Spell/Sword Giveaway Final Moments

Okay, okay — I know I’ve been quiet here on the blog, but I just wanted to remind everyone of my Goodreads Giveaway! Click the image below to enter — the contest ENDS IN JUST OVER A DAY AND A HALF!!!!

 

Gundam Pilots not eligible to win.
Gundam Pilots not eligible to win.

You do have to be a Goodreads member to enter, but who isn’t these days. Also, add me on there so I can be nosy and see what books you are reading.

I promise to actually blog a bit in the next week, updates on Riddle Box progress, nerd matters, etc. etc.

Self-Publishing Strategy Guide I

[This is a work in progress, to be updated and amended as curious folk ask questions that I haven’t answered here.  Let me know what questions you have or clarifications needed in the comments below.]

So, you can now buy my book on Amazon — in Kindle and Paperback format. Just like a ‘real’ book! Or rather, just like a traditionally published novel. My book is sitting on the same virtual shelf as books published by Tor, Daw, and Random House. It’s a cool feeling. Maybe if I’d published five years ago I would be bothered by the fact that Spell/Sword will never appear on a shelf at a physical bookstore — but with paper going the way of the utahraptor or dodo it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

So how did I get here? A lot of research, a lot of trial and error — there’s a lot of navigation and study required when you’re piloting the ship all on your own. When I first got started I spent a lot of time reading other author’s posts on publishing and found them tremendously informative.

Joe Peacock’s The Absolute No-Bulls**t Guide To Writing, Publishing And Selling A Book was incredibly helpful and motivating. I strongly recommend you take some time and give it a read — it’s straightforward, concise and utilitarian. It de-mystifies the entire process, which was invaluable for me at the beginning. I’m going to try to not go over the same ground here, but focus more on my specific experiences with CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing.  I’ve begun to think of Joe as the Older Brother to the Internet — can be an overbearing prick, and he’ll kick over your GI Joes — but he always has your best interest at heart.

This guide is going to be part step-by-step How To — and partly me pontificating about my  rationale for making the decisions I did. I hope it’s reasonably helpful.

Level One: Write a Book. [Grasslands]

In whatever manner you prefer. It took me about nine months to bang out the rough draft in between day job,18a nerd pursuits, other creative endeavors and various life calamities. I’ve only done this once, so I’m in no position to offer advice on how you get this step done. Just some paltry bullet-points.

  • Write.
  • Self-imposed deadlines were invaluable to me.
  • Write.

Now that I’ve gone through the entire process, I CAN say that this is the most fun part. Remember that and enjoy it.

Level Two: Edit a Book. [Ice Cavern]

Frozen_cave_by_CORinAZONeTo the greatest level that your pocketbook and Friend’s List will permit. I employed over 20 Alpha Draft and Beta Draft readers to catch all my bonehead grammar mistakes and weak narrative. I know that this can never truly equal a professional copy editor — but I am completely confident that I’m extremely close. I have some serious heavy hitters in my rolodex: college professors, Shakespearean scholars, creative writing savants, genre nerds, gnomes. Depending on how my finances fare, I may consider going the pro route next time around. I can’t stress enough how important this step is.

To put it in perspective, I wrote the draft in 9 months. I edited for 13 months. Thirteen long, grueling months of Not-Fun.

It sucks. It’s boring. It’s frustrating.

Do it.

Level Three: Prepare to Publish a Book [Fire Volcano]

I used two services for publishing my book.

CreateSpace for the paperback.

Kindle Direct Publishing for the digital version.

Why?

Paper Version — I did a fair amount of research onto several online presses. The other main one I considered was Lulu.com. They are really great if you want to order in bulk and warehouse the product yourself. They have tons of paper and trim options – soft cover and hard back. But that’s a pretty big if – especially when you’re in my position. A total unknown pushing some wacky genre fiction. As much as I would love to have a hard cover of my book, it just didn’t make sense to lay out the startup money for something that was going to sit stacked in  my breakfast nook.

I slowly shifted my thinking towards CreateSpace as they print on demand, and sell directly through Amazon.

Artist - Hugo-H2P
Artist – Hugo-H2P

You establish the cost of your book through the size, page count, etc. — then you set the list price at whatever you want.  Anything above cost is your profit. [Pro Tip]: The cost of your book increases if its sold through Amazon, instead of bought directly through CreateSpace. This wasn’t an issue for me, as I really wanted the legitimacy of an Amazon storefront, but it may be something to take into account if you have your own webstore.

Finally, the website was easy to navigate,  except for a few minor snags — I’ll talk more about that later.

Kindle Version – Or rather – Why not on Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, etc. etc.?

One reason: the Kindle Lending Library. It makes my book free to the thousands and thousands of Amazon Prime members. At this phase it is far more important that people read my book than people buy my book.

I know there’s a lot of discussion about Amazon’s draconian domination of the e-book Wild West — but from my perspective it’s hard to argue with that kind of market share. The Kindle is the dominant e-reader on the market, and anyone with a smartphone or tablet can read just as easily using their free app.

Level Four: CreateSpace [ Sky Platforms]

19858-103095-LHSE1jpg-468x

Okay. You’ve got the book all edited and shiny, now it’s time to set everything up with CreateSpace for the paperback. The site is very user-friendly if you are reasonably proficient with the internet and simple online interfaces. I’m a giant dork so I had little trouble, only occasionally having to use the forums, Help section, and one quick phone call to Customer Service. It leads you step by step through the process.

