Thursday, December 6, 2018

My Wife Made Me Write This

My wife, Robin, suggested writing this blog post. She "said" it was good to show the non-writing side of my life.

I tried to explain it will simply ruin the tiny residue of coolness I still retained—that quasi-aura of awe that being an author grants an individual so long as a lot is left to the imagination. Robin probably feels that since I failed to do dishes yesterday, I’m getting too full of myself, and so maybe this was her way to deflate my ego and ruin my rep. Personally I think the fact that  I’m a fantasy/science fiction novelist who played the original ziplock-bagged edition of Dungeons and Dragons back in the seventies, (great way to meet girls, let me tell you); or that at age fifty-seven, I still find time to play Early Access computer games on Steam; or that I created a replica of my fictional fortress, Alon Rhist, in Minecraft would be enough. Apparently not.

Now that I’m starting to regain a modicum of respectability due to waning interest in the oversaturated superhero market, living in a rustic-chic cabin in the mountains, and having visited Europe twice, she wants me to throw all that away and expose another geeky interest of mine. Either she’s telling the truth, or just wants to ensure I never have the opportunity to run off with a hot, forty-nine-year-old babe who’s into older guys that make up stories about elves. I’m thinking that might be it, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Here goes: I’ve started birding.

For those of you who have no idea what that means, it means you’re normal. I think most birders recognize they are different. You know, the way those of us who desperately needed to know the names of all five wizards in Middle-Earth—including the two “blue” Istari—are “different”. And just like a person who might not want to interchange Trekkies and Trekkers in front of a Star Trek fan, you want to know there is a difference between Birdwatching and Birding.

Birdwatching means you like to watch birds, like some ornithologist’s creepy voyeur obsession. Birding is Pokémon Go for old people. Well, older people. I suppose you don’t have to be old to enjoy birding. In fact, it’s a huge benefit to be young and in good physical shape. Given, however, the primary activity involves walking slowly and quietly outdoors, generally in natural places like forests and fields, or just sitting for hours listening and waiting, it tends to attract the AED people (Attention Excess Disorder), or “older people”. Oh, and Boy Scouts. They can get a merit badge for being able to identify twenty birds.

I started this bizarre obsession on Thanksgiving—technically the day after. You see, the family was looking for a good movie to watch. Given my afore mentioned lackluster attraction to superhero flicks we watched an old Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson film called The Big Year, which is based off a novel by Mark Obamack. Both are the mostly true story of the 1998 Big Year Birding contest.

Let me tell you about what a Big Year is cause this is where things get a little weird—in a cool, nostalgic throwback way—but weird nonetheless.

The Big Year is a contest where individuals try to see more bird species in the US and Canada than anyone else. People go to great lengths spending tens of thousands of dollars, sacrifice a significant amount of a year's time, oftentimes suffer terrible discomfort, and sometimes abandoning marriages to achieve victory. What do they win? Nothing. Who checks to makes sure people really see what they claim they saw? Nobody. The whole thing is on the honor system and there is no prize other than your name at the top of a list published in a magazine no one reads. It’s absolutely Downton Abbey British.

It’s also a good movie. After watching it, the next morning, a bird landed on the railing of my deck next to a feeder my wife had me put up a couple weeks before. My daughter spotted it and got my old National Geographic Pocket Bird Identifier out and concluded it was a Dark-Eyed Junco. I got my DSLR camera, snapped on the 72-200mm lens (the one I recently bought to take on the Rhine Cruise that previous summer) and let her shoot the bird. 

That’s how it started.

Later that day, as a wholesome family outing, I took everyone across the street to the fire road that leads up the mountains of Shenandoah National Park. We brought the camera and binoculars. This was our first Birding trip. We saw one lousy bird. Robin thought it was a nice way to get exercise; my son just liked walking in the woods; Sarah and I eyed each other realizing the truth: we were now rivals in a serous competition.

We made a deal. One year. Identifiable photographs only. The most bird species wins. Deadline: next Thanksgiving. Bring your A-game, and your photos or settle for turkey.


Sarah bought her first telephoto lens. I shopped to upgrade mine, but couldn’t justify $2000 for sharper pics. I’m not that competitive—not yet. I did get the eBird and Audubon apps that shows hot spots to help me locate hard targets. And the wonderful Merlin app that will decode a photo and help me identify what bird I just saw. Real birders don’t require photos, but then read birders know which birds are which. They just use binoculars and jot the names in notebooks they call “Bird Journals”.

