Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Friday is International Stand Up to Bullying Day

This Friday (17 November) is International Stand Up to Bullying Day, and bullying's a topic that's very close to my heart.

A couple of years ago, I published a story called Stingers. It's a shocking story about what can happen when bullying goes too far, and it was recently taught as a set work in a High School English class in South Africa. Please take a look and consider buying a copy. And if you like it, please share this post with your friends. :)

Click the cover for more information:


Monday, 13 November 2017

The Art of Forgetting by Peter Palmieri (Book Review)


About the Book


A contemporary medical suspense with an engaging romantic element, set in the western suburbs of Chicago. A brilliant author trapped by his crippling amnesia. The only one who can free him, a doctor plagued by his past. When dark forces threatens to quash Dr. Lloyd Copeland's controversial cure, his career and his life, he discovers that falling in love is the ultimate complication. Dr. Lloyd Copeland is a young neurologist who is tormented by the conviction that he has inherited the severe, early-onset dementia that has plagued his family for generations - the very disease which spurred his father to take his own life when Lloyd was just a child. Withdrawn to a life of emotional detachment, he looks for solace in hollow sexual trysts as a way to escape his throbbing loneliness. Still, he clings to the hope that the highly controversial treatment for memory loss he has devised may stem his genetic destiny and free him from his family's curse. But when odd mishaps take place in his laboratory, his research is blocked by a hospital review board headed by Erin Kennedy: a beautiful medical ethicist with a link to his troubled childhood. The fight to salvage his reputation and recover the hope for his own cure brings him face to face with sordid secrets that rock his very self-identity. And to make matters worse, he finds himself falling irretrievably in love with the very woman who seems intent on thwarting his efforts. The Art of Forgetting weaves the suspense of a Tess Gerritsen novel with the heartfelt contemplation of Abraham Verghese. The result is a memorable story that will keep you thinking long after you read the last page.

My Review (4 / 5 Stars)


Rivetting. What a great story.

There's this doctor, a neuroscientist, in truth. He's afflicted with a family curse: every man in his family for generations has succumbed to the effects of Alzheimer's Disease. Because of this, he's made it his life's work to try to find a cure, but he's also foresworn himself to love, because after seeing what his mother went through when his father committed suicide, he never wants to put a woman through that pain.

When he gets caught in some sticky legal situations with his research, though, it's up to him to try and find out what's going on. Is he being deliberately blocked and, if so, why and by whom?

The pacing is just perfect, and the stakes are nice and high. The copy needs some work, but it's very well researched. If you enjoy a good medical drama, you're sure to enjoy this book.

Click here to find out where you can pick up a copy.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Bread and Milk: A Black Friday Horror Story



16:45

Friday at last!

Mark stifled a yawn and glanced at his watch. What a long week. All he wanted to do was go home, crack open a beer and snuggle on the couch in front of the TV with his wife.

His phone vibrated on the desk. He picked it up and glanced at the screen.

Kate:
Hi honey. Would you please stop at the shops on the way home and pick us up a loaf of bread and some milk? Love you.

Mark sighed. He peaked his head over his cubicle dividers. Everyone was still hard at work, their heads down. He supposed nobody would miss him if he snuck out now.

17:32

The parking lot was a mess. At this time on a Friday afternoon? And then it hit him: Black Friday. He groaned. Outside of Christmas Eve, the worst possible day to be at the shops. Why South Africa had seen fit to pick up on this obscene American tradition, he couldn’t say.

After driving around for ten minutes, he finally found a space, as far away from the entrance as it was possible, it seemed.

17:44

As he predicted, the shop inside was a nightmare. You couldn’t swing a cat without hitting someone. Glancing around, he saw people pushing and shoving to get at the last remaining items on almost empty shelves. It seemed like there was nothing left. What was everyone still doing here? He hunched his shoulders, stuck his hands in his pockets, and made a beeline for the bread.

It actually wasn’t so bad at the bread racks. There was still quite a bit left, and the crowd had thinned a bit. With a muffled “Excuse me,” he stuck his hand between two women who were arguing over expiry dates, grabbed a loaf, and hugged it to his chest as he headed towards the milk—which of course was all the way at the back of the shop.

17:52

To get to the dairy aisle, he had to go through the toy section. That was quite an achievement. Soccer moms crammed the aisle, bustling to get at blonde haired dolls or the latest robotic dogs. Nobody seemed to pay him any attention as he shouldered his way through.

By the time he reached the milk, the loaf of bread in his hands had been squished to the point where it might have been mistaken for a bag of hamburger rolls.

There were two bottles of milk left by the time he reached the refrigerated shelves, and as he got there, a burly man lunged in front of him. With a “Sorry boet,” he snatched up one of the bottles. Mark reached in and grabbed the last one, before turning to see a woman scowling at him. He smiled a sheepish apology and started towards the checkout lines.

