Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Immortality Game by Ted Cross: An Interview and Review

So Ted Cross is one of the more fascinating people I've managed to meet anywhere. Seriously. He is a US diplomat who has lived in capitals around the world, speaks several languages, is a world-class chess player, managed to be an extra in the latest Die-Hard Movie, arranges for his son to play guitar with famous musicians... I mean SERIOUSLY interesting. Definitely more interesting than me, and I mean no disrespect when I say he is PROBABLY more interesting than you...

So when he announced he was releasing his Cyberpunk Thriller, The Immortality Game, I thought it was a great opportunity to introduce all of YOU to him (and his work) too. So today I am interviewing him and then I've got a review of The Immortality Game—it came out yesterday, I believe, but I was lucky enough to get an advance copy.

To orient you a bit...
Great cover, eh?
The Immortality Game blurb: Moscow, 2138. With the world only beginning to recover from the complete societal collapse of the late 21st Century, Zoya scrapes by prepping corpses for funerals and dreams of saving enough money to have a child. When her brother forces her to bring him a mysterious package, she witnesses his murder and finds herself on the run from ruthless mobsters. Frantically trying to stay alive and save her loved ones, Zoya opens the package and discovers two unusual data cards, one that allows her to fight back against the mafia and another which may hold the key to everlasting life.

So without further ado, the Interview:

Hi, Ted. You've got a great rounded story here—great characters, great setting, great plot... where did it start for you?

Hart, thank you so much for hosting me on your blog. I’ve followed it for years and you are one of my favorites.

This story developed in three stages. First it was just a Russian mafia story set in the 1990’s, since that’s when I lived there and experienced how crazy it was. I had several scenes envisioned, but I was never able to figure out a whole arc, so the story languished in my mind for many years.

Later I developed some interesting ideas based on new twists to old science fiction tropes. I had never seen anyone use these ideas before and they felt realistic to me; I could actually imagine a future in which these ideas could end up being real. But having great technology ideas still doesn’t make for a great story, so that idea also went into mothballs.

In 2007 I began writing my first novel, an epic fantasy that I’m still editing after all this time and finally intend to release next year. I develop extensive backstory, and the backstory of one character, the wizard Xax, intrigued me more than any other. He had been a scientist back on Earth and was part of the first ever expedition to settle a habitable planet outside of our solar system. I don’t remember when it happened, but something clicked with his backstory when I realized I could add the mafia storyline into the mix and it would fill in the missing arc I had always needed.

I love this future world you've created where so many people have checked out of reality to live their fantasy lives in their heads. Do you see this as a real possibility? And how did this setup come to you?

I see it happening already, on the metro or walking down the street, with everyone having their heads buried in their mobile devices. I have read several times of gamers in China or Korea dying from binging too much on their games. Imagine if wireless in your mind could touch your senses directly in your brain and cause virtual reality to feel no less real than reality itself. If the virtual world is so much better than ours, it can easily become addictive, so that was where Meshing came from.

Your unlikely set of heroes was delightful and the way you believably gave them the skills they needed in spite of their being so ordinary was creative genius. Did you set out to do that intentionally (making heroes of ordinary people)? Can you share some of your thinking in character development?

Absolutely. Hey, I love a great hero story as much as anyone, so I’m not knocking all the fantastically gifted and gorgeous heroes out there. But I did want something different. I enjoy verisimilitude in just about everything. For example, I don’t really like any art except realism, and my favorite books, even when set in fantasy worlds, are those that portray the story in a realistic manner, such as A Game of Thrones. So both with my fantasy novel and this cyberpunk thriller I strove for realism.

I based Zoya loosely off of my wife at the same age she was when I met her in Moscow. Marcus I chose because I wanted his arc to begin in my home city of Phoenix, and Mexican-Americans are a huge part of the population there, not to mention that they are terribly underrepresented in our entertainment. Tyoma needed to be there because he goes on to become a wizard in later books. Tavik was interesting because I hadn’t intended to do a POV from the side of the antagonists, but I was feeling that they (the mafia) didn’t get to be a big enough part of the storyline early on, so they felt a tad flat and clichéd and it suddenly made sense to me to throw his story into the mix to help flesh their side out.

