Friday, September 23, 2016

Author Diversion: Ark: Survival Evolved


So there, I was, stranded on a beach, wearing a loin cloth with nothing to my name but some strange-looking alien implants and surrounded by dinosaurs... This was a video game of course, ARK: Survival Evolved. And while I should have been doing some work on my tiny self-publishing fiefdom, I was instead embarking on an epic virtual voyage to conquer a remote island teeming with prehistoric beasts. 

As much as I bitch about not having the time I want to write, you'd think I would never let a video game distract me. But you'd be wrong. Sometimes, you need a break from the day job and writing on the side, and binge-watching on Netflix, or a good Xbox game, just hits the spot. Ark is one of those spot-hitters, but it may just do it's job a little too well...

A pre-release currently available on Xbox One, PS4 and PC, Ark is a first person survival game that I like to call Dinocraft. The point of this $34.99 game (on Xbox One) is to survive and thrive... I think. There aren't much in the way of instructions and there isn't any campaign. In fact, I had to go online to figure out how the hell to play this game. Oh, but once I did, I was terribly hooked. 

As I said above, you start off naked and on a beach, with nothing but your barehands. Fortunately, the dinosaurs present mainly tend to be plant eaters when the game starts, so you've got time to go around punching trees, pulling weeds and scooping rocks to make your first basic tool: the pick axe. From there, you go hogwild on rocks, busting them to find flint, which you can use to fashion spears, hatchets and the like. 

As this search and assemble routine progresses, you've got to keep an eye out for meat-eaters. As you progress in rank (you get experience for punchign down trees, pulling those weeds and just surviving) you both learn how to build new things and you emit that sweet arome of tasty long pig that the carnivores just can't resist. So then it becomes time to build a house/hut...

As I said, this is totally Dinocraft. It has much beter graphics than Minecraft, and there's no digging, but it's basically the same. 

I suppose the point of this game is to thrive--build better and better stuff (all the way up to electronics and precision, machined firearms) and subjegate this prehistoric land to your will. I like the exploring and building. Oh, and the cheating. 

Mind you, a game like this is fun as-is. If I were independantly wealthy and had nothing else to do, I could immerse myself in it for days. But my gaming time is in short supply these days. Thankfully, the designers allow you to tweak the game. Like slowing down the day-night progression, how long you can last between meals, how long food takes to spoil, how tough you are, and how tough the dinos are, and how long it takes to tame dinos. 

Yes, tame them. As in, make them your bitchosaurus. Or is that -sauri? Back to that in a moment. First, the sliders. 

Tweaking the sliders, one can make the game significantly more fun, and fast, by setting things up so you are a virtual Superman. I'm not talking bending spoons, or flying like Neo, but instead feeling only the faintest of tickles from dino attacks and then pummeling even the mightiest of beasts to death with your barehands. You haven't lived until you've beat down a Carnosaur with your bare fists...

Of course, if you are an invulnerable Superman, you can't tame the dinos, because doing so entails knocking them out. his is done with clubs, berries, fists or slingshots. Once knocked out, you feed the dinos (or bugs or prehistoric mammals from what I've read), nursing them back to health, whereupon they follow you around like Lassie. 

I could go on and on, but I think at this point, you get the idea. Ark: S E is a swell game that will eat up your s hours as you scavenge, build and explore a prehistoric land filled with dinosaurs, prehistoric beasts and overly large creepy-crawlies all just begging for a beatdown. And in true Viking fashion, you can even assemble mighty boats to travel the waterways around and through the island more quickly. 

Oh, and I should mention, you can play this game alone, or you can join countless other players in multiplayer madness, where you wil undoubtedly be slain repeatedly by obnoxious twelve year old boosters who need some real world father figures and some old-fashioned corporal punishment. I prefer the single player game, where it's just me, the dinos, and a world ready for some reshaping. 



Final Ratings?

