The Whispering Voice

The Whispering Voice My new book, The Whispering Voice has just been published. It’s available on Amazon in both ebook and paperback formats. The ebook is selling at the introductory price of just $0.99, while the paperback sells for $7.99.

Here’s the blurb for my new book:

Rob a Bank, or Else…

Anna would never rob a bank…but now she has two hours or her family dies. Even the police can’t help her. When she stops at a bar for a shot of liquid courage and a little time to think through her options, she gets far more than she bargained for…

Because this isn’t just any bar.

It’s the Ur-Bar, a mysterious establishment that has appeared in different locations throughout history. A place where the walls between reality and fantasy are thinner than a scream.

And if there’s magic left in the world, this is where Anna will find it…

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Critical Awareness

Tsunami of CrapNANOWRIMO is here, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. It is an endeavor in which folks attempt to complete 50K words of writing (a short novel) in the month of November. I applaud the initiative. Writers write. To be bluntly obvious, that’s what makes us writers.

If you have aspirations of being a professional author, the best way to find out if you have what it takes is…wait for it…by writing.

And, in my humble opinion, the best way to learn is not just to write, but to actually finish something.

Sadly, NANOWRIMO is typically followed by the December Deluge, also affectionately known as the Tsunami of Crap, in which large numbers of people publish the content that they’ve written in November. Completing something does not mean it’s ready to be published.

And, if you’re new to the craft, let’s face it, do you really think that your very first effort is professional quality? Really? I mean, my first stories were dreck. Quite frankly, they’ll never see the light of day. Nor should they. Other writers, such as Stephen King in his book, On Writing, have said the same thing.

Which brings me to the topic of Critical Awareness, which I define as the ability to evaluate the quality of your own story as a saleable product. Unsurprisingly, this is a learned skill, just like anything else. It’s also something that writers, on the whole, are notoriously bad at. After all, it’s hard to be objective about something that you’re so close to, that you’ve spent so much time sweating over.

It turns out that Critical Awareness is a skill. Like any other skill, you have to work to develop it. Here are some techniques to help you develop the capability to evaluate your own work:

  1. Time: Let the story sit for a month or two, while you get involved with a new project. Come back and read the story again when you’ve acquired enough distance from it to be suitably objective. This is one of my key tactics; I’m never in a hurry to publish my stories.

  2. Regular Critiques: Let others critique the work while you’re developing it. Writing groups are great for this. Most groups provide opportunities to review chapters in ongoing works. A good group can help you gain insights into your story, such as inconsistencies, worldbuilding gotchas, characterization problems, etc.

  3. Beta Readers: Beta readers can read a finished work and point out flaws in the work. Unlike critique groups, which typically review individual chapters on a periodic basis, beta readers review the entire story. This can help provide insight into structural problems, plotting problems, pacing issues, etc.

A note on the people who do critiques or Beta reads… You need people with some writing background who are willing to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Your mother is probably not a good choice. Just sayin’.

Writing is creative, but publishing is a business. Finishing a story is good, but deciding to publish should be based on a clear evaluation of a work’s prospects in the marketplace. Will it sell? Will it enhance, or detract from, the author brand you’re trying to establish? Critical Awareness is a crucial skill for success in the business.

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Invited to Balticon 54

Balticon 54,  May 22 - 25, 2020
I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been invited to participate in the Programming Track for Balticon 54, which will be held in Baltimore from May 22 – 25, 2020. This is a great literary SF convention, and one that I highly recommend for SF/Fantasy readers. Plus, it’s being held in Inner Harbor, so it makes a great springboard for enjoying some of downtown Baltimore’s other tourist attractions (perhaps, most notably, the National Aquarium).

I also have a soft spot in my heart for Balticon. In 1989, at age 26, it was only the second SF convention that I had ever attended. My first convention had been Shore Leave, which back then was pretty exclusively a Star Trek affair, and, while fun, it hadn’t really satisfied my craving for a more wide-ranging SF/Fantasy experience. And then came Balticon, oh my.

I’ve been attending regularly, as often as I can, for years. I’m honored to be invited to participate in the convention’s 2020 Programming Track.

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Blurb Writing Exercise

This is a writing exercise developed by my friend, John Dwight. He ran this exercise for the Hourlings Writing Group back in March.

INTRODUCTION

A plot can be described by the following high-level template:

When [situation], a [specific person] must do
[something] or else [stakes].

Strangely, this is mostly what a good blurb must get across to the reader.

TASK 1: IDEATION

Each victim, er, participant receives three index cards. Drawing on their knowledge of the SF field (including books, movies, and TV), they must write down three ideas that they find particularly interesting. Each idea must be written on a separate card and should include both the idea and the source that it was drawn from.

