An Improbable Year

Grab your champagne flute and somebody to smooch, y’all, because the year is done and done well.  It’s time to reflect and celebrate!  Stick with me as we reminisce about 2014 and look forward to what next year holds:


Instead of going chronologically, I’m going to start with the little things, especially those you might have missed, and move up to the biggest things that impacted my year.

First, that which had the least major impact was my on-going and new projects.  I’ve learned that it is a tough thing to balance being a professional officer, a husband/caregiver, a father, and an independent publisher, and the thing that got the least attention in that mix was ongoing long-form work.  Short stories I was able to knock out with relative ease, with four published this year alone and another on hold with Baen’s Grantville Gazette for a possible buy.  Long-form, novel-length works proved to be my Achilles heel.  I have three projects in the hopper:  first, the sequel to A Sword Into Darkness, titled Lancers into the light, because EVERYBODY has been asking about it and I’d be a fool not to do one.  That one is still in the outlining phase, primarily since I needed a break from ASID, and also because I have two other projects to finish.  One of those is my long-suffering urban fantasy Echomancer, which is about 1/3rd complete and suffers from a lot of time/will/desire based writer’s block.  Basically, I hit a snag and never went back to it once I moved to other projects.  One of those projects is my last long-form unfinished work, which is going between the titles of Demigod and Dattoo, a Christian near-future hard-science young-adult philosophical thriller.  Is it a total genre mash-up?  Yes.  Is it going slowly?  Yes.  Is it my most exciting project and my best second bid for traditional publication?  YES.  So, the short answer is that I am working on the next book(s), but the going was slow in 2014, and I hope for more positive news in this next year.

Next in the highlight hit-parade is TNT’s “The Last Ship,” a great little show that premiered this year.  If you haven’t had the chance to check it out, you absolutely should on Blu-ray, DVD, or your streaming service of choice.  Eric Dane, Rhona Mitra, and Adam Baldwin star in a loose adaptation of William Brinkley’s 1988 post-apocalyptic novel.  It’s all about the last US warship, the destroyer USS NATHAN JAMES, which has escaped infection from a worldwide lethal pandemic, and which has the bead on a cure.  It is cheesy, fun, well-acted, well-plotted, and surprisingly accurate and respectful of how the actual US surface Navy works.  As a lark, I blogged about it all from a USN officer perspective and it did wonders for me.  It consistently brought the most traffic to the blog, and brought me a number of new fans as well, who took a chance on my reviews and tried out my books as well.  So, overall, a great success.

This next is not such a success story, at least in the relative sense.  Following good advice from my friend and mentor Jeff Edwards of Stealth Books that I needed to have something else out on the market to serve the audience that ASID was growing, I published five of my military and artificial intelligence short stories as a collection on Amazon Kindle.  REMO has been well-reviewed (39 Amazon reviews with 4.2 stars) and has sold all right, but it never has done the numbers that ASID did.  I may have been spoiled by how my first foray into independent publishing did, and I realize that collections don’t tend to sell as well long-form works, but I would have liked for it to have done better, for more people to have tried it out.  As of this post, REMO has sold 1937 copies on Kindle, with an additional 362 provided through Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (which I still get paid for).  That’s around 2300 more people that have enjoyed my stories than would have if they had stayed on my computer.  Good, but not as good as magazine circulation.  One story in particular, “Dogcatcher Blues,” is my favorite and — I think — is almost Hugo-worthy (though Baen did not originally buy it and I failed to shop it anywhere else), but I doubt any Hugo voters will ever see it.  I guess I have no room to complain, but relative to the rest of the year, REMO is my regrettable disappointment.

