Fan Art!

I don't often receive fan art from readers, but when I do it's always deeply rewarding. It's a great feeling to know that a reader has appreciated one of my stories so much that they, in turn, are moved and inspired to create their own art in tribute. The following book cover animations were created by one of my Twitter followers, @JoeStalksBeck - check out this bit of awesomeness!

@JoeStalksBeck has a whole series of videos animating various book covers of some of her favorite reads over on YouTube. It's definitely worth a look

Thank you so much @JoeStalksBeck!

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Why I'm Nuking My Facebook Account

I've been on Facebook since 2008. In nearly a decade, I've "liked" an awful lots of pages, groups, authors, books, movies, TV shows, creatives, news outlets, and on and on and on. As Facebook updates its newsfeeds to determine what content you see, and places a larger priority on advertising and sponsored posts and tracking your online trail to better determine your interests in order to advertise more stuff to you, it's become an Orwellian leviathan. 

None of this should be news to you.

For me, the impact was to slowly, but surely negate any and all reasons that I use Facebook. I got sucked in far too deeply, to the point that so much of my newsfeed was little more than postings from groups that were paying to capture my eyeballs. Actual human-interest content from those I follow was sparse, because Facebook made them sparse. I was seeing sponsored content more frequently than I was seeing posts from my own wife, or people I've been friends with (in either meatspace or just on Facebook) for years. Even those individuals I had marked as "see first" were still being bottomed out in favor of Facebook's advertisers and "suggestions" about whatever little bit bullshit they thought I would "like," or, better still, spend money on. If I wanted to see one of my Facebook friend's actual account, I had to search for it via the menu bar, otherwise I wasn't seeing it at all.

Last year, I attempted to go completely Facebook free. The site is an enormous time-suck, and part of that, obviously, was my own fault. Being an author, connected to other authors and the occasional anthology collaboration, though, made leaving Facebook difficult. I was kind of dragged back in due to secret groups for projects that were taking off at that time (and still am, in point of fact, so keep an eye out later in the year for news on a seeekrit! project), and ended up reactivating my account after a few months hiatus.

Things are going to be different this time! (he said, waving his hand in the air with defiant expectation.)

This time, I have a baseline for what I want to accomplish and how to do that. I'm not even going to try and quit cold-turkey since I know that's not really an option. What I will do, though, is acknowledge that change is necessary. Change in my own behaviors and interactions with the site, and a reasonable plan for moving forward.

The first step was to create a new account, something that could act as a blank slate, and one that I intend to keep reasonably blank for as long as I am able. This means cutting out "likes" on pages and groups that aren't completely necessary to my daily operations as an author. 

A lot of the stuff that I had liked on Facebook was redundant information, and served only to clutter whatever information the Facebook Gods deigned me to see. So, I will not be liking any sort of news agencies on Facebook. First of all, I think having Facebook as a primary news source is just a fucking awful rabbit hole to go down. Although I have a subscription to The New York Times and Washington Post, I will not be "liking" them on Facebook. It provides Facebook with too much information, and causes too many other third parties to rear their ugly heads in my direction. I have primary news sources already to rely on, and there's no need for me to utilize them on Facebook. And when I need real news, I can always YouTube John Oliver and Samantha Bee. (By the way, did you see this video from Vox? Pretty telling stuff, I think. And yes, I know, off-topic, but whatever. It's my blog, so deal.)

Nuking my previous Facebook account also serves as a bit of social culling. Honestly, there wasn't a heck of a lot of interaction from the vast majority of my Facebook friends. On the flip-side, I have made a few wonderful friends online and we talk or post on each others comments fairly routinely, or chat in Messenger, and are the type of people I'd get a beer with. I know there's plenty of users on there who wanted to friend me simply to boost their own numbers. I'm not a people collector, though. I have given my followers notice and put up a message on my prior account about the change. Those that want to follow me over to the new account are free to do so. Those that don't need not apply. The loss of ephemeral followers is no big loss at all, really, and only serves to further help streamline my new Facebook set-up.

So, fewer friends, no cluttering of liked pages or groups, and very little willful exchange of data between me and Facebook. I'm giving the site as little personal information as I can. A side aspect of this, one that I had not originally intended but have quickly adopted after doing some research last night, was reclaiming my data. 

