Thursday, December 29, 2011

Free First Chapter - Malediction



Chapter 1

I still look both ways when I cross a street, even though there is nothing left to look for.  There are no longer any running cars left in this wreck of a world, but old habits still remain.  When I was a child, my father would take me firmly by the hand and pause at the curb.  He would stop and ask me if any cars were coming.  I would dutifully crane my neck and peer down whatever road we were on.  Once I had given the all clear, we would then  hastily cross the street as if some rogue vehicle was about to strike us down.  Cars were rare then, but now there aren’t any to watch out for because there aren’t any left.  The fuel and spare parts have since disappeared.  The roads are just crumbling into weed-choked rubble with only foot-traffic, a few horses, and the now-rare caravan making use of the Ancients’ once-proud achievement.
In my father’s days, the Trail was always busy with the carrying of goods.  But now, those days were long gone.  The Traders are now rare because the number of goods scavenged from the ruins had diminished considerably.  Since no one has the skill to make these glorious objects again, it would only be a matter of time before we were all reduced to digging in the dirt for sustenance.  We were now mere parasites on a dying world, waiting for the end to come.
            Before entering, I paused outside and looked at my home of twenty-eight years.  It was one of the few hotels left on the Trading Trail.  Like the other large buildings in the town of Ewark, it too was made by the Ancients.  What made my hotel different was it stood three stories high, which these days is a rarity.  Anything else taller has crumbled away into decay, becoming yet another ruin to be scavenged.  But nonetheless the brown brick of the outside walls has been repaired many times and hardly resembled the building I remembered from my childhood.  Back then it had looked as new as the day it was made.  But now, large parts of the exterior were patched roughly with mud because there were no more proper bricks left to make the repairs.  My father and mother would have cried if they could see what it looked like now.
            The town of Ewark was nothing more than a few prominent buildings surrounded by a number of smaller residences.  Besides my hotel, there was the mosque where the calls to pray emanated, the town hall where the local Sharif Faisi ruled, an open market, and a general store that often had empty shelves.  The desert we lived in was bad for farming, so the residents raised livestock, or made their living by providing services to the traveling caravans.  In the days past, it was a good living, but recently there had been a decline in business.  Part of me would have preferred to move on, but this town was all that I had ever known or wanted to know.
            Near the entrance to my hotel, a line of nine tethered horses stood at the hitching post.  They snorted and drank from the wooden watering trough, their tails brushing away the ever-present flies.  Two soldiers of the Mujadeen, resting lazily against the shaft of their spears, were watching the horses with disinterest.  There was very little to see in this town and even less to do, unless you knew the right men.  I was one of those men who could find entertainment for the most jaded of customer.
            One of the soldiers saw me.  He grinned when he saw the small barrel balanced on top of my shoulder.  He said, “As you know, landlord, the possession of alcohol is strictly forbidden.  We will have to confiscate it.”
            I stopped and bowed deeply, which is hard to do with a barrel resting on your shoulder.  With my strength, such a task is not unmanageable.  “This is just fresh water for your master,” I lied.  In fact it was beer that I had just bought from my friend Kalam, who lived nearby.  He was a brewer by trade and only sold to a select number of clientele.
            The other soldier laughed knowingly, his round belly shaking under his dirty tunic.  “We would be more than willing to sample this so-called water for our master.  We wouldn’t want him to be poisoned or fall sick.”
            “I’m afraid not,” I said and pushed past them.  There was no reason to talk any further to those two, but there was also little reason to anger them.  The common soldiers of the Mujadeen were an underpaid lot, but at least they had the security of knowing where their next meal was coming from.  The beer in my possession would have cost any other man his life, but the sub-Vizier staying at my hotel was beyond such petty rules.  His men knew that he imbibed the forbidden liquid, but so did everyone, if given the chance.  Locally, I was one of the few black-market sellers of beer, which allowed me barely enough coin to keep this place running.
            Compared to the heat outside, the lobby of my hotel was a cool haven from the blazing sun.  The carpeting underneath my feet was threadbare, and the oak panels were in dire need of a repair, but the hotel still managed to cling to the long-forgotten charm of an older era.  On the wall was a clock that had broken years ago, the hands permanently stuck at ten minutes after five.  There were also a few paintings and photographs showing unknown scenes of the past.  I would have loved to repair the interior to its former glory, but like the bricks outside, no carpenter could truly master the techniques of the Ancients.
Hussen, my recently hired clerk, looked at me impassively from the front desk as I passed him by.  He was a man of medium build, a shock of black hair that always looked unruly, and brown eyes that were forever roaming.  I missed my old worker, Pawl, but he had recommended his brother to take over his duties.  I really had no reason to complain of Hussen’s performance, but he was sullen and did not show me the respect that I thought I deserved.  But at least he could read and write, which is more than I can say for many of the other residents of this town.
            Taking the creaky wooden stairs two-at-a-time, I climbed to the third story.  I then took the hallway leading to my very best room.  It was dark here, the only light coming from the open window at the end of the hall.  After suppertime, candles were lit to guide my customers to their rooms, but economy forced me to rely on natural light during the day.
            I stopped at the door near the end of the hallway.  Giving it a tentative knock, the door was immediately opened by a thin sergeant with a wispy black beard.
            “Ah, the landlord has finally arrived,” he said.  He then flung the door open to let me pass.
            As I mentioned before, this was the best room in the hotel.  It was really two rooms that at some time in the past had been combined into one.  The original wall that had once separated the two rooms was now a graceful arch that ended with a white column on either side.  The open windows revealed the seemingly unending desert outside.  On the two sofas sprawled the other soldiers, busily eating the lunch of lamb stew that the maid had brought up.  They were messy eaters, so I rightfully feared for the condition of the fabric, which was worn but in amazing condition considering the age.
            On the other side of the room sat the sub-Vizier Rasid.  He was resting in a low chair, his feet propped up on the bed.  Rasid was large, perhaps the only obese man in the entire region.  It seems that the rest of us were working too hard to stay alive to afford the luxury of a large dinner.  His Sherwani jacket and turban were made from the finest golden-colored silk, while his pants were made from the whitest cotton.  Only the richest could afford such garments since paying for such rare workmanship was prohibitively expensive for anyone else.  Peeking from the sash wrapped around his rotund stomach, I could see the butt of the ceremonial pistol.  The secret of the gun has been lost ever since time of the Ancients.  Only the powerful Mujadeen had the power to afford the rare but required ammunition.  Their soldiers and the rest of us made due with swords, spears and bows.
            “Mikel!” Rasid boomed out.  He beamed at me, his black, pointed beard bobbing up and down in anticipation of the beer resting on my shoulder.  “I’m so glad to see you.  Come here and bring that good drink to me.”
            I graciously bowed in my most ingratiating manner since Rasid was a valued customer of mine.  Though his visits were rare, he was a big spender, providing enough income to help keep me afloat in these bare years.
            As I drew near, his black eyes glittered at me from the rolls of fat that made up his face.  “Has this year’s batch turned out well?” he asked, licking his lips.
            “It certainly has, sir,” I answered.  “Do you wish me to tap the barrel now so you may sample it?”
            He nodded and watched greedily as I rested the barrel on the table and spiked it open.  The cellar-stored beer splashed cold against the bottom of my hand.  I then poured the golden liquid into a long, tall glass that had already been placed in readiness for the sub-Vizier’s visit.
            Smacking his lips in anticipation, Rasid took the glass from my hand and drank deeply.  After a moment, he looked up from his glass with flecks of foam on his upper lip.  He said, “By Allah, you are correct.  This is the best batch yet!  Now pour out a mug for each of my men and then come replenish mine.  We shall then sit and talk since I have much to discuss with you.”
            I did as he bid, pouring out a mug of beer for each of his man.  Though alcohol was forbidden by law, they did not seem to mind.  I then returned to Rasid and refilled his now-empty glass.  He motioned for me to sit on the edge of the bed, which I did.
            Rasid leaned over and squeezed my knee, the sour smell of his breath hitting me in the nostrils.  I smiled wanly at him.
            “Tell me, Mikel, how is business?”
            “Fair,” I replied.
            Rasid squeezed my knee one more time before returning his interest back to the glass of beer.  He took another gulp.  “Trade is down and does not appear to be getting any better.  The Warlord is worried that the Rebels may be having an effect on the caravans.  What do you think?”
            I knew that Rasid reported directly to the Warlord.  Whatever the sub-Vizuer asked was also of interest to that faraway ruler.  I shrugged.  “Over the years, trade has been getting steadily worse.  I do not see it getting any better, especially since the traders can no longer loot the Ancients’ cities like they once did.  As time goes on, common objects and luxury goods can only get more expensive.  That will hurt all of us.”
            He stared at me.  “So you do not think the Rebels are of any consequence?”
            I shook my head.  “I have never seen one here in Ewark.”
            Rasid’s free hand waved across the points of the compass.  “The Rebels are everywhere.  They travel the roads, looking for easy prey.  It is only through the magnificent power of the Mujadeen that we have any civilization at all.  Do you not agree?”
            “Of course I agree,” I said, bowing my head in supplication.  “The Mujadeen also keeps us safe from the creatures of the Wasteland.”  In fact the Mujadeen had been in power ever since the evil days when the Ancients were destroyed.  No one could imagine a world without the Warlord and his followers.  They not only made the laws, they also enforced them with an iron fist.  It was said that the Warlord, who governed from the city of Washtin, had a mighty army at his command.  Why they did not simply crush the Rebels was a matter of some speculation.
            “If it wasn’t for the Mujadeen, there would be no law.  There would be no order to the world.  And what do the Rebels want?  They speak of freedom when no one can afford it.  They speak of liberty when they offer nothing but chaos.  Those old words mean nothing anymore.  Now what kind of world would their promises bring?”
“I’m just a simple hotel owner,” I replied, slowly shaking my head.  “I know little of politics and even less of these ancient words that the Rebels speak of.”  I was, of course, speaking the truth.  Though a few of the visiting Traders spoke of the Rebels, no one ever claimed of being robbed by them.  I personally put little stock in these so-called Rebels since I had never seen any evidence that they had a hold on the countryside.  People feared the Wasteland more than any man.
Rasid, meanwhile, laughed, the fat jowls of his face shaking with mirth.  “My friend, you would succeed under any regime!  You only care about business, don’t you?”
“Stability is good for business,” I answered.  “What is good for business is good for me.”
He took another sip from his beer, his expression hard to read.  “Which is why I need to talk to you.  The Warlord is worried that the Rebels are starting to gain prominence in this area.  That is evident enough in other towns.  He worries that they will be supported by the populace, especially since the trade is diminishing.  There will be some hungry bellies soon, and that means the land will be ripe for revolution.  Hungry people are more willing to listen to far-fetched promises.  We will need people like you to be our eyes and ears, to stop the rebellion from spreading here in Ewark.”
I frowned.  “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“You run a business that caters to travelers.  You certainly must hear many a rumor from the men that stay at your establishment.  If you could pass that information on to me, then that would be of a great help.”
“You attach too much importance to my position,” I said humbly.
His eyes narrowed, becoming near-invisible slits.  His voice became suddenly harsh as he said, “I think not.  And this isn’t exactly a request.  This is an order.  You will do as I say or else there will consequences.”
“As you command,” I replied quietly.

