My Journey to ConQuesT

I’m no stranger to conventions.  I’ve attended Anime Festival Wichita a couple times.  I watched Anime Nebrascon go from small little convention being held in a community college to massive convention occupying an entire hotel in the span of four years.  I attended Planet Comicon last year to watch Kevin Smith and…  Uh…  The other guy (not Jason Muse), record Fat Man on Batman.  I attended a horror film convention a few years ago, and met the guy who’s distribution company holds the rights to the Puppetmaster series.

In all those conventions, I’ve seen all the usual attractions.  I’ve seen the cosplayers posing for photos.  I’ve seen the guys show off their remote control R2D2s, and in more recent years, remote controlled BB8s.  I have an autograph book that, while not exactly filled from cover to cover, has some names you might recognize if you like American voice actors, and obscure film stars.  I even contributed suggestions for an anime themed improv group’s “suggestions in a hat” game once or twice.

In other words, I’m not a stranger to this sort of thing.

However, I’ve never been to ConQuesT before.  Not until this past weekend, anyway.

I went with a couple friends, not entirely sure what to expect.  Right out the gate, they had to help everybody’s favorite professional blind guy find the RIGHT convention, because apparently, the hotel hosting ConQuesT was ALSO hosting a tattoo convention on the other side of the building.  And if you’re wondering at all, yes, there actually was a surprising amount of overlap between the conventions.

Honestly, as far as atmosphere went…  It was pretty quiet.  I did see some folks in costume, but compared to the madness of your average comic book, anime, horror film, and whatever convention, things were pretty tame.

In large part, this is because ConQuesT is more dedicated to scifi and fantasy literature than anything else.  Book people are definitely as proud, but maybe not quite as loud as some of the other fandoms out there.  Also, with a lot of books not having pictures or film/TV adaptations, cosplayers most likely have to use their imagination.  At absolute most, I saw someone with a very intricate raptor costume, and someone…  I wanted to say the polar bear from The Golden Compass, but that was mostly because one of my friends described them as big, white, and furry, and polar bears are the first thing that come to mind when I hear that description.  It would’ve been hilarious if that polar bear was drinking a Coke.  Just sayin’.

Of course, the main event of any convention is the panels.  Unlike a lot of your usual panels, though, there aren’t a whole lot of Q&A with guests.  Rather, the guests usually have a lecture prepared, or the staff had an event planned out featuring them that might or might not have been a good idea in practice.

And of course, in my attempts to become a better shameless publicity whore, I handed out cards to everybody who’d take them.  And left what I wasn’t able to hand off on some table in the lobby for guests to pick up.  Or for housekeeping to throw away.  The important thing is I got rid of them.

I attended Steven Barnes’ panel on Afrofuturism: a subgenre of scifi and fantasy focused primarily on black individuals and their rolls in society and culture.  I have to say, I wasn’t expecting it to be such a powerful presentation.  Even if there was a mix up over whether his room got the whiteboard or not.  Once we actually got in to the nitty gritty, this was the kind of lecture that, at the end, left me nigh speechless.  I suddenly felt a little bad about having never read any of his books prior to attending.

I got to meet him afterward…  And found I had nothing to say.  I ended up shaking his hand, handing him my business card…  Then, three days later, I realized I just pointed the man who’s a driving force in afrofuturism fiction to MY work.  MY work includes The Gael Saga.  Within Gael’s rogues gallery is CharKendrick Parks: AKA, Spook.  Spook…  Well…  Let’s just say Spook is probably not going to win me any awards in political correctness any time soon.  No, I didn’t exactly hand the character a bucket of KFC and tell him to go play basketball while he and his homies listen to Gucci Gang or anything horrible like that.  However, if you’ve read The Hood and the Heroine, and read the chapters Spook narrates…  Yeah, the rules of political correctness dictate I’m probably going to hell.  And I only made it worse by possibly directing a guy trying to make a positive name for Black America without using hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter in that direction.  Shit.  Oh well, wouldn’t be the first time I accidentally burned a bridge.

Another panel at ConQuesT I absolutely adored was “Author Speed Dating”.  The premise is simple: there’s eight authors, and eight readers.  Each reader pairs off with an author, and the author tries to sell you their book.  This, right here, is an awesome idea on paper, and it did not disappoint in practice.

True, some authors were better at selling me on their fiction than others.  Sean Demory and Van Plexico were definitely my favorites, advertising such works as Polukaville, and The Sentinal trilogies respectively.