And you know what? So far, it's working out pretty well. This project began yesterday, and I'm already noticing its impact. My newsfeed, for the first time in years probably, is actually showing me updates posted by friends. That's pretty novel.

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The Shot Heard 'Round The World - REVOLVER Audiobook Now Available


Best Novella 2015 – Edward Lorn, author of Cruelty 

Named Top Short Story of 2015 by The Leighgendarium

Big news! My indie title, Revolver, is now available as an audiobook on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes!

Narrated by Patricia Santomasso, this short story clocks in at a lean 1 hour, 14 minute listen. And it's less than $5!

Patricia has worked with a few of my conspirators co-authors from CLONES: The Anthology on narrating their individual releases, including Daniel Arthur Smith's Hugh Howey Lives (Audible | Amazon) and RD Brady's Hominid (Audible | Amazon), so give them a listen (or read), too!

Working with Patricia was a great experience, and she gave this story her all. Revolver is not exactly a pleasant story, and can be downright brutal and hostile, and I'm tremendously proud of Patricia's work here, and the energy she brought into the recording studio. Right from her very first audition, I knew she was the voice of Cara Stone, and I think she's made this story even more powerful.

Revolver will be making its way on to iTunes soon, and I'll update this post with that information once I have a link available.

Adrian, aka BeavisTheBookhead, recently reviewed the ebook of Revolver, and had lots of kind things to say, including:

This is an angry story, one that goes straight for the jugular in a most unapologetic but engaging way. ... 'Revolver’ is a great story, bristling with tension, unflinching with its descriptions and thoughtful.

For those unfamiliar with Revolver, here's the synopsis:

The "stunning and harrowing" short story, originally published in the anthology No Way Home, is now available as a standalone release and features an all-new foreword written by award-winning science fiction author, Lucas Bale.

Cara Stone is a broken woman: penniless, homeless, and hopeless. When given the chance to appear on television, she jumps at the opportunity to win a minimum of $5,000 for her family.

The state-run, crowdfunded series, Revolver, has been established by the nation's moneyed elite to combat the increasing plight of class warfare.

There's never been a Revolver contestant quite like Cara before. The corporate states of America are hungry for blood, and she promises to deliver.

By the way, if you haven't already, now is a really good time to sign up for my newsletter. In the coming weeks, I'll be doing a few special giveaways, and announcing the release of a brand new title that will be launching next month, so be sure to subscribe now!


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Too Little Or Too Much

A short while ago, maybe a month or two, I publicly shamed myself on Twitter for not having a large enough output this year. In 2015, I had published a novel and appeared in three anthologies, and released one of those stories as a stand-alone title. Halfway through 2016, I was feeling the pinch of having hardly any releases at all this year. So far, I've released only one short story, Let Go, and a short story titled "Black Site" was published in CLONES: The Anthology. Although I was busy writing, not much of it was making its way out into the market and it was making me a feel bit depressed. I felt like I either wasn't doing enough or wasn't getting stuff done (partially true, but mildly inaccurate), and the weight of it was like a vise around my neck. The big pro-tip to being a writer is one simple rule: Finish Your Shit.

I was not finishing my shit, or at least not the one big shit I had in me, but not necessarily for lack of trying. I've been working on a novel since March and it's become my own personal Moby Dick. Not because it's a wild, untamed beast that I have sworn revenge against, but because it's been such a long, arduous journey in trying to finish it off. I know the rough shape of it, and when I'm working on it, it feels good and (mostly) right. And it's not even a lack of focus or desire to continue plugging away at it.

Mostly, it's because I allow myself to keep getting interrupted with other projects. This is by no means a bad thing, nor is it a complaint. If anything, it is perhaps a very good problem to have. I've put this novel on hold several times, and have done so once again, in order to tackle a story and an invitation that is simply too good to pass up. Back near the start of writing said novel, a lonely old man named Everett Hart told me a story and his voice demanded that I write Let Go. So I did. And then I got invited to contribute to CLONES: The Anthology. I had a killer idea for that one, so, again, the novel got put on the back burner. Ultimately, it was certainly worth it. This book became an Amazon Best Seller in their sci-fi anthology category, and, for a very brief time, I was a Top 100 science fiction author over there. Pretty cool!

