Book Review: Women and Other Monsters by Bernard J. Schaffer (@ApiarySociety)

As a writer, inspiration can hit you at any moment as long as your mind is clear and open. More often than not, however, the story ideas that hit you, while exciting and full of possibility, don’t always leave enough open space to craft an entire novel. You’re left with two options. You can either surrender to your doubt, allowing the story to continue to float past you harmlessly, or you can take your idea and attempt to mine a short story from it. With Women and Other Monsters, author Bernard J. Schaffer has taken the latter approach and offers up a serving of six deliciously twisted tales for your amusement.

In an effort to keep the stories from feeling familiar as the book progresses, Schaffer has carefully insured that each story is completely different from the last. Some stories are based upon the creations that stem from an overactive imagination, while others carry a subtle hint of morality buried deep within the madness. The one attribute that each story shares in common, however, is that each one will make you think. Some will make you laugh, some will make you queasy, but above all else, they will absolutely make you think.

Women and Other Monsters is likely to remind you of other great short story word-slingers, but take comfort in the fact that you’ll only sense influence, not imitation. While Stephen King is the most obvious of which, I was also whisked back to a time in my youth when Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and Tales from the Crypt were the champions of scaring the pants off of suburbanites. To me, this book feels right at home in that same category. That’s not to say that the book is scary, but rather that it creates a pleasing concoction of chills, laughs, twists, and the macabre that will satisfy even the most jaded reader.

Schaffer pulls no punches with Women and Other Monsters. His imagination unapologetically consists of a balance of vast intellect and fearlessness when it comes to spinning yarns. He is going to tell you his story in his way and will make no concessions in reaching that goal. Readers that tend to be more sensitive may not appreciate his work, but I simply couldn’t put it down. I liked this collection of stories immensely and was left wanting more as I’d turned the final page. For the mere price of four quarters, this book belongs in the palm of any reader with a slightly askew take on reality. When one can see reality every day, it’s the gems like this book that make diving into insanity that much more fun.


Q & A with Women and Other Monsters author, Bernard J. Schaffer



[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: How long had you been working on the short stories from your book before deciding to publish them all together as a collection?

[BERNARD J. SCHAFFER]: David, thank you for having me. Some of the short stories had actually been in existence for quite a while. “A Reluctant Death” was one of my very first as a maturing author, and I’d had it lingering around as an unpolished work. I was never satisfied with it, but it never quite let go of me. When I made the decision to do something in the e-format, I had already published several short stories in larger print mediums. The only other thing I had was a finished manuscript for Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes, but it was under contract with an agent. I took a hard look at some of the stories that were already written, like “A Reluctant Death” and “Cold Comforts” and completely overhauled them for publication. By the time I finished “A Reluctant Death” it became something I am truly proud to have written.

[DKH]: Were there any stories that didn’t make the cut?

[BJS]: My editor, Karen “The Angry Hatchet” S., absolutely refused to let me include an erotica piece called “Ancient Rituals.” It was just something meant to fill the pages and maybe titillate a few readers. I thought it was just harmless fun, but she hated it to the point that I had to decide whether to press on without her, or make a change. I remember complaining to her that I now had a story-sized gap in the manuscript, and she told me I could either publish something mediocre or get off my ass and make it awesome. At that point, I was pretty spent. I’d re-written, overhauled, and edited myself to the point of exhaustion. I opted to just write something for me. That I thought was fun. That turned out to be “Codename: Omega.”

[DKH]: I know this is probably going to be like being asked to pick a favorite child, but is there one story in particular in your book that means more to you than the others?

[BJS]: Tough to say. I like each one for their own merits, or for personal reasons. “Nazareth” was a particular victory for me because it was a HUGE struggle to get right. Karen and I went back and forth on that one so many times that each of us would fight, and then break to neutral corners to research our opinions. It became a duel of references. In the end, when it was finally done, I was just so relieved. However, I’d say “Codename: Omega” is my favorite in terms of a story. It’s cinematic and adventurous. Sean Price and I will be spending a lot more time together in the future.

[DKH]: When getting reviewed, your work inevitably gets compared to any number of potential influences, but who would you personally cite as your literary inspirations?

[BJS]: For Women and Other Monsters, the inspiration began with short-story masters like Stephen King and Harlan Ellison. I grew up reading their collections. I also see a clear influence from Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. Now, bear in mind, I don’t mean in terms of writing style. Out of all of them, I’m probably closest to King (style-wise).

[DKH]: In the book’s finale, “Digestif,” we’re given a rather touching auto-biographical glimpse at the man behind the pen. Is that an all-encompassing recount of your journey to print, or perhaps a clever parting shot for the reader whose mind has already been twisted and toyed with?

[BJS]: I have a confession to make. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed the most about short-story collections were the introductions that King and Ellison did. Sometimes, I liked the introductions a whole lot more than the story themselves. It’s the idea that the author is giving you a peek behind the curtain. I think it builds a partnership with readers and demonstrates a level of trust. I can tell you a little about myself and trust that you’ll still look at me the same way, just like any relationship.

[DKH]: It seems as though the majority of the stories don’t have a definitive ending. Was that a conscious decision to allow the reader their own interpretation, or did you feel like you stopped at the point in the story that felt the most natural?

[BJS]: The consistent thing people have said to me was that they didn’t want the stories to end where they did. They thought several could be full novels or much larger bodies of work. I’m actually quite happy with that response. It means I gave them a full ride when they expected something little. That being said, several characters will be returning in the next short-story collection (Bernard J. Schaffer’s Codex Leicester) due sometime in 2012. I know people want to see Rob the Vampire again, and I certainly want to go kick the crap out of more Nazis with Agent Price.

