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Friday, October 30, 2015

A Halloween treat - download The Last Blog, a free short story, today!

If you’ve read my Sanheim Chronicles trilogy, you know how much I love Halloween. I love the costumes, the candy and the yard decorations. But most of all, I love the ghost stories. It’s the one time of year when seemingly everyone is ready to tell you about their personal experience with the supernatural.

More than 15 years ago, I went on assignment for the Loudoun Times-Mirror to report on a professional ghost hunter. He, in turn, led me to a woman whose house he claimed was so haunted he suspected there were multiple “entities” living in the house with her. When I interviewed her, you’d never know she believed in ghosts. But sitting in her parlor, she told me stories that chilled my blood. I was on the fence about the existence of ghosts, but she was so normal—and her stories were corroborated by so many other witnesses—that I wondered if they could be real.

“It takes a long time to finally admit it,” she told me. “You go through years where you tell yourself that you left the light on, or the kids did something. My youngest son continually talked about the lady at the end of his bed. Eventually, you just can’t fight it any longer.” (You can read both original articles here and here!)

Toward the end of our conversation, the owner of the house made me an offer, one that she had frequently extended to skeptics—I could stay alone overnight and find out for myself just how haunted the house was. I’m embarrassed to say I was too cowardly to take her up on it. But I’ve always wondered what might have happened if I had.

That interview was the impetus behind my short story, The Last Blog. It’s the account of Sean Gordon, a newspaper reporter who decides he will post a live-blog of his overnight stay in one of the most haunted houses in America. And while I don’t want to give anything away, his experience doesn’t go well.

If you’re interested in reading more, The Last Blog is free today through Sunday, Nov. 1. Just go to the Amazon link and download it. It’s my way of saying thank you for all the support over the years. In particular, I’d like to thank the readers who have reviewed my other works. I read every review (I know authors who claim they don’t, but I don’t believe them) and they mean the world to me. 

The Last Blog is the perfect story to get you in the mood for Halloween. And if you haven’t already, please check out Carnival of Stone, which has collected 15 great reviews so far: “Another highly enjoyable romp through mythology,” “Soren Chase does it again,” “Every time I read a Rob Blackwell book, I can never quite guess what’s going to happen next.”

And for an extra treat: The Forest of Forever is on sale for half price until Halloween! Act fast if you haven’t read it already.

I hope you have a fun and safe Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Local Ghost Chaser Investigates Unearthly Experiences

More than 15 years ago, I wrote two articles for the special Halloween edition of the Loudoun Times-Mirror. The first one centered around the haunting of the Lynch house, while the second focused on a professional ghost hunter. Both helped influence my work, including The Last Blog, a short story that is free until Nov. 1, 2015, and The Sanheim Chronicles, which includes a theory on ghosts very similar to what is espoused below. Following is the second article in the series in its original form:

Local Ghost Chaser Investigates Unearthly Experiences

Who ya gonna call?

Oct. 27, 1999

By Rob Blackwell
Times-Mirror Staff Writer

Joe Holbert still doesn't know if he believes in ghosts. After a decade of giving tours of the haunted houses in Leesburg and investigating the unearthly sights and sounds in the homes, he can't tell you for sure that dead people are the cause.
"I know something goes on in those houses," said Holbert. "I just don't know that it is ghosts."

Years ago, Holbert would have dismissed the possibility of ghosts outright, but after meeting with people who had encountered spirits, he wasn't so sure.

"I come from a scientific background, and I used to think ghost stuff was nonsense," said Holbert. "But once you talked to the people, you realized they were very believable. Then it was a great mystery. How can this be? How does it work?"
Holbert set out to study haunted houses as scientifically as possible. He uses various equipment, from electromagnetic sensors to video cameras to tape recorders to try and prove that ghosts exist. Rather than focus his efforts on something which is completely intangible however, he decided to concentrate on studying electromagnetic fields.

Holbert has found that by using an electromagnetic meter, he can measure unusual activity in a home. While living beings and electronic equipment can give off electromagnetic fields, Holbert uses other equipment to ensure that what he is detecting isn't just random electricity from a nearby power source. Currently, he and four people who work with him are developing a system where they can place meters in several rooms of a home and monitor them all at one time from a computer.
Holbert uses the tape recorder to record sounds in the area for 24 hours to determine if anything odd is happening in the room. He also sets up video cameras to try and catch anything on film.

I've seen a lot of things," said Holbert. "I have seen doors shut by themselves and pictures take themselves off the wall. I have seen furniture move when no one is around. I don't know if it is dead people doing it, but something is happening. I am working on the science of ghosts. The witnesses are too good and too many to just dismiss that something goes on."
But if you are looking for ghosts around town, Holbert suggests not heading out to the graveyard late at night.

