Mindstorm: Parley at Ologo — The Excerpt

Time for a bit of shameless self-promotion.

front sanserif

Grace Bridges designed the lovely abstract cover, which actually represents what Calla sees when she goes into someone’s mind.

An excerpt for you…

 

Angela reeled back as if she had been kicked in the head. Thomas tried to catch her, but his fingers brushed past the sleeve of her shirt. She hit the ground hard and stayed still.

“Angela!”

The garden’s gate burst open a second later under the weight of several Cordilians. The first hit on his mental shield came a second after the gate fell. His protection wobbled but held. Gunshots echoed off the garden’s wall. Bits of rock from a planter struck his thigh.

He yelped and dove under the table, even though the thin wood would never stop a bullet or a blaster bolt. He clapped his hand over the wound. If he were lucky, the snipers wouldn’t see him.

Shrill screams split the air. The sense of pain and terror from the delegates sickened him. He could do nothing to help them directly, but if he could reach Angela, he could teleport them both home, get her to a doctor, and send back more experienced help for the delegations.

As he inched toward her, a female presence shoved against his shields. Thomas bolstered his defense and pushed her back.

The second attempt battered at his mental shield and bored through. Before he could reset his guard, his attacker thrust into his mind like a spear. Thomas clenched his eyes and focused inward.

You want a fight? You got one.

A dark, curvaceous image bearing a pair of fiery knives appeared in his mental perception. Her hand covered her mouth. “Ooo. That didn’t hurt, did it?”

Thomas mustered every scrap of power and focus he could pull together. “Not half as much as this will.”

His own personal image formed in the shape of a huge wolf. He launched himself at the shadow woman and tackled her, tearing into her with a mouth full of sharp teeth.

 

Find Mindstorm: Parley at Ologo here.

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Book Review: Eden’s Gate

Spoiler-free review

Book: Eden’s Gate – Book 1: The Reborn

edens-gate-image

Author: Edward Brody

Genre: LitRPG-Fantasy

Ratings: (1 = Really needs improvement. 5 = Good stuff!)

  • Plot Development: 5
  • Character Development: 3
  • Dialogue: 2
  • Descriptions: 3
  • Wordsmithing: 1
  • Overall: 3

What Drew Me to THIS Book (Out of all the ones out there…)

A couple weeks ago, I listened to a podcast about a relatively new genre: LitRPG. LitRPG involves a person playing a virtual game of some sort that includes leveling, classes, skills, and so on, like you’d find in the old tabletop role playing games or the more modern computer versions. I was a HUGE gaming freak back when. In fact, people familiar with my writing have probably heard the tale about how Remnant in the Stars originated from a GURPS Space scenario. (No, it’s not LitRPG. No game mechanics in the book). I was also a terrific fan of Ultima, Elder Scrolls, and Might and Magic long before the advent of the online versions.

Well, one of the anthologies I was in recently (Avatars of Web Surfer) includes a couple stories (including one of mine) that take place in a game world with characters playing a game. Hey! Pretty close. In fact, add the gaming mechanics, and it’s THERE. So, I contacted the publisher (Travis Perry of Bear Publications) and asked if he’d heard of it. He listened to the podcast and we approached Avatars’ creator (Andrea Graham) to see if she’d be interested in adding the gaming mechanics. She’s giving it a think.

In the meantime, Travis and I started chatting about turning a couple of my ideas into LitRPG. I have one unpublished book (Bird’s Eye: The Novel in Need of a Better Name) and a few ideas that might work for something as quest-based as LitRPG. We decided to tackle Bird’s Eye and outlined a plan:

  • Become familiar with LitRPG conventions
  • Create the game mechanics
  • Rewrite Bird’s Eye to account for those mechanics.

