Anthology Awesomeness!

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Whoa…time got away from me and I forgot to update you guys over here. In the span of one week in the beginning of 2015, I have two stories in two separate anthologies to tell you about. Let’s start with The Powers That Be.

Cover3Back in early 2014, I was privileged to be in my first anthology — WOOL Gathering. All the stories were centered around Hugh Howey’s WOOL Universe and were penned by authors who had all previously written WOOL stories. It was a fantastic collection that I will forever be proud of. One of the best parts is that all the proceeds will go towards the National Novel Writing Month Young Authors program.

So, the authors of LOOW (the League of Original Woolwriters or perhaps the Loofah of Obstinate Wetness) have brought forth another charity anthology — The Powers That Be. It’s already been for sale for a few days and been holding steady on the Kindle Science Fiction Anthology sales charts. Nine stories, all centered around superpowers. Authors are: Ann Christy, WJ Davies, Samuel Peralta, Logan Thomas Snyder, Carol Davis, Thomas Robins, David Adams, Paul K. Swardstrom, and myself. And, I was able to cajole Ernie Lindsey into penning a wonderful Foreword to the book. All great stories, confirmed by the outstanding reviews we’ve received so far.

My story is called “To Sacrifice A King,” and deals with the oft-overlooked role of superhero sidekick. A touch of humor, a smattering of pop culture superhero references, and a question: do powers really make a hero?

For a limited time, just 99 cents and all proceeds for this book will go towards the Sickle Cell Clinic at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana. The price will go up soon, so get your copy before it’s too late.

alien chrThe next book to tell you about is The Alien Chronicles. Throughout the back half of 2014, I watched a few independent anthologies get published — From the Indie Side, Synchronic, The Robot Chronicles & The Telepath Chronicles. After reading the first three and absolutely loving The Robot Chronicles (enough for it to make my top 18 list of 2014), I approached Samuel Peralta about joining in a future installment. He looked over my meager qualifications and invited me to join The Alien Chronicles.

To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. But I was also incredibly nervous. These anthologies are showcasing some amazing independent publishing talent and I was going to put my stuff up against theirs and say it’s on the same level. I worked hard to put out the best story I could — ultimately drawing back to my roots visiting my grandmother’s farm growing up. My story is called “Uncle Allen,” and has about the same vibe of my short story Ant Apocalypse.

But check out the list of authors joining me: Hugh Freakin’ Howey, B.V. Larson, Jennifer Foehner Wells (her Fluency was on my Top 18 List, too!), Daniel Arenson, Blair Babylon, Annie Bellet, Peter Cawdron (I love that dude), my good friend and writer WJ Davies, Patrice Fitzgerald, Autumn Kalquist, Moira Katson, Samuel Peralta, Geoffrey Wakeling, and Nicholas Wilson. Foreword by my pal Stefan Bolz. Holy Smokes. Edited by the incredible David Gatewood with a cover by the incomparable Jason Gurley and you have about a perfect package. People are going to love this book.

It’s up for pre-order right now and will officially be for sale on Friday, so pick up your copy and get to reading. Between these two books, you can read 24 stories for less than the cost of a Value Meal at McDonald’s. Amazing value for some amazing stories.

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My Top 10 (actually 18) Books of 2014

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It’s December, so that can only mean one thing – end of the year Top 10 lists! I did my favorite reads of 2013 last year, so now this can be a yearly thing. Just like last year, most of the books I read over the last 365 days or so were independently-published. Just like last year, I really believe we are in the midst of a publishing renaissance thanks to the new digital publishing tools at our disposal.

Personally, I did manage to get my second novel published, but everything else I published ended up being short stories (a couple will even be showing up in the first couple weeks of 2015). Due a lot of family situations, including a major addition to my family in August, writing just wasn’t as much of a priority during a few stretches. I can say I was able to get about 1/3 of Dead Search written and will endeavor to write the rest by spring. The year 2015 will be a great year and I encourage you to check back on this blog for future updates.

Anyway, back to the list. There are more than 10. Yep—a top ten list with more than 10. Deal with it. I took all my honorable mentions and just included them as well. Also, these are books I got a kick out of reading. Me. So if you don’t agree, I understand, but this is my list.

I don’t want to rank them, even though it will certainly come across that way, just due to seeing them in an order. So, the order will be assigned in alphabetical fashion, with one exception. The top spot belongs to one book that I know I will be reading over and over again. That book is:

The Martian by Andy Weir

martianHands down, The Martian was the best book I read in 2014. I read it in February and also listened to it as an audiobook this summer. Even after that, I still long to re-read it with fresh eyes. That’s the notes I was getting from friends when I first started reading it. From my Amazon review:

“I can honestly say I understand and I will have those jealousy pangs when I recommend it to a friend. The last book I honestly felt like that with was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. My brother was reading it for the first time a few weeks ago and I felt that. Like I wished I could go back in time, read it for the first time without spoilers and experience all those feelings I did for the very first time. This book was fantastic.”

