Friday, December 14, 2018

Important Dates for Hell Becomes Her

It's been a long road / Getting from there to here.

Let’s talk dates!  Tears of Heaven is now out, available in both ebook and paperback forms, so that’s done!  Woohoo!  It feels so good to have all of that taken care of.

Now, for Hell Becomes Her we’re on a roll.

Dates Announcements—Today! (that was clever)
Cover Reveal—Let’s say Tuesday, December 18th, does that work for everyone?
Book Release—Friday, January 18th

If anyone wants their book autographed, just leave me a message in the comments below.  You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Misadventures in Publishing Part 3—Final Red Flags

Actual cover submitted for my approval.

“Okay, first, as per the contract, I have already approved Charles’s final concept . . .”—Maya the Publisher

I’ve really struggled with writing this blog entry.  The first and second ones were almost cathartic.  All the drama that surrounded the cover is painful to remember.  The cover art was one thing, but it wasn’t the only thing.  As I’ve discussed in my previous two posts, there were a number of red flags.  All of this wasn’t chronological—a single line of A to B to C. Rather, it came down like an avalanche of runaway evil on the slopes of increasing frustration.

This is especially difficult in the wake of the release of Tears of Heaven with a publisher I can trust to work with me and for me, rather than directly against me. It’s hard to go back and revisit the interactions that turned a once hopeful relationship decidedly sour.

That said, the cover was where the relationship with Maya took one it’s last, fateful turns down a dark alley in a dark Eastern European city and ran smack into a gang of thugs cleverly discussing their differences over firearms and meth-fueled rage.

The cover art was not good. The details don’t matter anymore. What’s important on this particular topic is that I hadn’t taken a good, hard look at Maya’s other covers before signing with her.  That was a red flag that I missed entirely.

Do your homework.

"Pretty, but boring." is what Maya called these covers.
Traditionally published authors generally have little to no say in cover art.  That may seem unfair, but in reality writers know writing. They may or may not know much about cover art composition, layout, and . . . other . . . art words. Even if they do, it remains the publishers job to handle the marketing, and cover art is the epitome of marketing.

Again, do your homework.

Bad art is bad.

So here’s your take away:

Research, research, research: If a publisher isn’t putting out decent cover art for other writers, that’s a bad sign. Walk away. Covers don’t have to be awesome and award-winning, but they should at least be within the range of expectations for readers. Even boring is ok, so long as the artwork isn’t bad. At the very least, the cover should not be an obstacle that keeps a reader from opening the book.

The cover art was not the final issue for Maya and me.  It is, however, the place that I’m going to stop. Maya used a bad contract to abuse her relationship with me, and the end result was nearly two lost years of publishing, and a wholly evil experience.  The best, the absolute only good that came from this is that I learned, painfully, how to look for a decent publisher, and avoid the pitfalls of my earlier mistakes.

Just to reiterate the five key take-aways:

1 - A too-quick response is not a good sign.
2 - Have an attorney read over your contract
3 - Small issues of the story shouldn’t be big problems to a publisher.
4 - Communication, communication, communication.
5 - Artwork is important.

It’s OK to walk away. It’s ok to run.  If you see issues like these, nod, smile, and back-away from the deal as quickly as you can.  If you're already in, consult your contract and your attorney and figure out a way to end the relationship.

There are other publishers than these, gunslinger, and you deserve better.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Tears of Heaven Rereleases Tomorrow!

Well, she's a half-angel . . . 

Tomorrow is the day!

Tears of Heaven will definitely release.

I was burned repeatedly by my past publisher on release dates—that’s a fun story!  It makes it pretty hard to market to people if they’re waiting and wanting to buy a book, and the book isn’t available.

So I spoke with my publisher this morning, just to be certain:


Yes, I say “groovy” a lot.  Fight me.

Don’t really.  I have carpal tunnel.

All this means that the COVER REVEAL for Hell Becomes Her will be here soon.

Since these things are all about you, what day works best for your schedule?  Tell me in the comments below.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Remembering President George Herbert Walker Bush

He was certainly my president.