Okay, so part 1, I needed to learn the conventions. First, I found a Facebook group for LitRPG and joined up and spent some time lurking before I actually dove into conversations. Then I looked at a list of the books they have and picked two. My criteria were pretty simple: one science fiction, one fantasy, stick with 1-shot wonders. I wasn’t sure I was going to like this genre, so I didn’t want to dive into a multiple-book phenomenon. If I like it, I’ll go grab one of the series.

Eden’s Gate: The Reborn says it’s Book 1, which implies a series, but so far, it just has one book, so I snagged that one for the fantasy. The other one I grabbed will appear in a future book review.

Things I Like (It has to be really stinky for there to be absolutely NOTHING to like).

There were some things Edward Brody did well. The plot itself is well-designed. The characters are faced with situations that challenge them physically and mentally. The threat is real, even though the characters in the game regenerate if they die. They make difficult choices and deal with the consequences. I’ve read a LOT of stories in which the characters are so over-powered, no threat is sufficient, and I’ve read a bunch in which the character has zero chance of success without divine intervention. Both are boring. Eden’s Gate has a good balance. Yes, the characters get in over their heads sometimes, but wit, wisdom, equipment, and guts get the job done.

Kudos to Mr. Brody for accomplishing that balance.

Things I Didn’t Like (Everyone has room to improve).

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news.

First, there were major word-smithing issues. In addition to the typical typo sorts of problems, there were places where not-quite-the-right-word was chosen. I understand that the field of LitRPG is pretty small right now and many of the works are translated out of other languages or written by writers whose first language is not English. I don’t know if that’s the case with Mr. Brody.

Second, this is a long way from clean reading. The word choices were often quite foul. This would earn an R-rating by the end of the first chapter on that alone. Similarly, some of the violence and descriptions of gore were a little over-the-top. I really don’t need to see the gore flying on the page to understand that the character just died a horrible death. Finally, there were no sexual encounters on-camera, but the author missed few if any opportunities to describe female characters in terms of their physical endowments, regardless of race or monster status.

3 Specific Ways the Author Could Improve (Hey, I’m a teacher. It’s what I do).

  1. Improve your vocabulary. There are ways to express outrage, anger, pain, aggravation, surprise, shock, horror, and dismay that don’t involve the F-bomb. Not only will you reach a wider audience, but you’ll give your characters depth. I’m not suggesting you have characters sound like Barney the Dinosaur, golly gee willackers; but if every response to a problem involves a word that rhymes with duck, the word loses its uniqueness and its force. If you just have to swear, okay, but keep it for the really severe situations when you’ll get more bang for your buck.
  2. Engage a proofreader or editor. Writers are often their own worst editors. They read what they remember writing, not what’s actually there. As an editor, I saw a number of places where a little polish would have made the work more effective. I know, I know… editors and proofreaders cost money. It looks like you’re self-pub, which is fine, but make sure your product is one of the best out there. Some editors and proofreaders will work on a trade-ya basis if you can’t afford to pay them actual money. You critique theirs. They edit yours. There are also some traditional small presses that might be interested in LitRPG. Sign with them, and you’ll get editorial and cover art for free. (If the publisher wants you to pay for ANYTHING in the publication process, run fast the other way). Your cover looks good. Make sure the content is, too.
  3. Give your characters more development, especially in dialogue. You did a good job of making them different from each other personality-wise, but when they’re talking, all your humans sound like the same guy. Give everyone a quirk or two. Use more dialogue tags that communicate personality and relevant actions. This can be tougher to do in first person, but it’s a worthy goal.

Final Recommendation

This is a tough one. I really liked the way Mr. Brody developed the plot. The challenges got progressively harder as the characters became progressively stronger. The story line itself was compelling. I could even overlook the editorial shenanigans to a point without being ejected from the story.

Unfortunately, I prefer clean reading, so I ended up enjoying it much less than I  might have if there weren’t F-bombs on practically every page and if female character descriptions didn’t include what seemed to be an obligatory comment on their physical endowments.

If that sort of thing doesn’t bug you, then do check out Eden’s Gate: The Reborn.

