WorldCon At Ground Level

This last weekend, I attended my first ever World Science Fiction Convention. WorldCon, as it is known, is a traveling convention that’s been running for over 70 years, and hosts the Hugo Awards, one of genre fictions highest honors.

No, I don’t plan on getting into a debate about that.

Before I start, I’ll preface by stating I had an amazing time at WorldCon. I had loads of fun, met a ton of great people, and had a chance not just to meet, but to actually hang out with and befriend some of my favorite authors. I state this now because I may not be entirely positive about the convention itself in the coming paragraphs.

I’ve been to a decent number of conventions. I don’t go to a ton, but my staples for the last few years have been Emerald City ComiCon and PAX Prime in Seattle. I’ve been to GenCon five times (and can’t wait to get back), and a ton of smaller, regional conventions like NorWesCon, OryCon, SakuraCon, and Stumptown Comics Fest. I even went to a Star Trek convention when I was in high school.

If I were to try and come up with a hierarchy, I’m still not sure where I’d place WorldCon. I’m going to talk a bit about my expectations and disappointments first, mostly because there was so much good stuff this weekend that I’d rather get the negatives out of the way early and end on a positive note.

WorldCon/Sasquan was not a large convention. Someone told me the attendance this year was in the neighborhood of 4000. To put that into perspective, PAX’s attendance runs a little over 70,000, and San Diego ComiCon is almost double that. That was my first major surprise. While I wasn’t expecting PAX or ECCC levels of attendance – certainly not in the tiny convention center in Spokane – I wasn’t expecting the sparseness I encountered at the show. I’m so used to being packed into a convention with all the other sardines that the openness of WorldCon actually made it feel unnervingly empty.

I say “unnervingly” because WorldCon is, ostensibly, one of the largest and most important conventions for genre fiction every year. To see it so empty throws into sharp focus the very core comparison of SFF fandom to other, more pop-culture-y fandoms. Genre fiction is a big business, and yet the nature of its fandom doesn’t lend itself to social gatherings the same way comic books or video games or movies might. The relative size of the convention wasn’t all bad, but I’ll get to the positives a little later.

One of the strangest dynamics at WorldCon, for me, was how much of the floor space – and thought-space – was taken up by the promotion of other conventions. Of course, the primary hawking came from shows vying to host future WorldCons, but there was also a surprising number of other random conventions promoting themselves. Between people trying to get me to vote for their city as host and other small genre conventions desperately begging for my attendance, that part of the show floor began to feel like some weird convention circle-jerk.

I’m sure that this is just standard operating procedure at WorldCon, but it threw me off because you don’t see it as readily at other conventions (although it does happen). Here, it was such a significant and central portion of the show floor that it felt almost oppressive. I’m not sure if that’s an organizational issue, but it felt like the convention-hawking should’ve been made purposely less prominent than the dealer’s area and signature lines, but instead it was the central focus of the show floor.

When it came to organization, WorldCon was… less than stellar, primarily from an information standpoint, at least from a fan’s point of view. The website was downright terrible. While it was very easy to ask questions of the information desk, if information about events or locations hadn’t been poorly or unevenly disseminated in the first place, it wouldn’t have been nearly as necessary. Here’s a prime example:

George R.R. Martin’s signing was capped at 100 people, and they didn’t allow online sign-ups for the event. When we arrived Saturday morning, we heard there were already people in line for the 2pm signing, so we went down to check. There were, in fact, already 40 people in line, and the con staff said people had to stay in line to get into the signing. I had panels I wanted to attend that day, so based on that information I decided I didn’t want to waste my whole day in line.

After missing out on GRRM’s signing, I found out that the line was in fact not capped at 100. The staff (perhaps at GRRM’s direction, but I’m not sure?) capped the line at 100, but once the signing started, they stated that 400 signatures would be allowed, so new people could join and/or recycle through the line. And they never announced this information anywhere else in the convention center. In the end, they never even reached 300 people. So, I could have gone down after a panel I’d attended and stepped right up for a signature without any issue, but because of the (frankly) shitty flow of information and seemingly intentional obfuscation, I didn’t.

The handling of programming at WorldCon was downright strange. In speaking with several authors, I found out that the Sasquan staff determined virtually all of the placement of authors and industry professionals on panels of their own design, with little to no consultation with the professionals themselves. Wesley Chu was placed on a YA panel – having never published any YA books. Several popular genre authors chose not to attend the con at all because they weren’t “given” any programming – Brian McClellan being a prominent example.

This seems so completely backwards to me. At larger shows like PAX, only a portion of the panels and programming are created by the convention. These conventions open up a submission process well in advance where content creators can propose panel topics and guests, then the convention approves and schedules those panels. Professionals have at least some say regarding what panels they participate in. It seems so strange that a convention would not give professionals much, if any, say in what programming they participated in, but also that they wouldn’t give content creators the opportunity to populate the convention with programming.

That being said, I was able to attend some fantastic panels at this show. Panels are not usually a focus for me at conventions, but after I was able to get everything I wanted out of the show floor in my first two hours of attendance, I realized I needed to shift my mindset. I went to several authors’ readings – Elizabeth Bear and Brandon Sanderson among them – but the best panels were the ones involving the more in-depth discussions of the writerly arts.

On Thursday I went to a panel on world-building with Kay Kenyon, Matt Wallace, and Richard Kadrey that helped me immensely with that shift in mindset. Although in depth panels on writing were surprisingly few, it was this panel that made me realize they were there and re-evaluate my schedule of events.

I went to a fantastic recording of the Ditch Diggers podcast, where hosts Matt Wallace and Mur Lafferty ran an adventure, D&D style, asking authors Aliette de Bodard, Linda Nagata, Fonda Lee, and Kate Elliott to brave the Forest of Publishing, then wrapped up with a discussion with editor Lee Harris. I ended up at two other panels with Kate Elliott, one an individual lecture entitled Narrative Structure and Expectation, the other a one-on-one dialogue on world-building between Kate and The Grace of Kings author Ken Liu. Both were absolutely fantastic, and Kate Elliott handled some major technical difficulties at her lecture with WAY more grace than I would’ve been able to muster. My last panel of the convention was entitled Writing About Controversy, with M.J. Locke, Eric Flint, John Scalzi, and Mike Glyer. This was the only one I found only mildly interesting, since they didn’t really delve too deeply into the subject in any way that I wasn’t already familiar with.

Although the panel selection at the convention was a little lacking, in my opinion, I did manage to find some really fun ones to attend, which made my days at the con way better than I was expecting them to be right off the bat.

And, for most of the convention, I completely avoided anything that remotely looked like Hugo controversy. Not in a Neo-dodging-bullets kind of way, but as a boots-on-the-ground attendee, 79% fan and 21% author, it just rarely ever came up. In the grand scheme of attending panels and getting shit signed and hanging out with the community (shout out to the folks at Reddit r/Fantasy, who made my weekend fucking amazing), the worry over Puppy stupidity just never reared its head. It didn’t really seem to have much effect on the convention’s atmosphere.

