A stroll down the DVD memory lane

For the past weeks we here at the Henkel household had a period where we went back in time, of sorts, and did a lot of re-watching of movies we hadn’t seen in a long time. It has to do with Lucas now coming into an age where can appreciate many of the movies that Lieu and I love, particularly the comedies.

So I dug through the countless boxes of DVDs in the attic and picked out of a few flicks we had not seen in a while and that I thought Lucas would enjoy.

Now, I have to say that I have not watched a DVD in about five years. Ever since I switched to Blu-Ray, DVD just doesn’t really seem to cut it any more, but what can you do when the movie you want to watch has been released in 1998 for the last time and has never been upgraded since?

Regardless of that, however, the thing that struck me the most was the memory of these early days of DVD. It reminded me of when we started up DVD Review in 1997. It was a time when the Internet was in its infancy, still. Hollywood studios had no email addresses, most didn’t even have websites yet, let away one dedicated to their home video divisions. I remember sending out countless faxes to studios, getting on the phone with them, introducing DVD Review to them and telling them about our mission to help establish the DVD format as the home video format of choice. Some studios did not understand the concept how an Internet site could be of any value to them, but others had more foresight. I remember vividly that Polygram was the first studio to provide us with DVD copies for review. Kalifornia was the movie—and it had some serious compatibility problems, too, as I recall.

Boy, things have come a long way for sure in these past 15 years.

Death Becomes HerAs we watched one of the films the other night, Death Becomes Her, to be exact, I stared at the screen in disbelief for a moment. That was a fullframe transfer. A pan&scan transfer of a movie, in fact, that was cropped on the sides… Oh boy, yes, there was a time when studios refused to release movies in widescreen. I mean, no, they did not accidentally frame films incorrectly, they outright refused to release them in their proper widescreen aspect ratios.

And the next night, another memory came back to me while I was watching a movie and the image seemed horribly rough and jagged; the subtitles looking like the font from a Commodore 64. Yes, indeed, there was also a time when studios refused to create anamorphic transfers and used only a fraction of DVD’s actual potential.

Boy, am I glad those days are over. DVD has come a long way. Not only have fully 16×9 enhanced widescreen transfers become standard, especially with the incredibly fast adoption of widescreen televisions, but fortunately with Blu-Ray and high definition video and audio, we are experiencing movies at a completely different level these days. If you don’t believe me, go back in your library and pop in a DVD from 1998 or so. Chances are, if the grain doesn’t kill you, the lack of detail from the compression will. I was very pleasantly surprised how well some of the DVDs held up, though. You can clearly tell which studios cared about their films, and which ones created nothing but shovelware. Even back then, New Line created some of the most sublime-looking DVDs, as I was reminded.

It was nice to revel in this sense of nostalgia over the past weeks. Remembering the early days of DVD Review and how things have developed. Remembering the role we played in the nurturing and establishing of the digital video format in the homes. Few people remember this these days, but websites like DVD Review were crucial at that point in time to carry DVD beyond the level of early adopters. With our web presence, the many screenshots that accompanied each review back then, the constantly updated news feeds, we made it possible for movie fans to stay on the pulse of what was going on in Hollywood.

I still remember, writing the headline “Paramount is in!” back in 1998, and the excitement that came with it, as Paramount used to be one of the biggest hold-outs on the format and this was a major push for the fledgling DVD format. You can still find the news article in DVD Review News Archive, which goes back all the way to 1997.

But one major studio was still sitting on the fence then. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. I remember meeting with Steve Feldstein during a trade show in July. Steve was one of the VPs from Fox at the time, and he was the one in charge of all of the studios’ home video marketing. Rumors were solidifying that Fox’s announcement of support for DVD was imminent, so I confronted him directly, telling him that I knew Fox was about to announce. He looked at me with a smile and simply said “Then you know more than I do.”

It kind of set me back, I remember, but I later learned that this was just Steve’s way of carrying himself. Steve would never say a word too much. He just isn’t the kind of guy you can pull into a conversation and hope to get information out of him that he doesn’t want you to have.

Despite his flat-out denial, however, not two weeks later, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment officially announced their DVD support, and once again, DVD Review was on the forefront bringing this eagerly anticipated development to movie fans around the country. At this point, DVD was clearly poised to become a success—how much so, no one was able to foresee, however, and I think everyone was surprised how quickly DVD took off and established itself as the home video format of choice, making VHS and Laserdisc all but forgotten relics.

Gradually, the importance of websites like DVD Review faded, sadly, as the mainstream press began to pick up on the success of DVD and studios were more interested in pitching their release to E! Online and their audience rather than sites catering to dedicated movie fans, who would most likely buy their titles anyway—or so the thinking went.

I am looking back on those times very fondly. We made great friends during those years, among the Hollywood studio community, as well as within the creative community, and it is this fondness that keeps telling me to keep DVD Review alive, even after all these years.

