Release: Lair of the Wizards (Hidden Hills 1)

Once again, it’s time for a new novel release. This one is Lair of the Wizards, Book One of the Hidden Hills series. It’s a monster that defies categorization, in my humble opinion, but I hope you’ll like it. Here’s the blurb:

For ages, the wizards guided the people of Stada. They brought knowledge, advancement. They were the bearers of the future. But generations have lived since the last wizards left the land to parts unknown. Now, war with a neighboring realm is bringing Stada to the brink, and the tribulations of battle reach even to the city of Karston. Here, the wizards may be gone, but not forgotten. Here, their knowledge lives on, their secrets have been preserved. The tales all tell that the wizards lived in the Hidden Hills north of town. Although they left, their home remains, and when an earthquake rattles Karston, it reveals the path leading to the lair of the wizards.

I actually started writing this novel all the way back in 2015. (Originally, I envisioned it as a short story!) I spent the next two years working off and on, mostly whenever I was taking a break from other projects. Lots of editing ensued, and I finally have something I feel ready to share with the world. You can find it over on my Patreon if you’re in the Serious Reader tier or above. That’s only $3 a month, and it includes DRM-free copies of all my other stories, like Nocturne, Before I Wake, and many more. No matter what you call Lair of the Wizards, whether fantasy or sci-fi or whatever, you have to call that a deal.

Check it out, and have a great summer!

Summer reading list 2018

Here we go again.

Two years ago, I came up with what I thought was a great idea. Inspired by the summer reading lists I had to suffer through in school, I created a simple reading challenge. So, now that the unofficial start of summer is upon us once more, let’s try again, shall we?

As in the previous installments, the whole thing is unofficial. It’s just for fun. There aren’t any prizes, you won’t have to write any book reports, and you get to pick what you read. That said, there are a few general rules:

  1. The goal is to read 3 books between the US holidays of Memorial Day (May 28) and Labor Day (September 3). These are considered the “unofficial” endpoints of summer, and they roughly match the months when school isn’t in session. (If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s a winter reading list, but I can’t help that.)

  2. A “book”, for the purposes of this challenge, can be just about any non-periodical. Use your best judgment. Graphic novels are okay, but comic books probably aren’t. Just be honest with yourself. That’s what counts most.

  3. One of the books should be nonfiction. Doesn’t matter what kind, as long as it involves actual events and people. History, biography, true crime, and even technical manuals all work for this, though historical fiction obviously doesn’t.

  4. (Writers only) One book should be of a genre you don’t normally write in. For example, a fantasy author should give, say, science fiction a shot. This is your chance to step outside your comfort zone. Of course, you can count the nonfiction book from Rule 3 for this, too.

  5. (Writers only) You can’t count anything you wrote. Not even if it’s under a pen name. That one’s pretty simple, and it’s mainly because, if I didn’t put it in there, I would be tempted to use my own works.

So that’s it. That’s the challenge. I’m crossposting this to both my Patreon and my blog. Feel free to spread it wherever you like. If you’re one of those who likes to put everything on social media, let’s see if we can stake a claim on the hashtag #SummerReading. I don’t go in for Twitter or Facebook, but I have recently created an account on Mastodon, so you can follow me or check my progress there. I’m @mikey@toot.love right now, but I’ll probably move somewhere else later on.

Have fun, everybody. And have a great summer.

Release: The Control Variable (A Bridge Between Worlds 3)

We’re still building those bridges. Here’s the third one, “The Control Variable”:

The other world was exciting, but theirs still has so much left unknown. Amy knows that, yet she finds her thoughts constantly drawn back to her time away from her home planet. She also knows that there are other crossings, other bridges. Even if those won’t take her where she wants to go, they need to be found. Alex can find them. He has the map. All he needs is the time, but that may be running out.

Otherworld stories remain exclusive to my Patreon for the time being, so you can pick this one up there, along with over 20 other stories, for only a few dollars a month.

Next in the series is Part 4, “The Dark Continent”, coming July 24. Until then, have a good summer, and keep reading!

Release: The Eye’s Mind, Part 1 (Modern Minds 1)

As part of my huge writing push last year, I wrote a few short stories about individuals with psionic abilities, partially inspired by such shows as Heroes and The Tomorrow People (I watched the 90s version of the latter, and had high hopes for the reboot a few years ago), but set in the 1920s. And, of course, much more low-key, as is usually the case with my writing. Anyway, here’s the blurb.

