This weekend I will be at RavenCon. I get to speak on a few panels, catch up with some author friends, and make some new ones. I also will have the fantastic opportunity to meet legendary fantasy writer Terry Brooks. I’m very excited about this and can’t wait to get there.

My schedule of events is below:

  • Friday

  • 6 pm (Panel) Panels From Hell / Dinwiddie / Moderator

  • 5 pm – 7 pm (Private, Optional) Meet and Greet for Guests / Outdoor Terrace, Glen Restaurant

  • 7 pm (Opening Ceremony) King George

  • 9 pm (Panel) You want to do what? (18+) / Henry / Moderator

  • 11 pm (Panel) You, me and… 18+) / Henry

  • Saturday

  • 9 am (Panel) Pacing the Novel / King William

  • 1 pm (Reading) Fairfax Library

  • Sunday

  • 10 am (Panel) How to Panel at Conventions / Spotsylvania

11 am (Panel) Being a Better Moderator / Spotsylvania


Come check it out if you’re in the area.



The Wheels Are Turning, Slowly


While there’s always something to do in the writing field, some project to be fine-tuning or more actual getting words down, there’s also a lot of waiting. At the moment, I have a novel turned in that will probably get taken (the publisher and I have talked about this one), another one I’m waiting to hear back on, and a decision on a short story I submitted a while back.

I have other things to work on, of course. I’m in various stages of the process with several other novels, and have more short stories to finish and send in. But there’s also the game of “When will I hear something?” and “Should I send a reminder or see how it’s going?” There is no hard and fast rule for those kind of things. There’s a lot of judgement involved, and factors like if you know this particular publisher at all.

So I suppose my update is, I don’t have any definitive updates at this point.

Back to writing.

Writing Superstars


Last month, I had the privilege of attending a very special writing conference. Most seminars about writing focus on how to write, ways to get better at telling your stories, and things along those lines. Superstars Writing is very different. A group of New York Times bestselling authors, with names you’ve probably heard (Kevin J. Anderson, Eric Flint, James A. Owen, Jim Butcher, just to name a few), focus on the business end of writing, something almost no one teaches. Contracts, what to look out for if you get offers for movie or tv adaptations, and what agents are looking for are some of the topics covered. They are also great at adapting as things change, and this past year included presentations on story structure, how to run a Kickstarter, what the different types of editors do, and more.

The focus being on business instead of actual writing technique (although they have added a craft day in the last few years that does that, too) is just one way this is unlike any other seminar. There are plenty of times to get practice pitching your work, career counseling, and actually get to know publishers, editors, big-name authors. The chances to network are utterly unique. I presently have four novels out, and at least two of them are directly traceable to Superstars.

Superstars stands apart from any other seminar, convention, or anything else you want to call it in many ways. I mentioned networking above, but it’s more than that. Things start impressing you from before you even arrive. There’s a volunteer program, run by one of the attendees, coordinating rides from the airport. No other program I know of does that, and it’s increasingly complicated as the numbers grow each year. If you go, you’ll hear them refer to the gathering as “Tribe.” That’s not some cool catchphrase or marketing slogan. The people that go to this are there to learn, and further their careers, sure. That’s the point. But everyone, from the big names to people you’ve never heard of (like me, so far) will, and do, go to extraordinary lengths to help each other out. It’s not something they have to do. Everyone there chooses to do it. It’s an amazing feeling, utterly inspiring, and has concrete results, not just some vague good vibes. There are scholarships every year, a charity anthology writers contribute to in order to help others be able to afford to go, and a charity auction to raise funds.

There are a few things to know before you go. It’s not cheap. In my opinion, it’s worth every penny, but it’s an investment. In your career, your future as a writer. It’s in Colorado Springs, in February, so you have to deal with being at high altitude and, usually, it’s cold. It is, in my opinion, not for amateurs. If you’re not sure about writing, if you’re not able to get words down and meet deadlines, you might not be ready for this. That’s not judgement, it’s advice. Free advice, worth what you paid for it.

