Saturday, January 26, 2013

The End: Visions of Apocalypse - FREE short stories

While I'm not known for my short stories, I'm starting to warm up to them primarily because of a number of projects that have forced me to try to sharpen my skills in the "limited words" arena.  I recently wrote about my entry entitled "Traditions" that is in the Triumph Over Tragedy Anthology to aid Victims of Hurricane Sandy. So today I'd like to talk to you about another recently released anthology: The End: Visions of Apocalypse.

Like Triumph, I'm not earning anything off of this project, I did it to help this case new fantasy and science fiction authors that are worth discovering.  The project was started by N.E. White who runs monthly writing contests on sffworld a forum I often visit.  Nila's idea was to do what many malls do, get a few large and popular "anchor" stores that draw crowds to lure people into the mall where other great stores are just waiting to be found.  

Why Nila thought I would qualify as such an "anchor" in the world of speculative fiction, only she can answer, but she also was able to snag Hugh Howey whose success is just astronomical (and if you've not heard of Wool you need to crawl out from the cave you've been living in and go buy it). Also adding her talents to the piece was Tristis Ward, whose graphic novel Bones of the Magus was released by Broken Jaw Press. 

So in addition to our three pieces, there are nine stories by relatively unknown new authors that are trying to make a name for themselves.  To make it into the anthology they had to win a spot chosen by members of the sffworld forum.  Here are a list of the stories:

  1. Executable by Hugh Howey
  2. Let's See What Tomorrow Brings by Igor Ljubuncic
  3. Julia's Garden by Michael Aaron
  4. Tick by Wilson Geiger
  5. The Last Hand by Pete McLean
  6. Fly the Moon to Me by Stephen "B5" Jones
  7. Relapse by Norman Gray
  8. Burning Alexandria by Michael J. Sullivan
  9. Silver Sky by Liam Baldwin
  10. Sacrifice by G.L. Lathian
  11. Empty by R.F. Dickson
  12. Mother and Child by Tristis Ward
In her introduction Nila says:

"The topics explored herein range from the silly to the profound. Some will give you hope, others will make you pray for a different end, and one might even make you smile."

For my own contribution, I had originally written a short story, Greener Grass about a man who travels far into time and finds what could be considered a dystopian or utopian world, depending on your perspective. Since the world didn't really "end" it really didn't fit the mandate of the anthology so I put that short story out as a stand alone (NOTE: That short also was the seed for a new novel I just completed entitled Hollow World, but that's for a different day and time).

So, I had to go back to the drawing board.  I usually think best when I ride my bike, and my wife and I were spending the day biking around Alexandria VA when I heard the news that Ray Bradbury had died.  Within just a few hours an idea came to me that allowed me to play homage to Ray and hence Burning Alexandria was born. I won't say anything more about the piece, but hope you'll read it and I'm sure you'll understand the title and the connection to Ray.

The good news is that since this project was meant to shine a spotlight, and not done "for the money" it's FREE! (Get it here) So there really is no reason not to download a copy and try out a few of these great stories.  And...if you do read mine, please send me an email me here as I'd love to discuss it with you.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Immortal ConFusion

For those who live in or around Detroit Michigan, I hope you'll have a chance to stop on by the Dearborn/Detroit Doubletree this coming weekend and join me, and some other fantasy authors at Immortal ConFusion. Apparently this is the "little convention with the big names" and is also in my old home town so I'll get a chance to see the family, some friends, and hopefully meet some new folks as well.

So who will be there?  Aimee Carter, Al Bogdan, Amity Thompson, Anne Harris, Brian McClellan, Carrie Harris, Catherine Shaffer, Christian Klaver, Christine Purcell, Cindy Spencer Pape, Courtney Moulton, Diana Rowland, Doselle Young, Doug Hulick, Dr. Phil Kaldon, Geoff Landis, Gretchen Ash, Holly McDowell, Howard Andrew Jones, Jim C. Hines, John Klima, John Scalzi, Laurie Gailunas, Lawrence Schoen, Leah Zeldes Smith, Mary G. Thompson, Mary Turzillo, Merrie Haskell, Michael J. DeLuca, Michael J. Sullivan, Michael Underwood, Myke Cole, Patrick Rothfuss, Patrick Tomlinson, Peter Orullian, Peter V. Brett, Ron Collins, Saladin Ahmed, Sam Sykes, Sarah Zettel, Scott H. Andrews, Susan Dennard, Tobias S. Buckell, Violette Malan, Wesley Chu, Maria Dahvana, Headley, Mary Robinette Kowel, and Charles Stross, Scott Edelman, Jennifer Ouellette, James Davis Nicoll, and Bradley P. Beaulieu.

