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. 

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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.

Bosch Season 7: almost perfect

Yesterday I finished binge-watching Season 7 of Bosch on Amazon. The final season was nearly perfect. (And if you read some of my reviews on this site, you’ll know that I hardly ever declare anything “perfect”, or “nearly perfect”.)

I began reading the Harry Bosch novels more than 15 years ago, long before the Amazon series was even conceived. My original concept of Harry Bosch was a Baby Boomer and Vietnam vet, born around 1950.

The Harry Bosch of the Amazon series, meanwhile (portrayed by Titus Welliver), is a vaguely Gen X character. The Amazon version of Bosch would have been too young to have served in Vietnam; he served in the more recent wars of the Middle East instead.

Titus Welliver is now 59. I would imagine that Amazon’s Harry Bosch is supposed to be a few years younger than that…perhaps 54 or 55. But definitely not in his early 70s, like the Harry Bosch of the novels.

I understand why the producers of the Amazon series (which included Michael Connelly, the author of the novels) felt the need to “reimagine” Bosch as a younger character. When the first Harry Bosch novel, The Black Echo, came out in 1992, the fictional Harry Bosch was only 42 years old. Season 1 of the Amazon series debuted in 2015. By that time, the Harry Bosch of the novels was 65 years old, and working part-time in law enforcement on his DROP contract. It wouldn’t have made sense to have launched a new TV series with a main character who was winding up his career.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to adjust my concept of the main character when I began binge-watching the accumulated seasons of Bosch in 2019. But adjust, I did. For me, Titus Welliver’s dramatic interpretation of the character has now replaced the Harry Bosch of the novels.

Fortunately, Welliver will be back for the spin-off series planned for Amazon’s IMDb TV. Also returning will be Madison Lintz, who nailed the Maddie Bosch depicted in the novels.

Hopefully Lance Reddick, Jamie Hector, and Amy Aquino will return, too. This series was not only perfectly executed, it was perfectly cast, as well. My only complaint with Season 7 of Bosch is that there were only eight episodes.

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.

Rereading Lovecraft in 2021

I’ve been working my way through that body of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction that is loosely based around the Necronomicon, or the Cthulhu Mythos cycle. (Actually, I am listening to the audiobook edition, mostly while I mow my lawn and work out at the gym.) This edition, read by various narrators and published by Blackstone Audio, is the edition authorized by the Lovecraft estate.

The readings are well done. The narrators take Lovecraft’s frequently purple prose seriously, without overdoing it. If you like audiobooks and you like Lovecraft, you’ll enjoy this audio collection.

Lovecraft’s body of work is partly nostalgia for me. I read most of Lovecraft’s stories during my college years. I discovered Lovecraft while browsing through the shelves of the University of Cincinnati bookstore in 1988. Also, Stephen King had mentioned him in several of his essays.

Reimmersing myself in Lovecraft after all these years, a few things stand out, both good and bad.

Let’s start with the good.

First of all, H.P. Lovecraft had an incredible imagination. When he wrote these stories, there were no horror movies. There wasn’t even much fantasy fiction as we know it today. Lovecraft died in 1937, the same year that The Hobbit was published. Yet Lovecraft created so many horror/dark fantasy tropes and conventions from thin air.

Working within the constraints of the pulp fiction era, Lovecraft did a fairly decent job of establishing continuity across his stories. The Cthulhu Mythos cycle isn’t technically a series. These stories were published individually, at different times, in various pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. The marketplace more or less forced Lovecraft into the short story/novella form, and every story had to begin with a blank slate. The writer couldn’t assume that any given reader had read his previous works. Nevertheless, when Lovecraft’s stories are compiled, there is a discernible consistency running through all of them.

And yes, his purple prose. Lovecraft was hyper-literate. You can’t read, or listen to, Lovecraft’s stories without increasing your vocabulary.

Now for the not-so-good.

His narrative style. Lovecraft was a contemporary of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Read Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” or Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams”, and you’ll definitely see the differences.

