Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My expectations for Game of Thrones Season 2

The second season of "A Game of Thrones" that was brought to the screen last year by HBO pictures in conjunction with the genius that is George R.R. Martin will soon be upon us. They just released the second trailer that gives us a more in-depth look into the upcoming season. The name isn't changing but the story will be taken directly from A Clash of Kings as the first season exhausted the plot from that book. Here are the things that I'm looking forward to seeing:
1) The arrival of Jojen and Meera Reed at Winterfell. They are influential in taking Bran north of the wall and to awakening the powers that reside within him.

2) Melisandre of Asshai. This witch is able to "birth" a demon from you know where (completely nude in the process). It literally crawls out of her birth canal when she summons it. I'm wondering how they are going to do this one.
Carice Van Houten plays the priestess Melisandre
3) Tyrion as Hand of the King. His lines are the best written so there will be much conniving going at King's Landing between Tyrion, Cersei, and Varis.

4)  North of the wall we see Craster's keep. This is a guy that has twenty or so wives, and they are all his kin (daughters). He's a complete and utter pig. Any boys that are born (he doesn't want competition) are given to the White Walkers as a sacrifice of sorts. It's about as disgusting an act as I've seen in an epic fantasy.
Robert Pugh plays Craster. He doesn't look so bad here, but in the book, he
was pretty ignorant and vile.
5) Battle at the Fist of the First Men. The White Walkers a.k.a. the Others attack the Night's Watch in a battle that should raise the goosebumps on anyone watching. This is one of the most hair-raising moments in the book.
This is an artist rendition of the Fist of the First Men.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Wisdom or Madness of Haruki Murakami

I just finished book one of Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 (he was a contender for the Nobel Prize in literature in 2011). I'm really enjoying this science-fiction novel (a big one when you consider that there are three books in one and thus over 1000 pages total), even though the "science-fiction" aspect of it seems to be at this point, specifically limited to two moons in the sky for one of the main characters, while the other, a writer, appears to be firmly rooted in the "real" world.

One of the characters, Tengo, is a writer, and he participates in publishing fraud by rewriting a brilliantly plotted novel whose idea originated in the mind of a girl who is illiterate. The other main character is a woman named Aomame who reveres her body as a temple, is bisexual, and has the skill to kill evil men with an icepick so that the deaths look natural. The story revolves around a bit of philosophy: If our collective memory is taken from us--is rewritten--we lose the ability to sustain our true selves. So Tengo rewrites a story of a teenage girl's and inadvertently she loses the ability to sustain herself.

Now, the story goes back and forth chapter by chapter between Aomame and Tengo. I have no idea if Aomame is the character being written about by Tengo (she seems just as real as Tengo to me but is living in a world with two moons), or how she ended up in the world with two moons other than the conscious decision to leave a taxi during a rush hour (a world with one moon), to climb down a utility ladder from the elevated expressway, and all so that she could meet a deadline in order to kill a very bad man. I find the fact that the taxi driver knew that her getting out of his car would change the universe in which she lived somewhat eerie. But I doubt if Murakami will ever return and explain how the driver knew anything at all much in the same way that J.J. Abrams provides very little as far as answers to fans of the television series LOST.
Aomame sees two moons in the sky. She is afraid to point it
out because she doesn't know if others in her world have
noticed or if she is the only one, and what exactly that might
mean. She is aware that the world is different.
One of the things that I find most intriguing about book one of 1Q84 are all the statements that Murakami makes about the profession of writing through the point-of-view of Tengo or through Komatsu (his unscrupulous editor). Here are some of them:

"It has absolutely none of the usual new writer's sense of 'I want to be another so-and-so'." <== interesting observation on all new writers, or no?

"Good style happens in one of two ways: the writer either has an inborn talent or is willing to work herself to death to get it."

"When I'm writing a story, I use words to transform the surrounding scene into something more natural for me. In other words, I reconstruct it. That way, I can confirm without a doubt that this person known as 'me' exists in the world."

"He selected his words with all the care of a craftsman choosing the perfect piece of tile to fill a narrow gap in a bathroom floor...The slightest difference in nuance could bring the passage to life or kill it."

"The exact same text was subtly different to read when viewed on the printed pages rather than on the word processor's screen."

"[Editors] like [Komatsu] are looking for just one thing, and that is to find, if only once in their lifetimes, a work that is unmistakably the real thing. They want to put it on a tray and serve it up to the world."

"The conclusion of things is the good. The good is, in other words, the conclusion at which all things arrive. Let's leave doubt for tomorrow."

"When you introduce things that most readers have never seen before into a piece of fiction you have to describe them with as much precision and in as much detail as possible. What you can eliminate from fiction is the description of things that most readers have seen."

"The point of [writing about] a world that isn't here is in being able to rewrite the past of the world that is here."

