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Friday, March 30, 2012

On Writing Devastating Scenes

Print from A Yorkshire Tragedy

I did a bit of soul-searching this week.

On his blog, my fellow author James Garcia Jr. recently featured his reactions to Base Spirits. He very eloquently tackled the question of the infanticides as portrayed in the novel, and I really appreciated his comments. I disturbed him. I made him angry. But? He stuck with the book and pushed on past his own discomfort because he wanted to find out what happened, and because he admired my writing.

"I am positively reviewing this novel for two main reasons. Barrett writes with beautiful prose and she nailed everything that was required of an author doing a period piece. That's what got me through the unsavory subject matter of abuse, as well as the murder of those beautiful children. When Clara and her husband were in present day, we were there with them. It was present day; anyone could pull that off! More importantly, however, when Clara began seeing through Lady Calverley's eyes, Barrett was able to fully transport us there, too. She nailed the culture, the dress, the language, the pacing, the lifestyles - everything! I found myself thoroughly impressed with Barrett here, and am convinced that no one but a master could have pulled that off."

I am truly humbled by his reaction and his high praise. (You can link to the rest of James Garcia Jr.'s blog here: and his Facebook page is here: ) Thank you, James. It means a lot coming from you.

I want to know how others feel when dealing with the dark side, and to that end I'm offering Base Spirits at a deep discount of 99 cents for a limited time:

That difficult reaction is the sort of thing I really need to hear about as a writer. I've been lucky to have had mostly glowing reviews on my Amazon page, on review blogs, via e-mail and in person. Only two poor reviews so far, and those readers just didn't get into the concept. (That's fair- not everyone's going to love what I do.) I am heartened when I hear things like 'I couldn't put it down' or 'I sat up all night jumping at sounds' or 'Freakin' amazing!'. That pleases me. I like hearing comments like those.

But when I have made someone truly uncomfortable with the subject matter-- or with the brutal portrayal of the murders-- it gives me pause. Years ago, I had a good friend give an earlier draft a beta read... and he couldn't get past the murder scene. I really upset him. He had two children about the same ages as Will and little Walter at the time, and he was horrified. Not a 'scary monster in the attic' kind of horror reaction, but HORRIFIED. I remember feeling guilty for upsetting him so much. At times, that has given me pause going forward with the book itself. If I had that strong sort of visceral reaction from my oldest friend and fellow writer, then what would other people think of me? I didn't want readers to think I was some sort of monster who derives pleasure from tackling the harsh subject matter.

(As a sidebar, my old friend has since re-read the novel and really admires it.)

The scenes of abuse and violence were wrenching for me to work on. I felt sick a lot of the time. I hated that these things happened-- really happened-- to this family in 1605. But they were true events at the heart of my story. How could I shy away? There is no easy or 'nice' way to portray a murder.

If Base Spirits was a screenplay (and it may well be... stay tuned!), I would have handled it differently. That's the joy of filmmaking: you visually suggest something, and the viewer can fill in the rest with more truth and horror in their imaginations than any special effects can. I'm not a huge fan of over-the-top splatter onscreen-- sometimes it's necessary, and sometimes it just becomes cartoonish and goofy and doesn't serve the story. It depends on what effect you want to make on the audience.

In a novel, a writer needs to paint a picture. It was a very unpleasant and disturbing picture for me to paint. I played the mother of these children-- the wife of the abusive killer-- onstage. I had to go somewhere very dark deep down within myself and 'feel' all of that anguish. The fictional retelling had me right back there in the pit. It wasn't easy. But I was compelled to write the novel.

In the end, that's the answer of why I didn't shy away: I've elicited a true gut reaction. Isn't that what art is meant to do? Yes, it entertains us and makes us use our imaginations... but if it upsets you, it is reaching you at a deeper level. And as another Canadian writer Timothy Findley once said: "We are all of us a hiding place for monsters".

What do you think?

Why not judge for yourself? I'm putting Base Spirits on sale for 99 cents for a limited time. Here's the Kindle link again:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Who Here Likes Book Trailers?

BASE SPIRITS.... the Trailer! (And another is on the way... )

So... my friends at Authors Anonymous made a trailer for 'Base Spirits' not too long ago. Authors Anon has a splendid website that is a joy to visit. They are passionate about showcasing quality Indie authors, and their site is chock full of interesting discoveries and spotlights on some wonderful writers, as well as helpful links. Have a look: Who knows? Maybe you could be a 'spotlight' author yourself one day. If you think you might be a good fit and you like what you see, why not get in touch? They're very welcoming.

I've had an offer from my cover designer, Neil Jackson, to make another trailer for me. I'll be sure to post it here once it's finished.

