Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Today I wanted to refresh a message I share with you from time to time. It never gets old, because it never goes away. And each time I put it out there, my hope is that one more person sees and absorbs the message. Today, I want to talk about vanity publishers.

Let me put this as plainly as possible: vanity publishing is a scam. Anyone who asks you for money to publish your work is not a legit publisher. Money flows from the publisher to the author, not the other way around. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it very likely is. Legitimate publishers rarely contact writers unprompted with contract offers. Before you sign any kind of contract, make absolutely sure you know what you’re getting into.

Last night my friend @luisaraegan posted a wonderful breakdown of some of the pitfalls of vanity publishing. You can read her article here, and I definitely recommend it – and not just because she quoted me throughout! I love that she’s helping to spread the word about this scam, and when she asked for my input I was happy to oblige.

In my writing class, Crafting the Short Story, I spend some time discussing the things to watch for when choosing a publisher. I put a lot of emphasis on avoiding these types of publishers because many of the participants are relatively new to the publishing world and have no idea this sort of thing even exists.

Again, if we can reach even one person and save them a lot of headache and heartache, mission accomplished. I’m always happy to do my part to put a dent in the potential pool of scam victims.

Thanks as always for reading. If you’d like to receive updates delivered right to your inbox, you can pop over to my contact page and sign up to be among the first to see all new posts. Until next time, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

April News and Notes

It’s Easter weekend, so happy Easter for those of you who celebrate! Today’s post is just a quick little update to stay in touch and chat about a few recent highlights.

First, a reminder that Old Bones is now available on most major online platforms in both hard cover and ebook editions. Following the release of two full-length novels, we’ve gathered some of my favorite short stories from over the years into one convenient collection. I’m proud of the stories between these covers, and of the fact it’s the first ever of its kind from World Castle Publishing. That’s a pretty big deal, and I’d love it if those of you that read it could pop over to Amazon, or Goodreads (or both) and leave an honest review. It doesn’t have to be elaborate (though I do enjoy those!), and every one of them makes a world of difference.

Also, for those who live or travel in the area, I’m happy to report that Old Bones and all of my titles are available at Dog Eared Books in Oromocto. There’s just something about walking into a store and seeing your books on their shelves that never gets old, and Dog Eared Books does a lot to support not only local authors but other small businesses as well. As I mentioned, my books are there, as well as Sheryl’s and a host of others from here and around the province. Check them out!

For the writers, new to the craft and a little more experienced alike, a reminder that the summer sessions of Crafting the Short Story (May 14th) and Writing Horror: The Dark Side (May 9th) are starting soon. If you or someone you know is interested in honing your craft in an interactive setting, why not check out the links above and see if one or both might be a good fit for you?

Lastly, thanks to all for your continued support. All the messages, comments, book purchases, ratings and reviews are so important and appreciated. For updates delivered immediately to your inbox, feel free to pop on over to my contact page and sign up. It only takes a few seconds, and the added site hits and traffic make a huge difference.

Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Old Bones Goes Live!

I’m thrilled to announce the imminent release of Old Bones, my first short story collection.

From the cover:

Gather round, my friends. Get comfortable, dim the lights, and settle in for a terrifying journey where each stop along the way is creepier than the last.

A themed corporate gathering…children with very special, very disturbing powers…a well-meaning criminal who can’t quite manage to stay on the straight and narrow…filmmakers chasing an old legend that’s more than just a story… a spectral visitor returns with stories from the past…

These stories reveal the evils of humanity at its worst, and the nightmarish things that lurk just around the corner from reality. Deceit, jealousy, temptation, danger, evil. Twelve tales of horror that delve into the dark recesses of your worst nightmares and lay them bare upon the page.

The release date for the ebook is April 11th, but it’s available now in paperback and hard cover editions. Also, for those who enjoy free stuff, Old Bones is available on Booksprout. If you’re not familiar with Booksprout, it’s a free signup site that allows you to read books at no cost in exchange for leaving a review. Read great books, and pay nothing aside from the time it takes to leave a review, which authors love and appreciate? It’s a win-win!

