My daughter is a wrecking ball!

So yesterday my family went out for dinner. We have a mini-van, or to be more accurate, a mobile living room. The thing is super comfy. The sliding door was open. My daughter Olivia stood just inside the open door. As I approached, she jumped into my arms and I twirled her to the ground. She laughed and said the movement felt like a tornado. I told her she was a tornado.

“Meh,” she told me. “I’m more of a wrecking ball.”

Too funny.

My next novel is based on Olivia and her two younger brothers. The main character’s name is Maddie, but her personality is mirrored after my daughter. Maddie is spunky, rebellious and intriguing–an overall great main character who isn’t your stereotypical girl. And those words aren’t mine own, but of someone who has read the novel’s first chapter and provided constructive feedback.

Olivia’s comment yesterday reminded me of Maddie, because like my daughter, she is certainly a wrecking ball. In light of this revelation, I thought it would be fun to share the first chapter with you in the Maddie Jones saga. I’ve posted it below, so read and enjoy…and let me know what you think.

Maddie Jones & the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors

Chapter 1

The worst day of my life started like this.

I was climbing the rock wall in gym class, hoisting myself up one colorful handhold at a time, when I heard an angry voice yelling at me to speed up.

“You can do better than that, Jones,” Coach Sinclair, my pudgy P.E. instructor whose whistle rested on his round pot-belly, shouted from below.

I grunted, grabbed a yellow handhold, and climbed a bit higher. Ever since the first week of school, I’d grown to hate the rock wall. It was my worst activity in the whole gym class. Maybe it was because I lacked the upper body strength of boys. Or the sturdy legs of a sprinter. I refused to believe it was because I was a thirteen year old girl.

“Let’s go, Miss Jones,” Coach Sinclair blew his whistle. “Two minutes to reach the top!”

“You know, Coach,” I said as sweat dripped into my eyes. “I heard a rumor that you didn’t make your high school football team. Is it true?”

“What?” he barked. “That’s it, you’re running suicides next.”

I groaned. Me and my big fat mouth. It got me in trouble more than I cared to admit.

I finally reached the top. I struck the bell Coach Sinclair required us to hit. It chimed, signaling success. Then I repelled down thirty feet to the basketball court.

Coach Sinclair was there to greet me with arms folded across his chest and a toothy grin. “Suicides, Miss Jones. You’ve earned them.”

“I’m beginning to think you enjoy torturing kids,” I told him.

His grin widened. “What? Me? Never.” Then he stepped aside, motioning to the lines on the court I’d need to touch as I ran back and forth.

“This class sucks,” I said.

“That’ll be ten additional suicides,” he said. “Another word, and it will be ten more.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but thought better of it. My mouth got me into this mess. I doubted it would get me out of it.

So I crouched into a running stance and took a deep breath. But before I could begin, the gym doors opened and in walked Principal Watson in her business skirt and blouse. Two armed police officers joined her. Principal Watson looked around, her eyes settled on me, and she pointed.

“There she is,” her voice echoed across the spacious gym floor. “That’s Maddie Jones.”

The officers nodded to Principal Watson, then began walking my way.

Holy cow! What was this about? Did they find out it was me who stole the cow and put him in the school’s library? Or was it the issue with the front office’s aquarium, when the fish went missing and somehow appeared in bathroom toilets all over campus? I promised Principal Watson I had nothing to do with the incident when confronted a month ago, but apparently she wasn’t convinced. What more did she need?

Perhaps she wanted the missing fish. I’d kept one. He was too cute to give back.

The officer’s shoes thudded against the court, their handcuffs clinking as they approached.

I had to act fast. I wasn’t going to Juvie. Not again.

I don’t remember running, but the next thing I knew, I was sprinting to the girls locker room, where a back exit led to the outside tennis courts and football field.

I heard one of the officer’s shout, “Hey, Maddie, wait!” and he lunged to catch me.

But I was too fast, and seconds later, my Nike tennis shoes were kicking up grass and dirt as I sprinted through boys running scrimmages for next Tuesday’s football game.

Look, I know I said I’m not much of a sprinter. But when running from trouble, you’d be amazed how quickly your legs can move.

