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How I Sold 100000 E-books In 60 Days by Vincent Zandri & a Contest

With all the discussion about self-publishing books and how published authors can reap their backlists in order to sell more books, I thought it appropriate to bring in someone who has become a bestselling author using today’s technologies. So without further ado, here is Vincent Zandri.

How I sold 100,000 E-Books in 60 Days: A Letter to my Mom
By Vincent Zandri

Dear Mom,

For the one-thousandth time, NO, I’M NOT GOING TO GET A ‘REAL JOB!’ I don’t need to. I just sold over 100,000 E-Books in 60 days. Yah, that’s right mom. That’s not a typo. No I’m not drunk again, and no I’m not smoking crack or puffing on whacky weed. I don’t do drugs.

But I sold 100,000 books and I did it with the help of my new publisher StoneHouse/StoneGate Ink. Ok, I know, I’ve had publishers before. Big publishers who gave me a quarter-million bucks in advance for a couple of books that barely made it off the runway before crashing and burning. I know the embarrassment it caused you at the beauty parlor while all those chatty women kept asking you, “Whatever happened to your son? Does he still write?” Well, now you can tell them I hit the 100,000 book club, and when they look at you with disbelieving eyes from under the bulbous transparent hair-dryers and ask you how on earth I did it, you can tell them this:

1. I’m obsessed with my numbers. Kindle numbers. So what’s the first thing I do in the morning even before getting out of bed, I check my numbers via my Blackberry. The information grounds me and gives me a sense of which book or books I might want push that day.

2. Then, after making the coffee and washing up, I hit the Facebook. While in the old days I might have posted something stupid like, “Buy my new book THE INNOCENT!” I rarely go for that direct marketing approach anymore. Better to take the indirect approach. My FB friends get kind of sick of me asking them to always buy, buy, buy. Better to simply post your thoughts and feelings for that moment in time. Even if they’re just silly. People can relate to “I could go for a beer right now!” better than they do, “Buy This Book!” It’s the difference between becoming a real person someone likes and enjoys as a friend, as opposed to a used car salesman whom they most definitely do not. And if people like and appreciate you for who you are, they will probably give your books a try. I.E. Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer didn’t survive as bestsellers on talent alone: they spent a great deal of time building their cult of personality.

3. While still on Facebook, I might check out some of the pages I belong to like Amazon Kindle and NOOK. While once a week, I’m allowed to push one of my books like THE REMAINS or GODCHILD directly on the pages, I use these forums more to contribute to whatever conversation is at present going on. Or if there isn’t a particular thread being explored, I might start one, such as “Are Mommy Bloggers More Powerful than the New York Times Review of Books?” E-Book readers are a chatty bunch and they don’t consider their electronic reading devices simply a means for reading the latest and greatest. That e-reader gripped in their hands means they belong to an exclusive club. That club allows its many voices to be heard on the FB pages. It’s fun for readers and fans to hear from the authors they are reading now and again.

4. Same goes for KindleBoards. After hitting up the FB pages, I might log onto that site and either contribute to an ongoing topic at the Writer’s Cafe, or post my own topic. Being on KindleBoards lets other authors like myself know that I care enough about their triumphs and pitfalls to comment on them. We offer encouragement when things are bad, and kudos when things are going well. It’s sort of like a student union for writers.

5. From there I navigate my way to my other online communities…My Twitter, my Edgy Christian Fiction, my Goodreads, my Crimespace, my LinkedIn, and more. if I don’t have something to post there in their respective blog sections, I’ll maybe provide a real-time status update, such as, ‘I’ll be appearing on Suspense Magazine’s Blog Talk Radio…’ I’ll offer up a link to the program along with the time and date of my scheduled appearance.

