Frequently Asked Questions
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The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot FAQ
Mostly I write speculative fiction, including fantasy, science fiction, metaphysical, supernatural, dreampunk, and other wonderfully weird categories.
I love putting my own spin on established genres as well as mashing several together to come up with something new. Having said that, sword-and-sorcery fantasy will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s where I started, and I love to make return visits when I can.
I prefer writing longform fiction, such as novels and series, to short stories (though I have a few of those too).
Beyond fiction, I write creative nonfiction (such as my blog) and have experience in journalism, public relations, and marketing copywriting.
The stories come whether I want them to or not. If I neglect the craft, it takes a toll on my mood. Inversely, few things compare to the joy I experience when sharing my stories.
In short, I write because I can’t not write—and because I’m not good enough at drawing. (More on that below.)
I was a storyteller before I was a writer. When I was a kid, I’d sketch characters and draw “action pictures” to create a narrative or act out storylines using action figures or LEGO minifigures. I tried my hand at writing early in life but quickly grew frustrated with my limitations.
In high school, however, I realized writing was the most efficacious way for me to preserve my many intertwining plots. Those early efforts were terrible but necessary.
During my freshman year of college, I took my first serious stab at a novel. That book eventually became Rebels and Fools.
My only limit as a writer is imagination. Words allow me to harness my creativity without worrying about the cost of materials, hard-to-acquire equipment, and so forth, which other artistic types have to deal with.
If I can think it, I can write it.
I also like how writing lends itself to so many different avenues. You need writing not only for books, but also graphic novels, video games, tabletop games, teleplays, and movie scripts.
So, yeah, the possibility and the variety.
Before a book is published, the characters and their world exist solely in my mind. Once other readers get their hands on the stories, I’m able to have conversation about these imaginary people and places. It makes everything real in a way I can’t explain—real and rewarding.
Writing novels is incredibly time consuming. If I were better at short fiction—and if the market were more lucrative—I’d be able to transform more of my ideas into fully-realized stories. But novels can take years to complete. And when I’m working on a series, I’m fully immersed in that world for several years.
The impatient part of me wishes I could unleash my creativity upon the world in a timelier manner. Then again, there’s something to be said for quality over quantity.
Some of my best writing can be found in The Soul Sleep Cycle not only in terms of the craft, but also the story itself. I’m incredibly proud of how that series turned out.
One of the most fun things I’ve ever penned, however, is a certain children’s chapter book my wife and I self-published many years ago.
Sure, I’ve written myself into a corner once or twice, and there are days when the words flow faster than others. But I tend to suffer from the opposite condition: more ideas than time to explore them.
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.
In addition to novels, I’d love to write for a video game and/or a graphic novel.
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. A longtime connoisseur of comic books, I can’t get enough of Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga and Paper Girls.
Oh, I have lots of advice—mostly lessons I’ve learned along the way. I include writing tips on my in my blog.
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 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.
After having several close calls with traditional publishing, I decided to take fate into my own hands by publishing my novels myself. I created One Million Words LLC because I thought it was important to treat my craft like a business as well as for the legal protection it provides.
A good friend of mine once told me everything an author writes before one million words is 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, and 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.
Currently, no. I became a publisher as a means to an end: getting my fiction into the hands of readers. I have assisted other authors with self-publishing, but to date only the works of David Michael Williams are published under the One Million Words imprint.
There are two big reasons why I do not publish other authors’ works:
- More publishing means less time for writing, which is my chief passion.
- Expanding One Million Words would open the door to additional liability.
Which is not to say the business won’t, one day, evolve and expand its catalog. For now, however, I’m content with keeping OMW all to myself.
I love the control I have as the publisher of my own books—from having the last word on the cover art and marketing blurb to releasing a story exactly the way I want it. Plus I am extremely satisfied with my products.
If another publisher were interested in buying the rights to my books, I would certainly be open to a conversation. Extending my distribution channels and flexing additional marketing muscles are two motivators for exploring that path. As with everything, the devil is in the details.
(If you want to discuss publishing my books under your label or adapting them for a different medium, contact me.)
Magic’s Daughter FAQ
At its core, Magic’s Daughter is a coming-of-age story of a girl deciding who she will become and how much of her true self she will share with family members who harbor secrets of their own.
Steeped in the traditions of sword-and-sorcery fantasy, Magic’s Daughter favors mystery and complex relationships, both familial and romantic, over copious bouts of combat and geographical exploration. The book reads more like a biography than a typical battle-heavy quest.
To put it another way:
Selena Nelesti wants nothing to do with her noble name.
While her mother schemes to find her a highborn husband, young Selena loses herself in her studies, learning about the villains and heroes who helped shape the world.
But ancient history cannot fix her future. To destroy the shackles of duty and forge her own path, she must seek out new knowledge—forbidden knowledge.
All magic requires sacrifice, however, and if Selena is not careful, it may consume her completely.
The story follows the life of Selena Nelesti from age 14 to 18. Selena is a brilliant young noblewoman who wants more out of life than what tradition dictates. When she discovers magic, she finds an avenue to rebel against her family’s wishes.
Selena feels trapped, but only time will tell whether magic is the key to her freedom or the path to another prison.
The supporting cast includes her manipulative mother and an increasingly distant father, her beloved but ailing grandmother, a stable boy who provides a perspective from outside the castle, a combative priest, and a wizard who will change Selena’s world in ways seen and unseen.
The book is set in Altaerra, a medieval world with magical elements that have been largely pushed to the periphery of human civilization. Selena’s family lives in the prosperous nation of Superius within the Confederacy of Continae.
