Life Comes At You Pretty Fast: A General Update

Things have been busy since my last post, but it’s a Good Busy and not that Oh, God, Kill Me Now Busy.

While the separation from Ragnarok Publications is still ongoing, my Black Raven Series has found a new home. I’m mostly sure the Valducan Series has also found a new home, but we’re still in talks and I’ll make a big announcement once we’re all signed and pretty.  I’m not worried. 


Achievement Unlocked

In the middle of this all, I spent 10 days touring Israel with a 2-day hop into Jordan to explore Petra. It was amazing. I walked in several ruins, visited historic sites, floated in the Dead Sea, stood atop an aqueduct, visited many museums, and petted more than a few stray cats.  I have piles of notes to use for future stories and even made several updates to Ashes of Onyx in some related areas (Those who follow my blog know that travel is my #1 source for inspiration).

My YouTube Channel has been shooting up in popularity.  I had my first video to break the 100,000 views milestone. While I’m still but a tiny channel in a sea of giants, I’m growing.  It’s currently at 4,500 Subscribers and has now made enough revenue to have covered my meager expenses (which means I’ll be spending even more on costumes and some half-decent equipment).  

This upcoming weekend (September 22-24, 2017) I’ll be a guest author at FenCon.  You can find my schedule HERE.

Finally, ASHES OF ONYX is complete. It surpassed my initial estimates and came in at 114,000 words. I’ve completed my full read-through, made many changes, and BETA Reader response has been extremely positive. It’s currently in the Querying Phase, which means its still a long, long way from any release.  While a complete stand-alone from any of my other works, I have started toying with the idea of a second story set in the same universe. Still too early to tell.

That’s it for now. I hope to have some more announcements soon.


So You’re on a Convention Panel: 5 Things You Should Remember

Last weekend I was given the privilege of being a guest author at a writing convention. It was fun. I met a lot of people and caught up with several friends in the writing community. I spent some time on a few panels and watched some others. One thing that struck me was a common theme that I’ve noticed at a lot of conventions lately, and that’s that many people don’t quite know how to act on a panel.  It was a minority of panelists that missed the memo or never received it. I’d say 1 in 6. Unfortunately, when most panels have 5-6 members, that means that most panels had at least 1 member who wasn’t versed in proper panel etiquette. So allow me to explain a few things to remember in case you find yourself at a convention as a guest speaker/panelist.


1:  Be Approachable – Many people attend conventions to spend time with fandom and meet some of its movers and shakers. If you’re a panelist or speaker that means you fall into the category of Mover or Shaker. Congratulations. People will want to meet you, and chances are high that you want people to know you, like you, and hopefully buy your book.  Connecting with fans at conventions is easy. They’re literally all around you. So mingle. Be approachable.

I often describe working a convention as a 48 Hour Job Interview. You’re here to impress. If you’re like me and have a “resting bitch face” remember to keep it in check.  I can’t help it if my neutral face looks like I’m considering murder. I’m not (usually). And I don’t want that moment when someone works up the nerve to say hello to me to be dashed because I look angry. So I smile. I smile a lot. By the weekend’s end my face hurts. 

So smile.  Keep yourself in approachable places where fans and potential fans might see you and talk to you. Try to be aware of where you are so that it’s easy as possible for people to meet you and hopefully like you enough to buy your book.


2:  Arrive On Time – When it comes time for your panel or presentation, you need to be on time. Remember, you’re working this convention and Panel-Time is Go-Time. Show up before the panel starts. Get set up, maybe chat with people in the audience. People are depending on you: the Convention, the Guests, the Other Panelists. Don’t make them wait. Don’t show up three minutes in with lame excuses and interrupting someone else’s introduction because they eventually had to start without you.

Once again, this convention weekend is a job interview. You wouldn’t show up late to a job interview, would you?


3: End On Time – This might be jumping ahead, but while we’re on the subject of your panel/presentation’s time-slot, you need to end it on time.  I know that the schedule block shows you there for an hour, but it’s wrong.  You have 50 minutes. At 45 minutes you need to be wrapping it up, maybe take that “One Last Question.” At 50 minutes you need to thank everyone for coming and dismiss. At 55 minutes you need to be out of the room for the next panelists using the room to have time to set up and for your co-panelists and audience to run off to the restrooms and then maybe to another panel/presentation.

It’s extremely rude to hog the room for a wide variety of reasons. But one of the most important is that if your panel runs late, you risk the serious potential of throwing the carefully oiled machine of con-scheduling completely off track. If you force the panel or presentation behind you to start 5 minutes late because they couldn’t setup in time or because they had to awkwardly ask you to move a conversation outside, then they now run the high risk of running late, as well.  Not just for your room, but your other panelists and the guests will be arriving late to their next panels. A domino-effect can happen and no one wants that. So, watch the clock and end ten minutes before the next panel begins. This isn’t a request.