And you know what’s crazy? Running from the police wasn’t even why this was the worst day of my life.

Just wait, things are about to get interesting.

Bummer! Last days of summer vacation, but keep calm and write on.

Back to school

Welp, summer break will officially be over for me Monday. It’s back to school, to teach those kids a thing or two about Civics and History. I enjoy my time in the classroom with my students. I’m looking forward to getting started, but I’m also sad to see the break end. I have enjoyed spending time with my wife and children tremendously. Usually, I’m in a funk for a few days once I start back to work. I will miss my family. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still see them every day, but my time with them will be lessened quite a bit–especially once my doctorate school starts back up at the end of August. Phew, boy. It’s going to get busy, and it will happen quick. Still need to find time to write.

I enjoy a challenge.

The year isn’t over yet. So far, 2017 has seen two book releases from me: The Hero’s Ballad, an anthology of award-winning short stories, and Adventures in the Arcane, Volume IIan anthology comprised of a myriad of authors written in a fun pulp style with arcane elements. Both are great reads, with strong tales filled with adventure, thrills and heart. But guess what. I still have one more book to release before the year is through.

That’s right. Medical MECH will be my second novel, a book written for middle school kids. The story follows thirteen-year-old Riley Davis as he attempts to stop a robot invasion from destroying his town. He discovers that the only way to defeat the machines is with music, and his bass guitar works best. But Riley will need the help of a punk rocker and her gang of misfit musicians if he is to succeed. Can Riley stop the robots before it’s too late?

Find out in September when Medical MECH hits store shelves. So summer is pretty much over, but life keeps moving forward. Although I will be super busy by the end of this month, I plan to keep devoting time to my writing projects. Not only in the form of Medical MECH, but also with the first novel in the Adventures of Maddie Jones series: Maddie Jones & the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors. Plus, I have set a goal for myself to send out my novels to literary agents this fall in order to secure representation.

Busy. Busy. But I believe hard work pays off.

Keep calm and write on

What do you get when authors, readers, food, and storytelling combine?

A good time, that’s what. Holy cow! Countless people converged on the City Arts Cooperative Saturday to buy their copies of Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II. Readers were treated to food and beverages, as well as excerpt readings from all the authors present. Readers were also able to purchase the authors’ additional novels, comics and artwork. I sold quite a few additional books, especially after I read the introduction to Curse of the Conquistador–which you can check out on my short stories page here on this very website. Warning! You’ll be left with a cliffhanger and will end up buying Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II in order to find out what happens to Maddie and her adventure inside her dad’s museum.

Anyway, I had an awesome time with my fellow authors. After the book event, we ended up going out for pizza and beer, fellowship and laughs. I feel blessed to be included in such an amazing anthology along such talented people. At the pizza joint, there was even an art show going on. A lot of people out there call me an artist, being a writer an all, but I never think of myself in that way. I’m simply trying to entertain people through story, and hope to one day make enough money to write more than I currently do. The artwork on display was quite impressive. I tend to not really get art–I’m a fairly simple guy, ask my wife–but I appreciate it nonetheless.

If you couldn’t make it, or live far away as I know some of you do, then check out the pictures from the event. My next novel, Medical MECH, debuts in September…so expect more news on upcoming book events this fall. Plus, there’s Creative Con to consider. Great stuff on the horizon.

Book trailers are cool!

Hey everyone! Click on the image to see the book trailer for Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II. The book is available now! And don’t forget, join the authors tomorrow at the Fringe Gallery at City Arts Cooperative (318 Luverne Ave., Panama City, Florida 32401) from 4-7 pm to get your copy. I hope to see you there!

Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II

Wait, whaaat? You’re saying I can read your next story now…and for free? Crazy!

I know, crazy right? Like the title of this blog post reads, you can check out my next story for free, without buying it. But there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. Sorry about that. The thing is, the story is only partially available. What do I mean? Well, I’ve added a new Short Stories tab to my website. There, you can read the first few pages of Curse of the Conquistador, available now in Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II.

