Tag Archives: pandora’s box

Predicting the Future…in My Books

Cover art by Tomislav Tikulin.

Science fiction writers have always tried to predict the future with their stories. Something I’ve been meaning to write about for a long, long time is how my books have done that. Or at the very least been a little ahead of the curve. No, I haven’t seen any giant cyborg dragons attacking Moscow or been whisked away to another world via a port-a-potty. However, I started to notice a few years ago that some of the concepts I used in Pandora’s Box and its companion short stories (“Suicide Soldier,” in particular) began to appear in current events. It was a bit frightening, honestly.

Back in 2014, Ebola was all over the news. An outbreak started in West Africa, but it also popped up in several developed countries, including the United States. It was brought over by travelers who had no idea they were infected. Once it was discovered they carried the virus, they were isolated to be treated. As you would expect, many people were scared by this. They feared an unstoppable outbreak in their own country. The thing of it was they didn’t understand how the virus was spread (it’s through bodily fluids) or have faith in the CDC to contain those infected.

Regardless, that fear was aggravated by some who said ISIS could use Ebola as a bio-weapon—by intentionally infecting operatives and having them interact with as many people as possible to spread it. This could be done because it would be difficult to smuggle out the infected bodily fluids. Considering ISIS was known for using suicide bombers, it seemed to be a natural progression that they would start infecting operatives with deadly diseases in order to spread them. They could potentially kill far more people that way.

Around this same time was when the Syrian refugee crisis became a bigger hot-button issue for several reasons, in particular because ISIS was smuggling operatives into other countries amid those refugees. Given the severity of the crisis, the compassionate response from rest of the world, and the difficulty of vetting refugees, it was a prime means of infiltration.

So, there’s an outmanned and outgunned terrorist organization that, at least at one point, was considering infecting suicide operatives with a deadly disease in order to spread it and was already infiltrating other countries with operatives disguised as refugees.

Like I said, I was a bit scared when I put two and two together.

Cover Art by Zach Hayden

For those who don’t know, I first conceived my novel Pandora’s Box back in 2002, but it wasn’t published until 2010. A key component of the story is a would-be world dictator beginning a non-nuclear world war by unleashing a horrific genetically-engineered virus in the most powerful nations on Earth, thereby forcing a two-prong crisis. The disease is essentially rabies on steroids (think the Rage virus from the movie 28 Days Later), which not only demoralizes the dictator’s enemies, the infected serve as cannon fodder, which presents a moral crisis (is it right to kill the infected on the battlefield?). I had this backstory in my head as I was writing the book, but I could never find a place to include it. That was until several of my writer friends put together the anthology The Day After, for which I submitted my story “Suicide Soldier.” The main character in that is one of the dictator’s operatives, a young woman with nothing to live for, who is sent to the United States as a tourist in order to spread the virus, which she is carrying.

As you can see, my stories actually became more relevant as time went on. I’d originally been inspired to write Pandora’s Box by all the gun control talk in the news (the book addresses this on a macro scale by using nuclear disarmament), and while that’s still a huge issue to this day, I was shocked to see how ahead of things my imagination was when these other issues started hitting the news. While the Ebola outbreak has faded from the public eye, the refugee crisis remains a point of contention, especially as terrorism increases in Europe.

I won’t pretend that I (or my stories) have any answers for how to deal with these problems. At least not any big answers. What do I mean by that? Well, you’ll have to read my stories to find out.

Have you ever written a story that ended up becoming “prophetic”? What was it about? What real-life events did it “predict”?

An Open Letter to Nathan Alberson

Dear Mr. Alberson,

Hi. My name is Nathan Marchand, and I’m a freelance writer/author. You don’t know me, but I shared your recent blog post “An Open Letter to Rey from Star Wars” on my professional Facebook page, and it’s become one of the most shared things I’ve ever posted. Sadly, neither it nor you were getting much love. Heck, one or two people erroneously thought I had written it because we share the same first name. (Guilty by name association. Gah!)

When I first read your article, it did make me stop and think. I, too, am not fond of militant neo-feminism (let’s call it “misandry”) and its effects on modern culture. But after seeing the reactions to your article and discussing it with people, I’ve concluded that, honestly, you’re full of crap.

Your post is full of so much misinformation and misunderstanding, I’m not sure where to start. Perhaps I’ll start with your so-called “biblical evidence” since I’m also a Christian.

You cite three verses—Isaiah 19:16, Jeremiah 51:30, and Nahum 3:13—that describe the armies of nations being judged by God as “becoming like women” when facing His wrath. You cite these and 1 Peter 3:7 as evidence of how God designed women as vulnerable creatures. (Ironically, the now more politically correct rendition of the New International Version [NIV] uses the word “weaklings.”)

