April 17, 2015


Rigged for red. Ready to surface in all respects. The surfacing alarm sounding.

The S-55 gently broke the surface of Savo Sound, the ocean inlet the men of the beleaguered Pacific Fleet were calling Iron Bottom Sound after numerous sharp naval battles.

Ready for the first night watch of the day, Charlie held the ladder tightly as the hatch partly opened. A heavy blast of sour air roared past him.

After the air pressure equalized and the tempest subsided, he climbed up and looked around. It was a routine to which he’d already become accustomed, but he felt a special urgency about it now.

They were in the Slot, and they’d received a message to expect a Japanese naval force passing through the area later tonight. After days of seeing no enemy ships, it was exciting news.

He took his time and scanned the area thoroughly. Aided by the budding moon, his night-adapted eyes picked out Savo Island to the east, Guadalcanal to the south.

“All clear,” he called down. “Lookouts to the bridge.”

Steam drifted out of the open hatch. His men emerged and took their stations.

Charlie took a deep breath of the clean air and inhaled the vital scent of jungle wafting from the nearby islands. After a day in the people tank, it smelled sweeter than Evie’s perfume. The temperature was considerably cooler topside at seventy-five degrees.

The main induction opened to suck the cool night air into the boat for both the crew and the engines. The diesels fired up to charge the battery while the boat stood-to facing north by west. By the end of Charlie’s watch, the battery had fully charged, and both diesels were assigned to the propellers. The old sea wolf was ready to hunt.

Rusty entered the bridge. “Permission to relieve you and your squires, noble sir. As incentive for that permission, I can tell you a sumptuous meal awaits you in the wardroom.”

“In that case, permission granted,” Charlie said. “What’s the cook serving up for dinner?”

“Pot roast and cock, and he’s all out of pot roast.”

Charlie laughed. Ever since the S-55 entered the Solomons, the men had stopped their shirking and horsing around and went to work with silent efficiency. But not Rusty. Not even the tension of imminent combat could keep the able lieutenant from his wisecracks.

Kidding aside, despite the hardships of service, submariners ate better than anybody else in the Navy, at least while the fresh provisions lasted. Right now, pot roast sounded fantastic.

“All sectors clear,” he told Rusty. “A dozen lighted planes, far off and coming across the stern, were reported. Navy fighters landing at Henderson Field.”

“Hopefully, they bombed those tin cans headed our way.”

“We should be so lucky,” Charlie agreed, though he was itching for a fight.

As the new watch manned their stations, he descended the stairs to the cigarette deck and then the main deck. He tied a metal bucket to a manila rope, tossed it over the side, and pulled up cool seawater. Then he started a quick sponge bath.

For a war zone, the scene struck him as peaceful. The slim moon’s light glimmered on the water, which lapped gently against the boat’s hull. His romantic Evie would have loved it.

He heard a distant droning and perked up. Charlie hustled back to the bridge while the watch scanned the skies.

A burst of light flared in the distance and died out. Then another. Moments later, he heard the first boom. Red tracers streamed into the night.

“Ho-lee shit,” one of the watchmen said.

More bright flashes, an entire cluster of them, brightened the horizon. The air filled with thunder and the distant wail of an air raid siren. Searchlights swept the sky.

The Japanese were bombing the airfield on Guadalcanal.

“Lookouts, get below,” somebody shouted up the shaft. “Clear the bridge!”

Bodies poured down the hatch. Charlie dropped to the deck and hustled out of the way. One by one, the rest of the men came down after him, talking excitedly.

“Hatch secured!” Rusty called from above.

The captain said, “Dive!”

The diving alarm sounded. The main induction clanged shut.

“Pressure in the boat, green board,” Reynolds reported. The boat was sealed up tight.

The S-55 rapidly slid into the black waters and achieved a good trim at periscope depth. The engines cut out. The electric motors engaged the propellers.

“Planes, forty-five feet.”

“What’s going on?” Charlie asked Rusty.

The lieutenant shrugged. “The captain pulled the plug.”

“Silence!” Kane roared, quieting them all.

The men stared at the captain. The captain stared at the soundman.

“I’ve got a turn count of three twenty-five RPM,” Marsh said. “Now I’m hearing multiple sets of screws. Light screws. Speed estimated twenty-five knots.”

Charlie grinned. That sounded like destroyers!

Marsh added, “Estimated range, eight thousand yards.”

The captain put on his sou’wester hat and oilskins. “Up scope.”

He peered into the dark, whistling a pop tune while water splashed on his shoulders. “Give me a bearing, Marsh.”

“Targets, bearing 115º True.” Plus or minus a few degrees.

The submarine’s Great War-vintage hydrophones weren’t perfectly accurate, but one thing was certain: The Japanese war party was coming straight at them. They intended to round Savo Island. Charlie guessed their mission was to give Henderson a good shelling tonight.