The rest of
Malediction is currently available at:



for only 99c

Over 1000 copies of Murder At Zero Hour have been given away


For the month of December, I've given away over one thousand copies of this book.  A surprising amount of this number came from Smashwords, with the ever-present Amazon taking second place.

Murder At Zero Hour is available at:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Malediction is now available from Amazon



Malediction is now available via Smashwords



As usual, it will take a few weeks to propagate out to Apple, B&N, Sony, and Kobo.  Coming up next is the Amazon edition, which will only take a few more hours of work to put out.

From the description:
The world of the Ancients has been dead for over 200 years. Mikel is an innocent man who is accidentally thrust in the power struggle between the ruling Mujadeen and the ever-increasing Rebellion. Turned outlaw, he carries a warning to the Rebels in their hidden mountain enclave. His perilous journey takes him across the Wasteland, where he is aided by an orphaned girl. With her guidance, Mikel traverses the remains of a ruined city, home to the inhuman Mutans and other unspeakable horrors. The message he carries will change the balance of power, and with it, the hopes of humanity.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Next Book Update: Malediction & other works


I've been playing around with different book cover layouts for Malediction.  Right now, this is my favorite and will probably be used for release of this novella.  I should really farm out this kind of work, but I'm too impatient to wait for an artist to complete the work.

Regarding my next book - the crime thriller set in the 1970s - I've taken a little break from that work.  It continues at a slow pace, but will probably pick up once the holidays are completed.  What else is a poor Michigander going to do during those bleak winter nights?  This novel has also been a return to the third person narrative and all that entails.  I chose this route just for the practice.  Normally I enjoy first person, since it gives an honest, more personal experience - but I thought this book needed the multiple view-points.  Plenty of surprises in this one!

Murder at Zero Hour has been flying off the virtual shelves, especially on Amazon.  Making a book free certainly brings the readers, which in turn will hopefully bring some more paid customers.  Publishing an eBook is now silly easy, but getting your name recognized is now more difficult than ever.  I thought a free novel would expose more readers to my work, and hell, a story is a little scrap of fame.  It remains to be seen if such a marketing plan actually works, but it's still early in the game.