6. Once all that’s done, I might take an hour to write a new blog for The Vincent Zandri Vox. The blog topic will usually be one that has to do with writing or publishing. On occasion, I’ll write about my experiences in marketing my work. Other writers, especially newbies are starving for information and stories from those who have been there before them. Especially from authors who have been published by both the Big 6 and the Indies like myself. They like to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be more or less screwed over by a company like Random House only to emerge from the dark wilderness and into the welcome arms of a family run publisher like StoneHouse/StoneGate Ink. Many of these new authors are also interested in the self-publishing process. But that’s more for a very popular blog like JAKonrath’s, “A Newbies Guide to Publishing” blog. I highly recommend it for the DIY author.

7. When the blog is completed, it’s time to make it viral (no mom, I’m not trying to make people sick!). That means I’ll post it to all the social networks like FB, Twitter, Delicious, Google Buzz, Myspace, Digg,… you name it. If the blog is discussion worthy, I’ll re-post it to KindleBoards and a few other discussion-related groups and forums I belong to on FB, Yahoo, Crimespace, and even Goodreads. Lastly, I’ll post the new blog on my fan page and my FB page for The Vincent Zandri Vox.

8. If I have a virtual tour going on, such as the one I will have going for GODCHILD in May, I’ll want to check in on the tour-stop of the day, which can be a review, a guest blog post, an interview, or even a live chat which usually will happen in the evening after dinner. On occasion I might have a blog talk radio scheduled for that day, which can run about an hour.

9. At some point in the day, I’ll want to email some fellow authors and ask them for guest posts for the Vincent Zandri Vox, because your author blog shouldn’t be narrow or static. It shouldn’t be all about you! It should be a communal place where not only my books and opinions are discussed, but a whole range of books and topics.

10. At some point in the day, I’ll check in with my publisher. We’ll strategize and make plans over which books we have coming out when, such as the new special edition combo I have going with the great noir legend, Dave Zeltserman (Dying Memories/Godchild) and my brand new forthcoming novel, Concrete Pearl. Or we’ll talk pricing. The great thing about being with an indie publisher is that they have a lot of freedom to experiment with pricing. My publisher Aaron Patterson is also a bestselling novelist himself (Sweet Dreams, Ariel, …) and he understands the importance of offering up a great book for the lowest price possible. Wow, what concept, huh mom? Our pricing strategy for now is based on the concept of the “rotation.” An author should always have one or two books available at $.99 and maybe another couple at $2.99, perhaps one at $4.99 and, as is the case with my catalog, even one at $8.95. Having some books on sale ensures that your audience is always expanding and even though you might invite a bad review or two by underpricing your books temporarily, the benefits inherent with creating new fans far outweigh the negatives. In any case, all this pricing stuff is a work in progress.

11. Ok, so when all that’s done, it’s time to think about the real thing behind the success. The writing. What’s the most surefire way to sell 100,000 e-books in 60 days? Good, if not great writing. And great writing takes time. It can’t be rushed, even if this is the new era of authors meeting the challenge of publishing two, three, and in some cases, four books per year–a feat unheard of back when I was publishing with the biggies. E-books are forever, and never will they go out of print. So, for as long as a book still resides in your gray matter and not on the printed cyber-page (and yes, mom, trade paperback!), it’s not earning money. However, putting lots of books out for public consumption doesn’t mean skimping on quality. What’s the fastest way to guarantee never to sell 100,000 e-books in 60 days again? Bad writing.

Well, I hope this gives you some idea of what it takes to sell all those books, mom. And I guess you can see now how impossible it would be for me to have a real job. I work seven days a week right now as it is. Talk about a time consuming career. Don’t believe me? Just ask your two ex-daughter in-laws. I’m sure they’d both have something to say on the topic.

But let me ask you something else, mom.

What real job out there would pay me close to $20,000 in a single month to do something I absolutely love? Would I get 20 Gs per month project managing construction projects? Would I get 20Gs per month if I were an accountant? Would I get 20 G’s per moth if I were teaching high school? If I were writing public relations and advertising copy?

Probably not, which is why I choose to be a full-time writer in this, the new golden age of publishing.