The captain smiled as he looked into the scope. “I think I see them. Come to papa. Down scope. Harrison, start plotting. Marsh, keep those bearings coming.”

Charlie dumped graph paper, pencils, and a ruler onto the plotting table. He marked the contacts’ estimated position.

“Bearing still on 115º True.”

Based on the war party’s bearing and estimated speed, he marked its likely new position on the plotting paper. He checked the boat’s gyrocompass and started plotting the S-55’s own position with a pencil and ruler.

“Left full rudder,” the captain said. “All ahead full. Come left to 275º True.” After the heavy sub completed her ponderous turn and found her new course, he added, “All ahead one-third. Up scope.” After another look at the approaching ships: “Down scope.”

Deep in thought, Captain Kane stepped away from the falling periscope.

He had a choice. He could take a shot at the destroyers as they passed and then radio their presence to warn American forces at Guadalcanal they were coming. Or he could let them pass, sound the alarm, and try to hit them on their way back.

Both carried risks. The former approach put them directly in a hornet’s nest. The latter was safer, but the Japanese might take another route home, and Frankie would miss her chance to take a crack at them.

Knowing the captain, Charlie believed he’d take the latter, more cautious approach.

Kane rubbed his stubbled jaw. The men stared at him, awaiting his command.

“Battle stations,” he said. “Torpedo attack.”

Want to read more? Get CRASH DIVE for Kindle here.

April 16, 2015

Author Delilah Dawson recently stirred things up in the writing world with a blog post, “Please shut up: why self-promotion for an author doesn’t work,” which you can read here.

In a nutshell, Dawson makes the argument that marketing has become both more difficult to do and saturated such as that it doesn’t have the same effect. The result is authors turn up the volume, creating more noise.

I have to say I both agree and disagree.

I’m old enough to remember back when the marketing stuff I did was cutting edge. Not cutting edge as in original–Marketing 101 is always the best way to go at least as a foundation–but cutting edge as in that kind of thing wasn’t something authors normally did. I recognized at the time that I was with a small press with limited resources, and the best thing I could do would be to promote my own stuff.

So I did a blog, social media, a little advertising, email list, giveaways, conventions, contacting reviewers, book trailers, some other things. At the time, I think it had a real impact.

Now everybody seems to be doing it, so it’s harder to reach new readers.

That, and it’s getting harder to be heard. In particular, Facebook used to be a great way to connect with fans and prospective readers. Then Facebook decided to start blackmailing its users, making them pay for their posts to be more visible to their friends. That really sucked.

I was surprised by how quickly the landscape changed. The good thing is more authors than ever get it–that whether you self publish or you’re with a Big 5 publishing house, you have to promote your work. The bad thing is that it’s now harder to break through all the noise.

Dawson sums up a formula for success: “The recipe seems to be GREAT BOOK + HARD WORK + TIME + LUCK.”

I’ve been saying the same thing for years. People would ask me, “How did you do it?”

First, “doing it” is always temporary. The hard thing about professional writing is fortunes come and go. It’s a long game, and it’s a hard one.

Second, many authors give an answer that can be basically summarized, “Here’s what I did. Do that, and you’ll get published. Easy!”

Everybody’s path to publication and decent sales is different. There is no real formula. If there is one, I would offer my variation on Dawson: “Produce a good book, get it out there, and get lucky.”

In this case, “good book” and “lucky” are closely related but not entirely.

Writing a good book is the best marketing you can do. If somebody likes your book, they’ll tell their friends about it. That’s it. That’s the main way books get sold.

Luck comes into play more sharply when you write a good book in a genre that’s taking off or that somehow resonates with the public for some reason. I was lucky to write some zombie books when that genre was about to skyrocket. The books were also good, so they became popular among these readers. Luck can also run against you. SUFFER THE CHILDREN came out from Simon & Schuster in a year horror books took a 23% hit in sales. The title broken even for them in the first six months, making it an average title, but it could have done better.

What Dawson is missing that I include is “get your work out there.” Meaning, sure, everybody’s doing marketing these days for their books, so it’s harder to stand out and build a huge platform. But that doesn’t mean “shutting up” is the answer. The answer is to do it–because you can, it poses very little cost, and it’s a great way to connect and think of your fiction as a business. You’re telling people the book is available. However, authors have to have realistic expectations about its impact. Put your work out there. If it’s good it will sell. If it resonates with the public and exciting in some way such that readers get other readers to buy, then it will sell well.

Dawson got a lot of feedback from her post, prompting a follow up post, “Wait, keep talking: author self promo that actually works,” which you can read here.

To summarize, she says when you do marketing, be genuine, positive, non-repetitive. Yup. Promote without overdoing it. I think seeing constant Facebook posts by authors haranguing people to buy their books prompted her first blog post. She backtracked a bit to saying marketing is good but be good about it. But she offers no magic bullet, no new techniques.

Until somebody comes up with something new, authors just have to expect that there’s more competition out there than ever before, and most of these other writers are to some extent doing marketing.

