Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Read in 2014

At the end of each year I do a summary post of what I read throughout the year. I find it interesting to see my reading habits, and to make note of what the best books were each year. Last year's post shows that I read 37 books, and I beat that handily this year. I use a standard five star rating method with five stars meaning I loved the book so much I intend to re-read it throughout my life, so there are rarely any five star books.

1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger ** and a half
2. The Evolution of Inanimate Objects by Harry Karlinsky **
3. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman ****
4. American Gods by Neil Gaiman ****
5. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman ***
6. The Story of Britain by Rebecca Frasier ****
7. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins ****

8. How to Get the Part by Margie Haber ** and a half
9. A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons *** and a half
10. The Human Division by John Scalzi ****

11. Last Words by George Carlin ***
12. Accelerando by Charles Stross **
13. The General's Daughter by Nelson DeMille ****
14. The Many Deaths of the Black Company by Glen Cook *** and a half
15. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen ****

16. The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham ***
17. Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey ****
18. Dropcloth Angels by Gerald D. Johnston ***
19. Countdown City by Ben H. Winters ****
20. The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide by Douglas Adams ***
21. Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain *** and a half
22. From a Buick 8 by Stephen King *** and a half
23. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman ****

24. Seep by J. Eric Laing *** and a half
25. The Wasteland Saga by Nick Cole *** and a half
26. Blindsight by Peter Watts *** and a half
27. Three Men on a Bender by Patrick Rossi *** and a half
28. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie *** and a half
29. Anathem by Neal Stephenson *** and a half
30. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline ****

31. Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith *** and a half
32. Hunter's Run by George R.R. Martin *** and a half
33. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer **** and a half

34. Sand Omnibus by Hugh Howey *** and a half
35. Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi *** and a half
36. Horns by Joe Hill *** and a half
37. The Company by K.J. Parker *
38. Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey ****

39. Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle ** and a half
40. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson *** and a half
41. The Maze Runner by James Dashner ** and a half
42. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner **
43. The Death Cure by James Dashner **
44. The Kill Order by James Dashner **
45. Wolves Eat Dogs by Martin Cruz Smith ****
46. Stalin's Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith *** and a half
47. Three Stations by Martin Cruz Smith ****
48. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith ****

49. Polar Star by Martin Cruz Smith ****
50. Red Square by Martin Cruz Smith ****
51. Havana Bay by Martin Cruz Smith ****
52. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman ****

So while I didn't have any books this year that I absolutely loved, I read quite a number of really good ones. The best was The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. The best series was the Arkady Renko novels by Martin Cruz Smith, and the most promising new series is The Expanse by James S.A. Corey. Happy reading!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Discussion of Characters

Anthony Vicino wrote an interesting post a few days ago in which he compared his recent reads of two different cyberpunk novels, one of which was mine. The other was Convergence by Michael Patrick Hicks. Anthony didn't just say he enjoyed the novels but went into some depth of the strengths and weaknesses of each. The best thing for me was when he gave his feelings on the weakest part of my book:

"TIG had some great concepts and interesting side-characters, but the main characters Zoya and Marcus didn’t really work for me. Zoya turns into a sociopath with a death-wish 3/4 of the way through the story, and Marcus devolves into a love-sick puppy."

I was very happy to see this. First of all, no character is going to work for every reader, so it's no surprise that these two characters came up short for Anthony. I'd be much more concerned if most readers felt the same way. I was happy about the comment because the description he used was precisely what I was going for when I wrote the book!

Zoya was just an average young woman struggling to live in future Moscow. When everything goes wrong for her and the mob is trying to kill her and everyone she loves, I needed her to reach a point of near-collapse. I needed her to realize that her life as she knew it was gone and could never come back. It would have been so easy for her to give up and let the mobsters kill her, but in the end she decides that with no life left, and with the interesting new military technology that she now has, she was going to go after the people who ruined her life. Does that make her a sociopath with a death-wish? You bet! That won't work for all readers, but it was what I meant for her.
Zoya by Stephan Martiniere
Marcus was a character that I knew up front wouldn't work for some readers. He is weak, or at least that is how he views himself. He was essentially a shut-in back home in Phoenix. He always felt he could never measure up to his world-famous genius of a father, so it was natural he became a Mesh addict. After his father's death and his mother also becoming an addict, Marcus stayed shut up in his apartment and didn't go out for years. He had no experience at all with women other than his mother, and his 'life' had been lived in a virtual manner, on the Web and locked up in his apartment. 

So it was important for me to show him as one who was not driving his own fate, not performing his own actions but rather being pushed into them by his AI father. As horrific as things become for him in Moscow, it's his first brush with real life in years, and that is exciting on some level. And meeting Zoya is like the most potent drug in creation for him. She's not a classic beauty, but she might as well be as far as he is concerned. She is real and vibrant and alive, and that is intoxicating for him. And it leads to him defying his father for the first time ever and making some decisions of his own. Does that make him a love-sick puppy? Yep, and that's what I needed him to be in the story I wanted to tell.

I want to thank Anthony for such a great and insightful review. He made me think about my own story for the first time in a while (considering I finished writing it quite some time ago).

Friday, December 26, 2014

Author Interview -- Simon Paul Wilson

I discovered the writer Simon Paul Wilson a few years ago on the writer site Authonomy. There are a lot of decent writers there, but Simon stood out to me as one of the more talented ones, so I'm proud to interview him here on my blog.
Simon Paul Wilson
I've always felt I had a lot in common with Simon. Besides being a talented writer, Simon has a forthcoming novel called GhostCityGirl that I feel shares some themes with my own work. Plus Simon currently lives in China, where I myself lived for three years.

