Pre-Production of REAPING THE HARVEST Audiobook is Complete

reaping-the-harvest-cover-new-300hI received some exciting news this morning from the narrator who’s been working on bringing the last of the Harvest Trilogy books to audiobook format: the initial cut of REAPING THE HARVEST is ready for review!

What happens now is that I have to review the entire recording and send any feedback on necessary changes to the narrator (to be honest, based on the initial cut he provided, I’ll be surprised if there are very many). I hope to have that completed by the middle of next week.

So, with any luck, we may be able to get the audiobook published just in time for Christmas! Once it goes out, it will be available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.

Keep your fingers crossed, and I’ll let you know when I have more…


Win An Autographed Copy of IN HER NAME: FIRST CONTACT

For those coming by to enter the FIRST CONTACT contest, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that for a variety of reasons I decided to end this contest early. The good news is that another contest is running in its place with an even better prize, and that ends at midnight on 31 December! So click on over to the new dedicated Giveaways Page and toss your hat in the ring!

Good luck!!


I’m In Internet Purgatory!

Well, this was a frustrating discovery that I just made today: my server was at some point blocked by ATT.net for abuse. It would’ve been nice of them to tell me (and give a reason why). Ugh. Anyway, what that means is that if you’re on att.net or one of their affiliated service networks like sbcglobal.net, bellsouth.net, or pacbell.net (there could be more, but those seemed to be the main ones), you can send email to my email address on this domain (authormichaelhicks.com), but any email I send to you – including the offers of free books and giveaways – will be blocked. I know that this affects roughly four hundred folks on my mailing list.

Needless to say, I’ve emailed the ATT.net folks in hopes of getting out of internet purgatory. In the meantime, if you never received the four free books I promised you, please contact me from the email address you used to subscribe to the list and I’ll use an alternate sending address to get the goodies to you.

As the saying goes, “It’s always something!”


What’s Coming Next: VULCAN’S FURY – THE DARK LANDS

Vulcan's Fury - The Dark LandsNow that MISTRESS OF THE AGES is on the street, I thought I’d fill you in on the next project I’m working on, titled VULCAN’S FURY: THE DARK LANDS.

My apologies to fellow Star Trek fans, but VULCAN’S FURY has nothing to do with Vulcans like our beloved Mr. Spock. Rather, this book is something of an alternate history of ancient Rome with a sci-fi twist. The feel of the story thus far reminds me quite a bit of both EMPIRE and the books of THE FIRST EMPRESS trilogy, although set against the backdrop of Earth, rather than outer space.

The premise of VULCAN’S FURY is that the civilizations of the ancient world were destroyed by an asteroid impact. Pockets of survivors emerged after what was later called The Long Winter, among them a group of Romans who had managed to preserve their culture and a vision to build a New Rome come the day they could again live under the open sky. When the First Spring came at last, they found the world had forever changed: the boundaries between land and sea were all but unrecognizable, and even the positions of the stars in the sky had changed. Many animals recorded in the now ancient records of the first Survivors were gone. Over the centuries that followed, other creatures, some wonderful and others terrible, appeared, sent by the gods to replace some of those that had been taken away.

A few thousand years after Old Rome was destroyed, the dream of the Roman Survivors had become a reality. Vulcan’s Fury, as the impact event was known, had become a distant but poignant memory of how wrathful the gods can be, and it was the duty of every Roman to see that they were never angered again. Over those many years, the Roman Empire had finally brought to heel the entire known world, save the Dark Lands. Hidden behind a barrier of smoldering volcanoes and the deadly Haunted Sea, the Dark Lands were at the heart of ancient legends among the Romans of terrible beasts, and worse, that had once feasted upon the flesh of men in the earliest days of the First Spring.