Murder At Zero Hour is available at:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Making your book free on Amazon

 
Having a free book is part of my current marketing plan, so via Smashwords, I've taken one of my earlier novels - Murder at Zero Hour - and made it free for Sony, B&N, Apple, Kobo, etc.   However, because of Amazon's pricing structure, this is impossible to do.

But Amazon does have a price check.  Enough customers reported that the price is zero on other sites, and now Amazon has also the book listed for free.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thoughts on Creativity and the Internet Age


I don't want to come across as some fire-breathing Luddite, but I sometimes wonder about the 'Age of the Internet'.  Thanks to the Web, and the associated rise in the personal computer, we - and I mean the royal We - have access to vast swaths of information that was unfathomable just a few decades ago.  And thanks to the iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle, and various other portable devices, that wealth of data is now available at our literal touchscreen fingertips.

As an aside, I've been involved with computers since the tender age of ten (or so - it's a little cloudy after all these years).  Back then, a Commodore Pet computer was about as advanced as it got for a private user.  I never imagined, even with my early experiences of  programming and running a BBS system (a modem based bulletin board system for all you youngsters), that computers would ever become so popular.  Back then it was a landscape of freaks and geeks who played with that kind of primitive hardware.

But with the rise of all this information, I haven't exactly seen the expected creativity flood.  Sure, there are some improvements in technology utilizing collaborative efforts, but I'm talking more right-brain here.  Where is the art?  Where is the better music?  The brilliant novels?  The old cultural gatekeepers are either dead or dying, allowing anyone with an idea to put it out there.  But instead of a shining burst of inspiration, we seem to be sinking into a morass of self-indulgence.

Perhaps it is the sheer number of choices we have now.  We are becoming a world of ADD sufferers, looking for any fix to correct our need for a constant stream of different entertainment.  Instead of taking time to explore the new, we are actually seeking the familiar - music that is already known to our ears, movies with standard plots, the novel with cardboard characters, and art that is easy on the eyes. 

It could be that the Internet - and the tools we use to access it - is funneling our imagination and creativity in unexpected ways.  As time passes, it will be interesting to see what cultural relics and icons will still hold up from this age of data overload.

As always, comments and criticism are welcome.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Next Book Update - Malediction - is going to the Editor


 My first stab at science-fiction / post-apocalyptic / adventure novella is going off to be corrected for the usual villains.  This is a fast-paced, action-packed book with plenty of scares, a few laughs, and even a little love story to keep thing interesting.  Stay tuned for further updates.

Monday, December 5, 2011

More exercise could make for better sleep


I often wonder how people get paid for such obvious conclusions - but here we go:
A new study suggests regular physical activity might encourage better shut-eye: People who met national exercise guidelines reported better sleep and less daytime fatigue than those who didn't.
My personal experience has been fairly inconsistent.  I will get better sleep, but only if I had a truly vigorous workout, and (here is the important part) my stress levels are low.  I generally suffer from insomnia - waking in the wee hours of the morning and thinking about everything under the sun.  It could be something worrying me - work, money, book sales, or something personal.  But again, I could mapping out new book chapters, figuring out my next music purchases, or calculating the best way to travel to an upcoming destination.

The only 'cure' I've found for this night restlessness is the supplement Melatonin.  I take 5mg (dose will vary by individual) every night before I go to bed.  This 'hormone of darkness' has finally allowed me to sleep better than the past ten years.  I'm no doctor, so don't come running to me if you have an adverse side-effectSo here's a legal disclaimer:  Always consult your physician before taking any supplement.  Having said that - the improved sleep has bettered my mood, reduced anxiety, made my workouts better, and even allowed me to eat less junk food.  Side-effects?  I feel a little groggy in the morning, but nothing as bad as sleeping pills or cold medicine.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Is Physical Strength the most important thing?

 (obviously not me)

There have been one or two recent articles on this very question.  As a middle-aged man who routinely works out, I'll 'weigh'-in on this question.  When I was much younger, I never gave my body or strength a second thought.  Though I was on the lean side, my stamina always bounced back from whatever apparent temporary misfortune befell it.  Sickness?  Hangover?  Physical labor?  I could shrug them off with ease.

But after age, oh thirty-something, I noticed that my recovery time was getting worse and worse.  I also was suffering from higher blood-pressure, increased weight gain, and a general laziness that made life a little less exciting.  It was then that I started to work out - thanks to viewing the documentary Pumping Iron.  I never quite aspired to be a professional bodybuilder, but I did want the confidence that strength gives you.

A serious of misfortunes - a pair of broken ribs from an unrelated accident, the diminishing free time that a family brings, and my own laziness stopped me from ever getting real serious with weightlifting.  But turning 40 changed all of that.  I'm lucky enough to still have a full head of hair and some (at least to my eyes) fairly youthful looks.  To prolong my youth, I decided to seriously tackle a workout regimen once again.

I'm now stronger than I have ever been.  I can lift, squat, and bench more than I ever could, even as a young man.  It does give you a confidence, dare I say swagger, when dealing with everyday life.  When I walk into a meeting or have to go somewhere public, I know if some situation arises, I can be up to the task.  I'm not talking fighting, though that is part of the equation, but dealing with emergencies.  If I get hurt, or have to help someone else, I know I can count on my strength to be there.  I also know that predators - the muggers and bullies of the world - will look elsewhere before picking me first.

For a good start, I recommend Everything You Know About Fitness Is a Lie and Starting Strength.

Regarding the original question - of course strength is important, but so is love, happiness, health, and success.  If you think life is a question of balance, then try to be the best of all things.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Free First Chapter - At Shiloh



