What’s Doctor StrangeRoll you may ask? Why, it’s my gaming blog! Yes, in addition to writing and publishing novels, I play tabletop role-playing games (and sometimes other tabletop games and video games). This blog is about writing, but I see no reason not to redirect you to Doctor StrangeRoll if you’re curious about what I play.
So, it’s been quiet around here lately and you may be wondering “Where is Zack Jackson 4?”
Well, I’ve been moving. Not far; I still live in the same city. It was a downsizing move. However, now that is essentially finished (still need to finish unpacking) and I can resume work on the final edit of Zack Jackson & the Secret of Venus.
I hope to have all the work completed by the end of the month and have the book in your hands by the Fourth of July.
Once Zack Jackson & The Secret of Venus is wrapped up, I plan to finish my next fantasy novel (I’m already 50,000+ words into it), then start work on Zack Jackson 5.
I want to expand a bit on my twitter thread from today (the one about my books, not one about whatever else I talked about).
When I wrote The Foundation of Drak-Anor, I had a story to tell. A story about misfits and “monsters” finding acceptance in a world that just wanted them to die. They themselves “knew” they were monsters and acted accordingly; they thought nothing of lashing out and attacking dwarves for their supplies. It’s not like anyone was going to trade with them anyway, right?
Of course, being constantly under siege by people who scream how you’re evil and unholy and must be cleansed tends to affect one negatively. With patience, understanding, and a willingness to talk, one can move past that and find common ground.
In Scars of the Sundering, they’ve found acceptance (if not tolerance), and now have to learn to live with the responsibility that comes with being part of a civilized society. They also learn that they can affect the world in ways they once thought impossible to them. Plus, they learn that there are always people who wish they’d just go away and will try to erase their history and legacy.
These are themes that developed organically. Although, I did try to show that no matter how different someone may appear to be from another, we all are more alike than different. We all want to live and love, eat, drink and enjoy time with friends. Ultimately, I just wanted to tell a fun story with interesting characters.
Hopefully, I did that.
I approached the Zack Jackson series differently. From the beginning, I knew I wanted a sci-fi version of Harry Potter (though without a Dark Lord, Prophecy, Faux-Latin Magic, and Kitchen-Sink Fantasy). I wanted to tell a story about a kid, going away to school where there’s all these weird and wonderful things and constantly getting over his head, saved only by his association with his friends.
Plus, I wanted to showcase real science where I could. I made a few concessions to fun, took a few liberties with physics so I could have faster-than-light (FTL) travel, and aliens that weren’t so alien we couldn’t relate to them. I wanted to give loving homages to the sci-fi I loved, like Star Trek, Mass Effect, and Star Frontiers, and sci-fact like NASA’s space exploration program and the work of astronomers the world over, as well as introduce subjects like transhumanism. I also wanted to showcase diversity in all of its forms, which I actually had to dial back in the third book after someone observed that I was trying a bit too hard.
Zack Jackson needed to be set far enough in the future that we could realistically have answers to certain questions because space is huge. More huge than pop culture sci-fi usually shows. As Douglas Adams wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
Now that I near the completion of the fourth book in the series (and anticipating writing at least 2-3 more), I’m beginning to see parallels in the series to current events and issues. These are things I didn’t consciously put into the book, but they must’ve been on my mind at the time. The kids grow a little older in each book, a little more experienced and (hopefully) wise, so the challenges they face are more difficult and more mature in their nature. Like the Harry Potter series, I wanted the characters to grow with the readers.
Again, ultimately, I wanted to tell a fun story with the Zack Jackson series. I’m really excited to release book 4, Zack Jackson & The Secret of Venus, in just a few months. I’m equally excited to show you where the story goes from there.
This is a reblog of a post; the original post is linked after my comments.
I didn’t use horses in Wings of Twilight for one simple reason: I forgot until I was two-thirds of the way through the first draft. Then, I decided that there was a perfectly reasonable explanation why Strom & company weren’t using them: horses and their upkeep are expensive. Strom was leading his band on a misguided, self-righteous crusade, not exactly the kind of thing that would leave them rolling in dough.
