Monday, December 22, 2014


Hey peeps; please welcome my guest author Ted Cross of Cross Words, as he describes his journey as a published author, and the development of his debut spec fic novel THE IMMORTALITY GAME. I've read this fascinating novel and you'll find my review at the end of this post. Many of you may already be familiar with Ted, he's been around the blogs for a few years, when his traveling job and chess tournaments allow him the time.

Thank you Ted for guesting with me today . . . .

I came to writing later than most. Don’t get me wrong, I was good at writing in school and college, but I never seriously considered actually writing a book until I was in my mid-thirties. Chess was my big passion back then and it led to almost everything good that happened in my life.

I started college in computer engineering, but after three and a half years of that I realized that I wasn't passionate about it, and I dreaded looking forward to a life doing something I didn’t love. So I switched majors to Russian Studies. I had no idea what I could do with such a major, but since most of the best chess masters of the world were Russians at that time, I went with it. Luckily in my junior year a recruiter came to the university looking for Russian speakers willing to go work at the embassy in Moscow. It was a dream come true!

Living in Moscow during the crazy 90’s gave rise to my first big story idea. The Russian mafia was everywhere at that time, and even if those who weren't gangsters often dressed like them. Every day the newspapers told of new murders, bombings, knifings, people thrown from windows. And then I witnessed two different mafia attacks myself. The constant bombardment of mafia stories made me want to write about the topic. I had some decent scene ideas, but I couldn't quite figure out an entire story arc that made sense, so I let the story simmer in my head without doing anything with it.

Naturally I played lots of chess in Moscow, even getting to play exhibition games against world champions Gary Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, and Vladimir Kramnik. I was thrilled, so my passion for chess probably kept me from more seriously considering writing a novel. I also met and married my wife, and we've now been married for eighteen years and have two amazing teenage sons.

Moving on from Moscow, we kept moving to new embassies, always to countries where chess was big—Croatia, China, Iceland, Hungary, and twice to Azerbaijan (where we currently live). Chess began to dwindle a bit in my life, though, not by choice but because it was so difficult to find time to play in tournaments. While living in Beijing, China, I began to have some new ideas involving new twists on old science fiction tropes. I loved my ideas and hadn't seen anyone use my new twists, but again I couldn't figure out an entire story arc that worked.

Most people have now heard of Game of Thrones, the TV show based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Well I had been reading his novels since the second one came out, and I just loved them. But it was in Beijing while mulling over story ideas that I had an epiphany. I saw how Martin used many different point of view (POV) characters, alternating them between chapters, and I was struck by the idea that this could work for me.

So in 2006 I typed out my first ever chapter. It wasn't based on the mafia or sci-fi ideas at that time. I still hadn't figured out how to do anything with those ideas. My first story was based on my teenage love of roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons or Middle Earth Role Playing. I had never been happy with any of the books related to gaming. They always seemed to treat gaming like a comic book or a superhero story. For those who love Drizzt and the rest, I’m fully supportive; I just longed for a gaming related story that treated it seriously, as if George Martin were writing it. No one would write what I wanted to read, so I decided to write it myself.

I learned that writing a novel is very different from all the writing I was good at in school. It was a true learning experience that is never-ending. I am improving with each book I write, and I probably always will. I completed that first novel while living in Iceland, and the sense of accomplishment was huge for me. It made me understand that I wanted to continue doing this. Plus, I had developed such an elaborate backstory for the novel and for the characters in the novel that I was struck by a new story idea, and that is what turned into this first published book, The Immortality Game.

One of the characters in the fantasy novel was a former Russian scientist from Earth. I had unconsciously given him a backstory related to the sci-fi twists I had earlier formulated. One day it struck me that I could dump the idea of a 1990’s mafia story and incorporate that idea into the sci-fi story. Once that light bulb went off, the story came easily.

I don’t find a lot of free time to write, so each novel has taken three years to write and more to edit so far. I dream of retiring soon so I can write faster! The feedback for my new sci-fi thriller was so good, and my confidence so much higher, that I really believed it would be my breakout novel and that I would get an agent and publisher. I still think I should have been able to. But I made a mistake while querying agents. I mentioned that my book had gotten a terrific review from a HarperCollins editor after winning the review on a writing site called Authonomy. I had no idea at the time that agents had a bad perception of Authonomy. So while my first novel had gotten some positive hits from agents, even some big ones, this far superior novel was met with nothing but silence from all 45 agents that I queried. It’s not fair, but it is what it is.