I've gone back and forth with this novel-in-progress a few times now, interrupting the process once more very recently in order to write a novella that captured my fancy. It's called Broken Shells and it needs lots of editing, but the story itself is largely finished. I began writing this shortly before my mother passed away, and in the weeks following her death it provided a much-needed retreat for me, and even a little bit of therapy. All that remains now are the finishing touches. That, too, is now on hold, thanks to an invitation that was extended my way late last week.

At the moment, I am roughly 3,000 words into REDACTED. I'm not sure what I can or cannot discuss about this work yet, so it's perhaps best to say nothing. It's the kind of deal though, that when you're invited in, you do not turn it down. And since a dude at Amazon called me to discuss this work specifically goes a long way in telling me it could maybe possibly be a big deal. The kind of project that you simply do not say No to and walk away from. If anything, you drop whatever you're doing and get to work. Of course, it's entirely possible I'm blowing smoke up my own ass. I get the impression though that this is at least important to Amazon, and it could certainly have the potential for more readers to discover my work, which is a fantastic reward all by itself. So, yeah, I dropped everything and got to work! REDACTED will be novella length, and while it's in my wheelhouse of both science fiction and horror, it's of a particular sub-genre I haven't written in previously. There are a few hurdles to overcome, and plenty of research to do. Thus far, it's been a lot of fun, though, and I'm excited to see where it goes. I'll have plenty more to say about this in the coming months, so be sure to stay tuned, or sign-up for my newsletter to get the big scoop straight to your inbox.

My main problem though has been reconciling the disparity in my work versus my output. I've been busy, even if I don't yet have a lot to show for it. I will eventually, and there's plenty of stuff on the horizon. So, I made a list of stuff in progress to give me a sort of visual reminder and a much-needed kick in the ass that I actually am doing something! Here's where things stand at the moment for 2016:

  • A short novel is under review with a small press publisher for publication. The sample was apparently good enough that the editor recently asked for the full manuscript. If the story is not a good fit for this publisher, there are other avenues I can explore, so we'll see what happens there.
  • LET GO - Published
  • Black Site - Published in CLONES: The Anthology, pending solo publication
  • Broken Shells - pending publication
  • Novel - in progress
  • The Marque - pending solo publication (originally published in Crime & Punishment)
  • Preservation - pending solo publication (originally published in The Cyborg Chronicles)
  • REDACTED - in progress, expected publication late 2016/Q1 2017
  • Audiobook edition of Revolver - in progress, release TBA

To top it all off, while doing yard work yesterday inspiration struck. I came up with a cool idea for a post-apocalyptic natural horror short story, which I'll probably work on once Secret Project is finished and then leap back into the novel.

None of this even takes into account the advance copies of books I need to read and review. Or the fact that all of this must be balanced against working full-time and having a family.

And yet, yeah, somehow, for whatever reason, I honestly felt like I wasn't doing enough.

Ultimately, I've decided I'm OK with where things are at presently. If my output for 2016 is a bit diminished, then I have to be fine with it. I may still be able to get one or two of these projects out by year's end. If not, then 2017 will be a banner year for me in terms of published stories!

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Read and Reviewed Roundup: July 2016

For those that are just joining the blog (welcome, new followers!), I've been starting off each month with a summary of the books I've read and reviewed over the course of the previous month. Today is August 1, 2016, so here's a look back at my books from July. Just click on the link to check out my thoughts on that particular title.

So, that's six novels, plus one audiobook, which I originally reviewed for Audio Book Reviewer. All in all, this was a pretty strong month of reading in terms of quality; I don't think there was a bad book in the bunch. Let's face it, though - anytime I can read a new book from Chuck Wendig and John Connolly, let alone nearly back to back, is a darn good month.

What did you read last month? Any particular stand-outs for you?

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Review: A Time of Torment by John Connolly

Review: a-time-of-torment-9781501118326_hr

There are a few authors whose novels are my own personal equivalent to comfort food. Stephen King is one; John Connolly is another. Every time I sit down with one of their stories, I know I'm in good hands, and their words bring a certain warmth to my soul. Connolly's Charlie Parker series, in particular, is like a big bowl of beef stew or mac & cheese eaten beside the fireplace and in the company of good friends. Over the course of fourteen novels, I consider Parker, Angel, and Louis very good friends, indeed. And, jeez, do I ever eat up these stories!

