Is Harry Potter a sacred cow?

“Be mooooved by my sacredness!”

Today’s post is rated E for everyone, but also is rated H for Harry. As in Britain’s real Harry, Harry Potter (We all know Harry Styles is a make believe tale we tell children, like the tooth fairy and Easter Bunny).

As a middle grade fantasy writer, I, and all the other genre writers, know we pale in comparison to The Greatest Book Ever Written, My God (TGBEWMG).

How many people do you know who read the books didn’t like it? The sales, the fandom, the theme park, the movies, the story, all back up the success. It was well-written and cleverly thought out. JK Rowling is awesome with the English language, and, as I’ve said before, no one will ever recreate that level of excitement or sales success ever. I’m serious; it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime books that you just consider yourself lucky or amazed to be alive in when people lined up at midnight, in costume, to pay $30 for a hardcover book, when people around the world were begging for the next copy and crying when the series ended and then the movies too.

I was 10 the first time I had heard of HP. There were three books out and everyone in my elementary school was reading them. Only I, feeling cool, decided not to bother reading them until I think I was the last in my 5th grade class to pick up a copy. Surprisingly, it was interesting and different, more so than most other books I had read*, and I was a huge Goosebumps/Hardy Boys/Encyclopedia Brown fan growing up. Yes, I had read about other magical schools, but not to HP’s level. They really were magical.

*Did I, the video game junkie, just admit to READING?

Along with immense success comes fandom and respect. Even Fifty Shades, much maligned for being half Twilight Fanfic, half softcore porn for women, deserves credit for being able to do what no other book has done since HP and Twilight; cross the 100 million sales barrier for a series (In fact, I’m pretty sure no book will even hit 100 million again, but it’s possible a series could do it. Maybe), especially in an age where the diffusion of entertainment options, decline in reading for pleasure, and massive competition between books make finding those gems much harder.

Well, I have learned that there is a group of Harry Potter have, for whatever reason, decided that because the books were so great, now no one can write a children’s fantasy series, especially if a magical school is involved, and not automatically have either complaints or comparisons to Harry Potter. And in this case I’m referring to those who will dismiss any middle grade fantasy novel the moment they sense “similarities” between your/my story, and HP.

Don’t misunderstand, those of us who write in this genre (middle grade fantasy) would be happy with that level of respect (and sales-even a tenth of them) Rowling received. If someone wants to say “This is the best book I’ve read since Harry Potter” (and one kid DID say something like that to her parents a few months ago during a first read), I’d be thrilled.

But we who write kid’s fantasy like the genre and have our own stories, separate from HP. Will stories have similarities? Of course. There are about 12 unique story ideas in the world, and every story everywhere is a derivative of another one. Every idea builds upon another one. Even my idea, which I know for a fact has never been done before in the way it’s been done (when the story’s completed), is a cobbling of other people’s ideas synthesized with my own. It’s just “First to Market” who gets to claim originality.

Check out Viktor Kloss’ page, Middle Grade (MG) fantasy author. To be fair, I haven’t read his book just yet (will do so soon). But check out his comments- you can’t go more than a few before someone either decides: a) this is too “Harry Potter” and this is an issue, or b) has to plead with fellow posters that is is NOT Harry Potter and they should just like the book. I’d guess at minimum 40% of the commenters feel the urge to mention Harry Potter and try to argue the similarities and difference. Which wouldn’t be necessary if so many folks just didn’t get bothered by similarities.

Read the plot and tell me if it is:

“Two years ago, Ben Greenwood’s parents walked out the door and never returned. The police have all but given up finding them when Ben stumbles upon a peculiar letter addressed to his dad. “You are the most wanted man in the Unseen Kingdoms. Unless you come to us, we cannot help. For your child’s sake, tell us what you know.”

The letter is from an organisation called the Royal Institute of Magic and is dated a day before his parents disappeared. Like most people, fourteen-year-old Ben hasn’t the faintest idea what the Royal Institute of Magic is, but he has his first clue: the logo on the letter.

Armed with nothing but his wits and the help of his good friend Charlie, Ben sets out to find the Institute and, through them, his parents. To succeed, he will have to navigate a land filled with fantastic creatures and Spellshooters, where magic can be bought and sold, to unravel an ancient family secret that could hold the key to defeating an evil the Institute has been fighting for the last five hundred years.”

Sure, you could argue his magic or parts of plots come from other sources…Dungeons and Dragons, Lord of the Rings, et cetera. But notice in the comments what one book gets mentioned as being “too similar” or “this book is NOT Harry Potter! Only a few similarities please like it!”

*Update: Victor sent me a blogpost. I’m glad he got some people who like it the way they liked Harry Potter, which he notes. But he also has to feel the urge to specify how his book is a) NOT Harry Potter and b) not using concepts not already used, such as the “world within a world”. Apparently some Harry Potter fans also believe the ideas in the novels were original to her, and forget about the great writers before her who shared ideas which laid down the groundwork.

