Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Heroes & Shifters: Urban Fantasy and Super Powers Book Bundle #3

I'm happy to announce that I'm in my first book bundle with other authors - Heroes & Shifters: Urban Fantasy and Super Powers Book Bundle #3!

While I already have boxed sets of my own books, working with other authors on this bundle was a different experience, and I really enjoyed it.  Hopefully readers will enjoy the bundle - 12 great stories from established fantasy authors for only 99 cents!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Snazzy Tech Tools for Indie Authors

A few weeks ago, I called my barber to schedule a time for a haircut, and he admonished me for not using his app to make the appointment.  Yes!  His app!  My barber has an app!  With a QR code and everything.

Needless to say, I was a little surprised.  I guess I had always thought of barbering as being one of those professions that stays the same for the most part, with little change over the years.  It hadn't really occurred to me that technology could affect - if not barbering itself - the ancillary matters related to it: communication, scheduling, etc.  This, of course, got me to thinking of technological tools out there which might be beneficial to writers, a few of which I note below. 

QR Codes
Aside from an app, one of the things my barber had was a QR code, which was printed on his business card. 

A QR code (the QR stands for "Quick Response") can be thought of as a square-shaped bar code. It can provide information about a product or service, connect to an app, link to a web page, etc. Most smart phones have the ability to read QR codes. 

In the case of the QR code to the left, it's one that I created for my own business cards and links to the Books page of this very blog.  Just scan it, and it will take you to where you can find out all about my novels.  (I suppose I could also create distinct cards for each book, with each of those having its own QR code as well.)  

In essence, QR codes can be a quick and easy way for authors to connect with readers. You can make your own QR codes on sites such as

Next, as a writer you really should be making use of smartURLs.  Practically speaking, a smartURL is one which manages internet traffic by directing it to the most geographically appropriate online site.  For instance, here is the smartURL for my most recent release, Terminus:

Someone in the U.S. who clicks on this link will be taken to the Amazon product page for my book.  However, someone in the United Kingdom would be taken to Amazon's UK page.  A person in Canada would be directed to the book's Amazon Canada page.  And so on.

As with QR codes, smartURLs are a great way to help your readers find you and/or your work.  You can create smartURLs at:

Voice-Recognition Software
Voice-recognition software is, of course, a well-established tool for authors.  Unlike QR codes and smartURLs, such software is focused more on making the writer more efficient rather than connecting him or her with readers.

As implied, voice-recognition software will, ideally, simply type every word you utter, saving you from having to type it yourself. Since most people can talk a lot faster than they can type, this is seemingly a way to exponentially increase one's output.

Personally, I find that it makes my thinking too linear when I'm writing, but many authors love it. If it works for you, it is a chance to become far more prolific.  Thus, rather than being able to write, say, three novels per year, you might suddenly find yourself able to crank out nine or ten of them.

All in all, there are lots of cool tech tools out there which can be fairly beneficial for authors. The trick is simply finding which - if any - work best for you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Real Strength of Indie Authors

Back in the late '80s/early '90s, someone described actors (and I use the term loosely) like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal as sort of "in-between" action stars:  they were able to slake the public's thirst for more action movies by headlining films that debuted in between releases from major stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.  It was a tactic that served them well; Seagal, for instance, became a household name thanks to films like Hard to Kill and Marked for Death, the latter of which I rank as among his best work - despite the now-laughable trailer below.  (Hey, 20 years ago this was bad-ass.)

In essence, there was room for more movies with other action stars.  Someone just had to make them.

In a similar vein, there's room for books other than those published by the traditional establishment.  In fact, the public has proven to have a voracious appetite for the written word, and the mind-boggling success of so many self-published authors demonstrates that readers have been grossly underserved.  This, to a certain extent, has helped many indies achieve incredible success. (It also didn't hurt that they wrote great stories, too.)

The hunger of readers for good books really wasn't being satisfied by legacy publishers.  In fact, you might say they're still starving when you consider the fact that - from the standpoint of traditional publishing - it was generally considered highly productive if an author released one book per year. Their slothful practices, however, are a boon for indies and play right into what is probably our greatest strength: the ability to get our books written and released at a comparatively rapid-fire rate.

Consider, for example, the following:  between March and December 2013, I wrote and published 6 books.  Six!  That's 6 books during a 10-month period (which is nothing compared to a lot of other authors).  There's no way I could have done that with a legacy publisher - the lead times are just too great. However, I believe that being able to write and publish quickly allowed me to reach readers and swiftly grow an audience for my work.  It is this ability to be prolific - much more so than most writers at traditional publishers  - that really make indie authors a force to be reckoned with.

That said, self-published authors have to take advantage of this dynamic by writing constantly.  You can't get bogged down by things like how your latest release is doing, the fact that BookBub rejected you, etc. Sure, some indies will experience tremendous success with just a single novel (and sometimes right out the gate), but for most of us this is going to be a volume business. You're probably going to have to crank out a fair amount of product in order to obtain a modicum of success.  How much does that equate to?  Well, in a previous blog, I posted about making a living by selling 3 books per day, the gist of which is that if you can publish 20 books, with each of them selling roughly 3 copies per day at $2.99 each, you could earn $50,000 per year.  

