The Riddle Box: First Read Impressions

I like my book a lot. More than I did Spell/Sword the first time I read it.

Now, the caveats. I am obviously the least objective reader this novel will ever have. The very first draft of Spell/Sword was an unqualified mess. I had never writtenriddlecover1a book before, after all! I wrote it in sequential order from beginning to end, with only a very loose idea of where I was going and what I was doing.  I write in third person – limited omniscient — but my character POV/ focal point would wander like mad. I didn’t write in chapters, just one long narrative, with horizontal lines when I hit the end of a scene, or the location shifted. The jokes were terrible — or rather, it sounded like me telling the joke, instead of the characters. The plot stutters along in fits and starts, and only really gets cooking half-way through the book. [It’s when Jonas and Rime wake up in the caverns, if you’ve read it.] I had no idea what the Gray Witch was about, or the Brothers Jack, or my fixation with wyverns.

But I loved it of course.

And hated it, too. That’s how my brain works. My normal relationship with any art that I make is to despise it and beat it into shape via cruelty and malice. [Ask anyone who’s been in a play that I’ve directed.]

So, I edited. For months on end, and then I sent my darling into the caring hands of my Alpha and Beta Readers. They liked and hated it too. I learned more from their feedback, suggestions, and — let’s be honest — frank corrections than from any writing tutor or English Professor. Probably because many of my Alpha/Beta Readers are writing tutors and English Professors. I moved chapters and deleted chapters and chiseled and filed.

This is to indicate, that a lot of the reasons why I’m so happy with my second book is due to the lessons I learned the first go-around. I’m reacting primarily to the absence of the same stupid mistakes I made when writing Spell/Sword. For starters, The Riddle Box had a structure from the beginning. When writing a murder mystery, you kind of need to know whodunit from the outset.  Then you reverse-engineer the plot to reveal the suspects, clues, red herrings in a semi-logical fashion. I purposefully wrote in chapters. I had a very specific – GASP – theme that I was trying to get across. This is a very personal book, in a very strange way. [I’ll save that topic for further woolgathering at a later date.] The first draft of The Riddle Box is a book instead of just a pile of pages, I feel, and that makes me very proud.

Impressions

  • I was very worried that there wasn’t a big fight early in the book. I think Spell/Sword readers will expect a certain level of skulduggery and action from the sequel, but it just didn’t serve the narrative this time out. [*pushes up monocle*] There’s a murder right off the bat, of course, and plenty of Agatha Christie intrigue — but no standup fight until about 1/3 of the way through. After the first read, it didn’t feel like a long time before the first true fight, so that pleased me. And don’t worry, the last third of the book is non-stop He-Man Action Figure smashing time.
  • Also, no Random Encounters this book. I loved fighting the dinosaur and the frog-men, but all of the combat in this book is against named characters and directly serves the plot.  I know. I’m disappointed in myself too.
  • As opposed to the first book, which is a ‘road picture’. The Riddle Box is a closed-room murder mystery. The entire novel takes place in one location, over one night. I kept the location details fairly consistent throughout, but I marked tons of places to double check. For example, mid-way through the draft I started referring to the ‘black and white marble floor of the Lobby’, but I had been very clear at the beginning that it was all white.
  • Need to work on character voice. There’s a lot of characters in this one, and some of them I didn’t find their voice until near the end, I need to go back to their first appearances and keep that voice consistent. Also, character voice got very wonky during the MAD DASH, need to polish those sections as well, especially the big soap opera moments.
  • The Mad Dash: The draft is 160 pages long, I wrote the final 60 in a week. It was the most startling experience, and I loved it — but there are some dodgy, dodgy bits. Mainly some of the chapters are more than a little breathless as I tried to write and stay on top of the wave. Some sections it adds, but the climax and the denouement need some room to breathe.
  • Speaking of soap opera! I love the trappings of Victorian and Agatha Christie mysteries — and I also have started to embrace the need for some light romance in my genre fiction. CALM DOWN. Whatever you are thinking, I didn’t do that.  Jonas and Rime are never getting together. I introduced some potential crushes for our heroes and watched to see what happened. In brief, it was fun times. I need to work on the resolution of Jonas’ romance subplot though — it is super damn creaky. The intent is correct, but I was throwing bricks at the hoop for that section of dialogue.
  • Aufero World History: I’m mostly pleased with the world-building stuff I put in this book. Lots of stuff about the Precursors, the further history of Aufero, Wood Elves, Sea Elves, the Nameless God, Gilead, bards, and the Seafoam Trading Company. As with everything, there are some creaky bits, but I wanted to give plenty of nerd fodder for the readers who wanted more world information. It still is secondary to the plot, where it shall ever remain in Swordpunk.
  • Back Story: Huge reveals for Jonas’ dark past! I was surprised by what I wrote down, which is always a neat feeling. I knew the basic outlines of course, but a couple of salient details completely floored me. Oh, Subconscious — you are a tricksy devil.
  • Jonas’ Master – I love names. I love coming up with good names. I’m more than a little proud of the names I come up with. I AM HAVING A TERRIBLE TIME COMING UP WITH THIS VERY IMPORTANT CHARACTER’S NAME. I used a placeholder, Sir Bentwight, in the draft — but I am having a miserable time with this one.  To me, names are very intuitive. I think of the character, and make an empty place in my head – -and generally a name falls right in. But not this time, man. I can be a little metaphysical about my craft – so maybe it’s not time for me to know this character’s name? Maybe I’m forcing it?
  • I really like all of the new characters, even though I kill off a fair amount of them — even my favorite. 😦
  • It works. The theme works. The machinery of what I want to say is there. Just got to make it look prettier.
  • There is a character in this book that I am literally terrified of. I can’t say more until people have had a chance to read the book, as it is a major spoiler. Here’s how scared I am of this character: Soon I will be recording an audio track of the draft to help me with editing. I honestly don’t know if I can read this character’s lines.
  • I high-fived myself four times while reading.
  • Beta Readers better get ready — I am very, very eager for feedback and praise.  And critique! I will be lurking in your shrubbery watching you read.

