Salvation Cover… REVEALED

You’ve seen the artwork, but there’s more to a cover than just art. Thanks to the efforts of Eric Hubbel, I’m proud to present Scars of the Sundering, book 3: Salvation.
Salvation low-res

The files will be going to the printer in the next few days and I will have books to sell at Beachside Authorfest in Lake Geneva on July 8th. The Kindle version will be up when I get back from that event (if not sooner, but I make no promises; I have to get “Burble’s Big Day” to the printer, too).

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I’ve neither died nor faded away…

Of course I haven’t! I’m not an old general! I have, however, been very busy with an annual project at work as well as working on final revisions for Scars of the Sundering, book 3 – Salvation.

When I get busy like this, I often will still update my Facebook page, so if you’re not following me over there, you might want to stop by.

And with that, I must apologize. For while I let people on Facebook know, I neglected to show things off here. I was going to go for a whole fancy cover reveal to build hype, but it seems like that works better for authors who have a larger readership than me.

Last month, Lily Yang delivered the cover art for SalvationBook Cover 4

The cover design is being worked on now and Salvation will be available for sale prior to Gen Con in August. I’ll announce an exact date once I work on the interior layout.

In addition, I’ll have a new short story available for sale at Gen Con. “Burble’s Big Day” will be available in print EXCLUSIVELY at my convention appearances. All of the art is by Brian Patterson of d20 Monkey fame.

Burble Page Cover for web

If you’re going to be in the Lake Geneva, Wisconsin area on July 8th, I’ll be at Beachside Authorfest (despite what the Facebook link indicates, it’s not hosted by me; they’re just slow in updating the official sites for this year, so the link to the event I set up is about all I have right now). Both Salvation and “Burble’s Big Day” will likely be available from me there, barring any printing delays.

Look for the official launch announcement for Salvation in the next few weeks.

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Book Review: The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs

the-year-of-living-biblicallyThe Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
I heard about this book a couple of years before I got around to purchasing and reading it. I know a lot of people who claim to take the Bible literally and who claim to live their life as closely to the guidelines set out therein. Well, the author did just that and his results are wildly different than the people I know.

While trying to follow the Bible as literally as possible, A.J. Jacobs discovers contradictions, some explicit, others springing from differences in translation and interpretation. He has difficulties incorporating the realities of modern life (like having to carry a chair with him so he doesn’t accidentally sit in a seat a menstruating woman has been in; it’s unclean) and it is only due to the eternal patience of his wife that he is able to live within some of these restrictions (although she draws the line at a rule that states he can’t touch her at ALL for weeks after her c-section delivering their twins; spoiler: he suspends his “quest” for about a month after their birth).

The challenge the author undertakes in this book is something I, myself, would NEVER attempt, but I did find his account illuminating. Like him, I think a lot of people seek to live the best lives they can by following tenets set out in the good book, but being human, fail to varying degrees. Jacobs’s quest did lead him to being a kinder, more thoughtful person, so even as a self-described agnostic, by the end of his journey, he felt it was worthwhile.

I don’t want to go too in depth about my views on religious; my personal beliefs aren’t relevant to this review. It’s a well-written, engaging, funny account that answers a lot of questions I had about how would one have to live if they really took the Bible as literally as they said they do. His conclusion confirmed what I suspected: it’s impossible to follow ALL the rules literally and EVERYONE cherry picks.

But don’t take it from me. Read this and be yourself, enlightened. It’s not going to make you a true believer (it certainly didn’t affect my beliefs in any way), but it might increase your understanding.

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2017 – The Year Ahead

KaleDelilahFinal-CharReedAs a new year begins, it’s time to take stock of what projects I have on the table and where they all stand.

“Burble’s Big Day”
A short story I wrote for an collaborative Author’s Avenue anthology (the quality of which I was extremely displeased with), this will also come out soon as a short, middle-grade short story book with art by Brian Patterson (of d20Monkey fame). I’m going to edit it once more for good measure, but aside from the art, it is essentially finished. It will be available at Gen Con, if not sooner, in a deluxe full-color edition. I like to have something special to offer at Gen Con, and this is it for this year. This will be great for those of you with younger children interested in fantasy.

Scars of the Sundering, book 3: Salvation
Editing and revisions are underway. I hope to have it finished and published by Memorial Day weekend.

Zack Jackson & the Secret of Venus
The first draft collects dust, awaiting it’s day in the light of editing. Basically, this is going to sit until Salvation is done. Still, I hope to have it finished and published for Gen Con.

Scars of the Sundering, book 1: Malediction – Audio version
This is still in production. I’m just waiting on the narrator (Dan the Bard) to finish. Fun fact: this is the only audio-production of a fantasy novel I know of that will be narrated by an actual bard.

