A question that comes up a lot. I thought I'd answer it.
Starting off the week with True Colors doing well, got two more 5-star reviews and woke up this morning to better sales trends. So, this week is getting off to a good start.
All of that just builds on the latest work Roanen and I did over the weekend on our collaboration. It’s been a while since I worked with anyone else, and I have to say I had forgotten how working with a good collaboration partner can help a writer take their work to the next level. You have this instant feedback and expanded perspective, and when you work with someone you’ve known for so long and who you work so well with like this, the experience and the boost are that much better.
Roanen and I have known each other since college, back on the early 90’s, when we first took an American History class together. Since then we’ve gamed together, written together (New Essex is the setting it is because of our early work on it when we worked together at the same company) and been best friends. Life took us in different directions, but we’ve always shared that hope that one day, we could bring our original setting to life for readers in one way or another. And now that we’re working together on this, I can honestly say that I feel like I am the guy in his mid-twenties again, with the same bright-eyed passion that I once thought only youth could grant. Taking these scenes, building from each other and taking this to the page is not just liberating, it’s fun.
Creatively, I’ve been running into some of my pet peeves this last week, and for aspiring writers out there, I wanted to offer some perspectives from someone who has been in the creative trenches for a little while and managed to make it work.
First off, remember that absolutes aren’t.
Let that sink in for a second. Anyone who says you MUST do things in a certain way is full of it, in my opinion. For every creative “truth” out there, you can find someone who flouts that “rule” handily AND successfully. Usually someone who is actually successfully published and fairly well known. And this applies to me as well. I approach writing as a skill, I encourage writers to own their creativity, and I abhor “conventional wisdom” about most aspects of writing. Inspiration? The Muse? Excuses not to write, as far as I’m concerned. Sharing your work before it’s finished? Yeah, do it. Hold yourself accountable to finish the job. Writers block? Write anyway. You’ll surprise yourself with what you accomplish, says I. Afraid someone is going to steal your work? Pfft. Plagiarism usually happens with things that are already successful in some way, not with some work no one has ever heard of and isn’t either making money or otherwise earning praise.
That being said, I also know that works for ME, mostly because I also commit another writing sin, according to some purists. I write to get paid. I write fully intending to publish and hoping to make money off of it. (I know. <gasp> You don’t write purely for the love of the sacred art? <faints>) Now, I don’t write to get rich though that would be nice. I write with the hope of making a living. Doing what I love. I value my work.
That’s just me. I wrote for different reasons than you might. For some of us, writing is purely recreation. Or maybe it’s an escape. Perhaps an emotional outlet, a form of therapy, or how you quiet your mind. And I would say that if that is the case, if the actual process of writing is the most important thing, then do it your way and fuck any advice I might give to the contrary. Your goals are different, and for you, the act of writing might be a form of self-care. Thus, combating writers block is also part of your self-care. So, if that is you, then yeah, just one fan, one life changed, that’s great, go do that. Because in the end, I think that the life changed the most and for the better…is yours.
At the end of the day, if I want to get one point across, it’s that I think you should know WHY you’re writing and understand that your goals shape your methods. That in the end, how you write isn’t so important as the fact that you do it, and that you are better off for it. I will never tell anyone NOT to write, or to quit writing. If following conventional wisdom isn’t working for you? There’s a reason for that.
So, what is Ben doing this week? Let’s look at his searches, both on YouTube and Google. Aside from music to listen to while I’m writing, I’ve been watching videos on primitive crafts from the Townsends channel, watching chess tutorials, and watching some other historical documentary type videos on medieval food prep, medieval armor and swords, etc. Most of this is for actual writing stuff, too. Right now I’m working on a portal fantasy that I’m going to submit to my agent alongside a post-apocalyptic fantasy set in the modern world which is more of a rewrite than a first draft. Those are secondary projects, because my two main projects are Checkmate, the superhero story I mentioned last week, and of course, my primary project, the seventh Demon’s Apprentice book.
Meanwhile, True Colors is killing the rankings over on Amazon, already in no less than FIVE top 100 lists (New Releases for two Coming of Age categories and a paranormal & urban fantasy list, and in the top 100 overall for the same two Coming of Age categories.) It shouldn’t be long until it hits the top 100 overall in the paranormal & urban fantasy category. All of which is preparatory to saying thank you to my tribe of readers and True Believers. You are the best!
