Wednesday, December 19, 2018

An Interview with Natalja Jackson, Audiobook Narrator

So, in an effort to get the word out about the upcoming release of the Cthulhu's Car Park audiobook, I interviewed its talented narrator, Natalja Jackson.  The audiobook should be coming out sometime in mid January.  To find out more, or get an alert sent straight to your inbox, please take a second to sign up for my mailing list!

Here's the interview!

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What has been your favorite part about working on this project?:

Probably that the main characters all work a low-end customer service job, and the requisite stream of sarcasm that goes along with that. I used to stock at Walmart, thankfully overnight, so I only had to deal with customers a couple hours a day. But that was still enough to make Sam and co. pretty relatable, as I imagine they are for anyone who's had similar experiences. I also enjoyed the tone shifts throughout. Switching between the mundanity of work, the growing mystery of the cistern, the gooeyness of the fight scenes, and the more lighthearted conversations between, kept any one aspect from getting stale. Also, Franklin.

What has been the hardest part about working on this project?:

Aside from technical stuff, the number of characters. I was told you should start out doing non-fiction, and I can certainly see why. It'd be a heck of a lot easier to only have to worry about one voice. Especially with how many of those voices are male! And I don't have a terribly deep voice to begin with, so figuring out voices for everyone was a bit of an adventure. Particularly when it came to the belligerent and/or drunk males. I hope it worked out alright.

What made you want to do this book?:

I found it initially because I was looking at newer authors. This being my first time doing an audiobook, I wanted to work with someone at a similar experience level. I ultimately chose it to audition for because it seemed like the kind of book I would've wanted to read anyway. I love horror, and I like stories with a bit of humor that don't take themselves too seriously, and Cthulhu's Car Park looked like it would fit the bill for both. Oh, and the audition notes were really specific about how much swearing there is. I have a bit of a sailor's mouth.

What made you want to do narration for audiobooks?: 

It's not something I had really planned on doing, largely because I never realized it was even something you could do from home. I don't know why, amidst the ever-growing indie music scene, but it didn't occur to me that would also apply to narration. But when I found out how accessible it is to get started with, it seemed like a no-brainer. I enjoy creative pursuits, and that feeling of having made something that didn't exist before. And I love to read, but never had the drive to finish writing a story of my own. Narrating someone else's seemed like the next best thing.

Is this what you want to do for a living, or is it more of a hobby?:

It's definitely something I'd like to try doing for a living. Books have always been a huge part of my life, and I'd love to be able to work with them in some capacity. I would've formerly guessed if that were to happen it would be through editing, but sometimes we get unexpected turns. I started working from home in early '18, so I've got the freedom in my schedule to pursue it. What I don't have, is spare funds to pour into it for nice equipment. So whether it's something I get into long-term really depends on how my first few projects go, whether I can generate enough money to invest back into it and get the kind of setup I'd need to do this for a living. Well, and obviously talent and all that. But it's easier to blame my limitations on money, haha.

What is your favorite book or audiobook?:

My favorite book is Murderer's Mansion, also titled Moonstone Manor, by Irene Shaw. I'd be pretty surprised if it has an audiobook. It's a romance, which is very atypical for me. Almost everything else on my shelves is horror, adventure, or non-fiction. But there's just something about it that's a little magic to me when I read it. Maybe it's because the story is less about his rippling pectorals and more about the characters growing as people and getting past whatever personal flavour of broken each of them has. I guess I should really call it a drama, romance is definitely not the primary theme. Some honorable mentions: Daddy's Little Girl by Mary Higgins Clark, The Thief of Always by Clive Barker, The Dark Portal by Robin Jarvis, Wicked by Gregory Maguire. And, well, a lot by Stephen King, but most notably Rose Madder, The Stand, and The Talisman.

If you could narrate any book, which would you pick and why?:

I think probably The Goblin Wood by Hilari Bell, a YA fantasy piece. Aside from it being one of my favorite types of settings, fantasy with some dark realism, I really enjoy how flawed the main character is. And several of those flaws she has in common with me, so I find her very easy to connect with. Also, it's the first of a trilogy, and I still don't own the final book, The Goblin War, so I could score it for free. That said, though, Makenna would probably be more suited to someone with a deeper/gruffer voice. So as an alternate choice, The Land of Elyon series. It was the first fantasy I read as a kid that had a female protagonist, so it's always been special to me for that. It was also unique to me, at the time, for the protagonist beating the villains through wit, rather than finding a magic sword or whatever. Also, who doesn't love the ability to talk to animals?

Is there anything you'd want to say to your audience?: 

Nice to meet you, haha. Well, if you're going to try out the Cthulhu's Car Park audiobook, I hope you like it. It was certainly interesting to work on, so hopefully it's interesting to listen to.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Apparent Power by Dacia M Arnold




Apparent Power is a contemporary post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel written by Dacia M Arnold. It’s her first, and the main thing I came away with was an impression of her potential.

This is not a perfect novel. There are definitely some rough patches, but it's entertaining, and if you're looking for something a little different in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel, this is one you're probably going to enjoy. It's got a unique flavor that I think most would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. It was definitely a fun read that kept me guessing.


Synopsis


Valerie Russel’s morning began fairly normally; she was going to take a shower and go to work. It was all good, until she experiences what seems to be a massive static shock. When she gets out of the shower, she looks twenty years younger and is in the best shape of her life. Weirder, her husband finds this more attractive than weird, and then goes to work.