4:  Share the Stage – If you’re giving a 1-person presentation, then awesome. Have fun. But if you’re on a multi-person panel, then remember that every single person up there is not only another convention guest, but also a Mover and Shaker like you. Be aware if you’re talking too much. Let everyone speak. Try not to speak more than everyone.  Many people in the audience came to see your co-panelists. They’re not here to see you, but this is your chance to make a good impression and win them over. So don’t be remembered as the jerk who hogged the stage and didn’t let anyone else speak.  Interact with your co-panelists, have a dialogue, endear yourself to your co-panelists and the audience.

For the love of God, don’t steamroll your co-panelists. Trust me, no one is impressed and it doesn’t look as cool as you think it does. Be polite. The people on stage are your partners and co-workers. Be a good partner. 

If you’re a bad partner, trust me, all the other Movers and Shakers are going to hear about it, and that might hurt your chances of a convention invite in the future.


5: Your Time On The Panel Is Not The Time to Self-Promote – This might come as a shock to you, but unless the panel is clearly described as being about you and about your book, then it’s not. Most panels are over a wider topic in the genre, the fandom, or the industry. You were brought in as a panelist or speaker on this subject because of your knowledge and expertise. And while yes, you may think that this is the perfect time to plug your book every 3 seconds, it’s actually not. This is where you need to address your vast expertise on the topic and not yourself. 

For example: I was recently on a panel about Fantastic Setting. While I have written a fantastic setting or two, I never once mentioned my own work. I spoke about Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clive Barker, William Gibson, Anne Rice, Mark Twain, and Scott Lynch. I explained what made them good and what we can learn from them. After it was done, I met fans who liked what I had to say, complimented my knowledge and analysis of the subject, and I even sold a couple books. Had I instead used my time on stage to lay out my own books, people would have zoned out and stopped listening because that’s not why they were there.

I understand the desire to link the topic to your own book because obviously the audience is interested in this topic and therefore might like your book, but please resist. You were selected for the panel because of your expertise that allowed you to write this book. This is where you need to let that expertise shine. If you impress your audience with your vast knowledge on the topic, then they are more likely to buy your book than if you just tell them you wrote a book.  Panels last about 50 minutes. You get about 30 seconds during your panelist intro to say “I wrote a book”, and then the rest of the panel is about your expertise. After the panel or between panels you can self-promo to your heart’s content. That’s why you’re here. Your knowledge that you and add to the panel itself is why the convention invited you and that is NOT the time to talk about you and your book. This is paying your dues to the convention for inviting you. It’s NOT a sale-pitch.

But what if someone asks a direct question about my book?” you ask.

Good question. In the event someone asks about your book or how you handled a topic in your book, you have been given audience permission to discuss it. This is not free-reign. This is a 30-second window. Answer the question and then move it off of yourself. Maybe even bounce the question on a co-panelist to see how they addressed the issue in their own work. 

EXCEPTION: Like with writing, every rule has an exception. If you speak about a mistake you made in your book and how you learned from it, then feel free to mention it if it relates to the topic and as long as you are sure that you’re not twisting it into a “clever sales-pitch” of “Buy my Book”. Trust me, the audience and your co-panelists can tell the difference.


So now you know. As long as you can stick to these five simple rules, you’ll have a lot of fun at the convention and might find yourself invited to even more. 

Let’s Chat About Impostor Syndrome

Last weekend I was honored with serving as a Guest Speaker at the DFW Writers’ Conference. It was my second year to do so and it went spectacularly well. In addition to participating on several panels, I taught a class on writing fight scenes (more on that in a second), and gave one-on-one critiques/consultations with authors.

It actually surprised me that I had two authors (well, three because one was a writing duo) actually pay a good deal of their hard-earned money to have me offer my opinion of their work. The week before the conference I was emailed ten pages from each of their novels to review. Now, I’ve been in workshops for many years. I’ve given hundreds of such reviews, but those were workshops with numerous members and offering a wide-range of opinions, not one-on-one paid consultations. Horrified that I’d disappoint them, I pored over those pages, marking every single item that I thought would be helpful. And yes, I found many things that I could help them on, and feel that I did as good a job as I could, but the entire time I was thinking, “Why me? There’s a million better authors out there. Real authors.”  

Real Authors.

In the end, the consultations went better than I could have hoped.  Both gave me sincere thanks for all of the critical and helpful advice. I don’t doubt their sincerity one bit. I wish all the best for them.  But even then, while they were clutching their pages, slathered with my red ink and notes, and thanking me for all my help, there was still a little voice in the back of my head screaming “Fraud!


I sold my first story in 2006. My debut novel released three years ago and my sixth book will be coming out later this year. Two of my audio books were Audie Award finalists, I’ve sold thousands of books, I have actual fans that reach out to me, yet that little nagging bastard of a voice still wont shut up.

In 2016, when I was asked to speak at that DFWcon, several of the local presenters got together to work on our presentations. Tex Thompson (who is one of the coolest people, and quite possibly an actual living angel) organized it, and during our first meeting she asked if we had any concerns. I sat silent, afraid to say what it was. Then Dantzel Cherry raised her hand and said, “I’m just going to address the elephant in the room: Impostor Syndrome.”

