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A Holiday Reading Feast

Published November 26, 2014 in Advice - 1 Comment

It’s reading season, and here are nine novels all in a cozy bundle:

Grandma gives a sweater she knitted, Dad receives a necktie he doesn’t really like, the kids get toys that make a variety of noises, most of them loud, all of them annoying. What do writers give for the holiday season? They give the gift of stories that take the reader away to fantastical times or places, tales that can be blood-curdling or heartwarming, adventures that capture the heart of the season.

As curator for storybundle.com, I put together nine books for your holiday reading cheer, from Mardi Gras to Thanksgiving, to Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, New Years—who knows, there may even be a Boxing Day story in there somewhere.  They are all in the Holiday Fantasy Bundle

All Covers Large

If you want short stories to sample one at a time, like taking candy out of a Christmas stocking, we have plenty of those, four anthologies with remarkable tales by Kevin J. Anderson, Jody Lynn Nye, Jonathan Maberry, Mercedes Lackey, Patricia Briggs, Heather Graham, David Farland, Larry Correia, Carole Nelson Douglas, Mary Jo Putney, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Dean Wesley Smith, M.L. Buchman, and others. Your brain will be as stuffed as the family after a Thanksgiving feast.

If you want to sink your teeth into a longer work, try the epic SILVER AND GOLD by David Sakmyster, set in the gold and silver rushes of California and Nevada, with dogsled races and arctic monsters, vile industrialists and noble heroes. Or for lighter fare, Mark Teppo’s RUDOLPH is a first-person account of the behind-the-scenes workings of the North Pole, told by one of Santa’s elves. Carole Nelson Douglas reinvents A Christmas Cariol in A Wall $treet Christmas Carol, but don’t be scrooged! Kristine Grayson’s VISIONS OF SUGAR PLUMS is a charming romantic fantasy about an image specialist with the assignment of handling Santa’s “brand” in the face of an anti-obesity campaign. And Dean Wesley Smith presents his popular series character Poker Boy in a dire caper to save Christmas in HEAVEN PAINTED AS A CHRISTMAS GIFT.

That’s enough great books to pile up under your electronic Christmas tree. In storybundle, you can get these Holiday Fantasy books for whatever price you name, and a portion of the proceeds goes to charity. For a minimum bid of $5, you’ll get the first four books; if you pay $12 or more, you get all nine.  All eBook formats, and available worldwide.

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Teaser Tuesday—A FANTASTIC HOLIDAY SEASON: THE GIFT OF STORIES

Published November 25, 2014 in Advice - 0 Comments

With Thanksgiving coming right up, it seemed appropriate to feature the new FANTASTIC HOLIDAY SEASON volume for Teaser Tuesday. This book is a wonderful collection of heartwarming (or bone-chilling) holiday stories for your good reading cheer. Includes tales by Patricia Briggs, Jonathan Maberry, Mercedes Lackey, Heather Graham, Kevin J. Anderson, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Brad R. Torgersen, Quincy J. Allen, Ken Scholes, Sam Knight, Mike Resnick, David Boop, and Eric James Stone.

And we just got a starred review in Publishers Weekly! “This often amusing and frequently compelling collection features Christmas-themed short stories from some of fantasy and science fiction’s brightest stars. This is the perfect escape for weary holiday shoppers.”

558Cover

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This teaser is from Ken Scholes’s hilarious story—which happens to be set on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, about a zombie apocalypse, a trailer park, Thanksgiving dinner, and a pig:

A World Done In by Great Granny’s Grateful Pie

Ken Scholes

I

t was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and everything was going to shit all at once, the way things usually like to. Of course it was a different kind of going to shit compared to, say, last year’s Thanksgiving in Iraq. That one started with flares and shots ricocheting off stone and ended with me slowly heading home on a medical discharge. This Thanksgiving started with the goddamn underpinning going missing and ended with burning Great Granny’s Grateful Pie. And somewhere in the middle was the matter of Mama’s plus one.

“You know, Kay Ann,” Mama insisted in her most saccharine voice, “my plus one.”

I put the pie in the oven. “Your plus one?” I pushed buttons that I assumed were the timer. It was my new stove. In my new kitchen. In my new trailer back home in Reynolds, Kentucky.