From there, I will put the rest of my 2014 favorites in author reverse-alphabetical order (cuz those at the end of the alphabet get screwed. Jennifer Wells knows what I’m talking about), starting with:

Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells

fluencyI kept getting recommendations from Amazon and other places to buy and read this book. Finally I ran out of excuses a couple of months ago and I am glad I gave in. Fluency is a terrific tale of first contact with an alien race. Told from the perspective of a non-astronaut, Dr. Jane Holloway, a linguist, who is along on the trip to hopefully help find an “Alien Rosetta Stone,” of a sort. Instead, Holloway herself ends up being the Rosetta Stone and we see what happens in deep space when you begin to question all you know, your own sanity, and even your crewmates. Fluency is well done and I am intrigued by what Wells will offer us next.

 

The Violet Series by Logan Thomas Snyder

BV-Full-Cover-e1408487510867Three parts into a multi-part story and I’m fully engrossed. Logan Thomas Snyder has given us three tales so far—Becoming Violet, Being Violet, and Breaking Violet, and each have given us a great story with artificial intelligence as a fascinating backdrop. Here’s a part of my review of Becoming: “At first, I thought it was a typical “Bicentennial Man,” Isaac Asimov robot story with a man dissatisfied with his robot. Snyder, however, took the story in a new direction, giving the reader an introspective, yet action-filled tale of love in the face of trials. What does it mean to love? Does it have to be between two humans or can it be more than that?”
I know Snyder has a few more parts up his sleeve, but I also suspect that the farther he goes, the more the story will continue to grow and thrive. If you haven’t checked these stories out, they are just 99 cents a pop and are a great, easy read.

 

Zero Echo Shadow Prime by Peter Samet

ZESP_cover650Perhaps the most “holy cow, what did I just read” book I laid my eyes on this past year. I had heard some early buzz about this book and the cover was certainly an eye catcher. Frankly, this book did not catch on for some reason, but it still deserves an audience. From my Amazon review:

“So you might be asking – what is this book about? Zero Echo Shadow Prime is a novel about one character…or is it four…or a billion? My head is frankly still spinning a little…
But even apart from all the action, this book really offers some intriguing questions. What exactly is a human? Is it just flesh and bone or is there something more? If a person was able to move their consciousness to a computer, is there a spark of humanity there?”

Desperate to Escape by Thomas Robins

d2e fullThere are a number of authors on this list that I can claim a friendship with, and Thomas Robins is one of them. Desperate to Escape was published partly in 2013, but was finished in 2014 with a thought-provoking finish.

In four serial installments to the book, Robins gives us the story of Ineeka, an astronaut hailing from the inner city of Chicago, who, like the title implies, is desperate to escape from the constrained circumstances of her life. Throughout a flashback style narrative similar to “Lost,” Robins gives us a complete portrait of Ineeka, a girl lost on earth, but who finds her destiny in space.

Super by Ernie Lindsey

superLindsey is one of the best indie storytellers out there today. He has the ability to tell compelling tales in a variety of subjects and genres, and in Super, he took on superheroes. Super was released in the wake of “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” which showed the corruption of the government and its attempts to reign in the world’s superheroes. Edward Snowden and NSA data mining was also a very contemporary issue during the summer months when Super hit Amazon, which made the book and its subject all the more applicable.

From my Amazon review:

“I didn’t come into reading Ernie Lindsey’s Super with CA2 in mind, but it is hard to distance yourself too much from it after finishing and realizing the complex web Lindsey wove to get to the ending of the book. This is one book that I genuinely had a hard time putting down and when my Kindle ran out of battery life, I had to bide my time until it was ready for me to finish the book off.”

Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

Starship GriftersI really can’t put it better than my Amazon review.

“After reading Robert Kroese’s Starship Grifters, I came to one conclusion: everyone in the 31st century is an idiot. Rex Nihilo is either the smartest man alive, or a Forrest Gump of a con artist, lucky enough to stay alive in the face of ridiculously deadly circumstances. I’m still not sure — I’ll get back to you on that.
In fact, the only one in Rex’s world that seems to have any brains is his robot, Sasha, who is programmed to turn herself off whenever she actually has an original thought. In a world like that, Rex seems to surround himself with the power players of the galaxy who all turn out to be bumbling morons.
I don’t often laugh at the books I read, but I found myself chuckling, chortling, at times flat-out guffawing — at times uncontrollably — at Kroese’s humor placed in the best places in the story.
At the end of the story, we do get answers to questions I wasn’t sure we were asking, but it certainly paved the way for more Rex Nihilo books, which I will gladly shell out money for whenever Mr. Kroese decides to write them.”

Sand by Hugh Howey

sandSand was one of the first novels I read in 2014, and almost a whole year later, it is still a thrilling book that continues to set Hugh Howey apart from other authors. I was lucky enough to read Sand earlier than most, and shared my thoughts on Amazon:

“I can honestly say I was blown away by Sand.  After I read Part 5, I said SAND > WOOL and I’m sticking by it almost a week later. The book is just magnificent and Howey once again shows off his masterful storytelling with an imaginative dystopian world that is all at once hard to fathom and easy to believe all at once.
Hugh calls Sand the antithesis to WOOL and I can see that clearly. While WOOL is about the absolute control that a small group of people can exert upon the masses, Sand is the opposite. It’s what happens when there is no clear authority and yet people live, work, and die — all under the invisible thumb of some unknown force.

