One. I have been invited to be the featured reader at the Oak Park Public Library’s No Shush Salon this month. Feb 25, 6:30-9:00 CST. It’s a FREE event held safely via Zoom. I ill present exciting snippets from The Sharp Edge of Yesterday and other writings, and there is an open mic too. Online registration is required but free. Link? Of course link! https://oppl.evanced.info/signup/EventDetails?EventId=51023
Two. Sharp Edge is on target for March 23 release. It’s getting a final copy/proofing pass, and then pre-orders will go live. This will be my first pre-publication release with Ingramspark, so I’m not sure how pre-orders will work outside the Piranha Platform, but hey, LEARNING EXPERIENCE! I polished and trimmed and tightened up this tale, but it’s still a big, juicy novel about life, death, superpowers, perseverance, and the power of friendship. (I would say the power of love, but it is NOT a kissing book and people get the wrong idea.) But I digress.
Three. I can make Advance Proof ebook copies of Sharp Edge available to interested bloggers, reviewers, book buyers….really, to anyone interested in a sneak peek & maybe posting a release day review somewhere. There’s a way to contact me right here on the site: Contact Form
Four. I will have new character art to show off VERY SOON NOW. Also BOOKPLATES. I am super excited about this. It means you can order Sharp Edge paperbacks from your favorite retailer and still get them personalized by me even though we’re in pandemic times because I CAN MAIL BOOKPLATES ON REQUEST. The design will have a phoenix on it because the phoenix is my personal emblem and also the series logo for the Rough Passages series. I can’t wait to show it off.
Five. I haven’t stopped writing just because I finished one book. I’m making solid progress on Ghost Town, which is the working title of a book I’m working on with a partner author. Brand-new police chief of a small Illinois river town solving mysteries with the help of her great-great-great grandpa, who was mayor there in the 1800’s. I love the main character of this story, and my biggest lesson with this book is that I need to write moreprotagonists who have pets because writing animals is SUPER-FUN.
Six/Last. May I ask a favor of those who’ve read this far who also make purchases from Piranha aka Amazon? Could you take a peek at the existing positive reviews for Flight Plan and cast a “this is helpful” vote on any one that DOESN’T begin with the words, “I was very disappointed…?” I ask this because the current Top Review for Flight Plan begins with those words, so it’s sending a really bad message to prospective readers despite it being a 4-star happy take. Easy clicks on other positive reviews would be a huge help.
Huh. Look at all those cheerful things. No rant today, I guess. Maybe a rant next time. (There’s always a next time.)
Character’s Name: Jack Coby. You can see him in action in the Rough Passages talesPowerhouse,Nightmares, and Lockdown, stories you can buy online in all kinds of formats now.
Television talk show set lit at “intimate conversation” levels. Live audience.
One, a bespectacled, earnest male interviewer sitting in an easy chair grinning ear to ear. Blond hair in a spiky moussed cut, heavy beige face makeup, gym-lean body clad in double-breasted dark pinstripes. He looks like a child next to the man sitting on the heavy steel bench opposite him.
Two, a giant dressed in a crisply-starched white dress shirt and black dress trousers, but ordinary clothes cannot disguise his eight-foot height or his stiff, thick skin. He is sporting a black baseball cap and mirrored sunglasses, and he has a case of the fidgets. (above you can see what he looks like when he’s ready to play beach volleyball. (art credit: Adam Withers)
<perky theme music swells and fades>
Host: Welcome to the Brian Grimm show. I’m Brian Grimm, but of course you all know that. <leans forward towards his guest while audience laughs> Hi, there. You’re my biggest interview ever, you know that? <more audience laughter>
Brian: What should I call you? I’m not very knowledgeable about the military. Ranks and all that. I want to get it right.
Guest: You can call me Jack.
Brian: Oh, please. Come at me with the whole deal. Name, what you do, all of it. My viewers like to get all the juicy details.
Jack: Full name and rank? Jack Coby, lieutenant, retired, United States Marine Corps. Gateway Company, Mercury Battalion. I work for the Department of Public Safety now. Not a lot of employment opportunities for an eight-foot tall armor-plated dude. I don’t think you need my serial number on top of all that, do you?
Brian: No, that is quite complicated enough. So is it Jack like Jack and the Beanstalk, only you’re the giant? <pause for more audience laughter> Jack is usually a nickname for something else.