For this next paragraph, I have absolutely no complaint.  Short stories have been my sort of thing for a while now.  I started writing them years ago, to hone my skills and get my foot in the door of the traditional publishing industry, but success had eluded me.  I had two stories bought in years past, both by Baen publications (my favorite publishing house), but nothing to anyone else.  This year, in large part due to synergy with ASID’s success, I have published four stories in pro and semi-pro/amateur markets, with a fifth on tap for the new year.  I kicked ass in 2014 when it comes to short stories.  First was my sale of “The Rememberists” to Daily Science Fiction.  That story was HUGE for me, though it was my first flash-length story and literally VERY short.  I’ve had tons of tweets, facebook posts and fan e-mails from that one, along with two short-film producer/directors who intend to turn it into a film project.  Next, I came into contact with the crew over at The Writer’s Arena, who allowed me to participate in one of their short story contests.  Basically, you and another writer get a general topic and you each have to complete a short story in a few days, which the audience and two judges then vote on.  And my story, “The Gaslight Consultant” won!  That led them to checking out ASID (as well as my old Masters thesis online) and mentioning me a couple of times on The Human Echoes Podcast.  The first mention was all zany fun, and the second mention garnered me a very good, well-balanced review for ASID.  My next pro sale was as part of the Riding The Red Horse anthology from Castalia House.  I got an invitation to participate in their inaugural volume, and after a prompt from the editor Vox Day that they were looking for a literal sea story, I turned in “Within This Horizon,” which is now featured alongside stories and essays from Dr. Jerry Pournelle, Tom Kratman, Ken Burnside, Steve Rzasa, Christopher Nuttall, Chris Kennedy, and many others.  The association with Castalia House and RTRH has been all positive, leading to potential new projects and hopefully a chance to participate again next year.  And lastly, a little bit of victory fun.  For the holiday season, I participated in Liberty Island Magazine’s Alternative Holiday Fiction Contest, looking for genre-alternative Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus stories.  I turned in a cute little redux of the Christmas Truce of 1914, but this time between our AI robots and the combat drones of our bitter enemy Canada.  And it won the grand prize!

And the last bit of professional writing news had the second biggest impact on my life:  the independent publication of A Sword Into Darkness through Stealth Books.  I cannot thank enough my publishing partner Jeff Edwards and all the readers who gave me a shot.  You guys made my year.  As of this posting and not counting an unknown number of pirated copies (I’ve truly arrived . . . people are stealing my shit), I’ve sold just under 30,000 copies of my little military sci-fi / hard-science space opera.  Here’s how the percentages break out:


As you can see, ASID is available in trade paperback, on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, Kobo, iBooks, and as an audiobook read by Liam Owen from SciFi Publishing.  And it is a well-regarded debut novel, with 4.4 stars on Amazon out of 349 US reviews, 3.88 stars on the tougher crowd at Goodreads through 33 reviews and 525 ratings, plus reviews and accolades from Winchell Chung of Atomic Rockets, PT Hylton, Carol Kean at Perihelion SF, 20four12, PG’s Ramblings, Castalia House, Kaedrin Weblog, the Human Echoes Podcast, and others.  I even got the Christmas treat of making PT Hylton’s favorite 14 books of 2014 in song form:

I don’t know how others do on their debuts because I’m too new at this, but I’m very very very happy and blessed with how ASID has done.  And I’m very hopeful about the doors it may open up for me.  I got a whole lotta nothing from agents and publishers for the last three years, but over the last year I’ve proven that I can at least sell a well-regarded book as a solid mid-list author.  They say you should not use self-published titles on your query letters to publishers, but if I can tell them that on my own, with no resources other than help from friends and a few judicious ads and sales, I sold 30,000 copies of my debut. maybe then they’ll give me a closer look.  Oooor, I’ll just stick to the indie crowd and continue taking in 70% royalties instead of settling for 10-15%.

And last but certainly not least, the thing that had the biggest impact on my year.  It was not the job, though that did have biggish news and a may appear here next year.  It was not my kids, though I am very proud of them and the improvements in their grades and schooling.  It was not my personal health journey as that mostly involved me getting fatter and slower despite my half-hearted efforts.  No, the biggest thing for me this year was standing by my beautiful wife, Jen, as she kicked breast cancer’s ass.  She is an inspiration to me, and I don’t think she adequately realizes how proud I am of her, how humbled I am that she continues to put up with my crap and allows me to walk beside her in life.  This woman faced down a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, reconstruction, complications to her own gastric bypass from years ago, and all the ravages to the body, psyche, and soul that all of that can wreak upon someone, and she refused to let it break her.  In fact, she used it to inspire others to get tested and to persevere, no matter the diagnosis or prognosis.  She endured shaving her head (my son and I joined her in this), losing her hair, dealing with the pain of neuropathy, the fatigue, the burns, and the fear that it would all be for naught.  She had low days indeed.  Who wouldn’t?  But she always came out on top.  And now she is on the mend and headed to being certifiably cancer free.  Her mother and I served as her caregivers, but that never stopped Jen from providing care to her family and a wider circle of friends than I will ever know.  Jen Mays, I love you and my hopes and prayers are for a great 2015 for us both.  We deserve it, and especially you.

