Man with a vision

This weekend was a busy one. Church takes up a good and valuable portion of Sunday, and there were youth activities to tend to, plus I got started on the short story contest I recently entered. The few moments of inactivity yesterday afternoon were set aside to finish reading George Lucas: A Life, by Brian Jay Jones.unnamed

I’m not much for biographies, but this was too much to pass up. Star Wars developed from an independent film supported by a major studio into a worldwide cultural phenomenon unparalleled in popular entertainment history. Reading about the man behind the myth was fascinating, to borrow a phrase from the rival Star Trek fandom.

While I enjoyed learning about Lucas’s early life, and the events that influenced his future career as a filmmaker, what really sparked my interest was his passion for his projects. Lucas repeatedly ignored film critics and naysayers to create what he wanted, his way. Sure, many of them were commercial flops, but it didn’t matter to him one whit.

Now, it’s all well and good to have that kind of confidence when you have gobs of money at your disposal. There’s no denying the success of Star Wars – and especially its attendant marketing tsunami – provided Lucas with the capital necessary to bankroll his artistic vision. And, lack of commercial appeal does often mean that his films were missing something. That said, it’s still amazing he had the fortitude and courage to say, “No, this is my vision, and I’m doing it this way.” Few people possess the guts.

It’s encouraging to anyone who picks up a pen or paintbrush, or toils over a keyboard or a musical instrument. Yes, there is a craft any artist must learn before embarking on a project. The foundation must be established before the piece of art can be built atop it. But does that mean something you created is no good because it doesn’t sell well? Lucas didn’t think so. He was happy with his films because they turned out the way he envisioned.

I highly recommend this book. It was slow at times, and of course, it’s an unofficial biography, but the insights from family, friends, and colleagues are well worth the read.

What’s a guy to do with a monster in his living room?

I don’t ever work on one project at a time. Even while pounding out the daily word count for The Lightningfall, I’m outlining or taking notes or writing snippets for other stories.

Here’s a sneak peek at the opening to a novel I’ve got in the works. Doesn’t have a title yet but the project name is “Starspike,” after the weapon wielded by the hero.

Mercury Hale is a young man living in the city of San Camillo, earning a paycheck from the shadowy Procyon Foundation by banishing trans-dimensional creatures called astral fiends.

Check out the first chapter, albeit in rough form. (The language is rated PG-13. Fair warning before you proceed beyond the concept art.)

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Mercury Hale uses the starspike against an astral fiend. Note the mushed pizza box at bottom right – hence our hero’s vexation.

Chapter One

I was eating a pepperoni pizza when a monster crashed through my apartment wall.

Pepperoni’s one of mankind’s greatest achievements, right up there with nuclear power and the Moon landing. You give me a stick of it, plus a bottle of water, and drop me in the Sierra Madres, I’d walk out whistling a cheesy tune from a terrible commercial.

But back to the monster.

It cracked the drywall and splintered studs. A white cloud billowed across the room, scratching at my eyes and making me miss one of the best parts of the giant robot movie on TV. Ripped apart my favorite poster, the Cowboy Bebop leftover from college.

The monster looked like he could have stepped off Mars before stopping by the lovely city of San Camilo. Gray tentacles swirled around black core speckled with starry spots, which swirled like a disturbed snow globe. Its “head” was only called that because “big lump of slobbering fangs and three glowing red eye-balls smack in the center of the core” was less concise.

Right. So much for rooting against fictional kaiju. I had the mini version in my living room.

I kicked off my coffee table, spilling the last half of the pizza. It squished face down onto the wood floor. Dammit! My chair tipped back, greasy cheese smeared on the right arm. Being as it was powdered blue, that was a dandy of a stain. Wasn’t going to come out any time soon.

Halfway through I wondered, Should I close the curtains? There’s probably a shit ton of people in the buildings across the way getting a great view of my acrobatics and a nightmare creature. Not my problem, my brain reminded. Good enough for me. I had more pressing concerns.