Hemingway and Fitzgerald wrote in a style that we would recognize as modern. Hemingway, in particular, was well-known for his direct, economical prose. But both Hemingway and Fitzgerald thought in terms of showing, rather than telling.

Lovecraft, by contrast, writes more like Herman Melville or Thomas Hardy. Rather than creating scenes on the page, Lovecraft often simply tells you what happened. This makes his writing occasionally cumbersome to wade through, and less accessible to modern readers.

There isn’t much we can say about Lovecraft’s characters, because his characters are paper-thin. They exist only as observers of the supernatural phenomena in his stories.

There are notably few exceptions here. The two main characters in “Herbert West—Reanimator” stuck in my mind a bit longer than the characters in the other stories, who disappeared as soon as the stories were over.

The typical Lovecraft character is a scholarly male recluse who is drawn into arcane research and observations by chance, or by idle curiosity. Lovecraft has virtually no female characters. Not even any damsels in distress.

In some literary genres in recent years, there has been a tendency to depict every female main character as a tough-talking heroine who can whip every male villain she encounters, even if they’re twice her size. We often see this in television shows and movies, and no one believes it.

But Lovecraft errs in the opposite extreme: I don’t want to read female characters that were obviously crafted for the sole purpose of making a feminist statement. But I don’t want to read a fictional world that is entirely comprised of guys who can’t seem to find dates, either. 

Lovecraft’s writing also reveals his prejudices, which were extreme and extensive even by the standards of his time. Lovecraft looked down on just about everyone who wasn’t an Anglo-Saxon New England brahmin. His stories are filled with savage Africans and “swarthy”, conniving Greeks and Italians.

Not that he cared much for white, native-born rural people, either. Multiple Lovecraft stories discuss the degraded hill people who live in the backwaters of Vermont, for example.

There has been much writing, and much posturing, in recent years, about “canceling” Lovecraft because of his attitudes on race. His name was removed from a prominent award, and some book bloggers have even declared that Lovecraft’s fiction is no longer suitable for people with the “correct” attitudes on social and political issues. The hand-wringers often forget that while Lovecraft certainly didn’t like African Americans, he didn’t like much of anyone else, either. Lovecraft was an equal-opportunity snob/bigot. 

I am not going to make a show of being offended by a piece of pulp fiction that was written eighty or ninety years ago. But an undeniable fact remains: H.P. Lovecraft comes across as a rather narrow-minded person with a narrow range of experiences and interests.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read his fiction. As I said by way of disclaimer: I’ve already read all of these stories at least once. (I believe I’ve read “The Colour Out of Space” four or five times, the first time in 1988.) The scope of Lovecraft’s imagination was so broad, that these stories are worthwhile for any reader drawn to horror, dark fantasy, or so-called “weird fiction”. Lovecraft was a flawed man and a flawed writer; but he nevertheless produced some very engaging tales.

Horror on 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.

Kindle Vella: first impressions

Kindle Vella is Amazon’s newest subscription e-reading program. Several of you have asked me via email if I plan to write new stories for it.

I might start with the basic question: What the heck is Vella? Vella is a serial fiction platform. The best analogy I can think of for US readers is Wattpad, which seems to be mostly oriented toward teenage girls (given the prevalence of YA romance stories there). Online serial fiction is not especially popular among adult readers in the United States (yet), though it is popular with adult readers in Asia, especially those in China.

At least one major Chinese web novel publisher is now actively targeting the US market. Wattpad, moreover, has become a major online publisher within the YA romance niche.

I suspect that Vella is Amazon’s way of trying to eat the lunch of Wattpad and the Chinese web novel publishers. The creation of a paid platform for web fiction has some complicated aspects, of course; but it would be easy enough for Amazon.

You can’t read stories on Kindle Vella just yet. Kindle Vella has yet to be unveiled to readers, though Amazon is encouraging publishers to create content for it in advance of the launch.

