Book 4 of ‘THE CAIRO DECEPTION’ now available

The fourth book in THE CAIRO DECEPTION series is now available on Amazon:

“Betty Lehmann travels to Cairo, and finally achieves her goal of participating in a mission for the Third Reich. But she may not survive the experience. 

And even in Egypt, her past catches up with her.

Rudolf Schenk pursues the Vogels in Cairo. But there are new enemies standing in his way.

Jack McCallum is in Egypt seeking buried treasure and an easy fortune. Instead he finds a woman he cannot resist, who draws him into a Nazi plot.”

If you enjoyed the first three books, I think you’ll like this one, too.

(There is one more book in the 5-book series, and it’s in production now.)

View ‘Showdown in Cairo: Book Four of ‘The Cairo Deception’ on Amazon

Start THE CAIRO DECEPTION series FREE, March 5th ~ 9th, 2022

How about a story set in the period immediately before World War 2, featuring Nazi undercover agents, in both Germany and America?

THE FIFTH COLUMN, Book One in THE CAIRO DECEPTION, will be FREE on Amazon Kindle from March 5 through March 9!

Description:

In 1938, 19-year-old Betty Lehmann is the town beauty of Dutch Falls, Pennsylvania. She’s also a member of the German-American Bund, and an undercover agent-in-training for Nazi Germany.

Get it FREE on Kindle here (March 5 through March 9)

Thieves and buried treasure

Coming soon:

SHOWDOWN IN CAIRO: Book 4 of THE CAIRO DECEPTION

What follows is a sneak peek at Chapter 6 of the fourth book in THE CAIRO DECEPTION, my World War II-era adventure/drama series. 

The first three books of THE CAIRO DECEPTION are already available on Amazon.

In the excerpt below, Jack McCallum, a soldier turned treasure hunter, has made a discovery in the Egyptian desert outside Cairo. 

The discovery could make him rich, set for life.

But treasure isn’t the only thing waiting in the Egyptian desert…

CHAPTER 6

The gemstone was about the size of a plum. Jack picked it up from among the clay fragments, his heart pounding. 

There were little images on one side of the stone, carved into its oblong surface. Jack recognized these as Egyptian hieroglyphics, too, though he had no idea what they said.

“Tahmid,” Jack said. “Do you realize what this is?”

“Yes, boss. I do.”

It was unbelievable. This was the Garnet of Hatshepsut. Exactly as John Millhouse had promised. 

Jack felt a sudden, not altogether unpleasant wave of dizziness. He paused for a moment, to take in the realization: He was going to be a rich man. 

“Looks like you’ve struck it rich, boss,” Tahmid said, as if reading his mind. 

Jack was distracted by the distant sound of voices, going back and forth in Arabic. 

He looked up over the side of the hole. 

There were roughly a dozen men, dressed in what approximated Arab bedouin attire. They had arrived on about as many camels. 

They were about a quarter-mile away. At present. 

Roughly half of the men were carrying rifles. The rifles appeared old, but they probably still fired. Several of the rifle-bearing men wore bandoliers criss-crossed over their chests. Many of the men were also wearing scabbards with what looked like long fighting knives.

Jack ducked down back into the hole. He raised a finger to his lips, in order to indicate that Tahmid should be absolutely silent. He pantomimed the presence of the men with his hands and fingers. 

Tahmid took a cautious peek, as well. When he ducked down again, the man’s face bore an expression of abject terror. 

“Thieves,” Tahmid said. “Like I tell you, the desert not safe place.”

“You said that it isn’t safe at night,” Jack countered. “This is the middle of the day.” Jack pointed upward, at the blazing sun.

“Sometimes dangerous during the day, boss. Better to stay in the city.”

Jack was tempted to ask Tahmid why—if he felt that way—he had hired on as a digging assistant to begin with. But that was a fruitless discussion that he had no time for.

His only concern now was those men in the desert. It was a dire situation. Those men would think nothing of murdering two treasure hunters in order to take the gemstone.