My tumble carried me clear to the back wall, where a bookshelf teeters on a pair of broken legs. They were reinforced by duct tape. I was going to need to buy more of that. Without turning my gaze from the monster, and remaining crouched in my battle stance, I picked through a lopsided row of Tom Clancy paperback novels.

The starspike was tucked behind them.

Why not? A safe would be impractical. Have you ever tried to unlock one while fending off astral fiends? I have. So, no safe.

The monster slashed through the room. Tentacles lined with shimmering, razor-edged claws disemboweled the chair. White stuffing exploded. The eyes pulsed with fire, and though the beast couldn’t speak, it let loose a shrill hiss that digs through my head.

I whipped the starspike in front of me, and twisted the center with both hands. It was a dull brass cylinder, two feet long, riven with dents and inlaid with boxy patterns. Both ends separate into two segments. They leapt apart. Brilliant white light tinged with yellow ignited between all five sections, and stabbed out from either end.

The whole thing hummed, a subtle vibration barely audible—though with the monster caterwauling in front of me you’d have been hard pressed to hear it. But I felt it. Every molecule of my body trembled in sync.

“You should’ve knocked,” I growled.

Tentacles lashed out. I rolled aside. They snapped the left side of the bookcase, splitting the supports. Edgar Allen Poe took a header, with Jack London plummeting right after.

I brought the starspike down on the nearest appendage. The aim was dead on—the blazing energy between the top and second segments seared the glistening skin. Flesh sizzled, and the smell accompanying the smoke made me wish I’d quit eating two slices ago.

The monster was pissed. Understandably so, when you consider his primary weapon got turned into a shriveled, blackened stump. Served him right, for being a terrible guest.

Bastard broke my favorite chair.

I know, it’s petty, and you’re thinking, Dude! There’s a monster in your living room and you’re whaling on it with an enchanted pike! Forget the chair!

Problem is, you cling to normalcy in my line of work. Overemphasize it even. Otherwise, the nightmares come back.

And trust me, they suck.

The monster barreled for me as fast as an airline. His tentacles pounded at the floor which, thankfully, held up way better than the stupid bookshelf. I planted the starspike on the floor and vaulted over his back, twisting my body through the air. Always nice not bashing one’s head on one’s ceiling.

I landed behind him, and jabbed the spike deep into the swirling mass of his—well, his ass, I suppose. Don’t ask me about the bodily functions of an astral fiend.

Flashes of light rippled up his hide. Sparks spit from his tentacles. The monster flailed about, chipping bricks with those damned tentacles. I swore they’d doubled in length. One of them speared the TV.

Bad news for my movie marathon. Good news for my general health and well-being. More flashes poked through its hide, like sun peeking between the blinds on a morning when you just don’t want to get up.

The monster reversed himself—and I do mean reversed, not doubled-back, not flipped over. One second he was facing away from me, and the next, his whole body inverted so the front replaced the back and vice versa. Nice trick.

The remaining three tentacles slammed down on me with the force of a collapsing building. Only the starspike kept me from getting mashed potato-ized. A crack of thunder accompanied their impact on the weapon, and the burst of light left me nauseated. The monster’s eyes dimmed a bit, even if that was a product of my imagination.

I gritted my teeth. Sweat slicked my hair to my forehead. I could smell it, too—my fear, present as perspiration and B.O., mingled with the aroma of salty cheesy crust and the sour, tickling the back of your throat gagging nastiness of the fiend. Kept this up any longer and I was going to hurl.

Good thing I’ve got two weapons.

I slipped down onto both legs, letting the monster’s tentacles drive me closer to the floor. A quick yank was enough to pull the center of the starspike apart, breaking it into two halves comprised of three segments crackling with their peculiar power. My left arm wielded one in the interest of me not getting pasted. The second I brought around in a sweeping arc, channeling all my determination into one blow.

Sounded like a gunshot in a closet. The monster’s hiss mutated into a gut-wrenching scream. A sudden wave of cold washed over me, as tangible as if I’d been dropped into a frigid bath. Tentacles broke free from the starspike, and finally found me.

