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Read Campbell Award-eligible Stories For Free!

Cover art by friend Holly Heisey!

Cover art by friend Holly Heisey!

Do you like scifi and fantasy? Do you want to see excerpts from almost all the new professional writers in the spec-fic field for the low, low price of FREE?

Well then have I got a deal for you! The good folks over at Bad Menagerie have put together a staggeringly huge anthology of this year’s Campbell Award eligible writers (over a million words long!) and it is free to download right here. Act quickly, though, because it will only be available for the month of March! I’ve got a lot of friends and colleagues in there, so check it out (yes, it does have a table of contents for easier browsing)!

The first of my two entries is a novelette, “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration,” which was my winning entry into the Writers of the Future Contest, published just this last May. You can read a lot about the story behind it here.

The other is a short story, “Adaptation and Predation,” which was published on Escape Pod in December. It is an exotic scifi tale set on an alien world and featuring a shape-shifting asexual assassin, a carnivorous businessman and his “feed slaves,” and spider-waiters. It is a story about morality, but not personal morals as much as social morality: what makes a cultural practice evil? What makes it good? Who, ultimately, should feed on whom and why? It’s very noir-ish, a bit dark with a bunch of colonial themes, and it’s one of my favorites – I hope you’ll check it out as well as the rest of the anthology.

A million free words of the up-and-coming scifi authors is hard to pass up, right?

About NO GOOD DEED/Saga of the Redeemed #2:

I’ve received back my content edits from my new editor over at Harper. She’s done a great job and I plan to have this book turned around and submitted for copy-edits by the end of next week. For now you can still pre-order the book wherever e-books are sold. The cover art should be appearing soon, I think (hope).

In the meantime, if you haven’t read the first book (and yes, the first two volumes are one book), you’ve still got time to read The Oldest Trick and be ready to jump into a new Tyvian adventure come the end of June. If you’ve read or read any of my shorter work and think it was cool, I promise you’ll enjoy my longer stuff, too! Go check it out!

 

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My Crazy Good Year

Yaaaay!

Yaaaay!

You know how your social media feed is starting to sprout all those posts about how hard this year was? This ain’t one of those, folks. Not because it wasn’t hard, but because it was totally awesome.

My (professional) year by the numbers:

Novels Published: Either 1, 2, or 3, depending on how you count. The Iron Ring was released in February, Iron and Blood in June, which are the two halves of The Oldest Trick, released in August. All parts/versions of the same book (my debut), mind you. Yes, it’s complicated. But also awesome.

Stories Published: 2 (“A Revolututionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” in The Writers of the Future Vol 31; “Adaptation and Predation” in Escape Pod)

Stories Sold: 3 (to WoTF, Escape Pod, and Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Awards Won: Writers of the Future Award, 2nd Place, 1st Quarter 2014 (award ceremony was in April)

Memberships Achieved: SFWA Active Membership

Conventions/Workshops Attended: 3 (WoTF Workshop, ITVFest, World Fantasy Convention)

Novels Written: 2 (3, if you count total rewrites)

Stories Written: 6 (only counting complete, saleable stories currently on submission/accepted)

Total Words Written: ~300,000 (an average of about 820 words per day)

Along the way of this bang-up year, I made a bunch of new friends, found new groups of support and keen eyes to read, made a bunch of fans (I think/hope), and even got some fanmail. Hard to beat that.

As for this blog, its followership continues to grow. I’m up over 1300 followers now, which is really cool (and thank you, all of you, for reading…assuming you do. But since you’re reading this that would seem to imply that you…you know what? Never mind.).

What About Next Year?

Well, I’ll still be posting here, of course. In terms of Writing, No Good Deed is slated to come out, though it’s been moved back AGAIN by my publisher to April (no idea why). I would expect to see a few more stories from me to come out, given the contracts I have in hand (or will have shortly). My personal goal is to write more short fiction and publish more of same, score another book deal (hopefully extending The Saga of the Redeemed by another two books, if possible), and maybe even nab myself one of those elusive literary agents.

Stay tuned, folks! I’ll see you on the other side of the New Year!

