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

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

eBook Anthology Cover

Do you like A, B, or C?

You can click on an image to bring it front and center, then easy switch between the two. Thanks for your comments!

UPDATE - Thanks to some great feedback I've simplified the cover. Check out C at the bottom of this post.




Friday, October 26, 2012

Movie Memories 06 | Dave Robison

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“The Man Who Would Be King” or How John Huston Saved My Life

By Dave Robison

John Huston saved my life.

It was 1982 and I was flailing my way through my freshman year of college at the University of Michigan, wondering what the hell I was doing.

I was studying theater because I was good at it (like the Latino kids taking Spanish as their foreign language in high school back in Cheyenne), but I didn’t have a plan. I figured I didn’t need one. Someone would see just how charming and talented I was and I wouldn’t have to actually work again.

That was my goal... to not do anything I didn’t want to do. To achieve that goal, I’d emotionally sabotage any project or goal that involved more work than my feeble commitment could endure or investing the bare minimum effort that would allow me to move forward. Life beyond next week was uninteresting and irrelevant so I never really looked beyond the next few days.

My check book was overdrawn (again) and the bank fees for all the bounced checks I’d been writing totaled in the hundreds of dollars. That old joke, “I can’t be overdrawn, I still have checks” was the gospel truth for my freshman self. When money came from home, I’d settle my accounts and be broke again, thus rebooting the whole vicious cycle.

I’d just donated plasma and had ten bucks in my pocket and a fresh pack of Marlboro Lights (I couldn’t even commit to smoking full cigarettes). I was feeling flush but, as I walked down State Street, the grey chill of the day made me huddle in on myself. My mind followed my body’s lead. Thoughts turning inward are never a good idea for someone as messed up as I was. I knew what I was doing, recognized the patterns of shallow destruction I was wrecking on my life. College was an opportunity, an expensive opportunity, and my parents had sacrificed a lot to make it possible.

I remember physically wincing at the thought, and guilt hollowing out my insides. I flinched away, shaking it off, and looked up. It was early afternoon, but the clouds had dimmed the light enough to trip the sensor on the sign over the State Street Theater. Bulbs glowed warm and the marque shown in white neon relief.

Michael Caine Sean Connery The Man Who Would Be King 2 6

It was just before two o’clock, I had money, lungs full of nicotine, it was cold and I was feeling sorry for myself. I flicked the cigarette into the gutter, hoping I looked like James Dean, knowing I didn’t, and went inside.

The State Street Theater was an old theater with thick carpeting, lots of columns and dark wood panels and brass accents. Everything was worn and a little threadbare, tarnished and sagging under the burden of its long tenure as a movie theater, but I liked that. The discolored edges of the brass meant a thousand hands had worn away the factory gilt over the years to expose the metal underneath. The shoes scuffing the carpet, shoulders brushing the textured wallpaper, spilled drinks, faded colors... it gave the place substance and validated its existence. Look at all I’ve endured and I’m still here.

My ticket purchase broke the ten dollar bill into a smaller stack of ones. It had more substance but I felt significantly less flush so I strolled past the concessions counter and went straight to the theater. One theater, not a partitioned multiplex of cinematic indulgence, single tall wide screen rising against a sea of velvety maroon seats. There were maybe twenty people in the entire theater. I sat in the precise middle seat and waited. The theater dimmed to dark, the screen flickered with light, and the movie began.

To sum up without spoilers: A couple of rogues (Peachy Carnehan and Daniel Dravits) feel the British Empire had gotten too small for the likes of them and strike into the heart of unexplored India to become kings. They’re tested in many ways, achieve their goal, discover an even more mind-boggling opportunity, seize it, and then fall from grace. It’s a tragedy, a cautionary tale of the dangers of hubris.

Connery and Caine were their usual selves. I don’t consider either of them brilliant actors, but they are honest actors and that honesty and authenticity is, I suppose, a kind of brilliance. It was while watching this movie that they were added to the (very short) list of my favorite actors.

I related to their characters as only an arrogant college freshman can. “That’s me,” I remember thinking as the plot of the movie was revealed, “The world is too small for me, too,” even though I had yet to accomplish anything more significant than debt and a few roles in some academic stage productions.

