Friday, March 23, 2012

I've Been Deader

One of the best writers on Authonomy -- which is a great writing resource for budding authors -- is Splinker the sock puppet, also known as Adam Sifre. He's one of the wittiest writers I've read, but he has serious writing skills also. If anyone recalls the March Madness literary tournament I posted about recently, his second novel Take a Breather is in the final. Take a Breather is the prequel to a very unique novel that Splinker has recently published.
It's called I've Been Deader and anyone who loves comedy horror should give it a try. It's available in paperback or eBook. It's not your standard zombie apocalypse -- the main character is one of the zombies! If you think that can't make a viable and entertaining book, then you don't know Splinker.

Everyone should know Splinker.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Writing Season Approaches

My wife got a kick out of me saying that it was nearly 'writing season'. The saying is that 'writers write', and I agree with that...mostly. While I agree that it would be ideal to write each and every day, as long as I am not a professional writer, I just don't have the motivation to do so.

Right now -- as an amateur writer -- I enjoy the luxury of spending a long time mulling over my stories. I will go for months simply imagining how the coming chapters might go, and by the time I do get around to writing them, they tend to flow very quickly. The long portion of my work in progress was all done in about two months last year, during writing season of course. I would have gotten more done if my family hadn't had to move from Azerbaijan to Hungary, with a long stop in the US in between.

I don't worry about needing to develop better writing habits, because I know from experience that I'm a person who works well with an official deadline. In other words, if I owe new books to a publishing company by a certain date, I know I can produce. When I don't have an official deadline, I prefer procrastination.

I call the coming spring 'writing season' since it is the time of year that offers the fewest distractions. During the fall the NFL season kicks off, and I just love NFL football and NCAA basketball. Well, football is over, and NCAA basketball ends in a couple of weeks. That means it is nearly writing season again!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Page 77 Test

Okay, so Guilie at Quiet Laughter picked me to do this page 77 test, where you put down exactly what is on page 77 of your work in progress. For me this is The Immortality Game, a near-future sci-fi thriller. The character involved is Zoya, a young woman who this morning saw her brother murdered by the Russian mob and then go after her. The mysterious package her brother had given her to hold contained a data slot card (these go into the mind/data interface behind your ear) and she has recently inserted this card, though she has no idea what it does. Pig was one of her less savory neighbors in her apartment complex. Here you go:

...toward her entrance door. Her eyes never paused, flicking between the car, the door, Pig’s broken window, scanning the surrounding area.

Shouts from her right startled her, but it was just the three boys running back into the parking lot, one carrying a football. The card took a moment before deciding on a green aura for them. She didn’t know the boys well, but she’d seen them around enough to know they were harmless.

She picked up her pace as she drew near the door, and breathed a sigh of relief when she reached it safely, punched in her code, and pulled the door open. There was no sign of anyone in the entry hall, so she cautiously made her way to the stairs and started up.

As she climbed flight after flight, she kept imagining various traps that Tavik had set for her. Mobsters would trap her in the stairwell, or perhaps they would be waiting in the apartment. She ran into no one, though, and heard nothing until she approached the tenth floor landing. Here she heard voices, muffled by distance; one sounded menacing and the other scared...and speaking with a strange accent.

She considered fleeing back down the stairs, but decided to risk a peek through the doorway. She saw one of the mobsters who had been with Tavik, the larger one, limned in red and pulling a gun from his coat. He was stepping back from a short, pudgy dark-haired man with a yellow aura. Everything became strange. Zoya felt her heart pounding like she’d never felt it before, a roaring thud within her mind, and it seemed she could hear the blood rushing through her veins. The slot card began feeding her an incredible amount of information, and somehow she could process it all--there was name, configuration, and history of the Gsh-18 handgun the mobster was holding to the small man’s head; trajectory lines pointing like lasers from the barrel of the gun; a multitude of tactical suggestions, listed in order of estimated success, and changing moment to moment with each movement the mobster made.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Literary Elite 8

*sigh* All good things must come to an end. There are so many good writers on Authonomy that's it's no disgrace to finally lose a match (please see my previous posts for details). However, the ref for my game admitted that he simply doesn't like traditional fantasy creatures like elves and dwarves. That's a sad way to lose!

At least my second book made it to the Elite 8, and it was paired against a book that many in the forum consider to be one of the best on Authonomy and certainly one with far more buzz than mine in the forums. The judge for this match was the person I consider to be the best writer on Authonomy, having written an amazing book called Dropcloth Angels. I encourage any horror fans out there to check it out, as you'll be seeing this author in bookstores in the future.

Here was his review:

Shit. this is gonna be a tough decision. Yes - I've read a bunch of both books, but can't place one above the other. Both are very unique - even within their own respective genres (and I mean that in a good way) - and both are uber readable. 

