Don’t miss your chance to save: Book launch for Wildfire coming March 22



You can reserve your advance copy of Wildfire for just 99 cents—but only until midnight March 21.

It’s only 6 days till the first Wine Country Mystery goes live on e-book retailer sites.

That means there’s less than a week left to pre-order your copy for just 99 cents. As of launch day—Thursday, March 22—the price goes up to $2.99.

So do as your parents advised you: buy when it’s on sale. And it’s on sale RIGHT NOW.

Win a signed paperback

I’m giving away three signed paperbacks copies of Wildfire. Send a screen capture to contact@writtenword.ca showing your order to enter your name in a draw for one of them.

And email this blog or the links to your friends who love good mysteries so they can enter the draw, too.

What’s Wildfire about?

The sun sets through the smoke from wildfires in Sonoma County, California, October 9, 2017. Photo by the author.

Wildfires swept across California wine country in 2017, destroying thousands of homes and businesses, and killing dozens of people. Law school grad and single mother Tara Rezeck finds herself in the middle of the catastrophe. When she returns to her job at the most award-winning vineyard in Sonoma County, she finds her employer’s body in the ashes.

The question that challenges her brains and her legal training is: was it an accident? Or was his body burned to hide evidence of murder?

Join the launch party on Facebook March 22 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. ET.

In the meantime, you can read the first two chapters for free on Wattpad.

A new writing year beckons



It’s January. A new year spreads before us like a blank page, waiting for anything we want to do . Ready for us to write our own story.
And I plan on writing that story—in fact, several stories.

For you, my wonderful readers, I am going to publish a whole whack o’ stuff for your reading pleasure.

What to look forward to

I promised, and I will deliver. The first book in the brand-new mystery series, Wildfire, will be out in March. This features a new lead character: Tara Rezeck (it means “risk”), law school grad and single mom, trying to make her life in California when wildfires break out. Her new boss is killed. Was it the fire, or was it something or someone else?

The third draft Wildfire is now with beta-readers. Then I will respond to their reactions, incorporate suggestions (or not), and send it to the editor. Then there’s more re-writing, and then I will send it to the proofreader.

In the meantime, I have a great designer dreaming up the cover. Hold onto your socks—David C. Cassidy is going to knock them off again.

A boxed set

While that project is in the very capable hands of beta-readers, editors and publishers, I’m going to do two things to the Eastern Front trilogy (Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War).

First, I’ll be publishing all three volumes on all major e-tailers: Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes/iBooks and Barnes & Noble. So far, they’re only available on Amazon, but with this move, they’ll be available more broadly, and in different formats.

The second thing is that I will release the whole trilogy as a boxed set, so readers can buy the whole story as one bundle. Continue to follow this blog for updates on both projects.

Click on the cover image for a sample of the book.

Writing more fantasy

As I promised before, I am returning to the sequel to The Bones of the Earth, The Triumph of the Sky. After finishing parts 1 and 2, I took a break from it to write Wildfire. Now that that’s done, I can focus for a while, at least, on completing the next five parts.

Sales and promotions

Somehow, in between writing and publishing three titles last year, I developed a marketing and promotions plan. Now it’s the time to see how well it will work.

What that means to you, dear readers, is that you’ll have even more opportunities to get books from me, and other authors I know and whose writing I like, on sale or sometimes even free. There will be other prizes, too, that readers will love.

But to get them, you’ll have to do something, too.

Promotions will be emailed to you. To make sure you’re eligible, subscribe either to get Forewords, my advance information email newsletter (click the book cover under “Get your free book.” the first item in the right-hand sidebar, and you’ll be taken to another webpage) or to receive this blog in your email (scroll down a bit to the item in the sidebar, “Get your FREE bonus e-book,” and enter your name and email below the cover image).

I hate spam as much as you do, and I promise again never to release your information to anyone else.

Let’s stay in touch

Subscribe to Written Words and Forewords. Both will give you a free e-book, and you’ll also be eligible for future promotions, sales, giveaways, surveys and contests.

Yes, I said surveys. I want to hear from you—what you like, what you don’t like, what you wish writers would write and what you wish we’d stop doing.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Join me in writing a mystery



Who knew that writing a new mystery could be so time-consuming? Looking at my blog, I see that I haven’t been posting a lot for the past couple of months.

But it’s not like I haven’t been busy writing. I spent most of my available time in November feverishly working on my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) project—unofficially, because I didn’t register with the organization.

The book is called Wildfire, the first book in a new mystery series. I chose that title because it’s set in Sonoma, California, which as you know has been ravaged by wildfires all autumn.

