After the Apocalypse (Weird)

Short version: New release is only days away! Cover reveal below! Woo-hoo!

Long version (very): Okay, this requires some set-up. Many good things happened in 2015, but one of the disappointments was my paltry book release output. Normally I would have two or three books out in the course of a year, but last year I didn’t even meet that meager goal. That was not by intention. The year started well enough as I dove into the follow-up to my sci-fi space opera Gods and The City. I loved how this book was shaping up and was eagerly looking forward to a spring release.

But then an opportunity came my way. I was recruited by Michael Bunker to write a book in the Apocalypse Weird series. Michael, Nick Cole and some entrepreneurial partners had formed a new publishing company, Wonderment Media. They were constructing a shared universe of wonderfully bizarre end-of-the-world tales, all linked together by certain common story arcs and demonic characters. It was a bold undertaking, a “Marvel Universe” of post-apocalyptic characters created from the ground up by a cadre of mostly indie writers. It was exciting to be a part of it all as the books started to hit the market in February and March and the momentum began to grow.

I was asked to write a sequel to Texocalypse Now, co-authored by Bunker and Cole. In that novel, they had created a secondary character called “the Baron of the Scraps” that they wanted me to take and run with. I knew signing on with a start-up publisher was a risk, but the potential upside was definitely enticing. The publisher would have a greater market reach than I would on my own, and if one or two of these titles broke through to best-selling fame, we’d all benefit. Plus, Michael is a friend, and who wouldn’t want to be a part of an enterprise that included Bunker, Nick Cole, Eric Tozzi and so many other very talented writers?

So I agreed to do it and set aside my other projects to write the first draft of Fight for the Night over the spring and summer. It was a blast to work with characters created by others, building on the story, filling in the blanks. It was something I’d never done before and found I was enjoying it more than I thought I would.

However, even as I was finishing up the book, not all was well with the apocalypse. As my publication date got closer, the release schedule for the books was cut back. Publishing is a tough business, and it appeared that Wonderment was entering rough waters. My book was originally scheduled for a September release, and then was pushed back to December.

Still, Fight for the Night went through the editing process and feedback was extremely positive. But then the axe fell, with the October announcement that Apocalypse Weird would shut down at the end of November, with all books pulled from the market and the company disincorporated soon after. The month before my book was due out, the Apocalypse shut down.

It was a gut punch, as you can imagine, but that’s just business. Sometimes companies thrive, sometimes they fail, despite the best efforts of those involved. I took a risk and it didn’t pay out. It happens, and all you can do is move on.

So that left me with a completed book in an orphaned series. But Wonderment was treating its authors right, releasing the copyrights and the cover art back to the authors so they could independently publish the books, along with helping them transfer reviews. They freed everyone to use the common characters and the Apocalypse Weird brand, so the books would live on. It looked like there would be a place for my title after all.

Then the other axe fell.

Nick Cole and Michael Bunker decided not to reissue Texocalypse Now independently. It was being shelved, not to return in the foreseeable future. They had their reasons, which I can’t dispute. They both have bigger things on their plates, and if they don’t wish to continue the Tex Now storyline, that is certainly their prerogative.

But now, not only was I was stuck with a book in an orphaned series, but it was a sequel to a title that no longer existed. Krep.

I had to step back from this for a while, and rethink things. I turned to other article and copywriting deadlines in December while I planned the next step, and turned the book over in my mind.

That next step is revealed below. I revised Fight for the Night so it would stand alone, so that even if you had never read Texocalypse Now, it would make sense. I filled in backstory, I explained things that needed explaining. But I went even further than that.

You see, intellectual property is a funny thing. Wonderment went above and beyond what most publishers would do, in releasing rights and freeing up IP concepts and characters for its former writers to use. They handled it all with great integrity and decency, at least from my perspective at the margins. But the funny thing about intellectual property is that it sometimes gets sold, or inherited, or dragged into court in some dispute or another.

I therefore decided to rewrite Fight for the Night so that it truly stood alone—I recast the characters, I invented a new apocalyptic event, I dropped some elements of the original story. The AW villains, the 88, are gone, as is the black dragon. However, if you enjoyed Texocalypse Now I truly believe you will enjoy Fight for the Night. You’ll be able to identify the AW story that almost was. If you liked the Baron, you’ll like the Marshal. Fight for the Night is wild, pulpy, action-packed fun, and it is definitely still weird. But if you never read Tex Now, you’ll have no trouble following and enjoying the story.

And without further ado, the synopsis and cover reveal for Fight for the Night!

Fight for the NightIt’s been five years since the Doom shook the world to its foundations. Rivers of stars disappeared from the night sky, the sun erupted with an outbreak of flares that scorched the Eastern Hemisphere, and an infestation of previously unknown parasites turned millions of people into mindless roaming hordes of cannibals.

