Scary Clowns. Phidlestix. IT.

Our minds have this fantastic ability to make anything scary when we let it. Personally, I like the thought of something that's intended for laughs having the opposite effect.

So yeah, there are some scary clowns out there, and if I'm going to write a story with a clown in it, it's going to be one of those.

I wrote a short story Phidlestix back in 2001 while I was up at the Cornerstone Music Festival in Illinois. (Back when that was still a thing.) I remember writing it down on some lined paper. It was short, silly, and was almost entirely written so I could write about a clown being killed.

I revised the story in 2016 and released it, with the intent of writing a sequel for Halloween. Well, that didn't quite happen in time. I went ahead and finished that story. As I continued to work on my upcoming full-length novel, we came to a point where we decided that we were going to exhibit at Longview Library's Chautauqua Festival. I really needed something new to sell. Given the time constraints, I made the decision to go ahead and write the third clown story I'd planned out. Those three stories made a neat little trilogy.

I'm pretty happy with how Phidlestix/Phidlestixx/Phidlestixxx turned out. It's silly. It's scary. It's gory. It's fun.

Of course, when it comes to scary clowns, the one that I appreciate the most is Pennywise, from Stephen King's IT.

I remember walking in front of some large bookstore and seeing a large window display for this novel back in 1986. I was like 12 or 13 at the time, but that cover, with that green, clawed hand reaching up through the grate must be a good one, because the memory of that moment is still vivid.

IT is over 1,100 pages, so it's not something you can burn though in an evening. It is, however, an epic tale that is a master class in storytelling. If you're a writer, take notes.

The 1990 TV adaption is worth checking out. It's a product of its time, but it's decent for TV, and Tim Curry is very fun to watch.

And, of course, now they have this:

Super creepy, I know. I'm looking forward to checking it out. I believe that this movie adapts half of the novel, and if it's successful, they'll do the other half. (The way the novel is written, this can totally work.)

Anyway, now that I successfully distracted myself with scary clown stories for the past couple of months, I need to get back to the full-length sci-fi novel.

Because for many people, the future is much scarier than a clown will ever be...


Free Short Horror Story: Phidlestix

My silly little horror short Phidlestix has been revised and updated in honor of my favorite month. I originally wrote this back in 2001 at the Cornerstone Music Festival. It's been available since 2002, but when thinking of what I wanted to write for Halloween this year, I thought about revisiting this story, and then writing a sequel.

I revised the story with the help of some friends and drew a new cover. Check it out and share it with anybody you know that loves clowns.

Read Phidlestix here.


For Your Consideration: Doll

Subject: Doll
Author: Miracle Austin
Website: http://www.miracleaustin.com/

I first met Miracle Austin in Tyler, TX during East Texas Book Fest 2015. The first thing that attracted me to her booth was the artwork for her YA novel Doll. It showed a young girl pressing a pin into a doll's head. So yeah...voodoo. I was intrigued, as the artwork clearly stood out among most of the other books being presented. Never underestimate the value of good cover art.

Miracle and her husband were awesome to talk to. I didn't pick up Doll at the time, but I got her business card so I could check out her writing later.

As it turns out, her booth was right next to ours during the Longview Library's annual Chautauqua Festival. It was a blustery day at times, so we both endured the wind, having to secure everything down with masking tape. Good times! Miracle and I traded Doll for What Happened On My Space Vacation (I got a good deal there). It is cool to read a book, but it's even cooler to make a personal connection with the author--especially one like Miracle. Her writing may delve into the shadows, but Miracle is super nice and positive and encouraging in person. Exactly the type of person you want for your booth neighbor!

After connecting with her on Facebook, it became apparent quickly that her genre interests are eerily similar to mine. Horror movies. Check. Anything by Stephen King. Check. The Strain. Check. She provides a handy list of her favorite movies on her website if you want to see how you line up. That she has From Dusk Till Dawn on there is, by itself, enough to make her a top-shelf person in my book.

