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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Season's Greetings!

My posts are quickly following a pattern of having quite a bit of time between them, and while I wish that I could claim that it was entirely because I've been lost in a sea of pages completing the revisions and editing on Gavain's Proving and completing more work on Laeryk's Fate... well, that wouldn't be entirely correct. More mundane elements of life, such as family and friends have been receiving the lion's share of my attention lately, and I make no apologies for that; we all have our priorities, and I believe that mine are in the right place.

That isn't to say that I've been stagnant in terms of writing. After some major revisions, Gavain's Proving is almost there... so close that if I were using my fingers to show you how close things were, you'd barely see space between my thumb and index finger. I actually have the latest draft version open on the tablet next to me (trying to do my little part to save our environment by editing electronically), and I can get through almost every chapter with barely a change, just a slight rewording here or a more clever adjective there. That's good news, and leaves me with the hopes that I will be able to hammer home before the holidays and have the final draft ready to upload to Amazon by January 1st. (Or sooner, sooner works too.)

For anyone impatient to read more of the Saga of Thorns, I sympathize with you. I want to write more of it, desperately. I love writing; it has been the most rewarding and satisfying career I've ever had. I must admit, however, that I loathe editing. I've started multiple side-projects during the editing process because the creative part of my brain starts screaming for air and needing to take breaks from Aerth for just a bit, long enough to recharge my mental batteries. This results in what I can only imagine are longer delays than what someone who hires out editors to look over their work experience, but sadly such a thing is just not yet in the cards. I look forward to it someday.

This is a bit longer of a post than many might feel a "I'm almost there, really, I am!" sort of post warrants, but frankly it's the holidays and I want readers to get a little more than just a single line to confirm that I'm still alive and writing (or another bad milk carton joke like my previous post). If Amazon's policies were a little more lenient, I'd post more of a preview for Gavain's Proving, but I suppose that I can understand the reasons for their restrictions.

On a side note, I've recently been looking into things like telling stories over Twitter, and the format intrigues me. I've been debating something like that here on the blog and through my Twitter account (@GrantHoeflinger) as another creative outlet to help me creatively output during the editing process. We'll see; brevity has always been a distant acquaintance of mine, and perhaps a Twitter story would be a proper exercise in reducing word count.

Or just fun.

Whichever.

So until my next post - possibly this year - I hope that everyone has a safe and happy holiday, regardless of faith creed or whatever.

Monday, October 14, 2013

If You've Seen This Author, Call...

So the last post to this blog was August 8th. That was... a while ago.

I wish that today's update had more substance to it, but this is essentially to let everyone know that I haven't vanished. My picture won't be on the side of any milk cartons, or posted on street corners. I've been busy enough with a variety of things in the family that I haven't been able to give enough attention to this blog.

But that doesn't mean that I haven't been keeping up my work. Gavain's Proving was almost ready to go when I passed the final draft on to a colleague who had some very insightful critiques, prompting a bit of a re-write that has created a new round of editing. I would like to provide a time frame for when I expect my edits to be done, but let's face it: If I set a deadline, I tend to miss it.

However, work is continuing. Not just work on Gavain's Proving, but also Laeryk's Fate and The Sound With Teeth. While I'm focusing more on Gavain's Proving at the moment, I'm also happy with the progress that I'm making on the other projects, as well as with some ideas that I'm nurturing for development into further stories.

So while I'm sorry to keep everyone waiting, rest assured that progress is being made and you will have Gavain's Proving available just as soon as I can.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Loving What You Do

Self publishing is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have complete control. Feel like giving away a copy of your book to someone interested in reviewing it? You can! Feel like putting on a sale to increase interest in your books? You're good to go. Has life decided to offer a bit of smackdown on you  - computer failure, skiing accident, the flu - and you need to take the day off? It's all good.

On the other hand, you bear all of the responsibility. Need a cover? Better find someone to commission one from. Need to format that book? Hope you know how to do it (or have the resources and/or connections to have it done). Need to market that book? It's all you, buddy.

That blade swings both ways, and trust me when I say that the edge is sharp. You feel it most keenly as you get ready to release a publication. You've busted your butt this whole time writing, and revising, and editing until you can practically recite your whole book from memory. You've gone through so many pages of revisions that it makes the Affordable Care Act look small. You're tired, but excited, because all of that hard work is about to pay off when your readers get to enjoy your story.

Wait - you're not done. You need to market your book still. (Truthfully, you should have been doing that this whole time, but now you don't have anything else to consume your time.) If no one knows your book is out, no one is going to read it, and all of that hard work was for nothing but personal satisfaction. You need book reviews, you need a way to attract readers - new readers, not just existing fans - and you need a way to get your book's cover in front of those impulse-happy shoppers who don't mind taking a chance, or using their precious Prime Member Lender's Library option for the month on your book.

No pressure, right?

Hah.

Why do I bring this up? Because that's the stage I'm at with Gavain's Proving. Everything is lining up nicely. I have a few more edits (there always seems to be one more typo that you somehow missed, no matter how many times you comb through your manuscript), and then it's a matter of getting everything indexed for conversion to a .mobi file, and then... release! I can't wait - but marketing... I don't like marketing. It is definitely not on my top 100 list.

So why go on about it? Because no matter how much I dislike marketing, no matter how much I wish that someone else could do all of this and just let me write, write, write...

I'm having a blast. I love what I do. And no matter how much work that I dislike it forces me to do, I'm extremely grateful that self publishing has allowed me to write.

And you gotta find that joy in what you do. It's what makes it all worth the doing.

So what is it about your job that you love doing? If you haven't thought about it in a while, take a moment to reflect on those positives. When the things you love about your job put a smile on your face, all the burdens of the stuff you can't stand seem so tiny in comparison.

(Here are some covers to delight your senses - have your read everything on the list?)

Available now from Amazon
Available now from Amazon
Coming Soon!
  


Monday, July 29, 2013

New Character Overview and Gavain's Proving Preview!

The cover for Gavain's Proving is here, and I think it's turned out quite nicely! Many thanks to Don Saunders for another great job!

With the cover here, we're getting ever-so-closer to the release of Gavain's Proving! Keep your eyes peeled to this website and to Amazon.com in the coming weeks when the novella is released!

In the spirit of previewing Gavain's Proving, I've decided to do a new character overview, this time featuring one of the new characters from Gavain's Proving, along with providing a small section of the novella.

(Caveat: This preview material is from a nearly-complete manuscript. While the general content of this preview will appear in Gavain's Proving, there may still be grammatical errors or typos that haven't been caught, and the wording may be altered slightly.)

I hope you enjoy this character overview and preview of Gavain's Proving, coming soon to Amazon.com!

Burr of Kolnjar

Nation of Birth: Valdaran
Gender: Male
Eye Color: Slate gray
Hair Color: Blonde
House: None
Religion: The Church of Alluman
Gift: None
Physical Characteristics: Burr is a thin and wiry fellow, built more for speed than brawn. He has the standard height for a Valdaran man, standing at about 6'-3" but weighing only 180 pounds. He wears his hair in short, military style common among the Valdaran guardsmen. His time in the Wastes has left him with a tan, weathered look to his skin.
Personality Traits: Burr can be an abrasive fellow, particularly when he feels needlessly saddled by some duty or chore. He is quick to mock anyone who lets their pride get in the way of asking for help. Burr's years as a scout have caused him to move quietly as a reflex where ever he goes, and he keeps water with him even when he is in Valdaran.
Personality Quirks: Burr dislikes showing respect for his superiors, often responding to their orders with sarcasm even as he sets about following commands. This has gotten him into hot water over the years, but his skills as a veteran scout on the southern border of Valdaran have always managed to get him through any reprimands relatively unscathed.

