FREE BOOKS!!

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Halloween is turning out to be a treat for book-lovers. There are four books I know of that are free over the next few days which are normally not — perfect time to go pick them up.

ImageFirst off, go get Peter Cawdron’s Little Green Men. Seriously. Do it now.

I reviewed it already a few months ago and it will be well worth your time. Cawdron drew his inspiration from the Philip K. Dick stories we all grew up on and achieved his goal tremendously. A classic sci-fi tale written in modern times. LGM is free today through Nov. 3.

Next is Blood Moon by Carol Davis.

I also reviewed Blood Moon a few weeks ago and did a short interview with author Carol Davis. Carol is fairly new to the self-publishing scene on Amazon, but not new to writing. Carol has got some serious writing chops and Blood Moon shows it. A good werewolf story told in a new way. Blood Moon will be free on Halloween day.

ImageAlso free right now is Eric Tozzi’s The Scout.

This is the only one out of the bunch I haven’t yet had a chance to sink my teeth into, but boy does it look good. Very highly recommended by friends of mine, Tozzi’s book tells the story of an alien scout that was sent to survey the earth. Tozzi’s background lends itself perfectly to his first written work. From his Amazon author page: “For over five years I worked for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a documentary producer and editor, covering Mars Exploration.” I know I’ll be reading this as soon as I get a chance.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Nighthawks at the Mission by Forbes West.

This book can probably best be summed up in this review by Michael Bunker. “Nighthawks at the Mission is an epic, fantasy, sci-fi, tour-de-force. It is also a slightly demented, scatter-brained, fragmented, meme-dropping, allusion-riddled, drug-addled, Jack Kerouac-like, stream-of-consciousness mind thumping that dares you to “get it.”

Also right now, I’m offering my own sci-fi horror short story Ant Apocalypse free today and tomorrow.

The set-up is simple — a man in a house with ants. What happens when those ants become more than what the man expects? If you download it and read it, I’d love for you to leave me a review on Amazon for it.

Anyway — that’s what I’ve got for now. Go get some great reading material!!

Jam Night — a short story

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about bullying, and decided to share a fictional story that is very autobiographical in many respects. I haven’t posted fiction here before, but I thought you guys might enjoy this short story. 

Standing at the top of the three-point line, Scott kicked his right foot just a bit. It was just eight inches out in front of the left foot, but it was enough. The thought of what he was doing – what might actually happen, thrilled and scared him at the same time.

Scott waited in the middle of the junior high basketball court, holding one of the burnt orange leather balls, which bounced all around him. He wasn’t dressed to play – no one was, really. It was a Friday night and Scott had begrudgingly decided to attend Jackson Junior High Jam Night – a dance and activity night rolled into one event held once every couple months.

The last time – the only time – Scott had attended Jam Night, he’d stood against the wall in the cafeteria, too awkward and shy to find his way onto the dance floor. Definitely too uncoordinated to show off the dance moves he’d left in his basement at home.

Some friends of his – at least he hoped they were his friends – had encouraged Scott to come to the Jam Night. With his older sister hosting a slumber party, Scott ultimately chose the least awkward choice and had his mom drop him off at the school’s entrance just before 7 p.m.

As his mother drove away, Scott had the sudden urge to run after the family minivan, get back in, and take his lumps from the high school aged girls back at home. But Scott resisted, putting one foot in front of the other as the front doors of the junior high loomed in front of him.

The bass of the music was already thrumming through Scott even with the doors closed to the school’s cafeteria. Jump by Kriss Kross came blaring through the cracks between the doors and as if to emphasize the tune, Scott saw two classmates emerge from the cafeteria into the hallway with their jeans on backwards.

To calm his nerves, Scott found the snack table, picking up a few cookies and a cup of red punch.

“Hey Scott!”

Quickly turning around, Scott spilled some of the red fruit punch on his jeans. Great. Here five minutes and I’m already embarrassing myself. He looked up from the red splotches on the front of his jeans and sees Garrett walking in the front door. Sitting next to Garrett every day in band led to a natural friendship, but Scott was still a little wary of almost everyone in the school. He’d only been here four months so far after years in a previous state.

