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.”


LINKS:

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


[Crackle]

(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)

[Crackle]

[End]


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.

The 42 Minutes that Changed My Life

Anniversaries always tend to make us feel old, don’t they? They remind us of the passing of time. An anniversary can be as sweet and sentimental as a first kiss or as gut-wrenching as the passing of a loved one, but they always share one thing in common. The event is forever etched in time, dusted off once a year and reminisced about. We each celebrate anniversaries in our own unique way: It can lead to a pleasant conversation that begins with a simple “remember when,” or it can be a quiet moment of self-reflection as we ponder how much our lives have changed since. Today, I’m going to talk about the latter.

Each anniversary is special and significant to the person who celebrates it. Sometimes they are very personal milestones, having nothing to do with traditional occasions such as birthdays and weddings. I myself enjoy such an anniversary. It was twenty years ago this week that I first discovered the band Nirvana, which, unbeknownst to me at the time, would play a powerful hand in shaping the adult that I am today.

I had a pretty normal childhood growing up in the ‘80s. I wanted to be He-Man, Reagan was president, ALF was on TV, Nintendo was king, the Olympics were in Los Angeles, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller was the coolest thing our family ever purchased from our local Bi-Mart. I had food, clothing, a roof over my head, and the benefit of two parents in a loving marriage. We were far from rich, but our family never went without. I wasn’t a popular kid by any stretch of the imagination, though I had a lot of friends in school. Our house sat on the corner lot of a typical suburban cul-de-sac, serving as the neighborhood hot spot for kids that wanted to converge and play together. It really was as good as life could get.

I remember watching the ball drop on TV in 1989, as we said goodbye to the ‘80s and hello to the ‘90s. I said to my brother, “I don’t want it to be 1990. I like the ‘80s.” I was thirteen years old and entering those awkward teenage years that we all remember so fondly. In fact, my teenage years were so awkward that I could have been the poster boy for the cliché. I had begun to pack on many extra pounds, my childhood friends had all been split up into cliques, and the popular girls routinely used me as the textbook example of “the guy they’d rather kiss a frog than be seen in public with.” My self-esteem took a major tumble and I suffered from a devastating loss of identity.

I did all the same things that most kids did: I tried wearing only the coolest brand names, listening to only the coolest bands, and of course, tried to hang out with only the coolest people. None of it worked. Every time I attempted to stick a toe into the deep end of the pool, one of the popular kids would cut me right back down to size by reminding me that I was unwanted. I grew so tired of the poor treatment from my schoolmates that I became stricken with a debilitating anxiety disorder. Frustrated and angry by the unfair hand that I felt life had dealt me, I couldn’t face the ridicule anymore and I dropped out of school. The cool kids had won and I accepted that I was just a nameless, faceless teenager that no one would miss.

I’d always felt weak for dropping out of school, though it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In my sixteen month hiatus away from the torment and peer pressure of public school, I began to find myself. My real self, not that callow youth that had adopted trends in hopes of not having to be on the outside looking in. I began to find my own way, and it all started with a new philosophy on life and a love of post-modern music.

Hidden away on a low budget AM radio station called “The Beat” was an emerging style of music that spoke to the deepest layers of my soul. It was music being created by people that rejected conformity and assured people that it was okay to defy labels and to think and do for yourself. This was what it meant to be a part of the “grunge” era. It wasn’t a new breed of unhygienic slackers that simply didn’t want to cut their hair and get jobs; it was a generation of free thinkers that stared back into the eyes of a cookie-cutter society and said “fuck you! We matter!” We were the modern day Island of Rejected Toys.

I had fought so hard for the love of my peers, but then realized that I was missing the love of someone much more important: Me. It was within myself that I had finally found the acceptance I so desperately craved. And to think, this transformation all began on the day I first heard the opening riff to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Those four very basic barre chords reverberating against my eardrums broke the shackles of an old mindset that had been holding me back.
As Nirvana’s Nevermind turns twenty years old this week, I can hardly believe that it was so long ago. Today, I am thirty-five years old, and the hair that once proudly reached beneath my shoulders is long gone. I am happy to report, however, that I am still very much that same person. I lost the angst over time, but kept the ideals.