If reading Hugh Howey is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”

Eleanor by Jason Gurley

EleanorShould we call this book Eleanor 1.0? After releasing Eleanor earlier this year, Jason Gurley acquired an agent, and sold the rights to Eleanor. A new and edited version of the book should be in stores in 2015, so perhaps Eleanor will grace this list again next December. Regardless, the book I read was a great work; one that was clearly a labor of love.

From my Amazon review:

“There are many different reasons to read a book. Most times I tend to read to think about something in a new or different way. To spark my creativity and challenge my accepted ideas.
This book, Eleanor by Jason Gurley, is not that kind of book. Not that it doesn’t make you think. I had a lot of thoughts while I read this book. I thought about the similarities between it and two other books I’ve read. One was fairly recent – Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane, while the other I read when I was just a child – Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Both had a profound influence on me, but all three of these books didn’t so much make me think.
They made me feel.”
The Robot Chronicles, edited by David Gatewood

robot anthoThere were a number of short story anthologies that I just fell in love with over the last year, but The Robot Chronicles absolutely leads the way. David Gatewood started out with the terrific, but eclectic From the Indie Side, then we got various tastes of time travel in Synchronic, but it was in Robot that the audience really got a treat. So many great stories, told in manageable little chunks. There are a ton of amazing stories inside, starting with Hugh Howey’s Glitch. Among the other authors to pay attention to is Matthew Mather, Wes Davies, Patrice Fitzgerald, Ann Christy, Edward W. Robertson, and A.K. Meek among the others.

I was a HUGE Isaac Asimov fan growing up and still have a lot of reverence for a well-told robot story, so I greeted this collection with excitement and a bit of trepidation, but the authors pulled it off. From my Amazon review:

“One of the best things about this collection of stories is that it got me to get out my collection of Asimov robot stories and re-read and re-discover them in the light of this remarkable modern anthology. Each of the stories in TRC is fantastic, even if I didn’t specifically name the story and author. I’ll carry these stories with me for a long time.”
(Reviewer’s Note: I have a story that is slated to appear in The Alien Chronicles, which is the third in the Future Chronicles series after Robot and Telepath. I was selected after I had already read and loved TRC.)

Dead in the Water by Carol Davis

DITWThis book is definitely different than most on this list. I think you’ll find most are hard science fiction with a great many set in space, but Dead in the Water takes our two protagonists to a creepy lake town in upstate New York to investigate a series of deaths over the decades.

Davis is a heckuva writer. This woman can paint a scene. Her mind works on the level of screenplays, so virtually every scene I can see set before me, as if leaping off the page and onto my TV screen. From my Amazon review: “While she is a pro at putting together a plot for short stories, Dead in the Water shows she is more than capable of adding the complexity a novel calls for. Her writing is sharp, and in this case, not for the faint of heart. She isn’t afraid to scare her readers, putting her protagonists in terrifying situations, only to play out their fears for the readers to see.”

Binary Cycle by Wes Davies

binary cycleI think a lot of people were interested to see what Wes Davies had up his sleeve after he finished telling his Silo Submerged series—one of the first WOOL fanfic stories. In Binary Cycle, Davies gave his readers a novel originally told in three parts that works quite well when put together. After reading the third part, I wrote: “The action is taken to a new level and after the early revelations in the book, Davies pushes his characters physically and emotionally, so much that the reader is left panting by the end of the book.”

Originally, I had a couple issues with the second installment and the pacing of the series, but in the third story redeemed Davies and when put together, I think it all works fairly well.

Soda Pop Soldier by Nick Cole

spsNick Cole’s Soda Pop Soldier may be a traditionally published book, but it has the heart of an indie title. Cole certainly champions independent authors and his book takes risks like an indie author might. There were certainly moments that harkened to a book like Ready Player One, but there was more to this, and in fact Cole tackles the anonymous nature of online interaction with a violence inherent to modern video games.

From my review:

“With a name like Soda Pop Soldier, I half-expected a light-hearted romp through modern video games. What I got was something completely different. Something telling about how many of us live our lives online and the anonymity that we expect. Something visceral and violent, yet clean and sanitized at the same time. Something that fully engaged my head and heart alike.”

Strikers by Ann Christy

strikersAnn Christy likes to call herself an “accidental author.” If it’s an accident, it’s a happy one, as this woman can really tell a story. In Strikersher first full-length foray outside of Hugh Howey’s silos, Ann showed what she can do. From my review:

“Ann Chisty does a fabulous job of world-building, creating a realistic dystopian world where Karas and her friends find out what they are really made of. Her characters are very believable and although she does an admirable job tying up storylines by the end of the story, there are plenty of seeds and avenues to explore in future tales in her Striker Universe. I enjoyed reading it far more than a lot of dystopian young adult books on the market today and I feel she really tapped into the emotion that fuels much of the young adult fiction market these days.”
My Sweet Satan by Peter Cawdron

mssI’ll just start with the beginning of my Amazon review:

“With a title like that, it was a little difficult for me to want to read this book. Peter Cawdron has made a title that is very provocative, but if the reader can just get past it — get to the heart of the story — they will realize that Satan has very little to do with this tale at all.”

In fact, Cawdron has made a great first contact story that is really less about the first contact than it is a character study of stressed individuals in deep space approaching the unknown. Is it really Satan or something else – something worse?