“Hi Garrett,” Scott muttered before turning his attention back to his pants.

Garrett sees the damage, realizing his greeting caused the spill. “Oh boy…sorry! I bet dabbing that with some warm water might help.”

The two boys headed to the nearest bathroom and did their best to clean the red spots off Scott’s jeans. Not only did Garrett’s solution not work, it only made the stains worse, giving Scott the appearance of wetting himself.

“Great. I didn’t even want to come – now I’m going to look stupid,” Scott said with resignation.

Scott slid down the tile wall opposite the sinks, more than willing to stay in the bathroom the rest of the evening. Garrett stood back, leaning against the edge of the porcelain sink. The look on his face is blank at first, but soon he has a quizzical look before he heads to the bathroom door.

“Hold on, Scott. I’ll be right back,” Garrett said, bursting out of the restroom. Less than a minute later, Garrett was back, but his jeans were now spotted with red splotches of their own – matching the red fruit punch Scott had initially spilled on his own jeans. Without a word, Garrett went back to the sink, and splashed a handful of water on the stained jeans.

“There. If you were planning on being the best dressed here tonight, you’ve got another thing coming,” Garrett said to Scott with a mischievous smile.

That was all it took to get Scott up off the bathroom floor and out among his peers. The school, normally quiet as lessons and lectures went on behind the closed classroom doors, was buzzing with the electricity of young teens uninhibited with a weekend ahead of them. It was a chance to show off for your friends and classmates and to possibly make some new friends in the process.

Scott and Garrett went around the edges of the cafeteria, eventually ditching out on the dance floor and the girls who primarily inhabited it. They found the game room with a few dozen adolescents playing Chess, Checkers, Clue, Sorry! and Monopoly among others. All the tables were filled with other classmates waiting to play, so Scott and Garrett kept wandering.

That wandering eventually led them to the school’s basketball court, which was a chaotic mess of gangly teens trying to make moves like Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson. Scott wasn’t gifted athletically, but Garrett liked to play, so the two grabbed a ball and took to a smaller half-court towards the back of the gym. Finally, Scott was enjoying himself as he made a few baskets with Garrett gathering rebounds.

As the two continued to play, others filtered over and eventually more than 10 were on the court, which meant substitutions, putting Scott on the sidelines. He couldn’t blame Garrett. After all, Scott just couldn’t compete in sports like his new-found friend could. With no end in sight to the game, Scott grabbed a nearby ball and went to another half-court on the other side of the large gym.

Scott went in for a few lay-ups, working up a little bit of a sweat in the process and then the ball was knocked out of his hands.

“Ha! Way to go fatty!”

Randy Weber. The one kid in the school that wouldn’t let up on Scott even though Scott was far from a new kid after four months. He was easy pickings in the first few weeks of school after transferring from the western part of the United States, but had hoped that after four months kids like Randy would let up. He remembered the first time he met Randy in English class. Scott saw the kid’s nameplate on his desk and introduced himself.

“My name is Scott and you are Randy Weber?” Scott asked, pronouncing the boy’s last name like Wee-ber.

“What a moron. What kind of kids are they letting in to this school these days? The name’s Weber – like Webb-er. Doofus.”

Ever since that day, Scott tried to keep his distance from Randy, but they had four classes together. Keeping your distance was difficult when you had to sit near your tormentor every day. At Jam Night in the gymnasium, Scott didn’t know what to do, so he simply gathered up the basketball and went back for a few three-pointers as Randy kept walking. But, after a few three-point attempts, it was clear Randy wasn’t going to leave Scott alone when he swatted the ball out of Scott’s hands after a miss and chucked it across the gym with a maniacal laugh.

Once again, Scott took a loose ball nearby and went back to the top of the key. Out of the corner of his eye, he found Randy Weber running towards him as he prepared to shoot. Instead of shooting, he stuck out his foot and purposefully tripped the bully.

Down Randy went, face first on the slick gym floor, skidding for a bit. The entire gymnasium seemed to stop; all the action on the courts froze as Randy slowly stood back up and turned around. His nose was bleeding, a small trickle which had already reached his upper lip.

