Wednesday, October 29, 2014

From the Archives of 411Mania - Scene Anatomy 101: Iron Man

Considering the big news that was just announced by Kevin Feige about the upcoming Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's only right that this week's look back into the Scene Anatomy 101 archives was a scene from the very first step of this universe into something truly special. Read on, my friends. Read on...

Dual personalities are nothing new in the comic book world. Hell, they’re nothing new in the literary world with classic stories like “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” “The Wolf Man” and others. In those tales, a second personality takes over the body of the main character and forces him to cause mayhem and destruction, and then the next morning, the main character has to discover what he had done and the consequences of his actions.

When thinking back at various comic book characters that unleash destruction without realizing it, the first character that obviously comes to mind is The Incredible Hulk. In all of that character’s incarnations, we see Bruce Banner (or David Banner in the television show) slowly waking up in a strange place, with his clothes torn to hell, wondering how he got there and how much damage his alter-ego had done. But there’s another character in the Marvel Universe who discovers to his own horror what damage he had done, and that he must take it upon himself to make it right. Only he found himself waking up under very different circumstances. The man’s name is Tony Stark, and he was brilliantly brought to life by Robert Downey Jr. in the Summer 2008 smash hit…


Monday, October 27, 2014

Next Stop for Eric Swett's Blog Tour: Discussing Apocalypse in the Balance

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Eric Swett, author and blogger, about his latest book Apocalypse in the Balance: Book 2 of Armageddon Angels, which is now available in paperback and eBook. We had quite a bit to discuss, especially since this next part in his saga came out a lot later than anticipated. As we all know, life is what happens while you're busy making plans, and Eric has had more than his share of experience with this. I hope you all enjoy reading this discussion with Eric as much as I did communicating with him.

SIROIS: Before we start, can you tell us about the overall "Armageddon Angels" story? We not only want to let people know about this second part in the series, but about the one that starts it all.

SWETT: In the first book we encounter Justin. He’s an Angel that chose exile from Heaven so that he could live amongst humans. After a couple thousand years he forgot who he was exactly and how to use his Angelic powers. When he and a friend witness a brutal murder by a local crime lord they are forced to go on the run and Justin has to figure out if he can go back to being an Angel and unravel the question of who he really is.
The new book takes place five years later and focuses on a man named Kohaku Hitaratsu. He’s a businessman who loses everything. His business, his wife and his mistress all turn on him and he is forced to seek refuge in his old neighborhood. While the poorest part of town is dangerous enough on its own, when murder victims start rising from the dead and monsters are roaming the street, Kohaku decides to protect his new home and the friends who share it. When he discovers there is more to himself than just a businessman, things start to get a little crazy and he must decide which is more important, the world or the woman he loves.

SIROIS: So how are you feeling these days? In your preface, you mentioned how you took a break from writing to concentrate on your wife and family. Tell us about that time away from writing.

SWETT: I took a break because two years ago because we had another baby and I chose to focus my energies on my family. Having a new baby in the house is challenging for anyone, but I’m not as young as I used to be and getting up in the middle of the night to take care of a crying baby wiped me out. Some time after her first birthday I got a new job near my home, so I suddenly found myself with a little extra time and that rekindled the fire within me. I could still use more sleep, but otherwise I’m feeling fine.

SIROIS: What was the moment when you knew that it was time to get back to work?

SWETT: I think the real striking point was when I found out one of my new coworkers was doing some writing. I had never really stopped writing, but it took a back seat to everything else, so I was writing in little bits of pieces here and there and rarely on my novel. Having someone else I could talk to about it made me itch to get this books finished.

SIROIS: Since you stated that the first draft was 2/3 done before you stopped, what was it like looking back on the work you had already done? Did you feel that you had to start from scratch or were you still satisfied with the direction you were going in earlier?

SWETT: When I decided to tackle the WIP again I did a quick read through of what was already written. I tried to ignore spelling and grammar errors going through because I just wanted to get a refresher on the story as I had written it so far. Since I had stayed with my outline fairly well it was pretty easy to pick up where I had come from. I did make a few changes to the outline after my reading because I had some thoughts pop into my head that got me really excited, so I knew I had to make the changes. Starting from scratch was not really an option since I have the next couple of books in the series roughly outlined as well. Apocalypse in the Balance is a turning point in the story. If I didn’t stick with the outline I had set up I would have needed a complete change to the rest of the series. Planning is kind of a new thing for me in my writing and I was determined to stick with the heart of what I had laid out.