In the old days, before handheld cameras with rifle-length zoom lenses, birders used actual guns to kill birds. It was the only way to be sure what they spotted. John James Audubon, the famed American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter, made a habit of killing hundreds of birds, keeping a handful of the best to do his paintings from. He used wire to pose them and revolutionized wildlife art with his “life-like” poses. But starting in 1900, some crazy folks who were part of the Audubon Society (Audubon in name only as it was formed by George Bird Grinnell who sought to protect birds from the mass slaughter occurring at the time—and who had clearly never met Audubon, who died decades earlier) thought it might be fun to count instead of kill the birds.

So began the first CBC or Christmas Bird Count. After that, a guy named Roger Troy Peterson made one of the first Field Guides so people could identify birds by just looking. In the process, he performed a Big Year in 1953 by seeing 572 species. In 1973 Ken Kaufman, a poor, eighteen-year-old kid got 666 by hitchhiking the US and living on Little Friskies Cat food mixed with vegetable soup. Poor Ken lost that year to Floyd Murdock who got 669, but it only cost Ken $1000. James Vardaman spent over $44,000 in 1979 to spot 699. Ken wrote a Field Guide of his own.

Then in 1998 Sandy Komito, Al Levantin, and Greg Miller competed for the Big Year. This is what the movie and book are based on. I won’t tell you who won or what their scores were. It goes against my ethics and livelihood to give out spoilers.

Not being bird experts, my daughter and I needed photos to ID perps, or peeps, as the case may be. So we take photos. After Thanksgiving, we returned to our respective homes and began the hunt. Living in the mountains, I thought I had the advantage, and quickly added Song Sparrow, Golden Crowned Kinglet, Mockingbird, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Cooper's Hawk, Northern Cardinal, Turkey Vulture, Male/Female Mallard, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Rock Pigeon, European Starling, Northern Bluebird, Great Blue Heron, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Raven, Bufflehead Duck, Killdeer, House Sparrow, Canadian Geese, Kestrel, and Morning Dove to my list.  Here's some of the pictures.

To my dismay, I learned Washington DC (near where my daughter lives), with its proximity to the Potomac, drew a lot of birds. After one week she was ahead by three. One was a Bald Eagle. Doh!

One of the primary differences between Birdwatching and Birding is that Birders hunt. Birdwatchers sit and enjoy witnessing birds visit their feeders. Birders travel. While I drove to local lakes to hunt birds, I really became a genuine Birder when I dragged my wife on a two-hour drive to the Occoquan Bay Wildlife Refuge to spend the day shooting birds. The weather was bad for shooting—dark and overcast, but at least it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t freezing. Best of all I bagged fourteen birds that day including a pair of eagles. 

I also met my first real Birder. I had heard about them. Rumor held they are quiet, shy but exceptionally friendly and helpful, and always eager to talk about birds. The fella I met was Scott Sarratt, who frequents the refuge and was a font of birding tips and wisdom. At that moment, birding became a massive multi-player game.

I now have a birding journal, a new strap for my binoculars, Ken Kaufman’s Field Guild, and the National Geographic’s hardcover Complete Birds of North America. My count is presently a cool forty confirmed bird species. Forty in eleven days is a decent start for a novice, pretty good even.

The real question: What is Sarah’s count?

She’s been quiet about it, which has me worried. I think she’d booked a charter flight to the Aleutian Isle of Attu for a three-week birding hunt. I have no proof, but I wouldn’t put it past her.

So there goes my reputation as the suave, sophisticated author. Maybe I should insist Robin write a blog on how she’s become a bread-baking fanatic and is desperately trying to extend the life of our perennial plants by taking clippings and Frankeinseining them.

Plants, birds, bread…yeah, we’re definitely AED people.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Cyber Monday Sale - Save 25% - 50% Off My Books

Are you looking forward to the holidays?  Do you want some great savings on my books? Well, I certainly want to help make it easier on your pocketbook this time of year.  So, starting today (and continuing through December 11th), all my books are on sale for 25% - 50% off! My past holiday sales have been at a 20% discount, but I have a lot of excess stock (particularly Age of Swords) and I'm deeply discounting the titles, so I don't have to pay for storage.  Here are some examples of the savings you can receive.
  • All three hardcovers of Legends of the First Empire now just $48.50 (regularly $83)
  • All three trade paperbacks of The Riyria Revelations, now just $37.50 (regularly $50)
  • All four trade paperbacks of The Riyria Chronicles, now just $40.00 (regularly $64)
Here's a breakdown of what's on sale and the savings you'll find.

