Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Night (Or Two) At The Menger

I only started this blog last April, so it was after EPICon 2012.

But I can only say that that week at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio was one of the best of my life, as well as one of the most eventful. And I never told all you fellow Castaways about it. Shame on me.

The Menger is the oldest continuously-operated hotel in the country. It was where Teddy Roosevelt used to sit at the end of the bar and recruit his Rough Riders for the Spanish-American War. Carrie Nation burst through the door with a hatchet in another era and hacked a large chunk from the same bar (I sat at that same spot). The Menger is also one of the most haunted places in the US. It's literally a stone's throw from the Alamo, where 300 Texans held off Santa Ana's Army to the last man. It is said that night watchmen at the Alamo have seen shadowy figures dressed in buckskins and frock coats kneeling in a circle, as if in silent prayer, disappearing in a cloudy puff when approached.

Some of you don't believe ghosts exist, or that our understanding of them is so far off that we can't even define what they are. That's okay. I know what I've experienced throughout my life. I'm not bothered when someone wants to explain away what they have never experienced. I just know that ever since I was old enough to remember anything, I've had odd encounters with vague entities that behave with varying degrees of apparent intelligence. I don't bother trying to explain them anymore. I just know when they're around. And at the Menger, they're around.

The second I stepped over the threshold and into the lobby, I could feel something was there. Yeah, you could say I wanted it to be there, and so I manifested this feeling to fit my own paradigm. Okay, whatever. It's kind of a musty, empty feeling that floats right through me. I call it my RADAR. It only happens in certain places. Anyway, I walked into a wall of the stuff as soon as I walked in.
The first night I woke up at 4:15AM to a light, persistent tapping at my door. I got up and looked through the peephole at -- nothing. Okay, I thought. Old building, old pipes. No prob. Fifteen minutes later, it came back, and this time I shot out of bed and immediately focused on the source of the tapping. It was definitely someone's knuckles on the door. And, of course, I found nothing when I looked.
At 7AM, I got up for breakfast and went down my hall toward the elevator:
I took this pic just to show how long the hall is. But about fifteen steps down, I walked through an area about five feet long that felt like a sudden, overwhelming sadness, which lifted as soon as I walked through it. The dark area in this photo is just a dim zone between lights. That's important for later. Just bear with me.
Now, the most significant aspect of the visit belonged to one corner of one staircase right off the rotunda:
Here is the corner:


Now, this is where the important part comes in. Every time I walked around this corner, in either direction, I felt strangled, just briefly, in a not-quite-physical way. So I took a couple of shots here. As soon as I snapped the second one, a wall of energy hit me, like a sudden swell of static. In fact, I couldn't stay there anymore.

I found some of the other authors and editors attending the con, down in the courtyard. I shared what happened, and one of them, Doctor Ellen Spain, came back to the spot with me. I wasn't specific about what I felt when I told her what happened. I wanted to see how she reacted coming around the corner.

And sure enough, she stopped ten feet before she even got to the corner, looked at me, and said, "He doesn't like you." No s**t, Sherlock. Okay, I didn't say that to her then. But she took some shots herself of the area, and one of them was this one:

Now, let's talk about this. The parlor at the bottom of the stairs was just as brightly lit as the stairwell. Look at the fourth step down in the shot. It's several shades darker than the rest of the staircase. Others went back later and took photos from the same spot, and they all showed the brightly-lit parlor at the bottom.
There were a lot of other places in the hotel where I ran into other "things," and not all of them were neutral or kind. But I do count this week as one of the best, and not just because I won the EPPIE for my book (though that was enough in itself!)
Now, if you still need proof, there's only about a hundred YouTube videos taken at the Menger, and the ones that are faked are obvious. In spite of all I do believe, I am a bit of a skeptic, believe it or not. I can usually spot a fake. And it's hard to peg Doctor Spain's photo as anything but authentic, in part because I was there when she took it.
So believe what you will. I stand by my experiences. And this was one cool experience. Has anyone else run into someone they didn't know at the Menger? Let me know.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Surprise Guest!

