Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A certain philosophy on kiddie lit

Like most people, I live my life by certain personal beliefs. I'm not a church goer, nor do I care about the NFL, NBA or NHL. But that's beside the point...

I also have certain beliefs when it comes to children's books.

I've recently extended my writing reach into children's literature with my crime-fighting duo Furball and Feathers, but one thing some people always ask is, "Why are there no pictures? Children's books need pictures!"

That is an incredibly ignorant question and statement, at least in my opinion. Why? Why do books aimed at children have to have pictures? Is it because that's how it's always been done in the past? Do you think kids need pictures in order to read it?


One of the things I've learned in the past few years is to never underestimate children. There are some children who want to learn how to read a book with only words, much akin to the books mommy and daddy are reading.

I make my children's books short, less than 10,000 words, which is enough for a young child to read in one sitting. Add in entertaining characters--Furball and Feathers are bipedal cat and bird crime fighters with alter egos--and you have a story that children WANT to read.

When they're done reading the picture-less book, look at their faces. Have they accomplished something? Have they read a book like mommy and daddy, or have they read something that underestimates their intelligence? More than likely, you can answer yes to the first part.

Food for thought: Do you want your child to excel, or do you want to hold them back? You may be surprised at what your child can do.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Feelings on nearing two sales milestones

Every time I near a sales milestone in my so-far short career, I feel the butterflies going haywire in the tum-tum. It always means a quick refresh of my sales sheets when I should be doing something productive, like writing my next story or reading up on a particular topic in order to be more informed while writing my next story. It never fails, though: the refresh button and I have an understanding. He's cool with me pressing his buttons. But seriously...

Milestones seem to come in twos in 2012. I ended 2011 at 3,010 books sold since November 1, 2009, which is when Turning Back The Clock came out. So every time I hit a sales mark, in ten additional books, I hit another. It's like the party never ends here.

The fact that people are buying--and seeming to enjoy--my books, and doing so in such quantities, means so much to me not as an author, but a person. The fact that I continue to entertain these readers--which is always my first goal with any book, to tell an entertaining story--after so long fuels my writing engine and makes me want to continue to pump the books out for the readers.

When I woke up this morning, I did a quickie count of my sales for the month of July 2012. I only have 165 books sold this month, which is a low amount when you consider how many other books I've sold this year. I do realize that it's the summer, and the world of publishing slows down and people are more focused on what beach they're going to than they are on reading. I continually tell myself that I should feel lucky to sell that many, as there are other authors having difficulty selling books at the moment. I'm pleased as punch to hit that number. That 165 has brought me ever closer to selling 3,000 books for the year, but I'm also closing in on 6,000 sales lifetime, AND getting closer to doubling my lifetime sales since New Year's Eve.

Holy schnikes, let that sink in for a little bit.

The marks are as they stand: 50 books to 3,000 sales for the year, 40 books to 6,000 sales lifetime, and 60 books to doubling my lifetime sales in seven or so months (let THAT sink in, too). I'd like to hit each of those marks before August 6, when I go on vacation for the first time in five years.

Last week, I had surfed through my old blogs, bringing myself down memory lane for my career. I came across a blog I had written when I had closed in on 100 sales. That was back in April 2010. I remember feeling that I had climbed a mountain, hitting that magical milestone just before my 33rd birthday. It's almost always slow-going at first, selling books. But soon, I developed a following, and people began to notice the books. They went to my Facebook page and became a fan. They follow me on Twitter. They keep asking me when the next book is coming out.

And that's why I've sold as many books as I have so far.

Keep the milestones coming.


Friday, July 27, 2012

The Characters of the Second Obloeron Prequel

I've written that characters drive an author's story. The characters are the ones that truly know the story; the author is only the conduit between the characters and the page. There have been times my characters and I have gotten into drunken fistfights.

Suffice it to say, the characters always win. But I digress.

Today I'm going to introduce you to the characters you'll read about in The Shadow Looms, the second Obloeron prequel, coming to digital bookstores everywhere soon. These people sat on my shoulder and whispered into my ear for several years, telling me to do this and do that. For quite a while, they were close confidantes.