And I’m proud and happy to report that I did 50,010 words in 30 days. It’s not quite done, yet. I wrote what I am certain will be the first four chapters, the climax and the closing, plus most of the main storyline. There are some transitional chapters yet to be done, a red herring and a plot twist to go, and it’ll be done.

Then there are the steps of re-writing at least twice, beta-reading, incorporating those suggestions, editing, proofreading, formatting and publishing. I aim to have it out by March 22.

Wait—a mystery? What about the historical fantasy?

I know that I promised I would be working on The Triumph of the Sky, book 2 in the Dark Age Trilogy and the follow-up to my first published novel, The Bones of the Earth. And I am! I have written the first two parts of seven. As soon as I have finished writing Wildfires and have sent it to beta readers, I will get right back to Triumph.

But as you faithful blog readers know, in October I attended a writer’s retreat hosted by Toby Neal, the bestselling author of the Lei Crime and Paradise Crime series, and the very generous lady who invited me to be one of the first to join the Lei Crime Kindle World. My wife and I arrived in Sonoma on the day wildfires broke out, and our drive from San Francisco to Russian River was detoured more than once. We arrived late, amid a heavy smell of smoke.

Toby Neal, Roxanne and me

Toby Neal, my wife Roxanne, and me at the Russian River writers’ retreat in October.

The conference was great: inspiring, educational, affirming. And I got to meet, face-to-face, some other writers I have considered colleagues for a long time because we all write for the Lei Crime Kindle World.

I say inspiring for two reasons: my lovely wife, Roxanne, suggested I write a book about the wildfires, and Toby encouraged me to write my own mystery series, using the kinds of characters and elements that worked so well in the Kindle World books.

Writers Retreat in Russian River, California. Left to right: my lovely wife, Roxanne, me, Shawn McGuire, Toby Neal, Corinne O'Flynne, Amy Allen, Janet Oakley, Ron Logan and Erin Finigan.

Writers Retreat in Russian River, California. Left to right: my lovely wife, Roxanne, me, Shawn McGuire, Toby Neal, Corinne O’Flynne, Amy Allen, Janet Oakley, Ron Logan and Erin Finigan.

The start of a brand new mystery series

This new series is about a smart, tough yet vulnerable investigator, similar in character to FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm of the Lei Crime world.

But for this brand-new series, I didn’t want to write about a cop. I want my new investigator to be able to travel to different places, to follow her own instincts. I wanted someone who could work beyond the strict rules of a police force—this allows more interesting story lines.

I also wanted someone who wasn’t going to be shaped by police culture—allowing me to create a more interesting character.

At the same time, I wanted to avoid the “Murder, She Wrote” conundrum: someone who’s not a law enforcement professional who’s always in the middle of a crime scene. I mean, didn’t anyone ever wonder why someone got murdered wherever Jessica Fletcher went?

Introducing Tara Rezeck

Tara is a young single mom who has just graduated from law school. Following a lifelong dream, she moves to California, leaving baby Roxanne with her parents until she finds a suitable home and a job.

My photo of Sonoma County at sunset on October 12. The haze in the sky is smoke from the wildfires.

But for millennials, it’s not easy to find that first job in their field. She temporarily takes a job in a kitchen at a high-end restaurant in a winery in Sonoma—just as the wildfires break out.

In subsequent books, I plan to have Tara working as an investigator for a lawyer. That will give her the legal standing, as well as storytelling plausibility to be snooping into crimes.

Want to join the team?

No author writes a book on their own. If you’d like to be a beta-reader of Wildfires, point out any errors or problems in the manuscript so I can fix them before publishing, and post a candid review on Amazon and Goodreads on launch day, let me know with an email to contact@writtenword.ca.

I’d love to have your input!

Don’t forget to get your free book

That’s right: subscribe to get this blog in your email, and I’ll send you a free copy of Army of Worn Soles, Book 1 in the Eastern Front trilogy. Use the form on the top right of this blog, or click here to enter your name and email address.

That’s all you have to do: enter your email. If you’d prefer to buy the book from Amazon for 99 cents, I don’t mind. But if you want to save a buck, you don’t have to worry about spam: I will never sell or give away your contact information.

See you soon!

Welcome to the Dark Age



 

As you know, I’ve been working on The Triumph of the Sky, the sequel to my first-published novel, The Bones of the Earth. And I thought I should familiarize you with this fantastic, yet historical universe so you’re ready to find you way around when the book comes out.