 

 

 

Writers: The Morlocks of Creation

Read a thing on a friend of mine’s facebook feed today. It was a picture of a Craigslist ad or similar that went something like this:

I’m looking for a fiction writer who can write a series of books in the Paranormal Romance, Werewolf Romance, Christian Romance, or Military Romance genres. You must think creatively about the topic I give you and write a full book (5000 words) that is unique and original and that will attract readers. Must have lots of description. I will pay $40 (Canadian) and a $5 bonus if delivered within 5 days. Copyright will revert to me upon publication. Send a writing sample.

Two things here (well, a lot more than two, but let’s focus on the big ones, shall we?):

  1. What kind of idiot would ever sign up for such a thing?
  2. What the actual fuck is this poster thinking?

What’s sad here is probably somebody gave this a shot. Being a writer is depressing, lonely work at times and getting a quick $45 is probably tempting if all you’ve had is Ramen Noodles and multivitamins for a week and a half between pulling doubles at TGI Fridays. But holy crap, writers, don’t you dare do this! Don’t! Hell, I’d pay you $40 US to not do it. (please note: I have no actual money. Just, you know, making a point)

I’m reminded of this wonderful, expletive-laced rant by Harlan Ellison which I will share with you now:

The man is right, dammit. We are living in the middle of a society that is constantly and aggressively seeking to devalue art and artists. I talk about writers here, but it may as well be anybody we loosely categorize with the flavorless moniker “content creators.” Actors, graphic artists, musicians, sculptors, writers – performers of any stripe – have been reduced to being seen as hobbyists with nothing better to do or lazy bums who will dance for a nickel.

Granted, there are always dilettantes – that guy who comes up to the lead guitarist in a band and says “hey! I play guitar! But I gave it up – I like making money.” Yes, we (by “we” I mean “actual artists”) dislike that person for belittling our art and they suck and so-on, but the person who’s worse – the person who is far, far worse – is the person who expects you to perform your task for free. If you consider yourself a professional, the answer should be no. It should always, always be no. Be polite, of course, but tell them to walk. Professionals, by definition, get paid. Maybe not a lot, but still something.

Hey, man, this CD has some mean riffs, right? Twenty bucks.

Hey, man, this CD has some mean riffs, right? Twenty bucks.

Artists may not run the government, they may not drive the economy, they may not fight the wars or pave the roads or build the houses, but they create the culture. They fashion the very ineffable substance that makes our daily lives bearable. Ever gone to work humming a song? Ever imagined yourself as this or that great hero or wished for romance of the kind you read about in a book? That stuff – the stuff of living – is made by artists, most of whom are pretty near broke or, if they aren’t, are working a side-job and squeezing in their passion between shifts and kids and meals and their love life and everything else. Like the Morlocks in HG Wells The Time Machine, they make your life more liveable while they toil in the shadows. Ponying up the occasional Eloi isn’t too much to ask, right?

I’ll tell one more story, and then I’m out:

During the Writers of the Future Workshop, my fellow writers and I were let loose on Hollywood Boulevard to talk to a total stranger as part of our “24-hour story” exercise. I talked to a number of people, but maybe the most interesting was this one guy hawking CDs by the Chinese Theater. He was yelling as people passed by, trying to give them the hard sell on his music, hassling strangers. He had a shield up around his inner self – he was the carnival barker, not the guy putting his love on the street for others to walk over. I’ve worked jobs like that before, and it’s pretty demoralizing, especially when it’s your own work you’re hawking. So, I walked up to him and bought a CD. “How much,” I asked.

“Whatever you got, man, that’s fine.”

I gave him twenty bucks.

His eyebrows shot up. He got quiet for a second. He took my hand and he shook it. “Thank you.” He didn’t seem to think that was enough. The shields were down now – I could see this was an important moment for him, even if only a small one. “I just want you to know…” his voice cracked a little, “I want you to know that I’m really good, okay? I’m not just talking. My music is important to me, and I really think I’m good.”

That right there was worth the twenty bucks.

Pay the writer. Pay the artist.


Publicity Notes

  • I’ll be signing copies of The Oldest Trick at Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, MA on October 1st from 7pm-9pm. Come check it out!
  • I’m heading up to Dover VT for the Independent Film and Television Festival this 24th-27th! I’ll be giving a presentation on World Building in Science Fiction and Fantasy on Saturday morning at 11am. The rest of the festival looks great, and time is running out to get passes and lodging. Hopefully I’ll see you up there!