Without further ado, the characters...


The protagonists:

Krampel Paddymeyer is the series' protagonist. In DARK FALCON, he is introduced as a slave to the Caravan, a group of gypsy-like merchants who travel across the breadth of Obloeron, trading and selling goods. He breaks free of his bonds and hurries to the nearest township, Cassimina, where he is taken in by Vossler, the local tanner and cobbler. Vossler unlocks the power held deep within Krampel -- the ability to wield a great sword of the past, Flad-rul. Krampel becomes a bounty hunter, taking bounties without prejudice, under the pseudonym Dark Falcon. He has since taken on an apprentice, who has also become his lover, and has encountered a certain dwarf. Over the first few chapters of SHADOW, which is set a year after the events of DARK FALCON, the trio have taken work in a port town near Oak Flats, the squirrellen realm. It is an attack on this realm that sets the trio into action, setting up the famed Great Imperial Wars.

Lutricia Juniper is the series' secondary protagonist and the female lead. We met Lutricia in part two of DARK FALCON. She is the daughter of Lord Juniper, a wealthy land owner who has since fled. She longs for the life of a bounty hunter and, after hearing Krampel is the best there is, her father hires Krampel to be her teacher. She is a headstrong individual who tries to get through the walls Krampel puts up. As said above, she gains his trust and a spot in his bed. She also has a big solo part in this one, where she shows her nerve in a battle against larger enemies.

Radamuck Rosar is still a general in his father Ricanack's army, but is on leave while he sees the realms with Krampel and Lutricia. He, too, is headstrong but not as confident as he is in THE OBLOERON TRILOGY. He, too, has a big solo part in this one, where he hopes to convince a king to join him.

There are quite a few other characters on the side of good that you'll see throughout the book.

The antagonists:

Cairn Ford is the main antagonist in the story. He is the High Imperial Inquisitor of the southlands, where he has instituted a tight reign on the populace, reaching as far south as Salva on the southern peninsula. In book two, he bides his time as his plans come to fruition. He unleashes his horde after Krampel and Co. stop one of his plans.

Danolf Joocston is a minor antagonist in DARK FALCON, but he plays a major role in the series as a whole. He is a young wizard employed by the Inquisitor for his alchemy work; Joocston is the creator of Ford's horde.

There are also another group of characters that I'll talk to you about in another blog post, and it's their actions that practically set into motion The Great Imperial Wars.

There's more to learn about these characters. You'll have to read the book in order to find out more.

It's almost time. Be patient, and you'll soon have it.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

An Open Letter to My Younger Writing Self

Dear younger version of Sean,

Here it is, January 3, 2003. You're about a day or so away from sitting down at that old Gateway -- remember not to leave it on all night or you'll never get that burnt plastic smell out out your room; just saying -- and typing out the first draft of that novel. But before you begin, I want to share with you some woodsy words of wisdom that I've learned in the past 9 1/2 years.

1. Remember what Ms. Flaherty, your junior English teacher, once told you: don't limit yourself. You want to be a fantasy author, and that's all well and good. But you're going to make more money writing other genres then just fantasy. Take this hint: research the sale of Babe Ruth in one of those big books you have, then take a flyer on it. You won't be sorry. Basically, do you just want to be known as a fantasy author, or do you want to hit other readers -- those who don't like fantasy -- with your work?

2. Outline, outline, outline. The next two years of your life are going to be hell, and then the next two years are even more so. Before you start writing about that halfling with the disposition of Conan, take a few weeks and start brainstorming out everything from start to finish. I mean this: You're going to get a workout just from taking this thing off the shelf so many times. And by the way, it shouldn't take you over a year to decide the halfling and the dwarf are supporting characters.

3. Remember: When the tension is going, blow something up. You can't do that in fantasy, though: just introduce a sword fight.

And 4. Before you start writing, go downstairs and tell mom and dad you love them. You don't say it enough.


Your older counterpart.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Federal Agent, done and dusted!