Greetings, Fellow Castaways!

This week I am geeked and honored to have my first guest post.  Okay, maybe this doesn't qualify as a PURE guest post because I'm monopolizing the first section, but hey, it's my blog and I'll run it like I want. I'll turn the page over to my guest after I let you know who it is.

The first book I read from this author won me over instantly. I am into science fiction and Greek mythology anyway, and to see the two combined in such a unique and fresh way in her debut novella Dioscuri was refreshing to say the least.

I've read her Chronicles of Elei beginning with Rex Rising, and her other works as well, and I can tell you, this lady is going far. My first Blog-bomb was about her, and it's my honor to finally have her as a guest today. She has a new series out that she wants to highlight, and I'm sure it will be every bit as captivating as everything else she puts her hand to. Everyone say hello to Fantasy Author Chrystalla Thoma:

Chrystalla: HI dear Cyrus, thank you for hosting me on your blog today. :) 

Let me introduce myself:

I am Greek Cypriot (Cyprus is an island-country in the eastern Mediterranean close to Turkey, Israel, Lebanon and Egypt). I’ve lived in different countries (France, Germany, England and Costa Rica) and did a variety of jobs – from teaching linguistics at university to teaching languages, working as a tourist guide, as a translator and editor to being a cashier at KFC. It’s all been interesting. Although my native language is Greek, I studied English (I have a BA in English) and have been writing my stories in English for the past decade. 

I was asked to write about writing, and I decided to talk about why I write fantasy and science fiction. It is, after all, the question I’ve been asked the most in my life. Greeks and Greek Cypriots, in my experience, are for the most part not interested in such genres, considering them only fit for children. They are not “literary”. 

So why fantasy? Why not write my memoir (as suggested to me, for whatever reasons) or a drama set against the backdrop of the economic crisis, or even a deep philosophical book about the meaning of life, the world and everything? 

Because these are the genres explored by “serious” writers, at least around here. 

Therein lies the heart of the problem: I don’t write in order to prove myself to others as a writer. Therefore, I don’t write in genres that don’t express me, such as the above. I need to write from my heart, and my heart tends toward the magical and the unexplained. Magic is, after all, divine, mystery is a dancing ground for the soul. I write because I must, because I need to rework all that happens to me, all I wish and hope for, into stories to explain the inevitable and the terrible, transform the nightmare into a happy ending. 

Symbols, magic, the crossing between the worlds of the dead and the living and the mythical structure of the fairytale and legend, they form a background for the core of the tale. The people asking me why I write fantasy don’t seem to realize that the story is *not* about elves and dragons, but about those existential questions they want me to put into a drama or a memoir. Instead of writing out my views and my sorrows, instead of questioning the existing opinions out loud, I rephrase the questions (and the answers) into conflict and the original meaning of drama: (plot-moving) action. 