I have to go now, mom. Lots of work to do. Tell dad, I said hi! And I hope you guys can come and visit me in Italy soon. Oh, yeah, did I forget to tell you that I can write and conduct my writing business from anywhere in the world???? Now try and do that with a real job and two weeks vacation per year!

All my love,
Vince

Vincent Zandri is an essayist and freelance photojournalist, and the author of the recent bestsellers, The Remains, Moonlight Falls and The Innocent . His novel As Catch Can (Delacorte) was touted in two pre-publication articles by Publishers Weekly and was called “Brilliant” upon its publication by The New York Post. The Boston Herald attributed it as “The most arresting first crime novel to break into print this season.” Other novels include Godchild (Bantam/Dell) and Permanence (NPI). Translated into several languages including Japanese and the Dutch, Zandri’s novels have also been sought out by numerous major movie producers, including Heyday Productions and DreamWorks. Presently he is the author of the blogs, Dangerous Dispatches and Embedded in Africa for Russia Today TV (RT).

He also writes for other global publications, including Culture 11, Globalia and Globalspec. Zandri’s nonfiction has appeared in New York Newsday, Hudson Valley Magazine, Game and Fish Magazine and others, while his essays and short fiction have been featured in many journals including Fugue, Maryland Review and Orange Coast Magazine. He holds an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College and is a 2010 International Thriller Writer’s Awards panel judge. Zandri currently divides his time between New York and Europe. He is the drummer for the Albany-based punk band to Blisterz.

You can visit his website at www.vincentzandri.com or his blog at www.vincentzandri.blogspot.com. Connect with Vincent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VincentZandri, on Facebook at www.facebooks.com/vincent.zandri and Myspace at www.myspace.com/vincentzandri.

Thank you so much for sharing all that very useful information, Vincent. It truly is a full time job to do all that you do.

And now for something completely different!

I am participating in a Splash Into Summer Blog Hop. Just leave a comment saying “I want to splash into summer with a book by (insert the name of the author)” on any blog post between today, May 25 and midnight EST on May 31 for a chance to win a $1o gift card, autographed copies of both SINS OF THE FLESH and STRONGER THAN SIN, plus a T-shirt for THE LOST and some other goodies.

Also check out all the other blogs participating for a chance to win other cool giveaways.

Video Event Winners & a Contest for Margaret Mallory’s THE GUARDIAN!

I want to thank everyone who dropped by our very first video event! I so appreciate being able to meet you and hoped you liked the premiere of the trailer for THE LOST. It’s not live yet, so you’re the only ones who have gotten to see that gorgeous video, unless . . .

You pop in for our next video chat on Wednesday, May 18 at 9 p.m. I have a very special guest coming on, namely my Dangerous Women Writing friend and fellow author Donna Grant. Join us as we discuss writing dark paranormals, alpha heroes and lots of other fun stuff. We’ll have some more prizes for you, like a gift card, bags, shirts and other googies.

Now here are the lucky winners from the last video event! Please send me you mailing address so that I can get your prize out to you!

Karin – $10 Gift Card
Kym A – Autographed copy of SINS OF THE FLESH
JoAnna – Autographed Copy of SOLDIER’S SECRET CHILD
Kai – Caridad Environmentally friendly grocery bag & a lovely beaded bookmark
Cynthia (Artemis) – THE LOST T-shirt
Leanne G – Caridad Environmentally friendly grocery bag & a lovely beaded bookmark

THE GUARDIANWhew, now that we’re done with that! Today is FUN FRIDAY and I want to hear from you about your favorite kinds of heroes. Do you like military men? Highlanders? Vampires? Shapeshifters? Or do you prefer a more sensitive kind of guy?

Leave a comment on this blog post by 3 a.m. Saturday (want to give my CA folks some time to answer) for a chance to win an autographed copy of Margaret Mallory‘s THE GUARDIAN!

13 Things I Love About Being a Writer

There are lots of good and bad things about being a writer, but I like being a positive person and so this morning I’m going to focus on 13 things I love about being a writer.