Jack thought back to his encounter in the alleyway, with the gang of eight hoodlums (led by the short man with the scar), and the advice of Rudy Gunther, who had literally saved his life that day.

Rudy had advised him to acquire a gun. Jack realized now that he should have taken that advice. But he didn’t know how much use a British Webley revolver would be, anyway, against a small army of armed men. 

There was nothing to do but wait. The men were on their way to somewhere, obviously. They had stopped for a rest, or simply to look around, perhaps using the nearby pyramid as a landmark.

If they rode by here, Jack and Tahmid were goners. If they rode in another direction, they could probably escape. 

Jack waited ten minutes. Hearing nothing, he looked up over the edge of the hole again.

The men were gone.

“How long till our ride meets us at the rendezvous point?” Jack asked Tahmid. Jack’s digging assistant took care of arranging their daily transportation. So far, he had done that with reasonable reliability and efficiency. 

Don’t let me down today, Tahmid, Jack thought. Please.

“Two hours,” Tahmid reported.

The rendezvous point was at the intersection of two poorly maintained macadam roads. The spot was out in the open. Completely exposed.

Jack didn’t think it would be advisable to go there now, and risk so much time at a vulnerable location. Not with the garnet in his possession, and with a roving band of thieves afoot. 

“We’ll leave in one hour,” he told Tahmid.

He wrapped the garnet in a clean cloth, and placed it in his pocket.

***

An hour later, Jack and Tahmid set out with their sparse equipment for the spot where their transportation would be waiting.

They reached the spot, and Jack scanned the horizon anxiously. What if the armed men returned?

Then all was lost. But this was the last big risk. If he could make it back to Cairo, he would be set. Or almost set.

A short while later, an old Ford Model A came chugging into view.

“That’s our ride,” Tahmid said.

The car was driven by two Arab men, who greeted Tahmid in Arabic, and nodded unsmilingly at Jack. They strapped the shovels and other equipment to the roof of the car. Then Jack and Tahmid piled into the back seat.

Jack remained acutely aware of the gemstone in the pocket of his trousers. This was the stone that—if he could hold on to it and get it out of Egypt—would change his life.

The Arab men chatted with Jack during the roughly half-hour ride to the edge of Cairo. Jack didn’t mind. By now he was used to people speaking a language that he couldn’t understand. (And Jack had all but given up on learning any Arabic.) Jack, moreover, was lost in his own thoughts; and he now had a lot to think about.

There was another matter, though. Jack knew nothing about these men in the front seat, or their relationship with Tahmid. What was to stop Tahmid from double-crossing him? Tahmid could tell the men about the gemstone, and arrange a robbery. Then they could plan to split the proceeds from the sale of the garnet among them. Never mind that a stone this valuable would be virtually impossible to sell in Egypt. 

When he arrived safely back in the city, however, Jack felt guilty for his suspicions during the ride. True, Tahmid had been an unmotivated and lackluster employee. There was no indication, however, that he was dishonest or prone to criminal activity. Otherwise, Jack supposed, he would having joined the crew of the scarred gangster from the alleyway, or perhaps the men on camels whom they had seen today in the desert. 

Get Book 1 of THE CAIRO DECEPTION

World War II historical fiction in Kindle Unlimited

Book 3 of The Cairo Deception just dropped on Amazon. There are two more books coming, with release dates later in 2022!

Amazon description:

“An epic of espionage, sacrifice, and betrayal set in the years immediately before World War II.

A group of Germans and Americans must choose sides for and against Nazi Germany, and deal with the consequences of their decisions. 

Their stories begin in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Hamburg, and Stuttgart. They will come together in Cairo, Egypt for a showdown in 1938.”

**You can read the series for FREE in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program** (This is kind of like a Netflix for books, for those of you who are unaware. And yes, I do get paid when you do that, thanks!). 

Click here for Kindle Unlimited free trial:

Click here to view THE CAIRO DECEPTION series page on Amazon!

New World War II fiction release!

