Saturday, September 26, 2015

Less Than a Week!

In just a few days--five to be exact--it will officially be on the market. This book has been so long in the making that I honestly wondered at times if it would ever see the light of day. But it's here! The cover is finished and approved by the printer and the interior--after a stupid glitch on my part--is about to be approved. Which means that it will be ready for my final review and then off to print it goes! I expect to hear later today, or tomorrow at the latest. So I may be able to order them for my own sales as early as this evening! Is this real life?

Photo by Charlie Gesell
Model: Courtney Elizabeth Stackpole
In case you haven't seen it in the million places I plastered it on social media, here's the cover. I can't fully express how excited I am by it. I thought nothing could match the cover for Kisses and Lies (Thanks Michele Binegar!), but Charlie Gesell has managed to do it. He had the perfect model in Courtney Stackpole, whose face was the face of Jenn Bezaleel the whole time I wrote the book, and Charlie captured  that face perfectly. The setting as well. When he led Courtney and me down into that scary looking basement and showed me that dirty, cobweb-covered door, it was like he'd shown me an actual scene in the book.

And then he put Courtney in place and had her do a couple of poses. He showed me the raw pictures on his camera and then on his computer and I knew we were on to something. He and I had discussed the book for maybe fifteen minutes, and yet he had such a perfect vision for the tone I was trying to convey. He showed me an initial version of the picture after he'd done just a few edits on it, which made my excitement grow even more. I thought it had the chance to be really good. But nothing could have prepared me for the power of the image he'd created. When I looked at it on my phone I was speechless. I kept picking it up and looking at it over and over. I honestly had trouble sleeping.

But the next day is when the full impact of the image hit me. I pulled it up on my laptop and got a chance to look at it in more detail. The little things he added that made the picture an entire story in itself are what really impress me. The play of light and shadow, the bloody handprint on the floor, the look of sheer terror on her face, all of which was made even more pronounced by the gory color he chose. My only fear is that the book won't live up to the cover.

For those of you on my mailing list, you'll be receiving notice when it's officially up for sale. The target is October 1, but if all the ducks line up nicely, it may be a day or two early. And keep October 17 open on your calendar for a launch party. I'm considering a hybrid online/meat-world event, though I'm just not decided yet. I need to find time to sit down with my trusted advisor Pepper Potts and hammer out exactly how I'm going to do it. And by the way, the reason that the launch is so long after the book comes out is a simple one--that's the first day of the entire month that I have any amount of free time. I'm told it's bad form to throw a book launch party and not have the author there. In the meantime, feel free to buy the book and I'll sign it for you on the 17th.

Friday, September 18, 2015

RRBC Back-To-School Blog & Blog Party!

Welcome to my stop on the party lineup! I'm Joe Stephens. I write soft-boiled detective fiction and that's what you'll receive if you're selected to win the prize for my page. One perseon will receive copies of all three of my Shalan Adventures novels: Harsh Prey, Kisses and Lies, and In the Shadow. I'm sorry to make you wait, but the last book doesn't actually hit the public until October 1, so you'll receive your prize about then. Hope that's not too long a wait. But mostly I hope you enjoy my writing. 

I'm no expert in creating videos, but I've seen a few book and author trailers and felt like the ones that people were paying for were pretty limited and pretty similar, so I thought I'd give it a try for myself. The biggest challenge was finding royalty-free music that I liked (still didn't, but it's the best I found in the time I could give to searching), but I found once again that Windows Live Movie Maker is pretty user friendly. Give it a look and see what you think.  As always, comments are welcome. 

If you want to learn more about my books or me, check out the tabs at the top of the page. You'll find links to my books, my full author website, and my Amazon author page, as well as RRBC and a writers' blog group I'm a member of entitled Writing Wranglers and Warriors. 

