Sunday, November 27, 2011

When Angels & Demons Met in Haiti ~ The FULL True Story

As told by Rex Byers, one of the survivors.
Edited by Jeff Bennington

On November 12, 2011, I went on a missionary trip with thirteen friends from my church to provide music, drama and testimony for a crusade held by a local church about thirty miles outside of Port Au Prince, Haiti. The work was done through an organization called Double Harvest. They provide a small medical center, ecological and humanitarian efforts to the people of this struggling nation. 

Upon arrival, we had more work than we had planned. Due to a miscommunication, the stage that was supposed to be finished still needed a lot of work. We did not attend the church for services that Sunday morning, but set out to finish the canopy on the stage. The work was hard but we continued through the day, just in time to turn the stage over to the Haitians. 

The next day, we completed the final touches on the platform, arranging lights and the sound system. We practiced our music and drama and had a great service with the Haitians. The days that followed consisted of an assortment of small and larger projects, including installing a tent to provide shelter for a local school.
We woke up early on Thursday (Nov. 17) to start another job and finished by 11:00 a.m.  After an hour wait, we were driven back to our apartment. We were exhausted. Some took naps, and some just caught up on reading or playing cards.  By the time the Crusade was ready to start that night, for some reason, we were all in a funk.  We were tired from the previous day’s work as well as the work we accomplished that morning. When we stepped on stage, we found instruments in disarray; a different bass guitar and two guitars with broken strings, among other issues.  But we put on our game faces and pushed through. We waited to hear Adrienne Petty’s testimony and then made an early exit to get back to our apartment.  

Some of the team members took time to relax and debrief, while others were engrossed in a euchre tournament. The last group to go to bed was the card players. The rest of us were asleep by 11:15 or so.

What transpired next was the stuff movies are made of. 

Bruce Donaldson, one of the veteran missionaries of the group, had been sleeping on the deck outside of our apartment to stay cool. The generator shuts off at 9:00 p.m., so there was no air conditioning or lighting. And when I say apartment, it’s really more of a commune.  There are two quarters; one for the women and one for the men.  These two wings run parallel and come together in two large living areas. The only thing separating the two areas is an open doorway. Bruce was asleep outside the men’s kitchen door.

At approximately 12:00 a.m., Bruce was wakened by the sound of men speaking Creole, a common Haitian language. He soon realized they were not friendly. They immediately began to bind his hands and fired a gun next to his ear, deafening and disorienting him. Fortunately, Bruce liked to sleep in the nude. As it turns out, this was a God thing because Haitian men are very macho and I think they had trouble subduing Bruce in his nakedness. Nuff said. 

Anyway, they managed to lift Bruce up and press his face against the kitchen window, shinning flashlights in his eyes. We think they did this to get our attention. Their thought process must have been that we would take pity on Bruce, open the door, and let them all in. 

Linda Herr was the first person to wake up and see Bruce in the window.  She started for the door but then, in a God moment, realized she had no defense.  She called for the others and each of the men slowly started waking up. Jason Braun, a member of our staff and Chris Herr (Linda’s husband) were the first to arrive on the scene. With what Jason describes as “Holy Ghost” strength, he opened the door, grabbed Bruce’s arm, and won the tug of war with the six gunmen.

But before Jason and Chris could get the door closed, the men outside inserted a crowbar, brick, and a broomstick between the door and the frame. At this point, Jason and Chris knew we had a serious problem on our hands, and the fight for our lives went into fill gear.

The gunmen shoved the door open, and our guys would push it back. The Haitians were relentless.  They stuck the barrels of their guns through the crack in the door and started shooting. One of the bullets grazed Chris’s thumb, taking out a small chunk of skin. He started bleeding but refused to back away from the door. 

When I heard the commotion I rushed out of bed. I met Linda who was following Bruce’s instructions to get knives. I took the knives from her and proceeded to slide them across the ceramic tile floor to the three men securing the door. Outside, the gunmen started to shoot through the windows, and the tempered glass shattered in a million pieces, tiny shards that we would crawl over for the duration of the attack. 

