We Who Are About To Die Salute You (middle fingers only)

It’s a bittersweet thing, putting the finishing touches on a novel.

Sweet, in that you’ve achieved a significant, hard-won victory over your own procrastinations, distractions, and the inertia of life. Sweet, in that you can look back and remember fondly crafting the intricate puzzles of your plot, the subtle painting of your scenes, and the gentle creation of your characters, watching over them like a benevolent parent.

Bitter, in that you are rapidly running out of opportunities to ruin those little bastards’ lives and murder them in interesting ways.

Mine and Chris Kennedy’s new book (and first installment of a new potential series?) is getting wrapped up. I’m putting the finishing touches on the ultimate chapter / epilog / teaser (for installment numero dos). Then we go into heavy editing, beta-reading, cover design, layout, packaging, printing, & publishing, followed by marketing, pre-selling, early reviews, and eventual actual sales.

Very soon, The Mutineer’s Daughter will be out, and you’ll have the opportunity and privilege to gladly fork over your beer money. You can let it thrill you, surprise you, and intrigue you far better than your latest Hollywood factory offering (except maybe John Wick, that shit RULES).

All your fun lies in the future. All mine very nearly lies in the past. No more fictional death and dismemberment*. No more eye-popping destruction (literally) as you get sucked into space and roasted by your own exhaust plume. No more thermonuclear explosion-derived, radiation-pumped x-ray laser beam warhead driven immolation. No more being flayed by thousands of tungsten BB’s. No more falling to your deaths down alien mineshafts. No more getting stabbed through the heart with jagged hull metal. No more decapitation via relativistic railgun rounds. No more demises by excessive ragdolling.


There’s also a ton of folks that get shot.

Some folks get shot from orbit.

Aaaaahhhhh. Fun stuff.

But, the important point here is that technically I’m still writing. And editing. And more than capable of doing a global search and replace to put your name in place of Hapless Casualty #3 … to “redshirt” you in other words, to make you forever immortalized as Dead Crewperson Number 7 in The Mutineer’s Daughter.

If you would like to suffer such a(n) (ig)noble fate, comment below, or tweet, or Facebook myself or Chris. I’ve already gotten a bunch of names, but I do kill a whole lotta folks in this, so don’t be shy.

Chris and I are happy to have our baby kill you. (Nope. No way that sentence sounds bad out of context….)

And, I’m interested: what’s the best/worst death you’ve ever encountered in fiction, movies, books, or otherwise?

See? I’ll go first. For me it’s a toss-up between the Nazi face-melting scene in Raiders and the snow-cutter scene in Larry Corriea’s Monster Hunter Alpha (so many undead sliced and diced….).

What’s yours?! Whether you’re in as a redshirt or not, I want to see your comments!

Have fun!

* (until the sequel)

Un-Amateur, Un-Professional

Hi there.

It’s been a while.  For those of you who don’t know me (or have — quite reasonably — forgotten about me), I’m Thomas A. Mays, intermittent sci-fi author.  Welcome!  For those that do know me, hello again, sorry for the significant delay.

When last I wrote, back during the innocent days of November 2016I would have called myself a semi-pro author (self-published category).  I had written a book over the course of a number of years, published it in 2014, was lucky enough to find an audience for it, and very much enjoyed the spoils of said publication.  This included short story sales to magazines, invitations to anthologies, getting featured as a guest at local cons, hobnobbing with other authors, and regular interaction with fans of my work — all with the understanding that I was working toward the next piece, whether that be a sequel or an entirely new, next big thing.

But that sense of myself included a fair bit of self-delusion.

I have to admit to myself and to you that I am no pro.  I’m more than an amateur.  Amateurs don’t get queries from fans and folks in the business.  Amateurs don’t have to declare their hobby on their taxes.  But, having met real pros, pros who have figured out the work-life-writing balance, I have to recognize that I am not amongst their ranks.

I am proud to call many of them friends.  I am not so arrogant as to call myself their equal.

