Trovants: Living Rocks

trovants-living-stonesRomania has more than its share of creepy things that seem to be alive but aren’t. Take, for instance, the “living” rocks that grow and move. These Romanian curiosities are called trovants and can sometimes resemble gigantic fossilized dinosaur turds. They’ve been around far longer than old Vlad Dracula, but they don’t bite and you can visit them in daylight. Less creepy than mythical vampires, sure, but these things actually exist.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


StarTrekHorta1Being who I am (and being as old as I am), when I first read about trovants my thoughts zoomed straight to some classic sci-fi creatures. Who remembers the Horta from the Star Trek TOS episode “Devil in the Dark,” that poor misunderstood mother who was only trying to protect her perfectly round egg nodules? Thank goodness Spock realized he needed to mind-meld with her.

StarTrekRockMonsterIn another Star Trek TOS episode entitled “The Savage Curtain,” Earth’s Abraham Lincoln and Vulcan’s Surak are conjured up by a gravelly-voiced pile of boulders trying to understand the concepts of good and evil. The rocky alien also produced some bad guys, including Genghis Khan, and initiated a fight to the death between factions. This episode is right up there with “Spock’s Brain” in many ways.

GalaxyQuestRockMonsterBut the best one is, hands-down, the rock monster from Galaxy Quest. It consisted of scattered rocks and boulders that it could pull together at will. Captain Peter Quincy Taggert (Tim Allen) loses his shirt while dodging and diving to get away from it in one of the best sci-fi comedies spoofs of all time.

Trovant1Trovants aren’t that mobile and are (most likely? as far as we know?) not sentient. They are rocks, geologic formations. How does a rock grow much less move? Some theories advanced over the years have speculated that trovants are alien artifacts, or that they are responding to and interacting with weird magnetism, or that there are unexplained energy vortexes in the local area.

Trovanti-ReserveTrovanti Museum Natural Reserve is located in southern Romania among the sand quarries of the Vâlcea district near the village of Costeşti. The trovants there range from a few grams to several tons, with the largest reaching a height of 10 meters.

Trovanti-Museum-Natural-ReserveConsisting of cemented sand and mineral salts, when a trovant is cut in half you can see “age rings” like you find when you cut down a tree. These rocks started out as a hard stone core with a shell formed around it made of sand. Trovants can only form in areas with highly porous sand accumulations and sandstone deposits that are cemented by waters rich in calcium carbonate. Locals have always known, and geologists have confirmed, that trovants grow after heavy rains when they absorb the rain’s minerals. The minerals combine with chemicals already present in the stone that later creates a reaction and pressure inside. The pressure makes the rock grow from the center outward and sometimes produces lumps and bumps. This process takes a very long time, and it only occurs in areas with a type of porous sand consisting of a certain chemical composition that receives the right amount of rainfall carrying the right mineral mix. It’s quite a complex recipe.

trovants-costestiThe chemical processes at work on the stones cause them to bulge and form lumpy protrusions. When a bulge grows large enough, the force of gravity may cause it to drop off the parent stone. The baby trovant continues to grow, absorbing minerals through rain water, potentially producing its own lumps that will one day separate from it—and the cycle continues.

These things grow, and move, and reproduce like eerie rock monsters that should only exist in science fiction. What else do geologists know that they aren’t telling us?

NerdCon 2016

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My buddy Trevor!

This past weekend, October 22-23, was filled with all kinds of nerdy awesomeness! Two days of NerdCon at the Huntsville Madison County Public Library brought out some lovely, creative, and smart people of all ages and fans of all things nerd-tastic. The costumes were astounding and I had a great time chatting with some hard-core sci-fi and fantasy fans. Y’all are my kind of people! Russell Newquist, my friend and publisher, and I connected with avid readers and enticed them to add our stories to their “must-read” list. The candy dish was a big draw, too. It was exhausting, but oh, so much fun.

OriginKeyCover_lo-resTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third century. A Persian warrior invades Dodrazeb, a strange kingdom isolated from the rest of the world. Dodrazeb’s sly princess is determined to sabotage the Persians to protect her kingdom’s ancient secrets. What is she so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.

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A.Ron, Jim, Chris, and Daniel

One of the headliners was Daniel Boyd, an acclaimed filmmaker with dozens of films, including Chillers, Strangest Dreams: Invasion of the Space Preachers, and Paradise Park to his credit. A recently retired media studies professor, Boyd has produced nearly every genre of film. His television work has earned 3 Telly awards and 2 regional Emmy nominations. His first graphic novel, Chillers 1, was the 2012 Shel Dorph nominee for Original Graphic Novel of the Year, and Ghastly nominee for Best Horror Anthology. Chillers 2 was released in 2013, and CARBON, 2014. SALT completes his CARBON epic eco-horror saga.

