Tag Archives: art

I’m no elf, but maybe I can help with your seasonal shopping

Tour the Town logoHaving trouble finding a gift for the guy or gal who has everything?

Or a book for someone who has read everything?

Add a little more magic to someone’s holiday with autographed copies of The Renegade Chronicles, my sword-and-sorcery fantasy series. As a featured artist at Fond du Lac, Wisconsin’s downtown art walk, I will be signing Rebels and Fools, Heroes and Liars, and Martyrs and Monsters.

I’ll even include a personalized message to the reader in your life; just call me Santa’s little helper.

(Can’t make the event? The Renegade Chronicles is available year-round at online retailers like Amazon.com. E-book versions also are available, including a three-in-one collection. Learn more here.)

Tour the Town Art Walk

Friday, December 16, 2016
5 to 8 p.m.
Wood’s Floral & Gifts, 36 N. Main St., Fond du Lac, Wis.

If you already own any of The Renegade Chronicles, I’ll be happy to sign them. I’ll also have a few copies of all three novels for sale—maybe more than a few if I benefit from a Christmas miracle and my new order arrives before Friday.

Fantasy not your thing? Feel free to stop by and just chat. The art walk is free, so if you ever wondered what it’s like to be an author, I welcome questions. I might do a short reading from Rebels and Fools at some point in the evening.

You can support other artists too, including Alan Hathaway, a talented potter and very good friend of mine. See the full roster of artists, where they will be, and more info about Tour the Town here.

Here’s to happy holidays for all and an exciting new year!

Unsure whether The Renegade Chronicles is right for you? Check your compatibility here.

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‘Where does your book take place?’

Along with genre and characters, setting can be a deciding factor—or a deal breaker—when it comes to buying a book.

Oftentimes, location goes hand-in-hand with the other two. For example, if I’m writing space opera, one might expect to find characters of one or more alien species among the cast. Correspondingly, the setting would probably be an interstellar locale, perhaps a foreign planet or spacefaring vessel.

But over the centuries, genres have birthed myriad subgenres. So while a traditional Western would most likely be set in a specific region of North America within a set timeframe, science fiction can happen anywhere and (arguably) anytime.

Regarding The Renegade Chronicles—my almost-published (read: practically published) sword-and-sorcery fantasy series—I’ve already told you a little about what the books are about and whom they are about. Today, I’d like to give you a quick tour of a mysterious island in an unfamiliar world.

Map of Capricon

It wouldn’t be epic fantasy without a map, right? Huge thanks to Jake Weiss for scanning in my sketch and then making it look awesome! (Click to enlarge.)

Welcome to Capricon. No, not Capricorn. Just one R.

Where did the name come from? Following a bitter war between the human nations of Superius and Glenning, the Superian king (posthumously known as the Gambler King) decided to seal the sudden alliance by purchasing the island for Superius. It was a capricious maneuver to be sure—hence, the name.

But the Glenningers weren’t the first people to call the island home. The Knights of Eaglehand won it after a bloody crusade against the seafaring and bloodthirsty dwarves who lived there. Before the dwarves, elves called the island home, though nobody can seem to remember when or why they left.

There are also rumors of other inhabitants—vile, mythical creatures that disappeared eras ago…

At the time of The Renegade Chronicles, the island of Capricon is considered a province of Continae, a confederacy of human nations that includes both Superius and Glenning.

Confused? Don’t worry. All you really need to know is that Capricon is populated mostly by humans and is chiefly defended by the Knights of Superius.

Which is not to say there isn’t more to the island than meets the eye…

Readers of The Renegade Chronicles will travel the breadth of Capricon, from the west coast to the east and with plenty of detours in between. Here are just a few of the locations the rebels will encounter throughout the trilogy:

  • Port Town — Site of the magnificent Cathedral of Aladon, Port Town is ruled by ironfisted Crofton Beryl, whose own daughter leads the local rebels. A bit of advice: stay out of the sewers.
  • Temple of Mystel — The healers at the homey Temple of Mystel will help anyone who needs their aid, including Renegades, which doesn’t always sit well with the Knights of nearby Fort Miloásterôn.
  • Port of Stone — Once a thriving port in central Capricon, the Port of Stone was destroyed during the Thanatan Conflict years ago. It holds the answer the riddle “What is big and yellow and keeps out the rain?”
  • Wizard’s Mountain — The tallest of the Rocky Crags, Wizard’s Mountain harbors secrets both ancient and new, such as why has a would-be surgeon claimed it as his own and forbade everyone else from trespassing?
  • Fort Faith — The Knights of Superius have repopulated Fort Faith to curb Renegade activity in the area. Its young commander will face no shortage of challenges at what was supposed to be a sleepy assignment.
  • Rydah — Ruled by Lord Magnes Minus, the capital city of Rydah is a bustling center for culture and trade. It’s the perfect place to lose oneself among the crowds—and the perfect target for a foreign invasion.

