Twisted Metal – The TV Show

I was a little apprehensive watching the TV series Twisted Metal on Peacock, starring Anthony Mackie (Falcon in the Marvel movies). Emotionally, I feel a little bit of ownership of Twisted Metal. Legally, of course, I have none. I was hired to help create the original game back in 1993-1994. It was my first real job out of college–creating a pair of games for Sony’s then-upcoming Playstation. Yeah, the first one. Twisted Metal was a launch title, and while it wasn’t the prettiest game, it was enough of a hit to spawn an entire series of games across multiple Sony (and PC) platforms.

And, now, a television show.

I planned to watch the entire TV series regardless of whether it was a dog or not. And, to my surprise, it was pretty good. Good enough that they are making a second season, and I’m looking forward to it. Yes, it’s over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek, and violent. So were the games. I make no apologies. 🙂

In some cases, they made fun of our original characters / situations, like the original driver of Roadkill. Ya know what? I’m fine with that. We were just having fun, and while we fleshed out the characters, we weren’t the original designers. Mike Giam and Dave Jaffe had the original concepts, and whatever evolved was a combination of ideas from them and the SingleTrac design team, and whatever evolved during development.

I was really only involved in the first two, and I transitioned from the Twisted Metal 2 team to work full-time on another game pretty early in its development. To be honest, I’m not 100% sure how many Twisted Metal sequels and spin-offs there were from there. I’m familiar with Twisted Metal 3 (which was not done by my studio, but instead by Sony internal, if I remember correctly), and Twisted Metal: Black and Twisted Metal Small Brawl, which were done by Incognito, a studio made up of a lot of my former coworkers.

Anyway, there will always be a place in my heart for Twisted Metal. And I’m not at all disappointed seeing the TV show. I consider myself lucky to have something I worked on turned into a TV show. I doubt I’ll ever have that happen again.

War-Priests of Kalnath – Releasing Next Week

The War-Priests of Kalnath, book 3 of The Vanished, is releasing next week. I’m excited for lots of reasons. I’ve had people tell me it’s the strongest book of the series so far, which is nice. As the author, I absolutely have no clue and cannot judge. I know for sure it’s my favorite cover yet for the series, so that’s awesome. It’s also a mix of intrigue, deceit, and high action, which is hopefully as fun to read as it was to write.

Aiden and his team make their way to the city of Kalnath seeking aid from Paula Jean Welden and her allies for their growing community of exiles in the Frontier. Naturally, nothing is as simple as that, and they soon find themselves embroiled in the plots and ambitions of dangerous people, including a shadow from Earth’s past.

I hope you enjoy it!

 

From When and Whence None Return – Isekai and Time Travel

“Isekai” is a Japanese word meaning another (or alternate) world. As a subgenre, it’s roughly synonymous with “portal fantasy.”

Now, some folks make the method the method of conveyance (for example, a magical portal, like a the inside of a wardrobe…) an important factor in both definitions. I don’t. In general, it’s not much more than a MacGuffin. In spite of the name, I don’t believe a literal portal is necessary for portal fantasy, nor must the other world be something other than Earth in an isekai.

What the isekai genre means to me is a character from our world being forced to survive, adapt, and make a life in a new setting very different from our own. The story should focus on this new world being viewed through the eyes of someone from our world, which makes them a reader surrogate. The transported character can therefore describe the wondrous new things in terms we understand, like a monster being the size of a bus, or breaking down the magic system into game-like terms.

If the main character is simply visiting, or hopping from world-to-world without any sense of permanence, or the story is focused on this world rather than the alternate world, then in my mind it’s not really isekai. My own series, Blood Creek Witch, divides the story between the two worlds with slightly more emphasis on our world. So I wouldn’t count it. In the manga and anime “Saving 80,000 Gold in Another World for my Retirement,” the main character’s special ability is being able to teleport between worlds at will. The story focuses on the new world, but it’s an interesting gray area. I  consider it more “isekai-adjacent” than a true isekai genre piece–which doesn’t make it any better or worse than a “true” isekai story. Likewise “reverse isekai” is a different subgenre entirely with an inverted point-of-view of looking at our world through the eyes of a stranger.