What do you think of the statements Murakami makes about the business of writing and/or editing through the voices of his characters?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Prometheus Fan Art and a Mystery

This is from a still capture of the Prometheus trailer. Who is that on the right?
Many people online seem to think it is the Space Jockey himself. Oh Ridley
Scott...I want to know more dammit! (Click to make bigger so you can see said
strange looking being in greater detail).
I found these pics online. They look amazing don't you think? These are by artist Rado Javor, and if you're like me, these can possibly hold you over until another movie trailer gets released later this spring. You can click any of these to make them bigger.

Some people are so talented. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The fiction that reflects our troubled times

Is there a more disturbing line in Shakespeare than the one in which Shylock promises to Solanio in the Merchant of Venice when he says:

"If you prick us do we not bleed...and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"

It is a promise, delivered via monologue, that Shylock shall stop at nothing, even if it means to sink to the level of those that wronged him. In my reading of the December issue of The New Yorker, I thought of this line.  It happened when I came across a remarkable story written by Margaret Atwood called "Stone Mattress" which is part of what I see as a new surge or re-invention in crime fiction. I'm going to say that this genre caught fire with Stieg Larson and the publishing of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

If you think about the plot, you know it already. A man terribly wrongs a woman via a brutal rape. The wrong that is done to the protagonist of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the same thing that is done to Atwood's Verna in Stone Mattress. A few generations ago, or even on Law & Order, this kind of story would focus on how terrible the villain is and then follow some law enforcement agent to tracking down the villain and bringing him to justice. Usually there would be some moral authority present to assuage the woman's anger at being brutally violated.

Well this story is cliche and has been reinvented. Now it's all about revenge. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo empowers herself over her rapist and effectively castrates him (if you consider that rape is not a sexual crime but one of power). Atwood takes this a step further in the Stone Mattress and makes a life-long female serial killer out of Verna. Many of the men that Verna kills are actually innocent of any wrong-doing toward her. Yet she destroys them anyway, because well...she was wronged.

At first upon finishing this story, I wondered if the writer took some sick pleasure in living within the skin of a protagonist in order to experience a complete evacuation of character and complexity. It's a touchstone of moral ugliness the same as a scene from American History X where Edward Norton curb stomps and kills some black gang members when he finds them breaking into a truck left to him by his father. In this case, the justice DID NOT fit the crime. But you can't help but watch because you realize, yes...humans are capable of such things. And therein is the horror. Anger, rage, and hatred that are allowed to flow so unchecked that there is nothing that we can recognize left behind, yet to which any number of us can relate. Is that ironic? That in a state of pure hatred we are perhaps at our most human?

Margaret Atwood
So why are these stories so popular? I would never classify The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Stone Mattress as dystopian because I feel that definition applies to "setting" and not "character". Both literary works take place in settings that are no different from what we see every day. If anything, they are stories of an internal dystopian that takes place in the latticework of the human soul. If you were to go into the dreams of these people, would you experience the empty, urban, and utterly Escher-like metropolis that Leonardo di Caprio built in the deepest layer of his subconscious in the movie Inception? Is it because the idea of an "eye for an eye" is no longer acceptable? The United States is a pretty divided place right now. The country has a lot of anger, and based off of the riots that we witnessed in London and the Arab Spring that took place in 2011, I think it's safe to say that the whole world is also pretty angry.

There is no question that rape has a life-altering effect on its victims. But I can't help but wonder if the rise of these kinds of stories are a temperature gauge for the anger felt by men and women the world over who are sick and tired of being exploited, economically raped, and who long for a better life because people finally feel that they can rise up and be successful against brutal oppression. So my question to you is, do you think there is any merit to this hypothesis? And when you write, do you use your writing as a catharsis for the expulsion of feelings and frustrations that you may live with and can find no other outlet?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Discussion About Dystopia

This book by Martin Cruz Smith is the latest in his Russian-themed novels. The plot is pretty simple. A girl on a train has her baby kidnapped and then finds her baby by the end of the book. I didn't read this book for the plot. I read it because I was so horrified by the new Russian reality that my "disgust" button became overpowered by my desire to stand as witness to all things horrible.

I admit it. I'm a voyeur. But I don't think I'm alone in this. Are you a voyeur to misery? Do you like it when characters suffer?

As for the book, it's a great, fast read. But I'm not going to give a book review as much as I'm going to talk about the setting in which the story takes place.

My attention as of late has turned to real-life dystopias since I see them cropping up all over the place in young-adult fiction. I started asking myself...why are so many writers making up dystopias when we really only have to look at North Korea, China, and Russia for real world examples? On the surface, the world of Russia is as dystopian as they come...at least that's what I get from Martin Cruz Smith.

NPR had him as a guest when the book was released back in 2010. I remember being hypnotized by his interview because he spoke of Russia so "colorfully" (colorful in this situation is not a compliment).  He's what you would call a "hands on" writer since he goes there to pen his novels. The man observes everything. It begs the question though...how much of what he relates to us is fiction? Probably some. But I bet it isn't too far from the truth. Much of it has to do with exploitation of kids and human trafficking. What does the nightly news have to say about human exploitation in Russia? Quite a lot actually.