So, this week is going to be about getting words on the page for Check Mate and getting the outline down for Book 7 of Demon’s Apprentice. And about acquiring some primitive skills just because I like learning new things and to add some depth to my portal fantasy, specifically, fire-making without matches. It’s going to be an exciting week.
Well, another year done, and another year started. 2018 wasn’t my best year ever, but it was still a GOOD year. Spent most of the year working on books 5 and 6 of The Demon’s Apprentice series, which was good, but I’ve done more, faster. I also spent the year getting used to having a day job again, which was a bit of an adjustment.
On the plus side, I moved into a nice little place out in the country and got a new van. Definite pluses there. All in all, nothing to complain about, but as always, I’m still wanting to do more. So, on New Year’s Day, I was reminded of a lyric from Toto’s song “Africa,” /Gonna take some time to do the things we never had/ as I tried to decide what I wanted to do with the year ahead. Because there are so many things that I need to do, so many stories I want to write.
But there is always that one that you never let go of.
Not to worry, there will be another Demon’s Apprentice book out this year, tentatively titled “Reign of Angels.” I’m also looking at a spinoff series featuring Lucas, which I’ve been dropping tidbits about in the past couple of entries in the series. Meanwhile, I have a manuscript being submitted to my agent that I’m hoping to hear some good news about at some point. I’m still working on a portal fantasy and someday, Damenjaeger will be ready for public consumption.
But always...the New Essex Knights have always been there. So, on New Year’s Day, I went to my best friend’s house, the guy who was there with me back in the day when I first started chasing contrails in 1991. I’ve mentioned Roanen before, and he’s been with me on this journey every step of the way. We’ve gamed together, told stories as GM and player on both sides of the table, and together, we’ve taken a fictional city and watched it evolve from a setting to a character unto itself.
New Essex was originally a setting for a comic book we wanted to do back in 1991. Back when we were just getting started, back before I had ever finished a single book. Over the years, we’ve told stories through games set in New Essex, but we were never able to get things to come together for a graphic novel or even a webcomic.
Then, we started running another game in New Essex, after a long hiatus. And we remembered how much we loved her. We remembered how alive the city felt to us, how we could see it in our heads, and how we felt like we were actually there. How dark and beautiful she is.
How demanding she is.
I approached Roanen with the idea. Let’s write the story of the New Essex Knights. Let’s get the Check Mate arc down. I wish I could say “just like that…” but I can’t. This isn’t going to be easy. And it won’t be fast. I may be talking about putting this to bed next January. But we are determined to get it done.
This is a labor of love for us, and the culmination of a lifelong dream to see this particular work in print. Plus...we’re not sure we want to see what will happen if we let New Essex down. She’s a tough town.
So, this is our public commitment to the New Essex Knights story. You’ll be hearing more about this as we get it into a more solid form, as we outline it, start writing it and start getting the foundations done, all the way to the point where we get her in print. This is where we hold ourselves accountable, and make our promise to you. We mean to see this story told, and told well.
So, Happy New Year! And in the immortal words of the late, Great Stan Lee… Excelsior!
So, I thought I would post a little bit from Book Six of The Demon's Apprentice, just so folks knew I was actually working. We recently moved, so things have been a little less normal than normal. However, I am still writing, even though my office is still not finished. It's close, though. So very close. Pics soon.
Anyway, here is a bit from True Colors (title subject to change):
“Wizard Corwin!” we heard the moment we stepped off the elevator. “Wizard Corwin! Over here!” A young apprentice practically sprinted toward us, her almost-white robes held up in one hand, the other reaching out toward us. She skidded to a stop and panted for a moment before she tried to talk again. “Master Moon...moved...appointment…”
“Whoa, sister,” Dr. C said. “Stop to breathe for a second. Now try again.”
“Master Moon,” she said. “He wants to see you two right away.” She turned and headed for the double doors leading into the Council chamber, not waiting for us to acknowledge her.
“Girl’s in a hurry,” I said, moving to follow.
“Lazarus is in a hurry,” Dr. C said, his eyes narrowed. “That poor apprentice is just trying to catch up.” We followed the girl past the other petitioners, every step earning us dark looks. When we stopped at the table outside the door to disarm, the Sentinel there shook his head and waved us forward. Half the glares turned to slack jawed stares. Only Sentinels were allowed carry weapons or focuses into the Council chambers, and both Dr. Corwin and I had a reputation for going armed most places. Okay, he had a rep for being armed, I was mostly known for collateral damage. You blow up a couple of schools, a nightclub and a city park, and suddenly you’re a walking natural disaster.
