Innocent

I’ve been away for about a month. First, due to lingering illness, and last weekend because I was at the Verde Expo. I’m getting back into the swing of things. I’ll be writing a pirate story this weekend to submit to an upcoming anthology. Anyway, this installment of Mental State is brought to you by prompts from Chuck Wendig & Bree’s #FFC2018. I hope you dig these 1055 words:
 


When Steven arrived at school, it was the usual process. He got dirty looks as he entered the classroom from everyone but the teacher, who gave him a smile, not a warm smile, but a smile nonetheless.

Steven sat down at his desk and began to work at the computer. He’d typed for a few minutes when someone sat down next to him. He thought that it was David or Leonard, probably wanting to pick a new fight with him, and he took a deep breath as he turned to face whatever new abuse that was going to come his way. When eyes fell upon the newcomer, his jaw became slack with shock.

Ruby sat next to him, and she was smiling like a longtime friend. Steven eyes locked on Ruby as a series of thoughts careened through his mind. Why was she sitting next to him? Why did she act like his friend? What the hell was going on?

“How are you, Steven?” Ruby asked, her voice chipper. She acted as if they had always been friends. The rest of the class watched Ruby in stunned silence. Robert looked as if he was going to be sick.

Steven stammered, “I’m… uh… I’m good.”

“Well, that’s good to hear,” Ruby said, smiling before turning to her own classwork. “I’m okay, too. A little tired, though; I didn’t get the best sleep last night. But I’ll go to bed earlier tonight to try and make up for it.”

The continued to stare at her in a state of confusion.  He realized she was waiting for a reply, and after a moment he said, “I slept fine… I guess.”

Steven peered around the room. Everyone was watching them. Most seemed torn between getting up and pulling Ruby away or attacking Steven. Luckily, indecision won out, and most of the class just stared. Robert visibly fumed. If Steven knew his old best friend the way he thought he did, he would guess Robert was wondering how Steven had gotten Ruby to sit with him, and what he could do to remedy the injustice

Throughout the lesson, Steven contemplated what Ruby was doing. Why was she being nice and talking to him? Had the truths Steven told her gotten through to her? Or was this some sort of elaborate prank?

It’s a trick.

Steven tried to ignore the voice despite its insistence.

She’s trying to confuse you. They’re all going to get you!

Steven couldn’t help but think the voice was right.

* * *
Continue reading


The Lives We Lost, by Megan Crewe

First, the virus took Kaelyn’s friends, then her family, and now it’s spread beyond her island. No one is safe. But when Kaelyn finds samples of a vaccine hidden in her father’s abandoned laboratory, she knows there’s only one option: seek out someone who can replicate it. As Kaelyn and her friends head to the mainland they face greater challenges than they ever could have imagined. Not everyone they meet wants Kaelyn to succeed-and many simply want her dead and the vaccine for themselves. With the chance of finding help slipping away, will Kaelyn be forced to sacrifice those she loves in order to rescue the human race? Megan Crewe’s second installment in this powerful and gripping YA series tackles self-preservation, first love, and hope. This heart-wrenching story of one girl’s bravery and unbeatable spirit will leave readers fervently awaiting the final book in this suspenseful and action-packed trilogy.

The Lives We Lost is very much like The Way We Fall. I think that the plot was thinner in TLWL over TWWF, but book two is character-driven, and not plot driven. It did seem to drag on a bit in some sections, and the decisions made by Kaelyn were often confounding, but that’s what I’d expect from a 17-year old protagonist. The same black and white in a world of gray was present, but Kaelyn is starting to see that the world is not as rigidly black and white as she saw it on the island.

Because every post-apocalyptic story has to have a megalomaniac whose charisma attracts the worst of the worst, but the masses keep in line because of the implied brutality, we have the inkling of that exact character who will presumably be prominent in book three. I’m up for book three. It’ll be nice to finally have some closure for the series. Like book one, I’m rating The Lives We Lost four stars.

megan-crewe

Like many authors, Megan Crewe finds writing about herself much more difficult than making things up. A few definite facts: she lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and son (and does on occasion say “eh”), she tutors children and teens with special needs, and she’s spent the last six years studying kung fu, so you should probably be nice to her. She has been making up stories about magic and spirits and other what ifs since before she knew how to write words on paper. These days the stories are just a lot longer.

