My latest short story "The Night the Lights Came On"

Friday, August 26, 2011

Videogame Memories 12 | Justin Macumber

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The earliest writing I ever did were adventures for my friends to play through in Dungeons & Dragons. We were just kids, and we couldn't afford store bought modules, so I saw it as my duty to create stories that we could all have fun with. Plenty of monsters to fight, dastardly arch-villains to overcome, kingdoms to save, and priceless treasures to uncover. For a kid not even in spitting distance of his teenage years, it was a thrilling undertaking, and one that I didn't take lightly. As I grew older I branched out into short stories -- even giddily contemplated writing a novel -- and fantasy was the genre I stuck with. Most of the books I read where fantasies, as were the movies I enjoyed, the comic books, and the cartoons. It was a genre I felt really comfortable with.

But, around the time I entered high school, relatives suggested that I give horror a try. King and Koontz were the authors they recommended, and I was quickly swept away. It was an amazing thrill to pick up these new authors and discover the joy of being terrified out of my mind. My writing, as you might imagine, followed suit.

One genre that I never dared tried to write, though, was science fiction. My favorite film of all time, Star Wars, is a science fiction movie, but for whatever reason I grew up thinking that only brilliant people could write the genre. I mean, it was right there in the name - SCIENCE fiction. What did I know about science? I barely knew where the moon was, so how I could write about people in far flung places doing things I couldn't begin to understand or describe. Science fiction was a genre I adored, a genre I consumed with an insatiable appetite, but it was the one genre I didn't believe I could write in. That changed when I played the Wing Commander series of computer games.

Now, I'm a 38 year-old guy, so I'm of the first generation that really grew up with video games. I fondly remember playing Berserk and River Raid on my Atari 2600 using a small black and white television. When I would go to my uncle's house, we would play Warlords and Kaboom on his big color TV, and that was like a revelation. On long drives I always took my Pac-Man mini arcade game and annoyed everyone in the car with the incessant beeping and booping. How they stood it, I'll never know. And in every mall I ever walked into I always headed right for the arcade to play games like Gauntlet, Altered Beast, Afterburner, and Tron. It was an amazing time to be a kid, watching technology grow and grow right before my eyes.

Unlike a lot of my contemporaries, around the time the Nintendo came out I was too deep into computer games to notice. I didn't play Zelda or Super Mario Bros. much. I was busy playing Ultima, King's Quest, and Sid Meier's Pirates! on the Tandy 1000 SX my family owned. That baby had two 5.25" floppy drives and was capable of outputting 16 colors! Simultaneously! The number of hours I plunged into those old games is mindboggling to think about now, but it all went into my brain, shaping who I was and who I was becoming. Computer games were my life's blood.

Sadly, the ol' Tandy couldn't last forever. Though I'm sure it still works for whoever it was we ended up selling it to, when 1993 rolled around it was just too old. All of the newer games needed more memory and processing power than it could provide. So, using money I earned from my own sweat and tears, I bought an Acer computer. I wish I could remember the specs on it now, but suffice it to say it did everything I wanted it to and more. And, it came with a CD-ROM drive, which opened a whole new world of experiences. Now able to play the new games, I dove in headfirst. It was a heady time, but the defining moment came when I saw a magazine ad for the upcoming Wing Commander game. It was Wing Commander 3: Heart Of The Tiger. I hadn't played the previous Wing Commander games because my old computer wasn't powerful enough, so I had no idea what they were about, but all I had to see what that picture of Mark Hamill in the ad and the text that said the game featured loads of video footage that told the game's story in a cinematic way never before imagined for a PC game. I was sold. Mark Hamill, star of my favorite movie of all time? Acting in a science fiction video game? Where I got to fly a starfighter around and blow up giant alien cat creatures? Oh hell to the yes! I was nearly vibrating with anticipation.

Thankfully, the game more than lived up to my expectations. Not only was it amazingly good, but the cinematic cutscenes were jaw dropping. I couldn't believe my computer was capable of such wizardry. I played it over and over again, an addict who couldn't get enough. The next game, Wing Commander IV: The Price Of Freedom, was somehow even more amazing. There were new villains to fight, new ships to fly, and new crewmates to fly with, not to mention loads of new cutscenes to enjoy. I was in sci-fi geek heaven.

