Friday, December 30, 2011

Portal: No Escape

So it's been a while since I posted a Portal related video. But this is one as worth the wait:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Sith-mas?

Okay, so maybe I should be a little more pious on the day before Christmas Eve, but I just can't help myself.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


And thus Kerry Nietz's DarkTrench Saga ends with Freeheads.

Sandfly and HardCandy are returning to Earth after their encounter with the jinn on the planet Jannah. Only when they arrive on DarkTrench, their ship, they discover a planet that has changed and not for the better. They're strangers now, complete outsiders, worse than they've ever been.

But Sandfly's mission hasn't changed. He has a message for the people of Earth, one that could set them free. Will anyone listen? Or will the message of A~A^3 die with him?

I really liked this series overall. The premise, if you're not familiar with it, is a future world where Islam has pretty much conquered the globe. Sandfly and HardCandy are debuggers, humans implanted with a device that allows them to connect to technology wirelessly. It's a fascinating idea and a bit chilling. And while Freeheads wraps everything up nicely, I think it's probably best if you've read all of the books in the series recently. It took me a few chapters to get back into the groove, so to speak, and there were a few characters I couldn't remember from the first book.

The only other thing that I noticed, and this isn't a really big deal, is that the first half of the book struck as . . . well, a little slow. I'm not sure how to describe it, exactly. I got a feeling that something big was lurking under the surface (pun intended?) that never really revealed itself. I don't know if Nietz was trying to intentionally misdirect me, but there you go. Like I said, it's not a big deal and it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book at all. Just a weird, nagging feeling I got.

It'll be interesting to see what Neitz does next. Given what I've seen from this trilogy, I'll be first in line.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday, December 09, 2011

Cello Wars

You may have seen this floating around the Internet recently, but it's worth sharing anyway.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Pencils Up!

Okay, so not many people stopped by to play my game of "Retell the Fable." That's okay. I know I've been away from the Blog Tour scene for a while.

So the assignment was to take one of Aesop's Fables, chosen by me at random, and find within it the basis of a story. The fable chosen was The Stag at the Pool, which has a listed moral of What is worth most is often valued least.

Before I share my idea, I'll name Blog Tour Overlord Rebecca LuElla Miller as the winner. Just because. Although Christian Miles definitely deserves runner up too!

So what did I come up with? Well, after reading the fable, I couldn't help but notice a distinct parallel between the foolish stag and an Old Testament character. The Stag, while fleeing the lion, winds up getting his antlers caught in a tree. While fleeing an enemy, the main character winds up getting his head caught in . . .

Hello there, Absalom.

So what is it that Absalom overlooked, something that's worth a lot more than he valued it? And how can we take the story of the Stag, merge it with Absalom's story, and come up with something different?

This is what I came up with:

In a far off kingdom, there's a king who has two sons. The younger is a strong warrior type, brash and out-going, a real ladies' man, whose personal livery bears the symbol of a stag. The older is a bookish sort, not very out-going but prone to charitable actions. Younger brother constantly mocks older brother and his ways, especially since the older brother's symbol is that of a lion ("More like a mewling kitten," is a constant jibe). Instead, the youngster is always going out on adventures and garnering glory for himself.

Then an enemy something-or-other (wizard maybe? Then it could be a fantasy) does something bad. Really bad. And when the King doesn't seem ready to do anything about it, the younger son takes matters into his own hands and . . .

Wait a minute, that's the beginning of Thor, isn't it?

Well, you get the idea. Something happens between the younger son and his dad, something that drives a wedge between them. It prompts the Stag to rebel against the King. The King tries to fight back, but the Stag proves too much for him. He steals the throne and expels the King. He ignore the Lion completely, figuring that his brother can do little to stop him.

The King tries to reclaim his throne, only to lose badly. The Stag proves too much for him. The King is either killed or exiled (depending on how dark I feel like going). The Stag consolidates his power, or at least tries to. But then his brother stands up against him. The Stag scoffs at the Lion's threat, until the entire kingdom rises up with the Lion. It turns out that the Lion's actions, caring for his subjects, has won their support. Faced with a revolt, the Stag flees, only to wind up being taken down by his subjects and made to pay for what he's done.

The spiritual payload would be something from John 13, maybe. The idea that the greatest in the kingdom is a servant. That sort of thing.

At least, that's the idea I came up with in 48 hours. Not much, but there you go.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Wordcount Wednesday

Well, that's the end of that. Project Disappointed Viper has been shelved. I didn't make it much past 5,000 words, but I have to call it quits. Too long of a story. Don't worry about it.

So I'm not sure what I'll do next. I've got some revision work to start on Failstate. And there is a major holiday coming up quickly. Oh well. There's always something.

CSSF Blog Tour: "Corus the Champion" Day 3

So here we are, wrapping up the tour for Corus the Champion by D. Barkley Briggs and it occurs to me, it's something of a miracle that we're even having this tour in the first place. After all the first book was published back in 2009 and then the original publisher (the name of which escapes me) canceled before published Corus. But then Living Ink Books stepped in and re-released the first book and has been publishing the rest. And fans of well-written

Now I'm not saying this to knock the aforementioned anonymous-by-way-of-forgetfulness publishing house. Instead, I think this is a great lesson for writers when it comes to patience.

I've never met Briggs nor spoken to him, but I can only imagine what he was going through when his series died. It must have hurt. And who knows how long he waited before Living Ink stepped in and performed a little resurrection. But I'm sure those intervening months or even years were tense. Maybe Briggs wanted to throw in the towel and move on to something different. But he didn't. He hung in there. And the result is a fabulous book that makes me want to read more.

So for all of you pre-published authors, don't despair. Remain patient. Your time could be coming soon too.

Go check out what the other tourists have to say:

Gillian Adams Noah Arsenault Beckie Burnham Morgan L. Busse CSFF Blog Tour Carol Bruce Collett Theresa Dunlap April Erwin Victor Gentile Nikole Hahn Ryan Heart Bruce Hennigan Christopher Hopper Jason Joyner Julie Carol Keen Krystine Kercher Marzabeth Shannon McDermott Rebecca LuElla Miller Eve Nielsen Sarah Sawyer Kathleen Smith Donna Swanson Rachel Starr Thomson Steve Trower Fred Warren Phyllis Wheeler Nicole White Rachel Wyant

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour: "Corus the Champion" Day 2

Okay, so I've got nothing. Perhaps I've been out of practice too long.

See, after reading Corus the Champion by D. Barkley Briggs, I couldn't help but think how really cool it was that Briggs was able to take the Arthurian legends and twist them in a new an unique way. It's always fun to see a classic myth twisted in a new and unique way (hence why I'm rooting for my friend Christian Miles to get his book published. Post-apocalyptic Arthur FTW!).

Except as I started trying to organize my thoughts, I realized deja vu. And on the second day too!

But maybe it bears repeating. As many Christians have pointed out in the past, most myths contain within them a kernel of truth, echoes and reflections of deeper spiritual principles that God has woven into the very fabric of reality, principles that haunt us and have to be expressed in some way. It's our fallen nature that wraps those echoes in non-Christian images and themes. Folks like Briggs or C. S. Lewis simply peel away the garbage until the truth remains.

Shall we have some fun, folks? Almost three years ago, I reminisced about an assignment that was given out by a friend of mine on a previous blog tour. Mirtika challenged us to take a myth or fable and find a way to baptize it and make it Christian.

Let's try it again. I have in front of me a copy of Aesop's Fables and I'm going to pick one at random. What I want you, dear reader, is think on the themes and images of said fable, search for Scriptures that parallel it, and come up with a germ of an idea for a story.

And I'll put my money where my mouth is. I'll post my idea on Thursday.

So here we go. Drum roll please.

I'll trust that you're creating a drum roll somehow.

The Stag at the Pool.

So have at it. Come back and share what you come up with. The person with the best story idea gets . . . I don't know. Bragging rights. My eternal admiration.

