Free fantasy book: The Ninth Order

In celebration of…nothing in particular…I’ve made my novel The Ninth Order free for two days! It’s exclusively available on all Kindle platforms now, that means you can read it on a Kindle device or on the Kindle apps on your smartphone/tablet or PC/Mac. It’s everywhere, man.

Download the Ninth Order for Free before Midnight PST on March 21

Make your characters interesting; you’ll be with them for a while

Writing a novel is sometimes tedious, so it helps to have your characters become the most interesting people you know.

I’m going through the next-to-last editing phase of my book and it’s tough. It’s hard to find the focus to write after dealing with all the varied difficulties of life like work, friends, bills, and laundry (yes laundry, it’s easy to forget about it).

Then there’s the writer’s worse enemy: doubt. Doubt that all this effort is even worth anything. It’s easy to start questioning what you’re doing when you sit down and start thinking you’ve got more pressing matters to tend to. That doubt can kill all your creativity.

BUT, none of that matters if the world you are creating is a place you want to spend time in, and that place is filled with the most interesting people you can imagine. In those trying and tedious times spent at the desk, those characters become the best kinds of friends, and guides to fantastical adventures.

Fanfiction Confessions

Okay, I’ll admit it. I used to write Harry Potter fan fiction.

In fact my first completed novel-length work was my own rendition of HP Book 6. This was years ago, in that long span of time between Order of the Phoenix and Half Blood Prince. I really liked Rowling’s writing style and I needed some practice on my writing. I also needed a community that was ready and willing to provide feedback in bunches. Fanfiction was the answer.

Two years is a long time to wait for the next installment of a series you love. So I, like many other writers, filled the time by coming up with my own stories to fill the void. It was entertainment for me, and practice. I picked up where Rowling left off and inserted my own original characters, ideas, histories, and spells – all while attempting to mimic Rowling’s writing style (and writing in someone else’s world isn’t easy). My goal was to write a book that people could actually believe was the sixth book in the series. My dream job at the time was to get a gig writing in the Star Wars expanded universe (yes, I am that huge of a geek) so I figured this would be good practice. Writing for an existing commercial series is essentially just fan fiction you get paid for, after all.

My fanfiction was quite an educational endeavor. The Harry Potter fans are rabid and at times pedantic. They were the best critics I could have had at that point in my nascent writing career. They kept me focused, and for the first time I felt the joy that comes with people enjoying stories I wrote (even if I was playing in someone else’s world).

Now I write my own novels, and I do some freelance writing on the side. But my time as a fanfiction author definitely helped me become the writer I am today, and I think that’s true of many ambitious writers in this day and age. I recall, years after I left fanfiction, that a writer on the site I used to post on got a book deal with a $500,000 advance.

So why am I talking about fanfiction now? There has been a lot of chatter about the recent crazy trend of Twilight fanfiction stories getting major book deals. The Fifty Shades of Gray series started this trend, and now a new series by Sylvain Reynard reportedly earned a SEVEN FIGURE BOOK deal. Both book series started out as Twilight fanfiction and, after necessary tweaks and edits to avoid copyright infringement, became huge bestsellers on their own right. Fanfiction authors, long considered the oddest of the odd writers, are suddenly getting financial validation. I just wish the industry supported something better than those Twilight books -_-

Writing the boring parts

I’m working on my new novel. This was once a task I delighted in for hours every day as I put the major ideas together and carefully sculpted a story out of the random pictures in my head. But nowadays, the novel is just something I poke at when I can find time between work, cleaning, and enjoying the company of good friends (which every writer should take time to do – good times equals good stories). I used to be able to kick out 1000 words in every daily sitting; can’t do it now though. I’m lucky to get 3000 words done in a week. But it’s not just because of lack of time. There’s something else I’ve found about writing that makes it hard for the words to flow: now that the major ideas are all figured out, I’ve got to do the work of connecting the damn things.

I like to call it writing the “tendons of a story”. Anatomically speaking, tendons are the tissue that connect muscle to bone. Figuratively speaking, story tendons serve to connect the meaty parts that do all work to a larger framework. When I first dive into a story, I see the main “scenes” vividly in my head. These scenes are the core of the story – the big, bulging muscles that do all the heavy lifting involved in creating memorable stories. The scenes can be placed anywhere in the flow of the novel: beginning, middle, or end. I derive great pleasure from writing them.