Connolly is a superb storyteller, first and foremost. His prose is both simple and elegantly constructed, and although he sometimes wanders off into tangents of both local and personal history for his settings and characters, I certainly don't mind reading those words even if I wonder at the necessity of their inclusion. Would A Time of Torment be better if some tangential segments were shortened? I suspect it wouldn't be by much, frankly, and, for me, it's a bit of the charm Connolly brings to the table. You can tell this man does his research, and he's eager to share what he's learned. And when you tell a story as well as Connolly, well...the more the better, in my opinion. He's a craftsman, and one of the best in the business as far I'm concerned.

As far as A Time of Torment is concerned, I feel a bit of sympathy for readers encountering this author and these characters here for the very first time. This is not a book for the inexperienced, and the Parker novels are very much a Read In Order series. This particular volume builds off the events, story, and character threads established in the prior three Parker thrillers, which themselves are shaped by the supernatural mythology of the preceding volumes. Characters like The Collector and Parker's daughter, Sam, who make brief appearances here will likely leave the uninitiated scratching their head as to their importance. Those who have been around since the beginning, though, will be much more appreciative of their roles in the overarching mythology of the series as a whole. My advice, as always, to anyone who hasn't read Connolly yet is to start from the very beginning with Every Dead Thing.

Plot-wise, Parker is hired by a recently released prisoner, who quickly goes missing. Parker's subsequent investigation brings to his attention a small cult-like community known as The Cut, and their religious idol, The Dead King.

There's echoes of Prosperous, the community featured in The Wolf In Winter, but not so much that it feels like a total retread. There's enough differences in The Cut's actions, history, and characters to differentiate them from Prosperous, and, in some ways, make them a dark mirror reflection of an already nasty bunch. They're darker, and, to a degree, one might even say more primitive. Then again, so, too, is Charlie Parker. It's the events of that prior novel that have helped shape the subtle alterations in Parker's persona and methods. The detective has become a more aggressive hunter, very much so a wolf in his own right. And the Cut is certainly worthy of his particular brand of attention.

A Time of Torment is a bit slower paced than previous installments, but not detrimentally so. If anything, for me, it just means it takes a bit more time to savor and enjoy, and I was left feeling perfectly satiated. Now begins the wait, once more, for the next book...

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]


Buy A Time of Torment At Amazon

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This is a pretty long and personal post. It's really just a way for me to organize my thoughts and try to cope with some recent tragedy. Writing is what I do and it helps me process things, and I'm in serious need of some hardcore mental processing at the moment. I lost my mother yesterday, and this post is an effort to try and grapple with that loss. A little past 8:30 Friday morning, my father called. Mom had stopped breathing and was being rushed by ambulance to the hospital. I called my wife, who was at a doctor's appointment, and we agreed to meet at home to pack up whatever we might need for us and our nine-month-old. Mom and Dad lived north of us, a roughly five-hour drive, and we were finally able to hit the road at 12:00 p.m.

Mom died around 12:30. I had hoped to be able to see her one last time before she passed. I'm trying to steel myself for when I see her next at the funeral home. Sitting now in my parent's living room, her absence is notable, even as my son's laughter fills the silence as he bounces around in his jumper.

The week Benjamin was born, Mom broke her hip. She missed his birth, and we made tentative plans for Christmas, thinking she'd be mobile enough that her and Dad could come downstate and finally see their grandson in person for the first time. Her physical therapy was going slower than expected. She was recovering and doing well, but she wasn't physically ready for such a long car ride. Then there were complications with the hip replacement that resulted in her needing a second surgery to replace the replacement. Physical therapy started over again, and somewhere along the line a nerve in her leg was damaged leaving it largely immobile.

Mom was a tough woman. She would never admit when she had a health problem. Anytime she was noticeably sick, she passed it off as being her allergies. When she fell and broke her hip, she refused to go directly to the hospital because she was, in typical Mom fashion, "fine." She just needed to lay down for a little bit, nothing more. On the few occasions that Dad did have to force her to go to the hospital, she was a massive brat. He'd never hear the end of it, and she'd be snotty with the medical staff. It was always very, very clear that she did not want to be bothered with a hospital stay and that she was being forced to do something clearly against her will. After three days of being laid up in bed with a broken hip, she finally caved and admitted maybe something might be wrong.

