‘The End’ is not the end

road displaying "start" and "finish" signs

Last week I finished proofing the third and final draft of If Dreams Can Die.

Which brings me to a whole new beginning.

Because I’m an indie publisher, the end of a manuscript just means it’s time to take off my author hat and try on a few others for the production and marketing phases.

With a handful of other books under my belt, I’ve learned how to streamline the process for publishing paperbacks and e-books. Some of it requires a creativity all its own, while other tasks are more tedious than tricky.

In case you’ve ever wondered how a story gets from my laptop to your hands, here’s an overview of what happens after “The End.”

Front and back matter

While the story itself makes up most of the pages, there is plenty of other text needed to transform a manuscript into professional-looking book. Here are a few examples of what I typically include before the prologue and after the epilogue:

  • Copyright page: Largely comprised of legalese and other details average readers don’t care about, the copyright page is nevertheless required for books sold at Amazon.com and other online retailers.
  • Other works by the authors: It would be a wasted opportunity if I didn’t list my other books, both ones that are from the same series as well as earlier works.
  • Cropped out book blurb from the back cover of If Sin Dwells DeepEpigraph: Although this is by no means mandatory, all three of The Soul Sleep Cycle installments include a relevant definition and quote prior to the prologue.
  • Title page: This is by far the easiest page to write, since it displays the book title, author name, and publisher only.
  • Dedication page: The dedication is a short page that calls attention to a person or group who helped with the creation of the book. Minimal though the content may be, I nevertheless put a lot of thought into this each time.
  • Acknowledgements: This section near the back goes into more details than the dedication page, listing individual thankyous. In The Renegade Chronicles, I published the same acknowledgements in all three volumes. For The Soul Sleep Cycle, I included this section in Book One only.
  • About the author: Although the length and format of these mini bios vary from author to author and publisher to publisher, they are nonetheless an expected back-matter element. I always use the same portrait and few paragraphs, making minor alterations as needed.
  • Teaser: If there is to be another book in a series, I always put the prologue or first chapter of what comes next. The hope, of course, is that the reader will get hooked and buy the book to keep reading.
  • Everything else: There are no hard and fast rules about what other sections should be included. Largely, it depends on the book. For example, I included a map of Capricon in The Renegade Chronicles as well as an appendix that serves as a quick-reference glossary of important people, places, and magical items. I’m toying with the idea of creating a timeline and an afterword for If Dreams Can Die. We’ll see.

And then there’s the back-cover blurb, which has to be some of the most agonizing text an author ever has to write. I dedicated a lot of time to this for If Sin Dwells Deep (as described here), and I expect the experience for If Dreams Can Die will prove equally challenging.

The cover

A book’s cover is arguably the most important marketing tool an author has. If the cover misses the mark, well, that’s a really difficult obstacle to overcome.

Fortunately, I’ve known and worked with a lot of talented graphic designers for my day job as a marketing specialist. I’m absolutely in love with all of my book covers. The process has been different for each endeavor, but for The Soul Sleep Cycle, I’ve starting using a planning document that conveys the following information to the designer:

  • Ideas for tone
  • Thoughts on the color palette
  • Possible concepts for main art
  • Ideas for background imagery
  • Suggested typefaces
  • Specifications for paperback cover (e.g. dimensions, resolution, file type, file size)
  • Specifications for e-book cover (e.g. dimensions, resolution, file type, file size)
  • Production timeline

Even though my contributors tend to be friends, I nevertheless insist on keeping the acquisition of cover art as professional as possible, using work agreements/contracts to keep ownership and rights clear. I also compensate them for their excellent work.

I recently met with Mary Christopherson, the graphic artist who kicked butt on the covers for If Souls Can Sleep and If Sin Dwells Deep. I shared my thoughts on If Dreams Can Die’s cover, and—because it is a true collaboration—she shared hers. Together, we came up with a plan and will touch base often throughout the project in order to come up with a final product we can both be proud of.