Warning! You’ll be left with a cliffhanger. You’ll find yourself buying the book to finish the tale, which is only $0.99. An additional warning. The book includes 7 additional stories just as great as mine. You won’t be able to put the book down. You may lose sleep. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

On top of adding a sneak peek of Curse of the Conquistador, I’ve archived my older stories on the Short Stories tab, too. Now you can read Toes in the Sand any time you’d like. Plus, a former student of mine wrote a quirky story about a Wizard who plummets from the sky and desperately needs a broom. So check out the tales and pick up Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II. But remember the warning.

Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II

Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II

Hey everyone! Check out this book: Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II. Included inside are eight thrilling stories. And wouldn’t you know it, I’m one of the guest authors. That’s right! I wrote a story called Curse of the Conquistador, an adventure about three kids trapped in their dad’s museum while they’re being haunted by the ghost of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado. And you can read it if you purchase this book!

My story isn’t the only awesomeness you’ll get your grubby hands on. You’ll also be treated to seven additional tales guaranteed to set your heart racing. Inside you’ll find femme fatales, mysterious islands, deadly dream worlds, and classic pulp style adventures featuring Captain Gideon Argo, Captain Bullshark Dempsey, Black 23 Agent Dorian Drood, and demon fighter Dominic Ashwood and the wolf shamans Waylon and Jester.

But wait, there’s more! Pulp legend Ron Goulart has one of his stories printed within. Ron has been writing award-winning sci-fi/fantasy stories and novels since the 1970s. It’s way cool to have one of my stories included with such an iconic author.

Lock your door, brew some coffee, and light a candle. Then open this book and prepare to be thrilled! Simply click HERE or on the picture below to get your copy now! I’ve also added the book to my BOOKS page, so you can browse this site to get access, too.

Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II

Top 5 Video Games of all Time (Part Two)

In my last blog post, I talked about my top 5 favorite video games of all time based on story. In this post, I will share my top 5 favorite games based on gameplay mechanics. So here we go…

Top 5 Video Games: Gameplay

5. Halo: Combat Evolved. When the Xbox was gearing up for release back in 2001, I was skeptical. At E3 (one of the biggest video game conventions in the world), Microsoft announced their console’s “killer app,” a game they touted would sell millions. When I saw that the game was a first-person shooter, I scoffed. What the heck was Microsoft thinking? Didn’t they know players preferred role-playing games like Final Fantasy VII? Boy, was I wrong. The game turned out to be great. I spent hours playing the single player campaign. But where the game truly shined was in its LAN capabilities. If you’re not familiar with LAN, it involves connecting four Xboxes up to one another so you can play with up to 16 people at once. LAN parties became a thing. You’d invite your friends over, tell them to bring their Xboxes, stock your fridge with drinks and snacks, then prepare for hours of fun. Online games today lack the fellowship Halo: Combat Evolved offered. I miss those days.

Halo

4. Devil May Cry. Man, the year 2001 was a great year for gaming. Although this game’s story is kind of blah, its gameplay is fast, stylish and fun. You play as Dante–a demon hunter who is half human, half demon himself–toting two semi-automatic pistols named Ebony and Ivory, and a huge great sword named Rebellion. Everything about Dante screams cool, from his weapons to his red trench coat. He fights demons with style as he juggles combos and performs insane aerial maneuvers. I probably beat this game three times in a row just to enjoy its addictive gameplay.

Devil May Cry

3. Horizon: Zero Dawn. This game likely made the list because I’m still on cloud nine from playing it the last couple months. You play as Aloy, an outcast who travels the land in search of answers to her past. During her journey, you fight massive robot dinosaurs with impressive bows and arrows. Each robot has weaknesses to exploit. At first, I was overwhelmed going up against the machines, but as I learned to target their components and weapon systems, I found the gameplay to be enjoyable and strategic. Plus, it’s fast-paced, the graphics are insane, and the story is awesome. Horizon almost made the top 5 list for best games based on story, too.

Horizon Zero Dawn

2. Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I know many of you out there reading this post have played Skyrim. For you, that game would probably be ranked higher than Morrowind. I’m here to say Morrowind is better. Now, I must clarify that Morrowind was the first time I had ever played a massive, free-choice game. You can literally create a character however you want, from his avatar to your play style. When I first roamed the land, I couldn’t even kill a rat who attacked me on the road. It took several swipes of my dagger to finally slay the creature. But by the end of the game, I could defeat any foe with blade, bow or magic…and I could fly. Holy cow. I went from nothing to the most powerful being in the world. Sorry, but you can’t fly in Skyrim. Not unless you play the PC version and add Mods.

