Friday, December 6, 2013


Photo by Steve Snodgrass .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
What is the origin of the creeping malaise that continually conspires to prevent me from making blog updates?  I guess you'd have to call it sloth.  I've been waiting to be inspired, but at some point it becomes obvious that one simply has to write something or a blog ceases to be a blog and becomes something more like a requiem.

Ah, here's a thought.  OK, wait.  First off, rest assured that my work on Hemlock IV is significantly more inspired than this blog post appears to be.  That's the good news.  OK, back to this thought I just had.  Wait...  Can you believe it?  It's gone already.  That's crazy.  At some point a project ceases to be revelatory and descends into drudgery.  But there's no shame in that.  Every worthwhile thing I've accomplished in my life has needed some in-glamorous elbow grease to get it over the finish line.  So why should this blog post be any different?  Oh, right.  I was going to tell you about my writing process.

My writing process is to take my laptop and go to a local fast food place.  It's one of the supposedly healthy fast food places.  Somehow I doubt it is really healthy, but it does feel lighter and less toxic than the burger places.  And I've hit a groove at this place.  I write every other day.  I don't write for very long because I don't have time to.  But it's a nice little block of time where I write and re-read what I wrote the previous session.  I make light edits and then forge ahead.  I always thought writing a novel would be difficult, but it's really not if you approach it this way.  Just establish a writing routine and you will finish a novel.  But I shouldn't leave out a caveat...a veritable asterisk that should be slammed down over this blog post by a big white Roger Rabbit cartoon hand.

These writing sessions are totally reliant on a story outline I've prepared.  I've got the first seven or eight chapters of the new novel outlined because I simply can't keep all of the plot details straight without it.  My memory certainly isn't my strong suit.  It's not like the prose is incredibly intricate when you read it, but writing a climax to a series does require a lot of plot juggling.  It should fall together naturally for the reader, but that artificial harmony is the product of a lot of mental simulation, note taking and sessions of imagining.  I get a lot of ideas in the shower.  I used to get a lot on the lawn mower, but now that season has passed.

This may be the worst blog post I've written so far.  I apologize for that.  Maybe I need to blog during breakfast...incorporate it into my routine.  I suppose I should take my own advice.  But I'd be groggy...  I'd probably write about sugary kid's cereals and clumsy yoga.  Writing at lunch does provide the theoretical advantage of being at peak wakefulness.  Unlike this post which is probably incoherent because I'm so tired.  Time to fall asleep at the keyboard**************

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Virtual Inspiration

Photo by Bill Strain .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
What have I been up to lately?  I've been working on the fourth Hemlock book.  Progress is slow but steady.  I recently finished reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  I think it was perfect timing for me to read that book as I'm facing the challenge of completing the finale of the Hemlock story.  In The Pillars of the Earth, Follett masterfully weaves together the tales of many characters over an epic story arc.  I studied this book as I read it, and it taught me a few things about creating interesting conflicts and keeping the reader engaged with many different characters.

I've been taken with a new tech toy I recently bought: an Oculus Rift VR headset.  I don't use the term VR lightly.  I've been waiting for legitimate virtual reality for over two decades now.  I briefly owned a true VR setup in the 2000s.  It was made by a company called Division, and it took a computer the size of a small refrigerator to run it.  The headset was the size of an American Football helmet and the computer tech was from the 90s.  But it had good field of view (percentage of your vision it covers), good head tracking, and it was easily the best thing I'd seen before or since--until Oculus Rift, that is.  The Oculus Rift is the real deal.  It is VR fully realized in a small and convenient package.  It fits on your head like a ski mask and it covers nearly your entire field of view.  The resolution isn't amazing, but it's good enough.  The head tracking and 3D effect are first rate.  You feel like you are in the virtual space.  And that's a very trippy feeling (sometimes literally if you manage to lose your bearings in the real world while wearing the mask).  I think VR is going to be the future of gaming.  If you think online games are addicting now then you ain't seen nothing yet.  This is a game changer (pun intended).

