Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: A Soundtrack Review

Well, likely many of you reading this today got a chance to head over to your local theater and join the craziness that was the midnight showing of Peter Jackson's rendition of The Hobbit. I was not among that throng, but I have been able to get a good listen to the soundtrack over the past few days, so that's what I'll review for the time being.

I have not been disappointed in Shore's return to Middle Earth. Well, except for Neil Finn’s performance of “The Lonely Mountain Song,” which will run under the film’s credits. The light, reverb-laden vocal interpretation of an otherwise excellent theme did not succeed in capturing the essence of the Tolkien universe the way Annie Lennox’s “Into the West,” or Enya’s “May It Be” did.

That small failing aside, The Hobbit soundtrack strikes a wonderful balance between resonance and awe. The interpolation of themes Shore used in The Lord of the Rings creates the exact feeling that readers who return to Tolkien's work time and time again crave--that sense of immersion in the atmosphere of his story world. The Hobbit's warm clarinet rendering of the Shire theme is just as perfect as it was played on wood flute in The Fellowship of the Ring. The underscore of Bilbo's departure on the adventure recalls the flight of the hobbits from Farmer Maggot in Jackson's first trilogy, and it beautifully sets the tone as yet another hobbit flees from a small set of problems into larger dangers.

The dwarves' theme is equally soaring and weighty, and is perfectly suited to the serious side of the dwarves that Jackson places on screen, giving them a chance to be majestic and awe-inspiring. For a long-time Tolkien fan like me, this came as a great relief, since in The Lord of the Rings, the only dwarf represented, Gimli, ended up shouldering the bulk of the movie’s comic relief—a decidedly un-dwarvish job. Sure, there will be members of the company that will still inspire laughs, but Shore’s soundtrack helps undergird and remind the viewer of the dwarves’ formidable nature.

When the movie draws characters into deeper peril, Shore does not shy away from the use of instrumental performance for atmospheric sound. Many of the later tracks in the score contain heavy dissonance, brash playing, and the use of improvised percussion instrumentation--all perfectly suited to clashes with goblins and the darker forces of Middle Earth. He makes use of dramatic and imposing men’s vocals, and pits them against ethereal women’s choral work (for example, Galadriel’s vaguely eastern-inspired theme) and the purity of boys’ choir.

I'm excited to see how the themes I now have had the opportunity to internalize will enhance the visuals Peter Jackson has chosen to depict on screen. My advance familiarity with the score will free me up to appreciate the amazing synergy between sound and image The Hobbit is bound to offer.

Monday, December 3, 2012

On Productivity in Writing

Well, I got to post my "winner" badge for NaNoWriMo on November 30th, with 12 hours to spare. Looking back, the question I ask myself is this: will I ever do NaNo again?

For those of you unfamiliar with NaNo, November is National Novel Writing Month, and NaNo is a challenge to authors to write 50,000 words in one month. This boils down to just under 1700 words each day, but for most real people, works out to many more words per day they write, because very few people I know (if any) write EVERY day on the same project.

Like most NaNoers, I slumped in the middle. A nasty cold got a hold of me and obliterated my plans for getting up at 5 am to write every day. Or maybe the cold was just an excuse. While there are things I did genuinely like about working in the quiet of the predawn hours and starting my day off with some creativity, I am, by nature, a night owl, so I probably only got up at 5 for about two weeks total.

I may get back to the getting up at 5 routine after the holidays, but not every day. Likely every other day. But I don't think I will tackle NaNo again, and here's why:

  • November is a gruesome month to try to write like crazy. We have performers in my house, and November typically begins the craziness of holiday rehearsals. It's just too dang busy to be pouring every spare minute into writing top speed.
  • I don't have a problem being prolific. I can see NaNo as a huge benefit to writers who struggle to make progress on their projects, and it's likely very rewarding to see the word count pile up. I did gain some gratification from making headway into my work, but...
  • Writing without revision does not fit my creative process. Under normal circumstances, I write a passage, let it sit overnight, come back to it, read it, tweak it, and write the next passage. Doing so helps me avoid continuity errors and repetition. The 50,000 words I cranked out in NaNo have some nuggets of good stuff, but because I only outline in the loosest interpretation on the word, I need to have a very solid grip on what poured out in the last writing session before I plow forward into the next. I am going to be getting this draft off to my crit partner, with the understanding it is a ROUGH draft, but I don't like working this way. I don't want to waste my crit partner's precious time in asking her to read and comment on stuff I know isn't really written to the best of what I think I can do without input.

So am I glad I did NaNo? Sure? Will I do it again? Probably not. But what I will do is challenge myself to set aggressive word count goals year 'round. After all, the folks waiting on the next Windrider book and the next installment of the Risen Age Archive deserve that.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Agony and The Ecstasy: Why Being Creative is Sometimes Painful

Sometimes having ideas is a real pain in the neck.

When I was younger, I was never consumed with artistic passion. Certainly, I enjoyed making things--films, drawings, the occasional sculpture. They were a natural outgrowth of who I was and am. But I'm finding as I get older, my ideas are beginning to take hold of me in a way they never used to. While I can never hope to aspire to the level of genius of one of the "old masters," I do begin to see what people mean when they ascribe the phrase, "the agony and the ecstasy" to the life and work of Michelangelo.

When I began to write, I really only had one idea, the idea that birthed Curse Bearer. What began as just a toe in the water of writing quickly became an overwhelming flood that swept me away in the current of creation. I nurtured that idea for several years, and then began to realize quite a few other ideas were rushing along in the current as well.

The Windrider Saga was born and entered the public eye. The Faith and Fantasy Alliance germinated. Curse Bearer finally got published. A steampunk screenplay has taken root in my soul. The second and third books of the Risen Age Archive as well as a fourth Windrider story are in the crowd, demanding to be written. And there's this animation idea--a ministry thing I am capable of executing, given the time. All these ideas are like orphans in the orphanage of my soul. More and more needy children continue to appear on my doorstep. I bring them in, and I do my best to keep them warm and fed. But they are relentlessly demanding. These figurative children don't care that I have other responsibilities--practical ones that aren't nearly as charming--that take up all but a few precious minutes of my waking hours. They want my attention. For me to give them life.

And I want to. That's why it all torments me. I worry that in the next twenty years I will become so eccentric that I will obliterate what few social graces I have, all of them fallen victim to the clamor of stories. But I worry more that I will never be able to give each of these ideas the attention it deserves--that life will continually crowd out the things that ignite my passion, keep me up at night, get me out of bed while it's still dark. I envy those artists in history who had patrons who enabled those artists to do what consumes them. Alas, very few in the arts today can call it anything more than a hobby. There's a reason the stereotype of the starving artist exists--nearly all stereotypes come to be because they are rooted in the truth. Over time, they become a caricature of the concept they represent, but at their core, the reality remains.

So if you see me someplace on my travels, head down, eyes far off, maybe muttering unintelligibly, I do apologize. I don't mean to seem batty. I'm just having a moment trying to to figure out if I'm overjoyed or wracked with pain.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

In Pursuit of a Title

Well, NaNoWriMo isn't going too badly. I'm still scheduled to finish ahead of time, even accounting for two days off from writing due to a really persistent cold that has been keeping me in bed instead of writing at 5 am like I'd planned. It's probably because my husband was so impressed how I managed to bolt out of bed at 5 for about a week and a half. Then the combination of sleeplessness, coughing, and eventually Nyquil shattered that illusion.

But I hope to recover in the coming week. Being Thanksgiving week, I only have three days of work, so I will be able to indulge my night-owl productivity more than usual. Hooray for that!

Now that the book is what I'd call mostly roughed out, I think it's about time to stop calling it WRIIINanoDraft. (That's the lovely file name it has right now.) It deserves a real title, and I historically rot at titling anything.

The current phrase I'm looking at to entitle this installment of the saga is...

Valor's Worth
The Windrider Saga, Book III

I already know the line of dialog from which that title will come, and it will fall in the denoument of the story. But, as is always the case with writers, I have a habit of getting attached to things before I've really evaluated what my readers will think of it. And if this book is not for my readers, who is it for, after all?