But Huston’s gift as a film maker was the authenticity with which he told his larger-than-life stories. As the saga unfolded across stark sweeping vistas, scenes barely framed by the enormous screen threatening to burst the edges with their grandeur, my post-adolescent hubris was silenced by a beautifully told story.

To become truly lost in something – to the extent that your entire sense of self is extinguished for a time – can be a powerful and liberating experience. I think we all acquire emotional “gunk” as we go through our lives. Comfortable repetitions, even more comfortable lies and delusions, little tiny compromises and concessions we make all build up gradually, coating the framework of who and what we are... or are trying to be. Some of it might grease the machine, but most of it hides the shiny foundational gridwork that lies at our core.

In those moments immediately after losing yourself utterly, you are given a fleeting moment of clarity. The coat of gunk has been lifted off you and now, as you return to yourself, you can see and feel it settling back, filling the crevasses of your spirit, coating once more the gleam of your best parts.

I’d love to say that I was like Scrooge after his visitations, that I cast of my Gunk Coat, leapt from my seat, called my parents begging their forgiveness, took two jobs to pay my debt, and still finished college with a 3.8 GPA. I didn’t. I let that coat of emotional self-gratifying indulgence settle back over me like an addict welcomes the drug.

But I saw it. I saw the gunk, I saw what it was and what it was doing to me. And I briefly saw the gleam that it had hidden.

John Huston showed me two criminals who – through sheer determination and belief in their personal mythology of glorious destiny – stumble upon a profound truth only to lose it and be damned for it. In telling that story, Huston gave me a chance to look at mine.

Seeing this movie was my first realization that we all have might and glory inside us, that the key to our destiny lies squarely in the choices we make and our reactions to the hardships we face. With that conviction, I found a small bit of solid ground to stand upon. With that fragile foothold, my life started to move towards what it has become.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dave Robison has indulged in creative pursuits his entire life.  His CV includes writing Curious George fan-fiction at the age of eight, improv theater at age ten, playing trumpet at age twelve, as well as a theater degree, creating magazine cover art, writing audio scripts, designing websites, creating board games, hosting mythological roundtables and generally savoring the sweet draught of expression in all its forms.  His years of exploration give him a unique, informed, and eloquent perspective on the art of storytelling. He is also a co-host of the Roundtable Podcast where he, his co-host Brion Humphrey, and a guest author listen to a guest writer spin their tale and then work shop it until they've achieved literary gold. Dave is also involved with the super fun Protecting Project Pulp, and you can follow him on Twitter @WritersPodcast.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Movie Memories 05 | Sally Preston

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My earliest memory of a movie is epic, towering, massive. It includes innocence, a sense of peace, tragedy, horror and yes even a high-speed chase!

Picture it, June, 1981. I was four, those who know me best won’t have any trouble picturing what I looked like and my general demeanor. For those of you who don’t, think Shirley Temple if she were very precocious.

My parents, very involved in their church had volunteered to chaperon a Luther League trip to see Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. My parents, who must have figured I would sleep through most of it anyway, brought me along.

And they were right.... mostly.

I was thrilled! I got to go to a movie! There was popcorn, Mom, Dad and a theme song that would make anybody want to go out and buy a Fedora!

Shortly into the start of the movie, as predicted I fell asleep. Comfy, napping, content ... and then it happened ... I woke up.

Exactly as the faces were melting!

Not only did the entire theater get what I’m sure was an earful of a scream, but I took off running! Through the theater, out the theater and down the mall! I didn’t get very far, naturally my folks were right on my heels, I was instantly comforted and calmed down.

But as I look back, I picture a four year old me, a head full of Shirley Temple Curls, wearing the infamous brown fedora, running through the mall in slow motion, villagers chasing after me, lead by my parents; all the while the wonderful orchestrations of John Williams play the theme song that says it all.

“C’mon, short round!”