Mythic Orbits 2016

Visiting with us today is Travis Perry, who recently published an anthology containing only stories by Christian authors. Take it away Travis!

 

Mythic Orbits 2016 had a basic motivation as an anthology project: To collect and publish the very best short stories I was able to find by Christian authors, without any pre-defined theme.

Stories first had to be interesting or intriguing. Solid endings with a strong emotional payoff were essential, as they are in all good short stories. Some of those payoffs in the anthology are feel-good, emotionally warm moments. But not all are. A final story moment which challenges preconceived notions, or which is disturbing, or thought-provoking, I accepted as freely as the happier endings.

I love the short story format, by the way. A short story is not a substitute for a novel, only shorter. Not necessarily, anyway. Conflict drives the plot in novels, but short stories have a number of other possible roads to success. For example, they can surprise, shock, or amaze instead of bringing conflict to resolution. I often find short tales inherently more interesting than novels, if written well.

The commitment to good short stories in this anthology came without any specific doctrinal or content tests. Though it happens to be the case that the stories are basically clean. They contain no strong profanity (on a few occasions cuss words generally seen as mild are included). No sexuality is included beyond being attracted to someone and on one occasion, kissing. No violence is graphically described–though there is some violence in a number of the stories.

What really happened is my authors self-edited for content themselves. The only content edits I performed for “moral” purposes was downgrading one curse word to a milder version of the same thing and changing a religious reference into one which unambiguously talked about one God. All other content edits were for the purpose of making the stories make more sense, flow better, or have more powerful endings. (Though one author did ask me how to make his story more Christian, to which I had a specific suggestion–this was for the story “Escapee,” for which I recommended he create an alien chapel.)

I did not want to impose upon this anthology some kind of common theme like some other anthologies I’ve seen and participated in. That’s because I believe the best stories come from authors writing what they want to write about, not from me telling them what I think they should produce.

A question that comes to my mind as I write about the anthology I assembled is, “Why Christian authors? Why not just find a bunch of good stories and assemble that, regardless of whether the writers are believers or not?”

The use of Christian authors I found essential. I perceive the world of speculative fiction (by which I mainly but not exclusively mean science fiction, fantasy, and horror) as not especially Christian-friendly. So for me, the first order of business was to show the world that we Christians are not so bound by conventional thinking about stories that we cannot tell intriguing tales.

I also hoped that the Christian authors involved would themselves use Christian themes in their stories where they felt inspired to do so. I wasn’t disappointed in that. Some of the stories feature Christian characters reacting to worlds of speculative fiction, while some of the stories have themes that explore the tendency of religious leaders to misinterpret the faith, the role of science in human experience, the desire for eternal life, the pitfalls of avoiding pain, the nature of love, the role of empathy, and other, more subtle concepts.

Some of the stories, even if they have an underlying morality, show no direct influence of Christianity at all. You would not necessarily know from reading some of the tales that the author who produced it was a Christian. Which was fine by me–I saw my role in publishing this anthology was to highlight Christian authors, not stories with Christian themes. (As already mentioned, Christian themes showed in some of the other stories.)

So, now that I have commented on the reasons behind creating Mythic Orbits 2016, the next natural question to ask is, “What inspired me to comment about this story anthology in this blog post?” What am I hoping to achieve here?

First of all, I hope all readers of this blog will go out and buy a copy of Mythic Orbits 2016. The stories really are excellent, every last one, and well-worth your time. (Seriously–yes, I am plugging a work I published–but it actually IS awesome. Check it out for yourself: https://www.amazon.com/Mythic-Orbits-2016-SPECULATIVE-Christian-ebook/dp/B01NAIY432 )

But I have a secondary reason–and that is, I hope, God willing, to do this sort of collection next year. And for as many years after that as I can. I want to produce a Mythic Orbits 2017, 2018, and so on.

