Monday, December 21, 2015

Nitpicking Star Wars: The Force Awakens

****Spoiler Alert - don't continue reading if you don't want any details to be spoiled****

My family went to see the new Star Wars yesterday, along with just about everyone else, it seems. We enjoyed it. It was certainly better than the horrid prequels (episodes 1-3). But other than the special effects, it wasn't as good as the original three. 

I could go into great detail about what I enjoyed about the movie (my favorite was the battle detritus on the desert planet, the ATT Walker and Star Destroyer and other wreckage strewn around), but instead I want to nitpick the issues I had with the movie. Why do this? Because of some vain hope that JJ Abrams might hear about the problems and actually agree with them and do something to fix them in the sequels!

So, in no particular order, here are the biggest flaws I saw in the movie:

  • If a trained swordsperson faces off against someone who has never held a sword in their life, it's going to be over in no time at all. It won't be a real fight. Yet, here we saw two such rookies hold their own to some degree and then one of them even beat the trained person, albeit with light sabers rather than swords, but it's the same principle. These fights should have been no contest, and having it actually go the way it did was absurd. The sad thing is, it could have been done realistically and still fit the story line well. Kylo Ren (the trained one) could have laughingly laid out Finn in a couple of seconds, merely wounding him and sneeringly leaving him alive while he then faced off with Rey. He then could have easily whipped Rey as well, but then her anger could have welled up in an enormous burst of pure Force rage (untrained, but it could have shown just how immense her talent with the Force is) and blasted Kylo. To me that would have worked better and actually felt realistic.
  • The Millennium Falcon just happening to be there on the desert planet with the supertalent Rey
  • The desert planet having to be exactly like Tatooine except with a different name
  • Han Solo just happening--in a whole wide galaxy--to be right there and find the Millennium Falcon. And if there was a tracking device on the ship, what kind of lousy tracker it must have been in such an advanced society to only work if the ship is powered on!
  • The whole fly down the trenches with tie fighters following you to blow up the death star-like ending. Why oh why did they have to go with a cliche here? There are so many cool things that can be done; you don't have to resort to doing the same things! Actually, this movie repeats all manner of elements of the original rather than try to actually be original itself.
  • Sucking up a star so nice and neatly? I don't think a star would behave so properly even if such a thing could be done.
  • The planet-destroying superweapon blasts off four beams and they somehow destroy four planets or moons that just happen to be right near where the main characters are, and by the way all of these moons or planets are all visible right near each other and all are habitable. 
  • The Supreme Leader Snoke looks pretty ancient, so where the heck was he a few decades ago when the Emperor and Darth Vader were running things? I'd have bought this better if he were younger and could have been an up-and-comer rather than believe that such a talent with the Force went completely under the radar back then.
  • Probably the number one worst aspect within the movie was that it rushed each stage. The original trilogy did a great job of spending some time in each location, allowing us some character development and letting us really get to know each place. The settings themselves became characters in the films. Here each location was rushed through, cramming too many into one film and not allowing the locations to really come to life. I sure hope they come out with an extended version on Blu-Ray that adds in a lot of deleted scenes that would allow more development of each setting.
Hey, at least it was a much better movie than the prequels, and it gives hope that the sequels will become even better if they listen and learn from the mistakes they made with this one. One of my sons said, as we were leaving the theater, and the rest of us agreed with him, that it wasn't embarrassing to watch this one. That's so true. It was embarrassing to watch the prequels, because they felt so wrong on so many levels. This one shows the promise that the original trilogy gave us.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Perceptions Change

First off, there's a nice new interview with me over at The Leighgendarium!

I had a nice review of my sci-fi novel The Immortality Game recently that made me think more about how different perceptions can be in different time periods. The reviewer mentioned that it was hard to believe that the character Marcus could manage as much running as he does, given how out of shape he is.

This is a perfectly fair point to make. I did state a number of times throughout the novel that Marcus was overweight, had a belly, and otherwise looked down on himself for being out of shape, and I never did try to explain why this isn't necessarily true from our current perceptions. I wouldn't have explained it, because the book is written from the point of view of the characters, so it is only their own perceptions that come into play.
How can it be that characters can view Marcus as overweight and out of shape but he can run as far as he did in the story? The reason is that by modern day standards Marcus would be considered by most of us to be in quite good shape! That's right, he thinks he is 'fat' and has a big belly only because he is comparing himself to the standards of his time, not our time. In my future, nanotechnology has reached a point where billions of differently programmed nanobots flowing through your body help keep you in fantastic shape with minimal effort on your part. That means most people walk around looking like highly-toned athletes of today. Those who work hard not to stay in shape, like Marcus, can end up just a little flabby, so that in the view of people at that time he could be looked down upon, while people of today's world would tend to think that he is in great shape.

