Thursday, December 6, 2012

A New Cover for Murder at Zero Hour

Does anyone sense a theme here?  Anyway, my popular WWI mystery freebie is receiving a facelift.  The content is the same but book cover isn't. Once again, I feel a better cover will lead to more sales, er giveaways.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lastest Book Update

 A working title has been selected but it's still subject to change.  I've also finished the book cover but won't be revealing that until the day of publication.

So far I've churned out over 75,000 words but the end is now in sight.  With just a few more chapters and a climactic ending to wrap everything up, it's nice to see the end of the tunnel.  I'll be looking for an end of winter release which is a little later than my original schedule.  I was hoping for a Christmas release, but time and other projects have slowed down my normally aggressive writing production.  With my wife finishing school, moving to a new house, various work issues, and my stereo hobby, I just haven't been able to devote the time

Returning to the subject of book covers, I've decided to revamp a few of mine.  Since my one bad experience of waiting impatiently for an artist to finish his work, I've always done my own using modified public domain pictures.  This worked for historical novels, but no so much with my works set in more modern or future times.  I've since taken to scouring Dreamstime for pictures and drawings that fit what I see as representing the words inside my books.  The cost is quite affordable - much more than I expected - and it ended up being way cheaper than paying someone to do the work.  I still do the layout and font work using iPiccy and Microsoft's PowerPoint.

Check out this blog post for more background on the process of using PowerPoint.

A New Cover for Horror America

Using Dreamstime for photos has turned out much better than my uh, limited artistic skills.  Font and layout was created via Powerpoint - which is a surprisingly strong tool for this type of work. The number of fonts is limited, but another option is to use iPiccy, which has a wide range of effects too.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A New Cover for Malediction

Using an image from Dreamstime and Powerpoint, I've created a new book cover for Malediction.  Except for the older Jack Blackwood material, I'll be revamping all of my covers to give them a better look.  This in turn should hopefully improve sales.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Project Communique - Slave Damage

Project Communique - Slave Damage by ProjectCommunique

I've been working on other projects, straying away from the synth thing.  But last night I fired everything up and started recording.  Here is a sample from that session.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New Book in the Works

With the coming ending of summer, my interest in creating another book has started to grow.  So I've started writing again, exploring some of the themes I touched with Malediction, but instead concentrating on the actual disintegration of society.  This will be a book about the end of civilization through the eyes of one man who fights for survival and the scraps of honor that he has left.  I've also set it in the countryside of Michigan, a place close to my own heart and experiences.  Lots more work to go, but I'm shooting for an aggressive three month write time to hit over eighty-thousand words.  And then another month re-writing and expanding the story.  Of course this timeline is subject to change, but it sure would be nice to have it available on Kindle in time for Christmas.  More updates later.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: 1998 Toyota T100 pickup truck

From 1993 to 1998, the Toyota T100 was this Japanese automaker's answer to the venerable full-sized Ford F-150.  Trying to get into the large truck market is a tricky business and on some levels the T100 was a failure, but it did lead to the more successful Tundra model line.  When I had the chance to buy my co-workers T-100 pickup, I took thought that this aged and high mileage beast would live up to the name of Toyota dependability.  I was also looking for a 4X4 vehicle that would let me travel in the northern reaches of Michigan and also serve as a parts hauler for my next project car.

The Truck:
This vehicle doesn't have the width of a F150 or Silverado, but is nearly as long.  The size is more Dakota-like  Bed length with the tailgate up is roughly six feet in length..  The overall look is timeless and much more classic truck-like than the popular heavy slab-sided designs of today.  Underneath, you can see a large pumpkin, the full-frame, a heavy duty transfer case, and a number of other industrial-looking parts.  The 4X4 model I own is quite tall and stands higher than most stock modern SUVs and even many trucks.  This large amount of ground clearance gives the T100 a macho appearance like it can scale the deepest of ditches or highest of hills.  To my eyes it looks even more capable than Jeeps when conquering the great outdoors.  The low sales numbers also mean you won't see many T100s on the road, which is a good thing if you like to stand out from the crowd of F150s and Ram trucks.

My very first truck was a 1984 Nissan King Cab that was actually owned by my parents.  The interior of the T100 is primitive just like that 80s piece of machinery or even my later 1995 Nissan.  There are no extras here and only the most basic of gauges and accessories are here: stereo, power windows, cigarette lighter, ashtray, center armrest & cubby, climate controls, tach, speedometer, gas, alternator voltage, oil pressure, and temperature.  Indicator lights on the dashboard turn on when the 4X4 transfer case is (manually) engaged or the Cruise Control is turned on.

There is no Bluetooth, heated seats, leather, electronic/automatic climate controls, backup camera, navigation, or any other gadgets that will break with time.  This is actually a good thing in my book since simplicity will reduce expensive repair bills, increasing the longevity of this truck.

The cloth front split bench seat is comfortable enough for short hops but isn't exactly the best for long distance driving.  The forward facing back jump seat is for children or small adults only.  I've never had the misfortune of actually sitting back in the extended cab, but it certainly doesn't look comfortable.  Very basic blue cloth covers the floor.

