Signed Books for Christmas!

If you want to buy a signed print version of any of my books to give as a gift, you can buy direct from me by sending an e-mail. Just click the e-mail link under Contact Me to the left. Include the titles, quantities, and whether or not you would like them signed and/or personalized. I’ll need your complete mailing address, including phone number for shipping. No P.O. Boxes, please. When I get your e-mail, I’ll send you a PayPal invoice for the total including shipping.

There’s still time to get books in time for Christmas if you’re in the United States (probably Canada, too). If you’re overseas, I will make the attempt, but cannot guarantee results.

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And Now for Something Completely Different…


Every year, my wife and I build a gingerbread house, then have family come over to help decorate it. We try to follow the rule of “it must be edible,” though I confess to bending that rule a bit… tongue depressors are non-toxic, and non-nutritive, though other than some really rough insoluble fiber, they are edible. This is not for a competition, so it doesn’t really matter (and we’re not planning on ever competing).

So, before I show off our handiwork, some statistics:

  • 30 pieces of gingerbread, individually designed and baked
  • 8 lbs. powdered sugar
  • 3 lbs. Isomalt
  • LOTS of candy
  • 50+ hours of baking & assembly
  • 6-7 hours of decorating2014-11-21 20.42.21

First we see various stages of construction. The coffee cups and chopsticks are there to provide support while the royal icing dries. Assembling a gingerbread house is like assembling a house of cards, except if it falls down your wall breaks and you have to roll out, cut, and bake another one. Don’t have any spare dough? YOU’RE SCREWED.

Have spare dough.2014-11-21 22.07.26

We always assemble the house the night before decorating. This gives the house 12-14 hours to dry before people start poking and prodding it.

There were a total of seven people involved in the decorating: my wife, my step-daughter, my sister, my brother-in-law, my niece, my mother, and myself. We had a variety of colors of modeling chocolate*, so some people concentrated on making decorations to put on the little town square area we built. I found the candy equivalent of googly e2014-11-22 14.55.23yes, so those got to put to disturbing use by my brother-in-law in making some of the little gingerbread men and penguins cyclopses.

We were inspired by one of our gingerbread books into taking ice cream sugar cones and piping green icing on them to make Christmas trees. My step-daughter spent a couple of hours decorating them, then we set them aside to dry.2014-11-22 15.32.17

Meanwhile, I was running around being a gopher (and trying not to be grumpy; it was a long night and I wasn’t feeling the gingerbread house this early in the season; I felt it best if I avoided interpersonal contact). However, I did make a Minion! It was later pointed out that I should have put pants on the Minion. What can I say? Making him the way he is stretched my sculpting skills to the max.2014-11-22 15.13.52

Don’t judge. Maybe the Minion just ran from the shower to open the door only to find out he was being pranked… it could happen!

2014-11-22 15.50.22No gingerbread village is complete without a candy path. We also used yogurt-pretzels for rooftop embellishments. We also played with Isomalt and make a skating pond and fountain. It melts beautifully and is perfectly edible, though unless you’re constipated, you might want to restrict how much of it you each, if you know what I mean. OK, if you don’t: the body treats Isomalt like insoluable fiber, even though it’s a sugar alcohol. You can develop a resistance over time, but most people generally have a reaction similar to eating WAY too much fiber the first several times they eat a sufficient quantity.2014-11-22 17.24.54

Not clear enough: IT MAKES YOU POOP A LOT.

Ahem.2014-11-22 18.12.51

You might see a little sugar craft TARDIS on the roof, and also a big TARDIS in the background. That’s because we’re awesome. Also, “Flatline” of Series 8 of the current run of Doctor Who showed the TARDIS can actually change size. You may spy some crystalline Daleks, too. you are welcome.mp3

And finally, we decided Crow T. Robot dropped in from the Satellite of Love (if you don’t know MST3K… I don’t want to know you) to oversee the town square from his rooftop bistro complete with a jammin’ snowboard.2014-11-22 17.28.48 2014-11-22 18.25.32Here’s the big secret… the snowboard is there just to prop up the umbrella ’cause the umbrella stand we made wasn’t strong enough.