But if you’re serious about writing, if you’re trying to make a career out of it, if you’re truly committed to the craft, this is something you absolutely need to check out. I’m not on staff for Superstars. I don’t get paid to talk them up. All these opinions are my own. And in my opinion, going to Superstars is the second-best thing you can do for your writing career.

The first, of course, is actually writing.


For more information about the seminar, go to: https://superstarswriting.com/

Agents of SHIELD: The Things We Bury

CarterOne of the things I am really enjoying about Agents of SHIELD is how well they tie in with the other Marvel projects.  Even this week, there are references to both the first Captain America movie and the upcoming Agent Carter tv series (which I’m REALLY looking forward to).  “The Things We Bury” does a great job bridging the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s past and present.

There are several scenes set in 1945 and later, with Agent Carter dealing with some of Hydra’s agents.  These scenes set in motion events that play into SHIELD’s current problems.  We learn a lot more about Skye’s father, the so-far nameless doctor (I am NOT calling him The Doctor).  His past connects to Hydra, the Obelisk, and many of us think to a recently announced Marvel film.  Hydra’s operations in the 40′s are disrupted when the Red Skull is defeated, as seen in Captain America: The First Avenger.

Coulson puts together a nice, Mission Impossible type of scheme, sending Skye and Trip out to do seemingly random things in Hawaii.  The payoff shows that Fury picked his successor as Director well.  It was an elaborate scheme but it worked.  Coulson is a tactical genius.

Mostly off away from the rest of the cast, Agent Ward, formerly of SHIELD, maybe of Hydra, possibly free-agent bad guy settles some family matters.  This is usually where a lot of people make the joke that Thanksgiving dinners would be really awkward, but I don’t think that will be an issue.  I’m really not sure whose side Ward is on at this point, and I’m not wholly convinced he is, either.

I do like that they finally showed Trip back in the field, but I’m not sure why this was a trade-off.  Both Bobbi Morse and the formidable Agent May end up back at base.  There was a decent explanation as to why Morse wasn’t running and gunning, but May was seemingly left behind because Coulson said, “I said so.”  The process of deciding who goes on which missions seems to be utterly random.

There are a lot of revelations about Skye’s past.  Ward isn’t the only one with a complicated family history.  Her father seems to be perfectly willing to kill anyone who not only gets in his way, but just more or less inconveniences him.

Ok, wild speculation time, so skip this paragraph if you’re so inclined.  Blue skinned aliens have been playing a part of Agents of SHIELD for a while.  We’ve now learned there’s a hidden city, and certain humans have something that ties them back to it, genetically.  Currently in Marvel comics, there’s a storyline going on when they are revealing that some humans (like the current popular Muslim Ms. Marvel) have ties to the hidden race of Inhumans, and their city Attilan.  The Inhumans were created when an alien race called the Kree (who have blue skin) experimented on some humans.  The Inhumans is one of the films Marvel announced for down the road.  And, in at least one interview, it was confirmed the blue aliens on SHIELD are Kree.  So, is Skye’s father, and Skye by extension, an Inhuman?  Or maybe her mother? Or both?  It seems possible, even likely, to me.

What I liked: Trip is out in the field again!  Coulson pulls off a great plan.  Fitz is still improving, and at a slow but believable rate.  They played off both Captain America and Agent Carter very well without it feeling forced.  Hunter and Bobbi have an amusing scene together.

What I didn’t: May isn’t in the field, nor is Bobbi.  Trip didn’t do that well.  I’m getting a bit tired of “Who’s Ward trying to kill this week?”

I’ll give this one a 3.5 out of 5.  I think the show is consistently getting better, and I’m overall happy with the direction it’s going.

Agents of SHIELD: A Fractured House

bobbiCaution minor spoilers ahead.

