Thursday, December 25, 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

THE IMMORTALITY GAME: Ted Cross

Hey peeps; please welcome my guest author Ted Cross of Cross Words, as he describes his journey as a published author, and the development of his debut spec fic novel THE IMMORTALITY GAME. I've read this fascinating novel and you'll find my review at the end of this post. Many of you may already be familiar with Ted, he's been around the blogs for a few years, when his traveling job and chess tournaments allow him the time.

Thank you Ted for guesting with me today . . . .

I came to writing later than most. Don’t get me wrong, I was good at writing in school and college, but I never seriously considered actually writing a book until I was in my mid-thirties. Chess was my big passion back then and it led to almost everything good that happened in my life.

I started college in computer engineering, but after three and a half years of that I realized that I wasn't passionate about it, and I dreaded looking forward to a life doing something I didn’t love. So I switched majors to Russian Studies. I had no idea what I could do with such a major, but since most of the best chess masters of the world were Russians at that time, I went with it. Luckily in my junior year a recruiter came to the university looking for Russian speakers willing to go work at the embassy in Moscow. It was a dream come true!

Living in Moscow during the crazy 90’s gave rise to my first big story idea. The Russian mafia was everywhere at that time, and even if those who weren't gangsters often dressed like them. Every day the newspapers told of new murders, bombings, knifings, people thrown from windows. And then I witnessed two different mafia attacks myself. The constant bombardment of mafia stories made me want to write about the topic. I had some decent scene ideas, but I couldn't quite figure out an entire story arc that made sense, so I let the story simmer in my head without doing anything with it.

Naturally I played lots of chess in Moscow, even getting to play exhibition games against world champions Gary Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, and Vladimir Kramnik. I was thrilled, so my passion for chess probably kept me from more seriously considering writing a novel. I also met and married my wife, and we've now been married for eighteen years and have two amazing teenage sons.

Moving on from Moscow, we kept moving to new embassies, always to countries where chess was big—Croatia, China, Iceland, Hungary, and twice to Azerbaijan (where we currently live). Chess began to dwindle a bit in my life, though, not by choice but because it was so difficult to find time to play in tournaments. While living in Beijing, China, I began to have some new ideas involving new twists on old science fiction tropes. I loved my ideas and hadn't seen anyone use my new twists, but again I couldn't figure out an entire story arc that worked.

Most people have now heard of Game of Thrones, the TV show based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Well I had been reading his novels since the second one came out, and I just loved them. But it was in Beijing while mulling over story ideas that I had an epiphany. I saw how Martin used many different point of view (POV) characters, alternating them between chapters, and I was struck by the idea that this could work for me.

So in 2006 I typed out my first ever chapter. It wasn't based on the mafia or sci-fi ideas at that time. I still hadn't figured out how to do anything with those ideas. My first story was based on my teenage love of roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons or Middle Earth Role Playing. I had never been happy with any of the books related to gaming. They always seemed to treat gaming like a comic book or a superhero story. For those who love Drizzt and the rest, I’m fully supportive; I just longed for a gaming related story that treated it seriously, as if George Martin were writing it. No one would write what I wanted to read, so I decided to write it myself.

I learned that writing a novel is very different from all the writing I was good at in school. It was a true learning experience that is never-ending. I am improving with each book I write, and I probably always will. I completed that first novel while living in Iceland, and the sense of accomplishment was huge for me. It made me understand that I wanted to continue doing this. Plus, I had developed such an elaborate backstory for the novel and for the characters in the novel that I was struck by a new story idea, and that is what turned into this first published book, The Immortality Game.

One of the characters in the fantasy novel was a former Russian scientist from Earth. I had unconsciously given him a backstory related to the sci-fi twists I had earlier formulated. One day it struck me that I could dump the idea of a 1990’s mafia story and incorporate that idea into the sci-fi story. Once that light bulb went off, the story came easily.

