Mark Boss's Blog

March 2, 2014

Today let's visit with artist and writer Jayson Kretzer, and talk about his newest work.
Mark:  What are the title and the topic of your new comic book?
Jayson:  Wannabe Heroes is the title and I’d say the topic is geek culture and superheroes. The comic follows the adventures of six people entrenched in the geek community as they develop unique powers and battle with an array of villains, including a comic shop owner who’s frustrated with digital comic readers and online shoppers who just use his store as a hangout.  It’s all in good fun, though, as it’s an all-ages book.
Mark:  Where can readers find it, and in what formats is it available?
Jayson:  Right now the best places to get this comic are at my website, for the digital version, and at for the print version. Of course, if you live close enough to Panama City, FL, then be sure to check in with Arena Comics & Gaming and Comic Emporium as both shops are currently carrying the book.
Mark:  I'm always fascinated with archetypal characters and their lineage.  For instance, I think you can trace a line from Sherlock Holmes to Hercule Poirot to Spock--they are all characters who use logic but not emotion to solve problems.  Another example:  ancient strongmen like Hercules, Samson and Gilgamesh are the precursors to Superman and the Hulk.
Your Wannabe characters include a cosplayer, a gamer, an elitist, a comic book collector and an artist.  You managed to capture much of our culture in these archetypes.  How did you come up with this idea?
Jayson:  Honestly, I’m not sure I remember exactly how I came up with the idea.  I think it just sort of developed after I started really paying attention to the comic convention crowd (and the usual suspects who hang out at my local comic shop).  One thing I do remember is that I really wanted to make sure there was a character that most any geek, myself included, could relate to.
Mark:  When you drew pictures as a boy, did you also write stories to go with them, or did that come later?
Jayson: They were always tied together. I don’t think I could even finish drawing a character before my brain was already working on a backstory for them. I love drawing, but it’s the writing that fuels my passion for art.  If I were to just do illustrations with no input on a story, I doubt I’d remain sane for long. That is, if I even qualify as sane now.
Mark:  I know you're working on a novel.  Do you feel you have more freedom with that format, or do novels seem to have as many conventions and standard practices as comic books do?
Jayson:  I’d say I feel more freedom working in comics. Mainly because with comics I don’t have to just tell you about things, I can show them to you in different ways, from different angles and such.  I know there are those who can work magic with their prose, but I’m not one of them...and don’t get me started on my bad grammar skills!  I’m a storyteller, not a writer.  That’s probably another reason I prefer the comics medium--if I do it right, I can tell a whole story without using a single word and that’s always been such a fascinating idea to me.
Mark:  What's next for the Wannabe Heroes brand?
Jayson: Wannabe Heroes issues 2-4 are currently in the workings and I’m writing some other comic projects, some that I hope to find artists for and some with artists already on board. All in all, I’m planning on 2014 being a very productive year for Wannabe Studios, so stay tuned! hehe
Mark:  Thanks to Jayson for stopping by.
Jayson: Thanks so much, Mark and I'm looking forward to the next time I get you on the Wannabe Podcast! :)
Please hit the links and check out Jayson's work!
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Published on March 02, 2014 14:41 • 4 views

