The Jim Baen Memorial Award Collection is Here!

If any of you know me, you know I don’t read as much science fiction as I do fantasy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love a good space or cyberpunk jaunt. I’m also interested in writing more science fiction of my own, and what better way to do that than with a contest motivator?

Enter The Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade. It is a collection of winning short stories from the Jim Baen Memorial Award contest that William Ledbetter and Baen Books host every year, in honor of positive science fiction and the late and great Jim Baen.

I’ll be enjoying, then studying, these stories over the next few weeks, so expect at least a few posts about it, including a review of the book overall. I’m impressed with what little I’ve skimmed so far. I regret to say I don’t recognize many of the names off the bat (Again, not really the genre I’ve spent much time reading in recent years), but I do recognize Brad Torgerson. I loved The Chaplain’s War, so I’ve high hopes for his short story “Gemini XVII.”

Blade Runner 2049: Where are the Flame Towers?

Seriously, where’d they go? Throughout this sprawling, 160 minute epic we get shot after shot of the near-future LA skyline, and none of the flame-spitting spires from the original film are anywhere to be seen. I don’t even know what those things were for, but they were everywhere in 2019. What changed? Maybe the locals learned they were just there for atmosphere and decided to quit wasting money on them.

Well, aside from that gross oversight, the movie was great. We seem to be living through a time of sequel fatigue with Hollywood audiences, but this one was a worthy follow-up to the original Blade Runner. LA is still gritty and full of crazies, the Replicants are still trying to find their own place in society, and the movie ends up leaving plenty of unanswered questions while answering the ones that matter to the here-and-now.

Fans of the original should love this film. If you’re looking for a straight-up action sci-fi, this probably isn’t for you. The fight scenes are intense, but are few and far between. The main focus is Officer K (Ryan Gossling) trying to solve a mystery after he “retires” a rogue Replicant at the beginning of the film.

There are a pair of badass heroes, a pair of badass villains, and a whole lot of CG that doesn’t overshadow the rest of the film. It’s all blended in nicely, and has the look and feel of the original film. About the only thing missing from an atmospheric standpoint was the creepy vocal track that would play throughout the first film. I just rewatched the original Blade Runner a couple days ago in preparation for this film, and now I know where Ghost in the Shell gets it from.

Overall, a 4.5/5.0 from me. I had to deduct something due to the whole flame tower thing. It’s iconic, man!

“A Salt on the Rise” is Published

“A Salt on the Rise” has now been published, as part of OnThePremises.com’s 30th Issue. It is the Guest piece, and the tag line the editors came up with for it is a “speculative story about a problem-solving bureaucrat in a particularly complex afterlife.”

I should probably introduce this world a little bit, as it is where most of the stories I’m currently writing take place in, as well as the book I’m going to have finished by the end of the year.

“A Salt on the Rise” takes place on a secondary world similar to our own, but one where magic and fantasy races abound. In this world, one of two things happens to people when they die:

1. Their souls leave their bodies, enter the River Styx, and make the journey straight to the afterlife.
2. Their souls linger, either in their bodies or in some physical object they’re attached to (Rings, swords, etc) and they become part of the undead.

The undead are cursed to wander the earth until they either resolve whatever is keeping them on this side of the veil, or they are exorcised and their suffering souls are utterly vanquished. To keep the undead from becoming a menace on the living and to protect them from the fate of non-existence, the God of Death created a city that sits at the point where the River Styx crosses over to the other side. This is Necrolopolis, a sprawling city of some four million restless souls of various types: ghouls, skeletons, ashlings, mummies, free-floating spirits, even two distinct groups of vampires. All are waiting for their chance to meet with the God of Death to determine what is keeping them here so that they can resolve it and cross over.

But, the wait time is long, and the undead are quite restless. To keep the peace, the God of Death depends on two people: his half-human daughter Grimina, and her full-human assistant Adelvell, a necromancer with a knack for getting caught up in other people’s messes. He may have poor luck (And an even poorer disposition), but this dead-end job in this dead-end town is all Adelvell’s got, and he’s got bills to pay.

This is the first published Necrolopolis story, but it is not the first published Adelvell story. If you enjoyed “A Salt on the Rise” and would like to get a glimpse of our hero prior to his tenure as Grimina’s assistant, check out “Lost in the Mail” in Third Flatiron Publishing’s anthology Astronomical Odds. Also be on the lookout for other announcements. I had several short stories making the submission rounds, and if/when any stick I will let you know the where and when.

