On With The Adventure – Drop Zone Drops

It’s another Friday, and Ashe slept well last night, which is about as good a start to the day as it gets around these parts.

  1. Drop Zone, the first novel in a new, fun little series I’m playing with, hits next week on Tuesday (the 28th for those more calendar-oriented). It’s a sci-fi action piece, filled with soldiers surrounded by enemies and then showing those enemies the errors of their ways. There’s a few twists in there, because why not, but by-and-large this series is something of a palette-cleanser to the longer novels I’ve been putting together. Sometimes you just need to have fun, you know?
  2. I finished, as people do, the first season of Amazon’s Upload. A dramedy that takes capitalism’s extremes and pushes them into the afterlife, it’s an entertaining show that doesn’t quite engage with its implications as much as I’d like it to. There’s also a lot of questions it doesn’t answer, like why people in a digital afterlife would choose to be anything other than Fabio clones (not saying there isn’t an argument here, but the show doesn’t bother with it). Nevertheless, the characters are fun, the jokes entertaining, and the underlying mystery makes for a good rope to pull you through the tight 20-30 minute run times. Worth a look if you want a different sort of sci-fi spin.
  3. For Ashe, we invested in a Nanit, which is something like a baby monitor but merged with Skynet. The thing keeps its eye on Ashe when he’s in the crib, and has all sorts of nifty features like a nightlight (used often) and music (not once). Wi-fi connected baby monitors are notorious for being security swiss cheese, but we decided to risk the chance that some bored hackers might want to yell at our child for the real benefit of getting a chance to see our kid no matter where we happen to be. Mowing the lawn? Running a quick errand? There he is. The thing is expensive, but we’ve liked it so far.
  4. So far as organizational systems go, Notion has to be the most intense, malleable one I’ve played with. There’s a big lift to getting started with it, one that’s as much mental in conceiving how you’re going to build out your Notion as it is in technical prowess. I’ve now put together a full publishing calendar, organized my books, series, and editing notes within the it, though, and it’s saved me so much time clicking between spreadsheets and whatnot. I’m going to keep tinkering with it, but if you’re looking for something new to try and organize your life, give Notion a look. It’s also free if you’re concerned with just yourself, which is nice.
  5. Palm Springs, on Hulu, is great fun. While it’s easy to call the timeloop theme cliched, I prefer a different view. Tropes, those things that repeat from one work to the next, serve to identify a genre and ground viewers, readers, whomever in what to expect. Palm Springs doesn’t have to devote an hour explaining the concept of daily repetition to us because we’ve seen Groundhog Day, we know how it works, so it can get rolling to the real plot. Using familiar tropes lets you (the creator) explore creatively in ways you may not be able to if you’re also having to explain everything. I, for one, didn’t let the timeloop distract me from Andy Samberg’s good times. You shouldn’t either.

The Super Sequel

There’s a certain thrill to starting a new series: you get to play with all new characters, a new setting, new ideas, all that new new new. Going along with all that freshness is a chance to hit perfection, to actually nail all those lofty set pieces you’ve built up in your mind, those cutting character turns and the magical entrances that are going to bring everyone to tears and cheers.

But, like most things in life, the actual work that goes into writing books makes for a grinding, messy, and ultimately far more fulfilling adventure than the fancy flights that flutter around a nascent idea. By the time book one gets wrapped, you’re more than likely dealing with a totally different beast than what you expected.

Characters have taken turns you didn’t see coming, developed personalities you didn’t expect, and want things you never wanted them to, well, want. Plots get shaken and stirred. Settings turn out to be mismatched, or wind up dripping in color you never imagined during the blissful coffee-addled outlining. You’re left with something much more real than what you imagined.

So when the sequel comes along, that’s your chance to really go with what you’ve built. You’re treading on streets at least partially paved, able to feel out the beats, take the characters further than they went the first time, and explore into the side streets you ignored while building the world’s main drag. It’s a different kind of fun than starting something new, a meatier kind, a harder kind.