[DKH]: I am very excited for your next book, Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes, which just released on eBook this week. What attracted you to the subject matter and what are you doing within the Sherlock Holmes universe to add your own unique footprint?

[BJS]: Last Friday night I was investigating a homicide where a little boy got his brains bashed in with a baseball bat. His father was the murderer. I’ve been a police detective for several years now and have seen things that would make most people run for the hills. For me, the thing about Holmes is that Doyle told us all this interesting stuff about him but it never really mattered. He’s an intravenous drug user, but it doesn’t affect him. He’s an insufferable misogynist but nobody minds. I wanted to take this mythic champion of Good and break him down to human-size and see if he could still rise to the occasion. As for Jack the Ripper, it’s always driven me nuts that this monstrous serial killer who butchered at least five women has been turned into some sort of romantic figure. Nobody remembers the victims. I dedicated Whitechapel to the victims. People might disagree with the level of gore or brutality in the book, but I based everything on actual events as they occurred. I actually had to tone down the reality a bit because it was just too crazy. That being said, I also based the entire setting and all of Doyle’s borrowed characters as people who would actually live in that environment. Goodbye doilies and teacups. Hello Whitechapel.

David, thank you for being such a gracious interviewer. I greatly appreciate it.

[DKH]: The pleasure was all mine. Thank you for writing such an enthralling read!


Buy Women and Other Monsters for: Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords

Buy Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes for: Kindle

Book Review: Expectations by Liz Borino

Expectations by Liz BorinoMatt and Chris Taylor are just like any other post-grad adults trying to figure out what it is that they want to do with their lives. Though twin brothers, their trajectory in life is anything but identical. Matt is the book-smart, guarded brother with a good head for business and a flair for self-destruction, while Chris is the softer, creative brother with a keen eye for photography and a passion for dance. No matter how different their personal lives have become, they strongly support one another and understand that they will not advance far in life without each other.

Seeking liberation from the controlling clutches of a tyrannical father, the twins search for new direction in life under the seductive caress of the New York skyline. However, it is at this stage where the twins begin to splinter and the unique challenges that Matt and Chris will face begin to take shape. For Chris, he will discover a deep-seeded love for his long-term friend Aiden that has bubbled up to the surface and struggle with the challenges associated with living as an out-of-the-closet homosexual. For Matt, he will come face-to-face with his fear of becoming just like his despised father and attempt to postpone the transformation by hiding behind countless empty bottles and throngs of nameless, faceless women.

Under any normal circumstance, these situations may sound normal, or possibly even relatable, but there is a caveat. Both Matt and Chris each have a $50M trust fund set aside for them if they can accommodate the lofty expectations set by their father. To acquire the funds, Matt will have to become the one thing he hates the most in life, and Chris will have to hide from his true identity to become the person his father wants him to be. The burden sends Matt down into a shame spiral of binge-drinking and loneliness, while Chris is able to reach down and find a hidden strength that will empower him. Just as the days are beginning to look their darkest, Chris finds that true love will guide him through the toughest decisions of his life, and Matt will find that learning to embrace his natural talent will come easier with the support of someone special in his life.

Expectations is an enjoyable read because Liz Borino understands the significance of solid character development. Though Matt and Chris are the stars of this story, Liz has done an incredible job of creating a supporting cast that feel anything but secondary. Through Aiden, we learn about a dark past and a strong will to survive that makes the unconditional love that Chris feels for him believable. Through Carley, we learn that two people don’t have to have similar backgrounds to make a relationship work and that it’s those differences that truly allow Matt to shine at full radiance.

Make no mistake, however. Expectations is not an easy-to-swallow, garden variety romance novel. The path that the characters will take you down is not always sweet and innocent. Borino delivers plot points that can get gritty and uncomfortable even for those not easily squeamish. By doing so, she demonstrates to us that these characters are human and not a Hollywood portrayal of characters living under perfect conditions. What really comes through in Borino’s writing is that she genuinely loves these characters, even when she puts them in situations that leave the reader shuddering. At its core, Expectations is a story of hope and love that anyone can relate to, though the path to get there is unconventional to say the least. It is because of that very fact that the book stands out as a must-read, rather than a paperback romance squeezed tightly into an impulse rack at the local supermarket.


Q & A with Expectations author, Liz Borino


[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: You’ve been creating stories for most of your life, but Expectations was your first book. What was it about The Taylor twins’ story that made it ideal for your first published endeavor?

[LIZ BORINO]: I’m not sure. I’d say it was honestly the first one I deemed publishable. I connected with the stories and the characters in a way I hadn’t with any other book. Also, I did a lot of work and research to make it work.

[DKH]: Most writers say that there’s a little bit of themselves in each character they create. Is that true for you, and if so, which one do you think you identify the closest with?

[LB]: Chris is the character I hope to be most like. He’s unconditionally loving, supportive, optimistic, and really full of life, even at the worst of times. Aiden is how I perceive myself. He’s introverted, only opens himself up to certain people, but talented in a way his (old) family doesn’t understand or support. I think I made them male to give myself some distance. Matt deals with problems I’ve seen destroy people close to me. And Robert represents one of my greatest fears: being controlled.

[DKH]: As a straight woman, did you find it challenging to write a love story about two gay men? Did you do any special research to uphold the authenticity?

[LB]: No, actually, I enjoy writing about gay men more than the straight couple. Maybe it’s because Carley annoys me so much. As for research, one day at college I sat down and had a discussion about m/m sexual positions with a bisexual male. After that, I let the characters guide me.