February 6, 2014

In this post, author Nathan Hawke visits to answer questions about his fantasy trilogy.  THE CRIMSON SHIELD, COLD REDEMPTION and THE LAST BASTION tell the tale of Gallow, a warrior determined to stay true to his beliefs in a chaotic world at war.  All three are available as paperbacks and ebooks.
Let's get right to the questions.
Mark:  Most fantasy novels are set at a Medieval or even Renaissance level of technology.  One of the aspects I enjoy about your series is that the technology seems more Dark Ages--spear and shield, axe and sword.  Was this a conscious choice to do something different?
Nathan: Yes, and there are several reasons for that. I have an alter-ego who’s been writing fantasy for some time and the settings there are drawn from early renaissance Italy, and from Arabia and China of a similar time. What I find these settings all have in common is a great deal of opulence, concentration of huge wealth and power into the hands of a small number of individuals, marvellous works of art and architecture and a great deal of politics.
In that regard, I wonder if there might be a general trend in fantasy for the vogue to be moving steadily forward in time. We already have some great fantasy taking characters akin to the musketeers and setting them in a magical fantasy world – in five years perhaps in the next great swathe of fantasy everyone will carry flintlock pistols instead of swords. So part of my reason was simply to step away from that and move to a setting quite different to the ones I was already using.
Another reason was that I happened to be in York for the Jorvik Viking Festival when the suggestion was first made to do something different. A part of it, for me, too, was I wanted a certain tone. I think SFX, when they reviewed The Crimson Shield, muttered something about too much A Song of Ice and Fire influence in the story; and I can see some similarities – the dirt, the blood, little focus on anything that’s actually fantastical, the focus on character instead – but in part exactly the thing I was trying to get away from was the current penchant for very grey characters – no stand-up heroes, no cardboard villains, the replacement of some notion of higher ideals with a self-obsessed “what’s best for me?”
Much as I love that sort of characterisation (my alter-ego has followed that path with gleeful enthusiasm), I find myself missing the fictional heroes of my youth, the lone wolf whose sense of serving some greater purpose or duty overcomes or replaces their greed or sense of vengeance. It’s a character trope that fits with ‘simple times’ and belongs very strongly in the Western genre as well. I don’t know if there’s some sort of unconscious social commentary thing going on with fantasy at the moment – a sort of ‘oh, look, if everyone acts like a self-serving s--- with no shred of social conscience, everything either stays crappy or gets even crappier’ but I found myself very much wanting to write a character who wasn’t like that, someone with a sense of values and purpose I’d be happy to aspire to. In a way, the desire for that character drove the setting towards one in which one man really could make a difference.
Mark:  Gallow's world is well formed, but I can't help searching for comparisons with our own history.  I see the Lhosir as a Viking culture, but it's trickier with the others.  Are the Marroc based on the Britons, or perhaps the Saxons? Their use of long knives made me think of the Saxon scramasax knives.  And are the Vathen horsesoldiers something like the Huns or Magyars? I'm curious what cultures inspired you.
Nathan: I really didn’t hide the Viking influence behind the Lhosir at all, did I? Of the three cultures in The Crimson Shield, that one was pretty shameless and blatant, a premeditated theft. The Vathen are much more deliberately nebulous. Historically, Europe received wave after wave of mounted invaders and I didn’t particularly pick one, largely because the Vathen are, as far as most of the characters are concerned, an ill-defined and unknown threat. I haven’t chosen yet because I don’t have to, but I suspect if I come back to the Vathen in any depth then they’ll be something of a hybrid.
The Marroc were constructed as a culture that didn’t fit very well with the Lhosir (I can see the Lhosir and Vathen getting along fine if they didn’t slaughter each other to the last man standing first). So they started off based on Saxons but were warped more away from that and made more passive. I was trying to set up a clash of ideologies between “be true to yourself” (Lhosir) and “be true to your community” (Marroc) and that skewed both the Lhosir and the Marroc away from their historical starting points. Then to dump Gallow in the middle, caught between them and trying to reconcile these two different views of the world.
Mark:  There is a strong element of horror in these stories, particularly with the Shadewalkers--these undead, implacable killers that come down out of the mountains during snow storms and murder innocent families on remote farms.  Those scenes really freaked me out.  Do you read horror, and what influenced the development of these creatures?
