Commune Book One: A Thinking Reader’s Post Apocalypse #books #reading #postapocalypse

Progress on Commune Book Two is banging along at a fantastic pace!  I’m already one third of the way finished (or maybe a little less depending on what the total length ends up being; it feels like it may be a bit longer than the first book right now).  It would be really friggin’ cool if I had it ready to publish around the time the production of Book One’s audio book is finished.

Commune Book One Preview

Click the Book for a Free Preview!

In the meantime, the first book calls out to all you fans of the post apocalypse genre.  For any who enjoy dreaming about how you would fair in a total societal breakdown or who wonder about your chances of surviving a world suddenly made lawless and hostile; for any preppers who fancy themselves ready for the day the lights go out; for any military (either active service or veterans) who would view the situation as just another day at the office: this series of books is my little love letter to all of you (kiss!).  Click the image of the book cover for a free preview!  You can grab a copy in both ebook and paperback formats.

See what other readers are saying about Commune Book One!

Thank You to My New Readers #writing #books #postapocalypse

Thank YouTo all of you who recently bought a copy of my novel Commune Book One, I just wanted to take a second to say thank you.  I see it each and every time someone hits the purchase button.  It means a lot to me that you guys are willing to gamble your time and money on the stories I want to share with you.

I want to tell you all that I take your time, money, and consideration very seriously.  I’m well aware of the sheer mountain of material out in the wild begging for your attention.  It really can get overwhelming if you let it, and all of this is just supposed to be for fun.  I promise to bust my ass putting out good stuff that’s worthy of your time; your job is to take it easy and enjoy yourself, right on?

– Josh

Review: Solitude by Dean M. Cole #bookreview #sciencefiction #postapocalypse

Media: Audio Book (audible.com)

Producer: Blue Heron Audio

Performers: R. C. Bray, Julia Whelan

I recently stumbled upon this page-turner through the fact that I follow R. C. Bray’s Facebook fan page and keep up to speed on his new releases.  There has been a lot of buzz about Solitude running across my various feeds; incidentally, I happened to make friends with the author recently and I found some commonality in our backgrounds (he’s a badass helicopter pilot/I wrote instrumentation software for helicopter cockpits once upon a time in a previous career).  Additionally, there seemed to be some overlap between our two books, so I figured I’d better dive in and see what he had to say on the subject.

Publisher Summary

From the best-selling author of the Sector 64 Series!

Earth’s last man discovers that the last woman is stranded alone aboard the International Space Station. If you like action-packed novels, you’ll love the electrifying action in this apocalyptic thriller.

Can humanity’s last two unite?

Separated by the gulf of space, the last man and woman of the human race struggle against astronomical odds to survive and unite.

Army Aviator Vaughn Singleton is a highly intelligent, lazy man. After a last-ditch effort to reignite his failing military career ends horribly, Vaughn becomes the only human left on Earth.

Stranded alone on the International Space Station, Commander Angela Brown watches an odd wave of light sweep across the planet. Over the next weeks and then months, Angela struggles to contact someone on the surface, but as she fights to survive aboard a deteriorating space station, the commander glimpses the dark underpinnings of humanity’s demise.

After months alone, Vaughn discovers there is another. Racing against time, he must cross a land ravaged by the consequences of humankind’s sudden departure.

Can Vaughn find a path to space and back? Can Angela – the only person with clues to the mystery behind humanity’s disappearance – survive until he does?

©2017 Dean M. Cole (P)2017 Dean M. Cole

Spoiler Free Quickie

Writing: 5/5 Stars

The proficiency of Cole’s writing suggests that he is a person either naturally gifted or incredibly focused on perfectionism.  The writing itself is natural and effortless both from the perspective of the 3rd person narrative as well as the character dialog.  He shifts from formal description to idiosyncratic inner-monologue easily, effectively putting the reader into the character’s frame of reference.  I can only imagine that this skill must have made the book a joy to narrate for the performers.

