Odds and ends… Even a beginning!

First, The Wilds is currently on sale on Amazon, starting today and ending Sunday, July 14th. If you’ve read Idyll Book 1 (still just $0.99!) and you’re looking for an excuse to jump into Book 2, this is it! I’ll probably run a limited-time discount for Exile (Book 3 of the trilogy), in the coming weeks, so I’ll make an announcement about that as well.

I redesigned my Idyll covers! OK, the covers were updated over a month ago, but still I thought it was worth calling them out. I’m not ecstatic about the Idyll cover, but I think the yellow stands out pretty well, and I think all three covers together, yellow, magenta, and blue, work pretty nicely together. I think I’m the only one who’s favorite is The Wilds cover.

Somehow Amazon recognized The Idyll Trilogy as a thing, and now it has its own page in the Kindle Store! I like how all the books look side-by-side:

And finally, I’ve been plugging away at my new series! I’ve already completed a rough first-draft at 35,000 words (I’m planning that these books will be about half as long as the Idyll books). I don’t want to say too much about the idea, but I’ll reveal more soon. I’ve even started Book 2 of the series, logging in 1500 words of a beginning just to see if the transition from Book 1 to Book 2 would work. Knock on wood, but I haven’t run into any plot-holes or roadblocks that might have caused any major rewrites on this series. I’m trying to keep the plots a little simpler and more crowd-pleasing overall. Although the characters are really start to resonate with me. I hope readers will be excited by the new series as I am writing it right now!

More soon…

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Character Interview: Walt

As part of a blog promotion I did a while back for Idyll, here is a character interview with one of my protagonists: Walt Starboard.

Walt Starboard is a settler on the planet Idyll. His ancestors travelled there in search of a simpler life, free from the dependence on technology that they believe crippled society—and the human spirit—on Earth.

Unfortunately, a mysterious syndrome of ‘contagious’ sleep has decimated the Idyll settlement, and now Walt has spent the last three years in quarantine with his brother Samuel and his bedridden mother on their lonesome ranch. Desperate to find a cure for their mother—and to find out what happened to their father—Walt and Samuel are finally venturing away from their homestead in search of answers.

1. What is your full name? Is there anything significant about your name?
Walt Cygnus Starboard. Yes, quite significant. When our forebears left Mother Earth, they gave up their traditional surnames and took on new last names based on the roles or their quarters on the starship Marathon. It was a 600-year trip that required a great deal of sacrifice. Relinquishing their surnames was more symbolic than anything, but it represented a break from the Terran way of doing things—and a new commitment to our cause. I’m just glad my ancestors didn’t live near Marathon’s poop deck! Ha ha. That’s a nautical joke. Marathon didn’t have a poop deck. Sorry, it’s a fairly serious topic.

2. How old are you?
I’m twenty-three.

3. Tell us about your family. What do you like and not like about them?
My father Josiah is… or was… the best rancher in Glenn County. After the Lullaby hit, he traveled to the heart of the Settlement to find out what was being done about it. But he hasn’t returned yet. That was three years ago. My uncle was a doctor, but he died. My mother was infected with the Lullaby, so I’ve been doing my best to care for her. My brother Samuel… he’s good with the animals.

4. Who was your first kiss, and what did you think of it?
A gentleman doesn’t talk about that. Trust me, I’ve had my share of female… interests… females who… Fine. I’ll level with you. In my youth, I focused on my studies. Then the Lullaby hit, and I’ve been living in quarantine for three years. If it wasn’t for the epidemic, I’m fairly confident I’d be married to a beautiful, charming lady by now.

5. What is your occupation?
I was training to be a county doctor. When I was young, I wanted to run the ranch. But I suppose that duty will fall to my brother. Or perhaps I could do both. It’s all moot at this point. Right now, we’re struggling to stay clothed and fed.

6. What are your best and worst qualities?
I like to think I’m fairly intelligent. And disciplined. And neat. And cool and collected in a bad situation. And keen at shooting and riding. And admired by my peers. My brother says I talk too much, but he hardly talks at all.

7. What is your most treasured possession?
Uncle Warren’s pharm-garden. It grows the pharms that keep Mama alive, despite her coma. I don’t know what we would’ve done without that.