Altaerra also serves as the setting for The Renegade Chronicles, which often referenced Superius and even contained a few scenes set there, though the bulk of that series took place on the island province of Capricon.
I’ve spent years—decades, actually—building my own fantasy world. Once upon a time, I couldn’t imagine telling stories outside of Altaerra. I wrote the first draft of Magic’s Daughter immediately after wrapping up the The Renegade Chronicles trilogy (circa 2005) but didn’t do anything with it for a long time thereafter.
Honestly, I didn’t know if I would return to the manuscript, but after getting a warm reception for my first three Altaerra novels, I suspected Magic’s Daughter would get released in some way, shape, or form in the future. When I discovered Radish, an app that allows authors to publish their works as serials, I rolled up my sleeves, made massive cuts and revisions, and published chapter after chapter from Sept. 3, 2019, to Feb. 6, 2020.
It was a whole lot of fun visiting Altaerra again. Hopefully, readers will feel the same!
No, this is a separate story, and the bulk of the plot takes place prior to the events in The Renegade Chronicles.
That said, Magic’s Daughter is something like a cousin to my first trilogy. Names of people and places will be familiar to those who have read The Renegade Chronicles, and there’s at least two characters who appears in both works.
Because Magic’s Daughter is an independent work featuring different characters, geography, and timeframe, reading The Renegade Chronicles is not a prerequisite.
And while Magic’s Daughter takes place first, chronologically, the two works can be read in either order.
Readers of YA fantasy, NA fantasy, and straight-up swords-and-sorcery fantasy are the target audience. Given the protagonist and themes, Magic’s Daughter might skew a bit more toward a female readership than male.
Fans of The Renegade Chronicles may also enjoy the opportunity to return to Altaerra and experience a different type of tale—one that focuses on a smaller cast of characters, contains more romance, and takes a different approach to matters of life and death.
If you like smart stories with heart, give Magic’s Daughter a try.
The suggested audience is age 13 and older. Although Magic’s Daughter could probably earn a PG rating if it were made into a movie, the story touches on several mature themes, including sexuality and abuse.
I chose Magic’s Daughter for the title because it touches on the two biggest themes of the story: power and family. It seems as though Selena must choose between her identity as an ambitious spell-caster and her aristocratic role within the Nelesti home. The title also hints at the ambiguity of relationships.
I also liked Magic’s Daughter because it could easily be adapted for future books in a series—Magic’s Disciples, Magic’s Defenders, etc.
It is a standalone novel in that it is self-contained.
However, there is a chance future stories starring Selena Nelesti may be written and published. I have many stories starring the wizardess and her future companions mapped out as well as the first half of a potential sequel drafted.
As always, reader interest—as well as my own—will dictate whether more books will be released.
I have dozens of storylines for books set in Altaerra swimming in my brain.
After I finished writing The Renegade Chronicles, I was tempted to forge ahead with future tales of the Renegades and the defenders of Fort Valor, but I realized that the next Altaerra saga I wanted to explore started in another place and time.
To do that story justice, I needed to step away from The Renegade Chronicles for a spell.
Rather than jump into another high-stakes epic starring three battle mages, I chose to challenge myself by focusing on just one of them—an origin story that featured a single protagonist struggling with personal problems and making decisions that would impact her—and her allies’—future adventures.
Magic’s Daughter gave me the opportunity to dig into Altaerra’s magic, which was only glimpsed through a couple of characters in The Renegade Chronicles. The book also allowed me to play with complex family dynamics and new themes like identity and memory/memory loss—topics that I went on to explore in The Soul Sleep Cycle.
The paperback and Kindle editions of Magic’s Daughter were released on April 14, 2020. More e-book editions and, fingers crossed, an audiobook edition will come out later this year.
Although I am tempted to continue working on Selena’s saga, I now turn my attention to a standalone YA portal fantasy slated for Fall 2020, tentatively titled Sir Larpsalot.
(You can follow my progress on that book and other projects through my blog.)
The Renegade Chronicles FAQ
On the surface, The Renegade Chronicles are 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.
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. They are 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.
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.
The story takes place in the fantasy 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.
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 steppingstone 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.
I’ll be the first to admit 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.
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.
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 available at the Kindle Store and Smashwords for other e-book readers.
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. Heroes and Liars and Martyrs and Monsters 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.
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 the other two books. The ambiguity is intentional and, in fact, integral.
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 more adventures ahead of them.
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”?
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.
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.
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.
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. It’s called Magic’s Daughter.
By and large, sales of the first three volumes will determine whether I can afford to return to this world.
The Soul Sleep Cycle
If Souls Can Sleep
The back-cover blurb sums it up nicely:
First he lost his daughter. His mind may be next.
After years of being haunted by the day his little girl drowned, Vincent faces a new nightmare—one that reaches into the real world and beyond the grave.
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.
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.
I don’t think I could ever pick a favorite, but I do love writing characters that 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.
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.
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, metafiction, and dreampunk.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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 in between installments.
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?
If Sin Dwells Deep FAQ
Here’s the back-cover teaser:
Even good girls have secrets.
When straight-laced Allison sleeps, the rebellious goddess Syn wakes. Having a fling in the dreamscape may seem like harmless fun, but when a sadistic predator learns her true identity, the fantasy begins to bleed into real life.
If Sin Dwells Deep—a parallel novel to If Souls Can Sleep—exposes the hidden world of dream drifters and explores the war between gifted government agents and those who would use their abilities to corrupt life, death, and that which lies beyond.
