Of Ashes and Dust and Such

Posted: July 12, 2013 in Free Stuff

This one’s for Tom, because he always liked cowboy stories

 Three Cowboys

Of Ashes and Dust and Such

I am not a judgemental man by nature, leaving such matters to Our Good Lord Saviour.  But I surely would never have found myself in this predicament had Mr. Zachariah Potts of Winnipeg not been such a vile and caustic little wretch. For but one night ago, at our previously peaceful campfire, Potts’ attempt to overcome any misperceptions others might have had about his significance in the world, prodded on by the Devil’s own whiskey, led to an impromptu demonstration of his mail-order pistol with which he then shot himself in the left foot. And in the ensuing panic he did gutshoot Dutch Phillip, thereby effectively reducing our working group from three to one in a matter of moments. The gunshot echoes through the valley sent the horses and several of our cattle askitter. And if all that wasn’t enough to draw attention from the Swampy Cree who lived in the surrounding hills, Potts’ moaning and squawking surely would have.

I thus had little choice but to calm him. And while it’s difficult to know the exact force with which to strike a man with a rock to imbue silence of a fleeting versus eternal nature, under the circumstances, I believe I did fairly well.

“He shot me,” Dutch Phillip gasped. “The damn fool shot me.”

“So I see,” I replied. I had new respect for Dutch Phillip’s stoic nature. Despite his far worse injuries, he made but a fraction of the noise Potts had. I applied makeshift bandages best I could, but they sopped up the poor fellow’s lifeblood in seconds. Out of charity, I lied to him about the mortality of his wound, yet from his pallor, the blood that trickled from his lips and the scarlet stain now blooming across his grey undershirt, I held little hope he would survive even for the night.

I am not a drinking man, as strong spirits aggravate my own. Still I took some whiskey and weighed my dwindled options. Being a man of fifty-one years, I’d seen my share of life. And I’d built my stake, not gambling or drinking it away like some tend to do. The wages from this ride were to provide but added insurance in the finding of a reasonable woman who might join me in settling some fertile field and fostering progeny. A simple but solid life’s vision. I could thus have easily abandoned everything and gone on my way. However, I am cursed with being a man of principle. I could not leave these men to die in the wilderness, nor could I abandon my employer’s property. Especially when said employer was my cousin Theodore, who possessed neither appreciation of the fickleness of the world nor a forgiving heart even for his own kin. No, such wilful neglect could only return to vex both soul and hide.

In the morning, after fretful sleep, I found Potts limping about, eyes askew. Dutch Phillip looked further diminished, offering me a skeletal grimace that turned my knees to water. What cattle that remained milled about, grazing listlessly. I could hardly be expected to move them to the stockyards of Three Hills on my own. No, I’d need to source assistance. However, when I explained my plan to Potts, he’d recovered enough sense to recognize his precarious position and began to whinge again.

“Curse you for being such a small and foolish man,” I snapped, a trifle harshly perhaps, but it settled him without resorting to my rock, which he eyed with newfound respect. “You’re to take care of Dutch Phillip, fetch him water and food as he needs it. I will return soon.” Potts gave a sullen nod and I set out on his old piebald horse, as my Mabel had bolted in the night. I hoped I might find her again, for I liked her and what’s more, she carried what few worldly goods I possessed within my saddlebags.

I headed southwest, a dangerous direction for a lonely white man, since Swampy Cree settlements were as plentiful in these hills as rocks in a river bed. I watched the sun crest the horizon, enjoying the threadbare warmth it provided, as nights in the foothills can be cold. After a few miles, my buttocks ached from the cheapness of Potts’ saddle. I could never understand why a man might skimp on such an important device as a saddle given the relative proportion of life spent upon it.

After an hour or so of riding I came upon a small camp, within which there were but three individuals. A woman poking a long stick in the embers of a fire, a thatch-haired boy squatting at her side, and a red-haired man asleep beneath a blue blanket. Not to mention a dun mare that closely resembled Mabel. I gladly climbed off Potts’ wretched saddle and walked towards them, hands to the sides to indicate I meant no harm. They appeared unconcerned by my sudden intrusion, which on reflection was odd but at the time simply gave me relief. The man appeared unwell, drawn and sickly, and the boy’s vacant eyes offered little hope for his usefulness, but the woman appeared sturdy enough, of native-blood, perhaps twenty years of age, not the frail, slatternly sort one sees wandering around Cousin Theodore’s ranch.

“Morning,” I said, doffing my hat in a display of gentility. This engendered a most unexpected response – the red-haired man awoke with a start, reached for his gun, making me scramble in alarm. He then gasped as though he’d been struck, clutched his ears and collapsed. I approached with caution, prodding him with the toe of my boot, but the man was clearly dead. The woman and boy took little notice of their companion’s sudden passing. In fact, they gave little notice of anything at all, including myself. Apparently they’d already grown used to my presence.

I made my request to the woman, who wordlessly acquiesced and stood to accompany me, as did the boy. I would have buried the red-haired man but my concern for the continued survival of the living pushed me on. Instead I covered his face with his blanket, somewhat reluctantly, as it was of finer quality than my own. Then I offered what few appropriate words I’d gathered over the years, of ashes and dust and such, that the red-haired man’s eternal soul might be taken by The Lord, then left his mortal remains to the vultures and coyotes.

The woman and boy took the piebald horse whilst I rode Mabel. And though the woman’s rocklike silence was a trifle irksome, hardly tempered by the boy’s discordant hum like that of smoke-drunk wasps, in the scheme of things the journey was peaceable.

By mid-day we’d reached our camp, or what remained of it. The cattle were gone, all but one who grazed in the distance. The fire had expired, as had Dutch Phillip, judging by his rigid position, much as I’d left him that morning. It was a sorry sight, for I’d liked him well enough. The woman scraped at what food remained in bottom of the blackened cooking pot, while the boy poked an inquiring finger into Dutch Phillip’s lifeless eyes, stopping only when I rebuked him.

