Paginations

Heading south tomorrow. South like Cancun. I have to keep up with the latest in swim up bars, right?

I’ll be on vacation* in Mexico starting tomorrow, our annual Super Bowl weekend trip (wife and kids and I have been doing this now for 8 years; the resorts set up a wide screen on the beach, cook out, and so on – far superior to someone’s stinky basement to watch the game). But with the magic of the Interwebs, I won’t be too far out of reach.

* Disclaimer: because this is my day job (travel), there’s no such thing as 100% vacation any more. Anywhere I go, I end up meeting with management, touring hotels, taking photos, and so on. Yes, weep for me… :)

One of my main focuses (foci?) will be to inspect the swim-up bars. As you may have seen from my Twitter profile, I do list that as part of my vocation. I need to make sure all the tiles are in place, the seats aren’t too slanted, the drinks aren’t watered down, and so on. You know, to make sure our clients enjoy their future stays.

swim up bar

Note: That’s not actually me, but that’s the hotel I’ll be at.

Perhaps my muse will follow me down there, and I’ll come home with thousands upon thousands of words written. Or, more likely, a sunburn and a headache.

I may have room in my suitcase…any stowaways interested?

steve

 

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Insomnia strikes, with a side platter of a new story idea.

I’m typing this precisely twelve hours after I woke up, meaning it would normally be the end of my day, time to kick off the shoes and chillax with some mindless TV. But alas and alack it is not the end of my day, because I woke up at 2AM. My mind was racing, and I’m talking Bugatti Veyron racing, not go-carts. And it was racing with images and sounds and dialogue and settings and pew-pew laser blasts. Okay, not specifically pew-pew, but you get the idea.

Maybe something will come of this. I’ll percolate it into a basic outline, slap down some plot points, perhaps even sketch out a few characters. And maybe one day I’ll look back on this post as the beginning of creating the Next Great Novel, and will remember it warmly when I accept my Nobel Prize in Literature, and again when women pour champagne over me in the Oscars after parties. Or, it may just fade away as many ideas do, making room for a better one.

In any case, it’s off to work I go. Wish me luck.*

steve

* There’s no such thing as luck. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently. It’s simply being prepared for an opportunity when it comes along. Trust me…

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Excerpt from Gabriel: Zero Point – The process of augmenting Lt. Gabriel begins

Excerpt from Gabriel: Zero Point, the prequel novella to the Gabriel Trilogy. GZP is FREE (as in beer) for Kindle US, Kindle UK, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords. Free, so what’s the harm in trying it on for size?

gabrielzeropoint2-6x9The plastic was unnaturally cold against his skin as he stretched out in the capsule. It felt more metal than plastic. The glass lid perched above his head, still hinged open, blurring the designs on the ceiling panels, probably leftover from the original luxury suites. He wriggled to find a comfortable position.

“All set, Lieutenant?”

Knowles’s face appeared above him, looking down into the capsule.

“The underwear itches,” he replied. “Other than that, yeah, I suppose so.”

She smiled. “Itchy underwear will be the least of your annoyances. I forgot to tell you. The oxy fluid is ice cold. And the scout nanites will be injected prior to sedation, so you may feel some… discomfort the first few minutes.”

“Scout?”

“They pave the way for the rest of the machines. Scouting pathways, blood vessels, arteries, and the like. Just making it easier for the others. But some patients have complained of some initial pain. No worries, Lieutenant. You’ll be under sedation in a matter of moments after the process begins.”

“This gets better and better,” he growled.

Knowles’s face disappeared for a few seconds, then returned. “Tank is online. Relax, take a few deep breaths. Like I said, the fluid is ice cold and will startle your body when it enters your lungs. Go with it. In the womb, we all breathed like this. It’s natural.” She smiled. “Sort of.”

Her face disappeared and reappeared again. “The process has started,” she said as the glass lid began to slowly descend. “I’ll see you on the other side, Lieutenant Gabriel.” Just before she pulled her head back, he saw the same flicker of emotion on her face he had seen a few minutes ago. Sadness? Worry? Before he could say anything, her face was gone.

He closed his eyes as the lid connected with the capsule with a thunk. He heard air hissing, then from under him came the freezing cold fluid. His body tensed and he clenched his teeth, trying desperately to push the thought of drowning aside. The liquid poured in and cascaded over the tops of his legs, then stomach and chest. His skin puckered at the cold and he took short, sharp breaths. His fingers curled, nails pressing into his palms.