    1. Sharing my stories with people
    2. Creating new worlds and characters
    3. Meeting new people
    4. Sharing what I know with other writers.
    5. Talking about favorite books with other writers and readers.
    6. Visiting new places for conferences and research
    7. Research. I so love learning new things.
    8. My editors who help me improve my writing.
    9. Attending workshops.
    10. Having complete control over my characters (I am such a control freak!)
    11. Making new friends with readers and other writers
    12. Spending time alone writing.
    13. Long walks spent creating new ideas or working through problems.

As you might have noticed, meeting new people and making friends was up there on that list. Sometimes it’s not possible to meet you all in person, but thanks to technology, it is possible to see each other face-to-face!

In the coming weeks I’ll be having some live video interaction with fans and friends and also sharing some of my favorite authors and friends with you. Come join the fun at our very first live video meet and greet TODAY!

We are going to preview THE LOST, the very first book in my new SIN HUNTER series.

I’ll be giving away a $10 gift card, a LOST T-shirt and a couple of cool reusable grocery bags so that you can help to protect the environment. I’ll also be picking some lucky winners to get copies of SOLDIER’S SECRET CHILD and STRONGER THAN SIN!

You can either click here to join the chat today, Thursday, May 5 at 8:30 EST or click on the widget below. Feel free to share the widget with your friends and let them share in the fun and prizes. You can also tweet or share this link: http://t.wbx.me/eemp7

Guilty Pleasure Monday Mike Rowe & a huge giveaway!

We’re getting dirty today on this Guilty Pleasure Monday with none other than our favorite Dirty Jobs guy – Mike Rowe.

There’s something about those baby blues and handsomely craggy face that I find totally appealing. How about you? Thanks to Jay Villemarette for releasing this photo into the public domain.

Take a moment to visit with the Dangerous Women Writers this morning as our blog-a-thon and giveaways continue. This time we’ve got the wonderful Barbara Vey from Publisher’s Weekly with us and a huge giveaway to one lucky person we will choose from those who comment on the blog by midnight Tuesday.

How big a contest? Well one lucky reader can take home the following:

* Dangerous Highlander by Donna Grant (signed)
* Sins of the Flesh by Caridad Pineiro (signed)
* Stronger than Sin by Caridad Pineiro (signed)
* ARC of The Lost by Caridad Pineiro (signed)
* Blaze Hotzone Trilogy by Lisa Renee Jones (signed)
* Eternal Flame by Cynthia Eden (signed)
* I’ll be Slaying You by Cynthia Eden (signed)
* Immortal Danger by Cynthia Eden (signed)
* A Season of Seduction by Jennifer Haymore (signed)
* Highland Surrender by Dawn Halliday (signed)
* And a “Romantic” Historical Romance Prize Basket, including the following:
-Desire Me by Robyn DeHart (signed)
-ARC of The Devil in Disguise by Stefanie Sloane
-How to Woo a Reluctant Lady by Sabrina Jeffries
-The Sins of Lord Easterbrook by Madeline Hunter (signed)
-A Season of Seduction by Jennifer Haymore (signed)
-Highland Surrender by Dawn Halliday (signed)
-A Jennifer Haymore tote
-& an assortment of body butters from
Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works

How’s that for big?

Busy Monday Morning!

I’m taking a break today from our usual Guilty Pleasure Monday because it’s a very busy Monday morning.

Take a moment to visit the Danger Women Writing Blog where Cynthia Eden is chatting about sexy heroes and offering up an ARC of NEVER CRY WOLF, her June 28th release from Kensington Brava, to one lucky commenter.

Using Random.org, I’ve picked two winners for my Getting to Know You Blog: Cindy L. and Jane T. both win STRONGER THAN SIN T-shirts, copies of STRONGER THAN SIN, bath gels and other goodies!! Please e-mail me your postal addresses so I can send out your prizes.

