Randomness – 7/30/15



Book Signing – On August 18th, I’ll be at the Barnes & Noble of East Brunswick from 7-9pm. If you can drop by, please do. The more people who show up, the more B&N likes me.

Brunswick Square Mall

753 Rt 18 Brunswick Square Space 318 East Brunswick, NJ 08816


Things have been pretty busy lately, between writing and editing, so I haven’t set aside much in the way of time to post something here. With Hand of Raziel (Daughter of Mars 1) signed a short time ago by Curiosity Quills, I’ve been working on part three. Ghost Black (the current working title) is one chapter from finished.

browniesNormally, after I complete a first draft, it’s hard not to dive right back in and do another pass. I feel a bit like a kid sitting next to a jar full of dark chocolate brownies… unable to resist. At the moment, there’s enough going on to keep me distracted and give me the chance to let it sit. Taking a break to clear the mind lets a writer look at something with fresh eyes. Much better to let a manuscript sit for a while before going back through it, but it’s so damn hard to resist.

I should be getting final production copies of Archon’s Queen to review any day now (Awakened II), which is due for release on August 10. (Speaking of which, please join me on Facebook for the release party here.) A number of edits for CQ are waiting in line, as well as a handful of beta reads for friends. Hopefully, it won’t be too difficult to stop that kid from grabbing a brownie for a few weeks while I catch up.


Holy Eighties, Batman.


It’s hard not to feel nostalgic lately. I recently read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. If you’re somewhere between 35 and 50, and have even mild geek tendencies, this is a must read. It picked at a lot of old memories, and made me want to spend a few hours on an emulator site playing 30 year old video games.

On top of that, my all-time favorite cartoon strip, Bloom County, is back. Berkley Breathed has come out of the dark and resumed his beloved strip via Facebook. Apparently, the long hiatus he’d taken was due to growing tired of the overbearing PC police and fighting with skittish newspaper editors. I can’t wait to see where he takes the denizens of Bloom County with the freedom of publishing on Facebook.

Add to that we’ve got a Bush hoping for the White House, unrest overseas, Mad Max, Terminator, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park in the theaters… televangelists losing their grip on reality… egads. If leg warmers and big hair comes back, dive for cover and grab a helmet.

Looks like we’re in for a hell of a ride.



Post Apocalypse and me – 1988


With the recent release of The Summer the World Ended, I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I got interested in the post-apocalyptic genre. I have to admit that my fondness for the setting predates even my love of cyberpunk (which is due in large part to the Sprawl trilogy by William Gibson).


Commodore 64

In 1988, I was 15 and the proud owner of a Commodore 64 computer. I’d been a fan of the Bard’s Tale games (fantasy RPG) for some time. When I spotted an advertisement in a computer magazine for Brian Fargo’s Wasteland, I thought ‘holy crap! Bard’s Tale with guns!’ I’d been a fan of the original Mad Max film for a while at that point, so I possessed a nascent interest in the idea of a post-apocalyptic scenario. It didn’t help that during the Eighties, nuclear paranoia was high. Some friends and I had come up with a paper and pencil role-playing game set in a post-nuclear world. Of course, being twelve or so when we made it, the best title we came up with for it was ‘Road Warrior.’


(Bard’s Tale 1 – This was once considered kick-ass graphics.)

Anyway, I’d managed to scrape up enough money to buy Wasteland, but had no easy way to go get it. Opportunity came when a friend next door, Joey, randomly announced he was on the way to the mall with his parents. I asked if he could stop in Electronics Boutique and nab me a copy of Wasteland. He did, and there went my summer. Back then, computer games came on 5 & ¼ inch floppy disks, with many minutes lost at “loading” screens, and swapping disks. Wasteland was the first game I played with a ‘persistent world,’ where things you did stayed ‘done’―as opposed to each ‘map’ resetting whenever you went in. Because of this, the game manual asked you to create a copy of one of the disks before playing to preserve the game in its original state if you wanted to play it again.


(Ahh, poor Rad Ghoul. You’ve inspired much. Pity you died so fast–and often.)

Wasteland blended a style of RPG combat and party mechanics similar to that used in the Bard’s Tale games, with a top-down world view similar to Ultima-4. Moving around and skill use occurred on a map view, while interacting with NPCs [hiring or attacking them] happened in the party interface.


(Top down view – It was not a good idea to go into the Citadel too early.)

I played that game so much the floppies had visible grooves in the substrate. For hours on hours I’d search every space within every abandoned building, hoping to stumble on some rare treasure. Of course, aside from one Proton Ax, all I found were rats and snakes. (Poison sucketh.) I still remember random bits and pieces from the game – the nightmare ghoul in Finster’s head, the password (M****IM) to open the nose of the ICBM under the Blood Temple, running in and out while lobbing LAW rockets at Brother Goliath in the Guardian Citadel… and of course the Scorpitron bot in Las Vegas.

