The New Deal by Joshua Guess

As you can see, I've built a new website. Squarespace made it easy, and no, they aren't paying me to say that. I just hate the maintenance and problems that come with hosting a site and making it myself, so I'm pretty happy with this. But this post isn't just about that, it's about a bunch of stuff. 

First, as you can see on the side there, is my Patreon. For those who don't know, Patreon is a site that lets people pay a monthly or per-item amount to a creator to support their work. Many Patreon creators take advantage of the tiered system of rewards and backer levels to dole out stuff to backers based on how much they pay. And that's fine; I have no issue with it. That's just not what I want to do. Instead I'm using it solely (for now) as a means of letting my hardcore supporters and readers back me and my work. I'm not dangling my writing over your head and hiding it behind a paywall. 

In return for your backing, however, I am going to do a lot more than just put out books. Which is the other part of this post. 

Up at the top of this site, you'll see a link to 'Free Online Stories', which opens up to a sub menu containing a link to a separate blog hosted here. It will be joined very shortly by more blogs, and it will be in those sections that I'll be writing parts of new stories. One of them will be a sort of continuation of Living With the Dead, though it's not planned to be an entire new storyline like the old blog was. That may change once I begin writing it. I never planned to write seven books worth of material on the blog when I started, after all. 

The section titled Next is going to be a repository of all the new stuff I write in the world of The Next Chronicle, my superhuman series, that aren't actual books in the series. This is where things get tricky. 

While I will absolutely keep these things up on the site, free to read for all of you while I'm writing them, at some point once I'm done I'll have to take them down. The reason is because to include them in Kindle Unlimited--which I make most of my money on at this point--they have to be exclusive to Amazon. So what I'm going to do is write a post in those blogs (LWtD will probably never be collected and sold, so it doesn't count) after each individual story is done, telling you I'm about to take them down in x number of days. 

I have plans for a LOT of serialized material here, far beyond the various Next and LWtD stories. I have ideas for a separate superhero tale, some science fiction stuff, lots of things. I'm also still going to be working on my novels. Basically I'm adding a ton of stuff to my workload. 

The idea is to attract new readers through word of mouth, which means you guys. Everyone who reads these serialized stories, each section of which will be between half and a full chapter, will have the chance to fall in love with characters and share with people. I really hope you do, because the market has been tough this year. Really, the last few years. 

That's why I'm changing things up. That's why I've restarted my Patreon. That's why there's a donate button on this site. Because despite what fiction likes to tell us about writers all having money, it's not a given. I've put out 4 full-length novels in the last year, and haven't made as much money from them in that time as I did from the first 4 months of sales from Victim Zero alone. 

I'm not blaming anyone. That's just the way it goes. A huge part of this is because the Kindle eBook market has exploded in size. When I put out the first LWtD collection, there were just under 700,000 books there. Now there are 5,000,000. That's a gigantic increase, making it much harder for my books to be seen. 

That's it for now. Check back here regularly for updates, though any new posts I write here on the main blog or in the serial fiction parts will be shared on my Facebook Page. It's the best place to keep up with news. Also consider signing up for my mailing list, which I ONLY use to send out notifications about new books. Which is to say it's never, ever spammy and won't clutter your inbox. At the absolute outside, you might get a handful of emails from me in a year. 

I'm looking forward to seeing how you all like the new site and the new stories. 

Apocalyptica: Book One of Ran by Josh Guess

That's the cover for Apocalyptica, the first volume of what I intend to be my main series once I finish The Fall with book six. It's exclusive to Kindle and Kindle Unlimited, and it's the most fun I've ever had writing a book.

I don't want to spoil anything, but I do want to say a little something about it, the genesis of the book, and why I love it so much.

Before I wrote Victim Zero back in 2013, I had this idea for an end-of-the-world scenario where the lines between living and undead were much more blurry. In the middle of this situation was a woman. She came to my mind not fully formed, but I knew the broad outlines of her. I didn't have to construct her the way I have many of my other characters. I knew how she'd react and the sort of things she'd say, even if I didn't yet know the specifics.

Turns out her name was Ran Lawson, because she thinks her legal name, Randie, should be reserved for strippers.

Ran is the sort of leading lady I've always wanted to see in a post-apocalyptic novel but never run across. She has a Mysterious Past™ that gets explained throughout the course of the book. She's part pastiche and part homage to the many women in my life who have inspired me, from my friend Sarah's indomitably stubborn will, to my mom's brilliant ability to absorb and connect facts, to my wife Jessica's almost suicidal work ethic.

Ran is smart and flawed and funny and honestly a little weird. It even came as a surprise to me as I was writing her that she could be simultaneously outspoken and deeply insecure.

And with this series, named for her, I'm leaving behind the constraints of the genre. I'm exploring at least half a dozen ways the virus affects people, from creating your standard zombies to leaving people alive but fundamentally altered into something less (or more) than human. I've written a lot of survival stuff, and there will be elements of that. I've written a lot of fights and battles, and there will certainly be more of those.

But Ran will touch a lot of new territory for me. One book in the series will be a heist book, just one set with the zombie apocalypse as its background. Another will be a kidnap thriller. I'm leaving it as an open-ended series because the overall story, the larger arc, is Ran herself. I look forward to the freedom to expand on the many small things I've included in this first book as potential stories of their own. I've laced a lot them into the narrative to give them space to grow.

I hope you pick it up here, if you haven't already, and I hope you like it. If you do, leave a review and totally feel free to rave about it to your friends. Without your support, I don't have the privilege of doing this job.

I think you'll like it. In fact, I think if you've enjoyed Living With the Dead or The Fall, you'll love it to pieces.

Only one way to find out.

Why Space Matters, Part 2 by Josh Guess

Depending on who you ask, the Earth is either fine, potentially in trouble, probably in trouble, or definitely fucked.

This is why space really matters to us as a species. Let's pretend for a moment that climate change isn't a problem, though it absolutely is. There's a titanic volume of rigorously checked and repeatably provable evidence supporting it, but even if there weren't space would still be our best means of survival.

I don't mean in the next ten, fifty, or even a hundred years. I mean long-term. Centuries. Millennia.

Let's please remember that the Solar system, our happy little home, plays host to many asteroids. The Oort cloud, a collection of debris orbiting the Solar system itself, is the leftover material from its formation. Estimates indicate the matter there is at a minimum three times the mass of Earth, spread out over at least a trillion objects each more than a kilometer in diameter.

That's a lot of potential death. One interstellar object smashing into one orbiting piece of flotsam at just the right angle, and we could be facing an extinction-level event. Or a star goes supernova within the galactic neighborhood: the resulting gamma ray burst, if pointed at our planet, would scour all life from it in a blast of radiation.

These are but two ways our species could die. They're big, unlikely examples. But think of how obsessed we are with global pandemics, war, the slow erosion of the ecosystem. Earth is, for the moment, all we have. It's our only home.

Space can and should change that.

Colonizing beyond the borders of our atmosphere shouldn't be considered an extravagance, but a necessity. We have to bend ourselves into thinking in new ways. One interesting branch of technology Nasa and other space agencies and companies have long considered vital to this effort is in-situ resource utilization, or ISRU.

The idea is to design technologies that can take advantage of the raw materials encountered off of Earth for use in everything from solar cells to rocket fuel. SpaceX revolutionizing rocketry means serious efforts in this direction, and that's good. Because ISRU is how we'll build long-term colonies.

I know, I know, all of this sounds crazy and so far out of what we can manage now that it might as well be magic. But it really, really isn't. Along with being able to manufacture technology from junk we mine from asteroids or the surface of a planetary body, people have also been working on emerging technologies like vat-grown food, which would be a powerful solution to one of the larger problems for colonies.

Cost is always the concern, but the great irony in all of this is that with even a marginal increase in the investment we as a country (and we as a species) already put in, we could easily see huge advancements in very short periods of time. I should also clarify that these budding technologies, should they be given the nutrients they need to grow, wouldn't just be for space exploration. Imagine a world where a small indoor factory can produce several tons of edible, nutritious food without the need for months of growth and huge tracts of land. That's not even the tip of the iceberg, really, as much as just the top few molecules of its potential.

Science fiction has long predicted these things, and that's because science fiction has historically been pushed forward by men and women who were actual scientists and engineers. This stuff has been in the works for a long time, unfunded ideas tinkered with by people as educated as they are passionate.

