Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, Writer, Possessed by Cats

Tag: Amazon (Page 1 of 5)

On Amazon, Clinton and Reviews

I’ve made no secret of how I feel about Hillary Clinton’s latest book being published on 9/12. I’m not a fan of Clinton to begin with. But for her to have a book come out on the anniversary of the Benghazi attack went beyond the pale. I don’t care if it was her decision or her publisher’s. It was too much. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about Amazon’s removal of 1-star reviews of Clinton’s book, What Happened.

I don’t know a single author who hasn’t at least considered asking Amazon to remove a review at some point or another. It is no secret that indie authors feel helpless when it comes to having reviews that attack our work and which we feel are from people who haven’t read the book. Nor is it any secret that many of those complaining about Amazon removing reviews from Clinton’s book have been vocal in demanding Amazon remove 1-star reviews that attack books by authors they support.

Here’s my view. If Amazon removed reviews that did not address the contents of the book but were simply attacks on Clinton, fine. I have no problem with that. My issue will come if they don’t apply the same standard when other authors want reviews removed for the same reason. As an author, I can’t support reviews that don’t discuss the contents of the book. As a reader, to be honest, I don’t want to read those reviews either. If you don’t like Clinton — or Trump or anyone else — then take to social media or your blogs to post your opinions of them as people. Don’t clutter up review pages with those attacks unless you have read the book and the attacks are germane to the book’s contents.

I will also admit to being disappointed in some people who are up in arms about Amazon’s response to those reviews when, not that long ago, they were calling for the same action to be taken with regard to reviews of books by conservative authors. That sort of double-standard does not sit well with me. Now, if Amazon is applying a double-standard as well, then it needs to be held accountable.

And this brings up my next point. Amazon is a company, a very large one. When you have a problem with it, understand that the first level of customer support you get probably won’t be able to help you. It doesn’t matter if you are complaining about formatting going wonky on a book you just uploaded or with the removal of reviews. If, as an author, you think you are being unfairly attacked in reviews based on your political opinions and not on the content of your book, don’t just stop at that first phone call or email or chat. Go up the chain of command. It isn’t difficult at all to figure out how to send an email to Jeff Bezos. And trust me, sending an email to his office gets you a response just about as quickly as sending a complaint to the FCC will get you one from AT&T — pretty damned quickly.

Is it an instant response and is it always the response you want? No, but it is better than taking to social media to whine because you didn’t get your way.

Anyway, back to Clinton and the reviews disappearing. I want to see Amazon apply the same standard to all books and I hope they will moving forward. But, for those of you who are upset because reviews by people who 1) hadn’t read the book and 2) were attacking Clinton and not the contents of the book, ask yourselves this: would you want those reviews to stay up if it were your book? Or would you want Amazon to take them down?

Amazon, for your part, you need to be fair in the application of this rule. If you remove such reviews for Clinton’s book, you need to do the same for Milo’s or for Trump’s or for any other book where reviews do not address the contents of the book. If not, then you deserve any criticism about your double-standard.

Now, I need to get to work. Otherwise, I will be tempted to get hold of a copy of the book just so I can review it. Hmmm, maybe I should. I haven’t done a good snark review in a long time and from the excerpts I’ve seen, this book is rife for it.

Readin’ and Writin’

Five or so years ago, I wandered into an online discussion where a wannabe writer was doing a perfect imitation of a stubborn two-year-old. You could see this person stomping his foot, arms folded across his chest and all but threatening to hold his breath until he turned blue. The reason wasn’t because he’d gotten a bad critique. It was much more basic. This wanna be was pitching a fit because he didn’t understand why others were telling him it was important to read.

Yes, a writer didn’t understand why it was important to read.

But it gets better. This writer, and I use that term loosely, didn’t understand that it’s important to read the genre you want to write. Now, on the surface, the excuse might seem reasonable. According to this person, they were afraid their “unique” voice would be contaminated by anything they might read. We tried explaining that the voice wouldn’t be, not if it was solidly entrenched in the writer’s mind. We explained how a writer needed to know what current trends and tropes were. There was more and none of it got through to this wanna be. He kicked and he stomped and he pitched a fit before gathering up his toys and going home, figuratively. What he did was leave the group and not return.

It isn’t the only time I’ve encountered writers who truly believe they don’t need to read in the genre they write. When asked, some give similar answers to the writer above. Others will say they don’t like reading that genre. That last answer always throws me. How can you write a genre you don’t like to read? I guess some folks can but not me.

And I do read. Mind you, I don’t always read the genre I’m writing WHILE I’m writing. That’s one of the nice things about writing in several different genres. While writing sf, I can read mysteries. While writing mysteries, I can read sf. You get the picture.

It is rare to find me without reading material close at hand. I love e-books for that reason. I can read on my phone, my tablet or my laptop. Six or eight months ago, I bought myself a Kindle Paperwhite E-reader. I had always loved my e-ink Kindles but they had the drawback of not being lit. It meant I had to have an external light source at night or in ill-lit areas. Friends had suggested a Paperwhite and, when it went on sale, I splurged.

I’ll be honest, I loved the lit screen. What I had problems with was the touchscreen. I missed the page turn buttons and it wasn’t always easy to get the control bar to come up. It was me, not the device. But it kept me from using it as much as I would have. So I continued reading more often than not on my tablet — and getting the accompanying eye strain. (More on that later)

Earlier this week, I was wandering through Amazon and saw they had the Kindle Oasis E-reader with Leather Charging Cover for sale where you could pay it out over several months. I hesitated. The price of the Oasis was still much more than I wanted to pay for a dedicated e-book reader. I could buy a cheap Chromebook or a decent tablet for it. But, the pull to buy it was there. It was the reader in me. I wanted to read a book — and, yes, and e-book is a book — without the distractions offered by tablets or laptops or phones.

So I did some research and talked to some friends who already owned the Oasis. Finally, after a couple of days of back-and-forth, I ordered it. I knew I could return it if I decided I didn’t like it. So I waited for the delivery to arrive, wondering what I had gotten myself into.

All I can say is, “WOW!”

Even though the screen is the same size as the Paperwhite — or near enough to make no difference — the actual footprint of the Oasis is much smaller. With the leather charging case, included in the cost of the reader, it feels more like a “real” reading experience. Better yet, the case has navigation buttons. Actual buttons.

But there is more to set it apart from the Paperwhite. Like its predecessor, the Oasis has screen lights. What makes it better is the number of lights on the Oasis number more than on the Paperwhite. Coupled with the glass screen instead of paper, it helps make the text appear sharper. The overall lighting of the entire screen seems to be more uniform than on the Paperwhite. Better yet, because of the smaller size and weight, I find myself taking the Oasis with me everywhere and I am reading more than I had been.

And that brings me back to my previous comment about eye strain. Like most writers — heck, like most anyone who works in an office — my days is spent looking at computer screens. A couple of years ago, my mother’s retinologist talked with her about how the flickering of screens (admittedly much better now than in years past) as well as reflection off of a computer or tablet screen, is a prime cause of eye strain and headaches. He preferred she read using an e-ink display. He preferred e-ink over print as well.

While working on my last book, I realized something. I wasn’t reading as much after I finished writing for the day. It didn’t take long to realize a big part of it was eye strain. After hours at the laptop, my eyes hurt and my head hurt. Changing the lighting or where I worked helped a little but the source of the problem was still there — the screen.

Since getting the Oasis, I’m back to reading. So I’m keeping the Oasis and going to give the Paperwhite to my mother. And I highly recommend for anyone who finds themselves not wanting to read e-books after a long day at the computer to consider one of the e-ink readers. Amazon has a line of them as do other merchants. Besides not having the reflection problem tablets have they have the added benefit of no distraction. No email. No games. No internet. You simply get lost in your book.

What a wonderful way to spend a few hours.

