Thanks to some extremely wonderful assistant instructors, I went home from the dojo early last night and got to eat dinner with my kids. We also sat together and watched Doctor Strange. My wife and I had seen it before in theaters, but the kids hadn’t. Strangely, I never actually left a review of the film. It seems a bit odd to do so this long after the film’s release. Yet I also felt it worth adding a few notes to the general consensus of the film.
Yes, the critics are generally right. Doctor Strange is, essentially, the first Iron Man film’s plot redressed. Doctor Stephen Strange is a rich, extremely intelligent, highly successful man. He’s also more than a bit of an asshole. Then, of course, the film takes him on his journey to finding real meaning, becoming a hero, etc.
Like many other films, the villain is not so much underwhelming (Dormamu is actually pretty cool) as underutilized. He’s just not in the film enough. This is also a fair criticism.
But the film still succeeds, and I think it’s due to three things.
First, the film is fun and generally well executed. As I’ve noted before, execution counts for far more than originality. A big part of this comes from the filmmakers willingness to fully embrace Steve Ditko’s 60s and 70s era trippy artwork. They turned modern CGI effects on that style and the result is amazing.
Second, the climax of the film is extremely well done. I’m talking about one effect in particular: when the sorcerers fight while Strange turns back time itself. I’ve read scenes like this in written fiction before. I’ve never seen anything like it in a visual medium. They executed it flawlessly, and the end result is super cool both visually and from a storytelling perspective.
Finally, the resolution is very clever. Strange manages to find the one weapon he can actually use against an infinite power. As a viewer, you get a sense that his solution would actually work – yet it’s also quite unconventional. Best of all, the script sets up the solution in a very clever bit of early, seemingly throw-away dialog.
On a side note, my children loved it. Even my four year old sat glued to his seat for almost the entire film. He rarely does that for live action movies – he didn’t even manage it for Homeward Bound, a film aimed at his demographic.
It’s not a perfect film, but it’s easily a four out of five stars.
As a publisher, I get asked a lot of questions by a lot of writers. One of the most common is, “what are you looking for in a book?” There are a lot of answers to that – but most of those answers really vary from publisher to publisher. Yes, we all want a book that’s “good.” But good is largely a matter of taste. So exact details of what I’m looking for won’t match what any other publisher is looking for.
I can’t give you a magic formula that will generate a book I’d agree to publish. But I can give you a few magic words that will put your book on the top of the slush pile, and automatically ensure that I’ll look at it quickly. I can’t say definitively that this would work with every other publisher. It would surprise me, however, if this didn’t help you. Are you ready? Here are your magic words:
It’s a series, and I have two more books already written.
If you’ve read any of my marketing posts, you’ll immediately understand why this is so important. The thing is, the decision of which books to publish is a business decision. It’s not about which books I like. It’s about which books I can sell. And the simple fact of the matter is that a series makes far more economic sense than a standalone book.
The short version is this: if I have 3-5 books in a series, I already know how to use conventional marketing techniques to ensure that I have a very high probability of recouping my investment in your books. I can’t guarantee them blockbuster status. I can’t even guarantee them high sales. But I can probably make my money back, especially since we operate on a lean structure and keep our costs low.
That means there’s very little risk to me for taking a chance on your book. It’s still not zero-risk. Any book can totally bomb. And the books still have to be good enough. If the books suck so much that nobody will read the second or third, then having a series just means I’m losing money on three books instead of one. But if we’ve got three books, with more on the way, and the books are good… we can probably make something work.
This doesn’t mean your odds are zero with me – or any other publisher – if you’ve only written the one. It doesn’t mean we won’t look at your book. It also doesn’t guarantee we’ll accept your work. But for us, business logic dictates that an author with multiple finished books goes straight to the top.
Brian Niemeier was kind enough to have me on as a guest tonight on his Geek Gab: On The Books podcast. We discussed my upcoming novel War Demons, the pitfalls I faced as a first time novelist, and what resources I found to help me get past them. Thanks to Brian for having me!
This time around the results were a lot closer. But in the end, green won. Thanks again to everyone for your participation!
Another day, another cover poll! This time a color question: Purple, Green or Yellow? Vote in the post below or on Twitter!
The result’s of last night’s poll are in! Thank you to everyone who voted. I got considerably more replies than I expected. I tabulated all of the votes across Twitter, Facebook, and this blog. The winner – by a landslide – was cover A, the one pictured below.
Thanks again to everyone who voted!
After consultation with some experts who sell far more books than I do, I’ve altered the title for my upcoming novel. With it, I’ve also commissioned a new cover design. Both the title and the cover fit the genre far better. However, all of us (including the experts) had one question about the cover – and we decided the best answer was to ask you, the readers!
There are four versions of the cover above (click on the image for a larger version). One has no tagline. The other three have variations on the tagline and positioning. What do you think, dear reader? A, B, C, or D?
Polling is open until the end of this week! Vote here in the comments or on Twitter!
My wife Morgon and I have launched a new podcast – Kennings & Cantrips. We recorded the debut episode on location at LibertyCon XXX! We even managed to con five of our author friends into joining us. Due to the length of the recording, we chose to give each author their own episode.
