Monday, September 21, 2015

Chess World Cup

Today was a really cool day for me as a chess fan. I visited the chess World Cup here in Baku, Azerbaijan. It began with 128 players and now has only 16 as of today. Three of the remaining 16 are American players--Grandmasters Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, and Wesley So.
Nakamura plays Adams
The organizers were very nice and gave me a press pass so that I could go inside the roped off area and take photos up close. I was introduced to Wesley So's adopted mother and we had a nice conversation for about twenty minutes. It's fascinating to learn details of an elite player's life. Then I saw and watched the games for a couple of hours.
Fabiano Caruana
Nakamura only needed a draw against Michael Adams of England in order to advance, and he did that easily. Caruano lost yesterday, so he had to win today and he only managed to draw, so he is eliminated. As I type this Wesley So's game against Vachier-Lagrave of France is still going on, but it looks as if he will lose and also be eliminated. So a mixed day for American chess!
Wesley So
I also had a nice chat with the charming WGM Turkan Mamedyarova. I assume she is the sister of famous elite grandmaster Shakriyar Mamedyarov.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Do You Enjoy Comedies?

Finally after all this time the DVD for the nice Swedish comedy movie that I got to be a small part of has come out in America.
It really is a funny movie. You have to really pay attention to be able to see me in it. The first scene that I am in, you won't notice me unless you know where to look. It's the scene in Paris where they first show the CIA office of Ryan Hutton. I am in the background on the left, and as the main characters move towards the camera, I walk across in the background.
I get a better scene about five minutes later when they again go to Hutton's office. At least here the photos are worth showing you. I shot about seven scenes and did a voice over, but only these two were used.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A 'Conversation' With Writer Anthony Vicino

If you haven't discovered Anthony Vicino yet, I recommened you check out his blog and rectify the situation!

Ted Cross: Anthony, it’s great to talk with you. I discovered you out of the blue last year when you wrote a blog post about new cyberpunk novels and you included my book. I was thrilled because the few previous reviews I had received had all been by request, so you were the first person to ever put up a blog review independently and I really appreciated that.
Introducing Anthony Vicino! Sit down, relax, have some barbecue!
I also loved your blunt honestly. You said what you liked and what you didn’t. So many reviewers skirt around what they don’t like, possibly afraid of offending anyone. The elements you disliked in my book didn’t bother me at all. In fact if anything they confirmed that my characters had the traits that I had set out to give them (right or wrong!).

Now that I have read a couple of your stories (Time Heist and Sins of the Father), I have seen that you are not only hands down one of the most talented indie writers I have encountered, but I feel a sort of kinship with you. (see my review of Time Heist here) We have very different writing styles (yours far more vivid than mine), but we have many similar ideas about the future. Whether it’s the use of nanobots or immortality via technology, we have both clearly had some of the same thoughts about what is coming down the pike. If our histories had matched up, we could almost have been writing in a shared world setting!

So often I see interviews with authors that are very basic. Someone provides a set of questions and the author answers them. I thought it might be fun to expand on the traditional interview and instead do a back and forth ‘conversation’.

So to begin, what have been the main influences for your science fiction writing? I noticed elements of the movie ‘In Time’ while reading Time Heist, though I liked your book better than the movie. Was that an influence? How about Richard K. Morgan and his ideas about technological immortality?

Anthony Vicino: For those of you at home, let me set the scene: Ted came on my radar last winter when he published his debut novel, The Immortality Game. The book caught my attention because it sports a mind-blowing cover replete with a futuristic pyramid (for those of you have read my book Time Heist, you'll know I have a thing for futuristic pyramids). Also, The Immortality Game, simply put, is an awesome title.

But TIG wasn't just eye-candy with a snazzy title, it's a really good story featuring a strong-female lead in an alternative setting ie: not middle-class white America. Now, for those that don't know, Ted is a diplomat. Which in my mind means one thing: He's a spy. Right?

No? Okay, well tell us a bit about diplomacy and how you got into it, Ted. I get the feeling that your experience there had a huge influence on the world you crafted in TIG.
Anthony really does have super powers!
One of the things I aim for in my writing, and something you do really well in TIG is invisible language. Meaning that the words don't draw attention to themselves and tug the readers out of the story. Guys like Brandon Sanderson, John Scalzi, and Jim Butcher have mastered this skill, which is a huge part in why their stories are so popular. Is this a conscious decision on your part or just a natural of function of your style/voice?

