Tuesday, 26 December 2017

My Blog Stats for 2017, Revealed

It's that time of year again, folks. It's time for me to share some insights with you, into who's reading my blog, and what time of content they're reading. A lot has changed since last year's update, so sit back, relax, and read on.

Top Countries

  1. United States
  2. South Africa
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Australia
  5. Canada
The top five is almost identical to my 2016 stats, except that in position 4 and 5, Australia and Canada usurped Brazil and Germany, respectively. As I mentioned last year, it's a bit strange that a South African author's blog sees most of his traffic coming from the United States. And it's by a large margin, too!

Top Searches

A lot more people are finding me through search engines this year. Last year, there were only two searches worth mentioning (witch of wellington and cartoon island survival guide). This year, the results are more varied:
  1. youtube audio storey (sic)
  2. alibris south africa
  3. crossword puzzle
  4. e-library
  5. facebook lead ads
I can't believe people are still searching for my crossword puzzles. I stopped doing those years ago. I never had much participation in my monthly contests, and it was starting to take up way too much of my time.

Top Posts

  1. Short Story MEGA Giveaway
  2. How I (More Than) Doubled My Newsletter Subscribers on Instafreebie
  3. Buying E-Books in South Africa
  4. Buddy Ads - Support Your Local Communities
  5. MailChimp Automation, Facebook Lead Ads, and Zapier
This list is radically different from last year. For one, all of these posts were from 2017. Which kind of makes sense, as my older posts start to languish into obscurity. It's nice to see that people in South Africa are interested in finding out where they can buy e-books in South African Rands, though.

It also shows that people are actually interested in following me on my publishing and marketing journey since three of those top five posts are related to marketing.

Another Year, Done and Dusted

Well, that's it for me for 2017, everybody. I truly hope you had an amazing Christmas yesterday, and that you're having an amazing Day of Goodwill today (or Boxing Day, depending on where you are in the world).

If you got a shiny new e-reader for Christmas, you know what to do. :-)

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Diamonds and Fur: A Free Flash Fiction Story by Graham Downs

“What are you doing?” she hissed from the floor.

“Eating,” I replied.

“We’ve been held hostage, and you decide to raid the kitchen?”

“What? They didn’t say the fridge was off limits.”

Sarah put her finger to her lips. “Shh! They’re coming. Get back on the ground.”

Obediently, I sat my bum down on the floor and pressed my back against the kitchen counter.

A moment later, the two re-entered the room, brandishing their rifles. They were wearing balaclavas so we couldn’t see their faces. The one whom I assumed was the leader growled at me. “I thought I told you to be quiet in here. One more word outta you, and it’ll be your last.”

“Look,” I said, “if you’ll just hurry up and tell us what you’re looking for, I could help you, and we could all get back to our lives.”

The man slammed the butt of his rifle down into my midriff, winding me.

“None of your damn business. I said be quiet!”

I groaned in pain as the man stormed out of the kitchen. As soon as he was out of sight, Sarah rushed over to me.

She put her arm around my shoulder. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” I wheezed. “Just a little winded.”

“Well, I’m not going to stand for this any longer.” She shot up to her feet and opened the cupboard above the stove.

“What are you doing?” I watched her frantically rifling through plastic containers.

“Aha!” she said and pulled out a bottle of sunflower oil. “These idiots were stupid enough to lock us in our own kitchen, and I’m not going to look a gift-horse in the mouth.” With that, she unscrewed the cap, and poured the oil all over the floor, in front of the closed door.

I tried to laugh but clutched my chest in pain. I thought a rib must be broken. Sarah looked at me apologetically. “Don’t worry, my love,” she said. “It’ll all be over soon."

A few moments later, we heard shouting coming from down the passage.

“Where is that stupid teddy bear? The Boss said it’d be here.”

“Quiet down! We don’t want these fools to hear us. What would they think if they knew there was eleven million in diamonds hidden away in their house?”

With that, the two fell silent. A moment later, a stomping noise, coming down the passage. It stopped, just outside the door, which flung open, and the man who had broken my rib stormed in.

“All right, you–“

He slipped on the oil and fell backward. On his way down, his finger squeezed the trigger of the rifle he was holding. The noise was deafening; the bullets punched holes in our kitchen ceiling.

Sarah wasted no time. She leapt on top of the man and yanked the rifle out of his hands. Taking a step back, she took aim and fired. The man’s head exploded in a red mist. She lifted the rifle and aimed it towards the door, just in time to see the other man rush through the open doorway.

“Jimmy, what the-”


The second man went down as well.