E-books Don’t Smell (and other Revelations)

Recently, I said I was hoping to do a Goodreads giveaway as a promo for the paperback release of The Oldest Trick. I’ve got a bunch of electronic contributor copies burning a hole in my pocket at the moment and nothing much to do with them, so I thought giving them away would be pretty cool. Giveaways I’ve hosted here on this blog haven’t worked very smoothly (mostly because there isn’t a good system in place here to trade contact information, track entries, and so on), so Goodreads seemed a natural alternative. There’s just one problem: They don’t run giveaways for e-books. Bummer. Back to the drawing board.

This disappointment is just the latest in a long line of troubles facing the author who publishes only electronically. Now, don’t get me wrong – having a novel out of any stripe is pretty damned exciting and I love that there are people out there who have read and loved my books and I’m immensely grateful to Harper Voyager for publishing them. That said, I’ve found it much harder to promote and sell an e-book than I thought.

At the Writers of the Future Workshop (enter the Writers of the Future Contest, budding SF/F writers!), I had the unique privilege to listen to Tom Doherty of Tor speak about the publishing industry as it exists today. The basic theme of his talk was this: the primary difficulty for new writers and for publishers is the issue of discovery. “The Internet,” he said, “is great if you know what you’re looking for. It’s a really difficult place to discover new talent.” So, for already established authors – folks with back catalogs and name recognition – the Internet is wonderful, since people who like your work can find everything you ever wrote and buy it (a great improvement over bookstores which would only be intermittently stocked with older titles). But for the little guys (like me), I’m just one very tiny mote in an endless sea of book titles from relatively unknown authors. Many of these books are wonderful and an equal quantity are, well, not. It is very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff for anyone, editors, agents, writers, and fans all alike.

Of course, the author must promote his work. This – what you’re reading right now – is one author’s attempt at promotion (I hope that, by reading this blog, you might become curious about my work and buy it without me having to sling mindless Twitter ads at you day in and day out. I have no idea if it works). While the internet is a powerful promotional tool, the e-book is still a harder sell than a physical copy. According to Forbes, e-book sales make up 30% of the market and sales have risen sharply over the past few years while independent bookstores have dropped by more than 50% in the past twenty years. While those are harrowing numbers for print, the fact remains that 70% of books are still sold in print and, while you might not be buying it from an indie bookseller, there are good odds the book is still made of paper, no matter its place of origin. The age of the e-book is very much here, but it isn’t the lion’s share of the market by any means. And it’s worth noting that the 30% of the market that is occupied by e-books, is very much swamped with a vast array of traditional and self-published titles alike. Getting recognition from that 30% is very difficult. Print, a full 70% of the market, is somewhat more rarefied air, if you will.

This book is great, but I better keep it to myself. No one must know.

This book is great, but I better keep it to myself. No one must know.

I have tried to think of ways to effectively promote my e-books beyond simply shouting into the Twitter-Void, annoying people on facebook with ads, and writing blog posts. Here are the things I’ve tried:

  1. Blog Tours, which are the equivalent of book tours, but online. You go around and ask blogs to feature your book on their blog, interview you, or let you do a guest post. It works okay, but it is frequently impersonal and you need to be careful setting them up. The most successful ones I’ve done have been when I got writer friends of mine (in the same genre) to let me post on their blogs or asked them to feature me.
  2. Giveaways are possible, but getting an e-book to somebody as a gift is technically complex, involving codes and programs to download and passwords to submit and so-on.
  3. Getting Reviews has also been a significant part of what I do. I bug people I know have read the book to write me a review on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever. This helps my visibility, which helps me gain recognition, which helps me sell books. It is very slow, very incremental work though. A lot of people don’t want to write a review for some reason, even if they do like your stuff. Also, badgering people about it won’t get them to do it any faster. It is likely it will turn them off to doing it.

And…that’s it. I’m stumped after that.