8. What is your greatest fear?
That my mother will die before we can find a cure for her. When my father left, he entrusted me (and Samuel) with caring for the ranch—and that included, in my mind, keeping Mama safe. She was infected on my watch, and now I have to do everything in my power to reverse that one moment of stupidity and neglect—and to make sure she doesn’t die from it.

It’s been three long years, taking care of her… feeding her, bathing her, treating pressure ulcers. Sometimes I wonder if she knows what’s happened to her. If she dreams of us. If she wishes that I’d let her die… Can I level with you again? Sometimes I’m not afraid of Mama dying. Sometimes I think my greatest fear is that my father will return, and he’ll see what we let happen to her.

To read more about Walt, check out Book 1 of the Idyll Trilogy, available now for only $0.99 on Amazon!

 

Once-a-book word: Nascent

Now presenting a word that will amaze your readers and confound your literary rivals. I beg of thee, use it sparingly!

Nascent. Okay, perhaps this word isn’t quiet at the level of some previous ‘once-a-book’ words: Desultory, Turgid, Sartorial, or Sanguine. But it’s still a word that I love, and whenever I run across it in a book, I always pause for a moment and savor it. Seriously!

Nay-scent. It just sounds nice. Simple but elegant. ‘Nascent’ is an adjective that means ‘just taking form’ or ‘budding.’ It’s a word that is implicitly full of potential; ‘nascent’ brings to mind big cultural forces—technological, political. It means big things on horizon, and who can’t get revved up about that?

The Pulchritude Award: Insouciant

I just can’t get into this word. ‘Insouciant.’ Who do you think you are? Skipping around, not a care in the world, flipping your hair and acting generally unconcerned.

Straighten up, ‘insouciant!’ You have a serious problem, in my book. Meaning, literally, if I use you in my book, people are not going to know what you mean. They’re going to assume you mean ’insolent’ or ‘unsociable.’ Maybe they’ll think you have something to do with Dr. Seuss or John Philip Sousa. To me, you sound like truculent, or insolvent.

You have too many syllables, you start with a negative prefix. You use expend far too much effort to convey your meaning of ‘blasé’ or ‘carefree.’

Ah, you see? Blasé. Carefree. Airy. Blithe. So many better words to get the point across.

Wait. Where are you going? ‘Insouciant!’ No don’t leave sad. Maybe I was a little rough on you. OK, maybe I’ll try to use you again. Fit you into a sentence here or there. Yeah… there you go. Perk up, ‘insouciant!’

Let’s all be insouciant, if just for a little while. Insouciant.

The pulchritude award goes to vocabulary words that don’t sound at all like what they mean. Click below to learn more about previous winners: Phlegmatic, Inflammable, and Alacrity.

 

 

Blame it on terrain

I love a book where the outdoor setting becomes an epic character in its own right. From mountainous hikes of ’Lord of the Rings’ to flatland and river crossings of ’Lonesome Dove’—from the pine forest battleground of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ to the bucolic countryside where rabbits(!) battle in ‘Watership Down’—in the hands of a talented writer, the landscape can become an active participant in the story, driving the plot, dominating the mood, or dispatching characters as ruthlessly as any living adversary. I love when I stumble upon new words that describe types of terrain. Here are a few of my favorite:

Talus: A slope of loose rubble. Fallen and broken rocks that pile up at the foot of a cliff or mountain. I believe ‘Reamde’ used this term a lot during its climactic firefight scene in the wild lands of northern Idaho.

Scree: A slope covered with small loose stones. (Okay, very similar to ‘talus,’ but still a great word!)

Saddle: A ebb in a mountain ridge: A small depression or flat space between two higher peaks. I’m pretty sure I first read this term during a hair-raising scene that George R.R. Martin wrote, describing a passage into the Vale of Arryn.

Foothills: The rolling terrain that signals the higher slopes of mountains to come. I’ve lived my whole life near the start of the Appalachian foothills, either in North Carolina or Atlanta.

Spur: A line of higher ground, extending out from the side of a taller ridge or mountain.

Draw: The shallow depression between two spurs. A good place to find water runoff.