Awesome Review

I rarely link to or post  a review from Amazon but I couldn’t pass up this one. Pat Patterson is one of those reviewers who always tells it like it is. He also, when the mood strikes, can give you a review that is so full of humor and snark that you smile even as you wait for the shoe to drop. Needless to say, I always look forward to him reviewing my work and hold my breath until I see what he thinks. That’s especially true with Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2).

So, you can imagine my excitement this morning when I saw this comment in one of the Facebook groups we’re both in.

“I have to make this note, and then GO TO BED! “Dagger of Elanna” by Amanda S. Green is so richly written, its a feast. GREAT things are afoot!”

I hoped that meant he would like the rest of the book but, paranoid writer that I am, I still held my breath until I saw his review go live on Amazon.

I  obtained this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.

I was hooked from the first scene. Actually, I suppose I was hooked BEFORE the first scene, since I read the first book in the series, ‘Sword of Arelion,” and loved it. But here’s what hooked me:

The book opens in a winter-soaked woodland. Through the biting cold and snow trudges a poor, pathetic man, who wonders if he will be able to reach a place where he can get warm before he freezes to death. He worries about his horse.

A sympathetic character, right?

WRONG!! He’s an evil murderous creator of monsters, sent on a mission to spy and assassinate. He’s NOT a nice guy!

Well, he has a family, and he’s afraid for them as well, but still: it’s a great curve ball. I was all set up to be sad at the poor dude, and was somewhat shocked to find such a soft intro brought me face to face with such a bad guy.

NICELY DONE!

More than what it tells us of this particular person is what it tells us about the nature of the deep, secret Bad Guy: he is inclined to use blackmail and threats to loved ones to motivate people he finds in his grasp.

On the other hand, we have Cait. She is the actual hero, no fooling, of the book: a paladin of sorts, with the divine marks of power and favor on her. She has been made third in command of the Order, based on the clear approval of the Lord and Lady, who are the ethereal Good Guys.

At the end of the last book, Cait was still without memory of her origins. Her first recollection was waking up in a slaver’s tent. However, she gets it all back in this episode. Not going to reveal what it is that she learns about herself, because I don’t want to spoil things.

In one well-written scene after another, bad guys get vanquished; people of weak-will get to find their courage; assassins of various good guys are foiled, and good people discover the eternal truth that if you do well, your reward is a tougher job.

The book is HUGE; 591 pages, I think. It drags not at all, though. It has a great storyline, and the characters have enough depth to make them real.

Reviews like this are part of why I write. I love knowing I’ve taken a reader on a journey he enjoyed. So, Pat, thanks so much for the awesome review.

You can find Pat’s blog here.

 

 

The Countdown has Begun

wf3withtagAssuming all goes all right with Amazon, Witchfire Burning will be live tomorrow morning.

***

Long before the Others made their existence known to the world, Mossy Creek was their haven. Being from the wrong side of the tracks meant you weren’t what the rest of the world considered “normal”.

Normal was all Quinn O’Donnell wanted from life. Growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, she had been the only normal in the family. The moment she was old enough, she left and began life as far from her Texas hometown as possible. Now she has a job she enjoys and a daughter she loves more than life itself. Their life is normal, REALLY normal, until her daughter starts calling forth fire and wind.

Quinn knows they must go back so her mother can help five-year-old Ali learn how to control her new talents. But in Mossy Creek nothing is ever simple. Quinn’s mother has gone missing. Secrets from Quinn’s past start coming back to haunt her.

And the family home is more than a little sentient.

Can Quinn keep everyone — particularly Ali — safe? And will she ever get back her illusion of normalcy?

It’s my day at MGC

If it’s Tuesday, it means I’m blogging at Mad Genius Club. I’m going to mirror that post here.

Here a book, there a book, oh my evil muse

Reading Dave’s post yesterday, I found myself wondering if Dr. Monkey and I had been sharing a brain. Mind you, Sarah and I often do — and I think she keeps it more often than she sends it back. What else, other than having an evil muse, would result in me trying to write three series, all very different, at the same time? Worse, since we have already established that Myrtle the Muse is an evil muse who takes extreme joy in tormenting me, why do I have friends like Pat Patterson who suggest that he’d like to see a standalone book turn into a series? That is all the encouragement Myrtle the Muse needs to go rogue yet again.

But I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Don’t be surprised to see howls of outrage from the Amazon haters later today. In another shot across the bow of traditional publishing, Amazon has declared October to be “Powered by Indie” month. What I love is the sub-titled is “Celebrating great writing”. It even has the hashtag #poweredbyindie, so everyone can get in on the fun. Then there is the new “portal” leading to indie books.

As an indie author, I’m more than a little thrilled by this. At a time when traditional publishing continues to try to discount the impact indie authors and e-books have on the market, to see Amazon celebrating our work gives me the warm fuzzies. They can try to manipulate the data all they want, they can try to convince us that their numbers are the only numbers that matter, but I know what my monthly royalty checks look like and I hear what other indie authors are saying. The indie movement and e-books are here to stay and we are filling a need the trads aren’t, on the whole. As long as we continue to do so, we will continue to make a bigger and bigger impact on the industry.

With it being a month when Amazon celebrates indie authors, it is also a month when my muse is killing me. Last week, I posted a snippet of the book that had hijacked me. The book is finished. I’m trying to figure out a cover and, sigh, a title. For the first time ever, I have finished a book using only a placeholder title and have yet to figure out the final title. Or, bigger sigh, the series title. The working title has been “Coming home is hard to do”. Not bad but it most definitely doesn’t fit the book. It doesn’t signal the genre — or genres because this book is a mix and match of genres.

Worse, there is now a series title. And, yes, you read that right. A. Series. Title. Pardon me while I take a moment to glare at the aforementioned Pat Patterson as well as Uncle Lar, both of whom have condemned me to writing this particularly weird and warped and funny (and fun, at least for me) series. The series title — Trouble Knocks, Danger Follows — still isn’t what I’d like but it beats the working book title.

Now, it would be easy to simply title the series “Mossy Creek” since that is where the books take place. The problem is there is already a series, or two, with that name or a variation on it. So, nope. Not going to go that simple. The current series title works. It clues the reader to the fact there will be a mystery of some sort. It also reads as cozy, which most of the series is. However, it doesn’t clue to the sometimes paranormal/urban fantasy aspect the stories can take on. So it is really important that the actual book titles cue the readers to what sort of book they are getting. Skeletons in the Closet, the next in line, does that. Slay Bells Ring, coupled with the cover, did as well. The title indicated mystery and the cover the romance element. So why in the world can’t I figure out an appropriate title for the now finished novel?

Pardon me while I whine for a moment.

So today has to be spent figuring out the question of what to title the book and figuring out a cover. Oh, and writing. And editing. And doing the business stuff that goes along with being a writer. Yes, it is a never ending circle. But it is the profession I chose and one I love. And don’t tell Myrtle the Muse, but I love it even when she is being particularly evil. Or maybe I should say I love it despite her attempts to torture me. VBEG

This will be a busy month. I have to bring out the untitled work next week. If all goes as planned, Skeletons will come out the day before Halloween. Dagger of Elanna will be out middle of November to the beginning of December. After that, I have Victory from Ashes, the next Mac Santos book, and a return to the Huntedseries planned.

You would think that would be enough to keep Myrtle off my back for a bit. But noooooo. She ambushed me yesterday with another story set in Mossy Creek. This time, it’s not bad enough to have normals and Others. It’s not enough to have magic and the dead rising, but not as vampires or zombies. No, now I have a smart-mouthed reporter sent to town to do what she thinks is a poof piece — something she resents, especially since she really doesn’t believe all the stories. Sure, the Others have been “out” for years. But they are still like your Uncle Billy. You only admit their existence when you have to. Just because she decided to do a none too flattering piece on her boss’ cousin (or someone he cared for. Not sure who yet), she has been banished to Mossy Creek to do this piece. I have a feeling this one will be as much of a tongue planted firmly in cheek story as the first installment of Skeletons is. The only problem is it is almost as loud as the last book was and it is making it very difficult for me to work on anything else right now.