Bearing that in mind, I'd argue that - if you're serious about wanting to be an author - publishing 20 books is a good goal to have.  Why 20?  Frankly speaking, one book simply isn't enough to hinge the concepts of success and failure on.  It's certainly not enough to hone your craft, develop your style, or mature as a writer.  I don't even think that 5 books would be enough, and I'm not certain that 10 would do the trick either.  In short, I believe that the magic number actually lies somewhere between 10 and 20, but I say shoot for the latter in order to be safe. (It also wouldn't hurt to have a business plan, which would include things like a release schedule and a marketing budget.)

Of course, I'm not saying you have to write all 20 books in a year, but I would suggest that you not quit, give up, lose faith, what have you, until you get book number 20 out there. At that juncture, hopefully you'll be seeing some form of income, but more importantly, you'll have made a serious effort in the field of writing (not that writing fewer books means you didn't try).

In short, the speed with which indie authors can get their material written and released is probably the best arrow in our respective quivers.  Try to fire early and often.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New Book Release: Terminus (Fringe Worlds #1)

After a far-longer period than I ever anticipated, I am happy to finally be releasing a new book: Terminus (Fringe Worlds #1).  The description is as follows:

Master Sergeant Gant Maker was a highly-decorated and well-respected Marine - until his last mission left him as the sole survivor of an encounter with a vicious race called the Vacra. Served up as a scapegoat and drummed out of the military, he has since lived a life of seclusion with only an adopted alien as a companion. 

Now the Vacra have returned. As the only person to have ever faced them and survived, Maker is reinstated in the Corps and given the onerous task of finding this enemy on a world located at the edge of known space. Assisting him is an unlikely band of military rejects, including a blind sharpshooter, an unstable psychic, and a genetically-engineered killing machine who refuses to fight. 

Given that the Vacra have superior weapons and technology, Maker recognizes that his team is at a distinct disadvantage. But Marines are nothing if not resourceful, and Maker has an audacious plan that just may level the playing field – if it doesn’t get them all killed.

This is a novel that, in all honesty, had been eating away at my brain for a while, so the options were either to write it or go crazy.  (I'm sure my wife would say that the latter had already happened, so might as well do the former.)  Of course, that meant putting some other projects on hold, but now I can turn my full attention to them and focus on getting them finished - starting with the next Kid Sensation book.

As always, I feel blessed to have readers who are interested in my work, and I'm thankful for the support. Hopefully those who read it will enjoy this book.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Back to Basics: Fixing Your Cover and Blurb

Recently on one of the writing forums that I visit, another author bemoaned the fact that they weren't getting many sales. (In truth, you can find many authors making this same statement across many forums - all day, every day.) As is typical in such situations, one of the first things that other posters in the forum pointed out was that the author's covers needed work. Basically, while the covers weren't completely horrible, it was difficult to look at them and get a sense of what the book was about: you couldn't decipher it from the image, the name of the series, or the novel's title. Others pointed out that, among other things, the blurbs needed work. 

Needless to say, the cover and blurb are two of the primary lures by which you hook readers. If those aren't up to par, you're going to have a tough time gaining any traction.  (It's not impossible, but you're likely to have an easier time teaching a fish to walk a tightrope.) Thus, it's a good idea to occasionally revisit the basics with respect to these elements.

When I was in the military, we had a 3-step process that was applied to any presentation that we were going to give:

1)  Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em.
2)  Tell 'em.
3)  Tell 'em what you told 'em.

I think the same concept applies to things like covers and blurbs.  For instance, take the novel Seven Unholy Days by Jerry Hatchett.

First of all, there's the title. While Seven Unholy Days might refer to a number of things, the author follows this up with a subtitle: A Thriller. Once that's there, there's little doubt as to what the book's genre is.

Next, there's the image itself.  All alone, it might put me in mind of something religious or perhaps a spiritual awakening of some sort; I might even come to the same conclusion when viewing it in conjunction with the words Seven Unholy Days. However, with the subtitle clearly indicating it's a thriller, it now makes me think of something apocalyptic. (And I won't even go into the fact that it's actually very nice cover art, because it's a given that we're all shooting for that.)

In short, the  cover has clearly conveyed to me the genre of the book (spelled it out, in fact, which I have no problem with), and introduced an image that I can relate too on several levels.  Frankly speaking, you can't ask for much more than that.

Moving on, there's the blurb. Without going into a lot of detail, it mentions things like a "ruthless maniac," the Book of Revelations, and Armageddon. In combination, those phrases shout action/adventure/thriller to me. Likewise, your blurb needs to convey the essence of your book - not just the genre but the overall conflict.

All in all, the author has done a great job of baiting the hook in my opinion. Good cover art, nice blurb, etc., all of which do their part in letting readers know what they'll be getting in exchange for their hard-earned dollars. 

Basically, getting readers interested in your book is a lot like going on a blind date.  Your cover is your headshot, and you really want it to be attractive and say something positive about you. Your blurb is your introduction, giving those who like what they see a little more insight into what you have to offer. Bearing those facts in mind, I'd encourage writers to make an investment in a great cover (like getting a professional headshot as opposed to photoshopping a grainy pic of yourself taken at a toga party in college). It may not be cheap, but it will be money well-spent - as is money for other things like editing/proofreading.  

