Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Worst and the Best of 2010

Gathered from actual comments made about The Crown Conspiracy from people I’ve never met.

This was quite possibly the worst written book I have ever read and am absolutely amazed at the high ratings others have given this.

Although I have only read your first book I must say that it is probably one of the absolute best books I have ever read!

Do yourself a favor and avoid this atrocious book.

On it's own The Crown Conspiracy is good but as a series The Riyria Revelations is brilliant.

No serious fan of the fantasy genre will enjoy this book.

THE CROWN CONSPIRACY re-kindled my love of the Fantasy genre in a way I didn't even realize it needed re-kindling.


But worse, far worse than any of that, is the actual writing style. It is, quite simply, the worst I have any seen in any printed material in my entire life.

The writing is easy and flows with a voice that is decidedly deft. Sullivan has produced some great writing that is efficient and to the point.

These made me rethink my initial opinion but were short lived and again ruined by the poor writing.

The pacing is pitch-perfect. There is not a page unused or wasted in the whole book. In a less skilled author’s hands, this could have been a far longer and more tedious read, but again Sullivan leaves me in awe as there isn’t a sentence I’d say isn’t required.

The English language was absolutely butchered in an almost insulting way.

The man creates the world with a simple prose that brings to mind things like woodsmoke from a stone chimney, rain spattering a windowpane, snow gently falling outside while a candle burns silently away in a shop window, or a lazy river meandering its way through the lush countryside.

It's amazing that such a poorly written book could receive such high ratings.

Michael J. Sullivan has written a book I will read over and over again and it most definitely will always reside on my favorite’s shelf.

The characters are like cardboard cutout stereotypes and entirely predictable. There is absolutely no subtlety at all and, if the characters are easy to understand, it's because they have so little depth.

Royce and Hadrian are two well-developed characters shrouded in mystery and written with a delightful dry wit that few veteran authors could emulate.

For me, the characters never evolved from simple, ordinary constructions found in any fantasy novel to somebody with life, reasoning skills, or emotion.

The characters are entertaining and evolving, without turning cheesy and predictable like they do in so many fantasy series.

They were as dead as paper. Honestly, I couldn't bring myself to care about a single one.

At first I wasn't sure if I was really going to bond with any of the characters, but to my delight I found myself loving Royce and Hadrian.

I felt the characters weren't as developed as I would have liked.

Royce and Hadrian, the two protagonists, are complex

I could not get behind the shallow characters and their motivations.

The characters were witty and likeable, and the story was very believable, something you could actually see happening.

For the most part, the prince was the same character all the way through and then just developed all of a sudden at the end.

That’s not to say the supporting cast aren’t equally impressive, as I think Alric’s personal transition is amazing.

Characters made in a completely stereotypical cookie cutter form. They are completely lacking in motivation and actually just downright stupidly unlikable.

One of the great things about the novel is its realness, the characters are alive in their own right whether it be the silent and snarky Royce or the warmer Hadrian, the sometime hindrance Prince Alric or the lovable and curious monk Myron; you'll fall in love with the characters as much as the action.

There is not one believable character who talks or thinks like a living being.

Your characters are intriguing, touching, and real: My heart ached for Hilfred when he was on the stand; I felt Myron's sorrow at not being able to become a part of the world in which he is now thrust; and Royce reminds so much of my best friend during high school that it is his face I see speaking Royce's lines.

I could not get behind the shallow characters and their motivations.

Perhaps it is simply that the characters’ presence in the here and now is so fully-realized that everything else is merely secondary; regardless I’m excited to learn more rather than disappointed that I learned so little.

His portrayal of an ancient wizard, using what he thinks is archaic English, made me cringe from start to finish.

The wizard has been locked up for 900 years and the way he communicates with the heroes is realistic and funny.

I almost never found myself being really blown away or surprised by the plot twists and turns it was rather predictable.

The plot was not straightforward and it kept me on my toes trying to figure out which characters were good guys and which were bad guys. It takes a great writer to weave a tale that surprises me, that keeps me in suspense.

If you like new fantasists like Peter Brett and Robert Redick, or skilled world builders like George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Guy Gavriel Kay and Joe Abercrombie, there's a high likelihood that you will find this as unreadable as I did.

It reminds me of George R R Martin's "Song of fire and ice" except on a lighter, much less confusing and difficult to comprehend at times scale. Needless to say, if you just want a good fantasy novel, pick this one up.

I have always loved fantasy and I enjoyed this book as much as I did when I first read Tolkien.

It was like combining the styles of Neil Gaiman to that of George R. R. Martin, and it really worked for me.

The writing/imagery is basic, the characters are one-dimensional and undeveloped, and the dialogue is tired old cliche after tired old cliche.

It doesn't follow the regular rubric of so many fantasy books.

On Dialog
Characters banter painfully in modern American English

The characters are fresh and engaging, I absolutely loved the banter between the two main characters.

On Length
As this book stands, it's too darned short!

It may be shorter then some of the books I have read but it sure does pack quite the punch. I say “The smaller the package, the greater they are”.

What can an author take away from all this contradiction? I can take solace in the idea that this list consists of almost all the negative comments I have seen, but doesn't begin to scratch the surface of the positive ones.

One final note:
There are two emails I received this year that, in all honesty, make everything here appear so trivial it’s silly. They are private and very personal messages from fans that I refuse to tarnish by making public, but I am glad to say they were very positive and more than any other comments or money earned--made my year. Thanks Renee & Cort and thanks Major Hill.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holiday Vacation: Swimming in the Topics

As an author, writing a blog is a bit strange--or maybe it is just strange for me. I don't know what to write. (Which accounts for the few number of posts I make--well that and I don't have that much time.)It's not that I don't have ideas, or topics I could pontificate on, I have plenty, but does anyone want to read about them? I have no idea because blogging is this odd, one-sided discussion. I ramble about stuff to people all the time, and their expression usually tells me when I should change the subject or shut-up entirely. I don't get that in a blog. Occasionally someone will leave a comment, but never does anyone post, "This was great, but what I'd really like to hear about is…"

I mean, do you really want to read about how great my books are doing? That sort of thing is interesting to me, but I can't understand why anyone else would really care? It also strikes me as a bit self-absorbed.

Would you rather I wrote about writing? I know several readers of this blog are aspiring writers, so would tips and methods be interesting? Some of you might love that while others might be invisibly yawning.

What about lifestyle? Is anyone interested in what it is like to be a full-time author? How I spend my time? Would it help to inspire those working toward this goal to see what might be behind door number three? Clearly I am no Fitzgerald or Hemingway, so I have to wonder if that would be appealing.

How about rants on the industry? A number of authors have made a fine following by posting impassioned opinions on the publishing business. I have to wonder how interesting that is to read for someone who isn't in the industry.

How about my opinions on my genre, what I think is wrong with fantasy books these days, how I feel it could be improved. I don't know. While I have lots of opinions here, I can't think of too many ways to present them without attacking fellow authors, and I'd rather not throw stones given what pretty, big windows I have.

I could talk off-subject, ramble about general news items, politics, religion, the state of PC games or the weather. I'm not sure even I would want to read that.

Creative writing? Would you be more happy with little stories? That tends to be time-consuming, time that would be better spent working on my books, but I suppose I could do that.

Biography? Would to like to hear about my storied past? Would it be interesting? Comforting? Frightening? Inspiring? to hear all the trials and tribulation I went through?

Maybe if you gave me a hint I could do a better job at this as we go into 2011. Miraculous changes are coming so I feel I need to nail this down better.