Kurt Cobain never wanted to be known as the voice of a generation, but that’s exactly what he was. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t fully grasp the depths of his intelligence and profoundness until I was older. I see teenagers today wearing Nirvana t-shirts—clearly not even have been born when Nevermind was released—and I wonder if they even understand what it all meant. Sure, they may like the music, but do they get it? I imagine it’s the same way my parents felt twenty years ago when my generation was full of teenagers wearing The Beatles and Led Zepplin t-shirts.

So, allow me to wrap this up by saying Happy 20th Anniversary, Nevermind. After twenty long years, you’re just as masterful and poetic as you were back then. May your ability to inspire and teach live on forever. I became the person I am today because of what you meant to me. You were absolutely at the right place at the right time for me and so many others. Thank you.

In Defense of Creativity

It wasn’t all that long ago when I was going through a dry spell trying to find a good read. I had been reading some entertaining books, but nothing that reached out through the pages, grabbed me by the collar, and said “I’m about to change your life!” You know that feeling, right? There’s a world of difference between simply reading a good book and reading a book that reminds us why we love to read in the first place. It can be sad sometimes, searching endlessly for that next book capable of unlocking that special euphoria.

For me, I’d finally found it when I stumbled across a book called Women and Other Monsters. Those of you that read my blog regularly or follow me on Twitter already know that I am extremely vocal regarding my adoration of Bernard J. Schaffer’s work. This blog post will be no different. However, a recent event involving Mr. Schaffer’s latest offering, Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes, got me thinking about the subject of creativity. His book has come under fire on Amazon as of late by book reviewers that appear hell-bent only on slandering his work.

As authors, we know that our books aren’t always going to generate 5-star reviews, and we are prepared to take criticism for our work. It’s part of the process of putting your work “out there.” In fact, as much as we love the praise, I doubt you’d find an author alive that wouldn’t tell you how valuable the constructive criticism is to our future works. With that said, there is a fine line between constructive criticism and just plain being a jerk.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the anonymity of the “internet generation” only seems to fuel a false sense of bravery. It commonly encourages a select group of people (i.e. the “jerks” I referenced earlier) to spew negativity to their heart’s content. This practice angers me a great deal because its sole purpose is to be transparently disrespectful. The internet is a mighty mouthpiece, and though I am a believer in the freedom of speech, I wish some people cared enough about that freedom to use it productively instead of just being a jerk for the sake of being a jerk.

I don’t know Bernard J. Schaffer personally, but I have exchanged pleasantries with him. I have seen his attitude change dramatically since this whole issue began. He’s a proud man and would probably never admit it, but these negative reviews have hurt him, piercing his heart with a dagger of flaming steel. It’s admirable, really. Despite all of the positive reviews he’s received, he still takes it this hard when his book gets ripped to shreds.

Though Mr. Schaffer does not need me to fight his battles for him, I am writing this blog post because he deserves to have his book defended. Whitechapel is the best book I have read all year–a feat accomplished because of Mr. Schaffer’s creativity and ability to paint pictures with his words. Let’s call a spade a spade here. The mythical showdown between Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper is not a new concept, but that’s what attracted Bernard to it. He wanted to, pardon the pun, take a stab at the idea and see if he could create a compelling new angle based on a lesser-known version of Holmes, and a deeper psychological study of the Ripper’s insanity.

In order to achieve this bold new vision, Mr. Schaffer did a tremendous amount of research into the real life Ripper murders, trying to understand what would have made Jack tick. As a fan of Conan Doyle’s work, Bernard knows a perplexing amount about the famous detective, including several tidbits that were addressed in the books, but never explored in any meaningful way. I’m sure Mr. Schaffer knew going in that his book was bound to ruffle the feathers of readers who prefer the classic Holmes, but it’s clear that he wanted to challenge the traditional view of Doyle’s universe. In fact, that’s part of what makes his book so good. He took something so beloved, so well-known, and gave it a fresh spin by offering the reader a new way to think about it.