SIROIS: How did the story originally come to you? What was it about this story that made you think this was the one to tell?

SWETT: The first book started out as a writing exercise. I did not plan it out much, but as I approached the end of the story I knew I needed to take the story further and expand on it. Planning for the rest of the story convinced me it was worth writing. I’ve always been a fan of the future and post-apocalyptic worlds. The biblical Apocalypse is a topic that has been explored by hundreds of writers, but I thought my take on it might be a little different.
Tell us about your main characters. What is it about them that you feel readers will gravitate toward and want to read more?
In Apocalypse in the Balance the main character is a not so pleasant fellow who falls from a place of power and corruption and he is forced to look at his life and the mistakes he has made before he is able to move on. I think people will gravitate toward him because of his flaws, the same sort of flaws that we all have, and the fact that he tries to overcome them. It is a very human condition that everyone can relate to. He is not perfect, he’s not particularly heroic, but he is someone pretty easy to understand.

SIROIS: Now that the second part to this series is out, what do you see for the rest of the series? Are you working on the next part now?

SWETT: I have roughly outlined the next two novels, but I have not started on book three yet. I’m itching to get to it, but I wanted to do a novella first and that is what I’m working on. The yet unnamed novella takes place during the five years between the first and second book. The main character from the first book makes an appearance in the second, but he is not the main character. I really like him as a character and I wanted to expand on him a bit, so I thought I would take the reader back a little and give him a little more depth. The plan is to have the novella’s first draft finished by the end of November, edited in December and available to readers in January. Come February of next year I will start writing the third book in the series. It’s going to be a bit different than the first two. The action will be faster and more intense. There will still be some twists and turns coupled with some mystery and surprises. It’s going to be a fun ride.

SIROIS: What else would you like to share about this story? (Links, plugs, shout-outs, etc.)

SWETT: The one last thing I would like to share about this story has nothing to do with the story, but the sale of the book. Anyone who has read my blog for a while knows that my first child, Hailey, died when she was twenty-five days old. She had a rare form of leukemia. My sister, Amber, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and a good friend of mine, Rick, died earlier this year from complications due to Leukemia. When I finished this book, I wanted to do something, so I am donating 10% of all royalties to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of America. I give to plenty of charities, but this one is particularly special to me, and I would love to be able to send them a big fat check at the end of each year.

I wish Eric and his family all the best, and I look forward to hearing of this book's success, as well as the success of the rest of the saga to come.

You can get your copy of Apocalypse in the Balance by clicking HERE.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cover Reveal: Argentum by Debbie Manber Kupfer

Very thrilled to share the news that Argentum, the next chapter in the P.A.W.S. saga by fellow RHP author and friend Debbie Manber Kupfer, is coming to bookshelves very soon and her cover art has just been released today!

Argentum is the thread that binds all magic.
When Merlin fashioned the first shapeshifter charms, he selected silver for his work.
The silver wand, the silver scrying bowl, the silver charms of the shape-shifters.

All contain the essence of argentum.

To pre-order your copy, just click HERE.

To get caught up on this saga, you can purchase P.A.W.S. on paperback or eBook. You can order the paperback HERE or the Kindle eBook HERE.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

From the Archives of 411Mania - Scene Anatomy 101: Rocky Balboa

From now on, Wednesdays will be the day when I peek into the vault and open up some of my older columns for 411Mania. Those who knew me at that time knew that I wrote the weekly column "Scene Anatomy 101" from 2004 - 2009, but I've met and befriended a lot of you since my columnist days came to a close. So without further ado, here's a look at a column from March of 2007...

Yes, we’re in the midst of “remake fever” right now in Hollywood, but there’s something else that’s going on at the same time – “revisiting fever.” Characters that we haven’t heard from for years are suddenly making their way back to the big screen, and they’ve come back in different ways. They’ve come either as the first part to a new trilogy that passes itself off as an unofficial sequel, as a re-make to the first part of a long-running series that re-invigorates a character, or as one last journey with a film icon sixteen years after we last saw him. (If I can make it happen, I’ll be sure to do a column on another revisiting film that’s currently in theaters, one that makes a transition from live-action to CGI animation.)

