Category Archives: Writing

COVER REVEAL: If Dreams Can Die

It’s with great joy that I present the cover for Book Three of The Soul Sleep Cycle:

 

The grave could not contain her grief.

Annette has devoted her life—and afterlife—to reclaiming her departed family, no matter the cost. To stop her from destroying the dreamscape, former enemies must unite and declare war on the so-called Lady of Peace.

But how do you defeat someone who is already dead?


If Dreams Can Die depicts the final confrontation between a death-defying cult and the CIA-sanctioned dream drifters sworn to defend the collective unconscious.

 

Book Three will be available in paperback and for Kindle on May 21.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give the talented Mary Christopherson a huge shout-out for all of her hard work on the series’ covers. I can’t wait for the new paperback to join its predecessors on my bookshelf.

And because 35 days is a long time to delay gratification, I’ll be posting weekly updates on this blog as a countdown of sorts:

Did you like If Souls Can Sleep and If Sin Dwells Deep? Please leave a review at Amazon and/or Goodreads!

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Renegade Chronicles coming to tabletop RPGs

After playing a one-shot Dungeons & Dragons adventure over the course of three days, I’ve decided to transform my sword-and-sorcery trilogy into game modules.

The decision comes after diving headfirst into the world of D&D last year. I estimate it’ll take me 3.5 years to transpose Rebels and Fools into a tabletop RPG and another 8.25 years to prepare the other two books as well as at least one bonus adventure that explains what the heck happens in Port Town after Klye’s band of rebels leave.

I could’ve jumped into writing a new novel, since The Soul Sleep Cycle is all but done, but it’s just easier to repackage something old than come up with new.

Features of The Renegade Chronicles games will include:

  • Every natural 20 will summon an army of drunken midge who cast random Level 9 spells on your enemies.
  • Every natural 1 will summon an army of drunk midge who cast random Level 9 spells on you and your party.
  • During every short rest, Scout will regale you will useless facts about the island. (Did you know that the best mutton in Capricon can be found in the village of Aron?)
  • All NPCs will be romanceable—except for Opal.
  • You can import your characters from other tabletop games, though dragonborn, tieflings, and any other races not native to Altaerra will be automatically converted into boring Level 1 human fighters.
  • Druids will be able to turn into Shek’s two-tailed scorpion, Ranfir (and only Ranfir).
  • You can recruit powerful NPCs to your party, including Father Elezar, Albert Simplington, and that one guy who leads the band of highwaymen in the second book.
  • Everyone gets 1 luck point, regardless of class, whenever Klye says, “I don’t believe in luck.”
  • Avoid TPKs by using time magic to kill Dark Lily when she’s still a kid.
  • If at any point you find yourself dual wielding the vorpal sword and Chrysaal-rûn, you win.

The D&D-inspired Renegade Chronicles modules will be available on eBay.com and Facebook Marketplace after I’ve play-tested them a bunch. So as not confuse the game with the book, the first campaign will be called Fools and Fools.

(Happy April 1st, everyone!)

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TEASER TEXT REVEAL: If Dreams Can Die

OK, no more procrastinating. Without fanfare (or defense), here is the back-cover blurb for my upcoming novel:

 

The grave could not contain her grief.

Annette has devoted her life—and afterlife—to reclaiming her departed family, no matter the cost. To stop her from destroying the dreamscape, former enemies must unite and declare war on the so-called Lady of Peace.

But how do you defeat someone who is already dead?


If Dreams Can Die depicts the final confrontation between a death-defying cult and the CIA-sanctioned dream drifters sworn to defend the collective unconscious.

 

Ideally, these 100 agonizing words (or less) will entice those who’ve already read the first two installments of The Soul Sleep Cycle to buy Book 3—as well as encourage new readers to give the series a shot—when If Dreams Can Die releases this spring.

Next month I hope to share another revelation: a sneak peek at the cover!

Meanwhile, I have plenty to keep me busy, including planning for my next novel and a handful of events.

Another ‘Year of Yes’?

2018 pushed me beyond my comfort zone, especially when it came to conferences, conventions, and book fairs. I learned a lot, and even if some events weren’t exactly worthwhile, others bore fruit—though not always how I expected.

For instance, I presented to the Fond du Lac Area Writers last year, after which the president of the club submitted an article to the local newspaper, highlighting the books of area authors. An author from farther north saw the piece and invited me to be on a panel at a book festival in Green Bay this spring.

And while participating in the 24-Hour Theater experiment was rewarding in itself, I’ve been asked to return to the Fond du Lac Area Writers to talk about my experience.

All in all, it looks like I might be doing just as many events in 2019, if not more. Here are a few of them:

  • How-To Fest — I’ll be conducting a workshop on how to self-publish a book (as well as the pros and cons of doing so) April 6 at the Fond du Lac Public Library in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. More info here.
  • UntitledTown — In addition to participating on a panel about writing speculative fiction, I’ll be leading a fantasy world-building workshop. The book festival will be held April 26 to 28 in Downtown Green Bay, Wisconsin. More info here.
  • Lakefly Writers Conference — Last year, I attended this conference and sold a few books in the vendor hall. This year, I’ll be giving a presentation about the essentials of world building in speculative fiction. The conference takes place May 10 and 11 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. More info here.
  • Fond du Lac Area Writers — This will be my third time serving as a guest speaker at this local writing club. With If Dreams Can Die fresh off the press and the aforementioned events under my belt, we surely won’t run out of things to talk about. The meeting is May 28 at Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac. More info here.
  • Fondue Fest — While nothing is set in stone yet, I’m confident I will be selling and signing books at this annual downtown Fond du Lac festival (Sept. 7). After all, it was my most lucrative event, sales-wise, last year. More info here.

Sprinkle in a flash fiction-writing workshop for teens, a nontraditional book release party, and maybe a farmer’s market or two, and it seems my “Year of Yes” has indeed earned a sequel!

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Don’t call it a dirge

Plan A: reveal the teaser text for my forthcoming novel, If Dreams Can Die.

Nope. I should’ve known better.

While I’m ahead of schedule on most aspects of production, nothing—nothing—is more difficult than crafting the back-cover blurb for a book.

For the prior novel, If Sin Dwells Deep, I was reasonably satisfied with an early draft of the blurb. I shared it here and then agonized over it for another week or two, coming up with something significantly better. Rather than repeat that process, I’m going to spend another month tinkering before I share those very important words.

But I still have a blog post to write…

Plan B: share the playlist instead!

Soul Sleep Soundtrack

While planning, penning, and proofing If Souls Can Sleep—Book One of The Soul Sleep Cycle—I got into the habit of jotting down songs that suited my story. At the end of that project as well as the next, I compiled said tracks into unofficial soundtracks.

Naturally, I did the same for If Dreams Can Die, the conclusion to my genre-bending series about life, death, and the dreamscape. While many of the songs skew to the darker (depressing?) side of what music has to offer, I promise that the book itself won’t be all doom and gloom.

Meanwhile, here are 14 songs that capture the mood of If Dreams Can Die. And if you need me, I’ll be struggling over how best to boil down 367 pages into a few compelling sentences.

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‘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.

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’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.

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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!

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