Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ask Me Anything!


Today on /r/fantasy I'll be doing an "Ask Me Anything," which if you've never been to one before it's a kind of Q&A where I'll talk about my books, publishing, or anything you want to chat about.  So please stop by and say hello, or better yet...ask me something!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Today's the day! Age of Legend Officially released



If you've not picked up a copy you can get yours from any of these fine retailers:
Also I'll be doing an "Ask Me Anything" on reddit's /r/book site. So drop by and say hello, or ask me a question!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

2 days until Age of Legend Releases, how are things going?



I can't believe the date for Age of Legend is finally so close. While it seems as if it has taken forever, it also seems as if it's already been out for ages (because so many people have read it as part of the Kickstarter campaign). I'm so thrilled people have been enjoying the read and are looking forward to Age of Death (Feb 4, 2020) and Age of Empyre (May 5, 2020).

So, how has it gone so far?  Well, in some respects it's hard to tell because getting preliminary numbers isn't easy, but we do know some things such as:

My Riyria printed returns are 6% - 8%, and we've seen about 10% - 12% on the Del Rey hardcovers. If we take a really conservative estimate and assume 22% returns that would mean we've already sold 15,679 copies across all formats! And that doesn't even count all the other sites that I have zero data for at the moment.

Here's the breakdown for those that like graphs:


I'm thrilled with this kind of early support for the books, and Robin and I thank you all. And if you haven't picked up your copy, maybe you could use the links above to grab one. Also a reminder that hardcovers bought from our site are signed, and ebooks bought from our site or DRM-free and can never "disappear" if the retailer later removes them from the store.

Thanks again!

Thursday, July 4, 2019

No, I'm not trying to cheat on Robin, nor am I any of these other things.


I've had a few emails recently asking "what's up" with my match.com profile where I mention being divorced and looking for love. The people writing to me have pointed out that (based on this site and other conversations) I "seem" happily married, but they question if I'm trying to have a relationship on the side. Well, I can assure you there is no trouble in paradise in the love department of Team Sullivan.

In this particular case, it is a different author named Michael Sullivan, and you might be surprised to know there are quite a few of us. There are, in fact, so many authors named Michael Sullivan, that when I first started publishing, I considered using a pen name, and over the years a few more have popped up.

In some ways, it'd be really cool if all these Michael Sullivan's were me, because not only would I be a fantasy author but I'd also be...
  • The author of more than a hundred advanced math textbooks
  • An expert on Chinese art
  • A sports expert
  • A wine and beer expert
  • Savy when it comes to international politics
  • I'd know a lot more than I do about elections, social welfare, and public policy
  • A history buff with knowledge of everything from the secret love affairs of presidents to Orville and Wilber Wright.
  • I'd also have a few more novels under my belt.
So, exactly how many authors are there with the name of Michael Sullivan? To be honest, I don't know for sure because not all of the books have been "gathered" under individual profiles on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. But based on some recent research done by Robin...it's A LOT!

I think the one that I'm confused with the most often is Michael John Sullivan (for the record my middle name is James). He writes Christian-based novels and is probably best known for Necessary Heartbreak although some of his other books include An Angel Comes Home, Everybody's Daughter, and the Greatest Gift. I think I've earned him a bit of cash over the years because if you look at the "Also boughts" of Necessary Heartbreak you'll see all my books listed, which is likely a result of people reading one of my books, going to look for more by me, and finding his. If you're "that" Michael J. Sullivan and you are reading this...you're welcome.

Michael John, isn't the only novelist that shares my name. Here are some other novels which I'm pretty sure were all written by different Michael Sullivans, and their only books released so far.
  • Fort Drake Island
  • Runner's Dawn
  • Forgotten Flowers
  • In This Living Body
  • Indianersommer
  • The Girl in the Second World
  • Fulfillment - It's All about Power 
Unlike Necessary Heartbreak, it doesn't appear that any of these books are being mistaken as books I've written.

The one who has probably sold the most books (maybe even more than I have) is the author of a huge number of textbooks on mathematics including Trigonometry, Calculus, Algebra, and Statistics. Seriously there are hundreds of these books, and if they are required reading at a number of Universities, that Michael Sullivan has done very well. For the record, I can't multiply 8 by 7. Seriously, I don't know the answer. I'd need a calculator.

The Michael Sullivan I'd like to meet the most is the one who has written so many books on Chinese Art. It's a topic I know nothing about, but he obviously does and I'm sure I would be riveted as he poured out his passion for the subject over a glass of wine. Some of his titles include

  • The Arts of China
  • Modern Chinese Art
  • The Three Perfections: Chinese Painting, Poetry, and Calligraphy
  • The Meeting of Eastern and Western Art
  • Symbols of Eternity: The Art of Landscape Painting in China
  • Wang Huaiqing
  • A Short History Of Chinese Art
  • Modern Chinese Artists: A Biographical Dictionary
  • Chinese Art; Recent Discoveries
  • Chinese Landscape Painting: In the Sui and Tang Dynasties
  • The Night Entertainments of Han Xizai: A Scroll by Gu Hongzhong
  • Studies in the Art of China and South-East Asia (Volume I and II)
  • Chinese Ceramics, Bronzes, and Jades in the Collection of Sir Alan and Lady Barlow
  • Art and Artists of Twentieth-Century China.
There are a few more art books by Michael Sullivan(s) but I don't think these two titles came from the guy I just mentioned: Windows Into the Light: A Lenten Journey of Stories and Art and Windows Into the Soul: Art as Spiritual Expression.