The freezing sensation intensified. My breath came out in feathery gasps. Frost crept up my arms, and my fingertips turned blue. What would it feel like when my heart stopped? The beat was already way too slow.

Not going to happen.

I drew as much power as I dared off the starspike, letting golden energy shoot into my arms. Heat tingled through every pore, fighting every square inch against the cold. I didn’t dare remove my half a weapon from the monster’s gut. It was the only thing keeping it from shattering me into a thousand pieces.

Can’t. Let. Him. Win.

It takes every ounce of my concentration to shove the upper half of the starspike forward, grimacing with each inch gained, until its glowing top edges into the monster’s maw. Is the thing glowing? Blue flickers deep in its gullet can’t be good. It signals to me, Your ass is about to get flash-frozen.

Too late for that. I will the starspike to rejoin.

White-gold energy scythes down into the fiend’s mouth, and up into its torso. They collide in that blue light. Everything goes silent—no hissing, no screaming, no crackling, not even our breathing. Dead air.

Then it explodes. A great blue flash, followed by a sound like ­snap-boom, and the astral fiend dissipates. And when I say dissipates, I mean pops like a soap bubble. Bits of swirly fiend hide splatter my walls, my floors, my broken chair, my books, and worst of all, my face. It’s as if—well, it’s just nasty. Gooey gray bits, dripping blue liquid that dims from LED bright in the seconds to follow.

The spike’s energy fades, too. It’s going dormant. I get it. I twist the halves and the segments clank back together.

“Okay.” My voice sounds as if I’m talking through a megaphone. “That was terrible.”

I slump down in what’s left of the chair. The final bits of stuffing wheeze out, coating me with man-made snow. My phone’s under the crushed pizza box. I strip a slice of pepperoni off the screen. Tastes fine. Takes me a few minutes to order a replacement poster.

The living room is trashed. Plus side, the astral fiend didn’t make it into the bedroom, or the kitchen, or the bathroom. Still, this meant I was never getting the security deposit back. And I really, really didn’t want to move again.

What was it going to be this time? Fire department? Police? Maybe the super would just stomp up the stairs and tell me to shut up. Someone was bound to notice the hole in the wall. Gave me a great view of the hallway.

My phone rang. The number came across unidentified, a series of numbers I’d never seen before. Could’ve been a telemarketer.

Sure. One with impeccable timing. I answered. “Mercury Hale.”

“It’s banished.”

“You’re not supposed to call me.”

“Just answer the question.”

“First off, not a question. Second—seriously? How about, ‘Oh, Mercury, I’m so glad you’re alive!’ Right?”

“Oh, Mercury, I am so glad you are alive.”

I rolled my eyes. “Thanks, Laura. How’s it going? Having a good Friday night?”

“I am monitoring astral incursions.”

“Did you happen to monitor the fiend that just ripped a hole in my wall and crushed my pizza?” I found another slice under the chair. With the fight over, my absent appetite returned with a vengeance. I took a huge bite and kept on talking, mouth half-full. “Yeah, he broke a lot of stuff.”

A deep sigh. Normally, I hear a woman’s voice on the phone, and I’m a happy camper. This, though, was as much fun as getting a late night call from my supervisor. Oh, wait. I was getting a late night call from my supervisor. “We can have you moved in 24 hours.”

“Nuh-uh. Not this time. You’ve got the time. Get someone over here to fix up the place. You’ve got to do your usual hiding and explanations and shit.”

She was quiet so long I thought she’d hung up. “Fine. Stay inside. Proceed as if your evening went as planned.”

Then he really hung up. Which left me with a blank phone in my right hand, squashed pizza in the left, and a gaping hole where a perfectly good movie was supposed to be playing.

“Yeah,” I muttered. “Great evening.”

More fantasy, please

Word count update: today I hit the 60,000 word mark for The Lightningfall, the sequel to The Bloodheart. Marked the occasion by playing this game:

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Throwing swords since 1986.

