(More) Infrequently Asked Questions

I spent a couple hours talking to myself today.

Again.

Technically, I was typing to myself, but it’s still an odd situation to be both the interviewer and interviewee. For one thing, I knew the answers to the questions before I asked them.

If Souls Can Sleep manuscript with flags indicating corrections

In two months, this marked-up manuscript will be a full-fledged paperback and e-book.

This Q&A will eventually find its home in my online press kit so that reporters, bloggers, and anyone else interested spreading the word about my upcoming book can get a quick overview about If Souls Can Sleep.

I did something similar for The Renegade Chronicles in 2016 and shared an excerpt from that self-directed Q&A in this blog. I jokingly referred to them as Infrequently Asked Questions because there was nothing frequent about how often I’ve been asked the questions in question.

What follows are my best guess at what people might want to know about If Souls Can Sleep and, admittedly, the things I would like prospective readers to know.

Oh, and welcome to the conversation!

What is If Souls Can Sleep about?

Here’s what the back cover will say:

If Souls Can Sleep introduces a hidden world where gifted individuals possess the power to invade the dreams of others. Two rival factions have transformed the dreamscape into a war zone where all reality is relative and even the dead can’t rest in peace.

The story centers on Vincent Cruz, a man who lost his daughter and never recovered from the tragedy. He’s stuck, haunted by a dream that replays the dreadful memory over and over. Then the dream suddenly stops, and he’s faced with a new nightmare that starts to bleed into the real world.

Who is If Souls Can Sleep about?

It’s largely Vincent’s story, but he’s not in it alone. Jerry, Vincent’s stoner roommate, and Leah, a sleep doctor with issues of her own, get pulled into the insanity.

There’s also Milton, a partial amnesiac who is on the run and doing his best to stave off sleep forever.

Who is your favorite character?

I don’t think I could ever pick a favorite, but I do loving writing characters who allow me to express humor. Jerry provides comic relief, but honestly, DJ—a possibly crazy bus rider—takes the cake for fun dialogue. He has some of the best lines in the whole book.

What is the setting for If Souls Can Sleep?

Most of the story is set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In fact, Vincent’s and Jerry’s apartment mirrors the one I lived in while attending college there. After writing The Renegade Chronicles, which take place in an alien world of my own devising (Altaerra), it was fun to draw from real-world locations and experiences. The bulk of the book is set in the year 2007.

If Souls Can Sleep also includes glimpses at other worlds that may or may not be real.

Who will enjoy this book?

I don’t start out by picking a specific demographic to cater to throughout the writing process. Instead, I write the best version of the story clinging tenaciously to my gray matter and hope there are people out there who will also appreciate it.

With If Souls Can Sleep, I set out to write something very different from the sword-and-sorcery fantasy stories I had been reading and writing up until then. I wanted to create a book I had never read before, something very unusual and unique.

To be blunt, this book was an experiment, not so much nudging me out of my comfort zone as submerging me into a completely unfamiliar environment. As a result, the book is a mashup of several different genres, including science fiction, fantasy, suspense, and metafiction.

Categorizing If Souls Can Sleep can be tricky, but I consider its genre-bending nature a strength because the story has something for readers of many different backgrounds. It’s complex yet accessible, peculiar yet relatable.

While fans of speculative fiction—including fantasy and science fiction—are perhaps the obvious audience, I’m pleasantly surprised to find, among my pre-readers, that the book appeals to people outside those genres too.

Bringing it back around to my initial goal: if you want to read a book that’s unlike any you’ve read before, give If Souls Can Sleep a try.

What makes If Souls Can Sleep unique?

I’m not the first person to entertain the notion of oneironauts (individuals who can psychically visit the dreams of others), but my take on “dream drifters” paints an original portrait of the relationship between life and death and the dreamscape. I’ve cobbled together a number of theories, philosophies and religious beliefs to put my own personal spin on the collective unconscious.

Things also get very “meta” in If Souls Can Sleep, as I explore what qualifies something real—including the people who populate books.

What is If Souls Can Sleep “rated”?

If it were a movie, it would likely earn a PG-13 rating. There’s swearing, some violence, drug and alcohol use, sexual content, and other mature topics. I expect the story will resonate with readers age 17 and older. That’s the suggested audience.

How long did it take you to write the book?

I started writing If Souls Can Sleep on Dec. 31, 2006, and it took two and a half years to compose a complete first draft. I then edited it, jumped into writing the sequel, and worked on a handful of other projects. By the time the book hits shelves, it will be more than 11 years in the making. (More on that here.)

Fortunately for fans, they won’t have to wait that long to get their hands on the sequel…

What does the title mean?

The title comes from a quote found within the book: “If souls can sleep, then why not dream?”

