Human Element: Chapter 1

I am excited to (officially) announce Human Element. Coming very soon. 

 

 

But first, the blurb.

They said the Neuroweb would change the world…They had no idea how right they were.

After wandering around the desolate suburbs of Cincinnati for nearly a year, Aaran has legitimate reason to believe he is the last free-thinking human alive. It has been months since he has interacted with someone who wasn’t trying to kill or convert him, and the growing agony of nomadic isolation is taking a toll on his already weary mind.

Aaran’s days all look the same: find food, evade capture, and search for a dry, offline place to rest his head each night.

Rinse and repeat.

After a close call with a Sentinel—an AI-controlled soldier for the Nebula—Aaran unexpectedly finds himself in the company of Hadas, a beautiful yet dangerous woman. A shaky alliance is formed between the two as they fight to survive. Together, they search for answers to keep them going in such a godforsaken world.

 

Chapter 1:

Aaran meandered up the driveway toward the small mansion sitting a hundred yards off the road. It was Halloween—or at least, according to his watch it was—which also meant that it was his birthday. Being born on Halloween, he’d always thought, was a bad omen; a sign that he was destined to live a cursed life.

So far, that theory proved true.

He forced the depressing thoughts from his head when he quickly spotted the electrical box hanging from the brick on the side of the house. Using needle-nosed pliers, Aaran cut the tamper padlock seal and popped the door open. His fingers quickly found the master breaker switch, and he flipped it to the left. Instantly, the LED bulbs glowing on the other side of the kitchen windows went dark.

With a deep sigh, Aaran checked his watch while he walked back around to the front and approached the oversized mahogany door. With one hand grasping his CZ Scorpion, he reached for the door with his other. He squeezed down on the latch and eased the front door open. Cautiously stepping inside, he raised his carbine and swung it from left to right, searching for threats he suspected were not there.

The house was empty. If it hadn’t been, he would have already known.

Vibrant reds, lively greens, and the occasional jolly fat man adorned the walls. A span of synthetic garland twisted around the stairwell banister and another stretched across the wide mantle over the river stone fireplace. Mistletoe hung above both entrances to the impressive living room. Expensive Italian furniture, luxurious drapes, and an abundance of picture frames showcasing the gleeful, former occupants, set the picturesque stage for the towering Douglas Fir prominently displayed in front of the window.

Aaran glanced over at the tree and envisioned what it might have looked like in its prime. The eight-foot evergreen no doubt would have had thick, plush branches that were more than wide enough to hide two families’ worth of presents. The iconic Christmas symbol had easily set the family back more than a hundred dollars when they’d tied it to the roof of the soccer-mom’s minivan. But that had been almost a year ago, and the tree had traded in its lush green appearance for a sickly brown one.

Aaran’s gaze rested on the pile of gifts sitting beneath the craggily branches. The presents were blanketed in dead needles and several snapped branches were still twisted in the hooks of the heavier ornaments. The temptation to open each one of the neatly-wrapped gifts on the floor always lingered, but Aaran refrained. He cringed at the thought of some stranger walking into his house and opening the gifts intended for him and his family. He couldn’t bring himself to do the same thing to someone else, even if the presents contained items that might be valuable to him on the road. He felt it would be disrespecting the dead.

Well, they weren’t dead—technically—but they might as well be.

The pathetic sight was not uncommon. Each house Aaran visited demonstrated different shades of the same traditions: a dead Christmas tree, unopened gifts, and no sign of life anywhere. Aaran let his eyes linger a while longer on the depressing reminder of his world before turning to the kitchen.

He detached his suppressed CZ Scorpion from the single point sling around his neck and set it on the island in the middle of the kitchen. He walked over to the pantry doors and opened them, marveling at the small grocery store inside. Fortunately, the pantries in most houses also shared similarities; they were almost always full. Though he had always assumed that finding food and supplies at the end of the world would be a little more challenging, he wasn’t complaining. It wasn’t like there were a whole lot of people contending for the food. He hadn’t laid eyes on another person since July—not a free-thinking one anyway. And while the absence of competition for food greatly benefited his physical nourishment, the lack of human interaction over the last ten months had taken a toll on his psyche.

The pantry was bigger than a jail cell, and was packed with just about every brand-name snack Aaran could think of. Filled pantries were a common theme in most houses, but the quality of the snacks improved the closer Aaran got to one of the priciest suburbs of Cincinnati.

After stuffing a few bags of chips, several packs of cookies, and half a dozen cans of chunky soup into his backpack, Aaran continued to the fridge. Though the light didn’t come on, the contents inside were still cold. He debated if it was close enough to five o’clock to reach for that pale ale in the back, but a quick glance at his watch forced his hand to the left, reaching for a can of Mountain Dew instead. It wasn’t even 10:30 A.M. and he needed to drink something that wouldn’t exacerbate the weight of his tired eyes. Plus, he knew his mother would have given him a disapproving scowl if she saw him grab the other can.

