Last blurb and final cover reveal!

A story that will stay with you forever!

Suzanne Robb

So, Dead by Midnight is available on kindle here

This is the final blurb from Richard Starkings, Creator of Elephantmen and Comicraft, and all around great guy.

“An edge-of-your-seat thriller and an impressive debut from Suzanne Robb!”

And this is the final cover 🙂


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Evolution of Mecha: Roll a (2D6-2)x10 for a Whiplash Saving Throw

10354669_347594575404939_6811202619241286031_nThey come in the form of fighting robots. The shape of fighting jet fighters. Fighting firetrucks, dinosaurs, and cassette tapes. NO they’re not Zan and Jayna form of-ing and shape of-ing some random watery thing to defeat a minor DC Comics boss. Mechs have been here even before the Justice League. Three years before, to be exact.

TO APPEASE THE GODS: The Greeks should probably get first mech credit with the Trojan Horse (AT-AT anyone?) and Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and a few other SF greats added locomotion later, but they didn’t have detachable brain ships or Guardian mode with torpedoes till Japan got involved.

Last weekend my son had an XBox Titanfall party and we turned it into a table top RPG. It really took me back. I’ve been a huge fan of the battle mech since preteen years and never really thought about why until this week. I figured it had something to do with a childhood obsession or passing image. Heck, the movie Wizards trailer-ed before The Rescuers at the theater when I was kid, haunting me till the advent of the VHS rental. But before Robotech, the only exposure I had to Japan’s breed of awesomeness, was Transformers and Gobots.

And Shogun Warriors.

Z_MazingerThe dawn of the Japanese Fighting Robot began in 1956 with the remote controlled, giant robot, “Tetsujin 28-go” (“Gigantor” in the U.S.), but grew in popularity with the introduction of Mazinger Z, a giant robot defender of Earth nearly 20 years later. It aired in October of 1972 and ran through 1974 in Japan, with surprising popularity. In the late 70s, a boy growing up in rural South Texas had one choice for Christmas: the Sears Catalog. Which just happened to feature an awesome new line of toys, the controversial, shoot-your-eye-out, spring-loaded missile-fist, Shogun Warriors. Gaiking, Dragun, Raideen, Daimos, Godzilla, Rodan. Mazinga. The cool thing about the Great Mazinga? He had a detachable rocketship brain.

After Mazinger-Z (Great Mazinga according to Mattel), Tonka and Hasbro introduced Robotech-AnimatedGobots and Transformers to the toy shelves, soon to be followed by cartoons and comics. I’ve seen much debate on who came first, Leader-1 (Gobots-1983) or Optimus Prime (Transformers-1984), but I remember Gobot toys being first. It doesn’t really matter, though, because the next year, Harmony Gold USA would turn the middle school warfighting world upside down with Rick Hunter’s Veritech fighter.

Robotech took the sentient robot out of the equation and put man/woman in control. Then added a to-die-for romance arc. I was in love with Lisa Hayes and had no idea why. But it wasn’t until the end of the first episode, “Boobytrap,” that the true nature of the mech was introduced with Rick Hunter discovering Configuration B along with his television audience.

Robotech Episode-1, “Boobytrap”

Robotech owned me. I was hellbent on growing up and flying an Alpha or driving a Cyclone. But throughout this evolution of anime-based mech lore, a parallel event took place in a galaxy far, far away, one that would eventually change the way we kids saw giant walking, fighting things. 1980 brought us the Battle of Hoth with The Eempire-strikes-back-featurette-how-walkers-walkmpire Strikes Back. Everyone went nuts over the AT-AT, or Camel Walker. It was a four-legged tank (sort of), bigger than a three-story house. It walked. It shot. It stomped its way through the battle field and a whole jedi had to take it down. That was the public perception.

Then there were us weirdo nerdy hick kids still playing with Mazinger Z and Dragun dolls after school. We caught a single scene during that historic battle. Only a few frames, but enough to make us perch on the edges of our seats, drooling into the popcorn. In fact, the rest of the movie up to the “I am your father” point, paled in comparison to those two quick seconds of glory. To make it worse, it was months before Lucasfilms even acknowledged the existence by granting toy rights to Kenner.

