Let me come right out and say it.

I’m pretty much done with implementing interactive fiction books.

I’m switching to writing conventional fiction books instead.

I’m going to start  by converting what little I’ve written in The Barista into a standard novel.

Shocking news, right? The world’s largest proponent and cheerleader for commercial interactive fiction books is throwing in the towel Or, perhaps more suitably, his pom-poms?

The artist in me never wants to retire as an Implementor of Interactive Fiction.  But the business executive in me overruled my artist’s passion.

A wake up call came to me on June 23.  What was so special about June 23, 2014? It was the day I first discovered the Malinche website had been dead since June 4th. The Malinche.Net domain name expired and I didn’t even notice. For nineteen days.  Nearly three weeks.

Holy shit.

The artist and the executive sat down together for a frank and open discussion with myself.  The artist really had nothing to say.  The CEO made it clear drastic changes had to be made fast.  The hardened businessman that I am made an air-tight compelling case for shutting down interactive fiction production.

Howard A Sherman, CEO presented some solid and sound reasoning:

Reason 1

Unless you’re a big-name author (James Paterson, Stephen King, Lee Child, Brad Thor, etc. ) with a large built-in following of readers you’ve got an uphill battle selling any serious number of books.  Now multiply the difficulty of that challenge by a factor of 10  when trying to not just sell books (which everyone immediately understands) but interactive fiction books – which everybody almost never understands without an extended conversation which still leaves most people not quite sure of what you’re talking about.

Executive conclusion: Sales, Marketing and Book Promotion of Interactive Fiction is a nightmare.

Reason 2

With more and more platforms to support (Android Smartphones and Tablets,  Windows 8, Windows 7, The Mac line, iPads, iPhones,Nook, Kobo, etc. etc.) there is a unique set of technical requirements to meet, steps to take and hoops to jump through  to load my titles for each of them.  And too many people have too hard a time following our instructions even with our approach to simplicity coupled by a copious amount of screen shots, instructional videos, etc. etc.

When you factor in a large part of our audience are the blind, those instructions become even more complex as screen-reading software has a separate set of challenges which is made even more complicated as each different type of screen reader system can throw curve balls at you every step of the way.  It had gotten to the point that we often ended up performing free remote tech support to log on to the customer’s computer and help them through the install process and get them running.  This has become very time consuming and expensive.  It’s also something no other software publisher on the face of the earth does for it’s customers at any price – let alone for free.

Executive conclusion: Technical support of interactive fiction books is a nightmare.

Executive decision: Malinche will no longer be publishing new interactive fiction books.

Reasons 1 and 2 pretty much made my decision simple to make – but not easy,

Reasons 3, 4 and 5 were not nearly as scary but served to underscore that publishing new interactive fiction books in the year 2014 and forward would not be a wise use of resources.  I won’t bore you with the details.

That’s pretty much why I haven’t written hardly at all for the better part of the last 12 months.  It’s like I knew – but I didn’t want to know.

Now I know.

But all along I missed writing.  And I missed book blogging.

So now what?

I’m going to resume writing.  And book blogging.

The difference is I won’t be writing any more interactive fiction.  I’ll be writing conventional novels with distribution to Kindle and iBooks for sure and Kobo and Nook more than probably.

All of my existing interactive fiction titles will remain on sale forever on a more-or-less “as is” basis though my dedication to fans will practically guarantee a swift response to help with any challenges my readers may face.

So I am officially back in the saddle but I changed horses. There.  The artist got the last word.

 

 

 

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As an unapologetic entrepreneur and capitalist I’ve been distracted from my passion of creating new interactive fiction thanks to the acquisition of a new company that’s been keeping me plenty busy the last few months.

Please put down your judge’s gavel and understand that reinventing a company, optimizing its processes, hiring a small army of new staff and revamping the entire marketing process is not a simple, swift process.

But it’s done.  And away we go.

Last night’s episode of Walking Dead lit a fire under my ass to get back to writing and tell stories that inspire people, make them think and perhaps even see the world around them in a whole new way.

Without shocking the shit out of them.