Whenever I tell people about Time Heist they think one of two things. First, they assume it's a time-travel story. Second, the Life Tracker draws immediate comparisons to In Time, Justin Timberlake’s movie. This used to bother me, but eventually I got over it, because from a lot device standpoint, they are very similar.

But for the record, I wrote the first draft of Time Heist well before In Time came out. Also, I only got around to watching In Time about a month after Time Heist's release. A large part of that was the crippling fear that I'd accidentally rip-off something from JTimbers. Plausible deniability and all that.

As for my influences, let me cite the old guard here: Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury. From a writing craft perspective, Sanderson has been hugely influential. Charles Stross is an idea factory. I've always found the range of his output inspiring.
Gravity has zero effect on him
Richard K. Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels are fantastic. Seriously, his stories are some of the best sci-fi I've ever read.

Now, I know you love Morgan as much as me, but who are some of your other influences, Ted? Your recent publications have been this weirdly cool mashup of sci-fi and fantasy (The Shard and Lord Fish: Chronicles of Xax). What inspired you to go that direction?

Thank you for your kind words about The Immortality Game. Oddly enough, it was written merely as back-story for a wizard character in my epic fantasy novel The Shard. The fantasy was the first novel I ever wrote, and I did it because I had been irked for so many years that no one was writing the particular kind of fantasy novel that I wanted to read most. Don’t get me wrong, there are many fantasy books that I love; it’s just that having grown up playing Dungeons & Dragons, I wanted to read some novels that took the game as seriously as I did. Instead all the official novels were essentially like superhero stories (see Drizzt) or cartoonish or they had a gamey feel to them. I wanted D&D stories told with gravitas, as if a George RR Martin or a Stephen King were writing them. No one did this, so I finally broke down about nine years ago and started writing one myself.

I spend a long time on each novel, about four years apiece so far, and partly that is because I spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about the characters and their histories. I feel that I need to know them really well before I can write them properly. The story of my wizard Xax intrigued me so much that I felt a growing compulsion to write out his tale, so once I completed The Shard that is what I set out to do.

His story didn’t come from nowhere. Since living in Moscow in the mid-nineties, I had vague story ideas about the Russian mafia, because they were just swarming over Moscow back then. From reading Richard K Morgan’s books (and I totally agree with you about how brilliant they are) I had some interesting technology questions I wanted to explore, namely the idea of what Morgan’s immortality tech must have been like when it was first developed. Since my wizard had once been a scientist back on Earth, it dawned on me that I could combine all these ideas, having this scientist work on the early development of immortality tech while using the Russian mob as the antagonist. Honestly, I had never meant to write science fiction, but once I started doing it, it has taken over.

Invisible language is something I go back and forth on, thinking that perhaps it comes naturally to me, only to then think that I’m not very good at it. Many people complimented my dialogue, but then another reader told me my dialogue was atrocious. Perhaps he went a tad overboard, but I’m certain there is also some truth to what he said, and that’s making me focus a LOT harder on my dialogue in current WIP. My writing may be a little too straightforward, and I wish I was better at injecting humor or more vivid detail into it.

I once asked John Scalzi if he would do a blog post about how he handles dialogue, but he hasn’t done so and probably won’t. Too bad, because I’d love to learn how he does it. Essentially I think beginning writers try to put too much of the world's background into the story. This background fascinates them and they want to tell the reader about it, not yet understanding that the reader can get by just fine knowing very little of this background material. When it comes down to it, I think writers should go back and remove as much exposition as possible.

AV: I agree one thousand percent. To the new writers at home, remember: Cut, cut, cut...and then cut some more.

TC: As for my writing background, I was always good at academic writing, but I never thought I'd get around to writing a novel. Too much work, especially when I have so many other interests! But over the years the story ideas just kept building pressure in my mind. And when I read ASOFAI by George RR Martin, his brilliance made me realize that I really wanted to write a book. Too bad that realization came so late—I was maybe thirty-seven at the time.

