Archive for April, 2020

Library Book Sale Finds: The Pandora Directive by Aaron Conners

Sometimes you find the weirdest things, amirite, squiders?

The Pandora Directive has a note that it’s a Tex Murphy novel, which meant nothing to me until, about halfway through, I happened to accidentally glance at the author bio at the end of the book.

But, anyway:

Title: The Pandora Directive
Author: Aaron Conners
Genre: Science fiction noir
Publication Year: 1995

Pros: Cool mash-up of traditional noir with some science fiction elements
Cons: A little too puzzle game-y near the end

On the surface, this is a fun scifi noir book (though I’m not sure if the main character, Tex Murphy, is from the 1940s and time traveled to the 2040s at some point, or if he just has a lot of nostalgia going on). It takes place in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco where people are out at night and sleep during the day to avoid the dangerous radiation levels.

But! It turns out that it’s the novelization of an adventure game. And The Pandora Directive is actually the fourth game in said adventure game series.

I love adventure games. I especially love ’90s-era adventure games (Monkey Island is my favorite series and, with the exception of the TellTales’ Tales of Monkey Island, I’ve played all the games multiple times. Tales is good too, I just keep getting distracted by life.), but somehow I missed this series completely.

I mean, I would have picked it up if I’d heard of it. Probably why I picked up the book. It’s noir, it’s scifi, there’s rumors of Roswell–what’s not to love?

According to Wikipedia, the Tex Murphy game series has had an interesting history. The first game is apparently a mashup of genres, though the other five games are fully in the adventure genre. And there was apparently a short film, and a radio show during the hiatus in game producing (there’s 16 years between the fifth and sixth games), two more game novelizations (of the 3rd and 5th games), and two non-novelization novels.


As for the book itself, I really enjoyed it. It’s mostly noir, with just occasional trappings to remind you that you’re in the future and not the past. There’s the radiation thing so the characters are mostly active at night. Tex has a flying car, essentially. All the calls are video calls.

The Internet still works like the ’90s, which is when the book was written, but it makes me laugh. Always a danger when reading scifi written in the past. No one can predict everything right.

The characters are good, as is Tex’s voice. It hits the feeling of ’40s noir without including a lot of the more offensive bits. And in general the plot is good too. No real complaints, honestly, except that near the end, it starts to show its adventure game roots a little too much.

(If you’ve ever played an adventure game, you know they involve a lot of puzzle solving. And if you’ve never played an adventure game…they involve a lot of problem solving.)

There’s a lot of puzzle solving at the end. It felt like reading an adventure game. I don’t know if it would have bothered me as much as it did if I hadn’t known I was reading a novelization.

All in all, an enjoyable read. I’d recommend it if you like noir, Roswell mythology, the Tex Murphy games, or just need a fun read.

Have you read this, squiders? Played the games? Are they worth trying to hunt down?


Cycles of Creativity

I realized last week that at some point in the recent past I’d entered a new phase of my creative life.

Also, I realized that I had phases. So that was a thing.

I’ve been writing for most of my life. I started where most people do, making derivative stories off of other stories. Mine all had pictures when I was younger, because I wanted to be an artist. My mother wrote stories when I was little, so I’d watch her type and then go off and type as well.

So. Cycles. I think I’m in my third cycle on my writing.

The first started about 2004 and probably lasted until 2009. I finished my first complete novel draft in 2004/2005, and over the next several years I wrote several more. I experimented. I joined writers’ groups and made writing friends.

This was a cycle of learning and creation. At the very end of it, I started publishing (I had a short story published in an anthology in 2007, and the first edition of Hidden Worlds came out at the end of 2009), but in general I was just creating.

So then the second cycle goes from about 2010 to late 2018. In that cycle, I was focused on craft. I started writing and submitting short fiction (something I almost never wrote during that first cycle, because for a long time I didn’t think I was capable of it, and also didn’t see the point of short stories when I was writing novels).

(You can actually see my mindset on that change, since I started the blog in 2010.)

I focused on editing those novels I wrote during the first cycle. I went to some writers’ conferences, studied marketing and publication, tried my hand at getting an agent a few times. This was a cycle of…mastery, maybe. A focus on craft, and process, and all the logical stuff that goes into writing as a career.

I did not do a lot of novel writing during that time period. Oh, I rewrote earlier novels, sure, but with purpose. I think I only did two in that entire time period (one being City of Hope and Ruin, and the other being my space dinosaur adventure).

