Review: Writer Emergency Pack

Arrived today: The #writeremergency #darkmode deck! @writeremergency @johnaugust #amwriting

A photo posted by Michael Hicks (@mphicks79) on

Back in November, I supported the Writer Emergency Pack as a Kickstarter project and received the final print deck in December. I was absolutely thrilled with the final card deck, and wrote about it a bit back then and posted a couple pieces of iPhoneography to go with it.

Tuesday night, I received the Kickstarter backer-exclusive Dark Mode deck, which is basically the same as the regular pack but printed on sleek all-black cards and a much darker box. It’s really nice looking and a fun little change of pace from the standard cards. The Emergency Pack crew even added the delightful little touch of wrapping the Dark Mode deck in black tissue paper, helping to emphasize the stygian nature of this updated deck.

The two #writeremergency packs side-by-side. @writeremergency @johnaugust #darkmode #amwriting

A photo posted by Michael Hicks (@mphicks79) on

Although these decks started out as a Kickstarter project, the Emergency crew is now making the standard decks available on a wider scale. Every writer can (and should!) now buy them via Amazon.

Here’s the review I posted on their product page:

This is a terrific and easy-to-use resource for writers both established and up-and-coming, designed to help storytellers get out of whatever corners they’ve written themselves into or to brainstorm ways of reinvigorating stalled ideas.

The Emergency Pack is designed to look and feel like your average deck of cards, like Bicycle playing cards, but for authors in a jam. Using these cards is very simple and is outlined on a 3-step “Emergency Procedures” card at the front of the deck: focus on your writing conundrum, draw an illustrated Idea card at random, read it and then read the corresponding Detail card. Maybe the ideas will help, or maybe they won’t, but the goal is get you asking “what if?” and to hopefully get you drifting back into the right territory. Some random cards might be “What Would Indy Do?”, “Switch Genres”, or “Kill The Hero.” The accompanying illustrations are well-drawn, detailed, and amusing (and sometimes even downright irreverent).

Shuffling through the deck during one of my own jams helped me brainstorm a finale to a recent short story that I had no idea how to finish. The writing had gone smoothly throughout, right up until the climax. And while the fix ended up being fairly simple, it wasn’t really until I’d played around with these cards that I realized how helpful the Emergency Pack truly was. It gave me a much-needed kick in the rear, helped me think my way through a muddled segment of story, and wrap up my project in a way that I found both useful, true to the story, and a worked as a satisfying finish.

The Writer Emergency Pack is a fun little tool for writers, and it’s small size – the same as your average deck of playing cards – makes it’s conveniently portable for authors on the go. If you’re the type to write while traveling or at your local coffee shop, you can easily incorporate this pack into your writing routine at any place, at any time. You might not always need it, but, then again, it is for emergencies, and you never know when it might come in handy. It very well could save your entire story, although some of your characters may never forgive you.

I’ll have a new short story printed in an upcoming anthology (currently slated for Aug./Sept. time-frame), and I absolutely did use these cards to drum up that piece’s finale. They were a total lifesaver (well, for me, as an author anyway. Less of a lifesaver for some poor fictional schmucks, but whatever). I’ll let you be the judge on how well I did with that story later this year, but as far as I’m concerned the Writer Emergency Pack has proved to be an excellent investment already. I’m keeping these cards handy and close to the keyboard when I write, just in case.

And if you want some more info on these cards, check out

Review: Writer Emergency Pack

Review: Apocalypse Weird: Genesis (The White Dragon, Book One) by Stefan Bolz

AW-GenesisAbout Genesis

This is the story of the very beginning of an apocalyptic event as seen through the eyes of an eighteen-year-old girl. Nothing could have prepared her for what is about to happen and she has to face some seriously tough stuff before the end.

During the thirty-six hours of terror that turn Kasey Byrne’s life upside down and strip her of everything dear to her, something inside her awakens. It is gift and curse alike for it can destroy her or turn her into the most powerful weapon against the evil that has reached the shores of our world.