We need to spread out. There's no way around it. Colonizing Mars, or the moon, or the moons of other planets--even floating cities in the Venusian atmosphere!--isn't something we could do, it's something we must do. In the long run, we have to leave this lovely rock to ensure the human race continues. To do that, we need to make investments right now.

If we don't, we're playing a long game of Russian roulette, and no one wins.

Why Space Matters, Part 1 by Josh Guess

I thought about titling this post Why Science Matters but that way is fraught with political landmines. It's not that I'm at all silent about my political philosophy or how I arrived at my core beliefs. I'm not, nor am I ashamed. The calculation involved in the way I view politics and policy is a simple one:

Does this belief or policy do good for the largest number of people?

Do research.

Make conclusion.

Yeah, we might differ on what qualifies as good, but at that basic a level of disagreement there's really no way to change a person's mind.

So instead of talking about why science matters--and it does, clearly, as human civilization to this point wouldn't exist without it--I'm going to move forward under the assumption you agree with that premise. If you don't, that's fine. You can stop reading. Avoiding politics here means I'm not interested in being convinced that the scientific method is invalid. Chances are pretty good that if you believe, say, that the world is 6,000 years old, you're probably not reading any more.

So. Onward.

Space matters. In ways as vast as space itself and as small and mundane as everyday concerns like wanting a comfortable mattress, it matters. My goal with this series of posts is to explain in my wandering, often tangential way exactly why this is true and why we as a society should value the technologies and investments needed to make space exploration of all kinds an integral part of our cultural psyche.


One thing that never ceases to confound me is how, in one breath, people will praise the technological breakthroughs made by space programs while damning the idea of space exploration as a priority.

You can see some Nasa spinoff technologies on Wikipedia or Nasa's own website at these links, but the benefits span everything from the enrichment of baby food to chemical detection. The simple truth is that you don't work for Nasa or any space agency to get rich. You don't spend years learning mechanical engineering or astrophysics because it's going to make you a rock star. 

I mean, Neil deGrasse Tyson aside. 

People get into space--even private space companies--because they love space. Or rockets. Maybe they have a lifelong jones for making some obscure mechanical process more efficient. I'm not judging. The point is that there is also a simple formula for near-certain breakthroughs across the entire spectrum of the scientific field.

Take a large group of passionate, educated nerds. 

Give them resources. 

Give them a problem. 


In fairness, this is less true in any of the biological sciences, since biology and medicine deal with much less predictable systems of much greater complexity. They take longer to have breakthroughs, but when they do, as Albus Dumbledore would say, they're correspondingly huger. 

If you need a good example of what I'm talking about, let's look at SpaceX, the private space exploration company founded by real-life Tony Stark/potential Bond villain Elon Musk. 

There are plenty of excellent resources out there where you can (and should) find everything you need to know about Musk and SpaceX, so I'll skip the details. 

Musk started his company after posing himself a question: why is space exploration so expensive? After doing some research and figuring out the math, Musk realized that the actual cost of the materials that make up a rocket capable of reaching orbit are about 2% of the total. That leaves a lot of room for making rockets more cost effective. Which is exactly what he did. 

Musk and company looked at rocket technology and, funded by Musk himself and some investors, decided to do something no one had really done since the 1960's: build their own damn rocket from the ground up. By doing this, they were able to utilize half a century of experience and practical data to create the most efficient booster in the world for a fraction of the cost ULA (United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed-Martin that has been mercilessly bilking Nasa for years) could manage. 

It should be noted here that ULA has been using Russian rocket engines made in the 1960's for their Nasa contracts. Not designed in the decade Kennedy was still alive, actually fucking manufactured in it

As a result of SpaceX being provided resources, they were given contracts that provided even more resources, which allowed SpaceX to do something that changed the world. 

They created a rocket that can land. 

Yeah, I know. Doesn't sound like too big a deal. But consider the cost of a Falcon 9 rocket, which is the workhorse of the SpaceX fleet: about 90 million dollars. That's about the cost of a jumbo jet. Imagine if jets could only go one flight, and were then scrapped. That's how space exploration has worked until now. 

With the advent of a booster that can land and be reused, the face of space exploration and as a consequence humanity's place in the solar system has changed forever. The cost of sending rockets into space will drop by staggering margins, allowing cheaper and cheaper flights. 

This means we'll have the ability to create large orbital structures in a cost-effective way for the first time. Space stations are within our grasp, as are larger spacecraft capable of exploring and exploiting the resources of the solar system. This is not an exaggeration or science fiction, but rather the critical point much science fiction has hinged on before possibly becoming science fact. 

Had Nasa been given the sort of funding they enjoyed during the space race in the 60's and 70's (wherein the exploration of space was a national contest with the Soviet Union, a sort of proxy war using scientific achievement as its ammunition), we'd have seen these advances long ago. 

Yes, if we had kept giving Nasa the budget it once had, commercial space travel would be so normal by now we'd all be bored of it. But the budget cuts over the years meant Nasa couldn't build its own rockets, which meant whatever advances were made at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (or anywhere inside the organization) were at best passed on to private third-party vendors like ULA, who were operating on contracts and looking to squeeze every penny or profit they could. 

Nasa could have been SpaceX. Would have been, if the money had been there. 

Even so, things are working out. We're on the edge of a boom in space travel. Successful demonstration of what we can accomplish with the increase in space travel brought on by the decrease in its cost will be vital to perpetuating the use of space as a resource for humankind. On the large scale, this will mean mining asteroids, dwarf planets, comets, even the gas giants. The things we could do with enough raw materials in orbit and the fuel (water, basically) we could collect from the solar system are almost endless. 

But that's not what this section is about. Just think of what sorts of technology we'll see as a consequence!

Right now we have dozens of spinoff technologies working for us every day. That's just from a space program that's public, severely underfunded, and only able to focus in very narrow directions. Think for a second about the possibilities we'll see once we as a society are looking down the barrel of mining asteroids or building a base on the moon. Those are both immensely difficult prospects, with countless problems that will need to be solved. 

The solving of them will produce technologies, both intentional and accidental, in numbers and variety we can scarcely imagine. That's totally ignoring what sorts of fantastic things we might learn to manufacture in microgravity. 

People complain about the expense of Nasa, and they say it's money down the drain. No return. 

Well, first of all: horseshit. Beyond the very real and very material return that is the growth of our understanding of the universe, physics, and a hundred other things, the technologies resulting from our investment in Nasa (and thus space) have a subtle but large economic benefit. Hell, the space program gave us memory foam, and you can't swing a dead cat in this country without it having its weight evenly distributed across some damn thing or another made of the stuff. 

Second of all: so what? Even if space exploration costs this country $18 billion dollars a year, which is less than Americans spend on pizza, and made zero money back, so what? The non-economic benefits are still hugely important. Space exploration and the attendant discoveries which come with it have vastly increased our understanding of physics to the point where we have things like GPS and tons of other non-commercial benefits. 

Now we've covered the basics on why space exploration isn't an economic waste of time, which has hopefully created some nice squishy feelings toward the idea of paying for rockets, or increased them if you already had them. 

Which is good, because next time I'm going to explain why having a positive attitude toward space is the only way humanity can survive in the long term. 

See you then. 

Resolute by Josh Guess

I generally don't make resolutions for the new year, and this year isn't any different. Rather than set myself a goal that creates some arbitrary condition I have to meet in order to feel like I've achieved something, I'm just going to work on, you know, achieving things.

I haven't put out a post on this blog in almost two years. I'm resolving to change that. It's something I need to do, both because it gives me another connection to my readers and because it serves as an outlet that isn't facebook. Not that I have a problem with facebook at all--it has been instrumental in giving me a career I love--but it doesn't lend itself to longer posts. Also, people kind of make a choice to come here, and judging by my hit counter they've been doing it a surprising amount considering I've been ignoring this place for so long.

So this year I find myself resolute. I'm already more productive than I have been, and I feel like I can keep that up. This year is going to be make or break for me. I need to make more money than last year. I need to build up another nest egg in case I ever need another surgery and find myself unable to get much writing done like I did at the end of 2014. To do that I need to get back in the swing of things and put out work more regularly.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Most authors I read only put out a book a year. Maybe two. I always put out two at the least, and this year I'm planning on at least three, maybe as many as five.