Battle Of Hoth -1A two-legged walker with reverse articulated knee joints, sprinting through the battlefield. The AT-ST Scout Walker, or “Chicken Walker” as the Lucas Camp called it. This would have a major impact on future development.

A few random events took place around the same time that changed mechs from anime to armory. First, Rambo fights a Mi-26 Hind-D Russian “Flying Tank.” The Super Cobra and Cobra Command video games hit arcades. Airwolf and Blue Thunder took over evening network slots. It wasn’t so much the helicopters, but their sexy cockpit canopies that sold us.

In 1984, FASA Corp released Battle Tech, a complex, tabletop war gaming system rich battletechwith technical and political detail. The humanoid robots looked more like walking tank-football player hybrids than ever, nobody transformed because that was just childish, and one mech especially drove home the realism. The Jenner. A Chicken Walker with a pilot and tons of artillery. The Battle Tech concept joined Hollywood in 1989 with the poorly recieved, Robot Jox, but this was far from the end of the mech trend.

Final_Four_JaegersFast forward to the millennium. Four major breakthroughs have followed the same mecha cycle as before. The Transformer movie franchise reignited our imaginations with sentient, giant fighting robots. Maybe too much as it’s hard not to find an Autobot sticker on every other motosport racer in the theater parking lot. Pacific Rim put a cockpit back in our mecha teamed up against hungry Kaiju. Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts gave us a realistic version and put us in the cockpit with Titanfall.

And last weekend, three teenaged boys and a weirdo nerdy hick dad sat around rolling two six-sided dice and subtracting two, multiplying by ten (we couldn’t find a d10 here on Fort Irwin),  chasing aliens through ancient ruins and battling for their lives until the final cry of “Titanfall in thirty seconds” set the odds against the wretched Devil Walker and released three imaginations by way of the mech.


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“Touched by an Angel” Review for SHORT BUS HERO by Shannon Giglio (5-Stars)

The world of professional wrestling will never be the same thanks to an angel of the purest heart. From the over-the-top melodrama of the wrestling industry, to protagonist Ally Forman’s daily challenges of life as a girl with big dreams and unusual hurdles, SHORT BUS HERO carries you through the full gamut of emotions and leaves you feeling alive at the end. Every time I took a breather, I couldn’t wait for a chance to dive right back in the ring with Ally and her broken champion, Stryker.

Author Shannon Giglio does a fantastic job of not only plotting a story ripe with the kinds of believable-yet-spinning twists to draw you in deeper, but she delivers through a powerful voice full of wit and charm. On the technical side, details spanning from pro wrestling history, technique, and politics, to the medical and psychological accuracy of an insider’s view of Down syndrome, build a colorful and realistic setting as intriguing as the characters themselves. The pacing ebbs and flows between action and drama, allowing time to fully absorb some of the more heartfelt moments before flying off the ropes into fist-pumping action, and the multiple layers of conflict keep tension at just the right pressure to maintain a high level of thrill.

By far, one of SHORT BUS HERO’s strongest aspects is characterization. No cardboard people here. Each person, good and bad alike, possesses his or her unique flaws and gifts. More importantly, they grow throughout as they add dimension and life to the story. These are the kinds of characters one envisions stepping off the page in true Spielberg tradition. Their dialogue is as real as their struggles, from greed to alcoholism, though I have to admit Ms. Giglio does a great job of giving us both issue-riddled adults to make A&E drool, as well as a worst-hangover-ever moment to convince even the staunchest of teetotalers to never want to drink again.

SHORT BUS HERO is a well-written story with a strong plot and ton of lovable character. The overarching themes of tolerance, compassion, and heart of a hero are woven throughout. As engaging as it is touching, I can say at least twice I had to put the book down. I couldn’t see the words anymore. For a beautiful snapshot of a little girl’s heart and a chance to recharge my own, SHORT BUS HERO is a solid five-star, must read.

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Elements of a Good Review 4: The Last 300



Spartans. ATTACK!


