Presentation Does Matter

I’ve been playing a lot of Skyrim on my Switch lately in those rare instances when I’m allowed to turn my brain off for a while. Skyrim is an odd choice for me, not because it’s a huge RPG — I love those — but because I’ve already played it when it first came out over seven years ago and decided that I didn’t like it.

The urge to pick it back up again came to me on a whim and boy am I glad I listened. Aside from the inclusion of the DLC material, there’s nothing new about the game on Switch. It’s still the game I played seven years ago and put down. So what changed?

I think its the portability aspect. I love having this entire world in my hands. Usually, I hate open world games. Its part choice paralysis and part narrative pacing problems — I’m looking at you Final Fantasy XV. See, in open world games, you’re given the main quest line to follow and then as you go through it, you’re constantly running into peripheral things to do. With the fate of the world or empire or whatever at stake, it kind of breaks all narrative immersion when you stop to help someone find their chickens. Find your own dammed chickens! But I digress …

This time, I knew what I was getting myself into. I decided just to play the quests I wanted as long as they were relevant to the plot in some way. Each decision, I massaged out in my brain so it was all part of a single narrative experience. And the fact that I could take this entire world with me in the palm of my hands was what sealed the deal. Even if I only have ten minutes to spare, I can just dive in and lose myself in Pict, the Dragonborn for a bit.

It reminds me when I tried reading Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind for the second time. I’d heard all the usually things when it first came out, read about fifty pages, and just couldn’t get into it. I figured I’d never read it. Who has the time to read books they don’t enjoy anymore? Then fast forward a couple of years. My wife is pregnant with the twins and going to sleep at 8pm every night. Good thing the Switch doesn’t exist yet, so instead, every night when she’d fall asleep I’d read. I read A LOT!

That Christmas my mom had joined the Rothfuss train and bought both The Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear for me as presents. I’d finished whatever I was reading and needed something new and figured why not. I owned them now and if I didn’t like them, I’d donate them. I’d been working through a stack of free books and a trip to our library to offload them was on the horizon anyway.

Now the copy of tNofW I’d tried before was the big, honkin’ tome you’re probably familiar with. The version I’d been gifted was this little thing (I’ll find the exact edition when I get the chance), still a hard back, with the thinnest, softest pages. It kind of forced you to hunch your shoulders a little to hold it. And the nature of the narrative being told in the first person made it feel like I was reading someone else’s journal. Like Skyrim on the Switch, something just clicked and it just pulled me right in. I thoroughly enjoyed it and even read the next two.

As writers, the goal is to pull a reader into your world through the power of your words alone. But it certainly helps to present those words in an appealing format. I have a definite appreciation for layout that I never had before which was why when I was working with the cover artist for Fairfax Cleaners, it was really important for me not to display the main character on the cover. So many urban fantasy covers feature some photo realistic – or real realistic – protagonist just kind of standing there and looking badass, I guess?

Personally, I find the covers boring. And unless you have some quality art production behind you, that style is so easy to screw up and look cheap. It may be just me, but I think it’s kind of a trope at this point and I wanted nothing to do with it. So instead, I opted for a severed foot, a bloodied hacksaw, and some rubber gloves. Let the words paint the picture of what my protagonist looks like. I wanted the art to prime that stage. The right presentation can prepare the reader for the journey, but it’s up to the writer then, to make sure that journey is one worth taking.

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Life Update

Has it really been three weeks since my last post? Wow, well I guess I was being lazy that first week after Land of Sky and Blood edits.

Update: My mom liked it. Honestly, I’d be weirded out if she didn’t. She’s an avid reader and always wants whatever I’m working on and the dutiful son I am, I send them her way. It’s like the adult version of putting my artwork on the fridge I guess.

Then the week after, we had some illness in my house so I was taking care of everyone for a while which meant no post.

Now here we are. So what’s up with you?

I’ve been slowly working on my outline for the Altered Egos sequel Partners in Crime. This step is always exciting and daunting because anything can happen. The rails aren’t there yet and I’m still creating from whole cloth. I’m still nailing down good story beats as I take my pages and pages of brainstorming notes and massage them  into something coherent that someone besides my mother would want to read.

