Tag Archives: characters

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.

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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.

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The secret beauty of bad ideas

Writers never kill their darlings.

We just lock them away…in a dungeon…indefinitely…

Even when we expunge plots points from the pages, old drafts linger long after their expiration date, haunting hard drives and battered binders for years. The same goes for ideas that never even had a chance to thrive as well as stories that don’t survive a full draft.

I keep my little failures in a folder called “Ideas and false starts,” a literary gulag whose inmates date back to the turn of the century.

What makes an idea bad?

Bad is in the eye of the beholder. Most ideas start out as precious—too precious—so if the author passes harsh judgement on his/her own work, it’s probably really bad. Some common culprits are ideas that are too unrealistic, convoluted, or clichéd. If an idea doesn’t serve—or can’t support—the story, it has to go.

Then there are the ideas that might have made it to those two little words if only they had kept the author’s interest. Boredom aside, ideas also can lead writers down dead ends. Writer’s block has murdered many a storyline.

And here’s a tragedy: a perfectly adequate idea can perish before it reaches its full potential when a shiny new one shows up, usurping an author’s brainpower and priorities.

Can two wrongs make a write?

Abandoned ideas don’t really rest in peace. I, for one, occasionally visit their proverbial prison, poking and prodding to see if there’s any life left in them. Better to have many ideas waiting in the ward than too few to fill one’s time.

I admit very few people to this freak show. Family members, writers groups, beta readers—they alone get glimpses at the grotesqueries. However, after watching a certain movie and playing a somewhat related video game recently, I can’t help but wonder if there could be beauty in the bad.

The LEGO Batman Movie and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 both feature D-list characters from comics past and present. If Condiment King and Chipmunk Hunk can star in successful stories, what about some of my own castoffs?

The Bad Idea Club

Supposing there’s validity to the theory that mixing up a bunch of bad ideas can result in something good, here are a few mostly forgotten characters of mine that could conceivably band together:

Digger (circa 1984)

Likely the first instance of my unfulfilled fiction, Digger’s Days would have recounted the adventures of Digger, a robot equipped with a drill and a number of other tools to do…stuff. I’m pretty sure this prototype didn’t make it past the drawing board, literally, since I was all of five years old when I sketched him. Still, what story couldn’t use a mechanical sidekick?

The Ultimate Crusaders (circa 1991–1993)

Drawing robots eventually led to illustrating massive battles. I flirted with the miserable (and trademark-infringing) G.I. Joe: The Next Generation before inventing cringe-worthy acronyms for my elite soldiers. Once my interest switched to comic books and their super-powered characters, I invented the Ultimate Crusaders. Many of these heroes and villains they thwarted were Marvel rip-offs (e.g. The Mutant Flame and Electra); others were just plain terrible (the Quarter Note and Herron, whose helmets were as groan-inducing as you might imagine). However, Mr. Mysterious did get reincarnated for a short story I wrote in college.

Yalte Dark Elf (fall 1994)

After months of building my own fantasy world, I decided to attempt a novel. While Altaerra would live on and eventually serve as the setting for The Renegade Chronicles, the original cast of “The Maltaken Experiment” did not. There was an elven bard, a gruff dwarf (of course), a warrior woman, a pixie, and a barbarian guy. Leading the pack, however, was dagger-flinging Yalte Dark Elf, whose only saving grace was that he wasn’t inspired by Forgotten Realm’s Drizzt Do’Urden (like most dark elves), but rather DragonLance’s Dalamar the Dark.

Tarreth (spring 2001)

An attempt at co-writing a fantasy series with a fellow college student quickly fizzled, but not before I wrote a scene introducing Tarreth, a half-immortal child adopted by a creepy old wizard. I think she was going to eventually destroy him and meet up with a delusional “Chosen One.” Alas, her quest was over before it began.

Benedict Strong (fall 2006)

When I stepped away from Altaerra to take a stab at a fantasy novel set in the real world, I conjured up Benedict Strong, who was one of only a handful of true wizards remaining on Earth. He learned from Merlin, I believe, and so did his rival/counterpart, Pandora, who used her arcane talents to perform true magic on stage—unbeknown to her Vegas audiences. Rasputin would have made a cameo. I know: hard to believe this one flopped.