It’s been going on 4 years since I published A Sword Into Darkness.  Its sequel, Lancers Into The Light, is half-finished.  It’s been half-finished for over a year.  I have the path to finish it, but I have not been able to sit down and actually put the words on the screen.  It is not writer’s block.  I more or less doubt that is a real thing.  But I have allowed almost everything and anything to get in its way, even though it is a story I love and a marked improvement over the original, with better writing, larger stakes, more fantastical science, and more epic battles throughout.

Now, if you look at how long it actually took me to write ASID from conception to completion, I’m not actually doing that poorly.  But that is the timeline of a hobbyist, not a pro writer.  I’ve written other things in that time, but I’m not writing like a pro, no matter how much I might have deluded myself in the heady days of 2015.  I’m not writing daily as much as I should.  I’m not making 1K or 2K or 5K words a day, consistently.  I’ve written a few shorts and made progress on one never-ending project or another, but I haven’t gotten that sequel out, nor have I met my commitments as I should have, much to the consternation of my partners and peers.

I could blame that on a number of things.  There’s been a lot in my life in 2016 and 2017 that I could throw up there to say, “This.  This is why I haven’t produced.”  There’s been divorce and new love, both of which require an investment of time.  There’s been my dedication to being a good father, despite physical distance and lack of time with my kids.  There’s been the day job, which deserves the lion’s share of my time.  That’s because it’s both what I took an oath to do, and it’s your tax dollars at work (no, not saying what it is, if you wanna know, google me).  (It’s also AWESOME.)


But while those are all legitimate time-sucks, they are not reasons.  They are not why.  Every pro out there has very similar obstacles to their progress.  They still make the time.  They still have the dedication and the will and the ability.  That’s what makes them pros.  What is the reason?  I honestly don’t know.  I just know that despite many promises to myself, I often found myself distracted or prioritizing those other things over my writing.  Sometimes, after work, instead of spending an hour writing, I’d lose a day in social media, or drop a day watching the idiot tube, or focusing on those legitimate distractions.  The will and the consistency were not there.

This is not an insurmountable issue, however.  The first step is recognizing the problem, and then having the support and the forcing mechanisms to grow those skills, to develop those habits.  And I’m happy to say that my consistency is improving, through both self-will and a VERY understanding and adorably slave-driving girlfriend.

So, why tell you this now?  Well, one, I feel fans of my work are owed.  And, two, I have something to show you at last.  Along with Lancers, I had another project I’ve been working on.  Actually, there are multiple projects (a lack of imagination has never been my issue), but this is a fascinating one.  How it came about is fodder for a future blog post but, in short, I will have a book coming out this year.  It’s not what I’m working toward.  It’s what I’ve done, along with the great, the prolific, and the very much every bit a professional Chris Kennedy.  He’s the author of (among many things) The Theogony trilogy, Codus Regius, and the co-creator of The Four Horsemen Universe with Mark Wandrey.

This is a full book, in editing now, co-written by Chris and me, from an outline by me.  The working title (it may possibly change), is The Mutineer’s Daughter.  It’s about a dedicated warrant officer in a post-diaspora (x2) space navy, serving to make a better life for his distant young daughter.  He’s then forced to do the unthinkable to save her from rapacious Terran troops.  The book alternates between two perspectives:  the warrant officer’s on a space-faring destroyer; and his daughter, forced to grow up and deal with the occupation of her homeworld.  The story kicks ass, and it has ABSOLUTE series potential.  It’s been in progress since around October 2016 and — if I was a pro — it would have been finished last February.  Took me a year longer than planned, but here it is, and the fact of its existence invigorates me and makes me want to finish more, including Lancers.

So, I’ve come to terms.  I’m not really a pro, not yet.  But I want to be, and after a very tumultuous time in my life, I’m working to become one like my friends and mentors.  I look forward to one day calling them peers without being a fraud.

And how do I prove my intentions to you?  I just have to keep producing.  Watch this space!


(Warning:  I fully intend to keep making conference puns in these titles.  Run now if you can’t handle that.)