The liquid reached his mouth and he squeezed it shut, involuntarily holding his breath. He knew the process; it was the same as long-range high-acceleration ships used for inertial dampening for crewmembers in stasis. But to a human body, it was completely unnatural, regardless of what Knowles said about the womb.

abando51He was now completely submerged and shivering uncontrollably. His lungs burned for air. He opened his eyes, and the freezing liquid stabbed at his eyeballs. It was as if looking through pale blue gelatin.

His lungs could take no more, and he gasped for breath. Spasms racked his body as the fluid poured down his throat and into his airway. He spasmed several more times, and the image of being pushed under by an ocean wave flashed across his mind. He willed his body to relax, and finally the fluid filled his lungs and his body settled. One last gasp and spasm, and Gabriel was breathing liquid.

Through the rushing waterfall sound of the liquid in his ears, he heard a mechanical whirring. He felt a pinprick on his right thigh, then a matching one on his left. Six more pinpricks: one in each arm, one each on either side of his rib cage, one in the bottom of each foot. The scout injections, he thought. He imagined them like cartoon robots, running down red corridors to their jobs, leaving bread crumbs behind for others to follow. He started to smile, when he felt a burning sensation in both feet. The image of the fire ants came back to him as the same burning crept over his legs, then sides, then arms. Suddenly the burning was coursing throughout his body, and he began to panic. This wasn’t the discomfort Knowles alluded to.

The burning intensified, like miniature plasma torches being placed against his skin in a thousand places. He struggled to move, but the paralytic chemicals in the fluid had taken effect. He was immobilized, the nanites started their work on him, and he was still awake.

He grunted as the burning continued. He couldn’t even grit his teeth, and his eyes were still open, staring at blue-tinged ceiling panels. Then the sedation kicked in. His vision began to gray, but the burning increased to an unbearable level.

Gabriel screamed in silence.

rvw

Here is where I shamelessly stump again –  Gabriel: Zero Point is FREE for Kindle USKindle UKNookiBooksKobo, and Smashwords.

steve

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The next Star Wars to be directed by J.J. Abrams – my thoughts

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After days of rumors (or maybe weeks; I don’t get out much), it’s been confirmed that J. J. Abrams has been selected to direct the next installment in the Star Wars franchise, now owned by Disney, with an expected release sometime in 2015.

Some additional details:

Screenwriter Michael Arndt, who won an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine, is penning the script, and Episode VII is being produced by Abrams, Bryan Burk, Abrams’ Bad Robot company and Kennedy under the Disney/Lucasfilm banner.

Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg have signed on to be consultants on the project. Kasdan was a screenwriter on two Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Backand Return of the Jedi, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Kinberg was writer onSherlock Holmes and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Obviously this, or any news actually, has the Interwebs in an uproar – positively, negatively, and snark-ely.

 

 

I for one am excited, on MANY fronts. And it takes a lot to get a guy my age excited, blue pill notwithstanding. Star Wars, when it was released in ’77, was a seminal moment in my life. I admit, as seminal as anything can get for a 7 year old, but there it is. As silly or trite as it may sound, it was literally life-changing. Every scrap of interest I ever had in science fiction, space exploration, technology, communications, gadgets, and so on can be traced back to that day I saw Star Wars in the theater. Seriously. No joke. If it wasn’t for SW, things may have turned out a lot differently for me.

When Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back, was released, I was ten, and still to this day remember how amazed I was at the opening Hoth battle. And I do believe it still holds my record for most number of times watched. Hot Stuff with Dom DeLuise is a close second (strange time in my adolescence, don’t ask), and perhaps The Fifth Element is soon to pass it, but Empire still shocks and awes. So when the announcement was made that a prequel trilogy was going to be filmed, decades after Return of the Jedi, that feeling of impending shock and awe returned. Only to be replaced with disgust and loathing. And Jar Jar.