There was another author I met who’s book intrigued me, who’s condition intrigued me MORE, and…  Unfortunately, I forgot her name.  I’m SORRY!  I just remembered offering to shake her hand, and she explained she had a nerve condition that resulted in tremendous pain if someone touched her.  Even wearing clothing apparently hurt.  I can’t remember her name, and I can’t remember the name of her condition, and after pulling up a tab that had all the ConQuesT guests, I’m unfortunately not recalling anything.  Although I’M DEFINITELY positive it wasn’t Dora Furlong.  I think Furlong wrote the Monster Keeper series, as well as the Olympus Talent Agency series.  Both of which sound fascinating as well.

I did go to other panels…  But if I’m being honest, those ended up being a bit more meh than I was expecting.  They weren’t bad by any means…  But I wasn’t really feeling them at the end of the day, either, you know?

I only hung out for Saturday’s festivities due to only having enough money for one day, friends wanting to get together on Sunday, and Monday being my day to sleep in, get some writing done, then forgetting I’m a Baha’i for a split second and getting piss drunk stupid while watching The Stanley Cup with family.

SEMI RELATED NOTE: GO VEGAS!  FUCK THE CAPS!

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at ConQuesT.  Maybe next year, I can actually register as a guest.  It’d be fun to try the author speed dating on the author’s side.  Maybe sharpen up my sellsman skills in my quest to become a better publicity whore.

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NEW PROJECT: The Highway Men

Technically, I began this project yesterday, but one chapter later, I decided to announce I was working on it here, and I’ll eventually announce it on my Facebook when I’m done here.

The Highway Men is a project I’ve been sitting on since I was working on Lifers Wear Orange: Book 2 of The Gael Saga.  If I weren’t so dedicated to getting that project finished, I probably would’ve left Gael at one book, and started this as a series.

The Highway Men is more familiar territory for me personally.  A blend of action, adventure, Lovecraftian horror, and a few good old fashion references to/digs at rural Kansas culture that I have beheld, or heard tale of years later.  Because sometimes, it’s just too hard to resist.  Relax: there won’t be any politics this time.  I got a lot of that out of my system with The Majin Among Us, and maybe the last Novella of Highfill, Kansas.

I currently have the series name for sure: The Highway Men.  I don’t have a title for book 1 just yet, although I’m leaning towards several possibilities:

 

A. Dismal Dan the Highway Man

B. The Realms of Attrocity.

C. Grandfather’s Interdimensional Nexus of Unimaginable Horrors.

D. Realm/Domain/Dimension/City of The War Pigs

E. The War Pig Experiment.

F. The Horrors of Nevel, Kansas

G. The Chalk Doorways

 

If you see a slash, it’s because I figured words like REALM and DIMENSION are pretty interchangeable at this stage.

It’s hard to talk about titles without getting into spoilers.  Still, I’ll give you this much info about my latest novel here.

Dan Helwig, AKA: Dismal Dan, is the leader of a troop of demon hunters affiliated with a multinational network known as The Highway Men.  They travel around the highways, the enterstates, and other places most wouldn’t think to find demonic activity, because this is precisely where demonic activity ends up taking place.

Nevel, Kansas is YET ANOTHER fictional town in Rural Kansas I made up that, while not technically a real town, is based heavily on real places I know of, and have lived in.

The “war pigs” are, if nothing else, the primary antagonists of this novel.  They might appear in future novels, based on my blueprint, but right now, nothing is concrete.

If I say anything else, I’ll probably give away the plot.  And right now, things are subject to change.

Right now, I haven’t decided on a title.  Though seeing all my choices laid out before me right here, I’m thinking for sure that A and C are definitely out.  However, I’m always up for a second opinion.

If you see a title here you like, be sure to say something in the comments, and I’ll take your opinion into consideration.  Otherwise, I’ll probably choose one I like the most.  Or even pick one that has nothing to do with any of the titles I’ve listed.

I don’t have a speculative release date for this project just yet, but I’ll gladly let you all know when I actually have a time table in place.  Till then, stay tuned for more news regarding this new and exciting project.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole: My Thoughts

It’s been a long time since I’ve managed to successfully play a game to completion.  By which I mean I finished the storyline, and not the obsessive compulsive “FIND FUCKING EVERYTHING!” way of gameplay Jirard The Completionist has apparently made a thing over on YouTube.

The last time I ever managed to start a game, and see it all the way to the end, Catherine was the hot new thing everybody was obsessed with.  Before realizing it was just a really pretty tower climber with anime graphics, getting bored, and moving on.  I liked Catherine, but trust me, if I reviewed that game here, we’d be here all night.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole (heheheheh) officially holds the distinction of being the first game in six years I’ve played from start to finish.  Even Killer is Dead couldn’t accomplish that, and Suda51 is pretty much my video game god in adulthood.