But ancient legends held no fear for Princess Valeria, daughter of Caesar Tiberius Claudius Augustus. Enthralled by reports of strange happenings along the coast and bored by the life of a young Roman noblewoman, she begs her father to allow her to travel to the coast of the Haunted Sea to indulge her curiosity. Tiberius grants her request, anxious to see her safely away from Rome, where the Senate is plotting against him. Together with her closest companions, including her enormous hexatiger, Hercules, Valeria sets off on her adventure, unaware that she has set in motion a series of events that will change the history of the Empire, and all Humankind, forever…

So, that’s a bit more than you would get in a typical book blurb, but I wanted to give you more of an idea of where the story is coming from. I don’t have a publication date yet, of course, but as of this writing the manuscript is already at 41,000 words, so it’s moving along pretty quickly. I also don’t know if it will be a standalone or not – we’ll just have to wait and see!

Lastly, for those who have been wondering, MISTRESS OF THE AGES was not the last book of the IN HER NAME series. The story of the Kreelan Empire and Confederation of Humanity isn’t over yet. 🙂


Farewell To Leonard Nimoy

Live long and prosper...

Live long and prosper…

Like so many others, I must sadly bid farewell to Leonard Nimoy, who passed away yesterday at the age of 83. His portrayal of Spock in the original Star Trek series left an indelible impression on me during my formative years. As one of my elementary school friends recently recalled, my main interests back in those early days were things military and Star Trek, and she was not far wrong. The timing of his death was something of an irony for me, as I had just started to go back through the original series only a week or so ago after not having watched them for many years.

As a boy, my head was filled with the universe of Star Trek and its characters, along with the historical events of the Apollo program and, later, the Space Shuttle. Sometimes I probably forgot which was which. When you’re a child gifted with an active imagination, it doesn’t really matter, I suppose. But back in those days, were I granted a single wish, it very likely would have been to be a member of the crew of the Enterprise. Had I been able to step through the barrier separating reality from imagination, I would not have hesitated.

Of all the characters, I identified most with Spock. While I wished that I was more like Kirk, the truth is that I was a hopeless nerd (something that hasn’t changed much). If you think about it, Leonard Nimoy’s Spock was a nerd, too. But he showed that nerds could be strong, compassionate, caring, and just. Spock was the perfect TV role model for kids like me, and Leonard Nimoy brought it off flawlessly. Now, I’m not going to say that I’m anything like Spock, or Leonard Nimoy for that matter. But he represented something worthy and noble to which kids like me might aspire.

Nimoy, of course, had talents that went far beyond his portrayal of Spock. I have to confess, however, that I didn’t really follow his career outside the narrow confines of Star Trek, and I suppose that his intensely strong typecasting as Spock might not have done his acting career any favors. Be that as it may, I’ve certainly enjoyed seeing him in other roles (notably as William Bell in the wonderful sci-fi series Fringe), and no one can deny that he was an immensely talented actor and creative mind.

But to me, the boy who sat glued to the tube every night waiting for Star Trek to come on, the boy who would later cast aside a secure government career to write science fiction stories, he has always been, and always shall be, Spock.


The Mars One Mission: Should We Go?

Mars OneThe other day some of my Twitter friends commented on how badly they were feeling about the people competing for acceptance by the Mars One Mission, which is a private venture that hopes to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. The first launch is planned for 2024, and the venture announced that the 200,000-plus applicants had at last been whittled down to the final 100 selectees, who face a very rigorous process to identify the teams who will actually fly the missions. The kicker is that these missions will be one-way, and some (perhaps most) critics believe the crews will have a tragically short life-span once they reach their new home. Some seem to feel like this is a needless and hideously expensive tragedy in the making, while others — the applicants among them, of course — look at it as the opportunity of a lifetime. What say you?

My own take on it is that if I were about 25 years younger and unattached, I would have applied myself. I believe that Homo Sapiens is, at heart, an explorer, and the stars have beckoned us from day one. That’s not to say that there isn’t more to explore here on Mother Earth, but outer space has limitless possibilities if we can work our way through the technological challenges. We have proven we have the ability to get to the Moon, and I personally believe that we’ve had the technology to reach even farther for some years.