I write this because your humble, lonely, merely “aspiring” author has written his own book, also MG fantasy, also with a character who is sent to a preparatory academy, who also receives a letter (in her tree-shaped mailbox) saying she and her sister were accepted to this school, which is not for everyone. That’s honestly about it for the similarities. I have no wizards, witches, dragons, ghosts, trolls, or elves in mine (In book 1, the only one written), no one picks where they live at school, the main character has a separate life than Harry, and the main villain is not an evil wizard who wants to live forever/destroy the world (in fact it’s not even human). In addition to writing my own ideas, I did as much as possible to avoid the comparisons, and I would think and hope on its merits the book will be well-received, or poorly received if it sucks that bad. If anything, I might guilty more of being too influenced by Naruto than Harry Potter.

I can only wonder, though, if my editor was right after she read my first draft, and I’m just going to get the “Harry Potter did it! Harry Potter did it!” comments. If you think this doesn’t matter to a MG fantasy writer, picture review after review of people wasting time talking about how this book is/is not like TGBEWMG, as opposed to saying what it is about my book they liked/disliked, independent of other works.

The thing is, the series I’m writing has no relation to Harry Potter, or Naruto, other than some occasional similarities. But will readers give book 2 a chance if book 1 is a “knockoff?”

For the record, I wonder how many of these “You just stole from Harry Potter” types thought the same when Hunger Games was accused of ripping off Battle Royale, or when Divergent was accused of ripping off Hunger Games (to be fair, I did not read Divergent, nor do I know what the plot is about; it’s anecdotal what I’ve heard from readers). Somehow that didn’t impact sales for Suzanne Collins or Veronica Roth. So why do some Harry Potter fans treat the series like it’s a sacred cow that cannot be replicated in any way?

(Okay, rant over, off the soapbox. Now time to get back to work)

Please someone, prove me to be a ranting jackass. Find me proof of diehard Potterfans who WANT to find a new MG Fantasy series to fall in love with, the way they fell in love in Harry Potter.

Image is from www.robertscottbell.com. I have no ownership rights, and I am not making money or benefiting from using that image.

How Do I Get Noticed on Wattpad? Why Isn’t Anyone Reading and Giving Me Feedback?

For those of you who use Wattpad, or plan on using Wattpad to promote work or test ideas, this post has some great ideas.

||WRITING ADVICE||

You’re new to Wattpad, aren’t you? You’ve been wondering where the reads and feedback are? You’re feeling discouraged, right?

No fear; we all have been there.

First of all, when you get started on Wattpad or have been on Wattpad for quite some time, you can’t just publish your story on your profile and say “I’m done.” Because honestly, you aren’t going to get any reads that way.

It’s very hard to get noticed on Wattpad, that is the truth. But with a lot of dedication, you will be on your way.

Here is a good list of ways to get noticed and their reasons why:

Be active on the clubs:

Have not discovered them yet? Well, you should. At the top of the big orange bar is a button called “Community.” Click it and go down to “Clubs.” That is where people hang out, get help, and make friends…

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Do you Enter Writing Contests? Do You Hear Back?

I had submitted a few short stories for some contests earlier this year. Now I did submit one which was rejected by Highlights for Children, but that was not a contest. I got a message from the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award saying my story “Palace of the “King” was not going to win. Granted, it was not even close to my best work, but I didn’t win.

I also submitted a story for the Baen Fantasy Adventure Awards. That one I thought was a lot better- still not my best, but a solid fantasy adventure story. Well, I never heard back from them, even though I was promised an answer by July 1. I was finally read to send an e-mail asking if they were going to let me know if I was picked, when I decided to DuckDuckGo them (think Google, but with a different search engine). Well, I found out who the finalists were. And no, I was not picked.

While I was not surprised I was rejected, I am annoyed I didn’t at least get a generic rejection letter like I get from most agents or contests, if not the mailed letter Highlights send out. I noticed the winners were well-known names in the Fantasy/Sci-fi writer’s community. I get it, I’m a Millennial and a newbie whose writing is terrible and who isn’t a “superstar” writer. But would it have hurt Baen to sent form rejection letters to us losers? I had ordered a cheap cover design, but then canceled, in case I was a finalist.

The only benefit is, I can now offer this story as a giveaway or as a package deal with the other short story, so buy 1 get 1 free. I’ll publish it soon.

I really want to hear from you: Do you enter contests? Do you ever win? If not, do you hear back?

can you guess where this is? Bonus points if you do.

“Palace” of the “King”- part 3 of 6

Below is part 3 of my continuing fantasy/sci-fi short story. The total is 7 pages. I’m taking a bit of a summer vacation right now, but I hope you will enjoy the story. Big announcement when I get back. All you authors and readers, stay tuned!

TWO HOURS LATER Cutter leaned back against the wall, ripped his shirt off, and allowed Tonya Redding, the Chameleon’s nurse, a five-four woman with reddish-brown hair, sharp auburn eyes underneath brown eyebrows, and a lot of spirit, to treat his wounds. After giving him some Novocain gel she moved her gloved fingers towards the piece of wood stuck in his ribcage. He struggled to get away but Tonya held him down. She was not nearly as strong as him but she was able to make sure he didn’t break free and let the wood splinters dig further into his skin.

Not that it mattered to Cutter anyway. They didn’t know his genetic code was devouring his body. They didn’t know he had agreed to allow himself to be permanently mutilated in order to live just a little longer, to give his body just enough life to take a single chance to stop the “King” from bringing some terrible ruin to world. But, as he sat back and let Tonya do her work, he knew any one of these battles would be his last; either he would be killed by an enemy or by his own body. Either way, he had no hope to see a war-free world in his lifetime.