President George Herbert Walker Bush had a lot of faults—he was, after all, human.

He also had a lot of strengths.  The following is one of those: Bush’s resignation from the National Rifle Association is short, sweet and to the point.  It’s well worth remembering during these divisive times:

Dear Mr. Washington,

I was outraged when, even in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of N.R.A., defended his attack on federal agents as "jack-booted thugs." To attack Secret Service agents or A.T.F. people or any government law enforcement people as "wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms" wanting to "attack law abiding citizens" is a vicious slander on good people.

Al Whicher, who served on my [ United States Secret Service ] detail when I was Vice President and President, was killed in Oklahoma City. He was no Nazi. He was a kind man, a loving parent, a man dedicated to serving his country -- and serve it well he did.

In 1993, I attended the wake for A.T.F. agent Steve Willis, another dedicated officer who did his duty. I can assure you that this honorable man, killed by weird cultists, was no Nazi.

John Magaw, who used to head the U.S.S.S. and now heads A.T.F., is one of the most principled, decent men I have ever known. He would be the last to condone the kind of illegal behavior your ugly letter charges. The same is true for the F.B.I.'s able Director Louis Freeh. I appointed Mr. Freeh to the Federal Bench. His integrity and honor are beyond question.

Both John Magaw and Judge Freeh were in office when I was President. They both now serve in the current administration. They both have badges. Neither of them would ever give the government's "go ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law abiding citizens." (Your words)

I am a gun owner and an avid hunter. Over the years I have agreed with most of N.R.A.'s objectives, particularly your educational and training efforts, and your fundamental stance in favor of owning guns.

However, your broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country. It indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us.

You have not repudiated Mr. LaPierre's unwarranted attack. Therefore, I resign as a Life Member of N.R.A., said resignation to be effective upon your receipt of this letter. Please remove my name from your membership list.

Sincerely, [ signed ] George Bush

What’s your favorite memory of President George HW Bush? Tell me in the comments below.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Growing Up—But Not Just Yet

Definitely not Satan.

Last night, as the end credits for The Christmas Chronicles rolled, my oldest (11yo) piped up.

“Mom, how long is your period?”

I blinked.

I did not look at my wife.

I did not look at my son.

My wife did not respond.

I didn’t respond.

I knew my son was growing up, and that things of this nature would inevitably happen. I didn’t know they would happen so soon.  On the one hand, I was shocked he was already aware of this. On the other, I was a little shocked that we’d managed to create an environment where he felt comfortable asking this kind of question.

On the that last part, I was both a little impressed and a little concerned. I want my boys to be able to come to me with anything. Facts are always better than guesses and urban legend. Much better to bite the bullet, and just have “the talk” even if that’s a conversation which takes place over the next ten years.

“You could show this to your class,” my son continued.

What? I wondered in my head.

“What?” my wife echoed my thought aloud.

“If you class period is long enough, you could show them this movie.”

My wife and I both died laughing.

What’s your funniest misunderstanding? Tell me in the comments below!

Shumshumschilpiddydah!—Release Date

And then . . . the world!

Thank you SO MUCH for your patience.

We have a release date.

TEARS OF HEAVEN will be available again Friday, December 7th.

Next month, some time in January, we'll release HELL BECOMES HER.  You can look for the cover reveal in the coming weeks.

I can’t wait for these books to be out in the world again!  I’m even more excited to see it on the shelf.

Yes, I have one shelf on a bookcase, that I use to hold my books.  It’s very small, but it’s mine, and it might be my favorite bookshelf in the entire house.

Do you have a favorite bookshelf?  Tell me about it in the comments below!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Heavy Metal Del—How a Cover Is Born

The following video was created by the cover artist as he was working on TEARS OF HEAVEN.  It’s so cool to see this process, and how a good artist can take a model and make the right adjustments to create the cover.

Has your image of a character changed after seeing the cover?  Tell me the character and book title in the comments below!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Wubba Lubba Dub Dub!—Tears of Heaven Cover Reveal

Let’s do this thing!

