Serial fiction update: June 17, 2021

For those of you who like paranormal fiction, dark fantasy, or horror fiction: I have just launched a new serial here on Edward Trimnell Books: Jason Kelley, Paranormal Researcher.

Jason Kelley is the main character in Eleven Miles of Night, and this serial is set in that book’s “universe”.

Do you have to read Eleven Miles of Night first? Not necessarily, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Eleven Miles of Night is available on Amazon in multiple formats. You can also read the book for free with your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

In any event, the first episode of the new serial is now available for you to read here. Nothing required on your part!

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.

The Maze: Chapter 1

**In Chapter 1 of The Maze, three corporate employees—Amanda, Hugh, and Evan—are on a business trip in central Ohio. They have no idea of what awaits them.***

 

Evan Daley would later reflect that he should have known better than to enter the Maze. After all, his coworker and sort-of mentor, Hugh Jackson, had tried to tell him about the Maze, and Hugh had tried to tell him that the Maze was probably dangerous.

But how do you take seriously a warning issued in a McDonald’s on a bright, warm, September morning?

Besides, before Evan saw the Maze, he would have sworn that he dreaded nothing so much as Amanda Kearns, his boss.

Evan and Hugh occupied a table in one corner of the McDonald’s dining room. The McDonald’s was located just off I-71—the interstate that would take them to this morning’s sales presentation. The restaurant was filled to near capacity this late in the morning—mostly with truck drivers and other business travelers.

Evan was digging into his Big Breakfast with Hotcakes. He felt a little guilty, eating this artery-clogger in front of Hugh. Hugh was contenting himself with a low-fat, sensible bowl of Fruit and Maple Oatmeal.

As Evan forked a mouthful of pancake, he noticed Hugh staring down jealously at his syrup-smeared Styrofoam plate. 

“Sorry,” Evan said. “I’m eating a mountain of delicious fat and cholesterol here, and you’ve got to eat that bowlful of grain and berries—or whatever that stuff is.”

Hugh Jackson had a hereditary heart condition. Evan didn’t know the details, but Hugh had told him that his father had died while still in his mid-fifties. Hugh was already close to that territory himself. He therefore had to count his daily fat and cholesterol intake in milligrams.

The older man smiled back at Evan, though. “Just because I’ve got a bum ticker, it doesn’t mean that you have to suffer along with me,”

Amanda’s coffee sat steaming in front of her empty chair. Amanda was out in the children’s playground area, talking intensely into her cell phone, her outrage visible. Evan could see her from where he sat: Her long, slender body was leant against a plastic blue slide. The slide was topped with a dome fashioned to resemble a McDonald’s hamburger.

Evan discretely gestured toward Amanda. “She talking to Oscar, you think?”

Hugh nodded ominously. “It would appear so.”

Amanda had sat down with them initially. Within a few minutes, though, her cell phone had rung. After a clipped, moody hello into the phone, she had immediately stood and headed outside, where she could talk privately.   

They both knew that Oscar was Amanda’s boyfriend. They also knew that the relationship had been less than harmonious of late.

Oscar was a big shot in one of the investment banks headquartered in Cincinnati. Oscar had accompanied Amanda to the Merlesoft holiday party last December, showing up overdressed in a Brooks Brothers three-piece suit.

Evan had talked to Oscar for all of five painful minutes. The investment banker made a few snide, clipped remarks about Evan’s choice of college major—English literature. Apparently Oscar—a finance wizard with an MBA from Wharton—didn’t think much of folks who elected to spend their undergraduate years dissecting The Canterbury Tales and the collected short fiction of Ernest Hemingway.

I can’t blame him, Evan thought, recalling his brief and mostly humiliating exchange with Oscar at the holiday party. I should have majored in something more practical. What the hell am I doing with my life—an English literature major working in software sales?

It was a question that he had asked himself many times over the past twenty-odd months, since he had started work at Merlesoft. This was his first “real” job—that is, his first post-college job. The corporate politics at Merlesoft were baffling and unrelenting. Evan, furthermore, struggled to pass himself off as a software guru during customer presentations.

And finally, there was Amanda, who seemed intent on riding his ass all the time.

Amanda. Damn Amanda, he thought.

And damn Oscar for doing what he was doing right now—whatever was causing his relationship with Amanda to go south. When Amanda fought with Oscar, she became even more critical of Evan.