Walking Dead fans please take note — there are major spoilers ahead so if you didn’t see The Grove yet then come back to this blog and share a good cry with me after you’ve seen this episode.

Lizzie feeds a mouse to a crippled walker that, er, can’t walk.  I can understand the sympathy aspect.  Kids can’t fully understand what we adults do.  Maybe they shouldn’t and perhaps we should adopt some more child-like views of the world. Like the power of play (I’ll get to that in a future blog post when I review Play It Away.  I’ve been busy but not too busy to the point where I couldn’t read new books…)

Lizzie kills her little sister Mika in cold blood.  Clearly, Lizzie suffered from mental illness and the signs were there all along.

(I’m using the past tense for a reason.  Just follow along with me.)

These mental illness symptoms came out and were as clear as day to see.  Carol and Tyresse either could not or would not see there was something very wrong with Lizzie.

And when they were shocked out of their stupor by Lizzie killing Mika what was their response?

To kill Lizzie.  Carol shot her in thlizziee back of her head while Lizzie was appreciating the beauty of some flowers.

The set up of the scene and the dialog between Lizzie and Carol had me on the verge of crying.  I knew what was coming and I couldn’t believe it.

It’s seldom to never that TV makes me upset to the brink of tears.  That’s what happened last night.

There were at least a hundred different ways the writers of the Walking Dead could have handled this.

As a writer myself I’ll propose just one that occurred to me at that moment.

Tyresse and Carol were seriously discussing staying in that comfy home situated in that comfy town.

Why not lock up Lizzie in a basement or other room and secure her such that she couldn’t harm herself or anyone else? Why not bring her meals and talk with her about her issues and work through them in a safe environment?

Result? Sweet little Mika would still be alive, Lizzie would get at least a small dose of the help she needed and the audience would be treated to a sub-drama as intricate as any other seen on Walking Dead up until now without unnecessary violence, death and traumatic drama.

I’ll push the sequence of events back a few frames to just before Mika’s dead body was discovered.  Lizzie clearly had problems; all the signs were there.  Why did Carol and Tyresse leave Lizzie alone with Mika in the first place?

I give the writers of Walking Dead a few points for writing a captivating script and creating riveting television.

At the same time I deduct a couple of thousand points for not being creative in a more constructive way to the benefit of society.

Well done and very poorly done all at once.

Pardon the BSP but my horror fiction book The First Mile did a much better job of scaring the crap out of people without offending them more than absolutely necessary.

Some lines should never be crossed.  Last night’s episode of Walking Dead did exactly that.

What’s the worst part? Once the genie is out of the bottle there’s no getting it back in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Evolution: The Cutting Edge Guide to Breaking Down Mental Walls and Building the Body You've Always Wanted

Evolution: The Cutting Edge Guide to Breaking Down Mental Walls and Building the Body You’ve Always Wanted

Joe Manganiello wrote the seminal fitness book of the 21st century at the behest of Arnold Schwarzenegger himself.

That’s how you can be sure Evolution: The Cutting Edge Guide to Breaking Down Mental Walls and Building the Body You’ve Always Wanted is the only fitness book you’ll need.

The first workout Joe Manganiello dishes out is the exercise of the mind; he gets you to think differently about diet and exercise to eliminate the self-imposed limits and misunderstandings that hold too many of us back from making good on our new year’s resolution to eat better, lose weight, look better, etc.

As spelled out in the title itself, Joe gives the reader everything they need to blast through those mental walls that prevent too many of us from achieving the physical accomplishments we seek.

He talks from the heart about his own personal experiences from high school straight through to present day accompanied by plenty of “before and after” pictures to provide proof to even the strongest skeptics that the fitness plan Joe has hammered out over the years works and works well.

This book is a fast and easy read loaded with entertainment and information with each turn of the page.   Joe keeps everything interesting as he dispels all the myths you may ever have held about nutrition and the mentality behind our eating habits.  Evolution then takes you to the gym with extensive descriptions and photographs telling you exactly what you should be doing in the gym each and every day from dozens of weightlifting exercise to the critical importance of ongoing, extensive cardiovascular exercise.

