YELP restaurant reviews as they were meant to be heard!

Youtuber Joe Plummer had a simple yet brilliant idea that YELP reviews deserve the star treatment.  So, he called on his actor friend Chris Kipiniak and recorded him reading a review of the Stratford Diner written by Dan B., a man who clearly expects to be adequately praised when he goes out of his way to express his culinary satisfaction.  Kipiniak perfectly captures that heartbreaking moment when Dan B. seemingly loses all faith in humanity.

Oz Chronicles T-Shirt?

The following comment was posted by Laura on the blog last week.

This just came to me as I was reading this entry. I would SO purchase an Oz t-shirt or sweatshirt if it looked really cool. Have you thought of creating them? At the very least, what about CafePress…put your web site on it…OH! Make it like a concert t-shirt, with the names of the books on the back!! And a cool picture of the Oz gang on the front…or the monsters…

I attempted to do t-shirts years ago, but I wasn’t happy with the way they turned out, so I never really promoted them.  But, Laura has planted the seed in my head that I might need to give it another try.  Here’s my first design attempt for the front pocket area.  What do you think?

Possible t-shirt design

Also, Laura suggested putting the titles of the books on the back.  That’s an idea, but if you have any thoughts, let me know.

Lou’s Diary – Entry 6 (text version)

I was half way down the stairs before I couldn’t bring myself to go any farther.  I was tired of the cold.  I was tired of being out in the open.  I was tired of walking to nowhere in particular.  I was just tired.  They were just body parts.  I could deal with that.  I had seen worse.  I had seen people die.  A pile of limbs and… whatever was, sadly, no big deal.

I don’t remember the climb back up the stairs.  All I remember is standing in the doorway, craning my neck to the right, and staring at… them.  That’s what they were, right?  Them?  People?  They were more people than me.  I didn’t matter at all really, but they did at some point to somebody. They were people with friends and family and enemies and haters.  Just because they were… disassembled and stacked in the corner of an abandoned fire tower didn’t make them any less people.

They were just like Valerie.  Loved and then lost to a stupid cruel world… a stupid, stupid, ugly, heartless world.

Before I knew it, I was standing in front of the pile of body parts crying.  I apologized for not knowing them.  They deserved to be known, to be missed, but there was nobody here but me.  I explained to them that I didn’t count.  I imagined them laughing at how crazy it sounded.  I told them about Oz and Wes and Ajax and everybody.  I told them about Kimball.  Oh, I miss Kimball.  But again, I had to explain to this pile of hands and feet and bellies and arms and legs that it didn’t matter that I missed Kimball, because I didn’t matter.  I wasn’t real.  I’m not real.

In a weird way, I felt at home with these severed parts of people.  They didn’t belong in the corner of a shack 50 feet in the air, and neither did I.  We were all orphans, and this was our orphanage.

I made my way to the opposite side of the shelter and sat down.  For whatever reason, I wasn’t concerned about who or what left the body parts in this place in the middle of nowhere.  If they came back, they came back.  Maybe, if I’m lucky, they’ll add me to the pile… part by part.

Chick-fil-A: Thoughts from an… almost Christian

I should preface this post by saying I don’t know if I’m a Christian or not.  There was a time in my life when I wanted to be because I thought that’s what I was supposed to be, but over the years I’ve watched the power structure in the Christian faith turn condemnation of sins into the vilification of the sinners.  Judgment of others took precedent over forgiveness of others.  The claim that disaster after disaster was at the hands of an angry God drowned out the claims that God is love.  In short, people who count themselves as the authority on Christianity got in the way of me wanting to be a Christian or at the very least, proclaim that I am a Christian.  Put another way, I deny Jesus not because of Jesus, but because of the leaders in his church. I’m guessing Jesus wouldn’t be too happy with how he’s portrayed by most religious leaders today either, so I don’t think he’d really blame me.

I am not saying people that openly practice Christianity are bad people.  Far from it.   They are good and honest people that have a true desire to heal the ills of this world.  When they pray, they pray for peace and tranquility for everyone.  They want everyone to bask in the glory of God’s grace.  They may grow frustrated when people deny what they see as the true path, and they may lash out at those who have lost their way, but they do it out of love.  I get that, and I forgive them their transgressions as I hope they forgive me mine.

That’s why I don’t have any problem with Dan Cathy’s, the CEO of Chick-fil-A, recent public stance against same-sex marriage.  He’s allowed to run his company and follow his religious beliefs.  I don’t agree with those beliefs, but I also haven’t eaten in Chic-fil-A in years so he’s clearly not worried if we don’t see eye-to-eye on this issue.  I don’t believe Mr. Cathy was doing anything other than relaying how he feels about the issue of gay marriage.   He wasn’t trying to start a movement or champion a cause.  He just answered a question, and, as our constitution guarantees, he does have the right to free speech.

