Getting back again

I am writing this because I now suck at writing. Much worse than before. The past month was challenging. Since having our first child, things are quite, different. While there is certain release in writing, in the end, it feels like work – I write for my day job, and I write about stuff I’m not too happy about, so yeah, go figure – and I’ve ended up playing more games instead, whenever I could. “Frostpunk,” “Cities: Skylines,” and “Super Mario Maker” have all been very accommodating to my needs, thus far.

I looked back to my earlier written materials. The ones done between 2007 and 2010. The quality of work put in those stories were, vastly superior than what I’m conjuring up these past few months. 2007-2010 were times I had nothing much to do than focus all my energy into creating stories and playing catch up in reading books. Those were times I was gorging through epic fantasies like A Song of Ice and Fire and Malazan Book of the Fallen. At that time, there was only one – ONE – “Kingkiller Chronicle” book, and now there are two. A third one is expected to come out by the time my child goes to college.

Then 2011 happened, I got a PlayStation 3 and then I started my journalism career two months after. Things went on a downward spiral for my original works, I have noticed.

I think much of it has to do with how exhausted I am, and how I haven’t been reading as much. Things disintegrate over time. So does my writing. That’s why I have this blog, I guess. To help me kick things forward again.

In other news, I am almost done with my reading list. Last year I have purchased a large amount of ebooks through Amazon Kindle. Many of them were indie authors. I wanted to shift gears and offer my support to creative artists that are doing it alone. I have read most of the books now, including the established authors that we all know and love. I still have a bunch of physical books that needs to be read. I’m almost done (finally) with Joe Abercrombie’s “The Last Argument of Kings” and I’ve started-ish Scott Lynch’s “The Republic of Thieves.” Though I’m hesitant to continue reading “The Gentlemen Bastard Sequence” because of Lynch’s writing pace. At least, each book appears to be total stand alone.

My next batch of books should be an interesting one. I am eager to get on reading the “Welcome to Night Vale” novel and its sequel “It Devours.” N.K. Jemisin’s “The Fifth Season” rocked my world – pun, intended – so I am more than excited to jump into the second and third books, “The Obelisk Gate” and “The Stone Sky” as soon as I can. Nicholas Eames’ “Bloody Rose” is a serious must-read, but I will have to put that on hold, because everything else on my list are stories with emotionally laden issues, “Bloody Rose” would be the thing I need to break all the ice. “The Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi is high on my priority list, along with Nnedi Okorafor’s “Akata Witch,” “Akata Warrior,” “Who Fears Death,” and “Binti.” Pierce Brown’s “Iron Gold” is something of an overdue read for me, Stephen King’s “The Outsider” seems the perfect re-entry point for me to King, followed by “Strange Weather” by Joe Hill – who, I think, already exceeds his father. Then there’s “Grey Sister” by Mark Lawrence, “LIFEL1K3” by Jy Kristoff, and soon “Darkdawn” by the same author. Finally, Brandon Sanderson’s “Oathbringer.” I will get that book to show my support for him, but in no way rushing to that, considering the fourth book of the “Stormlight Archive” will probably be another two or three years down the road. At least we’ll get the final Wax & Wayne “Mistborn” novel soon, or soon-ish.

There’s a lot more I want to ramble on and about. But I feel I should reserve my remaining strength into working on the WIP. With all of this, I leave you, for no apparent reason, Pink – because I like Pink – and her music video, “Just Like a Pill.”

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The Curse of Pirini Lilapa

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I met Michael E. Thies in an online writing group over 10 years ago. He was in high school at that time, working on this epic fantasy novel “The Guardian of the Core” that spans across the cosmos. His pitch for the story is an interesting one, “Fantasy set in the far future.” It follows the aftermath of a great war between the gods and the Guardian – the arbiter of the galaxy that prevents any cosmic cataclysms from ever happening.

The first book, “Trials of the Core” was released in 2013. It’s a blend of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and “The Hunger Games.” The worlds’ finest enter a competition to become the apprentice of the Guardian. It was a superb piece of work – it’s not perfect, I’ll admit that – but it was damn fun to read, full of action and adventure.

