Thursday, October 30, 2014

Online Novel Chapter 7 - Jail Break

The grunting made no sense to him, but Chris suspected he wouldn't have been listening even if he could understand it.  His sense of fear was simply to high.

Something else distracted him from figuring out what was being said - the stench.  They all joked around the table while playing DragonLore what the smells would be like, but saying something smelled bad was nothing like experiencing it in person.  If a sewer could vomit and then drag itself through a pile of dog shit, this is what it would smell like.

The goblins milled back and forth around the fire.  Their camp looked spartan - a piece of torn cloth on sticks for shelter here, a large communal water bucket there.  Large slabs of some kind of meat were spit over the fire and roasting, although Chris was in no hurry to find out what kind of meat it was.

One of the goblins came over, grabbed him by the hair, and lifted his head, snorting in his face as he did so.  It's green face was streaked with dirt, and its needle-like teeth had chunks of flesh in them.

"What do you want?" Chris asked by instinct.

It grunted and snorted at him, its putrid breath ravaging Chris' nostrils.  It walked away after slamming his head on the ground.

After a few seconds, Chris regained vision and looked around again.  Most of the goblins were either ripping pieces of flesh from the bones they'd taken off of the fire, or they were sharpening blades on rocks nearby.

Chris struggling against the ropes, but they were too tight, even digging into his wrists every time he moved.  It sounded so easy in their games to use something to cut such ropes, but real life was far harder.

One of the goblins came over to him and pulled out a knife.  Chris' eyes widened when the creature held it against his arm, and those same eyes winced when the blade was pressed into his skin.  The goblin held a goblet against his arm and filled his cup.  It raised its nectar high into the air, grunted something(likely a toast), and swigged it down.  As it drained the goblet, the rest of the goblins cheered.

Chris could've sworn he heard a whizzing sound in the air, but it was hard to distinguish against the cheering monsters.  A second whizzing sound went by, accompanied moments later by a goblin roar.  He looked towards the fire as much as the pain would allow him to and saw a pair of goblins on the ground.

That was when the fire in the center of the camp exploded.  A shower of embers rained down on him as goblins raced for their weapons and headed away from him to meet whatever the threat was.  A mountain of a man filled the shadows and began slicing goblins in half.

It took him a second or two to realize that his hands were free.  Chris looked up to see Lisa kneeling beside him.

"Come on, Assisi," she whispered.  "Tucker has them distracted, but even he can't take on the whole camp.  We need to move."

Struggling to his feet, Chris was surprised by how much the pain in his arm hindered the movement of his feet.  The arm hung limply at his side, blood running off the end of his fingertips.  He staggered towards the perceived safety of the woods just a few feet away.  He and Lisa were about halfway there when he heard a couple of the goblins shout, their feet trampling the ground and getting closer.

"Shit," Lisa snarled.  "We've gotta move."

She grabbed Chris by his wounded arm and pulled him into the forest.  The priest cried out in pain, but he could do little except obey as he went.  The goblins were getting closer until Chris heard another sound nearby that reminded him of his younger days with his dad as they killed chickens on the farm.

Tucker had raced through the crowd and cleaved the pair of monsters cleanly in two.  His shoulders heaved as he panted, his helmet covering his expression.  "Get the hell outta here, now!"

Lisa took Chris by the belt and threw him onto the horse nearby.  She leapt onto her own steed in a single swift motion, and the barreled into the trees as a green mist went up behind them.  The whizzing he heard were now goblin arrows that raced by their heads.  Some of the shouting got closer as part of the horde pursued them while the others tried taking down Tucker and whoever else was back there.

Despite his limp arm, Chris nearly managed to straighten before an arrow pierced his shoulder.  He yelped and then slumped on his horse before the pain blacked him out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Muse - Breathing Once More






Her pulse was growing stronger as I set the latest paragraph on paper.  My Muse had been ill for quite some time, and I wasn't sure if she could ever fully recover.  It was my fault, of course.  Months of neglect turned her into a shadow of her former self.  It was going to take far more than 3,000 words to get her back.

Looking to her sickly form lying on my bed, I asked, "How do I make it clear how he feels about his wife?"





I thought she'd slipped back into that ever-present coma and went back to staring at my screen.  However, she soon stirred.

"Talk about how he got into this marriage, about how he both loves and resents his family.  It'll create depth."

Nodding, I wrote, David got Jen pregnant in college, and she joined him as he began his Army career.  He never got to be one of those "single guys" in his 20s, and he wondered what he missed out on.  Yes, he loved Jen and Tyler, but he had, at the tender age of 23, very grown up responsibilities.  Jen was at home with their son, and the boy took a lot of effort.  She didn't seem to appreciate that he had a full time job that was more than working at a bank, and the boy...

"No, no, no," the Muse chided, her voice growing stronger.  "You need to show those things, but don't do it all in one paragraph.  Drop hints as he escapes the initial attack.  Make it clear in how he worries, as well as in the guilt he internalizes over those feelings.  Do what you're doing now and you won't create empathy between him and the audience."

I went back and deleted the paragraph.  Instead, I described his desperation at getting away from the enemy and making his way back home.  I put in but a single line about how he abandoned his comrades, but I knew I'd revisit that over the coming pages.

