A Science Fiction Author Greets the Holidays

IMG_0165The holidays are upon me.

Christmas horn

I’ll never get everything done.

I say this every year and, somehow, Christmas happens…but right now, I’m overwhelmed and my feet hurt. Once a year, my daughter and I do a Christmas window shopping excursion at the mall complete with a tasty lunch, laughter, and lots of gift suggestions. Everything she tries on, she looks great in. This year her mother-in-law, Nancy, joined us and made it even more festive.

We don’t buy, we just take notes. Then I go back and pick out what I want to give her/them.

Why am I telling you this?

I haven’t been reading, and I have barely been writing. I am finishing up edits and working on marketing in addition to the usual household craziness.

I’m makingChristmas horn excuses for a late blog.

Since I’m writing the next book in the Terran Series provisionally called Somewhat Alien, I’m focused on writing tips. I could go on a rant about all the current rules of writing…especially “show don’t tell.” Critiques concentrate so much on the details of writing that often they miss the forest for the trees.

Luckily, I have an author in my writing group who questions pacing and the overall balance of plot and characters. Sometimes it’s good to back up and get a viewpoint on your overall story.

A recent blog on this that I just read is: https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2016/11/rhythm-and-pacing-of-writing-the-final-flourish/

Read through to remind yourself to back up and look at the overall story as you are writing.

On the marketing front, on Cyber Monday, I offered Someone’s Clone for free on Booksends. I figured lots of people would be checking their e-mails for deals, and there I’d be.

The results were disappointing for all that brilliance of thought, the follow-on sales thin, although follow on results have just begun. I don’t know if this is due to the ad site or mostly how busy everyone is. This book is rarely offered free, so if anyone else has used Booksends, I’d be interested in their results. Not long ago, I mentioned Jason B. Ladd’s website where authors are recording results from various add sites to compare which works best. Of course, the book itself plays an important part in success or failure of the effort.

http://www.jasonbladd.com/indielisters/

However, not to be dissuaded, I’m once again offering my first in a series, Caught in Time on December 19 on Book Barbarian. For the price, it got good results recently. I’m thinking people will be buying new tablets as gifts and will be looking to load exciting stories onto them. Then on December 26, I’ll offer it again. Readers should be done with parties and want a quiet read. I’ve picked Fussy Librarian as my ad booster site then. It has gotten good reviews with a low cost.

I’m not doing book fairs or signings. In the past, they have been expensive and not cost effective. If they have worked for you, tell me how…I’m interested.

tinkers-daughterThis week I’m going to mention a suggestion given to me by another avid science fiction reader. Ted Blasche has written The Rust Bucket Chronicles, a military science fiction with humor and romance along the lines of Lois Bujold. He e-mailed me and suggested I read the Tinkerer’s Daughter by Jamie Sedgwick. When I went looking for an Amazon best seller, there it was.

Breeze is an outcast, born of an elven mother and a human father, who is recalled to a war between elf and human that has been going on for a thousand years. The safest place he could leave her is with a tinker who makes noisy inventions and dangerous machines. Kids at school bully her, and she has to hide her elven ears to protect herself from the townsmen who see her race as the enemy.  Then, she gets an idea that could stop the war and save the planet if it works. If it doesn’t she could be hunted down for treason and killed.

Mixed reviews suggest you consider whether this is your style of story, but my friend gave it two thumbs up, and I plan to read it soon.tinkers-war

If you’re looking for other ideas, there are a number of series that I haven’t had time to follow up on : Chris Rehner, (Catalyst), Bella Forest (The Star King), any Sharon Lee and Steve Miller in the Liaden series, and maybe you might consider my Alysian series. The later books get even better. Or scan through my two years of blogs on great science fiction reads.

Whatever you have time for, I hope your holidays are filled with fun and good company. Laugh, love, visit with friends, and have a good time.Christmas horn

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Filed under Best selling science fiction, book fairs, ebook marketing, fantasy series, Liaden Universe, Marketing and selling novels, military science fiction, Political science fictionLois McMasters Bujold, science fiction, science fiction series

E-Book Marketing

Image 1The holiday season is barreling down on us, and if you plan any book marketing, you might need to get it in place soon. Selecting how to market is like running through an obstacle course. Each site has different requirements. Most want at least five reviews, which sounds easy except for the new Amazon rules, and if the book is a new release, you may have very few. However, several sites will take a new release if you have other books with fifty strong reviews from Amazon.