A real book, though, still has a number of other options available to it – options that authors have been wielding effectively for years. Observe:

  1. Book Signings: People like signed books. People like meeting authors. Sit at a table with a stack of books to sign and you’ll make new friends, new fans, and so on. You won’t always be successful (my second WoTF book signing was pretty much just me sitting at an empty table talking to one guy who didn’t end up buying a book), but you’ll encounter and engage with more people you’d do otherwise.
  2. Book Readings: Yeah, you can read your e-book, but not as many people are likely to whip out their iPhone or Kindle and buy it right there. If you’ve got a stack of books and you’re reading from that book and all these people have come out to see you, odds are you’ll sell more. I’ve gone to book readings, and I feel weird if I don’t buy the book. It’s almost as though I’m insulting the author if I don’t.
  3. Book Giveaways become easier with a paperback. You just stick it in the mail and off it goes. Maybe even with a nice, personalized message or something.
  4. Impressing Guests is an underrated part of book promotion, I think. Some guy asks you what you do, you answer with writers, and he says “what have you written” and bam, there’s a book in his hands with your name on it. Your friends and family get to do the same thing – your book on their shelf. With an e-book? It’s always an explanation as to why your book is currently invisible.
  5. Bookstores, while dwindling, still sell a lot of books and are still the best places to browse for new titles. There you are, on a bookshelf alongside the greats, cover art on display.

All this, coupled with the fact that traditional books still control the balance of the market (I have people asking me when the print version of The Oldest Trick is coming out every day; it’s September 29th, by the way), means there is a lot to be said for the paperback, even now. Certainly, e-books are key, but they aren’t perfect yet. They don’t have that feel, that smell, that weight that makes it seem like somebody’s work and effort means something more than just the words on the page. E-books are whispers in the air; the physical book is letters on stone tablets. I, personally, cannot wait to have both at my disposal.

 

Dreaming Up Fabulous Places: My Writing Journey

Picture me: I’m nine years old, lying on my back beneath the skylight in my bedroom, rough carpet biting into my shoulders. I’m reading The Hobbit, enthralled. It’s summer. My mom is somewhere downstairs, yelling for me to get outside and play. I pretend I don’t hear her. I’m not there, you see. I’m in Mirkwood, starving with the dwarves and stumbling after elfish feasts in the dark. The last thing I want to do is go outside and play.

When I was a kid, I started making up imaginary places. Even before I read Tolkien, I was constructing cosmologies for my He-Man figures and establishing a chain of command among my stuffed animals. At the beach, the sand castles I built each had a story to them. They got names: Rampartiste, Gondria, Trudéal. I was the kid who wondered at the economic structure of Candy Land—did they eat it? Was the candy in the landscape distinct from the candy that made up their bodies? Did anybody ever get eaten and, if so, what was the punishment?

I was a weird kid. I know.

Fast-forward to 1991. A friend of mine is telling me about this game called Dungeons and Dragons. “Is it like a video game?” I asked, trying to wrap my head around it.

“No! You just write up your character on a sheet of paper and then somebody is the Dungeon Master.”

That piqued my interest. “What’s the Dungeon Master do?”

“He makes up the world and the monsters and stuff. Then you go and fight them.”

Makes up the world, you say? At that point, I had notebooks full of video games I wanted to create, primarily because those were the only things I knew how to script (level-boss-level-boss—a pretty simple plot). I tossed them away and started writing my own Dungeons and Dragons world. My parents gave me a copy of the 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook for my 13th birthday. That book changed my life.

Me in my office. Note that the Writers of the Future Anthology is #7 on the Publisher's Weekly Bestseller's list for SF/F.

Me in my office. Note that the Writers of the Future Anthology is #7 on the Publisher’s Weekly Bestseller’s list for SF/F.

Dungeons and Dragons carried me along my obsession with building worlds until I got old enough to realize I couldn’t make a living playing D&D (at least, I don’t think so. If anybody has any hot leads, let me know). So, how did a fellow make a living creating stories and worlds? After some trial and error (tried acting, directing, and a bunch of theater stuff), I settled on writing science fiction and fantasy. Mostly fantasy.

I have always thought of myself as more of a novelist. Novels were what I grew up reading, and novels were what I wanted to write. When I got out of college, I rejected the prospect of a stable career teaching high school English and, instead, flung myself into writing novels, figuring I could make a living at it after a few years.

Okay, you can stop laughing now. No, seriously. Cut it out.