 

Who’s your favorite Walking Dead Zombie? Changes are it’s Chris Harrellson, and you may not even realize he’s portrayed several different walkers on the show. He has appeared in other television programs as well, and over three dozen motion pictures. A native of Atlanta and a lifelong fan of movies, TV shows, and comic books, he is very much enjoying Atlanta’s emergence as a major filming location.

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I got to fan-girl with my favorite podcasters!

Jim Jones and A.Ron Hubbard are the wizards behind the hugely successful Bald Move podcasts. A.Ron lives in Cincinnati with his girlfriend/occasional podcast co-host Cecily and his son Jack. A programmer by trade, A.Ron turned in his compiler for mics and mixers to work full time on Bald Move in 2014.  In his off time he enjoys reading, television, gaming, archery, television, motorcycling, camping, and more television. Jim is a gamer, a developer, a coffee-drinker, and quite possibly a cyborg. Their mission is to deliver passionate, fan-first, honest commentary on favorite television shows with humor and intelligence.

 

nerdcon-2016_12Huge thanks to everyone who stopped by our display and took the time to chat with us. And to the guy walking around with an unlicensed nuclear accelerator strapped to his back, YOU ROCK, DUDE! nerdcon2016_6

 

 

 

 

 

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Authors Expo and a Geek Gab Podcast

sae_11Saturday, September 10 was a busy day for me. Representing Silver Empire Publishing, my friend Russell Newquist and I participated in the Huntsville Madison County Library’s Southern Authors Expo. It was a full day of meeting and chatting with readers and other local authors. There was something for everyone, with all genres and ages represented. We connected with some old friends and made lots of new ones.

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After the Expo, I rushed home to settle in at my laptop and don earbuds so I could take part in a podcast discussion with the guys at Geek Gab. It was my first podcast, a new experience for me, and one that I enjoyed very much.

geekgablogoDaddy Warpig (aka Jasyn Jones), Brian Niemeier, and John McGlynn are scintillating and erudite hosts who like to get together weekly and talk books, movies, TV, comics, music, RPG’s, tabletop gaming, video games, sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, horror… As they say, anything geekish goes. Thanks, guys, for making me feel welcome in your warm circle of geekiness!
The YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wK7gEkdiULE
The iTunes link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/geek-gab!/id1125835440

Extra thanks to Brian, as he very graciously took the time to read my book Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, and even provided a blurb that is boldly printed on its back cover. He said, “A smart, thrilling mix of history and fantasy. S.D. McPhail is definitely an author to watch.” I am humbled to receive such high praise from a Campbell award-nominated and Dragon award-winning author. Find his novels Nethereal and Souldancer (Volumes 1 and 2 of the Soul Cycle series) on Amazon.com.

swordtodMy novel, Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, is a sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third-century. While on a quest to avenge a horrific attack on his father the king, a Persian warrior discovers a strange kingdom isolated from the rest of the world. He thinks the villain is hiding there, but a sly princess is determined to sabotage the Persians to protect her kingdom’s ancient secrets. What is she so desperate to keep hidden?  Get your copy on Amazon.com!

The Origin Key Launch Event

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Russell Newquist and Susan McPhail

My first novel was published and we threw a party! Here’s a gigantic THANK YOU to Terranova’s Italian Restaurant, family, friends, and everyone who came out and helped make it a fun event!

On Friday, August 12 we were at Terranova’s Italian Restaurant in Huntsville enjoying fantastic food, signing books, and giving away prizes. Russell Newquist of Silver Empire Publishing was there with me, getting to know some local sci-fi/fantasy fans.

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Cecilia Della Pella was excited to be one of the first in line to buy a copy of The Origin Key. Later in the evening she won one of the drawings and received a lovely writer’s journal. Other winners went home with copies of the book, an Amazon.com gift card, or a journal.

The winner of the grand prize—a copy of The Origin Key, a copy of Between the Wall and the Fire, a writer’s journal, an Amazon.com gift card, and a signed poster of The Origin Key cover art was Terranova’s own Stephen Johnson!