Diplomacy came about because I wanted to see the world. My love of chess also played a part, since the best chess players back then were Russians. So I jumped at the opportunity to work at the embassy in Moscow, and from there I joined the Foreign Service full time.

You mentioned not having seen In Time until after your book was finished. I totally sympathize with you. So many ideas have been touched on that it’s very easy to produce similar ideas all on our own. I have found eerie similarities in my own books from computer games and novels that I never knew existed until after my stories were already written, so we have that in common.

By the way, because I knew we were going to have this ‘conversation’, I just re-watched In Time. I didn’t much like the movie the first time I saw it, and I still don’t love it, but I did enjoy it a bit more the second time around. But you are right, other than the framework of using time for commerce, your story and that one are nothing alike.

Okay, so we're already beginning to run a bit long, so maybe we can do a follow up in the near future, but for now I'll just ask one question: how is the indie life treating you? I have met several truly talented indie writers (Lucas Bale and Michael Patrick Hicks) and I find it frustrating how hard it is to get our works noticed by the reading public. Thoughts?

AV: For all the great strides Indie publishing has made in recent years, it's still very much an uphill battle. Then again, that's not an exclusively Indie publishing problem. Even within the traditional world, it's hard gaining traction. My coping strategy has been to simply ignore it and focus on the long term.

When I began Indie publishing last November, I decided I'd play the long-con and set my sights way down the road at the five and ten year mark. So with that in mind I've done very little in the way of promoting my books this past year and haven't published anything since that initial bulk release of stories. Instead, I've directed all my energy into cultivating a following, meeting and collaborating with other creative types, and writing a ton.
Anthony says this is his office! Should we believe him?
This coming year should be exciting, 'cause I'll finally be releasing new fiction into the world. Currently I have twelve books lined up and ready to fire one story every month for the next year starting this October. If some of you have been wondering why I haven't been putting out new stuff, that's why. Christmas is coming. Duck and cover!

We're getting a bit on the long side here, so maybe we can do a part two in the future, Ted. How's that sound? Readers? What thoughts have you? Get down to the comments and let us know!

TC: You amaze me with how quickly you write! The problem for me is simply that I produce books too slowly, so I don’t see having another book ready for another three or four years. It’s very hard to remain relevant to readers if you don’t produce more work fairly quickly.

It’s been great having this short conversation, I wish we could have gotten more, but we don't want to overload the readers.
Anthony is very outdoorsy, it seems!
As Anthony said above, readers please let us know in the comments if you have any questions or thoughts. We'd love to hear from you! Thank you for reading!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Time Heist by Anthony Vicino

Anthony Vicino came to my attention when I read a blog post of his in which he reviewed two cyberpunk thrillers--my own The Immortality Game and Convergence by Michael Patrick Hicks. His quirky writing style came through immediately and his honest review, giving both what he enjoyed and what he didn't, set him apart from so many reviews that try to only present the positive.
from the One Lazy Robot blog
I finally found time to read Vicino's own cyberpunk thriller Time Heist, and having read it, I think anyone out there who enjoys good technothrillers will want to give his a try. It's very well written and most of all Vicino has a vivid, visceral writing style that adds vitality to every paragraph he writes.

His writing style is about the opposite of my own, but the world he writes about is so very like mine in so many ways that I feel we are akin in our thoughts about the future. Nanotechnology is huge in both of our worlds, and the capture of the human mind in digital form also weighs heavily in our stories. The use of this technology to create a form of immortality is the very backbone of my own book.

It's almost as if someone gave the basic building blocks of a cyberpunk story to two different writers and told us to go at it. We cover much of the same ground using the same technologies, yet we each have our own styles and thoughts, so we end up with two very different stories.