About the Author

I remember back in Germany, I must have been around twelve years old when I began to read, or, better, devour, weekly 66-page novellas about ghost hunters, paranormal phenomenons, demons and vampires. I’d buy one on a Friday from my allowance (the other part of it went to seeing Kung Fu movies) and then would read it on Saturday morning before getting up. Later on, during my mid to late teens, came Alistair MacLean and Robert Ludlum who made me dream about becoming an international spy or a double agent. “Where Eagles Dare” or “The Matarese Circle” captured my imagination and I traveled with my heroes to all the exotic locations around the world, with danger lurking at every turn. It was then, at the age of seventeen, when I first realized that I wanted to write. It took me twenty years to actually start doing it and another ten before I wrote my first novel. Never give up.

Check out my youtube channel at

My Thoughts

[Note: I received an ARC from the Apocalypse Weird crew for review.]

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about the Apocalypse Weird bookverse is that it has been a wonderful gateway to a lot of new authors I might not have otherwise found. Nick Cole and Michael Bunker are pretty well known names, but it’s been a real treat discovering writers like Chris Pourteau, Jennifer Ellis, Kim Wells, and Forbes West, among others. The latest to join the AW roster is Stefan Bolz, with Genesis.

Right from the start, Bolz had me deeply invested in his primary character, Kasey Byrne, who we meet as a child with a rebellious streak. There’s a terrific bit of insight into Kasey’s young mindset that quickly brings us up to speed on who this girl is in a very short span. When her 18-year-old self takes the reins, I was already deeply invested and quite attached to Kasey and her role in the constantly-building apocalypse.

So far, each of the AW writer’s have been able to put a suitable spin on each of their regional catastrophes, going bonkers with time travel, alien invasions, demonic motorcycle clubs, zombie bears, the mysterious and clearly crazy Dr. Midnite, and more. Bolz adds to the mix a New Jersey gone insane with mass suicides, a cool spin on the demonic motorcycle riders — dubbed here as Blood Riders — and a nasty shape shifter.

Stefan takes the intriguing route of filtering his story through a young adult fantasy tale, the climax of which will no doubt have readers clamoring for book two. The White Dragon itself becomes an intriguing component of the finale, and promises to have a much grander role as this particular series progresses. And Kasey’s overarching role in the apocalypse writ-large, and the developing myth-arc shaping up in the background in each of these books, promises to be epic. There is a definite sense of the Hero’s Journey in Kasey Byrne’s life, and I’m very eager to see it take shape.

Buy Genesis At Amazon

Review: Apocalypse Weird: Genesis (The White Dragon, Book One) by Stefan Bolz

Review: Hugh Howey Lives by Daniel Arthur Smith

hughhoweylivesAbout Hugh Howey Lives

In 2174 authors are obsolete. With the exception of a few human ‘Author’ titles printed in the small basement and back room Libraries, all stories are created by the Artificial Intelligence of the Archive. Most believe the ‘Authors’ are only brands to lure people into spending their credits on print. One woman believes that one of them, author Hugh Howey, is real, and still alive. Her Librarian feeds her belief that Hugh Howey is still sailing around the world, uploading his work to the Archive. Convinced she has found clues in his stories as to where he now resides, she and her girlfriend sail to an island, where she believes Hugh Howey lives.

About the Author

Daniel Arthur Smith is the author of the international bestsellers THE CATHARI TREASURE, THE SOMALI DECEPTION, and a few other novels and short stories.

He was raised in Michigan and graduated from Western Michigan University where he studied philosophy, with focus on cognitive science, meta-physics, and comparative religion. He began his career as a bartender, barista, poetry house proprietor, teacher, and then became a technologist and futurist for the Fortune 100 across the Americas and Europe.

Daniel has traveled to over 300 cities in 22 countries, residing in Los Angeles, Kalamazoo, Prague, Crete, and now writes in Manhattan where he lives with his wife and young sons.

For more information, visit

Readers who subscribe to Daniel’s newsletter receive a FREE SHORT STORY and free copies of his books, usually before they are published:

My Thoughts

[Note: I received an ARC of this title from the author for review.]

Hugh Howey Lives is the first title I’ve read by Daniel Arthur Smith, and I was greatly impressed with the sci-fi concepts at play here. Readers will get treated to human synthetics, bioinformatics, and a good dose of light philosophy, but the real draw here, and what kept me engaged the most, was the tremendous breadth of heart that went into the work.

