REVIEW – Who on Earth is Tom Baker? An Autobiography

Who on Earth is Tom BakerA bittersweet, poignant, and often funny look at the life of the man who occupied the shoes of a certain Time Lord in the mid to late 1970s. You can tell that Tom Baker is a very intelligent man, yet, despite his popularity as The Doctor, has almost crippling self-esteem issues. He admits as much and lays the blame for most of his misfortunes in life solely at his own feet, though I would argue his upbringing in war-torn Liverpool is more to blame to that than his own shortcomings. Whether his misfortunes are the result of bad decisions or bad circumstance, one can’t help but feel sympathy for this man who has brought so much entertainment to so many for so long.

I’m reminded of a poem, by Robert Burns, I believe:

Behind every clown is a sad man.
Beneath every smile there are tears.
In front of all women there are stop signs.
In the heart of all hero’s are fears.

Sometimes smiles and tears mingle.
My wish is all the time it’s that way.
Every woman and clown put all obstacles down,
Just turn around from sadness, each day.

The above two verses are simply brilliant.
I cannot think of what else I can say.
But this poem needs a third verse,
Sometimes it’s a curse.
But I smile as I am writing, it’s O.K.
If you’re looking for a behind-the-scenes look at Doctor Who, look elsewhere. It was a short 7-year period in this man’s life and largely seems to have been an escape from reality for him, a reality he perceives as being a string of failures, both before and after his time as The Doctor.

Who is Tom Baker? He was The Doctor and The Doctor was him. He remains a gifted, captivating story-teller.

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REVIEW – Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller

A New DawnThey say brevity is the soul of wit, but despite the brief nature of this review, it’s not particular witty. I think I originally wrote it on my Kindle (hence the brevity; virtual keyboards are difficult to write on).

A New Dawn is an action-packed look at the origin of the partnership between Hera Syndulla and Kanan Jarrus (of Disney XD’s “Star Wars Rebels” fame). While independently working against an Imperial scheme to mine a world in a manner which makes strip mining look environmentally friendly, Hera and Kanan meet and agree to work together to stop the Empire’s plan.

It gives a good look at Kanan’s background, and the source of his self-doubt, particularly his status as a reluctant former Jedi and rebel. It also develops Hera more than the animated series has thus far, shedding light on her motivations and dedication to the budding Rebellion.

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REVIEW – Iron Edda: Sveidsdottir by Tracy Barnett

Iron EddaI bought this not knowing quite what to expect. I backed the Iron Edda Kickstarter, so I knew there would be bound bones of giants, but that’s about it.

Iron Edda: Sveidsdottir primarily follows a young-woman born with the power of a Valkyrie who then gains the power of having the bones and spirit of a centuries-dead giant bound to her of course, with great power comes great responsibility and it is this lesson our protagonist must learn as she sets out to prevent Ragnarok.

The descriptions are evocative and the action moves along at a good clip. The characters are interesting and well-developed with ambitions, dreams, and flaws we can relate to. It’s a good, quick read set in an interesting fantasy world that is at once new and original yet not unfamiliar.

My only issue with Iron Edda: Sveidsdottir is something I think is a personal hang up. It’s written in a shifting viewpoint 1st person present tense. The only other time I’ve tried to read a shifting viewpoint first person, I found it extremely difficult because it would take me several sentences to figure out which character’s eyes I was looking through. Tracy Barnett helpfully labels each chapter with the name of the viewpoint character, so that helped. It’s a narrative style I’m not used to and I’m not sure I particularly like, but some quick research shows it seems to be a fairly common, modern style for this type of fiction. Like I said, it’s a personal hang up, and if it doesn’t bother you, then you’ll zip right through this story.

Iron Edda: Sveidsdottir is an excellent freshman effort from Tracy Barnett and I look forward to seeing where the story goes from here.

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REVIEW – The Heartland Trilogy by Chuck Wendig

I’m not going to get too optimistic and claim that reviews will become a regular feature here, but I’m going to try to start posting them if I write them for Goodreads/Amazon. Perhaps I’ll even make a separate page to archive them and make them easier to find after they’ve been lost to the blog update scroll.