But, he is not allowed to voice his opinion without consequences.  Free speech doesn’t mean he can expect to speak his mind without angering those who disagree.  The boycott of Chick-fil-A is the right move for the passionate opposition. And, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I hope it helps shed more light on the unjust nature of the Defense of Marriage Act.  In fact, I hope it buries it in a tomb with the rest of this country’s discriminatory past.

I don’t want him to stop being a Christian.  I don’t want him to stop talking publicly about his beliefs.  But, I do want his side to lose on this issue.  I want a gay citizen’s civil rights to count more than Mr. Cathy’s religious beliefs when it comes to public policy.  That’s it.  I don’t want the man to accept homosexuality.  I don’t want him to hold same-sex wedding ceremonies in his backyard.  I just want his side to stop defining marriage for consenting adults.

The bottom line is that two men marrying does not infringe on Dan Cathy’s right to practice his religion, but enacting public policy based on his religious beliefs does deny gay men and women the right to marry.  I have to tell you, looking at it in those terms, one side in this debate sounds profoundly un-American, and it’s not the one where two dudes get married.

Details on The Takers free promotional period

9200 copies downloaded

The Takers’ free promotional period is over.  In three days, with your help spreading the word, The Takers was downloaded 9200 times.  I’m very pleased and excited by that number.  For an indie guy like me, you get excited when a couple of hundred people download your book.  This whole process brought up some interesting questions, and I’d like to take this opportunity to answer those (this is the part where I mix real questions with made up questions people have asked me).

Q: Why are you excited about giving a book away for free?  Aren’t you losing money?

A: In the short run, yes I am losing money, but not that much. The cost of The Takers is currently $0.99.  I make 35% off each sale.  So according to my math (which is incorrect 98% of the time) I lost out  on about $3100.  But I’ve never come close to selling 9200 books in three days or three months, for that matter.  Giving the book away for free exposes The Oz Chronicles to a much larger audience, which will hopefully lead to increased sales on my other books.  A lot of people who downloaded the book won’t get around to reading it.  Some will start it and never finish it.  Others will finish it and forget all about it.  And a few will dislike it.  Some will hate it and let me know via email.  There will be a group that likes it, but for whatever reason won’t rush out to read the other books in the series, and then there will be my favorite of the free downloaders.  The ones who read it, love it, tell their friends about it, write a review, and send me emails telling me how much they love it.  They’re the reason I do the free promotional periods. I need those readers more than sales at this point in my journey.

Q: Why do you think this free promotional period was more succesful than the others you’ve done?

A: The simple answer is because I did those other free promotional periods.  Every time I do a giveaway, I pick up a handful of readers that become invaluable advocates for The Oz Chronicles. They help me spread the word about all things Oz.  I’ve been fortunate enough to build a lasting readership.  Some of the people have been Oz “fans” (The quotes indicate I’m so not comfortable with that word because I view them as more than fans.  They feel more like friends of Oz.) for years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to come to know them through this blog, social media, and email exchanges.

Q: Why are you still promoting The Takers?  You published that book in 2005.

A: Because it’s the first book in a series.  The lore of Oz builds from book to book, and each book ends on a cliffhanger.  When it’s all said and done, and I’ve published the seventh and final book in the series, the result will essentially be one long very long book: approximately 1600 pages containing about 450,000 words.  Granted, Stephen King and the late Robert Jordan could crank out a book that long in one sleepless weekend, but that’s what makes/made them King and Jordan.  I’m doing my epic apocalyptic novel in seven parts.  Each is dependent on the other, and they should be read from first to last.    When I promote The Takers, I’m promoting the entire series.

Comment: (This one is an actual comment I got from a reader recently).  I just wanted to write you to let you know I got a free copy of The Takers on my Kindle and read it in a day.  I’ve already purchased Book two and can’t wait to start it.  I posted a review on Amazon.  I really hope it helps!

A: Reviews on Amazon do help tremendously with sales and giveaways.  If a book doesn’t have a lot of reviews, people won’t bother to download it.  I’m not one to ask for reviews because it just feels weird, so I’ll cop-out here and just encourage you to write reviews for any book or author you like.  While you’re at it, tell five friends about the book.  Write the president of movies and demand they make a movie out of the book.  Rush to the offices of any of the big six publishers, find any acquisitions editor, grab him or her by the collar and just say “Really?”  They’ll know what you’re talking about.