Welcome, Simon and please tell us a bit about yourself.
Well, I am originally from the UK, but am now living in China with my wife and son. When I am not writing, I love listening to music, especially prog and post rock, and watching Asian horror movies. I am also a life-long fan of Doctor Who.

When did you begin writing?
I began writing seriously around 2008. I dabbled a bit before that time, mostly writing stories for RPG's that I used to play. 
See, there are a couple more things we have in common! I began writing close to that time, and I also was very into role-playing games and wrote my first book around that theme.
What is your writing style? Do you like to outline or just write as you go?
I outline the story first. Before I sit down in front of my PC, I have to at least know how I am going to start, what key events will take place during the tale and how it will all end. If I have those things clear in my head, then I can start bashing away at the keyboard. Saying that, the story will usually end up being completely different to what I initially imagined.
What's the hardest thing about writing for you?
Being over-critical of everything I write! Sometimes, I can spend days on a sentence. It is quite ridiculous, to be honest. Because of this, writing a book can take forever!
I know what you mean. I often let weeks or even months go by between writing new chapters simply so that I can get it perfect in my mind first.
How many books have you written and which is your favorite?
Well, I have written one novel and a novella, 'End Credits' and 'Yuko Zen Is Somewhere Else'. Both have been published by the lovely people at Pankhearst. I have almost finished the umpteenth rewrite of 'GhostCityGirl' and may start something new, called 'The Weird World of The Other Indigo Sykes' sometime in 2015.
What authors do you like to read?
I like many authors, mostly Asian literary fiction and American and English fantasy, horror and sci-fi writers. As for favourites, I have read everything by Neil Gaiman, Haruki Murakami and China Mieville. Those guys are the authors I admire most.

What inspired you to write Yuko Zen?
YZ started off as a straight horror story that I couldn't seem to get right! So, I took most of the horror out and made the girl in the story a little more quirky and Yuko was born! Mostly, YZ is a book all about a simple question -- the immortal 'What If?'. I think that's a question that will float through everybody's mind at some point. It certainly does mine!

What is your writer's food?
I don't have a certain food, but I definitely need coffee!
Thank you for spending some time with us, Simon. I think Yuko Zen is great and I can't wait until GhostCityGirl is published. I hope my few readers will give them a try, as well as keep an eye on your future work.

My name is Yuko Zen and I am somewhere else ... 

After a strange encounter with a beautiful girl in a Chinese take-away, Chris Winter discovers she's left her journal behind. He only opens it to search for her contact details, but he's quickly pulled into her mysterious world – a nameless Asian city filled with tales of Buddhist dogs, hedgehogs and yogurt pots, and a magical girl named Pixie. 

When Chris is totally hooked, Yuko's journal takes an unexpected turn. It starts to talk to him ... 

Magical (sur)realism for Young Adults of all ages, editors at Harper Collins have likened YUKO ZEN to works by Audrey Niffenegger and Haruki Murakami.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Writing, Marketing, and Introversion

All my life I kept calling myself shy, but I recently read this great book (see cover below) all about introverts and it made me realize that I'm not actually very shy, I'm just a serious introvert.

I can enjoy interaction with people, but it drains me of energy and I need alone time to recharge. So as a new author having to suddenly market my book, it struck me as funny how the majority of us have to fight against our very natures.

Many of us writers are introverts. One characteristic of many introverts is a dislike of 'small talk'. Yet this is precisely what we are told to do in marketing. We are not to bombard our followers with posts about our books! No, we must instead post most often about various interesting topics. To me what that means, especially on sites like Twitter, is small talk. It's the same on forums as well. We're not to pitch our books; rather we must make small talk with the other denizens and if we do so well enough some of them may decide we are likable enough and perhaps take a glance at our books.

In other words, almost all aspects of marketing today involve doing the very thing we introverts despise. No wonder I feel exhausted every day now!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Publishing Stats--Three Weeks In

It has been a little more than three weeks since I published my first novel, and I thought it would be interesting to compare different sites to see how they have fared with sales. This assumes that all of these sites have properly updated the data as of yesterday. I figure this can give a rough idea of just how difficult it is for a new, unknown author to gain any attention. I believe the book is of high quality, and it has been drawing very good reviews so far.

Amazon trade paperback edition - 20 units sold

Amazon Kindle ebook edition - 69 sold

Kobo ebook - 1 sold

GooglePlay - No data (or it may mean nothing has been sold)

B&N Nook - 5 sold

Apple iTunes - 2 sold

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Meet My Character Blog Hop

I joined this blog hop from a post on the KindleBoards that seemed interesting to me, since I had done a similar character post for my fantasy novel but have never done one for my published novel The Immortality Game. The hop goes to one site each week, so my post was preceded last week by Rachel Medhursts' post here.

Since there are two primary characters in the book, I figured I'd tell a little about each of them.

