Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Five-star review of Chaser

A five-star review of Chaser was posted about an hour ago.

Quote from the review:

This is an extremely fun book, that will keep you on the tip of your chair. You are truly worried about Boiler and what will become of her. Boiler has a great personality, and you will enjoy her. Therefore I give this book, Chaser five stars. Fred has entertained me once again! I feel he will do the same to you, so give his book a look, see! You will be glad you did!

I'm pretty happy with that. :D

On a technical note, some of the images didn't show up when I read the review. Could be my browser misfiring. Wouldn't be the first time it's done something weird.

In case the images aren't showing up for anyone else, here they are.

In the interview section, in the answer to question #3:

And in the answer to #8:

Star Trek Beyond trailer first impressions

So ... just watched this a few minutes ago, and it looks fun.

First off, I need to get something off my chest. I don't want to tell anyone that they can't voice their opinions because I wouldn't want anyone silencing me the same way. But having said that ... I'm sick of the haters spewing their vitriol at these movies. Most of them bitch about the exact same things the others keep bitching about, and to me it looks like they're hating things just because those things aren't exactly what they want them to be.

Specifically, a lot of the complaints I've heard is that these are mindless action movies that aren't true to Star Trek, or they're a betrayal of the spirit of Star Trek, or something along those lines. Well, I grew up watching the original series back in the 1980s (weekday afternoons at 4:00 on KPTV from Portland, Oregon), and the show was more of an adventure than TNG and the other sequel series ended up being. It was more action-packed and more focused on exploration and finding new wonders while often dealing with real-world issues (sometimes more successfully than others). But more than anything else, it was an adventure. It was fun.

I loved TNG and enjoyed the first few seasons of DS9 (despite its similarities to Babylon 5 and my opinion that B5 did a much better job of telling its story). I lost interest in DS9 later on, and only saw a few episodes of Voyager. But the sequel series kind of gradually became their own thing, in that episodes were often characters just standing around and talking. Which is fine, I actually love that kind of stuff (some of my favorite moments in Babylon 5 were the characters just talking to each other). But it was a very different approach than the original series, and there were times when I felt like the newer series were doing too much navel-gazing.

When people complain that the new movies are somehow a "betrayal" of the "spirit" of Star Trek, it seems to me like they're thinking only about TNG and the rest, and completely forgetting that TOS ever existed. The series that started it all was very different. It was an adventure.

And that's what the new movies are. Not only that, but they're a reboot of the original series, not TNG or the others. If the rebooted Trek were extrapolated to its own version of TNG, I'd expect its tone to very different from these three movies. But the rebooted Star Trek is a different take on the first series, which, as I keep saying, was an adventure and had its share of swashbuckling moments.

I loved the 2009 movie. I still think the best film in the series was The Wrath of Khan, but I'd actually rank this one very close to it. It was a breath of fresh air after the TNG movies (which I enjoyed when I saw them, but on repeat viewings I've felt more and more "meh" about them). And I loved the fact that time travel, which has been an overused trope in the franchise, finally had actual consequences. Everything wasn't returned to the status quo at the end. For once, history was changed and it stayed changed. Now we get to see the setting taking shape in a whole new way, which I'm perfectly okay with, even speaking as a lifelong fan of the original series.

I had a few issues with Into Darkness, but I still enjoyed it. My biggest problem was Khan being brought into it. Mostly because as soon as I heard rumors that he'd be the villain in this movie, I thought it was a mistake because it was just the obvious way to go. If the writers were going to revisit anything from the original series, I'd like it to be the planet-killer from "The Doomsday Machine." I'd love to see a modern take on that.

Anyway. I did end up liking the way Khan was used in Into Darkness. Montalban's version was terrifying, but Cumberbatch's take on the character was equally frightening, just in a whole other way. And though the opening sequence set up a conflict that resonated through the rest of the movie, it was mostly played for laughs and was focused on an already overused trope -- a population of primitive aliens who see the Enterprise soaring overhead, have no idea what it is, and immediately begin worshiping it like it's a deity. It was an amusing sequence, sure, but it's been done too many times to be that interesting.

Though I'll give that intro credit for giving me the idea for a technologically primitive alien species that went in the complete opposite direction -- the zorai, which I introduced with a character in my novel Game Over and had her appear again in the short story "Mission to Bellatrix" (which I'm fleshing out into the full-length novel Uncharted Territory, by the way). The zorai were always very rational and never made up explanations for anything they didn't understand. For example, they didn't see lightning strike and come up with an entity like Thor as an attempt to explain what it was. Their homeworld was so hostile to life that the zorai were barely avoiding extinction, and too many of them were killed by natural disasters or predators while they were still children, so they tended to focus their efforts on just getting through the day alive. If the zorai saw the Enterprise rising out of the ocean and flying overhead, the conversation might go something like this:

"Uh, what the hell was that?"
"No idea. Maybe we'll find out someday. As long as it doesn't hurt us, it's enough of a victory."
"Fair enough. Well, let's see if we can gather enough food for the next few days without becoming something else's food."
So, in a twisted way, I guess that opening scene in Into Darkness is a good thing because I might not have thought of the zorai (and a fun character like Grishnag) if it hadn't been in the movie.

Also, the bit at the end of the movie, with Kirk talking about not giving in to the urge to seek revenge, and how we need to be better people than we are, is very much in the spirit of Star Trek. One of the problems I have with the TNG-era series is that humanity is portrayed as a little too perfect. In TOS and the reboot movies, humanity hasn't gotten there yet. We're still in the process of figuring out how to become better as a people, and I think makes for a more interesting story than it would be if we had already achieved that. If Star Trek had an overall message way back then, I think it was that we're not there yet, but we should always keep trying.

Now, on to the new trailer. A few things that went through my mind when I watched it ....