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http://www.megancrewe.com/
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Lost Boy, Found Boy by Jenn Polish

In a futuristic world, Neverland is a holomatrix, Hook is a cyborg, and Tinker Bell is an automated computer interface. Peter is desperate to save his lover from a military draft that, unbeknownst to him, Mir volunteered for because they are desperate to be able to fly. So, naturally, Peter programs an entire island—Neverland—as a refuge where Mir can fly without having to fight in a war. But he doesn’t locate Mir right away; instead, he fights for control of the island with automated interface Tinker Bell, and in his attempts to find Mir, others arrive on the island. But Peter’s single-minded focus on Mir generates repercussions for everyone.

Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows that I enjoy fairytale retellings. They’d also know that I try to read diverse stories and authors. I’ve had some pretty good reads with Nine Star Press in the past (check out my review of Dali), so when I saw Lost Boy, Found Boy on NetGalley, I figured I’d give it a try. While the idea of Neverland being an escapist virtual construct in a dystopian future of endless war totally jived with the Peter Pan fairytale, the execution fell flat. I think that one of the issues with the story was that the author tried to stick every possible LGBT character that they could.

Peter is a trans boy, who has a romantic interest in his enbyfriend, Mir, and they live in the “boys” section of their space ship. Tinker Bell is a sentient machine (computer program?), identifying as female, who is in a relationship with the lesbian “Wendy.” Captain Hook is a cyborg who has unrequited love for Peter.

Each chapter begins with what I can only assume are Tinker bell’s “thoughts,” but I mostly skipped over them. It started out as a paragraph, and by the end of the story was several kindle pages. With non-human characters, I thought that perhaps the author would explore transhumanism or technological singularity, but that didn’t pan out. (ha ha, get it?)

The story was convoluted with this dystopian space war and before they could get drafted, they enlisted so that “they could fly.” The motivations and the world that they lived in were sparse, and perhaps worldbuilding would’ve improved the story. I also think that the sheer volume of LGBT characters was just too much. I think that that more than anything would be a turn off for cis and/or heteronormative readers. Which is a shame, because as LGBT characters and fiction become more prevalent, people grow more accustomed to the idea, and those that see LGBT persons as “other” become more accepting through mere exposure.

There were just too many checkmarks in the “needs improvement” column for Lost Boy, Found Boy. It’s hard to quantify my feelings on this story with a star rating. I really did not enjoy the story, and with so many issues, it should be a two-star rating, and thusly, not reviewed on this blog. My ire isn’t up enough to give it two stars, and rage-blog a two-star story like I’ve done in the past, and some of the flaws I perceived might be plusses to an LGBT reader. I think in the end, I’ll award Lost Boy, Found Boy three stars, and say that I’m disappointed at opportunities missed.

Hi hey hello! My name’s Jenn Polish (they/them pronouns, please!), and I write things! Welcome! Welcome to the strange inner workings of my nerdy, dragon-loving, superhero-oriented, lesbian fairy tale-spinning mind. I’m a New Yorker (Queens pride!!) who’s been writing about as long as I’ve been playing basketball (so, a long time). When I’m not writing, I’m teaching writing — and learning a lot about it, because my students are absolutely brilliant — at CUNY LaGuardia Community College. In addition to teaching writing, I am immensely proud to teach in the Theatre Program at LAGCC.

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https://jpolish.com
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One Way, by S.J. Morden

ONE WAY opens at the dawn of a new era – one in which we’re ready to colonize Mars. But the contract to build the first ever Martian base has been won by the lowest bidder, so they need to cut a lot of corners. The first thing to go is the automatic construction… the next thing they’ll have to deal with is the eight astronauts they’ll sent up to build it, when there aren’t supposed to be any at all. Frank – father, architect, murderer – is recruited for the mission with the promise of a better life, along with seven of his most notorious fellow inmates. As his crew sets to work, the accidents mount up, and Frank begins to suspect they might not be accidents at all. As the list of suspects grows shorter, it’s up to Frank to uncover the terrible truth before it’s too late.

A murder mystery set on Mars? Yeah, I’m in. NetGalley has been pretty bad lately, so it was nice to see a book in my wheelhouse. The science was hard enough to interest sci-fi nerds, but not so technical that it was like reading a service manual. It’s pretty easy for the reader to figure out “whodunit,” but watching the characters figure it out was fun to read. Maybe I’m just a pessimist, but I pretty much knew whom the murderer was when the crew wakes up on Mars. The writer tries to deflect, but I held on tight to my suspicions. There are these “classified documents” that adorn each chapter, and while they do dump information, I felt that methodology of info dumping and foreshadowing to be distracting and unnecessary.