Usually, I'm all too ready to type away, but this time, I'm gonna let my face do the talking....
So, it’s been a while since I made a blog post here. July, in fact. A lot has happened since then. So, first the good. I released the 5th book in the Demon’s Apprentice series, Prom Knight on March 25th. It’s doing well, hitting the top 100 on several charts on Amazon. It’s been a long time coming, and hopefully, the next one will show up sooner.
There was a reason for the delay. One piece of advice authors are constantly given is to take care of themselves physically. I learned the hard way how deeply connected mind and body can be. Over two and a half years or so of sitting at a desk and not exercising enough took a toll on my health, until I ended up with very high blood pressure and type II diabetes. It affected my ability to stay focused and write, and worst of all, it affected my state of mind. All of that put me in a position where I had to go back to having a day job again, even before I knew the extent of the damage the whole situation had done to my body.
The day everything changed, my legs hurt so bad I was in tears, and I could barely think straight. My manager sent me, not home, but to the ER. And I’m thankful she did. I had wounds on my legs that were not healing, my blood pressure was out of control, and my blood sugar was above the threshold for diabetes. I weighed over 330 pounds and I could barely walk more than 50 feet without having to sit down and rest.
My life changed in that moment, and for the better. I changed my diet, I started taking a medication for my blood sugar, and perhaps most importantly, I stopped drinking soda and sugary drinks. The difference wasn’t instantaneous, but it was quick. In under a month, I had lost ten pounds, and my body started to recover. I kept losing weight, and the sciatica from the extra weight cleared up. I had more energy, I started sleeping better and I could focus again. It was like a religious experience, as if a fog that had settled around me had lifted. (Also, Type II diabetes is not insulin dependent. It can be treated to the point where medication is no longer necessary, and it reverts to “prediabetes.” I intend to achieve that goal.)
After that, I was able to put in a thousand words daily, even with working a day job. I finished Prom Knight in a matter of weeks and I’ve lost a total of 30+ pounds since December. I can walk without pain, and I don’t have to stop and rest every few yards. It’s like I got a whole new body.
Finishing Prom Knight presented its own challenges. My cover artist, whom I had come to rely on, had schedule changes of her own, and wasn’t available. Let me tell you, when you work with a pro like Angela for a couple of years, having to find someone to step in for them is an anxiety-laden process. Angie knows my cover style (she designed it after all) and knows how to make it look amazing every time. I am also comfortable asking her for minor changes. All in all, it’s always easy working with her. Now, I was looking for someone who could do a cover for me and keep the same look for the series.
Enter Gerry Kissel. Gerry had done the cover for the second Zompoc Survivor book, Inferno. I knew what he was capable of, and most importantly, I knew him. If anyone could step in and stay true to Angie’s original design, it was Gerry. And even better, I ran into him again at a convention right before I finished Prom Knight. Someone was looking out for me, I’m sure. Gerry did a great job bringing the cover to life.
In early March, I also got some good news from my agent on a couple of fronts. The one I can mention is that there may be audiobooks coming soon. More news on that as I get it.
Prom Knight is doing well, and I’m working toward going full time again in a year or so. Until then, I have a plan and I’m following it. Life is good again, and I feel like I did back when I started this journey toward gainful unemployment as a writer. For everyone who is still along for the ride, thank you for sticking with me. I’m going to try to get back to posting regularly as I work toward once again being gainfully unemployed and writing for a living.
There are some moments that are hard to describe, or even pin down, but they seem to define your life in that particular moment. One of those moments of clarity happened Saturday. I found myself sitting at a table in a coffee shop with a group of other creatives, discussing a project, and I realized that this was one of the moments I had dreamed about more than twenty years ago, when I first started chasing contrails.
May of this year marked 2 years that I’ve been writing for a living. This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to be a guest at almost every sci-fi con or show I’ve attended, a marked difference from previous years. While I’m still not doing DragonCon as a guest yet, I am hopeful that will come one day soon.
But no matter where I am on this journey, there are moments when I find myself looking around myself in wide eyed wonder at what I’m doing, as if I’m just realizing what’s happening. These moments of self-awareness are valuable to me, because they keep me grounded and, most importantly, they are reminders of just how lucky I am. Plus, they allow me, two years into writing full time, to enjoy this journey almost as much as I did the first day I walked out of my old day job and started this journey.
Saturday morning, I sat down with the folks to talk about doing the audio books of The Demon’s Apprentice for me. And while we were discussing the nuts and bolts of the project, I looked around me and realized how cool this moment actually was. I was making plans for an audio book, using words like revenue stream correctly, and making a living as a writer. Holy crap! I’m living my dreams!
