Duncan Kord has travelled the world for many lifetimes. The thousand-year old Viking warrior was given immortality by an advanced race of beings who literally snatched him from the brink of death on a battlefield in Norway centuries ago. Not only did they save him, they infused his body and mind with the essence of a powerful dragon. Despite his powers, Kord has lived the life of a recluse, keeping mostly to himself, wandering the world, guarding his secrets. Kord’s life changes when he discovers the invader responsible for killing his wife and family and destroying his village all those years ago, is alive and well, and living in New York. Kord is determined to confront Sagahr and after so many lost centuries, he now has one purpose: revenge.
He’s an evil corporate mogul
William Jefferson Sagahr has amassed a fortune over many lifetimes. Now living in Manhattan, the powerful magnate is head of a multi-national oil company. The thousand-year-old mercenary warrior was also given immortality and special powers by the same beings who gifted Kord. But Sagahr is nothing like Kord. In fact, he was the one responsible for destroying Kord’s life all those centuries ago. When Sagahr finds out that Kord is alive and well and wreaking havoc on Sagahr’s oil refineries in Alaska, his fury knows no bounds and a twisted hunger begins to grow inside him. He unleashes an evil in the city of New York, the likes of which no one has ever seen. After so many lost centuries, he knows there is only one man who can stop him. One man he must avoid at all cost: Duncan Kord.
To read some of Greg’s musings visit his writing page on facebook, for several short stories and pithy takes on yard work and homelife.
The Cluster is a vast alien machine that destroys starships indiscriminately in its quest for something or someone. Commander John Mark Ellis, disgraced and booted out of the service when he fails to save a merchant ship, believes the key to stopping the Cluster is communication. Clyde McClintlock believes the Cluster is God incarnate. G’Liat is an alien warrior whose own starship was destroyed by the Cluster. All together these three set out to solve the mystery of the Cluster before it finds the object of its quest.
He also writes occasional nonfiction, short fiction (some of which is collected in Nine Frights), and comic books, including the long-running horror/Western comic book series Desperadoes and graphic novels Fade to Black and Zombie Cop. With writing partner Marsheila Rockwell, he has published several short stories and a novel, 7 SYKOS. He has worked in virtually every aspect of the book business, as a writer, editor, marketing executive, and bookseller.
I’ve known Jeff for several years and was delighted when he agreed to answer a few of my questions.
DLS: When people see an author’s name, they often see it as a “brand”, knowing what kind of story they’ll get. You’ve written in several genres from science fiction to weird westerns to horror. How do you define the “Jeff Mariotte Brand”?
JM: I’m convinced that writing in different genres has been harmful to my career, because readers tend to like a writer who stays put, who delivers basically the same thing book after book. Once you’re well established, you can switch around–like Robert B. Parker eventually turning to the occasional western after writing a ton of mystery books in different series. But shifting around before your “brand” is established seems like a bad move, career-wise.
That said, I don’t see how I could have done it differently. I have to write what I’m moved to write at any given time. I’d get bored writing the same series character over and over. I haven’t calculated out the wisest career path, but have written the books that felt like they needed to be written as they came along. I’m true to myself, if not to market considerations. My agent might prefer it the other way around, but I am who I am.
I hope that readers know that when they pick up one of my books, they’ll get a compelling, suspenseful tale that’ll keep them turning the page; they’ll get well-written and engaging stories populated with characters they’ll believe in and care about. Regardless of genre, I try to always write books that will brighten a reader’s day and life, that entertain and maybe inform and enlighten. My books are generally optimistic, even when they venture into dark places, and one of my central themes seems to be the idea that there’s magic in the world, if only you know to look for it.
DLS: Who was your greatest writer influence/inspiration when you started? What are some books of theirs you would recommend?
JM: I was a bookseller for years before I got published, so I was reading pretty extensively in my preferred genres–horror, mysteries, thrillers, sf, fantasies, westerns. Consequently, I had (and have) a lot of inspirations. Some have changed over the years, and others have been consistent. In the early days, I was strongly inspired by Robert E. Howard (particularly his Conan stories), the aforementioned Bob Parker (his Spenser novels), Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe) and Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer). At the same time, I’ve often been inspired by writers as varied as Stephen King (The Stand, The Shining, On Writing), William Goldman (Marathon Man, Boys and Girls Together) and Wallace Stegner (Angle of Repose, Recapitulation, Wolf Willow). More recent influences include James Lee Burke (any of his books, but especially the Robicheaux novels). That’s a pretty male-centric list, but I could also add in works by Joan Vinge, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, Laura Lippman, Barbara Kingsolver, and plenty of other talented women, as well as one of the best writers I know, Marsheila Rockwell.