I’ve always been a fan of Cawdron’s stories and can’t seem to get enough of them. The best part of MSS was perhaps the character of Jason, the ship’s AI. Again, from my review:

“I’ll say this about Jason — he may be the best character I’ve seen in a long time. I loved what Cawdron did in creating a character that feels totally real, but is not only fictional, but also doesn’t have a body to call his own. The evolution of Jason was fantastic and I would love to see more of him in a future book if Mr. Cawdron ever decides to revisit his MSS Universe.”

Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker

Bunker_PENNSYLVANIA_Omnibus_EbookEdition-640x1024The first two parts of Pennsylvania were on my list from last year, so this isn’t too much of a surprise. Bunker finished up his book by answering questions, but certainly leaving more than a few unanswered for a sequel in the upcoming Oklahoma.

From my Amazon review:

“The book is a great work, alternating between moments of calm with the Amish lifestyle, and anxiety with the pending war between the two factions on New Pennsylvania. The simple life that that Amish lead with the chaos and politics of the “English” world raging around them. Bunker has painted a brilliant picture of this dichotomy by showing the differences between Jed and Amos. One content to be plain – the other aware of a different calling on his life.”

The Fourth Sage by Stefan Bolz

10338227_10203080505026343_2241684756519716173_nIt hadn’t been very long after I’d read Stefan Bolz’s other novel, The Three Feathers, when I got my hands on The Fourth Sage. I found it to be a wonderful example of a dystopian novel without the depressing tropes that so often inhabit those books. From my review:

“There is a positivity present in Bolz’s work that you don’t find in other author’s books. In a post-apocalyptic, authoritarian society, you would expect to find death and depression around every turn, but for some reason, whenever Aries, her winged friend, Born of Night, or any of her numerous friends appear on the page, it is difficult to not smile and know that somehow, someway, their destiny is to survive and even thrive.”

Lexicon by Max Barry

Lexicon-Max-BarryLexicon is one of the few books I haven’t written an Amazon review for, but there are a few reasons for that. One – I actually read it as a paperback and wasn’t immediately prompted to write a review, and two – it was the first book I had a chance to read after the adoption of our son was complete.

Regardless, Lexicon was a ride and a half. Hugh Howey had been pushing this book for a while and when I had some money to spend at Barnes & Noble, I specifically looked for this book and devoured it in the days that followed. I loved the secret society nature of the book and the pacing. It was extremely well-written and I’ll certainly look out for Barry’s books in the future.

Author Interview: Thomas Robins

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As an author, I understand how it feels to finish a book. One of the most challenging, yet fulfilling aspects of the writing process is simply finishing. For Thomas Robins, he finished not only a series, but also the complete novel of Desperate to Escape this week with the fourth installment in the science-fiction serial.

Thomas published the first part of his D2E series last September. It is unique in a number of ways, chiefly in that his protagonist is an African-American woman from the inner city of Chicago. Ineeka Coleman’s unlikely story puts her as a NASA astronaut on her way into space when everything goes wrong. The fascinating part of the book is the dual-narrative where the reader is treated to Ineeka’s time in space in one storyline and her time on earth in the other. Each story can’t exist without the other and even though you know one will end with her in space, there are tons of unexpected results and surprises along the journey for Ineeka.

I’ve been privileged to be a beta-reader for Thomas and his last couple D2E installments and he really pushes the envelope and gets the reader to think in the final couple chapters as the finish line approaches. I had a chance to ask Thomas a few questions about the series, about writing and what’s on the horizon. (Fair warning, the TV series LOST is mentioned more than a few times.)


d2e4 You have finished Desperate to Escape. Describe your feelings and what you’ve learned since starting this series.

I’ve learned that, as an indie author with a full-time job, you can’t find time to write, you make time. I’ve also learned that spending a year on a creative project is exhausting. Rewarding, but exhausting. Short stories are a much different thing: work intensely for a couple weeks and it’s done, but when the word count starts piling up, there are levels of difficulty that go into keeping everything straight. For example, when editing the final part of the story (part four), it turned out one of my characters had changed the way she talked since the last time she was in the story (part one). Something like that is not likely to happen in a short story.

Where did Ineeka Coleman come from? You don’t live in Chicago and Kansas doesn’t strike me as an “urban area,” so how did you go about creating that character?

I knew the main character would have to be strong enough to overcome some substantial hardships and Ineeka’s character came to mind as someone who could survive and grow despite the adversity.  I’ve always heard author’s say a character wrote herself, but this is the first time I’ve had it happen to me. Ineeka’s story seemed to write itself. Really, I think the first scene in the book is still my favorite: a young girl tucked away in bed using her imagination to play out her fantasy of space travel. Looking in from the outside, you’d think her whole life was terrible, but at the end of the day she had dreams just like all children do.

d2e1Did you have the finish line in sight from the beginning or did you make it up as you went along? Please answer as if you are Damon Lindelof, co-creator of LOST. 😉

Ha Ha. I feel like Damon Lindelof as I say this, but I really did have the basic story start to finish developed before I started writing. I did come across a substantial roadblock that changed the structure of the series, however. Originally, the first book “flashbacks” would feature Ineeka, book two was for Williard, book three was for Harold, and book for would go back to Ineeka. When I started writing book two, I just could not make Williard as engaging a character as Ineeka had become. I decided to make her the focus for all the books instead. Of course, I am sitting on a mountain of backstory for Willard and Harold that was not used in the books. I’m not sure they will ever see the light of day, though. Rest assured the ending was exactly as it was meant to be.