When not doing that, I’m avoiding working on that short story that needs finishing, but I’m reading more. I used to read all the time, but being busy at work and at home has unfortunately slowed me down. I know. A writer who doesn’t read. But I do! I promise!

I’m actually reading Dark Hollow the second Charlie Parker book by John Connolly right now. I didn’t really care for the first one – my writer brain couldn’t get past the Matrix code – but my uncle swears by this series and he’s a pretty great guy so what the heck, I’ll give it another shot. I’m glad I did because this second one is much better than the first in my opinion.

My main gripe with the first book, Every Dead Thing, is that after the setup, its basically divided into two acts except Act 1 has nothing to do with the setup promised. It’s kind of a big waste of time. I get now that for the character, that first act is more meaningful but it feels like I was forced to read a backstory before we got to the novel itself. I just couldn’t get past the structure.

Dark Hollow, though, is much more streamlined and personal (which is a weird way to describe it if you’re familiar with the premise) than the first book so I like it a lot more. Also for whatever plot or pacing problems I think Connolly has, my lord, can that man write some metaphors. His stark yet vivid descriptions are awesome. So at the very least, I feel like I’m in writing class once again looking at that Matrix code, but this time I’m studying it to see how its done.

I don’t know what it is about his writing that does this to me so I can’t just fall in and enjoy the narrative – maybe he jumps around too much – but whether I like ’em or hate ’em, I’m finding Connolly’s books to be educational.

So that’s me, what’s going on with you?

And Done

Well, I did it! I hit my August deadline and Land of Sky and Blood is currently off with beta readers. I’m always looking for more readers so if Asian-inspired epic fantasy is your thing, I’d love to have you on board.

Wow! What a weight off my shoulders. This was my longest book yet, but it also required the most worldbuilding and character details. I have four main POV characters, so there was a lot to wade through at the end and it’s cleaned up as much as it’s going to be for the time being. It’s time to let it fly.

So what’s next?

There’s a short story I really want to finish. I wrote the first six pages which is essentially the setup and absolutely fell in love with it right before I was getting to the good part. Then I had to put it on hold to finish these edits, so coming back is weirdly intimidating. I have to make sure that lightning didn’t escape the bottle.

After that, it’s beginning work on the Altered Egos sequel. A couple weeks ago I decided that instead of starting a new IP I was going to pour my energies into Altered Egos and subsequent books pretty much going against everything I’ve always said about my writing career. I didn’t want to waste time writing books that no one will read. But that’s because I was thinking of only the traditional model. I’ve really come around to the idea of publishing my own series and so far the world I think best fits this model for me is Altered Egos. That and I’ve been dying to get back to those characters 🙂

I’ve had a lot of fun with Fairfax Cleaners, but before I expand that universe — and I totally plan to, I already know what the next couple of books are going to be — I’d much rather play with my supheroes and villains first. Altered Egos is nearer and dearer to my heart, so my new plan is to write those sequels and then self-publish that series.

The real trick is to fill this time with work.  I don’t do waiting so well, especially when it comes to waiting for beta readers to get back to me. But like a fish or a cat, I guess, I’m putting the shiniest of shiny things in front of me to distract myself as I wait around. If I’m really lucky, I’ll turn those time-killing exercises into some real progress.

Sooooo Close!

I finished my latest read through of Land of Sky and Blood over the weekend. That’s 561 pages, 163k words, all cleaned up. I still can’t believe it turned out that long. Now all I have to do is rewrite the opening chapter and I’ll be ready to hand it off.

At this point I’m desperate to give it to my beta readers. I thought I’d be cutting things left and right Edward Scissorhands style, but I think I ended up adding to the overall word count! I feel like Cillian Murphy in Sunshine when he’s staring out the spaceship at the sun. I just can’t look at the manuscript anymore. I’m all crispy-skinned and immolated over here and need some outside opinions.

My original goal was to be done by August 1st. I’m giving myself until the end of the week though. Either way, come a week from now, you better be seeing the words: “And it’s sent!” Then maybe I can finally relax.

Keeping the post short and sweet today so I can get back to it. I’ve already pulled myself out of one internet rabbit hole once I started reminiscing about Sunshine — seriously, before me typing that reference, I hadn’t even thought about that movie in like ten years — I can’t afford to fall down another one. That chapter’s not going to rewrite itself!