Chapter 1


            The train slowed and chugged noisily up the hill.  As it approached an incline, it puffed out thick clouds of black smoke which scattered with the cold evening wind.  The train was long, pulling several passenger and freight cars towards the Union Army of West Tennessee.  A thin mist of March rain fell, splattering the closed windows.  A few miserable soldiers sat on top of the cars, shivering under wool blankets with rifles cradled in their laps.
            The expressman had the door of his car ajar and lit a cigar.  He studied the rolling hills dotted with budding trees and thick underbrush.  He had heard that Tennessee could be dangerous since guerilla fighters had already attacked several trains along this route.  This time, he assured himself, there was nothing to worry about, since the train was well-guarded by over fifty Union soldiers.  Looking back into the car, he saw the strongbox that was being used by his fellow expressman as a footrest.  He thought to himself that there was enough gold there to buy off the entire Secesh army.  The other man was reading a newspaper with a trail of cigar smoke rising from behind the sheaves of paper.  As the train reached the crest of the hill, the expressman flicked his cigar out the door and craned his neck towards the front of the train.  The engine disappeared over the hill, and the cars began to gather speed as they were pulled over the incline.
            Suddenly the engine blew out a long warning whistle.  The brakes were then applied hard enough to cause the expressman to slam the side of his head roughly against the frame of the door.  The guards on top of the train were pitched forward; some even slipped between the cars to be cut to ribbons by the iron wheels.  With a grinding crash, the engine suddenly left the tracks and toppled sideways on the embankment, carrying the heavily loaded cars with it.
            As the train derailed, Major Gardner watched happily through his field glasses.  What he saw did not surprise him since an hour earlier this part of the iron rails had been removed by his men.  It was a spectacular sight to see the bent iron and cracking of wood as the train rolled on its side like some mythical, wounded beast.  Steam billowed from the engine, hiding the broken cars with a cloudy mist.  The train had now stopped its death throes, and the cries of the wounded could be heard from the twisted wreckage. 
Gardner raised his arm and motioned his small band of men to move forward.  It was a ragged bunch of soldiers that crawled out of the underbrush.  They looked more like scarecrows than soldiers, but they held their pistols with expert hands.  “Remember, don’t bother to shoot the wounded unless they start making trouble,” he called out.  “And only kill the rest of the blue-bellied bastards if they shoot back.”  His two dozen soldiers then began rushing towards the wrecked train, shouting the rebel yell at the top of their lungs.
            A few dazed Union soldiers crawled out of the damaged cars with their rifles at the ready.  They tried to put up a feeble defense, but they were quickly cut down by a barrage of bullets.  The remaining survivors soon raised their hands in surrender.
            “Sergeant Raines, tell your men I want those Union boys rounded up and put under guard.”  A shabbily dressed man in a dirty grey coat gave him a lazy salute and began shouting orders at the men.  Gardner grimaced and thought it was time to get some of his boys cleaned up.  But even though they looked like tramps, he knew they were the best fighters in the world.  Nonetheless, he still wished for a bit more spit and polish.  A little pride would have gone a long way in making these country boys even better fighters.  He shrugged those thoughts away and made his way towards the destroyed train.
            His soldiers were already looting the broken cases strewn from the wrecked cars - stealing shoes, coats and as much food and drink as they could carry.  He was happy to note that Raines had pushed enough men away from the throng to stand guard over the remaining Union soldiers who had the strength to crawl clear of the wreckage.
            To his delight, the expresscar was still standing upright.  Its walls were twisted at an angle, showing a crack of splintered wood that went the length of the body.  It had somehow survived destruction relatively intact, leaving the side door slightly open.  As Gardner cautiously approached, the barrel of a shotgun slid out from the door and pointed in his direction.
            “Don’t shoot,” Gardner cried out before he dove to the right.  His shin painfully struck a rock, sending a burst of pain through his leg.  He said through gritted teeth, “There’s no reason to die for your cargo.”  As he spoke, he pulled out his Le Mat Revolver and took aim.
            An angry voice answered from the car and said, “I saw what you did to those boys – you shot them in cold blood.”
            “Now hold on there,” Gardner shouted.  He saw Raines coming forward and signaled for him to stop.  “We had no choice in the matter.”
            “Well, I’m not coming out until you leave,” the voice answered back.  The shotgun still pointed at Gardner threateningly.
            Sliding his pistol back into his holder, the major took a step back with arms held wide since he did not want the expressman to panic and take a shot.  Once he got next to Raines he said in a low voice, “I want that bastard out of there.  Round up some men and take care of him.”
            Raines nodded, a hard smile set on his face.  He walked back to the soldiers who were still busy looting what they could.  He then began to push some of his least favorite soldiers into line.  When he had a half-dozen men, he said, “I need some volunteers to take care of that guard back there.  Any takers?”
            No one stepped forward.  “Well, boys,” Gardner said angrily, “it’s time to earn your keep with this outfit.  If there are any slackers, I’ll be sure to shoot you down where you stand.  Now I need that guard out of there, so we can get the gold and get out of here!”
            Upon hearing the word gold, the drawn faces of the six soldiers brightened in anticipation.  Pistols were now drawn eagerly.
            Raines added, “You heard what I said.  Now move it!”
            The men scrambled towards the broken express car and began to fire in unison at the battered wood.  A shotgun blast answered back, making one of the guerillas fall to the broken ground like a rag doll.  Another hurried blast of buckshot ricocheted off the stony ground, causing a few pellets to strike an unlucky man in the leg.  He went down on his knees but continued to fire back.
            The crescendo of pistol fire rose and fell as men began the process of reloading - paper cartridges were bit off and stuffed into the open chambers.  Then measured black powder, a lead ball, and wad were dropped into the cylinders.  A short ramrod was squeezed into the barrel, pushing the ball tight against the powder charge.  A thin line of grease was placed on the cylinders to stop chain-fires - where the firing of one cylinder could spark the others.  Such an explosion could blow a man’s hand off if he wasn’t careful.  Firing caps were then hurriedly placed in front of the loaded chambers.  Once the hammer dropped on the cylinder, it would fire the cap, ignite the gunpowder and fire the lead ball.  It was a slow, laborious process, but an experienced man could reload his pistol in less than a minute.
            Gardner watched as the stream of bullets tore into the wood.  Black powder smoke from all the firing rose high in the misty air.  He then nodded towards Raines who started to wave his hands at his men, signaling them to stop the assault.
            “Stop firing, stop firing!” he shouted.  The men grudgingly stopped peppering the express car with lead.
            A faint voice could be heard coming from the gap of the door.  “I surrender – stop shooting.”
            Sergeant Raines ran towards the car and pulled the door back.  There lay the expressman, lying on the floor with his shotgun lying underneath him.  A puddle of the wounded man's blood pooled on the wooden floor.  He had been shot in his right arm and in the shoulder.  He began to moan.  Raines grabbed him by the collar and pulled the wounded man off of the car.  The expressman landed heavily on the ground with a grunt and rolled over on his stomach, gasping in pain.
            With a tug to his holster, Gardner pulled out his Le Mat and flipped the lever at the end of the hammer.  This switched the firing mechanism from the cylinders of the revolver to the single sixteen gauge smoothbore barrel loaded with shot.  He pointed it at the expressman and said sternly, “You made a mistake trying to fight us off.” 
            The wounded man began to sob in a panic and tried to feebly crawl away.  The guerilla soldiers stepped back as Gardner brought up his pistol and fired.  The single blast of buckshot tore open the man’s head, leaving a ragged hole.  With a final violent jerk, the expressman was dead.
            Facing his men, Gardner said, “Now let that be a lesson to everyone of you.  If you listen to me, you’ll get through this was alive.  Now Raines, get that strongbox out and opened.”
            Sergeant Raines motioned to his men, and they crowded aboard the damaged car.  Inside was an already dead expressman, his neck bent at an impossible angle.  The battered body was sprawled on top of an iron-edged strongbox.  Raines rolled the corpse off.  The rebels then worked together and soon pulled the heavy strongbox out into the open, where it landed heavily on the rocky surface.  Searching through the pockets of the dead expressman, Raines soon found the key and hurried over to open the iron box.  With Gardner waiting impatiently, the sergeant fitted the key to the lock and opened the heavy lid.
            Gardner smiled when he saw the stacked gunny sacks inside.  With shaking hands, he took the closest sack, untied the top and poured the contents out.  The twenty dollar gold coins fell heavily into his hand.  The soldiers around him began to murmur excitedly.  This was worth the trouble of cutting the rail line, Gardner thought.  This was worth the trouble since the Federal government would miss this gold and try by any means to retrieve it.  Everything was going to plan.
            Raines smiled at Gardner and said, “You were right about them carrying the gold, sir.  The boys will be happy.”
            Gardner nodded and said, “Get this packed away.  We will be moving out as soon as you are ready.”
            “What about the prisoners, sir?”
            “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure they are taken care of.”  He looked over his soldiers who were greedily eying the gold-packed strongbox.  He said to them, “Now just a little warning, gentlemen, this gold is for Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy.  Don’t get any ideas about taking some for yourself.”  He gave them a cold smile and paused before adding, “I know the amount of this down to the last dollar.  If any of it goes missing, I’ll have the whole lot of you strung up.  I’m sure Sergeant Raines here would gladly assist me in the exercise.”
            He let the words seep in and a look of dismay came across the soldier’s faces.  “So it’s your job to keep an eye on your companions to make sure none of it goes missing.  Understand?  But don't worry, once we deliver this gold, we'll all be heroes.”
            There was a flurry of agreement as men nodded and began warily eying their neighbors.  Gardner knew the men were all robbers at heart, but they also knew that he was a man of his word and would make good his threat.
            “Sergeant, carry on.”
            Raines saluted and began pulling the gold-laden bags out of the strongbox.  He began handing two of them to each soldier who carefully knotted the ends together.  In this manner the gold was to be split up and carried by each man on the journey back to camp.
            Walking past his guards, Gardner went to where the prisoners were being kept.  There were some twenty of them, some who were heavily bruised from their unexpected ride off the rails.  They looked at him with hatred in their eyes.  The low sound of moans could be heard from the nearby wrecked passenger cars. 
            Eying them with distaste, Gardner said, “We have come for what we wanted.  Now I suggest you start walking back, because we don’t want you in Tennessee anymore.”
            The prisoners stood to make their leave, but one asked, “What about them?  What are you going to do with our wounded friends?”
            “They will be taken care off,” Gardner replied stoically.
            With those words, the prisoners began to shuffle slowly down the line as the rain continued to fall.  Gardner caught the eye of one of his men and gave him a nod.  The man nodded and lifted his rifle to fire.  With the squeeze of the trigger, the shot struck one of the prisoners in the back.  The rest of the guerillas joined in and opened fire on the bedraggled group.  The remaining Unions soldiers began to run and a few of the guerillas gave chase, hooting and hollering at the easy prey.
            “Raines!” Gardner called out.  He waited impatiently for the harried sergeant to run up.
            “We’re ready to go, sir.  The gold has been dispersed to the men and they are ready to move.”
            “Set fire to the cars.”
            “Sir?”  Raines looked over the cars and shook his head.  The sound of gunfire began to abate as the last of the prisoners had been hunted down.
            “I gave you an order, sergeant.  I want those Union boys to fear us.  I want them to curse our names and have every man ride against us.  The more men we draw to us, the less they have to fight General Johnston.  Now go to it.”
            “But those men are wounded.”
            “If you don’t follow my orders, then I’ll find someone else who will.”
            “Very well, sir, I will see that it is done.”  Raines face looked gray as he ordered a few of his men to gather some broken oil lanterns.  It took some pushing and threats, but the men eventually complied.  Though it was raining lightly, the wooden cars were soon ablaze. The panicked shouts of the wounded inside rose in tempo as the smoke rolled higher in the rain-choked sky.
            With a shout and wave, the guerilla soldiers were soon running back to their mounts hidden deep in the trees of the forest.  There they saddled up.  They left, following a grinning Major Gardner.  A cloud of smoke hung heavily behind them as the rain misted on the mud-soaked trail.  He was happy to strike a blow against the hated Northerners.  Soon his name would be known throughout the land.  The north would revile his name while in the south he would be known forever as a hero.