  • This movie is probably set somewhere around the year 2260, so you'd think Kirk would have access to a better stereo. Whatever he's playing that music on, it sounds like it's coming from the five-dollar speakers I bought for the Walkman I had back in 1990.
  • The Enterprise getting its shit wrecked looks like it's becoming a running gag in these movies. Still, it should work to the story's advantage by stripping away assets and resources and leaving the crew to get by with whatever they can get their hands on. And maybe they'll redesign the Enterprise when it's repaired/rebuilt. I always had mixed feelings about the rebooted hull design, particularly that phallic protrusion the navigational deflector is mounted on. My favorite Enterprise is the one from the TOS-era movies. There's just something majestic and beautiful about it.
  • Looks like the uniforms have been redesigned again. I like some of the jackets the actors are wearing, but the day-uniform shirts ... well, on the one hand, they look more plain and resemble the ones from the TV series a lot more, which is kind of cool. But on the other hand, I actually liked the spiffier shirts from the previous two movies. I'd actually like to someday see the rebooted-Trek take on the uniforms introduced in The Wrath of Khan.
  • Hmm, an action-comedy style moment with Bones and Spock. Almost like a scene from a buddy-cop movie from the 1980s. Still, McCoy's comment sounded exactly like something he'd say at a moment like that, and the Spock-McCoy bickering, "Vitriolic Best Buds" routine was well established back when TOS was first on TV in the late 1960s.
  • The transporter effect looks kind of boring. I really liked the more dynamic effect from the previous two movies. It made the transporter process look like it wasn't entirely risk-free yet.
  • Also, it looks like a big chunk of the story takes place on an alien planet and it's going in a different direction rather than rehashing something from the TV show, so I consider that a positive.
  • Kirk on a motorcycle. Don't know enough about the plot to know how he got his hands on it, so I'll wait till I see the movie. Seems anachronistic at first glance, but then, the 2009 movie established that antique vehicles are still a thing, so ... shrug.
  • Next we see an alien woman beating the shit out of several dudes. It passes by too quickly to see much, but I like her already. I'm kind of a sucker for female characters who kick a lot of ass. <3 Also, since TOS was made in the 1960s, there was a lot of sexist stuff in it, despite its progressiveness, and the previous two films reflected a lot of that, aside from Uhura's moments in Into Darkness. (The cast being mostly male, and all.) The way she dealt with that Klingon, and later, shooting Khan repeatedly to distract him, holding her ground without flinching even as he advanced on her, were two of my favorite scenes. So it's good to see another female who appears to be a much better fighter than even Kirk.
  • Seconds later, there's another glimpse of this same character damn near hurricane-kicking a guy's head off. I can watch that kind of stuff all day. <3
  • Then there's a glimpse of another alien, presumably the movie's main villain. And he has a strong resemblance to the Narn species in Babylon 5. The skin color is different, but the overall shape of his head looks a lot like Ambassador G'Kar as he appeared in the B5 TV movie/pilot episode. Interesting ... but on the other hand, it's good to see aliens that actually look like aliens, rather than humans with bumps or ridges on their foreheads.
  • Hmm ... looks like Kirk is getting his ass kicked again.
  • Again, I like that the movie appears to be going in its own direction this time, rather than reworking something from the TV show. And from the dialogue, it seems the Enterprise has been exploring new areas of space and encountered something that doesn't want the crew there.
  • Related to that, the planet the Enterprise is torn apart above. Again, it passes by too quickly to get a really good look at it, but I'm pretty sure I caught several glimpses of ship wreckage strewn over the planet's surface. Whatever that swarm of small objects is, it appears to have shredded a considerable number of ships. Could be an automated defense system or something similar. 
  • "Okay ... let's never do that again!" Haha! Okay, I actually laughed out loud at that. The exact same thing happened to Kirk in the 2009 movie, when he rescued Sulu. And I can't blame Kirk for getting a little tired of it.

So, overall, the trailer is really lighthearted, making the movie appear to be a comedy/action/adventure. I've heard people bitching about that, too, but if that's what this movie is, it wouldn't be the first time Star Trek has done full-on comedy. A few episodes of the original series were almost entirely comedic, so this would fit. But then, the trailer could be misleading, which wouldn't exactly be a first time a trailer has done that. It's possible that, since this is just a teaser, it could be focusing on humorous and action-oriented moments to get the attention of a broad audience. The next trailer might focus more on serious moments or character interaction.

I'll wait for the next trailer, and go see the movie before I decide whether I like it or not, as opposed to all the people who start screaming, "It sucks!" or "RIP Star Trek!" before they even see it. The reboot and Into Darkness could be considered action movies, but there's more to both of them than that. That could be the case with Beyond, as well.

And even if this turns out to be little more than an action-adventure with a lot of humor throughout? Well, I'm okay with that, too. From what little I've seen so far, it looks like fun. All I really ask from a movie is that it entertains me. I often hope that certain movies will also make me think, but it's not the end of the world if they don't. As long as I enjoy it, it's one in the 'win' column.

I'll wait and see.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Closing the door on 2015

Now that the end of the year is coming up, I've been looking back over 2015 and thinking about what an absolutely awful year it's been for me, yet it's finally looking like I'll be able to end it on a positive note, with the store I work at getting a company car I can use for deliveries and thereby keep my job, and the publication of Chaser. Not that there haven't been any other good things that happened in 2015. There have been many. But overall, it's been overwhelmingly a net-negative, and I'll be glad when it's over. I understand that things won't automatically change for the better just because the calendar flips over to January 1 ... it's just kind of a psychological thing -- I'll be relieved to close the door on 2015 and hope the coming year is more good than bad.

Aside from the struggles I've been going through all along, which took a nosedive in the past few months -- having the engine in my car blow up, failing repeatedly to get a loan to cover the $3,900 it would cost to replace it (just my luck, there was only one other engine in the entire country that would go in that car), my hours at work being cut because I couldn't take deliveries anymore and having to let the car be repo'd because I couldn't keep making the payments, and nearly ending up homeless three or four times within a three-month period, only avoiding it by borrowing money from family to pay the rent ... 2015 has also been a year during which many icons of my childhood have left us. Leonard Nimoy, Harve Bennett, James Horner, Roddy Piper, just off the top of my head. It feels like pieces of my childhood have been taken away.

There's one other loss I thought I'd talk about here, because though he was probably less well known than the others, he had more of an influence on my own writing style: animator and total badass Monty Oum, who worked for several years on the Red vs. Blue web series and had just gotten started on his own creative project, RWBY. Early this year, he went into the hospital for a simple medical procedure, had an extreme allergic reaction, went into a coma, and never regained consciousness.

This freaked me out because it happened just days after I was in the hospital for hernia surgery -- a completely routine procedure ... but when I heard the news, it was kind of a jolt because, if something similar had happened to me, that would've been the end. That kind of realization is hard to shake loose.

As I mentioned, Monty Oum's fight choreography was a huge influence on how I write action scenes. Seeing his work started me thinking in ways that had never occurred to me before -- how the characters move, differences in fighting styles, how they can use their environment and nearby objects. I wrote the first draft of Chaser back in 2006, and rewrote it several times over the years, before Monty started working on RvB, so my writing style back then was very different. I've learned a lot from other sources, but his work on RvB had the biggest impact on me (and the comedic elements in the series overall affected my use of humor, as well). I think the action I write is much more dynamic now than it used to be. I think I wouldn't be writing such scenes as well, or having as much fun with them as I do, if I hadn't seen any of his work.

