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Culture Shock

February 25, 2013 1 comment

I got in a bit of a twist the other day when I heard about the mother who was arrested for hiring strippers for her son’s 16th birthday party. My first response was based largely on the fact that I like to be outrageous: “Cool mom!” After that though it’s made me do some thinking.

Ultimately it comes down to a matter of right versus wrong, and the question is, was this wrong? As a parent I’ve been conditioned to protect my children from exposure to things like this by a society that is repressed and hypocritical. As a one-time 16 year old boy I would have been thoroughly convinced that I had the best mom in the world. Ever. The difference between the two is that at 16 I wouldn’t have been burdened by the cultural stigmas of our society.

Does this lead to teens having babies? Hardly. About the only thing it leads to is probably an extra load of laundry. But the prosecutors say its endangering the welfare of children. Yeah, because 16 year old boys have never surfed the Internet or seen prime time TV.

Then there’s other countries in the world that have more open views on human sexuality. Which ones? Damn near all of them. Remember that the Native Americans were an open minded and largely peaceful people that were overrun by exceedingly repressed individuals that wanted their own place to establish their own rules. They believe a man should be free to do whatever he wanted and worship in whatever way they wanted, as long as they approved of it.

There are still countries out there where “kids” can get married and have children as young as 13. It baffles the mind and scares the crap out of me as a parent. I don’t want my son or daughter getting caught up in something like that, but then again that’s because I was raised to believe I should wait until I’d squared myself away and was ready for the burden of family. And by saying burden I don’t mean to imply it’s a bad thing, only that it places a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, even though it’s worth it if done right.

Now I’m also willing to stipulate that if I had been born in another culture I might not think a thing of being engaged at 13 or 15. I’ve moved around a lot and I’ve met a lot of people from a lot of different walks of life. They all have their merits and perks, from Mormons to Catholics to Muslims. I’ve met people from as far as Brazil, Germany, Australia, the UK, Greece, Albania, Italy, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran (and probably several others) and they were all good and decent people even if we viewed some things differently.

I’m a writer and I have to explore different mindsets and cultures on a regular basis. I have to buy into them and explain them in my books so I can make them feel real. That probably biases me to be more open minded and tolerant than most people, which is a shame. Everybody and every organization has its quirks but the world would be a better place if we focused on what we had in common instead of what our differences were.

As for a handful of 16 year olds getting their wet-dreams fulfilled by having strippers at a birthday party, is this really even worth mentioning? Is it newsworthy? Is it something the police should be bothered with? I’ll concede that an investigation into possible abuse would be warranted, but lacking that I’m inclined to stick with my initial outrageous response, “Cool mom!”

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

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When the Passion Fades

February 22, 2013 2 comments

Life has a funny way of filling every moment with an endless stream of tasks and priorities. Before you know it you’ve got mortgage(s), kids, student loans, vacations, cars, credit cards, and a host of other liabilities that we have to bust our butts to fulfill. And somehow in there we’re supposed to find time to be passionate.

Contrary to what you might expect at this point, I’m not rambling about relationship woes. I’m talking about writing! Okay, regular readers probably figured that out already. So much for being unpredictable. Maybe I should talk about relationships instead? Naw, why give away the secrets when they’re so much more fun to find out on your own!

So back to writing. Passion in writing. Yes, dear reader, writers should be passionate about their projects. There are times though when the passion fades from a roaring bonfire to just a spark of flint against steel. That, I’m ashamed to admit, is where I’m at with my current project.

I don’t blame the story or the characters, I blame myself. I’ve started in on my 6th Voidhawk book (Voidhawk – The Edge of Forever) and it’s a bit of a juggling act. I’ve got two voidships to keep track of and two crews. To be honest, I’m not even sure how many characters there are total without looking at my notes and counting them up! Sad, I know. I have some rough ideas for where I want the story to go and I’ve got some plans for a major subplot that I’m still trying to piece together. The problem is I’m not sure how get from point A to point B. And remember we’re talking about sailing through the void so sometimes the quickest route between two points is not a straight line!

For those wondering what the heck I’m talking about with all this void-nonsense, allow me to explain. The “Void” is what you and I would call space. The great big black stuff in the nighttime sky that’s dotted with tiny white lights. To the fantasy genre crew of the Voidhawk, it’s not as frightening and empty as it is to us. For them the void is a three dimensional ocean. They sail from one system or world to another by means of voidships that are complicated vessels imbued with powerful magic and special sails that allow them to catch the solar winds.