For whatever reason, she never admitted, on her last day with us, that maybe something might be wrong again. Her heart stopped Friday morning due to sepsis from a perforation in her bowels (I'm unclear on the cause, but this may have been from a stomach ulcer). According to the doctor, she should have been in quite a bit of pain. If she was, she never admitted it. Instead, she kept it hidden and dealt with it, or simply flat-out denied it to herself and everyone around her.

She was resuscitated long enough to be placed on a ventilator. Her heart was stopped and restarted four times over the course of the early morning. Surgery to repair the perforation was not an option; she was too weak and too unstable to survive it. If she survived, though, it would likely be with brain damage. A few hours later, a massive heart attack struck. She was gone.

I have a few consolations in all this. She didn't suffer, for one (at least according to the doctors, and as far as we know...but really, the only who knows that can no longer tell us. We can only guess or presume). She wouldn't go on with a reduced capacity in life, or live with brain damage, or be hooked up to a ventilator long-term in a vegetative state. These are not things she would have wanted, I don't think, given her stubbornness and strong-willed nature. And, a few months ago, she was able to meet her grandson, which I'll be forever grateful for.

Still unable to travel, we made the trip to them on Easter. Mom got to meet Benny, and he was finally able to put a face to the voice he'd heard over the telephone. He'll never remember it, of course; he was far too young at only six months for that to stick. But I'll remember it. And I'll remember the smile on both their faces, and the laughter they shared.

As it turns out, that was also the last time I got to see Mom. She was frail, weakened, thinner than I'd ever seen her. The hip damage and surgeries had taken a lot out of her. Even as a woman in her seventies, she somehow looked older. Physically, it was a reminder that there were less and less days ahead, and as her problems with her hip progressed I couldn't help but wonder how many more surgeries she could survive.

To say I was ready for that Friday morning phone call, though, would be wildly incorrect. I was deeply shaken by it, and after I hung up with Dad I had about a hundred thoughts swirling through my head, an odd balance of panic, terror, and knowing that I had to be strong enough to take care of more than a few things at once.

Now, roughly twenty-four hours after her passing, I'm not quite sure what exactly I should be feeling. Sadness, sure. There's plenty of that, and I've had a few crying fits already. But there's also this void. I feel somewhat caught in limbo, waiting for something more to happen. Her dying while I was still several hours away has me wondering if I missed any chance for closure. Do I have to wait for that moment of finality when I see her at the funeral home? Is there any closure at all, or will it merely be the passage of time that eases this ache? I wish I knew.

As a public school teacher, Mom touched a lot of lives. I hope that she at least made an impact on a few of those students, and maybe even inspired them, as much as she did me. I miss her. I wish I could have seen her one last time. And I'm glad my son had a chance to meet her at all, or rather that I at least got to see them meet. Like me, though, he's going to grow up never having known his grandmother (I never knew any of my grandparents at all; Benny, though, will have both his grandmother and grandfather on his mother's side for the foreseeable future).

Mom also had a large impact on my friend, also named Mike, the closest I've ever gotten to having a brother. She was like a second mom to him, and every time he came over she had a meal ready for him, anything from steak to bean dip to some pie. It was those meals, I think, that really helped define us all as a family. And it's in some of those recipes of hers that she'll live on. I can't imagine making her particular steak marinade, a few of her casserole dishes, or her spaghetti pie, and not thinking of her. And I know those dishes won't be quite the same; she added something to them that goes beyond whatever she's scratched down on some notepad sheets stuffed into her cookbooks that is impossible to replicate. Still, there's a sort of physical legacy in those dishes, a way to keep her near despite the absence, and something that I can pass down.

Now begins the hard part. The really hard stuff. The funeral and figuring out all that stuff. The financial stuff. Finding her will. Helping Dad deal with all of this as we help each other. Thankfully my wife is awesome and is already putting her Google-Fu to work trying to figure out what we need to do and how we do it. Right now, that all feels like more heartache than anything else. We're not ready for it, not yet, but we'll have to be soon.

