Getting What You Want

One of the hardest things to do in fantasy writing is to deny your characters what they want.

There’s a brilliant scene in The Princess Bride that demonstrates this. In it, Inigo, Fezzik, and the Man in Black have to figure out how to get through a castle gate that has but one gate key and is guarded by sixty men. The scene goes like this:

Larethian, the Elven Goddess of Life, Death, and the Oxford Comma

This is a post about the process of humor. A while back, one of my kids asked me how it was that I came up with humor for my book. I said, like most anything involving writing, that it was a process.

In my new book The Elven Comedienne, the plot requires there be an Elven Goddess of Life and Death. Elven theology in my book is a little more whimsical than most other theologies, and responsibilities go better in threes anyway, so I wanted to add a whimsical third responsibility for the Goddess. After several moments thought, I wanted to get on to writing the rest of the story and decided to give Her the responsibility for Pointy Sticks as well.

As a matter of humor, I think the idea of “The Elven Goddess of Life, Death, and Pointy Sticks” is worth a chuckle. But really, that’s all it was worth, and I wasn’t really satisfied with it. Pointy Sticks could be funnier. I let it roll around in the back of my head for a day or so before realizing I could satisfy not just my sense of humor but also my sense of grammatical pedantry. Right there in the title, right after the word “Death”, was the thing that popped out. It was an Oxford Comma!

So I changed Larethian’s title to “The Elven Goddess of Life, Death, and the Oxford Comma”. But I wasn’t done there.

There is a certain absurdity to the title—probably the most powerful Elven Goddess is responsible for something that even the snobbiest of grammar snobs would admit is a relatively obscure aspect of grammar. This presented a challenge to me, something for which Jana, the main character of the story, would want an explanation. I had to come up with an explanation for how this came to be.

And so I did.

I’m not going to tell you how it happened. (Please, buy my book if you’d like to know!) But I will say it’s the sort of story that is both eminently sensible on its face and utterly absurd in its totality. Which is, to me, one of the best ways to get a laugh.

Plus, it added a good 700 or so words to my word count. You get enough of these little bits of inspiration, string them together, and then you have a decent sized book.

Published by Dragon Kaseraak Books

So I got this crazy idea in my head this afternoon.

Dragon Kaseraak Books is a hobby of mine. It exists as a trade name to publish my books. I was thinking today that it doesn’t just have to be for me. I could publish other people’s books as well.

I am thinking that there are all sorts of people out there who have a lot of trouble navigating the self-publishing process. They don’t know how to format a book. They don’t know how to design a cover. They don’t know what printer to choose. I’ve been through that process. I know how to do it. I can help others do it too.

As I said earlier, this is a hobby of mine. Publishing other people’s books would expand the hobby. Eventually it might become a successful business. But that’s far in the future. What I would rather do, at the moment, is establish a brand, both in the sense of being a fair outlet for people looking to self-publish but not knowing how, and for having a set of books that readers will like.

Here’s how I’d do it, and why I’d do it this way.

First, you as a prospective author would send me something about your book in a traditional query process. If I liked the work, I’d accept it for publication. At that point, I’d offer one critique of the work. I’d work with you to design a suitable cover. I’d accept a final draft. I’d put that final draft into InDesign. Finally, I’d send the formatted book and cover to the printer I use (I currently use Blurb) for printing.

At that point you would have a printed book available for purchase and sale. I would list the book on this website and offer it for sale. If you wanted copies of the book for your own use, you could purchase them directly from the printer—it is not my intent to make money selling you copies of your own book.

There are lots of details I haven’t worked out, and probably won’t work out unless this somehow becomes a viable plan, but for the moment I would like to establish some principles behind this idea.

First, it is not my intention to make money directly from the author of the book. There are many vanity presses out there. I don’t want to be one. Rather, what I want to do is to build a brand around books I like.

Second, the criteria for books I would publish is simply that I like them. I am not a marketer, I know very little about marketing books, and while I wish I did, what this allows me to do is not to consider whether a book is marketable before accepting it. I just have to like it enough so that the process of designing a cover and formatting the book is enjoyable rather than arduous.

Let’s talk a little bit about money and why I’m doing this, because I’m not wholly charitable here and wouldn’t expect you to think I was. Where do I make money in this plan?

I expect to make money when I sell a book from my website.

I expect to make money when I sell a book at a convention or trade show or the like.

I expect to make money when people who like your book decide to buy other books I have published, including my own.

That’s about it. I do not expect to make a lot of money, but if it happens, I’ll be thrilled. Rather, this is a hobby for me. Specifically:

I do not expect to make money designing your cover or formatting your book for publication.

I do not expect to make money editing or critiquing your book.

I do not expect to make money when you order copies of your own book.

I do not expect to make money by selling the copyright to your book.

There are lots of people out there who will do all of those things for you and happily take your money for doing so. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, but I’m not one of them.

Obviously this is an idea that will need to be developed further. If this sounds interesting to you, please contact me.

The Trouble with Orcs

I have a new book called The Elven Comedienne. This past week I completed a second draft. The book takes place in the modern United States, with the exception that the United States is populated by the traditional intelligent fantasy races: humans, elves, dwarves and orcs. The inclusion of orcs creates a problem for me.

Orcs were invented by J.R.R. Tolkien for the Lord of the Rings. They are ugly, filthy, cannibalistic, irredeemably evil, and some were—in contrast to the lily white shades of the other intelligent races in his epic—dark skinned.

It doesn’t take all that much imagination to guess who were, to Tolkien, the real world’s analogues to orcs. They were the hordes of non-European races, particularly Africans. To say that their origin is racist is, I hope, self-evident.