I learned a ton in that second cycle. And I felt like I was doing what I had to, to be successful as a writer. And maybe I did need to do all that. Time will tell.

That brings us to now, to the third cycle. Last year, I started to get the itch to write new things, instead of constantly revising and polishing things I’d written during that first cycle. To do the creative side rather than the business side.

I mean, I do think you need both sides. But now that I’m out the other side of that second cycle, I wonder if I couldn’t have broke it up a little better.

So what does this third cycle look like? It’s probably too early to tell.

But it has reminded me of something. And that something is…creativity is occasionally nebulous and hard to tame.

If you’ve got a deadline, or a theme to follow, then, yeah, sure, you can probably write a story that works. But if you’re left to your own devices, where you can write anything or everything…

Writers are like crows. We like shiny things. We are easily distracted by shiny things.

I think, in my head, I was remembering that first cycle as being fairly linear. I started a novel, I finished a draft of that novel. Then I started the next one, and so forth.

But I bet you if I go back through my saved files from that time period, I’d find half a dozen other novels that I started and never got anywhere on. Stories that I laid out but did not write. Forgotten missteps and lost scenes, even from stories that did eventually get finished.

You see, I was feeling a little frustrated with myself because I’ve started a bunch of stories in the last year that I’ve not really gotten anywhere with.

Yes, I finished my scifi horror novella (and my beta said it gave her nightmares! bwhahahaha), but it still was 30K over six months, which isn’t terribly impressive. And the CoHaR sequel isn’t solely my responsibility, which makes it hard to make headway on by myself.

But even ruling that out, I’m on my third start for my changeling story (though I’m at 6K, so the current start has done better than the other two attempts). And there’s the Luddite story, and World’s Edge is still sitting at 55K…

But then I realized…this is how these creative cycles go. Some things work. Others don’t. Some of those might work later, in different circumstances. The trick is not to get too hung up on it and to make sure you are creating, even if it’s 20K here and there. Things will get done. And some things aren’t worth doing.

Now, 2020 is the year of education, so I’m not worrying too much about it, but maybe moving forward I can do a better job of mixing the creative and left-brained cycles a little more. Write something, then revise something. Learn something, then put it into direct use.

Plus, you know, the world has problems, and I should probably be glad that I’m producing anything at all.

How are you doing, squiders?

Promo: The Thief’s Betrayal by Cassondra Benton

Good morning, squiders! I have a fantasy novel for you today.

Fantasy Fiction
Date Published: February 4th 2019
Publisher: Rebel Press

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Someone is murdering the citizens of Kira’s village, and her fellow thieves are being blamed. Desperate to clear their names and restore the reputation of the guild, Kira embarks on a dangerous mission to infiltrate the palace and enlist the help of the king and queen.
One man stands in her way, Chaol, the head guard, who threatens to steal the thief’s heart.
And he’s not the only one. Her childhood crush on Badrick might finally be developing into something more than friendship. But only if they can figure out who is threatening to kill them before it is too late.
Kira wants to trust Kingsman, the man who took her in and raised her as his own, but she is starting to wonder if he has been lying to her all along.
Can the three men closest to her keep Kira safe long enough for her to carry out her plan to save the village? Or will the secrets they have kept from her destroy her happiness—and her life—before she has a chance to clear her name and prove the innocence of those she cares about the most?

About the Author

When Cassondra was growing up, if she wasn’t competing in sports, she was usually writing, reading, or drawing. It wasn’t long before she formed an addiction to the thrills of fantasy, which led her to write her debut novel, The Thief’s Betrayal. Cassondra is currently attending college. She was born and raised in Southern California where she lives in a home overflowing with books.

Contact Links

Purchase Links

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See you next week!

I Have Made a Decision

Good news, squiders, I have made a decision about which story to use for the Luddite challenge.

(Also, How to Submit and Publish is now live! Hooray! Success! And I finished the presentations for my next SkillShare class, so I just need to record the videos.)

(I’m getting a ton of new students over at SkillShare. I assume it’s because everyone is bored and learning new things due to being stuck at home, but it’s cool all the same.)

Anyway! Last week we talked about the Luddite Challenge and how I’d picked out two potential stories, yet neither of them was working.

(The Luddite Challenge, as a refresher, is where you handwrite a story instead of using your normal technology.)

I poked both stories some more and even discussed them with a friend, but they still weren’t working. (One was planned out but I wasn’t feeling it, and the other had so many potential ways the story could go that I couldn’t pin down an actual story.)

So I gave up on both of them. Another time, I guess.