Yes, the choice of J. J. Abrams may be controversial, as in, “Hey, he’s not a Star Wars guy.” But maybe that’s a good thing considering where Lucas had taken the last three films: great effects, laughable acting and storyline. I’ve been an Abrams fan for quite some time (Alias is still one of my favorite television shows), and he actually does have geek cred: Fringe, Super 8, Cloverfield (say what you want, still entertaining), and a fabulous reboot of the Star Trek franchise. Not to mention he’s got the handle on storylines, both individually (Person of Interest for example) and full arcs (Lost). Yes, I understand he was ‘only’ executive producer on some of those, but still part of his resumé. And he did write Lost…

Back to Star Wars. That 1977 movie set me on a different path. Seriously. I quickly was swept into Battlestar Galactica, Star Blazers after school cartoons, Star Trek TNG, and so on, and never looked back. When the Star Wars prequel was released, I thought maybe this would be a seminal moment in my kids’ lives. Alas and alack, it was not. I can’t expect a movie in the 21st century to hold the same wonder and amazement for today’s youth as it did for mine. But I can expect that they’ll dig it, and maybe their imaginations will be stirred a bit.

What are your thoughts on Abrams’ selection? Looking forward to a new Star Wars? Dubious? Excited? Don’t give a $%&$?

steve

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New review for the Gabriel trilogy – so well written I thought I’d repost here (and preen my feathers)

Yes, another post of self-flagellation (er, adulation…maybe congratulation?).  I just received a really well-written review for Gabriel’s Journey, and the author of the review (Justin Gifford, copy editor at HorribleNight.com) gave me permission to repost here. I appreciate the in-depth attention he gave each story, as well as (maybe even more so) the critiques. I’m always looking to learn…

Oh, and the bold text is my emphasis. I like emphasis. It helps the skimmers of the world figure out what I’m trying to…emphasize.

Screen Shot 2013-01-25 at 1.26.30 PM

Steve Umstead’s Evan Gabriel Triology (Gabriel’s Redemption, Gabriel’s Return and Gabriel’s Revenge) is a well-put-together series of military science fiction (with hints of hard sci-fi thrown in here and there) whose components stand up well on their own but are probably best consumed as the 3-book package.

The series starts off with a bang as we find the disgraced former Commander Gabriel of the North American Federation living a less-than-ideal life in the Caribbean on an Earth a couple of centuries in the future where interstellar travel is somewhat common and man has begun to colonize the stars. Dragged back in to work for the commander who ruined his career, Gabriel and his team take off on a three-book journey that sends him to the far ends of mankind’s reach and back home again.

The dialog in the book is well developed. It’s neither overly-wordy nor too terse and you do get some character development just from speech patterns. There is an appropriate amount of comic relief, without which the books would have had a much darker tone, particularly the third book, Gabriel’s Revenge. The pace of the books is fast enough that there’s not an overwhelming amount of turnover among Gabriel’s team, but reading the books in one clump like I did made all but the two or three most important supporting characters seem somewhat interchangeable; although new characters are introduced (and I dislike when an author takes too much time rehashing the previous book/s) there were several points that would have had much more emotional resonance had the characters involved been someone who resonated with me as a result of their dialog and interaction with other characters.

The settings and travel between them (a world thrown into a global ice-age by a meteorite, a jungle covered world, Mars, and an Earth that seems familiar but scarred as a backdrop) are very well described, although the explanation for the ice world struck me as much more acceptable than an entirely jungle-covered world – when the audience is inclined towards science and maybe astronomy, a world with one climate and biome seems a little slapdash. That said: the thought process that went into inventing the biome was detailed, painted a pretty good picture in my head and kind of made me want to go on a visit, so don’t read that criticism as overly harsh.

As the Gabriel Trilogy could be classified as “military sci fi,” there’s plenty of action, but it avoids the trope of many other action books that substitute explosions and exclamation points for meaningful plot development. The action in these books serves a purpose. It’s still exciting to read and the presence of neural interconnectivity between the squadmembers adds an interesting dynamic, particularly when it comes to mission planning & modification on the fly. Even the ship-to-ship combat (and other space-related ‘stuff’) is well put together; some thought went into physics, combat difference and ship design. The only critique I have regarding the otherwise excellently done ‘guns and stuff’ is that on several occasions, a projectile weapon is described as firing a projectile at an insanely high speed with no recoil. Much has been done to mitigate recoil throughout mankind’s experimentation with long-range weapons, but nothing, not even magnetic acceleration, is going to eliminate it entirely. In a less carefully-thought-out science fiction novel, I would have rolled my eyes and moved on, but when obvious care has been taken in a variety of other high-detail opportunities to the book’s benefit, it struck me as a departure from tech that “made sense” and swung the pendulum towards “tech as magic.”