As for the world itself, Altaerra is home to many different races, including humans, elves, dwarves, ogres, and a few other (expected) creatures. There are a few other species, however, that are native to Altaerra alone, such as the dreaded midge.

For which every other planet should be exceedingly grateful!

The Renegade Chronicles will be available in paperback and digital editions on March 31, 2016.

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‘Who is your book about?’

Even though “What’s your book about?” is the most difficult question for an author, a few others can be tricky as well.

Noel from The Renegade Chronicles

An early sample of “fan art,” courtesy of Stephanie Williams (née Steinmetz). Who is Noel? Well, he’s a midge. What’s a midge? You’ll just have to read The Renegade Chronicles to find out!

When I try to answer “Who is your book about?” I struggle because I have a lot of characters. With my soon-to-be published (read: almost published) fantasy series, I have a core group of companions who encounter quite a few allies and adversaries during their travels.

And a handful of other people steal the stage from time to time…

But while the trilogy covers a lot of ground (and a lot of lives), at the core of The Renegade Chronicles are the Renegades themselves — specifically, a ragtag band of rebels who have seen the sinister side of a seemingly benevolent peace treaty and decide to fight back.

Here’s a quick (and arguably superficial) summary of the stars of Rebels and Fools:

  • Klye — A former thief and self-proclaimed Renegade Leader, Klye Tristan doesn’t believe in the gods, but he’ll need a miracle to complete his mission.
  • Ragellan — A disgraced Knight of Superius, Chester Ragellan joins the Renegades to learn who framed him and why.
  • Horcalus — A fugitive from the Knighthood, Dominic Horcalus faithfully follows his mentor, Ragellan, though he hates conspiring with the rebels.
  • Othello — A forester accustomed to solitude, Othello Balsa says little but perceives much; his senses are as sharp as one of his green-fletched arrows.
  • Plake — A reckless rancher who constantly questions authority—especially Klye’s—Plake Nelway possesses an unquenchable thirst for excitement and ale.
  • Scout — An explorer at heart, Solomon “Scout” Aegis knows more about the island of Capricon than anyone…if he is to be believed.
  • Pistol — A pirate king who carved his way to the top, Pistol owes the Renegades a debt, but not even he knows how far that loyalty stretches.
  • Crooker — A lifelong buccaneer, Crooker is content to let others do the planning, but he won’t think twice about killing those who threaten his friends.
  • Arthur — A young runaway, Arthur Bismarc wants only to forget his past crimes but ends up committing new ones after getting caught up with the Renegades.
  • Lilac — A warrior woman with a clandestine agenda, Lilac Zephyr wields an enchanted blade that can effortlessly cut through stone, steel, and bone.

Before they can hope to stand up against their enemies—which include a paranoid governor, overzealous knights, several assassins, and a powerful spell-caster who believes the gods sent him to end the war—the Renegades will have to learn to trust one another.

Or die trying.

The Renegade Chronicles will be available in paperback and digital editions on March 31, 2016.

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And the winner is…

A month ago, I asked readers to vote for their favorite cover treatment for The Renegade Chronicles.

After tallying up the votes, which were cast via email, Facebook, this blog, and face-to-face exchanges, I’m delighted to report we have a clear winner. Which is not to say the other two concepts didn’t receive a fair share of votes. In fact, it became apparent early on that all three designs would make compelling covers in their own right.

Ultimately, the best cover must be the one that best reflects the story inside. Fortunately, the most popular concept also happens to be the most appropriate wrapper for my books.

Without further ado, here is the winner:

Book covers of The Renegade Chronicles

For the record, Concept 2 received 47% of the votes. Runner-up was Concept 1 with 29%, followed by Concept 3 with 24%. Thanks again to everyone who participated!

And a huge thank you to the talented Jake Weiss (www.jacobweissdesign.com), who not only came up with three excellent concepts, but also exceeded all expectations in his execution of the individual covers. I can’t wait see these books on my shelf and in my Kindle.

Less than two months to go!

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Putting the pretty on it

There’s nothing too glamorous about text on a page.

The beauty of words is that they paint pictures in the mind, but when you consider the typically black-and-white composition of lines, dots, and curves on an otherwise blank backdrop, well, words themselves are nothing to write home about.

Having worked in marketing for the past nine years, I’ve discovered there are few things as exciting as unveiling the visuals for a project. Forget the spreadsheets and other planning documents, the copywriting, and the technological components that may follow; the day a client sees her new logo or his new homepage for the first time is by far the most impactful point in the project.