I truly enjoyed Time Heist, and I think many of you would as well. I look forward to reading more of Vicino's work in the future.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Kindle Countdown Deal

This week I'm trying out a Kindle Countdown Deal for my epic fantasy novel The Shard. It is $3 off at only .99. It's not easy to let readers know about such deals, so if anyone reading this has friends who enjoy this type of fantasy, perhaps do me a favor and let them know about it? I appreciate the support!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

New Release -- Darkhaven by AFE Smith

Out today: DARKHAVEN

Darkhaven cover
About the Book: 
Book title: DARKHAVEN
Author: A.F.E. Smith
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release date: 2 July 2015 (ebook), 14 January 2016 (paperback)
Price: £1.99/$3.99 (ebook)


Book description:
Ayla Nightshade never wanted to rule Darkhaven. But her half-brother Myrren – true heir to the throne – hasn’t inherited their family gift, forcing her to take his place.

When this gift leads to Ayla being accused of killing her father, Myrren is the only one to believe her innocent. Does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?

Now on the run, Ayla must fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.

Buy links 

Amazon (global link)
Barnes & Noble
Google play



A.F.E. Smith photo
About the Author:

A.F.E. Smith is an editor of academic texts by day and a fantasy writer by night. So far, she hasn’t mixed up the two. She lives with her husband and their two young children in a house that someone built to be as creaky as possible – getting to bed without waking the baby is like crossing a nightingale floor. Though she doesn’t have much spare time, she makes space for reading, mainly by not getting enough sleep (she’s powered by chocolate). Her physical bookshelves were stacked two deep long ago, so now she’s busy filling up her e-reader.

What A.F.E. stands for is a closely guarded secret, but you might get it out of her if you offer her enough snacks.

Author social media links
DARKHAVEN on Goodreads

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Excerpt from New Novel

For any who might be interested, I thought I'd post a teaser excerpt from the first chapter of the new novel I'm working on. It's a far future sci-fi set on a colony planet in another solar system. It's tentatively titled Penthesilea, and I'm sure it will change quite a lot before it is done!


The morning of her thirteenth birthday, Keng entered the family room to accept the embraces and kisses of her mothers.  She had bubbled with excitement for weeks, knowing something special would happen today, though no one, not even the habitual gossips, would do more than drop hints.  Her oldest mother, Adanya, smelled faintly of cloves as she drew Keng close in her thin arms and whispered in her ear, “I’m so proud of you, first child of Themis.  Always so many questions.  Now today some can be answered.”  Adanya kissed her cheek and held Keng out at arm’s length, eyes shiny with tears.

Keng was afraid to respond in case her voice broke.  She took a deep breath and used the moment to scan the faces in the room.  Naturally Mother Slade was not there.  All twelve of her other mothers, but not her favorite.  Keng had hoped that today would see a change in the way Slade treated her.  If not when Keng was officially counted as a woman grown then when?

Mother Zahra looked at her with her lips quirked in a smirk.  “Why so sad?  It’s your special day.”

“I think you know,” Keng whispered.

“Oh, we all know, young lady,” Zahra said.  “So much warmth and love in this family, and the one you miss is she who so rarely speaks a word to you or deigns to glance your way.  Perhaps if I beat you I would be your favorite?”  Keng didn’t need Zahra’s grin to know she was at least half joking.

“I’m sorry, Mothers,” Keng said to the gathering.  “I only thought that today perhaps I could see my whole family together for once.”

She watched the smiles as her mothers passed glances around the room.  Something was up.  Keng wished they would just get on with it.  She didn’t like surprises.

“We’re sorry to tease you so,” Mother Hasinah said.  “It is only that we know today you will get something that you have long wanted, so we are happy.  Go to the roof garden, love.  Your gift is there.”

Keng suppressed the urge to immediately head for the stairs and completed her round of the room, accepting hugs and congratulations from the rest of her mothers.  On her way out the door, she spotted one of the cats lazing near the bottom of the steps and scooped him up.  “Come, Mouser.  Let’s see what the big surprise is.”

The stairs to the roof garden rose only a single story since her family’s home lay near the edge of the great dome.  Keng sometimes wished she were lucky enough to live near the center in one of tall buildings, and every so often she took the long trudge up the stairs of one of the tallest in order to stare out over the entire colony.  She had read of doll houses during her studies, and if she lay on the edge fifteen stories up and looked down, she could pretend that all of Panthesilea was her own personal doll house.