Jack: No, I’m Jack, not John or Jackson or anything else. My only nickname…can I say Jackass on TV? That’s the only other thing people call me.
Brian: I wouldn’t dare call you that. I was delighted when the Department approached my producers about having you on the show, but I confess you are one scary fellow. Will you tell us more about your powers? What’s it like, being what you are?
Jack: Getting nervous, are you? I read somewhere you test positive for R-factor yourself. Is that true?
Brian: <squirming> Ah—yes, it’s true. Someone leaked my medical records. Hazard of being a celebrity. I haven’t rolled, though. Not yet. You don’t have to answer, of course. I didn’t mean to be insensitive. <clears throat.>
Jack: Didn’t you? Isn’t that your job? That sure sounded like a soft-pitch so I could reassure you that you’ll still be human even if you end up like me.
Brian: Errm. <audience titters nervously> Maybe? I confess I have my moments, wondering what’s going to happen to me when I get older.
Jack: <Smiles wide enough to show large, curving, sharp canine teeth> Relax, man. You’ll probably never tansition from latent to active. Most poz don’t. Less than 5 percent of the overall population, if I remember right. Even if you do roll, you probably won’t end up like me. T’s, P’s, and R’s are super rare. And Tee’s are the most extreme.
Brian <leaning forward> Which brings us back to my question. What is it like, if you don’t mind sharing? Are you typical? I’m told you’re pretty rare even for a Tee.
Jack: Yes and no. I’m T5, in the middle for power, with a Y-variant, so I still look mostly human. Minimal armoring, no horns or major spines, and claws not much longer than fingernails. I’m also photosensitive, so I’d appreciate the camera light aiming a little higher, thanks. The prime Tees are twelve feet tall at baseline, and bigger yet in rampage high-power mode.
<stock video imagery comes up on the rear walls of the set, showing cut shots of troops advancing on a jungle position, with uniformed giants marching alongside armored vehicles and normal-sized infantry.>
Jack: Oh, hey. That was an exercise in Hawaii. I remember that. I’m the little guy there by the rightmost troop carrier. See the difference? I’m only big and have the turtle-skin. Oh, and we’re all nearly impossible to kill between the armor and the regeneration. But the thing that makes me rare? I hit rollover at fourteen instead of forty or older like most people. Only ever been a couple of early-onset Tees who survived rollover. That’s what most people obsess about.
Brian: Fourteen. When the average rollover age is forty-seven? Remarkable. That must have been such a shock. Your family, how did they handle it?
Jack: Don’t know. Haven’t seen my parents since I rolled. Something about me being a murderer and a monster and all that.
Jack: <sighs> There’s no way you didn’t know that, but fine. I agreed to be on the show, this is outreach, so here’s the story. I had a big brother. He’s one of four people I killed during rollover, when the first rampage hit and I was out of my mind with disorientation. I got a choice: execution or redemption in service. I chose to put on the uniform and swore the oath.
Brian: You are an astonishing young man. Thank you for sharing that. Now, about rampage mode. That’s unique to Tee’s, correct? How does it work? Can you demonstrate for us?
Jack: Do you have something handy for me to demolish? No? Okay, then. No rampage. If I call up the energy, I have to expend it. It isn’t a rage thing. Couldn’t be good soldiers if we were always going crazy, could we? It isn’t unique to Tee’s, either. It shows up as a variant in a bunch of other series. . Uncontrolled emotion makes anybody dangerous. There’s a feedback loop for us. Fight-or-flight impulses can trigger a power burst and increase in abilities. A lot of variables can bring it on. Rampage mode is just one more power we learn to control and channel.
Brian: And you do marvelously. Speaking of soldiering…you certainly had a busy time in uniform. Maybe you’ll tell us a little about that? And you hold the world record for age past rollover, too, don’t you?
Jack: Oh, heck, no. Alice Akiyama is the record-holder. She was in her sixties when she rolled on First Night, back in ’43, and she hasn’t aged a day since. She’s a hundred something. But for early-onset cases? Yeah. I break that record every day I wake up. No big deal.