Going back to wine...there is another Michael Sullivan who has written a few books on wine and beer including The 30 minute Wine Expert and The 30 Minute Beer Expert: A Concise Guide for Beer Lovers. He also seems to be a bit of a "foodie" as he's also written The 30 Minute French Cuisine Expert, 30 Minute Paleo Diet Expert: Become Healthy by Eating Naturally, Lose Fat, Gain Muscle, Sleep Like a Baby (and also 5 Minutes To Paleo Heaven and 20 Minutes To Paleo Heaven for those who think 30 minutes is too much time). He's also written The 30 Minute Atkins Diet Expert, The 30 Minute hCG Diet Expert, The 30 Minute Intermittent Fasting Expert, and Crock Pot Magic. To work off all that booze and food he's also written 30 Minute Kettlebell Expert to get some exercise. Maybe he can prepare a meal for me and the Chinese Art Michael and pick all three of us out a good wine.

Then there is the sports expert Michael Sullivan. He has written Sports Great Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Mullin: Star Forward, Sports Great Barry Bonds, Sports Great Darryl Strawberry, Mark Messier: Star Center, Top 10 Baseball Pitchers, and The New York Rangers Hockey Team.

Another Michael Sullivan has been spending his life trying to get kids to read more, especially boys. His books include Fundamentals of Children's ServicesServing Boys Through Readers' Advisory, Raising Boy Readers, Connecting Boys with Books: What Libraries can do, Connecting Boys with Books: Closing the Reading Gap, Connecting Boys with Books: Volume 6 (I'm going to assume there is a volume 3, 4, and 5 to go with those other 3). I "think" he is also the author that has written a number of children stories including The Sapphire Knight, Escapade Johnson and Mayhem at Mount Moosilauke, Escapade Johnson and the Coffee Shop of the Living Dead, Escapade Johnson and the Witches of Belknap County, Escapade Johnson and the Phantom of the Science Fair. 

Another Michael Sullivan who is a children's author wrote The SockKids Say NO to Bullying, The SockKids Help Ben Franklin, The SockKids Go Dancing, The SockKids Meet Lincoln, The SockKids STOP A Bully!, and Nick Knitley and The SockKids: Surviving The Oddly Strange Town of Millbottom.

I'm pretty sure there is another children's author named Michael Sullivan who wrote Skipper's Busy Day, Oliver's Happy Day, and Kitty's Outdoor Day.

There is a book called The Alliance by Michael Sullivan which is about kids with unnatural powers at a school called Rosemond School for the Gifted. I'm not sure if this is a book by the other four children authors I found or not.

I've never written a book about my mom, but a pair of brothers (Michael and Larry) have, and it's called Raising Mama: A Memoir. 

A lawyer named Michael Sullivan wrote a book called Adopt the Baby You Want. He may or may not be the same lawyer who contributed with a few others in writing the International Human Rights Law Sourcebook. 

Oh, and another Michael wrote a biography. It's called The Fairhaven folktales of Dirty Dan Harris and it's about the storyteller Daniel Jefferson Harris of the Puget Sound area of Washington State, USA, who lived from 1826 to 1890. I'm pretty sure Of Gentle Thought is an autobiography of a poet named Michael Sullivan.

I'm not a technology expert but one (or more) Michael Sullivans is/are because he/they released books such as Detour: The Truth about the Information Superhighway, Make Your Scanner A Great Design And Production Tool, Webmaster Strategies, and Netscape Suitespot Bible.

I'm not a particularly religious person (spiritual yes, religion, not so much) but this Michael Sullivan obviously is. He wrote four books: My Little Book Of Prayers: Female Saints, My Little Book Of Prayers: Male Saints, My Little Book of Prayers: Mary, and My Book of Catholic Prayers. There is another Michael Sullivan (or maybe it's the same one) who wrote What He said, about Christ and His disciples.

I've never lived in New York (only visited) but I'm sure the Michael Sullivan who wrote So You Think You're a New Yorker: What Every Knowledgeable New Yorker Should Know probably lives there.

There is a philosophically minded Michael O'Sullivan (close enough) that studied Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations and wrote a book on it.

Likewise, Vernacular Sonnets of Giuseppe Gioachino Belli was penned by an expert on this satirical poet from the late 1700's to middle 1800's, which was definitely not me ;-)

There is a Michael Sullivan who has studied immigration and the political challenges facing the United States because he wrote a book called Earned Citizenship on that subject.

At least one, and maybe more, Michael Sullivan's is very interested in social policy, society, and the law. Here are several books I found on the subject (I have no idea if they were all written by one or multiple people: Sociology And Social Welfare, Modern Social Policy, The Politics Of Social Policy, Introducing Social Policy, Power In Contemporary International Politics, and Legal Pragmatism: Community, Rights, and Democracy

