Cyber Funday

Over at Amazon I’m running a promotion where I’m giving away ten free copies of The Dead Ride Fast between now and midnight on Monday, November 27.

It’s 100-percent free. Doesn’t cost you a thing.

Want a copy? The best part is you don’t have to jump through any hoops. You don’t have to subscribe to my newsletter or retweet me or tell me my kids are cute. All you gotta do is go over to Amazon and click away.

Afterwards if you feel inclined to leave a review or award it a few stars on Amazon or Goodreads, I’d appreciate it.

Click here for a free copy of The Dead Ride Fast. Did I mention it’s free? Because it’s free. It’s a free e-book. Free!

The Dead: Now Riding Even Faster!

The Dead Ride Fast is now available on Smashwords and through a number of e-book retailers, including the iTunes bookstore.

I was reluctant to list The Dead Ride Fast with Smashwords and didn’t include it in my original marketing plan for the book, instead choosing to upload directly to each individual site. The price for maximum control was convenience, but as previously noted, control has been my overriding goal from the start.

Smashwords markets itself toward the, shall we say, less technically skilled e-book publisher. Their process uses a Word doc as the basis of an e-book, which it then transmutes into an epub via proprietary software called Meatgrinder before distributing it to retailers. As there is no way on God’s green earth you can produce a svelte, 100-percent functional ebook from a Word doc, I initially refused to consider Smashwords as a venue.

However, upon failing to list The Dead Ride Fast on the iTunes store, I reconsidered Smashwords as an end-run around Apple’s cumbersome process, and after some snooping I discovered you can upload a finished epub of your own making to Smashwords, thereby bypassing the Word/Meatgrinder channel. The only downside is that homemade epubs have to pass a manual inspection for compliance, which (I think) the Meatgrinder products don’t have to endure. That inspection delayed availability for a few days but was hardly a dealbreaker.

Once an e-book is accepted by Smashwords they blast it to practically every e-book retailer on the planet, so if you prefer some other store beyond Amazon, it’s probably available. For a full listing, head over to The Dead Ride Fast page on Goodreads and shop away. Don’t forget to leave a review there or anywhere else! Five stars are a writer’s bread.

You may also notice some shiny updates around this site, including a fresh author photo and a brand new contact page. Too shy to leave a public comment? Feel free to reach out in a non-creepy way by sending a DM! Or even reach out in a creepy way. ‘Tis the season, after all.

The Dead Ride Fast Is Now Available

The Dead Ride Fast is now available at Amazon and Kobo.

It is not available on the iTunes store. That’s because uploading an e-book to Amazon is easy, uploading to Kobo is extremely easy, and uploading to Apple is a multi-stage clusterfuck. The ubiquity of Apple’s overpriced and cumbersome tech is one of the great boondoggles of our age. Throughout this process, the only serious roadblock I encountered was uploading to iBooks, which ended with me throwing a frustration-soaked towel into the ring.

I also have not uploaded The Dead Ride Fast to the Nook store, mainly because there’s no need. I’ve gleaned from other e-publishers that their Nook sales were either nonexistent or so low that it wasn’t worth the effort; and regardless, a Nook/Kobo merger of some kind appears to be inevitable. Kobo has positioned itself to be the only viable competitor to Amazon in the e-book space.

Anyway, I hope you nerds have enjoyed my adventures in e-book publishing. So what’s next?

I have almost enough material for that second collection I’ve mentioned. I won’t jinx myself by publicly declaring a timeline like I did with The Dead Ride Fast, but having done it once, the process should go smoother and faster next time. I’m already psyched about the cover.

Beyond that I will retreat into my customary elusiveness as I ride off into the sunset. Thanks for reading and maybe even laying down a shiny nickel on the virtual sales counter. Until next time — happy trails.

Cartagena Hotel

Plate III from Our Reptiles and Batrachians by M.C. Cooke, 1893

Of all the stories in The Dead Ride Fast, “Cartagena Hotel” trod the most convoluted road.

I began writing the story in 2014. The original draft was longer than the idea behind it could sustain, so later I returned to it and hacked it down before moving on. Occasionally I would add or subtract, then set it aside again.