Burr is the eldest of three children. His father was a hunter, and his mother a tanner. Burr spent his youth hunting the woodlands and mountains of Valdaran beside his father and, eventually, his younger brother Hrojimm. Burr preferred to spend his time in the wilderness and away from the city-folk of Kolnjar; his sarcastic attitude often made trouble for the young man. Thinking that life in the Valdaran military would curtail his son's penchant for letting his mouth get him into trouble, Burr's father suggested that he go to Wyvernholme and volunteer for the guard.

Burr soon found himself serving as a scout in the Valdaran guard, his honed hunting skills making him a natural for the role. Initially the guard assigned Burr to the western border, but his attitude quickly proved problematic whenever he was required to interact with the Deldanari merchants that frequently traveled into Valdaran for trade. The captain of the western border keep had Burr re-assigned to the southern border, believing that it was unlikely that Burr's attitude would prove a problem for the hrimthaar than inhabited the Wastes.

It was in the Wastes where Burr's talents for scouting flourished, and he quickly mastered the techniques needed to survive in the inhospitable Wastes. Burr became the most accomplished scout on the southern border, capable of ranging further than any other scout at the border keep. Most of his fellow guardsmen learned to adapt to Burr's sarcasm, and the captain of the border keep, Captain Jarloss found that he cared more for Burr's talents than he did about the scout's abrasive tongue.

Recently, Burr has found the reports of increased hrimthaar activity near the pass leading into Valdaran from the Wastes troublesome. He has lost many friends as the officers and nobles in Wyvernholme have ordered more and more scouts sent into the Wastes to confirm the hrimthaar activities. This has made Burr's attitude of late even worse than normal. And learning that Jarloss intends to send Burr into the Wastes to babysit some brat of a squire hasn't helped either...

Gavain's Proving - Preview

Gavain shifted uncomfortably as the goat’s saddle rubbed his inner thighs raw. While he knew how to ride a goat, Gavain much preferred wyvern saddles, which placed the rider in a position where they leaned forward on the wyvern’s back, reducing the amount of drag the rider’s body placed on the wyvern’s speed. After years of training, his body had comfortably adjusted to the wyvern saddles. He could ride on one for hours without discomfort. Goat saddles were a different matter entirely.

Alluman, it feels like my thighs are on fire!

If Burr was experiencing any discomfort, he didn’t show it. The scout led the way through the twisting mountain path with an ease that proved the experience of which Captain Jarloss had spoken. Though the keep was close to the border, the pass down to the Wastes twisted and wound its way around multiple mountains. A wyvern could have flown the distance in a matter of minutes, but on goatback the journey took several miserable hours.

Just find something to keep your mind occupied. “Maybe we should start talking about what sort of survival skills I’ll need to learn in the Wastes,” Gavain suggested to Burr, wincing as his goat jostled him to one side.

“Why?” Burr asked.

“I need to learn about the Wastes, don’t I?” Gavain asked through gritted teeth.

Burr pulled his goat to a stop with the reins and turned to face Gavain. “Where are we?”

“On the pass down into the Wastes.”

“So you do in fact realize that we are not yet in the Wastes?” Burr asked. Gavain repressed the urge to throttle the scout. If Burr noticed Gavain’s irritation, he paid it no mind as he continued. “You recognize that we are still in the mountain pass, where mountain streams provide plentiful water, and small game is abundant to fill our bellies? That the most dangerous predators are wolves, which stay away from people for the most part, and maybe a bear or two? And even if there were more dangerous hunters about, this pass is patrolled regularly, so we can trust that it is relatively safe.”

“What is your point?” snapped Gavain.

“My point? This isn’t the Wastes. The Wyvernpeaks will take care of you. Surviving in their wilderness isn’t that difficult. The Wastes won’t take care of you. They want you dead, your bones bleaching the cracked ground. How do you imagine it will feel being in the Wastes?”

“Dry. Hot. Uncomfortable.”

Burr snorted. “Only the tip of the truth, m’lord. Only the tip. You think it will feel dry? You’ve lived your whole life in the mountains where the air is thick with moisture. You don’t know dry. Hot? It is as if there were a lens put over the Wastes, making the heat of the sun a thousand times worse than what it should be. Uncomfortable? You’ll spend your time wishing for even a second of cool breeze, only to curse the dusty wind that scours at your skin and makes ‘discomfort’ into misery. Truth is, you’ve only looked at the Wastes through a piece of glass. The reality of the Wastes needs to be experienced, and until that happens any talk about what you’ll need to learn is moot. You need to learn everything.”

“Have I done something to offend you?” Gavain demanded. “Alluman as my witness, I’m truly sorry if I have. Why are you treating me like this?”

Burr watched Gavain for a long moment. “The Wastes are no place for games. The hrimthaar are not to be taken lightly. I’ve lost three friends, each good scouts skilled at surviving in the Wastes, all of them trying to provide more confirmation that the hrimthaar are preparing to attack through this pass, and yet the Wing Lords demand that another scout go out and risk his life. To make things worse, they’ve saddled me with you, someone who knows nothing about the Wastes. You’re likely to get me killed with your ignorance, all just because someone thought throwing you into a completely unfamiliar environment was a good test of your abilities, even though you will likely never set foot in the Wastes again.” Burr shook his head and spat on the ground in disgust. “Have you done something to offend me? Being saddled with you offends me!”

“I didn’t ask for this to be my Proving!” Gavain’s voice was hot with his anger and his frustration toward the scout. “But don’t assume that I’ll be such a burden to you! I’ve spent my whole life taking lessons from others. I’m a good student. If you’d just tell me what I need to know, I’ll learn it!”

“You still don’t get it,” Burr said with a sneer. “Let me try this another way. The packs on your goat have plenty of water and food in them for our mission, correct?” Gavain nodded. “Wrong,” Burr snapped. “You think those are enough supplies. So does Captain Jarloss. You both think that because you’ve never experienced the Wastes, never had your throat burning for more water because the very air sucks the moisture from your body. You don’t know how to conserve your water - you’ve never needed to! I can’t begin to explain how to get water in the Wastes because you aren’t going to be willing to accept what needs to be done to find the water! Hells, look at your equipment!”

Gavain glanced down at himself. He wore the traditional metal-studded leather armor that all squires wore while waiting to earn the right to wear the wyverbone plate armor worn by full Wyvern Knights. A pair of steel bracers adorned his forearms. His bow was slung onto his back, a quiver of arrows hung from his right hip. His sword was belted on his left hip. 

“What’s wrong with my equipment?” Gavain demanded.

“Your armor is thick leather, designed for the cold of the Wyvern Peaks.” Burr gestured at his his own simple leather armor. “My armor is only as thick as it needs to be to provide protection, and it was cut to allow as much air as possible to keep my body cool. Your armor will broil you, making you thirstier than you otherwise would be - which is already damned thirsty. Your bow? The game in the Wastes are small, smaller than most Valdaran rabbits. When you miss your mark - and you will, no matter how skilled an archer you are - how will you replace your broken arrows with no trees to supply wood?”

Gavain opened his mouth to reply, but thankfully Alluman gave him wisdom enough to stop himself. Burr never broke stride.

“I use a sling when I’m in the Wastes. Is it because I can’t shoot a bow? Alluman piss on that idea, m’lord. I’m Valdaran through and through. I can hit a target with the best of them. I use a sling, because if there is one thing the Wastes is happy to provide, it’s stones. So long as I can take the time to look around me, I’ll never run out of ammunition.” Burr pulled his spear from where it rested on his back. “As for your sword… If we are forced to fight the hrimthaar you’ll learn just how little use that blade is when your foe can keep out of your reach and still strike at you. Of course, you might not realize it until a hrimthaar spear is already buried in your chest, with me dying beside you because I’m supposed to keep you alive! So I ask you, m’lord, do I have any reason to be offended by all of this?”

