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Friday, February 24, 2012

Top Five Reasons to Purchase A Soul To Steal

A Soul to Steal is currently burning up the charts, thanks in part to a free give away I held earlier this week. If you downloaded it for free already, fantastic! I hope you’ll take the time to read it and enjoy it. If you do, please leave a review on Amazon. If you didn’t catch the free day, don’t worry. The novel is only $2.99—well worth the price of admission. How can I say that? Why do I think you would like the book? Let me count the ways.

5. You won’t guess the killer
I never set out to write a mystery, instead thinking I was writing a thriller. But a key question overhangs the book: who is Lord Halloween, the elusive serial killer who targets Leesburg, Virginia? When I wrote the novel, I worried everyone would figure it out. But I’ve been told by virtually every person who read the book that they had no idea who it was. Yet I didn’t pull a cop-out, either. The novel does not end with me suddenly introducing a random new character who turns out to be the killer. Think of this as a challenge: if you figure out who did it, you will be in the top echelon of elite readers.

4. Instant indie cred
If I become a mega best-selling novelist one day, you can tell all your friends you read my book before I made it big. “I discovered him first,” you’ll say. Then you’ll go on to detail all the ways in which I’m no longer as good as I once was and I’ve become too commercial. “He sold out,” you’ll say, with your friends nodding sagely. “It used to be about the stories. Now it’s just about the money, you know?”

3. It’s surprisingly funny
I am not a terribly serious person. So despite the fact that the novel involves a serial killer, the Headless Horseman, an ancient Celtic myth and a bunch of innocent people dying, it also has a fair amount of humor. One consistent feedback I’ve received is that my characters are well-developed and likeable. For example, Janus, who provides much of the comic relief, has proven to be one of the most popular characters in the book.

2. It’s scary, but not gory
The novel is a mix of mystery, suspense and the paranormal, and technically falls under the Horror category on Amazon. If you like thrills and chills, the novel has plenty. But it’s not a gory book. If you are scared of words like entrails, spewing and mangled, you’re in luck! None of those words appear in the novel (although they do appear in this blog post, for which I now must apologize). I don’t like gore. It’s not that it bothers me, I just don’t find it interesting and it can ruin a perfectly good scary scene. Accordingly, you won’t find gore in A Soul to Steal.

1. The ending is “amazing.”
I could tell you a lot of things here, including that the book is an addictive page-turner or the first in a trilogy that promises to get even better as it goes on. But probably the novel’s best selling point is its ending. When I started writing A Soul to Steal, the ending is what I had in mind. Everything builds to that point. Yes, it’s part of a trilogy, but this is a complete book. I’m not trying to hold back for the sequel. This novel is carefully structured to lead to a satisfying conclusion—one you won’t see coming. But don’t take my word for it, read the reviews.
Vanessa the Jeep Diva wrote: “When everything came together and all the pieces finally fell into place I was completely shocked. The ending was fantastic.”

So what are you waiting for? A Soul to Steal is a top-rated mystery/thriller with a supernatural twist. Buy it now and see what all the fuss is about.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Top-Rated Supernatural Thriller A Soul to Steal is FREE Today (Feb. 21) and Tomorrow (Feb.22)

So in a fit of insanity, A Soul to Steal is currently free in the Kindle store. Curious about the book? There's no better time than now to check it out. It has a 4.9 rating with 40 reviews and has been praised by critics and readers for its mix of mystery, suspense and the paranormal. There's also a little humor and romance in there as well. The novel will be free today (Feb. 21) and tomorrow (Feb. 22) and after that, it's back to $2.99.

Here's the link to download it here:

I meant to post this in the morning before any results had trickled in but I was off to a later start than normal. As of 10:30 a.m., it is rapidly approaching 1100 downloads already! My last free day, in mid-January, netted 6486 downloads by the day's end. I'll be interested to see where this ends up.

Like I did last time, I'm planning to follow up with sales numbers, just to let everyone know whether offering your book for free really has a big impact.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Attention Buffy Fans: The Master Says You Should Read A Soul to Steal

I don’t normally go in for celebrity endorsements, but I’m thrilled to announce that Mark Metcalf, the actor who played “The Master” in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has read and enjoyed “A Soul to Steal.”
He graciously provided me with the following quote, which refers both to “A Soul to Steal” itself and the larger trilogy it is part of: The Sanheim Chronicles:
“I am happy to cheer Mr. Blackwell on as he draws us into his supernatural thriller The Sanheim Chronicles.” – Mark Metcalf, The Master, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
As Buffy is one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and The Master is one of my favorite villains, I couldn’t be happier. 
Why do I love The Master? Because he's the only villain to kill Buffy twice! Because this is such a kick for me, I’ve decided to link to the scene in which she kills him. It's not great quality, but it'll do. 