Morrowind

1. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. How could an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) not make the list? If you’ve ever played a game like World of Warcraft, then you know how addicting the gameplay can be. Of all the games I have ever played, I have logged more hours in the world of Eorzea than any other. I play as Vosslar, a level 60 elezen bard/paladin/white mage/you name it. One of the great things about the game is you can play multiple classes. I have a tank, a healer, and a DPS (damage per second) character. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, then you’ve likely never played a game like this. What’s so addicting about FFXIV’s gameplay is the online element. Through the game, I am connected with thousands of players. Together, we can form parties and tackle dungeons, monsters and high-level raids. Gamers are typically a nerdy group, but MMO players are the nerds of the nerds.

Final Fantasy XIV

Well, that’s a wrap on this discussion. Those are my top 5 favorite video games based on gameplay mechanics. What are your favorite games? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

Top 5 Video Games of all Time: Gameplay vs. Story

I worked as a Gamestop game advisor during my early twenties. One of the most fun topics to discuss with coworkers and customers was our favorite games. Games, like movies, are subjective, so the following list of games are what I consider to be the best. You might disagree. Great. Let’s talk about your favorite games, too. That’s part of the fun. I have broken my list into two blog posts–one for games that had the best stories, and another for games with the best gameplay mechanics. Today, we’ll focus on story. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started already!

Top 5 Video Games: Story

5. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I loved this game when it released back in November, 2001. The introductory tanker chapter alone is worth the price of admission. The story follows Solid Snake as he attempts to thwart nuclear disaster, but following an explosion Snake is believed dead. Two years later, a terrorist group takes over an oil rig and holds hostages–and one of them is the U.S. President’s daughter. Their leader goes by the name Solid Snake. Whoa, plot twist! You play as Raiden, a covert soldier who must sneak into the rig, rescue the hostages, and uncover the mystery behind Snake’s disappearance and treason. Pretty cool story.

Metal Gear Solid 2

4. Final Fantasy XII. This game came out October, 2006. My wife and I were newly married. I can still remember the night I beat the game, because my wife worked all evening long on a college paper while I stayed up and played FFXII. Procrastinator. She should have completed her paper early like I did. The game follows orphan, Vann, as war looms on the horizon. The Archadian Empire is invading neighboring kingdoms, and Vann’s home of Dalmasca is next. When Dalmasca’s king is assassinated, Vann, a sky pirate, an exiled knight, and a princess thought dead must uncover the mystery behind the Archadian Empire’s invasion in order to restore their home. It’s a political tale filled with intrigue, airships, and war. I highly recommend the game. It’s being re-released this summer for Playstation 4.

Final Fantasy XII

3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. I’m a huge fan of the Uncharted series (and Final Fantasy, if you haven’t noticed). The games have a winning combination–great stories and fun gameplay. A Thief’s End came out May, 2016. The story follows treasure hunter Nathan Drake after he comes out of retirement for one last adventure–to go on a dangerous quest for Henry Avery’s pirate treasure with his brother, Sam. In the world of video games, the Uncharted games are your summer blockbusters. Big productions and epic stories. But Uncharted 4 is the best.

Uncharted 4

2. Final Fantasy X. This game came out December, 2001. I was still living at home with mom and dad. I had no responsibilities other than working part-time, and my classwork at Gulf Coast. Which meant I could play FFX all night long and not worry about getting up early the next day. Man, times sure have changed. The story follows Tidus, a superstar Blitzball athlete, as he is swept away from his world and transported to a mysterious land known as Spira. There, he meets a young summoner named Yuna who must journey to acquire a powerful spell from a place called Zanarkand–the name of Tidus’ hometown. The city was destroyed 1,000 years earlier by a creature called Sin. Yuna seeks to destroy Sin. Tidus tags along to help Yuna, and to discover the mystery of what happened to him and his home. It’s an emotional coming of age story filled with love and a twist ending on par with the movie, The Sixth Sense.