Nathan: Um… would it be deeply, deeply sad of me to say Skyrim? There I was, starting off on writing these books with a very Norse feel and at the same time playing a game with a very Norse feel and, well, it’s full of dragons and draugar and I already had the dragons covered elsewhere and so the draugar sort of… crept in. And then that led me into the Fateguard and Beyard (who made Cold Redemption the best of the three books if you ask me) and the entrance to the Aulian tomb under Witches’ Reach . . . so yes. That’s what nudged the shadewalkers into the story in the first place. I do read horror, no more or less than any other genre but I like it when it’s done well. I like the creeping dread type of horror, the sense of cosmic forces beyond control or understanding. Lovecraftian horror, which I think fits very well with a fantasy setting. I’m glad I freaked you out. I consider that a success J
Mark:  The action scenes are intense, and you don't flinch away from portraying the confusion and violence of close combat, plus the psychological after effects of killing a fellow human being. Do you train in martial arts or did you go to school in a really rough neighborhood? 
Nathan: I grew up in a town of retired colonels and it could hardly have been less rough. I have done several martial arts on and off over the years but I’m not sure that’s helpful – if anything it’s possibly counter-productive since martial arts tend to emphasis discipline and control and most real fights (best I can tell from my pretty limited experience) show little of either.
I can recommend this to anyone planning on writing a battle scene: go and hang out with your nearest medieval, Viking or civil war re-enactment group (for civil war, go as a pikeman – the musket block is much more civilised). Get kitted up and go out onto a battlefield with a hundred or so folk on each side. Make sure you’re in the shield wall or in the pike block. Re-enact for ten minutes. By this time you will discover that you are soaked through with sweat, absolutely exhausted and gasping for breath. You may well have shouted yourself hoarse without realising it. You will have discovered that in close combat in a massed battle you can barely move. There is no finesse, it’s largely brute strength and good kit. The adrenaline rush is quite something and once it wears off you will feel utterly battered. Bear in mind that everyone around you was actively trying not to hurt you, even though they frequently failed. You will find you have the stamina to go at it again before long but even if you don’t you’re going to hurt the next day in all manner of places you didn’t even know you had.
You could get yourself off down to a Motorhead/Guns’N’Roses/Prodigy/Pendulum/all-of-the-above gig (depending on your age) and go play in the mosh pit for the beginnings of a similar experience and then imagine everyone with shields, armour, sharp metal things actively trying to hurt you, but the intensity really isn’t the same. On the other side of things I’ve had cause to talk to people who have been in vehicles hit by roadside bombs multiple times and seen their friend in the next seat have his leg blown half off, to people who have shot and killed others and who have seen men beside them die. It’s second hand but you get to hear the raw story and see the emotion. The filter of Hollywood and TV frequently kills all that.
Mark:  I know others have compared your work to David Gemmell, but for me it has the feel of Robert Howard's sword and sorcery stories, and the driving pace I associate with Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Will you tell us some of your favorite authors? 
Nathan:  All sorts for all sorts of different reasons. I like deeply involving characters (Donna Tartt: The Secret History, not genre at all). I like deeply complicated and intricate expositions of how things work interspersed with fast wit (Anything by Neal Stephenson). Grimy weirdness (Peter Higgins: Wolfhound Century). Labyrinthine politics and murdering (the first two Song of Ice and Fire books). And speed and pace and a story that GETS ON WITH IT so yes, Gemmell at his best and I grew up more of a swords-and-sorcery lad than a Middle Earth boy and I did read a lot of Conan. Gavin Smith when he’s not being wrong about lasers and Star Wars. That Stephen Deas bloke has a stab at doing all of the above at once and generally failing but I gather his dragons are pretty sweet ;-). All the other Gollancz authors, they’re all brilliant too… And then you have authors I read simply for their sheer use of language – Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes springs to mind and M John Harrison’s Light. KJ Parker’s Scavenger books. Elizabeth Moon: The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter – that would be a good one to pick up if you liked Gallow.
Mark:  What's your next project? And will we see more Gallow?

