Saturday, January 30, 2016

Champion Standing by Mark Gardner

Champion Standing is Mark Gardner’s tour-de-force tale of a battle royale set in China’s Han Dynasty. Liao is a warrior of the Rong Clan from the kingdom of Kush who sets off for the island of Hainan to fight in the prestigious invitation-only Dao Tournament. Part cage match, part Hunger Games, the Dao had become an allegory for the epic struggle for status and honor. Liao will face off against several challengers before he finally has the opportunity to face off against the Champion Standing for his opportunity to attain the title and earn the rewards that title brings to his kinsmen.

The games are no small thing. Contenders have been known to cheat and even die rather than risk going home a loser. Complicating things, the powers-behind-the-games bet on their favorites putting everything –including their empires – on the line. Historically, the time period was also the height of the early Roman era, and Gardner has even included sinister visiting dignitaries from the seat of European civilization in his story.

The novella is exciting, informative and grandiose in all the best ways. And currently, Gardner is in the midst of a kickstarter project to fund the creation of an audiobook of the tale. Rewards include a hardcover copy of the epic tale. Hurry though. Today is the last day.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Author Interview: Nik Venture, Author of The ISIS Lone Wolf Trigger

Nik Venture has been a professional writer and editor for a variety of national magazines for more than a quarter century. Helming seven different magazines he has both won, and judged, numerous writing awards, and his words have reached millions of readers. His travels have taken him around the world on various assignments. When he's not writing fiction under his pen name, he can be found either running, or playing keyboard in various clubs with his rockin' blues band.

Description of The ISIS Lone Wolf Trigger
   Many fanatics believe the End Times are coming . . . a few can’t wait.
For them, the prophecies for Armageddon are clear, if only they could trigger the war that starts it all by blaming Iran for a horrendous act of terrorism. American retaliation would start the dominoes falling. The final battles would begin.
   Enter Jack Kant and his girlfriend Angela Bow. They don’t have a lot, but they do have each other. Jack’s a muckraker journalist with an unhealthy compulsion for poking in places where he shouldn’t. Angela is a resourceful documentary researcher and not above kicking a wiseguy where it hurts.
   When Kant visits a sketchy source to return a package of illegally-obtained materials and back out of a story he’s considering, he confronts a long-haired deliveryman who slaughters the whistle-blower, his wife, and nearly Kant, to obtain said materials. Kant escapes with the package, but before he can get home, Angela’s six-year-old niece, Kiley, is abducted.
   Should he go to the police, even though he’s soon framed as a suspect in the murders? Would they even follow up on one of the odd items in the package -- a brochure about the dangers of natural gas storage facilities with the phrase “55 Hiroshima bombs” circled?
   He is drawn into the scariest story of his life, and his obsession with learning secrets demands that he follow up, but what about Kiley? His choices are grim and the world is pressing down on them, more so than he knows, if he doesn’t act there may be no world.
   On the run, he and Angela must use all of their ingenuity to outwit unknown adversaries while trying to determine who their friends are, and who would make them patsies in an international conspiracy.

What is your novel, The ISIS Lone Wolf Trigger about? What was its genesis?
Well, according to surveys, 31 percent of Americans believe the “end times” are approaching. With Evangelicals, the numbers rise to 77 percent, and, among Protestants, 54 percent agreed that "the world is currently living in the 'end times' as described by prophecies in the Bible." At least half, or more, Muslims believe they will live to see the return of the Mahdi, a messianic figure they believe will begin the final events of the Muslim calendar.

Like terrorism in general, what if there were just some tiny fraction of those people who are unwilling to wait?

How dangerous is ISIS?
The fact that ISIS exists at all is a black eye for civilization. And it is civilization that will eventually grind down ISIS so that it relinquishes itself to the bottom shelf of ideas and movements, like Nazism, the Spanish Inquisition, the Khmer Rouge . . . whatever. The damage and horror they are promulgating on an entire, already broken, region, will fade away. After too much pain, unfortunately. However, the fact that so many of these indoctrinates are teenagers tells the wider problem. A baby born today, in those few short years to becoming a teenager, can be twisted into a monster. There’s always babies being born, so the only inoculation are those things civilization does best: education, rule of law . . . continuity. Anarchists with dreams are still anarchists. But their dreams keep popping up no matter how much military hardware you throw at them. So, better to go with civilization. Only problem is that so much failed states become uncivilized. And countries that have things like Sharia law create the seeds of extremism that will always come back to bite them. Western bred recruits are a different matter.

Maybe as many as 3,400 westerners have joined ISIS and at least 250 Americans have tried to join, not sure how many have succeeded. It needs to be countered at the root level, at the local level. Changing hearts and minds, or at least controlling the message, is never easy. Or quick. But not impossible. On a smaller scale there is the example of the IRA, or better still, how many of you even know about the Red Brigades? (In the 70s and 80s they perpetrated14,000 acts of violence in the first ten years of the group's existence. Now, not so much.)