Once I was done with Wing Commander IV, I didn't want it to stop. I was too jazzed, too filled with ideas of what-if and how-about. So, to give myself an outlet, I decided to write the game's developer, Origin Systems (R.I.P. dear friends), and offer them my take on where they should go next. It was a grand story about a secret project to create A.I. piloted drones capable of fighting the enemy so that human lives could be saved, and how the project went awry, becoming a new threat humanity had to face. You know, the classic tale of our hubris biting us on the tuckus. I followed that up with an idea about a new alien threat coming from beyond the galaxy, but these aliens were far more strange and terrible than the cats we'd fought before. These new threats actually had living ships, coming in shapes large and small, capable of war in ways we never dared think possible. Again, a classic tale of the unknown and our greatest fears.

At the time they seemed like fantastic ideas, and I was excited to write about them. Without even realizing what I was doing, I was writing science fiction. I spent days upon days outlining, plotting, researching, and writing. When I sent them off to Origin, I was pretty certain that I'd be getting a call shortly telling me to move to Austin where they were located and get to work helping them chart the future of Wing Commander. One thing I didn't lack for back then was confidence. I wish I was so cocksure now.

As you can probably guess, that call never came. No messengers arrived with contracts, no emails flew to my inbox. I was disappointed, to be sure, but after awhile I moved on. The only time I became angry was when the next Wing Commander game came out, Wing Commander: Prophecy. It was supposed to be the start of a new campaign with new characters (though Mark Hamill was still in the mix) and a new enemy. To my shock and horror, that new enemy was from beyond our spacethat used living ships. And, the new fighters the humans used were called Tigersharks, which was the name of the new fighters I'd created for my out of control A.I. story. I was dumbstruck.

Now, did Origin steal my ideas? At the time, I was sure of it. There were just too many similarities for that not to be the case. I don't think so anymore, however. Living starships isn't something I'm the first person to think of, nor am I the first person to name a fighter plane after Tigersharks. When I was young I thought I was breaking new ground, but one of the benefits of age is perspective. Plus, I'm sure Prophecy was well under development before my little idea package was put in the mail. Computer games as big as that one aren't made over a weekend. It was merely a case of certain minds thinking alike and coincidental timing.

But that wasn't the end of my love affair with Wing Commander. About a year or so after I sent that package off, I stumbled across some people at AOL (my internet provider at the time) who had a writing club centered on the Wing Commander universe. It was like a chain letter fan fiction club, and I begged to be let in. They were kind enough to do so, and that began my real writing life. Over the course of several years I wrote them enough stories to fill at least two novels, and together we took the club in bold new directions. By the time we disbanded, my character had risen to the rank of Captain and was in command of his own ship of privateers. We loved, we fought, we laughed, and we wrote. I would not be the writer I am today -- for better or ill -- were it not for the Wing Commander Pilots Club. I owe them a debt I'll never be able to repay.

I'm not much of a science fiction writer anymore, but it's not out of any loss of love for the genre. I'm just trying to spread my writing wings and see else I can do. But, science fiction is no longer the boogie man it once was to me, and it's something I'll always love and return to. And I owe that in large part to Origin Systems and their amazing Wing Commander computer games. Much like Star Wars nearly twenty years before it, Wing Commander opened my mind and filled it with wonder. And wonder is the foundation upon which every great story is built. Thank you, Origin Systems, and thank you to my old friends at the WCPC.

Now I see it as my duty, and the duty of every writer out there, to pay it forward and pass that same sense of wonder on to a new generation through the stories we create and the characters we breathe life into. Not all of us will succeed, but we have to try. We have to create and built and explore the strange reaches inside of us. We have to write.

- Justin R. Macumber

Justin Macumber is a happily married fella in his late 30’s, and right now he’s a full time writer and podcaster. He lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex with his lovely wife of eleven years, and with them is a motley pack of dogs and cats that they think of as their children. Right now he has to say that he is happy, though getting published would go a long way toward making him even happier. Find his work at:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Videogame Memories 11 | Zach Ricks

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I remember “Chrono Trigger.”

SPOILER ALERT. Warning. This is a game that was originally released in the US for the SNES in 1995, again for the original PlayStation in 2001, again for the Nintendo DS in 2008, and yet again in May of 2011 for the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console. It’s had such a long life because it is the greatest game ever created for any platform, period. I’ve owned it in at least three of these iterations. But because it’s only been recently released for one of these platforms, you might be playing it now for the first time. If so, STOP READING OR LISTENING TO THIS NOW. I am deadly serious.

Cool? Okay.

I don’t remember when I picked it up, or where I first started playing it, but I absolutely remember Chrono Trigger. Oh, I bought it because the artwork was cool, and it was a Squaresoft game, and I knew they did good work because I’d already played and enjoyed the heck out of Final Fantasy III. I remember looking at the Akira Toriyama artwork, and thinking “this looks kind of familiar.” (Toriyama was the artist who created DragonBall and DragonBall Z. There is no DragonBall GT. Doesn’t exist. Shared hallucination. Sad story. Anyway...)