Proofing

As an indie publisher, I try to keep as much of a project in-house (read: DIY) as possible. The cover is one exception to this, and proofing is another.

Manuscript with many editor flagsDon’t get me wrong. I always proof my work. In fact, I create a style guide for each series so that I am consistent in how I represent things like dates, titles, song names, and so forth.

But even if I think my text is pretty clean after proofing it, I will never be able to catch all of my mistakes. Common culprits are missing words, extra words, and homophones. Again, I’m blessed to know someone who combs through the entire book, including front and back matter, to mark up what I miss. (Thanks, Dusty!)

Once I get the edits back, it takes me a couple of hours to update the paperback and e-book files.

Layout

Professionals who excel in graphic design might use programs like Adobe InDesign or Microsoft Publisher. Since I’m more frugal—both with my money and the time it would take to master such software—I use Microsoft Word.

Suffice it so say this is not ideal. I’ve waged many a battle with Word to ensure page breaks behave and spacing remains consistent throughout the book. This step once took weeks to complete. Even though I still have the occasional skirmish with Word’s obtuse interface, I’m much faster these days.

Worse comes to worse, I just look at the files from my past books and reverse engineer the result.

Odds and ends

Then there are the mundane tasks scattered throughout every phase:

  • Assigning ISBNs (the unique identifying number) for paperback and e-book editions
  • Buying the barcode for the paperback
  • Ordering and reviewing a proof copy of the paperback
  • Registering for copyright
  • Following the many, many steps needed so that the book is ready to print on demand
  • Getting everything in order with Kindle Digital Publishing to make the e-book available

Screen shot of Kindle Digital Publishing dashboard

Marketing

I won’t go into too much detail here, since book marketing is a big topic all on its own. What I will say, however, is that there are myriad marketing channels—from big, expensive tactics to quick but important touchpoints—and I learn something new with every book I publish.

With If Dreams Can Die, my marketing plan will have to be modified since it’s the third book in a series. For instance, it probably doesn’t make sense to create an advanced reader copy (ARC) and pay to appear in NetGalley, since reviewers who didn’t read the first two books won’t gravitate to Book Three. I’m better of reaching out directly to reviewers who are already acquainted with the series.

Likewise, a Goodreads Giveaway might not be worth the investment.

Determining the best way to promote The Soul Sleep Cycle’s conclusion is just another to-do on a long list that will keep me busy from now until If Dreams Can Die launches in early May.

Then it really will be “The End”—at least until I decide to release the entire series as an e-book collection.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

’Tis the season to slow down

I haven’t been on social media much lately.

Likewise, my email responses have been somewhat sluggish. I haven’t attended any events over the past few weeks either.

Because I’m a small business owner—and admittedly a little anal retentive—I track all of my hours in a spreadsheet, and let me tell you, the weekly average took a plunge about a month ago.

Yours truly and Marvel the Wonder Pup (aka Marv)

Excuses could be made. But even without a new dog in our home (see adorable puppy pic to the right) and even if a family member weren’t riding a most un-fun roller coaster in a nearby hospital, I know my productivity would have dropped like thermometer mercury at this time of year.

The December doldrums are a thing…

Then again, you likely haven’t noticed my absence because you’re busy also.

Shovel-worthy weather, holiday hoopla, cumulative exhaustion from your own Year of Yes—whatever the factors, the final month of the year is the perfect time to scale back a bit and, ideally, recharge before 2019 comes charging onto the scene with a slew of new goals.

Since I don’t have time to write a long blog post and you don’t have time to read one, this handful of links to stuff I did in the not-too-distant past will have to suffice. If you have a moment between obligations to click, go for it!

If not, I completely understand.

  • Fellow author and good friend Mark J. Engels and I were interviewed for Read.Write.Repeat. Listen to the podcast!
  • I was also featured on Author Showcase and talked about being an “authorpreneur.” Watch the video!