That was the first time I’d heard the term Impostor Syndrome, but I knew exactly what it was. I knew who it was. It’s the name of that asshole voice screaming in the back of my head any time anyone called me an author. Not only did I know that voice, but I’d thought I was the only person who even heard it. Everyone else was a real author or a real editor. I was a fraud, a fluke, some idiot that had just gotten lucky and fooled my way into their company. Tex (who I can’t stress enough is fucking awesome) assured us that we all deserved to be there. She must have seen the doubt in my eyes because she looked straight at me and gave me an assuring nod.

It helped. It helped having a name for that voice. Soon I discovered how many of us have that voice – way more than I’d have imagined.

While at this years’s conference I was talking to a few of the authors and one mentioned self-doubt. They were referring it in relation to self-doubt being an obstacle that must be overcome in order to finish and sell your story (which is very true). I warned that self-doubt never goes away after they’re published. It just morphs into Impostor Syndrome. One author laughed and said they couldn’t wait until then because those of us with Impostor Syndrome have at least been published. I couldn’t argue. Hopefully they’ll become one of those authors that sells their novel and never once questions if they’re frauds.

Sunday afternoon came time for my writing fight scenes class. It was in the last schedule bracket for the conference. I’d assumed that few people would show. It had been a long weekend and a lot of people would be heading out and going home. Why would they stay for some 15th rate author like me?

I admit a moment of terror when I walked in ten minutes early to setup my laptop and this very large room was already full of people with more filing in every second. I’ve done this presentation before. I have it down and I think it’s pretty good (or at least entertaining. I even give a bad Keanu Reeves impersonation during it). But I’d never given it for this many people, and many of those faces in the crowd were real authors, active members of the writing community, people who I’d somehow slimed my way into their company and was referred to as their peer. After a brief technical difficulty in getting my ancient laptop to work on the projector, I began what would be the final presentation and many people’s final memory of the conference.

It went amazingly well.

Better than I could have imagined. Not only did no one stand up in the middle of my class and scream, “You don’t know shit!” but it ended with a lot of applause, and people rushing up to thank me. It was incredible.

After 20 minutes of shaking hands, I strolled out of the room for Tex to tell me all the praises she’d heard about my class. It felt good. It felt incredible.

Once I got home, and still riding the high from the response I’d received, I posted my experience on my Facebook wall.

See that reply?  That’s a sincere congratulations. That’s someone complimenting me.

Do you see my response? That’s me downplaying it. I even added a smiley. But that’s not what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say was the echo of that little gremlin of a voice. “Don’t call me famous.”

Even while strutting on Cloud 9, happy as I can be at a job well done, I can’t even for a second pretend that I’m something that I’m not. I’m an author – an obscure one at best. That’s simple fact. I’m hoping to fix that.

But one thing with Impostor Syndrome, even if the stars align and I find myself in a position where I’m no longer obscure, will I accept that? Will that gremlin ever go away?

I don’t know. But like that wise author said when I warned them of the gremlin’s existence, I can’t wait to find out.

So in case you’re wondering why I’d post a blog lamenting about my own demons after what was by all accounts a triumph, the reason is simple. This is for all those authors who still wonder if they’re good enough. This is for all of you who downplay everything you do and lie in bed wondering when someone will figure out that you don’t belong.

You’re not alone.

Just keep telling that voice to shut up.







2016 in Review

2016 will be a year long remembered with a negative edge. It began with Bowie’s death and continued on with blow after blow. But not all was bad.

This year I was invited to speak at AllCon and FenCon. The biggest compliment was the invitation to speak at DFWcon. Being a guest at conventions that I once paid to attend and listen at was an enormous step for me. I’ve met a lot of amazing people and it has done nothing but help my career. I hope 2017 continues this trend.

I released the Valducan shorts Hungry Eyes and Raid on Wewelsburg with the SNAFU series by Cohesion Press.

My publisher Ragnarok Publications finalized a distribution deal with IPG and now my Valducan and Black Raven books are available in major bookstores. I had my first experience walking into a Barnes & Noble and discovering my books on the shelves. In fact, it was the very same Barnes & Noble where I used to attend a writing group where some of the very same Black Raven stories were worked on. 

Hounacier was a Audie Award finalist for Best Paranormal Audio Book. And while we didn’t win, just being a finalist for such an award is an enormous deal. R.C. Bray has been a god-send. 

My third novel, Ibenus, was published in September and has been very well received.

I finished my fourth Valducan novel Redemptor and sent that in to my editor in November. I am extremely happy with this one and really look forward to everyone seeing it.

In July, I quit my job and am now writing and geeking-out full-time.

After much prodding from my wife, I’ve started a YouTube channel where I discuss gaming and nerldy things.  I’m having way more fun with that than I had anticipated and am quickly climbing he technical learning curve. You should totally Subscribe to it.

I’ve started a completely new novel that is unlike anything I’ve tried before. There is no title yet, but it will be a gritty Portal Fantasy and I’m really loving where it’s headed. No, I’m not done with my Valducan series, but this new one sort of forced its way to the front of my brain and it’s got some serious bite.

So while 2016 might not have been the best year, it hasn’t been all bad. I hope things in 2017 are even better, but until then, I wish everyone a happy new year and thank you all for your amazing support.





