Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Altered Europa Interview: Ryan McCall

Hello, and welcome to our latest series of author interviews.  The long anticipated anthology "Altered Europa" will be coming out on April 2, 2017!  (Pre-order Altered Europa Here!In preparation for this grand release we'll be running interviews of various contributors.

MTI:  Today I'm interviewing Ryan McCall, who contributed Shaken, Shot, and Stirred, to the collection as well as Megali Hellas.

It has been 3 years since we did an interview.  Let's start off by telling our readers a little bit about yourself.

RYAN MCCALL:  I’ve been writing for a few years just as a part time thing. I had written one novel and sat on it for a few years until I decided to self-publish it on Amazon. After that initial book I made sure that I kept writing as a continual hobby.

MTI:  Your first story to appear in this collection is Shaken Shot and Stirred.  Tell us a little bit more about this contribution, particularly, how does it deviate from known history?

RM:  Essentially it’s a James Bond inspired spy story in a Soviet dominated Europe. I don’t state it in the story but the point of divergence is the Allies having a disaster on D-Day. This eventually led to the Soviets conquering everything the Germans had all the way to France. Thus the UK now sends spies to France in this different Cold War.

MTI:  Tell us a little bit about your other contribution, Megali Hellas.  What's the premise behind it?

RM:  In the simplest of words, a Greater Greece. I was inspired by a scenario I read about for Avalanche Press’s Third Reich board game where someone had asked about adding in a Byzantine Empire. Instead Avalanche Press created an enlarged Greek state that could be used. I was intrigued by the idea that a monkey bite had changed history so profoundly, so I removed that and allowed Alexander I of Greece to survive and win against the Turks and create a greater Greek state. The long term outcomes for the rest of the region are greatly affected as a result.

MTI:  Before Altered Europa, there was Altered America.  You had a story in that collection called Guns of the Green Mountains...

RM:  That one was quite fun to write. Of all the alternate history scenarios for America I think a divided America is the most interesting. Guns of the Green Mountains is a small scale story in what could be a fascinating world.

MTI:  If you could go back in time and change any historical element, which one would you alter?

RM:  Go back and have a conversation with Marx, get him to make it more about people than worshipping the idea of working class and revolution. I’m in favour of equality for everyone but his ideas were abused radically in the twentieth century.

MTI:  For further pondering, if a wormhole leading to an alternate reality suddenly appeared in front of you, would you dare to take the plunge and discover what awaits on the other side?

RM:  I’m too much of a pragmatist for that. I’d certainly love to study it and see what we can find out form a safe distance via robots or drones being sent through but I have too much of a life here to just drop at a whim.

MTI:  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

RM:  I’m very slowly plodding through the early chapters of an Arthurian tale. I decided that most Arthurian stories I see keep the magic and supernatural out of it so I’m adding more in. In addition I’ve reversed the roles, so Arthur is a brutal tyrant and the Knights of the Round Table his overlord thugs.

MTI:  Intriguing.  Other than your work appearing in Altered Europa, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

RM:  I self-published another alternate history, Cutting the Deck, last year. It’s more of a non-fiction style alternate history and shows what would happen if the roles of the communists and nationalists were reversed in the Chinese Civil War.

I have a few stories for some monster hunting anthologies waiting to be published but they are well overdue. Word is Amazon has upset the cart for anthologies for small presses due to the payment by page counts.

MTI:  I'm not sure about this payment by page count thing, but I'll be sure to look into it.  Rest assured, Martinus Publishing gets paid for every kindle or print copy actually sold.

On a lighter note, have you watched any good tv lately?

RM:  The Man in the High Castle is quite simply the best non-literate alternate history I have ever seen. They captured an alternate world so perfectly in this show. I also really like the TV adaption of The Expanse, based on the novels by James SA Corey.

MTI:  How about music?

RM:  Can’t say I follow any particular music. I just listen to whatever is on the radio usually.

MTI:  Can you name three movies that you've enjoyed watching in the past year?

Taken. I know it’s getting on, but for some reason I had never watched until recently. As for new films I liked, Captain America: Civil War and Sausage Party.

MTI:  Readers love samples.  Do you happen to have a story excerpt you'd like to share with us today?

RM:  This is an excerpt from Tyrants of the Round Table (working title for my Arthurian novel)

A quick and sharp whistle echoed through the trees. Mordred released the arrow he had been holding steady in his bow. It whizzed through the air with a remarkable accuracy and pierced the chest of the large buck he had been aiming at.

The deer went down in a crumpled heap. The sound of footsteps indicated his friend’s approach. Drest emerged from a thick clump of dark green bushes. He was in green and brown clothing that blended in with the forest colors. “Good shot” he said to Mordred as he walked over and clapped him on the back. Drest was a Pict and he had a thick accent, though Mordred had grown accustomed to it by now. He had lived all of his nineteen years in northern Lothian, along the border with Pictland and he had been friends with Drest since they had been ten years old.