1) What is the name of your character? Is he or she fictional or a historic person?
Zoya Vladimirovna Drozdova is the first of the two main characters in the book. Her precise age is never determined in the story, but she's in her mid-twenties. She lives with her mother and brother in a poor part of Moscow in the year 2138, not far from the refugee park at Kolomenskoe. She works in a morgue preparing corpses for funerals before their cremation (burial is no longer legal). Life is hard, so she has only vague dreams of one day being able to have a child. Her brother has a good heart but has fallen in with a mafia gang.
Zoya, artwork by Stephan Martiniere
2) When and where is the story set?
The story takes place in 2138 Moscow, Russia in about a 24 hour period.
3) What should we know about him or her?
Her passion is for ancient rock music, such as Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, and so many more great bands. It's her one true escape from the general misery of her life.
4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his or her life?
Her brother is tasked by his mob bosses with stealing some secret military tech from a compound on the outskirts of Moscow. He blackmails a guard who steals two data chips for him. However, he is upset at being passed over for promotion, so he decides he is going to take the chips, leave Moscow, and sell them himself. He can't have the chips on his person for some of his escape preparations, so he forces Zoya to hold on to the package for him and bring it to him at a safe house the next morning. When she goes to meet her brother, Zoya witnesses his murder and find herself being chased by the mobsters, who will do anything to get the package, including killing anyone she loves.
5) What is the personal goal of the character?
At first she just wants to survive and try to help her family and friends. Later, as things become more and more horrific, she decides she has no choice but to seek revenge on her pursuers.
6) What is the title of the book(s), and where can find out more?
The Immortality Game was published by Breakwater Harbor Books on November 24, 2014. I have lots of information here on my blog or on my Facebook page, and you can check out the book on Amazon, Goodreads, iTunes, Barnes&Noble, Kobo, and GooglePlay. Links to all of these and more are on the right-hand sidebar of my blog.

1) What is the name of your character? Is he or she fictional or a historic person?
Marcus is the second main character. He's 26 years old and earns his doctorate in nanotechnology on the very day his life changes. He is a former Mesh addict, which means he was addicted to 'living' within the virtual reality of the Web. His dead father got him out. Yes, his father is dead, but 'lives' on as the world's first true artificial intelligence.
2) When and where is the story set?
Marcus lives in Phoenix, Arizona in America West, the US having been divided during the Dark Times of the late 21st century. After the death of his father, Marcus's mother became a Mesh addict as well, so Marcus essentially lives alone with just his AI father for company.
3) What should we know about him or her?
He is depressed and aimless when the story starts, beat down by the extreme fame and genius of his father, who is known the world over for having made the Web safe by creating the sentry code that wiped out viruses. He has no plans except to follow what his father demands of him.
4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his or her life?
When Zoya's brother inserts one of the stolen chips into a Web port, Marcus's father is alerted to a fabulous new technology that could potentially help restore him to a human body cloned from his own DNA. Marcus's father sends Marcus to Moscow to track down the chip in order to learn who developed the technology.
5) What is the personal goal of the character?
At first it is simply to follow his father's orders, but once he meets Zoya he begins to have feelings for her. When she seems to become ever more intent on getting herself killed, Marcus becomes determined to save her from herself.

So, for this story I really wanted to take two fairly average people and throw them into the fires of hell to see if they could find a way to survive. I hope you might check out the book to see if I succeeded!

Now, since this is a blog hop, I'm supposed to tell you a bit about the next blogger in line for the hop, which appears to be one post per week. That would be Amelia Smith!

Amelia Smith takes an odd-jobs-and-adventures approach to writing. She is currently working on a multi-volume epic fantasy about four friends making their way in a land animated by dragon gods. She has also written a stand-alone Regency romance, a historical fantasy novella, and a screenplay, along with dozens of magazine and newspaper articles. She lives in a small house on Martha's Vineyard with her husband, two children, and an overweight cat. 

Link to website: 
Link to blog:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Getting Reviews for Novels

Getting people to read a book isn't so hard once they know a book exists (getting them to notice the book exists is a whole other story!), but my experiences so far match up with what other authors have written, which is that the vast majority of readers simply won't post reviews. My debut novel has been 'live' for about two weeks now, and it's sold around 100 copies (thank you to everyone who has bought it!). I know some people buy books and don't read them for quite some time. I certainly do that, buying books often several years before I get time to read them. There are probably three hundred books on my shelves that I still need to get to! But reviews are like gold for new, unknown authors, because buyers often won't spend their money if they don't see enough reviews. So it is awesome to find someone who not only posted a review, but even blogged it!

And now on the same day there is another post, which includes a short excerpt.

It's been a good day today! Another writer mentioned my book here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Best Christmas Songs - Part 3

To wrap up my three part series of best Christmas music, I'm going to show you my favorite individual songs (the first two parts talked about the best albums). Songs like these are all about individual taste, of course, but are also often about nostalgia over what music we grew up with. Association is a powerful thing, so having heard certain music during our childhood Christmases creates a strong power of association.
Now this following one isn't a song I listen to generally when I'm in a Christmas mood, but I do appreciate it for being different from the run of the mill Xmas music. Well, that was odd. I actually couldn't find any more of my favorite songs on YouTube. I have a couple from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, though none of these really great versions are on YouTube, along with some others. Sad not to be able to present them to you.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Best Christmas Songs - Part 2

Following up from yesterday's post, today I'll give you some of my favorite Christmas songs from the other of the two albums I consider to be the best two Christmas albums of all time. Yesterday I told you about the brilliant John Denver and the Muppets album. Today the album is the Carpenter's A Christmas Portrait. Honestly, I'm not a Carpenters fan, but their sound works brilliantly for Christmas music. This is another wonderful album to put on in December and listen to all the way through, though naturally I have my favorites, shown below.

When I next post in this series, it won't be about albums but about individual great Christmas songs. Please chime in with your favorites!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Best Christmas Songs - Part 1

In the past I have often put up some of my favorite music, but I have never done so for the holidays, so I figured it might be a good time to do so. I'll start with what I consider to be one of the two very best Christmas albums ever made--A Christmas Together, performed by John Denver and the Muppets. It may sound silly, but this is a fantastic album of Christmas music. Every song on it is great, but I'll post my favorites here. Denver's voice is perfect for Christmas music, and he does some unusual songs, which I think is great.