First, these passages aren’t meant to denote gender roles. In the ancient world, women usually didn’t fight in the army. They weren’t allowed. Culturally speaking, that was a role for men. In such an environment, they didn’t receive training and/or upbringing that made them into fighters. So, if they were to be accosted by enemy warriors, they should shrink back in fear. But that would be true of men who didn’t receive the same training. You’ve missed the point of these passages. 1 Peter 3:7 describes women as “the weaker partner,” which is talking about physical strength. Yes, generally speaking, men are physically larger and stronger than women. In the ancient world, this was why men did the fighting.But at the same time, it doesn’t mean women are helpless.

An artist’s rendering of Deborah from Judges 4-5.

Case in point: you neglect whole Bible stories that feature women being directed by God to take on traditionally masculine roles. Remember Deborah from Judges 4-5? She became the Judge (i.e. leader) of Israel. She liberated her people from King Jabin.

Jael killing Sisera in Judges 4. Art by Felice Ficherelli, 17th century.

Yes, she had Barak as her military commander, but he still deferred to her. It was her who spurred him on to victory. Despite his prowess, he was hesitant to fight. In other words, he was the one acting “like women,” as the verses you cited would say. But Judges 4 features another heroic woman: Jael. Deborah prophesied that Sisera, the enemy commander, would be delivered into the hands of a woman, but it wasn’t her. Jael brought final victory to Israel by driving a tent peg into Sisera’s skull.

You might argue they’re the exceptions to the rule, but the fact remains that these women showed that God is more than willing to use women is traditionally masculine roles if no men will step up to the plate. To paraphrase the Other from Marvel’s The Avengers, “They are not the cowering wretches” you seem to think they are. “I could quote more scriptures about women being vulnerable in ways that men aren’t,” you condescendingly wrote. “I’m not going to bother doing that because you ladies are all capable of reading your Bibles.” Well, I could say the same when it comes to biblical examples of strong women doing exactly what Deborah and Jael did, too. But I know you’re capable of reading your Bible, right?

Which brings me to this point: women, especially in the modern world, have had to learn to take care of themselves. Not because they’re raging feminists who think they don’t need men, but because they have to. They’re single and don’t have a man to protect them. They might live in a dangerous neighborhood. So, they go learn martial arts and/or self-defense. Most hope this is a temporary situation, but even if they do get married, their husbands can’t be with them 24/7 to make sure they’re safe. A married woman could be mugged while walking home from work. What should she do then? Nothing because it means she’s violated her so-called “biblical gender role”? Absolutely not!

Speaking of martial arts, you seem to think that fighting is all about strength. It isn’t. As this video shows, it’s also about speed and technique. Martial arts like judo and jujitsu teach practitioners to use the power of their opponents against them. This is why women learn this and similar martial arts to defend themselves (read this article for more). They don’t require practitioners to be stronger than their opponents. These could be used by small men, too, by the way.

You seem to think that “action heroines” started with Ellen Ripley in the original Alien. This shows a gross ignorance of literature. Perhaps it started in pop culture with her, but female warriors date all the way back to ancient mythology. Ever heard of the Amazons? They’re just one of many examples dating back millennia. Need I also bring up Susan from The Chronicles of Narnia and Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings, both of which were written by devout Christians (C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, respectively)? If I had daughters, I’d want them to look up to fictional heroines like that. (Heck, I’ve considered naming a daughter Eowyn for that reason!)

You note that many of these action heroines fall back into their “traditional”/”biblical” roles as mothers because it’s their God-given nature. You cite Ripley defending Newt like a mother in Aliens and Black Widow in Avengers: Age of Ultron regretting that she was forcibly sterilized as examples. You bring them up like they’re proof that something was violated. I don’t think so. There are countless examples in nature of mothers violently defending their young (ever try to anger a mother bear? You’ll regret it). Human females will also fight to defend their children. The fact that childbearing is biologically wired into them is an undeniable part of their identity, but it isn’t their entire identity.

But this happens with male characters, too. Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings isn’t just a rugged warrior—he’s also a tender lover. That seems to go counter to hyper-masculine heroes like Rambo. Some might even call it feminine.

You want to argue with the great C.S. Lewis about creating an action heroine?
Witch King: “No man can slay me!” Eowyn: “I am no man! You look upon a woman!” ::stab::

You wrote, “[Men] certainly don’t feel very inspired to fight for a woman trying her best to be just like us. She’s worth dying for used to mean something. If there’s nothing precious or exalted about women, why should men bother?” This is difficult for me to address because I have known women who fit this description. I even went on a date with one. I don’t think I’d have described that girl as “trying to be just like a man,” but she was a lady pastor who knew martial arts. Her position, biblical knowledge, and self-defense skills were intimidating because she seemed so self-sufficient, I didn’t know what I could offer her. She seemed to have all the major bases covered. I’m not saying I have to be smarter, stronger, and/or more capable at everything than a wife, but I do want to feel like what we offer each other is equal. So, in other words, I can see where you’re coming from, but I think you take it too far. If anything, it seems like an expression of self-deprecation and self-loathing, which is sad and kind of pathetic, to be honest. I don’t know if you’re married, but if you aren’t, I think I know why. (I hate to make personal comments like that because I despise ad hominems).