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A closer look at Power Tuner HD

Today, I am actually opting for a change in pace. While I’ve been blogging about my books, my writing and the technology of eBooks for some time now, more recently I have turned my attention towards other matters once again. Nothing like a little change of pace to keep life interesting. 🙂

A few years ago I wrote an iPhone application called Power Tuner. This was during the early days when the iPhone was first released. As a guitarist, there were many occasions where I wished I had a tuner handy. Whether it’s at the guitar store where the ambient noise can be so much that it is hard to tune by ear, even using natural harmonics, or just at a friends place where a long-forgotten guitar makes a sudden re-appearance, a tuner is something that every guitar player should have in their pocket, just like a plectrum belongs in any guitarist’s wallet.

Being an electronic gadget, having a guitar tuners handy at all occasions was just not feasible up to that point, and as a result there were way too many jam sessions the world over, with flat tunings, perhaps permanently damaging listeners’ attitude towards you. I am just kidding, of course, but truth be told, I realized at that time that the iPhone would make a phenomenal guitar tuner that could be handy any time you’d need it. My idea was to replace a $100 musician’s tool with a $5 app.

Shortly after, I launched Power Tuner and it has been a slow but steady seller ever since. Over the years I had various plans for the tuner, and I tried to brand it with certain artists, but sadly that never materialized despite weeks and weeks of follow-ups and countless phone calls to artist managers. A few weeks ago I had a different idea, which was almost as good as the idea of branding the tuner, and I went to work to fully update the app.


The result is Power Tuner HD, a high definition version of the app that is enhanced for retina-display iPhones and the iPad. That was more of a side-feature, however. The real meat of the update was the inclusion of skins, the way I had intended for the branded version. Instead of using artists, however, I decided to use guitar paint jobs instead.

Brilliant, isn’t it?

Which guitar player hasn’t fallen in love the the gorgeous cherry sunburst of Ace Frehley’s Les Paul? Who hasn’t secretly admired the genius behind Eddie Van Halen’s wildly striped Frankenstein guitar? Fans of the Fender Stratocaster definitely get a kick of the deep sunburst paint job that has become so iconic in the hands of players such as Ritchie Blackmore, Robin Trower, or Yngwie Malmsteen. The array is endless and as guitar players, we all have a passion for great paint jobs.


Therefore, I have prepared and included a set of the paint jobs that I found most iconic into Power Tuner HD, allowing guitarists to not only get in tune, but to do so in style.

As you can see from the screen shots in this post, I have recreated all of the aforementioned guitar looks as selectable skins, along with other ones. Check out the George Lynch-inspired Kamikaze skin, or the skin imitating John Petrucci’s Picasso guitars he played during the 80s. A beautiful Tobacco Sunburst is also included, reminiscent of Gibson’s Les Paul guitars. Apart from the original Power Tuner Tuna Skin, I have also included a brushed aluminum skin that resembles a 19” rack unit.

I have plans for a number of other skins that I may release, depending on how popular Power Tuner HD turns out to be. I would love to create a skin that resembles Rory Gallagher’s paint-stripped Stratocaster look, and one that looks like Zakk Wylde’s Bullseye Les Paul. Most of all, however, I would love to add some Steve Vai-inspired skins. And who knows, I might also be looking into iconic skins suggested by Power Tuner users.

Even though Power Tuner HD is now geared towards guitar and bass players, I think it is important to point out that the software is much more versatile than that. With a wide frequency range, the tuner is really suitable for all sorts of instruments, including violins, violas and celli, as well as brass instruments and others. It can even measure the pitch of your voice. If you are a singer, Power Tuner can actually help you to practice holding your pitch, as well as practicing you to gain perfect pitch for your vocals.

And all of that for less than $5. So, without me going on blabbing about how cool Power Tuner HD is, head over to the AppStore and get yourself a copy!

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Today I would like to welcome Angela White as a guest to my blog, as part of her blog tour to celebrate the release of her latest novel “Adrian’s Eagle.”


gun barrelWhen someone says the word Apocalypse, the mind immediately conjures up images of whole cities burning while zombies or crazed people run wild in the streets. There’s always arson and looting, rape and murder, and none of the innocent people caught in the crossfire have a weapon or even know how to defend themselves. Once a little time has gone by, all the characters, good or bad, pack heat, and self defense becomes as important as food and water.

In a real apocalypse, the same will be true, but it won’t be just other people that are dangerous. Alone or in a group, protection will be vital and even those who loath weapons and abhor violence will carry them. There simply won’t be any other choice.

Like the refugees in the clip below from my new release, survivors will have to go searching for these life-savers. As time goes by, guns and bullets for them will get harder to find. Stockpiles should be gathered during the weeks after the apocalypse.