[DKH]: Creating such different lives for Matt & Chris must have been fun, but challenging. Even though we learn much about Matt, we learn even more about Chris and Aiden. Do you tend to think of them as the stars of your creation?

[LB]: No, I don’t. After Expectations, the stories between the couples even out. Matt’s story, and past, is darker than Chris’s, but he’s got a good heart and wants to make sure his family’s future is bright.

[DKH]: Expectations is only an introduction to the fast-paced lives of these characters. It ends on quite a bit of a cliffhanger. Where do we find these characters in the next installment, What Money Can’t Buy?

[LB]: Both couples are anticipating parenthood and dealing with the stresses and joys that entails. Matt and Chris have to compensate for the changing role their father has in their life. It’s an exciting and dramatic book.

Video Games: Brain Rotting or Brain Candy?

As a child of the 80s, video games were introduced to me at an early age. Like most boys of the Masters of the Universe era, I was immediately consumed by the glowing electronic display of goodness! From the first time I picked up that controller and played Donkey Kong nearly 30 years ago, I’ve been addicted to the allure and splendor of video games. Don’t you roll your eyes at me! I see that permanent fingerprint seared into your smart phone screen from hours of Angry Birds and Tetris!

There’s no question that video games have become an acceptable form of entertainment for all ages in this modern era, but there still remains a large percentage of people that believe these games are damaging to our mental development. Is that true? Though I don’t deem myself qualified enough to answer that question definitively, it is a subject that I have a wealth of personal experience with and I’d like to plead my case based solely upon that.

One of the biggest arguments I hear against gaming is the belief that playing video games stagnates your mind. Even my own mother used to tell me as a kid that playing all those video games would rot my brain. For the time being, we’ll temporarily ignore the fact that she is hopelessly addicted to Café World. When I hear this argument however, I can only imagine that it depends heavily on the existing mental state of the person in question. For example, as a gamer of nearly 30 years, I’m doing my most creative work ever now as an adult. While I would freely admit that a fascination with video games did prevent me from handing in all of my homework assignments throughout school, I would strongly disagree that it diminished my brain’s potential.

For example, back in the early days of Atari and Nintendo, developers didn’t feel the need to create a deep back story to accompany the gameplay. It was a simple matter of constructing eye-to-hand coordination and dexterity challenges. Did we care why a hungry yellow sphere ate pellets while being chased by ghosts? Did we care why a suicidal frog felt the need to cross the busiest 10-lane freeway in the city? The developers didn’t think so, but you know who did? I did. I thought it was fun to name the characters and create little back stories to explain the events that I was witnessing. While just simply knowing that the princess was in another castle was suffice to most gamers, I always wondered who gave Mario the bad intel and why. In my mind, Toad was a double agent working on behalf of King Koopa and purposely misleading Mario all around the Mushroom Kingdom. However, because good always wins over evil, Mario eventually finds his way and rescues the princess after the final showdown. Then… PLOT TWIST… King Koopa wasn’t really the mastermind behind the abduction and the princess is still not safe. MUWA-HA-HA-HA!

By now you’ve probably already deduced that I am a giant nerd. Guilty. This practice stayed with me through most of my adolescent years until the video game industry changed and one day the art of creating stories for the player to sink their teeth into became the status quo. They were primitive at first, but have since evolved into complex tales of twisting paths and rich character development. In fact, it’s extremely common now days to hear stories of couples playing games together so that both can experience the story while only one of them actually plays. It’s no longer sacrilege to say that video games are like interactive books, because some of them truly are. Companies like BioWare and Rockstar Games are continually generating some of the most compelling examples of this. Video games can now make people laugh out loud, or express remorse or sympathy caused by the trials endured by the characters, and in some cases, even shed tears. You Final Fantasy VII veterans know what I’m talking about.

While writing my first book, Noble, the video game BioShock was a huge influence on me. The developers hadn’t only crafted a clever story of mystery and thrills, but also created an inviting alternate 1940s era that was so full of charm and character, that it only made it that much more intense when you were thrust into the dystopian nightmare within. Even now I still get chills when I think about the spiraling downward staircase that was the game’s plot. It was full of more “AH HA!” moments and payoffs than most modern day television shows and movies. As the credits rolled at the end of the game, I could only applaud what was easily one of the best fiction stories I’d encountered in years. Its the experiences such as those that continue to fuel my imagination not stifle it.

Of course this is only one negative connotation associated with video games. I do understand that from time to time there are more serious events that are linked to excessive video game infatuation, but I am absolutely not qualified enough to broach that subject. All I know is that I turned out just fine and I am thrilled to have another source of inspiration in my back pocket for when the mood strikes me. In the meantime, I’ll be proudly sporting a controller in hand when I’m not writing and waiting to be whisked away into a new and exciting universe.

How a Great Leader Can Change Your Life

When you think of great leaders, names like Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa may come to mind. However, there are people around us every day that also touch our lives and inspire us. Most of the time, these unsung heroes don’t even realize the impact they’ve made. Today I want to talk about one such person in my life: Pam Stanek.

From an early age, everyone is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer was always the same: “I want to be the greatest baseball player to ever walk the face of the earth.” Unfortunately, by the time I reached high school, it had become obvious that the Chicago Cubs would never come looking for a chubby, Danish kid with an awkward running motion. However, my lack of athletic ability helped me rekindle an old, childhood interest: creative writing.

