The Best Things I Laid Eyes on in 2015

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So a few weeks before Christmas, I put out my “Best of” list for short stories, fully intending to do the same for books and movies and who knows what. Then…I didn’t. But, I don’t want to leave it all hanging out there, so I’m combining lists and putting out a “Best Things I Laid Eyes on in 2015” list. You’ll find movies, books, places, people and more. I tried to think of the entire past calendar year, but I know I missed a thing or two I loved. Forgive me. So…here’s my list:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

bb-8_14e2ad77I’ve seen the newest Star Wars film twice now and yet it seems like we’ve just shaken hands. I can’t even tell you how many times I saw IV, V, and VI as a kid. We had the movies on VHS and I watched them over and over and over. I loved them all and when Lucas re-released them in theatres with the latest effects, my dad made sure all of us kids were sitting in the seats.

Then the Prequels. Ugh. Like so many others I wanted to like them. Like so many others I was disappointed. I barely remember watching them and I know I’ve only seen Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith once each. And I know with the final movie I only saw it so I could say I did. There was no hype. No anticipation. No excitement.

Not so here. There are haters, but they can forget about trying to get me to hate it. It checked all the boxes for me and established new characters I care about. A re-tread? Hardly. Similar storybeats, but so was Harry Potter. So have been stories throughout the ages. I am an unabashed fan and I don’t care who knows.

Weapons of Mass Deception by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

weaponsmass_cvr_lrgBruns and Olson have a great book on their hands, I think. Reading this book brought be right back to the hours and hours I spent reading Tom Clancy’s books when I was in high school and college. Clancy had a knack for telling a complicated story with complex international political ramifications and making me care about it. With Weapons of Mass Deception, Bruns and Olson have done the same. The book is a tremendous achievement and I can only hope that the two coordinate their efforts again to give us more books like this down the road.

Jessica Jones / Daredevil

David-Tennant-Jessica-Jones-Poster-Doctor-Who-BrasilI’m lumping these two together. The first two Marvel properties developed for Netflix and both were daring (pun intended) and showed us a side of Marvel we didn’t know we would ever get on the screen. In Daredevil we got a great introduction to the dirty underbelly of New York and were made aware early on that anything goes. Daredevil showed us that in violence, but keeping with the theme of Murdock’s blindness, a lot was kept in the dark and at night. That violence was brought to light big time in Jessica Jones. I loved Jessica Jones. I think I liked it better than Daredevil and that is saying a lot. As a father of a pre-teen girl, I am worried about the world she’ll grow up in and the boys she may date. As a high school teacher, I see a lot of borderline abusive relationships as well. In Jessica Jones, we see those relationships personified in the villain Kilgrave. What a performance and in a way it’s a shame what the end result was for his character. I’m looking forward to what Marvel and Netflix will be cooking up for us in 2016.

Chicago Architectural Tour

BoatTour2_NatalieTaylorI went on a school trip to Chicago early in the summer and one of the things we did was this. If you ever get the chance, it is a great trip up and down the Chicago River with historical context for nearly every one of the buildings along the shore. There is a lot of new building going on and the new Trump Tower gets its fair share of criticism, but I daresay that is part of what has spurred the new developments along the route. The day we went ended up being a lot colder than we anticipated, but I still wound up fascinated by what I saw and heard along the tour.

Constitution/Warrior by Nick Webb

warriorThese books were great. So great that when I was buying Christmas gifts, I bought them in paperback for my dad. He’s hard to shop for, but he’s a military space sci-fi nut, so I knew I was safe with these books. I enjoyed Constitution, but I wasn’t sure what Webb would give us in the follow up. Wow. He really set up a complex and interesting backstory for each side in the conflict (and there are many more than two) and set up a potentially explosive third book in this series. If you like action and intrigue in your science fiction, check out Nick Webb’s books.

Ant Man

The last movie I remember smiling about so much in the theatre before Star Wars was Ant Man. Such a great movie. Really impressed me with its humor and vibe. Just as Daredevil and Jessica Jones redefined Marvel for the TV audience, so did Ant Man for films after the success of Guardians of the Galaxy. I love the nods to Avengers and how it all fits in with the larger universe without feeling too small.

My Newest Book Cover

Coming Soon…. Check this out:

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The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott

I’d read the book by Andy Weir last year so I can’t credit that here, but the movie exceeded all my expectations. I have been burned too many times by books turned into terrible movies, and so when Scott managed to turn The Martian into not only a decent movie, but a GREAT movie, I was thrilled. Matt Damon did a fantastic job and I thought the changes made from book to film were slight and appropriate for the conversion to the movie theatre.

