Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Avengers: Age of Savings!

In honor of the big Marvel sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron due out in about a week, I have put my superhero novel Hungry Gods on sale!  You can get the ebook version for 33% off now through...  well, for a limited time.  (I don't want to give a specific date because different retailers catch up to changes at different rates.)

So right now, Hungry Gods is available at $3.99 for a limited time!

I know for sure the current price is up on these major retailers.  If you have another favorite, it should be there now or soon as well.

See you all at the movies!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Writing Blurbs: Tarnish

Writing blurbs sucks.  It’s ten times harder than writing a novel.  Maybe a hundred times, because you have to take a book that required tens of thousands of words to write—maybe over a hundred thousand, as in the case of Tarnish—and sell it in only two or three hundred words.  I don’t know anyone who thinks that an easy task or actually enjoys it.  It is an interesting challenge, kind of a story puzzle to solve, but it's more stressful than enjoyable. 

This weekend I spent a few days reworking the blurb for my fantasy novel Tarnish.  This is a very long and complex book, layered with multiple view point characters and various subplots.  (Hmm, I need to take a look at how George R. R. Martin—or more likely, his publishers—handle Game of Thrones and the Song of Ice and Fire books.  Of course, those blurbs don't have to say squat anymore, everyone already knows what they are and they sell themselves.)  

So how to compress 130,000 words of story into an engaging paragraph or two that gives potential readers enough to decide they’d like the book? 

I don’t have a good answer.  But I do know the blurb needs to be engaging and offer the potential reader a taste of what they’ll like most in the book.  What is it about, who’s the main character, what’s the primary conflict?  But to say too much or ruin the surprises is not a good thing either.  Less is often more.  So here’s what I came up with and I think it’s a vast improvement over the last one (though there’s always room for more):

Being a hero isn’t as easy as the tavern tales would have you believe. 

Billy Cole has always been a quick study, be it at telling tales, brewing ale, or swordplay.  And yet it surprises Wil Thunderstrike, his alter ego, at just how hard and fast the lessons come on his first venture into the real world of back-alley thieves, traveling talespinners, and warriors of renown.   

Wil’s quest is to find epic heroes to save his home town, but it'll take more than a sword and the inspiring tales of his legendary idols to survive the harsh world beyond Redfield.  From the inns of Hobb’s Turn to the port city of Fellwater, he’ll chase brigands and join pickpockets, fight with constables and street thugs, find romance and fall from grace, all while trying to discover  his own true nature and forge his destiny.  Tarnish is a grittier coming-of-age story than you’re used to, blending elements of traditional high fantasy with a darker, less forgiving perspective on right and wrong. 

What kind of hero would you be?

Ancillary Justice: Book Review

One of my New Years Resolutions was to read at least four novels (at least one of them indie) and post reviews.  I know four doesn't sound like a lot, but it is for a life as busy as mine.  So here's the first:

Great original SF Lit, but doesn't fly at warp speed...

This is a multi-award winning novel, and it's easy to see why.  Leckie does an amazing job of creating a far-flung future empire with deep cultural details.  Her main character is a very cool kind of Pinocchio, a character who was previously an AI with control over hundreds of bodies simultaneously who, through events surrounding a similar kind of duplicitous conspiracy, has now been reduced to but a single body.  The plot of the book involves politics that reflect our own, with two forces that appear the same from the outside (are in fact the very same person with multiple bodies herself) waging a silent war against each other.  (Sounds like the parties within the U.S. government, doesn't it?)

It's an intelligent read with lots of cool SF aspects and steady character development.  My only big criticism is the pacing of this novel.  There were times in the middle and latter half of the book that I wanted to give up on it.  It just wasn't moving forward at a rewarding pace and at times felt bogged down in the details and traveling.  (And now that I say that, perhaps that makes it Tolkien-esque, which could be a high compliment, I suppose.)

A thoroughly developed, original book, but I sometimes found it challenging to stay invested in the story.  3.75 to 4 stars.