Mordred had encountered him in the () Forest when he had gotten lost there. He had been scared and crying and had no idea where to go when Dress had found him. Despite his initial amusement at Mordred’s fear of being alone in the forest, he had helped him find his way back home. The had met up several more times in the forest and quickly become friends. Drest had eventually revealed that his father was none other than Talorc the current King of the Picts. He explained that the Pictish royalty didn’t coddle their young gently the way those in the south did. King’s didn’t inherit the right to rule, they had to win in it by displaying strength, courage and leadership. If Drest wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps he would have to do the same. So he developed his skills of tracking and hunting in the forest from a young age.

“Thanks” replied Mordred. The two teenage hunters moved towards their downed prey. They were of a similar height, but while Drest had blazing red hair, left to grow long, Mordred had short black hair. Drest was fat and thick-muscled all over his body; Mordred was thin, with lean muscle only in certain places.

Drest pulled the arrow out of the deer and inspected it. Deciding it was still usable he wiped the blood off on the ground and returned it to his quiver. It was actually quite ingenious-animal hides that had been stretched and hardened, then sewed together with hair, to form a cylindrical shape.

Mordred didn’t have a quiver or a bow. His mother wouldn’t allow him to have one, though she had let him train under a local smith in the use of a short sword, for self-defense. She always fusses too much thought Mordred. Maybe she needs to get out more.

“Come on help me with this” said Drest, snapping Mordred out of his thoughts. The Pict boy had broken a thin branch off a nearby tree and wanted to tie it to the deer’s feet so they could carry it.

Mordred bent down to help him. “You and your mother will be eating well for the next few days” said Drest.

“Don’t you want any?” asked Mordred. The buck was far too large for just him and his mother. Even if they shared it with the nearby village, there still enough that the meat would likely spoil before it could be finished.

“Aye. I’ll cut off some when we get back to your home. All’s I meant was that, you probably not used to eating as fine fare as this.” For the Picts, eating meat from a hunt was the finest way one could dine. Of course they didn’t have much in the way of farming, herbs or spices, so Mordred didn’t blame Drest for thinking this way. He didn’t bother correcting his friend. Once he had gotten him to sample taste of southern style-food and Drest had almost choked trying to spit out the taste.

Once the branch was attached they hoisted to their shoulders and started walking south through the forest. It was heavy, but not overtly so and they soon found a good pace.

As the sun started to set, the lowlight glinting between the tree-lines, they were almost halfway to the southern edge of the forest. The forest around them was quickly growing dark, so Drest lit up a torch. There were wolves in the forest and although both of them had swords to defend themselves, the fire from the torch would deter most animals from them. The wolves here did not roam in very large packs and Mordred was more worried about slipping while carrying the deer and injuring his foot.

He heard several howls from the east. That had definitely been wolves. They sounded to be a good distance off however, so Mordred and Drest didn’t try to move any faster. Then another howl split the air. This one was nothing like that of a wolf. It was deep and monstrous, Mordred had never heard anything like it before. The wolves could be heard giving off quick high-pitched yips and then the howl rang out again. The wolves were suddenly silent. One more monstrous howl rang out.

Mordred felt Drest stop and he had no choice but to stop as well, or drop the carcass. He looked back at his friend “What’s wrong?”

Drest’s face had a look Mordred had never seen on it before, not in all the time he had known him. He was afraid. Drest dropped his end of the carrying branch and put his hand on his sword hilt. “The Cù Sith” and he pulled his sword out of its sheathe.

Picts and their superstitions. Mordred had, of course heard of the Cù Sith. It was a legend that popped all over Britannia with small differences. The Barghest, the Black Shuck and the Gytrash. All of them centered around unnatural black dogs that would chase down, kill and devour anyone in their vicinity. The Pictish legend portrayed Cù Sith as a hound as large as a bull and a species of fey.

“Drest there’s no such thing as black dogs. There about as real as mermaids or trolls” replied Mordred. He wanted to get home. “It was probably just an alpha wolf or a bear.” Even as he said it, Mordred didn’t believe it. No wolf or bear could have made the noise they had heard.

Either way it didn’t convince Drest. He refused to pick up the carcass. “Three howls. Three howls it gives off. As the Cù Sith gets close its prey become overwhelmed with fear and cannot fight it off.” He looked at Mordred. “We must run as fast as we can. It will be headed this way.” He was completely serious.

Mordred didn’t move until Drest started pushing him. “Run Mordred. Now!” he insisted. Another terrible howl rang out, this time it was much closer. Mordred started running with Drest following close behind him.

The howl let out again. Whatever beast was making the noise was very close. The sound of the two of them running through the low-lying bushes and fallen logs made it hard to tell which direction exactly. Mordred ran as fast as he could. He may not have believed in the Cù Sith, but he knew the sound of a violent animal when he heard one.

The light from Drest’s torch gave him just enough vision to see where he was going, though he could easily miss a sudden slope in the ground. A long black log loomed in front of them. They didn’t have time to go around; Mordred could hear the sounds of the beast not far behind them.

