Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

Here's to a fantastic 2014!
May the new year bring you health, happiness, and success in all your endeavors.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Clockwork God Now Available! Links Below

"The Clockwork God is a fast-paced adventure loaded with intriguing and unusual characters. The Tinkerer's Daughter series set the stage for this series by introducing the Kingdom of Astatia and the secret of its genetically altered citizens. Aboard the Great Iron Horse takes that theme and runs with it. Be prepared for many adventures, and many more surprises as Sedgwick reveals more of this mysterious steam-powered post-apocalyptic world."

It's here already! The Clockwork God is Book One of my new steampunk adventure series Aboard the Great Iron Horse. You'll recognize a few of the characters from The Tinkerer's Daughter series and you'll meet some new ones. Pick up your copy from Amazon today!

The direct link to the e-book is: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HEX4VJ2
The paperback: Here!

 For those reviewers who haven't received the ARC yet, it should be there ANY MINUTE. I'm also starting a giveaway list for the final edition, which I'll have in a couple weeks. If you want to get your name on the list, email me: jamiesedgwick@sbcglobal.net

The Clockwork God:

Socrates the steampunk ape is back in an all-new series! The Iron Horse is a massive steam-powered locomotive full of ancient and surprising technological wonders. With his crew of warriors, miscreants, and genetic anomalies, Socrates' mission is to scour the world in search of Starfall, the mysterious element that powers the great city of Sanctuary and most of the world's steam technology. Supplies of Starfall are running low and unless they can locate another source, all civilization may soon collapse. Starfall also happens to be Socrates' power source and without it, he will die.

On their first adventure, the crew encounters a bizarre cult of isolationists and their strange "Clockwork God." Meanwhile, several of the crewmembers have gone missing and tensions are rising as mutineers conspire to overthrow Socrates and destroy the train. As the conflict comes to a boil, a power more ancient and sinister than anything they have ever imagined threatens to destroy them all.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Clockwork God ARCs!

I've already begun the process of sending out ARCs* on Clockwork. If you want an ARC, now is the time to contact me! I still have one or two paperbacks up for grabs, and there is also a giveaway going on over at Goodreads (link above). I can also email advance readers a copy of the Kindle file (you can either sideload via USB cable from your PC, or have me email it directly to your Kindle).  Send your email with your Kindle address or mailing information to:

I will contact you when your copy goes out.

The final launch publication is scheduled for the week of December 21, 2013. I will make announcements here, with links as the e-book and paper editions go live. If you do accept an ARC, please take a moment to visit Amazon.com and Goodreads to post a review. All it takes is a few truthful sentences to let other prospective buyers know how you feel, which in turn helps me continue to make a living. 

*It's important to remember that an ARC is a proof copy of an unpublished novel. They may contain minor grammatical and typographical errors, but theoretically nothing so major as to disrupt the reader's enjoyment of the story.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Day America Sold its Soul... for an iPad

We have a tradition here in the states called "Black Friday." It takes place ever year on the day after Thanksgiving, and it is so designated because it is on this day that many retailers go "into the black" profit-wise. American retailers try to drum up extra business by throwing huge sales often marked by loss leaders like $100 laptop computers or popular electronics discounted by as much as 70%.

This is all well and good. It's a sign of a thriving capitalist society and a consumer oriented culture. I get it. Unfortunately, something about Black Friday has changed in the last few years. Big corporations like JCPenney, Best Buy, and Macy's have decided that their massive sales on Black Friday are inadequate. In the effort to wring more blood from the proverbial stone, they have begun to open their stores on Thanksgiving day. This forces shoppers who would otherwise be at home celebrating the holiday with their families to instead rush to these stores in search of bargains they could not otherwise afford.

Let's forget for a minute that we don't live in a third world country where a sale on rice and milk might just save the lives of our children. Or that when asked, most shoppers admit these purchases aren't actually gifts; they're shopping mostly for themselves. Let's also forget that in doing this, we're forcing low-wage workers out into the cold on one of the most widely celebrated holidays in America. Let's just take a look at the toll this practice has been taking on America:

How about this story from NBC: Violence flares as shoppers slug it out for the best Black Friday deals:

"...a Las Vegas shopper was shot at around 9:45 p.m. local time (12:45 a.m. ET) late Thursday as he tried to take his purchase home..."
"...three people got into a fight in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Rialto, Calif., because shoppers were cutting in line..."
"...Another shopper was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer after getting into an argument with a New Jersey Wal-Mart store manager about a television set..."

Or Black Friday Violence Erupts Across the Country from the New York Post:

"...A cop at a Kohl’s store outside of Chicago shot a would-be shoplifter who fled in his car — and dragged another officer who was halfway into the vehicle across the parking lot..."
"...A Thursday night fight over a Wal-Mart parking space in Claypool Hill, Va., ended when one man knifed another in the arm so viciously that he hit bone..."
"...Shopping also ended early for Richard Ramos, 23, of Passaic, N.J., who was pepper sprayed and arrested by police on Thursday night at a Wal-Mart..."

These are just a few stories. You can quickly find many, many more if you do a quick search. There were shootings, stabbings, and fistfights. There were shoppers tasering each other. There were stores vandalized and looted, and even police were injured.

This ain't Baghdad, folks. It's not  Ethiopia, either. This is America, where 91% of the population has a cell phone and 98% have access to broadband internet. We have no shortage of gadgets, televisions (the average American home has more televisions than people) or other junk. We're not starving, that's for sure. We're on top of the food chain, economically speaking. So why the need for this madness? Is a half-priced iPad really worth killing someone? Is a $100 laptop worth dying over? Violence has long been a side-effect of Black Friday, but it seems worse lately. For the sake of argument, I'm willing to say I'm okay with Black Friday for what it is. The commercialism can't be avoided. It has always been there, and always will be. I also understand the excitement, the rush of adrenaline, the quest for that fantastic deal you'd never get without it.

But do we really need to bring this into Thanksgiving? Does Black Friday have to become Black Thursday, marring our holiday with violence and greed, forcing tens of thousands of low-income workers to face this onslaught when they should be at home with their families? I wonder how many single moms left their kids at home alone on Thanksgiving because they had to work? I wonder how many Thanksgiving Day shoppers have considered this, or taken a moment to examine the fact that these fantastic sales prices are costing them something much more valuable in the long run?

I, for one, will never take part in this. I will do without that iPad, laptop, or big screen TV, so that somewhere, maybe, a single mom can stay home with her kids on Thanksgiving Day instead of racing out into the snow and leaving her kids home alone. It's also worth pointing out that if we all stayed home, the crap would still be there on Friday.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's wishing everyone a fantastic holiday. There's no such thing as too much laughter, good food, or great wine! Take a moment to enjoy the small pleasures (the best kind) and while you're at it, remember all the things we have to be thankful for and say a prayer for those with less.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Killer in the Shadow - Live This Week!

Book three in the Hank Mossberg, Private Ogre series is finally available this week! You can find it in paperback or e-book at Amazon.

Hank Mossberg has crossed paths with every lowlife scumbag the world of the fae could produce, from child stealing imps to drug dealing goblins, but now he’s pitted against a villain unlike any he has ever faced before. The dark-elf Siva warned Hank that a storm was coming. Now he’s going to find out what she meant.

The madness begins when the wizard known as Magnus attacks a crew of Golden Gate Bridge workers, using magic to hurl fireballs and lightning at his helpless victims. Before the carnage is over, several workers are dead and the world of the fae has been exposed for all mortals to see. As Hank delves deeper into the case, he begins to suspect the old wizard’s motives may lie hidden somewhere in the dark secrets of his past. But just as Hank is about to expose the truth, the killer turns the tables. Now Hank is the target, and the killer will stop at nothing to destroy him… Even if it means murdering everyone Hank has ever loved.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

When Trends Kill

If you spend any amount of time talking to a writer, you'll eventually end up on the subject of Art VS. Commercialism. I'm not talking about the genre vs. literary fiction argument, but rather the starving artist vs. the successful writer. Not to imply that there is a conflict between these two classifications of people, but rather that there is a distinct tension between the two philosophies. The majority of writers who get paid for their fiction are called "midlist" writers because although they are professional and may even make a living from their work, they haven't achieved the fame and fortune of writers like Stephen King or John Grisham. I certainly can't speak for all of them, but I'd be willing to bet that a healthy number of midlist writers would say they'd love to make more money from their work. When it comes down to it, I think even Grisham and King would probably say they give some thought into whether a book will sell before they bother to spend the time writing it. I've heard Orson Scott Card say that very thing in an interview. Regardless of how serious we take our art, it's hard to pay the rent with a story nobody wants to buy, and even authors who don't have to worry about paying bills or putting gas in the car still don't really want to write a book nobody reads. 

