Thursday, May 27, 2010

Review: Purgatory by Mike Resnick

Recently read Mike Resnick's 1993 book Purgatory, the first in a three-book series. What a great read! I couldn't put it down. As you may know, Resnick is one of the most prolific and successful of Science Fiction writers. His books and stories have appeared everywhere. What you may not know is that Resnick, like myself, has a passion for Africa, and he uses it a lot in his work. We have corresponded and chatted about this, and he sent me several stories, but this book is tops.

Purgatory is the story of Karimon, a distant planet rich in minerals, discovered by a Republic who then try and colonize it and exploit its mineral wealth. They are opposed by local tribal leader Janalopi and a Republic missionary, both of whom, are eventually brushed aside by the colonists with total disregard.

As the colony develops and the natives become more and more frustrated with their low status and living conditions and the loss of 90% of their land, they start to protest, eventually launching a guerilla rebellion. The Republic leaders brush it off as minor nuisance but eventually find themselves slowly becoming overwhelmed. A new breed of native leader, educated in Republic schools and aware of Republic culture, take over the rebellion and lead their people with new strength.

The book is rich with flavor and strong characterization. The story centers around Karimoni and Colonist characters from various eras in the planet's development and their interactions. Resnick uses African history here to address injustices and issues often ignored in an outer space setting. The best science fiction uses the futuristic settings, technology, etc. to teach us or remind us of something about ourselves or our past, and Resnick does that here to great effect.

Purgatory is one of the best reads I've found in science fiction so far, and I look foward to reading his follow up books Paradise and Inferno very soon. Highly recommended. For what it's worth...

Terror Warning for US-Mexico Border

Okay, those who are shaking their heads at my post about the Arizona immigration law, please read this terror warning issued in the last two days. The borders are an issue and terrorists are trying to take advantage, as I suggested.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Real AZ Immigration Law for those who Ignorantly Criticize

I live 15 minutes from Mexico. Not a day goes by that we don't hear news reports of brutal murders. The drug cartels are at war, and the Mexican government's paltry efforts have continually failed to stop it. Sometimes, the cartels even cross into El Paso and murder people. It's a scary situation a lot of people live with daily. We see Mexican license plates all over town. Who knows who those people could be? Although the majority of those killed do seem to have ties to cartels in one way or another, sometimes innocent people are killed. So when I hear people from Wisconsin or Tennessee or Oregon or Mississippi criticize the immigration law passed by Arizona, it irks me. Especially since it's very obvious they have not even read the bill.

People complain about the requirement for aliens (immigrants) to carry ID of their status, but that is in compliance with Federal law. My wife is required to do that, and I make a habit of it. It doesn't bother me to have people check, which they do every time I cross the border. I'm glad they are paying attention to their job. Here's the US statute:

In violation of 8 United States Code section 1304(e) [states: "Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him pursuant to subsection (d) of this section. Any alien who fails to comply with the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall upon conviction for each offense be fined not to exceed $100 or be imprisoned not more than thirty days, or both."] or 1306(a).

They say the law encourages racial profiling, but here's what it actually says:

F. This section shall be enforced without regard to race, color, religion, sex, age, disability or national origin.

They criticize the idea that police and other law enforcement officers can turn in to the Federal government people with illegal or unprovable status, but here's what the federal law says.

A law enforcement officer or agency communicating with the United States immigration and customs enforcement or the United States border protection pursuant to 8 United States Code section 1373(c) [KEYTLaw Comment - Section 1373(c) states: "The Immigration and Naturalization Service shall respond to an inquiry by a Federal, State, or local government agency, seeking to verify or ascertain the citizenship or immigration status of any individual within the jurisdiction of the agency for any purpose authorized by law, by providing the requested verification or status information.]

Read the law for yourself here:

The law is not racist, and if they enforce properly, it never will be. Instead of lashing out in ignorance, inform yourself. Know what you're talking about by reading the bill and recognize that if you don't live near the border, you don't really know what the issues are.

For what it's worth...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Surprising Influence

As a writer, you often get asked whom your influences are. For me, that's a long list, but one of them may surprise you. Although I am focused mostly on writing fiction, he is a historian. He's not world famous or even best selling but in Western Writers of America and in the Southwest he is well known as a great storyteller, especially here in El Paso.

Leon Metz grew up in West Virginia but came to El Paso to serve at Fort Bliss and never left. He's written some important books about local and regional history, worked as a historian at University of Texas, El Paso, is in demand as a speaker, and even has his own radio show. He's also a heck of a nice guy and very humble, and reading his books brought history alive for me in a whole new way.