One of the interesting things about researching Tolkien is how far people will bend over to defend him. This article will tell you that Tolkien didn’t invent orcs—that orcs were “influenced” by an earlier writer’s goblins, which is kind of like saying Apple didn’t invent the iPhone because there were smartphones before it. This article suggests that the inclusion of an irredeemably evil beast-like dark-skinned fantasy race wasn’t racist because “Orcs however, are not men.” This is the actual problem here—Tolkien’s construction puts their real world analogues as sub-human. I can’t think of anything else I’ve ever read where the topic sentence of a summarizing paragraph more perfectly proves the exact opposite point of the author’s intention.

This has always been the discomforting aspect of orcs in fantasy. They are the “other” race, the immediate set of antagonists, the irredeemably evil creatures that must be repelled and defeated. To the casual observer, the one who isn’t willing to bend over backwards or search for signs that aren’t clear, orcs represent the non-white races of the world. People trip all over themselves to avoid this construction (and, perhaps Tolkien didn’t mean it this way), for the very reason they are uncomfortable with it in the first place. They don’t want their entire genre tainted by the stain of racism in its origin.

But it is. Whether we want to admit it or not, the races in Lord of the Rings had analogues in the real world. The analogue for orcs is a particularly offensive one.

This is a problem for anyone who wants to include orcs in their fantasy works. Trying to ignore their racist origin inevitably leads to embarrassing “unintentionally” racist themes emerging (Hi Blizzard Entertainment). Embracing it would seem to legitimize the racism in their origin. Omitting orcs creates a vacuum in which white cultures have representation while African cultures do not. It’s not an easy problem.

I’ve chosen to embrace the origin in The Elven Comedienne. Orcs in The Elven Comedienne represent the traditionally oppressed races in the real world: the people of the various darker skinned cultures that Donald Trump wants to deport. It makes me a little uneasy, because I know I have to be careful with it. But I’m going to try.

There is an unavoidable problem with this approach. One of the major races in The Elven Comedienne is humans, and, along the lines of most Anglo fantasy, humans can be seen to represent Anglo-Saxon people. This construction presents orcs as something other than human, and could be seen to deny who they represent in the real world their humanity.

I consider this problem unavoidable. Orcs are not humans, and the common impression of orcs is that they represent non-white humans in the real world. (Putting black humans in the story does not strike me as a realistic alternative, given the strong association between fantasy humans and real world Anglo humans.) Against that, though, dwarves are not humans, and elves are not humans, and people don’t seem to have the same sort of problem with the inclusion of those races.

It’s fair to say that racism is a major topic in modern discourse. What I hope for is that the inclusion of orcs in The Elven Comedienne does is give me a framework to talk about racism in general. Jana, the narrator of the story, is subconsciously racist. Jared, the antagonist of the story, is less subconsciously so. Traxy, as a forest elf, is not particularly shy about pointing out Jana’s subconscious racism.

A further step is the depiction of orcs in general. Unlike Tolkien’s orcs, they are not irredeemably evil (or, for that matter, evil at all). They are not stupid. They have suffered from discrimination, but they are, in my book, treated as equals under the law to humans, dwarves, and elves. The most developed orc character is cunning, fierce, and arguably Jana’s strongest adversary. Other orcs in the story have a different range of jobs. There’s nothing in my story, I hope, that indicates that orcs in general should be given less respect or admiration than humans, dwarves, or elves.

The safe choice would have been to create a world without orcs. I also think that would be a cowardly choice. I worry that I might make some mistakes, but I do hope that people will give me the benefit of the doubt. I want to redeem orcs, not in the sense of disconnecting them from how they are traditionally seen in fantasy, but in the sense of treating them in all ways as equals to the other major fantasy races. I may not be entirely successful, but I will try.

Post ConnectiCon update and more

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I apologize for that. I had intended on providing an update from ConnectiCon after it was finished, but shortly after that I had a vacation with my wife that took up all my time. Then other things got busy and I kept kicking this down the road. Oh well, better late than never.

One of the reasons for my reluctance to provide an update is that ConnectiCon did not go well. My ambitions for conventions are modest: I would like to sell enough books to pay for the cost of the table. I can justify the other costs associated with the convention as part of attending the convention with my children. At ConnectiCon in 2016, I sold enough books to easily meet this goal, and I had hoped for an even better convention this year. It didn’t go that way. I didn’t come close to paying for the table with sales. The only consolation I have is that it apparently was a very slow year for everyone, and hopefully next year will be better. On the strength of memories of 2016, I’ve signed up for a table at ConnectiCon 2018, but if it doesn’t go better than this year, it will likely be my last appearance there.

If you visited my booth at ConnectiCon, thank you! I hope to see you again next year.

As of ConnectiCon, I had two ideas for my next project. The first was a sequel to One Regret. The second was a science fiction story, which I’ve labeled Project 4, about a futuristic utopia in which people spend most of their time playing games.

I haven’t been working on either of those projects. Instead, I decided on something with a less serious tone. One of the comments I got at ConnectiCon was from people who were looking for books similar to the Dragon Kaseraak Series. One Regret is aimed at more mature audiences, so that wouldn’t do. A few days after ConnectiCon, I started work on a different project, one that I labeled “The Continuing Adventures of Jana and Traxy”.

Here’s a little background for this new book. As you may know, I’ve played World of Warcraft for some time, and spent most of my time on role-play servers. My “main” for most of this time was, unsurprisingly, a fire mage named Tatjana. It was through role-playing her that I developed the character of Jana Aliston for the Dragon Kaseraak Series. Other characters in that series were inspired by some of the people I role-played with.