The rest of the book is available from Smashwords or Amazon.  Soon coming to Apple, B&N, Kobo, and Diesel.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Murder at Zero Hour - is now FREE



over at Smashwords. No coupon code is necessary.

Review: Peter Murphy - Ninth


Peter Murpy launched his solo career from the Ashes of Bauhuas, creating a mix of dance-fueled pop interspersed with a heavy dose of goth gloom.  After several successful albums, time changed the sound and he was practically forgotten, though always beloved for his contributions to the Gothic sound.  After the Bauhaus reunion, Murphy was infused with a new direction, culminating in this 2011 release.

Lucky for us, Ninth is a return to form.  The best tracks here - Seesaw Sway, Memory Go, I Spit Roses, and The Prince & Old Lady Shade would easily fit into his classic Deep era sound.  Highly recommended for new and old listeners alike.

Available on CD, MP3, and LP. The LP also comes with a download code to get the entire album via 192kbs MP3s.

My Top Ten Neil Young Albums


Regarding Mr. Young, I tend to like the darker, more rockin' Ditch Trilogy, and find his country-tinged albums to be less important.  So without further ado, here is my list of the ten best Neil Young albums.

1) Tonight's The Night
2) On the Beach
3) Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
4) Time Fades Away
5) Rust Never Sleeps
6) Zuma
7) Live Rust
8) American Stars 'n Bars
9) Harvest
10) self-titled

At Shiloh and The Blackwood Trilogy are now available from Amazon


Both books are now available from Amazon - At Shiloh and The Blackwood Trilogy.

Part of my budget series, these novels will be sure to thrill anyone who likes a good western, detective story, or Civil War fiction.  Enjoy.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Things Could Be Worse


If you have been following the Tragedy Series, well, then you should start!  Guaranteed to make you laugh - and as a historical fiction writer, I really enjoy the excellent illustrations and humor.

The Blackwood Trilogy is now available via Smashwords


This is an anthology of the three Jack Blackwood mysteries, now available in a single volume.  Published via Smashwords, it will soon be on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Kobo, Sony, and Apple.  From the description:
Jack Blackwood is a widower and a drunk. Ezra Miller is an ex-slave in a white man's world. Together, they run a detective agency in Washington DC. As the Civil War rages, they are involved in a series of cases that will change the very course of the war. This anthology collects all three adventures – At Harper’s Ferry, At Bull Run, and At Shiloh - at one low price.