I will be looking for excellent short stories written by Christian authors in the future. Perhaps among the readers of this blog there’s somebody with an excellent tale already written, the exact sort of short story I’m keen to publish. I hope so.

Feel free to send an email to bearpublicationsanthologies@outlook.com if you have something now. If you don’t have anything yet, perhaps you can write something in the upcoming year and send it my way when its ready.

Eventually (God willing), I will be making specific announcements recruiting authors for Mythic Orbits 2017. Hope you can participate. 🙂

2016 Goals

In January 2016, I established 5 goals:

  1. Draft a novel.
  2. Apply for 50 jobs in my field (performance improvement/corporate training)… or land one.
  3. Start an LLC based on the things I can do (edit manuscripts, do crafty stuff, performance improvement projects).
  4. Make Christmas presents for everyone on my list.
  5. Research at least 5 different marketing strategies and try at least 3 I haven’t done before.

So… How’d I do?

Goal 1: Draft a novel.

Well… not that great. Moving north, job hunting, and a few particularly involved editing/critiquing projects put a damper on my writing time. I did get a good chunk of a draft started (the sequel to another work) … and then my smart pen died and the OCR work on the text I did manage to record was horrible. I ended up having to start over. Adding to that challenge, I realized the plot I had designed had some holes in it. A friend helped me plug those up again. I also worked with a critique partner on straightening out Bird’s Eye: The Novel Needing a Better Name. It’s back in the queue to be worked on.

I did, however, make progress. I have A Suitable Arrangement, the sequel to Lines of Succession, plotted out to fix the problem parts, and I’ve started the draft. So, I didn’t accomplish the goal, but I did make ground on a couple projects and wrote some short stories.

Goal 2: Apply for 50 jobs in my field.

Pfff… I had that done by March 1. I didn’t land a job in the field, though. Between applying cross-country, teaching kids for 14 years, and not having a certificate you need 5 years of full-time work in the field to qualify for … I amassed a lovely collection of flush letters.

I decided to take a break after I applied for (and got a flush letter for) the 100th job.

I have not given up. Now that I’m up in the part of the world where I want to eventually find that job, I think I have better prospects. In December, I sent another 78 applications out and signed up with a couple agencies. We’ll see how this goes as the new year starts.

Goal 3: Start an LLC

I had that one done by the end of January.

When I moved to Iowa, I had to shut it down. Iowa doesn’t recognize Texas LLCs, and Texas says I have to live there to have an LLC (or have an agent of the company living there, and I do not since I am the LLC).

Will I start another one in Iowa? I doubt it, but we’ll see. The outgo for the company exceeded the income, which makes upkeep the downfall.

Goal 4: Make Christmas presents for everyone 

Yes, actually, I did manage it. They weren’t the quilts I had in mind, but I did make cloth origami ornaments and angel ornaments for folks. The quilts are in the works, but to do a good job, I need more time. I didn’t want to slop together some flotsam and call it done.

Goal 5: Marketing strategies

Yep, I got this one, too.

I actually did 6: book trailer, Facebook events, DIY blog tour, DIY book signing at a craft fair, hired blog tour, and book signing at a book store (arranged by my publisher).

Kylie Jude at Frozen Creek Studios put together a book trailer for me to showcase Remnant in the Stars and The Loudest Actions. She did fine work.

I did 2 Facebook events for the two books that released in 2016: Like Herding the Wind and The Loudest Actions. I also took part in a 3rd event for an anthology I was in: Avatars of Web Surfer. The first one, for Like Herding the Wind, was almost immediately after release. A spike in sales was reported by my publisher. The second was a couple months after the release of The Loudest Actions to coincide with a hired blog tour. The third, for Avatars of Web Surfer, was a group effort but unfortunately, conflict with 2 other author events reduced our results. Ultimately, folks had fun, but they were costly to host (especially the first one for Like Herding the Wind ).