He also had a work ethic that makes me feel like a slacker no matter how much I think I've accomplished. He enjoyed his work so much that he never wanted to pause, even to sleep. From what his coworkers in the following video said, he didn't sleep so much as "power down"... sometimes he'd work on a project for thirty hours before finally falling asleep. And when he finished a current project, he immediately wanted to begin work on the next.

Anyway ... this stuff has been on my mind lately. Have a look at the video when you have time. If you've never heard of this guy, you'll be introduced to a truly awesome individual. And there are several things writers and other creative people can take away from this: Always be observing everything around you and taking it in -- for me, that means watching how people and characters move, and watching how people interact and getting ideas for conversations or little quirks for my characters.

Also, never take anything for granted, because you just never know when it might all go away. Accomplish as much as you can -- I stopped making New Year's resolutions a long time ago because I never managed to stick with them, but I'm going to make one right now -- write more, try to write better, try not to let various everyday-life setbacks get in the way, and finish more of my work in a reasonable time so I can get it published. My last novel, Project Revenant, took four years to finish because I kept letting myself get distracted. It should've taken one year, or less. So one of the things I learned from Monty Oum is that I really need to up my game.

And one other thing. Something Monty Oum said a lot: "Keep moving forward." Just writing a story or a book has the effect of generating ideas for new stories on the fly, which is awesome since I tend to write entire series of books. It can keep the momentum going, but it also results in so many ideas I'm often sure I can't keep up with them. But keep moving forward.

And here's a pretty good example of the choreography I'm talking about. The good stuff starts about 1:17 in, and bits of it directly inspired a car chase/battle sequence in Project Revenant.

Since I've finally gotten a book and a short story officially published, and the use of the company car for deliveries has prevented me from becoming homeless, things are finally looking up. I'm finally looking forward to the future rather than dreading it. Let's see what 2016 brings. I'll keep moving forward.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Five-Star Review on "Game Over"

An interview and a five-star review on one of my older books, Game Over, was posted yesterday. A brief quote from the review:

I give this book five stars, because it is an amazing story, that keeps you wanting more, and keeps your imagination going, thinking about these unique characters and how they look and than what will happen to them. I truly enjoyed it very much! If you’re into sci-fi you truly need to read this book!
As you might guess, I'm pretty happy with this. It's always gratifying to hear about someone being so entertained by something I wrote.

Check out Deneale's Book Buzz for more reviews and interviews with authors. It's a fantastic place to find more books and authors that just might become new favorites. And for authors, it's a great way to grow your audience.

The interview section on Game Over also has info on many of my other works, including the newly-published Chaser. So for authors, Deneale's Book Buzz is also a good way to talk about your other books and stories in addition to the one that's being reviewed. Check it out to expand your library or your readership, or both. :D

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Promo video for Chaser

So here's something I decided to experiment with. Usually I just sit in front of my webcam for these videos, but I'm just not comfortable being on camera. So for this one, I just talked about Chaser while recording video of my GTA character riding around on a bike (and occasionally getting hit by a car), just so there would be something interesting on the screen while I'm bloviating. A still image with just my droning voice would've been boring. So if this works, I'll probably do more videos like this, and get back to some topics I've left on the back burner for way too long.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The wait is over

My first officially-published novel has been released. Chaser went live on Amazon earlier today.

A bit of background on how this book got started and how it developed along the way:

Chaser started as a short story way back in 2006, if I remember correctly. It got turned down by every publisher and magazine editor I sent it to, like everything else I sent out over the years. Only two of the editors told me why (beyond the form-letter "it's not right for our magazine, but good luck with it elsewhere" rejection). One of them had a silly objection to it: the story had advanced genetic engineering and cybernetics technology, but the characters used only slightly futuristic guns that fired bullets, instead of ray guns. That made no sense to me because technology doesn't advance at the same rate across the board. Right now, we've landed people on the moon, sent probes to other planets, moons, and comets, and most of us carry around computers in our pockets that are more powerful than the ones used in the Apollo program ... but at the same time, we haven't cured cancer or the common cold, we don't have flying cars, and we still dig holes with shovels. So I was never able to wrap my brain around that as a reason not to accept the story.

But the other one was even worse because it was pure bullshit. In the original story, there was one very small bit with the main character wanting to celebrate her first success at her new job, and trying to decide who to invite on a date so she could share her good fortune. Just two or three sentences where she thought about calling a guy she'd known in high school, and then a girl she'd known in the same school ... and then she thought about asking both of them out. Then the villain started gunning for her and she had to spend the rest of the story dealing with that, and the dinner date never came up again.

It was just a little thing I tossed into the story because I thought it made the character a bit more interesting. But this editor said the story "deserves to be published" (his exact words) yet he rejected it because of that one tiny bit of business. He told me that he would publish it if I rewrite it and remove "all the lesbianism" ... as if the story was nothing but this character going to town on her girlfriend or something, rather than one brief mention of it that had no affect on anything else in the story. I went back and forth with this guy a couple of times through email, but he wouldn't budge. Okay ... he had no objection to the violent content and the hero brutally killing the villain, but he had a problem with the hero being anything other than straight? Uh-huh. Guess what, buddy? Kiss the darkest part of my pasty white ass.

So I told him no, I wouldn't compromise the character to suit his bigotry. I told him that I'd get the story published without him or that rag he edited. And even though it took a few more years, that's exactly what I did.

I decided to flesh it out into a full book, and I added a subplot with the main character dating both of her high-school crushes, and had the relationship work out, because screw that guy.

So the book went through a few more drafts. Something about it still wasn't really clicking into place until I decided to change it to first-person perspective just to see if that had any effect on it. And that's when the book really came to life.

I started submitting it to publishers again, and finally one accepted it. I got the email soon after I moved to Tucson. Couple more drafts, some polishing, etc. -- and now it's done. And damn, it's good to see my first officially-published book there.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Catching up

Time for a long-overdue update. I haven't been active at all here for the last few weeks, and I'll try to briefly explain why without turning it into a "poor me" rant.

Basically, a few weeks ago, I was almost evicted from my apartment because I didn't have enough money to pay the rent, so as you might imagine, I've had too much on my mind to focus on writing any of my current works-in-progress or promoting Project Revenant. Over the past few months, my car's engine blew up and I couldn't get a loan to replace it, my hours at work were cut because it's a delivery job and I had to use my own car, then I couldn't make the next car payment and had to let them repo it. The manager let me work in the store, doing most of the dough prep for the next day, so at least I kept my job. Still, the paychecks weren't big enough and I fell behind on the utilities and the rent. At the beginning of November, I used my entire paycheck, plus what little I had left from the previous one, for the rent, and was still over $100 short. I hoped to cover the rest with the next paycheck, but got a 5-day notice to pay the rest or be tossed out.