Persephone (fall 2010)

Some ideas are enticing solely because they are something other than what you are currently working on. While up to my elbows in dream drifters, editing If Souls Can Sleep, I began mentally exploring a story where a teenage Wisconsinite named Persephone gets possessed by her unborn granddaughter, a time-traveler comprised of consciousness-preserving nanobots. Of all my bad ideas, Sunny’s story is most likely to orchestrate a jailbreak.

Ysa (spring 2013)

It turns out that writing a story about an alien anthropologist isn’t all that new. Ysa, a genderless extraterrestrial from a mostly lifeless universe, would have been one of three interplanetary delegates to travel to Earth, where the anthropologist would use his/her woefully incomplete knowledge of humankind to forge a lasting friendship between worlds. Naturally, Ysa would have discovered a conspiracy on one side or the other and then foiled it.

The Later Gator (fall 2013)

A few years ago, my wife and I penned a children’s chapter book. The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers had a very limited run for complicated reasons, but the story foreshadowed a sequel in which the titular heroine would square off against an anthropomorphic alligator whose tide of chaos causes tardiness wherever he goes. The Later Gator still hasn’t shown up.

A song for the unsung heroes

My abysmal mashup may never come to be, and there’s an excellent chance not a single one of these characters will ever escape my digital dungeon. But even if bad ideas can’t be reformed, they serve an important purpose.

Bad ideas take the brunt of punishment from an author’s inner critic. For example, if Benedict Strong hadn’t been such a bore, I might never have given Vincent Cruz a chance, which means The Soul Sleep Cycle would never have happened.

Once a bad idea is banished, we turn with fresh eyes to a new idea, our sadism sated…for now…

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(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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Finally, some feedback!

Reader comments really make my day—even more so than new sales.

Don’t get me wrong. When I receive a notification telling me someone purchased one or more of The Renegade Chronicles, I grin like an idiot.

But digesting a reader’s genuine reaction to one of my novels, well, my soul does a little happy dance every time.

As I’ve mentioned before, copious online reviews can lead to fiscal benefits for an author. Even better, reader feedback lets me know what “worked” in the story, what didn’t, my strengths as a writer, and my weaknesses. All of which will help make my future books stronger.

For The Renegade Chronicles specifically, here are a few things I learned. Some of it came as a surprise, while other observations reinforced what I always hoped to be true:

  • The bad news: Rebels and Fools (Vol. 1) is a slow starter. I thought I jump into the action relatively quickly, but apparently the pacing wasn’t as brisk as I had hoped. Lesson learned.
  • The good news: Once they make it a handful of chapters into Vol. 1, readers tend to get hooked—and then go on to Vols. 2 and 3. Few things sound as sweet to an author’s ears as “I couldn’t put it down.”
  • The series features strong female characters. To be blunt, most of my characters are dudes. But I’m happy to hear that ladies who do get “screen time”—including Leslie Beryl, Lilac Zephyr, and Opal—hold their own!
  • It’s OK to kill off characters. This can be controversial, but fortunately there are those who (like me) appreciate high stakes. While I’m no George R. R. Martin, I don’t shy away from the deadly consequences of battle. (See also: “The problem with invincible protagonists”)
  • Vol. 3 has some unanswered questions. There’s a fine line between leaving the reader wanting more and leaving the reader unsatisfied. The feedback leads me to believe most readers fall into the former camp.

At the risk of tooting my own horn, here are excerpts of comments compiled from Amazon.com and Goodreads.com:

Rebels and Fools

“This book is a great big step into a world that keeps you pleasantly off balance by feeling uncannily familiar and strange at the same time.”

Screen capture of customer reviews of "Rebels and Fools"“Williams’ characters are an unlikely unity of the honorable, criminal, and the witless… Their travels are filled with battles, rescues, victories, and losses. I’m looking forward to the next installment in Heroes and Liars.”

“Fantastic! The boy and I are reading this series together before bed. He’s eleven, and he loves it. I’m quite fascinated by it myself.”

“A compelling start to the series.”

“My favorite of the three. A great fantasy trilogy.”

Heroes and Liars

“In this second installment of Williams’ epic yarn, he makes good on the adventure, camaraderie, and intrigue promised at the end of the series opener Rebels and Fools.”