I laid the man out upon the ground best I could, as his body was now curled and stiff as a strip of salt beef. In addition, he had one firm hand cupped atop his privates in a manner that seemed unbefitting to this solemn and final occasion. There was little I could do about that, though. So I simply piled some rocks upon him, including the blood-stained one with which I had dealt with Potts the night before. I then said that bit about the ashes and such, which through the sheer nature of repetition sounded regrettably routine, and wished Dutch Phillip well on his next journey. Hopefully in the company of Our Good Lord and Saviour, whom from all accounts would be a pleasant enough fellow to ride through eternity with. Providing he didn’t talk too much. I could never abide such folks.

I heard a human whimper, which I tracked to a pile of rags near a cave. It was Potts, and he was even more sorrowful looking than before. He explained that Dutch Phillip had passed shortly after I’d departed and while Potts had mourned his passing with what remained of the whiskey, a pair of bandits had come upon him, stealing the cattle and our supplies. When Potts objected, they provided him with a bullet in his shoulder to match the one in his foot.

Anyway, Potts was glad for my return, now that I’d be able to take him on to Three Hills to seek medical attention. He was still asking for that when the woman, boy and I got back on our horses and departed. Potts’ pleas sounded more desperate as the distance between us grew. I felt some guilt, I admit, for I’m a man of principle, and there’d been enough death in one day for my liking already. But it is a cold and thankless world and surely I could not be expected to save a man whom The Lord Himself had so little interest in succouring.

Once again I’d reached a fork in the road. I could have simply have departed on my own, as I now had little use for the woman and none for the boy. Yet it aggravated me to have my cattle stolen and my former associates treated with such contempt. I had a vague notion to avenge the matter. Principles are not always rational and square. I explained my general intentions to the woman, and she followed on Dutch Phillip’s horse, silent as a thought. She appeared to possess little direction in life, simply tagged onto whoever was near, as leaves might trail a wayward wind.

Though a half century of peering into the far horizon had weakened my eyes, the woman showed a particular talent for tracking. By evening we crested a rocky butte and spotted a camp beneath us, complete with what was left of my herd. I was both pleased and uncertain, for I had always been a man of the moment more than of grandiose vision. I thought we might be best to settle in for the night and regain our strength. We lit no fire and ate a supper of dried horse-meat and pemmican. The boy ate a great deal for such a small, unhelpful creature. I told them both to sleep, which they did, then laid my blanket roll upon the ground and pondered on the two of them. I was curious as to their provenance and the nature of their relationship with the red-haired man. In time, sleep overtook me as well.

I awoke to the pleasant sensation of warmth and human proximity, something I’d not felt in many months. I opened my eyes and saw the woman had laid right next to me, her broad hips pressed against mine in a familiar, yearning manner. She then unbuckled my belt. While she was not what I would call an attractive woman, nor the sort I typically am drawn to, I was not about to debate the matter. After a minute or two of such interaction, she made a sudden gasping sound. The boy sat upright and stared at us in surprise. His surprise turned to fear. Then to rage.   

I felt a sudden pain in my head. Not the sort that might follow a night of whiskey, no, this was a clap of thunder that cut my vision in twelve. I heard a sullen moan I recognized as my own. The pain was such I imagined death might be near, yet it stopped as suddenly as it had begun. The woman held the boy, admonishing him silently. His anger vanished like a passing storm, replaced by his familiar vacant smile. I touched my skull to ensure it remained intact and was surprised to find it so.

I was about to question my companions as to what had transpired when I heard the sound of drunken shouts approaching. A moment later the bandits stumbled into our camp, guns drawn. Our intended element of surprise was gone. Indeed, I was unable to offer little defense with my gun hanging several feet away.

“Gentlemen…” I began. The man closest to me, a balding, brutish sort, proved himself ungentlemanly and kicked me in the chest, then in the cheekbone. My ensuing pain was worsened by their apparent hilarity at our situation. I was not optimistic as to this might lead. My assailant pointed his gun at my head while his partner, a skinny, acne-scarred young deviant, grabbed the silent woman and tried to plant a kiss upon her. She screamed, which amused the man further. For a moment at least, until he emitted a bestial squeal and his prominent ears spouted blood. He then collapsed, frothing pink foam at the mouth.

My assailant panicked, shouting “Hey, hey, hey, hey” like some eccentric bird. 

“Get the hell outta here,” I said, but rather than taking my sage advice he cocked his gun, which was still directed at my head. I was loathe to depart this world so quickly and ignominiously, with my pants still unbuckled and such. Still, I prayed the Lord might forgive my various transgressions and permit my entry to His Eternal Kingdom all the same.

Suddenly, the man’s bald head appeared to glow in a kind of flickering halo, his eyes blazing like embers, and his gun fired. The bullet missed me by inches, deafening me, and he immolated like a tin of kerosene on a bonfire.

My consternation as to the true nature of my companions was not assuaged by their relative lack of wonder at the bandits’ abrupt and startling demise. The woman searched the pockets of the one, while the boy poked at the still smoldering remains of the other with vague curiosity. The smell, reminiscent of fine roast pork, was unsettling. Thus I dragged their mortal remains about a hundred feet into the brush and covered them with dirt, lest coyotes be drawn too near our camp. And while I would have liked another chance to say my ashes speech once more, and get it right this time, I left it unsaid. A third time in one day felt overdone, and the Lord surely had no use for two such obvious miscreants as these.

As I made my way back through the darkness towards our camp, I was stricken with an idea. An idea of extraordinarily prophetic dimensions. I realized that the chances of successfully transporting my herd on to Three Hills were scant at best. But the vast and lethal powers that had been revealed by my otherwise innocent companions had an intrinsic value that, if effectively harnessed, might prove far more lucrative than the simple sale of livestock. What if the cattle were set free, while we three carried on to Three Hills? And from there, to the wider world itself to accrue whatever fortunes we might achieve? Even Cousin Theodore would not complain too bitterly, provided he got his share. And if he did object, well I would deal with him too. The Good Lord had delivered this peculiar woman and boy into my hands for a reason, had he not? Surely it would be a sign of great disrespect not to appreciate this bounty, and make full use of it. Impious, even. Still, though I had all but convinced myself to proceed, I admit a part of me was surprised at the immense, untethered nature of my plan. And its darkness.

When I explained my startling vision to the woman, she appeared unintrigued. The boy, who sat in the dirt at her feet, said nothing at all. I decided to ponder the matter as I slept. Which was largely untroubled, save for a rather fine dream of a yoked ox ploughing a vast and fruitful field.

