The Sage is In [Round One]

I put up a status on my FB fanpage asking for questions to fuel my next blog post. It’s been a while since I’ve activated my Sage prestige class, so please enjoy the shiny wisdoms here for your consumption. I’ll put up more as they come in.
Why do fools fall in love?

– Laura T.

What is a fool but an empty head?

Unencumbered by malice

or worry

or thought

they fall because

they fall without pause

gravity puts them

where they need to be

safe in the grooves

the record-turn of destiny

while we

the wise resist

our brains heavy and thick

with proud lines and numbers

clatter across the vinyl

while the fools

fall deep

into the simple clasp

of moss and time and

the slow revolve.

If you were going to play a pirate character in Pathfinder would you a) go Rogue or Fighter? b) what two weapons would you use? c) Drow or Tiefling?

– Daniel D.

Interesting question – I suppose it all depends on what type of ‘pirate’ that you have in mind. Are you thinking Errol Flynn – swashbuckler? Or more of an Edward Teach/Blackbeard – hardass murder dispenser? For the sake of this response, I’ll try to take the average of the two extremes.

a) Neither. I would go with a Ranger/Gunslinger multi-class. Dump most of your levels into ranger for the Two Weapon Fighting Style, and then focus all your Favored Terrain and Favored Enemy slots on aquatic types. Also training up a suitably vicious Animal Companion that could fight alongside you at sea would be wise, I recommend a Dragon Turtle.  Stack on 3-4 levels of gunslinger for the firearm proficiency and Grit points – a true swashbuckler could continuously fuel the Grit pool with all their feats of derring-do.

b) Falcata for main hand, Dragon Pistol for off. Your primary damage is going to be through melee, the spray effect of the pistol is mainly to soften up low-level mobs and disperse damage across a large group.

c) Tiefling. The bonuses to INT and DEX are key for a nimble fighter build, as well as the racial bonuses to Bluff and Stealth. Also Drow haven’t been cool since 1997.

Spell/Sword joins Kindle Matchbook

Sorry, I’ve been super quiet on the blog lately. Kefka isn’t going to defeat himself.

In the never-ending quest to get more copies of my book out there in the world, I’ve enrolled the book in Kindle’s new Matchbook service. This is where when you buy

Original Cover Art - Mike Groves/poopbird
Original Cover Art – Mike Groves/poopbird

the paperback copy, you can then get the Kindle version at a reduced rate. And because I am a benevolent and kind author/publisher I have made the Kindle version free when you purchase the paperback. This also means, if you’ve bought the Paperback version previously, you can login to Amazon and download the Kindle version for free RIGHT FREAKING NOW.

 

Amazon Kindle – Matchbook!

 

Click that link!

I still remain committed to the belief that people reading my books is FAR more important than people buying the book, so please don’t be shy. I’m also running another Free Download special of the book in November, if you have friends on the fence about giving the book a shot.

Time Travel Hat

A few weeks ago, I cleaned out my old room in the house I grew up in. My mother was something of a pack rat, a custodian of a thousand pieces of paper chronicling my childhood. I pawed through box after box of old report cards, half-completed math worksheets, programs from graduations and honor’s ceremonies from Grammar School through High School.

Most of it went in the trash. A lot of it was too sterile, boring. A page of me practicing cursive from second grade has no connection to me now. A blurry picture of a tree I took doesn’t mean much when I don’t remember taking the picture, the tree, or even why I was taking the picture.

But then there was some stuff. Some cool stuff. Some embarrassing stuff. Some interesting stuff. Stuff that I did feel a connection to, that I could still feel the timeline stretching from me now, just shy of 34, to the weird kid in middle school and high school that made these things. Especially because, one of the first things I found was my Time Travel  Hat.

Ingredients: The inside of some sort of sports helmet, a claw attachment from an old Transformer, and a pronged light purloined from an old robot set.
Ingredients: The inside of some sort of sports helmet, a claw attachment from an old Transformer, and a pronged light purloined from an old robot set.

It never fit me, when I first made it. I had a huge head as a kid, but it’s only now that it fits like a glove. I love the tiny coincidences and time overlaps of life — it’s all up to interpretation of course, we’re all creating out own mythology. And maybe that’s what this is all about. I’ve always believed that the art reveals the artist, and in many ways my writing is a tool to interrogate my subconscious. A wily foe, if ever there was. There’s things I write, symbols and characters and repeated themes, that I only have the vaguest notion of what it means.

So, now I have a time capsule…and a Time Travel Hat. I have old pictures and stories and poems and toys, scribbled doodles on the backs of folders. Posters and 2013-10-16 12.28.02stories and all sort of strange errata, the output of the Derek Prototype. Time to dig back through the evidence, like a good detective. It’s a cold case, but the Truth is Out There. I’ve only skimmed through this stuff, grabbing the things that I still felt a little heat on. The first whispers of Aufero, the Gray Witch dangling her long fingers into my young mind, maybe even the early shadows of the long Dark? And some really dorky pictures, of course.

Over the next few days or weeks, I’ll be throwing the best stuff up on here for due investigation. Random pictures and errata I’ll probably just put up on my Tumblr, if you’d care to follow along.

I’ll be creating a new category, Time Travel Hat, and tagging all posts like this with the same.  Come along, Gentle Reader, let the investigation begin — the Hat begins to blink and whir…

 

Nuts and Bolts

Okay, time for some depressing math.

This information is not for the feint of heart or anyone considering self-publishing. But that’s who I’m putting it up for [beyond my own information and planning for The Riddle Box], anyone else thinking of taking the plunge. It’s one of my proudest achievements and I don’t regret it – – but damn, she do cost, don’t she?

Spell/Sword Sales – Year to Date

Promotional Card in the Wild
Promotional Card in the Wild

Paperback – 65 units …….$114.10 total Royalties

Kindle – 58 units …….$63.65 total royalties.

  • Free Downloads: 316

Spell/Sword Gross Profit: $177.75

Incomplete List of Spell/Sword Costs [approximate]

  1. Cover Illustration, Layout and Design:  $500.00
  2.  Purchase of unique ISBN number: $100.00
  3. Printing of Beta Copies for review and proofing: $150.00
  4. Giveaways and Promotional Material: $175.00
  5. Shipping of Giveaways, Promotional Material: $50.00

Approximate Total Publication and Promotion Cost: $975.00

Spell/Sword Net Profit GRAND TOTAL:

-$797.25

Hoo. Ouch. Damn, buy some books, people.

This was way more depressing than I thought it would be. I clearly have an expensive habit, and it is called Swordpunk.

Why am I self-publishing again?

 

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.