So for those that are interested, I'll be arriving midday on Friday and leaving mid-morning on Monday. The sessions I'll be on panels with include:

Saturday 10:00 AM The End (Erie Room)
Fellow Panelists: Catherine Shaffer(M), Christian Klaver, Lawrence Schoen, Maria Dahvana, Headley
What makes a satisfying conclusion? Do we wrap up all loose ends, or leave some plot threads deliciously unexplored in the hopes of returning to them in future volumes? Does the desire for sequels sometimes rob us of a more permanent and concrete end to a story? This panel explores how hard is it to lean back and write "The End". 

Saturday 3:00 PM Genre Expansion In YA Fiction (Southfield Room)
Fellow Panelists: Aimee Carter, Courtney Moulton (M), Susan Dennard
Books aimed at teens often strive for stories that are relevant to that stage of life. Often times this means a modern setting with teen protagonists taking on some challenge, but not always. Science fiction and fantasy often make the biggest impressions on the YA market: just look to Twilight, The Hunger Games, or Harry Potter. Why is this, and what can fans and creators of SF/F learn from these successes?

Sunday 10:00 AM Too Epic? (Dearborn Room)
Fellow Panelists: Patrick Rothfuss, Peter Orullian, Peter V. Brett (M)
Multi-volume epic fantasy that takes decades to write and publish is nothing new, nor is the anticipation of fans rabid for the next installment of favorites like Song of Ice and Fire. When the
composition of a narrative enters its second decade, how does that affect the story? Does the completed version of Wheel of Time bear any resemblance to the plot – or world – hinted at in The
Eye of the World? Can an author maintain fidelity to the initial construct? Should one even try? 

Sunday 11:00 AM I’m Not Even Supposed To Be In This Genre (Dearborn Room)
Fellow Panelists: Cindy Spencer Pape (M), Holly McDowell, Laurie Gailunas
These days we’re as likely to open a book and encounter a noir femme-fatale in our space opera as we are to find a wizard in a noir detective story. Some of  these pairings have been wildly successful, like westerns and sci-fi, while others are somewhat less common. What are some of the potential difficulties in lifting a trope from one genre and playing it in another? Why does this seem to be gaining in popularity? What are some of the best (and worst) uses of this tactic? 

I'll also be at the mass autograph Session which will be in the Ontario Room Saturday at 5:00.  Hope to see you there!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fantasy authors have big hearts...and big ideas

Fantasy authors are amazing.  Not just because they write stories of the fantastical, which inspire and transport us from the hum-drum world that surrounds most of us, but also because they step up to the plate when a call for help goes out.

Having had some experience in self-published community, I've met quite a few talented writers along the years. One is R.T. Kaelin who has written two books (Progeny and Prophecy) which have done quite well so far.  When I recently got an email from him with an idea of how to help victims of Hurricane Sandy I immediately said, "Sign me up." His idea was produce an anthology of short-stories and give all the proceeds to the Red Cross to provide relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy.  Before long R.T. had authors (and some legends in the industry), asking how they could help, and also those raising their hands to provide cover design and editing.  The whole thing came together and in the end 41 authors contributed.  It sells for just $6.99 and so for every copy sold The Red Cross will receive $4.89 and you'll get some great reads to boot! You can purchase the ebook at: Amazon and Barnes &Noble.

I hope you'll buy a copy. Not only will you be getting some great stories to read, but some people who have lost everything will be helped out in the process.

I'd like to also thanks those who contributed to the book's creation including:

Authors: Elizabeth Bear | Mark Lawrence | Robert Silverberg | Michael A. Stackpole | Michael J. Sullivan | Marion Zimmer Bradley | Jean Rabe | Rick Novy | R.T. Kaelin | Ari Marmell | Jaym Gates | Adrian Tchaikovsky | Vicki Johnson-Steger | Maxwell Alexander Drake | Alex Bledsoe | Stephen D. Sullivan | T.L. Gray | Bryan Thomas Schmidt | Donald J. Bingle | Erik Scott de Bie | C.S. Marks | Tobias S. Buckell | Bradley P. Beaulieu | Steven Saus | Gregory A. Wilson | Alex Shvartsman | Addie J. King | Matt Bone | Doris Stever | Marian Allen | Sarah Hans | Rob Rogers | Tim Marquitz | Elisabeth Waters | Janine Spendlove | C.J. Henderson | Philip Athans | Tracy Chowdhury | Bryan Young | SM Blooding | Timothy Zahn

Editors: R.T. Kaelin | Bryan Thomas Schmidt | Sarah Chorn | Rob H. Bedford

Cover: Artwork by Kevin Ward

You guys are the best!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What’s In A Word?