Are the heroines you speak of influenced by misandry (or militant feminism)? Possibly. Some have certainly been claimed by neo-feminism. However, all good stories are written in such a way that individual readers/viewers can interpret the characters through their own lenses. I don’t see Rey or Ripley or Black Widow as feminist icons that declare, “I am woman! Hear me roar for I hate men and don’t need them!” Rey is young girl trying to survive alone on a harsh desert planet. Ripley is a space trucker who’s forced to defend herself against a hideous monster. Black Widow is a secret agent trying to recover her humanity after it was stripped away from her. Those are universal human struggles. The fact that they’re women is immaterial. There are many, many examples of the same sorts of stories featuring male characters.

I could probably say more, but this blog has already gone long, and I’ve spent way more time writing it when I should writing my next short story or novel.

I bet you’d *love* my first novel!

(Speaking of which, Mr. Alberson, I should send you my first book, Pandora’s Box. It’d make your head explode because it features a tomboyish, redheaded, butt-kicking but still feminine heroine).

If you read this, thanks. I hope it gives you some things to think about.

Your Pal,

(The Original) Nate

My Mandatory Gen-Con 2015 Report (Part 3)

(Continued from Part 2).

Saturday at Gen-Con is always the busiest. Lots of people come in just for that day, so I decided I would minimize my time away from my table to maximize my presence. With 61,000 people attending the convention this year, Saturday, I thought, would be the best day to meet potential readers.

However, Eric and I did split on a ticket for one event the day before: meeting Summer Glau.

Eric (far left) and me (far right) with Summer Glau.
Eric (far left) and me (far right) with Summer Glau.
Mrs. Glau is primarily a TV actress. She’s been in many things (which never seem to last long, sadly), but she’s best known for playing River Tam in the short-lived but much-beloved series Firefly and its film sequel Serenity. Admittedly, I hadn’t seen the show in years. I was more interested in meeting Marina Sirtis (more on that later) than her, but figured I’d take the opportunity to meet her anyway.

What’s crazy, though, is she walked past my table on her way to the autograph area, which wasn’t far from Authors Avenue. I kinda flipped out since I wasn’t sure if that really was her. She didn’t have an entourage; there was only one guy escorting her. I knew when I walked over to get in line that it was her who walked by. (Squee!)

Eric and I—cosplaying Obi-Wan Kenobi and the 10th Doctor, respectively—stood in line for a much shorter time than expected since we had a ticket. I tried looking Ms. Glau up on Twitter to see if she’d tweeted anything about the con or to find something I could ask her about that didn’t have to do with her work. I found at an account that I learned later was fake, but it said she was an avid reader. I told Eric to hold our place in line and ran back to my table to get a copy of my first novel, Pandora’s Box. I chose that because I figured she might enjoy that one the most out of the books I’ve published (though I wonder if she’d like Children of the Wells…). Now, you must understand: I’ve given books as gifts to celebrities at cons before, and I’d thought about giving her one, but I realized she might not necessarily want it. That’s why I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.


I always knew Summer Glau was beautiful, but what struck me as we got closer was how kind and happy she was. She was gracious with fans and always smiled. When Eric and I came up to take pictures, she said we were dressed nice and offered to put her hands on our backs. With that, I said it was an honor to meet her. Then I said I was an author from Authors Avenue and mentioned that she walked by my booth and that I’d heard she was an avid reader. So, as a thank you for coming to Gen-Con, I wanted to give her one of my books. She was ecstatic and said, “I’m honored!” I signed it for her, leaving a note that said, “To Summer Glau: Thanks for coming!”

Eric joked afterward that after reading it maybe she’ll want to make it into a movie and star as the heroine. I scoffed at the idea, but a guy can dream, right? (But only if Joss Whedon is involved!) :p

(I was a bit smitten with Mrs. Glau the rest of the day. I suddenly want to re-watch Firefly).

(EDIT: I just read on Wikipedia that Mrs. Glau was homeschooled! I wish I knew that at the con!)

The rest of the day was busy but typical in the vendors hall.

Afterward, I attended a live recording of the “Writing Excuses” podcast. I didn’t realize they were recording five episodes in two hours, so I had to leave early, but it was great to see the show since I listen to it frequently.

IMG_2831 IMG_2857

Then I went to the Five Year Mission concert, as is my Gen-Con tradition. I got to hear songs from their newest album, “Spock’s Brain.” Yes, these guys wrote 11 songs about arguably the worst episode of the original Star Trek! It was a great show, and I bought the album. (Expect a review soon!) Yes, I still had my 10th Doctor costume, so I wasn’t quite dressed right, but nobody said anything.

I went back to my hotel room and changed into some summer-y clothes to go to the annual Gen-Con dance since the theme was “summer bash.” It was a bit more night club/rave than I expected, but it was entertaining for a while.

Lightsabre limbo bar!
Lightsabre limbo bar!