Additionally, I could find no evidence of any repeated crutch phrases or expressions (many authors have an unconscious list of favorite terms or expressions that they overuse; it’s a massive pet peeve with me).

Story: 4.5/5 Stars

There were points in the story early on that bugged the hell out of me, which ultimately distracted me from the initial plot setup.  The end of the book managed to make up for this through a pretty impressive plot twist; however the initial mystery setup in the story jarred me a little and so I was distracted by it.  Unfortunately (given what Cole is trying to do with the story), I’m not sure there was an easy way around this.  I’ll get into details in the spoiler-laden section below.

Performance: 5/5 Stars

There’s not much I can say about R. C. Bray that hasn’t been said a hundred times already.  For my money, the guy is hands-down the best narrator/performer in the business.  He makes a book feel like a movie.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you haven’t listened to him.  Go rectify that right now.

The surprise for me on this book was the performance of Julia Whelan.  First, I need to get some undesirable business out of the way:

Women narrators have a much harder time doing male characters in this business.  This isn’t a sexist jab; it’s a reality of bio-mechanics and the physics of sound waves.  I don’t know what it is exactly – blame testosterone or estrogen – but something about the structures in the average woman’s throat makes it a lot harder to shift down to a male register than it is for a man to shift up into a female register.  It’s unfortunate but it is a reality; a very present reality that female narrators have to deal with.

Well, Whelan has got it figured out.  The bummer for any narrator performing a character of the opposite sex is that the best they can really hope for is to not be distracting.  That’s about your best case scenario: don’t distract the reader.  The worst case scenario is that you botch the job so bad that you have the audience laughing on every attempt.

I’m here to say: Whelan’s female characterizations were nuanced and well executed while her male characterizations were far above what I’ve come to expect from the female talent of the industry.  She did better than just minimizing distraction; she succeeded in selling her performance.  I was absolutely fine with every male she did in this book, evidenced by the fact that I wasn’t paying attention to her voice at all; I was paying attention to the character.

I would have to say that the only part of the performance that was a stumble for me (and this is ridiculously minor but I feel like I have to point out something) was that her interpretation of the male lead seemed just a little bit askew from Bray’s.  This wouldn’t be a big deal if either she or he had done the entire book; however because they were trading off POV chapters, there was a bit of a mental shift required on my part when I heard Bray’s Vaughn versus Whelan’s Vaughn.  Again: minor enough that I don’t even care.

Verdict

Are you still here?  Why haven’t you gone to download this yet?

Here Be Spoilers

This story is incredibly tight (it’s only about an eight hour listen) but there were about three or four chapters in the start where I found myself really distracted by the plot.  The setup is that some experiment has gone horribly awry at the CERN Hadron Collider, causing some nebulous energy wave to wash over the surface of the planet and vanish (potentially “kill” but I’m not convinced they’re all dead) all animal-based life.  Those not effected by the event have survived due to the fact that they are not physically connected to the Earth and are in a total vacuum (an astronaut on the ISS and an astronaut and test pilot conducting a hover test in a vacuum chamber on Earth).

So, here’s where I start nitpicking as an engineer.  Right away, I’m trying to dream up what phenomenon could possibly yield such a result.  Knowing what I know about the experiments conducted at CERN, I know there isn’t really anything they can do (awesome though the accelerator is) to create such an event.  Even assuming the power and influence of the machine could be scaled up to produce a gravitic effect capable of encircling the entire globe, there is simply no phenomenon even hinted at in today’s science that suggests an energy field of any kind capable of effecting only animal based life.  It’s certainly not anything we could produce by accident.

This is compounded by the fact that the authorities (US Government) in the story attempt to shut the event down by launching nukes at CERN: before this takes place, the idea that the energy wave comes from the collider is only a guess floated by the main characters, who are removed from all intelligence on the occurrence when they start postulating theories – meaning that I can write the idea off as a wild guess on the part of the characters.  The minute the United States starts launching nukes at CERN, I have to assign the theory a lot more weight within the confines of the story.  As noted before, the wave as described is a thing that the hadron collider could not possibly produce.  The fact that no one in the book is mentioning this makes me cranky.