Sally Preston is a wife, music teacher and mother of three. She currently resides in Des Moines, Iowa where she enjoys soaking up the rich cultural events Des Moines has to offer. She also is an avid scrapbooker and most of all enjoys spending time with her family.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Stuffed Monster Available in Audio

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I have already shared about this exciting news on all my social media feeds, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, but I wanted to let you know about it here as well. The amazing couple at Every Photo Tells published a reading of my story Stuffed Monster on their website. I have them to thank for the origin of the story. If you're not familiar with the awesome website, they put up a great photo every month and invite writers to use it as a story prompt. You write a short story inspired by their photo and send it in to them. If they accept it they will create a recording of it and put it on their site and in their podcast. How cool is that? Yeah, I know - really cool! So check out my podcast feed, snag the audio in the .mp3 link below, or visit the page with my story on the Every Photo Tell's website.

Also, as you may know, the story is available in all the eBook formats for FREE over at Smashwords.

A HUGE thank you to the fine folks at Every Photo Tells, Katharina Bordet and Mick Bordet, for doing such an amazing job on the reading of my story. They made it sound so much better than it does in my head. Have a listen, be inspired, then check out their website and write a short story of your own inspired by their latest photo.

Find them on Twitter:

Also, check out this great blog post Hugh Howey Live, and other Free Indie Fiction by my friend Timothy C. Ward to grab some more free fiction. He was also kind enough to list my story among the other free fiction he has found. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Special Night

Last night my wife and I made it to World 8 in New Super Mario Bros. on the Wii. My wife never plays video games with me but I found out a while back that she played Super Mario on the Nintendo as a kid. I have a game called Mario All-Stars for the Super Nintendo that has Mario 1, 2, and 3 on it. She saw me start to play it with my four year old son and then she started playing it. I was so excited to see her playing video games! We went on to spend an afternoon one Saturday playing the entire game of Super Mario Bros. 3 until we beat it. It was so fun playing all the way through a game together and beating it. After we did she looked over at me and said, 'That was a pretty good date night, right?" I grinned from ear to ear nodding in agreement. It was so much fun playing video games with my wife and best friend.

The other day my son was watching video of New Super Mario Bros. game play on YouTube on the iPad and it clicked. I needed to get this game. Not only was my son super excited about it, but I knew my wife would want to play. I was telling my co-worker about it and he said his copy was just sitting on the shelf so he brought it to work the next day for me to borrow it. Sure enough I brought it home and my 4 year old LOVED it! That night my wife said, "Do you want to play Mario?" I was thrilled. A few nights later and we have beat the game, but the special part of it was that we let our 4 year old stay up late to watch us beat the game. He was so excited. The look on his face was priceless, like when we took him to Disneyland for the first time. I can still remember the first time I beat the original Super Mario Bros. I was just a couple years older than my oldest son is now. New Super Mario Bros. has many of the same sound effects and features of the original game, and all of the other Mario games. Playing it brought back so many memories. Sharing the experience with my family was the best part. I will remember last night as a very special night with two of my favorite people in the whole world playing New Super Mario Bros.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Finding Nemo Helped Me Find Act II

Last night I sat on the couch with my wife and kids watching Pixar's Finding Nemo. I've always loved this film for its bold storytelling move at the beginning of the film - it gets me every time - to the story of Nemo's father Marlin overcoming one obstacle after another to get to his son, to his son's coming of age story. Last night it struck me just how much was thrown at Marlin to stop him from getting to his son Nemo. One thing after another makes it very difficult for him to keep going. As I'm fleshing out that dreaded Act II, the middle of my current novel, I'm taking this storytelling approach to heart. I know how my novel will end and a bit of what needs to happen for the characters to get there, but not much in the way of details. Also, I have found that all of my novels so far have the problem of everything being too easy for my characters. I need more conflict. They overcome obstacles too fast and with too much ease. I now know how I'm going to move forward to get through Act II of my novel. I'm going to throw a whole bunch of stuff at my characters, making it as difficult for them to achieve their goals as I can. I've already come up with a few specific ideas that not only are going to do this - but I think they'll be a lot of fun too. I'm excited to plow into the second act of my story and get this ball rolling. I just need to find the time to write somehow.

Thanks for stopping by. Check back on Friday for another awesome Movie Memory guest blog post in text and audio!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Movie Memories 04 | Donald Conrad

The Red Pill

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Trinity puts her hand on the phone booth’s glass wall as her face is lit but by the headlights of the garbage truck speeding at her. This is the moment that defines the Matrix for me. I remember this moment like it happened yesterday. I sat in a darkened theater with my mouth hanging open. She was not in the wreckage of the phone booth, the strange guys in the suits were stating that she “Got out”

WHAT? How do you get out of being run over while standing in a phone booth? I went into The Matrix with no knowledge of what it was. I had to pull myself away from video games long enough to see this movie my brother refused to stop talking about.