Starting with a 150hp 3.0L and eventually moving to a 190hp 3.4L DOHC engine, the T100 could never compete against the Big 3 in the big engine power wars.  But still, at least with the 3.4L engine and the short factory gears, off-the-line performance isn't bad at all.  It has a very strong stump-pulling feel which starts to run out of steam once you hit highway speeds where you will be hard pressed to keep up with most modern 4-cylinder engines.  But hey, this is a truck, not a sports car, so I'm not expecting to win many street battles with this thing.  The V8 Tundra, which my co-worker bought, is a powerhouse in comparison.

The Ride:
This is not a luxury car so the overall feel tends to the harsh side.  Roads here are a combination of potholes, cracks, and poor resurfacing jobs.  You can feel everyone of them, but it's no worse than my older Volvo with low profile performance tires.  The jiggly ride does improve on the highway where the better road surface and increased speed helps.  And oddly enough, over really rough dirt roads, the suspension really soaks up the punishment, leading to less shaking and bobbing than your average passenger car.

Road noise at low to moderate speeds is only somewhat intrusive, while at higher highway speeds one has to raise your voice while talking or dial up the stereo a few more notches.  As expected, opening the vent windows of the extended cab only makes matters worse.

Around Town:
Any SUVs I've driven, or even the Honda Element, has a tippy feeling when cornering too hard.  In comparison the T100 feels positively athletic.  I don't know how the engineers at Toyota did it, but handling is quite good without much body roll or the feeling that you're about to tip over.  Yes, it's not a SCAA cone dodging compact, but  it's easy to steer with excellent road feedback.  With the low gears, keeping up with traffic is no hassle, though when accelerating at lower speeds the transmission is constantly slipping in and out of (the defeatable) overdrive.

At approximately 70 mph, the truck is spinning 2500rpm-ish, which, along with the high boxy shape and 4.10 gears gives what should be some fairly rotten mileage.  But on a trip to Ann Arbor and back, I pulled just over 21mpg which is a testament to the efficiency of the 3.4L engine.  Sure, this isn't anywhere close to a modern 6-speed passenger vehicle or electric hybrid, but it's still pretty good for a high truck with minimal aerodynamics and large tires.  It's certainly better than my old V8 powered SUVs and trucks.  Passing power is available when needed, but not much, so it helps to choose your moments carefully.

Dirt Roads:
I haven't had the chance to try out the 4X4 on the slippery wintry roads of Michigan, but up north, heading into my parent's nearly hidden home in the woods, the T100 has no problems traversing the rough terrrain.  4X4 hi/lo is easily engaged through the transfer case lever inside the cab.  Traction and pull is amazing, giving maximum grip over rough dirt and loose sand.  You would be hard pressed - with the right tires - to get stuck in this truck.

In my mental list of favorite vehicles, the T100 scores much higher than you would expect, taking a spot in my top five.  Sure I've owned faster and more expensive cars and SUVs, but there is a special feeling when driving this Toyota truck.  Perhaps its the high ground clearance, spartan interior, and 4X4 but the T100 just feels capable and tough like nothing short of a nuclear war could stop you from reaching your travel destination.  It's a truck through and through and promises nothing more than helping you get the work done, without bells and whistles, or complaint. 

Worst: 14.5mpg of mostly city driving
Best: 21.2 of highway driving
Average: 17-18mpg
Current Miles: 204k

With this kind of mileage, the large 24 gallon fuel capacity comes in handy.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Headline is now available on Smashwords

I've been freed of Amazon's 90-day KDP Select obligation, so Headline, my latest book, is now published via Smashwords.  From there, it will be distributed to Apple, Kobo, B&N, Sony, and a few other sites of lesser importance.  Really, I have no complaints about Amazon's KDP service since the majority of my sales have been through their site.  Headline was a particular surprise with sales quickly outpacing any of my other works.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A New Project Communique Album: Three

Recorded using a strange mix of Ipad Apps: DM1 Drum Machine, Rebirth RB-338 sequencer, and Alchemy, plus the usual Akai MINIAK and DSI Mopho.  Ipad interface was through iRig, letting me use the MINIAK as a keyboard only.  The end result is something a little different than my last two albums - more catchy beat orientated instead of the usual Tangerine Dream inspired swirl.  As usual, the album is free and available via Bandcamp.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Joys of the Software Synthesizer

Listening to some of my older tracks - available on Bandcamp - I'm often taken aback how how well they sound.  Yeah, it isn't musical genius, but there are some flashes of brilliance shining through my limited technology and keyboard prowess.  It seems that the more I play, the more I get a feel for what sounds right.  My latest tracks are just stronger and more interesting.  I can only hope that this trend continues as I try to make more and more complicated compositions.

But what has really surprised me lately is the new direction I've taken.  I normally am a hardware guy, being old enough to remember the days when playing music was expensive.  But now with Apps, Midi keyboards, and cheap computer interface boxes, it's possible to create without such a high entry price.  Sure, this allows more and more people to put out music - much like ebooks, websites, and blogging - but hey, down with the gatekeepers!  Up with People!  Or something like that.

