Sold out at Creative Con!

Man, I had an awesome weekend at Creative Con. So much fun. I met insanely cool people, formed friendships with fellow creators, talked about writing on a panel…and sold out of Medical MECH. Oh, yeah! The new book was a huge success. It grabbed the attention of young readers, video gamers, anime and comic book fans–you name it. Needless to say, I was super stoked when I realized how well the book was selling. And what is more, my other titles did great, too.

You might think my favorite moment of the CON was selling out of my book, but you’d be wrong. Those of you who know me personally understand I have a passion for kids. I mean, heck, I’m a middle school teacher and I write young adult novels for crying out loud. During the first day of the event, when the place was filling up with Con-goers, a group of kids dressed in cosplay costumes mingled around upstairs. They went from vendor to vendor, stopping occasionally to sing, giggle or dance. The kids were having such a fun time, dressed up  and with like-minded people who “understood them.” Everybody needs a place to belong. And it touched my heart to see kids in a place where they could be themselves without fear or shame or judgement (something that goes on far too often among teenagers these days, enhanced by social media). I literally got goosebumps seeing kids having so much fun.

Among my other highlights, I enjoyed sharing a table next to Eitanya Designs–a husband and wife cosplay table where they sold props, armor, and geek-chic fashion accessories. You can see them in the above pictures, dressed as Lara Croft and Nathan Drake. A funny moment happened when an attendee asked him if he was dressed as Josh Gates from Expedition Unknown. Great stuff. I was dressed as Nathan Drake, too, but it’s not as obvious–which you can see in the pictures, too.

My favorite cosplayers were two women dressed as Noctis and Prompto from Final Fantasy XV; and another chick dressed as Cloud with his Buster Sword from Final Fantasy VII. If you’ve followed my gaming blogs on this Site, then you know how big of a Final Fantasy fan I am. Pretty cool costumes.

Anyway, I’m exhausted from the Con. But it was worth it. New readers have access to my books. I met great people. Made friends. And I had the privilege to be part of the Creative Con experience. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Advertisements

New book hits tomorrow at the CON

New Book - Medical MECH

That’s right, folks. Medical MECH will be out in force at Creative Con all weekend long. If you’ve got nothing to do, head over to the Panama City Marina Civic Center and join the fun. There will be cosplay, celebrities, authors, filmmakers, artists, contests and gaming. And that’s just scratching the surface. Head over to Creative Con’s website to check it all out. Make sure you stop by my table if you visit. I’d love to see you there.

Creative Con

Twelve agents down. One has responded…

Publishing Contract

If you’ve followed my blog over the last couple weeks, you would have seen I’m currently undertaking a literary challenge. The challenge isn’t a competition, nor one I’ve joined with a group to achieve. It’s one I’ve given myself. Here’s the goal–to contact 100 literary agents in 100 days. I started twelve days ago. I’ve sent twelve queries. And guess what? One has responded.

Believe it or not, the agent who contacted me back is none other than Nancy Gallt. She represents blockbuster author Rick Riordan, of Percy Jackson & the Olympians fame. I honestly didn’t expect to hear back from her, and she was the first agent I queried on day one of my challenge. What did she say?

Well, she said no. Bummer. But I had no grand delusions that she would represent my work. I figured someone who represents an author like Rick is extremely selective. Although I knew in my heart she would say no, I tried anyway. When I got her reply–which was nice, by the way–it kind of sucked the wind out of me. I’m not even sure why, knowing my chances. But nonetheless it didn’t feel the greatest. Being told you’re not good enough never is.

Regardless, I’m not giving up. I still have another 99 potential rejections to go. Or, as the case may be, no responses at all. But you know what? It only takes one to say yes. Am I optimistic? You know it. Am I passionate about storytelling? Absolutely. And that’s why I won’t quit, no matter what. I believe my  novels will make it to a bigger audience–one day–and persistence is key.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Nine year old girl captivates audience with tale of star stealing ogre, a rap-battling prince, and a quest to save bedtime.

And did I mention she’s my daughter? Yep, I’m one proud daddy. Years ago when Olivia was only four-years-old, she created a story about a meanie stealing the nighttime stars. In her story, a prince defeats the meanie and returns the stars to his princess, because without her stars, she couldn’t sleep. Her story idea was so well conceived that my wife and I didn’t believe she created it at first. We contacted her Pre-K teacher, grandparents, and Sunday school teacher to ask if they had shared a book or movie involving similar themes. Each person said they hadn’t.

In that moment, we knew Olivia’s imagination was beyond what we thought capable of a child her age. And being a writer, my wife prompted me to sit down with Olivia to tell her story.

And we did.