Speaking of LOST, once I finished, I really saw a lot of influences from the iconic TV series. How much do you think it influenced you in writing D2E?

I don’t watch much TV. In fact, I didn’t start watching LOST until a few seasons in. I think one of my friends lent me the DVDs and asked me to watch them. It is some of the greatest writing I’ve ever seen in television series. The slow, methodical buildup to the first season cliffhanger was brilliant, in addition to all the philosophical and religious views they touch on. LOST did influence my writing in that I liked how LOST gave equal weight to the backstory and the main storyline. In Desperate to Escape, the two parts of the story are nearly identical in length and help the reader understand why Ineeka acts the way she does.

d2e2What’s next for Thomas Robins?

Wow. I have some short stories running around my head I’ll take a stab at. I already have a superhero short written for a LOOW collaboration titled Repose. That is due out later this year. I fully expect my next novel to be even better than Desperate to Escape. It is a big project that I have been putting off until I am done publishing Desperate to Escape so I can stay on deadline.

How do you incorporate writing into your personal life and career?

Earlier, I said you can’t find time, you make time. Here are my secrets: First, if I am rocking a sleeping child, I don’t watch TV or surf the web on my phone, I write scenes on my phone. It passes the time nicely. One of my Kindle World books was almost entirely written this way. Second, I get to go to the coffee shop one night a week to work on my writing. It’s my night out. My wife has a night out too (for her hobby). It’s a great system we use to allow each of us to have a break from parenting duties while also giving each of us a night to spend quality time with the kids. It’s a win-win.

What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

This is such a hard question to answer because I don’t keep up with when I read books. The one that comes to mind is Eleanor by Jason Gurley.

DESPERATE_Part3What’s the best thing about being an indie author?

The best thing is when people read my writing and enjoy it. Ultimately, I make up stories all the time. Most of them are forgotten, others are never written down. The only reason I write and publish stories is because I think those stories are worth sharing.

Anything else to add? 

Will, thank you for taking the time to interview me. Please let your readers know they should sign up for my e-newslettter on my blog at www.thomasrobins.com.

Thanks Thomas!

Do yourself a favor, and pick up the four parts of the Desperate to Escape series before the price goes up (because they are really a steal at just 99 cents a piece!) Click right —-> HERE!

 

Oh…and behold the complete D2E cover (all four parts and the omnibus edition were all designed by the amazing Jason Gurley, btw…). Thomas is pegging August 1 as a release date for the full D2E story.

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Paperbacks…dead? (Also a giveaway inside!)

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SPOILER ALERT — 100th Blog Post!

(Giveaways to follow in comments)


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After I opened my latest package from Amazon, I decided to take a picture at a lot of the books I’ve stocked my shelves with over the past year since I started as an indie author. I’ve definitely added to it thanks to my wallet, but I’ve been lucky enough to have been the recipient of fellow author’s good graces.

Here’s the thing — none of the books pictured are traditionally published. From Hugh Howey’s last two novels, Peter Cawdron, Jason Gurley, John Gregory Hancock, Michael Bunker, an outstanding Indie collection edited by David Gatewood, Paul Kupperberg, and myself — all are what you might call independently published. (There are a few others I have that aren’t pictured for whatever reason.)

With the arguments surrounding indie vs. traditional publishing, Amazon vs. The Big 5, digital vs. paperback, we all line up a choose a side. I would argue that we can have both. Indie can coexist with traditionally published books. Amazon and the Big 5 can get along and all can make a profit (unlikely, but I’m a dreamer), and we can have paperback and digital books. The more I got into my Kindle and reading books on various digital devices, the more I wanted to own some of these books in paperback form. I don’t regret it — what happens when the zombie apocalypse happens and the Internet goes dark? I’ll still have my copy of Jason Gurley’s Eleanor to keep me company as I trek across America under dark and grim skies.

I almost feel inadequate when I put my own books in the same picture as some of the others here, but that’s the beauty of indie publishing. My books are viewed on the same playing field as Gurley, Bunker, and even Howey — even Patterson, King, and Koontz on occasion.

Are paperbacks dead? Not for me. I certainly scour and search for books on my Kindle on an almost daily basis, but when I want a physical copy of a book, I don’t hesitate to add it to my collection. I don’t think I’m alone here, either. It is a special time in publishing and most readers are recognizing this as well. Go out and read!


 

Still here?

Good — in honor of my 100th blog post, I want to give a few books away. I’ll give away a set of Dead Sleep/Dead Sight and a copy of Baking With Swords as well. That is two (2) winners — one for the DS1/DS2 books and one will get the copy of BWS.

What do you need to do to win? Tell me what is the best book you’ve read in 2014 and whether it was physical or digital. That’s it. I’ll keep this open for a week (until July 8) and then choose a winner randomly then. (Sorry — winners will be chosen from U.S. only)

Maybe We Should Stop Comparing Books to Music and Instead Look To A Different Industry

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First off — I apologize for the ridiculously long blog title. However, I needed to write it down somewhere and the title seemed as good a place as anywhere else. 