Nathan:  Gallow is pretty dormant at the moment. The three Gallow books came out about six months ago and they didn’t take the world by storm. Gollancz have been supportive but at the moment it’s a case of wait and see. If sales of the second and third books grow then I’m hopeful we’ll see some more of him. There might be a short story or two or maybe a novella in the interim.
As Stephen Deas I have Dragon Queen coming out in paperback in April and its sequel, The Splintered Gods following in June and am hard at work on the last of that trilogy. Gavin Smith and I have a linked pair of SF novels coming out later in the year: Badass aliens, sweary SAS men – they fight! I also have The Royalist coming out later this year, a historical crime thriller set during the English civil war. But what comes nextnext…? I dunno. What takes your fancy? If not more Gallow then maybe some actual Vikings. I quite fancy some Bronze Age action. A military task force caught in deep space between two warring alien cultures. A noir version of The X-Files set in the 24th century? Magicians of the Great Depression? A band of mercenaries escorting an insane wizard across a hostile wilderness? Ezio vs. Geralt fanfic? Anything’s possible…
Mark:  Many thanks to Nathan Hawke for this interview.  Be sure to check out his author site ( because it has one of the coolest fantasy maps I've seen.

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Published on February 06, 2014 09:03 • 4 views

January 30, 2014

There is a lot of media coverage of Bitcoin these days, both in the financial news and sometimes the crime news.  Here at ChimpWithPencil we first talked about Bitcoin in January 2013.  I wrote, "I think that as we watch governments around the world make poor financial decisions, and banks fail from reckless greed and ineffective management, we will see more virtual currencies like Bitcoin."
Huh.  I obviously have a gift for underestimating.  There aren't just three or four crypto currencies now, there are sixty or seventy.  You can visit sites like CoinMarketCap and CryptMarketCap to see their stock-style tickers.  Most of these virtual currencies are based on the Bitcoin model, but some attempt to improve on it, or even go in a different direction.
With the spread of these alt-currencies, we're also seeing new roles for people interested in crypto currencies.  At first, there were only Miners--people with the computer equipment, technical skill, and patience necessary to mine for Bitcoins.  And there were a few places online who accepted Bitcoin as payment--sometimes in legitimate places and sometimes in dodgy places on the Darknet.  We can classify these people as 'Users' because they simply used Bitcoin, but didn't necessarily mine it.  Although I suspect most early Users were also Miners.
The proliferation of new coins has opened up two new roles (or character classes for my RPG friends).  Speculators and Investors.  There have long been speculators in the world currency market, making (or losing) money on the changes in value of the various currencies.  This speculation wouldn't be possible in the crypto currency world without the rise of trade sites, often called 'exchanges.'
Exchanges allow account holders to trade crypto currencies, transfer them, deposit and withdraw, and in some cases even cash out for physical, state-owned currencies.  For instance, you can trade Bitcoins for US dollars. 
Currency speculation is a tricky thing.  Before a stock purchase, you can research a company and see if their products are doing well.  Or you can buy into mutual funds that are diversified.  But predicting swings in currency can be very difficult.
Although there is a lively trade in crypto currencies, there are also Investors who are sitting on their coins like a dragon on its horde.  They're hoping their coins will grow in value.  For example, when I first learned about Bitcoin, one Bitcoin sold for $9 USD.  Today, a single Bitcoin is worth about $800.00.  (I really wish I'd spent $18 back then and bought a couple.)
It isn't hard to find articles that deride the crypto currency market, and there are plenty that encourage it, too.  But with a total worth of around $10 billion USD, I think the world of crypto currency has grown too big to ignore. 
(Please note:  All investments involve risk.  If you're looking to Mine, Speculate, or Invest, do some serious research first.)
(Photo found via Google Images on http://itknowledgeexchange.techtarget...)
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Published on January 30, 2014 13:41 • 5 views