I doubt I’ll be posting to this site before the new year, so I hope you all enjoy your respective holidays.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue my valiant struggle to make significant progress on the final (yes, final!) edits to If Dreams Can Die, Book Three of The Sleep Cycle.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

A day of drama

One of the most exciting things a writer can do is push a character outside of his comfort zone.

It turns out the same is true for writers themselves.

I suppose I stepped away from the proverbial safety net the day I stopped being a dabbler and became a so-called authorpreneur. By and large, however, I write sci-fi and fantasy series. Throw in a handful of speculative short stories over the years, and my fiction fits snugly into a relatively contained space.

But as of last month, I can add “playwright” to my bio.

That’s right. I wrote a stage play.

In less than seven hours.

The premise

A little while ago, my services were solicited for something called 24-Hour Theater. It’s billed as a “race against the clock,” and the challenge is this: community members create an original play from scratch over the span of 24 hours.

That includes writing, rehearsing and performing.

Writers have nine hours after receiving a shared (but broad) theme to produce a 10-minute play. After writers email their hot-off-the-laptop scripts to the production team, directors and actors must interpret and memorize it before the curtain rises exactly one day after the kickoff.

Adhering to my “Year of Yes” mentality, I decided to give it a shot.

The process

Honestly, I had no idea what to expect. My sole goal was to avoid embarrassing myself. I’ve written scripts for marketing videos and television commercials but never for a live performance. How difficult could it be?

I was about to find out—and fast!

7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19

  • The writers, directors, actors and production team gather to reveal the theme: “fall.”
  • Groups are assigned lottery-style, and once writers learn who their actors are, they choose costume options from a few pre-selected possibilities.
  • Both of my actors provided pajama options; deciding that it’s serendipity, I go with that.
  • During a couple team-building exercises, I meet my two actors: Julie Wild and Nate Scheuers, who will also serve as director. I also take the opportunity to ask questions about their favorite roles, style, and so forth.
  • Before I leave the kickoff meeting, I grab my complimentary survival kit, which contains snacks, caffeine, and even some Tylenol.

8:10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19

  • I arrive home and immediately get to work, starting with the theme. Dismissing the season as too obvious, I list other definitions and expressions. “Falling temperatures,” “falling asleep,” “falling in love,” “falling star, “falling out,” etc.
  • Next, I brainstorm scenarios where two people might find themselves wearing pajamas. A couple enjoying a rare lazy morning? The only two coworkers who dressed up for Pajama Day? Patients in a psych ward? Two strangers falling down a bottomless pit in some kind of Kafkaesque catastrophe?
  • I latch onto an idea about two neighbors trapped in a building without heat and/or electricity. I begin outlining to see where the story takes me. I get to the end and don’t bother to map out any of the other options. This is “the one.”

9:25 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19

  • My goal is to start the first draft before 9:30, which I do, albeit barely.
  • The outline is broken out page by page, so I’m able to get the structure down relatively quickly.
  • The only thing that slows me down is adhering to the proper playwriting format, which is foreign to me. I know I’m providing too many stage directions, but I want to remove as much guesswork as possible to make it easier for my actors.
  • I think I’m moving at a pretty quick clip, but it’s already tomorrow.

2:35 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20

  • I finish the script. But I can’t submit a rough draft, so I go over it again, fixing typos, cleaning up formatting, and reworking dialogue.

3:05 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20

  • I know I could continue to tweak until the 5 a.m. deadline. Instead, I email in the script for my one-act play, “Fallout.”

3:?? a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20

  • In the grip of a major writing high, I toss and turn in bed. I’m excited to see what the actors make of the script. I’m stuck in creative mode, but eventually my brain shuts off, and I fall asleep.

The performance

Although a couple of texts came in from my actors, by and large it was radio silence on Saturday. I spoke with a fellow writer before the performance, and she too felt a little in the dark. And maybe a little apprehensive.