It’s clever tricks like that that really bring the magic to the whole thing.

Well, it’s a thing, anyway.

Here’s a closeup of the fountain!2014-11-22 18.25.40 You can see the Daleks in the background on the path, and a couple of the snowmen my mother made.

And here, you can get a closeup of Crow T. Robot and his rooftop bistro.2014-11-22 18.26.01

If you’re thinking “What fine photos you have. Where I can get a camera that takes such fine pictures?” Then I would reply: “HA! Those are just from my iPhone. It does OK.” All pictures are copyright ME, 2014, etc. etc. Any resemblance to any people, animals, cyborgs, or robots, are purely coincidental, or covered under fair use since we aren’t making any money off of this. Please don’t sue us BBC or the Estate of Terry Nation… and I’m pretty sure Crow’s design isn’t copyright and Bill Corbett already saw it and favorited my tweet.

* Technically, it wasn’t chocolate since the “melting candy disks” contained neither cocoa solids nor cocoa butter. “Modeling chocolate” is easier than saying “modeling chocolate substitute candy substance” and more accurate than “modeling clay.” … work with me here!




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NaNoWriMo, week 1

Week One of National Novel Writing Month is behind us. As we embark upon week two, here are a few things to consider:

  • If you have not started yet, there is still time. You only need 2,500 words a day to hit 50,000 words by the end of the month.
  • If you started before today, that number is smaller.

November is a very challenging month. It is only 30 days. Camp NaNo in July gets 31 days. There is a major holiday at the end of the month, and while July 4th is a popularly observed U.S. holiday, for me, it is easier to get other things accomplished around July 4th compared to Thanksgiving. Of course, if you are the type of person to enjoy outdoor activities in July, perhaps November works better for you. I’m not one of those people; there are advantages to being an introverted hermit.

How did your Week One go? Writing in the evenings and weekend has gotten me past the half-way point already. If I keep this pace, I’ll hit 50,000 words around Nov. 18th. My novel won’t be finished at that point, though. It is book 2 of a trilogy. Book 1 clocked in at 110,000+ words before revisions. Book 2 will have to be about that length, so it behooves me to maintain a brisk pace. It is unlikely I’ll have a complete manuscript by the end of the month. I’ll have a beginning and an end, but the middle won’t be finished.

But that’s OK. As I said in my last blog post, NaNoWriMo is more about developing the discipline to write daily, which is the cornerstone of a successful writer. There are ways to boost your productivity. As with any bit of writing advice, this is what works for me: you may have different experiences.

Write in a distraction free environment. If you find yourself always finding just one other thing to do before you hunker down and write, change location. For example, I used to write at my desktop PC. The one that has all the games, in the room that has all my stuff. It was OK for a couple of years, but gradually became more and more difficult to get anything done. So, I switched to my laptop in my game room (for tabletop games… which I can’t play alone). There’s a Keurig so I can have hot beverages, a refrigerator so I can have cold beverages, and no games I’m currently playing on that computer. I can hook it up to speakers so I can listen to music and write away. It’s just across the hall from all my stuff, but it’s far enough removed that it’s much more distraction-free.

Don’t be afraid to take a break. Get up, walked around. Do something else that isn’t related to your writing. There’s no rule that says you can’t think about your novel while you’re doing these other things. I do a lot of thinking while I’m doing lawn work, cleaning, driving to work, or running errands. The majority of my writing prep is done in this fashion (which it why it probably looks like I’m distracted or talking to myself most of the time). When I’m doing this, I can build of quite a backlog in my head. When I sit down to write, it’s like opening the floodgates (Saturday, for example, I cranked out almost 6,000 words in probably no more than 3-4 hours of writing spread out over the morning, afternoon, and evening; it wasn’t one marathon session).

Engage the NaNoWriMo community. Need to bounce ideas off someone? That’s what the forums are for! I often do this on Twitter or Google+, too. I don’t find the Word Sprints and other mini-challenges appealing though. They’re often topical and not relevant to my novel. Recent sprints were things like “include the word escape” or “bear.” I would’ve spent more time trying to figure out how to work that into my narrative than actually doing the sprint. However, if you’re just totally winging things or are stumped, then these exercises can be valuable. It might be an interesting experiment one day to write something and incorporate as many sprints and word wars as you can. The narrative might be a hot mess, but it might be the next literary comedy masterpiece! You could be the next Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett.