Final Fantasy X

1. Vagrant Story. Of all the games I’ve ever played, this one by far has the best story. The game came out May, 2000; and to be honest, I didn’t pick it up right away. It wasn’t until about 2002 I finally gave the game a shot. The story follows Ashley Riot, a Riskbreaker tasked with rescuing a kidnapped boy from a religious zealot named Sydney Losstarot. To save the boy, Ashley must travel to a magical city destroyed twenty-five years earlier by unnatural earthquakes. But Ashley isn’t the only person inside the city. Knights of the Crimson Blades, as well as other agents pursuing their own agendas, are also on the hunt for Sydney. If this premise sounds familiar, it is. When I wrote The Prophet of the Dragon, I considered what I loved about Vagrant Story and tried to recreate a similar feel. Some of those elements include a medieval stealth soldier, a religious zealot who kidnaps a boy and takes him to mysterious city, and knights in pursuit with their own sinister agenda. It goes without saying, I LOVE this game.

Vagrant Story

So those are my top 5 favorite games of all time…based on story. Next time, I’ll share my top 5 favorite games based on gameplay mechanics. So what are your favorite video game stories? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

Earth, the Far Future

Horizon Zero Dawn

One thousand years in the future, to be precise. Earth is ours no more. Massive machines in the form of robot dinosaurs now roam the wilderness. Mankind lives in primitive tribes, and they war not only with robots but with each other. Aloy is an outcast, motherless, and an orphan. After being taken in by an elder outcast, she learns how to hunt the machines. Aloy’s true journey begins as she travels across the land to uncover the mysteries of her past, and to learn what transpired 1,000 years ago leading to mankind’s demise.

That’s the story premise of Horizon: Zero Dawn–a video game for PlayStation 4. I love to play video games, and I enjoy them not only for their gameplay mechanics, but for their intricate stories. Aloy’s tale is an epic quest filled with plot twists and emotional character development.

Sadly, I beat the game today. It’s not often a game pulls me in like Horizon did. I’m happy to have experienced Aloy’s story from beginning to end, but I’m also sad it’s over. Have you ever read a book, seen a movie, or played a game in which you didn’t want it to end when the last scene changed to black? I’m sure you have. Those are stories worth cherishing.

I give Horizon: Zero Dawn a ten out of ten. What a memorable experience. So what are you playing? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email. As for my next gaming experience, well, I’m itching for an archaeological thrill ride …

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Testing the waters with new ideas

As many of you know, I’m currently a Master Class student with James Patterson as my instructor. I’ve been given an assignment: jot down my book ideas and share them to get feedback. So I’m testing the waters. Below are my next two book ideas in a new series for kids. What do you think? Would you read it? I mean, really read it? Give me your input. I’d like to know!

Maddie Jones and the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors

When business tycoon Rico Raja kidnaps Hank Jones, a museum curator who deciphered an ancient text involving the Terracotta Warriors, his teenage daughter Maddie, along with her two younger brothers, must uncover the secrets behind the greatest archaeological discovery of the twentieth-century in order to save him. But when those secrets reveal a 2,000 year old curse, and Rico’s plan to release the soul of the First Qin Emperor of China, Maddie must seek allies in the unlikeliest of places–from a Terracotta Warrior who has come to life, General Li Fei. Perhaps Maddie and her brothers should call the National Guard, or the Army, or the Ghostbusters, because things are getting out of hand.

Maddie Jones and the Grave of Robin Hood

When Maddie Jones accidentally blows up her dad’s museum, a mysterious metal box is recovered from the ashes. Inside, letters dating back to the fourteenth-century allude to the grave of Robin Hood and a hidden map revealing the location of a vast treasure. But when the letters fall into the hands of Vince Barrows, a ruthless mercenary with a penchant for artifacts said to grant immortality, Maddie and her younger brothers must race across England to reach Robin Hood first. Throw in a secret sect and a masked archer determined to keep Robin’s grave buried forever, and the Jones siblings are in for a historic ride. Rob from the rich and give to the poor. Pah, better to rob from the dead and keep it for yourself.