Have a great year, everybody.  Toodles.


Good Things Come In Threes

Don’t have a whole lotta time to post, but wanted to get this out while interest was high:

First GOOD thing, got a GREAT review from Carol Kean over at the fantastic sci-fi web-zine Perihelion Science Fiction. She’s been chatting with me on Twitter for months (and is part of the oppressive Hashtagocracy, along with me), introducing me to fabulous new indie authors and Twitterati.  Plus she expressed an intense interest in ASID.  That finally culminated with this month’s issue of Perihelion, and, I gotta say, I owe her one.  It is a really good review, critical yet effusive, and even though she admits that military sci-fi is not her thing (she tends to skim the hard science and tactics passages), she is definitely in the fan column.  I’ll take a 4 out of 5 stars from Carol any day!  So check it out, and also their new fiction and the other reviews of Edge of Tomorrow and Will McIntosh’s latest book from Orbit.

Second GOOD thing, Will Perez and kick-ass narrator Liam from Sci-Fi Publishing have completed the audiofiles for the ASID audiobook!  Just a few things to put away and tidy up and then you can LISTEN to awesome hard science, military sci-fi, space opera, technothriller goodness at home, during your workout, or on the commute to and from work!  On sale soon, but here’s a little taste:


Third GOOD thing, I have been eliminated from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2014!  Hmmm.  Why is that good news, you ask?  Well, it is and it isn’t.  I would have LOVED to have been a semi-finalist, and — of course — I’d have loved to have won one of the $15,000 advances or the $50,000 grand prize, but I never really expected too.  ASID is, at best, a good pulp adventure.  When people take off marks for its limited character development, I gotta shrug and say, “Well, yeah.”  It is not an introspective tale.  There is very little deep catharsis.  Besides Nathan getting past the sinking incident and learning to lead again, and besides Kris’s strained relationship with the father that abandoned her, my characters are pretty middle of the road.  They evolve and express themselves in relation to the plot.  No one is going to make a Lifetime movie out of ASID, but it would make the best SyFy Channel movie EVER, not to mention a pretty damn good blockbuster at the multiplex.  The Fault In Our Stars, it ain’t.  So, I’m out, but I’m still proud of my book, and now I can move on to other opportunities.  Besides, all the REALLY cool people I’ve met in relation to ABNA 2014 got kicked out too, so I’m among friends.

Following this is ABNA:  Full Disclosure, with my two Amazon Vine reviews of my excerpt, and the Publisher’s Weekly Review of the whole book.  I gots nothing to hide!

And, REMEMBER, only a couple of days left on the ASID and REMO 99¢ sales!


ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

Generally, the excerpt is well-structured and flows well. The writing is characterized by some excellent descriptions: “You’re an idle-rich tech wizard with an over-funded amateur astronomy bug, so some eccentricity has to be expected, I guess. In the dusking skies of evening above USS Rivero , the sharp boundary of the eastern horizon had already merged with the night, while to the west a wash of orange and red still set the water afire. These descriptions are not only well-written, they enable the reader to visualize the scene or setting more clearly. Another strength of the excerpt is the pacing. The story flows well and smoothly at a steady pace. I expect the story to be action-packed based on these preliminary chapters, which should make for an engaging read.

What aspect needs the most work?