Have you written stories that used big differences in perception like this?

Friday, November 20, 2015

One Year of Being a Published Author

It was one year ago today that my first novel The Immortality Game was officially published. It feels so much longer. Normally time seems to fly by so quickly, especially as I age, but somehow when it comes to publishing the opposite is true. It feels about three years since I first published a book!
artwork © Stephan Martiniere
I suppose part of that is that I took all of what I had written over the past ten years and prepared it and published it in three separate books this year, as well as publishing two short stories in anthologies with other authors. I feel so busy all the time.

The drawback is that I haven't been able to write much over the past year. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I am going to be writing next, but that's the easiest part. I need to actually write it down, and that hasn't been happening. As an unknown indie writer, if I don't expend a lot of energy just in trying to let people know my books exist, then my books remain invisible and go nowhere.

So how has this first publishing year gone? Not great, but not so badly either. Here are some numbers:

Here is my first novel (published--I actually wrote The Shard first). It was published 'wide', meaning not exclusive to Amazon. I published the paperback through IngramSpark. The number of paperbacks sold in one year:

IngramSpark: 102 paperbacks

The ebook was sold via Amazon, B&N Nook, iTunes, GooglePlay, and Kobo.

Amazon US: 1672
Amazon UK: 35
Amazon France: 5
Amazon Germany: 13
Amazon Canada: 15
Amazon Australia: 6
Amazon Spain: 1
Amazon India: 1
Amazon Italy: 1
B&N: 260
iTunes: 71
GooglePlay: 30
Kobo: Site is down so I can't get numbers, but it was only around 30 or so

So that isn't too bad, but not what one dreams about selling. October was the best month for me due to a Bookbub ad that I ran. That landed The Immortality Game at #1 in Cyberpunk on Amazon for three straight days and #116 overall on Amazon.

My second release was The Shard in March. I sold it exclusively on Amazon via the Kindle Unlimited program, so I don't know all sales due to the fact that Amazon started telling authors about number of pages read via the KU program, and that isn't very helpful as far as tracking sales goes. Here are the numbers I do know about:

Paperbacks sold: 13
Amazon US: 78
Amazon UK: 6
Amazon India: 1
Amazon Australia: 3
Amazon Germany: 3
Amazon Canada: 2

I published Lord Fish, a collection of short stories, in August. Like The Shard, I made it exclusive to Amazon in the KU program, so I don't know about sales via KU.

I won't break this one out by country, since the number of sales hasn't been high enough to make it worthwhile. The number of sales also includes a Countdown Deal where it was free for one week. The number of sales in total has been 66. The price didn't seem to matter. I tried it at .99 and sold only one, so I raised it to 2.99 to see if it would give it a better profile, and sold a bit better.

The final result is that I'm fairly content with how The Immortality Game is doing, while the other two books remain invisible so far. Reviews of all books have been mainly very positive, and I really appreciate those who have taken the time to leave a review, as they are pure gold to indie writers. I'll end the post with links to the two anthologies that published stories by me during this past year. Please note that both of these stories are also published in Lord Fish.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Future Catches Up

A mind-blowing thing happened to me today. I saw a new review on Amazon, and it had a piece of information that simply amazed me.

Here is the review:

"Amazing debut! I would have given this book 6 stars but took one off because the author didn't seem to know that the Gsh-18 pistol does not have a safety. There are already several reviews which tell about the book and the story so I'll just mention one of the really stand-out qualities that sets this book apart from lesser efforts. The characters and their interactions are layered in ways that subtly hint at a very mature and developed sensibility on the part of the author. He doesn't beat you over the head with it but, I came to realize the depths of the characters about a third of the way through the book when I wondered what it was that kept drawing me in. This quality of recognizing relationships and histories in the characters and bringing them out without spelling them out was an amazing feat by the author. I'll be looking for more by Ted Cross."
Zoya, Illustration © Stephan Martiniere
Well, first of all it's really great to see someone view the development path of the characters the way I meant it to be. But it's the mention of the GSH-18 pistol that blew my mind. You may not know this, but I began writing the The Immortality Game quite a few years ago. When I reached the part where I needed to use a newer model of gun, I decided I wanted it to be 'old' from the perspective of the characters in the year 2138, but I also wanted it to be 'in the future' from our perspective. So I looked up some models of pistol and chose the GSH brand, and I then added some numbers to it so that it would be a 'future' model.

