Monday, May 18, 2015

Alphabet of SFF

Mark Lawrence did an intriguing blog post where he posted photos depicting from A to Z his favorite books by authors whose last names began with each particular letter. It got me thinking about my book shelves and in the end I just had to try it myself!

It ended up being somewhat difficult because there are so many books still to be read, so I decided not to list any of those, which left me with some letters unused. It also turned out that in many cases a single letter, like 'M' had multiple of my favorite authors.

Here you see me cheating right off with Robert Asprin listed first when he was the editor of the Thieves' World series, which was written by a bunch of terrific writers. But I just LOVE the Thieves' World series and think it's a shame that more people don't seem to remember it. I could have listed Joe Abercrombie there. Then comes Terry Brooks. I know most people sneer at The Sword of Shannara, but I loved it. Louis Bujold gets a secondary nod for 'B'. I couldn't live with myself if I didn't include my own writing under 'C', but I stuck Glen Cook in there as well to make it legit and because I love his work. Who can beat Philip K Dick for 'D'? Steven Erikson wins the 'E' category. I didn't have much under 'F', so I went with Alan Dean Foster.

'G' goes to William Gibson. No one can touch Robert E Howard, though Joe Haldeman deserves a mention. I didn't have any I or J that I had read, and Stephen King just doesn't fall under SFF for me, so I move to 'L' with Le Guin and Leiber. I know, it seems wrong to leave out Lawrence when he started this idea and I do like his work, but honestly, who can touch Le Guin? Or Leiber? I didn't even get to include Scott Lynch! The M's were trouble, so I put George Martin, of course, but I decided to throw in McKiernan and Morgan as well. Then Larry Niven for 'N'.

Pohl for 'P'. 'R' was hard since I just love Rothfuss's work, but I didn't want to leave out Chasm City by Reynolds, which is awesome. Scalzi slips in to 'S', though I was sorely tempted to include Dan Simmons. 'T' is flat out owned by Tolkien, naturally. 'V' goes to Vinge, who is amazing. I could have gone with Tad Williams for 'W', but I decided to choose Westerfeld, since The Risen Empire is great and so few people seem to have read this series.

Well, that's it! I have plenty of other books I love that didn't make it here since I didn't want to duplicate too  many in each category. For example, Ender's Game by Card feels like it should have made it. What about you? You up to the challenge?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Acting in Swedish Comedy

Some time ago I wrote about my various movie acting experiences on this blog, and today I was thinking about my favorite one, a Swedish comedy called The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Yes, a very long title, but it comes from a hit book and the movie is the highest-grossing film from Sweden and quite good. It has been driving me mad that it hasn't yet been released on DVD in America.
Last time I posted about it, I posted this picture taken by the Swedish star Robert Gustaffson (He is the one on the right). We had done several takes of this scene and Robert suddenly told us all to look over, and he snapped this 'selfie'. I realized I had never posted any shots from the scene, so just now I paused the scene a few times and did screen shots so you can see what the scene itself turned out like in the movie. For the actual scene, you'll need to look up the film. It is out on DVD in Europe, but in the U.S. we'll just have to wait.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Interview With Author Michael Patrick Hicks

I'm very proud to get to interview author Michael Patrick Hicks today. He first came to my attention when I learned he was a quarter-finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Having tried that contest a couple of times myself, I was well aware of how difficult it is to get that far, so I knew he had to be a very good writer. Luckily for me his novel, Convergence, was also just the type of sci-fi that I enjoy. For those who haven't yet read it, I recommend it, and there couldn't be a better time than this week: Convergence will be free all week long! And if that isn't good enough news, the brand-new sequel, Emergence, that I haven't even read yet myself is just coming out and will be .99 cents all week as well! That won't last, so do yourself a favor and pick up two great high-octane books for one tiny price.