A righteous one sneaks up on you. Take Wayne Simmons’ SF Dystopian Thriller, Plastic Jesus. Holy shit! He never spells out backdrop detail, but rather uses character interaction, sounds and smells,  even dialect, to paint a future noir similar to Blade Runner. Well… darker. I’ll never look at the web the same after spending two days wet-wired into Mr. Simmons’ future.


I’m super easy on Plot–pacing is more a moneymaker for me–though a good twist helps. Some favorites are Kim Curran’s Shift and Allison Dickson’s Strings. That last one will screw you up bad, too; unless you’re already wired into Plastic Jesus’ Lark City. As far as twist, Alex Black’s novella, Lisa With Child (Writers of the Future 26) delivers a what-if pregnancy and unconventional relationship with some stunning Escher angles.


This is a big one for me. I see a lot of genre fiction as an on-call reviewer. Most of it I don’t get through because it’s tired. Zombies are VERY tired at this point. Unless they are on a submarine, came from an even more gruesome source, and the world around them is a horrific glimpse of our eco-future. Suzanne Robb’s Z-Boat sent me to a whole new level of oh-shit discomfort, and the technical accuracy drove a spike right through “tired horror.”


True, I love a theme-driven story, but I won’t get butt-hurt if it’s not there. A.E. Rought’s Broken has a fantastic theme of healing, that plays counterpoint to her title and motif. Yet it is an invisible, living thing throughout, up until the end when it reaches out and gives you a hug before leaving you just as broken as her characters. Now THAT’S writing!

Hey, it’s been fun! Thanks so much for reading.



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Elements of a Good Review 3: Getting Into It with Talking Heads and Chuckle Bunnies

Dummy table

This is way overdue, but thank you and welcome back for round three. Belief, Character, and Dialogue.

I’m late. Let’s go.


A combination of many of the other elements feed into Belief, but I set it aside as its own because often I’ll come across writers who are experts at world creation, plot, prose, etc., yet the story fails to engage me. This way I can still give the work credit for the writer’s finer points.

For me, Belief stands out most when it fails. You’ve probably encountered it many times before; Amazon is rife with self-published attempts by people who have never run the gamut of rejection and acceptance. I noticed it during an impromptu book club meeting at the pub not too long ago (what?!) when I caught myself saying, “Yeah, I just couldn’t get into it,” regarding a recent Hydra Press title. While it was grammatically well written, everything seemed so stiff and forced. Hence, I couldn’t “get into it.” And that’s my red flag for Belief.

Here are two positive examples of Belief, or rather the suspension of disbelief.  One of my most disturbing reads was Cameron Pierce’s Ass Goblins of Auschwitz. Bizarro in general has a huge obstacle due to the genre’s inherent oddity. Talking toilets, marshmallow warriors exploding during tribal mating ceremonies,  people with upside down faces arguing stock options. Getting that stuff to work takes serious skill. In Pierce’s Monty Python acid trip, impossible characters  interact with surprising realism. The weirdo elements even disappear at points. Not that there weren’t more than an enough scenes where I had to stop (come on, it’s called Ass Goblins of Auschwitz, man!), but it was hard not to appreciate Mr. Pierce’s ability to bring the implausible to life. I also do NOT recommend this if you are not already familiar with just how extreme bizarro can oscillate between groaty and downright profane.

The second, and much more tasteful, is the quarterly magazine, Jamais Vu: The Journal of the Strange Among the Familiar. Post Mortem Press has a history of selecting writers with talent for suspending disbelief. While all the stories are easily five-star quality, one that lends well to this post is “Another Friendly Day in the Antique Trade.” Adam-Troy Castro gives us a beautifully written psychodrama in which nature tears down a woman’s confidence by way of cascading natural disasters, while an enormous mouth opens up and swallows townspeople all around her. I accepted her anguish and the mouth as reality and enjoyed the story.


Books have been written about this–Orson Scott Card’s Elements of Fiction Writing- Characters & Viewpoint being one of the most highly recommended in SF circles. Personally, I like the obvious, stand-out qualities. Real issues to which I can relate. Stephen Chobsky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower. Socially awkward Charlie finds his niche in not belonging with the “in” crowd. Rosie Best’s Skulk. I fell in love with overweight tagger, Meg, from the moment she stood her ground against judgement and set her self-esteem aside to shape-shift into a fox and find true love.