Brian: No big de–How can you be so calm about it? Nothing shakes you, does it? I’m in awe, honestly. The Crisis Night incident, the Elgin School bombings, the Gulf rescues…
<New images come up on the set walls and flash by one after another–clips of text headlines, running children, walls of flame, uniformed soldiers and police officers, blanket-covered lumps in rubble, smoking craters, crowds holding hands…>
Brian: Look at all that. You and your unit, they saved so many lives. Your bravery is just mind-boggling.
Jack:I never felt brave. I do seem to end up in the thick of things a lot. I volunteered for most of those missions. My CO said it’s an early-onset thing. He says because we know we won’t be around for long, we either go in hard or check out. Mostly I feel like I’m a regular guy. Dying young? That’s the straw I drew. Getting upset wouldn’t change it. I like to have some fun, have a few drinks, goof off. You know, regular stuff.
Brian: So would you say you’re someone who can handle pressure?
Jack: Pressure? Sure I can handle it. Oh– you’re fishing for a story again, aren’t you? My interview coach told me you people like stories. Okay, how about this thing my Mercury squad handled a few days before Crisis Night, what, a year ago or more now? It’s the kind of thing Mercury Battalion handles ten, twelve times a year, all over the country. No privacy violations, I won’t name names or places.
Brian: <rubs hands together, leans forward> This sounds good already. Go on, do.
Jack: This lady, she and her whole family were members of some Denial group. She refused to report to internment camp when her R-factor spiked, and she started rolling hot at home. Worse, you know how one house in every block is the one where all the kids go? Her place.
<Jack pulls off his sunglasses, squints at audience before replacing them> You all know what hot means, right? Someone rolls from poz to active in hours, not weeks or months? It can get gruesome when there are physical changes or elemental powers involved. She rolled full pyro. Prime pyro. P-1A’s like that–back on First Night those hot rollovers left Saint Louis and Spokane in ashes. And from the time they start glowing and showing, it’s maybe an hour to full uncontrolled ignition.
Brian: Oooh, I can’t even imagine. <Looks up> do we have pyro stock footage? Can we roll that? <The back of the set lights up with images of people incinerating buildings, trees, and bushes, melting steel beams, causing explosions…>
<Jack watches the images as he continues speaking> Yeah. Like that. The lady’s kids called their Dad. One of the neighbor kids ran home, told his mom, and she called the Department of Public Safety. The DPS scrambled a Mercury team for containment. Dad was driving off with Mom when the primary team teleported in. I do not know where the man thought he was going. Deniers. Who can figure? Panic. Anyway. The primaries weren’t in position to pursue, not with a burning house and a horde of kids right there to contain. My squad gets teleported on-scene expecting to be back-up, but there I am with a car driving off and smoke billowing out, neighbors screaming and getting in the way, and who knows how long before the whole block, maybe the whole town goes up in a firestorm.
Brian: Wow. <shivers>
Jack: Yeah. Tell me about pressure. It’s all about keeping your head. There’s a standard procedure, believe it or not. I called the play, Corporal Amy Goodall picked me up and launched me after the car — I was the smallest Tee in the squad, she’s the largest, twelve foot plus, no big deal — I land on the car roof, it crumples and entraps, my ‘porter sends me and it to the secured containment block back on base, and containment techs pulled the dad and me from the cell before the mom ignited. Boom, major crisis averted.
Brian: How close was it?
Jack: Ten seconds. She melted the containment block. Any hesitation from us, and she would’ve leveled ten blocks and killed hundreds of people. I guess she did good, once she got with the program. She ended up in reboot camp for Mercury once she got minimum control of course Talent like that always goes through the military first.
Brian: Not everyone does so well. How do you feel about the public anger directed towards the government’s Public Safety policies?
Jack: I was a Marine, ma’am, and now I work for Public Safety. It’s not my place to have feelings about policies. I go where I’m ordered. Mercury Battalion is a specialist unit, they handle the R-factor breakouts and containment and do a lot of R-null population outreach with the DPS, but we’re soldiers, first. Bottom line, all enemies of the United States, foreign and domestic, they’re my business.
Brian <mugs surprise and disappointment for the audience, who groan in unison> Seriously, Jack? You’re going to feed me the official line and nothing else?
