A Saints Row IV Review

•August 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

As most of you awesome people know, I’m not just an accomplished author. I’m also a gamer, and I enjoy playing video games. They’re a good way to get past the stress of the day job, the writing and life in general. There are some great games out there, and there are some terrible games, too. I’ve played both kinds, and I try to stay away from the bad kind. Just say no to terrible games, people.

So I had put in a pre-order for Saints Row IV many months ago as I enjoyed Saints Row The Third immensely. SR3, as the kids call it these days, was just a whole lot of fun. Over the top action, well-scripted dialogue, and just plain fun action movie tropes made interactive… Saints Row the Third had it all. In it, you become the premier action anti-hero. You’re the gangster-turned-vigilante-turned… Hell, I don’t know, but there’s guns and explosions and Burt Reynolds, along with some excellent background music that you could just play for your own enjoyment. That right there should have you heading to download it from Steam or Xbox Games On Demand.

As such, I pre-ordered SR4 because a) it seemed like a good bet and b) it came out on my birthday. It would be a nice little birthday present to myself. I admit, I wasn’t expecting much more than a rehash of SR3 with a few add-ons that would have been better as downloadable content. Most sequels are like that these days, or at least they seem that way (I’m looking at you, Madden and Call of Duty). By the way, I tried CoD: Black Ops 1 and 2, and was underwhelmed by them, so I’m not just hating on what’s popular.

I digress. I get home from picking up SR4 and get myself ready to play, again keeping my hopes down so they don’t get dashed. I put the disk in, put my codes in for pre-order content and I start playing.

The control scheme is identical to the previous outing, which works well. Even if you haven’t played a Saints Row game, you’ll get the hang of the controls quickly. The on-screen prompts are helpful and don’t get in the way of the action, of which there is plenty. The graphics are slightly cartoonish, but then, it’s a game, not a movie. The explosions and carnage are just over the top, and there’s a ton of it in SR4. You can tell it’s just a game, though, with some of the nods made throughout the game.

What’s great, though, is you really do feel as if you’re the star of your own action flick as you step into the shoes of the leader of the Third Street Saints and stop a terrorist plot against the United States. After a heartwarming (and perfectly cheesy; trust me, it works) end of the prologue, you end up becoming the President of the United States, Keith David (yes, the actor, and yes, he’s playing himself) is your Vice-President, and all your cohorts from the previous games become members of your cabinet. During a press conference, aliens invade and kidnap everyone, you included.

If the above paragraph is confusing, you’ve likely never played a Saints Row game in your life. If it makes you say “So the Saints have to kick some alien ass!”, congrats, you are a Saints Row veteran.

Regardless, even novices in the SR Universe will understand the references made throughout the fourth installment, as this really seems to meant as a climax to the series. Things about the supporting characters are explained, like why they’re with the Boss (your character), who Johnny Gat (voiced by Daniel Dae Kim of Lost and Hawaii Five-O fame) is, and why aliens have taken you.

Without giving too much of the plot away, I’ll get into the mechanics of how they added super powers. Originally, Saints Row was at least somewhat based in reality, which means no faster than a speeding bullet, setting people on fire with a wave of the hand, or throwing around cars and bad guys with just your mind. Granted, everything else was fair game, but there was that hard and fast rule: no super powers. How do they get around that rule? Simple: you and your friends are stuck inside a simulation similar to the Matrix by the main bad guy Zinyak, brilliantly voiced by JB Blanc. If you think you’ve heard his voice from somewhere, you likely have. The guy’s been everywhere, from Breaking Bad to World of Warcraft to Beware the Batman. Zinyak is the guy you love to hate, as he takes things you love and just ruins them completely. The one particular scene that crystalizes how much of a total bastard Zinyak is  takes place with you and Pierce Washington, another lovable character who as been in since the first Saints Row and voiced by Arif S. Kinchen, driving around. I won’t ruin the surprise, but trust me: by the time it’s over, you’ll hate Zinyak even more than you already would.

The powers are varied, and well-balanced. Ice beams, fire beams, mind control, super speed, super leaping, super stomping… It’s almost like stepping back into the late great City of Heroes MMO, except with a lot of sexual innuendos, drugs, and people/cars/buildings blowing up. The powers don’t make for an “I win!” button, but they do give an edge when you need them, and you will need them. The only qualm I have with them is they are always on, which makes stealing cars (a very important part of some missions) sometimes difficult. However, with a little practice, you can carjack without using super speed and running a quarter-mile past your target in a second.

Of course, what Saints Row game would be complete without missions and minigames? They are the usual “kill these guys, destroy this place” with a twist. Since you’re in a computer simulation, enemies can come from anywhere, usually a portal five feet from you so they can tapdance on your forehead quickly. By completing these missions and “hacking” stores (a minigame that works like the hacking in the first BioShock game), you start taking control of the simulation from Zinyak, and getting your crew back together. The missions are varied enough and challenging enough that you won’t groan in frustration. What’s even better is you’re able to do them in any order, so you won’t be going over old ground. For example, say you unlock a store as you’re passing by. You won’t have to do it again when it becomes part of a mission. It’s a nice touch.

The weapons are the usual types: melee, pistols, SMGs, shotguns, rifles, RPGs. The customization choices are more a vigorous headshake than just a nod to the great weapons of action and sci-fi. With a bit of actual aiming, any of the weapons are deadly, and work exceptionally well with any playstyle. Combined with the above-mentioned superpowers, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with against the evil Zin empire.

