reading my Kindle or getting some breakfast, I’m immediately sent various tweets about where I can win a Kindle Fire and where I can claim my *free* McDonald’s gift certificate. My good friend Laurie gets weekly tweets about the benefits of Viagra. I’m not sure what she tweets about to draw such a bold prediction, but she’s not a person that I’d ever want to be on the bad side of. ?

Being marketed too feels like a violation of privacy, I get that, which is why I work very hard to insure that my marketing isn’t an intrusion. I don’t *market*, I *advertise.* If you follow me on Twitter, it’s likely that you have an appreciation for books. As a writer, I offer a product for people with an appreciation for books. If the two happen to mutually come together, brilliant! I’m happy to have you buy my books, but it’s not a requirement to talk to me on Twitter. I’m on Twitter for the social experience and to get to know both readers and writers alike. In the midst of all of that communication, yes, I do advertise my books. Why?

Because we all need money to survive, don’t we? Look in the mirror. You see that person staring back at you? That person needs to make money to feed their kids. To pay their mortgage. To have some fun in their life. And how do we earn money? By applying the skills that we’ve honed to a particular trade or business, and then every two weeks we receive a paycheck for our services rendered. The same is true for me as a writer (except that my paychecks are spaced 90 days apart).

If you stop and think about it, everything you’ve ever bought is because someone somewhere marketed it and informed you of its existence. That’s all I’m doing. My marketing tweets are only meant to inform, not to bombard you with messages that imply why you must buy my books. I don’t mean to offend you or insult your intelligence. I simply mean to build awareness of a product that you may or may not be interested in so that I can make a living doing what I love. Hopefully, I can entertain you in the process.

It’s hard being an independent author. We don’t get six-figure contracts from publishing houses who then invest thousands of dollars into making our books visible. I’m not complaining, mind you. We do it because we love it. However, success requires a lot more elbow grease at this level, and that means more marketing than you’d see from a Stephen King or a Suzanne Collins. To my credit, not all of my marketing messages are asking for your money. I often give content away for free.

I will never deceive you and pretend to be something that I’m not. I write with your enjoyment in mind. However, I absolutely cannot survive in this profession without readers becoming aware of my books, and that will always require a fair amount of marketing. If at the end of the day my marketing is just too much to bear, then I sincerely apologize, but understand that I’m just a man trying to rub two nickels together. I’m no different than anyone else.

Technology: The Day I Loved, Hated, and Loved it Again

People often say “I thought I was going to have a heart attack” when they retell the story of something horrific that happened to them. I’m sure we’ve all said it at least once during our lifetime. It’s quite an exaggeration—possibly even insensitive at times—but never fails to convey how distraught a person felt after a particular experience. In fact, I just had one of those experiences about a week ago. It was the day I loved technology, hated technology, and then loved it again by nightfall.

It may sound like a horrible writer’s cliché, but I do always have to carry around a notebook with me anywhere I go. I’ve been that way ever since high school. I never know when something is going to inspire me, and I don’t want to be without a pen and paper when it does. I’ve lost many potential story ideas because I thought to myself, “Oh, there’s no way I’ll forget that idea.” Yeah, right.

Of course, lugging around a notepad isn’t always convenient, so when smart phones started including notepad/memo applications as standard features, I saw the benefit right away. It worked like a charm! No matter where I went, I could always take out my iPhone, type a little note about an idea that I had, and then come back to expand upon it later. Doing that saved me a great deal of time and my phone didn’t take up much space in my pocket.

This new-found love of my iPhone lasted for two years. Over that time, I’d amassed a healthy collection of story ideas. So healthy, in fact, that I simply couldn’t use them in a timely fashion. Just about the time I’d settle in to begin work on one of those ideas, I’d come up with a couple of new ones, and my brain would kick into “Ooooh! Shiny object!” mode.

As a writer, having an over-abundance of ideas is a good problem to have, though. That is, until you sit down one day to view your catalog and discover that they’re all gone.

I received a text message from Apple informing me that iOS5 was available for download. I’d been taught to make sure that my iPhone always had the latest firmware because it was essential to keeping my phone working properly. I downloaded the update and all was right in the world… for about a day. When I opened my notebook app the next morning to update my catalog of story ideas, I found the app blank. Two years’ worth of my brain’s creations… gone. I thought I was going to have a heart attack!

I called tech support, but they were unable to help. The lady informed me that the new iOS5 user agreement had warned of such a possibility, and that I should have been backing up my iPhone to a secondary location on my PC “just in case.” Just in case? Forgive me for assuming that a $600 phone would operate as it was intended to. In a flash, all of the things that my “Apple hater” friends had been saying to me for years sunk in. I went from iPhone lover to iPhone hater in the blink of an eye.

Needless to say, I felt deflated and lost. I couldn’t believe that all of my creations were gone. I could remember some of them, and I quickly jotted down as much as I could remember, but I was overwhelmed with disappointment thinking about all of the morsels that I’d never be able to recall. I moped all day, then came a beacon of light in the form of my fiancé.