MTI:  An excellent sample.  Thank you for sharing it!  People interested in reading Ryan's latest alternate history shorts can pick up Altered Europa!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Postcards of Tokyo's Imperial Hotel, Circa 1910

It has been years since I shared any of my old postcards, and it's about time I let a few more out there for public view.  Today, I'm giving you a glimpse of 4 cards I have of the Imperial Hotel, in Tokyo, Japan:

They're all black and white, unpainted.  The first one has a stain on it.

I'm not sure if there were any more than these 4 in the set, though this envelope might have contained a few more.

I'll start sharing more historical postcards soon.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Altered Europa Interview: Dave D'Alessio

Hello, and welcome to our latest series of author interviews.  The long anticipated anthology "Altered Europa" will be coming out on April 2, 2017.  (Read story tag-lines and pre-order the collection right here!).  In preparation for this grand release we'll be running interviews of various contributors.

MTI:  Today I'm interviewing Dave D'Alessio, who contributed The Twenty Year Reich.  It's been a while since we did an interview... 

DAVE D'ALESSIO:  Yeah. Hi, again!

MTI:  Indeed, I think the last time we did an interview was for the Veterans of the Future Wars anthology.  For those of our readers who haven't read our previous encounter, why not start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?

DD:  My bio says I’m an ex-industrial chemist, ex-TV engineer, and an ex-award-winning animator currently masquerading as a social scientist. Readers might remember me from The Prince Who Went Up a Hill, in VFW: Veterans of Future Wars. I’ve been in Daily Science Fiction and (evil laugh) Mad Scientist Journal, too.

MTI:  Your story, The Twenty Year Reich, appears in Altered Europa, an anthology devoted to alternate history and altered reality.  Tell us a little bit more about this contribution, particularly, how does it deviate from known history?

DD:  Well, it starts with Nazi Germany winning (for the most part) World War II. They’ve conquered the United Kingdom and pushed the Soviets back to the Urals. Then I rolled time forward to 1953. It’s my vision of what would have gone on about then.

MTI:  Were you at all inspired by Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle," which  imagines an alternate history where Nazi Germany was victorious in WWII?

DD:  I hate to say it, but no. I’ve read The Man in High Castle but haven’t seen the TV series yet, although my friends really like it. It’s a great story at a couple levels, not just for its alternative history but also for its deep game psychologically, but I don’t see the Axis countries as having the wherewithal to pull off conquering America.

I was more inspired by these conspiracy theories about Hitler escaping at the end of the war, and going to live in South America. I think they’re a crock. My original idea – readers can have this one for free – was about Hitler in the U-Boat, underwater with the crew for months on end as they try to sneak through to Argentina. Let’s see: he was a vegetarian they’d have to feed, and his stomach problems made him chronically flatulent. He was a junkie who needed a shot of speed to get started in the morning and a downer to get his head down at night (and there was a lot of coke in his other meds), so he probably would have been going through about three kinds of withdrawal. And his Parkinson’s was coming out. It would have been a psycho-horror situation, and not my cup of tea as a writer. So instead I just let him win the war.

MTI:  I believe you made the right writing choice (though that crazy, drug-deprived Hitler under the sea could be something to explore someday).

Moving on, if you could go back to any point in time and change any historical event to create an "altered" world, what would you choose to change?

DD:  I don’t think I want to touch that one. I think changing the past falls under the Law of Unintended Consequences…the unintended consequences tend to be worse than what you meant to do. I’m heavily influenced by Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder and William Tenn’s Brooklyn Project on the topic of changing the past. They got chaos theory before chaos theory was cool.

That’s not to say that I think this is the best of all possible worlds. I can imagine better worlds…that’s my job as a writer. But what I don’t know is how to make them come about by changing some historical event.

MTI:  For further pondering, if a wormhole leading to an alternate reality suddenly appeared in front of you, would you dare to take the plunge and discover what awaits on the other side?

DD:  Probably not. I’d be the schlub that John Carter, Warlord of Mars, throws to the Tharks so he can make a getaway with Dejah Thoris.

MTI:  Gotta love a good Edgar Rice Burroughs reference!  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

DD:  I’m looking for a publisher for my pair of space light operas, The Curse of the Rhubidium Rhuby and The Royal High Inquisitor. I call them space light operas because they were very loosely inspired by Gilbert and Sullivan. That’s not really writing, but as many of my mentors have pointed out, these days marketing is half the writing business, so that’s the half taking priority for me right now.

Writing-wise, I’m focusing more on short fiction for the moment. I like to work on shorter things in between novels because they force me to focus my thinking more. I’ll get back to novels in the summer, with a third space light opera getting ready to pop out of the keyboard.

MTI:  Other than your work appearing in Altered Europa, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

DD:  I’m not sure when it’s coming out, but the next issue of Phobos will have my story One Grand Day in it. It’s alt-history, too. I’ve written a number of stories set in a world where Cornwallis put down the American Rebellion in 1777, and as a consequence the major European empires never fell, and this is one of them. Here’s the plot: Albert Einstein saves the day with a well-placed foot.

I also self-published a novel, The Yak Butter Diaries, on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Program. It’s a humorous fantasy, not like what I usually write, so I figured it could stand alone.