With the windows shot out, the gunmen had a panoramic view of the kitchen. The window above the sink had two separate panes, roughly thirty inches by thirty inches. 

About this time, a bullet hit Bruce in the forearm close to his elbow and exited just above his elbow.  He was bleeding quite heavily and had to leave Chris and Jason. 

Moments after Bruce was shot, he began singing the chorus, Our God. This had been one of the songs we had been playing each evening. Throughout the ordeal, Bruce kept his cool, gave the rest of us instructions and brought water to those who would receive more serious wounds.

Brad Downing, a younger man on the team, came to the door to help and then Jason and Brad realized they had to do more than just hold the door. They called for Morgan Young, one of our pastors, a pretty large dude, to take their place at the door. The rest of us were praying our faces off. And I’m not talking polite, politically correct prayers, but the life and death kind: “God save us. God intercede. God help us. Jesus we need you!"  

The women were struggling to keep it together. Most of us thought it was only a matter of time before the door would open, or they’d come in through the windows, or they’d realize that there was another door not being attended only eight feet away on the women’s side. 

I felt so confused because I usually think five steps ahead of what I’m working on. I found out later that in extreme cases of trauma, the brain releases chemicals that are like poisons and the brain stops processing like normal. I did, however, have the clarity to realize that the window above the kitchen sink had to be blocked. At that moment, I was positioned between the two kitchens when I realized I could maneuver the upright freezer away from the wall and push it in front of the sink to block their view.

 After I moved the freezer forward, I made my way behind the refrigerator. Guns were still firing. The others were still praying, shouting and crying out to God. We felt defenseless. They had guns and all we could do was react. We had knives, but we couldn’t use them, and we couldn’t make them stop shooting.

That’s when I reached into the refrigerator and grabbed a couple 20 oz. glass bottles of Coke. I thought I could hurl them through the openings in the window when I saw their flashlights, but the attempt was futile.

During this time, Joel Larrison, our youth pastor was pinned down in his room. He stuck his head out of his door long enough to feel a bullet move through his hair.  Monte Sanders, our music director, had been with Joel earlier but ran to the back room to protect Cole Braun, Jason’s son who had just turned thirteen. This is the hallway where the gunmen were shooting from the front window next to the door.

Meanwhile the ladies were hunkered down behind beds in the back bedroom.  Adrienne Petty and Julie Baldini, another staff member, had emptied shelves out of a cabinet and climbed inside, making peace with God and audibly saying goodbye to their families. Shelia Miller, yet another staff member, was also praying, but later shared that she never gave up hope. Most of us did.  Maggie Duncan and Linda were calling out to God as well. 

These five women might have been our greatest defense. So many things were going on at the same time. While I was throwing coke bottles and moving the freezer, Jason and Brad had decided it was too high to jump out of their bedroom window for help.  But in a moment of sheer adrenalin, Jason bolted out of the window, landing on partial gravel and grass.  This was another miracle. The jump was roughly twenty-five feet. Fortunately, there was no permanent damage to Jason’s ankles or feet.

When Jason hit the ground he proceeded to scale two gates that were ten feet tall, cross a small creek-like moat, and sprinted another quarter of a mile to get to Arthur’s home. Arthur is the missionary that manages the complex.

I kept thinking that I needed to push the freezer closer to the sink. It was stuck on the ceramic tile so I pushed as hard as I could. It moved a little and seemed like it wanted to tip over so I gave up on that idea. But before I could get back to the refrigerator, I heard a loud “pop” and I felt my leg sting. I knew in that moment I had been shot. My adrenaline allowed me to take a couple of steps before I collapsed. 

Fortunately, God had already put Brad on the back porch. When I collapsed, Brad immediately grabbed me and dragged me to the veranda. Brad didn’t know what his purpose was on the trip. He soon found out. He had spent a year in pre-med and knew exactly what to do.  He knew where to apply pressure to stop the bleeding. He stayed with me through the rest of the ordeal, keeping me from bleeding out. 