THE LOST Paranormal RomanceBut the fun and prizes don’t stop there! This morning I am over at Attacking the Page discussing how to write a sexy love scene. Drop by and leave a comment for a chance to win an ARC for THE LOST, the first book in my new paranormal romance series from Forever Romance.

Fun Friday – Baseball, the Blues and a Guest Blog!

Doing the Friday Happy Dance even though it’s dark, cold and rainy in New York City. But I’ve got some fun things to chase away the blues today, including some fun talk about baseball and a guest blog (with some giveaways)!

Come visit with me at the wonderful Sia McKye’s Over Coffee blog and let me know if you believe in miracles and the power of love. I sure do!

For regulars to the blog, you know I’m a sad sack fan of the Mets and baseball lover so today’s guest blogger is a special treat for me because of that and because she is a dear friend and this is her DEBUT novel!!

So please welcome Ronnie Norpel who will be telling us about her new book, Baseball Karma & the Constitution Blues. Share the love by leaving a comment on this blog or Sia‘s by midnight EST Sunday, November 7th and you could win a STRONGER THAN SIN T-shirt and copy of any one of my earlier releases – you can choose your own prize!

*****

It is a thrill for me to guest on Caridad’s blog today. She has witnessed and supported my transformation from wannabe to published author—thanks, Caridad!

And, hi, everybody! Caridad assures me that among her avid romance readers are a multitude of chick baseball fans. My book is for them – YOU!

Baseball Karma & the Constitution Blues (Three Rooms Press) is a girl’s tale of love, luck and superstition, and it will keep you warm through the long winter without baseball. I worked for my hometown Phillies for seven seasons and so this story is “steeped in authenticity.” Whereas we could have slotted it under Sports/Philosophy, in a nod to James Frey, my publisher (the terrific Kathi Georges) and I settled on our own category: ficto-memoir.

A big theme of my book is how superstitions are all in our heads, but we perform rituals to try to relieve them anyway. A couple of baseball superstitions I touch on in the book include:

1. Pre-game Routines (p. 24):

The idea behind pre-game routines is to over-control the Ordinary in anticipation of handling the Extraordinary. Just as Einstein’s daily “uniform” of white shirtsleeves and black trousers dispensed with the Ordinary, availing his mind of the Extraordinary, so batting champ Larry Walker’s uniform number 33 paced his playing days: he would set his alarm for 3 past the hour, shower at the 3rd nozzle, and take 3 swings before each at-bat. Their embroidered vestments elevate our big leaguers to priestly status, even as they superstitiously covet their own jersey numbers: Mr. Clemens thought his 21 worth a Rolex, and Rickey H gave Turner Ward 25G for 24. (While John Kruk accepted two cases of brew from Mitch Williams for 29.) Culinary habits are also controlled: Wade Boggs ate chicken before every game. From arriving at the yard at the same time and parking in the same spot every day to wearing the same dirty jockstrap, if that’s what the Church of Baseball dictates, these guys’ll do it. On faith.

2. Adjusting Equipment (p. 125):

Meanwhile, post-game, Blues manager Teddy Mack stood in the middle of the visitors’ clubhouse as the players peeled off their muddy uniforms.

“Fellas, you really stunk it up tonight! I see no concentration in the field or at the plate, and every time we get close, we blow it! Would anyone care to explain this for me?”

Problem is, when you’re losing, there is no real explanation. But they were willing to try.

“Well, Skip, I switched brands of dip when we left on the road trip,” Mark offers.

Mack stared at Ridley.

Jack Black attempted a more traditional guise.

“What he meant to say, Coach, is that we have a young team.”

“We have to make a few adjustments, that’s all.” Doug added analysis straight from the Sports pages, those ‘few adjustments.’

“These guys just have to adjust to the bigs. They’ll be all right,” Tommy said.

“They seem like they’re adjusting just fine, Gunner.” Mack looked at Doug.

“They certainly haven’t been making curfew!”

Doug turned back to his locker.