(And as a student and creator of cover art, I must say...  not impressed by this.  It certainly says "sci-fi space opera," though that may be misleading for what you actually get.  At no time are there any fighter craft in the book.  And yet it's an award-winning, best-selling, from a major publisher kind of book.  So take that for whatever it's worth to you.)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

My Mutant Methods… In Writing

I am continuously reevaluating my writing plans and process.  It is constantly changing (or mutating), as I learn about what is and isn’t working, not from what other indies are saying on forums, but from my own experiences.  So here’s some of what’s developing right now:

cover of Uncanny X-Men #14

Coming at everything as a short story, meaning I have to start in the middle (which you should always do anyway), move fast, and keep the plot idea fairly simple.  My latest two superhero stories both started out as short ones in my mind (like 5,000 each).  Hungry Gods turned into a novel at 55,000 and Invasion (first draft done now) is a big novella at 31,000. 

How does that happen?  I start writing with an idea of what the story is about and who the characters are, but I don’t outline anything.  I probably know some of the main scenes and plot points, but I don’t chart it all out ahead of time.  I can’t.  I don’t know what’s going to develop until we get there.  My “outlining” runs only two or three chapters ahead of where I am.  

Starting in the middle (en media res, if I remember correctly from my literature classes) means finding a point where the story has already been running and you’re already knee deep in the action.  This is usually recommended by gurus and authors for any story. With that in mind, Hungry Gods actually started out in the helicopter, which is now chapter 4.  After it turned into a full-blown novel, I decided to go back and add what are now the first 3 chapters to set it up a bit more. At that point, I figured, why not?  Invasion starts on board a space station with an alien attack already underway.  In both of these I knew what the main story was about, I just underestimated how long it would take to run its course.  After I was about 15,000 words into HG and was still just getting started, I knew it was going to be a novel. 

My current writing process (which I endeavor to stick with, despite the urge toward perfectionism) involves only three drafts. 

The first is obviously writing the thing.  This is an exploratory journey where even I don’t know what’s going to happen or who my characters will develop into. 

The second (which I am about to embark upon as I write this with Invasion) is going back to the beginning and fixing the things I left undone and updating old stuff with the new vision for the story.  Since Draft One is largely exploratory, things change throughout the course of the writing process.  Now that I’m done with the story, I know more about the heroes and what’s going to happen, so I need to go back and make sure everything is consistent throughout.  Names may change, colors may change, I might have left blank spots for me to fill later with research, like foreign words, names of places, an element from the periodic table, etc.  So that’s Draft Two: go through to update, correct, and fill in blanks. 

Then I send that draft off to a hired editor/proofreader, and when it comes back I only address the specific line edits and suggestions they have made, deciding if I agree or not and fixing them.  That’s Draft Three. 

Then it’s time to publish or submit that puppy and move on to the next story.  I am, of course, as insecure as any writer and I want to go over it a hundred times to make sure everything is perfect.  Even a second pair of eyes can miss things, after all.  But that’s just not worth the time and effort.  Three drafts is reasonable.  There will be mistakes.  You can read a professionally published book that’s several years old and STILL find mistakes.  That’s human.  And my time is better spent writing new material than going over the same one over and over again.  Between rereading and submitting to agents and publishers, it took me YEARS to finally get Tarnish published, and it’s a very long one at 130,000 words.  Most commercial novels are about 80,000 and a short novel is only 40,000 words—so Tarnish is like 2-3 novels in length.  That’s a lot to revise six times!  And even now, there are mistakes, but I have to live with them.  I have to move forward.

Marketing is another big time sink that just doesn’t seem worth it to me.  To spend precious time and money on advertising that maybe three people will respond to…  Just not worth it.  And even if it does generate some sales and bring in some readers, what good does it do if I only have one or two books for them to buy?  One five or six dollar sale doesn’t pay for the resources I put into getting that sale.  Without a series or two in full swing or a decent selection for readers to hop to next, marketing is pretty much pointless. 

So for right now, until I have half a million words in print (and yes, I’m counting, and about half way there now) there’s very little point to marketing my wares.  I’ll continue to do minimal, easy things, but that’s about it. 

In fact, I’m not even going to bother with Read and Review efforts anymore.  In my experience, only about 25% of the free books I give away results in reviews.  More of them probably end up on pirate sites than result in anything I intended. 