As an author, it's very interesting to watch a trailer about your own book. In the case of the one posted above, there are images from the actual real-life location of the story along with the teasers. I think the atmosphere is creepy. Hopefully, it does its job to make the novel sound intriguing enough for a reader to go grab a copy.

(Insert clumsy segue to book links here... )

For Base Spirits e-books:
(In the UK:
Available in paperback for all:

Back to the trailer question... I was watching a podcast about marketing, and the rather obvious point was made that a trailer for a book works exactly like a movie trailer. It is meant to create buzz and arouse your interest... make you want to rush out and get that amazing novel. Likely the most effective timing for a trailer to hit the Web is before the actual launch date... but as those of you who have been following this blog must know by now, my adventures in the Wild West of Indie publishing have been very much a 'learn-as-you-go' process.

How do you use a trailer to your advantage? Who among you has a book trailer, and how have you found it as a marketing tool? Where have you posted it?

I stumbled across Galleycat last week... and I admit I haven't had time to take a good look at it yet... but it might yield some answers. They also seem to offer a lot of good writers' resources in general, so do go poke around and see what you can find.

What do you think? Are book trailers useful at attracting readers? They are fun for the author-- somehow it makes the book seem more 'real', in a way. But are they fun for anyone else?

Tell me what you think.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Oh, the Horror! March 14/15th.

Blame it on the Ides of March, or March Hare madness, or even a foolish whim... but some fellow horror writers and I are giving away FREE e-books to help prolong the chill in the air! We are keen to share our writing and want to reach new readers. I had a great response to my last Base Spirits giveaway, so I figured it would be fun to get together with a few other indie authors and spread the joy. Well... maybe 'joy' isn't really the right word for these truly terrifying titles on offer!

Remember: check the dates before you download. These are limited time offers, and we'd hate to disappoint you.

March 14th and 15th: Base Spirits is free on Kindle! 'In 1605, Sir Walter Calverley’s murderous rampage leaves a family shattered. The killer suffers a torturous execution… but is it truly the end? A noble Yorkshire house stands forever tarnished by blood and possessed by anguished spirits. Some crimes are so horrific, they reverberate through the centuries. As an unhappy modern couple vacation in the guesthouse at Calverley Old Hall, playwright Clara, and her scholar husband, Scott, unwittingly awaken a dark history. Clara is trapped and forced back in time to bear witness to a family’s bloody saga. Overtaken by the malevolent echoes, Scott is pushed over the edge from possessive husband to wholly possessed… Inspired by a true-life drama in Shakespeare’s day, this is itself a play within a play: a supernatural thriller with a historical core. Only one player can survive.'
Grab yours here:

But wait! There's much more...

Axel Howerton's Living Dead at Zigfreidt & Roy - A Vegas Zombiepocalypse is up for grabs. 'Blood and Coffee. Cowboys and Zombies. Welcome to the Last Diner at the End of the World. The coffee's hot and the ghoulish army of the undead isn't due for a few more minutes. Take a load off, fill your cup and listen to the last story of how the world ends. Not with a whimper, nor a cry, but with the roar of white tigers and the blazing neon of the Vegas strip.'
Find it here:

Bryan Hall will offer up his short story collection Whispers From the Dark. 'What if your hometown hid a terrible secret? What if the vintage LP you brought home was more than just a record? What if your neighbor's pond held an evil only you knew about? What if your dying daughter's only hope lay in a strange shack deep within the Appalachian wilderness? This collection of fourteen short stories from the author of Containment Room Seven asks those questions and many more. You won't find vampires or zombies here - only pure, dark, unrelenting terror on every page.
Sounds spooky:

Last but never least, Robert S. Wilson is not to be be outdone! He is making all four of his titles free on March 15th! I'll link you to his Amazon Author Page for easy one-stop shopping. Here you can grab Shining in Crimson (Book One of his dystopian vampire series Empire of Blood), his novella The Quiet and two shorter works What Happens in Vegas and Born to Kill.
His page and books are here:

We all hope you enjoy our books! I've found that Indie writers are a Tribe. We love to help each other out and promote one another's good work. There's no ulterior motive and no competition. After all, if you love to read, you'll want more than just one book, right? And when we can help point new readers to try out our fellow authors, everybody's a winner.

Enjoy, dear reader... and spread the word. And if you truly love our books, please let us know and also consider leaving a nice review on our respective Amazon pages. We'd love to hear from you and sincerely appreciate getting good reviews and ratings!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Good News for Short Stories!