I’m not a professional reviewer and if I do any sort of literary analysis, it’ll be because it just happened, not because I set out to do so. So, give it a few days and check back; I’ll likely have created pages for the reviews I previously posted on Amazon. For now, the freshest review is for the three books of Chuck Wendig’s The Heartland Trilogy.


When I started reading the series, I hadn’t actually heard anything about it (I looked some stuff up later). I bought it basically on the strength of Wendig’s blogging and because I liked the covers (see, people DO judge books on their covers).


Heartland1Under the Empyrean Sky

An exciting start to the Heartland Trilogy, Under the Empyrean Sky is what I can only describe as “rural dystopia.” The world is a place of inequality, where the elite live in floating cities and the rest toil on the ground scavenging or tending to the invasion corn species on which the economy revolves. Like Wendig’s other works I’ve read, Under the Empyrean Sky is fast-paced and relentless as it builds to its conclusion.

I found the dystopia depicted interesting because it wasn’t (as far as I can remember) the result of an apocalyptic war, or a zombie plague, or an alien invasion; it was just the result of the way the world progressed until the rich were able to leave behind the land worked by the poor.

The characters were well-developed, as well, and while there were clear divisions between who was “good” and who was “bad,” no one was without their flaws and even most of the antagonists had moments of sympathy. I’m interested to see where the story goes in Blightborn.



Blightborn picks up pretty much where Under the Empyrean Sky leaves off. Since I read this back-to-back with The Harvest, I won’t go as in depth as I normally might because the details blur together. Our main cast has been split up (which seems to be pretty standard for these kinds of stories; I’ve done it myself) and situations escalate. Everything proceeds very logically and the characters’ flaws often come back to bite them in the ass.


The story is done well-enough that by the time I got to book two in the series, it felt less like a dystopian story (though it clearly is) and more like rural fantasy. I guess there’s no reason it can’t be a rural fantasy set in a future dystopia. The Heartland could be the American Great Plain at some specified point in the future, but it doesn’t have to be and this is a strength. I don’t think the more fantastical elements of the story (and the Blight is definitely more like fantastic nature magic than a real-world mutation or disease) would work as well if one could pinpoint where and when in the real world this story is supposed to have taken place.


By the time I was ¾ of the way through the story, I started to get annoyed that some of the characters were making the same mistakes and I thought “Are these people stupid?” Well, no. Well, some of them are, but what I mean is: they’re young. It’s easy to forget that these characters are still teenagers. I don’t think any of the main characters are yet twenty. Most teenagers think they’re invincible and really need to be hit on the head before they learn a life lesson. So, it might get annoying, but it is realistic. More on that in The Harvest review.


Blightborn is a good necessary follow-up to Under the Empyrean Sky. Even more than its predecessor, when you reach the end, you’ll want to jump right into The Harvest.


So I did.


Heartland3The Harvest

Book three of The Heartland Trilogy, The Harvest picks up the story about a year after the events of Blightborn. The characters are a little older, though not much wiser. Lane and Gwennie have undergone the most change, not counting Cael and Wanda’s physical changes. I mentioned in my review of Blightborn that I was annoyed that some of the characters kept making the same stupid mistakes, belated realized it was a flaw of their ages, not of characterization. More the same here, and to their credit, they didn’t kill a few characters that I really wish they had (it gives them a stronger moral standing). Had Wendig indulged in that type of revenge fantasy, the meaningful deaths in the story wouldn’t have had as much meaning, either to the readers or the characters.


Not everyone in The Harvest has a happy ending, or at least, the happy ending I think most readers expect. That’s okay. That makes for a better story and the conclusion is still satisfying. I think the unexpected fates of some of the characters makes the conclusion MORE satisfying. Every characters earns their end. I didn’t reach the end and declare with incredulity “That’s IT?” Not that I was expecting, to, but it wouldn’t be the first time I reached the end of a well-regarded trilogy and been disappointing that some reset button had been pressed or that the character I wanted to DIE DIE DIE ended up having a happily ever after .


The Heartland Trilogy covers world-changing events, and by the end the world has, indeed, been changed, for good or ill. I enjoyed that the end didn’t create a magical, wonderful life for all the characters. Happily ever after is fine and dandy, but it has to be tempered through the eyes of the characters to be true. Life isn’t easy and clean and so it is not for these characters. They’ve been tempered by the events of the story and come out the other side better people.