The good news is, the day I got the notice turned out to be the day my workplace got a company car to use for deliveries. I'm still not sure how it'll turn out because, from what I was told, the car was going to be rotated through each store in the area, staying at each one for a few days. But it's been at my store pretty consistently since we got it, and I've been able to go back to taking deliveries and getting tips and going home with cash in my pocket at the end of each shift. Between that and a little money I was loaned from friends and family, I was able to pay the rest of the rent by the skin of my teeth, and also get caught up on the utilities. So if the company car remains available, I'll be able to hang on.

The company car they've got me driving, by the way ... well, there's something quite amusing about it. There's a car in Grand Theft Auto V that looks almost exactly like it, except the little rear windows are a slightly different shape.

The real car is a Scion iQ ... but I always think of it as "the Panto."

For extra laughs, here's a video someone made when the car was first added to the game. The one I'm driving for work doesn't have that paint job, but I kinda wish it did.

Anyway. I've finally been able to get back to writing now that the worries are kinda sorta over (until the next thing that goes horribly wrong ... and there will be another one sooner or later, because there always is). I had just started NaNoWriMo, and was ahead of the goal by 2,000 words, but fell so far behind due to the near-eviction that there's no chance of catching up now. Which is a shame because it did motivate me to keep working on Uncharted Territory, but now I'll just keep chugging along as best I can, and I'm hoping to have another chapter finished soon.

After getting past this latest bit of unpleasantness, I needed to get back to work on something fun and low-stress, something that didn't have any high-pressure stakes like getting accepted by a publisher. So I finished the latest chapter of one of my just-for-fun projects, Freelancers. Over 125,000 words now, and it's barely gotten started ....

Next I'll be getting back to work on writing Uncharted Territory and promoting Project Revenant. Once I get past the beginning of next month without falling short on the rent again, I'll be able to breathe a lot easier and get a lot more writing done.

Oh, one last announcement regarding my upcoming novel, Chaser. The cover art has been finalized, they sent me the galley (which had some technical glitches that have now been fixed), and as far as I know, it's passed the final hurdle. The publisher is hoping to get it out before the holidays. So I'll finish this with a look at the cover art.

Monday, November 2, 2015

NaNoWriMo Update

Just a quick one tonight. I managed to hit the word-count goal for NaNoWriMo earlier this evening. Probably won't be able to keep it up, but I'm off to a decent start.

To take a break, I made a quick video of my GTA Online character rocking her Evil Pumpkin mask, bitchin' hearse, and Edgar the Minigun. XD No real point to it, just showing off the mask. These days, I need all the laughs I can get, and I can't even look at that mask without cracking up.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Sweet Ride

Another quick just-for-fun post. Yesterday morning I got my hands on the bitchin' hearse for my GTA Online character. Here's a few pictures, and later on I'll try to record a short video.

One little detail that cracks me up is the way the arm on Frankenstein's Monster jiggles and sways when I drive ....

And in writing news, just a few minutes ago I put even more pressure on myself by signing up for NaNoWriMo. I'm using Uncharted Territory even though I'm already four chapters into it. I'm starting the word count in the middle of the current work-in-progress chapter, beginning with the next scene I'm about to start writing. I've been having a bit of writer's block combined with spending time promoting Project Revenant on Inkshares, and haven't made much progress on UT for several weeks. I'm hoping this'll motivate me to get back on track.

Now, I'm off to pour another cup of really cheap, really bad coffee, and then get started on the next scene. I'm hoping I'll be able to hit the required daily word count or even exceed it before I get to the video mentioned above ....

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween in Los Santos

Just for fun, here's my Grand Theft Auto Online character (and her new best friend, Edgar) getting into the Halloween spirit.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Free for a limited time ...

As part of the promotional efforts for Project Revenant's pre-order campaign on Inkshares, the previous three entries in the Neon City series, the novels Load and Fifteen Minutes, as well as the novella Downtime (which is set between the two books) will be free to download beginning October 29. For the next five days, the Kindle versions of all three books will be available for no charge.

Pick up the first three adventures to see how events led up to Project Revenant, then hop over to Inkshares to pre-order the newest story featuring the trio of Jack Hammer, Corona, and Taura, plus the ongoing subplots involving their friends Otto Fellatio, Shakira, Lola Ramirez, and the rest of the Justice Foundation.

Neon City: Home to fifty million cyborgs, genetically-engineered chimeras, robots, AIs, and plain old humans. Built from the ground up by a group of mega-corporations to push technology past the bleeding edge. Started off as the beginning of a bright, new future, but now the future is no longer what it used to be.

Jack Hammer: A surly young man with cybernetic eyes and a lousy job.

Corona Borealis: Jack's girlfriend, a bio-engineered bipedal dragon created for military use, who now makes a living as freelance muscle.

Taura Agenor: Their roommate, a bio-engineered minotaur who would rather hack software than fight.

One little mistake: A moment of poor judgment lands them in deadly trouble, and the way out could get them killed just as easily.

Jack, Corona, and Taura are ordered to lay low for a few days while waiting for the dust to settle after the events of Load. Set between that book and Fifteen Minutes, this novella offers a glimpse into their off-duty lives.

In the sequel to Load and Downtime, Jack, Corona, and Taura begin their first job for a dodgy government agency which not only opens a can of worms that they may not survive, but also lands them in the weirdest situation they've ever faced--an audience watching their every move. At the same time, their future-daughter tracks a fugitive wanted for a crime he didn't commit, and finds herself facing down an assassin who can't be killed.

All three books will be available for free from October 29 through November 2. See how these characters got to where they are now, and then pre-order Project Revenant to find out where they go from here.

"Chaser" promo poster

Just a quick one since it's creeping up on 2 AM and I'm barely keeping my eyes open ....

Last night I got the proofread copy of Chaser and a book info form to fill out. I went through the manuscript one more time and found a bunch of missing periods, missing spaces after periods, and several pages that had blank lines between paragraphs. I fixed the first two (and hope I didn't miss any), but couldn't do anything about the blank lines. For some reason, using the backspace or DEL keys didn't work. So I'm not sure what's going on there.

But I filled out the form and sent both back a couple of hours ago. Then I decided to whip up a promotional poster for the book. This won't be the actual cover, but I thought it'd work pretty well as a "coming soon" type of ad.

And here it is ....