I won’t dignify the “reviewers” by re-posting their words on my site, but I will say that these people were die-hard fans of the classic Sherlock Holmes with a bone to pick. They admitted to not even reading the book, stopping at a mere 40 pages in before crapping all over it. Admittedly, Bernard’s book is gruesome, gritty, and chock-full of harsh language, but it’s written for adults. Frankly, I am baffled that anyone who knows anything about the real-life Ripper murders would complain about the violence depicted in Mr. Schaffer’s book. What did you expect? The Ripper didn’t invite his victims over for tea and crumpets.

SIDE NOTE: One of the “reviewers” that slagged the book also took the time to find my review and then criticize ME for writing a positive review. In case you’ve ever wondered what pretentious looked like, now you know.

While I rarely like to engage in political discussion, I was very disappointed that one of these “reviewers” cited the inclusion of homosexuality as a reason to not like the book. At last check, it is 2011. It’s okay to nitpick the book because its vision is too different from your perception of the Holmes universe. That is a valid reason to not like it. However, to berate an author’s hard work and drive down their review score due to your own agenda is grounds for an old fashioned slap in the face, as far as I’m concerned.

Bernard wrote something new and different, and while I understand that change can be frightening, I still recommend Whitechapel to anyone whether they are a Sherlock Holmes fan or not. At the end of the day, if we can’t celebrate creativity, then what’s left for us as readers? What if Bernard’s book had been just like every other author who has attempted to tackle this subject matter? Would that have made it more comfortable? Maybe, but certainly less enjoyable.

Years from now, when Bernard is staring down at all of us from atop his giant pile of cash, I hope he’s smiling, thinking about that time he wrote a Sherlock Holmes book that caused such a fuss. A book that, whether good or bad, got people engaged in conversation about it. Mr. Schaffer is going to write many books in his lifetime, all of which I am convinced will be fantastic. Even more than fantastic, however, they will be creative.

The imagination is an amazing thing. Some people can wield it to create people, places, and things that are beyond the scope of normal human beings. And ultimately, that’s why we read, isn’t it? You don’t have to like everything that you read, but for those times when you don’t, I beg you, be constructive and voice your suggestions like a rational person. Life is far too short to just be another jerk.

Remember

I was sleeping. My alarm went off at 8:00 a.m., which was intended to give me enough time to shower and eat before starting work for the day. I looked down at my cell phone and saw that I had received a text message while I slept. It was from my girlfriend at the time, and it read: “Did you turn on the news? We can’t stop crying here at work.” My wits hadn’t even become fully operational yet, but I turned on the television to see what had happened. I don’t remember the channel, but it didn’t matter. The story was universal across them all.

At the time of my awakening, the first tower had already fallen, but the second was still clinging on. I remember the news anchor trying his best to report the news, but his voice was wavering. He said that the entire newsroom was praying, but that those on the scene were anticipating the fall of the second tower at any time. All of these thoughts were expressed off-camera, as footage of the second plane striking the tower was shown on an endless repeat from multiple angles.

I sat on the edge of my bed, staring at the screen in disbelief. I called my boss to see if our business would still be operating as usual, to which I was unfortunately informed “yes.” I couldn’t believe our company was making us report to work with such travesty weighing heavily on our minds. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to focus, but still, I did as I was instructed. Every customer that crossed the threshold came in with updates about what was happening in New York, the details of each story getting more and more difficult to stomach.

I remember the media trying to find a positive message amidst the horror of what had happened. They said that the events would bring us closer as a nation and that we could all put aside our politics to band together and show the terrorists that America would not be defeated. It was a beautiful sentiment that was over all too soon. It didn’t take long for us, as Americans, to put the past behind us and resume our petty daily squabbles.

Ten years later, I woke up at 8:45 a.m. I sat up in bed and checked my email and Twitter feed to see what was going on around the world. I saw many messages from friends and followers expressing their memories about that fateful day, each tagging their thoughts with #neverforget. Though sad, there was a comfort in knowing that we are all still linked at our core, despite our everyday differences, and it brought a smile to my face. If something good could have come from such a horrible day, I would gladly embrace the unity of my fellow brothers and sisters.