Unfortunately, once the Space Race was over, the world’s governments largely lost interest in manned space exploration. But with the emergence of (hopefully) viable commercial ventures like Mars One and others, we may very well be entering a Golden Age of space flight. But the exploration of space has its risks, as it always has. The Mars One crews may perish soon after landing, or they might not make it at all. But if we never pushed outward, never accepted risk, our ancient ancestors never would have left Africa to colonize the rest of the planet, to mention nothing of the many exploratory missions recorded in our more modern history.

But there’s another reason I believe that we need to leave our planetary cradle, one that’s far more imperative: the long-term survival of our species.  You can pick your doomsday scenario, or maybe we simply run out of resources on Earth, but the bottom line is that all of our eggs are in one planetary basket. It doesn’t matter if we screw up the Earth or something else does it: if our biosphere is badly damaged, we’re screwed. We need to start building a new nest, and I think the time is upon us.

Getting back to the Mars One adventurers, I’m very curious about how you view their circumstances. Are they to be pitied and mourned in advance? Are they heroic explorers? Or something else entirely. Let me know what you think!


Out On The Road, Expanding My Comfort Zone

My wife and I have been out on our annual summer RV vacation since early June, which is the main reason I’ve been fairly quiet of late (and no, I haven’t forgotten that I have books to write, believe me!). This year we’ve been touring through New England, and have seen and done a lot of amazing things and visited some magical places. We’ve also been through the usual assortment of hair-raising situations that might make saner folk question just what the heck they were doing out on the road in the first place!

As Bilbo Baggins once told Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.” I think Bilbo must have had a lot of experience with RV travel, and I’m tempted to have that quote painted on the side of our rig.

There was more than one occasion during this summer’s trip (well, and most of the trips we’ve taken before) when I thought to myself, “Just what the HELL am I doing out here?” This thought would usually run through my mind in such joyful situations as driving through a straight (or, even better, turning) construction zone with barrels, cones, and/or Jersey barriers positioned no more than a foot away from either side of the rig, although at the time it seemed like only inches. Or grinding up (or, worse, zooming down) steep, twisting country roads with blind turns. At night. In pouring rain. With hail. And meteors. Or trying to squeeze the rig through narrow streets of quaint little towns that would be a tight fit for my bicycle, because the GPS said that was THE best route to get to our destination. The infernal device, which I call Gertrude, forgot to mention that we needed vaseline to get through. Or our destination was intentionally located by its proprietors in such a difficult to access area that guests would never want to brave the hellish roads to leave and would stay forever (cue up Hotel California by the Eagles). The RV park where we’re staying right now has its own graveyard. I kid you not.

So why do my wife and I go through this self-inflicted hell on wheels, rather than just staying at home in Sarasota, floating in the pool with tropical drinks with little umbrellas in hand?

Because, to us, the rewards have justified the madness. It doesn’t matter so much that we’re in an RV, as opposed to driving a car or flying and staying in a hotel (although we prefer RV travel because it’s our own place with our own stuff, and we can take the cats). What matters is that we’re out experiencing the world, warts and all. We’ve seen so many places and done so many things that so many people never get around to. And every time we go somewhere, we come away with the thought, “Wow! There’s so much more to see and do here!” And while driving The Beast can be a challenge, I can also look back and say, “Hey, I did that – and survived!” It’s a confidence builder, and certainly has given us lots of great fodder for stories to tell over a good meal with friends.

Beyond that, it’s the mental attitude, which takes you far beyond traveling the highways and byways in an RV. The words of John F. Kennedy’s “We chose to go to the moon speech” come to mind:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…

I thought about Kennedy’s words a great deal when my books took off back in 2011 and I was faced with the opportunity to leave my career government job and begin a new career as a full-time author. But that meant leaving all the security and benefits – a stable and pretty much guaranteed income, excellent health care, and good retirement benefits – of my government job behind. By contrast, working as an author has no guarantees. I have no idea what my income may be next month or the month after that, and I have no idea how well any given book will do when it’s published. I have no retirement plan beyond what I choose to make for myself. Our health benefits are far more expensive than as a Federal employee. I do everything for the business, from writing the books to doing the taxes, and sometimes – like driving the RV – it drives me nuts. And everything is uncertain; there is no safety net. In short, it meant that I, and my family with me, made the decision to step out onto Bilbo’s fabled Road in a big way.

