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I swear these are the most amazing things ever made.

I’m sitting in a hotel in Athens, GA, to see my family for the holidays.  It’s 12:30am in the morning.  I have just consumed 10 Fla-Vor-Ice bars at once and am seriously considering trying to sneak out on my sleeping wife and child to get more.  The convenience store on the first floor of the hotel has them already frozen, for ten cents a piece!

When I was a kid I would down these things like crazy.  I would sometimes get little cuts on my lips from sucking on too many of the plastic sleeves in a row, but I didn’t care.  Now, at 33 years old, I find myself browsing Reddit in the middle of the night, using a small kitchen knife to as-quietly-as-possible saw through the top of the sleeve so that my wife doesn’t hear it and berate me for being a frozen favored sugar water glutton.  I realized early that my initial process of going back to the refrigerator, sawing one open, and returning to my desk was stupidly inefficient, so I now have a paper towel spread on my desk with eight empty plastic sleeves and a kitchen knife on them.

I’m here for four more nights.  I wonder if you can get poisoned from too much sugar water?


Best and worst of reviews

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Sweet, sweet reviews.

So, I’m no stranger to criticism.  I used to work at Adult Swim, where I had people who (with all the best intentions in the world) necessitated some pretty thick skin.  As a game designer this has been very useful experience, because as the designer, you’re always the fall guy when a project goes bad, whether it’s valid or not.  Everyone thinks they can do your job better than you, because design is a skill that is almost completely cerebral – people don’t see the process the same way as if you show them awesome art or screens full of code.

Now that I’ve published Cages on the Kindle store, I’ve been bracing myself for bad reviews.  Luckily for me, the majority of comments have been very good and as of this writing my US rating is at 4.7 out of 5, with 7 reviews.  Only one review, which I’ll discuss later, has been negative.

This is my favorite review, from Amazon UK, from “caitmcc”: http://amzn.to/U84peR

This is the first Zombie book I have ever read and I absolutely loved it! I don’t normally go for these kind of books and I’ve never really read a book in which the main character is a boy (closed minded I know) but this book has become one of my favourites of all time. A dream to read which has made me laugh out loud and brought me almost to tears (I am very sad). I finished this book at 4am on a Sunday night even though I had work the next day, I just couldn’t put it down!
I highly recommend this book as it, after reading a few other Zombie book (after I had read this one), has put its own spin on the whole ‘how zombies came about’ thing and it really is quite refreshing.

Why is this my favorite?  A) Because I don’t know this person at all.  I don’t think it’s someone I solicited to read the book among my friends and family, or among the Adult Swim forums, or Reddit.  That someone found the book on their own and had this positive a reaction to it is amazing.  B) Because the enthusiasm for it so closely mirrors the enthusiasm I’ve had for other books myself that I’ve loved.  To be able to engender that in a reader is extremely moving and makes me feel like a successful writer even if Cages never sells another copy.

Another favorite is from “SaltyRich.”  Full disclosure, “SaltyRich” is someone I worked with before, so his feedback may not be completely unbiased, but we’re not such close friends that I think he’d be compelled to bullshit a review for me.  We talked very little about the book before he left this review, and to complete my full disclosure, he admitted later that he thought I had too many typos.  (Fair enough, working on it.): http://amzn.to/TPZIc6

At first glance, Cages is a horror story about a parasite that terrorizes society by randomly turning a percentage of its teenagers into deadly monsters. The story effectively depicts the institutions set up to deal with this horrible nightmare as well as the trials and tribulations of the infected teenagers and the security forces tasked with keeping order.

Digging a little deeper, Cages is about being a teenager in school, trying to fit in, making a mark, challenging authority, finding a tribe, and dealing with physical and emotional transformation. It’s bound to strike a chord with anyone who has gone through or is going through teenage existence. The book examines the fascinating real-world theme of youth who still depend on support from adults and simultaneously undermine authority. The protagonist finds himself caught between the thirst for independence and the need for a parental shield from danger and fear. He is also dealing with the fact that he, and everyone around him, is changing. Some make it through unscathed, some are damaged, and some are destroyed either by their own internal molecular war or by getting caught in the crossfire. In Cages, just like in real life, being a teenager is about being in a state of metamorphosis, coping with the unknown that looms on the other side, and dealing with it en mass in a closed environment designed for learning but often engineered for incarceration.

Beyond the entertaining horror story, and the human story of innocence lost, Cages offers much more to the curious reader: a war rages between order and chaos, between structure and freedom, between conformity and anarchy. Cages is about a society that imprisons their youth to protect them from themselves. Is living in fear really living? Is living in a cage really living? Is the power structure really protecting us, or prohibiting evolution, cheating us of our full potential? And what would happen if one wants to walk out the door and leave the rules and the illusion of security behind, or if one wishes for an all-powerful, yet destructive, transformation? Is true freedom worth the shedding of one’s very humanity? Is the prison of our own ruleset the cohesion that makes us human? Without it, would we all become monsters or savages? What do we benefit from trying to destroy the system that is designed to protect us, even if it must diminish us in the process? The characters of Cages wrestle with these concepts, and therefor, so did this reader.