Guest Blogs

It’s been quiet on my blog, but I’ve been busy chatting it up on other blogs.

So for anyone that has missed my current blog-storm, you can find them here.

At Beauty in Ruins, you can read about how I came up with some of the unique monsters I used for Dämoren, Hounacier, and the Screamers in Ibenus. I also confess me deep fear of jellyfish.

At The Quillery, I discuss the different genre styles I use between each Valducan novel in order to keep the series fresh.

I paid a visit to RisingShadow where I explained how I try to avoid the dreaded Aquaman Trope and Eigen Plots. 

Finally, I’m at author Timothy C. Ward‘s site discussing the different layers in storytelling and how summing up a novel’s plot, especially one in an ongoing series, is pretty difficult to pull off in only 1-2 sentences.

I have several more guest blogs on the way, including a few podcast interviews, so I’ll post those up once they go live. In the meantime, I hope everyone enjoys my rambling thoughts and enjoys Ibenus.


You’re Doing It Wrong – A Defense of Audio Books

I recently posted a review of a James Bond book on Goodreads. In it, I briefly touched on each of the stories in the book, making comparisons to the previous Bond novels and to the film franchise. It wasn’t anything amazing as far as reviews go, just the thoughts of a reader reflecting on a book. Because I had listened to the audio version, I made a final comment about the narrator’s performance.

No big deal.

Within a few hours, I received this reply: “Impressive summary. Well-formatted and expressive; lucidly composed. Except that you apparently didn’t ‘read’ these tales? You ‘listened’ via some silly audio version? Sadly, this is bogus. Inauthentic. All too common these days, but totally not the way to absorb literature, while ‘multi-tasking at the same time’.”

The reply did continue, addressing my comments about the book’s sexism and racism.  “One other remark to make: travel more overseas. Your comments on ‘racism’ and ‘misogyny’ are provincial-American. At odds with the way the world actually is out there.” But that’s not what I want to talk about. An anonymous troll on the internet has rolled their eyes as someone’s views, calling them naive. Nothing new. Nothing worth arguing with.

However, the sentiment that the medium that I used to read the book is somehow wrong or inferior struck a nerve. I’ve heard this argument many times and from all varieties of people.

So to anyone that claims that listening to an audio book is inferior, and to the troll that gave me such wonderful statements to refute, I say this: Deal With It.

Let’s break this down, shall we?

…silly audio version – Audio books are the fastest growing publisher market. Millions of readers are using them.  Gone are the days of highly abridged tomes of cassette tapes marketed to the visually impaired.  Audio book performers are highly-regarded actors (like Samuel West, who read the audio book I was reviewing).  With services like digital streaming, audio books are not some novelty fad.  Like e-readers (which also got shit on for years), they’re here and they’re here to stay. 


“…totally not the way to absorb literature…” – This line fascinates me.  Ignoring the part where he refers to a 1960’s Spy-Fi collection as “literature,” the troll’s post opens with praising my summary. He has acknowledged that I understand each of the stories enough to comment on them.  In fact, his post closes with this: “Otherwise, a really fine review and I was pleased to sift through it. Glad you enjoyed the stories.” So if I absorbed the stories enough to compose a “really fine review,” how in the fuck can you then say that I didn’t absorb the story?  The fact I gave it a thorough review proves that I did because, News Flash: People can absorb by listening.


“…‘multi-tasking at the same time’ – Ah, so you were watching me while I listened?  Creeper.  Seriously, though, I hate this argument.  Yes, audio book readers can get distracted while reading.  I drive while listening to audio books.  However, I’m real interested in the notion that people that visually read are not distracted at all.  Really?

Zero distractions

It’s nice to imagine that anyone reading a book is sitting in a comfortable wing back chair, the only sounds being the soft crackling of a fire, but it’s also fundamentally bullshit.  Reading a book doesn’t mean that life stops.  There’s still noises, keeping an eye out on a kid, the lingering thoughts in the back of your head reminding you to pay the electric bill so you can stop using a fire to read by.  Your mind wanders, you skim, you race through a few pages between other tasks, and you are rarely, if ever, 100% Distraction Free.

Reading Drive
“But Officer, how else can I absorb the story?”

Since I started Audible, my reading has gone up exponentially. The bulk of my reading is with audio books.  I enjoy them. Yes, I have gotten distracted at times and had to listen to a part a second time (maybe the troll never heard of Rewind), but no more often than times I’ve had to go back a re-read part of a book that I realized I was skimming. 

War Read
“Hey, could you hold off on that shelling? I’m at a good part.”

So, while I might not read the same as someone else, no one gets to tell me that I’m “Doing It Wrong.”

The Great Roleplaying Experiment – 5e D&D versus Call of Cthulhu 7e

As I’ve said before, I’m a massive roleplaying fan.  I’ve been gaming since I was 13 and I hope to continue until my dying days.

Two years ago, I posted how I was running a Pulp-Era game that was essentially mixing Call of Cthulhu and old horror movies using a modified Cyberpunk 2020 Interlock system.  It was a fun game and very rewarding to build something new. I also have even more respect for RPG designers, since there is a whole lot of work that goes into tiny details.  But the game kicked butt and we were having fun (Having a player take down a charging T-Rex with a tommy gun was a dream I never knew I had until it was fulfilled).