Just when I found a book I would consider offering that meet all the criteria, I realized it had no more free KDP select days. I get better results offering one free, and then readers buy the others. Back to the drawing board.

Finally, I got it all in place. I have offered Someone’s Clone free on Cyber Monday November 28 through Booksends, but it will also be free through KDP from November 25 to 29 since I estimate a lot of people will be online looking for deals… And viola, there I’ll be.

Free, free, free.

At least that’s the rationale.

I have something set up for December after Christmas when the commotion has died down and new Kindle and tablets are wanting to be filled. Caught in Time will be free December 26, mainly because Fussy Librarian was filled the other days I wanted.

I’ll let you know how each one performed.

Kathryn Rush did an interesting blog with numbers and math that indicated retail sales across the board were down in October due to folks concentrating on the election. I know mine were. I wondered why. I thought it was because I didn’t do a promotion or much advertising because I was so busy launching A World Too Far.

She said relax. Low sales were not any authors’ fault. Data going back several other election years showed the same trend for October and November.

I feel better.

crosstalkThis week I’m mentioning Crosstalk by Connie Willis. Connie has won numerous Hugo Awards and Nebulas making her a top science fiction author and a favorite of mine. If you ever thought it would be a good idea to be able to read minds, this will change your opinion. If, like me, you feel you are being overtaken by technology, especially the new Alexa, Google, and other devices that are intruding into our homes, in addition to the ever present smart phone, iPad, etc., this will confirm that feeling.

Briddy Flanigan is a young thirtieth professional woman who works at a cell phone and communications company competing with Apple. She is constantly on her phone checking and getting texts, emails, and calls from everyone who knows her business before she even does. Trent, the hot VP at the company, and her obsessively career-minded boyfriend, has convinced her to get an EED. This is an implant that allows a couple to be aware of each other’s emotions and often gotten prior to marriage to bring two people closer together.

So, now everyone in the company is a buzz, thinking there’s an engagement coming… And Briddy is already overwhelmed by communication in her life that includes her intrusive family of a paranoid mother, a younger precocious sister, and a single desperate older sister who constantly falls for the wrong guys and runs to Briddy for consolation.crosstalk-paperback

The high profile doctor who will perform the implant assures her that nothing can go wrong. But this is a story by Connie Willis, so, of course, chaos breaks out.

The book is a biting social satire on what happens when there is too much human communication. Events spin out of control for our heroine, resulting in hilarious situations that proceed at a breathtaking speed. Bundled in all this shenanigans is a touching love story.

It’s a fast-paced, near future read, written with a light heart that asks some deep questions, and one you don’t want to start too late at night.

Also by Connie: Hugo award winner To Say Nothing of the Dog.dog

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Book Reviews: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Image 1A lot has been said and heard about the terrible editors and publishers who totally ignore or devastate eager new writers. With so many writers out there, the traditional publishing funnel is getting smaller and smaller. I know, I tried to squeeze into one of them. I wasted two years waiting for Baen books to get around to turning down my first book after expressing interest and asking for a completed manuscript.

TWO YEARS! ONE BOOK!

Now the shoe is on the other foot, and ouch, it pinches.

Because I write science fiction and have read it for years, I thought it would be fun to share that wisdom with others.

What could go wrong???

I was always eager to hear about a good book. Not many people around me read science fiction, and I was always on the lookout for something worthwhile to read. Through my blog, I could spread the word about my favorites, so other readers could find what I liked.

Amazon has solved that problem for me, somewhat. But I still thought it would be a good idea to blog about it… and I am having fun doing that. But a new monster has raised its head, and that’s the monster of declining reviews of authors’ books. I’ve been flooded with more review requests than I have time for while garnering very few for myself.

So far, I have had wonderful writers who have been more than gracious when I have said, “No, thanks.” A while ago, a new UK writer e-mailed asking me to review a story about booze crazed alien slugs that unleash unspeakable terror on the world, and only an array of broken cleaning attachments can save the day.

It was tempting, but I felt a need to decline in that I don’t review appliance fiction. (for your future reference) and it sounded a bit sucky, to tell the truth.