I poked around in my Google Drive, where I have several stories in various stages of planning, as well as lists of premises that could be stories if I poked at them, etc. And I found one!

So, way back in 2014, Turtleduck Press put out an anthology called Under Her Protection. The idea was to write fantasy stories where the girl saved the guy rather than vice versa. My story for the anthology, Drifting, is a fairy tale-esque story about a girl who goes through a portal, like many in her family before her, in an attempt to rescue a prince.

Under Her Protection cover

When the anthology was coming together, the editor asked me to expand the ending a bit–just a few sentences–but I ran into an issue. When I tried to expand, instead of getting a few sentences, I got a whole novel.

(Not, like, specifics. But sometimes an idea will blossom and I can see the general shape of it and how long it will take to form into said shape. A little annoying because they don’t generally come with enough information to start writing.)

So the ending stayed put, I wrote down some notes about a potential sequel novel, and then I went off on my merry way.

I’d honestly forgotten about it, though it is on my massive list of novel ideas that I glance at before each Nano (normally before choosing something completely different), but when I found it again, it clicked.

I re-read the original story, wrote down some notes and a very vague outline, and started writing.

So far so good. And it feels great to get back to a story I’d always meant to write.

Fingers crossed.

How are you doing? Anything coming together for you?

Luddite Challenge

Man, squiders. I was doing better. I remembered Tuesday! But then I forgot Thursday completely, so here we are.

Sometime soon, I will be able to remember what day of the week it is. I promise.

So, over at WriYe, they’ve got a year-long challenge going called the Luddite Challenge (luddite, n., 1. a person opposed to new technology or ways of working). In this case, the idea is that you write a story by hand rather than using whatever technology you normally use to write.

Much like writing books (this month’s is bird by bird, by Anne Lamott), I have been accumulating notebooks. I buy them because they are pretty, or have a nice saying on the front, or look like they’re from medieval times, and then I never use them because they have to be saved for something special, and then I end up using cheap old college-ruled notebooks for my writing stuff.

It’s ridiculous. I am aware it’s ridiculous. So I signed up for the Luddite Challenge at the beginning of the year, figuring I could use up one of my notebooks and it would be a good way to get some writing done while the small, mobile ones were home for the summer.

(Little did I know that they would be home two months early. Ha!)

Anyway, because the small, mobile ones ARE home, and because it is hard to get working time without over-utilizing screens (and also the laptop that I normally write on is on the fritz and needs to be reformatted), I’ve decided to start on the challenge a little early.

(Here’s the notebook I chose. It was a Christmas present from my mother-in-law some years ago. I think it’s out of Museum Replicas or someplace like that.)

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(I can’t ever remember which way the clasps go. Whoops.)

Now the question is: what story do I write in it?

I’d like it to be a new story. I’ve got two I’m pondering: a fantasy romance novella that I’ve outlined that was originally going to be a TDP serial (and may yet be–I ended up not writing it at the time because there were too many serials already in works by other people); and a premise I’ve been sitting on for probably fifteen years that goes by “Maze Story.”

The problem with the maze story is that it has a ton of potential, and hence a ton of directions it could go in. I’m not even sure what age range I should be aiming for.

Of course, I am by no means limited to just these two ideas. I’ve got a ton lined up, after all, and maybe it’ll be best to poke them all and see what gels into something with, you know, characters and plot.

Not really what I planned for the year, but, hey, interesting times call for us all to be flexible.

How are you, squiders?

Thoughts on Star Trek (again)

Hmm. Where did I put my coffee?

I would like to say that I’m getting to watch all the television shows I ever wanted here in isolation, but I’m not. I’m not hardly watching anything, honestly.

(I hit the libraries before they closed, because I could see which way the wind was blowing, and we got out 13 movies. This was on, like, the 15th of March. We’ve watched 3 of those.)

But the spouse and I are slowly making our way through Star Trek on CBS All Access (still a scam, I tell you what). We finally finished Discovery Season 2, and a few days ago we watched the first episode of Picard.

And I gotta say, I’m digging it.

I mean, I’ve loved Discovery since the middle of season one (two words: Captain Killy) and I really liked how they integrated more original series stuff into season two. I think they did a really good job of that, and the end of season two gets rid of a lot of the questions I had about Discovery existing in the first place.

(Plus I ♥ Georgiou and she’s all over this season. The more she’s around the more I like her. Michelle Yeoh is too fancy for Star Trek and I am happy she’s here.)