Champion’s Call comes out today on all the major retailers, offering another dose of superhero action and drama in a near-future world. It’s characters aren’t perfect – this isn’t The Avengers – but they’re fun. They make good and bad choices, and believe in those choices as they make them. There’s danger, but there’s also hope. It’s a complex puzzle that wouldn’t have worked as a series starter, and I can’t wait for you to check it out.

Since it’s Monday, and in keeping with my loose scheduling:

What I’m Working On: Still plugging away at a mysterious sci fi novel that’ll be revealed in more detail soon. It’s shaping up as I get well into the final stages of the first draft, and I’m loving its world, as its different than anything I’ve tried before.

What’s in the pipeline: Two novels in a new action-focused sci-fi series are wrapping up their editing stages. I’ll have covers for these coming soon. If Champion’s Call and this new thing are heavier works, these two are the fun chocolate nougat, just good times and explosions.

What’s on the horizon: That Wild Nines sequel is waiting in the wings. Similarly, the next book in The Hero’s Code. Plus more of these quick-hitter sci fi punch-ups, just because they’re fun. In short, I’m busy, but that’s how I’d love to be.

Lastly, remember that if you’d like a free copy of Wild Nines, sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send it your way!

The City of Brass – An Enchanting Journey Through Lands Little Explored

I have to say, up front, that I saw ‘The City of Brass‘ on book shelves quite a few times before I took the plunge and picked it up on a wayward trip through Traverse City, MI (shout-out to Horizon Books!). Its cover always gripped me, with its mysterious golden fire and Arabic stylings, but I’d always had a backlog a mile long and passed it over. Until I couldn’t really resist it anymore and took the plunge.

One of the things you’re supposed to do as a writer is read all over the place. Check out different genres, look for things that can expand your own understandings of the written word, how characters work, how plot functions. It’s easy to find genre comfort food – and I love genre comfort food! – but taking a step outside the well-trod paths doesn’t have to mean reinventing everything.

What ‘The City of Brass’ and writer S.A. Chakraborty do is craft a world that I (which might be my fault) haven’t seen before. Unlike someone making up their own fantasy language, the words in this book reach back millennia. The creatures, the mythology, even as it’s invented, carries with a weight that things made up out of whole cloth often don’t. Djinn, Ifrit, and plenty of other beings conjure up a world not often seen in stories, and I was enchanted throughout. The primary characters giving us our view into the world serve as fun guides, too, with plenty of faults, harrowing situations, and fantasy staples that nonetheless glitter in these new trappings.

The Daevabad Trilogy, as its called, is nearly done (the conclusion is up for pre-order now) and I’m launching into the second book now. If you’re looking for a new fantasy read, I’d definitely check this one out. It’s like going to your favorite bar and asking for a new cocktail from a bartender that knows you well – it’ll be a little different from the usual, but it’s still going to be oh-so-good.

In other random news, because I missed Monday’s post doing, well, new dad things – lemme tell you, kiddos are amazing, and they are also amazing time-sinks – you still have a few days to snag Champion’s Call at its cheaper pre-order price. I’m still dancing through this sci-fi novel too, which is getting a little insane in its final third, but hey, what endings are sane, I ask you?

Anyway, happy Wednesday, friends. Hope all is well.

Uncut Gems – Never Stop Never Stopping

There’s been something of a trend in recent years for movies that have long, really long shots. Some, like Birdman, make the effort to have a faux single take. This effect tends to draw you in, hypnotizing you into the story with the constant movement, no jarring reminders that you’re watching something play out.

And yet, once you understand the gimmick, these sorts of things can feel a little gamey. Overly staged. As if you’ve gone to a theater instead of sitting on your couch, waiting to see a multi-camera exploit explode in front of your eyes.

Uncut Gems, then, is the movie for those who want to be wholly absorbed without leaving normal movie magic behind. You can’t, really, look away because every second has something insane going on. Whether it’s Kevin Garnett losing his mind in a magical opal, Adam Sandler getting stuffed into the trunk of a car, or a repeated demand for a blacklight… okay. You’d be forgiven reading that last one to wonder if, perhaps, a blacklight ask is missable.

The thing is, though, you won’t want to. You may actively hate this movie as you watch it – many of its characters explore the broad, mountainous terrain of terrible choices and terrible personalities – but you may not have the chance to turn it off.