More careful editing is needed. Avoid cliched descriptions, for example: Everyone heard the familiar dissonance of screeching brakes, squealing tires, blaring horns, and one final movement of crunching metal. The first two chapters appear to be cluttered with technical descriptions. Some of these descriptions are obviously integral to the plot and in driving the narrative forward, but at times, the technical aspects engulf and overwhelm the story, making me feel like I was reading some sort of technical manual and losing sight of the story itself. This might be an area you wish to focus on and improve. I’d like to see the main characters developed more over the course of the narrative. Characterization should not be sacrificed at the narrative’s expense, and I’d like to see how both Gordon Lee and Nathan Kelley are developed.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

For the most part, the excerpt is well-organized and flows well. The protagonist Gordon Lee appears to be a rather eccentric character but one chapter alone does not make for compelling characterization. I would hope that the main characters get developed as the narrative moves forward, including the Navy man, Nathan Kelley. The premise sounds interesting and although sci-fi thrillers are not my cup of tea, I admit my curiosity has been piqued by this engaging excerpt.

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

The science of this fiction was well done even though some of the terms I read I had no idea if they were real or not. The frustration of Gordon was well written as well as his interaction with Lydia. How it ties in to chapter 2 would keep me reading into chapter 3, although chapter 2 was a bit weaker than the first.

What aspect needs the most work?

Chapter two on the boat gave no reference on why we were firing into North Korea, maybe explained later. The banter for firing nukes was unrealistic as I would think anyone given instructions for firing a weapon that could kill hundreds of thousands could be so cavalier makes no sense, however based on the pitch and the submarine the smugness is probably short lived.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

I thought the pitch of the book was interesting and the author writing does lend an authoritative tone to what I read which is important in a sci-fi book. Would def read on because of the premise and what I have read so far. Send me a copy!

ABNA Publishers Weekly Reviewer

Visionary Gordon Lee sees something that no one else, not even NASA, sees, or at least is willing to see. What initially appears as a rogue comet turns out to be something much more. It’s an alien craft of some sort, on a long haul to Earth from a star twenty light years away. With no way to ascertain the aliens’ motives, Lee resolves to prepare for a worst case scenario: hostile invasion. To that end, he recruits ex-Navy sailor Nathan Kelley, and turns the full force of his fortune and private tech company, Windward Technologies, to developing means to combat the presumed threat. With few allies in government, Lee and Kelley are left to prepare as best they can, recruiting a motley crew, including the brilliant and erratic engineer Kristene Munoz, to lead the civilian defense of Earth. Fortunately, the laws of physics ensure that the ship will take several years to arrive. This manuscript is fairly standard military science fiction. The strongest area is the conceptual technology, which starts out very firmly rooted in present day scientific reality. Unfortunately, this, combined with the drive toward confronting the alien force, leaves little room for character development. The action is well paced, and the reasoning behind both the aliens and their motivations is very well thought out, making this a solid read.

Awesome, Cool, Good, & Bad News

First, Hi!  Howzyadoin?

Second, prepare for AWESOME NEWS:


Happy Father’s Day!!! A Sword Into Darkness and REMO e-books are both on sale!!!  There’s soooo much sci-fi goodness to be had for both you and Dad, you should tell all your friends and followers about it.  Shout it from the rooftops (provided you have the training and appropriate safety gear)!  ASID is on sale 11-15 June (on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple iBooks, and Smashwords) and REMO is on sale 12-17 June (exclusive on Amazon Kindle).  If ever you needed an excuse, you just got one, shipmate. Think of all the Poppas, and just follow the links above!

Cool news, I just made the final edits to the ASID Audiobook.  And judging by how AMAZING it sounds, even if you’ve read it, you’ll want to experience it a second time on Audible.  I hope to have it available before month’s end, and I will absolutely NEED your help to make its launch a rousing success.  Ya see, nobody really knows who the hell I am, so if they’re going to shell out $20, they’ll need some good word of mouth.  I hope I can count on you all!

Good news, everyone!  I’m writing again.  Just tossed down half of Chapter 1 for Demigod (formerly CoPilot) and the initial line is a corker:  “The end of the world as Demeter Sedaris knew it began with a lie — her own.”  Plus, I submitted my fantasy short story to the Baen Fantasy Adventure Short Story contest.  The title is a state secret so’s I don’t taint the voting, but cross your fingers.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  And in other cool news, I’ve got two reviews for ASID coming out this week.  One is from Carol Kean of Perihelion Science Fiction and the other will be the Publisher’s Weekly review that will either doom or continue my bid to win the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (Semi-Finals).  Wish me luck!