Anyways, I've recently been playing with iPad software synths - Camel Audio Alchemy, DM1 drum machine, and Rebirth - along with a iRig to connect to my Akai MINIAK.  I've been taken aback how easy and powerful these tools are.  And the prices allow one to buy several bits of software, all at a price lower than a single DSI Mopho.  Sure, the pure analog sound of the Mopho has a strong appeal, but especially in the world of recording and added effects, such hardware - especially at the price - isn't always needed for the best sound.

More tracks coming soon.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A New Project Communique Song

A different direction here: DM1 drum machine, Alchemy synth, and the DSI Mopho are multi-tracked to make this short dance/trance thang. A little Tangerine Dream still manages to bubble under the surface...

Friday, June 1, 2012

"New" Book now published on Amazon


This is a re-write of "Of Ghosts & Gunpowder" with a new title and cover, and some further changes to the content.  With the success of Headline on Amazon's Select KDP, I thought it best to take my favorite work and try once again to break it into the market.  The original "Of Ghosts and Gunpowder" will no longer be available from any retailer.

Starting on Saturday, June 2nd, Horror America will be available for Free.  This special promotion will only last four days, so have at it.
Move over Sherlock Holmes! When the supernatural game's afoot, helpless people call on the good Dr. Townsend to save them. Ghosts, the undead, werewolves, and more horrors that man was not meant to see are loose in 1870s America, so it's up to Captain Parker, a gunslinger for hire, and Dr. Townsend to stop the horror. Yet when Townsend's beautiful daughter falls under the spell of a mysterious suitor, their fortitude will be tested in a battle like no other. Written in a series of connected short stories narrated by Parker, this novel will keep you turning pages late into the night.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Three New Project Communique Songs

These three songs were created using a mix of Akai MINIAK and Alchemy software synthesizer. Recorded using the venerable Focusrite Saffire 6 USB with Ableton Live 8. Some plug-ins were used for mixdown - reverb, compression and the sort. Final edits were done using Audacity.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

Project Communique - Channeling Valentine

A new Project Communique song - Channeling Valentine is available via Youtube.  This song will be on my upcoming second album of synth instrumentals.

Note - picture is from a pretty little graveyard in the heart of Charleston, SC.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My new book: Headline

Available for free from 04/20 through 04/25/12
after that, only 99c

1977. A ruthless serial-killer is stalking Bay City.  His purpose is unknown, but the dismembered victims are always young and beautiful.  In order to find the perpetrator, Police Detective Markus has to set aside his personal troubles, and pull the evidence together before panic sweeps the city.  His only ally is a reporter with a tortured past and the chance to break the biggest story of her career.

Monday, April 16, 2012

First Impressions of the DSI Mopho Analog Synthesizer

In order to increase my music-making palette, I bought a Dave Smith Instruments Mopho.  Compared to my Akai MINIAK, which is a Digital "Analog Modeling" synth, I was taken aback by the power and punch of the Mopho Module.  Leading edges seem to have more bite, with a character that makes the Akai seem a little dull and rolled-off.  The over 380 presets are fairly good too, and with the wide-range of immediate modification, will definitely see some time in my next creations.

I've only put a few hours on the Mopho, but I've found the lack of USB problematic.  It would be nicer to have the MIDI jacks connected to my keyboard, but instead have to mess around with the virtual keyboard or the "Push It!" button to trigger sounds while I'm using the software editor.  The sequencer is also only good for 16 notes, though there are four of them for adding depth and color.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Zen of the Mercury Grand Marquis

This post is an expansion of my original review of the 2001 Mercury Grand Marquis.

 If cars can be objects of lust, then the Mercury Grand Marquis is the old lady gone slightly seedy, hanging out past closing-time, waiting for any man to take her home.  Okay, that's a little unfair, so let's try again.  This ancient hold-over of full-frame construction, RWD and V8 power is from an era of long highway drives, three martini lunches, and Brylcreem.  No, no - a little too Mad Men.  The Marquis is a popular car with elderly drivers who prefer size and comfort over efficiency and the latest techno-wiz doo-dads.  That's better.  It's also a retired platform, finally joining the Caprice and Roadmaster up in car heaven.

I drive a Grand Marquis almost everyday.  What's it like to be in an old-fogey machine with the performance of a 4-cyl Camry and the gas-mileage of a Chevy Corvette?  Interesting, to say the least.  To wring any kind of performance out of this heavy beast requires an equally heavy foot.  The 225hp 4.6L V8, coupled to a 3900lb car (without passengers) with 2.73 highway gears is not a recipe for speed.  However, on the highway it is very good, with very nice acceleration all the way up to the top-speed limiter.  Much of the off-the-line blame lies with the torque output of the SOHC engine, which churns out a relatively measly 275lb-ft.   Sure, this sound like a lot if you're used to driving normally-aspirated four or six cylinders, but my heavier Roadmaster, on the other hand, with only 260hp but 330lb-ft of torque, was a stop-light warrior.  In this case, the big torque down low coupled with 3.08 gears really pulled the car off the line.