Anyway, after getting my MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College in Boston, I started to figure out that short fiction could give me the ability to hone my craft more effectively. It also could give me the opportunity to submit more work and possibly get some publishing credits that might help me towards my eventual goal of being a novelist. I put the novels on hold for a bit and threw myself into short fiction. After a few years, I got a few sales, but nothing big.    

20150804_100534_001

This is an (older) map of Alandar. I’m pointing at Illin, the location for my award-winning story. If I move my finger three inches up, I’ll be in the general vicinity of where Tyvian is causing trouble in THE OLDEST TRICK.

“A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” was probably my tenth entry into the Writers of the Future Contest (before my win, I got one Honorable Mention, two Semifinalists, and a Finalist finish). The story is set in a world I’ve been creating for years and is far, far bigger than just the city of Illin. The challenge for me was getting the giant, sweeping landscapes of my imagination to fit into a short story. Abe’s story is part of a larger tapestry, but the story also needs to stand on its own. That took some doing. When I sent it into the contest, I was on the verge of trunking it—I didn’t think it worked. Shows what I know.

Meanwhile, the week before I found out I won the Contest, I was offered a three-book deal through Harper Voyager. The last year has been a whirlwind of writing, deadlines, and learning the publishing industry in a very hands-on, no-holds-barred kind of way. The contest win has been a vital part of what success I have had thus far, and will continue to guide me in the future.

An omnibus of my first two novels, called The Oldest Trick, releases this Tuesday, August 11th  (in e-book form). I am currently working on the fourth book in the series and, in the photo, you can see the wall of index cards in my office I used in the final stages of editing the third book. I’m off and rolling and I don’t intend to stop, and the Writers of the Future Contest has given me an edge in the business that is frankly irreplaceable. For that, I am eternally grateful.


Publicity News

In that vein, let me entreat you all to pre-order The Oldest Trick! Below is the description and links to where you might buy it, currently only in e-book form. The print version, I have been told, will be coming “a few weeks later.”

Compiled for the first time, The Oldest Trick comprises The Iron Ring and Iron and Blood in the Saga of the Redeemed

Tyvian Reldamar gets betrayed by his longtime partner and left for dead in a freezing river. To add insult to injury, his mysterious rescuer took it upon himself to affix Tyvian with an iron ring that prevents the wearer from any evildoing.

Revenge just got complicated.

On his quest to get even, Tyvian navigates dark conspiracies, dodges midnight assassins, and uncovers the plans of the ruthless wizard Banric Sahand. Tyvian will need to use every dirty trick in the book to avoid a painful and ignominious end, even as he learns to work with—and rely on—his motley crew of accomplices, including an adolescent pickpocket, an obese secret-monger, and a fearsome gnoll.

Help a budding author out! My publicity footprint is fairly small, so if you like the book, tell your friends! Leave a review! Thanks so much for all your support so far!

Buy Links:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Kobo

Google Play

Harper Collins

iTunes

TONIGHT: My Live Interview with Citywide Blackout on WEMF

Hi everybody! I’m going to be on the (online) radio! Listen in live as I talk with the hosts of Citywide Blackout about writing, Writers of the Future, and my own fantasy series, the Saga of the Redeemed!

When?

8pm EST

Where?

Listen live here: http://wemfradio.com/LIVE/

Can I Ask You Questions on the air?

Yes!  Post questions to the show’s Facebook page at facebook.com/citywideblackout and twitter.com/citywidemax, which are both monitored throughout the show. You can also call-in at 617-500-7100 on your regular, old-fashioned telephone!

What If I Miss It?

WHAT? Shame on you! That said, I think you can check out excerpts of the show on Citywide Blackout’s website: http://citywideblackout.blogspot.com/

See you all on the radio waves in about four hours!

How Much Yelling Equals One Book Sale?

Yes, even this guy. He probably writes YA.

Yes, even this guy. He probably writes YA.

Ever been on Twitter? I have. I bring from it a piece of somewhat depressing news:

Every single human being on Earth is trying to sell a book.

Yes. All of them.

And they want you to know about it. Yes, all of them. They tell you all the time: buy my book! Buy my book! I wrote a book, do you want to buy it? Observe this banner – it has my picture and is asking you to buy my book! Will you buy it? Have you bought it yet?