And in mild bad news (more awwww, than OH NO!), “Bumped” was rejected by Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, but they were encouraging in their form rejection, so I will be trying again.  I’m not too busted up, because Baen has expressed interest, but I’m not stopping with just them.  It’ll get sold somewhere.  The story is too fun not to!

How can you cheer me up?  Send people to buy the books on sale and boost those sale rankings!!!  After all, ASID and REMO are only



Hello, World (REDUX)!

Last time I did this, a whole lot less of the world was colored in.  But now? 

BOOYAH!!  Check that out:


You could almost circumnavigate off that map.  The Improbable Author has now had over 10,000 views, which I realize are merely a single afternoon’s numbers for John Scalzi, but I’m geeking out about it pretty hard nonetheless.  Most of my readership (and most of my ASID sales) are in the ol’ USA, naturally, followed in a distant second by the UK, then Canada, Australia, and Germany.  Sweden is next, which is a bit of a surprise, but then you’ve got Brazil, which is a HUGE surprise.  My wife is Portuguese-American, but not the South/Brazil brand of either of those ethnicities, and I’m a northern European – Native American mutt.  No ties there other than a love of kick-ass science fiction and pithy blogging, one supposes.  Either way, I’ve got a strong and loyal worldwide following, so THANK YOU to all the multitude of countries too long to list that have become devotees of my blog and, one hopes, readers and fans of A Sword Into Darkness.

Regarding ASID readers, my Kindle Daily Deal was . . . somewhat successful, in that I gained 3200 new ones in a single day!  That is satisfying both financially and in terms of milestones.  I’ve now sold over 15,000 copies of the book worldwide in three months, which makes me an Amazon bestseller at the very least (in the short term) and an honest mid-list professional (where I’m likely to settle out).  I was briefly ranked on the bestselling author list right behind Jim Butcher and Orson Scott Card (awesome), found myself in a George R. R. Martin sandwich (a weird way to express how ASID got stuck in the rankings between various compilations and editions of A Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire), and have begun to realize I REALLY need to talk to a tax accountant (bad).

Also, the excerpt reviews from the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards are finally in.  Mine were quite short, but positive (obviously, since I’ve moved on to the quarter-finals).  There’s a lot of stiff, well-written competition on the road to the semi-finals, though.  Everyone should check out Morgan Richter’s competing novel Lonely Satellite and John L. Monk’s Kick.  Both are very different works than ASID, but equally enjoyable companions under the umbrella of Sci-Fi Fantasy and Horror.  Between those two writers and 97 others, my chances look slim for proceeding to the next round, but if I have to lose to writers of their caliber, I won’t feel so bad.  Either way, I get a free Publisher’s Weekly review.  Here’s hoping it’s as positive as these Amazon Vine reviews of the excerpt:

“The science of this fiction was well done even though some of the terms I read I had no idea if they were real or not. The frustration of Gordon was well written as well as his interaction with Lydia. How it ties in to chapter 2 would keep me reading into chapter 3, although chapter 2 was a bit weaker than the first.” –Vine Reviewer

“Generally, the excerpt is well-structured and flows well. The writing is characterized by some excellent descriptions: “You’re an idle-rich tech wizard with an over-funded amateur astronomy bug, so some eccentricity has to be expected, I guess. In the dusking skies of evening above USS Rivero , the sharp boundary of the eastern horizon had already merged with the night, while to the west a wash of orange and red still set the water afire. These descriptions are not only well-written, they enable the reader to visualize the scene or setting more clearly. Another strength of the excerpt is the pacing. The story flows well and smoothly at a steady pace. I expect the story to be action-packed based on these preliminary chapters, which should make for an engaging read.” –Vine Reviewer

And, lastly, the keen-eyed blog reader may note a new panel at the top of the sidebar.  That is my button for REMO which will be here very, very soon.  I love the cover done by Peter Schuller of ARMS Design, Budapest.  Check out the full cover by clicking the link and stay tuned for updates on when the anthology launches!