Michael Kozlowski of Good E-Reader has done a detailed write-up of the fine print. There are some positive points: Vella will allow readers to get the first few chapters free, and the “pay as you go” system should discourage many of the scams that have plagued Kindle Unlimited.

On the downside, Vella content must be exclusive not just to Amazon, but to the Vella program itself. If a writer wants to republish a serialized story as a complete book, she will have to take it out of Vella.

Then there is the question (which Kozlowski raises) of whether or not Vella is likely to be a hit with readers. As Kozlowski notes, Amazon’s 2012 Kindle Serials program languished in obscurity and was eventually discontinued. But that was almost a decade ago. That’s a long, long time in  publishing.

I have mixed feelings about all this. My writing dream was born in the 1980s, when “writing” meant writing a book that would (hopefully) find its way to a shelf at Waldenbooks. Nowadays, most of my readers get my books on Amazon Kindle (though I do sell quite a few paperbacks some months).

I’m not opposed to the idea of digital serials, but I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach to Kindle Vella. I want to see how Amazon rolls it out and promotes it first.

I have also flirted with the idea of serializing a few long-form stories here on my site. Don’t get me wrong: I love Amazon, as a reader, writer, and general consumer. (I just ordered some vitamins for my dad from Amazon.) But I don’t want all of my content to be exclusive to one company and one website. That would be a bad business strategy. And exclusivity tends to be the first rule of play with all of these Amazon programs.

Experience ‘The Rockland Horror 2’

The Rockland Horror 2 is available on Amazon!

(But you’ll want to read the first book in the series, The Rockland Horror, first.)

Both books are filled with murder, betrayal, evil spirits, zombies, supernatural monsters, and characters you’ll never forget! 

Here’s a sample chapter from The Rockland Horror 2:

Chapter 1

August 1882

Ellen Briggs, née Ellen Sanders, was in her own house, and she was absolutely terrified.

Of course, this was not really her house, was it? It was her marital residence, where she now effectively lived in a state of captivity.

Not to mention…absolute terror.

She had married Theodore Briggs—railroad tycoon, necromancer, and murderer—only a few months ago.

In the early days of the marriage, Briggs had warned her: Stay out of unfamiliar rooms. Although the house was not old, it was home to many old secrets, Briggs had explained.

But she had forgotten his warning, in light of all that had happened since then…

Today Ellen had been wandering through the first floor of the massive house. Since her escape attempt earlier in the summer, Briggs seldom allowed her leave. But she could not sit still within these walls. If she remained in one place, she would go completely mad.

So today she had gone wandering, even though she had known better.

That was how she came across the undead child…

The door to the room containing the undead child was located adjacent to the first-floor ballroom. Ellen had opened the door, not realizing that the room connected to the basement via one of the home’s labyrinthine internal tunnels.

She reckoned that only later—after it was too late.

It was in the basement that her husband kept his worst secrets. Bodies were buried in the basement—and they didn’t always stay buried. Sometimes, they found their way to other parts of the house…

Nevertheless, this miscellaneous room had seemed harmless enough when she had first entered it. Heavy draperies were drawn on both of the room’s high windows, but some late afternoon sunlight filtered through.

The room seemed made for casual exploration. Various works of art had been stored within it. Paintings bound in frames, but not yet hung, stood stacked against all four walls.

Throughout the floor, in a random arrangement, were various statues: of nymphs, cherubs, and Greek deities. There was one life-size replica of the Venus de Milo. There were waist-high vases, and teak dividers carved in what looked like Turkish patterns.

The fortunes of Ellen’s husband were vast. He had no doubt purchased most of these items in bulk from a broker, with the intention of placing them around the house at a later date.

That work might have been left to Juba, the maidservant whom her husband had ordered killed, for her part in Ellen’s escape attempt. That same escape attempt had also resulted in her husband murdering Wilbur Craine, her former beau and would-be rescuer. 

As she made her way through the cluttered room, Ellen endeavored to push those thoughts from her mind. She couldn’t think about Juba now. And certainly not about Wilbur.