My fiancé told me about a little trick that the iPhone does for users with a Gmail account. The iOS automatically backs up the mail, calendar and notepad applications to Gmail provided that you have that option selected in the phone’s settings. I ran upstairs to my computer in what felt like a single bound. I logged into Gmail, clicked on the “notes” tab, and there it was… two years’ worth of my brain “scribbles” safely stored and ready to be copied to a backup location. To say I let out a sigh of relief would be a gross understatement.

Though I was still mortified by the experience as a whole, it did have a happy ending. I woke up that morning loving the advantages that technology had provided for me. By mid-afternoon, I was ruing the day I had ever abandoned my old trusty friends, the pen and paper. Then, before the streetlights had powered on at dusk, I was thanking the technology gods for allowing my iPhone to sync up with my Gmail account “just in case.” Apparently my iPhone knew me better than I did.

There are several morals to this story, but each reader will find the one that hits the closest to home for them. For me, I learned that technology is a powerful and useful friend in my life, but that I should never stray completely from the history that got me to where I am today. I have resumed using the notepad app for my iPhone, though my ideas never sit there for very long before I copy them over to a master file on my computer. As for the good old-fashioned notepad and pen? I’m reading my notes for this blog post off of one at this very moment.

Interview: Laurie Laliberte

Working with all the fantastic people that comprise the Kindle All-Stars project was like a dream come true for me. As a new writer, in the professional sense, it’s intimidating trying to get “out there,” and even after a full year of doing it I still don’t always know where I’m going. A lot of time as an independent author is spent waiting for the next opportunity to come along. Anthologies are a great place for an unknown writer to land and show off their work.

What I realized while getting to know some of the other authors involved with this project is that there are some amazing people out there that deserve to be more well-known than they are. Though I am proud of the work I have done, let’s be honest, I’m still a little unseasoned. It becomes painfully apparent when I read the words of people like Richard Roberts, Natasha Whearity, Tony Healy, Courtney Cantrell, and William Vitka. I talk to them and interact with them on Twitter daily. Not only are they incredibly talented writers, but they are friendly, pleasant, and always happy to discuss our craft. Imagine my surprise to find that the majority of these writers have less than 100 followers on Twitter. That’s just not right.

Sure, the Kindle All-Stars project has some big names attached to it, but you already know them. Who you don’t know is Laurie Laliberte. As hard as everyone worked to make this project become a reality, no one was more essential to its release than Laurie. She started out just like the rest of us—an aspiring writer looking for an outlet to share her story. But before it was all said and done, Laurie became the backbone of the entire project and earned a lifetime of respect from every person involved.

Why? How? I thought it would be best to let Laurie tell you in her own words. It’s my pleasure to have her as a guest on my blog today. Not only is Laurie my contemporary, but she’s also a dear friend. I am proud to know her, and it’s my honor to introduce her to you.

What was it that first attracted you to the Kindle All-Stars project?

I got involved for a purely selfish reason: my desire to publish. In my defense, I got involved with this whole project a day or two before Bernard made the decision to donate the proceeds to charity and I wholeheartedly embraced that idea. My KAS story is my first published fiction piece. I figured I’d take a chance and send Bernard my manuscript. I was in shock when I got the email back telling me he loved my story “except…” then the editing began.

You have two pieces of work featured in the book, but let’s start with your short story, “Fear of the Dark.” Why did you choose this story for your submission?

“Fear of the Dark” was one of those pieces that’s sat, literally, for years. Every so often I’d pull out the manuscript, give it a quick once-over, maybe tweak it a little and then tuck it away again. It’s similar to the way I’ve always handled my resume, whether I’m job hunting or not: I keep it up to date just in case I need it. I published “Fear of the Dark” on my blog earlier this year (under the title “Prey”) and it was the one piece in my fiction arsenal that I knew was closest to publication-ready. Additionally, it’s a story I’ve always loved and the one I’ve most wanted to see published.

I pulled “Prey” when I submitted it, but its sister piece, “Predator,” is still on my blog in pretty rough condition.

Most of the authors featured in this book that I’ve spoken to have all mentioned the edited process as their biggest challenge. What was it like for you?

Yeah, because I got on board so early in the project, I’ve had the opportunity to see Bernard Schaffer in action, both as a writer and an editor. He’s a tough editor, but he’s even tougher on himself. That said, I found Bernard’s editing process very easy. Most of the authors with whom I’ve spoken would not say that. I’m my own worst critic. I was also blessed with a few teachers in high school and in college who were terrific writers and extremely demanding editors, so I developed a very thick skin when it comes to my writing being critiqued by others. No amount of constructive criticism can bring me down. It simply motivates me to improve. I actually said to one of my college professors, “Stop telling me what’s right. Tell me what’s wrong so I can fix it.” That was the last college course I took.

My biggest editing challenge was leaving the story alone. After it went through its final edit, I closed the file and swore I wouldn’t look at it again. About a month later, I sent the file to a buddy, another KAS author. I reread it then, absolutely hated it, and ended up completely rewriting and resubmitting it. I’m really glad I did because I’m thrilled with the final product.

Would you describe yourself as a perfectionist or a tinkerer when it comes to finalizing your work?