 I should also note that Mr. Metcalf famously appeared as “The Maestro” on Seinfeld and Neidermeyer in Animal House.
Hope you enjoy this clip from Animal House!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Judging a Book By Its Cover

When I first published “A Soul to Steal” back on Aug. 29, it’s an understatement to say I was flying blind.
The amount of research I had done was negligible, I didn’t have a blog, I barely had a Twitter presence and my knowledge of book blogs was practically nonexistent. Rather than taking the time to learn all of that, I did what I usually do when undertaking a new activity—I jumped in feet first. It was either sink or swim.
For the most part, this was a good decision. I feel like by instinct or dumb luck (probably the latter), I made a lot of right calls. The best was that “A Soul to Steal” was in good shape when I published it. I had revised it several times, had it edited and had sought and incorporated professional feedback on it. It was ready for prime time.
What I didn’t think through was the cover. At the recommendation of a friend, I contacted a very talented artist who agreed—at no charge—to mock up a cover for me. He had several intriguing designs and I had my own ideas and ultimately we settled on the one you see to the left—the Headless Horseman racing down a path at midnight.
It was a good cover, evoking mystery and suspense, and I was quite happy with it. Several of my friends liked it too, noting that it had an old-timey, grainy feel that made it unique.
But that uniqueness came at a price.
Although I like the cover and believe the artist did a terrific job, the flaw in it was that it didn’t look like the kind of cover you would see on a Big Six title. It was proudly, defiantly indie and while I liked that idea, I didn’t realize its significance. There were other issues which can be laid at my doorstep: the overall look was too dark and it was difficult to see when reduced to a very small size—which it was, all the time, on Amazon. Also a problem: the image wasn’t good enough resolution to put on the print version of my book.
In December, my sister-in-law helped me design a cover for the print version, this one going away from the Headless Horseman. Instead, it was a photo of Virginia woods. Again, I liked the evocative feel and the hint of mystery it provided.
But by then I was deeply troubled. I didn’t like having two different covers—one for print and one for ebook—and neither seemed the kind of cover art that was going to get an immediate, gripping reaction.
About two weeks ago, I decided enough was enough. As I mentioned, I jumped in with both feet when I published my book, concerned about spending any money on the book and watching it drag me down financially. By now, however, it was clear I needed to hire an artist who would give me a cover for both versions of the book—and one that looked exactly like the kind of cover you would see in a book store.
Enter Travis Pennington of Pro Bookcovers. Travis, a writer himself, came up with the design and then patiently made various tweaks and revisions to it. In the end, I think he got it just right.
The new cover is bold, brash and demands attention. It has the Headless Horseman on it, but it’s not trying to recreate the look of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (which is good, because the book doesn’t either.) I hope it will win the novel some more attention.
Most importantly, it also looks like a “real” cover. The original one might have screamed indie, but that’s a dangerous position. When people buy a book, they usually aren’t looking for something hip or different—they are looking for something that grabs them and doesn’t let go.
With this new cover, I think “A Soul to Steal” does just that.

Friday, February 3, 2012

"The Only Way to Lose is To Give Up": An Interview of Rob Blackwell by Paranormal Reads

I was fortunate enough to have Paranormal Reads  feature "A Soul to Steal" for an entire day on Feb. 1. If you don't know the site, they are very supportive of indie books and are well worth checking out.

One of the administrators, Tif Borka, interviewed me about the book and gave me permission to re-post it here:

PR: What makes A Soul to Steal so unique?

Rob: It’s a lot of different genres rolled into one. It starts out a mystery, becomes a thriller and includes elements of urban fantasy, gothic novels, journalism procedurals and even paranormal romance. It’s funny to me when people say that this book isn’t their normal genre but they enjoyed it anyway – because I’m not even sure what genre the book is. I really think there is something there for everyone. A lot of people try to figure out who the killer is, while others focus on the love story between Kate and Quinn, my two protagonists. Others are more interested in the Celtic myth that ties these two plotlines together. It works for different people for different reasons.
Plus it has the Headless Horseman in it but doesn’t repeat or retread “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which I think people really enjoy.

PR: Did you wake up one day with the idea for your book or did it build in your head till you wrote it down?

Every story I’ve ever had just builds in my head. Sometimes it’s the beginning of a story, but more often it’s the end. In the case of “A Soul to Steal,” I had an image of what became the final two chapters. The trick was figuring out how we arrived at that point and what happened to make it possible. That process built over months in my head.
Honestly, and you can check with my wife on this, I walk through a lot of my life inside my head. There are always stories playing themselves in my head and I’m always adding to and revising them. “A Soul to Steal” was just the first one I committed to paper.

PR: If you could sum up A Soul to Steal in three words what would it be?

You Are What You Fear

Okay, that was five words. Boiling it down further is tricky but I’d go with this: Fear Defines You. Or maybe it should be: Fear Defines You?

PR: Can you tell us a bit about where you call home?

I grew up in Great Falls, Virginia, which is a suburb of Washington, D.C. When I was a kid, there wasn’t much development out that way, so you had these wonderful old, spooky forests that my friends and I used to play in. It’s pretty easy to see why I developed an unhealthy obsession with the Headless Horseman because I always imagined him suddenly coming around the corner.
I still live nearby, but unfortunately the area is a lot more developed now. I have some wonderful biking trails near my house, but it’s not quite the same.
Part of the reason I set the book in Loudoun County, which is still near D.C. but further west, is because it has some of the same landscape. Leesburg has recently expanded, but towns like Waterford and Aldie still resemble their pre-Civil War days, complete with thick forests, rolling hills, etc.