I awoke at dawn, chilled and achy but still in full possession of my unusually soaring ambitions. I was about to rise and begin my grandiose journey but found myself unable to even lift my brimming head. My limbs felt heavy and numb, as though disembodied. The boy sat watching me, that vacuous smile still planted upon his soot-smudged face. I called out to the woman to apprise her of my ills but she ignored me, sitting well away, eyeing the sunrise.

I thought I saw a figure approach, a man atop a horse, raising his hat in a gesture of greeting. I felt such foreboding. It occurred to me I might be dying, that I had sealed my fate with the nails of false pride, that I should warn the newcomer to flee. But the boy held a finger to his silent lips.

And as my skull began to painfully unhinge and I felt my essence ebb into the dirt, I prayed my Sweet Lord and Forgiving Saviour might overlook my more recent lapses and offer me final salvation once and for all. Otherwise, may he too curse Zachariah Potts for being such a vile and caustic little wretch.

The End

First, I made it home from Cincinnati (doesn’t everyone want to get home from Cinci?) after flight cancellations and rerouting took me halfway across North America. And then I was able to put everything else aside to check my sales stats after my Bookbub promotion yesterday. Chalk Valley now sits loftily at #146 in total Amazon Kindle, #29 in Thrillers, and #2 in Police Procedurals. Now I just need to find a way to keep it going!  Many thanks for everyone’s support.

Chalk #146 on Amazon June 2013

It was only read by an old lady on Sundays

I’ve just finished a fascinating promotion of FURIES on Bookbub, a relatively new service for writers and readers. It has been far and away more successful than any other promo I’ve run, with almost 16,000 books given away in a single day. Yes, yes, it would have been nice to have those as actual sales, don’t remind me, but giveaways are part of the deal in this gig. They drive awareness, readership, reviews, ranking and therefore sales.

And 16K books is 4X more than my other three promotions. Combined. On a per day basis (since the bookbub promo ran for 1 day while my other events went a total of 6 days), it was 12X more effective  It’s already paid for itself, and it’s only a day after the promo finished. So how did it work?

For all the pleasures of self-publishing, it has its challenges as well. One of the biggest being how you effectively promote your books. I would love to just focus on the writing – Lord knows that’s challenging enough. But that Sleeman ain’t going to buy itself, folks.

On the surface, I should be pretty good at this.  I have a quarter century (ahem – how is that possible?) of sales and marketing experience at a Fortune 50 company under my belt. But that’s nothing compared to the cut throat world of online book promotion. The challenges are worthy of a Harvard Business School case study.

  1. You start well back of the pack given minimal recognition and no support from publishers to back you up.
  2. There are hundreds of thousands of new authors publishing their own masterpieces every year.
  3. You don’t have a big company behind you anymore – it’s just you, Shakespeare.
  4. Twitter, Blogging, Facebook and Blogger reviews don’t drive sales. I do them anyway, and I am not discounting their value one iota (and I LOVE all the Book Review Bloggers), but they don’t drive sales. They just change awareness. It is 10X easier to change awareness than behaviour. Look it up.
  5. The rules are changing every freaking day. So are the opportunities.

We all used to rely on KDP free days and free kindle sites to do everything for us. It was so easy. I ran a promo for Chalk Valley last fall that was hugely successful, put me at or near #1 on the Kindle Free list, was #1 Mover and Shaker (on the same day JK Rowling released her new book, mind you), got me lots of fans and readers and followers. I figured hey, this ain’t so tough. When I released FURIES in December and ran a new promo for both it and Chalk Valley, I figured I’d have the same level of success. I did exactly the same things as before. And had an exactly different result. I was listed on the same sites as my first very successful promo, same basic deal – what changed?

I assumed it was a fluke. So I did it again. Crickets. Then I tried to do it smartly via Ebook Booster. A very convenient service run by very nice people who did exactly what I asked – got my promo listed on 40+ sites, saving me hours of time. Yet the same lacklustre result.

Yes, Amazon’s KDP policies have shifted, such that the free kindle sites won’t make the money they used to in listing free books. But that wasn’t the full answer. The real answer is –  I have no idea. But my training tells me that this promo model had a core flaw to begin with. These free sites are shotgun, going out to everyone about everything. My honest belief is that success was all about dumb luck.

So what about Bookbub? This service started up last fall, and has had outstanding uptick since then. The concept is simple. Readers subscribe to their newsletter (so they ask to get it), select the genres they’re interested in (pure targeting), and that’s it. Every day thereafter, they are sent nice, neat emails offering them deals. Either free books (as with FURIES) or at a significant discount. The editors select the best offers so readers are assured of good quality selection. And that’s it. They are now up to 1MM+ subscribers. And writers are flocking to have their books listed. To be clear, we pay for the privilege, and it isn’t cheap. For context, I paid $160 to list FURIES promo and have it sent to the 200M+ historical fiction enthusiasts on their subscriber list. But it paid for itself in one day. My understanding from authors who have run discounted (vs free) promos is that they are also very effective and pay for themselves plus plus.

It is so refreshing to have a service that actually does what it says it will do.

For comparison sake, I also paid for a Goodreads ad for Chalk Valley – $150. It hasn’t even come close to paying out. I’m still selling fine, but not via the Goodreads ad. It too is targeted, but because it appears as pop up ads for people looking for other things, it isn’t nearly as effective as a service that gives people. Rule of thumb in corporate world is to get a 3:1 payout minimum – that takes care of your time and effort and gives you some actual return.

Is Bookbub perfect? No. Minimal activity from outside US sites. Bookbub would be wise to offer better service in major non-US sites like UK, Germany and Canada. And it’s got quite a sticker shock – high price of entry. I don’t blame them, they are a unique service (so far) and the law of supply and demand still reigns. Still.

And those are my thoughts for a Sunday morning.

Book Bomb for Ben Wolverton

Posted: April 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

Help Someone in Need: A Book Bomb for Ben Wolverton

We’re having a book bomb today, Wednesday, April 10th, on behalf of Ben Wolverton, who is the son of the New York Times bestselling author David (Wolverton) Farland (http://www.davidfarland.com/). 