17:58

Standing in the line, Mark groaned inwardly as he saw the massive queue of people in front of him. Many had trolleys fully loaded with electronic devices, toys, and groceries. At this rate, it would take an hour to reach the front. He looked around frantically, to see if there was perhaps a shorter line. There wasn’t.

He spied a coffee display with a sign advertising 50% off his favourite brand. People were literally stampeding to get at that; an old lady had been knocked to the ground. He briefly considered leaving his queue to fetch himself one, but one look behind him changed his mind. At least twenty people were now lined up behind him. Besides, he remembered there was still a full pot in the cupboard at home. Best to stay put.

18:22

Three more people ahead of him. And they didn’t look like they had too much stuff. He’d be home soon.

He felt a vibration in his pocket. He shifted the milk into his other hand and tucked the bread under his arm so he could fish out his phone. Then, realising he’d reached into the wrong pocket, blushed and swapped everything over the other way.

Mark glanced at the screen.

Another message from Kate:
Oh, by the way, babes, are you still at the shops? I see there’s 50% off coffee. Won’t you pick up three pots for us?

Mark hit reply, and hastily typed:
Saw it too. All out. Sorry. 




Tuesday, 31 October 2017

My Top 4 Horror Reads of All Time



Mwahaha. It's Halloween, and I thought I'd help you get into the spirit a little. I took a look at my Horror shelf on Goodreads. There are 28 "read" books on it (out of a total of 226 read--I think I need to read more horror), and I found four of them which I'd rated five stars.

So, in no particular order, here are my top four horror stories of all time. Click on a cover to find out where you can pick up a copy.

Enjoy!

Mold by Lindsey Goddard


About the Book

When a new mother is forced to move into an old boarding home, she discovers the dark secret behind the phantom mold that keeps appearing on her walls.

My Review

I really enjoyed this little story. Not so much scary as creepy, it's very psychological.

The writing is brilliant, and the pacing is just right. It definitely made me think... and I liked the open ending, too!

The End of the Trail by Louis Rackovich



About the Book

A barren land of salt and snow; a castle where underground paths twist and turn in endless circles and a reclusive king has not shown his face in years; a forest where few things are what they seem. An unnamed hero must navigate through these places as he takes on the task of tracking down a supposed witch, in a story that blends dream and reality, rumor and truth, danger and hope.

My Review

There isn't much to say about this book, because it's so short that I don't want to give anything away. It's not too short, though: the length is just right. And not because it was bad. Quite the contrary, it's a fully composed story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

It was creepy, but not too creepy. It was beautifully written. It made me think. And the ending, while somewhat predictable, was utterly satisfying. You can't go wrong.


One for the Road: An Illustrated Story by Stephen King


About the Book

This much-loved tale is narrated by Booth, and elderly resident of a small Maine town that neighbors the infamous Jerusalem's Lot, and it takes place a couple of years after the events in King's novel. Booth describes a winter's night years ago, when he and his friend, a bar owner named Herb Tooklander (Tookey), receive a visit from a distressed motorist named Gerard Lumley, whose vehicle had become stranded in a ferocious blizzard . . . with his wife and daughter still inside. At first critical of Lumley for driving in such weather, both men are horrified when they realise the Lumley's car is stranded in Jerusalem's Lot, widely regarded to have 'gone bad'. Nevertheless, they still decide to drive out in a snow plough and attempt to save Lumley's family. Instead, they barely manage to save themselves.

Widely regarded to be one of King's finest short stories—itself a sequel of sorts to what so many feel is perhaps his finest novel—'One For The Road' is the author working at the top of his form. For years people clamored for another visit to 'Salem's Lot'. Well, here it is . . . a wintry little coda to one of King's scariest works. All the classic elements are here: an empty town, heavy weather, Yankee accents . . . and the monsters, of course. Let's not forget the monsters.

My Review

I listened to the audiobook of this one, that I found on YouTube, but I now can't find it anywhere. Good luck if you're trying to source it!

One for the Road is somewhat of a sequel to 'Salem's Lot. I don't think you'll miss much if you read this one without having read Salem's Lot, but don't read this one if you intend to read its predecessor, or it'll be spoilt for you.

A man shows up at a bar one day, in a town a short distance from Jerusalem's Lot, saying that his car ran out of fuel in the Lot, and he left his wife and daughter there while he came to look for help. The narrator and his friend finally agree to drive him back to fetch them, but they're not happy about it, because of the legendary creatures that inhabit the Lot.

The pacing is fantastic, and the tension builds perfectly. The ending is quite satisfying. I don't know who the audio-book narrator is, but he does a fantastic job in reading! I don't know if I would've given the book five stars if I'd have just read the book myself.


It by Stephen King



About the Book

Welcome to Derry, Maine…

It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real…

They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But none of them can withstand the force that has drawn them back to Derry to face the nightmare without an end, and the evil without a name.