This week, the Agents of SHIELD deal with “A Fractured House.”  Hydra ups the stakes, framing SHIELD for a brutal attack, and focusing the media and law enforcement on them.  All Coulson’s careful work trying to reach a good working relationship with Talbot, the most visible person tasked with hunting down SHIELD in the wake of the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier is now in danger at best.

Coulson spends a lot of this episode doing damage control, trying to reach out to people who can influence public perception.  He ends up meeting with a Senator who proves to have a surprising connection to SHIELD and Hydra both.  While Coulson is playing politics, Skye has more Lecter/Clarisse sessions in the basement with Ward, who she and Simmons were watching work out earlier.  Ward gets a lot more screen time this episode.  Personally, I was done with him when he proved to be a traitor last season.  I’m not enjoying this back and forth with Skye at all.

Even with things looking so grim for SHIELD, the various personal relationships receive a good bit of focus.  Hunter and Morse try to work together, not easy after what seems like it was an ugly divorce.  Their verbal sparring is amusing, made much better by May’s eye rolls.  When the team goes into action against one Hydra group, I loved that Hunter was the distraction while the two kick-ass women got in place to take out the unit.  There’s a nice role reversal.

While all that is going on, there’s still a lot of tension between former best friends and brain trust Fitz and Simmons.  In a well done contrast, the imaginary Simmons kept helping Fitz with his minor aphasia (the word problems he’s having), where the real one keeps making thing worse.  Fitz is working a lot better with Mac these days than Simmons, and she seems both relieved and a bit stung by that.  I’m hoping that soap opera doesn’t linger all season.

The show changed several things.  Talbot, by episode’s end, appears to have a lot more respect for SHIELD.  He has a nice scene with May about SHIELD’s recent losses.  Also, several things change for Ward, at least one of which many of us have been predicting since last season ended.  And they show us that at least one other person besides Coulson and the late Garret is doing the weird alien writing.

What I liked: May is a force of nature when she’s unleashed, and her fight with the leader of the assassins was GREAT.  Morse is another great fighter, and I’m hoping she eventually makes the transition to her costumed comic book self.  Morse also mentions something about Barton this episode, which was both a good tie to the Avengers and maybe a nod to the tie between the characters (they were married in the comics). Hunter, while serving as a distraction, is also shown to be competent.  Simmons is still royally and understandably pissed at Ward.  The conversation between Simmons and Mac.

What I didn’t: What happens with Ward near the end everyone saw coming.  Trip, who is supposed to be a bad ass field op, keeps sitting at a desk.  Skye’s father, after being such a big thing last episode, is largely dropped.  And seriously if SHIELD is this badly outgunned and out-manned, why are we seeing and hearing nothing about Deathlok?

This was a better episode than many have been.  SHIELD is one of those shows that tends to be a bit erratic.  I’ll give this one a 3.5 out of 5.  And I’m very excited about the Avengers trailer and the Agent Carter commercials.

Agents of SHIELD: Wolf In The Hen House

whitehallAgents of SHIELD goes for another clever title with “A Hen in the Wolf House.”  It works fairly well, all things considered.  They do manage to advance and alter several plot lines, which I appreciate.  Too many shows drag things out far too long, and some resolution here is a really nice change of pace.

Much of this episode focuses on Gemma Simmons and her infiltration of Hydra.  Again, I’m doing my best to avoid spoilers, but there are a few surprises along the way.  It was nice to see more of Simmons (the real one), and even better to see a new character I’ve been a fan of for a long time.

There’s a fair amount of tension between Skye and her mentor/hero Coulson, which I can understand.  He gave her a very tough assignment and withheld information she needs to do it.  Add in the whole thing being tied up with the ongoing mystery about Skye’s father, and there’s a lot that could go wrong there.

What appears to be the season’s big bad, Daniel Whitehall, immortal (or at least very long lived) Nazi, keeps lurking around the edges of things.  Whitehall is being played very creepily and well by Reed Diamond, and he makes a good menacing villain.  He’s not overtly violent like many, but I find myself believing that he could probably do anything and not really care about it.