The third book in THE CAIRO DECEPTION series will be released on Amazon on February 28:

Here’s the bookstore description:

Betty Lehmann travels to Berlin, where she discovers a new sense of purpose as an agent of the Third Reich. 

Ingrid and Heinrich Vogel begin their new lives in Cairo. They find that they have not gone nearly far enough to avoid the grasp of the German Gestapo.

In the United States, an American soldier is forced to commit a fatal act of self-defense. He flees to Cairo in search of treasure and a fresh start.

This installment introduces a new character: Jack McCallum, a young American soldier-turned-treasure-hunter from Indiana.

If you’ve enjoyed the previous two books in the series, I think you’ll like this one, too.

View HUNTERS AND PREY on Amazon

Oh, I should also note that HUNTERS AND PREY (like the previous two books in the series) will be enrolled in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription service. This means that you can read the series for free if you’re an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscriber. (Click here for a free Kindle Unlimited trial.)

‘The Rockland Horror 4’ available for preorder

I’m presently working on The Rockland Horror 4. As the title suggests, this is the fourth installment in The Rockland Horror series. 

The release date for the book has been set for May 3, 2022. It should be available before then, however. (I would imagine sometime in January or February of next year; March at the latest.)

If you would like to order the book in advance (at a reduced price), then you can do so here, via Amazon. Another advantage to the preorder is that the book will drop automatically onto your Kindle when it comes out.

If you would prefer to wait, or if you haven’t read the first three books of The Rockland Horror series, then you can either check back here (I’ll announce the actual release with a blog post, of course) or check  The Rockland Horror series page at Amazon. 

A note on reading order.  While each of the books is a self-contained story, they are best read in order. If you haven’t read books 1, 2, and 3, I would recommend that you start with those. 

Start ‘The Rockland Horror’ series for FREE: November 1 through 5

I am working on BOOK 4 of THE ROCKLAND HORROR series. THE ROCKLAND HORROR is a multigenerational horror saga about a cursed house in Indiana.

BOOK 4 will be set in the immediate post-WWII era of 1945 to 1946. More information on that shortly.

BOOKs 1, 2, and 3 are already available on Amazon, and enrolled in Kindle Unlimited (for those of you who read through KU.)

BOOK 1 is FREE on Kindle for everyone from November 1 through 5, 2021. 

Keep in mind that Amazon manages the back end of all of this, and the exact hours at the tail end of the free run may vary, depending on your time zone. (So grab it early. Don’t wait until 11:58 p.m. on November 5.)

If you’re interested in trying out the series with a zero commitment, this is your chance.

If you’re interested in trying out Kindle Unlimited, check it out here.

BLOOD FLATS: new cover

BLOOD FLATS, originally published in 2011, was my first novel. It is the story of a former marine who goes on a quest to clear his name after he is wrongly blamed for a double homicide.

BLOOD FLATS is the story of a journey–with lots of gunfights along the way, of course.

I reedited and republished the book last year; but the cover sorely needed updating. This is the newest cover (and the third since the book’s publication). 

View BLOOD FLATS on Amazon.

Horror in Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited is Amazon’s main subscription ebook reading program. Kindle Unlimited gives you virtually unlimited (hence the name) reading privileges to a wide variety of titles, for a low monthly fee.

Not every title listed on Amazon is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. Literary fiction from the big New York publishing houses generally is not included. You likely won’t find the latest Jonathan Franzen novel in Kindle Unlimited anytime in the near future.

Kindle Unlimited is heavy on genre fiction. This means: romance, space opera, LitRPG, fantasy, and horror.

I have a fair number of horror titles in Kindle Unlimited. I write supernatural horror, in the tradition of Peter Straub, H.P. Lovecraft, Bentley Little and E.F. Benson.

And yes (I know this sounds a bit pretentious) Stephen King. I have achieved barely a gazillionth fraction of King’s commercial success. But his formula of character-based, fast-moving horror is always on my mind when I sit down to write a horror tale.

What kind of horror don’t I write? If you want splatterpunk, or “extreme” horror (aka “torture porn”), then you should skip my books and stories. I have no interest in writing horror fiction that is endlessly grim and/or sadistic. My horror fiction is more akin to the campfire ghost story.