I recently came up with a saying that I kind of like: "depression is unrealized inspiration."  Now, when I discuss depression I don't necessarily mean chronic (clinical) depression because I've never experienced that.  I refer to the more conventional type of down feelings that everyone experiences from time to time.  I've noticed that when I start to feel down I typically end up being very inspired about something soon after.  It's a mysterious phenomenon.  But, after some introspection, I think it's like a stream of creative energy is flowing up toward my conscious mind but getting obstructed somehow. And, paradoxically, it seems like the pressure of that unrealized inspiration can create a feedback loop where the pressure itself begins to become an obstruction to the creative flow.  It seems to queue up, and the pressure builds until I finally achieve some kind of creative release.This personal realization may change the way I look at depression.  Instead of wallowing in it I'm going to try to think about creative outlets and things that inspire me creatively.  I'm going to listen to more music and watch films I love.  And I'm going to spend more time talking to people that inspire me--positive people. 

Thanks for reading, and I hope you are enjoying a wonderful fall (if you are in the U.S., that is).  We're gearing up for Halloween in the United States.  Halloween seems to be a holiday on the rise.  I think that's because it allows for safe exploration of the greatest mystery of our lives: death.  But that's a topic for another blog post.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Spice Must Flow! And Pass the Chips...

I recently went to a small convention featuring 70s and 80s pop culture.  It was pretty neat.  There was the whole cosplay thing, which I'm really not that interested in--but I do have to admit that the people in costume add to the overall ambiance quite a bit.  And then there were the vendors peddling ancient artifacts from these lost decades.  I purchased a few items.  First, I bought a box containing someone's old Dungeons and Dragons collection.  I only intended to buy one book, but the guy insisted on selling the entire box together.  I looked over everything in the box and made a reasonable offer which he accepted.  It was a pretty good haul with some nice 1st edition books, a really nice 1st edition DM screen and even one of those character folders with the blue adventure logs.  I suppose I could auction off some of the stuff, but at least D&D books don't take up a lot of space.  I also purchased some Dune snack plates that were clearly a tie-in to the 1983 David Lynch film.  I love Dune, so I found the idea of Dune snack plates to be strangely irresistible.  "Father, the sleeper has awakened!  And he wants some Doritos!"  They were even in shrink wrap that appears to be original.  Looking at the fine print on the plates I can see the image was licensed from the Dino De Laurentis company and the plates were produced by Merchandising Corporation of America, Inc.  The power of the Schwartz at it's finest!

On the writing front, I've started working on the next Hemlock book, but I'm taking it relatively easy.  I need to build up some writing "mana" after the push to finish Book Three. 

I'm currently reading "World Without End" by Ken Follet.  It's a pretty good book so far and I admire his writing a lot.  My only comment is it reads a little bit like an HBO series screenplay in that there's a surprising amount of graphic sex popping up at regular intervals--more than in any book I've read in recent memory.  OK, so maybe reading history books and books about finance and mathematics mean I lack perspective on what the sexual content of a modern novel is like.  And I haven't read 50 Shades of Grey or anything like that.  Still, it's surprising me a bit since I didn't recall that type of content in the book's predecessor ("Pillars of the Earth").

I'm sorry about the short post this month.  I will try to post more frequently as time and inspiration allow.  And thank you for your support of my new release: "Hemlock and the Dread Sorceress"!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hemlock and the Dread Sorceress released!

I'm very excited to announce that Hemlock and the Dread Sorceress, Book III in The Maker's Fire series, has been released!  It is available via the below links.

Amazon - US
Amazon UK

The book will be available on other sites like Barnes and Noble and Apple as soon as Smashwords distributes to them.  This process may take a few more weeks.  I will post an update when it is complete.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Heating Up for a Summer Release!

The heat of the summer is upon us on the east coast of the U.S.A.  But this sweltering environment hasn't prevented the manuscript for Hemlock and the Dread Sorceress from nearing its final form.  The manuscript has finally been shipped off to the editor.  I've got everything done at this point except for the final eBook formatting for Amazon and Smashwords.  This should mainly consist of creating a table of contents and re-integrating the edits once I get them back.  The editor is planning to start in a week or so, and should be done in another week's time after that.  I can confidently say that we are looking at a solid August release date. 

I've been taking some time off from writing like I usually do after I complete a book.  I'll be putting my marketing hat on soon and starting to promote the release.  Not that I'm any kind of marketing dynamo or anything.  But I'll be doing a few things.  I'll be running an August ad on the Indie Book Blog.  And I'll be running some promo ads on Twitter.  I'll probably create a press release and send it to some blogs.  The rest will have to be word of mouth or divine intervention (if you believe in that sort of thing). 

