Friday, 28 December 2012

2012 in Review: Looking Back


It's the last Friday of the year, which means it's time to round up my week-long "2012 in Review" series of posts. A quick recap for those just joining in. On Monday, I revealed my favorite books for the year. On Tuesday, it was favorite songs. On Wednesday, favorite albums. And yesterday, I short listed my favorite movies. Today, I'll be looking back at the year as a whole.


Okay, so the fact that you're over there reading this means the world didn't end on the 21st of December after all. Or maybe it did, and everyone just got left behind or something. Either way, it is clear that those Mayans made pretty shoddy calendars. I bet there must be thousands of disappointed survivalists right now, wondering what to do with that lifetime's supply of tuna. Take heart, my friends, I'm pretty certain a new end of the world date would be predicted soon enough. And to those of us still happy to have civilization soldiering on, enjoy it while it lasts.


The biggest event that (actually) took place this past year was of course the London 2012 Olympic Games. The British media had been going on about it for the last eight years, and for that reason I'm quite glad the whole thing is done and over with. I never actually watched any of the games, due in part to my dislike of television and my indifference towards sports. But I was just as excited to watch the opening and closing ceremonies as everyone else. Danny Boyle really went all the way to create the grandest opening yet, and the closing ceremony reminded us just how awesome British music has been over the years.


I remember setting some major writerly goals at the start of the year. 2012 was to be the year that I embraced the possibility of becoming a full-time writer. So I decided to complete my epic fantasy series, Guardians & The Lost Paradise, and to self-publish it on Amazon and other online retailers. After taking part in a Kindleboards writing challenge in February, running a month-long crowdfunding campaign in June, and serializing the individual books in the series between July and December, I am pleased to announce the realization of those goals. It's amazing what you can achieve once you set your mind to it.

It's been a fun, wild and eventful week (and year at large). I look forward to doing this again next year. For now, thanks for being a part of the madness, and see you again on the other side.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

2012 in Review: Favorite Movies


Marvel's The Avengers



The year is practically over, so I guess its official that Marvel's The Avengers is the highest grossing movie for 2012. But I'm sure you already knew that. Which is only fair, considering how highly anticipated the movie was. But I always knew it had little hope of surpassing the records set by Avatar and Titanic, not with such stiff competition. The thing I like the most about Avengers is its lighthearted and comical nature, because truth be told, the story wasn't any more complex than the likes of Transformers. These aren't shortcomings, but rather limitations imposed by the movies' source materials. The fact that he was able to circumvent those limitations and create a film that pleased fans and critics alike is a testament to Joss Whedon's magical touch. Michael Bay take note: when you spend the climax of an entire movie (Transformers) showing a city getting blown up due to a fight between giant robots, the sequel (Transformers 2) needs to acknowledge that the event took place. That was one thing that was handled very well in The Avengers. The aftermath.

The Dark Knight Rises



The last movie in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy might not be the best, but there is no denying that it was a movie that exceeded all expectations. The acting was superb, as should be expected; Michael Caine needs to be considered for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award next year. Then again, we've always known he was brilliant, haven't we? Tom Hardy on the other hand gave one of his best performances, showing us a darker side that was barely glimpsed in Warrior. At almost 3 hours in length, the movie is the lengthiest Batman till date. But what I've always loved about Christopher Nolan movies is getting to watch all the clues and seemingly disconnected scenes slowly coming together at the end of everything. The only thing missing in this case is the Joker. A brief appearance or even a slight reference might have solved the problem. But as things stand, it was very hard for me to imagine that level of chaos taking place in Gotham without the Joker having any part to play in it.

Prometheus

 


I might have broken some sort of record by watching this movie too many times to count. Most of those viewings were spent trying to decipher the point behind the movies plot. But the good thing about movies like this is that everything doesn't necessarily need to add up. At least not immediately. Isn't that what sequels are for? So, right around my eleventh viewing, I decided to stop looking for what was clearly not there, and focus instead on those aspects that I really enjoyed. First off, the visuals are nothing short of breathtaking, and the movie is worth experiencing for that alone. Then Michael Fassbender gave a simultaneously chilling and heartfelt performance as the team's resident android. Lastly, the infamous alien child birth scene has quite possibly set a new standard for realistic blood and gore. For a movie that tries to tackle a question as staggering as the origin of life on Earth, I think it did okay. Sorta.

