Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Free for Goodreads Horror Week

Social reading site Goodreads holds an annual event they call Horror Week.

This year, Horror Week is this week, and my contribution is the fact that Heaven and Earth: Paranormal Flash Fiction is free on Kobo!

Click the cover below to get your copy, and don't forget to share this post with all your friends. :)



About the Book


"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
- Hamlet (1.5.167-8)

Demons, witches, extra-sensory perception, possessed animals, and an ever-loving God. There is much that exists, or is claimed to exist, in the world today, that we are yet to understand.

A perfect introduction into the inner workings of the weird mind of Graham Downs, this collection of flash fiction paranormal stories contains:

  • The Thing in the Window, 
  • An Automatic Decision, 
  • Telepathic Link, 
  • The Witch of Wellington, and 
  • The Christmas Bird. 

All have been newly edited and polished since publication on his website in 2014, and some with new endings.

It also contains the never-before published story, Under the Sheets, about an old woman who believes she is being haunted by a strange ghost, living under her bed.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Don's Therapist (A Free Flash Fiction Story by Graham Downs)

It's the month of scary, so I thought I'd give to something to freak you out this month. Please let me know if I've done a good job, and if you enjoyed my little free flash fiction story.

Here goes. :)




When I called Don, I heard nothing on the other end of the buzzing line. For a moment, I thought he’d hung up on me. Then hesitant laughter rumbled above the static. “Thank goodness you’re safe,” he said.

I almost dropped my cellphone, and instantly forgot why I’d phoned him. “What? Why?”

“Oh, nothing.” He chuckled again, nervously. “I’m probably just being paranoid, but there’s just been a story on TV about a rabid dog in town.”

“Really? I haven’t heard anything.”

“Just be careful, Edith, okay?” There was silence again, then his voiced dropped to a whisper. “D-did you hear that?”

I strained my ears. Nothing. “Hear what?”

“A-a growl, coming from outside.” More silence. Then, “It’s scratching at the door. Edith, come quick. Please, help me.” He was whimpering now.

Pressing the phone against my ear, I shot up and looked frantically around the room for my bag, my keys. Scooping them up, I headed for the door. “Okay. Okay, Don. Lock yourself in the room. Stay on the line. I’m on my way.”

By this time, Don was blubbering incoherently, like a man begging for his life.

Now, if you know Don, you know he’s always been prone to overreaction, to bursts of panic. But this, this was different. I’d never heard him so frantic. In fact, for the past few weeks, he’d been much calmer. He’d been doing well in therapy, and taking his medication regularly. And he said he’d seen something on the news. I just couldn’t risk it.

I collapsed into the driver’s seat of my old Uno and slammed the door, panting. “Don? Are you still there?”

“Yes.” His voice was hoarse. A low whisper. “I think it’s in the house.”

My hands shook as I turned the key in the ignition. The car spluttered. A second time. A third. Finally, it roared to life, and I turned onto the street and sped away.

What should I do? Hang up and phone the police? Or put him on hold? No. I couldn’t leave him, even for a moment. No telling what would happen if I did that.

Two minutes. Just two more minutes and I’d be at his house. But what would I do when I got there?

I screeched into the driveway. There was a light on in the living room. The front door was closed. All was peaceful; the occasional dog barked in the distance, and faint moonlight illuminated the driveway.

“Don, I’m here. Where are you?”

His heavy panting was my only reply.

“Don?”

“In my room.” The sound of his voice made me jump.

I exited the vehicle and walked up the drive, a bad feeling gripping my heart. Oh, Don, I thought, if you’ve been wasting my time....

When I got to the front door, I heard a blood-curdling scream, almost causing me to drop my phone again. I scratched frantically in my bag and found what I was looking for. Thank goodness I’d remembered to grab Don’s house keys. My hand shook as I tried to press them into the lock. “Don? Don? Answer me, Don.”

I finally got the door open and stepped into the room. The TV was on. On the screen, someone was being attacked by a wild animal. Probably a werewolf.

In a huff, I hung up the phone and stormed down the passage to Don’s room. I tried to open it, but it was locked, so I banged on the door. “Don? You open this door right now!”

A moment later, the door opened to Don’s panicked face. He was white as a sheet. I shoved him back onto his bed as I barged into the room. A quick look around proved my suspicions: on his bedside table sat the sealed bottle of pills. His prescription, that I’d taken him to the pharmacy to get refilled three days ago.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Don, why haven’t you been taking your medication?”

His eyes shot open and his jaw dropped. He pointed behind me, and I heard a growl. I turned, just in time to see white teeth flashing as something leapt at me. Jaws sank into the flesh of my arm, and I screamed.




Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Buying E-Books in South Africa

I did some research last week on the topic of buying e-books natively in South Africa. By natively, I mean where prices are quoted, and you get charged, in South African Rand.

Turns out, there aren't many of them. In fact, I could only find four - and three of them are international stores which happen to have a South African presence.

We're still very much lagging behind when it comes to the e-book revolution. Can you think of any others? And no, publishers' own websites don't count; I'm looking for online stores that sell books from a wide range of authors and publishers, and allow you to pay in Rands.

Google Play Books


What I like about Google Play is that it's available to anyone with an Android device, and anybody who uses Android is likely already familiar with the brand.

Most of those people are used to installing apps from the Play Store. They may even have purchased movies, TV shows, or music from the respective stores as well. But do they know that there's a bookstore too?

The site offers e-books in e-pub format, and quotes prices in Rand, including VAT. Plus, you can use the gift cards you buy at South African brick and mortar stores for books as well.

I've read a bit using the Google Play Android e-reading app, and I like it. The app is clean and the options for changing your viewing layout are many. I particularly enjoy the "Night Mode", which turns the text more amber as the ambient lighting reduces, so it's really easy on your eyes.

But if you don't like their native app, any non-DRM books bought from Google Play can be downloaded as epub files, so you can use whatever e-reader you like (except Kindle, obviously).

Rakuten Kobo


Kobo's a mature, world-class e-book store with a South African presence. They have a dedicated e-reading device, unlike Google Play, as well as Android, iOS, and Windows Phone apps.

They're a lot more mature than Google Play, and their sole focus is on e-books.

I can't put my finger on it, but there's something about the shopping experience for me that's better than the other stores I've tried. The only problem is, if you don't like their e-reader (I don't particularly), there's no way to get at the actual epub file to read on a different one.

They also don't have vouchers/gift cards available in South Africa, so if you don't have a credit card, you're out of luck.

Inktera


Another international site that happens to allow you to buy books in South African Rands.

While the site does have a consumer-facing store, that's not Inktera's main purpose. Their main purpose is enabling other retailers by hosting stores for them.

They don't have an e-reader, so the only way to read the e-books you buy from them is to download the epub file and load it onto the e-reader or e-reading app of choice.

eBook Shop


Having just recently found this store, I know next to nothing about them.

It's also the only store on this list where my books aren't available, and I can't find any way to upload them.

I tried to register, but they want an inordinate amount of information (including your full postal address and phone numbers), just to create an account. I'm just not comfortable giving up that kind of information.

It looks like they don't have an e-reader or e-reading app either, because there's a link on their home page with recommended software you can download to read their books.

If you know anything at all about this store, or how an indie author like me can get their books listed here, drop me a comment and let me know!

Monday, 2 October 2017

The Writer's Lexicon: Descriptions, Overused Words, and Taboos by Kathy Steinemann (Book Review)

About the Book

You’re a writer. You just read your manuscript and discovered your characters nodding like marionettes in every chapter. When they’re not nodding, they’re rolling their eyes.

Oops.

Time to slash the Pinocchio strings and turn them into real live people. Award-winning author Kathy Steinemann will provide the tools. She cuts through the so-called rules and offers simple solutions.

Too many repetitions of “little”? There’s a cure for that. Do you rely on “very” too often? There’s a cure for that too. You’ll find the remedies in this book’s dispensary.

Should you ever use anything other than “said” to attribute dialogue? Are exclamation points taboo? The answers might surprise you.

Learn how to harness body language, cut hackneyed adjectives, and draw on the environment for ambience. No more wooden characters. You’ll transform them into believable personalities your readers will learn to love. Or hate.

Get in the driver’s seat, relax, and enjoy your journey—with Kathy Steinemann’s book as your GPS.


My Review (4 / 5 Stars)

An exceedingly useful, if not indispensible, writing guide.

This book goes deeper than probably any I've read so far on the subject of writing. The first half consists of words writers should avoid or use sparingly, from the obvious "very" to the less obvious "sat". There is one chapter for each of these words (And there are lots of them), and each one contains loads of examples for adjectives, nouns, and verbs to use instead. "Before-and-after" example paragraphs abound, and each chapter's also packed with writing prompts to help get your creative juices flowing.

After these "Words to Avoid" chapters, we move into things like when to use certain punctuation marks, how and when to incorporate swearing into your story, and things to avoid when writing in the third person.

It's definitely a book I'll be keeping on my device to refer to again and again.