Monday, October 26, 2015

Corona Borealis concept art

Here's something cool I found when looking through some folders filled with old files on my hard drive. Many, many years ago, back when I was working on my first novel, Load, I commissioned an artist friend (Mike Garcia -- damned good artist, but I lost touch with him several years ago and haven't been able to find him online) to do a drawing of one of the main characters, Corona Borealis. Back then, I had a very different idea of what she looked like, but Mike drew more than a half-dozen concept sketches and this one really caught my attention. The drawing was never finished, but this sketch completely changed my mind about what she looked like. I tweaked a few small details, such as retaining the spikes on the end of her tail, from the previous version, but for the most part, this image is the idea I decided to go with.

Corona also appears in the sequel, Fifteen Minutes, and the third volume, Project Revenant -- which is open for pre-order on Inkshares. The first five chapters are posted there and can be read for free.


In other publishing news, this evening I received the final edit for Chaser and a form to fill out and send back. Just waiting on cover art. So the book is finally getting into the home stretch.

One last quick thing. Earlier this evening I uploaded another video in my How Not to Tell a Story series. This one ends rather abruptly because the game crashed (again). If I didn't know better, I'd start to think it's doing this deliberately because I'm criticizing it so harshly. O_o

Thursday, October 22, 2015

An End and a Beginning

Well, the Kindle Scout campaign for Project Revenant was a total failure. It closed on Oct. 19, the book was in review for a couple of days, and then they sent me the email telling me that it wasn't selected. I checked the stats and there was a burst of nominations on the very last day that finally put the book on the Hot & Trending list ... for eleven hours. Better than Game Over, which never made it on that list at all, with nearly twice as many page views ... but still.

So I decided to try something else with Revenant. I posted the first five chapters on Inkshares and launched the pre-order campaign. If it gets 750 pre-orders, it'll be published by Inkshares as an ebook. 1,000 pre-orders will get it published as an actual, physical, paperback as well as an ebook.

Given how these things almost always work out for me, I can't help being pessimistic about my chances. But all I can do is keep trying. At least this one runs for 90 days instead of 30 (well, now there are 89 days left). So I'll be advertising this wherever I can find a place to plug it.

The first five chapters are posted and are free to read. If you like it and want to see it published, it can be pre-ordered right there on the page. If you'd like to see more sample scenes, there are a few in previous blog entries further down this page. The final draft is already finished, so it can go straight into the publication process after the campaign ends, provided it gets enough pre-orders.

Meanwhile, I'm still working on chapter five of Uncharted Territory, despite running into writer's block due to having too many worries on my mind. I'm hoping to have the latest chapter finished and posted within the next couple of days, if nothing goes horribly wrong. I'm posting this one on Inkshares as well, but I'd prefer not to launch its campaign until I at least have the rough draft finished. Ideally, I'd finish that, launch the campaign, and then revise and polish it over the next 90 days, and have the final draft done before the campaign ends.

I'll post more updates as they happen.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

One more action scene from Project Revenant

One day left in Project Revenant's Kindle Scout campaign. Here's one last bit of business from the book before the countdown hits zero.

[We're in the garage,] Hoshi said over the comlinks. [We'll take cover and make our stand here. No chance of bystanders being hit. You come in behind the hostiles and we'll catch them between us. Once we've dealt with them, we'll escort Winslow to a safe place before they send another wave after us.]
"Got it," Jack said, keeping his voice low as they crept down the stairs from the ground floor.
Corona glanced at the camera feeds in her HUD. The men in black jumpsuits had reached the small parking garage under the building and were fanning out to cover more ground.
"What about Lefty and Mickey?" she whispered. "And the bots?"
[The enemy hasn't hit Lefty's workshop; they're all coming to back us up. So is Boiler.]
"Good. We're almost there." She glanced at the video feeds again and counted ten hostiles. "Well, on the bright side, once we get rid of these guys, that's ten fewer we'll have to face when we hit ADS later."
"Great. Take whatever we can get, I guess."
The sound of gunfire made Corona jump slightly. It was muffled but loud enough to be heard from the garage two levels below the ground floor.
"Better hurry," Taura whispered, and all three of them increased their pace.
[The hostiles aren't wearing armor, but they're still functioning after we've pumped multiple bullets into them. They're either cyborgs or the Revenants Winslow told us about. Be sure to use armor-piercing or incendiary rounds.]
"Got it."
The gunfire grew increasingly louder until they reached the garage level. Taura dug her computer out of her pocket, gave one side of it a double-tap, and a hard-light interface appeared in front of her. She pocketed the device and the display remained in front of her as she took a position beside the door. Corona and Jack took the opposite side of the door.
Corona reached out and grasped the handle. She pulled the huge mecha rifle from her back and glanced at the camera feed again to locate the hostiles.
"Ready?" she whispered.
Jack and Taura nodded.
Corona pulled the door open, charged through, and took cover behind Rocky's truck. Jack and Taura crouched behind her, and all of them winced at each deafening, echoing gunshot.
"Scanning them." Taura touched a button in her holofield and watched lines of info appear in a new window.
Corona leaned around the front of the truck for a peek at the action. Ten hostiles stood out in the open, hosing down the team's position behind Machiko's car and a pair of vans. Their bullets tore into the vehicles, shattering headlights and windows and blasting chunks of metal across the ground.
Each of the Revenants had cybernetic eyes that glowed like red LEDs.
Suddenly, five of them stopped. Moving in unison, they turned and stared directly at Corona.
She ducked behind the truck just as they opened fire, pulled her wings in tight and covered her head with her arms.
The driver's-side front tire exploded and her heart almost launched through her chest.
"They detected my scan." Taura gaped at her holofield, shook herself out of it, and tapped another button. "Let's see if I can jam their targeting systems."
Corona waited for the shooting to stop, peeked around the front of the truck, and found the cyber-zombies standing still, glancing around and shifting their aim hesitantly. She grinned and aimed at the nearest one. A target reticle appeared in her HUD, tracking along with the movements of her arms and hands. She moved the crosshairs onto the dude's head and fired a single shot.
The bullet blew half of his head off. Metal and plastic shrapnel sprayed through the air, along with chunks of skull and brain. He staggered, but remained on his feet.
What? Corona ducked back under cover, eyes wide and muzzle hanging open, and flinched as more bullets ripped into the truck. Just … what?
Taura frowned at her display. "The cyberization process must be more thorough than we thought. I'm picking up multiple redundancies as well as a secondary control unit in the abdominal area, behind extra armor plating. Bloody hell, what they did to those poor people –"
An enemy round punched through the truck and drilled into her left side. She let out a brief shriek, then sighed with relief when she realized it hadn't penetrated.
"Taura!" Jack reached out to her, but she waved him off.
"I'm okay, my armor stopped it." She took another slow breath.
Corona growled. "That's it. Let's take 'em out!"
Jack nodded and scooted over to the truck's rear. He lunged out, popped off several shots, and ducked back.
The Revenants blasted away, spraying the wall in front of the truck, but none of their shots hit less than a yard away from him. Whatever Taura had done, it hadn't worn off yet.
Corona took a slow breath, released it, and poked her head up over the truck's hood. As she took aim at the damaged zombie, Machiko appeared from behind one of the vans and drilled another zombie in the back with her plasma rifle. She blazed a steady stream into its back and burned through its spine before it could turn and acquire a target. It took a few stumbling steps and collapsed, but continued moving its legs as if trying to walk.
Jack shuddered. "Oh, that shit ain't right." He blasted half his clip into the Revenant’s head, and finally it stopped moving.
The rest opened fire on Corona again, but none of their shots came close.
Then, suddenly, their aim steadied and a hail of bullets peppered her chest plate. She squeaked and dived behind the truck. A damage report appeared in her HUD and she sighed. "I'm okay."
"They cut off wireless access," Taura muttered. "I can't hack their systems now."
"Guess we'll just have to use brute force, then." Corona rolled out into the open, staying prone to make herself a smaller target, and emptied her rifle into the nearest Revenants. Each shot punched through their bodies and blasted huge pieces out of them. The one in the middle was nearly cut in half by one shot, and toppled over. The torso propped itself up on one arm and continued firing.
Corona's last bullet took another's head off, bursting it like a rotten watermelon. She scooted back behind the truck and holstered the empty rifle.
A quick burst from Hoshi's gun drew the remaining zombies' attention back to her, but did little actual damage.
Jack shoved a fresh clip into his gun and stood long enough to fire several rounds into the nearest zombie's back. It faced him and aimed its rifle. Jack dropped back under cover, glanced at Corona and Taura, and shook his head.
"We're gonna need bigger guns."
Last chance to nominate the book. It costs nothing, and gets you a shot at a free copy if it's picked up for publication.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Action-packed excerpt from Project Revenant