Cracking open the soda, Aaran took several large gulps, downing the contents of the can within a few seconds. It was lacking carbonation, but the citrusy flavor never got old. The caffeine would gradually wake him up, which he desperately needed.

The previous night had been restless at best. Aaran had set up camp in the lobby of a car detail shop when his night had been interrupted by the Webbers—a nickname Aaran had given to those with the Neuroweb even before the takeover had occurred. As they went up and down Montgomery Road, they emptied the various buildings of anything useful to them. It wasn’t uncommon to see Webbers raiding houses and businesses, but Aaran had never been so close to the action before. He wondered what all they were taking, but assumed it was mostly food. They were still human after all and needed to eat.

Even though their focus had been on the buildings a few hundred yards away, Aaran couldn’t fall asleep until an hour after they were gone. So, with just a two-hour nap under his belt at the tail end of an exhausting day of travel, he found himself reaching for a few more of the green-and-yellow cans in the fridge, stuffing them into his backpack.

When he moved onto the freezer, Aaran retrieved a Thermos canister from his backpack and unscrewed the lid before filling it up with ice cubes. After returning the canister to a mesh pocket on the side of his pack, he continued exploring the freezer. As was usually the case, the contents inside didn’t really interest him. On occasion, he would find a pint of ice cream to indulge his sweet tooth and replenish the calories he so quickly burned off every day. But as time went on, the smooth, creamy texture the frozen dessert once offered was overpowered by freezer burn, making it less and less desirable. Hard pass, he thought, unwilling to waste his time on a pint of ice cream boasting its eggnog flavor.

Aaran closed the door and walked back to the island. Sitting next to his Scorpion was a nearly empty crate of water. He snatched the remaining bottles and tossed them into his pack, which was now a good fifteen pounds heavier than when he’d first walked in. Satisfied with his haul, he grabbed his carbine and walked out of the kitchen to explore the rest of the house.

There wasn’t much else in the house worth taking. Not that it wasn’t filled with stuff he would have liked to have, just that he couldn’t justify the additional weight of bringing it with him. There were two priorities for Aaran whenever he scavenged a house: sustenance and firepower. Everything else for the most part, was pointless. Except for a few bottles of pills, a small medical kit, and some lightweight forms of entertainment, if he couldn’t eat it, drink it, shoot it, or wear it, it didn’t have a spot in his pack.

Aaran had a strong desire to crash in the massive house for a couple of days. He had been on the move without any significant downtime for the last three weeks and was exhausted from the previous night, despite the caffeine jolt. He could use some time to recover. However, he had made it a point never to stay inside a modern house for more than an hour or two. Though he always flipped the breaker off before entering, there was no guarantee that someone or something wasn’t watching or listening to him. From toasters to ceiling fans, washing machines to showers, most newer houses were brimming with Nebula-integrated technology that allowed the occupants to control the house with their minds. Though he had no evidence to back up the claim, he was convinced that same technology could easily alert nearby soldiers—or Sentinels, as one man had called them—of his presence in the house. Aaran had already had a couple of close calls with Sentinels in the past while out on the road. He didn’t need to tempt fate by staying in a house filled with hundreds of potential “rats” snooping on him. As far as he knew, the Nebula, and anyone connected to it, had no idea he was still alive, and he aimed to keep it that way.

But when he stepped down the stairs into the astronomically large basement, his immediate departure was delayed. Aaran discovered an incredible game room. Right smack in the middle of the room was a beautiful pool table. He glanced down at his watch. It had only been a half hour, so he granted himself a sixty-minute break to smack the cue ball around and toss a few darts. Aaran was a pro at both games. Since Armageddon had arrived, he was 152 and oh. Still undefeated, he declared proudly in his head.

With his hour of luxury nearly up, Aaran racked the billiard balls and tossed the pool cue onto the green tabletop, ready for the next nomadic player passing through. He picked up his pack and slid his arms through the shoulder straps before he reattached the Scorpion to the sling, letting it hang from his neck. The sling was cumbersome to wear with the backpack, but it beat having to carry the weight of the nine-millimeter carbine in his arms all the time. Double checking that his Glock 19 was still securely inside its holster, Aaran shut the door and walked back up to the main level.

He checked his surroundings as best as he could from the sidelights of the front door before stepping back outside. He walked around to the side of the house and returned to the breaker box. After batting the half-open door to the side, Aaran flipped the master switch back on and watched as the juice hit the lights inside. Turning the power off was just a precaution he always took before entering a Nebula-connected house, but turning it back on was a courtesy for any other free-thinking souls who might find themselves looking in the fridge a little closer to 5:00 P.M. He knew that he wouldn’t want a lukewarm beer and figured they would appreciate the thoughtful gesture, even if they had no idea about it.

Halfway down the driveway, Aaran glanced over his shoulder and stared at the dead Christmas tree in the window. With the power back on, it almost looked as if it was on fire with the layers upon layers of twinkling lights wrapped around it. With how dry the tree was, it might actually be on fire before long.