Marlon Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire, Warner Brothers Films

In my new on-going, and unintentional series of The Strange and Wonderful In The Life Of An Author, allow me to present the Perils of Apparel.

When some cities in the New World, like Washington, DC were created, they were laid out in advance, in great contrast to such old world capitals like Paris which were grown up out of happenstance. We Americans, being new and modern, were pleased with our intelligent designs and sensible, orderly communities. The same, I fear, cannot be said about our language.

There can be no greater grab bag of randomness than the Americanized English language. Rules fail to be consistent, not even the attempts to patch problems with sing-a-long mnemonics. Living languages are messy, particularly one that adopts words and welcomes foreign phrases as readily as the Statue of Liberty invites immigrants.

Recently, while going over edits of my most recent novel, I discovered that my wife had changed my spelling of the word t-shirt, to tee shirt. In the world of an author such insignificance is the kickoff to an adventure of discovery.

I’d never seen the word tee shirt before. I stared at it puzzled. Seriously? Tee as in the tiny pedestal used in golfing? Is that where the name comes from? But golfers mostly wear polo shirts—which in itself is odd. Rugby has a shirt, boxing has shorts, and jockeys too. Why isn’t there a golf-shirt? Given all the money spent on the sport, and the desperate need for better fashions in that endeavor, someone should have invented one by now. The thing was, my general trivia sodden brain remembered that the modern undershirt had something to do with the US military in WWII, and I felt certain this “tee shirt” couldn’t be right.

Just as in days of old, when the ancients were presented with a life altering dilemma, I turned to the wisdom of the great oracle—today we know it as the Internet.

It turns out the first undershirt was created when some intrepid fashionista of the 19th century got it into his/her head to cut in half the traditional “union suit”—that onesie for men often seen in old westerns. 

 This created a top that could be tucked into the waistband of the bottom. Miners and stevedores adopted the garment that came with and without buttons. But as per my recollection the non-button style undershirt was issued by the US Navy as early as the Spanish American War. The inexpensive shirt grew in popularity in the depression as kid’s clothing and work wear. It wasn’t until WWII when so many men were exposed to it through their service, and in the fifties when Marlon Brando wore one in A Streetcar Named Desire, that the garment went from being an undershirt to that of outerwear.

But what about the name? I had assumed it was derived from some military jargon. The answer was far simpler.  The T stands for the shape of the shirt drawn from the stem of the body and the cross of the sleeves.

Given this I judged that tee shirt was incorrect, so was t-shirt. The correct usage had to be T-shirt as the letter shape defines the object. Armed with this knowledge I challenged my wife. She responded with the defense that the Kansas City Star uses tee shirt, and Reuters uses tee-shirt. Further investigation revealed that The Washington Post uses t-shirt, The New York Times uses T-shirt, and most dictionaries use T-shirt.

Such is the state of the English language. We are all subject to a feudal system of numerous warlords who write their own laws.

I’ve discovered that much of the “proper” usage of the English language is defined by authors, as grammarians—like lawyers—often cite various author’s preferences as precedence. Given this, and being an author, I realized that I held the potential authority to determine the future of the literary landscape. So I made the decision.

“It’s T-shirt,” I declared. Given the origin of the word nothing else made sense.

It was at this point my wife mischievously smirked and asked… “what about the wife beater?”

“I’ll go with tank top,” I replied.

“Okay so where did that term come from?”

Tank top?” My trivia inclined brain made the obvious connection. I recalled Donald Sutherland in Kelly’s Heroes, his dog tags slapping against his tank-topped chest. “Probably got the name because tank crews in WWII wore them.”

Donald Sutherland, Kelly's Heroes, MGM
“Good answer!” Robin replied, but then had to ruin it by doing research.

Tank top comes from the shirt being in the same design as the top of the swimming tank—the one piece bathing suit of the twenties. 

Really? Swimming tank? Oxymoron much?

And this my friends is how an author can lose an hour of editing trying to untangle the ball of kite string that is English.I am certain however that all of you are reassured to know the trouble authors go though in safe guarding the this sacred language that is English.

And people complain about the angle streets in DC.

(FYI: The swimming tank suit predates the military vehicles and refers to the suit of clothes one would wear while swimming in a tank of water, a tank being a large receptacle such as a pool or even a naturally occurring pond or lake.)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Next Big Thing

Right before Christmas I was tagged by author Jeff Salyards for "The Next Big Thing" Meme. For those not familiar with memes they are (according to oracle Wikipedia) "an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena." As Malcolm Gladwell wrote, "A meme is an idea that behaves like a virus—that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects."
In other words, it’s the phrase epic fail, or I used to be an adventurer like you, then I took an arrow to the knee. It’s videos like the honey badger, and Leroy Jenkins. Songs like Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give you Up, and…well…anything with cats.

