The End of all Things (or how Steven King changed my life)

29 Jun



“We’re going to visit your brothers tomorrow,” my Mother announced.

Oh, no! My heart sank. It was 1980, I was 14-years old, and I had learned to dread these bi-monthly trips. Neither of my parents could drive, so a visit to my brothers meant we’d have to take a bus the 15 or so miles to the little Welsh town of Pontypridd. For a kid who suffered from horrendous motion sickness, this was the equivalent of spending an hour and a half on the most stomach churning roller coaster ride you could possibly imagine.

But this trip was going to be different – this trip was going to change my life. This would be the day I discovered Steven King.

Besides seeing my older married brothers (I’m the next to last youngest of a family of 8), the one other redeeming part of this hellish trip was a visit to Pontypridd’s indoor-market, a single story building that’s been the centerpiece of the town for over 150 years.

As I pushed through the double doors to the market, I was hit by an odor unique to these kinds of places: the smell of sawdust from the butchers’ stall mixed with the fragrance of a florist, the aroma of coffee and doughnuts, and the ever-present scent of wet humans forced into uncomfortably close proximity with each other by the narrow walkways. (It always seemed to be raining in Ponty). As I nudged my way through the crowd of damp bodies, I eventually came to a stall I’d never noticed before; a secondhand book vendor with row upon row of used paperback novels, their spines facing the ceiling and sitting in neat white boxes, each box clearly labeled by genre.

I’d been brought up on a steady diet of H.G. Wells, spiced with a liberal sprinkling of 50’s B-movies and Saturday morning matinees like Damnation Alley, at the local cinema. So, of course, I headed straight to the box labeled Sci-Fi/Horror.  And it was here, amongst the other well-thumbed novels, that I spotted the book that was to have such a profound effect on my life.

Wait a minute!

This wasn’t a book; at 823 pages this thing was a tome. A lightning bolt bisected the cover and the image of a man, his eyes bleeding and his head morphed into the shape of a cross, instantly demanded my teenage mind’s undivided attention.

The Stand, the title read. Above that, in huge green letters: Stephen King.

I recognized the author’s name, he was the guy who’d written Carrie, a book I’d seen at my local library but never quite got around to reading. I flipped to the back cover and read the blurb: This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.

Coooooooollll, I thought, and promptly handed the man behind the counter a one-pound note.

I sat down on one of the benches near the market’s exit and immediately began reading… I was instantly hooked. It took just over a week to complete my first adventure in King’s post-apocalyptic world. When I finished, I started it over again, reading it from cover to cover and savoring every finely crafted sentence.

I’ve probably read The Stand close to 15 or more times since then.

My fascination with the post-apocalyptic genre could be called morbid. After all, what is so interesting about imagining the death and suffering of billions of human beings? But as connoisseurs of the apocalyptic genre, we know it isn’t the death and destruction that draws us to these stories (well, mostly); that’s just a convenient plot device for freeing up the map for the real action. Post-apoc stories are about the human experience … us! How we face our own frailty and how we choose to define ourselves after all the rules of modern life are stripped away.

In every story of this kind, each of us is inevitably faced with the same question: What would I do?

When I was a kid, I didn’t really understand that concept. I was attracted to the adventure and the mayhem. The thought that I could have been one of those who died when Captain Trips swept across the world never crossed my mind. Such is the invincible heart of a naïve teenager.

Skip forward 23-years and I am faced with my very own apocalypse of sorts. I’d moved to Los Angeles in 1997 to be with my wife, but in 2003 fate conspired against us and we lost everything we owned. Gone was the beautiful house and cars, our bank accounts were empty. Our lives and our future had been erased and we were facing the very real possibility of a life on the streets. We decided to take a chance: we packed up our animals and the last of our belongings and moved out of California, heading to Nevada in the hopes of starting a new life.

With one-month’s deposit to put down on a rental property, no jobs and a few hundred dollars we had managed to save from a yard-sale, our future looked bleak. Much like the survivors in King’s story, those first few months were riddled with danger and uncertainty. The possibility that one miscalculation on our part, one wrong move or error of judgment, could bring our fragile existence crashing down on us was always present. A few months passed, my wife managed to find a job but I was still out of work and money was still so tight, I couldn’t even afford to buy her a birthday present for her 40th birthday.

