Saturday, October 30, 2010

Interview with Nick Cash, founder of Book Hatchery

If you are a writer and you are not yet familiar with the website Book Hatchery, perhaps it's time you checked it out, especially if you have an interest in self-publishing your own e-books. Book Hatchery is a site where writers can ... oh, wait. I'll let Nick Cash, the founder of Book Hatchery, do the explaining. I e-mailed him recently and asked for an online interview, and he willingly agreed. So, thanks Nick Cash!

What exactly is the Book Hatchery? And how does it work?

Book Hatchery is a platform to bring authors together and help them distribute their works digitally. Any author can come to the website, sign up for free, and join the growing community. If you'd like to distribute a book, you simply fill out our forms, submit your text/cover art, and let us handle the rest.

Is the Book Hatchery’s focus on self-publishing authors, or is the company also willing to work with traditional print publishers looking to go digital?

We primarily work directly with authors, but our community is open to anyone in the trades of writing and publishing. A traditional print publisher is more than welcome to sign up and try things out if they are interested.

As a multi-distributor for digital publishers, it appears the Book Hatchery is trying to be competition for Smashwords, which seems to be the current leader in multi-distribution for self-published authors. So, why should authors make use of the Book Hatchery instead of Smashwords?

Book Hatchery's multi-distribution service is focused on making things easy and intuitive for the author. Authors can submit their final text and let us handle the digital formatting, or they can submit the fully formatted copies themselves. Authors have told us the process takes about five minutes, and if we can make it any easier then we will be sure to do that!

However, our primary focus is on the community. We want to build things that writers and publishers want and need, and we want to help connect people. Book Hatchery takes feedback very seriously, and authors literally shape the direction we go with our services. We want all authors in the Book Hatchery community to have a voice, and to have an interest in the development of the community.

While Smashwords is definitely a competitor, we tend to think of them more as a kindred spirit. Book Hatchery wants to help change the world of publishing and put the power in the author's hands; Smashwords' service works along these lines as well. The market of digital self-publishing is rapidly evolving, and we want to help spur the innovation and change along with other companies.

The Book Hatchery currently distributes e-books to Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Apple. Any plans to distribute to other retailers?

Absolutely! We are working on distributing with Sony, Kobo, and a few others. Each company tends to have a different process and different requirements, so our distribution channels are still evolving.

The Book Hatchery website looks good, but still a little basic. Are more changes on the way for the site? And the business, in general?

Book Hatchery is always changing. We knew several authors wanted to test our distribution system, so we decided to open up the beta site to the public for people to get an early look at. We think the look and feel will stay the same, but there will be a lot of changes in terms of content and functionality. Of course the authors will have the final say in how things play out, and we are certainly open to whatever changes they think would be good for us.

As a business, we are growing quite quickly. In fact, we moved to a new (bigger) office this week to give us enough space to bring some additional people on board. There are a lot of great opportunities ahead of us, so we will definitely be evolving along with our services in the near future.

Tell us a little about Nick Cash. What are some of your favorite books? Favorite authors?

I'm a huge Michael Crichton fan! I suppose that's not surprising for someone as nerdy as myself. Prey, the Andromeda Strain, and Jurassic Park were all amazing. As I kid I used to read quite a few fantasy novels, but I haven't returned to that genre in a while. Recently I've been on a business book kick; I attended a talk by Tony Hsieh (CEO of, and afterwards I immediately read his book Delivering Happiness. I also recently finished Tribal Leadership by people at CultureSync, and it completely made me rethink how I view and interact with groups of people.

Nick, thanks so much for your answers. Good luck to you and everyone else with Book Hatchery.

Friday, October 29, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 79

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as fantasy author.

by James Clavell

ShogunI was first introduced to the story that is Shogun when I was 10 years old and watched the television mini series based upon the novel. Since then I've gone back and watched the show a couple of more times, and I hate to say it, but most of the acting sucked except for Toshiro Mifune as Lord Toranaga. But then, I've always had a soft spot for Mifune because of all the Kurosawa film he's starred in.

But the basic plot and background of the mini series was still pretty strong, and it got me to invest in a copy of the actual novel.

The story of Shogun begins with Englishman shipwrecked in Japan in the early 1600s, and goes on to become quite political when the Englishman joins in an alliance with a Japanese warlord. Battle ensues. As does a romance. The rest ... well, you'll have to read the novel. I don't like giving away too much information.

This novel is a great fish-out-of-water story, basically a story in which the protagonist is dropped into a totally unfamiliar situation and/or setting. Not only is the story good, but it's educational to general readers and to writers, especially fantasy writers because of the uniqueness of the novel's setting, 17th Century Japan.

If a fantasy writer can't learn from this novel, then they've got to be pretty dense. Turn Japan into a foreign fantasy nation with an unfamiliar culture, and you've got the basic plot for literally scores of fantasy novels already on book shelves. This novel can show how to work such a plot quite well, and shows how the protagonist can be integrated well into such a story.

And, besides all that, it's just a darn good book worth your time to read.

Up next: Gone With the Wind

Thursday, October 28, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 78

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

Swan Song
by Robert R. McCammon

Swan SongIn the annals of history, there have been many great wars. Ongoing today is the Mac vs. PC war. Back in the early 1980s, there was the Atari vs. Intellivision war. Then there's one more war not so well known.

It's The Stand vs. Swan Song war.

Both are lengthy post-apocalyptic novels. Both were written by horror novelists. Both were published during the heyday of modern horror fiction. And both are pretty darn good.

If you're a horror fan, or even if you're not, you've heard of Stephen King, the author of The Stand. But you might not have heard of Robert McCammon, author of Swan Song.

McCammon was relatively well known back in the 1980s, then he sort of seemed to disappear for a while. He's been back writing and publishing for a few years now, and I'm thankful for that. I always liked McCammon and his writing.

What is Swan Song about? Let's just say the cold war is still going on (hey, this was published in the '80s, after all) and things have gone from bad to worse as the bombs begin to fall. This novel is more than just a story about the survivors of a nuclear war, however. "The Man With the Scarlet Eye" is about and he's searching for something. And then there's Sue Wanda, also known as Swan, who has special abilities that allow her to do seemingly magical things with plants.

Yes, that tells you next to nothing. That's intentional. You need to read the book to realize just how good it is.

One thing Swan Song showed me was how authors could tackle somewhat similar stories with somewhat similar plots and in similar formats, while still making everything different from one another.

And what side do I come down on in The Stand vs. Swan Song debate? I go back and forth. It depends upon my mood. Sorry.