MTI:  On a lighter note, have you watched any good tv lately?

DD:  One of my friends put me onto Cowboy Bebop. That was pretty darned cool, so I’ve been watching a lot of anime recently. The neat thing about anime is that they tend to be made in short runs of around twelve or twenty-four episodes, so there’s a lot of variety between them.

I just finished a popular series called Kill la Kill, which to me read as very subversive. It started out with a lot of the usual silliness of scantily clad school girls and rotten jokes, but across the run they slowly took it darker and deeper, and twisted the plot completely out of shape. Very clever. As an old animator myself it was clear that the director had studied Tex Avery’s films, too. Great timing.

I have Samurai Champloo, by the same team as Bebop, in the DVD player right now, rewatching it.

MTI:  How about music?

DD:  Got the new Stones CD. Stones plus blues? What’s not to like?

MTI:  Indeed, and can you name three movies that you could watch over and over again and not be bored?

DD:  I’ll go four, the three of Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly) plus the film that Leone based Fistful on, Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. I’ve seen them all at least a dozen times. There’s something about the balance of good and evil in them, where it seems that the “good” guys aren’t good so much as least bad, that makes them seem more real than even really good older westerns like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.

The basic concept of Yojimbo/Fistful, the “good” guy playing two bad sides against one another, was remade again as Last Man Standing. There’s got to be a good space opera in it, too.

MTI:  Readers love samples.  Do you happen to have a story excerpt you'd like to share with us today?

DD:  From The Yak Butter Diaries:

Our hero, Tamosan Acorn, has found himself at the top of the world, where lives a little old man who believes that he makes the sun go around.

"Know what's happening?" the old man said. "Half the world in light and half in dark." He spread his arms wide, toward the sunrise in one direction and the sunset in the other. "Everyone back there," he jerked his head toward the dark side, "all they know is they get a few more minutes of sleep afore the cock crows, hee hee! But them as is in light, they're saying, 'What's wrong with the sun? Have the gods forsaken us? Has the chariot stopped running? Has the burning ball stopped flapping its wings?"

Tamosan looked carefully at the line he had drawn in the dirt. It seemed to him as though it was still pointing precisely at where they thought the sun was.

"Wailing and lamentations, hee hee," the old man said. "They will be rending their clothes and making sacrifices! They will be running to their priests and wisemen and shamans and begging for answers, hee hee!"

It still looked to Tamosan as though the sun had not moved. "Is this wise?" he asked the old man. But 'wise' was not the word he was looking for. "Is this kind?"

The old man put the pan back on the fire. Tamosan was sure of it now; the pan was no emptier. "'Kind'?" the old man asked. "Where have you learned that life is kind? What fool would tell you that, hee hee?"

Tamosan shook his head. "It is not life that is kind," he said. "I think that it is people who choose to be kind." 

MTI: Fantastic excerpt.  So, that just about does it for our interview today.  Thank you, Dave, for yet another fine talk!  Readers who want to check out more of his work can order a copy of Altered Europa.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Altered Europa Cover Art & TOC Reveal

The Altered Europa anthology has been in the works for a long time.  It has had delays due to various factors, but at long last the final pieces are falling into place.  So, at long last, here is the cover art:

Drawn by Denise Roos, you can check out more of her work at her deviant art page:

The final stories were selected quite some time ago, and the final proofing of the collection is currently underway.  I am optimistic that we will be able to have an April release for the title.  In the coming weeks, I'll be interviewing many of the contributors, and sharing those interviews on this blog as we get closer to the official release date.

Now, here is the final list of stories in the Altered Europa anthology:

1: The Public Execution of Winston Churchill —by William Rade
2:  Foundation and Evil Empire –by Sam Kepfield
3:  Fenians –by Dan Gainor
4:  The Twenty Year Reich –by Dave D'Alessio
5:  N'oublions Jamais –by Bruno Lombardi & Tom Anderson
6:  A Damn Foolish Thing –by Cyrus P. Underwood
7:  The Great Bear –by Alex Shalenko
8:  Verum Fidei –by Charles Wilcox
9:  The Fourth Pandemic –by Tim Moshier
10:  A.E.I.O.U. –by Dr. Tom Anderson
11:  The Archers –by DJ Tyrer
12:  Ave, Caesarion –by Deborah L. Davitt
13:  A Rare Chance at the Enemy –by Mark Mellon
14:  Shaken, Shot, and Stirred –by Ryan McCall
15:  The Fire Tulips –by Mike Jansen
16:  Voyage –by Murray Braun
17:  The Forbidden Fuel –by Sergio Palumbo
18:  Megali Hellas –by Ryan McCall
19:  The Battle of Tim Hortons —by Bruno Lombardi & Ben Prewitt
20:  That'll Be the Day –by Michael McAndrews Bailey

Pre-orders for Altered Europa will be available when we get closer to the release date.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Why I Write What I Write

Now that I'm starting to write again, I don't know what I'm going to work on.  So far, I've only been going over my past work, reading through 50,000 words of an incomplete novel I wrote 6 years ago.  It holds promise, but I'm not quite feeling it.  That thrill of the storyline and love of the characters isn't there, and I'm left wondering if I can get the emotional stimulation necessary to finish it.

