Nov 04

Perspective (Part 2)

Part 1 can be seen HERE.

Well, it’s been four years or so since I became a sponsor for Fatou Cham, who lives in The Gambia. The Gambia is located in Western Africa, but from what I’ve been able to figure out the region is mercifully free from Ebola, and Fatou is still doing well.  Here is the latest photo of her that I received:

fatou

I’m really glad everything is working out for her – in her most recent letter she stated that she was very happy, and that makes me happy. I sent along some extra a while back so that she could get a bicycle (which are a much bigger thing in other parts of the world than they are here), but it looked as though the money was used to buy grain and cloth. She has a birthday coming up, and so I sent along another extra contribution. I’m hoping she gets her bicycle, but at the end of the day I understand (and I’m sure she does too) that they know better what their immediate needs are over there.

I’m glad that I can be of some help, but I’ll fully admit I’m not a particularly ‘engaged’ sponsor. I very rarely write, and even now have a finished letter on my laptop which I haven’t sent though I suppose if I’m being honest I’m not very good at ‘engaging’ all the time even with people who live right next to me so I guess this shouldn’t surprise me. I hope that as long as she is happy and healthy then she won’t feel too short-changed in that regard.

I wrote last time about the good work that ChildFund does, and having been part of their program for four years now I can say that there’s no ‘honeymoon’ period that ends once you start donating. They really stay on top of the whole thing, and I get regular updates to this day. It provides a welcome dose of perspective that I think we should all try and manage.

I look at it this way: Here it seems that I can’t go a day on the internet (something right there that not everyone has access to) without reading or hearing about what plays to me like an almost complete lack of perspective. There seems to be a surge in the media regarding men who are angry that women have complaints about the way they are treated on the street, or in the workplace, or even just how they’re depicted in pop culture. A lot of men seem honestly angry about this (sometimes to the point of making threats, or even acting on those threats) simply because a different perspective is intruding on their own, and that’s the perspective of someone of their same race a lot of the time, who live in the same country and just happen to be a different gender. The phrase ‘white privilege’ makes a lot of people froth at the mouth here, as if it’s some kind of attack, and they seem unable to acknowledge that not everyone is born into the same situation and that while working hard is the best way to improve your station, not everyone starts at the same baseline. I feel like a lot of us can’t even put ourselves in the shoes of our own neighbors, or to imagine what it might be like to live our lives as something or someone other than what we are. I guess the Ebola scare pushed it out in front of me more so than anything else – it was a little shocking (though, I suppose, not that surprising) how many people immediately took the stance ‘close the borders’. Those people live in another part of the world and aren’t worth the risk, however small. It’s disheartening.

Maybe that’s why I like ChildFund so much. I don’t think I could do what they do. I fully admit I’m not devoted enough to travel overseas and help treat Ebola victims, or distribute food or water but ChildFund is. They’re doing the kind of work most of us don’t want to do. It’s not so much that they do it so we don’t have to, I think if they didn’t do it no one else would.

And at the end of the day, if my small contribution can help improve the happiness of a girl on the other side of the planet whom I’ll never meet, then I’ll take it.

Feb 04

FALLOUT has Launched!

launchFALLOUT, sequel to THE BURN ZONE, has officially launched!  I hope that you enjoy this installment of the Haan series, in which the status quo (such as it was) begins to get upended and the story grows in scope.  In THE BURN ZONE, Sam learned a lot about the Haan that she’d never suspected but found herself preoccupied with the struggle to save her father.  In FALLOUT, she must decide what to do with this new information and then act on it, which for better or worse, she does.