In the meantime, go see what the other tourists are up to:

Gillian Adams Noah Arsenault Beckie Burnham Morgan L. Busse CSFF Blog Tour Carol Bruce Collett Theresa Dunlap April Erwin Victor Gentile Nikole Hahn Ryan Heart Bruce Hennigan Christopher Hopper Jason Joyner Julie Carol Keen Krystine Kercher Marzabeth Shannon McDermott Rebecca LuElla Miller Eve Nielsen Sarah Sawyer Kathleen Smith Donna Swanson Rachel Starr Thomson Steve Trower Fred Warren Phyllis Wheeler Nicole White Rachel Wyant

Monday, December 05, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour: "Corus the Champion" Day 1

You know, I'd like to bill this as my triumphant return to the Blog Tour. But I'm not exactly sure what I'm triumphant over. Certainly not the calendar, as I originally posted this three weeks early. And, truth be told, I suspect that the blog tour has done just fine without me. So hey, everyone, I'm back.

What brought me back was Corus the Champion by D. Barkley Briggs. When I heard that we were going back to Karac Tor, I signed up immediately. Yes, I'm selfish like that. I couldn't wait to read this book (which, in the interest of fairness, was provided to me for free by the publisher).

The Barlow boys are still in Karac Tor. They've defeated the witch named Nemesia but things are not going well. For the Horned Lord is out to break Corus the Champion and then the rest of the Hidden Lands. Each of the boys have a role to play in trying to bring him down, but it's going to cost them, some of them dearly, as they seek a way to stop their enemy.

I have to be honest, I had a really hard time getting into this story. I think it has something to do with the fact that I read the first book almost three years ago. I remembered bits and pieces of it: one of the brothers has magical music, there was an adventurer named Creed who had a magic sword that didn't like it when he lied, and that's about it. For the first third of the book, I was trying desperately to play catch-up. It made for slow going. I seriously thought I wouldn't be able to participate in the tour because I'd still be reading. But once I got past the midway point, things picked up and I obviously finished in time.

That said, this book felt a little muddy to me. I enjoyed it; the storyline involving Ewan engaged me the most. The other plots seemed too connected to the overall plot (which I have largely forgotten) and for the most part, the book felt like the middle chapters of a larger epic and I felt more than a little lost. Maybe it would have helped if I read the first book again; alas, it has since disappeared from my house!

I'm not saying that this is a bad book. Far from it. Briggs did a fantastic job building a believable world and some very fun characters. Creed is still a favorite. And it was enough to make me want to keep traveling in Karac Tor when I get a chance to read The Song of Unmaking. Hopefully it won't take three years again.

Go and see what the other tourists have to say:

Gillian Adams Noah Arsenault Beckie Burnham Morgan L. Busse CSFF Blog Tour Carol Bruce Collett Theresa Dunlap April Erwin Victor Gentile Nikole Hahn Ryan Heart Bruce Hennigan Christopher Hopper Jason Joyner Julie Carol Keen Krystine Kercher Marzabeth Shannon McDermott Rebecca LuElla Miller Eve Nielsen Sarah Sawyer Kathleen Smith Donna Swanson Rachel Starr Thomson Steve Trower Fred Warren Phyllis Wheeler Nicole White Rachel Wyant

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Broken Sight

I've finally been able to dig into my pile of Marcher Lord Press's most recent releases (see my previous book review). Now I've polished off Steve Rzasa's Broken Sight.

The book is a continuation of Rzasa's earlier books with Marcher Lord. In this world, religion had been pretty much outlawed. More specifically, it had been illegal to own the printed word (e-books were perfectly fine, because the government could monitor and censor the contents). But then, in the previous books, that situation changed. Want books? Get them! Want to publicly practice your religion? Go for it!

This is the situation facing Lieutenant Commander Brian Gaudette, the skipper of the Rescue Ops ship Weskeag. He's got a crew of Christians, Muslims, agnostics, and former sympathizers of Kesek, the fallen and disgraced secret police of the Realm, all mixed in one ship. That's a problem, because he finds himself heading out to answer a distress call, one that's fraught with danger.

Because Kesek hasn't disappeared. Not even close. And this mission could easily kill them all.

I checked my reviews from the previous books. Apparently I was a bit cool toward the second. That's not the case here at all. I loved this book. Once again, Rzasa's story world simply shone. You can tell he did a lot of work figuring out the "physics" of interstellar travel.

I loved the characters, the adventure, all of it. The only thing that threw me even a little was the sheer amount of foreign phraseology peppered throughout the book. I mean, it added to the verisimilitude, but there were a few times where I was scratching my head.

But overall, this was a great book, and I'm hoping that it won't be the last time we see Rescue Ops in action!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Wind and Shadow

I've been waiting for this one for a long time. A long time. I'm talking about Wind and Shadow by Kathy Tyers.

True confession time: Tyers is the reason why I stuck with writing Christian speculative fiction. I still remember browsing the CBD website for Christian sci-fi (back before the Web 2.0 revolution) and stumbling across her Firebird books. And I remember staring at her name, thinking, Why is that name so familiar? And then I looked up at my Star Wars books and saw The Truce at Bakura and I knew I had to get Firebird. And I did, and it was awesome, and that inspired me to keep working on my own books and I . . .

I'm gushing, aren't I? Sorry. Ahem. Dignified.

Seriously, I loved Firebird. Those three books were a lot of fun and after reading them the first time, I kept hoping that some day, Tyers would return to that universe. That day has come.

Wind and Shadow follows the children of Firebird's man characters. Kiel Caldwell has become a priest, Kinnor a Sentinel like his father. Kiel is called to the barren world of Mikuhr, the former home of the Sentinels' enemies, the Shuhr, by a diplomat named Wind Haworth. But as soon as he steps off the ship, Kiel disappears.

Once his disappearance is reported, the Sentinels send in his twin brother, Kinnor, to investigate his disappearance. But little does either brother realize that they have stepped into a larger conflict, both in terms of the Whorl and in terms of the spiritual realm, one that could easily end the life of everyone they know.

I really enjoyed this book. I did. Tyers has a flair for creating rich worlds and layering in some great sci-fi details. The characters are great. The action is top-notch.

But here's the thing (and I hesitate to say this, because I think it's more my fault than anything else). I felt a little lost in the early going. I don't know why that is. I got what was going on, for the most part, but every now and then, I got the feeling that I was missing something important, that while all of the pieces seemed to fit together, I was overlooking something.

I don't quite know how to explain it. That sense of "missing pieces" dragged on my enjoyment just a little in the earliest chapters. But once I got past that, I had a blast.

Like I said, it's probably just me. Life has been a bit crazy today and I can't say that I've been able to read as much as I like to with as much focus as I normally would bring to bear on a book. But if you're a fan of Christian sci-fi, be sure to check this one out. Totally worth it!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wordcount Wednesday

Project Disappointed Viper is going slowly right now, folks. As of right now, it's at 5,719 words. I hope to do better, but I know, I say that in every Wordcount Wednesday post.

On a more exciting note, I got the Advance Reader Copies for Failstate via UPS today. So tonight, I stuffed press releases and info sheets into them and then stuffed them all into padded envelopes to go off to various media outlets. I have no idea if I'll get reviewed in any of them, but here's hoping!

Aren't they pretty?

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Muppets

Thanks to the good folks at 365 Twin Cities, I got to attend a sneak preview of The Muppets tonight. I've been looking forward to this movie for a while now; the trailers that they've been releasing have been absolutely genius, such as the Green Lantern parody or the Dragon Tattoo parody. I hoped that the same silly genius would carry over to the movie itself. Truth be told, I'm not sure what I think of what I saw tonight. It was okay.

My problem, I think, came from the first part of the movie. Kermit the Frog said it best this past weekend on SNL when Jason Segel hosted: "When people go to a Muppet movie, they say, 'Gee, I can't wait to see the human!'" Except what Kermit said sarcastically, I think the writers took seriously. Let me put it this way: recently I watched The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan with my son. Both of those movies started with Kermit. Not this movie. Instead, it started with Walter and his human brother, Gary (played by Jason Segel). Kermit and company didn't show up until much further in.