And remember, all books bought from me come signed and with a custom bookmark! Oh, and one more thing...I'll throw in a free digital version of the Jester comic with each order. Now how much would you pay? Sorry, I couldn't resist. Seriously though, this is an excellent opportunity to get books you've missed to buy some presents for people you'd like to introduce to my tales.  Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Goodreads Choice Awards: The Fantasy Finalists

Well, we didn't make it to the finals, but I meant it when I said it was an honor to be nominated in the first round. So who has advanced on? Here's the group of 10.

There's a lot of great things to note in this list.
  • Like the US midterms, women are really kicking butt and taking names.  7 of the ten titles are written by women, just two by men, and one by a man/woman pair. That's so great to see!
  • A debut novel made the list (R.F. Kuang's The Poppy War). This is an amazing achievement, and my congratulations and good wishes go to her for continued success.
  • None of the write-ins advanced, but that's usually the case given they miss an entire round of voting. Still, they each should be proud to make the semi-finals. So good for them!
Here are links (and updated status) to aid you in the final round of voting.

TitleAuthorSeries Rating  # Ratings  Shelved by 
Beneath the Sugared Sky Seanan McGuire Wayward Children #34.099,65627,215
Burn Bright Patricia Briggs Alpha & Omega #54.2912,33230,141
Circe Madeline Miller N/A4.3550,02065,001
Grey Sister Mark Lawrence Book of the Ancestor #24.478,04122,980
High Voltage Karen Marie Moning Fever #104.337,83830,595
Iron and Magic Ilona Andrews Iron Covenant #14.4510,78427,373
The Poppy War R.F. Kuang Poppy War #14.097,63348,826
The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro & Daniel Kraus N/A3.996,92430,805
Spinning Silver Naomi Novik N/A4.3117,54976,478
Year One Nora Roberts Chronicles of The One #14.0730,17176,499

Voting is open for the final round and it ends November 26th, so cast your ballot now!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A 7th GoodReads Choice Award Nomination

It's that time a year again! No, I'm not talking about the approaching holiday shopping season (although I've already seen Early Black Friday sales online, and television commercials featuring Santa).  What I'm referring to is the Goodreads Choice Award Voting.

I'm sorry for the lateness regarding this announcement. Robin and I have been in Italy at the Lucca Convention, and while we could see that Age of War was nominated (on our phones and tablets), we didn't have access to computers to do an official blog post on the subject. Well, we're back, and the second round of voting is underway.

Fifteen books were picked by the Goodreads staff in the opening round, including the following titles.

Here are links to the books in case you want to check them out, along with some data from Goodreads.

TitleAuthorSeries Rating  # Ratings  Shelved by 
Age of War Michael J. Sullivan Legends of the First Empire #34.474,13419,844
Beneath the Sugared Sky Seanan McGuire Wayward Children #34.099,54626,715
The Book of M Peng Shepherd N/A3.753,90929,834
Burn Bright Patricia Briggs Alpha & Omega #54.2812,24729,652
Circe Madeline Miller N/A4.3548,95062,146
Grey Sister Mark Lawrence Book of the Ancestor #24.477,92522,430
High Voltage Karen Marie Moning Fever #104.337,76930,269
Iron and Magic Ilona Andrews Iron Covenant #14.4510,62226,616
The Land: Predators Aleron Kong Chaos Seeds #74.604,4918,737
The Poppy War R.F. Kuang Poppy War #14.097,63348,826
Senlin Ascends Josiah Bancroft Books of Babel #14.255,95831,157
The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro & Daniel Kraus N/A3.986,81929,941
Spinning Silver Naomi Novik N/A4.3117,13875,254
Wrath of Empire Brian McClellan Gods of Blood and Powder #24.563,0489,900
Year One Nora Roberts Chronicles of The One #14.0729,93675,242

During the first round, five books were added by write-in ballots from Goodreads readers, increasing the total list for the semi-finals to twenty titles.  The added books included the following:

And here are their Goodreads links and data.

TitleAuthorSeries Rating  # Ratings  Shelved by 
Bloody Rose Nicholas Eames Band #24.362,2159,544
Foundryside Robert Jackson Bennett Founders #14.352,85222,703
The Girl in the Tower Katherine Arden Winternight Trilogy #24.4218,02754,670
Magic Triumphs Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels #104.6110,12229,310
Time's Convert Deborah Harkness All Souls Trilogy #43.966,73338,704

Current voting will narrow the field down to ten finalists. Although I've had seven nominations, I'm pretty sure none of my books have made it to the final round (which is fine, truly it's an honor just to be nominated). So, as always, I'm asking you to vote for the book you want to win the most, and if that happens to turn out to be Age of War, that'd be even better!  Voting in the semi-final round ends November 11th so cast your ballot now!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

I'm one of #BrandonsBuddies, hopefully you will be, too

F*CK CANCER! Yeah, I don't usually use such language as that, but in this case, I'll make an exception. I lost my father and my sister to this dreaded disease, I've trained and rode in a fund-raising campaign when my old and feeble body was barely up to the task, I've donated stories for Shawn Speakman's Unfettered books to help end his medical debt (and reduce the debts of other fellow authors), and now I'm joining with hundreds of fantasy authors to support one of our own.