 

Old characters return, new characters are introduced, and at least two of them will be changed fundamentally, and irreversibly.  Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

 

BUY FROM BARNES AND NOBLE

BUY FROM AMAZON

BUY FROM POWELLS

BUY FROM INDIE BOUND

 

 

Jan 25

FALLOUT IS COMING

weeks
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PRE-ORDER NOW

 

 Sequel to THE BURN ZONE

Fallout

Jun 03

Balticon 2012

Well, a year has passed since I won the Compton Crook and got to be the GoH at Balticon 2011.  With that honor came a second honor, and that was being invited back again this year as one of the GoH to present the award to this year’s winner.  This year, the winner was T.C. McCarthy, for his book Germline which you can (and should) buy here, here, and here. I enjoyed myself at this Balticon even more than I did the last one.  T.C. McCarthy is not only an excellent writer, but he is a very nice guy and I enjoyed hanging out with him a lot.  Like me, he writes on top of a full time job and a full time marriage…only he has three kids to boot.  I honestly don’t know how he does it because he didn’t just manage to get published – Germline is a great book.  It’s gritty, real, and raw…it shows the ugliness and the sometimes stupidity of war while getting deep into the humanity of those embroiled in it, even those who aren’t quite human.  It was right up my alley, and I can’t wait to read the sequel Exogene, which you can (and should) buy here, here and here. All in all I was a lot more relaxed this go around…I got stuck on a few weird panels I wasn’t really suited for, but some of them were really fun.  In particular I enjoyed one where the audience threw random words at us and we were forced to come up with a science fiction title and synopsis using a combination of the words, all in about two or three minutes…while kind of high-pressure, it turned out to be a lot of fun.  I was approached for a few signings, met a few fans (I’m looking at you, Nicole), did a reading of State of Decay as well as a sneak-peek reading of The Burn Zone, got schooled in Magic the Gathering a little (just a little…enough to know the game is freaking complicated), went to the GoH dinner, played hooky with the tech crew at a greek diner, and topped it off with something called a kaffeeklatsch, where basically you sit around drinking coffee and eating donuts while people ask you questions about writing…a lot of fun. Big, big shout out to Adrienne Reynolds and Joe Ward who kept track of me at a high level, and Romeo (I am an ass and don’t recall his last name) for keeping track of me on a day-to-day basis.  They really roll out the red carpet for the GoHs and it was much appreciated once again.

Got to meet a bunch of great authors, artists, and podcasters as well…aside from T.C. I spent time hanging out with Chris Evans, John Anealio, Justin Landon, Michael Sullivan, Myke Cole, Peter V Brett, Ben Deschamps, and more I’m probably forgetting…it was a busy few days.  I had a lot of fun on a panel I shared with  Brian Koscienski and Chris Pisano of Fortress Publishing, which resulted in an invite to submit a story in their upcoming ‘TV Show/Mythological Beings’ mashup anthology, something I’m excited about.

All in all, it was great, great fun.  I don’t go to too many ‘cons, but Balticon is worth the trip.

May 29

Guest Post and Giveaway over at The Bookish Brunette

Ok, a Balticon write up is coming but I’m playing catch-up now that I’m back.  Until then, head on over to the Bookish Brunette to check out my guest post, and for a chance to win an entire signed trilogy from your’s truly.  You can do both by clicking the link below, or the image to the left.

CLICK TO ENTER

Apr 02

Girl Power

I never set out to make most of my protagonists female, it just kind of turned out that way.  When you look at the Revivors series, you could say the ‘main’ protagonist (Nico Wachalowski) and the ‘main’ antagonist (Samuel Fawkes) are both male but the story is told from four viewpoints and Nico shares the stage with Calliope Flax, Faye Dasalia, and Zoe Ott, all female.  Even the sort of secondary antagonist is female.  The Burn Zone (scheduled for a 2013 release) is told from a single, female point of view.  My stab at YA (still in need of a home) features a female lead as well.

Not all of my stories do…one finished manuscript sitting on the back burner features a single male protagonist, and another follows a young boy, but when I tallied them all up I realized a lot of my leads were female.  I wondered why.  I realized I wasn’t totally sure, but decided I was okay with that because more strong female characters in the wild is a good thing, and if I can provide even just a few more along the way then great.

