Every Day Writer

Postgrad. Writer. Reader. Aspiring.
I am just getting started, but I will not be stopped.

Book Expo America or Book-sanity, Day 3: Brooklyn Bound and Beyond

Friday was much the same as Thursday. If this were an Edgar Wright film, it would be snap cuts of: Marty gets out of bed. Turns on shower. Wakes up. Coffee. Button Down Shirt. Drive. Bus. BEA. Pants in there somewhere.

Met with my friends in line again, and felt much more confident as I walked into the open aired bookatorium of the Javits Center. After making the rounds, I immediately got on line for Bill Bryson and his new book, where I met up with my friend Molly, and made some new ones.

Bill was very kind and I hope he enjoyed the baseball game he was headed off to later.

I ran over to see Rick Atkinson and grabbed two copies of his newest book for myself and my Dad. And from that, I just sort of moseyed around, saying hello to folks I’d met earlier, and enjoying the atmosphere.

Had lunch with Molly and Natalie, so that was good. Real food and good company are always wonderful.

And when they went off to get Pinkberry (whatever secret thing that may be), I popped on line for Ellen Datlow’s signing of one of her new anthologies. And she remembered me, which was a pleasant surprise! Got a lovely bi-ink signature from Ellen in a beautiful copy of Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do. It’s a great looking book, packed to the brim with even better stories.

From there, I popped over to a signing with Samantha Shannon, a young author whose first book, The Bone Season, is getting very positive buzz. Hell, she’s already got a movie deal from Andy Serkis, so I suppose things are going well.

She was very sweet, if a little shy and jet-lagged, but it was nice meeting an author around my age, giving me that confidence boost/slight jealous motivation/kick in the ass, that we can make it so young. Just gotta keep writing.

One of the prizes I lucked on at BEA was this, my next mission:

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I waited in line for about 40 minutes and managed to get a copy of Neil Gaiman’s new kids book. It looks fantastic, and Skottie Young’s artwork is fun as hell.

From there, I went and said hello to Jim Hines at the SFWA booth, and then packed it up, for I had adventures in Brooklyn to get to!

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Navigating the cobblestones and hipsterbricks of Brooklyn, I finally stumbled upon Singularity and Co., a cozy little store-in-the-wall, of used and vintage scifi/fantasy books. Chuck Wendig, he of Terribleminds fame, was having a book signing for his new book, The Blue Blazes.

It was a very nice group of people. I got to meet and chat with many talented and awesome folks, among them: Michael Underwood (in his awesome blue-blazes-esque tie) from Angry Robot and author of Geekomancy, the very lovely Joelle Charbonneau (whose new YA book, The Testing just came out, go read it!), the ever gentleman-ly John Hornor Jacobs, he of Southern Gods and Twelve-Fingered Boy fame, acclaimed crime writer Hilary Davidson, who had managed to sneak out from edits, the very kind and intelligent agent Stacia Decker, who represented many of the people there, and of course, Mr. Terribleminds himself, Chuck Wendig!

He and I have emailed a bit, I let him know about my story in Fireside Magazine and he was incredibly supportive of me. His writing and his blog have been some of the biggest inspirations to me, so it was really great getting a chance to meet him in the flesh.

Not only did he sign some of my books, hell, he gave me a candy bar since it was my birthday. What a stand up guy, even if it did turn out to be a giant bar of Bolivian Black Tar Heroin, (his words, not mine). Thanks again, Chuck!

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(We are two snazzy, bearded fellows.)

And once the wine was gone, and the charcuterie plate devoured, we all went our separate ways, and I headed back home, very tired but very happy.

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It was a really great time that week, meeting so many wonderful authors, agents, editors, and other folks who work in the industry. They were all incredibly kind and supportive and happy to talk about their work and anything else I might bug them about.

So, thanks everyone, from all moments of the expo. You’re all beautiful and talented and have great hair.

Midnight in Review: The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

It’s that time between Monday and Tuesday, and since I am master of my domain, and have a tendency to put things off, I dub thee, new post: Midnight in Review!