Of course, none of these projects are a new novel for me to write in 2017. I’m developing a couple of different story ideas right now. One is a young-adult novel/series for the World of Calliome set ten-plus years after Scars of the Sundering. Another is a sort of cyberpunk/urban fantasy set several thousand years in Calliome’s future. I’m not sure where my muse will ultimately take me, I’m also interested in writing some supplements or adventures for a role-playing game (which depends on my mood, potential collaborators, and various licensing factors). Of course, I intend to write the fifth Zack Jackson novel in 2017, Zack Jackson & The Ruins of Athos.

Here’s hoping your 2017 will be as productive and fulfilling and I’m going to try to make mine!

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The Gingerbreadening, Part the Third

matrix-gun-rack-oDecorating the gingerbread structures is done with copious amounts of royal icing and modeling chocolate. And candy. Lots of candy. I feel like Neo when he decides to rescue Morpheus, except I’m asking for “Candy, lots of candy!”

(If I was really dedicated, I’d crack into that gif and change all the guns to candy, but that’s a LOT of work.)

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Now one may think, “Gee, that looks good enough to eat!”, and you would be correct. However, you should NOT eat it. It’s been sitting out for days, collecting dust and cat hair. The modeling chocolate has been kneaded and sculpted by hands. Sweaty, germy, human hands. The cinnamon stick columns are basically tree bark and only good to eat ground up into a fine powder (I don’t recommend the Cinnamon Challenge, though).

If you want to eat it, do what we do: make a veritable army of Gingerbread Mans (yes, I call them “Mans,” you can thank StrongBad for that) just for eating (and invading Gingerbread villages).

If you want to see all the pictures, here’s a handy-dandy slideshow at Photobucket. Unfortunately, since I didn’t take the time to rename all the files to put them in chronological order, it’s kind of a random look at the week+ we spent, rather than anything that makes sense.

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The Gingerbreadening, Part the Second

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(Trying to get WordPress to put images where I want them is always a struggle when I have more images than text, so I apologize for the presentation.)

In one respect, building a gingerbread house is like any other construction project: you need to start with a plan.

(You can click on the images to enlarge them.)

Many gingerbread books include plans for the structures they feature (some do not). There are also some available online. You can also create your own by constructing your buildings out of cardstock or cardboard, then using the finished pieces as templates for your baking.

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Part of our prep work also includes making modeling chocolate. Domed and round structures are really hard to make out of a cookie, so using a flexible medium eliminates a LOT of stress.

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The Gingerbreadening, Part the First

There comes a time of year when spices emerge, vast quantities of butter, sugar, and eggs are acquired, and the baking begins.

This is not an activity that comes without planning. Architectural plans are drawn up and mock-ups are created in cardboard, then used as templates.

Pounds upon pounds of confectioner’s sugar (aka icing sugar aka powdered sugar) will be used in quantities that could make the kitchen look like a cocaine den.

This time of year is called THE GINGERBREADENING.

2014-11-22-18-20-52Each year has a theme. The last time The Gingerbreadening happened, it was a village square. This time, it is Tim Burton’s “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” Normally, part of the challenge of building gingerbread structures is keeping everything straight. It’s like building a house of cards: if your cards were made out of cookies. I don’t know if purposely constructing warped, crooked structures is going to make this easier or more difficult.

Thus far, only the base has been created. Well, that’s not true. All of the gingerbread pieces are complete and ready for assembly. But, in order to assemble them, a baseplate must be made ready. It is little more than a foil-wrapped cardboard box covered in white fondant.

Fun fact: different brands of mini marshmallows are different colors. Even when the coloring additive in all of them is Blue 1. One batch had a definite blueish cast. Another was more yellow. The third was sort of a neutral, off-white. Once the building are in place and decorated, it is doubtful anyone will notice.

Echo Station 3-T-8. We've spotted Imperial Walkers on the north ridge!

Echo Station 3-T-8. We’ve spotted Imperial Walkers on the north ridge!

My wife left me alone with the base while the fondant was drying. This was the result.

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More NaNoWriMo Advice

There’s a lot of great writing advice out there. The best advice comes with the caveat that it is what works for the author who wrote it and may, but not neccessarily, work for you, too.

This advice includes things like restrict adverb use (or more extremely, NO ADVERBS EVER THEY’RE BAD YOU’RE A MONSTER FOR USING THEM), always use simple dialog tags/vary dialog tags/never use dialog tags, make sure all your fluff advances the story, make sure all your characters have a clear arc, etc. etc.

It’s good advice, but it may not be the best things to keep in mind as you’re racing to accomplish 50,000 words in 30 days.

1,667 words a day for thirty day is not, in itself difficult. The real challenge during NaNoWriMo, in my opinion, is having those thirty days in November. It’s a busy month, particularly if you’re an American who celebrates Thanksgiving near the end of the month. If you add in Election Day and Veteran’s Day, plus holiday shopping, maybe even Halloween tear-down, that’s a LOT of demands on a would-be author’s time.

