Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Year in Books: 2013

So, I read 65 books in 2013, all SF and fantasy. I kept track, because otherwise at the end of the year I only remember the last five or six that I finished recently. Actually, I read a few more—my count doesn’t include George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, which I began in the summer of 2012 and read mostly on my iPad while commuting by bus. I finished up A Dance with Dragons in July, and officially joined the throngs demanding: “Write faster, George R.R. Martin, write faster!”

The list of books doesn’t include those I started and decided not to finish. I’m not in graduate school anymore, and I don’t have to slog through novels that I don’t really like, darn it! I doubt if any of them were really bad—just not what I needed to be reading at the time.

To cite one example, I began Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys and got about a quarter of the way through before getting bored and frustrated with the protagonist (or one of them anyway) who was getting pushed around by his long-lost brother—they’re both sons of an incarnation of Anansi, the West African Spider god.

Neil Gaiman’s a fine writer, and it’s probably a good book, but I couldn’t see making my way through the whole novel to find out if the brother was ever actually going to grow a spine. (I can recommend Gaiman’s novel Neverwhere, by the way, which I read a couple of years ago. It has kind of a similar structure—wimpy protagonist is forced to eventually become a hero—but with more action and more interesting characters.)

The one book I read that wasn’t a novel was the biography Robert A Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century, by William H. Patterson, Jr. It’s a very good look at the first half of the life of one of the 20th century’s most influential science fiction writers. I think Patterson oversells his case a little in the Forward as he tries to argue for Heinlein’s significance in American culture, and I could have stood to read a little less about Heinlein’s attempt at a political career in 1930s California, but aside from those minor quibbles, I found it an entertaining and informative work. I love reading biographies about writers.

Anyway, I’ll attach the complete list in a Page on the right. Here, I’ll just list my favorites. I used a highly rigorous five-star system that mostly consisted of: “Did I like this? Did I like it a lot? Did I really really like it A LOT?” In chronological order:

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold
The Apocalypse Codex, Charles Stross
The Hydrogen Sonata, Iain M. Banks (final book)
Spin, Robert Charles Wilson
Fathom, Cherie Priest
Great North Road, Peter F. Hamilton
The Daedalus Incident, Michael J. Martinez
Gradisil, Adam Roberts
The Explorer, James Smythe
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

I know, I know: I should probably broaden my reading a bit and occasionally open a book that doesn’t feature space travel, aliens, or magic. Maybe next year.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree . . .

. . . Why are you so blurry?

Happy holidays to my hordes (dozens?) of readers. More chapters, stories, and rambling thoughts in 2014. We're living in the future!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Winter is coming

. . . And here's what it looks like outside my window:

The snow appears to be falling up. If the TARDIS arrives, the Doctor can find me at the bar.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving is over

Yes, turkey and stuffing and family and friends, and taking my son to the bar . . . good times. Now back to the long slog of work and shopping and getting to Christmas, December deadlines and holidays, and the New Year.

I have read 59 books this year, all of them SF/Fantasy. Maybe I'm in a rut. In the laundry room, of a community bookshelf, someone left the Robert A. Heinlein biography (Part 1: the early years), and I'm reading that right now. It's pretty good. Because this volume focuses on his early life, I don't expect to learn much about the details of how he wrote Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land, or even The Puppet Masters (one of the first "adult" SF novels I ever read), but you can start to see some of the incidents and experiences that must have shaped his later writing. I think the biographer overplays Heinlein's influence on the 20th century in his intro, but still: Heinlein was a huge influence on science fiction, and SF has been a big influence on technology and culture (excuse me while I check my smartphone), so maybe he's got a point. Good book, so far. And while it's generally positive (it's an "authorized" biography, after all) it doesn't make Heinlein out to be a saint. Just a guy trying to find his way in the confusing days of the early 20th century.

(Sometimes I remember that I'm living in the 21st century, with access to information from all around the world on a computer I can slip into the side pocket of my cargo pants. Which is maybe more useful to most of us than a moonbase—although I still want that).

Saw the movie Europa Report the other day. Great. Sort of like Gravity with hints of Alien, although, be warned, if you're looking for monsters, you'll wait a long time. Still, it captures the claustrophobia and fear of a long space voyage and the dangers to be encountered when you're a long, long way from home.