Looking at the clock, I told her, "It's getting late, and I still need to spend time with my kids.  One of them has a dance recital coming up that I can't miss."

The Muse nodded and smiled, a brief flush of color returning to her skin.  "I understand.  Just do me one favor."

"What's that?" I asked.

"Don't leave me alone for so long this time."

"I won't," I promised.  Of course, I'd said that to her before.  I had a schedule that would revive her, but it was going to take months, and there would be bumps along the way.  I hoped my promise wasn't more in a long string of empty words.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


No one is going to love all of our work.  It could be because our stuff isn't good, or the person didn't get it, or maybe just because such things are the essence of subjectivity.  Our work won't appeal to everyone, not even if we've written the greatest piece of literature since Shakespeare.  And some of those folks will leave negative reviews on sites that others go to for recommendations.

All of this is part of being a writer and putting our work into the public sphere.  Bad reviews may sting, but hopefully we can use them to either create better work, or laugh about because the reviewer was so obviously a moron.  What we shouldn't do is engage a bad reviewer, because it makes us seem petty and pouty.  And what we should never ever ever do is stalk the person who wrote the bad review.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened recently.  An author named Kathleen Hale decided to go beyond the pale and confront one of her bad reviewers.  Well, she didn't just go beyond the pale...she jumped across that line and started slam dancing over there.  She even wrote a nearly 5,000 word article about it trying to justify her actions.  I read this with increasing alarm.  Most of us would, hopefully, respond to any such person by carefully backing away and calling for the folks in white coats.

Hale makes a number of laughable points, the first of which is that she was bullied.  She links over to a site that calls the big bad meanies at Goodreads Reviewers bullies if they don't say their stuff nicely.  I wish that people could respond constructively, but it demeans the word bully to even put these things in the same ballpark.  People online are mean, but they're not beating you up, they're not coming to your house, and they're not calling at weird hours to harass you - they're saying shitty stuff about your work.  Guess what?  You've asked for folks to do that!  Okay, maybe not specifically, but these kinds of people are part and parcel of the gig when you put your stuff into the public sphere.  Mean people will say mean things.  Most of us learned to ignore assholes like that around the time we left high school(and some even earlier).

However, Hale decided to get all butt hurt about it and engage in a Twitter War.  She and her reviewer began tweeting in tandem, and she got even more upset that it continued(for the record, I've never "gotten" Twitter - it seems a bastions of true hate on the internet, and rarely do I ever read anything besides someone's emotional reaction to some issue or circumstance they don't understand; btw, no, I don't have an account, and things like this are why...well that, and the fact that I'm not that important(and neither is anyone else)).  Once that ended the way anyone over the age of five could have predicted, Hale acknowledges she engaged in some "light stalking: I prowled Blythe’s Instagram and Twitter, I read her reviews, considered photos of her baked goods and watched from a distance as she got on her soapbox."

At this point, normal people could have written this off as a little deranged, but mostly harmless.  We've all gotten hurt, and some of us don't handle it well.  We engage in fantasies of revenge and how the unscrupulous person who hurt us will eventually acknowledge their mistake and let us know that they were wrong.  That's not what Hale did - instead, she paid money to do a full background check on the reviewer(creepy), called her at work pretending to be a fact checker(creepier), and went to her house(IN THE NAME OF GOD, GET SOME HELP!).

The conversation she engaged in with the person who may or may not have been the reviewer was surreal, as if she was fishing for the woman to admit she was the reviewer so she could communicate how badly her feelings had been hurt.

First of all, if some crazy person showed up at my house or tried calling me on the phone pretending to be someone else, a restraining order and consultation with a lawyer would be the first thing that would happen.  At this point, the woman in question would have been perfectly justified in claiming she felt threatened.  A word of advice - don't go to another person's house over a bad review.  Depending on what state you do this in, there are self defense laws on the books that you wouldn't be on the happy end of.

If you get a bad review, laugh it off.  If you can't, then cry about it for a day or two, and then get over it.  You make yourself look immature and a bit psycho(a bit?  Who am I kidding?  This is WAY BIG psycho) by tracking down a reviewer.  When I read reviews, I look for trends.  If someone writes a bad one, but that's the only bad one, I write it off as an outlier.  Those who use a single bad review as reason to not buy something aren't what you'd call "reliable" readers anyway.  To go as overboard and insane about it as she did, Hale indicates that maybe she should write about mental instability, because you should always "write what you know."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Online Novel Chapter 6 - Engaging The Mob

"What the hell was that?" Ray whispered to Pat.

The room was dark...very dark.  Back at the dorms, it never got this black since there was always some extra source of light, no matter how faint - a computer monitor, a light pole from outside, even the light from the hall creeping in under the dorm room door.  Here only more darkness crept in through the shutter that led outside.

Something else crept in - grunts and shouts, plus what sounded like the occasional muffled scream.  It sounded a bit like two in the morning on a Saturday night, with people shuffling back to their beds after a night of keg stands(except for the muffled screams, that is).

"We should get the others and find out what's happening," Pat said.

Grabbing his crossbow, Pat headed out the door, Ray close behind.  Dan was already in the hall, his hands gripped around Chris' robes.