A teen’s eyes will wander, but Jessie’s truly have a mind of their own. When she looks at people, she sees them in a different light. Happiness and hate, anger and angst, every mood is revealed to her. And sometimes, that is too much to bear.

You can pick this one up over on my Patreon if you put up a pledge of at least $3. Maybe later on, once I have enough stories in this series, I’ll collect them into a larger anthology. Until then, I hope you enjoy this one.

The Shape of Things: Postmortem

A while back, I did a postmortem piece about my novel Nocturne. Well, it’s been awhile, and now I’ve got another book out. This one is The Shape of Things, and it’s another story that I feel needs a bit of explanation. Or venting, if you prefer. Either way, here are my thoughts, and beware of spoilers.

The seed

Every good story grows from a seed. So do the bad ones, like mine. In this case, the idea that spawned The Shape of Things came from my aunt. She’s a loyal reader, and she’s been there pretty much since the beginning of my writing not-quite-career. Most of all, she listens, and she responds with positive feedback and constructive criticism. (When she can get past “when’s the next one coming out?” and “what happens next?”, at least.) While I’m writing, I’m mostly in my own little world, insulated from everything around me. Great for focus, not so good for creating stories that appeal to, you know, other people.

Anyway, I was talking with my aunt one day, and she said something to the effect of, “Hey, I’ve got an idea for your next book.” Now, I’m not usually one for submissions, but there is nothing in this world more important to me than my family, so I’ll always give them a shot. And that’s what I did. She pitched the idea: What if all those monsters like Bigfoot are really people, but they change into the monsters?

At the time, I was thinking that, yeah, it might work. I put it in the queue along with a few of my own ideas, but I kept it in the back of my head. As I said, this is family we’re talking about here. And I did think it had potential. Couldn’t be much worse than some of the things I come up with, right?

The more I considered it, the bigger it became in my mind. I’ll gladly admit that the Dresden Files books are a huge influence on this one, and that series was very prominent in my thoughts as I ran through a few scenarios that might work out for my own paranormal story. I didn’t want exactly that, of course. No, mine has more in common with Sanctuary or Warehouse 13 or shows like those. We’re not dealing with actual magic, just the paranormal.

On a lighter note, since my aunt was the one who gave me the inspiration for The Shape of Things, she got a kind of cameo role. In fact, she’s basically the one who keeps the main story moving. And I made sure to give her character some of the same mannerisms and quirks. (She hates even the mention of zombies, for example. You wouldn’t believe the grumbling when I had her read Either Side of Night!)

The process

I didn’t want this to be fantasy. I wanted a story firmly grounded in the real world, but with the knowledge that our world might not be quite as real as we want to believe. Thus, the setting is here and now. Not so much a “mythic” America, but modern America, just with extra monsters.

The key here is the nature of the monster. In The Shape of Things (and the series that has spawned from it), the creatures themselves don’t exist per se. Oh, they’re there, but it’s much more of a Jekyll and Hyde thing. Some people have this…thing inside them. They don’t necessarily know it until something draws it out. Usually, that’s a traumatic, life-changing, and possibly humiliating experience. In general, the idea is that something challenges their notion of their own humanity, which becomes the cause of their transformation into a being other than human. The forms they take are varied, and they don’t always align perfectly with our familiar monsters of legend, but there can be some similarities. (As for why this is happening, and why it’s happening so much in the present, I’m getting to that in the sequel, The Beast Within, which I’m currently writing.)

The novel itself is about 94,000 words, so not all that long. Call it tight, because there’s not much extraneous information in there. I started it at the beginning of May 2017, and the first draft was done on June 13. But here’s where it gets interesting. Writing Chapter 7 (of 16, plus a prologue and epilogue), I got bored. Seriously bored, and just plain tired of writing. So I stopped for about a week, long enough to switch over to another story I’d been working on. That was the first time in about 4 years that I’ve ever felt that way about a book. I won’t say it was my proudest moment. (It happened again in November, when I was working on The Soulstone Sorcerer, but I pushed through that. And I still hate myself for it.)

Despite that hiccup, I do think the book turned out good. Better than I thought when I finished it, definitely. I hope you’ll feel the same, but I’ve got more to say before I go.