“I could not stop reading! The second volume in this trilogy is action-packed from start to finish.”

“Just a very enjoyable read with another very nerve-wracking ending.”

“Excellent follow up to the first book.”

“…enough questions linger as to the characters’ true motives to keep my interest into the third book. Bring on Martyrs and Monsters!”

Martyrs and Monsters

“…The Renegade Chronicles is a very solid introduction into (the fantasy genre).”

“The last volume in the trilogy is nearly as full of action and intrigue as the second book. Secrets are revealed, and the battle between humans and monsters gets vicious.”

“Many questions answers. Many new questions raised. Great closure to many plot lines without feeling too tidy.”

“While this isn’t my usual genre, I couldn’t put it down. The books are action packed and full of mystery, magic, and a dash of romance.”

“I hope we haven’t heard the last from these characters…I’m craving more!!!”

Vol. 4?

I’d love to write more about the people and places of Altaerra. Truly, I would!

As a matter of fact, I have years—yes, years—of these characters’ lives mapped out beyond what has been published so far. Which is why there were so many unanswered questions at the end of Martyrs and Monsters; these heroes’ (and anti-heroes’) tales are far from over.

The Renegade War foreshadows a continents-spanning conflict that will prove to be much more catastrophic than anything the cast has faced before…

But in order to justify the writing and publishing future fantasy novels, I must sell a heck of a lot more editions of the first three volumes. In the interest of building my readership, I’ll include a list of handy links for those interested in reading, referring, and/or reviewing The Renegade Chronicles.

I can’t wait to hear from you!

Amazon

Goodreads

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Coming soon: Renegade Chronicles compendium

An editor of mine once said, “No one wants to know how the sausage is made.”

He was referring to journalistic processes—the hoops reporters jump through in order to research, interview, and write stories as well as edit, paginate, and publish them. Readers care only about the quality of finished article, not all of the work that went into it.

That might be true of newspapers, but as a lifelong fan of fantasy, I know that those who venture into fictional realms often appreciate additional glimpses into the wider world, including supplementary explorations of characters and cultures and even the author’s method for creating them.

Think of them as travel guides.

In the spirit of giving fans a more in-depth look at the people, places, and peculiarities of The Renegade Chronicles—and an excuse to return to Altaerra—I’m in the process of creating a (FREE!) compendium called Capricon and Beyond.

While I put the finishing touches on the e-book, please enjoy this excerpt. It’s a character profile I composed for a certain rogue knight prior to writing the first draft of Rebels and Fools.

Black and white sketch of Dominic Horcalus, Knight of Superius

While I’ve never been more than a dabbler in drawing, I occasionally made time to sketch the natives of Altaerra.

Dominic Horcalus

Horcalus comes from a long line of Knights of Superius. Like his father and his father before him, Horcalus stands tall—about 6’2”—and keeps himself in excellent physical shape. The muscles on his arms, legs, and chest are well-defined, and there’s hardly any fat on his body. His eyes are gray; his hair, brown. A full, neatly-trimmed mustache graces his upper lip. Despite a rather hawkish nose and sharp chin, Horcalus is a reasonably handsome man.

Horcalus’s usual garb consists of combination plate-and-chainmail armor, a shield of some sort, an open-faced helmet with a nose-guard, and his trusty longsword.

Horcalus presents himself with an air of quiet dignity. He acts and speaks proudly, though not haughtily. He has excellent posture, looking comically stiff at times. He doesn’t fidget, and maintains a composed, stoic exterior unless something has him greatly discombobulated. His tone tends to soften, and he is more likely to smile when interacting with women and children.

Horcalus’s speech is the epitome of proper. He’ll almost always use two words in lieu of a contraction. He may use an outdated or archaic phrase or expression without realizing it.

Horcalus’s childhood was not so unlike many other boys borne of Knights. His father was stern but loving, making sure his son was well-disciplined and teaching the boy everything he knew about life and the Knighthood. Horcalus became his father’s squire at a remarkably young age and then went to Fort Splendor to train as a novice when he was fifteen years old.

Horcalus loves a challenge and delights in a hard-fought victory, though he is ever a gracious winner. He spends much time engaged in mock-combat, honing his skill, teaching others what he knows as well as learning from their techniques. Aside from physical trials, he likes games that improve his intellect and sharpen his wit (e.g., solving at riddles and playing chess). He has little interest in games of chance and shuns gambling.

