Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Review: The Between

The Between, by +Lisa Cohen 

3/5 stars

Blurb: 


High school senior, Lydia Hawthorne, is less than grateful when Oberon has her snatched from the mortal world and she finds out she's actually Fae. And not just any Fae, but a trueborn with enough inherent magic to tip the balance between Oberon and Titania's warring Bright and Shadow courts.

But that's their game and she doesn't want to play by their rules. Together with Clive Barrow, a Bright Court Fae with embarrassing family ties to the mortal world, Lydia fights to regain her old life, fueling her magic with the very human power of love and loss, challenging the essential nature of Faerie itself.

Review: 


I bought this book quite a while ago with a portion of an Amazon gift card that I'd earned. I was looking to support indie authors with it, so when I put the call out for book suggestions, Lisa sent me a link to the book. It sounded interesting, so I picked it up.

Between that time and now, she also brought out Derelict, which I scooped up, read, and loved [my review of Derelict]. After enjoying that story tremendously, I had high expectations for The Between.

And it was an okay story. To be honest, I almost put it down part way through chapter 1. Everything felt too familiar. The character in the story made several references to The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, aiding in the overly familiar themes. Young girl has an immortal, sullen stalker... Angel from Buffy, anyone? It also had a bit of a Matrix vibe.

And I would have put it down if the end of the chapter hadn't caught my attention. What was going on with the iron key fob? So I continued reading, got to the end of chapter 2, and so on and so forth, eventually getting more invested in the story. There were some great elements in it, but that sense of familiarity never really went away, either.

I found the ending sort of confusing. In a faerie world where pretty much anything goes, I didn't understand what Lydia did, how she did it, or what the long-term ramifications were. It didn't feel closed to me - like there was a chapter missing between the last two.

It was an entertaining read, for the most part, so I still give it 3/5 stars, despite the things I didn't like. But I think I'll give the sequel a pass since I'm not really invested in this book, and wait for the sequel to Derelict (which I'm super excited about!).

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ode to an artist


+Harvey Bunda is putting together a book of his artwork and asked me if I could write something for it. I'm honoured that he wants to include the cover art for my books, and am happy to provide him with a glowing recommendation. (I added a couple things here just to showcase all the pieces, but they didn't add much to the write up for the book)



The cover I made
Although I first published A Noble’s Quest in late 2012, I didn’t start looking for a cover artist until the following year. At first I wasn’t sure if I would publish any more books, so I did my own cover and put the e-book on Smashwords and Amazon. The first positive reviews came in, and I felt the call to write more.

In 2013 I had a discussion with a fellow writer who said she liked my cover, but it didn’t convey that the story was an epic fantasy. The book was doing well, and I wanted excellent art to reflect the quality of the story. Having grown up reading fantasy novels with eye-catching artwork, I knew what I wanted but had trouble finding someone to bring it to life. The cover artists I found didn’t do art with the look I wanted.

Then one day I saw a post where someone else was asking for a cover artist. Someone recommended Harvey Bunda and provided a link to hiswebsite. I checked his work, and I needed him to do my cover. There was no question in my mind that he could bring Eliza to life.

Now, most of his work was in the modern realm of fantasy females being nude or scantily clad. I asked him if he would do a fully armoured female in dark leather, and he said it would be no problem. His previous pieces were filled with near-naked women because that’s what most people want. But I’m not most people. I started a one-man crusade to have an attractive female on the cover who drew people to her with her eyes, face, and kick-ass attitude.

I told Harvey – in great detail – how I saw the image of Eliza in my mind. He took that picture and improved it. When I saw the preliminary sketch I loved what he had done with her pose.

But nothing could have prepared me for the full colour cover. It took my breath away seeing his fine attention to every detail. Even the “simple” background I asked for was better than I imagined. 


A Noble’s Quest finally had the cover I wanted, but Harvey wasn’t done yet. Without me asking, he offered to create the map for the book, along with a promotional video showcasing both the cover art and the process of painting the cover. Watching him paint is mesmerizing.

After the excellent experience of working with Harvey on the first cover, I commissioned the art for the sequel, A Wizard’s Gambit. This required me to create lines in the book that weren’t even written yet, toss them to my editor, and give them to Harvey along with a detailed description of the scene I wanted. It was a more complicated piece because, unlike A Noble’s Quest, this cover needed detail in the background as well as the foreground. Fyrsanthemar, a behemoth red dragon, needed to be prominent on the cover with my roguish protagonist Sarentha. Despite knowing Harvey’s skill, he left me awestruck when I saw the characters I’d only envisioned in my head come to life. 


Again he created a promotional video that showcased the cover art and story, and ended with video of him painting.

I wanted a map done in the same style as the first one he did for me, so I hired him to make the second. The vivid colours are so amazing, it’s a pity I can only print it in black and white for the paper back copies of my books. I put links to the full size colour maps in the book in case anyone wants to see them.


