Shit Doesn't Just HappenWhich we haven’t made a final decision on. For Shit Doesn’t Just Happen, the first book in the series, we have a final cover. The release date is 9 September 2014 and you can pre-order your copies at Amazon and iBooks (other platforms pre-order coming in the next 24 hours).

I could get into various points of what makes a good cover, but there are plenty of really good blogs and information out there about that. I could also get into various techniques I use in Photoshop. I did a short video on that when I made a cover for Mary Reed McCall. Other than this Video, which might interest you, the technical details would bore the novice to tears. Its almost as bad as listening to me when I go off on a tangent about how to create an eBook and HTML and CSS…oh no…I’m losing you.

Back to Shit Doesn’t Just Happen II Cover in the making…

Bob and I have always had a collaborative process when it comes to covers. Not just for his covers, but for all our authors as well. When doing a cover, I always try to get a feel for what the author has imagined their cover might be and try to give them concepts that fill their vision. I also do my own vision because I didn’t write the book, therefore I am not as close to it and I have a different perspective. Each author is a little different in that some have very definitive ideas of what they want or don’t want. I will always make recommendations or tell authors if I don’t think an idea is working, but the bottom line is the author gets the final say. I could go through close to 75 different covers before we land on just the right one. We will often go through 20 different fonts to get just the right one. Or make minor tweaks here in there in color or placement of extra images etc. Sometimes it has taken a couple of months to finalize a cover.

I really love the creative process and what I love the most is the input from the author. Today, Bob and I spent a good portion of our day emailing back and forth for the cover of Shit Doesn’t Just Happen II (which will be out 23 September 2014). Actually, the emailing started as I was sitting in an airport while searching various sites for images and ideas for the cover. Plus, we wanted to mirror the first book, but we wanted to make sure it was different enough that everyone would know by just looking at the cover it was not the same book.

We place a lot of importance on cover and spend a lot of time working on them. They are a very important visual marketing tool and in thumbnail, it has to reach out to the reader and say, ‘look closer’, which isn’t always an easy thing to do. One of the things we’ve always said was the cover has to say something about the book. Well, that is very true about fiction. A romance cover needs to look like a romance. A thriller has to have a darker feel to it. It’s one way the reader categorizes books in their mind. They are flipping through web pages and they see something that looks similar but different to something they read and loved, they are more likely to stop. Images trigger a visceral reaction. So, genre does play a key role in the direction we go with our covers. One series, The Duty, Honor, Country Series, we used historical images and the while the books are very much fiction, they have a non-fiction feel, which is what Bob wanted. However, non-fiction can be different. Interesting point here was that I thought Bob had totally lost his mind when he asked me to work up the covers for Duty, Honor, Country. Initially, I fought Bob on this idea. I thought we were heading in the wrong direction, but often, as the creative process works, we have to try different things and as soon as I did the layout, I knew we had a winner.

In non-fiction, it is often the title, subtitle and content of the book that triggers the reader to look closer. When readers search on-line for fiction, they often search by author name or specific genre categories. When readers are looking for non-fiction, they are more apt to search by key words and topic such as, what really happened to the Titanic? Or, The Criminal Mind. Or, The Civil War and Women. Cover is still important, especially now with the amount of on-line shopping for books.

Bob had sent an email to me about a week ago with the disasters he’d be covering in this edition and I focused on the Challenger and used an image from that disaster. It was a good cover and Bob liked it, but he thought it would give the reader a false concept of what the book was about since the image is one of those images that most of us would recognize. I agreed, but was still like, ugh, I really liked that cover. I tried various different ideas he had, and neither one of us was feeling it. Then I found this abstract image and thought, wow, that’s different. Intriguing. Which is what we wanted. But it didn’t scream disaster. So, I started playing with different ideas with that image. Which also sparked some other ideas. And that is the key.

The process in getting from an idea of a cover, to the final, OMG that is a great cover, is as frustrating and exhilarating as writing a book.

Just like writing a book, creating a cover is a process. A process of creating a world a reader can relate with and get lost in. I look at it as if I’m creating a character. Writers have always said that good characters ‘pop’ off the page. Well, we’ve also always said that covers have to ‘pop’. When a reader searches for something on any on-line retailer, or even on Google, the images that draw our attention and if one is interesting, well we click on it. Especially if we don’t know exactly what we are looking for. Pick a topic. One that interests you. Or one that you are currently writing about or researching. Go to Amazon and search that topic. What comes up? What covers draw you in? Did you look at the covers first, or read the title?

