Friday, December 20, 2013

Writing, music, family and the amazing powers of ADD

Like most people, I always seem to have a lot going on in my life−more than some, less than others. But what helps is my lifelong Attention Deficit Disorder, or what I like to think of as the ability to be interested in many things at once. Let me give you a run-down.  

My fourth book, a young-adult sci-fi thriller called GOD PARTICLE, was released in June, 2013 with Crossroad Press. I just released my fifth book, a horror/thriller novella called THE BLACK CHURCH, in Dec. 2013 with DarkFuse. My sixth book, a supernatural thriller novel called PRIMORDIAL, is on my editor’s desk. I am twenty-five-thousand words into my seventh book, another novel. 

I also write for my local newspaper and a local magazine, plus the occasional short story anthology.
Last week, I recorded several tracks with my band, SHANNON SALIGA and the MILLION WATT SUNS. I sing, play guitar, bass, drums, mandolin, keyboards and whatever is needed. I wrote all five songs and I’m also the recording engineer. 

I am a stay-at-home dad and spend every day homeschooling our daughter, who is eleven. I usually manage to get some writing in, but most of it happens at night, when everyone else is in bed. There is also the marketing that has to be done for all five of my published books, and believe me, that is a time-consuming process−I am a very “hands-on” author. There is also time spent trying to get reviews, contacting book stores, sending out unpublished manuscripts to editors and/or agents, and on and on.

On weekends, when I’m not writing, I try to spend non-school time with my wife and daughter, fixing up and cleaning the house from the various animals living in it (my daughter is an animal lover), maintaining the cars, and so forth. 

I’m an avid reader and fan of classic sci-fi and horror movies (I have nearly 500 DVDs of titles like King Kong, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Forbidden Planet) and I like to travel, though it’s not always affordable.

A few years ago, before I became a stay-at-home dad, I was also a college student and a full-time book store employee with a new baby. On top of that, I was the editor for the school newspaper and for the school’s literary magazine. Somewhere in there, I managed to start writing my first novel and release a CD. Talk about stress. So my life has actually slowed down quite a bit from that particular craziness.

I said all that to say this: I love my life, and wouldn’t change a thing. I’m right where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to be doing, and I’m extremely thankful to be able to say that. I owe it all to God, family, friends, my fellow authors, my publisher, the people who buy my books and music, and a wicked case of ADD!

Check out my writing, music and other insanity at, and on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Traditional versus self-publishing: Choosing the right road

Roy Huff is the successful self-published author of the EVERVILLE young adult fantasy series, who was gracious enough to endorse my YA sci-fi thriller, GOD PARTICLE. He has a few words to say to those looking to be successful authors. 

As a new writer it can be difficult to make a decision regarding whether to self publish or to try and pursue the traditional route of finding a literary agent, editor, and publisher. While there are benefits to both methods, the final decision should be informed by one’s individual situation and one’s own personal preferences.

It may go without saying that most writers would prefer to be signed to a traditional publisher. That of course assumes that a writer can be signed, and that’s a big if. The simple truth is that while a publisher will front the cost of publication and some marketing, publishers expect authors to market themselves. Aside from the quality of the book, the eventual success of the book will largely hinge on how savvy a writer is with social media and self-promotion.

There is no question that being signed to a large publishing company can add street cred to a publication along with wider print distribution, but for many writers that is simply not an option. For those authors, the choice has been made for them. There is also the option of finding smaller indy publishing houses willing to publish, and while being backed by a publisher may offer some benefits, a smaller company will often be less able to promote the author, and the low royalties and loss of creative control will often offset the potential benefits.
Click to buy on Amazon!
For the vast majority of writers, self-publishing is the only option, and for new writers, they will also find that there is a brave new world of options when it comes to self publishing and marketing. Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and others have made it easy to get published. Print companies like LightningSource and audio book companies like ACX have made print and audio books equally as simple and quick to get published. Social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Fiverr, and Google Plus have also revolutionized self-promotion and micro advertising. Together, the ease of publication and decentralization of social media provide a powerful venue for writers.

