Making Sense of the World Through Fantasy & Sci-Fi

We live in overwhelming times, although I suppose people always have. Tiny bodies caught in a massive gravitational pull. Cause and effect, strangeness, beauty and choice all wrapped up together. Each individual seemingly at the centre, capable of being a hero or villain. Perhaps this is why fantasy and sci-fi have risen to the forefront of popular culture; the scale and scope of these living legends resonating in our consciousness.

We sense the vastness, the grand scope, the great threat and dreaded task. We seek direction and inspiration. For humanity, since the beginning, it appears that we have looked to story to provide meaning, to help make sense of our own role in this complex existence. A story has pattern and rhythm, rise and fall, beginning and conclusion; a world contained. A vehicle offering an objective view, a way to safely make connection, as well as providing opportunity for reflection.

Books have the particularly subtle quality of encouraging the reader to place themselves inside the story; an invisible sort of give and take. Individual perspective works with the words to shape a unique experience. This is magic. Technology not fully understood, even today. True whether you live in the Shire or Mordor, Smallville or Gotham.

Some readers prefer a more optimistic outcome whereas others revel in the darkness exposed. Each have their merits, but I believe that a balance of both is required to create a fully realized story. Because humanity is messy, terrible and wonderful, and so is the reader. As is the writer.

There are voices for everyone, what with the ability to self-publish. Categories and characters that probably never would have made it past the gates of traditional publishing. Seems as though people and tastes are more diverse than what a few executives in tall buildings decided.

I leapt at the chance afforded by indie publishing and wrote a trilogy (discovering afterwards that it could be classified in the fantasy sub-genre, Grimdark.) Grimdark is a foreboding title that doesn’t really mean anything, except maybe to stride forward and meet the challenge headfirst, blade at the ready. Anti-heroes and likeable ruffians that are sometimes more relatable than the knight in shining armour and the ridiculously evil dark lord. Because we live in confusing times and not everything is as it appears at first glance, despite how loudly some people shout.

Everyone is evolving on their own journey, empowered by hidden motivations, born into a world of rules and systems not of their choosing. Grimdark, despite its name, does as good of a job as any genre of revealing this struggle, this desire to discover personal truth.

So I encourage you to try a walk down the many paths of fantasy and sci-fi. Maybe Grimdark isn’t your cup of stale beer, but there are plenty of other categories to choose from. Try a self-published author if you’re feeling saucy, why not? Be bold and see where the story takes you.

The Sequel

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Writing a novel is fun. Contrasting qualities blend together to give voice to a quiet activity. It’s structured yet creative. Solitary yet expansive. Direct yet subtle. And sometimes, in those sweet moments that render time meaningless, the words flow. The words come smooth and fast, clear and fresh as water drawn from a well. From unseen depths and into sunlight. It feels pure. At least to the author. Inspiration to feed the spirit. The hope is that the reader perceives a similar phenomena.

This is all to say that the sequel to Daughter of Shadow is completed. All that is left are a few technical aspects of indie publishing, such as formatting, ISBN’s, etc.

Gods of Rua picks up the action directly from the conclusion of DoS. New areas of the world are explored along with the development of characters to enhance the depth of the overall story. There are a fair share of new characters as well to fill-out the escalating conflict within The Spiritbinder Saga.

Progresss on the third, as yet untitled, instalment has been steady, as the first draft is nearing completion. The stakes keep being raised and it’s been thrilling to write the progression of increasingly complex characters (sometimes deviating unexpectedly from original plans).

Writing my first novel, DoS, was fun in a pushing oneself to climb a mountain sort of way. Writing the second novel has been akin to sitting on the peak to enjoy the view. The first draft of the third has the inherent momentum of descending a backside trail. Then there’s the fourth, and series concluding novel, in the distance. The sparkling water of a lake holding the promise of fire and rest.

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They say to write what you know but in all honesty I don’t know much about properly wielding bladed weapons, being an orphan, or performing arcane rituals. I think the saying is meant to encourage one to write what they love. I love asking big questions, different perspectives from all walks of life, and slow-mo action scenes. I love comparing and contrasting concepts then melting them together to create an alloy that is strengthened by the differences and supported by the similarities. I love writing fantasy. Can’t wait to share.

The amazing cover art will soon be revealed, with the published novel following shortly.

