Sunday, October 31, 2010

Last Call for Beta Readers (and other surprises!)

No, I'm not dead.

Although with my porcelain skin and blue lipstick, I think the kid in Walgreens last week got the wrong impression--must've scared him.  I can't think of another reason he'd go racing from the store screaming, "Mommy!  It's gonna eat meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

Everyone's a critic.

I've just been busy and hard-at-work with in getting The Gaslight Journal manuscript ready for its Thanksgiving Day release, and I still need your help.

Would you like a free advanced reader's copy of The Gaslight Journal?

Here's what you do:

Click on the "Contact" link in the upper right of this blog, and then send me your e-mail address to that e-mail listed, with the subject heading, "I want to be a beta reader."  I will then send you an e-mail with the links to the appropriate downloads with further instructions on what I need you to do once you have your review ready, and where to put it.

Currently, Amazon is working with me on setting up a pre-order page for the Kindle release on Thanksgiving Day.  I received an e-mail from them earlier this week.  And up till now, they've only accomplished this for two other authors:

Stephen King and J.A. Konrath.  Seems I'm in pretty good company.

You'll also receive a free press release.

The e-mail I will send you goes into more detail, but my goal is to hype the book, and treat it like an published release, rather than an indie release.  I just saw my friend J.A. Konrath do this, and I'm certain with your help, I can do it, too!

And now for the goodies.

I have two interviews in store for you, just in time for Halloween.  I'm sorry they are a few days late.

And without further ado, here we go!

Chester Campbell has written five Greg McKenzie mysteries featuring a retired Air Force OSI agent and his wife. A Sporting Murder, the latest, came out in September. The first book in his Sid Chance mystery series, The Surest Poison, was published in 2009. The books are set mostly in the Nashville, TN area. Chester has pursued (meaning chased all over the map) writing in various fields for more than 60 years, including newspaper and magazine journalism, advertising, public relations, and political speech writing. An Air Force intelligence officer in the Korean War, he retired from the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel. Currently secretary of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and president of the Middle Tennessee Chapter of Sisters in Crime (the only male chapter president in the international organization), he lives in Madison, TN with his wife, Sarah, and an 11-year-old grandson.

Me:  What’s you current book?

Chester:  It’s A SPORTING MURDER, which answers the question: “Can sports lead to murder?”  Nashville Predators hockey fans think “this town ain’t big enough for three of us (pro sports teams),” and somebody is willing to commit murder over the prospect of bringing an NBA team to Nashville. It’s the fifth in my Greg McKenzie mystery series, featuring senior PI’s Greg and Jill McKenzie. Along the way, a bomb explodes under Greg’s Jeep, with the two of them inside.  Lots of skulduggery afoot.

Me:  I know a few of those Predators' games I went to sure looked like they could lead to murder.  Made me afraid to go in the parking lot.  Why did you become a writer, when you could’ve been a garbage man or President?

Chester:  Some folks probably think I’m a creator of garbage. I’ve certainly got more sense than to want to be President. Actually, my Mom probably got it right when she said, “I’m not surprised he became a writer since he doesn’t like to get his hands dirty.”

Me:  What sort of odd jobs did you do before becoming a writer, and how many of them were you fabulously fired from?

Chester:  All my “odd” jobs took place while I was a teenager. The first was bicycle delivery boy for a drugstore. Got quite a shock when a female customer answered the doorbell sans clothing.  Another was clerk in a women’s shoe store. You should have seen the feet I tried to cram into a size 9 narrow. The one I got fired from was my second writing job, for writing too much. I loved newspaper reporting, especially feature writing, but the higher-ups discovered I knew grammar and how to spell. They put me on the copy desk. In lull times after an edition went to press, I turned to my typewriter and worked on freelance articles for magazines. The managing editor took offense at the practice and showed me the door.

Me:  With the explosion of Amazon Kindle and other eBook readers, what are your thoughts on the whole thing? Do you have any predictions about it?

Chester:  I’m a lousy prognosticator, but I’m taking advantage of the eBook explosion while it lasts. All my books are in the Kindle Store at $2.99, and I’m gradually getting them on Smashwords. Who knows what the next electronic marvel will be? I’ll try to be ready for it.

Me:  What is the most scathing, hateful and hurtful rejection letter you ever received (I’m sure you remembered a few)? How many have you gotten? Do you keep them?

Chester:  Fortunately, I’ve never received a snarky letter from an agent. I have tons of form letters that  tell how my novel “does not fit our list…isn’t what we’re looking for…doesn’t meet our needs” and every other excuse you can imagine. Just as deadly are the occasional letter about how they enjoyed the story and liked my writing “but it isn’t for us.”

Me:  Heh; received one of those myself just last week.  You live in the heart of the Bible Belt, and yet you write crime fiction/mystery. Have you suffered any grief over this?

Chester:  Au contraire, some of my most ardent fans are members of my church. I’ve had several signings at the church and launched my first Sid Chance mystery there last year. One staunch member says his mother told him he should never buy anything at church, but he buys them outside.

Me:  What is your process for a book? From where you get the ideas, to how often you write, if you use outlines, to publication?

Chester:  Ideas can pop up anywhere. My first published novel came from reading an in-flight magazine on the way home from a Holy Land trip. Another resulted from watching high-rise condos go up on the beach at Perdido Key, Florida. A neighbor contributed one when she told about visiting the old Marathon Motor Works buildings just outside downtown Nashville. A PI friend told me about a case she handled around Jackson, Tennessee. It became THE SUREST POISON, re-located closer to Nashville. How often I write is a sore spot…not often enough. With all the on-line and area promotion I do, I find it more difficult to settle down to writing the next book. I’ll get started soon, though, and it’ll take off. I’m a “pantser,” no outlining. Give the characters a nudge and let ‘em go. I’m with a small press that gives me lots of freedom to pursue the publication process, from titles to covers to whatever.

