The Origin Key Book Trailer

My first novel, for sale on, has a trailer!

The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a sword-and-science fantasy adventure like no other. Prince Rasteem, a third-century Persian warrior, discovers an obscure culture that appears to take twenty-first century technology for granted.



When you publish a book you have to promote it, get the word out, let the world know about it. One way to do this is to blog about it constantly, but that can get boring for both me and my readers. A better way is to create (or let a talented friend create) a book trailer. I can hear you thinking, “What the heck is a book trailer?” Just like a movie trailer, but for a book, it’s a short video that gives you an idea of what the story is about. And here it is!

Celebrate this milestone with me and support a wonderful local family restaurant at the same time on Friday, August 12. We’ll be at Terranova’s Italian Restaurant in Huntsville from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. enjoying fantastic cuisine and giving away some great prizes.


Apparently when you publish a book, people get all inquisitive about your reading habits, likes and dislikes, and even want to know what inspired the story. My publisher and friend Russell Newquist recently interviewed me for his own blog. You can read all three parts of An Interview with S.D. McPhail here: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3. If you have any more questions, just ask in the comments section.

Announcing: The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient cultures. Give me a good documentary on the ancient Hittites or the Egyptian Sphynx or an article about the latest theories regarding the Olmecs in Mesoamerica, and I’m in heaven. I’m a die-hard Indiana Jones fan, and not just for handsome Harrison Ford.

A brown-haired, blue-eyed Persian, like the warrior-prince Rasteem in The Origin Key.

So no one should be surprised that my first novel is about a third-century Persian warrior-prince who discovers a mysterious hidden kingdom that appears to be some kind of Shangri-La. In this place, everyone is healthy, content, and well-educated—NOT the reality of our world in the third century. So how did they achieve this ideal? Do they have magical abilities? That got me thinking about Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

What if, I thought, this place kept itself isolated from the rest of the comparatively barbaric world because they had developed and routinely used advanced technology that we take for granted in the 21st century? Technology that in the hands of savages could be used to destroy on an apocalyptic scale? Technology that looks like magic to outsiders?

That’s the premise of my story, an adult fantasy that blends elements of science fiction to deliver an adventure grounded in actual human history.

The book didn’t happen overnight. On the contrary, it took over a year of hard work, research, bouts of furious pounding away at the keyboard interspersed with wordless dry spells to produce a first draft. Then there was feedback from readers, innumerable editorial redlines, new and improved ideas to strengthen the story, and heartless murdering of beloved darlings.* It seemed to take forever.

When I thought I had a publishable product, I started looking for ways to turn my story into an actual book. Fortunately for me, I made the acquaintance of Russell Newquist, the owner of Silver Empire Publishing. I had attended a panel discussion at a local literary festival where Russell addressed many of the pros and cons of self-publishing, traditional publishing, and indie publishing. Afterward, I approached him and (metaphorically) threw my manuscript at him. Luckily, he (metaphorically) caught it and, to my astonishment, did not fling it back at me in disgust.

So now my bucket list needs editing, too. I’m going to be a published author! I signed a contract to publish my book with Silver Empire! Since then, there has been more feedback, more redlines, and more refinement of the story.

It is with infinite joy that I make this announcement: My debut novel The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key will be available this summer! I’m thrilled to be working with Russell Newquist and everyone at Silver Empire to make this happen. Stay tuned to this blog and social media for further announcements about a release date. Until then, get a taste of the treasures to be found in Dodrazeb in the anthology Between the Wall and the Fire. Two of my short stories are in it and you can pre-order it now directly from Silver Empire.

Oh, and one other thing. The Origin Key is the first in a series of novels detailing the adventures of my Persian warrior-prince in the mysterious kingdom of Dodrazeb. There will be more!

*In writing, “to kill your darlings” means to ruthlessly eliminate any sentence, paragraph, chapter, or piece of writing that does nothing for the story you are trying to tell, no matter how well it is written.