Pam Stanek taught English at Hudson’s Bay High School, and I could tell from the first day of class that she was someone special. She was one of those rare teachers that addressed the entire class, but made you feel as though she was speaking only to you. What really stood out about her teaching style was how much she cared about our success. She did everything within her power to ensure we got the most out of her class. Not all teachers have the patience for that, which is what separates the good from the best, and Ms. Stanek was one of the best without question.

I wasn’t a particularly good student. Academic accomplishments mattered very little to me, and I wasted most of my high school years focused on the social aspect of it all. But English class was different. Something about Ms. Stanek’s syllabus motivated me to actually put forth some effort toward my assignments.

Ms. Stanek saw potential in my work and pushed me. She was extremely supportive, and challenged me to continue writing and developing my skills. She even gave up time after class to work with me. All that extra attention was the catalyst I needed to finally care about my future.

My favorite Pam Stanek story goes like this: she once gave us a homework assignment in which we had to write a poem. That’s it. No specific rules or guidelines, she just wanted us to write. Back in those days, I was a bit of an emo-in-training, so I came up with a depressing poem about heartbreak.

On the day she handed back our assignments, she asked me to stay behind after class. After all the other students had gone, she pointed to a flyer on the wall advertising a community college’s poetry contest and encouraged me to submit for it. I’ll never forget the words she said to me: “You won’t win. They like happy poems about sunshine and flowers, but your poem absolutely deserves to be read.”

Ms. Stanek’s support has stuck with me long after graduating high school. Even now, whenever I’m having a moment of doubt about my writing, I think back and remember that day. Those were the most inspiring words of encouragement I’ve ever received.

None of my accomplishments as a writer would’ve been possible without her, because without her as a teacher, I would’ve never even tried. She pushed me to strive for something more not because she had to, but because that’s just the kind of teacher she was. I’m grateful to have known her, and honored to have had her as a mentor.

Why Sci-Fi: The Creation of my Novel, Noble

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved to create and tell stories. In some of my earliest memories of grade school, we had a creative writing exercise called “Squiggles.” Squiggles were these plain white pieces of paper with odd, incomplete shapes on them. The goal of this exercise was to allow you to finish the shape by drawing something from your imagination and then follow it up with a story about your creation. I still remember one of these assignments in particular where the shape was reminiscent of a backwards number three with a couple of lines sticking out from it. For some reason, I saw this shape and it inspired me to draw a puffy little critter that would’ve been fit for the Rainbow Brite line. Girly, sure, but I was proud of that little puff ball and the accompanying story I wrote about him. It filled me with about as much pride as a seven year old boy can have. In it, my little puffy hero was sent to earth from the deep recesses of outer space to make friends with mankind. When we later shared our stories with the class, I was devastated to find that I was the only one that saw a puffy little alien, while everyone else had come up with much more realistic scenarios.

Looking back now, I have to laugh about it because I suppose the attraction to science fiction had always been there. You could routinely find me in the school library checking out whatever I could get my hands on pertaining to space, aliens, ghosts, and various other subject matter along the same ilk. I was probably the only second grader in my home town that saw an ad for the Time-Life books monthly subscription service featuring tales of the unexplained, and wanted it as badly as the other kids wanted a bike. To say that I was always a little different than the other kids would be a gross understatement.

When I finally had the free time and desire to sit down and begin work on my debut novel last year, many ideas were fresh atop my overactive imagination. I’d been sitting on ideas that had been accumulating over several years. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to be documenting those ideas in my “rainy day” book. So which one would it be? Which story would I tackle first? Well, as my friends and readers already know, I chose the story that would eventually be come to known as Noble.

One of the most common questions that I get asked by people is “where do you get your ideas from?” It’s not really a secret. It’s the same way that an artist gets their ideas for a painting, or a musician gets their ideas for a song. Inspiration is all around us, every day, and how we’re “wired” designates how we’ll pick up on that inspiration and apply it to our own individual craft. Would you be surprised to discover that the story of Noble actually came to me in a dream? Not all of it, of course, but the foundation from which the book is based upon, absolutely. I still remember it. It was a couple of years ago and I had awoken on a Saturday morning following a bizarre dream. It was so bizarre, that it was still running through my head as I stretched and got out of bed. I kept thinking to myself, “wow, that was kind of cool, but now I’ll never get to see how it ends.” I was legitimately disappointed. That’s when it occurred to me that I should log what I remembered, and come back to it someday when I was ready to apply my own recipe to it. The dream, as 99% of all dreams are, was wacky and nonsensical. I knew that I would have to dig really deep in order to refine something usable from it, but the potential was there. In truth, the original dream reminded me more of the Japanese classic film Battle Royale than anything else, but staying true to my predilection for sci-fi, I was able to extract the more interesting elements of the dream and create my own storyline to accompany it. It was kind of like the Squiggles from my youth. My dream had shown me an incomplete shape, so it was up to me to finish the drawing and create a story.

As I began to craft the pieces of the story that would eventually become Noble, I must confess that very literary influences actually went into my creative process. Instead, there were a few key influences from other media that played a large role in its birth. Right about the time I first put pen to paper, so to speak, Lost was ending its television run after six mind-bending seasons. Some people loved it, some people hated it, but I don’t think anyone could deny what an appreciation that the writers had for telling a story. We may not have always liked the direction they took it, but unquestionably, they crafted a masterpiece that had widespread affect. Me personally, I loved the show. I still think it was one of the greatest creations in the history of television. I am still blown away by the fact that ABC let a show like that run for six years, despite it’s rather taxing requirement of intellect. You just don’t see that in television. I think that Lost often resembled a good book more so than a TV show. As it was winding down to its final episodes, I couldn’t help but think about what the journey had been like all those years that led us to the show’s end game last May. I went back and watched the first five seasons over again in preparation. I took copious notes. Partly because I wanted to be able to follow all that had happened and what was still to come, but also to better understand the elements of constructing such an elaborate story. By the time the show did finally reach its swan song, I was consumed with emotion. I was shedding tears for characters that were not real over the decisions they made that would not affect real people, and yet I cried and I cried. That was the final exclamation point on a story well told. Any story that could impact me on that level must be dissected and understood. After I had spent weeks doing that, I felt as though I had 50% of what I needed to begin working on my own story.