Episode 1.1 features Hans Schantz, engineer and author of A Rambling Wreck – a hard science fiction alternate history novel set on campus at Georgia Tech. Listen via our official feed or on YouTube! Coming to iTunes and Google Play very soon!
Last Friday, an unexpected gift appeared in my e-mail inbox: Brian Niemeier’s new novella, Hymn of the Pearl. Full disclosure: in case you didn’t guess from the previous sentence, I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. As a longtime friend, this flew straight to the top of my reading list.
Unlike most of Brian’s previous work, this one is short. It’s also a quick, easy read. Given my current schedule, I liked that. Other readers might find it disappointing. Then again, at $2.99 its price reflects that.
Brian’s use of fate as the mechanic for a magical system utterly fascinated me. Given how much fantasy work is out there that I haven’t read, this may not be truly original. But it was new to me, and I really enjoyed it. It drew me in and left me with a lot of unanswered questions. The author, however, clearly understood the system and had it all mapped out. That made it function well in practice.
Even more, the interplay between the two competing “classes” of wizards made for some interesting thought. It carried the weight of an honest religious argument, but without the baggage of real world religions to bog it down.
The author also skillfully weaves personal character struggles with sweeping political entanglements, and the threat of an actual war hangs over everything.
This book kept me fascinated from the beginning. If you’re a fan of Brian’s earlier works, you’ll definitely enjoy it. If you haven’t read his others, Hymn of the Pearl is a great place to start. Highly recommended. 5 out of 5 stars.
My new novel, Post Traumatic Stress, will be available on August 1, 2017. You can pre-order it now directly from Silver Empire, or wait until July 25th to pre-order it from Amazon.com. Either way, today you can enjoy a sample chapter. The prologue is below.
It is through suffering that the soul is purified.
Every soldier brings demons home from war. But when Sergeant Michael Alexander came home to Athens, Georgia from Afghanistan, his war demons started kidnapping local college girls. Things got crazy when Michael tried to stop him.
Then the dragon arrived.
Post-Traumatic Stress delivers on its title. Newquist drills deep into the head of traumatized former soldier Michael Alexander as he tries to adjust back to normal life. The perspective is so tight that readers will feel immense connection to the character. Tension builds with the story at a pace like a landslide. At first, one’s not sure if Michael is crazy or if he’s the one at fault for a string of murders involved. Then comes the incredible action with demons, vampires and zombies! Once the plot explodes, it’s impossible to put down.
Jon Del Arroz
Author of the bestselling For Steam and Country
Covington, Georgia, USA
A bead of sweat rolled down Michael Alexander’s cheek, dripping onto the orange petals of the Tiger Lily in his hand. Despite the early hour, the temperature and humidity had already launched their neck and neck race for triple digits. He’d missed a lot of things about Georgia. The August heat was not among them. Despite growing up here, he’d never truly gotten used to the southern summers.
He heard a noise behind him and turned, greeting the older man with a nod. The pair stood in silence for a time, paying their respects. His friend had spared no expense on the beautiful stone, nestled in amongst the others in the small private graveyard. Some of the well-preserved stones dated back to pre-colonial times.
The older man broke the silence.
“After all this time, I still never know what to say.”
“I always know what to say,” the younger man replied. “But no matter how many times I say, ‘I’m sorry,’ it’s never enough.”
The older man frowned at him.
“It wasn’t your fault, Michael.”
“If I’d made the flight, she’d have been at the airport to pick me up. She’d have been well out of the way.”
“Sometimes we have less control over things than we think we do.”
Michael shifted awkwardly and looked away. The point hit too close to home. James Covington let it go. The silence loomed over them for a moment. Again James spoke first.
“How long are you home?”
Covington’s momentary shock quickly transformed into a genuine smile.
“Finally came to your senses?” he asked.
Michael shook his head, but his face showed a faint hint of genuine humor. “No good sense here at all. Medical discharge. I fought it all the way.”
“Ah.” Captain James Covington, US Army retired, tapped his right leg with his cane. “I’m all too familiar with those.”
The cane and the injury that necessitated it served as a constant reminder of his eighteen months in the Hanoi Hilton. He paused and waited for the young man to elaborate. When nothing followed, he changed the subject tactfully.
“I’ll have a room made up for you.”
Michael gazed up the hill at the massive house. The Covington family had lived on this land for centuries. Over time, they’d accumulated quite the fortune, becoming one of the richest families in the state. The nearby town was even named for one of them – James’ great-great-grandfather, or something. The generous offer tempted him.
“Thanks, but I’ve got Pa’s place,” he answered.
“You held onto it, then?”
“It made a great rental property,” Michael shrugged. “And it was completely paid for. The last tenants left it in good enough shape. It needs a little work, but not too much.”
“Got any plans?”
“Back to the University to finish that history degree.”
“Good choice. Look up Abigail while you’re up there. Turn on that charm you used to have and lure her away from that obnoxious rich boy.”