It’s one thing to look back on a moment with nostalgia years later and realize how good things were. But it’s quite another to realize as things are happening that this particular slice of time is going to be one of those memories. It adds a sense of immediacy to what’s going on, and I find myself noting things that I might otherwise have missed. The sounds going on in the background, the view out the back windows, the children running by laughing gleefully. How very blue the sky was in that moment. All of these things are going to stand out in my memory, as well as the people I was talking to.
More importantly, I find myself grateful for the smallest things. As I looked around the room, I noticed younger folks with their laptops and sketch books. One girl was working in pencil, with her laptop open to a tutorial. Seeing them was incredibly inspiring, especially since they had tools I didn’t have access to in 1993. It made me want to tell each and every one of them, “Go all in! Never give up!” Because persistence pays off. Passion pays off, if you’re persistent. And integrity will keep you in the game when nothing else seems to be going your way.
But when the wheels finally turn, and the dice come up sevens for you, don’t forget to be aware of each moment. There is a line about happiness in Fallout 4, spoken by Kellogg, one of the first antagonists you face. “The thing about happiness is, you never know you’ve got it until it’s gone.” But that doesn’t have to be the case. Because if you teach yourself to be aware of your circumstances, to be grateful for the good things going on, you’ll know when you’re happy. You’ll know when you’re living through times that you’ll look back on and remember as “the good old days.” And you can enjoy them all the more for that awareness.
Shane Moore, a friend and mentor, recently made a post on his Facebook page about what to do when you feel frustrated with where you are in life.
"Whenever you feel like you're not getting anywhere in life, just turn around and look behind at the old you.
Where were you five years ago? Ten years ago? I bet you will be amazed at how far you have come in life!
And if not, time to stop dreaming and make the dream a reality!"
The difference even one year can make is amazing, but going back five and ten years? Those comparisons were even more astounding. So, going back, ten years ago.
2007 - I was just finishing up The Demon's Apprentice, and the most amazing thing in my life was getting a query from an established agent about my work. She ended up not representing me at the time, which was actually a good decision on her part. At the time, neither the book nor the author was ready. I had been working an entry level job for two years, and every day was a struggle. The only reason I was still there was because I had made a commitment to the woman who had hired me to be there for two years, and I took that promise seriously. Also, over time, I had come to respect her as a leader, and saw her on a fairly regular basis. More importantly, she remembered that promise and not only held me accountable to it, she acknowledged that I had kept my end of it. Every day after that, while it was rough, was a point of pride to me, that I was worthy of the faith someone had put in my word. I had a dream, and I was not only chasing it, I felt like I had a real shot at it.
2012 - Five years later, my book was a real thing. I was selling copies at a convention, and other professionals were taking notice of me. Specifically, Gerry Kissell and Shane Moore, who had been willing to talk top me about my dream of writing professionally. I was also blessed to meet Patricia Briggs and her husband, Mike, who not only bought a copy of The Demon's Apprentice, he reviewed it favorably on their website. I had done it. I was a published author. But, I was a published author languishing in obscurity. A few people could see potential, but not the thousand readers I needed.
2015 - Holy crap! On May 4th, two years ago, I was having daily, no, make that hourly, reality checks, bordering on anxiety attacks. It was the BEST STRESS EVER. I was just coming off of two straight months of massive sales, and I had enough money in the bank to live for one year at my old wages. My letter of resignation at my old job had been handed to my boss three days before, tucked into a copy of my first self-published book. In eleven days, I was going to be a full time writer, living solely off of my own efforts. I was scared, excited and on top of the world. My life was right where I had always wanted it to be.
2016 - In May of 2016, I was on my way to X-Con, in Myrtle Beach SC, when I got the call every writer wants to get. It was from Trodayne Northern and Leslie Varney, telling me that they wanted to sign me with Prentis Literary. A chance conversation in a hallway at NorWesCon two months before had brought me to their attention, and over the intervening months, they had remembered me and decided to represent me. Life was good and getting better.
Today, I'm preparing to go to my first writers conference as a full guest and present two panels. So far, I'll be appearing as a guest at three more conventions this year, and there is the possibility of more before the year is out. The moral of this story?
Dreams can come true, if you work for them and don't lose sight of your goals. So, always, my friends and readers, keep your head up and keep chasing contrails.
May the Force be with you. Always.