I'm not really sure what to expect out of Book III in terms of sales.  My main beta reader observed that this book is potentially the "all-in" point for readers of the series (the follow up to that statement was "so make sure it doesn't stink").  If you are reading this, I hope you are "all-in".  That's a wonderful concept for an author, and it warms my heart to even consider I could earn that level of "carte blanche" trust from a reader.  This series has been about trying to develop that trust.  I recognize that Book One--even after all the revisions I've done--still has its stylistic flaws.  That's why it's permanently free.  Book Two was an exercise in trying to tighten up my writing and establish some trust with the reader in terms of quality.  And I think Book Three is about cementing that trust in terms of quality, and showing the reader that the overall story arc for the series is on an interesting course.  I believe I've succeeded in achieving both of these goals, but readers will ultimately be the judge of that (please leave reviews, if you read it).

Thanks for reading my post.  I guess I'll be getting back to some more philosophical blog posts once this release is behind me.  Until then, I hope you are having a wonderful summer!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Book III Cover Art Revealed!

Here is the cover art for Hemlock and the Dread Sorceress!  As you can (hopefully) tell, Elena Dudina has outdone herself again!

I fully completed the first draft of Hemlock and the Dread Sorceress yesterday.  I had completed what I'll call the core narrative several weeks before, but I had an idea for an additional chapter to help flesh out the novel.  As often happens, the writing took on a life of its own, and I can safely say that this "bonus" chapter is now one of my favorite in the book.  I noticed something while writing this chapter--which consists of a battle and the events leading up to it.  Battle sequences are exhausting to write!  I tend to imagine them at breakneck speed, so I am usually typing as fast as I can trying to keep up with my thoughts.  I'm sure my writing gets a little more streamlined during these sequences because of the pace, but I suspect that probably helps the reader get more in sync with the tempo of the rapidly unfolding events.

I've continued to have little ideas here and there that have really added to the novel.  It's amazing how a random idea will come to you, and then you realize that it just fits with the rest of the story like a puzzle piece slipping into place.  A puzzle piece you didn't even know existed until that moment!  I think these experiences are what keeps me writing--it's just a rally rewarding feeling to "architect" these stories.  Especially when you consider that the blueprint for the story is usually blank!  It's magic!

The tasks remaining before publication of Book III are the following:  beta reader input, editing, layout, and updating the map.  There are quite a few items to complete, but none of them are herculean tasks.  One task that I'm kind of dreading is updating the map.  I am using software called Campaign Cartographer, and I since I only use it once every eighteen months or so, I tend to forget how to use it in the interim.  And let's just say it's not the most intuitive software out there.  Fortunately, I left myself some notes after I struggled up the learning curve for Dead God's Legacy.  We'll see how effective those notes are, and whether I end up pulling more hair out this time around.

I'm in that anxious period awaiting feedback from beta readers.  I am bouncing back and forth between feeling sky high about the novel and then coming back to earth and hoping it's not X, where X is whatever insecurity about my writing I happen to be indulging in at the time.  Am I right on track with this first draft, or is there a serious flaw like there was in the early draft of Dead God's Legacy?  Only time and the generosity of my beta readers will tell.  If the manuscript is right on track then I expect to release sometime in July.  If there are re-writes required then it could be delayed, but rest assured Book III will release this summer.  Word count is sitting at 53K now--short by fantasy standards.  It will be priced accordingly at $1.99.  I'm taking the profit margin hit (books under $2.99 only net 33% on Amazon instead of 66%) because I want to make sure people don't feel cheated by the shorter length.  Despite the length, I think it's a rousing adventure tale with a few epic events sprinkled in for good measure. I hope you're having a great start to summer, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

More on Dread Sorceress

Early work in progress images for the cover of Hemlock and the Dread Sorceress are starting to arrive in my mailbox (teaser at left).  It's always a thrill to open up a new revision and see it getting closer to the final product.  It's also a tangible sign that a new novel is really on the horizon.  A novel may ultimately be a collection of words, but a cover somehow makes it seem more tangible--even in the case of an eBook.

