Remembering the Dead

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 10.58.29 AMOne of the curious things about writing is that we often get to write about dead people.

By that I don't mean the living dead, or vampires (though they take up a lot of fictional space on the shelf), but real human beings who once existed. Who walked in the real world. Who were loved or hated, held or rejected. Our interactions, our love, our frustrations with the people who once breathed the same air as us cannot help but have an influence on our writing. And that influence, that presence, allows us to draw inspiration from them and to honour them (or, if they were not the most pleasant of souls,  at least recreate how they walked in the world).

When a friend or a family member has lost someone dear one of the kindest gifts we can give is to say the names of the dead. Often something simple will suffice. "I remember how much Tim enjoyed laughing." Or "Shelly had a real knack for finding the right word and the right time." Why is it important to say their names? Because for those few moments for the listener it will feel as if that person is still alive. By saying a name we essentially say, "Yes, he existed--yes, she was here on this earth." It is a way of paying honour. That's why we put names on gravestones. As long as the person is named and not forgotten, in some small way that person still exists.

Writing can be another way of naming the dead. I could not have written Megiddo's Shadow, a world war one novel, without being moved by all the deaths I'd read about in my research. But I drew most of the inspiration from the death of my own great uncle Percy, who was killed a short time before the end of the war. His death still ripples across the shared memories of my family. His photograph is on the wall in my parent's home, beside the letter that was written by his sergeant to say that Percy had been killed in action. We name Percy every Remembrance day. We honour who he was. Obviously I never knew Percy since he died a long time before I was born. But we have spoken his name enough times that he is alive in my family's shared memory. It is that loss, both the imagined and real, that helped compel me to write the novel.

David, my eldest brother, was killed in a car accident in 1980. Though I never want to draw direct lines between real life and my fiction, I do know that the loss that Robert feels when his brother Matthew disappears in Dust is echoed in my experience of loss. As is the loss Edward feels when his brother Hector is killed in Megiddo's Shadow. All of that is echoed. My daughter, Tori, who died in 2008 due to complications from Leukaemia, had Down Syndrome. Her presence in my life had been one of several things that inspired me to create The Hunchback Assignments, a book with a hero who had a handicap. I don't know that I would have been able to approach that story without knowing what her world was like and how the outside world often reacts to those who have a disability. Of course, the book itself is not about her. But as writers we can't help but draw on the knowledge and experience we gain from the real world. And by this I don't mean we have to recreate the person we loved (though I did, for my own purposes, place my own version of my grandfather briefly in Megiddo's Shadow).

Of course, you never want your writing to become a rote story, a lesson to the world.  We should always be loyal to the story first. Instead use that knowledge and emotion you've experienced in your loss to make the world of your writing a deeper and richer place. Take that emotion and let it be the engine of the new worlds, new characters you want to create.

We should never be afraid to name the dead.


Doomsday Correction

Screen Shot 2012-12-20 at 1.16.41 PMIt turns out the doomsday theorists were right. The world will end. Not today. Or tomorrow. They just had the timing a little bit off. In 4 to 7.9 billion years the sun will become a red giant. No, this is not a character from D&D with a thousand hit points (though that would be awesome). It means the sun will blush, turn red and slowly expand outwards as if it had just consumed 10 trillion turkeys. Speaking of consuming things, this giant red star will either consume the Earth or the Earth will be knocked to a more distant orbit. No, the Earth won't go flying around the galaxy like the moon did in Space 1999. That was a TV show.

Anyway, The good news is that we (as in humanity) won't be around on the planet to see the red giant effect. We will likely have died off long before that. Maybe in as little as 600 million to a billion years from far too much heat on the surface of our planet (unless someone invents a really great sunblock lotion).

But don't worry about that. Before any of that happens ET will phone home and call in the flying saucer cavalry and save us all.

Meanwhile, wear a hat on sunny days.