Earthfall, my first foray into straight-up science fiction, is well on its way to being done. I'm quite far along. Then I'll take a crack at Book Five of The Fall. After that it's a toss-up between Dark Flow, which is book 3 of The Next Chronicle, or Devil's Due, the first book in a new series called The Hellbreakers.

That list is subject to change based on my financial needs, reader demands, or my whims. Writing is a thing that requires some inspiration and desire to do well, and it's not always there when I reach for it.

I'm probably going to be posting here more often, so make yourself a bookmark or a speed dial link on your browser if you want to check back more than once in a blue moon. I can't promise it'll be as often as you want, but I'll do my best to be entertaining.

Fell In Love With A Girl by Josh Guess

...fell in love once and almost completely.

I love that song. More important, I love my wife.

Storybook love is one of those things other people have. People in stories. It's not an experience most--if any--of us get to have. More than eight years with Jess, and as of today five of them as a married couple, have taught me the value of a real relationship.

We argue. We disagree all the time. I get on her nerves and she gets on mine. We have very different tastes in food and a dozen other things. I like comedies, she likes foreign films including weird Korean indie stuff she finds God-knows-where. I'm outspoken and loud, she's quiet and shy. I have a deep connection to family, she's mostly indifferent to her own.

And yet, we work. We work better than any couple I know. The things we argue about are silly, small things. Most of the time they're fun, like who would win in a fight between Nikola Tesla and Cthulhu. Sometimes we go days only seeing each other a few minutes at a time, mostly when she's leaving for work, and it's okay.

We're perfect for each other. We have the same dark, twisted sense of humor. We make each other laugh more than anyone else could manage. Our priorities mesh, and a billion other things that don't matter to you because they're specific to us.

We fit, do you see? Of course you don't. You aren't here. You don't watch us get along.

But all that isn't why I'm writing this. I don't want to rhapsodize about how well we work. I want to praise Jessica Guess, my wonderful Jess, because she's amazing in ways she doesn't understand.

I had a habit of falling in love, but with her it wasn't that way. I'm four years her senior, and we met when I was 19. You do the math. I was floored by her appearance right away, because she's looked like a horny-teenage boy's drawing of a female comic book character since she was twelve. Jess developed early, which was a problem for her because she looked much older. That's part of why she grew to be so shy.

So when we met, she was too young for me. A few years went by where I saw her only occasionally. We didn't talk much. I didn't really see many people during that time. I was in a relationship that screwed me up badly, made me terribly afraid of being with anyone. A few months after that relationship ended, I was cleaning out my car and found a card from Jess. She had mailed it to me a while before and I'd carelessly put it in the glove box without even opening it.

I found that note while cleaning my office. It reads, in part:

"...I just felt like telling you that even though our relationship is pretty much nonexistent now, I'll never forget you. You are someone truly special, and I wish you the best in the future..."

There I was, two months out of my longest and most painful relationship, and I was a broken man. That's not hyperbole; I really was shattered in ways I had never experienced before. I read that letter and felt, for the first time in months, a faint ray of hope. A little bit of joy. Someone out there thought I was worth something. Someone cared.

So I called her that night. We've been together ever since.

I was reluctant to love her. I had a history of falling in love easily and hard, but my heart had hardened. I was wary as any kicked dog is wary, fearful and nervous. She was patient with me, loving me without holding back while understanding why I couldn't do the same.

Eventually I grew to love Jess so thoroughly and completely that I can't imagine living any other way. Who else could make me laugh the way she does? Who is as funny, or smart, or dedicated? Who knows me so well that she can predict my mood and words as if reading my mind? No one. There's simply no other way to live than with her.

She is the most understanding person I know. Jess puts up with my faults but never lets me get away with lying to myself. She was the first person to encourage me to try writing for a living, way back when I was thinking about starting Living With the Dead. She was worried about our finances when I told her I was quitting my job, and that was a promise to her I had broken. I always said I'd wait to go full-time *after* I had made enough money writing to be off for a year. Still, she agreed, and now she's thrilled at how well it has worked out for both of us.

As always, she's my biggest fan and supporter.

The most frustrating thing in the world for a writer is the inability to convey the emotion you're feeling to the reader. That's impossible here, both because Jess is awesome (in the truest sense of the word) in a thousand ways too subtle and grounded in context to explain here, and because how I feel is very much a thing specific to me.

She's hardworking, smart, teaches herself skills and disciplines on a whim. She's hilarious and without filter at all times. She'll say things that would make the bluest comedians blush. She'll wrestle the shit out of you with zero warning. One second you're standing there talking to her, the next she's taking you to the ground and going for the pin. She knew nothing about computers, then spent a weekend learning them. I've been screwing with PCs for a decade and a half, and in those two days she surpassed me.

Jess is adorable. Her scowl is cute enough to make Japanese schoolgirls fall over in diabetic shock from the sweetness.

She is so many things, but the best one of them all is this: she's mine. For whatever reason (possible brain damage?) she chose me. I get to see her every day, and that's as close to heaven as I can imagine.

Today we've been married five years. They have been the best five years of my life.

Joshua Guess: Year One by Josh Guess

I posted on my Facebook page a little while ago that the anniversary of my first year as a full-time writer happened. To be honest, I'm not sure when it came and went. Sometime in early March up to possibly today. I could probably go back and look at a pay stub or something, but it's really not important to me what the actual day was as much as what that year signifies.

When I quit my job, I had no illusions at all about living the dream. I had enough money to get me through a couple months. Jess was worried about me getting another job in enough time to prevent the money squeeze both of us expected. I stressed over it a lot, and that stress took its toll on me creatively. There were whole weeks when I could barely tap out a few hundred words.

Imagine my surprise that the success of Victim Zero and Dead Will Rise, as well as The Passenger, was enough to keep me going. More than enough, actually, which is good because I like keeping my taxes paid up.

In general, I would not have made it this far without you. Yes, you. All of you. You're the ones who have supported my work, bought my books, and kept me from going insane. Without you, the readers, I would be working a regular job right now instead of making up things and killing fake people for your entertainment.

Very specifically, I wouldn't be here without James Cook. Jim and I co-authored The Passenger, but the story doesn't begin or end there.

You see, back when I was still writing Living With the Dead, Jim was not an author. He was, like me, a voracious reader. Stumbling across my books, he found out I was self-publishing and decided that if a schmuck like me could do it, so could he. He put it in much more flattering terms than that, but I'm allergic to self-aggrandizement.

Jim wrote a book, the first in a series, and it was successful right off the bat. His own success makes mine look like small potatoes, and that's okay. Writing isn't a contest, nor is it a zero sum game. The sale of one of his books does not prevent me from selling.

More than that, we're friends. We got to know each other well over the course of our collaboration. Without his support, Victim Zero would not have done nearly as well. Without a timely payment from him relating to The Passenger, I would have run out of money completely and had to go back to work. In very real terms, Jim gave me the help I needed right when I needed it, without which I wouldn't have published Dead Will Rise when I did and would be back at a regular job.

I will give myself some credit. To do otherwise would be disingenuous. After all, I did write these books, and they aren't bad stuff, at least according to most of you. So I'll pat myself on the back, but with the crystal clear understanding that without you as an audience and James Cook as a lifesaver, I would not be here in my office right now.

And man, it's awesome. It's only after 365 days (or so) of not punching a clock that I realize how stifling and stressful my job was. Physically, mentally, spiritually, pick pretty much any aspect of your life and it was rough on me in that way. I hate to sound like I'm bragging, because I feel for every person who has to put up with the same to make ends meet. I don't want anyone to think I'm trying to make myself sound awesome for living my dream.

You did this just as much as I did. You who have been there to support me to the hilt, you who have put up with my delays and problems, never wavering in your support. You're generous and excellent, and you're beautiful/handsome/whatever the appropriate compliment is.

But the truth is, it is awesome. Setting my own schedule, working at my own pace, not having to put on a brave face at some job because my miswired brain is telling me the world is going to end. Being my own boss is the best, because that guy fucking loves me.

I like being at home. I didn't know if I would, but I really do. I get to see my wife more, spend quality time with our bevvy of furry creatures, and cook real food.

A year in and I haven't lost the appreciation for what I have. While I feel it's a less tenuous situation than it once was, it's still not a guarantee. I'm not rolling in money or anything. I have enough of a reserve to see me through a slow month or two, maybe one month of no other income whatsoever. If I get to the point where I have that huge wad of extra cash, I'll feel more able to pursue projects with greater ambition and risk. I'm not there yet, but I can at least imagine it as a possibility now, rather than as the punchline to a joke.