Yes, the book is an ode to indie publishing’s biggest success and the author of the wildly popular Wool series. For indie authors, Howey’s name has a certain cache to it, and the man has proven himself to be a tremendous writer in his own right, in addition to helping popularize ebooks and the author-publisher landscape into forces to be reckoned with. But Hugh Howey Lives is also a heck of a lot more than a simple homage to a single particular author, and really Smith could have picked any novelist to grace his book’s pages and come up with a story equally solid and compelling.

While Howey’s name is checked numerous times throughout, the real meat of the story is about authors and writing in general, and the true ode here goes to the wordsmiths and literary artists who create the books we love so very much. There’s plenty of wonderfully developed themes to munch on here – from the process of creation and the God-like abilities authors possess in their world-building, to the books and authors that shape and inspire other writer’s, and the balance between creating art and sacrificing ourselves for that necessary good, right down to immortality itself.

Hugh Howey Lives is a short book, a bit over a hundred pages or so, but Smith packs an awful lot of depth into it and kept me riveted throughout. There’s a few surprises in store for readers here, which I refuse to spoil, but I will warn you: you may want to keep the Kleenex handy for the finale, just in case.

Buy Hugh Howey Lives At Amazon
Review: Hugh Howey Lives by Daniel Arthur Smith

Review: Anatomy of Evil by Brian Pinkerton

anatomy-of-evilAbout Anatomy of Evil

They unleashed hell on earth.

What began as a dream vacation to a tropical island paradise turned into a nightmare journey through the darkest corners of the human soul. Kiritimati is an island with a deadly secret. After a group of friends encounter a fiery red storm at sea, they return home held captive by their most sinful desires. Creating a path of destruction, they act on their deepest impulses of violence, cruelty, lust and greed. Individually, they have become disciples of Satan. United, they will launch the ultimate showdown between good and evil.

About the Author

Brian Pinkerton is an American author of fiction in the suspense, thriller, mystery and horror genres. His novels include Abducted, Vengeance, Killer’s Diary, Bender, Rough Cut and How I Started the Apocalypse. Select titles have also been released as audio books and in foreign languages.

Brian’s short stories have appeared in anthologies including Chicago Blues, PULP! and Zombie Zoology. His screenplays have finished in the top 100 of Project Greenlight and top two percent of the Nicholl Fellowship of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Brian received his B.A. from the University of Iowa and Master’s Degree from Northwestern University.

My Thoughts

[Note: I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley for review.]

I almost quit reading Anatomy of Evil early-on after the first couple chapters failed to hold my interest. The reason for this is, mostly, that I’m a guy who just does not get the allure of fishing at all. I’ve only tried it once, but found myself bored to death and wishing for a good book to read instead. Reading about fishing is an even less attractive proposition, so I got a bit tired of these 40-something Good Samaritans and their dreams of catching a massive whopper during their big fishing expedition off the coast of Kiritimati Island. I decided to give author Brian Pinkerton up to the 25% mark to grab my interest, and if that didn’t happen, I was jumping ship.

Let’s just say I’m glad I stuck with it. Because it’s around that 25% mark that the book finally clicks and our intrepid band of do-gooder vacationers pilot their boat into the mean seas, even after they’re warned not to go there, of course, and become possessed by demons.

Although the cast doesn’t feel entirely well-developed, we’re given enough peeks into their personality that their transformation to the dark side is a wicked and entertaining romp, in an incredulous ‘shake my damn head’ kinda way. On the surface, most of it seems fairly pedestrian, but shaded with some truly atrocious behaviors. There’s Carol’s manipulation of her coworkers and upper-management in order to secure a promotion, a freshly corrupt police officer, a string of extramarital affairs by an ex-jock with a now-maxed out libido, and the once-religious Sam who has become a Satanic cult leader. For me, Sam’s transformation was the most interesting, but he doesn’t get quite enough page-time to truly shine. And while these possessed souls are content to be serious asshats for a good, long portion of the book, I couldn’t help but wish that they had a bit more apocalyptic ambition for more than just the final third of the novel.

That last third, though? When the possessed’s unaffected families finally begin putting the pieces together? Truly terrific reading, and lots of high-stakes fun. In hindsight, I really owe Pinkerton some well-deserved kudos for building the novel as he did. While there were moments of frustration at parts (and that fault lies entirely with me), the plot coalesces nicely and delivers a very satisfying conclusion. I tend to prefer my horror stories to have a bit more bloodshed and chaos, but Anatomy of Evil is still a winner with its depth of sheer human depravity, wrapped up in a nicely demonic MacGuffin. It’s definitely worth a read, and Pinkerton’s writing style keeps the pages turning.