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Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2

Everyone loves a good competition, what with the collective consciousness of the world currently fixated on the Olympics, and everyone loves a winner.  A while back, I entered Daughter of Shadow into the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2, the largest indie fantasy contest in existence (probably).  300 entries were divvied between 10 of the top fantasy blogs, who would be the judges.  I pulled Fantasy-Faction for a judge, biggest dog in the junkyard.  I was thrilled—a real test.  If I could make it with Fantasy-Faction I’d get some real street cred as an author.

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Several rounds of eliminations have gone by.  My hopes kept elevating each time my name wasn’t listed.

Winning is awesome.  The joy, relief, and adrenaline fuelled vindication of besting a worthy opponent is a feeling anyone could get used to.  This post is not about winning.  Losing sucks.  Frustration, self-doubt, and dashed hopes are not fun.  Daughter of Shadow has been eliminated from contention.

Here is the review/justification.

“Like Nightfall GardensDaughter of Shadow is another book that fell not so much because the team found any issues with it, but because it simply didn’t grab us as much as some of the other books did. These are always the hardest books to say goodbye to, because we’ve moved beyond the more tangible reasons for letting a book go and into the purely subjective.

Perhaps it’s not much consolation, but another team of reviewers might well have preferred this book to some of our final seven. It has a decent prologue (which we found to be a rarity!) and introduces an interesting protagonist in Melea – the team enjoyed the fact that unlike many other fantasy protagonists, she is already powerful when the story begins. We also found the initial battle scene to be well written. In the end, we had to go by our subjective opinion that the writing wasn’t quite as smooth and didn’t have quite as much ‘voice’ as some of the other books – but Daughter of Shadow is certainly worth checking out for anyone who likes the sound of the blurb.”

My first reaction was denial (the initial stage in grieving).  It couldn’t be my book, but that cover did look familiar, maybe the title was Daughter in Shadow.  But nope.  Then came an expletive filled outburst—anger, the next stage.  Bargaining soon followed as I mentally schemed some way to get back into the contest.  Depression hit in next, a dour moment of “what’s the point in writing?”  I needed to get away from the computer.

I took the dog around the block for a walk.  The combination of cool night air with the stars peaking through departing rainclouds, and the joy elicited in my dog from a random stick she found on the ground helped to put things back into perspective.  I was firmly in the final stage—acceptance.  I’d lost.  But, the review had actually been mostly positive.  The reviewer had even admitted that a different reader may have put DoS into the next round.  So close.  Thwarted by subjectivity.  But everything is subjective!

So how to get more subjective individuals to choose my novel?  How to sway the people on the fence, decisions that could go either way, onto the side of recommending DoS?  This, my friends, was a new cache of motivation.

I’d temporarily fallen into a trap of unreasonable expectations and the only way to get untangled was to keep moving.  Yes, I’d entered the contest to win (why else?), participation is nice and all but the SPFBLO2 is a competition.  The reality of beating 299 entries seemed to become more possible as I eagerly watched the cuts happen over these past few months.  My expectations ballooned from hopefully sensible to borderline entitled.  This phenomena is visible in the actions of parents with children in minor league sports throughout the world.  Winning becomes an obsession.  Perspective narrows into tunnel-vision.

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I’ve witnessed incensed fans/parents attempt to fight the referee in the middle of a hockey game being played by children!  I’ve had teammates break equipment and damage property after a loss.  I’ve known feuds between friends and family to begin because of a seemingly innocuous sports rivalry.  All instances of negative emotions being transitioned into blame directed at others.  No acceptance of one’s own actions.  Maybe the other team actually was better.  Maybe you should practice more.  Maybe, just maybe, punching that guy from the other team won’t change the score of the game.  Just sayin’.

Maybe the novels chosen to advance by Fantasy-Faction are superior to my own.  That’s a tough pill to swallow.  But it’s not the end of the story.  I’m a self-published author and that means I can alter DoS whenever I want.  The sequel to DoS is ready for a date with the editor, but first, I will go back improve.  I will make the story better.

To use a baseball analogy: I stepped up to the plate and swung, trying to smack a home run.  Well, I didn’t quite knock it out of the park but I got a hit.  I’m on base.  The game isn’t over and I can still score.

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The review and competition has provided motivation to improve the story even more.  I’m hopeful that a copy edit will help to smooth out any remaining rough patches.  No shortcuts.  No excuses.  No blame.  Just be better.

 

 

In Stores Now!

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Daughter of Shadow is now available in stores. Two stores to be exact. Two small stores in Camrose, Alberta, Canada. But hey, that’s two more than last week. Have to start somewhere.