In the Voidhawk universe men and women run around with swords, knives, clubs, and archaic guns (flintlocks, mostly pistols although some musket style weapons have shown up from time to time). The firearms aren’t as common though. There’s magic a-plenty as well, from magical places and items to weapons and more. And of course wizard and sorcerers (and witches and sorceresses) capable of using it straight from the source. Oh yeah, there’s been a demon or two (or many, many more) unleashed as well. Most of them have been cleaned up by the time book 6 rolled around though.

So it’s fantasy in space. Crazy, right? Remember this is magic, so check your suspension of disbelief and walk on in. If England can host a secret society of wizards playing Quidditch and blowing up half the country than the universe (aka void) can certainly handle wooden ships sailing through space with the help of magic.

So now you have a clue about Voidhawk but I’m still stuck in a place where I’m writing a chapter or so a day and not entirely sure where I’m going with it. I have plans but they’re not coming together like they usually do. My last book I was cranking out 3 – 4 chapters a day and wrote it in 8 days. This one is going to take longer, probably at least 30. I’m over 17,000 words into it by now but I’ve got a ways to go and I think this one is going to stretch into something large. Normally that would excite me. The only reason it doesn’t this time is because I’m not sure how the heck I’m going to get it there!

But not to fret, I’ve been here before. Sometimes the only way to make progress is one word at a time. Since I’m cranking out a few thousand a day or so that’s a lot of baby steps. Someday soon, before I even realize it, the story’s going to come together and I’ll be amazed at how it worked out. Oh sure, I may need to make a few tweaks for continuities sake, but it’ll be great because these characters are incredible and there’s just so much opportunity to mess with them!

So stay tuned, there’s more Voidhawk coming! With any luck this book will hit the shelves in April, but there’s a lot of void that needs to be covered between now and then.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Winning

February 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Charlie Sheen made the word, “Winning” famous, but I’m not sure he actually won anything when he did so. Controversy and outrage, sure, but though his victory may have been a personal success I think it fell short of the financial and moral mark. Fortunately, I’m not here to write about Charlie Sheen! Instead let’s talk about success in general. Not necessarily in a self help kind of way, but littered with examples. I don’t think of it as success or winning, but rather hard work.

I’ve mentioned in recent articles how I was reading the book, Total Recall, by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s not the movie, it’s a book about his life and his successes (and opportunities for improvement). I finished it and was moved and amused by the ending, where he gives 10 tips for success in life. I found that I already use all of them and figured them out on my own, so yay me!

The moving part, to me, was a picture where he and his son, Patrick, visit Graz, Germany for the unveiling of a bronze statue of him in his glory days of bodybuilding. The look captured on his face as he reached out to touch it is what got me. Can you imagine having a statue built to commemorate you for the positive things you’ve done? You can see that he’s deeply affected by it in the picture and I can’t say I blame him. How awesome would that be?

His other secrets to success? Reaching for the stars, applying humor to everything possible, and understanding that nothing just happens for the sake of happening (or as he puts it, reps, reps, reps). Those of us in the weight lifting field understand reps to mean you have to do something over and over to improve. Want a heavier bench? Do lots of reps bench pressing. Want better shoulders? Lots of reps at shoulder pressing. Better legs or butt? Reps at squatting. By now you see the pattern. Each rep brings you closer to the goals you set for yourself, but reps applies in other ways as well.

In Arnold’s book he talks about acting and preparing for scenes, especially scenes with stunts. They practice the stunts over and over to make sure they get them right and nobody gets hurt. More reps. His speeches he gave during his term as Governor of California and for other press conferences he practices over and over. Reps. Learning to be a good skier (even though he once broke his leg while skiing) requires practice and reps. Everything you want to be good at, whether you enjoy it or not, requires reps.

I can appreciate that. Not just because I lift weights myself, but because that’s what I do. I’ve published 30+ books, that’s a lot of reps of writing, editing, re-writing, re-editing, and so on and so forth. I’m getting pretty good at it, so good that my most recent finished rough draft of a full novel (Soulmates, book 3 in my Dark Earth series) took me 8 days to write, start to finish. It was a fun story but I don’t expect them all to be that quick. I also recently obtained my Security+ computer certification. In order to prepare for that test I did some studying and then lots of reps taking practice tests. My daughter has to read books every night for school and do other homework with math problems. Reps for her.

So clearly practice is what makes perfect, although perfection in anything is a goal we can never reach.

