Where the hell have I been?

I know, this year has sucked donkey nuts for blogging. I’m a terrible blogger and a late-ass writer and nobody can find me to buy my shit, yadda yadda yadda.

The truth is, 2014 has sucked ass and I’m ready for it to be over.

As a lot of folks who have followed this blog for a while know, in 2012 I left a job of almost 18 years to write full time. Which worked out fairly well for about a year, then I went back to work.

Which also worked out fairly well for about a year, until it didn’t. Then I left that job at the end of January and started a new one right after Connooga, so the second week in March. And I thought it was going quite well and was just about ready to go into my boss’s office and talk about an end-of-my-first 90 days review and maybe salary bump.

When he fired my ass without any warning. So right before ConCarolinas I was fired, and I spent the next eight week trying to figure out how I was going to live. Because all my savings had been eaten up in that whole “write for a living” year. But I scrabbled through, sold off a bunch of unnecessary shit, dumped a large portion of my Magic card collection, collected on some back pay that had been floating out there, and got another job that started at the end of July.

So that was good. So far the new job is working out well. I enjoy the work, I enjoy the people, and we are beginning to see some results from my labors.

Then I went to DragonCon, knowing that while I was working the con, my mother was dying. I went to see her the day I left for Atlanta. I spent some time in her room, said my goodbyes, talked to the hospice nurse, and spent all weekend in Atlanta waiting for the phone call that she was gone and it was time to come home. She waited until Monday morning, and a part of me will always believe that she knew how important this con was to my career, and she held on for me. I was in the shower Monday morning when she died, and I felt it. I stood there, water running down over my face, and I felt something in my world shift. I got dressed and started packing, and by the time I got my suitcase half loaded, my sister was on the phone.

I expected it to be easier. My mother had dementia, or Alzheimer’s. or whatever. I don’t know the difference, but I know it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen. I thought I had reconciled myself to her death, because in a way it felt like she was already gone. The part of her that was really my mother hadn’t been there since before last Christmas. Up until then she would have moments of lucidity, flashes of herself. But I didn’t see those at all after Christmas. And I didn’t react very well. I don’t deal well with things I can’t do anything about – helplessness is not a feeling I process well at all. And I knew there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about my mother’s decline, so I stopped going to visit. I couldn’t stand to see her like that, so I stopped seeing her.

So I expected to handle her passing with calm and grace. After all, I had intellectually processed everything and resigned myself to the fact that my mother had really been gone for years. She never really understood that I had written a novel, much less published six of them. The last publication of mine that she really understood was Red Dirt Boy, a collection of poetry I self-published in 2010. I gave her copies of all my novels, but she never read them. I don’t think she read any of the poetry either, but that never bothered me – I swear a lot in my poetry and she wouldn’t have approved. So I had rationalized all that to myself, and I would be able to handle her eventual physical death without any real impact.

I was wrong.

I have been wrong about a lot of things in my life, but I may have never been so classically, spectacularly wrong about anything before. Even right now, writing this, I don’t understand why it hurts so much. I don’t know if there was some part of me that expected her to make an amazing momentary recovery and we could have some Hallmark movie moment right there at the end where she told me she was proud of me and then slipped away peacefully. I don’t know if it’s guilt because I was working at a con while my siblings sat at her bedside. I don’t know what it is, but I miss my mom. And it hurts more than anything has hurt since I got dumped transcontinentally by the girl I thought I was going to marry.

That one worked out really well in the end, because I married Suzy, but it was pretty fucking gut-wrenching at the time.

So all that oversharing is to explain to you, my fans, why you don’t have In the Still of the Knight, which is Boof 5 of the Black Knight Chronicles, yet. It’s also why you don’t have The Big Bad: An Anthology of Evil vol. 2. It’s also why my editors for a couple of anthologies don’t have Bubba stories and why you haven’t seen very many this year, either.

Because 2014 has been pretty well fucked and it’s made it really hard to write. I’m getting better every day. The new job is stable so far, I’m slowly getting over losing my mom, and I’m back in the saddle writing. I had a meeting with Emily this past weekend to go over layout for BB2, and that should drop in the near future. So both books should be out by the end of the year, with Black Knight 6 hopefully making a summer release next year, because Book 5 flows pretty tightly into 6, so I need to just keep writing and making it all happen.

So I’m sorry that I haven’t been more productive. I appreciate you letting me know that you’re still out there. I appreciate you letting me know that you still want the books, and I promise that I’ll get them to you. I know there has been a little oversharing in this post, and that some of you, and some of my family don’t really approve of such a thing. Too bad. This is what you get with me – I live out loud. It’s the only way I know how to be.

So yeah, 2014 has sucked. I’ll be glad to see it go. But I’m still here. I’m glad you’re still here, too.

Tags: ,

Safety and Health Tips for Convention-Going

I’ve probably written this once or twice before, but there’s no telling where that was, or when it was, and with Dragon Con rushing toward us like a runaway freight train, I thought it couldn’t hurt to give some of the better points a repeat.