We’ll probably read about it on Amazon’s best seller list.

I also got a request from Richard Flores who wrote an intriguing blog on this matter. His blog is entitled “Form Rejection.” Since he also reviews, he thought he would respond to writer’s submissions he had to reject with advice on how to make the manuscript better. You know, the personal touch. Being helpful.

He came to the conclusion that writers, on the whole, didn’t appreciate his help in making their manuscript better.

Turns out there is another side to this dance. Writers can get downright snarky if you call their baby ugly. He said that some used foul language and threats.

Hence the use of form rejections by publishers, editors and agents that are vague and non judgmental. “Doesn’t fit into out current offerings.” Etc.

A nice “No thanks” for those that don’t want a home fire-bombed.fireworks

Now, so far, I have been lucky. Please, all writers be aware that just because one person backs away, doesn’t mean it’s a bad book or story. I recently said no because I couldn’t deal with the graphic description of the main character immediately dying from cancer, even though the writing was good. It’s just I have to make a judgement call on what I put my name on and, in the publisher’s case,… it’s their money, or for some, it’s their career. This doesn’t excuse certain behaviors that I have encountered in editors, but it has certainly opened my eyes to their side of things.

Just saying.

So, I’m not taking any more review requests at this time as it’s too painful to turn down very nice authors with books that don’t quite ring my chimes but may thrill another reader. Also, I have gotten embarrassingly far behind in reading and following up on reviews that I have already accepted.

Just so many hours in the day.

mortalis-beyond-the-starsHaving said all this, I still owe the gracious Larry Crockerham and his book Mortalis:Beyond the Stars a mention.

The premise of a female military leader discovering and colonizing an inhabited world intrigued me as I’m currently writing a similar book. I wanted to see how another author handled that kind of story.

The writing is edited well on the technical side. I wasn’t finding spelling and grammar errors. The covers are gorgeous. The story was reasonable and plotted out well. My hang-up came with becoming involved with the main character. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t “connect.”

For the more “action types” who like stories with more plot and not a lot of touchy-feely, they may like this story. There were a number of five star reviews. There were also a number of reviewers who felt the character wasn’t fully developed and had issues with that part of the writing. I did too and don’t know why.

Larry also has a sequel that came out last April. This one interests me because it has time travel in it. The main character, Marion, finds a time gate and from starship and world wrangler, she travels back to Civil War times where she had to evade a Civil War officer. She finally escapes, but lands in the World War II era of our history where his grandson pursues her. Sounds interesting.the-mortal-beyond-the-cosmos

I feel this was a good study for me on what engages a reader and what doesn’t… the essence of storytelling. I still haven’t reached a final conclusion in this case.

What I have realized, through Powell’s book club, is that no two readers feel the same way about a book, and even the best books (Hugo award winners) have readers who don’t like them for some reason or another. The Powell’s group is an opinionated, out-spoken and diversified collection of science fiction lovers who never wholly agree with each other, or me, but I love them all.

However, I think you’ll find some great science fiction and fantasy if you scroll through my blogs and often the cream does rise to the top.

I can only present what I find worth reading in this blog, and you are invited to take it from there.

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Counting Spaceship Colonists

IMG_9518Writing science fiction often takes you off into the weeds of future speculation. When I took on the Terran Series and started writing A World Too Far, I had to figure out how many people and ships would be traveling. I also had to state a reason for the mission.

I didn’t want the reason to be that the Earth was annihilated or destroyed. I hope that as time goes on we do things better and more efficiently. Stephen Hawking says that we need to expand out from Earth in order to survive long term. The “Not Everyone in the Same Basket” theory. I think we have enough people like Elon Musk that we don’t need a catastrophic event to push people out into space. So I made the reason for the expedition the fear that humans need to diversify to other planets in order to survive…and the plain old human drive of seeking adventure and new worlds.