At this time, Morgan was still pushing against the door when a shot was fired. Morgan thought, “Why does my leg feel so hot?” He felt something running down his leg and yelled, “I’ve been shot. Shit, shit. I’ve been shot.“ Thankfully he realized it was not life threatening… but the door was. He faithfully stayed at his post. 

Once Jason reached the house, it took a few minutes to awaken Arthur and Becky. Arthur grabbed two pistols and his friend, Jon P, who stayed at their home, and then the three men headed toward the gunmen. 

Arthur and Jon P fired their weapons toward the gunmen in complete darkness. And it’s an eerie kind of darkness in third world countries. We’re used to dusk to dawn night light, traffic lights, or lights from another city. But in Haiti there is nothing of the sort.  

The gunmen returned fire and then there was silence.

Brad was still holding my main artery so tight I thought that he was causing more pain than my wound. No matter how much I whined, he would not give up. Brad shouted to Jason, “Are the police here?"  But the voice returning was not one that we recognized. The voice said; “Yes. The police are here."  

Jason had crawled into a bean field next to the apartment to get closer and said, “No. They’re not here.” He didn’t recognize the voice either and thought that one of the gunmen was trying to fool us.  Thankfully, the gunmen did leave. 

Some of the team took Morgan to the back bedroom to care for his wound and Brad stayed with me.  The police arrived within minutes and the trauma was over. 

 Four men were shot, but there were no broken bones, no arteries struck, and no one was brought home in a body bag.

Maggie Davis was one of the ladies on the trip who was in the back praying.  She said she stopped counting after she heard 30 shots. 

We’ll never know how many angels and miracles God deployed that night, shielding us, holding the door closed and directing bullets away. As far as my wound is concerned, the bullet entered the front of my thigh, went around my femur, and stopped just inside my skin in the direct center of the back of my thigh. 

According to Arthur, the police usually show up hours after an incident, but for some reason, they were there within 10 minutes. 

While the wounded went to the hospital, Brad called his boss who owns a nine-passenger Leer jet.  Before I returned from the hospital I was told that the jet was on its way and we would be home that evening with our love ones.

I’m sure that the gunmen had to think to themselves, These idiots are bringing knives and coke bottles to a gun fight.  But our Lord, our protector, was probably thinking, These idiots have brought guns to a God fight.

I asked the doctor to clean the slug that hit me because I wanted to take it with me.  I’m having the slug encased in a gold Ferrell with a cross standing off of it. I plan to wear this around my neck in memory of what happened that night.  

I remember reading that God commanded the Israelites stack stones at different times to commemorate crucial moments in their history. I intend to use the bullet as a conversation piece, to tell people how an impossible fight was won by the power of prayer and intercession. I want to use the bullet that could have killed me as a lesson to my grandchildren of how big their God is and why they can always trust in him. My bullet will always be my altar of remembrance, reminding me of the time when Heaven and hell met in Haiti. 
                                                                                                         ~ Rex Byers

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Original Cover
I'm almost ready to publishing TWISTED VENGEANCE, my latest supernatural thriller, but I'd like your input on the cover.

I've wanted to use this pic for months and I've manipulated it as much as I can. I'm still open to another cover idea, but I really like this one so I'm hoping to get some feedback from all of you. The pic to the right is the original and is a 72 dpi quality. The ones below are 300 dpi. Much clearer.

Let me know which one is most appealing to you and why.

Here's the synopsis: TWISTED VENGEANCE

Detective Rick Burns' life is falling apart. His four-year old son is dead, his brother butchered, he's in love with the one woman he can't have and he's investigating a slew of unsolved murders of violent, domestic abusers. When a mysterious boy enters his life, things only get worse.

The boy knows the victims, Rick's fears, and he knows about Debil, the serial killer with a lust for vengeance.

Determined to help the detective find the perpetrator, the boy brings Rick into a nightmarish chase where reality and the supernatural are blurred,  nearly costing him his life, his love, and his reputation in a storm of supernatural vengeance that is so twisted you won’t be able to stop reading until you discover the awful truth. 