Now, 2018, Book 2 “Curse of Pirini Lilapa” is going to be available this month on the 21st. (That’s today, or tomorrow, depending where you live on this planet.) In full support and excited over this upcoming new release, I bothered Mike with an email, asking some questions and like the cool guy he is, emailed back with all the answers.


Where did you grow up?

MIKE: I grew up in a small town of 5,000 people called Slinger, Wisconsin. I lived there until I went to college but those were still relatively small of around 68,000 people. In my twenties I lived in Santiago, Chile for one year which had 7 million people and now I live in a “small” town in China called Yixing with 1.5 million people.

What got you into writing?

MIKE: I remember reading Goosebumps novels by R.L. Stine (and even meeting him at Disney World.) I tried to create my own stories when I was younger and then in 7th grade I did a short story about gods fighting in a coliseum. That short story eventually evolved into a part of my series called Guardian of the Core. I guess it seems I have always been interested in writing.

Your writing tips to aspiring novelists and writers?

MIKE: The first draft is always the hardest. You need to write it though, it’s not going to write itself. I find a really easy way to accomplish this is 1,000 words/day. Just think about it, there is 365 days in a year; that’s 365,000 words. Most novels are around 70 – 100k meaning that even with time off in between revisions, you could get 3 drafts finished of a novel. For me, 1000 words means perhaps 1.5 hours. Persistence is the key, but this I found is the easiest way to do it because the days of much inspiration is few and far between.

Any advice for self-publishing authors?

MIKE: Don’t worry about the term “Self-Published,” I know that I don’t. The biggest mistake you can do is have your first novel be bad. Why? Because if the first novel is bad, people are going to assume the rest of your writing will be bad as well. So, get yourself to a professional editor; get yourself to a cover designer; a map maker—anything or anyone you need to make your final product look as professional as possible. That first book you will never make money on (unless you are lucky) it is there to establish your name and your credibility in the field; think of it as an investment in yourself.

What’s your current job?

MIKE: Currently, I teach Advanced Placement (AP) English Language and Composition at Yixing High School in China. It is the same as teaching in the United States just with far less students and my students being Chinese individuals who want to go abroad and study instead of staying in China. This has honestly been one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life, especially as an already-published author. Many people you run into while you’re traveling meet authors, and so it is very easy to promote yourself overseas and build more of a fan base. Also, teaching abroad expands your horizons and that expansion no doubt will work its way into your future novels whether subconsciously or consciously. And, because English is the “Language of the World” you can go ANYWHERE and teach English. It’s a fantastic life decision for those who want to experience more of the world and are tired of the monotony.

Tell me more about Book 2: Pirini Lilapa.

MIKE: The Curse of Pirini Lilapa is the sequel to The Trials of the Core and the second book in the Guardian of the Core series. I am very impressed by this book, more so than my first one, and I believe people are really going to enjoy it as well. In this novel you will see the same characters you love (or hate) like Zain Berrese, Prince Hydro Paen, and Eirek Mourse, but by the end of the novel, when the Curse of Pirini Lilapa has finally happened, the readers will see an interesting thing happen: the story will start to branch out. New character perspectives that readers can get excited about are Aiton Paen (Hydro’s younger brother), Conseleigh Iycel, and Brisine Berrese (just to name a few). The subsequent novels will continue this style and you’ll find more and more secondary characters becoming main characters as each voice is important to the galaxy of Gladonus.

Book 2 has a very different narrative structure than seen in most books: Why choose this style?

MIKE: Yes, this book follows a four part structure. The first three parts focus on one main character and a secondary character(s) that directly relate to them and their struggle. In part I we follow Zain Berrese and also Zakk Shiren and Brisine Berrese. In part II we follow Hydro Paen and his younger brother, Aiton. In part III we follow Eirek Mourse and Guardian Eska. Then, in part IV, every character makes a cameo appearance in the novel. Why? This is done symbolically to show that Pirini Lilapa (which begins at the end of part III) affects everyone no matter who you are. Also, the reason why it follows the order of these particular characters is that Zain has the most urgent storyline (rushing home to save his mother). Hydro has a compelling story line as well, but not nearly as urgent. Both of these characters, however, do something that will in turn affect Eirek Mourse (the novel’s main protagonist) in unexpected ways.