Below are the horror titles that I presently have enrolled in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program. This means that you can read them for free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.

To view one of these titles on Amazon, simply click on the image of any book, or any hyperlink below.

(Don’t have a Kindle Unlimited membership? Click here.)

Eleven Miles of Night

A college student takes a walk down the most haunted road in rural Ohio for a cash prize. This is a “haunted road” story, basically a tale of being stuck on a cursed country road at night. Ghosts, evil spirits, and hellhounds abound. Also, an evil witch that inhabits a covered bridge.

12 Hours of Halloween

A coming-of-age story set on Halloween night, 1980. This is a tale of supernatural events in the American suburb. A classic horror tale for Generation X.

Revolutionary Ghosts

The year is 1976, and the Headless Horseman rides again. This coming-of-age horror thriller is sure to please readers who appreciate character-based supernatural fiction with lots of twists and turns.

The basic idea is: the ghosts of American history coming back to haunt Middle America in 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial. (And yes, I’m old enough to remember the Bicentennial, although I was rather young at the time.)

Luk Thep

In early 2016, I read an article in The Economist about the luk thep “spirit dolls” of Thailand.

Manufactured and sold in Thailand, these are factory-made dolls with a unique sales point: each doll is supposedly infused with the spirit of a young child that passed prematurely.

The luk thep are intended to bring comfort to their owners. (They are marketed to childless women.) To me, though, the whole idea sounded rather macabre.

And I couldn’t help thinking: what if one of the dolls was infused with a child spirit that wasn’t very nice? What if that same doll ended up in the possession of an American woman who happened to visit Thailand on a business trip? Luk Thep is a fast-paced ghost tale that spans two continents.

The Rockland Horror saga

Spanning a nearly 140-year period from 1882 to 2020, The Rockland Horror is a series about dark events at a cursed house in rural Indiana.

Hay Moon & Other Stories: Sixteen modern tales of horror and suspense

This was my first short story collection. Although all of these stories contain speculative elements, there is quite a range in plot and subject matter. In this collection you’ll find vampire and ghost stories, but also a few crime stories with a “twist”. Oh, and there are also several “creature feature” stories that are kind of fun.  

I Know George Washington and Other Stories: Five Dark Tales

Five dark tales of murder, hauntings, and the undead, set in locations from Tennessee to Mexico. 

How Kindle Unlimited readers behave

Written Word Media, which owns both Free Booksy and Bargain Booksy, recently published a study on Kindle Unlimited (KU) readers, and how they behave. 

Here are the big takeaways:

  • While Amazon does not reveal KU enrollment numbers, there are probably about 3.3 million active members. (That is approximately the 2021 population of Utah.)
  • Kindle Unlimited readers most eagerly devour romance, fantasy, and mystery.
  • Many Kindle Unlimited readers are “whale” readers. (Especially the romance readers, one suspects.)

The study suggests that horror doesn’t do well in KU. On the contrary,  I’ve found that my horror titles do get a fair degree of love in Kindle Unlimited. The Rockland Horror series has done well in terms of KU page reads, with relatively little advertising. 

On the other hand, my espionage thriller, The Consultant, draws more buyers than KU readers. And my corporate thrillers, The Eavesdropper and Termination Man, barely get any KU page reads at all. 

Readers read what they want, and writers write what they want. No harm, no foul. If I were writing romance or urban fantasy with young adult protagonists, I know that I would be getting a ton more page reads. But…I just can’t. 

The preferences of KU readers are neither good nor bad. But they are something that every writer should consider, when deciding whether or not to enroll a specific title in the program. 

***

Are you a writer? Read the full report from Written Word Media here.

Are you a reader? Click here for a FREE Kindle Unlimited trial.

Listening to ‘Fevre Dream’ by George R.R. Martin

Long before he was known as the novelist behind the HBO series Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin wrote a vampire novel called Fevre Dream.