As I said before, the writing is amazing, and the characters are wonderfully fleshed-out. Each has their own quirks, their own personality. Throughout the game there are homages to some of the great games of yesteryear, from text-based adventures all the way to a certain stealth-based franchise, and everything in between. The jokes aren’t forced, the scenes are well done, and I seriously would love to know how the guys at Volition and Deep Silver kept straight faces when writing this material, especially the “Romance” conversation options. Even looking at the mission titles, you get the idea that they were enjoying themselves with every aspect of the game, which really shows in both the quality of both the story and the gameplay.

TL;DR I freaking love this game. I consider it one of the best games of this year to date, and you should pick it up immediately. Even if you only play through it once, you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Likely, you’ll want to run through it again with a friend, so go get it now and have fun! You’ll be glad you did.

A Confession

•August 3, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Here’s a not-so-newsflash: I hate working out.

Here’s a bigger one: I’ve finally figured out why.

Those who know me know that I find exercise to be pointless, not that much fun and to be avoided at all costs. Granted, I’ve lost a bit of weight over the last year or so, but it’s threatening to come back, and I rather don’t like that idea. However, I had also resigned myself to the idea of just getting to a certain point and not really caring what happens afterward.

Here’s a bit of background: In the not-too-distant past, I topped the scales at 311 pounds. Yeah, I know, make all the jokes you want. I was huge, and I didn’t really care all that much. I figured I was never going to be skinny, so why bother trying? People would like me for what’s inside, and if all they saw was the outside, well, I was well-rid of such superficial folks in my life. That was my reasoning, anyway, and it fit me for the time. I could have gotten even bigger, I reasoned, and that didn’t mean people wouldn’t like me.

That line of thought went by the wayside when I thought rationally about it, though. After all, even though I write stories about gods and demons, I do it in a rational way. If I kept going, I would likely have a heart attack by the time I hit the big 4-0, and likely sooner. I had a niece that I adore, and I probably wouldn’t see her graduate high school, much less college, if I kept things up. I was digging my own grave with a fork, a spoon, chopsticks, even my bare hands. I mean, sure, I don’t smoke or drink, or even partake of drugs, but then, I didn’t have to do any of that. My own drug of choice was food, and I was and am hooked through the bag.

So, I cut down drastically on my intake, and that helped quite a bit. Dropped nearly sixty pounds and six inches around my waist. Didn’t exercise much, if at all, but I stopped eating so damned much. Why? Because as much as I love food, I hate to work out. I utterly despise it.

Finally, after getting off an elliptical machine, I discovered why.

You see, to my mind, when you work out, you don’t go anywhere. You’re literally walking or running or whathaveyou in place for a bit of time, and not getting anywhere. Sure, the machine says I went a mile, or three miles, but I haven’t actually gone anywhere. Not only that, but I’m leaving behind something of myself, in this case, sweat.

Work with me here for a minute; I swear it make some twisted sort of sense.

For most of my life, I’ve constantly felt that I was never getting anywhere, that I was running in place and not making any distance. Not only that, but every time I struggled and didn’t seem to get somewhere, I was leaving part of myself behind, be it my self-respect, my dignity, my heart, whatever. I’ve done that often enough over the course of my life, and I really hate it. I mean, it galls me to no end seeing myself fight and struggle and not just gain nothing, but seemingly lose part of myself in the bargain.

Which brings me back to working out, and my hatred of it. I don’t see the point of it. The machine says I’ve accomplished something, and all I can see is that I’m still in my living room, still the same out-of-shape slug that climbed on the damned machine a half-hour prior, and the only thing I have is a shortness of breath. I’ve gained nothing, and somehow I’m supposed to do this again? And again? And never stop doing it?

Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

I don’t think I’ll ever stop hating working out. In fact, I’ll likely hate it until the day I die. Even more likely, I’ll die while working out. However, now that I recognize where my aversion and downright hatred of exercise comes from, I think I can keep working out.

Just don’t ask me to be your workout partner, unless you like to hear more cussing than Joe Pesci slamming his fingers in a window.

A Man of Steel review

•July 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Let me start off with this disclaimer: I’m a DC Fanboy. I admit it, and I’m rather proud of it. I’m also a fan of both Batman and Superman. If you’ve read my books, I really dig Batman. Superman? He’s a good character, but I always liked the Bat.

I’ve also heard the horrid things the critics have said about Man of Steel, and a few other people in the comic industry. I’ve heard it called terrible, a travesty and other things that I really don’t want to get into right now. I am here to say that the critics have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.

Man of Steel stars Henry Cavill, a British actor who is the first non-American to play the Big Blue Boy Scout, and he does a superb job portraying someone who is both humble and capable of splitting mountains when he sneezes. The retelling of Superman’s origin was an interesting choice by the screenwriters, and the story, one of self-discovery and nature versus nurture, was rather well done. For the folks who haven’t gone to see it, I won’t do any spoilers, even though it’s been out for a few weeks now, and it’s unlikely anyone can get through life spoiler-free these days. Regardless, here are my takes on a few of the plot points that critics and some in the industry have brought up.

1) The fall of Krypton. The differences between how it happened in the comics and how it happened in the movie are irrelevant, to a point. Harping on how Jor-El wasn’t that way, he was this way, and Zod wasn’t like that, he was like this, are largely ridiculous, especially when you realize that this is an updating of the origin. The particulars aren’t important, save in an overall plot sort of way. The main thing is Kal-El was rocketed to Earth as a baby. They could have had a dozen different ways for the story around that rocketing, but you know what? I liked the idea of Zod leading a coup against the Council. It worked in the character of Zod, and made sense in the long run.