I hope you enjoy Old Bones as much as I loved creating the stories within its pages. If you pick up a copy I’d love to know what you thought of it. Thanks as always for the support and feedback, it’s greatly appreciated. If you haven’t already, take a moment to sign up over at my contact page for all the latest news delivered right to your inbox. Until next time, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Spotlight on Short Stories

Winter hasn’t passed us by just yet, but here in my region of the world we’re getting a bit of a reprieve – sort of. There’s been snow and/or freezing rain nearly every night, but daytime temperatures have been on the happy side of freezing for a couple of days and several more just like it in the forecast. It might be a tiny oasis in the middle of the freezin’ season, but at this point we’ll take it!

This week I’m getting back to my roots a little bit with a focus on short stories. A while back I did a sort of miniseries where I took a look behind the scenes of some of the stories in Old Bones, my forthcoming collection. I took a break from doing that to promote Seventeen Skulls, and never got around to picking up where I’d left off. Fast forward to now, which finds me happy to report the edits have been completed and the release date of Old Bones is approaching.

as a reminder, here’s a look at the cover art and blurb:

Gather round, my friends. Get comfortable, dim the lights, and settle in for a terrifying journey where each stop along the way is creepier than the last.

A themed corporate gathering…children with very special, very disturbing powers…a well-meaning criminal who can’t quite manage to stay on the straight and narrow…filmmakers chasing an old legend that’s more than just a story… a spectral visitor returns with stories from the past…

These stories reveal the evils of humanity at its worst, and the nightmarish things that lurk just around the corner from reality. Deceit, jealousy, temptation, danger, evil. Twelve tales of horror that delve into the dark recesses of your worst nightmares and lay them bare upon the page.

I’ll keep you in the loop as the release date draws nearer. As an added bonus I’m very pleased to announce one of the stories from Old Bones will appear in audio form on the Creepy Podcast. I find this pretty cool, as it marks another first for me along my chosen path. I’ve listened to a few horror podcasts, with mixed results. Some, obviously, are better than others. Creepy does a nice job with production, and the actors enhance rather than detract from the story. As with all things, I’ll keep you posted when it’s finished and goes live. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of audio books or are familiar with and enjoy the podcast experience, why don’t you pop on over to Creepy and give them a try.

It’s been a productive week, for sure. Additionally, the winter session of Crafting the Short Story is in full swing with a a fun and creative group of writers. As I posted this link I was reminded of a short promotional video we put together, which now appears at the bottom of the registration page. I believe they’re planning to add more of these by other instructors but for now mine is, as far as I know, the only one. Just a little something fun for those who might be considering one of my classes. It looks like it’s on the page for Writing Horror: The Dark Side too.

That’s all for now. As always, thanks for reading and dropping by. Feel free to pop over to my contact page to sign up for updates sent directly to your inbox. Leave reviews for authors you enjoy, help spread the word and shine light on books that deserve to be noticed. Not just mine, but anyone whose work you’ve read and enjoyed. It makes a difference, I guarantee it!

Be safe, talk soon!

-JP

New Releases

Some Exciting and long-overdue news to report today. Two cool things, actually, as more news has trickled into the Powers household since I began writing this.

Just before I struck off for a weekend in the wilderness this weekend, I received the news that Seventeen Skulls, my next novel, is slated for release on August 23rd. I’ll be posting all sorts of stuff over the next month, including excerpts and updates. For now, as a reminder, here’s a peek at the cover art:

Having returned home from the wilds, wild-eyed and scraggly, freshly showered and laundered and with a solid sleep in my own bed under my belt, I can now focus my attention on my upcoming release and all that entails. But then, as I sat to write this and share the news with you, more good news. My better half, Sheryl, received a contract for her second release, a sci-fi romance. This comes on the heels of her young adult horror thriller, which is in editing and pre-production as we speak and slated for release later this year.

So all in all, a big week here for everyone. It’s always an exciting time when a new book or short story comes out, so to have so much activity compressed into such a short time is pretty amazing. And this doesn’t even take into account my short story collection, Old Bones, which I’ve been tormenting all of you with over the past few months. Never fear, that one is still in the works and coming soon. But for now the focus shifts to a little town in New Brunswick, Canada, where a series of violent murders just might be connected to a prison inmate incarcerated over a thousand miles away…

Seventeen Skulls is now available for pre-order! Here are the links:

Seventeen Skulls in Canada

Seventeen Skulls in the US

More to come. Until next time, be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Inside Old Bones: Creature Comforts

Just before we dive into today’s post I want to take a second to plug Crafting the Short Story, which kicks off this Thursday. There are still spots left if you or someone you know is interested in this fun and informative writing course.