In the case of  The Next Big Thing it is a mechanism for authors to let others know of future writing projects. I'm not sure who started it—perhaps one day there will be a branch of science, like anthropology, devoted to discovering the genesis of such things—but the idea is that each author who is “tagged” (asked to participate) answers ten questions. I had the knee-jerk impulse to respond, “African or European?” (Old school meme.) Then each author tags another five to do the same, which makes it a lot like one of those chain letters but without The sword of Damocles, (really old school meme,) threat of impending doom.

I've been very busy editing three (yes three) books over the holiday season. My wife and I spent New Year’s Eve debating the proper spelling of T-shirt (more on that in another post.) So I've not done all my tagging, but I will get to that soon.  One tag I did get around to was R.T. Kaelin because I wanted to bring more attention to the great work he is doing with his anthology Triumph Over Tragedy which is raising money to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy.  I'll update this post as I add other authors.
So here goes my contribution to The Next Big Thing...

1) What is the working title of your next book?
Gah, this should be easy...but isn't.  My next "traditionally published" book will be The Crown Tower (coming Aug 1, 2013) from Orbit books, but I really want to join the ranks of hybrid authors so the current plan is to release a self-published novel before the end of March 2013.  The problem is I have two finished novels: Antithesis (which needs more editing) and Hollow World (which might be picked up by Orbit). So all I can say with 100% certainty is it will be one of those three.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

The Crown Tower has its seeds from a short story I wrote during the time that my self-published titles were removed from the market, but my new books were not yet available. It goes back in time to the early days of the forming of Riyria, an enterprise created by the two main characters of my larger series. The idea of Antithesis came to me more than two decades ago, and was written before my ten-year hiatus. It came from my pondering about what I would do, or how I would behave, if I had unlimited magical power. Hollow World came from a short story I wrote for an anthology. It explores a story set in the far future where mankind has moved underground and the surface of the earth has been restored to its natural state.

3) What genre does your book fall under?  
The Crown Tower is traditional classic fantasy and follows characters already well known to my Riyria Revelations series. That being said, it is designed so it can be its own entry point and no prior knowledge of the other series is required. Antithesis is urban fantasy. It is set in modern day America.  Hollow World is a time-traveling science fantasy, where the invention of three very important technologies has completely revolutionized society.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
 This is a question that I've been asked often...and I'm going to keep toeing my party line of not answering. I think one of the great things about the written word is that each person can conjure their own "mind's eye" impression of the characters they are reading about, and I don't want to prejudice or bias my reader's own creations. While my publisher has selected actors for the book's covers (which I have no control over), I won't comment about if they align with my own impressions of the pair.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  
The Crown Tower: Two men who hate each other must perform a task impossible to achieve, and if they don't kill each other first, they just might make a legendary team. Antithesis: An unexpected death transfers limitless power to an unsuspecting bystander who is clueless of the consequences of his new found abilities. Hollow World: Is a world without hunger, want, or war a utopia, or does it come with a price too heavy to pay?

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The Crown Tower will be released through Orbit, the fantasy imprint of big-six publisher Hachette Book Group.  Antithesis will be self-published.  Hollow World could go either way. It's just too soon to know at this point.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
With all projects, it depends on when you start counting. Most of my books are "incubated" for years (and sometimes decades), but once I sit down to actually start the writing it generally takes 3 - 4 months and each of these books fell within those timelines.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Crown Tower is obviously very similar to my Riyria Revelations series which is often compared favorably to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and works by Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, and Brent Weeks. Antithesis is similar to Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles or Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. As for Hollow World, it actually has a multitude of themes including the effects of technology, time-travel, romance, and a murder mystery and as such I really don't know any other works to compare it to.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?  
The Crown Tower was written to perpetuate my wife's love affair with Hadrian Blackwater, one of my fictional characters. Antithesis was just a really cool idea of exploring the old-age conflict between good and evil. Hollow World was never a book I had planned to write, but I got such a positive response from writer friends that read the short story which preceded it that I was excited to put other projects aside to write it.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
Anyone who is a big fan of Royce and Hadrian and found they were missing that team at the end of The Riyria Revelations will enjoy The Crown Tower.  The two are much different in this book, and really don't like one another, so seeing how their friendship comes about is quite entetaining. Antithesis has a bit of a comic-book ordinary man who gets extraordinary power and how he deals with that transition. While some of my fantasy work can be thought of as light fun adventures, Hollow World explores serious questions about love, individuality, and how one person's perspective of heaven may be someone else's hell. Despite it's serious nature it still has my trademark humor and characters that people genuinely connect with that makes it entertaining as well as thought provoking.