Tag Archives: tough decisions

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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My year of yes

While watching a hardscrabble soccer game with my son, I proffered this platitude:

“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Cue the eye roll.

My 10-year-old swiftly informed me there were posters proclaiming that very notion scattered throughout his school—three of them. Cliché though the expression may be, it’s nonetheless true that you can’t succeed if you don’t try. And probability suggests the more often you try, the better your odds of achieving.

I didn’t realize I was taking my own (borrowed) advice until I caught Yes Man on HBO the other night. That’s the one where a play-it-safe, stuck-in-a-rut loan officer makes a covenant with himself, promising to say yes to every request and opportunity.

In the movie, operating in an affirmative absolute yielded comical results. But this is real life. Unlike Jim Carrey’s character, I’d never blindly agree to everything. Lately, however, I’ve started forcing myself to come up with reasons to do something rather than not doing it.

As a result, 2018 is proving to be a year of trying new things and taking chances.

Destabilizing events

It began at the end of last year. While updating my business plan, I made the decision to attend more events. Why? My records showed I sold more books face-to-face than through any other marketing tactics in 2016 and 2017.

As a result, I earmarked a handful of conventions, conferences, and occasions where one might peddle one’s literary wares. Some were repeat appearances, but I also added a few new events, including Lakefly Writers Conference and WisCon.

So far sales have varied greatly from venue to venue. However, I’ve also realized networking can be its own reward.

Destination: collaboration

I was fortunate enough to meet two other fantasy authors at Lakefly. We had fun trading stories about our individual writing, publishing, and marketing experiences before the the doors to the vendor room opened as well as over lunch. Those conversations continue today via group chats.

There’s certainly value in learning from the successes and missteps of other writers’ “yeses.”

The biggest thing to come out of meeting Malinda Andrews and Rebekah K. Bryan, however, was an invitation to contribute Rebels and Fools to an e-book box set comprised of six complete fantasy novels.

In fact, Sixfold Fantasy became a reality earlier this month. Buy it here.

The play’s the thing

Sometimes opportunities pass us by without our even knowing. That almost happened to me a week ago when an email that looked suspiciously like spam popped into my inbox. Thankfully, I took a closer read before banishing it to my junk folder.

Lo and behold, it ended up being an invitation to participate in something called the 24-Hour Theater Experience. This October, a handful of writers will be given a theme, number of characters, and nine hours to write a 10-minute play, which will then be rehearsed and performed by the local community theater troupe at a swanky Fond du Lac venue—all within in the span of a single day.

Turns out someone recommended me to be one of the writers. (Thanks, Dusty!)

Now I don’t fancy myself a playwright, but I do have experience writing scripts for commercials and other videos. It’s always a thrill to see actual people speaking the words you put on a page.

Comfort zone? Looks like I’m gonna exit stage left.

Action affirmative

Here’s another adage: man plans, and God laughs.

I try to keep my production calendar as flexible as possible. Some projects—such as a comic book collaboration codenamed ONE-SHOT—started out as a “yes” but collectively became “no, not right now.”

On the other hand, I just finished writing a short story that was decidedly not part of Plan A and am contemplating publishing an e-book anthology of my shorter works—though not until 2019.

Yes, 2018 has already put plenty on my plate!

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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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100 agonizing words

I recently spent five excruciating hours at my keyboard and have less than 100 words to show for it.

Granted, they are some of the most important words for my next novel—second only to the title, I’d argue—but the fact that so much time yielded so little leads to believe that blurbs are the blight of the publishing world.

OK, I may have griped about the challenges of various writing exercises over the years:

Today, however, I’m prepared to go on record as saying all else pales in comparison to penning the dreaded book blurb.

Not to be confused with a full-fledged synopsis (the bare-bones summery generally reserved for agent and publisher queries), a blurb is a relatively small chunk of text tasked with huge responsibility: selling the idea of the book to readers.

Blurbs are often found on the back cover as well as the product description page of an online retailer. Working in conjunction with an engaging cover art and a snappy title, the successful blurb hooks the shopper, converting a prospect into a customer.

Long blurbs run the risk of revealing too much. (Technically, revealing the protagonist, antagonist, and main problem should suffice.) Conversely, if the blurb is too concise or vague, an amazing plot could come off as uninspired.

It’s a balancing act even tightrope walkers fear.

Cropped out book blurb from the back cover of If Souls Can Sleep

Here’s the book blurb from If Souls Can Sleep.

 

For my last book, If Souls Can Sleep, I limited the blurb to five sentences: two for an enticing headline, one to tease the protagonist and plot, and two to introduce the world of dream drifters. Because that blurb received praise from reviewers, I took a similar approach to Book Two of The Soul Sleep Cycle.