This evening/morning’s book is The Yellow Birds, a stark, harrowing but beautifully told story of two soldiers serving in the Iraq Wars.

Kevin Powers, a veteran of the Iraq Wars, enlisted in 2004, brings a delicate style to his first novel, as he explores the bigger picture of warfare, violence, friendship and more, while focusing on the smaller moments as well: the love of a mother to her son, the slow wearing down of hope, the desperate holding on to resolve, to will.

Through the eyes of John Bartle and his friend Murph, the reader comes to know the day in and day out horrors of constant warfare, and the perpetual unease. They get to know the gnawing pressure in your gut, the combat-boots-pounding-blood-singing-in-your-veins-willful-denial-that-you’re-charging-into-gunfire thrill and fear and shock of being a soldier. 

Powers, upon returning from his service, received his MFA from the renowned Michener Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and does it show. I always have a certain wariness when it comes to writers I’m unfamiliar with, but from the very start, Powers’s beautiful, simple prose shines. He is brief without being terse. He is brutal without being grotesque. He weaves his prose into his plot, so that as the action picks up, so does the writing, coming at you like a hail of bullets. When it slows, the words dry up and carry you as far as a dry, desert wind might.

If the prose was beautiful, I’d be happy enough. Yet, Powers has crafted a story that is equally as poignant, as soldiers Bartle and Murph both come face to face with the horrors of war, and respond to it. Powers is delicate in his portrayals of the two young men, and those around them, painting a beautiful and broad spectrum of what war can do to man. From the wide-eyed, big grin of Murph’s early days, to Bartle’s drunken brawling in a post-war world, from Murph’s desperate search for an answer to the endless brutality, to Bartle’s dead-eyed walk into the river, Powers is not shy about exploring the psyche of those who survived the war, and if there is ever truly a way to recover.

While it sometimes falls prey to the trappings of, “literary fiction,” -ponderous monologues, contemplation for pages at a time- it does not detract from the solid success of this novel. 

The Yellow Birds is a great success and a beautiful novel, well worth your time and deserving of the accolades it has been given. Kevin Powers has written a home-run and is sure to be a voice worth listening to in the years to come.

Book Expo America or Book-sanity, Day 2: The Floodgates Open

The first official day of BookExpo America, second day for me, was as crazy as you might expect.

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When I arrived, there was a long line of readers, bloggers, writers, librarians, booksellers and more, waiting to get in. Luckily, I had some friends at the front who let me cozy in with them.

Watching them plan for the day, I was reminded of generals and soldiers, marking maps for war. Panel times, signing times, booth locations, and more were scattered between sheets of paper, as they frantically tried to figure out where to go, who to see, and what needed to be grabbed, (answer: EVERYTHING).

After a weird, and tired demonstration of some Veronica Roth Allegiant fans, the Floodgates opened, and the Readers poured in.

I was hoping to follow my friends, hoping to keep up some weird conga line of connection in the frenzy but those hopes were dashed early on, and like leaves or ash, we scattered on the wind.

To say kid in a candy shop would be a massive understatement. There is no proper metaphor for the reaching, grabbing, automatic taking of something that was once a tree and now had ink on it. If it had a cover and words between, I grabbed it.

Of special note is Under The Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig, his cornpunk novel coming this summer.

Blood Corn. It’s going to be great.

And the morning continued on that way, as I moseyed around, (already having dropped off my first stash of books), and getting the general lay of the land. But as chance would have it, I met many wonderful people, and even some heroes of mine.

I knew she was going to be present on Friday, but I was so very happy to wander by the Horror Writers Association booth, and see Ellen Datlow (renowned editor of many wonderful authors, anthologies, and stories). I made a point to stop by and say hello. She couldn’t have been any nicer. It was a real treat getting to say hi and talk for a bit.

After that, I swung by a signing with Brandon Sanderson, one of my epic fantasy heroes, and was one of the first few on line for his signing. He’s a west coast guy, so it was great getting to meet him. He signed Rithmatist, Way of Kings, and I got Steelheart from him later. The man is a writing machine! But he was incredibly kind and supportive and was happy for me when I told him of my first story sale, (as was Ellen, I should mention!).