I met him when he came to be a talking head on the A&E show "The Real West," which I was working on. I was assigned to drive him around and we struck up a friendship and corresponded back and forth a bit. Then we lost touch, as happens between friends. Two years back, when I moved to El Paso, I determined to look him up and renew our friendship and he's been a great encouragement to me.

Leon's history books read like novels. They are full of rich characterization, scenery and rich historical details that bring the events, people and places of the psat alive. I had always found history fascinating, but reading Leon's books helped get me excited all over again. In fact, when we moved down here, it was memories of the history he taught me through his books that set me off exploring and immediately appreciating the rich history of this new place we call home. I visited the old Concordia Cemetery where the famous gunfighter John Wesley Hardin is buried along with the man who assassinated him. I visited the downtown locations where Hardin had his office, the bar where he was shot and so many more.

Leon's book "The Border" taught me so much about the history of the US-Mexico border region we now call home. It's a fascinating study of politics, culture crossing, and history colliding. And it has had a profound impact along the miles from the Gulf Of Mexico to San Diego where in the border lies.

I had the privilege of copy editing and proofing his latest effort on the early days of the Mexican War. It was so rich and exciting to be among the first readers of his work. Of all the people I hope will be proud of my work, Leon tops the list. Such a privilege to read his work, to know him, and to call him friend.

Our influences can sometimes come from unusual places. For what it's worth...

Monday, May 17, 2010


Well, it's time to get back to blogging after another week of insane busyness. I'm not sure if anyone regularly follows this or not, but from the comments at least a couple of people have stopped in. Since I just had my first experience with self-publishing, and I try and make this blog about all things related to writing, publishing, editing, creating and reading fiction, it seems appropriate to blog on that experience.

First, a disclaimer. I don't put much credence in self-publishing. Okay, I know that's ironic coming from a guy who just self-published a book. Want to hear something more ironic? The small press which publishes the ezine running the stories told me after he heard I self-published that he'd like to publish them. (Still talking to him about that possibility so these few books may actually end up as collector's items one day). I don't give self-publishing much credence because the publishing industry as a whole doesn't, and I share their reasons. Anyone can self-publish, and, in many cases, they don't even have to hire a professional editor, copy editor, etc. So with self-published books, you don't know what you're getting.

Also, since self-published books are a dime a dozen and professionally published books are not, it is clear the ones people put money in and agents chose to represent have been vetted as standing out amid the hordes of possibilities, which means they are probably higher quality than the run of the mill self-published book. (Don't yell at me. Of course there are exceptions!) So generally the pro-published ones can be bought with confidence that your money and time will not likely be wasted. We all know how that goes though.

The reason I chose to go this route is that I have queried a ton of agents about my novel, which gets rave reviews from readers, editors, and others but can't see to land an agent, and I have yet to sell short stories to major markets, so I need to build my brand identity and name recognition. The best shot at doing that is at the two conventions I will attend this year: ConQuest 41 in Kansas City at the end of this month, and World Fantasy at the end of October. I will also try and slip out to Raleigh in August for National Science Fiction if I possibly can.

The goal is to give these books to agents, writers, publishers, and editors as swag. 13 pulp-style space opera stories, all 5-6 pages, 15-1600 words, with one chapter from each of my novels at the end and information on my website. If nothing else, I hope to sell enough to family and friends to support the swag copies, and one or two people might actually like the stories enough to take a further look at my work. If I get really lucky, I might get a reputation as a promising writer and generate far more interest than that. Either way, I have nothing to lose.

I chose CreateSpace because there was no set up cost. As long as I formatted it myself--and I spent a lot of time doing so and editing, reviewing, tweaking and still let an error through (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH)--it only costs me shipping and cost to get the books. Selling them through Amazon's distribution net keeps my costs down but gets me very little profit. Selling on my website gets me 4 times as much. But anyway, the point was, other than artwork, shipping and cost per copy, my overhead is very low. The quality is high. And it was fast.

A lot of sites offer you self-publishing with required set up costs from several hundred to one thousand plus dollars. I not only don't have the money, I don't see the point in investing that in something I will mostly distribute as swag. So this made sense for me, and although there have been some hiccups, it's overall been a good experience.