Handling is better than expected, but not exactly a canyon carver.  But still, I've managed to leave some econo FWD cars behind on tight country corners - it's mostly the confidence and familiarity I have with RWD cars.  The weight balance is better, with less plowing and understeer.  The Marquis is also helped by the numerous braces and whatnot in the suspension.  Again, this isn't any sort of real high-performance machine, and first-time drivers of the Marquis will be intimidated by the sheer weight and size as you try to squeeze through the corners.  However, the Marquis brother, the Crown Vic Police Interceptor, seems to do a well-enough job in this regard, so let's leave it there.

Okay, so what's it like to actually drive one of these land yachts, er tugs?  Well, imagine a hood the size of a football field, where the car in front of you is like a small animal waiting to be crushed by your superior size.  I'm obviously exaggerating, but the girth of the Grand Marquis is its strongest (and perhaps only) selling point.  If you believe that weight and size are important for surviving a crash, then you can't get much bigger than this for a passenger car.  With this size comes confidence - knowing that the tailgater behind you can't actually do anything about it - What, buddy?  You're going to push me off the road with your Kia?  Yeah!  Good luck there, pipsqueak!  

Steering is responsive and predictable with less slop than your 80s-era GM product.  The nose of the car goes exactly where you point it, with only some hassle over rough surfaces.  As per most large full-framed cars, the drive is much smoother than your average non-luxury FWD car.  My Marquis doesn't have the air shocks, so the ride is probably closer to a newer truck than a Cadillac.  However, road feel is good without being overly intrusive.  It's a good balance, much better than, let's say, my old Volvo 850 GLT which felt every dimple and pebble.

In general, this car gets ignored.  People are more likely to want to pass you, even if you are going well over the speed limit, just because they will assume you are an old man at the wheel.  Bonus: At certain times, especially at night, other drivers are apt to think you are behind the wheel of a cop car.  Hilarity ensues as they stab the brakes and start driving all slow 'n' mellow.  Who me, officer?  Hilarity ceases when they get pissed off, realizing they were fooled.

Interior room for the front driver and passenger is a bastion of comfort.  If you suffer from aphenphobia, haphenphobia, or just don't like people in general, then you couldn't ask for a much wider car.  When riding along in my buddy's Nissan Versa, our elbows are touching!  Egads!  With the Marquis, you're kept a safe distance from your fellow plague carriers.  Seat comfort, with the cloth bucket seats, is fairly good with minimal discomfort over long hauls.  The back seat passengers are given second-rate seating arrangements with an uncomfortable bench seat and reduced legroom.  Oddly enough, my Olde Buick Roadmaster had less legroom for the front passengers, but was more comfortable out back.  Go figure.

Trunk space, as to be expected, is the other selling point.  If you like golf, boxing, kayaking, ping-pong, or any other sport of kings, then you can do them all - even at the same time - within the comfort of your own trunk.  There's enough room here to keep the most bloodthirsty of Mafia members happy as they careen through the night, looking for a place to bury their victims.  Not that I would know anything about that, but a trip to Ikea is no sweat, except for sofas, wardrobes, and long tables.  It's also good if your wife likes to pack her entire wardrobe in multiple suitcases.  Bonus - when not in use, you can sublet your trunk for extra money to pay for the gasoline you are going to use like a man in the desert with glass of water.

Which brings us to mileage.  The SOHC 4.6L, though no model of efficiency, is certainly better than the old push-rod engine.  Well, perhaps marginally better.  In the city, I average somewhere between 15-17mpg, depending on weather, my twitchy right foot, and the speed and direction of the wind.  The best performance, of course, lies on the highway where I can get up to 25mpg or even slightly more if speeds are kept under control.  This is where the difficulty lies, since as the speed increases, the gas mileage quickly decreases pushing this long and heavy metal box down the road.  This ancient transmission could really do with a 5th or even 6th gear.  Or perhaps some cylinder drop technology?  Nah, Ford already planned to obsolete this car, so why would they throw any more money at this dinosaur?  The only way to squeeze any kind of gas mileage out of this car is to drive it S-L-O-W-L-Y which is probably why all of the old geezers you see driving these things are going well under the speed limit.  They are just trying to save a buck so they can spend it on cat food, or whatever gourmet meal they are planning.

Reliability has been fairly good - the one major repair was a broken ball joint and the heater control unit replacement.  I also had a $10 sensor go bad, but a quick job with the scanner pinpointed the problem for a quick home mechanic replacement.  The drivetrain should be solid since it's so primitive - something I've generally found to be true even with RWD cars from the 70s and 80s.

So, what do I think of the Mercury Grand Marquis overall?  The car does lack a bit of soul, falling on the vanilla bland side of the fence.  It's quite predictable, boring, and fairly anonymous.  But on the positive side it's also comfortable, big, and great for highway cruising.  Though the performance is well into the snooze category - don't expect to win many drag races - it's slightly better than expected, provided you don't ask too much out of the ancient design.  I won't exactly be sad to see it gone, but, like a girlfriend who has overstayed her welcome, when the day does come, I'll easily remember the good things.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Next Book Update: Headline has gone to the editor

Headline has finally gone to the editor.  Since this is only a novella, I expect to publish sometime late next week.  The question arises - should I try the Amazon Select services?  I'm not exactly a big-time author with thousands of sales, so I really have nothing to lose.  Since the majority of my sales are through Amazon, perhaps this short novel would be the best way to test the waters.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Side-Effects of a Low-Carb Diet

 After reading Gary Taubes's Why We Get Fat, my wife and I switched over to a low-carb diet.  For the past three months, I've consumed less than 30 grams of carbs a day.  This means no sugar, minimal wheat products, and less fruit.  It has also meant more steak, eggs, salads, bacon, salad dressing, and various Atkins treats.