Regrettably, the feeling was fleeting, because mixed in with all the positive messages of hope were messages of people blaming one party line or the other for the world we live in today. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it really disappointed me to see so many people who just don’t get it. People that would use something as sacred as 9/11 as a platform to preach their party lines as though “their side” was suffering more than anyone else.

It breaks my heart to know that there are people who feel that way. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were targeted at ALL Americans, not just some. We were all hurt that day, regardless of which political affiliation we had. I worry sometimes that nothing was really learned that day in 2001. What happened to our unity and solidarity as a country? When did we get right back to picking sides and hating each other because of our differences? If you ask me, there could be nothing less American than that. Or maybe that’s why it upsets me so much. Perhaps that has become what it means to be American.

We may have survived the events of 9/11 as a country, but we’re not out of the woods by any means. We’re at the center of a constant threat every day. Our survival rests solely on the ability to function as one cohesive unit. So, let us remember and honor the memories of those that were lost at ground zero, and refuse to disrespect them by fighting amongst ourselves.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it – George Santayana

Book Review: The Gifted Ones by Lisa Vaughn

They say that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, but more often than not, the truth is just more painful than fiction. This is the premise behind The Gifted Ones, a memoir written by author Lisa Vaughn, that chronicles a very difficult time of her life: adolescence.

You might be thinking, weren’t those awkward teenage years difficult for everyone? I’d wager that we all had our fair share of unique challenges, but I’d also wager that only a microscopic percentage of people will have ever dealt with the growing pains felt by Ms. Vaughn. Coming of age during the late ‘70s in Terra Haute, Indiana would’ve been challenging enough, but it was amplified by the iron-fisted rule of ultra-conservative, God-fearing parents. Lisa had a secret: she had fallen in love with another girl.

In The Gifted Ones, Ms. Vaughn tells her story openly with a commendable level of bravery. Being that this memoir is an actual recounting of true events from her life, I found myself experiencing the feelings that she likely had at the time. I laughed at the sarcastic barbs she exchanged with her mother. I felt the gentle tugs at my heart strings as she delicately expressed her feelings of love toward Selina. I got mad at her for making the dumb mistakes of a capricious youth. I cried from the gut-wrenching pain of seeing a love so pure and beautiful crumble away until it was lost. In particular though, I found my bottom lip begin to quiver as I read through the epilogue, but it wasn’t until after I turned the last page and stared down at a real-life photo of Lisa and Selina together as teenagers that the floodgates finally opened.

Not everyone will be able to relate to the tale of Ms. Vaughn, but it’s the moral of the story that you’d be a fool to miss. This book isn’t about same sex relationships, it just happens to include the story of one. At its core, this book is about love, pure and simple. A love that sees no color, race, or gender. It’s a book that is both romantic and cautionary. To love and to lose. No matter whom you have ever loved, you will be able to relate to this story on a personal level. I learned something about myself, which was an unexpected, yet much needed, side effect.

Readers will appreciate that Ms. Vaughn has written this book in a unique voice. It’s not the structurally sound format of a traditional book. Instead, it is written as though she is sitting right next to you, reading into your ear. It’s a charm that a cookie-cutter memoir lacks, and The Gifted Ones is anything but cookie-cutter.


Q & A with The Gifted Ones author, Lisa Vaughn



[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: The events in your book took place while you were a young woman coming of age. What made it the right time to tell your story now?

[LISA VAUGHN]: Well, I actually started dealing with all that ‘baggage’ shortly after my mother passed away in 2005. I discovered I held a lot of pent up anger still and needed to work through it in order to forgive, let go, and move on. Through that process I also discovered ‘others’ along my journey that needed and deserved the same attention, including Selina. But it wasn’t until one fateful afternoon when, for whatever reason, I decided to sit down with a friend of mine and purge the story I had held inside my soul for 30+ years. After I was finished revealing my naked soul, she looked at me with tears running down her face telling me I MUST write a book, as the world needs to hear this story. And that’s when I knew the purpose of my entire journey…to share my story and emphasis the importance of acceptance.

[DKH]: Your story is extremely personal and you reveal many sensitive moments from your past. Was it difficult for you to speak so openly about your life?