"What is going on out there?" Dan asked.

"Your guess is as good as mine, Dan," Pat replied.  "I almost didn't hear it...and I wish I hadn't.  I'm so friggin tired."

The door to Tucker's room opened and the burly knight peered out.  "Keep your voices down.  They'll hear you."

"Who'll hear us?" Lisa asked, her and Kurt now joining them in the hall.

"Come see for yourselves.  Just be quiet about it."

They filed into Tucker's room, crouching as they moved.  Tucker had his shutter opened a sliver, and even from across the room they could make out movement outside.

That wasn't all.  Apparently it wasn't as dark as they'd originally thought, for light also flickered into the room.  As they crouched by the window, they could see why - torchlight was wafting inside from the crowd.  Of course, it was what the crowd was made of that nearly made Lisa scream.

"Goblins," Tucker noted.  "Real ones."

He wasn't wrong.  There were a couple dozen of the green skinned beasts.  A few carried torches, and all carried blades of some sort.  They were also clad in brown leather garments and wore sandals.  Several of the bigger ones carried burlap sacks across their shoulders...burlap sacks that seemed to move.

Those sacks were also the source of the muffled screams.

"There are people in there," Tucker noted.

"This is so cool," Pat said.

"No," Lisa corrected.  "The game is cool.  This is real."

"We have to save those people," Tucker said, as if it was obvious.

"Are you insane?" Chris said.  "Not only are those real monsters, there are over 20 of them.  We wouldn't stand a chance."

"Our group has taken on more than this," Tucker replied, never taking his eyes off the goblins.  "Whoever the goblins took, they don't deserve to be cooked and eaten."

"How do you know they'll do that?" Chris asked.

Now Tucker took his eyes off the mob.  "We've been playing DragonLore long enough to know what they do.  Goblins take humans for food, and we're considered a delicacy."

The group stirred uncomfortably.  Finally, Dan said, "Not sure I'll be of much good.  I'm blind, remember."

"The rest of us have enough power to do this.  Let's go."  Tucker skulked out of the room, grabbing his armor as he left.  The rest of the group looked dumbfounded as he went.  However, knowing they couldn't leave him alone, they reluctantly followed, grabbing what they could from their rooms.

Tucker's armor glistened in the soft moonlight, his silver sword in his hand.  He was about to charge out into the mob when Lisa grabbed him.

"Hey, big guy, let's think of a plan of attack, okay?"

"What do you have in mind?" he sighed.

"More than just charge in and take on all at once," Lisa replied.  "Think of this as one of our quests.  We'd make a plan beforehand."  She turned to Ray and said, "You've got your fireball spell, I'll bet.  Set those trees over there on fire.  Once that creates a distraction, Pat can lay down one or two with his crossbow, and Tucker can then slice a few that get separated.  I'll pick off one or two with my dagger, and Kurt, we'll need you to start healing us as soon as they attack."

"What about me?" Chris asked.

"None of them are zombies," Lisa observed.  "Stay with Dan and pray."

"Wonderful," Chris murmured.

As Ray brought his hands up, he said, "I really hope to God this works."

His hands started to glow orange, and his eyes widened.  As if he'd fired a gun, recoil struck his body and an enormous fireball leapt from his fingertips and lurched across the road.  Of course, it came nowhere near the target and hit an old barn in the street instead.

"Shit," Ray stammered as the barn went up.  He brought his hands up again and aimed for the trees.  His second shot came closer but still landed in a field short of the target.  Still, he created the intended effect - the goblins were surprised by the fireballs and temporarily stunned.

Before they could catch their bearing, Pat fired off a crossbow bolt and impaled one of the goblins through the skull.  He yelped in glee as he took aim with his second shot, but the bolt missed wildly and embedded itself in the wood of the burning barn.

Tucker leapt from the cover he was using and cleaved one of the stunned goblins in half.  As another approached him from the rear, Lisa came out of nowhere and jammed her dagger into its throat.  She pulled it out just in time to whirl around and catch another in the chest.

Pat was reloading as fast as he could, but he was having trouble getting the bolts properly situated.  Meanwhile, Tucker cut another two across the waist.  Ray was trying to raise his hands again, but nothing would come up.

"My magic is gone," he exclaimed.

"Dude, you used your magic points," Pat said.  "Remember, it takes a couple of turns for you to get them back.  Try a minor spell."

Sticking his hands out in front of him, he blew out his breath, a mighty wind now kicking up and blowing back the attackers.  Tucker aimed for the head of one, but the wind caused him to fall over.

Goblins were now running in all directions.  Several had dropped the sacks they carried, although none of the group could tell if they'd dropped all of them.  Nearly a dozen goblins lay dead or dying as the rest disappeared into the town and the woods.

Breathing heavily, Tucker asked, "Everyone okay?"  Once they all nodded, he continued, "Let's get Chris and Dan and get these folks out of these bags."

They made their way back to the wall of the inn to find Dan on the ground, his right eye bleeding heavily and him on his side.  The rise and fall of his chest told them he was alive, but he'd been badly hurt by the fleeing mob.  However, there was someone missing.

It was Lisa that voiced their concern.  She knelt by Dan and asked, "Where's Chris?"