Posting two new chapters of Prodigal Prince right now, to make up for the fact that I'm late this week. I try to at least post a new chapter every Sunday, but the holiday weekend got out of control.

And I thank my friends who have been kind enough to read chapters of the new novel I'm working on, The Black Guard. As I think I mentioned before, it's another urban fantasy. With automatic weapons. Gunfights! Explosions! Giant spiders! What more could anyone want? Don't you want to read it? Right now? Please?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving is coming

I enjoy books where people actually eat.

One of the things I’m giving thanks for right now is Chimes of Midnight, Seanan McGuire’s latest October Daye book. I bought it at Windycon, a few weeks ago, but I had a few library books to finish, so I only started reading it last night.

It’s a great book, of course. Seanan McGuire is one of my favorite authors, But one thing I really appreciate about her is the fact that, as busy as the heroes get, they manage to get something to eat. Burritos and sandwiches so far, but at least Toby Daye and her friends actually pause to have a meal from time to time.
It happens in books and movies and on TV all the time: The hero sits down to breakfast, or lunch, or dinner, takes one bite, and then the phone rings and he/she is off to deal with some emergency. Anytime someone (usually Mom, right?) makes a big breakfast with eggs and bacon and sausage and pancakes and even scones, the hero—whether it’s a cop or a high school kid—grabs a piece of toast, muttering “Sorry, no time for breakfast, gotta run,” and leaves.

Really, he or she should should get hit by a metal frying pan on the way out of the kitchen.           

I’m not saying I’ve never wasted any food at any time I my life. But I always make sure my fictional characters eat.


In other news, I’m working on a new novel, which some of you have read a chapter of. It features a demon-fighting ex-cop named Leo Burden, who’s sort of based on the mafia vigilantes I used to read about in high school.

(Some days I think I’m doing nothing but recycling my ideas from my reading in the 1970s.)

I need to be writing something all the time. I’m waiting to hear about A Bar Called Revelations (my other urban fantasy novel) that I’ve got out at a publisher—which reminds me, I need to send them another e-mail reminding them about my query from June. But I don’t want to start a sequel to that book until I know something definite about this one. I’ve done that before, and I’ve decided it’s better to go on to something completely different while I’m waiting. Having a story to work on is just generally conducive to my mental health, so I’m happy to have something going.

I did a thing where I broke the full document of Revelations into two documents, because at 600+ pages, Microsoft Word apparently can’t handle a complete spellcheck, and I keep finding typos. Some of them are mistakes that Word wouldn’t find anyway (“hair red” for “red hair”), so I need to go through it again.

So my challenge for the rest of the year is balancing those two out, at least until I’ve done a semi-thorough edit on Revelations again.

My other challenge is keeping up with this blog more consistently. And posting a new Prodigal Prince chapter at least once a week, or more often. So look! Over there! It’s a new chapter! Enjoy!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Windycon . . . one week later

So I had a fine time at Windycon last weekend. Got to meet Jim C. Hines, a fine fantasy author, hear him read a story, and get his autograph on my copy of Libriomancer. While I sort of prefer his "Princess" series, in which Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty team up to do battle against evil in a fairy tale kingdom (as others have said, it's Charlie's Angels with swords and magic), I do recommend Libriomancer highly, and can't wait to read the sequel.

Speaking of books, I bought a bunch! As I always do. I just need to get through one more of my library books before I can start the new October Daye book, Chimes at Midnight, by Seanan McGuire, an urban fantasy series that I enjoy greatly.

Went to two good panels: One on interstellar commerce, which produced lots of ideas for things that other races might trade, which will be useful for my Foxe stories, since the Aligned Worlds is mostly designed to facilitate interstellar trade more than anything else. The other was, "Should you self-publish?" And I think right now the answer for me is still "No." I still want to find an actual real-life publisher, mostly because marketing my work, which is the bulk of what you have to do when you self-publish, isn't really in my skill set. And as noted SF writer Eric Flint pointed out, when you're marketing your writing, you're not actually doing your writing. And when readers find an author they like, they want more, soon—or they'll go find someone else.