Horcalus is not quick to laugh, but that is not to say he is devoid of humor. He’ll laugh at clever joke but seldom at another’s expense. He hates lies and engages in a lie only when it’s unavoidable. He’s a very bad liar, actually. His conscience holds a tight reign over his actions.

Like most Knights of Superius, Horcalus is extremely patriotic, but Horcalus does his best to accept people of every nation. Like many humans, he has his misgivings about the other races, but he is never less than polite to the occasional half-elf or gnome who crosses his path. He distrusts magic-users, but his greatest prejudice is against people who foment disorder and take advantage of their fellow man.

Horcalus is a stalwart optimist. He became a Knight to help make the world a better place. So long as he is fighting for the side of peace and justice, Horcalus enjoys life. Conversely, when he becomes a member of the Renegades, the disgraced Knight finds life nearly unbearable.

Horcalus serves Pintor the Warriorlord by adhering to the virtues outlined in the Knighthood’s code of conduct. He knows several prayers by rote. More often than not, when he prays, he is asking for guidance or forgiveness. Horcalus also honors the other Gods of Good, though he doesn’t really address these other deities by name.

While Horcalus did have a childhood sweetheart, he won’t fall in love until many years after the Renegade War. Horcalus thinks love is important, and he wants a wife and family, but the quest for a soulmate is far more difficult than anything the Knighthood has ever asked of him. He always figured the gods would provide him with a capable woman when and if they see fit. Horcalus wants children too—particularly a son to follow in his footsteps as a Knight of Superius.

Horcalus made many friends while in the Knighthood. His best friend and mentor is Chester Ragellan. He develops relationships with Klye Tristan, Arthur Bismarc, and Lilac Zephyr during the Renegade War.

More details about the release of Capricon and Beyond as well as other exciting news for The Renegade Chronicles will be released soon. Until then, may the Warriorlord watch over you!

It’s here! Download Capricon and Beyond: The Renegade Chronicles Compendium for FREE.

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Infrequently Asked Questions

Writers spend a lot of time talking to themselves.

Portrait of author David Michael Williams

“Are you ready for the interview, David?” “Yes, David, I am.” | Photo by Jaime Lynn Hunt

We invent conversations between imaginary people, imagine a series of actions, and then transcribe what happens in our mind to the page. The hope, of course, is that one day there will be readers to hear that proverbial tree falling in the woods.

In addition to millions of words of fiction, I have written hundreds of pages while planning and plotting my novels. When I go back and read through those notes, I come off like a crazy person, sharing ideas and options with no one but myself.

And yet I felt even more like a lunatic when composing the author Q&A for my online press kit.

The goal of the Q&A is to provide reporters with an easily digestible document for learning more about me as an author as well as my books. In the exercise, I play both the role of interviewer and interviewee, asking myself questions to which I already know the answers.

In the spirit of embracing the insanity, I’m going to share the dialogue (or is it a monologue?) below. Maybe someday I’ll have partaken in enough interviews to compose a true FAQ, but in the meantime, please enjoy my Infrequently Asked Questions:

What are The Renegade Chronicles about?

On the surface, The Renegade Chronicles is about a civil war in the magical, medieval world of Altaerra. The most powerful peace treaty in history is on the verge of collapse, and a certain band of rebels has made it their mission to learn who is really pulling the Alliance of Nations’ strings—and why.

The series is firmly entrenched in the sword-and-sorcery fantasy genre, though there are elements of mystery, suspense, and even comedy. While the world of Altaerra is populated with mythical creatures like elves and ogres, the series focuses primarily on humans caught up in political intrigue and matters of life and death.

In a nutshell, The Renegade Chronicles is about war, unexpected alliances, magical swords, unholy crusaders, redemption, and hope.

Whom are The Renegade Chronicles about?

The series features a wide array of characters, including thieves, knights, pirates, wizards, and assassins. Everyone has his or her own agenda, and most people believe they fight for “the side of right.” But a major theme woven throughout the series is that the truth tends to fall somewhere between black and white.