Valerie debates going to work herself, but ends up deciding she will. She’s going to be filling in for another nurse at a different ER than she normally does, so nobody should notice the difference. She leaves her son, Caleb with his nanny and starts driving to work.

Things seem strange, but okay, until there’s another incident and her car goes out of control. She crashes. And then, planes start falling out of the sky.

Valerie has no idea if her family is all right. She tries to make her way back to them using the survivalist training from her childhood and avoiding shady government outfits who seem intent on rounding up any suspicious people.

This Isn’t Your Average Apocalypse


I found it really cool that Arnold is focusing her apocalypse around what would happen if humans could no longer count on technology or electricity. Everything from cars, to planes to phones and medical equipment go haywire once things start to go down. It’s a not a scenario I’ve seen much and it’s refreshing to see one that doesn’t involve zombies or diseases these days.

Plus, the initial stages, where Valerie discovers she’s suddenly young and incredibly fit are a great hook. You’re definitely left wondering about what’s happening. The whole situation keeps you guessing as the story unfolds.

Slowly, we learn about Valerie’s family’s past and where her survivalist training originates from while around her, the world is falling apart and the CDC is everywhere, rounding up the survivors.

Meet Valerie


Valerie is a married mother of one and a nurse. Her desire to take care of people around her is incredibly evident, even as the world falls apart around her. This can actually present a point of conflict for her as she balances her need to take care of herself and her family with her desire to help those strangers suffering around her.

As I mentioned earlier, she also has some survivalist skills. Her father, Mike, trained her and her brother, Kevin from a young age to take care of themselves in an emergency, so she’s not exactly a damsel in distress at the end of the world, which is pretty refreshing.

It's really her need to get back to and take care of her son that drives her initially, which is heartwarming and real to me.

The Rough Patches


Okay, so, interesting, unique aspects aside, this novel has some problems that might bother some readers.

The most prevalent problem I had was with the dialogue.  In a lot of cases, it seems a bit stiff or scripted.  It has its good moments, but a lot of the time I found myself noticing things like odd phrasing or people giving short speeches, rather than simply speaking.  Another thing that came up was a lack of contractions.  Real people say "can't" or even skip words altogether.  Spoken sentences are rarely longer than seven words and tend to skip information like the subject if it's assumed the one being spoken to will understand.

Another issue I had was that the pacing felt a little rushed and it kind of felt like the author was pushing the narrative along to get to the climax.  Sometimes character's decisions or reactions didn't always make sense to me.  Like, nobody seeming worried about people suddenly appearing younger for no reason they immediately understood...

Anyway, these problems are not huge and shouldn't detract too much for overall enjoyment if you like reading in this genre.  The plot and characters should more than make up for them, and I'm guessing they're all going to disappear later in the series, since they're mainly symptoms of a first novel and easily overcome with more experience.

Conclusion


Overall, I found this an exciting, enjoyable read.  There are a few first novel stumbles, but the story fast-paced and interesting, so they didn't bother me too much.  I definitely recommend it if you're looking for something a little more fresh than the usual end of the world fare we've been seeing over the last ten to twenty years or so.  Definitely give it a shot if you like contemporary post-apocalyptic sci-fi.

You can also check out a novella in the series, Reactance, on Amazon.

Bechdel Test: Pass
Links: Goodreads, Bookbub, Dacia M Arnold @ her site, @ Facebook
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Wednesday, December 05, 2018

In the Vanishers' Palace by Aliette de Bodard



I've been a fan of Aliette de Bodard's work ever since I read Servant of the Underworld, the first book in her Aztec-noir fantasy series, so when she announced on Twitter that she was doing a Beauty and the Beast retelling for adults with some interesting twists, I was all for it and ordered a copy that day.  What I got was In the Vanishers' Palace, a gorgeous, sapphic eastern fairy tale that has a ton of warmth and heart.



A New Dystopia

In the Vanishers' Palace is set in a future that has been destroyed by mysterious aliens called the Vanishers.  They came, they messed with things and they disappeared, leaving disease and horrifying machines in their wake.  Yên, a failed scholar, lives in a little village ruled over by cruel Elders, who weigh people by their usefulness and little else.  Her mother, the village healer, is tasked with saving one of their children from one of the many diseases running rampant in their world.  Desperate, she summons a dragon to work her magic and save the girl.  But of course, this magic comes with a price.

The Beast and the Beauty

The dragon agrees to accept Yên's life in exchange for saving another, though she sneers at the
village elders' cruelty, and soon we find the young scholar in the dragon's palace, a massive and confusing building that once housed the Vanishers, who had enslaved the dragon and other gods and mythical figures.  The dragon's name is Vu Con and she asks her new "guest" to educate her children, serious Thông and the precocious Liên.  She also warns that the palace is not a safe place, presenting unending, mysterious dangers.

Thus charged, Yên does what she can.  Unlike previous versions of this fairy tale, Vanisher's Palace follows the beast almost as much as the beauty.  We learn a lot about Vu Con and her heartbreaking past, and what she's doing now to make things right.  She's a dragon, but she's not a two-dimensional monster.  She's a mother, she's a healer and she's dealing with a lot of complicated issues with surprising kindness, though she is incredibly pragmatic.  I found her an incredibly deep and interesting character.  De Bodard does a great job in getting the reader to sympathize, despite or because of the horrific nature of the world and the situation she builds around her characters.