I'll put up some more next time, including letting you know what the second greatest Christmas album is! What are your favorite Christmas albums?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Author Interview -- Lela Markham

 Joining the small publisher Breakwater Harbor Books has allowed me to get to know some really awesome writers. I'm happy today to get to interview one of those writers, Lela Markham. I haven't yet finished reading the entire book, but her Celtic high fantasy novel The Willow Branch is truly fascinating so far. Since reading Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain as a child I have loved Celtic tales, and The Willow Branch is a story all lovers of Celtic myth will enjoy.

 Lela, tell us a bit about yourself:

Thanks for having me, Ted. I grew up and still live in Alaska, where my family has lived off-and-on since the 1930s. I've traveled, but this is home and an adventure like none other. I live in a small city with all the modern conveniences, but I'm half-an-hour from real wilderness where the wildlife is in charge. And since my husband insists upon going out into that wilderness, I've had plenty of adventures and raised two fearless offspring.
 I envy you, as I've always wanted to visit Alaska. Hopefully I can someday. When did you begin writing?
My mother claims I told stories as soon as I could talk, but a teacher in the 5th grade made me write one of them down. I hated the assignment – it was planned and felt really stilted – but I got the highest grade in the class and the teacher said I had talent. Talent will only get you so far, so I decided to rewrite the story for my own pleasure. I think it was still horrible, but the exercise ignited something in me – a passion for writing that has never gone out. I've kept working at it, trying to hone my skills (which is shaped talent) for four decades now. I trained as a journalist, worked as a small-town reporter and then decided I'd rather work for a living wage and write fiction for my own pleasure. I try to learn from others, but also recognize that my voice is unique and sometimes I have to with what it says.
 What's your favorite thing about writing?
That I can choose or create where I want to go in my head and populate it with people and settings that I want to explore and that I can take other people with me.
 What inspires you to write?
 The world provides plenty of inspiration – news, movies, conversations you overhear in the grocery store, my pastor's sermons, the anarcho-capitalists of Fairbanks …. I used to work in the mental health field and a psychiatrist told me once that the only difference between writers and schizophrenics is that writers (usually) know there's a difference between what's going on in their head and actual reality and I think I represent that. Writing flows out of me and demands that I create. Wherever I go and whatever I'm doing, I get inspiration and that translates into stories and I jot them down in a stenographer's pad for later use in whatever story I end up developing.
 What is your writing process?
When stories first start to develop, there's no plan or even a plot. Usually, a character will start to form in my head while I'm doing something mundane – washing dishes or filing at work. That character will start to tell me his/her story. If that character hangs around for a while (and they don't all do that), then I'll write something about them to see what follows. If a world starts to develop around that character, then I will start to outline and bring in other pieces of writing from the “notebook cache.” Eventually, I'll decide that this story needs a direction and an ending and I'll begin to fashion the story to flow that way and step up key milestones and determine which characters are willing to do what at any given point. Since my characters really write themselves, often my writing process is about figuring out what they will and will not do, because they have their own personalities and limitations and it is up to me as the writer to find out what those are.
Where do you like to write?
 I don't have a favorite place to write. For many years, we lived in a tiny cabin where my computer was in the main living room, so I grew used to writing with people around and televisions blaring in the background. Now that I have a laptop, I write during my breaks at work, on planes, in the bedroom, by the wood stove, in the kitchen, in coffee shops, on the deck in the sun, sometimes during water breaks on hikes (I use a paper notebook for those last two). I'll jot down ideas that come to me when I'm watching movies with the family. Some places tend to lend themselves to certain stories and others don't, but I will literally write anywhere and anytime. Generally, I drink coffee or tea while I'm writing and I don't usually eat because I hate crumbs in the keyboard. When I'm getting down to the serious parts of writing, it's usually just me, my laptop, music in the background, a cup of coffee, and the continuity notebook for whatever book I'm working on.
 I admire that tenacity. I'm so picky about writing that I have to have silence and I only work in my office at home! What is something you've written that will never see the light of day?
In high school, I wrote a lot of fan fictions for my friends based on TV shows we all liked, but were ultimately awful or maybe great because they got canceled. I think maybe I improved on them. My husband found a box of it and stuck it in a binder, but it will never be published because of copyright concerns. It was actually a great exercise, taking so-so episodic writing and making it better, giving minor characters fuller attention, finishing stories that were canceled mid-season. Call it weight-lifting for writers.
What's the hardest thing about writing for you?
Ending a story. Even when I've decided how it will end, I often do not want to say goodbye to the surviving characters. I think I write series for that reason. I know how the Daermad Cycle is going to end, but I have a nice long while before I get there.
How many books have you written and which is your favorite?
I've written dozens over the decades, but I've officially finished only four and those are in various stages of revision or restructuring, except The Willow Branch. The door is shut on that. Onward to Mirklin Wood. My favorite is probably my dystopian A Well in Emmaus, which will be a series. I get to bring in a lot of threads from political philosophy, history, anarchism, faith, psychology, even economics and I really love that. I think the Daermad Cycle is my second, and again, because it is so intricate.
 What are some of your favorite books?
Zenna Henderson's People collection were my first introduction to fantasy (they called it sci-fi back then, but it isn't really). I have a soft spot for it still. Madelein L'Engle's books remain favorites, especially The Young Unicorns. I have a library full of classics – Austen, Dickens, Hemingway. I love the letters of the American Founders. My favorite fantasy authors are Katharine Kerr and Kate Elliott. My favorite sci-fi authors are still Bradbury, Heinlein and Asimov. I re-read Fahrenheit 451 last year and was surprised at how prescient Bradbury was – he described ear buds and wide-screen media rooms 50 years before they existed and his take on the alienation of modern America is stunning.
Since we're both new to Breakwater Harbor Books imprint, tell me about your experience with them.
I've known Scott Toney and Cara Goldthorpe from Authonomy for a long time. I think Scott's Ark of Humanity might have been the first or second book I read on the site and I backed it to the ED for a year. Scott gave me lots of feedback on The Willow Branch right after I came out with a major rewrite. Then we sort of lost contact until he found me or I found him on Facebook a few months ago. I checked out the BHB website and complimented him and then he asked me if I was interested in joining the imprint. I had already done most of the work on The Willow Branch. Scott Butcher, who is not part of BHB, acted as my editor for it -- it was a read-swap that went above and beyond. I literally agreed to join BHB three days before the ebook launch. Since then, it's been a warm and welcoming atmosphere and I've picked up a few author interviews from the relationship (both interviewing me and then my interviewing others, which drives traffic to my blog). Scott was moving houses, so things were quiet for a while, but now I see how being a member of a group of writers will allow me access to alpha and beta readers, critique on cover art, and help with promotion. Ivan appears to be a Twitter warrior, which I am ambivalent about, but I enjoy blogging, so I could support him there. That sort of thing. It's tough being an indie author, but if we can find ways to work together, to play off of each other's strengths, then we become better publishers as a group.  
Promo Blurb from my press kit --
Lela Markham is the pen name of an Alaskan novelist who was raised in a home built of books. Alaska is a grand adventure like none other with a culture that embraces summer adventure and winter artist pursuits.
Lela has been a journalist, worked in the mental health field and is currently works for the State of Alaska, but her avocation has always been storyteller.
Her first published book The Willow Branch begins an exploration of the world of Daermad where a fractured kingdom leaves two races vulnerable to destruction by a third and opens the opportunity to mend old wounds. Lela drew inspiration from Celtic mythology, Alaskan raven legends and the Bible to craft a tale of war, faith and reconciliation. And, don’t forget … Celtic goddesses, sentient animals and dragons.
Lela shares her life with her adventuresome husband and two fearless offspring and a sentient husky who keeps a yellow Lab as a pet.