Other thoughts:

I planted my flyers for the site on the "freebie" table. Not sure how many con-goers (if any) picked them up, but it's the start of an experiment. I've got Capricon coming up in February.

On that note, I'll be posting the next chapter of Prodigal Son later today. Onward!

Also, I'm working on a new series—another urban fantasy story, with automatic weapons. And I'm looking for friends to read chapter one and give me feedback! Please?

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 8, 2013

I come in peace

Greetings. If you’re visiting this blog because you happened to pick up one of the flyers I left out at Windycon, that means I didn’t visit Kinko’s in vain.

I’m John. “Light Years Away” is my blog, designed to inflict some of my writing on the world in hopes of attracting a publisher, or an agent, or at least a few groupies. In “Stories,” over to the right, you’ll find chapters of Prodigal Prince, my SF action-adventure novel. I’ve moved Chapter One to the top so you can start in the right place.

You’ll also find a few short stories featuring my series character, an interstellar agent named Foxe—a sort of James Bond/Jack Bauer type who travels throughout the known galaxy. He’s armed and dangerous, but not always as ruthless as he pretends to be. You can find out about his origins (in my mind) here: http://grantson1.blogspot.com/2013/09/foxe-origins_6.html

My newest short story about Foxe, “Meat,” should also be over there on the right.

I’ve also written an urban fantasy novel that I’m shopping around: A Bar Called Revelations, featuring bar owner Luther Kane, an ex-priest with the uncanny ability to detect demonic evil in the people around him—who always seem to wander into his bar at the wrong moment.

Me? I live in Chicago, where I write and edit newsletters on management and communication. I’ve been doing it for over 20 years, so I must be doing something right.

Welcome to my blog. Enjoy.


I don’t think I do conventions right. I don’t go to parties, I’m not good at mingling, and I tend to keep to myself. I like the panel discussions: authors and fans talking about books and science and characters and movies, and, yeah, Doctor Who.

But I keep going to Windycon. And Capricon. Because they’re tons of fun, I get to buy way too many books, and I see authors I like. Sometimes I even get up my nerve to talk to them.

And I’m going to Windycon this weekend! Yay!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

This is my flyer!

So I had a bunch of these printed up and I’m taking them to Windycon, the SF convention I go to every year, and I’ll dump them on the table next to all the other materials (cards, newsletters, pens) that other aspiring writers, publishers, and bloggers leave. My goal is to see if any con-goers pick one or two up—and then to see if there’s any surge in the traffic here as a result.

Realistically, I don’t expect to see an explosion of interest. I’ve picked these things up at past conventions and, yeah, I don’t always check them out later. Oops. I do like the pens. I’m still using two of them that I picked up at the convention last year. 

But there’s this famous quote from some advertising guy: “Fifty percent of the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but the problem is, I don’t know which fifty percent.” And since I’ve done next to nothing to promote my blog up until now, anything I do has to be an improvement. Right? 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday update

So I saw Ender’s Game today. Spent the weekend waffling back and forth: Friday I definitely wanted to see it, Saturday I decided no, then today I woke up and wanted to go.

Indecision? Well, part of it was based on the fact that Orson Scott Card (who wrote the novel that the film is based on) is a homophobic twit. But mostly I worried that this would be another example of Hollywood’s idea of what a science fiction movie should be: A vague dystopian future, a few spaceships, a completely simplistic conflict between the haves and the have-nots, and a bunch of explosions in space. Put them all the elements together, bring Matt Damon or Tom Cruise or Will Smith into the mix, and release the film in time for summer. Or just call it Star Trek and hope nobody will notice that it’s nothing more than special effects, a plot twist, and someone yelling “KHAAAAN!”

But I finally decided I wanted to see the film, and I’m glad I did. I read the book many years ago, and the movie followed it pretty well. The performances are generally excellent. Asa Butterfield, playing Ender, was great, portraying a range of emotions from confusion, anger, determination, humor, and especially betrayal. Hailee Steinfield and Abigail Breslin were pretty wonderful. Harrison Ford was raspy, maybe a little too simplistic, but nicely balanced by Viola Davis, questioning the morality of everything Ford’s character is doing, even though he’s firmly (and in some ways legitimately) convinced that his actions are necessary in order to save the human race. But I’ve got to say I really liked Nonso Anozie, who played Ender’s sergeant throughout the film. You would definitely drop and give him 20 pushups, or 40, if he demanded it.