At Harper's Ferry: A retired congressman asks them to find his missing son and the Union plans that could change the very course of the war. As they proceed in the investigation, they uncover only blackmail, murder, and a web of lies.

At Bull Run: Members of a newly-formed cavalry regiment are being murdered by a mysterious killer. In order to find the truth, Jack and Ezra must brave murder and battle alike.

At Shiloh: Major Gardner, a rebel officer, has stolen a shipment of gold that will allow the Confederacy to fight on for years. Jack and Ezra put their very lives on the line to save the Union.

At Shiloh is now available via Smashwords


The third of the Jack Blackwood detective series is now available via Smashwords.  From the description: Jack Blackwood is a widower and a drunk. Ezra Miller is an ex-slave in a white man's world. Together, they run a detective agency in Washington DC. As the Civil War rages, they are involved in their most difficult case yet. Major Gardner, a rebel officer, has stolen a shipment of gold that will allow the Confederacy to fight on for years. Jack and Ezra put their very lives on the line, braving murder and battle alike, to save the Union.

Soon to be distributed to Sony, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Apple, Kobo, etc etc.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thoughts on Amazon's Direct Publishing for Kindle

Since Smashwords doesn't yet have an Amazon contract, I've been publishing to the Kindle using their Direct Publishing package.  It's a fairly easy process to create the required html document and I have no complaints with the number of units I have sold.

But I would like to see some better reporting.  As it stands, the author only gets Sales Reports.  I would also like to see a sample download and a page hit report.  This is useful for fine-tuning the keywords associated with the book - otherwise you're stuck in a guessing game of what drives buyers towards a particular page.  Something like a blogcounter - which shows links to the page and the keywords used - would be quite beneficial to all authors.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A couple of updates on my latest book(s)


Due to some unforeseen time commitments, the third Jack Blackwood novel At Shiloh will take a few more weeks to be published.  Once that is completed, the entire Blackwood trilogy will also be made available for a single low price.

The rough draft of my science-fiction book has been completed.  It is currently being reviewed by a fellow writer for potential improvements, plot holes, and other vagaries.  I have high hopes for this novelette which will be sure to please fans of classic post-nuclear/apocalypse stories.

Though I was planning to take a break from writing, I find it to be a hard habit to break.  During a few free hours, I came up with a neat book idea.  This will be something different than I have written before.  Though 'historical' in the sense that the action will occur in the 1970s, this novel will be more of a modern thriller-crime-detective story.  But a little different than your normal paperback aisle fare.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Joys of Collecting Records - Part I



I've been collecting music ever since I was a teenager.  Back in those oh, so wild days, my friends and I would sit around, chew the fat, and listen to records.  Though the cassette was probably the most popular medium during those days, most of us had an interest in vinyl, aka records.  Perhaps it was the art work and large lyric inserts; or perhaps it was the sense of solidity that a record has.  Sure, vinyl can warp, be scratched, needs to be cleaned, and requires much more care than the cassette or CD (or MP3), but it also has a historical sense that none of the other mediums seem to have.  At least to me, records have a little soul that is passed on from owner to owner.

When I hold my first pressing of Bob Dylan's 1966 Blonde on Blonde, there is a connection to the past that not only resides in the music, but the actual gatefold sleeve and record.  Flip open the cardboard sleeve, and there are the original pictures, including the Claudia Cardinale that had to be removed on subsequent pressings.  How did the original buyer of the record feel when he plopped this down on his hi-fi and heard Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 for the first time?  Did they hate it?  Or were they intrigued by this groundbreaking album?  Did it open up new venues of thought and memories that were planted deep inside?  I'll never know, but it's still something to think about.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: Tom Waits - Bad As Me

 

Any Tom Waits album is worth the wait, and what a long wait it has been - it's been seven years since Real Gone.  The rest seems to have done Waits a bit of good, since Bad As Me is definitely one of his best out of his latter output.  I still have a weakness for his first four, nay, six albums, when you watched the classic bar-hoppin' singer-songwriter become infused with more and more grit, blazing a trail of chaos not seen since Captain Beefheart went to live in his trailer.

Waits has the enviable position of being Bob Dylan's dark, more evil twin.  Both can write songs that break your heart, but only Waits can inhabit an alternative world made of carneys, hucksters, and freaks without looking like a poser.  From the frantic song Chicago, the rockabilly swing of Get Lost, the ballad Back In The Crowd, to the aggression of Hell Broke Luce, the album Bad As Me never misses a step or rings hollow.

Highly recommended - perhaps the best release of 2011.

Available on LP, CD, and a MP3 download.  There is also a deluxe CD that includes three extra tracks that are not available on the LP or basic CD release.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: Link Wray - s/t album

 
Although Link Wray is mostly know for his hit 'Rumble', in the early 70s he left behind the greased back hair rockabilly Dick Dale sounds of the 50s to make the first of what are now known as the 'Three Track Shack' recordings. This recording and the two that followed - Beans & Fatback and Mordecai Jones - bear little resemblance to what you would expect from Link. Instead your ears are greeted with a rootsy Americana blues sound. Imagine the Rolling Stones mixed with old country and bluegrass - throw in some piano, fiddle, mandolin and you might get some idea of what this sounds like. The album Link Wray has an honest sound that is only accentuated by the use of a primitive three track. In fact the studio was a converted chicken coop studio on his Maryland farm!

The lyrics are raw - touching on concepts of poverty, racism and even a bit of salvation. And the words he sings ring true because Link lived and knew poverty from his own Shawnee background. The album captures a darker side of an impoverished America that once was - rusted out trucks, clapboard houses, hopelessness and despair. A world that has been hidden by a modern avalanche of computers, fast food and LCD TVs.

Review: The Who - Tommy - Classics re-issue

 
Tommy is a double LP and the fourth full album from The Who. It loosely tells the story of a blind, dumb and blind child who plays pinball and goes on to lead a religious movement. Confused? Well for all its strangeness, Tommy is unique in being the first rock opera (this is debatable) and the music is also extremely worthwhile. The 1969 record easily surpasses the later movie soundtrack for listening pleasure which segues into my review of the 140g vinyl Classic Records re-issue.

For comparison, I borrowed a German Polydor original version from a friend.

The packaging on the Classic Records version is extraordinary. The fold out tri-panel sleeve is replicated almost perfectly. The booklet also matches the original to the tee. In these days of quick-n-dirty vinyl releases, this is an amazing accomplishment. One downside is the generic paper inner sleeves. For the price of the re-issue, it sure would be nice to have some HDPE sleeves.