"As you study this, you find that certain buildings are more likely to be haunted," he said. "Hotels, restaurants, dormitories and other places where a lot of people have been around are likely spots, but not graveyards. Part of the reason I say hotels are more haunted, is because a hotel has a 24 hour staff. If something happens, someone is around to see it," said Holbert.
Holbert investigates homes for free, and oftentimes finds that a "haunted" house is caused by nothing more than a house expanding or other normal explanations. But he always treats people's claims seriously, because he believes he could one day prove the existence of ghosts. His work has been featured by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the TV show Sightings and several local radio programs. He gives tours of Leesburg and his work every Friday and Saturday night except during the winter.

"This is worthy of a life's work, in my opinion," said Holbert. "It is one of the great mysteries of life. What happens after you die? Mostly, I want people to keep their minds open. They should open their eyes and look around a little bit."

America's Most Haunted: Lynch House Filled With Unearthly Visitors

In October of 1999, I wrote two stories for the Halloween section of the Loudoun-Times Mirror. The first directly inspired my short story, The Last Blog, which is FREE today through Nov. 1, 2015. The second heavily influenced my treatment of ghosts in The Sanheim Chronicles.

The following is the first article as it appeared in 1999. Check it out below:

America's Most Haunted

 Lynch House Filled With Unearthly Visitors

By Rob Blackwell
Times-Mirror Staff Writer

Oct. 27, 1999

Story as it was laid out
For years, Martha Lynch denied there was anything strange going on in her house. She tried to explain the lights that would go on or off by themselves, found excuses for the odd noises at night when no one was around, and didn't worry about the pictures which seemed to take themselves off the wall. But after she saw the ghost, she didn't need any more convincing.

"It takes a long time to finally admit it," said Lynch, who bought the house in 1973. "You go through years where you tell yourself that you left the light on, or the kids did something. My youngest son continually talked about the lady at the end of his bed. Eventually, you just can't fight it any longer."

It was a late night several years ago when Lynch arrived home shortly before her husband, Tom. Her kids away, she wasn't expecting to see a woman standing at the top of the steps in the main foyer. For an instant, she believed it was an intruder, but when she called out, the woman walked away -- and disappeared.

"Eventually when people come in and ask why the lamp is swinging back and forth, the story of the haunted house leaks out," said Lynch. "Once you admit your house is haunted out loud, there is no backing away from it."

The Lynch home is now a regular stop on the Leesburg Hauntings tour, where strange things sometimes occur while a whole group of people are watching. Like the time tour guide Laura Dutton had to yell over the strange banging sound coming from the steps. Or the time a whole audience watched as a piece of lace floated down from the third story and landed on Dutton. Joe Holbert, a Leesburg resident who investigates hauntings in the area, singles the house out as extremely haunted.

"It is probably one of the most haunted houses in America," said Holbert. "You have multiple ghosts in different rooms with separate things going on."

But the ghost Lynch talks about most often is the one she believes is named Eliza Thompson. During Lynch's research into her home, she has found references to the house as early as 1811. In the 1860s, however, the house was the focus of a fiercely contested legal debate over ownership, with Thompson finally coming out on top.

"I think she loved the house so much and worked so hard to get it, she never wanted to leave," said Lynch.

Lynch and her family have all noted the times that the lamp in the hall would swing back and forth and suddenly stop, sometimes at a 45 degree angle to the ground. Or how the center cushion on the green couch in the living room will suddenly show the impression of someone sitting in it.

But Lynch has only heard the ghost speak a few times. Sometimes she would wake up in the middle of the night feeling someone poking her arm and saying "Martha! Martha!" One night she woke up to hear the sound of a woman crying and saying "Please don't let her make me go away."

The next morning, Lynch called the Loudoun Museum and asked how the Leesburg Haunting tour had gone the night before. She discovered that a self-proclaimed psychic had come on the tour and declared that the house should be exorcised, and that the Lynchs should make the spirit move on.

On another occasion, Lynch yelled up the stairs to her son, Kelley, and reminded him to bring the Civil War diary he was reading to school. As soon as she said the words "Civil War," the light above her head came on. Again and again, with her son looking on, the light would turn on only when she said the words "Civil War."

"You do get scared sometimes," said Lynch. "When I hear footsteps and I know I am here by myself. When the light kept coming on, it really raised the hair on the back of my neck."

But for the most part, Lynch and the rest of her family aren't frightened by the ghost in their home. She even considers it a bit of a blessing.