The story centers on Allison, specifically her struggles while navigating multiple realities and the morality of managing conflicting identities. The reader also gets glimpses into the mind of the Wolf, a disturbed dream drifter who is determined to punish Allison for her alleged sins.
Intertwined with the main plot are chapters that feature psychiatrist-turned-fugitive William Marlowe, who was presented as an antagonist in Book One and whose scenes help uncover the true threat to the dreamscape in Book Two.
In If Sin Dwells Deep, I really enjoyed creating point-of-view characters who were all very different from me. Allison is a conservative young woman; the Wolf is a sexual predator; and William is a gay man of Japanese descent. All three have unique voices and presented their own challenges to me as the author.
While I don’t think I can pick a favorite, I always appreciate the characters who give me an opportunity to express humor. The relationship dynamics of Allison and her love interest, Eben, were a lot of fun to write, though William—a scoundrel on the verge of a mental break—gave me some of my favorite lines in this book.
The real-world scenes are split between Seattle and Philadelphia, but most of the action takes place in the dreamscape, the collective unconscious where dream drifters can access the minds of unsuspecting sleepers.
There are also a few flashbacks, both inside and outside of the dreamscape, that drop clues as to how the actions of William—and other members of the defunct Lucid Dreaming Society—resulted in the current conflict.
With If Souls Can Sleep, the first book in the series, I set out to write something very different from the sword-and-sorcery fantasy stories I had been writing previously. I wanted to tell a story I had never heard before, something unique and unusual.
As a result, Book One and Book Two of The Soul Sleep Cycle are both mashups of several genres, such as science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, suspense, metafiction, and dreampunk.
Fans of speculative fiction—including fantasy and science fiction—are the obvious audience, but the series also appeals to people who read outside those genres. It’s a wonderfully weird story, so anyone who likes rich characters and unpredictable plots can enjoy If Sin Dwells Deep.
If Sin Dwells Deep earns an R rating. The Wolf is one twisted soul, which brings mature aspects into the story. There’s profanity, violence, and sexual content. The suggested audience is age 18 and older.
I wrote the first draft of If Sin Dwells Deep in about eight months in 2011 and 2012. It wasn’t until 2014 that I wrote a second draft. Then I wrapped up the final edits and proofing in early 2018.
On paper, it looks like it took six years, but when you ignore the time I spent working on other projects, I’d estimate just under a year from writing the prologue of the first draft to finishing the final version.
I really liked the title of If Souls Can Sleep, which came from a quote within the book. Using an “if clause” leaves the reader hanging and injects some suspense.
The working title of Book Two was “Almost a Fantasy,” but it lacked vim. So I tried to come up with something better, something that tied into the first title.
If Sin Dwells Deep was perfect in that it touches on two themes in the novel—whether one’s actions in a dream could be considered actual sins and the idea of “going deeper” while dream drifting.
If Sin Dwells Deep is not a direct sequel to If Souls Can Sleep.
With Book One, I realized early on that I was trying to write three books at once. I had to cut two significant storylines in order to streamline it. In the end, Book One became Vincent’s—and to a lesser extent, Milton’s—story.
Yet I knew I wanted to reveal more about the gods and goddesses of Project Valhalla. Ultimately, I decided If Sin Dwells Deep would be a parallel novel to If Souls Can Sleep. This allowed me to tell another side of the story—the stuff that couldn’t fit into the first book—while giving readers an alternate entry point into the series.
No. If Sin Dwells Deep isn’t just a retread of the first plot. While the new book will fill in some blanks, shedding light on Project Valhalla’s actions during If Souls Can Sleep, it’s strong enough to stand on its own.
Although the two books share a handful of scenes, I thought it was important to make both books self-contained. The two books are interconnected yet independent.
I like putting realistic, relatable characters in strange situations and seeing how they will behave.
As with Vincent in the first book, If Sin Dwells Deep focuses on an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation. What would you do if you could do anything without consequences? Who would you become?
Allison uses the dreamscape as an escape. So does the Wolf, though his explorations skew to a much darker extreme. And then there’s William, who hopes to capitalize in the real world from what he can do in the dreamscape.
As for the dreamscape itself, well, I’ve always had vivid dreams. Why do our minds produce their own movies every night? What if dreams actually link our brains to others? I find psychology and neurology fascinating. There is still so much we don’t understand about the science of dreams; I suppose that is what science fiction is for.
If Dreams Can Die
Life and death, love and hate, hope and despair, dreams and reality, identity and illusion, friendship and rivalry, faith and doubt, damnation and redemption—these are all themes found within The Soul Sleep Cycle and If Dreams Can Die especially.
But the back-cover blurb sums up the story much better:
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.
The book focuses on Annette Young, a woman who lost her husband and daughter early in life and never fully recovered from the emotional trauma. She takes matters into her own hands, making compromise after compromise in the pursuit of what she perceives as a happy ending for everyone.
It’s up to the reader to decide whether Annette—as the so-called Lady of Peace—is a hero or a villain.
Characters from the first two books also carry the story at various points, including Milton, a dream-drifting pioneer recovering from a coma; William, a brilliant but dangerous fugitive; and Allison (a.k.a. Syn), a CIA-sanctioned dream drifter. If Dreams Can Die introduced a new point-of-view character as well: Brynhildr, the valkyrie commander of Project Valhalla.
That’s a tricky question since many scenes take place in shared dreams. Real-world action is split between the East and West Coasts in the U.S., while various dreams and memories will take readers across the globe, including China, Russia, and maybe even Antarctica.