Note the chess pieces... or the dreamboat, your choice
As a diplomat, I have to think you have some insight into how politics go... and you have such an interesting set up for the politics in the US with the new America West government established in Salt Lake—I'd love to know your thought process arriving at the state of things 120 years in the future. (how much of the idea was in fun and how much political satire/warning?)

I have always been in love with history, and I’ve seen how history repeats itself. Humans have a tendency to ignore problems until the problem becomes too big to ignore. I dream a lot about the future, and in one of my dreams I imagined what might happen in a lot of today’s problems not only continued to grow worse but their peaks converged to all happen at once. What if in just a few short years the Earth had to experience many refugees from rising ocean levels, lack of potable water, a mutation of swine flu that became a pandemic, and general economic collapse due to wealth disparity? I pictured a period I call the Dark Times where everything collapses into utter chaos and ‘survival of the fittest’. This period of warlords lasts for around four decades before governments slowly begin to piece themselves back together again.

When I imagined what might happen to America, I assumed Alaska and Hawaii would break off on their own. I imagined Texas becoming a power and gobbling up some neighbor states to create a hard rightwing dystopia. With America West it was simple. When mind-data interfaces, which I call slots, became advanced enough and cheap enough that governments felt it was in their best interests to provide slots for all citizens, I knew some religious groups would object to that. Since I was dealing with the West, where there are many Mormons, it felt natural to make them be one of the groups that refused to allow their members to get slots. So when Meshing turns into an epidemic, the Mormons are the largest unaffected group and it’s only natural that the leadership of America West falls to them.

The experience in Moscow was so realistic—I could tell it's a city you know, yet you futurized it, too. What was your process for deciding what to change and what to keep the same? In particular, I love the 'elite' living high and the rabble living low, so I'd love it if you'd include about that.

Moscow, both when I lived there and when I have returned for visits, is an extreme of poverty and wealth. You can see fabulous buildings, but they are surrounded by the decay of ancient Soviet architecture. I don’t see much changing, so all I did was imagine a progression forward in time. The center of Moscow is its heart, so it’s natural that the wealthy would turn the center into their ‘realm’, while the rest of the city would be much like today only further decayed. With so many millions of the poor and no new places to build, the wealthy would, in my estimation, create their new realm by building upwards, and that is what turns Moscow into a divide of those who live in the sky and those who dwell in ‘the muck’. And since the metro was such an integral part of life in Moscow, I had to include it. I decided that with the advent of air cars the metro would die out, so to me it seemed natural that the very poorest would move down there and become their own tribe—troglodites, or ‘trogs’ as I call them.

You're a super smart guy—I'm curious which technology you used is really stuff in development and which you totally came up with on your own (at least to your knowledge).

Much of the technology was simply me reading books set far in the future and wondering what that same technology would have been like in its infancy. For example the idea of being able to digitally store the data from a brain and transfer a person to a new body came from reading the Takeshi Kovacs novels by Richard K. Morgan. It’s not a new idea but I particularly enjoyed his usage of it, and the slot technology in my story is my idea for how that may have begun. People might say that a direct mind-data interface is ludicrous, but people have been saying such things are impossible for many centuries only to be proven wrong. The average imagination just isn’t strong enough to comprehend some of the wonders that are coming in the future. But there really are rudimentary mind-data interfaces already in our time! I have been reading stories of implants directly into the brain, allowing scientists to read signals and learn how to interpret them. Of course this technology will advance and become a part of our lives at some point.

And finally, what are you working on now?

Two things—I am editing my first fantasy novel in order to publish it sometime next year, and I have a great new story idea that I’m very excited to write. It is set in the same ‘universe’ but is much, much further in the future. Honestly I think it could be my breakout novel and even turn into a blockbuster movie, that’s how amazing I think the story concept is. Only time will tell if I am delusional!