Fitz also made a good bit of progress this episode with his various injuries and trauma.  Iain De Caestecker is doing a great job playing Fitz’s difficulties.  My only quibble is with the timing of his progress with some of the events of the episode being a bit too coincidental.

Raina, the infamous Girl in the Flower Dress, is in somewhat desperate straights, and makes a pest of herself to Coulson.  She has some decent blackmail, but seriously underestimates Coulson.  While Coulson is usually an amiable guy,  it’s nice to see him as a badass.  He gets some great lines while dealing with Raina.

Apparently, the Obelisk from the season opener is something Whitehall is desperately interested in, and will go to great lengths to get it.  This has some connections to other things in play this episode, and they actually tie them together pretty well in my humble opinion.  There were a few surprises along the way which I didn’t see coming, like tying it back to Skye’s origins.

I won’t rave about the new character revealed in the episode.  I will say I was excited when I first heard the rumors, and think they executed the character quite well.  The role they played here was nicely done, well cast, and tied in to some things from earlier this season.

The end of the episode shows an alliance forming between two of SHIELD’s foes.  Not only does SHIELD have some problems coming their way, but both players involved seem to have a grudge against Director Coulson himself.  As if SHIELD didn’t have enough to worry about being labeled as outlaws and terrorists.

SHIELD is continuing to be a much better show this season, and I’m enjoying the change.  I’m very excited about the new character, and potential connections elsewhere in the Marvel on-screen universe.  And I’m very glad of the improvement in the overall quality.

Agents of SHIELD: Face My Enemy

mayAgents of SHIELD is continuing to be very clever with their titles.  “Face My Enemy” works on several levels for this week’s episode, which I thought was one of their better ones.  To me, this one felt more like a fun spy caper, which is at least some of what I was hoping for from the series in the first place.

We’ve seen a lot of this strange alien language that looks a lot like the old computer flow charts to me.  Now, it’s popped up somewhere new, and both SHIELD and Hydra are after it.  This is almost a Mission Impossible type of episode, with undercover work, impersonations, and some amusing situations.  Coulson and May get sent out to find the artefact of interest, and get a lot of unexpected twists and turns along the way.

The rest of the team isn’t left out of the action, although they probably wish they had been.  An impostor infiltrates the Bus, as they call their high-tech plane, and turns it against them.  In addition to throwing in some drama and excitement, these sequences also show Fitz making some significant progress in recovering from his injuries, which I really enjoyed seeing.  The imaginary Simmons is even pushing him to do better.  I suppose that makes sense, as she’s a part of his mind after all.

The impostor issues get really interesting here.  There’s an incredible fight between a real SHIELD agent and their doppleganger with some really nice moves.  The method of imposture is nicely done, too, as it apparently makes use of something we saw in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

I thought this was a pretty solid episode.  There were surprises, teamwork, humor, and some nice high-tech gadgetry.  Coulson and May reveal a lot more of their history while dealing with current issues.  Yes, this is frequently the requisite, “I’ve mentioned some trivia to later trip up the fake,” plot trope, but it was handled well and gave a good feel for their past cases.

Aside from some really nice fight choreography (and actual choreography), there was nothing hugely stand out here, nothing that made me go “Oh, wow, that was cool.”  But, there was nothing that made me want to hurl something at the tv and ask, “Seriously, what are they thinking?” which, yes, is a low bar, but one many shows fail to get to.

I had fun with this episode, it advanced several subplots, and had some entertaining scenes.  The show has had problems in the past, but this was nicely done.  If they can stay at or above this level of quality, I think some of the people with doubts about the series may come around.

Flash: The Fastest Man Alive

logoBack for episode two, this week’s episode of Flash is one of the speedster’s many nicknames, “The Fastest Man Alive.”  It starts off on a very amusing note.  Many shows have voice-over intros done by the lead character.  This one is by Barry, but he acknowledges that the intros tend to repeat themselves by breaking the fourth wall with the aside of, “But you know all that already.”  That was a nice, not quite in-joke, and counterpart for the heavy, drama-laden shows like the companion show Arrow.

