2001: A Personal Odyssey

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the theatrical release of Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. I am very much looking forward to seeing it on the big screen when it returns to theaters this May.

The following is a re-post of an article I wrote for the 45th anniversary. It’s not so much a review as an anecdote of my experience with the film and how I grew to appreciate it as the greatest science fiction film ever made.

I first saw 2001 as a kid and found it boring as hell. I had grown up on action-oriented science fiction like Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Star Trek (yes, compared to 2001, Trek is quite action-oriented), so I was not prepared at that age for science fiction presented as a cerebral art film.

Consequently, these were some of the questions that ran through my juvenile brain: Where are the lasers and light sabers?  Where are the spaceship dogfights and massive explosions?  What does a space odyssey have to do with a bunch of apes running around in the desert? When are these astronauts actually going to do something other than jogging around to classical music? Okay, now there’s just some old dude sitting in a room eating dinner—that’s it, I’m out. And so I returned to Star Wars and its ilk, leaving 2001 in the dust, never to be seen or thought of again.

Then one day, as a young adult, I was flipping through channels and stumbled onto the movie just as the Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite sequence was beginning.

I was mesmerized.  This was not the 2001 I remembered as a kid.  This was stunning.  I watched it all the way through to the end and, instead of being bored by the old man eating dinner, I was intrigued.  I knew I had to watch the entire film so I rented it on VHS (kids, if you don’t know what that stands for, ask your parents).

It was a mind-blowing experience.  Every scene that had once seemed boring I now found incredibly compelling.  Things that had previously been unintelligible now made sense. However, as anyone who has watched the movie can attest, there was still much I didn’t understand.  As with the best of art, much was left open to interpretation, so after the movie was finished I went online and gobbled up every piece of information I could find, reading various takes on the material that helped me to develop my own interpretation with repeated viewings.  More than almost any other film, 2001 lends itself to multiple viewingsand multiple interpretations.  Every time I watch it I get something new out of it.

That being said, those who can’t sit through a movie unless something is exploding every five minutes may not find much to like.  2001 is not your traditional three-act, plot driven-film.  It is more of a visual tone poem, a brilliant work of art that challenges the mind and rewards viewers willing to probe its depths, in much the same way as poetry.  It embodies everything to which the greatest science fiction should aspire.

It’s also beautiful to look atand we’re talking about a film made in 1968, before the revolutionary advancements in optical and computer effects ushered in by movies like Star Wars and Jurassic Park.  That 2001 still looks so amazing is a testament to Kubrick’s talent as a filmmaker and the skills of his effects crew.

I could spend all day going deeper into the film, discussing the ways in which the movie predicted future technology that we now enjoy, the meaning of the monoliths, what actually happened to Dave after he went through the stargate, and how, despite being cast as the “bad guy,” the computer HAL is actually the most tragic (and human) character in the film, but I don’t want this post to get overlong.  Besides, critics and film historians far more talented than me have already discussed these things in much greater depth.

I mainly just wanted to convey my love for this film and encourage you to watch (or re-watch) iton as large of a screen as possible. If you give it the chance, if you let it grab hold and pull you in, you will see why, 50 years later, it is still considered by many to be the greatest science fiction film ever made.

My Latest Short Story: Marina

The next installment of my The Eyes of Mictlan Origins series is now available as a free ebook at Smashwords. Additional booksellers like Apple and B&N will have it soon. As with the other ebooks in the series, this short story is excerpted from my novel, The Eyes of Mictlan.

cover_marina

Marina strolls along eerily quiet streets in the foggy slums of Whitechapel, London. Jack the Ripper has just brutally murdered her friend and lover, the latest victim during a reign of terror that has forced many of Marina’s fellow prostitutes into hiding. Any woman walking the streets of Whitechapel alone in the middle of the night is practically begging to become his next victim—which is exactly what Marina is counting on, for she is no ordinary woman, and on this night she is the predator, not the prey.

