FREE Audio Story The Assurance Salesman now on YouTube

You can now go to YouTube and listen to one of my more popular stories “The Assurance Salesman” performed by my audiobook narrator and Team RJ VIP Danielle Muething. No, this is not a preview, a scene, or a chapter, this is the entire, complete and unabridged short story, nearly an hour of audio, and you can listen to it for nothing.

What’s the story about? Here’s my nifty one sentence pitch: A man in black disrupts five weary travelers sharing a passenger train carriage to claim he literally holds in his hand the answers to their deepest questions.

Intrigued? Cool, go check it out. No catch, no gimmick. I simply ask that if you like what you hear, you consider going here to support our efforts and buy more similarly awesome tales. Same author, same narrator, but… you know… more. If you do, thank you very much. If not, that’s okay, times are tough. Maybe later. I still sincerely hope you enjoy this free hour. Also, please Like and Subscribe and Comment while you’re there.

This Darkwhimsy Books audio story production includes a cover image by my digital 3D artist and Team RJ VIP Nell Williams, and includes one of my favorite intro / outro music tracks “Rezonata” by composer, keyboardist and Team RJ VIP Jan Pulsford.  Thanks so much to everyone for the hard work you all put into this.

“The Assurance Salesman” is part of my short story collection Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy. And do I even need to say… an audiobook is coming in the near future!

Now enough of that, here’s the free story! Enjoy!

Revised Edition Short Story Collection Now Live

The 2020 Revised Edition of Darkness With a Chance of Whimsy by…well…DarkWhimsy Books…is now available in all formats and from all outlets. All ten stories are re-published here, with a slight copy edit revision to fix little goofs. The content, for the most part, is the same as the previous edition; the paperback comes in at the same price point of $11.99.

There is a slight difference in the front cover, and I’m not referring to the foggy REVISED EDITION in the tagline (though that is a part of all the 2020 revised books to make them easier to distinguish).

No, I’m talking about the little added celebrity cover blurb… here, let me just zoom in on that…


Yes, it’s used with permission. Yes, I’m pretty proud, and pleased to be able to include it on the cover from this point forward. (If you don’t know my Cyndi Lauper story and are curious, you can click here to read all about it).

RJ’s Obsession (Recreated)

Cyndi and RJ partying like it’s 1999–because it was.

RJ’s Obsession
(Or, seriously, what’s with the constant Cyndi Lauper posts?)

This blog was originally written and posted in 2012 on the awesome Kriss Morton blog Cabin Goddess as part of my Haunting Obsession Book Tour. Through the years, sharing the link to that article would be my go-to answer  to anyone who’d ask me about my “Cyndi Lauper Story.” Sadly, Kriss took down Cabin Goddess and has no plans at this time to bring it back. That article is re-posted here (lacking her graphic awesomeness) with her permission. Tweaks have been made to update links and information.

Since Haunting Obsession features a thinly veiled homage to Marilyn Monroe, and is the story of someone who takes his fandom way too far, it’s easy to assume I’m an over-the-top fan of Monroe. And yes, I do fixate on many things Marilyn. But she is not the person I am most obsessed about.

I also love pop music of all eras. But I am a child of the 80s. I was in the tenth grade in 1983, a couple years after M-TV debuted, so the woman who stands above everyone else in my pop music universe is Cyndi Lauper.

1997, my first backstage visit. Mrs RJ, me, Cyndi, and my local Cyndi buddy Michelle.

Yes, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, She-Bop, Money Changes Everything, and the most awesome ballad of all time Time after Time. [Edit: I considered linking each song, but come on, kids, Google them. I can’t do EVERYTHING for you.] THAT Cyndi Lauper. Her rendition of Unchained Melody performed live in 2003 in a small Chicago dinner theater is the only time this six-foot four inch man ever swooned. Were I not already sitting down, it could have been embarrassing.