Up next: Shogun

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Nook goes color

It's official. Barnes & Noble has actually beaten Amazon on something in the e-reading department. The Nook is now available with a color screen. It's being called the nookcolor and currently prices for $249.

What does this mean for digital publishing writers? Honestly, I'm not sure. But I'm guessing not much, at least not in the short run.

Color will eventually (maybe in the next 6 months) become a mainstay for digital readers, and that probably means a whole lot more people will be buying e-readers, at least once the price goes down some.

Also, smart move by B&N to release the new colornook before Christmas. I'm almost surprised they didn't wait until right before Thanksgiving, but maybe they're nervous. Maybe Amazon is working on a similar new Kindle product. I honestly don't know.

Color e-reading devices does open up more opportunities for comic artists and the like, and for authors writing books that utilize lots of artwork. For your average genre writer, it basically just means your covers will be in color.

Or is that really all it means? What about interior art? What about color maps for fantasy novels? This could potentially hold more relevance to writers, but I think that's still a ways off.

One thing's for sure: The potential for e-books and e-readers is still just being tapped. In 10 years, God only knows what the market will look like. Maybe five years. Or two.

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 77

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a fantasy author.

by Steven R. Boyett

ArielI have mentioned the name of author Steve Boyett before, and that's definitely intentional. Any time this writer has a work appear in print, I'm always ready to jump at it as soon as possible.

There's a reason for this.

In the early 1980s, I was a young wannabe writer who was just getting his feet wet in the fantasy genre. I'd read Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Thieves' World ... the usual suspects. But then I noticed this book Ariel in my local book store.

Ariel was something different. It was something new, and from a new author.

How was it different? It wasn't just your same old fantasy told in a pseudo Medieval world. SPOILER ALERT: Ariel was a story told just a few years in the future in the real world, a world in which electricity and guns had stopped working and magic had appeared.

The writing was solid. The story was unique, at least at the time. The characters were interesting. And the plot was strong. All of this came together to make Steve Boyett one of my favorite novelists.

Boyett went on to publish another novel, then he just kind of disappeared.

He didn't really disappear, of course, but his novels were no longer showing up at book stores. Over the years I kept an eye open for his name, and from time to time it would pop up below the title of a short story or two in one anthology or another.

I didn't know what to think. Such a great writer, but where were his books?

Then, years and years later, Ariel was re-released, along with a new sequel, Elegy Beach. Ariel was back! And so was Boyett. Apparently he had not quit writing altogether, but life had taken him in other directions over the years. Nothing wrong with that. It happens to all of us.

But I was glad he was being published once more. Ariel really is one of my all-time favorite fantasy novels. For me, as a very young fantasy fan in the early 1980s, Ariel was something unexpected and a nice change of pace for the more traditional fantasy stories I was reading at the time. It opened my eyes to different possibilities within the fantasy genre.

Up next: Swan Song

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 76

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a fantasy author.

Book of the Dead
edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector

During most of the 1980s, I wanted to be a horror writer. Like many would-be authors of that time period, Stephen King was a huge influence upon me. But lots of other authors were an influence as well, authors such as Ramsey Campbell and Robert McCammon.

Some editors were an influence as well, such as John Skipp and Craig Spector who edited Book of the Dead, a collection of short stories about zombies.

But this wasn't just any collection of short stories. Within that paperback's pages were solid, well-known authors, such as the once I mentioned above, and Steven R. Boyett, one of my favorite fantasy novelists.

This was back in the day before zombie had become a rave thing. Sure, there were zombie movies, but they had a smaller, cultish following and hadn't yet been accepted by more mainstream audiences. Back then, in the 1980s, there just wasn't that much zombie fiction about.

So, Book of the Dead was an awesome find for horror readers and aspiring horror writers. But like the best zombie stories, these weren't just about zombies. There's was real, quality writing here, tales that were as much about the living as the living dead.

To this day, more than 20 years later, this is still my favorite collection of zombie short stories. I've read several others, some which were pretty good, but none have yet to hold a candle to Book of the Dead.

What this book showed me as a writer was that the best zombie tales are much more about us than about them. Any hack can sit down and type out a tale of flesh-eating monsters, but making it relevant to readers beyond mere escapism is a different matter.

Not that there's anything wrong with a little escapism from time to time.

Up next: Ariel

Monday, October 25, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 75

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

The Prince
by Niccolo Machiavelli

The Prince (Bantam Classics)Written in 1513 but not published until 1532, five years after the author's death, The Prince is basically a lengthy letter or treatise from Niccolo Machiavelli to Lorenzo de Medici, one of the higher-ups in the ruling class of the Italian Medici family. Somewhat controversial over the years, even when it was initially published, The Prince outlines qualities and skills and tactics necessary for a leader of nations or states to be successful.

Much of this is about politics, even seemingly modern republican politics, but some of it also has to do with warfare.

Yes, as one might expect, to the modern ear much of this makes for quite dry reading.

But for writers, especially writers of historical fiction or writers of fantasy fiction set with a political back dropping, The Prince is important reading. More important than Machiavelli's ideas are his beliefs and thoughts and philosophy behind those ideas.

In other words, The Prince can be of aid to a writer when working on political plots and political characters, especially in Medieval or similar worlds and times.

For those with an interest in modern politics, there will still be much here of interest. In places, Machiavelli promotes quite harsh measures for a ruler to take, but all with an ends in sight. For example, Machiavelli generally promotes fear over love for a ruler, not that a ruler should go out of his or her way to be feared, but that people will obey the ruler more often than not if the ruler is feared than if the ruler is loved.

Make of this what you will, but it is hardcore politics. It's also political philosophy, which means it doesn't necessarily translate into the real world. Even Machiavelli himself was not a character who went around trying to make everyone afraid of him.

This is important reading for many writers. If you write about politics, real or fictional, you should get your hands on a copy of The Prince. Yes, it's not the most fun reading you're likely to ever have, but the plus side is that at least it will be a short read, and informative.

Up next: Book of the Dead

Sunday, October 24, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 74

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
by James Joyce

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young ManI'll tell the truth: Not all of this novel is exciting stuff. A lot of it is stream-of-consciousness writing that seems to meander about before getting to any kind of a point.

But that's intentional. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a semi-autobiographical tale of a young Irish writer from his childhood to his early adult years in the early 20th century. This young man is working out his own belief system, his own philosophy and thoughts about religion and artistry, and rarely does such a thought process occur directly and expediently.

Thus, the rambling text.

But that's not to say there's nothing of import to be found here. If nothing else, this short novel shows the budding work of James Joyce as he builds his writing strengths and style that will eventually become more apparent in his longer, better knows works, Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake.