“Seven very gifted survivors are destined to rebuild their country after a nuclear apocalypse…If they can stay alive long enough to find each other. Impossible to put down.” – The Review Blog

“Are you sure?” Adrian cut her off. “Don’t turn down destiny. Sometimes, you only get one knock.”
He moved toward the driver’s side and the air suddenly went cold, plunging the Eagles into instant alertness.
Angela blanched as a wave of panic swept over her. “Your gun!” The Witch ordered sharply.
“Boss, watch out!” Kyle’s hand dropped for the Glock, already knowing he couldn’t make it from where he stood.
Bang!
The single shot seemed to echo forever and all of them, except Adrian, turned to see where it had come from.
Adrian stared at the dead rattlesnake by his tire, listening to its mutated tails twitch, and the Eagles around them stilled, waiting to see if she would be treated the same as one of the men.
“You have one request.”
Angela calmly re-holstered and used the moment to make it all official. “I’ve already asked it.”

Full of realistic and fantasy situations, the Life After War series is a combination of more than 7 genres, so there’s a good chance of everyone liking it and learning a few things about survival at the same time. You can get a free copy at the link below, of the first book in the series. It’s free for all of this year to celebrate the possible end of the world on 12/21/2012.

Adrian's EagleAdrian’s Eagles — Three months after the War of 2012, Safe Haven refugee camp has made it to South Dakota and now holds six of the seven special survivors meant to lead the rebuilding of their country -but it can’t be done until they find a safe place to settle… and who can think of peace when there’s a huge camp of foreign invaders less than a day behind their group and they only want one thing? Safe Haven and everyone inside the light.
Watch the trailer for this series
Free- The Survivors – The bestselling novel that started it all. – See on iTunes
More Scenes of the Apocalypse

Btw, a huge thanks to Guido for hosting me on my Scenes of the Apocalypse release tour. Have you read Dead by Dawn yet? It’s only $2.99! I just downloaded a copy to my Kindle. Gonna have a great summer of reading by the time I gather up all these new books!

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This week a new animated movie makes it to theaters, taking a humorous look at the world of pirates. Aptly titled The Pirates! Band of Misfits you may have seen the trailer of the movie flicker over your television screen for the past weeks. If not, well, all is not lost – here is a look at the trailer for you.



This film is an old-school stop-motion film, created by the same people who made the Wallace & Gromit shorts and movies, as well as the movie Chicken Run, in case you remember that one. So with that in mind, I think it is a sure bet that “The Pirates!” will be a fun film that is enjoyable for the whole family.

Why am I pitching you on this movie, you wonder, no doubt. No, I did not work on the film, I did not write it either and no, I did not appear unit nor did I voice any of the characters. I did, however, write a Pirate book for children some time ago, and I felt this was as good a time as any to remind everyone of it.

Kitt Pirate cover

Called Kitt Pirate: Snaggletooth’s Treasure, my book is a chapter book adventure story for 4th graders, in which a young pirate captain is trying to hunt down a legendary treasure. The adventure is fraught with peril and surprises, as it keeps young readers enthralled, and has been reviewed very favorably by readers and school librarians.

“And why does it say Ben Oliver for the author?” you may wonder when you look at it. Rest assured, I did not direct you to the wrong book. Ben Oliver is a pen name that I adopted for the book, because I did not want children to accidentally stumble across all my horror books the first time they type in the the author’s name in Google or so.

So, if you want to get your kids in the mood for the movie, or if you want them to be able to follow up the movie with some additional children-friendly pirate fare, Kitt Pirate might be a great pick for you — not to mention that your purchase would make me very happy. It is available as a paperback, as well as an eBook for all conceivable eBook readers.

Here are some quick access links for you to find the book.


Amazon Kindle
Amazon Paperback
Barnes&Noble Nookbook
Barnes&Noble Paperback
Apple iBookstore
Kobo eBookstore

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The anatomy of writing

When you read a book, it is sometimes hard to fathom the amount of work that goes into the words on the page. It just all seems so natural, flowing with ease at just the right pace to create suspense or tension.

The reality of writing is that it is a lengthy and time-consuming process. The job of a writer is not only to cough up the words, but writing a book is a process during which you are making thousands of decisions. All the cool events in that story you’re reading need to be thought up and detailed out. Is that corridor leading to the left or to the right, or is it perhaps leading downstairs? What about furniture and decor? Does it look spartan or is it richly furnished, and if so, with what?

Fu Man Chu’s Vampire Lettering

Every scene in a book requires countless decisions to be made. Some come naturally out of the overall context, but many times, these decisions can be hard to make for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is hard for a writer to make a decision, because we don’t want to commit to something just yet, as the story might require something different later on.

The same decision making process often applies to the writing itself. Things such as which words to use, how to describe settings and events, how to paint characters, their idiosyncrasies, their speech patterns and behavior, all of these things require forethought and a lot of decision making. As a result many writers — myself included — write their books in iterations.