Michael actually laughed at that one. “He must be pretty bad if you’d prefer me over him.”
The older man smiled back at him. “You were alright, even then. I had to be hard on you. You were about to marry my little girl, you know.” He turned somber again. “Besides, that little punk boy died the same day Katie did.” He pointed at the stone. “Boys don’t become men when they hit a magic age. Men are made – in blood and pain and struggle. Abby’s pansy ass boyfriend is the son of some rich oil sheikh. He couldn’t struggle his way out of a paper sack.”
“Probably very pretty, too.”
They shared a laugh again as Jim nodded.
“That always was her type,” Michael continued.
“True enough. But I’d still much rather be welcoming you into the family. Her sister always did have better taste. Hell, considering that you were two weeks away from joining it, you might as well be family already.”
Michael David Alexander and Catherine Virginia Covington had planned to wed on September 29th, 2001. United Airlines Flight 175 derailed those plans a few weeks early when it crashed into Two World Trade Center. Katie had been on the observation deck. All they ever managed to find of her was a half-melted cell phone. The beautiful stone before them marked an empty grave.
Michael had called her as soon as he’d seen the news. Miraculously, he’d gotten through. He managed to keep her calm down nearly sixty flights of stairs. It proved to be forty flights too few. He’d been on the phone with her when the tower collapsed. That afternoon he’d found himself sitting in an Army recruiter’s office, bound and determined to kill Osama bin Laden himself.
“Don’t hold your breath. I’m pretty sure Abby still holds me responsible.” And she’s right, he didn’t add out loud.
Covington’s eyes bored into him, and for a moment Michael felt certain that he knew. That shouldn’t be possible, but there it was.
“I guess some things are just too much to hope for. Besides, Abby still thinks I’m some kind of racist because I’m not fawning all over the twerp. She forgets that I never liked any of the rich American boys she dated either.”
“I don’t see how she could possibly forget. Who was that one guy? Rowan?” Jim gave him a quizzical look. “You must remember. The one who had a sex change later?”
Covington tossed his head back in laughter.
“Rupert. His name was Rupert. You know, Abby totally melted down over that one. I paid for a year of therapy.”
“She even checked herself into the mental ward for two weeks.”
“She always was a little out of it.”
“A little?” Jim shook his head, and then changed the subject. “Why don’t you come on up to the house, get some lemonade and fill me in on what you’ve been up to?”
“I’ve got to make it back to Athens. My first class starts in a couple of hours.”
“You’d better get going, then.”
Michael agreed, but he took one last moment of silence at the grave. Covington watched somberly as Michael said a soft prayer and laid the Tiger Lily on Katie’s tomb.
“They always were her favorite,” the old man noted. Michael agreed.
They began the long walk up the back side of the property to the house. Out of habit, Michael had parked in between the twin garages on the south side of the house. With the morning heat rising, he wished he’d parked in the parking garage in the rear instead. It was much closer, and he already missed the air conditioning of his car. The older man eyed Michael sideways as they walked, frowning.
“So… medical discharge?”
“Helicopter accident,” he let out slowly. Memories leapt unbidden into his mind, vivid as the daylight around him. Teeth. Sinew. That glowing yellow nose. He forced them down, but he couldn’t keep the look off his face.
“Ah,” Covington answered, sensing the delicacy of the subject. “Come back by for another visit when you have more time and tell me about it.”
The younger man met his eyes and nodded. He supposed he had to tell someone. Who better than Jim Covington?
“I will. I promise.” They shook on it, and then Michael reached for the door to his car.
“Hold on,” James told him, reaching into his pocket. He pressed a button on the chain. One of the three doors on the larger garage bay opened. “You took off so fast I couldn’t deliver your wedding present.” He tossed Michael a key chain.
“That’s because we never had the wedding.”
“I wasn’t taking this one back.”
As the door rose Michael recognized the car at once. The deep metallic gray body of the 2002 Porsche 911 Carrera Turbo gleamed in the morning sunlight. Once, Michael had dreamed about that model car, lusted after it almost as much as the girls he used to chase.
“I can’t accept this,” he said, preparing to return the keys. Covington turned his back before he could throw them.
“Too late,” he replied, striding toward the house. “The car’s already in your name. Insurance is taken care of. Whenever you want it, it’ll be there.”
“Wait – how’d you put it in my name? I never signed anything.”
The older man flashed an enigmatic grin.
“You can do all kinds of things you’re not supposed to when you’re filthy rich,” he answered, before turning back to the house. He called back over his shoulder. “Take care of yourself, Michael. And keep in touch.”
Michael gazed longingly at the Porsche for a long moment. Visions of racing it down the back roads of Georgia flitted through his head. He grinned. Then he frowned and shook his head, glad he hadn’t gotten the car years earlier. He probably would have crashed it on the first drive.
Eventually, he pressed the button on his new key chain and closed the garage door. A moment later, he drove his beat up Subaru down the long driveway of the Covington estate, thanking God for air conditioning.
Pre-order it now directly from Silver Empire, or wait until July 25th to pre-order it from Amazon.com.