Besides that, for a writer, there is much to learn within this book. Of the handful of stream-of-consciousness readings I've experienced over the years, this one is by far the best. Even though the story meanders here and there and all over the place, a writer can follow Joyce's thought process and how he eventually gets to his own viewpoints and ideas.

I've had a few literary ideas for novels in which I did not know how to tell the tale properly, but Joyce has provided a guideline for me through this particular book. I have that to be thankful for, at least if I can ever get around to writing those literary novels.

Up next: The Prince

Saturday, October 23, 2010

One billion words published

A year ago, Mark Coker, the boss man over at Smashwords, announced that at that time 150 million words had been published through his company and that he had a goal of reaching 1 billion words by the end of this year, 2010.

That sounds like a really wild goal, something that could never happen.

It did. A few months early.

And this is from a company that's not even three years old yet.

So, you tell me ... is there a publishing revolution happening or not?

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 73

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have affected me as a fantasy author.

Of Mice and Men
by John Steinbeck

OF MICE AND MEN .I'll say it right up front: If you can read this classic novel without shedding a tear, you are one hardcore, cold, heartless bastard.

Since nearly every kid had to read this one in school, do I really have to give a synopsis of the plot? Okay, just in case: During the Depression, two displaced workers find themselves landing a job on a ranch in California. One of these workers is George Milton, bright but down on his luck. The other workers is Lennie Small, a huge ox of a man who also happens to be mentally disabled. George and Lennie are best friends, with George looking out for Lennie in hopes of keeping the simple-minded fellow out of trouble.

Unfortunately, keeping Lennie out of trouble is easier said than done.

I'll leave off any further synopsis, for those who have not had the joy of reading this novel. It's truly an American classic that everyone should read.

Steinbeck is definitely an opinionated writer, and I've always felt he did a good job of presenting his views without slamming the reader over the head with them. Others, generally those diametrically opposed to Steinbeck's views, often say otherwise. I consider myself middle-of-the-road politically, so maybe that's why I feel the way I do.

Politics and sociology aside, Steinbeck is a good, solid writer who knows how to make characters you can love and plots that seem to come together effortlessly. He's not a favorite of mine necessarily, but he is a darn good writer.

Up next: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Friday, October 22, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 72

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
by Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell TollsSet during the Spanish American War of the 1930s, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a novel about an American sent on a mission to help guerrilla fighters blow up a bridge.

There. That's the basic plot. It sounds like something out a an action movie, doesn't it. To stop there, however, would be doing the novel and the author a grave disservice.

When it gets down to it, For Whom the Bell Tolls is about death and how to face it. The men on this secret bridge-exploding mission are going to die, and they know it. They will not be coming back from this mission. Each of them will be facing death one way or another, and they each have to deal with it individually. The idea of suicide is even approached from a soldier's point of view; the question is raised, is it preferable to kill oneself than to be captured by the enemy?

For Whom the Bell Tolls also touches upon racism and politics, though not strictly from an American point of view.

Within this tale, violence is to be found in spades, but this is not a simple action story. This is true literature, told in the best writing Hemingway ever did (yes, I admit that's arguable, but it's my opinion ... believe what you want).

As a writer, is there anything not to learn from Hemingway? The man knew how to write tense scenes and deal with weighty subject matters all while using as few words as possible, and most of those short words. No other author in my experience has quite been able to do that.

As an aside, I'll admit that every time I read a Hemingway novel, I always hate it. Until I reach the very last page. Then suddenly I love it. Not sure why that is, but it's always been my reaction.

Up next: Of Mice and Men

Thursday, October 21, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 71

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

edited by Paul M. Sammon

Splatterpunks: Extreme HorrorIn case you don't know, the term "splatterpunk" came about in the mid-to-late 1980s as a term for extreme horror fiction. Now, extreme horror didn't necessarily mean horror literature with over-the-top gore and blood and all that came along with it, but often that's what splatterpunk became ... or was ... or is. Basically, splatterpunk was a sub-genre of horror that was a reaction to relatively meek, commercial horror. Horror author David Schow is credited with coming up with the term "splatterpunk" in 1986 at the World Fantasy Convention in Providence, Rhode Island.

Which writers are considered splatterpunk writers? Well, there have been more than a few, but the most notable are Schow himself, Joe R. Lansdale, Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Jack Ketchum, Craig Spector, John Skipp and a handful of others.

Today, the term "splatterpunk" has mostly faded away, but it still pops up from time to time.

Then along comes the book I'm writing about in this post, Splatterpunks: Extreme Horror, published in 1990 and edited by Paul M. Sammon.

Within this book's pages you find short story after short story, many by some of the writers listed above, that contain gruesome and shocking material. Yes, there's gore to be found here aplenty, but there's also a fair share of more thoughtful horror pieces.

But every story within will keep you on your toes and give you a jolt as if you've just drank a gallon of espresso.

Years ago, back when I thought of myself as a horror writer (today I'm just "a writer"), I read these tales with zest, though for the most part I didn't want to move in that direction. Maybe I'm a little too old school, but the shadow at the end of the hallway I've always found more frightening than the actual monster itself. Gore usually isn't my thing, not that I've never jumped to it on occasion when I felt the story warranted it.

But what Splatterpunks, the book and the sub-genre, did for me was to make me more aware of the possibilities of horror literature. By the mid-80s, horror was beginning to grow somewhat stale, and Splatterpunks helped to breath new live into the genre.

Up next: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 70

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

by Dean Koontz

LightningI've read a lot of Dean Koontz over the years, but I gave up on him about 15 years ago because ... well, because I was bored with him. It got to the point that I knew what type of characters he was going to have. I knew what kind of plots to expect. What kind of villains. In other words, I felt I'd learned all of Koontz's tricks as a writer and I felt he had nothing more to offer me. In all fairness, since that time Koontz has grown even more in popularity, but I tried him once recently and wasn't overly impressed; perhaps I should give him another shot.

But all that is personal background to the novel I'm writing about in this post. And that novel is Lightning. This particular novel, for me, is the most unique story Koontz has ever told. It concerns a young woman named Laura Shane and a mysterious man who keeps popping into her life from time to time to save her.


Okay, I've warned you, just in case you don't want to read a spoiler. What's the spoiler? This novel is a time travel story. The mysterious man is coming from another time and has his reasons for saving Laura Shane. I will not divulge from where or when this man comes, as that would be giving away even more information, but I will say this: The where and the when are what I find so unique about this Koontz novel.

