Wednesday, March 19, 2014

World Building

As wonderfully enchanting as Kiirajanna is to me, I must confess that I didn't build the whole world before I began writing.

I know, I know.  I just heard thousands of fiction writing professors screaming through the fabric of the force.  "You must build the world before you can write in it!" they must be saying.


I didn't.

And you know what?  Now it's even more fun to fill in the blank areas.

Why do I say that and taunt the professors so?  Frankly, because it's true.

I never did enjoy the world building exercise much.  I mean, creating an entirely self-contained, entirely internally-consistent, world is--well, it's work.  It's difficult.  It's scary, in the "oh, if I put an arid grassland next to a lake they'll make me look stupid" kind of way.

Who's the they from the previous paragraph?  I have no idea.  I think we all have a little they inside of us, though--someone who may or may not even exist yet we're trying to please and scared to death of if our talent/craft/art falls short.  Right?

Anyway, enough psychosis talk for now.  Bottom line: I didn't used to enjoy the process of building a fantasy world.  Now, I do.  What changed?

I took up the reins of fiction author.  I said, "Yes, I can."  That's what changed.

I remember when it happened.  The table-top gaming group I played D&D with needed a short diversion and so I offered to create the module that had been in my mind for a while.  It was a story of a triangle of passion, of dark betrayal and darker murder, of--well, you get the drift.  The game module involved a cursed manor with lots of undead ruled over by a powerful death knight.

I wrote it, and then I presented it, keeping in mind that these were my good friends who wouldn't laugh at me no matter how much I deserved it.  But they didn't laugh.  They actually enjoyed it.  In fact, they really enjoyed a couple of story points that I hadn't expected to be more than mere distractions.


Okay--maybe I can do this, I thought.  Then--yes, I can do this, I knew.

Fast forward to now, and I'll put an arid grassland next to a glacier-fed lake if I want to.  Granted, I'll also think long and hard about why it's there, and present some sort of evidence of the same based in the story at hand.  That inner literary teacher is still alive and well, just as I imagine he was for all the now-famous great authors.

I can picture a young author building his world for an epic fantasy, and that literary teacher quizzing him:
"That mountain there doesn't match the others.  How'd it get there, Robert?"
"The MC, Louis Kinslayer Theraflu, made it."
"Theraflu is such a horrible name for an MC.  And what do you mean he made it?"
"He was overtaken with madness and killed his family; at that point he pulled in enough magical energy to kill himself and, in doing so, made the mountain."
"Out of what?"
"What stuff?"
"Who cares? He made it out of magic and grief and stuff."
"Okay, fine, but Theraflu still stinks as a character name."

Those dang internal teachers, right?

Still, one thing I've learned is that it's the story that drives the landscape, not the other way around.  And that being said, if it's the story that drives the landscape rather than vice versa, what do you get when you don't have all of the story yet you go building the landscape?

That's right.  A mess.

A mess is what you get.  At least, that's what I get.  I tried it once.  I designed the world of Cataclysm thoroughly before I started writing, and it ended up being entirely wrong as the story progressed.  So when I sat to write Elf Queen, I didn't bother.  I knew the first book's story, and I built that much of the world.  I know the next to last book's story.  I'm pretty sure I know the last book's story, though I'm not presenting that statement without the usual disclaimer of "my brain reserves the right to change the entire thing with no notice to the writing hands."

Now that the first book is written, though, I am pretty certain I know the intermediate parts, which means that now I have the whole thing. That, in turn, means that now I am able to design the rest of the world to suit the story. 

Yay!  So now, let there be mountains, and ice sheets, and tropical rain forests, and deserts, and fishing villages, and--well, and so on.  It's a lot of fun, this is.

Happy world building!


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Excerpt from Prophecy

There's a lot that I'm particularly proud of in my latest novel, Prophecy. I like the world that it creates, for one thing, and I like the overall sassy tone of the story.  Here's an excerpt from the book that hopefully shows some of that.  Enjoy!