Family Friendliness? Unlike the GTA series which your wife would not be pleasd to catch you playing in front of the kids, there's no Duke Nuke'em-style strippers in this game. The worst thing your kids will see is violence--not the eyeball-popping, head exploding violence of games like Fallout 4, but toned down implications of fleshly destruction. For example, when you stab a dino with your spear, there's a sound effect and a flash of color, then it falls over. If you killed it, the dino has splotches of red (blood) added to its color scheme. But no legs fly off or anything of that nature. If you watch wildlife shows with your kids, they've seen worse. Fight dinos as a family and enjoy the prehistoric (implied) carnage, guilt free. 

Gameplay? Ark is a 1 on the intuitive, figure-it-out scale. You need the internet to figure out how to play. But remember, this is a pre-official release game. In effect, your $36 on Xbox Live is paying to be a Beta Tester. 

Graphics are pretty darned good. Compared to Minecraft, they're a ten on a scale of 1 to 5. By itself or compared to most games coming out, I'd say it's a mixed bag and is pretty equal with most games of this release period. 

Gameplay? I give it a 5. But I love exploring, building, and hunting. This game combines the best things I've enjoyed about hunting games, First Person Shooters, and Fallout's crafting. People that want to run and gun and respawn over and over again may not enjoy the game and not be able to immerse themselves in it. 

Bang for your Buck? Pretty good. Fallout 4 and Borderlands are games that can be played pretty much indefinitely, even after the side quests and main storylines are completed. Right now, Ark has no quests or storylines, but like Minecraft has a never-ending, virtual sandbox for you to be creative (or destructive) in. There are already DLCs for this game, including one with mythical beasts called "Scorched Earth". I can't imagine there not eventually being one with Robots and Aliens as well. You definitely get your money's worth on this one. 

Diversion? I give Ark a 5 here also. I've literally played for hours each night this week, wondering where my time went, night after night. Forget exercise, I could waste away and shed pounds as I skipped meals and bathroom breaks to keep playing. Forcing myself to write instead of play this will be a challenge.

Inspiration? I'd say 5 here as well. 4 or 5 books down the pipeline, I have plans to do a book where characters travel to an alternate reality populated with dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts. This game makes me want to move that project up on the schedule and has already given me plenty of ideas to add to that project's outline. If you're writing anything with dinos, I don't think you'll find a better source of inspiration than this game. 


If you're looking for a good time killer, something to capture the feel of a prehistoric past, or just want a fun game to play with your kids, Ark: Survival Evolved is a great choice. If distractions from writing are the last thing you want, avoid this game at all costs, because it is awesome

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Latest Release: Spectral Ops


Eastern France, April 2017... the small town of Moyenne has gone dark. No sign of life can be detected. Police and military forces sent to investigate are never heard from again. Storm clouds hang low in the sky, obscuring the small, idyllic village from the peering eyes of satellites, and thick static prevents any drone from being sent in. Detachment 1039, America's Preternatural Combat Operations unit is inserted from the air, a small squad of supernatural soldiers enters the town, quickly discovering France has been invaded by a spectral army that cannot be killed. A battle between the living and the dead must be won, and quickly, as the spirits in Moyenne are increasing their numbers, one soul at a time, and nothing seems able to stop them...



All good things must come to an end, and that includes the Stone Soldiers series. Book 12, Winters' Fury will release Winter 2016-17, wrapping up the 12-book story arc about a girl meeting a grandfather she never knew she had, getting superpowers, and joining the fight against the forces of evil.



But the story doesn't end there. In November, Earth's supernatural soldiers take the battle against evil off-world, bringing the fight into the shadows in Shadow Raiders. This new twice-a-year series will follow Detachment 1039 as they battle monsters on their home turf, visiting other planes of existence in each volume.



The Detachment then returns to once-a-month duty in December, with Spectral Ops, a series of shorter, but more frequently released tales of supernatural warfare. As a sneak peek of the new series, Book 1, Spectral Ops is available now on Kindle and Kindle Select, with a print edition launching later this month. The regular series should then start releasing in time for Christmas, with one new battle per month.

Finally, return to the past in Outlaws of Olympus, a weird western series of short fiction, monthly releases that follow Hercules as he battles his Olympian family in the Wild West. Or for something more recent, revisit Shadow Detachment this January as a new series of short stories continue to reveal the history of Detachment 1039 through the 20th Century as they battle evil around the globe. 