Having said all that, there was something ... off about the writing. I couldn't immediately put my finger on it, but it affected my enjoyment of this book.

After thinking about it for a while, I realised what it was. It's very "teachy". It feels a bit like the author is a doctor who's really good at what she does, but her bedside manner leaves more than a bit to be desired.

There are example paragraphs, before and after certain changes, and the author will say something like "The second paragraph is much stronger." or maybe "Don't you think the second paragraph sounds so much better?

That's a rhetorical question, and it can come off as patronising.

She also refers back to the two big style guides quite often - "This is what the Chicago Manual of Style says on the subject." As if that's an end to it.

Sure, she SAYS that everyone's different, and you should write what works for you, but the tone of her advice is less advice and more instruction. "This is the way you should do it. Now do it this way and no other."

I guess when you've been an editor for as long as Ms Steinemann has, you develop a thick skin. Much like that proverbial doctor.

That may not be a bad thing for you. If you want to learn the correct way to write, this book is definitely for you. 

If you like to make up your own mind about things, you might disagree with the author on a couple of points, but you'll hopefully agree with her on a lot more. Either way, this book is for you, too.

Click here to find out where you can grab a copy.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The Chiron Confession by Thomas Greanias (Book Review)

About the Book


From New York Times bestselling author Thomas Greanias comes a magnificent new epic conspiracy of biblical proportions. Welcome to a world where there is only one government and one religion, before which all must bow or die in the Games. Welcome to the New World Order. Welcome to Rome at the end of the first century. No one from slave to senator can escape the Reign of Terror under Emperor Domitian, who has declared himself Lord and God of the Universe. No one, that is, until an innocent playwright and hedonist, Athanasius, is wrongly accused of being the master assassin Chiron, the general of a secret organization known as Dominium Dei—the “Rule of God.” Facing certain death in the arena, Athanasius discovers an imperial conspiracy to destroy the fledgling Christian threat and extend the rule of Rome forever. The plot to reestablish the Roman Empire in the 21st century starts here.


My Review (4 / 5 stars)


A great historical fiction read. It's also a fairly decent Christian fiction one.

It takes place in Rome in AD 96. All of the original apostles are dead, save for John, the author of the Revelation, who is in prison on Patmos. There's this clandestine Christian organisation going around murdering high-profile Romans in the name of Christ.

As far as I know my history, it seems to be quite accurate, although some liberties are obviously taken. I think the author's a Christian, but I get the idea that he has a big bias against the Orthodox and Catholic denominations. It's subtle, but if you understand a little bit about the idiosyncrasies of Orthodox and Catholic beliefs as opposed to Protestant ones, it's pretty obvious. There's also a lot of poking fun at Christianity - especially as a religion - which most Christians in the story assert that it is not. But Rome doesn't believe it is either, preferring to simply call it a "superstition".

It's definitely a good read, and if you're Christian, it will force you to seriously consider a few things, and your gut reaction might be to get offended at certain parts. But I think that's the intention.

Ignoring the Christian aspect for a moment, it's a good thriller. Our hero is accused of being Chiron, the notorious leader of this fanatical Christian organisation, and sentenced to death. He escapes and spends the rest of the book trying to find out who the real Chiron is. It's gripping and keeps you guessing, and the pacing is just fine.

One caveat on the pacing: in the beginning, the chapters are quite long - easily fifteen or twenty minutes each to read. As the story progresses, though, they get shorter, to the point where I was 75% done and only on Chapter 30 (There are 50 in all), and I wondered whether I actually had the whole book!

If you like historical fiction, thrillers, mysteries, or Christian fiction, I don't think you'll have an issue with this book.

Click here to find out where you can get a copy.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

$10 Amazon Gift Card - Winner Announcement

All this month, I've been running a competition, where you could win a $10 Amazon voucher if you told me the second word in the second paragraph, of the second story of my fantasy flash fiction collection, Tales From Virdura.

Wow, that's quite a mouthful!


Anyway, as promised, today I announce the winner of that competition.

And the winner is... no-one. Eish. Nobody got the right answer. I'm really sorry if you knew the answer, but didn't know about the competition. Better luck next time.

I suppose I need to work a little bit more on making sure people know about my competitions, don't I? :-)

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

My Interview With Christine Bernard (Author of Unravel)


As I promised in last week's blog post, my interview with South African author Christine Bernard came out today.

Christine is the author of the psychological thriller Unravel, which I still haven't read (soon, Christine, I promise!), but which looks a treat.