Minor critiques aside, the Gabriel Trilogy was darn entertaining and I ripped through the whole thing over a 3 day period because I enjoyed it so much. In addition to being a ‘fun’ read, it takes some time explaining practical approaches to some of sci-fi’s harder questions (is there FTL travel? What about gravity? Laser guns? …)and the times it doesn’t don’t detract from the novels as a whole. One final note: I read a lot of titles on my Kindle/Tablet. I’m also a copy-editor. The proliferation of self-publishing has been a boon to me as a reader, but very few things will pull me out of my immersion in a book I’m enjoying faster than poorly edited / transferred to Kindle books. Gabriel’s Journey, Return & Revenge, thankfully, were almost, if not entirely bereft of these unfortunately common errors, so if you’re as bothered by poor editing as I am, you’re safe with Mr. Umstead’s books.

I’d give a recommendation for sci-fi / adventure / military genre fans to check out this trilogy without hesitation.

Much appreciated, Justin.

steve

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I’m selling like hotcakes in Finland. Make that like “kuumille kiville” according to Google

As a self-published author, I am solely responsible for everything to do with my books. From the writing (probably the easiest part), to the e-book formatting, to the cover layout, to the paperback formatting, to the pricing, to the marketing, to the reporting. And while it would be nice to sit in a cutesy ivory tower and bang away at a keyboard, churning out novel after novel, the reality is that real life always gets the better of one, or more, of those responsibilities.

This post is about the final one, reporting. I do check my Amazon, Barnes & Noble, et al, reporting on a fairly regular basis. Not hourly, like I did way back when, clicking refresh and hoping the number ticked up by one. I gave that up not because the numbers rose too quickly to keep up with (Ha! If only…), but because it did nothing to get my any further in any of the other responsibilities. That being said, I do have to keep on top of my sales/trends so that I know what is selling, where, what is not, why, and so on.

Amazon is my number one outlet, still well in excess of 50% of total sales, followed by Barnes & Noble, then Kobo (though Kobo is nipping at BN’s heels; perhaps another post for another day of Kobo’s nice push), then iBooks, then scattered others. So I normally watch my Amz/BN numbers much more closely than the others, meaning I missed something last week very cool on my iBookstore reporting:

Somehow, some way, some guy/gal in Finland bought Gabriel’s Redemption, then must have enjoyed it so much he/she (a) bought Gabriel’s Return and Gabriel’s Revenge as well, AND (b) told a bunch of Finnish friends. How do I know this? Because after a year and a half of US/Canada (mostly) sales through iTunes, last week I had a Finland sales spike – nine copies of GR1, plus the single copy of both GR2 and GR3. NINE. Out of the blue. Go figure.

So as a thanks to my now-massive Finland market, I give you:

gr1finnish

*Disclaimer: The book wasn’t translated to Finnish, sorry. I just plugged in the title to an online translator and redid the cover. Yes, I was bored this morning.

Now, on to other Scandinavian market domination…

steve

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Excerpt from Gabriel’s Redemption: Drop Capsules

“Drop in five, four, three, two, one…DROP, DROP, DROP!”

Gabriel's Redemption full resGabriel’s head was slammed back against the padded wall of the drop capsule, known to drop-troopers as coffins, as the Marcinko spat the team from the drop bay like bullets. Nine capsules shot towards the surface of Poliahu at over seven G’s.

After the initial shock, Gabriel relaxed his breathing and had his neuretics bring up the drop data in Mindseye. Nine green dots, falling towards the surface at over 18,000 miles per hour, all secure telemetry in order. He checked for an update of the LZ, and confirmed the team was on target and all probes showed the same quiet colony. All but one probe, he thought. I only hope that was a glitch.

He noticed one dot slightly off target, double checked that it was Sabra, and reconfirmed her flight path was taking her to the predetermined LZ at the base of the ridge. One more green dot was wavering. He sent a quick burst to Jimenez to adjust course, and his dot came back in line within a few seconds.

Gabriel adjusted his course slightly, tiny hydrazine jets on the outside of the coffin giving a few quick puffs. He wanted to land just outside the circle of his team to not only get a closer look at the colony upon landing, but also to be able to see Sabra better as she landed. He still wasn’t sold on her loyalty; something with her and Lamber still simmered below the surface, and he planned to make a point of keeping a very close eye on them planetside.