Speaking of atmosphere (ba-dum-bum): Washington state is in the midst of one of the worst wildfire seasons in history, and even though none of the major fires are directly in Spokane’s vicinity, the sheer volume of smoke that sometimes descended on the town was staggering. On Friday, specifically, there were major air quality warnings. Downtown establishments had warning signs on their doors telling people not to go outside or walk major distances in the smoke which, at one point, was so thick that visibility was only about five or six blocks. It was an exceedingly strange experience, and reminded me a lot of films I’ve seen of downtown Beijing in the midst of their worst pollution seasons.

I ended up being forced to walk about a mile in these conditions (a long story about car troubles that I won’t go into), and I got a brief glimpse at what being a smoker would be like. No thanks.

Anyway, enough about Smo-Con.

On Saturday night I hung out with the aforementioned r/Fantasy crew at Guinan’s (a bar set up at the far front of the hall and named after the Ten Forward bartender from Star Trek: The Next Generation) and watched the livestream of the Hugo Awards with a crowd and a beer (okay four beers). The Awards ceremony itself was unflinching in its comedy about the controversy, and at times gut-bustingly – and unexpectedly – hilarious. Bob Silverberg’s bit had me crying I was laughing so hard. I was worried I was going to be bored by the awards, and that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

But, amidst all of that, the best part of the entire weekend were the evenings after the show floor closed. The very night I showed up, I ended up at dinner with a table of fellow authors that included Jay Swanson, Tim Ward, Jason Gurley, Mike Underwood, and Jason Hough. Jay was the most inquisitive at the table, and all of us had a really lovely discussion that ranged from thoughts on publishing to individual influences to the importance of networking. I’ve been saying for days that it was the best panel I went to all weekend, and I really wish we’d had microphones to record it.

Thursday night was Reddit r/Fantasy’s Drinks With Authors event, a meetup that the organizers were worried was going to be small and poorly attended because the Sasquan staff had expressed complete disinterest in supporting it. Over the course of Wednesday and Thursday both Del Rey and Angry Robot jumped on the hype train, both promoting the event and donating piles of books to the giveaway tables. What originally was going to be a 50 or 60 person event with a couple of authors ended up overflowing the meager space at Black Label Brewing and was attended by authors Megan O’Keefe (who, alongside r/Fantasy moderator Melissa Shumake, ran the entire show), Jason Hough, Wesley Chu, Ramez Naam, Gail Carriger, Kameron Hurley, Kate Elliott, Courtney Schafer, Randy Henderson, Mike Underwood, and Brandon Sanderson. And, hell, I’m sure there are some I’m probably forgetting.

Both nights, after dinner and post-con events, I hung out in different bars and bullshitted (bullshat?) with a bunch of authors and industry folks. This was really my first exposure to the phenomenon known as “BarCon”, a paradigm so common at these sorts of industry events that it has its own name. Oddly enough, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to get out of the larger conventions I’ve attended, and never been able to make happen. Getting people to go out to dinner or a bar after PAX or ECCC has been like pulling teeth, but at WorldCon, all I had to do was show up somewhere and I’d end up in a crowd of fans and industry pros talking about everything from writing to gaming to fashion to drinking.

On Friday night, I was a bit worn out from the frenetic energy of the BarCon atmosphere from the previous two, and ended up having an amazing, relaxing dinner with Melissa from the r/Fantasy table and authors Alberto Yáñez, Courtney Schafer, and Kate Elliott. This, to be honest, is still the highlight of my convention. I tend to enjoy quieter, more relaxing environs for social interaction, so even though it may not have been the best “exposure” in terms of “networking” (two phrases constantly thrown at me when I was debating whether WorldCon would be worth the money), it was by far the most interesting conversation and enjoyable part of my weekend.

We ended up all going our separate ways after dinner, and energized by the conversation I stopped by the bar at the Davenport Grand, the swanky hotel by the convention center that seemed to serve as both the BarCon jump-off point and late-night wind-down. I didn’t immediately see anyone I knew, so I sat down at the bar with a beer. Before long, I met up with Tod McCoy, a board member for Clarion West whom I’d met at a reading a couple of months ago. He invited me up to the Clarion West party, which was one of the few room parties at a convention I’ve ever attended that was genuinely fun. I was one of the last people out the door at almost 1:30am.

Saturday evening, as I mentioned before, was all about the Hugos. That had the effect, for me, of separating out many of the authors I’d been hanging out with all weekend because the after-awards parties were exclusive events, to one degree or another. That’s not at all a bad thing, though, because I spent the entire evening hanging with the crew I’d met from helping with the Reddit r/Fantasy table, and we had an absolute blast. It all started with a steady flow of beer during the Hugo ceremonies, then we ended up at a (sadly mediocre) barbecue joint just talking about the weekend until the wee hours. Melissa, Jodi, and Joel from r/Fantasy were my peeps for the entire weekend, and capping it off by hanging out, laughing, and drinking with them couldn’t have been more perfect.

If I sit down and analyze it, WorldCon was technically a mixed bag of an event. The convention itself ranged from okay to bad, with a few bright spots. What really made the convention interesting and fun was the people, and the after-hours activities. It’s a dynamic I’ve never encountered before, but when I really think back on the weekend, that “mixed bag” just feels like a humongous overall win. If it accomplished nothing else, WorldCon was an excuse to gather publishing industry folks en-masse, which made the weekend extremely fun.

Before, I probably would’ve never thought to travel to Kansas City for MidAmeriCon next year, but man, the allure of BarCon is pretty fucking great.

The Snowball of Inactivity

It’s amazing how inactivity snowballs.

As a kid I was horrendously, agonizingly introverted. It wasn’t until I got involved with LARPing – no joke – that I learned how to express myself externally and set aside silly concepts like “shame” and “embarrassment”. At some point during my senior year of high-school, the combination of having a job at a TV station and running around the woods hitting people with foam-padded sticks flipped a switch in my brain, and the little introverted bag of nerves that I’d been turned into a loudmouthed, abrasive, alpha-personality.

Over the years, being relatively extroverted has served me well; much better than introverted ever did. If nothing else, I learned to speak my mind, which alone has opened up a host of opportunities over the last two decades. My devil-may-care personality leveled up my flagging (at the time) self-confidence, and gave me the guts to pursue paths, both social and professional, that “the old me” likely never would’ve chased.

It earned me my marriage.

It made me a writer.

It has, perhaps inevitably, led me to be blindsided by a weakness I didn’t think I’d encounter.

Writers talk a lot about things like writer’s block and depression and distraction. About the need to overcome crippling self-doubt to make a run at writing for a living. When I started writing, these concepts were ephemeral things, ghostly apparitions at the edges of my consciousness that I cavalierly ignored, confident that I would be somehow immune to doubt’s paralyzing effects or, ideally, be able to simply power through them.

