A Year Ago Today: 1 Year as A Published Author

Well, it was October 4, 2011 that my first novel, The Worker Prince, became a real book. It was published that Tuesday with a listing on www.suvudu.com and some fun announcements, and sent out into the world. In December, the book even made reviewer Paul Goat Allen’s Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases of 2011, an Honorable Mention alongside a Scalzi book and Ben Bova’s latest.

Since then, life hasn’t changed as much as you might expect. Despite the purchase of my new mansion, which my friend Hugh still insists is his, even though I bought it fair and square, and the bevy of beautiful half-naked young women who hang around me now, I’m pretty much the same guy I’ve always been. Oh sure, I’m single again, and moved to cushier surroundings from El Paso to Ottawa, Kansas, when I’m away from the mansion, that is. But I’m still a guy who is working hard to make his way in the world.

I have four books out now, with two more on the way. Two more in ebook only and stories in two anthologies, a magazine and some online sites. And I have a growing in popularity blog and freelance editing career. But mostly, the biggest benefit of being published for a year has been the confidence I feel. I can call myself an author, even when standing or sitting beside panelists like Mike Resnick, Jay Lake or Nancy Kress and not feel embarrassed. I have a sense of accomplishment and professionalism that I didn’t have before. And I take pride in the accomplishment. After all, not many people dream up an idea as kids then 27 years later see it published as a critically praised novel. The book’s sold pretty well for micropress, too. 700 copies, I believe at last count. That’s not anywhere near the numbers most New York published authors see, of course, but for a micropress book, it’s pretty good numbers. And that last count was seven months in (another one is due any time). So I’m told those are pretty good numbers for a micropress in six months’ time.

I do get treated a bit differently because people know I have a book out. Not just by readers and fans either, I mean. Fellow authors and pros regard me with more of a peerlike attitude, I’ve noticed. And it’s easier to approach people because my name is not totally unknown. Between the book, B&N mention and SFFWRTCHT, word has gotten around.

Whatever the case, it’s amazing how fast time flew. As imperfect as it may be, and as irritating as having Hugh constantly in my business may be, I’m still proud of my book baby. And I’m pleased that the sequel has come out. Book 3 is over half written as of today. I’m pleased with the anthologies I’ve edited and participated in since and the future opportunities that I see lying ahead.

Thanks to all of you for sharing the moments with me, good and bad. It’ll be amazing to see where we all are a year from now, won’t it? I hope your sense of achievement and success is at least equal to my own.

Coming soon:

Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter – Land Of Legends (Fall 2012)

The Exodus (Saga of Davi Rhii 3) (2013)


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

 

Review: Thieftaker by D.B.Jackson: Compelling, Authentic, Couldn’t Put It Down

Imagine, if you will, the dark streets of Boston. Trouble is afoot, a revolution against the wealthy and the authorities. Equality and justice are demanded by protesting crowds, some of which get out of hand at times, leading to smoky, dark nights. Add to that ghosts and dark magic at hand, a secret sorcerer working his will in the midst of the chaos. Sounds like a pretty good urban fantasy, right?

Now imagine all this is occurring during the Stamp Act uprising in the 18th Century. Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty, the original Tea Party, the Colonists stirring against the British Crown.

D.B. Jackson’s debut alternate history novel is the tale of a thieftaker, one who hunts down stolen property for a fee and returns it to its rightful owners. What separates him from his competition, however, is Ethan’s gift for conjuring. He was born with the gift, inherited from his mother, and now Ethan Kaille is called upon to investigate the theft of a brooch off the neck of a murdered daughter of one of Boston’s wealthy merchants. Murders are not the sorts of crimes men like Ethan typically get involved with, but the girl’s cause of death is undetermined and some believe conjuring was involved, and so Ethan promises to find the stolen brooch and return it, revealing what he also discovers about the murderer in the process.

But once he gets involved, finding himself haunted by ghosts and voices of not just the dead daughter but others who’ve died in similar fashion, attacked by his main rival, Sephira Pryce, a thieftaker who rules the city in ways less honorable than Ethan and many of her trade, and hunted by the authorities. Drawn into an unfolding mystery by his compulsion to understand and his desire to set things right, Ethan uncovers a dark conspiracy that brings him into encounters with the British leadership, upper crust merchants, and even Samuel Adams himself.

Jackson is the nom de plume of a well respected fantasy writer with numerous fantasies under his belt. And his skill at prose, worldbuilding, and character development shine through on every page. Add to this his degree in history and passion for that, and you have a book that drips with authenticity, despite the fantastical elements wove into the historical narrative. Colonial Boston really comes alive here, and the story draws you in quickly, compelling you to read onward with every page.