So if I seem more scattered than usual, that’s why. Myrtle the Muse is attacking with full force, cackling in my ear because she is distracting me and proving who really controls my writing. She’s evil, I tell you. Truly and completely evil. But then, I guess a writer’s muse needs to be, else we’d never get anything done.

Now, just to do a bit more push before the book comes out, here’s another snippet. You can find the first one here. This is the rough draft. There will be changes made, including fixing spellings and punctuation, before the book goes live. Also, the usual cautions apply. This is my work, copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green.

***

Of course, the drawback to moving about as far away from home as possible without leaving the Continental United States was that even by air it took hours to return to Mossy Creek. It had seemed such a good idea at the time. Now? Not so much. Between worry for my mother and a very cranky five-year-old, I wanted a drink, some answers, food and sleep and not necessarily in that order.

Having to wait for my bag at luggage claim – and then making sure neither the gun nor anything else had gone missing – had not helped my mood any either. Following that had been the wait for the bus that would take us to the car rental hub and another line as we waited for the rental. After everything else, it didn’t surprise me one bit to discover that the mid-sized car I had reserved was not available. Oh, they were so very sorry and they would do their best for me. In the end, Ali and I drove off in a mid-sized SUV after making sure her booster seat had been properly installed.

Despite all that, we still managed to beat most of rush hour, which appears to start around three in Dallas, and I guided the SUV down Main Street in Mossy Creek a little before five. Ali had fallen asleep almost as soon as we left the airport, leaving me too much time to think and worry. Even though I knew there was probably a perfectly good reason for why my mother was nowhere to be found, I also knew there were a number of other very bad reasons.

“We at Grandma’s?” Ali asked sleepily as I parked the SUV. She stretched and looked around, a frown darkening her little face as she did.

“Not yet, sweetie. Momma needs to talk to someone first.”

I switched off the engine and climbed out of the SUV, grabbing the leather messenger bag I used instead of a purse as I did. I hurried around to the passenger side and helped Ali out. She reached for my hand and followed, almost dragging her feet as she looked around. A car slowed and the driver honked in greeting as we waited to cross the street. Habit born when I still lived here had me waving back even though I had no idea who the driver had been. That was just Mossy Creek. Everyone knew everyone else or at least acted as if they did.

A few moments later, I pushed open the door to the law offices of Metzger and Grissom. A slight smile touched my lips as I did. Julianna “Annie” Grissom and I met the first day of kindergarten and had become fast friends. Her grandfather, a great old man who had passed away a few years ago, was the Metzger on the sign. Annie and I had both fled Mossy Creek right after high school even if for different reasons. When she called almost a year ago and told me she had returned, I couldn’t believe it. But this was proof. She had hung out her shingle and, judging from the number of people still in the waiting room even though it was almost five, her practice was thriving.

“May I help you?” a blonde in her early twenties asked. Her desk sat next to the door leading to the rear of the office.

“Please. Moira Quinn O’Donnell to see Ms. Grissom.”

The moment the words were out of my mouth, I heard the whispering begin. That was the Mossy Creek grapevine at work. I had no doubt were I to turn to face those sitting and waiting to see Annie or Sanderson, I’d discover at least half of them with their phones out and fingers rapidly moving as they texted the news that yet another wayward daughter had returned to the fold.

Except I hadn’t returned, at least not permanently.

Nor did I plan to.

“Quinn?”

I closed my eyes and braced myself. I knew the moment I turned around, I’d be enveloped in a hug and then given a lecture for being gone so long. Standing there, looking not that different from when I’d left home was Peggy Russell, owner of Peggy’s Café. Located next door to the courthouse, the café had been the center of town gossip for longer than I’d been alive. Miss Peggy was also the town’s conscience and a key link in the grapevine. What she happened to be doing at the law office just then I didn’t know but I wouldn’t put it past her to be there simply because I was.

I plastered on a smile and turned. As I did, the color drained from my face as I recognized even more of those sitting nearby.  “Miss Peggy, it’s good to see you.”

She cocked her head to one side and narrowed her eyes. As she did, Ali tugged at my hand, reminding me she was there. “Momma, who’s she?”

I bent and lifted Ali, settling her on my hip. “Ali, this is Miss Peggy. If you’re real good, I’ll take you to her café for an ice cream tomorrow.” Miss Peggy’s brown eyes narrowed even more and I had no doubt what she was about to say. “Miss Peggy, this is my daughter, Ali.”

For a moment, she said nothing. Then she smiled and extended her hand to Ali. Gone was the intimidating woman and, in her place, was the short, grey haired grandmotherly figure I I remembered from my childhood. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Ali. You make sure your Momma brings you to the café for ice cream.”

“I will,” my daughter said just as seriously.

“Ms. O’Donnell, Ms. Grissom will see you now,” the receptionist said.

I nodded and chewed my lower lip. Before I could say anything, Miss Peggy reached out and gently touched my arm. When I looked at her, worry and something else filled her eyes. She suddenly looked older and more worn than I’d ever seen her. “Quinn, why don’t you leave her with me? I’ll take her to the café and you can join us there when you’re done.”

For a moment, I hesitated. Then I nodded. The last thing I wanted was for Ali to listen as Annie and I talked about what might have happened to my mother. “Thank you, Miss Peggy.” I shifted Ali slightly on my hip so I could look her in the eye. “Sweetie, Miss Peggy is a really good friend of mine. You go with her and I’ll come just as soon as I can.” Then I looked back to Miss Peggy. “If you don’t mind getting her some dinner, I’d appreciate it.”

“And ice cream?” Ali asked hopefully.

“Only if you eat everything else Miss Peggy serves you first.” I tried to look stern but failed. Unless Miss Peggy had changed a great deal in the time I’d been gone from Mossy Creek, she would make sure my daughter had all her favorites for dinner, including ice cream. Then I swung Ali to the floor and knelt in front of her. “Ali, you mind Miss Peggy and no–” I held my hands in front of me and wiggled my fingers. I would not, could not say it out loud. Fortunately, I didn’t need to. Ali nodded seriously and then crossed her heart. “I’ll be there as soon as I can, Miss Peggy,” I added and handed her Ali’s backpack.

“You do what you need to and don’t worry about this little one. We’re going to be great friends, aren’t we, Ali?” She grinned down at my little girl and, seeing Ali smile back up at her, I relaxed a little. Ali normally did not respond well to strangers but Miss Peggy had always been good with kids, often to the chagrin of their parents.

“Yes, ma’am,” Ali said.

I gave Ali a quick kiss on the cheek and watched as she and Miss Peggy walked across the reception area hand-in-hand and out the door. Then I turned and hurried to where the receptionist waited for me.

“Quinn, it’s so good to see you!”

The moment the door closed behind me, Annie pulled me close in a rib-cracking hug. Then she held me away from her, her blue eyes looking me up and down. As she did, I felt every hour of travel and every mile we had covered. My jeans and tee shirt were rumpled. I had a feeling my short black hair was mussed and not in that sexy, just had sex sort of way. Compared to her black silk blouse and grey slacks, not to mention her red hair in its French twist, I had no doubts who looked like she belonged on the cover of a fashion magazine and who did not.

“Sit.”

I did as she said and watched as she moved to the antique hutch across the office. A moment later she turned, holding a glass of what was unmistakably whiskey She handed it to me and then moved to sit behind her desk. I waited, watching as she pulled a thick file from a drawer and placed it on the desktop.

“Quinn, I know you must have a million questions about why I had Carli call this morning.”

All I could do was nod. As I did, my stomach did a slow roll. I already didn’t like how this was starting.

“I’ll tell you what I can but, before I do, I need to ask a few questions.”

Another nod and I leaned back, breathing deeply. Then I took a sip of the whiskey, waiting for her to continue.

“To say I know little to nothing is putting it mildly.” I frowned. Of all the things she could have said or asked, that was the last thing I had expected. “Why?”