Shapechanging Authors

Screen Shot 2012-12-19 at 10.19.35 AM Ideas come from odd places. And the idea of having a shapeshifting hunchback as a main character was a doozy (that’s an official writing term, btw). I had been wanting to write a series inspired by the Victorian age and had been toying with a Sherlock Holmes-type character. Since I happened to be reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the same time, I thought, “Why not combine the two by turning the hunchback into a Victorian detective?” There was something fun and intriguing about mashing those stories together. And so Modo was born. But, I soon realized that I had a big problem. If the hunchback was a detective then any time he walked into a room people would recognize him. Murderers and thieves would run away, never to be caught. So I had to find a way around this problem. Disguises would work, except it would be hard for him to disguise his body. So then the idea dropped into my head, “Why not give him the ability to shift his shape?”

This solved several problems at once. No one would recognize him because he could take any shape that he wanted. I decided that there would be time limits on how long he could be in that shape, thus creating more drama. I could explain it all as an evolutionary trait, a very Victorian idea. And, of course, there would be that Beauty and the Beast thing...except he would be able to become the beauty for a short time before returning to his hunchbacked state. This created one very important question for me to explore: would he someday be able to stay in a more pleasing shape or would he learn to accept who he was and not care about how the world saw him? It is the overarching question of the series.

This shapechanging ability meant that I could insert Modo into a variety of situations and his own friends and, more importantly, the reader wouldn’t recognize him until he was revealed. So it added an extra sense of intrigue. That was the fun part. The difficult part was always finding a new thing for him to do with these abilities. After all if he kept imitating the same people over and over again, that would become boring. I also soon realized that it would be best to turn him into a secret agent. There would be far more interesting situations for him to explore.

My research was mostly in my own head. But I was concerned about having a plausible scientific reason for his ability and so researched the variety of fish, chameleons, and insects that easily change their colour or even their shape to fool predators. It was a much longer list than I’d realized.

In the end it has been a grand adventure. I’m so thankful that the idea came to me out of the ether or out of the blue or from within the pages of Sherlock and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Now that I think of it, ideas are the real shapechangers--always changing their shape until they take a form that an author can use to create a story.


This post was previously posted on

Shades: the reboot of an Ebook

Over a year and a half ago I released my collection of short stories as an ebook under the title SHADES: Sixteen Startling Stories Here's the original cover:

I designed the cover myself and thought it was serviceable, but not really eye catching. After all this time, I decided I'd revamp the book with a brand new look. Here's the cover by artist Carl Graves:
It's a far more powerful cover. The character on the front reminds me of the woman in the short story titled Fairytale. And, as you can see, I've changed the subtitle to: Tales of Fear and Wonder. I find that a more interesting subtitle.
So this is the official reboot of the book! Let's see if it grows new wings, or legs, or...whatever it is that books grow.
It's available now on Amazon, Amazon UK, iBooks, Nook, and Kobo.

The Island of Doom is released in the American Colonies

Here Ye! Here Ye! The United States of America (formally known as that place with all those colonies and such) has just opened its gates and its ports and its mailboxes to the fourth and final novel in The Hunchback Assignments series: The Island of Doom!*Yes, that's my long winded way of saying that today is the official release day of the novel in America. Here's the cover:

"IS that the Island of DOOOOOOOM?"
Here's the official description: After previous assignments in London, the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Australian rain forest, this final adventure in the Hunchback Assignments series finds our hero, shape-shifting, masked spy Modo, on his most personal quest. Along with fellow spy Octavia Milkweed, they search for Modo's biological parents. But when the Clockwork Guild find Modo's parents first, Octavia and Modo chase them across Europe and North America to the Island of Doom. Joined by memorable characters from the first three books--some loveable, and some who are terrifying and evil--Modo and Octavia dash towards a thrilling conclusion.

Here are the accolades. Err, well accolade (this is the only review so far--ahem--of course the book is only a day old): "By turns touching and pulse-pounding, this conclusion will leave fans fully satisfied." Kirkus Reviews

And here's what all the books look like together. One big happy family!