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As you can see, I’m a huge dork. Brandon is cool as a cucumber though. This is our writer powers activating.

I met Paul Pope, a crazy cool super smooth comic artist and snagged a copy of his newest original work, Battling Boy, which looks really fun. 

After that, the day was just a big blur, as I ran around and hit up some signings, some galley drops, and generally stayed in the adrenaline pumped mindset of someone who is constantly, narrowly avoiding a dozen car crashes at once.

Once I got home, I laid out the books I had gotten:

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Don’t worry, I managed to sleep that night … under them, holding them close for warmth and ink.

It was an exhausting day but one that was well worth it. 

Day 3 write up, coming soon!

Book Expo America or Book-sanity, Part One

So last week, I went to the BookExpo America, at the holy shrine of crazy-important events in NYC, the Jacob Javits Center!

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For those of you who are unfamiliar, BookExpo America, (or BEA), is a giant book love-in, where those with a passion for the written word in all its forms come together and celebrate bookiness. Publishers take the opportunity to show off new titles and authors for the coming season, Agents and Publicists and Marketing Directors and all sortsa book folk get to see each other again and talk shop, and pale, sickly writerly types get to emerge into the sun, if only to dive inside the Javits Center and hide from the light once more.

I was unsure if I should go to this or to Wizard World Philadelphia this year, and while I love me a good ol’ fashioned comic convention, I definitely made the right choice. I met a ton of new people and made a lot of new friends, all of them with a keen passion for books, like me. 

I’ll do a write up of each day over the course of the week, starting now with a quick write up of my first day, at the BEA Blogger Conference!

I got up on the better side of dawn, and schlepped on down to the bus, that magical monstrosity that delivered me unto the Port Authority. From there it was a quick jaunt on down to the Javits Center, where I made some new friends and chowed down on some free coffee and bagels. It’s like they knew exactly what to feed starving, tired writers.

Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club, gave a great opening talk about the importance of connection, and community within the book world. He was very kind and an excellent speaker. All the props must be given to him for getting up there at 8:30 in the morning and talking to a bunch of bleary-eyed bloggers. 

From there, the first panel was a preview of titles from Little, Brown/Mulholland, Tor Books, and Harlequin. Lotta interesting stuff from everyone present, but damn was I excited to get a galley of this bad boy:

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Lauren Beukes is a fantastic writer, (if you need more proof, go read Zoo City. I won’t wait, but you should go do it). I’m super excited about The Shining Girls, it’s going to be one of the big books of the summer, I can feel it in my bones!

From there, a great panel on how to manage your blog with wonderful speakers like Jim Hines (wonderful fantasy author and blogger), Rebecca Schinsky (of Bookriot), and Sarah (of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books). It was a lot of fun, especially as folks were waking up at this point.

From there it was lunch with my new friends, Natalie, of Books Are The New Black, and Molly, of Lit Nerd Around The World, two lovely, literary ladies with a penchant for perusing powerful prose. They were awesome BEA companions and I look forward to staying in touch with them. Go check out their blogs, they’re pretty great.

And after a few more panels, and an interesting talk from Randi Zuckerberg, we had a quick happy hour and away we went. I went and had dinner with some other bloggers I know, but for the most part, I was exhausted! Talking books, and being constantly, 
"on," all day can wear a guy out.

When I got home, I catalogued some of the books I’d gotten that day:

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And that was only one day. Yikes.

From there, only more magic, more books, more great things to come. Day 2, coming soon! 

Monday in Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Happy Memorial Day, everyone. Big thumbs up to all our soldiers, veterans and fallen out there. Thanks for everything, guys.

Now, for today’s review, we have a prequel done right, with Cheryl Strayed’s autobiography, Wild.