My Review

It took me a month or so to read this book, and over that month I had the privilege to know some very interesting and lovable people. I knew them throughout their childhood and adult lives. I played with them, built dams and clubhouses with them, drank with them, ate with them, and smoked with them. And when I was finished, I missed them dearly. Even It, I got to know briefly about where It came from and what Its motivations were for being on this earth.
I even got to know Derry like my hometown, and I feel after all this time that I could get from anywhere in town to anywhere else in town with my eyes closed.

This familiarity is a testament to the incredibly rich writing skills of Mr Stephen King. Every character and every place is entirely believable and entirely consistent, which is no small feat considering there are so many of them, and the story is so long!

This book is meant to be a horror. I must say there are times when I felt "creeped out," but I don't think anything in the book truly scared me - although I definitely felt and identified with the terror the characters were feeling all those times!

This is a story about repressed memories, lost for many years, that come back when the people need to remember, but bury themselves again when the need is done. It's a story about friendship conquering all, but it's also a story about people coming into your life for a purpose, and then disappearing again when the purpose is completed (which is kind of sad).

"It" was the first Stephen King I actually READ, although I've seen many of the movies... the movie is NOTHING like the book! It definitely wasn't the last King book I read, though.

Honourable (I hope) mentions

It's worth mentioning the two horror books I wrote here, Billy's Zombie and Heaven and Earth: Paranormal Flash Fiction. No reviews for these, because I wrote them, and that would be pretentious. Besides, because I wrote them, they're obviously among my favourites!

Heaven and Earth: Paranormal Flash Fiction


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

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.

Billy's Zombie


Young Billy MacIntyre has always been a weird kid, always taking every little slight to heart.
One day, he decides to exact his revenge on all those simpletons who have done him wrong. And he does it by taking a book of Necromancy out of the library, and raising a zombie from the dead!

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Repulsive Origins - The Captain: A Short Story by Brian W. Foster (Book Review)

About the Book

When a supervillain attacks civilians, the US Army is first on the scene. Lieutenant Samuel Shields is given the impossible task of protecting lives and property. His weapons won’t hurt a three-story tall enhanced hostile, and even if he could figure out a way to take the enemy out, he’s not allowed to engage under any circumstances. Instead, he must wait for the so-called superheroes to show up.

Leave it to the politicians to create such a FUBAR situation.

Two children are put in danger, and Samuel is forced to make a life-altering decision. If he follows orders, he’ll have the deaths of two kids on his conscience. But if he disobeys, he risks his life and, worse, a court martial.

My Review (3 / 5 Stars)

You know, I've been wanting to get into Superhero fiction for a while. I don't know why it took me so long.

The actual short story is sort of okay. I was frequently confused, and it struggled to keep my attention. I don't think it went into as much detail as I would've liked, explaining the world that the author has created.

AFTER the short story, however, there's a three-chapter sample of the book that the story is a prequel to, called Repulsive. I thoroughly enjoyed that! In fact, if I'd read that first, and then The Captain's origin story, we might be looking at a four- or perhaps even five-star review.

So, despite my relatively low review of Repulsive Origins - The Captain: A Short Story, you better believe the next one's going on my TBR.

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

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

A Foray into Chatbots, and Facebook Messenger Marketing



There's been a lot of talk about Facebook bots lately, and I've been wondering whether it was worth taking a look at them for my author business.

About two weeks ago, I stumbled across Chatfuel, a free site that lets you create bots that operate over Facebook Messenger and send broadcasts to people who opt-in.

I signed up, and I must say, I've been impressed so far.

If you haven't seen my bot in action yet, please consider trying it out. Click over to my Facebook Page, and either type a comment on one of my posts, or send me a message and type "Get started".

My bot will send you a private message inviting you to subscribe to my broadcasts. Reply with "subscribe" to sign up.

The bot's AI recognises three different keywords right now: Subscribe, Unsubscribe, and Shop. Test them all out--more will be coming soon.

I still have very few subscribers, and I'm trying to grow. I'd love to have you onboard, and you can, of course, change your mind and Unsubscribe from my broadcasts any time you like! :-)

Monday, 23 October 2017

The End of the Trail by Louis Rakovich (Book Review)

books2read.com/u/bxq1O6

About the Book

A barren land of salt and snow; a castle where underground paths twist and turn in endless circles and a reclusive king has not shown his face in years; a forest where few things are what they seem. An unnamed hero must navigate through these places as he takes on the task of tracking down a supposed witch, in a story that blends dream and reality, rumor and truth, danger and hope.


My Review (5 / 5 Stars)

There isn't much to say about this book, because it's so short that I don't want to give anything away. It's not too short, though: the length is just right. And not because it was bad. Quite the contrary, it's a fully composed story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

It was creepy, but not too creepy. It was beautifully written. It made me think. And the ending, while somewhat predictable, was utterly satisfying. You can't go wrong.

To find out where you can pick up a copy, click here.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Origin by Jessica Khoury (Book Review)

About the Book

Pia has grown up in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the Amazon rain forest. She was raised by a team of scientists who have created her to be the start of a new immortal race. But on the night of her seventeenth birthday, Pia discovers a hole in the electric fence that surrounds her sterile home―and sneaks outside the compound for the first time in her life.