Here’s the new cover for the re-published version of TEARS OF HEAVEN (December 2018). You should be able to click on it for a larger view.

I'm including a version of just the front cover and then the entire book wrap.

What do you think of the cover!? Tell me in the comments below.

Deadly and determined!

There can be only one . . . but two with a wrap!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Almost There!

But I wanna know, NOW!

Cover reveal for TEARS OF HEAVEN tomorrow.

Release date for the republished version in a few days after that.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Cover Art Coming Soon!

Everyone is excited!


We have cover art for TEARS OF HEAVEN and HELL BECOMES HER!

We’re getting close to having a release date for TEARS OF HEAVEN also, so I’ll be sharing the cover art in the next couple of days.

Tell your friends, family, acquaintances, enemies, and the date you took to the prom!

Who did you take to the prom?  Or who took you?

Friday, November 16, 2018

Misadventures in Publishing Part 2—More Flags, More Red

But I've never been wrong before!

Last time, I talked about the red flags that went up when I was accepted far too quickly (within hours) and didn’t have an attorney vet the contract (dumb, dumb-dumb-dumb!). The next flag went up when Maya asked me to change Del’s name.

It wasn’t much of a change, but it was strange. The reasoning behind it was even stranger. Tears of Heaven had released in 2013, so it had been out for three years prior to WildChild Publishing’s demise. Between GoodReads and Amazon, the book had 70+ positive reviews and a few hundred copies had been sold.

No one had commented on Del’s name.

That doesn’t mean someone didn’t shake their head at it, but I’d received no reports along these lines.  I’d been accused of all manner of other things, but no one had a problem with Del’s name.

Her full name appears a grand total of five times.

I counted.  Twice.
The Rob will abide.

Now, to be fair, I haven’t always been the paragon of Dudeness that you see before you today. When I finally did have the chance to work with an editor, I almost blew it. Out of naivete, inexperience, and a misplaced sense of ego—No! UR FACE is an inappropriate point of view shift—I sometimes went off the rails. Fortunately, my first editor was great, incredibly talented, and ginormously endowed with the patience of a host of saints. By the time WildChild Publishing closed, I had mostly lost my ego when it came to editing. Mostly. According to every editor I’ve been assigned since then, I’m “easy to work with”.

Their words!

Initially, the discussion about Del’s name lasted through about three email exchanges. As with most of my character names, Del's name was specifically chosen. It even had explanatory paragraphs in one of the original drafts. That was boring, didn’t feed plot or character, and so I cut it. 

I used terms like “Afro-Asiatic/Assyrian proto-language.”

Fun, huh?

I thought the matter was dropped. Re-reading the emails today, it all seemed reasonable.

I still love this cover!
So, it was strange about week later, as we were reviewing cover art concepts—which became its own fiasco—Maya accused me of being a “difficult” author. Additional requested edits contained the same frustrated and accusatory rhetoric. This is when the next red flag went up. Understanding that tone and nuance can be lost in email and chat exchanges, I requested a phone call to discuss issues and concerns. Maya balked. If setting up and managing phone discussions wasn’t something I’d done over the past twenty years of my career, I probably would have given up.

Maya offered an endless stream of reasons why she couldn’t speak with me on the phone. She insisted that her schedule was too packed. She refused to name a time when she could spare fifteen minutes. Any times I offered were flatly rejected.

Eventually, we did have a phone conversation, and it seemed to go well. The conversation covered her concerns, my concerns, and what we were both trying to accomplish.  It seemed that the bumpy road had been smoothed.

It wasn't, but we'll pause here with the takeaway for this set of red flags:

1 – There are rocks to die on, and this isn’t one. The issue with Del’s name wasn’t a major one. It shouldn’t have been a big issue for either a publisher or an author. I had reasons, but they weren’t explained in the story. Maya had reasons, but they didn’t make sense given the publishing history of the book. Small issues shouldn’t be the rock on which a working relationship dies. If battle lines are being drawn on little things, then there are bigger, more fundamental concerns at play.