She was kneeling down on the hardwood floor, admiring one of the paintings leant against the wall, when she heard something shift from a corner of the room.

Ellen immediately looked away from the landscape painting, toward the movement. She stood up. Something had stirred behind the teak screen in the room’s far corner, near one of the windows.

The teak screen was suspended above the floor on a set of wooden legs. In the gap between the screen and the floor, Ellen could see two small feet, clad in simple leather shoes. The shoes were caked with dried mud.

The feet moved toward the edge of the screen, but not in proper steps. One foot dragged behind the other.

A small figure stepped out from behind the screen. It was short, between four and five feet tall. The very sight of it was absolutely terrifying.

Chapter 2

Ellen immediately recognized the figure as a child. And at the the same time, this was not a child at all.

There was an unholy, yellowish glow in the thing’s eyes. Ellen had seen this glow in the eyes of Ni’qua, Briggs’s undead first wife. Ni’qua lurked around the house, and appeared before Ellen when least expected.

But this child was even worse. Ni’qua had been dead for decades, after all. This victim had been taken only months ago.

“Come play with me!” the thing croaked hoarsely, through rotting lips.

Ellen didn’t speak. There was nothing to say to this thing; and that would only slow down her escape, anyway.

She needed to think.

No—she needed to get out of this room. Immediately.

Ellen turned and bolted for the door.

Behind her she could hear dragging footsteps. The child was giving chase, but Ellen moved much faster, owing to the damage Briggs and his valet had done to the child’s injured leg prior to burial.

The thing was now cursing at her—using the vocabulary of some ancient language that she did not understand.

A few more steps, and Ellen was at the threshold, then beyond it.

She had never moved faster in her life, she thought.

Then she was on the other side of the doorway.

She did not want to turn around, did not want to look back. She knew, however, that it would be necessary to close the door, lest the thing pursue her out into the hallway.

When Ellen turned around, the creature was within sprinting distance of the doorway, if not for the ruined leg.

As Ellen reached for and grasped the doorknob, an expression of bottomless rage contorted the already rotting and grimacing face. This evil before her was intelligent; it knew what she planned to do.

Ellen ignored her terror, for the time being, forced herself to focus.

She yanked on the doorknob, and slammed the door shut behind her.

Then she twisted the external catch on the doorknob. Another strange thing about this house: Her husband had designed it so that many of the rooms locked from the outside.

That done, the thing was effectively contained inside the room. A second later, there was a loud thud, as a creature that had once been a human child slammed into the closed door.

“Let me out!” it roared. The voice was ancient, booming. It echoed against the walls of the hallway.

Ellen stepped away from the closed door. She looked in one direction, and saw that the hallway terminated there in a bare wall.

In the other direction, from which she had arrived here, the hallway ended in another doorway.

With the thing still pounding on the door of the storage room, still cursing in that hideous language, Ellen made her escape through the high-ceilinged hallway. She fled toward the doorway.

There was a locking door here, too. Ellen closed it behind her and locked it.

The undead child was now locked behind two heavy doors. Was that enough to make her safe?

She shook her head at the very notion. There was no such thing as true safety in this house.

View the book on Amazon!

Coming soon: ‘The Rockland Horror 2’

Sometime later this week or early next week, The Rockland Horror 2 will hit the virtual bookshelves on Amazon.

The Rockland Horror series is for fans of:

  • Stephen King
  • Jennifer McMahon
  • Peter Straub
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Jeremy Bates
  • H.P. Lovecraft
  • Adam Nevill
  • T.J. Payne
    among others!

This story will pick up where The Rockland Horror left off. In the summer of 1882, the town of Rockland, Indiana is reeling from the wave of murders and kidnappings that occurred in recent months.

One man, George Marston, has been tried, convicted, and executed for these crimes.

The people of Rockland believe that the terror is over.

But two young women, Ellen Sanders Briggs and Louisa Goodwin, know better.