Instead, I turned to what I do best – I wrote her a book.

It wasn’t just any book: this was a version of our battle, a metaphor for all the pain we had gone through and everything we had lost, set down in the form of a post-apocalyptic novel that painted a very different end-of-the-world scenario.

Towards Yesterday, was my gift to Karen. And while it painted a bleak picture of a world that seemed doomed to total annihilation, just like The Stand, it also offered the very real possibility that if we worked together we could overcome anything thrown at us, as long as we never, ever, lost sight of the one thing that mattered most – our hope.

I’m 44 now and our lives are finally back on track. The horrendous trips to Pontypridd has been replaced by an hour-long drive through the Las Vegas desert to reach the nearest bookshop (thank God for my Kindle).

What are the chances that I should live a stones throw away from the very city where humanity’s last survivors met for their final confrontation with Randall Flagg and his army? And what am I doing here? I’m writing my own post-apocalyptic novels that would never have existed if it hadn’t been for that chance encounter at a used bookstore so many miles away and so very many years ago.

It seems almost poetic, don’t you think?

M—O—O—N, that’s how you spell poetic.


A quick update on the blog

17 Jun

Hi all.

You may have noticed the blog is undergoing a bit of a makeover. I’m also  adding a bunch of new sections, like free short-stories, a download area where you will be able to download a lonnnnngggggg (probably at least 50%) sample of Towards Yesterday, and a review section to help promote some of the incredibly exciting new authors that I’ve met in the month or so since I’ve been writing this blog.


Most of the new sections aren’t in at the moment, although they may be visible on the site. I’m hoping that I’ll have the time to implement them all in the coming week.

So, stay tuned.






That’s the BigAl’s Books and Pals effect – Part Deux!

08 Jun

About two weeks ago, I published a blog that attempted to take a critical look at the  market effect a writer could expect to see if they received a positive review from what is, arguably, the biggest and hottest indie-book review site on the web.

I’m talking, of course, about BigAl’s Books and Pals blog.

That last foray into marketing analysis didn’t turn out so well – you can read the original blog entry here , and only really proved how fickle Amazon’s ranking system is when your book is sitting around 100,000th place.

At the time, I mentioned I was going to give it another shot, simply because the review I chose was for a short-story, and I happened to know the author. So I knew I could probably get some finer details on his sales.

This time, I picked two books recently reviewed by BigAl, both full length novels, and both received five-star marks. Those books are:


  • Vestal Virgin, by Suzanne Tyrpak. Historical fiction set in Rome
  • Along Came a Demon, by Linda Welch. Urban fantasy/horror

I used to track both books positions for a couple of days before the reviews appeared.

So, without further ado, here are the results:

Vestal Virgin

The Vestal Virgin review was published at 8:00 am on Monday, May 30th. At that time, Vestal Virgin’s Amazon Best Sellers ranking was #6,079.  Novel rank showed Vestal Virgin as ranking at an average of #6,000 for the two days before the review appeared.

It held the following top-100 category rankings:

#8 in the nonfiction>history>Ancient>Rome

#8 in Books>History>Ancient>Rome

#12 in Books>History>Europe>Italy

Over the next 5 hours, Vestal Virgin’s ranking continued to decrease nicely, reaching #5,203 at 4:00 pm

#7 in the nonfiction>history>Ancient>Rome

#7 in Books>History>Ancient>Rome

#9 in Books>History>Europe>Italy

There was a slow increase from that point on but the following day, at 10:00 am, Vestal Virgin had reached #4,233 and had settled in nicely to the following rankings:

#5 in the nonfiction>history>Ancient>Rome

#5 in Books>History>Ancient>Rome

#7 in Books>History>Europe>Italy

As of 3:00 pm today (Wednesday, June 8th), Vestal Virgin sits at #9,713

#13 in the nonfiction>history>Ancient>Rome

#14 in Books>History>Ancient>Rome

#24 in Books>History>Europe>Italy


Along Came a Demon


When BigAl’s review was released at 8:00 am, on May, 31st, Along Came a Demon ranked at #1,889.   Novel rank showed Along Came a Demon as ranking at an average of #1,500 for the two days before the review appeared.