What about now? Have you bought it now? It’s been five minutes since the last time I asked you – plenty of time to buy the book. Did I mention it’s on Amazon? B&N? iTunes? Kobo? No? It is. All of them. Other places, too. I’ve been sticking them on seats at my local McDonalds. Want my business card? It *also* tells you to buy my book.

HEY! Look at the sidebar of this here blog! See those book covers? You can CLICK ON THEM! They will take you a place where you can buy my book, which is something everybody should do. Preferably now.

Hey, Habershaw – Lay Off! How Else Can You Do It?

Maybe I need one of these?

Maybe I need one of these?

See, that’s just it – I have no idea. I, also, have books to sell. I’m trying to sell them. However, joining the shout-out party over on Twitter doesn’t seem to get me much of anywhere. Or maybe it does. It’s hard to tell, honestly. I’m just one more voice in the roaring crowd of authors, all pushing the same product to, it seems, an audience made up of largely other authors pushing their own books. Facebook? That’s just a giant collection of friends of mine – marketing there doesn’t get me much further than my home town, family, and old coworkers.

It’s a daunting prospect, really. How can you tell the difference between a good book and a bad one, anyway? Who even has time to read even a tenth of the books that people are writing? Nobody, that’s who. I have trouble keeping up with the books my friends are writing, let alone everybody else’s.

So, I plug along. I’ve got this little blog here, which shoots out to about a thousand people (apparently), which ain’t bad. I try to be interesting, rather than just a bullhorn of “BUY MY BOOK”-isms over and over again. Does it work? Hell if I know. I’m selling books, yes, but not exactly at a blistering pace. I think maybe I need to shake-up my strategy. Maybe I ought to be more aggressive and in-your-face about buying my books. Maybe I should plug them like crazy and see if that helps.

I will tell you this, though: if you do read my book (any of my books), REVIEW THEM. I will never, ever get noticed if that doesn’t happen. Reviews = visibility on Amazon (and everywhere else), and Amazon visibility = sales. If an author you like wrote a book you enjoy, review it, dammit. It doesn’t need to be much, but it needs to be something. Five words. One sentence and a couple stars – that’s it. It helps a LOT (seriously).


Publicity News

In the vein of this article, I’ve got a few announcements:

1) Iron and Blood, the sequel to THE IRON RING, is currently available wherever fine e-books are sold. It just received its first review and it was five stars. FIVE STARS, PEOPLE. Get reading, dammit.

2) This week represents a final push to make Writers of the Future Volume 31 a bestseller. We’re really close, actually – we just need to sell a few thousand more copies this week. Do your part to make history! Buy it now! My story and all the other stories contained in this anthology are GREAT! I promise. Buy you a cookie if I’m wrong, pinky-swear.

3) Tomorrow (Thursday), I will be on the Citywide Blackout radio program on WEMF. I will be interviewed from 8:00pm to 8:30pm EST and, as this radio station streams online, you can listen in from anywhere in the world. I recommend that you do, as I am a fascinating person with a silky smooth voice. Well, probably. I hope. Anyway, I’ll be talking about Writers of the Future, my own fantasy novel series (The Saga of the Redeemed), and probably writing in general. It should be tons of fun!

Getting Out of the Writing Basement

Since The Iron Ring debuted and especially since attending the Writers of the Future Workshop and receiving my award, I’ve been running into more and more people who are reading or have read my book. Not “want to read,” not “been meaning to read,” not even “have it on my Kindle,” but actually in the process of reading my novel. Like, if I were to quiz them on the main character’s name, they’d actually know what I’m talking about.

This is both (1) awesome and (2) really weird. I mean, yeah, it’s what I’ve always wanted, right? Culmination of a life-long dream and all that. The thing is, though, that I’ve been alone with this story and these characters for so long and I’ve been writing my stories and novels in a vacuum for so many years that to have people actually be aware of what I do is…well…is something I have to get used to. I really wonder what my face looks like when people congratulate me on my success. I’m guessing it looks something like this:

 

What...seriously? Are you screwing with me, or what?

What…seriously? Are you screwing with me, or what?