PR: What’s been your most memorable moment so far in your writing career?

The most memorable moment was just two weeks ago. I made the book free for a single day and it just took off! The highest number of books I had ever been able to sell in a single day was 34. When I made the book free, I started watching it jump by 20 and 30 books at a time. Later that day, it started going up by 100 or 200 every five minutes. It was an amazing feeling to know that my book was being downloaded by so many people in a single day—it eventually was downloaded by about 6,500 people. I don’t know how many will actually read it, but even if 10% did, that’s a lot of people that now have my book. I was over the moon.

PR: How long did it take for you to come up with your character names? Did you ever go back and change them or just stick with them?

I’m absolutely terrible with character names! Other than Quinn, the main character, every single name in “A Soul to Steal” was changed, sometimes several times. It actually got pretty confusing for me at some points. Honestly, picking names is my least favorite part of writing. Frequently, I lift the names of friends or people I know. I don’t usually take their whole name, just their last name. This isn’t always a compliment as in some cases the character might turn out to be a jerk, or worse, die. I have to explain, “I don’t really want to kill you, you just have a cool name.” Hopefully they believe me.

PR: What was your writing process for A Soul to Steal?

Almost the entire first draft of “A Soul to Steal” was written on an old Handspring PDA (like the original Palm Pilot). I had a 25-minute subway ride into D.C. at the time and would pull out the Palm Pilot and a folding keyboard, hook them up and get to work. This was great for producing copy quickly, but it didn’t give me a lot of time to plan or think ahead. As a result, the first draft was a mess. I put it away for two or three years before I even looked at it again.
When I returned to it, I really rebuilt it from the ground up. I took a lot more time, but I focused on removing anything extraneous and ensuring the narrative really made sense. It was a chapter-by-chapter affair. Interestingly, this has been my approach to writing the sequel, which I’m doing now. I focus on writing each chapter the way I want it, and then moving on. It’s tough because you can’t linger too long—you have to get the story out or you’ll get distracted and forget what you need to be doing—but you also can’t just write without purpose. You get a lot of extraneous copy by doing that.

PR: Do you have a favorite place to write?

I have an office in my house where I can look out at the woods behind me. It’s not a very big room, but it’s very homey. Truthfully, though, I will write anywhere and sometimes be surprised how I can shut everything out. The other day I pulled out my laptop on a plane flight, assuming I really wouldn’t be able to get in the groove of writing. I was wrong. I banged out a chapter in less than an hour—which is not easy for me to do—and really felt like I was hitting all the right notes. Sometimes I can sit alone in my house for that amount of time and not be able to write a thing. I’m not sure why sometimes it comes easily and other times it doesn’t.

PR:  Who is your biggest supporter with your writing?

My wife, Maia. She didn’t see “A Soul to Steal” for years. I had kept talking about writing a novel and then when I finally did, I locked it away because I knew it wasn’t any good. I didn’t want her to read it that way. Once I revised it (rewrote it, really), I finally showed it to her and I was so nervous. If she hadn’t liked it, the novel would have gone back in the drawer, likely forever. Worse, I would know if she didn’t like it. We’ve been together since we were around 19, so we really don’t have secrets. Fortunately, she really enjoyed it. She laughed at the right parts, and didn’t want to put it down at the right parts. Just knowing that she loved and believed in the book was a huge relief for me.
But it didn’t stop there. She made the novel significantly better. Maia is a very talented writer and editor in her own right and she went through the book page-by-page improving copy, suggesting changes, asking questions, etc. I didn’t make every change she suggested, but it was an incredibly helpful process that improved the characters and descriptions and closed holes in the plot.
Since then, every time I have doubted if the book is any good, or whether I should publish it, Maia has been very supportive. Without her, there is no way I would have made it this far.

PR: What is some advice you would pass along to an up and coming writer?

Write what you want to read and don’t give up. Authors have to be careful not to just try and write something they think is popular versus what they really care about. I didn’t set out to write in a particular genre, but I just picked the story in my head that seemed the most ready to be a novel. It’s important someone doesn’t think they have to write dystopian YA novels because that’s what’s popular. If they like that genre, by all means try and write your own. But if you’d rather read something else, go write it. The first reader is you. If it doesn’t sound too odd, I actually like my own book. I’ve had years to put it away and then re-read it and think, “This is good.” That’s really important.
Secondly, you have to persevere. Very few will be able to write a single novel and watch it become a bestseller. If you are serious about being a writer, you need to get out there and go do it. There’s never been a better time. You don’t have to apply for an agent or publisher anymore. All you have to do is write a good book, get it professionally edited, hire a great cover artist, and start selling it. If that fails, write something else. The only way to lose is to give up.