Now it is possible that the GSH-18 was already being mentioned at that time and I simply missed it. But as far as I recall, there was no GSH-18 when I wrote that part, and yet it now exists today. I didn't expect the future to come whipping by so fast!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Global Climate Change: The Coming Catastrophe

The United States has a very long history of refusing to deal with looming problems until the problems grow to a point where they can no longer be ignored. Naturally this means the resolution of such problems always costs us more money and results in heavier consequences than if we simply admitted the coming problems and dealt with them logically ahead of time in a calm and orderly fashion.
The biggest problem is that so far the US has gotten away with this attitude toward dealing with issues, because no issue has yet been so huge as to overwhelm us. But that is about to change over the next century with the looming catastrophe of rising ocean levels due to global climate change.

Take a look at what is happening to Europe right now with the refugees coming out of Syria. Europe is panicking over what is a very small crisis compared to the number of refugees we can expect to see from rising ocean levels over the next century. Magnify the number of refugees to a global level and numbers as much as hundreds of millions and then try to imagine what will likely happen. Folks living inland aren't likely to spread their arms in welcome to help those who knew they lived in the danger areas yet kept stubbornly living there anyhow.
America could do the right thing and actually start working on this problem now. We could create millions of new high-paying jobs for engineers, planners, electricians, carpenters, and so forth by laying out new cities inland and building them, and then offering growing incentives to start moving people away from the danger areas well ahead of time. Will we do that? History says no. History says we will do almost nothing and wait until it blows up into a crisis that may very well take down our country.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Final Tallies for My Advertising Push

My last post told you about my first use of Bookbub, the big ebook advertiser. Now I have the final totals of what The Immortality Game sold during the time-frame of my ad. Note that I was selling one to two copies per day even before the ad, but that is a small number so it is still interesting to see what I actually sold this past week. Also note that I wasn't selling much at all on any of the other sites, so the numbers for the non-Amazon sites are all due to the advertisement. Finally, there were bumps in sales for all of my other books during this time, but I'm not going to worry about those numbers here.

Amazon ebook: 1134
Paperback: 5

B&N Nook: 232

Kobo: 12

iTunes: 60

GooglePlay: 28

So it's easy to see that Kobo was the site that brought the fewest number of sales. B&N did better than I expected. I had only sold 2 copies total on iTunes before this sale, so 60 is a pretty good number for them. Likewise I had only sold 2 copies in total on GooglePlay prior to the ad.

Friday, October 23, 2015

My First BookBub Ad

I'm pleased at how well my first Bookbub advertisement went yesterday. I had been hearing about Bookbub for so long, that they were the only truly worthy site for getting a lot of traction for your paid ad, so it was nice to see the returns be worth the money.
Waking up this morning, you can see that I hit #116 overall on the Amazon store and #1 in both Cyberpunk categories, as well as #3 in Technothrillers. And it's #9 overall in Science Fiction!

And my book is in some great company there! Maybe today it will push even higher.

And how about on non-Amazon platforms? I sold 120 copies on B&N yesterday. And I'm doing okay on Kobo as well, sitting above John Scalzi, one of my favorite authors!
Have any of you tried Bookbub before? And look, I get the cool orange Amazon icon indicating #1 best seller! (Sorry I am so excited, but such things don't happen so often)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy Back to the Future Day

You've probably seen it all over Facebook already, but in case you haven't, today is the date that Marty travels to in the second Back to the Future movie. Yep, the future is now!
I see lots of articles pointing out how few of the technological advances depicted in the film actually came to pass. I don't find this strange at all. I've argued for a long time that writers tend to be overly optimistic in their timelines for when they believe advances will happen. Funnily enough from what I observe, the more inaccurate such sci-fi writing is, the more popular it tends to be. From Snow Crash to Blade Runner to Back to the Future and so many more, the writers depict near-future situations as if almost everything will massively transform, when we all know the reality is that only a few things change dramatically while most things change fairly little. Don't get me wrong, I love these stories, but it does bug me a bit just how far off they are.