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Challenging Your Ego

It takes toughness to get involved in the business of writing.  You're putting your work out there for others to see and critique, and no matter how much we smile and say we can shrug it off, critiques hurt.  Someone telling us about our flaws makes us naturally defensive, with the tendency being to pout about how mean that person is, even if we asked for the critique and it was given in the right spirit.

However, critiques are necessary.  No one, no matter how experienced or lauded, gets it right all the time.  Very few get it right at all on the first try.  We need these critiques to hone our craft and become better writers.  Still, few of us take them well.  Why?

Mostly because we have egos of crystal.  We're so convinced of our superiority in writing that we scoff at the notion that anyone else could tell us what to fix.  There's some benefit in this ego since a good writer writes with confidence.  Unfortunately, it can also make us bristle when someone brings up a legitimate point.

It's this tendency that makes some of us clam up.  Like that gawky teenage boy who is so afraid of getting told no that he never asks anyone out, some of us refuse to share our writing with others.  I've been to a few critique groups where many are willing, even eager, to say what needs work on someone else's writing, but they clam up and stare at the floor when asked who else has brought something for the group.  Some get so afraid that they'll find all kinds of excuses to not let others in - "It still needs work;" "The people here don't 'get' my style;" "I need more time before it's ready for a reading."

This hurts us as writers, for it covers our weaknesses and doesn't let us work to fix them.  Only the rarest, most objective among us can honestly evaluate his or her work, and I'd say that even then it happens properly less than 50% of the time.  That's why we need others.

You can shield yourself by knowing that taste is subjective.  Ten different people will read your story ten different ways.  What one person says can be dismissed; where you need to listen is when four of those ten are making basically the same point.  Also, we all know when someone hits a point we should've seen, so be willing to take that point to heart rather than get upset that it was pointed out.

Yes, there are some mean people out there, even in critique groups, but these folks are easily spotted and written off.  Learn to discern between those trying to help and those looking to assuage their own bruised egos.  Once you can break through that barrier, you'll get better.  After all, won't that help you sell more in the end?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Shields Up!

A quick stroll through the ranks of Amazon will reveal a bizarre dichotomy.  Look first at the ebook titles from authors you know well - Harry Turtledove, James Patterson, Stephen King, and so forth.  Then head over to the ranks of indie writers like Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, and JA Konrath.  Anything stand out?

Yup - the prices.

This dichotomy exists from traditionally published mid-list writers to those who might be considered mid-list(or lower) in the indie ranks.  Traditionally published writers' ebooks are consistently higher, with most topping at least $11, while indie writers tend to keep ebooks in the $5 range.  I originally thought this could be explained by the way that traditionally published writers are still having to cover fixed expenses - like editors, secretaries, warehouse, etc - that indie writers don't, and I'm sure that still accounts for some of the discrepancy.  However, I've always been big on "follow the money," and this circumstance should be no exception.

It struck me out of the blue that a big part of the reason for this is that traditional publishing is still anchored to its paper book sales.  They're so anchored, in fact, that they have to artificially inflate ebook prices in order to not lose customers to the digital marketplace.  The thinking is that people will still want the books, but many(most) will opt for traditional books if prices between the two mediums are comparable.  Even I prefer paper books if given the choice, so it's people like me they're after.

Yes, I feel like an idiot that it took me so long to realize what should've been obvious from the start.  That revelation also leads me towards feeling that traditional publishers are making a HUGE mistake if they think they've found a winning strategy.

First, no matter what fantasy we want to live in, most readers are casual ones.  They can read or not and be just fine with that decision.  In fact, it's precisely because they're casual fans that they can move on from reading altogether if finding what they want becomes too bothersome.  Few find an ebook price they don't like and move to find a bookstore - getting harder and harder to find anyway - to pick up their tome.

Second, by artificially inflating prices, they're discouraging those who might otherwise be intrigued.  If prices were, say, around $6, someone otherwise inclined might take a risk on a new novel.  However, certain price points will cause people to walk away(there's a reason why prices end in .99 rather than just going up to the next round number).  However, in the mind of a traditional publisher, since their sales are anchored to print, they have no choice but to keep ebook prices so high that it won't make a dent in their margins.  Instead of seeing potential new customers, they see an interchangeable person who will buy regardless of price.

On the plus side, this artificial pricing model has helped the indie ebook boom.  People are much more willing to take a chance on someone whose prices are so much lower.  Were JK Rowling and Joe Smithy the same price, JK Rowling wins every time.  However, with Rowling at $12 and Smithy at $4, the analysis changes, and Smithy becomes much more appealing.

I guess this means we should actually thank traditional publishers.  By doing what they're doing, they've helped create the very competition now causing them so many headaches.  Well done!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Online Novel Chapter 5 - The Adventure Begins

It was mid-afternoon when they stepped into the sunlight.  Nothing in the natural scene said anything about this being a fantasy scenario - birds chirped, bugs buzzed, and sweat trickled beneath a large sun.  Only the dusty roads and thatched roof buildings said this wasn't their home.

Tucker jangled when he walked - a product of his armor rattling around on him.  It complimented his frame well, and the sword on his hip seemed a part of him.  Unlike the others, he was the only one who didn't look back.