I flirted with other title options but realized, as time went on, that the opening line—“If souls can sleep”—could function as an apt foundation for the series as a whole. I also liked the idea of using a clause that leaves the reader hanging, an inherent sense of suspense.

The titles of the next two books in series follow a similar formula: If Sin Dwells Deep and If Dreams Can Die.

Is this another trilogy?

Yes. Sort of. Maybe?

I have written three books for The Soul Sleep Cycle to date. It wasn’t my intention to write a trilogy. In fact, I once (naïvely) believed I could tell the entire story in a single volume. Halfway through If Souls Can Sleep, I realized I needed to streamline my subplots. A second book became necessary to tell the whole story, and even before I started writing If Sin Dwells Deep, I realized I would need a third book to reach a satisfying conclusion.

Quite possibly, three books are enough. Yet I always leave a few doors open for future storylines, just in case…

Why didn’t you publish all three at once (like with The Renegade Chronicles)?

I certainly could have, and I’m sure there are those who would rather not have to wait to see what happens next. But publishing three books at once presents many challenges. I learned a lot from publishing The Renegade Chronicles en masse, and I didn’t want to end up cutting corners just so I could get this new series out there all at once.

From a marketing standpoint, it’s also difficult to sustain public interest when all three books are available on Day 1. As a compromise, however, readers won’t have to wait too long for the next installments.

If Sin Dwells Deep is slated for fall 2018; If Dreams Can Die, spring 2019.

Where did you find inspiration for this book/series?

As with many of my story ideas, the inspiration came as a random thought—this one at a roller-skating rink in the late ’90s. I was thinking about the strangers in our dreams and wondering where they came from. Do they wear the faces of people we glimpsed in passing over the years? Or are they composites our subconscious cooks up to fill out the cast of any given dream?

What if they are real people—other dreamers?

The rough outline of a short story popped into my head, but it never made it to paper. Almost a decade later, the idea resurfaced, allowing me to play with a handful of abstract concepts, including identity and the definition of “real.”

For Vincent, I thought, “What is the worst thing that can happen to a guy?” Because I was a new father with a young daughter at the time, the answer came easily: losing a child.

How does a parent cope with that? What if he can’t?

Will you write any more Renegade Chronicles books?

Writing more about Klye and the gang would be a lot of fun. I have no shortage of plots mapped out, so jumping back to Altaerra wouldn’t be too difficult.

I’ve written a complete draft of a novel starring a young wizardess who will eventually cross paths with the characters from The Renegade Chronicles. The epilogue of Martyrs and Monsters hints at that storyline. It’s possible I may polish up that book and publish it someday.

Sales of The Renegade Chronicles will also go a long way toward determining whether I return to Altaerra. (So if you want new stories, tell your friends about the existing ones!)

What is your next project?

Preparing If Sin Dwells Deep and If Dreams Can Die for publication will take up a significant chunk of 2018, not to mention promoting If Souls Can Sleep.

I’m currently working on a collaborative project in a different medium—a new discomfort zone—but that is a secret for now. I also have had an idea for a standalone novel that’s been trying to get my attention for years. Maybe I’ll finally get around to outlining it.

When will If Souls Can Sleep be available to purchase?

The paperback and Kindle editions will be published on Jan. 30, 2018. I plan to make it available for preorder earlier that month.

Stay tuned to this blog for updates…

Did I miss anything? Do you have a question that wasn’t addressed? I’d love to satiate your curiosity if I can. Just leave a comment below!

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How long does it take to write a book?

Answer: I have no idea — even after writing nine of them.

Maybe some authors have a formula that produces consistent results, but for me, the question is too nuanced to allow for a simple solution. Here’s why:

  • No two novels are the same.
  • I tend to work on other projects in between drafts, which artificially extends the timeline.
  • I don’t consider a book “done” until it’s published.

In other words, the writing itself is but one portion of a much longer process that starts with choosing a worthy idea to pursue and ends the moment the product is available for purchase.

Sometimes it can feel like centuries pass between penning the prologue and typing “THE END.” | Image by Alan Jacobs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Often that journey has as many ups and downs—and plot twists—as the fiction itself.

Take Project 5, for example…

After writing the three books of The Renegade Chronicles and a standalone (and currently unpublished) Altaerran novel called Magic’s Daughter, I attempted to compose a book that would merge characters from both works. I abandoned it after 22 chapters because it felt like I was simply filling in the blanks, and truth be told, I was starting to burn out on sword-and-sorcery fantasy—as a writer and a reader.

I decided my next book would take a step in a drastically different direction. I chose the working title “Project 5” because, well, I hoped it would yield my fifth complete novel. (Not very creative, Ghost of David Past!)