Ben Wolverton, age 16, was in a serious long-boarding accident on Wednesday the 4th, 2013. He suffers from severe brain trauma, a cracked skull, broken pelvis and tail bone, burnt knees, bruised lungs, broken ear drum, road rash, and is currently in a coma. His family has no insurance. Without this coverage, Ben’s recovery is severely compromised and his family faces some significant financial challenges.

You can learn more about Ben’s condition, or simply donate to the Wolverton family here: http://www.gofundme.com/BensRecovery

What is a Book Bomb?

For those that don’t know, a Book Bomb is an event where participants purchase a book on a specific day to support the author, or, in this case, a young person in serious need: Ben Wolverton. 

How can you help?

We’re focusing on two of David’s awesome books today :


David Farland’s young adult fantasy thriller Nightingale has won seven awards, including the Grand Prize at the Hollywood Book Festival—beating out ALL books in ALL categories. It has been praised by authors such as James Dashner (The Maze Runner), Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn), and Paul Genesse (Iron Dragon series), and has received four and a half starts on Amazon. You can read reviews here: http://www.amazon.com/Nightingale-ebook/dp/B006P7SEBY/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1365432857&sr=8-2


(Book Synopsis)

Some people sing at night to drive back the darkness. Others sing to summon it. . . .

Bron Jones was abandoned at birth. Thrown into foster care, he was rejected by one family after another, until he met Olivia, a gifted and devoted high-school teacher who recognized him for what he really was—what her people call a “nightingale.”

But Bron isn’t ready to learn the truth. There are secrets that have been hidden from mankind for hundreds of thousands of years, secrets that should remain hidden. Some things are too dangerous to know. Bron’s secret may be the most dangerous of all.


Nightingale is available as a hardcover, ebook, audio book, and enhanced novel for the iPad. 

You can purchase it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Nightingale-ebook/dp/B006P7SEBY/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1365432857&sr=8-2 

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/nightingale-david-farland/1107084747?ean=2940016100463 

on the Nightingale website: http://www.nightingalenovel.com/ 

or, you can get the enhanced version, complete with illustrations, interviews, animations, and its own soundtrack through iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/nightingale/id560309064?mt=11

If you are a writer, you may want to consider purchasing David Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines instead. Both books are part of the book bomb. Million Dollar Outlines has been a bestseller on Amazon for over a month and is only $6.99.


milliondollaroutline cover

(book description:)

As a bestselling author David Farland has taught dozens of writers who have gone on to staggering literary success, including such #1 New York Times Bestsellers as Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time), James Dashner (The Maze Runner) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight).

In Million Dollar Outlines, Dave teaches how to analyze an audience and outline a novel so that it can appeal to a wide readership, giving it the potential to become a bestseller. The secrets found in his unconventional approach will help you understand why so many of his authors go on to prominence.

Get it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Million-Dollar-Outlines-ebook/dp/B00B9JYJ6W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365434120&sr=8-1&keywords=Million+Dollar+Outlines

Or on Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/million-dollar-outlines-david-farland/1114285069?ean=2940015965148
Read one of the 26 reviews here: http://www.amazon.com/Million-Dollar-Outlines-ebook/dp/B00B9JYJ6W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365434120&sr=8-1&keywords=Million+Dollar+Outlines

Would you like to just donate money? You can do that here: http://www.gofundme.com/BensRecovery 

If you can’t spare any money, but would still like to help, you can do so by telling others about Ben’s donation page, and/or this Book Bomb. Share it on facebook, twitter, pinterest, your blog—anywhere you can. We have an event page set up on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/events/453677124707603/

Thank you!
Ben and his family greatly appreciate your support, and so do all who love and care about them.



 Furies by DL Johnstone

Review by Leslie Gardener (AND Paul Morris below) on www.e-thriller.com


Opening the book, I was worried by the glossaries but I read them conscientiously: names, places and details of Alexandrine religious precepts; how would I recall them?

But, soon I realised I could relax: I was being looked after by the ingenious writer of this thriller. And, actually, those lists enhanced the experience, and only sometimes did I need to look something up – and, then, mostly because I was intrigued.

Using ideas of the time that yet seem all too familiar: betrayals, dodgy business partners, dirty politicians, faithless loves couched in this earlier terrain, Johnstone tells a story of murders and cultish Dionysian and sophistic practice, following the attractive if sometimes naive Aculeo who got into doldrums by relying on old friendships and risking colleagues’ monies and trust, to find the culprits. And they are extraordinary beings: we are lead into levels of society from highest priestly cults and brothels, to lowest life taverns and slave life.

In pursuit of his story, Johnstone has Aculeo charge off with reckless speed, and often on basis of vague evidence and a certain amount of coincidence. But we do not even notice the contrivance much; women are pivotal from the haughty wife who takes his child back home to papa when he fails, to glittering and powerful courtesans and powerful healers. But all need their coin. Thugs come at him and his friends from all sides – and he miraculously withstands much physical violence. Despite their humanity, the women are often guileful but we sense the writer is sensitive to their impossible historical position in this society, and he bends the plot and our sympathies to take this on board. When Aculeo is let down by a woman, like the courtesan Calisto, and then supported by a waif with surprising strengths, we are too. The plot is intricate, and the murders proliferate through a seedy and lawless Rome where leaders are corrupt and/or ignorant.

People weave in and out of the vast metropolis pretty easily, and sometimes it strains credibility when they manage to find each other. But, I’d say, we let it slide since we are focussed on what’s going to happen next. Overall, there is a good feeling of camaraderie and decency among these people as they debate who has wronged who, and some enticing philosophical explanations that fit in well. The writing is adept and allusive. There are others in this series that I will look out for.

Review by Paul Morris:

Set in the seamy Egyptian city of Alexandria during the times of ancient Rome this sword and sandals conspiracy thriller sees the lead character loses his wealth and family after staking his toga on two convoys of ships which are lost at sea. Or were they?

After a chance encounter with one of the supposed dead crew in the city he picks up the thread of a conspiracy that brings him into contact with the higher echelons of the city’s rulers from who he has fallen out of favour. Accompanied by a motley crew of fellow travellers, who were caught up in his financial web of disaster he starts out to ‘follow the money’ and maybe redeem his reputation.

