Saturday, November 30, 2013

'The Awakened' now available

I've been holding my tongue so long on this one, I'm really excited to announce here that The Awakened is now available online in e-book and print and it includes my short story, "Assassins of Opportunity."

What is The Awakened, you might ask?

It is a shared-world fantasy anthology from Dark Quest Books, edited by Neil Levin and Hal Greenberg.

I'll let the blurb speak for itself:

You just turned nineteen. Do you feel... different? Is strange magic happening all around you? Are you suddenly mindspeaking with a sentient animal? In The Awakened, this could be you. Sixteen exciting stories pull you into the diverse and unusual world of Grimaton, where the twin moons above might mean a lifetime of change. Join our celebrated authors as they explore the world of The Awakened and spotlight the heroes, the villains, and the magic; where a random few may find themselves bonded to an animal companion for life, or might find they are the possessor of weird and powerful magic they could never have imagined. How these exceptional few are treated and how they learn to use those unasked-for powers... Well, that is the adventure we have started here.Experience the highs and lows of becoming an Awakened, decide if you would use your power for good or for evil, and grow with characters who will make you proud... or make you angry.

Besides my own tale, there are works from:

Erik Scott de Bie
Clinton Boomer
Steve Creech
Torah Cottrill
Darrin Drader
Hal Greenberg
Ed Greenwood
Doug Herring
Jaleigh Johnson
Rosemary Jones
Kevin Kulp
Colin McComb
Darren W. Pearce
Richard Redman
Rai Smith

I've been excited about this project for quite some time now, perhaps a year or longer. I've worked with a number of these writers before in one manner or other, and working with Neil and Hal as editors has been quite enjoyable.

My story, "Assassins of Opportunity," obviously steps outside of my own fantasy world, so it includes characters and situations and a world new to my readers.

I believe the official publication date for the print edition isn't until December 21, but it can be pre-ordered now, and the e-book version is definitely available.

To add to the excitement, there is more than a small possibility of there being other Awakened books in the future, as well as an Awakened RPG. Will I be taking part? Only time will tell, but I hope I have the opportunity to play some small role.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tom Baker was 'my' Doctor

In the late 1970s, science fiction suddenly became the next big thing, in no small way thanks to George Lucas and the Star Wars phenomenon which was just bursting forth. It seemed everywhere the nine-year-old me turned, there was some new science fiction movie or television show to watch, or novel to read. Of course most of those movies and shows were dreadful, just Hollywood trying to cash in on the sci-fi craze. However, there was one show that was different.

And that was Doctor Who.

I wasn't aware of all the show's history at the time, but I did know it came from British television, the BBC. Where I lived in central Kentucky we could pick up a few Chicago channels on our TV from time to time, this being back before cable, and the Chicago-area PBS started running episodes of Doctor Who. The episodes began with Tom Baker's first appearance as the Doctor and ran through a few seasons or thereabouts.

I had no idea there had been three other Doctors before Baker, though I did catch on quickly that he was not the first actor to portray the role, that his character was an alien who changed form, thus different actors could be used. I also had no idea back then that Doctor Who was something of a phenomenon in England, with its own cult following I suppose not unlike that of Star Trek in the U.S.

Keep in mind, this was all before cable, before VCR, before DVR, before the Internet, before the modern Doctor Who show, before the popularity of the new Doctor Who show.

All I knew was Tom Baker. He was my Doctor, and even today, he still is.

When one talks with Who fans, the majority of them seem to have one Doctor they prefer over the others, usually whomever was Doctor at the time they became a fan or the Doctor they grew up with. At this moment there have been 12 Doctors, though the 13th begins his run quite soon.

Funny thing, I don't really consider myself much of a Who fan nowadays. In my late childhood and early teen years, yes, there was no doubt, I was a Who fan. Even though Baker was my Doctor, once VHS came along I sought out as many non-Baker episodes of Who which I could find, which was quite difficult until the '90s. I also read as many of the novelizations of the shows I could find, and there were a lot of them. I also read books based upon the show and its characters, and I read books about the show and its characters. I was ate up with it.

But then in the late 1980s the show was canceled by the BBC. It sucked, but it happens. Life rolled on, I got older. Every now and then I'd hear something about a Doctor Who resurgence, but it never seemed to happen, even in 1996 when there was a Doctor Who televised movie.

Years later, the BBC finally brings back Doctor Who, and the show becomes more than a success. It becomes a massive hit, and not just in the UK, but across the globe.

As I said, I no longer think of myself as a fan. I've watched maybe a dozen episodes of the modern series, and I have enjoyed them. It's a good show. Perhaps a little too fast-paced for my liking, but that's today's world and today's media, and I'm sure my opinion of this reflects my earlier love of the original series.