Then we go into some "deep dives" on "very specific" subjects. I have no idea how many Michael Sullivans penned these titles:
  • A Comparative Analysis Of Drop Outs And Non Drop Outs In Ontario Secondary Schools
  • Cambodia Votes: Democracy, Authority and International Support for Elections 1993-201
  • Relativization in Ojibwe 
  • The Development of the British Welfare State and Democracy
  • The Physiology of the Digestive Tract of Elasmobranchs 
  • The Trees of San Francisco
  • Fish of Alberta 
  • Studies in Soil Catalysis
  • A Beneficial Organic Constituent of Soils 
  • 101 Easy Ways To Increase Business With Boomerplus Clients 
  • How to Win and Know It: An Effects-Based Approach to Irregular Warfare
  • American Adventurism Abroad: Invasions, Interventions, and Regime Changes since World War II
  • Writing the Dead: Death and Writing Strategies in the Western Tradition 
  • Building Saugerties: Understanding a Historic Success in Economic Development
  •  Sexual Minorities: Discrimination, Challenges and Development in America
  • Measuring Global Values: The Ranking of 162 Countries 
  • Cutting Through the Red Tape: Top Ten Things All Florida Disability Applicants Should Know
  • The State of Florida v. You: the Accused's Guide to Defending a Florida DUI Charge 
  • Cyberquake: How the Internet Will Erase Profits, Topple Market Leaders, and Shatter Business Models
  • Pain Management: Practical Applications of the Biopsychosocial Perspective in Clinical and Occupational Settings 
  • Pauley's Guide - A Dictionary of Japanese Martial Arts and Culture 
  • House Divided: Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology - A Preterist Response to When Shall These Things Be 
  • In Search of a Perfect World: A Historical Perspective on the Phenomenon of Millennialism and Dissatisfaction with the World as It Is 
  • Rapid Acquisition of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles 
  • Security Force Assistance: Building Foreign Security Forces and Joint Doctrine for the Future of U.S. Regional Security
  • Defense Acquisitions: Measuring the Value of DoDżs Weapon Programs Requires Starting with Realistic Baselines
  • Defense Acquisitions: DoD Must Prioritize Its Weapon System Acquisitions and Balance Them with Available Resources 
  • Defense Acquisitions: DoD Could Achieve Greater Commonality and Efficiencies Among Its Unmanned Aircraft Systems 
  • Joint Strike Fighter: Strong Risk Management Essential as Program Enters Most Challenging Phase 
  • Countering Terrorism and WMD 
  • Selling Your PR Firm MasterClass & Workbook: A Step-by-Step Owner's Guide From Decision to Closing 
There seem to be one (or some) psychiatrists or psychologist who share my name based on these titles:
  • Relationships in Chronic Illness and Disability 
  • Dual Diagnosis: Counseling the Mentally Ill Substance Abuser
  • Understanding Depression and Addiction
  • Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction 
  • Treating Addicted Survivors of Trauma
While I enjoy history, there are other Michael Sullivans that are better experts on certain subjects than I am. Some examples:
  • A Fatal Passion: The Story of the Uncrowned Last Empress of Russia
  • Cavalry In The Shenandoah Valley Campaign Of 1862: Effective, But Inefficient
  • The Vietnam War: A Study in the Making of American Policy,
  • Presidential Passions: The Love Affairs of America's Presidents: From Washington and Jefferson to Kennedy and Johnson
  • Affairs of state: The true, untold stories of the illicit love lives of the presidents of the United States
  • Orville and Wilbur at the Airport
I don't know much about international politics, but at least one Michael Sullivan does because he wrote: International Relations: Theories and Evidence.

There is a Michael Sullivan that works in the Federal Emergency Management Agency who wrote, Your Thrift Savings Plan. 

And at least one is an expert on teeth because he penned the 2013 edition of Illustrated Handbook of Clinical Dentistry.

Poetry isn't something I specialize in, but at least one Michael Sullivan fancies that medium. I found two books of poems: A Lyrical Salute to a Mentally Wounded, Disabled American Veteran: A Lifetime of Lyrics and Poetry and the other one is Think of the Day We Saw the Centipede Castle: A Love Story in Poems

I'm not a Hollywood mover or shaker be. He wrote There's no people like show people: confessions of a showbiz agent.

I think at least one Michael Sullivan is an archeologist, based on The Cave Temples Of Maichishan, House of Sun, and The Desert is Green

Not Our Day to Die: Testimony from the Guatemalan Jungle was a book written by a Michael Sullivan who has experience with ferrying people and transporting medicine, crops, and supplies in South America. Definitely not me.

So how many Michael Sullivans are authors? As you can see, it's hard to tell. And I'm sure there are some that Robin failed to uncover. But wouldn't it be cool if I DID write all those books? I'd certainly be more well-rounded than I am. I think I'm going to pick up a copy of The Physiology of the Digestive Tract of Elasmobranchs and put it on my shelf just so people who visit will think I wrote it.

Oh, and in case you are wondering WHICH of these Michael's is looking for love on match.com? It's the children's author who writes the SockKids books. He lives in the New York City area and went to St. John's University.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

So exciting to see this!


Just look at the joy in those faces!  This is just one of the many messages (and images) we've been receiving from people whose Age of Legend books have arrived.

Many of these were received because of Kickstarter pre-orders. And if you want to be notified when the Age of Death Kickstarter starts up, you can sign up here.

But we have also opened up orders directly from our website (which provides us with a higher income because we get to keep the retailer's cut.  You can receive either hardcovers (which match the Age of Myth, Age of Swords, and Age of War versions from Del Rey), or DRM-free ebooks (including formats for all devices, tablets, and computers) by going to our online store.

Thanks all for the amazing support. We still have another 3 weeks before the official release, and I'm thrilled people are so pleased with getting early copies.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

4-book Giveaway for Age of Legends



Grim Oak Press (the distributor for Age of Legend) is running a giveaway for signed copies of all 4 books of the Legends of the First empire series. You can enter to win here.

Even if you have all the books, this would be a great opportunity to introduce the series to a loved one. Plus, there's another reason to enter. Shawn and Jeff (who run Grim Oak) are also going to be giving away 3 copies of Terry Brook's Street Freaks and one copy of the exclusive Emerald City Comic Con edition of Unfettered III.


Oh, and while we are speaking of giveaways...don't forget we still have two other giveaways for Age of Legend.  

Good luck on the drawings!!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Did you miss the Kickstarter but want Age of Legend Early?



Many people have reached out to me indicating they were sad to miss the Age of Legend Kickstarter, and they wanted to get their hands on the book as soon as possible.  Well, I'm here to say there is a way to get it right now!

The books have come off the presses, the warehouse has signed copies, and I've updated my online store to offer ebooks and signed hardcovers.  So, if you missed the Kickstarter you can buy the book directly from me and get the book right now -- a month early.