Fevre Dream is set on the Mississippi River, just before the American Civil War. Abner Marsh is a riverboat captain who is down on his luck. Joshua York is a vampire who needs a human partner for an atypical “mission”.

Originally published in 1982, Fevre Dream is one of GRRM’s best works. I understand that A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones has become a veritable force of nature in recent years. But many of Martin’s earlier works are just as good, and require much less of a time commitment. (Martin also wrote tons of short stories and novellas, many of which have been compiled into two collections that you can get on Amazon.)

The vampire of Fevre Dream is not a supernatural creature, but a separate-but-similar race of quasi-humans. This alternative interpretation of the vampire is now common, but it would have been innovative in 1982. 

The interplay between the two main characters is the best part of Fevre Dream. Abner Marsh is a gruff but good-hearted riverboat man. Joshua York is an urbane antihero who is trying to overcome his bloodthirsty nature. Abner and Joshua need each other, and yet their basic worldviews are very much in conflict. The perfect dramatic setup.

Throughout the book, there is a competing group of evil vampires in Louisiana, who will ultimately come into conflict with Abner and Joshua (who gathers other “good” vampires to him). This plot device, too, is now common. But once again, it would have been original in 1982.

The Mississippi River is also a character in the book. George R.R. Martin is originally from New Jersey. But he spent some time as an instructor at Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa during the 1970s. Dubuque is situated on the upper Mississippi. Martin would have gained a familiarity with the river during his time in Iowa, and that familiarity definitely shows up Fevre Dream.

I initially read Fevre Dream back in 2009. My rule of thumb is: If ten years have passed since I read a particular book or saw a particular movie, the story may be worth experiencing again. None of us is the same person we were a decade ago, and so a story will mean something different to us after an interval of ten years. (We’ll also, in most cases, have forgotten significant portions of the plot.)

Another difference is that this time, I’m listening to the audiobook version of Fevre Dream. As I noted in a previous post, I have developed the habit of listening to audiobooks while I mow my lawn and do other yard work. And this is July, the season for such things. 

**View George RR Martin’s Fevre Dream on Amazon**

Kindle Vella: some reactions from writers thus far

I haven’t yet taken the plunge into Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. This isn’t because of any principle-driven objection on my part. I actually like the idea of serial fiction.

What I don’t like are the genres that presently dominate serial fiction on sites like Wattpad: YA romance, teen werewolf fantasies, and (of course) endless stories about teenagers with super-powers.

Nothing wrong with any of these categories, mind you. But I’m a 53-year-old adult. I don’t play in those fields, and have no interest in starting now.

***

Vincent V. Triola is another 50-something writer. Having perused his online footprint, I suspect that his politics are a bit to the left of mine. (That’s okay, most writers have politics to the left of mine.) But we’re both old enough to remember the pre-Amazon, pre-Internet literary world. I suspect that Mr. Triola, like me, spent some time in mall bookstores in the era of Ronald Reagan and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Mr. Triola is pessimistic on Vella, having dipped his toe into it. Writing on Medium, he describes Vella as “a writer-driven marketplace”. What this basically means (for those unfamiliar with Wattpad) is that most of the readers in a given literary marketplace are fellow (and competing) writers.

This is perfectly acceptable on Wattpad, which is youth-centric and mostly free. Wattpad also appeals to the generation that loves social media, and lots of step-by-step peer group engagement. My teenage years ended long before Instagram and TikTok, but I can easily imagine hormone-soaked, teenage brains lighting up with every social media “like”. We are all pack animals below the age of twenty-one or so.

But this community-based, social media-esque approach isn’t as appropriate for a paid platform like Amazon, where most readers aren’t hawking their own books and stories, too. There is nothing wrong with readers who are also writers, of course. But when that becomes the entire basis for a marketplace, the marketplace tends to become incestuous and spammy. (I’ve definitely seen this on YouTube, with all the “sub for sub” comment spam.)

As evidence for his claim, Triola notes that Vella has been almost exclusively marketed to authors thus far. This is a fair observation. I interact with Amazon as both a reader and a writer. I’ve received all Amazon’s communications about Vella so far via my writing communication channel.

