So why all this game design stuff lately?


Little more than a year ago, I purchased Forbidden Island at a game shop. Why? I don’t know. I was in a geeky mood, I was comfortable with the price range, seemed simple enough to play, the packaging looked like metal heaven…

forbidden island designed by matt leacock

This was my first tabletop game purchase. I know it’s not Dungeons and Dragons or anything, but it was the first time I bought an “in-depth” game. You know, with strategy and figurines and stuff. Before that, my purchases were strictly Connect Four. I really like me some Connect Four.

I wasn’t sure if I bought a dud, to be honest. I just new I could afford it. Luckily, it turned out to be one of the greatest games ever. A story of adventure on a doomed island, complete with treasures, exotic locales, and approximately a billion ways to lose. But in a good way.

Look at that. I just used the word story to describe a board game. But Forbidden Island had everything I was looking for in a great tale. And then I started thinking about all the stories I had written, and how those would play out as games.

It was about that time I received the latest issue of Game Informer in the mail. This particular issue had an interview with four indie game designers. Yes, it was mostly geared towards video games, but one of the designers said something that really resonated with me.

Whether it’s a video game, board game, or card game you’re working on–just finish it. Make it and finish it.

Or something to that effect. I drank in every word of that interview. That night, between waiting tables, I outlined my first card game. The next day I made index card mockups of all the cards. I spent the next several days making designs and learning Photoshop.

A couple weeks later, Darwin’s Moths arrived at my door in all its glossy, laminated glory.

mothsmoths prototype








cardback 2 wood card border_final









I dunno. Maybe I was in need of a new passion. Maybe I was just bored. But somehow designing games just clicked. I wanted to do it. They say writers write to fill a gap in literature, because something they would want to read is missing. I think that holds true with designing games. Especially true. Because there’s a lot of wiggle room for skill and strategy. For example, I love the depth of story involved in Magic the Gathering, but a lot of it is so daunting and overwhelming, I rarely bring myself to seek out a match. Also $$$$$$$$.

So there must be some layer between casual board game and deck-building super strategy roleplay. And I want to find it. Granted Moths might be looking like a one-hit wonder at the moment. But between Gen Con updates and my buddy Kickstarting his tabletop game about superheroes, the spark is coming back.

In fact…

Prototyping a New board game

It has begun.


Oh man. 4th of July kicked my butt. I hope all the mosquitoes enjoyed the Bacardi 151 they sucked out of my veins.

This was the first weekend in awhile that I didn’t have anything to do but enjoy Independence Day in all its nostalgic Americana glory. But between jetsetting around my old stomping grounds, it wasn’t the most relaxing vacation. The food and drink was merry, don’t get me wrong, and the company was awesome, but I’m going to be in Yawnsville for awhile.

But this shouldn’t drain too much of my creative juices. Hopefully.

As of today I was (double!) nominated for a Liebster Award. Sort of a blog chain letter–but in a good way. The best way, really, because it allows me to talk about myself. So I’ll answer the 11 questions that Kory Shrum asked in her awesome, tear-jerky post, and THEN I’ll answer Angela Roquet’s 11 and THEN I’ll pose some of my own! Hopefully I’ll be able to think of 11 bloggers to tag by then. Anyway, here goes!

Shrum’s Questions

1. What fictional character do you want as your best friend?
My gut reaction was Caine, from Matthew Stover’s Heroes Die series. He’s just an all-around badass that is endlessly loyal to his friends and family. However, he’s more than a little threatening so I might end up screening his phone calls on an occasion or two. If we’re talking casual hangout, then I’d have to go with my all-time favorite literary little brother, Charles Wallace from A Wrinkle in Time.

2. When you are writing/blogging, do you have to have a snack? If yes, what?

If yes? If? Who answered ‘no’ to this, honestly? Hells yes, I have to have a snack. Do I always have access to one? No. But if I have my choice it’s the epic combo of a Fika coffee (Cajamarca, Peru Blend) and a S’mores Bar from the Cook County Co-op. That’s truly heaven. In a pinch I’ll take any old coffee and a scone.

smores bar and fika coffee from cook county whole foods coop, writing snack, mikel andrews3. What is your first memory of writing/blogging?