In all honesty, though - unless you are immensely talented in all areas of publishing (eg, cover art, editing, formatting, etc.) - I don't know how you can publish a book for less than several hundred dollars.  (For those interested, I discuss a lot of the costs in another blog post: How to Beat the High Cost of [Indie] Publishing.)  As the old adage goes, it takes money to make money, and you have to be willing to invest in yourself. (You could also raise funds on various platforms, but that's a post for a different day.) That said, you most certainly can have sales on a book with a bad cover, a poorly written blurb, and so on, although I wouldn't bank on it.  To quote the film Inception, "[I]t's perfectly possible. It's just bloody difficult."

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Kindle Unlimited = Criminals Unlimited

Having partaken of a buffet or two in my lifetime, I'm well-aware of the fact - as are most people - that businesses tend to serve up fare in this manner because they think it makes economic sense.  The restaurant thinks that patrons will pay more to eat than the vittles actually cost. On the flip side, customers think they will eat more than enough to get their money's worth.  Both sides walk away happy, making the situation a win-win.

Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited program is the same kind of all-you-can-eat offering, but for books. For $9.99 per month, readers can have unlimited access to over 600,000 books. Moreover, authors with their books in the program get paid whenever a subscriber reads more than 10% of their book. ("Payment" in this instance means receiving a share of the KDP Select Global Fund, which is a pool of money originally set aside by Amazon to pay owners whose books were borrowed as part of the Kindle Owners' Lending Library.)

In a perfect world, this would be a nigh-ideal scenario: avid readers could satisfy their voracious appetite for books (as well as take a chance on new and unknown writers), while authors would have another outlet for sales and visibility.  However, leaving aside the issue of whether KU is a good deal for readers, authors, or both (or neither), one of the first things  that occurred to me was that there were going to be people trying to game the system.

Let's face it, KU presents a massive opportunity for scammers of every ilk.  There are probably as many ways to scam on KU as there are insects on this planet, and it just seems to me that crooks are - and will be - taking advanatge.

For instance, one of the first things that occurred to me when I heard about the program was, "What's to prevent an author from opening a sham KU account and then reading (or rather, just quickly flipping through) 10% of their own books? Or doing it every month?" It appears to be a quick and easy way to get some cash if you're unscrupulous.

Also, since an author gets paid as soon as a reader has read past the 10% mark, I've heard that some "writers" have essentially thrown together 10 pages of gibberish and published it as a book that is part of KU. As soon as the reader opens it up to page one, that's 10% of the book read and the author can get paid.  The reader could complain, but it's not like they're out of any money; they'll probably just move on to the next (and hopefully legitimate) book.

Perhaps even more egregious, one person went so far as to publish scores of books - each only a few pages long - but with the titles (as well as the blurbs) of more popular works. Clearly, this was done to intentionally mislead readers and the tactic was initially successful: because Amazon's algorithms incorporate KU selections, this person's books were actually ranking very well! (Not to mention they were going to get paid.) Thankfully, enough people complained for Amazon to take notice, and I believe the offender's faux books were taken down (and presumably any earnings are forfeit.)

In what appears to be yet another scheme, a person offered a book promotion service whereby they guaranteed that your books would get at least 75 borrows in KU. I have no idea how anybody could legitimately make that kind of guarantee, because it sounds too good to be true.  (Note to self: if something sounds too good to be true...) More than likely, this is a person who set up a KU account (or several) and will simply use their status as a KU subscriber to borrow the books of those who pay them. (It's not a whole lot different that buying reviews on Fiverr or the like, I guess.)

Basically, there are a ton of ways to scheme and scam with respect to KU. The good news is that Amazon is quite likely to find out about it and take swift, decisive action. But in the meantime, until a permanent solution is found, KU will remain the land of milk and honey for brazen criminals.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

The Best Paranormal Novels You Probably Never Heard Of

***As I mentioned elsewhere on my blog, Squidoo - a site where I had previously published a number of articles - has gone the way of the dodo.  (Or rather, they will in the very near future - I think they shut down on October 1.) That being the case, I've been transferring some of that content to my blog here, including this post. Disclaimer: this is several years old and has not been updated, but I don't think much has changed.

Paranormal is the New Normal

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when reading paranormal novels - outside of Dracula and Stephen King books - was something other than mainstream. Now, thanks to the success of series like Twilight and the Sookie Stackhouse novels, there's a glut of them. So many in fact, that there's an entire section at Half-Priced Books devoted to this new genre called "Paranormal Romance." (And it's a big section.)

Still, a deluge of paranormal novels doesn't mean that they're all great reads, and there is an abundance of awesome stories that probably get lost in the process. With that in mind, I thought it might be worthwhile to mention some paranormal series that I felt would be worth your time and attention if you're trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in this arena.

Sandman Slim (The Sandman Slim Series)

James Stark is a young man who can perform magic – real magic – when he is dragged down to Hell (while still alive) and forced into gladiatorial combat for the entertainment of Hell’s denizens. Although – as a mere human – he was not expected to survive, he does the impossible and not only manages to stay alive during 11 brutal years in the arena, but develops a supernatural toughness in the process. Garnering the nickname “Sandman Slim,” he also becomes a feared supernatural hitman. After 11 years Stark manages escape, returning to Earth and vowing vengeance on the men who sent him to Hell and killed his girlfriend.