I don’t try to openly emulate other authors but the story that eventually took shape reminded me strongly of an Ambrose Bierce tale, very short (around 2,000 words) and revolving around the theme of disappearance — or more specifically, the idea of whether anyone else would notice if someone or something disappeared.

As he was soliciting stories of psychological horror, I submitted it to Eric Guignard for Horror Library, Volume 6. I made the cut. It was my second time working with Eric, who also published “Quivira” in his antho Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations. Eric believed, however, that the story was too curt, too elliptical, and asked that I expand it to let the characters breathe. The result, I think, was a much improved story and three years after its first draft, “Cartagena Hotel” appeared in the aforementioned volume this past April.

For The Dead Ride Fast, I stripped out the scene breaks as I felt they disrupted the story’s flow. Otherwise it appears as it did in Horror Library.

Realgar

The John S. Cook and Company building in Rhyolite, Nevada CC BY Brian W. Schaller, 2004

Of all the stories in The Dead Ride Fast, “Realgar” is probably the closest to a horror story. I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of escheat — the legal provision in which land in the United States cannot be unowned. If no one else owns a parcel, then it reverts to the ownership of the government, which in turn can sell it to somebody else.

That means ultimately any site or building — like, say, a haunted ghost town — is owned by someone, whether it’s a person, company, or government entity. You can’t just walk away from evil.

For The Dead Ride Fast I’ve restored a couple of sentences that were cut when “Realgar” first appeared in the 2012 anthology Low Noon. I don’t think the cuts were intentional; rather I suspect they resulted from an assembly error while the editor was stitching together the book manuscript. They’re fairly minor lines but I’m glad I had the opportunity to knit them back in.

The town of Realgar, BTW, is based on the Nevada ghost town of Rhyolite. I’ve never been there. All of my weird Westerns are inspired by a backpacking tour I took of the southwest in the early 90s as well as a 10-week period when I lived on the outskirts of Houston. My memories of those times, so staticky and sepia-toned, factored largely in my desire to write these sorts of acid-Western stories — to create these landscapes that are neither literally true nor figuratively false.

Barbary

Barbary
Barbary by Ben Baldwin, 2012

Ah, “Barbary.” My favorite among The Dead Ride Fast.

An initial concept when I began writing my Strange Wests stories was a focus on water.

Western landscapes in both books and movies can be divvied into two categories, either mesa-choked desert or rolling plains. Forgotten is the importance of watercraft in the expansion of the western frontier. Think of the major American cities situated on Mark Twain’s Mississippi alone: Minneapolis, St. Louis, Memphis. One historian (I can’t remember who) called New Orleans the gateway between the Old South and the Wild West. Much of eastern and southern Texas, in fact, was settled by folks who arrived via ship from NOLA. In 1850 California with its 840 miles of coastline became our 31st state, sandwiching a wide swathe of unexplored land between it and the rest of the states. Some of its settlers crossed the continent the hard way but others went by sea, most of them arriving via San Francisco.

I wanted to set a sailing story in San Francisco, which for the second half of the 19th century was probably the US’s largest city west of the Mississippi (by 1880 it was the nation’s ninth most populous). It was very much a frontier city, so raucous and dangerous that its Vigilance Committees — organized in the face of horrible police and government corruption — gave us the word vigilante.

Married to this setting was my fascination with 19th-century mummy unrolling. I also wanted to experiment with an untrustworthy narrator who spoke in a rich, overwrought style not unlike that of Clark Ashton Smith or Jack Vance — a style I call my Pompous Purple. Writing in Pompous Purple can be tricky; it takes a special kind of editor to get the joke, and I have far more unsold Purple manuscripts sitting on my hard drive than I have in print. Fortunately, Andy Cox at Black Static loved “Barbary” and bought it immediately. After publication it received a fair amount of attention on review blogs.

I wrote other “wet Westerns” too, stories about privateers in the Gulf of Mexico (“Galveston”), riverboat gamblers (“Rio Grande”), New Orleans rising above the bayou (“Crescent City”). But “Barbary” is the best of them.