The newer shows have far better special effects, generally better acting, and for the most part also better writing. Better directing? Not so much in my opinion, but by no means awful directing. I also appreciate that the modern show has its own tropes and themes and new characters but does so without destroying anything from the original run. I like the modern Doctors, all of them, and think they have done great jobs with the character.

So why am I not as big a fan today?

I got to thinking about this recently because the BBC, and to some extent the world, celebrated the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Also because there was a 50th anniversary special episode of Doctor Who. I watched it and loved it. It tied in quite well the old shows and the new, and honestly it's probably my favorite of the newer Who shows I've seen.

Perhaps one reason I'm not as much a fan as I used to be is because I'm older and I'm not as much a sci-fi fan as I once was, my interests leaning more towards fantasy and horror. Also, there's the nostalgia factor.

And then perhaps there's a little bit of ... hmm, I'm not sure what to call it ... jealousy?


Yeah, I'll admit, there's a small part of me that kind of feels like all these modern Who fans are johnny-come-latelies. Admittedly a large number of those fans are too young to remember the original series, but it does irk me a little that Who never really made it in the U.S. until the modern series came along with its flashy graphics, darker stories, etc.

But all that's just a small part of me. It's not like I go around holding a grudge over any of this. It's not even like I go around think about it. Like I said, heck, I don't even watch the show all that often any more, and when I do I always go away pleased.

I don't have an answer. I don't really know why I'm not as big a fan as I once was.

But I do know one thing. Watching that 50th anniversary episode, it reminded me of a big reason why I loved the show in the first place. It all comes down to one word: Hope.

Doctor Who doesn't generally promote a positive future, as to some extent does Star Trek, nor does it usually focus upon enormous, sweeping stories that are epic in scope, as does Star Wars. But Who does focus upon the individual quite a lot, most times through the character dynamics of the Doctor himself, though sometimes through his sidekick characters and every now and then even through the villains or lesser characters.

Doctor Who forces us to look deep inside ourselves and to find hope even when things are at their most bleak. Doctor Who shows us we can be our most noble selves, and we don't necessarily have to stand tall to do so, we don't have to act tough or have a weapon or do awful things because we think they are right under certain circumstances.

We just have to be human.

Which is interesting coming from an alien.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Writers

Writers ain’t easy to love and they’re hard to understand.
They’d rather give you a new book than shake your hand.
Typewriter ribbons and faded computer keys,
And despair fills out their whole day.
If you don’t read his work, and he don’t quit young,
He’ll probably curse all the way.

Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be writers.
Don’t let ’em plot stories or in words get stuck,
Let ’em be drug dealers or drive big ass trucks.

Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be writers.
Cause they’ll always be home and they’re always alone,
And writing's all they can talk of.

Writers like smoking their pipes and hard drinks in the mornings,
Cups of stale coffee and fiction and words that feel right.
Them that don’t know him won’t get him and them that do
Sometimes will think he’s quite grim.
He ain’t wrong, he’s just reticent but his pride won’t let him
Type words that just don't feel right.

Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be writers.
Don’t let ’em make characters without any luck,
Make ’em do something that pays a few bucks.

Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be writers.
They’ll drive you crazy by turning off the phone,
And writing's all they can talk of.

(my thanks to Willie, Waylon, Ed Bruce and Patsy Bruce)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 51 -- Sell Your Book: 75 Ebook Promotion Sites

by Greg Strandberg

Started: Nov. 16
Finished: Nov. 17

Notes: My guess would be I'll be familiar with most of the sites listed here, but it never hurts to take a look.

Mini review: As expected, I knew most of these sites. However, I didn't know all of them, so I picked up a few places that might help me promote my e-books. A short read, also easy to read, so worth my time and the price.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Books read in 2013: No. 50 -- Forensics for Dummies

by D.P. Lyle, MD

Started: October 22
Finished: November 16

Notes: I've been wanting to read this one for a while. I thought it might prove helpful for my horror writing, possibly also for any thrillers or action-oriented and detective fiction I might write. The author has a similar book specifically for fiction writers, but I opted for this one because I was thinking it might be a little more comprehensive. Maybe, maybe not, but this should still help me with the basics.

Mini review: The writing here is clear, but the subject matter bored me, bored me, bored me. I felt like I was back in college again studying for a class which I didn't particularly like. Most of it was the science here. However, while I knew the broad basics, I did learn a lot. Anyone writing thrillers or horror should check out this book or one similar. For that matter, anyone writing any kind of fiction which might include crime or dead bodies would be doing themselves a service by looking into such a book. If writers don't get the details right, someone eventually will call them on it. Also, I want to point out that the particular version of this book I had was about a decade old, thus a little out of date; a more recent version would probably be more up to date.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Writing must always be a challenge

There is an old saying among writers that usually goes something like this: "Writing is easy; you just open a vein and bleed." This quote or one similar has been bandied about for decades, with various authors attributed with having said or written at one time. I've seen this quote attributed to Stephen King, Thomas Wolfe, Hemingway and others. Who first said it? Who knows?

