Monday, October 22, 2018

Mind the Game Apps

Did I mention the dirigible?

My boys, at least the older two, are total gamers.  The youngest one is like me and can take or leave gaming.

I tend to find a game or two for my Kindle and play them endlessly.  For awhile, I was playing “Age of Conquest: Europe” which like Risk without the dice—take that Irkutsk!  I tried CandyCrush for a bit, but the sales pitch to move to the next level was making my teeth ache.  Samurai vs. Zombie Defense was groovy—especially the part where I get to be a samurai defeating zombies! DungeonQuest was a decent hack-and-slash, until the character advancement stopped. Lifeline was impressive, but because of the delay in messaging, it lacked replay value.  Plague, Inc. is pretty decently fun, and I pop back into it every now and then to try to destroy the world with some virus or microphage. Stick War: Legacy kept me going for a year or so, especially the tournament mode.

Recently, REDCON has been my go to. There’s a kind of steampunk/dieselpunk quality to the setting that I really groove on, and they have dirigibles!  The story is fair, and it has a nice twist ending.  I’d like some additional play options, and an actual concluding fight, rather than the still image and text explanation, but for all that, it's satisfying in its own right.  I've replayed it three or four times now.

Also, there are dirigibles!

What’s your favorite game app? Tell me in the comments below!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Snow Crash - A Review

Hiro Protagonist, a name you won't forget.

Neal Stephenson’s SNOW CRASH is one of those seminal books that, if you’ve read any other cyberpunk or watched any of the subsequent movies, hasn’t aged all that well.  If you can put the book into context as one of the first of its kind, then you see all the amazing things that Stephenson is doing.  Without that, it feels like all the main characters are a Mary Su or Marty Stu, even if that wasn’t the case at the time.

Meet Hiro Protagonist—a name crafted so that you won’t forget it—expert hacker, marketing genius, and the world’s greatest swordsman (yeah, I’m not making that up). He’s also a rebel without much of a cause, floating through life, rejecting job offers that would make him quite wealthy because he doesn’t want to “sell out”.  Hiro is reduced to delivering pizza in a world that hasn’t just gone corporate government, but has legitimized crime syndicates, so long as they can deliver on the goods—including pizza.

Now meet Y.T. (not Whitey), a skater-courier, and underage hottie, who doesn’t know when she should be scared, and enjoyed her courier-skateboarding life almost as much for the thrill of nearly dying, as for the money she makes doing it.

Down boys! She's only 16!
When Hiro’s best friend, and fellow hacker, Da5id, looks at a new bitmap “drug” in the virtual world called Snow Crash, he’s immediately put into a comma.  Hiro’s ex, equally brilliant and equally hot hacker, Juanita shows up just in time to start Hiro down an obscure and interesting path that starts all the way back at the beginnings of human history, and trickles down to the stories near-future. Hiro enlists Y.T. to act as an intelligence gathering agent, and the two set off on a cyber adventure with real life consequences.

Overall, science fiction and cyberpunk fans will find much and more offered by Stephenson in SNOW CRASH.  The core plot is one that easily remains interesting and unique, even if the characters now seem to be more fantasy and computer game generated. In a world of Altered Carbon, it’s hard to not laugh at the vast skill set Hiro and Y.T. reveal as they go through their motions. The story is not bad, not at all, and certainly it’s a fun and interesting read.

I also wouldn’t mind seeing a movie made from this, updating the plot, and giving a bit more depth to the world and the characters.

What book, or series, would you like to see made for television? Tell me in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Remember, Remember the Sixth of November

With deepest apologies to our English friends, the rest of the world, Guy Fawkes, etc.:

Remember! Remember!
The Russian treason and plot;
I know of no reason,
Why the Trump campaign treason,
Should ever be forgot!

The Donald and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
All up alive.
"Grab 'em by the p***y," Trump hugely peddled,
"Forget about how the Russians meddled!"

But, by Mueller's investigation, Papadopoulos they did catch,
And Flynn, and Gates, and Manafort to match!
Pinedo! van der Zwaan! Kilimnik! Patten!
The guilty even includes Trump's lawyer, Cohen!