When I reach the half-way point through the third book in the trilogy, I’m going to run another Indiegogo campaign. One of my targets is to get the third cover done. Harvey has already offered to do three unique paintings as perks – one for each book’s cover art. Additionally, if I reach my main goal, I’m going to use stretch goals to bring out character cards with Harvey’s artwork. The front will have the characters’ faces, and the back will have a short bio and maybe some stats, depending on room. They will be automatically included in any perk that has a physical mailing component.

preliminary sketch
Working with Harvey has been a blessing. Aside from his obvious artistic genius, he’s kind, giving, and an all-around great guy. I hope that this first trilogy does well so I can continue writing more books. So long as Harvey has the time and interest to create more covers for me, I’ll keep hiring him! He’s worth every penny.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Map by Harvey Bunda!

This week has seen steady progress on book 3, as I'm quickly approaching 40,000 words. I should surpass that target next week. And I love what I've been writing lately. I had to ask my wife's opinion about A Hero's Birth, and that led to a lot of talking about this series, and beyond. So I accidentally spilled a spoiler, and my wife showed a mix of amusement and horror. Apparently those emotions are not mutually exclusive!

* * *

A lot of things are bigger and better in my upcoming book, A Wizard's Gambit. And one of those things is the scope. The first book was confined to a fairly small area: the Tamorran Empire and a bit beyond. But, as is hinted at in A Noble's Quest, there's a lot more out there.

My wife and I started an incentive program: We get $15/wk. Money that we normally would have spent on junk food - pop, ice cream, chocolate, etc. If we don't get the junk, we get to keep the cash to buy whatever we want.

So after a couple months of saving, and my meager profits from GenreCon, I managed to save up enough to pay +Harvey Bunda to do up the second map... the full island!

And there's still one more map of similar size to come for the third book of a brand new place. But that will come in time.

For now, feast your eyes on the expanded lands beyond Tamor's borders!

click to see larger version


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Who's having fun?


There's a sweet-spot when it comes to writing, and I'm there right now. Major events are happening in A Hero's Birth, and I blitzed through my usual 3000 word target for the week in two days. I've been swept up in the action, and was laughing while writing a section.

It may or may not have been evil laughter. (Hint: It was definitely evil. Chortling. Oh Sarentha...)

In other news, +Charles Barouch of HDWP Books has said he likes my short story, Cattle, which I submitted for Theme-Thology: The Lost Episodes. He said the ending needed some tweaking, but otherwise there was enough good stuff in there to have it accepted. I made some changes, and resubmitted.

I also got to beta read his fourth installment in the Tiago series. It was interesting reading something in the middle, when I hadn't read the first three (I have the first one in my list of indie books on my computer).

I'm also a "Friend of the Press" over at Vocamus Press here in Guelph (just waiting for the website to be updated with my information). I got some interesting information from Luke, who runs VP, about a national writer's union. There's a membership fee and application required, but it opens up some interesting possibilities, such as public speaking at schools to up-and-coming writers. I think that would be a lot of fun, opening eyes and minds to the age of self-published writing (with some warnings, of course).

Saturday, November 1, 2014

NaNoWriMo: I'll never do it

It's November, and since the majority of people I have circled on G+ are writers, it's a month when I generally want to turn off my social media engagement.

Why? NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

Assuming you've never heard of it, it's a time that some writers spend months preparing for. They plot, they agonize, and they decide they will put aside other projects to sit down and hammer out a 50,000 word "novel."

I put that in quotes because I don't think 50,000 words is enough to consider a piece of writing a novel. 70,000 is a short novel. 50,000 is a long novella.

There are healthy and unhealthy ways to approach NaNo.

Healthy - this speedy writing project is a sort of super-rough draft. The process helps you firm up your dedication to the craft of writing, helping you focus on a concrete goal.

Unhealthy - you want to publish what you've slammed together. If you don't hit your target, you will whine incessantly about falling behind, and cry for all to see on social media when you give up and feel like an abject failure (You people are the reason I want to turn off my social media, just to be clear).

Before I'd seen the frenzied bloodbath that is NaNo, back when I was thinking about traditional publishing (before I discovered self-publishing), I saw on all the publisher websites that they would not look at anyone's NaNoWriMo project. Ever. Maybe that negative introduction to the concept tainted my vision of it, but I thought of it as being a complete waste of time until last year.

Then I started talking to some writer friends who told me why they do it, and why they think NaNo has value, and those are the reasons I listed above under "Healthy."

But I'd never succeed at NaNo. My writing process is slow and organic. I write out 3000 words a week, and spend a great deal of time thinking about the writing, and dreaming about the writing. By doing it slow-and-steady, I come up with numerous different angles to approach problem areas long before I come up to them.

