Take a Look, It’s in a Book, Part 2

A few more smallish book reviews for a few of the things I’ve been reading over the last few months:

Designers-and-Dragons

Designers and Dragons – Shannon Appelcline

For a long time Dungeons and Dragons proved to be one of the ways that I gained the friends I had in high school. That close-knit group which formed due to our mutual love of a game without a board, where you were encouraged to act, where you’d go from Tavern to Dungeon and everything in between. Some of my best memories from High School center around late Friday nights spent laughing and rolling dice until we couldn’t focus anymore.

Designers and Dragons let me tap into that just a little bit by showing me the history of the game(s) I loved so much. Split up by decade (70s, 80s, 90s, & 00s), I have read the 70s and 90s ones so far and the amount of information I’ve gained about not only Dungeons and Dragons, but the whole history of roleplaying left me a bit amazed at how things actually went down back then. Rival groups, people creating new gaming systems over the course of a weekend, and the boom and bust cycle which seems to grip the industry every 10 years or so. The ideas people came up with, started their own companies, made mistakes, broke their word… I mean you could do a movie that would have all the drama you could ever need.

Just fascinating stuff. If you have any interest in the actual history of roleplaying I highly recommend these books.

I’ve taken a break from it for now, but I have the last 2 volumes ready to go when I am ready to delve back in.

The Red King

The Red King – Nick Cole

What do you get when you get a bunch of authors together and decide to end the world?

You get Apocalypse Weird.

Each book written by a different author, the overall series gives us a view of a world gone to hell. Whether it is zombies, or rage monsters, or terminator style creatures, or anything else you could think of… the authors have carved out their own little places across America.

But it all starts with The Red King. And zombies. And trying to find a way in the new world when everything is going to shit. Luckily the best thing about zombie fiction is that while the zombies are nice to see, the real story is always about the people in the middle of it all.

But there is a bigger story going on here. Something possibly otherworldly, possibly alien, possibly older than the world itself… beings who play with humanity like masters play chess.

And the best part is that The Red King is free on Amazon.

And you can see all the books here.

Abraham_Dragons-Path-TP-220x330

The Dragon’s Path – Daniel Abraham

I have a friend who is always on a constant lookout for more good fantasy books. Whether it is in tv show form or in comic book form or novels. He’d been telling me about this series (The Dagger and the Coin series) for a few months, so I gave it a shot.

I’m so happy I did. I’m now onto book 2…

You want a book with epic stakes? You want a book where civilizations crumble before your very eyes? You want a book that main characters die?

Well then read something else.

You want to read about people wearing false masks. Trying to cover up who they really are. People on the run from their pasts, trying to avoid their futures. People who are just trying to get by in the world, and yet the world keeps laughing in their faces. That’s what this book is about. It is about a girl without a home. It is about a man who is without a company. It is about a young man who is lost in a sea of politics. And it is about an older man who is lost because his King doesn’t act the way he wished he would.

I wish I could explain more about the book. What I can say is multiple times I laughed with the characters. I had those moments where I wanted to pump my fist because something had happened. And multiple times I sat dumbfounded that one of the characters had acted so… evil isn’t the exact word I want to use… human. They aren’t heroes, they are just people who are flawed and make mistakes.

And I am utterly taken with the entire story.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

A Writer’s Late Night Rant

Hi folks. Mind if I just ramble a bit?

::silence::

I’ll take that as a yes.

I’d planned on writing about a camping trip from hell that’d I’d experienced as a young lad. Gripping stuff. Hilarious now, though at the time not so much.

I’ll save that one for later.

I decided instead to talk about writing. Not a “laying out the tools/ tips of the trade” post, but more so about my personal experience with the craft. A little “ranty”, but not obnoxiously so.

To understand my love of writing, lets first start with an early obsession of mine: reading. Reading, and I’m not exaggerating, was my drug of choice. Books were, and still are, my narcotic, and libraries and book stores were my corner dealers.

Boy Reading Book in Classroom

I sucked up everything I could get my hands on. The Hardy Boys. The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner. Nancy Drew. The Phantom Toll Booth. The House of Dies Drear. Choose Your Own Adventure books. Encyclopedia Brown. John Bellairs. Mark Twain. Stephen King. Octavia Butler. Christopher Golden. The list goes on and on.