Since marrying the reclusive railroad tycoon Theodore Briggs, Ellen (nee Sanders) Briggs has found herself living in a state of captivity and abject terror. She is trapped in a big mansion filled with evil spirits, the roaming undead, and her cruel, mercurial necromancer of a husband.

Louisa Goodwin was given psychic powers of insight following her near-death experience. Louisa is struggling to recover from the personal tragedies she suffered during the preceding spring: the deaths of her parents and younger brother.

Louisa’s visions tell her that the situation in Rockland, Indiana is about to get much, much worse.

I’ll be posting links for The Rockland Horror 2 here on the blog as soon as the book is available. If you haven’t read The Rockland Horror (published in February 2021) get it here, or via the link above. As these books are both parts of a series, you should really read them in order.

More updates to follow!

New book: ‘1120 Dunham Drive’

I’ve launched a new series: Clint and Jennifer Huber Mysteries. These novels are classified in the “amateur sleuth’ category. 

The first book in the series, 1120 Dunham Drive is out. 

Amazon description:

Introducing Clint and Jennifer Huber: amateur sleuths who must investigate a very personal mystery—the web of obsession, betrayal, and violence surrounding their “dream house” at 1120 Dunham Drive.

The problems begin with a former owner who refuses to leave quietly, and strange disturbances during the middle of the night.

Oh, and there’s something sinister about a room in the basement.

1120 Dunham Drive is a suburban mystery/thriller that will keep you guessing to the last page.

***

Preview the book below!

Chapter 1

Summer, 2014

To thirty-four-year-old Jennifer Huber, the house at 1120 Dunham Drive seemed pretty close to perfect. If only, she would later think, there had been something wrong with it—something that would have sent her and her husband Clint running, never to return.

That wasn’t the way things worked out, though. On a sun-scorched Saturday afternoon in mid-July, the house at 1120 Dunham Drive drew the Hubers in.

Or at least the house drew Jennifer in. The seduction began in earnest in the realtor’s car, as Jennifer, Clint, and Tom Jarvis (the realtor) pulled into the driveway.

“It’s a Tudor!” Jennifer exclaimed.

“And what would that be?” Clint asked.

“This style of home,” Jennifer replied. “This is what they call a Tudor-style home.”

Jennifer had a fairly extensive knowledge of residential architecture, and she had studied the house’s spec sheet on the Internet the previous night. So she already knew that this would be a Tudor-style home. Her surprise had been feigned: It had simply been a gambit to prod Clint into showing some more enthusiasm about what they were doing today.

“You’ve got to admit, hon: It looks good from the road.”

“It’s a good-looking house,” Clint allowed.

Built in 1940, the house had a look that was simultaneously homey and classic: It had steeply pitched gables (a prerequisite of the neo-Tudor style), decorative half-timbering on the exterior walls, and brick inlays around the ground-floor windows.

“Let’s have a look-see,” Tom Jarvis said, turning off the engine of his Lexus and opening the front driver’s side door. Jennifer didn’t wait for either Jarvis or Clint.  As soon as the vehicle was parked, she was out of the overly air-conditioned back seat and racing ahead of the two men.

“It looks like somebody really wants a house,” she heard Jarvis say conspiratorially to Clint.

Who wouldn’t want a new house? Jennifer thought. That’s the sort of thing we work for, after all.

That thought reminded her of the job she hated and the secret that kept her bound there. She pushed these thoughts away. Today was a happy occasion. She wasn’t going to think about her job at Ohio Excel Logistics. Not on a Saturday afternoon like this.

“Check this out,” Jennifer said, pulling her husband Clint by the hand. “Japanese maples.”

The front garden did indeed have three Japanese maples, plus several small pine trees, and a whole lot of ivy. It was the sort of landscaping that took years to develop—either that, or a whole lot of money.

“Connor would like the yard,” Jennifer observed as Tom Jarvis bent down and retrieved the key from the lockbox on the front door.

“He probably would,” Clint replied.

“And best of all, it’s in the Mydale school district.”