5th EdThen my friend and fellow author Clay Sanger sold me on trying the new Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.  It took some convincing, but I gave it a shot and spent all of 2015 playing D&D.  It’s a clean system and it’s very apparent that they put a lot of work into making it Dungeon Master Friendly instead of only focusing on it being Player Friendly (after all, who cares how bad ass a system is if no one is willing to endure the nightmare of running it?). Also, I judge an RPG by its art and layout, and the aesthetics of 5e D&D is seriously top-notch.  But after several months of playing, a few problems began to surface.

Nothing against the game at all. As a die-hard First Edition player, I’ll admit that 5th Edition D&D is amazing. Its just that a level-based game that focuses on combat in order to gain more powers doesn’t appeal to me as much as it once did.  The other issue was that the character personalities were not as good as they should be.  That’s no fault of D&D, but it is more common in it since Feats and Abilities can overshadow a player’s attention to the character itself. Something needed to change.  I was about to kill that campaign and start a new one, letting everyone write fresh characters now that we all had a better understanding of the game mechanics. But then something happened.

Cthulhu called me home. 7th Ed

Now, I hadn’t been looking to leave D&D. My players and I had finally gotten proficient enough with the new system that we were really stretching our legs with it.  But I was on the Chaosium email list and I read a few of their updates on the release for their new 7th Edition and I decided to give it a look.

Quite simply, it’s beautiful.

First, Call of Cthulhu is really more of my kind of game right now.  Being skill-based, players aren’t restricted by character classes where they only advance once they’ve achieved a set number of Experience Points. Characters can use any skill and advance in those individual skills as they use them. That was my favorite aspect of Cyberpunk. Second, combat is less important than the story, and man, they made the system great for storytelling.

Character creation is wonderful, and they offer a lot of tools to make it easy.  A player can quickly make a character with intimate details in a way that’s easy and very personable. Cyberpunk had a great character creation system too, but CoC’s is much easier to use not only during creation, but within the game itself.  I don’t have to remind any of them about character histories because they are so well ingrained and easy to reference. They players instantly fell in love with their characters not because of their racial or class abilities, but because of who their characters were.

Like with Interlock or previous CoC editions, combat in 7th Edition is nasty.  Characters do not magically gain hit-points like they do in D&D, so they’re always weak and a small weapon is seriously scary (No matter how awesome you are, a hobo with a shank will still fuck you up).  Also, things like Healing Potions, or Cure Wound spells are absent, which means getting hurt is a big deal.  Taking away their safety nets makes the player much more cautious and play smarter. Over they years, I’ve noticed D&D players become more careless as their characters’ accrue a good number of hit-points and armor. In systems without hit point increases, they become more careful the longer they play because they are more attached to their character who are still just as squishy as a 2nd level D&D character. The other great thing about CoC combat is that it’s extremely simple. Combat is fast-paced and easy to learn.

ChasesOne of the biggest selling points for me was the Chase Rules.  Normally, chases in an RPGs are handled by taking Initiative and Movement Rate. Fastest movement wins. Pretty simple. It’s also kinda boring.  But Chaosium knew that with combat being so brutal, and most of the monsters being so deadly, that characters would spend more time running from baddies than they would fighting them. So they made Chases a large part of the game (as large as Combat), and man they’re fun.

The Idea Roll is also another thing I appreciate. Since most adventures center on investigation and cleverness, if the PC’s find themselves against a wall because no one thinks of the right thing to do or they missed a clue, the Idea Roll can save the day without anyone feeling like the GM is just bailing them out.

Bone HillFinally, the coolest thing about 7th Edition CoC is that it’s backwards compatible.  Meaning that a GM can pick up a 1980’s adventure module and can convert the game to 7th Edition in their head. It take a little getting used to, and it isn’t my ideal way of running a module, but it’s also awesome.  That means that any CoC adventure that has ever been written over the last 35 years are still available for Game Masters to use.  One of the things that saddened me when we started 5th Edition D&D was that all of the modules and supplements for each previous edition (many of which I owned) were completely obsolete and that future generations of players would never know them.  In fact, when we played 5th Edition D&D, I had converted The Secret of Bone Hill, a classic 1st Edition adventure that I loved, to 5th Edition. The conversion process was hell. It was insanely difficult and took a lot of time. The results were fantastic, but I’d be real hesitant to convert any other adventures to 5th Edition after that.

deadlightSo far this year, we’ve played four Call of Cthulhu adventures:  The Haunting and Dead Light, which are 7th Edition, Crack’d and Crook’d Manse (6th Edition), and Edge of Darkness (5th Edition). All have been a massive success.  In fact, with Edge of Darkness being an adventure that’s been around so long, there were some great fan-made supplements and handouts for it.

And since I mentioned my affection for great art and layout, the art was what drew me in in the first place.  Chaosium has done an outstanding job making the book easy to learn from and with plenty of great art to fuel that creative fire.