Lela in the lovely Alaskan wilderness
Back Cover Pitch:
A healer must mend a fractured kingdom and bring two enemy races together before a greater enemy destroys them both.
Fate took Prince Maryn by surprise, leaving Celdrya to tear itself apart. A century later an army amasses against the warring remains of the kingdom as prophesy sends a half-elven healer on a journey to find the nameless True King. Padraig lacks the power to put the True King on the throne, yet compelled by forces greater than himself, Padraig contends with dark mages, Celtic goddesses, human factions and the ancient animosities of two peoples while seeking a myth. With all that distraction, a man might meet the True King and not recognize him.
 The Willow Branch is available on Amazon and Smashwords!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Interview and Book Review

Several people have done some cool interviews with me in the past, but the great Hart Johnson just posted both an interview and a book review of my first novel, and I just love the questions she asked and her review is awesome. If you don't follow Hart, you should!

Interview with Hart Johnson

Also, here is an interview that came out yesterday at Lupa Mysteries.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Publication Day!

So today is my official publication day! You may be tired of seeing my cover already, but I can't NOT write about the publication day, right? It feels good to finally be able to call myself an author rather than just a writer. I see that it is #12 on Amazon under Cyberpunk new releases. That's a decent start.
Cover Illustration © Stephan Martiniere
I had a note this morning from a potential reader who said the book intrigued her, but she won't buy something without reviews. I wrote back that Amazon wouldn't allow reviews until the book went live. I do hope that some of you who have already read some of it may be willing to post reviews, since that will really help.  Actually, any sort of publicity can help a book with its launch. Word of mouth really does work! The most exciting part was getting a note this weekend from the great Hugh Howey, letting me know he loved the cover and blurb and had purchased a copy!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Writer versus Author

I've spent the past eight years writing seriously, and I never dared call my self an author. I was a writer. My definition of what it takes to be called an author wavered a bit, mainly because I couldn't quite pin down whether I would only consider a traditionally published writer to be an author or include self-published writers. It shouldn't be a surprise that the line wavers, because the stigma of self-publishing has itself wavered over these past few years.

I can't say that I have come to a definitive definition even now that I am finally being published. I see some truly excellent self-published books out there, certainly worthy of their author being called an author...but I see many, many more where even if the writer has true talent, they haven't produced the best product that they could have. Perhaps it was not having the money to afford hiring a professional editor. Perhaps it was a rush to get their book into print. I've learned to be patient over the years. I finished my first novel in 2009 and have yet to publish it, though I believe it is very good. I just think it isn't quite good enough yet.
copyright Stephan Martiniere
I do know one thing, though, and that is how I feel after publishing my debut novel. It's a palpable feeling that I can't deny--I feel different than I did. I feel like an author, and now I will call myself an author. It doesn't matter if most people ignore my book. I've already seen, in my brief couple weeks of marketing, that most people--even those who love science fiction--will not even take a glance at the book of an unknown author, regardless of quality, so it is truly difficult to get a good book out before the eyes of the buying public.

