Get Two Short Stories on Kindle for Free!

Happy Cyber Monday!

Because of this special shop-at-home-naked event, I thought I’d offer two of my books for free. Just click on the titles or images below to get your copies! If you like the books, please add a kind review over at Amazon, Goodreads or both. Thanks and happy shopping!

Both books will be free from Cyber Monday through back-to-normal Tuesday, ending on Wednesday.

NoteYou can read the stories on any Kindle device or on your phone, computer or tablet just by downloading the Kindle app.

The illustration on this cover was drawn by my young nephew, Zach.

The illustration on this cover was drawn by my young nephew, Zach.

Does She Smile at Home?

In the midst of an existential crisis, a middle-aged man comes upon Dolores, a lowly grocery store clerk who never seems to smile. Confused and deeply haunted by this woman’s poisonous demeanor, and suspecting the riddle of her existence will somehow solve his own emotional puzzle, the man follows her to catch a glimpse of what her life is like at home. What he discovers there stirs him to his very core, and changes him forever.

This inspirational drama strays from my standard comforts in the thriller/horror/sci-fi genres and examines the nature of hope, depression, and socioeconomic woes through a philosophical lens. Rich with moody characters, brisk fall imagery and thoughtful metaphor, the story is meant for those who struggle to make ends meet, but hope for a better day.

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Wicked Neighborhood #1: The Stray Cats

Jennifer Riley is trying to pick up the shattered pieces of her life in the aftermath of an abusive husband. Despite her positive outlook, Jennifer feels an emptiness in her heart. That’s when Callie, an adorable tabby cat, appears on her doorstep seeking shelter. Jennifer allows the feline into her home, but soon another cat shows up at her doorstep … and another … and another … and another. What is causing this strange preponderance of cats? Is it Jennifer’s bizarre neighbors, each one seemingly weirder than the next? Is it her own selfish desire to fill her lonely days? Or is there something far more deadly at play? … something fiendish lurking within the woods surrounding Forest Street.

“The Stray Cats” is the first installment in an ongoing anthology series titled Wicked Neighborhood. The series is loosely inspired by/hyperbolized from my very own neighborhood in northern Ohio.

The short stories will be split over several issues, with the possibility for future “seasons” of the series if the stories prove popular. In other words, if you like what you read, spread the word to keep this series going.

Each issue of Wicked Neighborhood will focus on one particular household seated on the seemingly quiet stretch of land known as Forest Street. The upcoming stories are connected by characters, incidents and events on the street. That said, it is not necessary that you read every single tale in the series to delight in what I have in store for you … though you will be missing quite a lot of fun. Also, as future issues appear, you are welcome to read them in any order you desire.

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In addition to the free book sale, my latest novella, Vampire Zombie Claus, is also on sale, marked down from $2.99 to just $0.99. That sale ends Tuesday.

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Vampire Zombie Claus

This Christmas tale recounts the shockingly true story of the life, and death, of Kris Kringle, from how he came to become a vampire, to the man known as Santa Claus, and eventually … Vampire Zombie Claus.

Following in the great tradition of stories like The Princess Bride, A Nightmare Before Christmas, The Lord of the Rings, World War Z and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, this novella blends genres, both serious and silly, and delivers a new tale of excitement, nostalgia, humor and good old fashioned Christmas cheer.

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The Horror (still just $0.99)

What if the horrors of a seemingly innocent and fun haunted house attraction were real? What if someone were inside with you, stalking you and feeding on your fear? What if every corner of the maze were deadly? What if you couldn’t get out?

The Horror tells the story of Lisa and Alan, two college teens visiting a theatrical haunted maze themed after local urban legends. Once inside it becomes clear that the macabre, grisly sights are not just smoke and mirrors, and gallons of fake blood, but the gory work of a deranged psychopath who is inside the house, hunting them.

I love my readers, and I love my Twitter followers, too! Be sure to follow me on Twitter.

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Review: Kindle Fire HDX

I just wanted to share my thoughts on Amazon’s latest flagship reader, the Kindle Fire HDX, ahead of its Oct. 18-28, 2013 US release date.

I’ve been a lover of Amazon since the site launched. Their service is cheap, easy, intuitive and their customer service is typically excellent (from my experiences). I have been a Prime member for more than four years (get Prime, seriously) as well. So, naturally, it wasn’t difficult to fall in love with Amazon’s tablets when they launched just a few short years ago. My wife owns the original Fire tablet and I have owed the Fire HD. They are wonderful products for reading, for internet and for most games and tablet uses.

Since buying the Kindle, I find myself reading more than ever before. As a writer, I love Amazon’s text-to-speech function (and its many awesome voice options), as it quickly helps me find mistakes, grammar issues, spelling and other problems in my stories as I read along. In brief, the device is handy, portable, fun, efficient and enormously easy to use.

The new HDX isn’t a major improvement over the Fire HD, but it’s a worthy upgrade, especially for potential new buyers.