“Anyway,” Hugh said, changing the subject away from breakfast. “I want to warn you about something. In fact, I really need to warn you about something.”

***

Evan could tell immediately that the older man intended to broach some topic of considerable magnitude. Probably something related to this morning’s sales presentation.

Today’s clients—the attorneys of the law firm Rich, Litchfield, and Baker, were a stodgy, hard-to-please lot. Hugh had made the preliminary sales call by himself and had reported as much.

The accounting software packages that Merlesoft sold were expensive, and required a client company to reconfigure a considerable portion of their internal accounting procedures. The sales process was therefore a multistep one—usually beginning with an exploratory sales call, followed by several quotations, and multiple customer consultations over the phone.

They had been going through this back-and-forth with Rich, Litchfield, and Baker for the better part of four months. Evan had yet to visit the clients’ office; but he had talked to several of the law firm people over the phone.

Today would be the final dog-and-pony show, which would hopefully result in a purchase order from the law firm. Amanda, Hugh, and Evan would make a PowerPoint presentation and answer any remaining customer questions. This was the whole purpose of making the two-hour drive from Cincinnati to Columbus today. It was “do or die” now, in the typically hyperbolic language of corporate culture.

As Evan contemplated this morning’s meeting—barely an hour in the future—he felt more like dying than doing. Amanda had given him a “challenge”, announcing that he would be making the sales presentation solo.

Evan knew from experience what this actually meant: Amanda would vigilantly wait for him to make the slightest mistake or omission. Then she would pounce and interject during the middle of his presentation, throwing him off his rhythm and undercutting his credibility in front of the customers.

“You don’t have to warn me,” Evan said, anticipating the nature of Hugh’s advice. “I know that Amanda is going to be watching me like a hawk today, waiting for me to make the slightest flub-up, or to forget the smallest detail. That’s why I’ve crammed for today’s presentation. I stayed up till midnight last night going over everything. First I reviewed the four quotations we’ve submitted up to this point. Then I went over the procedures that Rich, Litchfield, and Baker use in their accounting process at present.

“And I didn’t stop there, let me tell you. I also made a list of questions that I could reasonably anticipate them asking today; and I think that I’ve got every one of them nailed. You ought to see the notes I prepared, Hugh: They fill a good ten pages on a legal pad.”

Evan finished off the last of his breakfast, wadded up his napkin, and dropped it onto the Styrofoam plate. He smoothed his tie to make sure that it contained neither syrup, egg fragments, nor sausage crumbs. Noting also that the sleeves of his white dress shirt were free of stains or debris, he nodded at Hugh with a cautious air of self-contentment.

“You can feel free to offer me any last words before the wedding, though, buddy. Or you can hit me with any questions that you think I might have missed. But I believe that I’ve got them all down.”

Hugh leaned forward. “That’s not what I want to talk to you about, Evan. It’s something else.”

***

“What, then?” Evan was suddenly alarmed by Hugh’s expression. The older man sometimes let him know when a shake-up was imminent at Merlesoft: a firing, a promotion, a resignation, or a reorganization.

Evan had also discovered that most of these changes ended up being disagreeable in one way or another. This was yet another rule that he had learned during his slightly less than two years of corporate life: The devil you know is always less objectionable than the devil you don’t know.

Or, to put it another way: Change is usually bad.

“Don’t tell me you’re transferring to another department, Hugh,” he said. “Or—wait a minute—you aren’t leaving the company, are you?”

Hugh shook his head. “No, no. Nothing like that.”

“Well, what then?”

Hugh dropped his plastic spoon into the little plastic container in which his Fruit and Maple Oatmeal had been packaged. “This is going to sound a little strange to you, but I’m going to tell you, anyway.”

“Hugh, I’ve learned to accept things that are strange—especially since Amanda entered my life.”

Evan allowed himself another quick glance at Amanda: She was still outside, still talking to Oscar. By the look of her facial expression, the phone call definitely wasn’t going well; and that would only mean a more difficult morning for him. Amanda would have to wrap up the call pretty soon, though, troubles with Oscar notwithstanding. Otherwise, they would arrive late for their nine o’clock appointment at the lawyers’ office.

“I know you haven’t been to the Rich, Litchfield, and Baker office yet,” Hugh continued. “It’s located inside this place called Lakeview Towers—a huge office complex with hundreds of individual offices that are rented out.”