In the past, when I was trying to drop some weight, I did the Atkins diet for a one or two months.  Back then, I lost ten pounds, but found the diet to be excruciating difficult to follow.  I've since become better educated about what I can eat, and this second attempt has been much easier - so much that I can't imagine going back to eating carbs in any substantial amount again.

After getting over the initial 'carb-craving hump' I noticed some unexpected side-effects beyond the weight-loss:

1) Energy levels are now less bumpy.  Burning fat, instead of carbs, for my day-to-day energy levels has been a drastic change.  The low-carb method feels smoother and less 'jagged' - without the sugar highs and lows of the past.  I have pretty much the same energy level all day, and only get really tired when bedtime draws near.

2) Mental improvement.  I feel less stressed than before without that frantic level of work and life stress.  Sure, I'm still get anxious about stuff, but it doesn't have the same forcefulness of the past.  This also gives me longer and better sleep.

3) Less plaque on the teeth.  When brushing and flossing, my teeth are now considerably cleaner than before and my gums seem pinker too.  Of course this is to be expected with a dramatic drop in sugar and carbs going through the mouth.  For someone who has had his fair share of cavities, I'm sure this will reduce some dental issues.

4) Day-to-day aches and pain.  Over seventeen years of computer programming has given me pain and numbness in my right elbow.  In the past year, it's gotten so bad that I had to train myself to use my left hand for using the mouse.  But now, the pain has been reduced so much that I barely notice it anymore.  I also have less back pain.  Based on what I've read, this is from a reduction of inflammation caused by the low-carb diet.  It certainly makes me feel younger than my years.

It should be noted that I'm not primarily doing this diet to just lose weight, but to positively change my health.  So far, I'm beyond pleased.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Next Book Update

Headline is back from a fellow author's criticism.  I have to make some minor changes and then off to the editor it goes.  This will be a ~50K word novella, but due to the amount of twists and turns, it certainly feels longer.  I'm expecting a late April or early May release via Smashwords and Amazon.  The price will be my usual 99c.

I'm currently working on a 10k short story and an idea for a new sci-fi book is percolating through my brain.  I won't give any details yet.  Stay tuned!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Project Communique - Vilify Stratify

A nice new tune here, multi-tracked Akai MINIAK once again. I keep thinking I'm running out of ideas with this synth, but it still surprises me, even using (modified) presets.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Two new Project Communique songs

"Fleeing Saturn" - a sort of Tangerine Dream inspired bit

"Empty Room" - a little more dark wave-ish

both were made with the MINIAK, and Empty Room also had the Alesis HR-16 providing drums.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Next Book - a sneak peek of the cover

I'm drawing close to finishing this mystery-thriller novella.  It's a great read with tons of twists and turns, plus a great surprise ending.  It should be released some time in April or May.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Don't Forget! Read an Ebook Week Specials for March 4-10

Via Smashwords, feel free to use the coupon codes below.  At Harpers's Ferry and Malediction will be offered for free, while The Blackwood Trilogy is 1/2 off.

At Harper's Ferry List: $0.99 RE100      Free!

Malediction List $0.99 RE100 Free!

The Blackwood Trilogy List: $1.99 REW50 1/2 off!

Friday, March 2, 2012

The beginning of a new Project Communique song

When I'm not writing, I like to mess around with synths and recording gear.  Here is a song that I'm currently working on - I just need to wrap up writing the lyrics and adding in the vocal track.

Created using an Akai MINIAK and an Alesis HR-16 drum machine,  Recorded through a Focusrite Saffire 6 USB and Abelton Live 8.  Some processing was done - reverb and compression - via the recording software plugins.  Music track on the video is only 128kpbs.  Picture is the front-end of a Yaqin MC-10T amplifier.

Over 4000 copies of Murder At Zero Hour have been given away

This free ebook has passed the 4000 "sales" mark.  Free content is always popular, and though only a small percentage of readers actually move on to buy my other (cheaply) priced novels, it's always good to get your work out there.

Murder At Zero Hour is available at:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Read an Ebook Week Specials for March 4-10

Via Smashwords, feel free to use the coupon codes below.  At Harpers's Ferry and Malediction will be offered for free, while The Blackwood Trilogy is 1/2 off.

At Harper's Ferry List: $0.99 RE100     

Malediction List $0.99 RE100

The Blackwood Trilogy List: $1.99 REW50

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Destroyer - Kaputt

Released on January 25, 2011, Kaputt is Destroyer's ninth album.  The band is a brainchild of Daniel Bejar of the more famed The New Pornographers.  Previous Destroyer albums covered the gamut of low-fi pop to quirky honky-tonk, so this new direction of Roxy Music-influenced lust is a strange, but lovely move.  Low-key vocals, female backing vox, saxophone, and synth all rumble in the background to create a simplistic, but beautiful noise.  This is one of those 'slow burn' albums that I keep returning to, even though I can't put into words exactly why.  Highly recommended.