As we go into Week Two, you may find it harder to stay on track, or maybe you’re just not feeling the plot. It happens, it’s part of the challenge. When all else fails, make something explode.

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Commenculate with NaNoWriMo!

National Novel Writing Month started on Saturday. I’ve participated the last seven years, and I participated in Camp NaNo this past July. The bulk of, if not the entire first draft of Wings of Twilight and all three Zack Jackson novels were written during NaNoWriMo. I wrote 3/4 of the first draft of the first book of my upcoming trilogy during Camp NaNo this July. So clearly, it works for me.

Many people criticize NaNoWriMo for convincing people who can’t write that they’ve written a novel for publication and therefore, anything written during NaNoWriMo is horrible, bad, and generally crap. This perception is not helped by people who think that their first draft is good enough to publish and they don’t need an editor, or worse, they can’t afford one so they’ll just publish anyway and fix things when they can.

The truth is, NaNoWriMo is more about helping people develop the discipline to write. Successful authors write pretty much every day. Sitting down and being productive as a writer is more involved that just banging out bad haikus on Twitter in between clicking Buzzfeed links and watching amusing cat videos…

heheheh… kitties

Sorry, I got distracted by a cat video.

I use NaNoWriMo as a way to knuckle down and write every day. After 8 years, I still haven’t developed the discipline to sit down and write several thousand words a day, but I can do it for a couple of months at a time. It’s true that what I write is intended for publication, but really, what’s the difference between doing it when hundreds of thousands of other people are doing it, or any other time of the year? My first drafts NEVER go public. Every thing I have ever published goes through multiple editing and proofreading passes before I put it up on Amazon.

If you want to try to develop the discipline to write novels for a living (or just for fun), or if you have a story scratching at the inner wall of your brainbox, begging to be let out, give NaNoWriMo a try. The worst thing that can happen is you don’t write a book, which is the same thing that will happen if you don’t participate. Maybe you’ll embark upon a life-changing journey.

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Zack Jackson & The Hives of Valtra now available for all e-readers!

Zack Jackson Book 03 front cover smallZack Jackson & The Hives of Valtra is now available in three additional stores: Smashwords, Kobo, and DriveThruFiction. This means if you don’t have a Kindle, you can get the third Zack Jackson novel for your e-reader now, too! It also means that it should have moved through the distribution network and be available for order in most bookstores. If you’ve been waiting for Zack to be available on platforms other than Kindle, your ship has come in!

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New art and new fantasy novels!

Pancras the Putrid, First Wizard of Drak-Anor (Art by Lily Yang)

Pancras the Putrid, First Wizard of Drak-Anor
(Art by Lily Yang)

While I was at Gen Con, I met an impressive young artist, Lily Yang. Her portfolio impressed me so much, I decided to commission her to do the covers for my next three fantasy novels. I’m currently working on the first of three books that continues the story of Pancras and the drak twins, Kale and Delilah from my previous fantasy duology, The Foundation of Drak-Anor. I also commissioned her to do some character art for me that I can use in promotional materials. You can see the first such commission to the right.

The new trilogy is tentatively titled: The Necromancer’s Tale and will consist of three volumes: Malediction, Lament, and Salvation. The titles are still works-in-progress and may change as I continue writing.

Gen Con was successful for me and I sold through all but two or three of the remaining copies of The Foundation of Drak-Anor Gen Con-exclusive hardcover omnibus. Once these hardcovers are gone, I do not plan to produce more of them, although the individual books, Wings of Twilight and Iron Fist of the Oroqs will still be available in paperback and for e-readers.

I also have an announcement to make regarding the third book in the Zack Jackson series, but I will save that for a separate post.

