1. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I made this startling discovery in the sixth grade, when my homeroom and English teacher, Mrs. Lee, a recent graduate of Agnes Scott College, had me elected Program Chairman in our class elections. This was at Sagamore Hills Grammar School in DeKalb County, in the Atlanta metro area. The school practiced an experimental program that allowed teachers to try special activities with gifted students; and Mrs. Lee saw that I was a natural writer. As a result, I became the class playwright and wrote, cast, and directed a couple of plays—bad knockoffs of science fiction and horror novels and movies I loved. I also read my horror short stories aloud to the class. Mrs. Lee (I never knew her first name) changed my life. I’ve been searching for her for decades, and hope that my recent success as a novelist will help me find and thank her.
2. What is your latest book? Please tell us something about it.
I’ve recently published The Cloud, a speculative fiction novel set in a future society where 24/7 neural surveillance and virtual reality addiction are mandated by a corrupt ruling corporate regime, The Cloud, headquartered in Hong Kong. In this future world, China and North America are a single empire fighting endless wars against the Caliphate. The male protagonist is a VR programmer named Blaise Pascal VII. He has a horrendous past as a lieutenant in the Cloud army who committed atrocities while fighting against the Caliphate in Nigeria. Blaise tries to escape his guilt and PTSD by using his brilliance as a VR programmer to create award-winning VR series that attract the attention of his psychopathic boss, Minsheng. Minsheng offers Blaise a big promotion and eternal life in exchange for Blaise coding a new VR series that will drive the Slag underclass—considered expendable—to commit mass suicide. Blaise finds himself caught in a romantic triangle with Mitsuko, Minsheng’s cunning and seductive daughter, and Kristina, a psychic hacker who recruits Blaise in a conspiracy to bring down The Cloud with a computer worm Blaise has the security clearance to upload. Blaise’s struggle between his hunger for eternal life and his moral horror at participating in mass murder are the novel’s central dramatic thrust.
3. How long does it take for you to write a book?
I spent 4 ½ years writing and editing The Cloud, because I was working full-time as an advertising copywriter for several Fortune 500 companies. I had the good fortune to work with Elizabeth Lyon, one of America’s greatest book editors, on the novel’s first draft. Then, after The Cloud won First Place in the Science Fiction category in the 27th Annual San Antonio Writers Guild Writing Contest in 2019, Hollywood literary manager/producer Ken Atchity signed me to an exclusive contract for representation. Under Ken’s guidance and feedback from his script doctors and fellow film and TV producer colleagues, I slogged through seven thoroughgoing rewrites of The Cloud over the next three years. It was published in August 2022.
4. What do you think makes a good story?
As my literary manager Ken Atchity told me early on in our working relationship, what captivates readers in all literary genres is, first of all, great characters. The most dazzling plot imaginable will fall flat on its face without compelling, fully rounded, identifiable, and sympathetic characters. Second, the story must have the highest stakes conceivable. The characters must be thrust into circumstances that threaten their survival again and again, so that readers are on the edge of their seats page after page, chapter after chapter, in suspense about whether the protagonists can beat such incredible odds—right through to the end. Third, a good story should teach readers something about life that they can put to use in their own struggle to survive. Good stories are the only human activity that can occupy a person’s mind for hours on end. That’s because stories are how we make sense of life and search for ways to win at it.
5. What inspires you to keep writing?
I’d sooner stop breathing than stop writing. Writing is in my blood. I’ve always had a vivid imagination and dream life, and excessive energy and passion. When I was a boy, I used to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony of my parents’ stereo and spin around like a dervish until I went into ecstasy. Beethoven’s music is what it feels like to be in my head. If I weren’t a writer, I’d be a composer. And if I couldn’t write, I’d probably go crazy. At the moment, what’s keeping me writing is the fact that The Cloud is in development as a TV series, and I’ve written the pilot script. And at the urging of my literary manager and book editor, I’ve outlined two sequels to The Cloud, which will make it a trilogy—or at the very least, a sequel of 600 to 800 pages. In the 40-page outline I recently finished, I’ve blown out the original concept for The Cloud and figured out—through painstaking effort, a lot of false starts and mistakes, and collaboration with my book editor and literary manager—how to turn my initial concept into an epic.