1. Birth Certificate – Name of your book, author name, synopsis, all that sort of thing. Pretty self-explanatory.

2. Print Specifications – Selecting the size of your book, whether or not you have color images to print inside, etc. I didn’t have any interior artwork for Spell/Sword so I selected Black and White printing — and the smallest book size, because my novel isn’t particularly long. I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons for all the different sizes, but I didn’t put much thought into it. I like the size my book is, end of story. Take that reasons.

3. ISBN Number – This is a little complicated. And once you decide your book is locked to that number [oversimplification, I know] so give this some serious thought and research.

  • CreateSpace owned ISBN: Free! But…it sets the publisher of your book as CreateSpace, and limits your distribution options later. There is a little bit of a stigma to services like CreateSpace and Lulu, and if in the very remote chance that you want to sell your book to a traditional publisher later you can’t just move your ISBN, you’d have to make a whole new edition with a new ISBN number.
  • CreateSpace licensed ISBN: $10.00. Same problems as above, but frees up most of your distribution options.
  • Personal ISBN purchased through CreateSpace: $100.00. But you personally own the ISBN number for your book, and can set the publisher of record. My book is published by me under the name Lodestar — which is the small business I’ll be setting up to handle my paltry revenue.  It also means that I can move my book to any other printing service, or use another service concurrently with CreateSpace whenever I need. I’m also thinking about having it tattooed on me somewhere.
  • Personal ISBN purchased directly: I…didn’t do much research on this. You can get it cheaper buying it yourself, then inputting it into CreateSpace . But it meant using another site, and another process so I just went ahead and bought my personal ISBN through CreateSpace. To me, the convenience was worth whatever markup they have.

4. Cover – Now, CreateSpace does offer a free cover generator as well as professional design services. I used neither. Don’t be a chump and use the free cover generator — it’s fine if you only want your mom to read the book. I’m sure the professional services they offer are fine, but I’d much rather give the artists that I know personally my money.

The layout of the cover is extremely important as CreateSpace needs it to match exactly with the specifications for the cover — most importantly the spine which is a function of page total. There were lots of numbers and jargon, my designer knew what they meant and put it all together for me. I’ve noticed that many self-publishers take the DIY part of this route a little too much to heart. I recognized that I knew virtually nothing about layout and graphic design and paid a skilled friend to handle it, same goes for the actual cover design.

Cover Design/Layout: margaretpoplin.com Illustration:poopbird.com
Cover Design/Layout: margaretpoplin.com
Illustration:poopbird.com

5. Setting up the Template – Okay, this part was a little convoluted.

You need to have your book laid out on a PDF to upload to CreateSpace for review. When I first started playing around, I just exported a PDF from my Google Drive and uploaded it to see what it would look like.

It was a hot mess.

My mother is a graphic designer and printer, so I have a vague understanding of margins — but clearly not enough for these purposes.

Luckily, CreateSpace offers Word document templates. It took some grunt work copy and pasting each part of my book, chapter by chapter into the template — but it ensures that the printed page comes out correctly. Also, print is set with a ‘justified’ margin as a default. I had to go through several times to find all the places where the spacing was weird and correct.

Review the template again and again … then five more times. You’ll never catch everything, but you have to put in the sweat equity to get as close to flawless as possible.

Once the template is complete, you save it as a PDF, then you’re ready for upload.

6. File Review with CreateSpace

Once the files are uploaded, you’ll be able to view the book page by page online.

You can’t directly adjust anything at this step. Anything you want to change, you have to go back to your template — make the change — then upload a new PDF.

Spell/Sword doesn’t have any interior images — so I’m no help there.

7. Proofing

Once you submit everything for review [Interior and Cover], CreateSpace takes 24 Hours to review and make your book ready for proofing.

You have two options here:

  • Paper Proof: This is what you want to get the first time around. An actual, honest to god copy of your book. You get it, you hold it in your hand. You get to go through it with a colorful marker, hunting for every typo and spacing issue that you missed on the template. It’s truly a wonderful moment. [You do have to purchase your proof, it’s the established cost of your book plus shipping. ]
  • Online Proof: It’s identical to the Interior Reviewer you used earlier. 

If you need to make changes after reviewing your proof, you have to back to the template and resubmit it all again, and wait 24 Hours again. For Spell/Sword I got the paper proof first, then after making all the corrections I felt confident that the Online Proof was sufficient.

PRO TIP: Even after your book is published you can ALWAYS make corrections and go through the process again — it will just mean that your book is not available for sale while it’s being reviewed and proofed again.

8.  Final Thoughts/ Issues

After you approve your proof, your book becomes available for sale within 24 Hours. In my case it was up on CreateSpace itself within an hour — than on Amazon later that night.  The site was very helpful guiding you through the rest, deciding on distribution channels, etc. I freely admit I kind of glazed my eyes and picked the standard options.

Now, some grousing!

  • Shipping through CreateSpace is a little stupidly expensive — especially when you’re an Amazon Prime member, used to getting 2 day shipping for free.  I understand that it probably has something to do with preventing you from purchasing too freely through them instead of Amazon, their parent company — but still! Spell/Sword is 8.99 on Amazon — if I want to buy someone a copy and send it to them, it’s actually cheaper and quicker to buy through Amazon then get copies at cost through CreateSpace.
  • Friends have ordered copies through Amazon, and they arrive in a standard Amazon box – but the books are completely loose. None have been damaged so far, but it made me raise an eyebrow.

