What a long, strange trip it’s been!

My apologies for the lack of updates. Life has been busy for my wife and me as we have been purchasing our first home. My job is going great, and there’s a lot of responsibility there with leading a large group of researchers and students.

I plan to get back to work on writing. Actually, an email from a fan named James started me back up into the editing process for the 57k words currently in Shadows of Our Fathers (feel free to thank James :D). In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting the first three chapters of the draft, as they become “ready”, and you can feel free to comment on them. Believe it or not, I take comments very seriously. I’m still learning my craft, and suggestions I find on Goodreads, Amazon, and other places often find their way into me honing my skills. For this reason, Book 3 of the Primal Patterns is going to be different–as are the other two books I’ve started for the Winter Phenomenon series and the book tentatively titled Our Criminal Future.

Why different? Well, it’s been pretty obvious that the way I had been going about writing was flawed. Even after paying for deep story edits of my book, Lucifer’s Odyssey was fatally flawed by lack of description, internal thought processes, and direction that held back and ultimately thwarted readers from being engaged in the series. The reviews and comments on sites like Goodreads, Amazon, and other places bear this out. The upvoted Amazon reviews that every reader sees (and ultimately result in fewer people purchasing the book or entering the series) have killed almost any chance of the series gaining traction, and the premise of the series (an alternate history of Lucifer and Jehovah) was perhaps too controversial to even be attempted in a first book, before any reader could trust me to deliver a good story. And the truth is that I probably wasn’t ready, as a writer, to bring that story the light it deserved and needed in order for it to have a chance to become more popular. I have zero friends who have finished the book (even friends who loved Zelazny and sci-fi). Even my wife can’t complete the first book. And this means that there has been no one I could really trust to help me become a better writer, so that I can write this kind of epic story properly.

So, I put down Shadows of Our Fathers and focused on other stories. Some of the shorter stories like Elves and Goblins: Perspectives of a Father’s Rebellion were not only attempts to highlight social issues like segregation and universal healthcare, but they were also my attempts at applying what I had learned from comments on Lucifer’s Odyssey, The Goblin Rebellion, and Angels and Demons. Other stories like the one in the Pride Collection were more emotion, expression, description and an attempt at a more understandable story that might reach audiences better. This continued into Hallow’s Ween to try to connect with readers better–though at this point, all of them have stalled as far as sales. But despite these setbacks, I appreciate the comments and harsh words because they help me realize that what I’m doing right now is not good enough. For those who have enjoyed the work I’ve done so far, don’t worry. I’ll keep working at it. I enjoy writing too much to ultimately quit it. My other career requires a lot of technical writing and that has been it’s own reward, but fiction is something I’m very passionate about. I love story telling. I just know that I’m not where I need to be in my fiction-writing ability.

The downside of that rationale is that I realize I have done readers somewhat of a disservice by putting out Lucifer’s Odyssey and The Goblin Rebellion before they were ultimately finished–before my skills as an author had been honed properly. The thousands of dollars I had put into editing and artwork were not enough to save those inadequacies and that’s a truly sobering thought–that no one, even someone who specializes in fixing authors, can save the work but myself at this point. Which means that, ultimately, I will probably have to redo most of Lucifer’s Odyssey or simply move on to other projects. The compromise at this point is to complete at least the first trilogy of the Primal Patterns to give readers some closure.

Of all the stages of the writing process, editing is by far the most arduous. You’ve put your ideas out on a medium, and like taking an idea out of Plato’s Forms, the implementation is flawed because you, the instrument, are flawed. And because you are the instrument of that realization of the idea, you are hopelessly inept at seeing and fixing the flaws. You almost have to have another expert come by and fix your instrument–the mechanism for which you bring idea to reality–or, and more likely in my case, you have to learn how to fix your own process of realization.

Anyway, I’m back to editing right now. The next step will be continuing the story of the Primal Patterns, closing up the trilogy, and moving on to a different story–hopefully one that has some chance of reaching a broader audience.

Free books for Halloween!

In celebration of Halloween, arguably the most awesome holiday in existence because everyone dresses up like someone they’re not and gives away free stuff, I’m giving away all of my books for free until November 2nd. That’s right. I apparently don’t need money, and you need free books, so share these Smashwords coupons with a friend and celebrate Halloween in style–by sitting on your favorite cushy chair and reading some fun, free books! Also, check out http://witchyebooks.blogspot.com/ for other authors who are giving away Halloween books for free!