I don’t know where this actually fits in the chronology of my career, but I remember I had this pet Monarch butterfly that I raised from a caterpillar. I named him(?) Buttercup and I told the story of his life and how he came back to visit me every summer. I realize now that was impossible, but it made me want to write about impossible things.

It’s been robots and wizards ever since.

4. Who has been your biggest fan so far?

Been a lot of supportive writers and readers along the way, but I think as far as sheer enjoyment of my work, that award would have to go to the elusive A.S. Hooghkirk because I know for a fact that he’s the only person that read Coming of Mage twice!

5. If you could have one super power what would it be?

Of all the cool powers I’ve heard of (and thought of) over the years, I think I have to go with healing powers or immunity to all disease. I’m too much of a hypochondriac to pick anything else. Plus, the extra work I could get down without being crippled by fear would be exponential.

6. What “gets you in the mood” to write/blog?

It’s usually a good story, but lately it has been a good movie or TV show. When I see something on film that moves me, I want to be able to do that with literature. Take back the original storytelling medium from that show-off Television!

Writing a blog though? Usually a weekend where I’m not working. My life is so boring that even the slightest upset in routine seems to be worth blogging about.

7. What book has been most influential to you and your writing/blogging?

A Wrinkle in Time definitely kickstarted my writing at a young age. But the writing I strive to emulate is the seemingly effortless, lyrical, soothing styles of Joe Meno‘s Hairstyles of the Damned.

8. What job would you HATE to have?

This answer would have been easier to answer a month ago when I was more gainfully employed. Now I’m less picky. I think probably a civil defender? A lawyer that doesn’t get to choose the cases. Having to defend a clear-cut criminal terrifies me.

9. Do you want to be a rich, famous, or admired? (Only 1 and why?) 

Oh boy. See previous answer. I’m going to have to go with rich at the moment. When I have a steady paycheck, we’ll go with admired. To quote Michael Scott:

Do I want to be feared or loved? Um…easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.

10. How long have you been writing/blogging and how long do you think you’ll write/blog?

Blogging since 2010, writing since I could hold a pen. To the latter part: Ideally foreverish?

11. Tell us about your real or imaginary “happy” place.

My happy place is Grand Marais. I got some of my best writing done there and it’s the most beautiful, relaxing town in the entire world. That feels really weird to say because as of a month ago, it also became my “imaginary” happy place because I moved away. I try to picture it when I write now, but the constant flow of traffic and lack of mufflers outside my window is distracting.


Roquet’s Questions

1. Are you a stationary or traveling writer? Do you write in one preferred place or migrate around?

I’m pretty stationary. To ride the coat tails of Kory’s last question, when I was in GM, I frequented lots of spots with my laptop. But do I fly to Portland to to get some solitude? Nope. I do really want to do that Amtrak train residency thing. That would be amazing.

2. If you could be mentored by one writer/blogger who would it be and why?

Oh, boy. I think Karen Traviss is one of the hardest working writers around. She writes in a lot of existing universes and her tales are always top notch. She goes into these worlds with almost no recon on the characters and ends up understanding them better than authors that study them their whole lives. I’m talking mostly about her Star Wars work, but her Halo and Gears of War novels are outstanding too. I think I’d like to be taught her level of dedication and ability to humanize anyone and anything.

3. On a scale of 0 to SQUIRREL! how distracting do you find the internet when you’re writing?

About Squirrel.5

I barely got through these questions without social media-ing.

4. Do you ever enjoy writing with a partner or do you prefer typing solo?

Truthfully, I haven’t collabo’ed on a particular story. I would really like to, but one of the major reasons I haven’t pushed it is because I do like to fly solo on the byline. However, I’ve always wanted to do this Halloween thing….hint hint, wink wink….

5. When it comes to burning the midnight oil, what keeps you going? Tea, coffee, soda, Redbull, jumping jacks, heavy metal?

All of those, simultaneously.

Coffee really gets me going, but I don’t dare drink it in the evening. I do enjoy the taste of the blue Monster energy drink. But if it’s serious business, diet Rockstar is the only way to fly. For emergencies only though.

