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Ever since I discovered the pleasure of listening to audio books, I’ve thought about making audio versions of my novels. But the high cost of production and my unfamiliarity with the process kept me from moving ahead.

Then, in mid-May of 2017, my thriller Darkroom won First Prize for Fiction in the IndieReader Discovery Awards. This honor may seem unrelated to producing an audio book. It’s not. The award renewed my faith in Darkroom. Like most writers I believe in my work. Otherwise I would not be writing. But the validation boosted my confidence enough to justify the substantial investment in an audio book production.

IndieReader invited to me attend a BookCon event in New York City to receive the award in person. Unfortunately, medical problems kept me from making the trip. Of course, I was disappointed. It occurred to me that I could use the unspent travel money to produce an audio book of Darkroom.

Choosing a production method

I could have read Darkroom and managed the studio production work myself—the least expensive option—and probably ended up with a substandard audio book. I haven’t worked in theater since college and I know almost nothing about sound editing. Sure, I could have learned, but experience has shown me that it takes practice to become competent at new skills. I chafed at the idea of delay. Even more, I refused to make the Darkroom audio book a learning project.

Another avenue of audio book production is through exchanges like ACX and Findaway, which allow you to bid for readers and hold auditions. I felt too inexperienced to sort through a slew of auditions—some by readers who might or might not have access to adequate sound equipment—so I searched instead for an independent studio.

After casting about for a few weeks, I settled on Spoke Media, a production company with a good reputation and a contact person who returned my messages within a day or two (as opposed to a couple of weeks). After listening reader auditions, I chose Alison Pistorius, a theatrical actor whose voice evokes my main character, Kelly.

A new cover for the audio book

I needed an audio version of my cover. Unfortunately, I’d engaged the cover artist through an intermediary, and this company no longer worked with him. I asked the company for help anyway, but received no response. So, I dug up contact information for the cover artist and wrote to him directly. Again, no response. I won’t name the cover artist or the company. I will only say that my estimation of them has taken a nosedive.

Damonza designed a compelling new cover for both the ebook and the audio book of Darkroom. Some readers say they prefer it to the earlier cover.

A few problems

Spoke Media worked fast. Maybe too fast. In three weeks, the audio files were ready for review. By and large the audio book sounded terrific. But I’m glad I listened to every file. Sentences were repeated in a few places, and worse, an entire page of Chapter 28 had not been recorded at all. Maybe you’ve encountered audio books with annoying and confusing mistakes—repetitions, obviously missing words, inconsistent chapter titles—mistakes the producer failed to catch. (And it’s the job of the producer—in this case, me—to catch them.) I’m glad Darkroom didn’t end up being that kind of audio book.

After Spoke Media completed the revisions, I set about uploading the files to my distributors, ACX and Author’s Republic. The ACX reviewer informed me that the files needed a couple of minor edits. The opening credits must be in a separate file rather than part of the Prologue file. Same thing for the closing credits, which were part of  the final chapter file. Making the changes was no big deal, but I could have avoided the brief delay if I’d known the formatting rules.

Success!

The audio edition of Darkroom finally became available in September of 2017. The sound quality is superb and Allison Pistorius does a terrific job of reading the story. I’m pleased with the final product and hope that you will be, too. You can order the Darkroom audio book from Audible, iTunes, and several other outlets.

The Dangerous Darkroom tour is drawing to a close. If you hurry, there’s still time to enter the drawing for special prizes including a $25 gift card and autographed copies of Talion and Daemon Seer. Darkroom will also be on sale for $s0.99 through this coming weekend.

Meanwhile, I hope you’ll enjoy this brief excerpt from Darkroom. The story centers on assistant art curator Kelly Durrell’s search for her friend Day Randall, a talented bipolar photographer who mysteriously goes missing. This section relates how Day meets Gregory Tyson, the dangerous man who becomes her lover.

At the top of the stairs, Day stopped and listened to the voices. They boomed in the open space above the white geometric walls of the museum. The building’s shape molded the sound. A blind person could hear it and know the height of the ceiling and the steepness of its vault. Another kind of sight. But Day was all eyes. Give her scaffolding and she could shoot the maze of gallery walls, the sophisticated rats nibbling snacks and sipping chardonnay. Not her kind of shot, though. She was more the up-close-and-personal, whites-of-their-eyes, breath-to-breath type, going for that flicker of an instant before the lens fogged.