They began entering Poliahu’s atmosphere, Gabriel’s coffin buffeted by the ionized air molecules screaming past his falling capsule. The heat inside rose by several degrees as friction took hold, and he ordered the battlesuit he wore to lower its temperature a bit to compensate. His nose itched something fierce, but in his standing position with arms locked at his side, he couldn’t do anything about it. Not to mention the combat helmet would prevent it anyway. Standing upright, paralyzed, in a coffin. Great way to start the day.

The buffeting increased to a shudder and Gabriel’s teeth rattled. A quick check of the drop data showed them just a few seconds from retroburn, so he clamped his jaw and gritted his way through the shaking, hoping his recent filling stayed in place.

As one, the nine capsules reached their IP, ejected their heat shields with a bang, and activated the retroengines. Light blue tongues of plasma fired from the three conical jets on the bottom of each capsule as their heat shields fluttered away above them. Gabriel felt a massive squeeze in his chest and his blood began pooling in his legs, vision graying, as the g-forces of the burn took hold. Slowly the pressure decreased and he took a few deep breaths, checking data once again.

The capsules were all on target, Sabra just north of the others, as they all slowed their descents to a more manageable landing velocity. Twenty seconds to touchdown, he noted, so he began activating the armor’s servos and sensors, bringing the Otero battlesuit fully online. Heads-up displays illuminated his visor, the first bit of light he had seen since entering the capsule over an hour ago. The suit ran through diagnostics, everything in order he saw with satisfaction, and he tensed his leg muscles in anticipation of touchdown.

Gabriel’s retroengine rose in pitch, then abruptly shut off, and his capsule banged into the surface of the icy planet. The shell of the capsule split vertically and spread the doors wide, allowing the weak pre-dawn glow to enter. Gabriel quickly hopped from the capsule, taking several steps away, knowing full well how many men and women had been injured when the eight foot tall capsule had tipped over on them as they emerged.

He turned back to the capsule to see it still standing upright, steam billowing from its underside as the engines ticked and cooled. He stepped back to the capsule, sent a command, and its doors swung shut again. He pushed it over backwards and it toppled into the snow, exposing the blackened engine nacelles and a puddle of water that was quickly refreezing.

He turned back towards the ridge to catch a glimpse of Sabra’s capsule touching down near the base in a cloud of snow. He checked the data and his heads-up displayed her capsule landing safely and opening. Good, he thought. Hers was an important position, and he didn’t want to waste time trying to compensate for a bad drop. Although it did appear she may have landed a bit too close to the valley entrance.

Walking around to the top of his capsule, he reached down, and with the enhanced servos in his battlesuit, grabbed the tow handle built into the top of it and began dragging it to their rally point, leaving a furrow in the snow behind him that began immediately filling back in with falling snow.

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Unusual (but very appreciated) care package from Stella Artois…

I’ll preface this post by saying “Don’t judge me”. No seriously, don’t judge. I take my “me time” wherever and whenever I can get it, whether it’s a quick lunch at Barnes & Noble with the laptop, or a coffee at Panera with the tablet, or as in this case, a single beer at Chili’s while my son is doing a 45 minute karate class next door.

I sit down, knowing (a) I only have 40 minutes, and (b) I can only have one beer since I’m the epitome of the responsible driver, and order my usual (again don’t judge), a pint of Stella Artois, draft. The bartender smiles sadly and says, “sorry, the manager replaced the Stella tap with Yuengling a couple of weeks ago.”

Jaw. Drops. Seriously? And before I get a flood of “hey, I like Yuengling” comments, I’ll cut you off: I don’t. At all. And I’m a beer snob. A crisp, clear, cold pint of Stella is hard to match, and Yuengling falls well short, in my opinion.

What does a socially-responsible person do? Tweet, of course:

What happens next is the unusual part. I get an email the next day via my site from the New York-based marketing company that represents Stella Artois in the US, saying “Stella Artois saw your tweet about replacing it at Chili’s, and wanted to send you something to fuel your creativity.”

Wha? I immediately email back with a “Stop it, seriously?” only to get a “Yes, seriously” right back. So stalking aside, I send back my address, thinking I’d get a logo coaster or two…but no. Next day UPS:

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Which turns out to be 12 bottles of Stella Artois:

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Fueling creativity indeed. A big thanks to Stella Artois to being aware, the HL Group for saying hello, and Chili’s for screwing up in the first place.

I think these will get me through a few new chapters. Or one. Mostly.

steve

 

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