Somehow, for some people, this drive translates into a need for success at any cost. There's no need to revisit the sock-puppet accounts and fake reviewing situation that blew up last year. We all remember it very well. This year, there's something else going on. It's a backlash once again, and this time it's about copycats. 

We've all seen how this works. A hugely successful story comes out, like Harry Potter, Twilight, or 50 Shades, and the next thing you know, hundreds of prolific but not particularly gifted writers have flooded the market with copycat novels. In the wake of Harry Potter, the market quickly became flooded with books about kids who were different, and going to special schools. There were schools for kids with magical powers, schools for vampires and werewolves, schools for superheroes or children with other unusual gifts. The supply was endless, and sales that broke records for the first year or two quickly went stagnant. The trend died and the market moved on. We see that happening today with 50 Shades, where sales of so-called "mommy porn" are plummeting and, in this case, retailers are starting to wipe out entire categories of books that pushed the limits too far. 50 Shades is an extreme example, but I believe it still fits into that same backlash definition. 

Those of use who write should pay close attention, because this cycle can kill our careers. Do we really want to write knock-off books that everyone knows are knock-offs, and therefore will categorically dismiss anything we ever write that's original or serious? Sure, we can start over with a new pseudonym, but why put ourselves through all of that? Is it really worth the money, cranking out inferior work, hoping for a quick payout when it's all but guaranteed to backfire eventually? I suppose we all draw a line somewhere. I've considered "easy money" writing jobs before, but I've found I don't have any taste for cranking out stories like that. I want to create memorable characters and unique stories. And yes, I do hope to be just as financially successful as Stephen King, but even if I'm not I'll always be able to look at my library of works with pride rather than embarrassment. I love it when I get emails from readers who tell me one of my stories made their heart pound, moved them to tears, or made them stop and think about something, and I believe a story that can do this is great, regardless of how well it sells out of the gate. A good thing to remember is that many classics weren't considered classics until after the author's death. Would Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe, or Mark Twain have liked a little more income? Probably. Would they have written sleazy knock-offs to fatten up their checkbook? I doubt it. Historically, most authors who sacrificed their muse for a better publishing contract usually ended up hating what they were doing, which in my opinion, seems to defeat the purpose of being a writer at all. It would also benefit us to remember that our books, if we truly believe in them, have forever to find their audience. The payoff may not come right away. It might take years or decades. It may never come. But at least we know that we did the best we could.

Now for my own shameless self-promotion: As you can see from the links above, I'm giving away Book Three in the both the Hank Mossberg series as well as the Tinkerer's Daughter series at Goodreads, but wait... that's not all! This week Hank Mossberg: Murder in the Boughs is on sale at Amazon for only $0.99. That's two bucks off the normal price, and just in time for the release of book three. If you already have it, pass the link on to someone who might appreciate a good fantasy-based pulp mystery.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Well, the Shadowlord giveaway is finished, but over the next few weeks I will be posting several more contests. You don't have to do much to stay updated, just watch the links at the top of this page. I'm currently running a giveaway for 3 signed ARCs of The Killer in the Shadow and in a few weeks, I'll also be giving away the final version. Also look for ARCs and final editions of The Clockwork God coming soon!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Conspiracy Nuts (?)

Anyone who's read my Shadow Born series knows that I've done considerable research into contemporary urban myths and conspiracy theories.

In Shadow Born, I explored the Philadelphia Experiment, Hypnotically Programmed Assassins, and a government cover-up of the true nature of Dark Matter. In book II, I delved deeper into Gabriel's past and a genetic engineering experiment the government used to create the so-called Shadow Warriors. I also examined aspects of conspiracy theories regarding Deep Underground Military Bunkers (D.U.M.B.s), Planet X (also known as Nibiru, or in Shadow Rising, Niburu) and the secret High Speed Underground Transcontinental Transit System that supposedly connects various Top Secret government facilities scattered throughout the U.S.A. In Shadowlord, I furthered the exploration of these subjects and also threw in a smattering of Project Bluebeam (a similar technology know as "Blue Horizon" in Shadowlord) and the good old fashioned conspiracy of U.F.O.s.  I also used this research in my novel "Erased" written under the name of Jordan Marshall, which involves a Manchurian Candidate type of assassin and a black-ops team bent on killing the protagonist in order to cover up the conspiracy. I'm not going to go into detail regarding the subject matter of all these different conspiracy theories, but feel free to buy my books (!), and also peruse the links I will provide below.

I'll admit, I've found this subject mater fascinating and I've done a lot more research into these topics than was necessary to complete this series. In doing so, I've also learned that people involved in this subculture run the entire gamut, from NASA scientists and college professors to homeless psychotics who've run out of medication (or in some cases, have had too much). But the process has been highly enjoyable, and though I don't actively engage in this subculture, I'll continue to monitor it and -occasionally, maybe- use it as inspiration for more books. One of the great things about writing in this digital age is that we have the world's knowledge at our fingertips. When I started writing, it took months of research and a ton of money to find information that a writer can now access in a matter of minutes. In those days, word processors didn't exist and -let's be honest- nobody knew how to type. The good books were all checked out of the library, permanently. The only access a writer had to information was a credit card and a lot of time. I like things better now.

At any rate, we all know that no novel is produced without some degree of research, even a young adult fantasy or sci-fi adventure. If you need to research conspiracy theories and Top Secret governement projects, may I recommend these sites:

Above Top Secret - The Internet home of Conspiracy Theories, back-page stories no one else notices, and more. They often have news first, usually hours or days before the stories hit mainstream media.They also have a fairly strict policy about sourcing information, which means this website sets the standard in alternative news and information.

Before It's News - Not just news, but all sorts of strange and interesting stories. This website has some great info, but isn't nearly as strictly monitored as ATS. Some links go elsewhere, so exercise caution!

The Guardian - Okay, this isn't a conspiracy site, it's real news. It's also the paper that outed the NSA and made an anti-hero of Snowden. For example, today's headline: "Spain colluded in NSA spying on its citizens..."  For better or worse, this is what journalism is supposed to be about. Don't look for stories like this in most USA rags.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Shadowlord, Available Now!

Well, the wait is finally over. Shadowlord is now available in paperback (yes it's really there, but give the search engine some time!) or e-book at Amazon.com. This is the final chapter in the Shadow Born Trilogy:

Just when D.A.S. finally had the Shadow on the run, all the rules changed....

The Shadowlords have waited ten thousand years for this moment. After centuries of plotting, scheming, and manipulating humanity with their ruthless blend of magic and dark science, the Shadowlords have finally succeeded. The doomsday machine has been activated. The planet Niburu has returned. Shadow creatures walk among humans, and magic is once again real. But something has gone wrong…

Now, a mysterious illness is threatening not only the Shadowlords but also Gabriel and the other children who were engineered with Shadow D.N.A. At the same time, Gabriel, Jodi, and Pete have all gone missing, just as the Shadow’s ultimate plan has finally been set in motion. Gabriel and his companions thought they were ready, but nothing could have prepared them for the final conflict. Events are hurtling towards an astonishing finale in the Shadow Born Trilogy. In the end, there will be only one Shadowlord!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Coming this fall! (Shadowlord, Hank Mossberg book three and a new steampunk adventure: The Clockwork God!)

If you get the newsletter, you already know. This year I'm publishing the third and final Shadow Born novel entitled Shadowlord, which I revealed here a few weeks ago. Over the following two months, I will also be releasing the third novel in the Hank Mossberg detective series and I will be launching a new steampunk adventure series: Aboard the Great Iron Horse. 