I don’t find a lot of free time to write, so each novel has taken three years to write and more to edit so far. I dream of retiring soon so I can write faster! The feedback for my new sci-fi thriller was so good, and my confidence so much higher, that I really believed it would be my breakout novel and that I would get an agent and publisher. I still think I should have been able to. But I made a mistake while querying agents. I mentioned that my book had gotten a terrific review from a HarperCollins editor after winning the review on a writing site called Authonomy. I had no idea at the time that agents had a bad perception of Authonomy. So while my first novel had gotten some positive hits from agents, even some big ones, this far superior novel was met with nothing but silence from all 45 agents that I queried. It’s not fair, but it is what it is.

I was so lucky that a smaller publisher, Breakwater Harbor Books, was interested in taking me on. I loved that I had full control over my cover art, because I wasn't enamored of the covers I saw on most trade published books, and I had definite ideas about what I wanted my cover to look like. So I hired my favorite science fiction artist, Stephan Martiniere, to do my cover art, and he was a delight to work with. He took my text samples and listened to everything I wanted considered for the cover, and he produced a fantastic cover that was everything I had wanted. It has the main character Zoya on it; it shows the pyramid and curving hotel towers of the mafia base; it has the newly-reconstructed St. Basil’s cathedral; and it shows the flurries of poppy seeds that play a part in the story.

Since publishing the book on November 24, I've learned just how difficult it is for an unknown author to draw any attention. The wave of self-published books has made buyers wary, so they are more likely to stick with well-established authors like Stephen King than they are to try out someone unproven. Or they’ll try a new author if there is a huge marketing campaign about him or her. A small publisher simply can’t do that, so I have to rely on word of mouth, the kindness of those willing to post reviews (or interviews or posts like this site is doing), and I simply have to be patient and keep on writing my next books.

My first written book, the epic fantasy, is nearly ready after all these years, and I plan to publish it in 2015. After that, I have some other stories already started, and two of them are so exciting to me that I wish I could just be done with the writing part, as I’m so eager to see how an audience will receive them
.
Thank you once again, Donna, for hosting me here! Below is the blurb for The Immortality Game, along with links where you can find me or my work. Thank you for reading!

Blurb:
Moscow, 2138. With the world only beginning to recover from the complete societal collapse of the late 21st Century, Zoya scrapes by prepping corpses for funerals and dreams of saving enough money to have a child. When her brother forces her to bring him a mysterious package, she witnesses his murder and finds herself on the run from ruthless mobsters. Frantically trying to stay alive and save her loved ones, Zoya opens the package and discovers two unusual data cards, one that allows her to fight back against the mafia and another which may hold the key to everlasting life.

Contact Ted Cross on social media at:
Blog    Goodreads    Twitter: tedacross
Facebook: Ted.Cross.Author

The Immortality Game is now available:
Amazon   Barnes&Noble   Kobo   GooglePlay
(It's on iTunes as well, though I can't link to it)

My Review:

I’m not normally a quick reader, but I was drawn into the world of The Immortality Game from the opening chapter through the ending. The futuristic setting was immediately and expertly introduced, and the female lead character, Zoya, had a good-girl appeal from the opening dialogue with her roguish brother. The world after The Dark Times is further built through the perspective of Marcus, the young son of a deceased millionaire who invented the program- cure for the “internet virus” that hackers used to topple governments and cripple the business world. The program also made possible a widespread addiction called “meshing”, which nearly destroys humanity to the point of extinction.

This story is action packed, but has a steady pace that drew me completely into the world. Although filled with cyber-speak, it doesn't take a degree or interest in science or engineering to relate to the simple terminology. If you've watch the world news or own your own computer, you’ll be familiar with slots, discs, wireless, clones, air cars, intergalactic space travel, and the concept that “there is always a war somewhere.” Mr. Cross takes exploratory technology of today, sets it in a world little more than a hundred years in the future, and adds an intense twist to world politics and everyday game playing and vice.