So, what do you think? A sufficiently poignant and hook-ish title, or should I keep looking?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Post-pourri--NaNo, Interviews, and More

Well friends...I headed into this month thinking I would keep you updated on NaNo, but I fear my little sidebar widget has been all I've been able to depend on for updates. It seems trying to write 1600+ words a day leaves me for very little time to blog. There are a few things I wanted to make sure you knew about though, aside from my NaNo mania.

This week, Jennette Mbewe is hosting a three-part interview and giveaway on her blog. We're trying to get as much word out about Curse Bearer as possible, so please drop by her posts. You can find the first one here: Jennette's fine blog interview. There will be subsequent posts on Wednesday and Friday.

You'll see there is a giveaway associated with the interview, which is hosted at my facebook page. By liking my page, tweeting or posting about my work, or reviewing Curse Bearer, you can gain entries into the giveaway for books, ebooks, tshirts, and artwork. Jennette worked hard to set up this excellent giveaway, so gain some entries yourself, then encourage your friends to as well. Here's the link to the giveaway!

And lastly, I wanted to let you know that I've uploaded a short story to first little self-publishing endeavor. The story is called Wish Wary, and it appeared in Digital Dragon last year. Now I'm offering it for $ .99...and I want to commit the proceeds from the story to some of the expenses that we'll incur as we set up The Faith and Fantasy Alliance. If you're wondering what that is, check the Faith and Fantasy Alliance Blog to get a feel for the mission of that group.

That's all for me tonight...I'm off to go cast my vote in this year's election. I hope you did too, and that you voted your conscience.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNo, Day 1

Well, NaNoWriMo began today, and believe it or not, this is my first time to give it a shot. Three books published, and I've never done NaNo. I was beginning to feel like I wasn't entirely sold out to this "writer" thing, so I took the plunge this year.

Believe it or not, it was not hard for me to get up at 5 am to start writing. Who knew that creative time would be powerful enough to defeat my love affair with blankets and warm coziness? Well, at least for one day. As the battle continues to rage throughout November, we shall see how well I continue to do.

Honestly, though, I can see how early risers have a bit of a love affair with the pre-dawn and dawn hours. Right now, because we haven't gotten back to standard time, the sun comes up at about 7:30 am, and I get to watch the sunrise on my way to work. It really tends to be a glorious display of pink and gold beauty. And since I now take winding country roads to work, I can appreciate it way more that I would sitting on 422 in a line of tail lights.

The other benefit I found today to getting up early, writing, and then driving to work, was that I got to use my 50 minute commute to hash out the next scene I want to write. Since I don't outline (as much as I WANT to be an outliner, I still haven't developed that skill) that time will be extremely valuable, I am certain. Especially since I was stuck on my characters' exact plan when I had to call it quits this morning. I now know how they are going to deal with this mess they're in. Now to find a minute to write it.

So how about you? Are you trying to crank out 50K words this month? If you're not, what do you think of those of us crazies who are?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Once in a Lifetime Type of Release

Curse Bearer, the first book in The Risen Age Archive released in early October, an I have been swept up in a whirlwind of activity in my efforts to work the promotion angle for this book. As many of you may recall, back in the end of August, I ran a successful Kickstarter Campaign to fund the marketing campaign for this book. We reached the $3500 funding goal in about 19 days, and even after the campaign was over, the donations continued to come in. We ended up raising $4997, all told.

The Kickstarter campaign, in and of itself, worked as a marketing tool for the book because it generated some presales of the novel as well as interesting some of my local media outlets in what I was doing...something that might not have happened without taking a trendy approach to this book release. With the funds raised from the campaign, I will be able to push the book in targeted markets. With the extra donations, I will be able to enter fiction contests and try to win some accolades for the novel. These are techniques I hope to employ with every book I release from here on.

The expenditure I will probably never be able to undertake again was the scale of the release event that we did at the Renaissance Faire here at Mount Hope Winery in Pennsylvania. Now, there are Ren Faires, and there are Ren Faires. The PA Faire has permanent grounds, a professional troupe, over 120 shows scheduled throughout each Faire day...well it's a flagship of such events. So the release party I held there was pricey--but absolutely worth it. However, it's not something I could justify asking my fans to pay for more than once. Now, if I sold tens of thousands of books over the next couple years, you bet I would keep investing a portion of those royalties in large-scale promotional events.

So what advice would I give to authors considering "going big" on an event to promote their books?

1.) Give yourself a LOT of time to get it together. Think about what it takes to plan a wedding. This Kickstarter and event involved almost as many logistical details. If I ever do this again, I will give myself a minimum of six months to pull it together so I don't skirt the edge of a nervous breakdown like I did last week.

2.) A private event like I did was lovely and fun, but if you can find a way to do your release event in a public area where you can snag passers-by, do so. You'll sell more books. But you'll also have to be flexible in how much food and drink you can offer. You may run out, or you may be eating spanakopita for every meal for the next three days. There's no way to know. But if you do an "open" event, be sure to specifically invite and get firm RSVPs from a core group of attendees, if at all possible. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.

3.) Wear corrective eyewear if you need it for your reading. I wasn't wearing my glasses because I was in costume, and realized I didn't have them on about 2 minutes into my reading. It was a struggle. I think I covered it well, but the fewer worries and headaches, the better.

4.) Don't MC your own event. I am hugely grateful for a friend who guided our time. It's way better to have someone else talk you up than to do it yourself.

5.) Remember to have fun! The folks who come will be there because they like you, your writing, or because it all looks interesting enough to linger. Enjoy those folks.

6.) And lastly, if at all possible, build in a day to do nothing after the event is over. Especially if you are naturally introverted like me. I was an exhausted mess on Monday, and had I not just started a new job, I would have benefited mightily from a day to stay in my jammies, write a few thank you notes, and generally recharge.

If you do find yourself in a position to sponsor a large event to celebrate a book release, I highly recommend it. If someone invites you to one--go! Whether as the creator or the attendee, you will have lots of fun and memories generated by celebrating with others.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Do You NaNo?

November is coming. And November mean NaNoWriMo...or to those of you newer to authorial circles: National Novel Writing Month. It's a sort of "compete against yourself" contest where authors try to write 50,000 words in one month. That's about 200 pages, at least the way I set margins and line spacing. This requires a per-day average of a little over 1600 words, but really, it's more, because I don't know anybody who writes every day of the week.

I have never yet in my 5 years of writing fiction tackled NaNo. Every year, it comes around and I think, "I'd really LIKE to do it this year, but..." This year, I am going to kick myself in the tush and do it. Why? Because the fact is, every project I've got on my hard drive right now is published in some form or another. (Two of them will be self published in the next couple of weeks in order to fulfill rewards for my Kickstarter campaign, and all my completed Windrider and Curse Bearer stuff is not out on the market.) I need to get the third Windrider book into the publishing meat grinder, and since life has been keeping me from writing ANYTHING on it for the past month, I've decided, it's NaNo for me. No excuses.

Now, the trouble is, this probably means I'm going to have to do the thing I've been dreading doing for a long time now...get up early. I'm finding my new work schedule doesn't make evening writing very feasible, so at least for November, my plan is to get up at 5 am (booooo, hisssss), write for an hour to 90 minutes, get ready for work, and start the other part of my day.

1600 words in an hour to 90 minutes is an insane goal for me, and I imagine I will be making up some of that on Saturdays. But I have to do it. The four novels currently banging on the inside of my skull demand it.

How about you, writers? Are you going to jump into the crazy, flood stage river known as NaNo? I'll let you know how I do...and I hope the result will be to say Windrider III is done and ready for editing.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Curse Bearer is Officially Out of the Bag

Many different people have referred to the process of creating books and movies like this: A book is never actually "released." It just eventually escapes.