You’ve traveled to Chile and now currently living in China, does living in different locations have an effect on your writing?

MIKE: There are plenty of places that show up in my book that remind me of certain cities I have visited or certain structures that I have seen during my travels. Mostly, though, it is the culture that really sticks with me and something that I try to interweave between characters and situations with my novel. If I see a certain nation as people from this particular race, I will always question about how they look and how I can expect them to act based on things I have experienced abroad.

Your book has characters from every corner of the map, how important is culture in your stories?

MIKE: Like I mentioned before, culture is very important. Each nation does things a little bit different and some of these things I have thought up myself, and other things I have taken from interactions. For me, it adds more authenticity to the novel. One of my favorite traditions is the backstory behind why the Paen households let their tears hit the ground. It goes back to their sigil and a tear being pierced by a sword. This was unplanned, but when I started writing it, it seemed to make sense, like it was already there waiting for me to discover it. I think that is one of the coolest things about writing a novel.

It took YEARS between book 1 and book 2. How long can we expect Book 3?

MIKE: That is a good question. The honest answer is, I have no idea. My original plan was to have 4 books in the series, however, after the first draft of book 3, I am now considering dividing it into two separate books as it is quite big now (210,000 words). This depends on a couple of things, the biggest factor being how long the fourth book is. I plan on starting the first draft over the summer, after the release of book 2. When I finish the series completely, and I have a clear idea of how the book ends (and any surprises in the fourth book) it will inform my decision for book three.

What’s your current reading list?

MIKE: I feel bad about saying this as an author, but right now my reading list is very light. I have been putting more time into teaching and writing than into reading. I do want to start getting back into reading though as I do feel it is quite beneficial to writing. I know that after reading the Game of Thrones by George RR Martin my writing increased significantly. I am currently on the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, but they don’t pull me in as much as I’d like in order to continue reading them non-stop.

How about authors that influenced you?

MIKE: George RR Martin has definitely influenced my writing. He is so good at descriptions and sometimes I match him too much which makes some of my stories feel more verbose than necessary. Christopher Paolini also influenced me quite a bit as a writer because he published his first novel so young (at the age of 15). It made me believe that I, too, could write something great at a young age and don’t need to wait until I’m older. Now, Eragon was definitely the best in his series, after that I believe his writing went down especially when compared to Martin. But, he should serve as an inspiration to all.


Hello? Are you guys still here? Oh, thank the Big G. Go grab the “The Curse of Pirini Lilapa” and/or get the first book, “Trials of the Core” if you haven’t yet. I think I wrote a review of the first book, right here on this blog. You should check that out as well.

No comfy

Yesterday, a strong burnt rubbery smell filled the apartment. I freaked out. It’s Summer. A season of fires. Then the wife and I discovered the smell was coming from the air condition.

Ruling out all possible reasons, I have concluded that the motor is overheating. It was a shit thing to undergo. That night, I tested the AC. I lowered the fan speed and upped the temperature a little, so it would’ve overwork itself. 

And just to stay safe, I MacGyver’d a work table using two chairs and several boxes and books, near the AC. So when it begins to smell, I can shut it off right away. 

I was not comfortable in my position. Not at all. But you know what? It turned out to be my best writing night yet.

Within three hours I managed to add some details into my story, edit a huge chunk of the book, and ironed out the plot that had been bugging me. Many of the issues have been resolved and finally I can move on to the second part of the novel. 

I have small conversations with some writers. Advice from them always points out that a writer needs to be comfortable and relaxed. It helps them develop ideas and fine tune the writing.

In my case, sitting comfortably makes me feel like shit. When I’m comfortable, my mind wanders. I end up either going to YouTube or check out any updates on Hayley Williams. If I turn on music, I end up imagining I’m in a group called The Jon Karoll Band, and we’re rocking it from ’70s classics to more modern awesome sauces like Yellowcard… anyway. Bottom line is, I am least productive when I’m comfortable. I fall asleep and I wake up with a stiff neck. I was pretty much screwed.