DLS: You recently married your writing partner, the talented Marsheila Rockwell. How do your collaborations work? How does collaborating compare to writing solo?
JM: Funny you should mention that…
We collaborate very well, almost seamlessly. We have different strengths–she’s a poet and her command of language is beautiful, while I’m a stronger plotter, for instance–but when we work together, our strengths complement each other, and by the time we’re finished with a story, we usually can’t tell who wrote what. We try to start with a solid outline so we know where we’re going and what each other’s vision of the overall story is (and because we both come out of a tie-in writing background, we’re used to working with outlines). Then we trade off–scene by scene, chapter by chapter, whatever works at the moment and for any given project. On the first book of the Xena: Warrior Princesstrilogy we’re working on, we had a relatively tight deadline and had to be writing different chapters simultaneously, which was a little awkward. But we smoothed it all out, and it came out well in the end.
As for the difference between collaborating and solo work, it is a different beast. A solo story or novel is one person’s vision, and everything in it, good or bad, is a reflection of that one person. A collaboration is necessarily a shared vision. I’ve written a lot of comic books and graphic novels, and because I don’t draw, those are always collaborations. And I’ve collaborated with other writers, too. So it’s not new to me. It does feel more natural with Marcy, and we work together better than I have with anyone else. Ideally, the result of a collaboration is a book or a story one writer couldn’t have written, because each participant brings different skills and life experiences to the table, and that’s what Marcy and I get when we write together. The fact that I get to be married to her is icing on the cake.
DLS: What insights have you gained from owning a bookstore that can help writers be more successful and stand out from the crowd?
JM: I think the experience of working in bookstores, managing them, and being an owner of one, has made me less ready to jump on board the e-book train. I think printed books are an ideal marriage of form and function–they don’t require a power source, they don’t break down or become corrupted, they’re always there when you want to read and you can save your place with a bookmark or a piece of paper or a paper clip or whatever’s handy. At the same time, I have a more realistic view of the book business than some people, who seem to think that Amazon is the only bookseller that matters. The truth is that printed books still far outsell e-books, and other outlets still sell more books in the U.S. than Amazon does, so if a writer focuses all of his or her efforts on Amazon, he or she is leaving a lot of potential sales on the table.
DLS: Not only do you write in your own worlds, you’ve written novels and stories for Star Trek, NCIS, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and other franchises. How does “playing in someone else’s sandbox” compare to creating your own world?
JM: I love writing my original novels, and will always want to do that. Creating my own characters and involving them in situations entirely of my own devising is the ultimate creative experience. But it’s also a blast to be asked to write novels about characters I love, like Conan, Xena, Spider-Man, Superman, and great TV shows like CSI and NCIS: Los Angeles. I get to tell stories in beloved fictional universes, and get paid for it–nothing wrong with that!
The skills that are called on are the same. I have to create characters, plot stories, write in an engaging and entertaining manner. And the truth is whether I’m writing in an existing fictional universe or my own, I have to be consistent and true to the rules of that universe as it’s been developed. So the main difference is that in tie-in work, I have to try to capture voices that were devised by other writers (and sometimes actors). Fortunately, I’m pretty good at that.
DLS: If someone wanted to try their hand at writing and selling a novel in the world of a popular franchise, what would they need to do? How should they start?
JM: They could start by visiting the website of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers, IAMTW.org. There they can find out a lot about the nuts and bolts of the tie-in business, and maybe find out about licensed fiction lines they didn’t even know existed. The organization has also released a book by its membership that contains more details about the trade.
Typically (although there are exceptions) to write a tie-in novel, you have to have had at least one other novel professionally published. Publishers have already invested a lot of money to acquire a license, so they don’t want to risk more by hiring a writer who hasn’t proven the ability to write a publishable book. And there’s often competition for tie-in gigs, so if it’s a choice between a writer with a solid track record and an unknown new writer, the established pro will have the advantage. So the best thing a writer can do is write a good book, get it published by a reputable publisher, then approach the publisher of the licensed fiction line of interest and say, “Hey, I wrote X and I’d sure like to pitch you something for your Y line.”
DLS: In addition to writing novels, you’ve written and edited comic books. How are writing comic books similar and different than writing novels or short stories? Do you collaborate with the artist ahead of time, or create any kind of storyboard in addition to writing?
JM: As I mentioned above, because I don’t draw the comics, each one is a collaboration, start to finish. I write the script before the artist draws it, so while I’m writing it I’m only speculating about what it’ll look like at the end of the process. Usually what I’m seeing in my head is not much like what comes out on the page. From the very beginning of my career, I’ve had the good fortune of working with some amazing artists, whose work on my scripts has blown me away.