The DIY blog tour didn’t go so well. Didn’t cost me anything, but I couldn’t find enough people to play.

The book signing at the craft fair wasn’t too shabby. I sold 6 books and a couple bookmarks. Cost: $10 to set up.

Then Like Herding the Wind’s publisher arranged 3 book signings for me at different Barnes and Nobles, one in Texas and two in Iowa after I moved. One of the Iowa ones fell through when the fellow in charge of organizing the event made a wee error. I handed out a lot of book marks and sold a bunch of books at the first one and only 1 book at the second, but again the cost of the swag associated exceeded the increase in sales.

For The Loudest Actions,  I hired Tomorrow Comes Media to arrange a book tour. Stephen Zimmer did a fabulous job of lining people up and guiding me through the adventure. When I get my next royalty statement from Under the Moon, I’ll be able to tell if the ROI is worthwhile. It, too, cost a good chunk of change.

So, in the final analysis, did I see a spike in sales sufficient to overcome the costs? No, I don’t think so, but I won’t know for sure until I sit down with all my royalty statements and compare this 2016 to 2015.

Overall

In the end, I would say 2016 was a pretty good year as far as goals go. I hit most of my goals and made good progress on the one I didn’t get to finish.

In January, I’ll outline my goals for 2017.

NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts in 2 days. I played a few years ago and ended up with the first half of Bird’s Eye: The Novel in Dire Need of a Better Title. That novel has since been finished, and it is waiting for revision after some feedback from a beta reader.

I’m considering trying it again this year. I’m working on the sequel to Lines of Succession, and I might gain some good ground if I dive into this. I’ve already started it, but I can mark my starting point and count from there or do the new work in another file and then copy it across when I’m done.

Still sitting on the fence about whether to dive in. (I’ll have to hurry up and decide. O.o )

The good things about it?

  • A daily goal will keep me going on this. I’m competitive enough to allow no excuses.
  • I did get some encouragement from the group when I did it before.
  • I’ll get to spend more time with Masika (the computer is in her room).

The bad things about it?

  • The writing I did on Bird’s Eye a few years ago was not my best, even considering the rough draft mode. Cleaning it up might be harder than starting over.
  • The emphasis on word count rather than quality encourages bad writing habits, and I already try to string together too many descriptors.
  • I’m way behind on making Christmas presents because of the Great Northern Move.

Hmmm… Decisions, decisions…

 

The Loudest Actions

My 5th novel, The Loudest Actionsreleased today!

This is the sequel to Remnant in the Stars.

First contact missions are hard enough, but they get even tougher when the negotiator has an ego the size of a gas giant.
Burke Zacharias, a first contact researcher, is chosen to spearhead humanity’s first official contact with Montans, an insect race that has already had a run-in with less friendly humans. Although his words and overtures toward the Montans are cordial enough, the Montans are put off by how he treats the crew of the scout ship that brought him to the world.

With other, less friendly forces trying to establish a foothold on the world, the negotiation must succeed in spite of Burke, or the Montans could be facing extinction.

loudest_actions final cover

The Loudest Actions has been published by Under the Moon.

The Loudest Actions Cover Reveal

The Loudest Actions, sequel to Remnant in the Stars, is almost ready to publish. Editor Terri Pray and I have finished the editing, and artist Sam Pray has finished the cover art.

Here … check it out!

loudest_actions final cover

First contact missions are hard enough, but they get even tougher when the negotiator has an ego the size of a gas giant.

Burke Zacharias, a first contact researcher, is chosen to spearhead humanity’s first official contact with Montans, an insect race that has already had a run-in with less friendly humans. Although his words and overtures toward the Montans are cordial enough, the Montans are put off by how he treats the crew of the scout ship that brought him to the world.

With other, less friendly forces trying to establish a foothold on the world, the negotiation must succeed in spite of Burke, or the Montans could be facing extinction.

 

Under the Moon plans to release The Loudest Actions at the end of August.