Regardless of the method, the quality of the work, the effectiveness of the marketing campaign, and a little luck will determine one’s eventual success. As an author, I have personally chosen to go the route of self-publishing for the initial series of books I have written. I do, however, plan on utilizing traditional publishers in the future in combination with my existing self published titles. This will give me the opportunity to develop a fan base as well as experience in self-promotion. More importantly KDP select and free promotions for self published titles can be excellent ways to cross promote existing books while leveraging that exposure for future titles published through traditional publishing companies.

My recommendation for new writers is write a good book and find a good editor. Once the book is written, decide whether or not spending the time and effort in finding a literary agent is something that one is willing to do; if not, then self-publish. If one decides to go the traditional route but continues to get rejected after a couple of dozen attempts, take a second look at the manuscript. If there are changes that can be made to improve the quality, then make those changes, but if after the changes one is still unable to find an agent or a publisher, self-publish.

In the end, the best thing for a writer to do is focus on the quality of the writing and the editing. Spending sufficient time in marketing and self-promotion is also a must. Worrying about getting published, however, should no longer be a barrier for future authors. Instead, writers should research and decide what’s best for them. More importantly they need to understand that the removal of barriers to getting published applies to everyone and it has dramatically increased competition. That being said, the old rules apply now more than ever. Write a great book, and market the heck out of it.

Check out Roy on the web at

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How I got two book deals with DarkFuse

I have always been interested in the “behind the scenes” aspect of the publishing world. I like to know the hows and the whys of everything, so I suppose I’m doing a bit of projecting when I assume that readers feel the same way. So here goes nothing. Or something.

I have never had an agent. Every book I’ve ever read on the subject of publishing says, “Number one: Get an agent.” That didn’t work out for me. After carefully crafting and sending out approximately eighty-five query letters for LILITH, a supernatural thriller, I got plenty of interest, but no offers. 

I decided to go it alone and send queries directly to publishers instead. It took far fewer tries, about a dozen or so, before I got offers from two different houses, one of which was DarkFuse, an independent mass-market publisher. So I guess the lesson there is: it’s easier to get a publisher than it is to get an agent.

My query letters were nothing special, just a little blurb about the story, my background as a writer, why I felt my novel was different from other similar books that were out there, the word count, etc. etc. A synopsis of the storyline and the first two chapters were also included.

A couple of months after sending out the query to DarkFuse, I received an email requesting the entire manuscript for LILITH. A few weeks later, they asked me if I could cut the story to less than 70K, which I did. The next thing I knew, they were sending me a contract. Of course, I did the obligatory happy dance and called my family to tell them the good news. That particular book has been my best-selling one to date, and I am now writing a sequel.

Since they had already published one of my books, they were interested in reading my next, which was a novella called THE BLACK CHURCH, more of a straight horror story as opposed to the action-oriented thrills of LILITH. 

Again, the editor liked the book and made an offer. Although I ended up cutting a lot of it and changing the ending, I was pretty happy with the end result. The staff at DarkFuse is top-notch and very well respected in the business, so I trust them completely. The cover art for both books was beyond awesome and the editing as professional as that of any major publishing house.

The main ingredient for getting published (besides writing a great book, of course) is perseverance. Knocking on door after door, day after day, and getting rejected over and over again, is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it is part of the process of getting published. Self-publishing is fun, and I’ve done it, but there’s nothing like the validation of a company who has published hundreds of high-quality books saying, “Hey, good news—you made the cut!” Yep, I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

For more on me and my books, just go to my website at, or find me on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Grammarly giveaway

If you are like me, and most writers are in this respect, it really bugs you to see documents, newspapers, books, signs or anything with misspelled words, misused or unused punctuation, or bad grammar. 

But I’ll be the first to admit: as I get older, my spelling and grammar skills seem to get worser. Excuse me, I mean more worser. Anyway, you get the picture. 

Enter Grammarly, a program that can help keep you from getting embarrassing red marks from your editor or you teacher, or disapproving glances from prospective employers who are reading your resume. 

