John Berry Novels Blog
The latest dusty thoughts from a musty brain!
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Culpable is Now Only 99 cents!



My latest novel, Culpable, An Isaac Black Missing Persons Investigation, is now only 99 cents!  Culpable is offered at a discount as part of a Kindle Countdown Deal through February 22nd. 

So click here to take advantage of this great deal! 

And don't forget to post a review of the book once you've read it!

In Memory of Rebecca Ann Berry

A year ago today, my mother passed away after a long struggle against a rare brain disease called Progressive Supra-nuclear Palsy.  While it slowly robbed her of important motor functions (like swallowing, clear speech, and balance) it never robbed her of her bright spirit and vibrant faith.  At a recent remembrance ceremony, my father shared this moving tribute to her.  They were married for 56 years and she was the mother of three boys and eight grandchildren. 

I miss you, Mom.

In Memory of Rebecca Ann Berry
by Gene Berry


Her spirit flows through me like the wind through the trees, embracing me, soothing my soul.
She can come anytime, reminding me of what was and what will be.
I wait for her expectantly knowing that it is her I see.
Though in another dimension, heaven, out there, somewhere, I hope soon.
I am still sad but the hurt is ebbing away.
Yet she lives within me, there to stay.

She only wanted to please her family and in that she surely did succeed.
She would give of herself to each of us, trying to satisfy our every need.
The energy, love, and self-sacrifice would take our breath away.

Even to her friends and those she did not know she gave her best, silently, steadily, and with grace to imbue.
And when she did help others she took the hardest, messiest job, no one wanted to do.
When the work was finished she asked for nothing, no praise was due.

And now it has been a year from when her spirit left and her body turned cold.
Yet it seems like yesterday when I held her, helped her, washed her every pore.

Now I must embrace my sons, her image in them I see.
In them will be her legacy.
I must carry on to help others the way she would want it to be.
And before I know it I will see her and all will be complete.

What if a road trip ran like the US Government?

I wondered what it would be like to take a road trip that ran like the US Government.  Let’s say that a group of friends were making a road trip to get to a concert in another state.  It was a good day-and-a-half trip that would require one night’s stay in a motel along the way.  The friend’s agreed, in principle, to share the costs of the trip equally.  Each member of the group loved the musical group and wanted to arrive at the concert early to ensure they didn’t miss anything. 

 

Now, if this group of friends were like Congress, here’s how this road trip would run. 

 

As they start, a discussion ensues as to the best route to take.  One wants to keep to Interstates for greater speed while another wants to take the most direct route to reduce the mileage.  Since a consensus isn’t reached, the route changes back and forth depending on which friend is driving, adding time and distance to the trip.

 

When the group stops for food, some want to eat in the car to keep making progress while others want to eat in the restaurant to get replenished for the next leg of the trip.  Again, they can’t come to an agreement, so half sit in the car eating in the parking lot while the rest eat in the restaurant.

 

The trip requires one over-night stay.  No one made reservations, so the group has to decide at which motel to stay.  The group debates what constitutes a motel that is too expensive and what is too cheap.  The debate becomes very heated, so they keep driving until the argument dies down and everyone falls asleep, except the driver, who pulls over in a rest stop and they sleep in the car.

 

At one gas stop, the car’s owner pops the hood to check on the oil, which is low.  One says that if the owner had properly maintained the car, there’d be no need for oil on this trip; therefore, she refuses to contribute to the cost of the oil.  Some agree with her and also refuse to contribute.  The cost for oil ends up being shared by just a few of the friends.  This leads to a debate about purchasing premium grade gasoline, which is viewed as excessive by about half of the friends in the group.

 

At each stop, a few of the friends clean the windshield of bugs, check the air pressure in the tires, and clean out the trash.  The rest sit and tell everyone that these are frivolous activities that are slowing down the trip.

 

Finally, there is one last stop for gas before the group arrives at the concert.  The simmering debate about the grade of gasoline to be used erupts into a full-blown argument. About half the friends have felt like the costs were too expensive for premium and the car only needs regular.  They refuse to give their cash if premium grade is going to be continually used.  The other half believe the strain that’s been put on the car warrants premium.  After fifteen minutes of argument, someone points out that that concert starts in two hours, and all of the arguments and changing of directions throughout the trip have killed their plan to arrive early.  If they don’t just fill the tank with gas, they’ll be late for the opening act.  Another counters that they can miss the opening act and still get to see the main concert as soon as they get “this frivolous spending under control” by agreeing to the regular grade of gas.

 

A line begins to form behind the car as the argument continues.  The owner takes the keys from the ignition and puts them in his pocket, refusing to put an inferior grade of gas into his car.  The group has spent two days on the road already, when the trip should have been a mere one-and-a-half days.  The group argues and the other patrons at the gas station just go to other pumps and the gas station continues to operate, though it’s inconvenient for everybody else.  As the argument continues over the grade of gas, one of the group realizes that the opening act is on the stage and if they don’t leave right now, they will miss the entire show.

 

Almost half of the group wants to just pay for the premium as they have been doing and get to the show.  The other half wants to pay for regular grade and get to the show.  Another, who isn’t adamant about the grade of gas, tries frantically to get them to agree to use the medium grade so they can get to the show.  Since they all cannot agree, the gas tank remains empty.

 

In the end, the group misses the show that they set out to enjoy together.  But, they didn’t pay too much or too little for the gas.  They just couldn’t drive on an empty tank.

 

And that, my friends, is what a road trip would be like if it ran like the US Government!

Meet Isaac Black!