I see you. Yes, you. Hovering your pointer on the back-button, ready to bail out of this post. I know what you are thinking. I will say it for you. Cyndi Lauper. What a kook. RJ’s hopelessly stuck in the 80s. Isn’t she just for girls? See, I’m psychic that way.

I remember in 1983 the first time I heard Girls Just Want to Have Fun. My exact thoughts: “Wow, fun song, too bad it will never catch on.”

Hmmm. . . so much for my psychic powers.

Whimsy Preview: Fade

DWACOW low rezClick here to see the introduction to this series.

Click here to see the first post in this series: Whimsy Preview: The Assurance Salesman

By the time “Fade” was picked up by James W. Kirk to run in Indiana Science Fiction Anthology 2011, the story already had a long and interesting history.

Fade was directly inspired by an obscure, quirky song by Cyndi Lauper, released on the obscure, quirky album Blue Angel. At the time, the release was difficult to track down (this was the 80s, it’s easy to find now) and I did so only after years of searching. Here is the song posted on YouTube. So inspired, I wrote the story for a college assignment, stuck it in a drawer, and forgot about it for several years.

Cyndi and Mary Kay, with me  unaware I was in the shot, circa 2002.  The envelope under Ms Lauper's arm contains Fade.
Cyndi and Mary Kay, with me unaware I was in the shot, circa 2002. The envelope under Ms Lauper’s arm contains Fade.

Advance to 2001. I met one of the most amazing ladies in the universe, by which I mean Mary Kay Woolsey, not Cyndi Lauper, though I met her, too, because of this. MK was battling cancer, and, frankly, a number of shitty circumstances in her life. Several fans banded together to launch an archaic and labor intensive version of what would now be a Kickstarter campaign, about a decade before the platform was in place to make it easy. For my contribution, I partnered with artists Kathy and Roberto Campus and “self-published” Fade to fans as a “gift with purchase” to anyone who donated $25 or more.

IMG_1106By “self-published,” I mean I took a few sheets of paper, folded them in half and stapled the middle. (Hey, free gift with donation, whaddaya want?) Dig that booklet with snazzy Kathy Campus (now Kathy Sweeny) art. In any case, our combined efforts raised $1,600 for MK (Cyndi herself donated some autographed 45 singles because she’s awesome that way) MK recovered and she’s alive, well, and still one of the most amazing ladies in the universe.

I was fortunate to get Roberto Campus on this project. He has since gone on to rock it pretty hard with mad art skills, as you can see here on his website.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the short version. So anyway, back to why you’re here.

The setup: Anna Blue is visiting her parents over Thanksgiving break. She brings the boyfriend home to meet the parents, and is also hiding a recreational drug habit. Said boyfriend Spencer Blake is floundering about being loyal to her or holding an intervention. During a fight about this very issue, Spencer and Anna literally fall into her father’s basement laboratory.

Image of the original booklet with artwork by Roberto Campus
Image of the original booklet with artwork by Roberto Campus

Her eyes opened. “Ohhhh … what happened?” She tried to rise.
Spencer placed a hand on her shoulder, pressing gently. “Wait. Make sure you’re not dizzy.”
“Honestly, I’m all right.”

He helped her to her feet. She smiled and put her arms around his neck.
“My hero,” she murmured. She pulled his face down to meet hers. He gave her a quick kiss, then pulled away.

“No, you’re not all right.” He pulled her hands apart and stood, separating them.
“What’s wrong? Why are you angry?”
“Why shouldn’t I be?” He turned and glared at her. “This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for your antics.”

“I’m sorry, okay? What do you want from me? I just needed something to take the edge off.”
Spencer swore and turned back toward the steps.
“Don’t tell my parents, Spence. Please. Just give me a little time and help me.”

He turned toward her. “I’m trying to help you. I just don’t know if I can keep doing this by myself.”
Anna nodded, dismissing the subject. She glanced around the shop, eyeing the tools. He waited for any indication she really cared about herself, that she knew she was in trouble. But instead she simply looked distracted.