“Yes, like them fancy folks do at their parties. A plus one.”

“So you’re bringing a date to Thanksgiving dinner?” The oven beeped at me and I pushed more buttons.

She gave one of her patented sighs of exasperation. “No, no, not a date.”

I offered my own approximation of the same sigh. “Okay, what’s his name?”

“Reverend Franklin T. Seymour. I’m sure you’ve met him.”

Yes. I’d met him. The new youth pastor at her church. This wasn’t the first time he’d come up. “Christ, Mama, you’re bringing the boy preacher to Thanksgiving?”

“Language, Kay Ann,” she said in her best somber tone. “And I thought it would be real Christianly with all his people in Oklahoma and him all alone out here.”

“He’s not alone. He’s got the Lord, Mama. He’ll be fine.”

“You know what I mean, Kay Ann.” I waited for her to say the rest. He had a steady job that wasn’t illegal, had a sense of purpose and decent personal hygiene. These moved most gentleman callers to the top of Mama’s list. Not for herself, mind you, but for her oldest daughter. I heard gravel crunching in the trailer park’s driveway and looked up to see August Cooper’s big Ford pulling up. When she didn’t say the rest, I saw my opportunity and took it. “Okay. Franklin Seymour is your plus one. Uncle Auggie’s here, Mama. Hopefully to see about my underpinning. I’ll see you Thursday.”

I was off the phone and on the double-wide’s narrow porch before my uncle had grunted his way out of the truck, hiking up his torn Levis to help out his stretched red suspenders. “Sumbitch,” he said, pushing back his Cooper Construction ball-cap to scratch his head. “Where’s the goddam underpinning?”

“In the back of your truck, Uncle Auggie, I hope.”

His face registered surprise and he actually checked the bed, bless his heart, before answering. “Nope. I thought Ernie put them up Sunday.”

Ernie was my cousin, his youngest and about as shiftless as you could get. “It appears,” I said, “that he was waylaid.”

Way baked was more likely, I suspected.

“It does appear so,” he said. He leaned over and looked under the trailer. “How’s the rest of it seem?”

“Sturdy,” I said.

Uncle Auggie nodded. “Good.”

“So any chance I’ll have my skirting up before Thanksgiving?

He scowled. “I sure can try. Have to find it first.”

My phone started vibrating and I checked it, expecting it to be my mother again. It was my sister. I gave my uncle an apologetic glance. “I have to take this.”

“I’ll take a quick walk about, see what’s what, then go see if I can scare up Ernie and your underpinning.”

“Thanks, Uncle Auggie.” I transitioned smoothly into the call. “Hey Sis.”

“Hey,” she said. “Where you been? I’ve been calling.”

“I’ve been moving,” I reminded her.

“Oh yeah. All done?”

“Nope. And Uncle Auggie’s lost my underpinning.”

She laughed. “Ernie sold it to buy weed, I’m sure.”

I laughed with her. “Probably so. Or traded it straight across.”

Then her voice changed and I should’ve known what was coming. “So … what time’s dinner Thursday?”

“I told Mama two but to come whenever.”

“Okay. I’ve got my plus one sorted out.”

I felt the front end of my exasperation sigh coming on. “You’re bringing a plus one, too?”

And how she answered it, her tone of voice and even the volume, told me everything I needed to know. I was being plotted against by my own family. “Oh, are Mama and Bobby bringing plus ones, too? I hadn’t heard.”

“Mama is.” Bobby was too but I wasn’t supposed to know that yet. He’d call next. She’d just given it away.

“Oh goodness,” she said, as if she hadn’t known all along.

“Yes,” I said. “So who are you bringing?”

“Johnny Alvin. Remember him?”

I did, vaguely. He was a few years ahead of us in high school. He drove a sky-blue 1973 Ford Maverick with a 351 Windsor engine and glass pack muffler and listened to a lot of Rush. “Is he still delivering pizzas for the Pizza Shack?”

I could hear the pride in her voice. “No, ma’am. He’s assistant manager now. Though he’s studying mortuary science at night and interning down at Drummond’s Funeral Parlor.”

“Mortuary science?”