I have used it and I love it. There are a lot of bells and whistles that I haven’t figured out how to use yet, but basically it works in tandem with Microsoft Word−just download it and it incorporates itself into the toolbar of the program. When you’re ready to spell/grammar check, just click on the toolbar and watch it do its stuff. It works just like spell check, but with lots more detail and tons of great suggestions for fixing your document, manuscript or whatever.

Normally, I don’t tout products on my blog, but seeing that we live in a free-market, capitalist society, and I’m an author, I thought I would let people know about this. I have to admit I also got a free trial of the product, but that’s not why I’m doing this. I’m doing it because the nice folks at Grammarly are offering a free three-month premium membership to the first five people to comment on this post. Just leave a comment and I will PM you to get an email address. 

Good luck!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Creating characters that come alive and jump off the page

Plot lines don’t mean squat without memorable characters.

Characters don’t even really have to be people. Seriously, they can be machines, aliens, animals, plants, whatever. But if they don’t drive the story, then they aren’t doing their job, and they might as well not even be there.

I’ve read science fiction stories and thrillers where things moved along at a good pace from point A to point B, but because the characters were one-dimensional, the trip was forgettable.

I base almost all my characters on real people, either people that I know or have met somewhere along the way. One of the characters in my supernatural thriller, LILITH, was an aircraft carrier called the USS Gerald R. Ford. That’s right—it was a ship. Hey, they don’t call ships “she” for nothing. Since the Ford was not yet commissioned at the time, I based it on the USS Harry S. Truman, where I had spent several days at sea. Believe me, those ships have personalities all their own, and I tried to bring that across in LILITH by describing things I had experienced while aboard the Truman.

The character of Hunter Singleton, one of the main protagonists of my stories, is based mainly on me, but also on other people I have known. He has a back story, he has a distinct personality, he has interests, dislikes, quirks, certain physical qualities—he even speaks a certain way. You can always tell when Hunter is talking, because he’s a smart ass. Kind of like me. He’s adopted, half Cherokee Indian and half white. He’s a reporter for a national news agency. He knows Kung Fu and doesn’t mind using it when necessary. And he’s usually up to his eyeballs in trouble.

Lisa Singleton, Hunter’s wife, also has certain physical characteristics and personality traits that distinguish her from other female characters. For instance, she’s a park ranger and a black belt in Wing Chun Kung Fu, which she taught to her husband. Her father is Chinese and her mother African American. She’s quite beautiful, like her mother, and small, but also pretty handy with her fists as well as with a gun. If you piss her off, she will take you down.

Lilith, the main antagonist, is more of a conglomeration of different people. I tried to make her evil, but also gave her some faults and frailties, and a back story that will make readers want to sympathize as well as be repulsed. Awesome combination!

There’s a back story with Hunter and Lisa as a couple, and I plan on getting more deeply into their personal stories as they progress through each adventure. The next book to feature them, PRIMORDIAL, is still in the writing stage.

Characters that are integral to the story should have traits that set them apart from other characters—physical traits, quirks, flaws, whatever. They should all speak with a different voice, as well, though that is sometimes hard to do. Characters who I know will only be in one scene I don’t spend as much time on, because they won’t be around long enough for anyone to really care. They’re just there to help move the plot along.

I also like to give flaws to my characters, because real people have flaws. For instance, Hunter has an inordinate fear of flying. As do I. I do not like airplanes, or even tall ladders.

In my latest book, GOD PARTICLE, my protagonist is a 16-year-old girl. Not being a 16-year-old girl myself, I had to draw from people I know, like my own wife and daughter, for instance, who helped me immensely with the character. Chloe is Chinese, adopted as a baby by a loving Swiss/American family. Hence the last name ‘Johansson.’ Not too many Chinese people have the name ‘Johansson.’

Chloe is also extremely intelligent, already a freshman engineering student at MIT. But she is a little bit spoiled. And selfish. And maybe a little hard headed.

Characters also need some type of friction within the story, something to overcome that will make them grow and reach beyond their own self-imposed boundaries. Just like in real life. Chloe nearly becomes overwhelmed by the events that take place in the GOD PARTICLE, but she has an amazing inner strength that helps get her through. Plus, she prays a lot.