Then I took it home and started playing. Oh, sure, there was some kind of a thing about a fair and then there was this blonde girl who wanted to hang out, and I played some fair games and won a life-size replica of myself. And then my friend wanted me to demonstrate her teleporter… which then tore open a hole in space and time and flung the blonde… someplace. And my character stood up and volunteered to go get her back. He had no way of knowing where she’d gone, how to return, anything. He’d known her for maybe an hour. But he was the kind of guy who was willing to go after her anyway. And I was hooked. I was all in. It was fun, but what really sunk its claws into me and kept me coming back for more and more were the characters and their stories. I met a frog who used to be a man. (And once I discovered his real name, he’s never been anything but Glenn to me). I found myself accused of treason and sentenced to death. I defeated a dragon tank. I travelled to the dark and dismal future and found out that I was going to be fighting some sort of WORLD DEVOURING EVIL. I found out my friend blamed herself for the death of her mother, and because the game involved time travel, I got to give her the chance to make it right. I enjoyed every minute of it. Right up until we faced WORLD DEVOURING EVIL for the first time.

And my protagonist refused to run away. And he died for it. Obliterated. Disintegrated. Dead.

And the game kept going...

I remember sitting in a basement, staring at the television set, dealing with the fact that this character that I’d invested so much time and energy into… this character that represented ME in the game world... this character that I loved... was gone. And while I was doing that, I was watching his companions do the same thing – dealing with their grief at the loss of their friend. I’ve never had a game pull me through that kind of emotional experience, and it’s that moment, and what follows it that has made Chrono Trigger my favorite game of all time. Sure, I take a lot of good-natured ribbing for my love of Pokémon, and that’s been a wild and crazy ride for the last twelve years. (Long story. I blame kindergarteners. Darn kindergarteners.)

But Chrono Trigger continues to be an influence on me because the story was so deep and rich. It hit so many themes – loyalty, family, self-sacrifice, regret, love, tragedy… and ultimately, triumph. And don’t get me started on the music. To this day, I cannot hear the opening theme without getting a little emotional.

If you have a chance to play it, I highly recommend it. It’s the greatest game of the 16-bit era, and I dare say it’s my favorite game of any era. (and it’s like 8 bucks on the Wii virtual console. Seriously.)

Zach Ricks is an attorney, writer, and publisher living in Austin Texas with his wife and one daughter. He’s known for his love of science fiction, fantasy, Pokémon and breakfast tacos. He’s also occasionally a big fat crybaby. Find his writing at, and his publishing company at

Friday, August 19, 2011

Videogame Memories 10 | Michell Plested

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I remember the first time I ever saw a video game at someone’s house. The game was Pong (yes, I know I’m dating myself) and it was in black and white on my aunt’s 20” television. I was amazing; for the first time I could actually interact with something on television.

The next ones I remember were at my neighbour’s house. They had a Nintendo Entertainment System - one of the original NES. It was a household filled with kids and I spent the majority of my time sitting, watching others play.

It wasn’t until High School that I actually spent any time playing video games. Living in the country without one of my own, I had to content myself with the occasional trip down to the pool hall and arcade to play with my limited allowance. Games like Tron, Galaga, Space Invaders, I tried them all. I was fascinated with the movement, strategies and, most of all, the technology used to create them.

It wasn’t until my family finally made the plunge and bought a Colecovision that I had anything of my own to play. The best part was, the system also doubled as a computer with a printer, keyboard, word processor and Basic language for programming in.

I think that is when I truly made the decision to work in technology. I took every opportunity to work on computers. I programmed Tandy colour computers at school and eventually graduated from Technical School with a diploma in Computer Technology.

I’ve never looked back. Many years later, I’ve worked in just about every facet of computers you can. Programmer, desktop/server/network support, routing and security. I’ve worked as a Product Manager and as a Project Manager. It’s been a very rewarding career and one that I know was influenced by those early video games.

Little is known about the origins of Michell as they are shrouded (or at least covered with a moth-eaten towel) by the mists of time. What is known is largely obscure and often contradictory. Oh and he sometimes speaks about himself in the third person. One thing that is known to be absolutely true is he is a perfectionist (a nice way of saying anal) as can be evidenced by the number of iterations it took him to write the first chapter (completely) of his first book (31). On the subject of his first book, Michell is always more than happy to discuss, often to excess, the trials and tribulations he has faced. He usually misses those visual cues to shut-up or change the subject (like the audience falling asleep or simply walking away).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Won my First Short Story Contest!