Now, I have to admit, for as long as I have been working on my current release,Curse Bearer, I know I'll  never feel entirely sure I have done everything I possibly could have to sharpen the book. But the fact is, if I was allowed to rework everything I possibly could, I would rewrite the book over and over for my entire life, and it would never come out. There is a great lesson to be learned in calling something done and allowing it to be what it is at that point.

The reviews from my advance readers are coming in, and most of those reviews are from writers. I'm amassing a pile of solid, four-star reviews with a couple of fives thrown in. At first, the four stars were giving me heart palpitations, but the more I read them, the more at peace I am. The points that my reviewers have cited in withholding my final star are completely valid and legitimate. One reviewer spoke of an occasional inconsistency of voice, which I completely get--my voice has changed over the past five years of writing, but not every word of Curse Bearer has, so I suspect those passages that don't quite ring are probably the moments that this particular reviewer is talking about--remnants of the original manuscript. I am more at peace now with the imperfections of the work and am looking forward to writing the next two books that wind the series up and tell the rest of Danae's story in my current voice. It's my hope that I will be able to continue to grow and make each installment of the series more powerful as I grow in my writing. I've come a long way in five years...I can only imagine what will happen in the years to come.

Now that the book is out, I wanted to be sure to make you all aware of the giveaway I am doing on October 1st and 2nd. All you need to do is go to my facebook pages, either my personal page or my author page, and find the post where I have shared the link to Amazon for the book. If you share my link and add your own message when you share it, encouraging your friends to check out Curse Bearer, then I will enter your name into a drawing for a signed copy of the book. I would really love to get some sales going on Amazon. Although I have already done a healthy pile of direct sales, the Amazon sales are what make me visible to people I don't know. So enter the drawing and encourage your friends to as well.

The other little reminder I will throw out there...second to sales, reviews are an author's best friend. If you read a book and have a reaction to it you want to share, support that author by posting an online review. Most of us can't afford to cheat and buy reviews like many of the NY Times best seller authors do...we have to do things the old fashioned way. (Eye roll. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I bought reviews.) Feedback is the artist's MiracleGrow, in my opinion.

It's been a whirlwind, between the Kickstarter Campaign, the last minute details, the nail biting--but it's all extremely fulfilling as well. I hope, if you choose to purchase my work, that it brings you some measure of wonder and joy.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Writing Circumstances Beyond My Control

The day a book goes "live" on Amazon or Barnes and Noble is exciting in a sickening, hang on for dear life, all I can do is watch everything unfold sort of way.

For the past five years, my imagination and efforts have been consumed (for the most part) by the creation, rewriting, tweaking, overhauling, and details of a book I once called The Sword of the Patron. It was the first novel I ever began to write, and now I would say it is in something like its third version since its inception. And that labor of much angst, joy, struggle, and triumph is now available for sale, over a week before I thought it might be on the virtual shelves.

Until now, the fate of my work has been more or less in my hands. I could have my say about what stayed or went. I could advocate for the story, or the look of the book, or the promotional information. But now that the book is released, it's like sending your child  away to college. You've done all you think you possibly could to prepare that child (and yourself,) but now that it comes down to it, you have basically zero ability to direct the path the book now follows. The public is free to pan it or champion it, and all you can do is watch.

I am horrible at this part of the process. Part of me wants to cheer and celebrate, but a much more demanding part of me wants to curl up in a corner and hide for the next age of this world. A million authors have said this before, and a million will say it after me...and even though I've released a couple books before this and I always say "be honest in your reviews," I'm terrified people will tell me my baby is ugly.

For the record, nobody has yet. But they have said my baby isn't perfect. As much as we all know our work is flawed, I am positive that I have written Curse Bearer the best I could possibly write it right now. And what if that turns out to be just "pretty good?" Only in the arts can "pretty good" be devastating.

So if you see me over the next few weeks and I seem sort of foggy and wide wide eyed, it's just because I'm working through my day in an only slightly decreasing state of terror. Eventually, I know my heart rate will get back to normal and I will come to embrace the thoughts people leave in reviews. And will be time to write another book and go on the crazy-coaster all over again. :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Curse Bearer Gets Its Cover

Yes, fantasy fans, here it is! If you aren't one of my facebook contacts, perhaps you haven't seen this yet: The cover for my book releasing October 2012!

I have known what the cover painting for this book was for quite a few months, actually, since Christina Hess did such an awesome job of getting it to me so quickly. I even had a pretty clear idea how the text would play out. But still, when you see it attached to an email that says "This project is done and going to the printer in the morning..." that's still pretty exciting stuff. I don't know if that ever gets old, no matter how many books you write.

So keep your eyes open for Curse Bearer at your favorite book etailer...I will be sure to post an announcement when I know the book is up for pre-order or regular sale.

Thanks for dropping by!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Great Crowdfunding News!

I'm excited to report: with just a couple of days to go in the Launch Curse Bearer Kickstarter Campaign, the small army of backers has reached the campaign's goal of $3500 worth of funding! As of Thursday morning, the amount raised tipped over the "success" level, so that means all of the marketing stuff I have planned for the book is a go. Of course, the campaign remains open to donations until midnight of the Saturday, September 15th, so if you or someone you know was still thinking of contributing, it's not too late. The one thing about advertising and marketing--there's no such thing as too much of it.

The crowdfunding trend is one I am finding very interesting. Projects tend to have excellent success or crash completely. From what I am seeing, it has about 20% to do with what the project actually IS and 80% to do with how that project is presented.

For example: a book project with a garbled description is pretty much doomed to failure. The general public seems to think, "Dude, if you can't even write a paragraph on your Kickstarter page, why would I read a whole book of your garbage?" Little do they know how incredibly hard it is to boil a book or a related fundraising campaign down to a few pithy paragraphs. To this day, I admire advertising copy writers for their skill in this.

If your video is one of you sitting on your futon with a blank wall behind you and your cat occasionally getting is the way...well, it's not going to go well. People want to feel like they are getting behind someone destined for success. I, honestly, was extremely worried about my video, because I know it lacked production quality (my fault for having to throw it together in a matter of a few days), but fortunately, it seemed to be just good enough to get people to hang with it.

And I don't think it's any coincidence that the most successful projects combine a completely "I never would have thought of that" concept with a hysterical video. We all like a laugh, and apparently, we'll throw money at people who make us smile. (Note to self--figure out how to be funny.)

In a time where so many of us are scraping as best we can to pursue our dreams, the crowdfunding trend seems to be an excellent option. That is, until so many people try it that it loses its novelty, and then we'll be looking for new options.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Of Books and New Names

Today, I got the official word that the adjustments to the series name on my novel releasing next month are locked down. The journey through titles on this coming book has been something like canoeing through rapids.

I wrote two-thirds of the manuscript back in the rough-draft stages (wow, that seems like ages ago) calling it nothing but "Danae's Story." I have always had a deep an abiding loathing of titling my works. I never title my drawings. I always struggled to affix a title to my films in college, and then they usually turned out to maintain the name of the works I was adapting for film ("The Highwayman," based on the poem by Alfred Noyes, and "The Cat and the Fiddler," based on the short story by Lloyd Alexander, for example.) This title-phobia extended quite naturally into when I started writing fiction.

I finally settled on a title of The Sword of the Patron for my novel, since I was going to start showing it to people and I figured I better be able call it something. But fantasy novels have long used the "____ of the _______" formula for titles, so publishers and editors are now prone to shy away from them.

After David Farland critiqued the first third of the book for a workshop I took with him about a year and a half ago, I shortened the title to drop the opening "the." He referred to the book as Sword of the Patron, and I typically did too, whenever I talked about it. But it was still a blank-of-the-blank. Let's be honest.

Written World Communications/Other Sheep wanted something crisper for the book, and that's where the title made it's final transition to Curse Bearer. It's more central to the story and bears multiple meanings, so it was a good switch.

The book remained, however, the first book in a proposed trilogy, and can you guess what format the trilogy name followed? Yep. Blank-of-the-blank. The series has been The Call of the Creator for almost as long as the book was The Sword of the Patron. But time has passed. Much editing has transformed the book. It's not the same story it was under either of those titles. And so, like Sword of the Patron had to go, so did Call of the least for the series. The new name? After much thought and mulling of the overarching elements of the series, I've landed on...