I also spent some time playing another character named Traxy. Traxy was a death knight, and over time she became Azeroth’s funniest pink-haired night elf death knight comedienne. (Part of the joke is that death knights are generally seen as so emotionally serious to the point of caricature, but I will defend to the point of exhaustion how I believe Traxy fit into Warcraft lore. Anyway.) She was a lot of fun to play—I would perform hour-long comedy shows with her. But she didn’t really fit into the Dragon Kaseraak Series universe, so she never showed up there.

She now has a major part in my new book. The setting of the new book is modern day United States, except that magic still exists and the world is populated by not just humans, but also dwarves and elves and orcs. The book is told in the first person perspective, and the narrator is Jana Ashworth, a private investigator with a personality remarkably similar to that of Jana Aliston in the Dragon Kaseraak Series. (Go figure.)

Jana was asked to investigate the disappearance of an elven comedienne. In the process, she stumbles across a plot to use dark magic to summon and bind Ainelyssa, the elven Goddess of Love. She foils an attempt and in the process meets Traxy Ysiel’thar, another elven comedienne who was kidnapped. The two join forces to try to stop their enemy from succeeding in his nefarious plan.

Obviously I’m going to need to work on summarizing the plot.

This new book will be the spiritual successor to the Dragon Kaseraak Series, in that anyone who enjoyed reading about Jana Aliston’s adventures would probably also enjoy reading about Jana Ashworth and Traxy Ysiel’thar’s adventures as well. But this new book is intended as comedy as well—I am hoping that it will read as inspired by both Raymond Chandler and Robert Asprin.

I’ve been furiously hard at work with this new book, tentatively entitled “The Elven Comedienne”. I’ve completed a first draft of about 72,000 words, and am working on a second draft now. It’s been pretty easy to write and I’m excited about it. You will hear more about it in the coming weeks.

If you have any questions for me, would like to be on a mailing list to get updates by e-mail, or just want to say hello, please feel free to contact me! Also, don't forget that you can buy autographed copies of my books directly from me at this link! They make excellent gifts! Thank you for reading!

Preparing for ConnectiCon XV

ConnectiCon XV is approaching. I will be at booth 119 in the Artist Alley!

ConnectiCon is, in their words, “New England’s ONLY massively, multi-genre pop culture convention.” It lacks the size of Anime Boston (which is the other convention to which my kids have dragged me), but it has a broader focus and a very large artist alley. (“Artist Alley” is really a misnomer: it’s about a quarter of a huge convention floor.) Last year I got a booth to sell my books, and it went well enough that I am returning this year.

In all likelihood, I will be returning for the next three years if I can. Selling at the booths requires one to get a Connecticut State Tax ID, and those last for five years. I feel like I should take advantage of it as long as I can make an excuse to do so!

The convention is fun anyway, so that’s more of an excuse.

Last year went pretty well, all things considered. I feel like I made three large mistakes: I registered as “Blurb Books, Inc.” because that was the publisher of my books (big mistake), my business cards were unnecessarily convoluted, and I didn’t have a website to point people toward. This year I’ve registered as “The Dragon Kaseraak Books”, I have a bookmark that’s much simpler, and of course I have this site. I am hoping those three changes make things a lot better as an experience.

One of the smaller mistakes I made last year was that my booth was in a poorly trafficked location. This year I didn’t have the opportunity to make that mistake: booths were assigned by the organizers of the event. Still, I think my booth is in a much better location this time. Their idea to put similar vendors together doesn’t seem to have materialized in my case, but there looks to be only one other obvious publisher at all. They’re Owl King Publishing and they’re located on a corner booth in the next aisle. I think they’ll be fun to talk to. There may be one or two other self-publisher booths, and I know there’s at least one “vendor” table that focuses on books as well.

I’ve made a couple other improvements to my booth, but I think these will be relatively minor. I have stands for my books now, so they won’t lie flat on the table. I’ve also refrained on purchasing individual volumes of The Dragon Kaseraak series, with the knowledge that it’s the trilogies that will probably sell.

The big change in content is that I will also have One Regret for sale. I am hoping that because it’s a different series with a different focus, it will be additive to sales of The Dragon Kaseraak series. I think it has a pretty good hook and I’m hoping it will sell well. Of course, I can’t say for certain. I will have a lot of copies of it available.

If you’re going to ConnectiCon, please make sure to stop by Booth 119!

One Regret is now for sale!

One Regret has now been published! You can go purchase it for $10 (plus shipping and handling), at the Dragon Kaseraak Bookstore.

With this post I want to describe one of the tougher processes I had in writing and planning One Regret. When I started to think about a time travel story, I knew I didn’t want to make it like the ones I’ve read before. In a lot of time travel stories, the mechanism of time travel itself is sort of waved away. It’s something the author asks the reader to assume, which often leads to the presentation of interesting but at times unsolvable paradoxes.

Consider the one about a person going back in time to kill their own father (or mother, or grandfather, if you prefer). At the risk of stating the obvious, this creates a paradox: how can that person continue to exist in that timeline? Some handle this by saying that the person would disappear (consider “Back to the Future”, which involves a similar concept). Some handle this by saying some sort of event would prevent the killing in the first place. Some just let it ride, unexplained.

I didn’t want to do something like that. Those solutions seem unsatisfying. I wanted to have a rationale, one that was rock solid. This was something I struggled with for quite some time.

The time travel premise for One Regret was the easiest part. Rather than true time travel, One Regret involves messages that travel backwards in time. This alleviates some of the problems, but not all. For instance, while I could not go back in time to kill my own father, I could send a message back in time to my father telling him to kill himself or, less direly, to avoid my mother and the pain of the divorce some twenty years later. Under this scenario, my own existence would become suspect.