In the meantime…

My books are doing phenomenal, right now. Robin is beside herself watching the numbers grow like a Christmas Chi-pet. Yesterday I sold 750 Kindles, that's in one day, and that's just Kindles. It wasn't long ago that I was happy to sell one book every three days, and now, if sales continue as they have been, I will sell 10,000 this month. This is just silly. Sure, there are a lot of people out there with Santa delivered e-readers, all looking to fill them, so the numbers are skewed. Still, I thought the same thing last year, but the numbers stayed high, so who knows.

Thanks for helping to make this another great holiday season, and here's looking forward to what appears like it will be an amazing new year.

(If you'd prefer not to post on this blog but rather email me directly with questions or suggestions of something you'd like me to blog on, you can write me at:

See you in 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Software for Novelists

As most of you know, I wrote the Riyria Revelations — all six books — before the first was published. As a result, for the last three years I have done nothing but edit. The editing is almost done, and as the end of the series approaches, I have begun thinking about my next novel, even written a couple of chapters.

I had forgotten what a rush it can be to create something out of nothing. In some ways it is almost like that movie The Neverending Story where the world is just a black Nothing. I stare at the keyboard, the cursor blinking at me, a singular line pulsating like a silent heartbeat. I think. I imagine. And a light appears in the Nothing. I can see it, this new world taking shape and my fingers begin moving. Building, growing, feeding off itself; scenes, faces, voices, I get lost in it. When I come out, I scroll back and look at the pages. Nothing was there before, now people exist.

There is a sense of pride and satisfaction in the act of creation that I had forgotten. The initial rush that has nothing to do with anyone else. This is the kind of feeling that makes you stand up and move, to do a fist pump and grin in the mirror.

Writing again, starting a project from scratch, has made me consider the process. Traditionally I do everything the hard way, and it recently occurred to me that there might be new technology that could help. I wrote my first few books on a manual typewriter. A word processor was quite the improvement and as it has been a while, I thought I would do some investigating to what else might be available.

I write on a PC. Always have, (at least since the Computer Age,) and since the early nineties I've used Microsoft Word. Word is not exactly designed for the needs of a novelist, but rather for business in general and has everything possible stuffed into it and little in the way of customization allowed. So I was looking forward to finding a tool that was designed with me, and my profession, in mind.

Doing a search on writing software results in a number of highly structured programs designed to help those who know nothing about how to craft a story or create a manuscript. These aren't tools for serious writers. They are the literary equivalent of what a paint-by-numbers kit would be to a serious artist. That's not to say that there aren't any genuine tools.

While I hadn't heard of any PC programs of note, on the Mac side of the world, I had heard about a program called Scrivener. There might be others, but this is the one that writers with Mac Books raved about.

It looks marvelous and recently I discovered there is going to be a Scrivener for Windows. They are in the open beta phase now and "It will be officially released in early 2011." I downloaded the beta and played with the program. I must admit it is very nice, although it suffers from its infancy.

Most writing programs have at their core a word processor and few can hope to beat the gorilla of MS Word for quality and depth. Word has been around since 1983 when free demonstration copies of the application were bundled with the November 1983 issue of PC World, making it the first program to be distributed on-disk with a magazine. A program that has been around for almost three decades, is going to have an edge when it comes to wealth of features and the time to tweak them. As a result, any would-be PC replacement needed to be fantastic just to match up. Sadly, when it comes to the word processor portion of the program, Scrivener doesn't. That is not unexpected. Scrivener hasn't had time to even add all the features of the Mac version, so I try not to hold that against it. The rest of the program is wonderful as it introduced me to the concept of having an in-program file system.

Along the left side of the main Scrivener window is a Windows Explorer type of file and folder tree that allows the user to click on, and instantly jump, to another file. This means that you can organize (by drag-and-drop) and instantly open notes, images, or look at an outline, without leaving the word processor. This is convenient and saves the effort of opening windows, finding the files, opening them, adjusting the placement of the windows, etc. It also supports images. I liked this feature quite a bit. I also thought the corkboard where you had a virtual place to layout index cards with notes on them, was fun.

After a greater search for other PC programs I found one called Liquid Story Binder. This one looks native to the PC and has had a lot more time to develop. As a result, it has a ton of features. Initially I found LSBX a bit complicated due to the intent by the designers to create a tool that allowed the writer the flexibility to use their tool anyway they wanted. Luckily there are a number of good YouTube tutorials.

Once more, in addition to the word processor, LSBX allows for jumping around to different files inside the program, but in addition also has nifty things like a Timeline, Character Dossiers, and Mindmaps. There are also word usage programs that help show when you reuse a word too often, and a bunch of other statistics that might be interesting to an author (or more importantly an editor.) It has storyboarding, image galleries, even a music player to be used for audio inspiration.

LSBX looks great too, like a computer game or an art program. Just flipping through the program's website is impressive. The program doesn't come that way. All those beautiful images are things that you, as the writer, are expected to add for research or inspiration.

While both of these products were fun to play with, I had to ask myself, would they really help the writing process? Setting up the programs, filling in all the various files, fields, maintaining the character sheets, and outlines is a lot of work and quite time consuming. In many ways it reminded me of the computer game City of Heroes where the character creation process (being very well conceived) was often more fun than playing the game itself. In order to make LSBX look and work like it was designed to, would take several hours, days or weeks (depending on how elaborate you want to be.) The thought of having to set all this up for each new project seemed a bit daunting, and unnecessary. I've written nineteen novels and never needed to do any of this before.

Novel writing doesn't require much. A pen and paper will do. A word processor and a notebook is better - good even. All the rest of this I determined was just another distraction, another way to avoid the actual writing. The prerequisite for working goes from the hours put into organizing a real world writing space, to the added task of organizing a virtual writing space.

There were two aspects to these programs that I did find beneficial: the ability to access my notes without having to open a new file, and the Timeline feature. The question is: Was this worth the added effort of using either of these programs?

I strongly considered it, being that I like playing with new things, but the killer was the word processor. Neither has Word. As I tested these other programs I continuously encountered situations where I could not do something I used to, or not as easily. This was the deal-breaker. The added features are nice, but I must have a word processor that does what I need it to.

This got me thinking. Was it possible to add these features to Word? Word has add-ons. Perhaps some enterprising programmer made plug-ins for writers. After several hours of searching I did find Writing Outliner, a Word Add-on that installed a Scrivener style file tree in Word, but after using the demo for this, I was not impressed and found it more of an annoyance.

I was irritated that Word had so many capabilities but could not be customized to suit novel writing. All I really wanted was the file access and a timeliner, and maybe the ability to make the giant ribbon disappear to give me more room and clear the clutter. Then it occurred to me that I never even tried. I touched on the idea that a timeline was nothing more than a spreadsheet, and MS Office comes with Excel.

I gave it a try and in a few minutes was able to create a timeline for my new story that was more suited to my needs than the ones in the other programs. This only left a means of accessing notes within Word. Then it hit me — the Document Map.

Turning on the Document Map creates a side window in Word similar the one in Scrivener. The problem is that clicking on the contents only takes you to various headers in the open file and not to new files. The question that I hit on was, "Why do the notes have to be in separate files?"

One of the many praised aspects of Scrivener is its ability to let you work in separate files and then auto-combine, or compile them into a single manuscript file. I never saw the benefit of this as I write in linear fashion, so my manuscripts are always in a single file. For me, having multiple files only adds to the confusion. In addition to keeping track of my story, I also have to keep track of where all these separate files are. Did I file that scene under this character, that one, or setting? Can I delete that file now that I placed it in a chapter? I tend to keep things, so soon the files would be cluttered with redundancies and old info. Even when I just used Word, I still have a few note files running around that I lose track of.

The idea of keeping everything in a single mapped file was intriguing. The sheer simplicity was beautiful, at least as an idea. I needed to test out the theory.