I still don’t believe in the traditional definition of writer’s block; this crushing inability to put words to paper, characterized as some outside force pressing in upon the besieged author. I’ve learned, however – and this might not be news to a lot of people – what writer’s block actually is: it’s not the inability to generate and record ideas, it’s the inability to set aside critical judgement of one’s own work in order to put words down, because they don’t live up to our self-imposed expectations.

Is that what’s happening to me, right now? I’m not sure. I do know that, regardless of the underlying reason I’m having trouble putting words to paper, the inactivity snowballs fast. I’ve been surprised at how insidious inactivity can be, and how it cascades into fear, depression, and even self-loathing. I sit in front of my computer and stare at the screen, and don’t write. I feel like shit for not writing. Which, in alpha-land, should kick me into gear and get me busting-ass on putting words to page when, in fact, it has the opposite effect.

Instead it sets me looking for distraction rather than fulfillment (or maybe fulfillment in distraction?). I look for those little things that provide the endorphin- rush of short-term gratification – crafting frivolous things (I’ve gotten into building custom inserts for board game boxes, of all things), posting to social media and waiting for Faves or Retweets or Shares or some such bullshit, reading articles on craft that just rehash the shit I already know and indulge my confirmation bias. Even doing housework – something I need to do anyway – has become a substitute for sitting at a computer and hammering away at the keys.

The worst part is that, intellectually, I know all I need to do to make it right is, well, write. While I don’t get the same short-term rush from writing a thousand words as I do from finishing a chore or interacting on social media, it’s a much deeper satisfaction that spirals upward into happiness and fulfillment and, above all, a completed project.

But it’s so much harder.

There is a kernel of doubt at the core of all of this. Like every other author, I worry that I will fail to live up to my readers’ expectations, and over time simply go gentle into the night. But that self-doubt is merely the falling chunk of ice that starts the avalanche – it’s really the disappointment that’s paralyzing. When I don’t write, I feel like shit. When I feel like shit, it’s hard to write. I’m disappointed in myself for not writing, which makes me feel like more shit. When I feel shittier, it’s harder to write. As that weight comes bearing down I go from opening the file and not writing to not even opening the file at all to not even opening my laptop for fear that I might find myself staring at the file and tapping keys.

And that’s something Alpha Me never expected to encounter. I strode into writing like an overconfident general, blithely dismissive of the struggles that other writers not only encounter, but told me about ahead of time. Not me; oh surely not me. These are not the trappings of confidence! And yet I sit in front of my computer, not typing, and have learned the hard way the paralyzing effect not of self-doubt – but of self-disappointment.

Why am I writing this? Probably because putting any words down at all is better than putting down nothing. In the hope, perhaps, that writing it down will, like all of my other ideas, get it out of my system and put me back on track. Because, at this point, I need to power through.

Reddit AMA Transcript

My AMA on Reddit /r/Fantasy a couple of weeks ago was a rousing success. I received a ton of support and questions, so I thought I’d post an edited transcript here, since it’s effectively an author interview. It’s a nice mix of serious and goofball questions, and I had a great time answering them. Hopefully this is a better format for some of you Reddit-averse readers out there.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.

A: I grew up on fantasy. My dad shoved The Hobbit into my hands at a very young age, and while I liked it, I wasn’t really a huge Tolkien fan. The first fantasy that really struck me was David Eddings’s The Belgariad. It’s pulpier than most, but it’s still my favorite, and holds a very special place in my heart. I quickly fell down the fantasy and sci-fi rabbit hole, and never climbed back out.

I’m a geek of nearly every stripe. I’ve been a video gamer since the Commodore Vic-20. I’ve been playing D&D and other RPGs since I was eight years old. I LARPed for almost fifteen years (mostly in NERO and Amtgard). I love board and card games. I read a ton of comic books (and host a comic book podcast called Trade Secrets).

I worked in the gaming industry – first at Wizards of the Coast, then at Nintendo – ever since graduating college in 1998. Due to the good graces of my wonderful wife, I left Nintendo in 2013 to pursue writing full time.

Random (Not-Necessarily-Geeky) Things:

  • I play a lot of poker, and have a weekly home game.
  • I’m a Seattle Sounders and Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
  • I absolutely love to cook.
  • I love craft beer and scotch.

Q: What were your positions at WotC and Nintendo? As a follow up, do you think working within the tabletop and video gaming industries informed your writing at all?

A: I held several positions at both.

I started at WotC as an intern, moved into customer service, and then worked in R&D for about a year-and-a-half before being laid off in one of their recurring purges. At Nintendo I started as a game tester, then moved over to Lotcheck – their version of certification testing. My last position there was part of the 3-person team under Dan Adelman that handled the distribution of all of Nintendo’s digital titles for WiiWare, DSiWare, and the eShop on 3DS and Wii U.

I definitely think my time at WotC influenced my writing. Getting to see the nuts-and-bolts of RPG development gave me a fantastic view into the process of building a world from scratch. Even though I wasn’t directly involved, I had access to a lot of meetings and materials that gave me a ton of insight.

Although my time at Nintendo didn’t directly influence my writing, being a game tester for seven years had a direct effect on my editing and troubleshooting abilities. I’m super detail-oriented and anal about quality, and used a lot of those skills when creating and bug-testing the eBook versions of Construct.

Fun Note: Although the idea for Construct predates my time at WotC by a bit, the first time I was spurred to actually write any of it down was during a call for novel submissions that was open to WotC employees. Although he didn’t have a name yet, in that version my main character Samuel was a warforged in the Eberron setting.

Q: Did your time at Wizards of the Coast inspire to write about Constructs rather than people?

A: Not specifically, no. The idea for Construct came to me in college, a couple of years before I started working at WotC. For many years the idea was pretty amorphous, though, teetering back-and-forth between fantasy and sci-fi (the sci-fi version centered around an android rather than a construct). It’s always been a story about an artificial being’s plight.

Q: Character Development in Construct is very well done. Will we see more twists and turns for Eri, Pare, and Jacob?

A: Thank you for the compliment! Characters are important to me, so knowing that my character development worked for a reader is fantastic. To answer your question: Absolutely, yes. We’ll see all of those characters again in roles of varying importance. I don’t want to get too specific for fear of spoilers. If you know how the first book ended you know why I’m being a bit vague here. 🙂

Q: Being a long time comic book fan, is Samuel more of an anti-hero, a forced hero, a distraction for the readers?

A: Hrm. This is a tough one. I definitely wouldn’t call him an anti-hero, and he’s not intended as a distraction. I’d say Samuel starts off as a somewhat archetypical forced hero, but eventually overcomes his reticence and starts driving his own narrative. That was really my intention: I wanted Samuel to take charge once he garnered some inkling of what was going on; to overcome his doubt and fear and start taking charge of his own fate.

Q: What are your preferred scotches?