Red Tails

Image_square_webby Susan

2012, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Gerald McRaney, Terrence Howard, David Oyewolo. Directed by Anthony Hemingway.

The story of the Tuskegee Airmen and the obstacles they had to overcome back home to be allowed to fight for their country in WWII is truly inspiring. It is a story that encompasses not only the huge themes of racial segregation and institutionalized bigotry in the U.S. armed forces as well as the society at large, but also very personal themes of bravery, perseverance, patriotism, individual excellence, and brotherhood. The movie Red Tails tries very hard to bring these large and intense themes together, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark.

While the individual performances are good and the recreation of a WWII air base in Italy and the adjacent Italian village are fine, it is the CGI sequences of fighter planes and bombers conducting the air war over Europe that really steal the show. Still, even the amazing aerial feats aren’t enough to balance out the flat, stereotypical “German-pilot-bad-guy,” “racist-white-officer,” or “conflicted-leader-with-self-doubts” characters, not to mention the predictability of the plot. The movie opens with a disclaimer that it is “inspired” by historical events, so we shouldn’t be surprised at how it turns out, but the fictional characters inhabiting this story could have been given less standardized personalities.

Honestly, we were only a few minutes into the film when I started assigning labels like “Dead Meat” or “Maverick” to the main characters. (If those references are confusing, try Googling Top Gun and then the vastly superior Hot Shots.) A serious WWII movie claiming to have historical credibility that features a sequence in a German POW camp should not evoke images of television’s Hogan’s Heroes. That my mind was wandering so far afield can only mean that I was not sufficiently invested in the characters’ eventual fate.

To their credit, the ensemble cast delivered performances that were much better than the material they were given to work with. The depiction of racism and how the black pilots were able to change deep-rooted, ingrained, bigoted attitudes with their valor and determination was handled well, if a little bit stilted. I’m just disappointed that the filmmakers seemed to think spectacular CGI dogfights and explosions would be sufficient to carry the entire movie.

While Red Tails is entertaining and does pay tribute to the heroics of the Tuskegee Airmen, it just doesn’t accomplish those goals in any unordinary way. That’s a shame, because the real story is quite extraordinary. In the meantime, this is an excellent movie to introduce younger generations to the realities of historical racism in the U.S. military and how a group of black fighter pilots were fighting for so much more than their white counterparts in WWII.

Rating: Double Serving

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Image_square_webby Susan

2011, Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton. Directed by Brad Bird.

Anyone who knows me knows me that I’m a real fan of action/adventure – to a point. I like big-budget, thrilling, fast-paced, completely implausible, globe-trotting, good guys vs. bad guys, movies that don’t give me time to stop and catch my breath long enough to question “why did he do that?” But I’m also discriminating; I don’t like to spend my meager funds and precious spare time on less than stellar examples of the genre. It has to hold the promise of being spectacular to get me interested in even watching the previews.

Every now and then a movie comes along that I would ordinarily place on my “must-see in a theater” list – possibly in the #1 spot – without knowing much of anything about it. Sometimes it’s because of a truly talented director, other times it may be due to a particular actor I enjoy, or it could be the latest in a franchise that has delivered great entertainment before and the hope exists that the newest installment will as well.

The opposite is also true. Once in a while I will put a movie on my “avoid at all costs in any format, run screaming from the room if perchance I happen upon it playing on some random television somewhere in the future” list. I think this list is much shorter than my “must-see” list, but it does exist. There are some premises that are so bad, some stories so devoid of entertainment value, and some actors that I despise so much, I will go out of my way to avoid seeing any movie that contains them.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was not in either category, although it almost made it to the “avoid at all costs” list. I confess – I can’t stand Tom Cruise, or as I call him, Mr. Miniature Man.