Available as a CD (people still buy those?), MP3 download, or a double-LP.  The LP, to my amazement, actually features more music than the other releases.  A MP3download coupon also comes with the vinyl release.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: Focusrite Saffire 6 USB Audio Interface

Since I've started messing around with synthesizers, I decided I needed a method to record my madness.  The world of DAW and audio interfaces is quite new to me.   It should be noted that I'm pretty old-school, having in the past messed around with 4-track tape units - both cassette and reel-to-reel, along with big analog mixing boards.  It took some reading and decisions on how I wanted to record before I pulled the trigger on this particular product.

The Focusrite Saffire 6 USB has two inputs and four outputs.  Featuring only two microphone preamplifiers that can be switched for line-level use, this is really a limited number of inputs, making it only suitable for stereo mixdown of a live band, recording only two musicians, or multi-tracking for a solo home studio.

Supplied software is Ableton Live Lite 8 and Novation's Bass Station synthesizer.  I won't go into the software aspects here, but will instead concentrate on the sound quality and hardware functions of the Saffire 6.

Unit quality is pretty high - not ultra high-end - but still, a pleasant surprise at this price level.  Being made out of metal, the case is rather rugged and has already survived one fall when my foot accidentally snagged a cable lying on the floor.  Plastic knobs aren't uber high quality, reminding me of mid-level gear, but certainly good at this price range. Front controls and jacks are fairly self-explanatory - two inputs that can accept XLR or 1/4" jacks.  These have level controls, along with overload indicators and line/microphone gain selection - useful for guitar direct-in and microphones versus higher outputs like keyboards.  There is also a 48V phantom power switch needed for some microphones.  Also included is a headphone jack and volume control, balance, and monitor level.

The back is home to the stereo RCA outputs and the four stereo/mono 1/4" jacks.  This is also where the USB connection is.  Note, there is no outboard power supply required since the Saffire 6 is powered through the USB.  MIDI in/out is also there for those who need it.

Attempting to record my first sample track and I immediately realized that two inputs is a limitation that must be considered when buying an audio interface.  In this case, I wanted to record my mono drum machine along with a stereo sequencer track from my synthesizer.  Since I only had two tracks available, I was forced to record the synth in stereo, and then had to add the drum track later.  This took some careful recording to accomplish with good results.  Adding another lead synth layer was easy enough, and latency was minimal enough with my Quad-Core processor PC that I could play in real time with the recorded event being synced correctly.

Sound quality is very good - I've heard higher-priced mixers and soundboards with worse inputs.  The end results were very clean, but still not antiseptic or cold.  A nice, natural sound that reflected the audio that was coming out of my keyboard amplifier.  Pretty much what I recorded was how it sounded during the creation.  Not bad at all.

Friday, February 17, 2012

First Try on the Akai MINIAK - includes MP3 download

I've been spending my limited free time playing around with an Akai MINAK, Alesis HR-16 drum machine, and recording them through a Focusrite Saffire 6 USB.  My first "song" - more like noodling around - is available as an MP3.  Forever Goodbye

The MINIAK - especially for the price, is very flexible and provides tons of presets for the rhythm, sequencer and multi modes.  The negative is the lack of easy editing which is thankfully remedied by the aftermarket Hypersynth editor.

The Alesis HR-16 is a vintage piece from the 80s.  Not an uber-wunderkind compared to the gear of today, but very old-school beats are available.  For this track, I just used a simple preset.

The Saffire USB and associated Ableton Live Lite sofware took some monkeying around to get working.  I still have plenty to learn in this department, since I ended up doing the final mastering using Audacity!

Anyways - some more in-depth reviews coming soon.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Next Book Update: I soldier on

I've finally finished the first pass of my next novel.  As usual, this thriller came in a little shorter than I would have liked, but such is the nature of my terse writing style.  Now it's time to start editing and expanding the document until I am satisfied.  And then it's off to one of my fellow authors for a sanity check and ideas for improvement.  After that round of work, I'll send it off to be edited and hammered into shape.  As usual, I'll publish through Smashwords and Amazon.  But perhaps I'll try out KDP Select, and see if I get any improvements in sales over the normal route.  It's worth a shot.

After this, I'm taking the summer off.  I have several other pursuits in mind - notably some synthesizer music and a car project.  I've also been toying with the idea of quitting my job of ten years - with the idea of going solo: part-time consulting, more time for writing, and following my dreams.  Perhaps it's a mid-life crisis, but I'm sick of the rat race.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Review of Smashwords

Since I'm coming up to my one year anniversary of publishing Of Ghosts and Gunpowder with Smashwords, I thought I would offer a little review of the process and end results.

The Site:
The Smashwords site certainly won't win any awards.  It has a real "Internet in the Year 2000" feel.  For the more prudish among us, there is also a high amount of Erotica here.  There is button to filter this out, but be warned - on the new books listing, your work could be right next to "Spank Me, Daddy" or some other work.

