Apocalypse Springs: A Zombie Novel With A Twist

Lots of writers and artists like using Kickstarter as a platform to get people excited and spread the word about their project, and to fund it financially. And now my longtime friend and fellow writer Rob Killam has begun a new Kickstarter project, a zombie novel unlike any I’ve ever heard of.

The title: Apocalypse Springs: Reanimation

The pitch: “The apocalypse comes to Colorado Springs, and a crippled, mentally unwell man may be the only hope its survivors have.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds like something I want to read!

In our writing group he has read aloud several excerpts from this book. The writing and character development are solid, it has a much stronger basis in hard science than most zombie books (Rob is a meticulous researcher), and he plans on telling an epic story through several more volumes.

Not only is Rob a great man, he is a writer committed to telling the best story possible. Every little bit will help him bring this incredible story to life. Or rather, make it undead.

I’ll be backing this project as soon as I have the requisite cash. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in contributing to, be sure to visit his page and check it out. Lots of goodies are promised to the backers of the project, which doesn’t hurt. So, what do you say? Bring the zombies to the foot of Pikes Peak, and help out an author at the same time. It’s a good investment.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1513414342/apocalypse-springs-reanimation-a-long-form-novel

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The First Six Paragraphs of My Book

I realized I’ve done a lot of talking about writing, and the writing writers who write about writing. Did I mention it involves writing? Well, that’s enough of that. Not writing in general. Just writing about writing. Let’s go back to storytelling! I’m resuming a journey back to the dragons and engraved swords, the buildings of high beauty and strange color — the beautiful things that drew me to writing in the first place.

Time to throw some specificity into the recipe. I’m sharing what are currently the first six paragraphs of my novel in progress. If you’ve got a work in progress as well, I invite you to share the first six paragraphs in a blog post of your own.

These words are completely open to suggestion and critique. If you’ve got something to say, feel free to comment or email. As if I even need to say this, but copyright belongs to me. Obviously. Hope you enjoy it!

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Heavy eyelids opened at a hint of light. The young man’s sight was unfocused, as if underwater, and his body burned. Every movement ground his nerves like a file. He tried to moan, but his sore throat only permitted a gurgle. A blanket’s weight pressed on him. He could make out the walls of a small room and murky shapes of furniture. His only illumination filtered through a window to his right.

Memories were scattered and fragmented, retreating like a swarm of moths when he tried to grasp them. At first he thought it was just a dream. But the blanket’s itching fibers scratched him too coarsely, the sore muscles hurt too much. Where was he? How did he come here?

The young man couldn’t even remember his name.

Heavy footsteps pounded from behind a door at the room’s other side, a door as tall and black as death itself.

His heartbeat rushed. He stumbled around the corners of his brain, probing for clues, for any inkling that could remind him who might be outside. Still the moths fluttered about, turning to dust and forgotten as soon as he caught them. The footsteps receded, leaving him in silence again.

Then his mind grabbed hold of something, tiny and fragile. A name, the most familiar name to him. Josh. Yes, that sounded like it ought to be his name. Josh…Kingston, he thought. My name is Joshua Richard Kingston.

My Return to Middle Earth

Well, I am back from seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. What did I think of it?

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Run like the wind to the cinema! Go! Now!

Peter Jackson and company have taken us back to Middle Earth, which of course is already a compelling reason to go see it. But they also fulfilled my hopes and dreams, doing justice to Tolkien’s timeless book while adding layers to the story. I was grinning through most of the film, and was completely enraptured. The performances are astounding, especially the main three: Martin Freeman is Bilbo Baggins, Ian McKellen is back and amazing as ever as Gandalf the Grey, and Richard Armitage holds his own as the charismatic, intense king of the Dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield. Andy Serkis delivers a Gollum that is even more convincing and remarkable than the one in the trilogy, if that was possible.

Of course, the special effects and landscapes are beyond beautiful (New Zealand is proof that there is a God). The Dwarves are by turns hilarious and rip-roaring awesome. Howard Shore delivers a terrific musical score that stirs the heart and puts visions of dragons and fires and grand adventures in your mind. Really, must I go into detail? It felt like going back home. I could hardly be happier with the result. In fact, I have to confess something that might be blasphemy: I liked it more than the book. There are fewer times when Bilbo is saved by “sheer luck.” He has to rely more on his own wits and the assistance of the Dwarves or Gandalf to get him out of sticky situations. Plus, all of the extra stuff they’re pulling in from Tolkien’s appendices gives the movie a greater epic quality, and heightens the stakes of the main adventure to the Lonely Mountain.