Tart Review: It is gratifying to me, and it comes along so rarely, that a story has the trifecta of important pieces, all developed well: character, setting and plot. Zoya and Marcus are 'everyman' in different ways, Marcus in recovery from a “Mesh” addiction (that escape to a fantasy world of his choosing where his body is stabilized in a bed and his head hooked into escape instead of reality), son of a very wealthy (but mostly dead) man who had managed to finally eradicate viruses from the online world. Zoya is working poor in a place with DRASTIC disparities between people who can do pretty much anything they want and people barely getting by. And Ted manages to give them realistic motive to get involved and realistic means to 'up their game' to the necessary skills. The setting is fascinating and seems realistic, given the distance in the future, and the plot is highly tense and comes together (several PoV characters start in different places) well.

More than all this though, this is the first book I've read in quite some time that was completely Un-put-downable. I found myself reaching for it every chance I got. Even if you are not a Sci-Fi or Cyberpunk fan normally, the thriller nature of this and the great characters will pull you in.

You can find Ted at these places:

Blog: Cross Words
Facebook page: Ted.Cross.Author
Goodreads author page: Ted Cross
Twitter: tedacross
Amazon: Ted A Cross and The Immortality Game

Monday, November 24, 2014

How I Miss You Blogfest

So today Alex, Andrew and Matt are hosting the How I Miss You Blogfest where we send out “Miss you” for up to three people who used to blog, and up to three people we'd really miss if they LEFT blogging... and then we go let those people know... a little outreach and appreciation, if you will.

You know how I have trouble following rules, right? Instead of 3 and 3, I am going to go with 4 and 1, so the total is less, but I couldn't do 3 without 4 for the missed...

Who I Miss

Once upon a time, before I was OUT as a writer, I was a super secret Harry Potter Fan Fiction writer under the screen name Gnargles&Snorkaks. In that little safe haven I was observed and encouraged by a few OTHER people who liked to write, and who thought I should write REAL books. Some of these fine folks joined the blogging world when I did, but they are nearly never around anymore and I really miss them...

So my missed gals are my fellow Burrowers who have not DISABLLED their blogs, but have not blogged for WAY too long:

Jess, Leanne, Me, Tara and Mari in Cardiff, 2008
Procrastinating Princess, Tara/Amber T Smith: Tara released a book and a novella, but life sort of took over. I still talk to Tara via Facebook, but I miss her quirky, silly blogs.

Giraffability of Digressions, Cruella Colett: Mari/Cruella finished her Master's degree, met a boy who has become important, and her professional and personal stuff just took over. I loved Mari's take though, on topics both silly and serious. She is from Norway with an international studies degree and has traveled widely, so she was always BRILLIANT at putting things in perspective. And always in a way that was open (and often funny) so people could really take in some heavy stuff. Even now, posting about missing her, I've gotten sucked into reading old blogs... man how I love her way with words.

Bronx Tales and Inner Musings, Shaharizan Perez: Chary went back to school (2nd Masters or EdD, I'm not sure) but to be a school administrator... all while working and raising kids, so she just hasn't had time, but Chary has STORIES. Real stories. Heart stories. And as proud as I am in her accomplishments, I really wish she had more time to write.

Coffee Rings Everywhere, Natasha: Natasha, my twin and the first person ever who told me I should write real books, and like my other friends, her life has just gotten crazy-busy. I see her so much less often than I did once upon a time and it's been several months since she blogged.

I wish life didn't so often interfere... and I am so grateful that SOMEHOW life allowed these ladies to all have the time to come together at least briefly so I got to know them so well...

Who I'd Miss... and by MISS, I mean the blogging community would IMPLODE because he's become so central to our nervous system... Plus there is the very critical fact he's not on Facebook so I'd lose networking interaction altogether...

Alex Cavanaugh: Alex is the heart of us. Really. I mean there are hundreds of you I really like and care about and would miss, but I think our whole network would shift for the worse without Alex.

And in OTHER exciting news, Tomorrow I am posting a review and Interview for Ted Cross's release of The Immortality Game—you won't want to miss it!!!

Now go see who some other people miss!

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Worry of Bloggers (and other Assorted Madness)

So you know about Misattributing, right?


See, it's my superpower. I can hear what YOU say and give it a new context so it means something different (usually dirty and I wouldn't bother if the new thing wasn't funny)

So last weekend I was reading a link to a blog post and it began, “A worry of bloggers is...”

And I just stopped reading. I would SO MUCH rather think that bloggers, collectively, can be called a worry and that this worry is doing something COOL than to have yet another thing to worry about... So I have dibbed it so. We, COLLECTIVELY, are now a Worry.