The setting

As I mentioned above, The Shape of Things is set in our world. It’s not a fantasy version of it, but the real thing, just slightly dramatized. The protagonist, Cam, lives in Georgia, because I wanted him to be Southern, though far enough away from where I live that I could plausibly say he isn’t supposed to be me. He’s a little younger, maybe a bit smarter, and definitely a lot more successful, but he’s still a good old Southern boy at heart. And he’s mostly normal, apart from his odd hobby of hunting the paranormal for hire.

Cam is a skeptic, though. Not necessarily in the religious sense, but when it comes to the things he’s searching for. His default assumption is that whoever called him must be mistaken, because he knows these things aren’t real. Everybody sees ghosts, and every one of them, he believes, has some other explanation. And he feels the same about aliens, crop circles, demons, Sasquatch, and whatever else you can think of.

When the monsters really do show up, that puts him out of his league, and suddenly I found myself writing a horror thriller. Not at all what I expected, but I had some fun with it. A lot of his “backstory” sightings are based on things that actually happened to me, my family, or people I know. Others are references, but also from my personal experience. A group of “demons” in Marietta are actually Smite cosplayers, because my brother played that game constantly while I was writing. My mother really was scared by a hanger rattling from the air coming out of the vent under it. As this series progresses, I plan on adding in more of these, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m doing it.

The conflict

Cam doesn’t really have to fight his monsters. He barely even chases them. Instead, this book is about the hunt. It’s about him learning the truth of the world, then conquering the fears that knowledge creates. And it’s about solving problems. He absolutely has to run from some of the creatures he finds, but there aren’t opposing forces trying to stop him. (Maybe not yet…)

In that sense, the monsters fill the role of villain, such as it is, but in the same way they would in a horror movie. I don’t mind that. I’m not great at writing fight scenes or cloak-and-dagger trickery. The Shape of Things is more about a man against a force of nature, that’s all. Sometimes, that even comes out literally, but it’s more often the nature of the beast.

The end

I wrapped up the novel fairly neatly. There aren’t a lot of loose ends left to pick up. Instead, the biggest question remaining is what happens next. Where do we go from here? Cam solves the case. He saves a man from a monster—the monster that man had become.

This was never going to be a standalone work. I knew that from the start. So the future of the series hinges on that part of the ending. The world is stranger than we think, and Cam now knows this. He’s seen it with his own eyes. Now, he has to learn just how strange it can be, and that is where we go. Future installments are going to look into that core mystery, even as they continue to follow our humble hunter on his investigations. Some of those close to him may be affected, but one thing is certain: his life will never be the same.

Amazon release: The Shape of Things (Endless Forms 1)

Just a heads-up today, as my latest novel, the paranormal investigation thriller The Shape of Things, is now up on Amazon, in both Kindle and paperback versions. The price is $3.49 for the ebook, $9.50 for the real thing, and here’s the blurb to get you started:

The world is stranger than you know.

Cameron Weir hunts the paranormal. It’s a hobby, a second job, a nice diversion from the rigors of life. Whether it’s ghosts or monsters or aliens, he’ll be there to find the answer. And that answer is never any of those things, because he well knows that monsters don’t exist.

But something is out there. Something lurks in the night. What started as a simple call with a mundane explanation turns out to lead to a much deeper mystery. Glowing eyes in the dark. Strange, animal-like sounds echoing through the night. And then the most monstrous of all: a dead body. In the midst of such weirdness, Cameron questions his own rationality, and that leads him on a trail that will take him to the most fabled monster of all: Bigfoot.

If you’d like to know more, head over to the page for the book, where you’ll find a link to Amazon, as well as my Patreon, where you can get The Shape of Things, as well as DRM-free copies of my other released works, for as little as $1 per month.

Release: The Red Magician (A Bridge Between Worlds 2)

The bridge is still being built, and here is the second step in its construction, “The Red Magician”:

All along, Ayla wanted to do one thing to this world, one thing she never dreamed she could do to the one where she was born. She wanted to make it better, make it into something respectable, rational, modern. She never expected it to be easy, but she always thought she had both the knowledge and the determination to achieve her aims. Now, with the help of her apprentice, Niel, she hopes to carry the light of science across the bridge from her world to this one, as she tries to reinvent a society and herself.

As always, the Otherworld tales are Patreon exclusives, and a pledge of only \$3/month gets you access to “The Red Magician” and a total of 9 other stories in the series. If that’s not enough to convince you to join me on this road, remember that the same money also lets you download DRM-free copies of all my other novels and short stories, including Nocturne, The Linear Cycle, and much more.