Royalties: I actually haven’t been published long enough to get my first check — I’ll update this when I have more experience.

Level Five: Kindle Direct Publishing [Ghost Carnival]

Almost as an afterthought, CreateSpace guides you into the warm clutches of KDP.  They export all of your information about the book, the interior, and the cover all in one go. All of the info and cover exported fine — but I quickly discovered that the layout for the print version looked crazy weird on the Kindle.

I actually found an easy workaround – I directly uploaded my CreateSpace Word document to KDP, and it looked fine. I’ve experienced a fair amount of paranoia, because the Kindle comes in so many sizes [including native apps on iPad and PC] that making sure that there were zero formatting issues.  I’ve read the book on my 3rd gen Kindle and it reads just fine at various sizes, and none of my E-Readers have complained YET. YET.

When you start obsessively searching your book on Amazon [not that I did, that would be silly] you may notice that the Kindle and Paperback versions initially have different pages — just give Amazon 48 hours, they automatically group them together. I also noticed that initially when searching my book titile, it came up fifth — but after a few days of sales, it populated first. Admittedly I picked a weird ass name for the book — that slash in Spell/Sword plays hell with some search algorithms.

 

Yowza! This thing got involved . I think I’ll keep this going as I plunge further and further into Self-Publishing RPG. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!

Future Topics

  • Marketing
  • Begging
  • Winning the Internet
  • Deceit
  • Tomfoolery

Stop/Start the Presses

twilight-zone-paper

My very first interview about the book!

Fun Things to Do While You’re Waiting is a lifestyle blog specializing in clever recipes, life-hacks and general wit. It’s lovely, charming and useful — basically the polar opposite of my site. I adore that my first official interview is right next to a dynamite recipe for Avocado and Chicken Salad.

It’s also the first interview not conducted by the cat who lives with me, Aragorn.

Leigh asks some great questions, and actually manages to get me to give a description of the book that I’m satisfied with. In response to the question:

 

6. If you had to describe spell/sword as a meal, how would that go?

You take a sip of your cherry limeade. The condensation slides down the side of the Mason jar, drops falling unnoticed on your favorite pair of slacks.

You know the ones. The ones that make you look good. The ones that are always comfortable. The ones that you wear when you feel like the Main Character of your world.

An extremely attractive person brings you a sandwich. Not just any sandwich. The Sandwich. It glistens with all the promise that Dagwood ever salivated over in four color glory. It looks like a TV Sandwich, like a fever dream of a Sandwich, like a Sandwich crafted in the Kitchen of Hephaestus then stolen by Zeus to stuff in his brown paper bag for a big day of philandering.

You take a bite. It’s not what you expect. It doesn’t have your favorite condiment, it’s some weird European thing. You consider putting the Sandwich down, but the lettuce is so crisp, the cheese so tart. You take another nibble, and realize that the bottom slice of bread is a little burnt.

Another bite. There’s really too much meat in this sandwich. Unless you’re a vegetarian, then there’s too much avocado. And why is the tomato slice blue? Who ever heard of a blue tomato?

You set the Sandwich down. Wait, holy shit. There are hot peppers on the Sandwich, tart and alive. And someone put your favorite chips on the plate. You smile and cram them under the top slice of bread for some extra crunch. You take another bite, another, another.

One bite left. You are sweating. Not with exertion, with emotion. This Sandwich means something, it means something to you. To your life, to the mistakes, the that song you keep trying to remember the second verse to, to the combination on your bike lock. You take a long swallow of cherry limeade and try to collect yourself.

The attractive person returns. They want to hang out later. But you know, only if you’re not busy. They have an old VHS of the ‘Deadly Mantis’ episode of MST3K and they think they can get their player to work if they jiggle the cable just right.

You smile, and go to take the last bite.

But it’s gone. You ate it and don’t remember. It’s gone and you don’t remember finishing.

It’s gone. You eat the last chip and sprout wings. Feathered wings, dragon wings, wings of steel and guitar wire. The attractive person is really impressed and immediately begins to paint your portrait on the side of a 1978 Chevy Astro Van.

Here’s the link to the rest of the interview. Thanks so much to Leigh for the signal boost! Please wander over to their site, leave some comments, share their links — just generally make a mess. Please reward them attempting a serious discussion about a silly book.

Feel those Feels

Releasing a book is weird.

I feel this tremendous psychic weight taken off my shoulders. It’s done, for better and worse. This gigantic project that has consumed me for two years — and the feeling of having a ton of my system resources free up is electric.

But then there’s the new anxieties. People are reading it. Not many yet, but PEOPLE ARE READING IT. And I

The Earth-Pig Born
The Earth-Pig Born

need to figure out how to get more people to read it, need to market, promote, shill, all of that. Got to learn to stop checking my Amazon sales rankings, it’s like a new ant-bite, I just can’t stop scratching it.

Sprinkle a crazy busy work week plus final rehearsals for August:Osage County on top and I’m feeling more than a little rickety.