All he could do was allow Tonya to patch him up just well enough to let him complete the next step of the mission. He knew she wouldn’t be able to do much; her best medical equipment was at the Chameleon’s hidden base in eastern Montana, where Pyrotek was now. She had to make do in a rickety wooden shack somewhere at the foot of the mountains with only as many supplies as Pyrotek could have delivered by drone.

Tonya gave Cutter some antiseptic to kill harmful bacteria on his skin and some ibuprofen for his pain. She ordered him to rest, but he couldn’t relax-the buzz of adrenaline hadn’t worn off yet. Everyday pharmaceutical drugs had all but disappeared under the new economy; these drugs were rationed in favor of producing more antidepressants, barbiturates, and steroids to keep the mercenaries fit and able to battle without feeling the negative emotions of the pain they were causing to themselves and others.

“How do you feel?” she asked. Cutter sat up.

“I’m fine,” he said. He groaned: the pain inside was really starting to hurt- and it wasn’t the pain of having some splinters in his body. “I need to smoke.”

“No you don’t. Smoking kills, you know.”

What do I care at this point? He thought as Tonya finished applying bandage gauze to the spots on his skin where the wood had penetrated. I don’t know long I’ve got but it ain’t much.

Cutter cleared his throat loudly and turned his head so he could cough out mucus into a bucket filled with ice chips next to his bed.

Grooosss!” Tonya exclaimed, smacking him with one of her gloves. “Cutter! That’s the ice I was going to use on your joints! Well, now you can feel your phlegm on your knees!”

“Yea, about that,” Cutter said indifferently. He looked around for a box of cigarettes but couldn’t find any. “Where’s my Parliaments?”

“No smoking!” Tonya exclaimed. Cutter was prepared to move but he soon felt the Novocain’s effect begin to sink into his skin. He groaned again and sat with his back upright against the wall.

Four hours later Cutter finally had his cigarette. Tonya relented and let him smoke one– and then promptly whisked the carton away before he could tempt himself into taking a few more.

The remaining Chameleons were gathered around a single night table in the center of the room when Cutter joined them. A six-two African American man from Chicago with a 1980s-style Mohawk and a bulky muscular body covered by a Kevlar suit removed a small lamp from the table and tossed it aside. The Chameleons called him Kevlar. No one knew what his real name was.

“This is it, then,” he said in a deep Chicago accent. He made sure to face the rest of the room so he could let them feel his presence. “We all that’s left.”

Cutter moved his eyes from left to right: Cherise Wright was the only woman in the crew, also African-American but five-six, lean, and with a scowl on her face she had so often Cutter assumed it was a permanent fix; she was also the only surviving Chameleon who went by her real name (or at least what she told everyone was her real name- in this brave new world, verifying personal information was almost impossible, let alone pointless). Then there was M.K., a slender six-foot-tall Algerian national who moved to America three years before the wars broke out. A defected former mercenary, he snuck away from a bloody mission in the ruins of downtown Denver and found Cutter, who was there trying to shut down a New Age Global Armor Tech production factory; Spezzna, who had washed some blood out of his hair and looked otherwise uninjured; and Rigatoni, a short Italian-American from New Jersey with big biceps and calves but who was sometimes referred to derogatorily as “noodle”, and that wasn’t for squishy muscles.

Kevlar removed a smartphone from his suit and placed it on the table while everyone else gathered around. This device was able to be tracked only by the satellite Pyrotek had put into orbit a year earlier- a structure disguised as a piece of space garbage from the not-quite-completed International Space Station. All other signals to the device were jammed.

“Can you see me?” Pyrotek’s voice said. The screen was black at first but a moment later they all saw their genius engineer’s unshaven face and blue eyes covered by thick glasses. “Okay, great.”

“What’s the plan?” Cherise said. “At this rate we’ll be dead before we crash the Labyrinth.”

“I sent KeyKey out a few hours ago into the mountains to get a head start on the next phase,” Pyrotek said. “There’s a path which must’ve been built some time ago, a dirt path through the mountains which so far as I can tell…” he moved away from the screen for a moment and then returned. “Is at least nine miles long. Five human guards on the path but they’re just patrolling, private military company I think but KeyKey couldn’t get a good read on them. They’re spaced out a mile and a quarter mile apart so you can take them out without alerting the others. Once you get to the other side you walk about…one mile to The Palace, and it looks to be about…three miles from end to end.”

“What’s in there?” M.K. asked.

“Ummm…” Pyrotek turned his head again. “I can’t tell. It appears to be open-air but some type of fog keeps blocking my view of the actual inside. All I can see is the outline of this so-called Palace. Cutter, you and the others need to be careful. If I can’t get a reading on what this place looks like I can’t help you. If this fog doesn’t clear out, then KeyKey’s solar-powered battery may not be able to recharge in there and he can’t help you.”

“Got it,” Cutter said. “Thanks, Pyrotek. Stand by.”

“My pleasure.” Pyrotek kept his line of communication open but moved to and from the screen.

Cutter started to cough hard. He tried to control himself but his coughs grew so violent he fell to the ground, using one arm to prop himself up as he kept coughing.

Cutter!” Kevlar yelled.