He closed the ground between himself and Scott quickly, or so it seemed to Scott who was incapable of movement during the entire process. He couldn’t believe what he’d done, even if it was just a few inches of his foot.

“You’re gonna be sorry you did that, fatty,” Randy said, his mouth just inches from Scott’s. Without waiting for a response, Randy balled up his right hand and sucker-punched Scott in the gut.

Immediately, Scott crumpled on the ground, never before hit with the force he’d suffered at Randy’s hand or hit with the humiliation Randy had hit him with, all at the same time. He closed his eyes, just hoping that Randy would go away – that the single punch would be enough to sate the beast within. Before he knew it, however, another voice came through.

“Leave him alone.”

Garrett.

Scott opened his left eye to see what was going on above him. Garrett had abandoned the pick-up game on the other court and was now between him and Randy. The sweat Garrett had accumulated over the past 20 minutes on the basketball court, shone on his brow like a helmet on a medieval knight. Randy reached over with both hands and shoved Garrett, hoping Scott’s prone figure behind him would trip him up. Scott scrambled out of the way, allowing Garrett to stumble without interference.

Scott got back on his feet and Garrett joins him as they stand against Randy.

“Just go away…find someone else to pick on, Randy,” Garrett said, putting his arm around Scott’s shoulders.

Randy looked around and found no allies. Backing up, he picked up a loose ball and threw it overhand. As it flew over the head of the two friends, the bully turned and walked out of the gym.

Garrett turned back to Scott. Somehow he knew Scott didn’t want to talk about it, but instead did the best thing he could.

“Come on – let’s go play ball,” Garrett said, leading Scott back to the court and starting a new game with Scott as his first choice. 

Moving & Memories

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When I was young, I moved a few times. There were a few moves before I’d even hit the age of remembering what was happening to me, but the first real home I can recall was a large two-story home about 10 miles outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

It was a dream — a big house on a big lot with a corn field backing up onto the backyard. I remember playing hide and seek with my sister in the cornfield and occasionally a friend that I would have over. My mom tended a garden in the back with all sorts of items, including tomatoes and even some blueberry bushes. The backdoor had a huge step down, especially for a six-year old, and I remember watching Haley’s Comet from the spacious backyard that was as large to me at the time as all of outer space.

In the front was our road — we lived on a cul-de-sac so there wasn’t much in terms of traffic. Our cat, Princess, had kittens during our time there. We took most to North Dakota and released them on Grandma’s farm, but we kept one, which us kids named Jamie. That kitten was hit by a car on that cul-de-sac, the road with virtually no traffic. I practiced riding my bike on the road, but didn’t perfect my cycling skills until we’d moved to Phoenix, Arizona the summer before my third grade year.

Phoenix was hot.

No joke — the place does have a dry heat. Those who grow up in the Midwest with the humidity of 98% on an August afternoon can’t comprehend the heat. But, that’s not what I remember about my home. Sure,  we had cactus growing in our neighbor’s yard — if you can call a gravel-filled space a yard. The grass in our backyard was brown most of the year and we rarely had to mow it. All of the homes in our subdivision had a six-foot tall block wall separating us from our neighbors, but our neighbor to the north had a Great Dane who could place his front paws on top of the wall and peer over. As you can imagine, that didn’t make Princess thrilled to be in the backyard.

The thing I remember about Phoenix was my friends. I went to church at Orangewood Church of the Nazarene and quickly was made a part of perhaps the best group of friends I’ve ever had in my life. Adam, Brent, Ben and Josh. Later Brad moved in from Indiana and Josh moved off to Idaho, but the friendships I developed will stick with me for the rest of my life. The time we would spend playing football in a grassy lot after church was finished each Sunday morning are some of the best memories I have in my life. One of the biggest regrets of my life wasn’t moving from Phoenix to the suburbs of Chicago — it was not keeping in touch with some of the greatest friends I’d ever made.

