Inspiration: Dandelion Dreams

Dandelion Dreams

I just love this picture. Hope you do, too.

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New Release: Reliquary

Reliquary I have a novelette in an anthology called Reliquary, which was published on Amazon today. The anthology features twelve stories by new writers on the theme of relics.

My story is called Road Trip:

Rocco Fitch, a wounded veteran of the war in Afghanistan, doesn’t have much left to live for. He’s disabled, unemployed and his wife has left him, taking their daughter with her. Then a beggar, a war veteran like himself, offers to sell him a road.

Go. Buy. Now. 😎

(And we’d all love a fair and honest Amazon review, if you have the time)

Oh, and for anybody who’d like a bit of a preview of the story, here’s an interview with Rocco Fitch, the main character of my story.

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Zombies of Manhattan

Warning: ZombiesCHAPTER 1: LEVEL 82

In any apocalyptic scenario, location is a major survival determinant…

         — apocalyptica.blogspot.com

I descend the stairs slowly, careful not to make any noise. The level I’d just come from had been safe. I know this, because I’m the one that cleared it. But all four stairways in the Kraftt Tower are apparently open on multiple levels, which means that they are emphatically not safe.

I clutch my flashlight in my sweaty left hand and direct its dim glow, muted by the red cloth I’ve tied over it, directly in front of me. I’m wearing three jackets for padding, plus Janet’s scarf (I try not to think about Janet, she was my first) and the motorcycle helmet I found on 85.

I’m holding a three-foot-long metal strut from a computer rack in my right hand. I’d wrapped duct tape around one end to give me a better grip. I call it “George,” I’m not sure why. Sometimes I talk to it, too. I’m probably not entirely sane anymore, but it beats the alternatives.

In a moment I’m on the landing, which turns out to be covered with bloodstains, long since dried. They look black in the light. There are drag marks going down the stairs, too.

I try not to imagine what happened here. I need to stay focused.

Ten more steps and I’m at the door for Level 82. I strain my senses for any sound of movement. I hear a faint scuffing sound, so faint that I’m not sure if it’s real or just my imagination.

It doesn’t matter.

Here and now, my choices are constrained. If I’m swarmed in the stairway, retreat to the floor above might be possible, unless I have the bad luck to be attacked from that direction. But retreat would only be a temporary respite. Food and water are limiting factors. To live, I need to keep moving. And if I’ve got to be moving, then it has to be down because that’s the only way I’ll ever escape this God-forsaken Tower of Doom.

The door is metal, with a faux wood façade. Pine, I think.

It’s locked, of course. There’s a badge reader next to it so all of us office workers can unlock it with our badges. Since the power’s been off for the past week, that’s not real useful. I shift George to my left hand, juggling to hold both my weapon and flashlight in one hand. The light shakes a little as I do this.

I pull my +3 Vorpal Lock Pick out of my pocket. OK, it’s really a screwdriver with a few metal bits superglued to it, but that just sounds too mundane for the apocalypse. Anyway, the server room on 88 has the same kind of lock as the stairway doors. It had taken me half a day of experimentation to cobble together a working lock pick.

I hear another scuffing sound. Unmistakable this time. And closer. I think there’s a hostile on the landing below me.

This is how things get dicey. I call this whole routine American Roulette. Pick a floor. See what’s behind the door. Live or die. Repeat again tomorrow, if you’re lucky.

I insert my lock pick in the gap between the door and its frame. Shove, twist, pry. All of this makes noise. Not a lot, but more than enough.

I pull the door open enough to put my foot in the gap, then I bite down on the handle of the screwdriver, sorry, I mean my +3 Vorpal Lock Pick. I grab George in my right hand and swing it in a whistling arc as a bloody-faced man in a grungy business suit lunges upward into my circle of illumination. The metal bar smashes his skull and sends blood splatter into the wall.

It’s really all about the follow-through. That’s something my grandfather taught me. Although he was talking about baseball, not smashing skulls. I’m still really glad he taught me how to properly swing a bat. I just never imagined that it would be a survival skill.

My attacker falls backward down the stairs, knocking at least one companion down, or so I judge from the snarling. In the momentary lull after that, I hear footsteps and groaning coming from above, too. I guess it’s time to see what’s behind door 82. I slip through and pull the door shut behind me, then move about six feet down the blessedly empty hallway.

I ignore the savage sounds from beyond the door and try to listen for any sounds of hostiles on this floor. Hearing nothing, I move to my next critical task.

Before I can clear a floor, I have to make sure all four stairway doors are closed, otherwise, well, I could be facing a nearly unending supply of hostiles.

From personal experience, let me tell you: Swarms are bad.