Okay, how many then? Two names kept cropping up. One was John More who said 160 was enough. Local Portland University anthropologist Cameron Smith said 14,000 to 40,000.

space-station-485590_640

Wikipedia:

Estimates of the minimum reasonable population for a generation ship vary. Anthropologist John Moore has estimated that, even in the absence of cryonics or sperm banks, a population capacity of 160 people would allow normal family life (with the average
individual having ten potential marriage partners) throughout a 200-year space journey, with little loss of genetic diversity; social engineering can reduce this estimate to 80 people.[6] In 2013 anthropologist Cameron Smith reviewed existing literature and created a new computer model to estimate a minimum reasonable population in the tens of thousands. Smith’s numbers were much larger than previous estimates such as Moore’s, in part because Smith takes the risk of accidents and disease into consideration, and assumes at least one severe population catastrophe over the course of a 150-year journey.[7]

Cameron Smith in Acta Astronautica
April–May 2014, Vol.97:16–29, doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2013.12.013

Estimation of a genetically viable population for multigenerational interstellar voyaging: Review and data for project Hyperion

I find that previously proposed such populations, on the order of a few hundred individuals, are significantly too low to consider based on current understanding of vertebrate (including human) genetics and population dynamics. Population genetics theory, calculations and computer modeling determine that a properly screened and age- and sex-structured total founding population (Nc) of anywhere from roughly 14,000 to 44,000 people would be sufficient to survive such journeys in good health. A safe and well-considered Nc figure is 40,000, an Interstellar Migrant Population (IMP) composed of an Effective Population [Ne] of 23,400 reproductive males and females, the rest being pre- or post-reproductive individuals. This number would maintain good health over five generations despite (a) increased inbreeding resulting from a relatively small human population, (b) depressed genetic diversity due to the founder effect, (c) demographic change through time and (d) expectation of at least one severe population catastrophe over the 5-generation voyage.

That’s quite a range.
What to do?

I started with sixty ships with two hundred per ship that worked the ship and two hundred in cryo. But then as the ships approached the designated planet, a population campaign increased the live colonists to five hundred per ship, give or take. That put us in the range of thirty thousand along the lines of Cameron Smith’s estimate.

Besides, I liked Babylon Five, the TV series, and wanted several ships on the journey for diversity and interest.

When the target planet was found toxic, forty ships decided not to land and jumped away. Of course, problems started happening immediately and the population underwent a severe reduction.

I needed a more manageable number of characters. I was trying to read The Dark Between the Stars by Alan Dean Foster and too many main characters overwhelm a reader. I got overwhelmed and didn’t finish the book.

As ships sought ways to increase the population, space found ways to destroy ships.

Now as I’m writing the next stage that deals with survival on a space station and alien planet, numbers again play an important role. Only so many can fit on station, and those stranded on the orbiting ships create a nice tension to those on planet that don’t want a horde of aliens invading their home and try to keep them on the station or ships.

Readers often don’t realize how much science fiction authors need to balance science plausibility with attention-keeping fictional plots and often wander off into the weeds of research.

Or maybe they do. Maybe they require it.

fortunes-pawnThis week I read Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach as it is a Powell’s science fiction readers group selection. I really enjoyed it…so much so that I’m now reading the sequel Honor’s Knight.

It’s even better.

Devi Morris is a super gung-ho mercenary from the military planet Paradox where the king reigns supreme. The universe is full of inhabited planets and ships travel all over via jump technology.

However, there is an unknown dangerous threat lurking at the edges of the universe.

Devi’s favorite possessions are her battle armor, which she has named Lady Gray, and her weapons. (Also named). She polishes them and talks about them a lot. Being a merc, she has few friends. Being aggressive and battle smart… she has few friends.

In order to accelerate her career, she has taken a job in a beaten up trading ship called The Glorious Fool. The ship has a dangerous reputation but it’s rumored to be a fast track to the rank of Devastator, the name of the king ‘s elite guards, a rank Devi aspires to.honors-knight

On board, an interesting assortment of aliens form the crew. The navigator is a cranky aeon, a birdlike species; her doctor is from a race of crablike insects that are enemies of most humans, and the cook, Rupert, well, he’s incredibly handsome and nothing like he seems.

Nothing.

Actually, nothing is as it appears and soon Devi is wrapped up in secrets that are world heavens-queenshattering with the real possibility of not surviving her tour.

But she’s a stubborn, resourceful, and surprisingly capable mercenary who soon finds herself with a few deadly secrets of her own.

Fast page-turning action with a passionate love story makes this one of my favorites, and one I recommend.