It’s a morally problematic story, but that’s the point. What’s justified when you feel everything you believe in is threatened with total destruction? What would you do? What should you never do? I’m sure not trying to make this into a 9/11 allegory—the book was written in the 1980s—but it does sort of open the door to thinking about how far we should be willing to go to ensure our safety.

Okay, that was little longer than I intended.

Other things:

The movie I most want to see from the previews is Mr. Peabody & Sherman:

The other one is I, Frankenstein—I gather it’s about some monster. And it’s got Yvonne Strahovsky!

(That's her on the right.)

I sent my novel A Bar Called Revelations to Ace in June. This is around the time they suggest I might have gotten a response from them, but so far I haven’t heard anything. Which is fine—obviously these things take time. I did send an email asking about the status a few days ago, but they haven’t responded yet. I may send it to Baen Books next—they publish a lot of urban fantasy, and Revelations may fit with their list, but the last time I sent them a submission to them I waited for over a year for a response. Which is also fine, but I’ve realized lately that I may have misunderstood the term “simultaneous submissions”—that may apply to sending a bunch of manuscripts at once to the same publisher, not sending them out to other publishers. So I may look at sending Revelations out to more than one publisher at a time after this.

And I’ve just recently started work on a new and different (sort of) urban fantasy-type novel. So far I only have about three or four chapters plotted out and I’ve learned from experience that without a clear path to an ending I need more than a good opening to make a book work. Still, I like this latest idea, and I’m happiest when I’m actually writing something.

My Internet connection? I don’t want to jinx anything by talking about it.

And finally, will my blog traffic rise because I talked about Ender’s Game, the way it did when I posted my thoughts on Gravity a few weeks ago? We’ll see.

PS: But what about Foxe, you wonder? The suspense mounts in the new chapter I’ve posted.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

New name, real name

You might have noticed that I've renamed the blog. "Experiment in Terror" reflected the fact that I knew nothing about putting together a blog when I started this process, and I was nervous about putting it out there. So terrified, in fact, that I didn't use my real name.

("Grant" was my father's middle name, and the name that he was frequently called by, especially by my mother. So I really am John Grant's Son).

But now, under "About Me," you can see not only my picture (and my award! I won an award once!) but my real name. So I guess the fear factor has gone down.

The new name reflects my interest in space opera: Star Trek/Star Wars-type interstellar action, with exotic aliens, strange planets, heroes and villains, and frequent explosions. Yes, I've been working on an urban fantasy series, complete with vampires, ghosts, and demons, but for right now I plan on keeping those two universes separate. We'll see.

Anyway, as a bonus, I'm adding a new Foxe story to the site. "Takeover strategies" isn't really new—I wrote it several years ago, but after a brisk edit, I think it works reasonably well. Feel free to tell my what you think.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Who is this strange woman named Valeria Lynd? And why is she making trouble for Foxe? Find out in Chapter Eight of Prodigal Prince!

I know, I know . . .

I need to do more than just post chapters of Prodigal Prince. No excuses. Explanations? Well, maybe.

• New Story. I've been working on a new Foxe short story. It's coming together, and I'll probably post it sometime this week. The thing with stories about Foxe is I'm not sure how meaningful they are if you don't know who Foxe is from the start, which (I suspect) makes them difficult to get published elsewhere. David Drake can send a Hammer's Slammers story (interstellar mercenaries, and a GREAT series, really, go out and read it now) to a top magazine and everyone will know what he's talking about. But so far only a handful of my loyal readers will really understand who Foxe is in the universe I'm trying to build for him. So the shorter stories about him are exercises—and also ideas I can't let go of. After "Mind Games," I've got only a few that I'm really happy with, although the upcoming one, "Meat," seems to hold some promise. And an earlier one, "Stay Angry," still feels good to me.