"Uh, anybody have any idea how far it is to this Wostrom place?" Ray asked.

"Three or four leagues, Mouline," Dan replied.

"What did you say?" Ray asked.

"I said three or four leagues, Ray."  Dan blinked.  "I did say that, didn't I?"

"You called him Mouline," Lisa observed.

"Well, that's his character's name," Dan stammered.  "I'm just trying to get into the spirit."

Some of the group looked at each other, but the rest shrugged it off.  They looked hesitant still...except for Tucker.  No matter the group's pace(or lack thereof), he continued walking down the road, dust being kicked up by his boots dragging the ground.

"Tucker," Lisa called, "that's quite a ways."

"Is that a problem?" he called back over his shoulder.

"Kind of.  Shouldn't we have horses or something?"

"Did we have horses in the game?" Tucker asked.

They all looked at each other anew.  It wasn't something they ever really thought about.  Their characters usually just answered a poster in a town or were already at the scene of their adventure.  Travel between towns wasn't something they gave a lot of thought to.

"A horse or two would be nice," Chris ventured.

"So would a BMW, but we ain't got either," Tucker said.  "So let's keep moving.  I want to get to Wostrom before nightfall."

The group trudged after Tucker.  The knight seemed almost to pull them after him, for he didn't look back.  All but Pat were lightly dressed - as a woodsman, Pat wore heavier leather and carried a crossbow - yet it was Tucker, clad in his armor and heavy helmet, that set the pace.  His growing silence was almost as unnerving as his speed.

Dan was the one who slowed the group.  Although he knew the town and was the one with the directions in his head, his blindness prevented a quick stride, and only his grip on Chris' robes kept him from stumbling.  He paused to wipe the sweat from his brow once or twice, but he kept his complaints to himself.

Although Tucker wanted to make it before nightfall, the sun was long down by the time they finally reached the tiny Hamlet of Wostrom.  To say the place was small would be an understatement - most rural towns in Texas looked like bustling metropolises next to it.  Flickering torches lined the main road - one of only two, the other being the intersection in the center of the village - and ramshackle wooden buildings were interspersed throughout.  All were tired when they arrived, except for Tucker who seemed to have gained superhuman endurance.

A tavern on the side of the road named "The Boar's Head" had a wooden sign hanging from chains over the door.  Into the wood was painted a large black boar's head, its tusks gleaming in the moonlight.

"A tavern," Kurt panted.  "Thank god.  I need something to drink."

"Get your head out of the clouds," Tucker chided.  "We have a job to do, and getting hammered isn't on the list."

"Listen, Varagorn, you might be able to go all day and night, but the rest of us are beat," Kurt squeaked.  "If I don't get some food and drink, as well as a night's rest, I'll be no good to you.  Good luck beating the dragons by yourself."

Tucker looked annoyed, but he finally nodded.  Relief spread through the group as they opened the front door to the tavern.

Inside were a dozen wooden tables watched over by twice that number of candles.  A dirty bar was perched against the far wall with a scruffy man in an apron wiping out a wooden cup with a rag.  His brow furrowed as the group walked in and found a table.

After a few minutes, during which the barkeep gave the distinct impression he was hoping his lack of attention would dissuade his newfound patrons from staying, the man finally made it over.  He snarled, "What'll it be?"

Getting into the groove of things, Pat said, "I could use a good stout ale."

"Sound good," Chris said.  "One for everybody."

That earned him a quizzical look from the barkeep.  "Aren't you a priest of Dimala?" he asked, pointing at Chris' robes.  "I didn't think you guys were allowed to drink ale."

Chris was at a loss for words when Dan leaned over.  "Don't stand out," he whispered.  "We don't want to draw questions."

"But I'm thirsty," he hissed.

"Then get some water," Dan hissed back.

Clearly annoyed, Chris looked at the barkeep and said, "Water, then.  And any food you have.  What do you have?"

"Some leftover cheese and bread.  I'll bring it out.  Ale or mead for anyone else?"

The rest of the group piped up.  Most ordered ale, but Ray and Dan asked for mead.  It didn't take long for the barkeep to return with the drink, and a second trip saw him return with two loaves of bread and a slab of cheese.

The group tore into the food.  After much slurping and smacking, Dan said, "Uh, don't we have to pay for this?  Anyone got any money?"

The barkeep over heard them and started making his way back to the table, his face growing red.  However, his march was stopped when Lisa pulled a pouch of gold coins from her belt and threw it on the table.

"Lisa, where did you get that?" Pat asked.

"We each have something," Lisa said.  "At least each of us should except Dan.  He wasn't a character in the game, but our characters had money."

Each member of the group felt in his or her belt and packs, each one eventually coming up with something.  They flipped a couple of coins to the barkeep who now looked considerably more relaxed.  As the man scooped up the coins, Kurt asked, "Is there any place to stay around here?"

"Sure," the barkeep replied.  "The Weary Traveler Inn is just two doors down.  For rich folks like yourselves, they've got good accommodations."

They thanked the barkeep, swigged down the last of their drink, and headed for the door.  Only Tucker looked annoyed; the rest of the group just looked beat.