A Relationship in the Face of Power

One of the best parts of this book is the way de Bodard handles the power imbalance between Vu Con and Yên.  She doesn't completely ignore the fact that Yên is at the mercy of the dragon like other tellings of this story does and both women acknowledge it.  This is actually a big part of Vu Con's inner conflict, which is massively refreshing in a world where we are seeing a lot of the opposite in the headlines.  Their attraction is immediate, but neither make a move until it really feels right and healthy to do so.  The whole thing was still incredibly engaging and moving, without being as problematic as the more traditional, Stockholm syndrome-y versions.



Moms Rule

De Bodard has been pretty outspoken about her opinion on dead mothers in fantasy and sci-fi books. a pretty good thread about it on twitter and wrote a well thought out blog post about it here.  Her point is, that despite magic or massive leaps in technology, fiction today and in some cases, classical fiction, contains a lot of dead moms for various (lame) reasons.
She's got

In the Vanisher's Palace is a bit of an answer to that because it contains two strong moms with their own complex issues and their own characters.  First, we meet Yen's mom, the village healer having to make tough decisions.  She knows her daughter longs for (and needs) a life beyond the village, but doesn't want that for herself.  She knows her place is there, healing those who fall ill.  And she doesn't die before the starts, like Belle's mom (wait, who?  When is she even mentioned, Disney?) and she doesn't get fridged either, though her precarious situation in life does spur a number of Yen's decisions and desires.

Vu Con is also a mother, having two teenagers waiting for her at home.  She faces completely different problems than Yen's mother, namely how to get her children ready to survive in a world that, in her experience, can be dangerous and cruel without warning.  It's obvious she wants to protect her children, but also seems to understand that to do this, she's going to have to let them learn to protect themselves.  Her relationship with her children is deep and complicated, but it isn't all she's got going on.  She too, in her own way, is a healer and wants to do what she can to help those who find their way to her.

De Bodard's treatment of mothers and motherhood is so fun and fulfilling.  I really hope it encourages more fiction like this in the future.

A Small Warning, Timid Reader

Figure I might as well point out right now that this book might not be for those who like a super easy read, or straight romance.  There are some really weird aspects (and, heck physical dimensions) to this story.  This is not the cartoon from 1995.  It's charming, but de Bodard doesn't hold your hand though the whole thing.  Much is left to the reader's interpretation, which is probably going to bother some people.  Occasionally, the prose can be kind of vague, but I didn't really have a problem with it.  Overall, the storytelling is clean and well-paced.

Another thing that's going to probably bother people is that some characters in this book are gender fluid.  This mostly just means that their pronouns are non-gender specific.  This really isn't confusing in any way and is handled wonderfully by de Bodard.

And of course, as I've been saying from the beginning, both members of this love story are women.  In fact, almost the entire cast of this story is not male, so if that's going to bother you, don't bother me or the author about it, and find something else to read.

Conclusion

In short, I really enjoyed In the Vanishers' Palace for a number of reasons and highly recommend it.

Bechdel Test: Pass
Links: Goodreads, Bookbub, Aliette de Bodard's site, Aliette de Bodard @ Tor
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Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Cthulhu's Car Park is on Sale!


If you guys haven't snagged it yet, my Lovecraft-themed urban fantasy novella, Cthulhu's Car Park is on sale for 99c!  I discounted it to celebrate the sequel, Last Cull, coming out on the 13th.  This sale is only going until November 11th.


Sunday, October 07, 2018

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

I found out about Trail of Lightning on Twitter a few months ago. As it tends to go with really good books, a couple of authors I was following there had started raving about it. Then, I saw the cover and was totally sold. I started following Rebecca Roanhorse before I even read her book, just to get more information. I have a tendency to be broke these days, so figuring out which books I absolutely need requires a little research. Anyway, I figured I probably couldn't lose with this one, and took the plunge. So, so happy I did.

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Have Böker, Will Travel


Maggie Hoskie, the protagonist, is definitely one of my favorite characters. She's the perfect combination of crusty, vulnerable, snarky and bad ass. At the beginning of the novel, we find her listless and lost, having been abandoned by her teacher and mentor. When she gets called upon to hunt down a monster, it's one of the first times she goes out monster slaying solo.

On the hunt, she discovers a new and horrible monster and the little girl it had taken. Unfortunately, she's been horribly injured, and Maggie faces a difficult choice.

And you could catch evil if something evil got inside you. And once inside you, it could take you over. Make you do evil things. Destroy what you once cared for. Hurt people you wouldn’t have hurt otherwise, and eventually, kill. And if that happened, you ran the risk of becoming just another monster.

Roanhorse, Rebecca. Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World Book 1) (p. 14). Saga Press. Kindle Edition.

The whole ordeal leaves Maggie shaken, angry and curious. What is this new monster, and where does it come from?

Old Culture, New World


Maggie lives in the world of the Dine, the Navajo people. When she was fourteen, the world ended in
a huge flood, but the reservation and some of the areas around it were spared. It's unclear how much of the rest of the world remains above water, and it doesn't seem to matter much. People live in small communities, with the occasional town or city left over from the days before the Big Water.

Another huge change is that the gods and legends of old are back again and walking among normal people. Maggie's former mentor, is one such legend. Coyote, the trickster, is another. And then there's the clan gifts. Certain people receive the gifts of their parents' clans. In Maggie's case, she is walking death because of this. But Kai, the son of one of her few friends, might just be walking life.