Now, keeping with this definition, the important thing is that the main character is forced to make the new world their home, at least for a while. This is where the method of conveyance may be important. The commitment is important. The Aincrad arc of Sword Art Online certainly counts, as the bad guy has cut off the players’ methods of returning to the “real world,” and the players are forced to make a life for two years in an artificial fantasy world. Later arcs mix it up, but it isn’t until Alicization that we could really call it a true isekai storyline. In GATE: Thus the JSDF Fought There, there is one physical location to go between worlds, but it is under strict government control, restricting travel. In most resurrection fantasies, the character dies on Earth and has no life to return to. At the end of A Princess of Mars, John Carter is returned to Earth against his will, but having made a life on Barsoom, he spends years trying to find his way back.

Okay… so now we go to the question from the title. What about time travel stories?

Well… it depends.

If the character is thrust into a world significantly different from their own, and must make a life there because there’s no convenient point of return, then it counts in my book, regardless of the MacGuffin reason they arrived there. If a character falls asleep for hundreds of centuries a la Buck Rogers, it’s an isekai time travel story. If they travel to the distant past and must make a life there, at least for a while, then it’s isekai. Time-loop stories like Groundhog Day probably don’t count because the world is very familiar (extremely familiar, after a few loops), so there’s not much ‘sense of wonder’ in exploring a new setting through modern eyes. If they are jumping through multiple time periods through the use of a blue box or something, it is something else as well. Maybe something cool, but not really isekai.

So, whether it’s a reincarnation, portal, time machine, hypersleep, astral projection, act of deity, getting digitized by a laser, it all counts as isekai if it meets these loose requirements.

And yeah, my latest book series, The Vanished, is isekai. It starts with the first book, Queen of Monsters. Aiden finds himself transported to another world and granted (unfortunately for him, somewhat glitchy) special abilities. Even more unfortunately, this is a common enough event that the natives are well-prepared for arrivals of people from Earth and have mastered the art of “spawn camping” – immediately capturing and pressing the people from Earth into service as slaves or cannon-fodder.

 

 

Queen of Monsters is up for an award!

Queen of Monsters, the first book in my new series, is a finalist for the Whitney awards in the “Adult Speculative” category. (Adult as in… not for Middle Grade or YA. Not… you know, the other common usage for “adult.”) Perennial favorite Brandon Sanderson is competing in two different categories this year, so hey… there’s a chance! The four other finalists for the category are by some fantastic authors — Melissa McShane, John M. Olsen, DJ Butler, and Charlie Holmberg.

Anyway, you can check out more information at the Whitney Award nominees & finalists page. And if you’ve already read Queen of Monsters and Sorcerer of the Ancient Depths, I will happily recommend books by all four of the other authors. Like I said, they are fantastic.

Sorcerer of the Ancient Depths (The Vanished Book 2) Now Available

Sorcerer of the Ancient Depths, Book 2 of the Vanished series, is out both in eBook and Paperback. Huzzah!

This one picks up just a few weeks after the end of Book 1. Without getting too spoiler-y for those who haven’t read the first book, Aiden and his allies are now hiding in the Frontier, one of the most dangerous lands in the world, trying to survive. Aiden leads an expedition to find safety and supplies. What he finds is a deadly threat and an ancient mystery lurking below them…

Yeah, we had portal fantasy and “gameLit lite” — and now we’re in for a taste of dungeon-delving. I hope you enjoy the new novel.

You can find it here:  Sorcerer of the Ancient Depths (eBook and Paperback)

Sorcerer of the Ancient Depths

Happy Halloween – and a sale

Blood Creek Witch and Haunted Yuletide are on sale from today until the 27th as part of my publisher’s Halloween sale.