I’ve made good progress. And I’m going to see how much productivity I can get while feeling uncomfortable in my seat.

Asus banks on the god of war with new cards

Kind Asus has once again sent me a press release about the new Arez brand graphics cards based on the AMD Radeon RX cards, which are getting a lot of buzz lately.

They even named it Arez as in Ares, after the god of war, they said so in the press release. Apparently they want people to find this online when people are searching for Kratos and the new God of War. 

In any case, press release follows:


ASUS announced AREZ, a new brand identity for ASUS Radeon™ RX graphics cards. Derived from Ares, the Greek god of war, AREZ-branded graphics cards are built using industry-leading automated manufacturing to provide AMD gamers and enthusiasts with superior cooling technology and a robust software ecosystem.

The new AREZ brand underlines the strong working partnership between ASUS and AMD that spans decades. Gamers and enthusiasts will enjoy a combination of exclusive ASUS innovations and technologies and AMD’s Radeon graphics processors and software.

“Gamers around the world rally behind AMD Radeon because of what the Radeon name stands for: a dedication to open innovation such as our contributions to the DirectX and Vulkan APIs, a commitment to true transparency through industry standards like Radeon FreeSync™ technology, and a desire to expand the PC gaming ecosystem by enabling developers to take advantage of all graphics hardware, including AMD Radeon graphics. We invite gamers everywhere who believe in these values and the value of the exceptional gaming experience Radeon graphics delivers to join the Red team,” said Scott Herkelman, Vice President and General Manager, AMD Radeon Technologies Group. 

Extreme durability: Auto-Extreme technology and Super Alloy Power II components

AREZ graphics cards are produced using Auto-Extreme technology, an industry-exclusive, 100%-automated production process that incorporates premium materials to set a new standard of quality, performance and longevity. Since the introduction of Auto-Extreme technology in ASUS graphics cards, reliability has improved by 30%. This manufacturing process is also environmentally friendly, eliminating harsh chemicals and reducing power consumption by 50%.

Super Alloy Power II components deliver enhanced efficiency, reduce power loss, reduce component buzzing by 50% under full load and achieve thermal levels that are approximately 50% cooler than previous designs for enhanced quality and reliability.

Hi-tech cooling: MaxContact, patented Wing-Blade IP5X-certified fans and FanConnect II

MaxContact is an industry-first GPU cooling technology featuring an enhanced copper heat-spreader that directly contacts the GPU. MaxContact utilizes precision machining to provide a 10X-flatter surface for up to 2X more contact area with the GPU than traditional heat spreaders, resulting in improved thermal transfer. Select AREZ graphics cards are also constructed with up to 40% more heatsink surface area than previous dual-slot designs, further improving heat dissipation for dramatically cooler and quieter performance.

A patented Wing-Blade fan design delivers 105%-greater static pressure over the heatsink for more efficient cooling and up to 3X-quieter operation compared to other fan designs. The fans are certified under the International Protection Marking (IP code) as IP5X dust resistant for improved reliability and a longer lifespan. This stringent certification process ensures AREZ graphics cards provide optimal fan performance, even under severe operating conditions. Additionally, 0dB technology stops the fan completely when the GPU temperature is below a set level, letting players enjoy light gaming sessions in complete silence.

ASUS FanConnect II features two four-pin hybrid-controlled headers that can be connected to both PWM and DC system fans for optimal system cooling. The connected fans reference both the GPU and CPU, and operate automatically based on the one with the higher temperature. A comprehensive set of tuning options allow gamers to tune fan speeds for efficient cooling.

Software ecosystem: GPU Tweak II, plus Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition

Redesigned with an intuitive user interface, GPU Tweak II makes gaming and overclocking easier than ever, while retaining advanced options for seasoned overclockers. With one click, the Gaming Booster function maximizes system performance by removing redundant processes and allocating all available resources automatically.

AREZ graphics cards also support the latest AMD Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition drivers for comprehensive control over AMD GPUs. Core features include power-saving Radeon Chill technology; Radeon WattMan for profile-based custom control of voltages, engine clocks and fan speeds; and Radeon ReLive for easy capture and sharing of in-game action.