Evan had no idea of what Hugh might be getting at with this line of explanation. He didn’t want to be rude, though.

“No, Hugh, I haven’t been there,” he acknowledged. “But I’ve given presentations at unfamiliar locations before. It shouldn’t be a problem. I’m green, but I’m not that green.”

“That isn’t what I’m getting at.”

“Well then, exactly what are you getting at?”

Hugh paused and looked around, probably to make sure that Amanda was still outside talking to Oscar.

“Well,” Hugh began, “let’s just say that you ought not allow yourself to get too far off the beaten path at this Lakeview Towers. What I mean is, don’t go wandering around unnecessarily.”

***

Evan had no idea what to make of Hugh’s advice. Did Hugh think that he was some kind of a child?

This sounded like the sort of thing his mother would have said years ago—on the few occasions when his mother actually noticed his existence. She would have told him to stay close while they were out at the shopping mall—not to stray away from her protection.

But why would his colleague say something like that now? He might be the youngster on the team, relatively speaking, but he was still an adult.

“What the heck are you getting at Hugh? Would you care to elaborate?”

Hugh gave him another pause, as if weighing whether or not he should reveal some crucial but sensitive bit of information. Then he was suddenly distracted by something behind Evan’s shoulder, toward the main entrance of the McDonald’s.

“Amanda’s back,” Hugh muttered discreetly, in a barely audible voice.

Amanda’s sudden reappearance meant that the explanation of Hugh’s cryptic advice would have to wait. Amanda took her seat at the table, her bad mood palpable. What was just as obvious, though, was the fact that she was attempting to hide it. The managers at Merlesoft all maintained a constant front of rah-rah-rah enthusiasm. That was part of the corporate culture. Amanda would not allow a breakup with a boyfriend to put a crack in that all-important managerial veneer—not if she could help it.

“Well, guys, are you ready to get going?” she said with a forced camaraderie that none of them felt. She sipped her coffee and stood up again.

Evan permitted himself a discreet glance at her figure. Although she was ten years his senior, and the bane of his existence most days, he had to admit that Amanda Kearns, sales manager at Merlesoft Software Systems, was hot. She was about 5’10”—almost Evan’s height, and she had the long, lanky build of a former athlete.

Evan vaguely recalled her mentioning, in a rare moment of actual human conversation, that she had competed in the hurdles event in high school and college track. She was in good shape for a thirty-five year-old, you had to give her that. (Certainly she was in better shape than Hugh, who was in his forties; but Hugh’s health problems put him in a whole separate category.)

Amanda wore her hair long, her one concession to un-corporate femininity. Most of the female heavy hitters at Merlesoft preferred short hairstyles that bordered on androgynous. But not Amanda. She was all woman.

You want her, Evan, he thought to himself. That’s part of why you despise her so. And you’re angry because she sees you as a subordinate, not as a man.

Evan realized that his feelings toward Amanda were at least a little bit complicated. Truth be told, he was mildly resentful at being bossed around by a woman whom he found attractive. That somehow added insult to injury. 

But there was also the fact that Amanda did seem to enjoy riding him—and not in the way that he would have preferred.

Evan and Hugh both nodded, the latter’s mention of the office complex called Lakeview Towers temporarily forgotten—at least by Evan. Whatever Hugh was going to caution him about, it couldn’t have been that important in the big scheme of things. It certainly wasn’t anyone’s priority.

Evan began to steel himself for the professional trial that lay directly ahead of him. Merlesoft’s annual performance review season was only one month away. Whatever he pulled off successfully (or screwed up) today would have a significant impact on the ratings that Amanda would assign him in October.

Evan dreaded his upcoming performance review even more than he dreaded the “do or die” meeting with the important, persnickety clients at Rich, Litchfield, and Baker. A great deal was hanging on this morning’s sales presentation.

***

They headed out to the McDonald’s parking lot and piled into the Merlesoft pool car: a generic Toyota Camry, tolerably comfortable for three people and a two-hour drive on the interstate.

Evan climbed behind the wheel. The junior person on the team did most of the driving. This wasn’t an absolute, formal rule—but the way it always seemed to work on business trips.

That was okay with Evan, though. He enjoyed driving; and the act enabled him to slip into a controlled trance where he could become lost in his own thoughts.

What had caused his recollection of his mother this morning? After all, he could be fairly certain that his mother was not thinking of him at this moment. Ditto for his father.