Find out what happens in this plot twisting 
Damien meets Sixth Sense supernatural thriller..

If you vote, leave your email or twitter handle and I'll give anyone who votes a digital copy in the format of their choice (either epub, kindle, or pdf). When we decide on a cover, I'll format it right away. Thank you in advance for participating. Feel free to sign up by email and get my regular posts regarding the world of indie publishing. 

#0 (I added this late)

Monday, November 14, 2011


If you're a writer, I'm sure you've scratched your head and asked, "What the hell's a platform anyway?" If so, you're not alone. The question comes with the territory.

You send out your query letters, hoping that a website and writer's group is enough to qualify for the ever coveted platform...whatever.

I struggled with the idea of a platform for the longest time. And honestly, it sort of pissed me off that as a newer author I was expected to have a platform. Really? I just finished writing a novel. Isn't that a good enough platform for ya? Huh?

Hell,  I don't know anyone in my circle of family and friends who've written a novel. That's a pretty big deal don't you think? And now you expect me to have an audience of hundreds, and even thousands. Get a life. 

That was then...this is now (9 months later).

I have sincerely swallowed those words several times over.

In the course of my writing journey I've learned that your platform is absolutely critical to a writer with long term writing objectives. So how do you get on? Where do you you find it? Can you buy it? Rent it?

No. You have to build.

A platform is simply the way you reach out to your readers. Like many authors, I learned that by default, or as we say in the trade, by screwing up a lot!

Over the course of the last nine months, yes I said nine months. You heard right. I did not have a platform  nine months ago.
I had a book, a few family members and some friends who were sure to read it, but like many of you, I was starting from in peel off the skin, muscle, and veins and  that's where you'd find me, scratching the bare bones of my audience.

While looking up from that vantage point, I learned that every writer seemed to be doing his or her own thing. A platform, from my perspective, appeared to be vague and unattainable unless I had the readers first. This platform thingy was really confusing. I had no idea from whence would my readers come?

Ahhh, that's the trick. But wait. Building your platform really isn't a trick. It's work.

From my experience, a good structure needs a solid foundation. And since, I had set out to build a platform, the foundation was the first thing. I built. I decided to establish a presence at Goodreads, Twitter, My blog and Facebook. Great. I had a starting point. Still no followers other than my fam and homeboys.

With the four corners of my platform standing, I decided to spend a little time at each post on a regular basis. I wrote blog posts once or twice a week. I tweeted a little everyday, posting #novelines, retweeting, and meeting folks. I posted pics, covers and had contests on Facebook, and I started friending peeps on Goodreads. Days turned to weeks and weeks turned into months. And pretty soon, I had 50, then, 100 followers.

Books were selling. I kept writing. I kept revising. I kept updating my profiles and blog page, adding content that was relevant and helpful, and then it hit me. I was doing it. The walls were up. The windows were supported with  cripples, and the decking was on the rafters. For the first time I could see the platform was taking shape.

Sound familiar? It should. But that's not all.

I realized that the more readers I met and the more writer friends I made, I couldn't possibly retweet them all. I couldn't "Like" every one's posts, and book pages, and God help me, I couldn't read four books a week. I had to make my platform really work for and for my readers and for my writer friends.

I needed to put some wheels on my platform. I needed an engine that would run on auto pilot. Or better yet, on solar power. Can you imagine the light bulb shining over my head? Trust me, it was there, because that's when the lights came on. That's when I conceived of The Kindle Book Review... another blog. Shah. I couldn't imagine another blog either, but this idea really got my wheels turning.

The Kindle Book Review is my ultimate platform. I connect with readers daily. I meet new authors and help them get noticed and I have a wonderful crew of reviewers as powerful as a team of horses.

So far the motor is running smooth as silk...nine months later.

What about you? At what point are you at in the building process? Are you pouring concrete or framing walls? If you're not sure, that all right. You'll get there, but like any building project, it will take time and you will sweat. You''ll hit your thumb with a hammer a few times and you might even fall from a ladder a time or two, but you'll get there.