Sandler’s performance anchors this desire to keep watching, because he is both a scumbag and so utterly ridiculous you can’t help but wonder how he’s going to make it out of the next thing, only for him to get that next thing and double down. He doesn’t win so much as fail upwards while the ladder disintegrates beneath him.

There’s a new Ernest Hemingway story in this last New Yorker (trust me, this is going somewhere) titled “The Pursuit As Happiness”. In it, Hemingway and a couple pals continue to extend a fishing trip gone bad because, even in its lack of great catches, they’re enjoying themselves too much to stop. The chase is better than anything that isn’t the chase.

Uncut Gems is another version of this story. A madcap race that, you start to realize, is more about the race than the winning of it. The rush of risking it all, of turning every loss into another potential win. Put it all at stake, and, win or lose, ante up again.

The losses only count if you stop playing.

One other thing before I check out today – if you’re looking for something new to read, the pre-order for Champion’s Call is live. You can check it out at your favorite retailer now for a special pre-order price. It’s the sequel to Paragon’s Fall and brings more superhero madness, right to your page-flipping fingertips.

Reality Needs Another Edit

Writing fiction that takes place far away from the current reality is, often, an immense pleasure. Spending hours dancing among the stars or beneath the Earth as wizards and aliens and digital cyber-spies wage war on one another makes for a delightful escape. The consequences are very real for those worlds on the page, but close the book and you can take a breath.

Not so much for ours.

I can’t, and won’t try, when others have explained how to make something meaningful from our current crisis, to throw my take into the mix. You can’t have a force meant to protect all the people hurt some of those people for no reason. Make the reforms. Add accountability.

And for the rest of us? Vote. Every single time we can.

Black Lives Matter.

What’s Releasing Soon: As mentioned last week Champion’s Call is going up for pre-order. The links will be up and out tomorrow, so you’ll see a Black Key Books news bulletin on that one. Superhero goodness, coming straight to your library. It’ll be cheaper during the pre-order period (2 weeks), so if you want it at a discount, here’s your chance.

What I’m Writing Now: I’m about halfway through this sci-fi piece, and it’s a strange one. And I mean that in the best possible way. I have lots of fun with my space marines and sassy captains, but this one takes a more digital look at things, and what happens when you trap a bunch of people in a metal box for a very, very long time. Hint: It doesn’t go well.

What’s in the pipeline: The action-packed sci-fi is coming up next, and, editing these, I’m laughing at myself here. I’d planned these as palette cleansers between more serious stuff, a romp with some gruff, armored soldiers as a way to let out the air after Champion’s Call and before this next one. Yet here they go, dragging in wild subplots, strange creatures, and questions the characters and I are still trying to answer.

What I mean is, a good story can take you to a place you never thought you’d go.

Batman – Gotham City Under Siege – Impressions

You might be looking at the title for this post and wondering what’s going on, and the reality is… I’m trying to redefine what’s going on the blog. Monday’s are my upcoming writing breakdown, Wednesdays are going to be me chatting about some media I’m playing with, and Friday, well, that’s a grab-bag.

Also, if you’ve been poking around this place for a while, you’ll know my content plans have a way of changing at random, so we’ll see how this goes. Regardless, on with it!

I. Am. Batman!

At least, that’s what Nicole has said each time we’ve played Batman: The Animated Series – Gotham City Under Siege, a name that just rolls off the tongue.

The game, too, has a lot of rolling. Dice, that is. In this cooperative crime-fighting adventure, every player (up to five) gets to pick their own hero from the cartoon’s main cast. You’ve got Batman, Robin, Batgirl, Catwoman, and… the Gotham Police Department?

Anyway, once you have your star, you collect their dice and start staring down a fun little mock-up of Gotham with little cardboard buildings whose sole purpose is to get blown away. You, being the heroes, are meant to prevent that destruction by knocking out literal hordes of villanous thugs, henchmen, and… ninjas?

Yes, there are some oddball choices that nonetheless work, because you’re going to be spending most of your time puzzling over what you’ve rolled and how it’s going to let you conquer the requirements each of the game’s four acts gives you, how you’re going to beat the villains on the board, and how you’re going to get to the right place to stand, heroically, in the way of the enemy’s last, desperate assault.