Ultimately, the skill sets the writer brings to the table are similar. You need to tell a story that’s worth telling, that’s interesting and surprising and suspenseful and is hopefully enlightening in some way. The differences are in the techniques and the outcome. In comics, you have to be willing to stand back and let the art tell the story. The writer makes up the story (in most cases), and puts it down in a script that no one will ever see, but the artist is the one whose interpretation of the story ends up being what the readers see. The writer has to let the artist do that job, and keep the words to a minimum so they don’t get in the way of the art.
I don’t try to direct the artist to any great extent. I tell them what has to be in each panel to make the story work, but leave it to them how the panel is composed, how the different panels fit onto the page, etc. I’ve worked, as an editor, with writers who don’t trust their artists and do sketch layouts for them. Fortunately, in most cases, the artists I’ve worked with are far better at that than I would be.
DLS: What kind of research did you do writing the comic book biography of Barack Obama? Did you get to interview the President or did you work from other resources?
JM: That project was fascinating, and required vast amounts of research. I didn’t get to meet or speak with the President (though I’d still love to). I wrote it during the 2008 campaign and the first few months of his presidency, so at the time there weren’t even any books about him other than the two he wrote himself. Obviously he was a well-known public figure, but what had been written about him was mostly journalism coming out on a constant basis, along with a few more in-depth magazine pieces. I read his books and every article about him I could get my hands on, and watched him on TV whenever possible to get a sense of his voice. The scripts were vetted by lawyers, and I had to have every fact triple-sourced, and had to be able to show where every line of dialogue came from. The project was originally three separate comic book issues that were collected into a single hardcover book, which was actually the first book-length biography written about him.
DLS: I sense a certain passion for small towns on the southern border of the United States in your writing. What captivates you about those places in particular?
JM: Borderlands of all kinds are fascinating to me. I have written a lot about the US/Mexico border, but I’ve written about other borders, too–my Age of Conan trilogy, for example, was largely about the border between the Aquilonian Empire and the Pictish lands–which is kind of a parallel to Hadrian’s Wall, where the Roman Empire ended and the wilderness began. Other borders in my fiction include borders between our world and another (or many others). Borders are where different people with different interests and backgrounds intersect. There’s natural drama in that. Along our southwestern border, there are of course political issues, issues of crime and punishment, and the story of the human race–which is the ongoing story of migration–all of which are rich territory for fiction.
DLS: Tell us about your latest novel.
JM: The new book is 7 SYKOS, a collaboration with Marsheila Rockwell. It’s kind of a science fiction/horror/thriller hybrid. Basically, a meteor has brought a spaceborne virus into the Phoenix metropolitan area, which has the effect of turning those infected into raging lunatics hungry for brains. It’s incredibly virulent and there’s no known cure or vaccine. In order to keep it from spreading throughout the nation (or the world), the military has fenced off the Valley of the Sun, and nobody is allowed in or out. But everyone knows that’s only a temporary solution, so if something more permanent can’t be figured out soon, the Valley’s going to be nuked out of existence. Trouble is, the only way to come up with a fix is to get enough of the meteor to study, and nobody can get to it. But it turns out that the unique brain structure of psychopaths makes them immune to the virus. So they can go into the quarantine zone, to look for pieces of the meteor. And all they have to do is agree to perform an essentially altruistic act, learn how to play well together, and survive the onslaught of thousands of Infecteds who want to eat their brains. Nothing to it, right…?
DLS: Sounds amazing! Thanks for the wonderful and informative interview!
Erik Knight is a small time private investigator with big time supernatural powers. In HYBRID he searches for a kidnapped girl. In HYBRID FORCED VENGEANCE he’s assigned to protect the daughter of a the French President.
To read some of Greg’s musings visit his writing page on facebook, for several short stories and pithy takes on yard work and homelife.
Movies often fire my imagination and inspire my writing. These days, I watch movies carefully to see what storytelling tricks I can glean. Special features on DVDs can be instructive, helping me see what choices the directors and writers made to tell their stories. Movies can give me a frame of reference when I’m visualizing a location in one of my novels or imagining how a character might react in trying circumstances. Today, I want to look back at three movies that I found particularly influential.
There’s a good chance I wouldn’t be a novelist if not for The Milagro Beanfield War, directed by Robert Redford and based on the novel by John Nichols. It tells the story of a developer who wants to build a resort in a small New Mexico town and those people who stand up to him, including Joe Mondragon, who resuscitates his father’s beanfield with water slated to irrigate the development’s green lawns. An angel with an accordion and a serape gives our heroes a nudge. For most critics, it explored magical realism in the desert southwest. For me, it showed the kinds of things my family and friends do. The movie showed me that the stories I experience everyday can be worth telling. I started looking at the stories of my mom’s family homesteading in New Mexico and began to imagine what it would be like if people homesteaded an alien world. That led directly to my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro.