“Have you ever shot an arrow from a bow, Princess?” Charming said, spinning suddenly to face me. Without taking his questioning look off of me, he reached over into a stand and removed a bow and three arrows. He spun around again, firing all three rapidly at one of the targets set up against the hedge on the other side. All three hit around the center of the bullseye, a feat that didn’t seem to surprise the prince. To be honest, it failed to surprise me too. The boy could shoot. Big deal.
“Nope,” I said, trying to look as unimpressed as I could while I waited for him to continue the conversation. I didn’t manage to keep my eyes away from the targets; they had awfully small bullseyes. In all the archery I’d ever watched—not that there’d been a lot, but I’d seen some—the centers of the targets always seemed to be a few inches in diameter. These little red dots were the size of a quarter, if they were that big. Around the red dot was a blue disk that wasn’t any wider. Subsequent disks radiated outward, in alternating light and dark colors, for a total of ten colored bands in all. The rest of the target, itself about three feet in diameter, was white. A wooden stake held the circle up at about chest-height. I counted eight targets spaced along the opposite end of the range, and wondered how many archers would be trying to use them during whatever served as practice time.
“It is time you learned from a master, then,” he said, smirking as he stepped over to me and held the bow out.
I really wanted to laugh at the arrogant display, but I knew that wouldn’t do much good. I took the bow instead, holding it to me and plucking the string like a guitar. I said, “Well, bless your heart, but you’ve given me a really tight bow. I just don’t know how I could ever use it to hit those little circle thingies over there.” 
Yes, it’s called a target. Yes, it’s called a bullseye. I know all that. I wasn’t going to play his game, though.
“You could at least try, Princess,” Keion said without moving his teeth.
I shrugged and flounced as well as I could over to the tub with the arrows in it. Pulling one out I turned and knocked the arrow, pointing it at him as I drew it part-way. I asked, “Like this?”
I was impressed; he didn’t even flinch. With one raised eyebrow, he said, “No, not at all like that, Princess. If you’re quite done mocking the most revered of our pastimes and sports, perhaps I could help you fix your form?”
“I’m not mocking the most revered of our pastimes and sports. I’m mocking you. If you’re quite done behaving like a preening peacock, perhaps I’ll let you help me fix my form.”
The prince’s glare intensified, but he apparently got my point. He moved over to beside me, turning my body gently so that the arrow was pointed the correct direction. Gently he reached around me, showing me how to hold the bow. Now, I’d watched archery on TV and in the movies, and so I had an idea I was doing it wrong, but when he showed me how to hold my left arm out parallel to the ground and then pull the string back smoothly with my right hand, it felt—right. And strong. Stronger, I think, than I really had the strength to control.
“I wasn’t kidding when I said this bow seems too heavy for me. You don’t happen to have any beginner or girl bows, do you?”
Keion snorted in my ear. “That would be a baby’s bow here, and no, there are none available. They’re too small for you, anyway.”
“So what do your sisters shoot when they come to the range?”
“Why would they come to the range?”
“Well, they’re elves. I thought all elves shoot bows.”
“Many do, but my sisters are princesses. Why would they need to learn to do something they’ll never have to do?”
“Well, but—but I’m a princess. Why do I need to learn to do something that I’ll never have to do?”
“You are not merely a princess. You will be our queen, Princess. You do have so much still to learn, don’t you?  The queen is expected to be an excellent archer, in part to defend herself and her people should the need ever arise, but also because she is the ceremonial leader for any contests or games for which she is in attendance. She shoots the first arrow in our midwinter games, for example. Our people rest a great deal of pride in how straight and quick my mother can fire a quiver of arrows. It’s my job to bring you up to that level. If I can, that is.”
The last bit made me angry enough that I shook him off. I snatched an arrow out of the bucket, drew the bow as he’d shown me, and launched toward the target.
It missed. It missed by a lot, in fact, thudding into the ground about three feet to the left of the base of the target.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Prophecy, Released!

I got that feeling.

You know the feeling.  At least, some of you know the feeling.  Have you ever stood there and waved, watching your kid drive off in his or her own car, its trunk full of his or her own luggage, excitedly launching his or her own life?  As you stand there, you think of all the dangers your poor kid is going to face, all the excitement and opportunity ahead, and you wonder how long it'll be before you can go into that now-empty bedroom without bursting into tears of joy--or tears of something, anyway.