Buying direct has a number of advantages:
  • More of your money goes directly to me since I get to keep the retailer's cut.
  • You get signed printed editions.
  • You get the books early - the retail chain copies start shipping 7/9/19.
  • ebooks are DRM free, and you get multiple formats so you can read the book on whatever device you desire.
  • You help rural Virginias earn a living - we use a fulfillment company that is in a part of the country where jobs are hard to come by and the more books we send through there, the more people they can hire.
I hope you'll consider picking up an early copy...and no matter how you get the book - I hope you enjoy the read!


Friday, June 7, 2019

Today Only: Kindle Daily Deal (Theft of Swords)


What a surprise to get my Amazon Daily Deals email and find that Theft of Swords is on sale!  Today, and today only you can get it for $2.99 and save 70% off the $9.99 regular price. And since this is an omnibus edition (with two full-length novels inside including The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha) it's an even better deal.

Pick up a copy for yourself or a friend today!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Audible's Biggest Titles of the Summer



First, it was Goodreads, and now Audible is featuring Age of Legend as one of this summer's biggest releases. Here is a full list of some of the other fantasy picks:


I see some great titles coming out, and I'm especially excited for Evan Winter's release, Anthony Ryan's Wolf Call, and Duncan Hamilton's Dragonslayer. All of these books are available for pre-ordering, so pick up your copies now!

TitleAuthorNarrator Series  Release Date 
Age of Legend  Michael J. Sullivan  Tim Gerard Reynolds  Legends of the First Empire 07/09/19 
Way of GodsRhett C. Bruno &
Jaime Castle
Luke Daniels Buried Goddess Saga 07/30/19
The Rage of DragonsEvan WinterTBA The Burning07/16/19
Take a ThiefMercedes LackeyPaul Woodson Heralds of Valdemar  06/12/19
The Final Days of MagicJ. D. HornSophie Amoss Witches of New Orleans  6/18/19
The Wolf's CallAnthony RyanSteven Brand Raven's Blade 07/23/19
Empire of GrassTad WilliamsAndrew Wincott Last King of
Osten Ard
 
07/02/19 
DragonslayerDuncan M. HamiltonSimon Vance Dragonslayer 07/02/19
Knife ChildrenLois McMaster BujoldTim CampbellSharing Knife06/25/19
Elven QueenBernhard Hennen & Edwin MilesMichael PageSaga of the Elven 06/11/19
Spine of the DragonKevin J. AndersonFleet Cooper Wake the Dragon  06/04/19 
Hateful ThingsTerry GoodkindTBA Children of D’Hara  08/08/19
The Spirit RingLois McMaster BujoldGrover Gardner N/A  07/16/19 
Turning Darkness into LightMarie BrennanBarrie Kreinik & Raphael Corkhill Series  08/20/19
The Silver GryphonMercedes Lackey & Larry DixonGary Furlong Mage Wars 06/04/19

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Age of Legend Giveaways


Age of Legend
books will be coming off the presses any day now, so it's time to do some giveaways!  We'll have three ways for you to win.
  • Goodreads (only open to US and Canada residents). I'm not sure why Goodreads limited the giveaway to just these two countries, but they did, which is one of the reasons why I've got two other ways to enter. There are 3 books being drawn on June 30th at 11:59 PM EDT.
  • Reddit's /r/Fantasy sub (open to all countries). Reddit can be a divisive site filled with people with very strong opinions from all facets of the spectrum, but the fantasy sub is an oasis of civility among the chaos. If you've not visited it before, this would be a good time to check it out. I'm sure you'll find reasons to stay.  To enter, you just have to add a comment to the thread and I'll send you a message via the Reddit site. I'll be drawing 2 books on June 5th at 11:59 PM EDT. This drawing is open to people from all countries.
  • Private giveaway (open to all countries). In today's publishing environment, there is always some "big entity" between the author and the reader (Amazon, Barnes and Noble or the publishers). I like having a direct relationship with readers such that if these other people ever get "wonky." I can still reach out to my readers and tell them about sales, giveaways, and Kickstarters. Entering here will require an email address (so I can notify the winner), but you can opt out of being added to my email list. I don't use it often (I think 6 times in the last 3 years), so don't worry about being bombarded. But I like having the safety net of being able to reach people if the "big boys" are getting in the way. There are 2 books being drawn on June 30th at 11:59 PM EDT.
All books will be signed (and can be dedicated if you wish). If you haven't read the other three books there are spoiler-filled recaps available on this site.
I hope you are as excited about the next release as I am, and good luck on the drawings!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Goodread's Hottest Books of the Summer



So, with all that's going on, I'm terribly late about this post (which was originally announced on May 5th), but I couldn't be happier that Age of Legend was picked by Goodreads as one of the Hottest Fantasy Books of the summer!

Here are all five of their picks:


I'm thrilled that so many people are anxiously awaiting the release. I'm also pleased to see Evan Winter's book make the list...I know Evan just a bit, and I'm anxiously awaiting his re-release of a previously self-published book.  I've heard that whole self-publishing thing works out well for authors...and I have my finger's crossed for huge success for him.
Here are links (and data from Goodreads if you want to check out the full list of titles.