It is so very odd to be done this series. What will I do with my time now? And all my steampunk outfits? I'll figure out something.

I'm very proud of how the whole story turned out. And--sniff--and now they're all grown up and out there in the world. Have fun with them America! Watch out for Hakkandottir!

P.S. Yes, the series is over. It's done. Sorry that it had to end. I won't be writing another one, alas...well, then again I did have this idea of putting Modo in the wild west and....hmmm
*Island of Doom should always be said in a loud voice so as to attract the most attention possible. And please carry the vowel sound in doom. Like this: "ISLAND OF DOOOOOOOOOOOOM!" Also, set off a few firecrackers and maybe a roman candle or a blunderbuss. That'll really add to the overall impression.

Gazillions sold: 1 1/2 years of eBook sales! Complete with charts!

First, let me define gazillions. It is not as high as a bizillion. And yet not as low as umpteen. There, now that we have that out o' the way, here are my latest stupendously interesting eBook sales findings.

You may or may not remember that my last posting was at the one year mark where I was basking in the glow of selling 1785 books in a month. Here it that post: click these highlighted words and be amazed.

A lot has changed since those heady days. In fact sales have slowed to a factor of umpteen dozen.

Here are the books I have for sale (with clickable links because, well, we live in a highly clickable world):


Aren't they pretty? Don't they just say purchase me and save the universe? Anyway, things have gone downhill since my last update. This can be illustrated in a very fancy chart:

Okay, first thing to notice is that nearly 8000 books have sold since I started this experiment. That's a big Woo Hoo! Second thing to notice is that those little columns that represent monthly sales are getting smaller and smaller (that's a big sniff sniff). September of 2011 and January of 2012 are my two biggest sales months. The reason for that is I used the "free" method. That's where I'd give away a book for free on Kindle. Then when I switched it back to "paid" status it would rocket up the charts (DUST made up most of these's the blue colour in the columns). Alas, that "free" method is mostly dead. Due to several changes in Amazon's algorithms books don't tend to get the same bounce after being free. It may be helpful if you have a very specific genre novel that has the name Shades of Grey Throney Games, but otherwise the free method is not so helpful. Also it used to be if you sold a .99 cent book or a 9.99 cent book they "weighed" the same on the charts. But now the higher priced books get a higher placing on the charts. So it's not just numbers sold but it's the price of books that makes a difference in where you end up in the rankings. Why not price all my books at 9.99? Well, because then there aren't as many sales. I'm still trying to find that happy medium.

Hey speaking of sales, here's what they were for the last six months:

Wow, there is a downward trend. Part of that is timing. People buy more books in the Fall, not so many in the Spring and Summer. So I do expect sales to pick up starting this month. And generally I'm making about $200-300 a month from books that were out of print or weren't being sold in foreign markets. Since I make the majority of my income from my traditionally published books this eBook income is still a nice stipend to receive every month. And I don't seem to have to do that much more work to get that $. Someday I hope to do no work and receive trunkloads of money, but that's not happened to me yet.

So, there's my update. Live long and prosper, everyone. Or is it party hard and prosper? Hmmm.


P.S. I've also gone back into the vaults and released two of my unpublished novels. But since they were written for a "grown up" audience (swearing, sex, and well... gore) I decided to put them out under the name Stephen Shea. I published them totally to satisfy my own curiosity about how these novels would be received by an audience that didn't know me. I have touched them up a bit, but tried to keep them as true as possible to the writer I was back then.

Damage was written in my Stephen King phase. Much later I took the frame of the story and turned it into Draugr.

And The Not So Simple Life was written during my Tai Chi/Martial Arts/Comedy stage. Doesn't everyone have one of those stages?

Anyway, I have been having fun with the books. And I was particularly pleased that Not So Simple Life has received a few great reviews. From people I've never met before and they aren't even related to me!