An author friend of mine once told me that my female characters were ‘mannish’ and that as male authors we ‘lacked the equipment’ to write female characters well, but I don’t buy that.  I don’t write my female characters as ‘girly’ but I don’t write them as male analogues either.  I just assume that in spite of the fact that there are obvious differences between men and women, there is a lot that is the same.  Maybe I’m wrong but I write women under the premise that it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, the things that affect us all the most deeply fall under the umbrella of ‘human’ and not gender.  I write women under the premise that there isn’t a ‘female’ and ‘male’ way to respond to every different situation.  In State of Decay Nico and Faye are both obsessed with their jobs, and their individual investigations, for two different reasons that have nothing to do with their genders.  They’re a male and female investigating (as they come to find) the same case.  They react differently to the things they encounter but not in a male and female way – they react in a Nico and Faye way.  The two other female leads in the series (Calliope and Zoe) are polar opposites even though they’re both women of roughly the same age.  Calliope tends to go straight for the throat and Zoe tends to clam up and retreat inward.  Those same two personality traits could be applied to two men.

I don’t buy that a man can’t write a woman well and visa-versa because we lack the other’s ‘equipment’.  We all have brains, and we all have vulnerabilities and desires.  The degree to which we’re willing to share them, even, isn’t strictly a male vs. female thing.

Here’s the thing – there are exceptions of course but the media in general, and Hollywood in particular, tend to offer a never-ending parade of completely shitty role models for women and girls.  The so-called ‘tough’ ones tend to be model beautiful with curvy figures, only with short hair.  The so-called ‘smart’ ones tend to be model beautiful with curvy figures, only with glasses.  Female roles (more so it would seem than male roles) are cast with a big emphasis on looks, even to the point where no one seems to care if the women playing them are even old enough to hold the positions they supposedly hold (scientist, detective, etc).  When I saw Cowboys and Aliens (horrible film, btw) and Olivia Wilde first appeared, I commented to my wife ‘how long do you think it will be before they strip her?’  Sure enough, it wasn’t long.  The message is pretty consistent and clear in a lot of movies, TV, websites and magazines – as a woman you only count if you’re pretty, and sexy.  Those things are prized more highly than ability, intelligence or strength.  It bugs me.

Years back, I was at a karate tournament where males and females of all ages were competing, and a friend of mine was one of the judges.  I remember after one of the matches, he handed a little girl who had been competing her trophy for first place, and he told her he was proud of her.  She looked at the trophy, and the little plastic figure of a man throwing a kick on top, and wondered aloud ‘why can’t there be a girl on top?’  He smiled, not really having a good answer for that.  The girl was gracious, but I could tell she thought it was bullshit.  I did too.  It wasn’t a ‘girl’ reaction on her part, it was a human reaction to not being represented even though she’d done the work to earn it.

You don’t need to be a girl, or a woman writer, to understand that.

Mar 27

That Voice I Hear

There are many voices I hear in my head when I’m writing – the voices of my characters, and my own inner voice that’s kind of driving the project, but there’s one little dark one that always lingers, and whispers even when the others are gone.  The voice tells me I’m no good.  It tells me I will fail.  It tells me that even as far as I’ve come, the odds are stacked against me.  No one will get me.  No one, or not enough of them, will like my stories and want to read them, and I will sink back under like so many before me.  It doesn’t speak loudly, but every so often it whispers these things in my ear, and because they reflect my deepest fears, I hear them.

This isn’t an attempt to get attention, or validation, or praise – it wouldn’t work anyway.  I write because I love to write – I did it before I ever got published and would even if I were trapped on an uncharted island (assuming the island had a steady supply of writing implements and paper) – but along with that comes the desire to be heard and understood.  The voice is just something that comes with the territory, I think, and it’s always been there.  I think many writers will know what I mean when I describe it.  Some days it waits until I’m trying to drift off to sleep to start its needling.  Others, it carries on even while I write, but I keep writing, and ignore it as best I can.  I will do the best – the very best – that I can do no matter what it says.  I will succeed, and then I will tell the voice to go get stuffed.

That’s the key, I think.  Maybe artists are more prone to it but we are all plagued by doubt from time to time.  Sometimes, in the wee hours, that voice is the only one around – but never let it make you put the pen down.  If it does then it still won’t go away.  It will just settle back down into the fog, and smugly whisper ‘see?’.

So I keep writing, and editing, and working – and will even if (as I suspect) it never goes away.

 

Mar 24

This is How I Do It

A lot of writers talk about how they write, and today I’m going to do the same.  Note, this isn’t about style, or dialogue, or any technical aspect of writing, but rather how one goes about conceptualizing, starting, and finishing a full length novel which is a challenge unto itself even once you’ve got all the basics under your belt.