I am most definitely a perfectionist, a control freak. Until I began working with Bernard, I wasn’t much of a tinkerer. Once I get a first draft down and have a direction set in my mind, I don’t really mess with it a whole lot. I take that piece or premise and expand it to get it “just so.” The benefit of working with an editor like Bernard, who is such a good writer in his own right, is that he helped me see what else could be done with this story and then set me loose with a different mindset than I originally brought to the project. He reminded me that, when it comes to writing, your only limitation is yourself and I was limiting myself. I think I was too close to this piece and rather than letting go and letting the story develop, I was holding it close and smothering it a little. Once I loosened my grip, I found the story had such potential and that’s when it really blossomed. It was emotionally draining at first, but now I’m so glad I did it because it’s definitely the best piece of fiction I’ve written to date.

What does “Fear of the Dark” mean to you personally?

Wow, first the obvious: I’m terrified of the dark. I’m not as bad as I once was, but that fear is still there. I had a LOT of nightmares as a kid, but the one that scared me the most, that I carried into adulthood, is the one that’s described in the story. I still have that nightmare occasionally. I no longer live alone, but when I did, I had night lights in almost every room of my apartment.

“Fear of the Dark,” as a project, is about me embracing, owning, and then letting go of my fears. It was really therapeutic for me. Of course, you’d have to know me to get that from reading the story.

When you first began work on your story, were there any real life elements that wound up sneaking their way in?

The biggest part of the story, the walk home from the bus stop in the dark, was the inspiration. The thought that kept me from losing my grip on my way home that night was, “I’ve got to absorb every detail, because when I get home I have to write this down.” I think I wrote the first draft the next day in all of an hour.

Every major element in the story came from my real life experiences: my own fear of the dark, the nightmare, the upstairs neighbor, even the magazine article mentioned in the story. They weren’t all presented as they occurred in real life, but they all came from real places. Even Antonio answering the door in nothing but his boxers. There’s so much of me in this story that when discussing it with my friend David Hulegaard after it was done, I told you I felt “skinned and gutted” by it.

How would you describe “Fear of the Dark” to a new reader about to sink their teeth into it?

A woman steps off a bus to find herself in the middle of a blackout. The story takes you with her on her trip home… and just a bit further. It’s written in the third person, but it’s very much a stream of consciousness story line that bounces a bit in the way that your mind would wander on a walk in the dark.

Your second piece in the book is a short essay called “We are All-Stars.” What has this project meant to you?

I really haven’t stopped to let myself think about that too much because every time I do I get completely overwhelmed. I mean, how many first time authors can say their work is appearing next to two living legends, their favorite living author, and a group of writers who’ve become very close online friends? How many people have the good fortune to recognize that they’re potentially making history? It’s just too much for me to process. Ask me five years from now and I’ll be able to answer that question, but I can’t right now because I don’t even know. This Project has the potential to literally change lives. It’s already changed mine.

How did you get from Laurie Laliberte, author of “Fear of the Dark,” to Kindle All-Stars second-in-command, La Consigliera?

Divine Providence? Dumb luck? Karma? Fate? Call it what you want to call it, it all boils down to being in the right place at the right time and answering the right tweet.

The morning after I got Bernard’s email telling me my story was officially part of the project, he tweeted that he was trying to put together a team to handle publicity. I responded. He told me to contact his point person, and we’d work from there. With 20 years in retail and a few years running my own online business, I had plenty of experience selling and dealing with social media. That, and Bernard and I just clicked. I like to think we’ve become friends. I went from offering a few suggestions about handling interviews and twitter to running interference right down the line. My biggest problem is that I have a difficult time saying no to certain people, and Bernard is a person to whom everybody has a difficult time saying no, so dealing with him in that respect is like a double whammy for me. There’s only one thing he’s asked of me that I refused and it’s more a postponement than a flat out no.

Incidentally, the nickname “la Consigliera” came about because Bernard was asked in an interview to describe my role in the KAS. He said he was the Don but I was the Consigliere, the one you really had to watch out for. Smart man.

Do you have any favorite stories in the anthology that you’re hoping readers will home in on?

That’s a tough one because I really don’t want to play favorites, but I do have a few I really love. Out of fairness, I’d rather not name names.

Bernard sent me a handful of pieces to read because we were getting close to the wire and asked me to vote yes or no on them. One in particular blew me away. I emailed him with the writer’s name and a note that said, “If I have to, I’ll fight you to the death to make sure this piece gets in.” Another made me sob when I read it the first time; one infuriated me; one made me laugh hysterically. A few have gotten under my skin to the point that I absolutely had to read more of each author’s work. I think our readers will react in a similar manner. Every piece in this book has merit and deserves to be a part of this anthology. And I think every writer will find new fans when all is said and done.

Now that you’ve had a taste of this whole book publishing process, what’s next for you? Will you write more stories?

I will continue to write; I would anyway, but this whole thing has really rekindled my love of writing fiction. I’ve got about a zillion ideas rattling around in my brain right now. One of which I really want to pursue either as a novel or a series of novellas. However, I’ve found, through all of this that I really enjoy the proofreading/editing/publicity angle, so I’m planning on continuing that as well. I’ve already been doing that for a couple of years, just not with fiction writing specifically.

Looking back, what would you say was your favorite part of being involved with this project?