Sunday, June 26, 2016

After the Con: Derby City Comic Con 2016

June 25 and 26th, 2016 has once again found me participating in the local Comic Book convention, Derby City Comic Con. 

To clarify, I don't do comic books. That is, I don't write them, draw them, or ink. Heck, I barely read them these days. But that didn't stop me from joing sellers of soap, shot glasses, Chinese weapons, jewelry, or Renn-Faire refuse in hawking my wares in a booth of my own.

And if you're like me and curious about the numbers, here's the low down on the experience...

DCCC changed ownership last year. But that didn't seek to affect the show. In fact, it seemed remarkably like the last few years. I think this was my third time as a vendor, fourth or fifth time just being there. 

Hosted at Louisville, Kentucky's International Exhibition Center in Downtown Louisville, the show had ample floor space as always. Which meant a crap-ton of booths, less than half of which seemed to have any real connection to comic books. And of those, about half had actual comic books. Or less.

That doesn't mean it's not a fun show. There was a 1967 Chevy Impala, done up like "Baby" from Supernatural, complete with a weapons-laden trunk that would do the Winchester Brothers proud. There was also a super-cool 1989 Batmobile there as well. For only $10, you could climb inside and get your picture taken. I was sorely tempted, but given my six-foot, five-inch, 300-plus pound size, I was worried I might break something trying to get back out (something of the car's or my own).  

The vendors this year offered a plethora of popculture paraphenalia, from Funco Pops (although no B-9 Robot) to a slew of Japanimation stuff I couldn't identify. 

I was but one of many authors, sitting at my booth, watching people pass me, uninterested in seeing my wares. Many of my fellow authors later lamented this, remarking that "sales were slow". If you then pointed out that attendance was good on Saturday morning, the standard response was invariably that "yeah, but they weren't buying anything."

I disagree. People were buying a lot. I saw them carrying plastic bags crammed with goodies like a cosplayer squeezed into a furry suit. 

And yes, there were a lot of cosplayers, of varying degrees of skill level. From those wearing pieces of Halloween costumes, to full blown, hand-sewn masterpieces. I'll admit though, that the great cosplayers were few and far between this year, driven away no doubt by the countless teens wearing red and white long sleeve t-shirts, over-sized black sunglasses and short-haired blonde wigs. I still don't know what the hell that costume is from, but if anymore people wear it, it's going to become the official uniform of the DCCC.

So what was the damage this year? Well, I think my share of the booth I co-manned was $35.00. And I had to buy two additional passes for my two helpers (my daughters) for another $30 total. Parking was $6, $4, and $8 (I came and went a few times), for a grand total of $83.00. 

Of course, I also had secondary expenses. $25 for a banner from Staples. $10 for new business cards (they do run out sometimes). $100 for some print editions of my latest books (A Cold Dark War and Outlaws of Olympus). That brought the total to $218.00. 

Now mind you, if I had attended as just a guest, I'd have spent $60 for me and the kids' admission. So we'll deduct that from the expenses... so we're back to $158. Parking for one day would have been $8.00. Now we're back to $150.00.

I sold $56 worth of books... so now we're down to $94. 

Fortunately, I live nearby, so there was no hotel or appreciable travel expenses. 

I came home with more books than I sold, too, so I assume I can deduct those as well... I think it's $75 worth of print copies remaining. 

Final cost to hawk my wares at this show: $19.00

I didn't talk to that many folks this year, so I didn't have anywhere near the bookmarks handed out, or pinback buttons (all left over from last year, I'll note). I made four new readers, hopefully, but sales as yet online don't seem unchanged. 

Did that $19.00 accomplish anything? Probably not much. But my kids got to have fun and spend a bunch of their saved up money, so all in all, I guess it was okay. 

The lesson for other authors though, is that YOU DON'T SELL BOOKS AT COMIC BOOK CONVENTIONS. I've harped about this before, but my kids and a fellow author wanted me to do this show again so I relented. And I suppose the $19 spent on a Facebook add wouldn't have been very fruitful either. I ran one of those for $25 on Friday before the show and only sold 4 copies of my latest release--and that's about what I normally sell in the same period. 