My review of Doll:

You know that Stephen King story Carrie, about the prom queen with telekinetic powers? Well, what if she wasn't the one being bullied? What if she was the bully? This is the twist in the tale that Miracle Austin weaves in Doll, a YA teenage novel placed on the stage of high school with set dressings by way of voodoo.

Our main characters: Tomie, Sari, and Opal are being constantly harassed by one of their peers--Pepper. This tyrant-in-training seems to have unusual amount of influence in the lives of our protagonists--enough that they eventually find themselves taking extreme steps to deal with her. If it reminds you of a Tales From the Crypt setup...well, it should. And that's a good thing, as all good Crypt stories are morality plays Ultimately, Doll doesn't end up where a Crypt story would, but that's how Ms. Austin keeps us all guessing how things are going to end up. Speaking of that, Doll has a very unusual addition to it in that it also includes an alternate ending for the book. So, if you don't like one, you can always choose the other and have that be the ending in your mind. (The first ending is a lot stronger, which is probably why the author chose it! But hey, you get to decide this for yourself.)

The story is a complete, standalone story, but there's clearly room to continue these characters and to truly deal with the consequences of the events and actions that occur. If the end of a novel completes a story, but leaves you wanting to know more about those characters, then I'm pretty sure an author would count that as a success. That's really how I felt at the end of this one. I have solid intel that a Doll sequel is in the works.

One thing I found very interesting is the lack of focus on skin color in the novel. Often, characters in stories end up being defined solely by their skin color, regardless of how else the author describes them. Ms. Austin handles her descriptions with a grace and a deftness I've rarely seen in this area. Personally, I think this is a great lesson for writers--you can bludgeon your reader with facts: "her skin was white" or "her skin was brown" or you can actually describe what really makes your character who they are. Would that everybody was treated and judged for who they really are rather than the chemical qualities of their skin. To be sure, at least one of the characters in the novel is what we would all call "racist," but Ms. Austin illustrates this character's prejudices through their actions and never has to resort to putting a name on it. Basically, she assumes her readers are intelligent enough to figure things out (they are) instead of having to hand-hold them through everything. This is often a fine line to walk, and it's done rather well here in my opinion.

I tore through Doll, as it is an easy read with lots of dialogue. The book is age appropriate for teenagers--and perhaps even lower, as the book does not contain any swearing or graphic sex or violence. If you read it with your teenager, Doll brings up plenty of topics to discuss with them. The novel doesn't get super dark. Some people may feel uncomfortable with the voodoo elements, and I can understand that. If you're comfortable watching any Disney movie with magic, then you really shouldn't have any problems here. I'd feel 100% comfortable reading this with my teenage daughter and then having some meaningful discussions about the events in the story.

The version I read had Ms. Austin's short story "The Triple Dare" in the back. It's a creepy, unsettling read. Perfect to read...and then probably sleep with the lights on.

So yeah, check it out. It's worth a read.

If you want to listen to a dramatic reading of two of her other, more adult horror shorts, you can hear those and an interview with her over at the Wicked Library. Do it. It's free, and you can listen to it on your drive home from work.

Parts of this post are in my Amazon review of Doll.


For Your Consideration: Traitor's Masque

Subject: Traitor's Masque, The Andari Chronicles Book 1
Author: Kenley Davidson
Website: http://kenleydavidson.com/

Some of this is in my review on Amazon, but I wanted to say more about it here.

Give Cinderella some spunk, a backbone, and a whole lot of wit, and you’ve got Trystan, the heroine Traitor's Masque, a new incarnation of the rags-to-riches fairy tale.

First, let’s be honest with ourselves, there have been enough retellings of the Cinderella fairy tale over the years, that it takes something special to shine. I’m happy to report that TM is something special. I have to admit, I was skeptical at first, but the story and the deftness at which it was executed won me over. Sure, we might all know how our fairy tales end, but the journey to reach that Happily Ever After is what’s important. And for this reader, that journey was a lot of fun.