Of course, it seems as if some aren’t nearly as delighted about it. Critics and nerds across the world are in fidgeting rage over this film. Did they kill Gandalf at the end? Nope. Is Smaug the dragon wearing a tutu? We don’t see much of him, but I didn’t notice any pink lace.

Evidently, the reason everyone’s tying their undergarments in a slip knot is the deliberate pace of An Unexpected Journey. Yup. A deliberate pace. All right, if your heart attack is over, I’d like to calmly explain why this shouldn’t earn the movie a paltry 65% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth movies require an audience who is in it for the long haul. The beginning of this film does require a little patience. And the scene with the three trolls around a campfire, though fun and funny, might have benefited from a bit of extra editing. I grant that much. But why should these count so heavily against the film, when Jackson has made it clear that he will be spinning a much larger tapestry than what Tolkien’s children’s book alone could hold? He is fleshing out Middle Earth itself, casting light on the milieu of Tolkien’s astounding creation.

Given such circumstances, I find a nice slow beginning not only acceptable but arguably necessary. It’s the same reason I didn’t object in the slightest to Return of the King having “too many” endings. I’d just seen ten hours of an epic story unfolding through three movies and dozens of characters. There had better be a lot of endings, so we can be satisfied that each character and subplot gets some kind of resolution even as the larger tale slowly draws to a close.

I’ve been going through Orson Scott Card’s book Characters and Viewpoint (which I highly recommend), and one of the latest chapters I’ve read devotes several paragraphs to showing how Tolkien is a storyteller who focuses on the world, fleshing it out to show us a place so convincing and detailed, you believe it might actually exist. Tidy narratives and compelling characters do sometimes find a place in the setting, but the attention is on Middle Earth itself. This is even true of The Hobbit as a book, which is a shorter adventure tale. Even here, where the plot is much more reined in than Lord of the Rings, Tolkien takes his time to show us the people of Dale, outline the customs of Hobbits, flesh out the family line of Bilbo Baggins, and makes us feel the anguish of the Dwarves whose mountain and treasure has been cruelly stolen by the dragon Smaug. Even here, Tolkien makes the world as much a character as Gandalf or Bilbo or Thorin.

The director and writers are taking their time to set the stage for a grander story, a story I can’t wait to see unfold. I have come to trust this crew of people, given what they accomplished with Lord of the Rings. If they want to tell a larger tale through this new trilogy, they are more than welcome to do so.

Well done, ladies and gentlemen. You have delivered one of the greatest movies of the year, and you captured my imagination all over again.

The Next Big Thing

I was quite honored to be tagged by Jackie Hames at The Spidereen Frigate for a blog chain called “The Next Big Thing,” which gives readers a snapshot of your own work-in-progress.

I’ll give it my best shot. Hope you enjoy!

What is the Working Title of Your Book?

The Wolfglen Legacy: Revived

Where Did Your Idea for the Book Come From?

I started drawing maps in 2004 of a fantasy world I wanted to create, and that eventually morphed into a couple of projects, including The Wolfglen Legacy. After watching a lot of movies like the Star Wars prequels, Lord of the Rings, and Pirates of the Caribbean, I wanted to tell a big, adventurous, save-the-world kind of story. Plus, I wanted to try giving new(ish) versions of various fantasy cliches like elves, dragons, wizards, dark lords, and see if I could set them up in a somewhat original framework.

What Genre Does Your Book Fall Under?

Primarily epic fantasy, with some tones of dark fantasy, adventure fantasy, and a dash of science fiction.

If Your Book Became a Movie, Which Actors Would You Pick?

I have a large cast in mind for this

Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian) as Morent Wolfglen. He’d do a good job of looking ferocious and desperate, playing the conflicted wizard who is trying to save his family while keeping his conscience intact.

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Jennifer Lawrence would be terrific to play Princess Sathra Wolfglen. She excelled as Mystique and Katniss Everdeen, and I’d like to see her play the role of a vulnerable young woman who learns how to become stronger and more in control.

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Andrew Garfield really impressed me with his interpretation of Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man, so I wouldn’t mind seeing him in the role of Josh Kingston, a young man from another time who is awakened from stasis into a distant future ruled by magic and wars, and is catapulted into one of the most dangerous conflicts Earth has ever faced, all while trying to learn his new surroundings and run from mistakes and tragedy in his past.

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Those are the three main characters. But I did have a couple of others in mind. I tend to dream big.