But I feel like an author, so I'm happy and I'll keep working at it. There is one thing I do wish readers would be more willing to do. It is so easy for them to help unknown writers gain some notice. If they like a story, why not write a quick review for it? Even a single paragraph, if a few minutes of thought is put into it, on Amazon and Goodreads can add important support for a newbie author.

What are your publishing experiences? If you have self-published, do you feel like an honest-to-goodness author?

p.s. Has anyone tried Ingram's Advance Catalog? Have you found it to be worth the money?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Today is an exciting day for me! Breakwater Harbor Books is publishing my debut sci-fi thriller The Immortality Game, and today is the first time that I could go to Amazon and see my book (available for pre-order) and author page.

So far this is only the ebook edition. More ebooks will be available shortly at B&N's Nook store, Apple's iTunes store, Kobo, GooglePlay, and others. And the print edition will hopefully be available soon as well.

It's really something to see yourself on Amazon for the first time!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Cover Reveal -- The Immortality Game

I'm very happy to reveal the cover to my forthcoming technothriller The Immortality Game. Most likely the ebook will come out first sometime later this month, and then the paperback will become available. I hope you like the cover! (click to enlarge)
Cover Illustration © Stephan Martiniere
Anyone willing to help me spread the news once the book is published is very welcome! The cover can be used as long as it credits the artist as you see here. Watch this space or my Facebook page for updates.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Cover Art for The Immortality Game

I've very excited about the final version of the cover art done for my upcoming sci-fi thriller The Immortality Game. Stephan Martiniere is tied as my favorite living artist, along with Alan Lee, and he did just what I needed him to do here. Click it to enlarge!
Cover Illustration © Stephan Martiniere
The pyramid and twin curving hotel towers represent the home base of the antagonists in the novel, and it is where the climax takes place. The white floating stuff that looks a little like snow is called 'pukh' in Russian. It is actually poplar seeds, and it flies around like snow each summer in Moscow (and plays a symbolic role in the story).

The cover itself with all the typography is close to finished, thanks to some help from Bradley Wind. It is very difficult for a book, no matter how good, to gain any notice these days, so I hope this cover art will help draw attention to my novel once it comes out.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Gorgeous artwork

Stumbled across this gorgeous piece of artwork done by Richard Solomon. Sometimes it's nice to just kick back and admire a great piece of work!
The Fallen by Richard Solomon

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cover Art Teaser

I received the nearly-complete cover art for my forthcoming sci-fi thriller The Immortality Game the other day, and it blew me away. I knew Hugo-award winning artist Stephan Martiniere was the best artist alive, so I pretty much knew he'd nail it, but it is still nervewracking to worry about how it might turn out.

I don't want to post the full cover shot yet, since I'd like to save that up for when I actually publish the novel, but I thought it would be cool to put up a slice of the cover so people could see some of the astonishing details Martiniere has put into the piece. Note that he is still adding a few touches, so this isn't the final work, but it's close. Click on the photo to get a larger view.
Cover Illustration © Stephan Martiniere
You can't see much of it here, but there is a huge pyramid in the background, which is the base of operations of the Russian mobster gang that serves as the primary antagonist in the story. The pyramid is the location of the climax. The character you see on the right is my main character Zoya, an innocent young woman in 2138 Moscow who happens to get thrown into the action when her gangster brother asks her to hold onto a small package for him (against her will).

I love how he depicted the different lanes of air car traffic. In reality there should be many more of them, but that would have cluttered up the cover too much, so this is perfect for my needs. I can't wait to show you the final cover once I figure out how to design the cover text properly!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Gorky Park

Long ago I read three of the Arkady Renko novels by Martin Cruz Smith, the most famous of which is Gorky Park. I had always really liked the character of Renko, a melancholy man who always seems to face impossible obstacles to solving the murders for which he is the chief investigator, yet he has a doggedness of character that simply refuses to ever give up. When I found out there are now eight Renko novels, I decided to read them all, and I've really been enjoying myself.
 Today I rewatched the movie Gorky Park, the only one of the novels adapted to film. It's a decent movie, but I was shocked to realize that in my mind I had erased the fact that William Hurt played Renko and replaced him with another actor, Stephen Rea. When I thought about it, I realized it is because Stephen Rea ideally represents the way Arkady Renko appears in my mind as I read the books. William Hurt is a good actor and does a creditable job in the role, but he was the wrong choice for the part. It really belonged to Stephen Rea, whose demeanor and style perfectly represent Renko.
For those who haven't read the books and enjoy stories set primarily in Russia or simply like good detective mysteries, I'm including the links below.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chess Grand Prix in Baku

Last night I attended the opening ceremony of the FIDE (World Chess Federation) Grand Prix tournament in Baku, Azerbaijan. Twelve of the very best players in the world will be competing in a round robin format, and two of them are Americans. Hikaru Nakamura is the top-ranked American player, and I love his uncompromising style. Fabiano Caruana is actually higher rated than Nakamura (he's number 2 in the world after world champion Carlsen), and he was raised in America, but he currently plays for Italy (he holds dual citizenship).
photo from Chessbase
You can barely see me in the shot above, talking to the guy holding the trophy. He was presenting it as his company designed the trophy for the event. Nakamura is the gentleman front and center looking sort of in the direction of the camera. He has been struggling of late, ever since he blew a game he was winning against Carlsen, and I hope he will get back on track.

Caruana is coming off of the best tournament performance ever seen, when he easily won the highest rated tournament ever in St. Louis. He didn't just win it; he dominated, winning seven games in a row against elite competition, including world champ Carlsen. I hope he continues to show that level of play here.