And hey! What a stopping point for the night. The bad guys faced a tremendous reversal, right after the heroes suffered a critical blow. Always nice to balance things out. (No spoilers of course, because spoilers are of the devil.)

I’m thoroughly enjoying this novel, since it marks a return to the only fantasy world I’ve created. There’s also a raft of new characters who liven up the proceedings, giving Captain Bowen Cord and his were-fox buddy Niall Phelan more than enough to keep them adventuring.

The story will raise some interesting questions for them, as well, when it comes to dealing with loss, revenge, and power.

As for the dragons, well, they may make an appearance – but something tells me there will be an entirely different kind of mystical creature waiting in the wings.

 

‘Our eventual goal is to not need the driver at all’

I like to drive. Give me some decent music, I can happily drive for a long stretch. Out here in Wyoming, it’s easy to disengage your brain from everything else and focus on nothing but the road. Why?

There’s very little in the way of traffic.

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I-25 in northeastern Wyoming. There’s a whole lot of nothing on the road. 

There’s a downside to the lovely scenery and the lack of traffic: boredom. When you drive the 300 miles from Buffalo to Cheyenne, with only a handful of towns and one city in between, there’s precious little to occupy your attention. Great for a writer’s daydreams. Bad for driver attention spans.

Lately I’ve been mulling over the rapidly expanding field of self-driving cars. The advances made in the past few years are astonishing. Then there’s an article in USA Today this morning, linked from a writer at the Arizona Republic, talking about how test drivers of the self-driving cars operated by Waymo “only have to take control about once every 5,000 miles” — a quarter as often as they did a year ago.

If that rate of technological improvement holds steady, in a decade, we could see cars without any driver intervention become commonplace. What does that bode for travel 20, 30, 40 years … down the road?

Waymo is the name for Google’s self-driving project, in case you’re wondering, and while I  think it sounds goofy, you can’t knock their progress. The cars have gotten so good at avoiding obstacles that drivers complain about them being too cautious. Really? If the cars are overly worried about hitting pedestrians and other vehicles now, when the kinks are streamlined and they can do so without “brief hesitation,” what does this bode for human drivers?

Easy enough to imagine a future in which we unreliable humans are forbidden from taking control of an automated car.

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According to Autoblog last year, two US Senators prodded the NHSTA to push for better autonomous driving regulation so the technology could become mainstream faster. Not just an urban concern – the senators were from New Jersey and Nebraska, two states that have as much in common as our primary candidates for the presidency.

Imagine the initial outcry – from people like me included. How long before we see political debates in which driving is debated as a Constitutional right? (I know driving isn’t specifically in there but trust me, somebody somewhere is bound to bring it up.) At what point does increased safety infringe on personal freedoms? All things 9/11 forced us to examine, only now they’d be considered from a new standpoint.

I suspect, however, that the bulk of drivers – especially in urban areas – would gladly turn over the keys to a robot if accidents declined to the point fatalities were unheard of.

Then of course, there’s the outcry that would occur if and when truck drivers are replaced. This fall Uber delivered 50,000 cans of beer with its self-driving unit, Otto.

You know how many commercial truck drivers there are in the US? 3.5 million. On the one hand, Uber claims the current navigation system only works on highways, which are less complex to drive than side roads. They also want to help cover a shortage in available drivers.

On the other hand, what happens if the navigation systems progress to the point they can easily drive those aforementioned side roads?

And how do you combat the almost-guaranteed hacking or disrupting of car navigational systems?

It’s an incredible technology that, like all others, raises a host of questions that can’t be answered all at once.

For me, I’ll continue to enjoy the freedom of driving — and sometimes rue the tedium it entails. It’s a funny combination of feelings associated with the piece of equipment that has most changed our society in the past century.

How it changes in the next 50 years will stun us all.

Back on track

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These go in The Lightningfall, for one of the antagonists. Not for use while writing.

November and December were slow months for me, writing-wise. I wrote up a short story based in The Bloodheart universe, and worked on edits for a couple projects, but basically was bouncing from thing to thing without focus. It was like I said, “Oh, good idea, let’s become a human Ping-Pong ball for a while!”