Without further preamble, here is the still-in-progress blurb for If Sin Dwells Deep:

 

She swore to defend the dreamscape.
But who will save her from herself?

When her mentor goes missing, straight-laced Allison must rely on her alter-ego, the rebellious goddess Syn, to rescue him. Trusting anyone at Project Valhalla could cost her her life, but fighting alone might damn her very soul.

 


 

If Sin Dwells Deep — a parallel novel to If Souls Can Sleep — exposes the secret world of dream drifters and the classified government operation charged with protecting the collective unconscious from those who would use their abilities to corrupt life, death, and what lies beyond.

 

Given how important these 100 words are, I welcome/encourage/demand feedback. Would that blurb motivate you to flip open the cover or, better yet, add to cart? If not, why?

Thanks in advance for your comments!

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Some bad news about my brand

What is the digital equivalent of schizophrenia?

Whatever it is, my website has it. More specifically, my brand suffers from it. That’s right, I have a brand. Every author does. Except I ended up with two brands because I bandied about the phrase “One Million Words” for years and then finally formed One Million Words LLC in 2016.

On paper it seems so easy: David Michael Williams is an author, and One Million Words is a publisher. But at this point, OMW publishes only the works of DMW, so the two identifiers are irrevocably interwoven.

Should one-million-words.com redirect to david-michael-williams.com or the other way around? One could argue they should be two separate websites, but it would be ridiculous to maintain two websites with near-identical content.

The professional marketer in me bemoans the fact that OMW has taken a backseat to DMW. After all, a legitimate company should have its own logo, website, LinkedIn profile, and so forth. But if I’m being honest, One Million Words LLC is nothing more than a string of words created expressly for the spine of my self-published novels.

Until the company produces works by other authors, it really doesn’t need to be more than that.

Don’t worry. Even if the One Million Words brand disappears someday, I’d never make my name into a logotype.

I have a bigger problem on my hands, however: David Michael Williams, as a brand, is broken.

Nota bene: Marketing is my day job. I’ve worked with countless companies and organizations on branding exercises, so I’m no stranger to concepts like positioning statements, brand platforms, target audiences, as well as the formal guidelines that govern all marketing communications. And while a solitary novelist differs from corporation in many key aspects, the same fundamentals apply to any entity that sells a product.

The root of my dilemma—my identity crisis, as it were—is that David Michael Williams, the human being, is inconsistent.

If I penned only sword-and-sorcery fantasy books, it’d be much easier to market myself, my novels, and my company. But I also write sci-fi and other subgenres of speculative fiction. You might be thinking, “No matter. Many authors publish fantasy and science fiction. They’re close cousins.”

OK, but I co-wrote a children’s chapter book too. There was also a certain stillborn pun-a-day calendar. And I can’t promise I won’t attempt an interactive storytelling experiment at some point in the future. (Anyone wanna play a grammar video game?)

Some may argue that an author should use a different pen name for each genre he tackles. There’s wisdom in that, but at the same time, I can’t get enthusiastic about juggling additional aliases. I’m one guy with a lot of different ideas who doesn’t want to limit his possibilities; is that a crime?

No, but it can be confusing to consumers, which negatively impact profits.

Or perhaps I’m oversimplifying things. There are plenty of professionals who straddle genres and/or media. Some of my favorites include Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame (though I like Invincible much more and am excited about the recently announced movie); the Decemberists, whose talented fingers touch projects ranging from music and visual art to children’s novels and board games; and the insanely brilliant Neil Gaiman, whose entire career I’d love to clone.

Given those folks’ success, it would seem that a diversity of creativity can be something of a brand in itself. That does give me hope, though in the short term, it won’t make building a fan base any easier. Because as much as it would streamline things, I can’t focus on just one aspect of storytelling.

I won’t.

Which means regardless of whether my website banner says “David Michael Williams” or “One Million Words,” visitors are going to get a messy, mixed bag of imagination.

Related posts:

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Reblog: Pantsers vs. Plotters

Once upon a time, the stories poured from my fingertips.

Back in the early days of my Quest for Publication, I was equipped with naught but a trusty Pilot pen, a five-subject Mead notebook, and a plethora of ideas. Eventually, I upgraded to a keyboard and computer.

After transcribing tome after tome of intertwining fantasy storylines from my neat (read: girly) handwriting to single-spaced Times New Roman, I typed up additional supplemental materials. I sketched out maps, chronicled centuries of history, invented religions, drafted character profiles, and crafted the very rules of the universe.

I was world building, damn it, and every fantasy author worth his sword needs to know his setting inside out.

I wrote this blog post for nyareads.com. Read the entire post here.

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