A: One of the best I’ve ever had was Glenfiddich 21, but I can’t afford it regularly. Glenlivet Nadurra is pretty fantastic, as is Glenfiddich 18. One of my wife’s favorites is Dalmore 15, which I also enjoy. She brought back a bottle of Tomintoul 16 from a business trip to Scotland that I’m very fond of. I don’t usually like very peaty scotches, but she also brought back a bottle of Jura Prophecy that’s really fucking good.

Q: What do you find are some of the biggest hurdles for indie writers to over come?

A: Exposure, hands down. Discoverability for indie books is a bitch. Readers need to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, and most don’t have the time or inclination to sift through thousands of books. Right now, there isn’t a solid mechanism for curating self-published content.

Since indie authors don’t really have advocates or (man, I hate this term) gatekeepers, we have to walk a razor’s edge between self-promotion and professionalism. It’s something that’s constantly at odds, for me. I struggle to strike a balance between pimping my own work and not being “that guy”. Finding the right signal-to-noise ratio is probably the hardest thing I’ve dealt with.

Q: If you could collaborate with any writer, living or dead, who would it be?

A: Fhew… My knee-jerk answer is David & Leigh Eddings. The Belgariad and The Malloreon are such a huge part of my childhood and reading life that I would’ve loved to have collaborated on a story set in that world. I recently participated in a giveaway that asked what character I’d like to see a short story based on, to which I answered Silk from The Belgariad. I’d love to have worked with the Eddings’s on such a story.

I’ve been introduced to a ton of fantastic authors since The Belgariad, though. Some of my recent favorites have been Ann Leckie, Daniel Abraham, and Kameron Hurley, so they might make the list, as well.

Q: How did you get the cover made for Construct?

A: When I decided to self-publish, I began looking online for cover artists. There are so many. One of my favorite artists from RPGs and my time at WotC is Wayne Reynolds, who is currently the key cover artist for most Pathfinder books. On a whim, I contacted him – just to see, you know? – and I was quoted a $8,000-$12,000 for a full-color cover commission. I had my little chuckle, and continued searching.

I contacted Jon Schindihette, whom I knew from working at Wizards. He used to be their managing art director. I didn’t know Jon super-well – I’d spoken with him a few times at WotC and I’m friends with him on Facebook – but he was extremely helpful. I gave him the parameters of the cover and told him my price range, and he was able to give me a short list of up-and-coming artists who fit the bill.

Of the artists he suggested, it only took one look for me to land on Carmen Sinek. Her work is fantastic, and she was right in my range. My collaboration with her was absolutely amazing. We had a great dialogue through the whole process, and the final cover completely exceeded my expectations. I go into a little more detail about the process in this blog post. You can check out her work at TooManyLayers.com.

My advice for indie authors looking for good cover art:

  1. Be willing to pay for a good artist. There are plenty of decent, affordable artists out there, but set your expectations of cost higher than what you see spoken of online if you want real quality.
  2. Don’t be a control freak. The image of your cover in your mind is great and all, but give the artist leeway to create. They’re the one with knowledge of design, color, and composition; let them use it. You’re not just paying for a finished piece of art, you’re paying for an artist’s skill, experience, and expertise, which you do not possess.

Q: There are writers who write short stories and share them freely on their websites to maintain interest in their books between novels and to create buzz when a novel is near completion. Would you consider writing some stories about the secondary characters in Construct? Also, you can offer free short stories on Amazon to promote your book. What are your thoughts on this?

A: The idea is fantastic… I’m not sure it would work for me, though. I don’t have many ideas for short stories surrounding these characters that I wouldn’t just incorporate into the main narrative. On top of that, I’m – frankly – not very good at short fiction.

There are several things I also have to consider:

  1. My production is pretty slow as it is. Every moment I spent writing and revising a short story would feel like time I could be spending on the main book, and would be hard for me to justify in my own mind.
  2. I’m a quality freak. One of the most elucidating experiences of my life was the editorial process I went through on Construct. I’d feel the need to have my short works professionally edited before publication, which is an expense I can’t afford, at the moment.

All of this is not to say that I’d never do something like this, but at this early stage of my writing career I just don’t think I’m really capable of it.

Q: What’s your favorite board game? Favorite sport? Favorite superhero?

A: Favorite…

…Board Game: Right now, it’s probably Lords of Waterdeep. It’s such a fantastic implementation of the Euro-style resource-management mechanic. I can’t get enough of it. Small World ranks really high, too. In fact, we just received our copy of the Small World Designer’s Edition. It’s the best board gaming product I’ve ever seen. We have a ton of board games in our house, though, and beyond those two, I’d have a hard time ranking.

…Sport: It used to be football, but now it’s soccer. A while ago, I had a ton of friends who were into soccer. I had trouble getting into it, because I didn’t have a team to root for (I have trouble watching any sport in which I have no stake). That problem was solved when the Seattle Sounders got a MLS franchise. We decided to become season ticket holders, and over the course of the last 6 seasons, my wife and I have become pretty hardcore soccer fans.

…Superhero: Hm. There are lots of ways I could answer this question, but one of my all-time favorite superhero comics is Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley’s Invincible. I love that character and book. In movies, Captain America has become one of my favorites, which is really odd because I can’t stand Cap in the comics.

Q: Earlier, you mentioned that discoverability for indie books was a struggle. What did you do to overcome this?

A: To be honest, I can’t say that I have. I’m a new author, and new to the realm of self-promotion. I’m very lucky that the mods here at /r/Fantasy offer a platform like Writer of the Day for guys like me to try and make my voice heard, but I’ve had a hell of a time trying to get my book in front of readers and out from under the standard self-publishing stigma.

For me, it starts with quality – the first step is a well-written, well-edited, professional product. My ego tells me that I have a story to tell and that I’m the only person who can tell it right. My experience backs that up, but also gives me the vision to realize I can’t do it without editors and artists. So, Construct went through multiple rounds of developmental editing and copy editing, and I spent an immense amount of time designing, building, testing, and tweaking both the eBook and tree-book versions.

The two go hand-in-hand, for me: All the promotion in the world doesn’t matter if the product you’re selling is garbage, and putting effort into a fantastic product won’t matter if no one ever sees it.

Reviews are extraordinarily important to indie works. Reader reviews, yes, but I’m talking about reviews on blogs and bookish publications. Part of the importance is showing readers that someone other than the author is willing to put their voice behind a work. The other part is giving the author a) a platform and b) quotes and tools to add to their self-promotion arsenal. Getting those reviews is the issue, though. I’m not going to go into a lengthy complaint, but I’ve sent out literally hundreds of review requests and have received exactly one website review.

I think sites like Fiction Garden and Genre Underground are steps in the right direction. Websites willing to sift through indie works and provide a place where readers can access curated content that has been vetted by a third party. I’m lucky enough that Construct has earned a spot on Fiction Garden’s “Recommended Reading” list (which, incidentally, is that one review I mentioned earlier). We could use more spaces like this, on a much larger scale.