I enjoyed how the author took two average people who would likely never meet, and who have no extra-ordinary skills, placed them in a situation to make choices between loyalty, family, and basic morality, and used the available technology and societal rules of the time to force them to rise to the challenges. And who isn't curious about the inner workings of the Russian Mafia, and how normal citizens survive in such a hostile environment?

The Immortality Game gave me a sense of hope for the future, even while it listed the devastation of relying on the virtual pleasures of cyber-space and cyber lovers, the loss of individuality and connection with people, even the loss of life. Marcus’ deceased father integrated his genius mind into the internet and retains his basic personality while seeking the genetic compatibility of a clone body to restore his humanity, and he uses his world wide connection to protect his only son from the oblivion of  “meshing.” Zoya has hope of using the found technology to assist her in rescuing her brother, her friends, and her hope of having a child of her own. Marcus is searching for his purpose in life and a reason to remain addiction free without the protective firewalls of his father’s intervention.

I think this story would appeal to readers who enjoy “a little romance and technology” in the story without it overwhelming the concepts of intrigue and the search for immortality. I give The Immortality Game five stars and would definitely read more titles by the author Ted Cross.


Friday, December 19, 2014

DEJA VU BLOGFEST 2014



Choosing my re-post for DL Hammons and Nicole Zoltack DeJa Vu blogfest was a difficult one, although it should have been easy given the time of year. I chose my last year's holiday traditions post from the old deleted blog. I cleaned it up a little and shortened it, made it a little less depressing, hopefully . . .

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was an all day food affair that had its start several days prior. The turkey was thawed (purchased anywhere from one year to three months prior), prepped and refrigerated; stuffing ingredients collected; pies, cookies and candies baked at least two days before. And we always ate dinner by noon on Thanksgiving. I never liked eating such a big meal that early, but we had buffet food all day long, and the day after too.

Christmas season started on the Saturday following Thanksgiving every year. The tree was placed in the usual spot before the living room window; the decorations were hung in all the same places and designs every year; the same routine was followed for church and the annual mad purchasing trip to the mall to spend our allotted Christmas allowance (and collected allowances for those of us willing to save all year) on gifts for family members – mom, dad, siblings, grandparents.

Packages started arriving under the tree within a week after its installment, but of course us kids already knew what they all were. We’d started looking for hidden gifts in July - my parents started buying next year’s Christmas shortly after New Years, and by Halloween we’d already discovered all the surprises to come. Sometimes a gift went to someone other than anticipated; and there was the occasional unknown purchases in the week before, but there was rarely a surprise gift under the tree
for us to unwrap.

We unwrapped our gifts about 8pm on Christmas Eve, including the overstuffed stockings, so I never really had a belief in Santa Claus.

Although my upbringing was Southern Baptist, I've rarely entered a church during my adulthood, and
my husband's were not associated with a specific doctrine. We raised our children perpetuating the Santa myth. Neither of us could stand to look at the empty Christmas Tree all month (the tree was assembled and decorated the first Saturday after Thanksgiving) so we had presents under the tree all month. But stockings were always filled about midnight Christmas Eve (when we were sure all kids were finally soundly asleep), and the last gifts were put under the tree and labeled from Santa.

The Santa gift to each child was the most expensive, never wrapped, and usually the gift the children wanted the most, and purchased last minute to avoid the kid’s inquisitive adventures. There were also “family” gifts such as video games, music CDs, and other electronics all the kids (and parents) would share. When I divorced, the gift was often something we collaborated on and mutually paid for. Or something I purchased for the absent dad who forgot to buy for a child he no longer lived with.

But the stockings had a tradition of their own. It held the usual candy, a funky dollar tree puzzle game or slinky, and a wind up toy. As the kids grew to teens, there was always gift cards for movies and fast food, a tooth brush (seemed a good time to replace those), and some form of jewelry - even for the boys. The first year I did not hang stockings for my adult children who had moved out they all complained about the lack of a tooth brush and missed the Christmas morning wind up toy races. The races are a tradition from my first husband’s family, and so I also miss the early morning activity as it distances me from that coveted connection.