“Happy Merry Halloween,” he said sardonically as he stepped back onto the road.

It was chilly outside, but not bitterly cold. In his mind, it was the perfect trick-or-treating weather, but unlike last year and the many years before that, there would be no children roaming the streets tonight. The only monsters and goblins that would be out were the ones ready to kill—or worse, convert—free thinkers without batting an eye.

The latter thought sent a shudder down his spine.

Aaran continued to hike down the long and secluded stretch of road that was smothered by half-naked trees. Only the road itself and the occasional mailbox gave away that civilization was nearby. In the summertime, most of the houses would be concealed from the road by the thick foliage just off the shoulder of the asphalt. If it hadn’t been for the driveways leading back to the multi-million-dollar homes, Aaran never would have known they were there.

He spent much of the day going in and out of randomly selected houses along the winding path, hoping to find more treats than tricks. And while he did discover a few useful items, of the eight houses he checked, only two had gun safes inside and both had already been scavenged.

Aaran noticed that the further away he got from the country, the more difficult it was to find guns and ammo. And by the time he had reached Montgomery, every safe he found looked the same as the two he had found earlier; open and empty. But never pried or hacked open. It was as if the combination or keys had been used.

While it was a frustrating sight, Aaran wasn’t exactly stretched thin in that department. In addition to the Glock 19, which had been his father’s pistol, Aaran had a Mossberg shorty in his backpack that he had bought just last Thanksgiving. Dubbed the “JIC” or “Just in case” gun, Aaran felt at peace knowing he had it should he ever need something with a bit more oomph. The incredibly short twelve-gauge had never come out of the pack, and he hoped that never changed.

The suppressed CZ Scorpion on the other hand, he had “borrowed” from a friend. Lawrence Cunningham was a sheriff’s deputy in Clinton County, and he’d happened to be Aaran’s neighbor. Over the years, Aaran’s father had become good friends with the aging police officer, and it was not uncommon for Aaran, his younger brother Henry, and their father to go watch football over at Lawrence’s house on Sunday afternoons. It was also not uncommon for them to squeeze off a few rounds from his ever-growing arsenal of guns during halftime. Aaran would never forget the first time Lawrence had pulled the Czechoslovakian beauty out of the safe. It was love at first shot.

A few days after the purge, Aaran made his way across the field and over to Lawrence’s house. Unwilling to sleep in his own house after the grisly discovery, he stayed at Lawrence’s place, waiting for him to come home.

He never did.

After a month, Aaran surmised that Lawrence was either dead or had been connected against his will, so he helped himself to the gun. He grabbed the CZ Scorpion, along with a Dead Air Armament Wolf-9SD suppressor. Lawrence had several rifle safes filled with various battle rifles, carbines, and tactical shotguns. An entire shelf in one was dedicated to his suppressor collection. So, Aaran hadn’t felt too bad for taking just one. However, in the event that Lawrence ever returned, Aaran left an IOU… should they meet again.

Aaran had seven loaded Scorpion magazines, each one filled with thirty rounds of police-grade hollow points. He had eight Glock 19 mags filled with the same stuff. His Mossberg was loaded with double-aught buck, and he had a few extra boxes in his pack, along with two boxes of one-ounce slugs. Seeing as he had yet to fire a single shot the entire time he had been aimlessly wandering around the greater Cincinnati area, it wasn’t imperative that he find more guns and ammo just yet—but that never stopped him from looking.

Stepping out of the largest house he had walked through yet with little to show for his effort, Aaran was greeted by a descending sun. The temperature had dropped considerably since he’d gone inside, and the breeze was picking up. It would be dark within an hour, so Aaran decided it was time to find a place to call home for the night.

Vanity/Hybrid Publishing…Why do people use them?

As you probably deduced from the subject of this post, I am not a fan of these two “publishing” methods. I can at least understand the appeal of a hybrid publisher, but as I learned more about vanity publishers, I become confused as to why anyone would give them the time of day. Yet, so many still do.

For the record, I have never attempted to go with either types of publishing, but I do know many people who have. So a lot of my information has been fed directly from those people. (and most of it is not good) and then of course I will have some thoughts of my own on the matter, as an outsider looking in.

If you’re an indie author, chances are you know what these two publishing choices are. Just in case, however, I’ve summarized them below:

Vanity Publisher: 

A non-traditional publishing house that requires the clients (ie the authors) to absorb all of the financial risk of publishing by having the author pay a sizable fee in order to have their books published. The publisher then retains the rights of the book, controls pricing, marketing plans, etc. In theory, they operate like a normal publishing house with two very significant exceptions. The publisher doesn’t pay the author money up front, it’s the other way around. And then (and equally as bad, IMO) once the book has been published, there’s almost no incentive to the publisher to push the book, as they’ve already gotten their slice of the pie.

