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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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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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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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Inspiration: Warships

The guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher welcomes the French tall ship replica the Hermione off the east coast of the US, in 2015.

Photograph: US Navy.Warships

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Received Proof Copy of “The Curator”

Proof for The Curator, an Anthology

The proof of The Curator, the new anthology from the Hourlings Writing Group, arrived today just hours after the meeting. I really wanted to show it to folks at the meeting. Oh well.

Anyway, it looks good. It will be reviewed and finalized this week. With any luck, the anthology will be officially published by the end of the week.

Just in time to be a stocking stuffer.

(Hint, Hint).

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Inspiration: Sunset on Mars

Sunset on Mars

Sunset on Mars, as captured by the Mars Curiosity rover on April 15, 2015.

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Preview: The Good Book

Fateful Bridge

Enjoy this preview of the first chapter of my novelette, The Good Book, available on Amazon in both print and ebook format. It’s the story of a man who he thinks he has nothing left to live for…and a magic book that shows him how wrong he is.

Malcolm Jameson paced methodically through Donahoe Park, a neatly landscaped area about halfway down Mackenzie Hill from where the downtown end of the Hardesty Bridge was anchored. The elevation of the park provided a panoramic view of the entire waterfront and there were park benches placed at strategic lookout points to allow visitors to enjoy the scenery.

Malcolm remembered sitting with Ellen on one of those benches, laughing and joking about the babymoon she wanted to plan. She’d found out she was pregnant, and had wanted the two of them to go on a romantic vacation together, almost like a second honeymoon, before the baby arrived.

He’d said his final good-byes to all of them yesterday, at the cemetery. Three marble gravestones, one larger than the other two, draped with flowers and surrounded by fresh, green grass. He missed Ellen. He missed Susan and Billy. A parent should never outlive his children. It was too damn heartbreaking.

He reached the stairs up to the pedestrian sidewalk that ran along one side of the bridge, a major traffic artery for the city, and started climbing. He was a little winded by the time he reached the top, so he leaned against the railing and rested for a moment, just enjoying the view and the light breeze that ruffled his hair. Behind him, he could hear cars passing by on the main roadbed of the bridge.

A group of six women joggers in pastel sweat suits passed him, gossiping excitedly about mundane things, then a few bicyclists whizzed by. People with stuff to live for.

Malcolm pushed himself away from the railing and strolled up the slight slope of the bridge. It took him about ten minutes to reach the center of the span.

He stopped and leaned against the railing one last time, partly to take in the view and partly to plan how he was going to climb over the barrier. He’d envisioned himself doing a proper swan dive, although he wasn’t sure why that mattered.

He heard chattering voices nearby as a group of four elderly walkers approached him. He wanted to be alone. He didn’t want anybody to be disturbed or horrified, as they might be if they were too close.

He waited for the walkers to pass. There was a bicyclist in yellow and black spandex riding gear coming up behind the women. Once he passed, there was nobody for quite a distance in either direction.

That’s when he’d do it.

The geriatric walkers strode past Malcolm without giving him a second glance. All he needed to do now was wait for the cyclist to pass.

Malcolm was surprised when the biker coasted to stop next to him. The man looked to be in his late twenties, with long brown hair that pushed out from under his peaked, yellow helmet. He got off his bike and put down his kickstand. Then he reached into a small canvas pack that was attached to the back of his bike and pulled out a book.

He stepped over to Malcolm and held the book out to him. “Hey, man. This is for you.”


“This book is gonna change your life, dude. I can feel it in my bones.”

Malcolm looked at the paperback that the biker was holding. It had a garishly colored cover that carried the title, “This Book Is Going to Change Your Life.” The author was listed as Seymour Subrosa. The cover was battered and creased, and the corners were a little dog-eared, like it had been passed around a lot.

Malcolm couldn’t help laughing. He couldn’t think of a more incongruous book to hand to somebody who was about to perform a terminal swan dive.

“That’s all right,” Malcolm said, still chuckling a little. “You keep it. I’m not in the market for a book like that.”

“Dude, I’m not leaving until you take the book.” The biker was insistent, gazing fixedly at Malcolm’s face.
His intensity made Malcolm a little uncomfortable. He had no idea why this guy was being so adamant about him accepting the book.

“All right, all right,” he said, intending only to placate the man.

He took the book from the man, who smiled at him, and said, “Live long and prosper.”

Great, a mad trekkie. Just what I needed.

The man got back on his bicycle and peddled away, leaving Malcolm holding the book. He supposed he could just put the book down on the sidewalk and then jump. Somebody would probably pick it up.

The book lover in him chafed a little at the idea. That wasn’t really how you treated a book. Plus, what would happen to the book if nobody picked it up?

He turned the book over in his hands. The back of the book didn’t really say what it was about, except for implying that it was some sort of self-help guide. It featured testimonials from people Malcolm had never heard of. In fact, it was kind of funny, but none of the testimonials seemed to be from anybody famous. On any book he’d ever seen, even if you didn’t recognize who was being quoted, there was usually something like “Author of New York Times bestseller, ‘Blah blah blah.’”

He flipped to the introduction.

The world changes constantly. Every day newspapers and online news sites tell us about new scientific developments, new technologies, new ways of doing business and new social media sites so people can interact in different and supposedly more effective ways. No matter how fast things change, though, there’s still one constant.


You can change the tools and the medium of communication, but we are all still just people. Humans. Homo sapiens. We are all possessed of the same feelings and emotional apparatus that we’ve had, as a species, for the last two hundred thousand years.

Well, that hardly seemed promising. Too much boilerplate scientific-speak, obviously designed to emphasize the importance of the self-help message, which would undoubtedly consist of a bunch of totally non-scientific twaddle. He flipped past a few pages without reading them until he came to the heading, “Who This Book is For.”

This book is for anybody who’s ever felt unsure about their place in the world, or even whether they should stay in it. It’s for people who have felt grief so deeply that they’ve ended up feeling totally disconnected from everyone around them. It’s for people like Malcolm Jameson, who lost his wife and children two years ago today in a senseless vehicle accident with an eighteen-wheeler delivery truck for a national grocery store chain.

What the hell? Malcolm slammed the book shut angrily and looked around wildly for that damned biker.

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Inspiration: Werewolf, Stalking

Werewolf, Stalking

Love this picture of what seems like a werewolf stalking through the woods, which was forwarded to me by Marty Wilsey (though he’s not the artist). It’s brutally simple, probably just a charcoal drawing. But it’s certainly effective. I’d use it as a book cover in a heartbeat, if I had a story that matched the picture.

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