Together, Maggie and Kai set off to discover the origins of a new monster stalking the Dine, and who might be behind it all.

As Good as Coffee and Sugar


I am such a huge sucker for good world building and this story has that in spades. On the one hand, you've got a post-apocalyptic dystopia, and then you've also got the prevalence of a culture I'm not very familiar with, so of course, I was totally riveted. I mean, the Dine is protected by a gigantic wall that sort of came to life and took on a life of its own, the gods walk the earth… it's all incredibly interesting. And this is all set in front of the backdrop of the real reservation life of the Navajo people. This is all a perfect recipe for a really rich, interesting setting, almost as rich as the plot and character development.

The plot is essentially a mystery. What are these new monsters, and who has created them? They pretty much reek of evil magic. There are also fires and lightning strikes which are highly suspect. Maggie doggedly peruses her query. She's been convinced the only thing that makes her worthwhile is her ability to kill. But of course, things get a bit more complicated than that.



Horror and Heroism


I don't want to ruin the ending, so I won't say much about it, other than that it was surprising, and I loved it. I also felt like one of the themes that touched me a lot over the course of this book was Maggie's lack of self confidence. Because she has been groomed to believe she can only really kill and destroy, she feels like she's really not capable of doing other things, like having relationships. And, because her mentor abandoned her, she really has no idea who she is anymore, so Maggie is essentially a hot mess from beginning to end of the book. She has some moments of clarity, but she's an incredibly vulnerable bad ass. Kai tries a few times to get close, but she tries to keep everyone at arm's length for the most part. It seems like people like her better than she thinks she deserves and this becomes incredibly endearing. I would say Maggie is one of my favorite main characters I've encountered this year.

Conclusion


I loved this book. It was incredibly hard to put down because it's just so well put together and intriguing. You want to solve the mystery and you want to explore this new world Roanhorse has created and you just want to see what Maggie's going to do next. It's a book that's got humor, darkness, pain and excitement which are all great ingredients for a good story. There are some horrific scenes, but the violence is not gratuitous and is used well. I definitely think everyone should experience this book, because really, can the world have too many strong, yet human bad ass women?

If you're not ready to commit to a whole novel, I highly recommend checking out Roanhorse's award winning Your Authentic Indian Experience, a short story that also showcases her amazing skill as a writer and storyteller.

Bechdel Test: Pass
Links: Goodreads, Bookbub, Rebecca Roanhorse on Twitter
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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

When They Turn

Oh man, I am super excited to announce that my new horror novelette, When They Turn: The Miller Massacre has been released on Amazon!

When They Turn is the story of Debbie, an unhappy housewife living in the suburbs of 1950's America.  Obsessed with keeping up appearances and living in constant fear of the bomb, she never sees what's coming.

When all the men in town seemingly go murderously insane, it's up to Debbie and her friends to fight for their own survival and escape the town of Miller, before their husbands get the best of them.

This gristly novelette will keep you turning the pages, if only to see who will survive the Miller massacre.  


The Story Behind the Story


Okay, so those of you who follow me on Twitter or Twitch may remember that I participated in the 3 Day Novel Contest over Labor Day weekend this year.

I'll admit right now, I only lasted the first two days, writing over 10,000 words in something like eighteen hours of live streaming.  It was a pretty grueling undertaking, but what came out of it was a novelette I lovingly called Murder, Mayhem and Meatloaf.

Yeah, the title didn't stick.  I was worried people might think it was some kind of 50's cozy mystery, so I went back to the drawing board on that one.  The novelette, however, stayed strong.  I was going to stick it in a drawer until I'd finished the Third Shift series, but I started editing it anyway.

As tends to be the case with a lot of my concepts, the idea of 50's housewives facing off against zombie hordes (or similar, as the case may be) had been knocking around in my head for a while, pretty much ever since I saw some pieces by Kelly Reemsten.  She has this amazing series of paintings of women from the shoulders down in party dresses, holding sledgehammers or chainsaws.  They really set my imagination going.

It was strange though, I set out to write a stylish horror story, maybe a little tongue-in-cheek, like Cthulhu's Car Park, but what I ended up with was much more dark and serious.  It may have been the manner in which it was written, the fact that there was a lot of strain and pressure during the creative process, but I found it very emotionally draining.  I even gave myself nightmares, which hadn't really happened before.  In short, writing When They Turn was a trip.

I now find myself thinking about continuing the project beyond the scope of this novelette, but if I do, it probably won't be right away, unless you guys really like it, in which case, I'll definitely give it some more consideration.

Anyway, When They Turn: The Miller Massacre is available now on Amazon, and free to read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.  I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Today's the Big Day!

It is an honor to announce that my first novella, Cthulhu's Car Park is live on Amazon.  As of this post, it's available to Kindle Unlimited subscribers for free, so you can download it and check it out with no risk.  How awesome is that?

Thought I would take a second to talk about my book and why it's so important to me.

Where did this book come from?

Okay, so for about three years, I worked as a parking attendant in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Considering we were still dealing with the recession and that I didn't have a college degree, it was a pretty well-paying gig.

For those of you not familiar, Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan, which is a pretty large college known for its sports teams, particularly football.  Wolverine Stadium is one of the largest non-NFL stadiums in the country.  So this meant I was dealing with a lot of college students.