"I feel very fortunate," said Lynch. "Before I moved in here, I never thought about ghosts at all. Now our entire family believes something goes on in this house. This is the kind of thing you need to experience before you can believe it. But she and I get along because I love this house too. When I die, the house is going to have one more ghost in it."

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Featured Supernaturnal Suspense Deal on BookBub: "The Forest of Forever"

I'm thrilled to announce that The Forest of Forever, the first book in the Soren Chase urban fantasy series, is the featured supernatural suspense deal on BookBub today. It's also part of Amazon's month-long deals on great books. You can buy it half-price for just $1.99!

See what readers are saying: "The perfect blend of paranormal, mystery and suspense. The writing is great and it's action packed." "An Engrossing, Intelligent, Must-tell-all-my friends-about-this-one Novel." "All I can say is WOW!" 

To check out more great supernatural deals on Bookbub, click here.

For Amazon's monthly deals, click here.

And if you haven't already, be sure to pick up the latest Soren Chase adventure, Carnival of Stone. It just received a fantastic 5-star review from One Book Two:  "This is quite the page turner, so get your blankie, tea and a soft place to sit, because you are not gonna be moving."

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Carnival of Stone has arrived—read the next Soren Chase adventure now!

I’m thrilled to announce that Carnival of Stone, the second Soren Chase novella, is now available in the Kindle store! Buy it here!
When a small town is under siege from a horrific monster, only one man can help…

Supernatural investigator Soren Chase is having a rough day. He narrowly avoids being murdered by a pair of trigger-happy leprechauns (yes, leprechauns) before taking a case to investigate the disappearance of a graduate student in the mountains of Virginia.

But when Soren arrives in the normally sleepy hamlet of Hilltop, he finds the situation is far worse than he imagined. He’s up against a creature unlike anything he’s encountered before and it will take all his skills—and working with an unlikely ally—to survive.

Carnival of Stone is a 175-page stand-alone novella in the Soren Chase series that can be enjoyed by any reader who loves urban fantasy, mystery and suspense. Set between the events of Closed at Dark and The Forest of Forever, it will please existing fans and new readers alike.

If you want to find out more about Soren’s history, his partnership with his sarcastic assistant Glen, and his encounter with two very different mythological creatures, this is the perfect novella for you. I hope you’ll check it out here. And when you’re finished, please leave a review by clicking here.

But wait, there’s more! October is just a couple days away, and long-time readers know how much I love Halloween. Look for another announcement soon! (And see if you can spot the clue below...)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

How Self-Publishing Changed My Life

On Aug. 29, 2011 – four years ago today – I published my first novel, A Soul to Steal. My life hasn’t been the same since.

From all outward appearances, little has changed. I’m still in the same (great) job, working as a journalist and editor covering financial news. Pressing the button to publish hasn’t made me rich or turned me into the next Stephen King. The vast, vast majority of readers have no idea who I am, a situation unlikely to change anytime soon.

But even if publishing a novel hasn’t dramatically changed my circumstances, it has profoundly affected my life. Writing novels was always something I dreamed of doing, yet I constantly found reasons not to actually do it. I took writing courses in college, studied under horror novelist Thomas Disch, and thought up lots of new plots, but continually convinced myself I didn’t have time to write a novel. In retrospect, I was living in this fantasy world where one day I would find myself with either lots of time or lots of money, enough that I could make my dreams come true. It wasn’t until about thirteen years ago that I realized that was never going to happen. There was no fairy godmother coming to offer me a publishing contract and unlimited time to write.

I decided to force myself to write a novel, an agonizing affair because it wasn’t until I actually started that I realized just how difficult it was. It took me two years of working on it on and off before I finally managed to have something presentable to show my wife. When I did, she (unexpectedly to me) loved it and urged me to begin the process of publishing it. I set out to do so in the only manner available to me then, querying agents and the occasional publisher to see if I could garner any interest. It didn’t take long before I realized this process, not the actual writing and editing, was the hard part. When I couldn’t even get an agent or publisher to read my book, much less publish it, the dream died. I put the novel in a drawer and let it rot.

By mid-2011, however, the world had started to look significantly different. I read articles about Amanda Hocking scoring a $2 million contract after self-publishing, and began to wonder if maybe I should take a stab at publishing the book myself. At first the idea seemed crazy, but the more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder, “Why not?”