A little while ago, I put the capper on FEDERAL AGENT, the fourth Jaclyn Johnson novel. As of now, it's at 244 1/2 pages with 90,230 words for the first draft. It will go on the shelf for the next two months before I work on edits.

A couple of quickie spoilers: Jaclyn's in Atlanta, and there's a lot of bad stuff going on.

End spoilers.

Vacation is only two weeks away.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sample Sunday: COLD ALTAR -- An Alex Bourque Mystery

Chapter One

The combination of sweat rolling down my face along with the dull, repeated thud of hammer-to-nail-to-sheetrock numbed my senses late that morning. I had hammered away at the wall behind my desk for two hours, hanging several pictures as well as my freshly minted and framed private investigator license for all to see. My arms had grown sore by 11:30, and it was almost time to meet Lauryn, my girlfriend, for lunch at Espresso Pizza across the street.

My office door opened and slammed shut. I put the hammer down at once and turned around to see that an elderly, matron-like woman had crossed the threshold. In a floor-length floral dress, she reminded me of my great aunt, a woman whose presence commanded immediate respect. This woman’s piercing eyes seemed to judge me from fifteen feet away as she looked me up and down, as if searching for every flaw. I hoped my shirt wasn’t thoroughly saturated with sweat. She looked like the type of aristocratic woman who would turn her nose up at the slightest hint of body odor near her person.

She probably sent her kids to private school, I mused, and I knew from her stare that my pending lunch date with Lauryn would have to wait.

“Are you Alex Bourque, the private investigator?” she said.

I said that I was he.

“What can I do for you?”

“Your father sent me.”

I smiled. Good old dad. My father was still on the Fitchburg Police Department and had walked a beat for five years before moving up to the rank of detective. He could have retired five years ago, but he was the type of person who would never be happy sitting at home while there were crimes to solve. Not only that, but I knew that my mom would have kicked him out five minutes after he got home from his retirement party. Better to stay busy at work than annoy the wife at home, he always said. He had been on the job for nearly forty years, and it didn’t appear that he’d slow down any time soon.

And yet he has forwarded a prospective client — my first client — my way. I made a mental note to thank him later on and ask him why he’s sending me cases. If he’s doing this, why aren’t he and mom on a beach in Florida?

I offered the woman a seat in front of my desk. Unfortunately, her chair wasn’t cushioned: it had been a part of my grandparents’ old dinette set before it found a new home as part of my office’s rustic decor. I hoped she wouldn’t smell the dust on the underside. Along with the chair, I offered her coffee. She accepted. I brought two cups back to my desk along with cream and sugar for her. I drank my coffee black. My commander’s chair, thankfully, was padded. I almost groaned with relief as my rear end hit the seat.

She took a sip from a faded Mark Martin mug and after a beat made a face that signaled disgust at my coffee-making skills. I wanted to tell her that my Mr. Coffee was second-hand and that the warming plate had a short in it, but I didn’t think she would understand my fresh-out-of-college lifestyle. She looked like the type of woman who married young and married money.

It also didn’t help my cause that the coffee was about three hours old. I drank it anyway. I’m a trooper like that.

“Your father said you are a rather intelligent, resourceful young man and that you may be able to help me with a problem that I have,” she said.

“What’s the problem?”

I leaned back in my chair, my Red Sox coffee mug nestled between my palms. I only felt the raised B insignia and the cold porcelain against the meaty part of my thumbs.

“My great nephew was murdered.”

I sat up just a tad straighter at hearing those words.

“I don’t understand, Mrs. —”


I knew the name, and I didn’t need her to repeat it. Anyone who grew up in Fitchburg knew the Keenan name and the great reputation that went with it. My older cousin went to school with a few of the Keenan boys in the 1990’s, and he had told me they were some of the best athletes to go through the old Fitchburg High School during the Grutchfield/Cosenza Era. But that’s beside the point. I didn’t know if it was the same family, but how many Keenans could there be in this run-down hamlet?

“Mrs. Keenan. I don’t understand. Your great nephew was murdered, and yet you’ve come to a wet-behind-the-ears P.I. instead of the police?”