• Internet issues. AT&T "upgraded" my Internet connection to a Uverse system. I spent a few days freaking out about having to install a new modem, and although I was able to set it up and get it sort of working, it still sometimes goes in and out, particularly when I'm watching videos on Netflix. Sure, I can still get work done, and most of the time the Internet connection is fine, so I'm mostly just griping. But still. Hard to concentrate when you're wondering about when and if your broadband is going down.

• The government. Boy, it was hard to concentrate while wondering whether we were going to head into financial apocalypse.

• Stuff. Okay, sometimes I'm just lazy. That's probably the main reason. I do enjoy my job and the people at my office (and the fact that I can work at home whenever necessary), but it still consumes a certain amount of time and energy, and then there's taking care of stuff at home, trying to watch the occasional episode of Dr. Who, and getting up to do it all again after I've stayed up too late reading in bed. (Right now I hope to finish Peter Hamilton's new book, Great North Road, in the next night or two. Hamilton writes these incredibly lengthy SF novels, maybe longer than they need to be, but for fantastic, world-spinning science fiction/space opera, he's worth every page. Go set aside a few months to read his Void trilogy. Get them all at once, because you won't want to stop at the end of each book.)

• I think that's it. Coming attractions: I'm keeping a list of every book I've read this year, and in 2014 I'll post it, along with my ratings, and maybe some reviews.

• Bullet points. I love'em.

In the meantime, I am posting the latest chapter of Prodigal Prince. Right about . . . Now.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Let the games commence

You've been patiently wondering, "When does the action start?" Well, the wait is over, for better or worse. Heroes and villains come together, with surprising and deadly results.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A meeting of enemies

Chapter 6 of Prodigal Prince: Foxe and Shrinn meet each other for the first time. In an elevator.


Trying to wrap my mind around some comments on the movie Gravity, but I kept going off on a tangent about Star Trek Into Darkness, which is the other movie I saw in theater this year. I liked Star Trek Into Darkness, despite my annoyance over the title (and other issues), but Gravity makes you really feel like what it must be like to be floating in space, with the Earth either over you or under you—and then spinning out of control like Frank Poole in 2001: A Space Odyssey. A real trek into darkness.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Lunch and memories and confessions

I had lunch a few days ago with a friend who’s a published author. We met in the 1980s at meetings of the Mystery Writers of America (Midwest Chapter), which held monthly meetings in downtown Chicago.

I loved those meetings. I never missed them if I could help it all, and I dragged my friends, co-workers, and even my wife to them as often as I could for drinks, dinner, and discussions about the finer points of murder.

The world has changed a lot since then. The publishing industry has consolidated into a few big publishers and a lot of smaller, independent ones, e-books are now a force to be reckoned with (and don’t get me wrong—I love reading e-books on my iPad), and anyone can put out an e-book on Amazon.

But it sure seemed simpler when I went to my first MWA meeting. I was suddenly in the same room with a combination of wannabe writers like me and a bunch of successful, published authors. They may not have been making millions of dollars writing NY Times bestsellers (although some of them eventually did), but the formula for success they shared was basically this: Write a book, get some feedback, and find an agent—or maybe send it directly to a publisher. That worked for at least a few writers in the group. Keep doing it, and eventually you might see your books on the shelves of your local bookstore. Back when there were actual bookstores.

My friend has written a bunch of really good crime novels. They range from a series of books featuring a hard-boiled Chicago cab driver to a couple of novels about a reformed terrorist, and then to a sequence of police procedurals in the 1960s era. I confess that I haven’t read every single book he’s written, especially since I switched my focus from mysteries to science fiction in the mid-2000s, but he’s a fine writer. And right now he’s frustrated at not knowing how to sell the books he’s already published, and wondering how he’s going to get a publisher to put out his most recent works.

And me? After almost 30 years, I’m sort of nowhere. Lots of stuff written, none of it sold. One award for an SF story. One detective novel almost published, except that the publisher went out of business.

I could simply publish Prodigal Prince on Amazon. And that’s a serious option. I have another novel I’m sending around to actual publishers, an urban fantasy, and I have higher hopes for that than for my two Foxe novels because I think it’s more original, and it fits into an established niche without being too derivative.

But I sure hope someday I can find a publisher, because I don’t think I’m suited for a career of trying to market and promote my own work all by myself. I admit I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’m certainly going about this all wrong.