I may have to find something else to write, or just keep trying to get interested.

In order to write anything, it has to be something that I want to write.  That's the way it has always worked for me.  Writing is about me telling a story that I enjoy, exploring things that draw me in as the creator, revealing the worlds inside my mind in a way that satisfies that creative part of me.  It gives me purpose, and fuels the creative process.  If I can't get into the story, if my mind doesn't care about what's going on, then I find it exceedingly difficult to proceed.

This is of course not the method that all writers use.  I've read so many "advice" columns from people saying that to be a writer you have to write whatever will pay, take whatever work in the publishing industry you can get, and if you keep grinding away inside the machine you'll someday get your reward and "be allowed" to write what you want.  That's all well and good for some, but it's not for me.

Another common occurrence that I've run into over the years is friends and family who like to suggest that I "write what sells."  I know they're only trying to help, but it serves no purpose and can get annoying, as trying to dismiss their advice feels like talking to a brick wall.  They're so sure if I write "something else" that I'll be a big success.  Whether it's my father telling me to write about weirdoes in the woods, or friends suggesting I write anything from "serious mainstream fiction" to "teen chick-lit," it's not going to happen.  It wouldn't increase my chances of fame and fortune to write it, and because I'd hate doing it I would end up with a totally unmarketable piece of pulp nobody would ever want to read.

With writing, I'm not one to "climb the ladder," or "play the game."  It's not that I don't respect that approach.  It's just not me.  In my case, doing that would suck the life out of me, and writing would become a job that I didn't enjoy.  The creative flames inside me would die, and I'd be a horrid hack, writing words just to make money with no pleasure or fulfillment.  So, I have learned that the only way I can write is on my own terms.  If this means I will fail to gain an appreciable audience, then so be it.  To gain a million readers and lose my soul would be worse than having a handful of people reading what I want them to enjoy.

So, going forth in 2017, I will seek to create something new that others will enjoy.  It's all I can do, and so I will strive to accomplish that yet again.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2017 Writing Shootout and Remembering Nye Joell Hardy

As I'm getting back into writing, and working to rejuvenate Martinus Publishing, I've decided that one of the best ways to get back into the groove is to bring back the ever fun and popular "writing shootout" contest, which has produced amazing stories and brought many great writers into my life.  You can read all about the shootout here, and there are still a few slots available for writers who want to throw their hat into the ring  (sign-ups end January 13, 2017).

Now, a sad bit of news hit me after first inviting some former participants to the contest.  I learned that Nye Joell Hardy, a fellow writer and shootout participant, died in 2016.

I first "met" Nye online back in 2010, when we were both Pill Hill Press writers.  Her book, The Crows of Bedu, was released right before The Guns of Mars, and we participated in several PHP shootouts together.  After Pill Hill Press closed, we stayed in touch somewhat, mostly during the Martinus Publishing shootouts that I hosted.

While I can't say that I knew Nye very well on a personal level, she was there to voice support and cheer me up when I needed it.  I remember a few times that her encouragement helped me through dark times, and I did what I could to support her, as well.  Her writing talent left me always wondering why she hadn't seen greater success in the fiction publishing field.

Nye's stories were always fun to read during the shootout.  You never knew where she'd go with a prompt.  Sometimes, she'd write something very traditional and captivating, and others she'd invent something absolutely unique and experimental (like a story about sentient flowers).  This meant that her scores during a shootout could vary, but her stories never failed to entertain me.

One of Nye's shootout stories was the impetus for the now defunct anthology, The Secret Life of Ghosts.  I hadn't thought of doing a ghost story anthology until Nye wrote an incredibly haunting tale, and I wanted to publish it.  So, I planned the story collection and would have published it, if personal problems hadn't derailed things.  It seems sadly fitting that the anthology was put to rest about the same time that Nye passed.

Nye's death haunts me a little, thinking of my own plight, and how any of us will be remembered.  It's funny how much of an impact someone can have on your life, even an acquaintance three thousand miles away that you never met in person.  It's a difficult thing to face.  The writing world is a darker place without her imagination, and it is so sad that I'll never have the pleasure of seeing her creativity at work again.

I had the pleasure of publishing several of her stories over the years, though the best one I have in-print can be found in Yarr!  A Space Pirate Anthology.  It was an amazing story that earned her the win during a previous shootout.

I wish there was something more I could say, but I guess that's about it, for now.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Counts Family Photo

It has been a long time since I wrote a column about my ancestry, and there's one that I've been thinking about for quite a while.  A couple of years ago, my cousin Esther sent me a photo of the Counts family from around 1901.  The quality is okay, though not the greatest as it's a photo of a photo.  I'm not sure who has the original, but I'd love to see a clearer copy someday, perhaps one that's computer-scanned.