Let’s start by saying this – I love conventions. I really do. They are hard work for both the organizers and the guests, and certainly for the hotel staff, but if done right they can be great places to get work done, meet new friends, reconnect with old friends, and have incredible, memorable experiences. Dragon Con is an amazing con, run almost totally by volunteers, with attendance in the tens of thousands! For a lot of us, it’s the biggest convention we do each year. And even if we do shows like NY ComiCon or SDCC, Dragon is an animal all its own. So here are some tips for properly enjoying Dragon Con, which may be extrapolated to any other con in the world.

1) Bring food and water. Not necessarily everywhere, and I don’t suggest toting a picnic basket through the Marriott, but I plan on taking a box of Pop-Tarts and some Lance crackers, plus a pair of empty water bottles. Breakfast can get expensive, so if you take your own Pop-Tarts, and some small snacks, you can save a ton on food through the weekend. Plus you never know when you’re going to miss a meal, or be up longer than any food place downtown is serving, so it’s a good idea to have some late-night snacks around. And water is crucial. There are water stations all over the con, USE THEM! Why pay $4.00 for a Coke when you can refill on water for free? I’ll certainly be drinking my fair share of sodas and other unnamed beverages during the weekend, but my backpack has two water bottle pouches on it, and I plan to make use of them.

2) Make a plan. There’s a ton of things to do at a con, especially at one as big as Dragon. So take some time to go over the app and the schedule beforehand, and highlight some things you definitely want to do. I try to do at least one thing each year that I’ve never done before. This year, I’m going to try to make the Saturday night dance, because my friend DJ Spider is spinning. I’ve also triple-booked myself with panels that I want to attend in some time slots, so which one I go to will depend on which hotel I’m in when they are ready to start. And be sure to save time for at least one walk through the Walk of Fame, if just to see famous people for a minute.

3) Stay flexible. I know, this seems to contradict the point above, but some of the best things in life are spontaneous. Even if you really wanted to see the third Supernatural panel, maybe your friend just heard about this awesome room party, and you want to go check that out. Go check out the party! Stay loose, and have fun!

4) Stay together. I’m a big dude. And I look like an extra off Sons of Anarchy. Nobody messes with me. My friend Andrea is less than five feet tall and if she tips the scale at a hundred pounds it’s because she’s soaking wet in combat boots with a heavy backpack on. There are people who look at her and see “target.” Frankly, there are people who look at me and see the same thing, but there are a lot fewer of them. Please don’t go anywhere in downtown Atlanta alone. Especially after dark. I write this for the women out there, but I don’t wander around any metropolitan area alone after dark. There are just too many whack jobs and assholes out there. Remember the buddy system, and text people to let them know where you are, where you’re going, and when you should arrive.

5) Be careful of where that drink came from. I have a friend who got roofied at a con. He (note gender-specific pronoun, men are not immune) took a drink offered to him by someone he didn’t know at a room party. A little while later he realized he was much drunker than one drink should have made him, and he got a friend to help him back to his room. Fortunately nothing bad happened to him, he got to his room safely, but things could have gone very poorly. This goes along with remembering the buddy system, but please don’t accept drinks from strangers.

6) Don’t stand by and allow harassment to happen. Fandom should be a safe environment. Conventions should be the place where we let our freak flag fly. Don’t let somebody ruin someone else’s good time because they are an asshole. If you see someone harassing someone else, get security or step in and stop it. Your choice may depend entirely upon your level of armament and your size.

7) Make a new friend. I do this at a lot of cons. I try to make friends with people I don’t know. It makes my life richer.

8) Give yourself more time to get from place to place than you think you need. I already know that I will be leaving my autograph session early, because I cannot guarantee that I will make it from the bowels of the Marriott to the panel room in the Westing in 30 minutes and not be a sweaty, drippy mess. So I will only do about a 30-40 minute autograph session. I know that I can get from the Marriott to the Hyatt in 30 minutes with plenty of time to spare, but not the Westin or the Sheraton. If I’m lucky I won’t set foot in the Sheraton all weekend. Nothing against the hotel, it’s just in the wrong location for me and none of my panels are there.  Especially from Friday at 5 to Sunday at 10, traveling through the Marriott and the gerbil trails connecting the hotels can be maddening. Allow extra time.

9) Obey Rule 125. No matter if you party all night and sleep all day, or panel all day and sleep human hours, make sure you follow Rule 125 of con attendance. Rule 125 – Each day must contain at least (1) shower, (2) meals and (5) hours of sleep. This will increase your (and everyone else’s) enjoyment of the con.

10) Wash your hands. I do a lot of fist-bumps at cons, because people are gross. And I don’t have time in my life right now for con crud. So don’t be offended if I fist-bump, it just cuts down on germs. I also wash my hands a lot.

11) Have fun! This is a work trip for me, but I’m still going to have a good time. I’ll be in the Westin lobby bar most evenings. If you see me, feel free to come up and say hello. I might not have a ton of time to give you, but I’ll share what I’ve got. And I’ll have books for sale, so you can buy my shit!

Dragon Con Schedule and stuff

First, a public service announcement from the kind folks at Grammarly, because grammar is important (no matter how bad I am at it) and plagiarism sucks. I use grammarly’s plagiarism checker because I’m an original SOB, and every other SOB ought be original, too.