But then the time comes to connect all those awesome-yet-disparate scenes into something that is coherent and flowing. That’s when the writing slows down. The story muscles are the parts you fall in love with while you write them. The connective tissue, however, is a chore. These literary tendons come in many forms: it could be fleshing out a locale in a scene, or spending time elaborating on how characters move from one location to another. It’s all extremely important stuff, but in the end it’s not as interesting to write as the juicy bits these passages link to.

I’ve found there is no trick for making these sections easier for me to write. When I wrote my fantasy novel, The Ninth Order, I even had to take a break for a couple of weeks to recharge my creative batteries. This is time consuming, thought-intensive work. But it’s important to make sure that these linking sections are always interesting to the reader who, unlike me, doesn’t know what’s coming next and how fantastic it is so I’ve got to keep their attention all the way through. My most successful technique is one of avoidance: I strive to make these “tendons” anything but mundane. If the characters have to travel from exotic locale to another (a common task in fantasy novels), I never make the trip simple. Trips are great opportunities to do world building and cleverly infodump descriptions of the world in great detail. It’s also a great chance to have your characters do what most people do on long trips: talk. Travel chat can provide an interesting look into the minds of your characters. Another handy tool in the writer’s arsenal is the ever-useful side-quest, which video games have made very good use of for years. A good side-quest can provide a temporary break from the main action and allow the author to explore some ideas that wouldn’t fit into the story otherwise (come to think of it, I may write a whole post on side-quests later). But the problem here is that side-quests are little stories of their own, and they require a whole different storytelling effort, and more restless nights spent

It takes time to write a good book. That’s especially true when ordinary life keeps interfering with the fantastic imaginary worlds the author is trying to create. And writing isn’t all ice cream and candy; oftentimes the process is torturous, and it’s easy to get tempted away from the desk by more fun activities. This is work, folks. And like all work, it’s not always fun. But the best writers find ways to keep their own boredom, frustration, and fatigue out of their stories, and the readers never know the pain involved in producing their favorite passages.

The Cheap: a great resource for authors and readers

I’ve recently found a community called The Cheap that is surprisingly awesome and useful. If you’re a writer with low-priced books out there, it’s a great way to promote your work and find new readers. If you’re a reader, it’s an easy place to find cheap reads for your Nook or Kindle.

The Cheap has a simple but powerful premise: “Here at the Cheap we, a group of deal scouting women, inform you of free and low-cost books. ” They’ve created several communities that work extremely well. There’s the main The Cheap site, which focuses on book deals for the Nook, and I believe it’s one of the best ways available for authors to reach that tricky Nook market.

Then there’s their Kindle on the Cheap community, which also features a handy Author a Day section. If you’re an author, I highly recommend getting yourself featured here. It’s easy, quick, and the results are impressive. As part of my 99 cent campaign for my books, I posted my books to the Kindle on the Cheap Facebook account, and the kind ladies subsequently made me an Author of the Day. Sales jumped like a kangaroo on acid.

The Cheap also has an effective social media strategy and have a great presence on Facebook. Check out the Kindle on the Cheap fanpage or if you’re an Author, the Author on the Cheap page. Whether you’re a voracious, deal-seeking reader, or an author looking for those voracious, deal-seeking readers, The Cheap has a lot to offer

Holiday Sale

Happy Holidays everyone! Since I’m in a festive mood, my books are only $0.99 on the Kindle Store!

The Remortal Kindle ebook cover

Urban Fantasy – A jaded immortal recruits an innocent young protege to inherit his wealth and power, with unexpected outcomes for both. To sum it up, it’s Highlander meets Training Day: http://www.amazon.com/The-Ninth-Order-ebook/dp/B005QJRWVU

The Ninth Order ebook cover

Epic Fantasy – When the world went mad, the Rezernaan were there to restore peace and order. Now one of their greatest minds is turning against them, and young Falki must recruit a team of elites to stop him. An epic mix of fantasy and sci-fi http://www.amazon.com/The-Ninth-Order-ebook/dp/B005QJRWVU

Thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays 🙂 .