Sunday, June 19, 2016

The West just got a lot Weirder: Outlaws of Olympus

Introducing a new chapter in the weird western: Outlaws of Olympus

This new series of short stories launching one every 4 weeks tells the tale of one heroic priest battling the monsters of the Old World in the Wild West.

Follow along as Father Sergio Ercole Morricone, and his cursed cavalryman partner, Bartholomew J. Black, track down and stop the greatest terrors ever unleashed in the modern age. From rampaging demigods out reap the souls of the damned to hideous beasts plucked from the oldest of mythologies, action and salvation ride hand in hand across the new frontier. 

EPISODE 1: OUTLAWS OF OLYMPUS



1881, Utah Territory. Immigrants continue to flood into the Wild West, bringing with them their customs, cultures, and legends from the Old World. But it isn't just men that have come to the new Frontier. Darker beings have come as well, intent on once more terrorizing mankind in a Godless land. Can a cursed cavalryman and a mysterious priest work together to stop a supernaturally-fast gunslinger, or will the old gods claim the land and souls of men for themselves?

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

PROJECT: AR-15



(Or, HOW I SPEND MY ROYALTIES)

Ah, royalties--the fruit of our writing labor as authors. At least, they should be. Sometimes you pour a lot of man-hours into a book and see almost no return. At the other end of the royalty spectrum, some folks make enough money to quit their day jobs, go on vacations, or buy big new houses. Most of us, however, are somewhere in the middle, making a decent amount of royalties, but not enough to support ourselves. Which begs the question--what do we do with that money?

Obviously, reinvestment is key in our self-published writing business. There's ads, new software, editing, cover fees, etc. etc. But you've got to have a little fun with your royalties. More than just a nice dinner out or a new movie for the collection. Something substantial...

Well, beginning this summer, I'm going to start on a new hobby that has intrigued me for months: the assembly of my very own AR15 rifle.

Why assembly? Well, yes, I could save up for a couple of months, or luck into a really good month and just buy one (AR15s can be anywhere from $600 up). But there's nothing special about that. Well, I mean not much. I did buy a handgun this winter with my royalties. That was fun. But now that I've been there and done that, I want something more. And what could be more satisfying than building my rifle, a piece at a time? 

Oh, you meant, Why do I need an AR15?  Well, I don't particularly need one. 5.56mm ammo can penetrate concrete blocks, so I can't say it's for home defense--that's more the function of my newest handgun. I don't plan on the world ending either. Or jackbooted gubmint thugs raiding. Nope, the reason I want an AR15 is because I enjoy shooting them. I carried one when I was in the USAF and even qualified as a small arms expert with it. 

But enough about me. Let's talk guns...

Yes, you can Johnny Cash an AR15 together one piece at a time. All but one part can even be purchased online and shipped to your door, oddly enough. That one remaining part is the lower receiver. It's the part the gubmint classifies as the rifle, requiring purchase at a licensed dealer and a background check. And as I'm a notorious cheapskate, I went with the lowest priced receiver I could find--a nice aluminum one produced by a company called Anderson, for $49.95.



One piece down and... how many to go?




For this project, I've broken the parts into groups, and set myself a spending limit of $75 a month (or less if I have a particularly bad sales month). The groups are:

Stripped Lower Receiver

Lower Receiver Parts kit

Buttstock

Stripped Upper Receiver

Upper Receiver Parts Kit

Bolt & Bolt carrier components

Barrel

Front Handguard Kit

Gas Tube and Block

Sights

Magazine

So thats what I'll be posting about every month. My royalty rifle--an AR15 purchased with royalties, and assembled bit by bit, as funds and time allow. And to wrap the project up, I'll take my new toy to the range and test it out. THAT is a good ending to a story...

What do you do with your royalities? Anything cool? Anything memorable? Let me know in the contents below. The best story will win some a free copy of a Stone Soldiers/Shadow Detachment book (Print for winner here in America, digital for those overseas). 

And if you're interested in building your on AR15, check out this article in American Rifleman from the end of 2014. 

Monday, May 09, 2016

How to Review a Book

This may sound a bit strange, but I'd like to explain to folks how to actually review a book. Before I do that, though, I'd like to go over why you should review a book.

