Desperate to Escape, Part 3

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DESPERATE_Part3Thomas Robins published the first entry into his Desperate to Escape series in September of last year and I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s exciting, really — getting to read some great science fiction, all while seeing a brand-new author develop and bloom right before you. (Full Disclosure: Thomas and I are both in the WOOL fanfic charity anthology WOOL Gathering and his story “Eight” is my favorite of the bunch.)

Today we are blessed with Part 3 in Robins’ ambitious tale, ready for download on Kindle. I was lucky enough to be an early reader of DTE3, and I have to say: Robins steps up the story to another level I didn’t know he had in him.

So what’s the story with DTE?

Basically, DTE tells the story of a young woman named Ineeka from inner-city Chicago. As a reader, we see two stories told in parallel tracks — one is Ineeka’s quest to escape from Chicago, from her past, from her nature, from what could have been her destiny. The alternate story is of Ineeka as an astronaut, taking a passenger to the International Space Station and the unexpected adventure that follows in orbit of Earth. Ineeka was so desperate to escape her life on Earth, that she wound up leaving the planet entirely.

From there Robins does an exceptional job following Ineeka as she battles her figurative demons back on Earth and the literal enemies she has once she reaches the ISS. With each new addition to the story, Robins amps up the drama and the action as his skill as a writer continues to improve.

I think a lot of people can really relate to Ineeka’s situation. Her mistakes from her adolescence threaten to ground her from NASA before she even has a chance. She dreams of flying…away from Chicago and her life there. It would be easy for her to stay. It would be the well-worn path taken by so many young women, not just in the inner city, but all over this country. I see it myself in rural Illinois. Girls latch on to a guy. They don’t work as hard in school because they think they can just depend on Mr. Good Ol’ Boy the rest of their lives. (Maybe they can, maybe they can’t — that isn’t the point.) They mentally hit stop on their education and any dreams they may have had and slide into a sense of apathy. They stay within 15 miles of their high school most of their lives and by the time they reach middle age, they wonder what happened to their childhood hopes and dreams.

Ineeka is not that girl. She is strong and confident. Even with every obstacle and hurdle in her way, she manages to make her dreams come true. It may not come in the traditional way, but just as her name suggests, Ineeka is not the traditional girl. As Robins takes us from the peril the entire world is in at the end of Part 3, it will take that tenaciousness for Ineeka and the rest of the human race to survive Part 4.

Robins has gotten a lot of compliments on his portrayal of the Earthside story through Parts 1 and 2, but his spaceside story in Part 3 holds its own. I kept rushing through Ineeka’s Earth struggles to get back to her issues in space.

If you haven’t yet checked out Thomas Robins’ Desperate to Escape, here is Part 1, and Part 2, and finally, Part 3. All just 99 cents with Part 4 destined for your Kindle this summer. Get this book — you won’t regret it.

 

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What Grinds My Gears? Lawns.

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You know what really grinds my gears?

Lawns.

You know what I’m talking about. The green space outside your house. Thanks to societal norms, we feel the need to tend our lawn — water it, fertilize it, mow it. We take better care of our lawns than we do developing countries.

If you happen to live in an apartment or are too young to worry about mowing a lawn, thank your lucky stars.

Now, there is a certain calmness that I’ve learned to enjoy from going out each week and mowing my lawn, so I can’t say I despise the entirety of the lawn care business, but overall I think as a society, we are obsessed with the wrong things and our lawns are more of a symptom of our apathy than anything else.

Don’t you want people to like how your house looks? 

Here’s a better question — who cares? I mean, it’s my house and I should decide how it looks, right? Now, I’m not saying I want to just let weeds take over or anything, but that’s kind of how I think about it. Part of my reasoning may be based on the fact that my house is the second to last lot on a dead-end road and very few people see it, so I hate to “get all dressed up” for company that never shows up.

What’s the big deal with lawn care? 

The big deal is that we as Americans spend an ABSURD amount of money on lawn care. According to the book American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn by Ted Steinberg, Americans will spend 150 hours on their lawn each year; North America spends over $40 billion on lawn care each year, more than the continent spends on foreign aid; and 30% of the water used on the East Coast goes towards the watering of lawns. In fact, the book mentions a golf course in Tampa, Florida that uses 178,800 gallons of water each day — enough water to meet the needs of 2,200 people.

So you’re like — stats from 2005? Those are so outdated. I agree. How about these figures from a Mental Floss article in 2012? The figure is still hovering at 2012 and that figure is care of Bloomberg. I suppose in light of the other figures on that site, the lawn care amount may be reasonable, but like I said, the numbers are just a symptom of the upside-down society we live in.