Cutter staggered to his feet and felt his insides ready to heave. He moved as fast as his decrepit body could go towards the edge of the cabin and vomited in the corner. No one approached him as he bent over and panted.

“This isn’t good,” Cherise said as she bit her lip. “Cutter, if you can’t move, then you should stay behind and let us go.”

“No,” Cutter said. He coughed again but now he felt a little better- but if he could get a cigarette he would feel a lot better. “I’m going. We need to do this. We need-“ he coughed again and stumbled as he made his way back to the table.

“Kevlar, give Cutter his shot,” Pyrotek said through the phone.

“Give me-“ images of needles penetrating his skin entered his mind.

“You got it, Tekkie,” Kevlar said. He kicked Cutter’s right knee, causing him to yell and fall to the ground, clutching it. Before Cutter could stand up, Rigatoni and Spezzna held him down while Kevlar took a syringe filled with green liquid out of his suit.

“Hold him real still,” Kevlar said.

“STOP!” Cutter ordered.

Hold him!” Kevlar shouted over Cutter’s voice. There would be no cleaning wipe, no disinfectant. Kevlar jammed the needle into Cutter’s bicep and he gasped as his eyes closed and saw only black.

He blinked a few times and noticed the hut looked darker than usual. He blinked again and thought he saw some light from the corner of his right eye. He turned his head and saw Kevlar and Cherise surrounding the table and talking to it in low voices. He figured they were talking to Pyrotek.

He lifted his body up one hand, then one arm, then one foot at a time. Outside he saw darkness and inside he saw Rigatoni, Spezzna, and M.K. asleep on the ground. He cleared his throat and Kevlar and Cherise turned to face him.

“You’re ill,” Kevlar said somberly. “That’s the third one of these I had to use on you in the last two days.”

Hunnnhhh.” Cutter moved to the table and sat next to it. He felt his insides vibrate like guitar strings.

“How are you feeling, Cutter?” Pyrotek asked.

“Fine,” Cutter said untruthfully, and somehow he had the feeling Pyrotek knew it too because he cleared his throat very obviously and said, “I think you should tell them.”

“Tell us what?” Cherise asked. “Cutter, are you alright or not? If we’re going we gotta go. Now.”

“I’m…” he was prepared to tell them, well Kevlar and Cherise. But he did not want to let them down. “I’m fine for this mission.”

“If somethin’s up you gotta say it now,” Kevlar said. “Pyrotek, what’s the deal with Cutter?”

“He’s…” Cutter braced himself for Pyrotek to blab. “Very ill.”

“We know that,” Kevlar said.

“He’s dying very quickly,” Pyrotek said with a hint of sadness.

Pyrotek!” Cutter shouted. For a brief moment he felt well and strong, but as soon as he stopped talking the pain returned and he laid down on the ground.

“Dying?” Cherise asked. The worry in her voice was unmistakable. “Cutter, how long has this been going on? And why didn’t you tell us before?”

“I didn’t want to,” Cutter said. He felt around his suit for his cigarettes but couldn’t find them. “We need to keep focused on the mission, not my problems.”

“Your problems are our problems,” Kevlar said. “You’re the Chameleons, Cutter. All this stuff about shutting down the global war economy, about stopping this so-called King from building a new monstrosity on the graves of the dead, this is all you. We joined because of you. We fight and risk our lives because we believe in what you believe in too. Without you, man, there ain’t nobody ready to lead.”

“You’ll do well enough, Kevlar,” Cutter said. He put his hands on the ground. There had to be cigarettes somewhere. “You’re ready to take over when my time is up.”

Kevlar sat down next to Cutter and Cherise sat in front of him. “We’re all mortal,” Kevlar said. “You, me, all of us. We all goin’ to the same place and we don’t know when or how soon it’ll be. But as long as we’re here we might as well make the most of it. Even you, you sick old man.”

Cutter forced a smile. A few tears came down from Kevlar’s eyes, but he wiped them and managed to hold himself together. Cherise, normally tough and worry-free, turned her head and moved her hands to her face. Cutter heard sniffling even from the phone, but when he got up to look, Pyrotek had stopped, clearing his throat to speak.

“Well you’re here now,” he said. “Cutter, KeyKey’s finished mapping the pathway to The Palace. You have to go now, before dawn. It’s the only way you’ll get the jump on the guards patrolling the path in front of you.

“And how long until dawn?” Cutter asked.

“Six hours, and you have to go twelve miles to make it to The Palace. The later you wait, the more enemies you can expect to encounter.”

“Then let’s go,” Cutter said. He tried to stand up but needed Kevlar’s help. “Wake the others up. We need to go, while I can still move.”

“Palace” of the “King” part 2 of 6

Below is part 2 of my short story, appx. 7 pages. Feel free to comment or share. Enjoy!

Cutter allowed himself three minutes to recover. When he felt as good as he figured he was going to, he lifted the wood panel off and moved back into the living room towards the kitchen. He moved briskly to the kitchen window and peered out: four Closterim, performing what appeared to be patrol duty. He spent the next five minutes studying their movements until he figured out a path he could take to sneak past them and make it to the other side of the street. There were three houses but one of them looked destroyed; Spezzna was not likely in that one. One of the other two had boarded up windows which Cutter, knowing Spezzna, took to mean that was where he was hiding until help would arrive.