In June 2006, I began plotting an urban fantasy novel set in present-day Earth. The cast included Benedict Strong, a nearly immortal magic-caster who defied his heritage by trying to live a normal life; Lady Pandora, a stage magician who used real sorcery in her shows; and a few others.

I wrote a couple chapters before losing interest.

Next, I embraced a completely new plot — a fantasy/sci-fi hybrid that would eventually become If Souls Can Sleep. Once that story got its hooks in me, there was no turning back. Here’s a snapshot of the steps leading from inception to publication:

Dec. 10, 2006 — Began brainstorming a new Project 5, starting with rough character descriptions.

Dec. 31, 2006 — Wrote the prologue and began researching sleep disorders while hashing out ideas for the plot.

March 5, 2007 — Wrote the first chapter and then drafted a chapter a month for the next two years.

Oct. 30, 2008 — Realized that I was trying to write three books in one; removed select scenes from the first draft and saved them for Books 2 and 3.

April 7, 2009 — Developed an outline for the remainder of the novel after finishing Chapter 24 to prevent “writing in circles.”

July 1, 2009 — Finished the first complete draft of If Souls Can Sleep.

July – September 2009 — Read through the first draft and made notes for editing.

Oct. 18, 2009 — Started working on the heavy edits.

May 2, 2010 — Finished the second draft.

May 3, 2010 – Sept. 4, 2017 — Did lots of other stuff.*

Sept. 5, 2017 — After finishing the second draft of Book 3 in The Soul Sleep Cycle, jumped into proofing and prepping If Souls Can Sleep for publication through One Million Words.

Sept. 20, 2017 — Finished the production and marketing schedule.

Sept. 21, 2017 – Jan. 29, 2018 — Tackled/tackling all of the tasks required to publish and promote the book.

Jan. 30, 2018 — Publishing If Souls Can Sleep.

* Nota bene: I set aside If Souls Can Sleep for seven and a half years while I worked on a variety of other projects, including writing and editing the next two books in The Soul Sleep Cycle; co-writing and publishing a children’s chapter book (The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers) with my wife; writing a few short stories (“The Lake Road,” “The Monster and the Mirage,” and “Ghost Mode”); reworking and submitting “Ghost Mode” and an older story, “Going Viral,” to various publications; and publishing the three novels and a digital collection comprising The Renegade Chronicles as well as a free e-book compendium (Capricon and Beyond). I also spent time marketing The Renegade Chronicles, creating an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign for a pun-a-day calendar, and making this website during that time.

You could say that If Souls Can Sleep will be 11 years in the making when it publishes early next year—though, technically, the inception for the series goes back even further.

According to the first entry in my Project 5 notes, dated Dec. 10, 2006:

Years and years ago, I thought that it might be fun to write a story about a man who meets a woman that he swears he knows. And she seems to recognize him, though neither can say from where. At some point, he would recall her as a recurring character in his dreams.

There was, of course, more to the story, but a lingering question has (in a sense) haunted me from that point forward: Who are the strangers that appear in our dreams? Are they real people whose names we have forgotten—or perhaps never knew—or are they amalgamations that our minds concoct when it needs nonspecific characters for a scene?

My next book will contend that dream strangers are real people, even if they do not exist in what most would call the real world.

“Years and years ago”?

That initial inkling has evolved—maybe “mutated” is a better word—over the course of decades, which only underscores my belief that the life of a story spans far longer than the time it takes to write it down.

Regardless of when this labor of love actually began, one thing remains true: I’m looking forward to finally sharing If Souls Can Sleep with the world in 2018!

Don’t miss the release! Sign up for my monthly newsletter.

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Happy Reader Appreciation Day!

Last year, I arbitrarily declared 9/13 “Reader Appreciation Day” and offered a free e-book on my website.

Continuing the tradition of giving stuff away in thanks for the support I’ve received from friends, family, and fans, I’m pleased to pass along these wallpapers:

These graphics are an adaptation of the cover that will accompany “Ghost Mode” when the short story is published later this year. The art was created by graphic designer extraordinaire Mary Christopherson, and I couldn’t be happier with how she brought the villain to life.

Speaking of upcoming projects, here’s a sneak peek at what the future holds for the fiction of David Michael Williams:

The Soul Sleep Cycle

I’ve been working on this genre-bending-but mostly-science-fiction series, on and off, since late 2006. Having finished the second draft of Book 3 earlier this month, thus ending the saga (for the time being), I’m eager to transition into publishing Book 1 as a paperback and e-book through my One Million Words imprint.