It would have been very easy not to. I could have stayed comfortably in my Hobbit hole, just as it would be comfortably easy to stay in our house and not venture out in our RV. But had I done that, I would never – at least until I retired in another dozen or so years (with the understanding that tomorrow is guaranteed to no one, and those days may never have come) – have been able to do the things we’ve done these past few years.

Far too many people let life pass them by because they’re afraid to test the boundaries of their comfort zone, and I’m not just talking about travel. It’s about making the most that you can of life. It’s about doing the things that you want or need to do, but that mean taking some measure of risk. You’re afraid you won’t succeed, or in some cases you’re afraid you will and aren’t sure if you can handle it. I can’t tell you if you’ll make it or not, and you should never let anyone else tell you that, either. But I can tell you this: if you never try, if you never open the door to your Hobbit hole and set foot upon the Road or look up at the moon and decide to do what is hard, you’ll never, ever know.


Thanks To My Readers For A Great Year

With the end of 2013 fast approaching,  I wanted to take a few minutes to thank you, dear reader, for what’s been a really great year, reflect a little on a few things, and make a few pie in the sky prognostications for next year.

To start off, here’s my publishing scorecard for the year:

  • Forged In Flame
  • Reaping The Harvest
  • Special illustrated edition of First Contact
  • Chinese language edition of First Contact
  • Season Of The Harvest audiobook
  • Bitter Harvest audiobook

Now, I can’t really claim to have done all that much work for the audiobooks or the two editions of First Contact that were published, as other folks put in a lot of hours to make those a reality. But they went out the door with my name on them, so I guess I have to claim them!

I also have to confess that I’m a bit disappointed in myself, as I was hoping to have three novels out this year. And before you get worried about the quantity versus quality thing, let me just say that when I actually just sit my butt down and write consistently, as I have been since kicking Reaping The Harvest out the door and starting my latest (still secret) project, I can get a lot done. It all boils down to being disciplined and filtering out the many distractions that crop up while working from home. It’s a tough life, I know.

But that’s my first goal for 2014: getting three books out on the street by writing consistently.

My second goal is to get at least three audiobooks published. While I had a professional narrator do Season Of The Harvest and Reaping The Harvest, I’m afraid you’re probably going to be stuck with me doing the other books. I’m going to make a profit from the audiobooks in the long run, but with the sales at the level they are now, having the other books done professionally is pretty much out of the question. However, I know there’s a market for them, so I’ll keep kicking them out there. The next one I plan to release is The Journal of Avery Moore, mainly because it’s a novella that I can get through fairly fast, and also because I’m curious to see if there’s more of an audiobook fan base amongst horror fans. Regardless, as Mike Wazowski would say in the movie Monsters, Inc., “follow the sultry sound of my voice…”

How about sales? What’s the story with that? Well, dear reader, thanks to you and a ton of other people, I’m very happy to report that total Kindle book downloads will  top 300,000 copies this year, with over 80,000 of them paid sales. My emphasis on Kindle sales is only because Amazon produces stats that are really easy to compile, but since sales from all the other retailers and print copies came to about 20% of my royalties this year (which I believe is a record), I think we can safely add another 15,000 or so paid sales to the pile and a few tens of thousands more free copies.

That’s a whole lotta books! And I want to thank you for your support, because without your patronage I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing: writing to entertain you!

As for what you can look forward to in the coming year, you’ll be seeing more of the In Her Name series, along with some stories that are totally new that I hope you’ll enjoy. Hints? Spoilers? Projected release dates? No way! Well, maybe later…

Finally, if you don’t hear from me between now and then, I hope you have a great New Year!