6. What would you say is your most interesting writer’s quirk?
My most interesting writer’s quirk is that I can’t stop editing; I revise everything compulsively, hundreds of times, and I’m never satisfied with the results. I acquired this quirk when I worked as a journalist and had to write 16-18 articles a week for a daily newspaper, a monthly business journal, and a university alumni magazine. The quirk deepened later, after I got into advertising, and had to work under enormous pressure to meet short deadlines and revise the ads, websites, and commercial scripts I wrote many, many times. That taught me never to get married to the way I expressed anything. There’s always a better way to say something.
7. Have you ever experienced writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
I’ve never had writer’s block because I’ve always worked as a professional writer in one capacity or another—as a journalist, advertising copywriter, screenwriter, blogger, and novelist.
8. Do you have any suggestions to help new writers become better at what they do?
New writers carry the heavy burden of creating the stories and myths that speak to their age. To become a master of what you are born to do—and writing is a calling, like the priesthood— you must first read incessantly, compulsively, and broadly; not just literature but also history, philosophy, theology, journalism, and current events; and you must watch lots of movies and TV series in all genres. Second, you must write incessantly, obsessively, hopelessly, and let yourself screw up and make false starts. Third, you must discover a writing genre that most closely fits your sensibility, personality, and interests, and read the masters in that genre. Fourth, read every book you can get your hands on about how to become an effective storyteller. There are hundreds if not thousands of books on the subject. Read reviews of them and buy the ones that make sense to you. One of my favorites is A Writer’s Time by Ken Atchity. Finally, write what you’re passionate about. I disagree with Hemingway that you should write about what you know. What you know may be tedious and uninteresting. Write instead about what sets you on fire with passion, even if you know little about it. Joseph Conrad wrote a stunning novel about 19th century South America, a continent he had never visited. It’s called Nostromo. I recommend it.
9. Does your family support your writing? If so, how do they support your books?
I’m the only artist/intellectual in my immediate family; my biological relations don’t really understand what it means to be an artist, and they’re not inclined to support me emotionally or financially—except for my mom, who loaned me money during the Great Recession of 2007-2015, when I was struggling to survive in Southern California, working hit or miss as an advertising copywriter and failed screenwriter. Aside from that, my wife, who has an artistic temperament, has always been emotionally supportive. She’s the one who convinced me to write in the science fiction/speculative fiction literary genre.
10. What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
I have the most difficulty at the beginning of a project. It’s extremely hard to crystallize an idea into a story. Every story originates as a tsunami of emotions, thoughts, half-baked ideas, and obsessions based on traumatic experiences and/or something I’ve read or seen on TV or in a film. The only way I can plow through that mess is to write as full-fledged, detailed outline. Then the project starts to make sense.
11. How do you develop your plot and characters?
The story originates in a feeling, an emotion, a dream, or a half-baked idea—like a musical theme that begins as a spray of notes. Gradually, as I outline the idea, the plot distills itself into clearly identifiable characters. The characters may begin as actual people I’ve known or composites of several people I’ve known; but as I write, the characters develop a life of their own and take control of the narrative, so that I’m following them as opposed to directing their actions.
12. Which of your characters can you relate with and why?
I relate with all my characters on some level—even the “villain” is a human being and commands my respect in some measure. Because the fact is, we’re all struggling to do the best we can to survive on a hostile planet; so even the “bad guys” deserve a little sympathy.
13. How did you come up with the title for your book?
The Cloud was the natural title for my novel, since it’s speculative, futuristic fiction. Our present age is largely the age of the Internet, which is linked through high-performance, satellite-linked computer servers collectively called the cloud. It just made sense to call the malevolent empire I invented The Cloud, since that empire dedicates itself to clouding over anything spiritual and free in humanity, with the intent of turning humanity into a race of mind slaves.
14. What inspired the idea for your book?
The Cloud came from three sources: 1) My 8 ½ years living in Los Angeles, which changed my life and introduced me, through my advertising clients, to the intricacies of global computer networks and biotechnology breakthroughs. Los Angeles also introduced me to Asian culture, which had a profound impact on my worldview. 2) My failed relationship with a beautiful Asian lady, an electric violinist and operatic vocalist whom I met in Los Angeles. I split her up into the female protagonist and the femme fatale in my novel; it was very healing. 3) My three years working for a Fortune 500 commercial real estate company in Atlanta. There I learned about how companies like the one I worked for are building cities of the future in 75 countries—but cities that will be for the top 10% only. My rage against that spurred me to write about a potential future I hope we can avoid.