“Sorry, Skip,” Bobby said, “I got a late call from the coast last night…”

Mack rolled his eyes, when will these boys ever learn?

“…from my mom, she found my old glove! It should be at the stadium tomorrow.”

“As should my order of new bats,” said Jack.

“Don’t forget to spit on ‘em, JB,” Moss muttered under his breath. Moss was a spitter.

“Fellas! I don’t think it’s an equipment problem. Please get your heads into the game!”

3. No Hitter Talk (p. 142):

In the Blues conference room, the front office staff sat in silent vigil sipping coffee. Hugh Sargent contemplated periodic ophthalmia and its effect on batting averages. Blake and Whitley straggled in just ahead of Lloyd Preston.

“I imagine you’ve all read today’s Sports.”

He held up a copy of the Daily View. The headline blared: “FULL MOON FULL GAINER; FULL LOSERS,” and a pair of photos showed the fan in mid-fall and then being stretchered into the ambulance.

The staffers shifted in their seats. Preston went on.

“The suggestion box is officially opens, folks. I’m not throwing in the towel, but we have a real bear on our hands, and at this point, anything goes. Let’s brainstorm.”

Whitley whispered to Blake in the corner.

“I just hope that guy makes it.”

“Shut up, Whitley,” Blake whispered back. “That’s no hitter talk.”

“What do you mean?”

“Will you NEVER get it? It’s like a no hitter in the making: you can hope for it, but whatever you do, don’t talk about it!”

She still looked confused, so Blake paraphrased.

“We ALL hope he makes it.”

***

Now, speaking of No Hitters, it was quite exciting as a Phillies fan to see Roy Halladay throw his no-no against the Reds in the Division Series. But, alas, my Phils did not get their rematch against the Yankees in the World Series this year. That said, I lifted the curse at the beginning of the 2007 season, so it’s only fair some other team got in this year! I gave the edge to the Giants – what with their timely Halloween-colored uniforms. And then there’s that young Tim Lincecum – he’s cute! AND he can pitch!

If you worship at the Church of Baseball and would like to get an insider’s peek – from a female perspective, you will enjoy my book. You can go to www.constitutionblues.com to order an autographed copy (PayPal).

Cheers!
Ronnie Norpel
Visit www.constitutionblues.com to order an autographed copy
or you can click here to order Baseball Karma & the Constitution Blues

Photo Credit: Thanks to Heather’s Animations for the Dancing Girl Gif.

Wicked Wednesday – Visiting the Banditas and AZTEC GOLD

Today’s Wicked Wednesday is a busy one! I’m prepping to visit my Bandita friends over at Romance Bandits tomorrow and have some giveaways for you there. I want to thank all of you who have been busy following me all along the blogosphere and leaving your many comments and support for me and for STRONGER THAN SIN!

Many of you have asked along the way about the fate of THE CALLING. Well, there are two more which will come out in January and February 2012. But well before those, I’ll have another vampire treat for you: AZTEC GOLD, a novella from Carina Press. AZTEC GOLD is the story of a woman searching for her missing lover and fighting an unusual enemy: an Aztec vampire demi-goddess.

Warning, it’s a cliff hanger at the end of this little excerpt! I want to whet your appetite for more.

***Excerpt***

Chapter One

The feel of old papers called to Cynthia Guerrera the way a lover’s skin might.

Even with the gloves she wore to protect the fragile documents from the oils on her fingers, she sensed the raspy texture of the heavy parchment beneath her fingertips. Smelled the mustiness that hinted at the fact that it had been some time since these papers had seen the light of day.

At first she had been skeptical about the provenance of the documents. Missouri cornfields were not the place one expected to find a trunk filled with nearly five-hundred-year-old Spanish artifacts. But a Missouri cornfield was just where the trunk containing the papers, journal and maps had been discovered when a developer had begun excavations for a new strip mall.