I'll get more into details later. For now, I want to show you the artwork for Hank Mossberg 3, and The Clockwork God: 

 Coming in November!

This December!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Giveaway: Shadowlord ARCs!

It's here at last! The season is ramping up and I'm starting with two Goodreads giveaways! Check the links above. Shadowlord is slated for an October 21 release and I just received a handful of ARCs from UPS. They look pretty good, other than a slight issue with the text on the back cover and possibly some minor editing. All copies will go out signed.

For those who enter but don't win, I may have additional copies to send out, so contact me and get your name on the list!

Monday, September 16, 2013

A quick note...

I know quite a few of you have been waiting for books. I have to apologize because there was a printer error with my last shipment and it took longer than I'd hoped to get all the titles stocked. Thankfully, I have everything now, and they will be going out this week. Thanks for your patience!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

R.I.P: A.C. Crispin

I don't know if I've read any of Ann Crispin's sci-fi (I suspect I may have when I was very young), but her name is familiar to us all, and her work at Writer Beware was nothing less than valiant. I was one of those who never made it into legacy publication -other than selling a few shorts- but came very close to stepping into it with some of the bad seeds in the business. Thanks to Writer Beware, I learned about vanity publishers, fee-charging agents and editors, and numerous other scams, some of which I had nearly signed onto. I'm sure thousands of other writers would say the same thing. Ann was a pioneer at standing up for writers, and in this business, that takes a helluva lot of courage. 

I can't say much more that others can't say better, so here are some links: 

May Ann rest in peace. Our hearts and prayers go out to her family, and those close to her.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Shadowlord: Book Three of the Shadow Born Trilogy

Shadowlord, the third installment in the Shadow Born Trilogy, is slated for publication this October:

Just as D.A.S. finally had the Shadow on the run, all the rules changed.... 

The Shadowlords have been waiting ten thousand years for this moment. The doomsday machine has been activated, reuniting the worlds of light and dark matter. The planet Niburu has returned. Shadow creatures walk among humans and magic is once again real. Gabriel and his companions thought they were ready, but nothing could have prepared them for the final conflict.

Coming this October!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Project: Canoes! (Yes, I did.)

Okay, I wasn't going to get into another project right now. I had other things to do. Three books to edit. Maintenance on the house and the cars. Three kids home for the summer. I'd have to be insane to start another project, right? That's a rhetorical question, by the way, and I prefer the word eccentric if you please. 

 Here's the thing: I can't write a lot during the summer. With the kids home, I get maybe two hours of writing time in the early morning. Occasionally, I can sneak away to a quiet corner of the house and do some editing, but children have a sixth sense for that kind of thing. They can happily play video games and watch Netflix for hours on end, but the moment I start working on a book, they NEED me. Almost without fail, I get one or two paragraphs edited before somebody is screaming. So I found myself with some time on my hands and just a little bit of money... not enough to buy some canoes(as discussed in a previous post), but enough to build some. (And of course, I really wanted some canoes for my family. Who doesn't?)

Yeah, I do have another project I'm working on, but it's a secret project, so no more hints until it's done... At any rate, I couldn't help myself. God love my poor wife, she actually let me do it: I made two canoes. Being a complete amateur at this, I did my research and then decided to break all the rules right off the bat. Naturally, I started by building two canoes at once. Why bother cutting one sheet of ply when you can do two? Of course, I didn't want to make two canoes exactly the same, so I changed the plans for one. 'Cause I'm like a genius or something. Oh, well. Give a guy credit for trying. 

For simplicity's sake, along with budgetary concerns and a complete void of experience, I decided to go with the stitch-and-glue method. This basically means you take a set of measurements from plans, and mark them onto sheets of plywood, which you then cut to shape, glue (with epoxy) and stitch with wire or zip-ties. 

As the canoe takes shape, you fill the gaps with wood filler and epoxy, and then fiberglass the seams. 

Hopefully, at some point, it begins to resemble an actual canoe. I can't even describe how exciting it is when this actually happens!

After many hours of cutting, gluing, and fiberglassing, you spend many, many more hours sanding. And then you sand some more. After several coats of epoxy inside and out, you sand again. Then, at last, you can varnish it to a nice gleam, stand back, and admire your own Frankenstein's monster.

That's my beautiful daughter in the background of course, and (ahem) my slightly under-irrigated lawn in the fore.

Happily, I have gotten a number of nice comments on these canoes already. The first guy who saw them at the lake said "Wow, that's an old canoe, isn't it?" Naturally, I explained that it wasn't actually old, it just looked like crap because it was homemade. He laughed, and appeared genuinely impressed with my first-time build. I know what he meant, though. There really is something about the character of wood, and the shape of an object like this brings it home. My plywood canoes don't just look old, they look historical. They have presence. For an inanimate object like a canoe, that's saying something.

 I had a lot of fun building these boats, and it only took about a month. I did have to buy a few tools (terrible, that-lol) and I did spend a little more than I had planned, in both time and money, due in part to my decision to make two at once and -like a good amateur- redesign the plans on my own. Another result of this re-design is the fact that the smaller canoe, which is narrower and has considerable rocker built into the design, really works best with just one person. The more weight you put into it, the more unstable it behaves. It's also got an unusually high center of gravity, so it paddles best when kneeling rather than in the sitting position. It floats and it goes from point A to point B, but it's not a very practical design and next time I'll know better than to start changing things right out of the gate.

So now, I'm all set for the next project. (Heh, heh.) Not really. I'm going to spend some time enjoying these with my family. We have lots of good canoeing and camping weather before winter comes. I would like to move up to a strip canoe next. They're more work, but I don't mind taking my time on a project that I know I'll treasure for years to come. Unlike these plywood canoes, a strip canoe is made of valuable hardwood and is an exacting, painstaking process by comparison. Then again, it's also possible to build rowboats, kayaks, sailboats, and even catamarans and fishing boats using this stitch-and-glue method... some of those ideas sound awfully tempting...

If you're interested in learning more, here are a few canoe and boatbuilding resources:

 And a stitch-and-glue fishing boat you won't believe!:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Life Without Eggs (part two)

Last week I wrote about my egg allergy, the revealing incident, and the things I learned in the wake of that fateful hospital visit. This week I want to focus on how I've learned to completely bypass eggs in my life, but still enjoy most of the foods that I used to love. Even wine! I'll be talking about eggs in particular, but if you or someone you know has a different food allergy, you can take similar steps to continue living more or less like a normal person. Obviously, I spent a lot of time researching my allergy. I learned to identify eggs in ingredient lists by other names: globulin, lecithin, albumin and so on.

Once I had isolated the foods of concern, I went about finding brands that lacked egg  ingredients. One shortcut for me is to look for vegetarian or vegan brands. Most of these don't use any animal products, including eggs (Always check the ingredients, or ask the manufacturer if you're unsure). Similarly, I found that wines listed on Barnivore as vegan friendly do not use eggs as a fining ingredient and can generally be considered safe. Do note however, that Barnivore's database is updated irregularly and many of the updates are submitted by users. It's an imperfect system, so be careful. Again, it's always a good idea to contact the manufacturer if you're in doubt. 

And if you are exposed to eggs or another allergen in a food that does not label the ingredients (like wine and other alcoholic beverages) be sure to let the manufacturer know. Until they hear from us, they won't change a thing. At the very least, it would be nice to have a small warning on the label! I know at least two people who have shellfish allergies, both of whom occasionally break out in hives after drinking wine. Until I explained about the fining process, they had no idea what caused this unusual reaction. Unfortunately, no business is going to change anything they do out of the goodness of their hearts. If their products make us sick, we have to let them know. We don't necessarily have to threaten lawsuits, but if we let them know we were sickened, they'll take the hint.

Okay, so I had determined which foods I could eat, but what about the ones I couldn't? Like cake, and cookies, and eggnog? I didn't want my snacking life to end just because I couldn't have eggs anymore! Well, there are ways around the traditional use of eggs. I've learned for example, that most ready-mix cakes will do just fine with 2 or 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil instead of eggs. Of course, that was after going several years without cake. Eventually, my cravings overwhelmed my laziness and I hit the internet in search of recipes.