Evan was not technically estranged from his parents; but he was not exactly close to them, either. It occurred to him that he had not communicated with either Roger or Janet for about three months, and then only by email: “Hi, Roger!” “Hi, Janet!” “How are you doing? Hope all is well!”

His parents were long since divorced. When he communicated with them at all, he sent them separate versions of this more or less identical, perfunctory message.

Mom and Dad. Roger and Janet. Who the hell calls his parents by their first names? Yet Evan had been doing it for so many years, that it was now second nature.

The Roger and Janet thing had started when he was still in junior high. His parents were already divorcing by then, both of them moving toward other relationships that would shortly become other marriages. They had encouraged him to address them both by their first names.

So far as Evan knew, none of his friends addressed their parents by their first names. The very idea had had a faintly grown-up appeal, however; and it was what his parents wanted. It had therefore been Roger and Janet ever since.

And the next year, when he had two new stepparents, it was Roger and Monica and Janet and Mike.

Both Roger and Janet ended up having more children with their new spouses. Evan had met his multiple half siblings, but he wasn’t close to any of them. Nor did he make a habit of showing up at either parental household on the main holidays, though a pro forma invitation was usually extended. He knew that would be awkward for everyone.

Evan shook away these memories as he guided the Camry onto the entrance ramp of the interstate, leaving the McDonald’s behind them. They were traveling through the vast farm country between Cincinnati and Columbus. 

“Are you all ready for the presentation today?” Amanda asked from the back seat, interrupting his thoughts.

She had her phone in her lap, and was busy typing a message into its tiny keyboard. Evan apparently wasn’t entitled to her full attention.

That was okay. The less interaction with Amanda, the better. Hugh had mercifully climbed into the seat next to him. If Amanda had chosen to ride shotgun, he would have felt pressured to make conversation with her during the remaining ride to Columbus.

“I’m all ready,” Evan said, doing his best to sound corporate gung-ho and cheerful. 

Then he recalled what Hugh had said about not getting off the beaten path at the office complex where Rich, Litchfield, and Baker rented space.

What was it called? Oh, yeah: Lakeview Towers. Now why, exactly, would Hugh give him a piece of advice like that?

It had almost been a warning, as if the office complex was a dangerous neighborhood. But nothing bad happened to people in offices—nothing physically bad, at least.

Chapter 2

Sample chapters list

The ETB Online Books Project

Like all of you, in recent weeks I have been more preoccupied than usual with current events. As a result, the content here since mid-March has focused on the daily news.

The name of this site, though, is Edward Trimnell Books. I chose that name for a reason. Commentaries on the news will always have a place here. (I’m rather opinionated, as you may have noticed.) That said, this site isn’t, strictly speaking, a news site.  I primarily write books, many of which you can find on Amazon

This is a business for me. I’m an author, of course; but I’m also a micro-publisher.

Nevertheless, these are tough times for many readers. The COVID-19 shutdown has cut US economic activity by about a third. Unemployment now hovers at an unbelievable 18%. Hopefully the economy will be reopened soon, and the raw numbers will improve. Many people, though, will need time to recover from this unprecedented interruption to normal life.

In light of these highly unusual circumstances, I would like to make all of my books available to readers for free.

This is already the case with most of my existing library, if you’re a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program

I realize, though, that Kindle Unlimited won’t be the right option for some of you. And as much as I love Amazon, people were reading online long before anyone ever heard of a Kindle. 

One of the purposes of a website is to provide free online content. Without something for people to read, a website is nothing more than a glorified online brochure.

That’s what all too many websites are. I’ve always wanted this site to provide more to the reading community—especially in times like these.

I initially explored the idea of making more of my existing catalog available here on the site. The problem, though, is that I can’t make content freely available to you here, as well as in the Amazon Kindle Unlimited program. Amazon requires that all Kindle Unlimited titles be exclusive to the Amazon platform (in electronic form). I am bound by the terms of that contract, and I intend to abide by it. 

So I had another idea…

The Edward Trimnell Books Online Books Project

I’ve therefore decided to start making some titles available here on the site exclusively—or in advance of bookstore publication. These will not be serials, technically speaking, but I’ll be posting them a chapter at a time, as I write them. And you’ll be able to read them here for free. 

I have several titles in mind for the first round of online books. These will be a mixture of fiction and nonfiction. The fiction books will span several of the genres that I usually write in (thriller, horror, mystery). I also have some short stories planned.