Free in the jungle, Pia meets Eio, a boy from a nearby village. Together, they embark on a race against time to discover the truth about Pia's origin―a truth with deadly consequences that will change their lives forever.

Origin is a beautifully told, shocking new way to look at an age-old desire: to live forever, no matter the cost.

My Review (4 / 5 Stars)

I found this book in my local e-library, and decided to give it a go. It's beautiful.

It's not easy to sum up the premise, because I found it unlike anything I've ever read before, but let me give it a try: in a remote lab in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, a group of scientists have cut themselves off from the outside world. They've done the impossible, by creating a human being who is well-and-truly immortal. This book is her story, and is all about her coming to terms with her immortal status, and the growing sensation that there's a whole world out there that she's never been exposed to.

She's seventeen years old as the story opens, and is starting (quite late, by human standards, but consider her cloistered existence) to discover all sorts of emotions that she never knew she had. Up until this point, her upbringing has been that emotions are always bad, and scientific thinking, logic, are always good.

The book makes you think, and it's peppered with subtle Christian references comparing her to Jesus Christ. The narrative never goes ahead and SAYS it, but if you know your Bible, they're there. I thought that was strange, until I found out the author is actually a Christian, after which the story took on a whole new meaning to me.

The pacing's fantastic and the editing is almost flawless. One or two missing words here and there, but nothing to detract from my enjoyment.

In my e-book, though, the formatting's a bit inconsistent, and it keeps jumping from the "blank line between paragraphs" to the "first-line indent" method. That's a bit jarring, but it's probably only the OverDrive version.

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

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.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Paradise Burns by J.P. Sumner (Book Review)


Paradise Burns: Book One of The Adrian Hell Series -

This lightning-paced, all-action thriller introduces Adrian ‘Hell’ - a former Black-Ops soldier turned elite contract killer. Trying to forget a tragic past, he travels America as a hired gun. Helped by his only friend, techie Brit, Josh Winters, he uses his legendary reputation to make a living from killing bad people.

He takes a supposedly straightforward job in Heaven’s Valley, a sun-soaked paradise in the Nevada desert, but quickly finds himself embroiled in a complex plot that could lead to a devastating global conflict.

Armed with just his pistols and a sharp tongue, out-numbered and out-gunned in a city where everyone seemingly wants him dead, he’s left with no choice but to do the only thing he knows how to - fight back!

My Review (3 / 5 Stars)


I had high hopes for this book. A professional killer-for-hire gets commissioned by a mob boss in Vegas to take out someone who screwed him over on a business deal. He completes the job, but it opens a can of worms because things become apparent, involving a terrorist militia cell, a private military contractor, and the U.S. Government.

I still think the story is pretty good, but certain things just kept ruining my immersion. And those things largely boiled down to editing.

In the first place, the author is British. While this is not a problem, the protagonist is supposed to be American. And the book is narrated in first-person. But the narration used way too much British slang for my liking. You don't "phone" people; you "ring" them. He wasn't "standing" in the corner; he "was stood" in the corner. Likewise, people "were sat" in chairs.

While it was kind of nice to see that British slang again, it really didn't gel when a true-blue American started talking about picking up the phone and ringing someone.

The other problem the author has is with keeping a consistent tense. The whole story is meant to be told in past tense, but you'll read things like "I didn't know what was happening, but right now, I don't care." There are other examples of things like that, some more obvious, some more subtle, but I noticed every one.

I'm very sensitive about things like that, and I just couldn't get past them. It's a good story, but it needs the hand of an experienced editor to make it a brilliant one.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Review Requests and an Interview. What a busy week!

My word, but I've had a busy week!

First of all, two separate authors discovered that I review books on this blog, and e-mailled me asking if I'd review theirs.

Secondly, a well known South African author posted on a group I'm in on Facebook, offering to interview a few select authors. She picked me, and has sent me some questions to answer.

Over the coming weeks, you can expect my reviews of both those books, and the answers to my interview questions. In the meantime....

The Chiron Confession by Thomas Greanias

This is the first book I've been asked to read, and I must say, I'm excited about it. I rather enjoy books about cults, and as a Christian I have a particular interest in how our religion is portrayed in fiction. Although I must admit I seldom read such books. This one seems a bit like the Da Vinci Code, which I haven't read, but which is utter bunk, based on the reviews of my Christian friends who have. I'm keen to see if this one's any better.