Wendig has received some criticism about profanity and sexuality in his YA works, and these are YA fiction. Compared to the type of language I heard from my peers at that age, these books are mild. The sex? There’s nothing graphic. There a homosexual relationship, but I’m not even going to address those criticisms because they’re not worth the effort it would take. I will say report of a “gay agenda” in Wendig’s writing, in this series in particular, are grossly misleading. I’m not sure those people read the same books I did.


Read The Heartland Trilogy. You won’t be sorry you did. Unless you HATE corn. Corn-o-phobes might be uncomfortable, and there are some elements of body horror, but it’s not really framed that way.

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Social Media Consolidation & Scars of the Sundering, book 2: Lament Update

For a while now, I’ve maintained two Twitter handles: @JediSoth and @hccummings. I started @hccummings with the idea that I should keep my writing separate from my gaming and personal life tweets. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The only problem was, keeping them separate meant I mostly tweeted from @hccummings when I was trying to drive sales. It was difficult to engage with my audience because to get everyone, I had to tweet from both accounts. People who followed both saw a lot of duplicate tweets.

So, this week I made the decision to go back to one Twitter handle. @JediSoth would seem to be the logical choice, since I had tens of thousands of tweets with that handle, but I chose to migrate who I followed from that handle to @hccummings, instead (a high-tech process of manually following everyone I wanted to migrate, a process that’s still on-going with some of the less-frequent Tweeters I follow).

I had a very practical reason for that decision: the new business cards I ordered have the @hccummings handle on them. As do my bookmarks. Also, I felt that if I want to be taken seriously as a writer, I should treat it seriously. My books are written by Hans Cummings, not JediSoth, so @hccummings is more recognizable as far as that goes. Fortunately, most of the people with whom I engaged on @JediSoth followed me over, for which I am very grateful. I’ve picked up some additional followers, as well, which is nice.

In other news, sales of Malediction have been relatively strong, and it already has two 5-star reviews on Amazon. I’ve been trying to finish up the new first chapter of book 2, Lament, a move necessitated when I changed the ending of Malediction. I’m finding it difficult to get back into the headspace of these characters at that point in their development. I was halfway through the manuscript for book 3, Salvation, when I stopped to publish the final version of Malediction. A lot has happened to Kale, Delilah, Pancras, and Edric in that time. My goal is to have the first draft of Lament finished by the end of the month and have it published by the end of Q1 2016. I also have a goal of finishing up the first draft of Salvation by the end of the year so I can get it published by Gen Con 2016.

Once I finish up Scars of the Sundering, I will work on Zack Jackson & the Secret of Venus. It’s been a long break since Zack Jackson & The Hives of Valtra, but I think the series will be better for it. I’ve not been idle, and I do have plans. You’ll just have to be patient!

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Gen Con Wrap-Up – An Author’s Perspective

2015 was my third year exhibiting my books on Author’s Avenue at Gen Con. Over 61,000 attendees converged on downtown Indianapolis for four days of gaming and geekery. A percentage of them purchased my novels (it was a statistically insignificant percentage, but we’re talking numbers here). On Thursday I sold through half of my inventory of Malediction. On Friday, I sold very few copies of Malediction, but quite a bit of everything else. Saturday and Sunday were down overall, but I sold a good mix, and by the end of the day on Sunday, Malediction was sold out.

Based purely on impressions and feelings, Saturday and Sunday were awful and it felt like the worst Gen Con yet. Fortunately, my wife and I wanted evidence to support those feelings, so we crunched the numbers. Despite our impressions, I sold to a similar number of customers each year. Revenues were down, but that was a function of having sold through my The Foundation of Drak-Anor Gen Con Exclusive hardcovers. In other words, what I sold this year was less expensive than the last two years. I actually sold more books this year than last year. My sales were good enough to cover the costs of the table and the inventory I purchased to sell (not the hotel, but that was expected).

Still, most of my sales were to familiar faces. While I do appreciate their support (and am thrilled if one of them has a fanboy/fangirl moment), I’d like to increase my exposure. The statue of Ix I had sculpted was a good table draw. Having a table that faced an actual Dealer Hall aisle (as opposed to one that was fully within Author’s Avenue) helped. My vertical banner was visible from several rows over, so that helped, too. I don’t know if being featured in Nuvo with all the other Gen Con articles did anything for me or not, but I did notice a few Kindle sales (and someone seems to have blasted through the entire book they borrowed through Kindle Unlimited over the weekend).