The last Tom Cruise movie I enjoyed him in was 1992’s Far and Away. The most recent role I enjoyed seeing him play was Les Grossman, the obnoxious Hollywood mogul in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. (By the way, if you haven’t seen Tropic Thunder you’ve missed one of the most hysterically funny send-ups of actors taking themselves too seriously ever filmed. It’s like Three Amigos in Viet Nam. Rent it. Watch it. Laugh yourself silly.) Let’s just say that I recognized the character immediately as Tom Cruise, and had no problem believing that he was playing the part without make-up or hairpiece; I was convinced that he really was actually playing his own, true obnoxious self. That’s how much I don’t care for Mr. MM.

On the other hand, I have become a big fan of Simon Pegg. LOVED him in Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, Paul, and 2009’s Star Trek, the excellent reboot from J.J. Abrams. That was one good reason to put Ghost Protocol on my “must-see” list. Another reason happens to be that I was a huge fan of the original Mission: Impossible television series. That’s actually strange, though, as I was much too young to understand what was going on in any of the episodes the first time I ever saw them; my older brothers, however, were enraptured with all things glamorizing espionage during the Cold War. Ahh, the 1960’s…. Well, I may not have understood the big picture, but the music was awesome and the way people kept ripping off full-face masks to shockingly reveal their true identity was something you just didn’t see anywhere else.

So there was my dilemma – Ghost Protocol co-starred one of my favorite comedic actors AND it was based on an old favorite, long-running hit TV show that had already begat three feature films, but it starred obnoxious Mr. MM. My brain froze, locked up tight whenever I tried to determine which list it belonged on.

Miraculously, I was spared the fate of terminal brain freeze (at least for now) when a dear friend of mine suggested we see it. “Uhhh… you know, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is also in theaters, I could see it again,” I ventured. No, it wouldn’t do but for us to see a movie that neither of us had already viewed. The clincher was when she said she had a gift card for the movie theater, plus a five-dollar-off coupon for snacks from the concession. (See the aside for details on the adventure that was our encounter at the theater concession stand.) It only took a microsecond for me to rationalize that with the tickets paid for by a gift card provided by someone else, no one could accuse me of paying to watch Mr. MM, and I could enjoy Simon Pegg in what would hopefully be a real rip-snorter of an action/adventure movie.

I was not disappointed – this latest installment of the Mission Impossible franchise takes off like a missile and has you clinging on for the entire thrilling ride! One of the best things about it were the many elements of the original TV show incorporated into this one, like Pegg’s Agent Dunn hopefully begging for the use of those famous full-face masks, infamous “sting” operations to trick the bad guys, foul-ups at critical moments, suspicious behavior from possibly untrustworthy team members, glamorous private parties to be infiltrated, the beautiful yet deadly and seductive female agent. Yet it was thoroughly updated for a modern audience in today’s world; the IMF team was not out to topple a foreign government, they were sent to stop a crazy terrorist. Even though the basic premise of preventing an insane individual from destroying the world is a little hackneyed and threadbare, you can’t have an espionage team with cool gadgets turning up in worldwide exotic locales and getting into impossible situations that only their superior wits and fighting skills can get them out of without it. That’s just the way these super-spy movies, like the super-hero ones, work.

Simon Pegg was definitely one of the biggest highlights of the whole film for me, playing the technical gadget genius. He is perfection itself in a role where he provides some comic relief, delivering lines that make hilariously brilliant observations about the absurdity of the situation as only a “regular guy” can. The exotic foreign locales were lovely, the car chases were thrilling (especially the one in the sandstorm), the fight scenes were flinch-worthy, and I enjoyed getting to see Mr. MM repeatedly get beaten up.

Actually, if we are insisting on total honesty here – not that I know any good reason why we would – I was mentally substituting a different actor for Mr. MM throughout the entire movie. Had they cast my choice of actor instead of Mr. MM, my rating surely would have shot up to Two Full Buckets. Go see it; you can envision any actor you want in the role of Ethan Hunt. Who knows? You might enjoy it even more that way, too.

Three boxes of popcornRating: Triple Serving

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Image_square_webby Susan

2011, Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris. Directed by Guy Ritchie.