I start second guessing myself as the book goes along.  Two things are happening at once here: the characters in the story are dealing with the problem and working through it, struggling to survive.  Meanwhile, in my car, I’m wondering if I have all my science wrong and if there’s some sudden breakthrough on gravitational research that I’ve missed somehow.  I noticed when they found the God Particle.  I rejoiced when they were able to detect the as-yet-only-theorized-about gravity wave.

Was I asleep when the scientists dreamt up the Man Made Carnivorous Energy Weapon?  I had some reading to catch up on…

At that point I would have taken any kind of explanation as a way out.  Hell, tell me it’s an alien attack and I’ll be happy!  In the end, I noticed I was missing way too much of the story and decided to chalk the whole thing up to Fucking Magic ™.  There was good shit happening in the book and I was missing it.

Once I calmed the hell down about the stupid collider, I was able to settle in and really eat everything up.  The story was told at a fast pace and didn’t allow much time to relax for a breather.  I will say that there were some bone-headed actions perpetrated on the part of Vaughn (the male lead), however these were in keeping with his character as it was established from page one, so these were not cheap gimmicks; they were earned.  The result, of course, is that you want to reach out and strangle the character rather than the author.  Good job, Author.

I tore through this thing all the way to the end of the story, where that damned collider came into the picture again.  Only this time, Cole threw a wrench into the whole thing with a nice little plot twist that managed to make me question everything I thought I knew about the setup in the beginning of the story.  The ending definitely created more questions than it answered but it was good to see that the author has a plan for what’s going on that is explainable through means other than FM ™.  I have some ideas regarding where I think he takes the story from here and, if I’m right, I’m all for it.  If I’m wrong he has at least earned my trust in this story sufficiently that I’m willing to sit back in the sequel and not drive myself crazy with so many damned questions.

1st Session

I stumbled on this gem today. So far, the site seems to be in the early stages of development: only three posts that I can see, undefined categories, a contact page that is barely setup, and a cryptic about me page.

Everything about this site makes me want to know more about the owner.

I’m sharing because of the writing skill that is being demonstrated here. I must assume the writer is female because the entries are written from a female POV, however you can’t be sure in these things.

Male or female, there is a treasure trove of work worthy of study here. The writer makes it all seem so effortless but there is so much going on under the hood. As the reader, you’re almost being programmed. The POV in these entries is nearly my own psychological opposite, however I find myself thinking and feeling exactly as this craftsman of a writer intends at the end of each passage.

This is masterfully done.

Attachment Theories

coins-currency-investment-insurance-128867

“So how do you want to do this?” I asked, pulling out a wad of cash.  ‘Up front or afterward?”

Dr. Karlberg was entirely composed of angles.  At first I couldn’t tell if he looked severe because of his attitude or because of a violent metabolism.  With an unsmiling, no-nonsense demeanor, I guessed his weight had less to do with luck and more to do with hard discipline.  Sit ups, push ups, lean meat every day.  He must have been in the military because at his age, he stood more erect than most men my age.

He directed me to the sofa that was strategically lower than his chair.  From behind me, I got the distinct feeling he was herding me.  Like a sheep.  This, most likely, was not going to work out well for either of us.

Dr. Karlberg stared at the cash with disgust.  His long nose pointed at…

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Why Write an Apocalypse Story? #writing #apocalypse #fiction

Learn more about the subject of this article by getting a copy of Commune Book One at this link or check out the free preview on my site.

End of the WorldApocalypse, Dying Earth, Survival, Shit-Hits-The-Fan, or whatever else you want to call it; I’ve been a fan of this genre for a long time, now, and it would seem I’m not alone.  Strangely, it seems to still be lacking an official sub-genre category listing on the big sites like Amazon, Kobo, and so on but, you know…changing databases is HARD.