The next 25% was setting. Where would Noble take place? I didn’t want to pick a real location because then it would be more like rewritten history rather than science fiction. I went back to yet another unconventional resource for inspiration: Video games. For as often as video games are referred to as the death of brain cells, I am continually amazed by the quality and craftsmanship that goes into making the games of today. They aren’t all so grandiose, but the ones that are really stick with you and lend credence to the “games as art” debate that has been ongoing for years. One such game was a little gem from the summer of 2007 called BioShock. The game was set in the 1960s, but the crux of the story took place in an intended underwater utopia called Rapture that was built in the 40s. The developers absolutely nailed the setting. Everything was designed so well that, as the player, I just wanted to walk around and look at everything. The art deco décor, the brilliantly replicated fonts and design fashions of the time, and of course, the beautiful sounds of authentic war-time radio music being played at various moments throughout the game. It harkened back to an era that I was not alive to experience, but it sure made me wish I had been. With such a strong reaction, I knew that the 40s was the perfect setting to begin my tale as well

The last 25% was folklore. I needed to craft a plot that would challenge the imagination of the reader, but also not be so farfetched that it would turn off readers who didn’t like sci-fi. I began thinking about real life stories and legends that dealt with the unexplained that I had always found interesting. One of the most titillating legends I remembered was about the famous mothman sightings in Point Pleasant, West Virginia around the time of WWII. There have been many retellings of this story over time, including the movie, The Mothman Prophecies, but if you do the research and read the real accounts back from that time, you may find them as interesting as I did. In actual publicly documented eye-witness testimony, there are many mentions of people seeing men in black suits appearing shortly after the mothman sightings started being reported. There was a woman, a reporter for the local newspaper I believe, that was working on the big story and trying to get it in print. These eye witnesses claim that the men in black suits began asking about the reporter immediately after showing up in town, then a couple of days later, they disappeared just as mysteriously as they’d arrived. No one ever saw the reporter again. She turned up dead days later when a concerned landlord couldn’t get a response upon knocking on her door. As with any good legend, there are likely some elements of truth and some elements born of fabricated hysteria, but I found it all fascinating. What if the government really did have secret agents whose jobs were to prevent widespread panic? What if they did travel across the country and attempt to silence reports of the unexplained before they could be brought to light? That sounded like a premise that I could mine the rest of my story from, and thus, with all of my ingredients, Noble was ready to be cooked.

So why sci-fi? I think it’s just a lot more fun. You’re not bound by all the rules associated with other genres. That said, I did do a lot of painstakingly dull research about the early 20th century to make Noble as historically accurate as possible. I owe the reader that much. I want them to be able to become immersed with my story and enjoy the insanity rather than be removed from the experience because something didn’t exist at the time my book says it did. I want the reader to just shut off their brain for a little while and absorb the legend I’ve created without worry. If they’re impressed about it being historically accurate as well, then that’s just an added bonus! 🙂

To Free, or Not to Free…

There’s been a fairly interesting topic of conversation going around the literary circles lately. It involves a discussion as to whether or not the constant changing of media and technology is making writing obsolete as a profession. Certainly anyone that enjoys writing has an opinion on the subject with which to weigh in, and as such, go forth do I with my own. Of course, I’m relatively new to the world of “professional” writing and my experiences and opinions are adolescent at best, and completely misinformed or uneducated at worst. However, this is the internet after all, and those conditions have not stopped anyone anywhere from voicing their opinions yet. Am I supposed to be so different? 🙂

I read a rather scary statistic a couple of years back when I first decided to become serious about my pursuit of writing. This statistic stated that less than 2% of all writers were able to claim writing as a full-time job. Just 2%. However, as with most dreams, if you decide to pursue it, you should make certain that you’ve got something else to fall back on. I am no different. As much as I would love to be included in the 2% of writers that “make it,” even with my poor mathematical skills, I can easily read between the lines and comprehend that my chances of reaching that plateau are slim to none. I’m ok with that. Why? Because whether I ever pay a simple electricity bill with my author royalties or not, I am living my dream simply by writing. I knew that I had found success after the first person told me that my writing was good. How many people sit behind a computer wanting to tell their story, but never do? I was lucky enough to be afforded the opportunity and am forever grateful for it.

But how exactly is a writer supposed to make money when the current cultural conditions we live in demand everything for free? As writers, the current generation of people that we target to find our audience can be challenging and frustrating at times. There is a self-imposed sense of entitlement out there, which has become the largest obstacle for a writer to hurdle. I know that I personally want to create compelling content that would allow me to entertain while delivering a paycheck, but how can I do that when I’m marketing to tech-savvy users constantly searching for a window to find what they want for free? I believe the answer to that question to be simple: Differentiate your content.