Here are a few of my old favorites that I had to rediscover/reinvent:

  • Eggnog: 1 package of vanilla instant pudding with 5 or 6 cups of milk (add or subtract to taste) and some sprinkles of nutmeg is almost indistinguishable from the store-bought stuff. Warning: modern thickeners in this stuff will eventually thicken no matter how thin you make it, so just make enough for the evening! If you thin it too much trying to get a consistent thickness, you'll just water down the flavor.
  • French Toast (!): A flour paste consisting of water, flour, salt, sugar, and cinammon is a great replacement for eggs. Mix it to a thin gravy-like consistency and then dip and fry the bread like usual. Wheat flour works great, but plain white flour works, too! This one really surprised me with how convincing it was. Does it taste like eggs? Not so much. But the consistency is close, and with your favorite toppings you'll hardly notice the difference.
  • Pasta/ Egg Rolls: A simple homemade pasta can be used to replace traditional egg roll wrappers. Flour, water, and a pinch of salt make a great wrapper (also use this recipe to make your own raviolis!) You will need a pasta roller to get the thickness right, or be prepared for a lot of rolling by hand. (Eggroll filling is easy. Stir fry some chopped cabbage with diced onions, garlic, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. Sausage is a standard meat filler but many meats will suffice - or you can go vegetarian. Season with a bit of soy sauce and ginger. Fill the wrappers, roll them, and deep fry.)
  • Bread: In breads, egg is used mostly as a glaze on the crust. It's not needed for baked (yeast) breads. If you really want a glaze, try butter instead! Better yet, season the butter. Try some garlic and oregano. Or for a sweet bread, cinnamon and honey. Use your imagination. Perhaps someday I'll post my own personal bread recipes...
  • Meatballs and/or Meatloaf: A touch of olive oil is all you need. Maybe not even that.  Crackers or dried bread crusts are common fillers. Mix these with your ground beef, some onions, garlic, ketchup or tomato sauce, and a dash of Worcestershire. Don't use too much filler, and you can make a nice firm meatloaf without any egg replacement whatsoever.
  • Cakes: As mentioned above, skip the eggs in instant cake batter and add a little olive oil. If you're baking from scratch you can try adding a bit of corn starch as well (just a teaspoon or so).
  • Cookies: A little extra olive oil or butter will improve the consistency. The lift comes from the baking powder, so the eggs aren't really necessary in many cases. In some recipes eggs are hard to replace, others work great. It's all about trial and error with cookies.
  • Omelets: Seriously, it is possible, but it's not the same. A light flour paste much like the one used in French Toast above can be fried on a griddle (like a pancake). Toss in some mushrooms, onions, cheese, or whatever else you like. When it's ready, flip it over just like a regular omelet. It's not a perfect replacement but you can't really ask flour to replace a dish that's 99% egg, right? Even so, it's not bad if done right and it can fill that void if you really miss your omelets.
  • Eggs Benedict: Skip the eggs. Mix up a thick gravy made with chicken bullion/base and lemon pepper or benedict powdered mix. Grill some ham and English muffins. Slap it all together. It's good enough that you won't miss the eggs too much.

And so on. Obviously, kitchens do vary, as do altitudes. You will have to experiment a little to replace your favorite foods. The good news is that in many cases, it is possible. The important thing is not giving up. Food is one of life's greatest pleasures, so don't automatically assume a food allergy is some sort of prison sentence.

EgglessCooking.com is a site dedicated to this subject. I haven't spent much time there yet, but they seem to have a good selection of recipes, so it's worth a look! I know my wife and I will be perusing the site regularly in search of new ideas.

For more information on food allergies in general, WebMD has a good article.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Are food allergies making you ill? How about that wine? Are you sure?

A quick aside before I get to the topic: Thanks to everyone who participated in the Darkling giveaway. It was a great success. If you happen to be one of the winners, your book is on the way! I've had a few requests for additional review copies, so this is a good time to remind everyone that I do provide review copies free of charge when I have them available. If I don't have any in stock there may be a short wait, but don't let that discourage you. Send an email with your name and address so I can add you to the list. 

Also, note the link at the top of the page: I've just started a Shadow Born giveaway. Be sure to sign up at Goodreads for a chance to win a signed copy.

Now, onto the matter at hand:

The topic of food allergies may seem a pretty far removed from my usual subject matter, but it's something that has had a profound effect on my life. Truth be told, food allergies nearly killed me, and I didn't even know I had them. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but I assure you I'm not exaggerating. I didn't even know I had these allergies until I was in the hospital fighting for my life.

The problem with the symptoms is that they are not uniform. They manifest differently depending on the food as well as the person, and they may be as subtle as a change in mood or difficulty concentrating. I experienced symptoms of depression, mood swings, mild anxiety attacks, difficulty concentrating and/or subtle changes in my perception (as if the world had suddenly, literally, become dark and gloomy). Occaisionally, I would even get sick... But then, we all get sick once in a while, right? That's why my parents chalked my frequent illnesses up to what they called my "weak stomach."

My silent killer is eggs. Yep, good old farm eggs - the kind you scramble up for an omelet or serve on the side with biscuits and gravy. I enjoyed them for most of my childhood. I had reactions of course, but unfortunately the symptoms were so subtle that I never drew a connection between the symptoms and the food. That's why no one else - not even my parents-ever realized I was suffering.It's hard to explain how these things can affect a person who has never experienced then. It's even harder to understand why something like this can go on for years without the victim even realizing what's wrong. The problem is that a person who has lived his or her entire life this way tends to assume that's just how life is. Moods go up and down. Anxieties sneak up on you and then go away as if they never existed. Frequent stomach flues and occaisional panic attacks are just part of life... The sufferer doesn't realize that feeling like this isn't normal, especially in the case of a child or young adult. To make matters worse, some allergens give very minor symptoms at first, and only increase after repeated exposures. In other words, eggs might make me moody on day one, make me nauseous on day two, and kill me on day three. Or, if the stars align just right, they might go ahead and kill me on day one.

My symptoms affected my family life, my friendships, and my education. My mood swings made it difficult to manage relationships, especially within my own family, and the other symptoms made concentrating on classroom lectures or homework all but impossible. Not to mention my frequent absences from school, or the fact that I frequently became ill or uncomfortable after lunch because I had eaten something that had eggs as an ingredient. I eventually quit eating breakfast altogether because I realized that for some reason I always felt lousy in the morning, but again, I thought that was just the way my body worked. Nothing unusual there. Lots of people don't eat breakfast, right?

Then came the day a nurse gave me an antibiotic shot that had been cultured in eggs. I remember her specifically asking if I had any allergies, to which I naturally responded "No." Then she stuck the needle in me and I immediately began shaking violently. I fell over and my body involuntarily curled into a fetal position. My vision went black and I lost consciousness. I woke in a hospital bed a few hours later, half-delirious and completely baffled as to what had happened. The doctor tried to explain it all to me but my brain was so cloudy I may as well have been on drugs. My head was in a fog for the next few days. It took years to finally remember the sequence of events that led to that hospital bed. The attack was so bad, it had given me temporary amnesia.

Since then, I have learned to live without eggs. Believe me, it ain't easy. I rarely eat out because it's difficult to find menu items that don't have eggs as an ingredient and it's a hassle to make the waitress go back and forth checking everything. Here are a few examples: Restaurant pasta usually contains eggs as an ingredient. Bread products and hamburger buns often do, and sometimes even crackers contain eggs. Soup and sauce bases may have them as an additive. Cakes, cookies, and other bakery desserts almost always have them. I found out the hard way that A&W's cheese on their burgers is made with eggs (or was at the time) and Pizza Hut's sauce also contained egg ingredients. And another surprising item that's off my menu: WINE.

It's true. Winemakers use eggs as a fining agent. If the wine doesn't clear satisfactorily, wineries use eggs to remove some of the proteins and force the wine to clear. This is done by mixing the fining agent straight into the wine, where it clings to other proteins and settles to the bottom. The wine can then be bottled and shipped.