I’ve been known to use the phrase “putting the pretty on it” when describing the evolution from mere words to engaging imagery. The moment there is color and shape and form, that’s when a project starts to feel real.

I’m no exception to the phenomenon, which is why I was so eager earlier this week to meet with the artist working on the covers for The Renegade Chronicles—and to preview three possible concepts.

I am delighted to share the fruits of his labor with you not only because the cover concepts make this whole enterprise feel “more real” to me (and, hopefully, to my future readers as well), but also because very soon, I will have to tell him which concept to finalize for Rebels and Fools and adapt for Heroes and Liars and Martyrs and Monsters (the other two books in the series). I need to choose the winner, but before I do, I’d love to solicit your insights.

In other words, please judge my book by its (prospective) cover!

How can you help?

Take a look at the potential packages for my forthcoming fantasy novels and answer these questions in the comments section below:

  1. Which of the three concepts would most likely prompt you to purchase the book?
  1. What tweaks, if any, would you make to your favorite cover concept?
  1. For each of the three concepts, what type of story would you expect to find behind the cover?

As always, I appreciate any and all feedback immensely!

TRC-cover-concept-1

 

 

 

TRC-cover-concept-2

 

 

 

TRC-cover-concept-3

And the winner is…

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What else a writer needs to succeed (Part 1)

Let’s forget about the craft of writing for a moment.

It should go without saying that a serious writer must have some measure of creativity and a solid grasp of language to avoid the proverbial pitfalls of syntax and semantics (such as these).

Anyway, there are countless resources dedicated to helping dabblers step up their game and plenty of places where professional writers can learn to improve in such areas as concept development, composition, publishing, and so forth.

Elephants have thick skins. Writers should too. | Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Wikimedia Commons

Elephants have thick skin. Writers should too. | Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Wikimedia Commons

We live in a DIY era, where a million (or more) websites will happily walk you down the path of getting an idea out of your head, into a computer, and, ultimately, in front of the eyes of other people.  And while I know I’m not the first to tackle this topic, there seems to be a dearth of articles pertaining to some of the more intangible qualities that, in my experience, benefit someone who wants to succeed—or simply survive—the sometimes schizophrenic lifestyle of an artist.

So without further ado, here is the first character trait of a well-adjusted writer:

Thick skin

Blame it on the prevailing mentality that we are all beautiful and unique snowflakes worthy our own reality TV series.  Social media gives us the ability to broadcast every inane detail of our lives.  We must be important, right?  I mean, these days even the losing team gets trophies just for trying.

Our collective self-worth has never been higher.  Or more precarious.

I suspect writers have always carried a certain measure of sensitivity when it comes to their work.  While we often hear the analogy of a book being an author’s “baby,” the relationship between the creator and the created becomes even more intimate than that when we see our work not as an extension of ourselves, but as the prevailing piece of our identity.

Not good.

I can’t help but marvel when I hear writers whine about negative reviews or, worse, when they go on the warpath to defend their precious child/ego.  Oh, I’m not immune to the impulse.  But having weathered college workshops populated by (fellow) know-it-alls, attended countless critique sessions with the brilliant Allied Authors of Wisconsin, and dissected many a manuscript alongside my biggest fan and harshest critic (my wife), I’ve learned how to keep my mouth shut—and my ears open.

Let’s get one thing straight: The reader owes you nothing beyond the price of your book—not their time and certainly not a positive review on Goodreads.  Your ideas and delivery thereof might earn you those things, but they are not to be taken for granted.  It’s a huge mistake to assume that the reader will share your emotional bond with a story, especially before they even crack the cover.

No, it’s your job to make them feel a fraction of what you feel about your characters, setting, and plot.  If they stop reading after a page or even the first paragraph, it could be for a variety of reasons, but it all boils down to a lack of connection between story and reader.  Hence, your book is always partially to blame.

Let’s get another thing straight: Even if your novel is better than anything written by Shakespeare or Suzanne Collins, you won’t please everyone.  The playwright has never been universally adored, and despite record-breaking sales, some folks simply can’t stomach The Hunger Games.

If you can’t please everyone, the logical conclusion is that some people will have some not-so-nice things to say about your work.

That’s OK.

Even if you end up writing something terrible, that doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person.  It might mean you need more practice with the nuts and bolts of the craft.  Or it could be you didn’t do a very good job translating what’s in your head to the page.  Or maybe you just haven’t reached the right audience.

Every writer needs an audience.  And because technology is a two-edged sword—giving a writer not only multiple channels through which to distribute his or her work, but also instant access to readers’ reactions—we writers have to get better at separating ourselves from our work and letting the story speak for itself.