So when I write my own science fiction I tend to give more realistic timelines for the technology that I wish to depict. I feel that the story of The Immortality Game is what I consider to be near-future, but I still chose a date of 2138, because I wanted to be sure that we actually had a realistic time frame for the changes that I wanted to show.

By the way, this week (until October 26) I have The Immortality Game on sale for .99 (from the normal $3.99 price). Please let your friends know!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Chess World Cup

Today was a really cool day for me as a chess fan. I visited the chess World Cup here in Baku, Azerbaijan. It began with 128 players and now has only 16 as of today. Three of the remaining 16 are American players--Grandmasters Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, and Wesley So.
Nakamura plays Adams
The organizers were very nice and gave me a press pass so that I could go inside the roped off area and take photos up close. I was introduced to Wesley So's adopted mother and we had a nice conversation for about twenty minutes. It's fascinating to learn details of an elite player's life. Then I saw and watched the games for a couple of hours.
Fabiano Caruana
Nakamura only needed a draw against Michael Adams of England in order to advance, and he did that easily. Caruana lost yesterday, so he had to win today and he only managed to draw, so he is eliminated. As I type this Wesley So's game against Vachier-Lagrave of France is still going on, but it looks as if he will lose and also be eliminated. So a mixed day for American chess!
Wesley So
I also had a nice chat with the charming WGM Turkan Mamedyarova. I assume she is the sister of famous elite grandmaster Shakriyar Mamedyarov.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Do You Enjoy Comedies?

Finally after all this time the DVD for the nice Swedish comedy movie that I got to be a small part of has come out in America.
It really is a funny movie. You have to really pay attention to be able to see me in it. The first scene that I am in, you won't notice me unless you know where to look. It's the scene in Paris where they first show the CIA office of Ryan Hutton. I am in the background on the left, and as the main characters move towards the camera, I walk across in the background.
I get a better scene about five minutes later when they again go to Hutton's office. At least here the photos are worth showing you. I shot about seven scenes and did a voice over, but only these two were used.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A 'Conversation' With Writer Anthony Vicino

If you haven't discovered Anthony Vicino yet, I recommened you check out his blog and rectify the situation!

Ted Cross: Anthony, it’s great to talk with you. I discovered you out of the blue last year when you wrote a blog post about new cyberpunk novels and you included my book. I was thrilled because the few previous reviews I had received had all been by request, so you were the first person to ever put up a blog review independently and I really appreciated that.
Introducing Anthony Vicino! Sit down, relax, have some barbecue!
I also loved your blunt honestly. You said what you liked and what you didn’t. So many reviewers skirt around what they don’t like, possibly afraid of offending anyone. The elements you disliked in my book didn’t bother me at all. In fact if anything they confirmed that my characters had the traits that I had set out to give them (right or wrong!).

Now that I have read a couple of your stories (Time Heist and Sins of the Father), I have seen that you are not only hands down one of the most talented indie writers I have encountered, but I feel a sort of kinship with you. (see my review of Time Heist here) We have very different writing styles (yours far more vivid than mine), but we have many similar ideas about the future. Whether it’s the use of nanobots or immortality via technology, we have both clearly had some of the same thoughts about what is coming down the pike. If our histories had matched up, we could almost have been writing in a shared world setting!

So often I see interviews with authors that are very basic. Someone provides a set of questions and the author answers them. I thought it might be fun to expand on the traditional interview and instead do a back and forth ‘conversation’.

So to begin, what have been the main influences for your science fiction writing? I noticed elements of the movie ‘In Time’ while reading Time Heist, though I liked your book better than the movie. Was that an influence? How about Richard K. Morgan and his ideas about technological immortality?

Anthony Vicino: For those of you at home, let me set the scene: Ted came on my radar last winter when he published his debut novel, The Immortality Game. The book caught my attention because it sports a mind-blowing cover replete with a futuristic pyramid (for those of you have read my book Time Heist, you'll know I have a thing for futuristic pyramids). Also, The Immortality Game, simply put, is an awesome title.