If being an iPhone user has taught me anything, it’s that people will always prefer to obtain things they want for free, but there is an amount that they are willing to pay without a second thought: 99 cents. Need proof? Did you know that in the first five days of release, the latest edition of Angry Birds, Rio, had already been purchased ten million times? Allow me to say that one more time… TEN MILLION TIMES! Again, citing my accepted limitation in the way of mathematics, even I can figure out that equation. But what does it mean? It means that these tech-savvy users out there are happily investing small out-of-pocket amounts for things that they may or may not love, but are willing to take a shot. That, my friends, is the audience of a writer’s dreams. When I see eBooks going for upwards of $7.99, I think to myself, “that’s a pretty good deal for such hard work.” And it is. However, at such a high price point, I can’t help but wonder how many potential readers will never give it a shot. Would Angry Birds be as popular for $7.99? My gut tells me that it could still command that price point and generate sales, but the amount of downloads would diminish significantly. I believe the key to success for the independent writer, such as myself, will be volume of sales over asking price. This calculation is what led me to put a 99 cent price tag on Noble, and while it’s not setting the world on fire currently, in just the short time it’s been at 99 cents, I’ve already exceeded my previous 2011 sales figures from Q1. Not bad.

So in getting back to my earlier point, “differentiate your content,” I think the answer to whether or not to write for free is… both. In today’s ever-changing technology, an audience has never felt closer to the people they admire than they do today. The invention of Twitter and Facebook has brought the ability to interact with celebrity to the masses and they are responding in kind. Not a day goes by where I am not amazed at the type of content that is given away for free on my Twitter feed. Take Family Guy creator, Seth MacFarlane, for example. In addition to coming up with jokes and gags for three different television programs, Seth is never without humorous tweets. He offers obscure bits of randomness, answers questions from his fans, and takes the time to promote articles that interest him from around the web. If you’re a fan, you’re getting exclusive access to the mind of Seth MacFarlane all for free. Why? Because you’re already watching his shows, buying his DVDs, and wearing his t-shirts. You’re already supporting him in ways that have made his life comfortable and he’s providing you with an outlet that is both entertaining and free. He’s able to do this by differentiating his content. You won’t find recycled Family Guy jokes on his Twitter feed. You’ll only find fresh new content at the cost of your time, not your wallet. By doing this, his fans feel more justified in supporting his craft monetarily because they get access to so much more than his DVDs. As I learn from this tactic, I think about how people might perceive my craft. They can buy my books to engage in my created stories, but they also have free access to this blog and my Twitter feed if they so choose. My point being, the 99 cents spent on one of my books helps me to keep going, while in return, I’ll continue to offer up fresh content for free amongst the social media circuit. I could be delusional, but I see the relationship as an ebb and flow. A give and take.

To free, or not to free…? I say you can have the best of both worlds. Stay true to your craft and make certain that your audience never feels ripped off. If you can find that balance, there’s no reason you should ever have to abandon compensation in exchange for your dream. Only the select 2% of us are going to “make it” anyway, so don’t try. It’ll only drive you batty. But don’t you ever give up!

The Great .99 Sale

Friends, a realization came to me recently. Sure, I’ve published a novel, but I’m still swimming uphill in a sea of talented authors. The biggest challenge wasn’t writing the novel, but rather, how to get people to find it. Even if they could, how can I entice them to check it out and buy it? These are questions that I’ve been trying to answer since last October when “Noble” released and only now do I feel as though I’m starting to make some head way.

Let’s start with the obvious: $7.99 is asking a lot from a potential buyer for an eBook. Do I believe the book is worth it? Absolutely, but I’m an unknown writer, so I need to give a potential buyer a reason to believe that I am worth investing their time and money into. What’s the best way to do that? To offer my blood, sweat, and tears for a low-risk, low price.

With that, I am pleased to announce that the eBook version of “Noble” can now be purchased for .99 cents. Of course, a low price is only half the battle. I still need help in getting the word out there so that people can find it. So I ask of you, my friends, my fans, and my readers, for your support. This sale means very little without proper word of mouth, so I ask of you to climb to the highest mountain top and scream: NOBLE FOR .99 CENTS!!

Your support means everything to me, and right now, it’s more important to the future of my career than ever. I hope that if you’ve already read “Noble,” you will help me in getting the word out by sharing my link, or posting your own review of my work. If you haven’t yet read it, I hope that this special sale price may encourage you to give it a try and also spread the word.

I need your support to be able to continue to do what I love, and I hope that you can find it in your hearts to band together and give me that support. I will try my best to not let you down! Thank you for everything.

The Jumper

The crumbling economy affected us all differently. A “recession,” they called it. Well I’ll tell you one thing. Their RE-cession was a helluva lot more like a DE-pression, if you ask me. So there I was, a grown ass man at 54 years old and lookin’ through the God damn classifieds like a school kid lookin’ for a paper route. Forty years since the first day I started workin’ and I was tired. Damn tired. Too damn tired to be lookin’ for a job at 54, I’ll tell ya that much. But what more could I do? I thought I was smart. I thought I had saved enough of my precious pennies for a rainy day like the damn bankers always told me to do, only someone forgot to tell them that it was possible for the market to come tumblin’ down some day. I guess I can’t blame ‘em. If you had told me that the economy was gonna collapse back then, I’da knocked your damn head off and called ya crazy.


So there I was, lookin’ in the wanted ads. Pickens were slim and this beggar couldn’t afford to be too damn choosey. I circled the ad for a night custodian and gave them a call. When I retired, I sure as hell didn’t think I’d be comin’ out of retirement to be wipin’ up piss off the floor, but it was a job and they couldn’t fill the position. Knowing that, that shoulda been my first clue to keep on lookin’. I panicked and when they offered me the job, I pounced on it. The pay was good. Too good. That shoulda been my second clue to keep on lookin’ for another job, but I was blinded by all them damn dollar signs. I knew it wasn’t gonna be the proudest work a man like myself could get, but at that price, I wasn’t sure I was gonna be carin’ all that much about my pride.