The Risen Age Archive.

It's got an epic sound. There's no "of the" to be found anywhere. And to all of your consternation, I'm sure, you won't learn what that series title means until at least book two. I hope you'll follow Danae at least that far and find out the root of this new moniker.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Home Stretch

For those of you who have been waiting for more Windrider Sketches, I do apologize there haven't been more forthcoming in the past few weeks. It seems my attention has become completely monopolized by the last stages of getting Curse Bearer ready for its release this October.

I imagine it's possible that some of you who frequent this blog may be familliar with only Vinyanel and his exploits, so maybe a little summary is in order...

Curse Bearer is the novel I started before I wrote a single word of Windrider stories. Back when it went by its old name, Sword of the Patron,  I can credit the connection I made with Diminished Media to Curse Bearer's presence on a forum. You see, I was participating in an online critique forum over at, and Tim Ambrose caught sight of the type of work I was writing and asked me if I would consider submitting a story to the then brand-new Digital Dragon Magazine. Hence, The Windrider Saga was born, and grew up quickly, while I also plodded through revision after revision on Patron. (Trust me, it needed it.)

Curse Bearer clocks in at about 125,000 words (in the 500 page range as paperbacks go) and is nearing its release, a couple months shy of the manuscript's 5th birthday. It doesn't much resemble the story that I first wrote in that original draft--the first novel I ever tried my hand at, and one I started naively pitching at writer's conferences long before I was ready. (God Bless Jeff Gerke for being so encouraging when I was clearly leaping before I had the sense to look.)

But time, determination, editing, and probably a little bit of luck have all converged, and here I am looking at having my third book released in two different series, all within 12 months of each other. It's crazy and exciting and exhausting all at once. But the typeset version of the novel is coming together, the cover is in the works, the marketing campaign is gathering funds one donation at a time.
Oh, and did I mention, the advance readers are starting to send in their thoughts on the book? I had to grin when I read this line from an upcoming review: "The story sidetracks a bit to introduce Culduin, the awesome elf of hotness, but the sidetrack is massively excused on his behalf. He's just a nice guy who patches up Danae, but he's also full of elvish awesome." It's always a shot in the arm to know the goal you've set for a character appears to have been achieved. :)

So, since I haven't managed to do anything more on the Windrider front, I'll throw a newly-scanned version of Culduin, the reader-dubbed awesome elf of hotness. ;)

I hope you'll join me on the adventure Curse Bearer begins this fall. It promises to be an exciting ride.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Kick it Into Gear

Have you ever heard of Kickstarter? I hadn't until very recently, when a few of my very talented artist friends started promoting projects they were working on through Kickstarter exists to help creative people fund projects they want to complete, but need financial resources to make it a success.

My former college roommate, Christina Hess, sponsored a campaign to create a book of illustrations of animals portrayed as historical figures. Who knew the world of the internet that animals in clothes would be so wildly popular? (Christina did, apparently. She exceeded her fundraising goal. And of course, her work is so stunning, it's easy for backers to get behind.)

Then there's Drew Gilbert, who (as of this writing is in the final days of his campaign) who has been working on a documentary about people who have undertaken "wireless" careers in order to see the world while still gainfully employed. They are 80% of the way to an ambitious goal, and I sincerely hope they will reach the end point, since what they've created looks timely and fabulous.

These friends of mine have inspired me to dream big for my own work--specifically, the release of my new novel Curse Bearer, coming this fall. Now, since it is being traditionally published, the book comes together at no expense to me, (outside of the cover art, which I opted to commission) but the place I have a budgetary shortfall is the marketing campaign.

Hence the "Launch Curse Bearer" Kickstarter campaign. I've set a short time frame to raise my goal of $3500. Just twenty-one days. Twenty-one days of boring you all to death with posts about it on facebook. ;) But now that I've got a couple of books under my belt (i.e. The Windrider Saga) I'm driven to accelerate my writing career. A big-budget marketing campaign could play a huge role in this.

I don't just need backers, however. I need enthusiastic people to spread the word-of-mouth about this campaign. Three weeks isn't very long, and I need to average about $167 a day to meet the goal. If you believe in the potential of books published through small, indie publishing to reach a wide audience, you help not only me, but the whole small publishing movement by telling your friends about this campaign.

If you do drop by Kickstarter's sight, I would encourage you to browse projects other than mine while you're there too. It's a huge source of inspiration to see how many genius-creative people have fabulous projects in the works.

Thanks for considering it!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Windrider Saga Character Sketch Series #2: Majestrin

All right, commentors and fans, you got it--the consensus on the next sketch to go up on the blog was in favor of Majestrin, so here we go.

Majestrin is a mature silver dragon (mature meaning being just over 1800 years old during the time frame the Windrider stories take place.) His natural habitat is the colder northern reaches of the country of Radromir, high in the peaks of the always-snowclad Triastead mountians, the main mountain range on the western side of Argent. While he prefers colder climates, he can manage in just about any environment. Whether he'll be happy about it is another story.

The dragons of Majestrin's world employ breath weapons of huge variety, from freezing liquid (think liquid nitrogen) to paralyzing gas, to chlorine, to magma, and of course, the old standby, fire. All dragons are limited in how often they can utilize their breath, however, as a mixure of biological processes and magical replication determines the potency of the gas cloud, liquid, or energy they deploy. But when there's no breath, there are always teeth, claws, and a tail to fill in the gaps.

Majestrin's backstory, I fear, will have to remain shrouded in mystery, because some of it unfolds in the telling of the third Windrider Saga volume.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Windrider Saga: Character Sketch Series #1

As I work my way through the third book of the Windrider Saga, I find myself struggling to claim writing time from life. Less writing time means the gears get rusty and the inspiration flows more slowly. This particular book is demanding that I know the characters of the series in different ways than I've put on the page before, so in order to get my mind working in that direction, I've decided to do a little doodling on them. It always seems to get the ideas loosened up.

Now, maybe this is all self-indulgence, but I figured I'd share these little doodles with you as well.

Meet Veranna, Half Elven Prophetess of Creo

Veranna is 53 years old, which is the half elven equivalent to being in her early 20's. She was born to a Thelenese gypsy mother and an elven father who was a minstrel of Celevonese in origin.

Cultural pressures drove Veranna's parents apart, but Veranna's father was of greater means than her mother, so he took custody of the infant half-elf. As a rule, the elves of Sarn Celevon have a distinct distaste for anything or anyone outside their own culture, so the time Veranna spent with her father in his homeland was a time of disdain and ridicule, despite his efforts to shield her.

Her father's untimely death sent Veranna into the sole care of her mother, a sorceress and fortune teller. When Veranna showed a gift for dancing, the gypsy forced her daughter into performances with their caravan. The requirements of the performances became exploitative in nature, and once Veranna mustered the nerve, she fled her gypsy "family."

How Veranna encountered Creo and became his servant is a story for another time, but hopefully you've enjoyed the little peek at her backstory!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Drive-By of ConnectiCon

The sci-fi and fantasy convention scene is one with which I am relatively unfamiliar. You would think with my gaming background, the number of friends I have who are into comics, and my media immersion, that I would have spent a lot of time flitting from convention to convention, but that's not the case.

On the spur of the moment, I decided I was going to jump in the car and head for Connecticut in order to take a look at ConnectiCon, not so much for entertainment purposes, but to research the setting for the sake of using as a possible sales venue for the Faith and Fantasy Alliance.  (If you're wondering what that is all about, it's still pretty undeveloped, but you can find the gist here: )

It's interesting to view a fan event through the eyes of a potential vendor, that's for sure. One of the things I saw that was glaringly obvious: if you want to sell at a Con, you DON'T want to be in the artist/author's area. Talk about a bunch of folks with a huge buffer zone of no foot traffic around them, all looking bored or languidly surfing the internet on their phones. Shopping in the main vending area required maneuvers similar to body checking, whereas the artist tables offered the uncomfortable opportunity to be the only customer looking at the merchandise.