Buy Anatomy of Evil At Amazon
Review: Anatomy of Evil by Brian Pinkerton

Review: Apocalypse Weird: Medium Talent (The Dead Keys Book 1) by Forbes West

AW-Medium TalentAbout Medium Talent

Three years after the great storm destroyed the planet, three years after the demonic undead rose up to hunt the survivors, Wendy Wicker scavenges and steals in the deadly ruins of Florida to keep her adopted family alive. In a post-apocalyptic Key West that is plagued by hunger and ruled by an amoral bureaucracy, a life of crime is the only way to live.

After Wendy betrays a couple of passengers she was to take north on board her fishing boat, her life takes an strange turn and she must confront some dark secrets as to what really happened the night the world ended, while surviving the monstrous creatures that infest the waters around her hometown and the never ending threat of an evil woman that cannot die…

An homage to Ernest Hemingway’s To Have or Have Not and George Romero’s Living Dead series of films, let Apocalypse Weird take you on a fast paced voyage through the dead Florida Keys and into an violent noir tale filled with time travel, black magic, suppressed memories and what life is really like after the end of the world.

About the Author

Forbes West was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and graduated with a Master’s Degree in Political Science from California State University, Long Beach. He currently lives and works mostly in San Francisco, CA and owns a home in Ojima, Japan- a village five hours south of Tokyo by car that is in the foothills of Mt. Fuji.

My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this title from the author for review.]

We join this apocalypse already in progress.

It’s been several years since a massive storm decimated the world. The undead are roaming Florida, and abominations inhabit the sea. The government has largely fallen, with refugee districts under the charge of the Supply Org, a welfare agency turned gangster. At the heart of it all is smuggler Wendy Wicker, captain of the Medium Talent, who finds herself on the wrong side of Hoxhaist revolutionaries.

Forbes West does a stand-up job of bringing the muggy, heated atmosphere of the Florida Keys to life in this ninth entry to the Apocalypse Weird continuum, and you can practically feel the briny sea on your skin while reading. There’s a certain freshness to West’s take on the AW tropes, and a few surprises, too, which makes this a great addition to the developing Weird mythos.

By jumping forward into a post-apocalyptic setting, West is able to give us some characters who have grown world-weary by the disasters plaguing the world. They’re crusty, battle-scarred survivors who’ve seen it all and then some. This spares us a retread on already well-covered familiar territory, like the Day of Blindness or the anticipatory build-up of a new world-ender. All that has come and gone, and we’re plunked down right into the thick of things.

There’s a wonderfully noir-ish feel to the story as well, and Wendy Wicker is a truly interesting character in her own right. She’s lost her husband, is detached from her current family, and half-mad from all she’s been through. She’s the type of gal who dances a jig after getting the draw on a thug who wants her dead, and then gets sloshed at the bar.

In addition to giving the Keys a dystopic, lived-in familiarity, populated by intriguing personalities, West also puts a terrific spin on another AW staple: the demonic 88 and their Black Hand. It’s a wonderfully nifty spin that’s a far cry from prior representations of these roguish villains.

It’s Forbes West’s ability to take the established conceits of the Apocalypse Weird series and twist them upside down and over around on itself again that was the most appreciated feature of Medium Talent. The story and situations are a cool breeze of fresh air after several introductory tales that overlapped a lot of familiar territory. In Medium Talent, the familiar is kept far off in the background, but still draws enough threads to connect with all that’s come before. It also helps expand on the building mythology that runs through the backbone of the AW books, while forging ahead with its own unique charter. West gives us an intriguing spin on what’s expected of an Apocalypse Weird book, while dragging in plenty of strange details to keep the pages turning.

Buy Medium Talent At Amazon
Review: Apocalypse Weird: Medium Talent (The Dead Keys Book 1) by Forbes West

Review: Brother, Frankenstein by Michael Bunker

Brother FrankensteinAbout Brother, Frankenstein

April 29, 2015

A borderline sociopath and technological genius, Dr. Alexander has designed an advanced cybernetic life form from prototype decommissioned military drones and top-secret experimental DARPA technology.