I didn’t introduce myself as “a writer” or “an author” until a year or two ago, when I figured that I had enough publications to make such a claim plausible to an outsider. The immediate follow-up question to the statement “I’m a writer” is “really? What have you written?” I always felt that, if the response was “fantasy short stories nobody has bought and exist in a shoebox beneath my desk,” it would be embarrassing for both of us.

I became used to the idea that my writing was a private and solitary enterprise that I was embarking upon more-or-less alone save for the loving support and understanding of my wife, who is probably the only person I discuss my daily writing problems and anxieties with. Beyond the two of us, I was just an English Professor at a university that doesn’t even have an English major who, in his spare time, wrote stories about spaceships and goblins that nobody really read.

Not the case anymore. I am an author and, indeed, part of my job now is making sure people know it and making sure people buy my books. It turns out that I’m sort of unprepared for this on an emotional level. I am constantly surprised that people are reading my book (and like it, too!). I am so surprised that, sometimes, I secretly doubt their veracity. “They’re just being polite” is the constant refrain of a little voice in the back of my head. “Fool,” it says, “nobody is actually reading your book. Get back in your attic, weirdo!”

I need that voice to shut the hell up. This blog post is me putting that stupid voice on notice.

In my classes, I sometimes give my students a little primer on public speaking. One of the key criteria, I tell them, is confidence. You need to believe in what you say (or at least look like you do) if you are going to expect other people to believe it, too. I need to take my own goddamned advice. When people come up to me and say “Congratulations on your book!” I need to stop shuffling and “aw-shucks-ing” my way through the conversation. Sure, I’m not exactly storming the bestsellers’ lists (well…not yet), but I’m an author, dammit, and people are reading my work. This shouldn’t be a shock or surprise – I’ve worked for this for a long time, and now I’m actually doing it.

I need to own my own success and take credit for what I’ve done. This, it turns out, is harder than it sounds. It must be figured out, though – and I’m guessing I’m not the only person trying to do so – because we can’t stay talking to ourselves in our basements forever. Sooner or later, we need to go into the world and be proud of what we’ve wrought, even if it’s only the beginning of a much greater work.


Publicity Notes

  • I will be giving a talk on world-building in fantasy literature at the Adams Street branch of the Boston Public Library this Monday, 5/18, at 6:30pm. The event is free and refreshments will be served. I will also be doing a reading from The Iron Ring.
  • I will be doing another book-signing of the Writers of the Future Volume 31 anthology on May 30th from 2-4pm at the Prudential Center Barnes and Nobel in Boston.
  • Pre-orders for Blood and Iron, part 2 of the Saga of the Redeemed, are still for sale everywhere e-books are sold! Get yours today!
  • I’m still holding my contest for the Best One-Liner to win a free copy of The Iron Ring. Contest ends Monday, so enter now!

It’s RELEASE DAY

The time is now!

The time is now!

Writers of the Future Volume 31 is here! Thirteen of the best new writers in the field of Scifi and Fantasy – go check it out! Get your copy now!

“Unrefined” by Martin Shoemaker

“Unrefined” tells what happens to a visionary project when the visionary dies, and his widow and his best friend must bring his dream to life before their colony starves.

“Poseidon’s Eyes” by Kary English

In a sleepy California beach town, spirits magnify both the good and the evil in human hearts.

“The God Whisperer” by Dan Davis

Personalities clash when an ancient god becomes dependent on a modern man.

“The Graver” by Amy Hughes

In ‘The Graver’, the neighbors want to take your life. But only because they need it, to take your soul.

And more, more more!

Check it out, folks!

(and now I will return to my regular posting habits. Thanks so much for all your support and, seriously, go and buy the book. You’re going to be seeing these people’s names again!)

The Story Behind the Story: A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration

You may have all noticed that I won’t shut up about this story competition I won (preorder the anthology here! It’s awesome!). Well, for one thing that’s because the release date for the anthology is May 4th, which is also known as “this Monday,” and I’m working my little heart out here trying to make that launch a success, and this blog is probably the best way I have of doing that. That’s not all, though. I’m also trumpeting about this thing because I’m damned proud of myself and of my fellow winners, all of whom are spectacularly talented and all of whom deserve to get noticed by the reading public. This anthology is one of the best ways for our names to get “out there,” and I’m going to try and make the most of it.