If I tried to rush 50,000 words, it would be garbage. It would be a pointless waste of time. Besides that, I've got a day job and family, and where the hell would I find the time to do this? I don't understand where anyone finds the time to do it. But there are those hardcore insane people who pound out the full 50,000 words in a couple days to try to be the first "winners." I imagine if I sat down and copy and pasted the word "shit" 50,000 times, it'd be about as publishable (Okay, that might be unfair, but I'm not going to look up those projects and waste my time looking them over to find out if I'm wrong).

In the end, I've come to this conclusion: If you like it, do it. But for Christsake, if you're going to be a whiner if/when you lose, and for the entire duration of the month while you're in the process of losing, I'm going to toss you from my circles. Because, ultimately, anything that's written during the process of NaNoWriMo shouldn't be published (one man's opinion). If it's going to be published, it's going to need a ton of work, and you'd have been better off taking your time with the first draft, rather than ripping apart your NaNo effort after the fact.

For me, writing is fun. Why would I want to drive myself crazy trying to hit some stupid word count that wouldn't even make it a real novel, anyway? Have fun. Life's too short to give yourself more headaches!



As for my own writing update, I'm 31,000+ words into A Hero's Birth! I'm nearing the first mini-climax. After spending the first 9 chapters with Thomas, Sarentha, and Eliza being mostly separated, it's going to be fun uniting them again and seeing where things go. At this point they've gone pretty far off my original outline, so I'm letting them take control.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The stigma against self-publishing

Last weekend I was at GenreCon here in Guelph when a neighbouring vendor told us about an Ontario Arts Council grant that helps writers.

So out of curiosity, I looked it up, because having some money to help out with the costs of bringing out books would be amazing! No longer would I have to crowd-source!

It all looked so promising, until right there in the eligibility criteria it says they won't look at your application if you're self-published. Same story for the Canadian Arts Council.

Does that seem backwards to anyone else? I've got one book under my belt, a short story collection, and a short story published with HDWP Books. My second book will be out soon, I've got a novella awaiting editing, and I'm 28,000 words into my third full length novel.

I'm doing all this on no budget, relying heavily on the generosity of others to chip in to my Indiegogo campaigns (I'll be running my second one next year to help fund A Hero's Birth). Yet those who already have publishing houses on their side can apply for funds? Aren't they already being paid to write?

If a self-published author is obviously dedicated, hard working, and putting out quality books, why are they immediately screened out of the application process?

I wrote to the granting agencies, my MP, and MPP regarding this backwards practice at both the federal and provincial levels. There's little chance I'll be able to get anyone to budge on the issue, but I think it's time that self-published authors got some respect. Sure, screen out the ones who don't meet some base criteria, but don't just shut us all out. I've read some amazing self-published books, and to lump us all together and say we're not worthy of financial aid feels like a kick in the gut.


In other news, I did up the cover for Demon Invasion for CreateSpace. After talking to Alexander Dundass, I think I'm going to do a print run of the novella to give away as "freebies" if people buy both of my other books, or charge a small price for them if people just want a sample of my writing. And of course it will be available as an ebook, too!

And I edited/fixed/wrote a bunch for A Hero's Birth. Go me! 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

GenreCon - Good, Bad, Ugly

I spent three days hanging out at GenreCon, and I think the words "hanging out" are pretty apt. It was a very casual conference. So casual it seemed like hardly anyone knew about it, most of the time.

We got very, very little traffic in the marketplace. I mean, most of the people we talked to were bored vendors who were wandering around seeing what other people had to offer.

I sold some books and had fun!

The Good: 


But when we did get people coming through, we were having some great conversations! I loved telling people about my book, A Noble's Quest. And with the response I was getting from people, I think they loved the sounds of it, too!

I got people's attention right away...

It's about a couple lumberjacks who get into a fatal brawl at work and flee. 

I actually had a woman stop me a couple sentences later and say, "I'm sorry, I'm still stuck on the lumberjacks and the fatal brawl. Can you go back to just after that?"

The rest was...

A nobleman then takes them in and gets him to do his dirty work. He teams them up with his niece Eliza (point at beautiful cover art), and she takes control of the group and they travel through the empire and beyond on odd jobs that never seem to go as they expect. And they don't know why they're doing the odd jobs. There's an overarching mystery through the book, and I'm happy to say I haven't had anyone figure it out before it comes up at the end. And it's not because it's one of those bad mysteries where there aren't any hints. It's an "ah ha!" moment when all the pieces fit together.

Of the few people who came in, I got a lot of people interested. I gave away a ton of business cards to people who said they wanted digital copies. On the second day I sold my first paper back after a 20 minute chat. We talked about more than my book - we talked about similar interests like D&D and Forgotten Realms.