“After we left for college, she had my grandfather draw up a number of legal documents. When I checked her file this morning after learning she was missing, I was surprised by what I found.” She paused and opened the file, pulling out several documents. “Not only was there a will as well as living will and DNR, all things I’d have expected, but there was also a series of documents giving you complete control of all her assets, including the house, at any time when she is unable to deal with her own affairs or when she is unreachable. I think this situation more than satisfies the last requirement.”

She slid the first document across the desk to me. “This is her power of attorney. It gives you full access and control of her finances. You are to do whatever you think necessary for the upkeep of the house and her other holdings. It also gives you the power to liquidate any assets you feel necessary. It includes her bank accounts, credit cards, creditors. Well, you get the gist.”

I nodded. What else could I do?

Over the next half hour, and two whiskeys, Annie explained how Mom had made sure I had complete control of her assets should she be unable to handle her affairs for herself. The documents had been very carefully drawn up so that only Mom appearing and taking control back would void them. As I looked at them, noting several had been executed the day after I left for college, I was surprised and touched and more than a little suspicious. Mom had certain gifts, or talents as she called them, but precognition wasn’t one of them, at least not as far as I knew. Had she seen the need for such legal steps or had she simply been covering all her bases? Whatever the answer, once she was home, the two of us were going to have a very long talk.

“Because I know what it’s like to come back here and have little surprises sprung every time I turned around,” Annie continued, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “I won’t do that to you. I know this is more than you can take in right now. So I want you to call or come see me when you start figuring out what questions you need to ask.”

“Thank you.” I remembered her calls to Montana last year, telling me how her grandfather had seemed to be reaching out from beyond the grave to surprise her and tie her to Mossy Creek. The fact she had not run for the hills spoke volumes about – well, I’m not sure what it spoke volumes about since she had not only stayed in Mossy Creek but had gotten married and opened her law practice here.

“The documents in the file are yours. They’re certified copies and they should be more than enough to satisfy the bank and anyone else you might need to deal with until your mother takes over again.”

I nodded, glad she still seemed to hope Mom would be found alive.

“Here are keys to the house.” Now she did grin and I blew out a breath. She knew my issues with the house. Growing up, she had seen the gate refuse to let me in or, worse in some ways, slam shut as soon as I stepped through, catching my coat or some other article of clothing in it. “I also have keys to her Cadillac as well as several other vehicles, including a new Ford F150. A copy of her safe deposit box key and several others I have no idea what they are for are on the key ring as well. I checked my grandfather’s notes from when he first met with your mother and then when they later spoke about all this and the only thing I found was that your mother said you would know what the various keys were for.” She handed me the keys and then the file folder.

“Thanks.” There was no sense telling her I had no idea what the keys were for. Hell, I hadn’t known Mom had any vehicles besides her Cadillac. She always had a Cadillac. No matter how many miles she had on it, every three years she traded the current Caddy in on a new one. But to find out she had a pickup and more, that did surprise me. “Annie.” I shook my head, smiling slightly. It felt strange calling her that. Growing up, she and her brother had done their best to be called anything but the common nicknames associated with their given names. Not that I could blame them. When you are redheads and twins named Julianna and Andrew, the temptation to call them Anne and Andy – as in Raggedy Anne and Andy – you found other names to go by. “Have you heard anything else about my mom?”

“No. I’m sorry. Until they can get inside to check the house, there isn’t much the Sheriff’s Department can do except keep an eye out for her.” She shook her head, her expression worried. Then she smiled and moved around the desk to sit in the chair next to mine. “I had hoped you’d have Ali with you.”

Now I grinned. “I did.” When I told her how Miss Peggy had offered to take Ali to the café, Annie nodded, unsurprised. “Tell you what. Let me see what I can find out about Mom – and see if that damned house will let me in – and then we’ll set something up. I’d like you to get to know Ali.”

“Sounds good.” She glanced at her watch. “If you hurry, you should be able to catch the sheriff before he leaves for the day.” She paused again and I could tell she was trying to figure how to say something. “Quinn, I don’t know if you’re aware of it or not but Sheriff Glasser didn’t run for re-election. The new sheriff is Lucas Moore.”

Lucas Moore.

I smiled slightly. I knew that name. The image of a tall, gangly teen who the kids today would term a geek or a nerd came to mind. He’d been a couple of years ahead of us in school. My brother Ciaran had adopted him and, as a result, Lucas had spent a lot of time at the house. Even though he’d never noticed me, I’d had a crush on him for the longest time. The last I heard, he had gotten a scholarship to some school back east. Surely that wasn’t who Annie meant.

I guess I would find out for sure sooner or later.

“He came in and did some housecleaning after the election. Glasser had run a pretty tight ship but after what happened with my mother, everyone knew he had been letting things slip. So, apparently, did he. He retired and Lucas won easily. The SD under Lucas is about the best in this part of the state. You can trust them to do everything possible to find out what’s going on.”

I hoped so. Otherwise, Mossy Creek was going to be reminded what happens when I refuse to let something drop.

“You’d best get on your way, Quinn. Lucas told me when he called that he would wait for you as long as he could. The sooner you get home and see what’s there, the better. Assuming the house – and I still say it is a great house even if it has a weird sense of humor – lets you in, you need to let the deputies take a look around.”

“I will – after I rescue Ali from Miss Peggy. Otherwise, I have a feeling my little girl will be so hyped on sugar I’ll never get her to bed.”

Annie’s grin did nothing to reassure me. “How about breakfast in the morning?”

“Sounds good but let me get back with you. I need to see what I find at the house first.”

Annie nodded, her expression serious. “Do you want me to come with you?”

It was tempting but this was something I needed to do on my own. Well, not quite on my own. Ali would be with me. “No. You get home to Sam and Robbie.”

For a moment, it looked like she might argue but then she nodded, a loving smile touching her lips. Seeing it, I reached over and gave her hand a quick squeeze. I’d been more than happy to learn she had married Sam Caldwell and adopted his son. Then, as she placed a gentle hand against her abdomen, I looked at her, arching one brow in question. Seeing the blush color her cheeks, I had my answer and leaned over to hug her.

“Don’t say anything. We haven’t told anyone yet.”

“I suggest you tell your grandmother and Sam’s folks before they figure it out.”

She blushed even more and grinned. Then she stood and pulled me to my feet. “I’m glad you’re home, Quinn, even if your mom’s pulled a disappearing act. Look at it this way, she could have copied my mother and been caught standing over the dead body of the man everyone thought was her worst enemy and who it turned out she had been having an affair with.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. Annie’s mother had been the bane of her existence most of our lives. Annie returned to Mossy Creek after her mother’s arrest. Annie had almost lost her life proving her mother’s innocence. That she was now happily married and expecting her first child meant more to me than she’d ever know.

“You get yourself home, Annie. I’ll go see what the sheriff has to say.”

Instead of agreeing, she chewed her lower lip. A moment later, she pulled her cellphone from her pocket and placed a quick call. I listened, wondering what she was up to, as she asked to be connected with the sheriff. She waited, shaking her head before I could ask what she was up to. A few minutes and another phone call later, she slid the phone back into her pocket.

“Miss Peggy will have Ali and a to-go bag ready for you at the back door of the café in five minutes. That way you don’t have to run the gauntlet tonight.”

“Thanks.” I gave her another hug. It wouldn’t stop the grapevine but at least it would save what was left of my patience and probably my sanity. I had a feeling I’d need both before the evening was done. “I’ll call later to let you know what I find at the house.”

Five minutes later, I watched as Miss Peggy escorted Ali out the back door of the café. A few minutes after that, I parked in one of the half dozen spaces in front of the Sheriff’s Department. Before getting out, I looked at the building and a wave of memories washed over me. Growing up, I had paid more than one visit there, often in the back of a squad car. I hadn’t been special like my sister and brother. So, because I hated how they were always getting our mother’s attention, I had “acted out”, as they called it now. I knew better. I had been very close to being a juvenile delinquent. At least I’d managed to make very good grades at school. That got me into college with a full ride – even if my advisor and dean had warned me to keep my nose clean – and that had been when I left home.