A nauseous feeling rushed up my gullet, at the sight of my sweet, beautiful wife, now a cold-blooded killer.

“Sarah,” I gulped. “Sarah, what did you just do?”

“Nobody hurts my husband and gets away with it.” Sarah spat onto the floor. Standing there, brandishing the rifle, she looked like Lara Croft. Or maybe some female John Rambo. Jane Rambo? I chucked at the thought, then winced in pain.

Sarah dropped the rifle and rushed to my side. Gently, she lay her hand on my chest. “We need to get you to a doctor.”

“In a minute,” I wheezed. “Do you know what they were looking for? The teddy bear?”

“Oh, don’t you remember? I gave that to my god-daughter years ago. I had no idea there were diamonds in it. I’ll give her mother a call later. But first,” she hooked her arm around me and helped me to my feet. “Let’s get you out of here.”

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Here Are The Top 4 Books I Read in 2017

Each year, I set a goal for the number of books I intend to read on Goodreads. I never read a book without recording it there, and I make a point of reviewing every book I read.

This year, I set myself the rather lofty, but still achievable, goal of 35 books. I've already exceeded this year's goal by a comfortable margin, but if you know anything about me, you'll know that I'm difficult to please.

Only four of those books managed to worm their way into my coveted "Five Star Club". So, without further ado (and in no particular order), here are my top four books for 2017. Click on the cover to find out where you can buy each one.

The End of The Trail by Louis Rakovich

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.

A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin

The last of the Targaryens, Daenerys Stormborn, the Unburnt, has brought the young dragons in her care to their terrifying maturity. Now the war-torn landscape of the Seven Kingdoms is threatened by destruction as vast as in the violent past.

Tyrion Lannister, a dwarf with half a nose and a scar from eye to chin, has slain his father and escaped the Red Keep in King′s Landing to wage war from the Free Cities beyond the narrow sea.

Jon Snow is Commander of the Black Watch on the frozen Wall. Pledged to protect the Seven Kingdoms from the Others as winter approaches, his enemies want his head.

The last war fought with dragons was a cataclysm powerful enough to shatter the Valyrian peninsula into a smoking, demon-haunted ruin half drowned by the sea.

A DANCE WITH DRAGONS brings to life dark magic, complex political intrigue and horrific bloodshed as events at the Wall and beyond the sea threaten the ancient land of Westeros.

My Review

When I finished the previous book in this series, I said that not very much happened and that I hoped this one would have more meat. I wasn't disappointed.

Things are happening in Westeros and surrounds, and they're happening quickly. There are more deaths and more bombshells in this instalment than I've seen since The Red Wedding. And the fact that Tyrion and Daenerys are back, just makes it all the sweeter.

It's difficult to say more, for fear of spoilers. Suffice it to say that I still think this is the most well fleshed out fantasy world I've ever read, and the characters among the most real. There aren't any cookie-cutters here. At the end of each book, Martin includes a long section describing all the houses and character histories in the series, which he updates after each story. In this book, that section is now over a hundred pages long (I think after the first book, it was maybe twenty).

Editing-wise, not a single typo to be found, and no plot point that didn't make sense.

I might even go so far as to say that this is the best book in the series so far.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Sixteen-year-old Cinder is considered a technological mistake by most of society and a burden by her stepmother. Being cyborg does have its benefits, though: Cinder's brain interference has given her an uncanny ability to fix things (robots, hovers, her own malfunctioning parts), making her the best mechanic in New Beijing. This reputation brings Prince Kai himself to her weekly market booth, needing her to repair a broken android before the annual ball. He jokingly calls it "a matter of national security," but Cinder suspects it's more serious than he's letting on.

Although eager to impress the prince, Cinder's intentions are derailed when her younger stepsister, and only human friend, is infected with the fatal plague that's been devastating Earth for a decade. Blaming Cinder for her daughter's illness, Cinder's stepmother volunteers her body for plague research, an "honor" that no one has survived.

But it doesn't take long for the scientists to discover something unusual about their new guinea pig. Something others would kill for.

My Review

I really enjoyed this.

As science fiction goes, the world is truly compelling. On the one hand, it's post-apocalyptic, but on the other, it's a bit of a utopia. 

World War IV happened a long time ago, and almost destroyed the world. That's the apocalypse part. What came out of that war was a treaty that saw all the countries of the world consolidated into less than ten, mostly based around continents, so you have the African Union, Europe, the Americas, and something called The Commonwealth.