It held the following top-100 category rankings:

#4 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror > Ghosts

#70 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror

Along Came a Demon hovered around the same position until noon when  there was three hours of positive movement for the book which moved it a hundred places or so to #1,719

#3 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror > Ghosts

#67 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror

As of 3:00 pm today, Along Came a Demon sits quite comfortably at # 2,827

#6 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror > Ghosts

#100 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror

I have a sneaking suspicion that the BigAl’s effect was watered down somewhat due to the fact that Along Came a Demon was already a very  popular book at the time the review was released, which could have greatly dampened the review’s impact.

I don’t have any numbers on sales, unfortunately, as I know neither of the authors featured.

I do think that it is clear that the extra exposure from a BigAl’s review (and most likely, to a lesser extent, any other indie review site) will have an immediate positive impact on a book’s sales. That initial exciting boost to your sales might be short lived, but the long term benefits are likely to be far more tangible to an author’s reputation. After all, the only way the majority of self-published  books are  going to get the kind of long term sales needed to sustain an author, is through word-of-mouth and positive exposure through sites like BigAl’s.

A positive review from BigAl looks like it will be a great shot in the arm for any new author, with long term benefits that could be measured over years and go a long way to help create a positive image of an author in readers’ eyes.

Lastly, this is quite obviously not a scientific review of BigAl’s effect on the book market. It’s a purely subjective experiment, based on some definitely un-empirical processes, gut instincts and personal observations.

For a comprehensive list of review sites that you can send your Ms to, check out Simon Royle’s blog – he keeps a list of review sites that is second to none: you can find it by clicking here



If you’re self publishing, you need to read this Forbes article

08 Jun

A fantastic piece by Forbes writer and blogger, Alan Rinzler, that defines the current state of self publishing for both authors and publishers. Do yourself a favor and read it.

Click here for the article


Towards Yesterday breaks through 10,000 barrier

05 Jun

A minor milestone for me today.  At exactly 8:00 am, Towards Yesterday broke through the 10,000 mark of the Amazon Bestsellers Rankings to arrive at #9,514. While this barrier apparently exists only in my head (no knock on the door, no check for a million bucks), it is an achievement for me — it means I am doing something right and driving sales in the right direction. Okay – only 9,414 ranks to go until I get in the top 100 :)



How to track down and join Facebook Groups – a simple guide

02 Jun

I’ve read that one of the fastest ways for an author to gain new social contacts on Facebook (FB), is by joining a FB Group. These, as the name suggests, are collections of  FB users who have banded together to communicate directly with each other about their favorite subject. This represents a fantastic opportunity for authors looking to promote their book – If you can track down a group of like-minded people who are interested in your particular genre; you basically have a captive audience who are already interested in what you are selling.

Not having much of a social network to speak of, this sounded to me like the perfect platform to reach out to potential readers of my novel, Towards Yesterday. It’s a sci-fi adventure story, so naturally, I was interested in connecting and participating in any groups interested in science fiction.

But tracking down these groups was quite confusing, as I’ve not been a big user of Facebook until recently. There didn’t seem to be any reliable information on FB’s help pages on how to find a group, neither was there anything particularly useful that I could track down on the web. So, after a lot of trial and error, I decided to throw together a quick-and-dirty guide for the social networking newbie on how to find and join groups on Facebook.

Here we go: how to find and join Facebook groups in 6 easy steps:

1)      Look at the top of your Facebook page and you will see a white search box. Type in the name of the kind of group you are interested in joining. For instance; if you’re target market is Young Adult, type in YA or Young Adult. My book is a science fiction novel so I tried Sci Fi and Science Fiction.

2)      As you type you will see a list of suggestions matching your entry pop-up beneath the search box. These will include user names, pages, accounts and groups that match what you are typing. The important thing here is NOT to hit the enter key, that will just select the top item in the search results and take you to their page. Instead, you can either click the magnifying glass at the far right of the search box or click-on the See More Results link at the bottom of the list.

3)      When you’ve clicked, you will be taken to a results page that lists the first 20 or so matches of your search term. Rather than page through the list to find what you’re looking for, you can filter out everything except groups with a single click of a button.

4)     Here’s how you do that. Look at the column on the far left of your screen. You should see a list of clickable filters. One of those will say “Groups”. Click it and you will immediately be presented with a list of all the groups containing your search term. The group results will include the name of the group and the number of people who are currently members.