6. Do you have a comfort read? A book/blog you return to when you’re feeling down or just nostalgic?

I tend not to re-read things (mostly because I’m a wicked slow reader). The only book I’ve ever re-read is James and the Giant Peach. When I need a little inspiration, I thumb through the novelization of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. I do keep a copy of Laurence Yep’s Dragon of the Lost Sea on my bookshelf. I haven’t re-read it (yet) but I know what’s inside, and it always unlocks my creative side.

7. Have you ever met someone famous you admired? If so, tell the story of how it happened.

Just a few months ago, I got to meet Jimmy Mac from Rebel Force Radio at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim. I’ve been listening to his amazingly professional podcast since 2010. It got me through some dismal days on the North Shore, and taught me a lesson in embracing my geekdom and giving it your all when it comes to podcasting. How it happened? I was totally starstruck (and buzzed from the cash bar) and my friends who hadn’t really listened to the show ended up doing all the talking. Still a great opportunity (and photo op).

8. When you pass on into the unknown, what do you think (or hope) will be the title of your biography?

What a Long Life Full of Pizza: The Mikel Andrews Story or The Father of Dragons

9. If your biography were to be turned into a documentary, who do you think would be cast to play you?

I’d like to think Chris Pratt, but I think it has to be Patton Oswalt. Actually he already played me in Young Adult, so there you go.

10. When it comes to books: physical, digital, or both?

Physical. I won’t pass on a great story because it’s digital, but I much prefer the heft of a good book.

11. Do you keep a writing/blogging schedule, or do you write when the mood hits you?

When the mood hits me. Although I try to make it hit the same time every week. ;)

Here are the rules I need to share:

– Answer the 11 interview questions
– In that post, link back to the person who awarded you.
– Choose 11 other bloggers to award, focusing on those with 200 followers or below.
– Link to those bloggers in your post, then go and leave them comments to share the good news!
– Be sure to ask them 11 original questions.

I Choose You:

Christine M. Butler

Sarvenaz Tash

Kelly Hashway

Matt Forbeck

Elizabeth Burch

D.H. Nevins

April Sopkin


Christian Schoon

Lizzie Smith Emerson

Eric Luke

To Answer:

1. Using five fictional (any medium) characters, assemble a dream team to go on a quest with:

2. Be honest. What is your level of expertise when it comes to entomology?

3. If you could only have one pizza for the rest of your life, what toppings would you choose?

4. What is the WORST idea for a story/book/movie/whatever you have ever had?

5. It’s time to write. What Artist Radio do you choose on Spotify/Pandora?

6. Ghosts, aliens, or wizards. Which makes a more compelling read? Which makes a more compelling WRITE?

7. What MOVIE gets you in the mood to write?

8. If you were forced to give up writing/blogging, what would you replace it with?

9. Which character of yours were you supposed to kill off but didn’t? (If you’re not a fiction writer: what fictional character death have you never gotten over?)

10. What’s your favorite personal blog post? The one that really didn’t feel like work to write. (Don’t forget a link!)

11. Favorite cartoon. I’m talking the writing/story is sooooo good you can’t even feel guilty about it.


Thanks, everybody, it’s been a great week! I’d like to thank the cast…the musical guest…Lorne…and thanks again to Kory and Angela for the tag! Mom, don’t wait up, I’m going to the after party!

stones throw

I’m back in the Great White Wet North for the weekend, a couple hours away from a shift at my old job.

Desperate times, desperate measures, yada, yada, yada.

It feels weird. Amazing, but weird.

I’ve been gone about 20 days which, in the world of social networks, is no time at all. The hugs have been polite, the excitement contained to a dull roar.

Mikel’s back. Shocker.

That’s kind of the way it is with the locals. People who live here, the ones in it for the long haul, treat people that move like a joke. A punchline. A 50s sitcom husband yelling at the wife’s taxi cab, “Oh, you’ll be back! Mark my words!” And, honestly, it wouldn’t be the first time, I boomeranged back to the welcoming arms of Grand Marais.