A tariff here, a tariff there to create financial doom!
Another day, another scandal, "Believe me, it's not a mushroom!"
A pint of beer to wash it down,
Holler, girls! Holler boys! Make those ballots sing!
Holler louder, vote November, bring down Trump the "King"!

What are your reasons for voting—or not voting—this November? Tell me in the comments below!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Covers and Cover Artists

Where the HELL is she looking?

A long time ago, perhaps as long as two years, I was working with a cover artist for a new version of Tears of Heaven.  Working with is a bit of a stretch. I communicated through someone else to the artist.

The less said about that, the better.

One of the problems with this was that the artist kept insisting on putting religious icons and tattoos on Del.  A cross necklace, for example, didn’t make sense.  Del doesn’t have to believe in a higher power—she interacts with them all the time. That higher power didn't discriminate with a single set of religious beliefs.  

The tattoos were a little different. I don’t mind tattoos myself, I have two, but the artist kept putting one of a demon on Del’s arm.

A demon!?

Why a demon?  Why would a demon hunter put a demon on her arm? Especially when the demons all looked beautiful (at least to start).

Was she trying to remind herself of how silly mortals are about their fears?
Yep.  I still hate it.

Since I was working through someone else, we never got to have that conversation. I'm sure I came off as a prima dona about the cover art.  The less said about the bullet bandolier, also the better. 

I’d keep telling him (through the intermediary) to take the tattoo off. One version it would be gone, and the next it was back.  There were other issues—as you can see on both the draft version and the final.  The whole process was something of a horrible fight.

In the end, I realized that it was never going to get any better.  I never liked the final version of the cover.  I do not blame the artist.

I mention all this because working on the new cover has been a dream. There’s no comparing the process between the two. I’m looking forward to the final product and I'm excited to share it with everyone!

Maybe I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

What would you like to see on a Del cover?  Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

We Have Liftoff!

Take a look at what I've done!

News!  News!  News!

This announcement has been brewing over the last couple of weeks.  I’m thrilled, just tickled pink and stick-a-fork-in-me-I’m-done, over-the-moon excited to announce that the Flames of Perdition (Del) series has a new home!

Clayborn Press (thank you JJ!) has picked up the books, and everything is in the works to release them as quickly as possible.  The hope is that a newly-branded version of Tears of Heaven will release in a couple of months, with Hell Becomes Her to follow quickly.

The only question will be if I can get Sins of the Throne: A Jane Ivey Adventure completed before I start feeling the pressure to release Del’s third (and final) book Company of the Damned.

What a wonderful problem to have!

In related news, I’m working with a couple of new cover artists, so the look and feel of the books will be more closely aligned with themes of the books.  The process to publication has been a . . . let’s call it “interesting” learning curve.  There have been some really high highs (SoCal baby!) and some really low lows.

I may not be any smarter, but I’m certainly wiser than I was when I started this whole journey way, way, way back in 2013.

Thank you all for your continued support, and keep looking for more updates as plans become solid!

Who was your favorite character in the series? Tell me in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Don't Touch That Dial!

Stay-tuned for an exciting announcement, arriving here tomorrow!

At LEAST this exciting.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Lookie, Lookie: A New Review for Tears of Heaven

They're right, you know!

Hey, I received a new review! Thank you to Jake Pelley of Dystopian Shuffle!  

I especially like the last line of his opening [emphasis added]:

This book covers two eras of human history from the modern times to the roman. Both are important to the main story.  Most of this book takes place in modern day Salt Lake City, Utah. When in modern time R.A. McCandless does a great job of making it feel like the times we live in. Then when it is in Roman times it feels accurate to the era. In the book Game of Thrones it goes over a lot of characters stories. After a while there are characters you love to read and others you power through to get back to your favorites. During the beginning in Tears of Heavens I enjoyed the Roman times over the main adventure in the modern time. Every jump back to the past was enjoyable and fun, but over time that changes. I have to hand it to the author on that transition it was well done.

If you’d like a free copy of Tears of Heaven to review on your website, blog, or family newsletter, leave a note in the comments below and we’ll make it happen!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Not Just Any Library: My Library

Is it secret?  Is it safe!?