The Writer’s Lexicon: A Treasure Trove for the Editing Writer

I received a copy of Kathy Steinemann’s The Writer’s Lexicon last month in order to provide an unbiased review for it. Kathy must’ve broken into my schedule planner, because she offered it up right at the time I needed it most. I had four short story deadlines to try and meet by the end of September, and that meant a lot of editing.

For anyone looking for a cheat sheet when editing or for those who want to improve their overall writing during any phase of work, The Writer’s Lexicon is an asset worth having. The book is broken up into a few sections: overused words and phrases (Let’s nod, smile, and laugh our way through life), overused punctuation (Exclamation points!!!11!!), taboos, and even a section on sensory words and touching on all the senses can really add depth to the writing and better ground the reader.

While editing these four stories, the two areas that helped me most were the sections on overused words and phrases and the use of sensory words. Before I got my hands on this particular book, I’d already had editors who wanted to publish a story of mine point out how often my characters nodded, smiled, shrugged, and laughed. Way too much, but in my defense: one of my favorite trilogies is Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. Go back and flip through that first book and tell me how many times Kelsier does all four of those things in a single conversation, let alone the rest of the crew. He ain’t hurtin’! Then again, I’m not Brandon Sanderson and you aren’t, either, so it probably pays to adhere to at least some rules to better touch up your prose. I also haven’t read much of his more recent stuff just because I’ve been too busy, so it’s possible he’s changed his style since Mistborn came out many years ago.

With that said, this book isn’t just a collection of proverbs like “Hey, try to keep your characters from shrugging so much” or “You know, it’s probably a good idea to have your character smell something wafting through the air every once in awhile.” That’s in there, but the coolest part of The Writer’s Lexicon is the substitutes for some of those overused words and lists of the many ways one can touch the senses.

For example, have a character who clears his throat way too much? Is it as annoying to read as it is to hear over and over again in real life? There’s a way around it, but we need to figure out his motivation first. Does he do it because he’s agitated or anxious? Is it because he’s embarrassed or afraid? Maybe he feels a level of guilt over something? Depending on what his motivation is, there are other physical tells you can use to show that off aside from just clearing the throat or coughing out of turn, such as nail biting when agitated or grinding teeth when anxious, shuffling feet when embarrassed, or staring at the floor when guilty.

No matter what the word, phrase, or taboo is, Kathy has several substitutes for them, each dependent on the emotion or state of mind trying to be conveyed. It’s helped me quite a bit, and I plan to go back to this book every time I sit down to edit.

Overall, The Writer’s Lexicon is a 5.0/5.0 for me. For a reference book, it’s top-notch. My only wish is that I had a paperback version of it, as well. Guess I know what’s on my Christmas list this year.

My HP Meter is Low! To the Inn!

Well, I knew I’d been pushing myself too hard lately, but I wasn’t quite sure how hard until the previous Monday (10/02) when I became sick as a dog. The weather’s gone from hot to cold to wet to dry to hot to cold very rapidly over the last week or so of September, and that usually affects my sinuses negatively. Drainage, sneezing, the like. Occasionally I can end up with an actual sinus infection with fever and chills and all that fun stuff, and that’s what happened that Monday night. Started to feel lousy in the evening, then worse by bed, then Tuesday I felt awful, and continued to all through the weekend.

I haven’t been sick in a couple of years, so I did the sensible thing and took it easy. Now, everyone recovers a bit differently. Some need lots of sleep, others need lots of bed rest, still others like to languish on the couch. And others just med up and keep going. That last option is usually me, unless I get really under the weather like I was this time. So, how do I recover? I get on the couch, and play video games.

Yep, you read that right. I can’t sleep during the day, and lazing about just reminds me of how miserable I feel, and that seems counterproductive. If I’m mentally miserable, that just adds to the strain the body is facing, or that’s how I look at it. So, I occupy my mind by picking a game off the shelf and getting to it. By taking my mind off the problem, I think I recover more quickly. At the very least, it’s a guilt-free time to play games and it serves as one heck of a morale boost to a sick person.

I may not have gotten much work or writing accomplished last week, but I did go a long way in saving the known universe in Rogue Galaxy for the PS2. I hear it’s out or coming out on the PS4. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good RPG with cool characters, great music, and tall ships in space. I haven’t seen any actual ship-to-ship battles like in Skies of Arcadia and I don’t expect to see that, but even without that it’s still a fun jaunt. I highly recommend it!

“Back to the adventure?”
“Let’s go!”

Everything’s Gone to Sha’Daa!