But it’s different this time. I can’t go back to my apartment and have a cup of coffee on the deck–the family that moved in the day we moved out might not take to kindly to that. And I had to circle around the downtown a few times to find a parking spot! Where I used to just shake my head at those minivans that drove by me 4 or 5 times, taking the tour, waiting for a spot to open up–today I was that schmuck.

A tourist. Non-residential.

Even though I know my way around the town, and despite bumping into someone I know at every place I’ve stopped, there’s still something…wrong. The town seems to know I’m not one of them anymore.

Yeah, it hurts. A beautiful sword with a sharp edge. But, to be fair, I chose to leave.

For today, for the moment anyway, I’m camouflaged: with my locally-roasted coffee and my fresh baked rhubarb crumble from the farmers market, holed up in my favorite writing spot, the town probably thinks all is as it should be. A familiar ache in its knee.

Just here while it rains.

Gone tomorrow.

it’s been one week

Posted: June 10, 2015 in life
Tags: , , , ,

…since I moved to the Burbs. It is not as cool as the Tom Hanks movie led me to believe. I have had zero wacky escapades with over-the-top neighbors and solved zero murders.

It’s also been about a week since I left the house. Is this a product of running out of money, or anxiety about traffic? Let me answer that with a question: why do those things have to be mutually exclusive?

Newsflash: I’m still unemployed. I haven’t lost hope entirely, but let’s just say my fingernails are getting mighty short. On the upside, I’m getting to fulfill my lifelong dream of doing nothing at all. Which gives me plenty of time to jack into Lynda training like it’s the Matrix and simultaneously work on my short story contest entry.

There have been a couple wins.

1) I found a natural foods co-op comfortably close to my new place. Not walking distance, like in Grand Marais, but close. I was actually cheering in the aisles. When you’re in a strange city after 5 years of smalltown North Shore living, you have no idea how good it is to see your favorite brand of low-sodium, organic chickpeas.

2) I got a few hard copies of Badass & the Beast delivered yesterday. So I got to do my favorite thing in the world, which is sitting down in a comfy chair and vainly read my own work.


So other than being a pretentious asshole, I’ve spent my days sending out resumes and playing with my roommate’s dog. I’ve been out exploring. Found the closest watering hole and forced it to be ‘comfortably within walking distance.’ Today, I walked to Caribou Coffee and spent the last of my checking account on a Campfire Mocha. Totally worth it. What was I going to do with $8.49 anyway? Just kidding, it was slightly less than that.

Okay, so my funds dried up a little quicker than I imagined. I miss my friends on the North Shore. Yes, I said friends. The endless traffic outside my window is tougher to sleep through than crashing waves and seagulls. The temperature is not conducive to my epic hoodie collection. And establishing a routine has been next to impossible.

Maybe that’s a good thing. Ruts are for the birds.

All is not lost, but…I am gonna need a bigger win than organic chickpeas.

last day in grand marais

Posted: June 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

tumblr_ls5ia2yb601qb87bqo1_500 Here it is. My last day in Grand Marais. My belongings are waiting for me in the new townhouse. Or stuffed unceremoniously in my car. And I have one night to say goodbye to everyone and everything this town has given me. So here I sit, sipping an organic coconut water from the Co-op, trying to get my game face on, listening to the “Pop Chillout” station on Spotify, tearing up when Mumford and Sons plays, and recounting all the things I did and didn’t do.

The day so far has been a mellow one. For a guy notorious for moving solely for the going away party, it’s been a pretty somber affair. Started the day with my favorite snack: a smores bar and locally-roasted Fika Coffee.

smores bar

Had a gyro and a beer up on the roof of Sydney’s.

Swung by the local book store and signed a copy of Coming of Mage–even got it a spot on the summer promotional display.

mage solstice

Sat in the harbor, taking panorama shots of the sailboats between the lighthouses.


Poked my head into all the little shoppes, knowing full well that even if I could afford another souvenir, it would split my little blue car at the seams.

I tasted the air. Chewed on my lip. Rubbed my eyes. Blamed it on allergies.