This new device is significantly faster than the previous version thanks to a quad-core Snapdragon processor. Internet browsing is vastly improved and games run a little smoother as well. The screen resolution has also been upped to 1920×1200, and looks gorgeous. And, as before, the tablet’s Dolby audio is absolutely astonishing.

The HDX is fairly customizable, so for more information regarding specs and details, feel free to hop over to Amazon, where you’ll find photos, videos and more.

The tablet’s redesign is quite spiffy. Simply moving the power button away from the volume buttons was a big improvement (power is on the opposite side now). With the old device, I continually found myself pressing the power button when I meant to press the volume buttons. That is no longer an issue. The tablet is also a little easier to hold than before, thanks to the squared design.

One negative of the new model: the mini HDMI port has been removed. But Kindle’s OS now allows users to flip what they’re watching on their tablet to your home device (like a PS3) using Amazon’s Video app. Netflix also allows users this ability. So the mini HDMI port is a bit of a wash, though I imagine some will be disappointed by this missing component.

The best aspect of the redesign is the weight. The Fire HD wasn’t a particularly heavy tablet, but for those who binge read (like me) you probably know that the tablet can wear you down after a while. The new HDX is about 30% lighter than the Fire HD, making it an easier tablet to hold for long hours. It’s also a tad smaller, too, while retaining the same 7-inch screen size.

My only major gripe with the HDX thus far has been a persistent blue border that surrounds the vertical sides when there’s a white screen present. I’m guessing it’s a reflection of the white against the black plastic surrounding the glass, but I do find it a bit distracting — far more distracting that the previous Fire or Fire HD. I’ll have to check out another HDX at Best Buy soon and see if they have this issue, too. If not, it could mean I have a defective screen. I’ll update this article as soon as I know for sure.

UPDATE 10/22/13: Amazon has now officially addressed the blue border. Here is their explanation: “We want you to know… The Kindle Fire HDX 7″ has perfect color accuracy (100% sRGB), and we wanted to share more details around our display design decisions that helped us achieve this.

You may notice a very narrow, faint blue tint around the edge of the device when looking at items with a white background, such as books or web pages. All displays have some level of light emission around the edges, and the light on the Kindle Fire HDX 7″ is blue due to the technology used to render perfect color accuracy. Most LCD displays use white LEDs, and then apply filters to extract the desired color. The result is oftentimes a compromise to tone and color accuracy, or—if attempting to address these compromises—an increase in battery consumption and, thus, device weight.

We’ve taken a different approach. To achieve the perfect color accuracy on Kindle Fire HDX 7″ at the lowest possible battery consumption and device weight, we used blue, not white, LEDs. Blue LEDs allow for a much more accurate  and rich representation of color and result in an up to 20% improvement in power efficiency.

So there you have it. It sounds like a logical response, and the reasoning is sound. Blue LEDs were used to save weight and improve battery and color accuracy. It could also be total BS, that I am not sure. I imagine we’ll hear more as the tech community dives into this statement and dissects Amazon’s reasoning. That said, I have gotten used to the screen over the past few weeks. The image display truly is remarkable, even with the blue or purple border distraction.

Back to the original review:

The HDX also includes a charger. For some inexplicable reason, Amazon opted not to include a wall charger for the Kindle Fire HD last year. Instead, they sold the charger as a separate accessory, which felt a little cheap. The HDX rectifies this problem, but creates another – the plug is too damn cumbersome, taking up two plug spots instead (on a surge protector) and nearly taking up two slots on a wall socket. It’s not a bulky plug, either. In fact, the plug looks quite similar to the Apple wall charger, except it’s larger all the way around, instead of perfectly square with a wall socket. Here’s what they look like side-by-side:

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It’s not a major issue, but it’s a silly design choice that’s sure to piss off some buyers.

I can’t wait to see what comes next with the Kindle readers. I’m hoping to see a tablet that has an HD (maybe 3D) screen on one side, and e-ink on the other. Perhaps that’s a pipe dream, but I’m hoping it’s coming in the next year or two. We’ll see.

For those looking for a great electronic reader that’s also useful and effective for portable gaming, media playback, video chatting and tablet uses, the Kindle Fire HDX is certainly a great option, second only to Apple (and catching up). Build quality is outstanding, the processor is quick and the redesign is great. And there’s plenty of value to be found with the tablet, like customer-friendly goodies such as Mayday, a live video customer service chat line. (I did not get to test Mayday, but it seemed quite functional.)

UPDATE 10/24/13: Mayday review … I finally had a reason to try Amazon’s latest customer service app, “Mayday,” last night. After a rather brief 30-second wait, I was connected with a rep who walked me through how to access and use Amazon’s pre-installed Officesuite. I thought the app was something you would just open, similar to other apps like Silk or Amazon Store. Rather, Officesuite has been integrated into the Kindle, which proved somewhat confusing to configure and use.