My buddy Joris did these
There is precedence, you know...

A flamboyance of flamingos?

A murder of crows?

These names are OBVIOUSLY the result of somebody having way too much fun.

What about An Anxiety of Authors?
A Rascal of Writers?
A Significance of Statisticians?

Go ahead. You try it!
See--aren't these great? He's a talented guy.

In Other News...

Still WriMoing. My sad news of last week gave me some slow days in there when the muse really just wanted to be mopey, but I still wrote at least a little every day, and my super start padded the down time. I have confidence that at some point this week I will pass the mark where I only need to do less than a thousand words a day to make it.

I am experimenting with this one. It is the first true mystery I've done where I am including multiple PoV including the person(s) who dunnit... I'm not sure whether I like it or not, or whether it takes the whole MYSTERY out of the mystery... U is for Undertow (Sue Grafton) did it and I liked the effect, but it may be I need to do something different on the rewrite. Even if I do though, I feel like I understand my killer better this time than I have. I think it will prove a useful exercise even if it DOES get dropped.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 (she is 5'8")
And TOMORROW, my baby boy turns 16. Poor kid has finals Wednesday and Thursday, so it is lousy timing (his high school is on trimesters). Measured him Friday—he is 6'6” tall. He has a driver's permit and has to fold himself into our car—it's not like my husband and I are tiny people, but 5 inches is a pretty big deal.

I have a swamped week at work with deadlines Thursday and Friday, so this will be the only blog, but hopefully once I am past that, I can get back to a little more.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Lonnie Lindquist: A Heartbroken Tribute

A light went out this week. I hope my writing followers will excuse this personal sidebar, as writing is how I process and this seems to be all that has been on my mind for a couple days.

A recent pic, stolen from Facebook

I hadn't seen Lonnie since we graduated high school a thousand years ago (he only attended one reunion--sadly, the one I missed), but he was my friend when I was only first beginning to understand who I was or what I wanted. I had a giant crush on him for a while there, when I was about 12, and while he wasn't my first kiss, he was the first boy I kissed and really meant it. (one-way, most assuredly—he liked me only as a friend—that is how those things went for me in the early teens)

You see, back before all the girls started dating older boys, back when even talking to a boy made me blush—clear back to Junior High, my group of girlfriends had a group of boys we did things with. I can credit Kim, I'm sure, my friend who was born with social skills from here to the moon. She knew how to talk BACK, so the boys came around in spite of my sputtering and gawking.

Lonnie moved back to Moscow after some time away when I was in 7th grade. He had straight teeth, the thickest hair you ever saw, and big blue eyes that always had a spark of mischief. More importantly, he had an easy social friendliness—teasing some, but in a nice way—that made him less intimidating than a lot of the other boys.

Excuse the quality of these old pics...
The boys had gone to a different elementary, but lived close to our neighborhood. I lived immediately next to the Junior High, so my house became the gathering spot. At lunch, after school—when I had a slumber party, those boys snuck over MANY times. They played pranks on us (more on this in a minute) or goofed around... teenaged boys and girls being teenaged boys and girls.

Lonnie and I had an odd bond, too. Both of us had lost our dads to accidents in relatively recent years and had young, pretty moms doing the best they could. We never actually talked about it, but I always felt a little more understood by him than by my friends with big “whole” families.

His house was only a few blocks from mine and was on the way to my best friend Shannon's, so during that crush era, I had a good excuse to walk by a lot—which mostly just forged a friendship with his younger brother, but did show my dedication.

Lonnie could nearly always be spotted with his basketball—he wanted to be Larry Byrd. And our friend Bruce claimed he was jinxed in the 'sneaking in' department—any time those boys got busted, Lonnie was one of them. But when I think back to some of the pranks...

REDRUM: Best Prank Ever

I've written before about the Redrum Caper, but thought it worth a rewrite, as the important pieces seem to have shifted, but forgive me if you've seen this before:

The Shining was made into a movie (for the first time) in spring of 1980. Of note is the fact that the movie came out 5 days after Mt. St. Helen's blew. In Moscow, Idaho, where we all lived, we got almost an inch of ash settling on the streets, creating a spooky apocalyptic feel and canceling school for the rest of the year, so there was a MOOD present, as well as the antsiness that comes from not being able to get out much.