Also Available

cover_dalton

Old West judge Dalton Freely awakes under a scorching desert sun in a pool of blood-soaked dirt, a noose around his neck, his arms bound behind his back. He turns his gaze upward to find the bodies of his wife and children hanging from a tree. Only then does he begin to recall the horror of the previous evening when a gang of outlaws murdered his family. On the verge of death himself, Dalton desperately drags his broken body back toward civilization, a single thought on his mind: revenge.

cover_xavier

Xavier is an ancient vampire who has wandered the world for over a thousand years in search of a talisman that will give him the power to rule the land of the dead. His quest has led him into the heart of the Aztec Empire as the right-hand man of Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés. Now in the majestic capital city of Tenochtitlan, Xavier has finally discovered the talisman’s location, but to get his hands on it he must set in motion a chain of events that will lead to the destruction of the Aztec civilization.

And Coming Soon

Caesar: A senator of the Roman Empire discovers the monstrous nature of his friend and colleague.

Jeanette: A Depression-era speakeasy singer struggles to survive the hell of a tuberculosis sanatorium.

For more information on my novels and short stories, visit my author page.

A New Short Story

The next installment of my The Eyes of Mictlan Origins series is now available as a free ebook at Smashwords. Additional booksellers like Apple and B&N will have it soon. As with the other ebooks in the series, this short story is excerpted from my novel, The Eyes of Mictlan, though this version has been slightly modified from what appears in the novel in order to make the narrative stand on its own.

cover_xavier

Xavier is an ancient vampire who has wandered the world for over a thousand years in search of a talisman that will give him the power to rule the land of the dead. His quest has led him into the heart of the Aztec Empire as the right-hand man of Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés. Now in the majestic capital city of Tenochtitlan, Xavier has finally discovered the talisman’s location, but to get his hands on it he must set in motion a chain of events that will lead to the destruction of the Aztec civilization.

Also Available

cover_dalton

Old West judge Dalton Freely awakes under a scorching desert sun in a pool of blood-soaked dirt, a noose around his neck, his arms bound behind his back. He turns his gaze upward to find the bodies of his wife and children hanging from a tree. Only then does he begin to recall the horror of the previous evening when a gang of outlaws murdered his family. On the verge of death himself, Dalton desperately drags his broken body back toward civilization, a single thought on his mind: revenge.

And Coming Soon

Marina: A White Chapel prostitute takes extreme measures after Jack the Ripper murders her friend.

Caesar: A senator of the Roman Empire discovers the monstrous nature of his friend and colleague.

Jeanette: A Depression-era speakeasy singer struggles to survive the hell of a tuberculosis sanatorium.

For more information on my novels and short stories, visit my author page.

Introducing My New “Origins” Series

I have a launched a new eBook series called The Eyes of Mictlan Origins, a collection of free short stories excerpted from my novel, The Eyes of Mictlan. All of the stories will be available as free eBooks from Smashwords and other booksellers.

I have also launched a new page on my author site dedicated to the series. The first story, Dalton, is available now. Read below for a synopsis.


cover_dalton

Old West judge Dalton awakes under a scorching desert sun in a pool of blood-soaked dirt, a noose around his neck, his arms bound behind his back. He turns his gaze upward to find the bodies of his wife and children hanging from a tree. Only then does he begin to recall the horror of the previous evening when a gang of outlaws murdered his family. On the verge of death himself, Dalton desperately drags his broken body back toward civilization, a single thought on his mind: revenge.

And coming soon. . .

Xavier: An ancient vampire manipulates events during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.

Marina: A White Chapel prostitute takes extreme measures after Jack the Ripper murders her friend.

Caesar: A senator of the Roman Empire discovers the monstrous nature of his friend and colleague.

Jeanette: A Depression-era speakeasy singer struggles to survive the hell of a tuberculosis sanatorium.


In related news, there is just over a week left to download my full novel, The Eyes of Mictlan, for free at Smashwords.  Just enter the code SFREE at checkout.

In closing, I promise to resume posting travel and photo stories with more consistency once this unprecedentedly busy summer is finally over. Stay tuned. And as always, thank you for reading!