I am proud to announce that Culpable, An Isaac Black Missing Persons Investigation is now published in all eBook formats!

It always takes a few weeks for Smashwords to push the book out to iBooks, Sony, and Nook, but it's out there now!

Here's the link to the Amazon page:  

I hope you buy it, enjoy it, review it and TELL YOUR FRIENDS!

Thanks for all of your support,

--John

It won't be long now!

I've submitted the manuscript for "Culpable," my first Isaac Black Missing Persons Investigation to the publisher.  Hopefully, it will be ready to release within the month as my next eBook!  In the meantime, I've made a free preview available.  Just click on the "PDF" link to the left and take some time to read the first few chapters of the book.

I hope that you enjoy and that it will stoke your interest in my new novel!  Let me know what you think!

Unveiling the Cover and Description of My Next Novel

The anticipation is building for the arrival of my next novel.  I am really excited to unveil the official cover of Culpable, An Isaac Black Missing Persons Investigation, which will be published by Telemachus Press sometime in May.

Pass along this link and tell your friends about it!  And check back soon as an excerpt from the ebook will be available in the next several weeks!

Here’s the description of Culpable, An Isaac Black Missing Persons Investigation: 

On a beautiful spring afternoon in Charlotte, NC, 13-year-old Lindsay Lawless is snatched off the street in front of her own house as she walks home from school. Detective Isaac Black is assigned as the lead Missing Persons Detective to find Lindsay and bring her home safe.  Black was once on the Homicide squad but was reassigned to Missing Persons after he returned from a department-imposed sobriety program.  Black races to discover where Lindsay is and who took the daughter of Edward Lawless, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the Southeast.  As Black delves into the investigation, disparate lives intersect, family secrets are revealed, and departmental politics threaten his progress.  The emotions of the case dredge up demons from Black’s own life that he must keep at bay.  Meanwhile, the detective works to keep ahead of Monique Mohan, an aggressive TV reporter, who seems to be as close to uncovering the case’s secrets as Black is.   Culpable is a thrilling read that weaves these storylines together into a spellbinding conclusion. 

Introducing Isaac Black, a new character in detective fiction

I am very excited to introduce Isaac Black, a missing persons detective in Charlotte, NC, early in 2013.  Black is a hard-driving, sometimes foul-mouthed detective who searches out the lost to retrieve them from the demons who roam one of the crown jewel cities of the South.

In Unintended Consequences, the first of at least three Isaac Black missing person investigations, Black must fight the politics of the department while searching for the abducted thirteen year old daughter of Edward Lawless, the most powerful man in Charlotte, if not the Southeast.  Angela Simpson is assigned to the case, who is known as the Chief's spy to keep an eye on high profile investigations.  As Black delves into the investigations family secrets come to life and his own past rises up to haunt him.  All of this plays out as the financial crisis unfolds in Charlotte, the second largest financial center in the United States.

Check back here in a couple of weeks for the reveal of the cover for Unintended Consequences and then for a free download of the first couple of chapters ahead of the publication in early 2013.

147th Anniversary of Lincoln's Assassination

This weekend (April 14th & 15th) will mark the 147th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  The events of that day, how they unfolded over a 24 hour period, the brutality of the attacks on Secretary of State Seward’s family and on Lincoln himself, and the lives that were shattered would be outlandish if created for fiction.  But because they are true, it is a gripping story of love, betrayal, violence, men and women overcoming adversity, and ultimately the triumph of our constitution and democratic ideals.  It would make for an interesting read to have a book focused on those 24 hours (which you can purchase by clicking on the cover illustration to your left!)

 

Here are the key events that occurs on the 24 hours from roughly 7:00 AM on April 14, 1865 to 7:22 AM on April 15, 1856 when Abraham Lincoln was pronounced dead.  You can look on other pages within the site to see the numerous resources that went into the development of this timeline.

 

Also, A Night of Horrors will be offered for free over this weekend in recognition of the anniversary.

 

Good Friday, April 14, 1865

7:00 AM

·      Lincoln awakes refreshed, which is a rare occurrence and he takes it as a good sign for the day

·      Goes to office and does some paperwork and reads the Bible, his daily practice

 

8:00 AM

·      Lincoln has extended breakfast with family, Mary, Tad, and Robert who has just returned from war

·      Robert shares the story of Lee's surrender to Grant, at which Robert was present

·      This is the four year anniversary of Fort Sumter's surrender to Confederates

 

9:00 AM

·      Breakfast with family continues

·      Begins office work

10:00 AM

·      Writes letters and notes in response to requests of the President

·      Meets with Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax and then Senator John Creswell of Maryland

·      Goes to the War Department to speak with Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton

·      Lincoln spent more time with Edwin Stanton than anyone else in his cabinet during the war

·      Booth has breakfast at the National Hotel (where he was staying) at the table with Miss Carrie Bean

·      Booth goes to Booker and Stewart barbershop on E Street for morning shave and grooming

 

11:00 AM

·      Lincoln holds his Cabinet meeting which General Ulysses S. Grant attends

·      The meeting will last for three hours and Lincoln paints his picture of the peace to follow the war

·      Booth walks to Ford's Theatre to pick up his mail and learns that Lincoln will attend the play that night

·      Booth, who had been planning to kidnap Lincoln, begins to conspire to kill him instead

·      Booth goes to Pumphrey's Stable on C Street to to arrange for a horse to be ready at 4:00 PM

 

12:00 PM

·      Cabinet meeting continues, they discuss setting up new state governments, suffrage

·      Grant updates them on Lee's surrender and situation with the Confederate Armies still in the field