I studied German extensively in my college years. My professors not only had us read German literature, but introduced us to German cinema. A major film that came out during that time was Wolfgang Peterson’s film, Das Boot. It is a tense, occasionally humorous, often frightening film that showed the grim realities of crewing a U-Boat during World War II. The movie helped me understand one thing that long bugged me about science fiction films. The space ships often look too clean and everything is so spacious. It struck me that space travel would be much more like working on a submarine. It would be claustrophobic. Fire would mean disaster because it could exhaust the air supply very fast. Every bit of space aboard the ships would be used as wisely as possible to keep costs down. When I started imagining the star vessels in my books, The Pirates of Sufiro and Children of the Old Stars, I imagined that they would be more like the submarine in Das Boot than the Starship Enterprise. This realization helped me visualize my spaceships and think about how the officers and crew would interact with each other.
While I might not have written a novel if not for The Milagro Beanfield War, I wouldn’t have written horror if not for another film I discovered during those years studying German. Werner Herzog’s 1979 film Nosferatu is a remake of the classic 1922 silent film. What made Herzog’s movie special is Klaus Kinski’s portrayal of Count Dracula, which creeped me out while making me care about him at the same time. Characters such as Lord Draco, Alexandra, and Rudolfo from my Scarlet Order vampire novels owe a lot to Kinski’s performance. What’s more, the vampire makeup in that film helped to inspire the human-created monsters in Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Perhaps more important than even these elements, Nosferatu taught me that horror is one of the ways to explore human emotion in the extreme. We see humans at their worst as they give into temptations and at their best as they sacrifice themselves for noble causes.
As I write this, I’m working through the second editorial pass of my forthcoming novel The Astronomer’s Crypt and I find these movies have influenced this work as well. The setting is my beloved southwestern United States, which I learned to utilize from The Milagro Beanfield War. I endeavor to create tension like that in Das Boot and we see humans at their best and worst as we do in Nosferatu. I’m sure this won’t be the last novel to be influenced by these amazing films.
Erik Knight, a small time private investigator, always knew he was different from everybody else. Keener senses, heightened awareness and an enhanced physical strength that could be called upon by his sheer will.
Erik becomes involved with a team of high profile investigators and local police trying to locate a girl who was kidnapped in the middle of a playground amongst dozens of adults and children. None of the adults saw anything and what the children claim to have seen is too far fetched to be believed. The search evolves into a full-scale manhunt into the dark and desolate woodlands of the Hopedale Mountain.
After a lethal encounter and a fatality, Erik, the investigators and police realize that what they’re dealing with isn’t a man and possibly isn’t of this world. What they’re dealing with is a sentient evil that has an appetite for young children.
“Erik!” Shanda whispered in alarm. “Something’s here, stalking the girls. I can’t see it, but I can sense it.”
Erik looked throughout the park grounds, focusing his vision, but he couldn’t see anything. Fifty yards away, the children played unaware of anything but their innocent fun. Erik walked quickly over to where the party was, Shanda following close behind him. As he closed the distance he noticed that his daughter was staring at something and pointing. Erik looked in the direction she was pointing and saw a patch of darkness. His mind shrieked with panic and he ran toward his daughter, screaming for the other girls to leave the park area. The girls looked at the direction Brianna was pointing at and froze. They were terrified, frozen into inaction.
After a quick sprint, Erik was beside his daughter. Several of the other mothers had gone to their children as they all pointed out the closing patch of darkness.
“Get your children back!” Erik commanded. “It wants your children.”
Mothers and children were panicking. Children were crying with fright as the afternoon sun seemed to dim and the temperature in the park suddenly dropped twenty degrees. Brianna hadn’t moved since Erik came by her side.
“What do you see, honey?” he whispered.
Brianna’s eyes were transfixed on the corner of the park. Her finger still pointed in that direction. “It’s a tall man, I think. I can tell that it wants me. It’s calling to me, Daddy. I’m scared. Please don’t let it take me. I can tell it wants to take me.” She screamed in mindless terror.
Erik reached behind his back and pulled his Ruger from its place of concealment. He wrapped both arms protectively around his daughter, his gun pointing in the direction of her finger.
“Bri, point me in the right direction. I won’t let it hurt you. No one is taking you anywhere.”
She gently guided his hands so that the pistol was aiming at the heart of the dark anomaly.