And then there’s the tumultuous space between dreams, the setting of the series’ climax.
I’d love to say anyone can pick up If Dreams Can Die and enjoy it, but that’s simply not true. Although I think the story is strong enough to stand on its own, newcomers to the series would lack necessary context to understand the full extent of the plot.
Readers should definitely read If Souls Can Sleep and If Sin Dwells Deep before diving into Book Three.
As for the series as a whole, fans of speculative fiction are the most obvious audience. The Soul Sleep Cycle contains elements of several genres, including science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, and suspense. The series could also be categorized as dreampunk, a subgenre that raises the question “What is real?”
However, anyone who loves rich characters and unpredictable plots can enjoy the series.
The suggested audience is age 18 and older. While If Dreams Can Die lacks the explicit sexual content of its predecessor, Book Three nevertheless contains course language and explores mature subjects, including infidelity and suicide.
I established something of a naming convention with the first two books, If Souls Can Sleep and If Sin Dwells Deep. I’ve always liked using “if clauses” for the series because they inject a sense of suspense.
I decided on the title If Dreams Can Die very early in the project. Dreaming and death have been prevalent themes throughout the series, and then there’s the ambiguity. Are all dreams on the chopping block or just one woman’s vision? The alliteration didn’t hurt, either.
Yes, it does.
Whereas the first two books were parallel novels, covering roughly the same time span from different sides of the saga, If Dreams Can Die begins immediately after the events of If Souls Can Sleep and If Sin Dwells Deep.
In some ways, it was more difficult than I had anticipated. I knew, broadly speaking, where the series was headed. I knew where it had to end. But how I was going to tell this story changed throughout the planning phase and from draft to draft.
The greatest challenge was choosing the right narrators. Book One, by and large, was told by three point-of-view characters; it was Vincent’s story, as told by Leah and Vincent himself, with Milton’s scenes providing hints at the bigger picture. Book Two centered on Allison/Syn, with chapters from William’s and the Wolf’s perspectives sprinkled throughout.
I knew Annette had to tell her story in Book Three, but what other voices were needed? I struggled to find the best support narrators. In the end, I decided not to artificially restrict myself to only three p.o.v. characters.
Milton, Allison, and William return to provide their perspectives for a handful of chapters, and Brynhildr also steps into the spotlight to reveal more about the dynamics within Project Valhalla.
I honestly don’t know.
I do know If Dreams Can Die spells the end of the story I set out to tell when planning Book One. But I’d love to return to the dreamscape someday. I suspect Daniel’s daughter has an interesting life ahead of her, and the future of Project Valhalla surely contains some twists and turns.
If there is enough interest—and if there are enough sales—to justify it, I’d love to add a fourth book to The Soul Sleep Cycle.
For now, however, I’m excited to pursue something new. I’ve been working on this wonderfully weird series, on and off, for 12½ years, so there’s a backlog of stories I’m eager to tell.
First and foremost, I wanted to provide a satisfying resolution for the series. I’m not one to tie up storylines with tidy, little bows. Yet the first two books posed a lot of questions, and I felt it necessary to answer the most important ones before the end of Book Three.
If Dreams Can Die is largely Annette’s story, a tale that started decades ago when she lost her family. What makes Annette remarkable isn’t her ability to dream drift, but her single-minded determination to defy the natural order of things to accomplish her goal—no matter the sacrifice.
It’s a stark contrast to the Vincent’s actions at the end of If Souls Can Sleep…
And while I didn’t set out to write a book about grief and hopelessness and the value of life, I have seen the impact of depression firsthand. Even though I write books with fantastic elements, I believe it’s important to ground my stories in reality, which means writing believable characters grappling with relatable problems.
The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot FAQ
Here’s the quick explanation: five teens get pulled into another world and have to play hero in order to make it back home.
The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot is what’s called a portal fantasy, but the heroes of my story have a bit of an advantage in that they know how fantasy quests work—or at least they think they do. From the start, I described this book as Galaxy Quest meets Dungeons & Dragons.
Here’s the official hook:
WIZARDS & WANNABES
As the first day of high school creeps closer, five friends agree to one last LARP before splitting the party and ending their geeky game forever.
But the real adventure is just beginning…
Mistaking the teens’ costumed characters for actual warriors, a sorceress summons Sir Larpsalot, Elvish Presley, Brutus the Bullheaded, Master Prospero, and Tom Foolery to her world to complete an impossible quest. To succeed, they must become the heroes they only ever pretended to be.
And if they can’t find a way to win, it’s GAME OVER for real!
LARP stands for Live Action Roleplaying, where players dress up and physically portray their characters in a game, as opposed to table-top gaming, where players move miniatures across a map and roll dice.
Think of it as “live-action D&D.”
I love fiddling with fantasy clichés and smashing stereotypes when I can. Making my main characters larpers gave me the chance to write protagonists who are keyed into the tropes and “rules” of how fantasy adventures work.
Even though many larpers are adult, larping could be seen as something uncool at the characters’ ages, so larping also works as a metaphor for finding their identities. Does maturing mean they have to stop playing make-believe? Is it time to grow up and move on?
There are five heroes in The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot, Midwestern teens who become their larger-than-life alter-egos when they larp. Here’s a little about each of them:
LORENZO / SIR LARPSALOT
Lorenzo Lopez would much rather larp than worry about starting high school or saying goodbye to his best friend. As Sir Larpsalot, human paragon, he is eager to prove himself, though his heroics could tear the party apart.