The company I worked for was pretty okay for the most part.  Everyone outside of management was in the union, so there tended to be some animosity sometimes, but overall, it was like a big extended family.  This came with some problems as well though.  Like gossip and backstabbing.  Gossip was a huge part of the parking attendant day.  My husband also worked there, and it seemed like, when we got home, all we seemed to talk about was people at work.

There were also asinine  rules, management changes, horrible customers, just crazy things happening.  We probably got one or two suicides a year and a major customer-related incident once a week.

Before I started working there, I had no idea there was so much drama and craziness involved.  Working in a parking lot can be a lot more interesting than people assume, I think.  A lot of the incidents I include in this book are fictionalized versions of real events.

The idea of monsters emerging from the basement of the parking garage came from the fact that my regular garage really did have a mysterious covered hole in the basement, and it always creeped me out.  The basement was pretty much just as I described it in the book, and I've always had problems with dealing with dark, underground places, so the cistern being there just made my imagination go wild.  Sometimes, I would entertain myself by imagining what would happen if monsters really did live down there and decided to slither out.

When my husband and I had our son, I quit that job and became a stay at home mom, but the memories I had from working there, some of them good, some of them bad, stayed with me.

Why this book?

That, I really can't tell you.  Seriously.  Before I wrote Cthulhu's Car Park, I was trying to write a completely different book in a totally separate genre, one I've been thinking about for over a decade.
  And I did write it.  I was actually deep into editing my first draft when I decided to take what I thought was a break.

I wrote the first page and realized that I hadn't been having fun writing in a long time.  I told myself, "Okay, I work on this a little more, since I'm having such a good time with it."  And it just got away from me after that.  I'd talked to my husband about writing something like this, a short story maybe, to capture our work stories, and because it was an idea kicking around my head for years, but it just took off.

How did this book happen?

My husband, who illustrated the book for me, by the way, was getting frustrated that I seemed to be spending all this time writing with no results (you know, aside from the rough draft of a novel that might never see the light of day) so he suggested that I set a deadline and just finish the thing.

Amazon offers a program to its self-published authors, allowing 90 day preorders, so I decided I would go whole hog and set up my novel as an eBook, giving myself those 90 days to write, edit, format it and produce a cover.

It worked for me, but I really don't recommend you do this unless you work well under pressure.  One of the big risks is that if you set up a preorder with Amazon and fail to deliver, you lose your preorder privileges for something like a year I believe.  If you want to make a living writing, that can be some serious skin in the game to get your product out on time.

So, with that fire lit under my butt, I got down to work, probably better than I ever have before.  I think I started the eBook in early June and was close to halfway done by mid-July.  Then, my husband and I watched a documentary about H.P. Lovecraft, and I thought, Wouldn't it be cool if we released the book on his birthday?
Yeah.  I'm crazy.  Having cut my work time by something like two weeks, I scrambled to finish it by August 20th.  I designed the cover, I wrote the story, I proofread it, I edited it with feedback, my husband drew the monsters (and some awesome extras we hope to release soon) and we produced a book in something like a month and a half.

And if this wasn't crazy enough, I set up a preorder for the sequel, Last Cull, a couple of days before this first book came out, so that's due in November, if we don't finish it sooner than that.

I would describe this process as unusual, but I found I really needed a hard deadline to keep me motivated.

What did I learn?

Dude, I learned so much.

On the technical side, I learned how Amazon and their publishing arm work, I learned the limitations of eBooks and how to format them correctly, I finally learned not to be afraid of CSS and brushed off my HTML skills from decades ago.

I also learned how much work it is to produce a novel, even a short one, on your own.  And now, I'm in the process of learning how to market it, which is a whole new adventure.

On a more personal level, I figured out a bit more about how I tick, what motivates me and makes me work harder and more efficiently, and most importantly, that I can do what I've dreamed pretty much my whole life of doing.

What am I doing next?

My next project is Last Cull, which as I said, is due in November.  I also have a short story that's been knocking around for a year or so, I'm going to try to crank out either before or right after.

I'm hoping to go to some writing conventions as well, but there are no solid plans for that at this time.

If you want to keep track of me, I have a handy newsletter, sending updates straight to your email.

Finding a copy or more information

Cthulhu's Car Park is currently only available as a Kindle edition and exclusively through Amazon.  I hope to release a paperback in the next few months, and if things go well, I'll be releasing it to other platforms in the next year or so.

You can find out more about it at Amazon, or Goodreads.  You can also find it on BookBub.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer


I'd heard some good things about this book from other writers whose work I really enjoy, so when the Tor monthly book club put it up for download, I was totally stoked. Let me just say, it was a weird, wild ride.

Synopsis


Too Like the Lightning is a science fiction novel, set in the 25th century, but written more in the style of the 18th. It’s narrated by and told from the point of view of Mycroft Canner, with the occasional interruption or interviews from other characters.

If you asked Mycroft what the novel is about, he would tell you that it is about a thirteen-year-old boy named Bridger who possesses an incredible and mysterious power, and how he helped shaped the world as we know it (in the future beyond the book’s 25th century setting). If you asked literally anyone else, they’d probably tell you the story is a mystery involving the theft of a devious device and an article listing the world’s most influential people, and what that meant for the world of the future.


Along side the story of this miracle child and the mysterious theft and frame-job, there is some fantastic world building in this novel. Also sex, philosophy and murder. It’s really a mixed bag, as are my feelings about it.