She kept standing there, breathing funny. She couldn’t be scared of those fools. Not her, the woman who’d flipped Baba and lived.

She’d felt sorry for one of his child whores and called the girl’s parents. He chased her through the house with a blade until she locked herself in the bathroom. He slammed the door, yelling that he would cut her throat, bleed her in the tub and carve her like a chicken, wrap the chunks in newspaper and toss them in a dumpster behind the supermarket with the other rotten meat. She was too scared to feel herself, like her body had turned into air. Baba had a way with threats. He might have carried them out except for Shawn, his half brother. Shawn calmed him down and told Day to get the fuck out, warning her that if she stuck her hook nose into their business again, he would personally waste her skinny ass and save Baba the trouble.

That was an occasion for terror. This was just a crowd of art snobs. No blades here. Just voices, diamond-sharp.

“Going to the party?”

Day whipped around, startled.

Stocky guy in jeans and a lumberjack shirt, not much taller than her. Dark hair streaked with gray. Life stamped in his face, deep impressions around his mouth and eyes. Irony in his smile but no trace of cruelty. He held out a gnarly hand. “Leonard Proud.”

She reached out with caution. Not that he seemed like the type who gave women crushing handshakes, but he looked strong. “Day Randall.”

His hand closed over hers—no squeeze or shake, but firm—and then let go. “Kelly says nice things about you,” he said.

“You’re her friend?”

“More like colleague. I’m on the board of the museum.”

She reached for the scuffed Pentax hanging from her neck, the first and only camera she’d owned, her longtime crutch and trusty third eye.

He waved his arm. “No.”

“It’s, like, official. Photos for the newsletter.”

“Even worse.” But he squared his shoulders and turned his face to stone. Ready for his close-up.

“Dude. I’m not a firing squad.”

Leonard clamped his mouth to keep the laughter in. His cheeks puffed a little and his eyes crinkled in amusement. She saw the moment and took the shot. Snap, snap. What she did best. Kelly would never use the photo in the newsletter—members of a board were supposed to look more dignified—but Day might add it to her portfolio if he agreed.

“Let me send you a print,” she said. “What’s your address?”

He gave her a business card, a plain one with a block font.

“You make Native American art? What kind?”

“Weaving and painting.”

“I’d like to see it.”

“There’s a couple of my pieces back there.” Leonard nodded toward the rear of the museum.

“Show me.”

“Some other time. I wanna get the meet-and-greet over with.”

Day followed him into a gallery of Inuit art. “Would you, like, do me a big favor? Point out the other board members so I’ll be sure and get shots of them. You and Joyce are the only ones I know.”

“How much is Joyce paying you?”

“She’s not.”

He snorted. “A new low, even for her.”

A glass case imprisoned several small totem animals carved from stone, including a curled-up seal so smooth and dark Day yearned to feel its coolness and weight in her hand. “It’s for Kelly. I mean, I’m not paying rent or anything, so I try to help.”

“You live with Kelly?”

“Yeah, for almost eight months. She’s in Chicago at a conference for curators, so I’m, like, helping her. It’s a surprise.”

Leonard raised his eyebrows. “You’re here without an invitation.”

“Do I need one?”

“Hell, no. You’re with me.”

Day followed him into the reception area, drafting in his wake like she sometimes drafted behind a semi in her Corolla to save fuel. She needed his forward energy to make her entry. She hated coming uninvited among these people wrapped in cashmere. Not hated—feared. You have to tell yourself the truth because these people are going to lie. Their smiles were rubbery, like masks.

Leonard veered toward the refreshments, tidbits of food on trays and glasses of wine lined up on the tablecloth beside them. Wine the color of pee after you drink way too much water. Day stopped. Too many people were crowded around the refreshments. She would catch Leonard after he got his food.

She felt something, turned, and caught Annie Laible staring from across the room. She smiled and waved and got a sour smile back. Annie had new and wilder hair, hennaed and spiked. Months ago, Day had asked permission to hang a few photographs for sale in her gallery—she needed money bad—and Annie had blown her off. Just a blunt “No” without saying why. Now it was like Annie still blamed her for asking.