“Your father referred me to you when I called him this morning. It is a cold case.”

“How cold is it?”

She looked at me with narrowed eyes.

“Frigid,” she said.

Like my coffee, I thought.

I put my mug on my desk and rested my forearms on the wood, lacing my fingers together. I resisted the urge to send my thumbs a-twiddling in front of my guest.

“What can you tell me about the case?” I asked.

She began her narrative. She told me that her great nephew was James Sullivan — not a Keenan, I noted. In late November 1980, his parents had reported him missing. He had gone for a walk to a nearby variety store and had never returned home. Four months later, just as the spring thaw took hold, an engineer on a passing commuter train reported seeing a body lying in winter’s detritus near the Fifth Street Bridge. The body had frozen during the winter months and was unrecognizable to investigators — one of whom was my father, she said.

“They used dental records to identify the body,” she added. “It was James.”

I didn’t put anything down on paper — yet. I wanted to let her tell me the facts. One of the things my father taught me was to have a notebook handy and out, ready to go, before you start interrogating a potential witness or a suspect. Mrs. Keenan was neither, but then again, she wasn’t officially my client.

There was also the fact that my legal pads were in boxes in my car. I wasn’t expecting a walk-in while I was in set-up mode upstairs.

Then she dropped her bombshell.

“He was only 11 years old when he was taken.”

Even as my heart dropped, I grabbed a box of tissues and slid it across my desk. She scooped two in her hand and dabbed at her eyes. There was more makeup on the tissue than tears. A good investigator notices things like this.

“I’m sorry for your loss, ma’am,” I said. I didn’t know where to take the interview from here, seeing as it was my first fact intake and I didn’t exactly have experience at this sort of thing. But if I were to take the case on, I needed to ask questions. Any questions, for that matter. “Can you tell me how far my father and FPD got into the investigation?”

“There was barely any evidence at the scene, they said. With no leads, they were unable to close the case. They kept it open for the purposes of public interest, but there was little they could do with it.”

Her tone interested me. It bordered on exasperation and disgust, I could tell. Call it P.I.’s intuition. It was exasperation with the police and disgust that they had not caught her great nephew’s killer in thirty-one years. I just didn’t know if her level of disgust for my father’s investigation was higher or lower than the coffee I offered. I didn’t have the heart to ask, either.

“How did my name come up?” I asked. I had returned to my relaxed posture. My coffee cup stayed on my desk. I didn’t have the stomach for aged coffee any longer.

“I had called your father this morning,” she replied. “I wanted to see if there was anything new. I wasn’t holding my breath when I picked up the phone. He said there wasn’t, but that if I wanted someone independent of the police department to try to dig up new leads to come see you.” She looked around my office. I tried to gauge her reaction to the threadbare couch over in the corner or the near-rusted yet empty filing cabinets against the wall. “I didn’t realize you were so young.”

“Is my age a problem, ma’am?”

She hesitated a moment, but shook her head.

“No, it’s not — if you can find out who killed my precious James, your lack of experience won’t matter in the slightest.”

My right eyebrow shot up by a few millimeters as I tried to see if that worked out to a compliment. I wasn’t sure if it did. At my age, I’m sure I was expected to take a few backhanded compliments from older clients.

“I hope I can handle the responsibility.”

Mrs. Keenan chortled.

“That makes two of us.”

“I am slightly curious as to why you’re hiring me instead of James’s parents?” I asked.

Her face twisted, as if I had stuck a cup of souring milk under her nose.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been the one who has carried the torch for this family. My niece and her husband have been somewhat reclusive in the matter, as if they’ve forgotten about their own son. I tell them what I do, but it goes in one ear and out the other. They don’t know about me hiring you, though. They’re on vacation at the moment and won’t be back until Memorial Day.”

Interesting, I thought. I knew I’d want to talk to them, but if they wouldn’t get back to the area until then, then the interview would have to wait until after Memorial Day. I’d be a good egg and give them a day or two to recover from their trip.

“Do you carry a gun, Mr. Bourque?”

I nodded.