Given that this is a cooperative game, you and all your friends are working together to place dice and use unique hero abilities to save the city. Unlike other co-ops, like Pandemic, the fact that each hero is unique, their actions are driven by dice, and there’s so much going on, it’s tough for one player to control the action.

In other words, you actually get to feel like you’re making your own choices rather than just doing what the most vocal guy at the table wants. It’s refreshing, and also fits with the theme – you’re all heroes, not some Borg-like mind-meld doing the bidding of some single ruler.

Like Pandemic, however, this game isn’t easy. Especially with more players, the story cards popping out each act can snowball. Dice rolls can be extremely fickle, with a lot of 50-50 shots that determine whether your Gotham becomes a smoldering ruin or stays pristine even as villainous armies run amok. Whether this is satisfying or not depends on your attitude.

Thankfully, the game’s colorful design and cartoon goofiness go a long way towards keeping things fun, even when random luck goes way against your team. It’s hard to hate losing to such random villains as ‘Calendar Girl’ and ‘Clayface’.

Replayability may be another strike against the game, as you’re not going to find a campaign in this box. There’s enough random elements to slightly change each play-through, but nothing like Spirit Island‘s challenges or Pandemic Legacy‘s ongoing story.

Still, if Batman’s animated antics hold any space in your heart, and your group is looking for a fresh fare to play together that lets you feel like a unique hero, Gotham City Under Siege has what you’re looking for.

Trust the Process – Baby Edition

To twist a quote, no plan survives first contact with a baby.

I had grand ambitions when my son, Ashe, crashed into the world as a bawling, beautiful baby boy. I’d heard that infants slept many, many hours. That they enjoyed being cuddled, and would happily hang out in my arms for the rest of those hours.

So I planned for those moments. Coffee would counter the sleep deprivation and the leftover delirium would fuel new tales. While baby slept, I’d do the heavy writing, and with Ashe awake, we’d edit together, read the stories aloud and, one-handed, make adjustments.

And you know what, all that didn’t fail spectacularly. Well, the editing did – it’s nigh impossible to do much work with text while a kiddo’s squirming away in your arms. However, once he passes out, snoozing away on my shoulder, handling administrative, mouse-n-click updates gets doable.

So while the writing and editing is malleable, it is happening. Stories are being written, and I’m excited at what’s coming out soon. Partly because I think these novels are awesome, and partly because I’ve spent enough time with these tales that I just want to push them out the door.

So without further ado, here’s what I’m working on. You’ll see updates like this every Monday until I inevitably forget/lose track/fall into a hole and am rendered incapacitated for months:

What’s releasing soon:

Champion’s Call – the sequel to Paragon’s Fall should have its pre-order and launch shortly, so you’ll get a second helping of meaty superhero action. Some different points of view this time, and a couple of neat characters that really made this fun to write. This series is far from over, and I’m going to be jumping back to it soon!

What I’m writing now:

A brand-new project, the first book in a trilogy that explores a little different sci-fi side than I’ve tackled before. It’s been percolating for a while and as the book gets going, I’ll share more about what it’s going to be.

What’s in the pipeline:

I’ve stealth-written a couple of shorter novels playing with some more literal space marines. It’s not quite a military focus, but with a harder bent than WILD NINES. As per usual, I started these planning on one thing, but then the characters took it in a radical direction. These were supposed to be pressure-release stories between superhero volumes, but, uh, now they’ve grown into another series. They’re in editing right now, but you’ll see them in the wild before too long.

And that’s it for this Monday’s update! If you haven’t already, make sure you’ve nabbed your WILD NINES copy for free – it’s a fun, ragtag adventure to get you off Earth for a breather.

The Good Hero

There it is, hanging right at the top of this post. My next novel, the sequel to Paragon’s Fall, and with an unintentional rhyme in the title: Champion’s Call.

With the current Marvel wave crashing around the (closed) cinemas, it’s not exactly original to be thinking about superhero stories. There’s plenty out there, too, from comic books to movies to TV series to, yes, novels. But if you let the fact that someone else already told a story in a genre keep you away, well, you wouldn’t write very much.