For years I have used the Doc Map to jump from chapter to chapter, and scene to scene within the chapters, but now as I planned to take it to new lengths I put more thought into the whole thing. I created new headers and styles to suit my needs and then began dumping all my notes at the start of my manuscript file. Once there, I divided them into sections: Outline, Characters, Setting, and Notes. Each of these had subheads. I offset the text with color and font to separate it from my actual writing to avoid confusion and reduce the length by putting the notes in a smaller font.

I even pulled some of the images I had created while using the other programs and placed them in the appropriate sections. Now with a simple click I could instantly jump to read any note, reference, or view any aspect of my outline using the collapsible-tree Doc Map. And another click would send me back to work. And rather than use a compile tool to generate a finished manuscript file, I just highlight and delete the note portion off the top. Simple.

I also discovered that the ribbon bar can be minimized into near non-existence, and there is a full-screen mode that leaves only the text and the Doc Map visible. Add to this the discovery that you can alter the color of the page and Word has been transformed into a very neat, efficient, and similar facsimile to the other writer programs. This one however, uses my familiar Word as the processor.

While this solution still lacks some of the more sophisticated and fun toys, they are merely toys and as such would serve more to distract than help the writing process.

Honestly, I don't know why Microsoft doesn't release multiple flavors of their flagship processor. With just a few tweaks to the existing program they could offer Word for Novelists, Word for Managers, Word for Journalists, Word for Screen Writers, Word for Salesmen, Word for Executives, Word for Editors, Word for Teachers. The list could be endless, and so could the revenue.

So if you are in the market for a Scrivener-like program for Windows, you're in luck, Scrivener itself will be available real soon. And if you want to play with a highly customizable writing program, you can try LSBX. But if you already have Word and would just like to make the writing process a tad more efficient, you might try customizing it using the Doc Map and the custom menu bar as I have. It isn't as pretty, but it works.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Movers and Shakers

I hope you all enjoyed the Avempartha giveaway last month. It is over now. Avempartha for kindle is back up to the ridiculously high price of $2.99. Nevertheless, this momentary drop in price resulted in a number of strange events, not the least of which was putting my books on the Amazon Kindle Movers and Shakers List. Crown was the first to hit it early last month reaching as high as number five. As surprising as this was, I attributed the momentary success to the Avempartha giveaway. Tens of thousands of people downloaded my second book while it was free and quite a few apparently felt they didn't want to start with the second in the series and so picked up Crown as well.

The curious thing, what has me puzzled, is that Avempartha is no longer free, and yet this morning I found the following on the Movers and Shakers List:

And on the Kindle board the ranking even included Avempartha:

I can only conclude two things from this: One, all those people who recently picked up Crown and Avempartha, must have liked what they read. And two, My wife Robin is a marketing genius.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

GoodReads Choice Nomination

Today I was greeted with a congratulations tweet from Jamie Todd Rubin, a local sci-fi writer who posted the arcane message: "Congrats for being a GoodReads Choice nominee" This was confusing as I had no idea there was such a thing as a GoodReads Choice Award, much less that I was nominated, or had the ability to be nominated. Mr. Rubin knew more about me than I did.

I followed this link and discovered I was indeed in the running for best in fantasy for 2010. There are only 15 books in my category, and if we were playing the "What thing doesn't belong" game, The Emerald Storm, would be the easy choice. Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, Guy Kay...these are all big names, all put out through major publishers. And then there is Emerald Storm? That's sort of like, lion, tiger, bear...spaceship.

Something like this happened once before, about six months ago when Avempartha was nominated for the BSC’s fourth annual Book Tournament. Pitted against a number of similarly accomplished authors, my book did manage to win, but that was a far more limited pool where my fans were able to take bully-clubs and bats to the opposition. Voting on the BSC site ranged in the forties; GoodReads has well over a million users. I don't think my Riyrian Army has much of a chance against those odds.

Granted I didn't expect to survive my first round on the BSC and ended up winning, but given the difference here, given the dramatic change in venue, and the quality of my fellow nominees; I think this is one of those situations where I can truly say, it's enough to just be nominated. Well, actually, it's amazing, shocking, astounding, and even a bit bewildering--but in a good way. So thanks to those GoodReaders who put me on the list. And thanks to Jamie for the heads-up. Now I have to figure out who I should vote for.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chris Kindle

Amazon has introduced the ability to give Kindle books as gifts. While that might seems like a mildly pleasant turn of events for readers, it is huge for writers. Word of mouth in the ebook community has just grown up and been given a license to drive. The Nooks ability to share titles was nice, but you could only do that to one person at a time, and the holidays are coming.

Once again Amazon’s two Kindle readers, (as well as the Nook and iPad,) are set to be big sellers this holiday season, especially now that they are in Target, Best Buy and Wal-Mart and selling for $135 and $189 respectively. Putting more Kindles into reader's hands and now allowing friends and family to give ebooks from the comfort of their living rooms, all writers have to do is write a good book. Caught up in the impulse at the end of a really satisfying story, they just might buy a copy for that friend they know would love it.

Now if other E-readers don't want to be left out and adopt similar options, viral book buying might have just entered into a new era.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

An Early Christmas Present

For a limited time Ridan is offering electronic versions of Avempartha, the second of my book series, for free. You can get it where ever electronic books are sold—including Amazon kindles. I think it is the only free fantasy novel presently available.

Why is Avempartha free? It is a marketing promotion obviously, but why Avempartha and not the first book in the series?

Two reasons:

One, Avempartha starts better. The first chapter of Crown can be misleading given that it is more like a prologue than the first chapter in that it doesn't even deal with the main characters, but rather the somewhat unpleasant personage of Archibald Ballentyne. And as people who pick this up for free aren't likely to put much effort into reading a book that cost them nothing, I'd better grab them right away.

Second, while Crown is a pleasant introduction to the series, Avempartha is where the greater story begins to unfold. The "Fellowship of the Ring" to Crown's "The Hobbit" if you will. And if you are looking to hook first time readers into buying the other books in the series—which they are—this is probably the best book to do that.

For those of you reading this blog, the news isn't likely useful as I imagine you've already read Avempartha, but if you know someone who reads electronic books, here is a chance to get them hooked into the series for free. Also if you've secretly bought someone a Kindle, SonyReader, or iPad for Christmas, you can preload it with Avempartha as an added surprise. Better yet, I suppose you could consider it a "buy Crown and get Avempartha free," promo too. Of course, if you read the hard copy, and now find yourself fortunate enough to own a reader of some sort, and you couldn't bring yourself to repurchase a book you've already read, now you can just download it. This way when you finish Percepliquis and find that you just have to re-read the series, you'll at least have one on your new device.

The offer should run until sometime around the end of this month (November.) So tell your friends and tell your neighbors that they really have to meet two great friends of yours that you just know they're gonna love...Royce and Hadrian, who for at this a month, can be hired for free.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Probably Should Have Mentioned This Earlier

I was asked to speak at a local event, here in the northern Virginia area, and was so caught up in other things I forgot to mention it earlier. I rarely make public appearances anymore having discontinued bookstore signings, so this is one of the few opportunities you'll likely have to see me. I will be signing books, so if you have any, bring them.

Here's the info to any of you who might be interested:

Michael Sullivan and Tom Henning will be hosting a speaking and discussion engagement at 1PM on November 7th at Evergreen Country Club (15900 Berkeley Drive, Haymarket, VA. Reservations - 703-754-4125 Ext 221).

Michael Sullivan's Riyria Revelations have been released to wide acclaim, winning the BSC Book Tournament as well as being the ForeWard Magazine 2009 Book of the Year finalist.