The CS rep guided me through the whole process in a timely, efficient manner. He seemed to know what he was doing and was able to give me the tutorial with ease, though he did seem a little annoyed. I’m sure this is one question he gets a lot; that and “why is my screen border blue?” I placed my Mayday call in the middle of the night, so the service may not run as smooth during the day, but I can’t knock the experience yet. It was smooth, easy to use and kinda fun. Thumbs up, Amazon. I wonder how long until Apple follows this groundbreaking system of customer service.

Back to the original review:

The HDX is not an iPad killer, but it is a pretty great competitor that stacks up well in many aspects, especially when it comes to cost and ease of use. If you’re in the market for a tablet, give it some consideration. And if you’re on a budget, I’d definitely check out the previous Fire HD. It’s still an awesome tablet.

Shameless plug time! If you own a Kindle (or have the free Kindle app on your phone), check out my thrilling short stories, The Stray Cats and The Horror. CLICK HERE to buy your copies today! And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Why I Write: The Benefits of Short Stories

 

WHY I WRITE #1 – Welcome to the first entry in this ongoing blog series designed to offer my perspective on the subject of writing. I also hope to inspire and aide fellow writers and readers to explore their creativity in new, exciting ways, and to help others achieve their goals and get their work published.

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“Why are you writing short stories?” I’ve gotten this question plenty of times from friends, fans and family. Some might blindly assume I’m either too afraid to write a full-length book, or simply too lazy. The reality is unequivocally neither. I’ve written three full-length books and two screenplays this year alone, and I plan on releasing six or seven short stories by year’s end, with about a dozen or more slated for 2014. All told, I probably write, or work on writing, for about 50-60 hours a week, if not more.

In truth, I just can’t stop writing. I write every single day, be it a blog entry, tweets, a screenplay, a book or a short story. Writing is like air to me, I can’t live without it. It doesn’t help that I’m an idea machine and I’m always jotting down stories, film and book ideas.

But why short stories? Well, my real goal with shorts is to create a base of writing samples that I can share with new readers, fellow writers, fans and potential agents and publishers who might be interested in reading or buying my work.

But also, my decision to focus on shorts is intentional beyond those motives. We live in a very busy time. Our attention is more divided than every before. There is so much content to consume, and more entertainment options. And, as much as some might argue to the contrary, we are also living in an economically depressed climate. It might not be labeled as such by the powers that be, but trust me, we are. If you’re in the middle class, or lower, you are likely feeling the damning effects of this on nearly every single aspect of your life. You are working hard to pay bills, pay off debt and still have enough coins to have some kind of fun on the weekends. In some cases, people are working two or even three jobs to pay for what little free time they have.

Between having no money, and having so many entertainment options, many have little-to-no time for things like books, or even movies or television. Taking this into consideration, I decided I would focus on bite-sized stories that can be read in a matter of hours.

This, I feel, is satisfying to readers because they get that sense of accomplishment from finishing a story. But also, a shorter story fits into our cramped schedule much better than a longer one. And, let’s be honest, not many people know who I am just yet. That will certainly change, but for now I’d prefer to give new readers a tasty bite of my writing abilities before asking them to indulge in a full-length book. I’ve also found that many readers feel the same way. They want to know if they even like my style, or the genres I’m working in, before they take the big plunge and dive into one of my books.

If you’re a fellow writer, I highly recommend trying your hand at a short story. If nothing else, it’ll get you writing every day and it’ll get you exploring your boundaries. Try a new style of writing, a different perspective, a type of character you aren’t familiar with, or even a different genre. When you’re finished (editing included – this is important), you can sell these stories for cheap (about a buck) on Amazon, and they’ll help your career in the long run. Binge readers can quickly enjoy your entire body of work, and the stories may lead to bigger things, like an agent or possibly a publishing contract. If nothing else, it allows you to have a body of work for sale on Amazon that readers, fans, friends and family can explore and enjoy.

And yes, you can charge for your work. Don’t be afraid of this. Even though I’m speedy and efficient, I spend around 80-120 hours (at least) prepping just one short story, from writing to editing to building the Kindle file to designing a cover and promoting the title. People work hard at their jobs. There is no reason you should not get paid for your hard work, either. But keep your stories cheap, please. I prefer the price point of $1. Anything more than $2 is excessive for shorts.

That’s essentially why I write short stories. I plan on publishing my books in the near future, but I am still in the very long, very taxing process of searching for agents and publishers. But, in the meantime, I am building an incredible body of work that will only help me achieve my goals. And I’m having a blast writing and sharing all my stories and ideas with you. So thanks for reading and please, if you publish a short, share it in the comments section below and I’ll be sure to promo the hell out of it to aide you in your own personal goals. Good luck!

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On the next, WHY I WRITE, I will discuss creating book covers for Kindle Edition books. Stay tuned!

–Also, if you haven’t already, check out my first short story, The Stray Cats (BUY HERE)!

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