The funny thing, though, is I never finished The Stick of Truth: the game that came before this one.  I played it, I made some pretty decent progress…  But then I got beamed up onto The Visitors’ ship, and I distinctly remember that being the point where I decided I’d had enough.  I don’t know if it was a heavy reliance on point-and-shoot puzzles, or if the visitors puzzle was so frustrating that I got annoyed and moved on to…  Whatever I ended up moving on to (2014 is kind of a blur anymore).  I distinctly remember the fart controls in that game being way more complicated than they needed to be.  Oi, the things you think you’ll never say out loud.  And this is coming from a guy who once proudly owned a Sega Genesis game by the name of Boogerman.

Fortunately, I found that you don’t need to finish The Stick of Truth to understand what’s going on in The Fractured But Whole.  The parents appear to hate each other a lot more compared to the first game, but the storyline with the titular Stick of Truth is abandoned completely in favor of playing superheroes.

In all honesty, I never really liked the superhero characters in South Park.  Granted, the Coon and Friends trilogy wasn’t nearly as tedious and painful to sit through as the Imagination Land trilogy, but I just didn’t get into it.  The fact Mentberry Crunch ended up being the savior of mankind was great, and ended up saving the entire thing from being a chore, but honestly, I have little desire to sit through it again.

All that being said, somehow, the superhero characters work better as video game characters.  Maybe it’s because we’re seeing all this from their perspective, and from their perspective, the battles and the overall adventure is loads more epic.  Or maybe I just didn’t give the superhero characters their due the first time around.  Maybe I SHOULD watch that trilogy again.

The combat in Fractured But Whole is an improvement.  Rather than rip off Paper Mario, they decided to…  I want to say rip off Mega Man Battle Network, but I’ve heard others compare the combat to XCOM, and to a similar extent, Mario Rabbids Kingdom Battle.  The latter basically being both an XCOM ripoff, and being the ultimate crossover game that literally nobody asked for.  Seriously, when was the last time the rabbids were relevant?

In any case, combat is based around selecting an attack, and positioning yourself on a battle grid.  Sometimes, the only thing you can do is reposition your party, and other times, you can unload some serious whupass on some sixth graders.  There’s definitely some thought that goes into each battle, and I found it to be a major improvement.  If it ever got tedious, it had less to do with the combat itself, and more to do with the people I was fighting.

Another feature that becomes available in combat is the “microagression” mechanic.  Characters in this game have a lot to say, and if they drop a slur like “queer”, “sissy”, and “pussy”, you can declare microagression, gain a free hit, and negate their turn completely.  It’s amusing enough, although I have to question how I didn’t get a microagression opportunity when one character called me a “homo”, and yet it declared microagression when Butters declares “I’m a healer, not a fighter, although I can do both.”

The story…  Is South Park.  Much like the first game, it’s got some pretty generous amounts of fan service that only long-time fans of the show will really appreciate.  Not to mention they added in tidbits from the last couple of seasons that came after Stick of Truth.  IE, the song “Where My Country Gone” playing over the musack machine in some of the stores.

Once again, you play as a created character, but this time, you can decide what gender they are, what race they are, what religion they are, whether they’re cisgender or transgender…  I get the feeling this was Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s answer to the people griping about how you could only create boys in Stick of Truth.  That, or the addition of PC Principal to South Park canon warrented some PC humor, and this seemed like a good way of shoving it in.  I’ll believe either one, honestly.

Apparently, the game becomes more difficult if you decide to make your character black.  I don’t know HOW exactly, on the count I wussed out and played a white kid.  However, if playing as a cisgendered girl proved anything to me, it’s that it really doesn’t have any payoff what you pick.

My only real gripe with Fractured But Whole is that The cut scenes, near as I can tell, are unskippable.  Not great for when you’re stuck on a boss, and find yourself losing multiple times in a row.

You can turn down the difficulty, or turn it UP if you’re psychotic enough, at any point in the game.  I generally kept it on the standard difficulty…  Right up until I got to the second-to-last boss fight in the game where the superhero versions of you and your friends travel back in time, and fight the Stick of Truth versions of yourselves.  I’ll own up to pussing out after about ten tries with five different arrangements of party members.  Sue me.

And yeah, spoilers.  Whatever: everybody and their mom is putting up Let’s Plays of it on YouTube.

All and all, I enjoyed this game from start to finish.  It had its moments of frustrations, but it only ever felt unfair around the second-to-last boss fight.  And even then, they give you the option to puss out and lower the difficulty.  If anything was ever difficult before and after that, it was either my fault for not checking the objective right away, or because Mitch Conner is a cheating sack of crap.

I highly recommend you play this game.

 

The Hood and the Heroine is Now Available!