Ever watch a movie on cable/satellite and wonder why you didn't see it at the theater? Ever try something at a restaurant you've never tried before and wonder why you hadn't? Life is often full of little discoveries. Maybe you take a wrong turn, go down a street you've never traveled before, and find a new store you'd love to shop at--or a seedy part of town you fervently wish you could have avoided. 

Hindsight is easy, but foresight is golden. And that is why we have reviews...

Generally speaking, reviews are great for warning folks something sucks, or for spreading the word something is fantastic. We review things on a daily basis when we talk to our friends.

"I went and saw Civil War this weekend--it was frickin' awesome!"

"I tried that new chicken sandwich at [Insert Restaurant Name]--oh, my lord it was spicey! I spent hours on the crapper!"

People like to give their opinions. It's a fact. And reviews are opinions.

It's also a fact that folks tend to like to give negative reviews more than positive ones. That's why our news programs are filled with horrific events and why the rare good story is called a "feel good" piece, instead of just "news".

When you read a book, you are absolutely entitled to have an opinion on it. Not every book is for everyone. We all have different tastes. And while many a mad consumer will not hesitate to fire off an review on Amazon that a product sucks, is the wrong size, falls apart, etc., they aren't that likely to applaud good results. And that is just unfair.

Look, I'm not going to lament the lack of reviews. There's no contract between us that you have to write a review in exchange for reading something I wrote. You already paid me--that's your end of the contract. You gave me money, I gave you (hopefully) entertainment. Yes, I'd love for you to tell your friends if you liked one of my books, and I'd like it even more if you didn't tell them it sucked. But the point is, the decision to review is yours. And I'll listen to your review, good or bad, as I strive to create better products, so I can convince you to send more of your hard-earned cash my way. 

The problem is, some of you don't seem to know how to write reviews. I mean, I understand it's easier to just happily move on to the next book. I assume no review means you were content or pleased with the outcome. No news is good news, so to speak. It's those negative reviews that bother me, and here's why:


1. Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth.
If you get a book for free, keep that in mind when writing a review. Yes, I get that your time isn't free or replaceable. My effort at story telling may have just wasted some of your precious time. I get it. But keep in mind, even if you didn't like it, my work helped you pass some time. At the very minimum, that's worth 2 stars. Only books that are incomplete should get a one-star. And while it may have taken you six hours to read my freebie, it took me far longer to write it, edit it, polish it, format it, and upload it. FAR longer. So if anyone should be bitching about time spent, it's me. 

2. You Can't Review What you Don't Try...
I'm a super picky eater. There are lots of foods I simply WILL NOT EAT. Primarily anything with chlorophyll in it--I'm far more carnivore than vegan (with an exception being any bug-type critter). But not in a million years would I go to a restaurant and judge how I think a salad tastes, expressing my opinion for all to see/hear. I'd leave it with a simple "Yuck--I don't eat salad. No thank you."

Similarly, if you don't read a book, front to back, you really can't judge it. I realize this can be hard to do. I couldn't stand Frank Herbert's Dune when I tried to read it. I didn't even make it to page 100. But see, I always declare that when I talk about the book (and that I enjoyed the movie). If you're reviewing my book online, you need to make an honest effort to read it. Quitting at, oh, 5 Percent, is not making an effort. You might as well review it off the back of the book. 

3. State Why It's Badly Written, not Why You Disagree
I'll admit it, I was enraged that Heimdall was a black man in the Thor movie. Because he's supposed to be a Scandanavian-looking white guy. I love the actor, and think he did a fantastic part playing the role, but it's wrong. I'd also complain if the Black Panther was made a Hispanic, or Wasp was a dude. Adaptations should respect the work they are based on, not change or "re-envision" it.

Similarly, when you read a book, don't base your review on personal preferences. Not enough diversity in the book? Does that mean is poorly written, or isn't entertaining? No. Maybe you're a First Person Fascist, who hates Third-Person view. Tough shit. Rating it low because of this is moronic at best. That has less merit than being a grammar nazi, fretting over missing/incorrect punctuation. 