5)      To the right of each Group you will see a clickable button that will  say either “Request to Join” or “Join Group”. This merely denotes which groups require you to be approved before gaining access and which ones you can simply click and immediately join.

6)      Just click on the join button for the group you are interested in and you are ready to go.

Remember, these are groups of people who are there to talk about their particular interest. I’m pretty sure that constant spamming of links to your website or book’s Amazon page will only result in getting you banned. Use the groups for what they are, places to talk with like-minded people about a subject that is close to both theirs and your hearts.

There may be an easier way to do this, but as I said at the beginning, I couldn’t find it. Feel free to email me any other suggestions and I’ll incorporate them into the guide.

Good luck and I’d love to hear about your successes.


About Towards Yesterday

01 Jun

What would you do if you suddenly found yourself twenty-five years in the past? For the nine-billion people of the year 2042 it’s no longer a question … it is a reality.

When a revolutionary experiment in communication goes catastrophically wrong, the human race is thrown through time twenty-five years into their past. In this strange and dangerous yesterday the dead are alive again, the old young once more and the world is thrust into chaos.

James Baston, a former Physicist with a painful secret, is contacted by the scientist responsible for the disaster in the hope of averting an even greater catastrophe. With the help of a team of scientists, a reincarnated murder victim and a frustrated genius trapped in her six-year old body, James must try to stop the certain extinction of humanity. But if the deluded leader of the Church of Second Redemption has his way, humanity will disappear into potentiality … and he is willing to do anything to ensure that that happens.

A serial killer, a murder victim, a dead priest, and James’ lives are all inextricably bound together as they plummet towards an explosive final confrontation, the winner of which will decide the fate of humanity.

Available now for the Kindle and Nook.

There’s writing and then there’s writing

29 May

I’m a lucky guy. No, really I am. I get to do what I almost love, every day.

I already write for a living; as a freelance commercial copywriter and reporter (I don’t do much of the latter, these days) I get to knock out a couple of thousand words daily. But, you may have noticed that I said “almost” love — let me explain.

Since I was a kid I’ve been driven to write. I’ve had short stories published, I’ve had articles published, I was working as a freelance reporter for a sports magazine when I was in my late teens. I was almost always the one singled out in my English class to read their work aloud.I love to write. It runs dark and thick through my veins.

But deep inside, I’ve always wanted – needed, really – to write fiction … to be an author. I need to entertain, and to share the weird, and often frightening worlds that inhabit the inside of my skull. I already know that I can write, people pay me to do that on a daily basis, but to write a work of fiction you have to be something more than just a writer: you have to be a storyteller. I think that fact gets by a lot of would-be authors these days, they are so concerned with their writing skills (which, of course, they should be, to an extent) that they forget they also need to be able to weave a good yarn, that their ability to put a bunch of words down on paper is just a tool for their inner storyteller being able to arrange those words in the right order, to create the myth we all want to read.

Phillip Pullman, the author of the wonderful “His Dark Materials”  sums up for me the essence of story: “‘Thou shalt not’ is soon forgotten, but ‘Once upon a time’ lasts forever.”

Once upon a time … those four words are the first step for every good fiction writer, whether they know it or not. They may have their own version of that sentence, of course, but in the end it always comes back to “once upon a time …” Any writer who doesn’t start out with that initial “what if …” is going about his craft all wrong. Why? Because they are forgetting that it’s their job to entertain the reader; to take them on a journey, truthful or imagined, and to help them see all the sights along the way. And when the journey is over, the reader needs to feel like they received something more precious than the couple of dollars that they paid out for your story. Forget that and you are doomed to forever be your only fan.

I strive to be a good writer, I know I am a decent one. The nagging question for me is, Am I a good storyteller? I believe I am.

So, why the “almost love” statement? Because the only time that I feel that I am achieving my true potential, that I am firmly in the groove my life was created to run in, is when I am writing fiction. When I can let my thoughts wander to the deepest most colorful places in my mind, the places where strange folk and stranger encounters wait for this explorer to find them and show them to the world, sharing them with my readers. That is the only time that I truly love to write. To do that on a daily basis AND be paid for it, now that would be true love.

I’ve come to realize that, in the end,there is writing and then, there is writing.