He picked a precise time when the Closterim split into two pairs and had their backs turned to each other. He jumped out the window and navigated around broken glass and burned-up cars until he was halfway across the street. A Closterim guard suddenly turn its head towards him and Cutter ducked underneath the engine of one of the smoldering cars.

“Is something there?”  The Closterim said in a metallic voice as Cutter’s heart almost stopped at the sound of it. A couple of seconds passed, and he felt a rush of adrenalin enter his blood. As the cyborg approached his hiding spot, Cutter prepared himself to get up and fight, but the Closterim guard walked by without looking underneath.

“What did you find?” Another Closterim said from far away in the same metallic voice.

“Nothing alive.” The Closterim near Cutter kicked the ground and a small piece of hard dirt popped up. A Sun Sword slammed into the ground and twisted around to form a small hole but, just as suddenly as they had come, the Closterim patrol moved away and Cutter breathed a sigh of relief.

He waited a few more seconds and slowly moved out from underneath the engine, his eyes darting in all directions for any signs of other patrols. They were moving closer but they were still not facing him. Cutter crawled back underneath the smoldering vehicle and went out the other side. He crawled fifteen yards until he was on the blown-up pavement on the other side of the street; the Mirror Suit was successfully hiding his body from the cyborgs.

There was another smoldering vehicle- a minivan- half-way on the pavement near the house Pyrotek assumed Spezzna was hiding in. Cutter moved to the side of the minivan facing the house and waited for the Closterims’ patrol route to take them away from his side of the road. He pulled out a Finger Mirror-named for its three-way angles and finger size- and peered around the front passenger’s side of the van. Once he was certain no one was looking, he crawled through the grass until he reached the front door of the house directly across the street from him. Incredibly, despite the immense destruction to North Point, the grass in this yard was still green.

An underground water system, he thought as he used the ASL to cut a hole in the door. After entering he used the green laser to seal the hole. That means the original source of water is still clean and flowing. If I find it we can get drink refills before moving on to Red Valley. That thought reminded him of how very thirsty he was.

Cutter heard a chirping sound behind him and he jumped; he instinctively reaching for his K-24 and pointing it into the empty, broken down house in front of him. The chirping disappeared and was replaced with the eerie silence of an abandoned house which had gone through more than most houses go through in their lifetimes; the ceiling had several cannonball-sized holes, exposing the orange sunlight from the outside. Furniture was overturned and on the ground was a photo which had only the bottom half of people’s bodies visible. Cutter had the feeling something else was in the house with him. The Closterim were patrolling the street outside, so it couldn’t be them; his thoughts turned to the Delightful Devils Platoon- four women who had been sent to Hell and back and, in their rage and misery, allowed their bodies to be transformed into machines in order to let their human bodies live their remaining days as physically pain-free as possible while they searched for the one responsible for their agony. And Cutter had heard, because he had been involved in blowing up a nuclear power plant near New Davenport where the women were from, that he was the one they held responsible-

The chirping came again and sounded like a monkey this time. Cutter tapped his built-in phones. “You can send KeyKey,” he said to Pyrotek. “I’m alone.”

“I saw,” Pyrotek said as the two-foot-tall robot monkey rolled up on its tiny rubber wheels and gave him a happy look using neon lights embedded on its face. “KeyKey tracked the Closterim’s movements and uploaded them to Brickwall.” This was the name of Pyrotek’s computer server, named so no one would be able to identify his computer system unless he wanted them to. “There are still eleven Closterim in town, eight on patrol, and three breaking through houses. Cutter, I think they know some Chameleons are still alive and around. The three Closterim got rid of their Sun Swords and are carrying FAMAS G-5’s instead. That’s a newer assault rifle model which works better in dark places.”

“What are you saying?” Cutter gripped his K-24 more tightly and moved closer to a wall parallel to the front door where he could get the first jump on anything which entered it.

“Cutter, you had better find Spezzna, and fast.” The urgency in Pyrotek’s voice was unmistakable. “Based on data KeyKey sent me you have…about six minutes, I’d say, to find Spezzna and get out of there. I’m sending a Magpul Bushido Series X motorcycle into the backyard of the house you’re in now. Hurry! The Closterim are about to enter the house right behind you.”

“Got it,” Cutter said. He picked KeyKey up and the cyber monkey giggled happily as though it was a real animal and not a robot. “KeyKey, track the Closterim and send their movements to my GPS.” KeyKey’s voice recognition receptor translated Cutter’s words into something it could understand. It darted into the living room and through a hole in the wall leading to the outside world, using its tripod-like leg sections to lift itself into the exit.

Cutter pulled out a Wave Reader, another one of Pyrotek’s inventions, designed to convert transmitted signals into written intel, as though a radio signal could arrive and form a website page. He would use this to translate KeyKey’s radio waves into a map he would use to track the Closterim’s movements.

He took a quick look around the house and checked the second floor to see if Spezzna was here, which he was not. He had now four and a half minutes until Pyrotek estimated the Closterim would reach him. Cutter went back to the first floor and faced the southernmost wall-perpendicular to the front door-on the opposite side of the house. He used the ASL to open a hole in the wall. He didn’t bother to seal it; within the next ten minutes he would either be fleeing by motorcycle to the Red Valley, or he would be dead.