As we continue to wend our way through the table of contents of my forthcoming short story collection, Old Bones, we come to a fun little tale called Creature Comforts. Nine-year-old Paulina is having trouble with bullies at her school. Her grandfather gets wind of this and gives her his old teddy bear for protection. But this toy brings more to the table than just moral support, to Paulina’s great delight.

I wrote this story, or most of the bones of it at least, in my little studio space. Years ago I shared a studio with several other artists on the top floor of an old building in the downtown core. It ultimately wasn’t the most productive creative space during the year-plus I spent there, although a few ideas did come from my time there. One, which I’ll talk about at length in a future post, was the earliest stages of what would become my second novel, Seventeen Skulls. Another was Creature Comforts.

There are monsters everywhere, if you look hard enough. Sometimes you don’t have to look all that hard. This is a story about monsters, but more than that it’s about family. How far would you go in order to protect the ones you love? What sort of evil would you be willing to unleash, knowing the potential consequences? These are some of the themes I wanted to explore, knowing as I do the answers will vary from person to person. Paulina isn’t based on a real person exactly, nor is her grandfather, but I tried to get into the heads of both characters to determine how each would react to the situation I put them in. I wasn’t exactly sure how things would turn out, and I was pleasantly surprised.

As I mentioned in the last post, I wanted to experiment with writing from different points of view that aren’t exactly like mine. While I’m not, nor have I ever been, a nine-year-old girl, I did have access to one for a while a number of years ago. I drew on my observations and experiences to try and add realism to my character. Hopefully I came close. As for the grandfather, I can identify with him a little more closely. I know the lengths I would go to but also my limitations in such a scenario. I wanted to give him an interesting way to protect his granddaughter, and I think I did that.

The title has a double meaning, as my titles so often do: everyone knows what creature comforts are, but in Paulina’s case she takes comfort in the presence of an actual “creature” – grandpa’s stuffed bear. As always it’s tricky to go into detail without giving too much away. Hopefully when the book comes out you’ll read these stories and realize why these posts have intentionally been a little vague.

Thanks as always for reading along and continuing to come back to this space. Feel free to subscribe for updates directly to your inbox.

Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Inside Old Bones: Through the Eyes of a Child

Today’s edition of my behind-the-scenes look at my upcoming short story collection, Old Bones, takes us into a story that goes back several years. I will often attempt to give my story titles a double meaning, and Through the Eyes of a Child is one that does exactly that. It’s also one of a number of stories I’ve written with a child as the main character; maybe my first to do so, now that I think about it.

(I just now took a peek at the table of contents for Old Bones, and noticed this is one of three – arguably four, depending on how you look at it – stories which feature children as the main character. Over the years I’ve made an attempt to write not just from my own perspective, or that of others just like me. Writers, particularly beginning ones, will often inadvertently write every character as though they’re speaking through the character directly. Man, woman, child, modern, past, future: all written as if the character is a role being played by the author. I have attempted to avoid doing this, thus the inclusion of main characters that aren’t anything like me. The trick is to make the character relatable – if it’s a small child, make the reader believe these are the words and actions of a small child. I don’t always manage to pull it off, but it’s something I continue to work at.)

Several years ago my old friend J. Richard Jacobs – who I eulogized in this post – was looking for some stories for a themed anthology he called ‘Wunderkind’. He wanted stories about exceptional children, with special powers or traits. I thought about it for a little while, kicked around a few ideas, until I settled on what would ultimately become Eyes of a Child. The character, Tony, is a four-year-old boy with an IQ that’s off the charts. He also has a special secret ability that he doesn’t show or tell anyone about.

This is the part where I usually tell you about the incident or circumstances that inspired the story in question. I can’t do that today, because most of the plot behind this one stemmed from the game I play which I like to call “what if?” I almost never write to a prompt, but in this case I wanted to be included in this anthology, so I started kicking around ideas. Some of them were pretty far out, others simply lacked the impact I was looking for. I don’t know that it’s an entirely original idea – is anything, any more? – but I can’t recall ever seeing a similar story in my travels.