I did not realize that my first book was going to be placed in this setting (I actually didn’t have any idea that I was going to write my first book until I started banging away at the keyboard), nor did it occur to me that my first effort would end up being a series a books (go big or go home, right?).  I had just finished listening to a string of them and the genre seemed well occupied.  Did I really have anything worthwhile to add?

Over time while reading or listening to these works from other authors or watching the visual analog on TV (Walking Dead, anyone?), it became apparent to me that the answer was “yes”.  In each of these offerings, I noticed that there were always points where the story began to scratch the surface of topics or plots that really began to interest me without really exploring in the way that I would have liked.  There was always this teasing going on where they would walk right up to the edge of an idea and then back away.  In some cases, this was totally understandable because the things that interested me didn’t necessarily dovetail with the story that the author (or scriptwriter) wanted to tell.  In the worst cases, it was deeply frustrating; I felt that there were a lot of missed opportunities along the way when the characters weren’t just making outright stupid decisions (Walking Dead, anyone???).

I resisted the urge to set the Commune story in an apocalypse landscape but, after a lot of deliberation, I just found that the environment was really the most conducive to what I wanted to do.  There were a lot of ideas and concepts that I wanted to explore, covering topics in the areas of primitive survival, small group dynamics, human adaptability, the price of humanity, and the impact of and coping with loss.  It’s true that many of these are explored in other stories but I just felt that I had more to say on the matter.  An apocalypse in which the human population has taken a significant hit (such that there are no more governments anywhere) gave me the sandbox I wanted.

Additionally, there is a bit of wish fulfillment that I believe we all experience when reading these stories.  There is a base understanding that, in such a situation, everyone is reset back to zero.  Put another way: your past history, mistakes, regrets, and transgressions are wiped away.  You have the ultimate chance to start over.  In debt up to your eyeballs?  Not anymore!  Trapped in a dead-end job or can’t get hired at all?  Doesn’t matter now!  Are you locked in a loveless marriage?  Here’s your chance for a little fresh romance!  Have you ever wanted to live in a mansion?  Go find one and move in!

All of this can be yours; you need only survive the end of the world.

I love this idea of a mass, societal reset.  I’m drawn to the idea that the criminal could find redemption or that the common accountant might grow into a skilled survivor.  I’m compelled by this idea that people could get the chance at a do-over if only some agent would step in and erase society along with all of the rules, limitations, and boundaries that seem to hold so many people pinned firmly in place.

The genre gives me an incredible, nearly limitless workshop in which to go about the business of developing characters, which is really what this is all about.  They can be built up and empowered or dragged through the mud and tortured pitilessly.

My own personal workshop; and I have a freshly sharpened set of chisels.

Five Star Review for Commune Book One!

Someone left me a lovely little review on Amazon today 🙂

“This was a quick read, I did it in about a day. I could not put the book down I wanted to know what was going to happen next. This is not my normal type of book to read. I am usually a strictly YA/ Paranormal/ or romance okay basically I will read anything as long as there is a possibility of romance in the horizon. Well, this book did not have that really. Now, I am still holding out hope for Jake and Amanda. Enough of that though.

This book has you focused on three characters Jake, Amanda, and Billy during basically what I would call an early stage of a Mad Max apocalypse world. So a solar flair basically takes out the worlds computers/machines, and people have been reduced to learning how to live without, FB, ATM, Netflicks, Lights, running water. So Jake, Billy, Amanda and her Daughter Lizzy are learning how to scavenge for supplies and survive after the plague takes out the majority of the population. Now, this was not a zombie book which I liked.

I really liked Billy I could see a little bit of that crazy uncle we all have, that tells us stories that will have an impact on us but then later add a joke. Jake is a bit interesting. What I really liked was the whole addressing the BIG PINK ELEPHANT and yes I mean PINK. In every book or TV/movie they hardly ever mention feminine products. Thank you to the author for paying attention to the fact a woman in a post civilization may want her tampax. This was not my normal book but I am glad I read it.”