Brandon Barr is dying. Nothing can be done to stop that fact, but hopefully, we in the fantasy community can help bring a little peace of mind to him, by providing some financial support to the wife and three boys who he leaves behind. So, I've become one of #BrandonsBuddies, and I hope you will, too. How do you do so?

  • Why not pick up one (or several) of Brandon's books, Rise of the Seer has just been released at an introductory price of $0.99.
  • You can join me in donating to Brandon's GoFundMe Campaign it's already raised more than 1/3 of it's $100,000 goal.
  • You can help spread the word about Brandon, his work, and the horrific situation he finds himself in on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites. Please use the hashtag #BrandonsBuddies. 

I've never read any of Brandon's books, but a lot of people have. Brandon is a USA Today Bestselling author, and here's what some people are saying about his stories:

"I’ve read a few books by Brandon, and he never disappoints. His books take you into a new world, but you get pulled in so deeply that you swear you are there. Looking forward to the next release." -- BellaT (Amazon Reviewer)

"Like all of the books by this author this series is captivating, the reader is sucked right into the epic adventures of the heroines. I loved it and highly recommend this book." -- Astrid Rudloff (Amazon Reviewer)

"I couldn't put it down. Love the characters and world that have been created. It's full of great twists and turns. Readers will be drawn into the story from the very first page. Readers who love sci-fi and fantasy will want to add this one to their TBR list." -- Diane (Goodreads Reviewer)

So if you're looking for some great epic fantasy, and want to do some good at the same time, please get yourself a copy of one (or several) of Brandon's books. Not only will you get a great story but you'll be helping one of fantasy's own whos voice will be silenced way too soon.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Assassin Author Roundtable - Today at 2:00 Eastern, 1:00 Central, 11:00 Pacific)

Hey all, I've been invited by the Angel Hayes at Indie Fantasy Addicts to be part of an online event today at 2:00. If you can't attend, I believe it's being recorded so you should be able to see all the happenings at a time of your convenience, and I'll update this post once the video is live.

I'll be joining a number of fellow fantasy authors including Andy Peloquin, JT Williams, Lindsay Buroker, D.W. Hawkins, and Steve Collier. Not entirely sure what all we'll be discussing, but I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun. So, if you're free, stop on by, and if you're not. Check out the video whenever you get a chance.

Here is a link to the recorded session.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Honored to make the short list

A few weeks ago I posted about the Booknests' Fantasy Award, and how Age of War was picked by a panel to be one of the 50 titles submitted for consideration. The judges included nine popular fantasy blogs (Bookworm Blues, Fantasy Book Critic, Fantasy Book Review, Fantasy-Faction, Grimdark Magazine, The Fantasy Hive, The Fantasy Inn, The Grim Tidings Podcast, and The Weatherwax Report), three big fantasy imprints (Gollancz, Harper Voyager, and Orbit), and two well-respected agents (John Jarrold and Joshua Bilmes of JABberwocky Literary Agency).

What an amazing list with some incredible books, and I was pleased to be included. What I didn't expect was to make the short list. After all,  forty books had to go, and I expected mine would be one of them. But out of some miracle (and thank you to everyone who voted), the book made it to the shortlist.

Once again, I'm including some data from Goodreads (which I've updated from my last post). The odds-on favorite would be Children of Blood and Bone although I won't count out how much people enjoy Brandon Sanderson's work.

 # Ratings  
 # shelved 
A Time of Dread
John Gwynne
Age of War
Michael J. Sullivan
Bloody Rose
Nicholas Eames
 Children of Blood and Bone 
Tomi Adeyemi
Iron Gold
Pierce Brown
Master Assassins
Robert V.S. Redick
 Brandon Sanderson 
Spinning Silver
Naomi Novik
The Fall of Gondolin
J.R.R. Tolkien
The Girl In The Tower
Katherine Arden

Voting is open for the next round, and again don't feel obligated to vote for Age of War (you'll just be throwing your vote away, but by all means, vote for whichever book you want to see win.