Yeah, that's the feeling. Only it's not a kid, it's a book. A book I've put way too much into to count right here.

To be clear: WOO HOO!  Prophecy is out, released into the great big world!  The novel is available on Amazon in ebook format, and as soon as the mailman brings me my proof copy, it'll hopefully be available as a beee yooo teee fulll paperback as well.  I've already sold a few e-copies according to my fancy-dancy KDP Reports screen at Amazon's site. 

It's exciting!

It's terrifying!

Now, the work really begins.  Not the writing, so much.  The purely creative effort of writing is sometimes hard, sometimes wonderful, sometimes cathartic.  Whatever it is, it doesn't usually feel like work. 

Marketing?  That feels like work.  Keeping track of which reviewers I've sent it off to, which ones I haven't and why, which ones aren't available till April, and which ones have already flagged something to run on what dates--yeah, that's all about as much fun as edging the lawn.  Still, it has to be done; otherwise, nobody ever knows that the book is out there.

Meanwhile, I'm setting off on a quick book that I hope to finish within a few weeks, this one non-fiction, before I get into writing what was going to be the third installment, and is now actually planned as the second one, of the Elf Queen series. 

Yeah, I know--Book 3 of Return of the Gods became Book 2, and Book 2 ended up being Book 3, and now I'm doing the same thing with Elf Queen.  It's funny how plans work that way.

That said, I suppose I need to quit rambling and gushing and get back to spreadsheeting and emailing. 

See y'all later!


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cover: Revealed!

I can't help but be as excited as a mosquito on the first day of summer.

Well, okay, maybe that simile sucked.  Sorry.

Anyway--it's here!  It's here!  The cover to Prophecy: Elf Queen of Kiirajanna is here, and soon the book will be officially released, too.

Main artwork by Jessa, layout by me.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Rule Number One of Authorpreneurship

My bad.

No, really.  I promised, last time I reorganized my blog page, to keep a list of the blogs I frequent down there and to the right.  Yep, right down there below the list of followers, the "My Blog List."  I've done part of that, in removing some of the ones that went away (e.g., Bookends -- a sad, sad day when I removed that one) or the ones I no longer wanted to read (nope, not even giving them the advantage of a mention), but I haven't added new ones as I've found them.

Granted, I've stopped reading most as quickly as I started, so there hasn't been a lot of net loss.  One blog, though, I've enjoyed but not added.

It's fixed now.

The blog is Chuck Wendig's.  He's an author, and a smart guy, and he's just a little foul-mouthed.  Okay, he's a lot foul-mouthed, but that's something I like -- his writing has an edge to it.

So, anyway, back to my OPB (Other Peoples' Blogs) commentary, I was reminded to add his blog today because I decided his latest post needed commenting on.  He wrote about diversifying your supply chain as a writer, and made some perfectly fine points for why you should do it.

To paraphrase (a little) his post: "Amazon is not your friend.  Amazon is not your friend.  Amazon is not your friend.  Amazon is . . . ."

Okay, so it was repetitive as hell.  I wanted to scream by the end.

I mean, it's a great point.  Amazon isn't your friend if you're an author.  Neither is Amazon your enemy. Amazon is naught but a business partner; some of us choose to do business exclusively through them, and others choose to spread the wealth, and all with varying results.

But here's the MBA coming out in me: no, Amazon isn't your friend.  Neither is Barnes & Noble.  Neither is Apple.  Neither is your editor or your book cover artist.  Neither is the owner of the little bookstore down the street who's offered to give your books some shelf space the second Tuesday of next month (or even longer if you sell more than a few dozen copies through him).

If you want writing friends, that's fine.  I have some amazingly good friends, both in person and through social media, based on mutual writing interests, but here's the deal: we don't do business together.

My beta readers?  They're all friends, and wonderful ones at that.  But again, we don't do business together.

Rule Number One of Authorpreneurship, something from MBA classes that we should teach in every MFA program out there, is that people with whom you do business are not your friends.  Granted, there's no reason to be unfriendly with them; most if not all are great people.  Great people make for great business acquaintances. They also make for great friends.  One, or the other.  Not both.