Q: Who is your favorite Star Trek character?

A: Riker. All the modernity of TNG combined with all of Kirk’s swagger. Second in line, oddly enough, is probably Neelix, and that’s solely for a single line from Voyager (a show I actually don’t like very much): “This ship is the match of any vessel within a hundred light years, and what do they do with it? Oh well, uh, let’s see if we can’t find some spatial anomaly today that might RIP IT APART!

Q: What are your feelings on curry?

A: I haven’t met a curry I don’t like yet. I make Japanese curry rice at home all the time, and I’m working on a home recipe for Thai panang curry at the moment that I haven’t quite perfected. I love Indian food, as well, my favorites being paneer saag and lamb shahi korma.

Q: What’s the best edition of D&D?

A: Oh, what a trap this question is. I grew up playing 2nd Edition Advanced D&D. Usually, when this question gets asked, if the answer is anything that came after, you’re stoned and burned as a heretic.

However, my favorite edition is 3rd Ed./3.5. Granted, I’m a bit biased, having worked at WotC during the development and release of 3/3.5, but I honestly do think that it’s the best of all worlds. It retains the flavor of the older versions but streamlines some really dumb rules and makes the game more accessible to more players.

Like any version, though, the sheer volume of supplements and expansions and extra rules cause the game to drown in its own shitting of the bed, but as a core rules set I loves me some 3.5. I have not yet played 5th Edition.

Q: You are stuck on a deserted island with three books. Knowing you’ll be reading these three over and over again, what three do you bring?

A: This is a supremely hard question to answer. The vast majority of books that I absolutely love are parts of series’, so if I’m restricted to three books and not three series, I have a very hard time figuring out what I’d take. But here’s my go at it:

Belgarath The Sorcerer by David & Leigh Eddings. I’m so in love with The Belgariad that this had to be on the list. I can re-read this book pretty much infinitely.

Timeline by Michael Crichton. I’m a giant Crichton fan, in general, and this is, without question, his best book. An amazing adventure.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Even though this is part of a series, it stands well enough alone on its own, and is one of my favorite individual novels of all-time.

This whole list goes out the window if I can pick series instead of individual books, though.

Q: I was in choir practice in my primary school and we always had to pay attention to our conductor. There was a boy in the year above me who always got very confused because his name was Luke and the man was always shouting ‘LOOK’ at us instead of ‘Luke’. Except for the times where he’d actually shout Luke. As a result the poor kid was always on his toes.

Has there ever been a time where you have had your name confused with the word ‘look’? If so, what happened?

A: Not in the way you describe, no.

However, you’d be surprised at the sheer number of times someone has attempted to spell my name “Look” when I tell it to them. It’s shocking.

There are really only two ways to spell Luke: L-U-K-E, or L-U-C if you’re French. And yet, somehow, I’ll tell people (bank tellers, especially) my name is Luke and they’ll try Look and Luck and Leuk and Louk.

Every single one of those has been an actual attempt by someone to spell my name.

Q: What is your favorite way to eat ice cream?

A: For most of my life, my favorite way has been the most simple: in a bowl, drizzled in chocolate syrup.

But about a year-and-a-half ago, I was on vacation in Australia and was introduced to a new favorite:

French toast, made with cinnamon-swirl bread (or a slice of cinnamon roll), topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, drizzled in butterscotch, with crushed macadamia nuts sprinkled on top.

Holy.

Shit.

Q: I’ve long been interested in the differences between writing short fiction and novels. What do you think are the main differences between the two, and do you think your writing mind works better with novels?

A: I once saw the basics of storytelling split into four overarching parts: prose, character, plot, and world-building. In my experience, short fiction must be primarily focused on prose and plot, where long-form fiction has more leeway to concentrate on the other two.

(Note: An argument can be made, with which I tend to agree, that world-building should exist as a supplement to the other three, and should never overshadow any of them.)

A short story is a vignette; an interesting moment in time. It tends to explore a single decision, an individual or a small group of people, a particularly stirring style of prose, a focused experience. Longer (novel-length) works are concerned more with action, reaction, and consequence, and long-term development of plot, world, and character.

Where long fiction allows the author to explore how their characters’ actions affect their fictional worlds, successful short fiction – at least standalone short fiction that’s not supplemental to a longer work – either a) isn’t always concerned with the larger ramifications or b) is willing to leave the extrapolation of such implications to the reader.

I tend to be a fairly linear writer, primarily because I’m always concerned with the downstream effects as I’m writing. Even if I’m developing or writing a scene out of order, my mind is always swirling both with “How did we get here?” and “Where does this lead?”. I struggle with presenting a short snippet of a story, because my mind is always framing it in a larger context. I haven’t yet been successful in settling myself down to just present that interesting vignette, at least not without burying it in obvious cliche.

Q: What types of characters do you generally play in LARP?

A: Healers and fighters, mostly a combination of the two. You asked me a nerdy question, so this is going to be a sufficiently nerdy answer:

Most of my LARPing history was concentrated on games like Amtgard and Belegarth, which are more skill-intensive than LARPs like NERO or Legacies, which are more roleplay-intensive. And I mean “skill-intensive” literally: their combat systems tend to be more athletic in nature, rather than built to support a roleplay framework.

So, in both environments I found myself playing what is affectionately called a “regenerating warrior”. In the case of Amtgard, this meant that I played the Healer class, but spent a ton of my skill points on weaponry (sword and shield, to be specific), eschewing all but a few healing spells that allowed me to keep moving after taking a wound.

I found myself leaning in this direction regardless of the game I was playing. I just enjoy the play-style. I spent a lot of time and energy becoming a decent fighter, and supplemented that with in-game abilities that let me repair or ignore an opponent’s attacks.

Q: What made you go a different route than the usual war/mages/farmboy route? Did you consciously try to write a book that was different?

A: Absolutely.

When I first had the idea, it was nothing more than “Artificial being with scrambled memories being chased for something he’s seen.” As time passed, the more I read and the more I learned about writing, I started thinking about the stereotypes I wanted to avoid, and how I wanted my story to progress.

I wasn’t – and still am not – looking to write “epic” fantasy. My books – at least The Chronicler Saga – aren’t about huge battles or ancient mages returning to glory or adventurers surviving amongst warring gods or the ascension of a lowly nothing to the ranks of legendary heroes. I want to tell more character-centric stories, and focus on some non-standard protagonists.

Hopefully I succeeded.

Q: How far are you on Book 2? Will it be out before George RR Martin’s next book?

A: Jesus, I hope so. 🙂

I’m definitely a slow writer by self-publishing standards, but I’m trying to work on that. I’m currently on chapter 4 of Book 2, and have ramped up quite a bit in the last week.

I was about to make a comment about when I hope to be done with it, but that’s just silly, so I’m going to keep my trap shut.

Readers and Non-Readers

Here’s something weird that I learned over the last year-and-a-half, while finishing and publishing my book: that “reader” – just the generalized term meaning someone who reads books – is a category label of people, much like “gamer” or “comic book fan” or “fantasy sports nut”.