The HADroid was supposed to be a military grade robot with the transplanted heart and brain of a human donor that would “transform” into a devastating state of the art war machine when activated by its onboard human operator. But when the mad doctor steals the dying child of a simple Amish couple and transplants the brain and cardiovascular system of their dying eleven year old autistic son into the incredibly lethal robot the dark forces of government come looking for their investment.

Dr. Alexander and the monster escape into another Amish community to hide among the plain folk while Frank, the autistic eleven year old boy trapped inside the body of the world’s most deadly robot, befriends another child who will help the prisoner inside the machine to leave the world of autism and understand what it means to be human and Amish. But tensions arise among the plain and pacifistic yet closed minded Amish as they begin to suspect just what kind of technological monstrosity is hiding among them, and before long hard men who do the government’s most dirty deeds will come looking for a killing machine only to find a boy named Frank who has the power to defend a closed society from the worst of the world.

About the Author

Michael Bunker is a USA Today Bestselling author, off-gridder, husband, and father of four children. He lives with his family in a “plain” community in Central Texas, where he reads and writes books…and occasionally tilts at windmills.

Readers who subscribe to Michael’s newsletter get free copies of his books, usually before they’re published:

My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy from the author for review.]

From the moment I saw Ben Adams‘ wonderful cover art design, I knew that Brother, Frankenstein was a novel that I absolutely had to read. And that the book itself was by Michael Bunker, an indie smash success and author of the best-selling Pennsylvania, sweetened the deal. Now, mind you, I’ve not read a full-fledged Bunker book previously; the closest I’d gotten was his collaboration with Nick Cole for Apocalypse Weird, but Pennsylvania has been sitting on my Kindle for a while now and he’s got some strong authorial cred behind him. Brother, Frankenstein seemed like as good a place as any to start.

The short of it is, this is a killer read, brother. If Witness by way of Robocop (the original, not the tepid remake), with a dash of Transformers mixed in sounds like a good way to spend a few hours, then you’re in for a treat. If it doesn’t, then, man, what the heck is wrong with you? (Joking! Maybe.)

Narrated in, largely, first-person POV by a narcissistic doctor who runs a pro bono clinic for the Amish, while working on biotech research for DARPA, we’re introduced to Frank. Frank is an 11-year-old autistic boy with barely a year left to live. Dr. Alexander, meanwhile, is working on an advanced cybernetic weapon for the government – cue your shades of Robocop here. Frank is like kin to him, so he transplants the boy’s heart and brain into the machine, which looks human enough but can transform into a massive, unstoppable ten-foot tall killing machine.

Just as the operation finishes, DARPA yanks their funding and Alexander finds himself in an impossible position, refusing to kill the boy whose life he just saved. He does the only thing he can and goes on the run with Frank, hiding in an Amish community where the boy can feel safe, even while both are being hunted by merciless government agents.

While there’s plenty of strong action, and an explosive finale that would make Michael Bay proud, Bunker really nails it on the human element and the strong familial bond that grows between Frank and his doctor. Both are set on a highly emotional journey that sees them breaking out of their shells and learning more about the very different worlds they share and inhabit. It’s tremendous fun to see how both influence one another and develop in their respective, and occasionally shifting, roles.

Michael Bunker has been dubbed the father of Amish Science Fiction, a genre mash-up that seems like one big oxymoron, but it works pretty damn well. Brother, Frankenstein is clearly a passion project for Bunker, and it deserves to find a strong and loyal audience, maybe even one to rival Pennsylvania. There’s certainly no dearth of action and thrills, and the technology is cutting edge, but it’s that thin line where these things of the modern world butt up against the plain-folk community and the ensuing culture clash that’s the most interesting and suspenseful. Highly recommended.

Buy Brother, Frankenstein At Amazon
Review: Brother, Frankenstein by Michael Bunker

I couldn’t help but notice a solid increase in traffic at this blog today. Turns out, it’s because The Guardian linked to my review of Nick Cutter’s The Deep in their article about Cutter winning the first-ever James Herbert horror award for his debut novel, The Troop.

So, a hearty congratulations to Mr. Cutter for this significant achievement!

You can read The Guardian article right here, and check out my thoughts on The Deep over here.