Before I talk about that, though, I want to preface it by saying that I’m not saying you should write the same way.  This type of post is pretty common, and while it’s implied that really what we’re saying is ‘this is how I do it’, too many of them (in my opinion) veer into the tone of ‘this is how you should do it’.  At the moment, I make my living coding.  That is something where a more experienced coder could reasonably step in and tell a less experienced coder ‘this is how you should do it’ because while there’s room for individual coding styles, there simply *are* better ways to do some things in that realm.  Writing isn’t like that, though.  With the technical aspects of writing yes (show don’t tell, etc) sure, but as far as ‘how does one sit down and actually write a novel’ there are many paths to take and they depend largely on the personality of the writer.  If any writer (me included) ever tells you ‘this is how you should do it’, what they really mean is ‘this is how I do it’, and take it with that grain of salt because what works for me, or author A or author B won’t necessarily work for you.  Some authors can’t start without an iron clad outline, others need to just start.  Some have to plot out every aspect of the story before they begin, others don’t know where they’re going until they get there.  Some can’t proceed with the story until they get the bit they’re working on polished to their satisfaction.  Others have to get the whole thing laid down before they can begin the process of polishing.  There are many different styles, and they all work for the authors who use them.   You are an individual, and no one can tell you how you as an individual *should* write.  Just make sure you *do* write.

That’s really the key, I think.  Obvious, I suppose, but really the one key element you need to adopt is to keep moving forward, in whatever form that takes for you.  You have to finish.  Whether you are a slow writer or a fast writer, you have to be moving toward that end.

As far as beginnings go, in the plotter vs. pantser arena I am a plotter, but not an entirely rigid one.  I knew how the revivors series was going to end before I began the first book, so in that sense I’m a plotter, but the particulars of the story remained organic enough that the path deviated along the way from what I’d originally imagined.  The basic plot and structure of the series never changed, but some aspects did.  The best example I can think of is the character of Penny Blount, who is introduced in The Silent Army.  Originally, she was meant to be a one-off character, kind of a messenger who wasn’t crucial to the overarching story.  Another character (Ai) was going to have most of the interactions with Zoe once Penny facilitated their meeting, but when I started writing Penny she ended up becoming much more than I intended, and I let it happen.  I opted to keep Ai aloof and mysterious and let Penny be Zoe’s primary point of contact.  A true friendship grew out of that, and Penny ended up filling a critical role for the remainder of the series, and I think the story was better for it.

I like to have structure, and as a writer I need to have a concrete end I’m working toward, but as a ‘day job’ boss once told me, ‘I reserve the right to be smarter tomorrow than I am today’.  Sometimes the biggest snag I find myself having to get past when writing is trying to stick to an outline that, because of the way the story is evolving, needs to be altered.  Sometimes I’ll catch myself trying to puzzle out some aspect of the story, sometimes for days, before finally realizing that the only thing blocking me is me – the story has changed in some way, and I need to step outside my outline to see where it needs to go next.  Sometimes it’s minor, other times a whole different, better story path emerges.  Then I remember it’s my story, and I let it change, and it’s always better for it.

That’s me.  I outline for a long time, plotting out events, character interactions, plot points, twists, etc. but once the real writing begins there are always times when I have to stop and ask myself ‘am I just being a slave to that outline’?  I can outline for a year – there’s just some things I’m not going to know until I’m in the trenches.

A daily word count is another marker I hear mentioned a lot.  You should write 2K words a day, or 3K words a day.  If you write 1K that’s not enough.  If you write 4K you’re being too sloppy.  If you skip a day of writing you’re undisciplined, etc.  I think this is another aspect that kind of varies from individual to individual.  I get the ‘write through the pain’ mantra – like I said earlier, you’ll never finish if you don’t keep making progress, but that said as a writer there are some days when I’m writing shit, and I know I’m writing shit, and I know it’s all going to end up in the trash, and so I stop and try again the next day with a fresh outlook.  I’ve been doing this long enough to know when I’m just pushing food around on the plate.  When that happens I let it go, and I’ve still managed to write not one but seven novels that are ~100K words in length, three of which have been published by a major house, one of which will be published in 2013, and one of which is under contract to come after that.  Set goals for yourself, I think that’s universal, but make them your goals not someone else’s.  Some people can write 2K a day, some 4K.  Hell, for me it varies from novel to novel.  Some are just easier to write than others.  Some can’t get onto the page fast enough, others require more thought.  My personal goal is a minimum of 2K a day, but I don’t keep blindly doing it if I begin to suspect something is wrong and I need to backtrack a little.  Backtracking can feel like progress lost, but if it frees the story up to go where it needs to go it’s time well spent because the overall project moved forward.  As long as progress is being made, and the words THE END make their way onto the page, it’s all good.