The major delight for me was the dialogue between Trystan and the prince Ramsey. Witty back-and-forth conversation is an art form, and Ms. Davidson is quite skilled at it. This novel feels pretty comfortable on your bookshelf right next to Pride and Prejudice (with or without zombies).

Cinderella’s story is used as a jumping off point, but the divergences from that plot are many—enough that in the end your mind may even reject the comparison out of hand. TM is something classic, but also something new—like a horse-drawn carriage, only the horses are robotic and have rockets for hooves.

I'm hard-pressed to ultimately classify this as Young Adult (YA) fiction. If it is, then it skews toward the older side of young. Ms. Davidson writes for a mature audience and isn't dumbing anything down for her readers to shoehorn (OMG, now there's an outdated reference) her story into a YA mold. But hey, fairy tale aren't just for kids anyway.

Just for fun, and because I love statistical analysis of art, I ran the first page of TM through Microsoft Word's grammar checker, and it came back with a Flesch reading ease of 58.8 and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score of 10.4. So, the prose is basically readable by those of us who have finished high school. For comparison, What Happened On My Space Vacation rolls in at 79.9/4.8, which is described "fairly easy to read" according to Wikipedia.

As much enjoyment as I get out of reading level...content is far more important when deciding age-appropriateness. As long as your kid is watching PG movies, you're good here. The societal intrigue is complex, but competently explained. The romance is refreshingly pure and wholesome. Violence is minimal (possibly helped by the fact that there are exactly zero zombies in this book). The characters curse on occasion, probably because they're human like us.

The novel is engaging and well-written. So, if you like your classic fairy tales revved up, Traitor’s Masque has a shiny new engine lurking under its classic exterior. As it turns out, even after all these years, Cinderella’s story can still hold quite a few surprises.

Buy the novel here:Traitor's Masque, The Andari Chronicles Book 1. If it ends up being your thing, then the "Book 1" is a clue; there are currently two more books in this series. From the descriptions, characters from the first novel appear in those as well, so there's the promise of finding out more about some of the supporting characters.


If she can, so can you.

If you think you can't write a novel, I know you're wrong, because my daughter did it when she was 9.

If she can, so can you.

National Novel Writing Month has a Young Writers Program. Instead of the 50,000 goal for the month of November, you set a daily goal. We determined that 500 was reasonable for her. She did it for the first time when she was 8 and learned a lot about what it takes to start and finish a story in a month. She met her goal, but the story wasn't really a unified, workable thing. In 2015, she had a much simpler story and a much better idea of how to execute it. 500 words a day isn't an easy thing for a kid that young with school and karate and all the other things that have to get done as part of normal kid life. Actually, I'm sure it's just as difficult for as 1,667 words is for us adults. (For me, it means staying up super late to write.)

I promised her if she finished her story, we'd have it printed up through Amazon's CreateSpace. She'd also be able to give it out in electronic format to friends and family for Christmas. She hit her 15,000 word goal. The story wasn't quite done so she wrote for a few more days in order to finish her story. After that she did a complete editing pass, and then her mother and I went through it as well to take a look at grammar, etc.

I won't lie, it floored me how well-written the book was.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that she had fewer mistakes than I've ever had in a manuscript that long. Also--and this is big--it was a complete story. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. That, my friends, is a huge accomplishment. I understand my bias here, but I've read published novels that weren't as coherent or as engaging.

So yeah, she was 9, and she wrote a novel. (Let's not get picky here about how many pages makes a "novel.")

If she can, so can you.

I didn't write a single word of it. I didn't help her with story. I didn't draw the cover. All I did was provide constructive criticism and publish it for her. If you know her and you read her story, you will understand that this story is TOTALLY her. Her love of all things cat-related, to the adventure, to the humor--it's all her.