If I added comics to this, we’d be here all day.

Let me give you an example of how deep this went with me: I had the route to my lunchroom  in elementary school so ingrained in my little noggin’, that I could walk the path to the cafeteria, nose deep in a book, without bumping into one of my fellow classmates.

I was that far gone.

In a good way though.

As I continued to read, and read, I found myself wanting to create my own stories. Take my own characters to these fantastical, adventure filled worlds, and just have fun. I knew I wanted to do it.

So I did it.

b2fThere was “Robert’s Time Machine” 1 & 2 (the less said, the better), then came the Double O Dwight series.  We even put on a skit at my school based on the adventures of Dwight and company.

Maybe I got a little playwriting in at an early age? That might be pushing it a bit.

Point being, I wrote a lot. This ran into short stories in middle school, joining my high school’s literary magazine, my college newspaper/ web magazine, freelancing on a regular basis once I got out of college, and now working as a comic book author.

Writing’s been a huge blessing for me, it’s something that I don’t ever see myself not doing.

It’s the thing (my marriage coming first) that I’m most proud of in life. Its something I do well. Its something that gives me a sense of sanity in a world where I’m assaulted by all sorts of B.S on a weekly, if not daily basis.

That’s life for you.

It’s something that, if you commit to it, deserves to be treated with the utmost respect, and love. And sometimes that doesn’t happen, just being truthful. I’ll admit there have been plenty of times where I’ve come home from a long day at the 9-5, and have just thought “no writing tonight. I just want to let my brain rest after dealing with the B.S of the daily burn”.

And believe me, there’s always gonna be B.S.Tired-employee

I will never say that this hasn’t happen, because it has, and it probably will again.

The best advice that I can give in this regard is to Just Do It, as difficult as it may be. Sometimes I’ll write a page, and that’ll be it for the night. And then I’ll write another the next, two more the next day, three more the next day, etc.

But what really gets me back in front of the computer is that same love and desire to tell stories that was sparked in the little kid reading at a library in Dolton, IL. It’s what drove me to break out of my shell and chase stories  for the Atlanta Voice Newspaper. It’s what got me to approach the fine folks of Terminus Media at Dragon Con.

I have so many damn stories that I want to tell. Some of ‘em might be great, some duds.

Some folks will love them, others won’t.

What I’m finding though is that at the end of the day, who can care less about what other people think? I’m still working on staying strong to that line of thinking.

But when such doubts crop up, what I tap into, as it was when I was younger, is that I’m doing this for myself. And to have fun.

Screw what anyone else thinks.

Ok, I wasn’t saying “screw” as a kid, but you get the point.

I wrote for myself.  I had fun. I just did it.

It’s time to write.

writer-laptop

 

Many lives, Many Worlds, Many Words

I didn’t read much when I was younger.

I recall a time when I was about 10 years old where during a particularly bad rain storm I let our collie, Holly, in the house. Unbeknownst to me, she decided that she was so happy to be inside that she was going to chew on some of the furniture. Me, being oblivious, didn’t notice her efforts (maybe she was giving me a message to thank me?).

My Mom noticed. My step-Father noticed. And I was given the choice:

Grounded for a month. No TV. And I had to do a book report a week during that time.

Or I could take a whipping and it just be over.

I lasted a week before I opted for the whipping. I think a friend’s mom convinced me that while it would hurt, it would be over and then I could do whatever I wanted after that.

I think about that from time to time. Not so much the whipping or the no TV, but the idea of having reading be a punishment. And it would have been at that time. I think I was still a couple of months away from discovering comic books, so the idea that someone might read for pleasure never occurred to me. I completed one of those book reports before I went with option #2.

Call of the Wild

Strange that it took years before I read anything else of Jack London (To Build a Fire – which might be the perfect short story), an author who I would put as one of my top 5 overall.

Years passed and pretty much the only reading I did that wasn’t in comic form was some assignment from school. I’ve mentioned it once before, but it was my friend Lee, in 6th grade, who set me straight about reading. He slid a copy of On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony over to me and urged me to begin reading it.