But there is more than that, more than a rephrasing of the important questions: Fantasy allows me to be free, to go beyond reality. Fantasy is ritual and transcendental. From ancient times, around the fires in the caves, we have been exploring the unknown through tales of magical power. The unknown remains. And we are still exploring.
Cyrus:  Awesome introduction, Chrystalla, and thanks for letting us see your world just a bit.
Like I said, Chrys is working on a new series, and it's my pleasure to present you with a little preview of  Boreal and John Grey. Stay tuned at the end for buy links and more places to find Chrystalla's work.
During the 13th century In Iceland, epic poems and tales called Edda spoke of the aelfar – the elves. Tall and pale – their name means ‘white’ – these trickster beings brought misfortune and illness, and exchanged healthy children with sickly changelings.
Now the Gates are opening once more between worlds and the elves are back.
Ella Benson, Paranormal Bureau agent, fights all that comes through the Veil – dangerous Shades crossing into our world. But increasingly dangerous creatures are slipping into her city, her work partner has just gone missing, and a mysterious – and, frankly, quite hot — guy saves her life. His name is Finn and, as it turns out, he’s a natural when it comes to fighting the Shades.
When after centuries of peace the Gates between the worlds start opening and our old enemies, the elves, make a comeback, Ella needs a new, temporary partner. Enlisting the mysterious Finn is a no-brainer, until she realizes he is guarding dangerous secrets of his own.
Together with Finn, and the fate of the world on her shoulders, what’s Ella to do but grab her weapons and figure it all out, one way or another.
Read the complete First Season of the series Boreal and John Grey, books 1-5 (The Encounter, The Gate, The Dragon, The Dream and The Truth) at a special price with an Author’s Note at the end.
This is urban fantasy verging on paranormal romance. A sexy love story set against a backdrop of dragons, trolls and magical portals, fast-paced action scenes and suspense.
The first episode in the series is free so you can sample it – here:
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
Finn’s attention had strayed to a counter covered in blades of all shapes and sizes. He reverently touched a katana. Then he lifted a throwing knife. He twirled it between his slender fingers and Ella wondered if he’d cut himself to shreds. But he didn’t.
Her new partner. She shook her head in disbelief. How had things changed so fast?
“Grab two of those,” Jeff told Finn who jerked back and almost dropped the knife. Jesus, talk about jumpy. “And throwing stars. Shuriken. Good for catching the Shades from a distance. Pure iron, special delivery, came in today.”
Finn hesitated, glanced from Jeff to Ella, then ran his hands over the knives and stars. His eyes fluttered closed, as if he were playing a musical instrument, fingers moving lightly over the shiny blades. Ella held her breath.
“Good weapons,” Jeff said, “all of them.”
That snapped Finn out of his trance. With a little sniff, as if to say he’d be the judge of that, he proceeded to pick up various knives and test their balance and grip, spinning and thrusting them through the air. So graceful. It reminded her of the first time she’d seen him fighting Shades, moving like a dancer through the night.
When Finn selected two knives and prepared to pass them through his belt, she turned to Jeff. “Sheaths?”
 “Sheaths, yeah.” Jeff, who’d been staring at Finn, blinked and pulled out several from a drawer. He threw them at Finn who snatched them out of the air without missing a beat.
Jeff whistled, brows rising into his hairline.
Finn lifted his shirt and took off his belt to attach the sheaths, and Ella had to drag her gaze away from his perfect abs. She resisted the urge to fan herself. Whoa, baby. How hadn’t she noticed the night before?
Oh, right. Finn, passed out in her car and then her couch, covered in blood. His abs hadn’t really been the first thing on her mind.
“That looks like a nasty wound.” Jeff nodded at the stained bandage on Finn’s side, and she made a mental note to check that too, later. Soon she’d need an organizer for all those mental lists.
Finn buckled the belt and sheathed his knives. He looked up and grinned. His smile was startlingly beautiful and she found herself gaping — again. God, get a hold on yourself, girl.
“Like a porcupine,” she muttered, her own lips lifting in a matching smile. It was nice to see Finn happy — or at least pleased with his weapons. “What about guns?”
“Here, Finn.” Jeff lifted a Heckler and Koch USP CT pistol for inspection, a calculating gleam in his eye. What was he going for? “Semi-automatic, lightweight and accurate. Give it a try.”
A concentrated look on his face, Finn stepped forward to receive it. She opened her mouth to ask if he knew how to use it, but she needn’t have worried. He checked the magazine, and when Jeff threw him a shoulder holster, he pulled it on, tugging on the black leather straps as if he’d been doing it all his life.
Jesus. Who was he anyway?
The straps pulled on the neckline of his t-shirt, exposing a swath of muscled chest and his left shoulder. Before he adjusted it, a mark drew her eye, sort of like a starburst. A birth-mark?
“Have you used one of these before?” Jeff beamed at Finn, obviously considering him a kindred spirit.
“Similar one,” Finn grunted. He sheathed the pistol in one of the two holsters hanging over his ribs and folded his arms. Armed to the teeth, legs spread, head bowed, he looked ready to take on a whole army of Shades.
Jeff winked at Ella. “Well, well, Elly. Where did you find him? Ex military, is he?”
That was a thought. Might also explain why Finn was so mum about his identity and past. “Thanks, Jefferson. Now we can go to the lab. Finn?”
Finn lifted his head, his gaze unfocused. “At your command,” he whispered, shoulders tensing, back straightening, and the funny thing was he didn’t seem to be pulling her leg at all.
Where to find the complete season 1:
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
About the author:
Greek Cypriot with a penchant for dark myths, good food, and a tendency to settle down anywhere but at home, Chrystalla likes to write about fantastical creatures, crazy adventures, and family bonds. She lives in Cyprus with her husband and her vast herds of books. She writes mainly fantasy and science fiction. Her dystopian YA science fiction series “Elei’s Chronicles” (Rex Rising, Rex Cresting, Rex Equilibrium) is available on Kindle and in print. Shorter stories set in that world are also available, and a Companion to the series is also in the plans.
Where to find all Chrystalla’s books and series:
Other links:

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Almost Similar To But Not Quite Entirely Unlike...

Good evening, fellow castaways!

I'm pretty geeked out this week. June is turning into a good month here. My fourth book, Lies and Paine, is now available for those who may or may not be familiar with my award-winning series The NADIA Project. You can get a peek by clicking on my "Books" page, but make sure you come back here  when you're done, okay? What's cool about this story is that you don't have to be familiar with the series to get it. As a matter of fact, I went out of my way to write each installment as a stand-alone, so you can start anywhere and not be lost.

The other cool thing that June brings us is the paperback release of the second book in the series, titled Unalive (Check out the Books Page again, just real quick!). Anyway, this is a really awesome part in the series that escalates the whole planet-wide conspiracy thing, and sets up our main character for Lies and Paine, none other than Jenna Paine herself. You'll either fall in love with her (like so many already have) or hate her guts (like so many others have). Bottom line is, I'd love it if you checked out my work.

But that's not why I'm posting this week.

I'm watching The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as I write this. You know, the newest version of the movie. It stands out to me as something of a Hollywood Oddity. It's a movie I enjoy as much as the book, even though it's a very different critter in many aspects. I've seen horrid movie treatments of books (*Cough* Starship Troopers)  that made me want to throw up, throw down, throw sideways for good measure, and then just plain puke. But this one I like.

One of the things that stands out is that the screenplay was written by Douglas Adams. Not everyone  has that kind of opportunity. So the spirit of the story remains the same, in spite of the differences in plot line. So the rabbit trails thrown in just fit right in, like the little side-trip to Planet Vogsphere. It's just as fun to watch as it was to read (for me, anyway).

As for the cast, I don't think I could have done any better if I could have picked the whole thing myself. Alan Rickman is brilliantly depressed as Marvin, and Zoe Deschanel rocks it as Trillian. Hey, Zaphod is played by that dude who played nnn-Guy from GalaxyQuest (Don't remember the fella's name and don't feel like looking it up, but you know who I'm talking about). He has this totally freakishly friendly (ooo, triple adverb!) smile that you just want to punch off his face, but it wouldn't do any good because there's another one hiding right below that one.

I must admit, I never pictured Ford Prefect as a black guy. But I  have to admit, it works.

All in all, still enjoyable, even though it's something almost similar to but not quite entirely unlike the book. I would hope Mr. Adams is looking down proudly that his intent was ahered to closely.

Of course, the story line is so quirky and off-beat, the only people who would even get it would be someone who wanted to stick with it.

So kudo's, guys. And thanks. It gives an author at least a shred of hope that his work, given sufficient value, can be translated with the same spirit, if not the same exact story.

Anybody know any producers?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Coming to Paperback June 30th: Unalive!


Do you like to read?