My sister sometimes mistook surprise for ignorance and answered accordingly. “You know, dead people stuff. Embalming. Funeral directing.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. She’d gotten the first two in there. Steady work. Ambition. I decided to help her out. “I’m sure he cleans up well, too. Probably has himself a black suit.”

“Oh yes,” she said.

“Good. You’ll both be very happy together. And I just want you to know I’m fine with you bringing your new boyfriend to Thanksgiving dinner. I’m sure we’ll all love him.”

She was still sputtering when I told her I’d see them Thursday and hung up.

Uncle Auggie let himself out of the trailer as I slipped the phone back into my pocket. “Everything’s working,” he said. “Heat, water, electric.” He took a light jump on the porch. “Everything’s solid, too.”

He’d put half the trailers into the Shady Grove Mobile Home Park over the last thirty years. Mine was the newest, though it wasn’t brand new. Just new to me and new to the park. He’d helped me find it and then he’d moved it for me at a price we both could live with. “I sure do appreciate it, Uncle Auggie.”

He tipped his hat. “Thank you for your service to our great nation.”

I tipped my own ballcap back. “And yours.” He’d served in Vietnam. He’d not been excited to see a niece joining up, much less going overseas into that clusterfuck but now that I was home, he talked to me differently, looked at me differently. Respectfully.

“I’ll see to that underpinning,” he said as he climbed into his truck.

The phone vibrated in my pocket again. But I knew who it was. My brother. Calling about his plus one. Though I don’t think Mama or my sister had any idea just how different a direction my brother had taken things.

By the time we were off the phone, I was pretty sure Thursday was going to be both hysterically fun and maybe the worst Thanksgiving of my life all at the same time. I had no idea, truly.

When I got back into the trailer, it was already filling with smoke and a terrible stench that made my eyes water as I ran into the kitchen gagging.

Something had gone badly wrong with great Granny’s pie.

Of course, I saw that as the least of my problems and fed the burnt offering to the park’s community pig before locking up and heading back into town for another load of boxes.

And again, I had no idea, truly. But that damn pig sure was happy about his pie.

[sorry, you’ll have to get the book to read the rest of the story!!!]

AND DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT THE FIRST FANTASTIC HOLIDAY SEASON VOLUME

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Brainstorming NAVIGATORS OF DUNE

Published November 25, 2014 in Advice - 0 Comments

It’s the grand finale of the Great Schools of Dune trilogy, which we launched with SISTERHOOD OF DUNE in fall of 2011 then followed up with MENTATS OF DUNE in March 2014, and now we will complete with NAVIGATORS OF DUNE.

Sisterhood

Right after we delivered the final manuscript of MENTATS OF DUNE in March 2013, Brian and I were together in Seattle doing promotion for HELLHOLE AWAKENING. We did a book signing at University Books and also appeared at the NorWescon science fiction convention. But because we had just delivered book 2 and had all the storylines in our heads,  we didn’t want to miss the rare opportunity of being in the same city at the same time. So, we carved out an afternoon, sat down in a diner not too far from the NorWescon convention, and spent hours figuring out how we were going to wrap up all those plotlines. We had a great, invigorating session, throwing around a lot of ideas, and took copious notes in the broad strokes of the plot for NAVIGATORS OF DUNE.

HHawakemm

But that novel wasn’t next on our plate. Later that year we also had to write the epic finale to our Hellhole trilogy, HELLHOLE INFERNO—but we were smart to get those NAVIGATORS ideas down on paper while everything was fresh.  We finished HELLHOLE INFERNO and delivered it, and we also had plenty of other projects to focus on. Brian had THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK OF CHAIRMAN RAHMA, and I had THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS and my Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series. HELLHOLE INFERNO was published in August 2014, and we got caught up in promoting that novel.

LittleGreen DarkBetweenTheSta  Hellhole-Inferno

But it was time to get to work on our next important project: NAVIGATORS OF DUNE, and for that we needed some good solid time to brainstorm. Brian and I compared calendars and found a time when we could get together in October, four days 20-23. I flew in to Seattle, reviewing all of those Norwescon diner notes during the plane trip; we had each previously skimmed over MENTATS OF DUNE to refresh our memories. Brian called me while I was waiting to board the ferry, and he was eager to start brainstorming already, so we tossed some new ideas back and forth. When he picked me up from the terminal, we were talking about the book from the moment I got in the car. With our notes, we stopped at a brand new local microbrewery for an IPA and initial brainstorming, then off to Brian’s house for more brainstorming.