Also differing from many shows, and even comics these days, the show starts with Flash helping people trapped in a burning building.  This isn’t a plot by a supervillain, it isn’t some big scheme, it’s just a disaster in a big city that Flash keeps from becoming a tragedy.  They do use it to show some limitations to Barry’s powers, but it was nice to see a hero, well, being heroic.

The team back at the lab is a bit divided about Barry’s exploits.  Cisco is helping Barry by providing information and guidance, but Caitlin is a lot less happy about it.  Dr. Wells is more in the middle, not as angry as Caitlin, but cautioning Barry that his powers are new and they don’t know what’s happening with them yet.

Like Arrow, Flash seems to be laden with flashbacks.  On this show, they are mostly about Barry’s childhood.  So far, these have been drama flakes that I don’t think improve the show or the stories at all.

Iris so far seems to exist solely as plot device and (unrequited) love interest.  She ends up dragging Barry to a ceremony for humanitarian industrialist Simon Stagg.  Stagg and his bodyguard, Java, are both known from the comics.  Simon Stagg is the man who caused the accident that turned Rex Mason into the freakish hero Metamorpho.  There was a lot of speculation when it was announced Stagg had been cast that Rex Mason would be on the way.

The event is interrupted by a group of gunmen who seem to tie in with a robbery Barry and Joe West were investigating earlier in the show.  Barry doesn’t manage to catch them as his powers flake out again.  Back at STAR, they run some tests which involve a device that looks like another item from Flash’s history, the Cosmic Treadmill.  What they eventually work out is Barry’s powers are burning through his body’s reserves, and he needs to eat a lot more than normal to fuel them.

This isn’t new, but isn’t Barry’s issue.  In the comics, when Wally West first became the Flash after Barry’s death, his powers were a lot more limited than his mentor’s had been.  One of those limitations was the need to eat huge amounts.  They used that same weakness on the original show, and seem to have carried it over here.

Detective Joe West tracks Barry down at STAR and they have an argument.  After Barry storms off, West and Dr. Wells have a conversation about Barry.  While all this is going on, Java meets up with the gunmen from earlier in the show.  The gunmen are all one person, who we eventually learn is Danton Black.  Once again, taken from the comics, this is the real name of usual Firestorm villain Multiplex.

Barry faces Black and gets beaten badly.  The fight does let them figure out more or less what’s going on with Black, that he’s creating duplicates of himself.  Both West and Wells try and fail to get Stagg to lay low during this chaos, which leads to a conversation between West and Wells about Barry.

There are several scenes of Iris and Barry arguing.  I think they’ve fallen into the habit of taking a close friend for granted.  Iris assumes Barry has nothing better to do than help her with her projects, and Barry figures she’ll forgive him for blowing her off over and over.  Between that and the unrequited love interest bit, Iris is becoming my least favorite character on the show.

With a lot of pep-talks and advice from the STAR crew and Detective West, Barry manages to defeat Multiplex.  Multiplex does offer a tragic motivation for his attacks on Stagg, and they make him a more sympathetic character.  Unfortunately, he follows in Weather Wizard’s footsteps as villain of the week who dies at the end.  Too many live action adaptations do this, which negates the entire concept of heroes having recurring foes.

There’s a nice upbeat moment near the end when Barry tells his team he couldn’t be doing his hero routine without them.  It’s a nice, cheerful, team building kind of scene.  Unfortunately, they pretty much completely undercut it by the scene that follows between Wells and Stagg.  Suffice to say that Wells is very, very protective of Flash’s future.

I like the way they are showing Barry.  He’s an actual hero, risking himself to save others, and not acting out of revenge.  I don’t like the darkness that Wells seems to represent.  Whatever he’s come back to ensure or prevent, he’s doing some awful things, and I think Barry would be horrified.  I hope whatever Wells is up to gets explained soon.