TitleAuthorSeries Rating  # Ratings  Shelved by 
Magic for LiarsSarah GaileyN/A4.0525420,337
Age of LegendMichael J. SullivanLegend of the First Empire #44.4238910,705
Rage of DragonsEvan WinterThe Burning #14.432,43012,964
Gods of Jade and ShadowSilvia Moreno-Garcia N/A4.2112513,384
Dragon RepublicR.F. KuangThe Poppy War #24.3018714,929

Goodreads also did a post on various fantasy author's picks for summer reading, and I was included!  I'll post on that soon.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Gullywasher & Merritt Island (Part Four)


Here at the Sullivan household, we are still embroiled in the fallout from my mom's passing last month, but this is a blog post I wrote many moons ago, and I just haven't had the time to post. It's the final installment in the trip Robin and I took to Florida in February -- oh how the time flies!! I hope you enjoy it.  If you missed any of the prior posts, you can find them here.


  • The Great Bird Trip of 2019 - Part Three (The Everglades Adventure)
  • The Great Bird Trip of 2019 - Part Two (The Old Man and the Sea)
  • The Great Bird Trip of 2019 - Part One (Yes, this is another birding post)

  • Yellow-Breasted Birder

    That night I dreamed Robin had purchased a stroller for Josh and it rolled with a squeak, squeak! “I’m just not comfortable leaving him in the car, and those big trees, well, they intimidate him. He’s just a little tree.” I heard her saying.

    When I awoke, the blue sky had turned dark and clouds blanketed the world. It started raining before I got my first cup of coffee, and when it came, it came hard. All hopes of a day spent like Clint Howard and Dennis Weaver flying through the grass of the Everglades on a fan boat were drowned in an all-day rainstorm. Consulting a weather app’s satellite map, we spotted a short break in the cloud pattern.

    “We should go for it,” Robin declared. She took out a pen and grabbed a napkin to diagram the approach. “We'll make a surgical strike. Here, here, and here. If we time this right and nail the window, we can be in and out with photos of Wood Storks and Spoonbills.”

    “How?” I asked.

    She held up a park map. “I know where they nest!”

    We plowed through the cats and dogs (yes, that's a rain reference - there were no actual pets falling from the sky), and arrived at the park gate early in the morning. Interesting side note, Everglades is open 24/7, and if you get there before the gate guard, there’s no one to pay the entry fee to. And they’re okay with that. We’d bought a three-day pass on the prior day, so it didn’t matter, but still.

    At that time in the morning, in the middle of February, and in a driving downpour forecast to last all day, you’d be surprised how few tourists you’ll find on the back roads in a 1.5 million acre wetland wilderness—or maybe not. I think there were four cars in the whole park.

    Then it happened. The rain stopped. The window had arrived, the only problem was we still weren’t at the nesting site. I did manage to shoot a red-shouldered hawk on the side of the road, but I already had one of those. By the time we arrived, sprinkles began to hit the windshield once more.

    “We’re running out of time!”

    We reached the little pond with signs that warned: Nesting site, do not disturb birds!

    Pulling out a plastic bag from the backseat (that we received when purchasing Starburst and Reeses' Peanut Butter Cups for the road), I covered my camera and we crept up on the pond. Sure enough. Wood Storks and Spoonbills! They were far away, and the sky was so cloudy I hardly had any light, but I ripped off the plastic (thankfully I have a big hood to protect the lens) took aim, focused, held my breath and…click.

    Normally, if this were a western, or a thriller, pulling the trigger and hearing a click would be a bad thing, but with a camera the sound was perfect. I actually had the camera on Sport/Action mode making it into an automatic rapid fire: click, click, click.

    Spoonbills and Wood Storks
    “Work it, baby, work it,” I whispered to the spoonbill. I suppose, standing in the rain taking pictures of oblivious birds across a swampy pond in an empty park pull-off while my wife, and quest side-kick, babysat our insecure lime tree just brings out the Annie Leibovitz in me.  Although now that I think of it, I doubt Annie ever uttered those words in her life!

    But I digress, the bottom line is I got them, and none too soon. The rain came back angry as ever, perhaps displeased that it hadn't foiled us.  The great eye of Sauron had found us.

    We tried to escape, but that’s when the Prowler went lame.  The car began to scream. Honestly, that’s the best way to describe the shrieking sound—okay shrieking is also a pretty good way. A horrible metal on metal noise emitted from the rear driver-side tire that made our skins crawl. Imagine a child raking their teeth across a microphone hooked to a stadium-size band-amplified speaker system, and you’d—okay so now there are at least three ways to describe this.

    We pulled over, into another pull-off where—believe it or not—two other cars of tourists were parked and trying to quietly coax a look at a bird. Dirty looks greeted us as we shrieked our way in.

    What the hell was making that racket? Their scowls asked.

    To help describe why this was so odd, you have to understand how ridiculously simple the Tesla is. There is no engine, drive train, timing belt, pistons, camshafts, radiator, exhaust system, axles, or transmission. Like a health snob, it doesn’t drink oil or needs transmission fluid. Heck for all I know,  the only liquid the Prowler has is windshield wiper wash. When we first visited the Tesla showroom we saw a stripped-down display of the car. It consisted of four wheels, four little electric motors attached to them and the bed of the car. I assumed this was done so potential buyers could see the wheels or something. What it actually showed was the whole working car minus the irrelevant interior and exterior body—you know, the seats,  doors, roof and such. In other words, the whole car is just four little electric motors, four wheels, and a battery that looks like the bed of the car. With so few parts to the thing, what could possibly go wrong?

    “Back up,” I told Robin, who was at the wheel.

    Slipping it into reverse we rolled silently backward. And I do mean silently—electric cars make no sound except the tires on the road.

    Pleased to hear nothing, I said. “Forward?”

    Robin went ahead and once more the screaming resumed, and plastic hooded heads standing in the rain near the water turned and scowled once more.

    “What now?” Robin asked. “This sounds serious.”

    We were, at that moment, deep in the Everglades. So far in the wilderness, in fact, that I couldn’t recall the last time I had spotted a Starbucks. And it was raining. At the moment it was just a pleasant sprinkle, but we knew from the satellite recon images that the vicious gullywasher was going to be returning at any moment.