Arroyo: A gorge or ravine in a desert or typically dry area. The gully is cut by a river during heavy rains. In Arabic, this is called a ‘wadi.’

Serac: A ridge of ice on a glacier. I think this phrase was used again and again in Dan Simmons’ historical fiction horror novel, ‘The Terror.’ The book is about a ship in the 1840s that is stranded on ice in the Arctic Circle. The first image in my mind was a flat wasteland of ice, with a ship trapped in the middle. But Simmons explains that the pressure of gigantic ice floes coming together thrust up thousands of jagged ridges and hook-shaped spires that turn the arctic into an inhospitable maze—that’s especially for sailors with nothing but 19th-Century technology to help them survive.

That’s a few of the types of terrain  I could think of. Can you think of any others you love?

I just read: Dissolving Classroom

I’m a big fan of two of the Junji Ito’s other two horror comics, Uzumaki and Gyo. So I was excited to try his latest manga.

Ito has a very distinctive style. His ideas feel like they were written by a demented 7th-grader, but that helps him maintain a sort of allegorical mood—and his stories always feel claustrophobic in their dream-time logic. His pen-work can be alternately beautifully dainty and creepily off-kilter, and that also fits the day-dream-to-fever-dream his tone.

Dissolving Classroom is a collection of stories that follow a strangely polite young man, Yuuma, and his gonzo little sister, Chizumi. Both are unique characters, and their both up to some sinister stuff. But I have to say that I found Yuuma much more interesting. He’s a sort of diabolical version of toxic friend. He’s very well-mannered—almost subservient at times—but beneath that bland exterior lurks an ardent devil-worshipper. Literally. Yuuma kills small animals to lure the devil to him. He keeps in constant mental contact with the devil, and those bad vibes he shares can rot away at his new friends, dissolving their brains and their bodies. He’s like a walking Fukushima, and he’s in a continuous state of demonic meltdown.

It’s not entirely clear whether or not Yuuma enjoys the effect that he has on people. He is constantly apologizing for the harm he has done—and will do—but it soon becomes clear that Yuuma’s apologies are his most common M.O. for melting people down. If Yuuma falls to his knees and starts repeating, “I’m sorry… I’m sooo sorry…” you need to run away from him immediately. Early on, it’s revealed that he’s not actually apologizing to the people around him, he’s apologizing to the devil. And those direct transmissions to Hell interact with the human body in the same way a microwave oven reacts with a popsicle.

The concept doesn’t 100% make sense to me. Why is Yuuma apologizing to the devil? Yuuma’s helping to sow death and destruction, and it becomes clear that the devil likes this. But as I mentioned, this is where dream-logic kicks in, and on some gut-level I really synced with this idea of there being something sinister about apologies.

I definitely fall in the camp of people who might say, “Don’t say you’re sorry, do something to prove it.” And of course, no one likes groveling. But Ito shows effusive apologizing to be a passive-aggressive act of self-gratification. Like I said, this idea really struck me as ‘true’ on a gut level. Maybe I needed a Japanese writer to help me grasp this idea—like how the German language helped us define a concept like Schadenfreude, which most Americans had never really thought about before, but innately realized was a real thing.

Anyhoo… The ‘Dissolving’ concept is definitely not a one-trick-pony. With each story, Ito finds new ways to draw out drama—and creeps—from stiff Yuuma and wild Chizumi. The final story is not as disturbing, but it wraps up the saga in a perfect way that left me feeling surprised but also thinking, ‘I should have seen that coming!’

If you’re a manga fan or a horror fan, I’d say check this out!

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Series Condition: Silver Surfer

More and more lately, I’ve been in the mood to read comic books and graphic novels. And more and more, I’ve wanted those comics to be bright and colorful—with fluid line-work and just a little bit cartoonishness to them. I’m really gravitating toward the work of artists like David Rubin and Andrew MacLean right now. But then the other day I realized, ‘Hey, why not check in on the modern master of bold, fun comics… Mike Allred!”