Hallow’s Ween
Smashwords Coupon: VR38H (100% off)
Smashwords Link: Download

Talented teenage witch Chloe Hallow seeks the heart of the love of her life, but when her attempts at a normal conversation fail, she falls back on what she knows best: alchemy. The resulting spell leaves an indelible stain on the small magical community of Squirrel Hill, but every year, her enduring legacy touches the world.

Elves and Goblins: Perspectives of a Father’s Rebellion
Smashwords Coupon: PH22Y(100% off)
Smashwords Link: Download

Aidan looks into the eyes of his dying son Elan, the last of his line, and curses the goblins who have marginalized his elven people into the meager forests. To find a cure and save his boy, Aidan must enter the forbidden goblin towns, but violating the peace could jeopardize more than just his family’s future.

Angels and Demons: Perspectives of a Father’s Rebellion
Smashwords Coupon: PH22Y(100% off)
Smashwords Link: Download

Heaven and hell are vying for human souls in vortices between humanity and the afterlife. When Lucifer and his demons overwhelm Archangel Michael and Gabriel, heaven is faced with the possibility of losing all souls on the planet. Reincarnated in heaven, Michael must fight his way back to Earth to stop the devil before he tricks humanity into harvesting billions of souls into his fiery kingdom.

Lucifer’s Odyssey (Primal Patterns 1)
Smashwords Coupon: You don’t need one. It’s free for the entire holiday season!
Smashwords Link: Download

A civil war rages across the heavens between Lucifer and Jehovah, but it’s not the story you thought you knew…

Lucifer languishes in an earthly prison, awaiting the apocalypse that will finally free him after 200,000 years. Before breaking loose, he discovers that the armageddon he set in motion will destroy the capital of Chaos, his home universe.

He travels back to Chaos and stumbles upon a bloody civil war devastating his homeland. The realm’s magic wielders are firmly under the control of a rival clan, and without their protection, Lucifer’s family is in mortal peril. As old demon clan rivalries blossom and a new hostile universe expands across the known multiverse, Lucifer is faced with not only protecting Chaos from annihilation but also saving his rightful place on the throne.

The Goblin Rebellion (Primal Patterns 2)
Smashwords Coupon: DC39S (100% off)
Smashwords Link: Download

Five years after the Uldram catastrophe, the elf Routan sits in a shattered home filled with the faded memories of his murdered children. King Elandril has done nothing to bring Lucifer and the demons to justice, and despite the assurances of the government, Routan remains convinced that the Elven Realm is in grave danger. Assistance comes from the creator of the Order Primal, and together, he and Routan will shake the foundations of the multiverse.

Updates and Free books!

You just saw “Free books”, and you’re just searching for clicky links in this post without even reading it, aren’t you? Well, I never… Anyway, there’s a couple of announcements that I want to make before you start clickety-clicking all over the page in hopes of finding your scavenged booty. Alright, I’ll admit I’m picturing you with an eye patch and a parrot–which, if you’ll pardon me for being so forward–is a nice look for you. Brings out your… eye…

Lucifer’s Odyssey is finally free on Amazon. This is apparently a two-month delayed anniversary present from me to you. Next year, I guess I’ll send my present with Fedex instead of snail mail or something. Also, Hallow’s Ween was released earlier this month to amazing fanfare. And by fanfare, I mean that my grandmother asked me if I was still writing, and I told her about the book, and she told me that the beans she had earlier that night were making her feel mellow and gassy. Since mellow is similar to hallow in sound, and beans and Ween are practically siblings, I’m pretty sure she was speaking in code about how she had already read the book and loved it so much that she was feeling winded and gassy from talking about it to all of her brutal bridge mates.

And she’s not the only one who gets to read Hallow’s Ween for free, either. I gave away fifty copies earlier this month on LibraryThing (sorry for not posting about it. I’ve been traveling quite a bit this month.) And on October 30, 31, and November 1st, I will be posting another giveaway here, on Facebook and on Twitter for like an infinite of them. Well, it could be a limitless giveaway because I’m not specifying any limits on the coupons and if you can get the 2-3 billion people in China and India to download the book during that time, I would be absolutely tickled pink. Or bright red. Or whatever color I turn when I’m tickled in excess amounts.