Since I was a kid I’ve dreamed about having a novel of mine on a shelf beside the best writers in the genre. Actually accomplishing this endeavour is quite surreal, being both harder and easier than I expected. I have to admit that I did feel a sense of satisfaction as the proprietor’s praised the cover art and flipped through the pages before deeming the product to be acceptable.  Daughter of Shadow, and me by association, have made the “big leagues.”

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(Thanks Leo)

The Next Book

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You’ve written a book but now what?  Where to go next?

The thought of beginning the process again can be a daunting task, particularly if the first book has yet to become a commercial success.  Marketing the finished product can be a grind on the creative spirit.  Then there’s the nagging voice of self-doubt whispering that maybe you only had one book in you.  But writer’s write.  If there’s one story in you then there will be more.  I’ve yet to meet a writer who was capable of putting the pen & paper/keyboard away indefinitely.

People need stories and stories need people.  A form of symbiosis where the writer and the story itself are capable of evolving.  By the time book two rolls around the writer should be more evolved, more skilled, and more prepared for what the writing process entails.  This personal and professional experience should hopefully lead to a better story.

I’ve been diligently chipping away at the sequel to Daughter of Shadow and recently completed the first draft.  This initial incarnation is now in the hands of some trusted beta readers.  I cannot overstate how important quality testers are to churning out the best possible story  (at least for me).  The different opinions allow me to see the material with new eyes, which stimulates new ideas about something I supposedly knew intimately.  A fresh burst of energy to go back and fix what needs fixin’.  The hope is that this book will require significantly less edits than the first.  My gut tells me this will be the case.

I felt more comfortable in the driver’s seat when writing the sequel—the ride was much smoother, the speed bumps smaller and the stalling moments less frequent.  This car analogy doing anything for you?  Traversing the mountain was more of an enjoyable hike rather than a climbing expedition.  How about one more?  Less work and more work.

The experience of writing the first book has been invaluable to establishing and improving my “voice.”  The style and delivery that is crucial to catching a reader’s attention.  I’m going to return to the first book with this awareness to give it another edit and really get the voice consistent.  The fact that I’m already excited about starting book three has to be a good sign (or an unconscious obsessive tendency).

What are your thoughts about writing the next book?  I’d love to hear from experienced writers as well as newbies.

 

Goodreads Giveaway Winners

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The month-long contest has ended! A total of 2014 people entered and 850 added Daughter of Shadow to their reading lists.

Word of mouth is a crucial influencer of book sales so I enrolled in the process to spread the word and now it’s up to the mouths to do the rest. Goodreads is a top-notch site/community and I may have to spend more time there. The contest was open to the world and the random generator took that detail to heart, with the five winners hailing from Canada, India, Germany, Great Britain, and Romania.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Giveaway! Time for me to go mail some books.

Radio Interview

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By way of a serendipitous encounter I will be speaking with Gail Vaz-Oxlade on her podcast which airs on NewsTalk 1010.

Gail has written 13 books on personal finance, numerous financial articles, and hosts the television shows Princess and Til Debt Do Us Part.  She recently finished a lengthy Canadian promotional tour for her new book, Debt-Free Forever. Suffice to say, she is a powerful personality and I look forward to the interview.

I will be discussing my novel, Daughter of Shadow, as well as the self-publishing process and writing in general. The interview takes place Monday February 15 @ 11:10PM EST.

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Writer vs. Author

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You are a writer. Words are your friends. Stories move through you like the wind amongst the leaves of a trembling aspen.

You are an author. A high quality finished product is the culmination of your writing. Readers purchase your books (at least in theory).

A writer has their own style. An author has their own brand. Different hats worn by the same person.

A writer dabbles in creation. An author dabbles in marketing.

An author is, and always will be, a writer, but with the achievement of publication comes greater responsibility. The job title carries more weight. When I was on the college basketball team I was a basketball player, but now, I play basketball.  A slight shift in connotation drastically influences the mindset.

Historically, the realm of authordom was carefully guarded by the moats, walls, and soldiers. Only writers invited by inhabitants within the realm could enter. Self-publishing has changed all of that. An individual with a tenuous grasp on the written language and a rubbish story can upload to Amazon and let the novel sink into the e-book abyss. The walls are breached and the outsider is strolling through the palace gardens, claiming to be an author. But is the claim justified? I suppose this hypothetical individual would technically be an author but I would argue that they have missed the point on what an author truly is.