The Byzantine Empire

The setting is the Eastern Roman Empire, which most of us in the West call the “Byzantine Empire.” But to the people who lived in it, it was the Empire of the Romans.

The story of The Triumph of the Sky begins five years after the end of The Bones of the Earth, so that’s 603 CE. The Empire had just been through a particularly tumultuous period, even for the Roman Empire.

I learned in school that the Roman Empire fell in 476 CD, when Odoacer, a Germanic soldier in the Roman Empire, deposed the teenaged last Emperor, Romulus Augustus. A year later, Theodoric and the Ostrogoths killed Odoacer and conquered most of Italy. Other “barbarian” tribes took over Gaul, Iberia, Britain and most of the rest of the Western Roman territories.

But the Eastern half of the Empire continued for another thousand years. In the sixth century, its capital Constantinople, on the narrow straits that separate Europe and Asia, was the largest and wealthiest city in the world. With walls six metres thick and 12 metres high, sea walls and the natural protection of the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn on two other sides, it was considered unconquerable. Indeed, it would fend off all attacks for another 600 years.

An ancient drawing of Constantinople, facing roughly west, showing how the city was roughly triangular shape with water on two sides. On the right, northern side is the Golden Horn, a huge harbour. A heavy chain stretched across it at night or when the city was under threat, which would prevent ships from entering.

The walls of Constantinople: Wikimedia Commons.

The Eastern Roman Empire in 600 stretched from the Caucasus Mountains, east of the Black Sea, all along the southern Mediterranean coast to the Atlantic Ocean, and included Egypt, and as far north as the Danube River. Emperor Maurice, who ruled from 582 to 602, reconquered parts of Italy that had been lost to the Ostrogoths and Lombards.

The Roman Empire in 600 CE. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 602, troops revolted against Maurice. Their leader, Phocas, butchered Maurice’s family in front of him, then killed the Emperor and took the throne.

Possibly a bust of Emperor Phocas

Phocas was especially brutal, even for a Roman Emperor. He used mass torture to rule, and became the object of many plots and intrigues. Eventually, he was deposed and killed by the next emperor, Heraclius.

During Phocas’ rein, though the Sassanid Persians attacked in the east, taking Syria and Mesopotamia, raiding Anatolia and even at one point setting up a military camp within sight of Constantinople. On the north, Avars and Slavs, or Sklaveni, were conquering deep into imperial territory.

This is the political and military situation that surround Javor and the other characters of Triumph.

The people of Constantinople

The people of Constantinople were cosmopolitan, with a great range of ethnicities represented at every social stratum—even the Emperor. About 30 percent were literate, far ahead of western Europe and the rest of the world at the time. There were renowned schools and universities in many of Rome’s cities.

The key to Constantinople’s wealth was trade. It was located at a crossroads: where the land route between Europe and Asia crossed the major sea trade route from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. As a result, it had several huge markets, great ports and incredible numbers of people moving in and out all the time. Wealth brought about great demand in the city for art and other luxury goods.

The Christian Church dominated social life in Constantinople. The Emperor was the head of both the Church and the Empire, although the bishop, called the Patriarch, wielded a great deal of power.

Leo VI Prostrating before Christ, Mosaic c.900 CE, Hagia Sophia / Creative Commons

Byzantine Mosaic with Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus – Hagia Sophia (Istanbul) Justinian I and Constantine I present the Hagia Sophia and Constantinople to the Virgin and Child.

Even though the Church dominated social and moral life, there were still many slaves in the Roman Empire. At that time, most of them were prisoners of war, and their children. But another source was poor parents who sold their children into slavery to pay their debts and feed the rest of their children.

Politics: Blues versus Greens

The people of the city generally divided into two groups: the Blues and the Greens. This originated as racing teams in the Hippodrome, and like today’s sports fans, they could be fanatical. There were times after races when one team would massacre thousands of members of the other. The rivalry between the two sides reached a peak in the Nike riots in 532. I’ll go into that in more depth in a future blog. But the Blue-Green divide went far beyond the horse races: neighbourhoods could be Blue or Green, and there were social and religious divisions between them, too.

In short, the early 7th century in Constantinople was a complex time — arguably as complex as our own, in its way, with political intrigues, wars on more than one front, social divisions, and contradictions between religion, society, politics and money.

Till next time … keep your paddles in the water.

 

What I’m working on now: A new book



After publishing 10 books in the past two years (wow—I just blew my own mind), I am not slowing down, but I am changing direction.