The other thing I took away from the book, aside from being educated, entertained, and impressed was that it’s only his side of the story. There are a lot of other stories that are untold. How did the Governator’s close friend, Franco Columbo, feel being in Arnold’s shadow his entire life (both because he almost always placed behind Arnold and because Arnold is so much taller than him)? What about the people he villainized in his pursuit of climbing to the top? The women he admits he treated unfairly in his earlier days of acting when he didn’t know any better? What about Maria Shriver, and the pain and humiliation she must live with every day for his admittedly foolish betrayal of her and their marriage vows? In his climb to the top he stepped on a lot of people.

Is winning worth the price? Can it be washed away by looking back and saying, “I’m sorry?” I certainly don’t want to cast a negative light on the guy. Heck, I’ve looked up to him since I was a little kid that stumbled across a TV version of Conan the Barbarian. I’d argue that his transgressions and offenses over the years aren’t that bad. He’s made mistakes, we all have. The only really big one, in my opinion, is the infidelity. Everything else comes with being human.

Or, as Nathan Fillion once said as Captain Malcolm Reynolds in an episode of Firefly (Jaynestown), “It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of a son of a bitch or another.”

I’m happy to be a writer. People buy books based on what they like. If they like my books more than somebody else’s then they’ll buy mine first. If they don’t then they’ll buy the other book first, but when they finish it they’ll come back and look at mine. Either way it’s a winning situation and nobody gets hurt, stepped on, or screwed over. I love helping other writers with whatever suggestions or tips I can too. It’s my way of trying to give back or give forward, depending on the situation.

Writing reminds me of lifting weights in many ways. It’s not a competition against other people. It’s a competition against myself. I want to write better every time, just like I want each workout to be better than the last. The difference is that with writing I can keep improving year after year. With lifting there will come a time when the gains will become less about putting more weight on and more about taking less weight off. The goal is to be healthy and as strong as I can be though, and the competition is against myself not against anyone else.

I don’t care if I’m the best. My records aren’t about beating anyone other than myself. As long as I can hold my head high and support myself and my family I’m winning. That’s good enough for me.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Leveling the Playing Field

February 18, 2013 Leave a comment

This post has almost nothing to do with writing! I say almost because I know me and I expect that, by the time I finish writing it, I’ll have found some way to mention or pimp my books out. I’m crafty like that.

Instead I’m going to talk about computer games. I’ve been into computer games for as long as there’s been computers with games on them. I started on the Atari 800 and then the Atari 2600 game console. Yeah, I was there from the beginning but I’m still young at heart. I’m having some friends over next month for a good old fashioned LAN party. For those who don’t know, that’s when we all bring our computers together and hook them up on the same network, then proceed to eat pizza, drink beer, and scream obscenities at each other while shooting one another in computer games. Male bonding at its finest! Although, for the record, we’d happily include any female gamers into the bloodshed as well if we knew any.

So I’ve been doing a little research lately trying to find some new games to play. The preferred medium is first person shooters, and so far it’s looking like some of the vintage classics are still holding their own (the early Battlefield games, Unreal Tournament(s), counter-Strike, Half Life and HL2, etc.). But I’ve found some fun new ones as well.

Left 4 Dead 2, for example. Zombie blasting has never been so fun! The only problem is that it’s only a 4 player cooperative style game, although it can be boosted to 4 vs 4 if one team is willing to play zombies. We tend to like the coop games because while most of us are well rounded contributors to society, there’s usually one or two that have spent far too much time gaming and are unstoppable. At that point all I’m left with is threatening to make them work out with me and dropping a few hundred pounds on their chest.

Another fun one I just discovered a couple of nights ago was Borderlands 2. Pretty neat, once you get into it, but it’s another game with only 4 person cooperative play available (and no deathmatch). Since I’m expecting at least 8 guys that kind of defeats the purpose. Another complaint I have about Borderlands 2 is the same I have with any RPG game that bases survival on a player’s level. That includes most of the otherwise outstanding games from Bethesda (Oblivion, Skyrim, Fallout, etc.).

Even taking suspension of disbelief into consideration there’s just no realism for having characters based on a system of leveling. Why Bethesda does a decent job in basing their levels off of skills, at least, but it still annoys me to have extra health occur because of that. There’s a role playing game out there that I used to love called Shadowrun. The characters had skills and attributes (stats that helped define their physical and mental abilities) but every character only had 100% health. Depending on how their attributes and armor played out was how they determined if they could be killed. So anybody could kill anybody, just like reality, but it ruled out flukes and ridiculously lucky die rolls (e.g. Bard shooting the dragon in The Hobbit with the legendary “Black Arrow”).