They had to get the innkeeper out of bed, and he looked frazzled and a little frightened when they did so.  Even the money they showed didn't mollify him, but he gave them four rooms for a piece of silver each.  Once he passed out keys, he headed back to his tony room.

"Sleeping arrangements?" Pat asked.

"I would think it obvious - I get the sole room, and everyone else can share," Tucker said.

After a second of shock, Lisa said, "Um, I'm the only girl.  Shouldn't I get the single room?"

"Kurt's a girl too," Tucker said, barely concealing a snicker as he did so.  "I need the room for my armor."

"Come on, Lisa - it'll be fun," Kurt said with a leer.

"Bullshit.  Just because you have tits now doesn't make you a girl."

"Does in every anatomy textbook I've ever read," Kurt replied.

"You women bicker all you like," Tucker said.  "I'm going to my room to take my armor off.  I want us up by sunrise to get back on the road."  Without looking back, he swiped a key and headed to his room.

The rest of the group looked stunned.  Tucker wasn't normally like this.  Yeah, he was a jock and a brute sometimes, but he'd always been cool.  Still, most were too tired to care at this point.

They worked out the rest of the sleeping arrangements - Kurt and Lisa would share(reluctantly on Lisa's part), while Chris and Dan shared a room, and Pat and Ray took the last one.  They fell onto beds of straw sleep overtaking them as quickly as the dark.

Unfortunately, it was only three or four hours later when a loud noise awoke them.  It sounded like grunts and screams, and it was coming from the main road through town.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Secondary Depth

I was over at Karen Woodward's blog the other day reading about the depth behind some of the characters we write, and it got me thinking.  We concentrate so much on the depth we put into our protagonist(and hopefully our antagonist as well), but how much thought do we put into the secondary characters we write?  And has there ever been a time when a secondary character has developed unexpected depth?

I must confess that I give little developmental thought to secondary characters.  I view them as a vehicle that helps me advance the story, as well as someone for the main character to bounce off of.  They become throwaways, and their loss rarely rankles the soul.

On occasion, however, they surprise me.  When I wrote Salvation Day, I included a character named Gary.  This guy was a lab partner of the main character and was meant to draw stuff out of the hero that he had to realize in order to grow into the story.  As I wrote, though, Gary had a surprising amount of depth - he acted as conscience and foil for Mike Faulkner, and he also provided a window into what Faulkner's life could've been like if he hadn't been so focused on his work to the exclusion of his wife.  I found myself wondering how Gary would act in certain situations, and what impact he would've brought to the rest of the story.

Unfortunately, once Faulkner succumb to temptation and accepted Hell's offer of near godhood, Gary fell off.  I don't mean that he became less and less important to the story - I mean he never made another appearance.  Ever.

This unnerved me.  How could a character so integral so early just disappear?  I've re-read Salvation Day a number of times, and the story works after Gary goes away.  In fact, I can't find a place to wedge him in anywhere - he would just seem out of place.  That doesn't mean I've forgotten him.

As I've played around with stories that are part of that universe, I haven't forgotten Gary.  I want to find a place in the next novel where he makes sense.  He was such an impactful character that I almost feel guilty about his disappearance.  This man deserves to be included in future works.

That thinking also got me wondering what other secondary characters I need to take a second look at.  I've written several novels at this point, so there are surely other characters that deserve more prominence.  Who else might I find that I wrote off too early because they weren't part of the cool kids clique?  Perhaps this will make me pay more attention to those who enter my stories in the future.  Only time, and more writing, will tell.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Overcome By Events

Sorry, folks, but life got a bit overwhelming the last couple of days.  That means no post today.  Sure, I could poop out something to fill space, but it would be meaningless filler, and I'm not into that.

I promise a new post by Wednesday morning.  Until then, please accept my apologies.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Online Novel Chapter 4 - Visions Of Grandeur

"What the hell are you doing, Tucker?" Lisa nearly screeched at him.

The burly knight had taken the scroll from the air and was now holding it in his right hand.  The armored gloves he wore made manipulating the paper appear clumsy, but he managed to turn it to where the picture made sense.

"I don't even know which way is north," he mumbled.  Turning the map again, he continued, "I think this blue dot down here is where we are, but I'm not sure."

Lisa repeated, "What the hell are you doing?  You're not thinking about trying to do what that bastard told us, are you?"

"I can only assume that the way back to our home is to complete this quest," Tucker replied without taking his eyes off the map.  "If you've got another idea, I'm all ears."

"You're friggin' insane," Ray said.  "Let's say for a sec that that might be the case - what do any of us know about killing real live dragons?"

"We've done it plenty," Pat piped up.  "We know the details, even if the mechanics might be off."

"THAT WAS A ROLE PLAYING GAME!" Dan yelled.  "If the dice rolled the wrong way, you went home and, at worst, made a new character.  You fuck up here and you'll turn into a charcoal briquette."

"Who says we can't do it?" Chris asked.  "If we've really been given the skills our characters had, then we should be a pretty powerful group.  We've been playing the same folks for a few years now, so any 'real' manifestation of them should be quite a sight."