Here's why I say that: friends, by most common definitions, put your needs and interests somewhere in their own list of priorities.  People doing business with you might do so as well, so long as your needs and interests are aligned with their own.  When the two sets of needs and interests differ, though, as they can and very often do, guess what happens to your own set?

*flush* (that was a hint, only perhaps not a subtle one)

The bit I sometimes find hard about business is that the opposite needs to be true.  When you're doing business with someone and your interests diverge from theirs, you need to be able and willing to say so, and to act accordingly.  I've seen several people invest in editing services offered by friends only to see the friendship crash and burn because they didn't act accordingly.  Editing, you see, needs to be just a little bit confrontational and somewhat raw to the touch if it's done well.  That's a good thing in a business acquaintance, but it's really hard to do in a friendship.

The same applies to the numerous services that are out there for authors.  There are a crap-ton of companies all out there on the Internet, offering a myriad of services that will of course help you make more money. The one consistent trait?  They all want your money.  "Buy my book and I'll...."  "Send me $25 through Paypal and we'll advertise...."  "I design covers for the low cost of...."  Some are good, some are bad.  Some are competent, some aren't.  Most are friendly, at least till you tell them you're not sending them any money.  All, though, belong to the "not your friends" category.

Think large scale for a sec.  Let's say you're a multi-million-copy bestselling author, okay?  Now let's say Amazon's Select sole-source contract is inhibiting your business model rather than helping it.  You need to be willing to (in a contract-law-abiding manner) walk away.  No hard feelings, Amazon, it's just that your model doesn't work for me any more, you see?  Now, if they're your friend, you might feel bad.  They're not your friend, though.  They're a business acquaintance.  So long as you uphold any contractual obligations, you have no reason to feel bad.

And now, with a salute to my friend (or, the guy who'd probably be a friend if we ever met) Chuck Wendig, I say happy authoring, and may business fortunes be ever in your favor.

Oh, and Amazon is not your friend.  *grin*


Monday, March 3, 2014

Learning GIMP

I anticipated doing a blog post all day yesterday, but much of the afternoon it was storming.  When it storms, my Internet connection bounces.  When my Internet connection bounces, I growl a lot.  When I growl a lot, I write blog posts that most of you won't wish to read.

So anyway, while the Internet connection bounced, I managed to accomplish a non-Internet-based task that I'd been dreading.  It ended up being fairly quick and painless, even.  Specifically, I was able to redo the paperback cover art for Cataclysm.

That probably doesn't sound like much, right?  But lemme 'splain.  Back when I was doing the Cataclysm artwork initially, I was a complete tyro at GIMP.  I managed an ebook cover image for the novel, and then a paperback cover image, and those were both good enough for a while.  Eventually I got tired of ebook cover, though, and I redid it with some fancy lettering work.

I didn't, however, redo the paperback cover.  The reason for the, um, "oversight," was that I'd used just a part of the Ares image (which I got permission to use from the wonderful artist Tom Gehrke, I must remind!) for the ebook, while the paperback had used the entire image, and I didn't at the time know how to go from one to the other seamlessly.

I didn't, to be honest, want to suffer through trying.

See, GIMP has a learning curve.  Everybody I've spoken with says GIMP has a learning curve, in fact.  It's a wonderfully free, and wonderfully powerful, software application, but it takes a bit to figure out.

Still, I use it exclusively, now.  I've sat through classes on Photoshop, and it has a learning curve, also.  A learning curve, I should add, that comes with a fairly hefty price tag.  Other graphics software packages have greater or lesser costs on the price tags, and higher or lower learning curves at the same time, but the fact is that every application out there takes a while to learn, and none of them has quite the spectacularly low price point of GIMP.

Thus, I use GIMP.

So last night in one of my Internet-accessible moments I trumpeted on Facebook that I felt like I was finally over the worst part of the learning curve.  Somebody asked me how I did it, and I agreed to share it with you.

My first secret: practice.  There's no substitute for focused doodling on the software you wish to learn to use.  I'm not talking about just playing around with it, either.  You have to try to do what you want to do with it, and you have to be willing to take notes while you fail spectacularly.