In some ways, I get it. It made sense, given the overall plot: Walter, Gary, and Gary's long-time girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams) go to LA ostensibly for Gary and Mary's "we've-been-dating-for-10-years" anniversary. But once there, Walter learns that a rich oil baron is going to destroy the old Muppet studios (including the iconic theater) to drill for oil. Horrified, Walter convinces his brother and his girlfriend to round up the old Muppet gang, starting with Kermit, so they can save the studio.

But even with that decent premise, the film lurched in the early going. I blame the humans, personally. We don't go to a Muppet movie for human-related drama. Instead, we go to see anthropomorphic animals made out of felt have relationship drama. And boy, do they pack in some rather . . . well, I don't want to say "adult themes." Let's just say there was some stuff put in there that was meant for the adults. I can honestly say I don't think I've seen anything quite so heavy in previous Muppet movies. And the ending . . . well, wow.

There were some bright spots. Some of the cameos were genius (one in particular). And there were some great "breaking the fourth wall" moments, plus nods to previous movies.

I don't know. I'm not sure what I was expecting when I went into this movie. I'm pretty sure that this wasn't it. Not totally. But I hope this doesn't sink the Muppets, because if there's one thing that I realized as I was watching this: I missed them.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Wordcount Wednesday

Last week, I started the pre-writing process for a new novel. Personally, I use Randall Ingerman's Snowflake Method. I have for the past couple of novels I've written and it works well for me. I don't use the whole thing. Usually about 2/3s of the way through, I hit what I call "critical mass" where I have to start writing.

I hit that point Monday on with my new project. I still don't want to say anything about it, so we'll have to call it . . . shoot, I don't know. Blue Harvest? Rory's First Kiss? Incident on 57th Street? Okay, I've got it. My project will henceforth be known as Project Disappointed Viper. Why? Because that's what the random codename generator gave me.

Anyway, Project Disappointed Viper is currently weighing in at 1,086 words. A meager start, but I know it'll grow. I'm pretty excited about this one.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The People vs. George Lucas

My goodness, that was an interesting hour and a half. I just got done watching the documentary film, The People vs. George Lucas. And I have to say, it gave me some food for thought, both as a fan and as a writer.

Basically this movie details the love/hate relationship that fans have with George Lucas and a certain galaxy far, far away, mostly focusing on the late '90s re-edits and the prequels. There are interviews with fans, famous personalities (I see you there, Neil Gaiman!), and a few "Star Wars insiders." While they cover a lot of territory, from fan films to the way many Star Wars fans' love has been twisted into hate, there were some interesting focal points. For example, who shot first, Han or Greedo? What do you think of Jar-Jar Binks? And who does Star Wars belong to at this point, George Lucas or the fans?

Like I said, this was a thought-provoking movie to watch. True confession time: I've been a Star Wars geek for most of my life. I've read the Extended Universe novels, played the videogames, bought all the soundtracks. One of the things I was looking forward to most about being a parent was seeing my son's reaction to the classic moment in Empire Strikes Back where we get a peek at the Skywalker family tree. And yes, I have been disappointed by the prequels. It took me a while to see how bad Episode I really is, and I've even gotten into arguments with my youth about which trilogy is better. I suspect that in the future, there's going to be a Jar-Jar line. A lot of what the fans said in this movie resonated with me, such as their pleas for Lucas to release a version of the original trilogy in its unenhanced form. You know, one in which HAN SHOT FIRST.

But at the same time, I also found myself wondering how I would react if I were in Lucas's flannel. Suppose one of my creations takes off and becomes a cultural institution that . . . What's so funny? Why are you laughing?

Okay, fine, I'll wait until you're done.

Seriously, though, if Star Wars is George Lucas's creation, if he is the owner of it still (and thanks to U.S. Copyright Law, he will be for a long, long time), then technically, he does have the right to go back and touch things up as he sees fit.

I know. I feel icky just for writing that.

But it's still the truth, as much as we may disagree. It's his story, his universe, and we're invited to come along if we want. Yes, I have an idea of how I would have told the prequel stories, but that's not my story to tell.

I guess what's really interesting about this movie is the sheer amount of rancor (pun possibly intended) that Star Wars can create amongst its fans. The fact that people are willing to invest so much vitriol and ire for a movie trilogy is a testament to what a cultural touchstone it's become.

And the one thing that made me smile was the ending of this movie. A lot of the vocal critics admitted that the reason why they do what they do is because Lucas inspired them. Whether we agree with what Lucas did in recent years or not, he shaped a lot of our childhoods. And I, for one, am still grateful.

So thank you, George. Now, if it isn't too much of a bother, can you please release the original trilogy?

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Falling Back

True confession time: Daylight Savings Time ending is one of my favorite holidays of the year. An extra hour of sleep, y'all! But do we really understand all the intricacies of DST? Here's a handy video that helps explain it all and, quite possibly, will make you question whether springing forward and falling back is such a great idea.

Friday, November 04, 2011

It's a miracle I survived my childhood . . .

. . . with as little psychological trauma as I have, seeing as this was considered educational TV:

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Orcs Must Die!

Every now and then, I'll spot a game on Steam that catches my attention for some reason or another. When I saw the title of Orcs Must Die!, I had a feeling that this was my kind of game, so I downloaded the demo and sure enough, I liked what I saw well enough that I pre-ordered the full. Just last night, I finished the first play-through, but I'm definitely not done with this fun and funny game.

The basic premise is this: the player is an apprentice warmage, one charged with protecting magical rifts from wave after wave of invading orcs, kobolds, ogres, and so on. You have a few special magical talismans that shoot fire or ice or electricity. You also are given a wide variety of traps and helpers to defend the rift(s). There are arrows that shoot out of the wall, giant springboards that can toss the orcs through the air, or swinging pendulums that . . . well, the less said about those the better.

This is basically a tower defense game with wall and floor traps. There isn't much of a plot, but what little is there is funny and engaging.

Like I said, I finished the game, switching from the medium difficulty to the easiest. Now I'm going back to try to get perfect scores on each of the levels. Doing so gives me "skulls," which I can spend to make the traps more deadly. And then there's the "nightmare" mode. I'm actually kind of looking forward to that one.

So if you have a few bucks sitting around, this one is definitely a keeper. Have fun (stopping them from) storming the castle!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Wordcount Wednesday

Stick a fork in Hive. It's done.

Well, not really. True, earlier this week, I finished the first draft of this monster project. The final wordcount for the first go-round? 85,504 words, which isn't all that bad, considering I set my goal at 80k when I started this . . . geez, when did I start this one? Hang on a sec.

Back in February, apparently. That actually isn't as bad as I thought it'd be.

In some ways, this has been a weird journey. Rather than pouring onto the page, this one was created in fits and starts. I seem to have taken Lent off, then took a two or three month hiatus after our second son joined our family (writers can claim paternity leave, right?).

But back to the wordcount. I'm actually impressed that I brought this one in so close to target. Granted, that total is going to fluctuate. The introduction I wrote back in February is getting axed. One of the main characters is going to be introduced earlier in the book, which means I have to add some extra stuff somewhere. And the ending, while bringing everything to a close, totally stinks. I mean, no symmetry, weak resolution, it's just "blah."

Funny thing is, I seem to recall I said the same thing about a certain other manuscript I finished about a year and a half ago. And look how that one wound up. So while I'm a little daunted at the prospect of wading back into Hive, I know I can make it better.

So what's next for me? Well, Hive goes up on a shelf for now. I've learned this the hard way: I need emotional and intellectual distance from my writing projects to do a better job editing when the time comes. In the meantime, I might take a crack at a short story that's been rattling around in the ol' brain pan for close to a year now. I mean, I've had this Post-It note:

 . . . stuck to my desk for who knows how long, waiting for the day when I could finally use this information in said short story. Maybe now's the time to do so.

I've also begun the "pre-writing" a new novel. Won't say anything more about it for now. Yes, it's kind of secret. Maybe I'll be able to explain more about it in the future. Probably. Most likely. For now, though, consider it Project X. Only without Matthew Broderick. Or Helen Hunt. Or the monkeys.

You know what, let's just forget that part, okay?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Bye, Ron!