Here's the write-up:

THE POWER AND THE PARANOIA
From Thomas Greanias, New York Times bestselling author of Raising Atlantis, comes an epic adventure of Ancient Rome that illuminates the gathering darkness of the 21st century.
The assassination of Caesar's chief astrologer explodes into revelations of a secret Christian order known as "rule of God." It's penetrated the highest echelons of the empire. Its mission: To fulfill a decades-old prophecy predicting the exact day and hour that Caesar will die. Desperate to prove the oracles wrong, an increasingly erratic Caesar kills all suspected enemies, anyone who even dares whisper of his hairpiece. No one from slave to senator can escape his reign of terror.
Enter the innocent playwright Athanasius. Wrongly accused by jealous rials of being Chiron, the elusive mastermind behind Rule of God, he is condemned to certain death in the unscripted "reality" of the arena. Miraculously he escapes, alone with a state secret that could destroy the empire. Hunted by assassins across the Mediterranean world, his only hope is the terrorist order he is accused of masterminding. But the only way up—or out—is to kill or be killed.
A meticulously researched and masterfully crafted conspiracy thriller inspired by real people and events, The Chiron Confession is the unforgettable story of one man against the world.

The Writer's Lexicon: Descriptions, Overused Words, and Taboos by Kathy Steinemann and Stuart Aken 


The second book is a little different, but I'm equally keen. I've read a lot of books on writing advice, some good, some bad. It's always interesting to see different people's opinions and perspective on what works and what doesn't.

I tend to be quite harsh about poor editing in my reviews, though, and you better believe I'm going to be doubly critical if I find editing problems in a book of writing advice!

Here's the write-up:

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.


Author Interview With Christine Bernard


South African author Christine Bernard is just starting out on her indie author journey, and her first self-published title, Unravel, is out now.

I haven't read it yet, but since I enjoy psychological stories, I'm sure I'll love it.

Christine is running a feature on her blog, where she's hosting interviews with other South African authors. Watch this space for the link to her interview with yours truly. In the meantime, here's the synopsis of her book, Unravel:

A fast-paced psychological mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end!
Rose Madison is of sound mind, with a sharp focus and a willingness to succeed. At only twenty-three, she’s already won an award for her short story, and has been hailed as the next big thing in the literary world. She’s beautiful, funny, intelligent, and comes from a wealthy and successful family. It’s clear to all, including herself, that her future looks bright and promising.
Why then, does the perfect Rose Madison start to slowly lose her mind?
This is a story of a young woman in her prime, clutching at the remains of sanity. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The Pyramids of Pluto (A Free Flash Fiction Story by Graham Downs)

For this month, I decided to post a story that I submitted a couple of months ago to The Short Story and Flash Fiction Society's Flash Fiction Contest #13. I didn't win that time, but that doesn't mean the story's not good - it just means it wasn't what they were looking for at the time. So without further ado, here is The Pyramids of Pluto. I hope you enjoy it!


“Can you believe it,” asked the astronaut. “We’re the first humans to stand on Pluto?”

“Absolutely. And it only took us three months to get here.” He pointed at the massive structures in the distance. “I never thought I’d see it with my own eyes. They look exactly like the pyramids on Earth. And those clouds. For five hundred years, we believed there was no atmosphere here.”

He began to take off his helmet.

“Uh, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

“Relax, you big baby,” said the other, and punched him in the arm. He removed his helmet and breathed deeply.

“And?” asked his friend.

“I’m a little dizzy. The oxygen density’s not as high as back home, but I’ll survive.”

The first astronaut removed his own helmet. “You’re right. It’s not so bad. Although Houston’d be having a cow right now if they knew.”

The other chuckled. “Let’s take a look at those pyramids.”

They shuffled on towards the structures in the distance in their heavy EVA suits. Even without helmets, the effect was comical. The silence was deafening. The total desolation. No crickets, no night-life... no life whatsoever.

“Do you think the beings that made those, made the ones on Earth, too?” It was the second astronaut, the one who had removed his helmet first. The sound of his voice made his friend jump.

“That’s what they say.”

The questioner nodded, and they continued their trek in silence.
Eventually, the duo reached the entrance to one of the giant structures. It was even bigger up close than they had imagined.

“That’s strange.” The first astronaut pointed at the door. Where there should have been a giant stone slab, there was a pile of rubble.

“Do you think we’re not the first humans here, after all?”

“I dunno. Let’s go inside.”

The two gingerly stepped over the rubble, and into a dark corridor. A blinding flash of light hit them full in the face.

“Halt!”

As their eyes adjusted, the two began to realise who it was.

“Doctor Jameson. Is that you? You’ve been missing for months.”

“Damn right it’s me. I beat you to it. I snuck onto the unmanned probe six months ago. And now, this planet belongs to me.”

“Doctor, you need to come with us. How have you been surviving?”

“I’m not going anywhere. There’s algae in these catacombs. Enough to keep a man alive for the rest of his life. And I’m staying here.”

“Ookaay,” said one of the astronauts, as the two backed away. “We’ll just leave you here while we get back to the lander. We’ll be on our way.”

“Oh, no you won’t,” said the doctor, who had produced a gun from somewhere and was now pointing it at the astronauts’ heads. “I won’t have you running back to Houston and telling everyone where I am. You’re staying right here with me. I got here first. I won, gentleman. And what do they say? ‘The winner takes it all?’”