Three friends and I decided to go to the movie (only my second R movie, if I remember right) and then spend the night at Shannon's house. [girls of 13 and 14 come in packs and rarely have a weekend without a sleepover, so this is all run-of-the-mill...] Kim and I had read the book, Shannon and Sharyl had not, but Kim and I had talked about it enough, they knew the basic plot, and the movie did not disappoint.

After the movie we all sat around Shannon's kitchen table doing that finger thing Danny does, saying “REDRUM, REDRUM,” and “Heeeeeeeere's Johnny!”

Kim was pretty spooked, telling the rest of us to stop. Sharyl was hysterically amused, Shannon and I... middle grounders... but still, we went back and forth a little. After a while we all went upstairs to get ready for for bed. As we walked into Shannon's room (on the second floor, mind you) across her bedroom window was REDRUM in red.

Kim screamed... and screamed and screamed and screamed. I think I screamed at first.  Sharyl continued to laugh hysterically. (she has a big brother and was used to this sort of thing, I think). Shannon screamed but then got MAD (seeing this as a mean prank), her mother ran in, to see who was dying... all the while Sharyl still laughing...

In the aftermath...

We learned that the Marauders (Lonnie, Bruce and Craig--the three you can see faces for to the right), who knew we'd gone to the movie that night, sat outside the kitchen window and listened to us scaring each other (laughing all the while). Lonnie and Craig (at the very least... I don't think Bruce made it to the roof) then climbed onto the garage roof with a tube of lipstick stolen from one of their mothers (probably Marilyn, Craig's mom), and wrote REDRUM (of course they remembered that from the OUTSIDE for it to look right, what they really had to write was MURDER. They didn't make it off the roof before we came in, and Lonnie twisted his ankle leaping off the roof.

And I'm pretty darned sure Shannon's mom called and made them come over and get on the roof to clean the lipstick off the window a few days later, but I might be making that part up... it would be very in character, though--Jessie has a certain undeniable authority when she gets that look in her eye, even today.

While that was the biggie, there was also the time Lonnie and Craig filled all the glasses in my mom's cupboard with water and turned them upside-down on the counter...

Weren't we terrible?
But we got even. Spanish club sold people as a fundraiser and we got to then dress them as we wished...

I wouldn't go back to Jr. High for anything. It was such an insecure time for me, but there were definitely bright spots, and for me, Lonnie was one of them.

These were great friendships. I was sad when we all shifted and drifted—high school we didn't really have classes together and my group of girlfriends shifted to an older group of guys we hung out with, but my fondness has never gone away.

Rest in peace, my friend.

If anyone else has memories to share, I would love you to do that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Guy Fawksin the WriMo

Burn Baby Burn!

Erm... I meal Hello! Welcome to Insecure Writer's Support Group First Wednesday! And yes, I do plan to tie these three themes together with lesser ado than you might think would be required. But first, to set the mood:

Burning the Guy: a British tradition
The Fifth of November
    Remember, remember! 
    The fifth of November, 
    The Gunpowder treason and plot; 
    I know of no reason 
    Why the Gunpowder treason 
    Should ever be forgot! 
    Guy Fawkes and his companions 
    Did the scheme contrive, 
    To blow the King and Parliament 
    All up alive. 
    Threescore barrels, laid below, 
    To prove old England's overthrow. 
    But, by God's providence, him they catch, 
    With a dark lantern, lighting a match! 
    A stick and a stake 
    For King James's sake! 
    If you won't give me one, 
    I'll take two, 
    The better for me, 
    And the worse for you. 
    A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope, 
    A penn'orth of cheese to choke him, 
    A pint of beer to wash it down, 
    And a jolly good fire to burn him. 
    Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring! 
    Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King! 
    Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

Know how I love NaNoWriMo?
Know how NaNoWriMo is all about setting aside your inner editor to just write FAST?
Know how it is permission to write CRAP?

NaNoWriMo is like Guy Fawkes, writing a book and the idea was probably pretty good, but the execution is CRAP. But that doesn't mean it doesn't need to be done.