·      Booth goes to Willard Hotel where he observes Mrs. Grant having lunch and causes her alarm

·      His planning of the attack continues as he moves through Washington City

 

1:00 PM

·      Lincoln shares about a recurring dream he had the night before that portends big events

·      Gen. Grant begs off to attend the play that night with President and Mrs. Lincoln so he can return to his children with his wife

 

2:00 PM

·      Cabinet meeting ends, Lincoln skips lunch and munches on an apple while continuing paperwork

·      Lincoln signs a few pardons

·      Lincoln talks with Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana

·      Throughout the day, 13 people will decline the Lincolns' invitation to the play that night

·      Booth stops by Mary Surratt's boarding house to have rifles, field glasses, and whiskey available at her saloon in southern Maryland

·      Booth goes by Ford's as rehearsal wraps up and then has a drink with John Fergueson at Taltalvull's Star Saloon

·      Louis Weichmann goes to rent a horse and carriage for Mary Surratt

 

3:00 PM

·      Abraham and Mary Lincoln take a carriage ride in the fine spring air

·      On the ride, Lincoln is the happiest that his wife has seen him in year

·      They talk about their future after the White House and where they will travel together

·      Booth goes to National Hotel and gets pen and paper and drafts a letter to Newspaper Editor

·      Booth then visits the Kirkwood House and leaves his card for Vice President Andrew Johnson

4:00 PM

·      Lincolns visit the Navy Yard and inspect the ironclad Montauk

·      Booth goes to Pumphrey's Stable to retrieve his horse

·      He encounters John Matthews, who will appear in Our American Cousin at Ford's that night, on the streets of Washington

·      Booth give Matthews his letter to the editor, which is sealed and asks him to give it to the paper

·      Matthews shares that Gen. Grant was riding by and Booth chases after the carriage

·      Booth realizes that Grant will not be at the theater that night after all

5:00 PM

·      Lincolns finish their visit and continue the carriage ride back from the Navy Yard

·      Booth takes his horse to his makeshift stable behind Ford's Theatre

6:00 PM

·      Lincolns return to White House for an early dinner before the play

·      Mary complains of a headache, but Lincoln tells her they must go, because the people are expecting them at the play

·      Lincoln talks with Governor Ogelsby and General Hanie and reads passages from The Nasby Papers and laughs

·      Booth prepares his gun and knife in his room at the National Hotel

·      Booth goes to the empty Ford's Theatre and prepares the pine brace to lock himself into the President's Box that night

7:00 PM

·      Lincolns have dinner, Robert excuses himself from dinner and play due to exhaustion

·      Lincoln meets with Schuyler Colfax for second time as he is departing for west coast in the morning

·      Lincoln visits War Department to talk with Stanton and assure him he has a military escort for the night at the theater

·      Mary Surratt arrives at her saloon in Surrattsville and arranges for rifles, field glasses, and whiskey as Booth asked

8:00 PM

·      Fog begins to settle over Washington City

·      Lincolns depart Executive Mansion and go to pick up Miss Harris and Col. Rathbone who will escort them

·      Arrive at Ford's Theatre around 8:30 (play underway) and the action is halted so that actors and audience alike can give Lincoln a standing ovation

·      Lincoln and his guests arrange themselves in the President's Box

·      Booth holds a meeting over dinner with his band of conspirators

·      Tells them that they will not kidnap Lincoln, but attack President Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward at the same time that night

·      Present at the meeting are George Atzerodt, David Herrold, and Lewis Powell

·      Powell is assigned to Seward and Atzerodt to Johnson, Herrold is to guide Powell out of the city after Seward was killed

·      The attacks are set to occur at 10:15 PM

9:00 PM

 

·      Stanton returns home from the War Department to listen to a serenade of workers from the War Department

·      Andrew Johnson goes to sleep after reading a book

·      William Seward is home in bed recuperating from a terrible carriage accident that left his jaw severely broken

·      At some point in the play, Lincoln gets up and puts his overcoat on as he is cold

·      Booth arrives at Baptist Alley behind the theater at some point with his horse and arranges for Spangler to hold his horse for him

·      Booth goes inside the backstage door and crosses under the stage to an exit on the other side of the building

·      Booth goes into tavern and has a drink and then goes to front of theater and talks with John Buckingham the ticket taker for Ford's

10:00 PM

·      Lincoln receives a telegram brought to him by Charles Forbes (his footman)

·      Powell and Herrold arrive at Seward's home and Powell gains access by carrying a box wrapped in brown paper and twine and tells the doorman he has medicine from the doctor

·      Powell is stopped by Seward's son Fred, the Assistant Secretary of State, who refuses to let him past

·      Powell points a pistol at his face and pulls trigger, but it misfires, so he beats him unconscious over the head with the butt of the gun

·      He gains access to Seward's room and fights off George Robinson, an Army Private guarding the Secretary

·      Powell forces himself past Fanny Seward, the Secretary's daughter, and strikes at Seward's throat with a large Bowie knife

·      William Seward has a metal and leather brace on his head, holding his broken jaw in place, that deflects the knife from his neck

·      Powell cuts Seward's face open and lacerates his neck, but does not kill the Secretary

·      Powell is attacked by Robinson and Seward's other son, Gus, and then flees the house to find himself alone as Herrold rode off after hearing Fanny's Seward's screams

·      He jumps onto his horse and flees the scene

·      George Atzerodt arrives at the Kirkwood House, where he and Vice President Johnson are staying

·      He orders a few drinks to brace himself and then decides he will not be part of the attack and leaves

·      He gets drunk and sleeps in a different hotel that night, the Pennsylvania House