I had a writing and publishing plan.e72b9-bonescoverfinalforweb

Two years ago in July, I published two books in two different Kindle Worlds: Torn Roots in the Lei Crime Kindle World, based on Toby Neal’s Lei Crime series; and Jet: Stealth in the Jet Kindle World, based on the bestselling series by Russell Blake.

Up to that point, I had published only three book-length titles:

  • The Bones of the Earth, book one of a planned Dark Age trilogy, a historical fantasy
  • One Shade of Red, a spoof of Fifty Shades of Gray
  • Army of Worn Soles, the first book in my Eastern Front trilogy, based on the real experiences of my father-in-law in the Red Army during the Second World War.

My plans at that point were to complete the Eastern Front trilogy (done!), then move to the second and third books of the Dark Age series. I also thought I might intersperse those projects by writing and publishing
stories that would tie together into a paranormal-occult-romance novel, Dark Clouds. I had written four chapters, publishing them on various platforms. A lot of people liked the first chapter, which stands alone as a story called The Mandrake Ruse. You can download it for free.

At that point, I had never even heard of Kindle Worlds, and never considered writing fan fiction.

Then Toby Neal diverted me.

Near the end of 2014, Toby Neal, bestselling author of the Lei Crime series and other books, and a prominent member of the BestSelling Reads authors group, selected a few authors to write for her brand new Lei Crime Kindle World. The idea was to publish a novella, something between 10,000 and 40,000 words, based on the characters and situations of her mystery novels.

I was excited and, to be honest, flattered to be one of the first invited to this project. And it also solved another problem for me. I had an idea for a light-hearted thriller with characters based on my family, but I could not make the plot work. When I got Toby’s invitation to write a Hawaii mystery, the plot, setting and characters fell into place.

However, there was one big problem: my main character was a geologist, and I knew nothing about the geology of Hawaii. I wasn’t getting the details I wanted from books or the Web. So I booked my next vacation to Maui, and what I experienced added a lot of realism to the book. And while I missed the first launch in April 2015,
I did manage to write a book, re-write it, get a cover, get it edited and proofread—and share a beta draft with Toby Neal herself—in time for the “second surge” in July.

While I was working on my first Lei Crime book, Russell Blake invited me (and several others) to write for his new Jet Kindle World, too. Its first deadline was the same as the second one for Lei Crime: July 31, 2015.

So, while Torn Roots was with beta readers, editors and proofreaders, I wrote a short, fast-paced thriller called Stealth, introducing two more characters based on people I know: Van Freeman and Earl LeBrun. And I met the deadline without cutting any corners.

My writing went fast in a new direction.

Since then, I wrote and published two more Lei Crime novellas and one novel. I was invited to another Kindle World, based on Emily Kimelman’s Sydney Rye series about a kick-ass woman detective and her giant dog, Blue. I’ve written two books for this series, both featuring Van and LeBrun.

Now, it’s time to get back to the original plan.

Don’t get me wrong—writing the Kindle World books has been a blast. I really enjoyed the characters and situations I created, and to judge by the reviews, my readers have, too. And I think I will find it irresistible to return to them, putting them in more impossible situations.

But I want to get back to the next book in the Dark Age trilogy. Last year, when I was waiting for medical attention after breaking my knee, I worked out the plot outline for book 2, The Triumph of the Sky. (Guess which song inspired that and I’ll send you a personalized, signed e-copy of The Bones of the Earth.)

The Dark Age trilogy is what I call “historical magic realism.” It’s epic fantasy, but set in a real time and place: the sixth-century CE Eastern Roman Empire, often known now as the Byzantine Empire. But the people there at the time called themselves “Roman,” even though most of them spoke Greek.

The Bones of the Earth, book 1 in the trilogy, was about Javor, a poor Sklavenic boy from beyond the Empire’s borders, who travels to Constantinople, the capital of the Empire, searching for answers about his parents’ death and his great-grandfather’s magical dagger. The second volume will tell the story of Javor as a young man, living in Constantinople with a wife and family, going on several adventures and contending with deep, supernatural forces. It’s based on a number, just as the first volume was. I’ve made some progress: two chapters written. In a future post, I’ll post some advance samples when I’m happy with them.

But don’t get too excited. Triumph is going to be a big book, like Bones was. But I’ll keep you up to date on progress, and I’ll have lots of contests and giveaways along the way. One of the first will be a giveaway to anyone who can deduce or guess which number figures prominently in the plot of The Bones of the Earth, and later another one for the number that’s the basis of The Triumph of the Sky.

See you soon!