As if losing his family and villa weren’t enough there’s a killer on the loose committing ritual murders. Could they be connected? A tense historical thriller that pulls the reader along. from a writer with an eye for rich historical detail and robust writing.

Rating: A tense historical thriller that pulls the reader along

Where To Buy:





D.L. Johnstone – Furies

“…the pungent and earthy dialogue makes it easy to feel immersed in first century life.”

Set in first century Alexandria, the story begins with Decimus Tarquitius Aculeo, a recently prosperous Roman man of business, looking around the wreckage of his life as his debtors clear his house and belongings, and his wife and beloved son are packing to return to Rome to leave him to his fate.

The man who caused this reversal of fortunes is assumed to be dead. Aculeo’s ruin has also meant the ruin of many of his business partners and contacts, making him very unpopular with his former friends. As Aculeo struggles to find out how he comes to be in this situation, mysterious deaths seem to follow him. Something sinister is happening which is linked to him.

Aculeo, along with some interesting accomplices, piece together the facts that emerge and the clever plot culminates in a surprising end.

I loved this book. The history was fascinating and well researched, the characters were engaging and often funny, the plot was intricate and well crafted.

In particular I enjoyed the dialogue. Graffiti seen at well-preserved Roman sites such as Pompey and the Forum in Rome show that ordinary people of the time were not so different to those of today. There is an immediate connection that links us to the past when we read everyday comments that could have been scrawled a few days ago instead of centuries earlier. D L Johnstone has caught the spirit of the banter and I think this helps to bring the story to life.

There are some interesting characters. I particularly liked the relationship that developed between Aculeo and Sekhet, the Egyptian healer. The glossary of Roman and Egyptian words was very helpful as there were some important nuances that I might have missed without it. Also, when the characters have unfamiliar names the Dramatis Personae is always useful.

As Aculeo moves through the city, the atmosphere and energy of Alexandria is vividly described. The historical facts about the city are there, but the power of description and particularly the pungent and earthy dialogue makes it easy to feel immersed in first century life.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating:


I’m delighted to announce that CHALK VALLEY and FURIES are now available in paperback via the wizards at Amazon’s Create Space.




FURIES: http://goo.gl/llD4D

Basic CMYK

CHALK VALLEY: http://goo.gl/WzwrF

I held off taking this leap for quite a long time. Ebooks are the way of the future, I thought, why even bother with printing physical books?

Three reasons. Well, four actually.

1) Ebooks represent ~25% of the book market at the present time, and the market share is growing at double digits. But physical books still make up 3/4 of the book market. Being present and available just makes good business sense.

2) It’s relatively easy and accessible, at minimal investment. There was the cost of formatting (by my amazing formatter Linda “Boss” Boulanger), the cost of expanding my cover art to include a spine and back cover (by my equally amazing cover artist Jeroen ten Berge), and that’s about it. Create Space has a very easy process to follow in setting things up. Yo ucan use their formatters etc, for which there is a charge, but using your own people works just fine assuming they know what they’re doing.

3) Promotion. You can promote giveaways on Goodreads with physical books, which I kicked off yesterday. It works amazingly well – hundreds and hundreds of people have already entered to win one of two copies, giving both books great exposure to new audiences with minimal investment. I can also order books at cost to provide reviewers (and family) with copies.

4) My mom told me to. And once again, she was right. It was one of the happiest moments in my life to hand her signed copies of both books this week. The fact that I did so while she was in a hospital bed after a week of hell from which she almost didn’t make it – words fail me for a change.

Print Co-Rules!





Did Caesar curse a blue streak when Brutus pulled out his knife? When Marcus Antonius took up with Cleopatra, did his formerly doting wife Octavia utter foul observations about her husband’s heritage and manhood as she kicked a nearby slave?

One of the biggest challenges in writing historical fiction is the language – how does a writer make historical fiction come alive? How does one combine ancient sensibility and authentic terms with a more modern cadence to make it accessible for the typical reader? With great difficulty, honestly. And even then you get flack.

I was challenged by a few readers and friends recently regarding my thriller novel FURIES and the earthy vernacular I employed in some of the dialogue. I got a bit “sweary”, according to one reviewer. I was surprised and fascinated by the response. I can’t argue with a question of taste – profanity isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It puts some people off. But the historical accuracy of profanity in the ancient Roman Empire is another question entirely. Did the ancients swear?

#@$%, yeah!

We have little direct view into the language of the streets of classic Rome. As for the writings of the time, only a small percentage remain, and they’re no more profane than Mary Poppins. (Interesting side note: Julie Andrews is known as a prolific curser off-screen. In the out-takes, the hills may have been alive with the sound of something more than music.) I digress. As succinct as Veni, Vidi, Vici is, it is likely not a realistic dialogue between two friends, or enemies, conversing in a back alley in dark corners of ancient Alexandria over a game of dice.

In FURIES, the protagonist, wealthy merchant Tarquitius Aculeo has lost his fortune after a disastrous series of investments. Abandoned by family and friends, he and his last remaining slave find themselves destitute, living in a grungy flat over a marble-makers shop. The everyday person of the time is without voice. How can we know how they actually spoke to one another? What we find in the standard documents, treatises, plays and letters from Cicero barely scratch the surface. The occasional dirty limerick from Martial notwithstanding.


To offer an analogy, the statues that remain from those times are carved from gleaming marble, pure and white. But what we see now are unfinished representations. They were supposed to be painted with lifelike colours, even dressed in togas and tunics and such. It’s like the original Madame Tussad’s. When we look at these statues now, we’re missing the colour. And yes, the colour version looks gaudy, but the principle remains. The same problem exists in understanding the language of the people, understanding how these people interacted on a day to day basis.

One of the best sources for such information is the graffiti found in Pompeii and Herculaneum, scrawled over the doorways of taverns, baths, barracks, shops and brothels. The translations provided by Prof. Brian Harvey at Kent State offer a snapshot in time of common people using what one must assume to be their everyday language. Before they had a chance to clean things up that is. It reveals a people that would have been a lot more interesting to study than Miss Mackenzie, my high school Latin teacher, ever talked about.

There are the standards :

–          Declarations of true love (“Crescens is sweet and charming”)

–          Hate (“Serena hates Isidorus”)

–          Accusations (“Atimetus got me pregnant”) – not good? Hard to know, unless Atimetus was my great grandfather times a hundred or so, in which case, Go Atimetus!

