Blood of Angels: Intermission

So suddenly after 60 chapters with a pretty clear sense of where I was going, I have hit a bit of a hiccup in Blood of Angels. I don’t know if it is just writer’s block or running into the usual “soft middle” of the story or what, but I feel stuck. If you are one of the handful of folks following the story, don’t worry: I am not abandoning it. But it might take a short while for me to find my footing on it again.

 

Thanks.

The Ring Makers and Other Stories: Cover Reveal

I am hard at work editing The Ring Makers, but a few of my favorite short stories. Together they will make an anthology titled “The Ring Makers and Other Stories” which will be available in the Amazon Kindle store alongside Elger and the Moon. I thought I would share the wonderful cover art produced by Sigil Entertainment, with whom I do some game writing now and again.

Star tuned for news regarding “The Ring Makers and Other Stories” as well as my next serial story, a modern crossworld dark fantasy called “Cold Brook.”

The Ring Makers: Afterword

The Ring Makers started out as a necessary exercise. I was suffering from some pretty tough writer’s block and imposter syndrome. I had written some game material in the last couple years but had not been consistent with even that, and was totally bouncing off every piece of fiction I tried.

 

I knew I needed to do something. I had to get my groove back. A therapist told me “It doesn’t matter how much you write, but if it is important to you, write something. Write a hundred words a day if that is all you have in you.” This was in response to my usual caterwauling about the Elger and Moon sequel, of course, but it managed to somehow stick with me this time.

 

I still was not ready to go back to that work yet, so instead I decided to just engage in an exercise with two foci: to write every day, and to write exactly 100 words. Both are a little harder than it sounds.

 

Writing every day is tough, even when you are only talking 100 words. First, you have to actually “put ass to chair and fingers to keyboard” as the great JMS once wrote. It sounds easy until that day you realize it is 11 PM, you are more than a little drunk, and you can’t remember your Google Docs password. In the end, I only missed three days: Christmas Day and two days recently while I was away at TotalCon, all due to exhaustion. But, 97% is still an A so I’ll take it.

Writing exactly 100 words is also hard, but in a fun and challenging way. You may not know this, but I tend to go on a bit. Forcing myself to be concise helped me reign in my worst excesses as a writer and made me really examine the words I was using. Also tense: you can eliminate a lot of unnecessary words by avoiding the passive voice, FYI.

 

Finally, I want to mention this concept of the “micronovel.” I do not remember where I discovered the term, but what I tried to do with the Ring Makers was not write a novella or novelette, but an actual novel in brief. In other words, I wanted the characters, subplots, and complexities of a novel told in brief. But that brevity could not simply be an outline. My 100 word chapters were not intended to serve as a sketch of a 1000 word chapter. Instead, I wanted to tell the story through flashes, moments that told you the overall story without having to tell you everything. I feel like I was generally successful.

 

So, what is next? I am going to leave The Ring Makers “in the drawer” for a little while while I work on my next daily project (upping my daily word count to see if I can maintain it). When I revisit it, the goal will be to polish it and publish it via Amazon.

Thanks everyone that followed along this process with me. More than once, your readership, likes and comments kept me going when I might have abandoned The Ring Makers. You’re the best.

Chapter 1

Rejectron 3000

I have always had a bit of a tumultuous relationship with (writing) rejection. Of course there’s a sense of failure and the creeping feeling of imposter syndrome, but the thing I really hate is form letters. The sense that there’s an algorithm accepting, reading and rejecting submissions has always bothered me. I know intellectually that it doesn’t really work that way (I don’t think). I assume there are real people going through the slush pile, and my stuff is just not good enough to get through the sieve.

A couple months ago DAW Books opened for unsolicited submissions. I decided to send Elger and the Moon in. I really like that novel and feel like it could be great with a real editor and publishing resources behind it. That a rejection letter did not come back immediately gave me a little hope, as did seeing some random reads on my Kindle reports. Were they looking at it seriously? Did it have a shot?

Alas, the Rejectron 3000 just spat out its form letter and all those feelings of failure, imposter syndrome and being subject to the whims of algorithms come rushing back, no matter how foolish they are.

Writing is lonely and hard, and yet here I am.

Here we go…

Just a quick note, aside from The Ring Makers micronovel (which i promise I will discuss in depth at some point):

I just submitted Elger and the Moon to DAW Books. They are having an open call at the moment. And now I am pretty sure I am going to spend the next 3 months (the estimated response time) in a state of high anxiety.

Here’s the thing: I really like that book and I was really crushed when it became.. inert so quickly. I understand that I could not give it the marketing attention it needed, but despite that understanding I still felt like it was a failure. Submitting it this way to a traditional publisher is a big step for me. It’s me saying that the failure of Elger and the Moon as a self published novel does not mean Elger and the Moon is a failure, and by extension it doesn’t mean I am as a writer. I know that is going to sound self indulgent to folks (it sounds self indulgent to me) but that is honestly how I felt for over two years now at least as it relates to fiction.

The Ring Makers is partly a healing strategy for that, forcing myself to write daily with intent and direction and within limits. Submitting Elger was a much bigger part of that process, though.

So, here goes nothing.

The Creative Stack

The word “Blog” appears at the top of an otherwise blank sheet of college ruled paper. It is the top sheet of five such pieces of paper. The rest aren’t labeled “Blog” of course. They have labels like “Tabletop Game Design” and “Fiction” on them. And while each sheet represents a distinct creative activity, they are all part of a larger experiment: the Creative Stack.