So why can’t game developers deliver a skill and attribute based game that makes sense? You want more health, pick up some weights and eat healthier (meaning improve the applicable stats in the game), don’t just magically improve because you wacked 10 frogloks in the head with a rusty spear.

Okay, rant over, now back to exploring games. For example, Last night I got my hands on a brand new FPS. Aliens: Colonial Marines. It takes place after the second Aliens movie (directed by James Cameron), when the Marine ship has discharged the pods due to contagion and it’s returned to orbit LV426. It shows promise, though I’ve only tried it for about 10 minutes so far. Cooperative play and deathmatch (against people playing as aliens). Cool stuff! I will say that in those first 10 minutes very early this morning the game set the mood very nicely and had me sufficiently freaked out.

The LAN party is still more than a month away so if there are any PC gamers out there with suggestions, I’d love to hear them! Until then I’ll try to sneak in a few minutes here and there exploring and expanding my recent game knowledge. Maybe blast some more aliens and feel inspired to write another Vitalis book. Some of the critters in that book have similarities to the aliens, at least as far as the gestation of young aliens inside a living host that will soon eat its way out.

See, told you I’d find a way to work my books in…

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

It’s Time for Some Payback!

February 16, 2013 Leave a comment

No tricks and no fancy play on words today. This post is about the release of my latest novel, Silver Dragon. I’ve blogged about it a few times but now it’s finally here. Silver Dragon is the third book in my Blades of Leander Series (Child of Fate and Victim of Fate preceded it). It picks up the story immediately after Alto has buried his fallen loved ones and follows him on his path of revenge.

Rather than waste time trying to drop teasers without spoiling the story, here’s the blurb, cover, and links. If you enjoy an epic fantasy that has a little bit of everything in it, head on over and pick it up.

Alto’s hands are stained with the blood of the fallen. The only justice he can find must be had by the blade, but the path of vengeance shows him that he is but a pawn in a far more dangerous game. Sarya’s plans reach far beyond anything the young warrior could imagine and require a sacrifice from him greater than he can give.

Alto must make fear his ally if he is to lead his companions into the dragon’s lair with any hope of saving the woman he loves and the two nations he calls home.

Silver Dragon, book 3 in the Blades of Leander fantasy series by Jason Halstead

Amazon

Amazon UK

Barnes and Noble (coming soon)

iTunes (coming soon)

Kobo

Smashwords

Sony (coming soon)

Print (coming soon)

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Burning Books The Right Way

February 15, 2013 1 comment

Wait a minute, I’m a writer. What the heck am I talking about burning books for? Especially given the positive context? Have I written one too many twisted scenes and pushed myself off the cliffs of insanity?

To the latter question: well maybe, but I leave that for those who know me best to decide. I don’t encourage or suggest burning books at any time though. Well, unless you’re trapped in an arctic wilderness and you need a source of heat to keep you warm and keep the hungry wolves at bay.

I’m talking about what I just managed over 8 completely normal days. 8 days where I spent time with my family, working out, and having a day job. 8 days where I wrote a book. A novel. 62,000 words. In 8 days. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m pretty darn pleased with myself. I do not, however, expect to be able to maintain a pace like that. It did require some sacrifice on the part of my family and for that I’m grateful beyond words. Still, the book burning referenced in the title applies to the speed of the digital pen on the digital paper. You know, digital friction and stuff. Right, moving on.

It’s a good book too, I’m going through a self edit before I send it off to my editor this weekend. So far I’m adding some content here and there and straightening confusing bits out. Really enjoying the story though, it’ told from the perspective of Stephanie Martin, a young lady whose life was just turned upside down.

You see, she was skipping school one day and stopped to grab some caffeine and a pack of smokes when she ran into this amazing woman and made the mistake of looking into her eyes. That’s all it took. Her soda hit the ground and she realized everything had changed. She had no idea why until the woman took her and led her away.

Weird turned to crazy when the woman explained that she was a witch. In spite of how impossible it was, Stephanie believed her. Then her new mistress showed her the magic that she could one day possess.

It’s not all broomsticks and cauldrons for a witch though. Stephanie’s new life exposed her to cruelty and injustices beyond anything she’d imagined. The savagery of the Dark Earth her mistress took her required her to embrace the savage within her if she wanted to survive.