I am continuing to get amazing ideas for the final part(s) of the Maker's Fire series.  At this point I am seeing one more book in the series, but who knows--it could be two.  The idea I got today was really amazing.  As I imagined it, I had that simultaneous feeling of pride and humility that often accompanies what I consider to be my best concepts.  I feel that I am not creating these ideas but channeling them from some higher order.  It may sound far fetched, but that's how I feel about my process.  So there is humility, but my ego is still sated in the process.  I do experience pride at being the "vessel" for a good concept.  But, oh woe is me, the idea I had today is still so far along in the story.  I am anxious to get to it--but I don't like to write scenes out of sequence if I can avoid it.  I'll just have to keep writing, and try to get to it as soon as I am able.

This idea I got today strikes me as being more profound than most because it ties in to some dream images that I've been experiencing for years.  Could this story have been connected to me for all this time and only now manifesting?  I'm trying to stay somewhat grounded here, but the magnitude of this latest idea, and the sense of catharsis that it's producing are really significant.  If I'm not destined to be writing these books at this time, in this place, and in the way I'm going about it then I must be really self delusional, because it is proving to be an amazing journey.

I'm still struggling with the price point for Hemlock and the Dread Sorceress.  My two choices seem to be: a) price at $1.99, which would seem to be a fair price given the shorter length, but will likely produce a net loss (after cover art and editing) at the lower Amazon profit margin, or b) price at $2.99 and risk alienating readers who purchased Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy, which is nearly twice as long as Dread Sorceress, at the same price.  When in doubt, I think it's best to side with the reader, so option a) is in the lead.  Another option would be to price at $2.99 on Amazon and $1.99 on other outlets through Smashwords.  Perhaps that is the best option, although it's kind of bending Amazon's publishing rules.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you are doing well!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hemlock and the Dread Sorceress

I've been dutifully writing over the past few weeks, and wrapping up the first draft of the new novel.  The title is going to be "Hemlock and the Dread Sorceress: The Maker's Fire, Book III, Vol I".  Quite a mouthful, huh?   It looks like the word count is going to come in at a little over 40K words.  So, as I've mentioned in previous blog posts, it's going to be a shorter work.  What can I say about this new book without giving anything away?  How about revealing a first draft of the synopsis!

Hemlock has retreated back into the shadows of the Warrens, content, for a time, to let events come and go as they may.  But she knows that a new enemy is returning to the City: a titan of the past who intends to wrest control from Gwineval and the wizards.  When word reaches the City that the rogue wizards have moved against the eastern mountains, it becomes clear that DuLoc's campaign has begun--even if the man himself has not yet arrived.  Gwineval marshals the forces of the City to resist DuLoc's plans, but Hemlock feels she must take another path.  She makes a radical decision to forgo the initial campaign in order to pursue what she hopes will be a greater boon.  But she doesn't anticipate that another dark presence stands between her and her goals.  She must face this unanticipated foe in order to advance her plans to save the City.

I've contacted the cover artist and plans are in place to start work on the cover toward the end of April.  Assuming I can complete and edit the first draft by the end of May, I hope to release the book sometime in the beginning of the summer.  I hope readers are as excited as I am about this release.  It's funny how every novel I've written so far feels different.  This one is shorter than Dead God's Legacy, and for the most part it is more focused.  This is the first novel in the series that does not use the flashback structure, and therefore it is much more of a straight ahead adventure than the past novels have been.  I've really enjoyed writing this novel and I can't wait to share it with you!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Book III Novella? Serialization and the Art of the Possible

Photo by sidewalk flying .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
Contrary to the title, this is not a post about politics.  The phrase "the art of the possible" just sprang into my mind when thinking about the actual topic of this post, which is whether to publish a version of my latest writings as a novella/short novel or wait until I complete a longer work.  When I started writing my latest manuscript, I intended it to be the final Book III of the Maker's Fire series (aka: Hemlock series).  I carefully laid out the key plot points over a series of months, and projected that it would result in a novel that would be at least 100,000 words.

But something started to happen as I wrote.  First, I realized I was making slower progress than I'd hoped.  Second, I noticed that the story has a natural 'cut point' about a third of the way in.  Some books have a conclusion with a complicating factor at this point of the narrative.  In my story it is more of a conclusion and then "on to the next challenge".  So it feels like I could stop at this point and call it a stand-alone story without compromising the integrity of the story arc.