This is actually one of the best series I’ve come across in a long time. Needless to say, Sandman Slim is more of an anti-hero, combing the seedy streets of an L.A. underworld filled with magic, monsters and supernatural beings while seeking revenge. He is hard and completely fixated on revenge – but surprisingly humorous (which helps make such an uncompromising character likeable) – and tough enough not to take smack from anybody. For example: after beating back a surprise attack, Stark stands bleeding in Lucifer’s penthouse hotel suite. (Hey, Old Scratch has got to stay somewhere when he’s in town – you thought the devil camped out?) Stark is about to take a seat when he is told by Lucifer – the devil himself – “Don’t get blood on my couch.” Stark replies, “It’s not your couch,” and sits anyway.

Equal parts mystery, paranormal fiction, and high-octane adventure, the books in this dark urban fanatsy series (by Richard Kadrey) are as follows:

Sandman Slim

(On a side note, the first book, Sandman Slim, is purportedly being developed as a feature film.)

Staked (The Void City Novels)

In the supernatural world of Void City – which includes, demons, werewolves, witches and more – vampires come in four flavors:

Drones – Barely immortal
Soldiers – Tough, but not too hard to get rid of 
Masters – Very powerful 
Vlads – Top of the food chain, and almost impossible to kill for good. Cut their heads off, and they can be reattached; blow them up, and their bodies eventually reform; etc. 

Which type of vampire a person arises as after being turned is somewhat haphazard, although it tends to be related to force of will and personality. And there really isn’t a way to rise up the ladder, e.g., a vampire that arises as a drone will stay a drone forever (or until he gets killed).

Eric Courtney is a vlad famously known for having blackouts and an extremely poor memory. He chalks it up to having been embalmed before arising as a vampire. He can’t even remember how he came to be undead in the first place, and no other vampire has ever stepped forward to declare himself Eric’s sire. His legendary blackouts are usually the result of someone making him angry, and whenever he comes out of it there’s usually a dead body (or several) nearby. In fact, the first novel opens with Eric shouting at someone as he comes out of a blackout, looking at the decomposing vampire body and wondering who he’s killed. Moreover, he soon finds himself framed for the murder of a werewolf, who just happens to be the son of the local pack leader. Now he just has to prove himself innocent, find out who set him up (and why), and – among other things – avoid the werewolf assassins that he knows will be coming after him. Not the easiest thing to do for a guy who typically can’t remember who he ate the night before.

In the Void City novels, the author – J.F. Lewis – has created something other than the typical vampire storyline. His is a dark and gritty world with its own unique vampire mythos. It’s a world where a magical veil over the city keeps normal humans oblivious to the monsters in their midst, and a corrupt police force gets rid of bodies and covers up crimes for supernaturals with enough money to pay the “fang fee.” Moreover, nothing is what it seems: one of Eric’s associates, Talbot, resembles a handsome Black man, but – as he tells a female character who doesn’t like his behavior towards her, “You keep expecting me to act human. I’m not…” (Talbot is, in fact, a rather unique creature, but to say more would be to risk spoiling it for some.)

The action is fast-paced, fun, and totally engrossing. The Void City novels are:


Child of Fire (The Twenty Palaces Series)

The Twenty Palaces Society is a group of warlocks dedicated to rooting out the use of magic by people trying to exploit it to gain power. Basically, there is a myriad of horrific, otherworldly beings – any one of which is capable of stripping all life from Earth – who generally promise power to any person who calls them forth. Needless to say, these creatures are nearly impossible to control, and death and destruction usually follow in their wake. Thus, the Twenty Palaces Society ruthlessly exterminates anyone they feel is guilty of the unauthorized use of magic, which basically seems to be any use of magic at all - other than their own, of course. (Their attitude towards other practitioners reminds of a line from one of my favorite video games, Fallout 3, when a villain tells his henchman, "Shoot anybody that isn't you, and isn't me.")

Ray Lilly is a small-time crook and petty thief who serves as a driver for a member of the Twenty Palaces Society. Because he betrayed her once, his boss doesn’t trust him and wouldn’t mind seeing Ray in a pine box. (In fact, Ray is designated a "Wooden Man," which essentially means that his job is to literally get himself killed if it helps his boss complete her mission.) When his employer gets hurt, Ray – with a single spell to his name and a few magical tattoos on his arms and chest – must go alone after an otherworldly monster capable of controlling not only people, but also time itself.

The action is fast and furious from the very start. Like the other novels in this post, this is dark urban fantasy – no lubby-dubby supernaturals here. It’s tense and violent, but utterly enjoyable. The books in the Twenty Palaces series are:

Child of Fire

Dying Bites (The Bloodhound Files)

Jace Valchek is an FBI profiler whose specialty is tracking down serial killers. Because of that talent, she is ripped from our world into an alternate reality – one where creatures such as vampires and werewolves are the norm. In fact, they are the majority: 33% of the world’s population is vampires, 47% are werewolves and 19% are golems (artificial constructs magically brought to life). Normal humans number less than 1 million people – the result of various activities over the years, including the forced transformation of millions during the alternate reality’s version of World War II.