Blood Creek Witch is the first book in the 4-book Blood Creek saga. So this is a great entry point. This book introduces the story of four main characters of the series: Jenny is a young woman taken in by family she’d never met, and discovers a legacy of witchcraft she would have never believed. Sean Williams searches the old towns of West Virginia for information on a mysterious girl he met in college–a girl who died long before he was born. “Lyin'” Jack wants to escape the tiny community where he never belonged, a community that never believed his story of the creature he had seen lurking in the woods. Jessabelle has lived her entire life in the same rural town, terrified that others might discover her secret–that she is actually a monster, a shape-changer.

Haunted Yuletide is an anthology my wife and I edited. Someone at my publisher had a bright idea inspired by The Nightmare Before Christmas or the Victorian tradition of ghost stories around the holiday season, and Haunted Yuletide was born. They asked me if I would be interested in producing this anthology–but the one they actually wanted was my wife, a professional oral storyteller who specializes in ghost stories. We jumped at the chance, and I am very pleased with the results. The stories all center around the holiday season, and include supernatural or even horrific elements. But beyond that–there’s quite a variety of stories, from straight-up spine-chilling terror to broad comedy. Perfect reading from October through January… although it’s a great read all year round. 🙂

Anyway, now’s a great chance to pick up either book if you use the kindle app / reader.

Haunted Yuletide at Amazon

Blood Creek Witch at Amazon

 

Blood Creek Devil Now Available on Audiobook!

A lot of folks were asking me about this one. So… here it is…

Blood Creek Devil Audiobook

Now the entire series is out on audio, and I can breathe a sigh a relief. Long story short – the narrator (Janel) was sick for several months over the last year, and lost her voice. She’s recovered now, and I hope you’ll feel as I do that the wait was worth it. 🙂

Thanks also to my publisher, Immortal Works, for sticking with it. They have been busier than the proverbial one-legged man at a butt-kicking contest, but they still made it a priority and turned it around quickly.

Enjoy!

 

New Book Release – Queen of Monsters

It’s release day! And it’s for a whole new series! Queen of Monsters, the first book in the Vanished series, is out in the wild today.

Sometimes people vanish without a trace. Sometimes those people arrive… elsewhere.

As a teen, Aiden Holt studied stories of unexplained disappearances throughout history. He never dreamed he would become one of those disappearances.

Now trapped in an alien world, hunted for his non-functional “special abilities,” Aiden fights to survive against horrific creatures and determined enemies.

Somewhere between certain death and servitude, Aiden seeks an escape—if he can find other “vanished” who beat the odds and survived in this harsh magical world.

You can check out the eBook version of Queen of Monsters: The Vanished Book 1 at Amazon.

The paperback version should be available very soon.

Some Current Pulp-Style Magazines

I grew up on pulp stories, but I didn’t know what they were at the time. The surging popularity of science fiction and fantasy hadn’t quite hit the public libraries or bookstores yet.  Many of the anthologies available on the minimal shelf space devoted to these genres (they were often combined into one in those days) included reprints of classic pulp-era stories. I didn’t know or care how old they were. All that mattered was how fun they were to read. Sure, the science was a little dated on some of the SF stories, but not so much that I couldn’t enjoy them.

Many authors today have embraced the pulp style. They call it by different names, and take several different approaches. Some try emulate the rhythm and language of stories from a hundred years ago, and feel like they’d be at home in the pages of those vintage magazines. Others are fully modern stories, but embrace many of what I would call “pulp sensibilities”: an emphasis on action, lurid spectacle, passionate heroes, stand-out villains, classic pacing and plotting,  a (usually) optimistic worldview, and more.

The latter types of stories can be found anywhere, and are often not branded as “pulp.” However, there are a few magazines out there even today that specialize in this kind of storytelling. If you want to read these kinds of stories yourself, here are a handful of options I can recommend:

Cirsova: Originally focused on heroic fantasy and science fiction (Volume I), the more recent Volume 2 has emphasized “Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense.” Science fiction and fantasy stories still dominate, but it is now open to stories without speculative elements. Its broad focus has also included poetry and essays. The key is the pulp flavor. One issue even included a never-before published Tarzan story, left unfinished by Edgar Rice  Burroughs. Michael Tierney, working with Burrough’s estate, completed the story which was at one point (IIRC) thought lost in a fire. I have been published in Cirsova a few times, and I have never been disappointed by an issue.