Cheryl Strayed, a wonderful novelist and well known for her warm, yet straightforward advice over at Dear Sugar, has crafted a beautiful book about the experiences that led her to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, what those days were like, and the wringer she was put through, both mentally and physically. Inside these pages is a close, hard look at loss, pain, family, and what it means to be free, truly wild.

A weaving narrative from past to present and back, Strayed creates a tale that is equal parts life before the PCT and life during the PCT. It is no easy thing to dip into the well water of your own experience, let alone those experiences that are painful and cold to the touch. Yet Strayed is able to write about these events and experiences with great care and talent, never once lingering too long, keeping the camera on a moment too tightly. From her highest points to her lowest, Strayed keeps the reader engaged and focused. 

Because in those moments, Strayed’s language is terribly raw and stays honest in every moment. Strayed doesn’t try anything fancy. Her main focus is to transport the reader back to the moment, the awful moment or the awe-inspiring moment, or the moment that stretched into forever. Her prose and her tone and her voice, all raw in their honesty, but completely captivating in their simplicity, are what help make this book so beautiful.

When she loses her mother, you can hear the silence in the room, between the words. When she looks out across the mountains at the sunset, you can practically taste the pine needles, smell the coming rain. When she runs into others on the mountain, all on a journey like her, you smile to know she is safe. And when she runs into danger, on purpose or not, your heart seizes as she grapples with what to do.

And yet, what does it matter, right? By looking at the book, you know she survived. You know she got out alive to write it. Why bother reading a book, if you know the ending? Well, you need to read this book because Cheryl Strayed does beautifully what few can ever manage to do.

The best prequels, prologues, pasts, shine a new light on a person or an event. They can illuminate the struggles, the triumphs, and everything in between. They can show character, can show how a person can build themselves up after everything else has been torn down.

It doesn’t matter that we know the ending, (or at least we think we do). What doesn’t matter is the end, it’s how we get there. The journey, not the destination some might say, (though Strayed would argue with you that The Bridge of the Gods is definitely an important destination). Cheryl Strayed has created a book about the journey, and how that journey helped her find her center, helped her find herself again.

With deft, honest prose, a keen eye for narrative structure, and a lot of guts/heart/soul, Cheryl Strayed has created a book that will inspire many for years to come.    

Tuesday In Review: Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Howdy gang,

This epic fantasy debut had a lot going for it. A lot of interesting magic flying around, very intriguing industrial, turn of the century feel, all written by a very enthusiastic student of Brandon Sanderson, a top notch name in epic fantasy. And while Promise of Blood was an exciting fantasy debut, it was not perfect.

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The Age of Kings is dead … and I have killed it.


It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king…
Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.
It’s up to a few…
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved…
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…
(lifted from amazon.com).

Let me begin with what works.