When everybody is done, each contestant, er, participant should:

  • Hand the first card to the person on their left.
  • Hand the second card to the second-most person on their left.
  • Hand the third card to the third-most person on their left

In this way, each participant should receive three cards from three different people.

TASK 2: BLURB WRITING

Each participant should take the ideas from the three cards they now possess, and synthesize these into a sentence or two that conveys the information from the basic plot template.

EXAMPLE

When I participated in the exercise, my three cards were:

A young boy has a mark on his palm that indicates he is the king everyone has been waiting for over many generations.

    — The Belgariad, David Eddings

There are guide books or rules within the built worlds for how things work (the actual sociology and physics).

    — The Dancing Gods Series, Jack Chalker

Alien Parasites with ability to assume control of a human host body. Some are peaceful companions. Some are…not.

    — Stargate SG-1

The first thing I tried to do was distill my cards into a discrete list:

  • Mark of a promised king.
  • Rules for how the world works.
  • Under assault by body-sharing beings.

And this is what I came up with for my blurb:

When a wizard accidentally releases demonic body snatchers into the world, only a young man who bears the mark of the old High Kings can save the world. To do so, he’ll have to rewrite the Laws of Magic, or humanity will never be free.

A fun exercise, and a useful one, I think, for anyone who’s ever had to create a blurb for a story. First, try to distill your story down to its essence, expressed as a set of bullet points. Second, try to express the overall plot in a compelling way.

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What Is Dave Working on Now?

Coming Soon

Well, I’ve been a little preoccupied lately. The New Day Job has been keeping me pretty busy, so I’m a little behind on both my blog updates and my publishing schedule. Nevertheless, I have a whole load of stuff going on. So, here goes…

  • I’m finishing up my edits for “Death Comes to Town,” a fantasy novella that will be published in an anthology called The Outsiders. It’s another mashup (crime, fantasy, and horror) set in my Thousand Kingdoms universe.

    (2019/11/19) Finished the story, and the anthology will be published in December 2019.

  • I’m finalizing the hardcover edition of Fantastic Defenders, a fantasy anthology that I co-edited with Donna Royston. That should be published sometime in July.

  • I was tapped to be the Workshop Coordinator for Capclave 2019. I’ve been reaching out to make sure we have a solid complement of workshops for this October convention.

    (2019/10/22) Successfully organized and ran the workshop track for the convention, as well as running one of my own workshops.

  • I’m working with Don Anderson, a friend and graphic artist, to finalize the cover for The Whispering Voice. The short story was published last year in the anthology Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar. This will be its first solo publication. With any luck, this will also be published in July.

    (2019/11/19) The book was just published in November 2019.

  • I’ve got a number of other stories ready for publication, once I find or purchase appropriate covers for them. Those stories are: Road Trip (urban fantasy and law enforcement), Clash by Night (relatively near future SF military heist), and Bitter Days (fantasy, crime and revenge). Covers are the bane of my existence.

    (2019/11/19) Found a cover for Clash by Night, from the incomparable Luca Oleastri. Scheduled for publication in January 2020.

  • I’m writing Finders Keepers, a cyberpunk-ish crime story. It’s targeted for an anthology with the theme of “black markets.”

  • I’ve dusted off Pivot Point, a novella that I’ve let percolate for the last year, since I finished the first draft. It’s a mashup of steampunk and military SF. Now that I’ve got some distance, I’m working on the second draft edits.

  • I’m actively looking for a new cover for my novelette, The Good Book. Frankly, it’s hard to figure out what sucked more…the title or the cover. I’ll re-launch this with a new title and a new cover sometime this year.

    (2019/11/19) The new title is going to be The Long Road to Tomorrow.

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My Balticon 2019 Schedule

My schedule for panels at Balticon appears below:

Balticon 2019 Schedule

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Conquering the Gauls

Conquering the Gauls

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

From Puck Curtis by way of Michael J. Walsh, via Facebook.

Two Roman commanders were tasked with conquering the Gauls.

One of them, Marcus Maximus, has vigorously trained his fighting men to within an inch of their lives. He thinks he is ready for any eventuality.

The other, more senior commander, goes by Brutus Quintus. He also has highly trained men under his command but he never goes anywhere without a unit of half-naked northern men painted blue. They are, in fact, a group of Pictish barbarians.

On the morning of the battle Marcus Maximus charges forward and destroys the Gauls almost immediately. It is total supremacy on the battlefield and Brutus Quintus just watches it all happen silently without committing a single soldier to the battle.