Tom Henning's fiction novel, "Legends of the Chinese Spy" was released in March, 2010.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Another book, Another Review, Another In-depth Interview

The blogging community has been very good to me over the last two years. With the release of Wintertide, I was disappointed to see some of my favorite reviewers no longer active. On the positive side, new ones have appeared. In my previous post I mentioned Ruled By Books, where Jamie Chambers did a review of Wintertide. This week Mr. Chambers posted an interview he did with me, where he asked questions about my writing technique, my fans, and the use of the Internet to market the books. He even tried to pry information out of me concerning Percepliquis.

At the same time this week, Scott over at Iceberg Ink has been busy. He just discovered The Crown Conspiracy. After devouring it, he read Avempartha and wrote reviews on both. His review on Crown was particularly well done. I say this not only based on how much he praised it, which was flattering to say the least, but more importantly because—he gets it.

Over the last two years, some people have commented as to why they disliked my books, or why they disliked certain aspects of them. And while a few have very legitimate complaints, I feel the majority are often missing the point, or making inaccurate assumptions. Oddly enough, the same is frequently true for those who love the books, as they too assume the wrong idea—they just don't have a problem with it.

I have often wondered why non-fantasy readers appear to more readily appreciate my books, while veteran fantasy lovers are much harder to win over. Many are hesitant or skeptical when reading Crown, and they usually soften a bit as they finish Avempartha. I have to wonder if avid fantasy readers are to some degree conditioned to expect certain things in a fantasy story: length, detail, world-building, grittiness, archaic language, etc. When those items are missing, they scoff. Readers new to the genre, don't have to fight with these preconceived notions about what a fantasy book should be.

Extensive reading in the genre also makes some fantasy fans too quick to jump to the conclusion that: they have seen this before. Granted they have good reason to be jaded. Fantasy books all too often reuse the same characters to tell the same stories in the same manner. Those who are well-read are quick to judge and categorize any story within the first few pages, or even by the back cover blurb. Given that my stories unabashedly use many of the most traditional elements and archetypes, it is understandable that they may jump to the conclusion that this is the same old thing.

I purposefully write my books to be fast-paced, develop characters slowly over several volumes, and refuse to allow world-building to interfere with the story. I think, to some genre-hardened fantasy fanatics, I am easily dismissed as they think the missing length and detail wasn’t a matter of choice, but rather a lack of skill.

As I've mentioned, even some who immediately like the books either don't know exactly why, or like them initially merely because they are different and they make for a nice break from their more serious reading. For this reason it is always nice to see a review like Scott's at Iceberg Ink, who as I said—gets it, or at least as much as he can having only read the first book. He appears to understand and appreciate the intentional decisions about style that I made when writing the books, which is often a sticking point for many, (why is the dialog so contemporary sounding? Why are the characters so shallow? Why isn't there more description?) What is more fascinating is that he grasps these ideas after only reading Crown. Usually readers require at least Avempartha to begin understanding what I am really doing—and for those true hardcore fantasy fans, it can often take to Emerald Storm to quell their ingrained paranoia that insist the rug will be pulled out from under them the moment they dare to believe.

So if you are interested you might take a click over to Jamie's and Scott's sites...and no, I have never met, nor am I paying, either of them. Although given their comments, perhaps I should.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Wintertide Response

Three weeks since the release of Wintertide and reviews are starting to trickle in.

Looking good so far—actually, looking better than I ever expected.

Everyone's opinions are different. This is abundantly clear when you publish a book. One person likes it, another doesn't. One person loves a character, another hates them—often for the very reason that the other loves them. What draws this person, repels another. One reader understands what you are doing, another doesn't have a clue.

A number of people have declared their dislike for Crown Conspiracy because the writing style is too simplistic and lacks character depth. Others loved it because of the wonderful depth of the characters and the beautiful writing. Some felt it was too rushed, others love the fast pace.

Avempartha pleased many of those who felt Crown was lacking in world building, those who liked Crown felt Avempartha was too dull—too much politics and world building.

Most of my readers appeared to not care as much for Nyphron Rising, citing that it was too slow, sort of depressing, and the new thread concerning Modina and Amilia, was not as interesting. They wanted Royce and Hadrian. Others, mostly those prone to reading literary fiction, (who did not care so much for Avempartha) loved it. They enjoyed the increased character depth.

Emerald Storm appeared to please most of my readers who felt it was a return to The Crown Conspiracy tone of action and adventure. Still there were some who hated the ship setting and were disappointed that the series plot did not advance much.

In working on Wintertide, I felt that it might not be well received as it was not as action oriented as some of the others. The scenery doesn't change much, and Royce and Hadrian spend a lot of time separated. Not the best formula for pleasing my readers, who universally enjoy their banter. Also Wintertide has to stand up to expectations. Each book has to be better than the one before it, just to avoid being a letdown. I don't know who invented that little law, but it's true. And being the 5th book in a series, the bar is getting a bit high to jump cleanly. Fans are starting to guess at my tricks. Emerald Storm took a number of you for a ride in more ways than one, and now you are wary. You don't want the same story retold, you want something new, something unexpected, something different.

The good news is that the playing field is friendlier. Those who didn't understand, or didn't appreciate Crown, aren't likely to keep reading the series, (although oddly a few do) and certainly aren't going to get all the way to book 5. The readers of Wintertide are nicely vetted, if not so easy to trick anymore.

So it was with no small surprise that I began learning of the public's reaction to the this latest installment. The first comments came from the editors and proof readers, who loved it. Friends I discovered had similar opinions. While this was great, I knew these groups were tainted. What the real world thought in the quiet sanctity of their homes could be very different.

The earliest reviews always come from the bloggers. Some are just folks who tend to read a lot and post their impressions online, seemingly to entertain their family and friends. These people rarely expect that the author of the books they published opinions on will find them. Others take a more professional attitude, and while I doubt they are paid, they act like it, and take great care to safeguard their reputations.

Fantasy Book Critic is one of the more respected review sites and one who has followed my series since it started. Liviu Suciu and Cindy Hannikman recently posted their joint review of Wintertide.

Jamie over at Ruled By Books, also posted his review.

The response to the fifth book is not exactly what I expected. As you can see from these two early posts, Wintertide has thus far been well received. Moreover, sales have continued to be stunning. Wintertide sold twice as many copies in its first three weeks than any single one of my previous books has in a full month. This has been followed by a sudden upsurge in Crown sales, which suggests that newbies to the series are reading Wintertide first and going back to start at the beginning.

If this keeps up, I might actually consider working on Percepliquis.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Royce And Hadrian Go to Frankfurt

The world's largest book fair is in Frankfurt, Germany. Why Frankfurt? It is just down the road from where, in the 15th century, Johannes Gutenberg once played with the idea of movable type. It should not come as any surprise then to learn that the local booksellers started holding the first annual book fairs nearby—in Frankfurt.

Nowadays it is the world's largest based on the number of publishing companies represented, with more than 7,300 exhibitors from 100 countries, 299,000 visitors and over 10,000 journalists. The Frankfurt Book Fair is a meeting place for the industry’s experts. Be they publishers, booksellers, agents, film producers or authors. It is held every October and during the week, the Frankfurt Book Fair is only open to accredited trade-visitors; the general public is welcome only on the last weekend of the book fair.

And for the first time ever, Riyria is going to attend.

This last Spring, when three separate Czech Republic publishers asked for the rights to publish the Riyria Revelations, I thought it was time to get an agent. Contrary to popular belief, an agent's primary function is not to sell an author's book to a publisher, but rather to negotiate the deal for you. They are sort of like the lawyers who handle a merger. You don't need them to make the deal, but they can help to make the deal better.

