Settings

There was a discussion recently on kboards.com about whether writers “live” near where their books are set. Since I write mostly fantasy and science fiction, that would definitely be “no.” Yet a lot of writers do seem to write about places near where they call home. Stephen King is a perfect example of this, with so many of his books set in Maine. Others seem to go the opposite way, and I fall into this bunch. I like to write about places I’ve only visited, or even places that I’ve never been (but would love to see.)

An example of this is Heart of the Witch. I based the continent of Argessa on Australia; there is coastal rainforest, a mountain range, and then a large desert in the heart of the continent.  The closest I have come to rainforests comes from travel to tropical parts of Mexico, Hawaii, and walking through swampland and forests in Florida. The only mountains I’ve been on include northern Arizona, California, Nevada, and also the Alps in Switzerland.

I can count the number of times I’ve been in the snow on my fingers, and yet I set much of Journey to Landaran in an alpine setting in the dead of winter, with snow everywhere. Yes, I had to confer with beta readers who were more used to wintry weather to check my facts. But I can tell that that coming from a hot desert, I know what it’s like to get cold, because I get cold easily!

For me, I’m fascinated by that which is new and different to me. I’ve always had a love of forests–my grandmother had a cabin at Silver Lake in northern California, and I absolutely loved the place even though there was no electricity. Or toilets. (We did have a sink, which drew water directly from the lake.) I was also an exchange student in Germany, and lived for a summer in a tiny village in the middle of the Black Forest. I think that’s why these kinds of settings are so much richer and more interesting to me. I can write about deserts, sure. I’ve lived in one my entire life. But I do love variety. And what better excuse to travel than for research? I’ve visited San Francisco enough times that I feel pretty confident writing about it. When I dreamt up a story about Mayan ruins, I researched them, and I was finally able to visit a Mayan ruin a few years back.

We are formed by that which is familiar to us, but also that which is foreign and strange. “Write what you know” might be a popular axiom, but I’d add “Don’t be afraid to wander abroad into the unknown.”

Oh, and today’s featured image? That’s a picture I took from a helicopter tour of Maui.

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Review: The Jakarta Pandemic

Title: The Jakarta Pandemic

Author: Steven Konkoly

Publisher: Stribling Media

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic / Prepper

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Yes, I still love a good dystopian, end of the world, prepper-influenced disaster book. And this one had all the right stuff. A global pandemic, crazy neighbors, and a hero fighting to save his family.

It had other common elements as well, such as how to keep a well-stocked house and be prepared for the worst. Unlike some of the other apocalyptic books out there, the family actually manages to stay in their home for the entire book, which I found refreshing. While there were the obligatory baddies with guns, I think this book made them more believable than many.

Another neat feature about the book is that the main character, Alex, actually works for a pharmaceutical company, one that tries to profit from the disaster. There’s a lot of in depth information about viruses, which I enjoyed, including how it spreads across the globe.

Alex isn’t a perfect character, which is another thing I liked about this book. His wife teaches him a thing or two, and even his kids surprise him.

I’d rate this as one of the best prepper books I’ve found, in fact. A must read if you like pandemic tales.

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Review: Liquid Gambit, by Bonnie Milani

Title: Liquid Gambit

Author: Bonnie Milani

Genre: Science Fiction, novella

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I reviewed another of Bonnie’s works a couple years back, Home World, which featured a rarity, the pure Earth DNA human, as well as several offshoot species like the dog-like Lupans. In Liquid Gambit, Bonnie creates a spin-off tale taking liberal themes from the movie Casa Blanca and using them to explore her universe and characters. So meet Rick, a Lupan bar owner in a run-down space station where slavers basically own the local government. A mysterious human woman walks into his bar, and he finds himself debating between greed and kindness.

Sound familiar?  There are definitely parts of this story that are, and delightfully so. But there’s also the fact this takes place on a space station and involves a Lupans and other strangeness.

I would recommend readers to first read Home World, in order to better understand the universe in which this story takes place. For fans of that book, this is a welcome return to what is a witty, often funny but also heart-touching space opera.