On a Pale Horse

When I finished with that one he had the next book ready. And then the next… all the way until book #5 (book #3, With A Tangled Skein is the first book I’ve ever reread). I would liken him to a drug dealer, but it was worse than that. At one point during 7th grade I believe I read 4 books in 1 week. Literally every moment of my free time that wasn’t spent shooting baskets was occupied with reading.

During high school it became all about the pulp fiction of the day. The various worlds where Dungeons and Dragons were being played with names like Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Spelljammer, and a bunch of others that I’m surely forgetting. Every month a new book (or 2 or 5) seemed to come out and if I couldn’t buy them myself I’d borrow them from friends.

The bad thing about assigned reading was always that in learning about the classics… well, sometimes they aren’t all that great. Yes, for every Alas Babylon that you get to read in class there is a (for me at least) Tale of Two Cities.

That book may go down as the only book I never actually finished while in High School. I have no idea how I managed to pass the tests on the novel as I didn’t bother to get the Cliff notes, and there was no Wiki for me to go and peruse at the time.

After high school I decided that all those authors you learn about in school… maybe I should actually check them out. And so came my education with Twain and Poe and London and Kipling. Somehow, just that act of reading on my own made me want to do more, to discover more. And when I had my fill of those classics I turned to more modern readings of Science Fiction – Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, and Time Enough for Love.

Each one altered my brain a little bit more, showed me a new universe. And even now, with the Kindle and the onslaught of Independent publishing, I find more and more universes to discover. I still hear those older ones still waiting for me to discover them. In the last year I have a book shelf of non-fiction books I want to read. Books about the history of pirates, or Marvel comics…

It seems weird now to think that there ever could have been a time where reading could have been used as a punishment for me. Now the only way that might work is if you told me I couldn’t read anymore.

Now my biggest problem are the books sitting on the dresser waiting for me to give them a read.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Notes from my Nightstand

If you read my post last week, you know I have full schedule at the moment. Even so, I find time to read. Reading is my pre-sleep ritual. It’s how I wind down. Here’s what I’ve read over the last couple months and also what I’m reading now.

Books

The Martian by Andy WeirThe Martian by Andy Weir (Kindle)

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.

The astronomy lover in me and young girl who grew up with a NASA cousin devoured this book. I can’t recall the last science rich novel I read. It was a treat! The Martian wasn’t all science though. There was plenty of tension, but Watney’s humor helped keep things balanced. The ending may not have been much of a surprise, but I was still gripping my Kindle till the end.

The book is already being adapted for film. Matt Damon is playing Watney. I’m not so keen on this choice and now that I’ve read the book, I’m not sure I even have a desire to see it as a movie. I already know what’s going to happen!

The Genome by Sergei LukyanekoThe Genome by Sergei Lukyanenko (Kindle eARC)

Five months after the horrific accident that left him near death and worried that he’d never fly again, master-pilot Alex Romanov lands a new job: captaining the sleek passenger vessel Mirror.  Alex is a spesh—a human who has been genetically modified to perform particular tasks.

More Science Fiction! This time from one of my favorite authors, Sergei Lukyanenko, author of the Night Watch series. The Genome was not what I expected but I still enjoyed the story. Reading translated works is sometimes a challenge. Translations can alter the original flow of a sentence or a scene, but I was able to overlook that here. What I enjoy most from Lukyanenko’s novels are his characters. The Genome is a quicky SciFi novel that weaves a galactic mystery (there’s a Sherlock Holmes spesh!).

 

What to read next… I’m never without options on my Kindle or even the bookshelves in my room. The top three books in my Kindle are: Beyond the Gate (featuring a story by Tessera’s John R McGuire), Engraved on the Eye by Saldin Ahmed, and The Imago Sequence by Laird Barron. All of these are short story collections.

Comics

My current pull list at my local comic shop features:

 

 Art Related

Fantasy IllustratorI always have art related reading materials close at hand, though they are not usually my first choice for bedtime reading. My newest purchase is the latest installment of Fantasy Illustrator from ImagineFX. This is the traditional media edition (pencil, oils, acrylics and more). I have never bought an issue of ImagineFX that didn’t teach me something. These magazines are worth every bit of that $17.99 (and more for the big issues).