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If you weren’t able to join us at Terranova’s, don’t worry! You can get The Origin Key in either paperback or e-book format on Amazon.com. Want a signed copy? Look for me at the Southern Author’s Expo at the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library downtown branch on September 10. Start your holiday shopping early and get a personalized copy of my sword-and-science fantasy adventure novel for all the readers on your gift list.

OriginKeyCover_lo-resThe 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 uses something more powerful and dangerous than magic: twenty-first century technology.

 

The Origin Key Book Trailer

My first novel, for sale on Amazon.com, 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.

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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!

https://spark.adobe.com/video/Bk2Of-wu/embed

 
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.

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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.

Holy Crap! I’m an Author

Making the transition from reader to writer to published author is a unique journey.

My novel The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third century. In it, a Persian warrior-prince discovers an obscure culture that seems to be using twenty-first century technology. Look for it on Amazon.com July 30! Available as both e-book and paperback.

OriginKeyCover_lo-resIf you’re like me, you’ve always loved to read. I mean love to read, as in reading the cereal box during breakfast when nothing else is handy. If you’ve ever had an idea for a story that wouldn’t go away, that only blossoms into something more complex as time goes on, you may be like me. There’s that one idea buzzing in the back of your head that pushes itself to the forefront at the oddest times and soon you have characters coming to life in your mind. They are fully realized, well-rounded people with thoughts and feelings and lives of their own inside a fictional existence. Then you feel compelled to share this amazing story and these amazing people with others. That’s when you’ve crossed the line from a love of reading to a love of writing.

Writing can be incredibly fun, but it isn’t easy. It takes time to nurture whatever natural talent may exist and develop the skills to write well. It can sometimes be a long, lonely road with the only encouragement coming from the fictional people populating your story. As with anything else, the more you practice, the better you get. Then after the story is written, there’s a lot more work—and many drafts—to make it fit for publication. That steep learning curve is why it takes most new writers quite a long time to actually publish works that others want to read.

I am now a published author. In three days my first novel will be on sale to the public, a feat that makes me both elated and nervous. Elated because this is an enormous accomplishment that took years. Nervous because it is unrealistic to expect the world at large to love this story as much as I do. I am fully aware that my sword-and-science fantasy adventure won’t appeal to everyone, but I still hope for good reviews and a positive sales response.

Either way, though, I’m going to write more adventures like this one featuring the characters I have come to know so well. I’m an author and that’s what I do now.
DodrazebLOGOIn the third century, the Persian Empire was a world power whose influence stretched from China to Europe. The king and his sons maintained peace with a powerful army—until the day a horde of screaming vandals attacked the king.

KEYFLATEDGEPursuing a criminal known as the Viper, Prince Rasteem becomes suspicious when the Persian army easily conquers Dodrazeb. Princess Laneffri is desperate to expel the Persian invaders from her kingdom and she will stop at nothing to protect its secrets—especially the Origin Key. Is Dodrazeb hiding the Viper or something even more dangerous? When Rasteem learns what the Origin Key can do, he must find a way to make the princess an ally to save both their kingdoms from annihilation.

“A smart, thrilling mix of history and fantasy. S.D. McPhail is definitely an author to watch.”
Brian Niemeier, Campbell-nominated author of Souldancer

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a stunning debut novel. McPhail’s creation is packed with tension and excitement, from the political machinations of the empire to the almost Atlantean history of Dodrazeb and mythical Anutupi. The imagery is enchanting, but the adventure is mesmerizing.”
 Ashley Chappell-Peeples, author of  Of War and Taters and the Dreams of Chaos series

A “Real” Book

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Ashley and I will be at the Catfish Literary Festival in Athens, AL on June 4.

Today’s post is by Ashley Chappell, a lovely human being and author of YA Fantasy.

What follows might come across as a re-hashing of an old topic, but since it seems to keep rearing its ugly head I’m not going to apologize for making you read it yet again.

Disclaimer: This is only one awful encounter out of a million WONDERFUL encounters that I’ve had since I began my journey as an author. The people in our profession are 99% of the time simply the best people. Same goes for the readers. But this one tiny experience really got my hackles up and after I heard similar stories from other SFF and YA authors while I vented on writing forums, I made this my ultimate story of caution to new writers. Wait until the end – there’s a moral to this fable.

What happened? On my honeymoon back in 2014, we were on a cruise with some of the most well-educated and interesting people that I’ve ever met. Keep in mind, we were the outliers in average cruiser age by about 35 years, but these people have done everything – taken over banks, vacationed in Antarctica, built working test farms in drought-ridden African settlements, the list goes on. And I could have listened to the stories of 90% of these brilliant people until the sun rose. But that other 10% – pardon me while I take a drink for courage – were entrenched academics in primarily liberal arts disciplines.