So my marketing plan is reduced to the following:
   1. Write more books.
   2. Ensure my books have covers, blurbs and pricing that reflects the professional level of their contents.
   3. Write more books.   

That’s me getting my current writing methodologies out into the world, as much for my own purposes as for you to read them.  They’ll continue to develop (or mutate). 

If anyone out there has any comments or strong feelings, I’d be glad to “hear” them.  Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Writing 2015: March Recap

This weekend has been April, but it's worth noting before I get on with reporting my March numbers that I wrote 9,200 words this weekend.  That's some astounding, eye-opening stuff for me!  I didn't know I could accomplish so much in such a short amount of time.  These three days have torn down barriers that my own pessimism and doubts had built and maintained since forever.  I poured 7,900 of those words into finishing the first draft of my novella "Invasion", which completed at about 31,000 total.  This will be the feature tale in triple-feature Dreams of Flying, which I hope to have published in the next month.

Now on with my monthly writing progress.  To get the scoop on this series of posts, check out my 2015 News Years Resolutions post and the January post here.  Otherwise, the rest of these monthly reports will be truncated to the stats alone, as below.

General Goal: 12,000 words per month (derived from 3,000 per week average)

* First Quarter, 2015: 39,550 words (exceeds quarterly goal of 36,000 words)

March:  - 11,500 words  (5400 on Invasion, 5600 on Ghosts of Chaucer)
               - (This is technically just below my monthly goal.  But the week that I did no writing at all was the same that I logged about 65 hours in with the Navy and moved my family from one house to another on my days off, so I'm okay with this total.)
               - 5400 of those words went into Invasion, and 5600 started a new novelette called Ghosts of Chaucer. This distraction I then put on hold so I could finish Invasion.
               - republished Puppet Theatre as a free preview of both the IDC and IDCU series
February:  - 15,400 words (9550 words on the novella Invasion)
                    - redesigned my blog
                    - submitted stories to magazines
                    - ebooks of Hungry Gods also sold very nearly every day during this month

January:  - 12,650 words (8550 words on the novella Invasion)
                  - published The Prince and the Darkness
                  - published Hungry Gods
                  - Hungry Gods release sold well beyond my goal, had a nice halo effect that reached pretty much all my other books, and all the accumulated sales were spread across SIX different countries!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Warhammer Fantasy Battle 25th Edition: WFB vs 40K

I was flipping through my 8th edition WFB hardcover (you know, the one that weighs as many pounds as it costs), just for inspiration, and I thought again about how I’d like to play that game but…  I just don’t care that much for it.  WFB and 40K are two very different animals, and have traditionally been so for specific reasons (like those who play them like them that way), although it sounds like the 9th edition Fantasy game will be closer and closer to 40K, which I actually would prefer.

I’ve heard it said that WFB players like those aspects of the game that make it different from 40K and that’s one reason why they like it.  Some of those reasons are as I will annotate below, which happen to be the very reasons I don’t care for it. 

When I said “25th Edition” in the title, that’s me just saying that this is the way I’d like to see the game evolve.  See, I’d like to play in the fantasy realm, wielding swords and magic and big bad monsters—I like fantasy stuff almost as much as sci-fi stuff.  I’m a nerd of many colors.  But there are things about the fantasy game mechanics I don’t like.  If I were to be invited to tweak the game for it’s 25th edition (just to pick an outrageous number), here’s a few changes I’d make:

1.  The Math.  There’s just way too much math in Fantasy for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I like math okay, but I don’t want to have to crunch so many numbers when I’m trying to enjoy a game that’s supposed to be action packed.  I like the streamlined 40K system in regard to this.  WFB has chart upon chart of all the factors you need to consider.  Now there is merit to armor penetration modifiers (which 40K used to have too, back in the day), and some of the other numbers being factored in, but…  it’s just too much.  Trying to figure out who won a round of combat takes a calculator, and that’s just not fun. 