Here's something fun: J. K. Rowling once considered killing one of her main characters halfway through the Harry Potter series. The last book turned into a total Joss fest, but this would have shifted things pretty radically, right?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wordcount Wednesday

Wow, it's been an interesting week.

First of all, let's get down to official business: my Hive report. I'm still cautiously optimistic that I might be able to finish the first draft by the end of this month. By my rough estimation, I need to write at least three more chapters and an epilogue, and I've been averaging about a chapter a day. So we'll see. I've made predictions like this before and usually I've come up wrong.

But this week was pretty good, all told. I was able to write 6,804 words, bringing the grand total up to 80,399 words. That means I'll finish over-target, but that's okay in this case. I'm sure that the first rewrite will tone things down.

With that out of the way, let's talk some of the other fortuitous things that have happened. For starters, today marks my debut as a contributor at Speculative Faith, a blog dedicated to Christian speculative fiction. I'll be posting every other Wednesday. This week, by way of introduction, I told a little of my journey to publication, something I've never really done before. I'm not sure what future topics I'll talk about, but I'm thinking my obsession with telling stories with aliens in it has to come up at some point or another.

Last but certainly not least, this week also marked a major milestone for me: a book that I contributed to is available on Amazon! This is the first time this has happened. I've mentioned the book before: Spirited. As of right now, it's available as an e-book for the Kindle. I've heard that it'll be available for the Nook soon. Print copies won't be available until March (sorry to all the purists out there). But if you've got nine bucks to spare, the proceeds go to 826 National, a non-profit organization that offers free after-school tutoring, workshops, and in-school programs.

Wow. Quite the week.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wordcount Wednesday

I feel like I'm always making excuses in these updates. I am writing. Really! I still feel the same "psychological progress" from last week. The story is moving forward. I'm just not adding that many words to Hive as I go.

To wit: I added 3,374 to the book, bringing the grand total to 73,595 words. That's good, but not great.

So what's my excuse this week? More edits on Spirited, including a look at the galleys. That was a fun first for me. So was getting the cover for the book:

So there you go. I keep saying I want to step this up. I've even been secretly hoping I can finish this monster by the end of this month. But with only 12 days left, I'm thinking it might be a while longer. Time will tell.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Late last night, I finished reading Scott Westerfield's Goliath, the conclusion of his Leviathan series.

The valiant crew of the British airship Leviathan is back and this time, they're on a mission that could bring the war gripping the world to a sudden stop. A scientist from America claims that a weapon he's invented can easily bring every major world power to its knees. The British Admiralty believes the threat is real. So does Prince Alek, who continues to travel with the Darwinist forces. He feels responsible for the war in the first place, and he'll take any chance he can to end the destructive conflict. But Deryn Sharp, still masquerading as a boy, isn't so sure. But then, she's got a lot on her mind: her secret could unravel at any moment and worse, she's beginning to realize that she doesn't just see Alek as a colleague but as something more.

Can Alek and Deryn work together one last time to end the war? Or will the Clanker and Darwinist forces tear each other apart and take the world with them?

This was a fun read. The story was fast-paced and the action great. Once again, I loved Westerfield's imaginative recreation of a steampunk alternate history. His Darwinist creations, basically living vehicles, were fun to see in action, overshadowing the steam-driven war machines they faced. And the plot was superb as well, what with a certain famous American inventor claiming that he could end the war early.

But there lay the one flaw with this book: if you know your history, especially when it comes to unusual events in the early twentieth century, the book's biggest secret becomes glaringly obvious. Now perhaps I noticed this because I do know a little about unusual events that occurred in Europe in the early twentieth and the typical reader of this book won't.

How's that for trying to avoid spoilers?

It's not a major flaw. Even knowing what I know, I still was sucked in to the story, which came to a pretty satisfying conclusion. So if you haven't checked out this series, do so. You'll be entertained, that's for sure.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Book of Days

I just now finished Book of Days by James L. Rubart.

Cameron has had a rough life. He's lost his wife, Jessie. He lost his father, first to a disorder that robbed him of his memories, and then to death. But worst of all, Cameron is starting to lose his own memories and he worries that he too will die an early death. But both Jessie and his dad told him about the Book of Days, where God records the past, the future, everything. Cameron comes to believe that this Book holds the key to curing him, if only he can find it.

Ann is a woman looking for her past. And she has a lead, a good one. But if she follows it, she'll have to work with Cameron, a blast from her past that she just isn't ready for.

Both Cameron's and Ann's journeys will bring them to a small town in the Pacific Northwest, a town with its own secrets and people who will stand in their way. Will Ann find her past? Will Cameron have a future? Those answers are written in the Book of Days.

Okay, so my summary is a little over the top. Sue me.

It took me a little while to warm up to this book. I'm not exactly sure why that is. It was an enjoyable read with a few twists and turns to keep things interesting. Some things didn't sit well with me (for example, there's an unnamed villain and Rubart tries to drop hints that it's one person; it's pretty obvious it's not that person). But by and large, I enjoyed this book, especially after I got past a "critical mass" point, where I had gotten invested in the characters and stories. I especially appreciated the way Rubart portrayed Cameron's deteriorating condition. Very well done.

Naturally a book like this raises some questions about God's omniscience and how that relates to and interacts with human choice. Granted, this isn't a theology textbook, but I think Rubart did a good job of showing how both can work together. At least, I thought it was good. My colleagues who wear the funny shirts might disagree with me but hey, this wouldn't be the first time.

So all in all, a solid read and well done in my not-so-humble opinion.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wordcount Wednesday

So I was hoping to do better this week. Yeah, that didn't happen. But more on that in a minute.

Looking at the numbers, it doesn't look like I made a lot of progress. Over the past week, I added 4,611 words to Hive's total, bringing it to 70,221 words. But while the wordcount may not reflect a great deal of progress, I think I made psychological process. For a long time now, I've felt like I was spinning my wheels with this book. But in the past week, I've been able to move the story forward in some major leaps and bounds. Major revelations, some fun new (sort of) characters, and the players are getting in position for the final moves. I'm actually kind of optimistic that I can wrap this puppy up in the next few weeks.

So why didn't I do better? I blame The Night Queen, the short story that I wrote for a YA anthology. You remember, the one I wrote last week? Well, the editor for the anthology got back to me with a list of suggestions and edits and so I spent a day working on that (a day I had originally intended to pump up Hive's wordcount. Not that I'm complaining, just stating the fact). The great news is that I've officially been brought into the anthology!

It's called Spirited. Thirteen authors (including yours truly) have written spooky stories. The proceeds from this book will go to charity, specifically 826 National, an organization that promotes youth literacy.

Here's a book trailer in case you're curious about the book:

Pretty cool, huh? If you "Like" the book's Facebook page, you can stay up to date. Oh, and be sure to check out the cool contest that's being run right now. You can win an advance copy of the book by playing "Ghosthunter" with the authors' biographies. I mean, you've got a leg up now, right? You know at least one of them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Phoenix Jones arrested

A few months back, I posted a video about a real life superhero named Phoenix Jones, a man who really gets dressed up in a costume and patrols the streets in an attempt to fight crime. Well, apparently Jones was arrested recently for pepper spraying a group he claims was fighting but police say were dancing.

I'm not going to take sides on this one, but I'm thinking if you can't tell the different between fighting and dancing, you probably should hang up your cape and cowl.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Wordcount Wednesday

So things took kind of a curve this week.

For starters, I wasn't able to get as much work done on Hive as I would have liked. So this past weekend, I was really going to try to kick it into gear.

Then a fellow writer and friend of mine, Jill Williamson, notified me of an anthology looking for a short story. Did I have one lying around in a drawer somewhere that would fit the theme and the wordcount?

Unfortunately, no. But I figured I could crank one out in a few days. How much time did I have?

It was due today? Oh, shoot.

Actually, it wasn't all that bad. I spent two days writing it and then did a fast edit on it. It's probably a lot rougher than I would have normally liked, but I sent it to the editor today and we'll see what happens. The end result was a story called The Night Queen that clocked in at 5,526 words. I have no idea if it will get in or not. We'll just wait and see.