Gavain considered his next words. “You will not always get along with everyone you must deal with,” Penevyr had once told Gavain. “Even your fellow Wyvern Knights will contain men who offend you with their every breath. You push that aside, get past it, and realize that whether you like someone or not is immaterial next to your duty as a Wyvern Knight. Look to your friend, Laeryk. It is plain to anyone who can see that he and his uncle despise one another, and yet both swallow it because they must. If those two can work together, no matter how dysfunctionally, then you should be able to work with anyone.”

It wasn’t Gavain’s fault that his equipment wasn’t appropriate for the Wastes. Squires were expected to wear their standard armor and weapons during their Provings. It was unfair that Burr would judge him so harshly just because - no. Those were excuses. Gavain’s Proving was beyond the norm for a squire, and he was certain that Penevyr would have accepted modifications to Gavain’s equipment due to the circumstances. Gavain hadn’t realized how inappropriate his equipment was for the Wastes, and Burr should have said something before they left, but Gavain was gaining the sense that Burr didn’t like to volunteer information. He wanted to be asked.

“I’m not trained to use a spear,” Gavain said carefully, “so I’ll have to stick with my sword and hope that we avoid conflict with the hrimthaar.” Burr snorted. Gavain ignored him. “I hunted with a sling when I was too young to draw a bow. If you have a spare I can practice as we head down the pass. As for my armor…” Gavain paused. “It’s probably too late, but is there anything we can do to mitigate its drawbacks in the Wastes?"

Burr gave Gavain a weighing look. “The spare sling I can manage,” he said finally. “And just as well you think about avoiding the hrimthaar than foolishly planning to fight them. As for your armor… that’s a lost cause. You could avoid wearing your bracers, but any modifications to let that armor breathe better would render it worthless in a fight.”

“Then I’ll just have to suffer the consequences,” Gavain said. “Is there anything that I can do now to prepare myself for when we first enter the Wastes?”

“You a religious man, m’lord?” Burr asked.

“My name is Gavain, and yes.”

“Pray that it’s a cloudy day. Maybe it will cool the Wastes down somewhat.”

“Does it ever get cloudy in the Wastes?” Gavain asked.

“It would be a first time, but you can pray for it anyway,” Burr said as he started his goat down the pass again. Gavain followed him in silence.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New Pricing Update

Just a quick update today. The new $3.99 pricing for Laeryk's Proving should now reflect at all retailers where it is offered.

Also, I've received the first draft of the cover for Gavain's Proving and am currently working with Don Saunders to see if we can make a few changes to better fit my vision for it. Hopefully I'll have something to show everyone soon!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Time Can Really Get Away From You

So I knew that I was behind on making posts... but I hadn't realized that I was over two weeks behind! Things have been a bit busy. My youngest son had his fifth birthday a week ago, our middle child has his ninth birthday in under a month, and we're trying to plan a family vacation to squeeze in just before the kids have to go back to school...

So, yeah, we've been a little busy.

Time away from this site is not necessarily time spent idle, however! I've been continuing to revise Gavain's Proving, which is ready for a final read-through before I begin formatting the ebook version for submission to Amazon. I've been reviewing proofs for the physical copy of Laeryk's Proving, trying to get the cover details correct (the interior is ready, however). I've jotted down some notes for two new series that I'll develop further as time permits.

Most importantly, I've been doing more work on Book 2 of the Saga of Thorns, Laeryk's Fate. I had put the rough draft of Laeryk's Fate down after getting nearly the first third of the book written because I felt it was distracting me from releasing Laeryk's Proving. Now I've added some new chapters, revisited the previously written chapters, and outlined quite a bit of the next section of the book... and I have to say, coming back to it after so long, I REALLY like what I have down so far. I'm excited to be back at it again, and excited to get everything ready to share with you, my readers, as soon as it is ready.

I've also been doing more marketing and promotions research. One thing about self-publishing: you need to arrange for everything yourself, and if you don't have the knowledge in an area, you need to obtain it. This has also been consuming quite a bit of my time.

Still... two weeks? I'll make certain I get some more out for everyone later this week, either a My Style article or a new Character Profile (maybe someone from Gavain's Proving?).

Until then, I hope everyone is enjoying their summers and staying safe!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Summer Sale!

Starting today, Laeryk's Proving is going on sale! The ebook copy of Laeryk's Proving is now only $3.99! Best of all, you don't need to worry about coupons or choice of retailer with this sale. If you go to the Laeryk's Proving page at Amazon.com (click here), you'll see that the price has been lowered to $3.99 - and the same goes for the Smashwords.com page (click here)!

The sale price won't reflect at other retailers yet - it takes a bit of time for Barnes and Noble, the iBookstore, Kobo, and Sony to change prices, but eventually all online retailers selling Laeryk's Proving will reflect the sale price.

If you haven't purchased Laeryk's Proving yet, now is a great time to get your hands on the book! You can read a sample by clicking the button on the side of this blog, or download a sample from either Amazon or Smashwords.

And don't forget: The Children of Llothora is available for only $0.99, regular price! You can check out some of the reviews for this short story over at its Amazon page here.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

State of Decay

I know, I know; this blog is dedicated to my books and other writing projects, and maybe the occasional review. However, sometimes you just want to share things with people, and this is a forum where I don't have a maximum character count.We'll be back to my regular sort of posts next week.


If you aren't familiar with Undead Labs' first release, State of Decay is an Xbox Live Arcade download made in partnership with Microsoft Studios (and currently the fastest selling Arcade title of all time!). The concept behind the game is that you control a group of survivors trying to survive a massive zombie outbreak in an isolated valley. Your characters will need to hunt for supplies, seek out new survivors to expand your community, construct facilities to help your home base, and create outposts to help handle the zombie hordes. All of this takes place inside the fictional sandbox area of Trumbull County, which you can explore to your heart's content, though certain areas will be blocked off until after you've passed certain story elements.

State of Decay was an "early Father's Day" present for me. I downloaded the trial the same day that it was made available, and quickly decided that I WANTED THIS GAME. I'm a bit of a zombie game nut, and I've played almost all of the big ones - The Resident Evil series, The Dead Rising series, Dead Island, Left For Dead, TellTale's The Walking Dead, Rise of Nightmares... Yeah, I've played a LOT of zombie games. One would think that I would be bored with them by now, and while another "just kill a bunch of zombies" title doesn't exactly fill me with excitement, State of Decay promised something I've been wanting for a long time: A zombie game that focuses on the community as a whole, and on developing relationships between survivors and neighboring communities.

Technical Issues

I want to get this out of the way. State of Decay has some technical flaws, as one would expect from a new developer's first release title. The frame rate occasionally stutters for a couple of seconds. Sometimes zombies will clip through walls (or into floors). The textures pop from time to time. And the game insists on telling me that there are too many infestations around my base, even though I've scouted the area and there's not a single infestation to be found.

So yes, there are some technical flaws. Honestly, though? They're pretty minor. They have in no way reduced my enjoyment of the game, nor caused me any real problems while I am playing, except aesthetically. Even better, many of these issue will be solved after a technical update currently undergoing certification comes out in the next couple of weeks.

With this little caveat toward the game's technical flaws out of the way, let's move on to...

Game Play

State of Decay is a third-person action game. The controls are pretty basic. The standard, left-thumbstick to move, right-tumbstick to rotate the camera, is pretty much expected on consoles at this point. You can crouch by holding the B-button while moving (after your survivor has started crouching you can release the button and remain sneaking), which can allow you to avoid detection by zombies and set up instant-kills. The Y-button let's you shove your enemies, hopefully knocking them down and leaving them vulnerable to finishing blows delivered by pressing Y again while holding the left-bumper. X let's you swing your melee weapon, which will degrade in quality until it eventually breaks. Holding the left trigger enters into an aiming mode, allowing you to fire your firearm by pulling the right trigger. The right bumper will use a selected inventory option without needing to access your inventory screen, and you can cycle through usable items with the left and right direction pads. Finally, A lets you jump, while pressing B during combat will allow you to dodge an enemy's attacks.