Finally, after a character with relatable issues comes on stage, it’s awesome to watch them change in the shadow of their conflict. Oddly enough, the best character development stories for me are usually horror. I guess because a well executed haunt will carve new souls out of some people. You can’t tell me Cujo’s Donna Trenton doesn’t leave you in a daze at the end.  I wasn’t right for quite some time after sitting in that scorching Pinto with Donna and Tad.


This is my favorite.  I always groan a little if I have to make it through pages of narrative without dialogue. An agent once taught me how editors look for “white space balance,” indicators of choppy, spoken sentence structure breaking up too long narrative runs.  I also think inner dialogue can sometimes be even better, though. Great Voice often comes with this. Check out Pahlaniuk’s Survivor. Testing one, two, three. Testing.

And unlike foxy Meg, don’t be a tagger. Replied, echoed, voiced, interjected, responded, exclaimed, chortled, and God help me, ejaculated. You get the idea. Said and asked usually work just fine. There’s nothing wrong with using special tags for changes in tone on occasion, but even then they tend to rob the character of his or her voice in a single, stupid word. And they’re lazy. If the dialogue is well written, it won’t even need a tag. Any of the old L. Ron Hubbard Stories from the Golden Age novellas show great examples of bad dialogue, but they are written “pulpy” on purpose, to match the Twenties and Thirties of when that sort of thing was just dandy.

Content. “Do people really talk like this?” That’s it. Sometimes dialogue sounds like two professors giving each other a dissertation. Oh, you clever little writer! Sneaky efforts to reveal everything from string theory, to why Jessica can only sleep with men wearing angora sweaters, are cheating and sound fake as shit. Or sometimes people try way too hard to capture the feeling of the conversation… with… Shatneristic punctuation magic–NO! –yessss… … …yes.

And chuckling. Purely nitpicky on my part, but chuckling drives me freaking nuts! I instantly think of the Jelly Fish Lady from Bridget Jones’s Diary.

At the other end of the spectrum: patois and dialect saturation. Faulkner and Twain made this popular, sure; but back when they did it, hey! it was a thing! Today, too many misspelled words in an attempt to capture phonetics can destroy a scene if not done right. Same thing with parenthetical clauses. They don’t bother me so much in non-fiction pieces, but if I’m in a character’s POV and she keeps interrupting her own thoughts with (snarky comment here), I start to drift away from the action after about the fifth voice-in-her-head. You know. Since I’m already in her head.

And the voice in mine just threatened me with chuckling ass goblins if I don’t wrap it up. This has been far too long, but I wanted to cover as much as possible to keep it down to four posts. Next time, I’ll finish out with Originality, Setting, Plot and Theme. Thanks for reading and I will be posting way more carbureted stuff soon. Hard tops, bomber seats, tasteful pin-ups, and that delicious burnt coffee smell of diesel!

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Elements of a Good Review 2: Voice, Verbosity, and Gettin They Clunk On


First, thanks so much for staying with me after last week’s rant. It means a lot to know someone out there is actually interested in my thought process.

To recap, this is how I review books. I use the nine elements  of Voice, Clunk, Character, Setting, Theme, Dialogue, Belief, Plot, and Originality. Because Clunk drew so much attention to herself last week–not all of it good–I’m going to open her up today along with Voice.

And to borrow a cliched phrase from last weeks micro-debate: “Just to be clear,” this is MY review process, not THE review process. For anyone who may disagree, fantastic! I’d love to hear your opinions about it so I can refine my own methodology. Punks.


Last fall I had the opportunity to attend a Writer’s Digest boot camp in Beverly Hills, taught by the lovely and incredibly talented Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary Agency. If you ever have a chance to attend one of Paula’s seminars, do it. This particular seminar was on Plot, but my bigger take away came from one of her side notes: “If you have Voice, you can pretty much get away with anything… but if your voice is weak, you need to have a bullet proof everything else.”