The learning experience would have to be my first because I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time. But I wouldn’t change any of it. I’ve met so many people, forged friendships, working relationships, possible partnerships. I tweeted a few days ago that the toughest part for me will be not being in touch with Bernard every day. Yeah, it’s not going to be easy for me when we’re done here. I don’t even want to think about it. My mantra through all of this has been a line from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Fire bad. Tree pretty.”


Laurie’s Webpage: Big Girl Blog

Laurie’s Kindle All-Stars Webpage: KAS Presents: Laurie Laliberte

Guns of Seneca 6 Review & Interview with Bernard Schaffer

Guns of Seneca 6 by Bernard Schaffer
Jem Clayton is the orphaned son of a highly decorated and well-respected sheriff. He went astray and ended up on the opposite side of the law. In doing so, Jem developed a reputation of being a courteous bandit that never let harm come to a woman, and he was content to live that lifestyle. Unbeknownst to him, a more virtuous path awaited him.

Jem’s home town of Seneca 6 is a small, prosperous mining community that had existed peacefully for many years. After becoming entangled with a dangerous group of intergalactic outlaws known as The Harpe Gang, Jem puts Seneca 6 in a direct line of fire when they come looking for him.

The Harpe Gang is unlike any force the universe had ever seen. Little Willy Harpe is a nasty human being with a penchant for cannibalism. He becomes even more deadly after taking possession of a “holy weapon”—a parasitic alien life form that bestows him with unprecedented power.

Guns of Seneca 6 tells the tale of a man who fled from his past and now fights to reclaim it. Jem has plenty of help along the way as he battles a most formidable foe and uncovers a shocking secret that fills in the blanks regarding the demise of his father.

Outlaws, savages, aliens, and a town under martial law: This is not the Wild West as you know it, and author Bernard Schaffer wouldn’t have it any other way. While the inevitable comparisons to Firefly would be impossible to avoid, by time I closed the book, I found them to be two very different experiences.

What they do share in common is a cast of strong characters that are so distinguishable and well-crafted that you could almost label any of them as the “main” character. Such an accomplishment has become Schaffer’s signature. If you were to ask five different readers who their favorite character was, you’re likely to get five different answers. For me, as much as I liked Jem Clayton, my favorite character was Doc Halladay.

I have read all of Schaffer’s books, and while each of them are fantastic reads, Guns of Seneca 6 stands out as my clear favorite. Answering why is a bit tough to explain. Guns possesses all of the trademark characteristics that comprise Schaffer’s style, but the book feels more relaxed than his previous work. I didn’t catch it until I was already a few chapters in, but it eventually dawned on me that there was a new rhythm to Schaffer’s writing that I’d never noticed before. The flow of his sentence structure is cleaner and simpler to read.

As much as I enjoyed Schaffer’s last book, Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes, it was an exhausting read. It read more like a technical writing manual and took me about two weeks to finish. Guns will enable readers of any level to feel entertained and less challenged. It’s structured in a way that allows you to just enjoy the story while subliminally giving you a lesson in how to write effectively.

Even as I was rounding the corner near the end of Guns, I was already envisioning where Schaffer may take the story next. I don’t doubt for a second that he’s got a list of notes for a sequel, and I’m anxious to reach the day when I can enjoy that one too. For now, if you’re not already a fan of Schaffer, you should be. I can’t think of a better introduction to what makes his work great than Guns of Seneca 6.

Q & A with Guns of Seneca 6 author, Bernard J. Schaffer

First of all, congratulations on your new book! One of my favorite qualities of yours is the relentless research you put into your projects. What all did you to prepare for this book?

My mom worked as a hairdresser at the Village Mall in Horsham Township when I was a little kid. There was a movie theater in the mall that showed second-run features, and I have clear memories of being around five years old and walking through the mall by myself to go watch Star Wars. I believe I saw it in that theater twenty-one times. The research definitely began then.

Actually, it began even earlier. Before I was born, my father conspired with my uncle to name me Wyatt, after Wyatt Earp. There was an election held by putting names into a hat, and whatever name was drawn would be the winner. Uncle Billy distracted the people in attendance while my dad rigged the hat so that every name inside read Wyatt. My mom was horrified at the result, but eventually uncovered their ruse.

The research was really just me referring to things I already knew from the life I’ve lived. You either hear the music of the open range and a man with two six-shooters or you don’t. You either look out at the stars and wonder what lies beyond them or…I don’t know what you are…someone who loves Nicholas Sparks books.

What would you say were your biggest influences when creating this story?

I thank Ron Hansen in the book because as soon as I finished THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD and DESPERADOES I knew I wanted to write a western.

After the meticulous research and anachronistic confinement of writing WHITECHAPEL: THE FINAL STAND OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, I needed something that allowed me to run wild.

Were there any clichés in the Sci-Fi/Western genre that you specifically wanted to avoid?

I think it would be hard to write either one and not have at least some of the standard themes. Both genres have been mined so deeply already that to do something truly original would be impossible. I tend to focus more on characterization and depth. If the characters are real to me, and real to you, it’s okay if something familiar happens.

You’ve recently said that you already miss the characters. Let’s talk long term potential of this series. Where do you want to go from here?

I’m in the middle of a different book called SUPERBIA which is probably going to end my police career. The trouble is, I can’t stop hearing that music I talked about. Seneca calls to me. Maybe I just don’t want to write about what it’s really like to be a police officer, because it’s too depressing. It’s funny, but also very depressing.