The Soul Sleep Cycle reveals a hidden world where a select few people possess the ability to prowl the collective unconscious. Two rival factions of dream drifters have turned the dreamscape into a war zone, and those sworn to protect the public must walk a razor’s edge of morality while fighting against those who would use their power to control life and death.

Book 1: If Souls Can Sleep

Vincent Cruz used to think he would give anything to bring his daughter back.

After years of reliving the morning his daughter drowned, Vincent’s recurring dream suddenly stops, only to be replaced by a new nightmare that stretches from his subconscious into the real world and beyond the grave.

With the help of his stoner roommate and a sleep doctor with issues of her own, Vincent must make sense of a dream in which he becomes Valenthor, a medieval warrior who also lost a daughter and who, like Vincent, has turned to the bottle for solace. But Valenthor’s clichéd quest is more than a coping mechanism that lets Vincent play hero, and unless he can figure out how his devious—and comatose—half-brother, the CIA, and an amateur fantasy writer figure into the phenomenon, he may lose more than his mind.

  • Projected publication date: January 2018

Book 2: If Sin Dwells Deep

  • Projected publication date: October 2018

Book 3: If Dreams Can Die

  • Projected publication date: April 2019

Short Stories

‘Ghost Mode’

“Ghost Mode,” an ominous yet playful story that depicts a dire fate for tech addicts in the not-too-distant future, will appear in One Million Project’s fantasy anthology. Proceeds go, in part, to cancer research. Learn more about that here.

Loyal readers might recognize the pompous protagonist—the Quentin E. Donovan—from a writing exercise tentatively titled “The Villain,” which was part of a crowd-sourcing experiment to help me decide what story to pursue. Read an early draft of the beginning here.

  • Projected publication date: December 2017

‘The Lake Road’

I don’t write much in the way of short fiction. In part, it’s because writing novels—and, inevitably, series—keeps me plenty busy. But small, self-contained stories can be an excellent palate cleanser in between drafts of longer works. I wrote “Lake Road” for just that purpose in 2010.

When an editor at One Million Project asked if I had any other short stories lying around for another of his publications, Bite Size Stories, I rediscovered my tale of a jaded guardian angel, remembered how strange and fun the story was, and worked hard to make it worthy of mass consumption. Now I can’t wait for the rest of the world to meet Felix and the unexpected adversaries he encounters on a certain rural Wisconsin road.

  • Projected publication date: TBD

ONE-SHOT

Amid writing, editing, and publishing novels and short stories, I also have entered into a so-far secret project that will stretch my creative writing skills in exciting new ways. I won’t go into details yet, but suffice it to say, ONE-SHOT is a collaboration with some extremely talented people and corresponds with an objective that’s been on my bucket list since I was young.

I’ll share more about ONE-SHOT in the months to come!

  • Projected publication date: Spring 2018

With so many releases on the horizon, I’d love to keep you informed along the way. Don’t miss future cover reveals and other teasers. Sign up for my monthly newsletter today!

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A tale of two book releases

For an author, nothing compares to your own book release—though seeing a friend get published comes awfully close!

This year, I’ve had the privilege of watching two of my peers reach the finish line with their respective literary ventures. The vicarious thrill I feel for them is buoyed by the fact that I played a small part in both of their journeys.

I don’t mention my contribution to pat myself on the back. Both of these gentlemen are tremendously talented, and even without my help, they would have produced a story well worth reading (and buying!). But because writing can be such a solitary pursuit at times, I think it’s important to point out that we all become better writers when we can depend on our peers’ experience, expertise, and, above all, support.

Both of the writers I’m about to introduce are fellow members of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin (AAW). Once I wrote about why writers groups still matter. If nothing else, the following examples should show that even if you could do it all yourself, it sure is nice to have some help along the way!

Always Gray in Winter

Cover for "Always Gray in Winter"I met Mark J. Engels midway through the first draft of his debut novel, Always Gray in Winter. I was immediately impressed by his deep, complex story, well-developed characters, and fierce commitment to doing the featured werecat family justice. It helped that he also possessed a natural knack for stringing sentences together; with the basics mastered, he was well on his way transferring the action-packed plot from his gray matter to computer screen.

Over the past year and more, our friendship deepened, and he peppered me with many questions on everything from the craft of writing to the query process to book marketing. I also had the honor of being one of his beta readers.

Though I don’t profess to know everything about this crazy industry, I did my best to guide him. (If nothing else, my own missteps might have taught him what not to do). In return, I’ve been blessed to have him as a beta reader for my Soul Sleep Cycle novels (publication pending!) and my go-to guy for advice when I started my own business.

Every writer—and every book—has a unique path, and it sure has been a blast to watch Always Gray in Winter blossom from a thick binder tattooed by many-hued highlighters to a bona fide paperback, which released just last week.

Congratulations, Mark!