And there it is. Examples of great voice from my own library include A.E. Rought, James Glass, Allison Dickson, Sean Cummings, Suzi M., Scott Westerfeld, Rosie Best, Kim Curran, and one of my all time favorites, T.L. Costa. Notice anything? Most of my voice commanders are YA writers. I can bore you to tears with my hypothesis as to why, but suffice it to say YA writers have twice the burden of suspending belief because they are dealing with a teen audience–70-85% female according to varying sources–with a natural snark and eye-roll disposition. T.L. Costa busted through the belief/voice barrier by using two protagonists with totally different voices. One, a teen girl prodigy in college and far removed from her peer group; the other, a teen boy with severe ADHD. You can imagine which one was her money maker.

I usually find lacking voice in horror and SF/F.  The biggest voice problem seems to come from Point of View. When writers try to do the whole 3rd person, omniscient POV narration, they are either really good at it and pen a classic, or trudge through pages with a monotone, passive voice and forced flavor quirks (doesn’t work). It’s like reading a technical manual telling me what happened with a metric butt-load of past continuous/ past perfect continuous phrasing. Know what that does? It puts 82 painful layers of separation between me and the action.

ex. “The vampire stood in the shadows and was licking her lips as the herculean muscles of Trent’s back were coiling and uncoiling like two lovers’ bodies beneath his skin.”

The use of was and were kill this scene. Along with a clunky writing style, but I’ll hit that next. The writer did a fair job of plugging in sexed-up metaphors, but to what end? It still reads like it’s a million miles away and subtitled. By cutting the fat and rewording for a closer feel, the words disappear and put you in the scene.

“The vampire hid in the shadows, licking her lips, tracing the muscles of Trent’s writhing, naked back.”

See? We’re right there in the shadows with Vampina, licking our lips, and hey! Trent gets to keep his sexy back without all the over-explained garbage clogging the moment. This is also called showing-versus-telling and for genre fiction is pretty monumental. If I could recommend one great author to showcase what good voice can do for a piece, it’s Chuck Palahniuk…unless you’re squeamish. So go with someone like Susan Creech, Amy Tan, Toni Morrison, Stephen King, or Scott Westerfeld.

Next. POV matters. Not just making the mistake of shifting into different people without warning or a scene break, but strategically choosing within whose POV the reader is getting a right-seat ride. How that character’s personality is translated to the page. Take a look at The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. Beautiful voice from the perspective of a teen with Asperger Syndrome.

These are only a handful of aspects I feel go into solid voice, but they work for me in terms of keeping me wrapped in some other person’s vision.


What is Clunk?

Verbosity. Using a whole wad of adverbs, redundancies, extraneous detail, and other unnecessary calories. You’ve seen it. You hate it. Hell, you’ve probably hated it in half the garbage I write. Hi, my name is CS and I’m a clunky writer. There. Step one complete. Booyah!

Without cramming a bunch of verbose and non-gluten-free explanations down your gullets, I’m going to use examples of serious Clunk from my own mistakes. This is stuff I’ve written in the past ten years and has been torn apart by betas, agents, friends, enemies, and relatives. Don’t ever give your work to your friends and family to read unless it’s a mutual and professional relationship for both sides. oops.

“Hefting the child effortlessly, the man cradled him in his arms to the elevator and disappeared within, accompanied by his driver, an equally large, professionally dressed gentleman.”  (Too much detail and a runaway comma gun)

“He had already stretched the limits of what any woman with a typical understanding of the popular version of love would have endured.” (over explained and wordy; not really necessary to the story)

“Now he had a live-in rent factory and punch dummy for his sick sense of humor/ guilt mechanism, and he had his Matt so that they could live happily ever after with their live-in step-wife.” (aside from a whole lot of telling and repetition, it’s over-the-top, forced voice)

“The counselor gave him a thin smile and placed one arm of her glasses in her mouth while she cocked her head to the side, regarding her patient. He was in his mid-twenties, not necessarily fit, but not a pork chop, either. Andrew was the norm of normal, regulation regular. Five foot seven, a semi-soft one eighty five, and standard cut brown hair to match his standard brown eyes. The only remarkable thing about Andrew was his depressing demeanor.” (Oh good lord)

“For all family members struck by military tragedy, the C-A Team was their guardian angel force of sorts. There was an administrative labyrinth that needed to be navigated and a suddenly single, grieving parent could not be expected to just automatically know what to do. Unfortunately, the slow turning admin machinery of the military did not have a compassion circuit, either. That was where the C-A Teams came into play. They took care of people and helped cushion their frustration in time of need.” (That’s me crying. And this hot garbage actually got published!)