With Ali’s hand firmly grasped in mine, I walked up the steps to the front door and stepped inside. Not much had changed in the years I’d been away. The metal detectors in front of the elevators were new but not much else. Then, as I tried to decide whether I should wait to see if the deputy manning the front desk greeted me or if I should call the sheriff, the elevator dinged and the doors slid open and the world seemed to come to a screeching stop.

Of everything I’d expected, this had to be the last thing, or close to it. It certainly was the last thing I needed just then. Of all the people in Mossy Creek, he had to be the one to step off the elevator. We’d often been at odds when we were in school. Then, in high school, we finally gave into the attraction we both felt and I lost my virginity to him. What should have been a time to remember fondly turned into a nightmare when, only a day or two later, I discovered that he’d been bragging about how he had bagged one of the O’Donnell girls. I wish I could say I wasn’t proud to admit I’d broken his nose and probably a couple of ribs when I jumped him after school and beat the hell out of him but I couldn’t. To be completely honest, he’d been lucky I wasn’t like the rest of my family. Otherwise, he’d have been turned into a toad – or worse.

Now he stood before me, big and tall and muscular, his nose slightly crooked from the damage I had done to it. At least he looked no more pleased to see me than I did him. God above, was this an indication of what this trip home was going to be like?

“Moira,” he all but growled and I had no doubt he used my first name because he knew I hated it. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Hello, Andy.”

He growled again as I returned the favor, using his hated nickname. Too bad. He ought to have better manners around my daughter.

Ali gave my hand a tug and I looked down at her.

“Mommy, why he mad at you?” She moved closer to me as Drew Grissom, Annie’s twin brother, looked down at her.

“He’s not mad at me, sweetie. Deputy Grissom is just having a bad day.” I looked at Drew, wondering if he understood what I wasn’t saying. If not, I hoped he remembered the consequences of opening his mouth when he should have kept it shut.

“That’s right.” He smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes.

Ally hugged my leg and looked up at him. I could tell from the way she tried to almost melt into me she was upset. That, in turn, only served to send my temper higher. But I couldn’t lose it now, not with her there. So, hoping to reassure her, I gently lifted her and settled her at my hip, smiling slightly as she wrapped her legs around my waist.

“Deputy, perhaps you can help us,” I said, doing my best not to let how I felt to see him show either in my voice or on my expression. “I’m supposed to meet the sheriff.”

Before he could answer, the elevator dinged and the doors once again slid open. Sheriff Lucas Moore stepped out. No doubt about it. It was the same Lucas Moore I remembered. He might have added a good four inches in height and a good fifty pounds, all of it muscles, but there was no mistaking him. For a big man – he had to stand at least six-four and weigh over two hundred pounds, he moved with a silent grace as he approached. Even though he said nothing, I knew he had instantly sized up the situation. To my surprise, however, instead of saying anything, he simply stepped forward and, with a jerk of his head, motioned Drew back. The look on Drew’s face spoke volumes and I had no doubt the two of us would be talking soon, whether I wanted to or not. But, for now at least, he would step back and follow the sheriff’s lead.

“It’s been a long time, ma’am. Don’t know if you remember me–”

“I do remember you, Lucas. It’s good to see you.” I smiled. I’m not ashamed to say it was more to irk Drew than anything else. “And it’s Quinn. Whenever someone says ma’am, I start looking for my mother.”

“I hear you there.”

He grinned and his face lit up. Damn, if he had looked like this in high school, every girl within twenty miles would have been after him. Drew’s growl – and what was it with him and growling? – brought our attention back to the matter at hand.

“Have you been to your mother’s house yet?” Lucas asked as he escorted Ali and me across the lobby toward the main doors.

“No,” I answered and went on to explain how I had stopped by Annie’s office first.

“Then why don’t we meet you there?” he suggested.

“Sounds good.”

We shook hands and, as Ali and I left the building, I heard him tell Drew to go get the car. Knowing this was my chance for a few minutes alone, I didn’t hesitate. With a firm grip on Ali, I jogged down the steps and to the SUV. Like it or not, it was time to go home.

Home.

Mossy Creek hadn’t been home for a long time. The only reason I’d come back was Ali. God, it had been hard enough to call my mother and tell her I needed help with her. My wonderful, perfectly mundane daughter had suddenly been anything but mundane. She had made the wind dance – fortunately, she had done some when we were alone. If that hadn’t been enough, she had then called fire. That had put the fear of God into both of us. If I hadn’t been there when she did it, or if the wrong people had seen. . . I didn’t want to think about the possibilities.

And that was only part of why I’d finally come home, the part Mom knew about. I’d waited to tell her the rest of it until we were here. Now it might be too late.

And this – Mom’s disappearance – was beyond the pale. How was I supposed to deal with whatever the hell my mother had gotten involved in this time with my little girl here? Having to deal with the Drew as well simple rubbed salt in the wound.

Ten minutes later, I pulled in front of the house I had grown up in, the house generations of my family had lived in. I parked on the street almost directly in front of the main gate. For a minute, I sat there, studying the house. The eight-foot tall stone fence with wrought iron toppers was designed for privacy and ran along three sides of the house. The front of the fence was wrought iron. Welded finials topped the fence; I knew from personal experience the finials were as effective at deterring someone from trying to climb the fence as they were decorative. Then there was the iron gate. It was closed, as it always was unless guests were expected. I didn’t need to get out of the car to know it was also firmly locked. Getting through the gate would be the first hurdle.

The house itself was one of the oldest homes in town. It also looked almost new. People for years had wanted to know how my family managed to keep in such good shape. No one saw workmen, not very often at any rate, doing any maintenance. When asked, each generation’s matriarch would simply smile and say it was an old family secret.

And man was it some secret.

Three stories, sprawling, balconies on the top floors for the bedrooms, it had been both a joy and a prison growing up. Not that any of my friends had understood. Well, a few had but their families had their own weirdness. That was the only thing that had kept me sane all those years. Mossy Creek isn’t your normal town and if you lived on this side of the tracks, weird was the norm of the day.

Wanting to get this part over before the cops arrived, I climbed out of the SUV. Part of me wished I’d dared leave Ali with Miss Peggy. She did not know about this part of my life and I couldn’t help wondering how I was going to explain to her that the house hated me and wouldn’t let me inside. But I hadn’t left her with Miss Peggy and I had to find out if the house was going to cooperate and let me in before the sheriff arrived.

“This where Grandma lives?” Ali asked as she craned her neck to look around.

Guilt washed over me at the question. In spite of my issues with the town and my family, I’d been wrong not to bring Ali here before now. At least Mom seemed to understand. Not once in the more than a dozen times she had come to Montana after Ali’s birth had she said anything about us not coming to visit. I knew she wanted us to but somewhere over the last eleven or twelve years she had come to understand that I would come back in my own time. I just hoped it wasn’t too late now.

“Yes, sweetie. This is where Grandma lives and it’s I grew up.” I drew a deep breath and said a quick prayer that the house wouldn’t do something I’d regret. “It’s a very special house. Did you know the gate only lets people your grandma wants inside?”

Please let it let me inside.

I could count on one hand the number of times the gate had not played its games with me. It let me know in a number of different ways that it did not approve of me. I was a disappointment. I wasn’t like the rest of the family. Because of that, I had little faith that it would let me in now. But maybe it would let Ali in. After all, she was special, just like my mother and my siblings.

Almost without realizing what I was doing, I started talking, partly to Ali and partly to the gate. I needed to get inside, not for myself but for my mother, for Ali and for the rest of the family. The gate knew I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t important. Please, let me in. I would do only what was necessary and then leave. But I needed to find out what happened to my mother. Was Mom even inside?

The gate swung open slowly, soundlessly. Knowing better than to hesitate, I slipped inside as quickly as I could, not trusting that it wouldn’t try to slam shut on me. It didn’t surprise me when the gate swung shut behind me. That’s what it always did. Family was allowed inside – usually. But no one else, not without family approval and, until I knew Ali and I could get inside, I wasn’t going to leave the gate open.