Next week is Dragon*Con, also known as “OMFG what are all these people doing in line at this restaurant in Atlanta on a friggin’ weekend!” Here’s my schedule so far –

I get there Thursday night. I’ll probably head down to the Westin Bar to drink.

Friday 10AM – Setting In Urban Fantasy – me, Faith Hunter, D.B. Jackson and a bunch of other awesome folks. Westin Chastain.

Friday 1PM – Reading – I have an hour to read. I have no idea what I’m going to read. Probably part of Fair Play, Part of Black Knight 5 in its RAWEST form, and probably some poetry. Hyatt Roswell

Friday 4PM – Faces of Pulp – me, Bobby Nash, James Tuck and the usually suspects – Westin Augusta 3

Saturday 2:30PM – Bell Bridge Books Spotlight – I’ll talk about why my publisher is awesome! Hyatt Embassy D-F.

Saturday 5:30 PM – Autograph Session – Me, Elizabeth Donald and Stuart Jaffe all signing at the same time. Come say hello! Marriott International Hall South

Saturday 7PM – I want to be like you – Everyday Vampires – I will be hauling ass to get from the bowels of the Marriott to the Westin Chastain room for this, but I’ll be there!

Sunday 4PM – Monster Menagerie – This is my big-ass panel in the big-ass ballroom. I have to remember not to say Fuck on Dragon TV. Westin Augusta Ballroom

Sunday 7PM – Whose Point of View – Hyatt Embassy D-F

Sunday 10PM – Humor in Urban Fantasy – Westin Chastain

That’s all I’m technically scheduled for, and I don’t have a booth this year, so I’m likely to be hanging out more, and attending more panels, and I may find myself added to some of those panels I was planning on just attending, so who knows where you might find me. I know the Westin Bar will be my base camp each evening, and I will have books to sell and sign at the bar and after every panel, so please don’t be shy about coming up to me. Unlike some authors who are afraid they’ll cause a huge friggin stampede, I know I’m a little fish and will sign anything you’ve got as long as it’s not too wet to write on. I totally stole that line from a Hayseed Dixie concert.

Hope to see y’all there!

Holy shit, two posts in two weeks!?!?!?

It’s sad that my posting here has gotten so sporadic that it’s worthy of comment, but honestly, there’s only so much time in the day between writing, social media, binge-watching TrueBlood (no spoilers, fuckers, I’m only on Season 5) and building and re-building my Magic decks.

I said decks. Get your minds out of the gutter.

And while you’re getting your minds out of the gutter, get your asses to Winston-Salem, NC next weekend (July 11-13) for the first ever ConGregate SF & Fantasy con! A group of veteran con runners has gotten together with a bunch of awesome guests (and me, but there’s gotta some filler in the sausage) to put on the Piedmont Triad’s newest con!

Some of you may know that Greensboro’s StellarCon is on hiatus for a while, so hopefully this will fill the void and supplement that show when/if it comes back. I enjoyed the one StellarCon I went to, but it overlapped with Connooga, which had triple the attendance, so I had to pick that one the next year.

So here’s my ConGregate schedule –

Friday

4PM – Signing with AJ Hartley – I always love hanging out with AJ, and he’s got a new audiobook out where Thorin Oakenshield reads his (and James Hewson’s) novelization of Omlet, Prince of Danish. If you don’t get that joke, you don’t hang out with enough Shakespeare nerds in bars. And there are enough Shakespeare nerds at ConGregate to remedy that problem.

8PM – Writing “the Other” – Yes, I am a straight white man on a panel about writing outsiders in society. But I asked to be on the panel, because it is something I write and something I’m interested in, and there are women (!) and people of color (!!) on the panel.

10PM – What are “You” Reading? – this is an audience participation panel, where people bring books to talk about and tell what they’re reading and why. I’m going to bring some books to give away! I don’t know what yet, I just thought of it as I was typing this. I gotta go email some publishers! BRB.

Okay, email sent. So hopefully I’ll have some new books in addition to some gems off my bookshelves for you at ConGregate!

Saturday

10AM -Fuck. I know. That’s pretty damned early. And I’m moderating back-to-back panels. BUT, they’re pretty damned cool panels. In the first one – at 10AM – we will “Build a Big Bad Radioactive Bug” – the panel and audience will create a monster. A badass but beatable monster designed by committee. I know, it’s gonna be an elephant. Or a platypus.

11AM – Part 2 – An entirely new panel will have to come up with ways to “Kill the Big Bad Radioactive Bug” that we built in the first panel. I wish Jason Cordova was gonna be here – this is totally up his kaiju alley.

5PM - Signing with James Maxey. Or James the Lesser as he shall now be know thanks to his incredible fitness regime and weight loss over the last few years. Always fun hanging with James. Come buy my shit.

Sunday

1PM – Fairies and Vampires and Shit – I know that’s not the real title, but that’s what you’re gonna get outta me on Sunday afternoon. At least by this point my hangover will be gone. This should be a fun wrap-up, light and frothy and talking about made-up shit that goes bump in the night.