The sequel to GUNS is tentatively titled THE MAGNIFICENT GUNS OF SENECA 6. I have a decent, if rough, idea of what the book will be about and it will definitely be the next project I focus on after SUPERBIA.

I’ve never trusted people who want to write a “series.” When I see a book that says, “The First Book of the Whatever Series” I always shy away because it makes me feel like the author isn’t telling a complete story with that book. He is just setting you up for his next five volumes.

All right, Colt Defeater to your head, are you more interested in creating the next Jem Clayton story or the next Agent Price story?

The next Agent Price story is already written. I wrote it for KINDLE ALL-STARS PRESENTS: RESISTANCE FRONT and it is called “Operation: Fuhrerdie!”

I held the story back because it is just too controversial to include in that collection. Laurie asked me if I was thinking like an editor of an anthology or the author of a story when I showed it to her. She’s a smart cookie like that.

Rest assured, that story will see the light of day. And then people who know me will say, “I never liked that dude to begin with.”

Speaking of Colt Defeaters, you worked extensively to create entirely new weapons for Guns of Seneca 6, including working with a graphic designer. Can you talk about that process and why that was so important for you to do?

Glendon Haddix of Streetlight Graphics is the genius behind them. He designed them, named the parts, and had this tremendous vision of what they would be. My initial descriptions to him were humble and simple, and his brilliant mind created these works of art.

For a potential reader, which path is the closest to Guns of Seneca 6 between The Assassination of Jesse James, Firefly, Red Dead Redemption, Deadwood, and Clint Eastwood?

People bring up Firefly and the movie that was made out of it, which fails me at the moment, but honestly, I’ve never seen a single episode. Never saw Deadwood either. And, despite the sacrilege of what I’m about to say, no Clint Eastwood movie is ranked among my favorite Westerns.

Never… seen… Firefly? Well, folks, it’s a shame that Bernard couldn’t stay longer, but…

I’ve seen some early reviews of your book that liken it to Steampunk. What do you think of that comparison? Are you a fan of mangas like Trigun?

I love Lone Wolf and Cub (I have a half-sleeve tattoo of Ogami Itto and Daigoro on my left arm) and Samurai Executioner, but I’m sad to say that is the sum total of my knowledge of manga. As for Steampunk, Cyberpunk, you name it, I love it. If they created Piratepunk, I’d love that too.

After releasing a novel just a few months ago, it’s somewhat surprising to already be seeing another full novel from you. How long had you been working on this book? Did it overlap with some of your previous works?

I tend to work on several various projects all at the same time. GUNS OF SENECA 6 took about a year, all told. In that time, however, I did an enormous amount of other work. If I ever get the opportunity to do this full-time, look out.

Trying to decide how to follow a novel as dark as Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes had to have been a tough decision. What made Guns of Seneca 6 seem like the next logical release?

Whitechapel was an emotionally draining book for me, and written during a really dark time in my life. I wanted to do something fun and enjoy myself.

You’ve been very vocal about the harsh criticism slightly more sensitive readers have been giving Whitechapel. However, you’ve still made the decision to release an edited version of the book that removes a lot of the gore. Talk a little bit about that decision and what exactly you are doing to the tone it down.

The truth is, I would not write WHITECHAPEL today. At the time, I was on the verge of self-destructing and hanging on by the tips of my fingers. As I look back through the book, I see extreme scenes of gore and violence and sex, to the point that they frighten me, but I also see a commitment to tell the truth. I know what Jack the Ripper did, and anyone who reads WHITECHAPEL will know it too.

The struggle of Sherlock Holmes to overcome his own demons and return to fight one last great battle is clearly indicative of my own journey at that time. It’s probably the reason he isn’t in the book much at first. I didn’t have the strength to talk about myself at first.

I edited the book down so that people have an option. Even the edited version is not fit for children, but at least now readers can choose which one to read. And then, if they still complain, I will hunt them down and kill them.

Switching gears, how is the Kindle All-Stars project coming along?

Everything is on target for a Holiday release. I can’t wait. People are going to love this book.

You managed to bring in contributions from some powerful names in literature. Are you going to try and widen the net for the next KAS book and lure in more big names?

I think if the book is as successful as I expect it to be, they will come to us.

With Kindle All-Stars, you did the bulk of the editing yourself. As an author that has had his own work torn to shreds in the past, how did that prepare you to work with other writers in that capacity?

It was incredibly hard. I’m so used to getting my ass kicked by editors that even when I was being nice to people they were still taken aback. I certainly don’t enjoy hurting anyone’s feelings.

The biggest challenge that authors in the digital age face is providing a professional, polished product to readers. We do not have the editing and proofreading resources that come with a big-time publishing contract, so we have to police ourselves. Writers who think their work is too sacred to be scrutinized are amateurish and stupid. They also make the committed professionals look bad and I won’t have it.

As with all of our interviews in the past, I’m going to end this with the same question I always ask: What’s up next for Bernard Schaffer?

More and more work. RESISTANCE FRONT will release before the end of 2011. SUPERBIA and THE MAGNIFICENT GUNS OF SENECA 6 for 2012. I’ll also be tinkering with my second collection of short-stories called BERNARD J. SCHAFFER’S CODEX LEICESTER and the second KINDLE ALL-STARS Project.