[LV]: Yes and No. Once I committed to writing about my life, I knew I had to be genuine, which meant being real, raw, and honest. I couldn’t see sugar-coating any aspect of it, as that would change the entire feel and outcome of my story, thus changing my whole purpose of writing it in the first place. Once I gave myself permission to let it all out, my fingers took control and they typed as I purged. The hardest part was letting my husband read it for the first time! And then of course, when I unleashed it onto the world. What I thought would be the most joyous moment in my life was the most frightening, as I was once again setting myself up for rejection and not being accepted…and THAT scared the hell out of me!

[DKH]: Was it hard for you to relive this story while writing your memoir? Was there a particular part of the story in particular that you struggled to tell?

[LV]: Although very therapeutic and healing, yes, it was extremely emotional – a necessary evil of any healing process. The hardest parts to write were when my parents ‘found’ my diary and the initial episodes following that, and of course, when Selina left me. Both those scenes touched me at my core, even 30 years later. I still get choked up a bit when I read them, but also feel they were the most powerful chapters in the book.

[DKH]: What would you say was your primary goal with this book?

[LV]: My sole intent and purpose for sharing my naked soul with the world is wrapped around one simple word: ACCEPTANCE. If I can change one person’s outlook, either for themselves, their children, or even society as a whole, then I’ve done my job. To realize that love comes in all shapes and sizes, and if it is a healthy love, how can that ever be wrong? I thought for sure by the year 2011 this wouldn’t be an issue, but sadly it still is for some. Hopefully after being a voyeur into my life, even if you don’t agree, perhaps compassion and empathy will overtake the fear or misunderstanding and replace it with acceptance, or at the very least, tolerance.

[DKH]: You have said that publishing the book reconnected you with some of the people from your past. What is Selina like today?

[LV]: I knew as the words were flying onto the pages, that if I decided to publish I would have to locate at least Selina…which I ultimately did. And that itself made this project more than worth it. Even if I failed to sell one copy, my reconnection with my BFF, and the healing that came with it, was well worth my efforts. Today we keep in touch on a regular basis and have visited one another numerous times. She is the same person I knew 30+ years ago, her core has not changed a bit, which made it easy to fall right back into our friendship and make it seem as though we never lost precious time in-between. She is, and always will be, my soul-sister, and I can’t imagine my life without her in it now. I am truly blessed to be loved on so many levels now.

[DKH]: Has anyone that was featured in the book ever read it? What kind of feedback have you received from them?

[LV]: My husband, sister, Selina, Jon and Sis have all read it and have given me nothing but support, encouragement, and glowing reviews. Each was touched in their own ways, as each played a very different role in my life. I will have to admit, I was overwhelmingly nervous when I presented this little ‘firecracker’ to each of them, but pleasantly surprised at the amount of love I received back. I think when you open your raw soul to people and are completely genuine with them, they feel and respect that. I mean, how can you fault someone for complete honesty and revealing how they feel (felt)? You just have to respect that on some level, even if you don’t totally agree. Live and Let Live.

[DKH]: In the book, you posit that Selina knew you weren’t gay even before you did. Do you think that fact was more important to her than it was to you?

[LV]: Yes. In fact I know it was. She was able to foresee future problems for us in regards to family and acceptance, and ultimately me accepting my choice down the road, as I was already showing signs of drifting to the ‘other side’- all warning signs for her I’m sure. As for me, I still say I have the capacity to love based on WHO they are, not WHAT they are, so I don’t think it’s an issue with me, especially now that I’ve lived a full life with love on both sides – I know it can be done…and it can be awesome either way! Love is love to me.

[DKH]: Now that you’ve completed your memoir, what will you do next? Do you want to keep writing?

[LV]: I’ve been asked this many times, and my stock answer is I never say never! As an artist, I live to express myself in my work, whatever medium that may be, so if I feel I have something worthwhile to say, you know I will! At this point I have nothing to lose and everything to gain…so who knows? That chapter has yet to be written, as I said. Since we’ve reconnected, maybe I can get to work on The Gifted Ones, Part II, Senior Edition!


Buy The Gifted Ones on: Kindle

For more information, please visit Lisa Vaughn’s website.