Once in Illinois, I was immediately thrown into a tough situation. I had gone through sixth grade in elementary school in Arizona, but at my new school, sixth grade was part of middle school. All the kids I was now joining in seventh grade had already bonded and made friends the year before. I was an easy target for bullies and it took a while to make friends. I went out for football that 7th grade year — and then was diagnosed with mono a few weeks into school. Already out sick for two weeks and unable to stay on the football team. Not a great way to start.

The new house was about 40 minutes outside Chicago and one of my first memories of the house was a wasp nest. The house had sat empty for so long before my parents bought it that a wasp colony had invaded one of the eaves and had built itself into the wall and even slightly into my bedroom. It was taken care of fairly quickly, but there was always a nagging fear early on that wasps would take over my room.

Junior high and high school wasn’t always great, but I did eventually make friends. Some friends I have managed to stay in contact with even today.

This look back is really because I was thinking about why writing and the love of books is so important to me. I suppose it’s because I was never able to make those lasting memories and friendships from one location to another. What did I have? The books that sat on the same bookshelf year after year. The dusty pages with stories that entertained me again and again never went away. Even if I went somewhere else, I could always take them along.

Even today, I’ve now lived in one spot longer than any other in my life, but the books and stories will always have a special place, both in my heart, and in my home.

Books and Movies

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We all love stories, to sit back and enjoy a good yarn.

But, where do we get those stories? More and more, those stories are coming from all sorts of different places. It could be plays, musicals, books, blogs, TV, movies, radio, podcasts, YouTube videos, and I could keep this list going forever and ever and ever…

But, what I want to address is books and movies. I gotta say – I love me a good book, but also love me a good movie. I’ll never be a filmmaker, but I can write a book, so I do have a somewhat vested interest in how books are re-translated to the big screen.

The issue came up for me today as I started showing a film in one of my classes after we read the novel together. The book is the 1964 Civil War novel, Across Five Aprils, that tells the story of one family’s experiences as they see sons leave for the war in rural Illinois. It received a Newbery Honor when it was first released, and has some great historical lessons. I wouldn’t say it’s a great book, but it isn’t bad.

But, then I found out there is a movie. “Great!” I thought. I can do the book and show the movie to cap the unit. One problem – the movie is terrible. I hate to criticize movies that are derived from books, but this is as much “based” on Across Five Aprils as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is based on Ol’ Abe’s life story.

There’s a point when you are no longer telling the story the author set out in the first place or when you are telling a whole new story. That latter camp is where Across Five Aprils finds itself. The characters are weak at best, the acting reminds me of a class project I might have shot on a weekend when I was in 8th grade and the plot is convoluted. The book, while is simple at times, at least has a clear and concise plot that is easy to follow.

In other words – it is terrible.

There are always going to be differences between the source material and the movie, but finding that balance is the trick. All of the Harry Potter films toe that fine line and, I think, come away for the better. Are they the same as the books? No. But, do they work as a movie and tell much of the same story? Oh yeah. As a companion to the books, they work amazingly. They get the key plot points dead-on and don’t mess with those who have longed to see their beloved characters on screen.

Not every book can be made into an effective movie. Well, at least that’s what I thought when I read World War Z. As a direct adaptation, it would have been unmakable as a film, but tweaking the plot and giving the story a main protagonist made for a very effective movie.

I get a kick out of watching movies with my daughter after she’s read the book first. This summer we watched the two Percy Jackson movies. She polished off the PJ books back at the end of last school year and was eagerly anticipating the new movie all summer. We watched it and the entire time I got, “Well, he wasn’t supposed to look like that!” or “They didn’t do that in the book,” or “Wait…that’s not what they did in the book.”

At a certain point we all need to step back and separate books from their movie adaptations, but filmmakers also need to sometimes do a better job of recognizing if the source material is better than the stuff they are filming.

 

Expanding the Universe

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One of the best things about indie publishing is the reader can have a direct line to the writer. 

I count myself in both camps — I’m a writer, but I love a good story and I’ve made some friends by reading their books along the way. One of those friends is Fredric Shernoff

ImageI first became acquainted with Fred when I read his Silo Saga story, Angels of the Earth. I thought it was a good story and checked up on him, Fortunately for me, he had just released part 2 of his Atlantic Island series. I jumped at it, getting both and devouring them within a couple days this summer. Part 3 was great as well, completing the story Shernoff set off to write in the first place. I really liked it and gave the omnibus a four-star rating on Amazon. 