I still have no damn idea what the “combat shooting” skill did.

Wasteland, given the limited disk space at the time, made use of a ‘paragraph book,’ which contained narrative text the game would refer to from time to time. You’d enter an area and the computer would prompt you with something like: read paragraph 174. This would lead to a narrative describing the scene almost like a game master running a tabletop game. While I doubt people would have the patience for this sort of thing today, the mixed media worked to bring the player into the world in much the same way a reader plunges into a novel. Worth mention as well, the devious minds responsible for Wasteland littered the paragraph book with red herrings to mess with anyone trying to cheat by reading ahead. (Some of those were quite funny.)

The experiences I had from that game created a deep-seated fondness for the post-apocalyptic genre, leading to touches of it in many of my novels. The Badlands, part of the world in which Division Zero, Virtual Immortality, and the Awakened series take place is one example. Prophet of the Badlands contains two references to Wasteland for the sharp observer. At one point, Althea (the main character), is being taken to a crime lord in what’s left of Las Vegas named “The Freddy.” This is an homage to a character from Wasteland (Fat Freddy.) The other reference is a wheeled android that Althea finds trapped in a stream. In Wasteland, the sewers under Las Vegas are filled with similar cyborgs (though their goals and reason for existing are not the same.)

A post-apocalyptic Earth setting, be it a nuclear event, zombies, virus, alien attack, or natural disaster, is a verdant field from which to grow stories. Themes of survival, human nature (light and dark), the evils of runaway technology, and the innocence (or bloodlust) of a reinvented society, abound. Almost anything goes in terms of the ‘feel,’ from heavy use of crude melee weapons and a ‘fantasy’ tone, to a gritty ‘counting bullets and bandaids’ world. Heck, throw in psionics or magic and another dimension opens up. (Apocalypses don’t have to be nuclear.)

Writers can explore the way characters deal with the lack of the protection afforded by civilization, or the absence of modern medicine. Icons of our consumerist society abound. Familiar and safe images become eerie. Consider the all-too-familiar sight of a Starbucks, but replace the people and coffee with broken windows and vegetation growing up through the floor. A squeaky vent, rats the size of housecats, and something moving in the back room. How haunting is the sight of a crumbling grade school fifty years after any child has set foot in it. (Chernobyl pictures anyone?)

In post-apocalyptic Earth, the ordinary becomes the fantastic. Items we don’t think twice about (a working iPhone or bottle of medicine for example) would become a priceless treasure. Regardless of how your fictional world got sent back to the proverbial stone age, the story concept of characters emerging from the rubble offers endless possibilities. Wasteland started my love of the genre, has inspired much of my writing, and I will forever be fond of it.


(P.S. – after many years, inXile has released Wasteland 2, the official sequel. If you love post-apoc, and you love video games, it is a must-buy.)

Inspiration is everywhere


Writers often draw from their life’s experiences to create their stories. Inspiration comes from everything around us: from tiny idiosyncratic habits of our co-workers we notice during the most boring day at the office, to an adrenaline-pumping disaster, to the most emotional events, good or bad. In some novels, like memoirs or fictionalized accounts of an event the writer lived through, most or all of the narrative is based on the author’s own ordeal. Those of us who haven’t been caught up in a war or survived a harrowing calamity worthy of being an entire novel’s story still have a myriad of smaller past experiences to draw from. With a twist and a squeeze, they can be rearranged to fit the scenario we’re working with, and bring depth to our characters and scenes.

In writing The Summer the World Ended, I pulled from an event that happened when I was around seventeen. (I am pretty bad remembering dates, so it might’ve been when I was anywhere from 16-18.) Suffice to say, I was still in high school. I grew up in a two-level house that had been in the family since it was built in 1908 or so. (Alas, it no longer is, but that’s another story entirely.) My grandfather (mother’s side) lived in the downstairs section, while I lived upstairs with my mother. Some years prior, my grandfather’s second wife passed away, leaving him alone. At the time, no one really talked about depression―especially not a man, especially not one from his generation. He got into the habit of coming upstairs to eat at night.

Again, I’m bad with dates, but I think it was getting close to summer. On one particular night, I had two friends over for dinner and my mother had put out an enormous communal salad plate in the middle of the table. She only did the ‘salad thing’ when it was warm out. The five of us settled in and proceeded to attack the salad with varying degrees of enthusiasm. My grandfather had worked as a teacher in a reform school, and even at 83, he had an imposing presence that kept me and my friends uninterested in conversation. However, within a few minutes, it became apparent something was wrong.

My grandfather, who had up until that moment been a pillar of health, was attempting to stab a slice of tomato from the serving platter with his fork―only he was missing it by a few inches. The repetitive clink, clink of the tines hitting the plate got everyone’s attention. His expression of grim determination (I’m going to get this tomato, dammit) melted away to one of bewilderment after the fifth or sixth miss. Such a change in a formerly confident, powerful persona filled the air with a tangible weight.