One Regret takes the approach of an abandoned timeline. In this case, the instant a message is sent, the current situation changes to reflect the effects of the message. If that means I no longer exist, I no longer exist. The message comes from an abandoned timeline, one that is no longer visible to anyone from the changed timeline, although in some senses it still exists. That’s how I resolved the standard time travel paradox.

There are many interesting issues that arise from this approach, and a significant problem inherent in the plot. The significant problem was figuring out how One Regret could be compensated for its services. Assuming everything went well, the patient’s life would change to the point where he (the target patient is male) would no longer feel inclined to go to One Regret. Effectively, every contact, connection, or relationship between One Regret and the patient would not survive the procedure. This means there would be no conceivable way for the patient to pay One Regret. Even if someone were willing to pay millions of dollars for the procedure, he couldn’t do so and have the payment survive the procedure.

This was a problem inherent in the business model. If anything significant survived the procedure, neither One Regret nor the patient would be willing to risk the procedure in the first place.  But if nothing significant survives the procedure, One Regret is left without recompense for the procedure.

At this point I owe a debt of gratitude to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In that book, Adams was confronted with a situation where any solution would be too preposterously improbable to believe. His solution was to create an improbability machine, one that provided a justification for the near-infinite improbability of the event he needed for the book.

In my case, I needed something to survive the procedure, and thus I looked to the mechanics of the procedure. The premise was that there was a part of the brain (the “Temporal Cortex”) that traveled backwards in time. This was the part of the brain responsible for premonitions. Effectively, the causality of that part of the brain was reversed: cause followed event rather than event following cause. Because of this change in causality, these cells could survive the procedure. It was then a simple matter to create a circumstance where having live samples of such cells would be very valuable for the purposes of research.

Figuring out this solution allowed me to create a story for the purpose of the cells. Having a part of the brain responsible for premonitions is a very interesting concept to play with, and it helped me fill out many a scene. It also gave a framework for convincing a patient that the procedure was possible, by demonstrating events that could only be possible with real premonitional abilities.

That’s a story for another time, though.

In any case, One Regret is now available from the Dragon Kaseraak Bookstore. You can also read a sample here. I’m selling it for $10 + S/H ($3 for media mail). I hope you’ll enjoy reading the sample and I hope you will enjoy reading the book!

Website Redesign in anticipation of One Regret!

In anticipation of the publication of One Regret, I've redesigned the website. Since there's more than one series, I moved the pages related to the Dragon Kaseraak Series into one section, and added a section for One Regret.

There is now all sorts of new content related to One Regret, including a link to a sample of the book! Check out the links at the top of the page.

As always, if you have any comments or notice something that seems off, feel free to contact me.

One Regret Proof Copies

I just received my first proof copies of One Regret from Blurb. I think they look pretty good at first glance, but I already found a few things on the cover I want to change. I've found it rather difficult to know exactly what a cover will look like from the screen, and there are some things one would notice once the design takes physical form that aren't so obvious on the screen.

I wanted to write a little bit about my process for books. There are four stages to each book I write. The first stage is the planning stage. I build my world, define my characters as best I can, figure out what the general plot is, figure out how the story is going to end and begin, and add some details about some of the things I'd like to happen between the beginning and the end. In some cases, such as for The Last Embers, I had a complete chapter by chapter plan for how the story would go before I finished this stage. For other books, like One Regret, the outline was much looser.

One Regret started with a basic idea: what if someone could use a part of a person's brain to send a short message backward in time to allow them to undo one decision they most regretted? It was a germ of an idea and, unlike anything in The Dragon Kaseraak series,  it required a lot of world building before I began to think about anything else. What effect would the sending of the message have on the world around the people who caused the message to be sent? In this case, I decided on a strict line of causality, meaning that everything that could possibly be linked to the decision that was changed would also be changed. Specifically, the people who caused the message to be sent would, after the sending of the message, have no knowledge of sending the message. That led to a different problem: why would the people send these messages in the first place? What benefit was it to them? In this case, I decided that the part of the brain used to send the message was the only thing that survived the procedure. From that point, the entire structure of One Regret as a company flowed: they would be researchers who needed those cells for their research and had no other way of getting them.

Once that world was built, the rest of the book was a lot less well defined. I knew that there would be various episodes in which patients would submit themselves to the procedure. Generally I had some idea of the progression I wanted: each episode offered a different challenge to the main character and was a test to his commitment to the process. But the actual patients and their stories I left for round two.

Round Two is what most people would think of as a first draft. The idea is to write the darned story. I try my best during this process to not be so critical of myself, because the point is to get something down to work with. At the same time, I do find myself occasionally working my way into scenes and corners that just don't work, so it's not really a straight shot from start to finish. The general idea is similar to most people's first drafts, though: get something down.

Round Three is the substantive editing. That's when I reread what I've written and look for plot holes, for inconsistencies, and for opportunities to add additional material. At this point I'm not worrying too much about technical problems with grammar or typographical errors, because they may be in scenes I will rewrite anyway. I know for a lot of writers their drafts get smaller and smaller as they go, but mine tend to get a little longer as I see opportunities to expand on stories and subplots.

Round Four is the technical editing. During this time, I will create a cover for the book. After a once over for technical errors, I'll get a proof copy made, like the ones in the image above. At this point everything has been moved to InDesign, making substantive edits quite a bit more difficult. Depending on how things go, I will read through the book several times to try to find pesky typographical and grammatical errors. When I've done that so much that I can't bear to do it anymore, I will declare the thing a finished project, submit it to Blurb and the Global Distribution Network, and cross my fingers.

I'm happy with where One Regret is right now. I think the cover looks pretty good as is, and I'm hoping I won't find too many errors in the printing. If all goes well, it will be available for purchase here sometime in April!

Series Giveaway!