Your first book, Convergence, was an action-packed thrill ride. Will the second be the same or will there be a change of pace?
I think Emergence is even more action-packed. I always kind of saw Convergence as a sort of cyberpunk-noir, while Emergence is a straight-up sci-fi thriller, almost a summer action-movie blockbuster. If readers thought Convergence was a thrill ride, then they should be quite happy with the sequel.
In Convergence we learned that China has somehow invaded and now holds part of America, but we don’t learn a lot about why and how that came to be. Do you delve into this in more detail, either in Emergence or in a later sequel?
I do not, but there may be room for exploring these things in a future sequel, or maybe even a prequel sometime down the road. While there is a brief return to a Los Angeles under PRC occupation, there’s more of a road-trip vibe to Emergence and we get to see what’s happened to some of the other Pacific regions, like Washington, with a detour further inland to Nevada. There’s also a fun trip to the seasteading community that was briefly teased in the prior book. Readers will see more of a future America “as is” in that timeline, without a lot of background or infodump.
Tell us more about Emergence (without spoilers of course!). 
Emergence really grows out of the end-game from Convergence. Readers of Convergence will recall that some awful things happened to Mesa, the daughter of our central character in book 1. Mesa is still recovering from all that, and she’s really the focal point of this new novel. She’s got some secrets stuck in her head that she’s slowly becoming aware of, and she’s on the run for her life. There’s corporate mercenaries chasing her, she’s in serious danger, and so are her friends and her father. She’s really boxed into a corner and fighting for survival against some heinous characters in order to protect this secret that, if it got loose, could really change the world.
Will you only write sci-fi or do you plan to write in other genres as well?
I’m itching to write some more horror! I released a short horror story last Halloween called Consumption that readers seem have been enjoying. My current project is a title for the Apocalypse Weird series, and that’s going to be a nice blend of science fiction and horror, and I’m really pleased with the angle I get to tackle in my little corner of the ever-growing AW bookverse. I’ve got a small sci-fi/western/horror story that’ll be in an anthology due out in the fall. After that, we’ll see.
What were your major influences?
From the writing end of things, Stephen King was definitely a big influence on me, along with other authors like Tom Clancy and Richard K. Morgan. I think each of those authors have really helped to define my own writing style and my approach to telling stories.
The news, too, is a constant source of influence. Because my two novels have a strong technological backbone to them, I did a lot of research in order to make things plausible. A lot of the tech stuff is actually based, in part, on current research that DARPA is doing to aid wounded soldiers suffering from brain damage.
How has your publishing experience been so far?
So far it’s been good, and I certainly hope that continues! I’ve heard from several readers who enjoyed Convergence quite a bit, and that’s always very rewarding and fulfilling. I hope I don’t let them down with my future releases! I’ve also met a number of terrific writers, and was able to collaborate with them on a recent anthology, with another coming out soon. I’ve certainly had a terrific time of it, and a few very nice doors have been opened for me because of my work. I’m enormously grateful for that.
Did you always want to write, or was there a catalyst that made you suddenly decide to go for it?
I have, yeah. It was always the one big dream I had in life, and I wanted to get my first book out there by the time I was 35. I beat my goal by one year! I had been planning on pursuing a traditional path, but that’s such a massive leviathan to try and wrangle.
After Convergence placed as a quarter-finalist in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and my book’s early readers supported it in that contest, and Publisher’s Weekly had a lot of positive things to say about it, I decided to just go for it and self-publish.
Based on that contest and the feedback I was getting, it definitely looked like there was a market for my book and letting it sit in a drawer for, what would likely be, years on end trying to find an agent and a publisher lacked a certain luster. I knew that I could publish it myself and work with some terrific professionals to make it into the book I wanted it to be. I think it was a smart decision, and I’ve had zero regrets about jumping into the indie pool feet-first.
Do you have a goal with publishing?
My goal, first and foremost, is to write books that readers enjoy. A more long-term goal is to be able to write full-time, but I think I’m a ways off from that. But, if Mr. Speilberg wants to make me an offer on a movie deal I’d be hard pressed to say no!
Do you have a particular target audience for your books? What books are out there whose readership might love yours?

Sci-Fi fans are the first target audience that leap to mind, of course, but also readers who like mysteries and thrillers. Both Convergence and Emergence straddle a number of different genres, and I think they’re open to just about any reader. If you’re a reader but a bit afraid of the sci-fi label, don’t be! The titles are Earth-based, human-focused techno thrillers, so if you like 24 or Michael Connelly or James Rollins, I think you could certainly enjoy my books and find a lot of things here that are familiar, but just a few years ahead of us technology-wise.

Here are links to both books:

To learn more or to become a fan of Michael Patrick Hicks:
His Goodreads Author Page
Michael's Website

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Dragon Chronicles

Tomorrow is the official release date of the fantastic anthology The Dragon Chronicles, which features a short story (or a novelette according to Nebula guidelines!) of mine called Dragon Play. This anthology is part of an ongoing series of speculative fiction anthologies called The Chronicles, which features such compilations as The AI Chronicles, The Alien Chronicles, and The Robot Chronicles. There are more forthcoming, including one called The Immortality Chronicles that I am kicking myself that I didn't get to be a part of, considering that my books are all about immortality.
Picture from Samuel Peralta
There are some amazing names associated with The Chronicles, such as Hugh Howey, with more famous authors slated to be part of future releases. So that makes me especially proud to get to be a part of this. The book is available for Kindle and in paperback.

