Monday, July 29, 2013

End of a Chapter

Another chapter in our lives came to an end last Friday: two friends of ours have sold their house here in Spain and are returning to the UK this week. We’ve known them for about sixteen years and consider them among our closest friends. But tempus fugit as they say; and as we grow older, our priorities change. We travelled down to their home in Andalucia to have a meal with them and say goodbye, although it isn’t really a farewell because we also intend to return to UK once we’ve sold our place here in Spain; which means we will see them again.
As a result of that trip on Friday I was unable to add any words to my book. I reached 33000 on Thursday and, had I been able to keep up my average, I could have notched up another 1500 by yesterday. However, other events got in the way. I had to replace a ceiling fan in our bedroom which ate into much of my afternoon time on Saturday. Yesterday, Sunday, we were over at a small fellowship in Pilar de la Horadada where I preached the sermon. And in the afternoon we had company, which took care of the remainder of the day.
I managed to complete a further chapter to my book by last Thursday and, like a lot of writers I found myself lying in bed re-writing parts of it. I often see myself further along the story than my current position and get quite excited thinking about how the story will develop. Later this week I will be interviewing a friend who worked as a prison warder for thirty years, serving in some of the hardest prisons in UK where some of our most violent offenders were incarcerated. I need some gritty realism when I come to that part of my book, and I’m looking forward to putting it all on paper. Of course, my friend will come over to our house with his wife and spend most of the day with us, using the pool and having lunch etc., so that will be another day when I will not add any words to the manuscript. But at least I will be adding to the book, so to speak.

I have had a couple of promotions this month on two kindle sites for my historic title, HELL’S GATE. So far there has been no improvement to my sales figures for that. I have another promotion for THE EAGLE’S COVENANT tomorrow on one of those sites, but it looks like it might follow the same path as HELL’S GATE. This leaves me with a conundrum: where is the best place, with my fairly low budget, to place my adverts? I know I can use BookBub, but the cost is fairly high with no guarantee of a return. I am currently thinking of ‘CheapeBooks’. They seem to be very professional and dead straight in what they offer, and the price is reasonable, so maybe I’ll attach myself to them next month. I think it’s fair to say that no matter how good a writer you are, no promotion will get you nowhere, unless you are very, very lucky. So – wish me luck!

Monday, July 22, 2013


J.K.Rowling was ‘outed’ last week as crime writer Robert Gailbraith. She stood little chance of keeping her secret. Robert Gailbraith aka JK, but at least she tried. In some ways I feel sorry for her. She could have rested on her Harry Potter laurels and not put pen to paper again. But in the end, she is a writer, and that’s what writers do: they write. Some years ago I gave up writing, but the urge was still there, albeit suppressed. Then my wife asked me to write a best-seller for her. She encouraged me and the result was I picked myself up mentally, dusted off my e-pen and set about writing again. The result was six more novels, all traditionally published. No, I didn’t make the best-seller list; far from it, but I did enjoy some heady days last year at the top of the Amazon free best-seller list. I can’t empathise with JK because I’ve no idea what it must be like to live in her shoes, but I can understand the frustration in a way. No doubt she wanted to test herself as an unknown, but her name had to come out in the end. All I need now is for a rumour to go round that Dan Brown is really Michael Parker. It could do wonders for my sales figure.
Last Monday I had a promotion on for HELL’S GATE. I’ve yet to see the results, but I suspect there was not much of a change in my averages. Admittedly it was a low price promo, but it was a promo nevertheless. I have another one, same website, for THE EAGLE’S COVENANT at the end of this month. I try to limit my budget for promotion and marketing and that is probably why my results are not as grand as I would like them to be, but each lift I get in my Amazon rankings is always welcome. I check my graph each day and it zig-zags like the teeth of a rip-saw. But with some of the titles the overall change shows a slight increase, week on week. I’ll keep pushing though, and I’ll try not to go into raptures when I see a huge jump.

I’m making steady progress with my current novel. I’m up to 30,000 words, having added 3000 during the week. My aim is a minimum of 500 words each day. It doesn’t seem many, but there will be days (like today) when I won’t add anything, and another day when I might add 1500. So the average will be 500, and that should take me to my target of 100,000 words by the end of the year. Wish me luck!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Planting Acorns

There’s an old saying that I’m sure most people have come across: “Big oak trees from little acorns grow”. It’s a fact of life for most of us in more ways than one, and it has a particular resonance with me because of my hobby as a writer. The seeds of my craft were sown many years ago, and had I been a successful writer from the beginning, it may not have been a hobby but a career. For the last two years I have been producing and posting my blog as well as putting my books on Amazon. My success can be measured in small numbers, but often these can be a joy when they begin to grow, and as my fortunes change in the book world, so the smile on my face grows bigger. Recently I discovered a slightly different approach to marketing and promotion. Nothing drastic or revolutionary: simply a different way to approach it. I gave up on the Amazon Select programme and living in hopes that thousands of Prime members would loan my books and so increase my profile. Although my titles are still enrolled in the programme, I now prefer to buy low cost promotion and enjoy the fruits of that particular labour. Three months running now I have purchased low cost advertising on eReader News Today (ENT), and as a result of that I have seen my sales figures grow. Along the way I have also seen some growth in readers of my blog and an increase in my Twitter followers. Although these figures are not astronomic, in terms of where I was two years ago, I feel I am now in a better place.