This book doesn’t give you a shortcut to physical fitness because there is no such thing.  Magic pills, fad diets and and other fantasies are shot down by Mr. Manganiello quickly and mercilessly.  He puts your feet on the right path and as long as you follow everything spelled out in this book you won’t simply meet your body weight, physical fitness and appearance goals; you’ll CRUSH them.

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Clockwork Angels Cover
Can a rock song make you think?

Yes. I’m living proof.  And I’m sure I’m not alone this time.

So am I reviewing music or a book? Both, actually.

That’s because Clockwork Angels by Kevin J Anderson is the novelization of the album of the same name by the legendary group Rush.

I sat down with Kevin J Anderson at Book Expo America in 2012 where he gave me a glossy preview piece of the forthcoming Clockwork Angels novel. My eyes went wide and I smiled. Luckily I still had the presence of mind to get him to sign the Clockwork Angels preview for me.

I’ve been a Rush fan for over 30 years. I’ve seen them live half a dozen times (mostly due to my old friend Ian O’Malley, legendary DJ over at Q104.3 in New York) and even scored backstage passes once. Oh man. What a time that was…

So that’s why my eyes went wide and I smiled. Two of my favorite things – music and fiction books – being melded together. I knew Clockwork Angels would be an incredible novel.

And I was right.

The Clockwork Angels Rush Album has 12 tracks and Kevin J Anderson wrote the Clockwork Angels novel around these 12 tracks.  The Rush album tells an incredible story and the novelization of the album lives up to its pedigree with no small amount of input from Neil Peart, lyricist and drummer for Rush.

The style and flavor of Clockwork Angels reminded me of Pauel Coelho’s The Alchemist in several fundamental ways.

Owen Hardy, our hero in Clockwork Angels, leaves his small cozy town and comfy job as an assistant manager of an apple orchard.  By stepping far outside his comfort zone and doing something most of his friends and neighbors would never even dream of doing, Owen Hardy went on the adventure of a lifetime living a life that most of the people he left behind couldn’t even dream about.

Mr. Anderson does an incredible job taking the sequential order of the songs of the Clockwork Angels album and expanding them.  As Neil Peart commented in the epilogue, that’s one of Mr. Anderson’s crafts in trade.  He built the world of Clockwork Angels, populated with good guys, bad guys and common folk.  We have The Watchmaker as the ultimate embodiment of Order with his “regulators” imposing order on the population of Albion who is opposed by The Anarchist who is Chaos personified.

Owen Hardy finds himself caught in the middle of this power struggle and I’ll leave it to you to find out if this was accidental or intentional.

Sidestepping this colossal, classical battle of two primal forces Owen Hardy sets out across the sea to escape it all only to find himself a hungry, broke beggar on the street who turns to stealing to landing a job with a Commodore earning him a handsome wage with warm food and a warm bed then off across a punishing desert in search of a place that nobody believes exists; The Seven Cities of Gold.

He returns from his quest (I won’t spoil the outcome of his sojourn) only to be propelled back across the sea and into a full-pitched battle between The Anarchist (leading The Wreckers) and The Watchmaker.

Both sides demand he pick a side and Owen, once again, refuses.  He returns to his native land and returns to friends he made just before he made his hasty escape from Crown City and finds exactly what he was looking for; which was there all along.  That’s just one of several parallels I’ve drawn between The Alchemist and Clockwork Angels.

Clockwork Angels is a novel of parables and fables, of truths and philosophies.  Anderson and Peart have done a sensational job taking 12 legendary songs and turning them into a book that deserves legendary status in its own right among the ranks of fiction books.

Two interesting points I need to make here:

1) Roughly 50% into Clockwork Angels I switched from The Kindle version to the audiobook version on Audible.  I don’t know why I didn’t start with the audio book version in the first place as Neil Peart himself is the reader which is a very serious added bonus.

2) Rush fans will be treated to lyrics from many past Rush songs woven into the novel.  This was done so smoothly and with such finesse.  Every quoted lyric was a perfect fit for that part of the story and made me smile.  Kevin J Anderson is at the top of his game to pull this off flawlessly so many times throughout the novel.