Vinyl quality is a touch subpar. I found a few hairs, a fingerprint and lots of mold release material. A quick clean on the KAB EV-1 improved the situation, but on quiet parts one could hear some noise. The records were relatively flat and punched on center.

In terms of sound quality, the mastering is extremely good. No gritty or dirty midrange caused by inferior electronics. Bass went down a hair deeper than the original, while detail retrieval was even better. In comparison to the original, the treble seemed goosed up a bit. This led to a touch of splash in the vocals and made for a more slightly aggressive sound overall. Soundstaging and depth is where I hear the biggest differences. The original has presence outside the edges of the speakers and the drums 'sit behind' the vocals, adding immensely to the stereo experience. The re-issue sounds flatter as if all the musicians exist on the same plane. The original also has a more organic 'whole' sound which is worth the price if you can find one to buy!

I don't want to come off like I'm bashing the Classic Record re-issue as it does a great job capturing most of the magic of the original pressing. It certainly surpasses the MCA copies I've heard and unlike the originals, is affordable.


System:
preamp: Threshold FET-10/HL
phono preamp: Audio Sector Phono Stage
amplifier: Threshold S/500
analog: VPI HW19 MkIII - Rega RB300 with Incognito wiring - Denon DL-103R modified
speakers: Magnepan 1.6/QR
speaker cable: Kimber 4PR/8PR Bi-wire with banana jacks
Interconnects: Cardas Cross and Cardas Quadlink 5C

Friday, October 21, 2011

Next Book Update - At Shiloh - is going to the Editor


The very last of the Jack Blackwood series is finally done and is going off to the editor.  I originally wrote this short novel some three or four years ago without ever finishing it.  At the time I was flush with a new idea, which eventually became Murder at Zero Hour.  So this older work sat on the shelf, waiting patiently to be completed.  The end result is a little different than the other Blackwood books, since it is more of a straight adventure than a gruesome little mystery.  But nonetheless, readers of the previous books will still enjoy the indomitable duo of Jack and Ezra as they once again ride to triumph.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Free First Chapter - At Bull Run



Prologue


     Gaining consciousness, Lieutenant James Folks awoke to darkness.  Groggily, he reached around to find that his hands were tied behind his back.  Stretching his numb hands as far as they could go, he could just feel the stomach of the girl lying next to him on the bed.  He mumbled frantically through the gag wrapped around his mouth, but she did not respond.  Her stomach was wet, but from what, he could not tell.  He suspected she was dead since he could not hear her breathe.  Trying to roll off the bed, he discovered that his feet had also been trussed tightly.
     The last thing he remembered was entering her small home and finding the front door ajar.  He thought that she must have been expecting him.  He had walked in feeling elated.  She was a beautiful girl and had taught him pleasures that he had never known even existed.  He remembered walking into the room and seeing her tied up, looking at him with pleading eyes.  After that, there had been a blow to the back of his head, and he fell into darkness.
     James was forced back into the present by hearing approaching footsteps.  He pulled desperately on his bonds again but still could not free his hands.  He heard a man’s heavy breathing and the presence of someone standing over him.  A match suddenly flared in the dark, and an oil lamp next to the bed was lit.  James blinked hard in the sudden glare of light.  He could see a man wearing a black hangman’s hood.  Two slits were cut out for eyes, but in the shadows he could see no sign of them.  Seized with terror, James pulled harder on the ropes and tried to twist away.  He managed to turn his body towards the girl, and his eyes widened with terror as he saw that she was nude and covered in blood.
     The man laughed as he saw James’ struggles.  He pulled out a long cavalry sword and said, “You shall be good sport for my sword, Lieutenant.  Don’t bother to cry out or struggle.  No one can hear you now.”
The blade rose and cut cruelly across the lieutenant’s chest.  He screamed as loud as he could through his gag.  It came out as a muffled grunt, and he arched his body up as the sword was raised again.  The cords bit tightly into his wrists.  The red fires of pain swirled in front of his eyes.
    “Now feel my punishment,” the hooded man whispered.