These folks didn’t tell me much about their company and I wasn’t too keen on the askin’. If I just kept my nose, and them floors clean, then the paychecks would keep on comin’. The lady that hired me told me that they were some type of non-profit organization and did some type of charity work, but beyond that, I wasn’t askin’. And I was fine not askin’ questions. That was until my first night on the job when I met the day custodian during our shift change. He seemed like a decent fella. I asked him if he had any words of advice and he simply said, “don’t piss him off and you’ll be fine.” Before I could ask just what in the hell that was supposed to mean, he was off like a flash.


My first night on the job was memorable and that’s underselling it. I was told to only clean the bottom floor and under no circumstance was I ever to go upstairs at night. That probably shoulda been my third and final clue to start packin’, but I couldn’t seem to listen to my own common sense. The only thought ever in my damn mind was that pile of bills next to the night stand that wasn’t gonna be gettin’ any smaller by me not workin’. The lady told me to bring headphones and that listenin’ to music was gonna make the job a little easier to swallow. I’m too old to be carryin’ my record player around town and I’m sure as hell too old for one of them damn fancy music gadgets that all the kids are wearin’.


After moppin’ floors for a couple of hours, I started to hear voices. Ain’t that some shit? First I was goin’ poor, then following that up with goin’ crazy. I was alone in the building, but I know I was hearin’ someone talkin’. I called out and said “hello,” but I never did hear nothin’ back and that was fine by me. I went back to work, but after a while, I started hearin’ them damn voices again. They were coming from upstairs. Now when someone tells me there’s somewhere I ain’t supposed to be, I’m gonna listen, but if there was someone that had done snuck into the building, they sure as hell weren’t gonna catch this fella with his pants down. I may be old, but I ain’t goin’ down without swingin’.


I climbed up them stairs to the second floor and it seemed normal enough. That’s when I saw him for the first time. It was just a corner of my eye kinda thing, but these eyes hadn’t done failed me yet, so I know what I saw. I began walkin’ towards where I’d seen him, but there was no one there. I could smell this horrible stench that I could only best describe as the smell of someone pissing on freshly poured bleach. It was so potent that I almost passed out. It seemed to be comin’ from the bathroom. Against my better judgment, with my t-shirt pulled up from under my uniform to cover my mouth, I stumbled into the bathroom and it was filthy. It was like a gas station bathroom, only makin’ that gas station bathroom look clean enough to eat off the floor. It was so damn nasty that I emptied my dinner into the sink and then got out of there as fast I could.


When I got out of the bathroom, I walked into the lobby and there he was. He looked like just your average teenage white boy in need of his father’s belt and a damn haircut. Now I ain’t no coward, but this white boy done stare at me in a way that made my skin scrawl with all kinds of goosebumps. It was like he was starin’ at my soul, or maybe through it, I don’t know which. Before I could say a word, he smiled at me with the creepiest damn smile you did ever seen, then turned and ran towards the open window before jumping out of it. I yelled for him to stop, but he didn’t respond. I ran to the window expectin’ to see this poor kid splattered on the pavement, but there wasn’t a damn thing on the ground below. I knew that was some damn freaky shit I just seen and was so startled that I backed away from the window until I made contact with something behind me. I turned to look and it was him. He was covered in blood from head to toe and was still starin’ at me with that same creepy ass smile as before. He let out a scream and lunged towards me. I thought this was the end of ole’ R.C. for sure, so I closed my eyes tight and braced myself to meet my maker.


Then there was silence. I opened my eyes and I was all alone again in the room. The smell was gone and the window was closed up. No sooner than I cried out “fuck this” was all the time it took me to drop my mop, punch my time card and get the hell out of that freak show… but I’d be back. No sir, my story doesn’t end there. Not by a long shot…

Goodbye Vancouver

My family moved to Vancouver, Washington by way of Concord, California in the fall of 1978. I was two years old at the time and carry no memories of life before we moved here. With the exception of a brief six-month stint in Wilsonville, Oregon, I have lived my entire life within the city limits of Vancouver and have seen it bustle and grow. I remember as a kid how it felt like it stretched forever and there were certain areas that we rarely went to because they were too far away. Over the years, existing roadways were improved and new roadways were constructed, so now days it’s fairly convenient to get just about anywhere in town from anywhere you might be.


While most of the people in my age group dreamed of leaving the city, I was always very content here. It could be attributed to the amount of years and happy memories that I’ve created while living here, but Vancouver never seemed as lame as my friends always made it out to be. Sure, when you have a great city like Portland, Oregon only ten minutes away, Vancouver can seem a little on the boring side, but I loved it any way. It always had a charm about it that no matter how many times I went to Portland, couldn’t be replaced. Places like Uncle Milt’s Pizza, Smokey’s on HYW 99, Waterworks Park, and Lake Shore Drive offered me a place where I felt comfortable and at peace during my challenging teenage years. As I got older, I learned to appreciate Officer’s Row and Joe Brown’s Cafe downtown. Again, they certainly weren’t places that could compete with Portland’s hipster persona, but they were perfect for me. If only few others would ever learn to love these same places, then I was content to enjoy them on my own. They were a part of my Vancouver.