 

You may notice I am not doing a reading at this con. I hate reading my prose aloud, honestly, and I hate sitting through readings of other people’s prose. The lone exception is the Tiny Pirate Ninja Theatre that Misty Massey and I created during our readings at Mysticon a couple years ago. If there are toys, and a potential for mayhem, then I suppose it’s alright.

And when is “Alright” going to become a real word? It’s pissing me off. But I digress.

I once heard someone misread Peter David’s column of that name as “Booty Deegress” and have wanted to say it that was ever since, but I’m always afraid no one will understand what I’m saying or they’ll just think I don’t know how to pronounce digress and am stupid. Booty deegress.

So I’m not doing a reading, but I promise to carry books of my poetry with me and if you buy me a drink I’ll read a poem in the bar, in full performance voice. Seriously. I dare you.

Hope to see all y’all at ConGregate!

Updates and a sample

So since last I posted here I’ve started a new job, worked there three months, got unceremoniously fired from new job, spent a month setting up a new company that will begin operations on July 1 to hopefully provide self-employed income for my family, had a great time at ConCarolinas, shared a booth with Get Some Game at HeroesCon, and written a bunch of shit. I’m still working on In the Still of the Knight, Black Knight Chronicles #5, but we’re moving ahead apace with that one and it should be out by the end of this year. I’m also working on a new Bubba for next month, and the first in a series of novellas featuring a new character for me – Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter.

Quincy Harker is the ridiculously long-lived son of Jonathan Harker and Mina Murray. You might have heard of them – they had a run-in with a vampire a while back. Well, when Dracula shared blood with Mina Murray, it affected her DNA, casing her child Quincy to be born a little more than human. He’s not a vampire, but he’s not exactly human, either. And he’s a wizard. And a bit of an asshole, honestly. He’s the guy you call when the shit has already hit the fan and been sprayed all over the room, because he’s not afraid to get his boots dirty. The first Quincy Harker novella will be available next month. Here’s a little sample – not safe for kids.

 

Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter Episode 1 – 

I fuckin’ hate demons. That’s what ran through my head as I got out of the car and walked up the sidewalk to the Garda home. It was a nice place, for the suburbs. There was a two-car garage off to one side, a neatly manicured lawn leading up to flowerbeds in front of a nice little porch, and an SUV in the driveway because I’m sure the garage was full of bicycles, tools, lawnmowers and other shit that I only see when I get a call out here in the ‘burbs. I live in a condo in the middle of downtown Charlotte, so the only time I see lawn equipment is when I get lost in a home improvement store looking for a new mallet or maybe a new wheel for my grinder.

I walked up to the pale yellow siding nightmare of a home and stepped up on the front porch. The welcome mat was a little askew, the only imperfect thing in an otherwise totally Good Housekeeping image. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, opening my second sight and taking a look around. My third eye saw nothing out of the ordinary on the porch, no roiling black evil miasma ready to consume my soul and suck me down into the depths of Hell. It looked just as Martha Stewart in the supernatural spectrum as it did in the visible one. Good, I thought, maybe the little darlin’s just on the rag and I can get the fuck out of here and back uptown before the game lets out and traffic gets stupid. 

I opened my eyes and snapped back to the mundane world. After a second to adjust back to seeing the world with my eyes instead of my soul, I rang the bell. A dog immediately went apeshit on the other side of the door, as if the real trouble wasn’t already in the house. A couple of shouted “shut up”s later, the door opened and a flushed forty-something man opened the door. The top of his balding head stopped at about my nose, but I’m tall, so I was used to that. His polo shirt had sweat stains under his man boobs, and it stretched tight across his spectacular belly. He looked up at me, close-set brown eyes set deep in a florid face, capped off with a red nose that only happens when you’ve hit the bottle pretty hard for a pretty long time.

“You Harker?” He asked, glaring up at me.

“Yep.” I said.

“You got ID?” He asked.

No. I just randomly wander up to houses in suburbia and pretend to be an exorcist, hoping to arrive at the exact time their appointment was set for. I bit my tongue before that one could escape and just handed him my card.

“You got any photo ID?” He had that belligerent tone of a middle manager, the kind of guy that shits on all his employees’ good ideas until somebody smarter than him hears them, then takes credit for the good one.

I didn’t bother to hold back this time. “You want my badge number, too? This shit doesn’t exactly come with a union card, pal. You called me, remember? I’m here, the right time, the right address, now let’s see if I’m in the right place. I’m Quincy Harker, you got something needs banishing or should I just go back to my sofa and NFL network?”

“Sorry, sorry. No need to be a —“ he cut himself off, but I didn’t.

“Dick? Yeah, I’m a dick. You’re the stupid bastard who lets a demon into his teenage daughter, yanking me off the couch in the middle of the first Panthers playoff run in living memory, but of course I’m a dick because I didn’t immediately take off my hat and wipe my shoes before entering your fucking Ikea palace here. Now point me towards your daughter’s room and get out of my way before I do something really dickish, like turn you into a toad.” I pushed past the stammering jackoff and stomped towards the stairs, registering him mumbling something about the bedroom at the end of the hall. I didn’t need his instructions, as soon as I stepped onto the second floor I could feel what I was there for. This time the sense of evil, of just wrongness was so strong I didn’t need my Sight to find it. It almost knocked me over the second I turned toward the door.