Flagstaff Arizona: A Fun Little Town

Now, we stayed in Flagstaff, Arizona a few years ago when I took the family to visit my folks in Phoenix, and we took a side trip to take a gander at the Grand Canyon. But we didn’t really spend any quality time with the town itself like we did this trip. Flagstaff is just a cool place to wander around. Hosting Northern Arizona University, as well as the Lowell Observatory, it’s definitely a university town, but one that’s small and with a lot of character. The downtown area is great to just wander around, with some great restaurants, wine bars, and various other places to poke your nose into.

Speaking of restaurants, the highlight for us was dinner  at the Tinderbox Kitchen. From the outside, it looks like a little hole in the wall in what otherwise looks like a slightly run-down part of town, but outward appearances are quite deceiving. The restaurant itself is really nice inside (well, it’s not like the front of it looks like a dump, but you just don’t know quite what you’re walking into before you open the door), and the food was, well, fabulous. Three out of the four of us ordered the scallops, and I can say without hesitation that they’re the best I’ve ever had. My wife, who’s eaten a lot more scallops than me, seconded the motion, as did my dad. I think my mom had the meatloaf, and she loved it. I’ll warn you up front that this is not a cheap establishment: you can expect to pay $20 and up for an entree. However, you’ll definitely get what you pay for in terms of great-tasting food and excellent service.

Our visit to the Tinderbox Kitchen, seeing what a quaint area of town it was in, is what fired us up for a day of Flagstaff-wandering, iPhones in hand, to take happy snaps, some of which I’ve added in the gallery, below. This has become one of our favorite pastimes on trips, partly because it really helps us see the town we’re in, instead of just walking from point A to B and missing everything in between. Flagstaff, like Santa Fe (which we’ll get to later), is just one of those towns that begs you to walk around and scope out the sights.

We also took the time to drive up to Snowbowl, which during the winter is a ski resort. Most people don’t equate Arizona with snow, but it snows in Flagstaff. A lot. In fact, my mom, who grew up in Milwaukee (where it snows tons) told me that the worst snow storm she’d ever experienced had been in Flagstaff years back. During the summer, the ski resort offers rides up to the top on the ski lifts, and there are a number of hiking trails and other outdoor activities. In the winter, of course, they offer skiing. I can’t comment on that, but then again, the whole reason we moved to Florida was to get away from cold weather! But it was a very pleasant and scenic drive through the pine forests, and we took a nice hike along one of the trails when we got to the resort area. So, if you want to get out and stretch your legs in a beautiful forest area, this is a great place to do it.


What Makes A Good Sci-Fi Show?

Falling SkiesI’ve been watching more and more science fiction (perhaps loosely defined, in some cases) television shows lately, something I haven’t really done much of in a while. Some have really drawn me in, while others – even though the production values are probably very similar – haven’t, but in some cases I’m having a hard time coming to grips with just why one sci-fi show appeals to me and another doesn’t

Let’s take two examples that are along similar basic lines and who seem to have significant followings: Falling Skies and Defiance. Falling Skies caught me right away and has held my attention. Defiance, on the other hand, resulted in an interest score of “meh” from the get-go, and after a few episodes my wife and I couldn’t bring ourselves to spend time watching it anymore.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjroVVhe8G0]
 
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlC7scqXthE]
 
The question is, what’s the difference between them? Is it just a matter of taste, or is there something deeper?

Some of my other favorite shows include Fringe (which probably ranks as my current fave overall) and – this came to me as a surprise – Grimm. Granted, Grimm isn’t exactly science fiction, but I include it because the producers took what I initially thought was a pretty silly premise and made into something exceptional. But on the “meh” side we have Warehouse 13 and Primeval (although I’ll confess that we need to watch a few more episodes of Primeval to give it a fair chance).

So, what are your favorite vs. your “meh” sci-fi shows, and why do you think one appeals and the other doesn’t?