 

Hybrid Publisher:

This is a slightly more reasonable/fair approach in which the publisher does not require any money from the author, but also does not offer advances or anything of the sort to the author, either. A good hybrid publisher (like the now defunct Booktrope) will have a team of editors, formatters, cover designers/artists, and marketing/project managers. All in all it sounds reasonable, but the two biggest problems here are: you will earn practically pennies on the dollar in royalties. And most of these hybrid publishers are just random folks working out of their basement with no real long-term game plan in mind. Many of them are too small to have all of their bases covered. For example, one publisher I saw would only format book covers, leaving the author responsible to either design/execute on their own cover, or hire someone else to do it. Doesn’t exactly give me a lot of confidence that that publisher is serious about my book climbing to the top. Most hybrid publishers also lack the professional/business connections to have books in their catalog reach audiences outside the standard indie market. Meaning, you’re not likely going to see your books in Barnes and Noble anytime soon.

 

Now it’s time for my rant: why would anyone do this? I’ll again address each method with a few comments based on things I’ve heard from those who have been through the process, as well as my own views.

So, why do people go with vanity publishing? There are only two reasons that I can think of: Vanity or ignorance.

Vanity seems like a cop out explanation, but it’s true. I know people who just like to say “I’ve signed with…” on their social media. I suppose it makes them feel successful, and I do get the excitement in sharing news like that. It would be an amazing day to tell all your friends and family that you’re now a real-deal published author (unlike those amateur indie folk). But the fact is, you are no more “published” than an indie author who just clicked publish on Amazon for the first time. Actually, since you’re starting probably anywhere from $8,000-$15,000 in the hole, that indie author will start accumulating royalties on day one, whereas you’ll be replenishing your savings account or paying off a credit card with yours. So who’s the real winner in this equation?

Ignorance isn’t intended to be used in a derogatory manner here. I mean it literally. Many people are just uninformed that vanity publishing is a scheme, through and through. Besides the aforementioned group, the success of a vanity publisher rides on people who have written a story, but have little to no knowledge on how to go about publishing it. I imagine many of these people get enticed by the sleek websites, promises of their their book being in stores, and being told that only the best of the best are accepted—making it all the more flattering when they get that congratulatory letter from the brilliant editing team at said publisher. “Now, if you would just send us fifteen grand, we’ll edit your manuscript, throw our logo on the spine, and get it out the door.”

While vanity publishers tend to have more connections in the book world than the hybrid publishers do, I suspect that there isn’t a whole lot that they do that a motivated indie author couldn’t accomplish.

So is vanity publishing something you should do? NO!

At the end of the day: if your publisher wants you to pay them money, then flee. If any money is forked over before release, it’s going to be on the publisher’s end, not the author’s. Vanity publishing is never a good idea, and I would never, under any circumstances, recommend doing it unless you really just have so much money that you’re just looking for an excuse to waste it. In which case, I have a plot of land for sale on the moon.

 

What about hybrid?

I would say that if you find the right hybrid publisher, it isn’t necessarily a terrible idea. But even the more successful ones have started to go belly up. And several authors I have talked to who have been with some of these better ones still voiced frustration over the difficulty they had getting things done to their quality standard, or getting the company to pay an appropriate amount of attention to their books. One author in particular, who also had good things to say about the experience, told me he felt like he had been granted a second chance when he found out the company was closing down. He told me while he learned a lot of valuable things from the experience, he would not fall into that trap again, and would stay indie from now on.

More often than not, I think authors go this route because they are lazy. *Dodges half-full beer bottle and several tomatoes* The reason I say that is that hybrid publishers almost never have connections or inside tracks that indie authors don’t also have access to. They go through the same channels that you would if you published the title yourself. They use the same POD (Print on Demand) services that you would use, and they use most of the same marketing tactics that you would. And yet, you are getting royalty scraps from each purchase. Many of these publishers also feel that “wide” is the only way to go, preventing you from capitalizing off of Kindle Unlimited subscribers reading your book. You’re also locked into a contract for likely three, up to five, years. So if you aren’t happy with the results, TS.

I understand in some cases authors really just want to have a professional looking package (editing, quality cover art, etc) and can’t afford to front that kind of money. I get that. But I think it’s safe to say that you could get your book edited with a very decent looking cover for under $1,000. Many of us are willing to invest that kind of money in other hobbies/business ventures, but suddenly become Scrooges when it comes to our passion of writing. Yet, if you go down this road, when you release your book, every penny of royalty goes straight to you (well, you and Uncle Sam on April 15th, but that’s a whole different problem). It’s not fun to dish out money up front, but it will be much better in the long run.

At the end of the day: if all you want to do is write and not deal with anything else, then hybrid publishing might be an okay options for you. Just know that you’re going to get a fraction of the royalties you earned, will have little control over the process, and may end up causing your work to be less visible or appealing than if you had done it yourself. Because, who is going to be more excited to spread the word about a novel than the person who wrote it?