Of course, we didn’t have to wait long to watch the fruits of our labor. The five plays—“TKO,” “Fallout,” “Foodie Fallout,” “Cookie Con,” and “Falling for Kitty”—all took a different approach to the theme. Comedy decidedly won the day.

I have to say I was incredibly impressed with all of the actors and directors. It just goes to show what can be accomplished when creative people are passionate and dedicated to a project.

As for my play, “Fallout,” I can’t express how delighted I was with how it turned out. Mostly, I amazed at how close the performance matched what was in my mind. And when a change was made, it was for the better.

From left, Nathan Scheuers, Julie Wild, and yours truly | graphic by Julie Wild

If you’re interested in reading my script, you can download it here.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping the 24-Hour Theater will have an encore in 2019!

2 Comments

Filed under Writing

Return to the dreamscape with If Sin Dwells Deep

You don’t have to be a dream drifter to enjoy the collective unconscious. As of today, If Sin Dwells Deep is available in paperback and Kindle edition.

Books One and Two of The Soul Sleep CycleFans of If Souls Can Sleep, Book One of The Soul Sleep Cycle, will be treated to another twisted adventure in the dreamscape. Book Two focuses on the CIA-sanctioned gods of Project Valhalla.

Late to the slumber party? No worries. If Sin Dwells Deep is not a direct sequel. Because it’s a parallel novel, readers can dive into the series without having read Book One. (More on that below!)

As I did before with The Renegade Chronicles (Infrequently Asked Questions) and If Souls Can Sleep (More Infrequently Asked Questions), I’ve compiled a Q&A for my new novel.

And even though I have, in fact, been interviewed a handful of times about If Sin Dwells Deep, I’m going to keep the sarcastic naming convention for old time’s sake.

Even More Infrequently Asked Questions

What is If Sin Dwells Deep about?

Here’s the back-cover teaser:

Even good girls have secrets.

When straight-laced Allison sleeps, the rebellious goddess Syn wakes. Having a fling in the dreamscape may seem like harmless fun, but when a sadistic predator learns her true identity, the fantasy begins to bleed into real life.

If Sin Dwells Deep—a parallel novel to If Souls Can Sleep—exposes the hidden world of dream drifters and explores the war between gifted government agents and those who would use their abilities to corrupt life, death, and that which lies beyond.

Who is If Sin Dwells Deep about?

Close up of Allison "Syn" GreeneThe story centers on Allison, specifically her struggles while navigating multiple realities and the morality of managing conflicting identities. The reader also gets glimpses into the mind of the Wolf, a disturbed dream drifter who is determined to punish Allison for her alleged sins.

Intertwined with the main plot are chapters that feature psychiatrist-turned-fugitive William Marlowe, who was presented as an antagonist in Book One and whose scenes help uncover the true threat to the dreamscape in Book Two.

Who is your favorite character?

In If Sin Dwells Deep, I really enjoyed creating point-of-view characters who were all very different from me. Allison is a conservative young woman; the Wolf is a sexual predator; and William is a gay man of Japanese descent. All three have unique voices and presented their own challenges to me as the author.

While I don’t think I can pick a favorite, I always appreciate the characters who give me an opportunity to express humor. The relationship dynamics of Allison and her love interest, Eben, were a lot of fun to write, though William—a scoundrel on the verge of a mental break—gave me some of my favorite lines in this book.

What is the setting for If Sin Dwells Deep?

The real-world scenes are split between Seattle and Philadelphia in 2007, but most of the action takes place in the dreamscape, the collective unconscious where dream drifters can access the minds of unsuspecting sleepers.

There are also a few flashbacks, both inside and outside of the dreamscape, that drop clues as to how the actions of William—and other members of the defunct Lucid Dreaming Society—resulted in the current conflict.

Who will enjoy this book?

With If Souls Can Sleep, the first book in the series, I set out to write something very different from the sword-and-sorcery fantasy stories I had been writing previously. I wanted to tell a story I had never heard before, something unique and unusual.

