Title: The Skull Ring
Author: Scott Nicholson
Number of Pages: 160 (PDF)
Summary: Julia Stone will remember, even if it kills her. Many years after the night her father disappeared, a night of chants, pain, and strangers in robes, the past follows Julia tot he North Carolina mountains when a mysterious silver skull ring makes her the focus of a shadowy, sinister cult. Walter, a local handyman, tries to help her, but he has his own secrets. And the ring is closing in…
Price: $1.99 – $14.95, depending on format
Author Bio: Scott Nicholson is the author of seven novels, including The Skull Ring and The Red Church. He’s also written more than 60 short stories, most of which are collected in Flowers, Ashes, and The First. He’s written six screenplays and several comic book series, including Dirt and Grave Conditions. Nicholson is also a freelance editor and operates the interactive writing manual Write Good or Die. His Web site is www.hauntedcomputer.com and his blogs are at http://hauntedcomputer.blogspot.com and http://writegoodordie.com.
Julia Stone’s locked door is unlocked. Wood blocks spelling out her nickname are on her coffee table. Her digital clock is stuck on the same time; 4:06. Her shut window is wide open. Eyes stare at her from the darkness outside. Someone is obviously trying to gaslight her. Or maybe she’s just crazy. After years of therapy, Julia is having trouble distinguishing between what’s real and what isn’t. And she doesn’t know whom to trust. Her therapist who’s trying to help rid her of panic attacks? The local handyman who keeps showing up at her door? Her long-time boyfriend who is anxious to get married? Her nosy old neighbor? Or are they all just creeps like the nameless, faceless entities she conjures in her mind?
The Skull Ring is a psychological thriller, one that had me hooked from beginning to end. In fact, I stayed up till 2:00 a.m. reading the last six chapters because I just couldn’t put it down! I particularly liked Julia Stone; she keeps fighting to maintain her sanity, and rather than act like a helpless victim, she uses her background as a reporter to investigate her own past. She’s determined to overcome her panic attacks through therapy rather than drugs, and once she realizes the true character of someone she trusted, she doesn’t hesitate in rejecting him. She has moments of wanting to give in and give up, but she doesn’t. She keeps trying to overcome whatever obstacles are holding her back, whether they be real or imagined.
The Skull Ringis well written, highly suspenseful, and avoids being preachy despite its religious undertones. The ending was fairly satisfying, because I totally believed the methods and motives of some characters; for instance, the sheriff and the therapist. They had vastly different outlooks on how they wanted this story to end, but I believed them both. I liked the idea of a “long con” being played, and I like the idea of one (or more) fanatical true believers in a cult. But I don’t buy big decades-long conspiracies, especially one that leaves mutilated bodies in its wake. No one notices a pattern? Really? I won’t go into any more detail because I want to avoid spoilers. But I was a bit disappointed in some of the concluding reveals.
I also felt a few loose ends were left hanging, such as Julia’s aversion to a barn near her childhood home. She has a horryfiing memory while in the barn, but it’s never clearly explained how she came to have that particular memory. We’re left to our own conclusions about it, but I prefer things more clearly spelled out at the end, especially when the story has us constantly guessing between the reality and fantasy of the main character’s experiences. We also never find out specifically what happened to Julia’s father–we pretty much know what, just not the how and where. I would like to have known. Morbid curiosity, I suppose. And how the heck do you get a digital clock to stay stuck on the same numbers?
But despite my complaints here, I did enjoy the story overall and look forward to reading more from Scott Nicholson. Be sure to read my interview with him.
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Posts Tagged ‘Scott Nicholson’
The author of seven novels, Scott Nicholson used traditional methods in finding publishers for his first few books. That is, he racked up rejection after rejection from both agents and publishers until one agreed to accept his latest manuscript. Recently, however, he decided to try e-publishing. He released a novelette, Burial To Follow, in late December to test the waters, and followed up with an ebook version of his first published novel, The Red Church. Pleased with the results and the positive feedback from new readers, he released his latest ebook, The Skull Ring, earlier this month. The Skull Ring (read my review here) was originally slated to be released by a publishing company, New Moon Press, that folded the beginning of this year. In an email interview, I asked Nicholson to give his thoughts on publishing in the digital age:
When you decided to self-publish, how did you determine which websites should sell your ebooks?
I didn’t know much about e-books until the end of last year. I’d had some on Fictionwise in the early part of the decade but didn’t think much about them or get many sales. I had been doing the agent hunt and it had been too long since I’d had any sort of market presence and I wanted to stay connected with readers and stay inspired. Amazon is the simplest and best place to publish ebooks because millions of people shop there. I eventually added my books at Smashwords and a couple of smaller sites, and I’m staying on top of any new markets that might emerge because of the iPad and other e-book readers. Amazon is still the champ by a knockout.
Has it been more difficult to promote your self-published works vs. your traditional print books?
It’s simpler. I never had any promotional budget, but I did a lot of store signings, spending my own money and time to drive all across the region. Of course, I also used the Internet for my paper books, but it still was a case of hoping people would remember you as they walked through the bookstore. With e-books, the reader can make the decision instantly, and e-books are cheap enough that they qualify as an “impulse buy.” Since by its very nature it’s on the Internet, you are already connected to your potential audience. And the feedback can be instant as well. It feels like a more intimate and immediate way to connect with the reader, because I fully believe the writer only presents half the book and the reader completes the other half.
What advice do you have for writers who are looking into self-publishing?
Make sure you have tried every avenue in New York, tried every good agent and publisher, though of course fewer are open to new writers. Don’t do it for instant gratification or the “easy way,” because you should challenge yourself to improve and compete with the best, while staying true to your vision. I had over 400 rejections before I sold my first novel The Red Church, which is now getting a second life as an ebook and doing well. I’m a much better writer because of it, and I work hard to give the reader a book that has a lot of heart and craft and time in it. I want the reader to trust and rely on me, too.
Do you write full-time, or in addition to another job?
I am a reporter, so I do write all the time, just not always fiction. I’ve been very lucky and get to meet a lot of cool people and get in weird situations. So it helps my novels and stories. Julia Stone in The Skull Ring is a reporter, and there are cops and lawyers, people I’ve worked with. I was also a carpenter and maintenance man for apartments, so that goes into the character of Walter.
Do you have a regular writing schedule?
I try to write every morning and get two pages done. If I don’t, then I work on it at night. Sometimes I can get six or eight pages done in a day, but I also have revision, promotion, and other aspects of a writing career to address. If I need a break, I go out to my garden or pick up a guitar. I love all of it and I’m the luckiest guy on the planet.
Scott Nicholson is the author of seven novels, including The Skull Ring and The Red Church. He’s also written more than 60 short stories, most of which are collected in Flowers, Ashes, and The First. He’s written six screenplays and several comic book series, including Dirt and Grave Conditions. Nicholson is also a freelance editor and operates the interactive writing manual Write Good or Die.