Ted's work is straight to the point and pitch perfect. He describes technologies so well you'd think we've lived with them every day of our lives, keeps the plot going like a motocross race, and writes characters with the precision of a literary marksman. 

Dear Ted: F*** you for being so talented. 

Rob's story is as different from Ted's as a shoe is from a baseball cap. I was able to flow along with Rob's narrative and sink deeply into the pov character's psyche. His prose is introspective, bursting at the seams with imagery, and meandering, but remains steadfast with the thread that carries it through to the pay off plot point or rounded-out description. At the end of each chapter so far (with the except of chapter 1), I'm left with a very crisp picture of what and who I've been reading about, and marvel at some very nice turns of phrase. 

Dear Rob: F*** you too. Fantastically drawn characters. 

Ted, Rob - I spit in your general direction. I'm so out of sorts I likely won't eat for the next day now, and today is taco day here at Casa del Fornicate. Thanks for that. 


I'm gonna read on for a couple more chapters, but - and I hate like hell to have to do it - but this may come down to technical issues. I'll be back to post my results after a motorcycle ride (how could I not? It's beautiful out there today), dinner (I was only kidding about not eating - I'd sooner set myself on fire), and three more chapters of each. 

Well, I'm ready. (Not really, but as ready as I think I'll be to judge between these two novels.)

This was like trimming nose hair with a steak knife - not something that should be done by mere mortals. (Bruce Willis, of course, gets a bye here, as he is more than a man. Eh, remember Bruno?)

My seemingly impossible task: Pick a winner between two very fine writers.
Ted Cross - The Immortality Game
Rob 1969 - Fink

Winner: The Immortality Game

BUT I want Rob to know my decision was reached after reading everything posted by both of you. I think I'm probably more upset than you, and would gladly give you my spot (if I go on) because I think yours is truly a worthy story. By the time I reached chapter twelve and their run in with the Beemer (I have that exact same zippo, btw), I was well hooked and would pay cash money for a copy once it's finished. No, I don't just say that to anyone.

For me, and I hope you forgive me if I'm a singular voice in this, my decision goes all the way back to the first chapter. The opening paragraph hit me like a bag of coconuts, and I had to read it a few times to get going. It (chapter 1) feels slightly out of sinc with all that follows, like something written after the fact, but not yet sculpted to match the precision of the rest. There are many tremendous lines - as there are throughout the entire upload! - but I felt somewhat removed from the action of the scene, of their getaway in general, and specifically, Shannon. Chris makes mention of her, but only in passing. I wanted to know about her, since he spoke of their (both Lynda & Shannon) situation briefly, and that both had to lie to friends and/or family to get away, but gave a brilliant description of his feelings for Lynda. After reading all the way through, I went back and reread the first chapter. It did feel more comfortable the second time through, and I felt I got more out of it while reading. Therein lies the problem, tho - that it took the second read thru for me to see what I eventually did. I think what it needs most in the opening is a mention of what's at stake, or even an alluded to act that they might be fleeing. That, and a tiny description of Shannon. <---As I write this, I feel this seems flimsy, but that's how close this was. Seriously. Paper-fucking-thin margin.

That said, you have a new fan - you both do. Ted, Congrats; Rob, my apologies. If either of you want or need a reader for anything you're having trouble with (or simply need a pair of eyes), call on me. Rob, I'd love to go over your chapter 1 in Word and do an in-line crit on it to give a more detailed version of the stammering, not very insightful explanation I posted here.

I'm excited for both of you, and I'm not blowing smoke up your cracks. Contest or no, both of you are gonna make it big someday.

This game was won after 2 quarters of o.t. If this were a real basketball game, this would have been the final (very impossible) score:

Team Ted 317
Team Rob 316

And ... I'm spent.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Literary Sweet 16

My last post was about how on the writing site Authonomy we are hosting a March Madness tournament in the style of college basketball's NCAA event except using our novels in place of basketball teams, with other writers selected as judges for each matchup. Sixty-four books started out and each round is single elimination. I was thrilled that both of my books -- the epic fantasy The Shard and the sci-fi thriller The Immortality Game -- made it through the first round to the round of 32.

Well I am naturally even more thrilled that both books continued their winning ways and have progressed to the round of 16. Here are the writeups:

The Shard—Ted Cross. Dude, you can write. I read fantasy only when it’s required of me in the Brutal Honesty crit group or when a book has sold so well I’m culturally illiterate without having read it. Your opening paragraphs tell me many things I need to know: we’re not in Kansas any more (two moons) and Miros is on his first great adventure with his father and brothers. Familiar trees dot the landscape of The Known Lands, and the name of the place suggests people reluctant to explore for some reason or another. The flashback to Mavvy’s visit supplies more of the missing information yet leaves me with plenty of curiosity that keeps me reading: what took her son? Will they find him alive or dead? Will Milos be of any help? Oh, my. I was certain death would visit a different character—Oswal—and appreciate your skill in misleading me so effectively. (Someone wasn’t paying attention to the pitches.)