So, in this photo we see my great-great grand parents, James Wilson Counts (b. 14 Nov 1856 /died 16 March 1931) and Mertie Florella (Gamble) Counts (b. 23 June 1864 /died 18 April 1946), along with their 6 children:

Florella T. Counts (b. 8 February 1886 /died April 1969.  Married Walter D. McKittrick)
Hugh Wiley Counts (b. 16 January 1888 /died 20 September 1975.  Married Ada Bartlett, later Charlotte Law)
George Sylvester (my great-grandfather, b. 9 December 1889 /died 10 November 1974.  Married Lois Hazel Bailey)
Wilson James Counts (b. 11 June 1891 /died March 1979.  Married Wilma B. Crossan)
Mary Counts (b. 30 April 1895 /died 30 November 1993.  Married O. Boone Morgan)
Milton Irwin Counts (b. 24 February 1899 /died 10 July 1974.  Married Clara Eugenia Van Vleck)

The other people in the photo are at present uncertain.  Esther initially suspected that the old couple in the middle could be Mertie's parents, Theodore Beza Gamble and Florella Amanda (Tucker) Gamble, but this is quite impossible, as both of them died before this photo was taken (1893 & 1895, respectively).  The Counts kids are far too old for this to be the 1890's.

Confirmed S.T. Counts
Suspected S.T. Counts
I suspect that the old couple in the photo are actually Sylvester Tobias Counts and his wife, Mary Ann (Wilson) Counts.  I also suspect the lady on the far left of the photo is their daughter, James Wilson Count's sister, Jennie Hannah (Counts) Marcy.  This is pure speculation, as I do not have other photos of them, except for Sylvester's old Civil War photo.  It's hard to make out his facial features in that grainy photo, so it's not enough for a positive identification.

I would love to find an attributed photo of Sylvester, Mary, or Jennie, for comparison, but thus far such photos have proven elusive.  So, the search goes on.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Martin's 2017 Goals and Dreams

Happy New Year!  Yes, I should be writing fiction right now, but I'm a bit distracted, and I'm thinking I'll do something that I have rarely done, because I often think its pointless, tacky, or otherwise a set-up for disappointment and failure.  I'm going to put forth a list of New Year's "resolutions," to see where I want to be a year from now.

I list these as "Goals and Dreams," because that's what they are.  I don't have any illusions, and know that I will fall short on some of these, but that's what these lists are all about. More than anything, they're us "dreaming."  We look at our lives and wonder what could be better.  Getting there is the hard part, and while most if not all are possible with proper planning and effort, much of the time we are just dreaming when we make up these resolutions.  I'll be honest and say these are just what I would like to do, but acknowledge that I'll probably let life get the better of me.

1:  Write a new novel.  This should be an easy one for me.  I won National Novel Writing Month each year I attempted it, and even before I discovered NaNoWriMo I once wrote a 100k novel in 3 weeks.  The quality of these speedy works are no less than those novels that took me months to finish, so it isn't pace so much as feel that propels me.  When I am in the writing zone and know where I'm going with a concept, I can move quickly with skill.  When I don't feel what I'm writing, it can drag on, and get bogged down.  Regardless, I want to write another books this year.  I just need to find the inspiration.

2:  Lose 20 pounds.  Isn't this one on most people's list?  I've always been fat, and I'm getting older and tired of the extra pounds.  If I drop 20 pounds this year, I'll be healthier and happier.  I could lose more than 20, but this is a reasonable goal, one that I cannot guarantee I'll achieve, but at least this way I have a chance.

3:  Have a meaningful relationship.  Yes, it's been almost 2 years since my wife walked out the door, and June will mark 2 years since we were officially divorced.  I'm still not sure if I'm ready to put myself out there, but this year I dream of having a meaningful relationship.  At the end of 2017, I hope to share with the world great news that I have somebody to love.  Though, please, nobody try to set me up.

4:  Get my 1954 Chevy Bel-Air on the road.  Okay, here's the easy one.  I've spent 5 years fiddling with this old car, and at long last it's on the verge of being road-worthy.  The windshield replacement ought to be completed very soon, and then it should be just a matter of waiting for spring.  I'm not going to be stupid and drive it around with salt on the road, but if I'm lucky, we'll be salt-free by April and I'll finally be behind the wheel of this beautiful project that has sucked up so much time and money.  It won't be a show car, but it'll be a gorgeous driver.

Is that all I can come up with?  It's not a really long list, is it?  I am a little disappointed that I am not dreaming bigger.  There was a time I would have aimed to write 2 or 3 novels in a year, or dream of getting West of the Warlock turned into a television series.  Ah, but I'm trying to set reasonable goals, and ones that are more in my control.  There are plenty of things I can wish for in 2017, but many of those are not within my power.  I can't expect to publish a Best Seller, or to get a Studio contract.  Those I can dream about, but it's up to more than me for those to happen.

Maybe I should strive to write more blog posts this year.  Yes, that's #5:  Write at least 1 blog post per week.  There.  Now my list is complete.  Here's to having a great 2017!