ALL the short stories

11160045_10207031928225789_1011873126454258904_oI read a lot of short stories in 2015. A LOT. I already did my Best of list for just short stories, so I’m not going to rehash them here, but if you like short fiction, you need to check out the Future Chronicles curated by Samuel Peralta. Some great works by a lot of amazing authors. (Myself included, Full Disclosure.)

My Family

Over the summer I had the opportunity to see a lot of family. My wife and I went on a joint vacation to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with her parents. Unlike some, I do like my in-laws and we had a great kick-off to the summer and good stories for years to come.

We also had a family reunion for my family. My sister lives a couple states away and my older brother is over 2,000 miles away, so getting us all together is easier said than done. Fortunately it worked out and we all met at my parents’ home for a few days. Unfortunately, my 99-year-old grandmother passed away in North Dakota the same week, sending my parents off to handle that business. All of my siblings were able to make it for the funeral, but it did put a bit of a damper on the overall summer get-together. Regardless, it was a great time to see people I don’t typically get to see.

The Dark Man/The White Night by Desmond Doane

26105206A different kind of books than Webb’s offerings, but still just as compelling. If I was going to put out a Best Books of 2016 list, I really think The White Night would have held the top spot. Who is Desmond Doane? That’s the penname for Ernie Lindsey, an accomplished author on his own, but for these horror/supernatural books, he wanted a little edge he couldn’t provide as himself, so Desmond Doane was born. The first book is good, but the second…man, I couldn’t put it down. There was a moment – and you’ll get there too – when I read it and I had to send a message to Ernie cursing him out for what he did to me. I couldn’t wait to write up my review for it and I am strongly anticipating the third book in his Graveyard: Classified series in 2016.

Humbird Cheese, Toma, Wisconsin

humbird-cheese-mart-910750A must stop on our family trips to North Dakota. On our way up for the funeral, we had to stop here. If you love cheese, this is a great place with free samples of nearly all the varieties of cheese. Me? I love a good smoked cheddar and buffalo wing-flavored cheese curds.

Collider Movie Talk on YouTube

We ditched the Dish this year. After over 10 years with either Dish Network or DirecTV, we finally cut the cord so to speak. We rely on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu for most of our traditional TV viewing. However, I’ve come to expect one show each day – Collider Movie Talk on YouTube. Each day, John Campea leads a panel discussion show to discuss movie reviews, box office returns and general movie news. It isn’t dry – each of the hosts have their own unique brand of humor and their passion of movies and genre movies in particular is infectious. In addition to Movie Talk, they also produce weekly shows for comics (Heroes) and Star Wars (Jedi Council) as well as a plethora of TV show recap episodes. If you like entertainment news that isn’t just Kardashian this and Kanye that, check this out.

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New Release – Jam Night

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Jam NightAbout a year ago, I wrote a short story inspired by things that were going on at the time. There had been some Internet bullying of indie authors, so I worked out some demons by writing a fictional story informed by my time in junior high. I can’t say by any stretch that I enjoyed junior high (with the exception of Mr. Henry’s Geography class and my 8th grade band trip to Michigan), but my experiences developed who I am.

Who am I?

I am a person who was bullied. Even now, over 20 years later, when I write that statement, my heart hesitates. Even admitting it makes me wonder if someone will retaliate against me. You might scoff, but that fear still runs through me to this day.

I was going through my blog the other day and found the story I’d posted, which I called Jam Night. I read through it, dusted it off a little, tightened up the wording and added a few hundred words to the narrative. It isn’t a long story — coming in just under 2,500 words, but it is one I needed to tell. I don’t care if anyone buys it or even reads it, but I wanted to put it out there for anyone who might be going through a tough time at school, or in their personal life with bullies. It is a trite saying, but it does get better. The first couple years of high school were no treat, either, but I can honestly say that a small group of friends made my final few years in high school some of my favorite memories.

Ultimately, writing the story helped me to tackle a few of my own demons left over from junior high. Will I ever be rid of all of the demons? I doubt it, but maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe those demons are there to remind me what it’s like to be on the side of the bullied. As an adult, it’s easy to say kids should just “suck it up,” but for them, the fear can be crippling and debilitating. I hope this story can at least help one person in that regard.

Free Book Today – Baking With Swords

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The short story collection I published a few months ago with my brother Paul and my sister Betsy is now available for free for a very limited time (just one more day!).
You can pick it up at no cost and enjoy three separate and different short stories. Paul’s story, The Price of Greatness, is about man’s eternal search rivaling the ordinary of daily life. Betsy’s tale, Flutter, tells about a mother and her daughter, who is undergoing inexplicable changes. My story, A Whimper, is an end-of-the world tale through the lens of one person and society’s dependence on technology.
To get it, just click on the large cover image above!

Baking With Swords: My Take

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Concept 3With all the blog posts I’ve shared lately, I haven’t offered my own take on Baking With Swords — why I decided to collaborate with my brother and sister, and what prompted me to write the story I included.

While I was whittling down the days until I was finished writing and editing Dead Sight, back in February and March, I started writing a short story. I never had any ambition beyond it being a short story that I would just release as a stand-alone tale, similar to the first story I’d ever written and published, Perfect Game.

I happened to say something on Facebook about it, and my brother, Paul, asked if I could wait to publish it until he was done writing a story. (Here is his story on how he started writing.) It was a strange request, so I waited a little bit. After some more inquiry, I found out he wanted to just throw it in at the end of my story as a “bonus” of a sort to any potential readers.

I read his story — or at least, what it was at that time. It was good. There was some great ideas in it and it just needed some polishing. It was better than just an unmentioned add-on to a little short story I was writing. I also knew my word count on A Whimper wasn’t going to be much — probably 6-8,000 words — and his was going to be about the same.

So, I proposed the idea of splitting the book title, or even inviting our sister, Betsy, along for the ride. I knew she had been dabbling with writing fiction since I started my publishing journey and figured maybe she had something she could work up fairly quickly. (Read more about her road to her inclusion here.)

Betsy was game, so I put my story on the backburner for a little while. School took over and I let the two of them tinker and finish their stories. In the end, each of our stories clocked in at roughly the same length — about 7,000 words a piece.

I love Paul’s story because it really is heartfelt. There is a lot of emotion from his main character, Max, and the choices he has made in his life. Obviously Paul isn’t Max, but you can see the questions he has asked are questions Max faces as well.

Betsy’s story fits her, as well. She is a mother to two little boys, both under the age of four. There are so many fears and insecurities that accompany being a parent to a toddler and an infant and she confronts them head-on in this tale. Paul and I really challenged her in the editing process and I think she came out of it with a great story that will connect with a lot of readers.

As for my story? Well, I shared a bit of it with you a few months ago. (Here’s that link.) I must’ve read some technology story, or even Michael Bunker’s Pennsylvania, and thought of the ramifications should we ever have chips in our heads (PIPs as I call them in A Whimper). What would the effects be? I think there are so many effects worldwide that I really could have written a full-length novel, but I chose personal ones to the main character. It is told first person and my brother said the tone reminded him of Ready, Player One, which is a huge compliment and may be true since I had just re-read it prior to starting the work on it.

How will the end come for humanity? Will it go out in a blaze of glory, or will it go in a whimper? Most books and stories choose the former, but I wanted a look at the latter.

I’ll confess I’m not the closest person to his family. I don’t talk to them much. I last talked on the phone to my mother probably two weeks ago (Reminder to myself to get on that), and Facebook and text messaging is the best way to get a hold of my brothers and sister. I live in Southern Illinois, one brother lives in northern Illinois, my sister in Michigan, and my older brother in Oregon. We are spread out, but when it counts, we are there for one another.

I don’t know if Paul and Betsy will continue to write and publish, but with my limited expertise, I wanted to be able to help them on their first trip into self-publishing.

As of this writing, the collaboration has received five reviews, four of which are five-star and the other is four-star. I would love to hear back from anyone else who has read it. Really, you should buy the book for my brother and sister and hopefully my story in this book is the bonus, not their’s.


Oh…don’t forget about the BWS Launch Party Monday on Facebook. <– Click there to join.

Find the link and the massive amount of giveaways I’ve got scheduled right here —> LOOK AT ALL THESE GIVEAWAYS!

 

At A Loss

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Last week, Hugh Howey wrote a blog piece about themes in his writing and it got me thinking about my own. I have enough of a sample to draw from now, so I should be able to find some major themes and one stuck out like a sore thumb.

Loss.

Oh boy, that struck home big time. I suppose it’s something I’ve been dealing with my whole life. The presence of it in my writing shouldn’t surprise me, but the level to which it is intertwined in most of my stories was a little shocking.

This isn’t a woe is me story. I have it pretty good overall. But, I definitely find a sense of loss at the core of much of my writing.  

Take, for example, Mary from my story, The Veil. As a silo resident, she obviously has to deal with loss on a number of levels, some of which existed before she was even born (the loss of a life outside of the underground can). But reading through the story, Mary lost her father when she was just a young child. For me, this was a profound event. No, I haven’t lost my father, but there were many times in my childhood when he just wasn’t there. When my family left Arizona to move to Illinois at the end of my sixth grade year, he had already been working and living in the suburbs of Chicago for a year. His job certainly kept him at the office later than I would have liked as a child as well.

How about my very first protagonist – Kirk McIntyre in Perfect Game? I can’t go too deep into his loss without spoiling the story, but his loss is deeply personal and will last forever. The entire story is molded by what happens after his loss during his junior year in high school.

Kristina in my Dead Sleep series has lost so much. Her family…her childhood…her innocence. All because of choices her father made. Choices that were out of her hands when she was nine years old.

In all of these cases, the loss suffered by the characters shapes the narrative. It pulls the characters in directions they wouldn’t have normally gone and dictates what their roles in the story will be.

Just as the losses suffered in my life. I already mentioned my father, but the losses I went through in the early part of my life changed me and made me who I am today – whether good or bad. My family was and is stable. My parents are still married – going to celebrate 45 years of marriage at the end of this year – but the life I was given was not grounded. The first place I really remember living was in Michigan, but I apparently lived in at least two other states before my brain started catching on. Before I hit third grade, I was in Arizona, and then Illinois after sixth.

The loss I was handed as a child was that of the life I had developed and gotten used to. My best friend in Michigan was Mikey. I remember climbing trees with him and playing in the laundry chute in his house, talking about He-Man and altogether having a blast.

I’ve seen Mikey one time since 1987. It wasn’t the same. The trees were suddenly too imposing to climb. The laundry chute was too small (and what were we thinking – that thing was dangerous!). He-Man was old news and we just didn’t have anything in common. I wish I could have remained friends, but the bonds of friendship fell apart somewhere between Ann Arbor and Phoenix.

In Arizona, I had an amazing group of friends – Adam, Brent, Ben, Josh, and Brad. We all went to church together, played pick-up football after Sunday worship, had sleepovers, went to church camp, rooted for the Denver Broncos, and were inseparable. I moved to Illinois and we lost something. I actually did see them a few more times throughout junior high and high school, but each time we reconnected, the strands of friendship were a bit more frayed.

I actually went to college with two of them, but by then we were different people. I even took multiple classes with one and we had a good friendship, but there was a chasm between the acquaintances we were in college compared to the buddies we were in the desert.

I wish I could have those friendships back. I wish the time I’d spent making and cultivating those friendships hadn’t been put to waste. That is the loss I felt.

That sense of loss – from my father to my friends to my way of life – is perhaps the most resounding theme I have found in my writing.

But, throughout it all, I’ve come to look at it all with a sense of humility. I am not bigger than my family or my situations. And when you can step back from it all, you can use it all as a learning opportunity. Yes, I write with loss as a central theme, but in the end, there are always different ways to fill the void. With each character, the loss is part of them, but it doesn’t consume them. They learn to adapt, to grow, to make something of their lives. 

That’s the key. Loss is a part of all of our lives. My loss isn’t greater than anyone else’s, but hopefully writing through it can help others and entertain all at the same time. 

Done.

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I’m finished. 

This is the one of the worst parts. Waiting. Seeing if anyone will buy the sucker and what kind of reviews it’ll get. 

ImageI officially released DEAD SIGHT today with much fanfare. (all true, except the fanfare bit)

I’m really excited for this one on a number of levels. First, it’s my second novel. I’d written DEAD SLEEP last year and got some pretty good reviews on it. I knew I was going to follow it up, I just didn’t know how soon. I didn’t even get the physical edition of DEAD SLEEP out until October, so it was still fairly fresh in my mind when I started on the sequel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. 

That’s the next aspect that thrills me — this was a NaNo book. It ended up right at 68,000 words, but nearly 55,000 came during November or in the days immediately following. I finished it up in January and added the finishing touches in February, but the bulk of this book was written in a 30-day time span. If you ask me, it makes for a better book. More consistency and better flow. Definitely convinced me to try it again this fall. 

What also gets me excited about this book is family. I suppose these first three novels (DEAD SLEEP, DEAD SIGHT, and the last, DEAD SEARCH <—- what’s that, a title spoiler?!) are all in some way a dedication to my wonderful family. Not only my wife and children, but also to my mom, dad, brothers, sister, aunts and uncles and grandparents. DEAD SIGHT takes place in South Dakota, which is where my dad’s mother spent the latter part of her life. We traveled through many times (as well as North Dakota, where my mom’s family lives) and it became a very familiar place. You can see me in the main character, Jack, but you can also see bits and pieces of my other family members in the other characters as well. What this book has also done is bring me and my brothers and sister closer together. I’ll probably save the bulk of that for another blog sometime, but the interaction between me and my siblings has been fantastic ever since I started writing. 

I’m also excited because I decided to give my readers a break. I priced both DEAD SLEEP and DEAD SIGHT at just 99 cents for the next couple weeks. If you haven’t gotten the first one, you can get both for cheaper than one cost yesterday. Go get them now!

Thanks so much for reading and for following my adventures. This book is for you, my readers.