A while back, I joined Goodreads as an author, hoping to create a little bit of engagement and publicity for my books. I decided to run a giveaway of what was then a five book series, as this was before I had written The Last Embers.

The giveaway was exciting for me as I saw more and more people sign up for it. I imagined that these were people who might genuinely be interested in reading and perhaps buying my books! The first giveaway was won by a woman who was nice enough to actually read and rate the books on Goodreads.

The second giveaway did not go quite so well. I got more entrants this time, but the person who won the giveaway was someone who had entered thousands of giveaways and was obviously not that interested in my work. That’s when I figured out that most of the people were just giveaway junkies, not really interested in buying the books but quite willing to take anything given away for free. The net result was that I was out some $35 for the cost of the books and shipping, and the person who received them had the intention of selling them off for his own profit.

Indeed, this is the case. There’s an eBay listing for these books right now. The books are listed as new—a testament to the notion that this guy didn’t care about reading them. They are signed and you can see my signature on the page. He’s listed them for $36, which is below the price I’ve listed them for here (and, perhaps coincidentally, about what I paid to send them off to him in the first place.) 

I don’t recommend you buy them, for a few reasons. Obviously, I don’t want to reward this practice. Also, they don’t include The Last Embers, which I consider to be the best book I’ve written and a good end to the series. If you’re tempted, I recommend instead that you buy the trilogy versions from my store. They cost only $10 more with shipping, and you get the entire series, with a signature personalized to you. That, in my mind, is a much better deal.

Now, I would like to do another giveaway for a few reasons. The first is that I have several copies of the individual editions of the books. When I went to Connecticon last year, I realized that nobody was going to buy the individual editions. A few people bought The Dragon Kaseraak for $10, but most people went for The Dragon Kaseraak Trilogy at $20 (a better deal), or both trilogies for $40. Plus, I had an economic incentive to sell the trilogies—I get more profit from each trilogy sale than I would selling the individual volumes. This leaves me, though, with an inventory of the individual volumes that I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be able to sell.

So, here’s what I’m going to do.

I want to giveaway a complete set of the individual volumes. That’s all six books, with a value of $60! But I want to give them away to someone who is genuinely interested in reading them, and, hopefully, recommending them to people if the books are found enjoyable. I’m not going to demand a review or the like (such things, I find, are more detrimental than anything), but I sure would appreciate one! I also appreciate talking to readers about the books, especially happy readers. I want to be an active author.

Here's what I'm going to do to try to ensure that people who enter really want to read the books. If you’d like to enter the giveaway, go to the Contact page and send me a note. Tell me briefly why you are interested in reading the books, and give me some way of contacting you in case you win.

My current intention is to let the giveaway run until 25 people enter. I would then randomly pick one of the entrants and notify the winner in the manner given. At that point, I’d need a name to which to sign the books and an address to send the books. Obviously I cannot ask or guarantee that the winner will read the books, but that’s my hope. Also, because I want the shipping cost to be reasonable, I reserve the right to delete your entry and draw a new winner if you live in a country where it would be exorbitantly expensive to send the books. (You can certainly enter, I just don't want to be on the hook for outrageous postal fees. Having not sent books other than to the US and Canada, I have no idea how expensive it would be.)

I reserve the right to cancel this giveaway for any reason; the ones that I can foresee are if I’m spammed by multiple entries, or if I don’t get enough entries. I reserve the right to increase the number of entries in the fortunate event that I get a lot of interest. I reserve the right to delete your entry if it seems sketchy or you enter more than once. Basically, I have intentions but I reserve the right to change the terms in situations where it would be reasonable to do so.

So, if you want to enter:

1) Go to the contact page;

2) Leave me a comment, telling me:

a) Why you want to read the series; and

b) How you’d like me to contact you if you win.

Good luck, and thank you for reading!

Sexuality and the Dragon Kaseraak Series

I want to write a little bit more about representation.

In my last entry on representation, I indicated that I thought I didn’t do a very good job with regards to representation of race. All of the main characters, as they are described in the book, are white. It takes until the fourth book in the series for someone to be specifically identified as non-white. While I had no intention of writing about race in the Dragon Kaseraak Series, the lack of identifiable non-white characters is something I regret.

One can contrast this with gender. Here, if anything, the Dragon Kaseraak Series plays against the typical fantasy in that most of the characters are women. Unlike race, I did intend to write about gender issues—gender comes into play in many ways throughout the stories. I feel that I did well with regard to representation of women.

This brings me to a third classification of representation: sexuality. Here I had a problem that was a little different from race. I did not set out to write about issues of sexuality—it was not a topic I felt appropriate for me to write about in a book I was writing for nine and ten year olds. This is not to say that no one can or should write such a book—I believe that’s about the right age for parents to start thinking about it. I just didn’t want to write about it.

Yet sexuality is introduced in small ways in the stories. I will try to avoid spoilers here, but if you’ve read the books, you know that sexuality is introduced in some ways. It permeates Sycosina’s character. Starting toward the end of Runaway Necromancer, I think it’s pretty clear that it becomes an important issue for Jana.

The approach I took with regard to most things in the Dragon Kaseraak Series is that things that are not relevant to the plot are not mentioned. In this my writing style differs from a lot of fantasy works, in that there is no grand world building written in the books. Jana does not tell Jamie about the political structure of the Kingdom of Westvalia because neither of them cares. We don’t find out about the Vaspen until The Taconite Problem because only then do they become relevant to the plot. In the same way, I didn’t write about the sexuality of the characters except to the minor extent that it was necessary.

Which in some ways is a shame, because as I imagine the characters, there’s over-representation. Jana is bisexual. Tybilt is bisexual. Anna is homosexual. Sycosina is…well, I’m not exactly sure how one would classify her, but given her pathological nature, “heterosexual” isn’t it. Jamie hasn’t yet discovered herself.