Brian <waves off the uncomfortable moment> Fine, fine. Never mind. We’re running low on time. I’ll give you an easy one. Suppose you could wish for any power you wanted, change any one thing about yourself…
Jack: That’s a joke, right? Look at me. You think I wouldn’t rather be normal size, lead a normal life? You think I wouldn’t rather live longer than–hell, do I even know if I’ll wake up tomorrow morning? What do you think I would pick? I would wish to be for plain old regular human, null-factor, no chance of rolling over. That’d mean I would have a chance of seeing twenty-five, maybe even getting married and have kids or something someday.
Brian: That was…honest. Brutally honest. There I was thinking you’d toss off a joke. <nervous laughter from the audience.>
Jack: <laughs> Oh, well. If I only get to pick power-powers, then I’d love to be a ‘porter. One of the variants that only needs a visual aid for a targeting reference. Traveling the world whenever I was off-duty, that would be pretty keen.
Brian: That does sound fun. Now here’s one question I ask all my guests. Will you tell us a secret?
Jack: No. If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret, would it? <grins>
<audience laughter and a patter of applause>
Brian: <waits for noise to quiet> Well that brings us right to the end of our time. Jack, you’ve been a good sport about all this. Really great. Can I throw one more at you? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. But the one question request that scores highest on every poll is this one: what’s your biggest fear?
Jack: Oh, that one I don’t mind at all. I have two big fears. First, look at me. I can bench-press a pickup truck, and I’m bigger than two bulls stacked on top of each other. I’m afraid I’ll hurt someone innocent by mistake. That’s a no-brainer, that one. My other fear? I’m afraid of people being afraid of me. Frightened people attack in self defense. Frightened people lash out. Some people really don’t think the poz are human. They see monsters when they look at you, Brian, as much as when they see me. And that–that should scare you a lot more than rollover itself. That’s what keeps me awake nights.
Brian: <sits up straight as perky theme music comes on> And that’s another great show, everyone. Educational and entertaining, plenty to think about as always. Thank you all, and good night!
I promised a final post for DragonCon 2016, and here be a random and curious collection of thoughts as they occurred to me over the last couple of days of the con.
Writey stuff: I went to 2 panels on Sunday.
Synopsis Writing Dos & Don’ts. This one fell under the “learning never stops” heading. Someday I will submit queries and treatments, and refreshing my knowledge of the trade tricks will come in handy. Plus several editors were on the panel, and with so many small presses popping up every day, I need to get a feel for which might be a good fit. Listening to the editors talk leaves a much stronger impression than reading website copy.
Writing with Scientists. Fun and informative. Bottom line, there’s no excuse for getting the science wrong without a good reason. (Good reasons: accepted storytelling tropes & narrative shortcuts like instant sedation, choice of speculative premises. Bad reason: lack of research, lazy use of unexamined tropes w/ real-world consequences like DNA infallibility and “zoom & expand” ) If you’re a writer and you want your science to be accurate, there are resources available. Local library research librarians, docents at museums & parks. Need in-depth primary field knowledge or an expert to riff ideas with you? Check out the The Science & Entertainment Exchange or similar sites find a willing expert. Oh, and it’s recommended you do your homework first — no one has time to explain the fundamentals. The discussion touched on the role of creators as translators between the general public and specialist communities, and also on the way fiction inspires and shapes future scientists too.
The con officially runs from Friday through Monday, taking advantage of the Labor Day weekend, but I noticed this year a lot of un-official gathering started by Thursday midday, and Monday was remarkably mellow compared to Saturday. (Mellow is a relative term when discussing an event that crams 72,000+ people into a smallish chunk of ceography. Funny how sparse throngs of several thousand people can feel after navigating a tens-of-thousands crush.) Monday programming is lighter than the other days. A lot of people seemed to head out late Sunday or early Monday. On Sunday morning at 9 AM, the hotel lobbies were quiet as churches. Monday morning? Even more peaceful.
If you go to this con, and you want to visit the vendor area without rubbing back-to-front with all of humanity, I recommend 11 AM Saturday while the parade is in full swing. Or Monday afternoon, although most vendors will be out of stock on this or that by then. I went Friday an hour after they opened and stumbled across a back route that was later closed. The comic/pop media artists floor was open enough that I could visit artists and get original art this year! EXCITEMENT! Here be more pics of it.