The main characters are the Renegades, a ragtag band of rebels brought together by a twist of fate, including Klye, a former thief and self-proclaimed leader; Ragellan, a disgraced Knight of Superius, and his protégé Horcalus; Othello, a taciturn forester; Plake, a former rancher who thinks with his fists; Scout, an explorer who knows the island better than most; the pirate king Pistol and his loyal first mate, Crooker; Arthur, a young runaway; and Lilac, a mysterious woman with an enchanted blade.

You can learn more about them here: david-michael-williams.com/renegade-chronicles/meet-the-renegades/.

Who is your favorite character?

That’s like asking me who my favorite child is!

I suppose I have many favorites. Klye Tristan, the Renegade Leader, is probably the easiest for me to write; I’ve known him the longest. Characters like Scout and Noel are gems because they provide comedic relief. I have a lot of respect for Horcalus and Stannel Bismarc, both men of principle. And as obnoxious as Plake can be, he’s undeniably a catalyst when it comes to the plot. Zusha is a lot of fun, too, because of her unique perspective.

What is the setting for The Renegade Chronicles?

The story takes place in the fantastical world of Altaerra, which is home to many different peoples, including humans, dwarves, elves, ogres and a few other traditional fantasy races. And there are a few species that are unique to Altaerra alone, such as the dreaded midge.

Readers of The Renegade Chronicles will traverse the breadth of the island of Capricon, which is populated primarily by humans and defended by the Knights of Superius. The island is home to temples, castles, foreboding mountains, abandoned settlements, and no shortage of secrets.

You can see the map of Capricon here: david-michael-williams.com/renegade-chronicles/capricon/.

Who will enjoy The Renegade Chronicles?

Fans of fantasy fiction who like fast-paced, action-packed plots, a robust cast of characters, and plenty of plot twists will appreciate The Renegade Chronicles. The focus is on the individual adventurers, most of them humans, and while the series borrows from established fantasy tropes, folks who have never read fantasy books before should be able to grasp and enjoy these stories.

The Renegade Chronicles would be a good stepping stone for teens who grew up on Harry Potter and are looking for a series that features more mature characters. They’re ready for something with a little more grit—but not something as brutal as George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Having said that, I also believe adults of all ages can appreciate these adventures.

What makes The Renegade Chronicles unique?

I’ll be the first to admit that the series is something of a throwback to the sword-and-sorcery stories I grew up with. It’s not as arch and grueling as Tolkien, and it’s certainly more lighthearted than the gritty urban fantasy that has gained popularity in recent years.

I published The Renegade Chronicles for people, like me, who want a healthy balance of high-stakes danger and good, old-fashioned fun.

What are The Renegade Chronicles “rated”?

If this were a movie, I’d say a hard PG or a soft PG-13. There is mild language and a few sexual innuendos. There’s also violence, and characters do die occasionally. But blood and gore are not the focus.

Where can someone buy The Renegade Chronicles?

All three paperbacks are available at Amazon.com. The e-book editions—including a three-in-one collection with a bonus appendix detailing the people, places and particularities of Altaerra—are exclusively available at the Kindle Store.

You can find a series of direct links here: david-michael-williams.com/renegade-chronicles.

How long did it take you to write the books?

The first book, Rebels and Fools, took the longest. I wrote the first draft while attending college and rewrote the entire manuscript my senior year. Volumes 2 and 3 took a year apiece to write (two drafts each).

When I came back to the manuscripts in late 2015, I dedicated a month to each one, refining them and making substantial edits.

What do the titles mean?

Don’t get me started on how difficult it is to come up with compelling novel titles!

All three titles hint at the duality of the characters. For example, Rebels and Fools—does that mean the enemies of the rebels are the fools, or are the rebels themselves fools? The same goes for Heroes and Liars and Martyrs and Monsters. The ambiguity is intentional and, in fact, integral.

Why do fantasy series always seem to be trilogies?

That’s an arcane secret…kind of like why every potion requires “eye of newt.” In all seriousness, I don’t think I set out to write three books specifically. I always knew where Volume 1 would end, and after I finished Volume 2, I realized it would take only one more installment to complete the main story arc.

But it’s altogether possible additional volumes could be published somewhere down the road. The Renegades have many adventures ahead of them.

Why did you decide to publish all three at once?