A serial killer is stalking and killing supernaturals in this new world Jace finds herself in. Because vampires, werewolves and golems don’t suffer from mental illness, the killer – presumably – is human. Moreover, the lack of mental illness means that the authorities have no skill in this area, thus the reason for “borrowing” Jace from her own reality. In tracking down the killer, Jace also has to adjust to a world where she’s suddenly part of a dwindling minority, and the supernaturals have cute little nicknames for normal people, like “O.R.” (which stands for “original recipe”). Not to mention the fact that, in many ways, she sympathizes more with the killer she’s chasing as opposed to his victims.

This series makes a nice departure from the typical paranormal stories, where all of the things that go bump in the night are kept under wraps and hidden from plain humans. Here, all of the supernatural beings are out in the open, and it’s Jace who has to masquerade as something else – a werewolf, courtesy of a specially formulated body spray – in order to avoid detection for what she truly is. All in all, it’s a good read with great supernatural elements, mystery and action. The novels in the Bloodhound Files are:

Dying Bites

Needless to say, there are plenty of other fantastic series out there. These are just a few that I've come across and found worthwhile, but I also welcome any suggestions others may have.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Best Thing About "Guardians of the Galaxy"

I am without question a scifi/fantasy devotee.  Thus, my love of the genre - combined with an inherent affection for Marvel comics - meant that going to see the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie was almost mandatory for me.  

Thankfully, the film did not disappoint. From my perspective, it contained an entertaining dose of the requisite elements required in such movies: action/adventure, comedy, special effects, etc.  Apparently, lots of other people agree with my assessment; thus far, the movie has cleaned up from a fiscal standpoint, raking in over $400 million at the global box office.

However, despite all those other pleasing qualities, what I found the best - and most surprising - feature of the movie was actually something I usually don't give a great deal of thought to with respect to films: the soundtrack.

Sure, there are movies which will contain a song that will hit you in the gut or make sit up and you take notice because of the way it captures your fancy or suits a scene (eg, Jim Croce's Time in a Bottle in X-Men: Days of Future Past), but this was a little different. This was an occasion where the music not only fit the visual on the screen, but was so embedded in the action that it almost seemed to have a role in the film.  From the early scene with Star Lord grooving to Redbone's infectious Come and Get Your Love (see the video below) to the Jackson 5's immortal I Want You Back, the music in this instance just seems to capture the essence of the film.

Moreover, it's patently obvious that I'm far from the only person who was impressed with the music.  The soundtrack recently hit #1 on the Billboard charts - a nice feat for a bunch of songs from the '60s and '70s.  I guess it's true what they say: everything old is new again.

The film's director, James Gunn (who also co-wrote the screenplay), was the person responsible for selecting the songs used in the movie. As far as I'm concerned, he should be given an Academy Award just for that. (You have to admit that even the name of the soundtrack is pretty cool: "Awesome Mix Vol. 1")  

Long story short, the movie was great - but the soundtrack was absolutely fantastic! The only downside is that, when I look to the future, I'm not worried about how the movie sequel will compare to the original film; I'm sure it will do fine (and set the stage for a third film).  However, "Awesome Mix Vol. 2" will have the unenviable task of trying to measure up to its predecessor, and that, my friends, is a high bar to hurdle.  Mr. Gunn, sir, you have your work cut out for you, but you are merely a victim of your own success.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

The Speculative Fiction Blog Hop

I've been fortunate enough to be tagged as the next contributor on the Speculative Fiction Blog Hop, wherein individual authors discuss and provide an overview of their writing process.  

I was tagged by the uber-talented Cora Buhlert, who was born and bred in North Germany, where she still lives today - after time spent in London, Singapore, Rotterdam and Mississippi. Cora holds an MA degree in English from the University of Bremen and is currently working towards her PhD. She has been writing since she was a teenager, and has published stories, articles and poetry in various international magazines. When she is not writing, she works as a translator and teacher. Visit her on the web at or follow her on Twitter under @CoraBuhlert.

As part of the blog hop, each participating author answers four questions about their writing process, which are as follows:

I. What Are You Working On?

There's an entire heap of projects (in various genres) that I've actually started.  However, I've mentioned on several other occasions that I tend to write the story that's making the most noise in my brain. These days, that's a scifi novel that I hope to finish very soon.  I've also started the next Kid Sensation novel, which is my most popular series. 

II.  How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?

The question is a little tricky to answer since my fiction currently encompasses two series - the Kid Sensation series and the Warden series.  

With respect to the Warden books, I suppose the most distinguishing characteristic is that I've chosen to fill those books with non-traditional monsters/antagonists.  Rather than vampires, werewolves, and the like, I've chosen to populate my books with a number of other creatures that generally don't get as much airplay: Thus, over the course of three books, my protagonist has entered fiends such as Wendigos, lamias, revenants, selkies, aswangs, and more.  

As to the Kid Sensation series, which encompasses superhero novels, one of the things that may be different is that I've tried to incorporate some of the physics into the stories. For instance, if someone can fly at 1000 miles per hour, there's a sonic boom heard by those nearby. If someone runs at high speed, the friction (eg, their thighs rubbing together) can wear out their clothes.