As a result, Book One and Book Two of The Soul Sleep Cycle are both mashups of several genres, such as science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, suspense and metafiction.

Fans of speculative fiction—including fantasy and science fiction—are the obvious audience, but the series, as a whole, appeals to people outside those genres too. It’s a wonderfully weird story, so anyone who likes rich characters and unpredictable plots can enjoy If Sin Dwells Deep.

What is If Sin Dwells Deep “rated”?

Whereas I would have rated If Souls Can Sleep as PG-13, If Sin Dwells Deep earns an R rating. The Wolf is one twisted soul, which brings mature aspects into the story. There’s profanity, violence and sexual content. The suggested audience is age 18 and older.

How long did it take you to write the book?

I wrote the first draft of If Sin Dwells Deep in about eight months in 2011 and 2012. It wasn’t until 2014 that I wrote a second draft. Then I wrapped up the final edits and proofing in early 2018.

On paper, it looks like it took six years, but when you ignore the time I spent working on other projects, I’d estimate just under a year from writing the prologue of the first draft to finishing the final version.

What does the title mean?

Cover of "If Souls Can Sleep"I really liked the title of Book One, If Souls Can Sleep, which came from a quote within the book. Using an “if clause” leaves the reader hanging and injects some suspense.

The working title of Book Two was “Almost a Fantasy,” but it lacked vim. So I tried to come up with something better, something that tied into the first title.

If Sin Dwells Deep was perfect in that it touches on two themes in the novel—whether one’s actions in a dream could be considered actual sins and the idea of “going deeper” while dream drifting.

Does Book Two pick up where Book One left off?

If Sin Dwells Deep is not a direct sequel to If Souls Can Sleep.

With Book One, I realized early on that I was trying to write three books at once. I had to cut two significant storylines in order to streamline it. In the end, Book One became Vincent’s—and to a lesser extent, Milton’s—story.

Yet I knew I wanted to reveal more about the gods and goddesses of Project Valhalla. Ultimately, I decided If Sin Dwells Deep would be a parallel novel to If Souls Can Sleep. This allowed me to tell another side of the story—the stuff that couldn’t fit into the first book—while giving readers an alternate entry point into the series.

Because If Sin Dwells Deep is a parallel novel, readers won’t have to have read If Souls Can Sleep first. They could start with either book, though I suspect reading them in the order they were published will be more satisfying.

Does that mean Book Two tells the same story as Book One?

No. If Sin Dwells Deep isn’t just a retread of the first plot. While the new book will fill in some blanks, shedding light on Project Valhalla’s actions during If Souls Can Sleep, it’s strong enough to stand on its own.

Although the two books share a handful of scenes, I thought it was important to make both books self-contained. The two books are interconnected yet independent.

There will be closure in If Sin Dwells Deep, but the overarching saga still needs a conclusion—hence, a third book in the series.

How many more books will there be in the series total?

At least one more: If Dreams Can Die.

The third book is slated for publication in spring 2019. If Dreams Can Die will wrap up the saga that began in If Souls Can Sleep and If Sin Dwells Deep. It will provide a satisfying conclusion to the myriad, intertwining storylines.

However, I always leave a couple of doors open in case I want to return to a series—and, more importantly, if readers do. I try not to let myself think too far ahead, but I do have ideas for a fourth installment of The Soul Sleep Cycle.

Where did you find inspiration for this book?

I like putting realistic, relatable characters in strange situations and seeing how they will behave.

As with Vincent in the first book, If Sin Dwells Deep focuses on an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation. What would you do if you could do anything without consequences? Who would you become?

Allison uses the dreamscape as an escape. So does the Wolf, though his explorations skew to a much darker extreme. And then there’s William, who hopes to capitalize in the real world from what he can do in the dreamscape.