I looked over at him and by the flicker of the screen light I could see he was looking at me, grinning. He knew the ride I was in for, I on the other hand, had no clue. Little did I know that I was about to witness the movie I would come to compare all others to.

The Matrix did something I had never seen in a movie before. It fully transported me into it’s fiction. Lovingly crafted to weave the story with the visual effects in a way that made them a bold feature and an important story telling device.

The impact the Bullet Time effect had on me still occupies me to this day. I wait for Hollywood to bring that feeling back up. It was more than a visual effect. It was a total bending of reality. I sat in the theater watching the world in a way I never thought would be possible. Reality was slowed and I had a front row seat by a camera that defied everything. It was showing me a movie set in ways that could easily be called “impossible” at the time.

Beyond at the mind bending visuals the story held it’s own weight. If I may be totally honest with you for a moment, I did not really absorb the story the first time I saw the movie. I went back to the theater seven times. It was insane how every moment seemed deliberate. Every shot was expertly crafted to give you, the viewer, the best seat in the house.

I remember watching the entire credits roll as I sat stunned. I wanted to see all the names go by. I owed each and every one of those people that.

I am still waiting for a film to give me the rush that The Matrix did so long ago. To be honest, I really don’t think it’s going to happen. I am grateful that I was there for that moment in movie making history. That I got to enjoy it on the big screen in all it’s glory. To this day I will go out of my way to see it in a theater that is having a late night showing. Every time I sit in a darkened theater watching I am transported back to that first time. The movie asked me to “Dodge this.” I failed. The Matix hit me hard.

Now If you'll excuse me, I have a blu-ray to go watch.

Donald Conrad is an artist, writer, and blogger who writes about video games, family, and many other things. He is a devoted husband and loving father of four. You can find his hilarious and well written posts over at his website Donald is also the co-host of a podcast with me called Pen Fights Gamepad. We talk video games, writing, movies, being dads and so much more. Donald posts regularly on his site, his posts are great and you can follow him on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I Signed My First Publishing Agreement Today

This morning I signed a publishing agreement from Five Rivers Publishing for their acceptance of my fictional essay "Hiring and Managing Henchmen" to be accepted into their awesome anthology "A Method To the Madness: A Guide to the Super Evil." I had a lot of fun writing up advice as if I were a super genius evil mad scientist. The anthology will contain essays and stories written by Dr. Evil / Mega Mind types as a guide to their mad evil ways.

I was so excited when I got the email asking me to print out the publishing agreement, sign it, and send it off to Canada where the fabulous Fiver Rivers Publishing presides. This will be my first time ever published in print! Also my first time being paid for writing fiction. I have sold some eBooks of my short stories but that total amount isn't enough for the websites I use to publish my stories to send me a check in the mail yet, so this is a big deal for me. I'm really excited!

A huge thanks to my friends, co-editors of the anthology, and all around awesome dudes Michell Plested and Jeff Hite who came together to make this anthology happen. I'm so glad they invited writers to joint them in creating something awesome from their fantastic idea. By the way, Michell's debut novel published by Five Rivers Publishing, called Mik Murdoch: Boy Superherois out now. I'm halfway through it and it has made me laugh and smile many many times. Jeff Hite also has some great fiction out right now, and when I say right now I mean he is writing and publishing it to his website as he rolls the story out. It's a cool project called Stories 365. From the awesome stuff I've read so far it's going to be exciting to see where he's at with it at the end of the year. He just started September 1st so it won't be hard for you to catch up if you start reading now - plus he has Alex the 486 Beowulf Cluster (Super Computer) read the work so you can catch up via audio if you like.