PS:  If you feel like reading this year, pick up one of these books:  Martinus Publishing.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Life's Meaning

The last two years have been the most tumultuous of times for me, though much of it has merely been in my head.  Life hasn't been all that bad lately, though I've felt depressed and unfulfilled.  So recently I started reflecting on my existence, and seeking to answer that ever-present question, why am I so miserable?  The answer, as it turns out, is as simple as it is complex.

I am a writer.

The last two years, I haven't written anything.  As my marriage began to fall apart, I lost interest in my fiction, and stopped writing altogether, but that's the one thing that truly empowers me.  It is my God-given talent, one that I have viewed as both a blessing and a curse.  I am a writer, and I cannot live without that distinction.

This answer should have come to me sooner, and maybe it did, but I ignored it.  I wanted to escape my destiny, and forsake my gift.  I blamed my "obsession" with writing for the destruction of my marriage, and then I found my free time depleted, having to raise 4 kids without a wife.  So, I forgot myself, and abandoned the only thing that I ever wanted to be.

There were times in the past that I almost gave up on my writing.  Back in 2006, I was ready to call it quits, but the next year rolled around and I got Virtual Wiles published (albeit by what turned out to be one of the world's worst publishing outfits).  After that, I discovered "self-publishing," and released Prisoner of Time and The Rogue Investigations, which I still wish would sell more, as they're really fantastic works.  Then The Guns of Mars made semi-finalist in the second Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, which led to its publication by Pill Hill Press a year later.  Everything was on the up and up, and when Hall Brothers Entertainment asked me to write a full-length novel based on my Dwarf at High Noon short story, I was on top of my game, feeling I was finally on the brink of being a professional writer.  I threw down West of the Warlock, and it impressed them so much that I was contracted to write 2 more books in the series, which I did.

Then, things slid downhill again.

First, Pill Hill Press closed up shop, leaving the Guns of Mars out of print.  GOM hadn't sold that well, despite solid reviews, and PHP's closure put it to rest for a time (I later republished it under my own company, but little attention has been paid to it).  I thank Jessy Marie Roberts for running Pill Hill Press and releasing the Guns of Mars, and I hope that someday she (and her husband, Alva Roberts) get back in the greater publishing industry, as they're both talented writers.

While that was a disappointing blow to my career, the worst had to be the subsequent closure of Hall Brothers Entertainment, less than a month later.  Right before the second West of the Warlock novel, The Curse of Selwood, was due to be released, HBE shut down, and I found myself with nothing in print outside of my self-published books.

In response to these publishers closing, I fought back by starting my own small press, Martinus Publishing.  The final impetus for my starting this press was the fact that I had a multi-author anthology in the works.  With the success of West of the Warlock, I'd decided to expand a little, and came up with the idea of assembling and editing a "time travel anthology."  My proofreading skills were quite good, and I had a vision, so I pitched the idea of this collection to the Hall Brothers, who were supportive and excited about it.  I had half of the stories for TheTemporal Element accepted for publication when HBE closed shop, and rather than disappoint the contributors and abandon my project, I pressed forward under my own banner.

Becoming the editor of a small press had its rewards and its hardships.  At first, it was all fun and exciting.  I got to release stories from fellow authors that I really enjoyed, and I could release my own works under the auspices of a small publisher, rather than have them be blatantly self-published.  Yet, it was so much fun that I overloaded myself.  I came up with numerous anthology ideas and took in overwhelming numbers of submissions that took up much of my free time, leaving me little time for any writing of my own.

When I announced my plans to start Martinus Publishing, A.C. Hall gave me some great advice.  He told me I could either be a great writer or a great editor, but it would be hard to be both.  I knew he was right, but at the time I felt I had no choice.  My books had largely been commercial flops, and with nothing left in print I felt that I had failed as a writer.  I decided that I could serve better as an editor, and perhaps find success there.

A year went by, and Martinus Publishing had limited success with its first couple of anthologies.  Overall, it was breaking even, and I felt satisfied, even as my writing continued to dwindle.  I threw together a novel during National Novel Writing Month in November 2013, but after that it was all bits and pieces, and revisions to previous works.  3 years ago, that's the last time I truly wrote any significant fiction.

Spring of 2014 saw the release of Altered America, and it outperformed my wildest expectations.  It was a hit for Martinus Publishing, until nitpickers and critics threw it negative reviews.  I still consider it a success, even if it wasn't what half the reviewers wanted it to be.

From there, everything was a downward slide.  Subsequent Martinus Publishing releases were met with poor sales, and as my personal life became more turbulent I found it difficult to keep up with my editing responsibilities, let alone get any writing done.  By the time my marriage ended in early 2015, I was ready to give up.  I would have shut down Martinus Publishing, but I refused to disappoint my fellow writers.  I didn't want them to feel the way I felt when Pill Hill Press and Hall Brothers Entertainment closed.  I didn't want to let them down, and see their dreams of publication diminished.  And deep down, I knew I'd be sorry, too.  I'd be admitting failure again, and affirming it by shutting up shop.

I'm just too stubborn to know when to quit.