This story is set in New Beijing, a massive city-state that's part of The Commonwealth. Technology has progressed to the point where humans can be cybernetically enhanced, everyone flies around in hovers, and intelligent androids, able to show emotion, are commonplace.

Now for the bad news. There's this worldwide plague, you see, with no cure, and a 100% mortality rate. If you contract it, you die. Within days. Scientists all over the world are racing against time to find a cure, while every day thousands of people are dying. It's a losing battle.

Enter Cinder, a teenage cyborg who runs a small mechanic's shop, repairing androids, portscreens (pretty much tablet PCs), and other miscellaneous electronics. She has an evil stepmother and stepsister, and a prince invites her to a ball.

This story is VERY loosely based on the Cinderella fairy-tale, but if you didn't know that, and I hadn't pointed it out to you, you might miss it. The fairy tale served as inspiration for the author, but that's where it ends. It ends up going in an entirely different direction.

There's some romance here, but not very much (less than I expected, anyway), and you're sure to enjoy it even if you're not a fan of love stories.

The one thing that bugs me is that this book is billed as Young Adult. I think the only thing that technically makes it YA is the age of the protagonist. But it doesn't take place in a high school or anything, nor do any of the characters face typical teenager-type problems, nor do they behave like teenagers would be expected to behave.

No, this is quite clearly an adult book, and it deals with some pretty adult themes. Having said that, I should point out that it's a WHOLESOME adult book. There's not a single swear word to be found, nor even any blasphemy. Which is refreshing, because blasphemy is often what stops me from giving a book 5-stars.

Editing-wise, there's the odd typo here and there, but it's very well polished, and none of them detracted in any way from the story.

If you like science fiction, and you like a good family-friendly read, I don't doubt for one minute that you'll enjoy this book!

The Martian by Andy Weir

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

My Review

I watched the movie about a year ago, more or less around the same time everyone else did, I think, when it won the Oscar. At the time, I thought it was really good, and I'd probably have given it five stars too, if I were in the habit of reviewing movies.

Personally, I'd never heard of it until all the hype around the movie started, but once I'd watched it, the book went straight onto my to-read list. A friend once told me that, in her opinion, if you're going to watch a movie AND read the book, you should always start with the movie. That way, when you read the book, you're pleasantly surprised at all the extra bits that they invariably leave out of movie adaptations (as opposed to being frustrated, disappointed, and angry, when you watch the movie and realise all the things they left out).

The book is amazing! The movie was good, but the book is better. Don't get me wrong: the movie is pretty true to the book, in my opinion. The book just brings you so much more, is all. There are more problems for our intrepid astronaut to solve, and the science is more detailed as we're taken through his thought process in solving those problems.

There's a lot of maths, too, but it's really easy to understand - and if you REALLY don't like maths, you can safely skip it. I'm not a fan of maths, but I didn't skip it. I kept thinking that if Andy Weir had been my maths teacher in High School, I would have aced it on Higher Grade in Matric, instead of just barely scraping through on Standard Grade.

Generally, I don't much care for "hard" science fiction, because I find the maths and science tedious, but because this book is just so accessible, I cannot in all good conscience give it fewer than five stars.

And that's no small thing. If you follow my reviews, you'll know that it's incredibly rare for me to read a book and find absolutely no fault with it. Editing often lets a book down for me, so if I find a single typo, the author can kiss their five stars goodbye. This book, though, is polished to a sparkling sheen. 

Did you know, by the way, that The Martian was originally self-published back in 2011? It's not like I've never given such a high rating to an indie book, but it's been a long time, and it really renews one's faith in independent publishing.

What makes it even more special, is that The Martian is officially the first e-book I've ever borrowed from a library, and I can't think of a better way to start that journey.

Anyway, enough gushing. If you're even remotely into science fiction, or books about the human condition, drop everything and pick up a copy of this book. But if you DO intend to watch the movie, I agree with my friend - watch it first, then read the book. You'll be really glad you did.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Genesis Earth by Joe Vasicek (Book Review)

The ultimate voyage of discovery ends when you learn the truth about yourself.

Michael Anderson never thought he would set foot on a world like Earth. Born and raised in a science colony on the farthest edge of the solar system, he only studied planets from afar. But when his parents build mankind's first wormhole and discover a world emitting a mysterious artificial signal, Michael is the only qualified planetologist young enough to travel to the alien star.

He is not alone on this voyage of discovery. Terra, his sole mission partner, is no more an adult than he is. Soon after their arrival, however, she begins acting strangely—as if she's keeping secrets from him. And her darkest secret is one that Michael already knows.