Happy Halloween!pumpkin

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Filed under Alien and human bonding, alien life forms, Alien worlds, Aliens in Science Fiction, artificial nature, Classic science fiction, genetic manipulation, modifying humans, Non fiction Science for science fiction, science fiction series, science fiction space opera, space ship, space travel, Transhumanism

Authors Answer 104 – Best Advice for Authors

For any writers out there, some great advice from successful writers. The one I added to my arsenal was : “Write what you would like to read.” Thank you Thomas Weaver and congratulations for two years of interesting blogs.

I Read Encyclopedias for Fun

Welcome to a very special Authors Answer! This is our 104th edition, which means it’s the end of our second year. And just like last year, we have some guest authors giving their answer to this very important question. I’d like to thank authors Mark Lawrence, Michael J. Sullivan, Django Wexler, and Andrew Rowe for agreeing to participate. They were very gracious when I asked them to participate. And thank you to Jacqueline Carey for her response. Unfortunately, she has her hands full at the moment, so was unable to participate. I love authors who take the time to respond when they can!

This week’s topic is an important one. Authors sometimes need a bit of help, so we’re talking about the best advice we have received in our quest for being published.

fireworks Celebrating our 2nd anniversary!

Question 104 – What is the most important piece of writing advice anyone…

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Science Fiction Thriller

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I was studying Data guy’s new report on author’s earnings to understand the influences on total book sales, both paperback and ebook.

http://authorearnings.com/report/october-2016/

The data suggests that ebook sales have declined recently. However, keep in mind that more and more Indie and self published authors are using ASIN numbers rather than the more reportable ISBN number.

Also, the report mentions the influences that heavyweight Bookbub has on sales. Traditional publishing houses are paying the large fee to drive up their ebook sales and squeezing out the smaller fry. While Bookbub protests that it is fair, it really isn’t. You need a lot of reviews to get accepted and the cost is high. It’s also a matter of the higher number of sales and reviews you get, the more likely you will get more in the future. As an independent publisher, I struggle to get reviews. Sales are good, but reviews are few.

Price as an issue is also discussed. The traditional and mid-sized houses are putting high price tags on ebooks and that drives down sales. Discounting paperbacks results in selling less ebooks and more paperbacks. The popularity of coloring books that are counted as paperbacks was also a factor in the paperback sales bump.

Version 2Also, I’m concerned about the increasing availability of free books. Bundling is also a new marketing ploy that enables a reader to get a number of books for a lowered price. However, as an author, when I offer my first in a series, I get a lot of follow-on sales, so offering one free is well worth it for me and part of my marketing strategy.

There is also mention of Amazon’s recent changing of algorithms. Scam artists have infiltrated Amazon to manipulate the page reads in the Kindle Unlimited program. A number of innocent authors have been hurt in the crossfire. Since Amazon doesn’t disclose how they count these pages, authors rely on Amazon numbers for how many pages are read…and these numbers have changed dramatically recently.

There’s a lot of data and graphs to look at and some interesting comments on the current state of the business. So, take a look and draw your own conclusions.

blended-humanThis week I’m talking about The Human Blend by Alan Dean Foster. This is part of a completed Trilogy (The Tipping Point Trilogy)  that deals with extreme genetic manipulation of humans. I picked this because it is near future science fiction that is different than my usual fare. Also, the book is by a well known author that I haven’t discussed before.

Whisper is a thug who has chosen to alter his body to extreme thinness. His partner in crime is Jiminey Cricket who has long legs and can jump far. They attack a supposed tourist in an alley to harvest his hand to sell. Whisper is attracted to a hidden shimmering silver thread that he pockets. Not long after, shadowy figures start hunting them.

The book is a chase through strange environments and even stranger people. At first, the two run, thinking it is the hand that their pursuers want. Then, after they split up to throw off their trackers, Jiminey disappears. Whisper calls forth everything and everyone he knows to evade whoever is after him. And some of the characters are pretty strange…such as alligator man.body-inc

After he is shot with tracker bullets, Whisper ends up at Dr. Ingrid Seastrom’s clinic, desperate to get the bullets removed where he shows her the thread. He hopes her advanced equipment will reveal what he carries so he will know its worth. Unlike Whisper, Ingrid is an attractive Harvard educated natural. Investigating the thread leads to a startling discovery, and it appears to be connected to a quantum entangled nanoscale implant she took out of a young girl’s brain recently. The silver thread is a data storage device made from an impossible bit of material not from Earth. Her scientific curiosity wants to know more about the strange material, so together they form a partnership.

the-sum-of-her-partsBut their pursuers appear to have a lot of clout and skilled assassins to call upon in order to retrieve the stolen thread. The result is a wild chase through a disturbing world where what it means to be human is a very blurry line indeed.