After having an allergic reaction quite a few years ago, my wife and I made an exhaustive list of every item I had consumed over the last few days. We then verified that everything was egg-free. The only unconfirmed item was a red wine we'd shared with a friend over dinner. That sent me into research mode, and it didn't take long to confirm my suspicions. I was shocked to learn that wine could indeed have eggs in it.

I contacted several local wineries to verify this process. They all confirmed that they used eggs occasionally, but assured me that no eggs remain in the wine. How they manage that, I don't know. After spending several years researching and learning to make my own wine, I've still not found a sure way to remove eggs from the final product. It doesn't take much imagination to see how an allergen -a tiny protein in eggs, for example- could remain in the finished product. Any filtration that could remove this protein would not only negatively affect the wine, but also render the use of eggs redundant. In other words, if you have a filter good enough to pull egg proteins out of wine, then you don't need eggs at all. Just filter the wine!

I learned that wineries use not only eggs, but also products derived from milk and shellfish. As far as I know, eggs are the only fining agent they use completely unmodified, with all allergens fully intact. I also learned that there had been a movement to label alcoholic beverages with allergens, but wineries lobbied against this labeling on the grounds that it would turn off consumers, and also argued that since no one has died of anaphylaxis after drinking wine, that must mean no one gets sick. Labels are already required in Europe because even tiny particles of allergens present an inherent danger to the highly sensitized. 

Surprisingly, winemakers don't need to use these known allergens. Hypoallergenic fining agents have long been available that are cheap and just as effective. However, these hypoallergenic products aren't traditional fining agents, and therefore some winemakers tend to look down their nose at them. Winemakers also tend to gravitate towards techniques they're familiar with, and eggs are something of a time-honored tradition. Still, it's hard not to conclude that some wineries would prefer to poison some of us rather than using safer alternatives, or simply adding a few words to the back of their label so that we know which wines to avoid. Apparently, this will never happen until people are made aware of the problem so they can begin reporting their reactions to the proper authorities and -yeah, I'll say it- Lawyers. Because when you get down to the nitty-gritty, no big business is going to go to any extra work or expense unless it involves their bottom line.

I've gone a little off-topic here, so I'll get back on point. I may return to the wine issue in a later post, but for now I want to focus on the subtle symptoms of food allergies that you or someone you know may be experiencing. If you suffer any of these, pay attention to the foods you've eaten in the last forty-eight hours. You may be able to draw a parallel, and change your whole life for the better simply by avoiding something in your diet!:

  • Difficulty thinking clearly or concentrating. This can be hard to pin down. Struggling to read or to calculate math problems (that you could do yesterday) may be a sign, for example, or being a whiz at crosswords one day and unable to answer the simplest questions the next.
  • A sudden change in perception with no reasonable explanation, as if the world suddenly became very gloomy (or alternatively, very bright)
  • Unexplained mood swings. Do you start the day in a normal mood and suddenly find yourself depressed, for absolutely no reason? 
  • Unexplained panic attacks. Have you ever been in a perfectly comfortable place (a meal with friends, a restaurant, a picnic perhaps) and suddenly felt an urgent need to get away?
  • Any of the above, possibly accompanied by a tight-chested feeling or a sense of foreboding.
 These are just a few of the symptoms to look for, but if any of these sound familiar, please look deeper. Do some research and start keeping a food diary to help you isolate possible culprits. Ask for help. Sometimes, when you're not thinking clearly, you can't even remember what you ate yesterday, much less keep track of it. It's also a good idea to consult with your doctor and schedule some allergy tests. In fact, if you have any of these symptoms, please see a doctor ASAP. Be wary of attempting to fix any health problem on your own. This is just asking for trouble.

Milk, eggs, shellfish, soy and wheat products are some of the most common allergy culprits in food. You can find a more exhaustive list here, along with more info about food allergies and symptoms.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Darkling Wind Giveaway!

Just a quick note to point at that there is a giveaway of "The Darkling Wind" going on over at Goodreads. Follow the link above to enter, or click the image to the left to buy at Amazon. There are lots of copies, so your chances of landing a signed copy are pretty good.

Also, there will be more giveaways coming very soon. I'll try to announce them and put up links, so pay attention to this space!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Freeing Your Creativity

I admit it, I'm one of those guys. You know, the ones who always have some project going on. They build a deck on their house, restore an old car, record a music CD, and write a book all at once. A Jack-of-all-trades and master of none, some might say. Constantly moving, always noisy, sometimes downright irritating. Personally, I blame ADD.

I've mentioned before that ADD or ADHD runs in my family. Some of my family members have been officially diagnosed. I have not, but I see enough of their behaviors echoed in my own to know that I have -at least- a touch of it. I'm fine with that. As far as I can tell, this is more of a genetic personality trait than some sort of tragic medical diagnosis, and short of a few irritated neighbors this hasn't ever brought negative consequences. On the contrary, my inability to sit still spurs me on to new challenges constantly.

Ok, I'm going to jump tracks for a second. I promise I'll bring it full circle.

I've always been fascinated by writer's block. I think most people are. Even people who aren't writers still have truckloads of great advice about what it is and how to deal with it. I personally don't really struggle with writer's block, or at least haven't yet. I never have a shortage of ideas. I have thousands of characters and story ideas in my head, and at least as many stashed around my house in old notebooks. For me, the difficulty isn't being able to write, it's choosing what to write. I don't want to spend months of my life working on a project that I won't end up publishing for one reason or another. So I spend a lot of time considering my ideas and planning before I ever get to the writing stage. I want to make sure the stories will be a fit for me, as well as for my readers.

When I do start writing I'm usually raring to go because I've already expended two weeks or more just thinking about my story, and taking notes. At the start of a novel, it's not unheard of for me to spend the first two weeks writing 5,000-7,500 words a day. That's a great pace, but it's also a burn-out pace. Eventually, I do feel my creative energy start to drain. I might have a problem figuring out how to write the next scene or chapter, and I start to flounder. That's where my ADD kicks in and saves the day.

See, I won't sit staring at a blank screen. I can't sit staring at a blank screen. Thirty seconds of that and I'm gone. I'll be off playing my guitar, building something, or planning to build something... that's how my mind works. Suddenly I'm out in the yard running a 2x4 through the table saw, or digging a hole to plant a new grapevine. For me, this kind of work is a sort of meditation. My mind starts to wander. I think about everything and anything except my novel. I think about the project I'm working on, the weather, the last project I forgot to finish or the next one I'd like to start... and wham, suddenly I stop in my tracks and realize I've just visualized a scene (or several) in the novel I thought I was stuck on.

So basically, those are my two "tricks" to keep writing:

  • The first is to think about my book for a while but force myself not to write it yet.
  • The second is to go work on some other creative project, something that turns my mind off or sends it in a new direction for a while. 
Either of these seem to have a way of letting my conscious mind turn the problem over to my subconscious. I believe Steven King has a similar process that he calls handing the work over to the guys in the "basement." (King's nonfiction memoir "On Writing" is a must-read. If you haven't, please do!) I've done this all my life, and for most of that time I didn't even realize what I was doing. It wasn't until I'd been writing a few years and hearing horror stories about writer's block that I finally examined my own routines.

Here's a good place to start: If you're hung up on a writing project and can't seem to get anywhere with it, give yourself a specific amount of time (one day, a week, maybe even two weeks) and tell yourself: "I'm not going to allow myself to write." After all, if there's one thing your subconscious likes, it's a challenge. And the truth is, you really are a writer because you want to be. Forcing yourself not to be creative is a great way to get those rebellious creative juices flowing.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Catharsis of Writing

One of the reasons I write is that it's cathartic. Much like reading, writing allows me to escape into another world, to go places in my mind that I can't or wouldn't in real life. It doesn't matter if my hero is forging a sword on top of a mountain or dangling from a San Francisco skyscraper, it's an escape. We don't all take the same approach but I think this is true for most writers.

One of the dangers of taking something we love and turning it into a full time job is that we risk losing that catharsis. It's inevitable that at some point, the thing we love most will become work, and that's when it ceases to be fun. Those are the moments when we look at the blank screen (or worse, tens of thousands of words that we have no idea what to do with) and ask ourselves if this is really what we want to do. I know in my case, the answer to that question has always been "yes." But I must admit, I've been asking that question more often this year than before. And it's my own fault.