15. How would you describe your book’s ideal reader?
My ideal reader is anyone, male or female (of mature age), race, nationality, or creed who is fascinated by our rapidly transforming world and concerned about what the future might look like—particularly in the face of global warming, the coming of AI and virtual reality technology, and the recrudescence of authoritarian political movements.
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That choice rests in one man’s hands.
Blaise, a brilliant but tormented VR programmer, is trying to forget his violent past as a special forces commando by throwing himself into creating VR fantasies. He finds himself tempted by his megalomaniac boss, who offers him wealth, power, and eternal life in exchange for coding a new VR series that will addict and eliminate billions of “unproductives.”
Caught between joining those who want to bring down the ruling Cloud regime in Hong Kong, or accepting the offer of personal immortality, Blaise finds himself flanked by two relentless women—a psychic hacker risking overwhelming personal odds to save humanity from annihilation, and the other using her extraordinary carnal wiles to accelerate the final triumph of The Cloud. Ultimately, Blaise must reembrace his violent warrior nature in a desperate bid to destroy it.
A page-turner filled with poignant family experiences, explosive sibling rivalry, literary adventures, ethnic cooking, wide-ranging storytelling, the workings of the brain itself--and what can be learned about life from playing tennis for decades.
|This illustration depicts a 52-foot Otodus megalodon shark predating on a 26-foot Balaenoptera whale in the Pliocene epoch, between 5.4 to 2.4 million years ago.|
Faster than any shark alive today and big enough to eat an orca in just five bites: A new study suggests the extinct shark known as a megalodon was an even more impressive superpredator than scientists realized before.
The Otodus megalodon, the inspiration behind the 2018 film “The Meg,” lived more than 23 million years ago. Fossils of the extinct giant are hard to come by: While there are plenty of fossilized shark teeth, their bodies mainly consist of cartilage rather than bones, and are rarely preserved.
A research team led by Jack Cooper, a paleobiologist at Swansea University, set out to use 3D modeling from a rare and exceptionally well-preserved megalodon spinal column to extrapolate information about the shark’s movement and behavior. Their research was published in Science Advances.
“We estimate that an adult O. megalodon could cruise at faster absolute speeds than any shark species today and fully consume prey the size of modern apex predators,” wrote the researchers.
Most of what we know about megalodons come 65 feet through a comparison with great white sharks, thought of as their “best available ecological analog,” since they both occupy the top rung in the food chain, according to the article.
The researchers used a megalodon vertebral column from Belgium, a tooth from the United States, and the chondrocranium – the cartilaginous equivalent of a skull – from a great white shark to build their 3D skeleton. Then they used a full-body scan of a great white shark to estimate how flesh would sit on the megalodon’s skeleton.
With a complete 3D rendering, they came up with estimates for the volume and body mass of the shark’s whole body. By comparing the figures to the size of modern sharks, they estimated the shark’s swimming speed, stomach value, calorie needs, and prey encounter rates.
The megalodon they modeled would have been almost 16 meters, or 52 feet, long. It weighed around 61,560 kilograms, or 135,717 pounds, according to their estimates.
They estimated the megalodon would have been able to devour prey the size of orca whales – which can be up to 26 feet long and weigh over 8,000 pounds – in just five bites.
Prey the size of a modern humpback whale would have been too big for a megalodon to eat in full, according to the researchers. Eating large prey may have given the megalodon a competitive edge over other predators. Eating large amounts at a time would have also allowed them to travel great distances without eating again, much like modern great white sharks.
An adult megalodon would have needed to eat a whopping 98,175 calories per day, 20 times higher than an adult great white shark. They could have met their energetic needs by eating around 31.9 kilograms of shark muscle, according to the researchers’ estimates.
The megalodon was also faster than any shark alive, with a theoretical average cruising speed of around 3.1 mph. This speed would have allowed it to encounter more prey, helping it meet its massive caloric demands.
Overall, the data extrapolated from the 3D model paints the portrait of a “transoceanic superpredator,” say the researchers.
Luckily, today’s orcas don’t have to worry about running into the massive shark. The megalodon went extinct around 3.6 million years ago, according to the United Kingdom’s Natural History Museum, for reasons scientists are still trying to understand.
Dream State is a different kind of Thriller that plays off on an Island – Beleze, experienced by three characters Heidi, Russel, and Marley.
