End of The Year — Mile Markers

As the end of the year makes its appearance and the holiday seasons turns into the gray season of dread (January), so too comes the awful Best Of The Year lists that appear on web sites promoting everything from Most Buzzed-About Tweet to Worst Use of a Spatula Outside the Kitchen. I thought I’d post some things I managed to accomplish and some things in the hopper.

1) That Publishing Deal — This is, of course, one of my favorites. Divertir Publishing stepped forward and said they wanted to put my work in print.  Much appreciation goes out to  Ken Tupper and Jen Corkill-Hunt for taking that chance. Happy dance commences. So the book has a title change and an editor, who is still working diligently on it. So I am both hopeful and a little daunted by the edits that will soon come my way. Look for Darkest Hour sometime in 2015.

2) A Completed Brand New Book — I am extremely pleased to announce the completion and posting of The Last Empress (currently available for free on Wattpad). This is a brand-new series of stories about the last Romanov princess set against the backdrop of a steampunk Russian Revolution. Its all very exciting stuff.  I am contemplating self-publishing this work, but it needs a strong edit and perhaps a rewrite because of (3) down below.

The Last Empress
The Last Empress

3) Screenplays! — Yes, I adapted Zak Corbin; Master of Machines and The Last Empress into the visual world. I entered Zak Corbin in the PAGE International Screenplay Writing Competition and made Quarter Finalist (not bad for my first script and its first contest). Since then, Zak has been haunting The Black List web site and I’ve entered the screenplay into the BlueCat screenplay competition. Speaking of screenplays, I wrote The Last Empress as a 1-hour TV pilot. I’m looking to create the next Game of Thrones here, so the results of recent pitches and an entry into the Celtx Screenwriting Felllowship competition. The winners get to sit down with producers and agents in Los Angeles. (I’m packed and ready to go)

4) Up and Coming — I have some work that is on the slate. I am still pondering the second and third book of the Darkest Hour series because of edits and revisions to the first book. It’s kind of a Catch 22 here.  There is the chance of submitting new work to an anthology from Dark House Books, giving me the chance to dust off my sci-fi skills and return to the retro-futurism of the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  Then, of course, I have the next book of The Last Empress to write. I already have a title and the plot running through my heads.

5) Life, The Universe and Everything — So I’m living in my new digs on the shore of Virginia. It’s a very pleasing place to be, even in the winter. I’ve made some wonderful new friends, reached out and made some important contacts, had a great birthday dinner, traveled all around the area, and look forward to a happy and productive new year as a writer.

Hope your year has been merry and bright too!



Writing The Last Empress and Doing The Research

My newest work-in-progress is THE LAST EMPRESS, a steampunk historical fantasy that takes place during the Russian Revolution and is coming, one chapter at a time, to Wattpad.  Check there often for updates and new chapters.

The Last Empress
The Last Empress

This new story is an experiment for me.  It has the trappings of steampunk, a genre of science fiction and fantasy that covers the Victorian era. There are airships, of course, and a nod to one of the great classics of science fiction: The Island of Doctor Moreau by  H.G. Wells. There will be nods to other classics as well in future books of this new series.

There is a historical aspect to the story as well. The main character is Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov, an integral part of any story of the period.  Doing the research proved helpful in deciding the type of story I wanted to tell.

Anastasia Romanov, circa 1914 (Wikipedia)
Anastasia Romanov, circa 1914 (Wikipedia)

The real story of Anastasia is quite tragic. She was the youngest of four daughters of the powerful Romanov family, last of the Russian tsars. As Russia’s armies were thrown in retreat during the First World War, social revolution and an overthrow of the monarchy took hold. The Romanovs were forced out of power and into exile. Put under house arrest by the Bolsheviks, they were moved from Siberia to a house in the city of Yakaterinburg. In July 1918, not long after Ana’s seventeenth birthday, the Romanovs and their loyal servants were sent to a room in the basement and told to wait. Red Guards entered the room and executed all of them. They were buried in an unmarked grave and only recently were all of their remains possibly identified.