At full occupancy, the Kraftt Building could supposedly hold 20,000 people. I don’t really think the skyscraper was full when disaster struck, and some people undoubtedly escaped even then. I’m estimating that the building was half-full at worst. Of those, I figured half turned and the rest got eaten. That makes me a rounding error, I guess.

I jog quietly around the floor to check the other stairs. I’m careful to avoid the restrooms. All the bad guys need to survive is water; they’ll sleep and conserve energy if there’s no food (so never, never, never assume they’re dead until George has verified it), but they get weaker without water.

The floor turns out to be secure. Lucky me.

While I’d gotten my daily cardio in by barreling around the hallway track, I’d only passed one glass-fronted corporate entrance. This is a sure sign that the company has the entire floor, which isn’t my favorite situation. I prefer when the hostiles are penned up in different office pods.

I walk back to the entrance. A law firm. Not much use for that anymore. Glass doors embedded in glass walls let me look in on a fancy foyer with a marble floor, comfy chairs and a mahogany counter behind which, in some lost world now quickly receding from memory and never to return, an immaculately dressed administrative assistant would have smiled and greeted me.

Printed on one of the glass doors in white letters:

In an emergency
Press on door for 15 seconds
An alarm will sound

I press hard with my shoulder. After a moment, there’s a very slight pop and the door swings inward. No alarm goes off.

I wait for full minute with the door half-open, counting the seconds. Nothing happens. It’s all very boring. Which is good. I like boring.

Quietly, I make my way through the office. It’s daylight outside, which isn’t a surprise because that’s the way I plan these excursions. Light fans in through the exterior windows.

I see bloodstains in places, and drag marks, but no hostiles and no dead bodies. As I pass the break room, I curse silently when I see that the vending machine has been smashed open and all my junk food is gone. It’s not all bad, though. The soda machine is a tougher nut to crack (I have a tool for that, too), and it’s undamaged.

I turn a corner and I see a hostile fifteen feet away. Female, with her back turned to me. I’m feeling good because the floor’s been empty so far and maybe I’m feeling a little cocky, too. Plus, sometimes I think I just need to hear a voice, even if it’s only mine.

In my best faux Spanish accent, which is actually pretty awful, I say: “I am Inigo Montoya. You killed my co-workers. Prepare to die.”

Then I raise George and charge at the hostile.

The figure turns around, a shocked expression on her face, and screams.

Stunned, I shift my swing at the last second and slam George into the wall beside her. I yank it out of the wall and jump back away from her.

“You’re not a—”

“Obviously,” she says. “You moron.”

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Happy New Year, 2017!

Washington DC Fireworks

Washington DC Fireworks

Out with 2016! And in with 2017!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYBODY!

And look out, this is the year I start publishing stuff almost every month.

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D-Day for Worlds Enough Anthology

Worlds Enough Anthology Today is Deadline Day, or D-Day, for submissions for the anthology that I’m putting together: “Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders.” Technically, I guess this makes me an Editor, since I’m one of the editors of the book. And an Anthologist, too, since I’m the one driving the project. Exciting stuff.

It’s an anthology of novelettes/novellas in the range of 10-20K words each, with a total of five slots. As a “mostly” curated anthology, four of the writers were pre-selected, and I have three of their stories in hand. The fourth writer is in the final stages of finishing up his story, which I expect to have in about a week. The stories are:

“The Mists of Lu-Shan” by Donna Royston
“Once Damned” by Martin Wilsey
“The Rooftop Game” by David Keener
“The Iron Garden” by Jeff Patterson

We opened up the fifth slot for competition. I’ve also received three submissions thus far for the last slot. I’ve heard that there may be a few more on the way.

All in all, it’s pretty exciting, though it’s a bit like herding cats. Of course, now the real work starts….

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Inspiration: Prague, the Charles Bridge, Fog

Prague, the Charles Bridge in the Fog

This is a real photo of the Charles Bridge in Prague, in the fog. I think it’s a beautiful photo and potentially a great fantasy book cover for someone.

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Meetup Removes Critical Feature

Meetup.comI am singularly unimpressed with the announcement today from Meetup that they are removing the File Storage capability from their web site. I belong to two writing groups, both of which are hosted on Meetup. Removing this feature makes the site virtually useless for writing groups.

With both my writing groups, a selected number of people submit documents each week at least three days before the meeting so that they can be critiqued at the meeting. Guess what? No File Storage capability means no documents to be shared. And this isn’t just my writing group…most writing groups work like this.

Oh, yes, of course, we can find someplace else to store our documents for each week’s meeting, like Dropbox or some other service. But then it’s not really INTEGRATED into the group experience, is it?