Joyce was talking with two men in their forties. Older than Day, but not by much. Day was thirty-eight, though she tried hard to forget it. The short guy was wasted, face bright pink, eyes shining and empty. The other was tall and gaunt. His cheekbones drank the wind. She remembered the line from a poem she read growing up. She forgot what poem. Anyway, it described this guy. He turned his head as if he felt her stare. Their eyes met. Locked. She recognized him. Not personally. More like she was an alien species who finds another of her kind among strangers.

She lifted her camera, zoomed in, and took his picture. Then zoomed out and got the whole group. They were probably important if Joyce was talking to them.

He walked over to her. “You’re Day Randall. I bought two of your prints.”

Day knew which ones. Soon after she came to Boulder, she submitted her portfolio for an exhibit at the museum. Joyce turned down the portfolio but said she had a buyer for the prints at $350 each. A fortune for Day. Of course, Joyce never gave up the buyer’s name. She wouldn’t want Day selling to him and cutting her out of a commission. Now here he was, this guy whose cheekbones drank the wind.

“What’s your name?”

“My friends call me Gee.”

She grinned. “Am I your friend?”

“I don’t know. Are you?”

“I feel like we’re the only ones from another planet.”

Gee reached out and stroked her cheek. His fingertips set off a tingling that reached down to her core. “Let’s play Find the Magic.”

“What’s that?”

“This exhibit is called Magic and Realism.” He pointed to a painting. “What’s magical?”

The painting showed a bird and a cat, the tension between prey and predator. The bird’s beak was open in frozen song. The iridescent feathers, intense cobalt and silky green, burned into her mind. “It’s like a window into someone’s dream.”

“We’re doing analysis,” Gee said. “Notice how the details aren’t realistic. The color of the feathers, the way they glow. Not like any finch in the real world. And the proportions are skewed. The finch is ten times bigger than the cat. It fills the whole room.”

“But it’s afraid of the cat anyway.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do.”

“Maybe because the finch is hunched and the cat’s kind of batting at it. Check out these claws. The tips are red.”

“Yeah, like with blood.”

“Exactly.”

Day shook her head. “I don’t have to take things apart. I see them whole.”

“There’s nothing whole. Everything is pieces.” Gee’s gaze played over her face and started her tingling just like his fingertips had. “The universe blew up a long time ago.”

Darkroom by Mary Maddox

The moment finally comes. The first copy of Darkroom arrives from the printer. Excited and anxious, I tear away the cardboard shell and behold the cover. It’s even more striking and sinister on the paperback than on the computer screen.The colors are deeper . The man lurking at the cover’s edge looks more compelling and mysterious. The designer has done a terrific job. I run my fingers over the glossy surface. Oh, it feels good.

Darkroom

I feel a bit shaky as I open the book. The interior is entirely my work, and although the PDF has been proofed by a professional and I’ve been over it  a dozen times, I fret that I’ve overlooked something so blatant and stupid that I’ll want to crawl into bed and hide beneath the covers. I thumb through the pages. The margins are right. The chapter headings look exactly as I’d envisioned, and none of them is out of place. The headings haven’t mysteriously vanished from any of the spreads.

Finally, my anxiety dies down. There’s probably an error lurking in there somewhere, but not a major error. I can relax and celebrate the launch of my newest novel.

Be sure to join me for the Dangerous Darkroom Blog Tour May 2-6, organized by the lovely people at Novel Publicity. You’ll get sneak peaks of the novel, interviews with me, and exclusive insights to the story and characters that make Darkroom a novel you won’t soon forget.

Enter the blog tour drawing for a shot at winning these special prizes:

  • A paperback of Larry Clark’s famous photo essay Tulsa. Darkroom features a talented photographer whose photos, like Clark’s,”uncover the secret of a face, its elusive life, so it becomes the portrait of an intimate you have yet to meet.”
  • A set of 10 custom note cards with envelopes, featuring a photograph of Boulder’s iconic Flatirons by moonlight. Photograph by Charles Pfiel.
  • Autographed copies of my dark fantasy horror novels Talion and Daemon Seer.
  • A $25 Amazon gift card.