She was involved from the beginning. She got the full experience that self-published authors get. She knows all the steps from start to finish. From outlining and planning to sitting in that accursed chair and banging out word after word, day after day for 30 days straight. Getting behind schedule and having to work extra on the weekend. She got frustrated when the words weren't flowing and the deep thrills when they were. The excitement of being done, of completing that first draft and then the dreaded slog of the second. The feeling of looking at the preview and finding mistakes, fixing them, uploading a new version, only to find more mistakes. She knows what it's like to hold that physical proof in your hands, to read through it and find yet more things that need fixed. What it's like to get that first batch of first edition printed novels, to read it to her friends...and still be finding typos.

She's still involved, talking about her novel to friends and family and--this is the big one--strangers. Telling them the story and how and why she wrote it. She selling it on her own. And she's not stopping. She's planning the sequel. She's inspiring other young kids to do the same. That's extraordinary.

She's 10 now. She sat her butt down in a chair and wrote a novel. Now she's an author.

You and I? We have no excuses left for not writing.

If she can, so can we.

The Journey is available at this link.


First time in the author booth

Last Saturday (4.16.2016), Lily and I had a booth at the Longview Library's annual Chautauqua Festival 2016. This was something I'd been wanting to do for some time but hadn't quite known how to go about it. I applied last year to exhibit at the east Texas Book Fest 2015, but wasn't accepted. I did go as an attendee (mostly to see my favorite Texas-based author D. Marie Prokop. It was worth it as well, because I observed and learned a lot about booth setup and display.

After some minor fixes to the novels, we shot-in-the-dark ordered enough so we'd have 25 copies of each novel. This seemed like a reasonable, not-too-extreme investment. One of us came close to selling out. More about that shortly.

There's some initial investment involved in presenting. We wanted it to look attractive without requiring a huge investment from us. We'd like to do more of these events, but each one has its cost associated with it, and those can get out of control quickly.

How it went down

Even for a booth setup as basic as ours, the numbers add up quickly:

  • Booth fee: $20 (very reasonable)
  • Business cards: $21 (Qty. 200--didn't want to many the first time out)
  • 18x24 posters: $17 (Qty. 2)
  • 6' folding table: $40
  • Photo frames: $3 (Qty. 2)
  • Table cloth: $1
  • Easels: $21 (Qty 2)
  • Poster frame: $15
  • Sticky notes: $3
  • Square credit card reader: Free (yay!)
  • 9x9 Canopy: Free (borrowed...probably need one of our own eventually)

So, yeah $141 just to present that first time. Now most of that we don't have to buy again, but still, when you're not putting a heavy emphasis on running around to events, you have to decide how much you want to invest. if you can sell 100 books at an event that's one thing, but we're not quite there. Yet...

I had requested a space with electrical because I wanted to show our book trailers (WHOMSV, The Journey). We got there around 9:20am, and I picked a space on the north side of the plaza. Never underestimate the importance of location. (Keeping that in mind, I have some other ideas of where to get set up next year). We were prepared for sun and rain with the canopy, but the biggest challenge ended up being the wind. One of the more important things I did was bring tape. Various kinds since i didn't know what I might have to use it for. We ended up taking the table cloth down, taping the poster to their easels, and taping the easels to the canopy (which was held down with cinder blocks). Even with all that, the wind occasionally blew our books off their stands. So, if your event is outside, bring items that can be used to hold down your stuff, bring shelter, and bring tape! And, if you can, bring some for the booths around you so you can share some goodwill toward your neighbors.

As expect, Lily and her novel were a big hit. The novelty of having a book published by a 10-year-old is not to be underestimated. That is a huge accomplishment, and people were very interested to hear about her experience. It's pretty intimidating to talk to strangers like that, but Lily rose to the challenge. Both of us learned a lot in this area.