Original cover for A Soul to Steal
I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have a cover, blog, or marketing plan. I solved the first problem by asking a friend of a friend for help and finally one day just threw the book into the world. I’m not sure what I expected. To anyone who asked, I said I hoped the book would sell a couple hundred copies. Secretly, I hoped a new novel of the Headless Horseman would go viral, becoming an instant sensation. It will come as no great surprise to learn that it did far better than the first estimate and well below the second.

But it was a start. It wasn’t until I got going that I realized I hadn’t just published a single book, I’d made a life choice. Once the book was out in the world, it started finding readers. At first it was just friends of mine, but after advertising the book on Facebook and later using some of Amazon’s promotional tools, it was random people I’d never met. It was immensely gratifying when many of them left reviews saying they loved the book—and they wanted to know what happened next. I had vague ideas that because A Soul to Steal was centered around Halloween, I could relax when Nov. 1 hit. But by the time that date rolled around, I realized I could do no such thing—I had to write a sequel.

Moreover, self-publishing awakened something inside me, both good and bad. On the plus side, I knew now that I had the power to realize my own dreams—I could be a published novelist. On the bad side, I became obsessed with sales figures and reviews. I tracked them daily, creating an elaborate spreadsheet to ensure I had up-to-date data about what was happening with the book. If you want to know how many books I sold on Oct. 15, 2011, I can still tell you (8). The problem came later when I realized that all this data was also making me crazy. I’ve never been a moody person, but suddenly my entire demeanor could be affected by how well my novel had performed a day before. If it had sold well, I was a happy man. If not, I became a sullen teenager. And God help me if someone left a bad review.

But I learned new skills as well. I immersed myself in the marketing world, learning about the best way to promote the book. I commissioned a new book cover, one designed to look more professional. I established a writing schedule to keep myself on track toward finishing a sequel.  I started my own e-mail list, began a blog and learned how to make better use of social media. I’ve hired a fantastic editor and cover designer to work with me. I taught myself to think like a small businessman.

Four years later and my world is very different. I’ve published four novels and one novella, and I’ve written another novel, novella and short story, all of which will be published in the near future. I’ve sold around 20,000 books to date—a figure that still boggles my mind—and given away more than 100,000 books.  I’ve (mostly) learned to deal with the ups and downs of selling books, and no longer check my sales figures on a daily basis.

During that time, Amazon, which is often maligned in the press, has been a tremendous partner in helping my books take flight. I initially published A Soul to Steal on multiple publishing platforms, but never found traction on any but Kindle. Since 2011, I’ve used several tools offered by Amazon, including free days and countdown deals, to sell many more books. Through Amazon’s ACX, my friend Brian Gill and I have turned three of my novels into terrific audiobooks available on Audible (with the help of sound engineer John Griffin), something I never even dreamed of when I first began publishing.

If that weren’t enough, Amazon created the Kindle Scout program last year, which allows voters to choose books for Kindle Press to publish and promote. I was incredibly fortunate that my most recent novel, The Forest of Forever, won a Kindle Scout contract—and I’ve been blown away by the amount of support it has received. Forest is far and away my fastest-selling title to date, and Amazon’s promotion of it has helped me sell more of my other novels.

Amazon even recently changed its pay model for books enrolled in KDP Select, agreeing to pay authors by the number of pages read in a single month by readers enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. This change has caused grumbling among some, but I’m immensely grateful for it, since I write longer books. In the month of July alone, more than 500,000 pages of my books were read. Under the current pricing structure, I make more money from a reader borrowing a book for free under Kindle Unlimited than I do selling it. As a result, as of this week, all my novels are now exclusively available through Amazon.

Most of all, I’ve learned that writing novels isn’t some unattainable dream that only a lucky few can do. You don’t have to be rich or the next Stephen King to make it happen. You don’t have to wait for some agent or publisher to bless your work. You just need time, perseverance and a lot of hard work. In the past four years, I’ve learned that writing novels is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s one that I plan to keep running for a long time to come. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Forest of Forever is on sale for half price! Act fast!

It’s been a heckuva week for The Forest of Forever.

Amazon included it as part of its “The Big Deal” for Kindle books, and since then its ranking has skyrocketed. As we speak, it’s in the top 500 of all Kindle books and near the top of several bestseller lists, including “ghost thriller,” “ghost horror,” “supernatural thriller,” and “horror.” 

If you still haven’t bought it or have a friend you think would enjoy it, I wanted to let you know that The Forest of Forever is on sale for half price, just $1.99, until Sunday. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, now’s your chance! Find out why a reviewer just called it "the best thriller I've read in years." 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The complete Sanheim Chronicles is now on audiobook!