The end result is a children’s story called Ferdinand and the Stars in a Jar.  The tale begins when an ogre can’t sleep because stars are shining on his head, keeping him awake. He devises a plan to steal the stars, and thus sets the stage for a conflict of bedtime proportions.

Today, Olivia had an opportunity to share her story with classmates. To say the kids enjoyed the story is an understatement. They were hooked from the beginning and giggled at all the right moments. Several kids asked Olivia when the book would be out, because they wanted their copy now. This reaction touched Olivia’s heart in a huge way. My wife said when she picked her up from school, she was literally jumping up and down with joy. Man, talk about …

Melt.

My.

Heart.

Olivia is currently illustrating the story herself. The book will be published (fingers crossed) before the school year ends. My hope is that she will be able to give a copy to each classmate as a gift.

Anyway, if you’d like to read Olivia’s story I have included it below. Let me know what you think, and I’ll relay your messages personally to Olivia.

Yep, I know the author.

FERDINAND & THE STARS IN A JAR

Written by Olivia Douglas & her Daddy

From the day he was born, Ferdinand liked to sleep. The nasty old ogre slept from sunup to sunset, moonrise to moonfall. All he did was sleep. He slept so much his fingernails grew three feet long and the hair in his ears curled into braids. And when he slept, the darker the better. Not a nightlight in sight. So one evening when a light shone bright and peaked inside his castle’s walls, Ferdinand became angry.

“Argh!” the smelly ogre boomed as he climbed to his feet. He went to the window and threw back the curtain, before taking a peek. “What blasted light is keeping me awake?!”

A star twinkled high in the midnight sky.

“Argh!” Ferdinand yelled again. He covered his eyes and stomped his feet. He threw the loudest tantrum the likes never seen. “The light! It is so bright! It is toooooo bright!” He looked at the star and growled beneath his breath, then he threw back the curtain and snuggled into to bed.

But the light kept shining right on his head.

“Argh,” he bellowed, deep and with a burp. “That star has made me ANGRY!” He crawled out of bed and stomped around his room, asking himself, “What to do? What to do?” He scratched a wart on his chin. “I can’t sleep.” He picked a booger from his nose. “I can’t think.” He ate it. “I can’t think when I can’t sleep.”

But then Ferdinand saw a glass jar on his bedside table. The ogre snatched it up and stalked to the window, glanced back and forth between the jar and the star.

Jar. Star. Jar. Star.

“I kow what I’ll do,” Ferdinand finally said to a shoe. “I’ll capture that star, and put it in this jar. Then I’ll bury it deep, so it can’t make a peek.” But he couldn’t stop there. He’d have to capture them all if he were truly to get some rest. So Ferdinand went outside, which he rarely did, and traveled the world while collecting the stars. He scraped them out of the sky with his long fingernails, and flicked them into the bottom of the jar. Scrape and flick. Scrape and flick. Until the stars in the jar created a glare so bright, Ferdinand had to wear sunglasses to block the light. He grew tired, but he couldn’t rest, not until he’d captured …

Every.

Last.

Star.

Now, legend says that when he removed the last star from the night sky the whole world conked out and never woke up.

Hah, whatever.

Here’s what really happened: Ferdinand went back home, simple as that, and put the jar of stars under his bed so the light wouldn’t shine on the top of his head. And after he had fallen fast asleep, he happily dreamed of stink-farts and pop-tarts and the smells of his dirty feet.

Now far away, many towns and rivers and forests away, a princess awoke in the dark. “What happened to my night light?” said Ophelia, rubbing her eyes. She sat up and went to the window. “What happened to all the stars?”

“Hey, baby!” called Prince Claudius, with a wide-brim hat and mad-skillz when he rapped. Why just last week in a rap-battle with Motha-Goose, he impressed with his rhymes as he quoted Dr. Seuss. “An ogre came at night, and has stolen all the light. So I’m head’n to his castle, to give him a good hassle. But don’t you worry now, or wrinkle your fine brow. I’ll return after battle, to give you back your dazzle. Chica-chica, yeah.”

Princess Ophelia giggled. Prince Claudius bowed. And with coolness and courage and clever ideas, he whipped the reigns of his horse –which was named Star, go figure –and headed toward the north to try and retrieve the stolen light.

Hours passed. No one could sleep. Save Ferdinand, of course, who kept everyone awake with his wheezing nostrils.

Squo-ha-ha-honk, shee-hee-hee-ooo!

Squo-ha-ha-honk, shee-hee-hee-ooo!

He snored with such racket and ruckus that everyone wore earplugs and shouted to be heard. Until the prince entered his bedroom, not uttering a word.