The second chapter isn’t nearly so interesting to me. A wizard? Gah! But he engages in some mild magic-ing, shows me some info about The Known Lands, and is of course a likeable old fellow. I wish I felt more compelled to read at this point. Whatever errand he’s sent this bird to complete doesn’t feel so vital to the story.

The Shard reads like a completed manuscript. It feels polished and ready to publish. The rich detail in the manuscript helps to create a believable world, and the characters emerge as fully-formed individuals.

Heartless—Little Devil. I’m in trouble. This ms is as well-written and articulate as The Shard, so there’s no opportunity for The Hag to cast the tie-breaker vote. And it’s another genre I'm not terribly drawn to. I do find the opening chapter to be overly formulaic. Hubby leaves and we see his lover. Francesca (are there really that many women named Francesca in England?) barely reacts. Then she hits a dog and wouldn’t you know it? Its owner is named Drake Harrington. The only description we get of him is one concerned expression and a whole lot of kindness. Yet I suspect he’s devilishly handsome.

I stumbled a bit at the top of the second page. Doug? I don’t know him yet. I don’t know the other dog. And I’m wondering when I’ll learn about the novel mentioned in the pitches.

As the story unfolds, I suspect Francesca and Drake will be having something more—or other—than a simple affair. I appreciate this element of complexity and even wonder if maybe Drake is...a lunatic of some kind.

Overall, Heartless reads like a completed story but a slightly underdone draft. I suspect Francesca is more than just a jilted housewife, but her inherited house isn’t doing much to suggest she’s got any skills or life experience. Drake is of course a tantalizing mystery.

On the basis of its sense of completion, I’m going to go with THE SHARD. It feels ready for the bookshelf, while Heartless feels more like a great meal in need of some seasoning. Both are outstanding efforts and it was my pleasure to read them.


(This one had me matched up against another Editor's Desk winner)

Game #46
I’ve Been Deader
The Immortality Game

Winner: The Immortality Game

Upon reading the initial pitches I found myself immediately liking the concept behind ‘The Immortality Game’. The short pitch in particular is wonderful. The long pitch sets a dark tone, apt for a dystopian future.

The long pitch for ‘I’ve Been Deader’ is definitely one that enticed me into getting stuck into it. I had no idea how it would read. It sounds so surreal and very humorous.

I thought to myself I could easily enjoy both these books.

With both books, I couldn’t find any faults in the writing style, structure or grammar. In the end this game boiled down to personal preference and could’ve easily gone another way if someone else was the ref.

‘I’ve Been Deader’ is something I’ve never encountered before and I don’t think I’ll encounter it again outside of Splinker’s writing. The idea of writing from the perspectives of a sentient zombie is brilliant. Even though the MC has rational thoughts, he still blurts out the stock zombie cry “Braaiins”. It makes for a great opportunity to implement some unsaid undead puns.
A few chapters later the focus switches to a couple of new characters and the state of things as America is turning. To be honest, my interest dropped at this point and I wanted to know more about Undead Fred. Unfortunately, the remaining chapters were word fillers, and didn’t come back to conclude Fred’s sticky situation, leaving the reader to decide for themselves what could happen.
Overall ‘I’ve Been Deader’ was an interesting read, and highly recommendable.

The opening chapter of ‘The Immortality Game’ introduces one MC, Zoya. She is trying her best to decline her brother’s pleas of asking for her to look after a package of unknown contents. The reader is left with questions to be answered. What’s in the package? What has her brother done?
The second chapter introduces a second MC, Marcus, who is conversing with his digitalised father. I found this to be a fantastic concept; to extract someone’s mind and store it in a computer. It’s just the sort of thing that could end up happening. There are plenty of other both disturbingly thoughtful AND plausible ideas of what the future could hold.
Tyoma’s chapters distanced me from the book. I wanted to know more about Zoya or Marcus. Furthermore, I thought the video-game moment was a little long winded and would be far more effective if it was shortened. Perhaps this is just my personal taste, however.
At its heart ‘The Immortality Game’ is sci-fi through and through. And I’m not a major sci-fi fan to be honest, I often get lost in deciphering the new technology or new names for current technology. Either way, I found this comfortable to read, the pace in which these were introduced were very forgiving. To me, the world in this book very much seems to be the result of the internet/digital age gone awry.

Oh dear... this has been a tough decision to make. Both books are very strong entries and both books have acquired a great deal of attention so far, judging on the medal of ‘I’ve Been Deader’ and the ranking of ‘The Immortality Game’. Similarly, both books are written impeccably well and are delightful to read.