–          Personal commentary (“Epaphra, you are bald!” or “Virgula to her friend Tertius: you are disgusting!”, “Epaphra is not good at ball games”, “Phileros is a eunuch!”). Ouch.

–          Homilies (“A small problem gets larger if you ignore it.”)

–          Classified Ads (“A copper pot went missing from my shop.  Anyone who returns it to me will be given 65 sestertii”)

–          Rooms to rent ( “The city block of the Arrii Pollii in the possession of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius is available to rent from July 1st”)

–          And the true classics (“Satura was here on September 3rd).

Veni Vidi Vici indeed.

The vast majority would make the average classicist blush :

–          Weep, you girls.  My penis has given you up.  Now it penetrates men’s behinds.  Goodbye, wondrous femininity!

–          Restituta, take off your tunic, please, and show us your hairy privates.

–          Amplicatus, I know that Icarus is buggering you.  Salvius wrote this.

–           I screwed the barmaid

–          Theophilus, don’t perform oral sex on girls against the city wall like a dog

–          I have buggered men

–          Secundus likes to screw boys.

–          I screwed a lot of girls here.

–          Hermeros screwed here with Phileterus and Caphisus.

–          Sollemnes, you screw well!

–          Gaius Valerius Venustus, soldier of the 1st praetorian cohort, in the century of Rufus, screwer of women

–          Two friends were here.  While they were, they had bad service in every way from a guy named Epaphroditus.  They threw him out and spent 105 and half sestertii most agreeably on whores.

–          Take hold of your servant girl whenever you want to; it’s your right

–          Virgula to her Tertius: you are one horny lad!

–          If anyone sits here, let him read this first of all: if anyone wants a screw, he should look for Attice; she costs 4 sestertii.

 The academic translation says “screw”. Not so bad. But the original Latin typically used in graffiti is futuit. If the ancient authors wanted to say a ‘gentler’ word like screw or copulate, they could have said copulatus. Futuit, you may have guessed, was the original F word.

There was some actual potty talk :

–          Lesbianus, you defecate and you write, ‘Hello, everyone!’

–          Secundus defecated here three times on one wall.

–          Apollinaris, the doctor of the emperor Titus, defecated well here

Again, the language has been modified for prudish sensibilities. In these examples, we say defecate. But more properly, it’s “shit”. For example, a warning often found in Roman tombstones is Cacator cave malum, or “Shitter Beware” :

–          ‘Anyone who pisses or shits here, may the Gods above and the Gods below be angry with him’

Apparently, public restrooms weren’t always accessible in those days, leaving tombs to serve double duty. Ahem. And yes, cacatore means ‘shitter’. People don’t really change, and even the pungent onomatopoeia of great curse words only change a little.

Some pithy declarations to be found in the Pompeiian graffiti:

–          Chie, I hope your hemorrhoids rub together so much that they hurt worse than they ever have before! (Did the ancients not yet discover the wonders of high fibre diets?)

–          Let everyone one in love come and see.  I want to break Venus’ ribs with clubs and cripple the goddess’ loins.  If she can strike through my soft chest, then why can’t I smash her head with a club? (Sounds like a valentine Antonius Soprano might have sent)

–          The one who buggers a fire burns his penis. (True that)


And finally, “O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin.”

Thank all the gods past and present they did not. Or we never would have known just how the ancients talked. Which was essentially much like ourselves. Or Julie Andrews and me, at least.


Many thanks to the folks at IBD


Chalk Valley by D.L. Johnstone

Posted on Feb 11, 2013 in Winners

Book Description

Chalk Valley by D.L. Johnstone

The Indie Book of the Day for 11th of February, 2013!

Genre: Thriller, Police Procedural

In a remote mountain valley in British Columbia, a human monster preys on innocent lives. After teenagers discover the body of a missing girl in Chalk Valley, searchers find the remains of two more victims secreted deep in the woods. A serial killer is at work.

Chalk Valley police detective John McCarty is picked to lead a task force to find the murderer but inexperience, politics and McCarty’s own inner demons quickly overwhelm him and the investigation falters.

Meanwhile, on a dark, lonely highway many miles from Chalk Valley, RCMP Sergeant Dave Kreaver comes across a van crashed at the side of the road. The driver is anxious to leave the scene but Kreaver discovers an unconscious teenaged girl in the van. Kreaver feels in his gut that the driver could be the serial killer everyone’s looking for, but his inquiries are ignored. The task force is in well over its head, buried by thousands of leads and potential suspects. His supervisors tell him to back off and let the task force do its job.

Kreaver is in a deadly cat and mouse game with a murderous psychopath, a race against time with innocent victims in play. Operating alone and without official sanction, can he stop the Chalk Valley Killer before he claims more lives?


This post appeared originally in The Rap Sheet


Monday, January 21, 2013

Serial Errors: Reality and Myth in the Investigation of Serial Murders

(Editor’s note: This essay comes to The Rap Sheet from D.L. Johnstone, author of the best-selling 2012 crime thriller Chalk Valley, as well as the e-book Furies, released last month. Johnstone lives in the Toronto, Ontario, area with his wife, their four kids, and their half-dog/half-Sasquatch, Charlie.)

“He wondered for the hundred and first time if he had arrested the Chalk Valley killer, caught him dead to rights, and was losing him to the system.” — from Chalk Valley

Novels about serial-murder investigations have been a staple subgenre of the thriller oeuvre for decades. Centuries, I suppose, if you include tales of Bluebeard and his ilk. In the traditional story arc, the heroic detective must sort through the clues to find the devious, unknown mastermind, solving whatever intricate puzzle the killer has set for him, against the backdrop of a ticking clock. It essentially ends when the killer is unmasked. Personally, I love these types of thrillers. I even wrote one (Furies). But that’s not how actual serial-murder investigations take place. Not even close. They’re a lot more complicated, they take far longer, they’re more political, more bureaucratic, and they are far more painful to those connected to the investigations.