4. Look for the Silver Lining
The worse-tasting food in the world will still keep you alive. Shitty movies might still have good cinematography or wonderful performances from the actors. Everything has some merit--especially given the fact you hung in there and finished it. Books are no different. Give your negativity value by validating it with something good. Maybe you like a character. Maybe you were intrigued by the mystery. There has to be SOMETHING that got you through. 




The bottom line here, folks, is that when you slap a One Star on a book and write something trollish like "DNF @ 5% Yeah. I quit early. The head-hopping/omniscient POV told me right away that this book was a no"   you're being a complete douche. You aren't making a valid statement about the writing or the story, you're directing your inner rage at what you perceive to be a helpless victim who won't strike back. You gots problems. Seek help. 

Reviews should serve as guides to others. Reviewers should be like reporters, giving sufficient information so that others can make an informed opinion. All the example above does is tell us the reviewer is angry about something else. She doesn't like 3rd Person? Okay, cool. I hate First Person--different strokes for different folks. I wouldn't go even 5% into a first person book, unless it had a damned good hook. And the review conflicts with itself... she should have been able to tell long before the 5% mark it was a head-hopping perspective. Why the hell did she read to 5%?

Overall, with what tiny, miniscule information provided, this was a shitty review. Terrible. Not even worthy of one-fifth of a star. My kids can articulate themselves better. Please folks, remember that when you write anything for public consumption, be it novel or troll-review, you are subject to scrutiny. Give us something we can chew on and keep your anger to yourself. 



Friday, April 29, 2016

Self-Publishing A to Z: World Building vs. Brand Building

Welcome to the Trogloblog--for April, I'm participating in the epic A to Z Blogging Challenge, where Monday through Saturday, I'll be posting a letter-themed article about Self-Publishing...



WORLD BUILDING


If you're an Author, you've no doubt heard the term "world building" before. It's often used to describe the meticulous planning of fictional worlds for works fiction works. I think there's a much greater usage of the term. One that involves building up your fictional work in a manner similar to "branding". 

What is branding? It's some crazy concept that you need to sell readers on YOU, not your work. Be cool, clever and funny. Be likable and people will become interested in what you write. This may just be the stupidest advice I've seen yet in the self-publishing world...

No matter how much you like an Author doesn't determine if you'll like what they wrote. I like Adam Carolla, but I'd rather hear his standup routine than read it in the form of his non-fiction books where he waxes angrily like a modern-day Norman Rockwell with 'roid rage. Yes, Carolla is funny, introspective, and makes several good points per minute. But I don't like reading that kind of stuff. I like reading ACTION. Fictional Action. Like James Bond, Doc Savage, or The Destroyer. 

And what about the reverse of author branding? If I really like someone's work, does that mean I'll like them? No. I've read countless books that when I researched the author I was like "Oh. I see." I'm not a fan of the person, I'm a fan of the product. The same can be said about actors and musicians--they produce something I like, but I'm not particularly fond of them or their need to spew political diatribe all the time. 

Author branding is wasted effort--something those publishing for the ego stroke, not as a business, might chase after. It's also targeting the wrong demographic: sheeple. I don't want someone to buy my book because they like me (if I did, I'd probably only sell to my friends). I want someone to buy my book because they enjoyed something else I've written. That way they'll actually read it, and be excited about the next project. 

And that brings me back to world building, also called "Product Line." If fans like what you wrote, don't move on to something else and bury the world you just made. Expand upon it. Movies and TV series prove customers want more of the same. Can you imagine if there had only been one Harry Potter book? There'd by no movies or merchandise. Harry would be an obscure character long forgotten in one of a plethora of fictional universes. He wouldn't even qualify to be a question on Jeopardy.

World building means just that: build your world. Not by writing thousands of pages of background information you will only ever see. Build your world by writing more and more sequels. Expand into movies, trading cards, t-shirts. Give the reader a world of stuff related to the fictional universe you've created. The more stuff you churn out, you might just increase your sales. Readers do tend to favor series over standalones. 

So relax, fellow introverts. No need to throw yourself into the spotlight and beg for virtual friends. Write good, often and a lot, and sell your product, not yourself.