I’m still really enjoying the show, but I wish they’d keep it a bit lighter.  The scenes with Barry, Joe West, Cisco, and even Caitlin are good.  Whatever agenda Wells is working is leaving an undercurrent of darkness that I’d be happier without.

Gotham: Arkham

arkhamHere there be spoilers, read at your own risk.

One of my concerns about Gotham was that the cast seemed a bit big to really be workable.  They are handling this by rotating various characters out for different episodes.  This week, Selena gets a vacation while Gordon and company deal with what’s shaping up to be a major gang war.  Selena being out makes sense, that’s not really her area.

What we do get in “Arkham” is a lot of set up for what looks like it might be a really ugly situation.  Apparently, Arkham here refers not just to the infamous Asylum, but a whole area of the city that’s up for redevelopment.  Of course, major urban renewal means major money, and both the Falcone and Maroni gangs want their share.

As if the two major gangs squaring off wasn’t enough to make trouble, there are two wild cards in the mix.  Gordon of course is determined to not let the gangs go to war, spurred on even more by a bit of a guilt trip from young Bruce Wayne.  On the other hand, Oswald Cobblepot is back in town, and he’s taking his own steps.

This week’s killer didn’t really thrill me.  I have no idea who, if anyone, he’s supposed to be in Batman lore.  He has an irrational attachment to a spike-like killing device, which he uses whenever possible.  I’d be tempted to make a wisecrack about doesn’t he know there are guns, but he does use one eventually.  Maybe his obsession with his signature weapon foreshadows all the weird foes Batman will fight in the future?  There’s something in Gotham that twists people to favor a trademark style?

I’ve been enjoying the short appearances of Ed Nygma, the future Riddler.  He’s played well, and he’s very much in character, always believing himself to be the smartest man in the room.  While I enjoy all that, the scene he was in this week was badly done.  It didn’t flow as well as the others, and they make a lot of use of the word “paradox” which they don’t use correctly.

Bullock and Gordon end up working the case, which involves City Councilmen being abducted and killed.  They are still far enough apart that I don’t even think “grudging respect” is the right term, but their different methods are very complimentary.  The tension between their points of view is one of the better parts of the show.

Speaking of tension, Gordon and the lovely Barbara Kean are having problems.  Yes, Gordon is keeping things from her, and she from him.  She does finally tell him both that A) she’s bi and B) she used to be with Montoya.  Personally, I’m not sure I’m getting why he can’t tell her, “Hey, I had to fake a man’s death to prevent the AMAZINGLY crooked cops and gangsters from killing him, me, my partner, and maybe you.”  Irrational secret keeping seems to the hallmark of many of today’s shows, and this is one of them.

The end result of the gangs pressuring the mayor and each other is a compromise no one really likes.  Maroni is going to make money, but not as much as he’d hoped.  Falcone lost prestige.  Fish Mooney is off in the shadows scheming and hiring a new employee in a way that makes “The Apprentice” look like, well, the foolishness that it is.  Young Bruce is also unhappy about the compromise, which undid some of his parents’ last big project before their deaths.

One thing that did impress me this episode was Cobblepot.  Robin Taylor is playing the Penguin-to-be very well.  He’s ruthless, vicious, and deadly, as well as easy to underestimate, just like his comic book counterpart.  His plottings are very important to this week’s episode, and he pulls a few surprises I didn’t see coming.  He’s positioning himself to learn a lot about the mob, weakening both sides, and amassing money along the way, while making himself look good.  It’s a nice bit of both writing and acting.

That said, the episode focused mostly around the gangs, and that’s just not what I’m interested in.  I am hoping the show, which has been picked up for a full season, doesn’t devolve into “Gangs of Gotham.”  I thought the show started strong, but this wasn’t a great episode.

I’m still going to be watching, and at this point, hoping for improvement.  The show seems to be on a slight downward slope, and I’m really hoping that doesn’t continue.