The background of this mysterious savior, his where and when, are something I've not come across in all the other speculative fiction I've read. But perhaps I've just not read enough, even though I've read hundreds upon hundreds of science fiction, horror, thriller and fantasy novels and short stories. This character's background might not be a shock to modern readers, but to me, reading Lightning back in the late 1980s, this information was like a eureka moment, a "holy sh!t, I can't believe he did that" moment.

But again, maybe I'm just not widely read enough.

What did this book teach me? Well, Koontz in general can create likable characters, and he know how to keep a plot flowing pretty well. But this particular novel introduced me to a different way of thinking about plotting and backgrounds, it opened my mind to subtle trickery that can be used to surprise readers.

At least I'd like to think I learned that from Koontz and Lightning. Only readers can say if I ever pull it off.

Up next: Splatterpunks

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 69

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a fantasy author.

The Pillars of the Earth
by Ken Follett

The Pillars of the Earth, [Hardcover] by Ken FollettThe Pillars of the Earth is one of those novels I picked up because the copy on the back of the paperback sold me on the story. Set in the 12th Century, this epic novel revolves around the building of a cathedral in England, which might sound boring to anyone who isn't a history buff (which I am). The truth is, this novel is exciting, though-provoking and just downright interesting.

As I said, the construction of the cathedral is a key element, almost the center point of the tale, but the lives of those around the cathedral or somehow related to the cathedral are what brings this novel to life. The book covers roughly a century of time, with a strong focus upon certain periods within that century. There are historical figures to be found here, as well as at least one quite important historical event in the history of England and Europe, but I won't go into that for fear of giving away too much.

I first discovered this novel in a bookstore in the late 1980s, and as I said, it was the back copy which brought about my purchase. I had never read this novelist before then, but this particular book opened my eyes to how good a writer Ken Follett is. Since then I've read some of his other material, but I've yet to read World Without End, which is the sequel to The Pillars of the Earth. I'll get to the sequel, I'm sure.

Fantasy writers, specifically those who are interested in epic tales, could do far worse than reading and studying this novel. There is much to learn here, including how to tell interesting stories about common working folk in a Medieval world.

Up next: Lightning

Sunday, October 17, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy, Day 68

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a fantasy author.

The Ruins
by Scott Smith

The Ruins (Vintage)A group of young people go for a trip to an archaeological dig in a remote jungle of Mexico. Once they arrive at the site, local villagers will not let the travelers leave, even threatening to kill the travelers if they attempt to leave. The group is forced to remain on the hill where the ruins of the dig are located, all the while dealing with an evil entity that is killing them one by one.

It sounds like pretty basic B movie stuff, and it is. The Ruins, by Scott Smith, is that type of novel. The plot isn't overly complicated, and the characters aren't even likable. Also, some of the events that take place seem a little silly. Again, B movie stuff. Which is probably one reason why this novel, and the movie upon which its based, aren't the most popular.

What is great about this novel, what is truly fantastic about it, is its pacing. Without a doubt, this is the best paced novel I've read in at least 20 years, possibly longer. The horror in this novel (which I'm intentionally not identifying because it would give away too much of the plot) literally creeps up on the victims slowly, ever so slowly. Many of the deaths are quite gruesome.

But that's not the best part of the story. Again, it's the pacing. I don't believe I've ever read a novel in which the situation seems to keep getting worse and worse and worse for the characters, and just when you think it can't get worse, it does so. Again and again and again. It's a seemingly never-ending jolt of fear. I use the word "seemingly" because, of course, the tale must conclude. Eventually there are no more victims.

Unless Scott Smith, in true B movie fashion, decides to do a sequel. And this tale is ripe for such.

Up next: The Pillars of the Earth

Saturday, October 16, 2010

No. 26 - The Bonehunters

The Bonehunters: Book Six of The Malazan Book of the Fallenby Steven Erikson

Started: October 16
Finished: November 25

Notes: I actually read this novel a couple of years ago. It was my first of the Malazan novels, though it is the sixth in the series. I loved it so much earlier this year I went back and read the five novels that came before it. Since I had read those novels, I thought I'd read The Bonehunters once more to sort of catch myself up on where the action is headed.

Mini review: Fantastic read. I wouldn't necessarily say it's my favorite of the Malazan books, but it's right up there near the top. I'm glad this novel got me into the series, and I'm glad to have read it again. There are still at least four more books in this series for me to read, and I'll be getting to them.

SEVER, SLICE and STAB officially released

Just in time for Halloween ...
Yes, I'm making it official as of this blog posting. My collection of 20 horror short stories, SEVER, SLICE and STAB, is now available in all digital formats.

If you use a Kindle, the e-book is available here.

If you've got a Nook, you'll want to go here.

Kindle users in the UK, will want to look here.

For all other formats, check out Smashwords.

And a word of warning here: This e-book collects 18 stories from three previous, shorter e-books. One was titled SEVER, another titled SLICE, and a third titled STAB. Get it? Also, I included two new stories in SEVER, SLICE and STAB because I felt any readers of the previous e-books deserved something new.

100 Days of Fantasy, Day 67

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a author.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight
by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance: Dragonlance Chronicles)Okay, I admit it. Back in junior high school, I was a gaming nerd. But before that, I had been a fan of fantasy literature. So, when the Dragonlance novels came along, it was like manna from heaven, this brand new mixture of Dungeons & Dragons and the fantasy novel.

One of the things my young self enjoyed much about Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the first of the Dragonlance novels and one of (if not the) first of the novels based upon a role-playing game, was that explanations for the game rules actual found their way into the story and fit quite naturally.

The story itself was also decent, and the characters were iconic and interesting. Actually, I felt the characters were one of the big strengths of these original Dragonlance books.

But no, this was not great literature. Not even great fantasy literature. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't great. I have read worse over the years, but I've read a lot better, too.

Readers who enjoy media-tie-in novels, especially those based upon roleplaying games, can thank this book for really kicking off the whole trend. Unfortunately for writers, over the years there has grown a stigma about stories based upon role-playing games; it seems a lot of editors are not interested in such stories, especially if those stories are based upon the writers' own gaming experiences. That's fine with me, because I usually don't write directly from my gaming experiences and besides, there are some editors who do enjoy such tales and are willing to buy them.

Up next: The Ruins

Friday, October 15, 2010

Revolver Rhino in .357 magnum

Just look at the image below. All I have to say is ... I want one ...

Made by Italian manufacturer Chiappa Firearms. The barrel aligns with the bottom of the cylinder, which should cut down on recoil. And it's in my favorite cartridge, .357 magnum. If interested, find out more here.

Or ...

If anyone really wants to get me something for Christmas, there's always one of these ...