Ana’s story became legendary. The circumstances of the Romanovs and their deaths led to speculation that Anastasia and other children somehow escaped. A famous impostor surfaced in the 1920s, claiming to be Anastasia but was a Polish woman with suspected mental health issues.

Most people’s experience with Anastasia comes from two sources. There is the famous movie: Nicholas and Alexandra, which featured the courtship, marriage and final days of the last Tsar Nicholas II and his family in Russia.  The other is an animated musical by Don Bluth (creator of Fiefel the Mouse in An American Tail) called Anastasia.  The full-length Nicholas and Alexandra is the better and more historically accurate of the two. The animated movie rewrites history, badly, and completely glosses over the revolt of the Russian people, the incarceration and exile of the Romanovs and their execution.

The execution and the cloak of secrecy behind it led to stories of Ana’s possible escape. One of the interesting facts was that the Romanovs had jewels and other valuables sewn into their traveling clothes. The royal family thought they would be released and hid the treasures in their clothes to barter for transportation and other necessities. Shot at almost point-blank range, many guards testified they found some Romanovs were still alive (protected by the valuables in their clothes) and had to bayonet them to finish them off.

Another rumor to the deaths of the royal family comes from Great Britain. King George V, first cousin of Tsar Nicholas II, wanted to help the royal family. It was speculated that the head of Britain’s intelligence service was asked to develop a plan to rescue them. But the rise of socialism and hatred of monarchies was spreading to England, and the king’s advisers told the king to stay out of Russia’s problems.

These interesting side-notes helped forge the story line of The Last Empress.  I hope you discover how I integrated facts with fiction and follow along as new chapters are posted to Wattpad.





ZAK CORBIN Clears 800K Reads on Wattpad

Something wonderful happened over the past couple of days, ZAK CORBIN: MASTER OF MACHINES cleared 800,000 reads. Wonderful stuff!

Zak Corbin on Wattpad
Zak Corbin on Wattpad

Thanks to all for making ZAK such a popular book. And yes, the screenplay is available and out there trying to generate some interest. A link to the PDF is here, if you’re intrigued:

Zak Corbin and The Master of Machines by Tony Russo


DO NOT ENGAGE: The New/Old Way Writers Deal with Readers

An interesting article first appeared on my Facebook timeline, then crept slowly into Salon‘s website,  about an author going beyond the norm concerning a blogger who gave her book a 1-star review on the Goodreads website.  I thought I might discuss it here because it does concern writing and the folks you hope will be reading.

The author, Kathleen Hale, went into detail in an article posted on The Guardian about her battle with the internet troll who gave her YA book a 1-star review on Goodreads. Now if you’re not familiar with Goodreads (and yes I’m a member too), it’s an Amazon-owned website where readers can identify popular books and review them.

In the new order of publishing this is a good thing; reviews are what drives folks to buying and reading a book for themselves. But the sword is double-edged. Goodreads has come under scrutiny not only because its owned by a web giant whose own website reviews can cause mayhem to an author’s perceived sales  (Amazon Vine readers, anyone?) but there are incidents of authors demanding reviewers who post poor reviews to take the comments back or remove them. The reviewers mounted a campaign of their own, stylized under the initials ABB (Authors Behaving Badly), where a collection of reviewers would trounce an author’s book and the writer to get even for authors who engaged with them.

Hale didn’t like the one-star review she received. On Goodreads (and other places), the YA market is tight and its fans can propel some titles into bestseller status simply on the nature of reviews.  So Hale turned obsessive: trying to figure out the reviewer’s name, get her address and meet with her personally to make the blogger take those wrong things back. The Internet stalker was being stalked, so to speak. Hale even reached out to other authors who experienced this form of trolling to see if anything could be done. One author made it quite clear (although Hale completely ignored the advice):


So this (and you should read Salon’s article, as well as the original in The Guardian to get all the details) took me on a thought-drive in the park. I’m a writer. I have a self-published book on Goodreads and Amazon. The book has reviews, some good, some middling. However it never dawned to me that I should NEVER EVER SPEAK WITH THESE PEOPLE. This is one of the “suggested” rules of authorship on Goodreads. DO NOT ENGAGE WITH REVIEWERS. There is a button that says comment (and the site knows you are an author commenting on a review of your book) that delivers a huge warning that tells you THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA.