A New Page and a New Trip

I haven’t been as active with this blog lately because I’ve been busy with author related tasks, including launching a new home page dedicated solely to the novelist portion of my online presence. You can view my new page here: michaelrappa.net. There is also a link to the new page in this blog’s top menu called “My Author Page.”

My Author Page Banner

On the new page you can read my author bio and sample chapters, and order my books, including some upcoming free short stories. The new page also links back to this blog, as this is where I will post news and updates in addition to my usual travel stories and photos.

Speaking of travel, I am in the early stages of planning a road trip to Canada this summer, either in late June/early July or late August/early September. My original idea was to head up to Quebec City for a few days and then drive out to Nova Scotia, but after reading up on Cape Breton and seeing photos of its stunning beauty, I now want to organize my entire trip around that–driving the Cabot Trail and hiking in the Highlands National Park both sound amazing!

Cape Breton: What’s not to love?

So now I’m thinking I’ll save Quebec for another trip and just focus on the Nova Scotia area. I would like to visit all of the main points of interest in Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, and Prince Edward Island.

Have any of you visited this region of Canada? How many days do you like to spend on each of the islands and what is your favorite time of the year to visit? Any travel advice would be much appreciated. 🙂

As always, thank you for reading and I promise to resume my travel blogging very soon!

Star Wars: Remembering Another Opening Night 32 Years Ago

In honor of the release of The Force Awakens, I thought I’d re-share this post about my Return of the Jedi opening-night experience. My friends and I were 12 years old then. Now, more than 32 years later, I will be reuniting with one of those friends to see the new film in IMAX at the Franklin Institute in Philly…

A long time ago, in a movie theater somewhat far away . . .

The wait had seemed interminable. Three years to find out the fate of Han Solo, to learn if Darth Vader had been telling the truth about Luke’s father. Three years is forever to a child who had only been nine years old when The Empire Strikes Back ended with a major cliffhanger. But the day finally arrived: May 25th, 1983, opening day for Return of the Jedi.

I was heading to the theater in Deptford, NJ with my two best friends, Bruce and Kim. Kim’s dad drove us up to the theater early in the day so we could buy tickets ahead of time and walk around the mall until the movie started. This proved to be a brilliant move because by the time we returned to the theater the line outside was longer than anything I had ever seen in my life. We got in line and it continued to grow behind us, stretching back farther than we could see.

After a while, a theater employee started walking down the line and informing people that the shows were sold out for the entire night. If they didn’t already have tickets, they weren’t getting in. It was still early at this point, so a lot of people went home disappointed that day. I don’t recall how long we waited before finally getting into the theater, but we stood outside for a long time. You don’t really see lines like that anymore (except maybe in major cities) because movies now open in so many theaters. Back then, we didn’t have 20-plus-theater multiplexes. I think our theater had six screens, and only a couple of those were showing Jedi. Personally, I have never seen a theater line in the 30 years since that even came close to the one that day.

Watching the movie was surreal. The audience erupted in thunderous applause every time something good happened. I have gone to other movies where the audience cheered, but nothing like this. After waiting three years for a resolution to the most stunning cliffhanger in movie history, the audience was just ready to let loose. It was a communal experience.

Jedi frequently gets a bad rap, is thought of as the weak stepchild of the original trilogy. I think much of this is due to revisionist history, particularly where the Ewoks are concerned. Everyone my age liked the Ewoks when we were kids–if you claim differently now you are not being honest with yourself. But putting the Ewoks aside, the movie had spectacular sequences and set pieces: the rancor, the battle over the sarlacc pit where we got to see Luke kicking ass as a Jedi for the first time, the speeder bike chase, the battle over the second Death Star with more fast flying ships, lasers, and explosions than had ever been seen onscreen at one time. And the scenes between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor were some of the best of the entire saga (at least until Lucas retroactively ruined the climax by having Vader scream “No!” but that’s a story for another article.).