I'm not sure if I'll bother going to watch any of the matches, as the organizers didn't seem interested in allowing people like me a real opportunity to get good photos. Any shots I might be able to get would be from several meters away and from below, as the players are up on a stage. I would have liked to meet Nakamura and Caruana and shake their hands and let them know how much I am rooting for them.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Have any of you read the famous sci-fi novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson? I've had it on my bookshelf for ages, long intending to read it, and now I've finally started it.

I think the main reason I avoided it for so long was that I simply disliked the name of the protagonist, which ironically is Hiro Protagonist. It was too cutesy for me, though while reading it now I can see how it fits within the atmosphere of near-future California that Stephenson is creating.

I'm not far into the book, and I am enjoying it, but I was pulled up abruptly by one line that made absolutely no sense to me, thus ripping me right out of the story.

Early in the book, the narrator is discussing Hiro's two Samurai swords, and he says, "Hiro's father looted these from Japan after World War II went atomic..."

Now, my grandfather was a young man fighting in the Pacific during WWII, and I'm not young myself. How can it be Hiro's father who got these from Japan at the end of WWII while Hiro is a young man at the time of the story and it is set sometime in the future beyond our current time? It flat out doesn't add up...not even close actually.

Admittedly I stopped right there to write this, so maybe the author will come up with some fantastical logical explanation, but right now it just feels like a huge, lazy blunder to me.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Best Robin Williams Movies

I've been away for awhile because my family moved from Budapest to Baku, Azerbaijan (where we already lived from 2009-2011). Not much has changed here in Baku--the flame towers have been completed and there is now Papa John's Pizza (that doesn't taste as good as in the US and is about four times the price).

The death of Robin Williams has hit most of us pretty hard, I imagine. The Mork and Mindy show introduced him to me. He had such manic brilliance, as if his brain worked about a thousand times faster than any other human being. For the longest time I thought of him as just a genius comedian, but slowly but surely I began to view him as more of a brilliant actor than just a comedian.

I think he is often overlooked when people speak about the greatest actors of our time. Honestly, I think he is right up there with the best of them. Sure, he did some crappy roles, too, but when he took on a good one, he didn't just hit home runs with his performances--he more often than not hit grand slams. Below I list my favorite Robin Williams films. The order is not exact because his top movies are all so good that they can change order depending on my mood.

1. Good Morning, Vietnam -- Williams did it all in this fantastic movie that I watch again every few years. He was incredibly funny, of course, but he also did what he does in all of his best movies--he showed his dramatic and emotional depth. When my belongings finally arrive, I'm going to have to do a Robin Williams marathon, and this movie will be right up front.

2. The World According to Garp -- The first movie to show me how great an actor Williams could be. He played such a range of ages and character growth, and he first showed me he could be something besides just hilarious.

3. Mrs. Doubtfire -- There are elements of Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society that I like better than anything in this great comedy, but I watch this movie more often, probably due to having kids. It is terrifically funny, but again Williams gets to show his deeper sides.

4. Good Will Hunting -- I need to watch this one again soon, because it's been too long. I think I've only seen it two or three times, but I remember Williams was brilliant in it.

5. Dead Poets Society -- It pushes a little too far at times, but overall this is one sad/poignant film that happens to have some funny moments as well. It's one of the few movies where I had to stop at certain points and have a talk with my sons about important lessons the movie conveys.

6. Moscow on the Hudson -- Another of Williams' older films. I liked watching him tackle the role of a Russian defector in New York. It lent itself to his comic skills. Maria Conchita Alonso is fantastic as his girlfriend.

7. The Fisher King -- I'm torn by this movie, because Williams is utterly brilliant in it and there are some truly amazing moments, but there is some unidentifiable element of the movie that sort of disturbs me. Honestly, I can't say what it is, but it prevents me from having the same level of love for it that I have for Williams' best movies.

8. What Dreams May Come -- Another movie I need to see again. I only saw it once. I remember that I didn't love the story, but the visuals were stunning.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

I Saw My Movie!

Yesterday we departed Budapest for good (so sad!) and flew to Arizona. It was exhausting but it had one great part. The Swedish movie that I acted in hasn't been available in English yet. It opens in English in England on July 4 and in the U.S. sometime later. But during the overseas flight, a Swedish version of the movie was available that had English subtitles!

The movie has a long title--The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Some of the scenes I filmed were cut, and the voice-over I did wasn't used. But I saw myself very clearly in two scenes, and that was very cool. I can't wait to get the DVD so I can get screenshots and figure out how to do clips of the parts I was in!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Dialogue in Fantasy Novels

I was reminded recently that many people complain about modern-sounding dialogue in fantasy novels. They seem to expect everyone to have to speak archaically. Now don't get me wrong, if done well I enjoy characters speaking in such a manner--Lord of the Rings is a prime example.

However, my opinion is that characters in fantasy novels are not generally speaking English. They are speaking some other language, and the author is essentially translating that language into modern English for the readers. So to me it is only logical for characters to speak modern English in a fantasy novel, as there is not always a good reason for an author to be translating the language into anything other than the language of his or her audience.

I do admit that going overboard with modern slang and such would kill the fantasy vibe, and there is no reason to use modern slang. The English language is fully sufficient to translate fantasy languages without having to resort to our slang.

What do you think?

Monday, May 12, 2014

What Happens to Jon Snow?

*This post contains spoilers for anyone who has not yet read A Dance of Dragons*

Continuing my little series of posts about Game of Thrones...