I had a short story published today by an online eZine publisher who runs a short story contest called Fiction Tuesday! You can read it on their website or listen to my recording of it with sound effects. I had a blast writing it and putting the recording together, and I think you'll have a blast reading it or listening to it. Here's the link to my story:

Enjoy and thanks for stopping by!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Videogame Memories 09 | Laura Nicole

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A chick with a game controller is hot... or that's what I was told anyway. I didn't play video games much when I was younger. This is mostly because I was outside rollerblading, camping, or taking my dog Lady for long walks in the woods. When I got older I learned to appreciate the artistry of video games through watching my friends play Final Fantasy, Zelda, and the like. I loved the story lines and how the game made you interact with the story and you could see the consequences that your choices had for the character.

When I went into the Army is when I really started to move from a button masher to an actual console queen. Street Fighter, Soul Caliber and those games were my favorites to play. They had beautiful female characters with amazing, paralyzing moves that I learned to master. Naturally, all of my male counterparts wanted to take me on and I think I only lost a handful of times but those few times lead to some good conversations.

Later on in life, I gave MMO's a try. Not my cup of tea. The biggest reason is that if I want to hang out with people, I like it to be face to face with no other distractions like a group from another faction trying to gank you. RPGs on the other hand are my favorite way to escape when I want to be more than an observer as I am while reading a book. Right now my favorite is Dragon Age: Origins, Though Neverwinter Nights 2 is up there on the list.

So that's my spiel on video games. I hope you all enjoy. I am really looking forward to Dan's new work, and I hope you all will stay tuned. To find out more about what projects I am working on, you can visit my site at or

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Videogame Memories 08 | Nathan Lowell

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Hey everybody, the post for today will be a little different. Nathan Lowell, my favorite podcast novelist, was kind enough to share his video game memories via his daily podcast #TOMMW (Talking On My Morning Walk). Everyday he goes for a 2 mile walk, and records his thoughts for the day on the second half of that walk. Today he talked about his video game memories. Enjoy.

Nathan Lowell is the author and podcaster of several novels. His books can be found on and now on as well selling eBooks. He is with Ridan Publishing now and has been able to make a great living selling eBooks. You can learn more about him at

Friday, August 5, 2011

Videogame Memories 07 | J.R. Murdock

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I grew up with video games. I think I was 5 when I was first introduced to the PONG console and I could hook up the Atari system to the back of the television by the time I was 7. I watched the games in the bars (yes, I grew up in a town where kids could go the bar) change from Tank and Breakout to Pac Man and Zaxxon. Computers in the schools that started appearing were the Apple II and Apple II+. I discovered Lode Runner quite early.

I was fascinated with video games. It was in the early 80s when I discovered Dungeons and Dragons. It was also in the early 80s when I discovered Dungeons and Daggorath for the TRS-80 that my father had bought for me. I was entranced by the thought of exploring a dungeon, but it was a difficult game that was slow, clunky and you couldn’t save your place unless you had a tape drive (that I would acquire much later).

But then I found Wizardry for the Apple II. This game took much of what my young brain knew about Dungeons and Dragons and put it into a game that I could play. I could roll up characters, put them into the dungeon and explore, map, and discover and best of all save my progress! Before my eyes games grew up from being a static simplistic game to something where you could grow, expand and play longer than the machine you were playing on was turned on.

My characters were saved and I would find any excuse to sneak out of class and into the computer lab. I skipped lunch. I would go to school early. I would stay at school late. Anything to get more time on the computer to play that game just a few minutes longer. It didn’t matter that the game was green lines on a black background. I knew those dungeon levels like I knew the back of my hand. I would send hours trying to map out the mazes before I realized I was in a maze and have to erase much of what I’d mapped out.

Eventually I would have an Apple IIe of my very own. With a color monitor! I would play any game that provided me a story to follow. The Zork series which was entirely text based. The Ultima games. Bard’s Tale. Alternate Reality. I couldn’t get enough and played every chance I could.

Even after the Apple IIe was no longer a viable gaming machine I continued to play RPGs on gaming systems. Moving on to the first Nintendo gaming systems and playing Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda. Games had finally started to mature with similar story lines, but far better graphics.

I knew my addiction and I knew it well and I also knew what it took to feed the beast. I stopped playing games for a long time. I missed out on the first wave of World of Warcraft and after hearing so many people rave about how great the game was, I knew I had to stay away. I would easily be sucked into a game like that, I know.

But even today, I still enjoy going online and downloading an Apple emulator and picking up the games I used to play so much. I still have a copy of the original Wizardry on my computer and every once in a while, I’ll make a bishop, identify 9, and take a couple of characters at super high level around the dungeon and have fun.