On a final note, I’d like to thank the friends of Oz for helping me spread the word about this giveaway, and anything having to do with the series.  If I didn’t have your help in all this, I wouldn’t be doing this in the first place.   Writing is fun, but writing for an audience is a friggin’ blast!

I found Bigfoot!

Bigfoot can be yours for only $80,000!

This is awesome!  If I had $80,000, this thing would be mine.  This is a statue that Clifford LaBrecque had built about 35 years ago. Clifford allegedly had an encounter with his friendly (or not so friendly) neighborhood Bigfoot in 1976-77. He observed a few for about 2 months in Des Moines, Iowa, and things were fairly amiable until Clifford decided he was going to shoot one.

That night LaBrecque decided to shoot the creature. “It was about 25 feet away from where I was parked in my pickup truck.” LaBrecque said. “Two of the creatures walked up from behind a hedge. One stopped but the other went to a woodpile, bent down and started to eat with its back towards me. I stayed in the car and waited for it to turn around but it just kept on gnawing at the wood. Finally I decided to shoot it from behind. When the animals turned and saw me, I got buck fever and couldn’t shoot. As it came towards me, I couldn’t get the window rolled up fast enough. It was really close.” LaBrecque was petrified with fear as the creature advanced. He tells what happened next.

“It loomed  over the car. It was about 8 feet tall. It reached through the window, grabbed me and shook the daylights out of me. It was terribly strong. I could feel its face about 6 inches away from mine and believe me I was in a state of tremendous fear. I could feel my whole body shaking. I felt a sensation of being twisted around and pushed down onto the floor.  The creature’s eyes were burning with fury. It was angry, very angry at me for trying to shoot it. Then I passed out. When I regained consciousness it was gone.

Clifford insists it is accurate to the last inch.  He had the thing built for around $9,000, so he is trying to turn a nice little profit, but hey, why not?  It’s cool.  If you want to own a piece of Bigfoot lore, hurry up and get in on the bidding on ebay.

BTW – I’ve gotten a few emails and messages from people concerned that I haven’t done a Bigfoot post in a while.  Frankly, there’s nothing new to report.  I can only post so much rumor and conjecture before it gets kind of silly.  When there is something newsworthy, I have no problem discussing it here.

The Takers is #68 and rising

Free for a limited time

UPDATE: At 10:00 10:50 AM 6:35 PM, the ranking is now #45 43 42.

As of this writing, The Takers is number 68 in the Free Kindle store!  Awesome.  It’s been as high as 50 before but that took three days for it to climb that high.  It reached 68 in a little over 24 hours.  Thanks to everyone who helped promote the giveaway.  The free downloads go a long way in raising awareness for the entire Oz Chronicles series.  Two more days to go.

Lou’s Diary – Entry 5 (text version)

I found a fire tower!  Just when I was about to give up on ever finding any kind of shelter, I found an honest to goodness, intact, fire tower with a toasty-warm cabin that must be 50 feet off the ground.  If such a thing is possible, considering what and where I am, I actually may be slightly happy at this very moment.

The crazy thing is I almost walked right by it.  The snow was heavy, and the tiny icy flakes shot down out of the clouds like darts.  I kept my head down because my face was sore from the arctic beating it was taking.   At some point, I realized the trail I had been following was completely gone.  I lost it in the blinding snowdrifts. When I made myself look up and try to get my bearings, that’s when I saw it: that big, beautiful fire tower. It was about ten yards to my left up a little embankment.  I didn’t believe my eyes.  I put my head down again and kept walking because I thought I was losing my mind.     I couldn’t be that lucky.

I took a few steps and stopped.  Only an idiot would not at least check it out.  I backtracked and scrambled up the embankment with a lot of difficulty.  If the tower was just an illusion, it never vanished.  Standing on firm ground just a few feet away, I arched my back, pointed my chin skyward, and soaked in every inch of the large wooden structure.  It was real.

And before I could convince myself otherwise, I frantically climbed the winding staircase to the top.  The door to the cabin was locked, but when you’re cold and hungry and eager to never feel snow on your exposed skin again, a locked door is a minor hurdle.  I kicked it open and practically dove inside to escape the frozen world that had tortured me for so long.

I scrambled to the center of the cozy square room and collapsed, falling asleep almost as soon as my head hit the floor.  When I woke up sometime later, I found a bank of three metal lockers filled with olive green packets of food: meals ready to eat.  I ripped open one labeled “Beef Stew,” and shoveled the contents into my mouth with my hands.

When I was chewing my second handful of stew, I saw the one major drawback to my little heaven on Earth.  There was a stack of body parts in the corner nearest the door.