So Hive took a backseat this week, as you can tell from the wordcount. I only managed to write 1,445 words, bringing the grand total up to 65,610. Hopefully I can do better this week.

Friday, September 30, 2011


And so I continue my foray into the steampunk genre with Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. And this was a fun read, even if it's not exactly what I expected.

The Civil War has been dragging on for decades and the Russians are trying to decide whether or not to sell Alaska to the U.S. When they learn that there's gold in the Klondike, they start a race to build a machine that can dig it all out. The most likely contender is a man named Leviticus Blue, a scientist who builds a massive drill called the Boneshaker. Thing is, before he can deliver, the Boneshaker runs wild through underground Seattle, trashing the financial district and creating a big old mess.

Worse, in the aftermath of the destruction, a strange gas the locals call the Blight begins to seep through the town, killing people and turning them into zombies. To contain the threat, a massive wall is built around downtown Seattle.

And that's just in the prologue. Many years after this disaster, a young man named Ezekiel Wilkes decides he needs to get into the ruined city to clear his family name. He's really the son of Leviticus Blue and he's sure that his father didn't do anything wrong. He's bound and determined to face down the undead rotters and the folks still inside the city. But what he doesn't realize is that his mother, Briar Wilkes, is on his trail. She wants to make sure he gets out alive. But with a city controlled by a mysterious scientist Dr. Minnericht, no one is really safe.

I'm not sure what I expected with this book. I think I expected more gadgets, crazy inventions run by steam and gears and such. And while there were a few, it wasn't all that many. Cherie Priest seemed more interested in exploring the ruins of a vastly different Seattle.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy this book. I did. The counterfactual elements blended seamlessly with Priest's descriptions and I really enjoyed this story.

I'm coming to the conclusion that steampunk might not be for me. It's fun and all, but I'm not sure I'm going to be anything like a rabid fan. But with books like this, I might be willing to stick around a while longer.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Healer's Apprentice

I heard some good things about The Healer's Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson and so a few months ago I downloaded it to my Kindle. There it languished for a long time before I decided I had better check it out.

It's the story of a young woman named Rose. She's been apprenticed to the town healer (imagine that) and because of that, she encounters Wilhelm, the duke's older son. After helping him, she winds up being drawn bit by bit into his world. Worse, it would seem that Rose is developing feelings for him and maybe even vice versa. Problem is, Wilhelm is betrothed to a noble woman, a young lady he's never met. How can he fulfill his duty when Rose occupies his every waking thought?

For the most part, this was a good read. It was a bit too predictable for my taste. I had the plot pretty much figured out a quarter of the way in. Dickerson managed to toss in one curve ball that fouled the scent a little, but not enough to really throw me off track. The faith elements were woven in nicely and I appreciated the subtle nod to some of the issues that sparked the Reformation.

So all in all, this book struck me as a solid read. Maybe the problem is I'm the opposite gender as the target audience and romance really isn't my genre. But don't let that stop you. You might just be swept up by a well crafted fairy tale.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wordcount Wednesday

Okay, break time's over.

Yeah, I've been really bad about writing. I kept putting it off, thinking I could take one more day, one more week. No big deal, I can start again in June. In July. Of course, in July, our family grew by one and it's tough to write when you've got a newborn in the house.

Excuses, excuses.

But that's hopefully going to get better now. I recently got back from the annual ACFW Conference and it's kind of charged my batteries. Apparently some people found the idea of a pregnant teenage cyborg to be interesting. So I've got to start work on Hive in earnest.

Thing is, I haven't been keeping my wordcount updates . . . well, up-to-date. Last time I posted my count was back in May, when Hive clocked in at 50,393 words. Over the past few months, I've been able to tack on a word here, a sentence there. I didn't think it amounted to much. But apparently I did better than I realized. Added to the stuff I've written since Monday, that brought the grand total up to 64,165 words.

Excellent. That also means I'd better start wrapping things up, if I can. My original target was 80,000. I think I'll go over, but big surprise, I always go over.

Normally I'd set a deadline for myself or a prediction of some kind. Not now. I'm hoping I can keep this up, though. I've got a lot of stuff rattling around in my head that wants to come out and play. But the pregnant teenage cyborg needs to get out of the way first.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tropico 4

The Tropico franchise has been great from the beginning, and Tropico 4 is no exception.

For those unfamiliar with the games, you play as the dictator of a Caribbean island. You have to guide your country, making them prosperous either through trade or tourism. You have to deal with rebels and foreign governments, all the while trying to siphon away as much money as you can into a Swiss bank account. Well, not all the games were like that. Tropico 2 was about pirates. Go figure.

In many ways, Tropico 4 is just a spit-polished version of Tropico 3. The building models are pretty much the same (although the graphics are better). You still build your dictator from the ground up, selecting a background, a rise to power, and three traits, all of which give you particular bonuses and, in a few cases, hinders your performance. And then you're set loose on an island with agricultural and mineral resources.

The really interesting difference between the previous game and this one was the inclusion of a twenty mission campaign with a coherent storyline, one of a meteoric rise, betrayal, and revenge. That was a fun surprise; each mission forces the player to focus on a different aspect of island building. In one, you have to build a tourist mecca. In another, an industrial powerhouse. There were points where I was left scratching my head. For example, one mission took me a really long time, not ending until the game year hit the '90s. The next mission started in 1955. I realize it's a game mechanic that can't be helped, but it was a little odd.

Included in the game is the usual sandbox mode as well, allowing you a freeform game to play however you like.

I really like this game. It has some wry wit and humor and provides enough of a challenge to keep me coming back for more. I have no idea if a 5 is in the cards, but if it is, I'll be dusting off my dictator hat for another go-around.

Friday, September 16, 2011

When the Devil Whistles

A few months back, a few friends recommended When the Devil Whistles by Rick Acker, mostly because it was a freebie for Kindle. While I normally don't read thrillers, I figured I'd give this one a go.

Allie Whitman is a professional whistleblower. She goes into companies and ferrets out evidence of fraud against the government and then sues them. She's good at what she does. She and her lawyer, Conner Norman, are making a bundle off of these lawsuits, enough to form their own company, Devil To Pay. Life is good.

But things quickly begin to unravel as Allie goes after a new company. They have secrets, yes, but secrets that they are willing to kill for to keep quiet. And Allie has put herself in their crosshairs.

This was an okay book. I didn't get into it all that much. Maybe it was the genre, but for some reason, the characters didn't grab me. I think part of it stemmed from the fact that Conner, the lawyer, seemed a bit too perfect to me. I mean, I know that lawyers are human too and I wasn't expecting him to be a money-grubbing corrupt jerk. But Conner came across as superhuman and flawless.

The overall plot, while interesting, didn't grab me all that much either. Truth be told, I'm still not sure how it all fit together in the end. Maybe I started skimming toward the end of the book. That would be my fault, I guess.

What really surprised me was the fact that the Christian content was a bit on the light side. Yes, Conner and another character are church-going folk and yes, there's a quote about the devil whistling (hence the title), but beyond that, there wasn't much. That's not a complaint, mind you. Just an observation.

So should you read it? Sure, if you like legal thrillers. I just checked and as of this writing, the book is still free for Kindle.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

This is all kinds of awesome

Ummmmmmm . . . wow? I think that just about says it all.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I just yesterday finished reading Divergent by Veronica Roth. What can I say? My YA dystopian kick continues.

Set in Chicago in the future, society within this once great city has been split into five factions. The Abnegation are supposed to be the selfless civil servants. Amity stresses friendship, Candor will only tell the truth, Erudite searches out knowledge, and Dauntless are the warriors who guard the rest. When a child turns 16, he or she are given an aptitude test to see which faction they best fit in. Then they make a choice. If they stay within their faction, they can continue to see their family. If they leave to go to a different faction, they'll never see their loved ones again. The rule in this dystopian Windy City is "faction before blood."

That's what makes Beatrice Pryor's choice so difficult. She's been raised in Abnegation for her whole life, but it would appear that she could also fit in with Dauntless. It's a hard choice that she has to make, but make it she does. Now she finds herself caught up in a whirlwind, what with training, making new friends and new enemies, and a political Gordian knot that only she can untangle. Because Beatrice has a secret, one that could save the day.