Featured today on Betty Book Freak: Model #37

Just a quick announcement, that my science fiction tale “Model #37” is being featured today on “Betty Book Freaks” website here:  Betty’s Bargains for October 16

In other news, I was laid off from my job last month, and I’m currently working freelance as a technical writer. Making money again, yay. Crazy schedule, boo, and tough on getting any fiction writing done. But fear not, I’m still writing the second book of the Spirit Mage Saga to get published hopefully some time in the spring.

Help for a Pup with a tumor

I’ve been hit hard by some things this year. In May, one of the cats was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx and had to be put down. Then the other cat had a lump on her tummy–it turned out to be an intestinal hernia, and required surgery. Then the youngest of our animals, Toriko (also known as Puppy) was diagnosed with an aggressive mouth tumor which required immediate radiation therapy. And then the oldest dog had a benign tumor on her side which had to be removed.

Boy do they mean it when they say pets cost money!  I racked up over $10,000 in vet bills very quickly.

Then I lost my day job. Not good.

So I’ve set up a GoFundMe for Puppy’s vet expenses. Any donations are appreciated, no matter how small!

Thank you to everyone. I’m generally not one to ask for help, but I’m feeling a bit buried.

https://www.gofundme.com/HelpToriko

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Release Day! Model #37 now out everywhere

And it’s now out!  Amazon (and all its markets), Barnes and Noble, Ibooks, Smashwords, Kobo… well everywhere except for Google, who is being a pain right now. Check out this classic science fiction short story two-pack today!

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A Science Fiction Short Story Two-pack

Amazon.com

Barnes and Noble

Smashwords

Excerpt:

She crossed her arms, looking hard at him. “What is this place? I thought you said it was a beauty pageant! For special people like me!”

He glanced around nervously and took her by the arm. “This isn’t the place to talk. We can discuss it later, once we’re home.” At the sound of the audience clapping, he frowned. “They’re too narrow-minded. Kitchen shelves! Idiots.” He pulled her over towards the coat rack where several shiny metallic coats hung, including his own.

They were leaving before the show even ended? Baby tore her hand away, glaring at him. “I want to hear about the other models. I want to hear what they say.” More than that, she wanted answers to the mystery of what this place was really about.

His bushy brows drew together. Father was older, with gray hair and glasses. They looked nothing alike, and yet he had said that she was born of his genetic materials. “Don’t speak back to me. When I say it’s time to go, you obey.” He grabbed her arm again.

The other models watched them with concerned looks on their faces. Baby tried to break free of his hold. “When do I have a say in what I do? Didn’t you just say I’m an adult now? When can I meet people, see places?”

Father opened his mouth to reply, then shut it. “I’ll explain everything later. Once we’re home.” He glanced at the muscled security standing nearby. “I need assistance. Help me get her into the car.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Baby saw Moo returning from the stage. Their eyes met, and he frowned, seeing her struggle.

Fear churned in her gut. She’d argued once with Father when he’d told her it was time to get in the cage. He’d struck her across the cheek. The mark had only lasted a day or two, but she never forgot the shame of disappointing him, the anger in his eyes.

Moo was walking away. She might not ever get to see him again, or talk to him. Baby squared her shoulders and glared at her father. “Let go of me. You can’t make me go with you. I’m a legal adult now.” She hadn’t ever read an actual law, but she’d read enough to know that adults had rights under the Constitution. It occurred to her that Father might be breaking a law or two with how he was keeping her, now that she was eighteen.

“Baby,” he pleaded, looking angry and hurt at the same time. “What’s gotten into you?”

New Cover: Eight Minutes Until the End of the World

So just a quick announcement today: I finally got a new cover for the very first short story pack that I published as an indie writer: “Eight Minutes Until the End of the World.” This short humorous tale, about aliens who make a booboo and then try to save the best that Earth has to offer, was published originally on the “Alienskin” emagazine website. The tale is coupled with an original space-opera style story about a starship with artificial intelligence who would do anything to save her captain.