But I’m excited to get back to writing. I’m going to lay out my rough writing schedule for The Riddle Box next week, and hopefully get started before the end of the month. After the past year of editing, the thought of just throwing out some crazy ideas and poor grammar for Book Two is intoxicating.  I’ve already got the first scene rattling around in my head, several new characters, the overall arc of the story. It’s a murder mystery, y’all!

You’ll notice me continuing to flounder and poke around trying to promote Spell/Sword — but I’m hoping that it can start running in the background over the next few weeks to months, so I can focus more on The Riddle Box.

I’m also thinking about putting together a big post on self-publishing in general, my experiences with CreateSpace and KDP — any interest?

 

Free Books

In my Marketing/Floundering for the book, I’m trying one of these ding-dang Giveaways on Goodreads.

I’m giving away 3 copies of the book. You have to be a Goodreads member to apply, but who isn’t on Goodreads in this day and  age?

Click the Puppy to enter!
Click the Puppy to enter!

 

 

Spell/Sword Released.

Print Version
Kindle Version – 2.99

Spell/Sword is now available in print and e-book exclusively on Amazon.com.  Follow the image above to order. I’m linking the digital version first because:

  • Duh. Cheaper.
  • Amazon Prime members can borrow and read it for free.
  • Anyone can sample the first couple of chapters using the ‘Look Inside’ feature.
  • It’s the future!

If this is your first time visiting the site, please poke around. Plenty of my various ramblings in the archives, and several examples of my fiction through the Short Stories and Scenes/Microfiction links above.  I know you’re taking a chance on me — thank you for even considering it.

More information about Spell/Sword itself is available on the [Buy the Book] button above.

Paperback Version
Paperback Version – 9.99

Spell/Sword Critical Reception

Four men sat at a table, rectangular with knife-blade edges. Steam filled the air, blasts of heat and cold.

Sean Andrew Murray - Artist
Sean Andrew Murray – Artist

They each wore floor-length white robes with deep cowls. Runes shone on the edge of each cowl with a fiendish light. Their names were known to each other, their proper names, the names that the world spoke in tones of fire and glory. But when they met here for their Conclave of Secrets and Power they took great care to use their Names of Secrets and Power.

“Where is he?” the One Called Wizzle said.

“Late. As usual,” the One Called [(4x) + 17.3y] sighed.

“I’m sure he will be among us at the proper time. When the moon and the wind and the turning of this fragile earth sing together in perfect harmony,” said the One Called Jambalaya, in between noisy bites of a pine cone.

Wizzle and [(4x) + 17.3y] rolled their eyes. Jambalaya was something of a wood nymph, only occasionally interfacing properly with reality. The fourth man said nothing, but continued to scribble frantic notes on a stack of napkins in front of him.

“How’s that coming, Fardancer?” Wizzle asked.

The One Called Fardancer hissed and wrapped his free arm around the napkins.

“Okay, then.” Wizzle stroked his beard in consternation.

A moment of quiet floated across the table, sickly and ominous like a vomiting ghost. The only sounds were the crunch of Jambalaya finishing his pine cone, Fardancer scribbling and muttering, and the other two men adjusting their cowls to better disguise their features.

“Okay. I can’t wait any longer, we’re just going to get started.” Wizzle oriented his beard at the other three in turn. “Does anyone have a problem with that?”

“But the winds, the winds are not yet proper! Our art will be forever marred and turn the gyre—”

“Can it, Jambalaya.” [(4x) + 17.3y] crossed his arms.

“I think we all know why we’re here,” the beard continued. “A new power has arisen in the South, a troublesome upstart.  His followers are legion and the blasphemy that he spews grows and grows with each passing hour. It is a dark fungus, a creeping creep of untold crep. If we are not careful than it will spread beyond our ability to stamp out, much like the the weeds that grow in my garden. Oh, did I show you the picture of me and my son in the garden? Oh man, he did this ridiculous thing with some dandelions, you guys are going to love it.”

Wizzle pawed at his robes, searching for his phone. [(4x) + 17.3y] leaned across the table and shook the bearded man’s shoulders kindly but firmly.

“Please stay focused, my friend.” [(4x) + 17.3y] straightened his glasses. “We do not have time for one of your famous digressions.”

“You’re one to talk.” Wizzle retorted. “How about you explain to me how water flows downhill for thirty more pages?”

“That’s not germane. And a misrepresentation. The water flows uphill in my world due to the reversed polarities of gravity on fluid. It’s why it was so important that my Aquaemancelers could make the water flow downhill, as was prophesied in the 12,785th year of the Jtang Dynasty. Maybe if —”

“Oh god, you’re about to get out a chart, aren’t you?”

[(4x) + 17.3y] folded his hands neatly on the table. “I…might have a few charts in my robes, yes.”

Wizzle pressed the heels of his hands into his forehead and groaned.

“Maybe…” [(4x) + 17.3y] continued. “Maybe when you’ve written more than two books, you’ll learn to appreciate the efficacy of a well-made chart.”

“Excuse me?!?” Wizzle’s head popped up.

“Don’t you see, my friends?” Jambalaya cried, brushing pine cone debris off his black robes. “It’s this new book. This Spell/Sword! It’s tearing us apart!”

Wizzle and [(4x) + 17.3y] stared hard at Jambalaya.

“Weren’t you wearing white robes…before?” the glasses-wearing man tried to appear polite.

“Oh. Yes. That happens.” Jambalaya managed to look slightly embarrassed.