I’m not sure any of this matters, though, because the extent of discrete sexuality in the series is limited to not much more than a couple kisses.

A while back, Blizzard caused a bit of a stir by announcing that Tracer, arguably the most identifiable character from its Overwatch game, was homosexual. To me, this announcement seemed rather hollow. Yes, it’s nice to get a nod for the purposes of representation, but unless Tracer’s homosexuality had some effect on the game itself (my understanding is that it does not), the notion is easily forgotten. Similarly, in the Dragon Kaseraak Series, does it matter that I, as the writer, think Jana is bisexual if there’s no actual scene in which she has sex with a woman? Or, for that matter, if there’s no actual scene in which she has sex with a man?

I’m not sure. Perhaps I should have specifically mentioned something about the characters’ sexualities in the series. Perhaps I did so unintentionally! It just struck me that without some payoff or consequence, such things would be empty tokens. I’m not sure, though.

One Regret

The Dragon Kaseraak series was a lot of fun to write. I started writing it at a dark moment in my life, unsure where it would lead. Nine years later, it’s turned into six self-published and self-designed books, ones that I’ve been confident enough about to go to a convention and sell.

They’re very important to me.

They are also over. While it is true that The Last Embers leaves open the possibility of further adventures involving Jamie and Jana, it represents a good finishing point. None of the books ends on a true cliff-hanger, but up until that point there was always an obvious direction for a new story. Each ending brought a new sense of purpose, except for the last book. The ending is comfortable.

One thing I learned in the process is that I really liked to write. I don’t know if I’ll ever be good enough at it or lucky enough at it to make it a worthwhile career, but it’s certainly a worthwhile and viable hobby.

So I’ve started a new story.

The story is called One Regret. It’s aimed at a more mature audience (fitting, since I have no more children in my house for whom to write). It tells the story of a company that offers a revolutionary treatment for the terminally depressed. Rather than offer talk or drug therapy, they offer patients the ability to reverse one decision of their past, hence the name “One Regret”.

The story has a very minor sci-fi bent to it. The way in which one decision is reversed involves time travel of a very modest sort. A part of a patient’s brain is removed, called the temporal cortex. These cells have the unique property of traveling backwards in time. They are used as a vehicle for transmitting a short message into the past, one that acts as a premonition. Once the message “arrives” at the proper time, it informs the prior decision and the patient’s fate is changed.

One of the things I wanted to do with this story was to have a very strict sense of time travel and causation. Once that message is changed, everything that results from that decision changes. This is what in fact makes One Regret possible: the only reason a person would willingly allow his brain to be dissected is because it changes the past in such a way that such an event would never happen. Otherwise, the person would remain dead on the operating table and One Regret would be criminally liable for assisted suicide, if not worse.

The challenge for me was to figure a way that One Regret could profit from this operation. Let’s suppose someone was willing to pay a million dollars to reverse a horrific decision in their past. Once that message is delivered, the line of causation changes such that the person no longer needs to reverse that decision and therefore has no reason to be a patient of One Regret and therefore would not pay that million dollars. No payment can survive the procedure, which calls into question the viability of the business itself.

Fortunately, I figured out a way around this situation. The temporal cortex cells, because they travel backwards in time, follow a different line of causation. They remain in place after the operation. Thus, what happens after a successful operation is that the surgeon who removed the cells in one timeline is sitting at his desk in the subsequent timeline, but is alerted to the presence of the cells acquired in the first timeline. These cells form the currency of One Regret, and are, by necessity of the plot, very valuable for research purposes.

Currently I have completed a first draft of One Regret and am working on the edits to the second draft. I hope to have it finished sometime in April, because I am hoping to have it available for a couple conventions this summer. I hope to continue to provide updates in this journal, but if you have any specific thoughts, feel free to contact me!

Struggles with Representation in The Dragon Kaseraak Series

Hello and welcome to the journal for Dragon Kaseraak Books. One of the things I’m going to try to do a bit more of is blog about my writing—I want this to be a relatively active journal, at least something more active than I’ve made it so far.

One of the things that I think holds me back from blogging about my stories is the fear that my opinions are going to put people off from reading my books. This is especially true for this particular entry, in which I admit some of my flaws! I think it’s important for me to get over this fear. If nothing else, I want my blogging here to be real, and that starts with acknowledging my faults as a writer.

The first topic I’d like to delve into is representation. Representation to me means having a diverse set of characters within the story as to allow a good chance for any particular person to have a character with whom any individual reader will connect, because that character possesses some individual quality specific to the reader’s sense of identity. In specific terms, for instance, representation covers spectrums of gender, of race, of religion and of disability, among other things.

I didn’t pay much attention to representation in the Dragon Kaseraak Series for several reasons. The first and foremost, when I started writing the series, was that I intended it as a story for my daughters. In Jana I created a character with specific aspects I thought would be relevant to them—she is tall, she is a woman, and she is big. Other characters were, frankly, inspired by the creations of other people I had met, and to the extent they provided representation it was by happenstance rather than deliberate.

I want to focus a bit on race, because I think that’s where fantasy in general seems to fall down, and where I don’t think I did particularly well in the series. My approach to characters is that, to the extent a particular aspect of a character was not relevant, I didn’t specifically mention it, in the hope that the reader could supply that information. I didn’t want to write about race, so at least in the first three books, I didn’t place any character that differed from Jana in terms of race. (Jana, at least in my imagination, is white, though if a reader wanted to imagine her as a different race, I don’t think that would be invalid.)