What’s my advice? I’ll share the advice I gave myself: Stop putting pressure on yourself. Do what you love because you love it. Keep doing it, and always produce quality work.

April 16, 2015

For more than four years, Joe Wooldridge worked as a DEA Special Agent assigned to the Kabul Country Office. That’s Kabul as in Kabul, Afghanistan. I can’t imagine being a DEA agent is a picnic anywhere, but in Afghanistan–that’s something.

Joe wrote to me years ago to tell me he enjoyed TOOTH AND NAIL. After he got back, he wrote again to say he wanted to send me a gift–a T-shirt, challenge coin and a patch. He wrote:

“I was in Afghanistan for four years and three months … I was thrilled to discover you, Joe McKinney, Stephen Knight, Iain McKinnon and several other Z authors while I was there. The hours of escape to zombie land made my time there easier. Thanks my friend.”

Here’s the gift:

I was amazed by his gift for several reasons. First, it shows the magic of reading–how big an impact a book can make on someone’s life. I can personally attest to that as a reader. Second, it’s another case for me of that awkward situation where somebody doing something incredibly dangerous for his country thanks a guy who sat on his ass and typed out a book. I think most Americans can agree that serving your country is a noble thing, and serving your country in a very dangerous job is noblest of all. I should be thanking him (and I have). But again, it shows the power of reading and how the escape it offers into the imagination can mean a lot at the right time.

I will be returning the favor and sending him an autographed copy of TOOTH AND NAIL.

Thanks again, Joe!

April 16, 2015

Some bummer news today. Permuted Press, which published THE INFECTION and THE KILLING FLOOR, intended to re-release both books as a single printed book (a “bindup”) for bookstore distribution in June 2015. Unfortunately, due to a change in their distribution deal, these Permuted bestsellers will not be included in the deal.

You may recall Permuted angered many of its authors last year when it signed too many authors and decided it could not afford the expense of doing a print version of the books. Many authors left the company as a result, and there was a very bitter and public storm over it. I sympathized with the authors, who got a raw deal, but defended the company as having made a mistake of overcommitment.

Now that I’m affected, I’ll stay true to principle and say the company had no choice in the matter of cutting my titles. They lost their distribution deal, and their new partner chose only a select few titles. That’s life.

However, Permuted has once again put itself in a position of overpromising and underdelivering. Small presses today have to find a way to add value. On one side, big publishing still dominates the market. On the other side, self published authors are offering good product at a lower price. To succeed, small presses have to deliver the quality and outreach of bigger publishers so as to compete with the many big publishing and self publishing books that are available.

With no print editions for new titles, little marketing (virtually none for my books), waning reputation and now a severely limited Platinum offering for bookstores, the company may have a difficult time justifying to an author why he or she should sign with them. Safe to say, I won’t be. In the end, Permuted’s new ownership didn’t do anything bad as far as I’m concerned. The problem is they did nothing.

The lesson for new authors looking at working with a small press is that while a publishing credit is personally satisfying, you have to ask what you’re actually getting for signing away rights to your work and most of the income. If you produce the work, and your promotion efforts end up generating most of the income, and the book will be digital-only, what is the publisher doing other than providing a proofread and cover? What are they providing you can’t do (and won’t end up doing either way) yourself?

It’s for these reasons I’ve started self publishing. I can control everything about the book from its cover to its editing to its price. That’s not to say I wouldn’t work with a small press again, but I will be expecting something more than just a cover and a brand to justify signing a deal.

For those of you who are fans of the series, my intent is to start working on a third book by the end of the year, which I’ll be self publishing.

April 13, 2015

CRASH DIVE, my first major solo self-published work, is now available for Amazon Kindle!

CRASH DIVE was a lot of fun to write and a nice diversion from my usual stuff, which is horror and apocalyptic fiction. Readers of my apocalyptic fiction are often drawn to its “what would I do?” scenarios. “Am I tough enough to endure? Smart enough to survive? Would I be able to rise to a crisis?” CRASH DIVE takes those questions deep underwater into a submarine fighting for its life against an implacable enemy during the greatest of wars.

In October 1942, Japan and America are at war, the Marines are embattled on Guadalcanal, and the U.S. Navy fights to preserve its toehold in the Japanese Empire. The war hangs in the balance.

Charlie Harrison is a young lieutenant who volunteered for the submarines. His first war patrol is aboard the S-55, a worn-out World War I-era submarine. The enthusiastic officer soon gets a crash education on how to be a submariner. Frustrated by faulty torpedoes and malfunctioning equipment, the S-55′s captain decides on a daring raid on Rabaul, the center of Japanese power in the South Pacific.

There, the crew will earn glory, the hunter will become the hunted, and Charlie will find out just how good he is at war.

Get CRASH DIVE, a submarine thriller in the naval tradition of Horatio Hornblower, for your Amazon Kindle here. Thanks for reading!