And that was one of the nice aspects of the slow business. We really got a chance to connect with people, and I love that!

The downside, of course, was low sales. I had 1 sale by the end of the second day.
Fortunately, someone who attended the Princess Leia and the Gold Bikini panel that I was on liked what I had to say and was interested in checking out my book. Two people came back who said they would (Alexander said that's very rare), and I sold one last copy while we were closing down shop to another vendor.

So in the end I made enough to pay for my part of the table, plus a few bucks (which I'm putting back into my writing... +Harvey Bunda, I'll be commissioning the next map very soon!).

Empty aisles do not happy vendors make

The Bad:


GenreCon felt disorganized, and I think that's why there was low traffic. It wasn't well publicized, and the website was poorly done. I mean, they didn't even have all the pages up by the time the conference started.

There were no big names there. And I don't mean I was expecting A-list celebrities. But last year they had the actor who played Xander in Buffy, and a couple others I knew. They weren't huge, but it was still cool.

The Ugly: 


We almost didn't get a table at GenreCon this year. I saw the list of vendors come out, and although Alexander had paid for our table a month in advance, we didn't show up. He contacted them, said he would cancel his cheque, and - funny enough - they managed to find us a spot. Fast. And a prime spot right by the front door, too! 

I missed a panel, because I had no idea I was even on it. I didn't find out until after the fact when someone came by and asked me why I wasn't there. I checked the list and found out I was supposed to be on three: Starting out in publishing (the one I missed, and would have loved to be on!), The Curse of the Slave Leia Bikini (pretty good turn out, and an interesting discussion), and The Desolation of Smaug (we had three panelists, and two people in the crowd... one of whom was supposed to be on another panel, but no one showed up for it, so he came to ours).

For the two I made it to, it was fun. There were great discussions, and I learned some neat things. The small numbers and no moderators meant there were a lot of tangents, but they were usually just as interesting as the chosen topics.

The Amazing: 


I'll be honest. After the second day, I was pretty sure I was not going to bother going to GenreCon again. One book sale over two days, and few potential readers to talk to made it long. Fortunately Alexander Dundass and Luke Hill were sharing the table with me, and we had a riot. They're really funny, quirky guys, and I'd share a table with them any time!

The third day really saved GenreCon for me. And not just because people came over and picked up my book. That was great, but it can't match the sheer joy of watching my daughter geek out over seeing Stormtroopers and an Imperial Guard.

Kill Jedi! - We can do that!
 I wasn't sure when I wanted my daughter to watch Star Wars. I figured she was too young for it, but this summer she found a little The Clone Wars book at a yard sale, and desperately wanted it. We got it for her, and after reading a good chunk of it in one sitting, I asked if she wanted to watch the movies. Well, a few weeks later we'd blasted through all six of them, and she was hooked. Anakin/Darth Vader was her clear favourite. When we asked her what she wanted to be for Halloween, she repeatedly answered, "Darth Vader."

So we ordered her the costume. After seeing so many costumed people at GenreCon, I got the bright idea that she might want to wear her Halloween costume early and join me.

It was the best decision ever. Ever!

"The Stormtroopers are coming..."
 Judge Daven Brown, who I'd met and chatted with over the course of the conference, came into the market after I brought Darth Daughter in, complete with her Darth Vader mask and whispered, "One of the Stormtroopers saw you guys come in, and she's going to go get the others to find your daughter."

My daughter, however, couldn't wait. So we wandered around the hotel looking for the Stormtroopers. When we got back to the market, we heard that they'd been there to meet us, and we'd missed them! So Darth Daughter insisted we go scour the hotel for them once again!

And find them she did. Across the lobby she spotted them and yelled at the top of her lungs, "STORMTROOPERS!" She grabbed my hand and pulled and dragged with all her might. She was literally shaking with excitement.

And they were amazing. My hat is off to the 501st Legion members, Andrea Pickles Loar, Steve Chiu, and Aaron Beam. She remembers everything about their meeting, and was filling in the holes in my story when I was telling it to my wife afterwards. She loved getting the high fives. When a Stormtrooper asked her for orders, she said, "Kill Jedi" and the trooper answered, "We can do that!" She thought it was hilarious that they were playing on the equipment outside when we came out and found them (after someone gave us a tip that they saw the Stormtroopers heading outside to cool off). One of the Stormtroopers sneaked up behind her when we were in the market and surprised her - the look on her face all of these times was absolutely priceless.

Afterwards, she also played with Judge Daven Brown on the equipment and had so much fun.

The community at GenreCon was unbelievable.

I'm still not sure if I'll attend next year. I'll take my time and see how organized it is. But I'd love to go and bring my daughter again, because I'm sure this day will stick in her mind for years - maybe even for the rest of her life. And for that, I can't express enough gratitude. Thank you a million times!