Crisis on Multiple Dans

I’ve been on vacation that last two weeks with the family. There was plenty of rest and relaxation. Also some stress and aggravation from trying to herd three small children to “HAVE FUN”. And driving. Lots of driving. So many car arguments.

My lowest moments? I transformed into a capital “D” Dad on this trip and had to say dad things like “I’m turning this car around and we’re going home!” and “Now NOBODY gets a movie!”. It’s awful. My kids turned me into a monster. But aside from that, it was a pretty fun trip. We went out east to visit my parents for a week and then drove south to surprise the kiddos with a secret Disney World trip the following week. So it was kind of eventful.

Two weeks away also meant two weeks away from writing. And in those two weeks I received a couple more rejection letters.  You’re never going to make it as a writer if you can’t handle rejection and boy have I gotten some letters over the years, but these two hit kind of hard. They were some final nails in the coffin of a particular work and I was realizing that it just wasn’t going to sell.

So in the midst of the Florida sun and Disney World I was also experiencing an existential crisis of what to do with my career.

I’ve always had this dilemma of striving for traditional publishing versus self-publishing. There are good reasons to go either way. Bad ones and pitfalls too. Even more than that, I’ve written seven novels now over the course of seven years and the last four books I’d say have had somewhat open endings or at least room for a sequel but I’ve never written any followups.

The life cycle of my books tend to go something like this: outlining and writing the first draft takes a couple months. Then polishing and editing takes the second half of the year. Usually while it’s taking me a year to write one book, I spend that entire year pitching and querying the last book. Once the new book is ready, I rotate the old one out, start pitching the new, and start writing something else. Thus the cycle continues.

My way of thinking was why write a sequel to a book that no one will read. Well, a lot of self-publishing thrives on series. Even my own Fairfax Cleaners I’ve envisioned to be a Hidden City series. I was going to hold off and publish those intermittently with other works. At least that was the idea, but down in the Florida sun I’ve come to a new decision. I do want to write a series, but while I love Fairfax Cleaners, Altered Egos is nearer and dearer to my heart. I’m going to finish editing my current manuscript and then I’m just going to dive into the Altered Egos sequel. I’m not going to lean into self-publishing anymore, I’m going all in. I mean, I wanted to write a series anyway so why not? What’s stopping me?

I’ve come full circle on this. I originally get into novel writing because I wanted to write comic books and got tired of convincing other people to draw stories for me. With that notion, if I love something and think its worth reading, well then maybe I should do it myself again and get it out there.

The writing industry is about the market, but the writing art is about passion. And right now I’m passionate about writing about a supervillain protagonist in a world of superheroes so that’s what I’m going to do. If I think these stories are worth reading, then there’s probably a couple people out there like me who’d appreciate them as well.

Ape Like Me

I fed a gibbon today.

That sounds like a euphemism or something, but I really mean that I fed an honest to god primate. It reached out through the mesh of its cage, I ignored the signs about reaching back, and I gave it a food pellet. I put food in the hand of a gibbon. I gave a gibbon a snack.

I was at this zoo/safari-esque place with my family, so don’t worry, feeding the animals is not only encouraged but part of the experience. Technically, I wasn’t supposed to reach toward the gibbons because of their longer arms. They’re known to take cell phones. It really had nothing to do with food. So yeah, after watching my wife feed a zebra, I wanted to bond with another creature too. Me and the gibbon became good buddies.

There’s probably some deeper metaphors there about the relationship of man with nature and the origin of species, but I was just happy to make that gibbon’s day. At least, I hope so, cause that critter sure as heck made mine. For all I know, he’s pandering for food pellets left and right and I was just an easy mark with gibbon-length arms myself, but I choose to believe that we had — no, have — something special.

We better, because the first time I tried and gave him a carrot. He did not like that at all. Like howling, jumping around the pen, and thrashing around not like. I thought I might have kicked off the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes for a second there. Cesar who? But luckily, our food pellet exchange was far more productive.

In other news, my book Fairfax Cleaners is on sale throughout July. The digital copies are anywhere from a whopping $0.99 in some places to absolutely free in others! You can’t do much better than that. So if you were ever on the fence before, why not? Do you like fairies who act like gangsters and swear like sailors? How about a werewolf who rides a motorcycle? Japanese yokai turned spirit assassin do anything for you? And those are just the bad guys. Don’t even get me started on Gus, our hero.