Both Dungeons & Dragons 5e and Call of Cthulhu 7e are brilliant in their executions and feel like they are written not as a cash-grab to strong-arm players into buying all new books, but as a real evolution of the games with 35+ years of experience behind them.  I’d gladly recommend either of them. But as a story-based GM, I prefer Call of Cthulhu.

Edge of Darkness

Now nothing is perfect, and CoC’s biggest hindrance is that the physical copies of the books are still not available (though they should be very shortly). However, the PDF Copies are out there and the 7th Edition Quickstart rules are totally free to download (and come with The Haunting adventure).  I strongly urge Game Masters to check it out if they’re looking for something fun.

And if you’re a fan of Penny Dreadful, then you have to check out Cthulhu by Gaslight.


UPDATE:  So the same day that I posted how Call of Cthulhu’s biggest hindrance was a lack of physical books, Chaosium released their 7th Edition Pre-Order.  Already ordered mine. Books expected this May. 


Three Casting Ideas to Save Indiana Jones 5

While many of my generation subscribed to the fandom religion of Star Wars, my great love went for Indiana Jones. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the first movie that I can remember seeing in theaters. Being three years old, I wasn’t paying too much attention to what would become my favorite movie series. All I can remember was the classic Boulder Chase scene and my mother desperately trying to cover my eyes while Nazi faces melted off (I was probably playing with my shoes at the time and had no idea what was going on).

Temple of Doom was one of the first VHS movies that I owned.  And while I’m not much of a fan of it now, I watched it hundreds of times while I was younger. Last Crusade was brilliant, though cheesier than the first, and greatest, installment.  And while the world loathed Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I was merely disappointed (I’m 50/50 on whether I dislike Indy 2 or 4 the most. It will require back to back viewings to decide). But Crystal Skull gave us a nice closure to Jones’ life as our whip-swinging hero.  He’s old, he’s married, and he has an adult son that’s probably going to disappoint him.

Being a fan, many expected me to be thrilled when Spielberg announced that Indiana Jones 5 was green-lit with Ford in the lead.  But I’m not.  Frankly, I’m worried that there will be yet another bad Indy flick that stomps on the beauty of the character.  Ford is simply too old for the role.  I’m sorry, but it’s true.  Crystal Skull went out of its way to hammer home that Indiana Jones is now old and the last thing I want to see is another two hours of Old Indy struggling to hold on to his former glory.  It’s depressing.

So in order to keep Indiana Jones 5 from being just another sad case of Hollywood making a nostalgia cash-grab at an ageing franchise with aging actors, I have a few ideas that could make it the Indy movie that the character deserves.

1:  Focus On His Son (No, The Other Son)

Indiana Jones has 2 children.  There’s Mutt, the annoying biological child played by Shia LaBeouf and then there’s his REAL son, Short Round, played by Jonathan Ke Quan.


While Mutt grew up fencing at primary schools only to embrace his life as a Wild Ones wannabe, Short Round grew up as an orphan on the streets of Hong Kong until he failed his Pick Pocket roll on Dr. Jones.  The last we see him is in 1935.  So what happened to him?  The last we knew he was going back to America with Indy.

What I want:

Short Round has become a kick-ass archaeologist.  Think about it.  He’s been adventuring his entire life. Now in his early 40’s, he comes back to dad with a problem and they have to go on one last adventure.  This lets us have both Ford’s Indy and a younger version of the character that we can actually believe can swing around on a whip.  Hell, bring back Mutt for a moment where he says, “Hey, Pop,” just so Short Round (I mean, Doctor Round, just because you KNOW he’s a doctor now) can throat-punch Shia LaBeouf and say, “You call him Doctor Jones.”  Trust me, Hollywood, fans would lose their minds if this happened.

2:  Re-cast Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones is the American James Bond. And when faced with an aging actor, the Bond franchise learned early on that they can just recast him.  Yes, there’s a risk. Yes, there’s going to be fans that say that only Harrison Ford can play the character. But the simple truth is that Indiana Jones is a popular franchise owned by Disney.  Disney is going to make more of them, so re-casting Indiana Jones is inevitable.  It’s going to happen.  So instead of digging our heels in like a child that doesn’t want to go to their first day of school, let’s embrace it.

Discussions of replacing him have already circulated the Internet.  Some say Bradly Cooper would be perfect, others say Chris Pratt was born for it.


What I want:

While Pratt and Cooper do look the part and could probably do an amazing job, they’re just not right for it.  Both are handsome, rugged, and have good comedic timing. However, they also suffer from the fatal flaw that they are already established Hollywood stars.  Their names alone draw crowds. If Pratt plays him, it’ll be Pratt. It won’t be Indy that just happens to be played by Pratt. We need an actor that isn’t already a super-star. We need a blank slate, an actor that comes in and makes us believe that he IS Indiana Jones.

Ford was nearly passed for the role because he was already too big of a star in Spielberg and Lucas’ eyes. When Tom Selleck wasn’t able to get out of his Magnum PI gig, they ended up going with Ford.  I suspect that it was at that time that Lucas hatched the most genius casting plan of all time…


3:  We Keep to the Plan

While it might be difficult to remember now, George Lucas was an insane genius when it came to storytelling.  Some believe that his last great moment of genius was with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989. After that, he spent the 90’s screwing up Star Wars with Special Editions, until finally ending the millennium with the screaming dog turd that was The Phantom Menace.