Jedi dancer?
Jedi dancer?
I want to write about the last day of the convention, but this post has already gone long, so I’ll save it for tomorrow. Until then, feel free to leave comments!

Next Time in Part 4:
Marina Sirtis, the Geekpreacher, and lots of cosplay!

Representation in Stories is Overrated

Marvel Comics recently announced it was launching a new title with an all-female Avengers team called A-Force. It seems like it will feature many of the House of Ideas’ most famous superheroines—like She-Hulk, Black Widow, and Phoenix—many of whom have been members of the main Avengers team.

I’m not opposed to this idea in concept. If Marvel thinks they can generate good stories with a team like this, I’m all for it. The problem, I think, is that doesn’t seem to be their motivation. This reeks of political correctness. It’s an attempt at “diversifying” their titles because they think it’ll appeal to a wider audience. (Ironic considering this team technically isn’t diverse because it has no men on it).

The comic book industry has been dominated by men since its inception. Generally speaking, male authors write male protagonists because they’re drawing upon their own experiences as a male. Now, that doesn’t mean they haven’t written any female characters well. I’d argue there are plenty out there. Unfortunately, comics have a reputation for presenting those characters as sexual objects. Some of it is deserved, but I’d say some of it isn’t. It depends on the individual creators, companies, and/or eras. Regardless, my point remains that it’s understandable that superheroines are a minority in comics because most creators are male (and that’s not a bad thing).

This comic, whether it’s good or not, seems like it’s based on the notion that particular demographics won’t enjoy a story unless the protagonists share their gender, ethnicity, religion, and/or whatnot. In this case, they could be assuming that women won’t read the regular Avengers titles because there are only a few women on the team at any given time (in the first movie, there was only one). This extends to other demographics (i.e. only black people will enjoy stories featuring black characters).

I reject this idea. I’m sure it’s true for some people, but I don’t think most audiences care. What I look for is a good story with characters I like and/or identify with. This goes way beyond skin color or reproductive organs. A truly great story is one that focuses on human experiences, which transcend those outward superficial differences. I read/watch The Hunger Games because it has a good story; the protagonist’s gender had little or no effect on my enjoyment. Everyone has dealt with stuff like trauma, pain, joy, love, and rejection. Those things aren’t a respecter of persons, whether they be fictional or real.

One of my favorite characters in the Star Trek franchise is Benjamin Sisko from Deep Space Nine. Obviously, he’s a black man. But guess what? I never notice. What do I notice? His soft-spoken demeanor, his furious temper, his love for his son, and the pain of losing his wife in battle. All universally human experiences. Read this excerpt from the show’s bible that describes the character. Nowhere does it mention his ethnicity. It was only brought up in the show when it was necessary. That’s how it should always be handled. A character’s ethnicity, gender, and/or religious beliefs can be used to create drama (or comedy), but it shouldn’t define them. It’s only a small part of who they are. Trying to base the character around those traits will, in fact, alienate audiences.

Adding arbitrary diversity also hampers stories. Case in point: Tauriel in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films. She’s not from the book or any of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings canon. She was created by Jackson and his wife, Fran, because they wanted to add a woman to the almost all-male cast in the hopes of attracting a female audience. She’s completely extraneous to the story. What little purpose she has is to serve as one point in an unnecessary love triangle between her, Kili, and Legolas (who also wasn’t in the book, but I’m willing to accept him here because it’s arguable he was one of the Elves in the story). In other words, Jackson seems to think women want to see cliché “love stories” that go nowhere. Tauriel might be an okay character in concept, but ultimately she’s just part of what amounts a big-budget fanfiction. Instead, Jackson should’ve focused on Bilbo’s growth, which anyone can identify with. Stories don’t need to have romance to be appealing to women.

Pandora-155w-100dpi-C8In the very early stages of writing my first novel, Pandora’s Box, I thought the protagonist would be male. But as the story progressed, I realized it’d be better if the “hero” was actually a heroine. By doing that, I believe I made the story much stronger and more interesting. I didn’t do it to broaden (or narrow) it’s appeal or make some sort of statement—I did it because it was what the story needed. That’s why one of my author mantras is, “Story is king.” Whatever my tale needs, I give it. If it’s a female protagonist, then a female protagonist. If it’s a German scientist, then a German scientist. If it’s a trope-tastic ninja, then a trope-tastic ninja. 😛

So, if you’re concerned with having diversity in your story, don’t bother unless it’ll serve it well. Focus instead on telling as good of a story as you can. That will get you an audience from all races, colors, and creeds.

My Influences for ‘Pandora’s Box’

In the latest episode of the “Derailed Trains of Thought” podcast hosted by my friends Nick Hayden and Tim Deal (which if you aren’t following, you should), they spoke about the lesser-known stories that have influenced them. Nick mentioned that he could easily name most of the influences in the first 50 pages of his first novel, Trouble on the Horizon (one of which is “Pokemon”!?).