I want to show you how this works and how a piece of text is shaped and polished in such an iterative process, from its first draft to the final version you will find in the published book.

When I write a book I typically do not get up with grammatical details and style all that much. I try to write what is in my mind, without losing to much time so I won’t lose my train of thought. I find that many times I sink into what is called a “writer’s dream.” It is a time where I am writing and I am completely focused on the story. During those times I will see the scene I am writing before my mind’s eye, like a movie, and I am caught up in it, simply dumping it into the computer the way I dream it. I see characters act, react, and talk, allowing me to adapt believable speech patterns and behaviors for those characters. Oftentimes I will actually see specific actors in these parts, helping me to visualize the scene unfold even better. Before you ask, yes, I do have an actor I see when I think of Jason Dark but I will not tell you who it is. No offense, but I just don’t want you to have any external connotations when reading about Jason Dark.

Once I have written down the story, I have what is called a First Draft. This first draft is a rough unpolished piece of writing that will require a serious amount of work before it is ready for the prime time. Below you will see an excerpt from “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” the most recent Jason Dark adventure. This is the first draft version. It is the result of my initial brain dump, complete with typos and errors, without any work or cleanup done to it.

A pale moon appeared from behind its veil of clouds and cast its hues across the gaslit streets of London, the pale blue fingers crawling across the desiccated features of a strange figure hiding in a darkened doorway. The city was bustling, as always, oblivious to the evil that walked the cobblestone streets, ready to suck the very life from its inhabitants.
A breeze blew from the south, pushing fresh sea air through the city and finally driving out the stench that had accompanied the dog days of late summer a few days ago. In serpentine wisps, a growing layer of fog wove its way through the moist night air, moving into every side street and court in the dockyards where ships were moored and guarded by the dim light of unsteady lanterns.
The figure stood motionless, dressed in midnight blue silken garbs. Not a muscle moved underneath the parchment skin. The man’s cadaverous features were mummified, like parchment, and blotched with rot. The skin was hanging from the skull bones in dry, crumbly folds with no sign of life. A velvet hat was crowning the man’s head, all blue, except for a thin, red rim and a small gold tassel.

Once my first draft is done, I will usually set it aside for at least two weeks without looking at it or even thinking about it. It is simmering there while I will lose my immediate attachment to the words I wrote. The reason for this is that I want to have a fresh approach to the book. I don’t want to get stuck in the same though patterns I had when writing the book. I want to read it more like a reader than the writer.
So, after some time has passed I will read the book. Very slowly, sentence for sentence. I will look for spelling errors, I will will check the sentences for grammatical issues. Does it sound right? Did I get my point across or have I been overly obtuse? I look for instances where I could perhaps shuffle around a sentence so it becomes more powerful.

Below you will find the same paragraph as above, only this time I have made a first revision pass at it. Note how certain things have changed. These might look like small changes, but the thing about really good writing is that its beauty is in the details. One word changed can make a world of difference and truly elevate the impact of the text to a new level.

The pale face of the moon appeared from behind its veil of clouds and cast silvery hues across the gaslit streets of London, its pale blue fingers crawling across the desiccated features of a strange figure hiding in a darkened doorway. The city was bustling, as always, all but oblivious to the evil that walked the cobblestone streets, ready to suck the very life from its inhabitants.
A crisp breeze blew from the south, pushing fresh sea air through the city and finally driving out the stench that had accompanied the dog days of late summer only a week ago. In serpentine wisps, a growing layer of fog wove its way through the moist night air, conquering every side street and court in the dockyards where ships were moored and guarded by the dim light of unsteady lanterns.
The figure stood motionless, dressed in midnight blue silken garbs. Not a muscle moved underneath the parchment skin. The man’s cadaverous features were mummified, like parchment, and blotched with ages of rot. The skin was hanging from the skull bones in dry, crumbly folds that showed no life. A velvet hat was crowning the man’s head, all blue, except for a thin , red rim and a small gold tassel.

Once I have completed this first revision, I will immediately go back and read the book again. This is important to me because I now have the entire story still in my mind and remember what happened through the book. This is crucial to make sure the story remains consistent, and so that forward references are correct. I can mentally check if the information a character is referring to is actually know to him at that point in time. As a writer it os all too easy to get caught up in the writer’s dream that we forget to introduce key elements, hints or even people.
During this second reading I will also constantly keep an eye on my verbs. I will look for stronger verbs wherever I can to make sure the sentences get across their meaning as powerfully as possible. In addition, I will look at my word pictures, the nouns and descriptions I am using, to ensure my writing is as evocative as it can be.
At this stage I will also pay close attention to the rhythm and flow of the text. I will check the beginnings of sentences to make sure they are varied and interesting. If I notice too many sentences in a row starting with “He,” for example, I know it is time to shake things up a little and work some rephrasing magic.