“Y’know, I’ve only been down here once or twice. Weird he left it open. He’s usually careful about locking it.”
“If that’s the case, we should go. They’re expecting us, and I don’t think you want to be caught down here.”

“Hey, what’s this?” She reached down and picked up a helmet made of reflective blue metal from the edge of the workbench. It resembled some sort of hardhat, complete with a dangling chinstrap. As Anna shifted the helmet in her hands, Spencer noted some sort of circuitry on the inside casing.

Art by Roberto Campus
She raised the helmet and placed it on her head. Art by Roberto Campus

Seeing her rummage through her father’s private work sent a new surge of anger through him. “Let’s go.” If she wasn’t allowed down here, she was going too far. He considered tossing her over his shoulders and bodily carrying her upstairs.
Shrugging in obvious defiance, she raised the helmet and placed it on her head.
He rolled his eyes at her petulance, and wondered if she’d actually taken some of the drugs before he caught her.

She stared back at him, a silly grin on her face. Maybe she hit her head after all.
He sighed, biting back words of mounting frustration. “There. Happy now? You’re wearing it. It’s too big for you anyway.”

“But what is it? Is Daddy inventing a new game, or a tool to punch holes in the wall—” She stabbed her finger at the drywall behind her. A sharp popping noise assaulted their ears, and a moment later they both stared, dumbfounded, at a wide gaping hole in the wall.

“Oh, no,” Anna squeaked.

Nice! She broke something! “That’s it! I’ve had enough.” Spencer slammed his fists into the work table. Sudden pain fueled his anger. “Screw this. You wanna keep playing games, do it without me.” He stormed up the stairs.
Next Posting in the series: Able Bodied
Click here to go to the dedicated ordering page of Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy.

RJ’s Post Imaginarium…uh…post

Eric Garrison, me, John F. Allen
E. Chris Garrison, me, John F. Allen

Here’s where I brag about what an awesome time I had, that you didn’t have, because you chose to do something other than go to Imaginarium in Louisville, KY, last weekend. Ready, here we go.

With perfect weather and essentially a one highway route, the drive from Indy to Louisville could not have gone better. John F. Allen and I made the drive in a tad over two hours. The hotel was easy access off the highway exit.

Speaking of easy access, I need to praise the layout of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. As someone restricted to walking short distances, the public accessible doors next to the showroom were terrific, and the elevator access to the rooms was great. Very compact and convenient all around. These things are a concern for me, and the floor plan was definitely created with convenience in mind.

Registration was fast and smooth. We were given immediate access to our tables to set up. Con buddy Eric Garrison (AKA E. Chris Garrison) joined us and we were set up before con start with time to mingle.

Fire drill posers.

At any convention, something has to go wrong, and at least this time it happened early with0ut serious consequences. I was never clear if what happened was a planned fire drill, a prank, or perhaps a lit cigarette, but whatever happened, the fire alarm went off, and the room full of vendors found themselves herded out the back doors into the parking lot for the next several minutes. I tucked up by the loading dock doors and waited it out.

I displayed my paranormal trilogy, plus my Lost Soles and Akira LacquersVirtual Blue nail polish. Everything received some love and attention, but the Lost Soles–the hand-stitched stuffed ghosts created by Mrs RJ and our three nerds in the making–were the big winner for my sales. How awesome is that?

Troll Under the Bridge tries to thumb-slap me.
Troll Under the Bridge tries to thumb-slap me.

Food, like other services, was easy and convenient. The hotel served an exceptionally large and yummy burger, dressed for a night out. Next to it was a nice grab-n-go kiosk. Friday night a group of us gathered at the local favorite Troll Under the Bridge Pub, and we even found a McDonald’s and Taco Bell for a convenient bite.