So, I have a link here for Lucifer’s Odyssey, which is free. And you can click here for Hallow’s Ween, if you’re jonesing for its awesomeness before it’s free at the end of this month.

Upcoming titles

The release of the anniversary edition of Lucifer’s Odyssey has gone well, and the book is now free on Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. I have been making progress on Shadows of Our Fathers, and it is nearing 50k words, but I’ve also taken some time to work on other, shorter works.

Later this month, I will be releasing “Hallow’s Ween,” which is a fun origin story for the Halloween holiday and set many thousands of years earlier than you might think. Another series that may come out this year is tentatively titled “Our Criminal Future” and features a heroine’s fight against organized crime in the twenty third century.

I will continue to hammer away at Shadows of Our Fathers, but I’m extremely interested in getting started on both the “Our Criminal Future” and “The Winter Phenomenon” serials. I think the stories are more accessible, fun, and less likely to offend while still discussing interesting issues in technology and our future.

Upcoming Anniversary Edition of Lucifer’s Odyssey

Lucifer's OdysseyAt the end of August, Lucifer’s Odyssey will have been published for a year. I’m sure we can all agree that birthdays are a time of giving, and I think that the anniversary celebration of Lucifer’s Odyssey shouldn’t be any different. Coincidentally, Lucifer’s Odyssey is also coming out of its exclusivity arrangement with Amazon via the KDP Select program, which means that the electronic versions of Lucifer Odyssey will soon become available on all major online outlets–just in time for its birthday. Rock on!

But that’s not all. I have bigger plans for Lucifer’s Odyssey’s anniversary bash this year–after all, this is a special day for my first novel.

I have drafted a prologue for Lucifer’s Odyssey that describes the Crown Prince touching down on Earth, falling into Jehovah’s trap, and seducing Eve with knowledge. Before I release Lucifer’s Odyssey to all outlets, I will be adding this prologue to the book–meaning that Lucifer’s Odyssey will contain even more cool stuff!

Now, here’s the real kicker. Since I am no longer exclusive to Amazon, and I want to celebrate the first anniversary of my first novel, I plan on making Lucifer’s Odyssey free on all outlets! This may take time to percolate throughout the vendors (especially Amazon), and it may not be a permanent situation. However, I do hope this allows more people to enjoy Lucifer’s Odyssey and join me in celebrating its first birthday!

Cheers all!

Update: The anniversary edition is now available on Smashwords and Amazon.

Random Internet Videos #Eleventy-Six

I haven’t posted anything in a while, and in typical lazy-guy fashion, instead of posting new insightful content, I have decided to post more internet wackiness and some terse updates.

First, the updates. If you missed it, my story “Saving Suzanna” was published in the Indie Ecclective’s “Pride Collection” back in June. The Pride Collection is a celebration of Pride Month, and the quality of the short stories is nothing short of remarkable (especially at a price point of $0.99). I’m very proud to have been a part of it. As for what’s next, I am back to writing the third book in the Primal Patterns series after my move to Pittsburgh. I am pushing the release date back to January 1, 2013.

Shameless plugs and writing comments aside, let’s get to a couple of funny videos from Ted Films. Both of these are Star Wars themed, but you came to this site knowing that I am nerdy, so I will make no apologies.

Star Wars That I used to Know

Rebecca Black Parody. Yesterday was Benduday…

Dang Beijing, you crazy!

On April 16th through 20th, I stayed in Beijing, China for a conference on cyberphysical systems. The conference was OK, but the city and culture of Beijing were far, far more interesting. I won’t cover the smog because I didn’t really take any good pictures of the ridiculous mixture of dust from the Gobi Desert and oppressive exhaust from the many cars on the streets. What follows instead is a tale of communist Obama, scorpions, food poisoning and concubines. Dang Beijing, you crazy!

So, I had to do conference stuff on the 17th, but on the 18th, I got a tour of Beijing from a graduate student at Vanderbilt who had lived in the capital. We didn’t stick to the tour routes. We went all local-like, and one of the first things we noticed at a shop on the way from the Forbidden City was the image to the left, which is hilarious for two reasons. First, Obama is dressed in Mao Zedong communist-party garb. Fox News should have a heyday with this one, right? I mean, obviously this is just further proof that he’s a closet muslim, communist, whatever! Well, actually he’s just popular over there like he is everywhere else. For a communist country like China, he represents an American that understands what it means to put the people in front of himself. Their words. The second really funny thing about this image is the caption of the shirt underneath Obama. “Knowledge likes pants. Invisible but very important.” My guess is that this is meant to say “Knowledge is like panties: invisible but very important.” The way it is phrased right now is quite simply hilarious. Before you ask, pants are very visible in China.