We writers also often use beta readers to get feedback. Covers can be treated the same way.

We have a pretty good idea of which cover we’re leaning toward. But here are a bunch of different covers (in random order). Please, let us know your thoughts, comments, opinions. We really appreciate all the feedback.

Cover Concept One

ShitDoesntJust2_(Grey2)Cover Concept Two

ShitDoesntJust2_(B)Cover Concept Three

ShitDoesntJust2_(6b)Cover Concept Four


Cover Concept Five


Which cover do you like the best and why?

Nothing but good times ahead…

Being Real in Publishing

I’ve tried to avoid a lot of the back and forth going on in publishing. Really. Really Really. But just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!

Going out to get a cannoli now.

I haven’t published a full page ad in the NY Times, nor signed that letter. Nor did I send an email to the CEO of Hachette. I do have a short post that Amazon KDP might publish sometime soon regarding my feelings about that program. Which is gratitude, which seems to be in short supply.

I’ve made a few comments here and there, but overall I don’t see much point to a lot of the activities of a lot of authors all around. But hey, more power to them. It’s a free society and there are many valid points being raised. I’ve been called selfish for that perspective. Unfortunately, no one knows my motives, nor do I know their reasons for their actions so while I can question them, I cannot judge them.  There have been some excellent observations from Hugh Howey, David Gaughran, Dean Wesley Smith, Barry Eisler, Joe Konrath, Chuck Wendig and others.  Not much I can add to that.  I’m just not that informed.

As writers, we should understand motivation. The same action for two different reasons, makes the action very different. I will admit to not being on Maslow’s fifth layer of Self-Actualization nor will I make a pretense to be.

Hachette produces books. Amazon and other platforms distribute books. Both good things in my opinion. I remember when there was one big bookstore on 18th in New York called Barnes & Noble. I used to go there as a kid with my Uncle Joey; a New York City Firefighter. There was only ONE B&N then. It became a big chain and people protested! Protesting bookstores. One wonders. Now people are protesting Amazon. Well okay. I read The Everything Store and it was chilling and enlightening at the same time.

Life is nuanced. Pretty much every event I’ve encountered in my 25 years in publishing has not been all good or all bad. It’s been both and I’ve had to filter it through my, well, let’s call it ‘selfishness’. I also call it my business and livelihood.

So here are some of my realities:

I’m grateful to trad publishing. I find it odd that few successful indies who have backlist from trad, or whose career started there, talk much about this. The infamous hybrid author which I blogged about in 2010 when no one had heard of the term. In fact, many are angry their backlist wasn’t more successful, that they weren’t treated better. True, but the irony is, if that had happened, I wouldn’t have my backlist. My getting ‘fired’ a half dozen times or so by trad publishers allowed me to accumulate 42 titles. When Random House gave me back my Area 51 series, I told my wife I’d just gotten my retirement and over the last several years, that’s relatively true. I also made a living in trad publishing for 20 years and for that I’m grateful. I worked with a lot of good people and some incompetent people; much like any job. I’m pretty sure, for example, that at a tragic time in my family’s life, my agent got me a book deal primarily by asking for a favor. She also took me to Spamalot, which is like, way cool.  Thanks, Meg Ruley.

I’m grateful to Amazon and the Kindle, and Barnes & Noble and Nook, and Apple and iBooks, and Kobo, and Mars On-Line for the ability to distribute directly. I’m grateful to 47North for publishing one of my series and the excellent merchandizing they provide.

Most of all, though, I’m grateful to readers. The distance between them and my content now is the Internet.

I am a content provider. Readers are consumers. Those are the two key parts of this equation and that, I think, is what the big corporations need to pay attention to. We might be easily replaceable but then again: we might not be.



An Author’s Attitude of 10 Gratitudes

In this time of turmoil, I find it’s important to step back and reflect on the good things. Especially, since I’m wrapping up the second book in my new series, Shit Doesn’t Just Happen. Eating Mexican take-out while writing about the Donner Party seems the epitome, well, of something. And not just because many people in that party starved to death, but also because they technically died in Mexico, a fact not many people remember; along with all the murders. But more on that in the first book when it comes out on 9 September.