McClellan has a lot of things working for him in this debut novel: he has some very interesting characters, propped up against a setting not seen so often in epic fantasy, that of an industrial age. In fact, the powder mages of this world are a direct result of that industrial change, their powers being a byproduct of the gunpowder they must ingest. Combine that with a bloody coup at the start of the novel against an indifferent monarchy, you can almost see the two settings of epic fantasy clash, medieval against industrial. This clash between old and new, tradition and invention, plays out rather nicely, with no clear answer given for either side, but with a conflict that is engrossing and engaging to the reader.
McClellan’s characters kept me entertained, and for the most part, I didn’t have a problem with them. Of most interest was Field Marshal Tamas, who is doing his very best not to let his newly freed country crumble around him. Of course, he allies himself with vipers large and small, and it is only through a loose string of friends, allies, and newly awoken gods, that he can help his country stay alive.
In that regard, I did like the balance between large scale and small scale battles. Aside from the very meticulous plot, it was refreshing how easily McClellan moved from something as simple as a street brawl to an epic, god-battling moment upon the mountain, sort of feel. McClellan promises his readers that every facet of life is touched upon in this world, and he has more to show.
Debut authors, very rarely, come to the world with an absolutely pristine, holy book of perfection. Unless you’re Patrick Rothfuss, and that was many, many moons in the making. As such, I give some leeway to debut authors, because hell, it’s their first time on the court. You can’t yell at them for not making threes every minute. (And that is the last sports analogy you’ll see on this blog, because that’s all I know). So I’ll look past the moments of info-dumpiness, the moments of plot convenience, the rushing of prose; these are all things that will hopefully appear less and less as time goes on.
For me, there were only a few hang-ups on Promise of Blood. One, is a distinct lack of female viewpoint characters. And the other is the sloppiness of the magic system.
For the first point, McClellan has stated that he knows he needs to work on this. I don’t think the lack of female viewpoint characters comes from any sort of misogynistic or hateful vendetta. In fact, it’s pointed out many times that there are many female soldiers in this world, and many female leaders. But for the most part, we see them from the outside in, hazily guessing at their thoughts, their role, their inner turmoil. I would love to see McClellan tackle this head on, and really give us a chance to live in the heads of some more of his female characters. I know he can do it, and do it well.
As for the second point, (man, this is going to sound so fantasy snobbish, but it’s what’s on my mind), when you have a book in which there are three to four different and distinct types of magic flying around, you need to be brutal in your control and focus of it. There’s the Else, powder magery, knacks, godhood, the tribal magic (of which I have another blog post on the Noble Savage but not today), and maybe more.
Now I’m a guy who loves his magic. Hell, I’ve got a notebook full of ideas, so I empathize with keeping them all tight and focused. But at a certain point, I think, McClellan needed to sit down, and lay out exactly what does what, and how it affects the world around them. I’m all for vague hints and subtle winking to the reader, but the author needs to absolutely be in control of that. I have no doubt, that like the female viewpoints, McClellan will rise to the occasion with the next novel, and make the magic a little crisper, a little more structured, but for this first book it was just a little too all over the road for me.
I have no doubt that McClellan is a fantasy author to watch in the coming years. His writing is solid, and he has no limit to his creativity. And despite my gripes and nitpicks with Promise of Blood, it is a strong debut novel, and is worth a read. If you’re a fan of Brandon Sanderson or Brent Weeks, than no doubt you’ll enjoy Promise of Blood.  

The Goodening

Finished a new short story today, “Goodnight, Dr. Destructo.”

It’s crap.

But only for now! The first draft is usually crap, so I don’t mind. I’m just happy to have it on paper. I haven’t really written anything super long or crazy in some time, so it was nice to word vomit all over the paper.

So, it is done. Tomorrow, I shall begin to make it Good.

THE GOODENING SHALL COMMENCE TOMORROW!

Also, new reviews to come!

Peace and love, kids

Monday in Review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Evening gang.

Tonight’s review is something I’ve been looking forward to for a while. So rev the engine, and get on your mean machine ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for NOS4A2 by the master of mayhem, the houdini of horror, Joe Hill.

Victoria McQueen has a knack for finding things. Riding her bicycle through an old covered bridge, she always emerges where she needs to be. But Vic doesn’t tell anyone about her unusual ability—no one would believe her.

Charles Talent Manx has a gift of his own. He takes children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith, and they slip away to an astonishing playground he calls Christmasland. But the journey through Charlie’s twisted imagination transforms his precious passengers, leaving them as terrifying and unstoppable as their benefactor.

And then comes the day when Vic goes looking for trouble … and finds Charlie.

That was a lifetime ago. Now, the only kid ever to escape Manx’s unmitigated evil is all grown up and desperate to forget.

But Charlie Manx is on the road again, and he won’t slow down until he’s taken his revenge.

As a life-and-death battle builds—her magic pitted against his—Vic McQueen prepares to destroy Manx once and for all …

(-Back Cover, from Amazon).

Let’s begin at the beginning: Joe Hill, son of Stephen and Tabitha King, grew up in a house of stories. He began writing when he was 12, and hasn’t slowed down since.

Over the past eight years, Hill has been making quite the name for himself. Like a great, gaping maw of an unstoppable, black nightmare fluid, he has been spreading and oozing and gobbling up the publishing world with his cutting prose, imaginative stories and his unforgettable characters. And we, as readers, couldn’t be luckier than to see all these talents come together at the strongest they’ve been, with his newest novel, NOS4A2.