A rock in a hard place…?


My wife and I saw the “Rampage” movie. It won’t win any awards: It’s noisy with a lot of stuff getting wrecked. And the closing scene was one big hole patched up with “Yeah, just take it.”

But you know what? This is a movie I’d go watch again in the future. Something when I’m bored or something to show my grandma when she’s bored. 

It’s a popcorn movie that’s helluva fun. Say what you will, but the casts’ performance was stellar. The Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson, hits all the right notes. I’ve always enjoyed his movies, even the meh-ish ones like “San Andreas.”


Speaking of movies: “Avengers: Infinity War” is going to premiere on April 25th. The countdown has began! 

Alone, I’d watch all movies again, but my wife and I don’t have the luxury of time. So I’ve narrowed down the watch list to these: 

Captain America: The First Avenger

Avengers

Thor: The Dark World

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Guardians of the Galaxy

Captain America: Civil War

Doctor Strange

Thor: Ragnarok

Black Panther

That’s still a lot. Basically I just chose the films where the Infinity Stones made significant appearances. Minor spoilers! That includes Black Panther, the final Stone, the Soul Stone, is located at Wakanda. It’s probably how the people there, or the chosen Black Panthers can communicate with the spirits of their ancestors. It’s also probably why there is going to be a big battle there with Thanos. 

“Civil War” is in the list because that’s the big “falling out” of the characters in the entire MCU.

Infinity War, here we go!



Innards #16: Expanse

Some time ago I got it in my head that I can write well because I enjoy it. These days I’m not so sure. Self-loathing is a thing, gnawing at the back of my head. Wouldn’t go away, no matter how much I shoo it off. That’s alright. I like some self-loathing, keeps me sharp, in some way.

In any case, besides sulking in the corner like a whimpering cretin, I’ve sorted out my writing a bit. Things are looking somewhat hopeful, with the baby on its way and the job hunting and all that shenanigans, all things considered, my writings just got the refresh it much needed.

Year of the Red Whale23%

23% is as much as I can give to my current WIP. As of this writing, the Red Whale has about 50,000 words. The prime original word-count was 120,000 and then I decided to cut it down to 80,000. I’m dancing between the two, since I’m going to self-publish anyway. I can go crazy and push through that 120K, or chop things off with clean 40,000-word novellas. Sounds intriguing. But I don’t want to do that. “Year of the Red Whale” is a self-contained story. My challenge now is deciding to maintain the single protagonist perspective or add a few POV characters. There are four candidates to help expand a ton of things. I hope to finish the final draft of this book by the end of February.

Project Ashes: 15%

Oh, humbug. I have 40,000 words written in the first book of Project Ashes. I have parts of the beginning and parts of the end, with little details in between. This is a grimdark tale that is part of a much larger epic. I’m really excited to devote more time into the completion of this story.

Mindfly3%

Crap. Crap. Crap. Project Mindfly is a novella I’m working on for this month’s Apex Publication’s open submissions. I’m not sure where to put this story, if it’s fantasy or horror. I’ll just say it’s weird. Missing person. Body horror. Time travel with a twist. All that gritty stuff. I’ve began writing this story about two years ago but somewhere down the line I stopped to focus writing Project Ashes, which was, ironically, pushed back because of the Red Whale.

Project Sherlock10%

Every now and then I look back at this WIP. I love it and to me, is a fine project after Project Ashes. It’s got miscreant heroes, adventure, a bit of romance, conspiracy, street gangs, assassins, and an epic showdown in one of the unlikely places. It might involve a little bit of magic and if it does, it will probably be tech-based. Like Jedi lightsabers. If magic does get tangled into the mix, then, Project Sherlock will be part of a much larger world I’ve crafted up. The entire concept is really cool and exciting, so I’m putting a lot of thought into it.