Sadly, over the years and unbeknownst to me, my Vancouver was slipping away. While I was living in Wilsonville, I dreamed of getting back to Vancouver. It was friends, it was family, it was home. I bought a home in the spring of 2007 in the East end of town. It was a little further East than I had wanted to be, but it was available now and could be occupied within 30 days, so I took it. It was a really nice house. It was built in 1992 and had only had a single owner, so it was still in great condition. It felt like home and I was happy to be back. Less than three months later while attending a fantasy football draft party in Newberg, my home was broken into. I didn’t notice it right away when I got home because they only took two things, but once I did notice, I was in complete and total shock. Everyone knew to stay out of the Fruit Valley and Rosemere neighborhoods, but I’d never heard of burglaries happening in Orchards before. I had never been robbed before and couldn’t have ever even fathomed the thought of it. I always thought “who would ever rob me? I’m such a nice guy.” A naive thought process certainly, but again, these things didn’t happen in my Vancouver.


With the memory of such a horrible event now a year behind me, in the fall of 2008 I was robbed again while I was at work, only this time, they cleaned me out. In total, they stole approximately $14,000 worth of stuff. If it wasn’t too heavy or nailed down, they took it. I had good insurance and 99% of what was stolen could easily be replaced, but they took things that could never be: My limited edition original 1968 Fender Stratocaster and my sense of security. I had always felt safe in Vancouver for over 30 years, but in one evening, it was gone forever. Soon after my sense of security had been taken, my love for the city I grew up in started to slowly go with it.


It was gradual at first. I stopped spending any time in the back of the house in fear of someone breaking in. I had a security system installed as well as new locks and deadbolts. Even on interior doors with no external access. It was an illness. I wanted to hold up in my coccoon and never face the city outside again. I had become paranoid of everything. Even the meaningless little things that I would’ve never noticed before. I started to see the neighborhood I lived in without the rose-tinted glasses and suddenly the reality of my situation was seeping in after a year of delusion. It was as though I had been thrust into a post-apocalyptic future without even knowing. I became very aware of everything in my neighborhood that was different, or unusual. For example, my street is on a “horseshoe,” so in theory, the only cars that should be driving by would be neighbors. What I noticed instead is that there was a constant flow of traffic. Most of which were cars just passing by for no particular reason. Sometimes driving incredibly slow as if searching for something. It was also about this time that the neighbors from hell moved in just three houses down. Forgive me, I mean not to belittle a person’s financial woes, but these people clearly could not afford the home that they’d purchased. In an effort to make it work, three other sets of roommates moved in, each just as inconsiderate and trashy as the original purchasers.


Imagine the worst experience you’ve ever had with a neighbor and multiply it. These people are the absolute bottom feeders of human creation. As best I can tell, 75% of them are unemployed and the only discernable talent between them is the ability to modify mufflers. Perhaps you’re familiar with that ridiculous phenomenon of car culture where people have their mufflers adjusted to make as much noise as humanly possible. Not only have these people done that to each vehicle in their driveway/curb, but they have apparently found entertainment in modifying the mufflers of non-conventional vehicles. They’ve done motorcycles, dune buggies, hatchbacks, and my personal favorite, a full-sized RV. The noise pulltion from their home I would have to imagine is against county ordinance, but no one in the neighborhood has the gumption to notify the police. Probably for the same reason that I don’t, which is the fear of having so many unstable people against you, so they continue to do whatever they want without reprecussion.


All of this was just from my neighborhood, but the reality was that my situation was not unique, and in most cases, was actually tame compared to what was happening in other neighborhoods in the city. As the city became obssessed with urban sprawl, they’ve all but abandoned the city in between and that is where the bottom feeders are now residing. Not an hour goes by that I don’t hear sirens racing down the major road just a block away. At my old home, I would open my windows at night to listen to the “ocean” effect caused by night time traffic on the nearby interstate. Now instead of an ocean, I simply hear a sea of ambulances, cop cars, and fire trucks. Where am I? This isn’t my Vancouver.


After spending these last three years in this hell, the time has finally come for me to pack up and say goodbye to this place, which is now so foreign to me. My childhood little league ballpark is now low-income apartments, Uncle Milt’s Pizza is now a dirty gym in a bad part of town, and the parks are now overrun by drug deals and the homeless. I rub my eyes in attempt to wake from the bad dream, but alas, it’s all very real. The spirit of this once great city is dead and there is absolutely no bringing it back to life. As property values plummet and the quality of occupation opportunities continues to dwindle, there is no reason for the bottom feeders to try any harder to improve their station in life, thus drag this city down with them and make it more like home to them. I’m sorry, Vancouver, but I can’t live like this any more.


So after 33 years of calling this city my home, on April 15th I pack up one last time and make my new home in Oregon City, Oregon. A town that is only about 1/5 the size of Vancouver and with 1000% more pride in it’s great history and preservation. Their crime rate is less than 1% to the national average, where as Vancouver’s exceeds it. Sure, it’s not a hip, happenin’ kind of place, but it’s one thing that Vancouver could never be: Quiet. The people are friendly. While walking downtown, a car actually stopped to let me cross the street despite them having a green light. Seriously?? The town is old and charming. The people are quiet and kind. Our new home is beautiful and tucked away on a dead end street. Across the street from our house is not more houses, it’s a green space. We’re walking distance from a cute little cafe across from the library and fire station. I fell in love after spending only a few hours there and am happy beyond belief that in just a couple more weeks, it will be my home. I’m not the same person I was a year ago and mentally, I’m ready to “retire” somewhere quiet and start a new life. I’ll miss you Vancouver, but you’ve let me down. Thanks for the memories.