Okay, enough for now. Back to editing!

 

The Misplaced Adventures of Talitha Brown II

The young captain ran down the wooden steps and bounded down the hall. The Lodestar was split into two levels — the first a series of bunk-rooms for the crew, and below a large cargo hold that housed the Galley and the Engine. Talitha continued to hum as she bopped along, letting her hand trail along the wooden walls, crayon-box painted nails scratching on the doors.  As they had since the ship was discovered, the fine wooden doors were garishly painted with symbols to identify them.  Sun Room, Moon Room, Red Circle, Blue Circle, Green Circle, Star. She had made up a very elaborate song about them when she first came on board, but her

Unknown Artist
Unknown Artist

excitement would not allow her to call it to mind.

Her excitement would allow her to pester Della, however.

Talitha hooted and banged on the door marked with the Blue Circle and then kicked it open without waiting for an answer. The room had two bunks bolted to one wall, one above the other. A roughly crafted wooden rack was nailed to the opposite wall. It had once bristled with all types of magical weaponry, but not only a rusty broadsword and dented buckler hung there. A pile of sheets and quilts quivered on the lower bunk, contracting as if to defend itself from the noise and the overly boisterous blonde captain.

“GOOD MORNING, DELLA,” Talitha bawled and flopped her narrow posterior into the center of the blanket-monster’s girth.

“Groan,” the blanket actually said the word ‘groan’.

“PERHAPS YOU WOULD LIKE TO RISE AND JOIN US IN THE CARE AND OPERATION OF THE SHIP?”

“…off me,”

“WHAT,” Talitha bounced cheerily. “WHAT DELLA I COULD NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU JUST SAID.”

The blanket monster contracted further, then hurled Talitha flailing across the room. The rust-brown quilt flipped down to revealed a wide face smeared with sweat and squished with sleep. Della’s maimed hand appeared and pushed lank hair out of her face.  Talitha’s first mate had lost two fingers off her left hand during the devil’s assault on her hometown. She was also three years older than the captain, but had taken to her duties as pilot and first mate with casual equanimity. It seemed that Della had some sky-pirate in her blood, and as long as Talitha kept pointing the bow of the ship toward thunderstorms and pillage, the broad-shouldered woman was content.

“What do you want, Captain?” Della said politely, scratching her chest.