It may not have been quite to the level of its predecessors, but Return of the Jedi was still a thrilling and satisfying conclusion to the greatest movie trilogy of all time, and I will never forget that opening day. My friends and I still talk about it.

Story Cartel and the Search for Reviews

cover3bOne of the biggest struggles for an indie author is getting people to review your books on Amazon and other book retailers (I even have trouble getting people I know personally, and who have given my novel extremely positive feedback, to leave reviews). Without reviews (positive, negative, or indifferent), it’s nearly impossible to get strangers interested in your book because it gets lost in an endless sea of unreviewed, self-published books available to the masses.

As indie authors, we take steps to try and remedy this situation: launching giveaway contests, making our books available for free with coupon codes or by reducing the price to zero for a period of time, promoting the books on blogs and social media, and so on. For most unknown authors, I imagine the results are as middling as mine have been, so last month I decided to try something new.

My search for reviews led me to a few sites that offer authors the chance to give their books away for free in exchange for honest reviews. Some of these sites are more expensive than others and, as I was unwilling to risk spending a lot of money on something that was not guaranteed to work, I chose the site with the cheapest rate: Story Cartel.

For $25, you can post your novel on Story Cartel in various formats for three weeks. Anyone can download it during this time for free. As added incentive, those who leave reviews are entered into giveaways for prizes such as Kindle eReaders, Amazon and Barnes & Noble gift cards, and bestselling print books. I figured that for $25 I didn’t have much to lose, and if it helped me get a few reviews, all the better. After all, I’d read articles in which people had claimed to get 50+ reviews out of it.

My results, I’m afraid to say, were not quite so amazing. In fact, I’d have to label the entire experiment a failure, for in the end, I only got one solitary review for my $25. It was a very nice, 5-star review (for a total of two reviews on my novel’s Amazon page), but overall it was not worth it for me. Does that mean it won’t work for you? Perhaps, perhaps not. I think the success rate might be higher for an author with more of an established following than one like myself who is still trying to build one. The reason for this is that the onus is on you to promote the giveaway. I did my best to feature it on both social media and this blog but, again, I believe it comes down to how big (and dedicated) your following is.

As for the publishing process at Story Cartel, the interface was easy enough to use, though I would like to have seen a longer description field, as well as a place for me to enter a list of searchable tags (I feel that being limited to just two genres did not make the book searchable enough). It also might have helped if I could have made the book available for longer than three weeks.

I could have opted for Story Cartel’s more expensive option that features the book more prominently, but there’s no guarantee that would have helped get me more reviews. At least $25 wasn’t a huge amount to spend on a failed experiment–I’m just glad I didn’t try one of the more expensive sites that would have taken more than $100 out of my pocket.

I think the lesson from all this is that there is only so much you can do to drum up sales as an unknown author. A lot of it comes down to luck–you can have a great novel that never gets read by anyone, or a lousy novel that becomes a best seller [cough 50 Shades cough]. Most of us fall somewhere in between. That doesn’t mean I will stop trying (see below), it just means I’m being realistic. I was never under any illusion that I was going to become a best seller and have my novel turned into a movie. I’m just gratified that I was able to get it out in the world and that those who have read it have really enjoyed it.


In other news, you can now download the entire first half of my novel for free from Smashwords, and it’s only 99 cents to read the rest. I believe this 50% sample size may also apply to some of the other booksellers in the Smashwords distribution network, such as Barnes & NobleKobo, Oyster, Scribd, Inktera, Apple, and OverDrive (though not Amazon). I also intend to make more of my novel available for reading on this blog.

And stay tuned for a series of upcoming new releases: free short stories excerpted from my novel, which will be downloadable at booksellers and also posted here. The series of stories will live under the title, The Eyes of Mictlan: Origins. I hope you will enjoy them, and as always, I thank you for your support!

Get My Novel for FREE This Month

cover3bIn honor of National Novel Writing Month, I am making the eBook version of my novel, The Eyes of Mictlan, available for free during the entire month of November, and also giving you the opportunity to be entered into a monthly drawing to win prizes.