“Jambalaya is right.” Somber Wizzle rapped his knuckles on the rectangular table. “I don’t know why, but somehow this silly little book, this freaking Spell/Sword is tearing at the very fabric of–”

“You boys need a refill?” The waitress leaned over the cramped table with a coffee pot.

The white-robed men blinked at her for a moment. Her brown and white apron was freshly pressed, her gray hair tightly wound in a neat oval. The Waffle House was empty except for the four of them, their thick girth and arcane robes crammed into a corner booth.

“No, thank you, Glenda.” Wizzle managed.

The other three men shook their heads as well, and Glenda smiled and floated away.

“Why do we meet here, anyway?” [(4x) + 17.3y] complained. “None of us even live in this state.”

“Don’t you see. That is the thing. The very thing.” Jambalaya smiled, one tear rolling down his cheek. “Only outside of ourselves can we see ourselves.”

“Time for me to talk.” Fardancer interrupted, displaying his stack of ink-daubed napkins with pride. “I’ve prepared a solid list of reasons why Spell/Sword sucks. As soon as I post this online, the world will know that it sucks, and we can go back to our lives without a further thought.”

“Uh…arr. I’m not sure it’s quite that straightforward, Far–” Wizzle began.

“RESPECT THE LIST.” Fardancer slammed the napkins down on the table, neatly overturning the sugar dispenser. “Okay. Verbal List Power Activatus!

1. No one’s ever heard of it, so it can’t be very important. Only things that people have heard of are worth discussing. I’ve talked to all the very important people I know on Twitter, and none of them have heard of it, so it’s nonsensical to keep discussing it.

2. Even if it was important, it’s different and weird and silly. All of us have worked very hard to earn a little respect and credibility for genre fiction. To have this weird kid come along and try to make what we write about silly again undoes years of work. I like getting paid for my work, and I can’t keep getting serious-work money if all of a sudden people think we’re silly again.

3. Wil Wheaton said he thought it sucked.

4. Spell/Sword can eat my poop.

5. And by my poop, I mean the poop that comes out of my butt.

6. And by my butt, I mean —

“That’s enough, Fardancer!” [(4x) + 17.3y] waved both hands. “I think we get the gist.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Wizzle patted the napkins respectfully. “All good here.”

“Well,  I’ll go ahead and put this up on my blog, that ought to take care of things.” Fardancer pulled a smartphone, two tablets, a Chromebook, a Macbook Air, a TRS-80, and an abacus out from under his robe in quick succession.

“I like to write on oak leaves.” Jambalaya said, lost in dreams. “Oak leaves, just as they turn scarlet. I write with a grasshopper’s leg dipped in some Faerie Inkque that my beloved brought me from—”

The newly black-cloaked man’s words were cut off  by hellfire engine roar. A massive black motorcycle tore into the Waffle House parking lot, chrome and leather and a Valkyrie’s virginity.

“He’s here.” Wizzle said.

The motorcycle pulled into a spot and then hopped up on the sidewalk. The front tire crashed into red-flecked newsbox. Bent metal and flying newsprint filled the air. The rider got off the bike, and stalked in through the glass door entrance. He wore a sailor’s cap, and his white robe thrown around his shoulders like a cocksure cape. In his hands he carried a massive two-handed hammer, something that would be more appropriate at Medieval Times than Home Depot.

“Darklorrr.” [(4x) + 17.3y] said nervously.

“Coffee!” the One Called Darklorr bellowed as he stumped over to corner booth. “And four waffles on top of five other waffles. No syrup, just bring me some melted butter and three mugs filled with chili.”

Darklorr tossed his hammer onto the table and surveyed the other four men with a paternal eye. “I know I’m late. Deal with it.”

“We were just talking about Spell/Sword, Darklorr.” Wizzle gingerly pushed the hammer off the hem of his white sleeve. “And how we needed to handle it.”

“Handle it? Spell/Sword? HAR.” Darklorr laughed, pushing his sailor’s cap back. “Listen close, boys. I already know how to handle this. I’ll do what I always do with things that people love.”

The four others leaned in close with expectant horror.

“Kill it.” Darklorr smirked.

He picked his hammer back up and leaned it on his shoulder with a cavalier air. Then he started to laugh. The other four men looked at each other uncertainly, then echoed his laughter with their own.

[(4x) + 17.3y] quickly scribbled something on a spare napkin, and slid it across the table to Wizzle.

OR GO ON A TWO MONTH PIZZA TOUR, it read.

Wizzle shrugged in response, but continued to echo Darklorr’s amusement.

The Conclave of Secrets and Power had convened. They had made their decision.

Spell/Sword didn’t stand a chance.

[Just me throwing some eggs at some author’s that I respect, admire, and envy. I’ll send a free Spell/Sword button to the first five people who can name all five.]

Spell/Sword Explanation

“Okay, let me play this song for you first.”

Aragorn sighed and hopped up on the desk. He folded his paws underneath his grand orange and white chest and surveyed me with stern iceberg-disdain.” I just wanted to know what your book is about. Why are you playing me a song? Why can’t you just answer the question?”

Aragorn
Aragorn

Maybe I should have put on pants first. When you’re trying to get an audience to follow you on a train of thought it helps to up your Dignity Quotient. I clicked around on the laptop for a moment before I finally found the song I was looking for.