Cpl. Jack Coby
Dawnrigger Logo concept piece
The logistics of getting to and from any one place to any other at DragonCon is totally day/time dependent. Getting from one hotel to another by skyway? Swift and simple on Thursday & Monday. Packed full and moving at less than 1/2 MPH on FriSatSun. Not that the streets were any less crowded, but at least there’s more room to dodge & weave. IT’s still a physical impossibility to get from a panel at the Westin to one at the Hilton in succession. from Friday afternoon through Saturday night. Elevators in the same time frame–and again Sunday late afternoon? Add 30-60 minutes each way. Or cruise up the stairs. Yes, rooms on lower floors have an advantage there. We were on 12. I still took the stairs twice up, and down. Worth it.
I met an astonishingly talented bunch of new people this year. Musicians, artists, authors, people who are creatives in all three fields and more. A few names: Beth Waggoner-Patterson, Mel White, Jonathan Brazee, plus Elaine, Mark and David whose-surnames-I’ve-forgotten, oh, I am a bad person…anyway. I also got to reconnect with Teresa Patterson and Shannon Eichorn, Danielle, Jim, Ken, Kevin Dockery–and all the Palmetto Knights who once again did a fantastic job with the blade room and dazzling the con. (Check out the Knights in action here. They are amazing.)
Plug: The Dragon Awards were announced on Sunday. View the winners here. The guidelines for next year’s award nominations will go up on the DragonCon website in October. Mark the date. The voting is free and completely fan driven, which means a wide and potentially-diverse voting base, not to mention audience reach, and stories by indie authors are eligible. That’s kinda huge. Lots of categories, too.
Okay, that’s enough blathering. Some final stray pictures, and we’re done with the Dragoncon convention news dispatches.
All done except for the book shilling, that is.
I sold something every day last week. Nothing this week so far. Maybe the book godlings wanted me to feel happy about the con? Who knows? Sales mean readers, and finding new readers make me a happy author.
ANYway. I make great books people can buy & read. Here they be.
Situation:Cruel author decides to put her characters through interviews for the heck of it. Despite there being tons of interview lists available as writing exercises, she decides to picture some unnamed, unspecified talk program and plant characters across from an equally ill-defined celebrity host who has done some background and wants to see a ratings spike.
Fancy Celebrity Interviewer: Tall, blond, well-tailored individual with stiffly-coiffed hair, straight teeth and perfect skin.
Setting: a private studio set. Camera-neutral chairs and carpeting, dark, matte-finished table with random lump of sculpture and mugs no one uses. Bright lights & other hanging equipment overhead, technical crew and a few onlookers in the shadows. We join the interview in progress, after the handshakes, jokes and mugging for the cameras.
Fancy Celebrity Interviewer (FCI): When we put out the call to our followers for questions and stories about you, we received quite a lot of interesting material. I know I introduced you to everyone, but despite this , I have to start by asking, What is your name?
Justin: You’re running the interview. You don’t know who I am? We’re in big trouble. Ha. Just kidding. Sorry. I’ll behave, I promise. Justin Wyatt is the name you probably know.
FCI: Yes, exactly, that’s the name everyone knows, but your full name…?
Justin: Oh someone has been telling stories. Which name do you want? The one on my birth certificate? Geraldo Justin Romero. The one on the first patent I filed, the one that made me obscenely rich? Justin Clooney. I was underage and couldn’t apply without a guardian, so William adopted me. Long, funny story. The name on my first business license was Justin Lewis Wyatt, and I stuck with that one for a while, but I’m thinking of going back to Romero.
FCI. So with all that, do you have any nicknames?
Justin: None I’ll admit in public. Seriously, though. I had a lot of nicknames growing up, but no one’s said them to my face since I earned my second million. Except Tyler. He’s allowed to call me anything he wants. And Alison. She calls me an idiot when she gets aggravated–hi, Allie. I see you back there behind the lights with Serena. Don’t shake your head at me. It’s okay. I am an idiot sometimes, but you’re the one who said this would be a good way to get in front of the rumors.
FCI. Yes, about those. It’s being said you have some special gifts that aren’t entirely human. Is that true?
