Category Archives: Writing

You can now pre-order MJ-12: Shadows!

Yep, the folks over at Amazon have the pre-order page up and running for MJ-12: Shadows, the sequel to MJ-12: Inception. Yes, it’s lacking a cover, but I’ve been working with my editor and artist on that, and while it’s not done, it’s looking boss. Also yes, that Kindle price there is insane and not going to be the actual Kindle price, because that would be, er, insane.

On that pre-order page, there’s a synopsis of the book (which I kind of spit-balled with my editor via email). The synopsis probably won’t be the final copy that makes it onto the book jacket, but I think it’s a nice little intro. In fact, I’m just gonna put it right here:

It’s 1949, and the Cold War is heating up across the world. Operating in the shadows, the Variants―once ordinary US citizens, but now imbued with strange paranormal abilities and corralled into covert service by the government’s top secret MAJESTIC-12 program―find themselves on the front lines of an international crisis.

In Syria, Variant agents have been sent to support a coup by a pro-American army officer. In Washington, a shocking suicide has them fighting for their very freedom. And at Area 51, the operation’s headquarters, the strange interspatial phenomenon which originally granted Variants their abilities has yielded disturbing discoveries.

All the while, dangerous figures flit among the shadows, and it’s unclear whether they are threatening to expose the Variants for what they are . . . or completely destroy them. Are they working for the Soviet Union, or something far worse?

*dun-dun-DUNNNN*

Yep, we’ll be in Syria this time. While there’s certainly a modern geopolitical resonance there, I would’ve chosen 1949 Syria for this series no matter what, because the CIA/OPC operation there was really crazy, in that sort of you-can’t-make-this-shit-up way. It wasn’t exactly America’s finest hour when it comes to the Middle East, and given our long and horrible history of intervention there, that’s saying something.

Oh, and in the fine tradition of spy thrillers, we’ll also see events taking place in Vienna, Washington, Area 51, Lebanon and Kazakhstan. You may draw from those locales what you will.

MJ-12: Shadows is tentatively scheduled to drop Sept. 5 — that’s a very preliminary date, of course, but as of right now, I see no impediment to that. If you’re intrigued, you can get a little taste of Shadows when the trade paperback edition of MJ-12: Inception is released (again, tentatively) on June 6, because we’re gonna throw an excerpt in there to keep your appetite whetted.

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My old English professor reviewed MJ-12: Inception and liked it

MJ-12-newcoverI’ve never been one to say, “Don’t read the reviews.” I totally get why some authors might avoid it, and hey, that works too. As for me, I’m a curious sort, and whether they’re good or bad, I tend to simply take whatever’s been said, maybe learn a thing or two about my writing from a different perspective, and go about my day.

Every now and then, though, I see one that floors me. Like yesterday, for example.

I’m a proud member of the class of 1993 at St. Lawrence University, a wonderful little liberal arts college tucked away in the North Country of upstate New York by — you guessed it — the St. Lawrence River. The alumni magazine, aptly titled St. Lawrence, will sometimes do reviews of Laurentian books, and so I reached out and sent a copy of MJ-12: Inception up north this past summer and hoped for the best.

Last night, the latest St. Lawrence was waiting for me at home. And if you click here, you can read what they said.

First of all, that’s a really nice bit of real estate — three-quarters of a page. The review was quite positive, and also serves as a very good recap of the book. But what really got me in the feels, as the kids say, was the byline: Sid Sondergard, Piskor Professor of English.

Yeah. My English lit professor reviewed my novel. Holy crap. 

sluYou know the super-cool English professor, the one who knows both popular culture and esoteric Chinese literature, has a wall of books and a wall of videos (dude, it was 1993) and wears Hawaiian shirts and has a ponytail? The one who’s just so damn excited to be teaching a sophomore lit survey despite it being a sophomore lit survey, and made it both fun and interesting? That’s Sid. And yes, we called him Sid. Go to campus — hell, go to any SLU alumnus — and ask who Sid is, and they’ll know.