However, you lovely people are probably tired of all the publicity yakkity yak, so I’m going to take a page from my friend, Martin Shoemaker, and have  substantive discussion about how my winning story, “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration,” came into existence.

First, listen to the dulcet tones of Mr. Scott Parkin reading the first few paragraphs:

Michelangelo once said that his sculptures weren’t things he made so much as uncovered – they had been there all along, hiding in the stone just waiting for him to chip the extra bits away. I feel that way about my story, too. I didn’t so much “tell” this story as “find” it.

Behold the Undercity of Illin (still blown away by Shuangjian Liu's illustration of my story!)

Behold the Undercity of Illin (still blown away by Shuangjian Liu’s illustration of my story!)

The world of Alandar and, most particularly, the West is a place I have fashioned slowly over the course of more than a decade of world-building. When I create a world (and I am always creating worlds, mind you), they begin as broad, historical narratives or epic mythology – they are unpopulated, as it were. I start with the big (How does magic work here? What are the dangers of this world? Who holds the power and why? What are the world’s religions and creation myths?) and narrow it down until I get so close that, suddenly, I find I need characters to have the place make any sense. That level is usually right about at the “what kind of jobs do people do here” and “what do people eat on a daily basis” point. All of that little stuff, you see, is informed by the bigger stuff. Think of it this way: why do you eat hot dogs at a baseball game? Here’s a food imported by Germans (and adapted for American tastes) being ritually consumed at a sport descended from cricket and made popular in the late 19th century. Seems odd, doesn’t it? Yet, you can trace those things back to large religious and political movements which are themselves side-effects of things like geography, climate, and biology.

So, here we have the city of Illin. You can read my full treatise on the city and its environs here, if you’re so inclined, but in brief, Illin is a city built on the tip of a swampy peninsula commanding the outlet of a major trade river. It was designed as a way to control and limit the access the Kalsaari Empire (political and religious rivals to the Western nations) had to Western trade routes. Gradually, this city and principality became more militarized. As it is poor in material resources and arable land, it remained a poor nation propped up by its neighbors as a kind of buffer state. It has been invaded many times over the centuries, but this past time was by far the most successful and destructive invasion the Kalsaaris ever implemented. To win, they used sorcery in a way unseen in millennia. To win it back, the West did the same. Who was caught in the middle? Illin and, most particularly, its poorest citizens (i.e. the people who always pay the highest price when wars are fought).

Now, that’s just the tip of it all – there’s a hell of a lot more, but most of that world-building stuff never makes it to the page. It just exists in the back of the author’s mind, ready to be accessed if needed, but mostly there to fill out the picture of the place in the author’s mind. I’ve been to Illin, to the extent that anyone has been. I’ve run role-playing games with my friends set there. I’ve written poetry about it (bad poetry, mind you). I like to think I know how it smells.

But that’s just a city, not a character and certainly not a story.

In our workshop out in LA, Dave Farland (aka Dave Wolverton) said something that really struck me. He talked about how setting makes character and story more than anything else, so he always starts with the setting. I realized that I, also, do that (I just didn’t fully realize it). It isn’t until I have world that I feel like I could live in that I figure out who actually lives there. This is where Abe comes from. What would a young man from the Undercity think of his world? What would he want? How would he try to get it? All of these questions can be answered if the world is well-developed enough. And they were.

What’s interesting about the end of this story, though, is that I put the story down – trunked it, basically – for almost a year without an ending. I just couldn’t think of one. I’d painted Abe into such a corner that he was basically doomed (this, incidentally, was something Tim Powers told us was a good way to go, so, again, I was accidentally doing something right!). I had to put it down and walk away. When I (finally) came back, the end was as clear as day. Just goes to show you how fickle the imagination can be sometimes.

As a final note: for fans of The Saga of the Redeemed, this story is set about 12 years or so prior to Tyvian’s day and, obviously, in Illin and not Galaspin/Freegate. Yes, the man in the tooka den is Carlo diCarlo (a younger, thinner Carlo, though). Yes, that does mean young Tyvian (about twenty years old) is somewhere in Illin at that exact moment, doing something untoward. Yes, I do think of these things. Maybe, someday, I’ll tell that story too. Illin, though, does not give up its secrets easily.