Well, THAT certainly escalated quickly.  So, as briefed yesterday, I sent off e-mails to about a dozen regional science fiction and literary conventions, trying to garner more industry contacts since the day-job insisted on kicking me in the ass.  And unlike I imagined, they responded!  Already!  In a positive direction!

Here’s my current schedule, with status updates:

  1. MystiCon, Roanoke, VA – February 27-March 1; No response
  2. ROFCon, Virginia Beach, VA – February 27-March 1; No response, but I’ll probably go to this one due to proximity.  Or I’ll sleep in.  I dunno.
  3. MadiCon, Harrisonburg, VA – March 13-15; Accepted as a guest!  Super small college con.  I’ll have to think on it.
  4. RavenCon, Richmond, VA – April 24-26; No response
  5. BaltiCon, Baltimore, MD – May 22-25; Acceptance pending, but they urged me to enter for the Compton Crook Award.  And I did!
  6. ConCarolinas, Concord, North Carolina – May 29-31; Application under review
  7. LibertyCon, Chattanooga, Tennessee – June 26-28; Accepted as a guest!  Long drive, I may look at car-pooling.  Very excited!
  8. Con-Gregate, High Point – North Carolina, July 10-12; Accepted as a guest!
  9. DragonCon, Atlanta, Georgia – September 4-7 (Yeah, right, this is like San Diego Comicon East); Application under review
  10. Capclave, Washington DC – October 9-11; Application under review
  11. HonorCon, Raleigh, North Carolina – TBD – October 31-November 2; No response
  12. AtomaCon, Charleston, South Carolina – November 13-15; No response

Sooo, Madicon, Balticon, Libertycon, and Con-gregate all look solid.  Along with Ravencon, that gives me travel plans for March, April, May, June, and July.  Better start saving my pennies now.  If I was a smart man, I’d have a finished manuscript to bring with me . . . .

Well, back to writing!

Bows Grow Taut, Battle Approaches . . . .

(Read in the voice of a stereotypical New York Jewish grandmother) “Oi, Morty!  Whateva happened to that nice Tommy Mays boy?  Ya know, the writer fella, with all o’ dem science fictional stories and books and what not?  Ya neva heah from him no more.”

“Who?” (Hard of hearing stereotypical New York Jewish granddad)

“Tommy Mays, autha of A Sword Inta Dahkness, RAYMO, Da Rememberists, Strategic Deploymen, Dreams f’Sale (Oh my, a sale!), an’ otha fine works of science fiction and wonda!”


“He was woikin’ on a sequel, and a new book o’ Christian science fiction (oh, dem gentiles, gettin’ to their shenanigans), and a couple o’ short stories?  Tommy Mays!?”

“Who!?  Where’s my sandwich?”

Aaaaaaand, SCENE!  Hi, y’all.  Just wanted to drop a line before making a pre-emptive donation to the Anti-Defamation League.  I’ve been off the blog for a while, but wanted to let you know of some things going on.

First, I AM WRITING, but I’m probably not writing on the things you want me to write on.  No progress on the sequel to ASID and only marginal growth on either Echomancer, or Demigod, my two young-adult urban fantasy projects.  I’ve had a lot of short story stuff (as well as a lot of life) interfere.

First, of course, I didn’t make it with the Baen Fantasy Award and my story “The Commuter”, but it is working its way through the magazine rejection files now, as is “Bumped”.  Should they not make it, I might do a final polish and offer them through Amazon Singles (which is not a dating site.  I stand corrected).

My first new short story product is a definite WIN and I’m VERY excited about it.  This is a quasi-sequel to an anthology of science fact and fiction regarding future warfare produced back in the 70’s and 80’s.  I forget the title of that one, but Castalia House is publishing an unofficial follow-up called Riding the Red Horse, an obvious allusion to the Red Horse of War.  Headed by Tom Kratman and edited by Vox Day, the new anthology will include essays on the future of warfare, science articles, and a BUNCH of great new short stories by some of my favorite authors, including Tom Kratman and Vox Day, Chris Kennedy, Christopher Nuttall, and little old me.  My story, “Within This Horizon” is under editing now, but I can’t wait for the book to launch and for you all to see it.