So if you’re looking for something new this summer, I guess what I’m saying is you could do a lot worse. If that doesn’t get you going, what do I gotta do? Get a gibbon for you?

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Fairfax-Cleaners-Dan-M…/…/ref=sr_1_2…

Physical Copy: https://www.amazon.com/Fairfax-Cleaners-Dan-M…/…/ref=sr_1_3…

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/fairfax-cleaners

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/…/1131177773;jsessionid=92E2…

iBooks: https://linkmaker.itunes.apple.com/en-us/details/1459119241…

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/932548

6/24/19 Check In

Wow it’s been two weeks since my last post! Time’s been flying by. I try to get something out every Monday, but I’ve just been so darned busy lately. A smarter me would have a bunch of these posts written up in advance and then have them scheduled to come out for instances such as these, but I haven’t had the time to write one post let alone some for a backlog.

Some general updates:

I’m 1/3 of the way through my last draft of Land of Sky and Blood before I release it to my beta readers. It’s always equal parts exciting and nerve wracking when I turn my work over to other people. It’s not that I can’t handle the critiques, I’m just impatient. After working on something for so long I want to know what people think about it now, not two months from now. But I guess other people are busy too or something …

You can never have enough beta readers, so if you’re interested in being one of mine and you like Asian inspired epic fantasy, hit me up!

I finished The Prince of Shadow and … yeah, I’m glad it’s over. After so much build up and the main character, Llesho being carried through the narrative, I was expecting, I don’t know … more? The end has what I guess is a final twist, but it happens so quickly and almost out of left field that it’s hard to be excited. It was more of a “Huh. I guess that happened” kind of a moment. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll read the sequel, but right now, it’s just not going to happen.

My current read is Whisper of Shadow and Steel. I grew up playing and loving the Legend of the Five Rings card game. All of my Asian fantasy reading was getting me back in the spirit to find the old Clan books to read them again, but seeing as how they’re based on a role playing game whose rules have become outdated, I wasn’t that surprised to discover that they didn’t exist in a digital format.

That said, a few new ones do, though. Whisper of Shadow and Steel came out last year for crying out loud and I had no idea! Anyway, I’m already halfway through it – it’s pretty short- and it’s like going home again. Once a Scorpion, always a Scorpion.

Also, my book Fairfax Cleaners will be going on sale for the low, low price of a dollar the whole month of July! If you were ever curious to read some urban fantasy in Chicago that has nothing to do with wizards, now’s your chance!

Inspiration

Normally when I’m working on something, I don’t like to read that same genre in fear of cross-contamination. It’s different this time, though. As I’m editing Land of Sky and Blood I only want to read fantasies with an Asian/East-Asian lens. It’s not that I’m hoping to get any of that via osmosis, I think it’s more that I just really like that aesthetic and never really knew how much of it was out there. Now that I’ve tasted it, I want more. Hopefully readers of that material will feel the same way that I do and accept my work as well.

Although, I wouldn’t be mad if one of those books helps me unlock this recurring naming convention problem I’m having. I thought I’d solved it, but I still think its too convoluted and the final effect isn’t quite what I was hoping for. Maybe I’ll get it next draft …

So in light of all that, I thought I’d talk a bit about what I’m currently reading. I realized that topic rarely comes up on my blog which could be odd being a writer and all. I’m maybe 75% through The Prince of Shadow and my ongoing review is that, I don’t hate it? Insert confused face.

Life’s too short for me to keep reading a book I don’t like. I can usually tell if I like a book or not forty pages in. Heck, more like twenty in most cases. But this one … it’s just interesting enough that I think I like the world, but plot-wise kind of boring. Benjamin’s prose is often muddy at times. A whole paragraph will go by and I’ll have to reread it because I’m not sure what he’s trying to say. I also tend to like a protagonist with, you know, agency so a whole book where events are happening too a character and not because of a character are not really my thing. I’m hoping this is just a slow burn and that this is all building up to the end, so who knows?

The beginning of the book must have been more interesting than what I’m reading now to get me this far, otherwise I probably would have dropped it. I’ve also come too far to turn back now. I call that my Wheel of Time Rule. Hooboy. We can talk about that ride later.