I had two classes with Sid: the aforementioned survey (English literature from Beowulf to Boswell, roughly), and a senior-level course on John Milton. I still have the textbooks for both classes, and I think they’re the only two I’ve kept. I vividly remember writing my term paper for Sid’s Milton course at 2 a.m. the night before it was due because I had decided that afternoon to completely change up my thesis, because the old one sucked. I managed a B+, which at the time was a massive victory for me.

This is better, man. Light-years better. My daughter can attest — and would, gleefully, to any who asked — that I may have gotten a bit choked up as I read the review. Sid liked my book. Holy crap. This is right up there with any review, blurb or accolade I’ve received. I feel like I just aced a test I didn’t even know I was taking.

So yeah. Authorial achievement unlocked, and a pretty rare badge indeed. Thank you, St. Lawrence, for being so generous with your time and pages. I’ve already thanked Sid privately via email, but what the heck: Thank you for being a cool, awesome professor, Sid. I hope this serves as evidence that I did indeed pay attention in class.

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That pesky, uncontrollable muse

Note: The muse almost never shows up this way.

Note: The muse almost never shows up this way.

With MJ-12: Shadows in the hands of my capable editor, I thought I would start the new year by tinkering with a new project — one that wasn’t under deadline. I’m truly fortunate to have deadlines for books, and I still have the third MAJESTIC-12 book on the horizon. But at least for a while, I wanted to go back to some pressure-free creativity because, as I’ve mentioned before, MJ-12: Shadows kicked my ass.

I actually have several ideas in various stages of development — some straight-up science fiction, a clockwork fantasy, all kinds of stuff. But the one I chose to work on was new to the idea files, something overtly political in nature with a near-future setting and all kinds of social commentary. Gee, wonder how that popped up on my radar since November. Hmm.

I told my agent about it — I actually tell her most of the stuff I’m noodling on — and I got excited about it. I did my usual worldbuilding notes, my character snippets, my Excel plotting. I started in and focused on the voice, which would be very different from my previous work.

And then I hit a wall.

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Plot, character evolution and Sherlock

sherlockSpoiler warning: This post was written after the last episode of Sherlock series 4, and is kind of a response/riff on that. If you’re a big Sherlock fan, like I am, or just want to view it unspoiled at some point in the future, you might just give this one a pass. On the bright side? No politics in this one!

The character of Sherlock Holmes is among the most famous in all of literature. I would venture to say only a handful of Shakespeare’s creations, a couple of superheroes and two or three horror icons have stood the test of time alongside Mr. Holmes. It’s not just the iconography — the hat, the pipe, the magnifying glass — that makes him so well known, nor the individual cases written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We know Sherlock Holmes’ character: His hauteur, his uncanny perception, his unfailing intellect, his lack of social graces, his dalliances with drugs, his relationship with Dr. John Watson and, of course, his ongoing search for justice.

The latest iteration of the Holmes mythos, BBC’s Sherlock (seen here in the U.S. on PBS’ Masterpiece), is not only the best modern interpretation of Holmes, but one of the best interpretations of the character ever done. Benedict Cumberbatch had the tall task of inhabiting an icon, and yet not only succeeded, but made his Sherlock perhaps this generation’s definitive take on the character. And Martin Freeman had an even more daunting task — to turn the perpetually confused and amazed Dr. Watson and breathe life into that character, to make him more than just Holmes’ cheering section. He did so beyond any expectation — while Jeremy Brett fans may quibble with Cumberbatch’s interpretation, Freeman’s Watson is hands down the best of them all.

This is why the last episode of Sherlock series 4, “The Final Problem,” is so disappointing. It’s not because it’s poorly written or poorly acted, but because the entire concept of it, from soup to nuts, neatly disregarded all the excellent work Cumberbatch, Freeman and writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have done with the characters for the 12 episodes prior. “The Final Problem” had so many interesting ideas and moments, but ultimately became a case study in how you really shouldn’t sacrifice your characters on the altar of plot expediency.

Let’s discuss, shall we? The game is on.  Continue reading

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2016 in review: Other people’s stuff

Happy New Year! I hope 2017 is treating you well so far, and that this year behaves itself better than 2016. I already did a post about what I wrote last year, but I wanted to talk about other folks’ writing that I loved last year. This isn’t all-inclusive, but rather my meager attempt to spotlight some fantastic works by good people.