Oftentimes the book industry — particularly those associated with it, like authors, editors, and readers — have a habit of referring to the early days of digital music when Napster allowed me to listen to literally anything I wanted. The music industry wasn’t prepared and suffered for a while. Thanks to iTunes, they have been able to survive, but the new digital age has provided new opportunities for independent artists and bands. 

I would argue that the latter aspect, while an important part of today’s music scene, was really always a part. The digital nature of the Internet has just allowed those bands to receive more exposure. Where does a lot of that exposure come from? 

YouTube. 

A band or singer writes a song, films themselves singing it (perhaps with some crazy and wacky props) and it goes up on YouTube with a viral hit a prayer away. We’ve seen this happen over and over. Sometimes this is an artist already signed to a contract like Psy from South Korea or OK Go. What about Rebbecca Black of the Friday fame (and I know just by mentioning it, that song is playing incessantly in your heads)? Let’s get away from the professionals and semi-professionals…what about the Mom and Dad who filmed themselves lip-syncing to Frozen’s “Love is an Open Door,” while their daughter sat oblivious in the backseat? (15 million hits on that sucker, by the way.)

All of these benefited from the nature of YouTube — where a person or small group can record themselves (possibly on a very tight budget) doing what they do best and putting it out there for the world to see. This is more analogous to the modern state of publishing today, I believe. 

Let’s take a look at John and Hank Green. They were not the first to have a vlog, but their Vlogbrothers channel on YouTube has been the force behind a lot of successful projects. (Last time I counted, between the two of them, the Greens had an interest in over a dozen YouTube channels from their normal twice-a-week vlog, a video game channel, educational science and history channels, the pioneering Brain Scoop among many others). Hank Green is also the originator of Vidcon, which just wrapped up in Anaheim, California. 

According to their website: 

VidCon is for people who love online video. Independent creators, enablers, viewers and supporters of all kinds. The ways that we entertain, educate, share, and communicate are being revolutionized. The creators attending and on-stage at VidCon are central to that revolution. The best part is, we’re having the time of our lives doing it.

Sounds a lot like the Independent writing and publishing community to me. In just a short time, I have written and published a few novels and a handful of short stories. Along the way I have made friends — from fellow authors, bloggers, editors, and even those who prefer to just read. The independent author with a negative outlook on their craft is rare and those who refuse to cooperate are even rarer in my experience. (In fact, in the last few days, I’ve written a blurb promoting a fellow author’s new space opera, and helped to beta-read another friend’s final installment in a four-part science fiction novel — neither one I would have done if those friends hadn’t shown their kindness to me on previous occasions. We lift up each other’s successes; by doing so, our own work may benefit, but it may not. We do it because we love this stuff. 

John and Hank have been in the mainstream news a lot lately because John is also the author of the Young Adult hit, The Fault in Our Stars. The press had difficulty understanding how John and Hank built their online community, affectionately known as “Nerdfighters,” which I will profess to being. These companies want to build these “genuine” communities like the Nerdfighters, but they don’t understand the time, the patience, and the hard work that goes into it. Also the “genuine” part. 

Now…I can’t help think of my friend Hugh Howey here as well. (Yes, this is a rare instance where we get to compare, not contrast Hugh and John Green.) After I had been following the Vlogbrothers for a couple years, I found myself getting into the books on my Kindle, notably WOOL. I wasn’t the only one. Greatness seemed to be thrust upon Hugh to a certain extant, but as far as I can tell, along the way he has been nothing but gracious and receptive to his multitude of fans, interacting with them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (!), even his own website, where he responded to tons of fan responses to a blog post earlier today. He has genuinely built an online community where his fans will follow and read just about anything he writes (even love stories from Europe!).

So why do authors compare their books to the music industry? I guess since we write the book and put it on Amazon for people to purchase, just like a band might record an album and put it on iTunes. However, I would argue we shouldn’t compare it to music — but rather to the YouTube phenomena. 

Maybe we can make the following comparisons:

Hardback books are like Hollywood Movies. Not all hardbacks sell great, but they are the best the book industry can put out there. Hardbacks are usually only manufactured with a significant investment and Hollywood movies are much the same. Some books don’t sell even in hardback and some movies are unseen as well (John Carter, Lone Ranger, etc…). 

Paperback books are like television shows. Paperback books are everywhere and the number of television channels seems to increase each day as well. You can find just about anything in paperback and TV offers so many niche shows. Some do well…some don’t. 

Independently published books are like YouTube videos. Indie authors put their heart and soul into their books, but there is still a bit of luck that gets that book to chart and rocket up the charts. Even quality books can languish without the “right” group of people finding that book and reading it. Same goes for YouTube videos. You can watch a dozen videos and maybe one will have the legs to go viral. Why does a video of a cat playing the piano become a worldwide sensation? Why does Fifty Shades of Grey do the same? Some questions will never be answered. 

Now…fellow indie authors, I am not saying this to mean anything negative about your books or the craft of writing. In fact, I honestly believe some of the most inventive, most creative, most compelling stories being created on film are shown on YouTube first. There is a reason why those previously mentioned Hollywood movies and TV shows are clamoring for YouTube hits as well. Hollywood is mining YouTube for their next stars and Jimmy Fallon’s YouTube channel has millions of subscribers. In fact, Fallon’s bits are specifically designed to have a viral factor most nights. 