The book is compared to Andy Weir’s The Martian, and although One Way happens on Mars and stuff goes sideways, they are very different stories. Publishers like to compare their new acquisition to a genre standard, but the fans know the difference between a murder mystery and a survival story. Publishers also like to tout things like the author was “trained as a rocket scientist” to lend credibility. Often, this is to get around some flaw in the writing or story. I live in a community that has an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where they literally train rocket scientists, and they’re about the dumbest bunch of entitled hacks I’ve ever met. This doesn’t seem to be the case for One Way, but since we’re comparing it to Andy Weir’s The Martian, Weir never worked as a rocket scientist, and had to do extensive research to get the science right – and for the most part, Weir’s writing was accurate.

But I digress. I enjoyed One Way. I knocked it out in two days, which is a testament to how much I enjoyed it. The ending isn’t wrapped up in a pretty bow, but it is satisfying. I look forward to reading No Way. Four stars, and recommended to science fiction and/or murder mystery fans.

Dr. Simon Morden is a bona fide rocket scientist, having degrees in geology and planetary geophysics. Unfortunately, that sort of thing doesn’t exactly prepare a person for the big wide world of work: he’s been a school caretaker, admin assistant, and PA to a financial advisor. He’s now employed as a part-time teaching assistant at a Gateshead primary school, which he combines with his duties as a househusband, attempting to keep a crumbling pile of Edwardian masonry upright, wrangling his two children and providing warm places to sleep for the family cats. As well as a writer, he’s been the editor of the British Science Fiction Association’s writers’ magazine Focus, a judge for the Arthur C Clarke awards, and is a regular speaker at the Greenbelt Arts Festival on matters of faith and fiction. In 2009, he was in the winning team for the Rolls Royce Science Prize.

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http://bookofmorden.co.uk
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Updates Galore!

Hello everyone! I’ve been absent the last few weeks. Hardly noticed, eh? *raspberries*

 
Score of Anyway, I’ve been super busy assisting Amber Cove Publishing with getting Score of Silence ready to launch on Tuesday the 27th. There’s an early launch party on Saturday the 24th at the Verde Valley Comic Expo. I’ll have collector’s editions of Score of Silence that are numbered and stuff. I even have a handful of unedited versions that I had printed when I was shopping the manuscript. (The same one that was on Kindle Scout.) The audiobook will soon follow, and I’ll likely do a Kickstarter to get the funds to do a hard cover edition. I’ve started negotiating the non-English translations, so keep an eye out for those.

Silence wasn’t the only reason I’ve been absent. I’ve had a pretty nasty bug. Erika had it too, and we’re just lucky the kids didn’t get it. Erika went to the nurse practitioner that our insurance covers, and he thinks that it’s viral gastroenteritis. In a word, yuck! I think Erika is almost back to baseline, and I’m not too far behind her. I expect that I’ll be close to 100% by Saturday for VVCE2018.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it already, and quite frankly, I’m too lazy to scroll through my own blog to check, but here is my updated 2018 itinerary:

  • Verde Valley Comic Expo – March 24th
  • Phoenix Comic Fest – May 25th – 28th
  • Payson Book Festival – July 21st
  • Fandomania – July 28th
  • Prescott Comic Convention – September/October
  • Prescott Comic Convention was a lot of fun last year, and I’ve been invited back for 2018. Details are forthcoming. PCF is a soft commitment. After being uninvited by the new talent coordinator for PCF, I was invited by Bard’s Tower to be in their booth, but that’s second quarter, and they’re still hopping with their first quarter events, so hopefully, the dialog will start once Q1 is over in a few weeks. I’ve got a request in for a press pass, but the procedure has changed, and I’m just not sure if/when I’ll know if it’s approved.

    I really want to go to Tampa Bay Con August 3rd – 5th, but wrangling an invite is difficult. I’m hoping that Bard’s Tower will be so happy with my presence at their booth at PCF, that they’ll invite me to TBC. After all, Greg Dragon, L. Fergus, and Bree Salyer all live in the area, so it would be the bomb to meet up with them, plus a bunch of Florida authors I’ve met through various writing forums.

    Anyway, I hope to return to my regular blogging schedule once VVCE2018 and my stomach flu are over.


    Wish Man – an interview with Frank Shankwitz

    So, Frank, you just finished a movie.
    Yeah, we completed filming “Wish Man” in October of last year. [It was] quite the production. We started the whole thing in 2014 and it took that long. It’s a feature motion picture, and the average movie is seven years from inception to release. We’re doing it a little earlier just because of the cooperation with the community and other people.