Seth Godin’s eBooks

Seth Godin is a smart guy. He’s also creative, and I like the way he comes up with new ways to do old things. For the past year he’s been working on the Domino Project, an experimental publishing imprint that distributes mainly through Amazon and tinkers with a lot of different methods for pricing and promotion (including publishing “sponsored” books), just to see what would happen. Recently, Seth decided to wrap up the project, and wrote a post summing up some lessons learned (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/11/the-last-hardcover.html). It’s quite an interesting read, but I found this little gem to be most intriguing:

Sponsored ebooks are economically irresistible to readers, to sponsors and to authors. I’m proud to have pioneered this, and I think it’s a trend worth pursuing. The value transfer to the reader is fabulous (hey, a great book, for free), and the sponsor gets to share in some of that appreciation. The author gets a guaranteed payday as well as the privilege of reaching ten or a hundred times as many readers.

I’ve talked about this kind of thing before in my post, “Ads: The Future of eBooks?”. In that post, I talked ad-supported books, but Seth has an even better idea with “sponsored” books, with one company giving a “brought to you by” message, and that’s it. Just tolerate that one sponsorship message, and your book is free. The sponsor pays the author directly. Not a bad idea, but one that could certainly lend itself to becoming a tool only for the few lucky top names in the biz with the pull to attract such a deal. For the rest of us, the ad-supported model used by blogs may be the answer. Regardless, Seth has a lot of cool ideas on the topic of eBooks and digital publishing, and if you’re not following his blog, I highly recommend it.

Writing is a Skill. Learn it.

“Must have excellent written communication skills.” You see this all the time in job posts, but what does it really mean? Do people really even care about writing skills anymore?

The answer is yes.

All of us are presented with moments when we must communicate our ideas in written form. It may be an admissions essay, or a cover letter for your resume, or a complaint to your landlord, an explanation to a co-worker, a sales pitch for a new client, or a letter to your boss justifying your reasons for a raise. You will have to write, and oftentimes what you write will affect the chances of you getting what you want, so you might as well learn how to be good at it.

Yes, you have to learn how to write. For some reason, many people seem baffled by this idea. “I’ve been writing all my life,” they say. “It can’t be that hard.” These are the same people that fill literary agent inboxes with horrible novels and are outraged when they get rejected.

To those people, I ask a simple question — can you talk? I’m sure you can. But does being able to talk automatically mean you can sing? Of course not. You have to learn how to sing. You have to practice. Even if you have an innate talent for it, that only gets you so far. You still have to learn the art of singing if you want to move people’s emotions with your voice.

The same is true for writing.

With a little research and practice you can dramatically improve your skill at communicating with the written word. You can learn to evoke sympathy, bring people to tears, or stoke the fires of anger with your words. You can learn how to transport your thoughts into someone else’s mind with nothing but letters. Writing is the closest thing we have to telepathy.

But, like all skills, writing demands a sacrifice. Learning to write well is a chore. It takes work and research, and one can get lost in the vast sea of “How to Write” books out there (it has long been said that the best way to make money at writing is to write a book about writing). But the most important thing you’ll ever learn about writing is this:

All writing — all writing — is storytelling.

When you read a blog, you’re reading a story about one person’s experience. When you read a news article, you’re reading a story of real events and people. When you read a product description, you’re reading a manufactured story a marketing team wants to tell you. Even as you read this post, what you’re reading are tiny stories about types of people and events and situations you can relate to as part of my efforts to convince you to do something. Learn how to tell good stories, and people will want to listen to what you say. That is influence. That is power.

So, where to begin? First, write and write often. Get a blog. Sign up for a free blog Blogger or Tumblr or LiveJournal and just write. Blog every day if you can. You can tell others about your blog, or not. It doesn’t really matter, because all you have to do is write. Write about whatever you like — food, poetry, politics, cats. Whatever. Just remember that your goal is to write compelling stories about your topic. Stories have characters, and settings, and a firm beginning, middle and end. Your writing should have all of these.

While you’re doing your writing, read. All good writers must be good readers. I’m sure you’ve read stories before, but when you read as a writer, stories take on new meaning. You dissect and analyze the style and technique of the author. You see things from a different perspective. For example, as a reader I enjoyed the Harry Potter books, but it wasn’t until I became a writer and took a more technical look at the books that I truly appreciated J.K. Rowling’s skill (the Invisibility Cloak is a brilliant plot device).

You should also read some books and articles in that aforementioned sea of “How to Write” material. I personally advocate Sol Stein’s Stein On Writing. The Internet also has a wealth of great material for learning how to write, and I particularly like this timeless article on Persuasive Writing, which is the most useful type of writing for the average person.