That Wonderful Mexican Band

Cover of "That Wonderful Mexican Band"I’ve talked about Tom Ramirez before. He’s the one who exposed me to that old (apocryphal?) adage about how everything written before the one-million-word mark is simply finger exercises—inadvertently providing inspiration for the name of my publishing company, One Million Words.

What I haven’t said before—at least not officially—is that Tom is a mentor of mine. Not only did he invite me to join AAW in the first place, but also he has been both a tough critic and a generous cheerleader when I needed it over the years. Encouragement like that is a priceless thing for up-and-coming writers.

Some history: Tom had been working on his memoirs for as long as I have known him (11 years) and well before that too, on and off since the late 1960s. When he finished, it was time for me to return the favor by encouraging him to self-publish That Wonderful Mexican Band.

I also gave him a step-by-step plan for accomplishing this—not only because I had learned a thing or two while publishing The Renegade Chronicles, but because I truly believed his book needed to be published.

That Wonderful Mexican Band was released in January, and even though the pages tell of Tom’s life during the Great Depression, the book will always remind me of our 21st-century friendship.

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I couldn’t have said it better myself

While I love talking about writing, I recently learned I don’t like listening to myself talk about writing.

Or anything else, for that matter.

When tapping away at my keyboard, I can pause and select the perfect word. If I don’t like what appears on the screen, I can delete and try again. I’ll tinker with a paragraph, a sentence, a phrase until it conveys exactly what I want.

The same can’t be said for a live interview.

After being a guest author on the Speculative Fiction Cantina webcast, I downloaded an MP3 of the broadcast. I found some software to transform the audio file into text. I knew I’d have to do some proofing before publishing any portion of the interview because auto-transcribing is not a perfect science.

What I said: “I’m a fantasy and sci-fi writer.”

What the app heard: “I’m a fantasy inside firefighter.”

Poetic? Yes, especially for a robot. Accurate? No, though I sometimes feel like I’m putting out small fires when editing.

What I didn’t realize, however, was how much editing I’d need to perform on the things I actually said. All humans use speech crutches, phrases we return to again and again while our mind processes a response to a question or the next discussion point.

Like, valley girls aren’t the only ones who, like, overuse the word “like.”

Other offenders include “I think,” “actually,” and “sort of.” If I had a dollar for every time I deleted the phrase “you know” from the transcript, I could happily retire—or, at least, buy a new laptop. And don’t even get me started on restarted sentences and self-interrupting.

The dialogue I write is so much smoother!

Nevertheless, I made it through the entire hour of the program, cherry-picking choice excerpts from the interview—the parts where I sound like I know what I’m talking about—and cobbled together a Q&A.

S. Evan Townsend (host): “David, tell us a little bit about yourself.”

David Michael Williams: “I am a fantasy and sci-fi writer. I live in Wisconsin. I’m a member of one of the oldest writing collectives in Wisconsin, the Allied Authors. I’ve been a member for more than a decade now. My day job is a writer—a content specialist, actually—at a website and advertising company. So I get paid to write at my day job. And in addition to that, I write novels, so I do quite a bit of writing. I have a wife and two kids, and yeah, that’s me in a nutshell.”

SET: “Tell us about your book.”

DMW: “Rebels and Fools is the first book in a sword-and sorcery-fantasy series called The Renegade Chronicles. I published them through my my indie publishing company, One Million Words. I published Rebels and Fools as well as the second and third books in the series on the same day.

“It was kind of an experiment. You know how people like to binge watch shows on Netflix? I thought, ‘I’m gonna let them binge watch my fiction if they want.’ I decided to do all three of the books of the series in ebook and paperback and even a three-in-one collection. That was early last year.”

SET: “When you say ‘sword-and-sorcery,’ I’m imagining elves and wizards and orcs and things like that. Is it that kind of a fantasy?”

DMW: “Yep, that’s accurate. Most (of my) characters are humans, but there are other races like elves and dwarves, although some of those I try to put my own unique spin on. I even invented my own race, a kind of demi-humans who are very prolific with magic, and they have the power of very potent wizards but the maturity and mentality of a child. I tried to take what I liked best about the genre I grew up reading and grew up writing and made my own world.”

SET: “How did the experiment work, publishing them all on the same day?”

DMW: “It was a lot of planning. In some ways it was, I think, very efficient because when you’re going through a novel and setting up your own style guide to make sure your writing is consistent—your prose is clean and certain words and situations are consistent—I think it was very good for that because I read them back to back. By knowing I was doing three books at once, I could work with the cover artist and say, ‘OK, here are the titles, here are what the books are about. Let’s make them look like they’re all part of the same series.’