As for the dreamscape itself, well, I’ve always had vivid dreams. Why do our minds produce their own movies every night? What if dreams actually link our brains to others? I find psychology and neurology fascinating. There is still so much we don’t understand about the science of dreams; I suppose that is what science fiction is for.

What is your next project?

Frankly, I have no idea what I’ll pursue after I publish If Sin Dwells Deep and If Dreams Can Die.

If sales of my existing books support it, I’d love to revisit The Renegade Chronicles or The Soul Sleep Cycle someday. Yet I know I’ll need some kind of palate-cleanser in the meantime.

I have no shortage of ideas. That’s the silver lining of working on a series for so long: new ideas pop into one’s mind while elbow-deep in the current project. I jot them down for later. I’m not sure which I’ll pursue, but I expect I’ll write something a little less complex next—maybe a short story or a stand-alone novel.

The young adult (YA) market is tempting not only because those books seem to be selling well, but also because I’d love for my kids to be able to enjoy my fiction in the next few years. Someday I’d love to write for a comic book or a video game. Only time will tell!

When will If Sin Dwells Deep be available to purchase?

It already is! The paperback and the Kindle edition were published on Oct. 2, 2018, with other e-reader formats to follow in January 2019.

Any other questions? Leave a comment below!

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

3 freebies for 3rd annual Reader Appreciation Day

It’s Sept. 13, and you know what that means: something free from your favorite author of wonderfully weird fiction.

(That’s me, by the way.)

I started Reader Appreciation Day in 2016 as a way to get the word out about Capricon and Beyond, the free e-book compendium for The Renegade Chronicles. Then last year, I gave away free wallpapers for a then-upcoming short story.

Keeping this tradition is important to me because I truly believe that readers make writers better at their craft. (More on that here.)

To show my gratitude to everyone who has ever visited Altaerra, journeyed into the dreamscape, or simply took the time to read my blog posts, I offer these three freebies:

1. If Souls Can Sleep

In celebration of the upcoming release of If Sin Dwells Deep (Book Two of The Soul Sleep Cycle), Book One will be available for free at Amazon.com, Smashwords.com, and a slew of other online retailers.

Download If Souls Can Sleep as an e-book today to get a glimpse at the dreamscape before Book Two releases—but don’t dillydally because this is a limited-time promotion.

2. If Sin Dwells Deep

If you want to read If Sin Dwells Deep before the official publication date, you can enter the Goodreads Giveaway and try your luck at winning one of 100 free copies for Kindle.

Oh, and today is the last day of the contest, so do not delay!

3. ‘Ghost Mode’

Last—though certainly not least—I’m thrilled to share one of my short stories in audio, courtesy of KC Johnston at Story Tale Podcast.

“Ghost Mode” appeared earlier this year in the One Million Project Fantasy Anthology (available as a paperback or e-book at Amazon.com). If audio books are your music to your ears, check out “Ghost Mode” here:

And thanks again, readers, for your ongoing support as I continue to conjure up bizarre books and strange stories!

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

A fantasy author’s approach to D&D

Over the past few weeks, I’ve become well acquainted with a gnome barbarian by the name of Ozric.

Painted miniature of a bald, muscular gnome wielding a sword and shield

Ozric, gnome barbarian

That could prove to be my first mistake: choosing a gnome barbarian for my first foray into Dungeons & Dragons. Even an uninitiated noob like myself knows there are more suitable combinations of race and class—a halfling rogue, an elf wizard, a dwarf barbarian—but I couldn’t resist. A gnome who aspires to be a badass warrior is too fascinating to ignore.

As a newcomer to the game, I know I should prioritize winning, but the writer in me craves a good story.

Even if that story means little Ozric will have to defy the odds to survive.

An inauspicious origin

Now I’m no stranger to fantasy. My first series, The Renegade Chronicles, falls firmly in the sword-and-sorcery genre.