    Let’s back up a bit. Some people may not know who you are. Frank, you started Make-A-Wish.
    I was the creator and co-founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. My wife and I started that back in 1980. Through the grace of God and modern medicine, and so many volunteers and people, it has grown from 1980, now to 63 chapters in the United States, 36 international chapters on five continents, and we’ve granted now, over 415,000 wishes worldwide.

    And that started with you and one little boy?
    Exactly, a little boy. Some [people] may remember “CHiPs,” the television show. I was introduced [to a] little boy, seven years old. Unfortunately, he had terminal leukemia. His mother told us that his heroes were Ponch and Jon from the TV show, “ChiPs,” and when he grew up; he wished he could be a highway patrol motorcycle officer. So, the family contacted our department. The [Arizona] Highway Patrol did everything they could for this little boy. [They] made him the first and only honorary highway patrol officer in the history of the [Arizona] Highway Patrol. The biggest thing was to make him a motorcycle officer- which I did. Unfortunately, he died a couple days later. He’s buried in a little town called Kewanee, Illinois, and my commanders asked if I would go back with another motorcycle officer to give him a full police funeral- which we did. We were joined by Illinois state police, city police, county police. [It was] just this most amazing thing to bury this little boy. He was buried in uniform. He has a grave marker that reads, “Chris Greicius – Arizona Trooper.” Coming home, I just started thinking about how this little boy had a wish, and we made it happen. Why can’t we do that for other children? That’s when the idea was born.

    So, a couple of books are out. In fact, last time I had you on, you brought a book that’s called, “Once Upon a Wish.” It was written by Rachelle Sparks.
    She was a local newspaper reporter up here for the [Daily] Courier. [She] contacted me one day, and we did an interview. She said, “Let’s write a book about this. About the Wish children and some of their wishes.” So we did that. [We] called it, “Once Upon a Wish.” A few years ago, I released my own book called, “Wish Man.”

    And it was “Wish Man” that they contacted you and said, “Let’s do a movie.”?
    Yeah. Again, it was in 2014. The publisher had given a rough draft [to] 333 Studios out of San Diego. [They’re] an independent film company, and they had read [Wish Man] and said, “We’re gonna fly over to San Diego.” I said, “Okay, who doesn’t like San Diego?” That went through the owner and also a director and screen writer. They said, “We want to do a movie about your life.”

    It’s a period [piece,] from age ten, to when I started the Make-A-Wish Foundation in 1980. I thought they were talking a documentary, and I said, “Well, that’s okay,” and they said, “No, a full feature motion picture.” I [was] just kind of hesitant on that, but they talked me into it.
    Continue reading


    Six Random Questions With Arwen Paris

    I know it’s been a while since I’ve interviewed anyone, and I sometimes wonder if I’ve forgotten how to do it :) Since I reviewed Arwen Paris’ Fate of the Stars last week, and I may have been a little overly-critical about her novel, I asked Arwen a few random questions about her debut novel, and what ever else I thought of to ask her. So read this, go buy her story so that she can keep writing more stories.
     

    What has been the most challenging part of publishing your book?
    You know how most authors have that first book they wrote, the really ugly one they lock away someplace dark? Yeah, I just couldn’t bear to do that. What’s worse, is that I actually finished book two for NaNoWriMo before I finished the first book! Getting Fate of the Stars written, rewritten several more times, edited and rewritten again has been a grueling and educational process. Let’s just say, I can’t wait to write a fresh book.

    What are you working on now?
    Right now I’m getting book two in the Fate of the Stars series, Rival, ready for the first round of edits.

    What other books have you written and/or are working on for the future?
    Oh my gosh, I have an excel spreadsheet I keep of all the series I want to write. After I finish up the Fate of the Stars series I’m really excited to work on my next project – a YA Fantasy!

    What’s your favorite supernatural creature?
    I know what you’re thinking. She should choose Elves, her name’s Elvish for the love god! But I have to admit that I’m a dragon lover. That’s probably why I’m switching to fantasy for a bit after this series.

    What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
    Writing is art, and it grows and matures the more you practice. So never stop writing, and never stop learning to write better.

    What’s your favorite quote?
    I loved Dune by Frank Herbert when I was a kid. I could read that whole book in less than eight hours. But this quote really struck me to the core: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” It’s a good mantra for writers too.