Darkroom is a suspense thriller with a noirish atmosphere and unexpected twists. Art curator Kelly Durrell goes looking for her missing roommate, talented photographer Day Randall, and becomes entangled in a demimonde of powerful people who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets. Here’s what advance readers and reviewers have to say about Darkroom:

“. . . tight, compelling, and convincing writing.”  — Jon A. Jackson, author of Hit on the House and No Man’s Dog

“A thriller with unexpected plot twists and suspenseful action.”  — RT Source

“Kelly Durrell is a deftly-drawn, intelligent, and likable heroine.”  — Daiva Markelis, author of White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life

“A solid mystery that involves a satisfyingly diverse range of characters.”  — D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“[Maddox’s] prose flows with beauty and clarity.”  — Tahlia Newland, author of The Locksmith’s Secret

The paperback is now available through Amazon and will soon become available through other online sellers. The Kindle edition is coming May 3, and you can preorder a copy right now at the special launch price of just $0.99. The price is going up at the beginning of next week, so don’t wait too long!

There are kids who dream of growing up to be entrepreneurs. They set up lemonade stands at the end of 10K races. They seek out jobs stocking supermarket shelves or hawking mall fashions as soon as they’re old enough to work.

I wasn’t one of those kids. I put off getting my first job as long as possible, preferring to spend my summers reading books.

So it’s ironic that I find myself the president of a corporation.

Okay, it’s not much of a corporation. Its assets might keep a dog in kittles for a lifetime as long as the dog isn’t too large and price of kittles doesn’t skyrocket.

How did this happen?

A few years ago I decided to quit looking for another agent and publish my novel Talion on my own. A newbie to the world of publishing, I learned that a book must have something called an ISBN, a number that identifies it for cataloguing and marketing. There are several ways to obtain an ISBN free of charge, but whoever gives it to you is the publisher of record for your book.

If I was going to invest time and money to publish my novel, I wanted to be the publisher of record.

That meant becoming an official publisher. It’s easy to do. Just go to myidentifiers.com and buy a batch of ten ISBNs for a little less than $300. You’re now a publisher.

I called my publishing company Cantraip Press. Cantraip is an archaic Scottish word meaning “magic spell.” I hired a graphic artist to design a logo with a Celtic flavor and I was ready to go. (Since then I’ve redesigned the logo.)

A year later, I agreed to publish Occasional Writers, an anthology by the Past~Forward Memoir Group, a group of local writers who meet twice a month to discuss each other’s work and hone their skill. Since the group is funded by our local arts council, I had to enter into a contract with a corporate entity as well as with each of the nineteen writers whose work would appear in the anthology. With advice from an attorney, I drafted the contracts myself.

It was time to separate my business obligations from my personal obligations and those of my husband. The press became an S-Corp, Cantraip Press, Ltd., which looks kind of cool on letterheads.

The process of incorporating isn’t difficult—fill out a form, pay some money to the State of Illinois, acquire a credit card for business expenses.

When the fiscal year ended, I thought vaguely about corporate taxes. Given that Cantraip Press, Ltd. had made only a few hundred dollars in profits, I doubted it would owe the government any tax. But I figured the government would expect me to submit a return, which I would prepare along our personal income tax returns.

Then at the beginning of April I got a letter from the IRS. Cantraip Press, Ltd. owed them $200, the penalty for failing to file a return by the deadline.

But, but . . . April 15 was two weeks away.

Was this some kind of sick April fool’s day joke perpetrated by the IRS?

The letter gave a phone number to call if I had questions. So I called. The lady who answered explained that corporate taxes are due on March 15. I apologized, telling her it was my first corporate tax return and I was clueless. She was kind enough not to laugh. Instead she put me on hold. A few minutes later she was back. Since I didn’t know about the March 15 deadline, she said, the IRS would waive payment of the penalty—this one time only.

Whoever said the IRS is heartless?

Every year since then, I’ve prepared my corporate tax returns, federal and state, and mailed them well before March 15. In May I mail off another form and a $100 check to renew the status of Cantraip Press, Ltd. as an official S-Corp in the State of Illinois.

But here’s the thing. I hate—just hate—keeping books and doing taxes. I have the requisite software programs, QuickBooks and TurboTax. They make the work easier, but they cannot make it interesting. For me it’s a slog. I can concentrate for hours on writing or editing or playing Scrabble, but ten minutes of bookkeeping spaces me out.