It's been over a year since Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy was released.  I managed to complete that book in about a year's time, but I absolutely killed myself to do it.  After I finished that book I resolved that I wouldn't subject myself to that arduous writing schedule again (I'm only a part time writer, alas).  So, here I sit a year later with about 30,000 words completed on the next book.  But I want to get another story out there.  I think readers can forget about authors who aren't releasing new work in a timely manner.

But 40,000 words (projected length) is short.  Fantasy novels are great because they are immersive.  And as a reader I sometimes find the immersion kicking in around the middle of a novel.  This is the negative of serializing like this--the story could be over just as the reader is getting settled into the narrative.  Of course I would price the work at $0.99 to reflect the shorter length--but my fear is it could be unsatisfyingly short.  Still, despite that fear, I fear being forgotten more.  So, I am leaning toward serializing and getting something out to readers to keep them engaged.  And I think what I've got is a good story.  As long as I make it clear what the length of the book is, I think I can mitigate the risk of reader disappointment.  And I will probably include a foreward that discusses these very points so readers understand why the book is short.

So, I consider this approach the best one possible, under the circumstances.  The alternative is waiting another two years for my next release.  And that seems unacceptable to me.  In this case, the "art of the possible", or, perhaps, the "possibility of art", suggests releasing a serialized novella/novel this spring.

I don't typically have a lot of interaction with my readers, but I welcome any feedback that anyone may have.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Noble Narrative

Photo by Hans s .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
What is a heroic story? Is it just an epic conflict? In the case of fantasy, is it just a character running around in armor and wielding a sword--chopping down foes on the battlefield? No, it's more than that--because we need to know something about that character. Are they well-intentioned, and do we identify with and/or like them? Most folks probably wouldn't romanticize the brutal campaigns of Genghis Khan or call them heroic.

I think it comes down to establishing that a potential hero or heroine is pursuing actions that are noble. And when I say noble I mean noble in the sense of advancing the greater good and not in the sense of being identified with gentry. Our heroes need to be engaged in noble activities. Or, at the very least, aspiring toward them. Otherwise we find it hard to empathize with them and their struggles. Their story must develop a noble narrative.

Honesty and integrity are two critical components of a noble narrative. We will tolerate a lot of mistakes by heroes provided they are made in ignorance. But treachery or deceit quickly erode the foundation of trust that a noble narrative is built upon. Our heroes must be honest with others as well as with themselves.

I believe both the hero and the anti-hero (better term is probably Byronic hero) must have a noble narrative. The difference is the anti-hero tends to make a lot more mistakes along the way or perhaps lives by a philosophy that justifies what others consider morally ambiguous actions. We tend to respect people of principle even if their principles are not in alignment with our own.

This noble narrative is one of the meaningful cross-overs between fiction/fantasy and real life. I think self esteem is built on a foundation of creating our own internal noble narrative. And I think it's important to make sure we are always heroes in our own mind (or at least anti-heroes). When we are unable to construct this noble narrative, we fall prey to self-loathing or self-deception. This is a path that rapidly descends into darkness.

The manuscript for Hemlock and the Maker's Fire (Book III) stands at about 23,000 words. I am making slow but steady progress now that I've integrated writing into my weekly routine as a scheduled activity. I'm excited about the book but it is still several months away from being a completed first draft. I appreciate the patience of everyone who is interested in reading the next, climactic installment of Hemlock's story. I believe it will be worth the wait!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

And Now for Something Completely Different...

If a retro role playing adventure game where you can construct your own dungeons sounds interesting, then you might want to check out an old browser based game I just resurrected.  It is called SourceOfMagic, and it was a project of mine from the late nineties.  It used to be live at, but I accidentally lost the domain in 2007.  Since then it's been mostly dormant, but a recent fit of vanity and nostalgia motivated me to get it running again.  If you are a gamer who is into playing and creating RPGs, and you're not put off by a retro style, then you may want to give it a go.  It's free to play.  My character name is "Spuddo".  The game is richest in Internet Explorer but also works in Firefox.  I haven't tested Chrome or Safari yet, but it should work in those browsers too.

SourceOfMagic Game Link

I have been making slow progress on the writing front.  I'm very happy with what I've written of Book III so far, I just wish I was farther along.  But (of course) I am going to keep at it.  I'm on the cusp of writing a very exciting part of the book, so my (writing) motivation level is rising.

I hope everyone reading this has had a nice January.  It just got really cold here in the eastern U.S., so that is taking a little getting used to.  But things are going well.