2) The disaster porn. Okay, I can somewhat agree with this point, especially in the third act. Holy crap, is the construction business going to boom for the foreseeable future, both in Smallville and Metropolis! However, even the destruction made a little bit of sense, considering we were dealing with not one, but a bunch of super-powered deities duking it out and beating the hell out of each other. Of course there’s going to be destruction! I hear the critics now “Why didn’t he lead Zod and company away from the people?” The answer is simple: Zod and company knew exactly what would hurt Kal more than anything, and that is hurt humans. If Kal had left, Zod would have started slaughtering people with even more abandon. Ergo, the battleground was where it was. However, the destruction was a lot, and I grudgingly partially concede this point to the critics.

3) The complete change of Clark Kent’s life and times. This is the big one. For years, people have yelled for something new, something different when it comes to Superman. For years, people have complained “Oh, it’s the same story over and over! We want something new!” So, here’s a story of Clark Kent not being this awesome guy right out of the gate, how he’s unsure of himself, and his journey to becoming Superman, with all the roughness and tumbles that can happen in such a journey. There’s no Lex Luthor (though the hints are there), and most importantly, no kryptonite. What’s the response? “Oh, how can you have such heresy? You changed Donner’s story! You changed Christopher Reeves’s brilliant performance! You changed who Superman is!” Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Firstly, the very first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve wasn’t that good. Yeah, I said it. It was good for the time, it was pretty awesome for the time, but it hasn’t aged well. Brando phoned in his performance, and the whole “fly around the world backward” thing just killed it for me. Also, Lex Luthor. Gene Hackman did a great job playing Gene Hackman as a criminal, but it didn’t really work for me. Looking back, it was okay, but there are warts there. In addition, kryptonite is one of the most overdone macguffins ever. Five movies, two TV shows and they all had the stuff. There was so much of it, I had to wonder how Superman could do anything, since it was freaking everywhere! Yes, we want to see the mighty brought down to our level, but can’t it be done without the obvious escape? After awhile, I half-expected Superman to fly around in a lead suit since there was so much kryptonite lying around.

That being said, the changes made to the character of Superman were the right ones. I recommend this movie to anyone wanting a fresh take on the Man of Steel. He’s not the ubermensch god that he seemed to be in the last outing. (For the record, I liked Superman Returns, up until it became another “Lex Luthor land scheme”.) He’s trying to find his place in the world, and he’s going to do his best to help the human race, and we get to watch him reach his potential. And along the way, he might just help us achieve ours.

Bottom line: Great movie. Bit loud, bit much on the destruction, but overall, an absolutely great re-imagining of the origin of one of the greatest heroes of any generation.

A Deadpool Review

•June 29, 2013 • 3 Comments

So, for those of you that know me, or have heard of me, I’m a bit of a gamer. I love videogames. I play them, dissect them, and play them some more. I know that there are games out there that are deep, rich, and capable of changing lives. There are games that can cause you to examine your past to make you a better person. There are even games that, after you’re finished, you feel like you’ve reached nirvana.

Deadpool is not one of those games.

For those who don’t read comics like I do, here’s a Reader’s Digest version of Deadpool’s life. First, forget what you saw in the Wolverine movie; it sucked, and was completely wrong. Deadpool was a mercenary by the name of Wade Wilson who got caught up in a secret government project to create soldiers who could heal really fast, like Wolverine can. Well, they succeeded, at the cost of Deadpool’s sanity. He became known as the Merc with a Mouth for a reason, as he never shuts up. Ever. Shoot him a brazillion times and he’ll say you missed a spot. Stab him, he’ll blow you a raspberry and say he got the point. Blow him up, he’ll pull himself back together and say he’s all over the place. Puns, innuendo and complete disregard for his and everyone else’s life are part and parcel to his life as he blasts, slices, dices, pounds, tosses high explosives and generally destroys everything in his path because, well, he’s bored and out of his tiny little mind. What’s even better is, he knows he’s in a comic book. There is no fourth wall there; he knows it’s all just made up.

The story of the game is simple: Deadpool, bored at home, gets an offer to be in a video game. Of course, this is music to his ears, and you get the opportunity to embark on a complete orgy of destruction, misogyny, hot mutant women, guns and various accessories that cause enough damage to level a small country. The weapons are rather basic: Pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, and pulse rifles make up your ranged attacks, while swords, sais, and hammers are your melee weapons. All are paired, and all are completely capable of wholesale slaughter in your, and therefore Wade’s, hands. You start off with swords and pistols, which you can upgrade with Deadpool Points, the game’s version of experience. The fancier your moves, the more points you get. The more points you get, the more stuff you unlock. The more stuff you unlock… Well, in a nutshell, things get broken in a hurry.

There are a few guest appearances, like Wolverine, Rogue, Cable, and Psylocke. They’re mostly just window dressing, though Cable does do Deadpool a solid and help out in certain places of the game, namely providing covering fire. There’s also a five-minute long touching scene with Wolverine. Believe me, it brought a tear to my eye. Other than that, though, it keeps the cameos to a minimum, and focuses mainly on Deadpool, for which I’m thankful. Too many games (and TV shows, and movies, and…) depend on cameos to sell copies, so it was nice that the designers kept a focus on the real star of the game.