But TIG wasn't just eye-candy with a snazzy title, it's a really good story featuring a strong-female lead in an alternative setting ie: not middle-class white America. Now, for those that don't know, Ted is a diplomat. Which in my mind means one thing: He's a spy. Right?

No? Okay, well tell us a bit about diplomacy and how you got into it, Ted. I get the feeling that your experience there had a huge influence on the world you crafted in TIG.
Anthony really does have super powers!
One of the things I aim for in my writing, and something you do really well in TIG is invisible language. Meaning that the words don't draw attention to themselves and tug the readers out of the story. Guys like Brandon Sanderson, John Scalzi, and Jim Butcher have mastered this skill, which is a huge part in why their stories are so popular. Is this a conscious decision on your part or just a natural of function of your style/voice?

Whenever I tell people about Time Heist they think one of two things. First, they assume it's a time-travel story. Second, the Life Tracker draws immediate comparisons to In Time, Justin Timberlake’s movie. This used to bother me, but eventually I got over it, because from a lot device standpoint, they are very similar.

But for the record, I wrote the first draft of Time Heist well before In Time came out. Also, I only got around to watching In Time about a month after Time Heist's release. A large part of that was the crippling fear that I'd accidentally rip-off something from JTimbers. Plausible deniability and all that.

As for my influences, let me cite the old guard here: Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury. From a writing craft perspective, Sanderson has been hugely influential. Charles Stross is an idea factory. I've always found the range of his output inspiring.
Gravity has zero effect on him
Richard K. Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels are fantastic. Seriously, his stories are some of the best sci-fi I've ever read.

Now, I know you love Morgan as much as me, but who are some of your other influences, Ted? Your recent publications have been this weirdly cool mashup of sci-fi and fantasy (The Shard and Lord Fish: Chronicles of Xax). What inspired you to go that direction?

Thank you for your kind words about The Immortality Game. Oddly enough, it was written merely as back-story for a wizard character in my epic fantasy novel The Shard. The fantasy was the first novel I ever wrote, and I did it because I had been irked for so many years that no one was writing the particular kind of fantasy novel that I wanted to read most. Don’t get me wrong, there are many fantasy books that I love; it’s just that having grown up playing Dungeons & Dragons, I wanted to read some novels that took the game as seriously as I did. Instead all the official novels were essentially like superhero stories (see Drizzt) or cartoonish or they had a gamey feel to them. I wanted D&D stories told with gravitas, as if a George RR Martin or a Stephen King were writing them. No one did this, so I finally broke down about nine years ago and started writing one myself.

I spend a long time on each novel, about four years apiece so far, and partly that is because I spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about the characters and their histories. I feel that I need to know them really well before I can write them properly. The story of my wizard Xax intrigued me so much that I felt a growing compulsion to write out his tale, so once I completed The Shard that is what I set out to do.

His story didn’t come from nowhere. Since living in Moscow in the mid-nineties, I had vague story ideas about the Russian mafia, because they were just swarming over Moscow back then. From reading Richard K Morgan’s books (and I totally agree with you about how brilliant they are) I had some interesting technology questions I wanted to explore, namely the idea of what Morgan’s immortality tech must have been like when it was first developed. Since my wizard had once been a scientist back on Earth, it dawned on me that I could combine all these ideas, having this scientist work on the early development of immortality tech while using the Russian mob as the antagonist. Honestly, I had never meant to write science fiction, but once I started doing it, it has taken over.

Invisible language is something I go back and forth on, thinking that perhaps it comes naturally to me, only to then think that I’m not very good at it. Many people complimented my dialogue, but then another reader told me my dialogue was atrocious. Perhaps he went a tad overboard, but I’m certain there is also some truth to what he said, and that’s making me focus a LOT harder on my dialogue in current WIP. My writing may be a little too straightforward, and I wish I was better at injecting humor or more vivid detail into it.

I once asked John Scalzi if he would do a blog post about how he handles dialogue, but he hasn’t done so and probably won’t. Too bad, because I’d love to learn how he does it. Essentially I think beginning writers try to put too much of the world's background into the story. This background fascinates them and they want to tell the reader about it, not yet understanding that the reader can get by just fine knowing very little of this background material. When it comes down to it, I think writers should go back and remove as much exposition as possible.

AV: I agree one thousand percent. To the new writers at home, remember: Cut, cut, cut...and then cut some more.