“That was neat, Momma.” Ali grinned gaily as she looked over my shoulder at the gate. “Can you make it do it again?”

I smiled and rubbed my cheek against hers. “Maybe later. Let’s see if we can get the house to let us in now.”

I put Ali down and took her hand. Together, we approached the three steps leading up to the porch that ran the length of the front of the house. I slowed and Ali matched her pace to mine. Then I once again began talking, this time to the house, reminding it I was family. I had grown up there. Yes, I had been gone a long time but it knew the blood and, despite everything, I was of the blood. I needed to get inside. I had the key – and I held it before me in my left hand. But I knew that would not work if the house wanted to keep me out. Please, I needed to get in because I was worried about my mother.

Swallowing hard, I reached out, key in hand. Just before I slid the key into the lock, the knob turned and the door swung open. Ali giggled happily and pulled at my hand, wanting to go inside. This was it. Like it or not, I was home and the house had recognized me. Now I needed to do a quick sweep of the house before the sheriff arrived. After all, who knew what my mother might have been doing and whether it was something normals – well, as normal as anyone in Mossy Creek could ever be – needed to know about.

Bad, indie writer, bad!

At least that is what Michael Kozlowski over at Good Ereader seems to be saying. In an article I found via The Passive Voice, the headline really does tell the story. “Indie Authors Are Responsible for the US eBook Decline.” Now, I won’t talk about how the headline is poorly formatted. Anyone with a modicum of journalistic training will be able to spot what is wrong. Instead, let’s take a look at the post and see if we agree with Kozlowski or with PG who said, “too much choice is a terrible problem. That’s why nobody buys anything from Amazon or reads anything on the web.”

Why are bookstore chains like Barnes and Noble enjoying a robust increase in book sales? I think the main reason is because they only stock physical books by new authors that the publisher is really hyping and perennial bestsellers by recognizable authors. Simply put, it is far easier to discover a great book in a bookstore, than try and find one online. So why are digital sales truly down? The answer is too many e-books being self-published by indie authors.

Pardon me while I laugh for a bit. Kozlowski doesn’t seem to recognize the problem with his own statement. Bookstores stock only new authors publishers are “really hyping”. Hmm. What about those new authors who aren’t receiving all the hype? They are out there. Or is Kozlowski so out of touch that he really believes that publishers give that sort of hype to every new author they sign?

Or how about the assertion that they only other books being stocked are those by perennial bestsellers? I guess that means I could walk into my local B&N and check every author in stock and find them to be as he said. A best seller or hyped newcomer. Sorry, but no. There are still some midlisters there. Yes, the number is fewer but they are still there. There will also be — gasp — classics and nonfiction titles that aren’t “bestsellers”. But that wouldn’t fit Kozlowski’s either or scenario.

Independent and self-published authors release more books on a monthly basis than the trade houses do. This creates an influx of new titles that fall by the wayside and pollute the search engine results,  so it is almost impossible to casually browse and find something good.

My first reaction is, “Duh!” Of course indies release more books on a monthly basis that the traditional publishers. They aren’t limited by the number of slots they can justify to their bean counters. They aren’t having to go through gatekeepers who could — and sometimes do — keep out excellent books because they “didn’t resonate” or aren’t of the right “message” for that particular publisher. But, just because they are indie titles, they “pollute” search engine results. Bad indies. You aren’t pure and worthy. Forget about issues of whether the books are well-written or commercial successes. The fact they didn’t go through the traditional gatekeepers means they are dreck and pollute the very data streams they are stored on.

E-Books are immortal, so they never go out of print. Like cobwebs constructed of stainless steel, they will forever occupy the virtual shelves of e-book retailers. Every month there are more and more books for readers to choose from and there are now fewer eyeballs split across more books, this is the real reason why e-book sales are down across the board.

First, e-books can go out of print. At least they can if an author is careful about how her contract is written with first her agent and then her publisher — if she goes the traditional route. As for indies, they can also go “out of print” by the simple expedient of the author withdrawing the book from sale. As for e-book sales being down across the board, says who? Oh, I know. Traditional publishers. And that, my friends, is the real fault with everything Kozlowski says in his post. He is using traditional publishing numbers, as well as comments from Amazon competitor Mark Coker, to support his position without looking at indie sales numbers.

But let’s continue.

Not only do self-published authors write legitimate books that nobody reads, but some are doing some very shady things.

Kozlowski goes on to discuss the title mills that have been out there as well as the debacle a couple of years ago over the erotica titles getting released as children’s titles. Funny though, he never mentions the plagiarized titles that were bought, published and promoted out the yahzoo by traditional publishers. I guess he doesn’t think the trads can ever do anything wrong or make a bad decision about what books to publish. Nor does he go into the fact that a lot of the books Kobo removed from its listings were not erotica and the covers did not violate the ToS. Funny that. Funny, too, that he failed to mention how those books wrongly removed were put into a limbo that, as far as I know, has yet to be resolved.

He shows his feelings about indie e-books, if there had been any doubt, with this next statement: Spamming out e-books is obviously working for indie authors right now.

“Spamming”. Not publishing, not releasing, but spamming. Way to show some unbiased reporting, sir.

The big reason why indies are enjoying more success right now is because their titles are priced anywhere between .99 and $5.99, while major publishers tend to charge between $9.99 and $18.99. 

Again, he sees only the financial reason and that not in full. Yes, indies sell more books at a lower price. However, readers have gotten more savvy, something he fails to recognize. They look at how well written the blurb is. If you don’t grab a reader with the blurb, they aren’t going to pay money for your work. Then the reader checks the preview — one of the best things Amazon and other retailers have done is put the “look inside feature” on the product page so you no longer have to download a sample. Again, if a reader doesn’t like what the preview shows, they won’t buy the book. Yes, there are some impulse buys but give the reader some credit for actually checking out the book before buying it.

Second, readers are learning that there are a lot of very well written, entertaining books being produced by indie authors. Why spend more than $10 for a single book when you can buy two or three for that same amount of money? Publishers put themselves behind the eight ball when it comes to pricing. They look at the profit per unit instead of the fact they would make more money in the long run if they would lower their prices and increase their sales.

I think indie authors days are numbered selling digital content online because of big new trends in the publishing industry that they are unable to capitalize on.

This is where I start laughing hysterically. First, he uses adult coloring books as an example of something indies can’t do. Funny, one of my friends and cohorts over at Mad Genius Club, Cedar Sanderson, just published her own coloring book — and she did so as an indie. I guess she ought to go take it off sale since Kozlowski said she shouldn’t be able to put one out.

Then he goes on to point out the Bookscan numbers and how they prove his point. Bookscan, the Nielson Ratings for books. That service taking the sales from a select number of bookstores, does some arcane version of hand-wavium and tells publishers how many books were sold by what author. Not a point-to-point accounting system or inventory tracker like every other manufacturer employs. No, something that estimates sales based on what is selling in certain stores in certain cities across the nation. C0ff — bullshit — coff.

He goes on and on about how indie publishing is leading to a decline in sales. But for whom? For traditional publishing? Yep. But it is not only indie publishing responsible for that decline. It is also the choice in books being published by the trads and the price they are charging. Traditional publishing knows this, at least when it comes to pricing. Ask yourself this: why publish an e-book at basically the same price as a print version of the same book? The answer is simple — to drive sales to the print book.

Is indie publishing in trouble? Not that my bank account is seeing.

Are there too many titles out there? I don’t think so. Sure, it makes “browsing” more difficult if all you do is type in search phrases. But if you are like me, you find a book or an author you like and you pay attention to the “if you liked this, you might like that” recommendations. You talk to your friends and see what they are reading. Most of all, you check the blurbs and previews. Now this indie author needs to get back to work. Despite — or maybe because — of Kozlowski’s complaints, I am going to continue “spamming” out my books and “polluting” Amazon.