So why this particular superhero story, and why now?

Because I’ve wanted to play in a world where superheroes are present, but aren’t always the focus. In comics, pedestrians tend to be by-products meant for rescuing, or possible love-interests that can be dished into harrowing situations for the hero to, well, rescue. In Paragon’s Fall and its sequel, I get to see what things might be like from the ground. From the lives alternately ruined and lifted up by the dynamic-wrecking force that is an invulnerable being.

This series is also about transitions, the ones we want and the ones we don’t, when life’s turns inevitably come around and we find ourselves having to pick a direction, meet its consequences head-on, and push forward. When those transitions come to someone capable of wrecking whole cities on a bad day, though, the stakes get a little more interesting.

So, Champion’s Call. It’s getting spun up, and it’ll have a pre-order coming up shortly. If you want to catch wind of its exact availability, there’s a nifty newsletter link there you can click to hear about it, collect some freebies, and all that jazz.

More to come soon, when I can get the cats away from the keyboard to let me write a little more…

The New Kid Space-Time Void

As, I imagine, most new parents would attest, time becomes a flexible construct when you have a little one on your hands. Ashe, my son and a little hell-raiser, came into being just before pandemic struck. Having a kid immediately puts a spin on any plans, knocks any routines into the haha-nice-try territory, and forces you to look at what’s really important because, if you make all kinds of effort, you might get a tiny fraction of it done before dirty diapers and snuggles demand your attention.

Nonetheless, in the sluggish dream-haze that early fatherhood creates, I spent time taking some courses, playing with the software that spins out the images pasted on the paper printed at the publishers. The stuff that book covers are made of, in other words. It took a bunch of time, but now they’re overhauled, and they’re going up everywhere. Take a look.

I’m also giving out WILD NINES for free. You can pick it up at a retailer, or grab it from the Black Key Books website for an email address. Why an email? Because in this fractured time, a good newsletter with new releases is about the most valuable thing an author has. But if that’s not your bag, you can hop over to Apple or B&N and snag your copy for a big fat zero.

Amazon should be coming along eventually – they don’t like freebies, so it takes a little while for them to come around.

As for me, I’m still busy spinning up the new stuff. Paragon’s Fall 2 is nearing completion, and there’s a couple other new pieces in the works.

Finally, the reason WILD NINES is up there, is that I’m spinning up a new set of stories in that universe. Davin’s tales will go on, with Mox, Phyla, Viola and the rest dragged into his inevitable screw-ups.

So, with a baby in one arm and a plot in the other, we continue on. I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I am.

Heroism in Mediocrity

You see it everywhere: the Starbucks barista that goes outta their way to put the little leaf on your latte as dozens humph about missing meetings, the guy who takes notes on the weekly call without being asked, the neighbor who shovels the driveway for someone who can’t in the dark early morning.

Or, as in the flick Her Smell (shout out to ridiculous titles), Elizabeth Moss holding down the fort amid shaky scenes and fractured storytelling. Moss, rollicking as a punk rock queen sloshing her way through hard times, holds the picture together. Half the movie seems to be spent waiting for her to arrive, as the other characters look around and mutter about their anxieties, and you’re right there with them because if Moss doesn’t trash the scene in two seconds you’re gonna switch this drama right back to Marvel and superhero whack-a-mole.

And, you know, I kinda wish she hadn’t shown up. In real life, those half-way heroes that make a crappy situation bearable are wonders. In film, tv, and literature, though, I’ve come to loathe that one particular piece that elevates something from skippable to intriguing. Time is limited, and I’d rather toss off than add things to my viewing platter.

Why, then, even consider something on that edge? 

Because a great character is a great character, and a great performance deserves attention. Moss elevates her character from a cliche to a scene-dominating presence that’s both scary and fascinating to watch, to absorb, and to reflect upon. Especially as a writer, looking at an act like that and saying hey, how is she (or the screenwriter) pulling this off? 

Figure that out, the combine with a coherent, compelling story for that character to revel in, and that’s how legends get made.

Or, at least, movies I’ll want to watch again and again.