I'm really excited to get the book in the mail when it comes out around next March so I can read the other stories in this super cool anthology.
Five Rivers Publishing

Friday, October 5, 2012

Movie Memories 03 | Dan Absalonson

Stalling For Time While Submissions Come In

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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
This week I didn't have any guest posts come in because I didn't plan the timing out very well. So instead of leaving you with nothing I share two of my favorite movie memories from my college years. I talk about going to see The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers on opening night in a po-dunk town because I forgot to get tickets in time - and going to see a midnight showing of Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut. As promised in the recording, here is a picture of Frank the bunny from the movie - I accidentally called him "Fred" the bunny in the podcast :)

Frank the bunny from Donnie Darko

Look for my latest short story "Stuffed Monster" to hit the podcast feed in audio soon. For now it's available as a free eBook in all the formats you need at Smashwords. Thanks for stopping by and have a great week. Until next time, see you at the movies!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Lack of Focus

I've always been a great starter, but not the best finisher. Yes, I have written three full novels, one novella, and a novelette. It kind of stops there though. I have taken one of those novels through three drafts, drastically changing the manuscript with each draft to make it better and then handing that off to a bunch of beta readers. There was still so much wrong with the novel that it still needs at least another couple drafts to make the story fixes and then polish up the new changes. Every time I think about starting the work for the forth draft of this novel it feels incredibly daunting. So I have started two new novels instead. I think I have a problem. It gets worse. 

That novelette "A Second Chance" I wrote has been edited by a talented writer, Timothy C. Ward, and he thinks the story could be publishable if I clean it up some more. It's available now as the only eBook I ask money for, but I really want to go through all of his awesome notes and update my manuscript with his feedback. Then there's the novella I started last year that's still lingering in act one. Oh yeah, and I have that novella which I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year completed. It needs a few more drafts to fix the story. So why am I trying to write two novels right now? A lack of focus I guess. The next project is always more exciting than the one you're working on. It's the same way with books. I'm always reading a ton of them.

I'm halfway through more books than I have fingers. If you look at my Goodreads it shows I'm currently reading 25 books! I talked with a co-worker one time about this who is an avid reader. He smiled and said "I used to do that." Now he reads one at a time. It is actually pretty easy for me to keep all of the stories separate in my mind and pick up right where I left of months later, but I want to make a change with this because I'd rather be getting things done. Sometimes it's nice to hop from one genre to another, but the fact that I'm currently reading 25 books tells me that I've been a bit too liberal with starting new books before finishing others. It needs to change with my reading, and with my writing. I need a queue like a tasks list, where I work my way through my 25 books and multiple things I'm writing until I widdle it down to lets say two or three. :) I don't think I'll ever be able to read just one book at a time but I do need to keep it in check.

In high school I got a lot of stuff done because every night before I went to bed I would make a list of things to do for the next day. So I bought a Moleskine type notebook made by Markings and have started writing everything down that I want to get done. Projects at home, writing projects, all kinds of stuff. There is a lot of ink in the little book already. I'm then using a method like the picture to the left to make a daily action list. I'm hoping to get my act together and gain some focus. A podcast I started listening to that has given me great ideas for how to get things done is Mikes on Mics. I've been mainlining their episodes.

Two nights ago I started brain storming and outlining the story for my novel that I'm writing longhand - The Meadowhill Ghost. If you click on that link you'll see 7 uploaded pages of the first chapter. I decided it wasn't a good idea to write it without an outline as I had first set out to do. Now I'm seeing that to get the main characters right, I'm going to need to do some research. I made up a little booklet I'm going to take some time filling out that uses Dan Well's 7 Point Story Structure. If you're a writer and you haven't seen his talk explaining it, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Below are pictures of my booklet I'll use to get the 7 points of my story nailed down before I continue writing it. You can click on one to get a closer look and then click between them from there.

I still think I might be able to pull off writing these two books simultaneously because the method of writing in a notebook is so different. It works to utilize different times to write verses using a computer, but I need to do some homework before I write any more of it. My other novel, The Truth About Zombies, I already have outlined and know exactly what I'm writing next to finish out chapter three. You can listen to the first chapter here. So I should get to finishing that third chapter.

Thanks for stopping by and look for a new audio version of my latest short story "Stuffed Monster" coming soon. Available in all eBook formats now for free. I'm also running a new guest blog post series called Movie Memories right now. I publish the guest blog posts along with a recording of them every Friday from now until I run out of guest posts. It's a lot of fun and I'd love a submission from you so write in! Click that last link for details and a couple examples. Now go write! :)