TC: As for my writing background, I was always good at academic writing, but I never thought I'd get around to writing a novel. Too much work, especially when I have so many other interests! But over the years the story ideas just kept building pressure in my mind. And when I read ASOFAI by George RR Martin, his brilliance made me realize that I really wanted to write a book. Too bad that realization came so late—I was maybe thirty-seven at the time.

Diplomacy came about because I wanted to see the world. My love of chess also played a part, since the best chess players back then were Russians. So I jumped at the opportunity to work at the embassy in Moscow, and from there I joined the Foreign Service full time.

You mentioned not having seen In Time until after your book was finished. I totally sympathize with you. So many ideas have been touched on that it’s very easy to produce similar ideas all on our own. I have found eerie similarities in my own books from computer games and novels that I never knew existed until after my stories were already written, so we have that in common.

By the way, because I knew we were going to have this ‘conversation’, I just re-watched In Time. I didn’t much like the movie the first time I saw it, and I still don’t love it, but I did enjoy it a bit more the second time around. But you are right, other than the framework of using time for commerce, your story and that one are nothing alike.

Okay, so we're already beginning to run a bit long, so maybe we can do a follow up in the near future, but for now I'll just ask one question: how is the indie life treating you? I have met several truly talented indie writers (Lucas Bale and Michael Patrick Hicks) and I find it frustrating how hard it is to get our works noticed by the reading public. Thoughts?

AV: For all the great strides Indie publishing has made in recent years, it's still very much an uphill battle. Then again, that's not an exclusively Indie publishing problem. Even within the traditional world, it's hard gaining traction. My coping strategy has been to simply ignore it and focus on the long term.

When I began Indie publishing last November, I decided I'd play the long-con and set my sights way down the road at the five and ten year mark. So with that in mind I've done very little in the way of promoting my books this past year and haven't published anything since that initial bulk release of stories. Instead, I've directed all my energy into cultivating a following, meeting and collaborating with other creative types, and writing a ton.
Anthony says this is his office! Should we believe him?
This coming year should be exciting, 'cause I'll finally be releasing new fiction into the world. Currently I have twelve books lined up and ready to fire one story every month for the next year starting this October. If some of you have been wondering why I haven't been putting out new stuff, that's why. Christmas is coming. Duck and cover!

We're getting a bit on the long side here, so maybe we can do a part two in the future, Ted. How's that sound? Readers? What thoughts have you? Get down to the comments and let us know!

TC: You amaze me with how quickly you write! The problem for me is simply that I produce books too slowly, so I don’t see having another book ready for another three or four years. It’s very hard to remain relevant to readers if you don’t produce more work fairly quickly.

It’s been great having this short conversation, I wish we could have gotten more, but we don't want to overload the readers.
Anthony is very outdoorsy, it seems!
As Anthony said above, readers please let us know in the comments if you have any questions or thoughts. We'd love to hear from you! Thank you for reading!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Time Heist by Anthony Vicino

Anthony Vicino came to my attention when I read a blog post of his in which he reviewed two cyberpunk thrillers--my own The Immortality Game and Convergence by Michael Patrick Hicks. His quirky writing style came through immediately and his honest review, giving both what he enjoyed and what he didn't, set him apart from so many reviews that try to only present the positive.
from the One Lazy Robot blog
I finally found time to read Vicino's own cyberpunk thriller Time Heist, and having read it, I think anyone out there who enjoys good technothrillers will want to give his a try. It's very well written and most of all Vicino has a vivid, visceral writing style that adds vitality to every paragraph he writes.

His writing style is about the opposite of my own, but the world he writes about is so very like mine in so many ways that I feel we are akin in our thoughts about the future. Nanotechnology is huge in both of our worlds, and the capture of the human mind in digital form also weighs heavily in our stories. The use of this technology to create a form of immortality is the very backbone of my own book.

It's almost as if someone gave the basic building blocks of a cyberpunk story to two different writers and told us to go at it. We cover much of the same ground using the same technologies, yet we each have our own styles and thoughts, so we end up with two very different stories.