“May I see it?”

I didn’t know why she wanted to see my piece. Did she not believe me? I know I looked like the janitor right now and I wasn’t wearing a holster — after all, I was in my office and didn’t have an active case, nor any reason to carry my weapon — but it was a curious question to be sure. But she was the client-to-be. If she wanted to see my gun, I’d show her my gun. I kept my eyes on her as I opened my desk drawer and pulled out my Glock 22 .40 caliber pistol.

Her face barely flinched as she fixed her gaze on Black Betty.

“Satisfied?” I asked.

She nodded. I stashed my gun away for the time being.

“What is your fee?”

I told her.

If she had any coffee left in her mouth, I would have worn it. Lauryn wouldn’t have forgiven me if I stained a shirt she had just washed. That wasn’t a conversation I would want to have at any stage in my life.

“You’re not serious.”

I grinned at the incredulous look she gave me.

“I want to retire early,” I said. “Besides, I believe you said that I was a rather resourceful and intelligent young man. That’s the going rate for resourceful, intelligent young men in this day and age. And that doesn’t include expenses, either.”

She mirrored my look.

“I’ll pay for your services a week ahead of time. Send me a bill for the rest.” She gave me her address and ripped off a hefty advance. As she handed the check across the desk, I promised her I would have my accounting department — which was me, myself and I, for the most part — get one out to her by the end of next week.

“I’m sure you will, Mr. Bourque. I’m sure you will.” She stood and left the office.

Once the door closed and her silhouette slipped down the corridor, I kissed the check and, after folding it, slid it into my pocket. Then I grabbed my cell phone. My first call was to Lauryn to tell her I’d be over in a few minutes. After a few squoochy woochy kisses through the phone, we hung up. I called dad and asked him if he would lend me the Sullivan file.

He said he’d deliver it personally. I could hear the smile in his tone, even through the phone line. We hung up.

I then changed my shirt, threw on some deodorant — always a spray, since I’m allergic to the roll-ons — and, even though I glanced toward my desk with the thought of carrying my Glock, I headed out without it.

I was on the job, but I was hungry, too.

Pizza would have to do — for now.

Cold Altar on US Kindle
Cold Altar on UK Kindle
Cold Altar on Nook
Cold Altar on Kobo
Cold Altar on Smashwords

Cold Altar is coming to the Apple iBookstore soon.


Book bloggers are NOT machines. Remember that.

You guys know me. I don't like to comment on things that can potentially cause controversy, except this, this, this, this, this, this and this. I'm not THAT guy. However, something has come up that I wanted to discuss with you, and it may ruffle a few feathers with my fellow authors. It may, however, endear me to several book bloggers. Call me a kiss ass, a brown noser, what have you. That is not my intent at all. I just want a few of my peers to take a step back and think before ripping me a new asshole.

A blog that a friend posted got my dander up a bit. The blog is a 1,600-plus-word rip job on book bloggers who allegedly promised an author a review in exchange for a free book. The author of this particular blog is understandably frustrated that several bloggers have not followed through with their promises. I understand that: I've been in a similar pickle when it comes to my books, and even while it's frustrating, there is always the little voice in the back of my head telling me to remain calm and be patient.

Book reviews on blogs can lead to sales for that particular book, and if the author has multiple books, and it can lead to sales on the backlist. There is nothing more pleasing to an author than seeing those numbers tick up on the Kindle uploader, as well as the Nook uploader and now the Kobo uploader. We authors are in the business of writing books in an attempt to sell books. That is no secret. Last year I released six books. Not all of them were reviewed by blog sites. My sales were a roller coaster. That happens. Sometimes it takes a while for a book to find its audience.

Here's the problem I have with the author of the above blog: Book blogging is not a business. It is a hobby for book lovers who want to expound on their thoughts about a particular book. Their blog is a sounding board which, if correctly labeled, can hit Google search engines and potentially reach readers. If that book blogger takes it a step further, they can have a Twitter account and a Facebook account, and they can potentially reach readers who have followed them. And sometimes a book blog can go viral when the blogger least expects it.