It’s not that I’ve never moved before. There’s been plenty of that. It’s that I’ve never left someplace I loved so much.

I think back to what brought me up there in the first place. It was about 5 years ago to the day actually. My Hollywood Video job was about 2 weeks expired. I had just finished up the mandatory class required to get unemployment. My lease was ending. All my stuff was packed. And even though I’d been telling people for weeks that “Yeah, my cousin’s working at a restaurant up north, so I’m going to go see if I can wait tables,” I still didn’t feel like I was moving. I’d been to Grand Marais briefly when I helped Wally and his family move. I remembered there was a gas station, and that it was cold. But I knew that I was going there. That there was no turning back. This was the path I’d chosen.

At first, it was a prison sentence. I lived in a frigid, cement basement. Most nights I would get just drunk enough that it wouldn’t bother me to scrape the spiders off the underside of my pillow. I served food in a busy, understaffed restaurant, pushing myself to the brink of a coronary day after day. I babysat. I stayed around the house for the most part. Waited for winter. I started this blog, and took this lonely picture out of the window in the living room:


After a year, I figured out I was ready to bolt. I missed my friends. I missed Target. I thought I was ready to return to civilization. But I was wrong. And we all know how that turned out.*

*If you don’t remember the Fucklebees Saga, refer to my Facebook circa 2011.

So I came back to the North Shore and jumped in headfirst. I hiked, climbed, and did. And did. And did. And did. I stayed busy. I wrote a book. I wrote a lot. I embraced kale. I lost weight. I canceled my Netflix. I fell in love.

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah. Why I’m leaving.

Truthfully, I don’t know. There were reasons–are reasons. It’s just that today I can’t remember any of them, other than that I no longer have keys to my old apartment.

It’s not like when I left St. Cloud. I’ve tried to channel 2010 Mikel in the last few days, but he’s not there. This place changed him.

But I try to remember how scared I was. Broke, unemployed, banking everything on the idea that the unknown was better than the present.

It’ll be different this time. There will be more traffic, for starters.

However, as of this moment–this tiny pinpoint where everything and nothing can change–I still have tonight. One night to find solace in my favorite haunts. To see everything I’ve grown accustomed to through a wet, salty haze. To laugh. To remember. To say goodbye.

To never forget.


Posted: May 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

In a few minutes I’ll be heading to the Grand Marais Farmers Market. Just the thought lights me up like a Christmas tree. The fresh coffee, the baked goods–there’s this one lady who makes these, I don’t know…bars, I guess. They’re phenomenal–the birdhouses, the polished rocks, the crafts. I think if I’d have been scheduled to work today, I’d have quit my job.

A week early.

Yeah, I guess the cat’s out of the bag. I’m leaving the North Shore. Again. Why? Because it’s now or never. It’s truly now or never. I’m falling in love with this place, and it’s not the good love. It’s the “I feel so safe I never ever want to leave” type of love.

I mean, why do people leave anywhere, right? Greener pastures. The chance for your hopes and dreams to come true. The chance for adventure.

But for the last 5 years, I’ve had adventure. I’ve had more adventure than I could handle. I walked out my front door everyday into adventure.

Where am I going? Closer to the Cities. Not in the Cities, because that’s insanity, but closer. The job market’s looking good. The jobs I wanted to do didn’t even exist last time I was looking, so things are on the upswing. Economy. Family. Friends.

That’s the surface answer, right? The one you tell a stranger at cocktail parties. The truth is, I’m lonely. It’s extreme solitude up here. I used to want that more than anything. But now it feels like I’m hiding. Like I’m on the lamb, as the flatfoots might say. I’m not. I’m just a victim of the Grand Marais Bug. The endless lake that feels so much like an ocean, that when I finally visited the real ocean for the first time a month ago, I was like, “Yeah? And?” The bluffs and mountains that I drive through daily. The seemingly infinite rivers running off walls of red rock, trickling down and catching the sunlight. The foxes I see almost weekly. The look on out-of-towners’ faces–that jealousy–that I get to live here. Permavacation.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I’m not appreciating it as much as I should anymore.

But…I’m going to make it up to you, Grand Marais. I have one week. I’m going to explore every corner. Breathe deep at every stop. Drink in these last few moments as a resident. I’m going to put my phone down and just remember you the old fashioned way.

The town that saved me. The place that held my hand while I wrote my book. The spot on the map that I didn’t even know existed that made me remember what it was to be alive. I owe you one.

But first, coffee and some of those bar thingies.

“What’s your name, little girl?”

“Alice,” I lied.

“Well, Alice,” she said, steepling an eyebrow, “if you’re very quiet, I’ll show you a magic trick.”

BadassTourBannerMay2015< last stop: monica la porta                           next stop: shelly m. burrows >


Awhile back I was approached to be part of a project that I didn’t even hesitate to say yes to. The Mission?

  • 1) Assemble a team of authors to create an anthology of stories with one thing in common: a badass female protagonist with an loyal animal companion.
  • 2) Donate all the proceeds to a charity whose cause was animal well-being.

I loved everything about this idea. Pure genius. Today, I’m very happy/proud/elated/stoked to say Mission Accomplished.

The aptly-named Badass and Beast launched last week, with all proceeds being donated to the Animal Welfare Institute. How awesome is that?

Also awesome? Because of my last name, I got top billing! Whoo! First story in the pack, y’all! I know most of you probably assume that I struck a side deal because of my massive ego, but really it just comes down to good ol’ alphabetical luck. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Oh, the story? I guess I can talk about that too. 

My story is called Follow the Fox. On the surface, it’s the story of one young girl’s quest to find the thief that wronged her, but as the mystery unravels, it’s clear there’s much more going on.

Additionally, if you’re a fan of Prohibition-era Chicago, steampunk hijinks, or just a good caper, this tale is for you. And, if you couldn’t tell from the title, this story contains the greatest creature ever: the fox.


My Spirit Animal

Long story short: if you’ve been craving a classic Mikel Andrews story, this is it. Or if you just want to make a purchase that you can feel good about, it fulfills that too.

Or you can try to win a copy here, along with some other sweet swag (like beer glasses, books, and $50 Amazon gift card! Whaaaaaat?!)

Buy an awesome book. Feel all the feels. Help some animals. Invest in some karma. Be a badass.

What are you waiting for?


*I also want to thank Kory Shrum and Angela Roquet for giving me the opportunity to tag along on this ride and for putting in some serious pro-bono editing hours. They are awesome–and conveniently featured in the anthology along with some major talent that I’m honored to share these pages with.

The Badass and the Beast Tour Continues!

May 5th            Kory M. Shrum
May 6th            Angela Roquet
May 7th            Kathrine Pendleton
May 8th            Monica LaPorta
May 11th          Mikel Andrews
May 12th          Shelly M. Burrows
May 13th          Liz Schulte
May 14th          Jason T. Graves 
May 15th          Jasie Gale

short story contest

Posted: May 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

Just a quick post to remind any of you aspiring authors out there that Makeout Creek is holding their first ever Short Fiction Contest.

Makeout Creek is an indie magazine/publisher near and dear to my heart. Cool style, great vibe, and great people. And they want YOU! Possibly. If you have the chops. You have to have the chops, right?


  • Judged by Tom De Haven, author of It’s Superman! and Freaks’ Amour
  • $100 prize + publication in Issue 8 + 5 copies of Issue 8 + Makeout Creek back catalog
  • Submission period: April 2 – June 2, 2015
  • Send submissions to w/ subject line “contest/title/author”
  • 4000 word max, any genre or subject or style
  • $6 entry fee, payable via PayPal to

**Please note: submission email is different from payment email**

Remember this little bombshell?


So about 8 months ago, I was “interviewing” author Kory M. Shrum about her book series starring a certain undeadish young woman named Jesse Sullivan. You know, that seemingly-immortal snark factory of a girl that has made a decent living for herself dying in place of others for a job that’s half-FBI, half-insurance agent?

Uh, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, drop everything and go get the the book here. It’s FREE, by the way (because Kory rocks!!)