Mentats Cover

We already had the broad strokes of the story, from the diner conversation more than a year earlier, but we started to fill in the details, coming up with more cool ideas to connect plot lines. To avoid burnout too soon, we went out to dinner at our favorite local Thai restaurant with Brian’s wife Jan, then back to the house for more brainstorming, then we called it a night. Next morning with a fresh (and large) pot of coffee, we started in again. We took advantage of the clear, sunny day (a rarity in the Pacific Northwest this time of year) and went out for a nice hike, because we find that’s an excellent way to get the creative energies flowing.  More great ideas.  Then dinner at a local pub, and back to the house for a break—our brains were mush by then!—to watch a movie.  Brian loves classic movies and he always convinces me to watch some old black-and-white classic.  I usually grumble, but I usually end up enjoying the movie (because Brian has good recommendations). For the first night, he suggested a John Wayne classic “Red River” (yes, I liked it), and the following night we agreed on “The Grapes of Wrath” (I liked that one, too).

For our second full day of brainstorming, we started breaking down the big story into chapters, characters, story lines, separating them into broad plots, and then started the hard detail work of dividing the big plots into discrete chapters, and then to interweave them.  How to wrap up the grand story of Vorian Atreides, one of our most popular characters ever, and his blood-feud with Valya Harkonnen? What will Valya do with the Sisterhood?  Emperor Roderick Corrino in his crisis, caught in the titanic struggle between the barbarian fanatics led by Manford Torondo and Anari Idaho and the enlightened but ruthless forces of Josef Venport and his Navigators. And the evil robot Erasmus…the slightly insane Anna Corrino, the hellish research lab on poisonous Denali, the new cymeks…  It’s a lot to organize!

Sometimes Brian would type furiously on the laptop, sometimes I would.  By the time we played “The Grapes of Wrath” that evening, with a nice bottle of red wine open, we were again drained, but feeling pretty good—we had a solid, dramatic story that just needed to be fine tuned.

Next morning, we went out to another diner for breakfast, still working on some of the finer plot points, connecting some strands, but we already had a lot keyed in, and it just needed to be organized and broken down.  Brian drove me to the ferry after a quick lunch, and I was on my way home. NAVIGATORS OF DUNE is our *eighteenth* book together since 1996—so we’ve really figured out how to get the best out of each other.

On the flight back home I mulled over the notes, with noise-cancelling headphones on, just with good solid concentration time. I organized the notes and outlines more, and then when I got home for the next few days I worked on it more.  About a week later, I sent Brian my first cut breakdown, about 70 chapters, and then sent it back to him for his editing.  Brian dove into the outline for several weeks while I buried myself in the final revisions and edit of my 750-page novel BLOOD OF THE COSMOS. He expanded the outline to about 82 chapters and did some sanding and polishing to make the pieces fit together better, then sent it back to me.

I had to let it cool off while I finished my BLOOD OF THE COSMOS edit, and last week I gave that final manuscript to my wife Rebecca for her detailed copy-edit on the prose. That gave me the chance to work on the NAVIGATORS OF DUNE outline again.  I’d had about a month to clear my head, so I could approach the story fresh.  Brian made copious notes about his changes and other ideas he added.  I worked on it, talked with Brian on the phone, then worked on it more. I expanded the outline to 96 chapters, but then went back with a more ruthless mindset to see what could be combined. Why use two chapters if the same story-needs can be delivered in one chapter?  As of this afternoon, as I finished this draft of an outline that is near final (though still subject to more rounds of changes—and even more when we do the actual writing).  85 chapters so far.

Now it goes back to Brian. We’re getting close, and we hope to start writing by the first of the year.  No idea when it will be scheduled for publication.

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Off the Radar

Published November 22, 2014 in Advice - 0 Comments

Yes, I have disappeared from my own blog for quite a while, only popping up to do a quick post about a book bundle in the past month or so.  I have been even more buried than usual with writing and publishing deadlines and life in general, and although I do post quick updates regularly on my Facebook page (and go here to join, if you aren’t already Following), this has unfortunately not managed to climb to the top of the stack.