The survivors are scattered, few, and desperate. One band survives in the Texas Badlands behind the walls of a great fortress built from old cars. Led by The Marshal, the denizens of the Big Wreck scrape out a living by salvaging the remains of the old world, staying a step ahead of rival gangs, and avoiding the notice of the hordes.

Survival is tough enough, but when a mysterious otherworldly object alights in their territory, it brings with it creatures spawned from the darkest nightmares. Are these new arrivals aliens? Supernatural demons? Or simply the flesh-and-blood abominations of a post-apocalyptic world? And when a wandering band of Comanche indians shows up at the gates of the fortress, it appears that time itself has been twisted in strange new directions.

Fight for the Night is a novel of a weird apocalypse, a tale of desperate survival camped out at the intersection of where the Road Warrior meets the dark fantasies of H.P. Lovecraft.

Book Signing. And Beer.

BeerNBooks

Yeah, I’m looking forward to this one. I’m part of a local author book signing event at Circle Brewing Company in Austin on October 3. Come meet the authors, buy some books and sample a pint or two. Hey, anything involving books, beer and Michael Bunker has got to be fun. Check out the Facebook event page for details and updates.

Long Lost Paperbacks No. 9

Roger Zelazny is one of the giants of the science-fiction and fantasy genres. He’d land a spot in my personal top-10 on the strength of Lord of Light alone. Throw in The Chronicles of Amber and This Immortal and he’s an absolute lock for my “favorites” list.

Still, Zelazny is one of those giants of the field that is in real danger of going undiscovered by younger generations of fans. Despite being a six-time Hugo Award winner and a three-time Nebula winner (This Immortal tied with Frank Herbert’s epic Dune for Best Novel in the 1966 voting), not a single one of his books was available in e-book format until 2014, and even now, much of his catalog remains out of print. Even Lord of Light is not available as an e-book.

Roadmarks, a short novel from 1979, is one of those books that

Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny, second paperback edition, 1980, Del Rey, cover by Darrell K. Sweet.
Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny, second paperback edition, 1980, Del Rey, cover by Darrell K. Sweet.

requires a trip to Half-Price Books or a tour through Amazon’s used book vendors to find. It is out of print and not likely to see the light of day anytime soon, given the travails of Zelazny’s literary estate.

In Roadmarks, Red Dorakeen and a variety of odd characters travel up and down a mysterious highway that can take one to the past or the future, even alternate timestreams. Of course, it requires a special talent to even find the highway, but those who do can wield enormous power. As in many of Zelazny’s books, the characters  may or may not be gods or god-like beings and you never quite know until the end. It’s a fast, fun read, but one that forces you to pay attention, as Zelazny not only jumps frequently from character to character, but also to different time periods for each of those characters. That’s difficult for any writer to pull off but Zelazny makes it look easy.

Roger Zelazny died young, at only 58 years old, in 1995. If he had lived a normal lifespan he would no doubt have produced at least a dozen more great novels, and his legacy would no doubt be on more solid ground. As it is, he left too soon and his literary estate has not advanced with the times. Take the time to search the “Z” section at your local used bookstore; Zelazny’s novels are too good to be forgotten.

Boxed Set Steal of the Year

CoversToT2

One of the really fun parts of being a writer is when I get to pass along screamin’ deals on great books.  This is one of those posts. The first novel in my Connor Rix series, Rules of Force, is included in the new boxed set Taste of Tomorrow 2, edited by Joseph Turkot. But that’s just the beginning. This bundle includes nine e-books for the spare-change price of $1.99. Some fantastic books by truly talented authors like Nick Cole, Michael Bunker, Saul Tanpepper and Tony Bertausky are included.

Taste of Tomorrow 2 will be released on June 11, but you can pre-order now and have it automatically shipped to your Kindle on launch day. Your summer reads are here!

Connor Rix conquers Everest

Connor Rix at Everest
Connor Rix at Everest

Well. If you ever wanted to make a writer’s day, month or year, you might want to try something like this.

My friend Bert W., whom I’ve known since grade school, is a veteran world traveler. You name the place, he’s been there, probably twice.

His latest adventure was a trip to the Mount Everest base camp. Fortunately, he managed to avoid being buried by the recent earthquake in Nepal, but judging by some of the pictures he sent back, it was a close call.

While standing in that rarified air at the top of the world Bert took the time to snap a couple photos that will have me smiling for the rest of the month—my Connor Rix books at Everest.02 Everest Base Camp

Bert, I may live only 700 feet above sea level, but this took my breath away.  One of my creations has now traveled farther than I ever have.  A million thanks and a hearty salute for you, sir!