The hallway was just like a normal two-story house, scene for slaughter in so many slasher flicks. There was a small bathroom to the right of the stairs, and three bedrooms arranged around the left-hand hallway. One of these would be the master bedroom, with its own bath, and the other two would be the kids’ rooms. The one on the left had pictures of motorcycles and rock bands with more makeup than KISS, but the one at the end of the hall was unadorned. Just a simple brass nameplate announcing it as Kayleigh’s room.

I could tell from thirty feet away that Kayleigh’s room had some seriously evil shit in it. I rolled my head and cracked my knuckles, then opened up my Second Sight to get a good look at the evil in the magical spectrum.

I slammed my Sight shut almost as quickly as it came into focus, shaking my head to clear the images from my mind. But there is no Visine for the mind’s eye, and I was stuck with that shit forever. Whatever was on the other side of that door wasn’t human, was powerful as shit, and was really hungry. It was also in a really good mood, which disturbed the fuck out of me. There’s nothing worse than a happy demon, at least as far as the humans around it are concerned.

“Mr. Garda?” I yelled down the stairs.

“Yes?” His voice came back. I might have heard ice cubes jingle in a glass. Good, if this was as bad as I thought it was, he was going to need to get seriously drunk.

“Who else is home?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, who else is in the building? Is your wife here? Your son?” I left off the “jackass,” but it was pretty well implied.

“No, they’re gone. My wife is out of town on business for two weeks, and my son has been staying at a friend’s house since Kayliegh got sick. It’s just you, me and Kayleigh.” And whatever has got its claws wrapped around Kayleigh’s soul. 

“That’s good. You might want to leave yourself for a little while.” Please don’t ask a lot of fucking questions.

“Why?”

Shit. “Because what I’m dealing with up here is pretty dangerous, and I don’t want you to get hurt.” And I don’t want this fucker to have another vessel to jump to if your daughter suddenly becomes uninhabitable.

“I don’t think I can -“

“Would you please just get the fuck out so I can quit worrying about your fat ass and save your daughter?” I yelled. Maybe a little direct, but I really didn’t want to have to fight this thing more than once. I heard a clatter of footsteps and then the front door slammed shut. Nice. I didn’t believe he’d actually leave. Maybe that panicked edge in my voice was useful after all.

I turned back to the door. “Just you and me, now, buddy. So why don’t you come out of the girl and let’s handle this like men?”

The voice that answered rang through my head like a dentist’s drill, piercing and ululating. “I can’t come out. Not yet. But when I do you’ll see that I’m nothing like a man.” Then it laughed, and in that laugh were the screams of millennia of tormented souls, all shrieking together to make one terrible sound.

“Then I guess I have to come in.” I said, and strode to the door. I lifted a size 11 Doc Marten and kicked the door just beside the lock. The jamb splintered, the door flew in, and my worst nightmares were realized.

The Poetry of Science Fiction

SciFi Image

Otherworldly Lines

If you are not moved by Roy Batty’s final words at the end of “Blade Runner,” then you are the replicant—a poorly built one at that, lacking an emotions chip. Just in case you have forgotten those impassioned words, here they are:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

Wow! The ‘wow’ was this author’s uncontrollable reaction, not part of the famous quote itself.

“No, I am your father.” Hearing these five words for the first time felt like getting hit in the face with a bag of bricks. If you are lost, exit the cave right now—you have been in there way too long. This is Darth Vader’s revelation to Luke Skywalker in “The Empire Strikes Back.” It may not seem like a big deal nowadays, but back in 1980, it was as mind-blowing as it could get. Note: Many people seem to think that the line was, “Luke, I am your father,” but it’s not. See for yourself.

Coming off an extremely disappointing, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” in 1979, expectations were low when “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” released three years later. It has been 32 years since, and with all the subsequent “Star Trek” movies, many fans believe that “Star Trek II” outshines them all. This brief interaction has a lot to do with it:

Spock: “The needs of the many outweigh…”

Kirk: “The needs of the few.”

Spock: “Or the one.”

Goose bumps anyone? Here are some things you may not know about our favorite sequel.

This was just a very short list of breathtaking lines. Weirdmedia has 100 out-of-this-world quotes for you to feast on.

Futuristic Subway

 

It’s What Got Us Here

Take a moment and think of all of the wonderful innovations used regularly. We have Netflix streaming, BetFair gaming, satellite radio, and GPS gadgets, just to name a few. These and many more life-changing inventions are here because of dreamers, constantly trying to reach for the stars.

What inspired these brilliant minds and did Science Fiction play a role? Were they fans of “Star Trek” or H. G. Wells? Asking these questions is not just important—it is our responsibility as well. The answers could provide us with a blueprint for ingenuity and set our children on similar paths. It could make the world a better place for generations to come. Check out the top ten most influential Science Fiction writers, provided by Listverse. I’m surprised that Gene Roddenberry was not on the list.

The Science Fiction genre offers a universe of poetry that sparks the imagination and enriches the soul. The importance of such beauty cannot be overstated. The inspiration it releases into the atmosphere on a daily basis allows us all to dream. And dreaming is the seed of discovery and creation.

