What’s New For 2020
January is almost done, and it’s been a almost a year to the day since anyone has heard anything definitive from me here. I’m sorry for the long silence, and I really appreciate the messages I’ve been getting. Things have been challenging of late, but I think it’s getting to the point where life is back on an even keel. But you deserve to know what’s been going on, as much as I can tell you.
All of this started back in August of last year (as near as I can recall), when my girlfriend was in an auto accident. Then, a few weeks later, she was hurt at work. I can’t go into many details, but suffice to say, it’s affected our lives (hers especially) since then. However, most of those impacts have been temporary, and by the end of this week, things should be getting back to normal for her. But what affects her affects me, and I’ve allowed it to impact my work on the next Demon’s Apprentice book. On top of that, having a day job is...well, having a day job. But, with things getting back to normal, I’m getting back on track, and making steady progress on Reign of Angels again.
Speaking of the book, I’ve come to the conclusion that Reign of Angels marks a change in the series. The first 7 books covered Chance’s apprenticeship as a mage. After this, he will no longer be an apprentice, so it will be time for a different phase in his story. So while this will be the last Demon’s Apprentice book, it won’t be the last of Chance’s adventures. It will also mark the beginning of Lucas’s adventures as he grows into his own role in New Essex, and becomes more than a sidekick to the Mage of New Essex. So, in the future, look for the adventures of not only the Mage of New Essex, but also Guy Midnight.
This year also marks the beginning of some other material I’ve been working on for a while, in other genres. New Essex was originally a superhero setting, but it also fit Chance’s world well. But the dark superhero setting wasn’t my own work entirely, so I’ve been working with a couple of other talented folks on stories that have been in my head for a long time. We’ve been chasing these contrails for a long time, and it is time to share those stories with the world. That doesn’t mean I’m not still writing Chance, but it does mean I’m going to be multi-tasking. Now, if you think this is going to be four-color, capes and tights all over the place, let me assure you that’s not what we’re looking at here. New Essex is a dark place, and it’s in that darkness that a person’s truth is revealed. So expect the same kind of world and characters that you saw in Demon’s Apprentice, and even some of the same magic. But, even if you aren’t a fan of super-powered adventures, I’m not done writing Chance’s adventures. That’s what is on tap for 2020...so far. Who knows what the rest of the year will bring.
Lastly, I want to thank you, True Believers, for sticking with me, and being the best, most patient fans a writer could ask for. I know it’s been a bit. Your support has been amazing, and it’s made all the difference. There have been times when I wanted to just stop, but someone was always there, reminding me that there are other people who love the worlds and characters I write as much as I do. Thanks ofr hanging in there with me. You rock.
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.