Much to the chagrin of one of my editors, I had the characters acquire mounts in Scars of the Sundering, though. It was like introducing a whole new slew of characters, and since the traveling groups in that series were rather large, that meant a lot of tracking whose steed belonged to whom.
Pancras acquired Stormheart, a blue roan stallion
Gisella rode Moonsilver, a white mare
Delilah acquired Fang, a nailtooth (kind of like a rideable velociraptor)
Kale acquired Blackclaw, a nailtooth
Kali acquired Taavi, a nailtooth
Edric rode Yaffa, a pony
Qaliah acquired Comet, a piebald gelding, named after the Comet the Wonderhorse from the Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
Lord Fenwick rode Shadowmane, a black stallion
Valora rode Quincy, a dwarven battleboar (so named because I thought it was funny)
In my next World of Calliome novel, horses will once again feature as mounts for the characters. I’m not quite ready to reveal the characters, but we’ll have Pepper (a dapple grey gelding), Socks (a chestnut stallion with white legs), and Silvermane (a silver dapple gelding). For you lovers of all things equestrian out there, I don’t go into as much detail as George R.R. Martin; I’m not really telling a story of a knight and his horse, plus, I write stories that are a little more fast-paced than A Song of Ice & Fire.
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There’s always a horse in a fantasy book. So I decided to do a bit of research on the trusty steeds that carry us fearlessly into battle, and this is what I found.
Make no assumptions
For some of us, it’s fair to say we don’t see horses very often, driving past one standing in a field at 50mph on the odd occasion. We probably see horses more on TV than we do in reality. The main complaint I came across from readers when it came…
View original post 1,037 more words
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.
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).
As 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!
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).
Editing & revisions later will make your writing good. If you don’t get a story written down, there won’t be anything to edit.
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.
If 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!
Doing a day-by-day breakdown seems kind of silly when I essentially did the same thing every day. The only day where something markedly different occurred was Sunday after the traditional end-of-Gen Con annoucement.
But, that’s getting ahead of myself.
Set-up on Wednesday morning went smoothly. I got in and out of the Dealer Hall before the heat and humidity became too oppressive (they don’t turn on the A/C in there until Thursday). Unfortunately, I was missing a key piece of my display because Ix’s legs broke between ConQuesT 47 in May and TeenCon a few weekends ago, despite being in my basement the whole time. I suspect it has been going out on adventures without me or Zack Jackson.
Many of my long-time customers (i.e. friends) came by on Thursday to pick up my latest books. That’s to be expected. It’s always nice to see my first true fan (Hi Dani!) again and the Undergophers (listen to their podcast!). I’m also starting to see returning customers from previous years stopping by, as well, which is very encouraging. Building a fan base takes a long time, so it’s nice to see that foundation come together.
Supposedly, the anthology in which I participate with other Author’s Avenue authors was supposed to encourage people to stop by (at least for a signature on my story). However, I did not see a single customer who mentioned it. In fact, I only saw the book itself for the first time when someone came by my table with two cases of books and told me to sign my story on every copy. No reason was given. I eventually learned they were probably contributor copies. Since that information was not given to me at the beginning, I grumbled and hate-signed every book.
Communication is key. More on that anthology later.
Sales on Thursday generally seemed good. Friday was not as good, but that holds with trends I’ve noticed on previous years. Ix was returned to me on Friday with a temporary repair (you can’t even tell it was broken). It’s so nice that the sculptor is local. One thing that stood out was that Sunday was the biggest credit-card day and might have been the largest day of sales over all for me.
The four days of the convention really seemed to fly by. I didn’t have time to socialize with the various RPG publishers as much as I wanted to. Part of my duties as ENnie Awards Submissions Coordinator was to do that, but I felt like it was too difficult to step away from my table for extended periods of time this year. I’ll just have to rely on social media for that for now.