For any who are interested, there is a Facebook release party scheduled which will have lots of giveaways.

Goodreads reviews have already mentioned my story a couple of times, making me quite happy:

"Ted Cross does a beautiful a job with his tale of a treasure hunt gone horribly awry for a group of young Vikings trespassing upon a dragon’s lair. The youthful characters of Dragon Play are well done, and I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of The Goonies vibe in their doomed sojourn."

"Dragon Play - Ted Cross 
— ok, this is another of my favorites in the group. Not only because the characters feel real, and their relationship believable, but the adventure in the cave is heart-stopping, and glues your lungs together when the characters hold their own breath. You are pulled into these characters, not a yanking of terror sort of way, but you find yourself inhabiting them as naturally as if you are there in the cave with them. This is masterfully written, and the feel and tone of Iceland or Scandinavia or wherever its set is so integral it becomes the backbone of the tale. Not like some stories that make you feel the location is just a choice from a spun wheel of possibilities, no, this feels rooted and born from the land where it is written. Beautiful."

Hopefully being a part of this will lead some new readers to my books!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Interview With Fantasy Author Harriet Goodchild

I'm pleased to get to interview one of the finest fantasy authors that I have ever met online, Harriet Goodchild. If you love gorgeous prose and fantasy then her writing is for you!

Harriet, I’ve known you for some time through the writing site Authonomy, so I'm happy to see your books finally being published. What can you tell us about where you live? Anything about yourself you are willing to share?

Thank you, Ted. The same is true of you: it’s good to see your books out in the world.
Okay about me: I was born in Glasgow and live now in Edinburgh. They’re about forty miles apart.  Lest that sound a narrow life, I’ll say I’ve lived in a few other places as well, including the United States and Australia, and spent twelve years in Oxford. Life in Oxford is rather like living in a fantasy novel: you’ll find seneschals in each, for instance, and quaffing from an aurochs horn. 

Will you only write fantasy or do you plan to write in other genres as well?

I think, for fiction, I’ll stick with fantasy. I write stories to relax. In another life I write and edit non-fiction and that requires such a huge amount of careful fact-checking that I don’t want to have to do it for fiction too. With my kind of fantasy internal consistency is all that matters. If you get the small details plausible and consistent, readers will swallow any amount of impossibility.

You have a very poetic literary style. What were your major influences?

More I think than I can tell. The two I’m most aware of are both writers of historical fiction I read first as a teenager: Rosemary Sutcliff and Mary Renault. Both write in marvelously realised worlds and their research never overwhelms the story. Both write of places with a sense of the numinous about them: the supernatural is always just offstage, so close you can – almost – reach and touch it. More recently, there’s Hilary Mantel, not because I can aim to emulate her, but because, when I read the beginning of Wolf Hall for the first time, I felt a visceral shock at just how good it was. I’d read her earlier books but Wolf Hall showed me a new perspective, a different way of writing. Straying from historical fiction to fantasy: Ursula K. Le Guin and Gene Wolfe. I read them for their stories, but also for their genius at world building without tedious amounts of exposition.
All these people write beautiful prose. I’m a rereader as much as I’m a reader and, when rereading, it’s not the story that matters so much as the writing. With these authors, this is something to savour.
You mentioned a poetic style…  Poetry and song are the most immediate influences upon After the Ruin; in particular, it’s the Child Ballads, traditional songs from Scotland and northern England collected by Francis Child in the late nineteenth century. I listen to huge amounts of folk music and these songs have imparted their mood and tone to the book. They tell of a world filled by melancholy and longing, and blur the lines between the real and the supernatural.

How has your publishing experience been so far?

Hadley Rille Books have been brilliant. They are a small press but they take the books they publish very seriously and have carved out a particular niche for themselves within SFF and historical fiction. They’ve a reach I’d not have managed for myself and I’m very glad to have thrown in my lot with them.
I was very fortunate how I found my way to Hadley Rille. I’d done the query-go-round, got requests, got some compliments, got I’m interested, got I need to think, got rejected, got dejected...
Then a good friend of mine – Jane Dougherty – approached an editor on my behalf, because by that point I was very dejected and no longer sending it anywhere. That editor, Terri-Lynne Defino, said, Sure, get her to send it to me. So I did, and she liked it and passed it up to Eric Reynolds, the publisher at Hadley Rille Books, and, soon after that, After the Ruin was on its way into the world. It’s been a long journey, for reasons none of us could have predicted. Eric has been inspiring throughout and Terri understood from the beginning what the book was about.
But, really, it’s all due to Jane. Thank you, Jane.