For one, underaged Russian pornography has gotten a lot of news coverage because the West (read United States) is such a huge buyer of it. America certainly has its fair share of pedophiles. They hide in the ranks of Boy Scout leaders, FLDS prophets, priests, and assistant football coaches to legendary collegiate programs. But sooner or later, they get caught. And when it happens, people act sooo schocked. They say things like, "I had no idea he was raping all those girls/boys. He always played with them in the park. He goes to church, has a wife, and plants trees on arbor day!" Blah blah blah...this kind of argument will continue to play itself out until the end of time (hyperbole? maybe some).

But back to Russia. They're the ones with they dystopia, not us, right? So what are the three stations for which the book is named?

They are Leningrad Station, Kazansky Station, and Yaroslavl Station situated on Komsolmoskaya Square in Moscow, Russia. By day, they are a hubbub of activity. Picture all the stereotypes you have heard of Grand Central Station in New York City and you pretty much got the picture. But by night, it's a whole different story. If you get caught there the best that could happen is someone mugs you. The worst is that you'd end up shot, stabbed, or beaten to death. Usually what really happens lies somewhere in-between. Here's a rundown of stuff that I played witness to simply by turning pages:
Russian prison tattoos all have a meaning.
  1. Homeless kids are everywhere. They're skinny, good-looking, street-smart and opportunistic. Because they are good looking, many are prostitutes and whores. Pedophilia is normal. Men cruising in their fancy cars pick up kids to get some sex, to abuse, or to outright murder them.
  2. Girls end up raped or dead. The bodies are found but rarely does anyone own up to seeing anything. This isn't C.S.I. No one gets caught. It's just another dead body to deal with. When they have babies, the babies are kidnapped and sold to wealthy westerners who want to adopt. Why have a baby when you can buy one, right? It's against the law? Yeah sure...whatever.
  3. I discovered how to make prison ink. It's made from urine and soot mixed together and done with a hook. That's why all the tats look blue. Also the prison tats over in Russia all mean something (I don't know if the prison culture in America has the same thing). Example: a web on the shoulder means the person has some kind of monkey on their back...drugs, alcohol, something from which they have overcome or are trying to overcome. Imagine getting a tattoo from ink made from some guy's urine. Nice image, huh?
  4. Kids hustle at chess the same as people hustle at pool here in the states.
  5. Everyone drinks vodka. They have rehabilitation clinics with beds low to the floor where people can crash for a night. They're close to the floor so they don't hurt themselves when they fall off the bed. Unscrupulous men show up at these places and have sex with the people crashed out on the beds.
  6. There's basically two classes. The oligarchs and the proletariat. The oligarchs are filthy stinking rich and as corrupt as they come. Tangle with them and you end up getting your head wrapped in cellophane until you can't breath while tied naked to a chair.
  7. Old, fat men always pay for underaged sex. That's just the way it is. But the sex isn't descriptive because it's over in 30-seconds, erectile dysfunction not withstanding.
Here's a sentence that I think captures the full flavor of the novel just in case you had any doubt as to how well the writer is able to capture the setting:
"Victor Orlov stood in a shower stall, his head bowed and his eyes shut while an orderly clad in a surgical mask, goggles, rubber apron and rubber gauntlets poured disinfectant on Victor's head until it dripped from his nose and four-day stubble, ran down his sunken stomach and naked ass and pooled between his feet."
Kinda cool, huh? Makes you want to know more? All I can think of is that Victor must be miserable. So what's behind the boom in dystopian fiction for young readers? Maybe it's as simple as to admit that the gritty harsh worlds of dystopias are a place where no one really wants to live but to which everyone is a voyeur. Are you a voyeur? Are you drawn to the sickness of humanity for a good story?

I just have three words for you.  The Hunger Games.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thinking About the American Dream