·      Booth goes into the theater and up the steps and slowly crosses behind the seat towards the President's Box

·      Booth knows the play well and is timing his assassination with a point in the third act where there is a big laugh line and only one person on stage

·      He gives the footman a card and gains entrance, then braces the pine bar to wedge the door closed behind him

·      He takes out his gun and knife and steps into the box as the line is uttered and shoots Lincoln at point blank range in the back of the head

·      He struggles with Col. Charles Rathbone and severely stabs him in the arm and jumps to the stage below, breaking his leg, crying "Sic Semper Tyrannis", and then exits through the back door

·      Charles Leale, a young Army doctor in the audience, keeps Lincoln alive by relieving the growing pressure on his brain, but diagnoses the wound to his head as fatal

·      Lincoln is carried across the street to the Petersen House, where Leale continues to care for the President

·      Gideon Welles, the Secretary of the Navy, and Edwin Stanton are told of the attack on Seward at almost the same time and leave for Seward's house

11:00 PM

·      Welles and Stanton arrive at Seward's house and view the horrific site

·      Seward is almost exsanguinated from the wounds he sustained and his deathly pale

·      Messengers arrive and inform Welles and Stanton of the attack on the President and they immediately leave for the Petersen House

·      Dr. Robert Stone, Lincoln's family doctor, arrives at Petersen's and examines the President's wound and concurs with Leale's prognosis

·      Lincoln has a series of twitches and begins long rattled breaths

·      Mary Lincoln is inconsolable

·      Booth meets up with David Herrold and they ride through Washington City and past the Army guards and into Southern Maryland

 

Saturday, April 15, 1865

 

12:00 AM

·      Lincoln continues his slow slide towards death

·      Stanton sets up an office in a parlor in the Petersen House and begins taking testimony

·      He orders Grant back to Washington City and all of the gates and exits from the Capitol closed

·      Booth and Herrold arrive around midnight at Surratt House to pick up rifles, field glasses, and whiskey from Lloyd

1:00 AM

·      Andrew Johnson visits around 1:30 AM, briefly

·      Stanton sends first telegram on the assassination to General Dix

·      While other Cabinet members are gathered around Lincoln's bed, Stanton essentially runs the United States Government

2:00 AM

·      Mary visits Lincoln's bedside briefly

·      After she leaves, doctors insert probes into the wound to measure distance and track the bullet's path in his brain

·      Lincoln's pulse begins to weaken

·      Detectives visit Mary Surratt's boarding house based on an anonymous tip given to one of the detectives

·      Booth and Herrold continue riding south

3:00 AM

·      Rev. Phineas Gurney arrives and says a prayer over the President

·      Mary comes back to sit next to President and begins to scream uncontrollably when the President begins to twitch and rasp in his breathing

·      Stanton orders her removed

·      Sometime in the night, Powell arrives at Glenwood Cemetery in Maryland, where he sleeps under a tree for the night

4:00 AM

·      Stanton sends a telegram to Gen. Dix that he is convinced Booth is the assassin based on testimony and material gathered at his room

·      Mary visits briefly

·      Booth and Herrold arrive at the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who sets Booth's leg and allows them to sleep there

5:00 AM

·      Mary visits briefly again

6:00 AM

·      Gideon Welles takes a brief walk outside and a rain begins to fall

·      Mary visits again and Lincoln's face twitches horribly sending her into another paroxysm of screams and crying

·      Stanton orders her out of the room and not to be allowed in again

·      Atzerodt arises from the Pennsylvania House and leaves, tossing his knife under a carriage step on F Street, eventually making his way out of Washington City

7:00 AM

·      Lincoln dies at 7:22 AM

·      Edwin Stanton says, "Now he belongs to the ages."

My KDP Select Experiment, Part 2

So I wanted to follow up, almost four weeks after I posted my earlier blog on trying out the new Amazon KDP Select program for indie authors.  As I shared, during the 48 hour promotion period, my novel, A Night of Horrors, shot up the list to as high as the 130s for free Kindle fiction and to number 5 on the Historical Fiction list.  On February 4th, it switched back to paid status at the $2.99 price.  And I must say I have been very pleased with how things have transpired for the past four weeks.

Now, the first thing that I have to say is that I didn't think about the fact that I was conducting my free promotion on the two days before Super Bowl weekend.  So, note to self, think about the context of what's going on in the world prior to doing a promotion.  That being said, my KDP Select promotion has done great things for my novel.

From my research, I expected to see three things when the book flipped back to sold: 

  1. The book would rank much higher on the multitude of lists that Amazon provides on subjects and categories of book searches
  2. The actual sales would rise and be much higher than they were before the promotion
  3. Sales would peak a few days after going back to paid status.


Well, right from the start, the sales were quite strong and actually remained very high for an entire week.  There are now 1 million books in the Kindle library and A Night of Horrors reached as high as 3,895 in that first week!  (That's the top 0.3% of all Kindle books, by the way.)  Prior to the promotion, it had only gotten as high as 14,989 and that was for just a day back in October.

But what I've been most pleased by is that the sales have remained consistently high.  Whereas prior to the promotion, the sales fluctuated wildly from day to day, for the past four weeks the daily ranges have tightened considerably and remained very consistent.

The bottom line:  in the four weeks since my first 48 hour free book promotion, I have sold 4.5 times the highest amount I'd sold in any of the first five months the book was published.  I haven't missed the very meager sales that I gave up on the other ebook channels by placing A Night of Horrors into the exclusive KDP Select Program as Amazon is the big dog when it comes to ebook sales.  This has been an unqualified success for A Night of Horrors.