What I also noticed is that just about no vendor was selling just one type of merchandise. That underscores my estimation that to be successful at conventions, the Faith and Fantasy Alliance will need to offer more than books to snag buyers within con circles. Homeschool conventions and tables of just books are a happy marriage. To sell books in convention land, if I'm not a huge publisher that can have a 20 foot high display with fire and animatronics, will require some kind of eye candy for sale to draw folks to the table. Artwork and jewelry are my first choices of items I would hope to offer--preferably items that tie into the books we're selling.

The top three things it seemed to me a person needs to sell at a con are:

  • A flashy gimmick (Which will not be booth girls. Maybe people in very cool costumes, but not skimpy ones.)
  • Products that sell themselves over a lot of white noise
  • A display that says "I am not working from my garage or dining room table." Even if I am, I just can't  LOOK like I am.

Those will be the goals I will be adding to the list as I prepare to solicit merchandise from authors and artisans, so thet can be confident their work will be in a place that will be noticed.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Grouchy, Sedentary Writers

First, I will open with an apology that I have only been dropping a post into this space bi-weekly at best. I know infrequent posting is a good way to kill an audience, but like the bulk of the US right now, I'm in a drought. If my writing life were a front lawn, you'd better not throw your partially-extinguished cigarette butt on it, because everything would go up in an instant inferno.

Its not that I haven't been writing. I've actually been writing quite a bit--just different stuff than usual. Happily, my day job now has me working on blog posts and press releases, which gives me permission to write about a strange combination of geeky band stuff, movie sound tracks, and self-publishing. But as for fiction, that world has been a wasteland for me, to the point where I have been wondering if the project I have going needs to hit the shelf for a few months, since every time I open the file, I write about seven hundred words and grind to a halt. The irony of that is the fact that I know where the story I'm writing need to end up. I just can't seem to find the bridge that crosses the chasm between where I am and where I need to land.

So, needless to say, this makes me a little grouchy when it comes to my evening writing time. Couple that with my incessant bad habit of comparing myself to other authors, and it's a good way to make for a lot of grumping and grousing.

The one thing I am loathe to admit: getting some exercise is actually very helpful to my mood. Understand, I have never been even remotely athletic. I have been a horseback rider and driver in my past, and yes, you can work up a sweat in marching band, but I have not been even remotely what you would call "in shape" since I started having kids twelve years ago. In an effort to nip the inevitable deterioration I'm goading by being a slug, I've begun biking with my oldest son  (well, actually, he was running and I was following him on my bike, until today when we both biked.)

And you know what? The days I get out, I don't spend my morning feeling like I could glare a hole in the wall. The effect last about forty-eight hours, as far as I can tell.

So is it any wonder when you read about prolific writers' lives that so many of them are fraught with stories of depression and personal tragedy? We spend all of our free mental time trying to think up the most gut-wrenching, no-win situations we can, and then we subject people we love (OK, fake people we made up) to those tortuous circumstances. We slouch in front of a keyboard living on caffeine and Snickers bars. We sacrifice sleep and decent food and real social interaction to the call of the novel. Getting winded on stairs is sort of a natural outgrowth of these behaviors, don't you think?

And so, despite my general distaste for discomfort and my historic struggle to find a form of physical activity I can do more than a couple times without hating it, I have joined the ranks of a few other sensible writers out there to get moving. I don't foresee myself every becoming a fitness nut, but for the sake of the people in my path each day who don't deserve my alternate fits of railing and weeping, it seems the only humane thing to do.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Brave: A Case of Inflated Expectations?

I will be the first to admit--from the moment I first spied the luminescent grass and the gorgeous musculature beneath the black shire's coat in the Brave teaser trailer that came out last year, I have been dying to see this movie. The gorgeous visuals set my limbs trembling, as good animation always does. I waited with impatient mouse clicks of checking and re-checking for a full-length trailer, and when that day came feasted with even more savor over the beauty Pixar had in store.

We bought tickets in advance for Friday's showing. I prepped my kids that it was going to be a great treat Friday morning to go see the movie together on one of my rare weekdays off.

So, in the blazing heat of June 22nd, we hoofed across the parking lot of the newest theater in town and took our seats twenty-five minutes early so we could be in the high-center of the theater, my preferred place for seeing a film for the sake of both visual and sound experience.

And from a visual and sound standpoint, Brave did not disappoint. Whatever software development Pixar did to wrangle the mind-boggling textures of Merida's hair, the coats on the animals, the stone, grass, moss--everything--it paid off. I heard one advance reviewer say the environments were reminiscent of How to Train Your Dragon.* Well, only in the way an art student's attempts at the reproduction of an Old Master are reminiscent of the original. Pixar clearly has the leading edge on the technology that makes their films visually deeper than just about anything out there. (OK, Weta workshop gives them a run for their money, but Pixar is still the horse I'd bet on in that race if I were the betting type.) 

Back to the environments, though--the lighting was stunning, and the foliage, rock, and even soil of the world was rendered with the type of detail that was romantically super-real. When I was taking animation history with teacher and author John Culhane in college, he used to talk about how animation, in order to be making optimal use of the art from, needed to take reality and go beyond it. Make it more beautiful than it can be in real life. Somehow, the folks at Pixar do this without slipping over the edge of making the environment somehow too alien. Elements of the characters and environments may be exaggerated, but you still believe them with wide-eyed wonder.

That all being said, visuals are only the smaller portion of a movie's make-up, we all know this. What makes a movie a classic, a masterpiece, is the story. And this is where Brave faltered for me. But I do have to agree with the advance reviewers. This one didn't sing like The Incredibles, or Monsters Inc. or Toy Story or...or...or... It lacked the tight interweaving that I love in the best of what Pixar has offered in the past. (Which is ironic, since a tapestry figures into this film prominently.)

I often point to the writers at Pixar for being the masters of plant and payoff--where no element in the film is wasted. Sure, there were concepts established and used in this film, but simply not to the same "Aha!" effect as I have seen in the past. But the story this time seemed to suffer the effects of being in production for six years, being reworked umpteen times, switching directors eighteen months before the release, and then finally letting the film escape to the public for Disney's usual summer release date. It reminded me of my efforts at painting--where things weren't right and I reworked and reworked until what I had was a muddy, mostly-changed version of what I had set out to accomplish.

I could have lived with a little bit of looseness in the joints of the story if it hadn't been for the fact that the film played a couple of cards that instantly ruin a story for me. The lesser of these two infractions was the use of implied or on-screen nudity. I did not need to see a dozen animated Celts without their kilts on. Yes, it was only from the back, but it was an unnecessary grab for a laugh in a film that had garnered few to that point. I was astonished, to be honest, how quiet the audience was on the opening-day showing I attended. In the first twenty minutes of the film, gag after gag went by without eliciting even a chuckle from anyone. The nudity jokes did not help.

The second card in Brave's hand that I absolutely abhor is the "Men are Fools" card. Throughout the film, every man depicted on screen is a buffoon who can't express himself, who has no wisdom to contribute, and bungles along, only dragged to some sense of civility or competence when a woman sets things straight. I appreciate that women do a lot to help support the men around them, but this worn, stupid depiction of men basically wrecked most of the Brave viewing for me. I found myself folding my arms and gritting my teeth, when I'm usually perched on the edge of my seat, drinking a movie in. Yes, by the end of the tale, Dear old Dad's more relaxed philosophy does seem to win the day, but he gets no credit for seeing a better path. I get that this is primarily a mother-daughter tale, and I know I would love that story, deftly handled. Even a single scene between King and Queen where he gets a moment to show she listens to him and he has real wisdom to imbue would have turned this around for me. It wasn't there, and I say shame on Pixar for contributing to the pile of movies out there that feed the "woman are competent, men are a bunch of idiots" mantra.