... Plus a couple of videos.

First, the feature presentation, a bit of explosive action from Project Revenant. In this one, the three protagonists have engaged a combined force of a mercenary corporation and the titular cyber-zombies, while trying to protect a person of interest.

"They're right behind us," Taura said, facing the rear and staring out the window at the four approaching SUVs. She gripped her gun tighter to steady her shaking hands. "Coming up fast."
A man in armor and a helmet leaned out of the lead car's passenger-side window and aimed an assault rifle at the back of Jack's hearse.
Taura sucked in a quick breath, flopped onto her back, and threw her arms across her face a split-second before a hail of bullets drilled into the back of the car. The window exploded and showered her with tiny pieces of glass.
Jack cursed and glanced into the rearview mirror. "Taura!"
"I'm okay." She brushed the glass off, sat up, and pointed her gun at the SUV. The guy with the rifle ducked back inside. Taura growled softly and held her fire. They were surrounded by midafternoon traffic and pedestrians who could be hit by a stray shot, and the SUV very likely had armor plating and bullet-resistant windows. Even with her armor's targeting-assistance software, she didn't want to risk innocent bystanders being hit by a ricochet.
"Gotta get to an uninhabited area," Corona muttered.
"Trying," Jack grumbled.
A dozen more bullets slammed into the back of his car. He swerved into the oncoming lane and barely missed a freight van before swerving back.
Winslow moaned and gripped the back of Corona's seat.
"Who the hell are those guys?" Jack snarled.
"Private military contractors, I'd guess.” Corona glared through the blown-out window at the pursuing vehicles and bared her fangs. “You'd think they'd give a damn about hitting innocent civilians, though."
"Could be more of the Revenants," Taura said.
"Oh, fantastic." A bullet tore the rearview mirror off and Jack flinched. More bullets ripped into a nearby minivan and it veered into his path. He hit the brakes as it crossed in front of him. He shifted down and punched it. In the corner of his eye, the van got T-boned by a truck in the oncoming lane.
Winslow squeezed his eyes shut and whimpered.
"Bastards," Taura growled. Her huge muscles tensed up and she raised her gun, but hesitated again.
"Machiko," Jack said into his helmet mic, "we're gonna need ambulances and –"
"We're on it. Mickey and Hoshi are monitoring traffic cameras at your location; they saw what just happened. Fire department and ambulances are en route."
"Thanks." He spun the wheel to the left, sending the hearse through the next intersection and almost crushing the front end of a station wagon under its huge tires. "I think we're coming to a clear area."
"I'm giving them something else to shoot at." Corona threw the passenger-side door open and climbed onto the roof.
Jack gaped at her. "What the hell? Corrie!"
"Just get 'em into a place where it's safe to return fire!" She spread her wings, caught the wind, and launched.
Taura caught a glimpse of Corona gliding overhead before returning her attention to their pursuers.
"Oh, shit," Jack muttered. He whipped the car around another turn, slowing just enough to prevent it from rolling, and punched it again. "We're almost there."
Taura nodded, braced her hooves on either side of the door, and aimed out the shattered window. The driver of the lead SUV swerved, clearly expecting her to open fire.
Jack turned another corner and a few seconds later Taura noticed the houses growing more run-down and spaced farther apart. She scanned for heat signatures and found only a few small animals here and there.
Good enough. She lined up a shot on the windshield, directly in front of the driver, and squeezed the trigger. The twelve-millimeter round cracked the glass, but didn't penetrate.
The crosshairs in her HUD moved as she shifted her aim and fired again. This time, the bullet punched through the window and into the driver's face. The body slumped over and the SUV veered off to the right and plowed into a rusted-out station wagon parked on the curb.
Her stomach churned at the thought of having taken a life, but she did her best to push her feelings aside and target the next car. They're trying to kill us. We do what we have to do.
The remaining three SUVs surged ahead, as if their drivers were enraged at what had just happened. A man in a black jumpsuit leaned out the passenger-side window and aimed his rifle.
A metal ring flashed down from above and took the guy's head off. Corona's chakram, Taura realized a split-second later. She continued firing at the vehicle, finally managing to put a bullet through the driver's-side front tire.
The SUV lurched to the right and skidded. Taura unloaded the rest of her clip and blew out the other front tire. The vehicle slammed over the curb and rolled. Taura let out a long, relieved sigh.
Then she gasped and leaned forward.
The driver and another man climbed out of the vehicle. Both wore identical black jumpsuits instead of armor. The last time she'd seen someone dressed like that …
"It's the Revenants, alright." She groaned as she watched them walk over to another parked car and open its doors. "Oh, no, they're stealing someone's car!"
"Those things are starting to piss me off." Jack hit another left turn almost fast enough to flip the car over. Winslow moaned again.
"They're in a red sports car," Taura said. "Gaining fast. So are the other two SUVs." She spoke into her helmet mic. "Corona, keep away from the crashed SUV. The body inside it could blow any moment."
"Got it," Corona replied. "I hope no one is within range."
"Me, too," Taura said softly, almost whispering. Her muscles tensed up as the red car surged toward her. "Jack, they're almost –"
"Taura," Jack yelled, "get up here and hold onto something!"
"What are you doing?"
"Hurry! I've got an idea." He waited for her to take the passenger seat, then he hit the brakes and wrenched the steering wheel to the left. The car skidded and shot into an alley.
He jammed his feet down on the brakes and the car slid to a stop three car lengths into the alley.
"What the hell're you doing?" Winslow moaned.
"Hang on."
Taura braced her hands against the dashboard.
The red hotrod screeched around the corner and into the alley – and slid right under the hearse's left rear tire. Jack grinned, shoved the gear shift into reverse, and backed over the hotrod's hood. The two men bailed out just as the windshield shattered under the huge tire. They immediately charged, one on either side of his car.
Jack shifted back into first and popped the clutch before either of them could reach the doors and yank them open.