I don’t remember when I first discovered Sherlock Holmes; I just know that it seems I have always been a fan of mysteries, who-done-its, detective stories. The best are always the ones with really great, fully developed, interesting, quirky characters. The puzzle itself may not be all that interesting or even much of a challenge – it’s how the detective goes about solving it and the fun along the way that matters most. I used to enjoy the old late show movies with Basil Rathbone seeming to be the “definitive” Holmes (although I could never quite shake the image of him as the villain in Errol Flynn’s 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood .”) Later, I really adored Jeremy Brett’s turn as the genius detective in the television series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The episodes were beautifully filmed and also very true to the original works of Arthur Conan Doyle.

The world is quite a different place now from what Sherlock and Dr. Watson knew in their day. I suppose not everyone enjoys a period piece set in Victorian England, but for the life of me I can’t understand why not. Especially when it contains fast-paced action and thrills worthy of any modern-day blockbuster hit. Still, I know people (and you know who you are!) who disdain the thought of “updating” the master sleuth into an action hero actually capable of besting a villain in a fist fight. Or – heaven forbid – portray Dr. Watson as anything other than an old, stuffy, chair-bound commentator recounting the various cases that Mr. Holmes took on. The literary purists who complain that it is an abomination for Hollywood to tinker with classic literature don’t seem to realize that the only way some people are ever exposed to classic literature is in a Hollywood adaptation. Getting those people to actually read a book is an entirely different thing altogether, but at least they may have had the joy of experiencing wonderful characters in a great story.

Enough digression – on with the review…

It can be a tricky thing to adapt such well-known and revered characters as Holmes and Watson to a film format pleasing to modern audiences. The story has to do justice to the characters and the characters must embody the qualities that Doyle gave them. I was hesitant about the first Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey, Jr. Certainly not that he wouldn’t be great in the role, but unsure about the “action/adventure” genre being applied to what is mostly a very cerebral type of story. When I saw the movie, though, I was convinced – yes, I could see Sherlock Holmes sizing up his opponents and analyzing their weaknesses in a split second and then mopping up the floor with them. Yes, I could see Dr. Watson as a younger man totally exasperated by his old friend yet also enjoying the adventures with him.

A Game of Shadows is quite possibly even better than the first one. Sherlock “ninja” Holmes and Dr. John “what-are-you-dragging-me-into-this-time” Watson are back at it once more. It is 1890 and Dr. Watson is about to be married just as Holmes puts together the pieces of a puzzle that spells potentially dire consequences for all of Europe, perhaps even the entire world. This time their nemesis is none other than the evil genius Professor Moriarty hatching an elaborate dastardly plot that will ensure he becomes the most powerful man in the world.

This adventure of epic scale with lots of humor and explosive action presents the great detective as cerebral as ever, but outfitted with finely honed fighting skills as well as his uncanny ability to apply logic and deductive reasoning to any problem. Much more than just a sidekick observer, Dr. Watson’s skills are as necessary to thwarting the villains as Holmes’. Though refurbished for a twenty-first century audience, Doyle would immediately recognize these characters as his creation. We share the good doctor’s concern for Holmes’ tendencies to addictive and self-destructive behaviors and his exasperation for Sherlock’s incessant bad timing. Robert Downey, Jr. is fantastic, especially when he is exhibiting the bizarre behavior of a man burdened with exceptional mental prowess who can’t quite get the hang of normalcy.

Stephen Fry as brother Mycroft Holmes (who calls the detective “Sherly”) is priceless! He shines slightly brighter than the rest of the superb supporting cast. There was a point in the second half of the movie where I became a little restless and a tiny bit fidgety, but it passed quite quickly. I could quibble with the use of the popular semi-stop-motion effect during a major chase scene as being a trifle tedious, as I didn’t see how it added anything to the story other than another minute or two. The twists and turns of the tale will keep viewers on their toes and the sumptuous production will transport them to a different era.

By the way, lest you think the ending was invented solely for this movie, be assured that it is straight from the genius of Arthur Conan Doyle. If you don’t believe me, go read the books.

A full bucket of popcorn!Rating: Full Bucket