The hiccups came in two ways. 1) Figuring out how to format the files to meet their technical requirements was tough because I had no idea what language the instructions were written in. They looked like English but read like anything but. 2) Once I did that, I had made some errors which only a person who'd done this before would know, such as making the pages you want facing the front of the book always odd pages, etc. 3) My artist is in college and almost failed to meet the deadline, so I hired another guy, and ended up having to combine their work into something that worked. Both are talented, great guys who do great work, but my deadlines were just ridiculously tight because I only decided to do this two months before I needed the books, and I still had to write the stories! 4) I set myself a stressfully short deadline.

In the end, I had to send proofs in three times to get the books right and still ended up with 50 books containing flipped pages in two spots. Not a major big deal for average readers, but for the swag-pros, I couldn't live with it. To their credit, CreateSpace replaced those books for free, expedited shipping.

I will say it's cool to see your book for sale on Amazon, and to receive books with your name and words on them even if they have minor errors. And I really hope they are well received by the recipients as they were by my beta readers. I am doing a giveaway on good reads to generate buzz and reviews, and who knows where this could lead. The stories start circulating in Digital Dragon online in July, and these 13 are just the first part. I hope to write at least another 13 more.

I'll let you know how they're received and how the various sales/giveaways go. For now, that's how my first self-publishing venture has gone. For what it's worth...

(To purchase The North Star Serial, Part 1 for $7.49 plus shipping, go to my website at

Monday, May 10, 2010

Specfic Magazines

When I started writing my science fiction novel last August, I immediately recognized that I had been reading spec fic only randomly for the past decade, which meant I had a lot of ground to make up and a lot of research to do on the current state of the market. One of the challenges in writing speculative fiction is to not copy what's already been done. Because most of the ideas anymore have been done is some way before, the trick is to find a new story to wrap around an old idea, a new way to tell it. That's hard to do if you don't know what's been done.

After consulting with scifi fans amongst my friends, who seem to be more up on things than I am, I also decided to start taking some magazines to see what's going on. I subscribed to the majors: Analog, Asimov's, The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Realms Of Fantasy, and Locus. But I also ordered single copies of a number of publications like Black Gate, Tales of The Talisman, Outer Reaches, Encounters and Realms. In addition, I researched and checked out the online magazines like Fantasy, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Beyond Ceaseless Skies, amongst others.

One of the issues, of course, is finding time to read all these, and I admit, I am way behind. I have read enough, however, to tell you which magazines I like, and thus will likely keep, and which I'm not so crazy about.

Locus, of course, as the industry trade magazine, is a must. I enjoy the stories in Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog, Black Gate and Realms. But I found Realms of Fantasy disappointing because it is mostly adds and non-fiction, none of which have really appealed to me so far. Encounters and Outer Reaches just didn't strike my fancy. The same with Tales of The Talisman as well. Asimov's is good, but I find I like stories better in their sister magazine Analog, and so I have to choose one or both, depending on budget.

One of the issues is that my two favorite subgenres are not well represented in most of them. For science fiction, I have always been a space opera guy, and with fantasy, I like sword and sorcery. Perhaps because I am so far behind in my reading, neither of these has worn me out. As a result, Realms' sword and sorcery really appeals to me. I have yet to find a mag to satisfy my space opera itch. But since I mostly write space opera scifi stories, I am still looking.

In any case, those are the thoughts so far on specfic print magazines. I can talk more about online ezines later.

For what it's worth...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Favorite Non-SciFi and Fantasy Books In No Particular Order

Here are some books which I remember reading and being impacted by which don't fall in the Science Fiction and Fantasy list I provided earlier. These are books I read and still remember as great reads.

This Present Darkness - Frank Peretti
The book that launched Christian speculative fiction, a great read

The Presidential Agent Series - WEB Griffin
This guy replaced Tom Clancy in my espionage reading because he writes fantastic characters and tension without the long descriptions of hardware. And they're great reads.

Hard Fall - Ridley Pearson
Amazing read I discovered by accident. Tension, great characters. About an agent fighting terrorism, written long before 9/11

Red Storm Rising - Tom Clancy
Okay, yes, Clancy seems like he rolls out books from a factory a lot of times these days, and his propensity for long descriptions about hardware turn me off, but in his early days he had some great reads and this was my favorite.

The Notebook/The Wedding - Nicholas Sparks
The biggest influence on how I write love stories in any novel. A great, passionate writer and these are two of his best. In fact, The Wedding is a sequel to The Notebook and I think it's better.

The Wedding Officer - Anthony Capella
Lush historical love story set in WWII Italy with great descriptions of Italian life, culture and food. Just an amazing read. Another accidental discovery.