Christian Bale as King Rishtal Wolfglen, brother to Morent and father to Sathra.

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Rachel Weisz as Empress Kilfira Lundill, an ally of the Wolfglen family.

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Sam Neill as General Streynel Halthrin, and David Tennant as Myrickin Schtahl, both of them people who have different goals than everyone thinks they do.

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Tennant

Okay, I could go on, but I think that’s enough of my pipe dream. For now. 🙂

What is Your Book’s One-Sentence Synopsis?

A young man outrunning his past, a princess trying to go on after her mother’s death, and a wizard desperate to save his family all find themselves caught up in a secret war against their country, driven by an ancient supernatural enemy.

Will Your Book be Self-Published or Represented By an Agency?

I’m definitely going to try traditional publishing first. More than that, I want to see how high I can go with this series. If Random House or Tor or HarperCollins picks it up, terrific! If not, that’s perfectly okay. I still want to try it because I don’t want to spend my days wondering how far up the publishing ladder it could have gone.

How Long Did it Take You to Write the First Draft?

After writing off and on while trying to balance school and work with my writing goals, it took me about five years to finally have a complete first draft. Now that I’m graduated, though, it won’t take nearly as long to write the series’s next book (there will be four Wolfglen books in total).

What Other Books in Your Genre Would You Compare Your Novel To?

Hmm. Kind of stumped on this one. Maybe it would be a good fit for readers of Brandon Sanderson (Elantris, Mistborn, the latest Wheel of Time books), James Gurney (Dinotopia), Christopher Paolini (The Inheritance Cycle), George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones), and Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game).

Who or What Inspired You To Write This Book?

In December 2003, as I left the theater after watching Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, I was blown away by the story I had just witnessed. Given the staggering quality of Peter Jackson’s trilogy and how it affected my emotions and imagination, I knew one thing for certain stepping out of that theater: I wanted to be a fantasy writer.

From there I pieced together bits of worldbuilding, character development, and the clockwork of a plot, and the most developed result is The Wolfglen Legacy.

What Else Might Pique a Reader’s Interest in Your Book?

Possibly the ways I have revamped given fantasy cliches (elves with flintlocks instead of bows, a villain driven by his conscience instead of evil for its own sake, etc.).

Moral complexity is one of the big goals I have in mind for this series. I am striving to get a good balance between the black-and-white conflict in Harry Potter, and the frustrating ambiguity in Game of Thrones.

Dinosaurs join the book’s dragons to give my world plenty of big scaly beasties. When was the last time you saw a Triceratops in a fantasy novel? Seriously, they could instantly improve a lot of books.

And I am working hard to make the story satisfying on all fronts, not only attractive for its worldbuilding or characters or descriptions.

Tagging

To keep this chain going, I’d like to tag four of the coolest writers I know: Janden Daniel HaleRob “The Brain Hamster” Killam, Aaron Ritchey, and Courtney Schafer. All are terrific storytellers, and I recommend you check them out right away.

First Scene from “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

I know I have talked quite a bit about the new Hobbit movie in recent weeks, but this is one bit of news I just couldn’t neglect to mention. After the premiere in Wellington last night, the first short clip has emerged. It’s the moment when Gandalf, Bilbo, and the Dwarves have found a weapons cache and the old wizard decides to give Bilbo a very valuable gift.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Writing Prompts for the Holidays

Many writers are gearing up for NaNoWriMo, so I’m offering you some writing prompts for (hopefully) inspiration and keeping you tapping away at that keyboard. Even if you don’t feel like doing 50,000 words of fiction in a month, maybe you can still find these helpful for devising a new story, looking at something from a new angle, or simply getting unstuck. I need to do all three myself, so I plan to use each of these at least once

1. “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

2. Lots of characters face conflict because they are late for their engagements. What about a character who is always early? How can being early create conflict?

3. What’s the worst that could happen during a nice afternoon chat?

4. Many fight scenes with dozens of combatants occur in a bar or tavern. So, what if a crowd of “normal” people got into fisticuffs in a more unusual place? A museum. An auction house. An observatory. The Louvre. The nearest Village Inn. A train station. Anyplace where you’re not expecting to step on someone’s recently dislodged tooth.

5. How would a big battle scene change in the transition between night and day? Whether they’re fighting at sunrise or sunset, think about the changes of mood, the tactics each side would switch over to, the soldiers having to adapt to the new environment. Contrast the features of nighttime combat and daytime combat as much as possible.

Hope these are of some use to you. Thanks for your time!