“Daddy,” she whispered, “it’s coming right for us.”
“Go back with Shanda and the others, now!” he told her.
“Daddy, I don’t want to leave you.”
“Go, honey! Please,” he whispered. “Shanda!” Erik shouted, breaking the eerie silence. “Take Brianna.”
Shanda came up quickly and took Brianna. “I can just barely see it, Erik; it’s just like you described. It stopped when you pulled the gun. All the children can see it, but the parents can’t. All they can see is the darkness, and they can feel the cold.”
From behind them, the ponies were shrieking in panic.
“All right, you two, get back!” Erik stood up. He holstered his weapon and began walking toward the darkness.
“I know you’re there!” Erik called out to the inky darkness. “Maybe you can hide from them, but you can’t hide from me!” Erik focused his eyes; concentrating his extra senses on the darkness as he continued forward. Slowly he saw the man-like figure materialize. The figure had stopped its approach and assumed an aggressive stance. Erik paused a scant twenty feet from it and assumed a basic combat stance he used in Kung Fu.
“You can’t have the children!” he shouted, his voice booming above the silence, challenging the being of darkness. “You can’t have my daughter or any other child here.”
The thing responded with silence. Erik finally saw the blood-red eyes looking right through him. He could feel the hatred, the sheer malevolence; yet, now he also felt desperation, a hunger that was beyond his ability to define. The hostility threatened to overwhelm him. Erik fought his own emotions, fought down his own fear and doubt. He knew he couldn’t defeat this thing physically, but he would not let it have his daughter or any other child there, not while he drew breath.
By day I’m a mild-mannered writer of science fiction and horror. By night, I operate the Mayall 4-meter telescope and the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory outside Tucson, Arizona. These two telescopes have contributed greatly to our understanding of the universe. They’ve played a role in the discovery of dark matter, the large scale structure of the universe, dark energy, planets outside the solar system and much more. Working with these telescopes has also done much to inspire my writing.
For many years, I specialized in observations of spotted binary stars. Spotted, in this case means that they have spots, like sunspots, only much larger. In some cases the spots can take up over a third of the star’s surface. Binary means that two stars orbit each other. These are very active, violent stars and I visit such a system in the opening scenes of Children of the Old Stars.
I’ve spent many nights at Kitt Peak pointing telescopes at globular clusters. These are great spherical clouds of ancient stars that orbit our galaxy. In fact, the “old star” part of my “Old Star/New Earth” series gets its name from these stellar groups, which in my novels prove to be the home of an ancient and powerful life form. The series’s overall storyline was inspired by taking one of the deepest images of our galaxy’s center and imagining a way for humans to get there and see it firsthand.
Before working at Kitt Peak, I spent a summer working at the Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket Island, off the Massachusetts coast. Nantucket was once the center of the American whaling industry and is home to many proud, old families. What’s more, the novel Moby-Dick opens on Nantucket Island. When I imagined a character who would sail off into the unknown frontiers surrounding our galaxy and at its heart, I immediately looked to a man born and bred from a long line of Nantucket sailors and you’ll find the island featured prominently in The Pirates of Sufiro, Children of the Old Stars, and Heirs of the New Earth.
Not only does work at an observatory inspire my science fiction, but it has a way of inspiring my horror as well. At one time, one of my co-workers used to joke that those of us who operate telescopes were the vampires of the mountain because you never saw us before sunset or after sunrise. She was also a fan of vampire fiction who introduced me to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire. Because of that, I began to ask what if a telescope operator really was a vampire? That line of questioning led me on the path to writing my novels Vampires of the Scarlet Order and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order.
Lest you think vampires are the scariest thing you might encounter at an observatory, we do have our share of ghost stories. There are tales of the rocking chair in the 4-meter lounge that rocks all by itself. Last winter police reported getting a 911 call from the observatory. When the telescope operator on duty checked the number, it came from inside a locked, empty elevator. Just a month ago, the breaker to the kitchen tripped mysteriously. The breaker is located in one of the spookiest hallways in the building, where I often feel someone is walking right behind me. Now, all of these stories actually have rational explanations, but the shivers these tales induce helped me to create The Astronomer’s Crypt, the first of a horror series that I have written for Lachesis Publishing.
Writing is a passion and a calling for me, but I’m grateful for my career in astronomy. Even if I were to leave it, I’ve seen wonders and had experiences that will inspire many books to come.
Let me apologize in advance to any Romance Novelist who may be upset over my obvious lack of perception and understanding of your genre and the topic, overall. When this topic was suggested to me, my initial reaction was to laugh out loud and roll my eyes. Clearly my publisher had made THE WORST choice to tackle this subject. I am far from a ‘Love Guru’, how could I pontificate and comment on this topic with any shred of credibility? Like any quest for knowledge when one finds oneself lacking, approach those around you and gather a data set from a diverse population; which is what I spent three days doing.
