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.

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.

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!

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.

Slave to the Narrative

Ever hear about plots being on rails? Or maybe characters being a “slave to the narrative”? Those are both descriptive ways of explaining that the plot is the driving force of the book, overshadowing everything else. Things happen because the plot demands it, not necessarily because it feels natural to do so.

I’ve always known of the concept, but it never hit me as hard as it did now. I’d gotten some good advice from an agent about my manuscript Altered Egos and wanted to implement it into the most recent draft. In the book, my protagonist is a supervillain who’s freed from prison to stop a serial killer. Now there are plenty of things vying for his attention and trying to keep him under someone’s thumb, but I realized that I too fell prey to making him a slave to the plot.

I thought I’d covered my bases pretty well by having him always be scheming for ways out, but then I went back and reread scenes of him running head first into danger. I had to stop and ask myself why. Well, I knew why, because I needed him to blow up that mech or to save that guy for whatever reason. But would my protagonist really do that?

The short answer was yes. He needed to accomplish these tasks to further his own plans. The longer answer was yes, but he’d have reservations. I needed to do a better job of explaining that in the prose. I was missing the entire emotional piece of how he felt about the matter. I just had him moving about like a chess piece. Yeah, he’s an intellectual guy and I had him examining many of these situations from an intellectual angle but I don’t care who you are, if bullets are flying over your head and things are exploding left and right, you’re going to be on the verge of peeing your pants. But none of that was in there.

It made those scenes feel hollow. Here I had a protagonist with a strong character voice, but we never really got into his head. It wasn’t some parlor trick I was going for, it was just weak writing.

I’ve never been one of those authors who say their characters are dictating the story as they go along. I need an outline and I need to move my pieces around from Point A to Point B, but there are times I can do a better job of explaining how my characters feel about those elements. More often than not, readers are enticed by the plot, but they stay for the characters. It’s the emotional connection a reader forms with a protagonist that has a lasting effect, but they can’t form that emotional connection if the character doesn’t actually emote.

Glad I got that advice and caught it when I did.

Just a reminder that my book Fairfax Cleaners is for sale on all major e-retailers. And you can of course get a print on demand version from Amazon.

Fairfax Cleaners is Live

Look what showed up over the weekend?

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It looks good and it feels good too! That cover is snazzy to touch. Anyway, I’m so thrilled with how it turned out that I decided why wait? As of today, Fairfax Cleaners is available everywhere!

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

So take your pick! While I’d love for people to purchase the book, of course, I’m looking hard for reviews right now. If you don’t want to invest in a new author – I totally hear ya – contact me anyway and I’ll be more than happy to send you a free version in exchange for an honest review.

Fairfax Cleaners is Self Published!

I did it. I finally did it. I took control of my own writing career and self-published my first book.

It’s been something I’d been thinking about doing for a while now, but couldn’t bring myself to do because I’ve been so captivated by the traditional model. However ever since going through Fairfax Cleaners again for one final overhaul of the manuscript, I knew it would be the perfect candidate.

DanMelnick_FairfaxCleaners_eBookFrontCoverFINAL

Here’s the blurb:

Gus cleans up the bodies, he doesn’t make them. Keep the Hidden City hidden. That’s the job and deal he made with one of the fairy overlords of Chicago. It’s another day dismembering troll, when Gus discovers Maureen hiding out in the back of his van. His boss is hunting humans with tremendous magical potential and Maureen has already gotten away from them once.

Most people who catch the fairy’s interest typically wind up on the other end of Gus’s bone saw.  Gus knows he should turn her in, but can’t bring himself to do it. Even a man who hides the dead has a conscience. So he helps her escape, earning the wrath of the Hidden City: evil fairies, a rampaging werewolf, and a spirit assassin powered by vengeance. And that’s just the start of it. His boss has gone to a lot of trouble finding Maureen the first time and will do anything to get her back. There’s no way he’d both forgive Gus’s betrayal and let them escape the city alive.

It’s got some violence and a whole lot of language — if the cover didn’t tip you off. So if you’re sensitive to that, you now know.

The official launch day is May 7th, but you can preorder it now at the following links:

Kindle

Physical Copy (not available until launch day)

Kobo

Nook

iBooks

Smashwords

I’m definitely looking for reviews, so for those of you who have already read it and would like to talk about your experiences, I’d really appreciate it. If there is anyone out there who would be interested in a free copy in exchange for an honest review, please reach out and I’ll send one your way.

So what this whole process has taught me:

  1. Layouts take so much more work than I realized. I must have fiddled with different versions of the manuscript for hours every day for weeks to get them all in the proper format for the platform.
  2. Microsoft Word is so much more than a “type here” program. There is so much going on behind the curtain if you will, its staggering. Also, I’ve never loved Find and Replace more.
  3. A good cover is worth investing in. Let’s be honest, we really do judge a book by its cover. Or it at least makes us pick it up and give the book a chance. I’m super pleased with what Extended Imagery has cooked up for me.
  4. People read books in a lot of places. Going into this I thought if I hit Amazon and iBooks, I’d cover my bases but I couldn’t be more wrong. There are so many platforms out there. It’s great that people can choose the vehicle that works for them, but it means more work for me to generate reviews
  5. It’s really fun. I didn’t think I would enjoy this behind the scenes process so much, but I really do. I’m already working on the next manuscript I’ll be self-publishing.

The Trail to Self Publishing

Ever since finishing my latest manuscript, I’ve needed something to keep myself busy during the mandatory cool down process. Some of that has been conducting research for the next novel. But most of it has been one final editing pass through a book I wrote a couple of years ago.

I’m definitely the kind of person who thinks trunk novels ought to stay in the trunk, but I’ve had a few that were pretty close to being “a real boy”. And since I made the promise to myself that I wanted to self-publish this year, well I needed something to publish.

I still have a couple of books doing the querying rounds, so they’re not exactly on the table at the moment, leaving me Fairfax Cleaners, my one and only urban fantasy from a couple of years ago.

The pitch:

Gus, a cleaner for the fairy overlords of Chicago, turns against his family by protecting a girl with immense magical potential from being murdered to jump start a ritual to revive a forgotten god.

Those of you already making the connection, I conceived and wrote this book way before I read any Jim Butcher. I like the books, but imagine my frustration, right? Well, I made the choice not to change locales because I used to live in Chicago and I liked the world I’d created. Other than fairies, magic, and Chicago, this book and Dresden have nothing in common so I like to think I’m safe.

Going through it again has been enlightening. I definitely tightened up a lot of the beginning, reworking some troublesome chapters before ultimately cutting another 13,000 words from the whole thing, streamlining it shark-smooth.

I gotta say, I’m thrilled with the final result. I really like this book. It’s the first one where I really cared about structure and I feel like it shows. I’ve got someone doing the cover as I write this and hope to have more information in the next couple of weeks.

Guess it’s time to finally make those KDP and iBook accounts so I can get this party started.

Those of you who’ve blazed this trail before, any advice?