Realizing that I know nothing about foreign trade agreements, international tax codes, banking systems or currency exchange, I knew it was time to find a hired gun. Through some friendly contacts I found Teri Tobias a wonderful, and experienced, New York-based foreign rights agent who not only handled the Czech deal, much to my satisfaction, she also requested the opportunity to continue to sell the books abroad.

Phase one of that strategy is the Frankfurt Book Fair. She set off for Germany with several copies of my books and some glossy sheets of slick, series marketing material. The Fair ends today and whether Royce and Hadrian have what it takes to impress the Frankfurt elite is yet to be seen, but at least they are in the game.

I wonder if Teri would mind if I started calling her Viscount Winslow.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Company You Keep

Wintertide has been out for three days, and the early reports are good. That is to say, early reviews have so far been positive, but also sales are doing remarkably well. I reached a personal best when Wintertide hit number one on the Hot New Releases for Kindle Fantasy Historical.

It's not as nice as hitting number one for fiction in general or even fantasy in general, but I never expected that. I never expected this. Given my lack of marketing power, and distribution ability, my books should go unnoticed and fade quickly to obscurity. I know several other authors in similar situations and this is generally the case. Getting published is hard, getting the general reading public to buy you, is harder.

The interesting thing is that I don't always know how well I'm doing. I usually don't. The process feels very blind. Echoes sometimes bounce back, but usually there is only silence. Particularly after a book release. The quiet feels very loud.

Yet every once in a while something unexpected happens.

My wife, Robin, spends far more time looking at the “business side” of my writing, and came across something not long ago. Amazon started a new feature where they look at cross-sales between various books/authors. This is kind of an expanded “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” feature whereas the first one looks at individual books the second looks at all books by an author. Looking at these cross-sales links you see some things that are not overly surprising. There are a lot of cross-sales between people like Brent Weeks, Peter V. Brent, and Robert V.S. Redick. Flipping between authors you see lots of pretty well known names all from large presses and most with multiple books.

To my surprise my name was listed among them. And not just a few…Robin found me listed on dozens of pages such as: Brent Weeks, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Guy Gavriel Kay and on some of them I was one in the #1 spot or #2 spot, which means I’m cross-outselling more on some of these lists than the big names.

The feature no longer shows up on the book page and has now moved to the author page but here is an example of what it looks like (taken from Patrick Rothfuss’s Page):

As I mentioned I know and keep track of a number of other small press, newly published authors, but none of their names came up on such pages – they just are not selling enough. So how the heck did I get in with all these established names? When did that happen? And what does that mean?

I haven't a clue.

In the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Doo, Loretta Lynn's husband, is trying to get people to listen to his wife's (played by Sissy Spacek) first record. They drive around the country together traveling to radio stations dropping off copies and then one day they hear that her song is on the top ten Country Western chart. Being busy driving every day, they had no idea until one of the deejays mention it. Up until that point they figured they were failures.

Often times it feels just like that. We keep sending notes in bottles, wondering if anyone out there is finding them. So for now Robin and I are sitting on the beach watching our latest bottle drifting off, but by the looks of things, it's caught a good current.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wintertide is Now Available

The Kindle and Print versions of Wintertide went live early this morning. Once more due to a minor glitch, the Kindle accidently went live a tad early. I discovered this when a fan wrote me an email late last night to say he thought Wintertide was "outstanding." While I was very pleased to hear he liked the book, I was a bit surprised since the book wasn’t yet released. A quick look revealed the Kindle version was indeed available for purchase.

Discovering this I gave the greenlight to push the print version live as well. I had been holding off until I received the first shipment, but since it was already out on Kindle, it wasn’t fair to leave the print readers waiting. So as of about midnight Sunday the 3rd, Wintertide went live on all platforms. And at that time, with no announcement or even knowledge on my part, over fifty Kindle copies had already been sold.

So those of you who preordered from Amazon, your orders should be shipping now. For those of you who want to order directly from me. You can do so now and receive the books at a special discount by going to this link.

I will also sign and dedicate the books if you like. All you need do is choose from the dropdown list: Sign & Dedication, Sign Only, or Unsigned. If you wanted it dedicated, please type in a name to the Dedication field. Keep in mind that those ordering from me will have their orders slightly delayed as I am waiting for my shipment of books which will not be in until next week. Once I receive them I will sign and then ship them back out to you. As a result you can expect over a week delay in getting your hands on the book. You can also order ebooks from the same link. I can’t sign those, but you can buy them at a discount. These include Kindle and Sony Reader.

Over all I am pleased with how the book came out. I just finished reading through the second printer’s proof last night, and felt the book was in very good shape. It even looked nice sitting on my nightstand. I actually thought that the other day, with this detached sort of observation, as if for that brief moment it wasn’t my book at all. I glanced at it and mused, “That looks interesting. I wonder if it’s any good.”

You will have to let me know.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Wintertide Report and Preview

Looking at the countdown timer on my blog site, you will see that you still have around nine days left to wait. But if you’ve been listening to me I’ve been saying the release date would be October 1. I padded in some extra days just in case anything went awry. It did. Deadlines were not met, the release date slipped, but still it looked like we would meet the October 1 deadline. Unfortunately the printer’s proof was not perfect. Adjustments were made and a new one ordered, so there will be a minor delay. I can’t say exactly when the book will be released, but I expect it will be in the next few days.

Unlike previous years, when those with Kindles got their eyes on the books first, we will attempt to release all forms of the book at the same time. That is to say, you will be able to order the books from Amazon, in Kindle or print format, and if you preordered they will start shipping then. You will also be able to begin ordering Wintertide direct from my site at the same time. Electronic versions will be the last to go live, but don’t worry, due to the instant download; you will still be the first to see the new book. Those of you insisting on purchasing the books from a brick and mortar store will, as usual, need to wait as the distribution process for that venue is slow and could take up to a month to complete.

So what is Wintertide about? What should you expect?

When last we left off our intrepid duo were miserable, but happy to be alive as they headed north from Delgos on a pair of borrowed horses provided to them by the southern branch of the Black Diamond. The weather had turned decidedly cold and the war between the Nationalists and the Empire was over leaving Melengar alone in its struggle. The criminal mastermind, Merrick Marius, was settling into his spoils where the likes of Arista Essendon, and Modina were not so happy.

As you might expect, this being the 5th book, there isn’t much that I can really say without giving out spoilers. Melissa, at “My World In Words And Pages” has managed to put out one of the very first reviews of Wintertide, without giving anything away. A bit less satisfying than a full-scale review, but a lot safer for those following the saga.

I can tell you a few things. For those reading the series, you may already know how each book is different from the others. The same is true of Wintertide. There will be far less action and adventure than seen in the Emerald Storm. This isn’t that kind of book. I suppose it might be seen as more like Nyphron Rising, but with about the same amount of scenery changes as Avempartha. There are some “dark” moments in this book, perhaps the darkest of the series, and I hope a fair share of moments that will cause my readers to forget themselves and shout out, “YES!”

Most of your friends and enemies will return in this episode, as well as an old favorite who has too long been left out of the series. And there will be deaths. Quite a few. At least six major characters will not survive to see the final book.

If you’ve been paying attention you will realize that a great number of portents and signs have pointed to the significance of the date of the Wintertide solstice. It is a day so significant that it, or the subsequent fallout, will affect everyone living in Elan. After Wintertide, nothing will ever be the same again.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Frightening Case of the Dead Computer

How do writers write? The question usually evokes ideas of style, attitude, or voice. Sometimes, the concept of when and where the writing is performed comes up, but far less often do people inquire about exactly how the writing is done. Pen and paper, typewriter, computer, what?

I know several writers who insist on writing long hand. Some believe that it slows them down and forces them to think harder. They transfer what they wrote to computer and this transference process works as a second drafting, allowing them to clean their prose. I only wrote one book in longhand, well it was actually a novelette, and technically I only wrote half in longhand. I simply think too fast and write too slow. I end up losing too much in the process.