Alternate history is as tricky as working in a contemporary setting because so much documentation and knowledge exists that one has to study hard and tread carefully in order to use history both responsibly, meaningfully and fairly in weaving a fictional tale around and within it, while still crafting elements which would appeal to the genre fans for whom the book will be primarily targeted. But my opinion is that any fan of history, particularly Revolutionary War America, would love Thieftaker. And I think it’s a not to be missed start of a new not to be missed series.

Jackson is scheduled to follow next year with Thieve’s Quarry and everything from the beautiful cover art to the prose, dialogue and settings works together to bring this charming, authentic, well paced tale to life. It’s unique and yet familiar. And it’s one of my favorite reads of 2012 so far. Highly recommended!


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Apex Reviews: The Worker Prince – 4 Star Review

This one’s not so easy to find online. I don’t even have a link, so I’ll reprint a jpg here so you can see it for yourselves.

 

Review: THOR

Packed with action and humor with strong characterization, good special fx and a healthy dose of heart, Kenneth Branagh’s THOR is the best comic book movie I’ve seen in ages and destined to continue steadily earning boxoffice $s throughout the summer.

Chris Hemsworth is terrific in the title role, a god banished to mortal on a strange planet, trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs. Starting out arrogant and self-sure, Thor’s transformation to a new form of confidence is a journey many will relate to. At first, a fish out of water determined that his power and status still entitle him to whatever he demands, Thor quickly comes to realize his power and status mean little to the scientists who’ve discovered him in the New Mexico desert. As he uncovers their world and begins coming to terms with his mortality, he’s further discouraged by his failure to reclaim his hammer from Federal custody and restore the confiscated scientific equipment and data of his rescuers. Then his brother, Loki, played will by Tom Hiddleston, arrives to inform him the banishment is permanent, and Thor comes face to face with the reality his life will never be the same.

The characters are well drawn and used to full effect for both humor and humanness. Thor’s friends and their banter are both amusing and character building, and, along with the Earth characters, particularly the scientists played by Stellan Skarsgard and Natalie Portman, take what could have easily devolved into silliness and elevate it into a worth drama about coming of age, self-discovery, and family conflict. Throw in good special effects, plausible science mixed with magic (Magic is science we just don’t understand yet), and you have a very entertaining, crowd pleasing film.

The first 30 minutes was one of the best film openings to an action movie I’ve seen in the past decade–packed with action and good character development, it sets up the story and our players with a strong foundation which carries the rest of the film.

It was fun to see Rene Russo back in action film mode, however brief and small her part, and Anthony Hopkins made the most of his role as well. Idris Elba as Heimdall, the bridge guard also stood out to me and Jaime Alexander as warrior Sif added a touch of Xena to the proceedings, countering the damsel in distress heroine played by Portman. There’s room for strong women in more than one level in this franchise and that news bodes well for female filmgoers.

Unfamiliar with the THOR story, as I am not a huge comics fan, the movie sold me enough to make me want to go back and read the comics and the legends behind them. It will be fun to see what they do with further films in the franchise, including THE AVENGERS, which is due to arrive before another THOR.

Recommended to fans of all genres. A truly worthwhile afternoon at the cinema.

Review: Unstoppable

An adrenaline pumping action buddy film with good characterization and family friendly language (more than most), “Unstoppable” grabs you from the get go and never stops.  The story of two railroad workers, an engineer and conductor, who find themselves moving head on against an out of control train loaded with cars containing toxic and highly combustible chemicals, the movie unfolds rapidly with the bungling railroad management worried about themselves at every turn while the heroes try and stop a major disaster.  The train is barreling toward major population centers where their families live and it’s too heavy for conventional means to stop.  Their ingenuity and determination, along with that of a few collaborators, are the heart of this film.

Stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine (the new Kirk from last year’s “Star Trek”) share the heroism nicely.  Both have nice backstories and strong action moments, and both, in the end, play key roles in saving the day.

My only criticism is that, even though this was based on a true story, the portrayal of the railroad management is played too much to stereotypes of the greedy idiots in suits.  Surely things were more complicated than that in real life.  At a short length of under 90 minutes, the writers and filmmakers could have rounded out of those parts a bit more to add depth to the film.