“It’s a metaphysical thing! This song makes me feel Spell/Sword, makes me feel the long journey of Jonas and Rime. If you’ll just listen…”

“Not going to happen,” the orange cat said.

“Aw, c’mon. It’s this fascinating acoustic piece from the 60’s. It’s not very long,  just give…”

“Look, human. I have other things to do. Important cat things.  My interest in this project only extends so far as my dinner bowl. If you market this book successfully that will lead to an increase in your income. This will lead to an increase in the quality and amount of the food that I am provided with. A new mousey would be pleasant, as well. I don’t want to hold your pitiful human paw and gaze soulfully into your eyes. Just tell me what the book is about and why people should buy it.”

“Damn, Aragorn.” I leaned back in my chair. “Damn.”

The cat lashed his tail. “Who are Jonas and Rime?”

“I can’t just leap into it like that! You have to understand the context of the fantasy genre, and why they are interesting subversions of pre-existing tropes.” I began to list of details on my fingers. “You see, for most genre conventions–”

Aragorn stood up suddenly, and tilted his head to the left. The cat stretched out and stared intently at his dinner bowl. “Hmm. All that doesn’t seem to be putting any exotic meals in my dish.”

“Fine.” I threw my hands up. ” The book is about a boy and a girl. They don’t get along, then they do. Friendship triumphs. The End.”

The cat seemed amused. “Come now, don’t be petulant.”

“Can I just put a little English Major frosting on this explanation? It really helps me to get going.” I begged.

Aragorn began to groom his right paw. I took that as tacit assent.

” There are two tropes in fantasy that I’m trying to subvert.  The All-Powerful Wizard and the Young Hero. I won’t name any examples, I promise.” The cat stopped grooming for a moment and shot me an appreciative look. ” The All-Powerful Wizard can topple kingdoms with a thought, summon dragons from thin air, knows the answer to every question, undoes the riddles of an age. The Young Hero is the gifted one, the child of legend with shining sword in his fist, he rises from obscurity to shake the pillars of destiny.”

“Merlin and Arthur. I get it.  You’re not the only one who’s read Joseph Campbell.”

“Right.” I was a little taken aback. The cat who lives in my house is surprisingly well read. “Rime is my Semi-Powerful Wizard and Jonas is the Young Idiot.”

“Losing interest…” Aragorn muttered, rising.

Jonas and Rime
Jonas and Rime

” Rime is a wild mage – an abomination that breaks all the rules of magic! She can do anything, everything — bend the forces of reality to her whim. But then she burns out -her body goes unconscious, loses use of her limbs, nosebleeds, headaches – really bad headaches! And on top of that she knows that all wild mages eventually go insane and use their power to butcher as many people as possible in the most creative way their madness can devise.” I gesticulated with desperation.

“Okay. That sounds half-way engaging,” the orange cat settled back down to listen. “And the boy?”

“Jonas is a kid with a sword. And he gets the crap kicked out of him most of the time. He’s not handsome and he’s not all that skilled and he’s not particularly bright. ”

“Hmm. That doesn’t sound as engaging. Why is he in this story?”

“Because.”

“You’re getting petulant again, human.”

“Aragorn, please.” I walked into the closet to gather my thoughts and some bottom-wear. I grabbed a pair of reasonably un-frayed khakis and pulled them on.

“The problem with the original tropes is when they are introduced the reader automatically recognizes the shape. They know how this character will act and, more importantly, they know how the story will end. Success is guaranteed for the Hero and the Wizard. It will be an interesting journey, but the reader knows the end of the tale.  The golden, shining end.” I yelled back into the bedroom, zipping up my pants. “And I find that boring. I want Jonas and Rime to have some serious weaknesses, that way you can’t be sure whether or not they will succeed. There’s actually a large chance they will fail.”

“People like Superman for a reason, human.” Aragorn’s bored voice came from the bedroom. “People don’t want stories about losers, or stories about failure. There’s enough of that in the real world.”

“But they don’t fail! They succeed and they become friends. And it’s that much more meaningful because they actually had to work for it.” I walked out of the closet, my Dignity Quotient through the roof.

“Does the book have a happy ending?” Aragorn was unimpressed by my rockin’ DQ.

“Define ‘happy ending’.” I said.

The orange cat splayed his claws and hissed. Aragorn is not a small cat, and when he puffs up he can be quite intimidating.

“I cannot believe this. How can you expect people to buy the book if it doesn’t even have a happy ending.” Aragorn’s eyes pulsed with feline rage.

“But it does.” I quailed. “Friendship triumphs, remember? The end of this book is good for Jonas and Rime, very good! Please calm down.”

The orange cat did not. “You’re dancing around the subject. What aren’t you telling me?

“Nothing. I don’t want to spoil it for you is all…”

A claw lanced out, narrowly missing my hand.

“..it’s the very end that’s bad! Not the end of this book, but the very end of the story! It’s bad, okay — it’s very, very bad!”

Aragorn seemed to calm slightly. “So you’re going to write more books, then?”

“Yes! That’s the true subversion of the trope. If instead of victory, the heroes are doomed to failure. To a pre-destined fall. It’s actually an older trope, most commonly seen in Greek tragedy and…”

“I’m bored now.” The orange cat hopped down off the desk. “I’m going to go bask in the sun, and pray that many monomyth and genre convention enthusiasts buy your book. Clearly we’re never going to see any sort of Hunger Games money, so I’ll just hope for a small trickle of improved finances coming to our household.”