But in case that's just too many clicks, here's a little background on me and my books. My disguise is mild-mannered teacher, but my secret identity is intrepid spinner of tales starring Harry and Dee Shalan. Harry is the narrator and he's not Superman, but he's just a little better than the average guy. He's tougher, smarter, a better shot, and (at least he thinks) funnier than the man on the street. And he sees himself as a modern-day knight in shining armor whose job is to defend the defenseless and right wrongs. All while maintaining a sarcastic running dialogue with his best friend, police detective Otis Campbell. Yes, he's named after the drunk on The Andy Griffith Show--his parents' favorite show. 

Harry's partner, in both the professional and marital sense, is Deanna Shalan, known to the world as Dee. She's the whole package--beautiful with flaming red hair, smart, mentally and physically tough, talented (Harry fell in love with her the first time he heard her sing), and a scary good shot with a handgun. 

They are terrific partners in the detective business, but they are better partners romantically. They are madly in love with each other and their love story is part of what I think makes my books a little different from the standard first-person detective story. Harry and Dee have been compared by some readers to Nick and Nora Charles. If you're too young to know who they are, Google them. They are the protagonists in The Thin Man and subsequent movie from the thirties. The movies are based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, probably best known for a much grittier detective story, The Maltese Falcon

You can read the books in any order since they are stand-alone stories, but it's probably most logical to read them in the order I've listed them, as they are in chronological order and you'll understand the overarching development of the main characters and their relationships. 

Please note before you go: if you join my mailing list (look on the right side of the screen), you'll receive an electronic version of Harsh Prey, the first book, as well as the first four chapters of In The Shadow, the soon-to-be-released third book. 

Questions? Comments? Snide remarks? Feel free to get in touch. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Never Forget

Just like everyone who is old enough to remember the event, I clearly recall where I was when the events of 9/11 took place. It's so seared into our memories that it's taken on the dark, twisted equivalent of a star so big that we don't even need to say his or her last name. We all know it, but we don't have to say it. Nobody needs to ask what year you mean. At the risk of being one too many to tell his story, I would like to share my recollection of that event and its aftermath. This is going to be in no way political or controversial, so please don't stop reading for that reason. It's a purely personal narrative. Maybe it will help you process your memories or maybe you're too young to remember the event clearly; I hope this will help you feel the impact in a more meaningful way.

I was teaching at Parkersburg High School, just as I do now, though it was a different place then--in many ways. It happened that I was on my planning period and had gone to the teachers' lounge, which  doubled as the copy room in those days. We had a busted up old television then that didn't work all that well, but it showed the local NBC affiliate. It was early enough that the Today show should've been on, but when I walked in, there were people talking about a plane hitting one of the towers of the World Trade Center. They showed video of it while discussing, as best they knew it, how the plane had come to fly into the side of the building. There was early conjecture that the plane had been hijacked or that there had been a terrible malfunction causing the plane to fly wildly out of control. They even showed footage from an event in the thirties in which a plane lost control and flew into the Empire State Building.
But as they were chattering away, live for the whole world to see, a second plane hit the other tower. This was no accident. It wasn't even a simple hijacking. It was a coordinated attack. This was, of course, confirmed as word filtered in of the other two planes. My main memory of the moments immediately following the impact is of the thousands of sheets of paper raining down out of the building like a macabre ticker-tape parade. When I finally got my wits about me, I ran to the office to tell them what had happened. They turned on a TV and we all watched, stunned, stupefied, almost afraid to consider the ramifications of this event.

Eventually, the bell rang, meaning I had to go back to my room for class. I had a big TV in there too and turned it on. As the kids came in, some having already heard some or all of the news, they sat down, mesmerized, in front of the screen. We all huddled together, trying to work out in our minds just how this all could be real. The TV stayed on all day; only the classes changed. But an odd phenomenon happened that I've never experienced since. As classes changed, it was like someone had hit the mute button. The silence was haunting.

The Student Council, in what has become an annual event, put together a remembrance ceremony. This one was held at night and took the form of a candlelight vigil. My main memories of this are the sea of candles that dotted the front campus and the vacant, wretched face of ET Hague. It didn't occur to me until a couple days later that he was Mary Lou Hague's brother.