Twenty light-years from the nearest human being, they must learn to work together if they're ever going to survive. And what they discover on the alien planet forces them to re-examine their deepest, most unquestioned beliefs about the universe—and about what it means to be human.

This book is rated T according to the AO3 content rating system.

My Review (4 / 5 Stars)

Having just come off the emotional rollercoaster that is Christine Bernard's Unravel, I was looking for something light to read, and based on the title and glossy cover, I thought Genesis Earth would be it.

Well, it is, and it also isn't.

About 150 years into the future, a group of scientists live on a space station at the edge of the solar system. They don't live there because Earth has become uninhabitable, or some other catastrophe has taken place, as is the case with most science fiction. No, Earth is just fine--climate change is still an issue, but other than that, life on Earth is pretty much as it always was.

The scientists live on the space station because they have some very important research to conduct. They're trying to manufacture a wormhole to another point in space-time, and they need to do it as far away from Earth as possible because a mishap could destroy an entire planet.

Faster-than-light travel hasn't yet been developed, so the journey from Earth to the station takes many years. Consequently, many of the younger generation, born on the station, have never known Earth except through stories and pictures from their parents.

Such is the case for our protagonist, a 16-year-old scientist.

The book is an easy read, but there are layers within layers, including discussions about evolution vs creationism, the purpose of religion, and loyalty to a collective vs loyalty to oneself.

I was impressed. Even more so, when I discovered in the Author's Note at the end, that Genesis Earth was self-published after many failed attempts to get a traditional publisher to take a look at it. I wouldn't have guessed that; it reads like any traditionally published work. It's professionally put together, and the editing is near-perfect (Except for one of my biggest editing bugbears: there is no such word as "alright|!). This is probably thanks to the countless revisions the author said he made before finally unleashing it on the world.

The only thing that irked me a little was the ages of the main characters. It seems as though the author only made them so young so he could call this a Young Adult book, but once the story gets started, you completely forget how old they are. The main characters are most obviously adults, and calling them 15 to 16-year-olds simply doesn't ring true.

Click here to learn where you can pick yourself up a copy.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Get a Free Book When You Vote for Me in the 2017 South African Blog Awards

It's that time of year again. It's time for the annual South African blog awards. This year, I'm nominated in the categories of Best Entertainment Blog and Best Lifestyle Blog.

If you read this blog regularly, and you enjoy it, I'd really appreciate your vote! Please click on the button below to cast it.

If you forward me your confirmation e-mail from the Blog Awards, I'll send you one of my e-books for free. Just let me know which one you want when you send me your e-mail. My e-mail address is graham@grahamdowns.co.za.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Unravel by Christine Bernard (Book Review)

What a fantastic story! Rose Madison is a promising young writer at her college, and popular to boot. With a highly successful author for a mother and stunning good looks, she doesn't know how lucky she has it.

Until everything in Rose's life starts to fall apart. At first, it's innocent enough: when words start disappearing from the award-winning story she's meant to read in front of the whole school, she chalks it down to stress. After all, the supposedly "missing" words are back when she goes over it again later.

But things quickly start escalating from there, and slowly, Rose comes to the conclusion that she's going crazy.

The pacing of this story is brilliant, and the situations in which she finds herself are chilling. It's been a while since I've read one of those "Just one more chapter" books--I couldn't put it down!

Plus, I tend to enjoy stories about writers, and in this one, the lifestyle is portrayed quite realistically, in my opinion. I really cared about Rose and what was happening to her.

So, I won't lie, I thought I'd figured out what was happening quite early on, but it turned out I was only half-right, and the last chapter nearly made me drop my phone in the toilet when I got to it! Christine Bernard really knows how to keep you guessing.

There were two things that niggled me with this book. The first was, in the e-book version I read, there is no linked table of contents. I've grown quite used to knowing, over the years, how many pages/minutes I had in the current chapter, so I could make a decision about whether I had time to read it or not. But with the chapters not marked properly in the epub, I had no way of doing that. But maybe that was a blessing in disguise because I devoured the book in record time.

The other thing was that, although the author is South African, the story takes place in America, and ostensibly uses American spelling, grammar, and phrasings. That's not a bad thing in and of itself (although I'd have loved it to be a bit more authentic and proudly South African), but she didn't quite get it right. "Color" is spelt without a "u", and the characters say "Yeah" and go to the "mall". But they also wear trainers instead of sneakers, jumpers instead of sweaters, and visit the shops instead of the store. I think the author is still trying to find her voice a bit... but I get the impression her second book is much better.