Help Build Something

Indie publishing has opened up more opportunities than I can even keep track of, but the really intriguing possibilities involve those concepts that you rarely (or never) find in traditional publishing—shared universes, cross-overs and collaborative marketing.

I’m working on a new project that’s hip deep into all of that. I’ve signed on to write a novel set in the Apocalypse Weird series by Wonderment Media, due out later this year. Apocalypse Weird is a big, sprawling multiverse saga involving every apocalyptic scenario you can imagine. Some great writers are producing hugely entertaining works in this series.

The Apocalypse is off to a great start. They’ve published nine books since the February launch and plan two more per month for the next several years. And now, Wonderment is  conducting a crowd-funding push through Indie GoGo to take it all to the next level. There are some excellent perks offered at ten different contribution levels.  If you’ve been looking for a fresh way to support the new wave of publishing, this is your chance to help build something that will spur the creation of great books for years to come. Follow the link and check it out. If you want a taste for free, The Red King by Nick Cole is the volume that kicks it all off. And check out my novel Follow the Chupacabra for confirmation of why I might be suitable for spinning yarns of end-times weirdness.

Need more? Here’s the very cool book trailer by AW author Eric Tozzi for his entry in the series, Phoenix Lights:

Long Lost Paperbacks No. 8

Devils_and_demonsSome stories just stay with you. You read them once, and then again, and then one day the book earns a permanent spot on your shelf. You find yourself dipping back into the story years later and enjoying it every bit as much as you did the first time.

Ben Bova wrote one of those stories that got stuck in my brain and never left. I found it almost by accident. I was in the 7th grade and one of my teachers, Mrs. Howe, kept a shelf of books in her room loaded with paperbacks we could read in class or even borrow to take home. One of these was a battered 1967 edition, 7th printing, of Rod Serling’s Devils and Demons. Now, I was never much one for horror stories or the supernatural, but buried among the chillers was a true science-fiction tale titled Stars, Won’t You Hide Me?

That’s the story that pulled me in. The last human survivor of a colossal war against implacable aliens flees in his one-man starship, but the Others will never give up the chase. They have judged humanity guilty of a terrible crime and the penalty is the extermination of the species. But time dilates as they race through the universe at the speed of light. Ages pass, then eons, billions upon billions of years until our protagonist races on to the end of the universe itself, one step ahead of the aliens. I can’t claim it’s a work for the ages, but for a teenager stumbling his way into the science-fiction genre, it was positively addicting. Mrs. Howe noticed how much I liked the book and at the end of the school year gave it to me. I don’t know if she realized I was reading the same story over and over, but I was thrilled to have it. And I’ve never gotten rid of it.

Stars, Won’t You Hide Me? was originally published in The World of Tomorrow in 1966 and picked up for the Rod Serling anthology the following year. My copy is ugly as an old boot, so worn it doesn’t even have a cover. The original was either torn off by clumsy teenage hands or, more likely, it was a remaindered book that the teacher acquired for pennies and added to her class library. It has a large stain on the title page from a spilled coke, and that blotch shares the page with the teacher’s signature and the date she gave it to me. Old glue is exposed on the spine. The back page (Send for your free catalog of Bantam Bestsellers today!) is crumpled and barely hanging on.

I’ve long hoped to find a better edition, but I’ve never seen the story published anywhere else. I thought Stars, Won’t You Hide Me? had been well and truly lost to memory, but was astonished to find that the Rod Serling book has its own Wiki page, and I was able to download a cover image from there.

To track down any new editions I decided to go straight to the source. Ben Bova is still as prolific as ever at the age of 82, and his website has a complete bibliography, writing tips, chronology of his “grand tour” novels, and plenty more. I wrote to him, giving a brief version of this tale and how much his story affected me. He replied almost immediately. “You’ve made my day!” he told me. You can imagine what a thrill it was to read an influential story as a teenager, to carry the book around for decades through several moves and purges, and then 40 years later to correspond with the author by eeeelectronic mail. It’s not exactly the future I envisioned back then, but in some ways it’s more amazing.

Bova told me that the story had been reprinted in two other collections: Forward in Time (Walker, 1973) and Escape Plus (Tor, 1984). Although the paperbacks are long out of print, Forward in Time and Escape Plus are both available as e-books on Amazon. They may not be there for long, however. Bova recently signed a deal with Baen Books for a three-part omnibus of every short story he ever wrote. Stars, Won’t You Hide Me will be part of the Bova Omnibus, Volume III, due out in about three years.

Just goes to show—give a kid a book, you never know what direction it will take him. Thanks, Ben, and thanks, Mrs. Howe.

Blog outpost for writer Steve Statham