Below you will once again find the same passage as before, only this time after I went over it a second time. Once again you will notice the subtle differences, and you will hopefully see how these small changes actually do make a big difference.

The pale face of the moon emerged from behind its veil of clouds, and cast silvery hues across the gaslit streets of London, its pale blue fingers creeping across the desiccated features of a strange figure hiding in a darkened doorway. The city was bustling, as usual, all but oblivious to the evil that walked the cobblestone streets, ready to suck the very life from its denizens.
A crisp breeze blew from the south, pushing fresh sea air through the city, and finally driving out the stench that had accompanied the dog days of late summer only a week ago. In serpentine wisps, a growing layer of fog wove its way through the moist night air, conquering every side street and court in the dockyards where moored ships groaned, guarded over by the unsteady light of dim lanterns.
The figure stood motionless, dressed in midnight blue silken garbs. Impassive, not a muscle moved underneath the parchment skin. The man’s cadaverous features were mummified, and blotched with ages of rot. The skin was hanging from the skull bones in dry, crumbly folds that showed no signs of life. A velvet hat was crowning the man’s head, all blue, except for a thin, red rim and a small gold tassel.

At this time I am usually close to what I want my text to be. If I am not yet confident, I will repeat the process above until I feel the text has reached a level of maturity I am after. With each iteration, however, it becomes more and more important to keep the original intention in mind. It is all too easy to completely lose the original voice of the text by accident, which is, of course, not something you want to happen.

It is time to give the book one more read. During this stage I will try to put on my reader hat. I will read the book and take note of things that stick out, such as spelling errors and typos, or missing or misplaced punctuation marks. I will also note down adverbs I encountered to go back after the read and see if I can perhaps remove them, or replace them with stronger verbs still. This I do after the read, because at this stage I want to experience the story and not break up the reading with a lot of editing time.

Below you will find the excerpt from “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” that you should be familiar with by now, with these changes applied.

The pale face of the moon emerged from behind its veil of clouds, and cast silvery hues across the gaslit streets of London, its pale blue fingers creeping across the desiccated features of a strange figure hiding in a darkened doorway. The city was bustling, as usual, all but oblivious to the evil that walked the cobblestone streets, ready to suck the very life from its denizens.
A crisp breeze blew from the south, pushing fresh sea air through the city, and driving out the stench at last, that had accompanied the dog days of late summer only a week ago. In serpentine wisps, a growing layer of fog wove its way through the moist night air, conquering every side street and court in the dockyards where moored ships groaned, guarded over by the unsteady light of dim lanterns.
The figure stood motionless, dressed in midnight blue silken garbs. Impassive, not a single muscle moved underneath the parchment skin. The man’s cadaverous features were mummified, and blotched with ages of rot. The skin was hanging from the skull bones in dry, crumbly folds that showed no signs of life. A velvet hat was crowning the man’s head, all blue, except for a thin blood-red rim and a small gold tassel.

At this point, I usually ask my wife, Lieu, to read it before I actually publish it. She is the Jason Dark series editor and knows the characters perhaps better than I do. She was usually also the person who helped me put together the storyline by providing input, suggestions and ideas, so she is very well suited to let me know when a character in my book acts out-of-character.

Lieu also has an uncanny ability to pick up on lose ends pr things that make no sense. She will point these out to me and ask questions, such as, “Why did the bad guy wait all this time? He could have killed them on page 34 already.” It is then up to me to make things fit and perhaps add a sentence or reference in certain places of the story to make sure everything in the story happens for a reason.

What comes next is crucial. At the same time it is, sadly, the step that all too many independent and self-published authors skip — the Editor.

I will send my book off to my editor, my friend Terry Coleman, in the case of the Jason Dark books. The job of the editor is essentially the same I have done in all the above steps, only that now it is being performed by a trained expert who has no prior affiliation with the text. He has a completely new set of eyes, he has a wealth of experience, he is a walking dictionary, thesaurus and etymologist all wrapped in one person. Terry knows things I don’t. He notices things I don’t. He sees misplaced modifiers that I read over. He notices when something doesn’t make sense or feels stilted. He knows dialects and can polish the things people say, and so forth. In short, an editor is an egg-laying-wool-milk-pig.

Terry will return my book to me with all sorts of corrections and comments inserted as notes in the document. I will accept or reject these comments and correction suggestions at my own discretion, but even when I disagree with the suggestions he is making, I will ALWAYS think about them before dismissing them. Most of the time I find that he is correct and that a small clarification here, or a restructuring there may lead to a stronger emotional response, or will simply improve the writing in general.

Below you will find the same passage we’ve been looking at all this time in its final version, after Terry went over it.