I truly enjoyed Time Heist, and I think many of you would as well. I look forward to reading more of Vicino's work in the future.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Kindle Countdown Deal

This week I'm trying out a Kindle Countdown Deal for my epic fantasy novel The Shard. It is $3 off at only .99. It's not easy to let readers know about such deals, so if anyone reading this has friends who enjoy this type of fantasy, perhaps do me a favor and let them know about it? I appreciate the support!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

New Release -- Darkhaven by AFE Smith

Out today: DARKHAVEN

Darkhaven cover
About the Book: 
Book title: DARKHAVEN
Author: A.F.E. Smith
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release date: 2 July 2015 (ebook), 14 January 2016 (paperback)
Price: £1.99/$3.99 (ebook)


Book description:
Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.

When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?

Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

Buy links 

Amazon (global link)
Barnes & Noble
Google play



A.F.E. Smith photo
About the Author:

A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.

What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.

Author social media links
DARKHAVEN on Goodreads

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Excerpt from New Novel

For any who might be interested, I thought I'd post a teaser excerpt from the first chapter of the new novel I'm working on. It's a far future sci-fi set on a colony planet in another solar system. It's tentatively titled Penthesilea, and I'm sure it will change quite a lot before it is done!


The morning of her thirteenth birthday, Keng entered the family room to accept the embraces and kisses of her mothers.  She had bubbled with excitement for weeks, knowing something special would happen today, though no one, not even the habitual gossips, would do more than drop hints.  Her oldest mother, Adanya, smelled faintly of cloves as she drew Keng close in her thin arms and whispered in her ear, “I’m so proud of you, first child of Themis.  Always so many questions.  Now today some can be answered.”  Adanya kissed her cheek and held Keng out at arm’s length, eyes shiny with tears.

Keng was afraid to respond in case her voice broke.  She took a deep breath and used the moment to scan the faces in the room.  Naturally Mother Slade was not there.  All twelve of her other mothers, but not her favorite.  Keng had hoped that today would see a change in the way Slade treated her.  If not when Keng was officially counted as a woman grown then when?

Mother Zahra looked at her with her lips quirked in a smirk.  “Why so sad?  It’s your special day.”

“I think you know,” Keng whispered.

“Oh, we all know, young lady,” Zahra said.  “So much warmth and love in this family, and the one you miss is she who so rarely speaks a word to you or deigns to glance your way.  Perhaps if I beat you I would be your favorite?”  Keng didn’t need Zahra’s grin to know she was at least half joking.

“I’m sorry, Mothers,” Keng said to the gathering.  “I only thought that today perhaps I could see my whole family together for once.”

She watched the smiles as her mothers passed glances around the room.  Something was up.  Keng wished they would just get on with it.  She didn’t like surprises.

“We’re sorry to tease you so,” Mother Hasinah said.  “It is only that we know today you will get something that you have long wanted, so we are happy.  Go to the roof garden, love.  Your gift is there.”

Keng suppressed the urge to immediately head for the stairs and completed her round of the room, accepting hugs and congratulations from the rest of her mothers.  On her way out the door, she spotted one of the cats lazing near the bottom of the steps and scooped him up.  “Come, Mouser.  Let’s see what the big surprise is.”

The stairs to the roof garden rose only a single story since her family’s home lay near the edge of the great dome.  Keng sometimes wished she were lucky enough to live near the center in one of tall buildings, and every so often she took the long trudge up the stairs of one of the tallest in order to stare out over the entire colony.  She had read of doll houses during her studies, and if she lay on the edge fifteen stories up and looked down, she could pretend that all of Panthesilea was her own personal doll house.

Every building had rank upon rank of gardens, helping to feed the colonists, along with the farms that Keng had heard lay outside of the dome.  Her own gardens were meagre, given that the home was a mere one story.  It primarily consisted of hydroponic fruits and vegetables, though several of the mothers insisted on a few types of flowers as well.  Keng reached the top of the stairs and fell quickly to her knees, for she saw Mother Slade performing her exercises near the central fountain and she knew the security chief disliked being disturbed.  “Go on, cat,” she hissed, and dropped Mouser on the top step, where the gray furred beast scurried right back down the way they had come.