First, though, is a much-needed change of scenery. Although my parent's house is on the lake shore, I think we're due to get out of the house for a bit. We're going to head downtown for a little while, and I'm going to enjoy the company of my wife and son.

[Edit: We found a new place in downtown Traverse City called Taproot Cider House, which, as you may surmise from the title, is a cider house! They've got all kinds of tasty hard cider concoctions. I was able to clear my head a bit with the El Chavo, a hard apple cider blended with habanero pepper and mango. Walking along the bay for a bit helped, too. Fresh air really does wonders.]

Yesterday, before we left the house to travel north, I held Benny close and told him, "I love you." And then my nine-month old boy said those words back to me. I can't even begin to explain how badly I needed that, and, even if it was just simply mimicry, it felt good to hear. I needed to hear it then, and I wouldn't mind hearing it again now. I lost my mother, but thankfully I still have my family and they're doing more for me than I can properly express.

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Writing Through the Unknown

About a month ago, my wife dropped a bombshell on me regarding our finances. The projected costs of daycare for our son next year will be roughly equivalent to what I bring home from the day job, which leaves me in a bit of a tough spot. Although nothing has yet been decided one way or the other, at the moment it is looking like I have two options. I can continue working so we can break even on the budget, or I can become a stay at home dad with zero income. While I would love to stay at home and spend time with my son, this latter option would force me to change the way I write and publish. The day job, you see, is how I pay for editing and cover design. Without the day job, I have no income for publishing. But with the day, going into next year's round of tuition hikes, I'm working just to pay that bills and still having no income for publishing aside from whatever revenue I can generate from selling those titles currently available.

And that income? ... Well, it ain't much at all, really.

As you might expect, this news has thrown me for a bit of a loop. I've spent much of this month trying to recalibrate and plan ahead for a bit, and try to get a grip on the shape of the rest of this year.

I've also been submitting to several different markets in the hopes that something lands. The recently released CLONES: The Anthology was a good, but brief, bit of exposure. For a few hours, I was even in the Top 100 of all science fiction authors on Amazon. That did not last long, but it was fun momentarily, until it was time to get back to work.

I haven't submitted to any markets in more than two years now. I shopped Convergence around for a bit after hitting the quarter finals and scoring an insanely positive review from Publisher's Weekly in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 contest. I didn't get any takers (or even any responses to inquiries), and self-published it to pretty solid reviews (it's currently sitting at 4.4 star rating, so if you've read this book, or any of my other works, please leave a brief review), and was quite content to carry on as an independent author-publisher.

Now I find myself potentially facing a pretty massive change. I don't foresee abandoning writing anytime soon, but I may have to alter how my work gets published and distributed. If it's to get published and distributed at all.

I do still have some tentative plans to release a few standalone titles later in the year, the bulk of which will be publishing several short stories that appeared in various anthologies recently. An audiobook of Revolver will be starting production soon, and I've got a terrific narrator on tap to bring Cara Stone to life. This is going to be a really exciting project to direct and produce, and I'm hoping to share more on this in the coming months.

In the meantime, I'm submitting. I've gotten some feelers out there with various publishers of science fiction and horror. I'm about half-way through a sci-fi novella and staring down the end of an open-door submission period that I may not be able to make, but we'll see what happens. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. In the meantime, I've got a short story in review for a magazine, and a horror novella submitted to another publisher. It would be stupid of me to pin all my hopes and dreams on being accepted to any of these, let alone all of them, so I'm keeping my hopes firmly in check.

I'm also writing. Writing, writing, writing. That's the only thing I can do. Maybe these works will get published, maybe they won't. All I can do is work, and, hopefully, be able to keep working, even if at a reduced capacity next year. Worst-case scenario, I suppose, is that I get plenty of trunk novels saved up until I can make my grand re-entry.

Or, you know, maybe my books suddenly take off like wildfire and I build up a nice cushion of savings to keep on publishing (hint hint).

But, again, nothing has been decided one way or another yet, and it will take a few more discussions with my better half before we figure out the logistics and what will work best for us as a family. Of course, I certainly hope and want to continue releasing my work and am planning as such until I know otherwise. So, this is not goodbye. This is merely me venting something I've been thinking about for a while now.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for news on that Revolver audiobook and future short story releases later in the year. And plenty more book reviews are on the way!

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