The Hunger Games



I confess, my first viewing of The Hunger Games didn't exactly leave me impressed, so I can totally empathize with those that felt it was dull and over-hyped. But once you get over the fact that the movie wasn't made in the style of the typical blockbuster, you'll see that there's much to love about the movie's direction. For example, I love the movies gritty look and feel, reminiscent of Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men. We aren't constantly bombarded with unnecessary special effects, just because its a science fiction movie and such things come with the territory, once again like the typical blockbuster. Then Jennifer Laurence did a decent job portraying Katniss Everdeen. All in all, a solid start to a promising new series, though I am still rather baffled by the studio's decision to split their adaptation of the final book into two movies, considering the fact that the three books are roughly the same length.

John Carter



Watching John Carter left me wondering one thing: what went wrong? I mean, here is a pretty decent science-fiction movie that should have kickstarted a new franchise that could rival the likes of Star Wars. I was really rooting for it too, mainly because it marked Andrew Stanton's first foray into directing live-action. Analysts blame the movie's poor performance at the box office on the studio's failure to market the film properly. But I feel moviegoers simply assumed the movie was going to be highly derivative and stayed away as a result. While I am not familiar with the source material, I was still very much impressed with the story, and the visuals really brought that story to life. It's the sort of series that can only get better from the first movie onward. Shame we might never see the sequel that it truly deserves. Oh well.

And the winner is

The Dark Knight Rises



While many consider Marvel's The Avengers to be the ultimate superhero movie (for now), I think that honor should actually go to The Dark Knight Rises, when considered in the context of the overall story told in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. It ends with a sense of closure lacking in most superhero movies today. I understand that the movie makers need to keep the doors open for potential sequels, but it would be nice if they at least tried to resolve all ongoing story arcs before moving on or rebooting the franchise! I feel sorry for whoever it is that would have to take up the task of rebooting Batman though. The bar has been raised so high now that anything short of brilliant would most likely be laughed at. The safest bet would be to tackle the story from a totally different angle, though I haven't got the faintest clue what that angle might be.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

2012 in Review: Favorite Albums

fun. - Some Nights



Being a fan of so many different musical genres, there is nothing I love more than when two seemingly disparate genres are fused together to create something fresh. But very rarely is that fusion handle as well as on Some Nights, the second full-length album by the indie rock band, fun. Their decision to go with a hip-hop producer (Jeff Bhasker) has effectively shaped and helped realize one of the year's best albums. Highlights include Some Nights, We Are Young, Carry On and All Alright.

Imagine Dragons - Night Visions



Another pairing between an indie rock band and a hip-hop producer. This time around, its the Nevada-based Imagine Dragons and the English producer Alex Da Kid, who come together to build upon the success of their Continued Silence EP, a record that originally spawned their current hits, Radioactive and It's Time. Other highlights include On Top of the World, Amsterdam, Underdog and Nothing Left to Say/Rocks.

Zedd - Clarity


By and large, this is the most impressive debut by an EDM artist I've heard. The German producer, Zedd, came to fame due to his remix of Lady Gaga's Marry The Night, a song that had one of the meanest rubber duck basslines ever. With Clarity, Zedd has shown the world that he indeed has other tricks up his sleeve. Why he wasn't given a Grammy nomination for Best Electronic/Dance Album is anybody's guess, but that does not change the fact that Clarity is one of the year's finest EDM offerings. Highlights include Spectrum, Lost At Sea, Fall Into The Sky and Follow You Down.