The problem is, I can’t stop. I read a story once about Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote A Wrinkle In Time. One night after a lot of failure she decided to quit writing. Then, as she was walking upstairs to go to bed, she thought of a story about a writer who decided to quit writing, and by the time she reached the top of the stairs she realized that was her next story.

Or something like that. Maybe I remember it wrong. But even so, that’s me. For better or worse, I’m going to keep going.

Darn it.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Two chapters for the price of one!

Because chapter 3 of Prodigal Prince is fairly brief, I thought I'd post two chapters. The plot thickens . . .

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

An unexpected rejection

So this is funny . . .

Last year Harper Voyager announced they were accepting unsolicited submissions for a 2-week period in October. And I got Prodigal Prince (titled Prodigal Son at the time) ready and sent it whoosh! into cyberspace. With hope, but not expecting any WE LOVE YOUR BOOK HERE'S A MILLION DOLLAR ADVANCE kind of response.

Then nothing, and if I recall correctly there was sort of a deadline for responses, which meant, "If you haven't heard from us, that pretty much means we said no." Fair enough. I figured they'd get a few thousand manuscripts, and that meant that weary slush-pile readers deserved a break. At some point I realized that they were passing, and moved on.

(I submitted to Baen Books before this, and after a year I wondered if no response meant HELL NO, but I got up my courage at a convention to ask Eric Flint and he advised me to be patient. And a few months after I received what was actually a pretty nice rejection letter, not exactly a form letter, so I guess it was right to wait a while.)

Then today I got an email from Harper Voyager saying, yes, they were passing on my book. On the one hand, it's been a year and I pretty much figured they'd declined, so why are you sending me this now?

On the other hand, just as I'm writing this I thought maybe they'd held off on rejecting it because they saw something in it that made them not hurl back a rejection letter outright. So, okay. In college I was once advised to try to find a way to turn what I saw as a negative into something positive. So maybe that's how I should look at this. Anyway, at least I got a response, which maybe says something good about the experience.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mind Games

I wrote “Mind Games” back in 2006 (according to the date on the earliest version I can find on my computer). It was my first Foxe story, an attempt to see if I could transform the action-spy hero I created in my misspent youth (see "Foxe: The origins") into an action-SF hero I could write novels about (See the first two chapters of Prodigal Prince, and more to come).

How well I succeeded is anyone’s guess. I did get some decent criticism on the story in a critique session at Windycon (Jody-Lyn Nye said I write good action scenes) and I tried to work that feedback into subsequent revisions when I submitted them to magazines. Magazines that pretty much ignored them. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

To be honest, though, I can see why. There’s nothing earth-shatteringly original in “Mind Games,” nothing that would stand out in a slush pile of wildly creative stories from 126 other unknowns that came in the same day. But I think the elements still add up to the kind of action-SF short story I was trying to write: interstellar intrigue on a shipboard casino, a devious villain, an innocent to be rescued, and a satisfying amount of violence at the conclusion.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Blog Report

The No. 1 rule of blogging is to do it consistently and often. The No. 1 danger is starting off full of energy and enthusiasm and then slacking off, like dieting or piano lessons.

I’m still in the experimental stage with Experiment in Terror, although I’m learning how to do the basic stuff so I can move off that soon. Right now I’m rewriting the first FOXE story I ever wrote (at least in this century), but that’s kind of a dodge that I’m using to avoid the mind-numbing terror surrounding the prospect of actually trying to publicize my blog and attract new people. People who aren’t my beloved Facebook friends! Who might not automatically like me! I might get *gasp* criticized! Oh the humanity!

So one day pretty soon I’m going to screw my courage to the sticking place, use my real name, and launch a blog for real, using all the information I’ve been collecting (but haven’t really read yet) about publicizing a blog, and actually try to gain a readership beyond my list of Facebook friends.