2 – Communication, communication, communication. The ability to discuss, listen, understand, and come to a reasonable conclusion with a co-worker is a must.  If your publisher isn’t willing or able to communicate with you, that’s a big problem. One of the first things my new publisher and I did was have a phone conversation. It was only supposed to be ten or fifteen minutes—it ended up being an hour. My confidence with her is amazingly high because I know that even if we disagree, she’s not afraid to talk to me.

By itself, the name change was a minor nit-pick. Coupled with the other red flags that were already waving the in breeze the picture was becoming clear. Maya’s accusation that I was “difficult” should have been a sign that we weren’t compatible as publisher and author. The inability to get a quick phone call was another. There were some other signs along that way that I’ll mention in my next post. That’s when I should have pulled the plug, given Maya my regrets, and backed out of the contract with as much grace as could be mustered.

Alas, it seemed that the damage to the publisher-author relationship had been done. This was driven home very clearly by the drama that surrounded the cover art which will be the focus of my next post.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Misadventures in Publishing Part 1—Red Flags

I wonder if I should be nervous at all?
No, the point is you don't seem to have read the contract. I don't have to clear business decisions with you, Rob, and what constitutes marketable copy is a business decision.”—Maya the Publisher

Caveat: To be fair, Maya the Publisher (that's not her name but that's the name we'll use) isn't an evil publisher—she's just not a good publisher. She's forgetful, often and overly nitpicky, and when called on a mistake, she was quick to anger.  She cited my contract in almost every disagreement we ever had. A publisher/editor works WITH the author, and in some ways works FOR the author. The goal is to deliver the best product to readers, and hopefully make some money. While fights between authors and publishers is the stuff of legends, usually, it's a much more amicable process.

I was shocked the first time Maya confronted me on what was an altogether very small issue. Her response was far and away beyond what I'd encountered with other publishers and editors since signing my first contract.

Way back in November of 2016, an email went out to all WildChild Publishing’s authors, which included me. WildChild was closing their doors, and we would all be homeless.

I panicked.

I think a lot of us panicked.

WildChild had been our home. WildChild had taken a chance with me, opened the door and let me into the world of publishing. To say that there was a lot of uncertainty is to say that the ocean is wet and space is cold. WildChild’s group forum was filled with authors asking all kinds of questions. Our soon-to-be-former publisher talked with other publishers, and there was a short list of those who said they’d take on our orphaned titles.

I reached out to several, including Maya. I submitted to Maya on December 8, 2016, and received a contract offer the same day. This is where the first red flag of many went right up the pole. 

That should not have happened.

There should have been a request for a sample, or Maya should have said that she’d read my book already, or something.  None of that was the case.

My first cover. I have this framed!
I reached out to my writing mentor and editor. She let me know that several other WildChild authors, including herself, had also received contracts. She’d also been offered an editing position. It felt like everything was going to be OK. We'd move, and there might be a short delay in offering our books, but everything would continue as usual.

It seemed too good to be true.

It was.

We all jumped at the offer without looking too closely at the details.

This is where I made a very common, and very obvious, mistake—I didn’t have an attorney vet the contract. I read through it, and to me it seemed a bit haphazard, but overall standard stuff. I was simply thrilled—and very, very, VERY relieved—that I’d have a home again.

I'd republish TEARS OF HEAVEN and HELL BECOMES HER and release COMPANY OF THE DAMNED.  I figured they'd all come out in 2017.

By the time I learned my mistake, it was already too late. But we’ll get to that later.

There are two main take-aways from this post:

1—A too-quick response is a major red flag. A real publisher will take time to vet your query, and won’t immediately send you a contract. Don’t believe your own hype—even the best authors have been rejected. There are precious few stories of an author being immediately handed a “Rich & Famous” contract.