I was just reading a George R.R. Martin interview from some time ago when he was asked about the assassination of Jon Snow. The interviewer seemed to assume Snow was dead. That's not a terrible assumption to make given how Martin has treated enough of his characters, but I don't believe it for a second. Snow's arc has been too big and important and without enough resolution for him to be completely out of it at this stage.

I don't believe Snow will be back the way he was, though. I think Martin gave us a hint of what happens to Snow when he showed the unusual Other that helped Bran (was it Uncle Benjen Stark? It's been too long since I read the book now for me to recall if that was ever resolved). See, I think that Jon will be back as an Other, but one that has the same issue as the one that helped Bran, so he will side with the forces of 'good' (or as close as one ever gets to such forces in this series). Given how much time Martin has devoted to having readers love both Jon and Dany, I wouldn't be surprised if he makes them square off against each other. Jon could be a special Other leading an army of wildlings, Others, white walkers, giants, etc.  He may be facing either Dany or a triangle of foes with the Lannisters.

I also think it's very possible that Jon is a Targaryen, perhaps the son of Rhaegar, who then asked Eddard Stark to raise him as his 'bastard' and keep his secret. That would make Jon the rightful heir to the whole seven kingdoms.

What do you think happens with Jon Snow?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Worst Story Line in the Game of Thrones Universe

*Spoilers for those who haven't read all of Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series*

A writer friend of mine sent me a link to an interesting article that reminded me of one of the worst story threads that I ever encountered--the story of Quentyn Martell. I had great hopes for it and was enjoying it until suddenly Martin just killed it all off as soon as the characters arrived at their destination. So what was the point? They travel over many chapters, seeming to have some vague future connection to the plot, but then they are dead. So if all of their chapters had been excised, nothing at all would have changed in the overall story arc.

I didn't know where Martin was heading with that story arc, but I at least expected he'd go somewhere with it. After all, why devote so much page time to it if not to use it in some manner? I even thought Quentyn might blossom and turn into one of the three future dragon riders.

The article writer even moaned about how homely and average Quentyn is. I find this hilarious given that I believe this character was a direct result of people moaning for so long about how attractive and above average characters always tend to be. So Martin finally does what many people seem to want, make a character normal, and people then moan about that. Anyway, I liked that he was normal, since it gave him that much more room to grow and change...except Martin decided not to bother.

What are your thoughts of the Quentyn Martell sequence? Do you see some deeper meaning there that will actually impact the plot going forward?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Death of Joffrey

*Note that if anyone hasn't yet seen the last couple of episodes of Game of Thrones, this will contain spoilers.*

When I finally saw the episode of Game of Thrones when 'King' Joffrey is poisoned, I was disappointed to learn that I had misinterpreted who had done the deed. I'm not disappointed at misreading anything--I'm disappointed because I think my version was way better!

Martin must have been too subtle for me, but I somehow never got it that the Queen of Thorns poisoned Joffrey, conspiring apparently with Littlefinger. In my version, I felt that Cersei was using the opportunity to rid herself of her hated brother Tyrion and had poisoned either Tyrion's wine or something that was served to him. Then Joffrey came over and ate some of Tyrion's food and drank some of his wine (at least if I am recalling things correctly). Just imagine the horror of Cersei watching as her son kills himself with the poison that she herself had put there! Delicious!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Gerry Rafferty

Gerry Rafferty was a songwriter whose work is well known to most people but they don't necessarily know him at all. Have you heard any of these? Great songs to listen to when you are in a mellow mood (or would like to be in a mellow mood!).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Finished Second Novel Today

Hooray for me! After more than three years of off and on writing, I finally completed the first draft of my second novel, a science fiction thriller called The Immortality Game. All you writers out there know that this is really just the beginning of the work on the book. Now comes editing and reworking of scenes that don't quite work. I have a couple of beta readers lined up, but if anyone has time and really wants to help out in that regard, the more the merrier!

Monday, February 3, 2014


Where the heck do superstitions come from? I poke fun at my wife all the time because she has tons of them. I'm not religious and I have a logical, scientific mindset in almost all ways...except when it comes to sports. And, yes, I know that makes no sense. Yet somehow I do seem to be able to predict sporting results (that matter to me) more often than not, based upon my sporting superstitions.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to other sport enthusiasts at work and I explained to them why Peyton Manning was going to finally win his second Super Bowl. I explained how my sporting luck was on a huge roll. My Red Sox had just won the World Series. My Arizona Wildcats basketball team was undefeated and #1 in the country for the second straight month. And Peyton Manning had just won the AFC championship handily over my Patriots (note, I am not a Denver fan, but ever since the Colts booted Manning, I have wanted Manning to win a SB in order to show the Colts organization what a mistake they made). All sports that mattered to me were rolling in the right way.

Then Saturday came. In the second minute of a game against Cal-Berkeley, Arizona's third leading scorer Brandon Ashley broke his foot and was suddenly gone for the season. Arizona still nearly continued their unbeaten streak, but lost on a last second shot. Here's where my sporting superstition kicked in--now I knew Manning would lose the Super Bowl, because the dam had broken on my sporting luck! I would have gladly bet money on it if I had a means to do so.

I wasn't shocked at all when the very first snap of the game went all wrong and turned into points for Seattle. I just said to myself, 'Yep, now it starts, just like I thought.'  I turned the game off before halftime and went to bed rather than continue to watch a pointless exercise--no matter how great Manning is, there is no way he could overcome the dam breaking on my sporting luck!

Sorry Peyton, it was all over for you the second Brandon Ashley came down wrong on his foot the day before!