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 66

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as an author.

Wizardry and Wild Romance
by Michael Moorcock

Wizardry and Wild Romance: A Study of Epic FantasyI had heard about and read about this book, so it was with some joy that I stumbled upon it in a book store a few years ago. I was familiar with a good bit of author Moorcock's early Sword and Sorcery writings, and I was intrigued at what he had to say about the sub-genre in particular and fantasy literature over all.

What this book is is Moorcock's personal analysis of the fantasy genre, with his opinions about a handful of the better-known authors in the genre.

I found surprises here, some that might even be considered shocking to many fans of the genre. For instance, Moorcock seems to have a hate-on for Tolkien. And for C.S. Lewis, as well. Moorcock spends more than a few words in print about the banality of these two, how he finds them boring, boring, boring. And Moorcock goes on the heap plenty of scorn on the heads of those who would follow directly in the footsteps of the likes of Tolkien and Lewis.

But that shouldn't stop any fantasy fans from reading this book. Why? Because those fans will learn quite a bit. They might even have their eyes and their minds opened to other fantasy literature, books and stories that aren't so well known but still contain much literary merit.

Also, Moorcock provides quite the extensive overview of the history of the fantasy genre, mentioning ancient works, gothic literature of the 19th Century, early 20th Century writers and so forth. There is knowledge in spades to be found in this book, and much of it will be new to most fans of fantasy.

To learn of hidden gems of the fantasy genre, to gain a basic understanding from where the genre has come, this book is indispensable.

Up next: Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Coming soon: Kindle Singles

For those who might not have heard about this yet, Amazon will soon have a new program for writers called Kindle Singles. What this special program will do is allow writers to sell shorter works, such as short stories and novellas, for the Kindle, most likely at prices less than the 99 cents Amazon current limits as the bottom price for online publishing.

For the official press release, go here.

Depending on what kind of pricing will be available, I see lots of potential here.

Most obvious is the fact you'll be able to sell short stories. Okay, you write a story, edit it, then publish it online for the Kindle. Of course a lot will depend upon Amazon's pricing schedule, but let's just say you can sell a story for 25 cents and make a dime or nickel per story. That's not a lot of money, but it might add up over a year or so. And honestly, most writers nowadays aren't looking to make big money off their short stories. Still, if you wrote a story or two per week, this could add up over time.

Also, I see potential here for serial tales. If Amazon allows such, a writer could publish a new section to a story every so often, maybe each week or month or something. Then in the end, the writer could bundle all the stories and sell them as a novel. This could very well mean the return of true pulp fiction, penny dreadfuls and the like.

It's too soon to know the facts, as Amazon hasn't released much yet. But I've e-mailed Amazon asking for more information, and they've already e-mailed me back saying it would be on the way. As soon as I know something concrete, you'll know.

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 65

This is an ongoing series looking at novels that influenced me as a fantasy author.

by Anne McCaffrey

DragonflightAs a young teen in the early 1980s, I was trying to expand my reading experiences into fantasy and science fiction, so I joined the Science Fiction Book Club in order to do so. One of the books I picked out as a member of the club was this one, Dragonflight.

Why did I pick it? Well, because it had a dragon on the cover and actually had the word "dragon" in the title. I knew next to nothing about the other than she seemed fairly popular, and the book was about dragons. What could go wrong?

It was an interesting tale, enough to cause me to read another half dozen books from this author, mixing fantasy and, later in the story, a little science fiction. The plot revolves around a background of humans living on a planet where every so often a deadly rain of giant silver string-like objects called Thread come from the skies and kill everything they touch. The only defense against the Thread are the dragons of Pern, the planet. Dragonriders ride the dragons and destroy the Thread.

It was a different take on the dragon myths than anything I'd ever read, and I enjoyed the take McCaffrey took with her story.

Eventually, I tired of McCaffrey. It wasn't that she was a bad writer, but I got to a point where I felt she'd said all she had to say that would be of interest to me. I guess there are only so many dragons of Pern stories I can read. I've not been back to this author in nearly 25 years, but perhaps I will someday.

If I learned anything from Dragonflight, and the other Pern novels I read, it was the idea of rethinking, reshaping our preconceptions about iconic figures, such as dragons, and the stories they inhabit. It was another way of thinking, a new way of thinking to the young writer I was back in the day.

Up next: Wizardry and Wild Romance

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 64

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

Sometimes the Magic Works
by Terry Brooks

Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing LifeI came across this book quite by accident a few years ago. I was walking around a Barnes & Noble, not really looking for anything particular, when the name "Terry Brooks" crossed my site. I did a double take and looked back. This book, Sometimes the Magic Works, is what I found.

Having read a half dozen or so of Brooks's novels back in the early-to-mid 1980s, I was familiar with his early work. I didn't completely dislike what I had read, but I always sort of felt, "Once I've read one Terry Brooks fantasy novel, I've read them all." To be fair, that was about 25 years ago, and the man has written much more since then, so maybe he's stretched out his plotting a little more. I don't know, because I've never gone back to the author for my fiction reading. Maybe I will some day.

But when I came across Sometimes the Magic Works, I was curious. From time to time, I like to read non-fiction books about the writing craft from actual known authors, instead of the tons of books about writing that seem to be by nobodies.

Since I was familiar with Brooks, I gave this book a try. I'm glad I did.

It reminded me a bit of the famous On Writing by Stephen King in that it's not simply a book about the craft of writing, but also gets into the personal journey of the author. Most of the personal material here is not too in depth, which is fine because I'm not interested in breaking anyone's privacy, and it mostly deals with Brooks as an older, experienced author. Still, I felt a sense of camaraderie because Brooks's thought process on writing seems quite similar to my own.

The first chapter is titled "I Am Not Here." Brooks explains how he gets so mentally caught up in his fictional worlds that he is often accused by his family of something called "fuzzy mind" in which Brooks sort of blanks out everything that's going on around him and seems withdrawn. Brooks jokes about it mostly. That could be me. In fact, that sounds a lot like me.

I won't go into further detail because I'd like people to experience this fine book on their own. Even if you aren't the biggest Brooks fan, and I suppose I'm in that boat, this book on writing is still worth your while, even if you're not a fantasy writer.

Up next: Dragonflight

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 63

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a fantasy author.

The First Book of Swords
by Fred Saberhagen

The First Swords: The Book of Swords Volumes 1, 2, & 3The year was 1983. I was 13 years old. I was perusing the fantasy shelves of my favorite book store in my hometown, looking for something different. I stumbled up Fred Saberhagen's The First Book of Swords.