My next step is to do a 24 hour free book promotion on Thursday, March 1 and see how a 24 hour promo compares to a 48 hour promo.

My KDP Select Experiment

So Amazon announced a new program for indie authors called KDP Select (after their publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing).  In return for exclusively making your book available on Amazon.com for 90 days, they give the author access to their private community called Kindle Select, pay royalties for those books that are "borrowed" through Select's book lending program, and they give the author the opportunity to do promotions by offering the book for free for 5 days out of the 90.

I had considered this when it was first announced late last year, because by going exclusive with Amazon I wouldn't be giving up much.  My Amazon sales in January were as much as all other ebook channels combined since I published A Night of Horrors last July.  But I couldn't quite get past making the book free for 5 days out of 90. 

This past week, I read a couple of blogs by other authors who signed up for KDP Select and had amazing success.  Now the free promotion is always a bit chancy, but apparently, by making your book available for free, it has the potential to fly up on Amazon's lists (best fiction, best historical fiction) on the free lists and create a buzz that carries over to the book when it goes back to a book you pay for.  And the authors see new success through the promotion.

Now, January was the best month of sales for A Night of Horrors since I published it.  I've regularly been in the top 5% of the Amazon list, but that's out of 750,000 books.  So if you are in the 30,000 range, you are in the top 5%.  From my analysis, you need to be in the top 3,000 to get to the top 100 list of Historical Fiction novels.  So while 5% is great, it will take a lot more work to get to the top 100!

So, I decided to take the plunge with KDP Select yesterday.  I went live at midnight last night, so I am 18 hours into my first 48 hour free book promotion.  So tell your friends!

Here's what's happened so far today.  I checked in this morning around 6:30 while I was having breakfast to make sure the free promotion was live.  There were 150 downloaded by about 7:00 AM.  Throughout the morning the downloads accelerated to about 150 or more per hour!  I also started getting a handful of downloads from the UK and a few from from Germany -- yes, it's gone international!  Then, mid morning, I started to break into the top 2,000 for the Kindle Free list, which has 1 million titles!  Just before noon, I realized that A Night of Horrors was number 36 on the free Historical Fiction List.  Just two hours later, the novel was in the top 500 overall and in the TOP 10 for free Historical Fiction!

As I write this, around 7PM, there have been more than 1,500 downloads of the novel.  It is #7 on the free historical fiction list and just shy of the top 150 overall.  My body has literally been humming with all of the activity today.  I'll see what tomorrow brings...but I'm especially anxious to see how well the promotion translates into real sales.

Tell your friends!  A Night of Horrors is a top 10 in Historical Fiction and FREE for just another day!

Leaving a Legacy

I heard a sermon recently about the generational affects that one man or one woman can make through their life, belief, and passion.  It set me to thinking about the people whom I admire and wish to emulate.  There are those individuals who are so large in life, they cast a shadow across time and history by how they lived, led, and loved.  In the United States we have figures like that sprinkled through our history, Presidents, Senators, and Generals. 

 

The two who stand out, of course, are George Washington, the founding father, and Abraham Lincoln.  Washington was both General and President – a man who through sheer force of will forged a victory against the top world power in overcoming England.  Then there was Abraham Lincoln, who literally gave his life for his country.  Who exhausted his mental, physical, and emotional faculties to preserve the union that Washington had fought so hard to forge. 

 

In both cases, these men stood physically taller than those around them.  In both cases, the words and phrases of their letters and speeches have shaped what our democracy means and stands for.  In both cases, they were driven by a single purpose – one to forge a nation and the other to preserve it – that was the over whelming priority of their life.  And to achieve that priority they set aside wives, children, friends, comfort, and personal gain. 

 

And in both cases, what I have come to admire about them is their ability to see and reach beyond the present circumstance toward a brighter future they not only imagined but helped to shape and create.  They believed innately what the poet Robert Browning captured in his poem, “Andrea del Sarto,”

 

A man’s reach should exceed his grasp,

Or what’s a heaven for?

 

Both men were insanely ambitious, had dreams and aspirations that were ridiculous to believe.  Washington had served as Colonel over a Virginia regiment during the French and Indian War, but he’d never been the General of an entire army.  Yet he felt compelled to lead a war against England, the mightiest power in the world at the time.  Lincoln had served one term in Congress but had lost two elections for the U.S. Senate, yet he remained convinced he could be President of the United States!  Many people told him it wasn’t hope, but lunacy.  What Washington and Lincoln understood though, was that to achieve your dreams, to become all that you want to be and hope to be, you have to get out of your comfort zone.  You have to reach farther than you ever dared and beyond what is in your grasp. 

 

And in that moment, when you reach beyond what you only thought was possible to dare for the impossible, and trust that God will catch you should you fall, you leave a legacy.  Sometimes it’s a legacy for an entire nation.  Sometimes it’s a legacy for your daughter or son.  Sometimes it’s a private legacy for your self.  But one thing is always true:  the greater the reach, the greater the legacy.

The Bloodier The Better

After learning of my novel, A Night of Horrors, my son’s Honors US History teacher asked me to come in as a guest instructor on the topic of Lincoln’s assassination to conclude her teaching segment on the Civil War.  She pretty much gave me carte blanche regarding the content of my talk. Ultimately, I zeroed in on the last year of the Civil War, the eventful week before April 14, and then the actual 24 hours of Lincoln’s assassination.  I concluded with a dramatic reading from the “Supped Full on Horrors” chapter in my novel, where Powell attacks the Seward household.  If you’ve read the book, then you know I literally mean he attacked the household!  Powell mowed through four other people to get to the Secretary of State of the United States of America.  (If you haven’t read the novel, what are you waiting for?)