It’ll be scary. That’s why I’m sharing it with you now, because if I can talk about the fear now, the real thing may just be less threatening. My father used to tell me not to cross a bridge until you come to it, which is good advice. But I also think that thinking about how you’re going to get across the bridge once you get there is a big help in taking that first step over the water.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Foxe: The origins

The excerpt posted the other day was from a science fiction adventure novel of mine called Prodigal Prince. The hero of the tale is an interstellar secret agent named Foxe. He’s been characterized as a James Bond figure, which is fair, although I like to think of him as more of a Jack Bauer type: a tough but sensitive action hero who’s obsessed with accomplishing his mission no matter what it takes, or how little sleep he gets.

Foxe works for an interstellar espionage agency called ARI: Aligned Research and Intelligence, which is an arm of the Aligned Worlds, a loose confederation of planets inhabited by humans and aliens who are mostly concerned with matters of trade and commerce. ARI’s role is to step in whenever anything might threaten peaceful relations and endanger business between worlds.

But Foxe has his origins in an earlier century.

I created him when I was about 12 or 13. He was inspired by the “Men’s Adventure” paperback novels being published by the truckload in the 1970s. I bought and read them obsessively:

• The Executioner: Mack Bolan, a soldier home from Vietnam after a family tragedy sparked by Mafia loan sharks, declares “War Against the Mafia” and takes on the mob with an arsenal of automatic weapons and a calm trigger finger.

• The Destroyer: Remo Williams, a cop convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, who is “executed” and then recruited to become the enforcement arm for a supersecret government agency called CURE. He’s trained in the martial arts by Chiun, the Master of Sinanju, to become the deadliest assassin in the world.

• The Death Merchant: Richard Camellion, CIA agent, a master of death, disguise, and destruction, who takes on impossible missions around the globe that typically require him to take on hordes of KGB agents, Nazis, Red Chinese, international terrorists, and the occasional mad scientist. 

Yeah. I know. This is the kind of stuff I read in high school. Along with Doc Savage novels, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, some Agatha Christie, and my first Raymond Chandler books. A mixed bag, to say the least. In my defense, I sort of knew these paperback vigilante/spy novels were kind of awful, but I have to admit that as a somewhat nerdy adolescent male I did find something satisfying about reading scene after scene of bad guys being gunned down by tough-guy heroes with automatic weapons (or deadly martial arts skills) while saving the world, and the girl.

Foxe came out of that. In his original incarnation he was Ernest Radley Foxe (the name came from James Hadley Chase, a popular thriller writer of the time) and he was a New York City private detective who took on contract missions for the CIA. I wrote two novel-length adventures featuring him when I was about 13, and then two more in my “mature” phase, when I was 17 and 18. So that’s four novel-length “works” I wrote about him before I started college.

Anyway, sometime in the early 21st century I came across a carton of these books and started reading them again. One interesting thing that happened was that I quickly realized that some of the books I thought weren’t that good when I first read them really aren’t that good. I’d thought I was missing something, but it turns out I already had some kind of discernment about character and narrative even when I was in 8th grade. Of course what I remember most from them is the sex scenes—some of the old paperbacks literally open right up to the parts where the girl walks out naked and tries to seduce the hero. What can I say? I was still sneaking peeks at my father’s collection of Playboys.

Ahem. So I was reading a Death Merchant novel one morning when I should have been doing real work, and I thought, this is so completely unbelievable for so many reasons, but one of them is that no guy could travel around to around the world killing so many people without getting caught somewhere along the line no matter how many fake passports he had. “Now, if he was going to other planets . . .” I thought. And that’s when I got this great idea for a science fiction adventure novel:

What if one of these adventure heroes was in outer space? Maybe not the Death Merchant, but I had this one character, Foxe—what if he was in outer space? And a secret agent? And maybe not quite as ridiculous as a 1970s action hero, but still pretty deadly? Hmm . . .

So there you have it. I like to think that this version of Foxe (first name Erick) is the 26th-century descendant of the original Ernest Radley Foxe, although I can hardly imagine THAT guy ever settling down to get married and have kids. And I like to think that this guy is a little more realistic, although, hey, he’s an action hero: deadly, indestructible, and irresistible to women. Well, that last part is strictly a fantasy. I have to draw the line somewhere.

 Anyway, after all that, I've posted Chapter two of Prodigal Prince. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Another experiment. "Prodigal Prince" is the first chapter of a science fiction action/adventure novel I've been working on off and on for the last several years. Someday I'll explain the origins of Erick Foxe, interstellar secret agent, but for right now I just want to play with images and see how a chapter looks on a blog.