And for those of you who have enjoyed all the news commentaries over these past few weeks, fear not: At least one of the titles I have in the works concerns politics. But whereas the daily blog posts typically deal with ephemeral headlines, the upcoming book one will dig deeper and involve more theory. 

The plan is to serialize several diverse titles at once, so that at least one of them will be something you’ll be interested in reading. As I say on ETB’s About page , I don’t expect anyone to like everything posted on this site, but everyone should be able to find at least something that they like. That’s one of the advantages of a variety format.

How can you support the Online Books Project?

No, this isn’t a prelude to asking you for money.

Some sites that provide free content immediately turn around and panhandle you at every turn—usually via requests to support them on Patreon. 

I don’t necessarily have a philosophical opposition to Patreon (or similar crowdfunding intermediaries, like Kickstarter). I’ll probably put up a Patreon page eventually, for readers who would like to voluntarily contribute. But if I’m going to make that an upfront requirement, I had might as well just put everything on Amazon first. A Patreon paywall is still a paywall.

***

But I still have bills to pay, just like everyone else. Can free content work with paying the bills? In part, yes. 

One of the really cool things about online content is that “free to the reader/viewer” need not mean “unpaid to the creator/publisher”. This principle goes all the way back to the origins of the Internet-as-we-know-it, in the 1990s.

In the beginning, at least, the Online Books Project will be sponsored the old-fashioned way: through the placement of a few unobtrusive ads.

Some of these ads will be for my books on Amazon. If you really like what you read here for free, consider purchasing a book of mine that isn’t part of the Online Books Project. You may also want to purchase an edited, proofread version of a book that appears online first. But that’s totally up to you.

***

The Online Books Project will also be sponsored (sparingly) by banner ads and affiliate links to third-party products. I don’t fundamentally have any difficulty with the idea of supporting free content with third-party ads. That’s what newspapers, magazines, and television have done since time immemorial. 

Online ads have (not without some justification) gotten a bad rap in recent years. That’s because some sites have totally overdone the concept.

The online versions of The Independent and USA Today come to mind here. These sites are littered with dropdown full-screen ads, autoplay video ads, and many more extremely intrusive forms of advertising. 

Edward Trimnell Books is old-school all the way. Just like I hate social media (why would anyone want to bother with Snapchat or TikTok?), I’m also allergic to newfangled forms of online advertising. I keep the ads here low-key, like they were up till about 2003. 

***

Those are my basic ideas about the Online Books Project.

I’ll be posting new content and new chapters daily, more or less, so check back often!

Quarantined? Read free stories from Edward Trimnell Books!

We’ve had a lot of discussion here in recent days about COVID-19, the  state of the pandemic, possible cures, and the Great Shutdown of 2020.

We’ll continue to discuss them, and I’ll continue to selectively comment on the news. The commentaries and updates aren’t going anywhere.

At the same time, though, some of you must be burned out on the news.

Given our constant cable/Internet news cycle, it never ends. When you watch it minute-to-minute, moreover, it can get pretty repetitive.

So here’s what I’m doing for you:

There are lots of FREE stories on this site—mostly horror tales from my archives, including “The Vampires of Wallachia” and “Thanatos Postponed”.

For a full index of all the stuff you can read for FREE on this site (including plenty of thriller/horror fiction) see my Online Stories and Features page.

***

For those of you who are members of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service, you can read The Consultant or Venetian Springs for FREE as part of that program.

For the rest of you: I’ve marked down most of my fiction titles to a maximum price of $3.99. They’ll stay there for the duration of this crisis. I know that money is tight. I can’t make every title free, but I’m going to make every title as cheap as I possibly can. (And you can read most of my Amazon titles for FREE as part of your Kindle Unlimited membership, anyway .)

Here’s my advice: Don’t immerse yourself in the news too much. It can become a rabbit hole that you can’t pull out of. Don’t drift over to Twitter (that cesspool of negativity), and don’t spend all of your time scrolling through mindless updates on Facebook. Say hi to everyone once per day, and then get off Mark Zuckerberg’s manipulative, privacy-invading platform.

Go for a walk. Demonstrate support and affection for your friends and family (from a safe distance, of course). Count your blessings.

Oh, and keep checking back here. Because I’ll be putting lots more content up to help you pass the time while the world is on pause.

Peace out!