There are many blue prints available, but only you can find the plan that works best for you. Some writers write reviews. Some writers interview authors. Some authors do a lot of retweeting, hashtag building, writer chatting, book clubbing and what not.

No matter how you construct your platform, build it plumb and build it on the level. Make it unique to your personality and keep it fun, because doing this writer platform thingy is too much work to bother with if it isn't enjoyable.

So...have you got your hammer? What about your nail pouch? Good. I can't wait to see what your building. BOOM!

Jeff Bennington is the author of Reunion, Creepy and Twisted Vengeance (coming very soon).
# # #

You can find great books, and great authors who are getting great reviews at The Kindle Book Review.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pick a Book Cover for The 19th Element and WIN

When you self publish, your book cover has to be excellent. Unfortunately, an exceptional story can be overlooked if the cover does not speak "quality" to a book buyer.

With that said, my friend and fellow thriller author, John Betcher, is on a mission to revamp his book covers. He asked me to help him brand his James Becker book series. I agreed, and came up with a few possibilities for book one.

As always, I like to get input from all my writerly and readerly peeps. So I'd appreciate hearing what you think...and so would John.

Here's the deal....John is going to give away a copy of his award winning book, The 19th Element to a lucky winner who votes and leaves their contact information (email or twitter handle). I will announce the winner 48 hours after this post goes live, in the comment section below.

So what do you think? 
Which book cover for The19th Element appeals to you the most? 
This is a thriller series so keep that in mind when you cast your opinion. 



So what's it going to be? Which cover draws you in? 
Don't forget to leave your contact information. 

You can see my other book covers in my $99 Book Cover page. 
Thanks for stopping by. Join by email, and comment often. 
Welcome to the indie revolution. BOOM!

Monday, November 7, 2011

How to Sell More eBooks

You've read all the blog posts about price points, editing, and cover art, but do you know how to sell more books by tweaking your book's product description page?

I recently read Dollars & Sense by the writerly trio of Carolyn McCray, Amber Scott, and Rachel Thompson (hitherto called the IBC girls because they are the founders of The Indie Book Collective), and I wanted to share a portion of the book with you.

One of the sections that really grabbed me was the part about the Amazon product description page.

McCray, Scott and Thompson have discovered some excellent ideas that can help GRAB your potential reader's attention, keep it, win the sale and attract them to your other books.

As the founder of The Kindle Book Review, I see way too many book descriptions that are long-block paragraphs with too many words.

Here's an example of what NOT to do, taken from a random book I found on Amazon. 

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Two novellas, a screenplay and a novel fragment the last two previously unpublished showcase the range of multiple Hugo and Nebula winner Martin (the Song of Fire and Ice trilogy). Black and White and Red All Over, the first 100 or so pages of an ambitious novel, follows three journalists in New York in the early 1890s as they cover a big crime story: the murder of the prostitute known as Old Shakespeare. Meticulously researched, sprawling and based on a real murder, it stunningly evokes place and time, but its leisurely pace means all too little happens. In "Skin Trade," it's up to asthmatic  Willie and his pal Randi to find out who's killing werewolves and removing their skins, but plots within plots collide, leading to a bloody and confusing ending. In StarPort, a never-produced, laugh-out-loud funny sci-fi police procedural, stolen weapons, a dead alien dignitary and an insane alien conspire to keep the cops in a futuristic Chicago busy. The closing fantasy novella, "Blood of the Dragon," the best of the four, tells a taut and moving coming-of-age story about a young princess sold by her brother into marriage to a warlord. Although different in tone, content and genre, all the stories have in common an unerring eye for the human condition and the kind of grand scope and large-scale world-building that make for compulsive page turning.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Although none of the four pieces in this book is new or has been previously published, all are good reading, and they provide valuable insight into what Martin was doing during the years when he apparently disappeared into the black hole of Hollywood. (He emerged at length and also in triumph with the fantasy saga Song of Ice and Fire.) "Black and White and Red All Over" is a take on the Jack the Ripper theme. "Skin Trade" is a werewolf story that draws on Martin's experience as a writer for the TV show The Beauty and the Beast. "StarPort" is a candidate for the Best Unproduced SF Pilot Script Award if ever there was one. Finally, "Blood of the Dragon" is a modest introduction to Song of Ice and Fire's formidable Princess Dany. Add an introduction by Melinda Snodgrass that attributes no virtues to Martin that the stories don't prove he has in full measure, and readers will be informed as well as entertained. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

I don't know about you, but I was done at "Publisher's Weekly". This example may seem extreme, but it's not. I see this ALL the time, and I bet there are a few authors reading this who are saying "Sh••! That's what my book description looks like."