We live in an age of instant gratification. I know I hate waiting for a writer to finish the next installment in a series. Since I already had written all three novels, it didn’t make sense to stagger the releases of Volumes 2 and 3. If someone enjoyed Rebels and Fools, I didn’t want anything getting in the way of their buying Heroes and Liars and Martyrs and Monsters immediately.

It’s a similar philosophy to Netflix series in which an entire season is released all at once. People like to “binge watch,” so why not “binge read”? The Renegade Chronicles is like House of Cards—only with magical swords.

Why did you decide to publish The Renegade Chronicles yourself?

I wrote three complete manuscripts before searching for an agent to represent the series or a publisher to buy it. And, frankly, no one was interested. To be fair, the first book was bloated—175,000 words is too long for an unknown author’s first book—and all three books needed copious edits. The decade in between finishing the third book and revisiting the series provided me with the skills and the objectivity to go back and fix the manuscripts.

The bottom line is I had faith in the stories and the writing, and I wanted others to be able to enjoy them. Creating my own independent publishing company, One Million Words, was a means to that end.

Why did you name your publishing company One Million Words?

A good friend of mine once told me that anything an author writes before one million words are just “finger exercises.” It’s a derivative of a familiar adage that proclaims a writer must put in a ton of practice before he or she will be any good. After he told me that, I did a word count and was pleased to report back that I had, in fact, already written one million words of fiction.

There are also roughly one million words in the English language. Plus I thought “One Million Words” had a nice ring to it. I had been using that phrase for my blog and social media accounts for years, so when it came time to create my own imprint, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate name.

Where did you find inspiration for this series?

I’ve been a fan of fantasy since before I even knew what fantasy was. Books, movies, television, video games—I always gravitated toward medieval settings and magical adventures. I wholeheartedly fell in love with the DragonLance books when I was in high school, and I was a big fan of the Final Fantasy video game series before that. I wanted to create a rich world of my own, a mystical playground for the characters that popped into my head.

Who are your favorite authors?

Some of my favorite fantasy authors are Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, not only because of their contributions to the DragonLance saga, but also for the Death Gate Cycle; R.A. Salvatore, primarily for his DemonWars series; Neil Gaiman; George R.R. Martin; and, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien, the grandfather of the fantasy genre.

Beyond fantasy, I’m a big fan of William Faulkner, and one of my favorite novels of all time is Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

What was the biggest challenge in publishing The Renegade Chronicles?

When you are preparing to publish three novels in two formats (print and digital), there are a lot of moving parts. On top of that, I held myself to a very aggressive timeline. When things are running that tight, even a minor setback can impact a lot of other tasks.

To tell the truth, I think my greatest challenge still lies ahead: marketing the series and reaching new customers.

Will there be any future books in The Renegade Chronicles?

I’d love to write more stories about Klye Tristan and the gang. I have plenty of additional plots already mapped out, so jumping back into Altaerra wouldn’t be 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.

By and large, sales of the first three volumes will determine whether I can afford to return to this world.

What is your next project?

I’m stepping away from Altaerra for at least a little while. I’m in the middle of writing a science fiction series called The Soul Sleep Cycle. While my agent looks for a buyer for the first two books in that series (If Souls Can Sleep and If Sin Dwells Deep), I’ll be working on the third novel, If Dreams Can Die.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Oh, I have lots of advice—mostly lessons I’ve learned along the way. I include writing tips on my website, david-michael-williams.com.

What I will say is I’m glad print-on-demand publishing was not available when I was in my early twenties. Self-publishing almost makes it too easy to put one’s work out there, and I’ve seen plenty of examples of dabblers and amateurs publishing before they are ready.

I fear that I would have been among them; if I had published The Renegade Chronicles before 2016, they would have been an inferior product. My advice to young writers is to wait until you’re prepared to treat your fiction as a business before considering self-publishing.

What are your long-term goals?

First and foremost, I want to continue to publish my novels, whether through a traditional publishing house or through One Million Words. I have a lot of ideas, so here’s to hoping I find readers who appreciate my stories and will support my dream of getting paid to do what I love.

In addition to novels, I’d love to write for a video game or a graphic novel. My wife says I should produce a pun-a-day calendar. At this point, I’m keeping everything on the table.

Any other questions for the author? Shoot them my way in the comments section!

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