I asked several colleagues of varying ages and gender their definition and opinion of romance and if he/she was familiar with romance novels. The results from the male gender were pretty much what I expected. They all vehemently denied any knowledge or familiarity with the genre beyond the occasional “My wife has one or two on her nightstand and no I’ve never picked one up.” When I pushed for a definition of ‘Romance’ I was taken aback by how guarded the men became. I got suspicious looks and raised eyebrows and arms almost always folded indicating I’d crossed into uncomfortable body language territory. I swore anonymity yet still wasn’t able to crack that guarded man wall of secrecy. One guy went so far as to question my manhood for even broaching such a topic. It seems that Romance, in the data set available to me, is something not discussed among my gender. Upon reflection I admit that the topic has NEVER come up in conversation when I’ve been socializing with other men at any type of gathering. The topics have been work, sports, some fantasy football league, and often trashing some politician or even talking about house projects. Conversations at my rod and gun club are limited to fishing, deer hunting, crossbows, rifles etc., but never in my 52 years have I been exposed to guys discussing romance. Okay, message received. Bros don’t discuss ‘Romance’ with other bros lest they lose their male membership card. If there are men discussing romance and the like, I’ve been missing out on those discussions. Could it be me, the type of hobbies and the people I spend time with? Quite possibly . . . but I deliberately spoke with as diverse a group as possible. My conclusion is that men don’t want to talk about it, at least with other men, especially a writer trying to gain some insight.
The women I spoke to varied in age and, once I explained I was writing a blog, they were more than willing to indulge me in their opinions of romance and why they read romance novels. The one single comment I heard from each women was that the book they were reading was incredibly well written and compelling. The second most common answer was the novels were a wonderful escape from the mundane of the daily drag of work, kids and reality. I got that, it was pretty much the same reason I read science fiction and graphic novels; for a diversion and an escape from the stress and anxiety of the daily grind. As far as explaining and defining romance, I could sense a bit of hesitation. I was given great anecdotes from several people but the detective in me wanted a real time answer. What about today, what defined romance for them today? I got a great deal of rolled eyes and laughter. One funny answer was simply her boyfriend not farting under the sheets at night. One woman my age was much more concise and how shall I say. . . critical with her answers. I’ll call her ‘Kim.’
Kim has been married for several years and has four kids, we talk a lot at the gym while waiting to get on various equipment. We were using the elliptical trainers and chatting to pass the time when I decided, why not broach the topic and ask her a few questions? At least she couldn’t run away. I worked up the nerve to segue our light banter from griping about being winded to romance. To my surprise and delight Kim was very direct and honest with her replies. After fifteen years of marriage, changing diapers through four children and having a husband more excited by his new Callaway driver than by her, she began looking for something to fill the void. She added that her husband was a good man who worked hard and was a great father, but he’d rather spend time his free time at the driving range than having a romantic dinner or a date night. A friend in a local church group loaned her a copy of a particular steamy romance novel with a real hunk on the cover. She laughed as she recalled the book cover hunk was Fabio. I remember that name, some big, long-haired blonde guy with huge pecs and biceps. If I remember he also did margarine commercials. She enjoyed the novel immensely and admitted to getting all hot and bothered by the intimate scenes and the passion found within the pages of that book. From then on Kim decided to spend her evenings and down time with a romance novel tucked in her purse and has become ‘best friends’ with the works of Victoria Dahl and Vivian Arend. “When the kids are in school and he’s at work, I like to curl up under a blanket with a hot cup of cinnamon tea and escape into another world of intrigue and passion. I know it’s never going to happen to me, but it’s nice to pretend and be swept up.” I asked Kim to define ‘Romance’. She laughed for a moment looked over at me as we were both dripping with sweat. “Well it’s certainly not this.” I laughed at her wit and repeated the question. Kim slowed her pace and took a deep breath, “Greg, if you have to ask me that question and really don’t know the answer I feel sorry for you. You have the same affliction infecting my husband and a lot of other men.” I winced a bit at the sting of her retort but she then rewarded me with an answer, “Romance is the non-physical acts of love two people show for each other, it’s the little things that make certain somebody feels special, desired and cherished by their partner.”
Kim cranked up her pace and told me to chew on that for awhile, she put on her earphones and got back to her quick pace. After another twenty minutes pondering, Kim finished her workout, she looked over at me and could tell I was still smarting from her remark. “I didn’t mean to insult you; if I did I’m sorry. You’re a nice guy, Greg and I figured you could handle the reality check.”