"This is nuts.  I can't believe..."  Dan trailed off before leaning heavily against the wall.  When he looked up, his voice became dreamy.  "A town not far acts as a sacrificial lamb.  Looking for a savior they are, with the ability to reward that savior.  They hide their wares, but that doesn't stop the beasts from looking.  They've yet found nothing but a pleasure in killing, but the town's luck won't long hold."

They stared at Dan as he straightened, his milky white eyes peering around the room while wisps of grey hair fell about his face.  Finally, Kurt spoke up.

"What was that?"

"No idea," Dan replied as he panted.  "This picture of a monstrous army of some kind came over me, and the need to share the vision was too much.  That, and a blue gem, plus a canteen of some kind.  I get the feeling they're important."

"Any idea which town?" Tucker asked.

"Not off the top of my head, but I might be able to find it if you hand me that scroll."

As Tucker was handing it over, Lisa said, "Are you seriously considering this?  Just ten seconds ago you were on my side about how crazy this was."

Dan hesitated, uncertainty creeping into his face.  After a second or three, he reached back towards Tucker.  "Give me the scroll."

"I hate to break it to you, dude, but you're blind."

"I know that, but something tells me I can read the scroll, or at least get a sense from it.  Give it to me."

The scroll changed hands, and Dan pawed it instead of looking at it.  His fingers ran up and down the length while he stared into space.  "Wostrom.  It's to the west.  That's where we need to start."

Retrieving the scroll, Tucker said, "Doesn't look too far.  We can be there soon if we start now."

He, Pat, and Chris started out the door.  Dan, clutching Chris' priestly robes, stutter-stepped after them, while Lisa, Kurt, and Ray stared at the group.

"We're going," Tucker said.  "You can stay here and hope to find another way home, or you can come with us.  We've been a great team for years; we can do this."

The debate was over.  None of the three who tried staying behind looked enthused, but they didn't want to be alone either.  They joined Tucker and the rest as the knight reached for the door handle and jerked it open.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Project Depth

As a few of you may know, I've been writing an online novel set in a fantasy realm.  Although I'm only a few chapters in, I've already learned a great deal about both writing and what works for me.

Let me start by acceding that the online work is shallow and campy.  It's a fun little project, but it lacks the depth necessary for me to ever put it out alongside the rest of my work as a "real" book.  I realized this as I finished the most recent chapter.  But why?

Because the work lacks the depth necessary to be considered something serious.  I'm having fun, but there are so many steps missing here in what I normally do for a novel that I couldn't, in good conscience, claim that the novel is anything but a lark.

I've already covered the fact that I'm not outlining this book, so it threatens to spin off into chaotic directions the way weeds overrun a garden.  However, that entails so much.  What the outlining does is allow me to plan and think to a level of detail that grounds the story and goes beyond the surface.

Additionally, each chapter I've posted has been written in one night during a single sitting.  This is way outside of my normal bounds.  Each chapter usually has a focus and takes several days to weeks to develop.  This lets me go back, rearrange, and generally shape the chapter to make sure it both follows the general storyline and takes into account sufficient patience for the work to develop and not feel rushed.  Rushed work is normally where shallowness comes from, in my opinion, because it doesn't simmer and let things build to a point of anticipation.

I'm also not editing as I go.  My editing process is pretty intense, and it lets me remove extraneous things and add parts where reinforcement is necessary.  What you're seeing in my online novel is the first, very raw form of the story.  Like a rosebush that grows wild, it gets in the way of itself and makes things messy, whereas proper trimming and shaping creates a great piece of art for others to enjoy.

Don't get me wrong - I intend to follow this thing to a satisfying conclusion, but I'm not going to pretend this will be the next great American novel that students will write papers on in a hundred years.  It lets me continue to write and see where my wacky imagination takes me without the pressure of a full fledged book.  As long as the readers of this blog remember that while reading this story, I think we'll all have fun with it.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Digital Versus Paper

Ebooks are now all the rage.  From Hugh Howey to JA Konrath, those making it big in the indie world are hitting their strides by offering digital products.  In fact, it seems that the model for indie writers is to leap in big with ebooks and hold off on paper until established.  I'm not sure this is the way to go.

To be sure, I'm not suggesting that a new writer put the money required into printing off 10,000 copies of his or her first book in paper and storing them in a garage.  That would obviously be wasteful and optimistic in the extreme.  On the other hand, I personally prefer the feel of a paper book in my hands.  I read more than my house will store, so I save getting paper books for those I'm really looking forward to, but that doesn't mean I eschew them altogether.

Digitial is easy, or at least easier, to break into.  There are a few programs and services out there that will help you format your work for a digital platform, and Amazon KDP Select makes getting your work to readers in ebook form almost no hassle.  It really is about as simple as uploading your work and, BAM, you've got a book.

Paper can be challenging to find a distribution outlet.  Not only will none of the major chains put your work in their stores if you're a newbie on the independent scene, most independent bookstores won't stock your stuff either without a very one-sided contract.  In other words, what good does it do to have a paper copy if you have no way to get it into the hands of your audience?

I believe the keys are balance and expectation management.  As writers and business-people, we need to have multiple outlets for readers to both find and enjoy our work.  Some folks won't go near an e-reader, no matter how convenient.  We also need to remember that we're building an audience rather than tapping into one that already exists.  If you decide to distribute paper books, start by selling to those you know and giving away a few.  Encourage those folks to share the copy with their friends.  Start building a buzz - assuming you have talent - that makes people start to ask when your next novel is coming out.  Ask that they request it from their local bookstore so that merchants will know that this is serious and they might make some money.