Check them out!  Also, for those who sign up for my newsletter, I’m offering the book for free with a coupon code at Smashwords.

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Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Eight-Minutes-Until-End-World-ebook/dp/B007Z1OR8S/

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/157219

Description:

On the Tridak ship, an alien utters the worst thing an alien can ever say: “Oops!” And on Earth in NASA’s latest project, the Mercury Probe Orbiter, John Fanchett makes the fateful announcement: “Sir, we got a big problem. The sun is going nova.”

The problem is, John only has eight minutes before the end of planet Earth, to solve the mystery of an alien language and his own survival.

Bonus short story: The Emergence

The Emergence has always loved her captain, and as aliens endanger her, she must take steps to avoid what could be a horrible blunder with alien intelligence. For the Emergence is one of the first artificially intelligent spaceships.

New Science Fiction Short Story pack available on Pre-Order!

Now available for Pre-order on Amazon and Smashwords! A science fiction short story two-pack, featuring “Model #37” about a genetically enhanced young adult, and “The Nannypod,” about the device that people just can’t live without. This ebook will be out for sale on September 30, 2015.

Amazon link: Model #37: A Science Fiction Short Story Two-Pack

Smashwords link: Model #37: A Science Fiction Short Story Two-Pack

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Model #37: Baby has lived a privileged life—her father always said she was “special.” And Baby knows she’s not like normal humans. She’s only 47 inches tall, even though she’s eighteen years old. She can live off tiny amounts of food. And she’s got a dorsal fin in the middle of her back.

Today’s the big day. She’s supposed to model for the world, and make her father proud. The only questions are why is she so nervous, and why won’t her father let her out of the lab? Most of all, Baby, also known as Model 37, wants to see the world.

Maybe even meet another “special” person like her.

Bonus short story:  The Nannypod

It’s Monday morning, and Chris has to get to work. The only problem is, his Nannypod, the device strapped to his wrist that runs his life, just died. He doesn’t even know which bus to get on.

How will he live without it?

(Also included is an excerpt from the paranormal novella, “Dreams and Constellations”)

And here’s an excerpt from “Model #37”:

Baby’s heart lurched as the announcer called her number. She heard people beyond the curtain murmuring to each other, though she couldn’t discern the words. Sixteen years of training had led to this moment. She glanced at her father, breathing hard.

Lines around his eyes deepened as he granted her a smile, towering over her diminutive size. He patted her on the head. “Show them, Baby. Make me proud.”

She fidgeted, adjusting the sheer bodysuit. It hid enough for modesty, but it felt confining. She didn’t like the open back, exposing her dorsal ridge. Father didn’t have one of those. He said it made her special.

“Go!” her father urged, giving her a push. She brushed the curtain out of her way and stepped onto the runway. Lights blinded her, but she’d practiced this over and over. Smile at the people beyond the glare of the lights. Ignore the flash of cameras taking pictures. Walk with confidence down the runway. She moved, forcing herself not to rush despite the pounding of her heart. Keep to the rhythm of the music.

“And here’s Dr. Heim’s model, number 37. She’s a little thing, as you can see, but this isn’t dwarfism; she’s perfectly proportioned with no deformities or known genetic defects. Dr. Heim designed her with the group objective of species modification in light of our water and food shortages and increasing global temperature.” The female announcer’s voice blared through the speakers, and Baby wondered what the woman was talking about. She was specially bred, that was true. Father had told her so. And she knew she was smaller than others, than the true humans. But group objectives? What group objective?

She reached the end of the runway and gave a twirl in the white body suit, smiling at those in the front row. Men and women of different ethnicities looked her over critically, jotting things down into their tablets. Several took pictures of her, reporters, possibly. Not one returned her smile. Baby tried to keep the fear at bay. Did they like her?

The announcer continued. “Dr. Heim wants to remind viewers that while Model 37 may be small, she is fully mature at eighteen years old. She requires only 500 calories and 32 ounces of water a day. Note also the dorsal ridge, designed to regulate body temperature, even in extreme heat.”