 

I retell the attacks on Lincoln, the Sewards, and Rathbone in all their naked brutality in the novel.  So I warned the teacher – twice – that the passage I would read was violent and bloody. 

 

“When it comes to high schoolers, the bloodier the better,” she said.  “It’ll hold their attention and make it more interesting.”

 

Last Friday I arrived in the auditorium with an audience of not one, but three honors history classes.  I got a handful of questions and responses as I laid out the lead in to the assassination.  I also noticed a couple students who fell asleep.  But out of about 75 or 80 kids, I figured that it was okay to only bore one or two to sleep.  Then it came to the reading.  Believe me, I gave it all I had.  I used accents, voices for the different characters, and hand motions when Powell crushes Frederic Seward’s head with his Navy Colt.  When I finished, I actually got a round of applause followed by several eager hands signaling more questions until we ran out of class time. 

 

Now, as much as I’d like to take credit for the praise and the interest, it’s really the subject matter.  The actual attacks on Lincoln and the Sewards are riveting, rivaling the best of suspense fiction.  The factual attacks were very violent and extraordinarily bloody.  Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, went so far as to describe the near-dead Seward as an “exsanguinated corpse” when he saw him less than two hours after the attack, because he’d lost so much blood.  But the story of Lincoln’s assassination is also one of heroic sacrifice, the loss of a beloved husband, and the heartbreak of being robbed of a historic victory when it just eludes your grasp.  I gave the students what I gave the readers of my novel:  the actual events of April 14, 1865, with all their intrigue, love, passion, pettiness, nobility, pain, sacrifice, and shocking violence.  In the end, I suppose it is secretly true for us all what the teacher said of the high school students…when it comes to fiction, historical or otherwise, the bloodier the better.

 

(If you're interested, a copy of the presentation is to the left.  Click on the PDF icon.)

What Would Lincoln Do?

We have seen a sad spectacle play out on the national stage over the past few months.  The debt ceiling debacle has been called Washington gridlock or bitter partisanship, but ultimately it is supremely frustrating to Americans who simply expect more from our elected officials.  As I followed the budget non-negotiations, I was struck by the simple fact that I didn’t see leaders rising above pettiness to articulate principles. Don’t get me wrong.  The issues are of extraordinary importance.  Our Government must improve how they manage the assets of our nation if we are going to pass a legacy of hope on to future generations.  But that’s not what I witnessed.  The steady stream of press conferences, media interviews, and political headlines only proved our leaders know how to speak past each other and over each other – but not to each other.  Bellwether ideals have given way to backbiting and bickering. In all of my frustration, I was struck with a simple question:  What would Lincoln do?

 

Lincoln was in office just more than one term but was no stranger to controversies and crises.  He had to manage a civil war, a growing Federal debt to finance that war, the national controversy over slavery, and then there were the defections from his own Cabinet and by Generals in the field.  But through it all, he was a leader.  And he led on principles.   In December of 1862, he sent his annual remarks to Congress.  In that message, he made a statement that is eerily appropriate for the current administration and Congress:  “Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history.  We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves…. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.”

 

What I find so lacking in today’s political debate and dialogue (if you can call it that) is the lack of high ideals.  I know this sounds trite and idealistic and even naïve to many. But our leaders today stand on party planks more than they do the guiding principles on which this country was founded.  Lincoln had one bright and shimmering ideal that guided his every debate, his every political move, and his every military decision. Lincoln’s clear and high ideal was simple:  save the Union.

 

While today, we tend to think of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator, the fact of the matter is freeing the slaves was a means to achieving his ideal.  In a famous letter to Horace Greeley, one of Lincoln’s fiercest critics from within his own party, Lincoln explained the policy he was “pursuing.”  “I would save the Union.  I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution,” he wrote.  Then Lincoln explained his stance in what are striking terms that echo some of the recent sentiments expressed in the debt ceiling debate.  “If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them.”  You see, Lincoln had utter clarity on the one ideal that led him through every obstruction, frustration, and negotiation:  save the Union.  The leaders today aren’t focused on saving the Union; they are focused on their petty political positions.

 

For Lincoln the nation’s good was the greater good. I admire the man’s ability to articulate a high ideal and pursue it relentlessly.  I’d like to see today’s leaders do the same.  Government’s role is to provide equal rights and not equal things; secure life and liberty; or enable prosperity through free markets.   I don’t care which principle our leaders might pick.  Please, just pick one!  

 

What the nation craves today is more leaders in the ilk of Abraham Lincoln.  When I look around at the shambles of our current political process, I do think ‘what would Lincoln do?’  He wouldn’t cling to mere party politics but would rise above to those high ideals that make this nation, as he wrote to Congress, “the last best hope of earth.” 

And so Begins the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War

These are hallowed times for many who live in the United States of America.  Over the next four years we will live through a series of 150 year anniversaries of the major events, battles, and struggles that we know as the American Civil War.  While the official beginning of the war was on April 12, with the shelling of Fort Sumter, the real fighting began 150 years ago this month at the First Battle of Bull Run, fought in northern Virginia just miles from the capital city of Washington.

 

The Union forces were led by General Irvin McDowell, while the Confederates were led by General P. G. T. Beauregaurd.  The battle raged back and forth for much of the day with the afternoon spent fighting for control of the Union artillery to use against the other forces.  In the end, the Union lines were shattered and withdrew from the field and limped back to the capital in utter defeat.  The battle was the bloodiest ever fought by American troops up to that point.  In one day of fighting there were 4,700 casualties across both armies.  By the standards that the Civil War would see, they were actually modest.