As with a lot of the things I wrote (and still write, if I’m being honest), I approached it with a sort of Twilight Zone mentality. I love the twist ending, and I like to think the reader doesn’t see it coming in this tale. The characters, Tony and his mother, Wendy, were named after real people. This, by the way, is something I frequently do, sort of an homage or tip of the hat to a friend or acquaintance. Most of the time I don’t tell anyone about this, not even the person in question. Rather, I prefer to let them stumble upon “themselves” when they’re reading and, hopefully, get a kick out of their inclusion (and if they don’t, well, then the story in question is purely a work of fiction and all resemblances to real people, living or deceased, is purely coincidental). I don’t want to spoil the story before you’ve had a chance to read it, but I will say that Tony was a real little boy I knew who passed away when he was about the same age as the boy in this story. Wendy is a friend of mine who has children of her own, though none (I don’t think, anyway) who can do the things Tony can.

The story satisfied my curmudgeonly editor, and he included it in his anthology. I was happy to share pages with many talented wordsmiths, all hand-picked by J. himself, and I was equally happy to have met with his approval. Wunderkind marked the third and final time my work appeared in the excellent Twisted Tails series, a fact I’m pleased and proud of. Now, I’ve chosen Eyes of a Child for inclusion in Old Bones, which I hope will bring pleasure and enjoyment to those who read it.

So that’s the story behind Through the Eyes of a Child. I hope you’re enjoying reading about the stories behind the stories, and will pick up a copy of Old Bones when it’s released. As always, thanks for reading. Be sure to pop over to my contact page and sign up to receive updates directly to your inbox.

Be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Inside Old Bones – The Dungarvon Whooper

“The Miramichi region is comprised of a series of small communities that line the river of the same name. The area, one of the earliest settled in New Brunswick, has long been steeped in legend and mystery. In the darkest part of the vast forest that surrounds the mighty Miramichi lurks a creature from days long past: a wailing banshee known as the Whooper that has terrorized the locals for over a century.”

Excerpt from “The Dungarvon Whooper”

Nestled deep within the forests of central New Brunswick can be found a series of small communities, strung along the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. Collectively known as ‘the Miramichi’, from Boiestown at one extreme, through Doaktown, Blissfield, Blackville, Renous, Dungarvon, Chatham Head, Loggieville, to the jewel in the crown, Miramichi City (or the amalgamated Chatham and Newcastle, if you’re of a certain vintage) at the other. Each its own unique and separate entity, yet simultaneously a piece of the bigger picture.

Once world famous for its unparalleled salmon fishing, the Miramichi is also well known for its abundance of ghosts, haunts, and spooky locales. Each stop along the way boasts its own entry in the grand tale. Of all, perhaps the most commonly known and oft-repeated tale is that of the Dungarvon Whooper. I won’t tell the story here; numerous versions are readily available online and in many books. I first learned of the story in an excellent book by Carole Spray called Will O’ the Wisp: Folk Tales and Legends of New Brunswick. From my earliest years I loved both the book and the legends themselves, which I endeavored to learn more of.

This is all just background to familiarize you with the area in which my story takes place. My version is inspired by the legend, but goes in an entirely new direction and takes on a life of its own. Based in modern times, it features a trio of young film makers just familiar enough with the Whooper tale to want a closer look. They find their way to the site (which, it may interest you to know, is commemorated with a plaque), and… well, I won’t spoil the surprise for you. Let’s just say they find more than they bargained for.

The story of the Whooper is one of a number I’ve written based on experiences – mine and those of others – from the Miramichi region. Some have been published here and there, others haven’t seen the light of day just yet. As with this one, I like to modify them a little, make them my own, take them in new directions. If you haven’t heard the original tale I encourage you to look into it. Of course, I encourage you to check mine out when Old Bones is released too! But beyond the Whooper, wherever you happen to wander in your travels, keep your ear to the ground for local legends and dark tales. They’re all around, if you listen closely.

Until next time, be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Inside Old Bones: It Slipped My Mind

After the unpleasant task of my most recent post, in which I bade farewell to an old friend and colleague, we’re moving forward in a more positive direction. It’s time for another look behind the scenes of Old Bones. In today’s entry we focus on a darkly humorous piece called It Slipped My Mind.

It’s the narrative of a man who has just killed his wife and is on his way home from disposing of the body, and explains to the reader his motives behind such a heinous act. He’s convinced it wasn’t his wife at all, but rather an intricately detailed duplicate, possibly planted by the government or aliens or some such. The imposter was able to fool him for a while but ultimately made a fatal mistake: she asked him if he’d ever eaten jambalaya before. His real wife would have known instantly that he had, because of the back story involved with that particular dish. He knew for sure then, and took it upon himself to take her out before she could do whatever dastardly thing to him she’d been sent to do.