I had a lot of fun with this interview. If you want to see the original on her blog, click here, but I've also reposted her questions (and my answers) below for your convenience:

Christine: Have you always wanted to be a writer? Or did life step in and change your plans?


Graham: I've always enjoyed making up stories, but I don't think there was ever a time in school where I formalised that into "I want to be a writer." In fact, all through Primary and High School, all I ever wanted to do for a career was be a computer programmer. Which I now am, and I'm loving every minute of it. I'm so lucky to be doing what I've always wanted to do - I know that not many people can say that.

I did, however, play a lot of table-top roleplaying games, especially in High School. I played Dungeons and Dragons, AmeriCHAOS 1994, GURPS, and... I can't remember the title; something to do with werewolves. More often than not, I ended up being the Game Master in our group. If you're not familiar, he's the guy (or, she's the girl, if you prefer - plenty of girls play roleplaying games) who makes up the story for the rest of the group, and tells them the results of their actions. It just always seemed natural for me, to take on that role.

One of the genres that I loved to read in High School was gamebooks, and my favourites were the Lone Wolf series by Joe Dever. I actually wrote a gamebook on our family's old 286 computer at one point. It was about a private eye, and it was terrible. I don't remember much about it, except for this one scene where the protagonist was following a trail of stompies (yes, I actually used that word) down the street in search of a suspect. Thankfully, this was long before the days of the Internet and backups, so that book has been lost, never to see the light of day.

Christine: Take us through your first novel, how the idea came and how it eventually came out into the world.


Graham: Having read voraciously throughout school, there were was about a decade or so afterward that I lost the habit. I got a job which took up most of my waking hours, and it was getting less and less convenient to pick up a book and read. Besides, when I did read, it was mostly for work - technical non-fiction, whitepapers, that sort of thing.

That all changed in 2011, when my boss bought me my first iPad, and I discovered e-books. E-books changed my life. Suddenly, I could read wherever I was, whenever I had a spare moment. I could read during the day on breaks, on my cellphone, and in the evenings, I could flick on my iPad and pick up exactly where I left off. Slowly but surely, I rediscovered reading, and soon I was devouring everything I could get my hands on again.

And then I started thinking, "Hey, I can do this. I could write something that people might want to read!"

Still, it wasn't very serious. I hadn't heard of self-publishing at that point, and I wasn't about to go looking for an agent and a publisher. That was about all I knew of publishing back then. Find an agent, find a publisher. Get published. Who's got time for that? Besides, even then I instinctively knew that it was a stupid way to go about it. I was a developer, a do-it-yourselfer. It was the 21st Century. Who in their right mind would want someone else deciding whether their work was worth publishing? I knew there must be a better way, but I put it on the backburner.

And then one of my Twitter friends, Ryan Peter, changed everything by self-publishing his fantasy novel, When Twins War, on Smashwords. I bought it, and I was in awe.

"You mean, you can just... do it? Like, all by yourself?"

"Yip, pretty much" was his reply (I'm paraphrasing).

I began researching everything I could about self-publishing. I'd had this idea for a fantasy story swimming around in my head for some time, but it wasn't until then that I put the proverbial pen to paper. I wrote it from start to ready-for-publishing in about four months or so. Then I got hold of a cover designer - one of my ex-teachers from High School came to mind. She had been my English teacher, but she also used to run the Art department. I tracked her down and met with her, and we fleshed out the concept. Things were moving fast, and before I knew it, on 23 December 2012, A Petition to Magic went live on Smashwords.

I published it on Amazon a week or so later, and that's been more-or-less the norm for each book thereafter - first Smashwords, into global distribution, then Kobo (separately, so I can take advantage of Kobo-specific deals and run promos there), then Google Play, then finally Amazon.

Christine: You've gone the self-publishing route - do you have some advice for others wanting to go this way?


Graham: I never seriously considered any other route, but I will say that I've learnt a lot about self-publishing. It's a lot of work, and takes commitment. And it's getting harder as time goes on and the market becomes more saturated.

I'd say, first and foremost, you have to produce a stellar product. That product's not just the story, it's the editing, the title, the cover, the blurb... the whole package. Then, I'd say that you have to realise that what you've just produced is just that: a product. Don't get too attached to it. It's not some ethereal thing up on a pedestal. It's no different from a DVD, a board game, a set of tools that someone buys to do their woodwork with... and it's competing for people's attention with all those other things too.

Also realise, despite all that, writing is a labour of love. Don't expect to publish your first, or fourth, or sixth, book and quit your job. Some of the best known authors in history had day jobs for many years. Some, until the day they died.