Storyhack Action and Adventure: Editor Bryce Beattie has quipped that he publishes “both kinds of stories, action AND adventure.” With a narrower focus that Cirsova, Storyhack Action and Adventure is just what it says on the tin. Stories contain plenty of fisticuffs, chase scenes, shootouts, and fun. Cirsova and Storyhack share many authors, which is unsurprising. If you enjoy the stories in one, you will probably enjoy both.

Pulphouse Magazine: Resurrected for the digital age by Dean Wesley Smith, Pulphouse this is probably the broadest style and the most loosely defined vision of “pulp” in this list, but the magazine has it in the name, and Smith is an unapologetic evangelist for the pulp-era writing styles (not to mention work ethic!). Just as pulp stories spanned a staggering array of genres, Pulphouse is a general fiction magazine that sets no limits on style, genre, or topic.

Tales from the Magician’s Skull: Now we go from the most general to the most specific. Tales from the Magician’s Skull is published by Goodman Games, a game company emphasizing “old school” roleplaying games and supplements. This magazine is dedicated to sword-and-sorcery fantasy, and even publishes game stats for story elements at the end of the issue. If you are a fan of Conan the Cimmerian, Jirel of Joiry, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and the like, this is what this magazine is all about. (One issue includes a previously unpublished Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story).

Broadswords and Blasters: This one has gone on hiatus for a couple of years, but has recently made an open call for a new anthology that should come out at the end of the year. So… only mostly dead? Still, Broadswords and Blasters has released twelve issues of “Modern Fiction with Pulp Sensibilities” with a strong tendency for genre fiction, but the genre fiction runs a broad range including horror, science fiction, fantasy, crime fiction, westerns, and more.

New Book Series Announcement: The Vanished

Sometimes people vanish. Sometimes their disappearance leaves no trace, an unsolved mystery with no evidence of foul play, and no rational explanation. Sometimes these people reappear… elsewhere.

Aiden Holt, a recent college graduate with a degree in computer science, just became one of those people. He awakens in an abandoned tower in an unfamiliar land, unable to recall how he arrived in this strange place. He soon finds himself on the run, pursued by an army that seeks to enslave “Heroes from Earth” for the magical power they possess.

Unfortunately for Aiden, whatever magical powers he was supposed to arrive with seem to be malfunctioning and incomprehensible. Likewise, his high-tech skills and education aren’t much use in a world that hasn’t invented electronics, either.

Trapped in a deadly world of magic and monsters, hunted for supernatural gifts he doesn’t understand, Aiden must rely on cunning and allies to survive, escape, and unlock the long-buried secrets of why he and others have been taken from Earth.

This is the premise of my new book series, The Vanished.

A little over a year ago, I woke up one fine morning with an idea I couldn’t get out of my head. I was busy with another writing project that was giving me some trouble and didn’t have time for this, so I figured I’d just whip out a first chapter and some details about the world and characters so I could safely put it on my back-burner for potential future projects. Normally I can do this, and my subconscious leaves me alone after that. Well… not so much this time. One chapter led to two, and it kept snowballing. All I can do is acknowledge that this story wanted to be told.

I love stories of people from the modern world dealing with magic and fantastic other worlds. This one has a very different flavor from Blood Creek, however. It has a different feel from many other isekai / portal fantasies that I love, too. The infrequent arrival of powerful individuals from Earth over the centuries has had an impact on this fantasy world culture and politics, and it’s been as fun to explore this as to explore the magic system and the mysteries of the world. Of course, it’s me, so there’s an emphasis on action and adventure throughout.

The first book of the series, Queen of Monsters, will go on sale in July. I’ll be posting updates, excerpts, and new information primarily here and on my newsletter (see the little email entry form in the corner? That’s it.).