Networking opportunities were tremendous. I have been a fan of indie author Kat French for about a year, so meeting and talking with her was a highlight. The workshop run by Tim Waggoner was stellar. Touched base with Jackie Gamber, J.L. Mulvihill, Selah Janel, Amy McCorkle, David Mattingly, Jason Sizemore, Maurice “The Imaginator” (“Don’t call me the Imaginator”) Broaddus, Michael West, James O Barnes, the always awesome Janet Harriett….so many more. It was great to see D.A. Adams doing fairly well following some health concerns, and spend some time catching up with him.

Ash Arceneaux, A.D. Roland, Ash Roland, Audra Steia, and me...wait, what?
Ash Arceneaux, A.D. Roland, Ash Roland, Audra Steia, and me…wait, what?

I had two other special moments I need to mention: I was also reunited with Ms. Ash Roland, an author buddy who goes back early in my publishing journey. Ash was instrumental in securing my first publishing deal, created the first cover, the book trailer, and who I shadowed at Context in 2010 to learn the whole vending process. She’s a talented horror writer, artist, and friend, and it was terrific to see her again after a four year gap.

Also, through a happy coincidence, my brother and his wife traveled from Indy to Louisville to accompany my niece to visit a nearby college. They just happened to make reservations at the Crowne Plaza, and we had dinner together Saturday night.

I met a LOT LOT LOT of new people….so many, that if I attempted to name them, I would embarrass myself, so let’s just leave it at, you know who you are.

I did my best to impart whatever wisdom I could at my panels, and I know I learned a lot at the workshop.

What followed after was the masquerade dance, a room party, more at the dance, more at the room party, Otters were mentioned in inappropriate conversation, things got late, things got fuzzy. During the dance, Jordan Bell requested Cyndi Lauper (Goonies R Good Enough, whoop-whoop) on my behalf and several people chanted “Oh Awjay.”

Bottom Line: Imaginarium was a blast!! For a first year event, organization and efficiency far above expectations–perhaps the most well-run con I’ve been to. Kudos to Stephen Zimmer and Susan Roddey for that. Imaginarium was well worth the trip. It was an amazing networking and educational experience. They threw a great party. Sales were low, but that’s normal with any first year event. Make your plans now. This is the place to be next year.

Click here to view my overstuffed photo album from Imaginarium Weekend.

PS: I regret to announce that due to many circumstances beyond my control, I am unable to attend Context this year.

The Cyndi Lauper Story, as told on Cabin Goddess

Cyndi and RJ 1997.Along with other random behavior, I am known for my on and off Cyndi Lauper comments, FB memes, and “Cyndi Tracker(R)” updates popping up on my author page from time to time (Or should I say Time After…, too easy).

Yes, I am a huge, huge fan, and there is a story there, and I told (some of) it a couple of years ago on the Cabin Goddess blog that, I am told, left blog master Kriss Morton in tears. Since I am introducing myself to several new people, I figured it was time to quit having to look that link up every couple of months and share it from my own blog.

So, for the Insecurious (see what I did there? Well, some of you do), here is the story behind RJ’s real obsession.

After that, check out my FB Photo Album dedicated to the subject.

Hope you are all still around afterwards.

Reflections of a Musical Magician

Reflections of a Musical Magician:
The adventures of JaN PuLSfoRD, aTHeNa BLue, Madame la Pulse, and JaNa KYoMooN

By Bob Sullivan

View this article on the artist’s site here.

Those familiar with JaN PuLSfoRD tend to describe her music in evocative terms. One fan says she provides “the musical notes my weary heart seeks to restore love’s light”; another calls her “an explorer in the world of music.” In describing JaN’s live online performances, fans say, “Your music is like therapy. It washes away the hardships of the day as it nurtures the soul.” Still another, “Your musical massage each weekend is the perfect way to let all stress disappear and to feel at one with the universe.”