Next up is “The Control Variable”, coming May 22. Keep reading, and I’ll see you then!

On the sea

Ah, the sea. The boundless blue. What is it about this trackless expanse that so captivates us? For the entirety of human history, bodies of water (oceans and seas alike) have been a fixture of our most timeless tales. From the ancient flood myths of the Near East and Homer’s Odyssey to more modern tales such as In the Heart of the Sea, storytellers have turned to the waters for help in their art. But why is that? And how can we, as today’s generation following in the footsteps of the great, do the same?

Into the blue

The sea, of course, is the true birthplace of life, in more ways than one. Life itself arose in the seas, as we know from science, but we can also say that civilization was birthed by the sea. While early humans started out in Africa, they quickly found their way to the coasts, and many of our oldest artifacts are related to fishing, to reaping the bounty of the sea. All around the world, we see the same pattern, and it’s no wonder that the Mediterranean, an ocean writ small, is the backdrop for Western advancement. Much later, in the Age of Sail, Europeans took to the vast Atlantic, then the Indian and Pacific; others had already been there, of course, and their stories are equally interesting.

Even today, when so many of us (myself included) focus on that more infinite sea above, the oceans of the world tug at the imagination. I can’t even swim, and I find myself amazed at the America’s Cup. As well, one of my favorite survival stories as a teen, alongside Into Thin Air, was that of Tony Bullimore, whose yacht capsized during the Vendée Globe around-the-world race. Add in The Perfect Storm and a few others, and you’ve already got quite the repertoire just in the last couple of decades.

And that, I believe, is because the sea fills a very important niche. It’s a wilderness unlike any other. Even the most hostile desert gives us a place to stand. A mountain has an easily recognized goal. The barren tundra of Antarctica still lets us control the direction in which we move. Yet the open ocean does none of that. It’s a true blank slate, and a place where (until the advent of steamships) mankind was so obviously out of place that he had to surrender to the mercy of the terrain.

The sea, then, can almost be like a metaphor for life. We don’t always know where to go, what to do. And even when we do, that’s no guarantee that we have the power to get there, or to even take the first stride in that direction.

And the sea is also a living thing. It has moods, as any sailor would tell you, as well as its own set of dangers. Storms are the most notable among those, whether hurricanes, cyclones, or merely the random squalls of the tropics; any good sea story is going to involve a storm at some point. Rogue waves, once believed to be sailors’ tall tales, really can strike, and they hit with a force as great as any weapon. But then we must also add the paradox of sea travel: the calm. Where else can good weather be bad?

Salt and sand

For a story, it might be best to think of what you want from the sea, and that requires you to think about what you want from the story itself. First of all, what’s the setting?

In today’s world, as well as more futuristic times, we don’t think of the oceans as being all that important. Other than The Perfect Storm (which took place in 1991) and a number of heroic WWII accounts, the last century has seen a kind of turning away from the sea. When we look ahead, we think of space instead. So, for a modern or postmodern setting, you really have to try to make the sea distinct, if you’re going to use it as something more than a backdrop. Why are your characters on a boat, for instance, instead of taking a plane? For a disaster tale, it’s a bit easier, but that obviously doesn’t fit every work.

Going back in time, it becomes ever easier to work the sea into your story. As recently as 100 years ago, crossing the ocean meant actually crossing the ocean. Five centuries ago, even that was almost impossible. In between, we have the golden age of sea travel, where we find pirates and explorers, buccaneers and missionaries and the great naval battles of history. For that era, the sea was the frontier, as space is for us today. It was the board on which the games of power were played. A story set in those days can be about a voyage at sea, and it can take advantage of the distance, the disconnection, of being out of sight of land.

That time also neatly intersects with the typical fantasy timeline. The High Middle Ages in Europe were before the compass, before the galleon, before the other advances that tamed the ocean. Yes, the Vikings sailed to America a millennium ago. On the other side of the globe, Polynesians had colonized hundreds of Pacific islands by that same time, some thousands of miles away from any other land. We can have some fun with that, but the more “traditional” fantasy cultures are going to look at the sea as more of a boundary than a frontier. (Unless you start adding in advanced seafaring races, in which case they’ll be more like the Age of Sail.) Thus, an exploratory voyage could make an interesting story in its own right, as in Paul Kearney’s Monarchies of God series.