 

This is a guest post by Michael Page. Michael is an avid sci-fi fan and film enthusiast. When not blogging about all things science fiction, he enjoys binging on the latest video games and eating chinese food.

Intro to Magic: The Gathering Part 1, the concepts

As I’ve gotten back into playing Magic:The Gathering, it’s given me a way back to blogging, but I realize that not everyone who reads my blog plays Magic. Or has any idea about how to play Magic. And when my friend T was trying to learn the game, she wanted to know what book she could buy that would teach her how to play, and how to build decks, and all that jazz. That’s when I realized that there really isn’t a good beginner’s guide to Magic right now. So I figured I’d write one.

You know, along with all my other projects.

But I also thought that if I did it as a series of blog posts first, that would allow me to kill multiple birds with one stone. I get to write the Magic book I want to see available. I get my blog back on track and it becomes a place for people to find out more about me and my writing. And I get to do it in small enough snippets to fit it in between the other projects I’m working on.

So here’s the beginning. This is Part 1, the general concepts.

You are a Planeswalker. This is the intro to Magic:The Gathering. Four little words, that started a bajillion-dollar business. You are a Planeswalker. Right there in that sentence is a lot of information, and a lot of mystery. It tells you that you’re going to go somewhere outside yourself, you’re going to have an element of roleplaying in the game, and that there will be something new and exciting involved. Planeswalker – what the hell is that, anyway? Well, we’ll get there.

At its heart, Magic (or MTG) is a collectible card game. Two or more players (but for the purposes of most examples here, two) take on the role of wizards trying to destroy their opponents. Both players start with a predetermined life total, and they can win the game either by reducing their opponent’s life total to zero or by forcing them draw a card when they are out of cards to draw. That’s most of it. There are a few alternate win conditions that are dependent on cards, but those are the most common paths to victory.

As with life, there are plenty of examples in MTG that contradict the basic rules. There are advanced cards that literally change the win conditions of the game, but they are few and far between. What I’m going to try to do is present the normal circumstances of the game, and you keep hold of the basic understanding that if there’s a card on the table that says that the normal rules are suspended for a time, that card applies. For example, some cards say that if you have X amount of life (where X is typically greater than your starting life total) you win. If that card is in play, you have a third path to victory. But those are outliers and we won’t spend too much time on them.

So you have a deck of cards, and you have a friend with a deck. Those two things are all you really need to play Magic. Cards and a friend. And frankly, if you’re short on one and have plenty of the other, there are local game stores to help you acquire whichever one you’re lacking.

So sit down with your friend and your deck, and you’re ready to play. You each start with 20 life. Your job is to bash your opponent to zero while not allowing your opponent to bash you to zero. You do this by casting spells. And you cast spells by using something called mana.

Mana is the energy of the world around you. The elemental forces, if you will. There are five different colors of mana, each representative of a different style of magic. Over time, you’ll determine what type of magic best suits your personality and play style, and you will naturally gravitate toward those types of decks. Each color has a personality, and types of creatures that go along with it.

The five colors of mana are Black, Blue, Green, Red, and White.

Black is the color of death, disease and things that go bump in the night. Creatures like zombies, vampires, ghouls, ghosts and demons are typically black. Black spells frequently use your life total as a resource. You may spend life to draw cards, summon creatures, deal damage, etc.  Black has a lot of spells that take life from your opponent and give it to you. Black also has spells of disruption, that take cards out of an opponent’s hand or destroy the creatures that they have out on the table. I play a lot of black decks, because I write horror novels. What do you expect me to play, decks full of sunshine and unicorns?

Blue is the color of rational thought and control. Blue is also the color of the sea and sky , so lots of fish, merfolk, birds and flying creatures. Blue has long been considered one of the most powerful colors in MTG, partly because it features lots of spells that let players draw extra cards. Having more cards than your opponents is a huge advantage in game play, so it’s never something that should be overlooked. Blue is also very disruptive, because it has counter-magic. Basically spells that just say “NO” to anything your opponent wants to do. I like to play blue because I like to be in control, but it’s sometimes considered an “un-fun” color.

We’ll get to the other three colors next time, because I want to keep these under 1,000 words and I babbled too much in the beginning. Anyway, I’ll try to do at least one of these Magic intro posts each week, and maybe by the end of the year I’ll have the guide written. If anybody has any hookups at WOTC, I need to know who can give me permission to use their trademarks like mana symbols in illustrations.

Tags: ,

What are you working on?

It’s been a little quiet lately on the release front, since Paint it Black dropped in October, so I thought I’d give you a little idea of what’s going on at the keyboard around here. Just to remind folks that I do a little more than play Magic and go to my day job.

1) The dragon book is percolating. I’ll dust it off in a couple months and see what I think of it. I already know it’s choppy and the ending is rushed, so there’s probably a good 10,000 words to be added in to make the resolution make sense and not make people feel like I just threw them off a cliff. I’ll pick that up after I finish this next little gem.