Even though I’m not fond of all these remakes that are being churned out, I do enjoy the revisiting. Each film that we’ve seen makes sure to pay homage to the preceding films in their own unique ways. They attempt to remind us what we loved about their predecessors while downplaying what brought them down. And most importantly, they give us the chance to see some closure. Too many franchises don’t end; they just stop. (Personally, I’d love to see one more Police Academy film to close out that series, but the latest word is that producer Paul Maslansky wants to do a re-make of the first film and not worry about ending the 7-part franchise.)

In one particular case, actor/writer/director Sylvester Stallone decided the time was right to re-visit the character that launched him into film history, and give him the closure he so richly deserves. The character, of course, is Rocky Balboa, and his final trip into the boxing ring is shown in the aptly named 2006 hit film…

It’s been sixteen years since we last saw Rocky Balboa, and he’s been through quite a bit since his injuries from his fight with Drago forced him to retire, and Paulie’s mistake of signing over power of attorney to their accountant lost all of Rocky’s money. Over five years after they re-located back to the old neighborhood in Philadelphia, Rocky and Adrian opened an Italian restaurant called Adrian’s. Seven years later, Adrian sadly passed away from breast cancer. The relationship between Rocky and his son Robert has had its ups and downs over the years, but lately, they’ve been on a downslide. Robert moved out of the house and got a job in the city, and he and his father rarely see each other anymore.

By the time we re-join Rocky, he’s still unable to let go of Adrian. The restaurant is going very well and he’s having a good time watching over the place and telling fight stories to customers, but if Adrian can’t be with him, he can’t bring himself to be happy. Neither can Paulie, who’s still working at Shamrock Meats and believes that this miserable existence will always be his life. There’s the meat house, the guilt he feels over treating his sister badly, and the annual trips he goes on with Rocky around the neighborhood, as Rocky dives back into the past and vocally remembers the first date he had with Adrian and the time they spent together.

But then, all of a sudden, a simulated fight on ESPN is produced, a computer fight that puts two fighters against each other in their primes. This particular fight puts Rocky Balboa against the current Heavyweight Champion of the World, Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver), and according to the computer, Rocky wins by a knockout.

The computer fight causes a stir in both Philadelphia and Las Vegas. For Rocky, it ignites a fire that he thought was long extinguished and it fuels his desire to get back in the ring for the first time since his classic bout with Ivan Drago. Since there’s nobody with him anymore that used to help make his decisions – namely Mickey and Adrian – Rocky steps up and truly becomes a pro-active character. He not only applies for a license to fight, but when it gets turned down because of his age and previous injuries, he talks the commission into granting him one.

Over at Mason Dixon’s camp in Las Vegas, Mason’s manager pushes his fighter to offer an exhibition bout with Balboa. It wouldn’t be for the title, just a simple 10-round fight with nothing on the line except personal pride for both men. Mason’s been spoon-fed bad opponents and the public has turned against him for not acting like a real champion. For Balboa, it’d be a chance to show the whole world, and most importantly himself, that he can still bring it.

Everyone is excited about this fight, except for Rocky’s son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia). Ever since Rocky’s re-emergence in the world of boxing, Robert’s been mocked by his friends, asking him, “What happened to you?” Why didn’t he follow in his father’s footsteps? He’s been trying his best to make a name for himself, and all of a sudden, his father’s past is practically pushing him back down. He decides to finally have it out with his father, and visits the restaurant to try to talk him out of doing this.

As our scene opens, Robert and Rocky walk outside the restaurant...


Monday, September 29, 2014

Get "From Parts Unknown, Part 1" for FREE All Week!

This Wednesday, October 1, will be the release date for "From Parts Unknown, Part 3," the third installment of my five-part science-fiction serial. And to celebrate - and to hopefully bring in some more interest - Part 1 is available to download for FREE all this week, from Monday, September 29 to Friday, October 3.