Mostly, stories set on the high seas tend to have some element of warfare involved, if only because that’s how we see this exotic locale. That is a function of our history, but also of necessity: out there, there’s not much else to do. And fighting on the ocean, out of contact with the homeland, frees characters from the rules of engagement. After all, who’s going to know?

That doesn’t mean that every sea story has to have cannons or swashbuckling rogues, but it is common. Equally common is the disaster, whether a ten-story wave slamming into a ship, a hurricane battering it for hours to days, or just the simple lack of winds leaving it adrift. Like the desert, the sea can be an excellent place for a tale of survival. In a way, it works even better, because it adds the conundrum of being surrounded by water that is effectively poisonous. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Last, the sea can be a setting, a place where the action unfolds. An anthology-like story might involve island hopping, because islands in the ocean can be far enough apart—especially in pre-modern times—that news can’t easily travel between them. Much like a space opera where the crew skips from one planet to the next, the sea provides the perfect reason for why these adventures are independent.

I could say much more, but I’ve rambled on long enough. Hopefully, I’ve given you something to think about. Our world is 70% water, and that majority portion really can seem endless when you’re standing on a beach or pier. But our imaginations truly are without boundaries. Put the two together, and it’s no surprise we have turned to the sea for some of our greatest stories throughout the ages.

Release: Innocence Reborn (Orphans of the Stars 1)

A new series begins. A new adventure begins. And this one is in space!

Space is a frontier. Space is an adventure.

Levi Maclin was always interested in the vastness of space. He dreamed of sailing through the void, exploring new worlds, seeing alien suns. This summer, he hoped to have his chance. Instead of going to beach for their vacation, his family would travel across light-years to Outland Resort, humanity’s most distant colony, its farthest frontier. It was a getaway, an adventure, a dream come true…until it wasn’t.

Some vacations are ruined by hurricanes, others by blizzards, but Levi’s falls apart when a series of unidentified objects streak across the sky above Outland Resort. They aren’t meteors. They aren’t comets. They’re weapons, weapons trained on the resort and its whole world. Suddenly, his adventure takes an unexpected turn. As concern turns to panic, he can only think one thought: how did it all go so wrong?

This is one I’ve really been looking forward to putting out there. Think of it almost like The Expanse for kids, in a very vague sense. It’s told from the point of view of a small group of children and teens (POVs range from 11-17 in this one, but they’ll get older as time goes on), but don’t think that means there’s no drama involved. This is a serious story, or at least I intended it to be. The characters act young and immature, but they step up when needed.

Most of all, what I wanted to create with Innocence Reborn was something fun. In my original notes, the series was codenamed “Space Adventures”, because that was what I set out to write: the adventures of a bunch of kids in space. Later on, I’ll do a postmortem for the book, where I go into detail about the setting and my expectations. For now, just enjoy reading it.

You can pick up Innocence Reborn for a mere \$3/month on my Patreon. That same pledge also gets you access to Nocturne, Before I Wake, and the complete series of The Linear Cycle and Chronicles of the Otherworld, so there’s really no reason not to give it a shot. And stay tuned for future installments of this series, as I’m currently working on the sequel, Beyond the Horizon, and the adventures are far from over.

Release: The Code Breaker (A Bridge Between Worlds 1)

The cycle begins anew…but not really. The Return to the Otherworld won’t come around until 2019 (coincidentally enough, the year in which the original Chronicles of the Otherworld takes place). Until then, you’ll be getting 6 shorter novellas I’ve entitled A Bridge Between Worlds. As the name suggests, they bridge the nine-month gap between Long Road’s End and the next story in the “main” Otherworld sequence, The Second Crossing.

First up is “The Code Breaker”:

Lee never regretted his decision to stay in the other world. He knew it would be hard, but he believed his hard work would be rewarded. Nimiesa left everything she knew behind, and now she waits for the day when she enters a new world of her own: the world of motherhood. Together, they are the first to bridge the stars, but leaving their past behind is harder than it seems.

Once again, the Otherworld series is, for the time being, a Patreon exclusive, and you can get access to it for a pledge of only \$3/month. On top of that, you’ll get the complete first season of the series, as well as many other novels and short stories.

Next up is “The Red Magician”, coming in March. Until then, keep reading!