Soulmates is a story of human spirit and the things that can happen to it. The book explores how much pain and evil we can endure. At what point does the human spirit give up or become too stained with sin to recover? How hard must a person fall before they understand that life isn’t about hitting others, but learning how to survive being hit themselves?

Soulmates is the third book in my Dark Earth series. It follows Devil’s Icebox and continues to touch on the lives of Eric and Jessica Baxter, Lady Cassiopeia Nelson, and the rotten men and women that seek to ruin them all. It is a testimony to the sadistic nature of the culture of the earth’s parallel world that a juvenile delinquent with a manipulative and troubled past can hope to bring light to the darkness.

It’s being edited now, I hope to have it available in early March, following the pending release of Silver Dragon.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

I Didn’t Fall Off the Wagon, I Broke It!

February 13, 2013 Leave a comment

I’m a man who’s owned a lot of grills in his life. I consider myself pretty good at grilling, whether its burgers, brats, steaks, ribs, or more. I’ve even tried shoving a half full beer can up a chicken’s keister and grilling it – it was awesome. Who knew chickens liked it in the can?

Since I moved my family to Novi, Michigan, we’ve been treated to a variety of culinary delights. It makes sense, really. The crappy weather in Michigan leaves people with a lot of time on their hands. Between mowing lawns between rain storms, shoveling snow between early thaws, and ice fishing why not eat?

So my wife and I have been trying to find and try some different places to eat. First we found a new Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi restaurant that I can’t recommend highly enough. It’s called Genji’s and it’s just off I-96 on Novi rd (north of I-96). On par with the best sushi I’ve ever had and not a wallet buster. My wife will rant and rave about their Tiramisu until she runs out of breath too.

We’ve tried some more regular places like Buffalo Wild Wings in the West Oaks Mall and Hooters (same mall). Decent food there too, which surprised me when it came to Hooters. Probably not as much as the staff was surprised when me, my wife, and my two children rolled in during the mid-afternoon one day, but that’s called spontaneity.

Then on Saturday my wife asked me if I’d been craving anything that I hadn’t had in a while. I had not. We were tired after an overnight trip with the kids and just feeling kind of blah. I thought about it more and more though and realized I hadn’t had a steak in a while, at least not one that we cooked / grilled at home (through trial and error I’ve discovered that I make the best steaks for me). I was considering giving somebody a chance to impress me when my mind drifted to ribs.

I’ll be the first to admit that while I like ribs, I get frustrated at the mess and the work involved. Still, I was feeling adventurous so I asked if there were any places that had decent ribs in the area. We passed over the usual Applebees and Outback. Not bad places, we’ve just been there, done that. She consulted her smartphone and a moment later came up with one we’d seen but never really thought much about. Famous Dave’s. They had all sorts of stuff and, after she read off a few menu items to me, we decided to give it a shot. They had stuff to keep the kids happy and feed us.

Our timing was perfect, right between rushes. The 20 – 25 minute wait quoted to us turned out to be 30 seconds. It was awesome. We sat down and were waited on right away and, after browsing the menu we made the mistake of ordering kids meals for the kids and decided to share a feast between my wife and I. It says it will feed 2 – 3 people so we figured we’d be safe and maybe have something I could take to work for lunch. In almost no time the food came. Amazing service.

It turned out the kids wanted to eat from the giant platter more than their plates, so that was the mistake we made. My wife and I gorged ourselves on protein and left with a couple of containers full of leftovers and we had to waddle to the car. As soon as we got home it was time for comfy pants. You know what I’m talking about. And yes, I finished off the smorgasbord of meat Monday at lunch at work. It was gluttony at its finest!

Their chicken and ribs are great but I have to give an 11 out of 10 for their beef brisket. Absolutely outstanding. I will go back again. And again. And maybe a few more agains.

For those who don’t know me (most of you), I’m a big guy. Not pear-shaped-big, but I-pick-up-heavy-things-big. I’m 6’1″ and 235lbs, but I can pick up over 500 pounds and my chest is bigger than my belly. My wife is also very athletic and active and keeps herself in good shape. Gorging ourselves to the point of misery is out of character for us, but it was that good. I don’t recommend doing so for a variety of reasons, but I do recommend trying this place out if you never have. Unless you’re a vegetarian – in that case stay far, far away from the deliciousness that is smoked and barbecued meat.

Fueled by the wonderful proteins and amino acids I’m now ready to crank out a few thousand more words on my next book, Soulmates, the third book in my Dark Earth series.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.