What a World


Okay, so my absolute favorite aspect of this story is the world building. Ada Palmer does this masterful job of interweaving history, culture, politics, economics, everything, with her story. We quickly learn that five hundred years into the future, flying cars with the ability to circumvent the world in four hours have eliminated mankind’s need of countries and borders. A person living in Rio de Janeiro might very easily work in Prague and then go have dinner in Shanghai. The technology behind this way of life is incredibly important and heavily guarded and plays a huge part in the story.


The other thing we learn almost immediately, is that religion is now illegal. Well, not so much religion as discussing religion in a group, or proselytizing. Civilization as the book knows it feels that faith is not a bad thing, but religion is highly dangerous. To allow people to work out their feelings about a creator, or an afterlife, or what have you, a group of licensed priest-like specialists called sensayers exist, and go around discuss people’s religious feelings.


“’Humanity cannot live without these questions! Let us create a new creature! Not a preacher, but a teacher, who hears a parishioner’s questions and presents the answers of all the faiths and sects of history, Christians and pagans, Muslims and atheists, all equal. With this new creature as his guide, let each man pick through the fruits of all theologies and anti-theologies, and make from them his own system, to test, improve, and lean on all the years of his long life. If early opponents of the Christian Reformation feared that Protestants would invent as many Christianities as there were Christians, let this new creature help us create as many religions as there are human beings!’” 
Ada Palmer. Too Like the Lightning (Kindle Locations 151-155). Tom Doherty Associates.
Another aspect of this future that is really fun is that while countries and religions don’t mean much anymore, there are still nations after a fashion, and universal laws that state that when children pass into adulthood they have the right to choose in which they would like to belong. One of the first we’re introduced to is the Humanists. This group is described as being focused on human achievement. They tend to be athletes and part of their culture is to have a part of their home decorated to display all the awards and trophies they’ve earned. They also prize the Olympics, which are still going strong.


The other groups are based off of either their historical geographical locations (nation-strats) like the Mitsubishi (the Asian nation-strats) or Europe, or they were an organization that became a nation, such as the Masons, based off of today’s masonic traditions or the Cousins, which started as a network to allow female backpackers to find safe places to stay. There’s also the Brillists, who are obsessed with measuring personality and intelligence and the Utopians, whose major goal is to colonize Mars.


The world building is intensely rich! Each of these groups have their own traditions and cultures and politics and they all intermingle, creating this colorful tapestry of a backdrop for a pretty epic story.

Our Narrator


Mycroft on his own is a pretty interesting character. He unfolds the details of the story (and his own) very slowly, and we soon see that he’s involved in pretty much everything going with the world’s movers and shakers, but at the same time, is also down in the streets. You see, not to spoil too much, Mycroft is a criminal, serving a life sentence of being what is pretty much a slave to the people.

"Tell me, when our Twenty-Second-Century forefathers created the Servicer Program, offering lifelong community service in lieu of prison for criminals judged harmless enough to walk among the free, were they progressive or retrogressive in implementing a seven-hundred-year-old system which had never actually existed?" 
Ada Palmer. Too Like the Lightning (Kindle Locations 376-378). Tom Doherty Associates.

 
Despite his criminal status, Mycroft appears to be on call to all the world’s leaders and involved in some major historical moments, like a more intelligent Forrest Gump. The few incidents taking place elsewhere are reported on by an associate of Mycroft’s or he tells us what he learns by interviewing the people he knows who witnessed whatever. It’s all an intriguing, albeit sometimes unbelievable frame for the narrative.


The part I really find interesting about Mycroft, I can’t even begin to talk about for fear of ruining things for those who haven’t read this book yet. All I can say is that his crime and the motives behind it are both a trip and a bit of a mystery.


His and Hers (More Like Theirs)


Okay, now we near an aspect of the book that I found both interesting and frustrating. In this future, gender is kind of a personal thing, seemingly reserved for intimate, sexual situations, if at all. What do I mean? I mean that not only are characters generally referred to by gender neutral pronouns, but when gendered pronouns do come up, they’re accompanied by this attitude that this is somehow lewd or taboo. The gender neutrality also helps explain and flavor a lot in the late chapters of the book, which is kind of cool. It’s an interesting aspect of the culture, but then you get Mycroft, being a bit impish now and again, gendering characters as he sees fit, rather than how you and I might (according to sexual organs or personal preference).

"With Chagatai, however, your guess is wrong. It is not her job which makes me give her the feminine pronoun, despite her testicles and chromosomes. I saw her once when someone threatened her little nephew, and the primal savagery with which those thick hands shattered the offender was unmistakably that legendary strength which lionesses, she-wolves, she-bats, she-doves, and all other ‘she’s obtain when motherhood berserks them. That strength wins her ‘she.’"
Ada Palmer. Too Like the Lightning (Kindle Locations 4567-4571). Tom Doherty Associates.


This became a little frustrating to me, particularly when I didn’t always want to go off on a tangent about a character’s gender, but continue with the story. Carlyle, the sensayer is another character Mycroft drops hints about, referring to them as a “he” but suggesting that this person is biologically female. I don’t particularly care what Carlyle or Chagatai or anyone else is hiding under their skirt so long as we on with what’s happening.


I find the gender neutrality and the other things that go on with gender interesting, but how Mycroft treats it sometimes is exhausting, and just feels witty for wit’s sake… 


I will totally admit that my frustrations with this book probably stem from the fact that it’s been a while since I’ve read anything this challenging, so while I might find some things annoying, people smarter than me might enjoy them.