“So, Della,” Talitha came back and sat down on the edge of the bunk. “I’m about to do something probably a little more dangerous and stupid than usual. Is that a problem?”

Della snorted and pulled the blanket back over her heard.

“Della. I’m serious,” the captain leaned in close and whispered. “I’m really asking your advice.”

“Do I have to get up?” the blanket-monster asked.

“Uhh…”Talitha considered it. ” I guess not.”

“Then fine.”

The captain patted the quilted bulk and rocketed out the door. The  narrow sliver of permission and acceptance fueled her steps toward the cargo bay. Talitha grabbed the rail to the set of steps that lead below and paused. Something…

With a start, Talitha looked up at the ceiling. She stared directly into a mirror.

Or rather, into the face of her twin.

“What are you doing?” Sinoe asked.

Her twin had braced her arms and legs against the wooden struts that supported the deck above. She seemed completely at ease, as if she had been there for some time.

“Dammit, Sin,” the captain growled, running fingers through her hair. “What are you doing up there?”

Her twin blinked. This was a new trick she had learned, blinking. Talitha had taught it to her as a way to show confusion during a conversation, or surprise, or sarcastic disdain. Talitha had little doubt what this blink was supposed to indicate.

The captain made a rough leap and grabbed her twin’s torso. She hung in the middle of the hall, letting her feet dangle. Sinoe looked at Talitha, her face showing no strain or discomfort from the added weight. Except for her twin’s hair being purple and Talitha’s being gold, the two were like a pair of bookends. As Talitha grew tired of explaining, as a child she had been kidnapped and replaced with a doppelganger, a cunning doll designed to mimic her in every way. It had been a simple device, but after much work and reconstruction by the Lodestar’s engineer, the doll had become something more than it was.  The captain giggled and pulled herself up and planted a kiss on Sinoe’s cheek before dropping back to the floor. Her twin blinked again.

Talitha had been nine when Sinoe was built and now she was thirteen. The doll and the engineer had matched every growth spurt, every bony knee and awkward hip. The captain wrinkled her nose as she galloped down the stairs. I wonder what it’s going to be like when we both get our period?

The captain of the Lodestar clattered down the stairs to the Cargo Bay.  Talitha loved the ship, the deck and the sky most of all, the weird rooms still crammed with debris from old adventures and great battles. But she knew that the Engine was the heart of the ship, the ancient technology that made her ship fly through the air, faster and better than the anything else in the world. The magenta radiance filled the bay as she hit the last step, her eyes eager to spot her engineer and discuss something of greater danger and stupidity than usual.

[to be continued?]

‘What am I always blathering about?’: A Helpful Primer

Spell/Sword – My fantasy series, the main focus of this blog. The first book, Spell/Sword, was released April 2013, and I just completed the rough draft of the second novel, The Riddle Box, due for release in the next few months. It takes place on a planet called Aufero, my little playground on the nexus of the ‘consensus fantasy universe’ as Terry Pratchett referred to it. It mainly concerns the adventures of my unfortunate protagonists, Jonas and Rime, as they make their way towards a dark future, while cramming in as much adventure and skulduggery as possible before they arrive.  Jonas is the sword and Rime the spell, a runaway squire of below-average intelligence and a mage of unfathomable power grafted with weaknesses of equal severity — not least of which her unsavory and brittle personality.

Their tale is an experiment, this concept of Swordpunk that I’m developing — but there’s also a fair amount of toilet humor and Dungeons & Dragons’ riffing.usca35525

 

Lodestar – A Pathfinder campaign turned group-writing experiment turned all-consuming narrative sensation. It exists in complete form on the lovely pages of Obsidian Portal, available for any brave souls who want to try and guess where Spell/Sword is heading, or just looking for a truly original tale. No knowledge of Spell/Sword is required however, it stands on its own as the definitive ‘rubble to Ragnarok’ arc of most D&D parties.

It’s sort of weird actually, like being a time traveler. 80% of Lodestar was already complete when I started work on Spell/Sword, and since it’s in the same world ten years in the future, I’m always playing Doctor Who:The Home Game. I know exactly where the characters Jonas and Rime will be in ten years. I’m constantly sprinkling  little references to Lodestar into Spell/Sword — and through the endless diabolical malice of my sub-conscious – vice versa.