So here be 10 author gratitudes:

  1. Readers
  2. I write for a living. Been doing it for a long time.
  3. The Internet completely changed the publishing playing field. Too many people focus on Amazon, but the reality is, it started with the Internet. It gave authors distribution.
  4. That I was able to get the rights back to all my books, except those I co-authored. The subtitle of the book coming out on 9 September is “The Gift of Failure” and in a bizarre way, my ‘failures’ in traditional publishing have become my successes in indie publishing. Same books, just a different attitude.
  5. That everyone I’ve worked with in publishing, traditional, non-traditional, alien, has loved books.
  6. That I get to use my imagination to make a living. I’m going to Dragon Con for a day at the end of this month and I find it amusing because I’m not really considered part of the science fiction community even though I’ve had three #1 selling scifi series on Kindle.
  7. That I’ve learned from some of my mistakes. I’m not considered part of the scifi community because I didn’t make myself part of it. I’ve learned it’s my choice how to direct my career and not to blame others. I’ve learned to do more networking and get out there and meet more people. It’s a people business.
  8. ShitDoesntJustHappen_TNThat I’ve learned to back off from all the turmoil going on in publishing and focus on the key things: write good books. Run a good business.
  9. That we’ve got a great group of authors at Cool Gus. The key when we work with an author is that they “get it”. Hard to explain, unless you get it. But they understand the new publishing paradigm, both the positive and the negative.
  10. My wife, the story streamer. I’ve learned to listen to her.

On another note, I need a couple of beta readers for book one, coming out on 9 September (just a few, so first come, first read). I’d need the manuscript back in a week, so the timeline is tight, but the book is around 35,000 words. If you’re interested, email me at  The first book covers: Titanic; the Kegworth Plane Crash; Custer and the Little Big Horn; the Donner Party; New London Schoolhouse Explosion; the Housing Bubble and Apollo 13.  The goal of this new, nonfiction series, is summed up in The Gift of Failure.  To describe each catastrophe and the 6 Cascade Events that caused the Final Event, and then the lessons we can learn from each to prevent future disasters.  Green Berets are consider ‘Masters of Chaos’ and I’m applying our expertise to try and make the chaos a bit less.


Survival Friday: Field Expedient Direction Finding

Survival Friday: Excerpt from The Green Beret Survival Guide and from FM 3-05.70 (my comments are italicized)  SurvivalFinal

Using the sun and shadows

The earth’s relationship to the sun can help you to determine direction on earth. The sun always rises in the east and sets in the west, but not exactly due east or due west. There is also some seasonal variation. In the northern hemisphere, the sun will be due south when at its highest point in the sky, or when an object casts no appreciable shadow. In the southern hemisphere, this same noonday sun will mark due north. In the northern hemisphere, shadows will move clockwise. Shadows will move counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere. With practice, you can use shadows to determine both direction and time of day. The shadow methods used for direction finding are the shadow-tip and watch methods.  (Start paying attention to where the sun rises and sets where you live.  You will notice how it shifts north and south on the horizon with the seasons).

Shadow-Tip Methods

In the first shadow-tip method, find a straight stick 1 meter long, and a level spot free of brush on which the stick will cast a definite shadow. This method is simple and accurate and consists of four steps:

Step 1. Place the stick or branch into the ground at a level spot where it will east a distinctive shadow. Mark the shadow’s tip with a stone, twig, or other means. This first shadow mark is always west —everywhere on earth.

Step 2. Wait 10 to 15 minutes until the shadow tip moves a few centimeters. Mark the shadow tip’s new position in the same way as the first.

Step 3. Draw a straight line through the two marks to obtain an approximate east-west line.

Step 4. Stand with the first mark (west) to your left and the second mark to your right-you are now facing north. This fact is true everywhere on earth.

An alternate method is more accurate but requires more time. Set up your shadow stick and mark the first shadow in the morning. Use a piece of string to draw a clean arc through this mark and around the stick. At midday, the shadow will shrink and disappear. In the afternoon, it will lengthen again and at the point where it touches the arc, make a second mark. Draw a line through the two marks to get an accurate east-west line

Figure 18-1

The Watch Method

You can also determine direction using a common or analog watch—one that has hands. The direction will be accurate if you are using true local time, without any changes for daylight savings time. Remember, the further you are from the equator, the more accurate this method will be. If you only have a digital watch, you can overcome this obstacle. Quickly draw a watch on a circle of paper with the correct time on it and use it to determine your direction at that time.