Elementary, My Dear Watson


Another aspect that sort of bothered me is that toward the end of the book, certain things are just blatantly revealed with few clues or foreshadowing. I don’t like this sort of thing in mysteries, preferring the ones that show you all the information up front, allowing you the chance to guess correctly, if at all. Too Like the Lightning is a bit of a wild ride, which aspects of the story suddenly coming to the fore with no warning. This can be both exciting and feel like a cheat. I can’t really get into what bothered me because it would be chock full of spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that.
And now, my least favorite part of this book:

Bridger…


As I mentioned before, Bridger is who this story is supposedly about, but it’s more about pretty much everyone else. Bridger is a little boy with an amazing, miraculous power. You find out about this power very early on, and about Mycroft’s relationship with the boy, but seriously, the kid’s probably in less than ten percent of the book and most of the stuff that goes on has nothing to do with him.


This is not the problem I have. The problem I have is that Bridger is like an infant, but he’s thirteen. I mean, not exactly like an infant, but he doesn’t come off as a teenager either. Maybe a very young child. But then, on the other hand, he’s got a deep understanding of classical philosophy and has seen some pretty disturbing things, yet appears to be mature and as well-adjusted as is to be expected about it. This dichotomy kind of brought be out of the story a bit. His character isn’t very even, which maybe is realistic? I don’t know. Either way, it bothered me a bit. I could not bring myself to get attached to the kid at all, despite his importance.

Conclusion


This is a really weird book. Like, really weird. You will be hard pressed to find something similar, and despite my frustrations with it, despite the fact reading it exhausted me, I have to recommend you at least try to experience it. If you’re interested in philosophy, particularly of the 18th century, you will probably have a great time. Palmer is actually an associate professor at the University of Chicago, so I guess it’s not surprising she’s a world-building pro.


This quote from her “About” page on her website sums up her work really well, I think.


“All my projects stem from my overall interest in the relationship between ideas and historical change. Our fundamental convictions about what is true evolve over time, so different human peoples in different times and places have, from their own perspectives, lived in radically different worlds with radically different rules.” 
Palmer, A. (n.d.). About Ada Palmer. Retrieved August 21, 2018, from https://adapalmer.com/about-ada-palmer/

Too Like the Lightning is the first book in Palmer's Terra Ignota series, from Tor.

Bechdel Test: Pass Maybe?

Saturday, July 28, 2018

A General Update

Cthulhu's Car Park


In what I would probably describe as a fit of insanity, I decided to bite the bullet at the beginning of
July and set up to publish a story I'd just started by September.  I was tired of waiting, tired of perfecting, and tired of my current project, so I hopped on Amazon and well...

Okay, so in another bout of insanity, I decided that I was going to cut my deadline even shorter, and shoot for August 20th, Lovecraft's birthday.

Currently, I am finishing up the first draft of the manuscript.  In the next few weeks, I'm going to edit it, get some feedback and then format and finish up the paperback cover design.  I'm doing almost all of it, aside from the illustrations, which my husband is doing.

Yeah, there's a good chance I'm crazy.

But, anyway, Cthulhu's Car Park, available for pre-order on Amazon right the heck now.  Tentative release date is now August 20th, but it's going to read September 6th ('cause I'm not totally, totally nuts yet).  It'll also be available to read for free through the Kindle Unlimited program.

Twitch


Some authors like to post videos on Youtube, talking about books and writing but that didn't really feel like my kind of thing, so instead, I've begun streaming my writing live on Twitch.

I don't have a solid schedule right now, since it's summer vacation, but I try to get on every weekday between 9 and 11 in the morning, with some nighttime and weekend streams thrown in occasionally.  I usually announce these on my Twitter account.

Patreon and Ko-fi


As you may have noticed on my sidebar, I've started a Ko-fi account.  It's pretty much an online tip-jar, in case you enjoy these blog posts, or anything else I happen to be doing.  Obviously, tips are never required, but always welcome.  I would love to be able to afford a better cover for my book, or professional paperback formatting, or hey, even to turn my Netflix account back on for a month.  If you feel like you want to contribute, please feel free to click that link at any time.

I've also seriously revamped my Patreon account, offering better reward tiers including suggesting books for me to review, a monthly short story, or getting help with your own writing projects.  Once I have more books out, I'll offer a few, more reader-oriented rewards.  Feel free to check it out and offer recommendations as to what you'd like to see me offer.  It's always a work in progress.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

One Last Tools Tuesday - Crowdfire


Here lies the last Tools Tuesday.  So it is, so shall it be.

Anyway, I found something so useful, I just had to dig this particular category out of the ash pile of progress.

Crowdfire


Crowdfire is probably one of the most useful tools out there for an independent creator out there.  I don't care if you write, sculpt, paint, put on radio plays, create dioramas inside shoe boxes, whatever.

Let's Break Down What It Does


Okay, so, you're a creator.  You've got an online presence, right?  You've probably got a Facebook page, an Instagram account, maybe you're also on Twitter, or Linked In or Pinterest.  That is a lot of social media to juggle, particularly if your real goal is to make art.  You don't want to spend all day posting about what you're doing, meanwhile neglecting work and well, life.

Crowdfire is going to save you a lot of time by getting you organized and helping you schedule all of those shenanigans.

It allows you to connect all of your social media accounts


Just hook up everything you've got, and Crowdfire allows you to post across all them.  Want to boost a friend's signal?  Post on Twitter, FB, Instagram, what have you, all at the press of a button.  You can even tweak your messages for each platform before you send everything out.