Lodestar mainly concerns a group of adventurers who discover a damaged airship of great speed and power…and greater secrets. Through the machinations of a master villain they become the protectors of a special child, and pit their skill and strength against the terrible might of an evil corporation, a Machine from a forgotten age, and the King of Hell and his tireless legions of death. Also, there was a cooking contest that was pretty sweet.

 

The Misplaced Adventures of Talitha Brown – The further adventures in the world of Aufero, unknown even to me! Except for minor glimpses and ideas and a tattoo on my left arm.

 

Titan’s Wake – my current Pathfinder campaign. An endless desert, a world in ruin. The Dwarven Empire rules the scattered cities and survivors with an iron fist, psychic dragons dream underneath the sands and plot their return. The capricious gods watch the struggles of their followers and wait.  Until recently, there was also a robotic turkey that shot lasers out of his eyes.

 

Runeclock – A new writing experiment over on Obsidian Portal, coupled with a tabletop adventure using the Fate CORE mechanics. My love letter to Suikoden II and Chrono Trigger devolving into a ridiculous pastiche of a Super Robot Mutant High School.  Regularly updated by me and the other writers/players.

 

 

Spell/Sword Housekeeping and Editing Strategic Planning

This will probably be boring. This is one of those ‘announce publicly my rough schedule and plan so I feel obligated to stick to it’ sort of posts. It may be helpful to other writers or indie-publishers who want a window into the behind-the-scenes process, or if you’re just curious where my next book is on the assembly line.

  • Finish rough draft of The Riddle Box.   [COMPLETE.] – 9/24

  • Revamp of print and Kindle versions of Spell/Sword

  1. Contact and recruit Copy-editing Strike Forcebriton6
  2. Print/order copies of Spell/Sword for copy proofing.
  3. Distribute to CSF, then collect edits when complete
  4. Enter corrections into CreateSpace template, then submit to service for re-release and update of Spell/Sword.
  5. Print Version first, then Kindle, so there is always one version available for sale during review downtime by CreateSpace and KDP.
  • Contact prospective Beta Readers for The Riddle Box

  1. It will be nearly a month before The Riddle Box is ready for review, but some may need time to make sure they’ve read the published version of Spell/Sword.
  2. Also, consider inviting a Beta Reader who has not read Spell/Sword, to see how well the book plays without preamble.
  • All of previous steps must be complete before beginning to edit rough draft. [!]

  • Rough Draft Editing

  1. Print out paper copy and read with a brightly colored Sharpie in my hand.  Story edits, logic fixes, detail matching. Cut or add to draft based on this pass.
  2. Read updated draft and record audio. Listen to audio while editing. Major grammar problems, sonic issues, repetitive language, wonky rhythms, things that just sound stupid when said out loud. Cut or add to draft based on this pass.
  3. Depending on severity of changes, potentially re-record audio for new/fresh pass.
  • Cry for a little while. Quietly and softly.

  • Distribute to Beta Readers for review. (Give readers a deadline?)

  • Anxiety Demons Jamboree [!]

  • Contact illustrator and cover designer to begin work on new cover art and cover layout.

  • Respond to edits submitted by Beta Readers, update the draft.

  • Place Final Draft on CreateSpace template for print.

  • Distribute template to CSF [Copy-editing Strike Force] for Quality Control

  • Submit Final Print Edition to CreateSpace and KDP for review and publishing.

  • Promote launch of The Riddle Box.

  • Begin work on third book, Asteroid Made of Dragons

The Riddle Box is complete!

tumblr_ms92felyC91rfpa79o1_500

Well, the first draft anyway. I’m flabbergasted, exhausted, and other adjectives.  I’ve written 62 pages in the past 11 days, and I freely admit there are some dodgy, dodgy bits in that last sprint to the end — but it’s all there. It’s a complete narrative, it works how I wanted it to, ends how i wanted it to. On Spell/Sword it took me longer to edit than to write, so I take comfort that I can take as long as I need to fix all of the fiddly bits. I’m tremendously proud of this one, I have no problem saying [believing] that this book is better than the first. I’m going to put in a drawer for a couple of weeks and let it cool down and come back fresh — I’m sure then I’ll be singing a different tune, but for now LOVE AND PEACE.