Let’s start with friend, baking goddess and fantastic writer Beth Cato, whose Breath of Earth was pure joy. It’s a great, big, fun, magical steampunk adventure set in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It’s got such a fantastic heroine in Ingrid Carmichael, and the setting is imaginative and great fun.

I also enjoyed Chris Roberson’s Firewalk, a police-procedural mystery that ends up uncovering a zombie infestation in a coastal California city. Chris helped create iZombie, so you know it’s gonna deliver the goods, and it does — along with great characters and a gutsy ending that leaves you waiting for the next one.

Alyssa Wong, you guys. Holy crap, Alyssa Wong. She is, without a doubt, one of the absolute finest writers working in SF/F today, and possibly of all time.  Among other things this year, she published “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers,” “Natural Skin” and my personal favorite, “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay,” which is a beautiful and frightening Weird West tale. So good. And she’s a fantastic, lovely person on top of it all.

I suppose it was natural for me to read Arabella of Mars, given that it’s got sailing ships in space in the early 19th century, but David D. Levine’s take on it is far different from mine. It’s quite a lot of fun, with swashbuckling action to spare. Good stuff indeed.

Let’s also give a shout-out to Michael R. Underwood’s Genrenauts, which thanks to Kickstarter, has a full six-episode run of novellas now available in omnibus. These dimension-and-genre-hopping stories are super addictive and a blast to read. Mike does meta-narrative adventure amazingly well.

Martin Cahill — writer, raconteur and fellow beer aficionado — had a great novelette out this year in Beneath Ceaseless Skies called “A Glass Kiss for the Little Prince of Pain,” and just…whoa. How can someone pack so much emotion, action and worldbuilding into 11,000 words? It’s not even fair. Such a great story.

As self-serving as it might be — because I have a story in it — the Endless Ages anthology for Vampire: The Masquerade is so much fun. If you played Vampire, or still do, you’ll be transported back to the World of Darkness throughout its various iterations over the years. The stories are fresh and evocative, and the mood is Gothic Punk enough to make you want to shuffle through Siouxie, the Cure and Bauhaus on your iPhone.

If you’re still wanting for books and stories after all that, I’ll point you to a recent Barnes & Noble SF/Fantasy blog post, wherein many fine authors and reviewers listed some of their favorites. Yeah, MJ-12: Inception is in there, too, which was quite lovely to see. (Thanks, Paul!) So are many other excellent books. Check it out.

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2016 in review: Stuff I wrote

MJ-12-newcover2016 may not have been the best of years — thanks, Donald — but I’m pleased to say that I wrote some pretty good stuff this year, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about it, being in a somewhat reflective mood as the year spirals toward its fiery doom…er…wraps up and folks get blitzed on cheap champagne.

The biggie, obviously, was the hardcover release of my latest novel, MJ-12: Inception, first of the MAJESTIC-12 series of Cold War paranormal spy-fi thrillers. I was super-pleased with the reception, and chuffed to see folks embrace it. To all those readers out there, I thank you muchly for your enthusiasm and kind words.

Night Shade Books also released the Daedalus trilogy in mass-market paperback this year. It was fun to see those books get new life and new readers.

I also contributed a novelette, “Mind Flight,” to the Geeky Giving anthology effort, which benefits the Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona. Barrow works to combat neurological disorders, and the theme of the anthology was to embrace that cutting-edge research. “Mind Flight” is the story of a pilot who links her brain to her fighter jet in order to help fend off an alien invasion — and what happens when the aliens figure out a terrible way to fight back. It’s my first hard SF work, and I’m proud to have it in there with so many other talented writers. All proceeds go to Barrow, so pick up a copy!

endlessagesFinally, I got another chance to embrace my geeky, misspent youth by contributing a short story to the Endless Ages anthology, which featured stories set in the Vampire: The Masquerade game setting. “Tiger” is the story of a young vampire caught up in the power games of her elders, with near-disastrous results. It was a total blast to revisit the setting and embrace my Gothic Punk side.

I also had an article published in the October issue of Writer’s Digest, talking about how I use Excel to outline my novels, which was pretty cool. Sadly, you’d need to get the magazine to read the actual piece, but I can point you to the online exclusive bit, wherein you can download part of my outline and see how the alleged magic happens.