Hill’s talents are on full display in this novel. The prose is sharp and cuts deep. The horror is turned to 11, and all the terrible things lurk just out of the corner of your eye. And for a novel that is just about 700 pages, boy, do these pages ride like the wind. But truly, where Hill makes his mark and what you’ll be coming back for, are his characters.

The men and women of NOS4A2 are brimming with life and hopes and dreams and lusts and loss and fear and sadness and power, so much that you can’t help but feel for them. Even the worst of the worst, mean ol’ Charlie Manx and the sad, sad Gasmask Man, you see their true hearts just once or twice and it’s enough to make you weep. Hill can be so gentle in his portrayals, so quiet in his observation, that when he jams on the brakes and swerves wildly, you’re reminded of just how vicious he can be. 

In all his novels, Hill creates heroes you can root for, because he lets us see them at their worst. He shows us what living at the bottom can be like, and when he builds them back up, he brings us with them. And there is no better example than Vic McQueen. 

Vic McQueen, who grows from a little girl with bicycle and a penchant for finding things, to a badass mother on a Triumph, ready to race to Christmasland and back to save her son. Her journey from start to finish is engrossing, raw and so very real. She gets kicked when she’s down, she gets shoved away when she tries to come close. She battles with demons, of the Manx variety and many others. But through it all, she keeps pushing, keeps climbing, and proves herself time and time again.

And on the horror end of things, Hill does not disappoint. He doesn’t live in the world of needless brutality and buckets of blood to satisfy his horror cravings. His horror is that of echoes and smoke, shadows slipping through moonlight, the tinny whispers of Christmas music breaking through the sweltering heat of Summer, as children with black eyes and sharp teeth and cold breath giggle in the snow, under a sky of static. There is violence, yes, but from what I’ve read, if Hill can choose between the moonlight or murder, he’d choose moonlight. Or murder. Or murder in the moonlight. Either way, he’d do it well and treat it with grace. And just wait until you’ve met Charlie Manx and his Rolls Royce Wraith.

20th Century Ghosts. Heart Shaped Box. Horns. Locke and Key. And now, NOS4A2.

This novel is a true triumph, of story, of horror and of writing. Hill has made something so very warm and so very cold with his latest book. Made even more gorgeous with the illustrations by his friend and frequent collaborator, Gabriel Rodrigeuz, Joe Hill has written a new horror masterpiece in NOS4A2.

So rev the engine and turn on the radio. Look out the window. There, can you see the snowmen? Can you see the moon, with his wicked smile?

There, listen! I haven’t heard this song since December. 

Let’s ride all the way to Christmasland.

PS: There is a moment in this novel, where if you’ve been a major Joe Hill fan, you’ll see this, and freak. When you do, come back and comment so we may freak together because it’s insanely brilliant.

BIG NEWS

My short story, “Vanilla,” has been accepted for publication by Fireside Magazine!

(From ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com).

Fireside Magazine launched last year, and managed to Kickstart 3 wonderful print issues, filled with stories of all genres and authors and mediums. 

Now, for the next year of Fireside, they’re going to be moving to an online format, filled with those same wonderful authors and genres and mediums … and I get to be a part of that now!

Professionally recognized, paying professional rates, and producing wonderful stories Fireside is a perfect example of the changing medium of literature and I am overjoyed to be with them!

This is the first step on the road, gang. This is the first part of a long journey and I’m incredibly giddy. But that doesn’t mean I can quit my day job. One story sale does not a writer make and stay. I still have many stories to write and I look forward to each and every one of them.

Plus, I get to appear alongside Chuck Wendig, my bearded, cussing hero of a writer-man? Granted, I will cower behind him, hiding in the great shadows of his confident literary stride, but still!

Big thanks to Brian White of Fireside for this opportunity!

More news as it comes!

Copyright © 2013 Martin T Cahill. All rights reserved.