Reading has been an absolutely integral part of my life for literally as long as I can remember. Before I could actually read words, my parents would sit down with me and a picture book, and have me “read” it to them – I’d basically just make shit up. As I grew, they’d start reading those books “with” me, teaching me the actual words on the page.

I could read at a very early age, and my reading comprehension was always well ahead of my grade-level. Reading for enjoyment has never not been a part of my life. I read The Hobbit when I was, I think, 8. I read the Belgariad around my 10th birthday, and I’ve been a fantasy nut ever since. I mean, sure, I go through phases where I’m not in the mood, but I’ve never just shunned books.

Which is why it came as a complete surprise to me that there are people who actively choose not to be “readers”. Nah, fuck books. Pfft. And I’m not talking about people who can’t read (learning disabilities, poor education, what have you), but people who can and choose not to. I have spent my whole life so hopelessly immersed in reading for pleasure that the thought never occurred to me that someone would just eschew it entirely. It just… it feels like someone saying “Nah, I don’t walk. I mean, I can, you know, I just… don’t.”

Whenever I have kids, I hope I have the same success getting them to be lifelong, fervent readers as my parents did with me. I hope, like me, they’re in their 30’s before they even realize that deliberate, intentional non-reading is even a thing.

I Am Luke’s Nagging Self-Doubt

Well, following the release of my debut novel – which isn’t getting much coverage, as expected, but is getting overwhelmingly positive reviews and feedback – I’ve now entered the debilitating self-doubt phase of my writing career. Work on the second book has stalled, primarily because I’m struggling desperately to force myself to put aside distraction and get back on the ball with writing.

And yet, the part of my brain screaming that I’m a fraud, that I got lucky, that eventually the 1 Star reviews will start boiling over, that my ideas for the furtherance of the series are trash, that I’m just going to trample over any goodwill built by the first book (if it’s even real) by writing down my shit ideas, that I can’t possibly follow up what I’ve started… yeah, that part of my brain is what’s dominating at the moment.

I’ve dribbled bits and parts into the new book. I’ve finished the first draft of the first two chapters, and I’m starting to feel like Atreyu’s horse in The NeverEnding Story. I’m hoping that putting this out there will spur me back into a rhythm of some sort; get me moving forward, even if it’s just a few hundred words a day.

What I don’t understand about this particular bit of brain-chemistry chucklefuckery is why I never felt this way when writing Construct. Having never published before, the writing process for Construct – while significantly more elongated than I intend with book 2 – was more… exciting. I was more driven, and never seemed to get mired in the sort of misgivings and apprehension upon which my head now bangs.

Now, having published a book that’s real and out and in people’s hands, and seeing that the people who are reading it legitimately love it (even though this same part of me tries to tell me that it’s all thinly veiled bullshit), you’d think all that would be a confidence boost. In actuality, I’m struggling more to get motivated now than I ever did with Construct. Was it ignorance, back then? Naivete? Has the pendulum of my confidence really swung so far opposite?

One foot in front of the other. I just need to try to get some words down. Something. Anything. Even if it’s crap, just remember that it can always be edited. Persevere. Overcome.

FUCKING WRITE, GODDAMNIT.

50 Books In 2014

I’m a somewhat slow reader, depending on how interested in a book I am. If I love a book I can burn through it at lightning speed, but if I’m struggling, I can take forever. It took me over a year to finish the fifth book of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, Soul of the Fire, because I just couldn’t get into it (read: it was fucking terrible). And it’s a series I haven’t gone back to, even though my wife tells me that Faith of the Fallen is one of the best. Anyhoo…

I decided, kind of on a whim, that I would try to read 50 books over the course of 2014. I see a lot of people make huge claims about the volume of books they read in a year, some boasting numbers over 100. I even, recently, saw someone claim to read 350 books every year, upon which I thither summon “bullshit”. My own totals usually hover around 20, so my goal with the challenge was first to see what it would take to churn through a larger quantity in a single year, and simultaneously use the goal to read a number of books which I feel I should’ve read a long time ago.

I started out fine, setting myself a goal of one book per week, and sticking pretty well to it. I got tripped up on a couple of books that turned out to be either worse or just more dense than I was expecting, so now I’m WAY behind on the goal, having only just started my 31st book of the year. I’ve got 19½ books left, and only 10 weeks to finish them.

Here’s what I’ve read so far this year:

1. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson
2. Summer Knight by Jim Butcher
3. Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
5. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
6. Kushiel’s Dart by Jaqueline Carey – This was the first book to set me back. I actually really loved it, but it’s way longer than I was expecting, clocking in at 934 very dense pages.
7. Vessel: The Advent by Tominda Adkins
8. The King In Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
9. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
10. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
11. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
12. Death Masks by Jim Butcher
13. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
14. Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
15. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
16. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas – This was my second stumbling block, this time because of quality. I know I’m in the minority amongst fantasy readers, but I just can. not. stand. the main character in this book. This one was a struggle.
17. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
18. The Black Company by Glen Cook
19. Gardens of the Moon by Steven Eriksson – Setback number 3. For the first time in a long time, this is a book that I not only disliked, but cannot for the life of me find what others like about it. It’s such a widely loved series that I thought there had to be something, but if it’s there, it eludes me.
20. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
21. Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig
22. ‘salem’s Lot by Stephen King
23. Divergent by Veronica Roth
24. Alpha by Greg Rucka
25. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
26. Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb
27. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
28. Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
29. Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
30. Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch – A minor slowdown, here. This book was fine, but I didn’t like it nearly as much as The Lies of Locke Lamora, which made it a bit of a struggle for me.
31. (currently reading) True Grit by Charles Portis

So far, of the books listed above, my favorites have been The Lies of Locke Lamora, Annihilation, The Handmaid’s Tale, Robin Hobb’s Assassin books, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

And, yes, this was the first time I’d read all the way through Hitchhiker’s Guide. When I was in high-school, I somehow read The Restaurant at the End of the Universe first and, only upon finishing it was I informed that it was the second book. I tried to start HHGTTG several times and never finished it, until now.

As big a fantasy nut as I am, I’d never read any of the Pern or Earthsea books, an error I will now rectify. I hope to finish both trilogies as part of this challenge. In addition to those series’, my TBR pile contains the rest of the Dresden Files books, the remainder of the first Black Company trilogy, Insurgent and Allegiant, Assassin’s Quest, Authority and Acceptance, the Mistborn trilogy, the rest of the Hitchhiker’s books, more Harry Potter, some Vorkosigan Saga, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, The Cormorant, Warlock by Oakley Hall, the first Expanse book Leviathan Wakes, and the ridiculous award magnet Ancillary Justice.

Not sure how many of those I’ll get to, but I only need to read 19 of ‘em to meet my goal.

Only.