My daughter is the only one with a family of her own, and it pleases me that she is carrying on a lot of
the holiday traditions she grew up with, but also making her own traditions – influenced by her and her husband’s upbringing – and passing along something unique and special to future generations.

Tis the season for celebrating Family traditions. Where ever YOU are in the world, I hope you are thinking of your distant family and friends, remembering your past traditions, and forging new traditions for the future.

Happy Holidays everyone, however you celebrate the end of year.

Monday, December 15, 2014

BATTLE OF THE BANDS: CHRISTMAS COOKIES




Its Battle of the Bands time, hosted by the sexiest man alive Steven McCarthy and Far Away Series, and while I'm an inconsistent participant, I couldn't resist a bit of holiday fun. I put a lot of thought into this publication - didn't want my cynical or rock-a-billy/red neck nature to offend any true believers, so I think I settled on a compromise everyone should be able to enjoy.

I'm a Grinch when it comes to Christmas season, but there are some benefits to this time of year: COOKIES. I do believe when it comes to it, I could go a few munchie rounds with the Cookie Monster to get my share. Now, those of you who know me know that I'm not much of a cook, and even less of a baker, but I got my daughter, mom and sister to make up for my lack. And when it comes to the "home made" gifts - well, sugar cookies (no chocolate added) are my preferred gifts. UrUhm; sugar cookies any time of year.

Funnily enough, I've had occasion to bake Christmas Cookies when my now grown children were little, and my favorite ex-husband resembles the lyrics of this song. Yep, those were some good times.

This song is written and sung by the wholesome, country music icon George Strait, and originally appeared on his 1999 Christmas Album. And I'm sure some of ya'll are practically gagging on this artist's simplistic and traditional musical renditions. But please, please give this song a listen with all the intended fun of the holiday spirit.




I don't know who George's only cover rival for this song is. Never heard of him; although if you are from Oklahoma City you may have heard him as the weekday, mid-day DJ at 93.3 Jake/FM, or playing at Oklahoma's Official Country Music Show. Whatever, I think Owen Pickard (Centenial Rodeo Opry) is pretty good - at least for this song. And, I'm just grateful somebody else has covered this song on uTube, otherwise I would not have been able to feature it today.






Now, I hope you listened to at least one version all the way through; this is likely the cleanest, sweetest post you'll ever see from me, and if any one of you tells me you don't like Christmas cookies, or stealing 15 minutes of "kissin and huggin" between baking times, then you're likely more of a Grinch than I am!!

Leave your votes in the comments, and visit Stephen T McCarthy's BotB blog for a list of other participants.

And if you're not inclined to vote, at least leave me a favorite Christmas Cookie story in the comments. Nom nom, I'll just eat it all up.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

COZY AND DRY




Some days, no matter how far ahead I am, there is always just one more thing to take care of.

One more story to critique, one more book to read/review, one more round of revisions, or one last forray into the query realm. I'm almost looking forward to having the power go out so I can read a book by candle light.

Almost. No fireplace for heat, sadly.

Have a good weekend everyone. Stay warm dry and cozy.

Monday, December 8, 2014

PURPLE TREES: Ursula Wong guest post

Please join me in welcoming my guest author Ursula Wong, author of the women's fiction novel PURPLE TREES (Genretarium April 2014).

The Blurb: Lonely Lily Phelps is orphaned and in debt at seventeen. Her dark, hidden past causes her to see ghosts. This scared, naive girl must grow up fast if she is to find work, happiness, and build a future, but the weight of the past threatens everything she loves. Because of her terrible secret, Lily must protect her family form the worst danger of all – herself.

AUTHOR NOTES:

PURPLE TREES is a novel about salvation and love.

It’s about family secrets, and dealing with terrible experiences in unique ways. Lily, the main character, is a woman creeping toward madness, caused by a long-buried past tragedy. She is terrorized by life experiences that should bring joy, and does not understand why.