In the first ten minutes of the game, I ended up killing about a hundred guys, and that was because I was looking around at stuff. It’s really easy to power through and just miss things, so have a little fun, sight-see and enjoy yourself. Also, make sure you have your sound up. The quips from Deadpool, as voiced by Nolan North (most sharp-eared folks will remember him as Nathan Drake from the Uncharted franchise and Desmond Miles from the Assassin’s Creed series), are disturbing, disgusting, rude, and completely hilarious. Seriously, the quotes alone are worth the price of the game, and you’ll laugh as, if you keep getting hit by the enemies, Deadpool tells you to hand the controller to someone that doesn’t suck. Yes, that’s a direct line from the game.

Speaking of the game itself: The mechanics aren’t that original for a third-person-shooter, and the ranged lock-on leaves a lot to be desired. However, since this is more a game of up close and personal death and dismemberment, I didn’t really care about the lack of locking guns on someone from far away. What Deadpool gets right is getting into the enemies’ faces and slicing them off. Literally. The animations are pretty slick, the controls are rather good, and the whole thing is just a lot of fun. There isn’t much else to say about the gameplay other than it’s a lot like The Force Unleashed. Now, before you fanboys and girls threaten to string me up for such blasphemy, remember a) it’s a frigging game, b) the mission statement for The Force Unleashed was “kick someone’s ass with the Force” and c) Disney owns Marvel and Lucasarts now, so it doesn’t really matter. Q.E.D., which is Latin for “get over it”.

There’s not a lot of puzzle-solving, for which I was exceptionally glad. In fact, I was pleased with the mindlessness of the violence. Like I said, I wasn’t expecting something like Bioshock Infinite, which is an outstanding game. I was expecting bombs and bullets and blood everywhere, and I got it, along with some absolutely hilarious dialogue. There’s some platforming, which was a bit maddening at times, but that’s only because I suck at it. The controls work well, and allow a lot of combo-building, to the point where it gets almost Saints Row The Third, or dare I say it, comic-book level ridiculousness.

All in all, I really enjoyed Deadpool. I’m not sure how they’ll do a sequel, or if they’ll even do one. It would be easy to overdo it, I think, so maybe a one-time game for Deadpool would be best. There’s not much replayability, unless you’re into the challenge maps, where are even more mindless mayhem. I’m playing through them now, and just like the game, they’re fun to use to blow off some steam. Should you run out and buy it right now? Sure, if you want. As previously stated, it’s not a game you can play over and over again, making different decisions. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, though.

Now, for those who missed the allusions earlier, let me make it clear for you: This is NOT a game for your munchkins. It is rated M for a reason. You get it thinking it’s like Marvel Super Hero Squad, you’re in for a rude awakening. Read the damned warning.

In all, I give it 8.5 out of 10. Fun, destruction, and hot mutant chicks. What more could you ask for?

An Interview With Godmaker Paul Cooley

•May 23, 2013 • 1 Comment

Hello again, everyone! I know it’s been awhile, and I’ve missed you all very much, but I have a treat. This is an interview episode, people, and one that will knock your socks off. While he did get a BA in English and Theatre from Colorado State, he works as a software architect until he can write to work instead of work to write. Eschewing the commonly used effluvia of Microsoft as much as possible, he is a breathless advocate of open-source software, indeed doing all his writing in Emacs and creating his own app for writers everywhere, appropriately called MyWrite (a rather nifty tool, I must say).

When not cursing vehemently against the undeserved monopoly of Windows, he is usually found hunched over his keyboard, bringing to a macabre either semi- or short-spanned existence characters who meet gruesome and horribly delightful ends at the hands of the god Garaaga and/or his children. I’ve had the privilege of speaking to him on occasion on Facebook, getting ideas here and there about some of the things I can do with the Chronicles (which I promise I’m still working on, and I sure hope you all are ready for some shake-ups in the next two books). However, this guy has a more Lovecraftian bent, writing some incredibly detailed and wonderfully twisted stories about an uncaring god who foists half-human progeny upon an unsuspecting mortal society. And yes, said unsuspecting mortal society is completely screwed.

Of course, in his ever-present copious free time, he can also be found with Messrs. Terry Mixon and Justin Macumber, espousing the ideas that go with writing, from inspiration to critique to completion to everything in between on the Dead Robots Society podcast, available on iTunes. I’ve been an avid listener and if you haven’t taken a listen, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Ladies, gentlemen, and vedderbong, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the god of Garaaga, Paul Cooley.

 

Thanks for taking a few minutes for stopping by, Paul. I know you’re a busy guy, so this is just really awesome you’d do this. I won’t take too much of your time, I promise.

Thanks for the opportunity, mate.

1. I won’t ask the usual cliché question of where you get your ideas; I’m sure you get asked that incessantly. A better question would be why do you get your ideas, meaning what made you decide to create this idea of a god and its half-deity children causing such mayhem by their mere existence?

 

Actually, it was a rather happy accident. I was listening to an episode of Pseudopod one evening and it was boring the crap out of me. But I heard a voice starting to talk over. “Do you want to know about your father, little one?” It kept talking. I listened.

 

Garaaga was born in the modern age for me, shortly before I wrote Canvas. Once “The Things I Do For Love” was written (not yet published for my readers/listeners), I fell in love with the main character. But then I wanted to find out about this Garaaga thing. Once Closet Treats was finished, I got an idea on how to bring Garaaga and this character into my modern stories. But to make that happen, I had to go back to the beginning of civilization.

 

The idea that gods, angels, demons, and etc live among us is hardly a new one—it’s much older than the written word. But based on a few words in the Old Testament, I decided to do something crazy—create a god, create a mythology, create nephilim, and create legends. Since I like to write relatively short books, it provided the perfect means to write tales that spanned great periods of time.