Books that Have Stayed with Me

For those of you who don’t know, I’m on Tumblr, and there’s an awful lot of tagging posts that pop up on my dashboard every day. When you tag someone, you’re asking and/or challenging them to most often share a list. Yesterday I was tagged to share ten books that have touched me in some way. I thought I’d share them here too. Some of these books made my cry, some terrified me, some enlightened me and some fed my soul. Several of these books I read a decade ago or more and I they still sit on my shelf. What ten books would be on your list?

Take a look, it’s in a book…

One of the things I always hear from other writers is that they never get the chance to read anymore. Sometimes it is due to the time investment. Sometimes it is because they don’t want a writer’s style to infect their own while they are in the midst of writing. And it is true. When it comes to free time, I’m pretty much trying to grab those extra seconds in actual book/comic writing. Why on earth would I take those precious minutes and use them on someone else. Words need to be typed!

But… but… there is also this thought that you have to keep reading. Like a fish, you have to keep finding new and different works to inspire you. So if you go completely cold turkey you’re bound to get stilted.

Or the better part of reading others is seeing how they used a technique and finding ways to incorporate them into your own writing toolbox. I’m still in my infancy of writing. There are tons of things I am learning and still need to learn to become a better writer.

So all that is my way of saying that I still find a little time to read, here or there. At lunch, on a plane, at the beach, when I get knocked out early playing poker, or sometimes on a lazy Sunday. What follows are the last five books I’ve read and maybe a little mini-review… or just whatever comes to me.

horns

Horns – Joe Hill

For those of you not in the know, this is Steven King’s son (yes, that Steven King). That put him on my radar, but this book… I believe his second full length novel (I’m too lazy to look it up)… for some reason it appealed to me. The basic plot is that our main guy, Ig, wakes up with what seem like horns growing from his head, some missing (drunk) time, and suddenly everyone wants to share their sins with him.

That was all it took. Maybe because I had been toying around with an idea kinda like that. Taking the idea of someone being able to see your darkest secret, but I had no idea where to go with it. Hill not only knows which way to go, but gives you a very flawed character who you are not sure if you should be cheering for him.

write publish repeat

Write. Publish. Repeat. – Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant with David Wright

Non-fiction book from the hosts of The Self-publishing Podcast. I’ve been listening to their podcast since episode 1 (it is on 106 as of last week). And in many ways this book takes much of their technique, much of what they’ve discussed on their podcast, and presents it in a very organized way (which sometimes the podcast just can’t do).

But why should I, or anyone else, listen to these guys? Well, just based on their output alone. One pair (Platt and Wright) put out serialized books on a weekly basis over the course of 2 years, and in the last year Platt and Truant have published something like 2 million words. So, yeah, maybe they know something about writing.

And that’s the key bit to learn from them. They put butt in the chair and write and finish that work, and then move on to the next project. They don’t slow down, they don’t doubt, they just do.

Update – They are also the guys who are trying something completely new with a Kickstarter where you get to see exactly how they do what they do. From story meetings to the actual raw writing and everything between, they are pulling the curtain back. The Kickstarter is almost done, but I supported it if only to see how someone else does “IT”.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1027829739/fiction-unboxed-change-the-world-with-a-story

wool-hugh-howey1

Wool – Hugh Howey

This is the story/novella that put Howey on the map. He went from being just another indy writer to being one of THE INDY WRITERS (and I think he’s managed to get a few offers since then). The story of a post-apocalyptic world where humanity now lives in silos, closed off from a polluted (radiation filled) world. But there is more going on than meets the eye, and the Silo Sheriff has decided that it is time for him to leave that place.

But the biggest takeaway for me was how this story felt like one I might have read from a Ray Bradbury. Howey gets in, lays the groundwork for the world, and then gets out. And the ending… well, it was excellent.

He’s since gone and added on to the world. I haven’t read the rest, but it is on the to-do list.

WofP

The Wolves of Paris – Michael Wallace

Did you know that in 1450 a pack of wolves terrorized Paris? This is true world history. They killed like 40 people, and it took a concentrated effort by the citizens to finally kill them all.

Wallace tweaks this fact slightly: what if they were werewolves?

Yep, you had me at hello.