You can download the book HERE. And if you don't have a Kindle, you can still download free Kindle apps for your smartphone, tablet, PC, and more. Just click HERE for those.

I hope you'll give this a chance. I'm very proud of how it's turned out, and if some of you choose to follow it through all the way to Part 5's release in December, then the 20 years that this story's been stuck in my head will have been worth it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Cover Reveal for "Sins of the Past" Anthology

Sins of the Past was started on November 9, 2013 by Kelvin V.A. Allison (or as we've come to know him as Scoobert Mills). Sins of the Past is a historical horror collection of short stories and contains seventeen spine-tingling stories that will leave you hungry for more. Each story is different from the next and happens within different periods of time.

From World War I, World War II, the Civil War, Rome, Vietnam War, etc. Each author brilliantly paints an image of whatever time period their story takes place in. All stories being accounts of history that have taken place but have been twisted a bit to reflect the horror genre that was needed in each story.

From werecats to ghosts saving the day. Hangings to being maimed.

Stories featured in Sins of the Past:

  • VishKanya (The Poison Maiden) by Sunila Vig
  • Sic Semper Susurrus by Matt Lovell
  • Maleficium by Kerry E.B. Black
  • Good Puritan by Laura K. Cowan
  • Blood Tribe by Don Miskel
  • It’s All Good News by N.M. Scuri
  • Melusina by Kristin Roahrig
  • Sanctum by J. Kendall
  • A Ghostly Haunting by Chasity Nicole
  • Traitor Coward Betrayer by Joseph Lofthouse
  • The Beast of Alkali Lake by Jen Ponce
  • In the Stillness and the Silence by T.D. Harvey
  • Birthright by Andy Morris
  • Griddlebone by Debbie Manber Kupfer
  • Nature’s Revolution by Michael "Mad Mike" Nagy
  • We Pass From View by Misha Burnett
  • The Innocent by Cleve Sylcox
Now for the moment we've all been waiting for. The cover reveal.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tony Farinella Interviews Me for "From Parts Unknown"

I'm not just saying this because he's a friend and a fellow 411Mania alum; I'm saying this because it's true. If Tony Farinella gets to interview you, you're in for a real treat. The man has asked some of the best questions to his long list of interviewees from movies, television and music, and I'm honored that he sent me a long list of questions to answer to promote my five-part serial, "From Parts Unknown."

I hope you enjoy reading this (and checking out the attached video clips) as much as I enjoyed answering these questions.

TONY: If someone has never heard of your story before, why should they check it and why is it worth their time? Sell me on the concept and the idea.

GEORGE: It's usually a cop-out to talk about a story having "something for everyone," but in this case, I have to say it's true. On the surface, it may just be a run-of-the-mill wrestling-as-real story like what we've seen in No Holds Barred or Ready to Rumble. But there's so much more to it than that.

This is a dystopian science-fiction story that focuses on a fierce battle for control in front of and behind the scenes of the last remaining sport in the country: a hybrid of mixed martial arts and professional wrestling called the GCL: Gladiatorial Combat League. The main character, Stephen Barker, wants to be a success in the GCL for himself and his family, but he is injected by a potent experimental serum that turns him into a living instrument of destruction called Submission. Meanwhile, another battle is going on that's being fought by people called the A.F.F.D. (Americans for Full Disclosure) They're getting the word out about how the GCL is used by the US Government to distract the American people so they are free to conduct their business without anyone knowing about the specific bills being passed.

The whole story, as it is now, is a nod to the science-fiction films that came out before Star Wars, like Soylent Green and Rollerball, mixed with elements of one of my all-time favorites, Network.

TONY: How do you feel you have grown as a writer overall the past few years?

GEORGE: I feel like I've grown quite a bit, mainly in confidence. I'm usually my own worst critic. Just a few years ago, it was difficult for me to even re-read the last draft I wrote of "Excelsior" before preparing it for publication. Now I can look at that novel - after making one last round of changes before it was picked up by Rocking Horse Publishing in 2013 - with a sigh of relief and honestly say that it's a good book. And I can say with all honesty that I'm really happy with how this serial is turning out as well.

TONY: On a personal level, what does this story mean to you and what is its importance to you overall?