ASHER / ELVISH PRESLEY
Asher Brzezinski plans one final larp for Good Company before his family moves away, but everything goes wrong. As Elvish Presley, elf minstrel, he has played many roles, but never before the damsel in distress.
MAK / BRUTUS THE BULLHEADED
Makayla Schmidt unleashes her inner tomboy when she larps, though she also has a secret reason for playing. As Brutus the Bullheaded, minotaur berserker, she buries her feelings beneath a tough exterior—until she can’t.
TRENT / TOM FOOLERY
Trent Hawthorn thinks larping was fun while it lasted, but he is ready to grow up and meet girls. As Tom Foolery, a dwarf clerogue, he must remain a geek a little longer if he wants to keep himself and his brother alive
JON / MASTER PROSPERO
Jonathan Hawthorn doesn’t care if the others call him a know-it-all because it implies he truly knows everything. As Master Prospero, human magus, he will do anything to complete their quest, even if he has to do it alone.
This might sound crazy, but there are actually three worlds in this book.
The teens start out our world, what they think of as the real world (1). On the outskirts of the unassuming city of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, they roleplay as their characters in a pretend world of their own creation called Mezzo-Earth (2). Eventually, they end up in another world altogether—a world with magic (3), and that’s where the real adventure begins.
The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot is a young adult (YA) fantasy novel. My target audience is male readers age 13 to 17 (though female beta readers also enjoyed the story—especially the take-no-crap tomboy Makayla Schmidt).
Truth be told, I wrote this story for teens who, like my son, don’t typically get engrossed in books. It’s a fast-paced, action-packed adventure with a lot of humor and a lot of heart. You don’t have to be a fan of fantasy to enjoy The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot—though you might become one while reading it!
Reportedly, half of YA fantasy readers are adults, and my adult beta readers found plenty to like in this book, especially those who grew up gaming and/or reading fantasy novels.
I’d say it lands somewhere between PG and a soft PG-13. There is no swearing; instead, the characters used invented curses in the Minotaur tongue. While there is violence and a hint of romance, none of the scenes are gratuitous or particularly graphic.
Coming up with suitable titles can be a struggle, and this book proved no different. The very first character concept that came to mind was Sir Larpsalot. Initially, he was going to be the unrivaled main character, but as time went on, I decided to go with an ensemble cast.
And yet the name “Sir Larpsalot” says so much: this is a story about larpers and a tale that doesn’t take itself too seriously. So even though this isn’t Lorenzo’s story alone, I thought it was important to keep his avatar’s name in the title.
An unrepentant punslinger, I also wanted to sneak a double meaning into the title with the word “lost.” On one hand, no one has ever told this story before; by calling it a “lost tale,” it adds an air of mystery and seasons it with a high-fantasy flavor. On the other hand, the teens are literally lost in this strange, new world.
From the beginning, I wanted The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot to be a self-contained, standalone story—no setup for a sequel, no cliffhanger demanding one or more follow-ups.
Why? For one thing, I worried that introducing too many subplots would sabotage my attempt to maintain a highspeed pace. For another, I didn’t necessarily want to commit to writing another YA portal fantasy. (I have so many other ideas waiting in the wings!)
Having said that, I always leave the door open a crack if I want to return to group of characters or setting. Do the friends drift apart in high school? Do they reconnect remotely when they go to college?
If reader demand and sales support a return to this story, I would certainly consider writing a sequel.
A friend of mine and I collect superhero and supervillain names—the more ridiculous, the better—because we entertain the idea of creating our own comic books, one of which would have starred the impostor hero, Sir Larpsalot.
When the illustrator we had been working with bailed, we shelved our ideas, but I never stopped thinking about Sir Larpsalot. Could I adapt the graphic-novel outline into a true novel?
Coinciding with those thoughts was a desire to write a book my children could enjoy, especially my almost-teenaged son who isn’t necessarily drawn to reading. Ultimately, I decided to write a YA portal fantasy targeting his demographic: young boys who have been exposed to fantasy but aren’t normally motivated to pick up a (non-graphic) novel.
The book had to be fast, fun, and funny.
Too many ideas!
I tend to write complex, branching narratives that feature a wide cast of characters and intertwining subplots. I like using big words, playing mind games with the reader, and filling pages with foreshadowing and plot twists—none of which would have necessarily benefited this piece of YA fiction.
Throughout each draft, I also had to remind myself of who my readers were as well as who my characters are. It’s been a while since I was a teenager, so I had to step back into that stage of life. Fortunately, I live with a tween and a teen. Listening to them talk to each other and watching them interact with their friends came in handy, since I wanted the characters’ dialogue and inner monologue to be authentic.
The focus. By streamlining the story into a single thread and spotlighting only a handful of characters, I could keep the plot moving along and not get mired down in complex details. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t hard work!
I also did two rounds of feedback gathering—first with teens and then with adults. Hearing from YA readers so early in the process gave me confidence that the story was headed in the right direction. The characters and their struggles resonated. The feedback from my teen beta readers made the subsequent drafts so much stronger.
Thirdly, I had a lot of fun with the epigraphs at the start of each chapter, which not only served as a bit of fun vocabulary, but also a teaser about what was just around the bend.
By juggling five point-of-view characters, I initially worried there would be some weak links. To put it bluntly, what if one or more of the narrators were duds? And to be honest, I thought a few of them might end up unlikable. (*cough* Trent *cough*)
I grew to like them all for different reasons by the end of the first draft, and a quick poll with my beta readers revealed a pretty even spread across favorite characters and least favorite characters. Everybody seemed to find at least one hero to latch onto, and none of the characters were universally loathed.