::cries::

My Interview on Caravan Girl

Last week, I did an interview with author and book blogger Rachael Rippon for her site Caravan Girl. Visit her site for some great reviews of self-published books and interviews with their authors: rachaelrippon.blogspot.com. Here’s my interview, in all it’s glory.

What is your history? Have you always been a writer?

Not specifically, no. I went to college for computer animation, with the intention of working in special effects. My timing was way off. By the time I’d graduated, CGI had gone through a boom and the bubble had burst, overloading the industry with over-qualified, out-of-work animators. As a fresh graduate, I couldn’t even get an interview, much less a decent job, so I followed up an internship at Wizards of the Coast with a job there.

I’m a pretty big geek, and loved working for WotC, so I kind of set aside my creative pursuits for a while. I was there for four years before they laid me off, at which point I landed at Nintendo, where I worked up until 2013. At the beginning of last year, I had a very serious discussion with my wife about the future, which led to me leaving Nintendo to be a full-time writer/house-husband.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a little kid? A marine biologist. I wanted to work with sea lions and otters, mostly. I’m not sure what really happened to that desire, but I know it shifted to more artistic pursuits once I was in high-school.

What is your favourite genre to write in?

Fantasy, without question. I like melding genres, somewhat, but no matter what I write it tends to have some sort of fantasy element. In addition to The Chronicler Saga, I have an idea for a western series… with a fantasy twist.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what?

I do. I absolutely cannot listen to anything with lyrics, though. I find it fascinating that any writer can actually concentrate when music with lyrics is playing in the background. It is so damned distracting.

I use Pandora a lot. I know that in the age of Spotify, saying I use Pandora is akin to me declaring my love for MySpace, but I still love it. I have three different stations for writing: If I just need mellow background music, I have a classical station originally based on Beethoven. If I need tension or atmosphere, I have one based on Nick Cave & Warren Ellis. If I’m writing action, I have one based on Hans Zimmer.

All of them have morphed and expanded some, but the basis gives you an inkling of their content.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

Control, primarily. I’d been going the query letter route for a while, but even while I was querying agents I wasn’t sure it was the right path. I received my fair share of rejections and non-responses, which gave me time to really think about it. I decided that I wanted to have control over the IP if it ever came down to it. Were my stories to take off, the idea of the right’s being dumped off piecemeal by a publisher with little to no input from me seemed appalling.

It’s a trade-off, though. Self-publishing is a lot more work for me, and more of an initial expenditure. I paid for editors and my own cover art, and I did all of the eBook design myself. The actual process of setting up the book for publishing is a hell of a lot of work. Luckily, I really enjoyed all the different aspects.

Do you think the negative stigma surrounding self-publishing is still there?

Absolutely. I even encounter it with my friends. People I know who’ve read the book will say things like “It’s actually really good!” It’s that “actually” that defines the stigma. The automatic expectation is for it to be bad, riddled with errors, or both. And that’s not an un-earned reputation, unfortunately. With the barrier to entry so low, a lot of self-published authors are fine with half-assing their work in favor of quantity or making a quick buck. Others inadvertently half-ass because they don’t know any better.

The other issue, of course, is the difficulty of discoverability and the lack of curation. It’s not easy for a reader to find the authors that rise above the dreck. My only advice, there, is research. If a self-published book catches your fancy, take the time to look into the author further. Is their website professional? Is the excerpt or preview of their book free of errors? Do they have an editor listed? Just as there is more work for a self-published author to get their book into readers’ hands, there’s more work for readers to sift through and find the gems. It can really be worth it, though.

What advice do you have for aspiring self-published authors?

Two bits: First, get an editor. However you can. The author who can reliably self-edit is a unicorn. Every artistic person in the world, be them writers, sculptors, painters, or crafters of hand-knit turtle cozies on Etsy, gets caught in art-blindness. You’ll stare at words for so long and read them so many times that you’ll just lose all sense of the errors in the text. That can only be solved by setting aside ego and collaborating with a second pair of eyes, preferably professional. If not an editor, at least a trusted group of beta-readers. Someone else has to look at your text, and you have to be open to changes.

Second, don’t skimp on the design work. Get a good cover. Do some interior design. The automatic conversion software from most of the digital self-publishing services is only just adequate. A lot of tinkering can be done to make the interior pages of an ebook – even with reflowable text – look a lot better than what their software can produce, especially if you take the time to learn some basic HTML/CSS. If you’re unable or unwilling to learn, then hire someone to do the design work for you. It’s absolutely worth it.

Is your goal to be traditionally published? If so, why?

Not specifically, no. If, down the road, I can sell one of my books to a publisher, I may go that route. I’m a pretty hardcore control freak when it comes to the IP rights for things I create, though, so I’m not sure I’d be able to negotiate a satisfactory contract with a traditional publisher. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that choice, I just don’t think it’s for me.

What are you writing at the moment?

Most of my time is spent working on the second book in The Chronicler Saga series, at the moment. I have a couple of other projects I’m dabbling with – a script for an 8-issue comic book series, and the aforementioned western idea – but the continuation of theConstruct story is my primary focus.

What can readers expect in the next installment of The Chronicler Saga?

I’m not sure how much I can give away this soon after the first book’s release, but the second book will be an expanded look at some of your favorite characters from Construct. New characters will be introduced and the plot will be significantly expanded. There’ll be some pretty fantastic surprises for fans of the first book that I’m really looking forward to seeing the reactions to. It’ll be fun.

The 10 Books That Stuck With Me

I haven’t been tagged or challenged by anyone to post this list to Facebook, but I found the premise interesting enough to write a post about my list. I like the concept of books that “stayed with me” more than most other memes. And, yes, I’ve listed some series here rather than individual novels, but sometimes an individual entry is inseparable from the series it’s a part of. So, here we go:

1. Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls – A huge formative book for me as a kid. An adventure story of the finest order about a boy and his two favorite dogs. Growing up around dogs made this book super poignant for me.

2. Rising Sun by Michael Crichton – I read every single Crichton book in high school. This was the first one that wasn’t really a high-concept sci-fi story, instead it was a tense murder mystery set amongst the clash of American and Japanese cultures. It was basically my introduction to thrillers that didn’t involve dinosaurs or magic.

3. On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony – One of two Piers Anthony entries on this list, neither of which involves Xanth. On A Pale Horse was the first sci-fi/fantasy blend I’d ever read, and it’s still one of the best. If you’re wondering why I don’t list the entirety of the Incarnations of Immortality series, it’s because I think On A Pale Horse stands well above the rest.

4. Neuromancer by William Gibson – I came to this book way late in life, only having read it a couple of years ago. And holy shit. It’s a book that dumps you in the deep end from the get go and explains exactly nothing to you. “Here’s an extremely complex world,” Gibson tells his readers. “Go figure it out.”

5. The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness – Here’s a series that stuck with me, but not in a good way. The world-building in the The Knife of Never Letting Go was some of the best and most unique I’d ever seen… then all the goodwill built by the first book is just shat away by the sequels. The third book in this trilogy has actually made me wary of all trilogies (well, that and Mockingjay).

6. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – I was in the middle of writing my own book when I read this. It simultaneously inspired me to break out of a tough slog in the middle of my novel, and scared the shit out of me. Rothfuss’s prose is the kind of writing I aspire to, and I’m nowhere near there yet.

7. The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham – One of the most unique fantasy worlds I’ve ever read. The concept of magician poets manifesting physical incarnations of ideas as powerful beings, then trying to reign those beings in for the sake of commerce, is just wildly fascinating to me.

8. Bio of a Space Tyrant by Piers Anthony – Holy shit, this series. Hard sci-fi with a hyper-realistic bent, following the main character from child refugee to ruler of the known galaxy. One of the most brutal, intense opening books I’ve ever read. Who’d’a thunk the guy that writes punny fantasy would’ve been capable of this?

9. The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway – An intensely imaginative world and a fantastic, funny story set within it. I’m not sure I have the words to describe it, so just go read it.

10. The Belgariad by David Eddings – This was the fantasy series that birthed my love of fantasy. I’d read Tolkien prior, and it was fine, but it didn’t hook me. The Belgariad launched me into a love of fantasy that has, ultimately, led me to writing my own. You can try to debate the quality of Eddings’ prose and story all you want, but The Belgariad had a singular formative impact on my life, and is thus pretty much unassailable to me.

What are the 10 books that stuck with you?

TerribleMinds Flash Fiction Challenge: Brimstone

I’m not usually one for flash fiction challenges, but – for some reason – this one just caught my fancy. This is one of Chuck Wendig’s weekly challenges, posted over at TerribleMinds. The rules are simple: Write the first part of a story, up to 500 words, but don’t finish it. The idea is to let someone else finish it.

So, here’s the first half of my story. I’m looking forward to seeing what someone does with the second half!


A silence as oppressive as the summer heat descended as the last echoes of the gunshot fled through the alleys of Brimstone and into the surrounding plain. It lasted but a moment before Constance’s wail cut the air, rebounding off of the picture windows along the front of the Rusty Spur to die in the falling dust. Constance cradled Jeb’s head in her lap, dark blood pooling in the dirt around her knees, her falling tears cutting streaks through the grime on his lifeless face.

Acker was unreadable, his face as still as Jebediah’s. Abigail followed his stony gaze to the outskirts of town, where a cloud of brown erupted from the trail at the feet of Cullum’s horse. Horse and rider crested the rise to the north, and disappeared beyond. By the time Abby had turned back to Acker, he was gone, the front door of the sheriff’s station swinging on its hinges.

When she entered, Acker was standing behind his desk, his service pistol unbelted and set atop it. A deep breath rose in his chest as his fingers emerged from his pocket with a small key. He bent to the drawer at the bottom of his desk and slipped the key into the lock that hadn’t seen its mate in three long years. The drawer slid open as if freshly greased, without a hitch.

“What’re you thinking right now?” Abigail asked.

Acker came upright silently, already fastening his old gunbelt in place. The afternoon sun gleamed off of the .45 Long Colt shells around his hips, and the long-barreled 1860 Army Conversion hung heavy at his thigh. He tied it off and ran the heel of his hand along the grip, satisfied with the placement.

“Acker Cambridge,” Abigail said, failing to quell the waver in her voice. “You think about this. You think hard.”

Acker’s downcast eyes never met Abby’s fierce gaze. Without responding, he reached up and thumbed the silver star from his breast. The world around them slowed to a crawl, and the sound of the star on the wooden desktop echoed like the clang of a jail cell slammed shut.

“Acker…” Abigail’s breath caught and her hands began to tremble. “Acker, no…”

His eyes lingered on the star and his fingertips traced the raised letters on its surface. Once his fingers lifted from those cold metal words, Abigail knew there was nothing left for him in Brimstone, and no turning back.

“What’re you gonna do?” she asked.

Acker raised his eyes, a visage of vengeance incarnate. “I’m gonna find him, and cut him down.” he said. “And, by God, I’ll cut down every sorry soul that stands between us.”

On Requesting Cover Blurbs

This article was cross-posted to ChroniclerSaga.com

Probably one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve done during this whole publishing process is send out requests for cover blurbs to several writers and artists I admire. I’ve been ten-fold more anxious about these requests than I ever was about querying agents, because the result is more direct and tangible, and is tied more directly to an appraisal of the quality of my work – by people whose work inspires me.

I’ve read a lot of horror stories about self-published authors contacting others for blurbs and being complete fuck-sticks about it. Making demands rather than requests, getting pissy at rejections or lack of response, and just being general asshats about it. Amongst the many things that baffle me about how some authors choose to handle their publicity, this attitude makes absolutely no sense to me.

Having a chip on your shoulder about cover blurb requests serves no purpose. Another author is under exactly zero obligation to endorse your work. What I originally wanted to say here was “You need them more than they need you”, but that’s such a monumental understatement that it just doesn’t fly. More accurately: “You need them… and who the fuck are you again?”

As a self-published author, requesting a cover blurb is not a two-way street. Another author gains nothing by having their name appear on your book cover or sale page. A blurb is like a literary remora, swimming along on the belly of the Bestselling Author Shark, catching all the half-chewed publicity bits that fall out of that author’s popularity maw. While not entirely parasitic, it ain’t exactly symbiotic, either.

It’s hard (at least, it was for me) to find the right balance for requests; to be respectful without coming across fawning, urgent without being demanding. I’m not the type of person who can fanboy all over my favorite author’s shoes; I try to be complimentary without being slavish. It’s actually a quality that has prevented me from capitalizing on opportunities to get to know some of these people, because I wasn’t just constantly in their faces at cons or on social media. That’s just not how I’m wired.

So it’s a weird gray area one needs to tread in order to do this right. Approaching another author as though you should be the center of their world, even for a minute amount of time, is just asinine. As a fledgling author myself, I am keenly aware of the amount of work and time I have to put into my own writing and promotion, so it’s easy to assume that I can just multiply that by five for an established author.

On top of it all, it’s most important to keep your expectations in check (I, personally, have none). The requester doesn’t have any right to expectations. Remember that whole one-way-street thing? I’m sure I’d be disappointed if I never received any responses, but one must reign that reaction into only mild disappointment. Getting angry over rejections is the path to the dark side. Wallowing through a pit of disappointment and misery only to build a shell of self-aggrandizing indignation is just a horseshit way to go about anything in life, much less trying to get your favorite authors to read your work.

And so, I wait. Receiving a blurb from any of the people from whom I’ve requested would be like my birthday and Christmas all rolled into one, but not receiving one would be… well… a Tuesday. I feel like that’s the best possible outlook: don’t let the lows get too low, but let the highs launch like a sixteen-pounder on New Year’s. And, above all, don’t be a dick.


CONSTRUCT releases on September 18th on Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.