Damn. That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? One of these days I’m going to do something completely crazy like take a vacation. Learn how to golf or go sailing.

As always Bernard, thank you so much for your time. You’re an uber-talented guy that deserves all of the acclaim you get. It’s only a matter of time before you hit the big time, but I hope that even when that day comes, you’ll still swing by to chat with me on my site. 🙂

It is my pleasure, David. Working with you on the Kindle All-Stars Project was one of the highlights for me. Thank you for your support, and keep up the great work.

Buy Guns of Seneca 6 for KINDLE, NOOK, or PAPERBACK.

Milwaukie Authors’ Quarterly – 10/20/11

Couldn’t be there in person? Watch me speak at the Milwaukie Authors’ Quarterly event held at the Ledding Library on October 20th, 2011. Hear stories about my path to self-publish and the pitfalls I encountered along the way. There may even be a joke or two in there. 🙂

Happy Birthday, Noble

Today is October 16th. I can hardly believe it was a year ago today that I published my first novel, Noble. The memories are still so fresh in my mind: The fighting with an ever-changing outline. The extensive research about life in the 1940s. The late nights where writing a thousand words was impossible to do in less than three hours. The road to publication was long and difficult, but I don’t have a single regret.

Okay, that’s a lie.

I regret all the mistakes that I made as a first time self-published author. I regret not hiring a professional editor. I regret investing $5,000 into a PR agency that netted me a grand total of seven followers on Twitter. I regret rushing the book to market without a marketing plan. I regret most of all that I didn’t deliver my best effort. My readers deserve better than I gave them.

Most writers are hard on themselves, but this is not just me being overly critical and holding myself to some ridiculous standard. I believe in the story that I’m trying to tell with the Noble trilogy and I believe in its strength as an intellectual property. In my heart, I believe that this trilogy has legitimate potential to sell some books and entertain many more readers than I have already reached.

That’s why I made the decision to go back to the drawing board and create a second edition for Noble. Call it “2.0” if you like, but I’m calling it Noble: Revised & Expanded. It’s the version of the book that the original should have been. I’m doing this not just in honor of Noble’s one-year anniversary, but also as a precursor to the next book in the series, coming in early 2012.

What’s new in Noble: Revised & Expanded? Everything! I hired a professional editor to tear through the original manuscript. Long gone are the typos and grammatical errors. Long gone are the wordy, confusing sentences that don’t make sense. Long gone are the lengthy stretches of exposition and information dumps without giving the reader a break. All of these mistakes have been replaced with clear, clean sentence structure and short, succinct thoughts that capture the moment in greater detail. Old, tired exposition has been replaced with new dialogue between characters and additional devices to flesh out the backstory. I’ve also re-hired James McDonald (The Jumper) to lend his unique vision of the Noble universe to the brand spanking new front cover. This is not just a simple re-issue. This is a complete re-launch with oodles of new content, and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with you!

But don’t just take my word for it. Please, celebrate this special anniversary with me and read for yourself. Below you will find the new and improved first chapter from the book. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Chapter One


(Heavy breathing) My name is Jane Em—“ [Crackle] “and if you’re hearing this, please, I beg you, help us. They brought us, here, but I—I don’t know where here is. They told us that they were—“ [Section missing] “But they didn’t tell us why. Something about, oh, I can’t remember. It didn’t make any sense. They rarely told us anything at all. We just had to do what we were told to. But they lied. Ph—“ [Crackle] “did exactly what he was told to and they just—they just let him die. Didn’t even try to help him. Those bastards! They knew all of this was going to happen!” [Pause] “Mom, for what it’s worth to you now, I’m so sorry. If I had known that it would have ever come to this, I—I would’ve—“ (Sobbing) ”How could you do this to your own child, mother?”

[Section missing]

“We were brought here in blindfolds and handcuffs. They didn’t speak at all until we arrived. I remember being on an airplane and then a big vehicle. A bus, maybe. We were all so scared. Well, almost everyone. It seems like ages ago when I first met Alyssa. She was so strong and refused to break down and cry. She said it would only give them the satisfaction they wanted, but I couldn’t keep myself from falling apart.” [Pause] “Alyssa was part of the second group from our cell that was sent into that place. I don’t even know how to describe it other than to say that it looks like something left over from an—“ [Section missing] “—ion. Despite how frightened I am, I feel a sense of awe when I look at it. The architecture is unlike any I’ve ever seen. How could something like this exist un—“ [Crackle] “I told Alyssa about my suspicions, but she didn’t care much about my theories. She focused only on our escape. The rest of us never felt like we had a chance, but she refused to give up.” [Pause] “God, I miss her so much.” [Pause] “When they came for her, I think we all knew what was about to happen. We lost all hope. Still, there was a part of me that believed she would come back. I refused to believe that anything could stop Alyssa. She wasn’t a soldier, but she was just, I don’t know, different somehow from the rest of us. Phillip used to call her ‘Bitch on Earth’ because he thought that she was scarier than any kind of hell.” (Laughs) ”And yet, she wound up disappearing too. Just like the rest.” [Pause] “Yesterday I saw a blinding blue glow coming from that place. What was that? Please be alright, Alyssa. We need you.”