2—Have an attorney read over your contract. This can't be stressed enough. It’s been said by so many authors on so many blogs and in so many forums that really anyone who doesn’t, deserves what’s coming to them. You don’t deserve it, but once you put your name on that line, everything becomes tricky. Having an attorney look at a contract will cost you, but this is like the money you pay a home inspector to make certain there are no termites in the attic and the foundation isn’t floating on sand, and the pipes aren't all busted.

On January 1, 2017—New Year's Day—in my hope and my joy and my relief, I signed the contract with Maya. I had sealed my doom.  The next eighteen months would be a frustrating, sad, aggravating learning experience.

In my next blog, we’ll talk about how Maya wanted to change Del’s name.

Have you ever made a purchase that you instantly, or slowly, regretted?  Tell me about it in the comments below!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

You Too!?

With or without ewe?

I wasn’t going to discuss my ex-publisher.  Heavy emphasis on “ex”.

It was a brutal, horrible, no-good, very-bad two years of my life as an author, and I really didn’t want to revisit it.

Until . . .

Last week, I found a really interesting-funny-odd edit to the last edition of HELL BECOMES HER.  I was getting the manuscript ready to send to a new editor, and I came across a scene in which Del and Marrin are trying to get into a casino/night club:

“Hundred-dollar cover,” one of the bouncers said.
“Hundred what?” Del stammered. “Is that the going rate for tourists in the middle of nowhere?”
“Everyone pays the same,” the man replied.
“They all paid a hundred dollars to get inside?” Marrin asked and gestured to the small crowd that milled around the front of the casino. “Is U-Two serving drinks filled with gold nuggets from platinum mugs between sets with the Phil Collins and the Stones?”

Now, I’m human.  I make mistakes. That’s what editors are for!

It was entirely possible that I’d typed out “U-Two” in my submissions and it slipped through the various rounds of editing that the book has been through. Sometimes I get typing so fast that I’m not thinking of proper “spellink” or “grammar rulz”.

So, I went back to the previous version of the book that had been edited for the first release.

The error was not there.

SR-71—Where the streets have no names!
I went through the version that my ex-publisher’s (heavy emphasis on EX) assigned editor had completed.

The error was not there.

There was not a single iteration of the manuscript in which I’d made the change, or an editor had provided the change. This means that the change was made by my ex-publisher made changes without my acknowledgement.

This is the same woman who once told me about some marketing text: “I don't have to tell you I'm replacing it. And likely won’t.”

Yep, she said those exact words to me. I saved the conversation—and several others—for later reference.  So, I’m gonna take you back through some of the history, drama, and lessons learned, from that period of my life as an author.

Have any WTF moments have happened between you and a superior?  Tell me in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Han Solo—The Conspiracy Theory

What?  Me a spy!? C'mon, trust me!

Han is secretly a double-agent and a villain?  I LOVE this theory.  It tracks too.  With special thanks to my friend, Roy Upton, at every point, you can see how a slight twist, and Han is in the shadows:

The Long Game.
In the Solo movie Han willingly joins the Empire’s forces. He wants to be a pilot but ends up as a front line soldier.
Or does he?

It’s noticeable that wherever Han goes the Empire isn’t far behind, scooping up rebels while, somehow, Han escapes.

So let’s entertain the possibility Han was an agent for the Empire. Recruited when he first joined the military, placed on Mimban to run into Beckett, join his crew and infiltrate Vos’ part of the Crimson Dawn syndicate. Innocuously teamed up with Chewbacca.

Through various escapades Han manages to smash Vos’ organisation and kill Beckett. The Rebellion is so insignificant it’s not even a target so with Chewbacca he returns to smuggling.

Years Later Han appears on Tatooine as a marginal smuggler still working for the Empire and infiltrating underworld syndicates. He is contacted by a couple of wannabe rebels with some droids, all on the wanted list. The rebels are more of a threat now so he co-operates willingly. He also kills a contact who may be about to expose him prior to easily smuggling the rebels off planet.