Speaking of her second book, boy am I glad that this one's a standalone. I'm getting really tired of series, and foreshadowing of things to come, which require me to read another three books before they come to a head. It was so nice to read a self-contained story. I hope Ms Bernard keeps that up. I don't really enjoy series.

In conclusion, if you like deep, psychological stuff, you'll love this. It's going to make a fantastic movie one day, in the vein of Stephen King's more psychological stuff, or something like The Cell. Best you read it before that happens.

(4 / 5 stars)

About the Book

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.

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

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Did you buy e-books on Black Friday?

Every year since I published my first book, I've participated in Black Friday, without much success. I don't know if it's just that people don't buy e-books on Black Friday (see the title: do you?), or my books just aren't very appealing, but that seems to be the way it is for me.

This year, I had actually decided to not take part. It just didn't seem like it was worth the effort. But then the admins of The Secret Book Club group on Facebook sent out a message to all resident authors, inviting them to post their Black Friday deals in the group.

If you're not a member of that group, you really should consider joining. There are over 4 000 members, all of whom love reading, and love talking about books. People post funny book memes, ask for recommendations, and review books they've read. It's very well maintained and administered, and the membership is well represented between young and old, men and women, e-book lovers and print book lovers, and lots of different countries.

Although there are many authors, publishers, and book PR people in the group, self-promotion is generally not allowed. Except for occasional, special "Admin Approved" posts. Of which the Black Friday deal was one.

When I got this message, I decided to give it a try. I went over to Smashwords and generated coupon codes, offering 100% discount off all my books there. Then I made a post to the group, where I listed out all the links and coupon codes. I made my deal exclusive to The Secret Book Club members and did not mention any Black Friday deals anywhere else.

If you're a member of the group, click here to see my Black Friday post, and let me know what you think.

It worked out pretty well, I think. People like exclusive deals, so I think the members really appreciated the fact that the deals I was offering weren't available anywhere else.

I "sold" seven copies.

If you're a reader, did you buy any e-books on Black Friday? Why or why not?

If you're an author or otherwise involved in the book industry, did you offer any special deals on e-books? How did you do?

Thursday, 23 November 2017

All Rights Reserved: A New YA Science Fiction Book by Gregory Scott Katsoulis (Book Review)

This is easily my favourite book of the year.

It reminds me a lot of Orwell's 1984 (which I've actually never read, but know enough about to make it feel like I have).

In the distant future, all forms of communication are copyrighted. A shrug more than 2.5cm high costs you money. Crying or laughing, unless you can prove it's involuntary, costs you money. Speaking costs you money. The word "Sorry" costs a flat $10, and is considered an admission of guilt which opens you up to an InstaSuit from the person you're saying it to. The value of other words fluctuate wildly, depending on the market, and some people make it their business to scour those markets and use the cheapest possible words to say what they want to say (which change from day to day).

It's not just communication - all forms of expression carry a cost. There are a few hairstyles still in the public domain, but wearing your hair in any other style incurs a monthly fee. Likewise with clothes.

And the penalties for copyright violation are far-reaching. If your great-grandparents once illegally downloaded a song, you can be held liable to pay damages, or be carried off into lifetime servitude if you can't afford it.

That particular part of the book fascinated me, because the whole idea that people should be held liable, and have to pay for something their long-dead ancestors did reminds me of what's happening in South Africa right now with land reform and Black Economic Empowerment. I know that's not the intent, and in South Africa's case, the motivation is ostensibly more altruistic, but it goes to show how easily things can get out of control.

And everything in this dyspotia is out of control. And it's not too far-fetched, either. A couple of tweaks to copyright law here, a few fudges of Free Speech there, and we're on a slippery slope. You already can't technically sing the melody to "Happy Birthday" without paying someone royalties. All the rights holders need is a way to enforce it so that it's not prohibitively expensive to collect, and you'll have to pay $100 whenever you sing it at someone's birthday party.

Scary stuff.

Editing-wise, it's no worse than some of the bestsellers I've read, and it's better than most. But I long to read a flawless book again. It's been a long time since I've clicked that fifth star....

My Rating: 4 / 5 Stars

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

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Need Editing for your Flash Fiction Story? I'm now available on Fiverr

As a multi-genre author of short stories, flash fiction collections, and novelettes, I am uniquely skilled in the English language.

As such, I can provide proofreading of your flash fiction story, in any genre, catching spelling errors, typos, and glaring plot holes.

My own work is written in British English, but I'm fully capable of sticking to American spellings and phrasings if you prefer.

Click here to find out more. It's only $5. :)

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


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)


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.


“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.


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.


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.