With the rise of self-publishing, everyone can be an author. This means there are literally thousands of books to review. Authors have inundated book bloggers with books in the hopes that they'll give them a favorable-yet-honest review. And they hope they'll do it in a rather timely fashion in order to build buzz in the days and weeks after they release their book. No money has changed hands: These bloggers have not received a red cent for their reviews. I don't know about you, but I would feel cheap if I paid for a favorable review when I didn't earn it with my work.

Last year I released six books. My sales were a roller coaster. That happens. Sometimes it takes a while for a book to find its audience. Not all of them were reviewed by blog sites; I know one book blogger who has bought all of my books with her own money, and she hasn't read them yet, and it's been over a year for some of them. Not complaining, mind you--her blog has skyrocketed, and she's now reviewing traditionally-pubbed books that she is receiving for free. God bless her. Other bloggers have backlogs of books, and they like to savor the prose and think before they write a review; case in point, Robert DuPerre reviewed A Galaxy At War two years ago, and he said he needed to take a few days to let the book settle in his mind before he wrote the review.

That brings me to my point this morning, my friends. Book bloggers are NOT machines. Book bloggers have lives outside of reading: they have families, jobs, personal lives. Some take care of their elders, and blogging takes a back seat. And like I said, bloggers are so overwhelmed with books that some have had to outsource books to other non-paid, freelancer reviewers. Yes, it's come to that point.

And there may be another reason why the reviewer hasn't been able to review a book, even if they've promised it one: quite possibly the book is unreviewable. It may be unreadable. It might be rubbish, and they would rather quietly let the book slide into the morass than utterly destroy it. I know some reviewers who have no problem with giving one-star reviews for work they feel is shit. That is their prerogative. The author with the thick skin will shrug it off and go back to writing the next book and improving their craft. The author with a thin skin will react like the author above.

So to book bloggers such as Big Al, Misty Rayburn, Misty Baker, Rachelle Bronson, Kim Tomsett and Tanya Contois, thanks for all you do to help get the word out about everyone's book. To the bloggers who I don't know, thanks to you, too. We all know you're not machines -- you're a man (or a woman).

Happy reading.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dating in the eReading World

My girlfriend and I have been together for nearly 3 months. Jen is a beautiful young woman who teaches math at my alma mater. Yours truly is a simple high school graduate who just happens to be an author. Why, do you ask, is she with me, when she could have any guy she wants?

The answer: Because I read.

Yep. That's right. It's not because of money or how many degrees I have on my wall (looks at the barren wall). I read, therefore I am loved.

Guys, let's face it. Women LOVE men who are intelligent. Women LOVE men who read. Women enjoy talking about books, and love to bring their men into a conversation about books. And with the advancement of eReaders into our lives, a guy in possession of an eReader, whether it be Kindle or nook, Sony or Kobo, will have a better chance at scoring a date than a moron who doesn't read.

Imagine it: An idyllic college quad with shade trees and a young man sitting against the trunk. He's reading the newest Sean Sweeney novel on his Kindle. He's not the best looking guy on campus, but he's read the classics -- Cold Altar, for instance -- and enjoys talking about literature. He'd much rather read than go out and get sloshed at a party.

A young woman, about the same age, walks through the quad and sees this young man reading away. She stops and admires him from a distance, wondering what he's reading. She feels the light heft of her own eReader in her backpack. She grins a little and her eyes brighten. She decides to walk up to him.

Her: Hi there.

Him, looking up: Hi... how are you?

Her: I'm great. Whatcha reading? You show me yours and I'll show you mine. *winks*

Him, feeling his heart accelerate a tad: Excuse me?

Her, blushing: Your eReader. *she pulls out her own*

After a few minutes of gentle conversation about books, she gives him her number. He goes back to his book, reading with a smile on his face.

eReaders will be the new conversation starter, folks. And a guy carrying an eReader will be overwhelmed with digits. Remember: an eReader is small enough to carry in the cargo pocket of your shorts/pants! Instant digit catch, guys.

Your Uncle Seany wouldn't lie.