That said, I believe that - in general - the work of writers in the same genre is bound to vary naturally just based the authors' own thoughts, views, experiences, etc. - just as in other realms of entertainment.  By way of example, there were two Hercules movies released this year. It was the same subject matter, but two totally different takes on the story.  Likewise, I generally think that each author's work, even in overcrowded genres, is as unique and distinctive as the individual writer himself. 

III.  Why Do I Write What I Do?

As I mentioned, I've actually started quite a number of projects in various genres: mystery, romance, action/thriller, western...  In essence, I read a wide spectrum of books and find myself interested in a diverse range of subjects.  This, of course, affects my writing. In essence, like so many others, I write whatever interests me.

Nevertheless, I am - at my core - a scifi/fantasy author. (Works in other genres will quite likely be published under a pen name.) That being the case, I suppose I write what I write because I enjoy it. I like being a storyteller, and writing books that people of all ages can enjoy. Plus, writing scifi/fantasy gives me the option to explore the limits of my imagination. There's really no idea that's too far-fetched for me to put into a story.

IV.  How Does My Writing Process Work?

I suppose it all starts with the notebook: I have a composition notebook that I take with me everywhere.  If I get a good idea for a story, I write it in the notebook.  Moreover, each story idea typically gets a couple of pages in the notebook, so that if I get a thought about a scene, dialogue, or anything else, I write it down under the proper story. My notebook is basically my bible.

With respect to actually writing, I typically don't do outlines; for me, the story tends to tell itself.  In other words, when I sit down and start typing, it's more like the characters are telling their own story and I'm just taking dictation.  This happened in dramatic form with Sensation, the first novel in my Kid Sensation series; I had an idea of the story I wanted to tell, but in the course of writing the novel veered away so drastically from the book I originally intended to write that no one would believe me if I told them what I'd had in mind initially.

As I mentioned, I don't do outlines.  I usually know how I want the story to start and how I want it to end, but not much more than that - the rest is the journey. I do, however, check my notebook throughout the drafting process to make sure I incorporate any worthwhile thoughts. I also usually edit as I write. 

When I finish, I typically read through the draft at least twice before sending it to my editor. Quite often, in addition to typos, I'm looking for what I call "logic gaps" - scenes where characters are doing things that advance the story, but which really don't make much sense.  For instance, I watched a movie just yesterday where the main character took on a gang of about three dozen bad guys in a warehouse, and everybody was fighting with baseball bats, crowbars, etc.  It was a great scene, but at one point my thought became, "All these bad guys are fighting the protagonist, and not one of them has a gun?" I would have bought into any reason they presented for why nobody had firearms (eg, potential gas leak), but they never gave one.  It's with things like that I mind that I try - and hopefully succeed - in avoiding logic gaps. 

When I get the manuscript back from my editor, I usually read it at least two more times.  If I'm comfortable with it at that point it's ready for publishing.

That about sums things up for me, so my thanks to those in charge for being included in the blog hop. Next up is the amazing Ceinwen Langley, an Australian television writer and author. Her debut YA novel, The Edge of the Woods, has been described as dystopian Jane Austen, the Hunger Games meets the Stepford Wives and Margaret Atwood spear-tackling Twilight. (Okay, she said that last one herself.)

A full time writer, Ceinwen has contributed short stories to Birdee, an online magazine for young women, and has taught and spoken at universities and high schools. She spends her spare time trying to grow European wildflowers in a West Australian climate and taking pictures of her dog with things on his head. You can find out more about Ceinwen on her blog:  


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How To be More Productive in Your Personal and Professional Life

Isn't There More You Could Be Doing?

It seems that we're all busy people. We always have someplace to go, something to do, a phone call to make, etc. And yet, for all that hustle and bustle, we never seem to get caught up. We are never quite as productive as we'd like to be.

With that in mind, it makes sense to take stock of how we are spending our time, and look at things we can do to be more productive.

Quit Your Second Job: Turn Off the TV
Most Americans have a second job and don’t even know it. It’s called watching TV. Believe it or not, the average American watches approximately 34 hours of television per week. 34!

That’s a lot of man-hours – practically enough to work full-time somewhere. (Now you know the reason I referred to it as a second job…) That’s why one of the first steps in being more productive – and I know it’s hard – is turning the television off. Right now, most Americans are like addicts; they have to get their television fix or they feel like they’ll go bananas. But trust me, after you turn it off and get used to having it off, you’ll be shocked by what you can get accomplished.

That said, I know most people won’t be able to shut television out completely. However, it’s an epidemic, much like obesity. Thus, you need to curb your appetite for television – take in fewer broadcast calories. I would suggest you try to limit yourself to a maximum of 10 hours of television per week. Thus, you need to pick the programs you absolutely must watch, and jettison the rest. (And with television now being a rare treat, you can justify watching your programs on a nice set.)

Make a List of Goals and Things You Want to Accomplish

Statistics have shown that people who write down their goals come a lot closer to achieving them than those who do not. Therefore, your productivity is likely to increase if you make a to-do list of things you want to accomplish.

In short, no matter what your goal is – whether it be losing weight, competing in a triathlon, or writing the great American novel – you stand a better chance of making it happen if you write it down.