As for 2017? MJ-12: Shadows, the follow-up to Inception, should be coming out some time in the late summer/early fall, and I believe plans are in the works for a paperback release of MJ-12: Inception before that. I also have a bit of a passion project I’m working up on the side, and I’m hopeful it finds a home. I also have a short story or two I’m noodling on, but the plate gets full fast, so we’ll see how it goes.

As of right now, I’m not sure what my con schedule will look like for 2017 quite yet. I like Phoenix Comicon and DragonCon a lot, but I’m wondering if it’d be worthwhile to mix it up this year. I don’t think I have the capacity to add to my schedule — I have a full-time job on top of all this fictioning, after all — and I’d be torn about missing out on two fantastic cons. But there are others that seem interesting, and have the benefit of not falling on two super-popular holiday weekends, so we’ll see.

Again, much thanks and gratitude to all the readers who picked up my work this year. You give me the fuel to keep at it, and I deeply appreciate it.

May you all enjoy a peaceful holiday season, and may we all have a better year ahead.

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MJ-12: Shadows is with my editor

I am pleased — and relieved — to report that MJ-12: Shadows, the sequel to this year’s MJ-12: Inception, is now in the capable hands of super-editor Cory Allyn over at Night Shade Books.

Why relieved? This book kicked my ass.

MJ-12: Shadows will be my fifth novel, and it was the hardest one to draft. Part of that was due to the material, part of that was due to circumstances, and part of that was just…something else, that writerly thing where you gotta grab the story and drag it kicking and screaming into the light because it doesn’t wanna go.

The material was complex enough — there are two main storylines in the book, a couple of subplots and several POVs. It’s set in 1949, which was a very busy year for the Truman Administration, the U.S. intelligence community and the Middle East, where one of the storylines is set. One of the main historical characters from MJ-12: Inception died that year under mysterious circumstances, too.

So on the one hand, the history was an absolute blessing — you can’t make some of that stuff up. But there was a lot of juggling going on in writing MJ-12: Shadows. So there’s that.

Then there’s life. I was plowing through the drafting process while preparing for the launch of MJ-12: Inception and through the launch, which included events at DragonCon and in San Francisco, plus a ton of guest blogs, interviews, podcasts and assorted bits of marketing. I know some authors loathe the marketing stuff, but it’s kind of what I do for the day job, and I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it, so I don’t mind it. But it was all happening while trying to write MJ-12: Shadows, so I was moving between stuff quite a lot.

Oh, and I do have that day job, and I happened to have the busiest autumn in said job in my nine years here. It’s nice to be in demand and appreciated, of course, and let’s face it — the day job pays the bills. On Monday, I’m about to head off on my seventh business trip of the year, so yeah, they keep me busy.

And I do have a family, which takes precedence over…well, everything else, frankly. But it’s kind of unfair to list that here, because family isn’t a burden. To me, it’s a privilege.

But story and circumstance aside, this was just a tough nut to crack. Prior to MJ-12: Shadows, three of my past four novels kind of came together easily — as easily as a major project like a novel can happen. The Venusian Gambit, which I wrote in 2014, felt like a hot mess when I was writing it, but that was largely due to my mother’s passing that summer. Cory and the NSB gang were great about giving me extra time to wrap it up, and I had apparently done a better job than I thought in the end — Gambit got a starred review from Publishers Weekly. 

But MJ-12: Shadows was different than Gambit. Sometimes, the story is stubborn, and finding the right threads to follow and the right words simply takes longer. Getting the pieces in place and the characters lined up just took more out of me. It’s kind of hard to explain, really, other than it just took longer to get it right. 

With all that said, I’m happy with how MJ-12: Shadows came out. It’s got some mystery, some slow-burn intrigue, a bunch of cool action and the ending…the ending I’m rather proud of. It explores the nature of the Variants, the source of their power and the responsibility in using that power in the world.

And now? I’m holding off on getting the third book started until Cory finishes the edits on MJ-12: Shadows and we have a chat as to how best to approach the next one. But I have a few other things to work on….

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