I’m old enough to remember typewriters. The first eight novels I wrote were on typewriters. I preferred electric. At the end I had a real nice Olivetti Praxis, one of the first typewriters to offer the ability to make corrections without using the little strip of Wite-Out chalk paper. (The idea was to backspace over the unwanted character, slide the correction paper under the carriage—chalk side down—then hit the same character to imprint the chalk over the offending text.)

The Olivetti had the correction built right into the ink ribbon. We’re talking state-of-the-art back in the early eighties. As you can see, the sleek, black space age design was the envy of all my friends…then the personal computer arrived. To this day I still don’t know what happened to that Olivetti.

I’ve always worked on a PC (except for the year I worked as a graphic designer, when I had a nice desktop Mac.) My first computer I got back in the spring of 1984 and was a Compaq Desktop Pro with an 8086 processor and a whopping 20 MB of HD space.

In the early days all PCs had were WordPerfect and Word for DOS, both of which were a nightmare because computers didn't have mice. (well the Xerox did, but it wasn't until the Apple Macintosh, which came out that same spring, that the first commercially successful computer mouse appeared.) Without a mouse, just navigating the screen of a word processor was an act in frustration. I had to check the manual just to determine how to move my cursor to the correct position to insert a word. I actually rejected both programs in favor of an obscure word processor called SAMNA that acted much more like a typewriter. Despite all the hassles, and the awful quality of the dot-matrix printer, it was still light-years better than the Olivetti. Being able to backspace was wonderful.

Back then there was a huge controversy about writing a novel on a computer due to the fear of losing it in an electronic second. The controversy continues, but I no longer know anyone who still uses a typewriter. The lack of a solid stack of pages that couldn’t just vanish if you pressed the wrong button, scared many. While I rarely ever lost anything due to accidental deletion, as I kept back-ups and regularly sent copies to others, I did lose a few novels to technology. My old Compac took the huge, literally floppy, 5.25” disks. These were soon replaced by the smaller hard plastic disks, then the double-sided, double-density disks and now CD and DVD drives.

The result is that several of my early books are locked on old technology I no longer have the key to open. Of course, my very first works, those on paper, were lost as well, the victims of moves and dusty attics. So who’s to say which is better.

These days I use MS Word. Nothing fancy, just the basic program, although I do also use WordWeb that functions with all programs as a dictionary and thesaurus. And while I keep my books up to date now on the current media, I still have problems.

Just recently I had finished the final review/edits for Wintertide. The book was ready to trot off to the printer for the first proofs. Being a little paranoid—even to this day—I sent a copy to my wife Robin, just in case.

The next morning I noticed my machine was making a rattling sound. It’s an old IBM ThinkPad that I inherited during a time I could not afford to buy a new computer. I had been thinking about getting a new machine, but hoped the old black box would survive to see the release of Wintertide. I rebooted only the machine refused, instead displaying an error declaring my fan was being lazy and not reporting to work. I was so thankful that I had taken the precaution of sending the file to Robin, only when I asked she said..."What file?" She never got it, and now the book was done, but trapped on my dead little corpse of a computer, which looked so sad with all its LED lights, dark.

The machine did not warrant a repair bill, but I was faced with taking the computer to a repair shop and letting it—and my book—sit for days, perhaps weeks until it could be fixed. My release deadline was barreling at me like a train and I was tied to the tracks. I was not in a good mood.

Now if it had been a typewriter, I could just pull the last page out of the carriage and ship the book off. Of course I would still be editing the thing, too. The book has been such an ordeal to get out, I just wanted it to be done, to be finished and out the door.

Robin suggested I try fixing it myself. Being the computer geek that I'm not, I tried anyway. Replacing the fan looked beyond my talents, but pulling the hard drive and slipping it into my son's machine looked a whole lot easier. One screw later I was done. I could access my files, I got the book—it was still there safe and sound—the end of the world, averted. At long last the book was done…

...then Robin found a few more errors...

The struggle goes on.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Crunch Month

I have no idea how other writers handle the process of final editing. Perhaps with a big publisher it is a very sterile, very formal enterprise. With my first publisher I received infrequent mark-ups in a Word file that I accepted or rejected then emailed back—all very civilized, but not very effective.

In order to improve the finished product, I have enlisted various beta readers, editors, and proof readers (many are fans who have graciously volunteered.) Beta readers are charged with finding problems with the story. Was I too subtle with that hint? Was that part interesting or just boring? Were the actions of that character believable? You can never use just one Beta Reader. Three or more are required, for as with all things, what is wonderful to one is awful to another. The input of one then can easily be misleading. Three or more can break ties and reveal trends. If three people all hate something you love, you might want to reevaluate.

Beta readers are employed early on in the final editing process. That is to say, long after, I as the author, have finished the final draft and gone through my own series of pathetic editing passes, but before the heavy sanding and polishing starts. This early beta reading/editing period I refer to as the Structural Phase when the system is tested to see if it can handle the weight of a cold, highly critical, reader. I tend to interrogate my beta readers with a list of prepared questions. Then ask for general feedback. Based off of this I find weak areas, logic holes, and places where my intent failed to register.

This results in Structural Reworking, in the form of moving paragraphs, cutting whole sections and rewriting. As with most jobs requiring massive reconstruction, it’s a very dangerous work environment—characters have been known to die. Others are sometimes miraculously saved, shoved out of the way of a swinging plot point at the last second.

A few of my beta readers are also my gross editors, which can be a problem as they become attached to their own involvement, adopting those characters or lines that they save. It then becomes hard to give them up. A veteran of watching my hard-won words gutted, I’ve become like one of those platoon members who refuses to make friends with new recruits because he doesn’t want to go through the pain when the newbie gets killed. I have discovered that a useful skill as a writer is learning to see my writing as someone with nothing invested sees it. This allows me to cut previously beloved lines when they just don’t fit anymore.

Another pitfall is familiarity. When a paragraph or sentence was written eons ago, you get used to it being that way. When it is changed, or removed, it is unsettling. I recognized this preference for “tradition” in my own decisions. A new line has to be great to replace a crappy line that’s been there since the first draft. Only recently have I spotted this behavior in my editors. Watching them freak when a first generation phrase or paragraph is cut or re-worded.

Speaking of cutting. After the structural phase ends the Editing starts and I am convinced now that “editing” is Latin for “cutting every other word.” Wintertide has gone from about 120,000 words to 92,000 words and still cutting. Aside from removing longwinded tangents and run-on sentences, there is the art of jettisoning excess words from each sentence. If someone “sat” you don’t need to remind the reader he “sat down.”

Aside from cutting there is also the rearranging. Moving sentences into more logical orders and moving the phrases in sentences into more intelligible language. And then of course there is grammar. I suppose there are writers who love grammar, and those who feel restricted by it. Actually I suspect a great number of creative writers are annoyed by the rules of English, just as any creative type tends to resent controls on their expression. There have been times I have insisted on breaking the rules for effect. There have also been times—far too many—that I’ve done this out of ignorance. I still growl when I write something and an editor tells me I can’t do that, because it isn’t grammatical correct despite being abundantly clear in its meaning. I can’t begrudge them too much as no one holds it against the author when they find grammar mistakes in a book. They always blame the editor.