Why did I buy this novel? Could it have been the interesting cover with flashy sword and the painted artwork inlaid inside the blade's handle? Could it have been the interesting plot, 12 magic swords created by the gods and tossed down to the mortals to see what mischief would occur?

I don't remember. But I believe it was probably all of the above.

Saberhagen's writing style wasn't flashy, nor was it complicated or overly literary. It was fairly straight-forward, down-to-earth, almost blue-collar writing. I could appreciate that at 13 and I still appreciate it now at 41. The story was key here, with the characters running a close second. That was fine with me. I do like my mammoth literary novel reading from time to time, but I also enjoy stories that are just stories.

And I think, as a writer, that's much of what I took away from this novel and the many others that followed in the series -- that sometimes a story is just a story, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Up next: Sometimes the Magic Works

Monday, October 11, 2010

10 reasons you shouldn't self-publish

Indie author and publisher Chris Kelly is doing a blog tour this month to promote the first e-novel from Scathach Publishing, available now online at Smashwords and titled Matilda Raleigh: Invictus. As an indie author myself, I put Chris to the test when asked about what to write for my blog.

When Ty invited me to his blog, he found his evil streak and asked that I make my post about why you shouldn’t self-publish. I released my self-published novel last week to almost no notice (hence this blog tour) and firmly believe Independent Publishing is the best option for me. But I love a challenge, so decided I would try for ten reasons you shouldn’t self-publish. Here goes...

10) Self-publishing for money.

Now this is a bad idea. An often quoted statistic is that self-published books sell, on average, 140 copies (traditionally published books average about 14 copies). This is an old statistic, from before ebooks really started to take off. However, I can guarantee, more writers will make a fortune going the traditional route.

When it comes to the biggest stars, the J. K. Rowlings, Stephen Kings, John Grishams and so on, you'll do better the traditional route. Yes, I know how much Joe Konrath makes in a month. I also know how many novels he has released, and I know he was previously traditionally published.

9) Have no start-up cash.

Okay, I had no start-up cash. And self-publishing was really hard. Take cover art; in cover art I have been very fortunate because my friend is an artist. That's actually her job. I was bugging her for months to get an on-line presence. Then I asked her how much she'd take for cover art. She offered to do it gratis, on the condition I help her set up on-line. I was very lucky, just in the right time at the right place. But I’m like that quite often.

Without start-up cash, I couldn't afford to hair an editor. It really take time and effort to edit it, and I'm am sure its not perfect. I will have missed thngs. And if you get confuzed by words like thier or there, an editor would prove invaluable, because spell-check will miss it. .And there are nine mistakes in this paragraph, for those who think they are good at editing. Be honest, how many did you spot in your first read?

8) Have a thick skin

Despite all the recent successes of indie authors, indie publishing is vastly looked down upon. People will attack your books for no reason other than that you self-published. You will be called a lazy narcissist (does that even make sense)? People will hate you. Fruit will be thrown.

You gotta have a thick skin, baby. Luckily, I have an advantage in that area, being Scottish. Insulting each other is how we say hello, and pretty much everything after that. You'll understand this (maybe) if you've visited Scotland. (I thought it was a global thing, but apparently it's weird, and it's ours. Like the thistle.)

If you don’t have a thick skin, you should consider traditional publishing.

7) There are no gatekeepers

Sometimes people look at this as being “great,” like some vast freedom to publish whatever you want. It's not. Indies get less freedom than trads. People expect traditionally published books to be good, so when a book is shit it's either a) the reader's fault (they didn't get it, it's not their thing, etc) b) an aberration (all trad published authors get 1 shit book considered an exception) or c) errors beyond the author’s control (ie printing errors).

If a self-pubbed book sucks ass, it is always the writer's fault (even when it isn't).

Because of this, a good indie book has to be of a much higher quality than a good trad book. In fact, a good indie book, if trad published, would probably be a very good trad book. This higher rate of standards is why it is so impossible to find an awesome self-pubbed book. They're just considered very good.

6) The price will always be wrong

Ebook prices are in a flux. No matter what you price it at, some people will bitch that it is too much, others will bitch it is not enough. You will either be overcharging (even at $1, some people want everything for nothing) or you will be undervaluing (if your book is $1, how do you expect people to buy my book at $2.99).

Realistically, neither of those should be your concern, but this goes back to point 8. You will need a thick skin. Because people are going to bitch about everything you do, no matter what it is.

If you don't have a thick skin, don't self-publish.

5) There is no validation

Someone might review your book, and say they enjoyed it. They might not. They might say they hated it. They might not review it. You can't make them.

Someone might email you, to tell you how much your book means to them. Or they might not.

In traditional publishing, your book has to be a certain standard to get published (okay, that standard is salability, not quality, but still ... ) and if you get published, you're above the bar.

But in self-publishing, no one has to tell you how good (or crap) your book is. If you are the type of person who needs that validation, traditional publishing may well be for you.

4) There is no “I” in team

This is one of the biggest reasons to not consider self-publishing. When you traditionally publish, you get a full team of (I'm not exactly sure what to call them whilst remaining objective, as I have been trying to do) team members who help get your book published. There's editors, artists, financiers, marketers, and so on. But you kiss that all goodbye when you self-publish.

When you self-publish, you publish alone. Which means you do the work of all the people who put out a book the traditional way. You will have about eight different hats to wear. It isn't easy. In fact, it is very hard and very time consuming, and you are going to do much more work after the book is written than you did whilst writing it.

3) You don't know how ...

I left this one ambiguously blank at the end, there. There are lots of things you might not know how to do. You might not understand marketing, as an example. You might be very bad at accounts. This leads on from 4, but 4 was more “there are lots of jobs to do, do you want/have time to do them all?”

This is “can you do them all?” If you have no entrepreneurial spirit, and no business acumen, you shouldn't self-publish.

2) You just want to write

Some people just want to write a book, send it away, write the next book and so on. As I've said over and over already, self-publishing is hard. If you just want to write, you're probably not even reading this anyway. Lolz.

1) You'd be in competition with me

And my book is amazing. Seriously. Buy it right now, then come back and finish reading this article. On you go...

Oh, okay, I'll do a serious point (because some self-publishers publish romance, and some romance readers won't be interested in a steampunk, sword and sorcery epic cross genre set in alternate reality version of 1912. This is my blog tour, I've got to plug this somehow.)

1) You want money now

Occasionally, self-publishers are considered greedy for self-publishing. I don't understand that. Every penny earned is, well, earned. But if you want money now, no matter how your book sells, the advance offered by the bigger publishing companies is your friend.

Essentially, you could well be getting money for nothing.