This made me think about the literary influences that came together and—by their powers combined!—became my first novel, Pandora’s Box. So, just for fun, I decided I list them and explain what they contributed. You may be surprised by what I include and how they affected my writing of that book.

(NOTE: I’m excluding the personal experiences and experiences of others that contributed to its creation. I’m also excluding [most of] the research I conducted and the “soundtrack” I compiled as I wrote it. As I said, this is focused on literary influences. I make little references to other literary works, but I’m not including those because their influence is minimal).

In no particular order…


Works and Days by Hesiod

This is an obvious but obscure influence. It’s a lesser-known epic poem by the ancient Greek poet Hesiod. Why is it here? It details the best-known version of the Pandora’s box myth (to my knowledge there are two). Honestly, it’s a terribly boring read other than that story. Not to mention misogynistic. Hesiod, from what I remember, blames most the world’s misery on women, and uses the story of Pandora as one of his bits of evidence. When’s he’s not bashing the fairer sex, he’s giving instructions on farming. Seriously. He’s no Homer.


Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

I was writing a military science fiction novel, so I had to read the all-time great of the subgenre. A friend in college highly recommended book, saying the popular but awful movie was a slap in the face. I loved every page of the book. Heinlein’s futuristic military, in particular its unmerciful training methods, influenced how I created the Vanguard. Its influence is strongest during the bootcamp chapters of Pandora’s Box. True confession time: My sexist drill instructor, Sgt. Barak, is modeled after that novel’s drill sergeant, Sgt. Zim (my favorite character). Just read the boot camp chapters of both books and you’ll see the similarities. This was by the most influential on the writing.

51vzVcRTMbL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ - Copy

Friday by Robert Heinlein

Another Heinlein book had a more indirect influence. I read it because it seemed similar to what I was endeavoring to write: a science fiction adventure story with a female lead written in first-person by a male author. However, I quickly learned that Heinlein’s titular character had little in common with mine. Friday’s morals are looser; she has a mellower personality; and she spends most of her time thinking she isn’t a real person. Also, there wasn’t as much action/adventure as I expected. It’s not a bad book, though.



I wrote Pandora’s Box as the Halo video game series made it meteoric rise. I didn’t own an Xbox, but I played them often with my friends and brothers. I include it because I modeled the Vanguard’s cyber-armor somewhat on Master Chief’s armor. Some of the Vanguard’s other weapons and gear were inspired by items in the games. My book’s action sequences also have a bit of a Halo flavor, particularly the shoot-outs. If I was going to cosplay as a character from the book (which I’ve considered), I would use designs for a Master Chief costume as my starting point.


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

It’s my favorite movie, so how could it not play a part? When I listened to director Nicolas Meyer’s commentary, he said he told the late great Richardo Montalban that he was to play Khan like he was King Lear. “Madmen are scarier when they’re under control,” he said. The audience never knows when such characters will snap or what will set them off. Despite being a megalomaniac, Khan is a man who cares deeply for his followers (a side Benedict Cumberbach displayed when he played Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness). He’s a three-dimensional villain. Hearing all that inspired my characterization of Erebus the Overlord. I presented as a cold, calculating dictator who, it seemed, was trying to liberate his oppressed people. I enjoy complex villains.

28 days

28 Days Later

I hesitate to include this film because I felt like the movie stole my idea when I watched it (I’ve since learned it wasn’t the first. Heck, I just watched an episode of the original Star Trek that had an element similar to this). Regardless, at the time I thought this was a unique take on zombies. These weren’t reanimated corpses with an appetite for flesh. They were victims of a disease that acted like a nasty strain of rabies. Despite feeling like my idea was stolen, the film influenced how I presented the Morlocks. What the film didn’t steal was the moral dilemma I injected: are they monsters or simply ill people? That was an angle I never saw any zombie story. That was the part I was glad wasn’t “stolen.”


Into the Crucible: Making Marines for the 21st Century by James B. Woulfe

This is a nonfiction book I read as part of my research for the novel. It describes the 54-hour exercise trainees must endure to become Marines. It inspired not only many of the bootcamp exercises, but it also gave me my heroine’s name. It briefly recounted the legend of Lucy Brewer, who disguised herself as a man to serve during the War of 1812. I took her surname for Pandora. The Vanguard has its equivalent of the Crucible, the Highway to Hell, which is mentioned once. Perhaps I’ll write a short story about that. (Hmm…that’d be a nice addition to next year’s edition of Missing Pieces).



James Cameron Aliens is an epic military sci-fi tale with incredibly good pacing. My own writing has often been complimented for great pacing and suspense. More importantly, the film features a strong heroine. Ripley has much in common with Pandora: she’s a woman in a male-dominated field; she’s tough yet compassionate; and she can carry her own against the boys. I have a feeling Ripley and Pandora would be best friends if they met.

Honorable Mentions:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990): I always thought Shredder had an awesome entrance, so I used a similar one for Erebus when Pandora finally meets him.