Usher - Looking 4 Myself




I lost my taste for straight-up R&B some time ago, which might explain why I wasn't too excited or impressed by Usher's previous album, Raymond V Raymond. But with Looking 4 Myself, Usher has not only pushed the boundaries of the R&B genre, he has also ended up with quite possibly his most praise-worthy album till date. Nothing can ever take away the feeling of wonder I felt the first time I heard the title track, a song that is as far away from straight-up R&B as you can get, without losing any of the genre's soul and groove. Highlights include Climax, Lemme See, Looking 4 Myself and Numb.

No Doubt - Push and Shove




It's hard to believe that it's been 9 years since No Doubt's 2003 greatest hits album (The Singles 1992-2003). Maybe it's because we've been blessed with two Gwen Stefani solo albums between then and now. Either way, their latest release sounds just as good as the older stuff, and its nice to see a band that isn't trying to conform to the current electro pop craze. Highlights include Looking Hot, Push and Shove, Undercover, Sparkle and Heaven.

Madonna - MDNA



The queen of pop is back, and its a testament to her versatility that she is still relevant in the music industry after nearly 30 years. After the more urban sound of her previous album, Hard Candy, MDNA marks a return to the familiar dance-pop oriented sound of her 2005 album. She hooks up with past collaborators, Stuart Price and William Orbit, and current-generation hit makers like Benny Benassi and Martin Solveig, and together they've been able to produce a worthy successor to Confessions on the Dance Floor. Highlights include I'm Addicted, Love Spent and Masterpiece.

Robbie Williams - Take the Crown



It is no secret that British singer, Robbie Williams, is my favorite male recording artist. And if it was, well, now you know. Taking a step back from the more electronic sound of his recent efforts (including his infamous 2006 album, Rudebox), he has decided to craft an album composed solely of pop/rock hit material. The fact that he has finally scored (with lead single, Candy) his first UK number one single since 2004's Radio means he must be on the right track. Highlights include Be A Boy, Candy and Not Like The Others

Ke$ha - Warrior



A rather late entry in a year of great music, but one that is very much worthy of inclusion. Ke$ha introduced the world to her electro pop, heavily-autotuned (not to mention highly-addictive) madness in her debut album, Animal, and its follow-up EP, Cannibal. With Warrior, she tries to prove that she isn't a one trick pony. She even dropped her usual autotuned vocals for a couple of choice songs, making it apparent that she sings with a bit of a country drawl. She drew inspiration from genres like old school rock 'n roll and country, and the way they've been infused into her music is nothing short of amazing. Highlights include Die Young, Crazy Kids, Wherever You Are and Supernatural.

deadmau5 - > album title goes here <



A definite forerunner for next year's Best Electronic/Dance Album Grammy Award, especially after losing the same award to Skrillex's Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites this past year. deadmau5 is an artist that never ceases to amaze me, and his latest album is chuck full of moments of Progressive House glory. While probably not his best since the superb Random Album Title, > Album Title Goes Here < is an album that packs more highs than lows. Highlights include Channel 42, The Veldt and Professional Griefers.

Bruno Mars - Unorthodox Jukebox



One of the year's most eagerly awaited albums manages to sneak into my list of favorites following its December release. And already it is apparent that Bruno Mars has cut another record just teeming with future hits. It was fun watching his previous album (Doo wops and Hooligans) churn out hit song after hit song, and I am fairly confident that Unorthodox Jukebox is prime to follow suit. Highlights include Locked Out Of Heaven, Gorilla, Treasure and Natalie.

And the winner is...

fun. - Some Nights



While I had somehow managed to not crown the lead single, We Are Young, as my favorite song for 2012 yesterday, there is no denying that the complete set deserves today's top honor. After all, it is the only one on my short list of favorites that is also vying for an Album of the Year Grammy next year. It has some fierce competition though, from the likes of The Black Key's El Camino and Mumford & Sons' Babel. But you never know with these things, so I'll be rooting for the underdog once again. Hopefully I won't be disappointed a second year in a row.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

2012 in Review: Favorite Songs

fun. - We Are Young

 