Tonight is the State of the Union address and because of that, I've been thinking about the American Dream. The New York Times recently featured an article with the title "How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work". The complete article can be found online here. I read it completely through, and I wanted to talk about what I read because it's a rather bleak commentary on the disappearing middle class.  By way of Apple as an example of the ultimate capitalist paradigm, the author pretty much tells us why prosperity for the middle class (as was realized last century) is never coming back no matter what politicians want you to believe. If you don't have time to read it, here are my highlights:
1) Barack Obama asked Steve Jobs at a dinner, "What would it take to make iPhones in the United States." The late Mr. Jobs replied, "Those jobs aren't coming back."
2) Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products. 
There's so much wrong with this picture and the intentional misspelling
of "America" that I don't even know where to begin.
3) Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to the White House, said “Apple’s an example of why it’s so hard to create middle-class jobs in the U.S. now." 
4) FoxConn in Shenzhen built a factory, stocked it with already cut glass to Apple's specifications, and had workers living in dormitories ready to work 12-hour shifts even before there was a contract to work with Apple. They did this to be more appealing to their potential customer, and it worked. This simply couldn't be done in America.
5) The facility employs 230,000 people working six-days a week making less than $17 a day. 
6) One of the selling points for Apple was that China provided engineers at a scale the United States could not match. Apple’s executives had estimated that about 8,700 industrial engineers were needed to oversee and guide the 200,000 assembly-line workers eventually involved in manufacturing iPhones. The company’s analysts had forecast it would take as long as nine months to find that many qualified engineers in the United States. In China, it took 15 days. 
7) "[T]he challenge in setting up U.S. plants is finding a technical work force,” said Martin Schmidt, associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. Americans at that skill level are hard to find, executives contend. “They’re good jobs, but the country doesn’t have enough to feed the demand,” Mr. Schmidt said. 
8) “We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”
This is from the Global Competitiveness Report. It measures America's educational
system rank as compared to other countries. The criteria is education expenditure,
quality of math and science education, and quality of primary education.
9) In the last two decades, something more fundamental has changed, economists say. Midwage jobs started disappearing. Particularly among Americans without college degrees, today’s new jobs are disproportionately in service occupations — at restaurants or call centers, or as hospital attendants or temporary workers — that offer fewer opportunities for reaching the middle class.
So my question to you is, do you agree with Apple that the U.S. no longer produces a workforce with enough education to meet the demands of technology companies? If you agree, why? Are people just not motivated to go to school anymore?

In number 2 above, Apple basically calls Americans lazy. Would you agree? Are Americans fat cats sitting around waiting for a lot of money for a little work?

Does the item printed in number 4 at all surprise you? That they would stock and build a factory without any promise of money? Is that what it's going to take to be competitive?
These are workers submitting resumes for jobs at one of the factories at
 Shenzhen. There's such a huge pool of people just begging for a job
 that all the power rests with the employer. Basically, a single worker on his
own is completely disposable. It makes me wonder if the babies brought into
 this world will know a life better than us, or if in fact, we are bringing
them into a world where they will not be able to support themselves and will 
be doomed to live in poverty while the rich remain rich.

Monday, January 23, 2012

February is looking pretty exciting

With February just around the corner, I thought I would take a look at what's going on at the beginning of the month.

From February 6th thru the 10th I will be participating in the "I'm Hearing Voices" blogfest. Signup is on this blog here.

Basically, you'll be roleplaying and interviewing your characters. Kinda fun huh?

Next up there is a blogfest being promoted by Alex J. Cavanaugh but is the brainchild of the Cruising Altitude 2.0 blog.

Here's what it's about:

On Monday, February 13th, post your own origin story. Talk about where your writing dreams began. It could be anything from how you started making up stories as a child, or writing for the school newspaper, or even what prompted you to start a blog. How about stories about the first time somebody took an interest in your writing, or maybe the singular moment when you first started calling yourself a writer. It all started somewhere and we want you to tell us your own unique beginnings.

We all need blog posts and these kinds of blog fests are great to get the juices flowing and to meet more people. I of course have signed up for both and hope that you join me :)

Also this week, I may get my cover art! My book will no longer be blank. I'm excited. Have a great Monday.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Little Chat With Nephylim

I'd like to introduce you to a friend of mine who writes dark gay fiction romances. She goes by Nephylim. Her blog can be found here. Be aware before you click that to visit, you'll have to agree to an "adult content" warning.
1) I'm curious about your nom de plume. Can you provide us with some background on Nephylim and why you choose a pen name instead of going with your real name?

According to legend the Nephylim were the children of 'the daughters of men' and the Malakim, or Watchers, which we now know of as Angels. In some versions the purpose of the Great Flood was to wipe the Nephylim from the earth, although the description of Noah in the bible makes it pretty obvious that he is one of them.

I have always had a facination with both fallen angels and vampires and I firmly believe that 'real' vampires, derived from the Nephylim are their descendents.

I am a pagan and do not believe in a christian god and, therefore, do not believe in the christian ideas of heaven and hell. I do not believe that fallen angels 'fell from grace, i.e. were thrown out of heaven by God. Rather that they got caught up in a political battle over the issue of whether or not they should associate with human women, and were defeated in what was essentially a civil war.

Ishtahar/ Inanna is considered to be the mother of the Nephylim and her symbols are the eye and the seven pointed star. She is the first woman to become involved with an angel called Semjaza. I I feel a lot of connection with a woman who risked, and ultimately lost everything, including her sanity, her child and her life, all through love, and of the brave angels who died for the same reason.

There is a lot of fascinating stuff out there if anyone is interested in looking into it further.

The reason that I use it as my pen name is simple. It was the name I used when I first signed up for Gay Authors, who gave me my first opportunity to have my work read. Without them I would definitely not be where I am. Nephylim (Nephy) became the person I am on GA, the part of me that is a writer. Nephy is the writer, Cheryl Headford is the boring lawyer. What is more natural, therefore, than to use the name I associate with writing as my pen name when I write?