December 16, 2013

Winter is a good time to curl up with a warm pet and an exciting book.  So here's the opening chapter from my novel DEAD GIRL.  (You have to supply your own pet.)
* * *
DEAD GIRL by Mark Boss
A mob rushed her, feet and elbows flying.
Dahlia Grove dodged her attackers and kicked the soccer ball to center field.  She caught a forearm to the ribs as she cut back and ran down the sideline.  "Go right," she yelled and the midfielders and forwards shifted.
Her teammate Jessica corralled the ball and took it up field, but defenders swarmed her.  She hooked her left foot around and passed the ball high to Dahlia.
The ball soared through the night air.  A girl went up to head the ball, and Dahlia leaped, too.  Their heads crashed together, skull to skull.
The ball flew out of bounds.  A whistle blew.
While the other girl sank to one knee, Dahlia shook her head and staggered to the ball.  As she raised the dew-slick ball above her head, she saw her parents and little brother, Andrew, in the stands, eyes wide.  She winked at them.  I'm fine.
She slung the ball into play and watched the Ivanovich sisters pass it back and forth on their way to the goal.  She jogged back onto the field, still shaking the stars out of her head from the collision.  Her ponytail of long, black hair came loose and she stopped to pull it tight.
Something behind her left eye popped--a sudden, sharp lance straight into her brain.  Her legs buckled.  What the hell?
The world turned sideways as she fell.  Wet grass tickled her right cheek.  The pain spiked.  Then nothing...
* * *
Margaret left the elevator and hurried down the hallway, her black rubber clogs clopping on the waxed floor.  As she walked, the short nurse tugged on latex gloves to hide the half-healed chemical burns on her hands.
When she entered the hospital room, Robin pounced on her.  "Where have you been?" Robin asked.
"I was on my lunch break," Margaret said as she slinked past her supervisor.  The double occupancy hospital room was a mess, and there was a new patient in the bed by the door.  "What happened?" she asked.
"Mrs. Barrow flat lined," Robin said.  "We revived her, but she's barely holding on."  The tall nurse rubbed hand sanitizer between her fingers.  "She's your patient.  You should have been here."
Margaret shrugged.  "I have to eat."  She unwrapped a piece of sour apple gum to cover the double-layered smell of Lysol and human waste.
Robin stood at the foot of the other bed, where a lean girl with long, dark hair lay in a coma.  As Robin checked the girl's vitals, Margaret asked, "Who's the dead girl?"
"Don't call her that.  She has a name--Dahlia Grove."  Robin flipped through the girl's chart.  "She came in last Saturday for a concussion and they found a brain tumor.  Doctors say she won't last a week."
Margaret took the TV remote from Mrs. Barrow's nightstand and clicked it.  A long scream came out of the television mounted on the wall, then a deep voice said, "Evil lurks in America's heartland."
"Oh, Heartland Serial Killers is on.  I love this show," Margaret said.
"Really?" Robin looked up from Dahlia's chart. 
"Come on, they can't hear it."  Margaret waved at the comatose patients.
"Show some respect."  Robin reached up and mashed the TV's power button.  "Mrs. Barrow needs a fresh IV, her bag is almost empty.  I have to go get meds."
"Okay, sorry, gosh."  Margaret dumped a pot of dead flowers in the trash.  "Could you grab me an IV bag while you're getting meds? They're on the top shelf and I can't reach them."
"Fine."  Robin opened the door to the hallway.  "I'll be back in a minute."
As soon as the wide door swung shut, Margaret took a flat stone carved with a symbolic glyph from her pocket.  She rubbed the enchanted stone to activate it, and slipped it under Mrs. Barrow's mattress.  Margaret walked to Dahlia's bed and stood smacking her wad of gum.  She watched the dark-haired girl breathe.
* * *
The Shadow Lands
Eyes shut, Dahlia took a deep breath of cold air and caught the faint scent of sour apples.
And the smell of something else.  Something thick and coppery.
She opened her eyes and stared up at an unlit fluorescent ceiling panel.  When she brushed her long, dark hair out her eyes, her face felt greasy.
Where am I?
She sat up, but a wave of dizziness hit her.  She put out her hands to steady herself and felt a tug.  A clear tube was taped to one wrist.
Why do I have an IV? Ah, crap, I'm in a hospital.  What happened?
She looked over her shoulder.  The medical monitors behind her were blank.  The power is out.  Don't hospitals have emergency generators?  
The wide metal door on her right was shut.  To the left, a gauzy curtain hung from a track on the ceiling.  Beyond the fabric, gray light seeped through a window on the far wall.
Something moved on the other side of the curtain, but it wasn't close enough to make a silhouette.  She heard a low smacking sound.
She pushed the bed covers aside and a fat cockroach ran from under the sheet.  She flinched and the bed creaked.
The smacking sound paused.  Dahlia froze.  She inhaled the scent of salt and old pennies. 
The sound resumed, wet and crunchy, like someone munching celery.
She eased her legs off the bed.  The cold tile floor shocked her bare feet.  She looked down.  A thin, red ribbon rolled along a grout line between the tiles toward her toes.
That's blood.
The ribbon trickled toward her.  She moved her feet apart and it ran under the bed.  Looked at the bedside table and saw a landline phone and an empty plastic tray.  She reached for the phone, then saw the big, red emergency button on the wall and pressed it.
She expected to hear an alarm or voices from the hall, but nothing happened.
Something splashed onto the floor beyond the curtain, and the thick scent of human waste made her gag.
She lurched up, but her head spun.  Reached out to catch herself as she fell and caught a handful of curtain. 
The curtain tore away and she fell to her knees.    
Looked up.
Eight feet away an old woman lay in a bed identical to hers.  A hunchbacked monster the color of pus straddled the woman.  Its jaws burrowed into her chest cavity.  Blood and feces dripped to the floor.
Dahlia tried to scream but only hissed.
The old woman's head turned.  Her eyes found Dahlia's.  Her lips moved.  "Help me."
The monster retracted from the woman's ribcage.  Its bloody head rotated on a boney, elongated neck.  Small, hard eyes glared at her.  The monster's mouth split into a red smile.
This time Dahlia screamed.
She scrambled up and around her bed, tearing the IV from her wrist.
The multi-limbed monster flowed to the floor like a giant millipede.
She grabbed the door handle and pulled.  The monster oozed forward.
She ran into the corridor and shouted, "Help! Someone help!"
Dahlia took three steps and stopped.
There were no people--no nurses, no patients, no visitors.  The electricity was out.  Weak gray light from the windows showed brown smears on the walls, and wide blooms of black mold.  Wires dangled from the ceiling.  She stood in a puddle of cold, slimy water.
A low moan sounded behind her.  The monster poked its head out the door, sniffed, and entered the hallway.
She ran.
* * *
            If you enjoyed this sample, you can download the complete novel at Amazon.  Thanks for reading!