Taura glanced over her shoulder in time to see both men raise their guns and start blazing away again. She flinched as more bullets sprayed the back of the hearse.
"Those fuckers are fast." Jack grimaced and shifted up. "I was hoping I'd squish 'em before they could get out."
Taura caught a glimpse of Corona gliding over the alley as the two pursuers ran after the hearse. Taura put her crosshairs on the nearer one's head and squeezed the trigger. Her shot punched through his left eye and ripped the back of his head off.
He staggered, but remained on his feet and continued the chase.
Taura shuddered and lined up another shot.
In the distance, a pair of sharp thumps shook the ground – the zombies she and Corona had taken out, exploding and taking all the physical evidence with them.
Another SUV skidded into the alley and smashed the hotrod aside.
Corona dropped down behind the second zombie and tackled him. Taura's heart tried to jump into her throat.
Jack glanced into the rearview mirror, gasped, and stomped on the brakes.
Corona lifted her opponent, spun, and threw him into the SUV's path. He cracked the windshield and the vehicle swerved into the side of the building on the right.
A third SUV appeared at the end of the alley.
The damaged zombie turned to face Corona.
Jack hit the release on his seatbelt and threw himself out of the car. He ran full-speed toward Corona and the zombies, and Taura followed, overtaking him easily and tackling one of the Revenants as it approached Corona.
Corrie whipped her katana out and held it in her right hand while gripping her pistol in her left. She blasted a round into her zombie's head, taking the rest of it off, and her muzzle dropped open when it continued marching straight at her. She pumped four more rounds into its chest and it finally collapsed.
Taura emptied her clip into another zombie and let out a shuddering moan when it didn't fall. She backed up and shoved a fresh clip in.
A third Revenant got within Corona's reach and she swung her blade into its neck. The blade sliced clean through – until it struck the alloy-reinforced spine and stopped dead. She fired a bullet into its left eye socket, braced her foot on its chest, and pulled her sword out.
Jack punched a half-dozen shots through the one advancing on Taura, turned as it fell to its knees, and drilled the one Corrie had just tried to decapitate. "Get back to the car! I'm gonna try something."
"Not without you," both of them said.
"I'll be right behind you." He pulled a grenade from his belt. "Hurry!"
They glanced at each other and backed away slowly, keeping their guns aimed at the remaining zombies.
"Whatever you're gonna do," Corona muttered, and Jack pulled the pin before she could finish.
He chucked the grenade under the SUV that had plowed into the building and turned to face them.
They bolted back to the hearse. Taura glanced over her shoulder just as the grenade ripped the SUV apart and blew what was left of it into the air. The concussion knocked the zombies off their feet and slammed Taura into the back of the car. She shook her head quickly and pulled the back door open.
Jack climbed in and gripped the steering wheel. Corona squeezed into the shotgun seat and turned to stare out the rear window.
"I'm not sure if that high-pitched whine is the zombies' self-destruct or just my ears ringing from the explosion," Taura muttered as she pulled the door shut.
Jack popped the clutch and the hearse screeched through the alley. "We're not waiting for 'em to start going off like popcorn."
Taura glanced through the rear window as one of the zombies climbed over the wreckage of the SUV.
Seconds after Jack spoke, the first disabled Revenant blew, shredding several others and sending them tumbling across the pavement.
A second one blasted a hole in the building on the left.
Several more explosions shook the ground. Taura hadn't counted how many were still active when the first one had gone off, but all were within each other's blast radius. They had to be toast, by now.
Jack slowed to check for pedestrians and traffic before easing out of the alley and accelerating. Taura kept listening for sounds of pursuit, and finally allowed herself to relax. She sighed and slumped against the wall.
"You okay, girls?" Jack said softly.
"I'll be better when this is over," Corona muttered, "But yeah, I'm okay."
Taura took a deep breath and glanced at her shaking hands. "I'll recover." She looked at Jack.
Corona put a hand on his shoulder.
He nodded. "I'm hanging in there, I guess." He patted her hand, met Taura's gaze in the mirror and smiled, and focused on the street ahead. "Let's get to the safe house before anything else goes wrong."

Only three days left in the campaign to toss it a nomination and receive a free copy if it's picked up for publication.

Now for a couple of videos. I ended up not making one for Project Revenant because hardly anyone ever watches my videos. One of them from a few weeks ago finally hit four views, and most of them get one or two. So I realized there was no point. If I can eventually build up an audience, then it'd be worth doing, but for now, there are more effective things to spend my time on.

Such as the writing discussion video I mentioned in a recent post, which I finally managed to upload. I've got another in the same series and one in the How Not to Tell a Story series, but I still need to convert the raw files into a smaller format and do some editing before I upload them. Coming soon, though.

For now, here's the latest one I've been able to upload.

And here's the one mentioned in the previous post, which I did just for fun. After finally hitting level 120 in GTA Online and unlocking the minigun, I just had to play with my new toy for a few minutes. The audio quality is still horrible. I keep setting the volume down, but it still drowns my voice out. Maybe I'll get it right one of these days. Anyway, here's my character taking care of business with her new best friend. She calls him Edgar. XD

[Edited to actually add the video in. Forgot to do it before posting this. *headdesk*]

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Just for fun ...

Finally ranked up enough in GTA Online to unlock the minigun, so I just had to take a few minutes to play with my new toy. And holy shit, is it ever satisfying to use. Think I've found a new favorite video-game weapon.

So here's a few screenshots of my character taking care of business with her new rotary cannon. :D

And now, back to work. Gotta see if I can finish the chapter that I've been trying to finish for a couple of days. After that, some editing on the video these screenshots were taken from, and then uploading it ....