(I call that spectacular failure "practice" to make it look a little less ugly)

For example, while I was trying to get the letter effect I finally achieved for the Prophecy cover, I failed spectacularly dozens of times.  You should see the scribbles on the notes pages I kept.  I followed the instructions I'd written over, and over--each time, going through an entire page of notes and adding most of an entire new one.   It sounds like a tremendous waste of time, saying it like that, but in reality that was the time that I learned the most about what I was trying to do.  By repeating the same steps and varying the results by a matter of one or two pixels or shades, I managed to see very clearly what the instructions I'd written down were doing.  I was able to figure it out.

Second secret, then: knowing what to practice.  There are a ton of tutorials out there on on the interwebs of knowledge for using GIMP.  Generally, when I'm looking for something specific, I'll just search Google for it: "GIMP perspective tool" or "GIMP color curves."  After watching a few videos, I practice as described above.

Problem is, you have to start somewhere, right?  It's not like most people downloading GIMP the first time even know what a color curve is.  That's where basic tutorials come in.  There are some on the GIMP site (, and on the GIMP FAQ page ( though, to be honest, I haven't spent much time there because there's so much other stuff out there.

Backing up a bit--GIMP is an open source graphics manipulator.  That means a lot of things, most too wordy to go into here.  For the newbie learning GIMP, though, it means that there is an entire community out there both developing new snippets (plug-ins) of code to do stuff with, and also creating good (more or less, anyway) teaching videos to help us figure the application out.

Videos like what? I'm sure you're asking.  You are, right?

Here are some of the sites I've been to: - the best one I've found.  I keep going back and learning more every chance I get.  Some of the tutorials he has listed are now unavailable, but what is there is first-rate. - For all of the text effect geeks like me, is a yummy tutorial - another one for text effect geeks.  I swear, some day I'll find a use for that "super-glowy" one.  It's super easy, too, which is a bonus, and he uses different tools than some of the other tutorial creators. - Love the rifts look. - and then there's the joy of going directly to Youtube and searching.  This is a generic search for GIMP; for specific topics you can get more wordy in the Search box. - How to cut out a person in GIMP (and thus change backgrounds!).  And--Will Smith on grass.

Now, let me say a word or two about the last one, just 'cause.  Dude doesn't have the best voice for making videos, true, but then again, you get what you pay for, right?  Also, Dude doesn't do it perfectly, but to his credit he points that out himself and tells you how to fix it (or you can just take more time in selecting and thus do it perfectly).  You'll find that's a fairly common thing in free tutorials, in fact.  Dude also leaves out a step that other videos suggest: blurring the edges for more visual continuity (that's why you should watch more than one video on a topic, if possible).

Most important, though: Dude violates copyright law, if he then uses this as an author is going to by smacking it onto a book cover.  Again, he says it himself in the commentary, and he's not planning to use it commercially, so no harm and no foul by him, but all along the way we authors have to make sure to use, even in bits and pieces, only the images, fonts, and backgrounds that we have the rights to use in a commercial work. 

Hope all this helps!


Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Focus of a Writer - Guest Blog

Guest blogging today, over at

Many of my life successes I attribute to my ability to focus.  I’ve written before ( about the focus on a physical fitness goal that earned me admission to West Point, for example.  Focus earned me graduation from there with dual majors, and focus later helped me finish all the way to a PhD.  Focus in my day job has carried me through a great many hurdles that seemed impossible at first.

As an indie writer, the need to focus is still present, but it’s different.

I didn’t realize that at first.  Heck, I didn’t realize at first that I’d end up being an indie writer.  As I’ve heard most do, I saw writing the first book as the real hurdle; after I finished that, I’d sell it for hundreds of thousands of dollars to a big publishing house, and they’d take care of everything else, forever after.

Now, don’t tell me you didn’t also, at one time or another, bear such a fantasy….

Thus it was that I finished my first book, revised it, had it edited, secured eighty rejections before finding a small publisher who’d take it on, and then realized I needed to get another book done.  I furiously started revising the draft of the second novel, and then, as so many other writers have described, the glass slipper of the publishing offer shattered.

Since then I’ve gotten four books out there, and the fifth is due to be released on March 15, 2014.  Along the way I’ve learned a fair bit about a writer’s focus.

To read the rest, go visit my friends over at