But I’ve never played D&D, not properly. Oh, my cousin and I bought a reduced-price starter kit decades ago. Alas, we were too young to puzzle it out, and so I was left to get my fantasy fix from 8-bit Nintendo RPG games inspired by their tabletop counterparts.

Years later, I discovered DragonLance books—novels that served as companions to the D&D modules (campaigns?) by the same name. By that point, Magic: The Gathering was gaining in popularity, so I tried my hand at that card game.

Any hope of finding a group with whom to play D&D fizzled like a fireball with insufficient mana. Or so it seemed.

Fate intervenes

You wouldn’t think a man in his late thirties could come across so many disparate conversations about D&D at the same time. Jake Weiss, the cover artist for the The Renegade Chronicles offhandedly mentioned he was interested in starting a D&D club. Then a fellow Cub Scouts leader told me he was creating a campaign to play with his sons.

Finally, my sister was invited by some of her work friends to give tabletop gaming a try. She enjoyed it so much, she helped my kids roll their own characters and has, to date, DMed a couple of sessions for not only them, but also my mom. It didn’t take much coaxing to talk my wife and me into creating characters of our own.

And here I thought D&D was dead, along with any chance for me to experience it.

Full disclosure: as of writing this, I still haven’t actually played D&D, but after taking the first step—discovering Ozric’s stats and selecting his abilities—I’m awfully eager for my first session. Meanwhile, the writer and world-builder in me can’t sit idle.

How does a fantasy writer prepare for a story-based game? In a word, research.

Quest for knowledge

Cover of the Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook

Don’t leave the tavern without it!

Like any adventurer worth his d12, I first sought out a tome containing what I needed to prepare. Over the course of a couple of weeks, I read the D&D Player’s Handbook from cover to cover. (OK, so I skimmed through the chapter on spells. Sue me.)

Now I know the rules, more or less, but reading about an alternate reality and actually visiting one are two very different things. I asked around for the best way to familiarize myself with D&D and received a unanimous answer.

“Watch Critical Role.”

A handful of episodes into their second campaign, and I have to admit I’m feeling more comfortable with the nuances of the game—though my sister warned me not to expect a Matt Mercer level of quality from her dungeon master experience.

Equipped with an idea of how a story might unfold as well as the rules of the world, I was ready to turn to one of my favorite exercises as an author: characterization.

A gnome by any other name

Creating characters has always been the best part of storytelling for me. Even the most exciting adventure is doomed to fail if the cast falls flat. That’s why I’m a firm believer of getting to know my characters extremely well before putting pen to paper.

For my major characters in both The Renegade Chronicles and my new series, The Soul Sleep Cycle, I slogged through fifty or more questions, forcing myself to invent/discover details about the people populating my story.

I did the same for my gnome barbarian, and one of the first things I learned was “Ozric” isn’t even his real name.

Over the course of four hours—and 7,000 words—I ascertained plenty more about Ozric’s personality, motivations, and backstory. He’s probably more complex than the average barbarian, but if I’m going to give voice to a character, I have to know him. That goes for novels and D&D alike.

Revelation

A writer typically lives within his story for months and maybe even years before it goes out into the world. Even after beta readers have provided feedback on a manuscript—even after a publication date has been decided upon—nothing makes a book feel more real than seeing the cover for the first time.

Similarly, I had the privilege of seeing Ozric in three dimensions, thanks to the painted miniature my sister produced for me. That same night, she texted me a note containing secret information only he knows.

The game is afoot!

Anticipation

Painted miniatures of a gnome barbarian and his companions

Ozric and friends

Very soon Ozric will meet Phoebe (a dwarven cleric played by my daughter), Johnny (an elf rogue played by my son), Cordelia (my wife’s half-elf ranger) and Saphira (my mom’s halfing cleric). We’ve even convinced my step-father to join us as a half-orc fighter named Spencer.

Like any good storyteller, my mind is already running amok with ideas of how Ozric will relate to the members of his motely party and how he might approach the problems likely to arise.