Years ago, I read an Anthony Monday book by John Bellairs—I think it was The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn (excellent book, by the way). Bellairs had a line about Monday’s uncle who had an honest to goodness library, not just a room where someone put up a bookshelf.

That line may have cursed me.

When I learned that people could have their own library, I wanted one.

In our current house, we have a room designated as “the library”.  It is not an Anthony Monday-level library, but I have plans. 

I'm slowly taking my library back.

For years, it housed the majority of our boys’ Legos and Beyblades and other whatnots that I could step and curse in eighteen languages.

Needs more books.
This was always a stop-gap while the boys got older. It has some mediocre IKEA book shelves that mostly have books on them. We mostly kept their toys on the shelves that they could reach and some (a very few) of my books on the shelves that they couldn't reach. A few months ago, I had them go through all their toys and donate those they didn't play with. They were impressively brutal about it, and we ended up with three full trash boxes of toys and a trashbag of stuffed animals.

I recovered 1/3 of my shelving space, and quickly claimed them with books.

In the years to come, I will install two bookshelves that double as hidden doors—one to the bedroom and one to the bathroom. A faux river stone fireplace complete with outlets for a moderately sized flatscreen will appear. A magically hidden sound system—speakers built to look like books on the shelves—will be installed.  The remainder of my books will come out of storage and finally, finally, I’ll invest in overstuffed leather armchairs and ottomans.


How will you take over the world? Or maybe just how would you build your dream library?  Answer in the comments!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

My First Car

Girl not included.

My parents bought my first car.  For about $100. 

A 1964 IH Scout.

The engine was ran, but not well and the electrical was a joke.  The body was mediocre.  It had been in a small accident and someone had beat out the fender with a ball peen hammer.  They'd also spray-painted it gold, but not a good gold (if there is such a thing).  It was a rusty-brown gold.  The kind of gold that let you know someone without Banksy’s talent had attempted to complete the job.

When the engine finally gave up, it took me months to learn how to tear down and rebuild.  My dad knew pretty much everything, could have completed the job on a weekend, and still had time to drink beer and BBQ burgers.

I managed well enough, but I needed help getting the timing right.  A friend of my dad’s who was a pinball wizard at timing took about fifteen minutes.

The transmission, manual of course, was interesting.  Going around a corner, it would always pop out of 2nd.  I had to hold in the stick (that's what she said).  Sometime after I finished the engine rebuild, the transmission went out.

In winter, of course.

I tried to service it myself (that’s what she said).  I pulled a used engine from a pick-your-part lot (aka junk yard) with no luck.  I now had two transmissions that were shot.  I’m pretty certain I took out and put the transmission back in five or six times.  Finally, I had to take it to a "specialist" who initially was going to replace it with a Chevy 4-speed, but then for some reason didn't.  The entire thing worked reasonably well enough to get me from Salt Lake City to Portales, New Mexico for my first two years of college.

It's also the vehicle where I met my wife for the first time.

Tell me about your first car in the comments below.  It might make it into my next book!

Friday, September 21, 2018

The illegitimate, unworthy Kavanaugh: Edwin Lyngar

That's what I do—I drink, and I know things.

Edwin Lyngar, long time friend, writer, editor and pontificator of all that is good and rational, has a new article up.  This one is near and dear to my heart.  Here’s a short excerpt:

The current Supreme Court nomination fight has morphed into a combination of Judge Judy and Jersey Shore. We should have seen it coming, because everything touched by Donald Trump turns into a trashy reality show, and, like all Trump’s greatest hits, women always suffer the most.

The context for this fight is Americas firm rejection of radical conservative ideology — it’s grossly unpopular. Almost 80 percent of Americans support campaign finance reform that was torpedoed by the out-of-touch Supreme Court. Americans are sick of the war on drugs, wholesale ownership of the political process by the rich, mass incarceration and the attack on women — all things that a Justice Brett Kavanaugh would make much worse. Even a majority of Republicans support Roe v. Wade. Republicans won’t like it when their daughters can’t get health care, although the corrupt political class will still be able to shuttle their mistresses to blue states for abortions as needed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

When Free Pictures Aren't

Biel you can be!