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Published on December 16, 2013 08:32 • 13 views

November 6, 2013

In this post my friend and fellow author, Tony Simmons, visits to talk about his new zombie book.
Mark:  What are the title and the topic of your new book?
Tony:  "Tales of the Awakening Dead" is a collection of zombie short stories. Each one takes a different approach to the genre, and the "rules" of the zombies are different from tale to tale. I enjoyed trying different voices and approaches, and I hope readers find it a fresh take.
Mark:  Where is it available and in what format?
Tony:  The collection is available through for Kindle devices and apps at only 99 cents, and a real-world print edition is also available for under $5.
And anyone interested can "like" the Facebook page.
Mark:  I think zombies have transitioned from being a cultural fad to a full sub-genre of science fiction.  Why is that? What is our continuing fascination with them?
Tony:  They're a cultural shorthand now. We see them in commercials, where they're used to comic effect. Mainstream movies are made on the "Romeo and Juliet" model about zombies. It's important to note that these are Romero-style undead creatures, not traditional voodoo zombies; these things are more like the old concept of the ghoul, hungry for human flesh. And I think that's important because, while the idea of losing our mental faculties to enslavement by a witch doctor is pretty awful, the prospect of losing our humanity -- or losing our loved ones to such a terrible death -- is what haunts us.
Also, I remember being a kid and seeing one of the Universal movies about the mummy, and realizing that no matter where the protagonists ran to hide, this slow-moving creature would never tire, and it would find them. There's something of that in our fear of the zombies. They just don't stop, and there's always more of them. 
Mark:  In some ways, people seem to find zombies more accessible than vampires.  Vampires are powerful, immortal and often glamorous.  I don't think most of us feel like that.  However, we see zombies, and that zombie is still wearing her uniform from work, and the zombie over there is wearing a tool belt and hardhat, and we see these reflections of us--ordinary citizens.  Somehow, that makes them easier to relate to.  Is that what gives them their staying power in our culture?
Tony:  I think that's a good possibility. They are us, but broken. So many people feel isolated these days; we barely know our neighbors, and it would be no surprise to discover them massing to feed on our flesh, the mindless psychopaths that they probably are. I mean, have you seen the mess in their back yards? The way they dress their kids? They could be capable of just about anything. I'm watching.
Mark:  We see a lot of apocalypse and dystopia in books and movies right now, and some people think that's because of the long economic stagnation, and the endless wars, and terrorism.  But the original Star Trek debuted in 1966, during the Viet Nam war, when the nation was probably as badly divided as it is now.  Yet Star Trek is a very positive look at the future, where humans have overcome their differences and are now exploring the galaxy.  It's science and exploration, not gritty survival.  Why do you think we're reacting differently now to tough times?
Tony:  I don't know that zombies are so much a product of the times, as much as an idea whose time has come. Look at the Depression-era popular literature, and you find Doc Savage standing a head taller than all the others, a paragon of morality and individuality. Superman came out of that same cultural stew. 
And your point about the original Star Trek is spot-on. Difficult times, at least in America, seem to bring us hopeful visions or heroes to emulate. Granted, we live in a more jaded world, a post-9/11 culture bombarded by images of violence in all its sordid forms. But I just don't think it's that easy to draw a straight line from economy and politics to zombies.
How do you explain the Ancient Astronauts and Big Foot mania of the mid- to late 1970s in those terms? The vampire chic of the 1990s? Hair bands? I think it may be that Romero-style zombies have had a generation to gestate in the collective unconscious and simply may have dug themselves into the light.
Mark:  Last question.  What's the next project?
Tony:  That's also difficult to define. As you know, I just completed a Southern Gothic/urban fantasy/Lovecraftian Horror novel that is in the editing stage. I'm close to finishing the initial draft of 'This Mortal Flesh,' which is a novel of 'The Awakening Dead' teased in this collection, which includes the novel's first chapter. My next full-on "new" project will be a sequel to the SG/UF/LH novel now being edited, which I hope to make a big dent in during NaNoWriMo; I'm thinking of it in terms of a Hammer horror film, as our young Native American hero finds himself in a modern Welsh village full of nice folks who secretly are Satan worshipers, mixed with an ancient vampire that was also a mummy, and a certain mage's manservant with a slight case of lycanthropy. Also, there's this girl...
Mark:  Thanks to Tony for this interview. 
Now hit those links and gobble up some zombie goodness!