I have a few plans percolating:
- Creating an audiobook version of The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot narrated by yours truly. (Gulp!)
- Publishing a collection of short stories that span the gamut of what speculative fiction has to offer.
- Working on a fantasy-themed, pixel-art webcomic about retired adventurers called Curmudgeons & Flagons.
You can follow my progress on these projects (and maybe others?) through my blog.
The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd FAQ
It’s fantasy, but no, it’s not a novel.
The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd is a tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG). Instead of reading the story from cover to cover, a gamemaster (GM) uses the book as a guide to lead players down whichever paths they pick.
TTRPGs are a little like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books but with multiple “readers” interacting in real time with one another and other characters that populate the stories. Therefore, The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd is a form of shared storytelling.
The guidebook is available in hardcover and digital editions.
Simply put, a tabletop roleplaying game—also called a pen-and-paper roleplaying game—is a form of storytelling in which the participants describe their characters’ actions through speech. Whether an attempted action succeeds often depends on the roll of one or more strange-shaped dice. Most TTRPGs include combat.
Some of the more popular fantasy TTRPGs include Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd follows the Fifth Edition ruleset of the former.
The person leading the game—the GM—will need to know the basics of Fifth Edition D&D. Players will benefit from knowing the 5E rules as well; however, they can learn as they go if they have a patient GM.
While games that use 5E rules benefit from an open license, the rules themselves do not. Therefore, I can’t include all of the instructions in my game. Fortunately, the basic rules are available for free here: http://media.wizards.com/2016/downloads/DND/SRD-OGL_V5.1.pdf.
I designed The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd to be an entry-level adventure, avoiding some of the more nuanced mechanics and complexities that might confuse novice players.
After decades of writing short stories, novels, and fiction series, I wanted to try my hand at a different type of narrative: interactive storytelling.
While writing for a video game has long lingered on my bucket list, I don’t yet have the resources and skills to build even a basic game on my own. So that dream has been on hold for a bit.
Meanwhile, I have delved into Dungeons & Dragons as player over the past few years, even writing and running a few homebrew adventures of my own. Writing and publishing a TTRPG for people beyond my immediate family and friend groups seemed like a good way to take my talents to the next level and develop skills—such as technical writing, managing branching narratives, and playtesting—for future projects.
Most importantly, making my own game from scratch sounded like a whole lot of fun—never underestimate the Rule of Cool!
The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd is my first published TTRPG.
Prior to that, I wrote and then ran a couple of homebrew games—short adventures designed to be one-shots that inevitably spilled into additional sessions.
The first game was a sequel to a third-party module I had run earlier. I had spent so much time developing the setting and nonplayer characters (NPCs) that it seemed worthwhile to bring the heroes back for another mystery. My second homebrew adventure built on the backstory of one of my own player characters (PCs). The other PCs had to rescue their missing ally. In both cases, I probably spent too much time on the worldbuilding and mapping out myriad story paths for so short an adventure. Live and learn!
I’ve also contributed freelance writing and editing to a few 5E adventures and resources for Goodman Games, a prestigious TTRPG publisher.
I like to describe the game as a lighthearted, self-contained adventure for fans of the fantasy genre—especially those who want to have a little fun with fantasy tropes.
The back-cover blurb sheds some light on the story itself:
NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED
When Good Company ventured into the Funk a year ago to retrieve the fabled Staff of Er’Mah’Gerd, the heroes hoped to bring prosperity to a land long fraught with peril.
But even as the ancient curse seems to fade, three factions fight for control over the region. The feral elves of the Untamed North suffer no trespassers in the former no-man’s land, while the industrious dwarves of the Civilized South seek to expand their borders. Meanwhile, the masked humans of the Disorient keep their movements—and motivations—a mystery for now.
With a threefold war brewing, Sir Larpsalot, Elvish Presley, and the rest of Good Company must return to the Forbidden Frontier to mediate what might prove to be the shortest peace talks in history.
To accommodate a variety of player preferences, three types of challenges are emphasized throughout the game: combat, diplomacy, and puzzle solving. Each of the heroes that make up Good Company is better suited for some of those aspects than others.
The Staff of Er’Mah’Gerd was introduced in The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot, a YA fantasy novel I wrote and published in 2020. The name of that magical weapon always got a laugh, so I thought I’d somehow work it into the title to immediately imply the humorous tone of the game.
What’s more intriguing than a strange staff? How about a curse? Only after I decided on The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd for a title did I realize I also was subconsciously riffing on a classic D&D module, Curse of Strahd.
The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot is about a group of teens who dress up as fantasy heroes to act out battles in their fictional realm of Mezzo-Earth. However, the book is a portal fantasy, and the protagonists are ultimately deposited into a different fantasy world.
While the teens adopt their avatar personas throughout the novel, the reader gets only glimpses of Mezzo-Earth. I always felt that was kind of a shame because there were so many more irreverent and punny tropes to exploit!
At the same time, I wanted to create a game that wasn’t overly complex, one that could appeal to gamers of all ages, including teens and other newcomers to TTRPGs. I realized I already had all the ingredients right in front of me. So, perhaps counterintuitively, a novel about live-action roleplaying (LARPing) made for the perfect tabletop roleplaying game.
No, the novel isn’t required reading.