The demands on an author’s time in November are one reason I advocate building up a buffer early in November. As the holidays approach, time becomes more and more valuable. So, my advice if you want to increase your speed, is to take all that advice about making your writing better and chuck it out the window.

Write your story.
Ignore the rules about what makes writing good (or even acceptable).
Just WRITE.

Editing & revisions later will make your writing good. If you don’t get a story written down, there won’t be anything to edit.

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NaNoWriMo 2016

National Novel Writing Month is upon us! For the first time since I started participating in 2007, I am not writing anything of substance this month.

The reason for this is simple: I already have two manuscripts in the process of revisions and editing, and I do not need to add to the backlog. I just finished up the fourth Zack Jackson novel and the final novel in the Scars of the Sundering trilogy is in editing now. I really need a break. Plus, there are a lot of other Real Life™ issues coming up this month.

There’s always Camp NaNo in April or July (and I likely will participate in one of those). By then, I’ll probably be ready to start on the next Zack Jackson novel (that’d be book 5, for those of you keeping track).

But, this is about NaNoWriMo, not about my plans.

The important thing about NaNoWriMo, to stay on track is to write 1,667 words per day. The holidays can make that REALLY difficult, so I try to do a little more, especially at the beginning, and build up a bit of a buffer.

The advice about turning off your internal editor is doubly applicable during NaNoWriMo–don’t worry about making sure everything is perfect as you go, that’s what editing & revisions are for. Once you “give yourself permission to suck” it’s much easier to make progress.

I used to get all stressed about FINISHING the story before Nov. 30th, even if I was way past 50,000 words. The thing is, if you try to force a story into a certain word length, it can feel rushed or forced (or too drawn out), so just to satisfy the Rules Lawyer within, I’ll make sure I write some sort of closing, even if I never bridge it with the rest of the novel in November.

Pancras by Lily YangIf you have an outline and your story starts to deviate from it, that’s OK, too. When I wrote Wings of Twilight during NaNoWriMo 2010 (we’re entering mild spoiler territory here), I had all these plans for a particular character only to find out, OOPS HE DIED 1/2-WAY THROUGH THE BOOK. Thus was Pancras born, who became the breakout character and is one of the most popular characters in the story based on feedback I’ve gotten from nearly half-a-dozen people.

So, crack a beverage, get to writing and good luck!

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REVIEW – Star Wars: Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston

ahsoka-coverFor those of you who don’t know who Ashoka Tano is, a quick introduction. After Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, an animated series debuted on Cartoon Network called “Star Wars – The Clone Wars.” In it, we are introduced to the previously unknown apprentice of Anakin Skywalker (he who would become Darth Vader): a young Togruta named Ahsoka Tano. She was essentially the breakout character of that series after a bit of a rocky start (i.e. once the writers figured out how to write an adolescent in a war without making her too annoying). When the series ended, the explanation of why she wasn’t in Revenge of the Sith was satisfactory, but her ultimate fate was left unknown. She reappeared fifteen years later (in-universe chronology) in the current Disney XD show, “Star Wars – Rebels.”

This novel fills in some of the between the end of The Clone Wars and Ahsoka’s appearance in Rebels. Specifically, it shows how Ahsoka came to the attention of Bail Organa (Princess Leia’s adoptive father) and became the agent known as Fulcrum.

We see how the New Order of the Empire affects the regular, rural people of the galaxy and Star Wars: Ashoka takes time to show us how nasty the Empire is to everyone who isn’t part of their very narrow view of “acceptable.”

Without giving too much of the plot away, I will say the book is tight; it moves quickly and I was never lost or confused. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and, in fact, would rank it near the top of all the Extended Universe novels and thus far, the best of the new EU continuity. While I appreciate what some other authors bring to the EU, I didn’t have to fight against the writing style (which is a completely subjective judgment), and it certainly made reading more pleasurable. My only real criticism is I felt the climax was a bit rushed, particularly Ashoka’s confrontation with her nemesis, an Inquisitor (fans of “Star Wars: Rebels” will be familiar with the type). Still, I suppose it is good to occasionally show the bad guys getting curb-stomped because they underestimate their opponents, and it is a known flaw of the Empire.

For too long, and with few exceptions, EU novels focused on the exploits of the Skywalkers and Solos we came to know and love in the films. With seemingly every event in the galaxy revolving around Luke, Leia, and Han, it made the universe feel very small.

Expanding the cast of characters novels can focus on helps with that tremendously. For all the awesome things about Star Wars, there’s really very few role-models for young women and the franchise sorely needed more. Ashoka Tano is a good one. She’s witty, strong, competent and self-sufficient. She’s not shown to need help to accomplish the most basic tasks and when she does need help, she recognizes it, formulates a plan, gets the help she needs and gets things done. Without a doubt, Ashoka Tano continues the tradition of strong female characters in sci-fi and fantasy and she is a fine addition to the heroes of Star Wars.

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