Between bringing QuickBooks up to date and doing the taxes, the last week of February was no fun. It would make sense to hire an accountant if my tiny corporation made any money. But it doesn’t.

paranormal mysteryThe press has grown, though. It has published six books altogether, two by me and the rest by other authors. This spring Cantraip will release two more books, my novel Darkroom and a two-novella volume, Vibe/Sync, the second in Letitia Moffitt’s TraceWorld series.

I’ve had to buy more ISBNs. The truth is I like publishing books, I just hate balancing them.

Last month I received several intriguing cover ideas from graphic designer Pete Garceau. Any of them would have made a great cover for Darkroom, so to help me choose, I polled readers to discover which one they liked most. Two clear favorites emerged.

Darkroom_1

This cover captures the sinister mystery of a forest in the mountains, a setting central to the story. It received 42% of the votes. I love the subtle colors in the image and way the trees form a tunnel at their center. I’ve seen similar covers on suspense novels, which isn’t altogether a bad thing. Readers generally want a cover to signal the genre of the story. Since Darkroom is psychological suspense, the cover with the mysterious forest does tell readers what they’ll get.

But ideally I want a cover that does more than its basic job.

The other finalist won the poll with slightly more than half the votes, not a huge enough margin to make it an overwhelming favorite. The white frame suggests an old-fashioned darkroom negative. (The photographer in the novel still works in a darkroom even though most others have moved to the digital format.) I like the way the man in the image is only half visible and part of him is outside the frame, eluding the camera. Because he’s partially hidden (or hiding) he becomes sinister. The purplish darkness adds to the effect.

Darkroom_9a

This cover evokes the mood of Darkroom perfectly, and it’s more distinctive than the other finalist. Perfect except for one thing—the man. His appearance is wrong for the story. None of the characters looks anything like this guy. so I went back and forth between these two very good but not ideal alternatives.

Then Pete Garceau went to the extra trouble of finding just the right model for the cover. Unlike the other one he faces the viewer with an ambiguous gaze that suggests menace or defiance. He looks like a bad guy with dark motives.

And that’s just what I want.

 

 

Darkroom Cover

 

Thank you to everyone who helped me choose!

My new novel Darkroom is coming out next year. It’s a noirish suspense tale about a woman who searches for her missing friend, an old school photographer who has taken photographs that threaten some dangerous people. Here’s the description that will go on the back cover:

There’s plenty of room for another grave in the mountains . . .

Talented but unstable photographer Day Randall has been living rent-free in Kelly Durrell’s Colorado condo for eight months. Day needs someone to keep an eye on her. Kelly needs someone to draw her out of her stable but not spectacular life . The arrangement works for both of them.

Then Kelly comes home one day to find Day gone. There’s no note, no phone call. Day’s car is still parked out front, but her room is starkly, suspiciously spotless.

No one seems to care. The police certainly aren’t interested in a missing bipolar artist, but Kelly knows something is wrong. Day wouldn’t just leave.

Alone, Kelly traces Day’s last steps through shadowy back rooms of Boulder nightclubs and to a remote mountain estate, where the wealthy protect themselves behind electric fences and armed guards. Along the way, she uncovers a sinister underworld lying just below the mountain snow, and a group of powerful people who will do anything to protect the secrets hidden in Day’s enigmatic photographs.

If she trusts the wrong person, Kelly herself will be the next to disappear.

Graphic designer Pete Garceau has created some terrific images for the cover of Darkroom. Please take a moment and let me know which one you find most eye-catching and intriguing.

Include your email address if you wish to receive  announcements of exciting special offers and contests and be entered in the drawing for a $20 Amazon gift card. This part is optional. I’d love to have your feedback either way.

Click HERE to help me choose the cover for Darkroom.

My new novel Darkroom follows museum curator Kelly Durrell as she tracks her missing friend, Day, into a demimonde of drug traffickers and sexual predators. In this flashback, Day’s lover remembers his older brother.

When Gee was sixteen, Renny showed him how to do business.

He remembered the kids skateboarding in the darkening street, their raucous shouts joined to the chorus of starlings settling to roost. The scent of lilacs wafted from somewhere, too sweet. Gee hung back on the porch steps. Renny swaggered to the door, his thumb hooked in the front pocket of his jeans. No one answered the bell. He stepped to the window, cut the screen with his jackknife, and sent Gee inside to unlock the door.