And that's my ten. Yes, they are tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time they each have a valid point to make. I'll sum it up quickly for folk who got bored and skipped to the end of the post (don't worry; I do that, too).

If you are skint, want money in the short term, want more money in the long-term, then traditionally publish. Self-publishing is more for the love than the money (although some self-publishers are making a wack).

If you are thin-skinned, traditionally publish. Self-publishers are attacked for the price of their books (publisher sets the price for trad books), the fact they self-published, and more.

Business is not something you enjoy/are good at. This is a biggie. Because when you write a traditionally published book, it's about 60% writing and 40% editing and submitting (it feels like more, but that's fairly accurate as a guestimation) but, when you self-publish, it is more about 30% writing, 30% editing, and 40% businessing.

Yeah, I know that isn't a word. Being a writer, I'm fairly qualified to make up new words. Dickens and Shakespeare used to do it all the time.

I missed out a couple of things there that some people might consider important reasons to traditionally publish. I had reasons. Here's the ones I missed.

1) (3rd time for number one in a top ten, impressive!) It will hurt your trad chances

No one has came out and said it won't, but to be honest, it won't. If you self-publish a book, put an ISBN on it, and it tanks, then yeah, okay, maybe. But if it does well, you might get a publishing contract out of it. And if you use a pseudonym or don't use an ISBN (ebooks don't need them) then how will the publisher ever know?

2) Self-published books are shit

Obviously, I don't agree with that. There are good books on both sides, perhaps more good books on the traditionally published side. The agent/editor dam holds out a lot of crap, but some gets through, whilst some good books seem to get nowhere.

3) Publishers have distribution links

IMO these are going to become less and less important as e-reader popularity grows, and bookshops close.

A summation

I've been verbose enough, so I'll keep this short. There are pros and cons in both directions, and you have to decide what is more important to you. On the one hand, money, a supportive team who (might) really love your book, and industry validation. On the other hand, full creative control, a much shorter publishing turn around time, the chance to set your own price, and you get to fail or succeed on your own abilities.

And finally

My Blog Tour is also a Guest Post combo. Get yourself over to my blog to read M T Murphy’s opinion on vampires. You’ll find it here.

Come along ...

The only good excuse for not following my blog tour is that you downloaded my book and it's so good you can't turn it off, a real next-page-button-pusher (page-turner sounds better, right?).

And finally, finally:

Thanks, Ty, for having me here.

Bayne's Climb revealed

My major project of late, my novella Bayne's Climb, has been written at 40,000 words. Now it's onto the editing and proofing.

But the cover was pretty much wrapped up today. The e-book novella won't be out until December of this year (God willing), but I thought I'd go ahead and give a sneak peek.

No, here and now I won't go into details about the story, other than to say it's an experimental piece in which I try to mix tropes of epic fantasy and sword and sorcery with some literary writing. Will it work? I don't know. I'm sure readers will let me know.

Until then, take a gander at that cover. 
I kind of like it. What's everybody think?

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 62

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

The Hunt for Red October
by Tom Clancy

The Hunt for Red OctoberI was a relative latecomer to the Tom Clancy military thriller boom. I didn't catch on until the move versions of The Hunt for Red October was near release in 1990. I had heard about Clancy and his few novels up to that point, but I hadn't bitten yet. Then when I saw the trailers for the film on television, I was intrigued enough to give the novel a try.

The tale of a Soviet submarine captain who decides to defect while taking the submarine with him, and a former CIA agent who figures this out and spearheads a U.S. response in bringing in the submarine captain are just great literature, and thrilling writing. The plot twists and turns a little here and there, but it's solid for the most part, and the characters are well thought out.

I was hooked.

I won't say The Hunt for Red October was Clancy's best novel. Actually, I don't think he hit his full stride for at least three or four more novels. I read most of Clancy's works through about the late 1990s, enjoying some more than others but liking them all, but then I began to lose interest. Clancy seemed to go into stranger and stranger land as his main character, Jack Ryan, became president of the United State's. Clancy's fictional world seem to move more and more away from the real one, and I guess for me at that point his tales no longer held the same resonance. Sad. Because I liked Clancy's writing a lot, so much so he's the only modern military thriller writer whom I've followed religiously for any amount of time, though that might not be surprising considering Clancy pretty much single-handedly brought the genre into prominence (though I'm not suggesting he created it).

As a writer studying Clancy's works, one of the things he does quite well is making his characters likable, at least the one's the reader is supposed to like. Clancy's heroes are men with honor who at least attempt to do the right thing more times than not, who set aside politics and often personal lives to deal with the dark side of the world's politics.

Great reading. I truly wish the author could have kept my interest. Perhaps I should give him a try once more.

Up next: The First Book of Swords

Sunday, October 10, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 61

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a fantasy author.

Red Dragon
by Thomas Harris

Red DragonIn 1991, I sometimes wore a knowing sneer on my lips. Why? Because the movie The Silence of the Lambs was released and suddenly the whole world became familiar with fictional cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter and the author, Thomas Harris, who created the character.

See, I'd been familiar with Lecter for a decade at that point, since reading Harris 1981 novel, Red Dragon. And I'd read the novel The Silence of the Lambs when it came out in 1988. To me, Lecter was old hat. Because of that, I felt like I was one of those people in the know.

It can be a fun feeling when you're young, but eventually you grow and realize it's kind of silly.

Still, I know about Hannibal Lecter before everybody else did. ;-)

To be honest, I also prefer the story in Red Dragon, though I freely admit The Silence of the Lambs is a darn good novel and movie. Unfortunately, the first movie version of Red Dragon, 1986's Manhunter, was a flop of a movie, and deservedly so because it just wasn't that great of a movie. The 2002 movie Red Dragon is pretty decent, but I'll admit it's not as good as the movie The Silence of the Lambs. The only thing I'll say about the other two novels (so far) concerning Lecter, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, is that I did not like where the author took the character.

Back to Red Dragon.

In this novel, Lecter is almost more of a side character than a main character, though he is an important figure to the plot. Here, a former FBI agent who retired after arresting Lecter is lured back on the job to help catch a serial killer dubbed The Tooth Fairy. Lecter comes into play when he and The Tooth Fairy enter into correspondence and Lecter attempts to help The Tooth Fairy kill the FBI agent. Of course there's a lot more to the plot than that, but I don't want to give it all away. Clarice Starling, the protagonist of The Silence of the Lambs, is nowhere to be found in this story, but that's sensible because she would likely have been a teen or even younger when the events of this tale took place.

And, to repeat, I've always liked Red Dragon over The Silence of the Lambs, despite the latter being a darn good book.