2) Do you storyboard your fiction completely before writing or are you what they refer to as a "pantser" in the industry?

I have no idea what a 'pantser' is but I NEVER plan a story in advance. Usually I get a strong burst of inspiration from a person, a dream, once even a mannequin in a shop window. I 'see' a scene or a thread or an idea and then I start writing. From there it simply unfolds as it will. Sometimes the story takes twists and turns I never saw at the beginning as, in many ways, I am just along for the ride and the story is telling itself to me as much as to the readers.

Once I start to write, the characters some alive, and I tell their story. They become very real to me and I quite often have conversation with them or do things as them. Silver from Enigma is an excellent example of that. When I was writing those books he took over my life and I did everything and saw everything as he would have. I love his simple and fresh way of looking at the word and his purity.

3) Why did you start a blog?

Publicity purposes...simple as that. I'm a complete technophobe and I never thought I would be able to make a blog, let alone want to. Then I got my book published, and I thought that was the hard bit done. But no, people started talking about publicizing it and networking and suddenly I was knee deep in blogging, tweeting, making pages on Facebook and profiles on all sorts of sites. It's been scary as hell but so much fun I am now wishing I had done it years ago.

I have rather an... erm... eccentric? dark? strange? downright weird? personality and my blog is a way to express that. It is also a great excuse to look through and at eye candy because that seems to be the way of most blogs.

One of the great thing about having a blog is the networking, getting involved with other people who have blogs. I have started to participate in a weekly flash fiction group and it has been fun and also very difficult. As I am sure you will see my problem is not about getting the inspiration to write but the disciplinne to stop.

4) Can you tell us about your upcoming book and a little about the cover art?

Well, I have two, and I hope you won't mind me being greedy because they are both equally important.

Enigma is a story that I wrote a while ago. I absolutely got taken over by it. The lead character, Silver, is, quite simply...awesome. He was kidnapped at 12-years of age and 'trained' as a sex slave. When he was 19 he was beaten almost to death for daring to fall in love with another slave who WAS beaten to death in front of his eyes. He was then dumped on the verge of a motorway to die.

After recovering from his physical injuries he completely withdrew from the world and lived entirely inside his head, unable to make decisions, responding only to orders, not reacting at all with the world around him.

The story is about his recovery and the man who helps him achieve it, and to survive the blast from the past who tries to finish the job they started when they threw him out of the car on the motorway.

I very quickly became completely taken over by him and totally fell in love with him, to the extent that I started painting him. One of those paintings had been used for the cover art.


This is about Gabriel who is suffering from drastic symptoms of headaches, fits and strange delusions, after having been part of a government research programme that was attempting to unlock latent psychic talent.  He's angry at the world and everyone in it. He is remote, aloof and bitter. And then he meets Laurie who, from the first time he meets Gabriel in a night club decides that he is going to get through that unfriendly shell and gain the trust and love of the beautiful boy he can't get out of his mind.

Through sheer persistance he manages to win Gabriel over and the two go on the run, fleeing the government scientists who are trying to track him down.

This time, the scientists are not trying to hurt Gabriel but to save his life. Rather than being grateful he is angry as hell, especially when he finds that the results of the 'help' is that his psychic talents have gone haywire and he can't bear the presence and, more particularly the thoughts, of anyone else.

One of the scientists, Elena, takes Gabriel and Laurie to a secluded cabin to learn to control his abilities. Gabriel is never convinced that the government has stopped coming after him and he determined to drive Laurie away and flee either by running away from him or from life itself. When the government catches up with him again and he is taken back to the research center the experiments take a fatal turn and his only hope of keeping his life and his mind, is Laurie.

The cover art was done by an awesome cover artist called Mika Star. She worked tirelessly with me, ensuring that I got exactly what I wanted. I think my boys are beautiful and totally capture the essence of Laurie and Gabriel and the tension of the courtship and chase.

5) Will you tell us about your publisher and why you went with them as opposed to other options.

I never, ever thought that I would see my work in print (or screen). For most of my life I didn't think that anyone would ever read my stories, for the simple reason that no one had ever wanted to. Then I found Gay Authors and started posting my work for others to read, and review. People seemed to like it and I started to think that maybe, just maybe it was worth putting out there. Still I didn't have the confidence to do anything about it.

I half-heartedly sent a manuscript to some literary agents and publishers but they simply weren't prepared to take a chance on a new writer and, even worse, one who wrote literature with gay characters. I became totally disheartened and decided I was never going to try again.

And then a very good friend with his own indie publishing company offered to publish Enigma. I was completely blown away and have never been so excited in my life... well maybe for my weddings and birth of my children :) After a period of complete stress and tension between us when we clashed over editing, the book was published to my eternal gratitude by Red Haircrow, an amazing man and good friend.