Every building had rank upon rank of gardens, helping to feed the colonists, along with the farms that Keng had heard lay outside of the dome.  Her own gardens were meagre, given that the home was a mere one story.  It primarily consisted of hydroponic fruits and vegetables, though several of the mothers insisted on a few types of flowers as well.  Keng reached the top of the stairs and fell quickly to her knees, for she saw Mother Slade performing her exercises near the central fountain and she knew the security chief disliked being disturbed.  “Go on, cat,” she hissed, and dropped Mouser on the top step, where the gray furred beast scurried right back down the way they had come.

Keng liked to try to sneak up on Slade, but she had never once succeeded in catching her unawares.  From her knees, Keng peered under a row of hanging grapes and watched as the slim but muscular figure flowed through a series of lunges and blocks and kicks.  Except for eyelashes, Slade was hairless, which always made Keng think of her as looking both young and old at the same time.  Keng wished to learn martial arts as well.  They seemed far more interesting than the usual gardening and sewing performed by most of her mothers, or the Tai Chi most of the women did each morning out on the lawns.  Usually by now Slade would have halted her routine and glared at Keng until she departed, but this time Slade went on punching and sliding as if she were unaware of Keng’s presence.  Keng recalled that her present was supposed to be here.  She looked at the benches near the fountain but could see no sign of a package.  A moment later, Slade completed her routine and bowed to some invisible opponent before turning to Keng and crooking a finger at her.

Keng was surprised. 
 It was the first time Slade had ever invited her to approach.  Cautiously Keng rose to her feet and skirted the garden rows until she came to the patch of grass near the fountain.  There she halted and remained silent.

Slade stood straight and still as a statue, remaining expressionless for so long that Keng wondered if she was meant to speak first.  As she debated on what she might say, Slade spoke at last.  “Thirteen.”

Keng nodded.

Slade had a deeper voice than most women, but she always spoke in a soft manner, even when angry.  “I’ve been tasked with providing your birthday gift.”

Keng wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so she remained silent.

“Come,” Slade said, and stalked past Keng toward the stairs.

Keng scurried to catch up and fell into place a meter behind as they descended.  Instead of turning into the house, Slade passed on, and Keng understood that they must be headed toward the security hut near the edge of the dome.  That made Keng smile.  She had always been forbidden from entering the ten meter protective zone circling the inner perimeter of the dome.

As they drew near the security hut, Slade motioned for Keng to stop, while she continued on.  The hut’s door slid aside and Slade reached in and pulled forth two backpacks.  Now Keng’s heartbeat raced and she gave a little hop in place.  At last she was going to get to see the world outside the dome.  Slade passed her a pack, and she felt the lumpy, hard-packed exterior with one hand before slipping it over her shoulders.

They stood near the edge of the dome, just off the paved road used by the auto-haulers that brought in supplies from the factories and farms outside.  It was the nature of the dome that Keng could never catch a glimpse of the outside world, even when trucks were passing through.  Her studies had taught her about the material used to create the dome, a synthetic substance that everyone called anaglass.  Keng had never before been so close to it.  She wanted to reach out and touch it, but she didn’t dare with Slade standing nearby.

“We’ll pass through in a moment,” Slade said, “but first prepare yourself.”

Keng wasn’t sure what Slade meant, so she took a moment to gather her thoughts.  She knew what she should see beyond the dome, but studying something is far different from seeing the reality.  The nearby surface of the dome shimmered and swirled with a deep blue that reminded her of Mother Magda’s tea cups.  It looked solid, yet on a daily basis Keng watched auto-haulers pass in and out as if the wall were air.  And when she looked up, the dome looked like a clear blue sky with fluffy white clouds.  The afternoon sun was hidden beyond the buildings, but a pale sliver of moon showed overhead.

“How long is the day out there?”

Slade’s sudden question snapped Keng out of her reverie.  “I don’t remember exactly.  Less than eighteen hours.”

Slade nodded and said, “Let’s go.”  She walked directly into and through the blue wall and vanished from sight.

Despite having watched so many people and vehicles pass through for years, Keng was nervous, as if touching the anaglass might shock her.  She groped out with one hand and was surprised when she felt nothing at all upon passing it through the wall.  Then she shrieked as a strong hand grasped her wrist and yanked her through.

Keng gasped.  Everything looked wrong.