 

I enjoy putting my characters into time periods I want to study. By setting things up in Mesopotamia and down through the Roman Empire, I can freely explore the interaction between today’s three major religions and those of old. So part of it is social commentary on my thoughts about the historical periods and how they relate to today. Another part is that it’s just damned fun.

 

Garaaga, like most of my stories, are born of happy accidents. And I’m lucky to have them.

 

2.  H.P. Lovecraft seems to be a slight influence in your works, at least the Cthulhu mythos, even though you took Garaaga in a totally different direction. What have been some other influences in your work, either ones that made it on the page or are still twirling in your head?

 

I know a lot of Lovecraft mythology, and it interests me to a certain degree, but it was far too nebulous. Garaaga wasn’t really knowingly influenced by those stories.

 

Other influences? Wow. Um, terrible horror movies, great books, and a love for literature. “Canvas,” for instance, was influenced by a single scene in the film “Event Horizon.” Tattoo was borne from a story one of my readers related to me. Closet Treats was kicked off by a creepy ice cream truck in my neighborhood. Well, that and my love of mental illness.

 

I guess I mainly find characters that need to have their stories told. Their dysfunction, their terrors, their difficulties in living daily life, not to mention the terrible things I do to them, fascinate me. So if I find an interesting voice, I construct a story for them. And then, hopefully, they start talking and the story goes where it needs to go.

 

3. Of course, people should go out and get all the Garaaga books and stories to find out for themselves, but for those who are still teetering on the fence, what is Garaaga?

Oh, dear. Hmm… Garaaga is a deity. Does it exist in this dimension? Dunno. Does it interact directly with the world? Not exactly. I like to think Garaaga is more of a force that influences the world. The book American Gods gave me the idea that gods only exist so long as people believe in them. The more worshipers, the stronger they become. But Garaaga is a bit different than most of the others running around.

 

Garaaga is a god of fertility, violence, and mischief. Its children subsist on human emotions, primarily sexual ones, and its worshipers…well, we’ll find out more about them. In fact, the hardcover, Garaaga’s Children: Ancients includes a story about them in the modern age. It’s the first of many that are going to be released over the next year or two.

 

I think Garaaga is actually the least intriguing part of the stories. Like most gods, it has better things to do than mess around too much with humanity. Instead, it would rather let its worshipers and children wreck the place.

 

4.  Reading through Legends, the first of the Garaaga’s Children stories, I noticed you also gave a bit of a history/anthropology lesson to the readers, which I appreciated. How much research do you generally do for a story, and do you sacrifice historical accuracy for story (excepting the whole “god and progeny” stuff)? If so, do you think that such sacrifice is necessary for the sake of the story and why?

 

I try and do a lot of research for these stories. One of the issues with the Ancients volume is so much of history is missing. Even for Scrolls, which takes place during Egyptian Ptolemic War in 48 BCE, required me to make leaps and decisions that could be historically accurate, but in no way are. If I can’t find facts, I make them up. I’ve never pretended otherwise.

With Ama, I had to make some changes to geography AND history. Why? Because it made a better story. I did, of course, include an author’s note to that effect. I wanted to place the story in Ur, which was NOT the seat of power at that time. I moved the ziggurat closer to Ur than it actually was. And I changed some terms to best suit the tale.

In short, yeah, it’s important to be as factual as you can. But I’m not writing historical fiction. I’m writing historical fantasy. I’ve got these nephilim running around. How historically accurate can it be?

For the next series of stories, that start during the First Crusade, I’m going to triple down on the research. I’m reading several books on the subject and my intention is to educate as much as entertain. It’s going to be crazy. Don’t know about the Torah? You will. Don’t much about the beginnings of Islam and Quran? Well, you’re gonna. Don’t know about the multiple popes during that time? Hah. You will. But they’re the backdrop, not the reason for the story. Regardless of how historically accurate your story is, it has to first be a good story with great characters. That’s my main focus. History is the setting, not the point.

5.  Not only are you a creator of a god, you’re also a creator of chilling tales involving, of all things, an ice cream man, tattoos, and artwork. In fact, you were nominated for the 2011 Parsec award for Best Novel for Closet Treats. Your works are both horrifying and tantalizing, and show a darker side of the world, and people keep coming back for more. Why do you think people like having the hell scared out of them?

I’m not exactly sure. I think most people live in a bathysphere of the banal. We wake up. Have breakfast. Drive in rush hour traffic. Go to work for 8-11 hours, come home, and feel like we’ve done nothing. There’s been no challenge. No danger. No excitement.

Scary tales have probably been around as long as human language. We tell our children fairy tales that are bare steps away from horror stories. In some cases, they are parables that teach us ethical lessons. Others merely tantalize or exploit our deepest fears.

I write stories that sometimes scare the hell out of me. They are borne of nightmares or natural fears. I read stories that are doubtless influenced by the same. As to why people enjoy them? I think when we’re at our lowest points, it’s always fun to read/watch/listen to tales about folks in much worse situations we are in our mundane lives.

But, of course, I could be completely wrong. Maybe we’re just a sick race that deserves extinction. Hmm… No, that would further deplete my readership. Let’s not go there.

6.  With Garaaga’s Children: Ancients dropping this month in ebook form, audiobook form in June, and limited edition hardcover in August (Congratulations, by the way), you’re definitely going all out. What do you find has been your biggest inspiration, in general, to write? Not necessarily Garaaga or Closet Treats, but just writing in general.