Here’s some crunchy numbers:

Spell/Sword

In published form: 52,000 words

 

The Riddle Box

Rough Draft: 65,000 words [21% longer!]

Started Writing: 4/26/2013

Finished Rough Draft: 9/24/2013

 

YEAH! Excited and a little exhausted. I’m going to unplug my brain and put it in a nice cool cup of yogurt for a while.

Results

So, I gave my book away on Kindle for five days, how’d that go?

This is mainly for the edification of other self-publishers, or folks who are just super nosy about my BIZZ.

Big Caveat, right off the top. I am a terrible and slap-dash marketer. There are many, many people on the internet who are much more consistent, pervasive, disciplined…and successful than I am at self promotion. So this was an experiment, with little leadup-or follow through. I knew I was going to attend DragonCon, that place is bursting at the seam with nerds, fish in a barrel, right?

So, here’s what I did to prepare.

  • I went through my Kindle Direct Publishing dashboard, and activated the days I wanted for the Free Promotion.  You are
    Promotional Card in the Wild
    Promotional Card in the Wild

    allowed 5 days per…quarter? I went ahead and set it to run over all of Labor Day Weekend, and then the Tuesday after. The rationale being, that if people find out about the sale, or pick up some of my promotional items, they can download the book when they get home.

  • Talked it up here on my blog, and also on my Facebook fanpage. [Become a fan, if you’re so inclined! There’s all sorts of randomness I drop on the fanpage, that doesn’t merit a full blog post. Button’s on the right hand side of the page.]
  • Made a post in a Free Ebook subreddit, to hopefully attract some folks to my blog.
  • Printed 1000 business cards to pass out at Dragon*Con, each with the cover art on one side, and a quick pithy description of the special and the book on the back, with a QR code that lead directly to Amazon. [This cost me about $50 bucks.]
  • Printed up some special shirts for my local friends who were attending the convention. [And also stuffed a few cards in their hands to pass out themselves.]
  • Quick pact with a lesser demon.

Things I Didn’t Do [and Probably Should Have]

  • There are tons of sites and twitter feeds that advertise Free Ebooks. I researched a few, but it all just seemed so sleazy and mechanical. I’m as desperate for readers as any other Level One Author, but I’m hoping to start this out with something a little more personable than a free Ebook spam. There probably are better venues out there that I didn’t find, but as usual, I ran out of time and decided not to worry about it.
  • Attend Lev Grossman’s panel and denounce him.
  • Throw some cards at Jim Butcher like ninja stars.
  • Make a lengthy pact with a major demon.

So, a fair amount of time invested, and a small amount of cash. How did it turn out!

 

Free Downloads of Spell/Sword: 315

 

315. Copies of my book. Out there in the world. Hopefully 315 copies that will be read and cherished and reviewed on Amazon or Goodreads. Spell/Sword is sold through two services on the Amazon platform, Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace for the paper version. Because of this it’s a little fuzzy on getting exact sales numbers, especially going back all the way to April when the book was released. Prior to this special, my lifetime sales of the book were somewhere between 125-175 copies.  That means in one weekend, I increased the number of copies of my book in the world by easily 200%.

I’m sure other authors have had more success than I, with much better planned promotional strategies. But I’m stoked, regardless! For the amount of time and money required, this thing was an excellent experiment.

As usual, I ramble. Let me know if you have any questions about any of these numbers or details, or about the processes used to make all of this happen.

Work Explosion

6587_akira_hd_wallpapersA heartfelt thanks to all of my friends and readers who helped make my free Ebook special such a success! I’m working on a big blog post discussing the results, with some nice crunchy data for other self-publishers out there — but my real world job has been on fire every day this week. No time for blogging or writing = ANXIETY DEMONS PICNIC ON MY SPLEEN.

But that’s okay — I think!

Back soon with something  more substantive.

Reason Number One Why My Book is Worthless : Sideways

This will be an n-part series leading up to the Amazon Firesale for the Kindle version of Spell/Sword. It is going to be absolutely free 8/30-9/3.  The plan is to write one of these a day to really crank up my self promotion levels, so when I’m at Dragon*Con, I won’t feel any remorse about begging total strangers to read the book.