The following morning the army awakes and there, through some sorcery, is the Gaul army untouched and waiting again for battle. Again Marcus Maximus leads his troops into the fight and wipes out the Gauls only to awaken the next morning to find them magically waiting again.

Five days running Marcus defeats the Gauls and yet each morning his victory is undone by the magics of the Gauls.

Finally on the sixth day Brutus Quintus lines up his troops with his Pictish barbarians in the vanguard. They charge into the Gauls wiping them out. The next morning Marcus Maximus awakens ready to taunt Brutus for his failure but there on the field of battle is all the evidence of the defeated Gauls. Somehow, Brutus Quintus has defeated the Gauls and their magic.

Marcus Maximus looks to Brutus Quintus and asks him, “How did you undo these magics?”

Brutus Quintus calmly replies, “Simple, Marcus. You must understand that you need Picts or it didn’t happen.”

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On Programming for Capclave 2019

Capclave 2019 I am pleased to be invited to participate in the Programming Track for Capclave 2019. This is on top of running the Workshop Track for the convention, and having a table in the Dealer’s Room, so I’m gonna be a busy camper…

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IngramSpark Hardcover Production

IngramSpark I had a great training session on how to produce a hardcover with IngramSpark from fellow author Martin Wilsey today. Marty is also the publisher of Tannhauser Press, a small local press, so he’s gained quite a bit of experience producing trade paperbacks, mass market paperbacks, ebooks, audio books and hardcovers.

I enticed Marty over to my house with an offer of BBQ from Carolina Brothers, a fixture of the local Ashburn area.

Remember, bribery does work. And sometimes all it takes is food.

As you may, or may not, know, IngramSpark is offering print-on-demand (POD) hardcovers, something that Amazon doesn’t currently do. The company is currently offering a promotional code that allows both free setup and free updates of hardcovers using their web site. Both of these things typically cost money, around $50 for setup and $29 each time a publication is updated. The code is good until March 31, 2019.

I’m taking the opportunity to do a hardcover of Fantastic Defenders, an anthology that I and my illustrious co-editor, Donna Royston, published in 2017.

I’d already set up my account before Marty got here. Nothing difficult, just normal tedious stuff: personal information, address, tax information, banking information for receiving payments and credit card (for future activities that may cost money).

Marty walked me through how to set up my hardcover book. In general, the interface is clean and straightforward-forward, but there are a few potential gotchas. For example, one of the early steps involves defining the trim size of your book. Not all trim sizes listed are available as hardcovers, so it’s possible to pick one that can’t be used to generate a hardcover. And there’s nothing in the interface that says anything about this. In my case, I chose 5.5×8.5, which is identical to the size of the trade paperback.

This also lets me use the same Microsoft Word document that I used for the trade paperback. Well, almost. When defining your hardcover in the interface, you need to specify an ISBN number. That ISBN number also needs to appear in the uploaded PDF (Ingram Spark does check this, by the way).

Some options for the hardcover…I chose cloth, gray, with a stamped spine. The only text I put on the spine was Fantastic Defenders in the center; you also have an option to put text in the right and left areas of the spine. Be sure to check that your generated books are properly stamped—Marty got one book that hadn’t been stamped for some reason.

I chose “glossy” for the paper cover that wraps around the book. The site wouldn’t let me finish the initial process until I’d uploaded a cover image, so I uploaded a lightly modified (but far from complete) cover template PDF. When producing the cover of the book, bear in mind that the cover includes interior flaps.

The Help page has some useful links, including one for a Cover Template Generator. That’s where I generated the cover template that I subsequently modified and uploaded. For the template, you’ll need to specify the trim size, type of paper (I chose “cream”), and number of pages. Also, make sure you specify PDF as the format for your template, otherwise it will generate an InDesign file. The template clearly delineates the margins, the spine, etc.

Overall, the IngramSpark setup process wasn’t too hard, though there is some experimentation involved. The biggest amount of work has been getting my original cover image adjusted for the new template. Once the promotional code expires, setup and updates start costing real dollars. And kudos to IngramSpark for provided this “training period” so I can come up-to-speed on their system without having to pay a bunch of money.

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Workshop Coordinator for Capclave 2019

Workshops

I’m pleased to have been asked by Bill Lawhorn, of the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA), to be the Workshop Coordinator for Capclave 2019. WSFA is the organization that runs Capclave, an annual SF/Fantasy literary convention, and Bill is the Chair for Capclave 2019. I was pleased to accept the offer.

I’ve run my own writing-related workshops at Capclave since 2015, and been reasonably successful at it. But this year, I’ll be organizing the entire Workshop Track for the convention, which amounts to roughly 10 – 12 hours of educational, interactive content for aspiring writers. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

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