The voices. The images. The everyday stuff that should seem mundane but for some reason kicks off a story. I probably sound mentally ill when I say stuff about “the voices,” but we all hear them. I think I just listen and let them go on. When I write, I’m reading the story just like my readers will later. I rarely know all the bumps in the road for a particular plot—those details only reveal themselves when I’m banging on the keyboard. I might have an idea of beginning, just an ending, or only a single scene, but the large body of the tale doesn’t exist in my mind until I write it.

I want to find out what happens to these characters. And the only way to do that is to write the tale. The sharing with others is simply a bonus. It’s fun to create. I think it’s therapeutic to explore your darkest fears, your greatest hopes, and then bring them into conflict. Sometimes I want to read a story no one has written. Well, if that happens, then I have to write it.

7. Moving away from the writing for a moment, how did you get mixed up with the likes of Justin Macumber and Terry Mixon to round out the table at the Dead Robots Society podcast?

Those damned guys… Terry and Justin contacted after Elyana announced she’d be leaving the show. Terry suggested they bring me on because he thought I occasionally had intelligent things to say. Not sure where the hell he got that idea.

Justin just likes to have another Spinal Tap drummer he can execute at will. So I fit that description. I respect the hell out of both of them. It’s really interesting that the three of us write very different material and are each exploring the publishing world in different ways. The dissonance between our opinions, experience, and interests makes for a very good time and occasionally we actually do give out some great advice. In other words, I’m damned happy they chose me regardless of the actual reasons. I still think Justin just likes to torture me.

8. Your followers, or “fiends”, as you and they call themselves, are an amazing and interesting group of people. When they started following you on Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media, what was your reaction to finding out that you actually had a following, and that people were excited to find out just what was going to happen next in the world not only Garaaga, but Paul Cooley?

It’s been a strange journey and, strangely enough, I think if I started today, I wouldn’t have nearly the following. When I first began podcasting and interacting with social media, it was the hey-day of podiobooks.com and folks were putting out badass books every week. I was just an also-ran to a certain extent, but because I spent the time interacting with folks, asking questions, and commenting on other authors’ work, people started paying attention to me. It was slow and took quite a while.

Once Tattoo was put out there, and Scott Sigler kindly mentioned it several times during the “Contagious” podcast run, listeners started to listen to my stories. By and large, the result was they listened to the rest of them. That’s kind of how building an audience works—put out something great, and folks will come back to the well to see if the water is still sweet.

The Fiendlings are a great and diverse group of people. These are folks that send me whiskey, tobacco, glassware, and etc to show appreciation. They float my bar tab at cons, pay for dinners, and even contribute money to offset my hosting costs. Not only do they engage in those activities, THEY BUY BOOKS! I have the best group of patrons I could possibly hope for. And even though I’m probably never going to be an NYT Bestselling author or a household name, I feel lucky to know these people.

They like my stories. And I like to write them. If not for the podcast, and the constant WHINING of my patrons for more material, I probably wouldn’t write as much as I do. So Garaaga has blessed me and I plan on using the talent I have to entertain them.

9. When you get the chance to sit down and do something besides edit your own work or deal with your day job, what are you reading? Here’s the chance for the Paul Cooley summer reading list!

Wow. Um… Hmm… Reading… I remember those days…

 

Here’s a list of my fave books:

The Plague by Albert Camus

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

The Dresden Files by James Butcher

Needful Things by Stephen King

Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver

 

Those are all I can think of at the moment. Presently I’m beta-reading Justin Macumber’s forthcoming book.

10. Final question: For those who are trying to break into the writing for fun and semi-profit, what do you recommend besides writing the best story you can and editing it until it’s coherent? Interestingly, the creative side of the equation is the “easiest” part. What do you recommend doing as far as advertising, getting the word out, the business side of writing?

Ah, the business side. I wish I was better at it. I kind of suck at marketing, but in my opinion, here are the most important parts. Especially if you’re going indie.

First off, editors are not there to polish a turd. They exist to help you smooth out the rough patches and perhaps find inconsistencies or poor word choice. They do NOT exist as a substitute for at least using a spell-checker, let alone an actual dictionary. If you think your story is ready to be published, you’re wrong unless someone else has read it, someone you can trust to tell you the truth, and you’ve put it away for a while. Do what professional authors do– go write something else. Then come back and give your tale another inspection. You’ll be shocked at what you’ll find wrong. I still go back and read portions of my books and cringe in embarassment.

I bring all this up, because producing a “professional” product is the goal. Regardless of whether you’re submitting to a publishing company, agent, or you’re going the indie route, you need to think of this AS a business. Run it like one. Otherwise, you’ll put out mediocre material that will hardly get a second glance.

In addition, get educated. We talk on DRS all the time about what it takes to publish something. You need to know the dysfunctional business from soup to nuts. Just because “a” publisher wants your work, it doesn’t mean they’re the best home for it. Find that home lest you become very disillusioned (says the indie author).

RISK! I don’t believe in writing to the “market.” For horror, the 80s were supernatural, the 90s had serial killers, the 2ks had those goddamned sparkly things and zombies. I postulate we’re on the precipice of a major shift in horror. I think we’re do for another journey into the supernatural.

Guess what I’m trying to say is that I wrote Closet Treats because it needed to be written, loved, and experienced. I didn’t write it to match the vampire or zombie epidemic. Is it a blockbuster seller? Hell no. But it could be. Maybe in five years or so when the market is on another jag through the supernatural and “mundane” monsters, it will catch on.

But if the story is great, you might end up breaking through the layers of “fad” and rise to the top. For now. But how many readers will come back and read your next story after the fad dies? I mean, how many zombie/vampire books can you read before they all start to blend together?