Serves me right.  I thought I had a royalty free image of a model in the perfect pose for my new cover art.  Alas, turns out it was not only royalty free, it was Jessica Biel.

Clearly, I have no idea what movie this is.  Chances are, I saw it and haven’t realized.

Fortunately, the cover can be saved—and this time I’m paying for the image so as to not run afoul of any likeness rights confusion.  Saved all the receipts and everything!

The upshot of all this is you’ll see a new cover for TEARS OF HEAVEN in the very new future.  There will also be a re-release of the book shortly thereafter.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Best of All Cities

For which it stands.

A friend posted up the cover of Plato’s The Republic as being on his top list.  If you haven’t read it, it’s probably not what you think.  It’s considered a classical treatise on government, but really it’s something of a thought-experiment and science fiction type of world building.

No, really.

Plato uses Socrates, as he often does, as the mouthpiece for most of his thoughts.  This book, however, is completely Plato’s as a work. Within the work, Plato takes on various other city-states and propose a completely different manner of society and political organization: Kallipolis—"beautiful city.”  Kallipolis is a place wholly controlled by a society whose rules and norms have been laid down from the start and presided over by the ultimate product of the city: a philosopher king.

There are many problems with Plato’s Kallipolis, starting with the norms the city should engage in, which tend to ignore human nature and human drives completely.  As a hypothetical thought experiment, though, it’s fascinating.  Enough that Jo Walton wrote her Thessaly series based on the notion of philosophers and orphans, taken out of time, building a Kallipolis called the Just City—which is also the name of the first book in the series.

I first picked up The Republic, along with Machiavelli’s The Prince, when I was working on a steampunk story that centered on an imposter being pushed into a position of power—a cross between The Man in the Iron Mask and the Kevin Kline movie Dave.  I was shocked, SHOCKED, when I found out that Plato/Socrates had stolen my idea about raising orphans to become a standing army/police force called Guardians

Like gold in the refiner's fire!
Stolen centuries before I’d come up with the notion on my own.

Buncha jerks, those Greek philosophers!

Of course, Plato takes the entire concept a bit further, having through well beyond the notion of orphans, to actually generating children who would serve no other purpose than to train to be Guardians and produce more children for that sole purpose.  In addition, Plato hit on some interesting notions:

All reproduction is regulated by the City so that the best Guardians produce children who, in theory, become the best Guardians.
Boys and girl Guardians receive the same education so that they can best serve the City and produce the best Guardians.

For a number of reasons, of which the previously mentioned Jo Walton goes into some detail, this isn’t really practical.  The notion does, however, remain fascinating to me, and something that I may end up exploring in greater detail in the future.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Tag, You're It!

What is this game and where can I play it!?

Dialogue and dialogue tags can be tricky because the rules generally aren’t taught as part of grammar.  There is also a fun trick that can get you away from the annoying "she said" and "she said" and "she said" redundancy that you might find yourself sucked down into when working on your dialogue scenes.


Here’s a quick example of the most common kinds of dialogue and dialogue tags.

“Here’s a line being spoken by a character,” she said.

“And this,” he replied, “is dialogue broken up with a dialogue tag.”

“This dialogue is a complete sentence,” she told him. “This is a new line of dialogue which doesn’t need a tag.”

“This dialogue will be followed by an action, rather than a tag.” He grinned.

“That’s right.” She winked back at him. “You don’t need a dialogue tag because you can’t speak by grinning.”

The fourth and fifth lines are perhaps my favorite form of designating a speaking character without using a dialogue tag.  It works by having the character perform an action right after their dialogue.  This gets the writer away from the “he said” and “she responded” dialogue tags but still allow the reader to immediately identify the speaking character with the line.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

So You're Gonna Beta Read!

It's not you, it's your story!

Beta readers are an essential function for any author. But you only get what you put in, which means you’re probably going to be asked to read yourself.  Beta reading is actually an excellent opportunity to work those reading/writing muscles and provide some excellent feedback, while also gaining something from the experience.