For the past few months — well, actually, for the past few years — most of my time and mental energy has been consumed by school. I am a middle aged man with a degree in English Literature and a gnat’s level of focus, so you may ask why I am in school. I am doing what all middle aged people do in the modern economy: changing jobs before my job changes me — irrevocably. I am moving from “surveyor by trade” to “civil engineer.” I know what you are thinking, and no — I did not decide to become an engineer just so I can level up from geek to true nerd.

Ok. Maybe a little.

Anyway, all that background is to get to this: with classes ending for the summer, I find myself with free time. I could squander it on video games and extra sessions of D&D (and rest assured, I will to some degree) but I also want to ensure I use the time I have wisely before going back to school in the fall. I tried to pick a project, but realized that the whole “attention span of a gnat” thing was going to cause me no end of trouble in that endeavor. So, instead, I am writing an entry for this blog because that piece of college ruled paper told me so.

I call it the “Creative Stack” and I honestly don’t remember if I came by the idea listening to a podcast or dreamed it up myself. If it ends up working, you can be sure I will claim the latter, so we will go with that for now.

The Creative Stack consists of five sheets of paper. They bear the following headings:

Tabletop Game Design, for serious efforts toward board and card game design with an eye toward eventual production or publication.

Game Prep, for convention games and other “serious” role-playing Game Mastering circumstances.

Fiction, for prose storytelling.

RPG Game Design, for professional work in the RPG arena, including freelance writing and part time development.

and, of course, Blog, for this thing here.

(There area couple of blank pages in the stack at the moment, too, in case I get a bug for something in particular.)

The way the stack works is simple: Whatever the top sheet is, I work on for some period of time, maybe an hour or two. When I finish for that day, I write down what I did and when I did it, and then move that paper to the bottom of the stack. The next day (presuming I don’t procrastinate) I work on whatever is next in the stack, even if that isn’t necessarily the thing I would want to be working on at that moment. I don’t get to move on until I have put work into whatever is on the top of the stack.

The system is intended to both keep me working on something creative daily, and help me avoid both burnout on one project and also avoid randomly dropping a project out of disinterest or a simple failure to get back to it. In the best case scenario by the end of the summer I have reams of completed projects, and a creative stack that has turned over a few times. In reality, I will be happy if I manage to complete a single project within each category.

At the very least, it should mean that every 5-days-ish, you should see a new blog entry from me. If you like that sort of thing, I mean.

-I

Creative Desolation

I have fought with writer’s block and imposter syndrome before, of course. I don’t know a creative person that has not had to deal with some variation of those things. This most recent bout was something new, though. Not entirely, but a new flavor of both, blended together like a soft serve swirl cone of depression and anxiety.

 

Long story short: the lack of traction that Elger and the Moon has gained hit me hard and threw me for a loop. I know it is silly. I had no logical reason to believe it would do well other than blind hope and the fact that I think it is really good — a belief built not on hubris but on what others have said and how they have rated and reviewed the novel. Anyway, that isn’t really the point of this (admittedly self indulgent) post. The point is that I hoped, and in hoping I set myself up for a fall. All I fell pretty hard.

 

The knock out blow came on June 1. I put some money into one of those “we’ll list your book in our email out to 80K subscribers” things. I was not really looking for it to explode, with thousands or even hundreds of purchases. And I was not even really worried about the money. What I hoped (and, again, here is where I got myself into trouble) was that it would boost sales enough to result in more good reviews and it would start to snowball.

 

I made five sales that day. Then, crickets.

 

Up until that point I was still riding the high from release. People were telling me how much they liked it. They were recommending it to friends and family, even getting it into their school library in one case. And even though I knew, intellectually, to keep my expectations low, I dared to hope. Maybe hoping wasn’t the mistake, but tying those hopes to that $40 promo definitely was. In any case, the high was driving me to work on the follow up novel, chronicling the consequences of Elger’s choices.

 

Then those five fucking purchases rolled in and I stopped writing. I mean, why bother? Why would you write a sequel to a novel no one but your friends are ever going to read? Why write at all? If the one you thought was really good was invisible, what was the point of bothering at all?

 

I was, creatively speaking, living in that house at the top of this post. I couldn’t even be bothered to write a goddamn blog post, let alone work on a novel or even a short story.

 

So, what changed? Maybe it was just time. Maybe it was some reflection. Maybe I just managed to retroactively lower my expectation so much that it felt like a win since I did not sell zero copies. In the end, though, I think it was the realization at some point that there was a kind of freedom in failure here. I like Elger and his world. I also like experimental writing and different genres and forms. I can write whatever I want, however I want, because there is no pressure to succeed at it for a living, because ultimately there’s no chance of that. I am not going to be able to quit my job and write full time and jet set across the country and world going to signings and conventions. If I want the next story in Elger’s “Awakened World” to be a tabletop role-playing game or a choose you own adventure or an epic Seussian poem, I can do that.

 

I am going to go ahead and write Elger 2. I am going to hire my cover artist and editor again and I am going to publish ti through Amazon. I am going to finish at least this duology. Not because I need it to sell or because I think the sequel ill be the one that gets the ball rolling. I am going to do it because I want to and, frankly, it isn’t like I can go through my life not writing.

 

So — thanks for not buying Elger and the Moon, I guess.

Elger, Everyone. Everyone, Elger.

A few days ago I gave you a little tease of the cover mock up. Now, it is time for you to meet Elger of Heap:

This awesome illustration was produced by my great friend A Bleys Ingram, whose work has graced many an RPG. Since I make no attempt to hide that my 30-plus years immersed in role-playing games thoroughly inform my fiction, it seemed appropriate.

 

Watch this space for a fully designed cover reveal in the near future, as well as pre-ordering information.