This guy. Seriously?

This guy. Seriously?

 

I see the Scott’s Lawn Care commercials on TV frequently (which tends to happen when you leave ESPN and their continuous run of baseball coverage on). While they are catchy, I find myself upset sometimes.

I suppose maybe I’m a little more aware of the rest of the world than some, but there are some serious starvation issues happening RIGHT NOW in South Sudan. I don’t want to sound like your mom with leftover brussel sprouts or asparagus on your plate, but there are literally starving people in Africa. If you didn’t water your lawn this week, would that really help?

Probably not, to be honest.

But…the more we were aware and the more we ignored the Scott’s Lawn dude, the more money we might have to send money and aid to areas in the world where fresh water is a serious problem.

How Elitist must we look to developing countries around the world? They don’t have enough potable water to drink in a day…yet we use it to brush our teeth, take 30 minute showers, wash our dishes, wash our clothes, and often times water our lawns. That if we turn up our noses at water that “doesn’t taste quite right.”

Yes, this is about lawns, but it is about so much more.

ws_infographics_outdoorWould you believe that the average American household uses 320 gallons of water each day? And 30 percent of that is used outside. (My math isn’t exceptional, but I come up with 96 gallons used outdoors by each family each day).

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, it is believed approximately half of that water is wasted, whether due to evaporation, wind, runoff, or just inefficient methods of irrigation.

Ultimately, I know I’m not going to change a lot of minds. In fact, I just mowed my lawn yesterday and this afternoon and I’ll do it again next week. But, when it comes down to making it perfect or whether to save my money to give towards worthy charities, I’ll think twice for sure. It would be great practice for us all to do so. There are millions of people who cannot afford to feed their families, let alone give them safe drinking water. We take that water and feed it to grass — which has NO nutritional value. It might even be better if local municipalities would allow and encourage their residents to replace their ornamental lawns with more beneficial plants like corn, soybeans or wheat.

End rant. Thanks for listening.

 

Reader Requests #4 — Bilbies, Donuts, and Peeps

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I put out another call for blog ideas from my Facebook friends and family tonight and they did not let me down. Most of those ideas contained a kernel of similarity – food. Let’s kick it off, shall we?


 

Easter Bunnies.

Cute, adorable, giver of chocolate and hard-boiled eggs.

Except…maybe not.

Every year, numerous well-meaning parents in the U.S. adopt rabbits around Easter as gifts for their children. According to an article on Chicago Now:

“Too many families purchase a rabbit on impulse for Easter gifts and they don’t realize how complicated rabbit care can be,” says Marcia Coburn, President of Red Door. “We get so many calls from people that see rabbits running lose that don’t appear to be wild rabbits and we end up going out and rescuing them. Domestic rabbits just aren’t cut out to survive out there.”

These rabbits end up either killed by natural predators or rescued by local humane societies. This problem with bunnies isn’t just an American problem.

Looks like there is way more chocolate to a Bilby than a Bunny.

Looks like there is way more chocolate to a Bilby than a Bunny.

In Australia, rabbits have been a problem for a couple centuries. Rabbits are not native to the continent, but when settlers came from Europe and North America a few hundred years ago, they brought rabbits, foxes, and domesticated cats – all of which are now feral species that have harmed the Australian environment. From an article by Dr. Ian Gunn, an Adjunct Senior Associate at Monash University:

Australia has a sad history of importing European animals — rabbits, foxes and cats, for example — that now pose a great threat to the survival of our native species. Feral rabbits are Australia’s greatest pests, currently costing agriculture, and hence the community, about $200 million annually, in addition to untold costs to the environment.

The article goes on to suggest that instead of Australians going for the traditional Easter Bunny, they should instead an Easter Bilby. What is a bilby? A marsupial, the bilby is a type of bandicoot that lives in the desert of Australia. With large ears that help keep it cool in the hot arid climate of the Australian mid-section, the bilby is the natural replacement to the rabbit in Australian Easter folklore.

Credit to Scott Robert Glazier for the Bunny topic.