-The Last Letter of Sullivan Ballou: A letter written by a Civil War soldier to his wife on the eve of the Battle of Bull Run, where he died. The man’s sentiments inspired the characterization of Dante, Pandora’s boyfriend.

Alien: Nick Hayden was my beta reader for the horrible first draft of the book. One thing he said that stuck with me was that I made excellent use of silence during the action sequences to create tension and atmosphere like Ridley Scott did in Alien.

What are some of your literary influences?

The Obligatory Gen-Con 2014 Blog

It’s been a week since Gen-Con 2014 ended, and as usual, I miss it. Not only does Gen-Con have a great Authors’ Avenue where I can sell books and a great Writers’ Symposium where I can attend seminars, it’s one of the few places I can be an unbridled nerd and nobody judges me.

If you follow me on Facebook (and if you don’t, you should), you saw my almost up-to-the-minute updates while my brother Jarod and I were at the four-day convention. There’s a lot I could write about, but for now I’ll focus on a few highlights not mentioned in those posts. UPDATE: More photos from Gen-Con have been posted on my Facebook page!

Want to see photographs from the convention? I recommend checking out my Facebook page. Until I figure out how the new photo gallery plug-in I downloaded works, that’s where I’ll be posting photos from signings and such. Sorry.

First, here are the fans/readers I met while I was at the con, both new and old.

My first sale of the con! A gentleman named Scott Blankenship purchased "Destroyer" and "The Day After."
My first sale of the con! A gentleman named Scott Blankenship purchased “Destroyer” and “The Day After.”
Here I am with fellow kaiju fan Tom Tancredi after he purchased "Destroyer."
Here I am with fellow kaiju fan Tom Tancredi after he purchased “Destroyer.”
My first "Chidlren of the Wells" buyer! His name is Sean Steele (which sounds like the name of a hero in a book).
My first “Children of the Wells” buyer! His name is Sean Steele (which sounds like the name of a hero in a book).
I convinced my buddy Darrin Ball to buy "Destroyer" and "The Day After" since he purchased "Pandora's Box" from me a few years ago. He's still the HeroScape champ to me! ;)
I convinced my buddy Darrin Ball to buy “Destroyer” and “The Day After” since he purchased “Pandora’s Box” from me a few years ago. He’s still the HeroScape champ to me! 😉
This is Ben and Ashley Davis. I befriended them through Facebook (mostly), and they stopped by and bought "Pandora's Box." Wonderful people!
This is Ben and Ashley Davis. I befriended them through Facebook (mostly), and they stopped by and bought “Pandora’s Box.” Wonderful people!
Joe Stichmeyer (I hope I spelled that right), anotehr fellow kaiju fan, bought "Destroyer" from me and "Mammoth Monster Madness"--an anthology I contributed to--from Ed Russell.
Joe Stichmeyer (I hope I spelled that right), anotehr fellow kaiju fan, bought “Destroyer” from me and “Mammoth Monster Madness”–an anthology I contributed to–from Ed Russell.
A Rogue cosplayer named Alyssa who bought "The Day After."
A Rogue cosplayer named Alyssa who bought “The Day After.”
I met Alyssa VanderGalien (I hope I spelled that right) at the FFC/CGG worship service that morning, and she stopped by to purchase "The Day After."
I met Alyssa VanderGalien (I hope I spelled that right) at the FFC/CGG worship service that morning, and she stopped by to purchase “The Day After.”
Here I am with Patricia Gore.
Here I am with Patricia Gore.

This was Jarod’s first time at Gen-Con, though it wasn’t his first convention. He’s gone with me to several others this year as attendees. We made prints of the illustrations he’s done for my short stories and the titles cards he’s made for my YouTube show, “But I Digress…”. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, we weren’t able to sell any of these. I was shocked. Conventions seemed like the places where people would eat up his artwork. Perhaps it was because we were in the authors’ section and not the art show area. Regardless, he did manage to get a pair of commissions: one for a steampunk pin-up girl a guy wanted for a restaurant he wants to start called Pandora’s Lunchbox (he told us about it because of the title of my novel), and another for a con-goer who wanted little pictures of Wile E. Coyote and a Digimon for a Magic: The Gathering card. Jarod also drew a few random sketches during our downtime, especially when things were slow on Thursday, including Maleficent, a ballerina Dalek (no joke), and a ninja Elsa. He gave the last one to a Jedi Elsa cosplayer, who inspired the artwork.

As for my book sales, they were slow again this year. I took fewer books with me assuming I’d sell out, but I didn’t. I got a few bits of advice from my fellow writers on how to improve that:

1) Get new signs. I’ve been using Jarod’s handmade sign for three years now. It’s time I upgraded. It’ll help me look more professional.

2)  Have more books. For whatever reason, people will be more interested in buying books when they have more choices. I thought the opposite was true, but I think it would diversify my appeal and show people I’m still writing.

It didn’t help that the new books I wanted to take—Children of the Wells, Volume 1—didn’t arrive in time, so I wasn’t able to sell them until Saturday. Even so, that was a bit of tough sell since I wasn’t in that collection (but I’ll be in volume two).