2. Hordes vs Heroes.  In 40K, the squads are generally no bigger than 10 figures, sometimes really big units get to be 20 or more models, but that’s uncommon.  And in 40K, it seems like any one model can end up being the hero of the battle.  That last surviving Space Marine Scout may just defy the odds and come out on top more than the Dice Gods should allow, and end up winning the game practically on his own.  In Fantasy, 90% of your models are nameless nobodies who are there just to die.  You don’t have a unit of guys, you have a block of fodder.  Ranks upon ranks of them. In fact, the rules are set-up so that massive units of nobodies is the best way to go.  And the differences between “basic” units and “elite” units is only like 1 or 2 stat points and having a great sword instead of a regular sword.  They’re the same damn thing, so what’s the point?  There’s all just the same worthless fodder, but this one’s blue and that one’s green.  It seems to me that 40K has more variety of units and that each has a better developed role with its own special moves.  It seems to me that one block of troops is pretty much the same as the next big block of troops.

I have two issues with this: (1) As I said, having 40 nobodies who all run away because of one scary monster or bad roll is just…  Well, sucky.  I’d rather have 10 potential heroes than 40 fodder troops any day.  (2) the real world cost of building such an army is just terrible.  We don’t need to revisit GW pricing here, but how the hell are we supposed to afford such a force?  It’d take decades to build up that kind of army.

Now I now this is one of those things people love about Fantasy.  This harkens to the Tolkien-esque armies in The Hobbit and TLotR, blocks of amassed orcs and elves crashing into each other, forces so huge that the dust of their marching blots out the sun.  I know that’s the effect it was build for originally, to go back to the source material (let’s face it, WFB was originally a direct rip-off of LotR).  And that’s great if you like that.  But in the 25th edition, I’d like to prune it back a bit. 

So I’ll stop the comparison/gripe there.  Two main factors to adjust for my 25th edition: Math/Extraneous Rules and Blocks of Fodder.  Some ways I’d do that:

1.  The easiest way (which rumors indicate may be kind of happening now anyway) is to play Fantasy more like a Warbands game.  There are special rule sets out there, like Mordheim, that go that way.  I think if I wanted to play Fantasy that way right now (and could find a friend or two to go along with me), I’d just play games of like 500 points and do away with the minimum requirements on unit size and army basics.  So you don’t need to have 80+ Core troops as the cornerstone of your force.  You might choose to have a unit or two of core troops, but they might only be 5 or 10 models in size.

2.  Emphasize characters and heroes.  This would also play into a way to reduce the mindless masses rules and the likelihood of a route.  I’m imagining a small subset of rules for promoting one rank and file model in your unit to be a minor hero or leader.  He or she has access to more gear and better ability to rally your units.  (I know we kind of have that now, but I think they’re just higher value fodder at this point.)

3.  Doing away with block formations and making everyone more mobile, like skirmishing formations.  Maybe we still use trays or whatever, but the models are staggered on them and not necessarily formed up in rigid ranks and files.  This would also do away with all the rules about ranks and whatnot, making combat easier and not necessarily encouraging us to spend more money on masses of models. 

4.  Reign in point values.  I notice that in the newer army books, character model point values are ridiculous.  One core elf with a bow is only 8 points, but the noble who’s stats are barely better costs 10 to 20 times as much, and that’s without gear and with no special rules to make him cool.  What the hell for?!  And what fun is that?  But rather than having to rewrite all the army books, maybe we just set a separate points budget for buying heroes and lords for our mini-forces.  For example, maybe you have 500 points to spend on them, and 500 to spend on everything else too.  Two separate budgets set to scale for getting the cool characters you want without making them the sole models in your warband. 

Okay, I guess that;s enough rambling on this topic for today.  I guess I got it out of my system. 

The bottom line is, I’d like to play a great Fantasy battle game, but not on the huge army scale and not when it requires a calculator.  (And not when it has even more than 40,000 rules!) I’d like to make a small force with these guys on foot, those scouts, a few models on horseback, a monster and a wizard, all them with some individual character and potential, and none of them forced to march shoulder to shoulder.  Is that too much to ask?

(Please excuse any errors in this one -- as it's after midnight, I'm not revising, I'm just posting this sucker.)