    Complicating all this, it’s not like a Tesla can simply be towed. You can’t even jack it to change a tire because the bottom of the car is one huge battery. For that reason, there’s no spare tire. If you get a flat you’re supposed to call Tesla, and they will come out and take care of you…no matter where you are.

    Okay. Let's try that.

    I called Tesla.  I described the situation, then held the phone to the wheel as Robin rolled forward, once more testing the patience of the tourists near us.

    “Yes, yes!” the voice on the phone yelled. “I can hear it. That sounds really horrible.”

    I explained where we were and how hopeless it all seemed.

    It was obvious we were screwed.

    “So, what do we do?”

    “Is it raining, or has it recently rained where you are?” the voice from my phone asked cryptically. 

    “Ahh, yeah.”

    “Okay. This is going to sound…well…odd.”

    “At the moment I’m open to odd.” We really didn’t have a lot of options besides waiting all day for a flatbed tow truck to be sent from Miami.

    “Right. If you are in a safe place and feel comfortable doing it…floor your car, then slam on the breaks.”

    One more thing about Teslas. They are ridiculously quick. There’s even something called the Ludicrous Feature that helps the car accelerate at, well, ludicrous speed. Anyway, a Tesla doesn't pull on a mechanical linkage, pump gas into a carburetor, and create explosions under pressure to push pistons that crank a shaft to get it moving. When you press the accelerator on a Tesla, the car goes that speed, period. If you "punch it," you’d better have your head against the headrest. And this will happen even at high speeds. Flooring a Tesla isn’t something you do lightly—although it is something you do quite often for fun.

    “What has happened,” the voice in my hand told me, “is that debris has gotten caught in the wheel case. I know the sound it creates is monstrous and scary, but it isn’t at all harmful. Nothing bad will happen to you or the car as a result. To stop the sound all you need do it jar it loose. If you were near a car wash or a hose, you could spray it out. Given your situation, just a good slam of the brakes should do.”

    I looked at Robin. We both looked at the tourists. We both smiled.

    “Hang on, Josh, we going for a ride.” (Okay not the best quote from the worst Indiana Jones movie ever, but it was fitting).

    I can’t tell you if our roadside neighbors were shocked or upset because the moment Robin pressed the pedal to the floor we were gone. I regretted not having a car safety-seat for Josh as she then hammered the brake. At this point, I was certain the other park visitors figured we were insane or screwing with them. We never looked back because the Screaming Eagle was back to the Silent Prowler once more.

    With my stork and spoonbill adequately bagged, I was up to 72 birds. Time to head north.  We still had a few more days before we needed to catch the return train, and we had two options.

    On my very first birding expedition to Occoquan Bay Wildlife Refuge on the Potomac, I met a genuine birder. Birders are without exception very nice and friendly people. The man’s name was Scott and he took me under his…um…wing.

    Besides explaining all sorts of things, (and upon hearing we would soon be going to Florida) he told me I should go to a place called Merritt Island, which was halfway down the Florida Peninsula on the Atlantic side. This birding Mecca was only an hour away from the train station, which made it appealing. Also, close to the train station: Disney World.

    Having had three children, Robin and I have visited the Magic Kingdom many times. First as teenagers, then as parents, but we haven’t seen Mickey and Minnie in years. The real draw was the new Harry Potter World at Universal. We’d been birding for six straight days. Tomorrow was Valentine’s Day. Robin deserved to have some fun on this trip, too.

    “Nope,” she replied when the idea alternative location was raised. “Let’s go to Merritt.”

    “You sure?”

    She nodded, then got quiet.

    “What?”

    She shrugged. “I used to love Disney and Universal. The fact that I don’t want to go makes me feel old.”

    I wanted to say something poetic like, “You're not old, you're like a fine wine and get better with age.” Instead, I nodded sympathetically and replied. “Me too, but that's not such a big deal.”

    That night in the hotel room, we worked on a few minor changes to Age of Legend so Robin could send out the ARC. We ended up working until nine-thirty and at that hour were forced to grab an awful dinner at the hotel restaurant. We were the last seated table. We might be too old to jump at the chance to visit Disney World/Universal Studios, but Florida was used to serving an even older crowd who were asleep after Jeopardy.

    The next morning we were up at dawn. We checked out of the hotel and hit the local Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and a half-dozen pastries, and drove past the Kennedy Space Center and on up onto Merritt Island.

    Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge shares the Atlantic coast of Florida's largest barrier island with NASA's Kennedy Space Center and visitor complex. The refuge consists of 140,000 acres containing over 1,000 species of plants, 117 fish, 68 amphibians and reptiles, 330 birds, and 31 mammals. Merritt Island provides hiking and driving trails for the public, and it's a 'gateway site' for the Great Florida Birding Trail. Birders, we were told, travel from all over the world to visit the refuge, and in particular one specific road.

    “Black Point Wildlife Drive,” a wonderful, elderly lady and volunteer behind the counter at the Refuge’s headquarters said. “They come for all over—all over the world to go on this road. You should take the bus. Our guide is the best! He’s just the very best!”

    Robin and I stood in the little building that was part wildlife museum, part admissions center, part souvenir store (which hadn’t opened for business yet). The bus tour guide was waiting for his customers to arrive. The tour was full up, but if we wanted to stick around we were assured there were always empty seats.

    “Folks wake up at dawn,” the wildlife guide explained. “and they look out the window. After remembering they’re on vacation, they reconsider going out so early.”

    Robin and I aren't one for "group tours," so we thanked them, paid our admission fee, and started what would be the closest thing to an African Safari we're likely to go on.