---

By the way, if you'd like to read the story that did win that competition, click here.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Dark Moonlighting by Scott Haworth (Book Review)

About the Book


Nick Whittier, having been alive for six centuries, has had plenty of time to master three professions. In a typical week he works as a police officer, lawyer and doctor and still finds time to murder someone and drink their blood. He used to feel guilty about the killings, but now he restricts himself to only eating the worst members of society. Few people in Starside, Illinois seem to care about the untimely deaths of spam e-mailers, pushy Jehovah Witnesses and politicians. However, the barriers between Nick's three secret lives start to crumble when a mysterious man from his past arrives in town seeking revenge. Nick must move quickly to prevent the three women in his life, and the authorities who are hunting him, from discovering his terrible secret.

Dark Moonlighting is the first book in the humorous series. It explores four of the biggest clichés in popular culture, and it pokes fun at a number of popular television shows including Law & Order, Bones and House. It also takes a more realistic and amusing approach to the vampire cliché. For example, the average human has the equivalent of five Big Gulps worth of blood in their body. Nick takes twenty minutes to kill someone and, like the vampire bat, must immediately urinate afterwards.


My Review (4 / 5 Stars)


What if vampirism was caused by a good old fashioned virus? In that case, they wouldn't be demons, or demon possessed, and crosses and holy water wouldn't work on them. They'd be able to see their reflections just fine, but they wouldn't be able to shape-shift.

That's exactly the scenario postulated by Dark Moonlighting, a humorous story of a 600-year-old vampire trying to make it in the modern world. He only needs two hours sleep a night, so to pass the time, he works three different jobs.

I really enjoyed this book. It's funny, almost in the style of the Fat Vampire series by Johnny B. Truant, but it's not nearly as silly.

The writing is polished and the plot is fast-paced, but never too much. And there's lots of humour... although it took me a while to "get" the names of Nick's nemesis' henchwomen, once I did I couldn't stop laughing!

The ending's not really a cliffhanger, but it does pave the way nicely for the sequel. Which is definitely going on my to-read shelf.

If you like vampires, but hate Twilight, and you don't feel the need to take yourself too seriously, this is the book for you.

Click here to find out where you can pick up a copy.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Win a $10 Amazon Gift Card

In honour of the fourth anniversary of my e-mail newsletter, I thought it might be nice to do a giveaway. So if you buy books on Amazon and would like the chance of winning a $10 voucher, read on.



I love these: as you may know, my last book, published in 2016, is called Tales From Virdura. It's kind of like the spiritual successor to my first book, A Petition to Magic.

All you have to do is answer one simple question. In the seventh story of that collection, what is the second word in the second paragraph?

To enter, email me with your answer at graham@grahamdowns.co.za.

All correct answers will go into a draw to win the $10 Amazon voucher. The draw will take place on Tuesday, 26 September 2017, and I'll announce the winner in my September 2017 newsletter as well as on this blog.

Sound simple enough?

Oh, and if you need a copy of the book, click the image above to find out where you can get your hands on it.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Night Magic by Thomas Tryon (Book Review)

My Review (4 / 5 Stars)

Wow. Just... wow. There isn't much more to say than that (but I'm going to try and say it anyway).

This book was amazing. A little unexpected, to be sure, but amazing nonetheless.

There's this young street magician and mime (Michael) in New York. He's got some skills, and he makes a decent living, but he wants more.

Enter a very old, and very experienced, magician (Max). Planning his retirement, he doesn't want to leave a void, so he needs a protégé. He comes across Michael, and decides the kid's got potential.

The story blurs the lines between magic and illusion. Does "real" magic exist, or is it all just illusion, when it comes right down to it?

The author clearly thinks it does, but Max isn't so sure. A lot of weird, creepy, and even freaky stuff happens, but even by the end of the book, the reader isn't so sure either... but they're certainly left with lots of think about.

If you enjoy magic, and you're even remotely interested in the occult, I can recommend this book.

It lost its fifth star because I spotted some minor editing issues, but that doesn't mean I don't still believe this is an amazing book. And to think I'd never heard of Thomas Tryon before. Now that I have, his books are going on my to-read shelf right now.

About the Book

A young magician will risk his soul to learn the secrets of the universe

Though he bills himself as the Greatest Magician in the World, Michael Hawke is painfully aware that he’s nothing more than a sidewalk. He plies his trade outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, entrancing passing crowds with feats of conjuring and sleight of hand. One afternoon, he plays a trick on a shabbily dressed man whose beard is twisted and whose glass eye gives him a sinister leer. Offended, the man responds with magic of his own, casting a spell that causes Michael to hop like a frog, maniacally splashing in the fountain until the police have to haul him out.

When he recovers from this trance, Michael knows that he has encountered a true magician, one whose secrets he will give anything to understand. But this is black magic, mysterious and deadly, and pursuing it will mean a confrontation with an evil older than civilization itself.

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

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Smashwords Special Deals: $0.99 Each for A Petition to Magic, Stingers, or Tales From Virdura



One of my e-book retailers, Smashwords, has just launched a section on their website called "Special Deals".