I think the next step will be to actually become part of the Writer’s Symposium and take part in seminars and workshops. I’m going to have to figure out how to accomplish that for next year.

My decision whether or not to return to Gen Con next year will depend on how Gen Con handles Author’s Avenue next year, and whether or not I am an official part of the Writer’s Symposium. We weren’t able to rebook on site (and weren’t last year, either), so I have to wait and see if any policy changes are made. I have heard grumblings from other authors that are concerning, but these grumbles aren’t accompanied by evidence. One thing that will affect my decision is the fact that the income-to-expense ratio at ConQuesT was more favorable than it was a Gen Con; i.e. I made more money compared to what I spent to exhibit. I’m beginning to think multiple smaller conventions might be more advantageous than one huge con. Gen Con has a logistical advantage though, which cannot be overstated: it’s practically in my back yard.


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Gen Con – Where I Will Be

If you plan on looking for me at Gen Con (and let’s be honest, why wouldn’t you?), then take a gander at this map. I’ll be at the little red square most of the convention. That’s table AF on Author’s Avenue, around 1250, if you’re proficient navigating by the row numbers dangling from the ceiling. Just look for the 6′ tall minotaur banner and my ruggedly handsome face!



I will have copies of all of my books for sale, including the first novel in the Scars of the Sundering trilogy, Malediction (making its world debut at Gen Con!). Purchasers of Zack Jackson novels will get their very own Junior Ranger patch, too! (I’d sell ’em, but Gen Con won’t let me at an Author’s Avenue table.)

You can also see Anna B. Meyer’s beautiful map in poster-sized. There might be a Valtraxian at the table, too. Hope to see you next week!

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Scars of the Sundering, Book 1 – Malediction – Pre-Orders Available!

SoS MaledictionAfter MUCH heartache, Scars of the Sundering, Book 1: Malediction is now up for pre-order on Amazon!

Pancras thought trouble waited at the end of his journey.

Shadow demons, chaos rifts, and petty archmages all conspire to disrupt his quiet life. Summoned to face a Mage’s Guild inquest over minor grievances, the minotaur wizard leaves home and travels south with his companions, the twins Delilah and Kale.

Harsh winter weather traps them in an unfriendly city where a run-in with a drunken bully leaves him dead and the trio in jail. Fortunately, the opportunistic prince of the city needs a wizard to curse his unwanted wife. The only catch is Pancras’s sense of honor.

As he stalls for time, the twins involve themselves in an uprising in the city’s salt mines. Pancras left necromancy behind him, but it’s looking more and more like he’ll need to break his moral code–and further anger the Mage’s Guild–to get them out of the city in one piece.

The paperback is also available at Amazon, and, of course, at CreateSpace (where I make more money per copy). I’ll have copies at Gen Con, of course, at table AF on Author’s Avenue (roughly row 1250).

I posted earlier (The Challenge of Malediction) exactly what I went through to get this book finished. It’s such a relief to be done. Basically, this book was delayed by multiple illnesses and deaths (yes, that’s supposed to be plural). It really lived up to its title.

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The Challenge of Malediction

:  curse, execration<the maledictions of great poets, whose hate confers an unwelcome immortality — John Buchan>


Middle English malediccioun, from Late Latin malediction-, maledictio, from maledictus (past participle ofmaledicere to curse) + Latin -ion-, -io -ion

First Known Use: 14th century

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Scars of the Sundering – Malediction

Edits are back for book 1 of the Scars of the Sundering trilogy, Malediction! Cover art is finished! The new map is finished! All that remains is incorporating some Beta Reader feedback and doing a final revision pass.

That means that I will have print copies to sell at Gen Con at the end of the month! Official, that’s Thursday, July 30th 2015. In the meantime, here’s the cover art, by Lily Yang.

Malediction Cover art - medium

Since the character went to new places and I fleshed the world out more than I had in The Foundation of Drak-Anor series, I decided to have the map updated, as well. Anna B. Meyer did a fantastic job updating the look of the World of Calliome!


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