Writing

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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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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Gen Con 2016

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.

2016-08-03 11.44.04Set-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.

2016-08-07 13.27.25Sales 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!

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Best of Indy Voting

boi_VoteForMe_800Once 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!

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ConQuesT 47 Wrap-Up

2016-05-27 11.48.41-2Sadly, ConQuesT 47 was not as successful as I had hoped. Last minute staff shake-ups, last year’s harassment scandal, plus the close proximity of Planet ComicCon and Mid-America Con II/WorldCon resulted in a fraction of the expected attendance. There was also a noticeable breakdown in communications between the con staff and the vendors (like a surprise 2-hour extension to Dealer Hall hours while we were packing up for the night on Saturday).

I sold between 14% and 25% of what I did last year, and that’s with two new titles at the show this year. The gulf in uncertainty is due to not being able to correlate several Kindle sales with Con activity (i.e. They could be coincidental).

I had high hopes for the first con of the season for VFF Publishing. Such a massive disappointment is difficult to deal with when you invest that much time and money into something that ends up being less than was promised.

I’ll stop short of saying the convention was abysmal, however. I felt the panels I was on went well, despite the reduced attendance. I would be reluctant to return as a vendor, but I might consider returning as a program participant/panelist. I made a few good connections, as well. The Undergophers did a great job in the gaming area. If I return next year without the commitments of the Dealer Hall, I will definitely spend more time in the gaming area and maybe even run some games.

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A Spin on Urban Fantasy

A discussion in my Tuesday evening writers’ group inspired me to think about my own Urban Fantasy world I’ve been developing for a couple of years now (here and there).

At first, I thought it would basically be our own world, but with magic, cryptids, lycanthropes, etc. But that pretty much describes most Dresden/Supernatural/Anita Blake-type Urban Fantasy (except, perhaps my desire to have a greater emphasis on cryptids–I was going to have a main informant be an Appalachian bigfoot named Bob who LOVED reality TV and cheap beer).

So, I started thinking of ways I could make it more unique, something I hadn’t seen before. What if, I made my Urban Fantasy setting a far future version of the fantasy world I’m already writing in?

I’ve already got magic-powered cannons, lights in nobles’ houses powered by magic, and minor clockwork technology. Two thousand years in the future, what sort of tech could industrious engineers have invented?

Teleportation circles I introduce in Salvation (that’s book three of Scars of the Sundering, so there’s a free preview for you!) would shrink the world, especially decades hence after the secret to creating new one was uncovered. A planet-wide network of these could cause rapid globalization. Since I establish in Salvation that only a certain species can activate the teleportation circles, they would obviously become the gatekeepers of global transport. There would be many people who would want an alternative, so magic-powered vehicles could be developed that wouldn’t rely on these people.

My big concern is part of the appeal of Urban Fantasy seems to be the fantastic applied to our modern world. If I apply our modern amenities to a fantastic world, would that strip away the appeal? Or would it create something intriguing that readers would enjoy?

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2016: The Year Ahead

So what can you look forward to in 2016?

Most of my time, at least, in the first half of the year, will be devoted to revising and publishing Scars of the Sundering, books 2 and 3: Lament and Salvation. My goal is to have Lament finish for a debut at ConQuesT in Kansas City over Memorial Day and Salvation finished to debut at Gen Con in August.

Finishing and turning in “Burble’s Big Day” will take part of my time in the first quarter, as well.

I plan to write a second World of Calliome short story in 2016, though I don’t know which characters it will feature at this point.

The big project for 2016, as if publishing two full-length novels wasn’t big enough, will be to write the first draft of the next Zack Jackson novel, Zack Jackson & The Secret of Venus. I’ve been developing bits of plot over the last several months and I expect sometime after Lament‘s completion, I’ll kick development into high gear.

2015 threw me a lot of curve balls which affected many of my plans. Malediction was supposed to debut at ConQuesT and I barely finished it in time for Gen Con. I wanted to have all three Scars of the Sundering novels finished by Gen Con so I could start Zack Jackson 4 in 2015.

Obviously that didn’t happen. Here’s hoping 2016 is a little more cooperative, ’cause I don’t have time for nonsense!

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2015 Year in Review

I know, I know: I’m two weeks into 2016 already, so this is a little late. Better late than never, right?