Me:  How many novels had you written before you found an agent? How many queries had you sent?

Chester:  I have a penchant for doing things in reverse. I started writing full time when I retired. I got an agent with the first book. No sale. Ditto with the second book, different agent, who died on me. The third landed with a major New York agency that took the next three books and, for reasons too involved to go into here, sold none. My eighth book brought a three-book contract from a small press run by the husband of the agent I had sent it to. I have now published six books agentless.

Me:  What do you tell others (hot new authors like myself) just beginning that they won’t learn anyplace else?

Chester:  Surprise, there ain’t any new advice around. It’s a tough business, but it’s doable if you prepare yourself and stick with it. In the mystery field, you’ll have no trouble finding successful authors willing to help. If you can take criticism (and you’d better be able to) find a critique group of knowledgeable writers and let them offer suggestions. You won’t agree with everything they say, but you’ll come away with lots of helpful ideas to improve your writing. And finally, write, write, write. Hopefully you’ll be published before you’re seventy-six, like I was.

Me:  What did you have for breakfast?

Chester:  What I have most every morning. That way you don’t waste a lot of time figuring out what to eat. For me it’s a bowl of oatmeal (maple and brown sugar) and coffee. Sometimes my wife will throw in a muffin or cinnamon bun. The important part comes after breakfast. When she gets back from taking the grandson to school, we have a tall travel cup of cappuccino. Just like my characters Greg and Jill McKenzie (I taught ‘em to love it).

Me:  What other profession do you still regret never having pursued?

Chester:  I would have made a great secret agent. I can sit behind a table at a bookstore and never be seen.

Just kidding, I may not be a standup comic, but I’m a standup book signer. I never sit behind the table, even to sign a book. That I don’t regret.
For places you can purchase Chester's books, visit his home on the web at:
And now for part II of our journey.
Simon Wood is an ex-race car driver, a licensed pilot and an occasional private investigator. Originally from the UK, he lives in the US with his American wife and way too many pets. He's had over 150 stories and articles published. He's an Anthony Award winner and a Crime Writers Association Dagger Award Finalist. He's the author of numerous thrillers. His upcoming titles are the Lowlifes and Asking for Trouble. Writing under his horror identity, Simon Janus, he’s the author of The Scrubs and Road Rash. Curious people can learn more at .

Simon Wood

TERMINATED (In bookstores now)

Scaredy Cat

People ask me what scares me, what my deepest fears are, and what sends me into a panic. Austin Powers says he fears only two things: nuclear weapons and carnies. I’m different. Pretty much everything frightens me. I think people are usually looking for a man-of-steel kind of an answer. But I have to disappoint. I’m scared of my own shadow. Literally. It’s always there, behind me, creeping up on me. There it is. Arrrrhh!!

I’ll go into a cold sweat at a Starbucks. The choice dazzles me and I can’t make up my mind what I want. Suddenly that long line looks real short. Now the choice isn’t the scary thing, but what happens when the green aproned personage asks for what I want and my answer is “Er, I need some more time.” I know the people behind me are going to start gnashing their teeth and all because I don’t know what fancy coffee I want. Eek!

Everyday things scare me. I lived in an apartment where the shower curtain had a habit of clinging to me when I got within a foot of it. The material had an odd texture that felt like skin when wet, which was a distinctly unpleasant sensation. I got to fear that damn shower curtain and avoided using it (and my wife got to hate that I didn’t shower). But that was enough to spur a story about a haunted shower curtain. Incidentally, that story spooked a reader sufficiently that they are afraid of their shower curtain now. That’s the power of our fears, I guess.

A few months back, my Sisters in Crime chapter volunteered to man (or woman) the phones during the local PBS pledge drive. I feared my phone would ring, because I might get someone with a weird name I couldn’t spell. I thought, if I screw up the donation, PBS won’t get their money and Yanni won’t get his funding and he’ll hunt me down like a dog.

So yes, I can make anything scary. It’s a talent. Don’t applaud me all at once. You can’t all be like me.

I made author fears a topic at a World Horror Convention panel a few years ago. It proved to be a really interesting panel. A number of the authors discussed their darkest fears. Some were parents were frightened by the potential loss of their children. Several had had incidents that led them to write stories.

Fear makes for great storytelling. It’s a fossil fuel with an inexhaustible supply. It drives stories. It forces the reader, the writer and the characters to face what frightens them full on. Stories thrive on conflict and facing your fears is the greatest conflict. No one is fearless, so everyone can relate.

The best scary writing explores our archetypal “core” fears. People fear the unknown, the loss of a loved one, loss of liberty, loss of control, their position in the world. The point is that to write scary stories, you have to be fearful. The adage goes you write what you know and fears are very real and accessible. Horror stories just don’t explore someone’s fear of vampires, werewolves and Freddy Krueger. They explore a power stronger than the individual and that overwhelming power has the ability to rob you of what you hold most dear or thrust you into an environment you desire least. No one fears Freddy Krueger. Everyone fears what someone like that can do to them.

So my myriad of fears are good for my writing. They keep it real (scary). It’s easy to see what I, the writer, you, the reader, and they, the characters have to fear. For me it’s easy to slip into a fictional situation. My collection of supernatural short stories, Dragged Into Darkness, deals with my various neurosis that everyone can relate to from flying to public embarrassment. If I examine all my work, fear stains it all in some shape or another. Life is scary and scarier the better when it comes to fiction.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m next in line at Starbucks and I don’t know what I want.

Yours cowering under the bedclothes,

Simon Wood

Thanks, guys!

Join me beginning on Monday, when I begin my new novel, A Most Devout Coward for NaNoWriMo, and I blog about my progress.  Can't wait!

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