And then a friend told me about someone who had set up a new publishing company and was looking for submissions. I needed some persuading to send her the manuscript for The Unfairness Of Life. I mean, this wasn't a friend, this was a 'proper' publisher. Not that I am suggesting that Red isn't but it's a different thing going to a friend, who publishes just for the love of it, to going to a stranger who makes it their business.

Anyway, after some bullying by Sandi Rush, who I love totally, I submitted the manuscript and it was accepted. That's when I was launched into what was a dream and a nightmare.

The people at Romance First Publications, are FANTASTIC. From the very first I was made to feel welcome and special. From the president, Steph Danielson, to my editor, Julie Hayes to the Cover Artist, Mika Star, everyone has been friendly, professional and excellent at what they do. They worked with me totally, even though Julie and I had out clashes, to produce what I consider to be a polished and exciting work of art.

I can't praise them enough, especially since they have accepted two more manuscripts which are in the very early stages of production.


6) Last question...what advice do you have for writers who are seeking to become published?

Don't give up. Be prepared for a lot of hard work. Don't let criticism get you down; see it as a natural process and a means to make your writing better. At the end of the day criticism is a reaction and isn't that the best thing that you can hope for... that your work provokes a reaction. Most of all, have faith in yourself and what you do.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

When music and words collide...

Have you ever listened to a song and thought that the words captured the impact and emotion of a scene that plays out in your head? Or that the song somehow captures within its tune the very essence of a character?

I thought about this when I watched the season 2 premiere of one of my FAVORITE shows this past Monday. It's called Being Human. And it's on #SyFy :)))
To explain the cast a little bit starting in the upper right corner...

The "Lady Killer" is Aidan. He's a really nice vampire who has some difficult choices to make because his desire to be a "nobody" collides with the vampire political elite who want him to be involved in just about everything that is going on in Boston.

The "Wild Man" is Josh who through no fault of his own has been infected with lycanthropy.  He's impregnated his girlfriend and spread his disease unwittingly to her (it would seem). So he's got a lot of tough choices too. Tough in the sense that the "paranormal" won't stop for an instant and allow him to be "normal" which is all that he ever wanted.
And then there's "Sally". She is my favorite character in Being Human because her story is so incredibly sad. Like tear-jerker sad. It really moved me when I discovered that the reason she's a ghost is because her good-looking and charming boyfriend/fiancee murdered her. She didn't know it either. We find out about it about the same time that she does. And boy does he show his true colors. She had so much love and was such a kind person. But just like in real life...those types of things in no way insulate a person from experiencing the worst that life has to offer. I'm not one that believes in karma. Bad things happen to good people all the time.

At the end of season one, there's a scene where Sally looks on from the door and the song by Oasis called "Don't Look Back In Anger" plays. It even  has the line "And so Sally can wait, she knows it's too late as we're walking on by...Her soul slides away, but don't look back in anger I heard you say..."

And it really is just perfect because it has her name, she's a disembodied spirit, and she's been very angry and because of that, it's trapped her on earth. It more or less seared her story into my brain so that I'd come back for season two. And I think that's just amazing and clever writing.

Have a great Wednesday :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory

I listened to a podcast on This American Life. The link for it is here. I encourage all of you to take the time and listen to it. It's incredibly well written, funny in parts, and more or less gave me an insider's look through his eyes at what it takes to make these gadgets that you and I love.
Apple is undeniably cool. Wouldn't you agree? I'm sure you've seen the ads.
Mr. Daisey's fascination with Apple started when he got an iPhone out of a box that hadn't been wiped. It had pictures of people, conveyor belts, and other things in it and his curiosity became piqued. He asked Siri "Where are you made"? and Siri responded, "I'm not allowed to answer that." He states in the monologue that it was almost like Siri knew where and when and by whom she was created but that there was this thing that prevented her from speaking her mind.
Shenzhen by night. Doesn't it look incredible? Arcologies
and corporate super towers everywhere.
Because of the podcast, I now know that Apple products, namely the iPad and the iPhone are assembled in a place called Shenzhen near Hong Kong in China. Mike Daisey describes it as a city of the future and that it looks exactly what you'd expect a city to look like if Blade Runner were to throw up on itself. I think that's a great description and a great analogy.

This is a Sheraton Hotel
Around the tops of the skyscrapers, particularly at Foxconn, there are nets to catch workers because so many of them go up there to throw themselves to their deaths. In his time there, he talked with many under-aged workers (some as young as eleven) who worked a full-hour (not the American one filled with smoke breaks and slacking off). He clarifies that this is a full 60-minute shift with people standing behind them to monitor their work. And their shifts are back-breaking, some fall between 14- to 18-hour days. The work is so hard that it ruins the hands of many workers. They just get fired and have to go find work elsewhere.