But…if I had a complaint, it was that there was so much more for Shernoff to explore. He left a lot of room to explore in his dystopian future and there was so much that he could explore. I was actually disappointed that Shernoff was done with the series. I was Okay with the vision Fred had in the first place for Atlantic Island, but I wanted more — and I told him so. Image

Apparently I wasn’t the only one and now Fred is back with more. He just released a short story entitled Galaxi, set about a decade after the events of AI, and revolving around a 13-year-old girl caught in the middle of the political situation of this island. I had the chance to read it early and I’ll say Fred had improved writing from Part 1 to now. From what he’s said, there are some more stories planned for his universe after Galaxi and he’ll be expanding it in the future. 

Which is fantastic. I really liked his initial story and thought it had a lot of potential and some more stories will really showcase all the questions he left dangling at the finish of Atlantic Island. I’m thrilled Shernoff took the advice of his fans to expand his universe. It’s always a tough decision to continue writing in the familiar world or to plunge into something new.

Right now, Fred has reduced the price of the original Atlantic Island trilogy to just 99 cents and Galaxi is sitting at 99 cents — a whole lotta story for under $2. If you have the cash to spare, pick it up. I don’t think you’ll regret it.  You can visit his Author Page right here

The Most Prolific Author You’ve (Probably) Never Read

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I’ve gotten to know Carol Davis over the past couple of months after she was welcomed into the WOOL fandom with her Kindle Worlds story, Rebel State: Underground. Since she hit publish on Aug. 30, she has since published a follow-up to her initial story as well as a one-off entitled They Kill. Back in the 90’s, Davis wrote and published two authorized Quantum Leap novels, but has been writing all along. 
Just last week, Davis published her first original story through Amazon — Blood Moon, a short story. I’ll include my review after a short interview I did with Davis (spoiler alert — I really, really liked it). Davis’s background in TV really informs her stories and she does a phenomenal job in bringing them to life. The following are just a few questions I peppered Carol Davis with yesterday:  
 
ImageYour author bio on Amazon now lists 6 works, but how many stories do you estimate you’ve written in your adult life? How were those published or read by others?
I’m going to guess at around 800 stories.  (I’ll use “story” as an all-inclusive term — some of my work was teleplays, a couple of screenplays, half a dozen novels, almost all of it fanfiction.)  I’ve always been crazy prolific when I’m interested in something! I started out publishing in fanzines.  The past 7 years, I’ve been offering my stories via LiveJournal, where they’ve been very well received — and that gave me the confidence to give Kindle Direct Publishing a try.
 
What do you think was the greatest impact on your writing career?
The encouragement of established writers.  As a beginning writer, I felt that “If this person, who knows what they’re doing and has had some noticeable success with their writing, says my writing is good enough that I should keep at it, I’m going to believe them.”  The past few years, the positive feedback I’ve gotten from readers on LiveJournal has really kept me writing.  There’s nothing like a pat on the back to keep a writer hammering on the ol’ keyboard.
 
What did WOOL and Hugh Howey’s writing career mean to you?
I was aware of Kindle Worlds before the big Wool-mania began, and it sounded like a very interesting proposition — a way for new writers to jump into the pool without the need to win over a “legitimate” publisher.  I loved  WOOL (the original novella), and when it was announced that Hugh was going to offer his universe to Kindle Worlds, all the pieces came together for me, and I got started on my first Silo Saga story.  Knowing that Hugh very patiently wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and published his work online with a nice degree of success (and was finally able to grab the brass ring) was very encouraging to somebody who’s spent a lot of years giving her writing away for free.
 
Talk about Blood Moon and the rationale for writing something that wasn’t fanfiction.
My long-term goal is building up a good-sized catalogue of work on Amazon, so that when I retire I’ll have something to do all day (putting together more stories!), and will be able to earn a bit of money to supplement my “fixed income.”  Original work seems like the way to go, because the field is wide open.  Horror, romance, family drama… I can give them all a try.  Short stories, novellas, full-length novels.  It’s a wonderful, thrilling opportunity.
 