It has been an exciting, amazing year for me, and I'm looking at year two with greater hope and confidence.

Let's Talk About Depression by Josh Guess

Before I dive in, I want to dedicate this post to Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess. I've been reading her blog for a few years. People have called her one of the funniest women in the world, but for me the qualifier isn't necessary. Jenny Lawson is one of the funniest human beings alive, period.

But it isn't her humor, or rather, not just her humor, that I've grown to appreciate and almost depend on. Jenny is also bitingly honest about her anxiety and depression, and always manages to convey her experience in ways that make me truly feel like someone else is as weird as I am. And that it's completely okay.

A lot of my regular readers are also my friends on social media. You know to one degree or another about my struggle with anxiety and depression. My mom, who like all mothers worries that writing something like this will affect my ability to get a job should this whole novelist thing stop working, probably won't like me writing about this. But I feel at this point that I'm doing a disservice to other people out there who suffer from the same problems.

In short, Jenny Lawson helped me through some of my worst times, and it's time to pay that forward.

I'm not sure how depression is for most people. I say that because the only actual experience I have to go on is my own and seeing it in one or two people close to me. My own variety is, thankfully, not as severe as what many people have to live through. People who don't suffer from it have a hard time understanding, and the people who are suffering from it get frustrated and down trying to explain.

So, here's my depression, which I've thankfully avoided for the last two months or so:

Think about a time when you were sadder than you've ever been in your life. You had a reason, right? It may have been a funeral or some larger and more distant tragedy. Think for just a moment about that feeling. Got it?

Multiply it. Imagine that feeling wrapping around you, trying to crush you, and smothering the light from the world. Now imagine it hitting you for no reason whatsoever, at a time that makes no sense. It has happened to me in the middle of a trip to the grocery store.

Keep that vague sense of helplessness and frustration in mind the next time someone you know says they're sad or depressed. The most common thing depressives hear is that they should cheer up, or fight through it, and there isn't any reason to feel this way.

That's the rub. We know there isn't any reason most of the time. We know it's a bunch of chemicals in our brain clamoring for attention. Being told this fact by someone who expects you to just throw it off is maddening.

The same can be said about anxiety, which is honestly a bigger problem for me than being depressed. I'm very lucky in that when I'm down, it's rarely as deep as many go, and that I've been able to work through most of my problems over time. At this point in my life, I think the depression aspect of my issues is smaller than it has ever been.

Keep in mind, I'm one of the very lucky few. Don't use these words on someone who is still struggling by using me as an example.

Anxiety is a weird thing. I talked about it while I was getting tattooed the other day. I described it in much the same way I did above about being sad, but used the example of nervousness instead. Ever had your heart race and your muscles burn in anticipation for something? Felt like your chest was going to explode? That's anxiety, and for us, it can be a nightmare.

It's not about crisis. I can handle crisis. My degree is in Fire/Rescue, which involved a lot of crisis management training. I've practiced martial arts, which rules out fear of violence as a cause. I worked in a nursing home for several years, and never lost my head when some emergency or another came up. Anxiety isn't about the big stuff. It's about many small things adding up.

Jenny Lawson started out as a blogger and became a novelist, not dissimilar to my own trajectory. I own three different versions of her book, which I've read or listened to no less than six times. The whole memoir is a sort of ode to being strange (though I think she's perfectly normal, but then I also have random conversations with strangers about the best way to survive the apocalypse) and threaded through the book are many references and examples of her own struggle with anxiety. Jenny is less fortunate because her triggers are things like social gatherings or meeting new people.

Mine are different. I can go to an amusement park with no problem. Put me in a crowded bar with no one to talk to, and my heart starts beating against my sternum like a cracked-out heavy metal drummer. I don't stress much over having to make my living through writing, or at least no more than the average person would. Yet knowing I have to go to an appointment with a doctor or insurance agent sends my nerves jangling.

Which in terms of the whole anxiety spectrum isn't that bad. My point isn't to make you feel pity for me. You absolutely shouldn't. I'm a full-time writer, for the moment at least, and I'm living my dream. My problems are manageable and I'm making decent progress against them.

I'm only talking about my own issues because they're what I can write about with honesty. What I hope to accomplish here is to open a dialog. I used to be one of those people who couldn't understand depression or anxiety at all. I had never been there, and my honest outlook was that it seemed like people were being overly dramatic, maybe even using them as an excuse.

If you know someone who suffers from either problem, consider this disjointed and rambling post in the future. Every person is different. No one handles their problems the same way. Lots of people who have never been depressed or on the edge of a panic attack lose their shit when confronted with even the regular stuff people deal with every day. That being the case, it makes sense to take a moment and try to understand when someone you know or love is hit with a metric ton of surprise depression for no reason at all.

I'm not accusing people of having cold hearts or a lack of empathy. I don't make friends easily, but every one of mine are very understanding about this stuff even if they've never experienced it firsthand. I'm talking to people like me, first and foremost, in the hope that these words will help. It's okay to talk about it. It's okay to look for help. It doesn't make you weak or a bad person--both thoughts I've directed at myself time and again--to admit these feelings. The way to begin shifting that burden is by breaking down the walls containing it. As trite as it sounds, talking about it is the first step to getting healthier.

Healthier, not healed, because false hope is rarely a good thing. Chances are, if you're like me, this will be something you'll live with to some degree for your entire life. But it does get better, if you want it to. Living with it isn't nearly as bad if you don't have to do it alone. There are medications and other treatments able to change lives, but it all begins with opening up and telling someone. I promise you, you'll be amazed at how much just talking can help. On this subject, my door is always open.

To the other group, the small number of people who may not be (or have been) as understanding as they could have been: I hope you take my ramble here seriously. I don't think badly of you. I was one of you. I grasp perfectly how hard it can be to put yourself in those shoes. All I hope is that you listen if someone wants to talk, and keep in mind that while you may not be able to feel the way they do, they certainly feel it. And they've trusted in you enough to share it.

This post didn't come out the way it sounded in my head. That's one of the advantages in writing fiction. It's much easier to seed kernels of truth in all the constructed lies. Writing about zombies and superhumans is cake compared to honest discussion of serious topics. I'm not sure if I did what I set out to do, but as I reread this post I find myself oddly satisfied. Maybe there isn't a crescendo of enlightenment to be found here, but I believe I've said the things I needed to say. It's not a pretty subject, mainly for its lack of easy answers, but if even one person starts addressing those powerful feelings because of this post, and one person listens who wouldn't have before, then it's a win.

The Projects by Josh Guess

I don't post here often enough, and that's recently due to the fact I haven't written a word at Living With the Dead since the big finale. Now that the last book is out and I'm on track to get some things done, I think it's time to let everyone know how the work is going.

Dead Will Rise, the sequel to Victim Zero, is growing fat. I've been dealt a bad hand of problems over the last few months and have yet again struggled with anxiety and similar problems, but I'm back to working on it with gusto. The tentative plan is to have it out by the end of November, which is contingent on me getting it done in the next two weeks and edited *super* fast. Whether that's possible I don't know, but I'm going to try. Assuming I manage that, the print edition will be out before Christmas. 

After DWR is published I'm going to take a break from the Living With the Dead universe. After seven collections of the blog, two parallel novels and a collaboration also set in a zombie apocalypse, I need to work on something else. 

Fortunately, that isn't a problem. After I send out DWR to be edited I'm going to spend a week or so working on a novella set in Hugh Howey's Silo Saga universe. If you haven't read those books--and I don't see how you could miss them considering their immense popularity--then you might want to read the trilogy. Hugh is very permissive in allowing anyone to write fiction in his universe and to make money with them. I'm going to try to get mine published through Kindle Worlds, which is a fan fiction section of the kindle store. Failing that, I'll publish it on my own. 

My next novel will be the much-talked about (by me) superhuman story, Next. Though a glut of superhuman/superhero novels have been released over the last few years, I've seen few that tackle the ideas I'd like to read about. That's the same reason I wrote LWtD in the first place; I wrote the story I wanted to read. So Next isn't going to be the tights-and-heroism story of people who have secret identities or who hide from society. This isn't a world where superhumans exists as some fringe subculture most people don't know about. It's a balls-to-the-wall examination of what the most dangerous power--superpower--would do the to world if it were exposed to everyone. All of that conveniently framed in the story of one main character and several secondaries. It's different than anything I've written and I have a hard time putting a genre label on it. 