The pallid face of the moon emerged from behind its veil of clouds, and cast silvery hues across the gaslit streets of London, its pale blue fingers creeping across the desiccated features of a strange figure hiding in a darkened doorway. The city was bustling, as usual, all but oblivious to the evil that walked the cobblestone streets, ready to suck the very life from its denizens.
A crisp breeze blew from the south, pushing fresh sea air through the city, and finally driving out the stench that had accompanied the dog days of late summer only a week ago. In serpentine wisps, a growing layer of fog wove its way through the moist night air, conquering every side street and court in the dockyards where moored ships groaned, guarded over by the unsteady light of dim lanterns.
The figure stood motionless, dressed in midnight blue silken garbs. Impassive, not a single muscle moved underneath the parchment skin. The man’s cadaverous features were mummified, and blotched with ages of rot. The skin was hanging from the skull bones in dry, crumbly folds that showed no signs of life. A velvet hat crowned the man’s head, all blue, except for a thin blood-red rim and a small gold tassel.

Now the book is finally ready to be read by general audiences. I will format it as an eBook and for the print edition, and will proceed to unleash it onto the unsuspecting public.

As you can see, writing a book is a lot more involved than simply putting down the initial text. It is a process that is iterative and very time consuming, and can be extremely draining. But if done right, the end result can be exceedingly rewarding, for both, the writer and the reader equally. A carefully crafted book is a thing of beauty and well worth the effort.

If I whet your appetite for some more, make sure to get yourself a copy of the book now for only $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Kobo for all your favorite eBook reading devices. And if you don’t own an eBook reader, you know, of course, that you can download Kindle software or ePub readers for pretty much any gadget and computer for free.

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The origins of Fu Man Chu’s Vampire

If you’ve been following my blog or my Twitterstream, you will be aware that I’ve recently finished a new Jason Dark story. I began writing this series of supernatural mysteries taking place in Victorian England about 3 years ago. Revolving around the occult detective Jason Dark — kind of a Sherlock Holmes character facing paranormal cases — and his cast of sidekicks that includes Siu Lin and his friend Herbert, I’ve always been attracted and intrigued by the possibilities this series offered to me as a writer.

Fu Man Chu's Vampire CoverThe most recent adventure, the eleventh in the series, is a perfect example, why. Titled “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” the title alone says it all. I love to have fun with my stories. It gives me tremendous pleasure to take things that we are familiar with and give the my own spin. Like Doctor Fu Manchu, the criminal mastermind, brought to life by Sax Rohmer in 1912 – though it was first published in 1913. Fu Man Chu made a personal appearance in a previous Jason Dark adventure named “From a Watery Grave,” but only as a somewhat peripheral character that advanced the story. To celebrate the nefarious mastermind’s 100th anniversary, I felt it was time to put him the spotlight of one of my stories, and the idea for “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” was born.

I already foreshadowed the story in Jason Dark’s tenth mystery, “Curse of Kali,” but I have to be perfectly honest that at the time I wrote those foreshadowing scenes, I had absolutely no idea where I would eventually go with the actual story of “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire.” I just knew that I wanted to do something.

It all changed when lightning struck me in early November — figuratively speaking, of course. In one sparkling moment, just after Halloween, I suddenly knew how I could develop the story. I had the germ for a unique approach to the story, something that would make sure it’s not just another vampire story, and the key how to make the Jiang Shi, the hopping Chinese vampires, truly formidable opponents.

I kept the idea in my head for three days, trying to turn it down, because I had decided some time earlier in the year not to write any more Jason Dark stories for a number of reasons. You can’t keep a good idea down, though, and it just begging. There was a time when the idea teased me with cookies and even bribed me with the promise of riches. Like I would fall for that…

Be that as it may, I finally gave in. I just wanted to write this story so badly. I decided put everything else aside and began to write. After twelve days, the story was done. That is the fastest I ever completed a Jason Dark story. Traditionally, it always took me about twice as long, but this one just begged to come out. With minimal pre-planning, I simply wrote the story from beginning to end. That in itself is very unusual for me, as I have a tendency to write my books out of order. Ordinarily, I write whichever scene I feel like at any given day. But in this case, it was truly like telling the story from beginning to end. I knew exactly where I wanted to go and I went for it.

Interestingly, “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” also turned out to be the longest of all Jason Dark adventures so far. In fact, after my fourth draft, it was about 25 percent longer than the other stories, and the final editing add even a little more bulk to it. So, it is easy to see that I enjoyed writing it, as there was none of the struggle that usually accompanied the other adventures — to some degree, at least.

Ultimately, it is a reflection of the plot, I think. I wanted to present Fu Man Chu as a larger-than-life villain without him being an entirely supernatural creature. He is, after all, a human. Fortunately, the titular vampire is not and the teaming up of the two allowed me to do some really cool things.

As with all the Jason Dark supernatural mysteries, I also wanted to add some nice drama and unexpected turns to the story to show off my cast’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses. I’d love to tell you more about how Siu Lin drfuf jrjf nfb yogifjfndnd… oops, sorry, I am evidently not at liberty to tell you details. You will have to get yourself a copy and read the story. 🙂

Take it from me, though, that it is a fun ride and the fact that I had a blast writing it should, in theory, be reflected in the writing — or so I hope.