Anyway, at the time of that post, I had just finished book 2, Dying by the Hour, in which half the story is told by Jesse’s assistant/partner/best friend/sometimes more, Ally. It was pretty clear that Kory was into playing with perspectives, one of my favorite writer tricks. And, as I neared the end of my 20 Questions list, I threw out a wild card. It was just supposed to be innocent. For funsies.

Brinkley. Hint hint. ;) 

I nearly spit out my coffee. Like some sort of paranormal-fiction version of Woodward and Bernstein, I had stumbled upon a literary revelation. I’d inadvertently cracked a mystery wide open. I guess it’s true: sometimes you just gotta keep pulling the sweater.

But enough about me moonlighting as a book detective, let’s get to the meat and potatoes here.

dying for her

Hint hint indeed, Ms. Shrum. Almost 8 months to the date of that post, we get Dying for Her, a book told entirely from the perspective of James Brinkley, Jesse’s FBRD handler turned rogue agent. Well-played.

When I first read that infamous Post-It note, my first instinct was Wow. That’s gutsy. Taking a peripheral character, a character that I wasn’t all that invested in to be honest, and just about the only character without a cool power, and give us an entire book from his perspective.

Gutsy, to say the least.

But, having just finished Dying for Her, I have to say it was probably my favorite book of the entire series thus far.

Is it a true sequel? No, because a majority of it takes place in the past. So is it a true prequel then? No, because a lot of it catches up with the present, even going as far as fleshing out the events of Book 2.

So what is it exactly?

Well, I’d have to say it’s nearly the entire history of the world Jesse Sullivan lives in…except that it’s masterfully told as a hard-boiled detective novel.

Yeah, that’s right. All those ‘blanks’ you’ve been wondering about get filled in and you’ll be treated to great cop-noir to boot.

In all seriousness, Shrum really shows her writing chops with this one. Brinkley is a very layered character with a pretty heavy past. To think that his voice was written by the same person that gives Jesse her snark and Ally her sexy professionalism is almost unbelievable. And yet I was completely invested from page one.

Brinkley’s perspective shows calculated maturity and restraint, which really creates a perfect backdrop for Jesse’s recklessness and wisecracking.

And I think the most amazing thing about this book is that it’s told in flashbacks, interspersed with a countdown to an event that you already kind of know how it ends, and yet this was by far the most painful of the 3 books to put down. I was late for work at least twice because I couldn’t stop reading. That’s the hallmark of a great book.

More than the intrigue of character origins (which are in abundance), I think the riveting nature of this story is due in part to Shrum’s amazing worldbuilding skills. I’ve talked about this before, how real her version of the world feels, fully-realized. But taking that thoroughness and being able to expand it into a police procedural? That’s next level.

In Hollywoodese: it’s X-Files meets Law and Order: SVU with a twist of Die Hard. And it delivers on all counts.

Don’t wait. Brinkley’s story is available today, so pick your poison:


Check out Kory’s blog, follow her on Twitter @koryshrum, and stay tuned to my blog for more from this amazingly talented author.

My love for Star Wars is like an exposed nerve in a way. On one hand, I’m very proud to show it off. If there was some sort of badge I could put in my wallet to show people how much I love Star Wars, I’d be flashing it at every pub, diner, and hardware store I wandered into. (The latter clearly being an accident.)

On the other hand, I’m so close to Star Wars that it’s hard to look at it objectively. When people ask which Star Wars movie is my favorite, I clam up. How can that be answered? That’s like asking which star in the night sky is your favorite?

How can you even quantify a piece of such a vast universe?

I’ve kept it kind of close to the vest but I suppose the cat is out of the bag: I’m going to Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim next month. It’s been a dream of mine since I knew what a convention was, one that seemed impossible, but now–knock on wood–it looks like I’ll be peeling back the curtain for a peek into the galaxy far, far away.

Truly, it’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan. We have a new movie on the horizon, spinoff movies, new shows and merch, and a new canonical storyline in place.

But that new canon also makes me weary. Star Wars books have been my go-to–my staple–since my middle school days. The Expanded Universe (now called Legends) was the closest thing I had to a soap opera. I followed Luke Skywalker and his friends for some 30 years after Return of the Jedi via those books, and all the while I was told it was the official history of those characters. Canon. Even Star Trek books didn’t have that cred behind them.