But really, Smashwords should be used as a way to easily distribute your books, not a main source of sales.  I have gotten some sales through the site, but nothing like Amazon or one of the larger vendors.

Preparing a book for submission:
After you have written and edited your book, it's time to prepare it for Smashword's "Meatgrinder" software.  This process is used to take your word document and translate it for multiple formats - .mobi .pdf .epub .lrf and even plain ol' .txt.  The end result seems to work just fine with simple word-only documents, but I can't imagine what a heavily illustrated book would look like.  Also note, the Meatgrider seems to work best when your document has been edited for submission using Microsoft's Word product.  I use a lot of OpenOffice, which forces me to switch between the two.  The Smashwords formatting guide can be found HERE.  Download it in a .RTF format it, print it and have at it.

My first stab at this was frustrating - and I work with computers on daily basis - but after a few tries, everything fell into place.  I can now prep a book in just a few minutes.  The most difficult part is removing the tabs for paragraph indentation.  It may throw off your document, which will require a manual search to make sure everything properly lines up.

Premium Distribution:
After submitting your book, it goes into the Meatgrinder queue.  When I first started using Smashwords, the wait time could be several days.  Now it is much faster - only taking a few minutes to process.  Once Meatgrinder is done, your book is immediately for sale on the Smashwords Site.  However, your book must meet certain criteria to be distributed to the other vendors - Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, and Diesel (Note: Amazon is not supported at this time).  This review process can take a couple days or perhaps up to a two weeks, depending on their workload.

At this time, it's good to check your channel distribution (what vendors you want to distribute to), pricing, and book description.  You would be surprised how many new books on Smashwords have spelling errors or poorly constructed sentences in the short and long description.  This will certainly turn away any potential buyers.  The Short description is a limited blurb which some sites use.  The Long description is much lengthier - good for reviews, samples, etc.

Smashwords "ships" books to the other vendors on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, so it will take some time before your book shows up on other sites.

The Smashwords Dashboard screen lets you see all the sales, but just for the Smashwords site.  Of note is the Books Sold and Downloads Column.  Sold, is of course, the number of units paid for.  The Downloads is the total sold + the free samples. 

Clicking on Stats, under the Operations Tab, will show the number of hits that your book's page has had.  This is useful for fine-tuning your keywords and book description.  A new book will always show an initial jump in interest, but eventually fade once the entry falls off of the main Smashwords page.

To see your Sales with other vendors, it's time to visit the Sales & Payment Report tab.  Here you can select a year, generate a quarterly spreadsheet, and see your current account balance.  Selecting a year will display your total sales to the different vendors, even including Amazon - which isn't currently supported through Smashwords.

Some negatives: Though Smashwords displays sample downloads from their site, no such information is available from the other channels.  This would be useful to know, but is not supported.  Sales reporting time is also not instantaneous - Barnes & Noble and Sony are almost weekly, while the other vendors are reported monthly.  This can lead to some frustration on the part of the user - who doesn't want to have quicker feedback?  This is one area that consistently bothers me since Apple is usually a large source of sales.  A weekly update would be much better, but I imagine Smashwords is limited by the information that Apple gives them.

Smashwords has a coupon generator.  This is a nice feature which allows the writer to keep his current price, but give a discount on a book.  This is useful for new work and marketing.  However, the coupon can only be used on the Smashwords site.

They also give away free ISBN numbers.  Some eBook sellers - notable Apple - require these.  Once your book has been submitted, go ahead and get one assigned to your work.  Note: These ISBNs are used for the Smashword edition - which is published across your selected vendors.  It is not a generic one for Amazon usage.

You can also create an Author Profile on the "My Smashwords" profile.  Here is a chance to write something pithy.

Yes, Smashwords has its flaws - notably the slow sales reporting time, the old-fashioned website, the lack of an Amazon channel, and the nefarious demands of the Meatgrinder submission process.  However, it is a one-stop location for submitting your work to several vendors, all in one fell swoop.  My publishing method is to use Smashwords in conjunction with Amazon's KDP service.  The majority of my sales are through the latter, with Smashwords and the associated vendors picking up the slack.

For all my complaints, I'm just happy to have an easy way to publish my works - it certainly is less frustrating than waiting months for a rejection letter, or an emai/phone call from an agent, who may or may not want to see your book published.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: Neon Indian - Era Extraña

A very nice synth-based pop record.  Lots of flashes of 80s brilliance here with some analog-type noodling to keep things interesting.  Though rooted in the past, Neon Indian also stretches the boundaries of this type of music - this doesn't sound dated or tired, which is a problem when dealing in this genre.  The rhythms are particularly engaging, with a fresh, bouncy step. Very recommended.

Available on LP, CD, and MP3. The LP comes with a download coupon which gets you uncompressed WAV files.

Over 3000 copies of Murder At Zero Hour have been given away

Not bad.  Of course this isn't anything like a major seller yet, but it's crawling up the ranks of free Ebooks on Amazon - rating a #4 or #5 of Historical Mysteries.  Not bad for an unknown author.  My other book sales seemed to have increased because of this free giveaway, but only time will tell if this has been a game changer.