There is an appeal to YouTube, just as there is more and more of an appeal of Indie Publishing. It’s cool. It is the cutting edge place to be. Where else can you find Amish Science Fiction stories? Where else can you get an American writing just like Neil Gaiman? If the publishing industry continued to exist as it did 50 years ago, you wouldn’t get traditionally-published books by Ernie Lindsey, Ann Christy, Stefan Bolz, Michael Bunker, Jason Gurley, or even me. But because of digital innovations from YouTube as well as Amazon, we are getting the best content we ever have. 

Now, I’m not hip-deep in the world of visual media as I am with books right now, so I don’t know if this is true, but from the outside it appears as though the movies, TV, and online content each have their own place and can coexist. If this is true for them, why can’t it be true for hardbacks, paperbacks, and indie published books as well?

 

 

 

We can go down the list and find dozens of 

Book Review – Eleanor

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There are many different reasons to read a book. Most times I tend to read to think about something in a new or different way. To spark my creativity and challenge my accepted ideas.

EleanorThis book, Eleanor by Jason Gurley, is not that kind of book. Not that it doesn’t make you think. I had a lot of thoughts while I read this book. I thought about the similarities between it and two other books I’ve read. One was fairly recent – Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane, while the other I read when I was just a child – Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Both had a profound influence on me, but all three of these books didn’t so much make me think.

They made me feel.

When I first began reading Eleanor, I was struck by the pictures Mr. Gurley paints for his readers. Spending a little time in Oregon and on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, I could readily accept the fog-shrouded town and seaside he presented as real. He worked so hard to place his story in the real world that when the supernatural world opens up later in the book, it feels natural. It feels like an extension of the world Gurley has created and it feels better than the world in which his characters reside.

I’ve followed Jason’s journey of writing this book for the past year (although he’s been writing it for the past 13 years) and I can feel the passion he had for it in every word I encountered. I saw the care he put into it and the work he put in to make it just right.

How to describe this book? I’m not really sure. I literally finished less than five minutes after starting to write this review, so my thoughts are still swirling like the water in a tide pool off the shore of a small island near the beach in Oregon. I felt for the characters that Mr. Gurley painstakingly presented to the readers. How in just the first few pages, we were introduced to Hob, Eleanor and their daughter Agnes. I was getting settled in for a book about this Eleanor, until Gurley ripped the rug out from underneath me and I realized this was not really the titular character – she was still to be discovered.

Discovered is really a great word for this book. Eleanor discovers so much in her journeys throughout this book. You see the younger Eleanor taking care of her family as best she knows how, but then through other means, we see there are better ways she can take care of her family. She discovers who she is, who her parents really are, and her true purpose.

This needs to be discovered. I could call Jason Gurley the American Neil Gaiman and I don’t think many people would argue after reading this book. It is a phenomenal book and one I could not put down. Well done, Mr. Gurley.

Author Interview – Jason Gurley

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The new hotness? Jason Gurley. The man is exploding (not literally) with his cover work over the past year and his upcoming release Eleanor.

Gurley_Jason_4Many in indie publishing circles know Gurley from his cover work, including Hugh Howey’s SAND, Michael Bunker’s Pennsylvania, and the list goes on… (Full disclosure: Gurley was incredibly gracious to me last summer, designing the covers for my Veil series as well as Ant Apocalypse.) While the covers are striking on a number of levels, Gurley has continued to work on his writing, which is exceptional on its own merits. His spectacular WOOL series Greatfall has consistently been a bestseller in Kindle Worlds, his short stories have been widely praised and were recently collected in the book Deep Breath Hold Tight, and advance praise for Eleanor has been high.

Jason will say later in the interview that Peter Cawdron has compared the book to Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. While I haven’t read the entire novel yet, when I read an advance portion months ago, I was immediately struck at how similar in tone it really was to Gaiman’s latest book, but it also reminded me a lot of some of Dean Koontz’s works, notably Odd Thomas.

I had an opportunity to interview the man, and he did not disappoint. Following are some very revealing answers that will give you insight into the man behind Eleanor.


 

I noticed from your biography that you were born in Texas, but then lived in Alaska. Tell me — what is the best and worst things about the Witness Protection Program? 

Well, the best is that they send you places like Alaska. And the worst is that they make you change your name to Gurley. Man, the fights I got into over that name. Man. I got called ‘Swirly Gurley’ a lot, by one guy in particular. I was never really sure what he meant by it, but it seemed to make him laugh, so I let it go.

‘Let it go’. As if I was six-three and smacking other kids around like they were paper cutouts. Nope. I was the skinny kid with too-big glasses. My nickname should’ve been Easy Target.

Thanks for opening up these painful memories with the first question of the interview, by the way. <sob>

 I “heard” that you have a problem with quotation marks. “True?” or “False?” What other punctuation could the world live without? (Please say Oxford Comma — I could use the blog hits.)

“Oxford, Comma.”

Movement3_TheTravelersI assume you’re referring to my early novels, and not my deep-seated prejudice against clarifying punctuation marks. You’re right, of course. The Man Who Ended the World, and my two series novels The Settlers and The Colonists, are quotation-mark-free. And man, some people really, really don’t care how good your book is when you leave quotation marks out. Some people really, really love their quotation marks.

Not that I blame them. Who doesn’t love a good quotation mark? Chewy, satisfying… and there are two of them! And, if used properly, there are two more at the end!