I’ve been a fan of Allred’s since back in my college days, when he drew Madman and also The Atomics. My favorite series he ever did was X-Force/X-Statix. In that series, he just went ree-dic-ulous when it came to color palettes and character designs. But also Peter Millgan’s plotting and themes on that series were surprisingly topical and hard-boiled, which was a nice juxtaposition to the art. I’d definitely recommend checking that out. But anyway…

I’d heard good things about the Silver Surfer series that Mike Allred had been working on, so I decided I should give it a try. Boy was I glad I did!

Silver Surfer
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Mike Allred
Color Artist: Laura Allred
Publisher: Marvel
2014-2015
15 issues (A completed series)

I can’t say I’m much of a fan of the Silver Surfer. From what I’ve seen of him, his personality seems as nondescript as his character design. Also he’s one of those cosmically powered characters who seems to be able to do anything, based on the circumstance he’s been written into. He’s a walking, talking Deus Ex Machina. Where’s the drama in that?

Series co-creators Scott and Allred avoid this problem by introducing Dawn—a plucky-yet-vulnerable earthling girl who becomes the Surfer’s companion on his galaxy-spanning adventures. Does the ‘companion’ part sound familiar? To me, it sounded a lot like Doctor Who. I like Doctor Who somewhat, but the episode ‘Silence in the Library’ kind of ruined the series for me. It was legitimately (and schlockly) scary—which I like—but also it emphatically points out the fact that the Doctor is compulsively putting random civilians in horrible danger, for the sake of intergalactic adventure. Sure the humans are willing participants, but it seems quite neglectful—even slightly diabolical—that the Doctor doesn’t offer much to protect his companions, except for a chintzy ‘sonic-screwdriver’ and the constant advice, ‘Run fast!’

This ‘Silver Surfer’ series avoids this problem of manslaughter-level adventureneering because:
A) It quickly establishes a quirky, swashbuckling vibe, and the dangers never seem that visceral or immediate.
B) The Surfer is always cosmically powerful, so he can keep Dawn safe in just about any instance.

The story begins twelve years before present time, and Dawn is a just little kid wishing on a star. That meteor ends up the being the Silver Surfer, who is in his pre-heroic phase—when we was a enthralled henchman of the planet-devouring god-villain, Galactus. Instead of wishing for something for herself, young Dawn wishes for the falling star—wishes that it will keep flying forever so that it always have the chance to grant wishes to others.

This first connection is never brought up in the series (although maybe it is revealed in the next volume), but nevertheless, the story skips ahead to present-day, and Dawn is abducted as a hostage because some enigmatic cosmic device declares that she is the most important person in the Silver Surfer’s life. How is that possible if they have never really met? The series spend a chunk of time unspooling the Surfer and Dawn’s relationship. And along the way, they find themselves in some pretty zany predicaments.

They tangle with the Never Queen, who is the cosmic entity who embodies of all unrealized possibility.

They go to a planet where everyone is obsessed with being the ONE perfect expert in their profession. On this adventure, they meet Warrior One, Banker One, Ice-Cream Maker One, etc.

They return to visit Dawn’s family just in time to face off against the obviously-name villain Nightmare. Then we’re treated to a classic ‘everybody faces their greatest fear’ adventure.

Add to that a ‘time-loop’ adventure that’s laid out so that the comic book issue can be cut up and pasted together into an real Moebius strip. Seriously.

Along the way there’s plenty of nice, smaller moments. Like the one where the Surfer has to get used to traveling across interstellar distances with a human who has to eat and drink three times a day, and pee and poop out all that stuff even more often.

But the highlight of this run is a multi-part story where the duo find a hidden planet occupied by 666 billion refugees from 666 billion worlds. Hmm, what kind of monster could have destroyed that many planets? (Burp!) and who is the former indentured servant who helped lead that monster to all these worlds? Let’s just say that the Surfer’s past comes back to haunt him, and it leads to a turning point in his Dawn and his relationship. And also a clash of cosmic powers that is actually truly memorable. The story culminates with a ‘I am Spartacus’ moment that ‘calls back’ to the Surfer’s origin story, and that is actually pretty emotional. It’s one of the best pure superhero stories I’ve read in a long time.

I’d highly recommend the series, if you’re looking for comic-book in the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy or Doctor Who. And the good news is that there’s a volume of Silver Surfer with the same creative team, so that means a whole other galaxy of possibilities and adventures to explore!

 

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