On that page, they list all the books that have limited-time coupon codes that you can use to get the books at discounted prices.

According to the site admins, that's pretty revolutionary. And I think I agree: no longer do you have to go hunting down sale prices at your favourite retailer. They're all there, in one place. What's more, those coupon codes are listed everywhere you see the book - in category or search results, even on the book's detail page itself.

To mark the occasion, I've put three of my books on sale at Smashwords, all for $0.99 each. The deals expire on 20 September, so if you want them, click on the book cover below before then:

A Petition to Magic Stingers Tales From Virdura

Of course, my books aren't the only ones on sale. Click here to view the full list of Special Deals at Smashwords.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Writers' Resources: YouWriteOn



I found a really cool website this week, for writers wanting to get their work critiqued.

It's called YouWriteOn.com, and it works like this:

  1. You upload a short story, or sample chapters of your book
  2. You request a "Reading Assignment", which is a random work by another writer, which you're expected to read and review
  3. You get points for completing those assignments, which you "allocate" to your work
  4. Other people get assigned your work to read and review (which depletes your points)
The more reading assignments you complete, the more honest and valuable critique you get for your own work. This really encourages writers helping writers, which is what this whole process is about.

What's more, the highest rated stories are routinely read by agents for Random House and Orion, and if they like your work, they may pick it up for publication!

I added a story I wrote some time ago onto the site, which I haven't been able to find a home for (and which is too short to self-publish as a stand-alone). I've already been getting some great reviews for it, so wish me luck.

If you're a writer who's got something just lying around, you might want to give it a go.

You're welcome. :-)

Friday, 11 August 2017

Helens-of-Troy by Janine McCaw (Book Review)

About the Book


“The Gilmore Girls meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

Fifteen year old Goth-chic Ellie has a lot of explaining to do. She’s just moved to the small town of Troy, fought with her uptight mother Helen, met the boy of her dreams and found a dead body on her sexy “new-age” grandmother Helena’s porch. All on the first night!

But Ellie’s not alone. Helen is hiding something. Helen knows all about the kind of eerie dreams her daughter is having — the dreams that show the whereabouts of the missing children of Troy — because she’s had them herself. But she’ll never admit it. Not while Ellie’s sex-crazed friend Ryan is safely behind bars for the murders. Helen knows what it’s like to be attracted to dangerous men.

Then there’s the little matter between Helena and Gaspar Bonvillaine, the teenaged vampire who is learning to feed on young prey. Now that he’s caught Ellie, he doesn’t know whether he wants to kill her or turn her to the dark side and keep her forever. Helena should have finished him off when she had the chance.

To survive the vampire feeding frenzy surrounding them, mom Helen needs to come to terms with her own insecurities and deal with the gifts she has. Helena must learn to ground herself for the good of mankind and more importantly her own family. And Ellie has the toughest choice of all. Ellie must decide whether its time to let her own childhood go and become the woman she is destined to be, one of the ageless and timeless “Helens of Troy”.

Author Janine McCaw (Olivia’s Mine, Feb. 2006,) has written this 100,000 word novel, the first in a fantasy series about “the Helens”. The three generations of gatekeepers will take the reader on a trip to a realm mere mortals fear to visit alone, and they’ll make her want to stay a while.

My Review (2 / 5 Stars)


You know, I really wanted to love this book. It was billed as "The Gilmore Girls meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer", so I had high hopes.

I started noticing minor editing issues, missing quotation marks, apostrophes used to pluralise words, that sort of thing. This was still early, though (maybe 10% in), and they weren't too bad. The story was compelling enough for me to ignore them. "Maybe it's worth three stars, at least," I thought. Plus, I was really feeling The Gilmore Girls vibe at that point, and I LOVE The Gilmore girls.

But the editing got worse. Not only the punctuation problems, I saw lots of redundancy, people "Thinking to themselves" or "Shrugging their shoulders". No. Unless you're writing about telepaths, thinking to yourself is redundant. Okay, so there are some instances of telepathy in this book, but none of them had anything to do with it - it's not like anybody was thinking to themselves as opposed to thinking to others or anything.

There's lots of head-hopping too. In the same scene, sometimes in the same paragraph. To the point where at the top of the screen on my e-reader, I'm seeing the thoughts and feelings of one character, and by the time I get to the end of the screen, I'm in a completely different one's head. It actually got confusing at times.

The thing is, the story got worse as well... or maybe it was just my enjoyment of it being affected by all those others issues. Either way, by the time I finished the book, it was all seeming just a little silly.

Great potential, but poor editing grossly let this book down.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Ways to Support Me: Patreon



So you want to support indie authors?

Obviously, the best way to support me, really, is to buy my books and recommend them to your friends. But what if you've already read all my books, and all your friends are sick of seeing your face because you won't stop blathering on about this "Graham Downs" character? Well then, my friend, words cannot express how grateful I am to you!