So which song really made me think? Almost every Rush song does.  This one is my favorite from The Clockwork Angels album:

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Can a rap song make you cry?

Yes. I’m living proof.

25 years ago I was a typical teenager filled with energy and enthusiasm. A young man who saw a world with limitless possibilities and nothing but fun and frivolity.

Then as happens to far too many of us reality sets in. Optimism is shoved aside to make room for realism. And, again, for far too many people realism is also shoved aside to make room for pessimism.

Then a slow death of that poor person begins. I will confess to being stuck in that middle state of limbo between optimist and realist for far too long. My strength of spirit would never allow a pessimist mentality to take root. Whenever you see pessimism creep into your life pull it out and kill it like the weed that it is. That weed will take over the garden of your life before you know it. (Full credit to Jim Rohn for that truly excellent analogy.)

Few are the folks that experience nothing but absolute joy in their lives without a twinge of sadness in their lives. Pity them. They can’t appreciate the good nearly as much as someone who has crossed the line from the good to the bad only to step across that line again back to the good again. And there is where true appreciation for all that is good lies.

Far too many are the people that experience (from their perspective) nothing but pain and loss in their lives. Or perhaps endless anger and frustration at things that don’t go their way and seemingly endless bouts of anguish at their “poor” lives.

Over the course of my life I’ve had my share of peaks and valleys. Incredible professional and personal triumphs that made my soul sing and deep personal pain and loss that would bring most men to their knees. And the worst part is that if they fall that low they seldom if ever get back up.

Throughout it all my younger self — the young man with endless hope and optimism and enthusiasm stepped aside to allow the older, wiser me to develop as younger Howard just wasn’t equipped to handle what was happening. Older, wiser Howard made it possible for deep personal loss and setbacks to be accepted and handled with strength and wisdom. Older, wiser Howard was running the show a little too much. Especially this year with an incredible mix of challenges that included (in order of appearance):

  • Putting down my beloved cat Stella who was my friend and constant companion for 12 years. She died in my arms as she fell to cancer.
  • Far, far, far more painful was losing my Uncle Gene who also succumbed to cancer. This loss was the greatest single painful blow I’ve felt in years. I’m still coping with this earthquake-like change in my life although six months have already passed. How do you lose a man that was like a father, a mentor, a wise man on the mountain and a kind, gentle soul all at once and not be stricken senseless? Older, wiser Howard made it a little easier to deal with.
  • Losing my single biggest consulting client roughly eight weeks after losing my Uncle Gene which cratered my income and opened a door to a whole new world of uncertainty. Again, older and wiser Howard exhibited a Jedi-like response along the lines of “It looks like I’m totally fucked but I can make something good come from this.”

 

After all of this I felt like a heavyweight boxer that took shot after shot after punishing shot but would not go down for the count. I was too stunned to swing back but I was also too strong to let myself fall to my knees.

Older, wiser Howard took all this in and kept his calm, his strength and his resolve but older Howard didn’t know what to do.

But younger , impetuous Howard knew exactly what to do and so he gently brushed aside older Howard and took over.

Result? My income is not just restored – it’s higher than ever and in ways that almost guarantee future losses of income are impossible. Only more gains, if anything. My personal losses can only stay losses but my wins are better than ever.

Here’s the rap song that made me cry when, in a flash of insight, I purchased it on iTunes and was reminded of powerful younger Howard. The teenage Howard who had friends, girlfriends, business opportunities and a present day life of true magic and a bright future that looked nothing short of awesome. I cried at how much of myself was forgotten but suddenly remembered. I played the song a hundred times or so this past week. It probably won’t make you cry. It might force you to slam your hands to your ears in pain but I’ll let you judge it for yourself:

My tears were a mixed bag; mostly tears of joy with a few hints of regret.

Younger Howard was back! And I instantly understood how my younger self could work with my older self in concert to give me and my family the best of both worlds — the energy of youth and enthusiasm coupled with the wisdom and understanding of experience. I played this song hundreds if not thousands of times from the time I was seventeen…

Experience should never jade us (our older selves) while infinite enthusiasm (our younger selves) should always be embraced.