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Published on November 06, 2013 07:49 • 11 views

October 25, 2013

I read YOU by happy accident. Being a comic book guy, I'd heard of Grossman's first novel, SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE, but hadn't got around to reading it because...because I was reading actual comics with real supervillains. (That came out wrong. Anyway...)
YOU is about a law-school dropout who goes to work for his old high school pals at a video game developer. It starts with Russell (the protagonist) going through an awkward interview at Black Arts Games. Anyone who has ever had to work for (not with) a friend, knows how weird it can be. They're not your buddy anymore, they're your boss. And it's weird.
There are plot lines all over the place. Programmers would call it 'spaghetti code,' but man this is some tasty spaghetti. Did Russell's old pal, eccentric genius Simon kill himself? Does Lisa, a math and programming wizard with the social skills of a snapping turtle, like Russell? Is someone sabotaging their newest game? And why are there three times as many chairs as there are employees at the office?
This isn't a plot driven novel. If you're looking to solve a murder mystery, seek a different dungeon. Where Grossman excels is characterization. He takes us back and forth in time with Russell--from the awkward interview to high school group projects, to computer camp and back into the current crisis at work. We see Russell grow, and yet he is always believably himself.  Whether you first cracked your knuckles and began to type on a TRS-80, or a Commodore 64, or a 512k Mac, lovers of computers, video games and the RPGs (role playing games) they derived from, will enjoy this. Although as a writer, gamer, and lapsed programmer, I'm pretty much this book's smartbomb target.  (I failed a Saving Throw against Loving This Book.)

(The book cover is from
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Published on October 25, 2013 17:43 • 8 views

August 18, 2013

My introduction to William Faulkner took place over a short story in high school, and we did not make friends.  His writing was dense, and felt labored and 'writerly' to me.  I vaguely recall watching an adaptation of one of his stories, wherein Tommy Lee Jones played a redneck arsonist. 
My introduction to hunting stories was far different.  I read about bear hunts in Alaska, safaris in Africa, and friendships formed in freezing duck blinds in the colorful pages of Outdoor Life magazine.  Authors like Robert Ruark, Jack O'Connor and Ernest Hemingway wrote about the woods, the hunt, and the lessons learned with authenticity and humility, and often humor.
Years back, a friend urged me to read Faulkner's long short story "The Bear."  I didn't get around to it until last week, when something made me search out Faulkner in the public library, where I found an old edition of "Big Woods:  The Hunting Stories of William Faulkner," with excellent illustrations by Edward Shenton. 
"The Bear" is dense--long sentences in long paragraphs, broken only by a few lines of dialogue and the barking of dogs on the scent, and the roar of a shotgun, and the sound of a great bear running through deep leaves.  It is epic, and sad and beautiful, and I take back everything negative I ever said about William Faulkner.
I don't know much about Faulkner's life, but I know that no one could write a story like "The Bear" unless they'd walked those deep Mississippi woods.  Suffered in the heat, endured in the cold, pulled their boots free of the mud one hard step at a time.  "The Bear" isn't just about Old Ben, the near mythical, giant black bear.  Or Lion, the only dog brave enough to chase Old Ben.  Or even the boy and his friends, who are white, black, red and mixed.  But it is about recognizing our place in the world, appreciating the quiet moments, accepting the things beyond our control, and respecting the land and the creatures that inhabit it.
You need not hunt to appreciate the woods, or recognize courage, or mourn the passage of time and friends dead but not forgotten.  These things, and more, make "The Bear" worth your time and consideration.
* * * 
Note:  Fellow writer Lynn Wallace first told me I should read "The Bear."  What spurred me to finally go find and read it was a reference to Faulkner's mythical Yoknapatawpha County on author Nick May's website.     
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Published on August 18, 2013 17:58 • 19 views

May 30, 2013

Actually, there is a spoon.

            Welcome to the future where everything collects data, not just your car, your phone and your Fuel band, but your toilet.  Yeah, your toilet knows you're slightly dehydrated and you don't eat enough fiber, and it already called your nurse practitioner.  Check your messages.
            But what do we do when everything is connected? 
            So we're collecting all this data, and storage keeps getting cheaper.  Heck, the biowizards at Harvard stored 700 terabytes on a single gram of DNA, so stop worrying about storage.[1]  The problem is you.
            You can't push a pumpkin through a garden hose.
            The three-pound engine at the top of your neck is a bottleneck.  Everything around you is going to be spewing data, and you will have no idea what to do with it because you don't know how to process it all.
Hurricanes and hedge funds. 
            We analyze complex systems every day with the fastest computers and the best brains, but we don't understand them.  So we collect more data and pile it deeper, but we can't process it all.  We have more data, not better choices. 
            In "How Hurricane Forecasting Got So Good," Sarah Fecht wrote, "Hurricane forecasting begins with lots and lots of data. More data than weather modelers know what to do with, really."  Yet when a hurricane is just two days from landfall, our predictions miss by an average of 100 miles.  During Superstorm Sandy, we outdid ourselves and called it within 50 miles.  Wow.[2]
            Was our data on Sandy incomplete? No, our analysis was.
Buy.  Sell.  Jump.