Having said that, most of those authors were traditionally published, so I think that if it's your goal to write full-time, and you've got a good head for business and can detach yourself from the product you're producing, self-publishing gives you the best chance to achieving that goal.

Just, think carefully about your reason for writing. Me, I never really expected to quit my job and write full-time. I now see that as a possibility, but I'm not really sure how I feel about it. As previously stated, I love my job, but I'd love to have more time to write. Maybe one day I could reduce my hours at my day job. It's not an "all or nothing" thing.

Oh, and don't ever let other people pressure you or make you feel bad because you haven't achieved their idea of success. This is your journey, so enjoy it.

Christine: Take me through your top three books of all time? 


Graham: Top three? Hmm... Well, first off, I'd have to say The Sneeches by Dr Seuss. I read a lot of Dr Seuss in the '80s, but that one (along with Green Eggs and Ham) are the two that stuck with me the most. I think both those books really speak to our situation in South Africa, then and now, and I think everyone in this country should read them - but definitely the Sneeches.

Secondly (okay, maybe I cheated a bit above, by giving you two), Stephen King's IT. I watched the movie years before I read the book, and I was amazed by the sheer depth of the book. I think it was my first real introduction into the writing of Stephen King, and I've been a massive fan ever since.

Finally, I'd have to say Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind. Similarly, I watched The Legend of the Seeker TV series some time before I read the book, and I loved it. The book is much deeper again, but also much more vivid, violent, psychological.

Those three (four) books altered the way I perceive the world, which is the whole point of good fiction, in my opinion.

Also, those three books are from wildly different genres, which I think speaks to how I write. I read everything I can get my hands on, because I get bored if I stick with one genre for too long. So too, with my writing: I've published six books in four different genres, and my current work in progress has nothing to do with any of them.

Christine: What are your currently reading?


Graham: Right at this moment, I'm reading a mob-thriller called Paradise Burns by J.P. Sumner. After that, I've been asked to read and review two books - one is a religious thriller, and the other a non-fiction book about writing.

By the time you read this, who knows? I have an interesting system for figuring out what to read next: I have just over 700 books on my Goodreads to-read shelf, and when I finish book, I hit up random.org and generate a number from 1 to 700. I find the book in my to-read shelf at that number, read the synopsis and decide if I still want to read it. If not, it gets deleted from my shelf and I pick another number. If so, I buy it and read it.

And of course, the books on that shelf run the gamut of genres, from fantasy to horror to romance to children's books. I'll read absolutely anything.

Edit: I've of course finished Paradise Burns since I did this interview (see my review on this blog). I've now moved on to the first book I was asked to review, The Chiron Confession by Thomas Greenias.

Christine: What are you working on at the moment?


Graham: Right now I'm working on a story about a guardian angel and the adventures he goes on as he figures out his new role in life. It doesn't have a proper title yet. As to when you can expect it, I don't know - one of the beauties about self-publishing is that things will be ready when they're ready.

It's my longest, most ambitious project yet, though, so it's taking me a lot longer than normal. All of my existing stories have been short, with the longest being just over 13 000 words. For this one, I'm hoping to hit 40 000. Also, as I alluded to above, it has nothing to do with any of my previous works, so I'm finding myself having to come to terms with the expectations of an entirely new genre.

Christine: When you're not writing, what are you doing?


Graham: My wife and I watch a lot of TV. We love cooking shows and gameshows. Right now, we're binging our way through Iron Chef America and The Wall.

Other than that, I spend quite a bit of time honing my software development skills, and have a couple of personal coding projects on the go.

Christine: Ever write in coffee shops? 


Graham: I haven't, no. It's quite tough for me to write anywhere else, because I'm not very independent. I suffer from a hereditary eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa. In a nutshell, I have no peripheral vision and am completely night-blind, and one of the biggest consequences of that is the fact that I can't drive.

During the week, I wait for about an hour after work for my wife to fetch me That's when I do most of my writing.

Speaking of my wife, I'd be remiss if I didn't give her a mention in this interview. Honestly, words cannot express how grateful I am to have such a wonderful woman in my life. We leave before sunrise in the morning to get me to work on time, so she can drive an extra 30 minutes to be at her own job before eight. And in the evenings, we do it all over again in reverse.

I honestly could not do this without her. Love you, babes!

Christine: Lastly, what is the best way for people to get hold of your books?


Graham: My books are available everywhere, in electronic and print form. Search or ask for me at your favourite store, and if they don't stock my books, badger them until they do.

Failing that, all the links are on my website. Hit me up at www.grahamdowns.co.za, then pop me an e-mail and say Hi.