My mother asked if he was okay. He looked up, as if he couldn’t understand what she’d said. The whites (sclera) of his eyes had gone deep red. He stared into space for another moment with a look of utter confusion, and slumped face-down over his plate.

To my left, my friends sat dumbfounded – like that deer in the middle of the road watching the truck inexorably speeding toward them. My mother came unglued and panicked. Where he sat was right under the wall phone, so anyone going for it would have had to get close to him. Something my friends were clearly uninterested in, and my mother was in no state able to comprehend what a phone even was.

I remained relatively calm―I suppose it helped I was still a bit angry with him for kicking my cat a week or two ago―and moved to the phone to call 911. (There were no cell phones then.)

He was still technically alive when they wheeled him out on a stretcher. A swollen aneurysm had exploded deep within his brain, inflicting enough damage to destroy the person he had been. His brain stem kept the basic functions going for a bit. A little more than two hours later, he passed away quietly at the hospital. There was nothing to be done for him at that point.

I don’t remember feeling much of anything about the event. However, since I remember it in such detail more than twenty years later, I suppose it did leave a mark. Life is full of inspiring moments, be they tragic, joyous, thrilling, or tedious. Drawing upon these moments can bring a scene to life, allow a writer (and reader) to relive a time of happiness or perhaps cope with loss.

(By the way, those friends never did come over for dinner again.)

A Dangerous Trend


What the hell is going on?

At what point did the concept of being ‘offended’ lay claim to the same weight as actual harm? One of the aspects of free speech is that every now and then (okay, perhaps a lot) people are going to say things that other people disagree with. That sort of thing happens in a free society. Whether it is a dystopian governmental regime or an off-the-rails political correctness machine pulling the strings, when people’s opinions are steered not by truth but by fear of how others will react, we’re on a slippery slope.

Where does it end? If I let a four-letter word slip, and someone with “religious objections” to that sort of language tells me it’s offensive, can I then tell them that I find their attempt to force me to adhere to their belief system by altering my language offensive? Of course, that would probably ‘offend’ them too. I’d like to think adults are capable of handling differing opinions.

Let me be clear about one thing: I am not advocating hate speech. Directed, hateful comments about an individual or a group intended only to harm are not something that an enlightened society should tolerate.

What I’m worried about is the damaging effect such a mindset has on the arts: movies, television, and writing. Take for example the recent decision by TV Land to pull Dukes of Hazzard due to the Confederate flag in reaction to the recent controversy surrounding it. Perhaps I’m thinking in too-simple terms here, but I see a distinct difference between flying that flag in the real world over a government building, and a fictional character painting it on the roof of a fictional car in a fictional setting.


No one can argue that Dukes of Hazzard was advocating an agenda beyond showing a pair of backwoods idiots going on ridiculous forays against equally idiotic (and corrupt) local lawmen. Because the characters chose that symbol for their car doesn’t mean the show’s producers, writers, or sponsors believe in whatever ideology a person associates with that flag. The characters do. Or, maybe they don’t, maybe (to paraphrase Jules from Pulp Fiction) they just thought it was some cool shit to paint on their car. In the time period of the story, that symbolism was common in the area where the story takes place. It’s true to the period and the setting.

By the same logic TV Land has pulled Dukes of Hazzard, should we expect that every World War II movie with a depiction of a nazi flag will be banned because it could offend people? Should every movie, TV show, or book that depicts some historical evil such as slavery, war, serial killers, Japanese internment, or anything that anyone anywhere might possibly be offended by be pulled? That would make for some seriously bland airwaves. If something ‘offends’ you, the freedom our country provides gives you the best option: don’t pay for/watch/read it.

The removal of Dukes of Hazzard sets a dangerous precedent. Attempting to sanitize everything to please everyone is a fool’s errand. First, a silly show about silly people doing silly things, but what comes next? Are authors and screenwriters soon to be forbidden from portraying characters that have “offensive” traits? What of more serious stories than Dukes? Should someone call for a ban on movies like Schindler’s List because it portrays nazis? The characters in that movie believe a lot more in the offensive flag than Bo and Luke believe in the Confederate Flag. I hope this is a case of runaway trend-chasing and not a herald of a new age of censorship.

Art is a reflection of the society in which it is created. Are we, as a people, so afraid of looking in the mirror we need to cover it with a curtain? We cannot selectively omit events and symbols from our group consciousness. Censorship, be it by a rapid upwelling of forced indignation or by the government serves only to harm us all. People need to deal with the reality that not everyone in the world shares their opinions. As a society, we need thicker skin. We need to stop reacting to “Oh, I’m offended” as if someone just threw a baby in a pool without floats, because we will never be able to please everyone.


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana