I finished The Lightningfall! It clocks in at around 109,000 words, making it about a quarter longer than its predecessor, The Bloodheart. I don’t yet have an ETA for when it’ll be published, but my goal is by my 40th birthday – Dec. 29, 2017 – at the absolute latest.
There’s also a sequel to Empire’s Rift, the draft for which is done and under review by my Takamo Universe cohorts.
I’ve also got some short stories pending and, if all goes well, I will release an anthology of my short works this summer. Thus far I have 9 included, for a roughly 180 page collection.
That’s all for now. Stayed tuned for more news in the coming week!
Money burns a hole in your pocket. I don’t care how much money, it just does – especially when it’s a present.
I had the last $5.34 from a gift certificate to an art store in Casper, Wyoming, begging to be spent, so our last trip to the “big city” – 111 miles away with 55,000 people – found me prowling the isles in search of just the right thing.
As some of you may have seen, I located a pack of postcards.
These were thick, textured watercolor paper, perfect not only for painting but for sketching and inking. My pens didn’t bleed through at all.
So, what to create?
With the end of my first draft of The Lightningfall a couple days away, I wanted to revisit its predecessor, The Bloodheart. I started off with – naturally – Bowen Cord, the hero and main character. From there, I amassed quite the collection of drawings over the past few weeks.
These are quick sketches, not as detailed as some of the character portraits I’ve done in the past two years. Part of the reason is the size – when you’re dealing with 4 x 6 postcard, there’s very little room to work with, especially for someone like me who’s used to larger drawing spaces.
Doing these sketches helped focus my writing over the past few weeks as I honed in on the finale of The Lightningfall. In some ways, it’s a very familiar book and sequel to The Bloodheart, yet is also quite different in terms of the journey the old and new characters take.
Man Behind the Wheel is available everywhere on April 1, in ebook and paperback form, however, if you’re in Buffalo, Wyoming on March 17-18 I’ll have a pre-release batch at the Small Business Expo. That’s right, locals get their copy first!
Once again, cover artist Kirk DouPonce has worked his magic. Here’s the front for Man Behind the Wheel, my newest science-fiction novel:
The world of Man Behind the Wheel is new ground for me, taking place 50 years from now. All my previous works have either been set in the distant future (The Face of the Deep series), an alternate present (For Us Humans), or fantasy realms (The Bloodheart and the Sark brothers tales). It gave me room to play around with technologies that are either under development or purely hypothetical, yet within our reach.
It all started with one question: what if self-driving cars got so good, it became illegal for the vast majority of Americans to drive?
That immediately led to the following thought: Some people would break the law, so you’d need a select few who could drive, and drive well, to arrest the criminals.
That’s where Roman Jasko and his partner Aldrich Burns come in:
You do not have the right to drive.
Roman Jasko patrols the automated highways of 2067 America, watchful for illegal cars. He’s put on a robbery case that leads to a band of sophisticated thieves armed with stolen military technology.
Things take a turn for the worse when he discovers a personal connection to the thefts, and finds himself in the middle of a vicious attack. Suddenly, he’s stuck on the wrong side of the laws he upholds.
Rome will have to use all his skills to avoid every obstacle in his path, and determine the quickest route to the truth.
Welcome to the Lost At Sea Scavenger Hunt where we are helping the Kinsman people find a new home. If you’ve just found us, be sure to start the adventure at Stop #1, which is Jill Williamson’s blog.
Collect all the clue words in order so you can enter to win the Kindle. If you want to enter to win the second Kindle, you’ll have to take a quiz at the end, so take your time and read each post carefully. The main prizes in the hunt are open to international entries. Individual author contests, however, might have different rules, so please read the parameters on each site. You have until Sunday night, February 19, at midnight, Pacific time to finish.
If you need help, or get lost along the way, click herefor assistance.
Wilek, Trevn, and their party were thankful to get out of PacNorth. While they had seen places in this strange land that they had never dreamed possible, so far they were feeling quite discouraged in their search for a new home. They trekked over a vast area of farmlands, desert, and mountains. The land looked good, but it was too populated and filled with modern vehicles and lights like in Redmond, WA and PacNorth. They eventually reached yet another city in Stop #7, Denver, CO, from Steve Rzasa’s novel For Us Humans.
Steve Rzasa is the author of seven novels, including three space operas, two steampunk tales, and one sci-fi murder mystery. He received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University, and worked for eight years at newspapers in Maine and Wyoming. He is currently the technical services librarian in Buffalo, Wyoming, where he lives with his wife and two boys. Steve’s a fan of all things science-fiction and superhero, and is also a student of history. Visit him online at www.steverzasa.com.
Here’s a closer look at Steve’s novel For Us Humans.
“Hey. My name’s Caz Fortel. I’m thirty, good-looking, and a great liar. In fact, that’s my job: to lie to people who steal works of art, and get the goods back.
“Then one day I get the big call from the FBI: a million bucks, to recover a stolen statue with huge cultural value. Downside: the partner they assign me has an unhealthy interest in Jesus, an interest I’ve tried really hard to erase from my life. Also, that partner is an alien with four arms and a tremendous sense of smell.”
“Welcome to 2016. See, the Panstellar Consociation is the boss now, of all the Earth and everything that goes on in the solar system. Aliens showed up fifteen years ago and made us a deal: join us as a protectorate and we’ll swap you tech secrets, pay you real well. All so they could set up a warp tunnel in orbit.”
“It’s their statue. They want the whole job kept quiet. Or Earth could be in very, very big trouble.”
Building an Alternate Earth
Creating the story world of For Us Humans was a lot of fun because I had to figure out a way to make Earth utterly recognizable, and yet changed from what we experience today. How would our planet be different if aliens lived among us for 15 years?
Mostly, it came down to politics, economics, and technology.
The aliens in For Us Humans teach mankind how to harness fusion power, and several advances are also part of the background: increased fuel efficiency for cars due to alternate power sources; advances in computing and holographic displays; and better aeronautical tech. Drones and tablets are about as ubiquitous as they are today, however, there’s a spaceport for private space flight next to Boston’s Logan airport and there is a giant landing field for the Ghiqasu aliens outside Denver International. Human spaceflight has improved drastically, though this is not shown until the end of the novel, so I won’t give any spoilers.
As a specific tech example, Caz Fortel takes his trip out west to Denver on an airplane referred to as a Sky Whale. It’s a concept aircraft I’m pretty sure can’t be built even now, but with bits of alien-influenced tech appearing in the alternate 2010s, who knows how soon it could be available?
Fun fact: the alien image on the scavenger hunt map is the one I designed as the equivalent of the stick man and woman on a restroom sign. Like this:
Needless to say, in the alternate 2016 Earth, signs like this will be the most in-your-face proof that life is forever changed. After all, how badly will we all grumble when the best parking spaces are given to our alien guests?
Before you move on, I am giving away a copy of For Us Humans to one lucky winner. To enter, sign up to get my email newsletter and like my social media pages (@SteveRzasa on Twitter and Steve Rzasa, Author, on Facebook. Enjoy the rest of the scavenger hunt!
(Note the word choice. He doesn’t have a cape, for obvious reasons.)
When I was planning his story, I knew he needed something else vital to a superhero’s existence: a base of operations.
I don’t recall how I found out about East Mountain, which lies north of Granby, Vermont, but once I saw the photos it was clear this was the perfect location for a superhero’s hidden base.
Special thanks to The Happy Hiker, who blogged about this five years ago. He visited East Mountain and took lots of excellent photos, which made it into my descriptions of The Barn.
According to an article in The Vermonter, East Mountain is home to the remains of what was first called the North Concord Radar Station (Air Force) in 1956. Later renamed the Lyndonville AFS, it operated until the Air Force closed it in 1963. Apparently it recorded some kind of UFO sighting in 1961.
More impressive its ghostly appearance these days. Both The Happy Hiker and a July 2016 article in The Bangor Daily Newsprovide some amazing images.
It’s perfect. And since I already had a mountain right outside Drake City called Mount Stafford, it was a simple matter to stick a replica of this abandoned radar installation on its peak.
While The Barn does not appear in the upcoming Airfoil: Hotspots short story, it does feature prominently in the yet-unpublished novel Airfoil: Origins.
Just goes to show that often the best solutions to a fictional character’s needs are sitting right in front of you in the real world.
A bit of news first: I penned a short story this summer called Airfoil: Hotspots, based in the same story universe as my as-yet-unpublished novel Airfoil: Origins. Since then, it’s been accepted for publication by The Crossover Alliance, a publisher of stories by Christian writers that doesn’t shy away from PG-13 and R frameworks. Keep an eye out for Superheroes: The Crossover Alliance Anthology Volume 3, due out March 28
Back to the matter at hand.
When I dreamed up Airfoil three years ago, I knew he needed a city. Seriously, what superhero doesn’t? Arrow has Star(ling) City. Flash as Central City. Batman has Gotham City. Superman, his Metropolis. That’s a DC heavy list, but Marvel’s no stranger – except they focus a lot on New York. I’m looking at you, Spider-man, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Avengers, Fantastic Four, etc.
I spent a lot of time perusing maps of superhero cities for inspiration, until I realized that I didn’t want to just draw a bunch of cool-looking lines on paper – though, I did. It just wasn’t the primary motivation.
What I wanted was a major character.
The city is as much a starring role as the hero himself. It needs a history, neighborhoods that vary in terms of culture, economics, and age – not just of the buildings, but the people.
At some point in mid-2014, I sat down at my drawing pad over a period of several days and produced Drake City.
As I invested my imagination in its creation, neighborhoods sprang to life: the run-down and diverse Hull district; the gritty, industrial Newport; the upscale Rittenhouse Island; and the small and primarily residential Nine Square.
Eventually I scanned this fictional New England city into my computer, fired up Photoshop, and added some cleaner lines and a nice blue harbor. Then I had some more fund. What good was a map, I reasoned, if I couldn’t have a big one in my hands?
So, I exported it as a PDF, then instructed a printer to spit it out full scale. Meaning, make it take up eight sheets of 11 by 17 paper.
The result makes me grin every time I unfold it.
I tell you what. If you’re ever interested in finding a Christmas or birthday present for a guy like me, get someone to turn this thing into an actual road map, just like the ones you pick up at the Chamber of Commerce or the gas station.
What’s the big deal? Well, like with most of the major characters in all my books, I finally had a face to go with the name.
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.
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.
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.)
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.”
“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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.