“What is her exact height?” One fellow asked, raising a pen.

“Approximately 47 inches, or 119 centimeters tall,” the announcer replied. “Model 37 weighs only 45 pounds, about the same as a six year old child.”

A woman carrying a tablet with a bud in her ear called out. “Are there concerns that this type of design could face discrimination, such as the kind faced by individuals with dwarfism? What about things like car designs, kitchens with high shelves?”

Baby was nearing the end of her walk, almost back to the curtains. The questions bewildered her—what discrimination? And why? She’d lived her entire life in a facility with others like her. Some were human; others were four-legged animals, dogs, sheep, even a pig. All of them had modifications, to make them special. Like her.

Before she could duck behind the safety of the curtains, her father stepped out on stage and grabbed a microphone. He squinted at the woman who had asked the question. “Society already has in place protections and equipment to assist those of lesser physical stature. I imagine that over time, things would be adjusted to the new standard height. This has historical precedent. Modern man is taller than his ancestors. In this day and age, I see that as a liability, not an asset.”

Baby stood at the edge of the curtains, hovering. She thought she recalled him telling her to wave and bow at this point, but her thoughts had scattered. Her father sounded angry. Another person near their end of the runway raised his hand. “How do you expect people to take your design seriously? She looks like a child!”

That she could not stand for. “I’m not a child!” Baby said. Her voice didn’t sound childlike; it earned surprised looks from several of those closest. She looked to her father, but he frowned and shook his head, then made a gesture for her to go backstage. Shooting the fellow a glare, Baby pivoted and exited through the curtains.

She heard the announcer clear her throat. “Right, so any further questions for Dr. Heim? Remember that you all can place your votes on what you consider to be the most promising breakthroughs as we move forward to approach the world community with our proposals and designs.”

Baby nearly ran into the next model, a tall thin thing with blue skin and gills, wearing some kind of apparatus that supplied it with water to breathe. It wore a tiny bikini Baby would be horrified to wear. Baby ducked out of the way and stood off to the side, waiting for her father to return backstage. She’d known about the voting. But it seemed there was much her father hadn’t told her.

When she looked at the other models milling around, Baby saw them with new eyes. A model with dark brown skin shifted her stance, and Baby realized her skin was scaly like a snake. Another model, this one a tall, strong-looking fellow, had tiny horns on his forehead. He chewed gum sleepily, leaning against the wall.

She walked over to him. He smelled of grass and something else, something she’d never smelled before. The closest she could describe it was ‘male.’ “What’s your name?” she asked, hoping that since her part was over, she’d be able to enjoy herself a little before Father returned.

The young man scraped the toe of his boot along the wooden floor, looking down as he answered. Brown hair fell into his face. “They call me Moo.” She couldn’t tell by the dim lighting, but Baby suspected he was blushing.

“Moo? That’s an odd name. Why do they call you that?” Baby knew why Father called her Baby. She was his baby. He’d told her that nothing fit better. He loved her. He’d even given her a rag doll to hold when he locked her in her pen at night.

Moo rocked back and forth, holding himself. He swallowed whatever he was chewing. “I’m part bull. So…Moo.” He didn’t seem particularly happy about it.

“Is that why you have horns?” She reached up to touch one.

He shied back, breathing hard, but then stilled himself, hands clenching into fists as he allowed her to feel the hard smoothness. “Sorry. My instincts get the better of me sometimes. They’re real.”

Baby glanced over as the next model stepped towards the curtains, but there was no sign of her father. “Are you nervous?”

Moo shrugged again. “A little. I don’t think the judges will like me.” He took a step towards the scaly girl but she hissed at him. He stepped back, lowering his head again. “Everybody thinks I’m stupid.”