The really good news is I wrote about 30,000 words before switching over to write VZ. So I can get this baby done in a relatively short time once DWR and my Silo novella are done. The novella shouldn't take that long considering how short it is and how fast I write. I look to be working on Next full-time by the second week of December, give or take a week. 

After that I'll decide which project I'll take on next. For purely business reasons the smart thing to do would be the third book in The Fall. It's going to be a bit trickier than books one and two, and maybe with another novel and a novella between books two and three I'll feel refreshed and ready to go back to that world. 

So many things I want to write, so many genres! Some of you have seen the list before, some haven't, but I'll post again soon and maybe do a poll on the facebook page about what book you're most interested in. 

Until then, keep reading. I like paying my bills. 


Grown Up by Josh Guess

A friend of mine posted on Facebook a short while ago that someone we went to school with died. The name wasn't familiar, but I graduated twelve years ago, so that didn't surprise me. I looked up the person he was talking about, and thought I knew who it was. So for the first time in many, many years I broke out the yearbooks I could find--those from my Junior and Senior years.

He wasn't there.

I don't know why or how. He wasn't even listed among the people not pictured. The mystery will probably remain, but the experience of looking back over those images, single smiling slices of a life, stays with me.

I wasn't a popular guy. I was known, but that isn't the same thing. Popularity implies people like you. A lot of people didn't. I was smart but lazy, defensive of others and with a fuse so short it might as well not have existed in the first place. I was confident with women--very much so--but sought the approval of people who could barely stand me. I think I did that because I knew they didn't like me.

I wasn't hated, really. I got along with most people. I wasn't into trendy fashions or sports, and aside from acting I didn't get into school activities. The politics of high school did not appeal to me. That said, I looked back over two years of my life in pictures and remembered my entire experience in that place in flashes, and the man I remember as a boy, the one who passed away, was there.

He wasn't a friend. I knew him to speak to him but not much more. The modern age of technology allows me to reconnect and keep in touch with many people I barely knew in school, others I had deep friendships with but who stepped out of my life for years on end.

There was the guy whose friendship and respect I wanted badly, and twelve years later he's the same guy. Pretentious, talented, arrogant, and with every reason to be happy while rarely expressing anything but ironic scorn. He lives his dream job and seems to detest life.

The football star who did everything in his power to live up to the stereotype. A year after graduation--two years or better since he'd transferred to another school--he came into the restaurant I was working at and tipped me large. He apologized for the way he'd behaved. I did the same.

The prim honor student always so perfect and proper, her nervous state a constant as she ignored joy and being a kid in order to be the best. She's an artist now, a bohemian of the old school.

Boys and girls became men and women. The guy who called me a faggot and got in trouble for it--who apologized while both of us were waiting to see the Principal over it--is a happy adult, a married man and father who finds great purpose in being fair and honest.

I skipped the reunion. I was working at the nursing home, depressed and trying to make a go of my writing career. I had no desire to show up, the weird guy everyone knew but few really knew. I'd seen so many of them talk about their lives online that I couldn't bring myself to go there and tell everyone I was a CNA, though there's certainly no shame in that job, who was killing himself with the constant effort to write for a living. It sounded so sad to me, so deeply cliche. Most of the people I went to school with didn't treat me badly. If I'm being honest, I probably did worse to them on average than all of them together did to me.

Now I'm a full-time writer, at least for the foreseeable future. I'm living the dream. And I realize I still shouldn't have gone to that reunion. All of them have changed in so many ways, but I'm mostly the same. A little more mature, true, but as I looked back on those memories and who I was I realized I was always an old man in that young man's body. Maybe I'll go to the next reunion. Maybe not.

We are the story we tell ourselves. Our lives are books we write each day. They can (and will) take us to amazing places, to happy places, to dark and dangerous places. When the reunion came about, I was measuring my success and who I was against them. Now I only measure against myself.

If I could go back and do it all again, I'd change some things. Oh, you expected me to say I'd change nothing? Hell no. Sorry. No hackneyed trope here. I was a virgin until I was eighteen, people. No, I'd change a lot. Foremost I would have worked harder. In my classwork, sure, though I had no desire to be an honor student. But I'd do more even if just to make my mom happy. Beyond that I would take up two jobs and work myself to death all four of those years and save every penny.

To invest in Apple in 2002, when their stock was at the lowest point in the decade. I mean, what's the purpose of theorizing about time travel if we can't make a buck off it, right?

Most of all, I would have been kinder. I would try to impart some of the lessons I've learning in life. People need to go through hard times to learn lessons, no avoiding that. But I would have tried to show people that no matter how overcast the future looks, it's no reason not to show love and respect. That was something I learned late.

Since the first day of Freshman year, several people I went to school with died. One was a dear friend, in a car crash. That happened while I was enjoying a Halloween party. Another was a guy who hated my guts. That didn't make me special; he hated easily and often. There was the guy who died running back into his burning house to search for his mother.

It's easy to think you've got forever when you're young. I'm only thirty, but I've spent enough time caring for the elderly and seeing death to know on a visceral level how frail it all is. That is why I'd go back and preach kindness and understanding if I could, because our time on the mortal coil is limited and unpredictable. We should not treat it as a test or a trial run, no matter what our faith might tell us. How we treat others is a perfect model of chaos theory. Every wound we inflict adds up and ripples outward, as does every smile we inspire.

Need proof? I said all that, had all those thoughts and introspective realizations, because a boy I barely knew who became a man I didn't know passed away. I learned more about him tonight from his friends, his hidden struggle with illness, his positive spirit, than I ever would have known otherwise. He was a small wave in the water, gently pushing me to be a better person.

Think about it. When the situation comes up where someone is being mean or rude or hateful, you have a choice. You can return it to them, or ignore them, or maybe try throwing a little understanding at them. It's not easy, but someone has to start.

Just remember this when it happens. And from there it becomes easier to not just respond with kindness, but to create it without prompt.

The End of a Story, The Beginning of Many by Josh Guess

I've been putting off writing this post for a while now. Part of the reason was because I didn't want to upset anyone. Part of it was plain stubbornness on my part--I wasn't sure if I was sure. But now I am. This is going to cover a lot of ground, so stick with me all the way through, okay?

I'm ending Living With the Dead. Sort of.

I'm not taking down the blog or anything, but the current season will be the last collection. There is a small chance I'll collect more down the road, but unless circumstances change dramatically, it's unlikely. This does NOT mean the blog is ending, however. I will still post there if at a dramatically reduced pace. Instead of doing four days in a row and taking a day off, I might do two a week. Maybe only one.

The reasons are many. First and foremost, I've burned through most of the material I intended for the blog. I had a five-year plan and we're hitting that stuff right now, a year and a half earlier. So anything I write on the blog after the end of August will be internet-only stuff. Seven books seems like a good number to me.

LWtD as a universe will not only continue, but get even more awesome. Most you know about Victim Zero, my most recent novel. It's about how The Fall (which is the series title) began, the man responsible, and what it's like to lose everything and have the weight of the world on your shoulders as a result. The Fall will continue with Dead Will Rise, which is the next book following Kell's life, and the link is to the IndieGoGo campaign for it.

You might be asking why I'm choosing to end regular publication of the LWtD collections and why I'm choosing to devote less of my time to the blog. It's pretty simple: I'm a full-time writer as of now. That might not last, but for the next several months at least I can continue not having a job and focus on putting out books. You'd think that gives me more time for LWtD, but not so. I'm working on several novels of my own, a collaboration with another author, and managing my own business needs. LWtD is something I love, but I'm honest enough to realize I've tapped every interesting possibility out of that style of writing. The characters have done everything I can do with them in blog form. Which brings me to my next point...

The fictional people you've enjoyed in LWtD will at some point in the next year get a series of their own. Novels, not blog collections. A separate series from The Fall. That's one of many, many projects I'm planning out.

The reality is I need to focus. I dearly love LWtD and recognize that you as my readers have brought me to this point. I wouldn't be taking the chance of staying home and writing if not for you. I wouldn't be living my dream if not for you. I hope you all realize this isn't an easy call for me to make, but I'd rather end the collections here and not have the same hard deadlines I set for myself with the blog than continue on and put out something shitty. That's just the brass tacks of the situation.