The second bit of news requires YOUR PARTICIPATION!  I have just submitted a story for The Writer’s Arena, sort of a short story Thunderdome (Two Stories Enter!  Only ONE STORY LEAVES!!).  They hold weekly fiction contests where each writer has a week to submit a story about the same particular topic.  That topic may be AI gone awry, a carnival from Hell, or ghosts – madness or reality?  Once both writers have submitted their tales, both stories get posted on the website and readers vote on the winner.  These are short tales, usually under 4000 words each, and they are a lot of fun.  This week the topic is AI gone awry, so do please go check it out and vote.  Next week is my week, which deals with “fake” hauntings:  either you have to describe someone who is a victim of a made-up haunting, or you have to describe a real haunting that won’t allow itself to be disproved.  My story, “The Gaslight Consultant” will be appearing there in mid-October.  I absolutely need your help and your judgment, with your vote going to the best of the two stories.  And if you like it, consider supporting the site with a small donation, like what you would pay for a show or an issue of a magazine.

So, that’s where I’ve been, Jewish Grandma.  Now excuse me while I go prepare for next week’s battle!


The Last Ship, Episode 4 – “We’ll Get There” Review

Note:  Sorry this review is a day late, but when the day/night job calls, you answer (or you end up feeding your family garbage ramen, cuz that’s all yo’ po’ ass can afford).  SORRY!

So!  Episode 4:  Enter the Stupid.  Ugh.  I think this show has done an OUTSTANDING job of balancing respect for the US Navy, a dedication to fairly honest naval realism, post apocalyptic military sci-fi drama, and fun-but-hackneyed soap-esque melodrama.  The chatter is good, the characters are cool, the plot is awesome, the settings are true to the service, but one thing has stood out as a detriment in every episode thus far:


In the pilot, Cap’n Crunches holds a generator fuse in place with his bare hand in order to recover from an electromagnetic pulse.  In episode 2, they deal with shitty fuel and gummed up fuel nozzles through the power of “It’s no longer convenient to discuss.”  In episode 3, they do egregious crimes with the physics of radar systems, though the actual engineers remain behind the scenes for the most part.

In episode 4, we have an engineering-centric, ship-stranded-at-sea, “bottle” episode, and suddenly all I see are flaws.  The worst part is, they are largely unnecessary flaws.  The Last Ship obviously has experienced naval consultants.  They get so much background right that I’m willing to forgive the little bit wrong they do for the plot’s sake.  In this ep, however, you can tell that either NONE of the consultants are engineers or the writers just disregarded them.  And that’s what pisses me off.  There were ways to do this episode that would have made engineering sense, but they chose not to, either as a sin of ignorance or willful disregard.

(The alternative also occurs to me, that the Navy told them to get it all wrong in order to avoid giving away engineering operational secrets, but they could have looked at a DDG-51 engineering diagram out of Jane’s Defense Weekly and still gotten it more right.)

Okay, on with the review.  First, the plot summary:  It starts off with a sweet flashback to better days, with CO Chandler’s family sharing their private goodbyes right before the NATHAN JAMES departs on deployment.  Then we switch to the present, with Tom Chandler torturing himself by listening to distress calls down in Radio.  The XO checks in on him and we see some nice character moments for ol’ Slattery (Adam Baldwin RULES!).  Then we have Hot Virologist Rachel Scott make a breakthrough on the vaccine, but she needs Quincy to finish the prototype.  The Cap’n allows Rachel to try convincing our old traitor, but no joy.  Meanwhile, Sexy LT 1 is showing Tex around the ship, where they run into Sexy LT 2, all tense with each other since 1 dumped 2 for the stupidest reasoning on the planet.  So, of course Tex wants to make a play (I love that character).