At the end of 2012, I set myself a goal. I wanted to write four novels this year. By June, I'd finished three. I know some people will read that and scoff, like Dean Wesley Smith who can write that many novels in a week -or so it seems, sometimes. Others might raise an eyebrow and point out that many successful novelists take multiple years to complete just one title, so how good could my books be if I write four in a year? I'm somewhere in the middle. I know Steven King writes dozens of books and stories he doesn't publish (or at least that used to be the case) because his publishers didn't want to over-saturate their market. Many pulp fiction writers started their careers pumping out a book every month or two. James Patterson writes -partially- what, 30 or 40 a year? 

So I guess what I'm really talking about here is my comfort zone. I must admit that while writing those first three novels, I didn't like it. I felt pressured, even though that pressure was my own doing. I felt a massive obligation looming over me like some sort of dark cloud, and I wouldn't be able to stop working or enjoy anything else until I'd lived up to that expectation.

Well, here I am. It's the end of June and I've finished three novels. I'm now re-writing the first novel, which I finished back in February. I did my major editing during the first revision and now I'm working through the minor stuff like fleshing out scenes and adding description. And I'm kind of having fun. Maybe that's because I know I only have one more book to write this year, and it's already outlined. Maybe it's because I've almost accomplished my goal ahead of schedule and now the pressure is off. The funny thing is that, in retrospect, it wasn't that hard. It wasn't a grueling pace and even if I hadn't made a public declaration of my intentions, I still would have probably done the same amount of work. The only difference is that I put the pressure on myself to do it, and in doing so, I took some of the fun out of it.

So here's what I've learned:

I will continue to write books at a good pace, probably several a year, as long as it remains enjoyable. If I feel like I need more time, or I need to take a break, I will do so.The one thing that I'm going to keep in mind either way, is that I do this for the love of it. I've learned that I can write four books in a year and probably more. But I'm in this for the long haul, and I won't force myself to keep up a pace that will make me burn out. I don't have to. I'm in the enviable position of being a self-published writer with no deadlines other than the ones I set for myself. Why should I make this more work than it would be if I was traditionally published? I don't want it to be that way. I want writing to continue to be cathartic for me. I get enough stress from the real world.

Thanks for reading, and for those of us in the states, have a great 4th of July!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It's Fun Being Evil: A Word on Villains

I didn't post last week because I had the flu. Actually, as I begin writing this, I'm still experiencing the tail-end of this mother-of-all summer colds. It struck out of nowhere. I woke up one morning and sneezed all the way to the kitchen downstairs. Within an hour, I was back in bed. I spent the next few days in sort of a hazy stupor.This flu really caught me off guard, probably because it's been a while since I've been genuinely sick. In retrospect however, I think there were signs that I had been fighting this for a while. 

I think it was partly my own fault. I may have simply overworked and overstressed myself. The month of May was a whirlwind. With the school year winding down there came a seemingly endless run of concerts, open houses, graduations, and so on. At the same time, my part-time real world job suddenly got busy. In the midst of all this, I was working desperately to finish a novel before the kids came home for the summer. I had visiting relatives, parties, and a friend recovering from surgery whose demands on my time seemed to increase exponentially as I had less and less to give. I was also working hard to finish one of my projects (more on that in a later post) and that was where the exhaustion finally caught up with me. I felt worn out and I had a lot of aches and pains. I was having a hard time staying focused. And then, suddenly I was sick, and everything came grinding to a halt. 

Well, I'm feeling better now and I thought this would be a nice way to segue back into writing, especially because it's such a fun subject. I want to look at those cruel, evil antagonists working tirelessly behind the scenes to sabotage our heroes, to to trap them; to destroy them. They may be cardboard caricatures or they may be deeply damaged, multifaceted characters with motivations we can only guess at, but they all have one thing in common: They keep the story moving. 

They're not Evil, They're just Bad... right?

The earliest villains I remember reading about were the simplest. These were the wicked stepmothers of fairy tales, the cruel gods of Greek mythology, and the cunning thieves of Hardy Boys Mysteries. Most of them had simple motivations and they were easy to hate. They had a simple job and they did it well. But darker mysteries were to come. It wasn't long before I discovered fantasy and science fiction. I started reading books by H.G. Wells, Robert Howard, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (OK, not fantasy but kind of...) and Tolkien. These new villains were darker, more dangerous, and they weren't motivated by simple greed like a ring of motorcycle thieves in a Hardy Boys book. These villains craved power and domination. They wanted to make themselves like gods. But, despite their twisted motives and cruel means, they were still fairly simple characters. Then came Dracula and Frankenstein, true monsters who played the role of super-villains with incredible strength and power, and who were driven by primal urges beyond their control or understanding.

The first real epiphany I had about creating villains came from a movie. I still remember sitting in a theater and watching Tommy Lee Jones play against Steven Seagal in the film "Under Siege." (I know, I'm dating myself.) Tommy Lee Jones plays an antagonist with a grudge against the Navy, and Seagal is an ex Navy SEAL caught in the crossfire. The premise of the story is basically "Die Hard" at sea. But as the story unfolds (spoiler alert) we learn that Tommy Lee Jones' character William Strannix isn't just a mindless terrorist: he has a past. Once, he was a special operative working with the CIA. When a mission went sour, the CIA disavowed Strannix and tried to have him assassinated. Strannix responded by becoming an illegal arms dealer. His final mission of taking over a Navy ship and stealing its nuclear warheads is meant to be his greatest achievement, his ultimate revenge against the government that betrayed and tried to murder him.

Ironically, Seagal plays the antagonist as a classic anti-hero, a long-beloved archetype here in the U.S. He's dismissive and even openly hostile towards authority figures. He behaves as if none of the rules apply to him. In fact, in the eyes of some people around him, Ryback isn't a good guy but a villain. I don't have the film here so I can only paraphrase the scene as memory allows, but at one point in the film, Ryback (Seagal) has a conversation with Strannix where they both acknowledge that they're really not that different. They've both been misused and mistreated, and have had their careers destroyed by the same corrupt system. Ryback's argument that he's a better man because he continues to follow the rules seems to ring hollow, and the entire scene does an excellent job of displaying the almost intangible differences between these two men. We actually wonder how close the hero has come to being the villain, and if there's really any difference between them at all. For an old action flick, that's pretty deep.

Bad Guys become Good and Good Guys go Bad:

I don't know if that movie started it, but the sympathetic villain became so popular afterwards that it's now basically a trope. For a while there, you couldn't turn around without tripping over a sympathetic villain in an action film. I suppose it was the natural evolution of this that brought us into the new millennium with sociopaths taking up the role as heroes. I've never watched the show "Dexter" but I've been told it revolves around the premise of a serial killer who works for the police and only kills bad guys. They bill the character as a sociopath but that's pretty far from the technical definition of a sociopath. It's a gimmick, and from what I've seen and heard, it plays well with modern audiences. This is a full evolution of the anti-hero into a villain, but still managing to play the role of a hero.

Another portrayal of a sociopath-protagonist is the character of Patrick Jane in the TV series "The Mentalist." Jane's background is that he was a stage psychic, a man gifted with the ability to read subtle signs (kind of like Sherlock Holmes) and who used that gift to shamelessly bilk unsuspecting followers out of millions of dollars. At one point, Jane taunts a serial killer who then slays his wife and child, and that's how he ends up working with the cops. Throughout the series, Jane gives us glimpses of a sense of honor and nobility that makes us wonder if he's really a sociopath or if he's just playing a role, but the rest of the time the character is practically a walking definition of the word. He shows no empathy or sympathy for others. He continues to shamelessly manipulate people for his own ends, disregarding their feelings or well-being. He seems to view his fellow human beings as tools and nothing more.

But the writers use that tiny spark of goodness as a tease to keep us watching to find out what happens to Jane and his team. They have to. Without that spark, Jane would be a pure sociopath and nobody would like him or care about what happens to him. Which ironically, is one of the ways sociopaths manipulate us in real life, because we want to believe that they're just misunderstood, even though they're not. One difficulty with this series is that with the protagonist so clearly defined as a sociopath, the writers had to figure out how to define the villain. They ultimately made him into a "criminal mastermind" archetype, but remained vague about his history or motives.