When the Grammy nominations were announced some days back, I was very much excited to learn that fun. had scored a total of six nominations. These include Record of the Year and Song of the Year nominations for their breakout hit single, We Are Young. There's something very special about Nate Reuss, lead singer of the band. He has a vocal style that is reminiscent of Queen's Freddy Mercury, but one that is still very unique when compared with today's crop of lead singers from other bands. And together with his bandmates, he was able to deliver one of the most anthemic songs of the year, a song about the inevitable ups and downs of a relationship (and of course the splendor of youth). We Are Young is a song that takes a few listens to fully appreciate, with its abrupt beat changes and its oddball fusion of hip-hop and indie rock. But it is these very things that give it its lasting appeal, and sets it apart.

Carly Rae Jepsen - Call Me Maybe

 


From the first time I heard Carly Rae Jepsen's Call Me Maybe, during its early days of relative obscurity, I knew it was going to be a hit. Although I had no idea just how big a smash hit it was going to be. A quick trip to wikipedia puts the current tally at over 10 millions legal downloads, making it "one of the best-selling digital singles of all time." Arguably the ultimate sing-along song of 2012, Miss Jepsen has had one of the best debuts by a pop singer in recent years. My only concern for her though is would she be able to break away from the bubblegum pop image and carve a true identity for herself, the same way past chart toppers like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Ke$ha have been able to do. Only time would tell I guess.

M83 - Midnight City

 


I have been listening to music since before I was born (I was named after the King of Pop after all). Today, I take much pride in my massive collection of songs and albums, amassed over the course of many years. In all that time, I've grown to love everything from EDM to classic rock 'n roll, and even folk and country. And just when I thought I'd heard all that music had to offer, a song from a little-known French electronic band comes out of the woodwork to prove me wrong. That band is M83, and their song, Midnight City, is quite possibly the greatest song of all time. Okay, those of you who've known me long enough would know that I tend to say things like that all the time. But put simply, if pure awesomeness was a song, this would be it.

Toya Delazy - Love is in the Air

 


The current queen of the South African music scene was one of the few new artist to strike a chord with me this past year. And the song that catapaulted her towards superstardom was the electro pop hit, Love is in the Air. It is one of those few songs that I never get tired of listening to. It is also helped by a rather creative music video, most of which was spent showing her ascending a stairwell over and over again, with somewhat magical results. What I love most about her music is her unique blend of Pop, Jazz, R&B and EDM. Much like Bruno Mars, she is an artist whose music cannot be shoehorned into one particular genre, due to the wideness of her influences.

Good Music - Mercy

 


I'm a firm advocate of minimalism. That is, I always appreciate works of art where the artist takes a minimalistic approach in creating something that is deceptively simple but ultimately complex. Big Sean, Pusha T, Kanye West and 2 Chainz (known collectively as Good Music) have somehow managed to create such a song, with its simple instrumental, nonsensical lyrics (an entire song that is literally centered around getting a hand job from a rival's girlfriend - in a Lamborghini Murcielago nonetheless), and basic black-and-white video. It is a song that rewards mulitple listens, each one revealing hidden layers of complexity and brilliance, and it's no surprise that it has earned the quartet a Best Rap Song nomination at next year's Grammy Awards.

Psy - Gangnam Style

 


And just like last year, when I had to sneak in a sixth finalist in my list of favorites (LMFAO's Party Rock Anthem), I am rounding up this year's list with another viral hit. Youtube's most watched music video of all time also happens to be one of the best music videos of 2012. Very few songs have been able to transcend language and cultural barriers as well as Psy's Gangnam Style. The last song that comes to mind is Los Del Rio's Macarena. And just like Macarena, there's a lot to love about Psy's song and video, like its outrageous dance moves and over-the-top depiction of bright colors. It is clear that the stars have aligned for the South Korean rapper, and I hope he'll be able to follow up the success of Gangnam Style with more hits in the months/years to come.

And the winner is...