When I was planning Chalk Valley, I decided I wanted to tell a different story than the usual serial-murder tale. I wanted to write one that explored the human drama of these investigations. There’s no mystery who the killer is in Chalk Valley. His name is revealed in the first sentence of the book, and by the end of the first chapter, it’s clear what Phil Lindsay is all about. It saves countless paper cuts from readers skipping to the end of the book for the Big Reveal. Chalk Valley is a cat-and-mouse portrayal of how a small-town cop forces his way through the system, bureaucracy, politics, and even the lead task force to stop Lindsay. And all the while the cop fears additional victims will be taken because he’s not doing more. That makes for a very different kind of thriller.

First myth: the murderers. Serial killers are not criminal masterminds. They’re deviant sociopaths who know how to work the system. They like to dominate others, degrade them, fill them with dread. The Three D’s. The successful ones who manage to evade capture for weeks, months, or even years are clearly bright enough, able to fool their victims and their families and friends, staying on the loose all the while. But they’re not Hannibal Lecters. Nor are they the wild-eyed nutbars you see pictures of in post offices. Those guys are pretty easy to spot–they’re the usual suspects. Serial killers are often just out there in the community. They may have families, 9-to-5 jobs, mortgages, car payments. And maybe a secret room in their man-cave. Frankly, that’s a far scarier proposition to most of us, thinking that such a killer could be living right next door.

Personal revelation moment: Scarborough, Ontario’s Paul Bernardo started out as the mysterious “Scarborough Rapist,” haunting the neighborhood in eastern Toronto where I grew up, terrorizing the citizens for a couple of years before he graduated to become a serial murderer with his creepy little wife, Karla Homolka, 100 miles down the road. People like them get off on not only their murders, but also on the impact those killings have on society. It gives them the opportunity to feel powerful, and to relive the crime over and over again with every news story. But Bernardo was no mastermind, he was just some vile deviant. He also went to my high school. I knew his sister. Hell, his family lived half a mile from where I did.

Second myth: the detectives. OK, this gets a little complicated. If the murders all take place in one big city, the investigation, while still dreadfully difficult and painful, is made somewhat simpler. The victim is taken from and murdered in a single jurisdiction, so the politics are relatively minimal. But that’s where serial killers can be fairly clever. They take advantage of the natural inefficiencies of two or more police agencies having to work together by snatching victims from one or more jurisdictions, killing them elsewhere, and then disposing of their bodies in yet another location. So the police not only have to figure out who the victim is, but who is in charge of the investigation. And if it’s members of a small police agency who are in the lead, they may not have the expertise to do things properly. It can take weeks, even months for cops to get their acts together. The associated politics can be quite brutal–bureaucracy amongst the police is as bad as any other government agency, with the added wrinkle that there are human lives at stake.

In Chalk Valley, which is set in the western Canadian province of British Columbia, the protagonist is a cop, Sergeant Dave Kreaver. He thinks he knows who the killer is. Unfortunately, Kreaver works outside the jurisdiction of the lead investigators and runs into major roadblocks when he tries to get his suspect considered. Similarly, in the Bernardo/Homolka serial murders, a street cop received a tip from a woman who said she’d been raped by Bernardo at a party. The cop followed up and found that Bernardo drove the same kind of car the killer had been seen driving. He had the right (wrong) kind of personality, arrogant and smug. He even matched the physical description investigators had of the killer. The cop worked up his tip–which was promptly ignored by the case’s Green Ribbon Task Force. The tip was then buried deep until an inquest pulled it out years later in the Campbell Inquiry’s exploration of the debacle.

Also a factor in these cases is the human cost to the investigators. They might put in 80-plus hours a week on the job, for months and months, with their supervisors, the media, the victims’ families, and even the general public questioning their every move. What kind of effect does that have on them and their families? Not a good one. On their health? Also, not recommended. But what choice do those investigators have? Plus they’re running up major overtime, which drains the city budget. If you don’t believe petty issues such as budgets affect major criminal probes, think again. Remember, police agencies are still at their core government bureaucracies–they just have badges and guns.

Third myth: the investigation itself. The cops in serial-killer cases aren’t just sorting through a few intriguing clues, like who killed Colonel Mustard with a nail-gun in the breakfast nook. They are inundated with leads. There may be tens of thousands of tips for them to sort through–a virtual mountain. And thousands of suspects to vet. They have to validate all of them–how could they not? How else would they know which ones are real or valuable? It’s like trying to find a specific needle in a stack of needles. And for any evidence they do want to pursue, the cops will likely need to get search warrants to make sure it holds up in court. They may need to check out DNA evidence. Unfortunately, that can take weeks, months, longer.

Are you getting the picture here?

And all of this needs to be balanced against the fear of tunnel vision. Consider the infamous case of Guy Paul Morin, a resident of Queensville, Ontario, who in 1984 was convicted of murdering his 9-year-old neighbor, Christine Jessop. The inquest found the lead detectives in that investigation had been so focused on Morin as the killer, they actually convinced Christine’s grieving family members to modify their statements as to when they had returned home on the afternoon the girl disappeared. This provided Morin with a sufficient time window within which he could have returned from work and abducted the girl. It led to Morin’s false conviction, overturned years later on DNA evidence after his life was destroyed. Christine’s real killer was never caught.

After I wrote Chalk Valley, I received questions from several readers who wanted to know if issues like this still take place. Haven’t we made huge strides in recent years? Haven’t we learned? Yes and no. Major Case Management, a state-of-the-art, turnkey process to help multiple police jurisdictions in Canada work together to solve serial crimes, rose from the ashes of the Bernardo inquest. I spent a lot of time with the MCM architects and ViCLAS (Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System) investigators when I researched this novel. The system still isn’t perfect, but everyone is trying to take the right steps. So that maybe, in time, these sort of obstacles will truly be a thing of the past.

Yet, let’s look at the 2010 case of disgraced Canadian Forces Colonel Russell Williams, who raped, tortured, and murdered two women over a two-month span, in addition to committing a chilling series of fetish break-ins around the rural Ontario neighborhood where he lived. While DNA testing was thankfully accelerated and led to his relatively prompt arrest, the Ontario government refuses to make public the dates Williams’ DNA samples were collected. Defending this action, the government has made the bizarre claim that revealing such information would be “an unjustified invasion of personal privacy.” An invasion of a convicted serial killer’s privacy, mind you. Bureaucracy reigns supreme–no one wants to look bad. Or expose themselves to negligence lawsuits, I imagine.