But I’ve been clearing the decks like crazy and now I see a little bit of daylights.

WRITING: for most of the month I have been immersed in the rewrite and then the final edit of my 750-page manuscript of BLOOD OF THE COSMOS, second book in the Saga of Shadows trilogy, following THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS. This involved adding new chapters and scenes, rewriting a lot of interactions, fine-tuning some plot points, and tying up loose ends. After I finished my rewrites to the whole manuscript—750 pages—I then turned right around back to page 1 to edit all 750 pages all over again. In the middle of that, I went up to Estes Park on the edge of Rock Mountain National Park, holed up in a cabin for five days, and just edited all day long to make real headway. Right now, Rebecca is up to page 2o0 on her copy-edit of the manuscript.  Here is Stephen Youll’s amazing cover painting for the book.

BLOOD OF THE COSMOS

 

I also flew to Georgia to be a guest for the weekend at the Coca-Cola Science Center’s SF weekend, was a guest via Skype at the European Rushcon, drove up and did a book signing in Cheyenne, WY,  flew to Seattle to spend five days with Brian Herbert brainstorming our detailed chapter-by-chapter outline for NAVIGATORS OF DUNE, which is just about ready to be written—as soon as I go over the outline one more time. I met twice with my long-time coauthor Doug Beason (ILL WIND, ASSEMBLERS OF INFINITY) to develop ideas for new high-tech thrillers we want to work on.  And with Neil Peart, I’m about 2/3 of the way finished writing CLOCKWORK LIVES, a sequel of sorts to CLOCKWORK ANGELS. And I did a new X-Files novelette, “Statues,” for an X-Files anthology edited by Jonathan Maberry, and the introduction for a new volume of the popular web comic “Looking for Group.”

PUBLISHING: That was just in my incarnation as a writer. As the Publisher of WordFire Press, we’ve got a lot of books working through production. Since October, we have released (or are about to release) numerous new books, including the last three political thrillers in Allen Drury’s landmark “Advise and Consent” series, a new Mike Resnick collection AWAY GAMES, a holiday anthology A FANTASTIC HOLIDAY SEASON: THE GIFT OF STORIES (which just got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly!), several Jody Lynn Nye novels (MYTHOLOGY 101, STRONG ARM TACTICS, and a holiday collection A CIRCLE OF CELEBRATIONS), a never-before published Frank Herbert novel A THORN IN THE BUSH, a nice edition of CLOCKWORK ANGELS: THE COMIC SCRIPTS (for Rush fans and comics writers), a new military SF anthology FIVE BY FIVE 3: TARGET ZONE, a steampunk anthology THE BEST OF PENNY DREAD TALES, an urban fantasy novel by Peter J. Wacks HAIR OF THE WOLF, an upcoming Dan Shamble Zombie PI collection WORKING STIFF, a hard SF anthology edited by Jody Lynn Nye LAUNCH PAD, and two reissues of my SF novels with Doug Beason LIFELINE and THE TRINITY PARADOX.

For WordFire Press, I also serve as the Art Director, so I work with our designers and authors to get every one of those covers developed and designed. I can only handle all this publishing work because I have a great, competent, and dedicated team working on it and saving my bacon again and again—Peter J. Wacks, Vivian Trask, Quincy J. Allen, Keith J. Olexa, James Sams, Tara Henderson, Mia Kleve, David Boop, and of course my co-publisher (and wife) Rebecca Moesta.

LIFE: In the intersection of publishing and Life, I am also nearly finished writing, designing, and producing our annual holiday card (no store-bought card will do!) and my brother-in-law T. Duren Jones and I are finishing our annual gorgeous “Tales from the Trails” calendar, filled with anecdotes of our hiking escapades as well as our own photography. We had visiting family members, three birthdays (Jonathan, Rebecca, and Rebecca’s father), my parents had an anniversary. One of my closest friends had surgery and was in the hospital for two days, and another close friend, Alan Lickiss, passed away after a long illness.

I will write more about all these things as I get a chance, but as you can tell from the paragraphs above, I just haven’t had the time. I’ll catch up.  I always do.

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