Their son, Connor, was going to be a first-grader in a mere two months. The public schools in Mydale were regarded as the best in the Cincinnati area.

And then there was the most important thing about the house—the factor that made this a real possibility: The asking price of the home at 1120 Dunham Drive was within the Hubers’ range. Most of the homes in Mydale were a lot pricier.

By now Jarvis had unlocked the door. He smiled and held the door open for them.

Jarvis smiled again as Jennifer walked by and looked down. He wasn’t overly obvious about it, but the realtor had clearly taken the opportunity to check her body out.

It wasn’t the first such glance that she had noticed from the real estate agent. Nor was it all in her imagination. Clint had remarked the other day that Jarvis had taken so many liberties with his eyes during their real estate office meetings and home viewing excursions, that he owed them an additional ten percent off the asking price of whatever house they eventually settled on. 

She asked Clint if it made him jealous—Jarvis looking at her that way. Clint had scoffed in reply: Jarvis was an old guy, basically harmless.

Jarvis was indeed older than them, maybe in his mid- to late-forties. He was balding and could have dropped ten pounds; but he still carried himself with the swagger of an ex-jock. Jarvis had probably been a “hound” back in the day; and his manner strongly suggested that he still considered himself a claimant to that title.

As Jennifer walked into the cool house and out of the midsummer heat, Jarvis closed the door and briefly loomed over her. He finally looked away, but not before allowing himself a furtive glance down her blouse.

Okay, that one was a bit much, she thought, but did not say.

Since roughly the age of thirteen, Jennifer had noticed that a large number of men noticed her. That seemed to go along with being thin, blonde, and reasonably pretty. Most of the time it wasn’t a big deal; and for a period of her life it had been undeniably flattering.

But she had been married for most of a decade. She was a mom now; and she was devoted to Clint.

Or at least she thought she was. Would a woman who was totally devoted to her husband and son get herself into the jam she was in at work?

Is there something wrong with me? she wondered. Do I give off the wrong signals?

Her unpleasant thoughts were pushed aside by the interior of the house. The front hall was high-ceilinged and spacious. Their footsteps echoed on the hardwood floor. Unlike many older houses, this house wasn’t dark and dingy. Quite the opposite, in fact. The windows of the downstairs flooded the first floor with natural light.

“I think I love this house.” Jennifer declared, setting aside what she knew to be her habitual skepticism about being sold anything at all. Clint, who was standing beside her, gave her a curious look.

Then the realtor said what Clint must have been thinking:

“Well, Mrs. Huber, you’ve only just seen the front yard and the front hallway. But that’s a good start.”   

It’s like he doesn’t want me to get my hopes up, she thought. They had toured numerous homes with Tom Jarvis—most of them homes that Jennifer and Clint had preselected through exhaustive, late-night Internet searches. Practically none of those homes had given her instantly warm and fuzzy feelings.

But this one did. And Jarvis wasn’t exactly right about her having seen only the front yard and the front hallway. Having spotted this house online and grasped its potential, Jennifer had pored over the available photographs of its interior and landscaping. She had bookmarked the home’s portfolio in her web browser, and had returned to it numerous times, in fact.

 

On the drive over from the realty office, Tom Jarvis had said that the situation surrounding this house was “complicated”. He had started to explain; but apparently the act of giving an explanation was complicated, too.

“For now let’s just keep our options open,” he’d said. But what exactly did that mean? Was Tom Jarvis planning to ultimately steer them toward another house? Maybe a turkey of a house that could only be unloaded on a naïve young couple making their first home purchase?

Well, she thought, the unknown motives of a self-serving and mildly lecherous real estate agent were not going to dissuade her if this house turned out to be as perfect as it seemed. Real estate agents were always working their angles, she’d heard. None of them, she had been warned by friends, were to be trusted.

She didn’t want to make a negative generalization about an entire profession. Still, she and Clint would have to be careful. The Internet was filled with horror stories about dishonest and prevaricating real estate agents. Tom Jarvis knew they were first-time homebuyers. That might lead him to the conclusion that they could be easily led.