 

On other food topics, our friend Michael Bunker had a few food topics to address and I will do so in the following bullet points:

  • Ice Cream Sandwiches. Pro or Con? What? How is this even a question? Pro of course. The sandwich part by itself could be called a cookie. Sesame Street named one of their main characters the COOKIE MONSTER. On the inside is ice cream. Wonderful, amazing, creamy ice cream. How does the saying go? “You scream, I scream, WE ALL SCREAM for Ice Cream!” Put those two together and you have magic. In your mouth.
  • Steak: Pro or Con? Pro. You can’t beat a well-cooked steak. The trick is the well-cooked part, of course and that in itself drives some people away. Even pricey restaurants don’t always cook steaks well. I went to one of those pricey restaurants a few years ago – where their steaks are graded on a separate scale than the USDA – it was heaven.
  • Donuts and donut holes. I’ll just quote the bearded master here: “How do they get away with cutting a part of the middle of your donut away and selling it as a “donut hole” to someone else? If they did that with Pizza, there would be an uprising. And shouldn’t we demand that we get the middle part for free?” Absolutely, Mr. Bunker. The middle part should be our right. This is a food slippery slope. Sometime in our past, there was a pastry. Then someone took out the middle and called it a donut, forgetting that we still deserved that middle deliciousness. That simple act has spawned an entire industry on just donut holes. It’s like when Hitler demanded Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. Neville Chamberlain thought – “we’ll just give it to him and he’ll be OK.” Except he wasn’t. We all know how that ended. We need to demand our holes back. Our HOLES!

Credit to Michael Bunker for the various food topics


 

And to close this one out, here is a brief editorial on Peeps.

Peeps. Peeps. Peeps. Just keep saying it out loud. After a while, you start sounding like 1/3 of a 90’s hip-hop group. At best.

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What do you think this is? Some kind of game?

Peeps, if you are not familiar, are pieces of marshmallow shaped into chick or bunny forms and coated with colored sugar. There is no nutritutional value. There is no spiritual value. There is no redeeming value.

If you’ve had a Peep (and if you have, you may not want to raise your hand), have you ever sat back afterwards and said, “Oh boy self, that sure was a mighty fine decision to eat that sugar-blasted, chick-shaped marshmallow?

You know what Peeps are good for? Dioramas (there are HUNDREDS of them. That is why they sell – so people can make scenes from their favorite movies with Peeps.)

In closing, pitch the Peeps. There is so many better things you could have.

Oh look – a Peep in a donut!

Thanks to Carrie Gillette for the Peeps

 

What does WOOL mean to you?

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We are really close to the release of WOOL GATHERING, an anthology of WOOL-related stories from nine authors who have each explored Hugh Howey’s WOOL Universe on their own. I’ve gotta say: I’m ridiculously honored to be included in a collection with these authors. Some of the best and brightest from the WOOL authors and I get to be a part of it.

ImageWith the release so close, I wanted to ask each of them just ONE question. I’ve collected the responses here. I find them all fascinating and intriguing. I didn’t place any restrictions on their answers and what I got frankly amazed me. I count myself privileged to be among this group of writers for this short story collection.

The question: What does WOOL mean to you?

David Adams:

Wool means having a breakdown every time I find myself liking a character in that universe, knowing that they live in the Woolniverse and therefore something terrible is bound to happen to them. And that’s the core of good writing. If you can make your reader unable to stop turning the page because they want to make sure that their favourite character’s going to be okay, even if deep down they know they’re almost certainly screwed, you are doing it exactly right.

Ann Christy:

For me, WOOL is the world writ small. Everything in it is intensified and magnified but it represents the choices we make in real life, right now. The ones who crave power, the ones who want to believe in something no one else believes in, the ones who take great risks to make things right are all in there. And the ones who would destroy anything and everything to achieve their own singular goals are in there, too. To me that short little book back in 2011 was an interesting take on belief and doubt and the harsh realities behind the curtains of our lives. What it became as it was expanded and refined was the path of a world with powerful lessons in it about who and what we can choose to be.

Fredric Shernoff:

WOOL represents a milestone in the history of publishing. It showed that someone could become a success and publish a successful story without going through all the traditional gatekeepers. It inspired me to believe that I could maybe do it too and is the reason I started writing and publishing. It also happens to be a great story!

Thomas Robins:

WOOL sparked a reawakening of the short form in my life. Amazon relentlessly promoted WOOL to me as something I would enjoy. I dismissed it out of hand for several months before giving it a read. I was reminded of my long-past high school literature classes when we were assigned mountains of short story reading. The freedom of spending an hour or two reading a short story and then moving on to a completely different story was liberating in and of itself. However, what WOOL reminded me of the most was that, in short form, stories did not have to have satisfying endings with all loose ends explained. Those qualities spark my imagination and engage me as a reader long after I have finished a story.

silosagaLogan Thomas Snyder:

To me, WOOL is a repudiation of the notion that indie authors are somehow a lesser or sub-species of writer. Not that long ago I thought more or less along the same lines. I only read authors who published through traditional avenues, the kind whose works I could find on bookstore or library shelves. Then, in January 2013, I caved and bought my Kindle. The first book I downloaded to it? WOOL, of course. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been so utterly captivated by a story, and of course I certainly couldn’t ignore the fact that Hugh had done it his way, without the aid (or hindrance) of the mainstream publishing establishment. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience, especially as someone who to that point had mostly been writing to an audience of about half a dozen close family and friends with the patience and good cheer to wade through pages and pages of stories on my poorly designed website. That’s when I knew I had to reevaluate not just what I was doing, but the way I thought about indie authors and publishing all together. Since then, I’ve read some absolutely amazing stories I never would have been exposed to had I not taken a chance on an indie phenom. Even better, I now consider some of those very authors to be good friends and among my favorite people. (Oh, and of course, I’m an indie author now, too; way to bury the lead, I know). That’s what WOOL means to me.

Carol Davis:

What is WOOL to me?

It was something small. One among many. Nothing you’d pay particular attention to, if you were just passing by. But it held within it a myriad of possibilities that began to capture the interest and imagination of first one person, then another, and another, and another.

It was something small that grew exponentially.

Like each of us. Small and insignificant (in the grand scheme of things) on the day we’re born, but capable of growing into something wonderful — something that will rock the world back on its heels.

It’s an example of possibilities, and growth, and success.

Lyndon Perry:

WOOL has meaning for me on multiple levels. As a story, it speaks to me of the human condition and our lack of clarity as to what is actual and what is perceived. Great SF engages and wrestles with such universal themes and WOOL is a wonderful example of how literature asks questions and prompts profound pondering. As a publishing phenomenon, it’s a symbol of the new age of publishing. A single story gains grass roots support sparking the author to write more, engage the audience more, and create – in symbiotic fashion – a story that is both true to the writer and accommodating of the fans. It’s fan interaction at its best. And finally, WOOL is a reflection of Hugh Howey himself and his open source philosophy and crowd-sourcing trust. The fact that the world of WOOL is an open playground for writers to dive into begets not only great new stories but ultimately promotes and elevates the original in ways that would not be possible if it weren’t for the author’s vision of entrusting the story into the hands of fans. In all these ways, WOOL plays a significant role in my journey as a writer and I’m grateful to be a part of this culturally pivotal phenomena.

W.J. Davies:

Besides being one of the best Science Fiction tales I’ve read in the last decade, WOOL represents the indie author’s dream come true. The idea is that a story can be so powerful in itself, that it doesn’t need extensive marketing campaigns or the might of a big publisher for it to find an audience. If a story is good enough, resonates enough with readers, is written well enough, a kind of magic happens where the book takes off on its own and insists that it be widely read. WOOL is the perfect example of this phenomenon, and its success gives hope to so many indie writers. Quality stories will always find a way to rise to the top.

Of course, I had the ability to see all these answers before my response was full formulated. With that in mind, I can definitely say their answers informed mine. My answer wouldn’t be complete without them.

Will Swardstrom:

What WOOL means to me is that I’m not alone.

It showed me that someone that was my age could launch a writing career. It showed me that authors are not just grumpy old men who write in a drafty attic space. I discovered that there were others out there, just like me. With the beginnings of fanfic in the WOOL universe, I found a community. I discovered that authors weren’t just self-interested, but that they cared – about writing and the story, yes, but also about each other and seeing others do well.

WOOL means community. The gift we were given by Hugh has tied us together and made us stronger. As a single writer, I can only do so much, but with the amazing fellowship of the other writers I’ve met and discovered through WOOL, I can get better and do more than I ever thought possible.

WOOL Gathering will be released digitally and in paperback in the next couple weeks. Stay tuned for exact release dates.

2013 — A Great Year to be a Reader

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What a year.

I will always remember 2013 for a number of reasons. I finally decided to write (and then publish) my first novel. In fact, since late July, I’ve published a novel, three short stories and a novella. Along the way, I’ve learned a TON about writing, publishing, and marketing…I’ve learned about myself…and I’ve become friends with loads of new people whether fellow authors or readers.

As I looked back on the year, I also realized how many books I read. Just looking through my Kindle, I realized I’d read over 50 books just through Amazon and another 10-20 in physical copy as well. True…many of the Kindle books were what we might call short stories, but I’ll call them books nonetheless. That many books was pretty amazing, especially considering the time I have to spend working on my classes for school and the time I spent writing doesn’t exactly lend itself towards reading.