In the northern hemisphere, hold the watch horizontal and point the hour hand at the sun. Bisect the angle between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock mark to get the north-south line (Figure 18-2). If there is any doubt as to which end of the line is north, remember that the sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and is due south at noon. The sun is in the east before noon and in the west after noon.


Note: If your watch is set on daylight savings time, use the midway point between the hour hand and 1 o’clock to determine the north-south line.

In the southern hemisphere, point the watch’s 12 o’clock mark toward the sun and a midpoint halfway between 12 and the hour hand will give you the north-south line.

Using the Moon

Because the moon has no light of its own, we can only see it when it reflects the sun’s light. As it orbits the earth on its 28-day circuit, the shape of the reflected light varies according to its position. We say there is a new moon or no moon when it is on the opposite side of the earth from the sun. Then, as it moves away from the earth’s shadow, it begins to reflect light from its right side and waxes to become a full moon be- fore waning, or losing shape, to appear as a sliver on the left side. You can use this information to identify direction.

If the moon rises before the sun has set, the illuminated side will be the west. If the moon rises after midnight, the illuminated side will be the east. This obvious discovery provides us with a rough east-west reference during the night.

Using the Stars

Your location in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere determines which constellation you use to determine your north or south direction.

The Northern Sky

Figure18-3The main constellations to learn are the Ursa Major, also known as the Big Dipper or the Plow, and Cassiopeia (Figure 18-3). Neither of these constellations ever sets. They are always visible on a clear night. Use them to locate Polaris, also known as the polestar or the North Star. The North Star forms part of the Little Dipper handle and can be con- fused with the Big Dipper. Prevent confusion by using both the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia together. The Big Dipper and Cassiopeia are always directly opposite each. other and rotate counterclockwise around Polaris, with Polaris in the center. The Big Dipper is a seven star con- stellation in the shape of a dipper. The two stars forming the outer lip of this dipper are the “pointer stars” because they point to the North Star. Mentally draw a line from the outer bottom star to the outer top star of the Big Dipper’s bucket. Extend this line about five times the distance between the pointer stars. You will find the North Star along this line.

Cassiopeia has five stars that form a shape like a “W” on its side. The North Star is straight out from Cassiopeia’s center star. After locating the North Star, locate the North Pole or true north by drawing an imaginary line directly to the earth.

The Southern Sky

Figure18-4Because there is no star bright enough to be easily recognized near the south celestial pole, a constellation known as the Southern Cross is used as a sign post to the South (Figure18-4).

The Southern Crossor Crux hasfivestars. Its four brightest stars form a cross that tilts to one side. The two stars that make up the cross’s long axis are the pointer stars. To determine south, imagine a distance five times the distance between These stars and the point where this imaginary line ends is in the general direction of south. Look down to the horizon from this imaginary point and select a landmark to steerby. In a static survival situation you can fix this location in daylight if you drive stakes in the ground at night to point the way.

Making Improvised Compasses

I’m omitting this section because there is some disagreement whether the methods work.  Between the sun, the moon and the stars, I think you can get a good enough idea of direction.  On top of that, you should be able to orient your map to the terrain.  And you should have a compass in every G&G bag you have.  And a compass tied off to you with a dummy cord.  Here is the Suunto M-3 D/L Pro Compass:

More on Navigation.

Water flows downhill.  Really.

Know which side of the Continental Divide you are on.  And both of North America’s main mountain ranges have Divides.  The Rockies and the Appalachian Mountains have divides.  Study a map of your region.  What are the major streams and rivers?  Where do they join?  How many bridges cross them?  Where?

Remember, bridges are chokepoints.

Do you have dams in your area?  Just today a dam collapsed during Hurricane Sandy.

Are there any significant terrain features in your area that are noticeable from a distance?  Pilots Peak in Utah was a landmark for many people traveling west.

Know your pace count.  This is how many times your right foot hits the ground per one hundred meters.  This allows you to stay oriented.  You can go to the local high school and pace off one hundred yards, which is close to one hundred meters (a yard is slightly longer).  But remember, that will be on flat ground.  Pace count changes greatly when you move through rough terrain.


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