However, just before his mind went out, George Lucas set in motion the greatest actor handover of all time. So in 1992, he began grooming Ford’s replacement by casting a young, unknown actor as Indiana Jones.


Sean Patrick Flanery played Indiana Jones for 22 episodes of the Adventures of the Young Indiana Jones. At 45 minutes an episode, that seals Flanery’s title as the man who has spent more hours playing the character than for anyone else alive. Now Flanery is old enough to embrace his destiny and step into the movie role that he’s spent over 20 years preparing for.

What I want:

Open the movie with Harrison’s old Indy.  Give him an eye patch and some audience that asks him about some adventure in his past. Harrison sighs and begins to recount the time he once chased a magical MacGuffin. Have the scene fade as his voice continues and and we now see a familiar figure in a fedora on a grand adventure. Then the character turns to the camera and we see Sean Patrick Flanery.

Since we’re recasting with a younger Indy from the POV of Old Indy, it allows us to recast all of the roles (after all Indy’s memory might show them different than they were).  This brings us back Sallah, Short Round, Marcus Brody, Belloq (Mother of God we need more Belloq), even Indy’s dad.  In fact, this single move of Ford passing the torch in a movie transition allows us to smoothly reboot a franchise without actually rebooting it.

While you might say, “Seth, I highly doubt this was Lucas’ original plan back in 1992,” I say, “You can’t prove otherwise.”  Sure you could call Lucas up and ask him, but remember, he’s already gone on record saying that Greedo always shot first when we have scripts showing that he didn’t.  George Lucas is no longer a credible source in saying what his plan was.  All we know is that Flanery is the right age, the right look, isn’t a huge super-star, and already knows how to swing a whip.  Let’s just go with it.


As Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones would say, “Trust me.”


Endings: Setups Versus Cliffhangers


In the past year I’ve had multiple unfortunate experiences of reading a good book only to have it end in a Cliffhanger.  For me, it yanks the enjoyment of a wonderful story out from under my feet and leaves me feeling rather cheated. I hate Cliffhangers.

No, not this Cliffhanger

I’ve read reviews and chatted on Reddit and learned that while I’m hardly the only one, I discovered that there’s a whole lotta confusion as to what “Cliffhanger” means. I’ve even been accused of using one at the end of Mountain of Daggers. Some people confuse a Cliffhanger with a Setup.

A Setup is when a story is complete, the narrative is wrapped, and while the problems might not be over for the heroes, the reader or audience can leave there and still feel a sense of closure.  A great example would be 2002’s Resident Evil.

In it, our heroes have escaped the Hive, closing the plot narrative, but then Alice awakens to a city overrun with zombies.  The closing shot is our hero, severely under-dressed, holding a shotgun, and ready to face-down what comes next.


While the movie might end with the audience screaming, “Oh my God! I want more!” it does not end with them requiring to know the very next thing that happens to Alice in the 30 seconds following the fade to black. We leave the theater knowing that while her initial adventure is done, there are more to come.

For me, that’s the essential definition of a Cliffhanger. “Do We Need To See What Happens In The Next 30 Seconds?“. If the answer is Yes, then you have a Cliffhanger.

Cliffhangers came from the old serial shorts that played in theaters. Every episode would end with the hero in some hopeless bind, such as sinking in quicksand, falling from an airplane, and most obviously, hanging from a cliff.  The gag was used to leave viewers in suspense and make them feel obligated to come to the next movie to see how the hero makes it out.

The 1960’s Batman also used Cliffhangers to end the first half of each two-episode adventure. Leaving the audience with the line, “Tune in Tomorrow!  Same Bat-Time! Same Bat-Channel!”

“Oh no! How will they escape? I’d better tune in tomorrow.”

Aside from being a cheap ploy, the key for an effective Cliffhanger is that they are not endings.  They’re chapter breaks.  Ending a chapter with a Cliffhanger is perfectly fine.  I don’t need to wait long to get to the rest, and I’m not required to buy another ticket or book to find out.  Authors that coax me into buying a standard-sized book, only to pull a surprise Cliffhanger at the end, leaving the plot unresolved and forcing me to buy the next book, make me feel cheated. 

“But what about a series?” you ask.

Well I’m glad you asked, because I have an answer for that, too.

First, the fantasy obsession of taking a massive epic tale and breaking it into multiple parts at seemingly random points is attributed to Lord of the Rings.  However, Lord of the Rings was never intended to be a trilogy.  Tolkien’s publisher was daunted by the costs and commercial appeal of a single enormous book so they chopped it up.  Even then, readers were not forced to wait years between installments.  The entire series was published between July 1954 with Fellowship of the Ring, and October 1955 with Return of the King.  There was no waiting presidential terms between installments.  Authors that hold a story ransom and extort readers by forcing them to keep buying books are not following Tolkien’s tradition.