How writers engage their readers is a topic (or an entire series) for another day.  Meanwhile, here is my recommendation for contending with criticism:

  • Step 1 — Solicit feedback from those whose opinions you trust, particularly those who are well-read in your genre.  Wherever the criticism comes from, keep it in context.  It’s just one opinion among billions.
  • Step 2 — Tell yourself, “Even if they don’t like the story, it doesn’t mean they don’t like me.”  (And if necessary, add, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”)
  • Step 3 — Listen carefully and take notes.
  • Step 4 — Defy the urge to defend.
  • Step 5 — Seriously, keep your mouth shut!
  • Step 6 — Once the critique is over, you can speak, but only to seek clarification.
  • Step 7 — Show appreciation for the feedback, even if your ego has withered to the size of a prune.
  • Step 8 — Give yourself the distance of a day or two, and then go back to your notes and decide which points have merit.
  • Step 9 — Edit the manuscript, keeping what works and fixing what doesn’t.
  • Step 10 — When your baby goes out into the world, wish it well and resist the urge to hover and embarrass it by coming to its defense every time someone says something unkind.

Bottom line: Constructive criticism is a gift, not a curse.  But before a writer can benefit from it, he or she might need to grow a few more layers of skin.

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The two sides to every story

Ask a hundred different people for their definition of “good writing,” and you’ll get a thousand different answers.

On a very basic level, the creation of a story can be divided into two parts: concept and composition.  Without a command of both sides, a writer—more specifically, his or her story—is bound to fall short of greatness.

Coins of the Philippines

Like a coin, there are two sides to every story. Just don’t leave its success to chance. Photo by Kadayawan (own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Concept

How many times have you heard someone say, “I’ve always wanted to write a book about…”?  Or “I have this great idea for a story…”?

When it comes to fiction, most of us dive into the ideas behind a story before we ever ply the pen or keyboard and transpose thoughts from mind to page.  The aptitude for artfully stringing sentences together typically comes later.

Now inspiration comes in many forms, and creativity often strikes without warning.  But a handful of traits do not make a character.  A theme cannot serve as substitute for plot.  And a thin storyline can be stretched only so far.

In short, not every inkling is worthy of a novel.

Understanding how to combine concepts—knowing what to keep, what to lose, what to tweak—forms the roots of good writing.  Of course, all of the wonderful ideas in the world won’t amount to much on their own.  They must grow into something that can be experienced by the outside world.

Composition

At some point in our education, we all learn to write.  Common curricula tackle the basics (e.g., parts of speech, sentence construction, and proper punctuation) as well as the assembly of these verbal apparatuses into a purpose-driven piece.

Stories have a beginning, middle, and an end, and they typically contain a climax and a resolution.  Essays and research papers pose a hypothesis from the outset and are filled with arguments built upon evidence.  Etc., etc.

Writing is an art, yes, but those who neglect the science of it tend to turn readers off by breaking both documented and unspoken rules.  If you litter your prose with homophones, run-on sentences, repetitious words or phrases, and incomplete thoughts, your readers won’t take you seriously.

If you have any readers at all.

Then there are those who go beyond merely competent writing—those who work such wonders with words that there’s no doubt they were put on the planet to pursue this art form.  These writers conjure up mind-blowing metaphors and paint the most evocative imagery in the reader’s imagination.

The Craft

Both the sides of the craft—concept and composition—require creativity.  Neither half is inherently more important than the other.  They depend on each other.

Granted, there are some writers who could crank out a vignette about an everyman or everywoman simply plodding through life.  No extraordinary back story, no mind-blowing plot twist; just a series of otherwise unremarkable events.  If that author’s exquisite use of language pulls readers in and keeps them engaged, the style alone might transcend the mundane ideas behind the writing.

Likewise, a writer could come up with a brilliant concept—an unexplored aspect of the human condition or an intriguing new situation—and be found wanting when it comes to execution.  Maybe said writer could be forgiven for his or her shortcomings in the composition department if the ideas are compelling enough.  Maybe.

Most of the time, a writer must strive for mastery of both sides of the story before he or she is successful.

Depending too much on concept or composition will only reveal the weakness of the other.  Many readers won’t waste their time with a well-written but boring (or otherwise conceptually flawed) book.  And a writer who has an amazing concept but lacks the chops when it comes to composition can’t hope to do his or her idea justice.

The solution, unsurprisingly, is practice.  Challenge yourself to take your ideas to the next level.  Keep at those finger exercises, read and learn from better wordsmiths than yourself, and then watch your prose improve.

You’ll never get a straight answer when it comes to what makes “good writing” good.  But if you fail to deliver in either the concept or composition department (or both!), you’re bound to get an earful about what makes writing bad.

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