Fun for creativity? Yes. Good for productivity? No.

So, I did the New Year’s Resolution thing. I picked one project and dedicated to writing 5 pages a day on it. I cheated and started prior to my birthday, after Christmas.

Success! Got back on track.

I’ve written approximately 20,000 words since Christmas. Huzzah! Every page typed is a page closer to finishing The Lightningfall, which is the sequel to The Bloodheart.

Doesn’t mean I’m not taking notes on my other projects–and some days, yes, making yourself write is a pain. But it’s always worth it at the end of those five pages.

 

 

Year in Review: A Tale of Five Stories

Before I get too far, I’m looking ahead. What’s coming up in 2017? Several things. You know me: there’s never just one project.

  1. Publication of Man Behind the Wheel, a sci-fi novel set in a near future USA where it’s illegal to drive
  2. Preparing an outline for a third Takamo novel
  3. Edits of Airfoil: Hotspots, a short story which will be featured in a February/March anthology published by Crossover Alliance
  4. (Possible) publication of Airfoil: Origins, the novel that inspired the short story
  5. Edits and eventual publication of the second Takamo novel, Strife’s Cost
  6. Writing a sequel to The Bloodheart, a sequel to For Us Humans, an urban fantasy/scifi/superhero novel called Starspike, and a doppelganger story

Whew! Yeah, I’ll be busy. But that’s the fun part. The goal is to get The Lightningfall (sequel to The Bloodheart) done first, while likely writing bits of other books. Of course, there’s also several other project ideas floating around.

Okay, so back to 2016. Here’s what happened in my writing world this year.

Empire’s Riftempires-rift-front-388x600

I finished the manuscript for the first novel in the Takamo Universe, and saw it published by WordFire Press/Kevin J. Anderson Presents in October. (Actually started writing in December 2015, but hey, close enough.) It’s now listed in the Baen catalog. That’s pretty exciting! There’s a sequel coming up in 2017, tentatively titled Strife’s Cost, that chronicles the continuing adventures of several primary characters.

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Back in April, Castalia House published this e-book anthology about religious robots. It’s meant to pay homage to Asimov’s I, Robot, and I think accomplishes the goal nicely. My short story is Daily Bread and tackles a problem with one of the faithful – how to deal with the Lord’s Supper/Communion.

For Us Humansforushumans2-388x600

This novel was a work in progress for nearly three years. It finally came to fruition in May, when I published it through Amazon/Createspace. Funny, Mitt Romney is the president seeking re-election in the background of the story world, but I never would have guessed how the real election was going to turn out six months later. An alternate timeline in which our world is part of an alien federation seems less strange.

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Seven years ago, Marcher Lord Press launched my writing career with the publication of The Word Reclaimed. After a five-year hiatus from that story universe, I returned readers to The Face of the Deep series with The Word Endangered. It follows the adventures of a surveying ship and its crew as they face a new threat to the interstellar Realm of Five, 10 years after the events depicted in the original novels. Writing this one at the end of 2015–and then seeing it published this fall–was like visiting long-lost friends, and if I get another chance to go back to see them, I’ll be quite happy.

bail-out-cover-front-1250x2000-500x800Bail Out

This short story takes place in the same universe as For Us Humanssix months later. The captain and crew run a planet-hopping company with the goal of helping alien species where only humans can get the job done. I hope to spin it off into a novel at some point.

As always, thanks to all my readers, and I hope you enjoy what’s to come next!

Rescue aliens in ‘Bail Out’

Bail Out Cover Front (1250x2000) (500x800).jpgMy short story Bail Out: A Human Interventions Job is up for grabs on Amazon. It’s a concept I came up with as part of an anthology submission, but it didn’t get accepted for the mix, so me being me I went ahead and published it.

“Rycole aliens hire Captain Todd Nazaryan and the crew of the starship Chesapeake to retrieve the lost complement of an exploratory vessel. It’s all in a day’s work for the five members of Human Interventions as they risk their necks to finish the jobs other species of the Panstellar Consociation won’t do…

“The ones only human beings will get done.”