Second, it’s my opinion that a series with Cliffhanger endings is perfectly fine, providing it follows two simple rules:

  1. That the first book be effectively a stand-alone.  That way, readers have a moment once the dust has settled to decide if they want to keep going.  Some might say, “I’m good with this,” and simply walk away, happy that they had resolution. Or they might say, “Holy shit that was awesome! What happens next? Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” Either way, they get to decide.
  2. That each installment has a beginning, middle, and end.  While some stories might take multiple volumes to tell, there are still sub-stories within the larger plot. As long as the heroes have an obstacle and resolve the obstacle within the covers of the book, even if the much larger problem is unresolved, then that is perfectly fine.

Waste LandsA good example of this is the Dark Tower Series.  Readers can enjoy the first book, The Gunslinger, and be perfectly happy. Yes it ends with a setup, but the story is complete.  The Gunslinger chased the Man in Black across the desert and then caught him.  You can end there.  However, readers that continue the series will enjoy several self-contained adventures along the way, even experiencing the massive cliffhanger ending at the end of The Waste Lands.  That book is the only one that ends on a cliffhanger because the heroes are in an active moment of peril in the last sentence.  However, even then, the story still has a beginning, middle, and end (They enter the waste lands, they leave the waste lands.)

MistbornTrilogyEven though I say that there is a specific time that a Cliffhanger between series installments is acceptable, a Setup is much, much nicer.  Harry Potter is a perfect example of a series that follows these rules, choosing a setup, versus a cliffhanger. A reader can enjoy Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone and leave there being perfectly happy. The readers that do keep going with the series are treated to small, self-contained stories that occur while the larger narrative is unfolding. Another favorite of mine in the Mistborn Series, which follows the same rules.

People that claim books like The Well of Ascension, The Republic of Thieves, or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince end on cliffhangers are completely wrong.  Yes, readers are invested in the story and are desperate to see what happens next, but in none of those stories is our hero in a hopeless situation that might kill them in the next 30 seconds. This need to know is the product of great writing and storytelling, while a Cliffhanger is merely a cheap trick used to make up for a lack of great writing.







2015 in Review


This year has been incredible. In the 10 years since my first sale, 2015 was the first time I openly referred to myself as an author. Before that, it felt sort of weird, like I was some wanna-be pretending I was something that I wasn’t.  Even after Dämoren released in 2014, I was apprehensive about throwing that title out because I remembered some opinion piece that said to be called an author, one must have two published book.  It’s silly, I know, but I was never able to really put my chin up high, walk up to a total stranger and say, “I’m an author,” until this year.

Hounacier was released in March with a wonderful reception. I’d been very nervous about it because it was so drastically different than Dämoren. But for the most part, readers have loved the sequel.

After years of close calls and false starts, the Black Raven made his literary return with Mountain of Daggers in March and Sea of Quills in September.  Reception has been mixed, but most readers appear to enjoy it.  We always knew it was going to be a niche-market, but Black Raven is my baby.  They’re my popcorn adventure fiction and I couldn’t be more proud to have him out there.

RC. BrayDämoren was an Audie Finalist for Best Paranormal Audiobook.  It was my first major award nomination and while we lost to M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts, I’m honored that my little debut got to rub elbows with so many great works. I got to go to my first award ceremony and meet R.C. Bray in person.  He’s now narrated four of my books, and I’m terribly proud to get to work with a narrator of his caliber, and he’s also a great guy, which makes it even better.

My first anthology release in five years happened with The Serpent’s Army.  I have two more coming in 2016.TCC

I gave my first Guest Author presentation at All-Con 2015, soon followed by FenCon 2015 and the TCC Library.  Evidently those went very well because I was contacted by the DFW Witers Conference and asked to come speak as a Guest Author for 2016.  It’s a huge honor. The last time I attended the conference I was an unpublished author desperate to sell Dämoren. 

I enjoyed many great books this year. In fact, I read more in 2015 than in any other year.  My favorites include:

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I loved this series so much that I have a blog about it.

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey. After losing the Audie to it, I had to check it out.  Great book.  It’s also the only book told in Present Tense that I didn’t find distracting or awkward. 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Fantastic and fun book. The audiobook was read by Wil Wheaton, who not only gave a perfect performance, but was beautifully appropriate as the narrator of the greatest nerd-culture book I’ve ever found.

The Martian by Andy Weir.  Absolutely lived up to the hype.  And while my opinion of R.C. Bray might seem biased, believe me when I say that he absolutely killed it with this performance. Awesome audio book.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.  I listened to the audiobook read by the late, great Frank Muller.  Muller was hands-down my favorite narrator ever and I picked this book up just as much for him as I did in my interest in the novel itself.  As someone who has seen the movie-version uncounted times, I was amazed to see how wonderful the source material was.  Highly recommend it.

In addition to book releases and a ton of reading, I wrote Ibenus.  While we’ll have a lot of editing and polishing to do, it feels so good to finally have that story out of my head.

With one novel release, two short story releases (and a likely third that I’m just waiting on the contract for), and Ragnarok’s recent distribution deal, 2016 is poised to be another great year.

Thank you, everyone, for you support.  May you all have a healthy and prosperous New Year.