Now Guy went and got hanged and burned and all that, and I don't want you to do that to yourself. But maybe consider that NaNoWriMo isn't actually writing a BOOK so much as a first pass at your PLAN of what will eventually be your book.

So this is NOT wasted time, but if you act like you are done after this, you are libel to get burned. Got it? (this lecture is to myself as much as you--I have a few WriMos that I've never touched again, but it IS worth it anyway)

(was that such a stretch?)

Monday, November 3, 2014

My Mysterious Year

So I write REALLY a lot of books... and my writing career seems to be doing not a terrible lot. My contract is over—three books, the first sold through and I still get a little check from it every six months... the other two have NOT sold through, which means they don't ask for more, I guess...

My YA books have not sold. Only got close on ONE (had an agent, submitted, no buyer). My serial thriller (self pubbed) has grossed me all of about $40... (which is a significant loss when I look at paying for editing and covers)

So how does one jump start a writing career? Have I been doing this long enough to figure it out?

Tangent #1

Ever scraped a house? Trying to get the old paint off before you are ready to sand, prep and paint again? Know how it's easier to chip away at the old if you start where there is a bubble in the paint or where something has already been chipped away?


I've decided the most promising route to getting there is starting where I have a little traction. Feels like VERY little at the moment, but I think if I really dig in and focus for a while, I might manage it.

Tangent #2

I am belatedly reading a Sue Grafton book at the moment. It is my first time—not sure what I was waiting for except she really was getting big when I was still in my YA with my kids phase and by the time she got to about M I thought she seemed too gimmicky. What did I know? I think she is speaking to my audience. Some humor. Some quirk. But REAL issues. Real psychology, real violence. I don't use a PI for a sleuth, but otherwise I think the feel is right. I finally have a comparable to give my agent and publishers an idea how to frame me.

Why Not Self-Publish?

You know... I honestly don't have the time at the moment. If I didn't have to work a day job, I could handle all the details. But if I had that kind of time, I ALSO might have already made some progress on my YA stuff—the spit polish agent quest or contests or small publishers.

So Why This Focus Now?

I spent the last year writing, polishing and publishing a serial totally more than 300,000 words. And while part of me felt a little burned out focusing THAT heavily on one thing for a whole year, I know now I can keep up the pace, and THIS year, I am not going to do all one project. And I will have the leeway to alternate writing and editing in long spurts...

And What is the PLAN?

BUWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! (you know I can't say plan without a maniacal laugh, right?)

Well right now Ellen has What Ales Me.

And right now I'm WRITING the first in a DIFFERENT series: the Corset Cop Chronicles...

What the heck is THAT? Well, my sleuth is a retired cop who, upon retirement, decided to open a lingerie store... She is in her early 60s and sassy and smart. She has five sons and varied relationships with them. She is to some degree based on a real woman, a woman I knew growing up because the real woman's youngest son is my age... but only the set up... former cop, now selling lingerie, five sons. Everything else (aside from a bit of sass) is fiction.

I managed over 14,000 words of this puppy in my first two days of NaNoWriMo... Progress, baby!

The second series fits the cozy profile better than the ale series, but they honestly have similar tone. It is where I am most comfortable I need the danger to feel real. I need the character flaws to be real.

And I think if I get two series going, I might finally feel myself launched... or that is the hope anyway.

In the meantime I may polish some of my YA. But I am going to hold off on WRITING new YA, even though I have a ton I want to do. I just feel like until I get my real traction, spreading myself too thin means I won't EVER be able to support myself at this. So in the next 14 months... until the end of 2015, my plan is to write THREE new mysteries. One this month, one for BuNoWriMo and one for NaNo next year. That gives me two in each series or, if What Ales Me sells, three Artful Ale and one Corset Cop.

Since Ellen HAS What Ales Me, I hope that will sell right away. But having a couple ready will help my case regardless.

Know What I Didn't Quite Believe Until Recently?

Besides the fact I couldn't do it all?

That a coherent plan was really a prerequisite. My observation was most people had managed anyway. But I think that is because until they take off, there is no way to KNOW what they've been doing.

Do YOU have a plan? How are you coming on it?