I left the gym with Kim’s point blank response echoing in my head. I stopped at my favorite coffee haunt and thought more about Romance. Were we men, as a gender, all negligent husbands forcing our spouses to seek attention or gratification within the pages of some writer’s imagination? I reflected back on the first time I fell in love, the way my heart skipped a beat, how my mind was solely focused on her, I knew her scent, every curve of her face and longed just to hear her voice and be with her. I remember the dates, the long walks and picnics and the hand holding. I recall carrying her across a large puddle because she didn’t want to get her new boots wet and how she giggled as I waded through the ankle deep water carrying her. I remember showering her with flowers not because I just wanted intimacy, but I loved to see her smile and the delightful squeal she made when she was happy. I remember spending hours under the hood of her mom’s beat up station wagon and shelling out my own money on car parts not because I had to, but because I knew it was important to her and I knew it would make her happy. That was romance, that was how I showed her I loved her. It wasn’t the words, it wasn’t the physical joining, it was the gestures and deeds I made when we were together that let her know I cared. I made her feel special and important and I got love, affection and companionship in return. Romance is the non-physical acts of love we show our partners.
I knew it all along but lost the meaning over the years. I remembered the feeling of falling freshly in love and the natural high that came along with it, the heart skipping a beat, the electric jolt caused by a single touch of a fingertip. I remembered romance, what I did because of love, the small and large selfless deeds I never thought twice about when I was younger but confess, balk at doing now, or do with a grumble under my breath. Working on my mother in law’s car isn’t always done happily, and often I catch myself rolling my eyes at the thought of stepping out of my comfort zone and expressing myself or my feelings. I often hear the words but fail to listen. I looked back over a litany of self-failings over my iced coffee and wondered what that drop of moisture was rolling down my cheek. How does it all change? Does life and time really have such an impact? What changes in relationships that kill or cool the romance? What goes wrong?
I’ve never read a romance novel. But I know from those I’ve spoken with that it’s more than just sex; it’s the excitement of discovering a new love, a new connection. I’m sure the male character does all the right things, slays the dragon, conquers the evil or is just there for the support needed or just to listen. I assume that’s the appeal more than the steamy scenes that cause one’s heart to flutter and forms beads of perspiration on the brow. Again that’s my conclusion based on dipping my toe into a pool I’ve never swum before. I believe it’s the crafted tale, the developed characters and story telling complimented by romantic gestures, the non-physical acts of love, that make the eventual physical bonding so powerful and intense (Also a gifted writer behind it). It’s not just the buff, shirtless guy on the cover; it’s the deeds done in the relationship not just inside the bed sheets that have the appeal. I think.
So how does romance work after years of marriage, several kids, two careers, soccer practices, yard work and a “Dad Bod” versus “Six pack abs”? I honestly just don’t know. Maybe after years together it’s no longer about the grand gestures, maybe the small things have just as much meaning. Maybe making sure the toilet seat is down, emptying the dishwasher and putting away the laundry are just as important as carrying someone across a large puddle or doing a brake job on a car. Perhaps the simple daily acts of consideration can communicate wordlessly what men, myself included, may have forgotten or neglected to do over time. I’m not saying bringing home flowers and candy more than once a year on Valentine’s Day isn’t appreciated but perhaps the simple, yet helpful, gestures go further to prove love is still alive and the fire hasn’t tuned to ashes. A simple action is worth more than a thousand words . . . even if those words are ‘I love you.’ Showing you care is always better than saying you care. Maybe, just maybe, that’s what romance is all about.
I’m just a Science Fiction writer out of his swim lane, but I think I get the point.
I grew up watching superhero TV shows and reading comic books, so you might expect me to be a fan of superhero fiction. Unfortunately, superheroes have rarely translated well into short stories or novels for me. I either find the stories shallow translations of comic books or I find that the author tips the scales too much in the other direction and spends so much time on probing the superhero’s psyche that they forget to give us the action and fun that makes the genre special. That said, Greg Ballan’s Hybrid: Forced Vengeance has shown me that a superhero novel can be just as thrilling as the best comics and movies while adding the depth and complexity we’ve come to expect from great fiction.
An alien called Jakor has combined the DNA of a detective named Erik Knight with that of his own race, the Espers. Knight can essentially transform into a metallic being with super strength and telepathy. Bullets can hurt him, but they’re not fatal. What’s more, he possesses an Esper staff with the ability to transform into swords, shields, and other useful items. As Hybrid: Forced Vengeanceopens, Knight is on a mission for the U.S. Government in Saudi Arabia. While there, his pregnant wife Shanda is apparently killed in a car crash. While still grieving for his wife, Knight is sent on a new mission. This time, he must protect the daughter of the French president from an assassination plot.