Here are some essential tips to bringing you A-game to the Beta Reading Tournament and become a champion:

1 – Listen to the writer’s request.

This one can’t be stressed or said enough.  Some authors want the full package: grammar, spelling, character development, dialogue, plotting, etc.  Others would rather you focus on just a few items from their list. Be very clear with the author about what is expected. If you haven’t been asked for spelling correction, don’t provide it.  If the author hasn't told you what's expected, ask. Make certain to understand fully what you're reading for, and when the author wants it returned.

2 – It’s not your book.

I hate to be negative on lists, but there’s no polite way to say it—do not provide rewrites.  This isn’t your book, this isn’t your plot, these aren’t your characters.  You wouldn’t expect to whip out your brushes and paints and start “correcting” another artist’s still life of rotten fruits. As writers, we're often tempted to show (rather than tell) how we'd do it (and do it better).  Don't.  Just don't.  Don’t rework the author's work unless unless you’ve been asked for examples.

3 – Be realistic.

Did you seriously just ask if you could:
"wind my mainspring?"
You’re busy, and you have a life. Well, you're a writer, and you have work to do, research to complete, and your family may want an appearance at the dinner table every third evening. If you can’t realistically complete the task when asked, and if you can’t put out your best effort let the author know before you agree.  If something bad happens and you aren't going to meat the deadline, or you're going to be a few days overdue, tell the author. It doesn’t help if you mismanage expectations, and it certainly doesn’t do anything for your reputation.

4 – Read what you like and what you know.

The author has asked you for your opinions, and the best opinions you can provide come from your genre, or those genres that you enjoy. Reading outside of a realm where you’re comfortable and familiar is not a good way to provide beta-level feedback to an author.  If you're a steampunk author, getting lost in a romance novel's expected tropes and trappings won't do anyone any good.  Helping another steampunk author figure out that mainsprings and airships are the way to go will!

5 – Be gentle, be kind, be conversational, be honest.

The beta-read is no time to dust off your sarcasm and irony and show how cleverly you can tear down a manuscript. There are no awards for Most Cutting Remarks in a Mixed Genre. This doesn’t mean you pull punches—wrong is wrong and boring is boring. If you found a passage or a scene frustrating or hard to get through, say that and explain it.  Some of the best feedback is framed in the form of a question, rather than advice—“Did you mean in Chapter 2 for the reader to believe that the butler did it?” This may even help to show a major flaw in the overall writing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Don't Break the Glass

Sarah is wondering why you stopped reading?

Etymology can be both fun and frustrating.  Fictional writers get to do pretty much whatever they want—provided they don’t break the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief.

That’s the trick.

Recently, I reviewed a draft blurb for another author who used a line similar to this:

When Sarah and George touch, they can cause great destruction, ruin buildings, or build them back up.

Nothing inherently wrong with that.  It reads like a young adult, superhero genre story in a contemporary setting.

Except it’s not.

George knows why you stopped, and doesn't care.
The author explained the setting—outside of the blurb—as a story set 90,000 years ago.  Understand, she’d done her due-diligence—Sarah is Biblical and means “princess” while George comes from the Greek Georgos and means farmer.

The problem with this is Sarah and George are common, contemporary names, and with no other clues as to the setting, they don’t speak to an ancient fantasy-type story.  As the writer who has done all the research on names and dates and so forth, this is all justified.  The problem comes when a reader picks up the book expecting a coming-of-age story (with superpowers!) and gets a fantasy-themed tale about a princess and a farmer.

Despite advances in technology, writers still can’t address every reader’s concerns as they read through the story.

So while the reader must supply a willing suspension of disbelief, the writer must take every measure to not break that trust—even if it means changing the heavily researched names of the characters.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Yog's Law and Corollary

Yog's Stash of Cash

If your “publisher” is asking you for money, something has gone horribly wrong, and hopefully you've had your contract vetted by an attorney before you signed it. Even if it’s $20 to cover some kind of submission or something, you should run, far and fast. 