‘I’ve Been Deader’ is unique, witty and humorous.
‘The Immortality Game’ is thought-provoking, intelligent and has a great premise.

I enjoyed reading these books equally, and I would recommend both to people. As I’ve already mentioned above, if another person was the ref the outcome could easily be different.

Ultimately, I’ve decided that ‘The Immortality Game’ is the winner because of the morals, thoughts and the great story.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Literary March Madness

March is a great month for basketball lovers, since the wonderful tournament to decide the NCAA basketball title gets underway. My Arizona team still can make the Big Dance (as it's also called, along with March Madness) if it wins tonight against Colorado. Go Cats!

Anyhow, the writing site Authonomy has long been a useful one for me, since I get some great feedback on my books. I've made many hundreds of corrections to my books using such feedback. This month, though, the site became even funner when one poster decided to put on a March Madness tournament for books. I entered both of my books in the 64-book field, and I'm thrilled that both made it to the second round. Each round is single elimination, so your nerves are jangling while you wait for judges to post their results. There were many great books entered, so the matches were thrilling to watch. Here is the link to the thread (see what you all are missing by not being on Authonomy?):

Here are the postings of the judges for my two matches:

GAME # 18

Blue Diamonds - Antonio Marlowe


The Shard - Ted Cross

Here's how it went down:

Two wild novels appear!

Blue Diamonds uses Awesome Dialogue, it's super effective! The Shard is paralyzed!

The Shard is paralyzed, it can't move!

Blue Diamonds uses Motorbikes and romance! It's super effective.

The Shard uses ornate and skillful writing style, it's super effective!

Blue Diamonds uses ease and enjoyment of reading, it heals 5 points!

The Shard uses depth of plot! It deals some damage.

Blue Diamonds uses relatable characters! It deals some damage.

The Shard uses interesting use of magic, It's super effective! Blue Diamonds is confused!

In it's confusion, Blue Diamonds hit itself!

The Shard uses intrigue and mulit-plot lines! It's super effective!

Blue Diamonds fainted, The Shard wins!

Ha, I apologise for the pokemon visualisation, I thought they were both brilliant and almost too close to call. Both obviously had a lot of effort put into them, both prime examples of their genres and I didn't find a typo in each (as far through as I read). It eventually came down to a gut instinct and I just preferred the depth and scale of 'The Shard', it felt like a novel I could really sink my teeth into. But 'Blue Diamonds' was intriguing and It was definitely an easier and more lightly enjoyable read. 

And the second match:

Game #31

[TIG] The Immortality Game - Ted Cross -versus- [OTB] The One True Bank - Dadoo

Referee- McRae by Nature (Carrie L McRae)

Both books open with mysterious undertones, an unfamiliar and futuristic world, and the delightful taste of conspiracy. However, from the start, they prove to drastically differ. While TIG eased us into the world, introducing unfamiliar things one at a time with such clarity that I almost instantly knew what was going on, OTB seemed to throw things at me one after another without giving me a chance to fully understand or appreciate what they are. That, ultimately, was OTB’s downfall.

The character development and approach became another defining difference. OTB introduces four different character’s points of view before the third chapter, and I had a hard time separating them out from one another. TIG only introduced two, and within the very first paragraph of each POV, I got a clear understanding of what sort of character Zoya and Marcus were. They both remained consistently defined throughout the first two chapters.

Plotwise, both are brilliant, unique and complicated, but again TIG’s execution was much cleaner and easier to comprehend. In the end, this was almost an unfair pairing. OTB was a very well crafted novel, but TIG outshined it.

My overall thought after finishing chapter two of both manuscripts: Robert, you are a very strong writer, but there were just too many characters for me to keep track of, and too much going on all at once. Ted, your book grabbed me by the horns and took me anywhere it decided to go. I’ll be picking it shortly.

Winner: The Immortality Game by Ted Cross

Monday, March 5, 2012

Celebrity Sighting

London is a great city for running into celebrities. I've run into Johnnie Depp on two separate occasions here, the first time on the street in 1994 and the second time at the movie premier of Alice in Wonderland in 2010.
Today I stopped in at Hamley's toy store on Regent Street to buy a present for one of my sons. I was coming off the escalator and right in front of me was the very distinctive Brian May, guitarist for Queen. He and a woman, his wife I assume, got onto the next escalator with me directly behind them. Some woman called out, "Mr. May, could you..." but was cut off by Mr. May's companion with a, "No, please." Brian May glanced back at me for a couple moments, perhaps wondering if I was another stalker, so I politely looked away. It would be nice to get to chat with someone like him, but I'd never be rude enough to bother him out in public.