Wallace manages to weave a story that I think works within what history says while still making it not just a list of dates or events, but tying it all together into a cohesive story.

And werewolves, people! It’s got werewolves!

ea_johndiescover

John Dies at the End – David Wong

I don’t read “comedy” books. Most of the time I want the humor to be very light in my books. But this book, which, if I am honest, I only picked up because of the clever title, manages to work the humor in through one character: John (from the title… I wonder what is going to happen at the end?). There is a lot of self-awareness going on in the novel. The two main characters seem to realize that not only is what they are dealing with “crazy”, but that they really shouldn’t be bothering at various points.

Hmm… I feel like I’m not really doing this one justice, but it is one of the few books that I laughed out loud at when the shit hit the fan because of their reactions.

It also got turned into a movie, which captures much of the “feel” of the book, but is a poor substitute for the real thing.

 

So there you go. I would say these are the things on my bookshelf, but they are in my Kindle… so my virtual bookshelf. What might you be reading?

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and now the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

Harry Potter for #TBT

I began reading the Harry Potter books when my daughter was three or four years old. They weren’t books I had to think my way through. I read them to laugh, to escape, to have fun.The first four books I read before I moved to the UK 2004, another two while living in London and The Deathly Hallows when I returned to the US in 2008. Several memories stick out over course of those eight years.

1. I watched the first film on a flight to Paris in 2002.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

In 2002 I graduated from the University of Georgia, a few years off my original target but I graduated nonetheless. I’d left college in 1997 due to a slew of bad choices, then married and had the child doctor’s weren’t sure I’d ever have. After my short attempt at marriage ended, I wanted to finish my degree, not something all single mother’s would have the courage to attempt, but I beat Cancer, it couldn’t be as difficult as that, right? The trip to Paris was a gift from my mother and step father for beating the odds.

The seats, on my first international flight, had monitors built into the back of the headrests. When I found Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on the movie list I could hardly contain my excitement. I’d not seen the movie because I didn’t have anyone I thought would want to see it with me. I wasn’t as brave then as I am now. With the earphones plugged in, I escaped into another world. It was my half contained giggles throughout the movie that eventually pulled my mother into the films too.

Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban2. I took my daughter to see The Prisoner of Azkaban in London.

My daughter wasn’t reading the books yet, but she’d caught onto the Harry Potter craze. (Up until a couple months ago we still had our VHS copies of The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets.) When we moved to London in 2004 The Prisoner of Azkaban was still out, little did I know how creepy the Dementors would be! But it didn’t phase her one bit. She’d obviously inherited my iron will. This also happened to be our first movie going experience at our local Odeon on High Street Kensington. I’ll never forget it.

3. My daughter and I read The Deathly Hallows together (or rather simultaneously).

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows

When we moved back to the US in 2008 my daughter decided it was time for her to read all of the Harry Potter books; which is an easy task for a child who can read a 300 page book in one sitting. I’ve seen her read three such books in one day! While she caught up, I re-read The Half-Blood Prince. Then we both read The Deathly Hallows. Until Part 2 of the film released, we both felt as if we belonged to a secret club. My mother has seen the movies, but not read the books. Yes, she’s one of those people. My daughter and I were careful not to give anything away, but when she wasn’t looking we gave knowing smiles. We knew the truth (about Snape).

And now, you know the truth. It was my fault. I sucked my entire family into the wizarding world of Harry Potter!

Comics on my Nightstand

ComicsI read comics. They are the best of both worlds–art and story–but I wouldn’t say I’m a collector. I just like to read comics, both digital and paper. If I like a comic enough I’ll buy both. For example, when I began reading The Walking Dead the series was already in the 70’s. I was reading from the hard back books. Now I read the single issues via Comixology but I still buy those hardback books when they release. It’s my system. Don’t question it. This past weekend I went through all the comics on my nightstand because the stack had become a beast. I cut the pile in half, keeping what I still hadn’t read (plus the other issues in a series–sometimes I look back to recall little details).

~ A few things to note ~

Marvel: I’m a Marvel fan. More than half the comics I sorted through were Marvel comics. That shouldn’t be any big surprise considering where my loyalties lie. (Did you catch the pun there?) However, I’m not one of those Marvel vs. D.C. fans. Read more