Last week's launch of new publisher Crushing Hearts and Black Butterflies' debut anthology-- Dark Light-- has been a resounding success! I am proud and happy to report that my story contribution 'The Transformation' is but one part of a larger triumph. The collection has been named as one of's Hot New Releases! Check it out here:

It is always good to be involved with a successful project, and I wish the energetic folks at CHBB all the best. I hope it is just the beginning of their popularity as they share more exciting work with readers in the coming months. Hopefully Dark Light will whet the appetites of a solid fan base for whatever comes next!

Whose Sinister Shadow is That...?

Of course, I have also just launched my newest stand-alone short story 'Family Secrets' on Kindle in the past couple of weeks. Check it out and tell me what you think! This was about my getting more of my work out to the readers of course, but it was also another step forward for myself as an Indie. I didn't want to spend a lot of money on formatting a product that would only be selling for .99 cents, so I set aside my usual terror of technical matters and figured it out on my own. I'm happy with the result-- and that means I will release a few more singles in the next few months since I can keep the overhead costs down. When the time comes to bundle them into a larger anthology with some previously unpublished stories, I will likely use my formatter again... maybe. I am trying to do as much as I can for myself. I will always use an editor and a cover designer-- I think authors owe it to themselves and their readers to present a slick and polished book, whether you are going Indie or following the traditional path to publication.

I have a healthy back-list of short stories, many of which have been published in anthologies and chapbooks over the years. Kindle gives me a great opportunity to give new life and a second chance to my little gems. If you are an Indie author and want to do the same, I say go for it... but do make sure that the rights for your story have reverted back to you. Short stories are a good, cheap way for people to check out your writing style if they are too tentative to take a chance on a full-length novel. They make excellent calling-cards.

Now the pressing question is... which story comes next? Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Good Karma! Success and Thanks for a Great Day!

WOW!! My Indie author adventure took a dramatic upward turn on Leap Day!

I am thrilled with the results for the cross-promotion day with the launch of Crushing Hearts and Black Butterflies debut anthology, Dark Light. The anthology shot up the ranks and is selling REALLY well... and I was staggered by the number of downloads I had for Base Spirits.

If you are an Indie author questioning the idea of using KDP Select as a marketing tool for your book, I am sharing my method this time around. Maybe it will help you decide if it's worth a shot in your own unique case. Obviously, you will have to tailor the promo for yourself in ways that make the most sense, but this is what I did:

When I initially joined KDP, I'd made Base Spirits free for 2 days in January-- the first day I had 38 downloads, but on the second I had over 1000. As a result, I had a wee bump in sales, and have since been getting more great 5 star reviews and word of mouth... and sales (though frankly still miserly) were at least slowly-but-steadily happening.

This time around, I thought I'd try a one-day cross-promo of Base Spirits with the anthology launch of Dark Light. CHBB publishing are fairly aggressive about getting the word out, so I figured if some of the antho authors could hitch a ride and do a giveaway at the same time, it might yield more results. I also nicely & discreetly requested RT-ing and sharing from high-profile key people (all of whom did me the favour). If you want to ask people to share your posts, ALWAYS ask directly in a message and DO NOT just post it on their walls unasked. 9 times out of 10, they are only too glad to help. And? Pay back the favour by Tweeting and sharing their news and promos. I notified 'E-reader News Today' and got featured in their ENT wall of free books. I'm also new to Triberr-- a 'tribe' of others will share your blog posts so that you reach a bigger audience. My reach there is over 55 thousand or something. I did a special blog post about the giveaway, and noticed it was going out steadily all day without any extra effort from me. I also posted in maybe 4 or 5 targeted FB groups, and did a fair amount of tweeting to bump things along.

Final tally of free downloads: a truly stunning 3794, Amazon UK= 82... and I broke into the European market with 10 in Germany and one in France! I was in the top 100 free books at times, and was at #3 and #5 for the categories of ghost and historical fiction. (At one point, I even beat out Dracula and The Scarlet Letter by those *other* 'hacks'!)

SALES first thing in the morning... 63 on .com and 6 in the UK!!!! Now I can finally get a cheque from Amazon! WOOT!!! Those numbers may pale in comparison with other folks, but comparisons will only drive you crazy. This is a huge leap forward for me-- so hooray, Leap Day!

So I'd say that worked!!! It was a lot of fuss to do, but not as much as you'd think-- and it didn't cost me anything but time and some effort. I have 2 more free days left, and plans for an upcoming cross promo with a bunch of other horror folks.

Good luck with your own books. Marketing is a tricky thing-- what works brilliantly for some writers totally tanks for others. Sometimes results accumulate rather than skyrocket. Remember- it's not a race. Also remember- you're not in this alone. "Writers are a tribe". A great Canadian author Margaret Laurence said that-- and it's true. We are all in this together. When you need help, just ask.