However, I think my networking was much-improved this year. I talked with more of the writers there and shared my business cards with them. I think I even found a publisher interested in seeing Ninjas and Talking Trees. J Hopefully, in the coming year, that will all pay off.

As usual, while other vendors were too tired to enjoy the convention after the exhibitors’ hall closed, I was still running around with boundless energy like the Doctor. (In fact, I cosplayed as the 10th Doctor while I was there on Sunday).

I've harassed this Dalek every year, and I was excited to do so this time since I had a real costume. But his batteries were dead. He must've been so scared, he shut down. :P
I’ve harassed this Dalek every year, and I was excited to do so this time since I had a real costume. But his batteries were dead. He must’ve been so scared, he shut down. 😛

I attended many writing seminars since many of the other events I wanted to attend were sold out. (I waited to sign up since I was on the waiting list for months and wasn’t sure I’d make it to the convention). Regardless, I was still able to participate in an “Ultra Street Fighter IV” tournament Friday night and see the Five Year Mission show Saturday night. I wasn’t able to play any board games, though.

Overall, I don’t think it was quite as good of an experience as last year’s convention, but I still want to return next year. That, sadly, is uncertain since the organizers didn’t allow writers and artists an early sign up at the end of the convention like they usually do. I have no idea when tables will be available. On the bright side, I could have as many as three new titles to sell at next year’s convention if all goes as planned (more on that later).

See you next year, Gen-Con!

Who Wins in a Fight: Katniss or Pandora?

Image courtesy of www.IMDB.com.
Image courtesy of www.IMDB.com.
Cover art by Tomislav Tikulin.

Expecting a nerdy exposition about whether Pandora Brewer, the heroine of my novel Pandora’s Box, could beat Katniss Everdeen, heroine of Suzanne Collins’ hot Hunger Games books, in a street fight? Then I apologize for the sensational but slightly misleading blog title. (But feel free to debate that with me in the comments).

Yesterday, I received a message from a friend in Virginia who said her pastor’s family came over for dinner and their daughter, an avid reader, discovered my friend’s copy of my novel. She devoured it. My friend asked me to send this girl an autographed copy (we nerds know to take care for our fans). So, fangirl, if you’re reading this, rest assured you will be getting that copy soon! And thanks for reading my book!

This reminded me of an unexpected turn in my young career as a novelist: the fanbase for my novel has tended to be young adults. In other words, the Hunger Games crowd. This astonishes me. I didn’t write Pandora’s Box for them but for a general science fiction audience. Pandora Brewer is in her early-to-mid-twenties in most of the novel (she was a child in one chapter and 18 years old in another). Yet it seems she appeals to fans of Katniss Everdeen. I admit the characters have some similarities, but they’re quite different characters. (I could write an entire blog post on that). What’s equally astonishing is most of the libraries who have stocked my novel have put it in the YA section. I can only think of one off-hand that has put it in the regular science fiction section. My friend Natasha Hayden, an avid reader of YA, would tell you Pandora’s Box doesn’t belong in YA.

As I think about it, though, those libraries may have noticed something I didn’t. I wrote the first draft of this novel when I was 18. I worked on it periodically throughout college, finishing it six to eight months after graduation. In other words, I wrote this book when I was still a member the target audience for YA books. I was reading a few such books at the time, so their influence was undeniable. I could be wrong, but I do think the writing, not publication, of my book predated Suzanne Collins’ epic trilogy. Regardless, all this probably gave my book a YA flavor.

But the best explanation can probably be summarized by something Jonathan Maberry said when I saw him in Maryland several months back: “YA is fearless.” Those books and authors will try anything, no matter how crazy or unorthodox. “Adult” books and authors, he said, are too worried about sticking to formula. In that regard, YA authors are my kindred. I tend to ignore trends and conventions. I just want to tell my stories. I want to be original. I’d rather be a trendsetter. (Probably why I have a tough time getting a literary agent).

Perhaps that’s why I’m appealing to this audience: they sense that fearlessness in my writing.

They’ll be excited to know I’m writing a sequel, and its heroine will be a 17-year-old girl. 😉

Besides, comparing my novel to Hunger Games is just good marketing.

(And for the record, I think Pandora can take Katniss). 😛

If ‘Pandora’s Box’ was a Movie

PandorasBox04I talked about this before on the “Derailed Trains of Thought” podcast, but I thought it’d be fun to talk about now.

While I was in college, Dr. Dennis E. Hensley, my English/writing professor, said one of his writing techniques was “casting” actors for the characters in his stories, as if they were being made into movies. It helped solidify images of the characters in his mind.

Being a nerd and a visual writer, I did the same for Pandora’s Box. I also went a step farther and picked my ideal director. Admittedly, most of these castings are out-of-date. Remember, I wrote most of the novel 8-10 years ago (it just took a while to get it published). Also, don’t let these color how you, True Believers, picture the characters. This is how I visualize them, but you’re entitled to your imaginings.