One thing was undeniable: For some reason, Tom Jarvis didn’t want them to purchase this house.

New series: “White-collar mysteries”

I spent more than 20 years in the corporate world. There are a lot of good stories there. (And they’re even better, when embellished a bit.) Some of those storeis have become novels, for me. 

For those of you who like stories about “corporate employees in trouble”, consider my series, WHITE-COLLAR MYSTERIES

The series is new. I wanted to group together some of my books that are best described as thrillers-in-the-corporate-workplace.

At present, I have two existing titles in the series:

THE EAVESDROPPER: A purchasing agent at an electronics firm discovers that three of his coworkers (including his boss) are planning a murder. Will he stop them, or become their next victim?

TERMINATION MAN: A business consultant makes his living by going undercover to “eliminate” problem employees. But will he draw the line at actual murder?

More titles will be added as they’re written!

An American abducted by North Korean agents

The writing of THE CONSULTANT.

For fans of:

  • James Clavell
  • Vince Flynn
  • Brad Thor

Here’s a little about the story, and why you’ll enjoy it if you like a.) East Asian settings, and b.) adventure.

North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens

In my prior professional existence, I was deeply involved with Japan. I learned the Japanese language, and even worked as a translator for a time. I also worked for years in the Japanese automotive industry. I made many trips to Japan.

One of the ongoing issues I learned of in Japan was the so-called ratchi mondai 拉致問題, or “abduction problem”. This intractable matter came up whenever there was talk of Japan and North Korea resuming ordinary diplomatic relations.

Throughout the 1970s and part of the 1980s, North Korean agents abducted numerous Japanese citizens on Japanese soil. (Japan and North Korea are quite close, geographically.) These ordinary Japanese people, who happened to become targets of the North Koreans, were taken to North Korea and forced to work in a variety of capacities. Many were employed against their will as Japanese language instructors.

North Korea’s abductions didn’t stop there. In 1978, North Korea abducted Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee. Shin Sang-ok was a well-known South Korean movie director. Choi Eun-hee, his former wife, was a successful actress. The pair spent about eight years in North Korean captivity. They worked directly for Kim Jong-il, the future Supreme Leader of North Korea. Shin and Choi were tasked with making films for North Korea’s movie industry (against their will, of course.) They finally escaped in 1986.

North Korean abductions and Americans

I knew there was a story there. I wanted to write a story about an American kidnapped by the North Koreans, though. So far as my research could determine, there had never been a documented case of the North Koreans abducting an American on foreign soil.

But why couldn’t it happen? After all, thousands of Americans travel to Japan and South Korea every year. Many are skilled business and technical experts, human assets that Pyongyang would surely covet. And North Korean agents are known to be active in both Japan and South Korea.

An American abducted and taken to North Korea

THE CONSULTANT is the story of Barry Lawson, a successful business consultant from Chicago who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And then he finds himself in North Korea.

Barry Lawson is an aging Lothario in his late forties. He has a way with the ladies, and this has often gotten him into trouble. Barry is divorced, with two children.

When Barry is approached by an attractive woman at a bar in Osaka, Japan, he can’t resist….even though he knows better.

This is a decision that he’ll soon regret. Within hours, Barry Lawson, successful business consultant and ladies’ man, must find a way to survive in—and hopefully escape from—the hellhole that is North Korea.

He’s not the only foreigner there, though. Barry he meets a Japanese man, Shoji Tanaka, whom the North Koreans abducted from Hokkaido (in northern Japan) when he went out for cigarettes one night.

Barry also meets Anne Henry, a woman who knows the Korean language. Anne, it turns out, has a traumatic abduction story of her own.

***

That’s all for now. I don’t want to ruin the book for you.

THE CONSULTANT is available in paperback and Kindle. (An audiobook is in the works.) You can presently read THE CONSULTANT in Kindle Unlimited, as well.

Want to preview THE CONSULTANT? You can do so below.