Overall, I wouldn't discourage anyone from going to see the film. Much of it was beautiful and wonderful, and there is a very well-played poignant moment between Merida and her mother that offers a turning point in their relationship. But in general, the story points of the film came off less polished than I've come to expect, and no theme or point rang with the clarion peal we viewers usually count on Pixar to deliver. 

Yes, I concede that I am infinitely hard to please anymore. But that's what happens when you've been presented with a steady diet of film delicacies, and suddenly you get a plate of generic spaghetti with jarred sauce. (Even if the sauce came in the most beautiful jar with a label so stunning you could almost cry looking at it.) My faith is not shaken, though--I'm still looking forward to summers to come, and pray this story slump Pixar has found itself in will ebb.

*Please don't get me wrong. I adored How to Train Your Dragon. But I must stand firm on my opinion their use of the technology was deft, but not as masterful as the Pixar team's.

Monday, June 18, 2012

You Can Only Account for So Much Stupidity

I am a huge fan of David Farland's Daily Kick in the Pants, a column of writing tips he sends out now and again. Today he was talking about how you can't expect every one who reads to be a rocket scientist, but sometimes, it can be astounding how completely...well...numbskulled people can be when they comment or complain about books. Here's just a part of what he had to say about one such reader...

Yet sometimes a reader will be so obnoxiously asinine, so resplendently stupid, that you just have to sit back in awe. For example, I got a review on from a young person who just found that the Runelords had too many unintentionally comic images. Mainly he objected to the word “ponies,” which only came up once in the novel.

Ponies, of course, are breeds of horses often derived from populations found in mountain ranges. They tend to be heavy-bodied, small-hooved, large-chested, and have great endurance. When you ride one through thick brush or trees, you’re less likely to get knocked off your horse by low-hanging branches than if you ride a larger mount, and on mountain trails they tend to be sure-footed so that they don’t slip and send you flying over a cliff. With their large chests, they can draw air easier at high altitudes. For this reason, they’ve been used for combat in mountainous terrain around the world throughout history. So when I mentioned in the novel that bandits had used mountain ponies to make quick strikes in one rugged area, the reader said that he found himself imagining the bandits riding “My Little Ponies.” As he imagined this, he laughed inanely.

Sigh. If you’re more familiar with My Little Ponies than with real horses, is it the author’s fault? Should the word “pony” be forever banned from literature? If, among three million readers and a host of very bright editors you’re the only one who had a problem with the word “pony,” shouldn’t you consider that maybe you’re the one who has the problem?

Maybe you shouldn’t smoke crack while you’re reading.

Or maybe it really is me. I have difficulty relating to a person whose IQ is too close to that of an earthworm.
 I really needed that post today, to remind me not to try to write smarter than I am (which ulitmately makes a person sound stupid), and also to assure me that sometimes people are just not operating with working bulbs in all the sockets. Thanks for the laugh, Mr. Farland, as well as the dose of reality!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Nit to Pick: Passive Voice

As writers, we all have the ginormous job of learning the craft of writing. Just like you wouldn't try to build a house and expect it to stand without first learning something about carpentry and architecture, you can't expect to just sit down and punch out a story with the expectation it won't stink unless you get a sense of what rules exist and why.

When I was in junior high and high school, we spent a lot of time focusing on eliminating passive voice from our writing. Though I may have cursed the Downingtown Area School District's secondary English department while I learned under their tutelage, I am immensely grateful for the way they taught me good mechanics back in the day. Now, when I say passive voice, I mean the classic, grammatical definition, which is:  "the voice used to indicate that the grammatical subject of the verb is the recipient (not the source) of the action denoted by the verb." It is a very specific construction rule...not a nebulous, opinion-based situation as some critiquers would have you believe.

The phrase "passive voice," in some writing circles, has come to encompass anything that happens in the story that is a little weak in terms of character choices or wording. People seem to throw the term like a lead blanket over phrases written with being verbs, or in perfect tense, or just blandly. THIS IS NOT WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT--and it makes me crazy when people call that kind of stuff passive voice.

I think I need this shirt.
If we are going to be the iron that sharpens iron we should be to one another, we owe it to the writing community to know our definitions. Passive voice, where the subject noun receives the action ("The hero was smitten by the evil-doer's mighty sword stroke") is clearly something we should avoid any time anything short of  verbal contortions makes it possible.

Progressive and perfect tenses are sometimes absolutely necessary in order to convey accurate chronology. The presence of a being verb has next to nothing to do with passive voice. Granted, whenever you can replace one of the twenty-three being verbs with an active verb, by all means, do so! And sometimes, passive voice works for effect or clarity. I would argue that instance comes once in a very great while, but it does arise.

My challenge to the new writers out there: if you didn't get a thorough grammar education in school (and if you are under about sixty years of age, chances are you didn't, because grammar became very unfashionable in the 1960's) do yourself the favor of studying up on your own. I know I'm still learning each day--filling in gaps that I've forgotten or never heard. In a day and age where actual literacy and deftness with language is on a rapid decline, we as writers must hold the line. Knowing what is good, solid construction, why, and when to depart from it, is just the beginning--the raw lumber from which excellent stories are built.

(And yes, I fully note the irony that the last fragmental portion of this post indeed utilizes passive voice!)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Reviews for Friends

We writers, especially Christian writers, are a small, tight-knit group.  That group gets even smaller and tighter when you narrow it to Christian Speculative Fiction writers. I am deeply grateful for the good friends I have made, if only virtually, in this writing journey I am on.

It was a lot easier, though, when we were all pre-published. At that phase of the game, we were exchanging critiques, delivering the hard truth to one another on our manuscripts, because we all wanted to see these embryonic books grow to maturity and find homes in the publishing world. We could say what needed to be said back then, because we could all see the goal--we all needed iron to sharpen iron so our work would be as honed as we could possibly get it before it went out a-courtin'.

I'm finding myself in a new, much more difficult spot, now that I'm reading published books, written by friends, whose manuscripts I never saw during the iron-sharpening-iron phase. For those of you who have known me for a while, you probably recall that I have gone on the occasional rant about things like the quality of cover art and of editing, and how we as artists should react when we see something less-than-glorious out there for sale.  Within the Christian bubble, I think we do too much back patting and cheering when we really should be speaking constructive truth. (Now, to be fair, know that I am stingy when it comes to accolades. I was a nightmarish grader when I taught, that teacher who some students railed at: “What do I have to do to get an A?” I reserve the fifth star for work I feel I could find nothing significant to change and lost myself within during the reading.)

A problem arises for me when it comes to reviews of my contemporaries' books. I want honest reviews of my work. I want to give honest reviews. But at the same time, I don't want to make public statements about my friends' work that will hurt them, either personally or from a marketing standpoint.

So what's an author to do when she reads a book she feels has significant weaknesses that it is too late to address because the book is out there on the virtual bookshelves, in a print-on-demand company's files, and being read across the continent (or even globe?) Is this a time to put up that candid review that might deter another reader from trying the book? Would I, as an author, want to stand at a table at a convention and have a friend of mine standing in front of me, shaking her head and telling customers who come to peruse my work, "This book has problems. I'm just being honest?"

The question of honest reviews becomes much murkier because of this marketing aspect of things. I'm beginning to re-evaluate my hard line stance of saying we all need to post exactly how we feel about current books on the market. Yes, if an author friend asks for my opinion of his work and my opinion is negative, it seems to me I need to be big enough to write that author or give him a call and be truthful. However, it also occurs to me that the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all (on Amazon)" rule might need to apply to reviews between friends. 

One thing I would never endorse is writing a review that rates the book higher than I think it really deserves. I patently refuse to post lies.

If our books get widely-read enough, there will be plenty of objective sources to blast us. So for the time being, here's my stance: If you are my friend and you want me to read and react to your book, I'm happy to do so. However, if I don't love it, and if the star rating in my mind dips below a four, I have a feeling I won't be posting any reviews--for the reason of not wanting to be that ball-and-chain on your marketing efforts. I will happily give you an explanation (likely a multi-page explanation at that) of why the book slipped below the level where I am comfortable publicly expressing my opinion. If you want it.