Well, thank you so much for taking the time to tell me what you thought, dear reader.  I’m glad to have touched on some subjects that you found lacking in other stories within this genre.  Hope to see you back for Book Two!

Commune Book One is available on Amazon and Kobo in ebook and print form.  It will be available as an audio book later this year on audible.com.

Use This Tool to Vastly Improve Your Draft Editing Process #author #writing #editing

This is just a quick post today, but man, what a post!  So I picked this tip up yesterday browsing through Dean M. Cole’s site (the author of Solitude) and I can’t believe it never occurred to me.  By the way, go check out Dean’s site.  He’s a hell of a writer and a great all around guy.

No matter how many times you proof read a draft, there are always going to be errors and mistakes that slip by.  You’ll never catch them on your own (you may only catch half of them) because the story is fresh in your head and, let’s face it, you can only read a thing so many times before it becomes ingrained in memory and you stop processing the words on the page.

We try to compensate for this with beta readers; people who read the really rough draft and tell us where we’re screwing up (my wife is a big help here and, no, you can’t use her for your own stuff – go get your own).  With their fresh eyes, they pick out so many things that you never would have seen including typos, clunky sentences, plot holes, or weak characters.

But what if there was a way for you to cut out the majority of the typos and clunky sentences before the draft even got to your beta readers, thereby freeing them up to focus on the stuff us authors really care about: plot, story structure, characters, and overall reader satisfaction?

What I’ve learned from Cole is that running your manuscript through a text to speech converter (essentially, you are having your own story read back to you) will expose almost all of the typos and poorly structured sentences to you before the draft ever gets into another set of hands.  You are essentially automating a fresh set of eyes for your story, which enables you to deliver a more polished piece of work to your readers downstream in the process.  Utilizing such a tool will make the overall process of editing much more straightforward and painless.

There are several tools out there (in fact, Microsoft Word even has the ability built in) but I’ve stumbled across a pretty nice free natural language converter, which you can get here.  Get the download version and run one of your stories through it.  If there are any errors or problems, you’re almost guaranteed to hear them.

Caveats:

  1. You have to really listen to the tool as it plays.  If you tune out and listen in the background while you do other stuff on your computer, this isn’t going to do anything for you at all.
  2. This won’t catch improper use of homonyms (to/too, there/their, etc).
  3. If you are writing outside of your native language, the ability of this tool to point out clunky wording or poor sentence flow will be limited (especially if you are writing in English and speak English as a second language; I swear, all of the rules in the English language are simply dumb).

Good luck and happy editing!

The Beauty of an Economy of Words #writing #hemingway #wolfe

In the the great game of Chess, we have this concept of Tempo (or gaining tempo).  There are many detailed explanations of this with regard to the mechanics of the game, but the essentials behind the idea may be generalized as follows:

Tempo is gained when many tasks are accomplished with a single action.

In Chess, this is a simple concept to grasp; however it is not always straightforward to achieve.  Developing a piece while delivering check (as is noted in the linked article) is the easiest example.  In short, you want your one move to yield the most benefit.  You always want to be doing more than one thing at a time.

This concept is expandable to many other avenues in life, though the idea becomes more abstract.  In the case of writing, gaining tempo through an economy of words turns a straightforward sentence into a many-faceted work of art.

Hemingway was a master at this.

I’ve spoke about Gene Wolfe here before, I think, and if I haven’t I should do so more often.  He is another master of this technique, albeit in ways strikingly different from Hemingway.  Hemingway shocks with his deceptively simple style.  His writing asks the reader to unhinge the analytical brain and feel the meaning behind what he writes.

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.

Ernest Hemingway

You must not spend a great deal of time on this statement.  If you do, it will be rendered meaningless and nonsensical.  The greatest disservice that happens in the American English classroom is when a writer like this is studied and the teacher asks the student, “What do you think he meant by this?”

