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!