    Black Point Wildlife Drive is a seven-mile, one-way gravel road that winds through the coastal refuge. Cars roll at a crawl and stop frequently with people climbing out to peer with binoculars or take photos. If the cars were khaki-colored land cruisers instead of Hondas and Ford SUVs, we could have been in Kenya.

    We spotted ducks on the water and stopped. I don’t have many ducks yet, so these were likely to be new birds. We stopped and I got out to shoot every time we saw a bird, which in hindsight reminded me of the opening scene in Ghostbusters where Ray Stantz describes with rapture his excitement of witnessing the undersea mass sponge migration to Peter Venkman, then the three professors walk into the stacks of the New York Public library and are blown away by the full-torso apparition.

    Robin and I were about to enter the stacks.  Merritt Island is full of birds.  Around every curve were ibis, herons, teals, terns, osprey, willets, shovelers, pelicans, egrets and more—not one or two, but flocks of them. Groups of cars would converge, and occupants stepped out to talk in hushed tones, identifying the various groups.

    One person we met was a science writer who happened to come to the island and turned on that road with no idea what she was getting into. “This is great, but I don’t know anything about birding. I should have brought binoculars!”

    Others were longtime birders who helped me I.D. several of the harder to recognize waders.

    The bus eventually came through and deposited its brood. The guide pointed out the roseate spoonbill. “Yes, yes everyone look at the brilliant pink spoonbill. Go head, get it out of your system. When you’re done I’ll tell you about the Blue-wing Teals and Northern Shovelers.”

    I shot coots and tons of glossy Ibis, and another gallinule, this one a commoner.



    Afterward, we went to town, had a wonderful lunch, then returned and took another jungle-like trail followed by a Savannah-like path searching for the infamous Florida Scrub Jay. We failed to see it on either path. Neither did anyone else we ran across, and it became a running joke, especially since the trail we were on was called the Scrub Jay Trail!

    At the end of the day, as we were passing out through a gate, and there it was! I spotted a Scrub Jay. We pulled over and caught the bird on a branch to the applause of our fellow hunters. At the end of the day, I had a full camera and we packed up for the return trip.

    I spent most of the train ride home going through photos that I downloaded to my iPad, identifying them with the use of my books and the Merlin App, and adding each to my journal. When the numbers were finally tallied, Robin said, "You might want to lie when you get home. You don't want to crush Sarah's spirit."

    Of course, the first thing Sarah said when we returned was, “How many?” No inquiries about how our trip was, did we have fun, or why was there a small potted tree in the living room. She was only interested in one thing.

    My wife cringed.“How many would be too many, do you think?” Robin asked.

     “Did you get over a hundred? A hundred and forty would be a lot.”

    Robin and I relaxed.  “Didn’t break a hundred,” I admitted. 

    “How many then?”

    “I more than doubled my list. Total is now 92.”

    Sarah nodded. “I expected well over a hundred. That’s doable. But now I have to get serious and go to High Island for the spring migration.”

    “Why don’t you both go to High Island?” Robin suggested.

    “You know a father-daughter thing.”

    “Don’t you mean a Gamora-Thanos thing?”

    “Okay, I’ll come too,” Robin said.

    “If I go to High Island,” I said. “I might as well go ahead and get the big lens. So many of the birds were just out of range for a clear shot.”

    “Then it’s settled,” Robin flipped open her computer. “I’ll book it.”

    “On one condition,” I said. “ Josh stays here.”

    Robin nodded. “I’ll get a sitter.”

    Blue-winged Teal

    Common Gallinule

    Glossy Ibis

    Great Egret

    Roseate Spoonbill

    Sanderling

    Non-Breeding Tri-colored Heron

    White Pelicans

    Friday, May 3, 2019

    TIL: I'm a USA Today Bestselling Author

    Today I got up like any other day and had myself a cup of coffee. Upstairs in the cabin's loft, Robin was entering some sales data form Del Rey in her spreadsheet and she said. "Huh, there's a new button in the author portal which indicates bestseller status. Guess what. You're a USA Today Bestselling Author -- twice!"

    Yep, apparently, Age of Swords hit the 8/3/2017 list, coming in at 102, and Age of War hit the 7/12/2018 list. They came in 102 and 68 respectively. A little digging also shows Age of Myth hit the Amazon ebook bestseller list for 3/19/2017--a nice little surprise!

    In other news...both Age of Myth and Age of War popped up on the Washington Post's Hardcover bestseller list (for the week ending April 7th).  That's the 3rd time for Myth and 5th time for War.  Age of Swords has been on the list at least once, maybe twice.


    All that is some pretty nice surprises to wake up to.  Thanks all for your continued support!


    Thursday, May 2, 2019

    The Great Bird Trip of 2019 - Part Three (The Everglades Adventure)


    Everglades

















    I remember when I first got my driver’s license. Back then, I would drive just for the fun of it. But when I was sent to the store to get milk, I discovered the experience was so much more fulfilling. Having a reason to do something made a difference. Manhattan is built for business, and when I first visited it as a tourist it was nice, but when I go there now, as I do for audio recordings or to meet with publishers, the visits feel more satisfying. It’s the difference between going to Aspen just to visit, or going to ski.

    Walking in the wild is nice. It is pleasant, calming, stress relieving, but without a purpose beyond getting your steps in, it can also feel a tad pointless. People like points. We like purpose and a sense of accomplishing something. Hunting birds give reason to the journey, making a quest out of a mere walk. Using a camera rather than a rifle means I fail to bring home a freezer full of meat, but I also don’t need a license. I do, however, get a souvenir I can hang on my wall. I get pictures. Stalking with a camera provides most of the same joys. I get exercise, see beautiful places, and of course, there is that heart-pounding moment when you actually see something—something great. For a deer hunter, that might be a rack of antlers; for me, it’s a new bird for my list.