Bail out takes place in the same story world established in For Us Humans. An alien federation brings Earth into the fold after first contact in June 2001, setting up an alternate timeline in which 9/11 never happened. Humans are taking their first steps into a wider galaxy.

I also put together a paperback version, which includes sketches not found in the e-book. Why? Because I wanted one to keep on myself, being a physical book aficionado. The paperback’s Amazon entry will be linked to the ebook in a few days. It’ll make a great stocking stuffer – seriously, you can roll it up. I tried.

In other writing news, I completed a short story set in The Bloodheart universe that I’m editing this week. Writing continues, albeit at a slower pace, because I’m involved in a community production of And Then There Were None. That’s right, I’m in a play.

My evolution beyond high school introvert continues!

 

‘The Word Endangered’ – Return to Space

It’s here! The Word Endangered is available in paperback, as are the first books of The Face of the Deep series – The Word Reclaimed, The Word Unleashed, and Broken Sight.

Even better, I’m running a giveaway for the next month for The Word Endangered through Goodreads. Three fortunate souls will get a signed copy shipped to them.

Still geeking out over the amazing covers done by Kirk DouPonce of DogEared Design. He’s done the covers for pretty much all my books, and rest assured, I’ll be sending more work his way.

Interview on 307NetRadio

Mark Bentley of 307NetRadio interviewed me this morning about my upcoming projects.

As mark astutely says, with me, it’s hard to figure out what my latest project is, because I always have something in the works.

Speaking of works:

The Word Endangered releases in paperback Friday, Oct. 14. I’m planning a Goodreads giveaway, which will go active then.

I’m doing a book signing in my town, Buffalo, Wyoming, on Friday, Oct. 28, for The Word Endangered and Empire‘s Rift. Speaking of Empire’s Rift, the Kickstarter is progressing beyond the original goal, but with 47 days to go, there’s still plenty to raise for the stretch goals – including the new $4,500 goal which will produce an audio version of Empire’s Rift.

I recently submitted Airfoil: Origins to a couple of publishers, after tweaking the manuscript.

Man Behind the Wheel, a near-future sci-fi about a pursuit specialist in an America where it’s illegal to drive, is being edited.

I’m planning out a short story for entry into the planned Humans Wanted anthology. The premise is excellent, and the story I’m working on is based in the same alternate timeline as For Us Humans.

Whew! Busy is an understatement. Anyway, check out the interview! It’s a long one, at almost an hour, but it’s worth dropping in for even short stretches to hear what’s going on.

Kickstarter launch for Takamo Universe

Well folks, it’s time: the Takamtakamo kickstarter.jpgo Universe online game project has started its Kickstarter effort. My novel Empire’s Rift is the centerpiece of this event, the linchpin story for the fictional world of the game universe.

Best part is, I finished the sequel, tentatively titled Strife’s Cost, on Sunday afternoon. One rough draft done.

Please support the Kickstarter however you can. There’s a lot of options, and great perks!

Kickstarter campaign launched!

Legendary science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson, author Steve Rzasa, WordFire Press, and the makers of Takamo Universe join forces to transform the Takamo game universe into written word.
You can help bring classic science fiction into the world of sci fi video games by supporting the publication, distribution, and promotion of the first novel in the “Kevin J. Anderson Presents” series: Empire’s Rift by Steve Rzasa.
We need as many backers as possible to support us within the first few days. Please click here –takamouniverse.com/empire – to pledge now. Thank you!
 Perks include:
• Ebook of Empire’s Rift
• 11x 17 art prints
• Paperbacks of Empire’s Rift
• Online Q&A with authors
• Autographed paperbacks
• Book by Kevin J. Anderson autographed hard copy
• Your name in a future Takamo Universe story
• Skype meet and greet
• Your name in a future Kevin J. Anderson book
• Complete signed set of Dune hardcovers
• Signed Empire’s Rift Manuscript
Randy Ritnour
CEO Takamo Universe