I mean, each new member will have to learn TWO systems instead of one. And we’ll have to worry separately about giving people access to our file storage solution or not, because it won’t be built into the site anymore. So, everything will be much less convenient…for EVERYBODY in each writing group.

But never fear, anybody that wants to store photos is fine because that’s apparently still cool.

Let’s think about this whole situation a little deeper. The point of Meetup is to arrange meetings. Duh. Thinking beyond writing groups, isn’t it reasonable to make meeting agendas available before a meeting? What about meeting notes after a meeting? What about class materials for people who use Meetup to organize any sort of educational sessions or seminars?

Removing this critical feature is just about the most boneheaded thing I’ve heard of a company doing, at least one that operates in the social media realm. Or, hey, let’s examine this from another perspective. You don’t hear Facebook saying: “Hey, we don’t want you to store your photos, videos or notes on our site anymore.”

Now Meetup might be a relatively small Internet startup. But there’s a LOT of meetings out there, and Meetup is a paid service. If the hosting for files is difficult, then partner with somebody that does it already. If it’s a matter of cost, charge $20 extra each year to have the File Storage capability (it could be Meetup’s second upwell option, after Meetup Pro). Put some kind of reasonable size cap on storage to prevent abuse.

If my writing groups are paying for something that doesn’t meet our needs any longer because Meetup removed a critical feature, then we have to look at alternatives. Heck, Meetup is already forcing us (with absolutely no advance notice) to figure out how we’re going to make files available to members for our next meeting. At the end of the day, here’s what Meetup needs to remember. The competition is only a click away.

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Inspiration: You Are Here

From Mars, You Are Here

If you’ve ever wondered what Earth looks like to someone standing on the surface of Mars, well, now you know. In this NASA-supplied picture from the surface Mars, Earth is visible as just a bright object in the sky. In other words…you are here.

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Writing Tips: Your Amazon Author Page

With both the Uncommon Threads and Reliquary anthologies now out and available on Amazon, and “Worlds Enough: Fantastic Defenders” in progress, I recently set up my Author Page on Amazon. It’s really easier, and one of the best things you can do to help promote yourself as a writer.

Go to the following Author Central URL:

     https://authorcentral.amazon.com

You can login using your regular Amazon.com login. The site will allow you to upload an author photo, provide a brief biography and claim any books that you already have published on Amazon. For example, Martin Wilson and I have already both claimed the aforementioned anthologies.

This also means that when your name is listed as an author next to a book image, your name will have a rollover that shows your bio picture and links to your Author Page. Likewise, you’ll be listed as an author, with bio image, further down on Amazon’s product page. Martin, as the first to claim authorship of Reliquary, is currently the only author listed in this area. I’ll be there shortly (I’ve “claimed” the book, but it takes time for Amazon to regenerate the product page with new information).

There are several reasons I think your Author Page is important. First, having an Author Page makes you look more professional. Second, it facilitates some cross-promotion to your other books and stories. Third, Amazon’s “Follow” feature is layered on top of this, which allows people who like your work to “follow” you and receive notifications when you have new stuff coming out.

So, it’s a good thing for general PR, and it’s trivial to set up. Go make it happen.

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Film Review: Rogue One, Flawed But Spectacular

Star Wars: Rogue One

I had a chance to see Rogue One with my brother and niece at a matinee today. Overall, it was a great experience. The producers took the movie in a dark direction and, in my opinion, expanded the scope of what was possible for the Star Wars franchise. They also made a bold decision with regard to the ending, something I’ve never seen before in a blockbuster movie with this kind of budget behind it. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it.

Now, I can quibble about a bunch of things. The Rogue One team consists of six characters, most of whom could have used more screen time to really allow the audience to identify with them. The plot is a bit “by the numbers,” i.e. – go here to get this, then go there to get that, etc. Despite the flaws, it works reasonably well overall.

And, of course, the special effects are superb, as you’d expect for a Star Wars movie. The movie also benefits well from a second viewing; once you know who you should be watching, you’re free to pick up more nuances the second time around.

One of the best things about the movie is that you don’t have to wait at all for the sequel. It’s already out, and it’s called Stars Wars: A New Hope (now, anyway). All joking aside, the movie slots right into the start of the next movie. Some of my friends are reporting that watching Rogue One and then re-watching Star Wars actually amplifies their enjoyment of the original movie. Somewhat unprecedented, in my opinion.

The bottom line is that the film is well worth seeing. It’s not a perfect film, but its flaws won’t detract from the enjoyment for most people. In many ways, I liked it better than The Force Awakens because the reboot was less original in many ways.

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