Oddly enough, I kept thinking about Sandman which obviously also revolves
around dreams and the lack of it. I didn’t finish the series (and I know people
are going to castrate me for this –but — I just didn’t enjoy it)
Having said that, lack of sleep is absolutely something relatable and the
madness that derives from its absence is a reality I think many can relate to. Martin nailed the mind sets created from sleep deprivation one hundred percent along with the psychological effects on people.
The book is a fast-paced attention read, in the sense that you really need to keep track of the characters, their past, their present and their existing surroundings. Whilst I really enjoyed the different read, – because it’s not something I would usually deviate to – I did feel that the regular play back on the characters pasts drew away from the story and its progress. Yes, it did give us insight into what makes them tick, but the take back, was consuming in some instances. I also struggled to really connect with any of the main characters, although strong leads there was something amiss. I settled that debate by convincing myself that logically they are lacking something — sleep.
So, if that was the intent, its applaudable.
The setting revolves around the moon being hit by an asteroid and the impact it has on everyone on the island and then of course the bigger impact on the world.
It focuses on the ways people deal with the lack of sleep, how they interpret different people’s actions, how their pasts haunt their present existence and how they cope with impulsive irregularities in their existing environment. As if that isn’t enough, people also need to deal with groups trying to take over the island and pirates roaming the surrounding sea.
The thriller takes on a kind of post apocalyptical sci-fi setting the more it progresses, and it made me question the impact it would have on our world. I mean people always talk about an asteroid hitting earth, but I haven’t experienced or read about scenarios where it hits the moon and the impact it would have on humanity.
I gave this book a 3 out of 5.
Plus, for its innovation, the thought it provoked and the thriller tone that absolutely glares you in the eye with the madness created, minus because I didn’t connect with it in similar fashion to the likes of The Interrogators Notebook, which I still love and wish someone would take to screen.
The Times' 1983 review of Umberto Eco's 'The Name of the Rose:' An intriguing detective story
There is a kind of novel that changes our mind, replaces our reality with its own. We live in a new world after we've read it. Umberto Eco, the celebrated Bolognese semiotican and Joyce scholar, brings us a new world in the tradition of Rabelais, Cervantes, Sterne, Melville, Dostoevsky, Joyce himself, and Garcia-Marquez.
We recognize the author's claim--or disclaimer--in the prologue to his "terrible story of Adso of Melk": that it's a hasty translation of a lost transmittal copy, that he's uncertain about its value and about the need to publish it. He refuses to allow his reader to easily suspend disbelief because his purpose is to explore the relationship between belief and narrative.
Filled with the good-natured polyglot banter of the superfluosly learned, "The Name of the Rose" might be seen only as a effete "Canterbury Tales" except for tell-tale markings on the walls of its medieval monastic library, markings declaring that this records of those walls' destruction is itself a labyrinth in the library's image. We learn the markings, deconstructing the book as we read. We see how the labyrinth operates on more than one level-in our imitative act of finding our way in and out. Eco makes his intellectual riddles accessible by weaving them into an intriguing detective story. A series of grisly murders turns Brother William of Baskerville, and his assistant Adso (our narrator), into prior-day Sherlock Holmes and Watson.
William is friend of Occam, admirer of Bacon, devotee of Aristotle, and consumate practitioner of Thomistic analysis. Like Joyce's Dedalus, he studies the world's signs and cluse with eyes both open and closed; his vision is so exhaustive--literally and metaphorically--that he at one point sees through six eyes.
Through the course of their investigations of the abbey's crimes and its secret heresy, we're given the flavor of the waning Middle Ages in Southern Europe, the ephemeral unity of medieval thought under the Thomistic rule had long since been abandoned as a possibility, and Aquinas himself, suspected of having been a self-important windbag. Now "everything looked the same as everything else," and all morality is arbitrarily and universally metamorphosed.
If you had a romantic notion of the relative simplicity of the late Middle Ages, Eco modernizes your view. He paints a time of multiple popes and multiple anti-Christs, a time when a man would trade sexual favors for a book, when the papal palace in Avignon displaced "crucifixes where Christ is nailed by a single hand while the other touches a purse hanging from his belt, to indicate that he authorizes the use of money for religious ends..."
In a time of diminishing belief, all hands reach desperately from the encroaching shadows of doubt. There were monsters in the imagination in those days: "The cynocephali, who cannot say a word without barking... blemyae, born headless, with mouths in their bellies and eyes in their shoulders... and those whose soles are reversed so that, following them by their footprints, one arrives always at the place whence they came and never where they are going..."