Lessons learned:

  • Business cards were a definite must. If you can't afford any other promotional stuff, you must have these.
  • The advertising posters were also extremely important. We placed them outside the booth so they were the first things people saw. People often passed by my poster, noting it, but then they'd stop dead in their tracks when they say Lily's. Then Lily would go out and talk to them or their kids. We intentionally did these posters up to be movie-style, and I'm very happy with their effect.
  • Selling kids books? Offer something free to the kids. We bought a small, multi-colored sticky notes and Lily would ask them if they wanted a custom cat drawing. They usually said "yes," then their parents would look at Lily's novel while she was drawing pictures. It's something small, didn't cost a lot of money, and it was personal. Lily would have them name their cat, and they she'd have the cat saying something. Even if they didn't buy a book, the kids were happy.


  • Eating! This is important because you absolutely must keep up your strength. We had a decently steady stream of traffic, and it's pretty much impossible to not look completely unprofessional if you have a hamburger in your hand while you're trying to talk to people about your novel.
  • Bathroom breaks. If you're not at your booth, you're not selling.
  • Being witty. Signing a novel is easy, but coming up with something witty to say on the spot...gotta work on that. Maybe have some good stuff already prepared.
I noticed some vendors packing up and leaving up to an hour before the event was over. I don't know if they had other things to do, or if they just weren't having success. As for us, were going to be there every second telling anybody who wanted to listen about our novels. We sold one in the very last minutes, so it was very much worth it to stay to the end (for us).

Final tally:

As expected, Lily outsold me 3-to-1. That's because she's awesome.
  • Lily: 21
  • Ethan: 7
While writing itself may be a solitary thing, we rarely do things like this alone. There's usually somebody else helping you. Don't forget to thank those that make it possible for you to go to your event. Without my wife's advice and support, this just wouldn't have worked out. It's really not difficult to see where Lily gets her beauty and her brains. Just saying.


For Your Consideration: The Red Knot

Subject: The Red Knot, the final installment of the Days of the Guardian trilogy
Author: D. Marie Prokop
Website: https://daysoftheguardian.wordpress.com/

D. Marie Prokop has released the final book in her Days of the Guardian trilogy. I got to help her out with some beta reading/editing, so I'm certainly not an unbiased third party when it comes to recommending this novel. the novel is suitable for adults, both young and old.

This last book ups the ante and danger--and especially pain and suffering--for all the characters. I had to vent at her a couple of times over Facebook due some of the more traumatic events that occur as the story spirals towards its conclusion. If a story is able to get at me where I do that, then I know that there's something special in the narrative.

You wouldn't want to read Return of the King first, and it's the same here. This is the end of the story, so if the description below catches your interest, you do have a couple books of homework to do first. Still, it's always nice to know that an author followed through on their three book commitment they made to their readers (not all of them do).

I know how much work goes into a novel. And completing a trilogy is a whole other level of planning and pain. To successfully complete a story like this is a momentous accomplishment. So show your support for an indie author with some follow-through, and pick up these books. The description below is from Amazon, so skip that if you don't like even the hint of spoilers.

The Red Knot (Days of the Guardian Book 3)
“Don’t be afraid.”

In the final installment of the Days of the Guardian trilogy, The Red Knot, teenagers Li Griffin and Ainsling Reid must reconnect and come face-to-face with the Guardian. Only together can they conquer their foes, both inside and out. But connecting with the Guardian and each other will be more difficult than they ever imagined.

Li is sent to a secluded island to deliver a traitor and will finally meet the mysterious Guardian—the covert leader committed to rescuing the oppressed citizens of Sector One. But pain and disappointment fog Li’s vision.

Ainsling Reid embarks on her most important rescue mission yet—her mother. She returns to Sector One, where Noelle Reid is imprisoned, sentenced to death by the Economic Crisis Containment Office. Ainsling risks everything to save her mother and reunite her family.

Meanwhile, insidious forces attempt to tear apart the Guardian’s work. A crippled Dr. Griffin is contracted to create a new human weapon. A nefarious rebel faction is hunting down the Guardian. Doubt and fear invade the minds of the refugees aboard the Guardian’s ships.

Once, the power of joy redeemed Li and Ainsling. Now, the pain of tragedy threatens to unravel everything. What is left to hold on to?