People have been asking about it for several months, and I'm pleased to announce that Give the Devil His Due, book three of The Sanheim Chronicles, is now available on audiobook! Find out why it's been called "a stellar conclusion to one of the best trilogies I've ever read." Go here to download it. The entire trilogy is now available on audiobook. 

If you are new to Audible, you can start by downloading A Soul to Steal for FREE here. Audible audiobooks can be downloaded directly to your Kindle Fire or via the free app for your iPhone on the Apple App store. Best of all, if you cancel your trial Audible membership within 30 days, you still keep A Soul to Steal forever.

If you'd rather not sign up for Audible, you can still get the audiobook cheaply. Owners of the Kindle versions of A Soul to Steal or Band of Demons can download their audiobook counterparts for just $1.99 each! 

I'd like to thank my narrator, Brian Gill, who did a terrific job with all three books. I've escalated the challenge each time as I've made him give voice to the Headless Horseman, a banshee, a giant spider monster and a terrifying demon, but he easily rises to the occasion. Listening to the books is a real treat.

And of course, if you haven't already, be sure to pick up a copy of The Forest of Forever, which is now available for Amazon's Kindle. Many people have already left very gracious reviews, calling it "an engrossing, intelligent, must-tell-all-my-friends-about-this-one novel," the "perfect blend of paranormal, suspense and mystery," and "the start of another great series."

I am so grateful for the reviews and the notes I've received in the past two weeks. After working on The Forest of Forever for so long, it's a relief to see it well-received -- and rocking the sales charts. As I write, it's #2 in Amazon's "ghost suspense" bestseller list, right next to Dean Koontz and Blake Crouch, two authors I admire. Find out what the fuss is about!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Announcing The Forest of Forever Official Soundtrack

It's been an amazing ride for me these past few months. The Forest of Forever was chosen as one of the first Kindle Scout books back in November, and today is its official release.

The reviews are starting to pile up and they've been amazing: "I was hooked from the first page," "All I can say is WOW," "A must read!" "The start of another great series," "The perfect blend of paranormal, suspense and mystery," "Dark urban fantasy at its best."

You can find out what everyone's talking about here. But I've also decided to try something new and release the official soundtrack to The Forest of Forever. I was inspired by my friend Melissa F. Olson, who makes playlists for her novels, which you can check out here.

I've made The Forest of Forever soundtrack into a playlist that you can access on Spotify here. (Signing up for Spotify is free and you can use your Facebook account to log in.)

If you'd rather check out the individual tracks, I've posted them below with links to Amazon Music. Like a movie soundtrack, each selection is chosen for a reason, either for the atmosphere it created or, more likely, a connection between the lyrics and an event in the book. It's also just a great mix. Take a listen!

The Forest of Forever Official Soundtrack:

  1. The Pretender                           Foo Fighters                          
  2. The Monster                               Eminem
  3. Boadicea                                   Enya
  4. Haunted                                     Poe
  5. Breathing Underwater                Metric
  6. Ain't No Rest for the Wicked   Cage the Elephant
  7. Locking Up the Sun                  Poets of the Fall
  8. Lessons In Love                        Neon Trees
  9. Houdini                                     Foster the People
  10. Burn                                          Ellie Goulding
  11. I'm Alive                                   Shinedown
  12. Here                                          Vast
  13. Burn It Down                            AWOLNATION
  14. Monster                                     Imagine Dragons 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The wait is over! Welcome to The Forest of Forever…

The Forest of Forever has finally arrived!

After five months of waiting, The Forest of Forever is out for those who voted for it through Kindle Scout. Voters should have received an e-mail from Amazon this afternoon alerting them to the book’s release and including a link to download it.

If you haven’t received the e-mail and don’t remember whether you voted for the book, go to this link: If The Forest of Forever is on your list, you should be able to download it from that page.

If you didn’t get a chance to vote, you can pre-order The Forest of Forever here. Better yet, you can get it for half price if you enter this code before you buy: SCOUTONE. But hurry, that code can only be used once and expires soon! The Forest of Forever will officially go on sale on March 24 to the general public. 

(Note: To take advantage of the code, don’t click the “Pre-order now” button on the right hand side. Look below the “Give as a gift” button to find a link to enter a code, enter SCOUTONE, and you should be able to then buy the book for half price. And feel free to share the code with friends whom you think might like the book. It’s a great deal and I want to share it as widely as possible.)

If you like the book, please, please leave a review! The success of The Forest of Forever depends on the reviews it receives, particularly those in the next few weeks as it officially launches. 

That’s it for now. I’m very excited to finally release The Forest of Forever and I hope you’ll love it. But be careful—once you enter, you may never leave…