After it was all said and done, it felt like the number of sales was steady compared to previous years, or possibly increased. I had a few lower-priced items, so revenues felt like they were down. However, after making all the deposits, it turned out that revenue was slightly UP from last year. It wasn’t my best year ever, but it was a solid showing and I went away happy.
I also came away with opportunities to travel to up to six different Midwest schools and talk up my Zack Jackson series as it relates to science and creative writing. Since part of the whole point of making the ZJ series fairly hard science-fiction, it would seem that I am hitting my target.
Then, at 4PM, the great weekend turned, quite frankly, to shit.
I’m not going to call anyone out by name, as a few things are still pending (communication is always slow the week after Gen Con). Basically as soon as tear down started, a vendor got careless and knocked the wall panel behind my table over. My wheelchair-bound wife was standing there and would have been crushed under it had a friend not also been standing there and caught the wall.
Several pictures fell and broke apart. She jumped, shrieked and sat down HARD in her chair. Since there was debris around her chair now, she couldn’t move it out of the way when the wall wobbled again. This feeling of entrapment triggered her PTSD. Several of us yelled for the person to STOP hitting the wall. The culprit(s) high-tailed it out of there without so much as an apology.
Of course, this delayed my own tear down (and wrecked my evening plans as someone enduring a PTSD attack is no longer up for going out for a nice dinner after tear down). During tear down, a well-meaning, but annoying helper of another vendor came over, began to touch my wife on the arm in a misguided attempt to calm her and describe IN DETAIL how she managed to sneak in each of the four days of the convention.
This particular person had been a disruption to myself, my wife, and other authors the entire weekend, going around and butting into conversation while we were trying to sell our books. Mostly harmless, if annoying. I chalked it up to someone having social interaction issues. But the lack of a badge? Yeah, you can be sure I turned that over to Gen Con, LLC as soon as possible.
I don’t know what possessed this person to brag about not paying to get in for four days to fellow vendors who spent $350 on a table, $90 on a second exhibitor badge, and $92 on an extension cord, but you can be damn sure I am NOT the person who will be sympathetic to cheats.
Anyway, I finally got everything packed away and back to my car. Gen Con staff were extremely helpful and understanding. I made a list of people I intend to compliment to Gen Con management once things are settled and I can start a dialog with them about the incidents.
Then, when all the dust was settled, I looked at the anthology.
What a hot mess. The Table of Contents is inaccurate (let’s not mince words, in some place it’s just flat out WRONG). There are seemingly random blank pages (they’re not, I figured out exactly WHY they’re there, but the lay reader won’t understand). They should at least say “This page intentionally left blank” and be included in the page numbering, but they aren’t. The layout is confusing, and there are errors introduced into my story that weren’t there when I submitted it and there are other stories that appear to be completely unedited and un-proofread. In all, it feels very much like an amateur, vanity product and I am ashamed to have my name associated with it.
I sent out an e-mail listing many of the problems I found, conceding that certain things could be stylistic choices. Thus far, neither the editor nor publisher of the anthology has responded.
I submitted my story as a favor (i.e. I did not get compensated for it), to participate with the group who spend all four days of Gen Con sharing a space. Next year, I do not intend to participate for less than 8 cents a word. Giving a story away for free is one thing. To have my work treated in such a slipshod manner (not to mention the poor communication and marketing demands that were made with no mention of them in the “contract” I signed) is insulting.
I feel sad that detailing the tear-down on Sunday took up more space than describing all the good of the previous four days. Despite a generally good experience, that last hour or so really colored the whole weekend. Oh well, Gen Con wouldn’t be Gen Con if I didn’t learn something to make the next year even better.
I learned many valuable lessons this year. Gen Con 2017, AKA Gen Con 50 will be even better!
Once again, I am honored to be nominated for Nuvo’s Readers’ Choice Best of Indy – Best Local Author. You can vote daily through August. I’d appreciate your support for Best Local Author. Just click the link above to be taken to the voting page. I apologize that you need to sign in, but it’s easy enough to opt out of all mailings.
Remember: a vote for me is more than that dirty peasant Dennis gave to Arthur, King of the Britons!