A short story I wrote is going to be published in the Sha’Daa: Toys anthology by Moondream Press this December! It is titled “Bag of Tricks” and it is about a magician who has to stop the apocalypse in his little patch of Pennsylvania Dutch country with little more than a toy fireman’s cap, a robot claw, a miniature dump truck, and a package of barbecue ribs. We can only hope he’s caught up on his MacGyver seasons.

What is the Sha’Daa, you may ask? It’s quite literally the end of the world, a 48-hour period where thousands of portals to the hellish realms open up and threaten the very existence of mankind. Only one individual stands in the breach, ready to defend life on Earth as we know it: Johnny the Salesman, an enigmatic figure who always seems to show up at the right time with the right item, available at just the right price. Better pay up, because you’re going to need whatever he’s offering if you want even a chance at beating back the hordes of hell ready to bust up your neighborhood.

Sha’Daa: Toys is to be the sixth and final short story anthology set in the Sha’Daa universe. The others are all available on Amazon either as a Kindle Unlimited item or as a paperback book, each filled with stories ranging from the serious to the campy. All are fun reads. I burned through them after I heard about the Sha’Daa series from editor Mike Hanson down at LibertyCon in Chattanooga, and I can’t wait to read all the stories in the Toys anthology.

List of the Sha’Daa Anthologies:

  1. Sha’Daa: Tales of the Apocalypse

  2. Sha’Daa: Last Call

  3. Sha’Daa: Pawns

  4. ShaDaa: Facets

  5. Sha’Daa: Inked

Look for Sha’Daa: Toys mid-December! I will post a link as soon as I have one.

A Whirlwind of Stories – 09/30/17

Man, yesterday was a crazy day. I had to finish my touch-up edits on two new short stories, and then go back over a couple of older tales. All four had to be sent off by the end of September 30th, and with company over both in the morning and in the afternoon, that made for a tight schedule. My fault for letting the month slip away from me (My earlier post about PUBG is pretty damning, I know), but I think it all worked out in the end.

The first tale is “Necromotion” and in it a necromancer boards a root train in order to bring an undead client out of hostile elven lands. What is a root train, you ask? Well, it could be a glorified turnip truck, or it could be something completely different. I submitted that to the Fantastic Trains anthology, so if it makes it there you will find out! Well, regardless of where it lands, it will eventually be published. Either out there, or here. This story is part of a larger group of tales, some of which have already found publication. It is part humor, part mystery, part action, and all snark from the first person protagonist.

The second is “Divine Rescue” and it is set in the Ruma: Dawn of an Empire pen-and-paper game universe. Ruma is an alternate, fantasy version of Roman times where the Greek and Roman gods walk the earth and magic reigns supreme across the land. In my tale, a group of heroes enter a blasted wasteland in order to rescue someone left behind at the fall of Mount Olympus. This is a straight-up action tale, as heroism is the name of the game in this world.

The third is “The Sky has Fallen!” and it is a Cthulhu Mythos take on the old Chicken Licken/Little story featuring Foxy Loxy as the unfortunate protagonist. I wrote it years back and have recently gone through it again now that I have a slightly better idea on story structure and pacing, so I hope it has new legs and wings. Kathy Steinemann’s The Writer’s Lexicon really helped out with this one, and the other one.

The final one I will not name, as the place I’ve submitted it to prefers to keep things anonymous so as to facilitate blind judging. I will say it is a resubmission to the same place. The first was bounced back – I think – because of formatting errors due to my switching between OpenOffice and Microsoft Office. The original file got screwed up somehow and I had to end up dumping the story into a plain text file, then copy it back over into Microsoft Office and go back through to format paragraphs and other things in order to get it all right again. I also altered the beginning a bit in order to get into the action a little quicker, so I hope it will do well. Once again, the Writer’s Lexicon helped immensely with this tale. I will be writing a review of that pretty soon.

 

The first tale is a Necrolopolis short story titled “Necromotion” and in it

The more I work at this whole self-employed thing, the more I realize you need to be a master of your schedule. Without discipline, things can fall apart quickly. At the least, they can get tossed by the wayside and then you scramble to catch up.

PUBG, or Running Simulator 2017

I’d been keeping an eye on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (Or PUB or PUBG or whatever you want to call it) ever since I first heard about it, but I didn’t have enough friends who owned it yet to make it worthwhile. I’d missed a sale on it back before it exploded in popularity, and was foolishly waiting for another to come by when my pastor went and got it for me as an early birthday gift. Yes, you heard that right: my conservative, Bible-believing pastor plays this game, and he wanted a partner with the same spiritual sensibilities and a steady hand on the mouse. That’s where I came in.