Keys to 9/11
As time went on, I found myself becoming addicted to news coverage surrounding the tragedy. I turned on the TV when I woke up, kept it on all day at school, and then turned it back on when I got home. I didn't go out, didn't grade papers, didn't make lesson plans; truth is, I didn't even teach much for quite a while. And when I finally did, it was with the TV muted in the back of the room. I kept watching, growing ever more obsessed with learning every possible detail about the attack and the heartless miscreants who'd perpetrated it. And, in the back of my mind, I was watching for the next hijacking, next bombing, next mass shooting. Many of us at that time feared it was just the first of what was going to be a long series of major assaults on American soil.

Several months passed; I finally had to admit that my dark addiction had caused me to fall into a deep depression. I had to quit. I had to turn off the TV. After all these months, I was still bitter, angry, and depressed. And yet, although I'm a bit of a crybaby under other circumstances, I realized I had never once shed a tear over the nearly 3000 lives that had been lost. I didn't really want to cry but it seemed odd that I never had.

Several more months passed and it was suddenly the first anniversary of the tragic event. Despite some controversy and rumblings that it was too soon because the country was still raw from grief, CBS decided to run a retrospective on 9/11. To be honest, I don't remember that much of the show. I recall feelings more than specific scenes: desperation, frustration, anger, hopelessness, abject sadness. And yet, through it all, I still did not cry.

Until one of the final scenes. Those who are old enough doubtless remember that the area around Ground Zero was plastered shortly after the towers fell with posters put up by loved ones of people who were missing in the hopes that, by some miracle, they had made it out alive and simply hadn't been able to make contact. This was technically possible since there was no cell service, no landline service, no bus service, no train service--just no way to communicate with the outside world. Well, one of the final scenes is of footage taken by someone, I have no idea who, of a long wall covered top to bottom and end to end with these posters. Whoever recorded the video stopped and zoomed in on one particular poster. It was at this moment that I cried.

Mary Lou HagueThe lovely face that smiled back at me was that of Mary Lou Hague. A graduate of Parkersburg High School. Sister of my former student. By all accounts one of those people that everybody loved and who loved everybody. Suddenly those nearly 3000 people became real to me. They were no longer a faceless, nebulous number, but instead what flooded my soul was the realization that each of these people was somebody's sister or brother or mom or dad or aunt or uncle or husband or wife or boyfriend or girlfriend or best friend and each one was keenly missed by people whose lives were rent in two when, for no reason that any truly decent person can even fathom, they were ripped from this world forever.

I didn't just cry. I keened. I sobbed so violently that my wife, who was in another room scurried in to see what was wrong. I couldn't speak. I just pointed to the screen. Seeing what I was watching, she understood.

That day I made two vows. First, I vowed that I would tell this story to my students every year to always remind them that this day happened and that it changed our country and every person in it forever. I am now telling it to students many of whom are too young to have any clear memory of it. Soon I'll be telling it to people who were literally not on this planet when it happened and I don't want us to be like the Israelites after Joshua died who became people that, in the words of my good friend Randy Halterman, knew of God but did not know God. I don't want my students to know of this event--I want them to know it. I want them to be intimately acquainted with it, with its ugliness, its abjectness, its savageness. I want them to know it well enough to work every day to see that we never experience it again.

And second, I vowed to remember that every single day could be my last. My last to enjoy a sunset, my last to laugh with my family and friends, my last to say I love you and I forgive you and you mean the world to me and I don't know how I would have made it without you and a thousand other things that we seem to feel like we have all the time in the world to do and say. For each of those nearly 3000 people who died that day, there was something undone, something unsaid. Please God, may that never be said of me when I die.

Never forget.

11 We will Never Forget World Trade Center Twin Tower Memorial

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Countdown Begins

I added it up. I had to pull up a calendar to do it--I'm not so much on the math--but it's 26 days until the launch of Shalan Adventure #3, In The Shadow. That's assuming you read this on the day it was published. Just in case, I've included a calendar with the big date highlighted for your counting pleasure.