Keep the list close – maybe in your wallet or purse – and review it a couple of times each week. And as you accomplish the things you’ve written down, check them off. (And maybe add some new objectives.) And the goals don’t all have to be lofty; they can be simple things, like baking a cake for a friend, finally getting around to cleaning out the garage, and so on. You’ll find that after you complete a couple of the items on your list, that feeling of accomplishment and success is something that you’ll want to experience again and again.

Exercise for Energy
Studies have shown that regular exercise not only increases your energy level but also fights fatigue. Wouldn’t you be more productive if you stayed energized? If you didn’t get tired very easily?

Thus, you should adopt a regular exercise regimen. It doesn’t matter if it’s lifting weights, riding a bike, walking or pilates. The important thing is to do some form of exercise. Moreover, after you make it part of your regular routine, you’ll soon find that you feel out of sorts if you somehow fail to exercise on a day when you were supposed to.

In retrospect, it can be fairly easy to become more productive. Cutting down on your television viewing will give you gobs of time. Making a to-do list will give objectives to shoot for. Finally, regular exercise can give you the energy to get the job done. In brief, this is a workable plan for becoming more productive. (And once you’re more productive you can turn your hand to other things you may be interested in.)

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Television Shows I Can't Believe Were Greenlit!

I'm just going to put it out there: these are TV shows that I can't believe got a green light. I'm not trying to say that all - or even any - of these shows were bad. (In all honesty, I watched them all.) I'm just saying that I can't believe some studio honcho gave the thumbs up to them, because on paper I'd think they sounded wacko. That said, without further ado...

Bigfoot and Wildboy

Okay, this show always made me think that somebody wanted to make a Tarzan series, but with Tarzan being from the U.S. Since great apes are not indigenous to North America, and the boy-raised-by-wolves thing was being done on the show Lucan (read below), who did that leave? Bigfoot! Yes, Bigfoot gets to raise a kid!
Set in the Pacific Northwest, Bigfoot and Wildboy is supposedly premised on the concept of Bigfoot finding a lost kid and raising him. (And raising him right – with morals and ethics and all that jazz. Pretty cool for a creature that couldn’t speak!) To be frank, I’ve always wondered what was going through the head of whoever said, “Yes” to this show. Of course, it was from Sid and Marty Krofft, who practically owned Saturday morning television back in the '70s. Those guys could get anything they wanted on television. (They never even bothered making pilot episodes; they just went in with sketches of what they wanted to do, and the bigwigs just seemed to always say, “Okay.”) Plus, I actually enjoyed the show, although some of it is laughable – especially the intro. Still, if the opportunity presents itself, you should check it out.


This was a boy-raised-by-wolves adventure series that aired during prime time in the ’70s. The premise of Lucan centered on a boy found in the wilderness after having been raised by wolves the first 10 years of his life. He is brought back to “civilization” for study and indoctrination into society. Although feral at first, he gradually – over the course of the next 10 years – becomes civilized while living (and being studied) at a research institute.

One of his doctors is basically a father-figure to him, and when it seems that Lucan is in danger he encourages the young man to leave and try to find his true identity. He becomes a David Banner (Incredible Hulk) wanderer type, going from place to place and helping people along the way. Lucan has certain wolf powers: his eyes turn red when he’s angry, and he can see and smell with the senses of a wolf.

Basically, this was The Jungle Book transplanted to America. (Notice how U.S. studios have to Americanize everything?) The show only lasted a season, but again it’s one of those that you wonder how it got the go-ahead in the ’70s disco era. (Hmmm, maybe if Lucan occasionally cut loose in a club in a white bell-bottom suit – or if they had the BeeGees write a theme song – the show would have lasted longer.)

Anyway, I’m probably making it sound worse than it was, because it memory serves it was actually an okay show. You can see the intro here.


In Manimal, wealthy Jonathan Chase supposedly learned the secrets of shapshifting in deepest, darkest Africa while he was a boy. Now, he uses his abilities to help the police solve crimes.

To be honest, I thought this was a pretty cool series. I can only recall the guy shifting into one of three animals – a hawk (nice), a panther (cool) and a slow-moving snake (huh? What’s the purpose of that?). However, according to the promos, I think he was supposed to be able to change into any animal he wanted. (Of course, this was almost 30 years ago when the series aired, so maybe I just don’t remember.) Anyway, it’s another series that didn’t go the distance – but it was fun while it lasted!

The Man from Atlantis

Before he became a heartthrob on the mega-hit Dallas, Patrick Duffy was an amnesiac called Mark Harris, whom scientist believed to be from the lost city of Atlantis. He had webbed fingers and toes, and gills in addition to lungs so that he could breathe underwater.
To be frank, this was actually a neat series. I just can’t believe anyone in Hollywood was gutsy enough to get on board with it, because the premise was a little different. The lead character gets found in the ocean (I think he gets caught in a fishing net or something) and when they examine him they discover that he has all these marine attributes.

Hmmm…  Now that I think about it, this would probably make a great feature film.  (Of course, I hear an Aquaman film is already in the works, but that hasn't kept Hollywood from releasing similarly-themed movies before - eg, in a few weeks I think we'll get the second "Hercules" movie of 2014.)