So, here’s some spamming for you:

 Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3)

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

And my friend Dave Freer has a new book out.
TOM

Tom is a cat in trouble. The worst possible kind of trouble: he’s been turned into a human. Transformed by an irascible old magician in need of a famulus — a servant and an assistant, Tom is as good at being a servant as a cat ever is. The assistant part is more to Tom’s taste: he rather fancies impressing the girl cats and terrorizing the other toms by transforming himself into a tiger. But the world of magic, a vanished and cursed princess, and a haunted skull, and a demon in the chamber-pot, to say nothing of conspiring wizards and the wickedest witch in the west, all seem to be out to kill Tom. He is a cat coming to terms with being a boy, dealing with all this. He has a raven and a cheese as… sort of allies.
And of course there is the princess.
If you were looking for ‘War and Peace’ this is the wrong book for you. It’s a light-hearted and gently satirical fantasy, full of terrible puns and… cats.

Decisions made, work to be done and more

It’s been two weeks since Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) went live. Or was supposed to go live. For those of you who follow the blog, you know that the first week was nothing but an exercise in frustration and more frustration. Fortunately, the issues with Amazon have been fixed and everything seems to be rocking along. Thanks to everyone who hung in there. Your support helped me get through what had to be the worst release week I’ve had to date. I also want to thank Amazon for working with me to get the problem fixed.

Since I started with Amazon, let’s talk about something I’ve been seeing a lot on Facebook recently. There is a petition that’s been started on Change.org asking Amazon to stop people from being able to return e-books after 15% of a book has been read. While I understand the sentiment — no author likes to see returns — there is a problem with this approach. Some “e-books” are only a few pages long. That means the 15% limit might not get a purchaser beyond the copyright page. What if everything after that point is so poorly formatted that the title is not readable? Or what if, at about the 75% mark, something went wrong and the e-book suddenly changes to another one? There have to be exceptions made.

As you know, I write in several different genres. I have found there are some sub-genres that have more returns than others. However, that higher level of returns seemed to go down markedly once I enrolled that particular sub-genre’s books into the Kindle Unlimited program. Something else I am seeing is that sales are going up with those books and so are the borrows under KU. Hmm, maybe I’m onto something here.

There can be any number of reasons for an e-book to be returned. It happens. Yes, there are people who will “buy” an e-book, read it and then return it. No matter what we do, it will happen. If they aren’t doing it through Amazon, they will find a pirate site where our work is hosted. Do I like it? Not at all. But a petition to try to force Amazon to take a certain form of action isn’t going to stop it. I would rather be able to find some pattern to what is going on than not know what is being pirated.

Pattern. That happens to be the key word. Instead of assuming everyone who buys and then returns an e-book has ill-intent in his heart, the author might need to look at their reviews — and even go back and look at their work with a fresh eye — and see if there might not be a reason for the returns. Never, ever consider your readers as crooks. Most especially don’t take to social media and claim they are — and, no, I am not saying the person who started the petition or any of those supporting her feel this way. They all seem earnest in their concern about something they see as a problem. I will even concede that they might have a problem with returns that I haven’t seen with my own work.

That said, I have seen come comments from folks who don’t believe this problem existed before e-books came onto the scene. It did. People bought printed books, took them home or to the nearest coffee shop or whatever, read the book and then returned it. As authors, we weren’t  made as aware of the situation because we didn’t have a dashboard that kept us up-to-date on sales, borrows and returns on an hourly basis. Now we have that tool and it is very easy to obsess over it.

Instead of doing so, before beginning to think there are crooks out there, look first at your work and your reviews. Is there something there pointing to a potential problem? Do you see a pattern in the returns? If so, contact Amazon. They do have policies in place that deal with people who abuse the ability to buy and then return e-books. Be prepared to be your own advocate and gather your evidence, your inferences and have your desired outcome ready when you contact Amazon. Most of all, don’t be afraid to let the powers-that-be there know your concerns and your recommendations.

Moving on.

I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what to do to ameliorate the damage done by the screw up of the Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) release. I was already working on Dagger of Elanna, the second book in the Sword of the Gods trilogy. Skeletons in the Closet is less than a month from being ready for release. But the last two weeks have shown me one of the positives of being an indie writer. I can rearrange my schedule as needed in order to deal with bumps in the road. Because of that, I’ve amended my publication schedule for the year and am going to bring Victory from Ashes out next.

The rough draft (and it is what I call a very, very, very rough draft) weighs in right now at 84,000 words. There are a number of scenes that still need to be inserted and everything needs to be fleshed out. By the time that is done, the book will probably come in around 110,000 words. Maybe a bit more. It will take me two months, possibly three, to finish the final rough draft, let the beta readers take a look and then send it off to the editor.  Snippets will begin in two weeks.

I am also going to release a new edition of Honor from Ashes shortly before Victory from Ashes comes out. The new edition will include a new short story or novella in the Honor and Duty universe. For those who have already purchased Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3), I will put the new material up here for a limited period and I will also offer for individual sale.

After that, I will return to Skeletons and Dagger of Elanna. That will then move up the next Nocturnal Lives books. After that, there will more more in the Hunted universe and more romantic suspense. As if that’s not enough to think about, there are several other projects in the mix I can’t discuss just yet.

This week, however, I have to play catch up. There are print versions of my books to be proofed and finalized, appointments to be met and writing to do. So I guess I’d better find another cup of coffee and get to work.

 

Time to get to work

I think that’s the question most writers have asked themselves at one time or another. It usually isn’t because we have no ideas but because we have too many. We might be in the middle of writing one book when the idea for another suddenly pops into our head. We might have finished one book and be ready to start another, only to have a chorus of plots and characters all singing — or screaming and yelling — for our attention. It doesn’t matter what the schedule is, all too often there is the pull of another story that wants to be written.

I find myself in that position right now. It’s not new. Those of you who follow this blog, or who read Mad Genius Club, know that very same thing happened during the course of writing Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). I had to stop for a couple of weeks and pound out Slay Bells Ring because the book simply wouldn’t be quiet long enough for me to finish Honor. Now I am trying to write Dagger of Elanna, the follow-up to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). I know the basic plot. I know the twists and turns it needs to take. I have characters I love — and who I love to torture (hey, I’m a writer. It’s what I do.). Instead of being able to focus on swords and a bit of sorcery, I have spaceships and the dead rising, but not as zombies or vampires, a local witch and more than one mystery to solve. And no, that’s not all one book — thankfully.

I have Skeletons in the Closet wanting to be finished. It wouldn’t take much but it is a voice and head-space I’m not ready to get into right now. The main reason is because the voice is so different from everything else that I wouldn’t be able to work on any other project at the same time. So I am trying to tell Lexie and company to give me another six weeks and then I’ll give them my undivided attention.

I also have the new title in the Honor and Duty series — no, not Victory from Ashes, the next in the series. This is the standalone short story or novella I’ve discussed writing as a reward for all of you who stuck with me during last week’s Amazon snafu. While I love the series and characters, I wasn’t prepared for the number of ideas that have been coming to me as possibilities. I need a little time to figure out which one — or ones — will work best in helping shape the characters.

Then there is Mackenzie Santos and her friends. Mac is standing in my mind, tapping one booted foot, telling me it is time to write her next book. After all, I’ve put out two novels since Nocturnal Challenge (Nocturnal Lives Book 4). She’s been patient. Shouldn’t I reward her for that?

Okay, she isn’t being quite that nice about it. She is rather demanding, in fact. And oh the look she gives me when I remind her that I hadn’t planned on writing Slay Bells, so it doesn’t count.

In other words, this is another typical Monday morning in this writer’s life. What is really going to happen is I get to play catch up today. I need to do a follow-up email to my contact at Amazon, letting her know that the problems continued to exist for some of you through the weekend. Then I need to finish putting together print files for several of my books already out in e-book format. Then I need to do some yard work and clean house. Oh, somewhere in there, I must find more coffee and food. If I forget the latter, no biggie but nothing will get done without the former.