Fear not. With the help of the IBC girls, you can fix your page and start attracting more readers faster than you can say, "Make me a bestseller." 

The IBC girls suggest a layout that is ideal for securing the sale. 
  • To do this, your description should start with two or three quality "blurbs".
  • Followed by a brief description of your book. 
  • Followed by more blurbs, mini reviews and maybe a bit more about the book, all in short, concise lines no longer than one or two sentences. 
  • Finally, they recommend that you end your product description by mentioning your book and/or other indie authors that you want to support.

To see an example of what I'm talking about, and to discover the details of their concept, go to the DOLLARS & SENSE Amazon kindle page, read the product description and then buy the book. This is just one of many great ideas that are in there. Then, come back and tell me what you learned from Dollars & Sense. BOOM!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How a Clever Underdog Can Win the Publishing Game

Guest post By Robert Chazz Chute 

"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." ~ Mahatma Ghandi

I am inspired by underdogs peacefully confronting authority. When the Occupy Wall Street protest began, it was a big idea among few people. The media ignored, dismissed and ridiculed them. A lot of people didn’t “get it.” But from one person to another, word spread. The movement grew until their cause could no longer be ignored. “We are the 99%,” they said. “And the super-rich 1% need to be taxed.”

When police denied protesters the use of megaphones, the 99% came up with a brilliant solution so their message could be heard. The speaker yelled his or her message to the crowd. Then whoever could hear it, shouted the phrase back to the larger masses in a loud chorus. There was a Battlestar Galactica “So say we all!” rhythm to the call and response that I loved. Underdogs must be clever to overcome obstacles and to confound authorities.

Occupy Wall Street is so inspiring to me because I’m feeling like an ignored underdog who has to be clever, too. 

I just released two ebooks: Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit) and Self-help for Stoners, Stuff to Read When You’re High. When I told a woman at a conference I planned to e-publish, she asked me why I wouldn’t go with a “publisher with integrity.” I’m sure she meant “traditional publisher.” However, since I’m the publisher, I was a bit vexed that she thought I shouldn’t trust myself.

Besides oxygen and a willingness to stay very still at a desk for long periods, self-published authors need unreasonable confidence. Trust yourself. Believe your message. Hope word will spread. We don’t have big microphones. However, if our work strikes a chord, straight to the bone and heart and mind, word of mouth can make a big impact. 

I don’t need or want help from Authority. Authority and I don’t get along. Instead, I prefer friends and readers and believers.

If you’re a self-published author: Breathe, chain yourself to your desk, and believe. And make some friends. Even if your noble quest fails, at least you’ll have friends.

While I don’t like people telling me what to do, people who lead by example inspire me. Director, author and raconteur Kevin Smith has attributed his success to surrounding himself with Why Not? People. There are plenty of naysayers whose automatic response to your calling and ambition is “Why?” I don’t think they get as much done.

I’ve written Self-help for Stoners. It’s a bucket of fun with twisty fiction and brain tickles. But it’s also about taking control of your life. It’s how I’m taking control of my life. I don’t want to share the wheel. I want to put on my big-boy panties and drive myself. And I don’t think I’ll need a big megaphone. My friends (thanks, Jeff!), believers and readers are enough. The word will spread. The message will grow.

~ Editor, author and journalist, Robert Chazz Chute lives in Canada’s frozen, suburban wasteland. His ebooks, Self-help for Stoners, Stuff to Read When You’re High and Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit), released across all digital platforms today.