And when you’ve done all that writing and reading, go back and look at what you wrote earlier. Do you see the flaws? Has the practice and research changed your ideas of what “good” writing is? If so, take note of what you’ve learned, apply it, and keep writing and reading. If not, keep writing and reading. Remember you’re working on a skill here and, as required with any type of craft, mastery takes time. But stay committed, and I guarantee that new perspectives and opportunities will open up to you because of your new ability to move hearts and minds with your words.

My new fantasy novel: The Ninth Order

I love epic fantasy, and I live science. When I started writing, I wanted to combine the two. The result? My latest novel, The Ninth Order. It’s now available on all major eBook platforms including Kindle, iTunes, and Smashwords.

The Ninth Order on Kindle

The Ninth Order on iTunes

The Ninth Order on Smashwords

Here’s a brief synopsis:

When the world went mad and war brought civilization to ruin, the Rezernaan restored it. Some call the Rezernaan wizards, and others call them radicals. A young man named Falki rose to the top of their ranks with unprecedented speed. Now he will face a danger that will lead him to partner with twin rogues, an exiled murderer, an heir to an industrial empire, and a strange man from his past.

Falki lives in a world that is still struggling to recover from the ravages of The Fall. The golden days before The Fall were guided by a simple phrase: “Progress through knowledge; knowledge through science”. But then the Great War came, and all the sciences of the past led to catastrophic destruction. Out of the ashes rose a mystical group of protectors—the Rezernaan.

The Rezernaan and the remnants of the civilized world live on a tiny group of idyllic islands that were miraculously spared from the chaos of The Fall. The first pilgrims arrived centuries ago, and found a race of people called the Panotti already there. The Panotti are small in stature, short in lifespan, and fiercely devoted to nature. Falki is their most famous son, and his skill with Rezernaan techniques is legendary amongst his people. But there are others even more powerful than he.

When Vannekar, a malcontent senior Rezernaan, suddenly begins to advocate a revival of the old sciences, the leader of the Rezernaan chooses Falki to run a covert mission to undermine Vannekar’s efforts. Falki recruits a skilled but contentious crew of specialists who will use all their wits and abilities to foil Vannekar’s plans for revolution, but their foe will not go down without a fight. He is cunning, strong, and convinced that the Rezernaan must change, or die.

This isn’t your typical swords and sorcery fantasy. When I started on this story, I was determined to do something new that crossed genres and didn’t rehash the fantasy tropes we’ve all seen a thousand times before. I think The Ninth Order is a fun mashup of the best elements of fantasy and science fiction. It’s the kind of story you often see in Japanese RPGS like the Final Fantasy franchise, but rarely see in American lit. For some reason stories from the west have always drawn a severe line between sci-fi and fantasy. But the two genres really aren’t that different. Both types of story create fictional worlds of pure imagination where the impossible is possible and the unlikely happens every day. But western sci-fi rarely focuses on themes like nature worship and agrarian societies, and western fantasy totally eschews anything resembling high-tech. I believe there is an unexplored middle-ground between these two genres, and authors can use successes in the video game industry as a guide.

So if you’re a gamer and you loved the blending of high-tech and magic in games like Final Fantasy 10, check out The Ninth Order at one of the following links:

The Ninth Order on Kindle

The Ninth Order on iTunes

The Ninth Order on Smashwords

The Remortal on iTunes

I’ve reached another milestone in my self-publishing journey. My first released novel, The Remortal, is now available on iTunes for all sorts of iThingies.

iTunes is no stranger to indie artists; musicians have been plying their wares on this digital marketplace for years, and most people like it. You get to virtually bump elbows with the big boys — the cool alternarockfolk music you wrote with your buddies during your stint as guitarist in a garage band can exist in the same store as The Beatles and Coldplay and Bieber. But the path to iTunes for indie authors was a bit trickier. Authors had to find some way to get an ebook app created for the app store since there wasn’t an Apple-sanctioned eBook marketplace until the iBookstore came out with the first iPad (even then, Apple initially had no option for indie authors and only listed titles by the big publishing houses). A number of “middle-men” popped up to offer app platforms that would let you get your book on the app store, but at a price, and the user experience was less than ideal.

Then Smashwords inked a deal with Apple to serve as the “publisher” for scores of indie authors, giving us poor scribes an entry into the iTunes White Palace via the back door. Now writers everywhere can sell their stuff to the millions of people using iTunes, and especially those users with the “magical” iPads.

So if you want to buy my book, The Remortal, on iTunes, point your interwebs machine to this link: http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-remortal/id452916695?mt=11