If she can survive that long first.

This was a really good read. At least, I thought so. It was interesting to see how the factions interacted and how they all fit together. I also appreciated some of the thoughtful comments that Roth snuck into her story. What really surprised me was how much I kept nodding and thinking, This all sounds familiar.

Then I understood why. There's a reference to an infant baptism at one point (full immersion, no less!). And Roth's acknowledgments certainly explain why I found myself in agreement with her overall worldview.

So upside? I enjoyed this book. It was a fun ride while it lasted and if there are future books in this series, I'll be sure to check them out.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Outside Aperture

Yet another fan-made film about Portal. This one's a little . . . well, weird. But in a good way.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Pitching Advice Part VI

Just a few last minute comments from me, seeing as the ACFW National Conference is a little over two weeks away. I want to leave you with two thoughts about meeting editors and agents at a conference.

First of all, remember that they are human too. We unpublished author types often get ourselves worked up into a weird frenzy at the thought of meeting industry insiders. Even if we're not consciously doing it, we sometimes get this strange idea that editors and agents occupy a circle of existence reserved for either demigods or demons. You know, "These are the folks who walk the halls of the publishing industry, that heady nirvana to which we all aspire." Or, depending on how many times we've been rejected, "These are the gatekeepers who bar the way, the single-headed Cerberus who I must overcome to see my dreams become reality."

Let's just put it bluntly, folks. They're human beings, just like you and me.

Keep that in mind as you meet with them. While it would be nice if every editor and agent at a conference was chipper, friendly, and helpful, there's always the chance that you might catch them at an off time. Maybe they're hungry. Maybe lunch isn't agreeing with them. Maybe they just got an angry text from their significant other and they're hurting a little. Whatever the case, they may not be feeling their best and that may reflect on their interaction with you. It stinks, but what can you do?

Second, lastly, and most importantly, remember this: the editors and agents are on your side. More than that, they actually want to be there and meet with you.

Think about it this way: how big do you think the slush pile of the average editor or agent is? They could probably find some decent books without leaving the office. But there they are, sitting in a room, waiting to meet with you. Why? Because they know that you might just have what they are looking for.

This bears repeating: They want to meet with you.

If you're feeling nervous about meeting with an editor or agent for the first time, repeat that mantra to yourself. They are on your side. They may reject you. As a matter of fact, they may reject you a lot. But the fact that they're at the conference means that they're open to new ideas, your ideas, and they want to hear them.

My best advice: be professional, don't freak out too much, and remember, they want to meet with you.

See you at the conference!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Want You Gone

One of the great things about the Portal games is the inclusion of music. When I beat the first game, I nearly fell out of my chair as GLaDOS, the big, evil computer began to serenade me. And while knowing that she'd sing again in the sequel kind of made it less special, I still loved the new song, "Want You Gone."

But not, apparently, as much as the guy who made this video. To be fair:

If you haven't played the game all the way through, don't watch the video. But if you have, enjoy.

Warm Bodies

When's the last time you actually cheered for a zombie? I mean, really cheered for him or her? You might do so if they're about to take a chunk out of a really annoying person in a story, but I suspect that making a zombie a sympathetic hero is not easy.

Well, unless you're Isaac Marion, author of Warm Bodies. And it isn't that hard to cheer for a zombie if that zombie is R.

R is different from the rest of the Dead. He lives alone in a jet at an abandoned airport. He's introspective, wondering about who he is and where he came from. And that difference leads him to do something unheard of: while out hunting, he spares a young woman named Julie.

R doesn't know why he did it. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he killed and ate Julie's boyfriend just a moment before he met her. Maybe it's something about her. Maybe there's something changing in him. But suddenly, R doesn't want to be a zombie anymore. Instead, he wants Julie. And maybe, just maybe, she wants to be with him too. But how can a Living girl and a Dead man be together when their worlds are so different?

If you're more observant than I am, you probably caught the literary underpinnings of this story (I actually feel quite stupid for not catching the "R" and "Julie" connection until about 2/3s of the way through). But don't let that throw you. This is a great book. R is an interesting, complex individual that you want to see succeed, even in the face of impossible odds. The zombie-fied world that Marion created is an interesting one too, complete with what appears to be a zombie culture that's fascinating to explore.

The ending didn't quite work for me. It was a bit too deus ex machina, although in keeping with the unheard "soundtrack" of the book (this book is big on music). But don't let that throw you. It's a fast read, and well worth your time.

Thursday, September 01, 2011


I've never really read Steampunk before. Oh, sure, I've seen some quasi-Steampunk movies (i.e. Wild, Wild West or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), but I haven't really ever experienced the literary charms of the genre. I decided it would be best to rectify that oversight and so I purchased a few anthologies and a highly recommended novel. I started with Steampunk first.

This is a collection of short stories and snippets from novels. I skipped the novel snippets; I'd rather read a complete story rather than a piece of one.

For the most part, these were okay. The stand-out for me was Seventy-Two Letters by Ted Chiang, a well thought-out romp through bad science, golem mythology, and nineteenth century manners. I really enjoyed that story, mostly because it was close to something I had been brainstorming.

Otherwise, the other stories were okay. I'm not quite ready to declare myself a Steampunk enthusiast or affectianado or anything like that. I still have some more books to read. But it was a good jumping off point.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pitching Advice Part V

So you're at a writing conference. You've scrimped and saved to get there, you've been dreaming of this chance to hobnob with agents and editors. You've signed up to meet with said agents and editors but then you learn that you didn't get an appointment after all. Or maybe you're in the envious position of having the appointments you've signed up for, but there are other agents and editors you wanted to meet with. What's a writer to do?

Time to see if you can get what I like to call a "God appointment."

Simply (and somewhat crassly) put, at writing conferences, it's acceptable to stalk editors and agents. Well, within limits, of course (more on that in a bit). But should you run into an editor or agent in the hall, in a coffee shop, or even on the cliched elevator, it's okay to try to pitch to them.

So how do you do that? First, ask if it's okay to pitch at that moment. Your target, whoever it may be, could be heading to a meeting, or running late to a class, or possibly even heading toward the bathroom. Needless to say, if that's the case, they probably won't take kindly to an enthusiastic and/or nervous author trying to pitch them a book. Show your professionalism and your respect for their time, and ask, "May I pitch to you?" If they say "No," thank them and walk away.

But if they say yes, treat it like a high-powered pitch session. Tell them the book's title, the genre, and your hook (you have been practicing your hook, right?). And then wait for feedback. If the editor or agent prompts you for more information, keep talking.

The key to these kinds of pitch meetings is to let the agent or editor steer things. So long as they keep asking questions, you're golden. But if they thank you, time to let it (and them) go. And if they're eying potential avenues of escape, then it's definitely time to stop talking.

This is a great way to get your work in front of industry insiders, but it's important to keep the three "Bs" in mind, namely, "Breakfast," "Bathroom," and "Bedroom." Simply put, if your target enters one of these three, they're off limits.

I don't think I have to elaborate too much on these points. I mean, I'm not a morning person. It's best to let people have their coffee and donuts in peace. If you find yourself at a table with an editor or agent, make small talk, but don't talk business unless they bring it up first.

And really? Pitching to someone in the bathroom? It seems odd that people would have to be told this, but apparently, not everyone understands. In his book The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell tells of an editor (or maybe an agent) who used to have proposals slid under the stall door while he was in the restroom. This individual would take off the cover sheet, and then write on the second page, "This has met my needs at this time," and then slide it back out again.

Don't let that happen to you.

I would think the bedroom one is obvious too. If they're heading for their room, don't follow them in.

Does this work? You'd better believe it does. I've been to four ACFW Conferences and I've seen it happen. At one, I was chatting with a friend when an agent walked up to us. He dismissed me pretty quickly (due to my genre of choice) but my friend launched into a very concise and passionate pitch. They exchanged information and my friend signed with the agent shortly thereafter.