Then the power fails, threatening progress on the vaccine and stranding them in the middle of the ocean without enough water.  And here is where we enter the land of Obscene Nonsensical Engineering (ONE).  It seems that a fire near the Low Pressure Air Compressors were caused by a lack of seawater cooling to the engines / generators, since escaping from the Russkies through that canal somehow ripped off all their filters (??????).  A loss of power and propulsion makes the situation desperate, but they do manage to restore juice to the lab and conjure up an hour of propulsion each day so they can limp toward an island that might have water.  Oh, and the XO threatens Quincy with keelhauling unless he helps out Rachel (Adam Baldwin RULES!).

And then the casualties get even more dire.  All power and propulsion goes kaput, such that they are going to both die of thirst and die never knowing if the vaccine would have worked.  They eventually cool the bio-samples by putting them in an armored case and dangling them below the cold thermocline in the ocean.  And what do our intrepid Engineer/Writers do?  Why, they rig three parachutes as kites, launch them with line-casting rifles, and SAIL a 9000 ton warship to Gilligan’s Isle!  And — SOMEHOW — this is fast enough to turn the propeller shaft, which — SOMEHOW — generates electricity to keep the vaccine cool (but not enough juice to make water).

Long episode shorter, it works, they reach the island, Rachel Scott is appreciative, the Captain honors the MPA, the CHENG just lays around, Quincy is humanized, the crew parties on the beach, and Sexy LT 1 regrets dumping Sexy LT 2.

The Goods:  There are good elements here still.  I like the character moments for Chandler and Slattery, I like that they finally gave a real nod to the problems of maintaining a destroyer at sea without a logistics chain, even if EVERY SINGLE DETAIL WAS FUBAR.  I like using the thermocline as a cooling water blanket, even if it was impractical.  I like the XO’s threat, though I have no idea how a homicide detective in Chicago would ever have developed the time-in-rank and experience to make it as a CDR in the surface navy and as XO on a destroyer.  I liked the stargazing.  I even liked the plot.  If I had no idea how a destroyer worked, I might even have thought it was clever.

The Less Goods:  Unfortunately, I’m a former Chief Engineer / Engineer Officer on a DDG-51 Flight II-A.  Writers, if you wanna get this stuff anywhere in the ballpark next time, DROP ME A LINE, I WORK FOR CHEAP.  This episode didn’t even make an attempt to hit naval realism.  Is the NATHAN JAMES supposed to be an electric drive ship?  That’s the only way it even starts to approach common sense.  Turning the shafts does not generate power.  Losing all power only makes you lose propulsion because you can’t run the electric lube oil pumps and seawater coolers any more.  The electric plant and the propulsion plant are totally different animals, by design.  Three parachutes won’t move a 9000 ton warship unless Neptune himself is blowing on them.  You can’t rip the seawater filters off by running aground (they’re inside the ship, though you can wreck the cowling over the seachest).  And here’s one most won’t notice, but the MPA or Main Propulsion Assistant is always a Chief Warrant Officer or an Engineering Limited Duty Officer, kind of like a senior technical rank even above the Chief Petty Officer levels.  The Chief Engineer is usually a 1st (or 2nd) tour Department Head and a Line Officer, trained in Engineering basics, but experienced as a manager and a tactical officer.  The CHENG relies on the MPA for technical know-how, not the other way around, as it was here.  Again, The Last Ship tends to be an officer-fest.  We need more enlisted-ranks appreciation. And, lastly, Sexy LT’s 1 & 2:  I still couldn’t care less about you.  In your twosome, only Tex as a third party is interesting.

So, this is a mis-step, but I remain faithful and hopeful.  As the title suggests, I think the Goods usually outweigh the Less Goods and I think — together — that “We’ll Get There.”

A Diary of Apocalypses

Happy Saturday, all! First, a shout out to my eldest daughter as it is her BIRTHDAY! Happy Birthday, Isabelly. We all love you and hope you have a great 12th year!