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….and now my review of Blood Moon, Davis’ newest story, on sale for just 99 cents. I highly recommend it. 
 
Carol Davis is new to selling books on Kindle, but isn’t new to crafting and weaving a great story and that shows in her short story, “Blood Moon.”
Davis has previously one dabbled in the world of fanfiction with licensed works in the Quantum Leap universe and most recently with three stories in Hugh Howey’s WOOLiverse. Blood Moon is Davis’ first attempt at an original story; after reading it, I can honestly say if this is Davis’ try at originality — bring it on.
Immediately upon beginning the story, the reader is dropped into the middle of an already moving situation, almost as if you had started watching an hour-long TV show after the first commercial break and had to work to catch up on details you missed out on in the first few minutes. Thankfully, Davis doesn’t skimp on the details, bringing the reader along for the ride as we follow the road-weary Will Bronson and his 11-year-old son, Danny as they track down and hunt werewolves. We get glimpses at a larger world that Davis has clearly mapped out for this quick introduction. The story reads like an episodic television series that could go on and on with Will and his son hunting and killing wolves throughout a nine-year run on the tube.
If this is it for her werewolf stories, I’ll be disappointed, but ff this is what Davis gives us when she isn’t working in other authors’ worlds, I’ll take it.

John Marshall — a career birthed from mistakes

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So as I was talking to my government kids about Marbury v. Madison today, and I really started thinking about John Marshall.

Marshall has long been considered to be the “Greatest Chief Justice” of the U.S. Supreme Court, but he was almost an afterthought to be on the court to begin with. While his tenure on the highest court in the land was the most profound in our history, it almost didn’t happen.

Marshall had been involved in politics in the years leading up to 1801, serving, in fact, as John Adams’ Secretary of State in 1800-1801, all the way up until Adams left office on March 4. That’s when perhaps the most dramatic shift in U.S. politics took place, the handing over of power from one political party to another for the first time ever – from the Federalist Adams to the Democrat-Republican Thomas Jefferson.

With that changeover looming, Adams and the lameduck Congress saw one opportunity to retain any power – judges. Since judges are appointed, not elected, the Federalists viewed the judicial branch as a safe spot to place a whole bunch of Federalists as the Democrat-Republicans lead the government for the next few years. Hence, the Judiciary Act of 1801 – otherwise known as the Midnight Judges Act, which added 39 new federal judgeships – all of which would be Federalist appointments.

Incumbent Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth was in poor health and leaving the bench. Adams initially tried to offer the spot to former Chief Justice John Jay, but Jay refused, leaving Adams little choice but to go with his most trusted advisor – John Marshall.

Back really quick to Marshall’s old job as Secretary of State. Marshall was responsible for getting those judicial appointments to Congress for approval, but three were left undelivered by the time Jefferson and his Secretary of State, James Madison took charge of the administration.

Do you really think Madison was going to deliver those appointments, allowing Federalist judges to exert their authority while the Democrat-Republicans started a new regime in Washington? No way.

One of those prospective judges was William Marbury, who sued Madison, insisting the appointment should have been made official. Eventually the case makes its way to the Supreme Court, where John Marshall comes back into play.

Looking at Marshall’s failure to submit the judgeships in the first place, it would be natural to assume he could just say, “Oops – you’re right, Marbury. Let me fix that for you.”

But, while he was the one who screwed up, Marshall establishes the most important legal precedent in our nation’s history.

Judicial Review.

Marshall points out that the ability the court supposedly has to force someone (Madison in this case) to perform a certain act (push through the appointment), was Unconstitutional. Congress had given the court this power to issue what were called Writs of Mandamus in the Judiciary Act of 1787, and Marbury notes that that power was not listed in our nation’s Constitution, and was therefore not valid.

And so Marshall sets up perhaps the greatest judicial career of anyone who sat on the bench, all on a whim of a President, based on a mistake that he himself had made.

As we live our lives and make mistakes, do we make the best out of those situations? John Marshall did.