Setting aside the missive—a letter from Coronado himself to one of his seconds in command—she turned her attention to the leather bound journal of Juan Domingo Cordero, one of the conquistadors who had accompanied Coronado on his adventures. Gingerly opening the cover, she traced her fingers over the sprawling script. The first entries in the journal had provided her with the identity of the author and the date of the documents thanks to Cordero’s meticulous notations.

With that information, she had been able to check a number of other sources to confirm that Cordero had indeed been one of Coronado’s lieutenants. When Coronado had left Mexico City in 1540 in search of the fabled Cities of Gold, Cordero had been at his side for the first leg of the journey. Coronado had eventually separated from Cordero and his contingent, ordering them to search in one direction while he went in another.

Cordero’s entries in the journal carefully detailed their travels throughout the south central portion of Mexico, before his band had turned northward until they crossed the Rio Grande. Eventually the group had drifted eastward and reached the Mississippi, hugging the fertile banks of the river until it landed them in the area that would become known as Missouri.

Tired of their journeys and with their group decimated by a number of incidents, the Spanish conquistadors had built a small settlement a short distance from the sluggish and fruitful waters of the Mississippi.

The notations in Cordero’s journal gradually diminished after the establishment of that settlement, with the conquistador’s adventures giving way to the routine of farming and family life. It seemed that Cordero had finally stopped writing at all.

Cynthia supposed that was when the conquistador had tucked the journals detailing his explorations into the small wood and leather trunk together with his other papers. The trunk in turn had been put in a cellar, and over time, the floods that often occurred in the area had covered Cordero’s home and the surrounding settlement with mud. Further flooding and natural events had added to the layers over the former community, hiding its existence from sight until the developer’s bulldozers had dug up the first hints of the earlier colonization and the trunk.

Cynthia picked up the report that had arrived that morning. The assorted laboratory tests she had requested absolutely confirmed the age of the documents.

With that endorsement came proof of one thing, while serious doubt remained about a series of entries in the journals—unusual and unbelievable tales.

She rose and walked over to the climate-controlled locker in her office and then removed a hand-wrought wood and metal tube from within. Returning to her worktable, she untied the laces holding the metal cap in place at one end of the cylinder and slipped out a pliant sheet of leather that bore a crudely drawn map identifying the sometimes circuitous route Cordero and his men had taken from Mexico City.

In the middle of the map, more carefully detailed than anything else, were the geographical features and path to what Cordero had believed to be one of the fabled Cities of Gold. A city supposedly inhabited by a demon goddess who had taken away and killed nearly half a dozen of his men. Cordero had decided after the incident that no amount of lucre was worth their lives and had chosen to leave the area in search of a safer existence.

Shortly thereafter, he and his men had traveled northward, reached the Rio Grande, and eventually built the small farming settlement near the banks of the Mississippi.

Cynthia could well understand the motivation for adopting a quieter life after such hardships. Her childhood had been a series of travails thanks to her anthropologist parents and their thirst for knowledge.

But unlike the entries detailing Cordero’s travels, the tale of a demon goddess was hard to believe. Yet everything else about the documents was genuine.

Worse, something about the map had troubled her from the moment she first unrolled it onto her workstation—its similarity to one she had seen a little over six months earlier. As she had compared the various features on the drawing to a copy of one given to her by her lover, Dr. Rafael Santiago, she realized there was too much coincidence to ignore.

So many months ago, Rafe had detailed to her the plans for his latest archaeological expedition—a trip to a previously unknown and unexplored Aztec temple located in south central Mexico. While on that trip, Rafe, his younger brother and a team of five other men had disappeared into the Mexican jungle.

For weeks rescuers had searched for them, but without luck. The guides assisting them had refused to enter the Devil’s Jungle and without their advice, finding Rafe’s exact trail toward the temple had been virtually impossible.

For months Cynthia had been reaching out to various contacts in the area, hoping for word of Rafe and his group and keeping faith in the belief that they were still alive. But with each month that passed and every clue that evaporated into nothingness, that hope was fading along with the prospect of discovering anything about her lover’s disappearance…until now.