But it’s a minor quibble to a story which keeps your heart racing despite 80% of the screen time taking place aboard a single train between two men.  There are some nice action pieces here, and the writers have done a good job of explaining all the various science and realities of railroad technology which allow the situation to happen and impede attempts to stop the train.

The language is mild for an action flick as well.  A few four letter words scattered but not enough that I even remember them.  And none of the most memorable lines had them.  Given Hollywood’s tendency to equate four letter words with coolness, the filmmakers get high marks from me on this.

Highly recommended.

For what it’s worth…

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Well written and powerful, it’s easy to see why Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Windup Girl” has been so acclaimed and awarded.  The story of people in the Thai Kingdom, somewhere in the future, the story is told through multiple points of view – the American factory owner/agent who is using the factory as a cover; the abandoned Japanese windup girl, an android or clone, who is forced to survive by dancing and prostituting herself; the expat Chinese factory manager who works with the agent and betrays him; and two White Shirt members of the Environment Ministry who go around enforcing code, fighting disease, and taking bribes or stealing them (depending on your point of view.)  Each has a reason for why they’ve come to the point where all paths intersect, and each has the desire to survive the hard life that exists in the kingdom.

Bacigalupi’s characters are three dimensional and well drawn, but I found it hard to sympathize with all but the windup girl and the female White Shirt.  Both of them are victims who seem caught up in circumstances.  And while each commits acts which are violent and even criminal against other humans, both have a genuine desire to do the right thing.  They are just protecting themselves the only way they know how. The lack of a central “hero” left me a bit empty at the end.

The book is paced very well and the world building is top notch.  Bacigalupi has done his research on Thailand and created a wholly real and believable future world.  In truth, it doesn’t seem so vastly different from what one might expect to see in a Developing World country today, except for the gene replicating and windups.  There are dirigibles here and a few other steampunk tropes, but the time period is not Victorian and neither are the people, so it’s not really steampunk genre.  It’s more slipstream, often compared to William Gibson.  In many ways, the world here is if anything less developed than our own, relying on megodonts (giant mammoth/elephant type creatures) to power the city through their leg power, travel around mostly on bikes, ricshaws and a few cars.  It just doesn’t seem as far future as one might anticipate, which only serves to make it all the more powerful.

Bacigalupi wisely sticks to English dialogue, subtly hinting what language his characters are speaking when necessary.  He mixes in ethnic Japanese, Chinese and Thai phrases from time to time to add to the authenticity, and even uses some key native words throughout to lend to the feeling of being inside the mind of peoples who think in such terms.

Bacigalupi is a talented writer from whom I look forward to reading much more in the future.  His future is a bleak one, which may have contributed to my disappointment with the lack of a pure hero.  But his writing craft is solid and the book thoroughly engaging.  Recommended.

Movie Reviews: Social Network & Eat, Pray, Love

Saw two movies this week which impacted me in unique and unexpected ways and I just had to review them.  An odd combination, both “Social Network” and “Eat,Pray,Love” were not high atop my must see movies lists, and yet for various reasons, I saw them and I enjoyed both far more than I could have ever dreamed I would.

The story of the founding of “The Facebook” by Mark Zuckerberg, an anti-social computer geek at Harvard, “Social Network” had one thing going for it when I went in:  Aaron Sorkin.  I hate Sorkin’s politics, but his dialogue is the best in the business.  The guy knows how to bring characters to life, and he did it very well here, even writing college kids, an age group from which he, like me, has been long removed.  As Zuckerberg works with his friends and fights with classmates in creating his network and changing the cyberworld forever, I found myself relating to him in unexpected ways.  I don’t want to relate to him because 1) I don’t recall ever being so isolated and wouldn’t want to be; and 2) as his attorney tells him at one point, “You’re not an asshole.   You’re just trying really hard to be.”  Okay, so I can have my moments of assholedom, but I hope I am not trying when they occur.

Yet, as a tortured creative type who wants to use his creative energy and passion to do something substantial, I do relate to him.  Even his desire to be well known for it, a notion I pretty much moved to the bottom of my priority list over a decade ago.  Here’s a guy who ends up backstabbing his friends and classmates, the latter because they don’t know what they’re doing and it’s easier to just do it alone, and the former because he’s ultimately selfish and self-consumed and doesn’t give much thought to how anything he does effects other people.  He’s not really a nice guy.  Not a guy I want to be like, and yet, I totally get the isolation he lives with and overcomes only through his creative gifts, and I relate to the idea that sometimes ideas seem to have no value when the person having them doesn’t have the knowledge to make them reality.  Sometimes it’s easier to just do it yourself than work with such people, no matter how great the idea, and once upon a time, I also lost a friend for running with an idea which wasn’t wholly mine.