Did you always want to write, or was there a catalyst that made you suddenly decide to go for it?

I’ve always been a voracious reader who wrote a bit of fiction. For a long time, reading a lot and writing a bit was enough. I didn’t have any intention of writing stories for anyone else to read. Eventually, however, I started to react against academic prose and, about five years ago, I stepped my escapism up a gear and started taking my fiction more seriously.

Do you have a goal with publishing?

I did: it was Get a novel published. I need a new goal.

Do you have a particular target audience for your books? What books are out there whose readership might love yours?

I think readers who read at the intersection of fantasy and historical fiction. If you like Rosemary Sutcliff and Guy Gavriel Kay, maybe you’ll like my stories too. Beyond that, people who like folk songs, myths and fairy tales, as there’s quite a bit of these mixed into After the Ruin. If you want a taster, you can try starting with my short story collections Tales from the Later Lands and An End and a Beginning.

Tell us about After the Ruin

It’s a meditation on how the present is shaped by the past. All the characters have experienced events that, in one way or another, ended the life they thought they’d live.
It’s a love story – or rather several love stories.
It’s a high fantasy of intrigue and manipulation set against landscapes reminiscent of the west of Scotland in a time of my own choosing: vaguely Viking Bronze Age mediaeval with touches of the Renaissance.

Here’s the blurb:
What is the price of a man's life? An apple? A sword? A kingdom?

There are many ways to leave a life in ruins. But ruined lives go on, and so, after the ruin, there is love, sweet as roses on a summer's evening. But love is such a little thing, no stronger than a candleflame at noontime. For, after the ruin, Averla, fire made flesh, is hiding in the light. She will use lover against lover, sister against brother, father against son, to build again her kingdom of everlasting flame. Love is not enough to set against her fierce desire. As well seek to turn back the tide with a wall of sand.

Is it part of a series?

It could be. By that I mean it stands alone, being complete in and of itself, but I have other stories set in the same world that are linked with it. Some are published – Hadley Rille Books have published two sets of my short stories as e-books – and some are not. I hope the ones that aren’t published yet will be. Maybe I should make that my next goal in publishing.

Thank you very much for having me here, Ted. It’s been great talking with you.

UK author page:
US author page:

Here’s the link to Barnes & Noble:

Here’s the link to Fishpond:

Here’s the link to Heroines of Fantasy, where I have a regular book review slot:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Reader Perceptions

I had an interesting review recently on Goodreads that made me ponder just how differently readers can perceive what's happening in a story compared to what the author meant to portray. Let me state up front that I am in no way arguing with the review--I believe the review accurately stated what that reader actually felt while reading, and that was useful to me.

The reader gave a generally positive review, but the one negative was that he believed the love story between the two main characters in The Immortality Game was not believable under the circumstances. And I completely agree with him! While writing the book, my thoughts were all along the line of, This is all happening in one day and Zoya is having the worst possible day of her life, so love will be the last thing on their minds. So I put a couple sentences here and there to indicate normal human behavior between people who might otherwise have found each other attractive and perhaps developed a romance at some point, but I never made anything explicit about a romance actually developing during the story. At least, that was my belief while writing. I wanted to merely hint at the possibilities, while not actually having any romance.
Zoya, by Stephan Martiniere
I think it comes down to something I once wrote a blog post about long ago--subtlety. In that long ago blog post I wrote that it is very difficult for a writer to understand the amount of subtlety that will work in a story. I have learned from readers that there are times I felt I was being way too obvious yet the readers never 'got' it, and conversely there were times I worried I was being too subtle but readers seemed to get it easily. So my guess here is that my attempted subtlety to merely hint at potential future romance was enough for some readers to see real romance happening.

On a different note, my original intention regarding romantic angles in the story blew up in my face midway through writing and I had to adjust it. I had intended to show something that I think happens to many young people when one or both of them are shy and/or have low self-esteem. I wanted Zoya to have some attraction to Marcus but believe that it is the man's job to make the approach, while Marcus on the other hand has low self-esteem, so he assumes Zoya can't be interested in him, thus leaving the oft-seen situation where both parties potentially like each other but neither will make the first move. I so wanted to do this, because it was my own experience through my younger years, and it was something I found to be incredibly frustrating.

It blew up on me simply due to the timeframe of everything happening in one day, along with the fact Zoya was going through sheer horror, so my intended romantic angle made less and less sense to me as I went along and I ended up amending it so that only Marcus showed any real interest, but he understood his feelings were inappropriate under the circumstances (not to mention his low self-esteem issues).