The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot introduces five of the six playable characters (PCs) available in The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd, and many other details from the novel found their way into the game—including spells like Torchnado and Psychlone as well as magical weapons like Excaliburnt and the Cloak of Shadowbright. So folks who have read The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot will recognize these and will perhaps have a better sense of who the PCs are right off the bat.
However, players are encouraged to give the heroes of Good Company their own personal twists. In short, anyone can enter Mezzo-Earth without any prior knowledge of the setting and characters and still have a good time!
I aimed to engage players 13 and older.
Because The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd adheres to the robust Fifth Edition ruleset, I took steps to streamline the adventure in order to accommodate new and/or rusty players, including first-time gamemasters (GMs) and younger players. It may also appeal to longtime TTRPG gamers who want to try something a little irreverent and, at times, silly.
From the outset, my goal was to make a game that was perfect for parents—or aunts or uncles or whatever—who want to introduce D&D to the teens or other adults in their lives.
As written, The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd would probably earn a PG or PG-13 rating due to violence as well as references to alcohol. Of course, individual GMs can make whatever changes they see fit to make in-game content more or less mature in nature.
The game can be enjoyed by as few as two people—the GM and a single player—or a GM and up to six players.
Both the hardcover and digital editions include the following:
- 1 complete adventure that can be played through multiple times
- 6 pre-generated player characters with unique classes and abilities
- 9 new deities that can be used in nearly any setting
- 13 maps
- 13 optional encounters
- 16 new creature and NPC stats
- 22 unique items
- 30 original spells
First and foremost, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. How could it when you have characters named Elvish Presley and Lord Grimdark?
Secondly, I designed the game to be as self-contained and streamlined as possible so that new GMs and players could rely mostly on the book for guidance, rather than needing a library of additional sourcebooks.
The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd is also very scalable. For example, there aren’t a lot of TTRPGs that allow a GM to run the game for as few as one player or as many as six. There are also more than a dozen optional encounters, which lets the GM adjust the pacing of the adventure and cherry pick what seems most rewarding for that particular group of players.
Finally, the adventure encourages multiple playthroughs, unlike many one-and-done TTRPGs. Subsequent playthroughs allow players to try out different heroes, choose different allies, battle new foes, and experience unexplored encounters.
Playing TTRPGs with larger groups seems to be the trend lately. I wanted to make my game accessible to as many as six players, but there were only five core members of Good Company in The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot: Sir Larpsalot, Elvish Presley, Brutus the Bullheaded, Master Prospero, and Tom Foolery.
Excited at the prospect of augmenting the team, I came up with a new antihero: Lord Grimdark, an edgelord who serves as a counterpoint to righteous Sir Larpsalot and adds new dynamics (and dysfunction) to the motley band of heroes.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to play as an emo half-elf wielding a sword named Angstbringer?
The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd includes six pre-generated heroes. Choosing from these fully formed PCs helps everyone get to the adventure more quickly and ensures balanced gameplay.
The pre-rolled Good Company heroes have skills and equipment specifically designed for this adventure. Frankly, DIY characters will find themselves at a disadvantage, since the Good Company heroes are slightly above average in might for their levels. For these reasons, rolling new characters is not advised.
Having said that, players are encouraged to make cosmetic customizations to the six provided PCs. Go ahead and change their names, genders, backstories. As long as the PCs retain their original races and classes, they will remain a good fit for the game.
Writing and publishing a novel is a complex process, but it’s a course I’ve learned to navigate well after all this time.
However, writing and publishing a TTRPG is even more complicated, thanks to the need for multiple story paths, a plethora of technical writing opportunities, playtesting, and other game-specific tasks. Even the book’s layout—filled with images and maps, tables, and multi-tiered subsections—required far more time to perfect than the typically single-column, text-dominant pages of a novel and, therefore, necessitated outsourcing to a professional.
Keeping all of those unfamiliar plates spinning while meeting my deadlines proved far more challenging than I had anticipated.
How much fun playtesting would be!
Of course, I didn’t think playing my game would be unfun, but watching players develop their characters and interact with my NPCs and, better yet, with one another was a riot. Players will always surprise their GMs—that’s just the way it goes—but I really enjoyed seeing how differently my groups reacted to the same set of circumstances.
What I liked best about playtesting, however, was being able to experience these stories with my audience. Novel writing and reading both tend to be isolating activities. With my other books, I don’t get to peer over a reader’s shoulder and see where they laugh, gasp, or decide to take a break. When GMing my adventure, however, I was able to witness every single reaction—and add to the story in real time when the players inevitably threw me a curveball.
I’m not gonna lie: The Curse of Er’Mah’Gerd took a lot out of me. Even for a modest-sized campaign, the scalable nature of the game required a lot of time for writing, testing, and tweaking. The game monopolized most of my attention for a year and a half—and that’s not counting the off-and-on-again brainstorming leading up to the project.
And, honestly, I’m eager to write another novel!
At the same time, I’m fortunate to have a few freelance TTRPG projects in the pipeline, including writing a one-shot for Goodman Games’ Fifth Edition Fantasy series. In all likelihood, that won’t see the light of day until later in 2023 or possibly even 2024.
Both hardcover and digital editions are available online at DriveThruRPG.com. Copies can also be purchased at Lunar & Lake Book Market in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
Ghost Mode & Other Strange Stories FAQ
In the past, I’ve joked that I am incapable of writing short stories. Every idea just seems to expand into a full-blown book, a sequel, a series.
And yet, while writing and publishing eight novels over the past few years, I have amassed many ideas, brainstorming notes, writing exercises, and rough drafts for smaller, self-contained tales—if only I had the time to polish them.