I've found that simple question to be a downright awesome ice-breaker when doing street promo for my work. Most of the time the person says, "Yes, I do." Okay, usually the first thing they say is "What?" No one expects a stranger to come up to them in the airport, on the street, in a hotel lobby or anywhere else and ask them something like that. But it's a simple, innocent question, so then it progresses on to either a "yes" or a "no" answer. If they say yes, I hand them a promo bookmark and suggest they might like my award-winning series, and the conversation may go on from there or not. Even when they say no, they don't like to read, I might say "That's a shame. I was hoping you might want to check out my series of novels. Most people who read them thought they were pretty good." Even then, about half will take a bookmark just because they met a real live author.

Okay, so what does that have to do with my upcoming paperback release? Well, maybe not much more than this:


Do you like to read? Do you like white-knuckle thrillers that will keep you awake till the wee hours of the morning for just one more page, just to see what happens next? I think you'll like my second novel, Unalive, from MuseItUp Publishing. Okay, yes, this is shameless self-promotion. But it's true. I've had several fans (Yay! I got fans!!!) send me messages blaming poor lil' ol' moi  for making them lose sleep reading late into the night to find out what wwill happen to Nadia, Jon, and even Jenna.

Wait, you don't remember Jenna? She's Nadia's personal physical therapist from Becoming NADIA, who turned out to be one of the bad guys, and spent most of the book with her leg in a cast. Well, she's back, and this time there's no cast in the way of her totally-ass-kicking abilities. Yes, that's her looking all "Do NOT get in my way!" on the cover, and she lives up to the attitude, 110%.

Wow, some physical therapist. Turns out, she's more important to The NADIA Project than anyone ever figured. Even the author of the series. Seriously. Those of you who have read Becoming NADIA know there was a huge, open loose end dangling out there where everyone could see. Mainly, there is a walking, talking living anti-matter BOMB still loose on the earth, who's a grave danger to anyone in a ten mile radius. That alone says there's more to the story. I either had to render NADIA V inert, or... I couldn't bear to think of what might happen if she died by either natural or other means.

So there's more to the story. There's also more to the characters than anyone thought (even the author). When I sat down to write this one, Jenna appeared in my brain and told me more about herself, and what makes her tick. So I got to write more than just bullets flying and bodies dropping, and the world in imminent peril. I got to show some real people, being real people, and I got to show that heroes are usually normal folks in seriously abnormal conditions who just find ways to muddle through. And I got to show a little more about a love that survived beyond a grave.

So there you have it. I'd really like you to check out my Unalive. It's coming out in paperback the 30th of this month, and if you buy the paperback from MuseItUp Publishing direct, you can get the eBook for FREE!

I do believe you'll like it. If you do, write me back and let me know:

Jon tried the door; it opened easily and swung on well-oiled hinges. The brightness of the lab area beyond blinded him. He paused to let his eyes adjust before entering. A couple of steps in, he turned back to make sure Sharon still followed him.
The large rectangular room was illuminated with bright fluorescent panels. Along both of the long walls, with enough room for someone to walk between, ran two rows of long dark cylinders with sleek rounded ends. Each cylinder looked like a streamlined casket, about eight feet long and more than two feet wide. Jon counted twenty in all, ten in each row, with a wide aisle down the middle. Mounted on the wall over each, a large monitor screen displayed vital signs and strings of numbers. Networks of wires led from masses of electronic components to each cylinder. Countless knobs and dials adorned the fronts of all the boxes and components. Meters and smaller displays rolled, pointed, and flashed at various intervals. The sound that drew them here was more insistent, though not necessarily louder, than what they had heard in the hall outside.
Seated at a desk against the far wall was a solitary lab technician, a petite young woman with short cinnamon-colored hair. She sat with her back to the door and seemed oblivious to the intruders in her area. They crept forward, their steps masked by the background noise of the equipment. Jon’s heart slammed against his chest like a trip hammer as he scanned the lab area, looking for any threat hidden among the rows of cylinders.
He stepped up to the first. Through a window in the top, he could see a vague shape in the darkness of the cylinder. When he bent close to the lid and peered in, a light came on inside, possibly triggered by a proximity sensor. His stomach did flip-flops as he realized what lay there.
The form was humanoid, or would be when it was complete. The skin was either transparent, or not yet formed. Sightless eyes goggled at nothing; there was no mind to understand what they saw. In shape, it could only be female, although the organs he could see told him this was no human. White blood pulsed through arteries and veins still exposed to the environment within the cylinder.
He’d seen enough. Here was all the evidence he needed to bust the organization of the Pinnacle wide open, and here was someone who could lead him up the ladder. He strode to the other end of the lab. The technician was so engrossed in what she was doing, she never turned.
He came right up to her and touched her on the shoulder, intending to turn her around and put her on the floor so she could be trussed up. But he no sooner had a hand on her shoulder when something grabbed his arm and gave a twist. Jon’s world went crazy as he flew through the air, bounced off a wall, and landed on his stomach. A knee pressed hard into the back of his neck, pinning him to the floor. He heard the snick of a safety catch right behind his ear as a familiar voice shouted at Sharon. “Drop the gun, sister! Drop it or his brains are all over the floor!”

Saturday, June 1, 2013

"So, you're a writer..."

How many of you have had this conversation?

Me (to total stranger, in an act of shameless self-promotion): "Hi; do you like to read?"
Them: "Why, yes, I love to read!"
Me (Handing them a promo bookmark): Maybe you'd like to check out my novel. It won Best Thriller last year."
Them: "Really? You wrote this?"
Me (squirming in humility, while my ego inflates hopefully): "Yes, I did."
Them: "How's it doing?"

That's where I fall short. I know what they mean. They are curious as to how well it's selling, and in a sense, it's a valid question. I'm trying to get them to buy into my vision. They have a certain right to know if they should expect a high-quality work, and one of the indicators of a quality product is sales figures. But it's also like saying, "Oh, you're an avionics tech. How much do you make?" Which, of course, most people know is a pretty rude question. I'm not comfortable with the question, because to tell the truth, my sales numbers bely the quality of the work. 

I even get the standard, "Oh, you must be rich by now!" At which point I kind of roll my eyes and say something glib like, "Well maybe after another million or two sales." Let's face it, Stephen King took a while to start making enough to live off of his writing alone. But most folks don't think about that. They expect me to be the owner of the Falcon 50 instead of the poor schlock trying to repair the faulty air data computing system, and all just for making it to the point where I got published.

But you know, we do ask for it, by putting ourselves out there for the world to see. We're not all JK Rowling, or even Richard Castle, for that matter. Not that I would turn down that kind of money. Hell, I'm struggling for each sale at this point. But I also have to remember, I'm a new kid on the block. I can't just throw my pebble into the marketing pond and expect my splash to be seen over the boulder that Random House threw in, because they can afford boulders and all I can afford are pebbles. But if all I have are pebbles, I'll keep on tossing 'em in.At least I'm making waves.

So, back to our conversation. At that point, I simply say to my new potential fan that I'm still new, but buzz is building. How many actually go to the Muse Website to check it out, or even Amazon or Barnes&Noble? I don't know. I have no way of knowing. So I keep making my bookmarks and keep handing them out to random strangers as I meet them. I host guests on my blog, and guest on others. I put out review requests that get ignored (or not), and I send out my press releases, 98% of which end up in the trash can at the newspaper office, radio station, or television station I send them to. I keep plugging away one sale at a time.

Because one day, I'm going to hit the right nerve. Word-of-mouth will start, and take off. And that's when the magic starts. And when the next stranger asks me "How's your book doing?" I can say, "Very well, thank you."

So let me ask you: Are you telling your friends about your favorite authors? Sharing their books? Can you write a short review? Because to an author, those are the highest compliments you can give.