 

The battle would lead to a series of firsts.  It was at this battle that a young Confederate Colonel, relatively unknown at the time, kept his forces in line and bravely repulsed a brutal charge from the Union side, his men standing like a stonewall, earning Thomas Jackson his famous nickname.  It was the first real fighting between Union and Confederate infantry that would set the tone for much of the next two years with the Union soldiers retreating in defeat.  Abraham Lincoln would soon relieve General McDowell of his command, the first in a series of Generals the President would relieve of their command because of their inability to lead on the battlefield.  This was the first of many battles that would occur in the state of Virginia, whose citizenry witnessed more battles than any state in the four year war.  And it was the first in a series of battles that would record the highest casualty count of a single American battle.

 

These are, indeed, hallowed times, made so by the tears, blood, and lives of the men and women who fought so fiercely to defend the bright and shining ideals of our nation:  that government should be of the people, by the people, and for the people.  It was 150 years ago that the true fighting began and we have the opportunity to reflect, all of these years later, and be grateful that so many would sacrifice so much for me and you so we can enjoy our freedom.

The Next Step

It has been a little while since I blogged.  I’ve been heads-down on getting all of the finishing touches on the manuscript completed.  Publication time is now arriving!  The Kindle edition will be out next week and the rest of the formats will follow for Nook, Kobo, iPad, etc.  You know, publishing a novel has been a dream of mine for a very long time – literally more than 25 years.  To be at this point is amazingly gratifying.  Truth be told, this is actually the fourth novel I've completed and I'm hoping that, in my case, the fourth time will be the charm.


While I’m very happy to pat myself on the back and bask in the sunlight of the accomplishment, I know that the journey is still in the early stages.  As I think about how good it feels to have the novel not only complete, but in great shape for publication, I also remember the very beginning when I had the daunting task to research, outline, draft, and then revise the story to get it completed.  But for me, it's not merely wanting to simply be published.  My personal ten year plan is to both “get published” and “live off my fiction.”


I realized a number of years ago that the goal was "to get published," but that was only part of the goal.  The real goal -- the 10-15 year plan -- is "live off my fiction."  To expand the goal from doing something to living something adds an entirely different perspective for me.  I not only need to write, but I also need to publish.  I not only have to publish, but I have to sell in volumes large enough to obtain a writer's lifestyle.  Believe me, I’m very excited to be at this point of getting my first novel out to the public. As I celebrate this achievement, I also gently remind myself that this is the next step.  A very important step –  but one step in a journey. 


Now comes mastering the use of website, Twitter, blog, and other social media tools.  Now comes the other part of the writer's work to identify all of the places where my core audience might be to attempt to reach them with postings, articles, and other means of communication.  Actually, now comes the wonder of what and how the first or second or third book review will read on Amazon or Barnes and Noble!  Or will I even get a review? Now comes the next steps, different but just as important as the writing of the novel.  And I'm learning new skills and expecting to find new joys and challenges and learnings through it all. 


So this morning and this week, I eagerly anticipate the formal publication of A Night of Horrors.  I expect, my family, friends, and I will have a grand ol’ celebration next weekend to mark the publication.  But, then as this is one step, I'll immediate begin the next step of promotion, on this journey – a journey to live off my fiction.

The Joy is in the Details

            So I’ve always read and or heard from authors that the months and weeks leading up to the publication of a novel is pure drudgery.  The reading and re-reading of the manuscript at each step of the way as it gets formatted and set for printing can make you go cross-eyed.  The proofing to make sure there are no typos.  It’s always been something that authors dread and complain about.  My thought has always been, ‘I’d like to have that problem.’  I mean really?  You’re going to complain because you need to spend the time and energy to print your novel with excellence and quality? 

            Now, I’m faced with the same tasks as I go through the final stages of readying A Night of Horrors for publication.  I’ve reviewed several versions of the cover, picked a few to refine, made changes to those, reviewed the next round.  I’ve ready my novel I can’t tell you how many times.  I’m doing it late at night, because I have a job in a large company and have lots keeping me busy during the day.

            But I find myself energized.  There have been a few nights as I’ve read through a few chapters set for the “special Kindle edition” of the novel that I have trouble getting to sleep!  Now maybe I’m naïve and maybe it’s just that all of this is new to me, but I find that working through all of these things is a real kick in the pants…in a good way.  I still find myself reading faster as Lewis Powell makes his way up the steps of the Sewards’ mansion before he brutally attacks the Assistant Secretary and Secretary of State in their own home.  I turn the virtual pages faster as I come to the point where Booth steps up behind Abraham Lincoln as the President pulls the flags draping his box in the theater to get a better view of someone he recognizes.  Then bang!  And a puff of gray smoke drifts from the box in the theater before all hell breaks loose.

            Then I have to tell myself to slow it down and read it for formatting, grammar, typos, spacing problems and the like.  Unlike other things in life, I find that the minutiae of the publication process quite fascinating.  Each step of the process brings it closer to fruition.  Each completion of a task means I have had control in making sure the novel is not just a great read but it is an excellent book.  By taking the route I’ve taken of publishing directly my novel as an e-book on my own, I have had far more issues to deal with.  But I tell you what – I’m finding that there is joy in the details.