“So in some ways I think it made a lot of sense. It’s more from the marketing standpoint that I may have shot myself in the foot, so to speak, because when you have three books at once, and you’re saying, ‘Hey, read my books! These books are out. Here’s what they’re about,’ you use up your marketing messages pretty quickly. Even looking for book reviews…it’s going to take a little while for (readers) to get all the way through the first two, let alone the third one.

“I don’t regret doing it though. I learned a lot. But when I look ahead at potentially publishing more of my books, I don’t think I would do that again. I would put some time at least in between releases so I could have them build up anticipation and have some additional touch points with the marketing.”

SET: “You have or you are planning on having a Kickstarter campaign for 2018?”

DMW: “I had one this year, and it already ended. I was trying to explore other revenue streams even as I’m trying to continue to market The Renegade Chronicles and working on my next series, The Soul Sleep Cycle. I am a huge fan of puns. In fact, I may have a sickness because even when I’m dreaming, I come up with some of the strangest and, as far as I can tell, some very original puns.

“I thought, ‘Hey, maybe other people would be interested in getting a fresh one every day,’ so I set up a Kickstarter—again, sort of an experiment—to just see what interest was out there. I had some backers but didn’t make my goal. So that’s not something I’ll be pursuing, which is fine. It’ll give me more time to work on the fiction side of things.”

SET: “So tell us a pun.”

DMW: “If you want a really nice hairpiece, you have to be willing toupee.”

SET: “What was your goal in establishing your business?”

DMW: “I had written The Renegade Chronicles years ago, and it was a while before I felt as though I was a good enough writer and objective enough to give them the harsh editing they needed to be published. Years ago, I tried to find an agent or publishers for the series, and there wasn’t interest at that time, and I moved on.

“Meanwhile, for the series I am working on now, The Soul Sleep Cycle, I do have an agent who is shopping those books around. So knowing I had an agent with a project out there but also having the books of my own…I just wanted to see if I could do it myself. I was going to take fate into my own hands and give this a shot. I still felt very strongly that there was value in the stories and there was an audience out there for them.”

SET: “You mentioned your day job, and you told me what expertise you have in your marketing job does not apply to book marketing. Why is that?”

DMW: “I shouldn’t say nothing applies. I mean, if you understand search engine optimization for giant business-to-business corporations, you’re going to understand how to use keywords in your author’s website. Some stuff does translate.

“But book publishing is such a unique business. I think a big part of that is supply and demand. Anyone can self-publish a novel. You have this market that gets flooded with products, and that product is all over the board as far as quality goes. What if you could have a DIY soda? I would have this new cola. You can buy it on Amazon.com. I don’t know why you’d buy it over Coke or Pepsi or any of those other ones that you’ve heard about all your life—which would be the Stephen Kings and the Dean Koontzes of the world, those authors who have brand recognition. And imagine hundreds and thousands of other people have a recipe for cola too. How do you find the buyer who’s going to have that particular set of taste buds—not to carry the metaphor too far—that’s going to enjoy what you’ve created? That, for me, has been the challenge with book marketing.

“It’s just a very strange landscape when you think about it. How do you reach readers when people are giving away their product for free and saying, ‘Hey, just take it. Maybe you’ll like me and you’ll buy more of my stuff’? This has just been an education and a lot of experimentation.”

SET: “You also said you’d like to write for a videogame or comic book. Why is that?”

DMW: “I’ve just always been interested in storytelling, whether it’s playacting or sketching or writing a manuscript. I’ve always been fascinated with telling stories in different and unique ways. I am fascinated with challenging myself. Could I write a comic book? What percentage of dialogue to action would there be?

“And then in video games, with roleplaying games, the player makes a choice. As a writer, you have to write a story that has multiple beginnings, multiple middles, and even more endings. I think that would be a lot of fun.”

SET: “I have a writer friend who’s convinced that in the future, books are going to go away, and everybody is going to write for video games or something like that. You have another generation, and there won’t be more books. All storytelling will be visual.”

DMW: “I hope that’s not true, and I suspect people who grew up reading books and loved books are not going to leave books. Like for me, I still read, and I play video. They’re not mutually exclusive.

“Look at how many TV series and movies and video games are being made based off of existing fiction. I think some of the best ideas are still coming to the surface first through the written word. But there will always be a need for storytelling, so maybe it’s not the worst thing that I have that interest in the tech side of things because no matter what the format is, as long as I can tell my stories, I’m going to do it.”

SET: “What do you find most challenging about writing?”

DMW: “I think back to when I was first starting to geek out on writing and realizing that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life…high school. I’d stay up on a Friday night, and I’d be up on my computer till 2:30 in the morning. Whenever the muse struck, I just went with it. I had these long glory sessions of pure unadulterated creativity.