2) I’m working on Black Knight 5 – In the Still of the Knight. This is the first of a major two-part arc that the whole series has been building up to. I’m doing lots of nasty things to the boys and everyone around them, so I fully expect some hate mail. But I think it’s going to be a helluva story, so that should outweigh the pain in the end. I really need to write 5 & 6 together, because there is a little bit of a cliffhanger between them. Not sure how that’s going to work out, because I’ve never written that way before. That’s why I have a brilliant editor – to get me through the crap I don’t know how to do. I hope to be finished with book 5 by the end of winter and book 6 sometime later in the year. Book 6 will not release in 2014, no matter when I finish it.

3) I’m also working on a traditional fantasy thing based off an old D&D character I used to play. He was the world’s most impulsive thief, and his favorite phrase was “What’s the worst that could happen?” Then he found out. It feels like a trilogy, but I gotta write the first one first. So far I like the characters, just gotta figure out the plot and build the world. I’m starting to understand why traditional fantasy novels are so friggin’ long – you gotta explain a lot more shit than when you’re writing in the same world your readers live in. World-building is hard, y’all.

4) I haven’t forgotten Bubba, but it’ll probably be March before a new Bubba story hits the street, thanks to my other commitments. But in the meantime, there’ll be another Steampunk story featuring Bubba’s great-grandpappy Beauregard out in a couple weeks. It’s in the anthology Capes & Clockwork, coming soon from Dark Oak.

5) And speaking of Dark Oak, the submission period for Big Bad 2 – an Eviller Anthology (not the real title) is almost over, and I’ve started picking through some of the subs. There are  very few open slots this time, so the competition is going to be fierce. But we’ve also received submissions from some invited writers that are just absolutely goddam amazing, so I think this anthology will be killer. Assuming I ever get around to writing my story for it, that is!

6) And then there are incorporation documents and paperwork for getting the Second Star Foundation started. Every time I turn around it feels like another friend of mine is diagnosed with another life-threatening illness that keeps them unable to work and earn, so creating the safety net of a charity designed for writers that are struck down by disease is a huge priority for me. I’ll give you more details as they arise, but you can read all about the beginnings of it over at Magical Words.

And I play Magic a couple times a week and I have a full-time job. Not to mention the fact that I still pick up theatre gigs for extra cash. So that’s what’s going on in my world. What of those projects, if any, excites you the most?

Drafting Theros – Successes and Failures

So I think of myself a something of a Limited specialist. At my local game shop (Get Some Game) we draft every Friday night, and there are a fair number of really solid players there. I’m not the best in the store, but I’m usually in the top 5-6. But Theros drafting has completely dumbfounded me. I have had only limited success in the format since the set came out (get it, limited success in Limited? See what I did there? It’s gonna get worse, I promise), winning very few of the drafts that I’ve played and rarely coming in Top 4 in our weekly drafts.

So there are few things that I wanted to talk about as my failures have continued to pile up, all of these being things that have kicked my ass over the months that we’ve been drafting this set.

1) Green/Red Monsters is pretty good, and often pretty open. I actually went against type last weekend and won a three-round draft going with Green/Red Monsters. I started out trying to be Blue/Red, but moved into Green after a Nemesis of Mortals wheeled. That means it went all the way around the table and made it back to me. When a really strong card like Nemesis of Mortals does this it typically means that no one is playing that color, so you can take anything you want in that color with impunity. From there I started picking up Satyrs. Not the piping one, I think Satyr Piper sucks ass, but all the others. Voyaging Satyr is an incredible two-drop in Green, giving a body and ramp. Satyr Hedonist has an awesome sac effect that lets you drop a monster really fast, and Satyr Rambler is just solid, a 2/1 body with trample for two mana. Slap a Dragon Mantle on him and you’re golden. So I rode the back of my Nessian Asps and my Nemesisesisesis to victory. And a Mistcutter Hydra, which is just really bad news for your opponent who is playing almost mono-blue.

2) Green heroic guys are trap cards. I have been such a sucker for Staunch-Hearted Warriors that I must have lost half a dozen matches because of them. The initial cost is too high, and they fall prey to Voyage’s End or Griptide just as easily as a more reasonably costed card. And don’t get me started on the Battlemaster. So Green heroic guys are to be avoided.

3) Minotaurs are fun. There are a fair number of minotaurs in the set, more than enough to draft a tribal minotaur deck, and the Kragma Warcaller often gets passed around the table, so he can be a fairly late pick. Grab all of those guys you can and just curve out perfectly from Deathbellow Raider to Minotaur Skullcleaver to Borderland Minotaur to Kragma Warcaller and smash face. Supplement with Harpies for flyer defense and it’s a thing.

4) Flyers are tough. Blue/White flyers is totally a thing, and when you add in that white has the best heroic guys, and blue has the best bestow creature, you can make an unstoppable air force pretty easily. Wingsteed Rider, Phalanx Leader, Nimbus Nyad, Fabled Hero, Akroan Hoplite, Battlewise Hoplite, Triton Fortune Hunter are all valid cards, and then at the top of the curve you have all the sphinxes for beatdown. Definitely a solid strategy, but a popular one, so you’re gonna have to fight for your cards and get a little lucky to get enough stuff to make it work. But one Phalanx Leader and a couple of Chosen of Heliod makes for a decent little army.