I am, however, planning on doing something cool with the blog. While I will write posts--possibly as another character since anyone can die in LWtD--I will soon be trying to set up a process to find those of you who might want to take part as well. Beckley, for example, is a real person. I love his posts and if he wanted to do a post every week or every other week, I'd take him up on it in a heartbeat. I know there are others out there who want to do the same. I'll keep you updated on that.

That's basically it. For the near future I'm going to be doing what I've been doing for the last three months and change: sitting at home writing new stories for you to read. From a personal viewpoint this works out well for me. Jess is super supportive, almost suspiciously so. I get to be home and not deal with the ridiculous stress of working in healthcare, which in hindsight was literally killing me. My health is better even if I've put on a few pounds. I'm happier. I'm doing what I love.

From a business point of view it's a huge change for the better. LWtD isn't your standard fare, written entirely in narrative as it is, and that means it isn't likely to break out into wider popularity. That doesn't bother me at all, but as a matter of paying the bills it's time for me to move on to being more productive with standard novels. They make more money, have more appeal, and while you aren't getting the dose on a daily basis, I think you're getting a better product. I'm proud of my work on LWtD, immensely so. But it was writing practice to start, and three and a half years of doing it made me an iron man writer. I can produce novels fast, and Victim Zero is a better work than anything I've done on the blog.

It's that way because of the blog.

I hope this doesn't make too many of you angry, but it's the way things are. As a fan myself it always irritates me when a producer of regular content moves on to other projects. "Oh, but I love your webcomic! Why are you ending it?" "Oh, I love your blog, please don't start a different one and give up on this one!"

I've done what I can do with LWtD. Now I'm taking the world I built there and expanding on it. I doubt very much I'll ever be done with that world. I have the chance to do that and so much more.

I started the blog in March of 2010. By the end I'll have produced seven collections. And that's only the beginning when you look at the series I'm spinning off from it. Basically I told you that story so I could tell you these stories.

Hope you'll stick around for them.


Victim Zero and Other Sundries by Josh Guess

As many of you might know already, I finished the first draft of Victim Zero the other day. I sent it out to the first crop of beta readers Friday night, and I'm waiting with anticipation and trepidation to hear back from them.

I've also managed enough work on the collaborative project I'm doing with James Cook that he has to catch up with me. That one is going to be very, very cool and something all of you will enjoy.

I'm in kind of a strange place. It's coming up on three months I've been off work and if you'd asked me when I put in my two weeks if I'd have a novel done at this point I would have probably said no. Granted, that was always the plan with VZ and Next (which I resume work on this week) but I figured I'd have to be working another full-time job by now.

Not yet. I'm going to be putting in applications this week, but I have to say I'm completely happy with the decision to leave the nursing home I was working at. I miss the people, but three months without the agonizing back pain, without the unreal stress and overwork, and all the other little joys have been like magic for me. It hasn't been perfect and I'll have to rejoin the workforce soon, but hopefully these stories will be seeds that bear fruit before the end of the year. I think I might be a full-time writer by the start of 2014. Earlir than that if they go beyond expectations.

I'm just blathering, really. This has been a time of immense satisfaction for me on a personal and professional level. Creatively I feel free to write what I want, and that gives my writing more confidence and strength.

The IndieGoGo campaign had a lot to do with that. Though we didn't hit the goal we shot for, the campaign itself was fun and brought me closer to the readers and fans, which is you guys. This is a huge part of why I choose to be independent and self-published; because all I need is a platform and people willing to give me their time, attention, and a small amount of money. In exchange I try to give you as much interaction and entertainment as possible. I've become friends with many of you along the way.

How can I complain about that? I'm building a career thanks to all of you, one where I get to do the thing I love. I've made some strong connections and had a lot of support. I don't know how any entertainer in any genre can ever be anything but thankful and humble in the face of that. Without you guys none of it happens.

I thank you for this a lot, but repetition makes it no less true. You're the best. That's all.

Status (updated) by Josh Guess

[The AMA on Reddit is planned to start at 7:00 PM, EST. I will be posting a link here as well as on Facebook]

[The AMA link can be found right here.]

Rather than try to update everyone piecemeal about what's happening with me and my work right now, I decided to write a quick post here to share the news.

So, in no particular order:

Tomorrow I will be hosting an AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit. I will update this post when the AMA is happening, as well as posting it on my author page on Facebook. It will be in the evening unless some dire emergency comes up, and if that happens I'll update as needed.

I've been hard at work (and annoying my friends on Facebook with updates and word counts) on Victim Zero. Remember that we still have just under a month on the Victim Zero campaign at IndieGogo, so check it out and back the project if you can, or share the links if you can't. Victim Zero is now over 40,000 words, all of that done in 12 days of manic writing, and I think it's some of my best work. I've never felt so strongly about a project, and I hope you guys like it too.

This weekend I will be taking some time off from Victim Zero to work on my other WIP, Next. That's my superhuman story, and I enjoy writing it almost as much as Victim Zero. Next may or may not come out first; that was the original plan, at any rate, but since I'm now only working part-time I'm getting more done than I planned for. We'll play that by ear.

The other big news I have to share is that James Cook and I are going to be working on a collaboration set in his Surviving the Dead universe. Actually we've already done some work on it, but both of us are mid-novel at the moment. Jim is working on the third Surviving the Dead book, and I've got all of the above PLUS Living With the Dead happening.

So we're going to let it simmer for a few weeks while he finishes up his book, then really get into it. I'm not going to tell you anything else about it for now, because it's awesome and cool, but it definitely is zombie fiction and it's a labor of love. You'll really like it, I swear.

For now that's all I have, but keep your eyes peeled for news in the near future as projects go forward and books come out.

Saying Goodbye by Josh Guess

This morning at 6:33, I clocked out of the nursing home for the last time. My notice is up and while my technical last day ends tomorrow, it's my day off. Maybe that's not poetic, but it has the advantage of being accurate. Functionally I'm without a job.

I'm happy.

I have orientation at a new job on Friday, so I'm not going to go without work. I'm not dumb. I have some money saved up because the new job pays less and is part time. I'm doing this for a lot of reasons, but the biggest one is so I can have at least a few months of working somewhere that doesn't leave me so exhausted I keel over in the mornings so I can write more.

I'm going to be using the reduced hours and workload to get things done. I'm working mostly on Next at the moment, but I have some work done on Victim Zero and I'm planning to get deep into it in the coming weeks. (If you don't know, I'm running an IndieGoGo campaign for Victim Zero right here.)

Between working part-time (maybe even full-time hours depending on demand) and having an easier job, and having my savings, I should be able to swing this for at least three months. During that time I expect my productivity to shoot way up. I've been excited about it for a while now, and impatient for my notice to be up.

The reality of leaving work for the last time this morning was far different than I expected. My coworkers gave me little going-away gifts, thoughtful ones, and brought in food. I choked up when I did the rounds giving them hugs as I left. I felt a bittersweet joy in going, sadness that I wouldn't be laughing with them and telling jokes any longer. They're a damn fine group of friends to have, and even though I saw them just a few hours ago I already miss them.

Working in a nursing home is hard. Mentally, physically, and spiritually. You're responsible for the well-being of a large group of people, and the folks you work with are some of the few who understand. I'm leaving behind a solid group of people I care about, and that's just the ones that work there. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to miss the ones I took care of. The nursing home was like a family--sometimes dysfunctional, but at the end of the day full of love and good times.

I should feel trepidation about the near future. I'm in uncharted waters, with no guarantees. The only sure thing I have is my writing, and probably the best and most heartwarming thing my friends at work told me was that I should go for it. They know how much being an author means to me. They've encouraged me to succeed and wished me all the best. In return I told them that if I manage to get Stephen King rich, I'll share the wealth.

I'm onto the next step in my career, or at least that's the plan. The likely outcome is that I'll use this time to finish several works in addition to the books mentioned above, and that I'll see some increase in my writing income, which is currently at a very low point. Chances are high I'll have to get another full-time job at some point this year, but I have hope I'll finally strike gold with one of the things I'm working on or am about to start. I finally feel free to explore those ideas, even knowing I'll be working in home health. Going from taking care of twenty people a shift to a maximum of two means I will have energy to work on my books and the blog before and after my job. It's an awesome thing to know.