The controls work pretty well. Sometimes it will seem to take forever to knock a zombie into a vulnerable position to deliver a finishing blow, but the survivor's skills (I'll get to that in a moment) play a large part in that. Sometimes you'll perform a shove when it looked like you were close enough to execute an instant kill. And aiming a gun at times seems incredibly difficult, and at others almost automatic.

You get used to the controls very quickly, and the game provides you with an obligatory "tutorial" area of sorts. Once you use a control once or twice, you should have no problems, other than the occasional technical glitch, for the rest of the game.

Survivors

At the start of State of Decay, you will be in control of Marcus, who has been on a two-week fishing trip up at the lake in Trumbull County with his buddy Eddy (who cannot, at the start of the game, be controlled). Marcus and Eddy start the game besieged by zombies, though they have the genre-required obligatory confusion regarding the situation, thanks to having been cut off from all forms of media during their vacation. The game gives you clear objectives on where to go, but doesn't require you to head that way. There's a large amount of virtual real estate to explore, if you're feeling so inclined. Plenty of cabins and campgrounds where you can scavenge for new weapons and items. In fact, the first story-based mission has you doing pretty much that, so you can get a head start. Before long, you'll meet Maya and have another survivor join your little group, and discover one of the things that really makes State of Decay feel different from other zombie titles.

In State of Decay there is no one, central character that the story is based around. So long as you aren't actively engaged in a mission, you can - and will - switch between survivors at your home base. Each survivor has their own inventory, their own skills, and their own personality traits. If the survivor you're playing as dies, you'll switch to another survivor in your community, and your comrades will mourn your loss. And there's no reloading the game to try again either - Sate of Decay features permadeath; the game's save feature is an auto-save, so when a survivor dies, they're gone forever. This might seem brutal, and it is, but it places an emphasis on how dangerous the missions are, and it makes you actually dive a damn about the survivors. By the end of my first play through, I had several survivors who had become my "favorites," survivors whose skills were almost maxed out, who could almost always get the job done. When I got into tense situations with them, I worried about it, because one mistake and they'd be gone forever. Sure, I'd have other survivors to play with, but all the time I had invested in those dead survivors would be lost.


As I mentioned, each survivor has their own set of skills and traits. You can view the skills and traits of any member of your community by pressing UP on the direction pad and cycling over to the first tab (which is also where your current survivor's inventory is displayed). Traits can provide certain special skills unavailable to other survivors, or they can affect the rate at which you level up certain skills, or affect stats. Characters with the 'Played Golf' trait have a slightly higher amount of stamina. Characters who have a Bum Knee find it painful to remain crouched, and lose stamina while in a crouched state. Some of these traits are purely cosmetic, but can be entertaining. A character with the Storyteller trait will sometimes ramble on about things while travelling with another survivor, for example. Other traits will allow your community to develop special facilities.

Skills are rated from one to seven stars, and have specific actions that earn you "experience" toward the next star. Some skills are shared by every survivor - Cardio, Fighting, Wits, and Shooting - while other require that the survivor have a particular trait, such as the Leadership and Powerhouse skills (Marcus starts with both of these). If you examine each skill, you'll find a Training entry that explains how to level it up. Run everywhere if you want to quickly level your Cardio (which increases your stamina, so it will help your survivor get through those big fights). Fire a gun if you want to level up your Shooting (remember to equip a suppressor, or you'll attract more zombies than you kill). Search EVERYTHING if you want your Wits to increase. Higher levels in skills will unlock specializations and unique moves to aid your survivor, and provide a certain degree of customization with each survivor in your community.

If this sounds somewhat like a roleplaying game, it is. Well, more of an RPG-lite sort of thing, really. There isn't enough depth to really be a full RPG to me, but you can certainly find yourself thinking in those terms. I found my self seeking out survivors with lower skills so that I could develop their abilities and make certain that all of my survivors were capable, much as I used to cycle through party members in Final Fantasy games to make certain that no one fell behind.

"Well," you might be saying, "I'll just keep playing with ONE survivor and turn them into a goddamn action hero!" Yeah. No you won't. Time keeps moving as you explore the world of State of Decay, and eventually everyone needs to sleep, even that so-called "action hero" that you wanted to create. When you're survivor gets tired, their maximum stamina decreases. Sure, things like energy drinks and coffee can restore this, but their effects are temporary (or will be, after the technical update), and eventually you'll start running out of steam too quickly to be effective. Plus, if you take enough damage that the zombie almost kill you, your survivor will become Hurt, and their maximum health will decrease, making it that much easier for the hordes to take your action hero down. This keeps the pressure to switch survivors regularly on, especially as leaving an injured or exhausted survivor at your home base is the fastest way for them to recover.

Community is Key

I mentioned that I love the aspect of building a community of survivors to weather the zombie apocalypse. State of Decay places a lot of emphasis on this, not only through making it imperative that you regularly switch between survivors (who need to like you enough before you can control them), but by keeping a running inventory of supplies and available facilities. Neglect your community, and you will watch it whither away. Survivors not under your control can (and WILL) leave the community, either fleeing in panic or by being forced to hide while away on missions. If you don't have enough beds for people to regularly sleep you can expect mood to worsen and for people to bail on you.

Finding supplies, rescuing survivors, and completing other missions will earn you Influence, a sort of in-game currency that allows your survivors to take supplies from the community inventory. Influence is shared between all of your survivors, so you'll want to monitor it carefully, lest you find yourself unable to get those pain killers your survivor so desperately needs. Influence is "capped" by the fame you've earned throughout your community, quickly draining away until you're back at the proper maximum, so if you want to do a lot of things at once, make certain you're performing missions on a regular basis. Influence can also be used to make use of your home base's special abilities, such as searching for a type of supply your community needs, finding new survivors, or providing everyone with combat training. I didn't find it hard to keep my Influence at pretty high levels, though I did occasionally drop pretty low.

Your community's home base comes with a certain number of open "slots" where you can build new facilities or remove facilities to make room for new ones. The first base where you'll really have the opportunity to do this has two such slots available. My second (and final) base had six, and I filled them all quickly. Facilities can be watch towers (a must; you really want a sniper to help keep zombies away from your home), or dormitories (also a must if you're going to be growing your community). Gardens, infirmaries, training dojos, kitchens, workshops... there are several different facilities, each with their own benefits. Some facilities will require survivors with certain traits (better have a Good Cook if you want to get the most out of that kitchen), so if there's a particular facility you want, keep an eye out for survivors who have the traits you need.

Building and maintaining your facilities requires supplies. There are five categories of supplies: Food, Medicine, Ammo, Materials, and Fuel. Your community will use up some of each of the supplies, especially Food, on a regular basis. At the start of the game you will be almost completely dependent on finding these supplies in abandoned homes and buildings, but as the game progresses you will build outposts that will help provide you with a steady source of Supplies, make trades with other communities, or even produce your own source of a supply (like getting Food from a Garden). Survivors can scour through buildings to find these supplies, filling a rucksack with one particular type of supply to bring back to base. These rucksacks are heavy, inflicting heavy penalties on a survivor's stamina while they carry them, but are vital. Since you can only carry one supply at a time, the game makes it possible to radio home and request that a scavenger be sent to collect other supplies in your location, saving you from needing to make multiple trips. This can only be done a limited number of times a day, however, and your scavenger can be attacked en route, so keep an eye out in case they need help.