 

Some people would say that writing a book is the hard part. I vehemently disagree. At best, it’s a 50/50 split. Finishing your manuscript is a monumental milestone that you should celebrate, but the battle is far from over at that point. And if you want to have a chance at success without losing a lot of money (either up front with a vanity publisher or through lost royalties) then you better plan on working your butt off after typing ‘The End’

/End Rant

AJ

 

BOOK REVIEW: Day By Day Armageddon: Ghost Run

This review is long overdue, but better late than never.

 

51s0etzxtylIt was about two years ago when I first picked up a copy of Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne. Being a red-blooded American, I’ve always enjoyed zombie movies/games, but thanks to Max Brooks I became quite enthralled with zombie literature, as well. So, when I came across DBDA on sale, I thought I would give it a whirl. After all, the author is in the US armed forces, which already warrants a great deal of respect from me. I figured the worst that could happen was that I didn’t like it, and one of the men protecting this nation has a few extra bucks in his pocket. Suffice it to say, my socks were full and properly blown off with this series—I was hooked.

I’m considering doing another, lengthier review on books 1-3, but this review will be about book 4, subtitled Ghost Run. While this review will be best read by people who have gone through the previous books, I will do my best to avoid significant spoilers for someone who hasn’t read all (or some) of the prior books in the series.

Book 3 (Shattered Hourglass) deviates from the rest of the series and is written (mostly) in third person following several different people/groups. At first this was a bit difficult to chew, and I questioned why Bourne made that decision. However, by the end of the book I had seen a story—a much deeper story—develop. And while the move to third person was a bit jarring, it advanced the story in a way that would just not have been possible to do from the first person perspective of the main character. This is not to say the book was bad, just that it was different. But, I realized that it was a necessary choice for Bourne to make to take the plot the direction he did. And I am glad he did it, because it set up the story for Ghost Run—the best book of the series!

Ghost Run returns to the first person perspective of Kilroy (Kil), the protagonist, and starts off a short time after Shattered Hourglass ends. And it doesn’t take long for Kil to find himself out on the road, again, facing hordes of the undead who are hellbent on having him for dinner. Picking up a faint distress signal from a familiar group with significant news, Kil quickly decides to take on the suicidal task of locating and extracting the group located inside a major city. It’s worth the risk.

One of the first things I want point out about this book that I love is that Kil is alone. Sure, he interacts with a few people here and there (many of which don’t take too kindly to strangers), but in this book he is by himself more than he is in any of the other books. And, as I read through the book, I think I felt more anxious and empathetic for the hero than at any other point in the series (with perhaps the exception of a stretch of chapters in book 2). And even though Kil has a companion of sorts in Ghost Run, for all intents and purposes it’s him versus the world. And it’s great!

Another thing I really enjoyed about this book was getting to know Kil more on a personal level—on a more vulnerable level. In the interest of those who haven’t read the other books, I won’t go into details, but the concerns and worries that plague Kil’s thoughts at times, for the people he cares about, brought a new depth to his character in this book. One that I can personally relate to. I am quite sure these thoughts came straight from Bourne’s heart, and was not just an attempt to pull at the heart strings of the reader. I found it easy to laugh when Kil laughed, get choked up when Kil got choked up, and get frustrated for him when the crap kept piling on. In this book, Kil has to climb a mountain of struggles while slaying more demons than just the undead.

As if there was any question to it, Bourne delivers brilliantly on the intense action front. There are some chapters in the book that I found myself so tensed up that my fingers began to hurt from clutching my Kindle, and it would take me several minutes after powering down my e-reader to come out of the story and back to reality. For some readers, reaching this point comes a bit easier, but not so much for me. I can count on one hand the books that have impacted me that way, and Ghost Run, by far, did it the most.

J.L. Bourne, like myself, is a gun enthusiast. And, like me, inserts much of that enthusiasm into his writing. For me personally, I loved reading the details about weapons and supplies Kil came across over the course his journey. Some people might get a bit bogged down with this information if their knowledge of the subject is limited, but Bourne does a good job of keeping the story flowing even during these situations. And proper context is usually offered to explain the technical talk. However, I’m going to go out on a limb here, and assume most of his readers won’t have any problems in this department.

Ghost Run is written in a way that I feel someone who has not read any of the prior books in the series could pick this one up and read it standalone. There’s enough information given to explain characters and past situations that it wouldn’t leave you completely confused. Having said that, you will get so much more out of this book if you read the first three. So, do it.

I’d be lying if I said J.L. Bourne wasn’t one of my favorite (if not my favorite) author. His craft improves with each story told, and each one of those stories is even more compelling than the last. Without a shadow of a doubt, J.L. Bourne has gained me as a reader for life. I look forward to his next release, whatever and whenever it may be.

 

You can pick up Day by Day Armageddon: Ghost Run (along with the other DBDA books in the series) over at Amazon and other book retailers. You can also check out his standalone doomsday/prepper novel, Tomorrow War, which was my favorite novel of his until Ghost Run released.