Lively characters are extremely important to my novels. The stories are usually centered on the characters I create, and things move forward because of their actions, or inaction. Without realistic, memorable characters, the literary world can be a bland place, indeed.

For more information on my latest books, find me on the web at

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The GOD PARTICLE explodes!

I found that there were a few rules for writing THE GOD PARTICLE, a young adult sci-fi thriller, that don’t always apply to writing adult thrillers.  

For one thing, they say (they being young adult writing experts), that you should establish the age of the protagonist right away so young people will connect quickly. The first paragraph says, “I had the perfect life. I was going to MIT at the age of sixteen…” Check.

Another thing they suggest is writing in first person so readers can feel like they are right there with your character. Most of the book is in first person, except for the parts where I’m following another character, switching back and forth kind of the way James Patterson does. So again, check.

An eye-catching front cover is, of course, paramount to getting good sales. Thanks to Stan Tremblay of Find the, I was able to comply. Check again.

I also didn’t want the book to be too wordy. I wanted it to zip along at a good pace, which I did by writing short chapters and keeping the word count at around 40,000. That’s a pretty quick read, even for someone with a short attention span like me. My previous book had short chapters, but was over 70,000 words.

The experts say to never talk down to your audience, because they may be young, but they’re also sophisticated. I wanted something intriguing, a subject that had spent some time in the public eye, and the God particle was the perfect subject.  Most everyone had heard of it, and it was still enough of a mystery that I could put my own twist on it without it seeming too far-fetched. The story involves particle physics, wormholes and multi-dimensional space, but it’s not so complicated that it loses the reader. I speak in a way any layman can understand.

Of course, there was a lot of research and fact-checking involved, but that’s true with all my novels.

Despite the age group of your readership, good characters have to populate the pages of any story to keep it interesting. Shallow, one-dimensional characters will pull your story down and your sales along with it. And you can forget any sequels. All my characters in all my books are well fleshed-out (so to speak), according to their importance in the storyline. There is a lot of dark drama involved as well, where our characters fight seemingly impossible odds. Suspense can make a good story great.

I usually make it a point to get at least one endorsement for my books. For GOD PARTICLE I managed to get Roy Huff, the #1 Amazon bestselling author of EVERVILLE: The First Pillar, who called it “…a fast-paced, fun read!” Thanks Roy!

I had a lot of fun writing GOD PARTICLE, and I think you will have a great time reading it. Pick up a copy now for only $2.99 at Amazon, B&, Smashwords or Crossroad Press.

Check me out on the web when you get a chance at

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Researching the novel: Making it real and getting it right

In his book ON WRITING, Stephen King said, “Do the research, but don’t overdo it for the reader.” Writers like me should probably take that to heart. But it’s tough, because I love to make things real.

In my last book, LILITH, I wanted the reader to feel like they were there on the USS Gerald R. Ford with me. Being ex-navy, I spent many a day sailing the ocean blue on several different ships, so that experience came in quite handy when it was time to write. I also managed to spend some time aboard a carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman, which was pretty awesome. I got to stand right out on the flight deck while the jets were taking off and landing, rattling my bones until I thought they would fracture. The picture below is one I took myself of a navy jet landing in 2010.

For LILITH, I researched several different types of weapons used by Special Forces and CIA, the CIA and its methods, nuclear fission and nuclear power, DNA and genetic mutation, animal tracking, New York City, especially Manhattan Island and its layout, the abandoned New York City subway tunnels, hurricanes and weather patterns, the offices and buildings used by the mayor of New York, the type of security used by the mayor, on and on and on. I used Google maps to see exactly what the parks and buildings looked like at street level and videos to see what the abandoned subway tunnels were like. I even enlisted the help of a retired navy commander to get my facts straight about the USS Gerald Ford, which has yet to be commissioned. 

The research itself took a good six months, the writing another six months. In the end, I had to cut 10,000 words out of the book to secure a contract with DarkFuse, most of it having to do with the back story, via the musings of the ship’s chaplain, Commander Crane, of the creature that takes over the ship. But it was worth it, because the back story will be fleshed out in the sequel, PRIMORDIAL, which I am now writing.