Maybe we're all just Bad Guys, deep down inside:

This brings us to my last example. At the top of the heap for bad guys and bad-good guys is the Netflix original series "House of Cards."  This series is filled with sociopaths. It takes place -where else?- in Washington, D.C. Our protagonist, Frank Underwood (played brilliantly by Kevin Spacey) is a senator who will do anything to get what he wants, including destroying lives, careers, and even committing murder. He openly tells people he plans to use them and that when he's done using them, he will throw them away. And he does. Spacey's acting is riveting, and there's no shortage of talent anywhere in the series. Production and writing are top notch from the opening scene all the way to the end of the first (and only at this point) season.

But there's not a lick of goodness in most of these characters. They really are bad guys, even if we don't want them to be. We seem now to have reached an apex where one can no longer tell who is the hero and who is the villain. I'll leave you with a few more ideas for modern villain archetypes, and this link to a long list of villain tropes:

  • The Betrayer
  • The Manipulator
  • The Double-Agent
  • The Tyrant
  • The Assassin
  • The Godfather
  • The CEO
  • The Corrupt Politician
  • The Abused Child turned Serial Killer
  • The Criminal Mastermind
  • The Psychopath

It can be fun and educational to study other writers' villains and anti-heroes, but the real fun comes when we begin creating our own. If anything, lists like those above give us starting points so that we can make a villain who is new and different from any other. Why crank out another re-tread when we can take our characters to places new and exciting? And with all the attention we give to our heroes, don't the villains deserve that much? We've seen villains turn into heroes and heroes who are truly evil. Where else can these archetypes go? 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Summer Slump. And Canoes!

A handmade plywood canoe (see link below)

Well, it's official. Sometime during the last two weeks, my sales plummeted. So far -though my sales have probably dropped by 30%- my sales-ranks have only dropped slightly. That means I haven't lost much "market share," but perhaps a little visibility. This is the phenomenon we Indies refer to as the "summer slump." It's the effect summer has on e-book sales, and from what I've heard, on book sales in general.

This time of year, millions of families drop out of their usual routines to go on vacation. They take time off work and they leave school for summer break. They pack up their things and head for the beach or the mountains. The inevitable result is that sales of bikinis and suntan lotion skyrocket, while the book market takes a deep breath. I personally have been shopping canoes.

I'm not sure where my fascination with boats came from. I'm not into fishing at all, but I love paddling a canoe down the river or sailing a boat across a lake. Maybe it's just the sense of adventure, or the spray of cool water on a summer day. Maybe it's the companionship. Heck, I'd also be happy with a Spanish galleon or a Chinese junk (Who wouldn't!?). Anything that gets me out on the water and away from the routine of life. An added bonus is that larger boats have room to store food and gear, and you can more or less live on them. That's the quintessential adventure... although not at all practical for most of us.

A gorgeous homemade cedar strip canoe (see link for info)

Anyway, I've always wanted to own a canoe. I'd like something big enough for two people but small enough to fit in my truck (which has a 6 foot bed). Such a canoe probably doesn't exist. So far, all the canoes I've found are so long that they require a special luggage rack to carry them, and most are probably too heavy for one person to carry any distance. The smaller ones that might work are plastic garbage and wildly overpriced for what you get.

I found a great deal on Craigslist a few days ago: a used fiberglass canoe for $100! The ad stated that it needed work, and one of the pictures showed the fiberglass had begun delaminating along the top at the rear end.I have some experience with fiberglass, so I went to take a look.

It turned out that the canoe had been damaged and repaired numerous times, and the quality of the repairs was wanting. The owner informed me he had planned on chopping the back three feet completely off and attaching a small motor to make a runabout. For this canoe, that was about the only option. Unfortunately, I don't want a motorized runabout, I want a canoe. I thanked him for his time and went on my way.

I'm still searching, but not finding many deals. Canoes are one of those things that seem to hold their value pretty well, especially right now at the beginning of summer. So I've been looking into homemade plywood or cedar canoes. These home-project canoes can be made by one person in two or three weeks, and when done correctly, they are breathtaking. Of course, they're also a lot of work and can still be expensive, especially if you go with cedar. In the end I may have to forego this little dream of mine for a bit longer. If I do decide to take on another project, I'll have to finish the one I'm working on first. These are the little sacrifices we make to save our marriages :-)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

Is it just me?

...Or is this a bizarre year?

I've had a lot going on in my personal life the last few months and it has really been a struggle to write. In the last six months my family has lost all three of our pets, one to cancer, another to old age, and the third to an accident (he was hit by a car in the street near my house). For my children, this has been a crash course in coping with mortality. It hasn't been a cakewalk for my wife and me, either. 

My part-time real world job has been picking up. Unfortunately, it's essentially an on-call job, which means that when something needs to be done, I have to drop everything and do it. Since I only have a few hours a day to write as it is, this means my personal writing time has been chopped approximately in half.  On top of that, a family friend has been dealing with health problems and ended up having neck surgery a few weeks ago. For most of this year, he had been steadily losing the ability to use his hands or even walk. He couldn't sign checks, drive a car, or even clip his own nails. And with no family in the area, he really had no one to turn to but us. We've been happy to help when we could, taking him on shopping trips or hospital visits, helping out with the routines that we tend to take for granted when we're healthy. Slowly but steadily, his health is now improving and it looks like he'll thankfully make a full recovery in the next few weeks. It hasn't been easy for him.

I also received a phone call from my brother recently, and learned that he's planning on moving back to the area. He's been going through personal issues and has finally reached the conclusion that it's time to make a new start. I'm thrilled that he'll be moving back, and I've been spending a lot of time helping him look for work, housing etc., which is no small task considering he has six (!) children. It will be nice having the family together again. I know at least one of the younger ones will be staying with us for the summer while my brother gets settled. As happy as this makes me, the reality is that I know it will present certain challenges for coming months and probably the rest of the year. 

I could go on, but I don't think I need to. What it boils down to is that I've been trying to find an hour here and there to work on my novels, but it feels like I'm swimming upstream. Writing fiction is a creative process, and it's not the sort of thing I can turn on and off like a faucet. Small routine distractions are hard enough, but when the entire world around you is in turmoil, it can quickly become overwhelming. That said, I have managed to finish two first drafts and half of a third, so I'm still well on my way to reaching my goal of writing four novels this year. Unfortunately, those drafts will need a lot of work and I just don't know how much time I'll have for them, so I won't be sure when my next books will be coming out until the end of summer or early fall. 

So is it just me, or is this happening everywhere? It seems like the economy is improving and we're seeing some brights spots in the job and real estate markets, but at the same time everything else seems to be falling apart. Ah, well. Maybe it's time for some positive thinking exercises.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

All for One?

The greatest danger to Indie writers right now, in my humble opinion, is marginalization. No, I don't mean setting the proper margins on our manuscripts (although that is very important also). I mean allowing the entire movement to be marginalized by our behavior and the way outsiders perceive us.

We live in tumultuous times. We've been watching the legacy publishing industry going through convulsions for ten years now -or more- as it struggles to adapt to this new digital paradigm. When the same thing happened to the music industry, the RIAA's first response was to blame music fans. Metalli-whatever (whose name shall not be spoken!) sued their own fans for downloading pirated music, and spearheaded the self-destructive movement that nearly toppled the industry. Music labels began installing anti-piracy software on their CDs that actually kept them from playing on thousands of types of CD players, thereby crippling the product and forcing even more fans to find alternative sources for the music. 

The publishing industry similarly installed DRM on their e-books, making it so that readers couldn't effectively transfer or store novels they had paid for. Then they took it one step further and decided to punish the authors by stealing digital rights they had never specified in their contracts, and by forcing the authors' backlists into obscurity. At the same time, they shored up their bottom line by dumping midlist authors and all but closing the doors to new talent. 