Next stop on the crazy China train is “Snack Alley”, which is off the main shopping district a couple of blocks from the Forbidden City. Snack Alley literally has everything you might possibly want to eat, including a lot of things you probably don’t want to eat. For instance, live scorpions on a stick. Now, our graduate student told us that she’s never eaten them, is afraid of them, and has no idea who eats them. In her defense, I didn’t see anyone purchase a single scorpion on a stick from the dozens of places that were selling them. But that’s the point. There are dozens of places selling live scorpions on a stick. I found out the next day from a different, more official tour guide that scorpions tend to be fried. She said they taste like shrimp, and that snake on a stick tastes like chicken. I never saw the snake on a stick, but now I’m quite fascinated. Should I have tried the scorpions on a stick? Well, if they were fried, it was probably far less likely to cause the explosive happy time than the restaurant we chose shortly after seeing Snack Alley.

Hot Pots. In China’s defense, we went to a very nice restaurant the previous day called “Quan Ju De”, which is apparently one of the originators of the Peking Duck but better than the Americanized version. We ate extremely well there, and I might cover that in a follow up post about the Great Wall, Forbidden City, etc. But right now, we’re going to talk about the magical world of food poisoning/getting sick at a Hot Pot.

A Hot Pot is a simple enough concept, but there are two variants. The first involves everyone throwing a bunch of food into a soup base and sharing that among all the party-goers. The second involves each person having their own soup base and throwing a bunch of food into it and privately suffering through the consequences. We chose the second one. I had a hot-and-sour base and picked sliced duck, pumpkin, and rice noodles for my attempt at soup awesomeness. For those chefs out there, it will likely be obvious that I am not an expert chef from my ingredients. I could probably burn poptarts if sufficiently distracted. Anyway, I get control of the burner underneath my “hot pot”, and I drop in a fourth of the duck, pumpkin, and rice noodle and keep it going for 20 minutes or so, despite the fact that I’m absolutely starving. They give you this soy-based sauce packet that was simply delicious, and I devoured the duck, rice, and pumpkin very quickly once I transferred them from the pot onto a plate. So far so good. My guide, the graduate student and another researcher at our lab sort of laugh at me for cooking duck for so long. They claim such a thin slice of duck should only take 5 minutes to cook. Feeling like an idiot, I decide to drop my 20 minute cook time to 10 minutes, just to be safe.

How safe was I? Do you see the picture to the right? I was squatting over that within 30 minutes. Now, for those Americans and Europeans out there, your eyes are not deceiving you. That is a porcelain hole in the ground. There are four important things to know about this bathroom encounter. First, there is no toilet paper. None. And it’s not an accident. Bathrooms outside of the 4 star+ hotels have no toilet paper. This is a “let-it-dry” culture. Second, I was nowhere near this bathroom. I was in the subway when it hit, and I had to run up three flights of stairs (from what I remember) to get there. And I was happy to be there (the previous fragment should be read in a grumpy old man’s voice complaining about how kids don’t understand how great they have it)! Third, and as a consequence to the 2nd important thing, by the time I got to the bathroom, I was in dire straits. My stomach was churning, I was seconds away from explosion, and I was moving past the bathroom attendant at a full run yelling “Ni hao! Now, get out the way!” Fourth, I have no experience in squatting and avoiding soiling myself in such a situation.

Now, as crazy as this scenario is to me, as a foreigner from more Westernized cultures, it wasn’t all bad news. I successfully avoided soiling myself, which after some hindsight resulted in me giving myself a high five. I made it up three flights of stairs without the party starting too early, and I didn’t have to become indoctrinated into the “let-it-dry” culture. My plan was simple. I waited until my friends got worried and came to my rescue. My heroes passed me a small package of tissues over the divider, and my spirits were immediately lifted. In fact, I left that bathroom in 1000x better spirits than I entered it with. I even high-fived the bathroom attendant before washing. No, I’m kidding. I washed my hands crazier than Rene Russo in the movie Outbreak (and she washed like a madman, even though she was totally too late.) We left the bathroom and the Hot Pot in our rearview walking mirrors and went about the rest of our day.