He ensures the Falcon comes out of hyperspace in the Alderaan system close
Alderaan was going to blow up anyway.  It's not my fault!
enough to the Death Star to be captured. There, in a series of actions that, viewed in hindsight, are farcical, he is able to rescue Princess Leia and also, by destroying the Death Star, embed himself so deeply in the rebellion to be above suspicion. He is careful not to kill Darth Vader in the battle around the first Death Star.

Having betrayed the rebels on Hoth, Han escapes with Leia and brings her to Vader on Bespin. There he hands her over and, under the guise of being sent into hibernation, has a long debrief by his handler, Snoke.

Han is again embedded with the rebels after they seem to rescue him from a wealthy but expendable member of the Hutt clan.

The Emperor deals a major blow to the rebellion, destroying much of its forces in an attritional space battle Han helped plan but did not take part in. Conveniently he once again falls into Imperial hands and manages to easily escape.

A second Death Star is destroyed, the Emperor killed but Han’s handler, Snoke, remains. The rebellion has been dealt a heavy blow, its military forces unable to recover from the losses suffered fighting the Empire.

Han, after a suitable period with Leia, goes back to his deep cover as a smuggler, Chewbacca remains at his side. There is a period of instability as the First Order is established but Han remains in touch with Snoke, awaiting further orders.

The Resistance grows and Han is ordered to infiltrate it.

Picking up Finn and Rey in the Falcon as they leave Jakku is no coincidence.

On Takodana, having led the First Order there and, predictably, having been captured and escaped, Han is able to make contact with the elusive General Organa and, through her, find the location of Luke Skywalker.

Han’s mission is now complete and he is killed by Kylo Ren.

Snoke sacrifices his Starkiller base having, earlier, ensured that it destroyed the
only military and economic power that rivaled The First Order for galactic supremacy.

Chewbacca, significantly, only wounds Kylo Ren prior to escaping with Finn and Rey. Together Chewbacca and Rey locate Luke Skywalker and, through various strategies, lure him to his death. Kylo Ren supplants Snoke and takes over the handling of Chewbacca who, through more than 200 years, has been at the heart of the defeats of the Republic, The Rebellion and The Resistance.

What’s your favorite fan-theory?  What theory was proved false but that you wanted to be true?  Tell me in the comments below!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

There Will Be Video!

Eyes, closed by the sun
but sharp as a hawk's!

Not sure if I mentioned this, or not, but the cover artist I’m working with does videos of some of his process.  It was, in fact, one of his videos that sold me on him as an artist.  If I hadn’t seen the video, I would never have known how much he’d changed the original model on the cover, and how seamless he made it look.

We’re getting close to the cover reveal.  I’m waiting on a couple of other authors for book recommendation quotes.  When we get those, we’ll make the final edits, and then we’ll release the cover for everyone to see.

What I like most about these covers is that because I’m working with one artist, they will all have the same look and feel.  I loved my other covers for different reasons.

I’m loving this process and re-release as well.

Who would you cast as a model/actor for Del?  Tell me in the comments below!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Re-Re-Release News!

Also, there will be some steampunk news soon!

Hey, thanks for still following me on this wild and crazy adventure into publishing.  I’m told I’ve been working on being an actual, published author for about five years now.  That’s a bit nuts.  I am very excited to announce some very tentative dates for the re-release of my books:

Cover Reveal for TEARS OF HEAVEN—November
Publisher edits of TEARS OF HEAVEN—November
Re-release of TEARS OF HEAVEN—November/December
Cover Reveal for HELL BECOMES HER—December/January
Publisher edits of HELL BECOMES HER—December/January
Re-release of HELL BECOMES HER—January/February

Depending on how far I’ve written on the tentative stand-alone JANE IVEY story, I’ll either push to release that one OR we’re looking to release the third and final installment of Del’s adventures in COMPANY OF THE DAMNED.

Would you prefer to read the final Del story first, or the in-between Jane book?  Tell me in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Just in Time for Halloween—The Ballad of Black Tom

Nameless terrors, sure, but what a great location!