Write the story you want to write, the one that needs to be told. And along with that, come up with a marketing plan for that story. Whether you create audio/video trailers for your book, work with a cover artist to come up with a badass design for your cover, or spread your wings and try and get on as many podcasts, radio shows, guest blogs, and etc, you must have a plan.

The sad truth of the publishing business is that publishers expect authors to take care of much of the marketing. They may give you a budget for book tours or whatever, but you’re the person that knows your book the best. And while they might believe in your work, that doesn’t at all guarantee they will carry through on the actual marketing bits. Don’t believe me? Check out NYT Bestselling Author Scott Sigler’s experience with Crown. They’ve dropped the ball on four of his books and will no doubt drop it on the last book in his contract.

As I said before, get educated. Just because a big publisher picks you up doesn’t mean you’re going to be a success. A lot of good books fall through the cracks. They always have. So do your homework, treat this like a profession, and prepare yourself for a hard road ahead. It’s worth it, but it takes a lot of will to keep going.

One of my friends has a mantra she constantly tells me: Just. Keep. Writing. Learn it. Believe it. Live it.

Once again, Paul, I want to thank you for coming by and giving some author’s insight to both me and my readers. It’s been an absolute pleasure, and I’m looking forward to Ancients and seeing where you’re going with this. Also, Ama is going to be awesome. I’ve heard you talk it up, and I’m sure it’s going to be amazing.

And for those wanting to get caught up on Paul’s work, you can go to his site, Shadow Publications, to buy his books and place a pre-order for Garaaga’s Children: Ancients. You can also show your fiendness by checking out his Facebook page Paul Cooley, and of course at one of the best podcasts on the whole internet, The Dead Robots Society Podcast.

Thank you all for stopping by, and I will do my best to get some more interviews and stories going on the blog. Have a great week!

What’s Coming Up

•April 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Hey there, folks. No, I haven’t disappeared off the face of the earth. I’m actually doing some short story work while I get settled in at my new job. With the release of The Blame Game on 15 April, and some pretty good feedback so far, I thought I’d have a little fun with things and open up the request lines to you all, my faithful readers. What I will be doing is interviewing the main characters from The Statford Chronicles. That’s right, kids: Starting in the next couple of days, you’ll get to get up close and personal with Luc, Mac, Mom, Susana, Larry, and of course Tom. What’s even better is they’ll be answering the questions you ask. So send me some questions or I’ll ask my own, and I’m sure that the questions you people come up with are more entertaining than mine. I’m figuring anywhere from ten to twenty questions each character, so there will be plenty of chances to find out what makes each tick. Either message the questions to me, or just leave a comment! Best questioners will get their names in lights!… or at least credit for asking. Either way, it’s going to be educational.

 

•April 24, 2013 • Leave a Comment

20130424-111222.jpg

Quick post

•April 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Okay, so I posted this on the Facebook, and I’ll post it here: I get a total of 100 people saying they’ll buy The Blame Game (some combination of ebook and paperback), I’ll release it early. I’ve got three four so far. Let’s see what happens!

The Blame Game cover

•March 21, 2013 • Leave a Comment
The Cover of The Blame Game.

The Cover of The Blame Game.

Need I say more?

The Roundtable Podcast Interview, part deux

•March 19, 2013 • 2 Comments

Welcome to part two of the Roundtable Podcast interview, the interview so awesome, I had to split it into two parts lest the awesome overload the internet and cause Skynet to become sentient. You’re welcome. Thanks again to my great friends Dave Robison and Brion Humphrey for taking the time to answer some questions and shed some light on not only podcasting, but writing and creativity.

6. a) Dave, you are quite well-known for your alliterative allegations of alchemical awesomeness, and those who have listened are likely mystified by your declarations of demonstrative derring-do. Do you write these down prior to the podcast, or are you just winging it? If you are winging it… That’s some amazing stuff. Where do you come up with it?

b) Brion, your sign-off of the podcast, “Just go write,” is quite possibly one of the best pieces of advice to writers in general and budding writers in particular, due to its imperative simplicity. How long did it take you to come up with it, what inspired it and is it something you use in your classes?

Brion: Oh boy. I don’t know where it came from. I think it was one of those things where I mentioned to Dave, or he mentioned to me, that we needed a signoff catch phrase and that was a spur of the moment thing. But it’s absolutely true and it’s one of the biggest hang ups that I think writers have. We love to find other things to give us the excuse to not write. We organize things, listen to podcasts about writing, answer questions for blog posts…in the end, the only thing that is really going to make us better writers is the act of writing itself. Funny, I don’t know that I’ve ever actually said “Go write” to my students. Now I will.

Dave: It’s all from the internet. I start by sifting through the Host’s website, checking out their bio, the blog, whatever is there. I’m looking for iconic moments, perceptions and philosophies, staunch allies, and anything that expresses who they are. From there I type “Interview [host name]”, and just start reading. Often I’m listening to a podcast interview WHILE I’m reading a text interview (thank god for these “10 questions with…” interviews!). I copy and paste the fragments that illustrate the path from as far back as there’s reliable data to be had to present day.

From there… well, I guess that’s where things get squishy and creative. I look for trends, themes, or patterns in the story I’ve culled from all that internet stuff. Sometimes it’s right there (like with Alethea Kontis) and other times, in spite of a wealth of great info, the framework doesn’t present itself immediately. That’s fine, because there’s ALWAYS a way to package someone’s life… if the details don’t present a clear thematic foundation then step back a little further.