And it worked for me twice as well. At the last ACFW Conference, I ran into Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press before the festivities started. He invited me to chat with him while he ate lunch. I told him about Failstate. He asked for a full manuscript. And sometime next year, that manuscript will be published.

At the same conference, my friend, Jill Williamson, introduced me to her agent, Amanda Luedeke. In a bizarre twist, Jill actually pitched Failstate to Amanda for me. That began a conversation with Amanda that ended with me signing with her.

God appointments, times when He intertwines your path with the right people, do happen. You just have to be ready for them.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I Write Like . . .

I just saw a link to a webpage that allows you to cut-and-paste something you wrote into a text box. Using some sort of computer voodoo, the website then determines what famous writer you write like.

So I decided I should test this out. I took the first chapter of Failstate, my debut, soon-to-be-published novel, and this is what I got:

I write like
Chuck Palahniuk

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Huh. I've never read Chuck, but I have heard of him.

So I decided to see if this would vary at all if I submitted text from a different story. So I dusted off the first chapter of Numb, my Christian space opera/espionage thriller. And this is what I got from that:

I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Um, wow.

So you tell me? Good thing that my style varied so much between two books? Or evidence of a lack of consistent voice on my part?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Beyond Black Mesa

I've apparently been amassing a load of on-line videos that are really cool. I figured I'd better start sharing them, nicht wahr? Here's one set in the universe of the Half Life games. The sheer dedication it takes to make a video like this is absolutely mind-boggling.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pitching Advice Part IV

So here's the "long awaited" post about what not to do in a pitch meeting. But before we get into that, let me tell you a fictional story that will help illustrate my point.

Let's pretend that I just went through a particularly messy divorce (this is in no way based on my life at present, just FYI). It turns out that my wife wound up cheating on me multiple times, and then, due to legal chicanery on the part of her attorney, she winds up with everything. I am left an emotionally, financially, and spiritually broken man.

Over the course of a year, I manage to pick up the pieces and, by the grace of God, I am made whole again. And as I reflect on my experiences, I realize that by golly, there's a story there, one I'm yearning to tell. So I sit down and bang it out. I edit it, I revise it, I show it to my pastor, my family, and everyone agrees that it will be a blessing to those who went through similarly messy divorces.

So I'm off to ACFW! I have my editor and agent appointments in hand and I am ready to wow them with the story that God has laid on my heart.

The editor is first. I sit down, introduce myself, and she asks me to tell her about my story. I begin telling her the tale of my protagonist (who is loosely modeled after me) and his harrowing journey (which is loosely based on mine). And as I describe the plot, it stirs up all sorts of painful memories: of learning of my wife's cheating ways, of the long, empty nights alone, the glories of grace that set me free.

And I start to tear up a little. I apologize and wipe away the tear and try to soldier on, but with every word, more memories are bubbling up, stirring up my emotions and before I know it, I'm blubbering like a baby. I somehow manage to make it through my pitch, but by the time I'm done, I've gone through six tissues (which the editor had to retrieve from her purse).

Oddly, the editor doesn't seem all that interested. She thanks me for my time but that's it.

So I figure I have to wow the agent. When I meet with him, I hold it together a little better, just a few random sniffles, and then I sit back and wait for him to make the offer.

Instead, he starts to criticize my protagonist, saying that he's unlikeable and his entire character arc is unbelievable.

I bristle immediately. How dare he criticize me like that? He didn't go through what I did! I feel attacked, so naturally, I do my best to defend myself. I point out how he is wrong, how the story is fine the way it is, that it's truer to life that way.

After what amounts to a tense, five minute "conversation," the agent thanks me for coming and that's it. I wind up leaving the conference, wondering why no one asked to see more.

Can anyone tell the fictional me why this happened?

Before you pitch, you have to Spock it up. Keep your emotions in check. When you're pitching, being overly emotional is a liability.

Now you might think that both of these examples are a bit extreme, I've heard stories through the grapevine of those things happening. People will start crying as they pitch, either because of nerves or because, like the fictional version of me, they're too emotionally connected to their story.

I've also heard stories of people who, when encountering criticism from editors or agents, will become belligerent and start arguing with them.

You might be tempted to think that crying or arguing is an indication of being passionate about your craft. And that's a good thing, right? An editor or agent would want to know you're passionate, right?

Normally, yes. They want to find passionate people who are engaged by their stories. But if you're weeping while pitching or arguing with them, they're going to see, not a passionate author, but a thin-skinned one. A person who will be too emotional to handle the process of publishing a book. A person who won't be a good partner and collaborator when it comes to the editing that needs to be done. In short, a person they won't want to work with.

So if you're pitching an intensely emotional story, one with deep connections to you, and you're not sure you can make it through a pitch without crying, start practicing it now. Work on it every day until you can make it through with no more than a sniffle. If you think you might get snippy with an editor, well, learn to bite your tongue until it bleeds.

Now does this mean you have to be completely Vulcanized (i.e. without emotion, for those of you not in the know) when you pitch? Of course not. It's good to seek a bit of rapport with the agent or editor in question. That's a lesson I stumbled into my first conference.

At my first conference, way back in 2006, I was signed up to meet with Steve Laube. At the beginning of the conference, they held an agent panel, and one of the questions they asked the agents was, "What's the worst project you've ever been pitched?"

There were some doozies, but Steve Laube told the story about how an author started pitching him a story about flesh-eating mutant frogs. He very gently tried to explain why he wasn't interested, but as he did, the author blurted out, "But it's a love story!" And of course, everyone at the panel laughed.

Fast forward to my appointment. I am nervous. Petrified, really. I had never met a literary agent before, let alone pitch to one. Not only that, but my first pitch meeting hadn't gone well (my own fault; I hadn't done my research on the publishing house). So I was freaking out.

But as I approached the table where Steve Laube waited, I decided I had to do something to let off some of the nervous energy, something that would give him a glimpse of who I was as a person. When Steve asked me what I was pitching, I said, "I've written a romantic novel about flesh-eating mutant frogs."

Steve, with a perfectly straight face, replied, "It's been done."

And that's all it took. I relaxed, I told him about my project, he told me why it would never sell, and that was it. And I count that as a success.

I guess the upshot of this is: be yourself when you pitch. Just remember, this is very much like a job interview. Be respectful, be calm, and you'll do fine.

Next week, we'll talk about what I like to call "God meetings." Those are fun.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

From Dust

One of the dangers of having Steam installed on my computer is that every now and then, I'll see an ad for a game that looks interesting and is priced relatively low. Usually I can resist the temptation to splurge. Sometimes I can't. And the cheap-o games I get are a mixed bag. Some are really fun, others aren't.

So a few weeks ago, I saw an ad for From Dust. The ad made it sound like this was a critically acclaimed game and a friend of mine mentioned playing it. I blame my sleep deprived state, but I decided to buy the game and see what it was like.

It's a fairly straightforward game. You have a little tribe of followers/worshipers who are traveling from level to level, building villages around stone totems. You are some sort of powerful deity or spirit or something-or-other who can sort of control the forces of nature, sculpting the land, protecting your people, guiding them ever onward in their quest to find . . . well, I'm not sure what, exactly. The story in this game isn't much, just a weird through-line of trying to find "the Ancients" for some unknown reason. Go figure.

Each level is basically a puzzle you have to solve, using the powers that your followers can unlock for you. For example, if they build a village around the totem for "Infinite Earth," you gain the ability to create sand and dump it wherever you want for a limited amount of time. The trick is to figure out how to keep your tribe safe from the hostile world around them. That's not as easy as it sounds. There were a few levels that I barely made it past, simply because I got lucky.

In many ways, this game reminded of me of a stripped down version of the old Populous games. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. I liked Populous. And for the most part, I liked From Dust. The levels were challenging enough but not so bad as to completely stymie me. There are further challenge levels that I may check out.

The downside is the DRM, which apparently a lot of gamers are upset about. From what little I can gather, Ubisoft, the game's developer, promised that you wouldn't need a persistent internet connection to play but, guess what, you actually do. That didn't bother me so much, but for some reason, at the beginning and end of each session, the game tried to sync my saved games and failed, a process that took two to three minutes. Kind of bugged me.