My next major stop was the Great Wall and Ming’s Tombs. I may cover that in more detail in a later blog post, but first, I want to cover something that is crazy. Concubines. Not the concept really. I understand how a supreme leader would be all “I want that one… and that one… oooh, and that one.” It’s just amazing to me how little rights the concubines had and how sad their existence and deaths were. First, at the Forbidden City there is the Cold Palace. The Cold Palace is the place where the emperor would send concubines that had fallen out of favor. Basically, after he decided he no longer wanted to “hit that”, he’d send the concubine to the Cold Palace where they would have no heat, no company, no comforts at all. They were sent there to die. But when they died, it was a death of dignity and love and remembrance, right? How about “no.” The first imperial tomb at the Ming Dynasty’s Tombs was Zhu Di (became Chengzu after he opened a can of whoopass on the Hongwu Emperor), the third emperor of the Ming dynasty, and his is the biggest tomb of the 13 at the Ming’s Tombs. It’s also the only one that hasn’t been opened or looted. The tour guide walked us around the rectangular section and talked about the crazy Death gate that you should only cross when leaving Zhu Di’s tomb area, and we gawked at the large bronze rectangle which has apparently been destroyed before from lightning and replaced.

Then, she showed us where the concubines were buried. I kid you not, the picture to the left is where they threw the concubines to their final resting place (after poisoning them without them knowing about it). It gets weirder and more feng-shuiey. To prevent issues in the afterlife and to honor geomancy concepts in feng shui, the concubines were buried outside of the main circular tomb area, on the side of the emperor so they would be sufficiently far enough away from the empress. Also, to create harmony amongst the 8 official concubines, the retainers constructed two pits, one on either side of the tomb entrance, and split the dead concubines into two groups of four. Problem solved! Now, just toss the women into a pit but far enough away from the official wife, so she doesn’t get mad in the afterlife.

So, if you were a concubine in ancient China and were lucky enough not to be sent to the Cold Palace, you got to be buried close enough to the emperor for him to enjoy your zombie loins well into eternity but far enough away that you didn’t bother the undead empress. OK, so the tour guide didn’t really tell me that anyone would become zombies. Everyone went to heaven where they maintained their distances and orientation for eternity… or something. Either way, I think you’ll agree that this is a bit nuts. Very interesting but certifiable in today’s world (and I think the Chinese would generally frown upon such practices today).

Though, on that note, we found out from the tour guide that China has a one-birth-only policy for each couple that can be circumvented by 1) the death of a child and an application for another birth certificate, 2) having twins, triplets, etc. which count as a single birth, or 3) paying for the extra children. The tour guide said that a second child sets a couple back 880,000 yuan or roughly 146,666 dollars. Most couples obviously cannot afford this, but what was really curious about her explanation was that China currently has a 52% male to 48% female ratio, which is the exact opposite of the rest of the world. What might cause that? Well, I have heard from others that it’s caused by the first circumvention mechanism. If a baby dies, you can have another one for free if you file the paperwork properly. So, if you had a girl and you didn’t want one, she might mysteriously die and you try again until you get a baby boy. Now, again, this is urban legend. I have no idea if this is actually going on or not, but after seeing the concubine pit and hearing about the Cold Palace, the myth came back in my head and whispered in my ear.

And then that thought was completely interrupted by one of the tour guide’s final questions, and I kid you not she actually asked us this right after talking about the one-birth policy.

“Do any of you eat dog?”

It was the most casually atrocious thing I’ve ever heard. I actually laughed aloud because this is the kind of thing that one of my old gaming friends might say over Ventrilo during a boss fight to make everyone laugh. But she was serious, and she was genuinely curious.

“No,” I said for the five people from Spain, Japan, and the USA in the tour. “That’s generally frowned upon in our countries.”

So, should you take a trip to Beijing, China? God, yes! Take three. It may be crazy, but what is life without a bit of adventure! I’ve also heard that Shanghai is amazing.

P.S. See your doctor before you go. I had to get seven or eight shots that combined vaccinations for everything from Polio to measles to Hepatitis and the Bubonic Plague (yes, you can even munch of the old Black Plague in Snack Alley :D).


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