I bought and read every one of the New Jedi Order books…and loved them! Say what you will about the Yuuzhan Vong or Chewbacca being killed off in the first novel, those books are some of my most memorable reads and to me they’ll always feel real. Maybe even more real than The Force Awakens.

The New Jedi Order is where I first discovered Matthew Stover, one of my favorite authors. (If you’re not reading him, you should be.) And if it weren’t for Republic Commando: Hard Contact, a Star Wars book based on a video game that I had only watched from over a shoulder, I never would have discovered Karen Traviss and all the wonderful books she’s written. When I’m in a slump and haven’t read anything inspiring for awhile, I go to Amazon and search her name.

But it was with the Karen Traviss novels that my love affair with Star Wars lit became a little disenchanted. Not for the content of her books, but because of what they did to her.

Karen Traviss was the first author to be knocked completely out of the Star Wars canon, long before the EU became Legends.

Traviss’ Star Wars novels spanned decades–generations–within the Star Wars universe, all linked together by a cast of memorable characters, either invented or finally fleshed out by Traviss herself. It was a gutsy move, linking all her books together in one way or another, but it proved to be a work of true genius.

And, ultimately, fatal.

I’m still not entirely sure why exactly they needed to undo her work. It had something to do with The Clone Wars animated series and the history of the Mandalorians, but with one fell swoop all her books were no longer considered canon.

As a Star Wars fan I was devastated, but as a writer I was hurt.

I contacted Ms. Traviss after reading through all her Star Wars books via email, just to tell her how much I loved them, how some of them actually brought me to tears, and how I would follow her writing career wherever it went. She sent me a lovely email back, telling me thanks, but that, at the end of the day, it was just a job. A very Boba Fett-esque approach.

A job she wasn’t fully compensated for either. But that’s another story, and a punch-in-the-gut to any author. Surely Fett wouldn’t have taken that sitting down.

In the end, I think Traviss took the high road. She updated her site with notes on where her stories and characters were headed (oh yeah…did I forget to mention they clipped her wings mid-series?) and politely asked her followers not to ask much more about it. A lot of Star Wars fans pretended she never existed. Her name in relation to Star Wars is often paired with an eye roll or a groan, but her diehards will never forget her awesome contributions to the Star Wars universe.

This row with the canon nearly killed my fandom. It was just too close to the heart, writing-related and all. I boycotted The Clone Wars show for a long time, and didn’t read much of the Star Wars literature that was released post-Traviss. It just didn’t seem very interesting. Maybe it wasn’t, or maybe my palate was soured.

While this was a regrettable moment in Star Wars lit, Traviss has gone on to do some amazing work for franchises I never would have glanced at otherwise: Gears of War, Halo, even G.I. Joe just to name a few.

And fortunately Star Wars literature seems to be on the upswing. I’ve finally accepted that all those countless hours and dollars I spent following the adventures of Luke, Leia, and Han post-cinema are only Legends now. Mara Jade is a thing of the past. A ghost, and I don’t just mean of the Force variety.

But there is a new hope, so to speak. As Celebration (and the The Force Awakens) draws closer, the list of upcoming Star Wars books grows larger. And these promise to be official, canonical, and in the vein of Our Beloved Wars.

For now, at least.

But I can’t help but drool over the upcoming Aftermath, a direct continuation of Return of the Jedi, written by one of my Twitter favorites, Chuck Wendig. Or Lords of the Sith, what I lovingly call a “Star Wars Buddy Cop Flick” featuring Vader and the Emperor busting skulls side-by-side, written by perfect guy for the job, Paul S. Kemp.

In my mind, the existing Star Wars novels won’t be uncanonized until the new movie premieres. So until then, I’m going to spend the rest of 2015 reading those Star Wars novels that I never quite got around to. If you want to catch up as well, I still stick by my original list of great Star Wars literature, and would add these as well:

Allegiance Revelationcover Shadows_of_Mindor_cover


Until next time: Don’t stop believin’ and may the Force be with you.