College Visits and Living a Life of Passion

                  My wife and I have been taking our son on college visits.  Hard to believe but he’ll apply to them in just a few months.  My wife and I enjoy these times.  The campus tours.  The car drives to the school.  Dreaming about his future.  Talking about his potential major.  Discussing all of the possibilities of his life.  We had the same great experience with our daughter four years ago.  I imagine that this time two years from now, I’ll write him the same letter I wrote to my daughter.  I wrote it in longhand to make it special and to get her attention.  In the letter I challenged her to use this time of her life, before she had life’s responsibilities and family responsibilities and just plain responsibilities, to do what she loves.  To not let expectations – real or perceived – to lead her to a choice, but let her heart lead her to a choice of major, of career, of job.  Don’t just start working and making money, I implored her, but pursue a passion.

                  You see, I knew she was too much like my wife and me – type A personality, wanting to be successful, and devoting herself to excellence.  And all of those are great characteristics – but I wanted her to do all of that for something about which she was passionate.  I’ll give the same advice to my son because he has the same Berry characteristics.  In fact I already have given him that advice in our drives to campus.

                  See, since I was in high school, I’ve wanted to be a successful writer – success simply defined as being able to live off my fiction.  My chance came and it went.  I studied English in undergrad and graduate school (prior to the fine arts programs out there today).  I wrote manuscripts, sent them off to agents and publishers alike.  But first came marriage and then came fatherhood and then it became time for me to be a productive member of the household.  And while I kept up with my writing for a time, the responsibilities of being a father and earning an income with my wife to pay the mortgage and provide a future for our two wonderful children slowly crowded out my passion as I focused on my responsibilities.

                  While I have never regretted doing the responsible thing for my wife and children, I did regret the writing – or lack thereof.  Soon the regret waned and the writing wasn’t something I missed as much as it was something I recalled once doing and then it became something in my past.  But four years ago, we started going to a great new church where our pastor talks to the potential and the gifts that God has given to each of us and that its in the use of our gifts that we live up to the potential we each have in our lives.  Each time he’d talk about potential and gifts, I had tweaks of regret that I no longer wrote.  Then my regret became a thought of ‘what if.’  And then I started to write again.  And the more I wrote, the more I began to dream again about being a writer and living off of my fiction.  And before I knew it, I’d researched and written a historical thriller on the 24 hours leading to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln that will be published as an e-book this summer.

                   I’ve always admired Eric Liddell, the Olympic runner portrayed in the movie Chariots of Fire.  He once explained his passion for running to his sister this way:  "I believe God made me for a purpose. He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."  So while I know that I have responsibilities as a husband and a father to help provide for my family and I have a drive to be successful at what ever I do, I’ve also come to learn that God made me a writer, and when I write, I feel His pleasure.   

                   So I write!

It's Revolution Time

            It is revolution time, though many don’t realize it.  We have reached a critical inflection point that many haven’t heard of or noticed.  Recently, Amazon announced that since April 1 of this year, it is selling more Kindle books than physical books.  It’s now selling 105 e-books for every 100 physical books (whether there is a Kindle version or not).  The Association of American Publishers recently announced that while adult paperbacks sales tumbled 7.7%, the sale of e-books exploded to 145.7% over the same period.  E-books will be about a billion dollar industry this year. 

            These are the seeds of revolution.  E-Books are cheaper than physical books.  Quicker and easier to acquire.  They offer a free sample that mimics the bookstore experience of perusing before buying.  But e-book publishers have gone the next step of making their platforms easily accessible to authors, so that you and I can by-pass the nonsense of agents and publishing houses and distribute our works directly to a reading public that hungers for more and more digital entertainment.  Gone can be the days of sending query letters to agents, waiting for the form rejections, reading the half-hearted comments when the manuscript is requested, and the misery of searching for the next list to send queries to in hopes of some form of encouragement.  The agents aren’t to blame for this.  They are simply relics of a passing era.  No longer is there a need to search for representation because you and I can represent ourselves and go straight to the source:  the reading public. 

            But how to do this?  There are resources and firms out there who are ready and willing to help you and I take our manuscripts, put them into the proper digital formatting for different e-book readers, and upload them to the channels available:  Nook, Kindle, iBook, Kobo Covers, etc.  Or you can go and teach yourself how to do it and go completely solo.  You and I control the content; you and I control the formatting; you and I control the price; you and I control the promotion.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 15 of the top 100 digital titles on Amazon’s best-selling list are priced at 99 cents.  This is another seed of the revolution.  99-cent books are from those authors who go directly to their audience and bypass agent, publishers, and reap 35% or more of their book sales directly.  Now, I’m not naïve, and I know that publishers have marketing, distribution, and other resources they make available to authors.  But let’s be real.  Those are more and more perks reserved for the vaunted few best-sellers out there.  You and I are now able to take advantage of social networking tools to promote our own works.

So we are in revolutionary times and the question is simply, will you and I embrace them?  You and I have the chance to do what we have only dreamed of:  publish our books and find out if there is anyone out there who likes our writing!  Isn’t that what it’s all about?  Getting the chance to see if there is an audience for our work.

So over the past couple of weeks I took my manuscript of a historical thriller on the twenty-four hours leading to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and sent it off to Telemachus Press so they can design a cover, format it for all e-book channels, and then upload it to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, etc.  I don’t know what the future holds or if there will be the audience that I hope for for my writing.  But I do know this:  I am embracing the e-book revolution and taking my work straight to the reading public. 

 

Join me and join the revolution.

 

*See the following articles:

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/amazon-selling-more-kindle-books-than-printed-ones-2011-05-19

 http://www.marketwatch.com/story/e-books-causing-seismic-shift-in-publishing-2011-05-26?link=mw_story_kiosk

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304066504576341460702121294.html?KEYWORDS=e-book

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703838004576274813963609784.html?KEYWORDS=e-book