I feel confident and happy. I feel excited about the future for the first time in ages. I'm up. 

It's a fantastic feeling.

Victim Zero Milestone by Josh Guess

As many of you know, I'm currently running an IndieGoGo campaign for Victim Zero, which is an actual novel set in the Living With the Dead universe, rather than a book collecting the blog.

The campaign hit a milestone yesterday: 10% of total funds reached. That may not seem like a lot to some people, but it is for me. I promised to write a blog post giving some background on the book when we hit that $500 mark, and this is me keeping that promise.

So, you want to know who stars in this, the first LWtD novel? Sorry. Can't tell you.

If you read the blog, you've met this character. He isn't a main character, but once you read Victim Zero you'll know exactly how vital he is to the story. The idea with this book is to show how the actual organism that started the zombie plague got started. Most zombie fiction skims over that fact, but the (albeit extemely dubious) science behind zombification fascinates me. So, like any good writer I came up with an idea, looked into the biology of it, and fudged the facts one hell of a lot to suit my purpose.

This is the first in a planned series. The number of the book is right there in the title: zero. The events I'm currently writing about in the story begin well before the first post of the LWtD blog. Unlike many books, this one will cover a fairly long stretch of time as the main character deals with the onset of the plague as well as the immediate fallout from society collapsing.

It's entirely possible you'll see some familiar faces in there, too.

Important to remember is that Victim Zero is a standalone novel. You don't have to read LWtD to know what's going on or to feel like the story has been told. Likewise you don't have to read this book if you already read LWtD. Each will, if I do my job right, exist as intertwined stories that can be consumed separately with no loss of coherence or quality.

It's hard to give any hints about the book without mentioning who the main character is and what he does. That's central to the entire thing. However, I did promise to share something of the book with you, and I keep my word. Since I can't give away much at this point, allow me to post the prologue to Victim Zero for all of you to read. You helped raise that $500--now almost $600--and you've earned a peek.

It's short and sweet, but hopefully sets the tone:

 The end of the world started on a fishing boat.
That was not the primary mission of the boat; it was a science vessel. Though the men and women who worked its decks pulled fisherman's hours and suffered the same weather, their purpose was fundamentally different. One group sails to eat, the other sails to know.
The boat should have been at its current location a day before, but harsh seas and high winds kept her anchored longer than anticipated. The marine biologists aboard and their many student researchers discovered the delay to in fact be a lucky break—the algae bloom was spectacular following the churning of the sea in storm.
For hours they hauled small pots of water, a cycle repeated until the tanks were full of iridescent blue-green algae. Then the plastic containers finished their last trip into the sea, were cleaned and stowed, and the vessel turned toward home. A day late but richer for the potential in their discovery, the crew celebrated with cold beer and fresh-caught fish grilled on the main deck.
It would be years before they learned of their part in the end of the world, innocent and small as it may have been. Lost among the understandably more vital news of the day, no one connected the suicides of one tenured professor and two of his former students. By the time anyone could have connected their research to that day on the boat and the haul they brought in, it was far too late. At that point the world had fallen too far for anyone to care.
But that was later. After it all happened.
This is the story of how it began.

Because I can't share much at this point, I'm happy to answer questions about the book in the comments. I may have to give you a RAFO (read and find out) but what I can answer I will. So get asking if you're curious!

My Affair With John Scalzi by Josh Guess

I'm not one to pick up new writers easily. I'll be honest as hell and say that since I've started writing my own stories I've become much worse about that. Reading a new book by a new author is for me what shopping for cars is like for most people. I get nervous and twitchy and I want to know I spent my money and time on something good.

I've heard John Scalzi's name for years now. I've seen his books on bookshelves and noted that the covers of his SciFi books are similar to many, many others: ships in space painted with that dreamy haze. I like that aesthetic, honestly, but it doesn't jump out at me.

Then I read this post on his blog back in October. The post and the resulting comments are a brutal send-up of some extremely conservative politicians and their view on rape victims. It's not easy to read.

That post got me curious. I started to take a deeper look at Scalzi. Then I read a sample of Redshirts and immediately knew I had to read it. A comedic novel that parodies Star Trek? Yes, please.

I read the book and adored it. I laughed out loud reading it. Scalzi captured me with his ability to make the ridiculous believable and to effortlessly (or with a seeming lack of effort; I'm a writer. I know it's difficult) blend in tender moments. I cried at one point. It was pretty good.

I did not, however, continue my affair. I was working on my (now indefinitely) shelved novel Monster at the time and didn't feel right spending my time reading when I should have been writing. So I wrote and occasionally reread old favorites. My relationship with Sanderson, Rothfuss, Butcher, Brent, Weeks, Friedman, and other favorites was once again sort of monogamous.

Fast forward to last week. I finished reading the final Wheel of Time book and found myself in a mood to keep reading. I wanted something new, something very good. And I remembered that I had enjoyed Redshirts and loved it. Surely Scalzi's other books were somewhere close to that quality, right?

Well, no. They weren't. Redshirts was really good, but the others? Fucking AMAZING.

I started with Old Man's War, which is the first book in a series by the same name. I read it in six hours. Then I bought the sequel, The Ghost Brigades, which I read in five hours. Then I bought The Last Colony and took my time, spreading the reading over two days and a total of about eight hours. Then it was on to The Android's Dream. And that's where I'm at right now. Four books consumed in less than a week and I hurt for more. Scalzi is releasing a new novel in the Old Man's War series (which I meant to review here instead of just writing a huge fangasm to Scalzi, but hey--I've been awake since last night. I'm tired.) in serial format, thirteen parts released one a week.

Starting today.

I will wait until all thirteen are out, then buy them all at once. I couldn't stand the anxiety of waiting a week to read the next installment.

So we're clear: John Scalzi is ludicrously talented. No, his books aren't perfect because nothing is perfect, but I judge science fiction by very high standards. Old Man's War as a series stands beside the best SciFi in the world. It may lack the gravitas of Aasimov, the earthy wisdom of Heinlein, or the sheer technical brilliance of Clarke or Herbert, but that does not make Scalzi's work less than theirs. Culturally, Old Man's War is as relevant to where we are as people today as anything Heinlein wrote in his time. I don't denigrate his work in saying he isn't those men (I think he would agree). I just want to be clear; his work carries the best parts of each of them.

In short, John Scalzi has his own voice. It may have a tone more wry and irreverent than others (the first chapter of The Android's Dream, the title itself a reference to Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep AKA Blade Runner, is one long fart joke) but that's just fine with me. Because Scalzi manages to capture you with his words, keep you there with his characters, and make you laugh your ass off and ponder philosophy at the same time. That's a hell of a thing.

Looks like my harem has a new member. And yes, I realize it's creepy and weird to keep referring to my favorite authors that way. It's because I love them, all of them, and Scalzi is just too good not to love.

The one where Winnie the Pooh is outed as a murderer by Josh Guess

Jess and I had a conversation on the way home from the store yesterday. Here's how it went.

Jess: Did Winnie the Pooh only eat honey?

Me: I mean, he's a bear, right? I'm pretty sure that between heartwarming adventures he hunts.

Jess: Seems reasonable.

Me: Well, the hundred acre wood isn't rife with woodland creatures. Probably because Pooh kills and eats them.

Jess: I think that's what happened to Piglet's parents. Piglet has Stockholm Syndrome. Pooh is his friend because Piglet's mind can't deal with the horror of remembering the bloody murder of his parents.

Me: Christopher Robin is just getting fattened up for a finale that will ruin the childhoods of millions.

Jess: God, I hope so.

There was more to the conversation but I was so tired that I fell asleep and forgot the details. But this is the gist of the thing, and it gives you some small insight into the twisted discussions I have every day. It made me laugh to do Pooh's voice, telling Piglet that his time has finally come. I guess the other possibility is that Pooh and Piglet have some kind of Lenny/puppy relationship. I don't know. It just made me giggle.

Back to work for me.

2012 by Josh Guess

2012 has been a strange year for me. Through the end of 2011 and most of the way through this year I was in a deep depression with only occasional moments of normality. During this year my writing income doubled from the previous year, yet in the last month I've seen what I think is a serious long-term decline in my sales. I hope I'm wrong.