However, the ability to counter the lone wolf disenchanted losers out there, that is going to be a problem (as it perhaps always was) for the foreseeable future. If all it takes is the right propaganda, then the questions become who controls the propaganda and how do you counteract it? If you’ve got essentially a walking, talking smart bomb, then all sorts of people might be able to manipulate those levers. And therein hangs a tale, don’t you think?

Here is some click bait to my Amazon book page, if you scroll down a little bit, you’ll see: The 9 Most Important Things You Probably Didn't Know About Suicide Terrorists

What’s the attraction of Armageddon?
I suppose if you put a million philosophers in a room with typewriters and give them a million years . . .  Anyway, people above my pay grade have been trying to get a handle on that for millennia, but the bottom line is how can you make people feel that this life is somehow better than the End of the Freaking Entire World?

Tell us about your bad guys.
Well, this was the most important thing really. Interesting antagonists make or break a thriller. I’ve got two. Three technically, but I can’t say any more without revealing the plot. However, I think I’ve got villains who believe in what they are doing, and you learn why quite clearly, and so they are not stock bad guys, which is just boring to me. I’ve created one villain, not the ISIS guy, that I think not too many authors have tried before. You may be surprised. Maybe I’m wrong, there are a lot of books out there. The thing is, he needs to be believable and you see why as he goes through his motions.

What made you write about the military’s airborne laser program?
The Airborne Laser was an awesome, but flawed, attempt at producing a lethal leapfrog in ballistic missile defense. It featured a chemical laser mounted in the hollowed-out body of a brand new 747-400F freighter. Its mission, if it was ever to be successfully deployed, was to be dispatched to a hot zone where rogue missiles might be launched and intercept them with its laser from as far away as 350 miles, depending on whether it was a more vulnerable liquid-fueled booster, or a more hard-to-destroy solid-fueled one.

The heart of the system is the megawatt Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) which uses a combination of hydrogen peroxide, potassium, sodium, and lithium hydroxide. It is a highly toxic, Draino-like concoction. In the back of the 747, the chilled laser fuel, through a complex mixing mechanism, comes in contact with chlorine and helium to produce a form of oxygen. This brew gets injected with iodine gas, the resulting excitation produces photons that are amplified to create the infrared laser beam. This invisible beam zig-zags and exits through an optics package better than the Hubble Telescope’s, and featuring a 50-inch-diameter mirror –  known as the “wall of fire” – to produce a basketball-sized beam out of the nose turret and onto its target.

When operational, it would fly a figure eight in a theater of operations within range of the launch site, at 40,000 feet, and could be refueled mid-air from a standard refueling tanker. The COIL laser could be fired a dozen or so times before it would have to undergo a major service overhaul.

At least this was the plan. Ballistic missile defense, the idea of “hitting a bullet with a bullet,” began at the dawn of the missile age and received a steady stream of research dollars ever since. And using lasers for ballistic missile defense has been dreamed about since the beginning. However, making lasers powerful enough to the task has always been considered the more futuristic option of all the ways one might shoot down a missile. But dreams have a way of becoming reality, just as surely as the future must eventually become the present, and in 1996, a few of the top aerospace companies believed that enough of the technologies had come together to take a shot at finally, actually, building a working Buck Rogers death ray weapon. There are numerous technical leaps that need to be hurtled to make it happen: acquisition, tracking, optics, battle management software – and most importantly, a powerful enough laser.

Nevertheless, in 2001, the program was moved out of research status and put under the umbrella of the Missile Defense Agency, and seven working planes were ordered. Eventually, those orders were canceled and it went back to being a one plane research platform which did shoot down a couple of test missiles, but not at the range that could make the whole enterprise actually feasible. And so, after spending $5 billion on the program over 16 years, it was cancelled.

I resurrected it here, but for all I know, maybe it is being reborn right now, if someone put together the right tweaks to make it hit the firing distance that they need, for it to be viable. Or they come up with some modified version and a new mission. For example, a so called “diode pumped” laser able to ramp up the wattage and configured on a smaller platform than a 747.

How does so called “junk DNA” play into all of this?
First of all, junk DNA is a misnomer, ultraconserved strings is what they are more appropriately called. You see, the whole human genome consists of 2.9 billion letters, that ACTG stuff that they taught you in high school. Now, that’s about 750 megabytes of data taken as a whole, but only about three percent of that is involved in making up the 22,000 genes that make us who we are, the remaining 97 percent is this so-called junk DNA. It seemed like an awful lot of information to be doing nothing at all, particularly when we suspect the half-life of this material is about twelve million years for a house fly and, for the precursors to mammals, we trace it back about eight-hundred million years. That’s a long time between genetic house cleanings. So, it turns out that if the RNA portion is non-coding – that is, protein making – and it still has some critical command and control functions, then it stays put. For a very long time. Japanese researchers have already shown that they can manipulate these strings and insert a message right into the DNA that would last, well, if not forever, a very long time.

What if someone already did?

As to how it all plays into the plot, well, I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you before you unleashed that particular spoiler.