As much magician as musician, JaN uses technology the way a wizard uses her wand, bringing  piano, synthesizers, sound loops, and other digital wonders to cast intricate spells. Sometimes her spells take the listener deeper into their mind, transports them to another world of the imagination, or compels them to hit the dance floor.  Reflecting upon her musical journey, JaN said, “I live on the edge of technology, always looking for new ways of getting my music out there.”

Throughout her career, JaN has served others as a cunning musical druid, the silent partner of many notables: the Thompson Twins, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love, from the pop of Steps to the jazz of Chico Freeman, and most famously, Cyndi Lauper, all talented vocalists and charismatic front men comfortable in the spotlight. And like King Arthur, they receive the credit and the accolades while their musical Merlin casts the spells behind the scenes. At the same time, her music is heard on TV stations all over the world, from MTV to BBC, Oprah Winfrey to Jerry Springer (!) and in independent movies and on line videos.

Given how the myth and modern fiction have credited the United Kingdom as the source of so many famous sorcerers and wizards, perhaps it’s not surprising that JaN was born and raised in Wales. Her parents supported her love of music at an early age: violin lessons at age 7; piano lessons shortly after. By the time she completed high school, she’d also learned the flute, cello, and clarinet. “Through high school I focused on the grades and exams required to get me into college with the goal of becoming a music teacher.”

Through perseverance, hard work, and dedication to her craft, JaN embarked on a successful career writing music for film and TV. Her early CDs of electronica are now collector’s items and her music won awards at the New York Film Festival. She also wrote the U.K.’s prestigious Song for Europe and played on countless sessions in the blossoming electronic London studio scene of the 80s. Eventually, JaN hit the road as the keyboard player for the Thompson Twins.

JaN reflects, “There is no such thing as overnight success. We make and discover our future, and are found by people who are looking for us in the same way we find people we are looking for. I have been jumping over hurdles all my life and when I fall, I dust myself off and start again. That is the trick—to get back up! I enjoy my feast or famine existence in the knowledge that I am true to my art, and still, after all these years, making a living with my music.”

Other established musicians took notice of JaN’s unique keyboard stylizations, and the demand for her talents grew. She moved to the United States and, in 1993, joined the tour band in support of Cyndi Lauper’s Hat Full of Stars.

During the tour, JaN shared with Cyndi her insight into the Arthurian Legend. They started writing new music, injecting their shared view of feminism and sisterhood as a creative power and exploring the various betrayals of that power in modern society. The result was Sisters of Avalon, Lauper’s sixth studio album. JaN not only provided keyboards and loops, but recorded, engineered, and mixed the final product (and afterward served as musical tour director on the road). A Christmas album followed, and their final co-creations were released as part of Lauper’s 2002’s Shine. Their partnership spawned twenty co-written songs between 1993 and 2001, and is arguably Lauper’s most artistic and critically acclaimed work.

YouTube Link: Sisters of Avalon album preview
At the same time, the internet sprang into the public domain, and JaN started her own Independent CD record label, Collecting Dust Recordings, to release music recorded by her production company under her alter ego “Madame la Pulse.” At English Valley Music Studio in the woods of Tennessee, JaN recorded, engineered, and released efforts for a host of talented musicians, including the late David Schnaufer, Kat Dyson, Felicia Collins, Sir Jam and Nigel Pulsford, her brother and lead guitarist from the rock band Bush. Most of the original ideas for Sisters of Avalon were recorded in this studio.

“I was seeing the potential the internet held for independent artist/musicians,” JaN recalled. “Back then, the internet was still an untapped adventure. On the other hand, I was incredibly naïve. I really believed the music business was about music and soon found the hard way that it’s about business—on every level. I got chased around by CEOs who didn’t have a clue about music or technology but knew that what I was doing was part of the future. Negotiations to buy the company got silly and I walked away. Later, Collecting Dust collided with the mp3 revolution and music quickly became devalued. No one wanted to admit that filesharing was stealing a living from many creatives—it really hurt the small indie companies and songwriters.”