Authors note: If you have read my  science fiction novel Towards Yesterday, I’d encourage you to share what you think of it by leaving a review at either Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


A novel reaction to a bad review

23 May

A different take on dealing with a bad review by author Christine Rice

That’s the “Big Al’s Books & Pals” effect

23 May

If you follow indie publishing even slightly, the chances are that you will  have heard of the blog  BigAl’s Books and Pals. Run by the blog’s namesake, it’s dedicated to reviewing indie authors that publish their books on Amazon’s Kindle. I would hazard a guess that if you only recently heard about BigAl, it was because of the recent Internet kerfuffle that occurred after a seemingly simple disagreement over a negative review, escalated into the indie-author’s equivalent of all-out global thermonuclear war.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google “bigal Greek seaman” and have a read.

The back and forth between BigAl and the author of The Greek Seaman drew a lot of attention to both the author’s book and BigAl. Judging by the number of 1-star rating’s The Greek Seaman now has on its Amazon page, I think it is safe to say that the author lost that particular scuffle. However,  BigAl was suddenly thrust into the limelight and his site now seems to be the place to get your indie book reviewed.

But the battle that ensued between BigAl and the upset author is not the point of this blog entry. What I’m more interested in is the effect that a positive review from BigAl might have on an indie publication. Would it be beneficial? Would there be any noticeable increase in sales? I decided to try a little (mostly scientific) experiment to find out.

I subscribe to the Books And Pals Twitter feed, and this past Friday (May 20th) I spotted a review candidate that I thought was worth using as my test subject.

If you haven’t heard of  William Vitka, he’s a talented writer and journalist with several well reviewed short-stories available to buy on Amazon’s site. I’m guessing he probably heard about BigAl the same way I did (namely the Greek Seaman review) and had submitted his latest short-story The Dangers of Field Work for review. Well, his story was accepted and it received 4 out of 5 stars. Not bad for a 2,000 word short.

I decided to monitor the sales of William’s story using the  Amazon’s Best Seller ranking info available for every book Amazon sells. The info is updated hourly, and basically shows where the book ranks against the estimated 750,000 or so other ebooks available on Amazon’s site. I decided that I would not only monitor the review’s effect on The Danger of Field Work, but also watch whether there was any noticeable effect on William’s other two publications, The Boneyard and Bodily Harm.

These are the positions of each of William’s books when I first began monitoring their ranking around 8:00 am Friday:

The Danger’s of Field Work      #140,915
The Boneyard                                #120,118
Bodily Harm                                   #198,596

For the next 12 hours I monitored the ranking figures for each of his books. Each hour I dutifully reloaded the relevant pages and noted the sales ranking. Each book gradually lost position in ranking, which is normal (a book’s sales position is calculated using a whole host of variables that I won’t go into). At 4:00 pm each book had dropped to the following positions:

The Danger’s of Field Work       #145,503
The Boneyard                                #124,774
Bodily Harm                                    #200,993

But then, at 5:00 pm, something amazing happened — The Danger’s of Field Work had suddenly shot up to position 42,245; an increase of over 103,000 places on the sales ranking list. A seemingly incredible leap. Now, needless to say, I haven’t been monitoring William’s work other than for that one day, so I didn’t know whether this was the kind of thing that happened to him on a regular basis, but I was willing to make a bet that it was a direct result of BigAl’s review, because both of William’s other books continued their slow slide down the ranking’s.

The only way to confirm that the review had had any kind of an impact  was to contact the author directly. I spoke with Will and showed him my carefully collected info, and he explained that the sudden spike was indeed due to his BigAl review, but it was the number of sales Will reported that took me by surprise. That massive leap from #145,503 to 42,245 place was the result of … drum roll please … one sale. That’s 1 with no zeros after it.

Will  was quick to point out that he thought the problem was probably due to the fact that he was selling a 2,000 word story at the same price as other author’s choose to sell their novel’s, but still … 1 sale!

Whether the review will have any longterm impact on Will’s sales  is unclear at the moment.  After all, the canny author  knows that publishing a book is a marathon not a sprint. Yet, one thing seems to be perfectly apparent – getting a positive review by a reputable and respected reviewer is going to have some impact on your career. How much? Well only time will tell. However, getting a negative review (especially if you decide to argue with the reviewer) can just as quickly put an end to it, too.

A final note: I’ve decided that I’ll try and conduct this little experiment again with the next full length novel that get’s reviewed over at BigAl. I’ll let you know as soon as a suitable candidate shows up.