So, what did I accomplish in 2015? I released the first novel of a new fantasy trilogy. Scars of the Sundering, book 1: Malediction sold out at Gen Con. I finished the first drafts for the other two books in the trilogy, as well, Lament and Salvation.

I also wrote (and revised & submitted) a Star Trek short story for the Strange New Worlds contest run by Archway Publishing. If my story, “The Terror Paradox,” is not selected for publication, I will make it available for free here and on my Facebook page.

Finally, I wrote a World of Calliome short story, “Burble’s Big Day,” for inclusion in an anthology to be sold at Gen Con as a joint effort by many of the Author’s Avenue authors. I still need to revise that one, though.

Besides writing, I purchased new character art for several character from the World of Calliome and Zack Jackson novels:

Kale Windsinger

Kale

Delilah

Delilah

Jenny DuBois

Jenny DuBois

Mungus

Mungus

Gisella the Golden Slayer

Gisella the Golden Slayer

Qaliah

Qaliah

The last two, you’ll meet in Scars of the Sundering: Lament. I also got a Kickstarter reward from Stan!: cartoon art of Ryll Bob who made his debut in Zack Jackson & The Cytherean Academy.

Ryll Bob

Ryll Bob

I learned a lot about attending conventions in 2015, mostly what works and what is cost effective. There’s a balance to strike between attendance & housing costs and how much one can sell. Gen Con, for example, can be profitable for me if I don’t have housing costs (ConQuesT, too, for that matter). I don’t have a choice for the latter convention, but I live close enough to downtown Indianapolis that I might be able to wrangle the logistics for a daily commute to Gen Con. Smaller shows, like the Annual Christmas Gift & Hobby Show, come down to knowing your audience. I didn’t have horrible sales at that show, but the table rental price was far too high for the quality of facilities and I lost money. In contrast, a Christmas Bazaar at a local church had a much lower cost ($35 for a table) and I made money, despite a fraction of the sales.

Finally, once again I placed 3rd in Nuvo’s Reader’s Choice Best of Indy in the Best Local Author category. While it’s difficult to compete with someone who has as large a fan base as John Green, I will point out that I am the ONLY fantasy/science-fiction genre author who made the list.

I count that as a win!

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NaNoWriMo – Week 5 (sort of)

The fifth Sunday! Tomorrow is the last day of NaNoWriMo! If you’ve been hitting your goals, you’ll cruise past 50,000 words tomorrow and you’re darn close today. Heck, if you push yourself, you could be finished today.

If you’ve been writing like a fiend, then you’re probably thinking “Thank goodness!” Maybe you’ve hit your goal for the month already and you’re thinking “I’m finished! This is my day of rest and tomorrow, too!”

Sure, you deserve it. If you plan on doing nothing with your manuscript because NaNoWriMo is just a fun bit of mental exercise, then go have an adult beverage of your choice, if it’s legal, and celebrate.

If you’re planning on trying to sell that manuscript, your work has just begun. For one, a 50,000 word novel is a HARD sell in most genres if you plan on looking for an agent. If you’re going the route of the Author/Publisher, 50,000 is a good length for a quick, light read. Regardless, you’re going to need to edit, revise, and proofread the heck out of it before you even think about charging money for it.

mungusMungus* says: “Don’t even think about charging money for people to read a NaNoWriMo First Draft.”

See, Mungus feels the integrity of an artist’s work is important. When you foist an unedited manuscript (and when I say edited, I mean someone other that you has gone over it with a fine-tooth comb; every writer auto-corrects in their head when they read their own work) upon an unsuspecting public, you do yourself and all independent authors a disservice. People will judge all of us on the actions of the worst of us.

So don’t do it. It will make Mungus angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry.

Anyway, that’s not very peppery. That’s serious. Be of good cheer; the end of NaNoWriMo is upon us and soon it will be Christmas (if you celebrate something else, I wish you cheer and good time during your preferred holiday!)! If you’re finished, take December off, believe me, that manuscript will still be there in January.

If you’re going to power through into December and keep writing because 50,000 words in November just isn’t long enough, well, good for you. I’ve done it many times myself. Don’t forget to stop and sip the eggnog every once in a while, though. You’ve done a great job getting through 50,000 words in a month.

Congratulations!

*Mungus is a character in my Zack Jackson novels. He’s an Ersidian and doesn’t like to be compared to a teddy bear, no matter how apt that comparison might be at times.

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