While it’s true that Victor LaValle’s THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM draws from the Cthulhu mythos, readers who are unfamiliar with H.P. Lovecraft’s work will have no trouble diving into this story.  From the start, LaValle establishes a world that is at once familiar and yet eerily suspect.  The characters, especially Thomas Tester, are wholly believable, understandable, and even relatable and the story is engaging throughout.

LaValle’s story of magic and horror is set in the mid-1920s in New York City, centered on Charles Thomas Tester. Tommy Tester, as he’s known for the first half of the book, is a jack-of-all-trades, straddling the line between con-man and likable rogue. He plays guitar, but not with any real skill and with no desire to learn more—only enough to make people think he’s a down-on-his-luck artist who is better than he appears. From time to time Tommy delves into the “weird” and while he isn’t wholly knowledgeable, he knows enough to be dangerous to himself and others. He is the perfect narrator to introduce readers to the life of Black Americans at the time, while also establishing the mystical that lays just beneath the surface.

When Tommy meets Robert Suydam, and is offered more money than he can make in a year to play at a private party, he knows he shouldn’t go.  He’s wholly right.  What Suydam is up to is nothing short of evil.  But in meeting Suydam, Tommy also runs afoul of two police officers, working as private detectives.  They warn Tommy off, yet Tommy is drawn in by his desire to be his own person, his curiosity and his greed.  As those worlds start to collide and events unfold, readers are treated to nothing short of magical—the dark kind where no one escapes unharmed.
A better Lovecraft than Lovecraft

LaValle creates characters that are wholly engaging. The pace and flow of the story makes this an engaging and memorable read.  LaValle takes H.P. Lovecraft’s world and makes it his own, without once shying away from all the issues that were prevalent in 1920s America just as they are today.

THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM may have been inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, but LaValle has made the world his own.  The magical realism and horror are both realistic and otherworldly, the plot moves quickly but is wholly character-driven.  LaValle has created a world that hopefully (scarily) should be visited again.

What horror books or Lovecraftian stories are your favorites?  Tell me in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Recipe for a Hero

Measure twice, shoot everyone.

Most humans are fragile creatures at the best of time. Any deviation from the norm, and our body goes into shock to try to compensate, rendering us almost completely non-functional. In college, while riding my bike, a truck cut me off and I slapped into hood.  I don’t really recall landing, but I must have at some point as I’m currently Earth-bound.  What I do remember is shaking pretty violently.  If anything else had happened, I would have been incredibly slow to react.

This isn’t the case for story heroes. This is part of the reason we read books or watch movies and television shows. For the normal person, sure—getting shot anywhere, or having a bone broken, or heck even being punched a few times, and we're down for the count. There are, though, rarer individuals, who have suffered, or who can suffer, pain and discomfort on higher levels.

Michonne doesn't have time for broken bones!
Add training and experience to the mix, throw in some motivating factors—maybe kidnap a child or murder a dog—flavor with a catch phrase and some custom weaponry, bake until ready, and suddenly you’ve got a character who can bear up under more incredible rigors.

Writers take that individual—or a group of such—raise them up one more level and make them a hero. Classic Greek and Roman characters often carried some divine blood to help them along. These days we’ve removed much of that in favor of the Everyman/Everywoman who can give as good, and better, than take. While a bullet in the arm (just a flesh wound) or a dislocated shoulder is bad, it doesn't knock them out of action completely. This isn’t without precedent. Peruse the US Congressional Medal of Honor rolls to see how far some people can go simply on adrenaline and sense of duty.

The trick is to set the world up so that your readers know WHY this individual can shrug off a stab to the thigh because, she "doesn't have time to bleed." Richard Morgan does a very nice job of this in "Altered Carbon"—which the series writers did even better. Takeshi Kovacs starts out a reasonably normal person, but with conditioning, training, and experience, he becomes incredibly tough and motivated, even through all kinds of injuries.  Thrown into a situation where mere mortals would be quickly and efficiently chewed up and spat out, Kovacs instead bleeds a little, grunts a lot, takes a lot of punishment, but generally triumphs.

Who is your favorite hero who can take a lot of damage? Tell me in the comments below!