[Section missing]

“I don’t know how this is legal. Aren’t there laws to prevent this type of treatment? That’s why I took this recorder. The carelessness of that guard leaving it behind might be our only hope for rescue. At the very least, it could be the last chance to document of our final days. They would kill me if they knew I had it, but I don’t care. Any day now it will be my turn to go in and then I’ll be dead anyway. Maybe death be better than this. Whoever finds this, just know that we were here. [Crackle] “ I hope this tape is found some day. If we can’t be saved, then I hope our story can help save the others like us. There’s just so much that I don’t know or understand. I think that’s what is scaring me the most. What is happening to the others when they send us into that—that thing? Listen. You can hear their screams even now.” (Crying) ”Are they real? I can’t even tell anymore. I hear them inside my head all the time. So much pain.”

[Section missing]

“Shit! Here they come! They’re right outside the door, I need to—“ [Crackle] “Wait. It can’t be! Is that really you?” [Crackle] “Aly—“ [Crackle] (Screaming)



I will never forget the day that I first heard that recording, nor will I forget the events that led up to it. That message was recovered from a government issued tape recorder at the area formally known as Location 2208-C on October 16th, 1948. It’s hard to believe that it was nearly two years ago when I first heard it. I still remember it all like it was yesterday. So much has happened over the past three years and the world has not looked the same to me since. I suppose it will ever look the same to me again. The unsuspecting people of this world were carrying on about their everyday lives, completely clueless as to the dangers that had been lurking beneath them for centuries. A great battle was waged and many lives were lost. It was one of the most tragic events to ever happen in the history of humanity and the people of the world don’t even know the story… but they’re about to.

My name is Miller Brinkman and I am, rather, I was a private detective for the better part of my adult life. Murder is a rare occurrence in a place like Ashley Falls, but it does happen from time to time. No matter how much on the job training you receive, there is no way to prepare for the horrors that you will see. I had nothing but respect for the brave men who fought tirelessly to protect our community, but in the end, it just wasn’t meant for me.

Nevertheless, I still had a special place in my heart for helping other people, and I knew that I was meant to put it to good use somehow in this crazy world. I suppose you could say that the desire to protect people was my calling, if you’re the type of person who believes in that sort of thing. To me, there was no greater feeling in the world than the sensation I got from helping others who couldn’t otherwise help themselves. So, I decided to become a private investigator. My client base was limited to folks with what the Sheriff’s boys would consider minor needs, petty complaints, but I didn’t mind that at all. To me, there was no case too insignificant to pursue.

I investigated things like crooked business partners accused of taking a little extra off the top, or lowlife con men trying to scam honest folks out of a few extra bucks. I was once even called upon to put a preacher under surveillance by a jealous wife who thought that her husband had been pursuing interests outside of their home other than scripture. I kept an eye on the preacher for about a week, and was happy to report back to her and tell her that her suspicions were unfounded. As it turned out, the good wife did not allow even a drop of alcohol in the house, and the preacher couldn’t seem to completely exorcise his internal desire for the occasional glass of wine in the evening. That was about as exciting as things ever got around these parts.

Ashley Falls sits on a sprawling piece of land, but much of it goes unused and the actual town itself only consists of three main parts. You’ve got the farm lands, which run along the river, then the residential area where most people live, and finally the sizeable unpaved downtown area which houses the shops, the diner, the church, the bank, the bar, and other things of the like. Outside of these main sections is a vast wooded area that encircles the town. It was a strategic location for the American patriots during the Revolutionary War because the woods helped to fortify their hideouts.

On the outskirts of town is a place called Sunset Hill, which is a popular spot for the younger people. I recall spending a lot of time there in my youth as well. It’s located near a sheer cliff where the river that runs through town, drops off into a waterfall, and connects to a sister river at the bottom many feet below. Because of its elevation, it does provide a beautiful view of the sky and the world below it. It faces the setting sun at dusk, which is as gorgeous as anything you could ever put on a postcard, and obviously is how it gets its name. I had once asked the Mayor if the name Sunset Hill had been chosen because they’d finally run out of family names, but all that seemed to do was illicit a dirty look. I’ve never been able to prove it, but I feel confident that my votes haven’t been counted during an election ever since.

Sunset Hill is a great name, though, and at least it was awarded its name because of something pleasant that makes people feel good, unlike our town.

As the story goes, back during the time of the Revolutionary War, there was a family that settled out here amidst the beauty and marvel of the lands. They were the first family to ever call this place home, as best anyone can tell. Because of the secluded nature of the area, it was a popular piece of land for those opposing the British to seek shelter and plan their next move.

One night, British soldiers were in the area chasing after an escaped American patriot who had caused quite a ruckus. The soldiers found the home of the Carroll family, and were convinced that the patriot must be seeking refuge inside. They stormed the front door and questioned the frightened family, but no answer they could give was deemed acceptable to the soldiers. The Carroll’s were accused of harboring a fugitive, and told that they would face certain death if they continued to defy the crown. Just then, a pale child with curly red hair made her way down the staircase, with her favorite doll clutched by its arm in her right hand. Seeing an opportunity, one of the soldiers grabbed the child violently and demanded that they give up the fugitive, or the child would suffer as punishment. The Carroll’s pleaded with the soldiers, and maintained that they knew nothing of a fugitive. They were just ordinary farmers living a quiet life out in the woods.