You can even attach the platforms where you post your work.  Youtube, Twitch and Blogger are just a few, and it makes it incredibly easy to share your content.

Set it and forget it


Another way Crowdfire is a massive time saver is that you can schedule all of your posts ahead of time and it will automatically send stuff for you.  You can decide how many posts you want it to make a day (the basic setting is two per platform), and you can pile up a pretty big number of posts before you hit a pay wall.  I have my Twitter and FB accounts hooked up and I can queue about 40 posts for free.  That's ten days worth of queued content.

It just knows...


When is the best time to post something on FB?  When are you going to get the highest traffic on Twitter?  Crowdfire knows, and you can set it to post your updates at all the best times.  I've seen a serious increase in engagement since I started letting it determine the best times to post.

Running out of ideas?


When you sign up, Crowdfire asks about your interests.  It then crawls the web looking for relevant content for you to share from a number of different sources, which you can customize.  It provides a huge list of articles you can use to fill up your queue and keep your audience engaged with when you don't have anything to say yourself.  This can be a total life saver when trying to keep a regular posting schedule going.

It keeps track!


Crowdfire will also keep track of your post engagement, how many followers you get and how many you lose.  You'll get a digest in your email about your social media activity. 

Another sneaky-awesome feature, is that you can check out other users follower lists.  Let's say you write books, and you know another author who writes in the same genre.  You can see who their followers are and follow them to get follow-backs, or see what they're talking about.

Conclusion


I can't express how much time and energy Crowdfire has been saving me.  I use it enough I'm thinking about upgrading to the subscription service, which allows you to connect and post to multiple accounts on each platform and provides enhanced tracking and content tools.

Please, check it out if you're feeling overwhelmed by the whole marketing/social media aspect of being an independent creative.  It will be a big weight off your shoulders, and even the free version is incredibly powerful.

Friday, July 20, 2018

All Systems Red by Martha Wells


This one is one of my favorites. Normally, I try to be pretty objective, but I’m probably going to fan-girl all over the place for this review. Sorry, not sorry. If you enjoy dry, rather dark humor, you will love this.


Synopsis



In All Systems Red, a team of surveyors must fight for survival on an alien planet when their equipment begins to glitch, and they realize they might not have received all the intel they needed. Lucky for them, they have SecUnit, a humanoid construct programmed to protect them. Unlucky for them, their SecUnit is a rogue murderbot who wants nothing more than to be left along to watch its serials in peace.\

(Just a note, I'm going to be putting a bunch of Micheal Fassbender stuff up because thanks to Prometheus I just kept imagining a David-like Murderbot.  Enjoy!)

Meet Murderbot

I COULD HAVE BECOME a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites.
Martha Wells. All Systems Red (Kindle Locations 19-20). Tor.com.


That, plus a massive case of social anxiety, pretty much sums up our protagonist, a rogue SecUnit which refers to itself as a murderbot. Murderbot has problems dealing with humans, describing these interactions as “awkward.”


It’s not paranoia about my hacked governor module, and it’s not them; it’s me. I know I’m a horrifying murderbot, and they know it, and it makes both of us nervous, which makes me even more nervous.


Martha Wells. All Systems Red (Kindle Locations 129-130). Tor.com.


Murderbot is highly apathetic about pretty much everything except the entertainment feeds. Initially, it doesn’t care about much beyond its contract requirements and keeping the fact that it hacked itself a secret. Well, that, and keeping its armor on so it doesn’t have to deal with the humans directly. Murderbot is almost crippled by shyness and social anxiety, not wanting to make direct eye contact with pretty much anyone. Murderbot is very sensitive about this. Needless to stay, when the chips are down and it has to start acting like a real SecUnit, it is highly enjoyable.


Girl Meets Bot



Dr. Mensah is the leader of this particular surveyor team, and she seems to click with Murderbot pretty quickly. It’s really fun watching the two of them interact. I’d say this is one of my favorite odd couples of sci-fi. Watching Murderbot develop and change as it interacts with the rest of the crew is pretty amusing too. Not everyone is cool with it, particularly given Murderbot’s dark and tragic past, but it’s really rather heartwarming, watching it start to come out of its shell (or armor).
I told my helmet to retract so he could see my human face. If the hostile came back and bit me again, this would be a bad mistake, because I did need the organic parts of my head.
Martha Wells. All Systems Red (Kindle Locations 49-50). Tor.com.



As Murderbot and Dr. Mensah start to form a bond of trust, we learn more about the mission to the mysterious planet, and what the stakes really are.

Beware; You Will Laugh Out Loud

I was seriously cracking up sometimes, reading this novella. It’s very dry, but very funny. Murderbot has a unique sense of humor that will endear it to you quickly, though I can’t really explain the genius
of the comedy that goes on.
I have small energy weapons built into both arms, but the one I went for was the big projectile weapon clamped to my back. The hostile that had just exploded up out of the ground had a really big mouth, so I felt I needed a really big gun.
Martha Wells. All Systems Red (Kindle Locations 36-38). Tor.com.  


It's sort of strange, that a book about a robot, which is supposed to be an unfeeling machine, can touch every emotion you have.  A lot of it is funny, but there are some dark and very touching moments too.  And the ending is great, mainly because it leads to more adventures for Murderbot in the future.

Bechdel Test: Pass