No less marvelous, in the vanished monastery we find their counterparts in a guarded reliquare displaying "the tip of the spear that pierced the side of the Saviour!," "a yellowed shred of the tablecloth from the last supper," "a piece of the manger of Bethlehem," ..."a tibia of Saint Margaret," "a rib of Saint Sophia," "the chin of Saint Eobanus," "a tooth of the Baptist," "Moses' rod," "a tattered scrap of very fine lace from the Virgin Mary's wedding dress"--and much, much more.
Later, in Ados's dream during the "Dies Irae" of Terce, the holiness is comically transformed into "the tail of Saint Ubertina, the uterus of Saint Venantia, the neck of Saint Burgosina engrained like a goblet at the age of 12..." The narrator's dream itseld is one of the richest in 20th-Century literature, a mad comination of Fellini, Fuentes, Borges and Bosch. William's interpretation shows how his assistant's dream was a dream of books, a dream of dreams, of a past and future inextricably mixed in imagination--a triumph of intertextuality. And it provides the key to the mysterious and outrageous crimes they're investigating.
Criminal investigation and exploration of theology and the mentality of the era are interlaced with a comic explosiveness of language reminiscent of Rabelais, as when the semi-demented Salvatore fives Adso a recipe: "Facilis. You take the cheese before it is too antiquum, without too much salis..."
Eco's characters may verge on the dry, but the plot is as neat as Conan Doyle or Christie, with ironic undertow echoing Chesterton's Father Brown series.
The interplay between Adso and William like that of Quixote and Paza, involves us in the paradoxical mind of the times: a delicate but thorough mixture of rationalism and superstition. We prefer, by authorial design, Adso--even when his private opinions nudge against a heresy not yet born: "The older I grow and the more I abandon myself to God's will, the less I value intelligence that wants to know and will that wants to do; and as the only element of salvation I recognize faith, which can wait patiently, without asking too many questions."
Eco dances on the banks of allegory without drowning in its inane waters. As his characters wrangle over the question of whether Christ possessed property, the narrative offers chilling insight into mores that suggest those of our own time, when the Church of Rome, for all it ecumenicism and globetrotting Popes, still belies its own vow of poverty.
But the book's central dialogue is between men and books, and books and books, and only through the latter, men with men. We harbor the notiron of a preliterary world, where ideas have yet to be born and we commune directly with reality. William disillusions Adso of that concept, and Adso admits the lie: "Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, tha lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books... In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more distrubing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, and imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing... a treasure of secretes emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors."
When the labyrinth is unwoven we're not surprised that "the plan of the library reproduces the map of the world." When the crime itself is solved, the cause is not a contemporary murderer but... I won't spoil the the book for you. Suffice to hint that laughter and comedy move from the diabolic to the humanistic, that the name of the rose is a play of words.
A true investigation succeeds from a false pattern, and the plot to destroy comedy is succesful by accident. But the investigation's success is superficial. William's antagonist, Jorge of Burgos (foreshadow of Luis Borges), succeeds in repressing the book which might have undermined the stucture of all holiness. William accuses Jorge of being Satan: "The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is nevere seized by doubt."
A book like this seeks to replace the world with itself, and eventually does so, showing the reader that reality, except as vision, is already inaccessible; that only vision matter; that even before he began reading it can lead us to recite, with a Kempis, the great imitator: 'In omnibus requiem qaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro.' " (In all things I have sought peace, and nowhere have I found it except in a corner with a book.)
Join a live, free panel featuring reading and discussion on horror from the authors of two new summer horror novels: Martin Ott, author of Dream State (https://amzn.to/3PrzaNV), and Leigh Fryling ("Peyton Douglas"), author of Dark of the Curl (https://amzn.to/3K0tCZU)
After an asteroid hits the moon and knocks it out of orbit, global chaos ensues when people lose the ability to sleep. We follow society’s descent into madness through the eyes of a failed zoologist, an almost-bankrupt resort owner, and an underage bartender on a Belize island resort cut off from the rest of the world. As island resources become scarce and conflict erupts, the main characters will need to overcome their demons and fatigue in order to survive.
"Starts as an island getaway but quickly morphs into a chaotic fever dream." -- Emily Hockaday, managing editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction and Analog Science Fiction and Fact, author of Naming the Ghost
-- David Bowles, Pura Belpre Winning and Texas Bluebonnet List Author