This is the plan for a new corporate HQ in Shenzhen
He spoke with one worker that he found whose hands were ruined at Foxconn. This old man had a new job in a new factory. Mr. Daisey showed him the iPad and he'd never seen one turned on. All of these products (the iPad, iPhone, etc.) are manufactured and shipped back to the states. Imagine working back breaking shifts all day long for weeks and years on end, ruining your body, and never seeing one of them turned on so that you could play with it. To actually hold in your hands the thing that destroyed you.

The old guy in the podcast said, "It's like magic." I suppose it is so I agree with that statement. I play with my iPad and think "it's magic."

A nice cityscape photograph. This is the city where all of your tech comes from.
As writers, we really don't need to look very far to find inspiration for dystopian fiction. Maybe the reason dystopians are so popular is because they are more a reflection of how the world really works and how people really treat each other than utopias could ever possibly be. I will say this. Despite all my whining and bitching, I'm glad I'm not the worker class of Shenzhen. I think it sounds miserable, and I probably would have been one of the people that decided to check out early. Does this mean I'll stop buying Apple products?

Unfortunately no.
Workers in a Chinese factory.
I like the magic.

Does that make me a horrible person?

Monday, January 16, 2012

I joined the cult of Tebow

I don't like football. I don't watch it. And I don't know many of the players. But, I think that this is going to change next year as I have become an unwilling follower of the cult of Tebow. Allow me to explain the term "unwilling". It means in this context that I cannot stop myself from watching him. It probably started weeks before the wild card game where he shot down the Steelers with a play that left me standing and staring at the television and thinking "I don't believe this." It probably started because of Saturday Night Live's skit first alerting me to the "over the top" behavior of this now world famous quarterback. Millions of internet memes pounding my eye sockets as I travel websites like Reddit and follow links that appear on my google homepage are probably responsible. Anyone that knows me knows that I am influenced by advertising. I do follow trends. That's just me. I can't help it. So I got sucked into the Cult of Tebow...all of this despite the fact that I don't believe in god. But none of that really matters now does it?
Despite the fact that I'm atheist, I do respect a man's conviction in what he
believes as long as he doesn't try to dictate my life or what I should believe.
Tebow behaving like this on the field is something I've never seen, and it's
clearly one of the reasons I like him. He stands up for what he believes and
doesn't give a shit what other people think of him. I like that. I respect that. No,
I don't believe that anything "divine" has ever or was ever going on. But the
fact that other people did was worth paying attention to. I wish I could believe
but religious faith is simply something that I was never meant to have.
I have no concrete explanation for why I like him. Only mixed feelings searching for an answer. I also felt sadness. Sadness when the Patriots completely crushed the Broncos on Saturday. I've never felt that for a football team. I don't understand where the emotional investment comes from. I experimented on Sunday by watching the Giants play the Packers, and I felt nothing. I could care less for either team and could care less who won. I also tried to see why people like Tom Brady, and he just looked like an emotionless angry robot that was as loveable as a swather that cuts down wheat on a field.

So that is the key (at least for me) in watching sports. Does that even make any sense? I have to have the ability to root for a player. Without that, the game is meaningless and kind of boring.

It leaves me with a question.  Why do I like this uber Christian underdog? Well he's exciting, he's unique, his confidence is undeniable (maybe it has something do with this)....

In the end, I have no idea.

But he has "IT" quality. A thing that defies my ability to provide a definition in words but is akin to Charisma (but obviously something more than that). People with "IT" command attention.  Whatever you want to call it, he had the ability to wake a fat wet bag of cement (which is what I see myself as) from his apathetic take on football and tune in to watch. I guess next fall I'll be watching the Broncos and Tim Tebow. For now, I'll just have to be content and read his book. Life is so strange, but then again, so am I.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Curse of Gremdon by Ciara Knight

I bought and read the Curse of Gremdon. This novel by Ciara Knight is the first romance novel I have ever read and I really liked it. I give it five stars out of five.

Curse of Gremdon is more than just a romance though. It is a good ole fashioned sword and sorcery novel (with the emphasis on "sword" and very little if no "visible" magic at all). It's what us nerds might call a "magic poor" world. But the description fits and the world-building is amazing. The book is mostly told through the experiences of Arianna. She's an amazing warrior with the spirit of Grace Jones' character in Conan the Destroyer but with a component of beautiful femininity that the afore-mentioned character never had. And Tardon is every bit a testosterone-fueled warrior who lops off heads with one arm while embracing his true love with the other.

The song done by Bryan Adams called "Have you really loved a woman" comes to mind when seeing Arianna through Tardon's eyes. The story is thick with erotica (and I loved this) and it NEVER gets old. If you are looking for a sexually-charged story that is borderline pornographic yet maintains the side of art instead of descending into details of what goes where and also has an incredibly engaging story, then this novel is for you.

Yes, it's an adult book. But I'm an adult and I loved it. There were several times when the heat from the pages made me fan my face and think, "wow...Ciara is such a damn good writer."