Here’s a movie about geeks founding a computer network.  Doesn’t sound like a very dynamic exciting movie.  But the movie is powerful and moves at a fast pace.  Sorkin and director David Fincher did a great job of adding tension by intercutting between the college days as “The Facebook” became an idea and was created to more recent times when Zuckerberg defends himself in lawsuits by those he screwed over.  It adds a sense of urgency as the reasons for the current falling out get gradually revealed through scenes of the history behind it and development of the characters.  And characters are fascinating here.  They drive the story, as is usual with Sorkin.  I found the film an inspiring and challenging look at chasing dreams with a relentless passion to let nothing stand in the way.  I love Zuckerberg’s passion, echo it, and hope to emulate it.  I just hope to leave less debris in my wake.

“Eat, Pray, Love” finally made it to the local $2 theatre and my wife just had to go so we went.  Based on a memoir by writer Elizabeth Gilbert, who, after a divorce and a sense of losing her way, embarks on a year long journey which takes her to Italy (eat), Indian (pray), and Bali (love).  Along the way, she develops friendships with unique and interesting people, finds herself, and teaches us some lessons about life, love, and even food.

I expected this to be a very girly chick flick.  I like Julia Roberts.  “Notting Hill,” “Pretty Woman,” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding” are three of my favorite romantic comedies, but this just sounded like a “Under The Tuscan Sun” clone.  I saw that and enjoyed it, but just was not at all in a place where I found the idea of seeing another appealing.  What I found instead was a story I related to, again, more than I ever could have imagined.  Elizabeth Gilbert finds herself making a fresh start much as I am being forced to do by the circumstances of my life.  After finally deciding her marriage just didn’t work and falling out of another unsatisfactory, hastily launched affair, she feels like she doesn’t know who she is any more.  (Boy, am I feeling that).  What does she want from life?  What will make her happy?  Who is she?    Winding up living as a third wheel in her book editor’s home, she finally decides she needs to just get out there and find herself, and the three countries she chooses have various appeals to her which lead her to believe answers can be found there.

Filled with memorable characters, good humor, and profound emotions, the movie reminds as all what a roller coaster ride life can be, especially when you have no idea where it is taking you, and as Gilbert discovers her need to let go and live, let go and let life go on, I was reminded that I too hold on too tightly to the reins.  It’s a big part of why I feel so miserable in the current chaos of my life.  Everything is so out of control and so I feel like I am spinning uncontrollably with no foundation.  In the end, it is when her Balian guru tells her that “sometimes part of finding balance is losing your balance in love” that Gilbert finally figures out what she wants and where to find it, and I am hoping I can soon find balance somehow myself.

I thought the movie had plenty to offer both men and women and certainly couples as it has a lot to say about the ups and downs of love.  One warning:  don’t skip dinner to attend as we do. “Eat” is in the title for a reason and watching the first 40 minutes of lucious Italian food will have you salivating by the time you leave.  If you love other cultures and travel, you’ll find fascinating stuff here.  If you like people learning to live more adventurously (even if you can’t manage to do it yourself) and like people learning how to value people more than other things, then this movie will bring you joy.

For what it’s worth…

Critiquing Protocols

Criticism is a part of life. It’s even more so a part of the writer’s life. From readers to editors to agents, opinions are everywhere, and sometimes it can be hard to process them and keep from having a part of yourself crushed under all that weight. Even worse, so many times you never get to hear those opinions. They just reject your work, that’s all you know. That’s one reason why critique groups are invaluable. First, they help you polish your work. Second, they help you test reader reactions. Third, you can learn by critiquing and reading as well and see what other writers are doing. Fourth, networking.

However, there is a certain protocol involved and some people seem to have a hard time learning it.

1) In offering critiques, keep the sarcasm to yourself. Comments like “Oh come on, you’ve got to be kidding me! You expect me to buy that?” are not appropriate (actually heard that one once). They are not supportive or encouraging, and they add nothing of value to help the writer improve their work. Be honest, would you like it if you got a response like that?

2) Be careful to avoid applying your own assumptions and bias too heavily to another writer’s work, especially when they are writing from a culture or perspective far different from your own. For example, I researched and wrote a short story about illegals crossing the US-Mexico border who deal with the Border Patrol and aliens. Because of my concern for accurate portrayals, I had the story read by a friend in the Border Patrol, Mexican friends, even an illegal. They helped me ensure I was fair and unbiased and got the facts right. But I had several critiquers (white) who suggested it was racist. And they also said the Border Patrol stuff was unrealistic. None live on the Border. None had any connection to Mexico or immigrants. They just read into it with their own assumptions and called me out. It was annoying, unhelpful and frustrating.