            Complex systems.  The stock market is complex.  Lotsa numbers, but computers are good at numbers and we have plenty of computers.  Yet every investment group pays Stock Analysts to figure out what all that data means and distill it down into something they can understand and act on.
            Hedge funds deal in billions of dollars.  There are at least 30 different recognized hedge fund strategies, but many of them boil down to considering a single factor.  All that data, and some hedge fund manager is looking at interest rates.  Only interest rates. 
            In Running Money, hedge funder Andy Kessler wrote, "Because information is distributed in milliseconds, there is no time advantage anymore.  You have to be ahead of news."[3]  Someone has to sit down and analyze all this stuff, because the guy across the street has access to all the same data you do.  So why do some hedge funds make money and others don't? Better analysis.
The Plans for the Death Star
            We already collect more data than we know how to process.  When all the objects in your life start chatting with you and each other, you'll be drowning in data.  It's time to plan ahead.
            The same computers that collect and store this stuff are not built to analyze it.  There are numbers and letters and charts, but which ones are important and what do they tell us?
            We need to build ourselves some new tools that can help us analyze this flood.  Then we need to ask these tools the right questions so they can give us good advice.  Because data is useless if we can't put it to work.
[1] "Harvard cracks DNA storage, crams 700 terabytes of data into a single gram" by Sebastian Anthony for ExtremeTech. [2] "How Hurricane Forecasting Got So Good" by Sarah Fecht for Popular Mechanics.
[3] Running Money by Andy Kessler.  HarperCollins Publishers Inc.
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Published on May 30, 2013 13:28 • 17 views

March 27, 2013

(This photograph is from Andrew McRobb, RBG Kew, at Kew Gardens) Humans have been using tea leaves for some 4,000 years, and making hot tea for at least 1400 years.  I've been drinking tea for slightly less than that.  But I have no idea what the difference between green tea and black tea and white tea is.  Perhaps you don't either? Let's sort this out. Most tea is either from China or India, but both are the same Camellia sinensis plant.  Green, black and white tea are all from this same plant.  It's how they are processed that makes them different. To make white tea, farmers pick the leaves from the tea shrub early in the year while its buds are still closed.  The leaves are dried, and sometimes baked, but otherwise not processed.  This makes a very light tea. Green tea leaves are pan fired or steamed, but not allowed to ferment.  Although this process means less caffeine, green tea has the advantage in that it contains the super antioxidant HGCG. The most processed version is black tea, where the leaves are allowed to ferment, then are dried and packaged.  Black tea is also the strongest of the teas in caffeine.   Tea (hot or cold) is one of the most popular drinks in the world, and is safe and healthy when used in moderation. Want to learn more? Kew Gardens in the UK has a good site, and here are helpful explanations at Tazo Tea and Tea Laden. (If you find this article useful, please support this blog by purchasing one of my novels.  Thanks.)
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Published on March 27, 2013 14:15 • 25 views

February 27, 2013

Actually, the full title of this biography is HOSOI: My life as a Skateboarder Junkie Inmate Pastor.  That's an accurate summary of his life progression, and like the multiple descriptions in the title, this book is a window into several different cultures--skate culture, the California party scene, drug culture, prison culture and Christian life (including some hardcore outreach).
In the book, Hosoi details his journey from a kid who liked to skateboard and smoke weed, to turning pro at age 13 and later becoming the highest paid skater in the world.  Like so many young sports stars with a sudden flood of money, he went wild and partied his way into eventual addiction.  The cool club kid and athlete became a middle-aged junkie on the run from the police, and from himself.
The sheer excess in the early chapters of the book may make you want to quit reading, especially because it's so obvious that he's wrecking his life and rushing toward doom.  By the time Hosoi ends up in prison, you're as tired and depressed as he was.  But the way he embraces Christianity and how it transforms him is amazing.  You have to hang on to the end of the book to realize the full story of his redemption. 
Although the book examines a specific time (1980s and 1990s) and scene (skateboarding culture and its unnecessary connection with drugs), the story of how God turned a man's life around is inspiring and timeless.
(The book cover is from Harper Collins publisher.)
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Published on February 27, 2013 08:54 • 22 views