Get yourself a copy of the book now for only $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Kobo for all your favorite eBook reading devices. And if you don’t own an eBook reader, you know, of course, that you can download Kindle software or ePub readers for pretty much any gadget and computer for free.

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Fu Man Chu’s Vampire is now available!

I thought I’d let all my faithful blog readers know real quick that my latest book, Fu Man Chu’s Vampire has been officially released today.

Fu Man Chu's Vampire CoverIt is available for only $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Kobo for all your favorite eBook reading devices or software.

Want to know little more about it? Well, here is the book’s synopsis. As you can see this Victorian-era supernatural mystery is not your average off-the-mill adventure. If truly despicable villains and hopping vampires straight out of China are you bag, you simply owe it to yourself to give this new book a try.

When ordinary measures are no longer enough, criminal mastermind Fu Man Chu makes use of a supernatural henchman to get his way. Soon, Scotland Yard is confronted with a series of unexplainable deaths that unsettle Victorian London, and Inspector Lestrade turns to occult detective Jason Dark and Siu Lin for help.

But as they look into the case, little do the ghost hunters suspect that the evil crime lord has already made them the vampire’s next target!

Filled with enough mystery, drama and suspenseful action to transport you to the sinister streets of gaslit London, your encounter with the extraordinary awaits as a new nightmare emerges and an old nemesis returns.

Once again, let me remind you that the book is available now for only $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Kobo for all your favorite eBook reading devices or software. There is no justifiable reason why you should not own a copy… seriously!

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Jason Dark Collection 1 coverJust out of the blue, I have decided to run a limited time promotion for the two Jason Dark Supernatural Mystery Collections over the weekend.

Usually, these collections are priced $6.99 on Amazon. They feature three Jason Dark stories each, along with the bonus short story “Food for the Dead,” which ran in Fangoria Magazine as a serialized short earlier this year.

Now Only $2.99Because I was in an experimental mood – I think my friend Scott Nicholson starts to have a bad influence on me – I decided from one moment to the other to simply reduce the price of the collection to $2.99 for the weekend.

To make a long story short, and to save you any more of my yapping, make sure to grab it while the price is still there.

Jason Dark Collection 2 coverAt $2.99 each of these three-story collection is the same price as each of the individual mysteries, so why are you still reading this and not already downloading your Kindle copy over on Amazon?

The Jason Dark Supernatural Mystery Collection #1 features the stories “Demon’s Night,” “Theater of Vampires” and the award-winning “Ghosts Templar.”

The Jason Dark Supernatural Mystery Collection #2 contains the mysteries “Heavens on Fire,” “Dr. Prometheus” and “From a Watery Grave.” How could you say “No” to this? Right, you can’t!

Also, while I have your ear, do me a favor, will you? Tell your friends about it. Tweet the info up or plaster it on your Facebook wall. You would make me a very happy camper.

Note: If you prefer ePUB versions, the books are also on sale currently at Barnes&Noble.

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While I am still waiting for my editor Terry Coleman to complete his overview and comments on my latest Jason Dark supernatural mystery, “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” I spent some time over the past two weeks, trying to create a suitable cover for the book.

In the past I had always hired an artist to paint a cover for me, based on clearly-defined ideas and suggestions I had. Many times, I prepared a mock-up that I would send him and then let him paint what I had in mind. Very consciously, I always went for a classic look, as I tried to recreate the flair of old-school pulp fiction, dime novels and the wonderful horror movie posters of the 40s, 50s and 60s.

All of that served my desire to create a certain look for my books, but some time ago, the question came up again and again if, perhaps, this look has been holding back these books, dating them unnecessarily or putting them in a niche where few readers will pick them up. As a result I did major and minor overhauls of some of the covers over the past year or so.

To make a long story short, for “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” my idea was to go a slightly different route. I wanted to treat the book as a stand-alone and break with the old, just to see how things will work out. Therefore I decided not to have the cover painted this time, but instead try a different approach.

One was to open up the cover design to the public, essentially, and I created a contest some time ago, offering artists the chance to create a cover for the book and get it published. Sadly, the response was not what I expected and once the deadline was over, I knew I had to take matters in my own hands once again. I toiled away at ideas, but everything I came up with seemed old and stale — completely uninspired. And I knew it.

Eventually I turned over the work to my wife, Lieu, who is a graphic designer, and who regularly winces at the stuff I come up with. To her I am an amateur, stuck in a rut, and she’s probably right. She offered to help and I gladly accepted her offer.

It took Lieu no more than ten minutes to come up with a general design that I liked. Talk about a pro, there. Within a few hours we had set up a photo shoot to take the key imagery that she’d need for the cover and by the end of the day she had things neatly lined up.