Claudius studied Ferdinand sleeping in his bed. He was pretty gross – well, what do you expect? He’s an ogre! – and tried to find the stars. A light sparkled from underneath the mattress. Hmmm, the prince thought with a tip of his hat. I’ll just time the ogre’s snores as I sneak in like a cat.

Squonnnk-sheeeooo!

He put in some earplugs, and tip-toed into the room.

Squonnnk-sheeeooo!

The earplugs slipped out, and the prince’s ears rang.

Squonnnk-sheeeooo!

He reached up under the bed, and felt a smooth, round jar.

Squonnnk-sheeeooo!

Then …

Whack!

Wink!

Those ogre eyes popped open, and Claudius froze so he would not be seen.

“Argh,” Ferdinand yawned. “Is that you, momma?”

The prince made his voice rough and deep.“Uh-uh-yeah, baby, momma’s here for you. Just lay back and rest a bit, I know just what to do. I’ll rap you a lullaby, filled with all you love. So close your eyes and get some sleep, you flea-bitten dove. Chica-chica, yeah.”

And so the prince did. He rapped booger raps and danced booger jives, told fart jokes and squirted fart sighs. He built an ogre cradle that smelt of toe-jam jelly. He made a makeshift paci and rolled him on his belly. Then he grabbed the jar of stars and hid them under his hat. He tip-toed to his horse and fled in no time flat.

Well, Claudius kept his word. And in two shakes of a billy-goat’s gruff, the prince shook the jar of stars and untwisted the top.

Alla-bam! Light spewed out like soda from a can, and …

Alla-beep! The stars returned to heaven for all the world to keep.

Later that night, something woke the princess. Tap! Tap! Tap! Someone was throwing pebbles at her bedroom window. Ophelia crawled out of bed and went to take a look. Claudius stood there smug, with a jar full of bugs.

“I’ve returned with your dazzle,” the prince said with a grin, as he nodded to the sky. Ophelia glanced right up and couldn’t help but smile. Then he held up a jar of yellow-glowing fireflies.“And a nightlight for your bedside desk, so you’ll never wake again distressed. Chica-chica, yeah.”

Princess Ophelia sighed. And, despite the eventful evening – and the smelly ogre’s feet – the two lived happily ever after.

But what happened to Ferdinand, you ask? Well, that nasty ogre could no longer get out of bed, stuck in his cradle with a light shining on his head. He tossed and he turned and he hid beneath his pillow, with his hiney in the air like a burrowing armadillo.

One agent down. 99 more to go.

Well, day one is complete for my 100 literary agent challenge. I sent my novel Medical MECH to agent Nancy Gallt. Her submission process was a little different than others will be. I didn’t send an actual query letter. Instead, I completed the textboxes on her submission page, which included the first 2,000 words of my story, an author bio, that sort of thing. One interesting aspect of her submission process was that she wanted to know what my character would say on behalf of my story. Kind of neat.

Anyway, tomorrow I plan to contact my second literary agent. The goal is to contact 100 agents by the end of 100 days. I hope along the way I’ll have an agent or three request to read the manuscript. But if not, hey, that’s the way the game is played. I won’t give up. I’ll simply revisit my work and try and make it better.

I’ll keep you posted.

Psalm 20-4

One agent. Per day. For 100 days.

That’s the plan. And it begins tomorrow. For the next 100 days, I plan to send query letters and sample chapters to 100 literary agents. My hope is that I’ll be able to secure an agent for my middle grades adventure novel, Medical MECH.

So what will this plan look like?

Well, I exercise six days a week. I write almost daily. So why can’t I devote time to getting an agent each day, too? The answer is simple. It takes work. Researching agents who represent my genre, learning how they want work submitted, and contacting them requires a substantial amount of time. A couple weeks ago while I was squeezing in a thirty minute workout, I thought: Wow, if I can devote time to my health every day, then I should be able to carve time from my busy schedule to send out my work. So here we go.

Tomorrow marks day one. I plan to send Medical MECH to literary agent Nancy Gallt. She represents one of my literary heroes, Rick Riordan–the author of the New York Times bestselling book series for kids, Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Nancy is one of the most successful agents in the business of books. She knows quality work when she sees it. And if I’m going to seek representation, I might as well start at the top. Is Medical MECH up to her standards? I believe so, but I also understand the reality of what I’m about to face.

Rejection.

In the next 100 days, I must steel my emotions for rejection. Most of it won’t be personal. It’s just business. Agents need to make a buck. I believe Medical MECH can make them money, but my challenge is convincing agents I’m worth the risk. Regardless, being told you’re not good enough hurts. Does knowing I’ll be told this make the process any easier? I don’t think so. It just means I have realistic expectations going in.