Did you find it difficult to write about technical topics?
Well, there really isn’t that much, just enough so that it all makes sense. Once upon a time, before I got my journalism degree, I got one in electronics technology. I didn’t like the math, so I took a left turn and I’ve been making money writing and editing ever since. I’ve been the editor numerous national magazines dealing with a variety of business and technical topics. In this line of work, you need to become an industry expert real quick or you’ll soon be treading water. So, long story short, any area of interest I plan to go into doesn’t intimidate me. Well, maybe a little. That’s where being a quick study and, more importantly, perseverance comes in. But the key is showing a technology’s interesting elements in an entertaining fashion. I feel like I’ve been training my whole life for this. If readers learn a thing or two along the way, that’s not a bad thing.

What other books do you have out there?

I also have a comic novel, Office of the Apes. This is for the advanced class of crazy gonzo readers. I guess you might say it’s not politically correct. You have been issued fair warning! More at

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Author Interview: Brady Koch, Author of Guns, Gods & Robots

Brady Koch lives in Westchester County, NY with his wife and children. Feel free to read over Brady's shoulder if you see him working on a new novel or short story at the coffee shop, library, or commuter train into NYC. Despite his penchant for crime, horror, and the unusual in his writing, he's actually a nice guy and welcomes your feedback. Brady Koch's first collection of short works, Guns, Gods & Robots, is now available.  
Here is a synopsis of Guns, Gods & Robots

Guns: A girl’s birthday wish comes true when she gets to spend an afternoon on manhunt with her lawman father. 
Gods: An old man discovers his crops aren't the only dead things on his farm. 
Robots: A heartless machine built for compassion malfunctions, leading its engineer on a hunt to fix the corruption before it spreads. 
In Guns, Gods & Robots, Brady Koch, mixes and remixes three themes across this collection of stories and novellas that spans the range of science fiction and horror. The stories, collected here for the first time, range from the uplifting to the horrifying. Sure to spark your imagination, the seven stories in Guns, Gods & Robots will also keep you up at night.

Who are your influences?
I suppose I’m a populist, but I grew up on Stephen King, then Kurt Vonnegut. I was always pleasantly surprised when an assigned book in school ended up being a great read. Animal Farm and The Illustrated Man stand out for me in those regards.
I hold a special place in my heart for Edward Packard, the creator of Choose Your Own Adventure. He also worked on a series of 8 books called Escape that had the same premise, but only one ending to try to get through. I used to pour over those books on the bus, at home, in school when the teacher wasn’t looking and more. I would love to write a choose your own adventure for adults at one point if I can figure out the e-reader linking needed to pull that off.

When did you begin writing?
I’ve written off and on through my life. Never much beyond what was required for school. Four years ago, I was faced with a long train commute when I worked in Illinois, so I attempted to start writing again to fill the time. Now it’s my preferred way to spend what quiet time I can find.

How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
For stories, I tend to simply let my mind wander. Once I figure out the loose scenario I try to find the most condense way to tell the story. My readers know how I prefer to keep things direct, pulpy and lean. Often times my final cuts are much shorter than the first drafts.
Most character names are just ones that I’ve latched on to through the years. In Guns, Gods & Robots you’ll come across names from Final Fantasy, podcast hosts, college professors and more. I’m always a fan of naming characters “Walter” after the host at a burger joint I frequented as a kid.

Do you work from an outline?
I always start with some bullet points and essentially start filling in each section from there. If there a part of the story I really have a strong vision for, I’ll start writing that instead of the actual beginning of the book. In answering this question, I revisited the original outline for “Numbers 16:32” to compare it to the final draft. It’s mainly still there save for a large phone call section that ended up just being a stalling tactic to get to the resolution of the story.
The hardest stories I write are the ones I don’t plan out from the beginning.

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
There’s a scene in the story Sangrimal where a young girl gets separated from her dad, the Sheriff, while they’re on a man hunt. She ends up quietly exploring a place called the stump yards and then managing what she finds there. It’s my favorite because it’s the scene I wrote out first and no matter how much the whole story was edited and reframed and gutted, that sequence remained the same. I think it’s the heart of the story and in some ways the whole collection.

Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
Get to the point, avoid flowery language and finish the story before you get bored writing it and your readers want to move on to the next book.

Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
The book itself lightly covers other genres from drama, horror and I hope comedy. I’ve always wanted to write some nonfiction, but don’t feel like I have the free time to research any topic enough to do it justice. My favorite authors currently are all in nonfiction (Mary Roach, Tony Horwitz, etc).

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
I was in a long meeting at work a couple of years ago and decided to check my phone under the table for new emails. I ended up seeing a note from an unknown email address and lo-and-behold I got my first fan letter. It was incredibly detailed and offered a variety of insights into a story the reader found especially engaging. I started laughing out loud and brought the meeting to a stop. We ended up passing the nice letter around and I ended up having a room of new readers. 

Brady’s website is  and on Twitter he is @BradyTheWriter