Thinner - Richard Bachman
Stephen King's pseudonym for anyone who doesn't know. One of his two best reads as far as I am concerned.

The Stand -- Stephen king
Amazing read. What can I say? Not to be missed. If you read one King book, let this be the one.

Lestaat stories - Anne Rice
I find Vampire stories tired. They are just over done and too numerous, but these were the ones I read first and they are amazing reads.

Little House Books - Laura Ingalls Wilder
Never forgot reading those from childhood and now having my wife read them. Amazing stories of American history and culture through a child's eyes.

Blue Highways
- William Least Heat Moon
Great travelogue, rich study of American culture at the time. Peters out a bit at the end but still worth a read.

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands/Gabriela, Cloves and Cinnamon
- Jorge Amado
Amazing reads from one of Brazil's great writers. Just full of rich characters, culture, plots, etc. Don't miss these!

Three Cups of Tea
- Greg Mortinsen
Great book on Muslim culture, cross cultural relations and the passion of one man to change the world. I disagree with some of his political views but still, a life changing read.

Fatal Vision - Joe McGinniss
Amazing writer of true crime stories. Books that read like novels and scare, anger and surprise. This is the best.

Helter Skelter - Vincent Bugliosi
Famous book about the Manson murders. Shocking, tention filled, amazing study of one of the most horrendous crime sprees in US history..

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
The example of how to write nonfiction as a novel. Amazing read.

The Onion Field - Joseph Wambaugh
Another true crime story by a master. Powerful.

Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
I could do a whole list of his but this is my favorite. Not to be missed. Amazing again and again.

Last but far from least:
A Time To Kill/The Chamber - John Grisham
His prose may not be fancy, but no one writes suspense like Grisham and keeps you hanging on the edge of your seat. I love several of his books but these are my favorites because both touched on important social issues in powerful ways. (The Chamber movie is not near as good as the book.)

For what it's worth...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Review: Deadman Switch by Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn is one of my favorite writers and has been very influential in my own writing. Like me, Zahn writes a lot of space opera, and he's most famous for his Thrawn series of Star Wars novels. But he's been writing a long time and has some great other stuff as well. His Quadrail series (Night Train to Rigel, Odd Girl Out, etc), in particular, is a great read.

Recently, I heard about another of his books, Deadman Switch, which features spiritual themes. Since I use a lot of spiritual themes in my specfic, I wanted to check it out. It was published in 1988 and is out of print, but I tracked down a copy on Amazon and read it last week. What a fantastic read. I highly recommend it.

A bit more of a mystery than a space opera, the premise of the book is that the Patri, a coalition of planets, has found a rich source of minerals in the rings and moons around the planet Solitaire. There's only one catch, the system is surrounded by a mysterious cloud which prevents ships from entering. The only way in is using the Deadman Switch -- carrying a zombi along who is killed and then flies the ship through the cloud. Death Row inmates have become the zombis of choice, and when his boss buys a large conglomerate on Solitaire to get a license to travel there, Gilead Raca Benedar is sent with the boss' son to check out the new property and tend to details.

The problem is that Gilead belongs to a Christian order called "the Watchers,"
who have unique powers of perception allowing them to read minds. His integrity and values raise objections with the Deadman Switch idea, but then he discovers that one of the zombis on their ship (they carry two -- one to go in, one to get out) is a fellow Watcher, and Gilead is convinced she's innocent. When he sets out to prove it, drama ensues.

Eventually, Gilead takes drastic steps to protect her and escapes with her to the nearby planet Spall, hoping to find Smugglers raiding the system to use as zombis instead. In the process, they discover a new form of intelligent life previously undiscovered and end up launching a huge investigation and scientific inquiry which ropes in both watchers, Gilead's boss, local officials, and a local religious sect. When it is discovered that a large fleet is on its way to attack the system, Gilead and the others scramble to find a way to deal with the situation.

If I tell you more, you would know too much, so I'll leave it there, but suffice it to say the ending has plenty of surprises and the book is a great read. I read 50 pages a day until the last day when I read over 100 because I just had to know what happens. I would have read more other days too but have too much going on. It's a pageturner, in other words, and filled with Zahn's trademark solid science, interesting and complex characters and complicated, unfolding plotting. Truly a great read, and if you can track it down, I highly recommend doing so.

The spiritual themes are used similarly to the way I use them in my work: Christian influenced characters without being preachy, so I think even those scifi fans who are agnostic or not fans of religion would enjoy it.

I put a link to Zahn's site on my website. I highly recommend checking out his books. You won't regret it.

For what it's worth...