J.R. Murdock is an avid reader of almost anything he can get his hands on. That being said, he also writes with near reckless abandon in any and every genre. His style is intended for pure entertainment. Over the years he’s written nine novels and over one hundred short stories. Only a few short stories have seen print (in actual print and on the web) so he’s decided to throw his hat into the podcasting arena with his novel V & A Shipping. Since then he has also podcast his novel Billy Barbarian and released his YA novel Astel: Chosen, not to mention the great short stories he's podcast in his Murdockian Tales series.

When not writing like a mad-man, J.R. Murdock does have a day job as a computer programmer and loves to spend time with his lovely wife and beautiful daughter.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Videogame Memories 06 | John Mierau

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Note: A few choice words lie below but were blipped from the audio.

It's kind of odd that I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer, an IT pro and-yeah, sure, world class geek-but not a gamer.

So why am I blogging about gaming? Well, I WAS a gamer. It showed up in my life at exactly the right time: my most formative years- right at the end of high school and my first year of university -and it has informed my life ever since.

My big games -now, don't laugh!- were Doom, Command & Conquer, and (ah, the memories!) Duke Nuke'em.

When I started university, a friend of mine got me my first gig in networking. It was summer, he was busy as hell with this weird new gig and he asked me to help him out.

The gig was installing network cards in a bunch of 386's for the federal government.

Back then it was a brand spanking new gig, working in IT admin. And it was a doubly wired gig, seeing as my buddy Jason went to college for Fisheries & Wildlife, before finding out on a summer job with the government that he was an idiot savant with all things computers.

A few times that summer, Jay very patiently led me through how to input scripts and plug in cards and test the network. A windows 3.11 network.

Ground floor, I tell ya!

Well I'm a slow learner, and it was probably more work fixing my mistakes than any help, but we got through it, and I was hooked on computers!

This was not the floppy-disk powered DOS computer my Dad had in his study, these puppies had hard drives and could access 'the internet'!

I was hooked on this new world. I asked for more. No, I begged and pleaded and cajoled until Jason got me a computer to set up in the hall of the place I rented, then busted up old laptops with dead pixels and dead batteries.

Then... He got me a 14.4 modem. I didn't even have my own email address and Netscape was just a painfully slow screensaver (OK with jaw-dropping possibilities) when I discovered my first true joy of the IBM clone: gaming!

That summer my wife-to-be got used to me staying up 'til all hours. I spent hours adding ram and reinstalling windows and then tweaking modem to goose a little faster data transfer.

And why? What was the key that led to what would become one of the biggest careers and passions of my life?

The Duke, baby!

Running, amped on adrenaline, through pixelated halls. Listening on my headset for telltale gunshots or movement through cheesy, looping midi music. Watching the bottom of my screen for taunts and chatter as Jay moved in for the kill--or swore his head off after I got the drop on him first!

Of course, the Duke got all the best lines:

"Damn, those alien bastards are gonna pay for shooting up my ride."
"You're an inspiration for birth control."
"Uh, uh, uh, where is it?"

Before my ride on games ended, the love affair carried me through early Star Wars, Myst, and my second favorite video obsession: Unreal Tournament.

Those were heady days, oh, new-gen geeks... heady days.

And I never left the digital theme park, I just got tired of the rides. Networking an support paid all my bills for a decade. My first ongoing blog followed the beginning of the smartphone and mobile tech revolutions and of course I'm as wired as ever today.

Twitter and very real online friendships and one other thing-a dedication to my writing- have replaced the need and buzz I got off of gaming.

Because it wasn't the 'game' aspect, not the puzzler challenge of those first crude titles that hooked me: it was the communication. The head-to-head battles. Joining forces with people far in the distance to beat some ass sniping people.

It was the community.

Like a lot of you reading, I suspect, I have many meaningful interactions online. I learn online. Sometimes I work online. I'm always entertained and in so many ways I play online.

There's a lot in the way of community to fill that need in me nowadays--not the least of which is the 5-person fire-team that Is my nuke-lear family!

It's not to say I don't crave clearing a new level or taking a beautiful headshot... it's just more meaningful to me now to use the precious little time left to a family man, and provider, to write my own stories, create my own danger, my own witty comebacks, and see who gets out of *my* levels in one piece.

Duke taught me a lot. I'm putting the lessons to work somewhere else these days, but when it comes time to kick ass or chew bubblegum?

Those times, I think the Duke... And it's GAME ON!

John Mierau writes science fiction and fantasy. Ebook and podcast Stories available at, along with roundtable and interview podcasts regarding content creation, speculative fiction and anything else I choose to stick under that umbrella!