M83 - Midnight City

 


This year's choice has proven more difficult than last year's winner (Foster the People's Pumped Up Kicks). Every single one of my picks would have been worthy of being crowned favorite for 2012. I was especially leaning towards fun. this year, and if it had been any other year, We Are Young would've taken the crown. But if we're talking raw numbers (play counts), emotions and sheer excitement, then M83 comes out on top. Midnight City is the closest thing to sonic perfection I have heard (pretty big claim, I know), a song that couldn't possibly be improved upon in any way or manner. From its barely discernable vocals, to its pulsating bassline and synths, to the sweetness of the saxophone solo (can we ever have too many of those?) that kicks in at the climax, not to mention one of the best videos I've seen in years, Midnight City is a song that redefines the word, awesome.

P.S: Merry Christmas everyone.

Monday, 24 December 2012

2012 in Review: Favorite Books

11/22/63

 

The very first book I read in 2012 also happened to be my first ever Stephen King novel, not counting my feeble attempts to read Cujo when I was eight (didn't quite make it past the first two pages). I've never considered  myself a fan of horror, despite being a fan of Thomas Harris (or more aptly his character, Hannibal Lecter), which explains why I'd avoided Stephen King books like the plague. That is until I found out that he also wrote in my favorite genre, science fiction. 11/22/63 is just such a book, an 800-page monster of a novel that tells the story of a man who travels back in time to stop the assassination of U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, in a bid to better the future. It also has elements of historical fiction and alternate history, and should appeal to fans of those genres.

The Rise of Nine

 

The third book of the I am Number Four series continues the adventures of the six remaining Gardes from Lorien as they develop their legacies in preparation for an inevitable showdown with the Mogadorians. I got into the series after watching (and being pleasantly surprised by) the movie adaptation of the first book. While they might not be as popular with today's kids as the likes of Twilight and The Hunger Games, these books still appeal to that same part of me that loved reading Animorphs back in the day. Admittedly though, it is with this book that it becomes safe to wonder whether the series might be running out of steam. Hopefully the authors would be able to wrap everything up in the next book or two, without trying to milk the whole thing dry.

Insurgent

 

Just like The Hunger Games, Divergent was another work of dystopian fiction that managed to strike a chord with fans of the ever-popular YA genre. One of the things I loved about it was its post-apocalyptic setting, a futuristic Chicago were everything is split between five ideology-based factions. The second book expands upon that world, all the while revealing more back stories, key players, and of course government conspiracies. And while not as engaging as the first book, Insurgent still does a decent job of setting the stage for the third and final book. I can't wait to see how it all translates onto the big screen when the movies come out.

 

Wool (Omnibus Edition)

 

And right here is another book-to-movie adaptation that couldn't possibly come soon enough. Every now and again, a book/movie/TV series comes out of nowhere and simply blows your mind away. In 2012, that book was Wool by science-fiction writer, Hugh Howey. It is set in a post-apocalyptic future where the remnants of humanity have been forced underground after the Earth's surface becomes uninhabitable. The omnibus edition brings together the first five books in the series, and we follow the lives of the inhabitants of Silo 17 (an underground city of sorts) as they slowly uncover a vast conspiracy that could very well lead to the next great uprising. It is one of those rare stories that you just have to experience for yourself, in order to understand its true magnitude.


The Casual Vacancy

 

I've been a Harry Potter fan ever since I'd read the opening lines of the first book. From the very beginning, I was captivated by J.K. Rowling's writing style and her dark sense of humor, both of which carry over nicely into her first book for adults. The closest parallel I can draw to The Casual Vacancy is the TV show, Desperate Housewives. Both take place in small communities, and their events are set into motion by the death of a prominent member of the community. Here, it is a parish councilor called Barry Fairbrother that dies, and we get to see, through the course of the novel, the impact his death has on the residents of Pagford. Ms. Rowling has definitely proven here that she can write whatever see very well chooses, and write it to near perfection. But if you're looking for the same sense of magic and wonder found in Harry Potter, then kindly look elsewhere, because The Casual Vacancy paints a very crude and realistic picture of modern-day life.

And the winner is...