You can also learn more about this author at his website http://jlbourne.com/

 

-AJ

The long, exhausting journey of being an indie author

In 2011, I was walking out of the grocery store and had a phrase come to mind. As the automatic doors scooted out of my way I thought to myself, Man, that would be a really cool title for a book. Almost as soon as the title formed, I thought of the perfect ending. When I got home, I told my wife about my new-found desire to write. She was supportive, but I can’t even imagine what she was thinking when I told her that. As an artist in the video game industry, I enjoyed telling stories through my craft, but I had never shown much interest in writing before. But with this random idea of being an author consuming me, I got straight to work.

After about a month, Loose Ends—which, due to my incredible memory, was not the name I thought of in the grocery store—was a complete 20k novella. And so began my voyage into the world of writing. I had no idea on how to publish anything, but I knew everyday folks like me posted their work on Amazon.  They even seemed to be making some money while doing it.

The book itself did not fly on its own, and I ended up unpublishing it later on. While the book’s success did not turn out like I had hoped, the foundation was laid in several ways for me to continue on this journey as an author.

First Success: I started writing

It seems like such a trivial point, but in order to be an author, one must write. But believe it or not, this is the first obstacle a writer must overcome. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met (especially in a creative field like video game development) where someone heard about As the Ash Fell releasing and then said “That sounds like a lot of fun. I have so many ideas for books I’d like to write.” Usually, I respond with, “Why haven’t you written them?” They would often give me a bewildered look and say “I don’t know where I’d even start.” I return the look of bewilderment and reply with, “A blank Word document.” Don’t get me wrong, the blank white screen staring at me…judging me…Well, it’s one of the most daunting sights for a writer. But if you don’t start writing, you’ll never be an author. Period. So when I set out to write Loose Ends, I didn’t overthink it. I wasn’t worried about the success/wealth from writing (those thoughts crept in as I worked on launching the book). I just focused on writing because it was enjoyable.

Second Success: Networking

One of the greatest successes I had in launching my first (unsuccessful) book was the people I met online. I didn’t have the slightest clue how to go about publishing a book. I knew Amazon was the way, but there wasn’t quite the same amount of “How-Tos” and video tutorials on publishing as an independent author as there is today. This forced me to start talking to other people who had already been there and done that. I went on Twitter and started meeting folks left and right, and friendships quickly developed beyond a shared hoped for indie author success.  I still regularly talk to many of those fine people today. We help each other out, let each other vent in private (when public venting would not be appropriate or professional) and give advice on the things that were successful, and the things that were not. Indie authors can only benefit when they stick together. To quote my friend Michael Hicks from his book The Path to Self Publishing Success “It’s not about competition, it’s about coalition.” We work together to help each other. We cheer each other on as there is success, and encourage one another when there is failure. I am quite sure I wouldn’t have been able to continue my writing if it weren’t for the awesome folks I’ve met along this journey.

Third Success: Improvement

As I mentioned, Loose Ends did not turn out to be the big hit I thought it was in my head. I haven’t read it in years, and I may read it here shortly just for grins, but I know it had a lot of major flaws. My friends and family who read it were kind and said they enjoyed it—that it was a great first book…While there may have been sincerity in their words, they saw things with rose colored glasses. They weren’t going to be the ones to let me know my writing had failed in more ways than it succeeded. This made the sting of my first critical review (one that went into great detail about my flaws) hurt all the more. Though it negatively impacted me for a while (more on that in a minute), it did finally give me the necessary kick in the butt to improve my writing.

First Failure: I stopped writing

As I mentioned above, the first critical review I received hit me hard. The false sense of skill I had based on friend/family reviews made me think I was this awesome writer when in fact I was probably pretty terrible. I’ll still make an argument that I am not that good, but I at least know that I am better than I was before. But as a result of this, I stopped writing while in the middle of a manuscript for my first novel. I was already feeling a bit unsure about what I had written, and then I got notified about that review; I was deflated. I lost hope in ever being a good enough author to be successful, so I pushed it aside. Admittedly, with my daughter being born in June of 2012 I did have a legitimate excuse to cut back on my writing, but it was still an excuse. Had I not quit, I would have more books completed and I would have grown exponentially in my skill.

Second Failure: The money didn’t pour in

The subtitle above isn’t really accurate. The lack of money does not equate to failure, but rather my expectations failed me. I went into this thinking that I was going to make megabucks within hours of my book going live. This was right in the thick of Amanda Hocking’s incredible success, and I thought, if she can do it, so can I! And while that is still very much true, she also has been writing much longer than me, had many more books out, and was working in a genre that was very popular at the time. She put in countless hours of hard work, exercised her creative muscles, and as a result, she had huge success. I wrote and released 17,000 mediocre words for 99 cents, and became discouraged that I wasn’t already driving around a Lamborghini. My naiveté had convinced me that after one book, if I wasn’t raking in the dough then I would never be able to do it. And that line of thinking was a big failure.