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A Whiff of Science Fiction in a Good Thriller

Image 1With the rain coming in and A World Too Far published, it’s back to writing…no excuses.
I know the general overall scope of this next story, just not all the details—and the devil is in the details.

That’s when Larry Brooks’s story structure comes in handy. (The Storyfix) He uses a four point system. The first twenty pages is the initiating event with a hook. Something happens that shows the character’s life is about to change. The first 25% is the set up and the first plot point. We learn about the character and his world. The primary obstacle is defined.larry-brooks

The hero confronts the obstacle, but then there’s the pinch point at 37% of the way through where we are reminded of the nature and intention of the antagonistic force.

At the mid plot point we are 50% through and everything changes. New information shows up. The hero has to dig deeper and find new solutions to reach his goal.

At 62% into the story, the confrontation escalates. Obstacles change and evolve. The hero finds a new course, and new opportunities set up the final showdown. Protagonist takes command. We think the solution is in hand …but not so fast. Greater feats are required.

At 80% a plot point carries the final battle. The character has evolved, changed through the experience and a major confrontation occurs to prove his or her worth.

The resolution brings the final pages of the story where ends are tied up, actions are explained, and a sense of completion ends the story.

I use this outline to try to keep on track so my heroine is not off wandering in the weeds with readers asking : what’s she doing? What’s the point? There has to be a rub…conflict worthy of a story. And, for me, there can be multiple conflicts and lines of progression. Sometimes the conflict is outward, but sometimes, the conflict is internal. Sometimes both at the same time.

Brooks has a blog called the Story you might want to check out. He goes more in-depth  with the process.    storyfix.com/about

Okay, now (sips coffee, rubs face) time to write.

legaciesThis week I read a book recommended by a new reader. What I like is that it’s a hidden gem not on any current list. It was published a while ago, but it’s new to me. That’s the beauty of this new publishing world. The reader comes fresh to the story if he’s never read it before no matter what the publication date. Ebooks are forever.

The other caveat is that it barely ekes into the science fiction genre. There is a science fiction element hiding in the story, so I decided to go ahead and mention it. It’s there so keep reading.

The book is Legacies by F. Paul Wilson. This is in the popular Repairman Jack series. Repairman Jack isn’t your average repairman, although his own father is oblivious to what he really does and wants him to move to Florida, buy a fleet of trucks, and with Florida’s great opportunities, expand his business there.

What Repairman Jack fixes is lives. He rights injustice. He defends the underdog. He lives off the grid, not daring to marry for fear of creating a data trail. In certain circumstances, he is willing to murder if necessary. He has no social security card, does not deal with banks or leave an identity trail of any kind. Often, his opponents were powerful men who did bad deeds. Consequently, over the years he has antagonized dangerous people. But he chooses his jobs carefully. There is a bit of MacGyver in him.

Dr. Alicia Clayton works with children who have aids. These are abandoned children of mothers usually on crack, heroine, or other drugs and have passed aids onto their child. Alicia runs a center to help these desperately ill children.hosts

She inherits her inventor father’s house after his death in a mysterious plane crash. Both house and Alicia carry deep secrets. Her half brother is willing to do anything to get the house out of her hands, but if she is killed, the house passes to the Greenpeace organization.

So, those desperate to uncover the house’s secrets stop at killing her. Shadowy Arabs, a lurking Japanese ninja, and various nefarious characters enter the picture. Alicia wants the house burned, but competing shadowy international figures want the house at any cost. They offer millions, but for some reason Alicia will not sell. Everyone who helps her, from lawyer to private eye, ends up murdered. She is becoming emotionally unhinged trying to deal with what is happening to those who try to help. Someone of daring and cunning who is willing to risk his life to uncover the mystery is needed.

the-tombAnd so enters Repairman Jack under his many aliases to right the wrong and uncover the mystery.

Clever with many plot twists, this page-turner thriller will pull you in until the last surprising moment.

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