Then and only then will I be able to sit down and write. Yes, it will be Dagger of Elanna. But I am also plotting out Victory from Ashes as well as the untitled short story/novella in that same universe. Once that is done, I will finish Skeletons (which shouldn’t take more than another week or so). Then it will be the next Mac Santos book.

And who said writing wasn’t a real job?

Friday morning thoughts

It looks like the issues with Amazon are finally fixed (fingers crossed). Once everything was escalated — thanks to an email to Jeff Bezos — things fell into place pretty quickly. I’ll do a final blog about it next week. There are still a couple of issues I want clarification on before I do. In the meantime, Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) is available for purchase. If you are still having problems with the file, let me know in the comments and please let Amazon know.  Most of all, if you would leave a review after you’ve read the book, I’d appreciate it.

Now for a non-Amazon related topic. All week I’ve watched the story about the mother whose daughter attends a magnet school in Baton Rouge. This mother has been basically banned from the campus for the heinous offense of walking her daughter to and from school. It seems when the school year began, the new principal of the school implemented a rule forbidding such a horrible activity for safety reasons. You can read the background in The Advocate.

Basically, the principal thought it too dangerous to have parents park at the nearby Catholic center and walk onto school grounds because — gasp — she couldn’t be sure who might be trying to come up to the school. Instead, all parents were to use the carpool lane. Stay in their cars, wait on a busy street and cause traffic jams. That is sooo much safer.

I don’t remember if it was in The Advocate’s story or elsewhere, but I also read she would allow parents to pick their kids up in person — and without waiting in their cars — if they waited 45 minutes after discharge time. Until then, any child not picked up via car would be held (whether the parent approved or not). This included children who had permission to walk home.

Hmmm, in some jurisdictions, that could be viewed as being held against their will or even kidnapping.

So fast forward to the other day. Mama Bear, who had tried discussing the issue with the principal and the superintendent and who had gotten nowhere with it, decided she had had enough. The ritual of walking to and from school with her daughter was something they both enjoyed. So, fed up, Mama Bear parked and walked onto the school grounds — and straight into a confrontation with the principal.

The interesting thing here is that Mama Bear wasn’t the only parent violating school rules that day. A father was also present at the time and yet the principal did nothing to tell him to leave or, as she would soon do, prevent him from coming to the school in the future.

After the confrontation with Mama Bear, the principal sent a letter that basically says the mother cannot step foot on school grounds without first giving 24 hour notice and then receiving permission. Mama can be in her car in the carpool lane but she cannot get out of her car without giving the 24 hour notice and receiving permission. So, if her daughter has her hands full and needs help getting into the car, Mama can’t get out to help her. If the daughter falls and is hurt, Mama has to sit there and hope someone comes to the girl’s aid. Otherwise, she faces having the cops called on her.

Worse, if given permission to leave her car, she must go straight to the office, sign in and wait to be escorted to her destination which, according to the letter, will basically be only the office. Parent-Teacher conferences will be witnessed by someone from the office. Mama is not allowed to have contact with anyone but office staff, including students and teachers, when on the premises. In other words, she is not allowed to see what is going on in her daughter’s classroom or anywhere else in the school.

It gets worse. This is an arts magnet school. Her daughter took part in an art show at the school after this happened and the mother was denied permission to attend.

Now, if it were me, I would be in my attorney’s office and there would be action taking place. I would also be looking for somewhere else for my child to go if I did not feel capable of homeschooling. If even half of what this article reports is true, this is a case of administrative ego gone wild and to the detriment of the school and its students.

No one, absolutely no one, can tell me without damned good reason that I can’t meet my child at the school grounds and walk them home (or walk them to the school). No one can hold my child against my wishes for 45 minutes because they would prefer I sit in a carpool lane. Besides, what is the difference about who can approach the school when classes are just getting out and 45 minutes after the fact? Also, who is paying staff to stay late to watch these kids who have been held after simply because they aren’t being picked up by car? Or do they kick the kids out the door, lock it behind them and leave them to whatever “evil people” might be lurking about?

More than that, there had better be a solid legal reason for not allowing me to attend my child’s art show or recital or whatever the activity might be. There had also better be a substantial reason for not allowing me to meet with my child’s teacher in private. Either that or there had better be a written policy that ALL such conferences are witnessed and why.

This is a perfect illustration of where parents need to take back their children’s school. There was a time when my son was in elementary school when we had a principal who was almost this bad. By the end of the year, she had managed to run off many of the good teachers. She tried doing away with the Gifted & Talented classes, as well as recess, in order to spend more time teaching to the test. She did this without notifying parents that their children were getting the short shrift. When teachers and our kids started telling us, a number of us tried meeting with her. She would set the appointments but suddenly be busy and throw another member of the staff to the wolves.

Fortunately, she lasted only one year at my son’s school but the damage to the children and the staff was done. It took years for the school to recover because a number of the teachers put in for transfers and those were granted before the district administration announced they were moving this principal to another position elsewhere.

This attitude of holding our kids hostage, of preventing parents from being able to see what is going on in a classroom — or on the school grounds — is a red flag we have to recognize and react to. Do not let this happen in your district without challenging it. Remind your school boards that a lot of their money comes from the state and federal coffers and is based on the number of butts in chairs on a daily basis. Those little butts can be removed and transferred to private school or homeschooled. There are alternatives now and we shouldn’t be afraid to explore them, especially when our children are involved.

 

 

And the latest news is. . .

Late yesterday afternoon, I wrote a blog post for today. No, not this one. It was written with the hope it might turn into one of those situations where “if you say something/do something, the opposite will happen.” In this case, I was continuing to cover the ongoing problems with Amazon, my frustrations, etc., and trying to figure out what my next step should be. While I can’t say all the problems and concerns have been resolved, it looks like things are getting better and steps are being taken to discover just what can be done to try to alleviate some of the damage done.

Specifically, yesterday after responding to the mind-blowing email from Amazon KDP support asking for more detail about the reason I was upset, I talked with some folks I trust and then I emailed Jeff Bezos. I doubted he would see the email but I hoped it might help clear the logjam I’d been facing. What I hadn’t expected was a call from the woman my email had been forwarded to. We had a nice discussion and I am currently waiting for her to get back with me on a couple of matters.

In the meantime, it does appear that the book has been consistently available for purchase and download since 6pm CST last night. I am still worried about the hit my sales have taken and the number of returns by understandably upset customers who received the wrong file. But at least it looks like the page is now stable — although I will be keeping a close watch on it today to be sure.

Here is where I ask for your help, my friends. If you pre-ordered the book, you should have received an email by now from Amazon saying there is a new file and your copy needs to be updated. I hope that anyone who purchased the book before yesterday, pre-order or not, has received that email. If you have not, will you leave a comment below this post to let me know?

If you did receive the wrong book, whether you received the email or not from Amazon, and you purchased it on the 18th or later, please let me know in the comment section. It will help me when discussing the situation withs Amazon later.

Finally, if you have not received the correct file (and the easiest way to tell is to check the title of the first section of the book. It should be “Grounded”) contact Amazon and ask them to push through the update. Leave me a message when you do. Again, it will help me discuss the problem with them.

One last question, I’ve decided that the best way to thank you for bearing with me through this fiasco is to write something new in the universe. It needs to be something with Ashlyn and company as the leads. It will be either a short story or novella. Here’s your chance to tell me what story you want told. Do you want a prequel sort of story, maybe one that deals with the circumstances leading up to her court martial? Or how about her time as a shiny new Marine? Or maybe how about first joining the Devil Dogs? Or is there another story you would prefer me tell? (No promises I will use a particular suggestion, but this is your story. It will be offered to those of you who have stayed with me during the problems with Honor from Ashes this week. I’m still figuring out the best way to do this, but I want you to have the story first and for free before it goes up on Amazon for sale.)

In the meantime, when you’ve finished reading Honor from Ashes, I’d appreciate it if you would leave a review. Oh, and spread the word to your friends that the book is now available.

Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3)

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

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