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).