 

THATH

 

Roisin O’Malley, better known as Gael, has been released from prison, and joins the army of copycat vigilantes she unintentionally inspired.  Meanwhile, the killer known simply as The Blue Hood continues his killing spree across Sapphire City, leaving an ever growing mountain of dead criminals in his wake.  Dan Adelson: the criminal kingpin the media has since dubbed “The Teal Tyrant”, has joined forces with a cult of assassins known simply as The Diamond Club.  And as if all of this weren’t bad enough, CharKendrick Parks: the serial killer better known throughout Sapphire City and YouTube alike as The Subway Spook, has resumed his murder spree throughout the subways of Sapphire City.  With so many high-profile threats to the city, Gael and The Blue Hood find themselves with quite a bit of common ground, and try their best to build an alliance despite their wildly different outlooks on the true definition of justice.

This is the third, and until further notice, the final chapter of The Gael Saga.  The possibility of sequels aren’t outside the realm of possibility, but without giving too much away, this is DEFINITELY the last book that’ll feature Roisin O’Malley in any way shape or form.

I have had ideas for a possible book 4, and from there, who knows?  Unfortunately, a lot of the ideas I have for book 4 are, at best, scribbles.  I haven’t ruled out the possibility of doing a book 4 further down the line, but for now, everything has been wrapped up in a nice little bundle of completion.  I’m done, I’m done, I’m fucking done!

Not going to lie, this book was an ordeal.  Not an UNPLEASANT ordeal, but this one was the hardest one to write.  Book 1 just oozed out of my head and onto the proverbial paper.  Book 2 was pretty similar in that regard.  Book 3…  Was a lot more complicated.

There were minor inconveniences along the way, like my cover artist unfortunately not being able to meet the deadline I set due to real life and other things happening on their side of the state, and my usual horrible tendency to get distracted by anything shiny.  However, the biggest complication of all was probably actually making it to the finish line.

The Gael Saga is literally the first time in forever that I’ve seen something through from start to finish.  I have several book 1s of this series or that series on my harddrive, but Those books were originally for the for-real publishers.  After months of trying to sell these things to literary agents and publishers alike, I shrugged, said “fuck it”, and went to KDP, but rather than publish all those stories to KDP, I just moved on to the next project.

The Jad Blade Legacy is the first series I’ve written for that’s seen a book 2, and even that one is currently up in limbo due to my parting with Outskirts Press.  I started writing book 3 in 2013, and while I made some degree of progress, I never did get finished with it.

The Gael Saga started in 2016, and ended as of…  Well technically two days ago, but but yeah, it’s officially finished.  End of an era, man.  I’m not sure how to feel about it.  There’s that sense of accomplishment, sure, but there’s a lot of other thoughts in my head as well.  Specifically, where the fuck do I go from here?

All questions will be answered when I get around to it.  In the meantime, enjoy the final chapter of The Gael Saga!

You can get your copy here.

 

Armada: My Thoughts

When I read Ready Player One, I was hooked.  I absolutely had to see what else Ernest Cline had written.  Audible.com did list another book by the name of Armada, and I figured “Hey, why not?  Ready Player One was pretty good.”

It’s kind of funny, really.  I went into Ready Player One almost WANTING to hate it.  It had everything that didn’t appeal to me: virtual world setting, 80s pop culture everywhere, a protagonist still in high school…  All it needed was a mopy emo vampire chick, and it would’ve been perfect.  And Art3mis came pretty close.  I wanted to hate this book…  But I ended up loving it.  I couldn’t put it down!  I wanted to know what happened next!  I was even kind of bummed out when it was over with.

Then I picked up Armada, really wanting to like it.  And…  Really, it ended up being more of the same.

It ended up being one of those scenarios where you somehow had a completely different book that told the exact same story.  Or at least one that was dangerously similar to it.  Cline only has two books (that I know of), and they read exactly the same.  Nothing wrong with familiarity, but when you’re having to depend on your own tropes this early (In Cline’s case, an obsessive dependence on old pop culture), it doesn’t inspire confidence on my part.

The ending also felt like an absolute cop out.  Of course the aliens are just acting in self defense, and human beings are dicks who want to destroy everything.  Again, this guy might not be writing for my demographic, but at the same time, been there, done that.

Also, I can’t help but smell me some sequel bate.  If you really want to read the book, be my guest.  Otherwise, just consider the ending of Rick and Morty season 2, minus the part where Rick goes to prison.  Earth becomes part of the galactic federation, and life is made both easier and harder at the exact same time sort of situation.

I don’t know, maybe I made the mistake of setting the bar too high this time.  Maybe I shouldn’t have read these two back to back like that. All I know is Armada was actually kind of a disappointment.  especially towards the end.