Dougie was taking a shower. Light from the bathroom shined on Renny’s rapt smile. Gee heard the shower curtain rip, hooks popping off the rod, and a croaked “What —?” Thumps and scuffling. Then a louder thump and a scream.

They dragged Dougie into a bedroom and hogtied him with twine. He was a small dude with a hairless chest and not much pubic hair. He curled on the dirty carpet, wet hair pasted to his face, bleeding from his mouth and panting like a dog.

“The shit I tasted was rock,” Renny said. “The shit you delivered was stepped on.”

“The suppliers —”

Renny slammed his fist into Dougie’s face. “I bought from you, not them. Ain’t my fault you trusted a bunch of fucking spics.”

“Basement,” Dougie jabbered. “Third shelf up. Cinder block.”

“Check it out, Gee.”

Gee found the basement door where he expected it to be. Same with the light switch. As if the floor plan of Dougie’s house was burned into his brain at birth. As if he never had a choice. The shelves held the usual clutter — a busted toaster oven, a couple of bowling trophies, a glass jar of pennies. The money was stashed in the cavity of a cinder block. Not enough. Gee brought the pennies too.

The bedroom stank of urine. “Nine hundred seventy.” Gee tossed the roll of bill to Renny. “Plus change.” He shook the jar of pennies and placed it on the floor. Doing things like that — provocative things — made him less afraid of his brother.

Renny grabbed a sock from the floor and stuffed it in Dougie’s mouth. Shadows warped his smile into something monstrous. “You owe me seven large. I want my money, bitch. You gonna give me my money?” When he struck the first match, Gee looked away. A scream gargled in Dougie’s throat. The bedroom carpet was green and littered with tiny pebbles and burnt-out matches. The useless details stuck to Gee’s memory like lint. He wanted to bolt. But Renny would be waiting at home and their parents wouldn’t protect him. Dad thought weaklings deserved what they got, and Mom was just a slave.

“Where should I burn the cocksucker now? I’m thinking his balls.”

Gee tasted vomit. “He’d probably like it, the faggot.”

The hogtied body thumped like a landed fish. Dougie made an urgent whimpering noise. He had more to say. Renny yanked the sock from his mouth.

“Cl-cl-closet.” Dougie’s gaze jerked upward. “Sh-sh-shoe box.”

Gee pulled shoe boxes from the top shelf of the closet. In two of them he found Dougie’s real stash. Hundred-dollar bills and fifties and twenties, sorted into piles and rubber-banded. He showed his brother the money and began counting out loud. “Two hundred, three, four, five, six . . .” The diversion worked. Renny came and stood over him while he counted the money. Nine thousand, two hundred and thirty dollars.

“Asshole could’ve just paid me.”

Gee hoped it would end there, that his brother would be satisfied with a 3000-dollar profit and let Dougie keep his life. But Renny strangled Dougie with a belt from the closet and then tossed Gee the car keys. “There’s a can of gas in the trunk. Bring it.”

The firefighters showed up fast. Their station, it turned out, was two blocks away. Dougie’s body was mostly unburned, and the cops lifted a partial fingerprint from the belt. It wasn’t a certain match, but a neighbor IDed their car and Dougie’s friends testified to Renny’s psycho reputation.

Gee never rolled over. He was handcuffed to a table for hours. He begged for the toilet, but the two ugly cops just laughed. They laughed more after he pissed himself. They claimed a witness saw his face and showed him a drawing that looked like him. But Gee wasn’t stupid. It had been too dark for anyone to make him. The cops yammered on and on about their solid case and how he would be so popular in the slammer his asshole would be looser than his mama’s pussy. Now and then they changed tactics and called him a good boy, straight-A student, and promised him Renny was going down so he’d best cut a deal while he could. Through it all Gee kept the guilt and horror locked inside. And finally they had to let him go. They had nothing.

Renny was confident he would walk free, too. Gee had been in the courtroom when the jury came back. Had seen his brother’s face when the foreman spoke the word guilty — the rapt smile, like the moment he sailed into the bathroom to take Dougie down.

Darkroom will be available early next year.