At the same time, hit the digital market hard.  More and more people are turning to e-readers, and your presence in this market is vital.  Paper won't ever go away, but it might be supplanted on top by ebooks.  In my opinion, based on analysis I've done regarding sales, I think a good ratio to strive for is 5-1:  five digital sales for every paper sale.  Some say the ratio should be even more in favor of ebooks, but I think 5-1 allows for folks to find your work on the platform they enjoy and keeps you grounded in going after the right target audience.

Don't get too caught up in one way or the other.  Be ready to shift your focus should sales trend in a specific direction, but play around with the numbers and distribution to see what works best for your own vision.  After all, it's about getting your stories into the hands of readers that will pay for them.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Online Novel Chapter 3 - The Dragon Flight

The shadow's baritone voice filled the room.  "Dragons have always roamed our world, but they've been isolated.  For the most part, they've left us alone, and we've left them alone.  Sure, there have been intrepid adventurers who've sought them out, but most don't survive.

"In recent years, the dragons have begun encroaching further and further into civilization.  It was merely a nuisance at first, composed mainly of tiny green dragons.  The corrosive gasses they exhaled killed a few, but we learned to protect ourselves.  Unfortunately, they were but the first.

"Grey dragons next appeared, with their flammable spit.  Numerous towns on the outer edge of Maldonia have been destroyed, and only the heroic intervention of the Gerican Army stopped their advance.  Our scouts have found evidence of dreaded red and white dragons.  There is even talk of a mighty silver dragon, and there is only one place that type of dragon has ever appeared - in the Prophecy of the Dragon Flight."

The room went silent as the shadow smiled.  It was as if he expected the group to know what he was talking about.  Into the silence, Ray asked, "What does this mean to us.  What is this Dragon Flight?"

"Everyone knows of the prophecy," the shadow said, confusion creeping into his voice.  "I realize that your land is far away, but surely even tales of the end of the world have found your kingdom."

"Um, afraid not," Pat said.

The shadow sighed.  "Very well.  Two thousand years ago, an ancient seer foretold of an invasion of dragons, come to reclaim a world they fled long ago.  They would bring with them death and give no quarter to the sentient of our realm - humans, dwarves, elves, and fairies would be driven from the land.  Even the orcs and wraiths of the east would not be spared from the dragons' wrath.  Once the land is purged, the prophecy tells of a mighty silver dragon that would establish a dragon kingdom until the sun itself winked out."

"Sound like fun," Lisa said.  "Just what do you expect us to do about it?"

"The prophecy contained but a single hope.  It spoke of a band of adventurers from a far off land, a band with skill and power unrivaled in our world.  The task to defeat the Dragon Flight would fall to them.  They must slay the silver beast and bring peace back to our land, for if the king is killed, its minions will retreat once more.  However, the prophecy is unclear as to the success of this group - it says the fight could go either way, and its outcome will determine the fate of us all."

A new silence fell over the group.  This one was less the confused silence from before and more a dreadful one.  Finally, Tucker said, "Do you expect us to fight these things?  How'd we even get here?"

After a slight hesitation from the shadow, it said, "I confess that we unlocked ancient and forbidden magic to scour the realms for those who might be worthy to take on this quest.  We followed your adventures from afar, and the results have been impressive."

"That was role playing!" Chris exclaimed.

"I know not what this 'role playing' is, but no one can deny the monsters you've slain or the treasure you've scavenged.  If anyone is worthy to assume this burden, it's you."

Before anyone could object again, Dan said, "Why am I blind?  I can't see anything.  And I was the storyteller, not a character.  Why am I even here?"

"Your powers of foresight are legendary.  True seers are rare indeed, but your powers to see the future arise from your spirit, not your eyes."

Dan was on the verge of tears.  "I can't see anything.  I'm a goddamned storyteller!"

"The burdens of a seer are fierce, and I feel for your plight, but you will be able to warn your team of danger in advance so they can prepare.  Just open your soul as you've done so often and the future will emerge."

Dan was dumbstruck and suddenly mute.  Before the rest of the group could say anything else, the shadow said, "This map" - a scroll appeared from thin air - "will show you the way to the dragons' land.  Our scouts haven't found their strongpoint, but we believe it's somewhere near Mount Tabor.  You should find solace in most of the towns along the route, but be wary of strangers, for not all hold your best interests at heart.  And avoid devilish creatures like wraiths and the undead, for their motives are domination, and they remain our sworn enemies.  You have sufficient gold to make it to the edge of the forest, and you are free to whatever else you can scavenge within the law.  We will be monitoring your progress, and we will return you to your land once you've rid our world of this apocalyptic threat."

"What if we don't do anything?" Kurt asked.

"Then our world will die, and you along with it.  Success is your - our - only hope."

The shadow disappeared into mist, and the group looked at each other(at least those who could see looked at each other).  The silence was so brittle that it felt as if a single word could shatter the air.  Without speaking, Tucker made his way to the scroll and plucked it from the air.