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Signing at Gen Con

Next week, I will be at Gen Con. On August 14 – 17, I will staff my table on Author’s Avenue (table AA) whenever the Dealer Hall is open. I will have copies of all five of my novels, as well as a limited number of copies of Sojourn: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction. I also still have copies of the Gen Con Exclusive Omnibus Edition of The Foundation of Drak-Anor (21 copies to be exact). Once these book are gone, I’m not going to print more! The Foundation of Drak-Anor collects Wings of Twilight and Iron Fist of the Oroqs into a single volume. I will also have free Galactic Confederation Junior Ranger patches for everyone who buys a Zack Jackson novel!

One thing I will be doing at Gen Con is free giveaways. That’s right; you can get a copy of Wings of Twilight for free, if you’re lucky… Watch my twitter feed (@hccummings or @jedisoth) or the hashtag #GenCon for giveaway times. I’m only giving away one book per day, and you’ll need to speak the secret passphrase to get a chance to roll my four Vesuvian Lava Fate dice (yes, they’re really carved out of lava from Mt. Vesuvius). If you beat my roll, you win a book! Four plusses wins the hardcover Omnibus edition (subject to availability–a tie means we throw out that roll and roll again) and earns another lucky person a chance to win Wings of Twilight.

If I’m going to sell and sign books at a gaming convention, I may as well make a game out of it, right?

Categories: Iron Fist of the Oroqs, Publishing, Wings of Twilight, Zack Jackson | Leave a comment

Best of Indy – Best Local Author Honoree!

BOI-Logo2013REVHonoreeThanks to the support of readers like you, I was chosen as an Honoree in Nuvo’s Reader’s Choice 2014 Best of Indy — Best Local Author! I was beaten by John Green and Dan Wakefield, both of whom have their own Wikipedia pages, so I don’t think I did too badly at all. Thank you all so much for your support.

Don’t forget I have a book signing coming up at the Breadloaf Book Shop in Lake Geneva, WI next Saturday, August 2nd from 1pm – 4pm. If you’re local to the area, or just passing through, I hope to see you there.

I’ll also have a table at Gen Con in the Dealer’s Hall on Author’s Avenue. Gen Con run from August 14th – 17th and I will be there all four days. In addition to having copies of all of my books available to purchase, I’ll have freebies and giveaways!

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Book Signing, August 2nd, Lake Geneva, WI

If you’re local to Lake Geneva, WI (or if you just want to come up for the day), I will be having a book signing at the Breadloaf Book Shop in Lake Geneva on the afternoon of August 2nd. I will have copies of all five of my novels, and possibly a limited number of the Sojourn anthology in which I have a short story.

For those of you new to this blog, I have two series available. The Foundation of Drak-Anor (Wings of Twilight and Iron Fist of the Oroqs) is a fantasy duology told from the point-of-view of the “monsters” as they struggle with finding acceptance in a world who just wants to kill them and take their stuff.

The Zack Jackson series is on book 3 of a possible 6-7 volumes. It’s a YA series (though suitable for all ages) set in the 43rd century as the Earth-Alpha Centauri Alliance considers membership in the Galactic Confederation. It follows Zack Jackson, a young boy from Wyoming as he goes on Junior Ranger trips to alien worlds, goes to school at the prestigious Cytherean Academy on Venus, and learns of a galactic conspiracy to ensure a defeated enemy is wiped out of existence. Things are not always what they seem, of course, and Zack discovers sometimes the defeated are not always the bad guys.

Hope to see you there!

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Interview at UnderDiscussion

I was interviewed this weekend by the fine folks at UnderDiscussion: The UnderGopher Podcast. We talked about Zack Jackson, my other novels, and gaming. Of course, since I’m bad at off-the-cuff things, I forgot to bring up a few points about the Zack Jackson series that I knew I should talk about.

I spoke about how part of my inspiration for Zack Jackson was Star Trek and the optimistic view of the future it has. I wanted to write about a future I felt was cool and would actually want to live in. A big part of the Zack Jackson universe is the wide-spread acceptance of, well, just about everything. I make an effort to show how diverse and interesting life and people are, and if a character doesn’t understand or is just being exposed to something for the first time, I use it as an opportunity for character growth. I’ve found that to refrain from beating readers over the head with a message of acceptance and diversity, the best thing to do is just mention such things briefly and have the characters accept it without a word, as though it is the most natural thing. After all, diversity is natural and we should be accepting of it because that is the way things should be.

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