Justin: I’m as human as anyone. All the freaky-ass abilities come from…honestly, I have no fucking idea. Oh. Sorry. Probably shouldn’t swear. You call it gift. That’s one word for it. Something lives in my skin. Not entirely sure where it came from, but it started with a comminuted tibia fracture that left the inside of my leg exposed to the outside. Then we wrapped it in experimental fungal cultures because that’s all we had handy, and then we camped out in sub-zero temperatures under starvation conditions for a few weeks. It wouldn’t be easy to reproduce that experiment even if I had samples of the material, which I don’t. I doubt I’d get a lot of volunteers. Being mostly invulnerable isn’t all that useful anyway. I don’t want to talk about that any more.
FCI: Yes, all right then. How about a little history? Where were you born and so on, how did you get from there to where you are today.
Justin: I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, fourteen years before Omaha’s entire population dropped dead, my parents and little sister included. But today? I have no idea. It’s one of those days, so I honestly have no idea how I got here. OR where here is. I also have no idea who you are, for that matter. Serena and Alison are standing behind you giving me the thumbs-up, so I’m trusting this is something I agreed to do when I was having a good day. Your job is to ask me questions, do I have that right?
FCI: Okay, um…okay. Yes. Maybe we should stick to general topics. Here’s a question from a fan: do you believe that you are a good person?
Justin. What a weird thing to ask. I’m good at some things, rotten at others. I’m really good with mechanics and engineering, especially making new combinations of things no one else thought of putting together. Remembering shit, that’s not one of the good–oh for fuck’s sake, why are you waving your hands at me, Serena? Oh. No swearing zone? Right. Yes, I remember. Sorry. What was the question again?
FCI: I think we should pause for a break here.
<Interview resumes. Mugs are in different positions, sculpture has been replaced by flowers, Fancy Celebrity interviewer’s perfect hair is beginning to droop.>
FCI: All my followers are eager for you to tell us more about yourself. How would you describe your personality?
Justin. This one again? I hate it. I’m always wrong. See, I think I’m pretty likable and laid-back, but whenever I say that–see? Listen to Serena laughing at me back there. I don’t know. How would you describe me?
FCI: Would you say you’re someone who can handle pressure? What’s a good example?
Yes, I am. A good example? Seriously? How about surviving a plane crash that killed three other people, spending three days in a coma and then another six weeks in the Arctic? How about surviving an ex-wife who tried to kill me not once, not twice, but four times? How about escaping from–oops. Sorry, no. That’s still classified, judging from Alison’s panic face. Never mind that.
FCI: All right then. Moving on to unclassified things. Would you say get along well with others?
Justin: Most people. Most days. Don’t try to steal from me, don’t harm me or my family, and we’ll get along fine. Why? Are you planning something?
FCI: Ha-ha-ha. No. Someone as rich and secretive as you are must make enemies. Is there anyone in particular you keep your eye on?
Justin: It’s a long list. Reputation and money equal power, and some people always want more. I’ve outlived a lot of enemies at this point. Two of them blew each other up, another blew himself up, and the Feds made one—what’s wrong, Alison? Oh. That never happened. I remember. Never mind.
FCI: No, this is going out more or less live. How about allies? Do you want to give a shout out to anyone while you’re here?
Justin: Allies. That’s a cold word. I have friends. Two of them are right there. They have names. Please don’t ask me who they are, you’ll embarrass all of us and make the short one mad at me. Most of the time I still remember their names. This is an interview, right? Not an interrogation? I’m not tied up, and everyone else looks confused now, so I’m shutting up before I screw up even worse.
FCI: Uh-huh. That was an interesting answer.
Justin: I excel at interesting. Are we done?
FCI: That’s up to you, of course. I have a lot more questions. Here’s one that got a lot of votes: what are your plans? Is there one thing that you would like to do in the future?
Justin: Hey, I’d love to know where I am and why I’m here. That’d be a great start. Wait. I see Alison there. Hi, Allie. Have I mentioned how much it sucks to be losing my mind? Hey, Serena. Yes, I know you, too. Don’t get all worked up. I think we should leave now. Is that okay? You know, I don’t care if it is. I think we’re done.
And there you have it. Here’s my favorite visual imagining of Justin, courtesy of the talented Daniel Govar.
If you’ve stuck around this far, stay tuned for the next edition, which will happen the next time I feel like slacking. Probably next week, the way things are going. I’ll interview Jack Coby, a recurring character from my Rough Passages series. Maybe next week, maybe not, but eventually.