Happy Easter!


Today Was A Good Day to Kick Ass

First of all, I need help picking the winning cover for REMO from all the outstanding final entries.  So click on the picture below, VOTE, and then come back here, because you ain’t gonna want to miss this.

REMO Winner

Don’t you just LOVE proportional voting?  Now, to task!

Today was a pretty awesome day.  It started off with an e-mail at the crack of dawn, from the editors of Daily Science Fiction, who told me that they’re buying my flash (under 1000 words) soft-SF short story “The Rememberists.”  It’s a weird little tale, but thought provoking, and they’re buying first serial rights to it!  While the money off a 1000 word tale isn’t life-changing, even at professional rates, it does mark my third sale to a paying, professional science fiction market.  That — technically — makes me a pro-science fiction author, at least according to the Science Fiction Writers’ Association, the SFWA, our professional guild.  Folks have a lot of mixed feelings about the SFWA, which is currently undergoing an ideological purge of sorts, but I like writers on both sides of the divide.  Will I join?  I dunno.  But its still damn nice to be able to.

Matter two, which was why I had been thinking about the SFWA and professionalism, is the fact that I now have sold over 10,000 copies of A Sword Into Darkness (and at a royalty rate that does NOT suck).  Though it is self/indie published, selling 10,000 copies allows you to classify yourself as a pro, and as a new pro, begins your two-year countdown clock for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in Science Fiction.  It would be AMAZING to get a Campbell nod, like one of my favorites, Larry Correia.  Of course, there’s a few hiccups to getting that nomination and attending the Hugo Awards:  namely, the Best New Writers get nominated by the attendees of the past and current WorldCon, where the awards are handed out.  Thing is, I don’t know any WorldCon attendees, and i really doubt they just happened to be browsing Amazon, saw my cover, and said THAT is my next read!  And then there’s the matter that I may be ineligible.  “Dreams for Sale — Two Bits!” was published in Jim Baen’s Universe, a pro-level magazine, in 2009.  Since you have only two years in which to be eligible, I could sell 1,000,000 sales, and not be eligible as the Best New Writer (though I think I could handle the pain).  JBU is now defunct, and I’m not sure if the records will support there being sufficient subscribers to hit the size necessary to start my two-year clock.  Am I eligible?  I dunno.  But I’d really like to be afforded the opportunity to turn down the nomination.

And finally, after working in the yard all day, putting in a stone firepit and landscaping, I got another e-mail.  This one was from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, or ABNA 2014, announcing that A Sword Into Darkness had made it through the second round and is now a quarter-finalist.  In the first two rounds, they start off reading a 300 word pitch, choosing 2000 out of 10,000 entries on that alone.  Then in the third round, 2000 are whittled down to 500, 100 of which are Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, by reading a 3000 word excerpt from the beginning.  In the fourth round, the editors of Publisher’s Weekly write an actual reveiw of your entire manuscript, and then pick 25 books out of 500 to go to the semi-finals, and so on.  Why?  Well, in the offering is a $ 50,000 publishing contract through Amazon Publishing, and five $10,000 contracts, putting real books in real physical bookstores.  What are my chances of winning?  About 1 in 500 against, but as contests go, it’s one of the best out there.  I’m amazed to still be in competition!

So, very, very cool.  And to close out the day in an appropriately badass way, we christened the fire pit by burning our Christmas tree, which has been drying outside since January, and is thus — essentially — explosive.  And semi explode it did! I stacked paper and bone-dry, needle-filled branches high (too high). When I lit it, people inside the house could actually hear it as it sucked in all the available oxygen and shot up with 30 foot flames. My neighbors were un-pleased. Thank goodness I hadn’t just lit the entire tree at once like the Pyro within me wanted to. I then ripped off my clothes and danced around my fire spirit while I fed in the rest of the tree (it made for some very awkward smores with the kids afterward). Now the stones of my firepit are fused together and I truly understand why natural trees end up burning down homes.

Goooooooodnight, loyal readers! . . .