The problem with this approach is that it falls into the fantasy trap of making humanity lily white. With the possible exception of Kaseraak, I imagine all of the main characters of the Dragon Kaseraak Series as being white. Again, I justified this by thinking to myself that I didn’t want to write about race. I have come to believe that this approach is wrong, and in that manner I view this as a weakness of the series.

I tried to correct this starting in The Taconite Problem, the fourth book in the series. In that book I introduced a minor character named Reggie, who I specifically identified as having dark skin. I also took the characters to a town named Theoton, one I imagined to be populated by a majority of people with dark skin. I’m not sure this helped the issue—whereas before I could plausibly claim that some of the characters had dark skin because I didn’t say that they didn’t, by virtue of creating someone with dark skin I effectively implied everyone else wasn’t.

I’m not sure I was entirely successful in this regard. Reggie only appears in The Taconite Problem.

I think the problem I had with representation is that I wanted to create a world in which race didn’t matter—there is no racism, or should be no racism, in the Dragon Kaseraak Series, at least not with regard to humanity. The problem with this approach is that it makes it hard for a person who identifies as a racial minority to connect to any particular character within the story.

I think it’s especially important, given the very poor record of fantasy with regard to race, to have some racial representation within one’s created fantasy universe. I struggled with this because I did not want to comment on race. I don’t think I’m particularly qualified to do so—it’s not something I feel like I have a lot to say about. Yet I think I failed in providing something for a diverse readership.

This is something I struggle with, and I’m not sure what the solution is. My hope is that I can do better as I develop as a writer.

Sycosina Soulbane

One of the marks of a great secondary character is the feeling that the character could be a protagonist in his or her own stories. The best example I can think of is Felix Leiter of the James Bond series. Played (or written) successfully, one has the impression that in another universe there are stories about him that are at least as compelling as those of James Bond.

When I started writing The Dragon Kaseraak, I had a pretty simple template to follow. I had a few characters drawn up. The plot was a basic MacGuffin story. Some characters (e.g., Anna, Kaseraak, Isabella) had specific roles, but others did not. I was exploring back then, hoping to find something that stuck.

Sycosina Soulbane was the character that stuck. She was an overwhelming favorite of the people who talked to me about the book, and I knew that she fit the mold of the character who was interesting enough to carry a story by herself.

The initial premise was simple. Sycosina was a fearsome necromancer. Other than the Ancient Dragons, there was little doubt that she was the most powerful person in the Kaseraak universe. The first book gave several clues about her, but didn’t explain any of it. She was a mystery.

There was the prediction that one day, Jana would become her apprentice, something about which neither Jana nor Sycosina ever expressed doubt.

She lived in the middle of a circular clearing in a dense forest, a barren circle in which nothing would grow.

Anna was deathly afraid of her.

Her role in the first book was rather small. After that, though, she played a major role in each of the subsequent five books. At times she worked with Jana and Jamie, at others, she worked against them.

Jana clearly has some sort of affection for her. Early on, she explained it to Anna. Sycosina was the dread enemy of the kingdom and practically everyone in it. Jana came to understand, somehow, that there was more to her than that. In many ways, she sees herself as Sycosina, becoming the next enemy of the kingdom. There is a kinship between the pair.

I remember listening a few days ago to my daughter talking about the difficulty of dealing with powerful characters. In one of her stories, she had a character that was more or less invincible. I saw the parallels to Sycosina almost immediately. I remained quiet, but there are specific things one can do, and I think has to do, to keep such a character interesting.

At various points in the story, Sycosina shows off her power in individually defeating an entire squadron of trained troops. She is as close to invincible as anyone in the stories. But to keep her interesting, she has corresponding weaknesses. She did not ask for her power. She doesn’t know exactly what to do with it. She lacks confidence. It is for these weaknesses that she comes to rely and depend on Jana—who, for all her faults, is much more sure of herself and her powers.

I sometimes think about rewriting the stories from Sycosina’s perspective.

Outside of Jana and Jamie, Sycosina is the only character with a significant role in the conclusion of each of the six books in the series. In many ways, I think she holds the stories together and gives them life. In some ways, the stories are as much about her as they are about Jana or Jamie.

ConnectiCon 2016 Thoughts and Observations

ConnectiCon 2016 was the first convention where I had gotten a booth for myself. I was very nervous beforehand. A lot of it was new to me, and there was always that nagging feeling that I didn’t quite belong among the many excellent artists who made their livings going from convention to convention.

Fortunately, it all turned out really well. In this post, I’d like to generally recap the experience.

I spent a lot of time planning my booth, with some excellent advice provided by Ashley Riot, the artist who did the banner for my booth and this website. I met her about four years back at Anime Boston. I had spoken with her a while back about the possibility of one of my artistic daughters having a booth, but this year I figured I’d have a go. She gave me some great advice for booth setup.

As July approached I began to get things ready. The thing that needed the most preparation was my stock of books. Every once in a while Blurb has a sale on books of up to 40%, and I waited patiently for one to happen. Sometime in May it did, so I was able to order most of my books at a much lower price than they would normally be. Shipping and handling charges per book were lower with a big order as well.

Then came the other supplies. I quickly—much too quickly—whipped up a design for my business cards, and got a bunch of those printed. (More on that later.) I made square prints from the book covers to hang on the mesh wire crates Ashley had recommended I buy. I packed up my books into lots of boxes, counting and organizing them as I went. The last remaining bit was the banner.

I had made a banner quite a while ago, but when Anime Boston rolled around I figured it would be much better to commission a piece from Ashley for it. (I was planning on commissioning something, anyway.) June was a very busy month for her with conventions, though, and the banner came worryingly close to not being done on time. On Wednesday morning, however, I got the final art from Ashley and delivered it to Staples that morning. Luckily for me, they said they would be able to finish it by noon. They did, and everyone there was really happy with how things turned out. (Apparently, it got a number of positive comments from other customers at the store.) I decided then to get a few prints of it to use as incentives for people to buy both trilogy sets.