For PRIMORDIAL, as with all my other books; DIABLERO (Nightbird Publishing, Oct. 2010), GOD PARTICLE (Crossroad Press, June 2013), and THE BLACK CHURCH (DarkFuse, Dec. 2013), I did most of the research beforehand. Most of the action for PRIMORDIAL will be set on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean, but there are also scenes in Romania, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Sicily, and Washington D.C.

Since I am not an archeologist and have limited knowledge on the subject, I enlisted the help of archeologists and geomorphologists from Boston U. and NC State, and even picked up a book about the basics of archeology, just so I could get the jargon right. I looked at videos of several different dig sites on Crete, researched modern Crete and its ancient Minoan civilization, which figures heavily in the plot, and did more research on the CIA, nuclear radiation, DNA and genetic mutation. And that’s just the basic stuff.

Sometimes it seems like the research will never end. I just want to turn off the computer and say, “Forget it! I’m going fishing!” But even though I make my share of mistakes, I am a stickler for realism, and getting it right. If I say, “He walked through the gate and into the park,” you can be sure that I have either been there, or I looked it up on a recent video or photo and saw a gate in front of that park.

But in spite of all the necessary research, a writer can’t forget the most important element of any story: the human element. But I’ll save that for next time.

Are you a writer? Do you do a lot of research before you write? How do you go about it? Leave me a comment and tell me about it. If you have a question about research, feel free to leave a comment, as well.

For more information on me and my books, find me on the web at Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why writers need good editors

I’ve done the self-publishing thing, if for no other reason than to say, “I did it.” It was not my first book, however.

DIABLERO, a supernatural thriller that featured a resurrected, demon-possessed Blackbeard the Pirate, was published first in paperback by Nightbird Publishing in 2010 and then by Crossroad Press as an eBook in 2011.

So why do a self-published book, you may ask? Well, I think I can sum it up in one word: vanity. I wanted to get my collection of short stories out there, and none of my publishers wanted to publish a short-story collection. So I figured, what the hey, I’ll just do it myself. Shadowland was published as an eBook in 2011 with Amazon, Sony and elsewhere. 

I won’t say it was a bad decision—it was what it was. But only one of the stories, Gray Area, had gone through any kind of rigorous editing. The rest were stories that I had written and reworked several times. 

I hate to admit it, but it shows. Although several of the stories have since been edited and published elsewhere, (see Shadowland inVoluted Tales Magazine #2), they weren’t really the best they could be. Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to any editors that charged less than $1,000 per manuscript, which really wasn’t in my budget. 

I said all that to say this: editing really does make a difference. I love my editors at DarkFuse and Crossroad Press—they give a professional edge to my writing by making sure the story has continuity, catching grammatical and punctuation errors that I otherwise would have missed, and even helping reword things that could be said in a better, more concise way. I would have to pay someone several thousand dollars to do what they do, so I am eternally thankful to have their expertise.

For my second novel, LILITH, a supernatural thriller that puts a mythological creature aboard an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean, I was ready to pay a tidy sum for a good editor. But DarkFuse made an offer before I did so, and author Greg Gifune ended up being my editor, so I was happy.

My next book, GOD PARTICLE, a young adult sci-fi thriller that features Chloe Johansson, a globe-trotting sixteen-year-old MIT prodigy, is due out June 4, 2013 and will be published by Crossroad press. My editor there, David Dodd, did an excellent job catching all my dumb mistakes and I think improved my chances of getting good sales. Not a bad thing. 

If you decide to self-publish, my advice is spend the money and find yourself the best editor you can afford, one that knows the business and knows what to look for in a manuscript. Believe me, the money will be well-spent. Don’t put a half-assed manuscript out there, because readers judge you by the quality of your writing, and if one manuscript isn’t up to par, it could affect the sales of any other books you publish.

Michael Garrett, who once worked with Stephen King and other big name authors, offers an excellent service at a reasonable price for anyone who is interested. I only mention him because I was so impressed with his attitude and work ethic. There are probably many other good editors out there, but do your research and make sure they know what they’re talking about, otherwise you’ll spend a fortune and have nothing to show for it.