The Coarse Editing is grueling as it requires the study and breakdown of every sentence in the book, often with an accompanying twenty minute debate as to whether or not it is better to remove an “and” and replace it with a comma. Also should a girl “say sweetly,” or “sweetly say?” “For this reason Amilia avoided eating?” or “Amilia avoided eating for this reason?” Discussions and arguments rage over the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. It might sound awful, but as the author, the majority of the time, I don’t care. Unless the rewording affects the meaning or the cadence of a phrase, it doesn’t matter to me which way it goes. Editors however will draw swords and do battle, searching for authoritative reference to support them. These can often be hard to find when dealing with the truly finer points of grammar. Most websites and grammar books make the usually correct assumption that the average user is only vaguely familiar with the difference between a noun and a verb and so don’t get into the theoretical string theory physics of coordinating conjunction verses subordinate conjunctions.

Once this coarse editing is finished, the book undergoes a Polishing. This is where the professional or at least the more experienced language engineer makes a pass looking for mistakes in punctuation, word usage and such. Then the book is dropped into layout/galley form and the Proofing stage begins. Everyone reads it in final form to look for missing words, dropped periods, quotes pushed to the next line, duplicated sentences that failed to get trimmed out or passages that were supposed to have been cut weeks ago, but are still there because of a file glitch.

After this, the book goes to the printer for a handful of proofs and once more everyone reads the book. This time looking for any errors the printing process might have introduced. One time during the release of Nyphron Rising, the printer inexplicably shuffled eight pages in the middle of the novel. When Avempartha was printed the last ten pages were in Spanish! The result is that, with Wintertide set to be released in October, I will be reading the book enough times in short succession that I will hate it by the time the rest of the world gets to see it.

For those of you wondering where we are, Wintertide is in the final stage of Coarse Editing. Debates still rage, swords still ring and I’m thinking it might be a good time to take up smoking, or at least get one of those little red stress balls.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Few Bad Eggs

As I continue to slog through the snows of Wintertide, the world moves on. Sales have slipped recently, but that might be due to the time of year. People appear to buy books starting in November, most likely for gifts, then in winter for something to read in the long, dark months and then again in spring and early summer for taking to the beach. But as late summer/early fall comes around, I suppose people are focused on getting back to school and work. No more time for fantasy adventures until the snow flies.

It might also be that, caught up in pushing book five out, Robin and I have not had time to promote the series. Luckily, others have taken up the slack. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll remember the reference to the Big Wheel of Momentum. Moses Siregar III is the most recent example that the wheel is moving under its own power.

I was contacted several weeks back by Mr. Siregar who confessed to me that after seeing the (then) six negative reviews for The Crown Conspiracy on Amazon (among the seventy-eight total,) he decided not to read it. He came back to the book later and realized he could read a sample and decide for himself, which he did. He then wrote to say he loved the book and asked if I would be willing to do an interview with him.

The interview was posted a few days ago.

Once upon a time, Robin and I had to beg for bloggers to do a review of my books, or interviews. It’s a whole lot nicer to have them approach me. Mr. Siregar isn’t the first, but his posting comes at a much needed time. With book five on the way, Robin and I should be getting the word out, but are too busy getting the book out.

It disturbs me that a handful of negative comments would so taint a sea of positive reviews. Is it too much to hope for that everyone one given pause by the few dissatisfied customers will eventually come to the same conclusion and each write their own reviews or interviews?

I’m a fantasy author, what do you expect?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Wintertide Cover Art

For those of you interested in seeing the whole picture. Below is the art.

And here is the final cover design.

So I suppose I can reveal the spoiler that the fifth book takes place in...winter.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Royce and Hadrian Making Themselves Heard

Since my first book signing people have asked for an audio version of my books. Yesterday the final episode of the audio version of The Crown Conspiracy went up on and iTunes and the best news…it is free.

The term podiobook was coined by Evo Terra to describe serialized audiobooks which are distributed via RSS, much like a podcast. Listeners to can choose to receive the episodes of their books via an RSS feed or by listening to episodes by directly downloading episodes from this site. Some listeners keep the audio files on their computers, some transfer the book to CD, but most transfer the file on to their MP3 player so they can listen no matter where they are.

Why are authors making these versions available for free? Many authors do this to get exposure for their work, others do it in the hopes you'll buy a physical copy of their current or perhaps next work in development. Still others simply do it for the sheer joy of writing. And while it's not required, you have the option to donate money to the author of your choice. When you consider that audio books run usually twice as much as their hardcover counterparts... we hope you'll be generous. Authors receive 75% of all the proceeds from the donations from listeners. The smaller portion goes to the maintenance and upkeep of

Nathan Lowell, the author and reader of some of the most popular books on volunteered to produce the audio versions of the Riyria series. He has an amazing reading voice and has done just an excellent job putting this together. In listening to his rendition, I found myself sitting back captivated wondering what would happen next. Hearing him voice characters and interpret lines, made me think this is what it must be like, at least to some degree, to see a movie version of one’s book. It comes alive in a way I never expected to experience. It also called into question the exact pronunciation of every word and the sound of accents. With this experience, I can only imagine the insanity of trying to make a film and all the questions that would come up. As it is Mr. Lowell made the process extremely easy. His professionalism, talent, and experience really blew Robin and I away. He managed to get nearly all the words right from the start, and his handling of the work was truly marvelous.

I found myself lost in Nathan’s dramatization and laughing at jokes, more for his presentation than how I wrote them. I also found myself fascinated at some of the writing, wondering if I wrote that. I guess it just sounded better when spoken aloud by a talented reader.

This release is the first venture for Royce and Hadrian outside of the world of print and it is quite exciting. So drop by either iTunes or, download the episodes and experience the adventure all over again.

You can expect to hear Avempartha sometime this winter.

Friday, July 23, 2010


A Forced Wedding.
A Double Execution.
Two Thieves Have Other Plans.

The New Empire intends to celebrate its victory over the Nationalists with a day that will never be forgotten. On the high holiday of Wintertide the empress will be married. Degan Gaunt and the Witch of Melengar will be publically executed. Then the empress will suffer a fatal accident leaving the empire in the hands of the new emperor. It will be a perfect day. There is only one problem—Royce and Hadrian have finally found Degan Gaunt.

For those just tuning in, Wintertide is the fifth book in the six book Riyria Revelations series. It is scheduled for release in October, and just as recent as two weeks ago I wondered if it would make it.

I wrote all six books in the series before the first was published. I wrote them as one story divided up into episodes. So if you can imagine, I dreamed up this grand tale and then figured out how to break that down into smaller book-length stories with their own beginning, anti-climax, climax, and end. Then I wrote it straight through, one book after another finishing the last one during the period following my signing a contract to publish the first book, but before it was released.

Now when I wrote them, as I completed each book, I went back and edited each. I looked for mistakes certainly, but I was really looking at “how it read” and to be certain that the pacing and the story worked. I wasn’t studying the grammar or searching for consistency of names and such, because well, at that time I never dreamed I would be publishing the books and assumed only three people might read them, so why bother.

That’s the way it was with all the books. I wrote The Crown Conspiracy in a month (September of 2004) and I wrote Avempartha in the same length of time in the following month (October 2004) but as you might guess, writing at that speed, the books were not perfect. It wasn’t an issue because I never planned to send either to an agent or publisher. I slowed down a bit as I wrote Nyphron Rising taking three or four months to write it, and Emerald Storm was interrupted by our move to the DC area, which left the book in a year-long dormancy.

Wintertide was the first book I fully wrote in Virginia. The first book I wrote after obtaining an agent who gave me the ego boost of saying the books were publishable. The first book I wrote after having learned some fundamentals about writing that I was missing, that my agent gently informed me of, and for which I will always be grateful.

As a result, I felt my writing had improved significantly and this was supported by my wife Robin when, directly after Emerald Storm was released she picked up the manuscript for Wintertide, read it through, and proclaimed it was great and unlike the previous books would not require much work at all. You see, Robin is my first critic/editor. She always does the first pass and it is her job to find fault. I was therefore very pleased to hear that Wintertide would be a breeze to put out and looked forward to a summer vacation.