But as for me, I want to be in the business of contributing to my friends' success while still having integrity. Publicly tearing my friends down doesn't seem to fit that model.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On Being a Band Geek in a Christian School

Tonight marked the spring concert at my kids' school--always a crazy time for my family, since my husband teaches k-12 music at the school, which includes general music classes, elementary chorus, middle school chorus, and high school chorus, and my sister is the band director at the school as well. The only program we have at our little Christian school that someone related to me doesn't run is the string program, but I have a child in that, too, so that program adds to our familial hubbub in its own way.

Some people might think we're crazy to perpetuate such seasons of insanity in our lives, but honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. I was a band geek to rule all band geeks during my educational years (as well as a choir member, though band was a more deeply-ingrained part of my being, I have to say), and when we decided to send our kids to Christian school rather that home school them, I was a deeply disturbed that my eldest (a french horn player) was going to have to leave behind a strong instrumental program we were utilizing through our local school system as home schooled participants. After all, small Christian schools, while excellent in many ways, rarely have much in the way of an instrumental program, and our school was no exception.

Well, some circumstances changed at the beginning of this school year, and now the school has a beginning concert band program, about which I am ecstatic. Sure, the concert had the sound of a beginner ensemble, but the performance perfection isn't the point. We have a Christian school where the ensemble is playing band arrangements of hymns and other spiritual songs. Children are learning proficiency with instruments like never before.

Why is this important to Christians specifically? Because God wants us to participate in worship, and worship very often involves music. While I believe each of us has a place where music resonates in our souls, it is not something anyone just does (at least not well) without training. Becoming a musician is a lifelong pursuit, one that is best begun during childhood when the brain is still forming synapses between the hemispheres needed to understand, execute, and express music. For children to go through a Christian education and lack the pursuit of musical skill and literacy, in my mind, eliminates the pursuit of a major part of worship for these members of the body of Christ. While I truly believe God loves anything offer to him in a heartfelt way, I believe he also calls us to excellence. One note at a time, one concert at a time, one building year at a time, I believe being band geeks equips young believers to lead others around them into worship abandoned to the grandeur of music that is just a pale reflection of the impossible beauty and complexity of God.

I did not understand this worship component of music when I was a student musician--all I knew is that music and its performance stirred something inside me that gave me goosebumps like nothing else can. How thankful I am that my children have the opportunity to put that feeling of awe and wonder into context, and to hopefully someday use the skills they gain as musicians to share that feeling, rooted in divine meaning, with others.

So play on, children of the Most High, play on.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Latest on the Art Side

Lately, I've been in the mode of producing art work for several projects while I wait for the copyedit back of Curse Bearer, my novel set to release from Other Sheep (an imprint of Written World Communications) this summer. What sorts of projects have I been working on?

Well, related to Curse Bearer, I have been noodling some ideas for chapter heading art, which I'm thinking might take the form of three symbols represented in the book. You see, Curse Bearer is a book that will function in three parts.

Part one of the book deals with Danae Baledric's conflicts in her home city of Dayelston, where an occupying army has a choke hold on the natives. For this section of the book, I'm thinking it would be appropriate for the header image to be that of the occupying Theocracy. The symbol? The gargoyle of Queldurik.

The conflicts and issues in Part I drive Danae from her homeland, and it is within this section of the story she learns some unsettling truths about what's really going on in the dark undercurrent of her life. Such knowledge comes at the hands of a stranger and sage, and his symbol is a phoenix wreathed in flame. Hence, I foresee perhaps something of this nature appearing in the headers for the Part II chapters.

Part III of the book carries Danae to a place where she needs to face the issues she's created in Part I, as well as come to terms with the truth she's learned in Part II. Despite the seemingly insurmountable nature of her cricumstances, Danae learns that she does have the hope of a compass in her increasingly large and challenging world. Therefore, I have chosen the symbol embossed on a book she receives as the potential icon for the third section.

It's my hope that these images will not necessarily demand too much attention on their own, but that when readers see how they tie into the greater tale, that it will add another layer of worldbuilding and interest to the story. We shall see if I succeed, but for now, these works in progress await the final touches that would make them header-ready.

I am greatly looking forward to the coming release of Curse Bearer (formerly titled Sword of the Patron.) I will keep the updates coming when I have them. But for now, I was pretty staggered just how close July really is!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Sober cheesecake

Today is my day over at the group blog, The Cheesecake thickens. If you're new around these parts and wondering what that's about, it's a little place those of us who have "graduated" from the New Authors Fellowship (and graduation means having landed a publishing contract) now blog together for the sake of readers and writers alike.

Today's post is reflective and quiet, which is a bit of a departure for me, but I hope you will stop in. I felt there was no other topic upon which I could write, with so many people around me mourning the loss of family, friends, colleagues, babies, even pets.

May you have a week full of unexpected joy!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hello friends of the speculative arts!
Have you ever had an idea that just won't leave you alone? I keep trying to ignore the concept of creating an annual event for lovers of fantasy, science fiction, and other "weird" stories--for people who also happen to be  trying to live their lives with their faith emblazoned upon them for all to see--but the idea keeps rearing its head no matter where I try to tuck it.

And so, here is the first public introduction to this idea: FaithandFantasyCon2012.

Here's the concept as I see it:
For a couple of days, authors, filmmakers, artists, musicians, fans, anyone at all interested, really, would come together to celebrate what about the speculative arts can serve as a conduit of our worldview to the world, in ways that are effective, winsome, and just plain cool. A time to discuss how to live as a person of faith who also happens to love things not of this world.  It would be a time to encourage one another, that although we may be a small group, we have the power of story in our hands, and therefore, we are mighty!

Want to read the rest of my thoughts on this ? Please join me over at to see what nuts-o stuff I'm thinking.  If I can combine all the little pockets of speculative networking I come into contact with, this could be more fun that we know what to do with!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Earning Your Keep

For those of you who read my Facebook posts over at Rebecca P Minor, Author and Artist may have seen my update that I have "earned out" on my inaugural effort at published fiction, The Windrider Saga. (Meaning my publisher has been able to recoup the cost of producing my book through sales.) Now, this is not a giant amount of money that has moved around, since I am dealing with a small publisher who is using print-on-demand technology, but it is significant in that Diminished Media has been able to help me make available a book that isn't leaving them in the red, given the staggering number of books in the publishing industry that never "earn out." I am pleased that I have a very good chance of significantly surpassing the average performance of speculative fiction in the Christian market.

That all being said, however, I am keenly aware that I have reached the point where you might call the honeymoon over. Many authors I have spoken with have a strong start, only to see their books fall into obscurity six months after the release. I am pretty much at that six month mark now, given that Divine Summons released as an ebook in October of 2011. Anyone I know who was going to buy likely has. From here, how do the sales continue?

That seems to be the million dollar question in small publishing circles. So far, the answer I have seen that works better than anything else is: be prolific. And the irony is, with books to promote, the amount of time an author has to write gets a big, honkin' scoop taken out of it. But far be it from me to whine--better to have books to promote than to still be pounding the pavement with my first work, praying for a favorable glance from an agent or editor. But the excitement of new releases seems to generate sales for already-available work, so it's my hope that in having a summer release for another series I'm working on, and maybe an end of the year release of another Windrider book, I will be helping to build the momentum I need to take a serious stab at this author thing.

And if you were keeping track, yes, that means 3 books released in 14 months. That's my insane goal. From there, however, I will have nothing left in the works other than a sequel book to my summer release that is in woeful need of complete re-writing. That will have to wait for 2013, which promises to show a slow down in releases as I can see it from here.

But if I can keep it up, it's my hope that such insanity will feed the muse, satisfy my publishers, and perhaps even help feed my kids all at the same time.

Looking forward to the adventure!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Small Press Reality

Earlier this week, my comrade in arms Diane Graham posted on her blog about her sales numbers on her inaugural novel, I Am Ocilla. Diane has challenged herself to sell a minimum of eight hundred copies before December, in an effort to justify the cost for her publisher to enter her book into the Christy Awards for 2013. When Diane had first embarked upon this challenge, she spoke of how the average Christian Speculative Fiction book sells about three hundred copies in a year.