#LeiCrimeKW Sneak peek: Echoes



It’s just two days until my next book comes out on Amazon, along with eleven others in the Lei Crime Kindle World. You’ve seen previews of Meg Amor’s Pele’s Revenge, Shawn McGuire’s Over Her Head, Rescue in Reno by Julie C. Gilbert and J.L. Oakley’s Volcano House. Today, I’m giving you another look at my latest, Echoes.

DiscoverLCKWMay17FB-2Echoes, Chapter 5:

Coming home again

2014

“The place is different,” Dylan said.

Vanessa agreed. The battered chain-link fence she remembered had been replaced by one made of faux-wood in a cheerful bright green, and the stucco of the house itself had been painted a terra-cotta color. She remembered how she had always thought the car port beside the house, an extension of the roof like a lean-to, was about to collapse. Now it looked freshly painted as well, and solid metal supports had replaced the splintered wooden ones of her memory. The windows were new, too, and the little bit of grass, browning in the Oahu heat, was neatly trimmed. Even the strip between the fence and street was short and neat.

In the car-port itself was a grey Toyota Tacoma that looked no more than five or six years old, and while it had its share of dings and dents from use, it looked in good shape.

“Your Mom has been looking after the place,” she agreed.

There was no step from the ground to the solid-slab front door. Dylan tried the handle. “Huh. Locked. Ma never used to lock the door during the daytime.” He reached into his front pocket for a key.

“You still have a key to your mother’s house? After fifteen years?”

The key would not even slide into the lock. “Wha? She changed the locks?”

Echoes - 529x800 V3“Now that I think of it, it looks like a completely different door handle. Wasn’t it a round knob back then?” Vanessa asked.

“She must’a been doing good,” Dylan said.

The door whipped open to reveal a short woman wearing a floral blouse, cargo shorts and an angry, threatening expression. She had large, dark brown eyes under heavy dark brows. Long dark brown hair was piled into a thick bun on top of her head. Her full lips were drawn into a snarl. She looked up at Dylan, eyes widening and jaw slowly dropping until her mouth described a circle. She jumped up to wrap her arms around Dylan’s neck and pulled his chest into her face. Then she kissed his face over and over, crying “Dylan! Oh my god, where have you been?”

She released him just as suddenly, stepped back and swung her arm to slap Dylan’s face so hard, he staggered to the side. Vanessa put her hands out to steady him. “Where have you been? Fifteen years and you never once came to see me, never once even called me. How could you treat your mother that way?”

“Ma,” Dylan groaned. “I wrote to you, didn’t I? Every month. Never missed.”

“Yah, with no return address, ever. You never even told me where you were. You just up and disappear one day with no explanation, nothing. You left me and your brother alone all these years, and now you show up at my door with no notice? Nothing? What are you thinking?”

“I’m sorry, Ma. I came back to help Cole.”

Dylan’s mother turned away, sighing. “Cole. Yes, he needs help.” She seemed to notice Vanessa for the first time. “Oh my god. Is this … Vanessa Storm?” Without waiting for an answer, she took Vanessa’s head between her hands and kissed her on both cheeks.

What is Echoes about?

“I am hopelessly in love with a memory. An echo from another time, another place.” — Michel Foucault

In 1999, the Kahuna was The Man on Oahu’s west coast. The coolest guy at the wildest parties, with the coolest posse, the best weed and the most beautiful girlfriend.

Then he disappeared.

Fifteen years later, that girlfriend is no longer a high school senior. She is FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm, and she sees through every lie the Kahuna spins when he shows up again to beg her help.

How can she say no when the Kahuna wants her help not for himself, but to protect his little brother. Young Cole ‘Aukai is ready to set fire to the whole Oahu illegal drug trade—for revenge.

Echoes is my fourth Lei Crime Kindle World title, and they all feature Vanessa Storm. If you want to know more about her special character, check out:

Join the Three-Day on launch day



SKRW-fbimageThe Three-Way, my new Sydney Rye Kindle World thriller, launches on Thursday, April 27—with a party on Facebook.

Join me and other authors at https://www.facebook.com/events/1056089217869168/ where you can ask questions, learn more about your favourite Sydney Rye world characters and writers.

There will be prizes, too, including Amazon gift cards ($$moiney$$!) and other goodies that I can’t tell you about without spoiling the surprises.

So join us on Facebook. I’ll be on host duty from 7:00–7:30 Eastern Time, ready to answer all your questions about Sydney, Robert Maxim, and of course Van and LeBrun.

Save the date: April 27, 2017.

3-WayCover-FINAL-smaller