Cutter ran fifteen feet to the next house and began cutting through this wall. As he worked he heard heavy footsteps- the Closterim patrol was approaching his location.

Cutter kept his calm and kept chipping away. His chest was pounding harder than usual- his body had been healed but the surgeons had never been able to completely put him together again…

The footsteps became louder and the sound of a FAMAS G-5 firing sounded far too close for comfort. Cutter took a look to his left, and then channeled his impulse to panic into an even more zealous focus on the wall he was busy opening. Without hesitating or worrying about the Closterim he finished opening the hole- just as the Closterim’s footsteps indicated they were now within view. Without looking, he leaped through the hole and tumbled along the floor of what appeared to be a dining room as a siren-the Closterim’s signal to alert allies of a living, hostile body-wailed from outside.

“SHIT! PYROTEK!” Cutter yelled into his built-in phone. The wails grew louder and from outside more earth-pounding footsteps were heard. He heard some heavy panting from outside the wall where the hole was- the Closterim who had spotted him would soon attempt to face him one-on-one and keep him occupied until they could overwhelm him by numbers alone.

In front of him the dining room had an open wall which appeared to cave in a little like a hallway- that was probably the basement. He moved towards it and looked to his right. There appeared to be a staircase on the other side of this wall- the steps to the second floor. He coughed hard; the pain in his back was getting worse.

If Spezzna was in this house and fully understood Chameleon evasion tactics, he was likely on the second floor- near a window where he could jump out if he was otherwise trapped. Cutter darted to the right and heard the Closterim behind him slash through the wall. In a few seconds they would completely cut through and begin to track any skin that shed to pinpoint his location. He moved to the right and turned out to be correct; there was a narrow wooden staircase, with fifteen steps, to the second floor. He bound up, three steps at a time, until he reached the top. Below, the Closterim’s footsteps were heard from the dining room.

There were four rooms on this floor and their wooden doors were all closed. Cutter held the Wave Reader and moved its rotating button until he was able to locate KeyKey’s radio waves. Within four seconds he detected a faint signal in the third door down.

He charged the third door and simply plowed through it. Wood splintered and the brass doorknob rolled onto his foot and away. He fell onto a piece of jagged wood still attached to the door frame when he hit it and felt it jut his rib cage. He fell awkwardly onto the jagged wood piece and felt it jut into his ribcage. He groaned in pain and fell to the ground.

“Cu…er!” Spezzna’s energetic voice rang in and out of his ears. Cutter’s eyes became blurry but he saw a mop of brown hair come towards him. “You c…n m…ke it!”

Cutter ripped the wood piece out of his ribs but he knew immediately there were splinters. He was going to need medical attention before travelling to the Red Valley. But for now he just had to find the motorcycle and escape-

Spezzna got up and Cutter saw he was limping; Spezzna still managed to toss one of his EIG’s towards the staircase. They heard an explosion and what sounded like Closterim mechanical suits getting fried. Spezzna was only about average height, and his legs were not strong enough to carry his sturdy, muscular upper body, but he had no trouble picking up the taller, but feeble, Cutter and moving him to the window.

Hang on, Cutter!” Pyrotek exclaimed. “KeyKey’s coming!

Get ready!” Spezzna shouted. He dropped Cutter to the ground and shattered the glass with a sidekick. Cutter felt tiny shards hit his Mirror Suit and bounce harmlessly off. Spezzna picked him up again and they moved slowly out the window.

A shrill mechanical pitch whirred and Cutter knew KeyKey had caught up to them. The cyber monkey emitted a pitch which knocked the Closterim down and made them clutch their ears. The sound was harmless to human ears but, as the Closterim were mostly machine now, their sound receptors could not handle high pitches nearly as well as humans.

Spezzna moved them to the roof. Cutter struggled to speak, but he managed to find his voice: “Spezzna! There’s a motorcycle one house down to the right!”

Spezzna grunted but he managed to carry Cutter in his arms until they reached the end of the roof.

“Get ready Cutter, I’m dropping you,” Spezzna warned.

“Drop? Wait, Spezzna-“ Cutter tried to grab Spezzna’s flak jacket but he missed and was dropped to stories onto the grass below.

He rolled around and immediately sensed no broken bones- whatever underground irrigation system was keeping the grass moist was doing its job. Spezzna tumbled himself and they both rolled around until they were able to stand up. Above them KeyKey’s high-pitched wails shattered glass and the Closterim screamed even louder; their cries sounded robotic, but Cutter knew, from his experience facing them, their pain was human.

Cutter felt like his brain had moved a bit around his skull. He held his head with one hand as he and Spezzna raced towards the house.

“Incoming!” Pyrotek’s voice said through the built-in phone.

Cutter looked up and saw a crate crash into the ground and break open break open, revealing a large, black motorcycle that had its engine running. Above them a silver drone the size of a four-door sedan flew off, leaving behind a trail of wake turbulence.

Spezzna, who was less injured, reached the motorcycle first. The moment Cutter successfully stumbled to the motorcycle and sat behind Spezzna he yelled “hold on!” and they took off, racing off westbound into a setting sun. Somehow-barely-they would survive to see it rise again.

My op-ed in the newspaper: Do you agree or disagree?