Wool (Omnibus Edition)

 

If 2011 was the year I became a self-published writer, then 2012 must be the year that I discovered the wealth of talent in the vast pool of self-published writers. I read Wool #1 back in June, after hearing nothing but good things about the series as a whole. And I was blown away by one of the best endings I've come across in years. The remaining four books in the omnibus where just as mind-blowing (if not more so). The characters are well-written, and the story itself is very visual, painting a vivid picture of an underground city and the desolation that has kept its inhabitants from returning to the surface. You can almost feel the claustrophobia of their hallways, and the strain they go through ascending the steps of the stairwell that links the many levels of the Silo. I really hope Ridley Scott does the movie adaptation the justice it deserves, and that we don't have to wait 10 years to see it.

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Other Side (Guardians, #6)


The final book of my epic fantasy series, Guardians & The Lost Paradise, is here ladies and gentlemen. I can't believe it's been six months already. So many things going through my mind right now. Joy. Relief. Fear. Exhiliration. I can't find the right words to sum it all up. Would need at least a dozen blog posts to say it all. So I'll just go straight to the business of the day.

You can grab the final book from Amazon US and Amazon UK. Alternatively, you can get all six books in an ebook bundle. Here are the links for that:

Amazon US | Amazon UK

If you're still reading this, then I want to use this opportunity to thank you. For all the love, support, and kind words. But mostly for just being present and bearing with all my self-indulgent ramblings over the months. These books represent six years worth of my life's work. I'm beyond grateful having people like you to share them with. *cough* buy the books *cough*

Thanks everyone, for being awesome.

Friday, 7 December 2012

The Morning Star


Back in June, I took part in a writing contest for the Fantasy-Faction Anthology. The winners were recently revealed and surprise, surprise, I wasn't one of them. The Morning Star was the short story I wrote as my entry, and from the get-go, I had every intention of giving it away for free, in the quite likely event it wasn't chosen as one of the six winning entries.

It is set in the same universe as my dark/epic fantasy series, Guardians & The Lost Paradise, and it centers on one of my favorite characters from the series, the fallen archangel, Lucifer. This is the first time I'll be basing a story around an antihero, and I had loads of fun during the one week it took me to write it.

So how do you snag your free copy? Simple. Just sign up for my new releases newsletter, and I'll e-mail it to you in mobi, epub and pdf formats. And don't worry, I won't give out your e-mail addresses or spam them with endless information about my books. The newsletter only goes out when there is a new book you might be interested in, no sooner, no later.

Here's a link to the sign up form for the newsletter: http://eepurl.com/nWAW9. Can't wait to welcome you on board with a brand new (and very shiny) ebook copy of the book. ;)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Insecure Writer's Support Group



It's been six months since I joined the IWSG. And since that time, the pages of my blog have been graced by some of the nicest writers on this side of the blogosphere. So thank you Alex, once again (I'm sure you must be tired of hearing this by now), for starting the group, and to all its members, who share their insecurities and words of encouragement every month.

My sole regret is not being able to visit everyone on the blog hop, due to some serious device limitations on my end. I do most of my browsing on a mobile phone, and my present one doesn't even allow me to leave comments on the few blogs I do manage to visit. *sigh*

Today, I'd like to pose a question to the members of the group. I know a lot of you have books on Amazon and other online retailers, be it traditionally published, self-published, or published by a small press. The one thing all three paths to publication have in common is the need to market those books. So my question is this:

How do you go about marketing your books?

I've been self-publishing my books a few days shy of one year now. So far, my marketing strategy (if you could call it that) includes posting about new releases on this blog, and running KDP Select free promotions (just three thus far). And that's it. No ads, no leveraging of social media, which probably explains the reason behind my relatively modest sales.

The reason why I am posing this question at this time is because, two weeks from now, I'll be releasing the final book of my Christian/dark/epic fantasy series, Guardians & The Lost Paradise. I've been working on these books for six years now, and I feel I need to give them the fighting chance they deserve, in a market dominated by big name writers and publishers.

So once again, the question: how do you go about marketing your books?