“Well that’s stupid,” Baby said, pouting. No one had ever questioned her intellect before. She could speak and read four different languages, and Father said her math skills were exceptional. She only wished more of her education had come from something other than books. He hadn’t even allowed her to watch TV, though he’d told her about it. “So where is your parent?” She glanced around, but most of the people backstage were like them, unusual mixtures of genetic material. She noticed the security guards wearing utility belts with things like handcuffs and batons. That struck her. Why would the models need security guards?

Moo scratched his head, looking nervous. “Out watching the show. I don’t like these things. I’ve already been to three of them.”

Baby studied his eyes, noticing for the first time that his pupils were abnormally large. She admired his eyes. She couldn’t explain why. “Why don’t you like them?” She hadn’t liked the tone of the announcer. Perhaps that was it.

Scaly Girl threw them a dirty look. “They don’t showcase our skills. It’s a bloody waste of time. Just a media circus to make the politicians happy, that the scientists are thinking up something as the world goes to hell.” Baby blinked at the thick Australian accent, but even as she opened her mouth to ask a question, the girl turned away again, ignoring them.

From beyond the curtain, Baby heard clapping and muted voices. Apparently the audience had liked the girl who breathed underwater. As the underwater breather returned backstage, Scaly Girl stepped towards the curtain to take her call. Moo stamped one foot, breathing hard. Baby placed a hand on his well-muscled arm to calm him. “I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

“I want to run. I want to escape,” he told her. At first she thought he was joking. By the fear in his eyes, however, she realized he meant it.

Now I know what a Hurricane feels like!

Okay it was actually a microburst during a monsoon. In Arizona, you can sometimes get a tiny localized torrential downpour and near-hurricane force winds during our thunderstorms that blow in first with a dust storm, then a downpour and lightning, and then just as quickly are gone. This means wind speeds of about 70 miles an hour, and I really do mean torrential rain–I think we got an inch in a half hour.

(Shot of Microburst from helicopter East Valley, 8/31/2015)

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A microburst only hits a tiny area–maybe a mile radius. It hit our neighborhood–the noise was so loud, I thought it was hailing, but instead it was raining–sideways, because the wind was so strong. Afterwards, my neighbor’s tree was in my yard, my two large garbage canisters had been tossed down my side yard and broken, the ceiling fan on my back porch was mangled and broken, my barbeque had been shoved against my AC unit, and anything that wasn’t nailed down was against the side wall. Along my street, about two dozen trees were uprooted and torn out of the ground. A street light was blown over in another neighbor’s yard. Across town where another microburst hit, a semi-truck was blown onto its side onto a car on the freeway. This is about the closest we come to a tornado here.

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I went for a drive to check my parent’s house which is in the next block over, since they were out of town. No damage over there whatsoever–looked like all they got was a bit of rain.

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More pictures, including a shot of that semi truck:

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Review: The Christopher Killer (Forensic Mystery)

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Title: The Christopher Killer (Forensic Mystery)

Author: Alane Ferguson

Publisher: Puffin Books

Genre: YA Mystery

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I have one thing to say about this forensic mystery targeted at YA readers. Really great book, and really terrible cover.

I haven’t read a lot of gritty forensic mysteries with a younger protagonist, so that’s what drew me to the book. Catelyn is just about to graduate high school, and wants to become a medical examiner. That’s handy, since her father’s the town coroner. When a local murder shocks the small town, she has a front row seat to all the evidence and the investigation.

Of course in addition to a murder mystery, there are relationship issues and family issues, as one would expect in a YA novel. In this book, there’s the mystery of Catelyn’s mother who left years ago, as well as two young men she can’t decide are threats or allies. There’s also an interesting theme parsing out where science meets religion meets fake mumbo jumbo when a famous psychic comes to town. And of course there has to be danger, and there’s plenty of that.

The forensic scenes were well done–just enough ugly reality and facts to keep things interesting without going full CSI and being gross. The interactions were also well done. I found this an easy book to read, and was sorry to see it hasn’t done better. This is a case where I hope the author gets the rights back and is able to republish at some point. I think the publisher did this book a disservice.

Overall, a very enjoyable murder mystery, suitable for both adult and YA readers.