Why do I like Red Dragon so much? There are multiple factors. Being a fan of horror literature, I was drawn to this novel for it's look into the mentalities of serial killers. It really wasn't until the mid-1980s or so that the FBI began to seriously study the psyche of such criminals, and Red Dragon was one of the first novels that revealed much of how the FBI profiles serial killers. There's also the matter that is simply a well-written book with interesting characters and an above average plot.

Up next: The Hunt for Red October

Saturday, October 09, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 60

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as an author.

by John Steakley

In 1984 I was a young teen. I had read a lot of fantasy by that time, but only a handful of science fiction. One day I was walking through a drug store near my house when I saw the awesome cover for the book Armor by John Steakley. The cover image was of a man in futuristic armor swinging a laser gun over his head to bash in the skull of an armored, human-sized insectoid creature. That sold me. I had to have that book.

So I shelled out my few dollars (boy, remember when that's all it cost to get a thick paperback), and was soon carried into a future where humanity was involved in an interstellar war with the insectoid race, called "ants" as a derogatory term by humans.

The plot had two time lines, a past and present one. The post story was about a human soldier and his involvement in the war against the ants. The present story (actually the future, for us readers) involved a space station being attacked by space pirates.

Toward the end of the novel, the two tales become connected, and there's a bit of a twist in that connection.

Armor was a great read, and my first introduction to hardcore military science fiction. I was barely familiar with Heinlein at the time, and I'd yet to read his Starship Troopers. Also, there wasn't a lot of military science fiction back then like there is today (thank you, John Scalzi). So, for a young teen, Armor was simply amazing, and one of my favorite science fiction novels for the longest time.

Being my first militaristic sci-fi reading, Armor set the tone for all future readings in that genre, at least for me. It wouldn't until years later, when I finally got around to Starship Troopers, that I would feel such amazement once more.

However, for those who haven't read Armor, don't expect the ra-ra!, go-military attitude of Starship Troopers. Despite all the action in Armor, it's more of an internal book than is Starship Troopers, skipping the political angles to study the inner thoughts of one particular soldier.

Up next: Red Dragon

Friday, October 08, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 59

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

by C. J. Cherryh

Cyteen: The BetrayalI was somewhat familiar with author C. J. Cherryh from some of her short stories in the Thieves' World fantasy anthologies, but I had never ready any of her longer works when I noticed this particular science fiction novel among those pictured in a catalog for the Science Fiction Book Club back in the 1980s.

To this day, going on close to thirty years later, I still don't why I ordered this novel. Maybe I wanted to read more from the author. Perhaps I liked the cover image with the baby. I just don't know.

But, as sometimes happens, I was more than pleasantly surprised when I started reading. The writing and the plot and the characters were downright amazing, and I always enjoy picking up an unfamiliar work from a (relatively) unfamiliar author and find out it's something great.

This was one such time.

It would be quite difficult to examine the plot in such a limited space as this posting, mainly because there's so much background material that would have to be included, but I'll try to simplify things. Basically, in a few hundred years on the planet Cyteen (which has been colonized by humans) a member of a group of "official" geniuses is murdered. For good or ill, she is then cloned, and much of the middle story includes this child's upbringing, which is rather unusual in many ways because those in charge of rearing the child want her to be as near exactly the same as her predecessor as possible, to the point of including childhood traumas on this child that her predecessor also suffered. When the clone is of age, she discovers her predecessor was involved in a secret project to restructure society in hopes of stopping society from crumbling from within. The clone decides to follow through with the project.

Oh boy. Okay, I left out a ton of stuff, and there's all kinds of back story and government and corporate information that I intentionally left out because it would be meaningless to the casual reader. But let it be said, this is one of the most interesting science fiction novels I have ever read.

As a writer, what did it teach me? More than anything, it showed me how complex ideas could be worked into complex plots and still work well. I cherish this novel for that, especially considering much of modern science fiction is either "soft" science fiction or military science fiction. I have no problems with soft or military science fiction, but it seems that's about all that's being written today. Cyteen went beyond all that and became something special, at least for me.

If you are interested and go searching for Cyteen, in paperback the novel has been split into three separate books.  I had the hardcover, keeping it all in on book.

Up next: Armor

Interview at Kindle Author

David Wisehart of Kindle Author recently interviewed me through e-mail and the outcome is now available at the website.

All I have to say about this is ... WOW!

The interview had mostly pertained to my epic fantasy novel City of Rogues, and its two sequels, but those folks at Kindle Author know how to treat an author right. Included on the interview page are images and Amazon links to all my current e-books.

So, yeah, I'm quite thrilled!

Thanks, David.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 58

This is an ongoing series looking at books that affected me as a fantasy author.

Han Solo at Stars' End
by Brian Daley

Han Solo at Stars' End (Classic Star Wars)As a kid in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was eaten up with the Star Wars fever at the time. I was such a fanboy at the age of 10, I remember getting in a fist fight with my best friend after we saw The Empire Strikes Back for the First Time. Why did we fight? Because my friend kept saying that Darth Vader really was Luke Skywalker's father, and I kept saying "Nuh uh! Vader is a liar!"

If memory serves, I got the worst of that fight. And three years later I was proven wrong when Return of the Jedi hit the big screens.

But back in those days, Star Wars fans didn't have the plethora of Star Wars novels and other literature to pick from as we have today. The first novel to contain a story that went beyond the tales in the movies was Splinter of the Mind's Eye by Alan Dean Foster, but soon afterward author Brian Daley had a novel released about everyone's favorite space smuggler, the book titled Han Solo at Stars' End.

A subtitle on the book mentioned that this novel was the further adventures of Luke Skywalker, which was nice because it let fans know for sure that Luke was the main character in the original series, but Luke never actually appears in Han Solo at Stars' End.

Nope, this book was all about Han and his sidekick wookie pal, Chewbacca. The story takes place before the events in Star Wars: A New Hope, and has Han and Chewie infiltrating a prison to save a friend. The tale is kind of goofy and disjointed, but it was the best we had back then and was kind of fun.

At the time, I was young and just beginning to work at writing, but this novel solidified for me the importance of characters and characterization. Technically, I guess George Lucas did that with A New Hope, but Daley's novel of Han and Chewie convinced me that great character could continue outside their original tales and still be fun and interesting for the reader.

So, even if Han Solo at Stars' End wasn't great literature, it still had its lessons for me as a beginning writer.

And it was a lot of fun to read, as were its sequels, Han Solo's Revenge and Han Solo and the Lost Legacy.

Up next: Cyteen