I had an op-ed published in The News Journal yesterday. The NJ is a Gannett company newspaper, the same company which owns USA Today. The topic was downloading and supporting indies. Please read and comment on it. Now, as I am on good terms with the editor, I did promise to get his page some traffic, so I will post only the first half of the roughly 700 word article here. Read it, and let me know what you think.

Please consider the indie before downloading

The letter Taylor Swift wrote to Apple asking the company to pay artists whose music is streamed during customer’s free trial period shed a light on a continuing battle between digital creators and consumers that don’t want to pay for digital work.

Many musicians applauded Swift. Large companies like Apple, Google and Spotify routinely make money off others’ talent and do as much as possible to compensate as little as possible. You can go online and read horror stories from musicians who had hundreds of thousands of streams for their songs on those services, but whose royalties barely cover one night at Dover Downs. This is especially a problem for so-called “indies,” or people who create music with a small record label or none at all, and rely on their music sales to earn a living.

Part of the challenge, in addition to persuading people to pay for artists they like, is piracy. Someone decides they like a movie, song, e-book, or game and upload it without permission to file sharing sites where artists get nothing for their work. Even worse, these sites make it easier for someone who doesn’t respect intellectual property rights to just take an artist’s work and start selling it illegally without compensation. This is a problem for all creative industries, but unlike multinational corporations, indies are unable to fight piracy at all.

Unfortunately, those who are not creators tend to assume that if one isn’t making money from their work, then their product must not be worth buying. The problem with that belief is, in the age of diffused media, being discovered by enough people to earn a living becomes more difficult without money, endorsements or name recognition. This has resulted in many unknown creators giving away a lot of work for free, in the hopes of being discovered. As the public became overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content, and as if the ease of finding stuff for free was just too easy, the incentive to pay any creator disappeared.

Read the rest of the article here 

Book Review: Impulse

Happy Independence Day weekend for all you Americans!

If you missed my author interview with Iffix Santaph over his debut novella, Impulse, check it out here.

As promised, here is my review of the novel, which I received in exchange for an interview and review. Like last time, I’ve divided into five categories, and each was worth 0, 1, or 2 points. Scored on a scale 0-10.

Plot (semi-spoiler alert): The reader is introduced to the Gwalf, human-like creatures who live in the city of Trounador. Jendra is the main character and heroine of the novel. She and her friend Leon discover a human body which is unconscious at the start of the novel, and they want to find a way to find out where the human is from. Together with Leon’s cousin Toby, they search for a way to help the alien.

To do this they must dodge obstacles, like the Je’ rax. We soon learn a Je’ rax is NOT a dinosaur, but a scorpion-like creature with huge pincers. Jendra is caught by one, but Toby manages to make its head explode. Kids will love that line.

Along with Toby and Leo, her “just friends” friend (spoiler!) They run into the Lizan and have to be ready for the their attack, which is set up nicely for book 2.

The intended audience is “middle grade”, but I felt like this was more a YA (teen) novel than middle grade. Some of the dialogue was okay, but at times it was confusing. The author sometimes didn’t explain things well, like when he mentions the squig (half squirrell, half pig), brings it up several times, then never fully explains what it is or why it’s relevant to the story. The plot itself is not the most straightforward, and in the writing style space below you’ll see why. It’s unfair to give this a 0 or 1, so I’m going half. 0.5/2

Writing style: If you read my last review, you know I am not a huge fan of multiple points of view, and this book had even more than the last book. Whereas John was good at separating POV’s by scene, Iffix did not do as good a job with this. We got in to too many character’s heads, sometimes on the same page, and it made the story hard to follow. For adults, this isn’t a huge deal, but 11-14 year olds, the intended audience, will simply be unable to keep up. Honestly, this was a tough read, and I am an adult. 0/2

Editing: The editing was really well done. I didn’t spot any missed proofreading marks, or they were so few in number it didn’t bother me. The page layout was great. This was by far the best part of the book; effort was clearly put into this. 2/2

“Believability”: This varies from genre to genre, but the point is, can I believe what’s going on? I honestly struggled with this. The book is fantasy, so nothing was “unbelievable”, but I think there could have been a better job selling its concepts.

For example, the author talks about aliens such as the Lizan, who are clearly distinct from the Gwalf, but for some reason different species all speak the same language and the same way; the same was true with the humans. I was trying hard to figure out exactly where I was, Earth, or somewhere else.  The plot itself is fairly believable; if you were trapped in a city surrounded by caves and waterfalls, wouldn’t you want to escape and explore the rest of the world?  1/2

Emotion: This is another made up section, where I give my emotional feel for the book. I have a saying: If you, the author, can make me cry, you will write a book as successful as Twilight. I’m not joking; emotions besides hot and cold are not easy for me. This section can be for any emotion, though.

I just cannot say I was moved enough to become emotionally attached. It wasn’t that the book was bad, only that it was not spectacular. Again, a 0 is unfair, but it really was not quite a 1. 0.5/2

Overall grade: 4/10.  

I don’t like giving mediocre grades, especially since I do talk to Iffix online and he’s a genuinely sincere guy and very proud to be an indie author. The book is not terrible; the book was well-edited and his vision for Troundador City is exciting, with the caves and waterfalls. It reminded me of Pokemon, moving around in caves with mysterious creatures lurking about. The Gwalf are a society worth exploring in further. I just wish he had done so, and eliminated the too-often multiple POV’s between characters. Even if he wants us to know what’s going to happen, it’s often better if the reader does not. Hopefully the next books in the series will let the reader get to know Jendra and Trounador City further.