All that was missing was the title lettering, and I often tend to think that is one of my fortes. (Oh, stop rolling your eyes, will you?)

Anyway, I gave it a shot and I spent a day creating tweaking and re-tweaking a lettering until I was pretty much satisfied with it. I say “pretty much” because I got to the point that my wife actually said, “Would you stop it? It is great the way it is. Stop messing with it.” Yes, I can get a little carried away, and if it were up to me, I’d probably still tinker with the logo.

The final version of the cover is still not complete. Lieu still has to properly assemble the various elements and balance it all to the point that it will be “perfect,” but I thought I’d give you guys a first peek at the lettering I created. Never mind the background. I included the swirl simply to get a general idea how it looks superimposed over some color, as opposed to having it sit on a black background.

Fu Man Chu’s Vampire Lettering

Doesn’t that have a totally gnarly graveyard look? Can’t you just feel the age oozing from it? It had a different texture first and at one point I started playing with the textures and blend-modes for them, when I hit this one. I started at it and immediately knew, This is it!

I don’t know how you respond to the lettering, but to me it has the look and feel of a crypt. I can practically hear stone scraping on stone as the lid slides away… yeah, like I said, I can get carried away sometimes, so never mind me, but feel free to let me know what you think of it.

Also, don’t forget that I am still running my promotion. If you buy “Curse of Kali”, you will get a free copy of “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” as soon as it is available. Exclusively, and ahead of anyone else. So, if you want to be among the first people to read my next book, make sure to read the full details of the promotion here.

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To KF8 or MOBI, that is the question…

I’ve been working my way through Amazon’s new KF8 format specs a little bit, and while it is a great format, taking the Kindle eBook format to where EPUB has been for some time, I have to say there are a few things that stick out like a sore thumb.

One of the issues that truly and really disturb me is the lack of support on anything but the Kindle Fire. Although Amazon had initially announced that the current generation Kindles and software readers would be KF8 capable, that statement was simply not true. It has since been revised that these devices will support KF8 some time in the future. In the real world that is a big difference.

It means that if you’re using KF8, you are currently limiting yourself to the Kindle Fire platform. While it is clearly a successful platform, it is nonetheless a niche.

The other thing that sorely disturbed me is the fact that Amazon is in no real way accommodating MOBI alongside KF8. By this I mean that Amazon is not willing to allow you to upload a KF8 version of a book and a MOBI version of the same book in order to enable proper support for all their Kindles. This problem extends not only into the publishing platform but actually starts at the root, the authoring of eBook.

Although with the new tools, Amazon has set up media queries, using an HTML @-rule, which allows you to define different styles for the KF8 and MOBI builds generated from your submission file, it is sadly a rather mediocre solution. It does help, however, in some cases. If you want text to flow around an image, a feature the KF8 format finally supports, you can tell it to use a different style setting for the MOBI version, in which you could center the image and then force a line-break and start the text on the next line. In theory, this would work. The problem seems to be that the old Kindles do not understand the display: block property that would be necessary to enforce the line break. Unless I find some way to tell the old Kindle that it needs to perform a line break after an image, this media-query fix is useless in this case.

The same is true with tables. Old Kindles have no table support. It’s been a major problem in the past, as it makes tabulating information impossible. If you display a KF8 table on an old Kindle it will be flattened, which means every table column will appear in a separate line. From a technical standpoint it makes sense because it is the easiest way to parse a table without actually implementing support. In practice it defeats its purpose, because it completely mangles and intermingles data that should, by rights, be separated — hence the use of a table.

Sadly the newfangled media queries won’t help in this case either, because the only real substitutes for tables on old Kindles are either completely restructured data, which requires different structural code and cannot be managed using a style, or you could replace the table with an image, which also requires code and cannot be achieved via a style setting. Ergo, the media query once again misses the mark.

Nonetheless, the media queries are great and will help on occasion to allow a certain degree of “correction” between versions. At least it’s a try…

In my opinion, however, Amazon should allow publishers to upload separate KF8 and MOBI versions in the future. It would be the only way to make sure that both versions can be authored to the best of the respective format’s capabilities and look as best as they can. Trying to automate the process – even with a media query hint has never been a good idea. The Smashwords Meat Grinder is the living proof that this Least Common Denominator approach is getting you nowhere but in trouble, and therefore I sincerely hope that Amazon will rethink their strategy in that respect, and while they’re at it, maybe they should look at their documentation also and rework the CSS selector listing they have in there, because as it stand, it would lead you to believe that old Kindles can’t handle any CSS, as every single selector is marked off as “unsupported.”

I wonder if they have actually corrected some of the issues I raised a while ago in the new platforms, such as incorrect em calculation, the right margin and padding issues, the missing borders, and so forth. Maybe some of you reader can enlighten me on that, since I have no Kindle Fire and none of the latest Kindles at my disposal.

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