Once Knight goes overseas, we learn that Shanda did not die after all. She’s been taken to Area 51 in the Nevada Desert so the military can take her newborn, study the child, and try to make more malleable super soldiers than the willful Erik Knight. Shanda turns out not to be the only captive of the story’s villain, Colonel Ross. It turns out the government also holds an alien called Gray from a race called the Observers. Ross hopes that Gray will give him the secrets to a flying saucer the government shot down years before.
Through the course of the novel, Knight gets caught up in a web of intrigue, suspense, and government conspiracy. Ballan introduces us to many characters, each with their own agendas. Most important of all, Hybrid: Forced Vengeancenever forgets to be a fun-filled, action-packed ride. At times, Ballan threatens to go over the top with some of the situations he presents, but superhero stories are supposed to be morality plays that pit the best heroes against the worst villains in the most extreme circumstances. Hybrid: Forced Vengeance delivers just that.
Erik Knight takes an honored place alongside my favorite superheroes from the comics. I can’t wait to join him for another adventure.
It’s not very often that I find myself finishing a book with my jaw literally dropped open. That’s what happened with David Lee Summers’new novel, Heirs of the new Earth. I flat out admit I was disappointed. Not with the ending of the tale but the very fact that I had come to the adventure’s conclusion. Summers carefully breaks up his tale into sections and like a master weaver threads separate story arcs and characters across the galaxy, spinning the fabric of an amazing tale of science fiction adventure that kept me on the edge of my chair eagerly scrolling page after page. A warning to every reader . . . block off a good chunk of time, pour your favorite beverage and sit down in your favorite comfort chair. Once you start reading, the story jumps out and grabs hold, drawing you into a world one thousand years in the future where mankind has spread across the universe, contacted other intelligent life, and colonized new worlds.
Not all life in the galaxy is warm, fuzzy and humanoid. This, in my opinion, is where Summers shines like a fiery day star. The author creates a palpable sense of awe and dread painting an intricate portrait of a mysterious alien race known only as the Cluster. Summers’ prologue gives the reader a sense of the mysterious alien(s), their history in the galaxy and the beings’ desire to merge with another species to use as “Appendages”. Unfortunately for humanity WE have been chosen. Summers intricately dissects the cost/benefit analysis of human interaction with an “All powerful entity” motivated to “Help” us cure disease and cleanse the Earth for our benefit. Sometimes the price for paradise can be too steep and the motivation of a benefactor not always as pure as one is led to believe. Summers creates a viable web of intrigue and puts a morality study into play as humanity is unwittingly aiding in its own destruction.
Summers takes the battle for humanity into deep space at the Galactic Core with incredible ships such as the Mapping Cruiser ‘Nicholas Sanson’ led by Captain John Mark Ellis and the refit pirate schooner ‘Legacy’ headed by the elder Captain Ellision Firebrandt. But he also utilizes cerebral pathways and gateways of the human mind manipulated by the advanced alien intellect. Summers’ brilliant depiction of an ancient sailing vessel navigating interstellar space populated by copies of human brain patterns literally made me stop mid-read and ponder the possibility of such an incredible concept. Summers goes even further as he creates the final epic space battle to save humanity from its “Benefactors.” It is here that all the story arcs come together, each fabric of Summers’ tapestry woven to perfection culminating in the final battle to save humanity not only from the Cluster but from itself. Again, David Lee Summers shows his story-telling genius by throwing a major twist into the salvation of humanity and giving the reader another moment for dramatic pause to consider such a wondrous possibility that man may not be the best intellect on Earth. In the end it isn’t human genius or firepower that saves mankind but something more subtle, awe inspiring, yet somewhat terrifying at the same time. As the danger for humanity isn’t over but may only be delayed as the powerful alien Cluster learns and develops from its new host appendage.
It took longer than normal to get involved with the main characters of this tale because it’s the third book in a trilogy, and though it’s apparent there are relationships established in the first two books that continue in the third, this doesn’t detract from the story as the relationships become self-evident and the plots cleverly merge together. Summers’ ability to create a unique future for humanity is quite believable as the problems that impact modern day society in the 21st century are still there in the 30th century only exasperated in scale.His description of 30th century Earth is as fantastic as it is credible which makes this epic tale about the struggle to preserve humanity that much more intriguing and viable to any reader.
Grab your favorite chips and beverage, curl up in a nice cozy spot and give your mind and imagination the treat of this incredible tale told by a unique, gifted author. The only problem I have now is waiting to get book one and book two.