    By the time we left the Florida Keys, I had shot 23 new birds for a total of 67. I was feeling pretty good, and we still weren’t done. Turns out, Everglades National Park is right at the tip of Florida. I set the Prowler’s GPS to the main gate of the park and settled back into Eames’s Kings of the Wyld, when all of a sudden—

    “Stop!” Robin shouted, her eyes fixed on the side of the road.

    Assuming a small child was in hot pursuit of a bouncy ball rolling into my lane, or more importantly, she had spotted a new bird, I politely asked the Prowler to come to a stop.

    “Look! Look! The sign!”

    On the side of the road, there was a propped up, hand-painted wooden board marked with the words: Key Lime Trees 4 Sale!

    “Really?” I asked.

    “I could make Key lime pies at home!”

    “It’s snowing at home.”

    “Josh can stay inside until spring.”

    “Josh?”

    She nodded. “That’s his name.”

    “Whose name?”

    “My Key lime tree. Josh Lyman.”

    Seven minutes later I had a two-foot lime tree in the back seat. We were also on our way to a birding hot spot. What I didn’t know was that up north a huge winter storm was pushing down and the weather was about to change.

    The Seminole call it Pahokee, meaning "Grassy Water,” and the Everglades essentially means River of Grass, as noted by famed journalist and writer, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who concluded that cartographers substituted the word “ever” for “river” with glade being an old-fashioned English word for grassy open space. Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. established in 1947 and is comprised of 1.5 million acres. So, of course, Sancho and I figured a day and a half would do it.

    The half-day started as soon as we returned to Florida proper. We drove up to this very indistinct, out of the way gate that seemed more like the service entrance to the Magic Kingdom. Then we drove to the Anhinga Trail. I already had shot one of these snake birds on Key West, but rumor held I could get a better one here.  We parked in the sun, so Robin took Josh out and placed him in the shady eaves of the nearby jungle where he wouldn’t feel so hot or isolated and perhaps might make a few new friends. For a tree, Josh was already quite the world-traveler.

    Anhinga Trail

    The Anhinga Trail is mostly a raised boardwalk through wetlands, and it is filled with Anhingas, who are as friendly as seagulls in a coastal MacDonald’s parking lot. There are also alligators. These often thousand-pound lizards napped in the sun on the side of the trail. In August of 2018, the news was awash with a story about a woman in South Carolina who was killed by an alligator while walking her dog. This left me less than comfortable when at one point a pair of “napping” gators lay on opposite sides of the path. Fellow tourists, mindlessly snapping photos, often spotted one, then began to back into the other. I wondered how long before the trail was renamed: “Gator Lunch Path.” The safari was getting a bit real at this point, and Don Quixote forgot about the birds for a moment to keep a better eye on Sancho Panza. 

    Gauntlet of Many Teeth
    Once past the Gauntlet of Many Teeth, I spotted one of the birds I was after. The famed Purple Gallinule--noted as the most colorful bird in the Everglades. Gallinules stand on lily pads, walking from one to another like floating platforms. Using its beak, it lifts and searches underneath for food. I spotted one far across a lily-padded pond. Easy to identify as it is bright purple, blue, red, white and yellow and the size of a big quail or small duck. Problem was it stuck to the shadows and was over forty yards away. Once more my 70-200mm managed a provable, though hopelessly blurry, photo. Robin was able to see it clearly with the Nikon binocs just before the bird retreated into the undergrowth. Others came up excited, but the bird had vanished. 

    Purple Gallinule
    We found another trail that went into the jungle, and after checking on Josh to make sure he wasn’t being bullied by the other trees, we went exploring. This was where the hunt really shined. The two of us crept slowly, silently sneaking through the shadows avoiding the twigs and brittle leaves that might make noise. I held my slung camera at the ready, while Robin had both hands on the binoculars. Then she raised a hand indicating a halt. She’d heard something.

    I listened and heard it too. A very distinct, very unusual whistling song the likes of which neither of us had ever heard. We waited, held our breaths, listening. Then down the path came a couple with their child in a stroller making more noise than a herd of rattling cans. We frowned at each other and waited for the couple to move off.  They didn’t. Instead, they stopped to look at the nearby pond.

    After what seemed forever, during which we battled malaria-carrying misquotes, they finally packed up. Robin, impatient, moved around a clump of trees certain she’d heard the bird on the other side. If nothing else, she hoped to frighten it toward me. I waited, watching the little family load up their stroller and then off they went pushing their daughter and—squeak, squeak! It was the bird! Robin spun to search the leaves.

    “Robin!”

    “Shush!” She waved at me to be quiet.

    “Robin!”

    “Quiet, I hear it!”

    “I do, too, but it’s not a bird.” I pointed at the family moving down the trail. “It’s the stroller.”

    The voice of British naturalist David Attenborough returned: The baby stroller or Baby Trend Expedition Premiere Jogger Travel System, is a large gray and black monstrosity, which can easily reach 18 kilograms, and have a 30-centimeter wheel-span, and exists almost exclusively as a curse to parents, and Everglade birders.

    We’d had enough for one day. I only added three more to my list, but I was up to an even 70 birds, and tomorrow we’d come back. Our plan was to charter one of those big fan boats and go deep into the park. At the very least we’d be able to see the Wood Stork and the Rosette Spoonbill, and maybe even a flamingo.

    What I didn’t know was that the winter storm was almost to Florida.

    Anhinga

    Anhinga

    Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

    Great Blue Heron

    Green Heron

    Mockingbird

    Yellow-throated Warbler
    NEXT UP: The Gullywasher