19 year old Howard has joined forces with 44 year old Howard and that is one powerful reunion let me tell you.

All together now.

With this post I am reaching a new milestone; reviewing two non fiction books back to back. Lately I’ve been driven by a sense of personal development and self improvement which has seen me bent on absorbing more facts than more fiction.

I think I’m done for now so on with the show.

The Smartest Kids in the World is an eye-popping expose on the failing education system in America where we spend more per student than almost anywhere on the earth yet our students rank far below the achievements of students in other countries who spend far less per student than Americans do.

How do students in impoverished Poland handily kick American ass in scholastic achievement?

Why do students in Finland score far higher on tests in reading and math despite a budget a fraction the size of the average American school?

What makes Korean students succeed in their studies at such a higher rate than their American counterparts?

I already gave you one hint at what the answer isn’t; money.  Student for student, the United States spends more per  pupil than almost any other country on earth yet our students deliver mediocre performance at best.

Amanda Ripley traveled the word tracing the steps of American foreign exchange students who found their way from the heartland of America to Poland, Korea and Finland to share her astonishing findings with us.

This book was near and dear to my heart as my own seven year old struggled mightily in the first grade last year with a teacher who should’ve been put out to pasture long ago.  This woman, stricken by indifference with advanced age but above reproach thanks to her tenure in the teacher’s union makes her untouchable and unaccountable in almost all respects.

This year my daughter’s second grade teacher transformed all of our lives.  Hell on earth for the Sherman family came in the form of the first grade.  Now we enjoy a blissful state of nearly-perfect paradise thanks to the animation and inspiration of Milana’s second grade teacher.

And that is the crux of The Smartest Kids in the World.  The teachers make the difference.  Not the budgets, not the after-school sports programs and not the extra-curricular activities of creating posters with the social soup-Du-jur or fundraising through selling smelly pencils, cutting cereal box tops and other distracting nonsense.

Amanda Ripley makes her case not by rote or by a dry recitation of facts and statistics.  She walks you through the lives of a few students and handily deconstructs what’s wrong with the American education system that’s failing our students at an ever-escalating annual cost and what’s right with the educational systems of other countries that achieve far better results with far fewer resources.

Members, directors and officers of America’s teachers unions will be outraged and dismiss Amanda Ripley’s work out of hand in their attempt to protect their fiefdoms and their stranglehold on the minds of American students.  They are failing our children as they line their own pockets with ever-increasing perks and professional prestige.

For any American citizen concerned for the future of our nation this is a book that you must read.

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Emotional Blackmail by Susan Forward will very probably be one of the most important non fiction books you’ll read in your lifetime.

Running the range from spouses to co-workers to family members and everyone else imaginable, Dr. Forward deconstructs the tactics and strategies emotional blackmailers use to emotionally twist your arm to get their way.

The reader will be treated to actual clinical scenarios involving people Dr. Forward has treated herself in private practice from beginning of treatment to the very end, a blizzard of checklists that can be quickly consulted to identify and deal with emotional blackmailers and powerful tip after powerful tip to help you cope with and confront emotional blackmailers from first discovery to final elimination either through cure (the preferred method) or elimination from your life completely,the last resort which I term “the nuclear option.”

I drilled through all 252 pages of this paperback in just over 24 hours which should tell you that this book is a page turner.  As interesting as it is informative, you’ll be startled to realize there is very likely an emotional blackmailer (or two or three…) in your professional and/or personal life.

The emotional blackmailer is an insidious creature who wields nearly magical powers to put you in a FOG (Fear, Obligation and Guilt) that even the smartest, most acutely aware people become easily lost in.

FOG is the acronym that simply and perfectly describes the weapons of choice the emotional blackmailer use to put you under their evil, albeit often misguided spell.

Susan Forward’s Emotional Blackmail will bring a bright sun of knowledge to burn away the FOG and gale force winds of fresh air to blow away any remaining FOG.

This is one of those rare non fiction books that is a must read for all of earth’s population.