I sighed and sat down at the desk. I watched his orange tail slink around the corner and disappear. Maybe I should have told him about all the fun things. The ridiculous encounters, the dance-lock, the dinosaur battle, the frogs on roller skates. But those are just trappings, my little sally against the pomposity of Fantasy. Somewhere along the way we all decided that Orcs and Elves and Dragons aren’t silly. But they are. They are silly. And glorious.

“That’s what I think about, when you ask me what Spell/Sword is about.” I said to no one. ” The long journey into the dark. The long journey of Jonas and Rime.”

I clicked ‘Play’ on the song I’d pulled up earlier, and listened to the heart of the tale.

If you read this far- it's the titular track on Harry Taussig's hidden masterwork - 'Fate Is Only Once'
If you read this far- it’s the titular track on Harry Taussig’s hidden masterwork – ‘Fate Is Only Once’

Spell/Sword Inspiration

Aragorn.
Aragorn.

“Why’d you write the book?”

“Huhn?” I said, cornflakes falling from my surprised mouth.

“The book. Spell/Sword. Why did you write it? What inspired you?”

“Uhhhh.” The spoon hovered over the bowl. “Look, my cereal is getting soggy and you know I am borderline neurotic about that, so…”

“Fine. I was only showing a little interest in your work, a little curiosity if you will. Thanks for responding so elegantly.”

My mouth was already full of more cereal, so it took a moment for me to respond. I munched furiously and swallowed, pointing accusingly with the spoon — then took another bite. My hatred of soggy cereal is a cruel mistress.

“You’ve never cared before! Why the interrogation all of a sudden?” I demanded through half a mouthful of cornflakes.

[It actually sounded more like “Myouff nevarr cared befoo! Ay the inrerroration paul of a suddeth?”]

The orange cat flicked its tail and said nothing. I hate it when he’s like this. Aragorn is more sphinx than

Aragorn.
Aragorn.

housecat, a grand old lion and shaman of the Cat Tribe — but he can be a proper bastard when the mood strikes him. Like most cats.

“Hey…look. I’m sorry.” I took one last quick bite of pre-soggy cornflakes. “It’s just a big question.”

Aragorn eyed me, green eyes level.

I wiped some milk off my chin. “It is!”

The orange cat sighed. “You don’t have an answer, do you? People like to know where books come from, what motivated the author, the journey from idea to page to finished product. You should have a short, easily-digestible sound bite prepared for this question. Don’t you know anything about marketing? Prospective customers want an easy hook when purchasing from an artist online. Young Genius, Aged Artist Returning to the Craft, Nerd Royalty, Passionate Young Woman/Man, Social Justice Crusader, Super Cool Hipster, Erotic Smut-Peddlar. Pick an easy bucket and climb up in there, silly human. You should really have all this figured out—you are self-publishing after all.”

“But the answer isn’t short or easily digestible. It’s not even coherent.” I protested. “And that is some seriously cynical e-marketing advice, Aragorn.”

“I’m a cat. We take in cynicism with our mother’s milk.”

“How does it taste?” My eyes dipped of their own volition towards the mostly empty cereal bowl in my hands.

Aragorn flicked his tail again and turned to leave.

“Wait, wait! I just don’t have an easy answer. I’m not one of those people who knew from age 9 that their dream was to write. You know? Study hard, build their craft, working slowly and inexorably towards their heart’s goal? And I’m not one of those people who were just minding their own business when a lightning bolt flash-seared their pants to the chair, and they immediately started writing a Profound Work. I mean there was some of both of that, but it all kind of happened in fits and starts — and mostly by accident.”

The orange cat looked over his shoulder with faint interest, halting his exit. I put the cereal bowl with the small residue of milk at the bottom to buy myself a little more time to prevaricate. Aragorn approached the offering, keeping his green eyes on me.

“I mean, sure. I’ve been a reader basically my whole life. I was reading my mom’s books when I was 10, way before I was ready for them. Dune, Sword of Shannara, everything I could get my hands on. And fantasy was always the thing that fascinated me. All through middle school and high school, just burning my way through every piece of genre fiction that the library and my meager funds could provide. Eddings, Tolkien, Williams – anything, everything! And maybe in some sort of vague, half-hearted way I noodled around with the thought of becoming a writer some day.”

Aragorn’s tongue rasped away at the milk in the bottom of the bowl in the sudden quiet as I took a breath.

“But never seriously, never with any drive. Sure, I wrote a few scenes and skits and short stories through high school and college, but it never even occurred to me to think of myself as a writer. Maybe because the people in my Creative Writing class who did were insufferable ponce-wicks — but also because me and the Future are always on our first date. I like her, things seem to be going more or less well, but I don’t know her at all.”

“Hmph.” Aragorn chuckled into the milk. “So, how did you accidentally write a book?”

"Stupid human."
“Stupid human.”

“Well, not really by accident. Okay — this is long and involved, let me give you the short-short version. A couple of years ago, I started running a Pathfinder campaign…”

“What?”

“You know, Pathfinder? It’s a lot like Dungeons & Dragons, but it’s more similar to 3.5 than that awful, awful 4th edition.”

The orange cat simply blinked and went back to cleaning the cereal bowl.