And the story is in no way predictable. There's a plot twist in there that came out of nowhere. I thought the story was going to be linear...you know...as a reader I had it "all-figured out." I was going to give it four stars because of this. But Ciara surprised me with her cleverness and my eyes opened wide when I realized what was going on.

Tardon for all his brawn though is so wimpy when it comes to child-birth. I guess that makes this tough guy kinda cute.
Author Ciara Knight
1) First off, I just wanted to say without gushing too much that you are an amazing writer. That being said, I wanted to ask you on some pointers on how you wrote your sexually charged incredibly steamy scenes? Are there words you would tell others to steer away from, and did it flow naturally or were they really difficult? I've tried to write something similar, and I always thought I ended up crossing the line.

Michael, you are so sweet. *blushes* I’m thrilled that you enjoyed the book so much. I LOVE the story and there is still so much more to tell!

Okay, wow, start with a tough question. ;) I’ll be honest, during the first draft the scenes practically wrote themselves. Tardon and Arianna were two characters that took over and didn’t let me have much say in what was happening. You’ve gotten to know Tardon after reading the story, so I’m sure you can understand that he wouldn’t tolerate my author voice interfering at all. J

As for words to avoid, it wasn’t until editing that word choice took some extra thought. My world is fantasy, so I wanted to avoid any modern terms. I think one of the most important things to remember while writing any scene is to stay true to the world you’ve created; otherwise your reader will be ripped from the moment.

My intent for this type of romance was to describe a setting and what the characters were feeling, but not to list each movement and action. I didn’t want to spell everything out. That would be intrusive to the reader’s journey. I think a writer should be able to describe something to a certain extent, but leave some of the actions to the reader’s imagination.

2) Who would you have star as Tardon? How about Arianna? You can pick anyone from any time period. I'm just curious. My personal pick for Tardon is Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson. Is that even close?

I think Tardon is such a strong character each reader can view him a little different. In my mind, his face resembles Chris Hemsworth (maybe a little less pretty) and the body of “the Rock” or Arnold in the early years.
Dwayne Johnson

Arianna HAS to be played by a curvaceous female, no skinny girl should ever play her. She has lips like Angelina Jolie, curves and a strong female air like Katherine Zeta Jones.

3) How do you channel Tardon so well? I mean he's the quintessential hunk. And do you picture him having to work out to maintain all that muscle or is he just naturally swoon-worthy?

Chris Hemsworth
Tardon just wouldn’t let me write him any other way. His voice was so distinct in my head, I couldn’t alter it. Due to his training schedule, he doesn’t work out. No need, the hours in the Pit keep him in shape.

4) Tell us about Arianna. More specifically, where in your psyche does she come from? She has a riveting strong female voice, but at the same time, she is completely aware of her lack of physical strength when it comes to her comrades in arms, and I just want to know how you came up with her.

Arianna is one strong girl. She is physically capable of handling many things. When I wrote this book I had blown out a disk in my back and I wanted to be tough. Since I wasn’t, and had to spend many hours in bed, I wrote who I wanted to be. It ticked me off that I couldn’t beat the pain, so I lived vicariously through Arianna for several months. They say tap into your emotions to write a better character, so that’s what I did.

Arianna is also strategic, always thinking. When she couldn’t win a fight with her own physical abilities, she’d use her brain and imagination.

5) How is writing romance fantasy different in your mind to writing say fantasy or science-fiction and how did you come up with the story for Curse of Gremdon?

I think the main difference is the character interaction. Typically, fantasy and sci-fi have little romance, and usually it is off screen. The Curse of Gremdon had more on screen romance.

I’ve always had a huge imagination. I LOVE world building and probably have ten other worlds in my head right now. I think of myself as more of a story teller than a writer. Inventing the story is the easy part, writing it is extremely challenging at times. For instance, The Curse of Gremdon started as a short story. I didn’t think I could write a fantasy novel, but when I received a rejection from a magazine that stated the story was too big, I turned it into an 84,000 word novel.

6) Last question...was it difficult coming up with the title? Now that I've read it, I think the title and the artwork are perfect. But it seems so effortless. Were there other titles you had considered before the one you chose or did you go in knowing that it would be called "the Curse of Gremdon"? Oh and is there going to be a sequel (I know I'm cheating by asking two questions here)?

I usually have a difficult time with titles, but this one was easy. Actually, that was the title of the short story.

I have outlined a sequel, but it might not be out for a year or so. This one will be a little heavier on the magic side. I can tell you that it will be held in the same world but the main hero will be Saldor. The female, well you’ll have to wait and see if his love returns.

Buy Curse of Gremdon at Amazon for $7.99 on Kindle here.
Visit Ciara Knight's author blog here.
Enter to win a free copy of Curse of Gremdon on Goodreads here.

AND because it is Friday the 13th, my Christmas giveaway has ended.  MY ADVANCED READER EDITION GOES TO...

T.F. Walsh.

I'll get your shipping information from you and get it in the mail.