 

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“The best drink in the day is just before the first one.” – Ian Fleming

I didn’t think there would be a Part 2 to Fiction Books and Bourbon (the original post is here) but Ian Fleming decided to throw me a couple of new curve balls.

It seems Ian Fleming’s James Bond doesn’t have a favorite bourbon.  If anything, 007 seems to choose as much adventure in his choice of bourbon as he does on his missions.

In You Only Live Twice the bourbon of the moment is Jack Daniels. Yet in the next James Bond Novel – The Man With the Golden Gun – James Bond orders Walkers Deluxe Bourbon by name from room service.

Being the diligent fan of fiction books I am (both reading them and writing them) I did some research and discovered that Gordon’s Deluxe Bourbon hasn’t been available in years.  That’s a shame as I was curious to sample the only bourbon I can recall James Bond ever asking for by name.

Maybe I’ll continue this train of thought with vodka.  James Bond drank quite a lot of that too and Smirnoff had major product placement in many James Bond movies – especially the Pierce Brosnan ones.

 

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When adventure game fans hear the word “implementor,” they naturally think of Infocom greats like Meretzky, Lebling, or Blank. However, Mr. Howard Sherman has been proudly carrying the torch since founding his company Malinche Entertainment in 2002, steadily developing and publishing a highly successful line of interactive fiction products for PCs and e-readers. No less a figure than Blank has declared his works “more captivating than ever.”

Howard is a controversial figure, frequently clashing with the amateur IF community. However, love him or hate him, he’s definitely an entertaining and charismatic speaker, with forceful opinions on a wide variety of adventure game-related topics.

In this tell-all interview, Howard gives his opinions on the state of interactive fiction, including his views on high-profile designers Emily Short and Andrew Plotkin. He also talks about the legal troubles he’s had developing his own games, which are sometimes so well-researched that legal authorities get involved!

Check out Howard’s games here: http://www.malinche.net/
Check out Howard’s blog here: http://www.malinche.net/blog/

Support Matt Chat with a one-time donation or recurring “set it and forget it” subscription!
http://www.armchairarcade.com/neo/nod…

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My hat’s off to Matt Barton for excellent editorial, top-notch editing and a fair and balanced view of covering the battlefield that is interactive fiction books. While this interview is nearly movie-length, it’s just about as engaging as Matt and I run the range of fiction books from writing to publishing to advertising, promoting and selling fiction books with an understandable emphasis on interactive fiction.

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Eye for an Eye by Ben Coes

Eye for an Eye by Ben Coes

 

Eye for an Eye was a real treat in most respects thanks to the very believable, very human main character Dewey Andreas.  Ben Coes has painted a portrait of a hero who doesn’t shrug off his feelings. He embraces them, deals with them and moves on just like the rest of us.

After his fiancee (National Security Advisor Jessica Tanzer)  is unintentionally killed during an assassination attempt on Dewey Andreas, our hero feels very real things.  First, he falls back on the certainty of his Special Forces training.  Then he knocks back healthy amounts of Jack Daniels along with punching a mirror with his bare fists until blood pours down his knuckles.  Again falling back on the familiar, Dewey knocks out push ups in his hotel room as he plots revenge.

Anyone ever dropped into a life-changing moment without any warning will relate to Dewey’s reactions, feeling and thinking.

What sealed the deal on me being a Ben Coes fan was his accurate, very real assessment of China’s economic influence on America.  Cris-crossing that sad reality with China’s own very real intelligence initiatives played out on the world stage with America had me nodding my head with acceptance, understanding and belief.  Ben Coes nailed the very real China problem perfectly.

The action is non-stop from page one right to the end with a couple of dips to the unbelievable.  Within the first thirty pages I was put off by some of the dialog of the Israeli officials which would have no place in the real world.  Ditto with the president of the United States first playing hockey in a private game with other high level Washington players including Senators and Supreme Court Justices alongside our hero Dewey.  I suspended disbelief and kept on reading and was very glad I did.  At the very, very end another surreal sequence had me shaking my head in disbelief and a mild feeling of disdain which did very little to lessen my overall impression that Eye for an Eye is an intense work of suspense fiction that does the over-arcing universe of fiction books proud.

 

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