A Persistent State of Decay

One of the more interesting features of State of Decay is that it exists within a persistent world; in other words, the game keeps going after you log off. If you leave your community in bad shape when you stop playing, you can expect to come back to find that survivors have either left your community while you were away, or were hurt and need time to recover. Your supplies will deplete over time, and you might be in desperate straights if you aren't bothering to keep your community stocked while you're playing. On the other hand, if morale and supplies are high when you log off you can count on rested survivors, replenished community inventories, and possibly some new supplies scavenged while you were gone. Heck, I've come back to find that new cars were parked outside of my home base. Damaged inventory can be repaired (assuming you have a workshop), leaving you slightly less dependent on the random assortment of weapons the game provides you with as you scavenge. On the other hand, buildings you've completely ransacked stay empty. There is no respawning of loot (I have, however, noted that some buildings that I don't completely search seem to occasionally reset their inventories, generating new random items). Eventually, your survivors will need to travel further and further afield to get what they need, which means more survivors going missing or dying while you're away. When you reach this point, consider moving to a new location with fresh scavenging opportunities.

The Zombies

Can you really talk about a zombie game without discussing the types of zombies? No, you really can't.


Regular zombies are pretty bog-standard. They groan, moan, and shamble their way through the game world, right up until they spot you. Then these suckers sprint for you, arms ready to rip you limb from limb (there's an achievement for getting torn apart, by the way). You'll need to destroy the brain to take them out, but on a one-on-one basis, they aren't a huge threat, not even to a survivor with only one star in Fighting. Encounter a horde, however, and you can get in trouble, fast. The zombies are also fairly stupid, and you'll see several simply bashing their skulls into a wall, completely oblivious to your presence until you draw their attention.

Feral zombies, on the other hand, are fast and nimble and FEROCIOUS. They move even faster, take a lot more to knock down, and they'll dodge automobiles like champs. I lost Marcus to one of these bastards taking him by surprise, even though Marcus was maxed out on almost all of his Skills.

Bloat zombies are more of a nuisance, than anything. They're filled with toxic fumes and explode if hit or if they get close to a survivor, releasing a cloud of fumes that damages health and stamina. The worst part of a Bloat is that if you hit it with a car, the cloud attaches to the car, forcing you to abandon the vehicle until the fumes clear.

Armored Zombies (no picture), are pretty much your standard zombies, but are wearing swat gear, giving them protection from bullets. You'll need to engage these zombies at melee, but they really aren't any worse than a standard zombie.

Screamers (no picture), are commonly found at infestations, where their screams' ability to stun survivors are most dangerous. If you don't take these out quickly (and there are usually two at an infestation), you can find yourself helpless against a mob of zombies. I normally keep a gun on every survivor just to take out Screamers before they can stun me.

Juggernaut Zombies, or "Big 'uns," are the type of zombie I avoid the most in the game. I lost my first community member to one of these bastards - and I wasn't even controlling her at the time! These massive mounds of flesh and destruction can survive being hit with an automobile - in fact, they tend to handle it better than the automobile! They can grab your survivor, lift them in the air, and tear them in two. They can charge a survivor, hitting with the power of a locomotive and nearly taking a survivor out with a single blow. Head shots seem mostly ineffective, and are hard to pull off once the Juggernaut has notice you (because it will charge at you, leaving you with little time to aim). Groups of survivors tend to fare better against these, as they can hit the Juggernaut frequently enough to force it to release survivors it has captured and get a lucky blow on the Juggernaut's head. If forced to fight one of these things on your own, try to climb out of its reach. Trust me.

The Verdict

State of Decay was FUN. I finished it last night, and I'm already thinking about starting over and trying to do things differently. Explore different base options (though I'm sure that I'll end up at the same base; I love that base), experiment with different facilities, and meet new survivors. The game costs 1600 Microsoft Points ($20), but you can play a free trial of it that runs on a time. You won't get to explore every feature, but you'll get to play with the controls and the opening story line of this great game. This game is the highest (and fastest) selling Xbox Live Arcade title of all time, and it is easy to see why. Do yourself a favor, and pick it up!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Now Available: The Children of Llothora!

The Children of Llothora is now available for purchase from both Smashwords.com and Amazon.com. More retailers will be added to the list as the book is uploaded into their system.


The Children of Llothora tells the story of an asylum inmate in his own words, describing the decline and public disgrace in society which leads him to resort to crime in an effort to start his life over somewhere else. But inside the decrepit house of the town's mysterious elderly recluse the would-be thief encounters forces beyond his understanding, an ancient ritual that promises new life at a horrible cost, and the alien children of the long-forgotten goddess Llothora.

The Children of Llothora is a short story written in a style paying homage to H.P. Lovecraft and his contemporaries. A must-read for fans of horror and weird fiction alike! 

Get it now for only 99 cents!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Just an Update Today

Last week saw a bit of house cleaning in our household, which kept me far busier than I'd anticipated. Between cleaning, rearranging the living room, and adapting to the kids being home for Summer Vacation, I didn't have much time to actually get any work done!

Fortunately, this week looks to be a bit calmer. I've finished my notes on the latest draft of The Children of Llothora, using a slightly different method than my usual, one that embraces technology and has some environmental benefits. So far this method is working out well, and I'm looking forward to adapting it as I finish editing Gavain's Proving and move forward with Laeryk's Fate.

The Children of Llothora is just about finished. Once I've entered this last bit of edits into Scrivener I plan on doing some final grammar checks, and then it will be set for editing and layout to create a file I can submit to Smashwords and Amazon. I'm looking forward to releasing it so everyone can read it and enjoy it.

The proof copy of Laeryk's Proving should be arriving around the 17th, and I'm eager to see how that turned out. Hopefully it will need only minor corrections at most to be ready for full release so I can start organizing some giveaway contests on Goodreads.

I wish I had more to update this week, but all our efforts last week put me further behind than I had anticipate; I had thought to lose a day or two at the most. Live and learn. I'm back now, and ready to get some projects finished, as well as a few new Character Overviews and a My Style article or two!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Cover Preview for The Children of Llothora

Created by Don Saunders,
aka webmark at Fiverr.com
I'm almost done with the final revisions for my short story, The Children of Llothora. The artwork for the cover has already come in, and I love it. I was trying to give this cover a go myself, and was completely dissatisfied with my own attempts, but I really love this cover by Don Saunders (webmark at Fiverr.com)!

Love him, hate him, or never heard of him (have you been living under a rock all these years?), H.P. Lovecraft has had arguably some of the greatest impact on horror literature of any other author in the field. I've been a huge fan of his for as long as I can remember. By modern standards, his writing is obtuse and not particularly skillful, and his early works reek of xenophobic racism that he took no pains to hide - but I love his writing anyway. I have six anthologies of Lovecraft's stories on my shelves, another volume of tales purported to be some of Lovecraft's own favorites to read, and the complete collection of Lovecraft's stories on my Kindle.

I'm not a fan. I'm a gushing fan-boy. I can admit it.

The Children of Llothora is a story I wrote with the intention of it being Lovecraft-ian, but not necessarily of the Cthulhu Mythos. It was written in an older, more obtuse style of writing reminiscent of that seen in the earlier parts of the twentieth-century, though upon revision I feel it has become slightly less-obtuse.

I'm still playing around with the exact product summary, so I won't spoil it here, but I'm really excited about this cover and wanted to show it off!


Monday, May 20, 2013

My Style Part Two: The Building Blocks and Scene Test


Last week I asked everyone to try an exercise I first read about in Donald Maass' book Writing the Breakout Novel. You were supposed to grab your three all-time favorite titles off of your bookshelves and give them a hard look, comparing them for similarities in what you love about them. Ideally, this left you with a list of things that draw you to a novel, those things that make you fall in love with a story. Look closely at this list; are the elements of the list common conventions of a particular genre? If so, have you already decided that you want to write a story set in that genre? You might want to consider it. If you go back and re-read part one of this series (click here), you'll remember that I spoke about using things you like and dislike in genres to help generate ideas for your story.