Project Sword0%

Holy shit Jon, what the flying fuck is this? A new project? So soon? You still have a bunch of commitments like Project Ghost, “Tunnel Crow Town,” and “The Conductor.” And there’s a whole lot more. What is this Project Sword? Well, it’s a standard sword and sorcery. I wanted something that’s a little bit traditional. Just a bit. I have the characters mapped out and how some of the scenarios will play out. Yes, it will probably begin in a remote village farm. Yes, it will probably involve a main character who wants to live a normal life but is instead force-fed a destiny with big-ass responsibilities. Yes, it will probably have elves and dwarven folk, talking trees, and the such. And yes, it will probably have a pub scene, which is very important to fantasy stories. I got it covered though and I plan to twist ’em all up. My main concern is two of the characters resemble so much from the ones in Project Ghost. So, I don’t know. Should I merge them or what? We’ll see.

I guess that’s it for now. Here’s Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Tell me, baby”

One hell of a concert

A week ago I learned that Paramore will have a concert, five minutes from where I live, in February next year. I have stated, time and again, I’m a huge Hayley Williams fan. Damn it, my background photo in Twitter is Hayley Williams during a concert in Hamburg. The tickets, are only about 200 USD, and I can stand in front of the crowd and enjoy my first live band experience. And yes, also to weep and scream in front of Hayley.

However, my wife is due with our first child in late May or early June next year. That means serious belt tightening, because, come on, once the baby comes out, it’s all expenses until he/she gets their college degree.

Also, we missed out on Bruno Mars and Coldplay concerts, which, I had promised my wife that we would watch – I had, at that time, been trying to win some points so that the wife won’t ever raise concerns when I insist on going to a Paramore concert- which is actually happening in a few months damn it. Alas, fucking hoarders took all the tickets and will be selling them x6 of the actual ticket prices. Come on, we know that’s true.

In any case, I won’t be experiencing Paramore. I won’t ever get to see Hayley Williams and head bang on “That’s What You Get” and “Brick by Boring Brick” and of course, “Pressure.” But oh well.

At least I got to experience Nicholas Eames’ “Kings of the Wyld.”

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How the fuck did we get from Paramore to this? I don’t know. I don’t give a shit. All I know “Kings of the Wyld” is fucking awesome. I laughed out loud as the characters engaged in the most hilarious banters and scenarios, I wept with them, and I was head banging all throughout the epic action scenes.

Look, “Kings of the Wyld” is inspired by heavy metal rock stars. It’s a world where, mercenaries, called “Bands” are worshiped as one might Black Sabbath, Metallica, DragonForce, Iron Maiden, you know the who they are. I think I also KISS in there somewhere, maybe also The Runaways. Oh, and Elvis is in it too, at least mentioned.

Do you guys know that scene from “Guardians of the Galaxy”?

I’m talking about this.

 

Yeah, there’s something like that in the book. And you know what? It’s freaking awesome.

“Kings of the Wyld” has druins. Basically, elves with Playboy bunny ears. Dragons. Manticores. Basilisks. Golems. You name it. It’s “Warcraft” where everything and anything is in there. And you know? It’s freaking awesome.

I’ve read epics, “A Song of Ice and Fire,” “Malazan Book of the Fallen,” partially “Wheel of Time,” “Mistborn,” “The Dark Tower,” you know, the usual stuff, and often these books are massive with complex stories and sinister plot twists. “Kings of the Wyld” does not have any of that. It’s a straightforward, sword and sorcery adventure. And you know what? Damn right you do. It’s freaking awesome.

It’s about a retired band, who’s getting back together for one last gig, which is to rescue the frontman’s (yes, they literally call him the “frontman” of the band) daughter, who is trapped in a city, under siege by all things nasty, led by a druin (technically elves with Playboy bunny ears). This is, by all means, not save the damsel kind of thing. The daughter happens to be a warrior herself who can butcher monsters that come her way.

The entire journey consists of the band getting back together and going through the Wyld – the forest where all things nasty live – in order to reach the city. And look, there’s not much action until the second half of the book, and you know what? That’s just fine. The characters are what makes the story come alive.

Imagine Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Motorhead, or whoever the hell from the ’70s, coming back to the world and then surrounded by the likes of One Direction. Yeah, it’s that kind of surreal experience, where undergarments are flung and taverns set on fire.

Look, the book is awesome and fun.

Now I take my leave and sulk over missing out on this.