Have these improvements changed how investigators act as individuals? So many times, it comes down to one person doing the right thing. A cop meets someone she suspects might be a very bad person. She may not have the evidence, no one may want to listen to her, she may have a number of other responsibilities to attend to. What should she do? There’s a term in failure theory called the Organizational Bystander. It might be best defined using the following example: On January 28, 2010, a female police officer in Belleville, Ontario, noticed what turned out to be Russell Williams’ Pathfinder parked beside the home of 27-year-old Jessica Lloyd. It looked out of place. The officer, now suspicious, knocked on Lloyd’s door. No answer. Williams lurked in the shadows outside, waiting for the officer to leave. Which she did. Williams waited for Lloyd to return home, then abducted her, torturing her for several hours before murdering her. The officer made no note of the SUV’s license plate and did no computerized search. The OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) have no protocol requiring this, nor do they plan to implement one.

Organizational Bystanders are all too common. It’s so much easier to assume that either things aren’t really going all that wrong, or you can’t have an actual effect on the outcome of things. It’s so much easier just to stand by and watch, to not speak up, to let the adults do their thing. You don’t want to be admonished, treated as a troublemaker, a Chicken Little. It might affect your career advancement. It’s so much easier to take your chances, bite your tongue, and hope things don’t fail.

Those with the courage to take action when facing potential crises are all too rare. Or maybe not–when things go right, do we even notice? 

* * *

Author’s note: All the examples I’ve given here are Canadian. My apologies to Canadian crime investigators everywhere–many of them are among the best in the world. I chose these examples simply because I know them well and spent time with investigators whose job it is to study and learn from them. These same issues exist in all nations, across all police jurisdictions.

Me? Okay, how cool is that?  Thanks to one of my favourite book bloggers for this great recognition. And thanks to all of you who keep reading and supporting me. Writing’s a tough business, and you need all the friends and recognition you can get! 



Indie Author of the Month: D. L. Johnstone

Who is D. L. Johnstone?


D.L. Johnstone is the Number #1 Amazon Bestselling author of the thrillers Chalk Valley and Furies. Johnstone currently lives in the Toronto area with his wife, four kids and a half-dog / half-sasquatch named Charlie. 

Books by D. L. Johnstone

Johnstone has written and published two novels, within the thriller genre.


Chalk Valley

In a remote mountain valley in British Columbia, a human monster preys on innocent lives. 

After teenagers discover the body of a missing girl in Chalk Valley, searchers find the remains of two more victims secreted deep in the woods. A serial killer is at work. 

Chalk Valley police detective John McCarty is picked to lead a task force to find the murderer but inexperience, politics and McCarty’s own inner demons quickly overwhelm him and the investigation falters. 

Meanwhile, on a dark, lonely highway many miles from Chalk Valley, RCMP Sergeant Dave Kreaver comes across a van crashed at the side of the road. The driver is anxious to leave the scene but Kreaver discovers an unconscious teenaged girl in the van. Kreaver feels in his gut that the driver could be the serial killer everyone’s looking for, but his inquiries are ignored. The task force is in well over its head, buried by thousands of leads and potential suspects. His supervisors tell him to back off and let the task force do its job. 

Kreaver is in a deadly cat and mouse game with a murderous psychopath, a race against time with innocent victims in play. Operating alone and without official sanction, can he stop the Chalk Valley Killer before he claims more lives?


Furies: An Ancient Alexandrian Thrillers
It’s 36 AD. The city of Alexandria is a center of Roman commerce–and a sinful playground for the pleasure-seeking rich and powerful. 

For wealthy merchant Decimus Tarquitius Aculeo, however, Alexandria has become a living hell. Ruined by a string of mysterious investment disasters, deserted by friends and family, his reputation in tatters, Aculeo is forced to eke out a meagre existence in the poorest, back streets of the city. He’s desperate to find the man he blames for the debacle and recover what he’s lost. 

Aculeo’s quest forces him deep into treacherous, unfamiliar territory, Alexandria’s criminal underworld. And entangles him in a web of corruption, conspiracy and murder.

A common slave is found murdered in the magnificent temple of the god Serapis. Days later, the brutalized body of a high-priced hetaira is discovered floating in a canal, after an evening entertaining the city’s elite. The grim truth soon becomes clear: a ruthless killer is moving among Alexandria’s aristocrats, commercial titans, and philosophers. 

And ominous clues connect those murders to Aculeo’s quest, with disturbing revelations about his own past.

Aided by an Egyptian mortuary attendant, a brilliant philosopher, a lovely hetaira, and his last remaining friends, Aculeo must hunt down a terrifying murderer in the highest echelons of society if he hopes to reclaim the life he has lost.

But first, he must survive…

Has Verdict reviewed any of his work?
“D.L. Johnstone impresses with his tantalising and absorbing debut; a great thriller that is easily read in one sitting…Chalk Valley is a solid debut from a talented author. From a lover of the crime and thriller genres, I have read my fair share and this offers something refreshing and new. The complexity of Police investigations and the characterisation are the stand-out features. This isn’t a whodunnit; we already know. It is the chase, the mind-games, the thrill which drives it and I for one loved it! Johnstone, you have a fan! A 4 Star review.” To read the full review by Verdict, click HERE.

Why does Verdict recommend D. L. Johnstone?

‘Indie Author of the Month’ is a monthly feature hosted by Verdict Book Reviews that puts the spotlight on an up and coming new talent in the indie author and self-publishing world. 

I’d been reviewing indie books for a while and the majority lived up to the reputation; ‘indie novels are of poor quality’. This is mainly due to the amount that are on the market. Johnstones debut novel Chalk Valley was like a needle in a haystack. The moment I read it, I knew this was a book and more importantly an author who could cut it on the mainstream market. Why? Johnstone has all the elements to make a successful career; well researched, clever and gripping story-lines, combined with great execution in the writing. The mouse-cat-dog chase thrills from start to finish; Johnstone has proved he can rival the best in the genre. 

I’m very much looking forward to reading his latest release, Furies, next month. I can only hope Johnstone continues to live up to his solid reputation.

Where can I find out more?
You can find more information on D. L. Johnstone and his work via:
D. L. Johnstone Website