I admit to being a little lukewarm about Picard, which existed kind of nebulously in my head (what’s the point? what’s the story?) and I resisted watching it. I tried to get my spouse to watch the short treks instead.

(Do you guys know about Short Treks? They’re little 15-minute episodes that are related to Discovery, somehow. The first season was a mix of setting things up for season two, and one for season three, I suspect, and fleshing out of the universe. Not sure what the second season does, or if they’re also related to Picard, yet.)

(Anyway they’re great and I love the variety of themes, subject matters, mediums…kind of like the Animatrix, in some ways.)

But I gave in and we watched the first episode of Picard…and I love it.

I love the background for the series. I love the potential for anyone and anything from TNG/DS9/Voyager to show up. I love the plotline and I even love the inexplicably British Romulan.

I mean, it’s only the first episode. Maybe the series goes downhill from here. But for a series I wasn’t sure I would like, man, I dig it.

Anyway, the Trekkie in me is very happy these days. I get new characters to love and interesting things for them to do.

Been watching the new Treks, squiders? What do you think? Favorite Discovery character? (Mine is all of them.)

What Day is It?

Sorry, squiders! I don’t mean to only be posting once a week at the moment, I just honestly never remember it’s Tuesday until it’s, like, dinner time.

(Also, it’s Wednesday–obviously–which is a school day for the smaller, mobile one, yet I got no instructions from her teacher for today. I think there may not be school due to conferences but who knows anymore?)

(She’s making evil Easter eggs next to me, which is an interesting choice, but hey, whatever floats her boat.)

I read something this morning that says that, psychologically, it’s okay that we’re all still in panic mode, it’s normal when something traumatic upends your life, and how it’s important to take care of yourself and not beat yourself up for being mostly useless.

(Although I did finally update the books and short stories on my website! I made new sections for anthologies and nonfiction, which are accessible under the “Stories” header in the menu. It was a long time coming, I’m very proud.)

So, if you too are not getting much done, I wanted to give you some feel good things to do in your non-productive time, so at least you feel a little better.

First off, I’ve got Some Good News, featuring John Krasinski of Office and Jack Ryan fame. He very obviously got bored and decided to make a half-ass news show, and it’s amazing. Also it may make you cry. Good cry, though.

My favorite Ghoul Boys of Buzzfeed Unsolved recently started their own channel, and since the shelter-in-place orders went into place, they’ve stared a D&D campaign with their friends. It’s worth it just for Shane’s accents.

And then there’s this, which is…well, just watch it.

You have anything interesting and uplifting you’ve found?

Let’s Not Be Sad

Good Lord, squiders. I have sat here all day, trying to figure out what to blog about. My thoughts keep going back to what’s going on in the world, which is depressing and awful, and, to be honest, I don’t want to talk about that. Everyone is talking about that. It is everywhere and inescapable. I mean, it makes sense, because it’s affecting everyone, but me talking about it isn’t going to add anything to the conversation.

(Monday I made face masks out of my leftover fabric from the bookmarks I made people for Christmas. That was…surreal. Also the first mask was super easy and then the second and third masks kept jamming my sewing machine and I didn’t change anything so I don’t know why.)

And, I mean, it’s April Fools Day. Now, I’m not a huge AF fan anyway, but you know how many AF jokes I’ve seen today? None. Nada. Not a single one. The whole world said, “Nope, not this year.” I appreciate that. But it’s still kind of depressing.

So! Let’s focus on the positives, shall we?

March was a freaking roller coaster that lasted forever, but it wasn’t all bad. I did some really nice watercolors in my travel journal (though the travel watercolor set I have has some…interesting colors). I got to rib my sister about getting old (she’s two and half years younger than me, but as older sister I am required by law to tease when appropriate). It is well and truly spring now.

I also got some things accomplished. I finished the draft of the scifi horror story. (And found a title for it! Finally.) I finally got through my February writing book. I’ve got the final nonfiction book more or less ready to go. My Pinterest prompt spawned a whole novel idea…which, uh, I guess I’ll add it to my list? (I wrote creation myth for the prompt.) I wrote more than I did in February.

And April, even if we’re still in the midst of all this, well, it kind of feels like a new start. At least March is over, amirite? Plus, there’s Camp NaNoWriMo this month. I’m going to work on the changeling story I started as part of How to Think Sideways last year. I stopped cuz I lost interest in the story, but I’m hoping I can poke it into something usable.

I guess if I can’t, there’s always the story I came up from my Pinterest prompts? Or I could go back and finish the draft from Nano. Always options. Too many options.

How did March go for you, squiders? Plans for April?