One of the encouraging sides of book promotion is of course good reviews. But they can also be notoriously fickle and very damaging. So it’s an absolute joy when I see an unsolicited, five star review for one of my titles. I try very hard not to read my reviews, but I noticed a couple of days ago that HELL’S GATE now had two, five star reviews. My curiosity got the better of me and I sneaked a look. I can’t tell you how humble I felt when I saw what had been written about me and the book. You can check the review out at rather than take my word for it. So you see, I’m feeling quite good about the way things are shaping up. They may not be growing at an enormous rate, but the signs are there. And incidentally, HELL’S GATE is being featured on the kindle boards discovery promotion tomorrow: July 16th. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Monty McCord

The end of July will see a BHW on the racks with the title of Monty McCord. There's a story behind that title. 

It started the day I met Monty McCord at a Western Writers of America conference two years ago. Monty McCord. What a name! Perfect for a cowboy protagonist. "Hey, Monty," I said. "Gotta have your name. Can I use it for my next hero?" 

"As long as you don't drag it through the muck," he said.

"Never happen," says I.

I sat down and began to write Monty McCord, the story of a Colorado cowboy. Just to give you a whiff of what the story's like, here's the first little bit for you to read.

Monty McCord topped the hogback above Mexican Hat and reined in his dappled sorrel. He threw a leg over the horn of his saddle and pulled makings from his shirt pocket. As he rolled the smoke, his eyes scanned the village, then the approaches, then the heights of the mesas off toward Monument Valley. For a man with Hunter Billings’ riders on his back trail, Monty made his smoke like he didn’t have a care in the world. Hunter Billings. Gawdawful hunk of an old man who figured he owned Twin Fork Basin and the town of Watsonville, even though Frank Watson was there before him and even though Ellen Watson made it clear she wanted nothing of Billings’ boy.


Monty figured Ellen was OK, as women went. She took over the Flying W when old Frank passed on, and she did a rightful job of running the spread. Monty McCord admitted that. Ellen Watson was some woman. But she owned a ranch and Monty McCord was nothing more than a line rider. A good line rider, but not one who could sidle up to a ranching woman and make her notice. Besides, she was the boss.


Dust showed on his back trail.

Monty snubbed out the smoke on his saddle horn, ripped the paper and scattered the tobacco. He rolled the paper into a tiny ball with thumb and forefinger and tossed it away, a habit born of years riding in the pine tree country of Arizona’s White Mountains. Suddenly he missed the peace and quiet of the Cooley ranch where he’d cut his teeth as a cowboy.

What the hell was he running for? He’d beat the shit out of nasty snot-nosed Hartley Billings. Tromped his ass. Then killed him.

Wouldn’t have done that if the kid hadn’t shot at him when he was about to leave through the batwings of Woodrow’s Saloon. The kid’s bullet had very nearly clipped Monty’s ear, and worse, damn near holed his spanking new black Stetson.

Monty reacted. His hogleg was out and cocked as he turned. He touched off a shot as the pistol came in line and Hunter Billings’ precious son lay dead.


The cloud of dust seemed closer. A mile? Less?

Monty McCord was tired of the chase. Not because he’d ridden so far. Not because of the gaggle of hard riders on his trail. Just because of the unfairness of the whole thing.

Hartley Billings had pushed Monty. Pushed him hard, saying he was a two-bit puncher who’d die with a horn in his guts or pitched from his horse into some worthless bottomless canyon.

“Shit, kid,” Monty said. “You can’t even wipe your own ass. You gotta call some dollar-a-day waddie to clean up your goldam messes. You ain’t got what it takes and your old man knows it. That’s why he wants you to spark Ellen Watson. She could save the H Bar H for him. But you. I hear you like men better’n women.”

The kid came in punching, and Monty laid him out. Had to give the boy credit. He got up and came in again, swinging a chair.

Monty kicked young Billings’ legs out from under him and connected with a looping right as he tried to get up. Smashed the boy’s nose. Monty pushed the fight, slowly beating the kid to a pulp as he backpedalled all the way to the bar.