5) Pay attention to what’s open. I have such a problem with this, because I’ll try to lock in a strategy based on one rare, and I do better when I pay attention to the signals and just take what the table gives me. I have to pay more attention to taking early removal and bombs, then worrying about solidifying a strategy in packs 2-3.

So there are a few tips based off my mistakes in Theros drafting. If you’ve got anything to share, leave it in the comments!

Tags: ,

Stepping Up

So folks who sometimes stop by this little corner of the interwebs may have seen that over the past year and change I’ve gone back to an old pasttime – Magic:The Gathering (or Magic:The Addiction). I started playing again at LibertyCon because Brandon Sanderson invited me to a draft with him, and I had a blast, remembering how much I enjoyed the game all those years ago. That was the first step. Then I found a local game shop that I really like, and it was all downhill from there. I’ve spent a piece of almost every week since slinging cards, trading cards, and generally nerding out over chunks of cardboard.

For those that have never played, Magic is kinda like a blend of poker, chess and Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a collectible strategic card game set in a fantasy environment with awesome art and lots of smart marketing. And I’m totally hooked. I’ve primarily focused on my Limited play since coming back to the game (Limited is when you take a set of new packs of cards, open them and build a deck from what you find there). I enjoy Limited because the playing field is pretty level, and I can fall back on my game theory and understanding to lead me to some modicum of success. I’m a decent Limited player, but most of the major tournaments are Constructed format (Constructed is when you build a competitive deck from all the cards you own or can borrow and bring that to the tournament), so I decided about a month ago that it was time to step up my Constructed game.

In Magic there are two main ways to build a deck – homebrew something that you think will be awesome, or go on the internet and get the deck list from last week’s major tournament winner. After a year and change of homebrewing without real success, I moved on to Plan B and built a Mono-Black (with a splash of white) deck. I splashed white for Blood Baron of Vizkopa, because it has protection from white and black, which makes it very difficult for many decks to deal with. Once it resolves, it’s going to give a lot of people a lot of problems.

Last weekend was a Star City Games Super Invitational Qualifier tournament at Be There Games in Indian Trail. It’s not far from my house, and I’d heard good things about their events, and a bunch of my friends were going, so I decided to give it a shot. I got there and started to register my deck (bigger tournaments have you list the cards in your deck and then do random deck checks to fight cheating) and took a little advice from my friend Joe. Joe has had a lot of tournament success recently, winning two major events this year, so I listen to his advice. I was running one Prophetic Prism so that when I stole a card with my Nightveil Specter I could cast it no matter what. Joe suggested I cut that, because I’ll often pull land with the Specter and be able to cast the card anyway. That allowed me to add one more Blood Baron, upping the threat level of the deck considerably.

Unfortunately I had no answer for the other glaring error Joe pointed out in my deck. When I was tweaking things I cut back on my white mana sources from eight to four. I cut the Godless Shrines and kept the Temples of Silence, which meant that there could be times I was going to have mana troubles. I took a live and learn attitude to this mistake and hoped it wouldn’t screw me too badly. It didn’t crush me, but definitely ended up being relevant.

Round 1 – I played against a very nice guy from Atlanta (which set my tone for the whole day – all my opponents were very cool, which made the day way better) who was playing a Mono-red aggro deck. This deck feels on the surface like a terrible matchup for me, and in fact I had play-tested with Taco in a small tournament the week before and got my ass kicked by his mono-red deck. My Round 1 opponent had a couple of rough draws, but was still able to get some early threats on board, but I managed to push through his pile of early attackers and bad draws and beat him down 2-0 (Magic tournament matches are best of three).

Round 2 – Another nice dude, one of the other oldest guys in the room (he even had a few years on me). His name was Stephen, and he was playing a white weenie deck (lots of small creatures that kill with a swarming strategy). He couldn’t get anything going and once I resolved a Blood Baron (which has protection from white so he had no answers for it) it was pretty much game over. Game 2 I think I killed him with a swarm of Pack Rats. 2-0 and I was feeling pretty good about my deck and myself.

Then I got to Round 3, and found out what a problem my deck could be when I played a mirror match (a mirror match is what happens when two players piloting the same deck get matched up against each other). And my opponent had a lot more tournament experience than me, and more experience with the deck, and had better draws to boot. So a better player with more experience and better draws beat me in less than fifteen minutes out of the fifty-minute round. I was still in the running at 2-1, but couldn’t afford to lose another match.

Round 4 I clashed with Chris, another nice dude from Augusta. I don’t remember what his deck was, but I remember they were very good matches. Beating him was far from easy, with back-and-forth matches and the first time all day I went to Game 3. We were 1-1 going into Game 3 and it was going to come down to who got their deck going first. I got the advantage and took down the match, but don’t remember any of the details of the match.

Round 5 should have been better than it was, but I got stuck in the mirror match again, against a better player again, with more experience again, and got my ass kicked again.

Since I was eliminated from contention for Top 8 and major prizes (major for Magic, but first place was $400, which is a good day no matter how you look at it) I went ahead and dropped out of the tournament and entered a booster draft. Back in my Limited comfort zone I went 3-0 to win the booster draft and redeem myself a little for the day.

Tags: , , ,