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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Z BALL — FREE One Day Only!

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Z Ball

Z Ball, originally featured in The Z Chronicles, (if you haven’t read that, do so. Excellent collection of stories) is out and available on its own for the first time and for ONE DAY ONLY (Thursday, Sept. 24), Z Ball is FREE on Kindle. Click on the oversized cover above to be taken to the Amazon page. Reviews are very much appreciated as well.

A Year in this Crazy Adventure We Call Publishing

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One year ago, I hit publish on a short story, thereby earning myself the title, “Published Author.”

Perfect Game cover (1548x2400)That short story, Perfect Game, has had very impressive staying power, especially considering I don’t promote it at all. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to share the ups and downs of the past year and the experiences I’ve had. This may get a bit lengthy — I’m forewarning you.

May 24, 2013 — Perfect Game is published. It was originally intended to be an experiment before I published Dead Sleep just weeks later. It was one of those stories that gets written when you are stalling other projects and was written and edited in just three days’ time. I worked up my own cover, using a picture I took, and tinkering with it in Picasa. In just a week, it sold remarkably well, but I had a bevy of family and friends who wanted to show a little support on Facebook, so that’s what I chalk those initial numbers to.

July 1, 2013 — Dead Sleep is published. As much as Perfect Game was just an experiment, this was a life-long ambition to finally write and publish my own novel. It was really a perfect storm of conditions that set this up: I finally had just one 40-hour-a-week job, I was reading and following Hugh Howey’s journey, and an idea came to me at just the right time. This first edition of Dead Sleep was riddled with problems, some of which I didn’t find out about for months. It really taught me a lot — to really be meticulous when it comes to your novel. Double, triple, quadruple check everything before you publish. I was thrilled to just have it for sale, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t learn from the experience.

Veil_Part1July 20, 2013 — The Veil is published. A Silo Saga story, I believe it was one of the first few Silo stories in Kindle Worlds that hadn’t already been published in the Kindle store. After drawing inspiration from Hugh Howey, I really wanted to pay homage to the author who showed me I could become a published author on my own terms. To this day, The Veil is my best-selling title on Kindle.

From there, it was a little while until I published anything else. I worked on a few things and then school started back up in early August, pushing any new titles back until I got the new semester under my belt. One of the stories I worked on was The Sheriff’s Son, which was recently published in WOOL Gathering. The charity anthology was over a half-year in the waiting from when I wrote my story to its publication, but well-worth it. More on this later…

AntApoc_EbookCover (640x1024)September 15, 2013 — Ant Apocalypse is released. Over the summer, I saw a humorous tweet from fellow author Lyn Perry where he wondered about the effectiveness of ant spray that killed them for “up to 7 days,” or something like that. On a whim, I replied “ANT APOCALYPSE,” and he told me to write it. I know he was joking, but I took it as a personal challenge. Horror isn’t really my thing, so I tried to take it on in B-movie fashion and think it paid off. Recently, AA became my first audiobook when narrator Sean Lenhart recorded the book. I’ll tell you — the book really takes the creepiness to another level when you hear it voiced.

Veil_Part2October 29, 2013 — Behind The Veil is published in the Kindle Worlds store. A sequel to The Veil, it is told from the perspective of the villain from The Veil. I also set another small challenge for myself in the process. I knew the story I wanted to tell wasn’t really long, so I made it a goal to tell the story of BTV in less than 10,000 words (thereby making it 99 cents in the Kindle Worlds store). As of this blog posting, I still have plans to write the third and last part of the series, Beyond The Veil. It will be on my summer writing list, I promise.

November through February — Nothing published, but that doesn’t mean nothing gained. I knew heading into November that it was also National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I planned and made it my goal to write Dead Sight during the month. I did complete over 50,000 words of the novel in November, but didn’t quite finish. December brought first semester exams, so I put off finishing until later and the final 20 percent of the novel was completed in January. Then came revising and editing, until…

Dead Sight ebookFebruary 23, 2014 — Dead Sight is published. Book 2 in my planned trilogy, it picks up a couple weeks after Dead Sleep leaves off. If Dead Sleep was a personal story for me, Dead Sight was a family story. Not sure what that means for the third book in the series, but these books will always have a lot of meaning for me. I know I’m doing something right because the sales for Dead Sight in the first month and a half equaled the sales for its predecessor in about four months’ time. The sales for the first book in the series have continued to sell better since I published the sequel as well and it has really given me incentive to complete the series. (Another summer project!)

Woolgathering_Cover-3 (1)March 13, 2014 — Finally, WOOL Gathering is published. I actually got involved with the anthology a couple months after its inception, but it took a while before we got all our ducks in a row. I wrote The Sheriff’s Son set in Hugh Howey’s Silo Universe back in August 2013, but it didn’t see the light of day for about seven months. But I am super-proud of this project, being next to stories from my fellow WOOL authors W.J. Davies, Ann Christy, Carol Davis, Lyn Perry, Fred Shernoff, Thomas Robins, Logan Thomas Snyder, and Dave Adams. A lot of great stuff in there and all the proceeds are going to the NaNoWriMo Young Author program. I guess I lied earlier — this is my best-selling work, but since so many other authors are involved, I don’t chalk it all up to me.

So what’s next? 

Concept 3Within a few days, my next project, Baking With Swords should be complete and for sale in the Kindle store. I’ll have a lot more to write about this in other blog posts, but this is a collaboration between me, my brother Paul, and my sister Betsy. After everything I’ve done over the past year, they each unearthed their long-dormant writing abilities and we decided to pool our talents for this collection. The cover is terrific and I’m really looking forward to people reading all the stories, not just mine (A Whimper, which I previewed earlier this year.)

I’ve also written my next short story, tentatively titled True Confessions of a Professional Sidekick, which may go in another anthology with my WOOL friends, and may not. We’ll just have to see. I had a lot of fun writing the story, but once again, it’ll be a few months before most people get a chance to read it.

Then — Dead Search, the final installment in the adventures of Jack and Kristina. I’ve written the first chapter, approximately 3% of the book. Just 97% to go.

This past year has been a trip. Writing and putting myself out there was scary. Hitting publish and waiting for people to read it is like hitting the top of a hill on a roller coaster. The seat is gone for a moment and you aren’t sure how bad or good it’s going to be.

My sales haven’t been life-changing. I’m still going to keep my job as a high school social studies teacher, but this is pretty cool:

  • I’ve sold over 1,200 copies of my books on Kindle in the last year.
  • I’ve sold about 100 copies of my two novels in paperback form as well.
  • Just over 50 people have checked out my books through the Kindle Lending Library Program.
  • I’ve also given away just over 6,500 copies of my books during the same time period.
  • Over 1,000 copies of WOOL Gathering have been sold since its launch.

That means that by now, over 9,000 copies of books that include words I actually wrote are out there on someone’s Kindle, Kindle app, or bookshelf. For that, I’m honored. Even more incredibly, my books have a 4.5 combined average with 113 total reviews on Amazon.com.

I’ve met some great authors and readers throughout the past year and have been encouraged throughout the way. It hasn’t all been an upwards trajectory (you can’t help but think you are doing something wrong when your sales go from 250 one month to about 100 the next and you’ve released a new story.) Staying focused on the next book has helped, as well as the supportive authors I’ve encountered along the way (you know who you are!)

Along the way I also started this blog back in August and have loved entertaining you and providing reviews of my favorite books as well. Thanks for everything and stay tuned — the best is yet to come!

 

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!!

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.