GEORGE: I had no idea that "From Parts Unknown" would stick around with me for as long as it has, but like I said at the beginning of the Author's Note for Part 1, "Some stories just won't let you go." I think, since it's been with me since 1994 (when I was walking around Amsterdam Ave on the west side of Manhattan and asking myself what pro wrestling would be like if the over-the-top characters, situations, feuds, and matches were 100% real inside and outside of the arena), I've been very stubborn about getting it right.

At first, the story was going to be the outline for a video game. Then it was a treatment for a film. Then it was 10 drafts of a feature-length screenplay. Then it was several more screenplay drafts. Finally, in March of 2001, I started writing the novel. It was finished in July 2002 and self-published through iUniverse that November. Finally, I took one more pass at the screenplay after my friend Charlie Kessler suggested some ideas about how the promotion in the story ties into the Government.

Thankfully, the novel version of this story didn't sell very well at iUniverse, so they had no problem giving back the rights when I asked them. Once it was completely mine again, I realized that I could not in good conscience release the 2002 version as an eBook and stand behind it. I had to do much more than just inject the new subplot (which took Charlie's ideas about the Government and twisted them into a darker, more malevolent version that I could really sink my teeth into) into the story as written years ago. It had to be re-worked almost completely from scratch, and now there's as much of the original version in this serial as there are pieces of Alex Murphy in RoboCop.

TONY: Talk to me a little bit about your professional wrestling fandom and how it has grown over the years and evolved?

GEORGE: Like a lot of people, I became a wrestling fan when I was in grade school. I remember being in third grade when I was flipping through the channels at my grandparents' house and coming across the World Wrestling Federation on Channel 9 in Secaucus, NJ. I don't remember the name of the jobber, but I do remember him losing to Adorable Adrian Adonis, managed by the "Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart. (Two decades later, I'd meet Jimmy at a Ford dealership where he was doing a promotional appearance. Nicest guy, very giving to the fans.)

I went to my first wrestling event with my friend Doug and his father Sal when I was in fourth grade. It was a simple house show at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie, NY, and I had a blast. The show was three hours long and the time flew.

I was hooked from then on, but my fandom really took a jump when The Undertaker made his debut in 1990. Something about the way his character slowly stalked around the ring, and completely shook off a chair shot from Hulk Hogan, had me looking forward to his matches.

When he stopped Jake Roberts from hitting Miss Elizabeth with a chair and officially became a bad guy, I was interested in seeing where the character was going to go, and the WWF didn't disappoint me.

Sure, he was stuck in neutral when it came to the championship chase, but it was fun to see him overcome one challenge after another. I was even onboard for some of the more ludicrous moments in 1994, like the loss to Yokozuna at Royal Rumble 1994...

... and his big return at SummerSlam 1994.

It was during this time when I started asking myself the big "what if" question about wrestling, and all the over-the-top storylines, so even though the booking in '94 is looked at with a lot of disdain by the IWC, it played a key role in inspiring what I'm still working on today.

TONY: How is the writing style different from Excelsior?

GEORGE: It feels a lot more relaxed. When I'm working on "Excelsior," I have to make sure that the reader understands what I'm writing about when I describe the planet Denab IV and both races that make up its inhabitants, as well as the different animals, insects, religious cultures, etc. So there's a lot of world building and world maintaining, and making sure that the characters from another planet speak in a more formal way than those from Earth.

When I'm writing "From Parts Unknown," I don't have to worry about that kind of difference in tone; every character is from Earth. Plus, I can mention certain areas in New York City such as Times Square and Madison Square Garden and not have to worry that the typical reader won't confuse them with a desert and a gymnasium. That allows me to focus more on telling this story, which is a good thing since it's a more complex story than "Excelsior." Well, at least the first "Excelsior" book.

TONY: Moving to St. Louis, what has the writing scene been like out there compared to New York?

GEORGE: Surprisingly, it's been beyond my wildest dreams. I was convinced when my wife and I moved here in 2011 that I would be able to corner the market on "guys sitting in a Starbucks or other kind of coffee shop with a laptop while wearing a Yankee cap." Turns out the only part of that I was able to claim for myself was the Yankee cap. (Everyone in St. Louis is a devout follower of Cardinalism.)