There are three ways in which you can obtain a free copy:

  1. Story Cartel – For the next three weeks, you can download a FREE copy of my ‪novel from Story Cartel (registration is free) and, if you leave an honest review on your favorite book site or your blog, you will be entered into a monthly drawing to win a prize. I believe you also get an additional entry just for downloading the book, regardless of whether you leave a review, so a review is by no means required, but would definitely be appreciated. 🙂

    From the Story Cartel web site:
    “Every month, we give away Kindle eReaders, Amazon and Barnes & Noble gift cards, and bestselling print books to the Story Cartel community. Our giveaways are just a small way we say thank you for reading and reviewing books on Story Cartel.”

    If you do not want to register for an account at Story Cartel, you can also obtain a free copy via one of the methods below. However, only those who download the book from Story Cartel will be entered into their monthly drawing.

  2. Smashwords – You can download a free copy of my novel from Smashwords using the following coupon code: GH76V.

    You can also read a free sample without registering, which is roughly equivalent to the first seven chapters.

  3. If you do not have a Smashwords account (or do not wish to create one), you can message me on Twitter at @njrappa and I will send you a link to download a free copy in either mobi, epub, or PDF format.

There are no strings attached and the book is yours to keep, but I would be most grateful if you could take a few minutes to leave a review on your favorite book site (such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads). And as always, I thank you for your support!

My Smashwords Interview

When you join Smashwords as an author, you can post an interview based on auto-generated questions to help your readers get to know you a little better. I thought it might be a good idea to post the interview here as well.

And don’t forget that there’s still time to enter my Amazon Giveaway to win a free copy of my novel.

Interview with Michael Rappa

Who are your favorite authors?
Stephen King, Frank Herbert, J. R. R. Tolkien, Richard Matheson, Edgar Allan Poe, George R.R. Martin, Douglas Adams

What are your five favorite books, and why?
Dune – Frank Herbert’s masterpiece is my all-time favorite novel. It has often been called science fiction’s answer to Tolkien’s Middle Earth books and for good reason. I’ve read the entire Dune series as well as most of Herbert’s standalone novels. I was fascinated as a child by his use of journal entries and quotes for chapter heads, as well as the glossary he included in Dune for his numerous invented words. He was a brilliant writer and a huge influence, not so much on my first novel, but much of my writing owes a great debt to Herbert.

The Shining – My favorite Stephen King novel and the greatest ghost story I’ve ever read. My next novel is going to be a haunted house story and to say that ‘The Shining’ is an influence is a major understatement.

1984 – George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare has proven to be eerily prescient. The ending still haunts me. Unfortunately, what he originally intended as a cautionary tale seems more often these days to be used as a “how-to” manual. One of the stories I’m working on is a Negative Utopian tale in the vein of 1984–I even named the main character George in tribute.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Hands down the funniest book ever written. Douglas Adams was a genius.

The Dark Tower – This Stephen King series was the biggest influence on my first novel. Its blending of horror, fantasy, western, and sci-elements while seamlessly jumping between our world and Mid-World was masterful. My favorite individual books in the series are ‘Wizard and Glass’ and ‘The Gunslinger.’

Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
It was probably Call of the Wild, which I read repeatedly as a child. Besides contributing to my lifelong love of dogs, it made me want to read more and to create stories of my own.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I wrote a haunted house story with a couple of my childhood friends. It was quite macabre for the minds of second graders, as I recall.

What’s the story behind your latest book?
I first put pen to paper (yes, pen and paper) back in 1997 when I wrote the first chapter and outlined the rest of the novel. The idea for the novel originally sprung from a text-based online role-playing game I was considering playing on AOL back in the days of dial-up modems (kids, ask your parents). As part of creating a character for the game, you were supposed to come up with a back story for your character. I never ended up playing the game, but I liked the character I created, so I decided to turn his story into a novel.