But there is some truth in it. Or there can be.

For some writers, writing is hard. For others, sitting down at the keyboard and punching out a few thousand words seems to be a piece of cake. I'll admit there's a small part of me that doesn't quite consider that second group "real" writers. Color me prejudiced, or jealous.

Most times, writing is hard for me. It's emotionally draining, it's tiresome, at times even downright boring. There are some writers who would suggest I'm doing it wrong. That if my writing is tiresome or boring to me, then it also will be to my readers. There might be some truth to that, but it also strikes me as being more than a little snooty. I'm sorry, but, for example, working in exposition into a story is simply not a ball of fun, and any writer who says otherwise is fooling him- or herself. For most writers, it seems rewriting isn't all that enjoyable, either, though I do occasionally hear of one writer or another who enjoys the task of rewriting.

I'm not one of them. But such is life.

All that being said, I don't want writing to be easy. As bored as I might sometimes get, I would be far more bored if writing held no challenges for me.

What kind of challenges?

Well, there are all different types of challenges with writing. For one thing, simply chugging through and finishing a longer work such as a novel can be challenge enough. But even then, once you've got at least a few finished novels under your belt, you can seek out different types of challenges with each new novel you pen.

I know that's what I do. Otherwise I'd go jump off a bridge or something, because writing would bore me to tears, and at this point in my life I don't feel suited to any other kind of work ... hmm, okay, maybe editing or graphic design, but I do plenty of that with my own work.

The challenges I present myself with each of my novels might not be readily evident to the reader, though sometimes it is, and a few readers have pointed out things to me which I recall being one of my writing challenges.

For instance, in my novel Demon Chains I intentionally attempted to keep the point of view away from the protagonists, at least after a brief opening to introduce my pair of villains. It is more common for me to go back and forth between my antagonist(s), the protagonist(s), and various lesser characters (depending upon whom I think can best represent the going-on in any given scene). Some writers and editors will tell you to stick with one point of view only, but again, I don't find that a challenge, and I personally feel that's an old-school viewpoint not so relevant to today's readers. As for Demon Chains, I wanted the villains to be a bit more mysterious, and to be honest, the villains in that novel are more sick and twisted than my usual lot, and I didn't really feel like spending a lot of time in their heads.

Did that experiment with Demon Chains work? I don't know. It's not one of my better-selling works, but then it's also one of my most gory and disturbing works, which turns off a number of readers. So who knows? Sales wasn't the point. The story was the point, and my challenging myself to tell it in a slightly different way.

The challenge is another reason I write in different genres. The same old thing all the time finds me bored. But even when I write within my old tried-and-true genre, adventure fantasy, I try little things different with each novel, even when I'm writing in a familiar world and with familiar characters.

For instance, right now I'm about 14,000 words into my latest novel, to be titled The Company of Seven. It's another of my Ursian Chronicles tales and it features my main protagonist, Kron Darkbow. This novel is set in the city of Bond and somewhat revolves around street-level politics, so it has some basic similarities to my novels City of Rogues and Ghosts of the Asylum. However, I'm trying some things different with this one.

What type of things?

Well, for one, I'm focusing a bit more upon the feelings of certain characters. Once upon a time I wrote with a stronger focus upon characters' emotions, but then I backed off that, focusing more upon the action and the plot. In fact, my first completed novel, City of Rogues, lost about 15,000 words before publication because I chopped away a lot of emotional stuff for the characters.

That might have been a mistake. Or maybe not. I've gone back and forth on this over the years, but I want City of Rogues to stand as it is. I'm not interested in going back and publishing a new version that would include all that emotional baggage, and to be honest, I'm not sure I still have all that text anyway (though it might be squirreled away on an old computer).

So, instead of reworking an older novel, I decided I would make the focus a little more emotional in my next novel. It'll either bore the readers or it'll bring more depth to my storytelling. I'll wait and see my beta readers and possibly the reviews have to say.

Another thing I'm trying differently with The Company of Seven is something I'm having a bit more of a hard time accepting, but I want to try it, at least for the first draft. I'm doing a big no-no for writers. I'm providing a great big info dump near the beginning of the story, in the third chapter. Worse yet, it happens during a dinner feast with a bunch of characters, all of them major players within my story. Sounds boring, right? It probably is. I've finished the scene, which ran about 4,000 words, and it's quite dialogue heavy, so I'm hoping that will help. I think it might work. If my beta readers squawk, I'll adjust and do something different, though that will take a lot of work.

Why would I attempt such a big no-no? Why would I try something so stupid?

To see if I can pull it off.

It's that simple. Writers have a lot of no-no rules, yet I see them broken all the time by "name" authors. Am I good enough to pull this off? Maybe. I'll wait and see. I hope so, because I probably won't enjoy all the rewriting it will take.

But I want to take that chance.

I want to challenge myself.

Without that challenge, why write?