There are a lot of indie bookstores, even more indie authors, small press publishers (including Rocking Horse Publishing, who released the latest version of "Excelsior" in November 2013), and two major writers guilds, one for St. Louis and one for the whole state of Missouri. Thanks to the big move from NYC to St. Louis, I've done book signings in several stores, been part of a St. Louis Writers Guild outdoor festival, made some great contacts and even better friends, and got one of my books picked up by a publisher here.

When you're in New York City and you have a book to sell, it's equally inspiring and intimidating since you're competing for attention with people who have been picked up by the big publishers there. So even though I had written and released two books there, I felt like the first step to being noticed was over twenty feet above my head. In St. Louis, the atmosphere is much more relaxed, the successful writers that live here are willing to give advice and speak with those who have less experience (an awesome example is Heather Brewer, New York Times bestselling author of the Vladimir Tod Chronicles), and there are readers willing to give local authors a chance.

TONY: Why was the decision made to do it in parts?

GEORGE: Almost a full year into my rewrites, I reached the page limit of what the 2002 version was, but I was only around the halfway point of the story. I was thrilled with how the quality was enhanced, but it had me feeling more than a little lethargic. The sense of "All right, let's get on with it!"

But then, something popped into my head, the idea to tell this story in the same manner as the season premieres of G.I. Joe, one big story told in five parts. As soon as that decision was made, the project came back to life within me and it didn't seem so much like a Sisyphean task. Now, readers can download the first part for just 1.99, and if they don't want to read any further and it's only a little over 100 pages long.

TONY: What do you get out of this story creatively compared to Excelsior?

GEORGE: This story and "Excelsior" are pretty similar in one major way: both are stories that have hung around in my head for around twenty years, and I can finally get them out in the best possible way and then move on to the next.

TONY: How was the writing process? How did motivation come? Was it more difficult than you imagined?

GEORGE: I made the decision to rewrite this story in early 2011, but I didn't start until September of that year. I spent as much time as possible from February to July just jotting down notes about where I want to take the Gladiatorial Combat League and how I want to change different plot points from what was in the 2002 version. I made sure to have a small notepad in my pocket as much as possible so nothing would be forgotten.

Writing it has been more difficult than expected, since the story became much more complex than the original version and it's been pretty intimidating. Can I pull this off? I keep asking myself. Can I make this work? I'm still asking myself that while I wrap this story up with Part 5.

TONY: How are you feeling about what you have so far and where you can take it?

GEORGE: I feel it's become something that I can be proud of, and I hope that when people read it, they agree with me and want to know more about this promotion and these characters.

TONY: So much time, effort, blood, sweat and tears have been put into this. What makes it all worth it to you?

GEORGE: More than anything, it's just been about getting it done and moving on. Once I'm finished with writing and editing Part 5, I'll finally be finished with the writing process of "From Parts Unknown" and I'll be able to move on to the next projects that have been on hold for so long.

TONY: How has the feedback been so far and what has it been like following it?

GEORGE: The feedback's been pretty sparse so far (I hope that there are people who are interested, but want to wait until all five parts are released), but those who have read Parts 1 and 2 really enjoyed it.

TONY: You seem to have such a great support system, both online in your community and at home. How much has that helped you along the way?

GEORGE: It's been an absolute blessing. Between family and friends, fellow writers, past and present 411Mania contributors, past and present co-workers, old classmates, everyone's support has been so appreciated. And it's been a real motivator for me to keep writing, since I know there are people that actually want to read what I have to send out into the world.

TONY: What’s next?

GEORGE: Quite a bit. After the last part of this serial is released on eBook in December, Rocking Horse Publishing will release the paperback edition that combines all five parts into one in March of 2015 (in time for WrestleMania XXXI).

I can also get back to finishing the first draft of the first of two "Excelsior" sequels: "Ever Upward: Part Two of The Excelsior Journey." Also, I have several smaller stories waiting in my mental queue that are based on characters I created back in grade school and kept refining over the decades.

If "From Parts Unknown" really takes off, I do have a sequel in mind. I always wanted to do an angle similar to the ill-fated WCW/ECW InVasion in 2001, and I have a 1-2-page premise written out, but I'll likely work on that only if there's enough demand for it.