I was so lucky that a smaller publisher, Breakwater Harbor Books, was interested in taking me on. I loved that I had full control over my cover art, because I wasn't enamored of the covers I saw on most trade published books, and I had definite ideas about what I wanted my cover to look like. So I hired my favorite science fiction artist, Stephan Martiniere, to do my cover art, and he was a delight to work with. He took my text samples and listened to everything I wanted considered for the cover, and he produced a fantastic cover that was everything I had wanted. It has the main character Zoya on it; it shows the pyramid and curving hotel towers of the mafia base; it has the newly-reconstructed St. Basil’s cathedral; and it shows the flurries of poppy seeds that play a part in the story.

Since publishing the book on November 24, I've learned just how difficult it is for an unknown author to draw any attention. The wave of self-published books has made buyers wary, so they are more likely to stick with well-established authors like Stephen King than they are to try out someone unproven. Or they’ll try a new author if there is a huge marketing campaign about him or her. A small publisher simply can’t do that, so I have to rely on word of mouth, the kindness of those willing to post reviews (or interviews or posts like this site is doing), and I simply have to be patient and keep on writing my next books.

My first written book, the epic fantasy, is nearly ready after all these years, and I plan to publish it in 2015. After that, I have some other stories already started, and two of them are so exciting to me that I wish I could just be done with the writing part, as I’m so eager to see how an audience will receive them
Thank you once again, Donna, for hosting me here! Below is the blurb for The Immortality Game, along with links where you can find me or my work. Thank you for reading!

Moscow, 2138. With the world only beginning to recover from the complete societal collapse of the late 21st Century, Zoya scrapes by prepping corpses for funerals and dreams of saving enough money to have a child. When her brother forces her to bring him a mysterious package, she witnesses his murder and finds herself on the run from ruthless mobsters. Frantically trying to stay alive and save her loved ones, Zoya opens the package and discovers two unusual data cards, one that allows her to fight back against the mafia and another which may hold the key to everlasting life.

Contact Ted Cross on social media at:
Blog    Goodreads    Twitter: tedacross
Facebook: Ted.Cross.Author

The Immortality Game is now available:
Amazon   Barnes&Noble   Kobo   GooglePlay
(It's on iTunes as well, though I can't link to it)

My Review:

I’m not normally a quick reader, but I was drawn into the world of The Immortality Game from the opening chapter through the ending. The futuristic setting was immediately and expertly introduced, and the female lead character, Zoya, had a good-girl appeal from the opening dialogue with her roguish brother. The world after The Dark Times is further built through the perspective of Marcus, the young son of a deceased millionaire who invented the program- cure for the “internet virus” that hackers used to topple governments and cripple the business world. The program also made possible a widespread addiction called “meshing”, which nearly destroys humanity to the point of extinction.

This story is action packed, but has a steady pace that drew me completely into the world. Although filled with cyber-speak, it doesn't take a degree or interest in science or engineering to relate to the simple terminology. If you've watch the world news or own your own computer, you’ll be familiar with slots, discs, wireless, clones, air cars, intergalactic space travel, and the concept that “there is always a war somewhere.” Mr. Cross takes exploratory technology of today, sets it in a world little more than a hundred years in the future, and adds an intense twist to world politics and everyday game playing and vice.

I enjoyed how the author took two average people who would likely never meet, and who have no extra-ordinary skills, placed them in a situation to make choices between loyalty, family, and basic morality, and used the available technology and societal rules of the time to force them to rise to the challenges. And who isn't curious about the inner workings of the Russian Mafia, and how normal citizens survive in such a hostile environment?

The Immortality Game gave me a sense of hope for the future, even while it listed the devastation of relying on the virtual pleasures of cyber-space and cyber lovers, the loss of individuality and connection with people, even the loss of life. Marcus’ deceased father integrated his genius mind into the internet and retains his basic personality while seeking the genetic compatibility of a clone body to restore his humanity, and he uses his world wide connection to protect his only son from the oblivion of  “meshing.” Zoya has hope of using the found technology to assist her in rescuing her brother, her friends, and her hope of having a child of her own. Marcus is searching for his purpose in life and a reason to remain addiction free without the protective firewalls of his father’s intervention.

I think this story would appeal to readers who enjoy “a little romance and technology” in the story without it overwhelming the concepts of intrigue and the search for immortality. I give The Immortality Game five stars and would definitely read more titles by the author Ted Cross.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

So your love of chess took you on an adventure around the world? I didn't know that's how it all began.
Small publishers can't throw a lot of money at marketing, but they will stick with you longer than the big publishers. Just keep after it, Ted.

Ted Cross said...

Thank you again, Donna!