I finished Monster yet after I was done I realized the book wasn't at all what I wanted it to be. It needs a lot of work to be a true sequel to Beautiful and I want to do that work and get the book out. The problem is that I wrote almost all of it during that depression, and reading over it puts me back in the mindset I worked so hard to get out of. I don't know if your own emotional problems can create PTSD, but it feels that way. Monster is shelved indefinitely as I work on other things.

I'm at a strange crossroads as a writer. I have a huge amount of material I want to crank out, good ideas that need barely any work to be fully-fleshed out as stories. I've spent long nights working at the nursing home thinking about them on my rounds. Most of them only need the one thing I've had in short supply: time.

Time is the worst part. Yeah, I have it when I get home in the morning, but that's when I'm exhausted in every way. I've written that way before, and in fact I write Living With the Dead that way almost every day. LWtD takes up most of my mental energies any given morning. More writing on top of that is counter-productive.

I started Write The Future in an effort to spend all next year just working on my writing. The campaign is over at midnight tonight and the total contributions stand at just over $1,000. That's no mean feat for a guy sitting on his couch writing about zombies, but it's only about five percent of my goal. That's okay; I honestly didn't think I'd get that far. The project looks like it'll fail in about twelve hours, all the backers will get their money back in the next few weeks.

I'll keep on working and tucking away money here and there. I'll try to save my writing income as much as possible so that someday I'll have a nest egg that will allow me to risk not working. All I need is time to write those books and a bit of luck, and I'll live my dream. Eventually I'll be writing full-time and the stress of this year will be something I can look back on as a learning experience.

Complaining seems pretty dickish at this point. I've had more success than I expected by any measure. Over this year I've reached more readers than I thought possible. I've made new friends and learned a tremendous amount about the art of writing, and it continues. Work is hard and it sucks, but that's how it is all around, right? I've got a roof over my head, the best wife and family anyone could hope for, fuzzy companions at home who are always happy to see me (yes, Jess and I keep Hobbits in the house) and the future has yet to be written.

My readers are the best. You are the best. You've been the most supportive group of people, and I know that while it may take a while, I'll get there eventually. Because of you! That's the truth. I could be sitting here writing the next great classic (I'm totally not) but it wouldn't mean a thing without you guys. I'm thrilled every time I get messages from you, or words of support, or anything really. You all keep me motivated and in total honesty interacting with you on a daily basis has helped calm the emotions that wrecked my productivity so much of this year.

Thank you for all of that. Whether you're a close family member or someone I met on the internet (and there are more of you than I can easily count now, many of you now dear friends), you mean the world to me. Even if I had to give up writing (tragic wheat thresher accident? Choose your own adventure) tomorrow I would still treasure each moment, past and future.

I'm not giving up. I will write and write until my fingers bleed, and I will achieve my dream. I don't make resolutions, but 2013 is going to be my year one way or another. I promise that.

"Next" and a review of "Cold Days" by Jim Butcher by Josh Guess

My initial plan was to begin work on Saint for NaNoWriMo this month, but a few false starts later and an obsessive infatuation with another planned book, Next, pushed me in a different direction. Next is sitting at almost eight thousand words as of this moment, and I'm planning to put it over the 10k mark tonight.

As for Monster, well, the raw first draft is sitting on my hard drive. I'll be honest: I wrote the book during more than a year of depression, personal turmoil, and continuing physical and mental stress. I want to get the book done and published, but every time I sit to edit and revise I start to remember every bad moment and I just can't do it. I may need to let Monster sit for a while as I work on other things and revisit it later. I want it to be a good book. Right now it isn't what I'd like it to be.

And now, a review of Cold Days by Jim Butcher, which I just finished reading a few hours ago.

A warning: SPOILERS. OMG SO MANY SPOILERS. Don't read past here if you haven't read the book or care at all about knowing major plot elements ahead of time. Seriously.

In fact, let me just add a jump right here.

So. Cold Days came out this morning. I read the whole book in about seven and a half hours. I read it straight through, including taking my dogs out and cooking two meals.

The fourteenth book of The Dresden Files easily stands up to the expectations I had for it. While Butcher sticks to his formula as far as plot goes--which is kind of the point of the series, really--this volume comes with a lot of excellent moments and furthers the larger, over-arcing plot of the series very nicely.

There are several long-running questions that get answers, such as what the island Demonreach and its genius loci really are and what purpose they serve. Butcher includes several elements that are actually facets of the same thing that manage to neatly pull together events going all the way back to Harry Dresden's first adventure in Storm Front. We get a larger understanding of the Faerie courts, the role of several characters, and--probably most important in the long run--some solid information regarding Rashid the Gatekeeper and what the future may hold for Harry and his being 'starborn'--which you may remember has something to do with him and Outsiders. Rashid, in his role as Gatekeeper, "guards the outer gates".

That's important, and Butcher throws it in with the same ease with which he manages so many other aspects of the series.

As a reader, I'm more than satisfied with this book. The characters get a lot of development time (well, most of them. I'm a bit iffy on Murphy during the last tenth of the book, to be frank) and if anything, Mr. Butcher has smoothed out his voice even more with this book. His ability to change up the way he writes to better fit his own innate style is truly mind-blowing. As an author myself, I can't help but goggle at the thousand small details. He manages to integrate pop-culture references much more seamlessly than ever before, include humor that is both more subtle and more powerful considering the circumstances it appears in, and generally refine his storytelling even more.

Which is saying a hell of a lot, from my point of view. Butcher has grown as a writer with every novel in this series. That's an amazing feat. Refining your art every time you publish something is a sign of real dedication and talent, and many writers (myself included) would kill to have that level of ability. If the very first book in the series is rough (or maybe only seems that way when reading it over again, compared to the later books) then Cold Days represents an astounding accomplishment: a series that has only improved with each book. That's unheard of. And it's not as though Butcher has reached an even level with his skills and decided to relax and coast. He's still on the upward slope, growing his writing skills by working at it every day. That much is obvious.

And the guy is only forty-one right now. For authors, that's a baby. I can only imagine how good he'll be in ten years, which is probably about the time this series will come to an end. If Cold Days is any indication, the rest of the series is going to keep trending better and better.

Saint: A First Look by Josh Guess

Many of you know I'm running a campaign on IndieGoGo to fund my writing for next year. That link will take you to it. The goal seems like a bit much, I know, but it really isn't. It's less than I make at my full-time job, but even if you don't use that metric it really isn't an outrageous number. I've seen people run campaigns for $15,000 for a single book. I'm reaching for 20k to complete six additional novels on top of my work on Living With the Dead. When you break it down I'm shooting for about $3,400 per book. That's about par for writing campaigns on IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, and the other crowdfunding platforms.

I should also mention here that I'm planning on adding more perks to the campaign that include print editions of each book. Signed by me! Awww, yeah!

With Monster in the edit/revision stage, I figured it would be a good time to give you some background on my next planned novel, which I'm going to write regardless of my campaign's success. It's called Saint, and it's something I haven't done before: a crime drama.

Without giving too much away, the story centers around a man called Saint O'Brien. Though his first name is Eric, few people call him that due to a personality quirk: the Saint always gives a second chance. But after that he's as ruthless and without mercy as a hurricane.

Saint is a character inspired by several of my favorite bad guys in movies and comics. He's a little Mike Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad, a little Winston Wolf from Pulp Fiction. It's safe to say that Agent Graves from 100 Bullets (one of my all-time favorite characters in comics) exists in the Saint in some form, as do the minutemen he lead in the comic.

He's a cleaner, a fixer. He's the one who gets called in to troubleshoot and solve problems when lesser criminals can't manage on their own. The Saint has little to lose and few morals to hold him back. He's a murderer with ice in his blood.

And the idea of the story was to put him in a situation where he is forced to face those remaining moral lines up close and face choices that might make him cross them. Saint is going to be faced-paced and full of thrills, but in building the central character and plot, I began to ask myself just who Eric O'Brien is and how he grew into that man. Originally this novel was going to be a straight thriller, but over the last few months O'Brien has evolved into something much more complex and interesting than a simple anti-hero.

I'm excited to finish Monster and get to work on Saint. This is a new direction for me. I usually write in the realms of science fiction and fantasy. I've got most of this book mapped out in my head, and if the campaign is successful I'll be able to get it written pretty quickly. So if you haven't contributed yet, you should think about doing so. If you haven's shared the link, here it is again. I hope you do that.

Because this guy wants his day in the sun, and I want to give it to him.