But the list you generated isn't just about identifying a genre. The items on that list represent the things that you love about your favorite novels; they are the things that push those three books from being "great" or "good" to "I love this book so much I've worn out three copies!" Those are powerful elements, because if they made you love the book so much, chances are good that they did the same for other people. So think about each of those items on your list, and consider them carefully. Meditate on them, if that's your thing. As you concentrate, think about how you would want to express these elements in a story all your own. Take those rag-tag ideas as they develop and jot them down so you can reflect on them later and develop them more fully. I bet that after you've put some serious thought into the items on your list, some ideas are starting to bubble in your brain. Take your time and let them gather some critical mass until they explode and fill you.

In part one, I listed my own favorites that I used when I first tried Maass' exercise, The Belgariad, Dune, and The Wheel of Time. I briefly described how the similarities in the main characters of each of the books had similar elements, how they were all fantasy novels. I didn't mention that each book had a developed "magic" which didn't require considerable hocus pocus or ritual to perform, but they do.  Looking over my list, I developed the character of Laeryk Thorn: A young man struggling against his destiny, which is at odds with his dreams and aspirations, who possesses a hidden power that he will be forced to develop as he struggles to maintain some control over his life. After I had a grasp on the basics of Laeryk, I started examining what sort of story he would be in. What was his destiny (they're always world-shattering); what was his hidden power (a form of magic, but an exclusive one that only a few people can master); what was it that his destiny was preventing him from doing (following in his father's footsteps to become a Wyvern Knight and restore his family's fortunes).

Laeryk Thorn became my basic building block for my story. Have you found yours yet? If not, don't despair – writing about the process now, it sounds as if this all developed quickly. In truth, it took a while. Be patient.

Next Steps


So you have a basic building block for you story idea (or two, or three, or more), what now?
Every good story needs conflict. As a species, we tend to dislike stories that don't have some type of conflict. Which would you rather pick up, a novel with an intriguing conflict, or a set of stereo instructions that go into detail about the electronic components inside your stereo? Some of you just had your eyes light up at the idea of those stereo instructions, but I hate break this to you – you aren't the norm. Kudos for knowing what you like, however!

Look at your building blocks and consider a conflict surrounding them. This doesn't necessarily have to be a huge conflict; it can develop into a subplot which might in turn help you consider the conflict for the main plot. If your building block is a character, do they have an antagonist? What keeps them from their goals? If you have a general place in mind, what ails it? Are you the historical sort who favors one period of time over another?  What conflicts were going on in our world during that time frame? It's almost impossible to not find something.

Don't just throw something out at random. These aren't questionnaires, meant to be filled out in their entirety. These questions are meant to get you going, be a starting point, so you can further develop your building blocks and eventually find connections to tie them all together. Your answers shouldn't necessarily be fully-fleshed out, but they should have a little detail in them. For example, if looking at a main character's antagonist, you shouldn't just say "some guy." Give that antagonist some small details – nothing concrete yet, but enough that you're starting to get a sense of them. Maybe the antagonist is the character's sibling? Why the sibling rivalry – what is its focus? Perhaps the antagonist is a shadowy organization bent on world conquest? A jilted lover? A rival monarch? That mysterious serial killer no one has been able to catch yet? Maybe the antagonist is the character themselves, their doubts or inhibitions, or a phobia they must overcome! (Not necessarily a split personality, but hey – it worked for Tyler Durden!)

As you think about conflicts for each of your building blocks, keep in mind that they should be things you find interesting. If you think a conflict is tired and worn out, don't use it – or at least spice it up until it's interesting again! There have been plenty of books about cops or detectives chasing serial killers before; if you find that too tired and clich├ęd to sit through reading another one, take it by the nose and give it a twist until it is interesting? Psychic link between the hunter and their quarry? Serial killer not human? Work with it until it is interesting, or discard it. Don't suffer a conflict you don't want to spend a long time exploring. It isn't worth it.

Finally, as the conflicts for these building blocks become more fleshed out, start connecting them together. Is your main character's antagonist a sibling, and the kingdom they live in currently going through an upheaval between the peasant and noble classes? What if one sibling is for the peasants, while the other is with the nobles? That should spark some ideas, maybe even whole scenes. Do they try to convince one another to switch sides? Were they always opposed, or do they start out on the same side of the issues and drift apart during the novel? Will the conflict end in a positive manner, or is this a tragedy in the brewing? Often, these connections can illuminate a main premise for you, or help further define it. At the very least, you're finding ways to include multiple items from that list of elements you love into your novel, and tying them together.

The Scene Test


In college, I studied screen writing. I took every course I could get my hands on. Multiple books covering the topic of writing craft grace the bookshelves in my office. The majority are screenwriting books, purchased during those college days when I was determined to create a story that would grace the widescreen. As a result, I tend to think about elements in my books very visually. When evaluating the conflicts and details of each element of my story, I have one vital criteria: Can I visualize a scene for this?

Stories are made up of scenes. Whether you organize multiple scenes into a single chapter, or break them out into separate, shorter chapters is a matter of personal style. The fact remains, every story is composed of separate scenes, woven together to tell the story at hand. Films are also broken into scenes, and are becoming more pervasive in our society (I'm including television in this, so perhaps "visual telecommunication media" is a more appropriate term). Ask someone for their favorite scene in a book, and they might be hard-pressed to answer you; some people think of books in their entirety rather than in the composite scenes. Film and television are different. Perhaps it is the transitions from one scene to the next, perhaps it is the auditory stimulus, but I believe that the majority of people can separate the scenes of a movie or a television show in their heads better than they can in books.

One of our goals, as writers, should be to craft scenes so powerful that they stand out to our readers, to allow them to separate that scene from the full context of the story as easily as they can a scene from a movie. I recently finished reading Hemlock Grove, which I started after having watched the first few episodes of the television show produced by Netflix. Comparing the two, I can honestly say that no one scene stands out in my mind from the book as separate or distinct from the rest; they are all a "flat" image in my head as I roll through the story. Thinking on the TV show, the amazing image of Peter transforming into the wise wolf in front of Roman and Lynda stands out in my mind immediately. The same scene is in the novel, but the visual power of watching the transformation, Peter's body cracking and falling apart into meat, the wolf shaking off the final viscera in a spray of blood and flesh, and then consuming the remnants of its former body so that it wouldn't go into the woods hungry – that stands out to me. I don't care what else I see on the show, that scene will always be my highlight, my favorite moment. I really wish that the novel had had the same lasting effect.

When thinking about scenes that I'm writing, I try to visualize them as though they were in a movie; what feelings did the visuals evoke, would they have a lasting impact, are they powerful? When I am satisfied with the answer, I make note of them and I know that my conflict is going to go the distance.

That's actually how Laeryk Thorn came into existence as the main character. Originally, I struggled to take my elements and merge them into a character I liked, so I tried to visualize a scene with this nebulous, shadow-"character" featured. I tried to envision a final confrontation, an exciting battle (for epic fantasy must have exciting battles), complete with companions. The main character was still this blurry, grainy "thing," a racy scene on the tv censored to protect younger viewers from seeing any of the juicy bits. It wasn't working. My attention kept being drawn to a companion, a knight riding on the back of a winged reptile (not yet a wyvern, but I knew it wasn't a dragon – as much as I love the old Dragonlance novels, I didn't want to invite comparisons), raining arrows onto the battlefield from a crossbow mounted to his forearm. The character's image was powerful, and I needed something to work on, so I started to develop this companion. The more I worked on him, the easier it was to come up with details, until I realized that the reason it was so easy was because this was my main character. I actually split that original concept into multiple characters – namely Laeryk Thorn and Gavain Whiterose – and suddenly the scene was much easier to see in my head, and far more powerful. After that, the details started to fall into place.