“Even after graduating college, with my first job, Monday to Friday, before I went into the office, I’d crank out 2,000 words. I’d get up super early. I was committed, and I wanted to tell these stories. As life goes on…I got married, had kids, and worked jobs that sometimes were more demanding. You come home, and you’re just exhausted. You don’t have the wherewithal to put two words together, let alone 2,000.

“So the challenge has been trying to find that balance of getting large enough chunks of time where I can be effective.”

SET: “What specifically do you love about writing?”

DMW: “I mentioned earlier that even before I started writing, I liked storytelling. I liked inventing characters and narratives. For a while it was sketching and drawing. I think part of me would have really enjoyed going on to be an illustrator of some kind. But at a certain point in time, I realized writing was the quickest way for me to get the ideas down, to record what was happening in my mind.

“It was my default for a while, and I thought, ‘You know, I’m not the greatest writer, but I am a good storyteller. I have good ideas, and I can get better with the writing over time.’ I was just writing scene after scene after scene. Then I thought, ‘It probably makes sense to actually try to find a beginning, middle, and end and put together a book.’

“I decided I didn’t want to just write for myself anymore. The stories are there, and rather than have them evaporates, I wanted to get them down. Maybe it’s my ego. I don’t know, but I thought, ‘If people enjoy them even a fraction as much as I do then, then why not?’

“One of the greatest joys I’ve had since The Renegade Chronicles has come out…I’ve had these characters, I’ve known them, for 20 years. When people talk to me about them, and they’re seeing the story from such a different perspective, it just brings me such a joy because now they have a life independent of me. There’s something thrilling about that.”

SET: “I totally agree. I tell people I want to be read by strangers. But the flipside of that last question: What frustrates you about writing?”

DMW: “I think in some ways I’m my own harshest critic. Sometimes I get hung up on very minute details like word repetition or ‘Is this a theme, or am I unintentionally retelling the same story or rewriting the same scene in a different way?’ I get frustrated when I don’t feel like I’m growing, and sometimes that happens when you spend a lot of time in the editing stage, and you don’t have a chance to just create.”

SET: “Why should people buy your books?”

DMW: “I have a background in marketing, so I’m never going to say this book is right for everyone. I wouldn’t say that about my book. I wouldn’t say about anybody’s book. I think there’s a certain demographic who will enjoy The Renegade Chronicles—people who grew up reading shared-world books like Forgotten Realms and DragonLance. I think they would get a kick out of reading what I did because it was strongly inspired by that.

“I also think of kids who grew up reading Harry Potter. If they’re looking for something that has maybe a little bit more action, many characters and multiple storylines…The Renegade Chronicles is maybe wedged somewhere between Harry Potter and something more hardcore, like A Song of Ice and Fire, the Game of Thrones-type stories. There’s death, and there’s battles, but I’m not quite as R-rated as George R.R. Martin.

“Whether you’re a diehard fan of fantasy and or you have never given it a try, it’s a nice entry point into the genre.”

SET: “What motivates and inspires you?”

DMW: “For me, it boils down to two words: ‘what if?’ Just about any character I’ve ever developed—any mystery, any plot—has always come from something that is entrenched in this world, and you put a twist on it. What if this had happened instead? Or what if a person in this situation would do this? How would they react to that? It starts to be a puzzle.”

SET: “Is there anything you want to add before the show ends?”

DMW: “I want to thank you for having me. I love talking about writing. I’ll leave you with one final pun since you kind of caught me off guard earlier: A bookworm that leaves its food lying around is a literal litterbug.”

SET: “That’s a good one. Thanks a lot, David. I really appreciate you being on the show.”

DMW: “It was my pleasure. Take care.”

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Cancer: one hell of a plot twist

I wish I could say my intentions were altruistic, but that would be a lie.

When I first caught wind of the One Million Project—a charitable organization determined to raise £1,000,000 for cancer research by selling short story anthologies—my first thought was how the One Million Project and One Million Words, my publishing company, might work together.

After all, our brands sound awfully similar, and we both deal with fiction. If I could donate one of my short stories to help secure money for cancer research while gaining some exposure as an author—international exposure—that’s win-win, right?

Besides, I hated cancer.

Cover of the first One Million Project short story anthology

Proceeds from One Million Project anthologies are donated to great causes, including cancer research.

Or, at least, I disliked it in the same abstract way most Midwesterners lament hurricanes and earthquakes. They don’t happen to us, but we don’t like them on principle. I really didn’t have anything against cancer personally because cancer hadn’t affected me personally.

The fact is there is no shortage of causes in the world, no dearth of diseases that kill people or otherwise make their lives intolerable. I gave to the American Cancer Society a while back because a friend who knew someone suffering from cancer asked me to. I donated once and have deleted every follow-up email from the American Cancer Society since then.