In 2006, JaN first encountered the medium where her music has been discovered more recently and heard by a new group of fans—Second Life (SL), the virtual world in which JaN makes regular and highly attended appearances to perform using her avatar alter ego JaNa KYoMooN. “My friend the ambient musician Tony Gerber had discovered SL and, as the avatar/musician Cypress Rosewood, was having the time of his virtual life. I followed him in.”

JaN recalls her first musical adventure in a virtual environment. “I was part of the Peace Park Trio in 2006-7 playing at the Music ALL Music Peace Park, a sanctuary I built as a place of inner and global peace through music and the arts. I remember the exhilaration of really doing something new and special. The mixture of electronica with dulcimer and Native American Flute was extremely successful.”

In the summer of 2008, JaN began performing in SL as a solo artist. “It was quite a daunting prospect for someone whose whole musical life has been spent at the back of the stage or on the other side of the glass. At first I was performing hard-hitting electronica music from my aTHeNa BLue project, but the more down tempo, meditative ambient music was getting the biggest reaction. When I realized the positive aspect of performing this kind of music, I decided to dedicate most of my performances in SL to this end.”

Now back in the U.K., JaN performs online two to four times a week, while a dedicated radio channel (Radio JaNa) streams her music 24/7, growing her followers and a new set of collaborators only possible through the modern technologies of cyberspace. “Each day is like being on the Star Ship Enterprise, hailing all frequencies as I converse and write music with my creative collaborators in Greece, New York, Chicago, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Italy, L.A., London and Nashville.  Where I have my address is of no consequence.”

And her performances in virtual worlds are indeed “live.” JaN explains, “I prepare sequences in Logic and have everything running live. With computer running sequences and me playing over them, there’s a feeling that anything could happen. There is a certain energy from playing music live that you can’t communicate from lip syncing with ready-made mixes.”

YouTube Link: JaNa KYoMooN plays “Silver Shimmers”

JaN PuLSfoRD, aTHeNa BLue, JaNa KYoMooN—the musical magician vanishes, changes, conjures new personas, creates new moods, evokes new aural landscapes. On SL, JaN can finally create the proper otherworldly venue to accompany her musical spells. Where congregating avatars have the floor drop out from under them (no worries; avatars float), where colors swirl and pulse to the beat, where the paintings move across the wall. Not to mention the big purple disco ball. Even magicians have to accessorize!

aMBieNT ReFLeCTioNS oF JaNa KYoMooN is her third collection of Second Life compositions to be released commercially, and JaN’s first release through the D-Pulse Ovrtone label. About D-Pulse, JaN enthused, “I worked with DPulse on a few remixes and live shows with my aTHeNa BLue project. I have always admired their commitment to electronic music and I am so delighted to have them involved!” Ambient Reflection of JaNa KYoMooN is available in CD or download at all major online music sites.

As the title suggests, JaNa is casting her calming spells, weaving otherworldly tones of blues and jazz to draw you inward and help you escape to happier places. If this is the first time you’ve surrendered yourself to the musical magician’s spell, you’ll be pleased to know she has a huge “spellbook” in her back catalog—from dance electronica to soothing lullabies and everything in between. Jan.Pulsford

Highlight Discography:

Merlyn’s Magical Music
Sketches of the Kyomoon
Reflections of the Kyomoon
aLiVe iN a SeCoND LiFe (As aTHeNa Blue)
ReTuRN 2 ZeRo (As aTHeNa BLue)
Plus over 20 albums of Production music available from Universal Music Group

Highlights of Collaborations:

Sisters of Avalon – Cyndi Lauper
Delcimore – David Schnaufer
Night of Peace – Darlene Love
Merry Christmas, and Have a Nice Life – Cyndi Lauper
The Thompson Twins Live
True – Jeff Oster
The Leaders – Chico Freeman
Kathy Raimey – Still Moving
Oxygen + Love – Charles Green
Pride Remixes – Julian Marsh
Various Dance Remixes – Junior Vasquez