Finally, Triola mentions that Amazon emphasizes the youth-centric genres that comprise most of Wattpad. There is only one tag for nonfiction. But “nonfiction” includes everything from historical biographies to automotive repair, to horticulture.

***

On the other side of this coin, some of the writers in several Facebook groups where I lurk are quite bullish on Vella. Almost all of them, however, write in the YA fantasy and/or romance fields. Back to some of Mr. Triola’s points.

Also, Amazon does now have a large banner ad for Vella on the front page of the Kindle store. So if Amazon isn’t exactly pushing Vella at readers, it isn’t exactly hiding it, either.

***

What is Amazon’s longterm strategy with Vella? Vella is obviously intended to be a Wattpad-killer, and Wattpad, as noted above, is all about YA fantasy and romance.

My guess is that Amazon realizes that YA fantasy/romance readers and writers tend to be “different” from readers and writers in other genres.

For one thing, the boundaries between readers and writers tend to be a lot more fluid in these genres. Note the prevalence of YA fan fiction. No one writes fan fiction based on the novels of John Grisham, Michael Connelly, or Clive Cussler. But there are online oceans of fan fiction for Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games—all of which are focused on a predominantly youthful market. The Wattpad format is appealing to writers of fan fiction because of the low barriers to entry.

Also, this group, being younger, usually has less disposable income. As noted above, Wattpad is a mostly free platform. Amazon is probably uncertain about the long-term monetization prospects for Vella, beyond the writers who are presently participating. (As an adult reader, I have very little interest in paying for serial fiction installments, for whatever that’s worth.)

***

We shall see. No one knows how Vella is going to turn out, or if it will even exist a year from now. After all, Amazon has in the past killed initiatives that proved unprofitable or unmanageable, like Kindle Worlds.

For now, I’m going to continue my wait-and-see approach with Kindle Vella.

Kindle Vella launching for readers in July

Several months ago, Amazon rolled out its new Kindle Vella program to writers. Amazon has just announced that readers will have access to Kindle Vella by the end of July.

What is Kindle Vella, exactly? It’s a serial fiction app, somewhat analogous to Royal Road, Tapas, Radish, and Wattpad.

Will Vella prove the death knell of these other services? Who knows? But the fates of Barnes & Noble and Borders suggest that this might not be a good time to be purchasing shares of Wattpad, if it were publicly traded.

***

Will I publish on Kindle Vella? Probably. Eventually. But not right away. I like the idea of serial fiction, but I am most concerned with giving readers what they want. I’m not sure that most of my readers really want micropayment-based serial novels.

Initially, at least, success on Kindle Vella will probably go to certain kinds of genres, for certain kinds of readers. Which kinds? Well, probably the ones that are already successful on sites like Royal Road and Wattpad. This means: YA romance, YA fantasy, and YA science fiction, often with Japanese, Chinese, and Korean anime tropes.

These kinds of fiction are perfectly fine, but none of these categories is really my bailiwick. I’m 52 years old, and I usually write with the adult reader in mind. I have some idea of what a certain kind of Baby Boomer, Generation X, or older Millennial reader might want. A Gen Z reader…not so much. So I’ll probably proceed slowly where Kindle Vella is concerned.

Whatever Amazon does, Amazon usually does well. I see only one problem here, and that involves revenue. While there are paid stories on the various web serial sites that already exist, much of that content is presently provided for free.

Web serial readers not only skew younger, many of them are also outside the United States. Only about 25% of Wattpad’s traffic is U.S.-based.

Nothing against non-U.S. readers (or younger readers, for that matter). But it’s worth asking: will a medium that is mostly patronized by younger, non-U.S. readers elsewhere find traction with the over 35, U.S.-based readers that are currently Amazon’s bread-and-butter?

I don’t know, but I’m sure someone inside Amazon has considered those questions.

Vella could could turn out to be as ground-breaking as the Kindle was, changing the way millions of people read. Or…maybe not so much. I wouldn’t want to bet money on this one either way.