Come to think of it, I delete a lot of emails and ignore many social media posts that advocate for activism. Can you imagine if you shared, liked, donated to, and genuinely cared about every injustice in the world? But, honestly, that’s what cancer research was to me when I told the editor of the One Million Project he could publish my short story, “Ghost Mode,” for free: one good cause is as good as another.

Maybe I was more aware of cancer than some of the other sicknesses and social issues sweeping our planet. Certainly, cancer has been around awhile, its presence ubiquitous in all manner of media. As it happens, I chose brain cancer as the instrument of one of my character’s death. I also remember pondering the possibility that cellular sabotage might be a side-effect of our species trying to evolve. Natural selection at work and all that. The premise of a sci-fi story I’ll probably never write.

However, cancer went from being an intellectual concept to a tangible presence when my dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in March.

I won’t go into the ugly details. Anyone who has ever come into contact with any disorder under the umbrella category of cancer knows it’s never pretty. Struggles seldom are. That’s why we use phrases like “the fight against cancer” and talk about sufferers as though they are warriors. Because they are—soldiers in an insidious civil war where their bodies are battlefields and the rebels will never negotiate, let alone surrender.

It’s tempting to portray cancer as a villain if you’ve endured the chaos it sows, especially if it robs a loved one of his or her life. Perhaps that’s why we personify natural disasters. When the enemy has a name, it’s easier to band together to battle against him.

I see cancer more as a plot twist. It can happen at the beginning, middle, or end of a narrative. For the patient, everything changes in an instant. Time splits into two eras: Before Cancer and After Diagnosis. And yet good can bubble up from the bad. Friends and family come together, gaining clarity of what is truly important in life. Individuals overcome.

Hope prevails.

I’m delighted (and blessed!) to report that my father’s prognosis is optimistic. I write this from his living room as he watches a TV show about fishing. If all goes according to plan, he’ll be doing some fishing of his own next spring.

Tuesday used to be a day of isolation for me—a pocket of time in which I could be creative and productive on my own terms. Life intervened with one hell of a plot twist. But all in all, I’m grateful for the opportunity to help my family. For me, this has been a reminder that fiction is fine, but the real world takes precedence.

Of course, I’m still writing as much as I can, when I can…hence, this blog post.

One Million Project’s fantasy anthology is slated for November or December. When it comes out, I’ll still be excited for “Ghost Mode” to reach an international audience, but the release will be much more meaningful than that. And even though he’s not a sci-fi kind of guy, I’m dedicated the story to my dad.

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My book marketing marathon continues

More than a year after I published three books in one day, I’m still working on getting the word out.

In between Goodreads giveaways and soft-touch marketing for The Renegade Chronicles, I’ve been focusing on a new sci-fi series, The Soul Sleep Cycle, which may or may not debut in early 2018. But even though I’m excited to share new stories, my search for sword-and-sorcery fans is far from over

And so I’m delighted to announce a couple of upcoming book marketing events:

Speculative Fiction Cantina

Friday, May 26, 2017
5 p.m. CST
http://tobtr.com/10020673

I’ve been interviewed for author profiles on blogs here and there, but I’m tackling my first live podcast next week.

The Speculative Fiction Cantina covers sci-fi, fantasy, horror, alternate history, steampunk, cyberpunk, and “things weird and wonderful in the world of books and writers.” Author Aram Keledjian and I are tag-teaming for the May 26 episode.

In addition to the interview, I plan to do a reading from Rebels and Fools.

—Editor’s note: an archived recording of the program is available here.

Downtown Fond du Lac Wine Walk promotional image

Tour the Town Art Walk / Wine Walk

Friday, June 16, 2017
4 to 8 p.m.
Macy Place Art and Tea Shoppe, 82 S. Macy Street, Fond du Lac, Wis.

I’ll be one of two featured artists at Macy Place for Tour the Town Art Walk, and I’m delighted to announce that my partner in crime will be none other than Jake Weiss, the talented designer who created the covers for all three Renegade Chronicles novels as well as the free ebook compendium. The art walk is free.

Even better, the June art walk coincides with downtown Fond du Lac’s annual wine walk, which means we’ll all be able to raise a glass to the literary arts. Sorry, that was just hokey. Anyway, you’ll be able to chat with Jake and me, see some of the concept art for the covers and buy a book (or three). I’ll sign copies and maybe do a short reading.

I’d love to see you or hear from you on the podcast. Of course,  if you’d rather bypass all of this marketing stuff and go right to the stories, feel free to buy The Renegade Chronicles in paperback or ebook formats at any time!

 

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