“Nuff,” Hollard Smythe, the bartender, said. “Things’ll go hard enough as it is. Lay off.”

The kid crumpled.

“I hear you, Holly,” Monty said. He picked up his new black hat, cleaned the sawdust off it, and set it on his head at a jaunty angle. He walked for the batwings and the kid had to shoot at him. A man naturally shoots back and Hartley Billings lay dead.

“Jayzus,” Holly said. “Old Man Billings’ll be after your ass, Monty. You’d better light a shuck.”

Monty did. And now he had to decide whether to keep running. He never was one to run. Wasn’t like him. He walked Baron down the hill and into Mexican Hat.

A dumpy stop on the Outlaw Trail, Mexican Hat bore the name of a rock formation off to the west, marking the eastern edge of Monument Valley. One saloon, one cantina, and a rickety place without windows that stood empty, but wore a faded sign that read Garrison’s General Store. Monty counted the hovels. Thirteen looked lived in, half a dozen abandoned.

He walked Baron the sorrel down the trail . . . it would be hard to say a wagon road led into Mexican Hat . . . with the sun climbing near its zenith. Heat waves formed a mirage of cool water over under the southern horizon. Sideless brush jacals[JG1]  kept the harsh sunlight from tiny patches of red dirt. A lizard panted, halfway up a bare juniper pole. Monty pulled his black Stetson low over his eyes. Without showing any sign, he searched the little village for anything unusual. A dog lay at the edge of the street, tongue lolling. The dirt around it said the dog was in its usual place.

Two horses stood before a low adobe structure that had CANTINA whitewashed on one side. The whitewash was nearly gone, but the name was still readable. Twenty yards away, facing the cantina, a false-front frame building wore a sign that said “Whiskey.” One horse stood hipshot in front of it. Nothing moved. Not even flies.

Half a mile on down the dusty track, a rickety bridge spanned the San Juan river. Maybe the only reason the town existed. It certainly was about the only place where cows and ponies could be swum across the San Juan and pushed down the Trail toward Chinle, Juan Lorenzo Hubbell’s trading post, and Navajo Springs, where the thirsty stock could at last get a decent drink. Commodore Owens always had a bottle for the cowboys at his place there, and he never asked leading questions.

Monty chose the saloon. He could drink mescal when worse got to worst, but preferred a civilized drink like branded whiskey. Old Grand-Dad, or Turley’s Mill. Maybe he’d have time for a snort or two before Billings and his iron-toting men rode in.

He tied Baron to the hitching rail next to a brown that looked like it hadn’t had a square meal or a chance to browse in the last month, maybe more.

There was no door, just an opening in the false front. Windows on either side gaped without panes, like the empty eye sockets of a longhorn’s skull. Monty shrugged.

Inside the saloon, Monty stepped aside and waited till his eyes could adjust to the dim interior. A quick glance showed him the scene. Dust on the floor. Dust on the chairs and tables. Dust on the empty bottles behind the bar. An old man with a scraggly beard stood with his back against the wall beyond the bar. Monty walked slowly over. He took the kerchief from around his neck and flapped it at the bar, moving enough dust for a place to put his elbows, which he did.

“Whiskey,” he said.

The old man shuffled over. “I’d sell you house whiskey,” he said, his voice sounding like his throat was full of sandpaper, “but I ain’t got none. You’ll have to make do with Old Potrero or Jameson’s.”

“Old Potrero’s good,” Monty said.

The old man squatted and rustled around in the space back of the bar. He stood up with a clear bottle in his hand. “Knew I had some left,” he said. The bottle bore no sign of a label. The liquid in it was amber.

The man blew the collected sand and dust out of a shot glass and poured it brim full. “That’ll be a dollar,” he said.

“A dollar!”


“Shee-it. Get four drinks for a dollar over to Woodrow’s in Watsonville.”

“This ain’t Watsonville. You can move across to the cantina. They may have some mescal. Most likely tiswin, though. A dollar.”

Monty paid.

The old man set the glass in front of him and put the bottle back under the bar.

“Whose cayuse outside?” Monty asked.

“Mine. Keep him there to draw customers. Mostly it works.”

“They got two in front of the cantina,” Monty said.

“White men usually want whiskey. One horse’s enough.”

“Looks like he could use a good bait of oats.”

The old man cackled. “Mister, you think a shot of whiskey’s steep at a dollar, try buying a sack of oats. Me and that cayuse’ve been over more than one trail together. He gets fed afore me.”

Monty picked up the shot glass. “Mud in your eye,” he said, and tossed the whiskey. His eyes watered and the liquor burned its way down his throat and into his stomach. He knuckled his watering eyes. “Damn,” he said.