But aren’t we supposed to engage with our readers? Are we not told to blog, write, give out freebies, do reviews, host blog chains and chat with readers on Reddit? I get comments on Wattpad all the time concerning ZAK CORBIN. I engage with these readers,if only to say Thank you or to answer a question. And readers have questions … they want to know when the next book is coming out, what will happen to this character, etc. Yes I get mean-spirited comments. I get “this is stupid” comments. I get comments from readers who just want to argue or incite me. I click on the report button and let Wattpad deal with them. Wattpad too has issues with readers and writers tangling up in their forums and comments sections. They have moderators who take stuff down and even block certain users.

This is the new engagement with readers, but it’s also the old engagement. Writers used to be  isolated and  wary of readers who contacted them (try Stephen King’s MISERY for an example of a fan who goes too far). So today’s published author must not only cultivate a social media presence (blogging, Twitter, Facebook … I have them all) but a hide of steel. Once an author puts their work out, they must leave it up to the consumer to decide what to think of it.

Should authors engage with their reviewers, or not?


A Review of ZAK CORBIN on The Blacklist

I registered and posted ZAK CORBIN AND THE MASTER OF MACHINES as a script on a site called The Blacklist. This is not to be confused with the NBC series THE BLACKLIST, starring that guy who used to be on a lawyer show with William Shatner. Anyway, the site provides access to scripts and screenplays to members. Some of those members are leading industry professionals (who shall remain anonymous).

As a registered member, I could request (and pay for) an evaluation. Now this is not the same as a reading by an industry professional looking for a script, per se. This is a person who has some experience in the business and reviews the script (on a paid basis).  Now taking into account the positive review ZAK CORBIN received on the PAGE International Screenplaying Writing Contest, let’s see what this BlackList reviewer has to say about ZAK:

Numerical ratings:

Script Rating

This script offers a cute premise and an adventure. There is plenty of fun action for children, starting with the slapstick comedy of Lugnut pushing the cart of trophies through the school. The story is creative and simple enough for young children to follow and delight in. The ability of the main characters to build a giant, perfect robot friend who fights and succeeds in a battle satisfies kid fantasies in a bright and clean way. The positive messages provided- like the ultimate value of all human life- are appropriate for children but also provide serious drama, like the robot who won’t save Dr. Corbin’s wife because that would endanger more people. Overall the script is loud, bright and action-packed, occasionally achieving a sense of danger without being too scary.


The time period is poorly conveyed. At first it is set in WW2 era, then a futuristic 1950s, and at the end it’s set in 1939 but there is no time travel or explanation for this. Clarity in slug lines would be very helpful. There are some logic issues as well. It’s not clear why Zak and his friends can’t have the harmless robots that other kids have, and it seems like Zak’s family history would conjure a more severe reaction when people learn he is making his own robots and bringing them to school. His desire to show off the ugly robots at school is confusing as well. Overall, the script is somewhat lacking in logic and clarity. It would also benefit from the addition of complex layers to entertain adult caretakers watching the movie with children, which has become a trademark of successful children’s entertainment. There are numerous typos, including one in the title.


Prospects for the story are somewhat good, but the cultural appreciation of robots may be changing considering technological advances. This script seems to have its best chance at success as a small-budget animation.

Well, there you go. The business of writing and reviewing is personal. It’s all a matter of taste. I can certainly see the reviewer’s points here. They’re not the same as the judge who read the same script  in the PAGE awards.

So what happens next? Well the script has been downloaded a few times by Industry pros, but I’ve read somewhere that no one will pay any attention to your script on this site unless it achieves 8s on the number score ratings.  So the work continues.



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