But hey, I’m super lazy, so n could very well equal 2.

Reason #1: Sideways

Sideways the Assassin. Official FanArt
Sideways the Assassin. Official FanArt

If the damn book wasn’t ridiculous enough, I had to stick in this goddamn character. Those of you that have already read the book are currently nodding sagely, maybe pursing your lips in disgusted agreement. Those of you who have not read the book, let’s play a game. I’m going to describe this character, and you yell when you hit your personal Preposterous Fantasy Drivel Maginot Line. [PFDML]

Okay. Deep breath.

Sideways is an assassin. A mercenary, a sellsword, a blade for hire.  He’s extremely fond of witty banter mixed with his obscenely

Unintentional Cosplay. But still, get the horns right , loser.
Unintentional Cosplay. But still, get the horns right , loser.

talented swordplay. He also seems to have some sort of moral code [AHHHHH.] he doesn’t kill for pleasure, and seems to have an overall genial position for a hired killer. He is also a devilkin. [YELLING.] The blood of devils is in his family, mixed with human heritage. He has orange skin, [NOOOO.] eyes the color of ketchup [WHAAAAA?] and ‘horns’ that look more like misshapen coral growths than anything that would appear in Lucifer fanart. His constant companions are a pair of shortswords, a flaming sword named Sunhammer [ARGGGGG.] and a gray sword of indeterminate magical function named Chester. [BLUH!] ‘Chet’ for short. [ALL OF THE SCREAMING, LIKE WHEN ALDERAAAN WAS BLOWED UP IN STAR WARS. EXCEPT IT NEVER GOES SUDDENLY SILENT. JUST SCREAMING FOREVER.]

Sigh.

He also fights a minotaur, kills about 75 sky pirates, crashes an airship, rides a wyvern, and takes a nap on a porch.

So, you see, it’s a very good thing that my book is going to be free in about 10 days.

Spell/Sword

FREE KINDLE EBOOK ON AMAZON

8/30 — 9/3. 2013.

Spell/Sword Kindle Edition – FREE

For a limited time, of course.

Spell/Sword

FREE KINDLE EBOOK ON AMAZON

8/30 — 9/3. 2013.

Labor Day Weekend and some change. It coincides neatly with my trip to Atlanta for Dragon*Con — I’ll be wearing my Self-

Kindle Version
Kindle Version

Promotion Helm of Shamelessness +3. I’ve printed up a ton of business cards to give to people letting them know about the deal.

The ebook has always been free to Amazon Prime members, and DRM free to boot — but now I’m doubling down. Anyone and everyone can own my book at no cost other than the time it takes to download it.  Even if you don’t own a Kindle, you’ll be able tor read it on your Mac, PC, iPad, smartphone, tablet, etc — via the free Kindle app.

Amazon  Reviews

Goodreads Reviews

I’ll be tooting my horn a good deal in leadup to the promotion — hopefully convincing you that my book is worth nothing.

More information about Spell/Sword : Buy the Book

Genre Legends Given Brief Reprieve by Vainglorious Upstart

I’m too busy learning lines to work on Riddle Box this week, I’m behind schedule and that sucks for me.

But it’s good for you — I’m talking to you, the Joe Abercrombies, Neil Gaimans, and Patrick Rothfussessess of the world.

I’m giving you a break – I’m slowing down my minotaur-octane fueled march to genre supremacy, for like two weeks or

The devil's gaze!!!!
The devil’s gaze!!!!

something.  You have some time without me BREATHING DOWN YOUR NECKS.

Use it wisely. Build  the walls of your worlds tall and strong. Give your protagonists the most fiendishly devised magical weapons, backstories and clever sidekicks. DRAW A FANCY MAP OF YOUR BEAUTIFUL CITY WITH ITS RICH PAGEANT OF HISTORIC LORE SO I CAN KICK IT DOWN.

Because I’m coming. Me, Jonas, and Rime. And Sideways. And the pigs. And the magic chickens. And my rock and roll bard crooning on his ebony guitar, Lady Moon-Death.

WE ARE COMING. SWORDPUNK IS AT YOUR EXQUISITELY CHISELED AND WELL-WRITTEN GATES.

But you know, not for a week or so.

Consider yourself advised.