Voice and Clunk. My take on it.

I’m ending Clunk a bit abrupt, but other than suggesting Strunk and White’s Elements of Style for a deeper understanding of brevity and conciseness and wanting to put your eyeball out after you’re done reading both clunky prose and Strunk and White’s technical manual, I hope this helps understand my reviews in terms of these two elements.

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back next Friday, Desert Gods and Stryker Brigades pending, to cover Character, Setting, Dialogue, and Belief.

“And that’s all I have to say about that.” (Gump, 1995)





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Elements of a Good Review 1: Book Reports and Body Parts Suck


Recently, someone asked me how I review. Do I use a formulaic approach? Is it an OWL-Perdue thing? And the painful part, why do most of my reviews end up as four and five star ratings? Am I just some polyanna-ish happy factory?


Here it is. But before I get into the noble gases of this thing, I have to warn you: my technique is not a conventional, collegiate-based review system and will lead to terrible marks if applied to a standard college lit class. There. If you do try anyway, let me know how it works out.

So first, what I DON’T do.

Summaries. Spoilers. A CliffsNotes play-by-play and how I felt about each by-play. I see so many reviews written in standard book report format on Goodreads and Amazon, but what’s the point? Writers and publishers already work hard at creating strong cover copy for that very reason. Imagine how hard it was to boil down the original Lord of the Rings into something concise enough to fit on the back of a trade paperback, yet with the intrigue to attract an audience. So why revisit what’s already on the book? What’s more, if I read a complete mini-synopsis of a book, chances are I won’t buy it because the review just sucked the fun out of it for me.

My reviews rarely have anything to do with nitpicky details about what happens in the story. I like to address the guts of it. From Voice to Originality. Mechanics. Craft. The only thing I don’t hold a writer hostage over is theme, but if they do a bang up job of a solid theme, I use it to counterbalance weaker areas.

Now. What I do. The CS Nelson Autopsy.

Voice-Character-Clunk-Setting-Theme-Dialogue-Plot-Originality …or, “VoCl Characters Set The DiaBolical PlottOr”

I despise acronyms thanks to my day job, but this one works for me. I use an 8-point, Go/ No-Go system with two major elements and six minor ones, plus a floating Theme bonus. As I read, I highlight points in a story that reflect the writer’s command of each part of the craft and plug them into an Element-Value matrix at the end. Here is the breakdown:


Notice how Voice and Clunk have higher values? Each is equivalent to one-star. The rest are a half value. In other words, if a story has a curvy, twist-a-plot frame about hot dialogue between warm bodies in a sensual setting… but no sultry voice and yappety over-done prose, it still ain’t sexy. It talks too much. But it is a three-star, and if this monotone romp-writer at least sticks with a solid theme of say, “love over the need to be wanted,” or “animal urges amongst parakeets,” then that’s a bonus half star and I take a hard look to see if I can’t squeeze a little more out of it. Now, if it’s suffering in all areas and has great Voice with zero Clunk, chances are there will be enough of the other elements present to forgive some of the downfalls.

Finally, I don’t write like this. I wish I did. The reviews on my site are from people I admire. Which brings me to the nagging question as to why I don’t sling two-star reviews or lower: 1) Because if it was that bad, I probably didn’t even finish the thing! But what I will do, is 2) send my opinion to the writer directly. I believe most people have the ability to write a story. Where they fail is in feedback, albeit because they shy from rejection, or they’re coddled. Some writers swim in pleasant social ponds where readers/friends are going to love anything that writer cranks out.

If a person has a story to tell, I would rather see them bring it to life than cut their legs at the gate the way so many reviewers do… which also seems to be a writing trend. People really enjoy trashing a person’s hard work as flamboyantly as possible. Body parts have been named after those precious little piranhas.

Thanks for reading. Over the next few weeks I’ll go into each element individually, citing examples of what turns me on and what doesn’t work so well. Until then, whether you are a reader or a writer, READ!



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