You might be asking yourself why the fantasy writer isn’t the one DMing the campaign. For one thing, it’s incredibly intimidating to jump into that role without any prior D&D experience. For another, I’m afraid I’ll enjoy it too much.

It took four hours to flesh out Ozric; I can only imagine how long it would take to plot out a campaign. If I’m going to wrap up The Soul Sleep Cycle next spring, I can’t afford to get too distracted.

Crafting Ozric’s story in real time will have to suffice—assuming my little gnome berserker survives his first battle.

3 Comments

Filed under Writing

Cover reveal: If Sin Dwells Deep

By auspicious happenstance, my 100th blog post coincides with another milestone: the completion of my next book’s cover.

Behold!

If Sin Dwells Deep will be published as a paperback and for Kindle on Oct. 2, 2018. The Kindle version will be available for preorder at the end of the month IS AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER NOW!

Here’s the back-cover text to tide you over until then:

Even good girls have secrets.

When straight-laced Allison sleeps, the rebellious goddess Syn wakes. Having a fling in the dreamscape may seem like harmless fun, but when a sadistic predator learns her true identity, the fantasy begins to bleed into real life.

If Sin Dwells Deep—a parallel novel to If Souls Can Sleep—exposes the hidden world of dream drifters and explores the war between gifted government agents and those who would use their abilities to corrupt life, death, and that which lies beyond.

Because I’m up to my elbows in pre-release book marketing tactics (which will likely include penning some guest posts), I’ve elected to use the rest of this article to highlight some of my favorite posts from this blog.

Without further ado, here’s my Top 10 blog posts…so far:

10. Celebrating a writing milestone? Listen up!

About three years ago, I created a soundtrack for a novel I was working on. The songs all—directly or indirectly—tie into the plot and characters of If Sin Dwells Deep. (Available soon!)

9. It’s a…business!

This short but significant post announced the birth of One Million Words LLC, my indie publishing company. The business, now 2½ years old, resembles a toddler today: lots of unexpected fun and requiring constant supervision.

8. How to make a person

No, this isn’t sex education. I once used this blog to share writing tips, and this post featured a series of interview questions to get to know your characters better and transform them from two-dimensional ideas to full-fledged human beings.

(Pro tip: I recently used these same questions to flesh out my new D&D character.)

7. Why sci-fi and fantasy?

I get asked this question a lot.

6. What every writer needs

Spoiler: it’s an audience. I followed this post up with three others related posts: What else a writer needs to succeed (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). While I think this series could be helpful to other writers, I’m including it here because it also gives readers a glimpse into a writer’s journey (and psyche).

5. The Good, The Bad, and The Ungrammatical

The odds are I’ll never make a video game about grammar, but what I love about this post is the reminder that writing doesn’t always have to be a serious and that writers should always have a dream or two in their back pockets.

4. ‘Who is your book about?’

I composed a “Meet the Renegades” blurb as far back as fall 1997, when I was drafting the first chapters of what would eventually become Rebels and Fools. That guide was meant for the English instructor reviewing my chapters for an independent study class. It was with great excitement that I introduced the rest of the world to Klye Tristan and the gang.

3. Friends and family of writers, beware

Another common question from readers: where do you get your ideas from? The answer: just about everywhere, including the people closest to us.

2. Why writers groups still matter

I wrote this treatise on the importance of writers groups more than five years ago, and I still believe strongly in the message. In fact, a fellow Allied Authors member and I tackled this very topic on the Read.Write.Repeat. podcast, which will air later this month.

1. Storytelling can take many forms

Predating my life as a writer, I told my stories by other means. Before the cast of The Renegade Chronicles made it to the page, they were LEGO minifigs. As a nod to my humble roots, I transcribed the characters from If Souls Can Sleep into the same medium, bringing my fiction full circle.

I’d like to thank all of my readers over the years. I hope you’ll enjoy not only my next book, but also many more blog posts to come.

1 Comment

Filed under Writing