This past year was difficult for me, as I struggled to find meaning to it all.  People tend to say that my kids ought to be enough, that they are the purpose I should be living for.  I feel guilty, sometimes ashamed, to say that that doesn't work for me.  As much as I love my kids, and as much as I'll do anything for them, they just aren't enough to give my life meaning.  I have been selfless and sacrificed so much lately that it has brought me to mental misery.  I cannot go on denying myself.

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post, reflecting on my existence, and for the first time I felt alive again.  After that, I wrote more, starting with some personal ruminations that may or may not see the light of day sometime, and then I began looking back over some of my past projects, seeking to rekindle the creative fires.  At long last, I am creeping out of depression and feeling like I have a purpose again, that I can move forward and I have something to look forward to.  For the first time in years, I have hope, and all it took was for me to wake up and realize the truth, a simple truth that I had abandoned.

I am a writer.

This isn't a choice for me, and it isn't some paltry dream.  It is all that I am.  When I don't write, I hurt.  I fall into despair, and lose sight of everything.  I stop caring, and nothing is interesting.  When I am not writing, I am nothing and nobody.  I am simply existing, and that is a very bad thing, indeed.

So, what does this revelation mean for the future?  It means that I have to reset my priorities, and do what is right for me, something I haven't done in a long time.  I need to find the time to write, and I need to find more ways to promote my published works.  I have to try again, which is all anyone can ever do.

I can't promise I'll succeed, and I know when I have commercial flops and rejections that I'll hurt.  Again and again I will hurt, but if I do not even try I'm already dead.  I have to keep striving for the mark, because writing is my life, and if you're reading this, then you are giving my life meaning.  Thank you for taking the time to read these words.  I'll be writing more of them soon.

Here's hoping for a happy 2017 for all of us!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Existence in 2016

As 2016 nears its end, I find myself writing a blog post for the first time in so long.  It's hard these days to find the time, but harder still to find the will.  It has been nearly 2 years since my wife left, and as much as I'm over her, I am still uncertain about where to go from here.

Totally random picture of me... 
I haven't written a single word of fiction in the last two years.  I keep thinking I should, and on rare occasion I've glanced over some of my past works, wondering if I can do it again, but then I run out of time or desire.  It's hard writing for myself anymore, as everything I do is for someone else.  I find myself plagued with selflessness, always seeking to make others in my life happy, and I rarely do what would please myself.

I'm not saying that my life is horrible.  Many people would kill for the life I've got, but that doesn't make it satisfying.  Every life has its trials, its ups and downs.  Right now, I'm stuck in a rut, but I don't know how to escape, or if I want to escape.  Is it really so bad here?  Maybe I should just settle for what I have, and be happy with what I've got.  My dreams are asleep, and I don't know if I can get excited enough to wake them.

I can hear my handful of readers screaming in their heads right now, saying I shouldn't give up, or that I've got to get up and fight anew.  I hear you.  The handful of people who truly enjoy my fiction.  The lingering sparks that seek to ignite the fumes left inside my creative fuel tank.  I fear the tears may have me waterlogged, though.

Don't give up on me.

I don't wish to sound pathetic, and I don't need anymore sympathy.  I'm only seeking to figure things out, come to terms with myself, and maybe work up the courage to move on.  That's why I'm writing today.

To be fair, I feel miserable so often because I do not know what I want to do.  So many things I care about don't feel right, so when it comes to watching a show or playing a game, I simply don't.  When it comes to having fun, I let everyone else in my life decide what to do, because they can have fun doing what they want to do, but I don't feel good doing what I want to do.  Does that make any sense?  I can't enjoy what I like, so I let others do what they like, even when I hate it, because what's the point in making them feel disappointed having to do what I like to do, when I don't even get any satisfaction out of it?  No sense in them suffering too.  They don't like what I like, and I can't force them, but there's no fun for me if they don't like it.  So I've lost much of the entertainment that defined me for much of my life.  Strange, pathetic, ridiculous; whatever.

Now, I understand there are people out there who appreciate the things I like, the kind of books and shows that I enjoy, but that's not the point.  I don't feel like being with those distant friends, let alone complete strangers.  I was uncomfortable around people before my divorce.  Now I've ended up cutting myself off from just about everyone, but that doesn't bother me so much.  It's the fact that I'm alien to those who are closest to me, and I can't change that.

I probably shouldn't post this to my blog, because I can't see that it'll serve much purpose other than to make people less interested in reading my ramblings...  What the hell.  I've tried to write something for months, and this is the first time I've been able to get anything down, so I have to start somewhere.  If I don't get it out, I'll just end up keeping it all to myself like I have been, and there will be no more words.  I will never work things out, never be able to decide where I'm going, if I keep it off the page.  The written word has been my avenue for personal exploration all my life, and writing it just for myself isn't good enough.  It's why I'm having such a hard time, because putting down words, knowing that only I will ever read them, seems pointless.  If I ever want to write anything of substance again, it must be put out there for others to read, because the words cannot end with me.

I hope to write more in the near future, but I have no idea what that'll be.