To summarize, PUBG is a game that pits 100 players against each other on an island roughly 18 square kilometers in size. Everyone drops in via plane somewhere on the island, and as time goes by the playable area shrinks until you have only yards to work with (Yes, I know I’m mixing metric and Imperial. Work with me here!) and seconds left to live. The game doesn’t end until there’s only one man standing, or one pair or one squad. There are three different game modes right now: solo, duo, and four-man squads.

At first, this game was terrifying. I’d parachute into the most remote place possible, spend the whole match trying to collect enough weapons and gear to give me a fighting chance, and then I’d do everything I could to avoid the enemy. Sneaking through the hills and woods, steering clear of any buildings that looked ransacked or occupied, and just generally trying to crawl my way to victory. Or death. Usually death. See, the problem with this strategy in the beginning is that you neglect picking up any fighting skills. Often I’d make it into the top 10 or 20 only to get gunned down by someone who’s a better fighter. The evasion strategy is great, but you really should spend a few hours jumping into hot zones and getting into firefights just to improve your reactions and aiming. Once I started doing that, my skills went up quite a bit. Now I – or we, if I’m with my pastor or brother – routinely make it into the top ten, even if we sometimes just can’t quite clench it.

Overall, this game is a blast. I can see why there are nearly 15 million players, although it’s jump to the top so quickly has been insane. If you like ARMA’s wide maps and emphasis on tactics combined with the possibility for running-and-gunning in certain circumstances, give PUB a try. To me, it’s more fun with a buddy or group of buddies, but solo mode is also great. If I’d known I’d have had this much fun, I’d have bought it back when it came out.

Just, expect to run or drive a lot in this game, unless you’re jumping into the aforementioned firestorms. The map is huge, and once the circle starts to shrink you’ll be on the move a lot, unless you happen to be where the circle decides to shrink to. Sometimes I’ve been fortunate. Other times I’ve been on one end of the map and the circle drops on the complete opposite end.

Are those antennae or grass blades coming out of your head there?

Story Acceptance: On the Premises Guest Position

Last month I submitted a short story to OnThePremises.com’s 30th themed contest. The particular theme had to revolve around the word or concept of “Community.” I spent some time trying to see if there was a way I could twist the word around in some unique way, but then I decided on a more traditional plot, if in an outlandish setting: a clash of communities within a city, and how the city responds to it.

That’s where we get “A Salt on the Rise.” It is a fantasy story about a necromancer who has to resolve a dispute between the mummies and the ashlings before they tear apart the city of the restless dead. The story did well, but didn’t quite make it into the final ten submissions that go on to compete for the top three slots. But, editors Tarl Kudrick and Bethany Granger enjoyed it enough to want to feature it as a guest piece, after helping me to clean it up a bit first.

I’ve taken them up on the offer, and look forward to receiving their edits. Their criticism has already been invaluable: back in the spring I wrote a story tied to this same world and characters, and it placed close to the top 20 or 30 of 200 or so entries. It was a lot closer than I’d ever gotten in an entry for On the Premises, so I paid the $15 for constructive feedback. They wrote back with a two page breakdown of what wrong with the story, and also what went right. This allowed me to go back and evaluate that particular story, but it also helped me better nail down this particular setting, the characters, and my narrative voice.

I will post about the editing process with Tarl and Bethany either later this month, or after the story is released close to October 15th.

 

What to Expect

I’m finally settling back into a routine for my writing. So far this year I’ve written a short novelette, a flash fiction piece, three short stories, and I’m almost through the outlining process for the first book of the year. The book I’m behind schedule on, but such is life.

LibertyCon came and went quicker than I thought it would. That was a lot of fun, and the family members that were with me enjoyed themselves, too. That was great in and of itself. A convention for professionals, but also for fans and friends. Lot of great panels and workshops, as well as a lot of cool authors to learn from and chat with. I’ll go into more detail about all that in a separate post next week. I didn’t want to wait this long to write about LibertyCon, but we had family up until just last week and this week has been crazy with catch-up work.

My days are mostly taken up with writing and the day job in equal measure, so that leaves little time for reading. Good thing I’ve got a Kindle Unlimited account, and many books have Audible narrations available with the Unlimited subscription! I’ve “read” more books this way in the last six months than I have in the last three years, and it’s been great. I get through at least one a week, sometimes two. Expect at least one review a week, on Fridays for sure. If I do two, the second one may be a day earlier, on Thursday. I’d like to have recommendations up for anyone looking for something to listen to over the weekend.

That is all for now! Back to work.