In the end that’s what you’re working toward.  The agent, the book deal…none of that can come until you’ve completed the best book you can possibly write.  If you want to even have a shot in the business, you need to find a style that works for you so that you can write more books, on a schedule, and consistently.  It doesn’t have to be mine, but find your discipline, your way, and stick to it.

Oh, and I guess I’ll put down one hard and fast rule while I’m on the subject, because it’s the only thing I can think of that will concretely ensure failure:  Don’t quit.

Jan 06

Tales from the Feed Bag: Wild Boar (part 1)

Second on the menu from my Christmas gift of unique meats was the wild boar.  I received two thick chops, and since it’s just me and Kim I decided to thaw one now and save one for later.

The meat is similar to pork (not surprisingly) but is much darker.  Not red like beef, just darker.  Imagine the color of pork ribs, then imagine an entire chop that color.  There was a bone attached (this is a good thing) on one side which I could not begin to identify.

I decided to go simple on this one; I covered it with a simple rub of brown sugar, salt, chili powder and black pepper just enough to deliver a sweet, salty heat without being too overpowering, then roasted it at 350 until just done.  I served it with roasted sweet potato and Brussels sprouts.

I neglected to take a picture of how it turned out, so instead here is a (let’s face it, more interesting) picture of an actual wild boar:

I think it’s clear from the picture that this is not your average factory farm pig, and if you look closely you can see the death in its beady little eyes.  This beast looks like the demon offspring of a bear mated with a hyena or something.  If a pig got lyporcuspy, this is what it would turn into by the light of the full moon.  You blow down this dude’s house and you’d better have an exit strategy.  I have more pig jokes but I’ll save them for part 2.  I get the sense those tusks aren’t just for show, is my point.

How was it?  Both Kim and I enjoyed the wild boar very much – it was tougher than pork but seriously – look at that thing.  It is tougher than pork.  Not too tough, just a different texture than the other white meat.  Its flavor was basically like an all dark meat chop, fuller and more intense than pork.  Both Kim and I tend to like dark meat in general, so this was a hit and the rub was a good compliment.  Kim even went cavewoman on the bone afterwards, which is like a seal of approval in our house.

I’m looking forward to trying the second chop, prepared a different way.  I will have to think on it.  For now, the wild boar is in the lead though.  Not bad at all.

Dec 31

Inspiration

I have a love-hate relationship with Google Alerts.  For those not in the know, Google Alerts allow you to get an update anytime anything appears on the internet matching a given search criteria.  I thought they would be useful for tipping me to any buzz about my novels.  The reality is that about half the time that’s true, and the other half is to let me know another location where I can download pirated copies of my novels.

Today was different.  Today I received an alert that actually, and truly, made me smile.

It seems that State of Decay was another artist’s inspiration (a musician), and the artist (Christopher Henry, aka Hiami) actually cut an industrial/techno album called Static Decay.  According to the artist, “…the mood and tone of [State of Decay] were greatly influential on the sound of Static Decay…I wanted to fuse Metalcore drums with dark sounding piano to generate a different sound then that of DubStep, EBM, or conventional Industrial.”

He put all this together solo and having dabbled in electronic music myself I know that requires some significant effort.  I think he’s quite talented.  You can listen to the tracks here, or click the album artwork:

 

My favorite tracks were Less Than Three, Scar Treatment, and Watch the Sky.

The real joy for me though was being the inspiration on any level for another artist – I have so many influences myself, and music actually plays a big part in inspiring me to write.  That it, in turn, inspired someone to make music warmed my heart.

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