I’m filled with hope. A little bit of fear. But wish me luck, because I’m about to embark on a 100 day journey that could potentially change my life…and if it doesn’t, that’s okay, too. At least I’ll know I took life by the reigns and went for my dreams.

And that’s the biggest lesson here. Go for your dreams, no matter how lofty they may be. I’m going for mine. Are you?

Master Class Pen Pal

Pen Pals

Hey everyone! Sorry it’s been awhile since my last blog post, but the school year is in full swing and I’ve begun a new novel: Maddie Jones & the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors. The book is coming along great. It might be my best yet. The suspense grabs you by the throat in chapter 1 and doesn’t let up. The hard part is trying to keep the thrills coming, though. Keeping my fingers cross all my hard work pays off. I hope to secure an agent for it once it’s ready.

In the meantime, I’ve also been working on my Master Class lessons with James Patterson. I’m nearly through with the class. I’ve only got about 5 more lessons to go. The process has been super helpful in making Maddie Jones a page turner.

Something neat has happened through Master Class, too. The Site has a forum where writers can share their work. I posted the first Maddie Jones chapter, and wouldn’t you know it, I struck up a friendship with a Canadian author who is also working on a middle school novel. I shared a few chapters online, but I didn’t want to keep posting them in such a public place, so through my author website here, we were able to exchange emails. Now we’ve been sharing work back and forth, providing tips and insights for each other. It’s been a lot of fun to have someone read each chapter as they’re finished. Several critiques have even influenced me in the direction Maddie’s story has gone–particularly with the pacing, keeping the action going, that sort of thing. What’s really great is that we are both targeting our work to the same audience. I attend a lot of critique groups here locally, but there aren’t many people who write my genres.

Anyway, that’s what has been going on with me since my last post. I have a lot going on in the very near future, like the release of a new novel, Creative Con, and I’ll be a guest author for the Bay County Public Library on November 2. Stay tuned. I’ll let you know specifics as we get closer to the events.

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.

Failure is a motivator. Success is a paralyzer.

You’ve heard it before, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Or, if you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried anything new. Several years ago, I remember seeing a poster in a classroom I was observing that talked about how people who fail are in good company. The poster went on to show famous failures from history. It was pretty cool. Check it out:

Famous Failures

Anyway, yesterday I attended a school inservice with motivational speaker Salome Thomas-El, a school principal from Philadelphia. Principal El has appeared on Dr. Oz, and is an author to boot. He is renown for giving his inner-city students the game of chess and, with it, the power to escape the hard knocks of urban life. Cool guy. He talked a lot about caring for at-risk kids and reaching them on their level.

Great stuff. During his talk, he said something that stuck with me all day long: “Failure is a motivator. Success is a paralyzer.” Now, I already knew how failure can motivate you to succeed. But I hadn’t heard how success can paralyze you. He explained how his chess students, after learning the game, began to win. Tournaments would approach, but the kids wouldn’t practice because they believed they were already good players. It wasn’t until the kids started losing that they became motivated to become better. Failure was the key.

Of course, as a writer and a person who is driven to succeed, I wondered how I can apply Principal El’s concepts not only to my students but to myself. And not only that, but where would I want to apply those principles? The obvious answer for me was with my writing. I crave success beyond the small measurable amount I’ve had over the past several years. I would be thrilled to have my work represented by a literary agent–my next goal. The road to reaching that goal, however, will be paved with failure. Does knowing this make the trial seem easier? I don’t think so. Failure is a tough pill to swallow. Nobody wants to be rejected. It hurts.

Recently, a fellow author I admire named Kathy McManis Holzapfel, who writes under the pen name, Cate Noble (check her out here), shared a video of a conversation between two blockbuster authors: Stephen King and George R.R. Martin. Within their conversation the authors talked about their projects and writing processes, but one story shared by Stephen King was an eye-opener.

He talked about failure.

In his bedroom when he was just starting out, Stephen King hung a nail in his wall. On that nail, he would stick all his rejection letters to it. He wanted to see his failure so it would motivate him to succeed. Eventually, the rejection letters became so heavy that the nail came out of the wall and fell to the ground. So what did he do? He went and bought a bigger nail. Holy cow! Talk about motivation. If you’d like to see the video, check it out below. It’s lengthy, so if you simply want to see the part of the conversation I’m referring to, it’s around the 21:19 mark. For my young readers out there, there is a little bit of language between the two authors. They are Stephen King and George R.R. Martin, after all.

So, what’s the takeaway from all this? I’d say, for me at least, that I need to buckle down and prepare for rejection. I plan to send out my work to countless literary agents soon. Could be good. Could be hurtful.

But I’ve bought a big nail.

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