Alex, I owe almost everything to my first love of chess!

Pat Hatt said...

Wow, I never knew chess could spur such a life adventure. Awesome. Retirement would gives lots more time for writing haha

Ted Cross said...

Seven more years!

Michael Di Gesu said...

HI, Donna, Hi, Ted...

WOW what an adventure, Ted.. You story is certainly captivating and exciting... If you have these elements in your book, which I'm sure you do, it should be quite the read!

GOOD LUCK all the best!

Donna, thanks for featuring Ted today! Hope all is well with you... HAPPY HOLIDAYS and let's chat soon! Miss you!


Ted Cross said...

Thank you very much, Michael. Life certainly has been an adventure, but now I feel I'm beginning a new one with writing.

Anonymous said...

It was so interesting reading about the author, his studies, his time in Moscow, and his writing.

Yolanda Renée said...

Ted - What an amazing life, love that the change of majors meant a whole new adventure in Russia! The book sounds action packed, and I'll bet with that kind of travel and experience you've got story ideas that will take you to unlimited success with your writing endeavors.

Wishing everyone today a lovely holiday, and the most prosperous of New Year's!

Ted Cross said...

Thank you, Medeia and Yolanda. Happy holidays to you!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Ted and Donna - Donna - great guest .. and a fascinating read. I can understand slightly your feeling re being in Eastern Europe - I only attended a trade fair in Brno, via Prague ... and was somewhat shattered to be constantly chaperoned by unknowns .. and trying to be coerced into doing other things ... it was interesting, but I was glad to get back to the West.

Then again - who knew where chess would lead you - and all those postings... giving you food for characters, scenery, back stories etc .. the book sounds really interesting ...

Stick with it - which you'll do now that you've had that epiphany ... keep writing and enjoying life .. cheers to you both and happy seasonal joys - Hilary

Ted Cross said...

Hilary, Prague is the most gorgeous city I've ever visited, though it's awfully crowded these days! Happy holidays to you as well.

A Beer for the Shower said...

Very cool back story. As self published authors (by choice) we too know the struggle of promotion, but it's worth it. It even caught the attention of our now-agent. The cream always rises to the top, and a truly good book will eventually sell if you put enough blood, sweat, and tears behind it. And it sounds like you have.

Ted Cross said...

It's hard to be patient and just believe, especially when luck does seem to play a part in getting discovered, but I suppose we help create our own luck by persevering.

dolorah said...

Alex: I liked the idea of chess sparking an adventure also.

Pat: I've thought the same about retirement. Someday . . .

Michael: miss you too :) Can't wait to see pictures of your new home in NYC.

Happy Holidays Media.

Yolanda: it is an awesome book, and Ted is an excellent author.

Hilary: I only had a short stopover in Prague while traveling Europe and didn't get to see more than the transfer bus station. Shame really.

Beers: You guys almost make marketing yourself look easy.

TED: Thank you for guesting with me today. It has been a privilege to read your amazing life story, and the I enjoyed the novel. I look forward to reading more of your works.

DEZMOND said...

the cover of the book is quite well done! And methinks there are more gangs and criminals in USA than in Russia or any other country

Weaver said...

Sounds like a great story. Congrats to Ted.

"It was a true learning experience that is never-ending." Ain't this the truth?

Tyrean Martinson said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing your writing journey, Ted. It sounds like you've lived an exciting life and written an exciting book! :)

Dixie@dcrelief said...

Ted, I'm not sure which seems more intriguing - your book or your life story. Is there an early bio in the works?

Dolorah, great interview/review. I'll definitely look for his book!

Christine Rains said...

What an amazing journey. Thank you for sharing, Ted. Much luck! :)

And happy holidays, Donna!

Ted Cross said...

I'm not sure I could write an exciting bio, because I don't get excited myself in thinking about my own life, and I think a writer needs to be excited about what he or she is working on.

Ted Cross said...

I'm on the other side of the world, so I had to go to sleep while many of you were commenting. Thank you for reading!

Rachna Chhabria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Donna and Ted,

Love the title of your book- The Immortality Game. Its super intriguing. I am already hooked. Thank you for sharing your amazing journey with us.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year to both of you :Ted and Donna

Ted Cross said...

Thanks, Rachna!

dolorah said...

Dezzy: I loved the cover, really suits the story. The US does have a wide diversity of gangs and criminal activity; we immigrate them well.

Donna: thanks for stopping by :)

Tyrean and Dixie: I like Teds life story as much as the fiction story, lol.

Christine: Happy Holidays to you also.

Take care this holiday season Rachna; enjoy your brief break.

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