Secondly, sales continue briskly, with quite a large number of you buying A Sword Into Darkness to give it a try.  I, for one, am keen to see how you like it.  By all means, e-mail me, post your thoughts here on The Improbable Author, or best of all (especially if you liked it) put up a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads.  I am your humble word-slave, requiring only your words of praise or thoughtful criticism to sustain me.

Thirdly, launching a new project today!  You are all invited to check out The Ends of the World, the tragi-comic blog of one Joshua Montgomery, a young man who has seen more than his fair number of hells.  You see, poor Josh is unique in that nightly, every night in fact, he experiences the literal end of the world, the apocalypse, Armageddon (not the movie).  And then he wakes up.  Why is this happening to him?  What can he do to stop it?  How many zany ways can one author make some poor sap go through?

I dunno, but neither will you unless you check it out!


First, a little of the old ultra-violence to make up for yesterday’s serenity:

Trenton Broadside1


That is, of course, the USS Trenton (CA-1) with railguns and laser emplacements slewed out to the side, performing a full broadside of all batteries as a power and weapons’ integration test.  In my imagination, the cruiser’s fire control logics would have to automatically compensate for the impulse of the railgun shots by briefly firing attitude thrusters to offset the resulting spin.  It is once more a Cinema 4D shot.  I like this one, because it is a) cool and b) let me play a lot with hard shadows and point light sources.  The Earth below is my own construct, using conformal cloud maps, satellite composites, and semi-transparent shells for the atmosphere.  

Speaking of broadsides and publishing, my IRL / FB friend and mentor Mark Ellis fired off his own broadside concerning the “traditional” publishing industry and how his own attitudes as a very successful mid-list author have changed concerning self-publishing.  If you can get to Facebook, the post itself is very illuminating, but it expands to genius in the comments.  

Here is the link:  Hudsucker Proxy

And here is the meat of the post if the link does not work (used with Mark’s permission):

I don’t talk much about the publishing industry here for a couple of reasons…mainly because unless you’re in it, the whole field and process is misunderstood to the point of it being arcane.

But here’s how *I* feel…it’s my opinion based on my experiences…and it’s my FB page…so…

Publishing underwent a vast change several years ago, known as “Black Wednesday”…the economic upheaval which affected so many other industries seriously damaged what is known as “tradtional” publishing…except, unlike the auto and banking industries, there were no government bail-outs or breathless updates every five minutes on CNN and MSNBC.

One of the major changes that I experienced (other than advances being slashed) is how the final decision of what would be published now rested primarily with the sales departments…not editors or editorial committees but salespeople.

In the wake of these changes, self-publishing became a viable alternative to hitherto traditionally published writers like me. Yeah, at first I considered it the same as vanity presses, but after being dealt with unethically by a publisher who first enthusiastically accepted Cryptozoica and then reneged on the agreement, I went in that direction.

It was a decision I’ve never regretted.

As for so-called “traditional” publishing…it’s never recovered from Black Wednesday and it’s feeling the bite of independent and self-publishing. Spokesmen for the industry have lately been working hard to disparage the whole thing, due in the main to outright fear. A couple of years ago, self-publishing was beneath their notice…but now–

One of the implications I perceive in these messages is this: 

Solidly selling midlist writers like myself who spent years building a readership should just go ahead and DIE ALREADY and stop taking readers away from the writers traditional publishers want them to read.

Doesn’t matter that we write what our fans want to read and buy–it’s more important we have the good grace to accept our careers are over because a handful of corporate flunkies decided they are.

It’s sorta like the Sidney J. Mussberger mantra from THE HUDSUCKER PROXY when he tries to convince Norville Barnes he’s washed up and should kill himself: “When you’re dead…you stay dead.” 


Here’s my counter-solution: Accept reality, fix what you f**ed up, treat writers ethically and honestly, keep your word and maybe you won’t be so scared all the time…and you just might be able to save your own jobs.

Mark is a prolific author of over 40 adventure novels and thrillers, including many of the “James Axler” novels, Deathlands and Outlanders series, as well as his latest Cryptozoica.