With all those books, I felt compelled to write a Best of the Year List. I don’t want to rank them, necessarily, but I’ll just say these are the ones that really stuck with me. When I think back on this year, these are the books I’ll really remember reading.

dustDUST by Hugh Howey

I’ll remember this because it was the epic conclusion to Howey’s ground-breaking WOOL Saga. Not only did he finish his story, he nailed the landing. There are a lot of stories that have difficulty on the final leg, but fortunately Howey didn’t succumb to the general rule. It seemed like I waited a long time for the story, but in all actuality, Hugh puts his stories out so quickly that I read WOOL, SHIFT, and then DUST within two years’ time. The book landed on Kindle on my birthday and the best present I received was time from my family to read DUST from cover to cover that day.

lgmLITTLE GREEN MEN by Peter Cawdron

I’d heard about Cawdron through Facebook posts by Howey earlier in the year, but I hadn’t read any of his works until LGM, which came out right before Labor Day in the U.S. I had a splurge in the three days of the holiday weekend and LGM was one of the books I read. The Jason Gurley designed cover catches the eye of any reader and quickly brought me in. Cawdron dedicated the book to Philip K. DIck and you can definitely see influences of PKD as well as Asimov and Heinlein. So good, I bought it in paperback and gave it to my father for Christmas.

pa2PENNSYLVANIA 1 & 2 by Michael Bunker

Why do you torture me so, Bunker?! Okay…so I count Michael Bunker as one of my friends, but even with that admission, I’ll say that both PA1&2 blew me away. Just fantastic. That said…I’d really like to read PA3 to see how this story ends. I said how LGM reminded me of sci-fi masters…well Bunker nailed Heinlein in Pennsylvania. Bunker calls it his “Amish Sci-Fi story” and that really drew me to it. My wife doesn’t read much beyond Amish romance and I love sci-fi — something I’d threatened to write for years. Bunker beat me to it, but that’s alright. He knocked it out of the park.

the sowingTHE SOWING by K. Makansi

Who is K. Makansi? Before I read The Sowing, I assumed it was just another ambitious sci-fi author and my assumption took me towards the masculine. I was wrong. Three times. K. Makansi is a mother and two daughters who wrote the book together and boy…is it a good one. The Sowing reminded me a lot of reading The Hunger Games for the first time — discovering a diamond in the rough. Reviewers compare it to both Hunger Games and Divergent, but I thought it was better than DIvergent. In fact, I read all of the Divergent trilogy this past year as well, including the finale, Allegiant. I wrote a two-star review of Allegiant and one of my complaints was telling the story first-person, alternating the chapters between the main characters Tris and Four. Makansi was able to pull this off between a male and female protagonist and make it feel like two separate people with very opposite lives and goals. Well done — looking forward to Book 2 in 2014.

ImageSTEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson

Speaking of The Hunger Games, there have been countless stories written by Young Adult authors since Suzanne Collins’ post-apocalyptic tale came out that tried to mirror the story. Sanderson managed to make his own futuristic tale with a unique twist — what if super powers existed, but everyone who had them abided by Machiavelli’s principle that men are self-centered. Anyone in the Steelheart universe is either super-powered evil-doer or plain old human. Fascinating and riveting.

ImageTHE SCOUT by Eric Tozzi

I’d first heard about Eric through Michael Bunker and once his book was released late this year, I purchased, read, and loved. It is a great story that jumps off the page like it was designed for the screen. Tozzi tells the story of a man, faced with the personal story of his parents’ mortality, confronted with a possible alien invasion. Tozzi does phenomenal in his debut novel and I’ll be among the first to get whatever he writes next.

ImageGREATFALL by Jason Gurley

I’d read W.J. Davies’ WOOL fanfic The Runner and a few other smaller WOOL stories, but when I finally dove into Greatfall this past summer, I was stunned by how well someone could write a story set in someone else’s universe. This story probably really set me on course to write my own WOOL stories and in fact, Gurley’s work as a cover artist helped me out a ton as well. I’ve had a sneak-peak at Gurley’s book Eleanor, which he should be releasing some time in 2014 and it is already drawing comparisons to Neil Gaiman’s The House at the End of the Lane — and for good reasons.

I suppose we’ll go with those as my Top 7, but I’ll give a few others as Honorable Mentions:

Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave, Ben Winters’ The Last Policemen, Hugh Howey’s Sand 1 & 2 (we’ll see how Sand plays out in 2014), Carol Davis’ Blood Moon, John Scalzi’s The Human Division (which I read in 13 installments early this year), and CyberStorm by Matthew Mather.

There were so many books I loved in 2013, but I’m betting 2014 will be even better. As always, check back here from time to time for my progress. As of late December, I’m probably 90 percent done with the rough draft of my sequel to Dead Sleep. I’ve also got a couple fantastic ideas cooking in my noggin. Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!