That's it for this week. Now that we've hopefully got at least one idea flowing in your head, we'll talk about fleshing out some of the details a bit further and refining elements of the story in part three.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Style Part One: Where to Start


I first realized that I wanted to be a writer back in the second grade. It took over twenty years for me to actually get started. Part of that was, of course, learning the basic language and grammar skills necessary to produce work ready for publication, but part of my delay was from not knowing how to get started. Sure, I had a computer, word processing software, and even if I hadn't had these things I would have had pen and paper, but what should a prospective author write about? How much time each day should you spend writing? What should you do if you get "writer's block?" How do you keep yourself motivated through all the pages and words and revisions? I didn't know the answers to these things, and I allowed them to delay my entrance into writing for far too long. Some sort of an easily accessible guide would have been invaluable back then, but the Internet was in its infancy during my teenage years of navigating basic bulletin boards using 28k modems that tied up our house land-lines, and the idea of surfing the web for information was still unknown to me; I considered it a triumph that I could reserve books at the local library online!

Today there are lots of sources of information for prospective writers. Visit almost any author or literary agent's website or blog, and you'll discover articles providing tips to new writers. This isn't a coincidence. Writers want to help their fellows tell their stories and improve their craft. Sure, it helps create competition, but if you love books that isn't a bad thing; you get to read the new stories other authors produce, and maybe you'll see something that sparks a new idea for you, a different take on a scene that spins a whole new story. Maybe you simply get to read an awesome book. That's a treasure all on its own.

But there's another reason writers write about their craft. It gives us an opportunity to examine what our techniques and methods are, to think about why we do things the way that we do. If someone else benefits from our introspection, that's well and good too.

This isn't the one and true way to do things. It isn't even necessarily the best way to go about things, but it is the way that I do things. My style. My method. If this helps someone who is trying to get started, wonderful. At the very least, I hope that this article is interesting to read.

 Where Do The Ideas Come From?


Let me paint a scene for you. You're seated at your workspace; the dining room table, a desk, your bedroom dresser… wherever. You've got your computer booted up in front of you, the word processing software of your choice loaded, a fresh document waiting for you on the screen, cursor blinking. There are a couple of pencils neatly lined up beside you next to a legal pad so you can jot notes to yourself down as you write. A fresh mug of coffee wafts its delightful aroma into your nostrils, or perhaps a cool glass of iced tea sparkles tantalizingly nearby. You're seated comfortably, and all of those distractions are put away or turned off. You crack your neck from side to side, enjoying the satisfying pops as you work the kinks out. You lace your fingers together over your head, stretching your back while cracking your knuckles. You're all ready to go. This is the day. Today, you start your first novel. You lower your hands so that the pads of your fingers gently rest on the home row of your keyboard…

Then you stare at the blank screen, waiting. And waiting. After yet more waiting, there's still nothing. Your fingers aren't magically auto-typing words onto the page like some sort of digital-age Ouija board. Your story isn't spewing forth from the nether recesses of your brain. You've got bupkis. Jack.  Holy shit, you're screwed.

Sound familiar? Teeth clenched tight as you remember living a scene very much like the one above? Me too. I think that everyone who writes experiences this at some point. We want to write, and it doesn't sound like such hard work when you get started… but it is. It takes effort, and thought, and at least some small degree of planning. Ideas don't come from nothing, no matter how many times we say "It just came to me one day!" It didn't. There was an origin. Maybe you didn't realize it at the time; your subconscious was crunching the numbers and putting things together for you, but didn't clue you in until the idea was formed. Maybe you know the source. It was that old couple you saw sitting in the park, clearly upset with each other after some kind of argument, but unconsciously holding hands because that's what they've done for the last forty years. Maybe it was something you heard on the news the other day. There are story-worthy events all the time in the news. Three women were recently rescued from a house in Cleveland; you think that no one is getting inspiration from their story? Heck, it's not my sort of genre, and even I'm getting ideas!

So where do our ideas come from? Where do we get our inspiration? The answer is that it all comes from the world around us. We can't control it. We can't help it. If a storyteller hears about an interesting story, they want to tell it. It's who are, you know?

So if we can't force ideas, what can we do when faced with that blinking curser that refuses to form letters behind it? Are we stuck, finished, doomed? Of course not. We just need to go back to basics.

Basics


First thing's first: Do you know what kind of genre you want to write in? That might seem like an obvious duh of a question, but anyone who has worked tech support for computers know that the first questions you want to ask are whether all the cords are plugged in, especially that damn power cord. So have you thought about it at all? If you haven't, and nothing comes to mind right away, consider this: What do you like to read? Good authors don't just write stories in their preferred genre(s). They read those genres. They love those genres. They can tell you the names of other authors in that genre. 

Why?

If you can't stand fantasy, how are you going to enjoy writing it? If you don't enjoy writing it, how will you make your reader enjoy it? No matter what you think, no matter how formulaic you find a genre, you need to enjoy the genre to treat it well. I'm not a fan of mysteries. I solve them quickly but spend half the book hoping that I was wrong. After going through this a few times, and feeling like I'd cracked a special "code" I gave up on the genre completely. Not my cup of tea.

I'm reasonably certain that if I wrote a straight mystery thriller, it would be crap.

Another reason to pick a genre is that genre will provide you with some conventions and common elements to get started. If it's fantasy, there are probably guys running around with swords at some point. Western family probably bears a passing resemblance at medieval Europe. Maybe there's magic. That's something to start with, right? Now think about the fantasy you love; did it have those common elements? Were there any plot hooks the author left dangling and never came back to that can give you a start for your own ideas? It isn't stealing, it's borrowing, and don't worry – you'll make it your own soon enough.

Sometimes looking at genre can display things you don't like, things you wish wasn't in every novel of that genre. Maybe you think your favorite genre would be better with elements from another genre blended in? Have you ever read Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson? The book is fantasy, but it has a sort of steampunk vibe to it, mixed with a little western. There's magic (Sanderson has some awesome creativity when it comes to magic systems), guns, outlaws, nobles, high society, and a fight on a train. There's some genre-blending going on there! The best part? It's a sequel to Sanderson's Mistborn Trilogy, a series that was spawned by Sanderson wanting to write an Oceans Eleven-type crime story, but blending it with fantasy. Heh. There's a lot of twists to those stories, and they're great for it.

Sanderson's books prove how you don't need to feel limited by your genre, but you can use them as a framework to get started. Learn from that example.

An Exercise


Here's an exercise for you. I'm borrowing it from Donald Maass, a distinguished literary agent who has some writing credentials of his own. In his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, Maass presents an exercise that I happen to love. Take a moment to think of the books you've read, and pick your top three. You know the ones. You've read them countless times. Maybe you've had to buy them again because you ruined the bindings on your originals, or they got lost in a move and you couldn't bear the thought of being without them. You can probably quote lines form them. Yeah, those three. Got more than three? Limit it down to just that. We don't want too many books at the moment.

Now go get them. Lay them down in front of you. Now think about them. What are they about, who are the characters, where or when do they take place, why do you love them so much? After you've thought about each one, start looking at the ways in which they are similar.

You might be protesting: "But, Grant, Eat, Pray, Love is nothing like The Hobbit! And neither one is The Stand!" I'll give you that. On the surface, the story of one woman's inner journey from a loveless life with a career she no longer felt fulfilling to a place where she discovers the joy of living life and finds true love doesn't sound much like the story of man who protests the call of adventure as a wizard and a group of dwarves recruit him to be a thief for them as they attempt to reclaim their home from a dragon. A post-apocalyptic struggle between God and the Devil doesn't fit with those books either. But these are your favorites, the books you love best in all the world. Don't just look at the surface! Dig deep! Think about the characters and their qualities. Are there any in common? What about themes, setting, verbage… the list goes on and on. Maybe the elements of the books don't have anything you can codify so neatly, but certainly the books elicited a type of reaction from you. Did they draw you into the world? Make you care about the characters' conflicts? Did they make you laugh? Cry? Cause a variety of emotional responses within you? What triggered these responses? Those are the things you should be paying attention to.