Director (and possibly screenwriter): James Cameron


If I could persuade him to take a break from making Avatar sequels, I’d love to have James Cameron direct the film. I might even let him write the script, although I would prefer to do that myself (or at least supervise). While I still think Titanic is the most overrated movie ever, I love the rest of his filmography (Terminator 1&2Aliens, etc.). Cameron is great with special effects, action, story, and strong female leads. All these would be abundant in a film version of the book. Not to mention his name would equal an instant blockbuster.

Jennifer Garner as Pvt. Pandora Brewer


At the time I was writing the novel, Jennifer Garner was at the peek of her popularity. She was the star of the TV show Alias (which I wished I’d watched more often) and was Elektra in 2004’s Daredevil, a role she was perfect for. So, since she was an attractive and talented actress in action heroine roles (which she hasn’t done much of since, sadly), I thought she would be perfect for my book’s heroine. Her characters were tough yet vulnerable; fierce yet feminine. Plus, I even found a photo of her as a redhead! It’s obviously a wig, but she still looks great. (End of fanboy rant).

Liam Neeson as Col. William Brewer


Liam Neeson is one of my favorite actors. He keeps showing up in my favorite films series (Star WarsDark Knight TrilogyNarnia, etc.). He’s a powerhouse of an actor, which is why I’m disappointed he hasn’t won an Oscar. Here’s a guy who could be your dad or your worst enemy. He’s been typecast lately as mentor figures for that reason, I think. I’m a little embarrassed to say “casting” him as William Brewer, Pandora’s father, falls into that, but he’s perfect for the role. He’s tall, has a commanding voice, and a fatherly demeanor. Plus, he has an action star streak in him.

Jude Law as Dante


I wanted a handsome foreigner for Pandora’s boyfriend, and after thinking it over, decided to go with Jude Law. Admittedly, he remains the actor on this list I’m least familiar with, but I still thought he fit the bill. He just needs to fake an Italian accent.

Ewan McGregor as Jason Argos


Like Garner, Ewan McGregor was at the peek of his notoriety at the time of my writing. I selected him for Pandora’s snarky best friend because of his youthful good looks and charm. (You’ll also notice I have several Star Wars actors in this “cast”). He seemed a good counterpoint to Garner’s Pandora.

Michael Ironside as Erebus the Overlord


This guy is the most obscure member of my dream cast. You won’t recognize his name, but you’ll recognize his face and especially his voice, which is why I picked him. Michael Ironside has a deep, almost gravelly voice that he rarely raises. That plus his stony face and expressions makes him terrifying, which is probably why he typically plays villains. The only downside is he’s been in some aweful movies, but I don’t think that’d be a problem.

Gen-Con 2013 is just around the corner!


My BIGGEST signing of the year is nearly here!

You may remember that I went to Gen-Con last year. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Well, I’ll be returning this year. The convention is this weekend, August 15-18, in Indianapolis, Indiana. It’s being held at the Indiana Convention Center, just a hop, skip, and a jump from Lucas Oil Stadium (where the Colts play). I’ll be selling copies of my books–including Pandora’s Box–and promoting Children of the Wells in the vendors’ area all four days. The hours will 10am-6pm Thursday-Saturday (9am for VIGs Thursday) and 10am-4pm Sunday. I will be taking breaks to attend a few events and meet Walter Koenig (the original Chekhov!) and Peter Davison (the 5th Doctor!), but this year I’m bringing my friend Eric as an assistant, so he’ll be manning my table if I’m not there. (Thanks, Eric!)

By the way, I’ll be cosplaying as a different sci-fi/comic book hero each day of the convention. Who will they be? Come to Gen-Con to find out!

Gen Con Indy is the original, longest-running, best-attended, gaming convention in the world!

For more than 45 years, Gen Con Indy has set the trend in gaming and has broken attendance records. Last year, more than 134,775 turnstile and 41,000 unique attendees experienced Gen Con Indy.

Featuring game industry veterans, award-winning authors and artists, jaw-dropping costumes, thousands of events, a growing Family Fun Pavilion, and the newest games on the market, Gen Con truly is The Best Four Days in Gaming™!

Gen Con is more than just a convention, however. It’s a passion, a community, and a unique experience that keeps people coming back for decades.

Learn more about the convention at its website here.

See you there!

If I don’t, I’ll do my best to post daily updates!

Book signing delayed; ‘Pandora’s Box’ now on Kindle

A couple quick bits of news for you, True Believers.

First, I’ve unfortunately had to delay my next book signing. It will still be held at Next Chapter Bookseller in Warsaw, Indiana, but due to scheduling issues, it has been postponed until March 1. I promise I will be there, though.

In better news, I’ve discovered that my novel, Pandora’s Box, is now available on the Amazon Kindle! I don’t know when this happened (Hades Publications never informed me), but I’m very happy it is now an eBook. Click here to buy it.