This story was inspired, as so many of the good ones are, by real life events. In this case, it was based on a conversation between my wife and I – about jambalaya. Now, my repertoire in the kitchen is a bit on the limited side, but one thing I do make very well is jambalaya. In our early days together I figured whipping up a batch would be a good way to impress her, and asked if she’d ever had it before. What I didn’t remember is that not only had I asked her that no fewer than four times already… I had already actually made it for her. Her incredulous look, and the fact that she razzed me about it (and still does to this day) made me wonder if maybe I was getting a bit forgetful. I tried to cover for my oversight by pretending I was just teasing her, but she saw right through me and wasn’t having any of it.

It’s become a running joke between us now. If one of us forgets something, the other will counter with “but have you ever had jambalaya before?” Aside from the fun we have with it, the incident sparked my creative “what if…?” mind. I thought about what might happen if the circumstances were a bit different and things got out of hand, and as it played out in my mind this story began to take shape. I won’t spoil the ending here, I’ll just say it’s pretty clever, if I do say so myself.

So even though nobody actually died over this tasty dish, the story is deeply rooted in real events – based on a true story, as they say. My wife, who is still very much alive, got a kick out of the fact I was able to turn this ridiculous sequence of events into a horror story. The lesson here, of course, is this: writers will always find a way to mine a story from what may seem to be nothing of substance. Just something to bear in mind whenever I’m around.

Until next time, be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Inside Old Bones: The Crossroads

For this next installment in my Old Bones back stories, in which I discuss the origins behind the stories contained in my upcoming collection and delve into the creative process, we’re looking at a ghostly tale called The Crossroads. This one was written fairly recently, but it sprang from a decades-old incident.

For anyone familiar with the Miramichi area, you know ghost stories abound there. Every little hamlet and village, every town, and every inch of the vast, unbroken wilderness in between holds a spooky tale or two. You don’t have to look very far to find someone who either experienced something they couldn’t explain, or knows someone who has. Now me, I’ve spent more than my share of time rooting around the area over the years – long enough to have picked up more than a few of these stories. Some, like the Dungarvon Whooper (which we’ll get to in a future post), are well-known and oft-told. Others aren’t nearly as famous outside of where they took place. And then there are those, like this one, which virtually nobody knows about. How do I know about it, then? Because I was there.

The Crossroads starts off with the main character, Fred, telling his awestruck neighbor a ghost story from his past. He and his buddy were just youngsters when they witnessed an ethereal stagecoach-like carriage drawn by a team of horses with eyes that glowed red in the pitch blackness. It approached at a fast clip from behind the car the boys were in, charging down the old dirt road before vanishing into the dense forest without a trace. Terrified and fascinated, they investigate further and get a closer look at “the other side” than they ever imagined.

I was about the same age as the characters in the story when I was present for something very much like this happened. Similar setting, similar circumstances, and that same ghostly carriage complete with the team of horses. I didn’t personally see any of this take place, but I was at the wheel when one of my passengers did. He perched on his knees on the back seat and stared into the murky darkness behind us in silence, and when he turned around in his seat the look on his face left no doubt he’d seen something that spooked him.

At this point, the story goes in a completely different direction from the original encounter. In reality there was no further encounter with the horses, the carriage, or it’s otherworldly driver. We drove off into the night without further incident, though we debated the freaky encounter well into the night. Though I didn’t realize it yet, the seeds had been planted for The Crossroads. More than two decades would pass before I finally put pen to paper (literally – that’s how I write most of my stories, the old-fashioned way) and brought this old tale back to life. I like the direction this version went in, even if most of it isn’t strictly true to the original. The other principle player, the one who witnessed the carriage all those years ago, liked it too, even if he didn’t care for how it turned out for his character. I don’t want to give too much away, so I won’t tell you any more than that other than to say it ends in a way I could have seen playing out, had it come to that.

So, that’s the story of where The Crossroads came from. I realize there’s a fine line between sharing the behind-the-scenes stuff and spoiling the reader’s experience. Hopefully I’ve managed to straddle that line, and when the book is released hopefully you’ll read the stories and enjoy these “liner notes”, if you will, after the fact. More of these to come. In the meantime, thanks as always for reading!

Be safe, talk soon,

-JP