Let me clarify here: The liberal arts are my lifeblood and where all of my passions go to snuggle up with a book, a surrealist painting, and a tangy wine and cheese pairing. But, in the darkest and narrowest parts of that arena, you can find the most immovable and pompous know-it-alls in the entire population of people with heads up butts.

You guessed right. This is the embodiment of the 10% I’m talking about here. These were the people who, despite the gloriously diverse selection of wine bottles paraded by our dinner table every night, tut-tutted with disapproval over every sip. Somehow conversation at these tables was always eventually guided to the topic of literature, an arena in which our resident academics were practically frothing over with wisdom they were dying to share. Whether we wanted it or not. And, without fail, they drew their prim little lines in the sand and placed fantasy, SF, and all popular fiction on the opposite side from ‘Real Literature.’

The incident that got under my fur the most (and the one that left me lying awake in bed wishing I were more confrontational and not just a passive-aggressive blogger), was the dinner with the lady I will refer to as the I-can-quote-articles-I-read-on-Slate-Lady. Maybe I’ll just call her Slate Lady for brevity.

This time the topic came up before I could even wave my Author Flag (they have those, right?), and Slate Lady made it clear immediately that she only read ‘Real Books.’ This, it turns out, is a literary unicorn of non-fiction and obscure authors who devote their lives to developing dark symbolism that would be a wet dream for any classic Russian novelists. I couldn’t help myself. I asked the question:

Me: “What about Fantasy and Science Fiction?”

Slate Lady: *Sniff* *Derisive laugh* “Um, just no.”

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That was mere moments before she launched into her tirade of shaming adults for reading YA that came almost verbatim from this Slate article that ticked off readers and writers of all genres that same summer.

And no, *sigh*, I didn’t call her out. I didn’t acknowledge the immediate surge of brilliant rebuttals including this one from the Washington Post and this one from CNN. I did at least turn to another lady at the table (one of the sassiest and my favorite from the trip) and started talking loudly about how awesome it is that popular fantasy and even comic books are bringing a new generation of previously non-readers, especially among young boys. Remember that passive-aggressive thing I mentioned before? Damn it.

Eventually, that same awesome lady (an angel, she is) next to me pointed out to Slate Lady that I was an author.

Slate Lady: “Oh? And what do you write?”

Me: “Young Adult Fantasy and Satire.”

Slate Lady: “Hmm.”

I didn’t say a word. I’d love to say it was because I just didn’t want to spend the rest of the cruise on a small ship with someone at whom I’d thrown my glass of wine, but I just plain suck at confrontation. With or without alcohol. Eventually I’d have just gotten emotional and flustered and ended with an eloquent “Up yours,” so I decided to save my venting for you lucky readers on the blog.

What I WISH I could have said to her is something along these lines:

I write a series about a young girl who was abandoned by her parents and forced to discover who she was all on her own in a world that wasn’t forgiving of her ‘gifts.’ It’s about a child in what amounts to slavery who’s never known a life outside of abuse and neglect, but who overcomes her pains and heartache by retreating into her imaginary world.

It’s about laughing at ourselves and the empty traditions we value without knowing why and taking stock in our instincts before we let our fickle brains over-rationalize us out of the right choice.

It’s about learning the hard way that maturity, at any age, is no match for experience.
And finally, it’s about remembering that the right thing to do is still the right thing to do when no one is looking. It’s a novel for anyone who’s struggled with how they identify themselves and learned to define their own niche in a world that doesn’t have a place for them.

It just happens to be set in an alternate universe filled with magic, gods, and creatures. But yes, it is a REAL book. 

 So this post, I suppose, is as much about venting as it is a rallying cry for all of the writers and readers who’ve faced the accusation that fiction has nothing to offer because it “isn’t real.” This is where that moral I promised you comes in: DON’T BELIEVE THE “EXPERTS.” Authors might seem magical to those who don’t write, but we don’t have wands that create mystical social, family, financial, or political situations that could never exist. It’s pure insanity to think that our stories, whether in space or on Middle Earth, are anything other than an honest reflection of the world we live in, with the good and bad of actual human experience all rolled into one literary package.
And yes, Ms. Slate Lady, I used the word ‘literary,’ because whether you believe it or not, I write real books, too.

AshleyChappell