I don’t expect the hubbub is over yet, though. My next book project is The Travelers, the final book in the series I mentioned above. And if you think I’m putting quotation marks into the last book of the series just because some people weren’t happy about the first two… well, you’d be wrong. See, as much as other people may be sticklers for punctuation, I’m a stickler for continuity. Perhaps even more so.

That said, I wrote those books quotation-mark-free on purpose, not because my keyboard was broken or because I was thumbing my nose at years of tradition. I’d call Cormac McCarthy over here to defend me, but I’m afraid of him.

My cat’s name is Ellie, which is short for Duke Ellington, but she’s a female cat, so we sometimes lengthen her name to Eleanor. How did you know this and how long have you had hidden cameras inside of my home? 

I’m really unsettled by this. Not that you found the hidden cameras — by the way, you only found four of them; I installed seven — but that you have a female cat named for a man but whose male name you shorten, then extend again into a female name. That’s like me saying my daughter was named Ralph Waldo Emerson, but we call her Emma for short. Actually, no that’s not quite right at all. I’d have to shorten her name to something else first.

I’d try, but my brain is already confounded by this logic, man.

You’ve been so wonderful to so many new authors (myself included — thanks man!). If I had to make a movie about your life, I would love to see a scene like at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life” where all the people George touched (not literally — that’s gross) stepped up when it made a difference, except in this case dozens of authors would send tweets on your behalf (since we are all antisocial introverts). 

I’m going to confess something here that I’ve never confessed to anyone else: I’ve never seen It’s a Wonderful Life. But the scene you’re describing sounds an awful lot like the “O Captain, my Captain” scene from Dead Poets Society, or the bell-ringing scene from White Squall, or probably fifty other scenes from thirty-two other movies.

Also, I don’t know what you mean about being wonderful to authors. I go out of my way to be cruel and inhospitable to other authors as often as possible.

With all that said, what movie would you liked to be dropped in the middle of? What part would you play? 

Field of Dreams. I’d be Ray Kinsella, the Costner character. There’s nothing I don’t love about that movie. And just talking about it now makes me really, really, really want to watch it. The Costner part would be perfect for me, except I’d start crying when I said, “Dad? Want to have a catch?”

So that’s my answer, I guess. Except I’d also want to be James Earl Jones. I really want to know what’s in that corn, Will. What’s in the corn? 

(I’ve seen Children of the Corn. Enough said.)

 I’ve always thought I wanted to live in Washington state (no property tax), but do all my shopping in Oregon (no sales tax). Why are you taking my dream and doing it backwards?

I wish I had an answer for you. I really do, Will. I really do. You’re just going to have to be okay with my not having an answer for this one. I hope that it won’t keep you up at night.

 What is the best thing about being a father (and no fair saying everything)?

Well, that changes every day. Right now, though, the best thing is dance parties. Squish will run up to me or to my wife and say, “Dance party!” and start doing this crazy, running-in-place jig. So we’ll dance along, and there we are, the three of us, just jog-dancing in the kitchen at seven-thirty in the evening, for no particular reason.

It really doesn’t get any better than that.

I just noticed that you designed the cover for the #1 book on Amazon and it wasn’t Hugh Howey’s. Who did you have to kill to make this happen? 

Right? I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. And you’re right, I did expect that if this ever happened, it would be with one of Hugh’s books. We got really close with Sand — I think he got all the way to #2 on Amazon with that one. But I’m really stoked that it happened with this one. Since you didn’t mention the title, I will — it was Max Allan Collins’s Supreme Justice. And I’m really excited about it being that book because I’m a big fan of Max’s work. It’s probably his most obvious title to be a fan of, but Road to Perdition is really special to me, both his book and the film adaptation. I’m just floored that I got to work on one of his books at all. That’s not supposed to happen.

What’s the craziest thing anyone has said about Eleanor yet? How are you dealing with the hype before the release? 

EleanorThe craziest has to go to Peter Cawdron, who so kindly compared the book to Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Runner-up is probably Michael Bunker, who compared it to A Wrinkle in Time. I love both of those books, and Gaiman and Madeleine L’Engle are so much more accomplished than me. Clearly Bunker and Cawdron have lost their minds.

I’m trying to deal with the hype by creating as much of it as I possibly can! This book is so very special to me. I want to give it every chance to succeed, and to do everything right that I possibly can. So I’ve been all over the place, doing interviews like this one (thank you!), showing up on podcasts. I was on the Self-Publishing Podcast last week — my first video interview ever. I’m doing another one this week, and another in July, and trying to schedule more.

I’m also doing everything I can to get the book into as many people’s hands as possible. Everyone who has subscribed to my newsletter, for example — some eight hundred people at last count — are going to get free copies of the book later this week. (So if anyone wants in, they can sign up at jasongurley.com/free-books/) And I’ve put together an exclusive ebook, The Eleanor Sketches, for anyone who preorders the novel.

I’ve spent thirteen years writing this novel, and it’s finally done. And I think it’s actually good. So I’m trying to do right by it — if not for me, then for my 2001 self, who is somewhere back there in time, just starting to dream up the first lines of the book while on an Oregon highway at four a.m., with no idea of how many more years he’ll spend revisiting and rewriting those lines.

Thanks for having me, Will!