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tense scene from Project Revenant

Going from humor to suspense, a wee bit of action, and a glimpse at the mysterious powers awakening in one of the protagonists' friends, here's another snippet from Project Revenant, now nearing the end of its Kindle Scout campaign. If you haven't done so already, hop on over to its Scout page, check out the sample, and if you like it and want to see the full book, nominate away. If it gets enough votes, it'll be published and readers who nominated it will receive a free copy.

"What about our other guest?" Shadow said.
"He's still in the lounge on the third floor." Hoshi tapped the side of her head. "I'm linked with the security system. I've got him on-camera at all times."
"Good." Shadow crossed her arms over her chest and scowled at the floor. "I hope his information is accurate. Hope he's worth protecting."
"We'll find out once Jack and the girls find those files."
"Yeah." Shadow sighed. "I can't believe I let that weasel put his dick in me."
Rocky rested her hand on Shadow's shoulder and opened her beak, but before she could say anything, Hoshi frowned and cocked her head.
"Hold on. We've got a proximity alert."
Otto raised an eyebrow. "What does –"
"The outside cameras are tracking four incoming SUVs. One is parking in front of our building, the second in the lot beside us, the third in the alley behind us, and the fourth on the street opposite the lot."
"Shit!" Rocky snapped. "The last time this happened, Ralphie got shot in the chest and our whole building got blown to hell." She nudged Shadow's shoulder and pointed at Otto, Shakira, and Hiro. "They're probably here for Winslow. Get these three out of here. We'll evac Winslow."
"I'm not leaving Lola." Hiro planted himself beside her.
"You don't work here. You're a civilian – and a kid."
Ramirez touched his arm. "Hiro, please, do as she says."
"I've been combat-ready since the moment I came out of the tank. I can help."
Rocky sighed. "We don't have time to argue. Lola, you and Enrique try to keep him from getting his head blown off while the rest of us deal with this." She turned to Hoshi. "We'll grab Winslow and head for the armory."
"Shit," Shakira moaned.
Otto glanced at her and saw her eyes darting back and forth. Uh-oh, she's starting to panic. He frowned, wondering why he wasn't on the verge of pissing himself in sheer terror. Maybe it was because this simply didn't seem like it could really be happening.
He grasped her hand and she looked sharply at him.
"Easy." He smiled. "Don't lose your head."
She took a slow breath. "Right. Sure." She pulled her hand away. "Let's go."
He took one step forward before the elevator doors parted – with no one anywhere near them.
"Heat signatures," Hoshi snapped, reaching out to grab Hiro. "They're cloaked. Take cover." She shoved him behind her desk.
The air inside the elevator rippled and Otto backed away, bumping into Shakira. He glanced up and found her staring straight ahead, trembling, a sudden upsurge of fear preventing her from thinking clearly.
"Get down!" Rocky yelled, whipping out her hand cannon and aiming it down the hallway.
Otto lunged, plowing into Shakira and shoving her out of the doorway.
A muzzle flash appeared to erupt from empty air in front of the elevator. More followed, seemingly in slow motion as she tumbled to the floor.
Something slammed into his right side and a weird tingling sensation spread through his chest before he managed to get clear of the doorway.
Behind him, Rocky cried out and staggered backward, but was still able to keep shooting.
Otto hit the floor and scooted over to the wall, flinching at each gunshot.
Several seconds passed before he realized that his back was touching the wall – his actual skin, without a shirt between it and the metal.
What the hell?
Before he could give it any thought, Hoshi backed past him, blasting away, ejecting the spent clip and inserting a fresh one in a single motion, and continued firing.
"Fall back." A bullet struck her forehead, blasting a piece of artificial skin off and revealing the alloy skull beneath. She didn't even blink.
The cell block door opened again. Hoshi twitched her head toward it. "Go."
The air beside Otto rippled, looking like heat waves. Even though he couldn’t see more than an indistinct shape, he sensed someone turning to stare momentarily at him.
He lunged forward, thrust his right hand out, and his palm contacted something metal. Another tingling sensation rushed through his whole body and down his arm, concentrating in his palm – and a black flash burst out of his hand and briefly outlined an armor-clad man. The jolt rocketed the intruder into the far wall, leaving a dent in it. The black glow faded, leaving random parts of the man's armor phasing in and out of sight, its systems damaged by whatever the hell had overwhelmed them.
"What the hell?" Otto stared, slack-jawed, and shook his head slowly. What did I just do? And how? And how did I know how to do it?
A hand grasped his arm and he jerked his head to the right, flinching and raising his other hand. He found Rocky leaning over him, hauling him to his feet and clamping her other hand over her left breast.
Blood seeped between her talons.
"Get under cover," she grunted.
Hoshi fired one last shot and her gun's slide locked in the open position. She dropped it without hesitation and charged into the hallway.
Otto peeked around the corner and found her grappling with another distortion in the air. It lifted her off her feet and slammed her into the wall, but she kept her grip. She braced her feet on the wall and pushed, ramming the cloaked intruder into the opposite wall. She spun and rammed him into the wall again, shifted her grip, turned and bent over, and the humanoid-shaped distortion flipped over her and crashed to the floor. Hoshi crouched over the rippling shape, grasped part of it, and gave it a quick, violent twist.
Bones crunched and the sigh of a final breath faded into silence. Hoshi turned, scowling, looking around, and finally stood.
"No more heat signatures detected." She picked up the rifle he'd dropped and slung it over her shoulder.
"What the hell happened?" Hiro said.
"They slipped in while our attention was on the SUVs. These can't be the only ones." She glanced around at the others. "Everyone alright?"
"I don't think the bullet hit anything vital." Rocky leaned against the wall, keeping her hand pressed over her wound. "Feels like it didn't even get through my … well …" She looked at Otto. 
Otto stared back at her. She doesn't look surprised. It's like she already knew about … well, whatever the hell’s going on with me.
He glanced around and found his shirt, pants, underwear, socks, and shoes piled in the doorway. He glanced down at himself and gasped.
"What the hell is going on? Why the hell am I naked?" He picked up his shirt and gaped at the holes in it, where the bullet had passed through.
"Just a guess," Shadow said, "but when you phased through that bullet, letting it pass harmlessly through your body, you also phased through your clothes." She picked up the other hostile's discarded rifle and aimed a shaky smirk at Otto. "You never did get the hang of that."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Trembling, heart pounding, he turned to Shakira and wondered which of them looked more horrified. "What that hell am I?"
"That can wait. We're not in the clear yet." Hoshi marched toward the elevator. "Let's get moving.”

There are only five days until the campaign closes -- five days to help the book get published and receive your free copy ....