I may ultimately publish the whole novel on Amazon or something. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The complete "Oracle"

Here's the full text of "Oracle," the story which won the 2009 ISFiC Writer's Contest and was published in the 2009 WindyCon program book. I'm pretty proud of it. It's about freedom of the press, with aliens, on a space station. In other words, "SPACE BLOGGER!"

(When I say "Here," I mean, look toward the bar marked "Stories" to your right. =====>
I'm still learning this.)

This was kind of a big deal for me, since it came at the end of a year when my son graduated high school and started college, and also a tumultuous year when I got laid off and got my job back. I'm still very invested in stories about communicating the truth, even when it's inconvenient to the powers that be. I've got a few other stories dealing with journalists in alien environments, which will show up at some point.

As a bonus, here's a picture of the award I won:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Welcome! Heh, heh, heh . .

Mine is an evil laugh . . . Actually it's just a nervous throat spasm.

Okay, what am I doing? Well, as the name suggests, this is an experiment. And it fills me with terror, which is why I'm calling it "an experiment." So I can flee like a jackrabbit if I decide I can't handle the prospect of putting everything I've got out here on cyberspace. Run! Run! The horror! The horror!

Okay, I'm a little more calm now.

Why a blog? For a couple reasons:

1. Writers have blogs. Successful writers use them to share news about their work. And to talk about whatever's on their minds. The blog I've linked to on my front page right now is, in fact, named "Whatever," by John Scalzi, one of my favorite science fiction writers (University of Chicago graduate!). Yesterday he won a Hugo* award.

2. Publishers these days expect writers to take an active role in marketing their work. Having a blog that showcases my stories and gets some serious attention on the Internet could help me attract a publisher.

3. I want to be able to share some of my stories with a wider audience. I'm planning to post some stories I wrote that didn't get published anywhere (although I admit that I could/should have been more persistent about submitting them to magazines, online and virtual, but that's another topic and possibly a  subject for psychoanalysis). I'll post those that I still like, after editing them again, and maybe they'll attract some attention. But even if they never show up in Analog or Asimov's, I'll know that they're out there and people might read and enjoy them. Which is what every writer wants.

What else is going on here? Well . . .

1. For right now, my name on the blog is "John Grantson," although my email address with my name is clearly displayed with my name at the top. My father's name was Edward Grant Cowan, and for much of his life he was known as Grant, and I'm happy to use that as a nom de plume for now. It will change (along with my email address) as I make the change to a blog I'm going to use as a tool to publicize my work. The name "Experiment in Terror" will probably change too as I overcome my fears.

2. I spent some time today learning how to post pictures, links, and pages that link to stories I want to post. I've posted the beginning of a story called "Oracle," which won a contest in 2009, as a test. I'll put the rest of the story on the site soon. And others.

3. I'm using the Google tool Blogger right now. That may change as I explore other platforms, and if anyone has recommendations for different platforms, great. Please tell me what's easy and what tricks I need to know.

4. I don't know what I don't know. I spent an hour today trying to figure out why new items didn't show up under the "Stories" bar, until I finally tried changing templates—the display image that shows up behind the actual blog. And then everything looked fine. I'm sure I'm in for a lot of frustration here.

5. Comments? That sort of scares me, because once you put your stuff out on the Internet any troll can come in and savage you. I'm still figuring out how they work on this platform, so that will take some time. But please feel free to share any feedback you have on the blog as it exists now, or any stories I post when I put them up. Once I switch to a "pro" blog, I hope I'll be able to deal with anything that comes through.

I'm trying to be as honest as possible here about my hopes and fears and plans for this new stage of my attempt to become the next John Scalzi/Jim Butcher/George R. R. Martin, or just the first John Cowan. So what's next? I don't know. Maybe I'll chicken out. But I know I have to keep trying.

Open roads,


* Hugos are awarded by fan votes at the World Science Fiction each year.

Big question

Will there be a link?


Apparently there will!

I won an award! (in 2009)

This is my third post. WITH PICTURES!

(I won an award).