My original intention was to write it as an experimental serial novel, in which I would post a new chapter at regular intervals. In fact, the first chapter has been available online in one form or another since 1998. However, when I realized that there was enough material for a full-blown novel, I altered my plans. It took many years to complete—as any aspiring writer will tell you, one of the biggest obstacles to completing a novel is finding the time between your job, housework, and various other adult responsibilities—but eventually (and with the help of a period of unemployment) I finished the first draft in early 2009. Subsequent drafts followed and I finally had a draft that I deemed worthy of submission in the winter of 2012.

I do NOT plan to take 18 years to publish my next novel. 🙂

What motivated you to become an indie author?
I tried the traditional publishing route first, submitting queries to agents, but then I began to notice that more and more people were self-publishing and that the self-publishing industry was growing at an astronomical rate, with even established authors beginning to self-publish. I like the idea of maintaining full control over my property and earning higher royalties on each sale, not that I’m expecting to earn much (you don’t really make any money on a book unless it becomes a best-seller). It’s more about the work itself, getting it out there into the world, and self-publishing seemed like the best way for me to accomplish that. The traditional querying process did have its benefits, though—it helped me to hone the marketing of my book, specifically the synopsis I eventually used for the back cover—but I am happy with my decision to go the indie route.

What is your writing process?
I tend to edit heavily as I’m writing. Conventional wisdom says you should plow through your first draft and then go back later to edit, but I guess I’m too obsessive to work that way. Consequently, it takes me longer to complete a first draft, but on the bright side my first draft is more complete and thus needs fewer revisions than the average first draft.

How do you approach cover design?
I designed the cover for my first novel myself. I am not even close to being an artist but I have enough Photoshop experience that I was able to make a cover that looks professional. I had first tried one of Amazon’s online cover templates, but these were too plain and I didn’t want my cover to look like everyone else’s, so I spent a lot of time getting the look I wanted. The front art includes a real photo of mine that I manipulated via Photoshop to depict a scene from the novel. For the back cover (of the paperback) I chose to use an author photo rather than create another image. For future novels I may continue to design them myself or explore the possibility of employing a professional.

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I’ve spent almost my entire life in New Jersey. I grew up in a small town in South Jersey that was essentially a suburb of Philadelphia, as did the character Sam in my first novel. Most of my stories take place in New Jersey. I’ve even created a fictional South Jersey town which I plan to weave into my stories in a sort of shared universe, a la Stephen King’s Derry and Castle Rock.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I enjoy reading, traveling, photography, and cooking. I also play tennis and chess, and once every few years I pick up my saxophone. I spend most of my evenings feeding my TV/Film addiction, with the occasional video game mixed in.

What is your e-reading device of choice?
I own a Kindle but do most of my e-book reading via the kindle app on my phone. I still read physical books more frequently than e-books, especially for my favorite authors, whose books I like to collect.

To learn more, you can visit my Author Page at Smashwords.

More Platforms for My Novel and a New Contest

I am pleased to announce that the eBook version my novel, The Eyes of Mictlan, is now available on more platforms around the world. In addition to Amazon, you can now purchase it for $0.99 at Barnes & NobleSmashwords, Kobo, Oyster, Scribd, and Inktera. By the end of this week it should also be available at Apple, Baker & Taylor (Blio & Axis 360), txtr, OverDrive, and Flipkart.

I have also launched a new giveaway for the paperback version of The Eyes of Mictlan via Amazon. To enter, you just have to click on the link, follow me on Twitter (or confirm that you already follow me), and then you will find out instantly if you have won a copy. The contest is open all week to U.S. residents 18 and over. One note: unlike my previous contest, these copies will not be signed because Amazon is shipping them directly to the winners.

Win a Free Copy!

The Eyes of Mictlan by Michael Rappa

The Eyes of Mictlan

by Michael Rappa

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Every 600th eligible entry will win, up to 4 winners. This giveaway started September 27,2015 3:46 PM PDT and ends the earlier of October 4,2015 11:59 PM PDT or when all prizes have been awarded.

As always, I thank you for your support, and if you enter the contest, best of luck!