Three hundred copies.

I remember watching movie not that long ago--the disaster movie 2012. It wasn't very good, but we had gotten it from Netflix and wouldn't have anything else until we returned it, so I figured we might as well see it through and get our money's worth. Anyway, one of the characters in the story is a writer--a guy who poured himself into his book, and apparently wrote a pretty good book--that only ended up selling about four hundred copies. He basically lost his wife over his rabid commitment to the book, and it kept coming back to those four hundred copies. The movie clearly depicted the creators' opinion on the author's return for his effort--that it was all investment with no return.

So, traditional publishing, at least according to Hollywood, calls four hundred sales a waste of time. Christian publishing in speculative fiction calls three hundred average. And I continually ask myself, why he disparity?

The secular world does not have a monopoly on talent. However, the proportion of Christian artists to non Christians is obviously a wide ratio. I venture that perhaps we hamstring ourselves by isolating our small population. We create Christian publishing houses and make Christian movies and write Christian Speculative Fiction. Clearly that limits our resources and our audience. Instead of finding a way to insist our viewpoint is represented in the general marketplace, we instead create a fractionally proportionate segment of the arts community where we can be comfortable, understood...and undersold.

And what's worse in my mind--we become an anomaly to the secular world.

I bought one of Donita K Paul's books for my son in the local Books A Million not very long ago, and the clerk gave me a laugh with what he said. He looked at the book with a raised eyebrow, and said "Christian fantasy? So what, are the dragons Christians?" With our isolation, we create a genre that makes no sense to anyone other than the people involved closely with it, which is a relatively small number of church-going readers. I would love to know what percentage of overall revenue generated by the publishing industry is from Christian publishing--but I have a feeling I know the gist. If the size of Christian book publishing is anything like the annual revenue of Christian music publishing, we really can't hope to sell many books. The "by ourselves--for ourselves" model dooms us to always treating our writing as a ministry and a pastime, not a livelihood.

I know, I know there are people who have contracts with large publishing houses who are doing well. But again, it's a matter of percentages. For the every Ted Dekker there are probably hundreds of people like me who scrape for every sale that isn't to a family member or a friend. When you write fantasy, there are only so many slots in Christian publishing, and most of them are occupied.

So it seems to me we as authors have to decide--do we stay within the confines of CBA? If we do, then we can't complain about small sales reach. If we want to go to ABA, are we ready to stand our ground on the message of our work? The road to selling a Christian manuscript would be harder. But if you manage it, your reach would become exponential.

Sometimes I think that selling fantasy within CBA is like running a lemonade stand on a rainy corner in Maine in March. You might get some sales from die-hard lemonade enthusiasts and sympathetic passersby, but doesn't it make more sense to set up at the beach in July?

So what do you think--is Christian Speculative fiction a market that will ever really boom?  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Thanks to Morgan L Busse

Today, I found out Marcher Lord Press author Morgan L Busse posted a new review of the second book of my Windrider Saga on her blog. Drop by Morgan's little corner of the universe and check out her thoughts on A Greater Strength. And while you're there, why not read some of her other posts about life and faith? I'm sure you will come away with an appreciation of a tender-hearted woman of God if you do.

Thanks, Morgan!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Depression, Your Lease is Up

And as your landlord, it seems to me it is not in my best interest to renew.

As I contemplated my current state of mind as I drove to work this morning, my eyes often glazed with a haze of tears, it occurred to me that I have probably been fighting a battle of dreading every day for the last 25 years. For the bulk of that time, it's been sort of a low-grade pain--one that I have pretty much aways chalked up to having a melancholy personality. During certain seasons, that perpetual sanding on my heart spikes to crushing agony, though, and when that happens, my desperation to feel better kicks in. The trouble with depression, however, is its uncanny way of making you too paralyzed to do anything about the very thing you want to nip so you can stop suffering. And my personal struggle is that once I don't feel absolutely horrendous, I don't stay ticked off enough to pursue the help I know I need. I get back into the "I can survive, I just need a better outlook," mode.

And then guess what kicks in? Guilt. Guilt that I am not strong enough to push away the gloom I know isn't reasonable. Guilt that I continually cast a pall over my family they don't deserve. Guilt because I can't seem to manufacture the joy that other people have. Guilt that I secretly narrow my eyes when people gush about the little pleasures in life--pleasures I have never felt stir the dark fog in my soul.

When I do let something sweet or charming penetrate my murk, I can't just smile. I cry. And I hate it. I'm tired of never being able to have a genuine, pleasant reaction to something without coming unhinged.

As I have mentioned in other posts, I have a lot of ideas brewing, and for all I manage to get done in my depression-impaired state, there's so much more I could tackle if I wasn't driven to sleep to escape my pain, or paralyzed by an onset of anxiety, or rendered sluggish and apathetic in all the other times I'm not in the throes of a more blatant breakdown. It occurs to me that the time has come for me to stop pretending "it's not so bad enough of the time to make any radical change." Because the fact of the matter is, the dull ache days are growing fewer and fewer, and the sobbing, panic attack, confused, mean, hopeless days are becoming the majority. I'm sick of being sick. And I'm tired of pretending I'm ok.

How exactly I am going to wage an assault on my situation with a high deductible insurance plan, I'm not entirely sure. But it's becoming clear to me that while monetary cost has been a reason not to do a lot of health-related things in my life, neglect is starting to look much more costly.

My prayer is that I will break through the thigh-deep quicksand I've battled thus far and really go through with a change. It's my hope that the right intervention will help me pick my feet up enough to run the race, rather than merely dragging along behind it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Anyone for a little cheesecake? Or a shiny, new book?

I freely admit, this is going to be a little bit of a non-post today--most of my brain cells went into signing my first case of books last night in order to ship them out to those who have ordered and paid for them. It was definitely cool to see a whole pile of books arrive in a heavy box! As much as the release of the individual ebooks that comprise this print edition of the Windrider Saga are just as "real," there's nothing quite like hefting that first paper book.

The rest of the brain cells I had left last night funneled into creating a post for my day over at The Cheesecake Thickens. We newly published authors who are writing together at TCT are working hard to build a consistent audience for the blog, so we would all be deeply gratified if you dropped by. My post for today reflects on what it takes for a dreamer to become a doer. Easier said than done, right?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Finding Like-Minded (Weird) People

I've had this niggling little idea in the back of my head for a while now that I keep pushing away like I would a cat that's trying to rub on my chin while I'm reading. But, like that metaphorical cat, the idea is persistent, so I may just have to think about it in a more serious way to quiet the noise in my mind.

What is this notion? It has to do with the way those of us who write speculative fiction mourn the fact that at Christian writers conferences, we always feel like the red-headed step child. We don't quite fit with Amish fiction authors, romance writers, and the mom-lit crowd. In an effort to remind ourselves we're not alone in our freakishness, we band together. We like our zombies, our swords, and our dirigibles. We don't even ask that you understand.

But I can't help but feel like it's high time we speculative fiction authors stop fighting the current for recognition and respect. Don't get me wrong--I am very glad for the strides the Christian publishing industry has made in offering more speculative fiction over the past five years or so. I recognize we are the fringe of the religious community, and that's fine. I just think it would be an incredible experience if an event existed that blended faith and speculative fiction. Something more like a fantasy con than a writer's conference--where the fans, writers, filmmakers, publishers, artists, and other folks of faith who like to speculate could come together. Rather than hunting the Christian writer's conference schedule for the one class that applies to our area of interest, how cool would it be if the whole even was layered with choices?

So here I am, with visions of readings from authors' next books, film screenings, a dealer room, round table discussions, authors intensives, and who knows what else? The idea, like all my ideas, only gets bigger every time I think about it.

Now, if I can only find a crew of people crazy enough to pull it off. I suspect this won't be the last I mention this.