“Okay. You don’t care about that. Uh…okay, me and some friends started writing a story together online. We mainly did it to avoid boredom at our respective jobs, but it quickly turned into something very expansive and involved. Like, over the two years we wrote over a million words for this story.”

“Is that a lot?”

Cats. They just refuse to be impressed.

“Yes. It’s a lot, Aragorn. And in the middle of all that I developed a whole world, hundreds of characters, super involved multi-layered plots and history and backstory and..you see where this is going? I suddenly had the Stupid Epiphany: This is how novelists work. They start, and they don’t stop — then at some point they have enough words to call it a novel.”

“That is stupid.” Aragorn said.

“So, in the midst of this vague idea, I met a guy at DragonCon named Joe Peacock.”

“Is that a real person? And did you just verbally hyperlink something?”

“Yes and yes. He gave this awesome presentation on Akira–”

“Okay, stop that. Stop linking things in the middle of our conversation, it’s just rude.” The orange cat’s tail lashed with agitation.

“Sorry. Anyway, I was looking on his blog and I stumbled across this massive article he wrote about Self-

Artsy shot.
Artsy shot.

Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing. It was really cut and dried, step by step instructions. It reduced the process to something concrete — something that I could actually see myself doing. Combined with my Stupid Epiphany it got me to open up a Google Doc and type ‘Chapter One’. I’ve never started a novel because I was absolutely sure I would never finish — and if I did nothing would come of it. Now I felt like neither of those were excuse enough anymore.”

“So,” the orange cat mused. “You wrote a book to prove that you could write a book? That’s it?”

” Partly, I guess. That got me through the first chapter, but after that it was about telling the story.”

“The story?” Aragorn curled up into a more comfortable position. ” What’s your book about?”

“Oh god. Well…” I picked up the immaculately scoured cereal bowl and dropped it in the sink. “How long do you have for this?”

[To be continued…maybe? 

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The Tudyk/Pikachu Intolerance Litmus

Image provided by:margaretpoplin.com
Image provided by:
margaretpoplin.com

Sometimes we perceive ourselves on the sidelines — when we witness intolerance, or hate, or discrimination. When we don’t personally know a Muslim, a black person, a woman, or a gay.

I mean, those people are rare, right?

But I get it — it’s hard to get enraged when you don’t have a personal connection to the subject of abuse. They’re just concepts. Not people, not our friends, not anything worth breaking the social contract for — calling out some casual or professional racism, sexism, trans-hate, etc. etc. — or just general shitty, rude behavior.

So, here’s what I do when I find myself waffling on whether or not I should speak up or show support for an individual or group. An individual or group that is getting worked over by systemic violence, workplace discrimination, or any of the thousand-thousand petty assaults humanity heaps on the Tribe of Other.

Just mentally replace whatever person or group is being attacked with something universally good. Something that every single one of us can agree is wonderful — and would provoke all of us to righteous rage if  we witnessed them being maligned or assaulted in any way.

alan_tudyk_99
Alan Tudyk pictured with Smolder Mode activated.

I pretend that they’re talking about Alan Tudyk and Pikachu.

Do you have any idea how fucking pissed I would get if someone was rude to Alan Tudyk in front of me? Especially if he and Pikachu were having some sort of picnic? You know, snuggling and eating cucumber sandwiches and reading fairy tales out of a big leather book. LIKE THEY DO.

“Shut your face, man. Alan Tudyk is a national fucking treasure and I won’t have you slander his good name. Of course we all his enjoy his work in Firefly — but have you even considered his less known roles? Like in Knight’s Tale or Dodgeball? Have you even considered his voice work? His voice work? I,Robot AND Wreck-It Ralph – phenomenal work. And Pikachu is a cuddly lightning mouse. A. LIGHTNING. MOUSE. THAT IS CUDDLY.”

That’s the trick. Make it personal. Use whoever you need to inspire the Godly Wrath. [Restrained and classy wrath please — anyone who would diss Pikachu is beneath soiling your own hands with physical violence.]

Because they are people. They are real. They are [nearly] just as important as Alan Tudyk and Pikachu. If Alan and Pikachu want to get married, that is a blessed event. If some of my money will keep Alan and Pikachu from getting killed in a country I’ll never visit, then please take some — I would just waste it anyway. If Pikachu wants to evolve into a girl Pikachu or a boy Pikachu, I know Mr. Tudyk is still going to be right by their side, and I should too. If Mr. Tudyk and Pikachu want to worship in a mosque, or a synagogue, or a church, or an empty field, or on the rim of an active volcano that is their right and I can’t imagine why anyone would have a problem with it.

pikachu_epic_pose_by_dhencod-d55ji0n
Pika!

Because even though I’ve never met them, I know that they are awesome. They are worthy of my love, worthy of my respect. And wouldn’t it be great if we extended the same certainty to the rest of the human beings, animals and Pokemans that share this dimension with us?

Just a thought.

Can I add that it is a sad state of affairs where Google Image Search doesn’t yield a single picture of Alan and Pikachu together? If anyone more photo manipulative than I could make that happen, you would get 750 points for the Hufflepuff.

UPDATE: 750 Points to Hufflepuff for Margaret Poplin! Thanks, Margaret! She did the photo manipulation – not sure about the pic of Mr. Tudyk, but the Pikachu art came from here.