I will add this though: Check out his website and look at his Impulse Gallery, where he obtained artwork from DeviantArt artists. It’s really good. if only he had made his story a graphic novel…

You can also find his book at Amazon or visit his website iffixysantaph.com

Author Interview: Iffix Santaph

Back to the author interviews! Today we have Iffix Santaph, indie author, on his new middle-grade novel, Impulse, which is book 1 of 6 in the Forgotten Princess series. Here’s my interview with Iffix.

S: Give us the inside scoop on Jendra’s relationship with Toby and Leon, her “just friends” friend.

I: Jendra is the doctor’s adopted daughter, and Leon is destined to be the next town doctor, so they see a lot of each other. Jendra has been searching the underground city for her father since he disappeared ten years earlier, and since Jendra is nearly expert at parkour and “not the sort to fall and bruise her ego”, Leon has been there to rescue her on many occasions. Beside this, the two “just friends” are more than close. There are some interesting secrets regarding Toby, though Jendra and he haven’t met before the ride on the ferry where Leon took Jendra to escape the “angry city dwellers” whose glares may or may not be all in her head. Toby is Leon’s cousin and a criminally-minded youth who dreams of being a pirate someday. In truth, though, Toby just knows that his father’s river ferry is getting old and will eventually be decommissioned. Toby might have been the perfect best friend for Jendra had he been six years older, but they cultivate a relationship closer to siblings, and Toby loves to drive Jendra nuts.

S: What was the inspiration for Tranoudor?

I: Actually, this stems to the top secret origin of the story itself. The story is loosely based on a fairy tale which featured characters who spent an abundance of time in caves, and as I endeavored to incorporate some of these details, I thought it would be fun to build an entire underground city which is slowly falling apart.

There were events in Tranoudor that I based on my own life. For example, I there were more than a few trips in my early life when I had the opportunity to explore caves, particularly in Minnesota and in the black hills. My love of waterfalls is based on the number of family trips we took to Niagara falls, though the waterfall in Tranoudor has slightly smaller. I once was traveling through northern Missouri where the bridge had been out and I needed to cross aboard a ferry. There was also a rickety old bridge in central Honduras that felt about to cave in, which proved to be the inspiration for another scene.

S: When I saw the Je’Raxs, I kept thinking Jurassic Park, especially with the timing of the movie. Will we see dinosaurs?

I: The Je’rax was more like a super-sized scorpion. Before I began to write the story, I approached a number of artists on the popular web-based community DeviantArt. I told them I would love to use their artwork as an inspiration for a roleplaying game; I was taking a break from my then 18 years as a sci-fi writer and attempting to learn to write tabletop games. And the response was incredible. I gathered a large collection of concepts. From these things, I learned who the arch-villain really was, I learned what my gwalfling characters looked like, I learned about the galaxy as a whole, enough to immerse myself in a really incredible world which I am very happy to share. There are a few dinosaur-like creatures in my bestiary. Impulse opens on Gavyn, the shadowman, who is essentially a sentient dinosaur.

S: Did you show this to anyone before publishing it? What was the response to your novel?

I: I actually had a number of beta readers who considered the project and were eager to read more. I showed it to a wide variety of potential agents, on the other hand, who sent the usual response. “This is a great story… for someone else.” So I decided that the someone else would be me. After all, if I had a group of betas who said “I’d buy this.” So I took a risk. I knew I had to start somewhere. If you ever take a real look at the publishing industry, it’s one gigantic circle that will make your head spin. You can’t be published without drawing and audience, and you can’t draw an audience without getting published. So now, when I pitch to agents, I can tell them “I have published Impulse, a middle grade novel, and this is my next project.” That means something. It’s an opening I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t jump into the publishing arena. Of course, I am always looking for a sincere agent. But one of the best things about being an Indie is knowing who I am and not having it taken away because the publisher wants a different story with flirtatious vampires I’m not willing to tell.

S: Which character was your favorite to write about, and why? Least favorite?

I: I loved so many characters when I was writing Impulse. Of course, Toby speaks to who I was at his age. I wasn’t criminal minded, but I was devious and to this day, I’m most content goofing off. It’s easier to write in his mindset. I am also really enjoying the evil queen. Part of enjoying the unlikeable characters is understanding what they’re so determined to accomplish. I know why she is who she is, and when the story reaches that point, I will be happy to fill in those details.

S: What’s next for you?

I: Impulse marked the first in a series of six books in the Forgotten Princess series. Deception is the second book, released in July of this year. I am nearing completion in the writing stages of Conspiracy, the third book, then I will be editing, sending to betas, editing, more betas, etc, etc, until October-ish, when the book will be released and I continue with Retrospect, Stratagem, and Nemesis to complete the base series. Also, as was evidenced last week when Teddy Bear Junction was released (a markedly different story for me), I hope to release an occasional children’s story or short story here or there as the opportunity arises. If those stories relate to Forgotten Princess, I will likely be releasing them on my website: iffixysantaph.com

Check out Iffix’s book at Amazon.