Third Failure: I stopped writing, again

In May of last year, I was able to finish and launch my first full length novel, As the Ash FellThe launch was a massive success (for me), and the book has received a lot of high marks. I’ve personally always enjoyed the post-apocalyptic world, but I also wanted to tell a story that wasn’t your typical zombie story either (note: the book has no zombies in it). The book is long; over 100k words longer than Loose Ends. It was a gigantic undertaking for me, for my wife (who was one of the editors), and all the other folks that helped me along the way. And so I was overwhelmed with the positives to come out from the release. I had prepared hard to market the book when it came out, and that I would shoulder that marketing blitz for a while after launch. I did, and it has been profitable. But, as a result of focusing a lot of time and energy on promoting the first book, I had stopped writing the sequel. Again, to be fair, I have had a lot of life changes happen that has caused legitimate distractions (self-employment, another child, time for my family, etc), but I still managed to find a lot of time in the day to tell other people about Ash. While this isn’t a bad thing, if I am only telling people about Ash, and not working on a new book, then my success will be very limited. The more books I get out there, the more marketing they will do for me. And that turns into a big time saver.

Conclusion:

I have learned a LOT over the past several years—both when I was actively writing as well as a mere observer as my friends continued to write, edit and release their books. I have grown wiser and have learned and understand that success almost never comes overnight. With rare exceptions will you be fortunate enough to write a single book that skyrockets you to the top of the charts and allows you to quit your day job. Not because your book doesn’t have the potential necessarily, but because in a sea of screaming, hungry authors, you’re fighting for the attention of every single reader that sails by. And even though there are tens of millions of e-readers out there, you are asking someone to spend their hard-earned money on your book. You’re asking them to trust an author they may know nothing about, to give you money in exchange for a story. It’s more challenging than I originally thought, and is only getting harder.

And now, as I am preparing to cross a pretty big sales milestone for me (nothing that will have me writing full time anytime soon, I assure you), I realize that this long, exhausting road will pay off down the line. It might not come as quickly as I would like (or maybe not even in the same way I expect) but I know that the more I write, the more I enjoy it. And if I can discipline myself to sit down and just do it more regularly, it’ll probably pay off sooner than my adjusted expectations.

Keep writing! Use negative/critical reviews as fuel to improve your craft. Read lots of books, and I also suggest finding some helpful books about writing itself, as well as the marketing/publishing side. And make sure you find yourself a nice support group of like-minded authors. Having honest, even downright brutal critiques is always the way to go.

AJ

New book announcement

I am pleased to announce the sequel to As the Ash Fell is coming this year!

While I am not going to go into details about the story at the moment, I suspect those who enjoyed the first book will also like book 2. So stay tuned for details in the coming weeks.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can pick up As the Ash Fell for $2.99 on the Kindle, or $14.99 in paperback over at Amazon.

Thank you to all of my readers who have left the kind reviews or sent me messages about the first book. Your words have truly motivated me to keep putting words to the proverbial paper. If you have read the book, and haven’t left a review yet, please consider doing so. It would be greatly appreciated.

Details on story and release window still to come, but in the mean time you can check out the image below to get a taste for the mood and atmosphere to expect.

ATAF2_small

AJ

Quick Update – Giveaway!

Hello everyone,

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. It was a fantastic 2015, and I am looking forward to an even greater 2016. A lot of things have happened in the past few months that have kept me quite distracted from writing, but rest assured I am moving back into that realm as the dust settles from a busy end of the year. I will have an update here shortly on my writing endeavors, but in the mean time I am doing a three-book autographed giveaway for my readers!

There are three ways to win: sign up for my Newsletter (the form is on the right side of this page), like my Facebook page, and/or follow me on Twitter. It’s that simple. I will be choosing the winners at the end of the month. If you’re already subscribed/follow/like, then you’re automatically entered. To increase your chances, just sign up for all three.

Thanks for making 2015 so great, and I look forward to hearing from you all in 2016.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorAJPowers/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/aj_powers 

 

~AJ

Whoa, it’s been a while.

I had been doing so well to keep up on my blog posts, but then life, as usual, got in the way.

Long story short, I have been very busy with a few months of house guests coming and going, as well as some other non-writing side projects. Though the side projects will not be slowing down anytime soon, we will not be having any more visitors for a little while, so hopefully that will give me some more opportunities to write some new posts. In fact, I am going to finish reading and then do a review on my latest read, If We Survive by Andrew Klavan. I am enjoying it thus far and can’t wait to finish and review. So stay tuned for that.

As for my writing endeavors—well it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. As many of you know, I had started writing a sequel for As the Ash Fell, but that has been put on the back burner for now. Though I made a pretty large dent into the word count, and I was pretty happy with what I had written, there was just some things missing that made me realize I needed to give it some space, and think on it a bit more. So, while a followup to Ash is still likely, it may not happen for quite some time. I want it to be done right.

Having said that, I have been writing off and on when I find the time. I have started a new story that’s a mixture of sci-fi and dystopian, and I can’t wait to share some more details about it. I am hoping for a release this year, but don’t take that as a guarantee, because like I said…Life happens.