Finally, I forced myself to prioritize these streamlined narratives, refining what I had written long ago as well as cultivating long-neglected concepts.
Ghost Mode & Other Strange Stories is a collection of short stories that spans the gamut of speculative fiction subgenres. It’s also a confident step out of my comfort zone in order to explore new techniques, themes, and characters.
Here’s how the back cover sums up the collection:
A hacker-for-hire who blurs the line between hero and villain…
A guardian angel struggling with a deceptively simple assignment…
A cunning grifter whose easy mark is much more than she seems…
Encompassing a diverse array of speculative fiction—including sci-fi, fantasy, dreampunk, and paranormal—this collection of short stories celebrates the supernatural while exploring exactly what it means to be human.
There are 13, including the titular story:
- Ghost Mode
- Anthropology in Apogee
- Flesh & Blood
- The Fix
- The Lake Road
- Suspect 814553
- The Monster & The Mirage
- The End
Writing a full-length novel is incredibly time consuming. Even The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot, a breezy YA book clocking in at about 54,000 words, took more than a year from conception to completion. Series are even more of a commitment.
Meanwhile, other ideas pop up (and have to be suppressed) while elbow deep in a work in progress. I track them all, telling myself that someday I’ll find the time to explore them. Over the years, that list has only grown, and even though I occasionally use short stories as palate cleansers between bigger projects, I rarely give them the attention they deserve.
Therefore, my purpose for compiling this short story collection is twofold: to finally finish these tales that demand to be released into the world as well as to indulge in bite-sized storytelling that lets me tackle new characters, new settings, new themes—in short, to experiment.
They say every collection should have a theme. They also say rules are meant to be broken.
I didn’t set out to position my stories comfortably under any sort of umbrella. I simply wanted to tell the tales that have been clawing at my subconscious for years or even decades. Naturally, most of them contained an element of the supernatural, but trying to connect the dots between stories about spiritual warfare, computer viruses, alien visitations, and vengeful assassins seemed like a fool’s errand.
So I decided to celebrate my diversity of interests and flexibility as a writer. Ignoring conventional wisdom, I simply wrote what I wanted.
Imagine, then, my surprise when I discovered a couple of threads loosely winding their way through the collection:
- Seldom will you find a clear-cut hero or villain; the stories are populated with complex characters making difficult decisions.
- Despite a plethora of supernatural beings, every story provides its own perspective on what it means to be human.
Fans of speculative fiction genres and subgenres—from sword-and-sorcery fantasy to science fiction, cyberpunk to dreampunk—will likely find something that tickles their gray matter. Also, because even the most otherworldly tale is rooted in reality, readers who prefer stories that make them think can appreciate this collection.
In other words, if you like your fiction wonderfully weird, you’ll like Ghost Mode & Other Strange Stories.
While most of the stories probably wouldn’t warrant a rating above PG, several of them explore mature themes and include coarse language. For that reason, the collection as a whole is marketed to adult readers.
Every story in the collection is intended to be self-contained and satisfying in its own right.
Having said that, three stories tie into my other fiction: “Gamechanger” is a prequel of sorts to The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot, “Reputation” revisits the reason why a certain wizard came to Capricon in The Renegade Chronicles, and “Drifters” introduces the metaphysical setting of The Soul Sleep Cycle and reveals the origin of a reluctant dream drifter.
Each of those stories can serve as either a first glimpse into a wider world or a fresh visit with familiar characters, depending on the reader.
As mentioned before, preventing my short stories from growing into full-fledged novels has always been something of a struggle for me. So it was important to identify a clear beginning, middle, and end for each tale.
I also wanted to make sure the collection represented my best work. It would’ve been easy—or, at least, easier—to spruce up some stuff I wrote back in college. Because I wanted a mix of ideas and a wider sample to draw from, I challenged myself to write eight short stories in eight weeks near the end of 2020. In all, I wrote 12 stories last year.
While I was pleased with my output, my enthusiasm resulted in a new challenge: deciding which stories would make the final cut for the collection!
In a word: experimentation!
Whether it’s a seldom-used narrative style, unique point-of-view character, or plot twist, short fiction lends itself to taking risks. You can get away with literary devices that couldn’t be sustained or simply wouldn’t work in longform fiction.
Moreover, Ghost Mode & Other Strange Stories includes some of my favorite characters. While it’s possible they may appear in future works—I’m looking at you Nic and Bettie—right now it’s enough to see so many new faces between the covers of this collection.
Before I shipped my stories off to beta readers, I had already whittled the collection down to 17 contenders. One story surprised me by how much praise it garnered, including “I could not put this down.”
Considering “The Monster & The Mirage” is, by far, the longest story, it made me rethink the notion of not including it simply because of its length. So this was a happy surprise, in no small part because this short story was my first attempt at writing sword-and-sorcery fantasy outside of Altaerra.
I’m excited to see this desert-swept mini-epic in print!
I’m currently producing a free weekly webcomic called Curmudgeons & Flagons. It’s a fantasy-themed, pixel-art parody about retired adventurers. Look for it at GraphiteComics.com.
However, my next new project will take me even farther afield from my comfort zone: I intend to create a tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG) starring the heroes of The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a release in spring 2022.
After that? Right now it’s a tossup between a sequel to Magic’s Daughter (and, incidentally, The Renegade Chronicles) and a novel about less-than-stellar superheroes.
As always, you can follow my progress on these projects through my blog.
Did I miss anything?
Shoot me an email, and I’ll do my best to answer your question!