PURPLE TREES takes place on a Massachusetts dairy farm in the 1960s. I grew up on a dairy farm, and wrote scenes in the book of events that really happened. I hope readers get a feel for what the life-style was like. A scene where Lily goes to the barnyard to help her husband, Will, birth a calf is based on one of my husband’s first experiences on the farm. The cow pushed for a long time, and the calf finally slipped out. When it landed, it splashed afterbirth and worse onto my husband, a city boy from Brooklyn. I can still hear him squeaking as he ran to the house to clean up.

Other aspects of the story are pieced together from the experiences of many women I know.  No spoilers, but those who have read Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina, Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, or Carolyn Chute’s The Beans of Egypt, Maine will be on familiar ground when reading Purple Trees.

Purchase links:   Smashwords       Amazon

About the author Ursula Wong:

I’m a retired computer engineer with a husband, and a daughter who goes to college in California. We hope to become familiar with the Los Angeles area over the next few years. So far, we adore the beaches, but hate the traffic. I spend time writing every day, wherever I am. When we’re at home in Massachusetts, we’re involved in a number of volunteer organizations, including Habitat for Humanity.

My next novel, Amber Wolf, is about the farmers in Eastern Europe during WWII who fought against the Soviet occupation. The story brings together my ancestral heritage and my uncle’s experiences in the U.S. army in Europe during the war.

I also have a blog called Reaching Readers where I post very short stories, chronicle events, and announce new releases. For those who would like to receive the posts through email, send me a note at urslwng@gmail.com and I’ll sign you up.  You can see the collection of shorts on my website.

PURPLE TREES doesn't fall into an easy genre or category, so it’s work to find women who the book will speak to. I appreciate the chance to reach out to you through Donna Hole’s kindness and generosity in inviting me to post to her blog.

My review:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The story concept is simple and complex. Simple for the rural lifestyle depicted; complex for the issues of a child taxed with caring for her dying mother, then her father, and growing up with a brutal, life changing secret. It is a sad, and happy story; an otherwise  normal life plagued by an unbelievable secret. I laughed, and cried, and nodded in sympathy with the main character.

The story offers no moral conclusions; it just reports an untenable but common circumstance, and lets the reader decide if moral justice has been served in the end. I loved that the story begins in the present, with the main character, Lily, enticing her granddaughter to disclose a not-so-secret truth by way of telling her own life story. The story plot was obvious to the reader, but the author spun a masterful tale from the unreliable narrator's perspective.  I was drawn into the concept of how the two stories - the narrator Lily's past, and the granddaughter's present - were interwoven at strategic moments of the story building.

This story is not filled with action. The tension is expertly built through sympathetic characters trapped in a cycle of uncontrollable events. When it comes to story layers, Ms. Wong knows how to keep the readers interest. I was intrigued from the first sentence to the last. I highly recommend this the novel PURPLE TREES to any reader who is not afraid to dive into a story with complex moral dilemmas, and strong characters that deal with life as it is dealt.

I give this novel 5 stars, and would read more books by the author.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

IWSG

Hey Ya'll, its the first Wednesday of the month, and time Insecure Writers Support Group, hosted by Alex J Cavanaugh. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time.

The last couple months I've been taking the writing life easy; revising some relics, participating in my critique group, submitting a couple queries. And taking advantage of all the bad weather to read some books. I've got a couple reviews to post here (first one on Dec 8) so my thoughts of taking the month off-line are kinda sidetracked. I wouldn't want to miss hopping around the blogs and visiting friends for IWSG though.

My biggest challenge for Nov and Dec is providing any type of negative feedback in my writers group. I get pretty cynical this time of year, and really prefer to keep my comments as positive and encouraging as possible. Good thing my daughter keeps me supplied with lots of home made snicker doodles to sweeten my moodiness.


And looky here, the IWSG GUIDE TO PUBLISHING is now available. Visit the IWSG web site for
publishing links.


Please offer your thanks to this months co-hosts: Heather Gardner, T Drecker, Eva E Solar and Patsy Collins.