Cages is a fun, accessible, page turner. The story is linear, event driven, and swiftly propels itself forward with minimal expectations of the reader. In this respect, Cages a satisfying post-apocalyptic infection-based pandemic horror story set in a quarantined high school prison. But that’s really just a point of departure. There are many ways to explore this story and the actions of its characters. I highly recommend reading Cages. While the text is guaranteed to deliver a wild ride through a morbid fantasy, the subtext is likely to sneak up on the psyche and unlock some cages of its own.

It should be clear why I like this review: it makes me seem smart.  As the proud holder of an English degree, I’m not so immune to praise that I don’t enjoy people seeing the layers I wrote into the book, whether they’re interpretations I agree with or not.  This review is the first to really dig below the surface and look for more beyond the plot.  That the books seems to be enjoyable on both levels is something I find delightful.

Ok.  So, negative reviews.  I actually only have one I consider really negative – the other one was broadly positive with some quibbles that earned me a 3-star, so I won’t count that.  This one is also from Amazon UK, by “Sarah.”: http://amzn.to/Uwsb5l

Chris is trying to be smart here and is conveying a story on two levels 1st the Cages the result of a parasitic outbreak and 2nd – real life oppression. We even get some nice little ramblings of the “characters” view on social pressures and media influence. The story starts with promise, goes downhill from there and the ends disappointingly. I would have given this 1 star but the book flows nicely and the authors ramblings, as i like to call them, where readable.

There was a part of me that resented this review, but after all this time of making creative works, I’ve learned to take it at face value.  This person just didn’t like it.  That’s perfectly fine.  I obviously disagree with her assessment, but what can you do?  I appreciate enough that she took the time to read the book in the first place, and that she gave me two stars… as she notes, it could have been one.  I do dislike that it’s driven my UK rating down, but I think it’ll eventually come up.  I can’t force the book on people.  I can only hope the book stands on its own merits at the end of the day.

So, there were my reviews!  Be sure to hit me up on Twitter and Facebook where I’ll probably discuss new reviews more quickly and (thankfully) more briefly.  Also, thank you to everyone who has taken the time to review the book – I appreciate every word.

In the beginning…

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A cat so dynamic he can’t even stay in focus.

So.  First Blog post.  No pressure.  I can do this.  So what if I’ve tried blogging before?  So what if the only reason I’m doing this now is because I’m too tired for the game design I’m working on to make sense any more?  So what if I can’t think of anything relevant to say about anything?

Everyone says it’s boring for writers to talk about their writing, so that’s out.  I’m worn out thinking about games, so I’ll avoid that today.  Facebook and Twitter have nothing interesting for me to rip off… No subject matter?  Who cares!  That’s never stopped bloggers before.  So here I go.  Right.  Now.

Ok, I got nothing.  Think, think!  What can I talk about that the internet craves like a WoW addict craves sweet loot?  *Ding!* Got it!

Let me tell you about one of my cats.  His name is Conner and he’s a giant wuss.  Seriously, of my four cats (yes, bad planned parenting on our parts) he’s by far the largest, the most muscled, with claws so sharp and avian I’ve seen passing falcons look on in envy as he casually shreds the carpet.  He’s a transforming Ninja, silent as he walks, black when he’s dry and white when he’s wet.  Did I also mention he only has half a colon and only one eye?  But he’s the biggest scaredy-cat in the world.

We have another cat, Mia.  The lone female, a pretty tiny specimen of a feline.  But she hunts him day and night.  She is like the hunter from that story, the Most Dangerous Game and he’s like… well, the hunted guy from that story.  (Minus the one-line twist ending.  So far.)  She waits for where he knows he’s going to walk and attacks.  Hisses when he comes within a four foot radius of her.  In one apartment we had where all the doors happened to lead through one single junction point, she would sit at that point and dare him to try to move from Room A to Room B.  Just try it, sucker.

Maybe Conner is a pacifist, but he always runs away and hides under the bed.  He’s so bad about that, the time we drove cross-country from L.A. to Boston for my new job, we thought we had lost him at a hotel in Oklahoma City.  We had security looking through the calls, scrubbing through security video from our hall… it turns out he had just burrowed his way into one of the beds’ box springs and hid there.  We did not get our security deposit back.

But maybe not. Maybe he’s just waiting for his time to strike.  To finally take his revenge.  Here’s to you, secret ninja cat.  Here’s hoping you grow a(nother) pair.