Murder At Zero Hour is available at:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Selling eBooks and Free Content

So far I've given away (sold?) over 2500 copies of Murder at Zero Hour.  This is part of my marketing plan to get my works out there.  It has been interesting experiment.

What I've learned so far -

1) People love free content.  Even after nearly two months, I'm still giving away anywhere between 30-50 copies a day.

2) Just because someone downloads, reads, and even likes the free eBook, does not necessarily mean they will buy some other piece of your work, even if the product is still priced at 99c.

3) Nonetheless, I have noticed a fair uptick in monthly sales.  At least 2-3x my standard volume.  Part of this could be due to Murder at Zero Hour, but I'm more inclined to think the post-Christmas surge has a part to play.  There are more eReaders and iPads out there, with users hungry for goodies.

So what comes next?  Well, I'm still working on a new book, which will expand my online footprint a few more kilobytes.  I'm also planning another push for Murder at Zero Hour, continuing the free eBook giveway, which will hopefully lead to even more sales.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Price Reduction for Of Ghosts and Gunpowder

Along with a new cover, I've also reduced the price of this novel to 99c.  Of all the books I have written, this is probably my favorite one.  It has everything - horror, history, romance, humor, and good triumphing over the forces of evil.  Check it out!

New version available at:

Note: I just changed the cover and pricing.  It may take some time to filter down to your eReader site of choice.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review: The Big Pink - Future This

I was a big fan of this English electronic-music duo's debut album A Brief History of Love, so I was looking forward to buying their sophomore album.  Though lacking the grit and dark mood of their first, Future This has a pleasant pop-infused sound that will sure to please many listeners.  What seems to be lacking is a little extra nudge of creativity that would throw this album into a higher tier.  But still, pleasant enough for me.

I will also make a comment about the vinyl quality.  I prefer to buy music via the ancient record format - I've been collecting them since I was a teenager.  The pressing for Future this was done on pink vinyl, but was mastered at a very low volume.  It also sounds odd, with a rolled-off bass and lacks attack.  It sounds much like an AM radio.  My guess would be they tried to squeeze too much music on the record, and allowed a computer to do the mastering.  A double-LP would have worked better.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Over two thousand copies of Murder at Zero Hour have been given away

So far, for the month of January, I've given away over two thousand copies of this book.  A surprising amount of this number came from Smashwords, with the ever-present Amazon now taking first place - it is currently rated the #5 free historical mystery book on the site.

Murder At Zero Hour is available at:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review: Veil Veil Vanish - Change In the Neon Light

I've often been disappointed with the state of modern music, but some recent releases have been working hard on trying to change my mind.  Veil Veil Vanish is one such example.  They have a deep, swirling sound that trumps the cold, almost clinical, sound of most current Indie groups.  Comparisons to The Cure are certainly apt, but I have no complaints since I love Robert Smith's guitar work and catchy pop hooks.  With their 2010 release Change In the Neon Light, Veil Veil Vanish are yet another group to look out for.  Go ahead - you won't be disappointed.

Sadly not available on vinyl, you'll have to make do with a CD or MP3s.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Next Book Update: the work continues

With many of my older works now published, I've been able to turn my attention to a new project. This murder-mystery crime-thriller has been quite fun to write, especially since it is set during the swinging disco year of 1977. Of course I'm not concentrating on the awful fashion senses, or the feathered hair, but more on the grit and grime. The 70s were an interesting time in American history - it seemed that personal freedom was at all-time high, but so was distrust in government and the social conventions of the past.

For the purposes of my fictional account of a serial killer, it is also a perfect backdrop. There were no DNA tests, minimal computers, and minimal security cameras. It took guts, determination, and a whole bunch of luck to capture someone who murdered without motive. As usual, there is a surprise twist, and if the reader is keen, enough clues to solve the mystery before the final page is turned.

I'm currently only a few chapters away from the 'first pass'. After that, I will have to start fleshing out some of the scenes, add some additional characters, red herrings, and the usual finishing touches.  Stay tuned!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Synth Music - the pleasures of artificial music

 Sure, I like listening to rock 'n' roll, the blues, folk, soul, and even a smattering of classical music.  But deep down, I've always had a fascination for synth music.  Perhaps it's my 80s upbringing.  Much of it suffers from a thin veneer of fabricated emotion, but when it is right, the notes tug on my heartstrings, making me feel like a young man again.

Even though I have enough pursuits on my plate, I've decided to take up a new hobby - the playing and recording of synth music.  Since I'm an old school kind of guy, I'll be mostly sticking with the vintage analog and early digital gear, some of the recent Moog (and other) products look particularly enticing.  I have some experience with being a musician, having once been a mediocre bass player, but I now feel like I have the concentration (and cash!) to pursue this a little further than before.

So stay tuned for some equipment reviews, agonizing music samples, and a whole bunch of other trash.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Top 5 albums for 2011

 In no certain order:

The Horrors - Skying
Peter Murphy - Ninth
Mirrors - Lights & Offerings
Handsome Furs - Sound Kapital
S.C.U.M - Again Into Eyes

but I certainly don't have my ear to the latest n' greatest.  Is there anything else out there worth checking out?