Chapter 1


    With his arm lying loosely over his eyes, Jack Blackwood desperately tried to sleep on his sweat-stained bed.  The morning summer sunlight glared through his worn, moth-holed curtains and shined directly into his eyes.  He groaned and turned away from the window and drew the dirty covers over his head.  He felt like hell.  Swallowing hard, the back of his throat felt dusty and unbelievably dry.  Summer had been hot this year, and it drove many men to drink.  He was honest with himself and realized that he was one of those men.  He had spent the night at the local saloon and had drunk whiskey until he could drink no more.  He had come home, though he couldn’t be certain what route he’d taken to get there, and fallen into his bed before passing out.
     The faint smell of fried food reached his nostrils.  Jack’s stomach growled as he thought of hot eggs and bacon.  After a brief battle between sleep and hunger, his stomach won.  Jack crawled out of bed.  He clumsily opened the door and staggered, still half-drunk, in the direction of the kitchen.
     Ezra looked up from his breakfast and frowned as Jack entered, holding himself up against the wall.  “You look terrible,” Ezra commented blandly.  Ezra was Jack’s business partner of many years and by now wasn’t surprised to see him still drunk in the morning.
     Jack felt ill and noticed that his hands were shaking.  The pounding in his head was getting worse, and he grabbed the kitchen chair with one hand.  He rubbed his grizzled chin before replying, “I feel like hell, Ezra.  Is there any food left?”
     “I was hoping you would find the strength and crawl out of that bed of yours.  I made some extra food just in case you took a chance and decided to face the day.”
     “I thank you,” Jack replied graciously as he could manage.
     “Go ahead and sit down,” Ezra said as he rose.  He grabbed a chipped mug and poured out some coffee for Jack.  “I’ll go and make a plate for you.”
     “Coffee would be good - plenty of coffee.”
     Ezra nodded and placed a full mug in front of Jack who began to cautiously sip at the hot drink.  Ezra scooped some eggs and bacon out for Jack and put it before him.
     Jack put his coffee cup down and studied the plate of food before him.  His stomach churned uncomfortably.  “I’m not sure if I can even eat right now.  It looks good, mind you, but my stomach says otherwise.”
     “Take it easy and have a few bites.  Then you’ll find out if you’re hungry or not.  There’s plenty of time to find out.”
     Jack ate slowly at first and then began to eat greedily until the plate was empty.  He crudely wiped his chin with his sleeve and drank two more cups of coffee.  He began to feel better and was sure after some further sleep he could manage to blink without hurt.
     Ezra watched in silence while smoking a cigarette.
     After Jack finished, he pushed the plate away and leaned back in his chair.  He patted his heavy stomach in appreciation.  “I guess I was hungrier than I thought.”  His voice had a trace of embarrassment for he knew that Ezra was never a hard drinker.
     “I hope you are feeling better now,” Ezra remarked.  “It’s time you forget that girl and move on with your life.”
     “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jack said lamely.  Last spring he had taken a case concerning the missing son of a retired congressman.  He had become romantically involved with the congressman’s daughter but was forced to break off the relationship.  It had been hard to leave her but he had no choice in the matter.
     “Don’t lie to me,” Ezra snapped.  “You’ve been moping around here and drinking yourself sick every night.  The money is getting low, and I don’t look forward to living in the gutter again.”
     “Oh, we aren’t doing that bad,” Jack lied.  His nervous stomach began to churn violently and he gulped nervously.  He knew that Ezra was right but did not want to admit it.
     Ezra handed over a cigarette and lit it for Jack with a single swipe of the match.  “Have you looked into our account books lately?  With your constant drinking, we’re getting near to being broke again.  I’m not sure if we can even make next month’s rent.”
     Jack stood up quickly, his face flushed with anger.  “Damn it, Ezra!  You’re worse than an old woman.  Now leave me be.”
     “I’m not your servant.  I’m just telling you what I’m seeing.  And right now I’m seeing a drunk who is feeling sorry for himself.”
     “Something is bound to turn up.  It always does sooner or later.”  Jack felt dizzy and sat down again, the room spinning.  He puffed hard on the cigarette, trying to gain his composure back.
     “Something already has turned up for us,” Ezra said in a low voice.  “I just hope you can handle it right now.  While you were sleeping it off this morning, Henry Garrett stopped by to see if you were around.”
     “What did Henry want of me?”  Jack asked.  Garrett was an old friend who was in command of the City Watch, and Jack hadn’t seen him since the last case he had done.  Perhaps Henry was still angry that Jack had let a murderer go free.
     “Oh, Henry told me a little about it.  It looks like another case of disappearance.  You know it seems that Washington isn’t becoming safe for anyone these days.  I told Henry we would be there as soon as possible.”
     “You could have woken me up.”
     Ezra snorted derisively and said, “Henry was a little worried when I told him that you were still sleeping.  He guessed soon enough that you were out late last night getting drunk.  He knows you as well as I do.”
     Jack felt angry hearing of the two of them talking behind his back like that.  “That old fool worries about me as much as you do.  Why don’t the both of you stay out of my business?” 
     “Henry may be an old man, but you aren’t much younger.  I’ll make it my business if I want to get paid anytime soon.”
     Jack stubbed out his cigarette and studied Ezra’s face but didn’t say anything.
     Ezra looked him in the eyes, his face softening.  “I know you’re hurting something bad inside.  Some men put a brave face on their heartache.  Other men just try to kill the pain inside with whiskey.  I know you’ll eventually come around or die trying.”  Ezra no longer met Jack’s gaze and fiddled with his matches instead.  He lit another cigarette for himself and began gathering up the dishes on the table.
     Jack smiled, suddenly feeling less dizzy.  “Those are some pretty words my friend.  I’m not sure I can even believe a single word of it.”
    Ezra returned his gaze and almost imperceptibly shrugged his shoulders.  “I don’t care what you think, Jack.  I just want to keep a roof over my head and keep on eating.  We’re partners in this business and I can’t make any money without you doing your part of the job.”
     Jack reflected to himself that Ezra was right: It must be near impossible for an ex-slave to get work as a detective.  “You really are a heartless bastard when you get down to it.  I’ll go clean up first and get ready to visit Henry.”  Jack steadily got up on his feet and made his way back to his bedroom.  He still felt bad inside, but felt he could function enough to make it over to see Henry.  He also knew that Ezra was right about the girl, but he didn’t care either way.
     With a smile, Ezra began washing the plates.

The rest of the book is available from Smashwords or Amazon for only 99 cents.
 

Monday, October 17, 2011

At Bull Run is now available via Smashwords


This book is loosely based around the Battle of Bull Run, providing an exciting backdrop to a series of murders that occur to a regiment stationed inside of Washington DC.  Available from Smashwords for now, it will eventually be available on Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Diesel, Amazon, etc etc.  Note that this is the second of the 'Jack Blackwood' books, set during the Civil War.
Jack Blackwood is a widower and a drunk. Ezra Miller is an ex-slave in a white man's world. Together, they run a detective agency in Washington DC. As the Civil War starts, they are involved in their hardest case yet. Members of a newly-formed cavalry regiment are being murdered by a mysterious killer. In order to find the truth, Jack and Ezra put their very lives on the line, braving murder and battle alike.
 Please take the time to check it out!  As always, I welcome comments and criticism.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tom Waits - The Heart of Saturday Night LP - German Pressing review


I own three copies of Tom Wait's The Heart of Saturday Night.  The first copy I bought was an early-1980s Asylum pressing made here in the old U.S. of A.  The second pressing I bought was for 'family' listening - it was the 180g Rhino re-issue.  The latest copy I bought is a 1990s pressing from Germany.  How different do these three version sound?

First, a little note on the actual album - The Heart of Saturday Night is Wait's second.  Lacking some of the beauty and emotional melodies of his first album, Closing Time, Heart has a gruffer, rougher sound.  While Closing Time is nostalgic memories, Heart has more of a beatnik growl.  There are signs of the future, darker Waits here - for example, check out the classic song Diamonds on my Windshield.  Anyways, there are plenty of reviews out there of this album, so check 'em out - but be sure to not miss out on this great record.

The 1980s Asylum pressing has a very organic sound that is rich and inviting.  My only gripe is the overall sound is a little 'dirty' - like a faint dirty wash over the entire soundscape.  It's like a slightly out-of-focus lense that obscures detail and treble extension.  But this really wasn't noticeable until I heard something better.

The recent 180g re-issue from Rhino was a big disappointment.  I bought this copy to use in a second stereo system, so I really wasn't expecting it to best my original.  Why is that?  I've had some problems with a number of recent re-issues.  Vinyl and mastering quality is subpar compared to the glory days when records were the medium of choice.  But the mastering on the Rhino is just plain awful - the treble is just gone, sounding like a wet blanket has been placed over my speakers.  Supposedly this has been addressed with a re-re-issue, but I haven't heard it yet.

Finally we come to the 90s German re-issue.  Since my U.S. copy is in VG+ condition, I wanted something a little better.  I found a nice German copy for about the same price I would throw down for an original U.S. pressing, so why not give it a try?  I've had some good luck with German vinyl in the past, and I was not disappointed.  The quality of the vinyl is absolutely fantastic, almost meeting the standards of the Japanese for quietness and flatness. And the overall sound is really where this record shines - the detail and focus is really that much better than the U.S. copy I have.  It doesn't "sound like a different record", but I can hear more detail, a great treble extension, and the 'soundscape' has more coherence.  The qualities I'm hearing come from good mastering practices, excellent electronics, and an attention to quality that is often lacking these days.