In the mean time, please check out As the Ash Fell if you haven’t already. And if you have already read it, please consider leaving a review.

Until next time,

AJ

Book Review: Tomorrow War by J.L. Bourne

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A while back when J.L. Bourne tweeted that his new book, Tomorrow War, was going to be a lights out societal collapse novel, I was immediately intrigued. His previous series, Day by Day Armageddon, is a very enjoyable zombie apocalypse series, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that he went with another (but more realistic) TEOTWAWKI universe. A few days after release, I picked up the hardback and dug in. So what did I think?

First, I must take you back to 2008 when I read this little book called World War Z. I read it back when I was working for id Software and was getting a little bit of inspiration for the project I was working on. WWZ has a significant, permanent place in my heart because it was the first full-length novel I read as an adult. Sad, I know, and I hate admitting it, but as a game developer (especially an artist) you tend to get wrapped up in more visual medias like games and movies. But the reason WWZ was so significant is that it was a literary gateway drug for me. Suddenly, reading books could be as fun, if not more fun, than just watching a movie or playing a game. I quickly became hooked and found myself at book stores as much as a GameStop or Best Buy. World War Z, with it’s journalistic first person writing style and various entries ranging from a few hundred words to a few thousand words, engaged me in a way a book had never done before. It truly was a book that I “couldn’t put down,” and despite many of the incredible titles I’ve read since, I’ve not really found another book that I could honestly say I couldn’t put it down…Until I read Tomorrow War.

If I had to guess, I’d say that I read through Tomorrow War in fewer sessions than any other book (including WWZ). When I actually got time to sit down and read this book (not always an easy task with a toddler and an infant), I became immersed. I saw the world the characters saw, I felt the pain, anger, and fear the characters felt—I was a fly on the wall during the collapse of the American society, and based on the events that occur in the book, I think I’d prefer being the fly. Bourne does an excellent job with an elegant, but very readable writing style that brings the universe to life. There are some books that truly have one-dimensional characters and a smorgasbord of cliches intertwined with a series of “WTF” moments that make you wonder how this author even got published. But fear not! You will not find any of these in Tomorrow War. Also, Bourne does go into some technical detail about guns/gear, but nothing too over the top. And when he says something without a clear explanation, he uses context to do the explaining for you. As a gun/gear guy myself, I really like reading about these types of things, but if you’re not into that stuff as much, it should still be pretty clear what he’s talking about.

As I did with my last review (and what I will continue to do here), I will not go into too much detail about the book’s premise or story elements out of respect of the author. The last thing I want to do is spill beans the author intended to be left in the can until the readers experience it for themselves. However, the elevator pitch for this story is that through unexpected events (to the main character), the “just in time” network of food and supplies the majority of Americans rely on for their very survival is disrupted. The instant communication, the on demand entertainment…All gone in the blink of an eye. This book showcases just how devastating this would be for most Americans today, and speculates at the horrific lengths individuals would be willing to go in order to get their block of government cheese. There were no fewer than a dozen times when I shuddered at some of the events described, not because they were gruesome (though there is plenty of that), but rather because none of it seemed far enough fetched to think “that would never happen.” Several sobering scenes in this book that will make everyone reading this review thankful for this cozy world we currently live in.

I will be transparent here: While I was intrigued with this book when Bourne announced it, I was a bit hesitant at the same time. I’ve tried prepper books in the past, and…Well, please refer to my comments above on one-dimensional characters and cliches (DISCLAIMER, not saying all prepper books are like this, but many of the ones I’ve read are). I wouldn’t say this is a full on “prepper” book—there is quite a bit of it towards the earlier half, and admittedly I was vicariously living through Max [Redacted] as he extravagantly purchased thousands of dollars of goods and supplies before things went down—but this book moves past that in favor of developing the story further. Some people really enjoy just the prepper stuff exclusively; to each their own. I for one am glad Bourne didn’t go this route. He gave it the appropriate amount of time needed (certainly emphasizing the importance of such preparations), and then moved on. Well done!

I think I tweeted this statement before, but I had this book listed in my top five favorites. Honestly, it could probably be top three, maybe even taking a close second behind World War Z. I really enjoyed this book, and I was thoroughly disappointed when I flipped the last page and saw the acknowledgements. I was not ready for this story to end. I want more, and I hope that this talented author continues writing, he has a knack for it. And to be honest, between World War Z and Tomorrow War, I am pretty inspired to do some writing in a similar fashion sometime (First person, journal/log entries).

Tomorrow War is, in my opinion, a stronger showing than the Day by Day Armageddon series. Bourne takes his writing to the next level, and I am excited to see what he does next.

Final thoughts: This was a great book, and I highly recommend it. The situations were not always pleasant, and the whole concept is downright scary (society collapse could occur in countless different ways), but as Bourne states in his acknowledgements, let’s hope this kind of situation stays where it belongs—in a fiction book.

You can pick up Tomorrow War at pretty much every book retailer, but here’s a link directly to Amazon. You can also visit his website at www.jlbourne.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.