The thing is, I didn’t want us to spend a lot of time dealing with an author’s “origin story” during the interview. We wanted to get down to the brass tacks of talking craft, but background is a big part of that discussion. So initially I just wanted to get all that stuff out there as quickly as possible without it cutting in to our allotted 20 minutes. Eventually, it became a kind of honoring of the guest, an expression of our immense respect and admiration for these individuals. That, and apparently I can’t just “do” something… it’s got to be big and loud. So… there you go.

7. How does someone get their idea entered for consideration for a workshop episode, and what guidelines do you have?

Brion: This is definitely a Dave Question. Heavy lifting = Dave. Coffee break = Brion.

Dave: There’s a link on the Roundtable website at the top right corner of the page that reads “Be a GUEST”. Click that bad boy, fill out the form, click “Submit Your Idea” and you’re on the list.

Seriously… we’ve NEVER turned away any writer who really wanted to be on the show. It’s interesting… We always figured the bigger challenge would be to find guest hosts who would be willing to be on the show. As it turned out guest hosts are easy to find… It was the guest WRITERS who proved to be the challenge. As we wrap up our first year of podcasting, that’s starting to change – we have episodes scheduled as far as four months out with seven or eight writers still waiting to be assigned – but our first year was spent with authors lined up as Guest Hosts and honestly not knowing if we’d have a writer for them.

As for guidelines, our only real criterion is that the writer comes to the table with a story IDEA, not a fully realized and written short story or novel. We discovered early on that it’s easier (and more fun) to workshop an idea that the writer hasn’t written 50,000 words on. Everyone, the hosts included, are more willing to explore new ideas and alternative interpretations of the concept when it’s still just an idea.

Other than that, it’s all good. We’ve workshopped all manner of sci-fi, fantasy, urban fantasy, YA and midgrade, and even erotica. It’s all storytelling and we love exploring that incredibly creative world.

8. Stepping outside the podcast for a moment, what are you two reading these days?

Brion: Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore, and Black Order by James Rollins

Dave: “Stepping out of the podcast…” Haha haaah ha ha! That’s great… oh, you’re serious? Well, I have a copy of “On Writing” (by Stephen King) sitting on my desk that I open from time to time to a random page and try to understand how he expresses things so simply and eloquently. I have an iPad FULL of stories and novels that I’ve started but not finished, all by past and future hosts of the show. I’m actually finding it rather difficult to identify what >I< want to read anymore. I’m mostly taking great delight in A) interviewing my literary heroes, and B) discovering NEW literary heroes after I interview them.

9. What are your usual inspirations for writing?

Brion: My wife. She loves to read what I write and is always so enthusiastic about what’s going to come next. Some of my best ideas come from conversations with her. The rest of them come from dreams. I usually have pretty wild dreams and when I’m lucid enough to write them down, they make my better stories.

Dave: Pretty much anything after “wake up in the morning” ends up being an inspiration for writing. Seriously, a piece of artwork, a snippet of dialog, a news article… all of it. I tend to work conceptually, thinking in terms of thematic tone and feel or a collection of scenes before I dive into character and plot. There are usually either iconic moments that I want to string together (OR gut completely and explore the seamy underbelly thereof) or some concept that I want to express (like “Everybody is somebody’s weirdo”). Expressing those hard-to-express perceptions are what drag me to the keyboard time and again. Art and visual structures are a great motivator for me, too… but then those are just concepts given form anyway, so I guess it’s all the same. But I can tell you from experience: a picture is worth a helluva lot more than a thousand words. A really good picture can be worth 95K to 100K!

10. Finally, what have you two got planned for the short and long term, both as far as writing/creating and the Roundtable podcast?

Brion: I just released my first book, Sense Memory, and am finishing my second. The podcast for me is a constant source of inspiration and as long as Dave is willing to do the heavy lifting that he does, I’ll keep showing up to lean on the water cooler.

Dave: For the podcast… honestly, I’m taking the attitude of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. We will continue to send our literary alchemists out to interview authors at conventions, and we’ll keep looking at new ways to engage with the collaborative creative process, but really… I think the format is pretty solid as it is.

Personally, I’m going to be firing up another podcast in April titled “Literary Alchemy” (http://www.literarygold.com) that will focus on the UN-Solitary Writer. The digital age has opened up a lot of opportunities for creative collaboration and I think the technology AND the culture has started to embrace the idea that writing doesn’t HAVE to be a solo gig. There are online writing communities, shared worlds and shared universes, writers collaborating on their books, game companies publishing fiction inspired by their campaign settings… so MANY ways for storytellers to explore their story and its telling. That’s what I want to explore with Literary Alchemy.

Why? Because I don’t know enough about it! And – as I’ve found with the RTP – if you want to learn about something, do a podcast about it!

~~~~~~

Once again, I want to thank both Dave and Brion for dropping by to give us all a look behind the scenes of a great podcast, and a very valuable resource for budding writers who want to figure out just how to take that burgeoning spark of an idea, fan the flames of creativity, call forth the mighty forces of the id and ego, and shape it into not just a story, but an epic worthy of the term “literary gold”, especially at Dave’s new podcast www.literarygold.com . You can find them at http://www.roundtablepodcast.com, where they have articles, links to former episodes and story development, and of course, ways to contact Dave and Brion and request a spot on the show. Their podcast is available on iTunes, and is absolutely worth the time to listen. They are also tweetable with the name @WritersPodcast, and they of course have a Facebook presence at http://www.facebook.com/RoundtablePodcast. Take a listen, and definitely follow Brion’s words.

Just go write.

Thanks for tuning in, everyone. See you next time.

 
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