If you've reached that point, and you still want to support me, then that's where Patreon comes in. Please consider pledging a little money to me each month, to help me realise my goals. Right now, my goal is a very modest one: the monthly hosting costs on my e-mail account and domain name average around $2 a month. If I could reach that, then I'd know that those were sorted, and I could focus on spending money to market and really grow my author business.

So what do you say? Help a fella out? Visit my Patreon Page and click the "Become a Patron" button. Besides the great feeling that comes from knowing you've done a good dead, you'll get access to my Patron-only feed. And who knows what you'll find in there? Maybe a free book every once in a while, or exclusive snippets of what I'm working on, or advanced review copies... Right now, I really have no idea.

P.S. If you've never heard of me before and want to check out my work, visit my website at https://www.grahamdowns.co.za/.

Fellow Artist? Want to Earn up to $500?


If you're an indie author yourself (or any kind of content creator), and you're looking for ways to earn a regular income, why not join Patreon?

Here's how it works: If you use the link I'm about to give you and sign up, you have 30 days to get as many patrons as possible. Depending on how many people you can convince to sign up, Patreon will give you a bonus, over and above the money you earn from those patrons:

For 30 patrons or more, Patreon will give you $50
For 75 patrons or more, Patreon will give you $100
For 150 patrons or more, Patreon will give you $250
For 250 patrons or more, Patreon will give you $500

How cool is that? Click here to sign up and start attracting patrons.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Painting Bruce (A Free Flash Fiction Story by Graham Downs)

It's been a while since I did this. How about a free flash fiction story? This one's called "Painting Bruce". Enjoy!


When I was ten years old, I had an imaginary friend called Bruce. Bruce was a small child with blue eyes and short brown hair. He was a wonderful friend, who never got me in trouble with my parents, and we played together often.

That’s not such a strange thing in a child, particularly a child who struggled to make “real” friends, so when I would speak about him to my parents, they would just shrug and laugh it off. The fantasies of youth.

When I was sixteen and still talking about Bruce, they got worried. They told me I was too old for an imaginary friend, and that I should grow up and make some friends. Maybe meet a nice girl, they said. Surely there were some girls at my High School that I was interested in?

There weren’t. There was only Bruce. Bruce had grown up with me – his was now a broad shouldered young man with dishevelled hair who helped me with my homework. But I overheard my mother talking to my father one night. She said that she was worried about me, and if I didn’t stop talking about Bruce, she’d have to send me to the psychologist.

Bruce said that if they did that, they’d put me in an asylum, and pump me so full of drugs that I wouldn’t be able to see him anymore. I didn’t want that, so that was the last time I mentioned Bruce.

Now I’m thirty-seven and live alone. Well, “alone” as far as everyone else is concerned, at least. Bruce is still with me, a haggard man with a scraggly beard, long hair, and a paunch. I keep telling him he needs to exercise, but all he does is sit on the couch all day and vegetate while I’m at work.

Last week, I’d finally convinced him to come with me for some fresh air, so we were taking a walk through the park. At one stage, he stopped and pointed.

“That’s da’!”

I followed his finger and saw an old man, perhaps sixty. He was standing under a tree, painting something on an easel.

“Who? The old man?”

“Shh!” said Bruce, as a passing jogger slowed down to gawk. “They can’t see me, remember? You want to go the asylum?”

I shrugged, as he went on. “No, the painting. Look.”

I couldn’t quite make out what the old man was painting, so we walked a bit closer. As we approached, his painting came into focus. It was that of an equally old man, one who looked quite a bit like Bruce.

My friend jumped up and down excitedly. “I told you. It’s him!”

I tried my best to ignore him, and approached the painter.

“Excuse me,” I said, “but I could help but notice your beautiful artwork. What are you painting?”

The man started, and I gave him an apologetic look, feeling a bit guilty for scaring him.

“Why thank you, young man. It’s so lovely out here. So peaceful. I keep telling him to come to the park with me, but he won’t.”

“Who’s that?” I asked.

The man motioned towards his subject. “Him. That’s Stephen. He’s been with me since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.”

Beside me, Bruce was getting more and more excited. “That’s da’!” he kept saying, pointing frantically at the painting.

I started to feel it too. The excitement. Maybe I wasn’t alone. Bruce had mentioned his father once before; all he’d said at the time was that he’d left him shortly before Bruce and I found each other. He never mentioned him again, and I knew nothing about his mother either.

“Has… can anyone else see Stephen?” I asked tentatively.

The old man sighed. “No. No they can’t. You probably think I’m crazy. Most people do. I’m pretty far past caring, to tell you the truth.” With that, he returned to his painting.

I pressed on. “No, sir, please. I don’t think you’re crazy at all. Please tell me, does Stephen have a son?”

The man looked at me, and I saw a glimpse of recognition in his eyes. Of belonging. Of someone who finally discovered that he wasn’t alone.

“Why, yes,” he said. “As a matter of fact, he does. Or at least, he did. He told me about him, once. I think his name was… Bryce. No, Bruce. He disappeared about thirty years ago, maybe a bit less. Stephen says he never saw him again.”