Angered and frustrated, the soldiers finally lost their patience, and bound the family at the wrists. They marched them through the woods and to a clearing where they spotted the cliffs. They forced the man and his wife to their knees and told them they had just one last chance to surrender the fugitive. Sobbing uncontrollably, and still without an answer, they could only plead for the mercy of the British soldiers. In a fit of rage, one of the soldiers grabbed the little girl and lifted her up on to his shoulder. He then walked over to the edge, and dropped the petrified girl over the waterfall to her death.

Stricken with immense sadness and rage, the man got to his feet and charged at the soldier in front of him. With two shots from his pistol, the other soldier downed the man before he could reach his target. The two men then cut the woman loose and instructed her that she was to live, and tell the story of what happens to those who oppose Britain. The woman wrote down her horrific story in a journal and left it out on a table in the front room of her home before taking her own life with a blade from the kitchen. In the journal, she mentioned wanting to find the afterlife so that she might seek the forgiveness of her darling Ashley.

When discovered by colonists looking to establish a township years later after the war had ended, the settlers decided to name their new home Ashley Falls to honor the memory of the poor child spoken of in the sad tale left behind. The Carroll’s home, now treated as a historical monument by the town’s leaders, still stands to this day. People are allowed to visit it and pay their respects, but are not permitted inside. It has sat there uninhabited for over a hundred and fifty years, and has become fodder for many generations of local ghost stories. I still remember my grandfather spinning yarns when I was a child that scared me half to death!

Life in Ashley Falls was pretty quiet most of the time. It might have even been considered dull by some standards, but it was a tightly knit community of mostly honest people just doing their best to get by. It was a small town where everyone knew everyone else, which wasn’t all that hard to do with a population of roughly 4,200 people. It wasn’t the kind of place that people from the outside desired to move into, and the people who were already there rarely had any interest in moving out.

There’s an inside joke about Ashley Falls that goes something like “stick around long enough, and you’re bound to have something named after you.” Well, it’s probably not all that funny of a joke, but I suppose that depends on your familiarity with Ashley Falls. Most everything here is named after one family or another. Either our town does it in an effort to pay respect to the families that made our community great, or they’re just severely lacking in creativity.

Most of the families that live there have been there for several generations. Around these parts, most families are either farmers or shop owners. Visitors from the city come to stock up on fresh produce, or to purchase quality hand-made goods from the shops, and then they’re gone just as quickly as they came. It’s the life and survival of a small town, and we embrace it. People from here don’t dream of growing up and becoming politicians or lawyers. Especially not since the war ended. People dream of preserving Ashley Falls exactly how it is, and living in a community of people that are just as much a family as their own parents.

The legend of the haunted Carroll home became a staple of our little community. Parents used those stories to scare their misbehaving children, and the school kids would then use those stories at sleepovers and play tricks on the first person to fall asleep. The story has changed many times over the years, but I remember the version from when I was a child.

My grandfather said that Lady Carroll would walk through the town at the stroke of midnight every night looking for her darling Ashley. She would peek into the windows of every child’s bedroom and take the ones that were awake instead of sleeping like they were supposed to. There was a two year period in my youth where I was starting to go to bed at around eight o’clock to insure that I would be fast asleep long before midnight came around. My parents always loved to tell that story whenever I started hanging around with new friends, or God forbid a girlfriend. It was all in good fun, but everyone understood the seriousness of the source material.

My mother once thought that I was going to move to the city one day and become a famous writer or some nonsense like that. I will always remember the day that she referred to me as a genius while talking to some of her friends. She loved it when I would bring home my written stories from school because she thought they were so creative. She’d ask to read them right away, and when she was done, she’d pin them up on the kitchen wall so that she could read them again while preparing supper. I never did envision myself as a writer, though I did win an award in school once for my report on Ashley Carroll, but I’m not trying to boast.

Years later, after my folks had passed, I pretty much gave up on writing all together, but I never forgot what they had taught me about finding my own way in this life. I owed them that. It wasn’t long afterwards that I took up an interest in law enforcement, which then eventually led to me opening up shop downtown. The day that I officially had opened my very own practice was the proudest day of my life. It was quite the accomplishment for me back then, and to think about it now reminds me of a very happy time of my life.

Working downtown took a lot of getting used to for me. Since I essentially grew up on the mill, I didn’t have many occasions to go downtown as a child. Once in a while, dad would let me go to the bank with him, or mom would take me shopping for new school clothes when I grew out of the old ones, but we pretty much kept to our side of town. I remember how much smaller the downtown area was when I was a child. Our little town has done some growing over the years.

Ashley Falls certainly isn’t the type of life for everyone, but I’d say that most of its people are very happy. From time to time, you’d hear rumblings from people that didn’t quite see things that way, and would convince themselves that there was a better life waiting for them in the city. One such person comes to mind, as a matter of fact. Coincidentally enough, it’s the very person whose story started a chain reaction of events that came to an end with the discovery of her recorded message.