Keng liked to try to sneak up on Slade, but she had never once succeeded in catching her unawares.  From her knees, Keng peered under a row of hanging grapes and watched as the slim but muscular figure flowed through a series of lunges and blocks and kicks.  Except for eyelashes, Slade was hairless, which always made Keng think of her as looking both young and old at the same time.  Keng wished to learn martial arts as well.  They seemed far more interesting than the usual gardening and sewing performed by most of her mothers, or the Tai Chi most of the women did each morning out on the lawns.  Usually by now Slade would have halted her routine and glared at Keng until she departed, but this time Slade went on punching and sliding as if she were unaware of Keng’s presence.  Keng recalled that her present was supposed to be here.  She looked at the benches near the fountain but could see no sign of a package.  A moment later, Slade completed her routine and bowed to some invisible opponent before turning to Keng and crooking a finger at her.

Keng was surprised. 
 It was the first time Slade had ever invited her to approach.  Cautiously Keng rose to her feet and skirted the garden rows until she came to the patch of grass near the fountain.  There she halted and remained silent.

Slade stood straight and still as a statue, remaining expressionless for so long that Keng wondered if she was meant to speak first.  As she debated on what she might say, Slade spoke at last.  “Thirteen.”

Keng nodded.

Slade had a deeper voice than most women, but she always spoke in a soft manner, even when angry.  “I’ve been tasked with providing your birthday gift.”

Keng wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so she remained silent.

“Come,” Slade said, and stalked past Keng toward the stairs.

Keng scurried to catch up and fell into place a meter behind as they descended.  Instead of turning into the house, Slade passed on, and Keng understood that they must be headed toward the security hut near the edge of the dome.  That made Keng smile.  She had always been forbidden from entering the ten meter protective zone circling the inner perimeter of the dome.

As they drew near the security hut, Slade motioned for Keng to stop, while she continued on.  The hut’s door slid aside and Slade reached in and pulled forth two backpacks.  Now Keng’s heartbeat raced and she gave a little hop in place.  At last she was going to get to see the world outside the dome.  Slade passed her a pack, and she felt the lumpy, hard-packed exterior with one hand before slipping it over her shoulders.

They stood near the edge of the dome, just off the paved road used by the auto-haulers that brought in supplies from the factories and farms outside.  It was the nature of the dome that Keng could never catch a glimpse of the outside world, even when trucks were passing through.  Her studies had taught her about the material used to create the dome, a synthetic substance that everyone called anaglass.  Keng had never before been so close to it.  She wanted to reach out and touch it, but she didn’t dare with Slade standing nearby.

“We’ll pass through in a moment,” Slade said, “but first prepare yourself.”

Keng wasn’t sure what Slade meant, so she took a moment to gather her thoughts.  She knew what she should see beyond the dome, but studying something is far different from seeing the reality.  The nearby surface of the dome shimmered and swirled with a deep blue that reminded her of Mother Magda’s tea cups.  It looked solid, yet on a daily basis Keng watched auto-haulers pass in and out as if the wall were air.  And when she looked up, the dome looked like a clear blue sky with fluffy white clouds.  The afternoon sun was hidden beyond the buildings, but a pale sliver of moon showed overhead.

“How long is the day out there?”

Slade’s sudden question snapped Keng out of her reverie.  “I don’t remember exactly.  Less than eighteen hours.”

Slade nodded and said, “Let’s go.”  She walked directly into and through the blue wall and vanished from sight.

Despite having watched so many people and vehicles pass through for years, Keng was nervous, as if touching the anaglass might shock her.  She groped out with one hand and was surprised when she felt nothing at all upon passing it through the wall.  Then she shrieked as a strong hand grasped her wrist and yanked her through.

Keng gasped.  Everything looked wrong.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cover Reveal/New Book Coming in August

I am planning on releasing a collection of four short stories in August. It contains two shorts based on my fantasy novel The Shard, one short that bridges the gap between The Immortality Game and The Shard, and a Viking short story that was included in The Dragon Chronicles. So far I plan on only including it on Amazon for .99 as part of their Kindle Unlimited program, though later I might expand it to other sites. My hope is to let new readers experience some of my writing, and hopefully they might then check out my novels.

Since this is a cheaper book, I used a pre-made cover, though I still like how it came out.

I have a favor to ask anyone who is interested. This is a short book and wouldn't take long to read. I'd like to get as many reviews as possible around the launch date in August. I expect honest reviews, so no pressure to rate it highly if you don't feel it deserves it. I'm willing to give a free Kindle copy to any of my friends who are willing to write an honest review (it doesn't have to be long) for Amazon/Goodreads near the launch date in mid-August. If interested, please email me at knight_tour at hotmail dot com.

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!