Anyhow, I'm glad for the review, as it helps me in my future writings to put deeper thought into what level of subtlety I need to use in situations like this.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Interview With Author Ivan Amberlake

I'm very proud to introduce my readers to a writer I've known for many years, Ivan Amberlake. He was even so kind as to supply the quote on the cover of my first novel. Ivan writes urban fantasy stories, and he's holding a giveaway on Tome Tender, plus you can get Ivan's three books for only .99 each for Kindle!

Ivan, you are the only writer I know from the former Soviet Union. I've passed through Byelorussia but never really got a chance to visit there. What can you tell us about where you live? Anything about yourself you are willing to share?

Byelorussia, or Belarus, is a very beautiful country. It’s often called a land of blue lakes and green forests. Nature is gorgeous here, believe me. I live in Vitebsk, the cultural capital of our country where lots of music festivals are held every year. It’s rather a gloomy place as we have here only around 3 months of sunshine, which probably influences me and my writing, but I still love this place.

You speak and write English so well. I'm envious! How did you learn such great English? Do you find it difficult at all to write in a language other than your native Russian?

Well, I had great teachers at school and university who inspired me to study English. This language sounds very beautiful to my ear. I studied French at school, German and a bit of Polish at university, but none of them can compare to English. Writing in English is challenging at times, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s really hard work, but it’s an amazing feeling when I have a finished manuscript on my hands that I’m happy with.

You seem to enjoy writing about conflicts that are very black and white, dark and light. Do you do that on purpose?

I love the contrast between light and darkness. Even if we take ourselves, all of us have light and darkness within us, and it’s we who choose where we belong. The sharp contrast of Light and Dark was used in the first book of The Beholder series to introduce the world of the Lightsighted and Darksighted, and I didn't want the readers to get confused. In Book 2, Path of the Heretic, I added some shades of gray to this world, which I hope made the book more enjoyable. No spoilers here, sorry!

What made you choose Americans for your main characters?

I've always had doubts about whether my characters should be American or let’s say Russian. One of the reviewers of The Beholder mentioned that the story could take place anywhere in the world, which probably happened because I couldn't decide on the setting and the characters up until the end. I decided against Russian characters because it might lead to people comparing it with The Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko.

Do you foresee continuing to write in this same 'world', or are you writing new things?

The Beholder and Path of the Heretic are the first two books in THE BEHOLDER series. There will be another one about Jason, called Creatures of Lumen, and hopefully one more written from Emily Ethan’s point of view where the readers will get to know about Emily’s life before she meets Jason.

Apart from that, I do have a great idea for a YA futuristic novel not connected with The Beholder series, which I’m excited about, but I’m not sure when I’m going to get to it and finish a first draft.

You are one of the first of my writer friends to indie publish. How has your experience been so far?

Self-publishing is tough. Writing a book is only the beginning of the hard work. After that you have to realize that there are thousands of writers out there (both indie and traditionally published), so you just can’t expect to sit and hope that once you've published your book people are going to buy hundreds and thousands of copies of it. I spend hours promoting my books everywhere I can. One of the best places to promote books is Goodreads, where I’m always happy to meet new friends and offer them copies of my novels, hoping that they will enjoy my writing and post reviews. I also contact a lot of bloggers, and I have to say most of them are really nice people. They are really busy promoting our work, which is really cool. I don’t know what I’d do without all their help and support. Self-publishing is tough, but it’s also a lot of fun and chatting with really nice people, so I don’t regret I went indie.

What were your writing influences? Did you always want to write, or was there a catalyst that made you suddenly decide to go for it?

Some ten years ago I had no idea I would start writing, let alone writing in English. I loved and still love reading books in English (I never read books in my mother tongue). So I thought it would be a great idea to write a book and devote it to my girlfriend (girlfriend at that time, now wife).  

Do you have a goal with publishing? Are you going to become the Byelorussian J.K. Rowling?

The Byelorussian J.K. Rowling? Haha, it’d be nice! Not sure where all of this is going, but I’m happy to know that people enjoy my latest release, Path of the Heretic. It means I need to keep writing more and let as many people know about my books.

Do you have a particular target audience for your books? What books are out there whose readership might love yours?

The Beholder series may appeal to young adult and adult readers whereas Diary of the Gone, a paranormal suspense novella, is aimed at 13- to 15-year-olds, although adult readers seem to enjoy it as well. I always try to create an exciting story that won’t let the readers get bored, but will keep their attention until the very end.

Thank you for the interview, Ted! It’s a real honor for me to be featured on Cross Words!