Note: If you would like, we could make this interactive. You can mark off the days
until the book comes out on this calendar. But please print it out first, or you'll have
a heck of a time getting the Sharpie marks off your monitor.

For me, this part of the process is, in many ways, the fun part. The heavy lifting (aka actually writing the book) is finished. Now it's down to the little last-minute things before it's completely ready for publication. Like publicity. The first thing I've been doing is peppering my social media with questions that I hope will generate interest. Questions like, "Where is Jenn Bezaleel?", "What is Cleo Heflin hiding?", and "Why does Antonio Bezaleel have his garage windows blacked out?". I also created a faux newspaper with a story about how the whole city of Parkersburg is wondering what happened to Parkersburg High School student, Jennifer Bezaleel and it's started appearing on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest. Piece of trivia for you: I used an old picture of the same young woman who will be on the cover. 

Not to insult anyone's intelligence, but THIS IS PURELY FICTIONAL! Please don't start
a panic. Please do start talking about how clever it is and how it must mean the author is
a literary genius and we must all buy this book, along with the first two. 

Speaking of which, it's also time to create the cover art. The first step in that (not including the literally months of rolling it around in my head) took place last week when I met with my friend, fellow teacher, and photographer extraordinaire, Charlie Gesell to talk over my, admittedly still somewhat fuzzy, vision for it. Charlie, as you may recall, took my portrait for the back cover of Kisses and Lies. If he can manage to make even me look presentable, he's sure to make the cover look great. The photo session for it took place in a dark little corner of our school that, after eighteen years, I still had never been before yesterday evening. When Charlie took me down into that basement room and showed me the decrepit wooden door, it was like the heavens opened. It was exactly how I'd pictured the door in the end of the book! He got our model, a lovely trooper of a young woman named Courtney Stackpole, to pose against that cobweb-covered, filthy, ancient door to capture our shared image of just what we wanted the cover photo to look like, and, even before he did his editing magic, I was blown away. I can't wait to see the finished product. For those of you who liked the cover of KAL, be prepared--it's a completely different direction, but I think you'll be blown away too. 

camera, dslr, lens, photography, photographer, hands, objects
Not actually Charlie or his camera. His was somewhat
kind of similar to this, but only in that it takes pictures.

And then there are the launch preparations. I know it's late in the game, but I'm still not completely decided on how I want to handle it. Frankly, the launch for KAL was a tremendous letdown after Harsh Prey. I spent way more money than I made in book sales and, though I was excited to see the handful of people who came, it made me question whether I should go in a different direction. So I'm strongly and e-launch party on Facebook and Twitter. But I'm also going to put in a call this week to CJs Italian Kitchen, a local restaurant that appears multiple times in the book, and ask about the feasibility of doing something connected with them. A signing later might be appropriate if they are interested. 

Gemini 5 Launch
It's a launch. Get it? It was a pun. Wait, not a pun.
What's that thing that's spelled the same backwards and forwards?
A palindrome? Yes. It's not a palindrome. The palindrome
of launch would hcnual. It's a play on words, then. So, a pun?
Yeah, I guess it's a pun. 

So be prepared to hear more than you want to in the next few weeks about In the Shadow. Not that I don't feel good about the first two Shalan books, but I really feel like I hit my stride with this book. It strikes the balance between light and dark, soft and hard. It still maintains the snarky voice of Harry, but definitely strikes a deeper, more noirish note. I hope you'll agree.

I'm the author of two novels, both Shalan Adventures. Harsh Prey and Kisses and Lies are both available in paperback and ebook format (Kindle only at the moment). In the Shadow will be available around October 1. A prequel novella, "Harry and the Redheaded Angel", will be free to mailing list members at the beginning of November and for sale in Kindle format the week of Thanksgiving for everyone else. 
Buy on Amazon!
Buy on Amazon!