Anyway, yeah, so there are some things about The Prince of Shadow that I like and plenty that I don’t. If anything, it’s showing me some new angles to an Asian inspired fantasy world and offers some nice examples of how editing can be your friend, but it’s not what I signed on for.

So yeah, don’t hate it, but already looking forward to the end. I guess it’s part of a trilogy, but at this rate, I don’t have any plans of picking up the other two.

Head Case

I’d been doing some traveling lately and visiting family which has put me behind on both blogging and writing. Aside from some memories and a boat load of pictures of my kids, I didn’t come back empty handed. My sister-in-law is an awesome photographer who did me a huge favor and snapped me some snazzy head shots.

Headshot for Screens

Nice, Right? I mean just look at that handsome devil.

Okay, all joking aside all credit goes to my sister-in-law who clearly knows what she’s doing. I just sat around and tried not to look like an idiot. Smile more? Less? Serious face? I think I went through the gamut. The old train station also helped. I really like that background!

Anyway, got some time in the sun down south where my kids played with their cousins for a week. Physically, I’m exhausted from traveling — three little kids on airplanes will do that to you — but mentally, I’m all fired up. I’ve got some business stuff to take care of, a short story to finish, and of course editing Draft 2.

Draft 2 has been kicking my butt. It was always going to be rough in the beginning, but I also think it’s because I was trying to cram everything I’d missed in during that second pass. I’ve since come to realize that like anything I’ve ever written, it’s going to be a another dozen or so drafts until I’m finished, so it’s okay to let stuff go for next time. Fix what I catch and streamline those 165k words into a coherent story and then polish, polish, polish while I work out other details. You don’t carve a masterpiece in the second try. You chip away and smooth stuff until one day you’re just finished with it.

Seriously, coming at my problem like that has just freed me. I can’t wait to get through this current pass so I can hone in some more on the next one. Want another metaphor? It’s like zeroing in on a target. I could probably cut down on the overall number of drafts by slowing down, but I’m not sure my work would be as good.

I’d been taking a writing class these past couple months to polish my prose and something I’ve learned is that I like to do that final polishing in little isolated chunks. Take a few “completed” pages at a time and then make them better. I think I was trying to do too much too quickly before. I’m allowing myself the ability to let stuff go, flag it, and catch it later, being more deliberate with my choices. I think it’s going to make me a lot happier in the long run.

Couch Potato

I like to be busy. In life and in writing. I need to be actively working on something at all times either writing or editing. I mean, this is my bread and butter if I want to make a career out of writing – I need to make products – but I also see it like this: Throw enough spaghetti at the wall and something will stick, but that won’t happen if you don’t actually make the spaghetti.

I bring this up because I’ve had a minor procedure recently that resulted in a few days off from work and home in bed/on the couch. I’m not allowed to be active. Sure. Why not? What a perfect time to bust out the ultrabook and get some serious editing done without distractions.

Turns out I was wrong. Staying in a seated position was a tad tiring and the siren song of Black Mirror was just too tempting to resist. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Watching Black Mirror, not editing like I should be. I’m giving myself a pass on this one though. Sometimes I guess its good to recharge the batteries. Not that I’m doing that creatively mind you. People, I’ve been a slug. No, that’s not fair to slugs. They’re more active than I’ve been lately. If it wasn’t for my kids taking over the bedroom for a nap and then taking over the living and being too young to watch Black Mirror, I don’t know what I’d become. A puddle of goo? Can bones melt that fast? They won’t stop jumping on daddy, but I suppose its better that than being a complete slob.

That said, I don’t known if I’ve ever been more ready to get back to work in my life. And wear pants. Step one is pants.

All right, so the editing for Land of Sky and Blood – that’s the new official title – is going slow as can be. It’s gonna be a few months yet before I have anything for beta readers to sink their teeth into. I’m already getting anxious so I think I’m gonna get back into the short story game for a bit. Got a couple things brewing in the old brain pan.

In other news, Fairfax Cleaners has dropped to $2.99. That’s less than a comic book my friends. So, if you like an urban fantasy mystery, a mishmash of folklore, and fay who really like to drop the f-bomb then this might be the book for you. Find the details here or click the widget on the side of the page.