Double Review: The Never Prayer, and The Whitefire Crossing

On the Colorado writing scene, there are many fine talents and local stars. I have had the great privilege to read two of the books on that scene in recent months: The Never Prayer by Aaron Michael Ritchey, and The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer. Today, I finally get to review them for you.

In short, both novels are excellent, and I highly recommend them if they sound like your kind of books.

The Never Prayer by Aaron Michael Ritchey is a YA urban fantasy novel that hits harder than most in that genre. Teenager Lena’s parents died in the aftermath of a car crash, and she is trying to support her little brother in a small Colorado town that is facing hard times of its own. Lena is desperate to bring in money, even if it means being courier for some drugs at her high school. Things go from bad to worse when she winds up in a tug-of-war between a demon and a “fallen” angel as they try to influence humans, pushing them toward good or evil.

I liked how Ritchey keeps Lena’s head above water in terms of social status. She’s unique, and a lot of people feel sorry for her or don’t like her, but she’s not a complete outcast, and can adapt well enough to move through the various cliques of her school. He also does a terrific job at giving us reason after reason to care for Lena’s plight without turning her into a pitiful mess. She is simply trying as hard as possible to provide for what’s left of her family, and that makes her a character worth cheering on.

You also have to admire his willingness to admit that doing the right thing is often the most painful. There are consequences you may not want when you make the right choice, and he pulls no punches in having his characters glean that lesson. The book is kept intriguing along its journey, even when you realize the trajectory it’s taking, and it hit me with a strong ending I did not expect, but played fair with the rules Ritchey had established.

If there was a complaint I had, it’s a minor one. Lena seems very quick to accept that she’s part of a supernatural conflict. Even though the angel is revealed in a dramatic fashion right beforehand, most likely she would still have a harder time taking in the change of circumstances.  But that’s hardly anything but a nitpick, so don’t let it stop you from picking up a copy of Ritchey’s remarkable debut novel. This book is dark, thrilling, and thought-provoking, and I am more than happy to recommend it to you. I can’t wait to see what else Aaron has in store.

It can be a tricky situation if your freshman novel is an epic fantasy. Most of the time in that situation, an author succeeds by coasting on a few great strengths, but the book’s quality is dragged down through equally strong weaknesses (for example, you might get a book with great dialogue and worldbuilding, but its characters are flat and the storyline is confusing). And it’s easy to make the work derivative, giving regular readers of the genre very little reason to pay you any attention.

Thankfully, none of that is an issue with Courtney Schafer’s debut The Whitefire Crossing. This is a book I cannot recommend enough. Seriously, if you read fantasy books, please read this one. Pretty much every aspect of it sings with quality and dedication. The story is one that hooks you right from page one and keeps you invested through the next three hundred, the worldbuilding is excellent when it comes into play, and the characters are absolutely satisfying in their depth and choices.

The story has two viewpoint characters, equally captivating and relatable. First there’s Dev, a smuggler who takes magical charms from the city of Ninavel, across the Whitefire Mountains and into the country of Alathia. Mages rule Ninavel like sin rules Las Vegas, but in Alathia almost all magic is outlawed, so Dev finds steady work in “clandestine imports” of magical items. Only problem is, he’s been cheated out of his money, and he’s taking anything he can get to fulfill a friend’s dying wish. The second viewpoint character is Kiran, a mage who is desperate to hire Dev to smuggle him across the mountains and into Alathia, the one place in the world where Kiran can escape and hide from a vicious authority figure.

To call this an “adventure novel” might be downplaying the tough journey Dev and Kiran take together. They suffer through this story, and no decision is an easy one. Normally I don’t care for novels that are quite so ruthless toward their characters, but Whitefire was such an enrapturing, detailed, and fast-paced book I had to keep turning the pages.

One of the best strengths in this book is the magic system Schafer has set up. Based around simple or familiar things in fantasy magic, like blood, charms, runes, and metals, she constructs one of the most intelligently built magic systems you’re likely to find. For a worldbuilding nut like me, it’s a delight to see her lay out the rules of magic, usually in bite-sized chunks that don’t slow down or halt the story. She keeps things moving, and gives you a chance to learn a lot of her world along the way.

If I told you anymore, I’d probably risk contaminating the enjoyment and level of surprise that this book delivers. Schafer’s debut is a strong one, and she is certainly an author to watch in the coming years. Plus her sequel The Tainted City has just been released, and I can’t wait to get my copy to continue Dev and Kiran’s story.