For example, I don’t like stories with a lot of foul language or graphic sex of any kind. I have to read them in my secular critique group, and if I think it will limit salability, I mention that. But beyond that, I leave it be. I would never write that. In fact, I think it shows a lack of creative effort. Shock tactics have been so over done, people are numb. If you can’t use your creativity to find more colorful words to tell your story than four letter ones, you’re not trying hard enough. But I don’t penalize writers for that opinion. I just apply it to my own work and my purchasing choices at the book store.

It’s okay to say, this bothered me because… It’s okay to suggest something was unclear… It’s okay to say you’re worried something might come off negatively which wasn’t intended… But give the writer the benefit of the doubt and be helpful. Don’t insult their intelligence by implying you know more when you don’t know what experience or research they have to back it up.

3) Find as many good things to say as bad if at all possible. I always point out things I liked from creative descriptions or snippets of dialogue that stand out to characterizations, etc. And if I think the story has potential for development, I tell them so. If it doesn’t I don’t, but I want to at least leave them feeling I appreciate something about their work.

4) Critique others’ work if you expect them to critique yours. Don’t join the group, submit a bunch of work, then sit back and wait for people to edit it for you. Get your hands dirty and read theirs. Offer them feedback. And do it in a way you’d want someone to critique yours (per the protocols listed above).

There’s probably more I could get into but I think these are the essentials, and, if followed, will enable you to have a good and productive critique group experience for all involved. After all, the purpose of critique groups is to help each other improve and grow. If it doesn’t accomplish that, it’s not worth investing the time.

For what it’s worth…

Harry Potter

Okay, I am well aware I am behind the game, and I’ve never read the books, but I have seen all six Harry Potter movies. As a guy who’s started writing speculative fiction and has a Young Adult book planned, I felt a responsibility to be familiar with the most popular fantasy series released in the past decade. One disclaimer though: because I have yet to read any of the books, I cannot speak to the author’s work but I will talk about the filmmakers.

It should be noted that Chris Columbus is one of my favorite directors and writers. His films like “Home Alone” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” have entertained me over and over again. And although I have no idea what was cut from the book, the first two films really worked for me. They were tightly written and engaging, getting you into the story quickly and moving things along.

Alfonso Cuarón’s “Prisoner of Azkaban” was weaker but still engaging and entertaining. It was at the next film, “Goblet Of Fire,” where things started to go downhill. I don’t know if Mike Newell has issues with editing or if he just tried to do it himself, but “Goblet” was too long and took way too long to get going. It was at least 45 minutes into the movie before I got interested in what was going on, and that is way too long. The only reason I didn’t just skip it was a feeling I needed to watch each film to get the others after that. But I shut off the DVD this time with none of the satisfaction the earlier films had provided.

“Order Of The Phoenix” and “Half Blood Prince” also left me wishing they’d been done by Columbus instead of someone else. They just needed a steadier touch by a filmmaker like Columbus or even Cuarón who knows how to make mainstream blockbusters. The lack of such direction was obvious and, ultimately, unsatisfying. Which is too bad, because people are so passionate about the books and even the movies. They deserved better.

I will also say that length was an issue, particularly for later films. My friends who read the books tell me they cut a lot, but I don’t think they cut enough. Some of the beginning stuff was so long and dragged out that the real hook of the story takes forever to occur, and while that may work in novels, it is not good filmmaking. Surely even JK Rawlings must understand that they are different mediums, and, as a result, many things must be handled differently. Unfortunately, these films suffered from the same syndrome as many Hollywood releases these days, filmmakers unable to separate from their own babies and vision and make a film for audiences and not themselves. It is a wonder so many kids could sit through these. I truly wonder at what point their attention spans gave out. I know mine gave out a number of times, and I broke up most of the later films into sectional viewings as a result.

Those who love the films and books will likely disagree with me, and perhaps some filmmakers will as well, but as a person who went to film school and made television and films for a while, I can tell you my perspective is much more subjective than it was during that period. Audiences want hooky, entertaining films that move along, make them laugh, make them feel, and then end with a good satisfaction. For me, the Harry Potter films could have done this better.

I hope the books do when I read them. For what it’s worth…