Regardless of whether you think they were good or bad, I'm really happy to see that shows like this were actually being made.  It showed (or at least makes me think) that someone in Hollywood had an imagination.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Book Review: Logan's Run

I don't think it comes as a big surprise to anyone that I'm huge sci-fi/fantasy fan.  Therefore, I'm occasionally asked what's my favorite book in that arena. But like most avid readers, there's no single novel I could point to and say with absolute certainty that it's my all-time favorite (and that goes for any genre).  However, there is one book that I always thought was an incredible read: Logan's Run, by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.

Let me be perfectly frank: the book completely blew my mind.  I've never read anything like it before or since.

First of all - before the story itself even begins - there was the incredible dedication page.  On it, the authors list a host of individuals, characters, and even other books, dedicating the novel to everyone from Frankenstein and Jiminy Cricket to the Marx Brothers and The Most Dangerous Game.  I interpret this as the authors thanking those people (factual and fictional) and stories that inspired them.  Like the rest of the book, I've never come across anything else like it.

The novel itself was originally published in 1967 and takes place in a future when human society seems to have achieved Utopia.  Everyone is young and beautiful.  (And if you don't like your appearance, you can easily change it.) You can have anything you want, go anywhere you want, do anything you want. In short, it's a sex-drugs-and-rock-n-roll culture where personal bliss can be obtained either naturally or artificially. There's only one catch: you have to die at age 21.    

In the world of Logan's Run, everyone has a crystal flower embedded in their palm at birth that tracks their age: up until age 7, the cyrstal is yellow.  From 7-14, it's blue.  After age 14, it becomes red.

On your 21st birthday, the crystal starts to flash, alternating between it's normal red color and black.  This means that you are on "Lastday" and have twenty-four hours before reporting for mandatory "Sleep." After twenty-four hours, the crystal goes permanently dark.  If you haven't reported for Sleep by that point, you are said to be "on Black" and are considered the worst kind of criminal - a "Runner." Agents of the Deep Sleep organization - popularly known as "Sandmen" - rigorously enforce the law by hunting down and mercilessly killing all Runners, with no exceptions. 

Logan is a Sandman - one of the best. But when his own crystal starts to blink he has a critical decision to make. By almost blind luck, he stumbles across information about a legendary place called Sanctuary, where people can allegedly live out their lives in peace and die of old age. Eventually he teams up with another Runner named Jessica, and they decide to seek out Sanctuary together.

In terms of characterization, Jessica is a fairly straightforward individual whose motivations are easy to understand: she wants to live, plain and simple. Logan, on the other hand, is clearly a tortured soul.  He's dedicated and devoted everything he is to being a Sandman and upholding the law, but at the same time he clearly has reverence for his own life.  For much of the novel - as he and Jessica traverse an exotically dangerous futuristic landscape that includes everything from undersea cities to arctic prisons to killer cyborgs - it's not entirely clear whether Logan wants to find Sanctuary in order to save himself...or destroy it.  Further complicating matters is the fact that the two Runners are being relentlessly pursued by Logan's friend and colleague, Francis (whom even Logan admits is probably the most competent Sandman alive).

Of course, the novel can be seen as an allegory of contemporary society in a lot of ways.  In the book, almost nobody cares or seems to understand that they're living in an oppressive culture.  Few are attentive enough to see that they are under the control of a dystopian regime until they're on Lastday, at which point it's too late. (How much societal change can you realistically effectuate in 24 hours?)  

Likewise, in the real world, people often don't realize that they're part of an oppressive society until they experience that oppression themselves.  Even worse, in Logan's Run there are constant signs that the current system - which is run by a gigantic computer known as the Thinker - is corrupt (in the sense of decaying, as opposed to being dishonest) and breaking down, but  no one seems willing to do anything about it.

Now that it's pushing up on 50 years of age, you don't hear a lot about Logan's Run these days. However, the novel was popular enough to have spawned two sequels, a major motion picture (which I personally consider a sci-fi classic), a television series, a comic, graphic novels and other adaptations. A remake of the movie has supposedly been in development hell for years, but hopefully it will eventually get the green light.  (On a side note, I penned my own version of a Logan's Run screenplay years ago, but that's a story unto itself.)

In essence, the novel is a depiction of a world that had to deal with an ever-expanding population in the face of limited resources.  The result is a society where mandatory death is the only way to ensure that everyone has at least a chance at life - even if it's greatly curtailed. Thus, one of the fascinating things about the novel, I think, is the question that it silently proposes: Would you be willing to die at a designated time in exchange for a life of constant pleasure? Is the trade-off worth it - no worries in exchange for cashing in your chips on a date that you can circle on the calendar? 

And, in a completely hedonistic society, do you eventually tire of it all? Also, what motivates you to do anything when almost everything you want is at your fingertips?  (I  think this is the issue that some people see in the concept of inherited wealth. I believe it was Warren Buffett who said that you should leave your kids enough money so that they could do anything, but not enough so that they can do nothing.)

In short, Logan's Run is an absolutely fantastic piece of science fiction and probably the best dystopian novel I've ever read.  It can certainly be viewed as a representation of some of the problems in the modern-day world, but I think you'll get the most enjoyment out of it by treating it as the exciting, action-packed yarn the writers seemed to have wanted it to be.

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