Take some time. This isn't something that should come all at once. This is preparatory work for your idea, your inspiration, to spring forth. You laying some groundwork to build the foundation of your story.

An Example


I did the above exercise when I first read Writing the Breakout Novel (Maass goes into further, wonderful detail about it in the actual book, which I highly recommend you read). Here were my three: The Belgariad, by David Eddings (Yes, I know that The Belgariad is a series, but I read it in compilation editions rather than the individual books, so I don't tend to think of the series in terms of five books); Dune, by Frank Herbert; and The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time I do think of in terms of separate books, and the Eye of the World is my favorite, though Sanderson's books are running close seconds).

My three picks might seem pretty easy compared to the examples I listed above. I'm a fantasy/sci-fi boy through and through, and always have been, so my favorites do happen to come from similar genres. However, it's what I drew from them that is important.

The Belgariad is a series focused around a young farm boy named Garon, who turns out to have destiny far greater than his humble upbringing would imply. He is the many-times-great-grandson of the first sorcerer, Belgarath, and is a sorcerer himself. Further, he is the Rivan King, leader of the western world. He is destined to face the god Kal Torak, and defeat him as the battle between the Child of Light and the Child of Dark continues as it has throughout the ages.

Dune is the first book in a classic sci-fi series which has spawned video games, a movie, television mini-serieses, and prequels and sequels galore, long after the death of Frank Herbert. It is the story of Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto Atreides. Paul learns that his mother, the concubine Jessica, was never meant to give the Duke any sons, only daughters who could have been married to further a genetic program that has been going on for generations. An anomaly, Paul has the potential to be the Kiswatz Haderach, a messiah and superbeing whose coming is foretold in the Bene Gesserit prophecies. Politcal maneuvers work to eliminate House Atreides, propelling Paul into his role and leading him to overthrow the Emperor of the Known Universe.

The Eye of the World is the first book in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. It tells of three young men from the village of Emmond's Field, whose lives are upturned when the forces of the Dark One attack their village in search of one or all of them. One of the young men, Rand al'Thor, is the figure of prophecy known as the Dragon Reborn, a man able to channel the one power in a world where all such men go mad. The Dragon Reborn will save the world… or he will break it completely. The three young men must survive a harrowing journey from their homeland, diverting north to the Blight to stop the Dark One's minions from obtaining the power of The Eye of the World, and consequently revealing Rand's destiny… whether Rand wants to be the Dragon Reborn or not!

Each of these books has a fantasy theme that is fairly important to the book. Yes, Dune is technically science fiction, but let's be honest for a moment: If you're familiar with the Dune franchise than you recognize that there are strong fantasy themes running throughout it. Knife fighting, "magic" (more oracular ability than anything else, but some of what Paul manages at the end is definitely magical), the fantastic locations, and a feudal nobility system. It might be sci-fi, but it has strong fantasy elements within it as well. So, clearly, fantasy is the genre that appeals most to me. Not a surprise, so let's look a little more closely.

Did you notice how all of the main characters have certain similarities? Each harbors magical power that they are unaware of at the beginning of the book. Each has a potent destiny that they must face no matter how much they resist. As they pursue their destinies, they rise socially through their setting (you can argue that Paul descends when his House is destroyed, but I think his ascension through Fremen society more than makes up for that). So clearly one of the things that appeals to me is a main character with a destiny, who discovers hidden magical potential even as he struggles against his destiny.

What we have there is the kernel of a story premise. Now we just need to build on it, which is what we'll do next time.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Just an Update Today

The Character Overview Series

If you hadn't noticed, I've taken a bit of a break from the character overviews; not out of a lack of interest, but more because I'm trying to figure out who I want to feature next! If you've already read Laeryk's Proving, you're probably saying, "Torren, duh!" After all, I've done the other three major characters already, why not Laeryk's last (human) companion?

Mainly, it's because Torren's background is something that gets explored more in the second and third books in the series, and I'd hate to put up an overview that read something like:

YOU DON'T GET TO KNOW HIS BACKGROUND YET. NYEH!

That just isn't much fun.

I'm leaning right now toward another Valdaran, but I'm certain that most people are kind of bored with Valdarans by now; you've had two already, why more? That's one unfortunate side-effect of so much of the book taking place in Valdaran: Many of the characters are Wyvern Knights, and you already have seen two Wyvern Knight overviews. I might also do Elsebet du Lemaigne, or Enonna Whiterose, both of whom would give a taste of some different backgrounds.

As soon as I choose the next character, I'll resume the character overviews and chapter previews.

Gavain's Proving

I know, I know... this was supposed to be out already! What can I say, other than the transition from short story to novella has lengthened the process a bit? There's a lot more to revise than I was expecting, and I need to give myself breaks so I come back to the revisions with fresh eyes.

That said, work is progressing at a pace I'm quite pleased with. My lovely wife Lisa and I have been discussing a symbol for House Whiterose. If you didn't know already, Lisa drew the original symbol for House Thorn which graces the cover of Laeryk's Proving. I want a similar image on the cover for Gavain's Proving, but the more we talked about it, the more I realized that I never took a step back to design a heraldry for House Whiterose!

Oops.

Once the symbol is done (and I've touched it up on the computer), I have a cover designer I want to work with to produce a cover image for me. As pleased as I am with the cover for Laeryk's Proving, I can't seem to get a design I like for the novella... so I'm going to turn it over to a professional! I'd like the cover up at least a week or two prior to release, that way I can start some marketing promotions for the novella, which will debut exclusively on Amazon for three months as part of their KDP-Select program, and then move on to being published at Smashwords for distribution to other retailers after that.

Children of Llothora

One of my Lovecraftian homage short stories, Children of Llothora is also almost ready for release. I'm doing some touch-ups to it right now, and will then be seeking a cover for it's e-release. This one is going to both Amazon and Smashwords at the same time. Depending on how things go, it might actually be ready for release before Gavain's Proving (considering it's much shorter, the edits go much faster).

Laeryk's Proving... In Print?

I've spent the last week working with CreateSpace.com to set up a Print On Demand version of Laeryk's Proving. It's amazing how much of a pain getting an e-book formatted into a print version can be. I've designed a new physical book cover based on the original e-book cover which is nearly complete; I'm just looking it over to see if there are any minor changes I want to make before calling it the final version. Once that is complete, CreateSpace.com will be providing the book an ISBN number, and Amazon will list the print version alongside the Kindle version available for sale on their website.

The best thing about having a Print on Demand version, other than getting to have a physical copy of my book on my shelves and offering another medium for people to read my story? Giveaways. That's right, I plan on doing some giveaways through Goodreads.com. If you've never been to Goodreads.com, and you enjoy any form of social networking whatsoever, I highly recommend you check it out! Feel free to friend me there, and publish a review of Laeryk's Proving if you'd like.

Reviews

Reviews are the lifeblood of a book on online - or at least that's how it seems sometimes! Reviews let prospective readers know that other people have taken a chance on a book, what they thought of it, and what to expect. Sure, they're not perfect, but sometimes a review can point you toward a title you would have never otherwise read.

Laeryk's Proving is still in need of reviews; I realize that it isn't a short book (and having worked on the print layout for over a week, I'm very aware of just how long it really is), but I'm looking to get some reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, and all the rest of the retailers I distribute through. If you've finished Laeryk's Proving, please, please, please: post a review. Let me know what you thought of my story, and what you'd like to see in the future.

Conclusion

This was a longer update than I'd originally intended; I guess I had a bit more on my plate than I'd anticipated. Keep an eye out for the character overviews and chapter previews to resume soon!