I think an author is a writer who has decided to go professional. The exact same decision made by an athlete who has signed a professional contract. Yes, you play basketball but now the how and the why have much more meaning. Yes, you are a writer, but now…

And this is where the schism occurs. Traditional publishing is outraged by the ever increasing amount of people who have taken it upon themselves to become “pros.” How can they be professionals? They aren’t even playing in the same league! But self-published authors are drawing from the same pool of readers so they are most definitely a threat to industry earnings.

A similar event occurred in the 1960‘s & 70‘s when the ABA arrived to rival the NBA (another basketball reference, I know). The ABA was flashy and free-flowing, instituting the 3-point line as well as the Slam Dunk Competition. Tickets were inexpensive compared to that of the NBA. The ABA was a game for the people. A lack of big money television deals eventually sealed the fate of the ABA but it had been successful enough to force a merger between leagues. The longstanding NBA was forever altered by the upstart. Traditional publishing, like the NBA, never thought it could be challenged, but the rise of a legitimate rival is changing the game.

This thought brings me around once again to the concept an author being a professional. The successful self-published authors wear this responsibility, expanding on their skills and knowledge, putting in the work to be regarded as equals by the established regime. For many writers, myself included, it is a steep learning curve filled with trial and error, of how to be an “author” once the novel is finally finished. Completing the story was the goal for such a long time and then all of a sudden it’s there in your hands. Now what?

Numerous resources advise that an individual build an author platform by blogging/tweets/Facebook/etc, utilize online marketing, accumulate reviews, produce more stories, attend conferences, stay up to date with the state of the industry, and many other tricks of the trade. It’s a lot to cover. This is after you’ve done the grunt work of sending the novel to beta readers, having it professionally edited, having a professional cover made, and formatting for e-book & print. What does any of this have to do with writing? Well, you’ve graduated into authorship and there’s work to be done.

Do you want to be a professional? Do you have what it takes?

Fellow writers, I’d love hear your thoughts on this subject. Please leave a comment about how you approach being an author. If you have yet to publish, why not? What’s holding you back?

Marketing: So You’ve Written a Novel

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Marketing: the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.

How does one use marketing to sell books? Theories and tools abound but none can legitimately lay claim to a surefire technique. The rapid ascension of self-publishing has thrown a kink into time tested models and everyone in the publishing industry is scrambling to adapt.

When listening to speakers at a writing/editing/publishing conference I attended there seemed to be a unanimous approach to modern marketing from independent, small, medium, and large publishers—the shotgun method. Splatter the wall and see what hits. Not the most efficient or eloquent of approaches but no one seems to be able to say for certain what will, and won’t, work.

The phrase, “Write the best story possible and the cream will rise to the top,” kept appearing at the conference as well. How then to explain massive successes like 50 Shades of Grey? Clever marketing obviously had a hand in making that poor-to-mediocre story a success. I think it all comes down to word of mouth. The more people talking about a product, or at least are aware of it, then the higher chances of potential sales.

The shotgun method is an attempt to connect with various streams in the hopes that one, or multiple, will raise awareness of the book and author. Sounds easy enough but when everyone is doing it then the “cream” has a lot more crap to rise through to get to the top.

The amount of available funds at a publishers disposal also plays a major role in marketing. Rarely can a self-published author match the concerted and widespread marketing effort of a Big 5 publisher. Not all shotgun blasts are created equal. Not everyone gets to reload.

But what about social media? It’s free and ubiquitous! There are many success stories of self-published authors using social media to raise awareness and even the big time authors with big time contracts have to be involved on social media. Yet I can’t help but get philosophical about the apparent advantages of social media—if a self-published author blogs does anyone hear it? Do all tweets come from songbirds or is it just a bunch of honking geese?

Whatever the case, I’m trying my own shotgun method with my novel, Daughter of Shadow. I have to admit that aspects of marketing are fun—it’s like jumping into a game that’s already in process and nobody fully understands the rules. The most frustrating part is the not knowing. What works? What doesn’t? Why?

It’s incredibly easy easy to drop a piece of yourself into the internet but most of the time that piece sinks away never to be seen or heard from again. Maybe message in a bottle method is more appropriate than shotgun, although the reference to a weapon conveys a sense of control and applied direction rather than casting out wishes and hoping for the best.

To close on a point of optimism—we’re all in this together. The big time authors and first time self-pubs are all caught up in the same game. I can read Rothfuss, King, Gladwell, and Le Guin all at the same time and everyone wins, because the beauty of writing is that it’s meant to be shared. Books are a very different product then say a blender; you can never have too many.