When applied to a traditional publisher, Yog's Law is in effect—Money flows TOWARD the writer.  The writer is only responsible for the writing. The publisher is responsible for everything else.

When applied to a self-publishing, or any of the shades in between, then it gets a bit trickier.

Traditional Publishing
With the old school, the author of the work should never expect to pay a dime to have the book published. Once the manuscript has been picked up, a contract signed, and the wheels set in motion, the author’s work is essentially done.  Why not?  Well, the publisher takes on a lot on the gamble that everyone will make money. So, being an “old hand” (hopefully) at this, they are willing to take on the editing, the cover art, the marketing, etc. for the publisher, and in trade for all this, they take a percentage of the profit. All of this is removed from the hands of the artist, and “experts” take over so that the book can make money.

That's the payoff/trade-off for a publisher taking on a writer and their work.

This also means that the writer may not have as much say in things like cover art, taglines, marketing strategy, etc. The only caveat to all this is that any good author will either start their own marketing campaign or be ready to participate in the marketing to help sales.

No reason. I just really like gender-swap
Poe Dameron!
This all shifts when we change publishing tactics.

If you're doing it yourself, then Yog's law becomes somewhat moot, because the writer has now become the publisher.  In this capacity, the writer must take on all those other roles, or hire them as a publisher would. Cover art is either self-made, on your time and with your dime, or it’s contracted to an artist. Editing is either spell-check and a good eye, or it’s farmed out to a professional editor.

Since writers are not always the best copy-editors, cover-artists, etc., it is more often advisable for the writer to hire those aspects out.

To put it a bit more simply

Yog’s Law: Money flows TOWRD the writer.

Corollary to Yog’s Law: For self-publishing, money is CONTROLLED by the writer.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

E Pluribus Unum

Real News doesn't care for you either.

The descent into madness continues.  I’ve never been a big “Freedom of Press” kind of guy. I mean, why fight for something you already have? But since I’ve started defending the press against the attacks of the President—you know, the guy who swears to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”—and especially since he labelled them the “Enemy of the People” its been a bit worrisome.

Let’s be clear.  No one used that phrase before Trump tweeted it, and it followed a meeting with New York Times president A.G. Sulzberger who felt he had to draft an entire statement to better frame his confusion and the conversation with President Trump:

I told him that although the phrase “fake news” is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists “the enemy of the people.” I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.

I repeatedly stressed that this is particularly true abroad, where the president’s rhetoric is being used by some regimes to justify sweeping crackdowns on journalists. I warned that it was putting lives at risk, that it was undermining the democratic ideals of our nation, and that it was eroding one of our country’s greatest exports: a commitment to free speech and a free press.

A.G. Sulzberger, July 29, 2018

There certainly is an "Enemy of the People" here.
Seeing the hatred Trump has engendered and his incitements to violence is too much. A lot of what Trump has done can be undone. There is hope in that thought. Reviving the diplomatic corps, reversing decisions that will impact the environment, renewing our relationships with our long-standing allies, and rebuilding the bridged Trump has burned will take time but all are manageable.

The fear and hatred of the press will take generations to untangle.

Worse, it allows anyone with an opinion fueled by fear, hatred, racism, and xenophobia to justify their actions. Trump is practically inviting violence. I don’t like to give into hyperbole, but I’m concerned we'll see journalists killed for no better reason than their profession.

Even Fox News’ Shep Smith couldn’t sit by and allow the administration’s attacks on journalism in general to go un-remarked:

Trump isn’t the first Republican, or even the first US president to attack the media—that’s a dance that is older than the country. His demonizing of any journalist who disagrees with him has driven the knife into the back of public discourse over and over again. His supporters have so willingly drunk and bathed in Trump’s language of hate, their belief of a dishonest press, that they can now handwave away any disparaging remarks, no matter how well founded, researched, and supported by evidence.
He didn't even sing it.

This last is the most troubling of all.  When facts, which have no political party, are thrown out because they conflict with the “truth of Trump” and journalists have to legitimately fear for themselves and their families, we’ve gone beyond mere “problem” into a full crisis.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: A house divided against itself, cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half evidence-based truth and half Trumpian lies. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.