No, god damn you.  Trying to force these things is like trying to recall a dream that doesn’t want to be remembered.  You must feel these things in your gut not understand them with your head.  Your head is not the place for Hemingway.  Your head is the shaking, fumbling fingers of an adolescent boy trying to master the clasp of a bra strap.  You belly is required for such things.

Wolfe, on the other hand, requires every bit of your analytical mind that you can muster.  Each idea that he presents has the potential to be a key that unlocks a greater puzzle.  With Wolfe, it’s a good idea to bring your A-game, else the experience of reading his stories may feel more like a fever dream than a diversion.

I want to share a quote from his story “Litany of the Long Sun”.  It will require that I do some explaining to set it up – this is going to contain spoilers.  If you plan on reading this book, I recommend you step out now.

Don’t say I failed to warn.

Maytera Marble, a synthetic being living on a space-bound generation ship referred to as “The Whorl” by its inhabitants, has seen better days.  She can remember a time before The Whorl, when she lived on a real planet.  This time is now so long ago that she may not necessarily remember the distinction between planet and ship or why one is different from another (the humans who live on the ship certainly don’t realize that there is a universe outside of their reality).  She knows only that, once upon a time, her body was not failing her.  Because she is a synthetic, she is being constantly assailed by failure codes and faulty systems diagnostics as they are overlaid in her field of view.  Being a Sibyl (akin to our Catholic Sister), she is a teacher of young human children; she hides her infirmities from those who love her.

It is important to note, here, that what they call the “sun” on this generation ship is a long heat ray that runs down the length of the cylindrical enclosure.  She can remember a time when the sun was a bright disk that moved across the sky.  The heat ray in the ship is referred to as “The Long Sun”.  The disk that she remembers: The Short Sun.

“Maytera Marble could remember the short sun, a disk of orange fire; and it seemed to her that the chief virtue of that old sun had been that no list, no menu, ever appeared unbidden beneath its rays.”

Wolfe, Nightside the Long Sun (p. 24)

This one small entry tells us so very much about Maytera Marble with so very little.  It tells us that she is melancholy, that she is rendered sad by her failing body and her memory of happier times.  It demonstrates that the short sun itself does not hold any special talismanic place of power in her mind outside of its rather simplistic association with a period in her life where she can remember that she was physically more.

It is instructive to note that by this point in the story, Wolfe has not yet made it clear that Marble is an artificial being – he hints and dances around the idea.  It becomes clear later; however Wolfe (in his deviousness) also goes to the trouble to blur the lines between synthetic and natural persons, greatly confusing the issue.  He toys with the perceptions of the characters in his story as he toys with those of his readers.

But, what incredible weight can be found in this passage!  It only becomes clear later (after perhaps more than one reading) what import should be assigned to these words.  You can never just assume that a sentence has but a single meaning with Gene Wolfe.  This is the beauty of his work.  He is the literary Daedalus; his body of work is the Labyrinth and we (the readers) are his Minotaur.

The Labyrinth

Updates to the About Me page (and other things)

joshua-gayou-who-am-iAccording to everything I’ve read, the single most visited page of any of these blog thingies is the “About Me” page.  I mean, I’d much rather you go here and read my books, but hey – to each their own.

So, anyway, I went and made my About Me page the home page of the site and put something a little more interesting up there than just the short blurb that I’m sticking in the back of my books.  It should hopefully explain something of my derangement.

Additionally, Madame Fairy Whisperer had recently shared an incredibly useful article on stuffing Amazon book previews directly into your WordPress site, which I thought was rather awesome.  You’ll find a book cover on the right-hand bar of my site now.  If you click it, you’ll be able to start reading that book and get a sense regarding whether you’d like to continue.

Look, nothing bugs me as much as spending good money on a book that I end up either not connecting with or just outright hating.  I’m well aware of the commitment I’m asking you to make as a reader.  That’s why I’m putting previews up in front.  I want you to be able to get a sense of the story that I offer and decide confidently whether you want to follow me down the rabbit hole.