So I guess you have to ask yourself if you don't mind intrusive DRM. If not, this could be a fun distraction.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pitching Advice Part III

Last week, I promised that we would take a look at a big no-no when it comes to pitching your ideas. But I realized after I made that promise that I haven't really talked about what to bring into a pitch meeting at a conference. So I'll save the "what not to do" thing for next week, okay?

Basically, you can/should bring two things: a one sheet and a proposal for your novel, one that includes sample chapters.

Now I'm no expert on one sheets, but my philosophy on those is to keep it simple. I've seen some one sheets that a chock-full of graphics and fancy designs, but I wonder if that really helps. Instead, put the book's title, genre, and wordcount on it. Put a back-cover type blurb on it, along with your bio and contact information. I usually also include a picture of myself so that if the editor or agent takes the one sheet, they'll have a face to go with the name. If you want to see some examples of one sheets, head over to Rachelle Gardner's blog. Her most recent post is about what to bring to a conference, but it also includes links to sample one sheets.

As for the proposal, that can be tricky. Different houses and agencies have different requirements. It's impossible to craft one that will please everyone in terms of content and format. You definitely want to put in your hook, your back-cover copy, any spiritual payload or theme you're trying to convey. Include a one to two page synopsis, your bio, any marketing ideas you might have. And be sure to include sample chapters as well. It's been my experience that in a pitch session, the editor or agent will want to see what you bring to the table.

Again, I'm no expert. If you do some searches on-line for sample proposals, you'll find some. Rip off the general structure and you should do fine.

The one thing to remember is this: it's very unlikely that the agent or editor you're meeting with will keep your one sheet or proposal. After all, they have to pay for their checked luggage too, and the last thing they need is to try to stuff a carry on or suitcase full of paper from their meetings. If they do keep it, that's great. If they don't, it's not a big deal either. Every agent or editor has their own style and preferences when it comes to this.

With that out of the way, next week we'll talk about a huge "DON'T" when it comes to pitch meetings. See you then!

Monday, August 15, 2011

It's Story Time

Earlier this evening, I was driving to McDonald's to pick up some supper, and my radio was tuned to KS95. The DJs, Moon and Staci, were asking for people to call in and tell them stories. Moon wanted folks to tell him stories about a time when they uttered the words, "Get out of my house!" Staci, on the other hand, wanted people to tell her a story about a time they were in a riot.

The moment I heard her story prompt, I started laughing, and I thought, Do I have a story for you! Sadly, I had left my phone at home and by the time I returned, food in hand, I couldn't call in. So instead, I Tweeted my thought.

Shortly thereafter, I found this reply:

I replied with a short version of the story. But that got me reminiscing and I felt the need to share.

So snuggle in, folks, and let me tell you the story of the four Minnesota kids who found themselves in a race riot sparked by the Ku Klux Klan.

When I was in college, three of my friends used to go on what they called "Cross Country Skips." Usually during spring break, they would pack up and drive to Toronto or New Orleans or Corpus Christi. But since my college was on the quarter system, our breaks never matched up. I never got to go.

Finally, in my second year in Seminary, we figured out how I could go. We'd head to Memphis for Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. They'd drive down to St. Louis and pick me up early in the morning. We'd be there by Saturday morning, and we'd have a day or two to see the sights and hit Beale Street.

Everything went pretty well. We made the drive and arrived early on Saturday. As we pulled into town, we saw people walking around with what appeared to be civil rights inspired signs: "Keep the Dream Alive," that sort of thing. When we got into our room, we saw a big crowd gathering nearby. We thought that maybe it was a parade of some sort. So we figured we should go check it out.

Now pay attention, folks, and make sure you learn from our mistakes. There were certain stupid decision we made.

We left our hotel and drifted in the direction of the crowds. Much to our surprise, we saw a police checkpoint across one street. Confused as to why a parade would need a checkpoint, we asked a passerby what was happening.

"The Klan's in town and having a rally on the police station steps."

Now I'd like to think that it was sleep deprivation, but for some inexplicable reason, we decided that we should go check this out. NOT because we agreed with the Klan's rhetoric or beliefs, mind you. I think our reasoning was more along the lines of "We're four white kids from Minnesota who have never seen the Klan before." So we thought that we'd see what we could see. (THIS IS STUPID DECISION #1)

We went through the police check point, where we were patted down and the girls' purses were searched (STUPID DECISION #2) We then went down the block and we came upon the edges of the scene.

Let's see if I can set the stage for you: the Klan, about a dozen members in the sheets and everything, had set themselves up on the police station steps. The cops had made a no man's land around the steps, using police cars as a barricade. Pressed up against said barricade was an anti-Klan protest, a crowd that covered the street from building to building. We found a spot toward the back of the crowd, where I had a pretty good view of the proceedings (being 6' 6" has its advantages at times). I could see the Klan, the entire crowd, the Memphis riot police in full body armor watching us all warily (EVIDENCE OF STUPID DECISION #3).

As we watched, the anti-Klan crowd . . . well, "saluted" the Klan in an appropriate manner and then burned a Confederate flag. Then some sort of disturbance started working its way through the crowd, heading right for us (EVIDENCE OF STUPID DECISION #4). The girls wisely ran away; the other guy and I stuck around to see what was happening. As it turns out, someone had shown up wearing a jacket with a Confederate flag patch on it. A group of people were screaming at him, "Are you one of them? Are you one of them?" and hounded him out of the crowd.

It was at this point I turned to the other guy and said, "Let's find the girls and get out of here."

We found them on the edge of the crowd. We started discussing what we wanted to do next without really leaving the area (STUPID DECISION #5). That's when we noticed that a big chunk of the crowd was running. As in right at us.

So we turned and ran, but a second later, the people stopped running and started moving back into the crowd. Out of immediate danger, we did the only logical thing: we stopped where we were and continued our discussion of where we wanted to eat lunch (EXTREMELY STUPID DECISION #6).

As I recall, I was the one facing the crowd as we talked. And as we talked, I noticed these odd canisters sailing through the air, spouting what looked like smoke. And these projectiles were landing in the crowd. By the time I realized I was seeing honest-to-goodness tear gas canisters, the entire anti-Klan crowd (which, remember, filled the street from building to building) had turned around and everyone was running.

Right. At. Us.

I think I said something like, "I think it's time to run again." And we started running for our lives, a mass of humanity hard on our heels. One of the girls was yelling that if we got split up, we should meet back at the hotel. Thankfully, said hotel was just a block or two and we managed to dive into the lobby just as the desk clerk was locking the doors. In other words, if we had been moving just a second or two slower, we would have been trapped out on the streets.

We waited for the initial surge to go past the hotel and then we snuck out a side doorway to head for lunch (STUPID DECISION #7). It was then that we discovered that some people had decided to take advantage of the chaos and do some destruction of public property. Some teenagers came running down the streets, knocking over trash cans and newspaper vendors. One had his belt off and, for some reason, was whipping a bus. Another was carrying a 2X4. But then the guy carrying the 2X4 turned around, dropped it, and took off running. We soon saw why. The cops were after them, one with his weapon drawn, the other wearing a gas mask.

We got out of there quickly and went to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. We stayed out of the neighborhood until the later afternoon, when we went back to watch the news to try to figure out what happened. As near as we could figure at the time, the anti-Klan people started pressing up against the police barricade, prompting the cops to start spraying pepper spray to disperse them (that, we think, caused the initial surge of people). When that didn't work, they resorted to tear gas.

Anyway, we went out later that evening to hit Beale Street. As we left the hotel, one of the girls spotted the 2X4 the guy had dropped in the street. On the way back to the hotel, she saw it again. And she took it as a souvenir. So far as I know, she still has it.

Like I said, we made some stupid decisions. Looking back on it, I honestly have no idea what possessed us to go past that police checkpoint. It was just dumb all around.

At the very least, it gives me a great story to use when I play "2 Truths and a Lie" with people. Because really, how many of you would think a mild mannered Lutheran pastor would have witnessed a race riot started by the Ku Klux Klan?