It didn’t happen.

Robin read the book through three or four times and each time she found new problems. I’m not talking about using “that” when it should be “which” or using the wrong form of “lay” or my infamous use of “starred” when I mean “stared,” but plot problems.

As I said when I wrote the books I didn’t expect them to get published. The same is true of Wintertide. I had an agent, but that is like owning a lottery ticket—it’s a step closer, but it doesn’t mean you’ll win. There were a few aspects of the story I had never been satisfied with, and Robin found those. When she did—when I saw someone other than myself picked up on the same weakness, I knew it had to be changed. Luckily the problems are in-book issues and don’t affect the series as a whole, and center mostly on eliminating contrivances and strengthening character motivations.

Robin took the book, went through it and highlighted all the flaws. Then she made a valiant effort to re-build the book for me, going so far as to actually write new scenes. She struggled with it for weeks and then handed it back to me with a miserable look saying, “I think I broke the book.”

I read it through and agreed. It was a mess, but now that she had revealed the flaws, they had to be addressed. And while her solutions were logical and structurally sound, they reduced the story to the spectator sport of drying paint. Reading it was like driving a car with a serious imbalance in the wheels. The pacing was way off and suffered from the unforgivable sin of being boring.

I took the pile of tattered pages, crumpled, stained and scribbled (metaphorically as it was really a heavily marked up doc file) and right in what should have been my summer vacation (I look forward to one every year, but it never seems to materialize,) with less than a hundred days left before the scheduled release, I began literary CPR.

Sequestered in my office, fortified with coffee, I tried to sew up the damage, but it wasn’t working. I was losing the patient. The more I tried to smooth out the bumps the worse it got. Eventually I scrapped the whole first half of the book and started over. I went all the way back to reworking the story at the outline level, forcing myself to forget how the story had been for years and re-envisioned it. For me this was a little like trying to forget ten years of your life and imagine something else happened instead.

Over the course of one very long day, I paced, I walked, and I pondered as I reconstructed half the novel. By the end, I had a new outline. I showed it to Robin, who was dubious.

“I don’t know,” she told me with a clear tone of desperation in her voice. “I can’t tell from an outline. I can’t see it like you can.”

The next day I began writing with a cloud over my head. Emails came in asking when Wintertide would be out. My neighbor stopped me on the sidewalk. “I can’t wait for Wintertide! When’s that gonna be ready? I want to know what will happen to Arista!”

Sigh. I don’t like writing under pressure.

About ten days later it was done and I handed it off to Robin. I had no idea. Like the myopic builder of a skyscraper, I waited to find out what I had done.

“You saved it!” she beamed. Then her brow furrowed. “Well, mostly. It still needs a bit of work.”

Back and forth it went after that, problems found, problems fixed until at last the book felt sturdy enough to allow a new set of eyes to judge it. We waited as our friend, and new Ridan intern, Annie, read through the newly revised version.

“It’s good. I really liked it, but…”

We braced ourselves expecting the worst. Turned out the “but,” while important, was relatively minor and easily corrected. Actually there were many “buts” and it took the better part of a week to hammer out each. The issues at stake were small, and in some cases, perhaps unnoticeable by the average reader, but each was debated between Robin and Annie over our dinner table with all the passion of two trial lawyers working a murder case and leaving me to make the decisions.

Yesterday the last changes were finished and the new improved Wintertide has finally entered the line-editing stage. The building is over and the sanding has commenced. By August I hope the polishing will begin and by October, if all goes well, Royce and Hadrian will ride again.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Karmic Merry-go-round

I’m aware I haven’t posted in a while but I have a good excuse. I’ve been working on Wintertide—tearing it down to the studs and building it up again. I’ve been feeling a little pressured with the clock ticking for the October release, and it is not like this is the only thing I’m dealing with…

A funny thing happened after I was published and the books gained some traction. I started receiving requests from people asking for help. When I was an aspiring novelist, no one ever asked me for help. Overnight that all changed. Some people have asked me to mentor them, one even offered to pay me. Most folks just ask for feedback on a story, or advice on getting published. More recently, I’ve been asked to provide quotes for the backs of books, and a few people have even asked me to do book covers for them. One woman recently asked me to write a comment for a Library fund raiser—being the apparent household literary name that I am. Unless I’m really busy, (like this past month) I usually manage to help out.

Robin’s the same way. She loves to help writers. Being married to one she knows the heartbreak and elation that comes with the curse. As a self-made expert on the publishing industry, she took over a writer’s group that was about to be disbanded for lack of a leader and began giving a series of lectures on how to get published, find agents, or even self-publishing. She doesn’t charge money, even though she pays the people for hosting the group, and prints handouts and such. It takes a lot of her time, both in preparing the material and the lectures themselves which go on for hours as people linger to ask questions. The idea of charging aspiring writers for anything is like thinking of slapping a beaten dog. Not only does it not feel right, it’s how you know they expect to be treated making it even sadder.

As for ourselves, Robin and I aren’t the type of people to ask for help. We come from relatively poor families and went out on our own at a young age, paying for our own wedding and college, scrapping together our house down payment, and taking in boarders to make ends meet. It has made us very self-sufficient and self-reliant. When it comes to my books we’ve done virtually everything ourselves, making mistakes along the way and hopefully learning from them. We don’t begrudge having to work hard, it is through hard work that one obtains a sense of accomplishment. And the publishing industry has given us plenty of challenges to overcome.

So, while we don’t ask for help we do spend a lot of time helping others. We aren’t saints. We don’t go out of our way to find people in trouble, but when I was a kid, I remember my father never passed a car stuck in the snow or broke down without offering help. I think I inherited that trait and even circled back on freeways when I missed a stranded motorist because I didn’t see them in time and was caught off guard.

As we’ve gotten older, I’ve found helping people who appreciate what you do for them is far more rewarding than making a boat load of money from people who could care less. Is it any wonder I’m a novelist?

Once at one of Robin’s seminars, a grateful woman told us, “You’re going to be very successful. Wait and see. Everything you’ve been doing for others, will come back to you.” At the time I smiled politely and nodded, I do that a lot when I’m not sure what to say. It was nice. It expressed her appreciation, and that was wonderful, but…

Then came a metaphorical knock at the door. Several actually. People offering to help. At first it was the bloggers who promoted my books, then fans (some professional editors), began asking to help edit the manuscripts for free—my secret beta army. Most recently however, there have been three developments that have blown us away.

First, Nathan Lowell, author of the Solar Clipper series, (Quarter Share is the first in the series) and Podiobooks phenomenon, has offered to record The Crown Conspiracy into audio for me. Mr. Lowell is a fantastic talent, if you want to be totally swept away go listen to his books on, they are free but after enjoying them I’m sure you’ll put a donation in the tip jar. I am amazed at the man’s generosity. He’s already begun recording and what I’ve heard so far is wonderful.

Through a series of strange developments where one person told another and so on, I have found a new Foreign Language Rights Agent who is closing a deal with a major publisher in the Czech Republic, before she begins following leads in other countries. Assuming everything works out as it appears to be, I will be paid my first advance by a publisher.

Lastly, and while clearly the most tenuous, it holds the most outlandishly exciting prospect. An individual I met accidentally, with successful ties to the motion picture industry, has agreed to turn The Crown Conspiracy into a screenplay with the intention of getting a movie deal. It might be like trying to get to the moon by building a giant slingshot, but hey, it’s a chance.

All of these things have come about unsolicited. Offers of assistance out of the blue. Even if nothing comes from any of this, for a guy who’s ultimate goal was to sell a grand total fifty books to people he didn’t know, this is pretty amazing and a confirmation that what goes around comes around.