Thursday came. My daughters Allison and Jamie and I loaded up the van for the hour and forty minute drive to Hartford. We checked into our hotel—the Residence Inn at Hartford, which I recommend highly—and then left to do the load in at 6 p.m. Traffic was horrible. We could have probably walked to the convention center more quickly, though carrying the books and booth setup made that impossible. Finally we got there and checked in.

An embarrassing note: I was listed in the program as “Blurb Books, Inc.” Way back when I first registered, I asked them what I should put there as the company name, not realizing that it would be the name put in the program. Whoever it was advised me to put my publisher’s name. Next year it will be different! Lesson one learned.

We got to the booth and took down the “Blurb Books” sign, replacing it with the banner. I was just tall enough to hang the banner myself, but a step stool would have made things much easier. Lesson two learned.

The table for the display was not as big as I had expected; if I had set up the wire frame display as I intended, there would be almost no room for me to interact with customers or place the books. So instead I set the displays at 45 degree angles, which was probably better because it gave more room for the books to be displayed and also gave us a nice little workspace behind the display. Win win. Lesson three: don’t be afraid to change plans to something that works better.

Setup took perhaps half an hour. We then left and attempted to find a place to eat for the night. Lesson four: next year, we are just cooking dinner in the hotel room. It’s cheaper and easier, because one of my daughters becomes very pessimistic about finding food she likes when she’s hungry.

The next morning we arrived about an hour and a half before the exhibitor hall opened. We set up the books for display, which took maybe ten minutes, and then waited. Finally the hall opened up and lots of people came pouring in.

We were in a relatively bad location, in one of the far corners of the Artist Colony looking at the wall. I’m not sure if that was because I didn’t have an idea of how the Colony was set up or just because that was what was available when I signed up. Next year I’m hoping for a better location. Lesson five learned.

It took about forty minutes for me to get my first sale. These were forty very long minutes. My books represented pretty much the sum of my productive work over the past decade or so, and this was the day of judgment. Would I sell a single book? Would anyone take interest?

Someone did. A lovely young woman dressed in some lovely cosplay approached, saying she loved dragons. After a very short pitch, she bought the first trilogy. I was thrilled. Jamie was thrilled. Allison, in what would become the teasing joke of the conference, was somewhere else. It was a great high to finally be able to sell one of my books.

The second customer was memorable. He was a young man, probably late teens. He apparently was drawn to the artwork and was very enthusiastic about it, and even more enthusiastic to learn that the artwork was on books. The conversations with his friends (who were offering to lend him money) led me to believe that he bought the first trilogy with his last twenty dollars—this at one-thirty in the afternoon of the first day of the convention.

The day went pretty well. I sold nine books in total that day, which made me feel great. Lesson six had to do with how to sell the books. My plan was to describe Jana’s situation as being on the run from Westvalia because magic had been banned. At some point I added that she was on the run because of her role in assassinating the former king. It was incredible to watch how people’s faces lit up at that point—knowing that our heroine was not some purely virtuous hero, but had a bit of a nasty streak to her. “That would do it,” was a common response.

Lesson seven had to do with what books would sell. Before the convention I recognized that getting people to buy something other than The Dragon Kaseraak or the trilogies would be a hard sell. After one day of the convention, I recognized it would be impossible. A very few people would buy the first individual volume rather than a trilogy at twice the price. No one would start with the second individual volume. In my mind, the trilogies made a lot more sense, but for some reason I didn’t realize that they completely foreclosed the possibility that someone would buy Runaway Necromancer or the later books. So now I have a small stock of the individual volumes that I will probably have to give away rather than sell. I think I have to display them, but most people will buy the trilogies instead. $20 is not a lot to pay.

Saturday came and with it some validation. The day started very quickly. My first customer came back, said she had finished the first five chapters and she wanted to buy the second trilogy. I gave her a poster. People seemed more inclined to buy the entire series on Saturday. In all, Saturday was the most successful day—I sold thirteen books that day.

There was, of course, a lot of downtime during the con. My standard for success was to be able to pay for the booth with sales of the books, and on Saturday I was well on my way to making that goal. But that still meant a lot of quiet time with no one approaching the booth. A lot of booths had a lot of things for sale. Depending on how you looked at it, I had eight, or six, or even just one. I didn’t get many browsers, but I felt like most of the people who were browsing were very interested in buying.

On Sunday I attempted to goose the sales of the individual volumes. Rather than selling them for $10 each, I put them up for buy-two-get-one-free. This did absolutely nothing. For the whole convention, I didn’t sell a single individual volume other than the first book. Sunday was a little slower than Saturday, but it was good enough to push me past the pay-for-the-booth goal. I was happy.

I really felt validated by the convention. People actually were interested in my work, liked my artwork and liked my writing. I had a few people come back on Saturday telling me that they liked the book I had sold them on Friday. It was fun to talk about the characters.

There was one big screw-up, though: my business cards. It’s very easy to imagine them as much larger than they actually are when designing them, and when I got them back, they were rather difficult to read. I had put too much information on them. But the most egregious error was to cede control over the link I had given. I had put on there a link to my book listings on Amazon. There, someone might want to buy the books, or might not, but they would have no way of interacting with me beyond that point. I look at the business cards as a major failed opportunity to build a brand. I should have had a website ready. Next year will be better.

And yes, I think there will be a next year. I plan on signing up for a booth for ConnectiCon 2017 as soon as they are available, hopefully getting one with a bit more traffic. I’m going to go with better cards; probably bookmarks, instead. I hope to see some people returning and also meet some new people then.

Hope to see you there!