Despite all of this, I'm excited. We live in unprecedented times. Today, anyone can write a book or record an album and upload it to the proper distributors, and be making money in minutes. Not everyone who tries will succeed (they never have) but now more than ever we have the opportunity to at least try. And with each one of us who does succeed, the rest do a little better. Every Hugh Howey or Amanda Hocking represents millions of readers now willing to check out Indie authors. Their success gives us all validation.

And yet we've all heard stories of Indie authors who go around slandering the work of their "competitors." They post fake reviews. They marginalize. They give thousands of potential readers one more reason not to pick up a book by an Indie, and therefore they limit their own market potential at the same time. Some have even speculated that employees of legacy publishing houses have taken part in this slanderous and fraudulent activity (a speculation not entirely unprecedented).

Not too long ago there was a grassroots political movement known as "Occupy." It was a fast-growing left wing movement similar to the right wing (or libertarian) Tea Party movement. The two movements started the same way, with voters who were fed up with the two-party political system and their dysfunctional government. Both movements spread like wildfire. They affected political careers and threatened to topple the status quo. In short order both were vilified, demonized, and infiltrated by agent provocateurs who sabotaged the movements from inside. You don't have to agree with Occupy or the Tea Party in order to see what happened. They appeared out of nowhere, presented a threat to the status quo, and were immediately marginalized to the point that we no longer hear about them. They might as well not exist. And they weren't just attacked by political opponents. They were attacked and marginalized by their own political parties.

Is this what we want for Independent Publishers and Authors? Are we going to allow this incredible movement to be toppled, not only by attacks from those who would protect the status quo, but by ourselves as well? If there's a problem with the Indie movement, it's not that we're out there spamming ads for our books on public forums or hurling insults at our critics, it's that we are apparently willing to cannibalize each other under the false pretense that another Indie's success might damage us. That's not the way it works. Every time one of us succeeds, the chances get a little better for the rest of us. Let's not screw this thing up.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wine Movies you may (not) want to see!

Contains Spoilers!

I've been on a wine-movie kick lately, but it's been a challenge for me. The problems I have are:

A) there are too few wine movies, and
B) most of them aren't available on Netflix streaming.

This means that I have to search for them, put them in my que, and then wait. I hate waiting. What can I say, this is the digital age. I want it now, not in three days. Fortunately, I'm blessed in that I own quite a few movies. I have a few I can watch whenever I want... Like Ratatouille.

Okay, it's not technically a "wine" themed movie; not in so many words. But it's a food movie and wine plays an integral part in several major scenes. Also, it's just great entertainment. The story is clever and well-developed and the animation is nothing short of brilliant. What's not to like? I blogged about this movie a while back, just because it's sooooo cool.

Then we have Bottle Shock, which I don't own but is available currently on Netflix:

I really like this somewhat bizarre movie. It does a great job of capturing the eclectic nature of Northern California, which may have been true in the 70's but still persists to this day. The father is a conservative ex-lawyer who dreams of nothing more than his own successful winery in a time and place that makes his dream appear somewhat ludicrous to his peers. His son is an unaspiring pot-smoking dropout with no goals or discipline, but an inescapable love for his father and a deep desire to see him succeed.

Alan Rickman brilliantly plays a European wine snob (he's English, not French!) who sets up a blind tasting competition between French and Californian wines... and here's the clincher: It really happened! This movie is based on a true story, and these people are real! 

Does that mean the real people resemble the characters in the movie? I have no idea. I've read criticisms that the movie is highly fictionalized, but also read that it was very true to history. I suppose I could drive over to Calistoga and visit the winery Chateau Montelena to get the truth (it's about twenty minutes from my house), but then they'd expect me to buy something and this writer cannot yet afford to buy wine by the case. Maybe someday...

Blood into Wine:

This documentary is about rock star Maynard James Keenan (singer from Tool) and his venture into wine-making. Wow, where do i even start? Most rock-star winemakers are tools who buy premade wines with custom labels and then market it to a bunch of fans desperate for validation -even if it comes in the form of a bottle of shitty wine that will make their friends puke all night. Not Maynard. This guy not only makes and bottles his own wine, he moves to Arizona and founds his own one-of-a-kind vineyard!

Now, I get why he chose Arizona. It's the soil, the weather, the sun... the terrior. I get it. But if I had this guy's fame and fortune, I would've chosen something a little closer to home... Like my dream of a few acres in the Sonoma Dry Creek, Chalk Hill, or Alexander Valley appellations. But nonetheless I applaud his bravado and avant-garde thinking. The truth is, wine can be grown just about anywhere if you're careful, you do your research, and you're not too picky about varietals. 


Another documentary, this time one that takes a look at the politics of wine, both in the U.S.A. and in the old world as well. If you're really into this sort of thing, it's not bad. There are some cool characters, but a lot of people come off looking like genuine jerks as well. I really don't know much about any of these characters, other than it's a documentary and they are, in fact, real people. Like most real people, they're not always at their best in front of the camera and it's hard to tell if these people are really so out of touch with reality that common courtesy escapes them, or if the film was edited to make them look worse than they really are. Is it worth 2 1/2 hours of your time? Well, I watched the whole thing, but my wife fell asleep. Granted, I'm a winemaker and she is not.

French Kiss:

This film... it's a romance about a tragically co-dependent Meg Ryan who pursues her cheating fiance to France, and finds herself falling for a thief instead. Wine plays a minor role in this film because the thief is an aspiring winemaker from a French wine-making family who wants to start his own vineyard. I like the spice-set the thief put together to teach himself and others to recognize flavors and scents in wine, but the premise that he steals an American vine and smuggles it to France so he can crossbreed it with French grapes is somewhat ludicrous.

A Good Year:

Stars Russell Crowe and directed by Ridley Scott.  Again, wine plays a minor role in this film about an English banker who inherits his uncle's ch√Ęteau in France. Not a bad movie, but definitely not an action thriller. Don't look at this as a follow-up to Gladiator. Expect romance and drama; you'll be fine.

Sideways: What the hell do I say about this movie? It won tons of awards and changed the way people in America think about wine. And the first time I saw it, I hated it. For starters, the main character and his sidekick were both jerks, and that's putting it delicately. They're shallow sociopaths who don't think twice about lying, cheating, or stealing from people they supposedly care about. In one definitive scene, the main character (a man in his thirties) steals money from his mother's sock drawer. A few minutes later, his best friend announces his goal of cheating on his fiance while they're on vacation. Suffice it to say, if I met either of these guys in real life I'd be tempted to punch them in the nose rather than share a bottle of wine with them. And it breaks my heart to think that this movie single-highhandedly nearly destroyed the wine market for Merlot because the protagonist hates Merlot (and yet seems to love wines blended with Merlot). 

I'm not saying Merlot is the best thing ever, but it's a good wine when done right, with soft tannins and lush, layered flavors. There is a reason Merlot is blended with just about every red out there. It gives body to weak wines and softens the tannins and acidity of Cabernet (which is just too easy to grow for this fictional connoisseur).

Eventually, the characters do find some -limited- growth and redeem themselves, in their own limited ways. After cheating on his fiance multiple times, Jack finally realizes that without her he's nothing and finds a rare moment of humility. Miles, the protagonist of the story, risks his neck and sacrifices his already blurred moral values to protect his good friend. A small thing in a character so flawed, to be sure, but it gives us something to believe in.

One of the things I missed -or forgot- about Sideways, was the subplot about the main character being an author. How did I miss that? Or, alternatively, How did I forget? It must be the fact that I hated the characters so much in the first viewing that I really wanted to distance myself from them in every way possible. "Miles" was a spineless wimp with major character defects, not the least of which were his snobbish, pretentious, and half-educated opinions on wine. On top of that, he was perfectly willing to lie about his friend's illicit affairs and steal thousands of dollars from his own mother. So what if he was an aspiring writer? I wanted nothing to do with him.

Well, it is an interesting twist in retrospect. The guy's an English teacher who writes a book and then can't find a publisher. He does have an agent, and she tactfully informs him that publishers aren't interested because they don't know how to market his book and the industry is falling apart because it's "all about the marketing." If there's anything worth taking from this movie, it's not what they say about wine but what they say about the publishing industry back in 2004.Maybe I should've paid more attention to this movie back then and saved myself a few years of futile submissions, painful rejections, and unbounded neglect.