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: Alien Skies

Alien Skies

I envision this as the sky of a Jovian-like alien gas giant, with some lucky observer catching the moment when it’s possible to see down through the many cloud layers into the lower depths of the tumultuous sky.

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Chessiecon 2017

I went to Chessicon again this year, which is a small, regional convention held in Timonium, MD. As per usual over this holiday weekend, I could only free up my schedule for one day, so I attended on Saturday. I had an excellent day, and here are the sessions and events that I attended:

  • Unintentional Geoengineering: The Current and Future Status of Climate Change — One major consequence of modern industrial society is shifts in the Earth’s climate variability: aka, climate change. Find out about the reasons why (over all) these changes our detrimental to our society; and the prospects of responding to it in the future. [With Tom Holtz]

    An excellent and comprehensive presentation, including slides, on the topic of climate change. With a concentration on the science, Tom Holtz, a professor at the University of Maryland, covered a wealth of topics: primary factors in climate change on long and short timeframes, an overview of how climate change occurs, the reasons why recent climate change is man-made, etc. Very cool stuff, backed up by a killer slide deck.

    One sad note. Like a lot of scientists, Holtz is worried that much of the publicly available climate data will be taken down by the current presidential administration. I confess, I never thought in my lifetime that I’d see a totally anti-science stance by our very own government, so I understand why he’s afraid.

  • Concert: Kiva — Kiva blends strong vocal harmonies with rich and diverse acoustic and electric instrumentation, performing originals, traditionals, and covers. The musicians are inspired by many cultures, spiritual disciplines, and musical styles, including celtic-folk, folk-rock, blues, big band, traditional chants, and jazz. [With Kiva]

    Kiva was a surprise. I’d been heading for another session, but got pulled in by a song as I passed the concert room. I ended up staying for the whole set, and even buying one of the band’s retrospective CDs. A wide variety of music, in different styles, played/sung by people who love what they do.

  • Where Do We Dystopia from Here? — Dystopia as a genre has been reigning in many science fiction circles and shows no signs of losing popularity. What’s powerful and useful about this trend or its manifestations? What’s limiting or frustrating? How do we feel about dystopian fiction when we live in dystopian realities? [With Mary Fan (M), Andrew Hiller, Steve Kozeniewski, Timothy Liebe and Jay Smith]

    A fun talk about dystopias in fiction. Not a lot of true information content, but a fun time was had by all.

  • Suddenly, the Power Went Out… — How is horror affected by modern improvements in technology? Do you have to knock out the Internet and smart phones to have a compelling horror story? Or can modern terminology be used to enhance the experience, rather than an impediment that has to be subverted or mysteriously disabled before things can truly get chilling? [With Elektra Hammond (M), Cristin Kist, Jay Smith, Kelly Szpara and Martin Wilsey]

    The general consensus was A) people, including the panelists, were tired of the same old tropes, and B) new technologies actually provide new opportunities for horror. If you still want to use the old tropes, you can still set your story in the appropriate time period with whatever technological limits that you want. Twilight Zone was also mentioned for the minimalistic and timeless ways in which it did its stories. Also intriguing, because the kernel of a new short story came to me during this talk.

  • How the Twilight Zone Embraced “Less is More” — Sterling’s television anthology The Twilight Zone engrossed audiences with thrilling stories of all sorts. In 2017, many episodes of the five-season series and its various spin-offs are still intense, captivating and even scary, often thanks to the show’s ability to say as much as possible with very few special effects. Our panelists talk about their favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone and how the minimalist style made it more effective and memorable. [With Scott Edelman, Elektra Hammond (M), Steve Kozeniewski, Karen MacLeod and Alanna Morland]

    Panelists described some of their favorite Twilight Zone episodes and how they still held up so well today. Ably helped out by a fan in the audience who knew the name of every single episode. Another fun talk.

  • Author Meet & Greet — This was the first of two author signing slots.

    The authors were excellent, including my friend, Martin Wilsey. The other authors at this session included J. L. Gribble, Andrew Hiller, Steve Kozeniewski, Steven Southard and Michelle D. Sonnier. I even bought books from Southard and Kozeniewski.

    If I were to pick a nit, it’s that I didn’t feel the convention did much to promote the event. Authors ultimately come to conventions to promote themselves, after all.

  • Zuul: Destroyer of Shins! (and Other Recent Prehistoric Discoveries) — Aside from being the coolest dinosaur name ever, what does the recent find of Zuul, and other dinosaurs of 2016/2017 mean? A review of the latest finds, and how they inform the scientific world and the public. [With Tom Holtz]

    Another fun presentation from Professor Tom Holtz, this time on the various dinosaur-related discoveries of the past year. Including one dinosaur that was named after Zuul, the demon from the original Ghostbusters move. It was also interesting because it gave you a view into the back and forth nature of scientific research, as recent discoveries bring into question some aspects of the currently accepted taxonomy of dinosaurs. Very much worth staying late for (the talk ended at 10:15 PM, and then I drove back home).

More than other conventions, Chessiecon has a prominent filking (folk music and mixes of other types of music) track. That’s not really my thing, but I’ll confess that Kiva pulled me in with some excellent music. It was a small convention, with some pretty good content, but not a lot of it.

The event was noticeably smaller than last year, and almost overwhelmingly gray in terms of age. I honestly think they need to try to do more to appeal to other age groups, at least if they want the convention to continue being viable.

I was also surprised that there was no day rate for Saturday—I got charged the full convention rate for just that single day, which is unusual. Even more annoying, though, was that the writing workshops were only available for advanced sign-ups. Since I got charged the full rate, but still couldn’t attend the one writing workshop I was interested in, I can’t help but feel slightly cheated.

Still, despite that one annoyance, overall, I had a good time.

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Fran Wilde at WSFA

The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran WildeFran Wilde, the author of the acclaimed novel Updraft and its upcoming sequel, Cloudbound, visited the regular “First Friday” meeting of the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA) on August 5th. She came down from Philadelphia to talk to the group, of which I’m a member, and to read from her new novella, The Jewel and Her Lapidary, which was just published by Tor.

She spoke for a while about herself, her background and what it was like to be a relatively newly published author. She mentioned that some of her inspiration for “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” came from her own experiences working in a jewelry shop, although she confided that she didn’t get to work with dangerous, magical jewels like the ones in her story. She was friendly and engaging, welcomed questions from the audience and even had a few giveaways.

All in all, a fun time.

Her new novella is about two young women, one the last surviving member of the ruling family of a valley defended by magical jewels and the other magically bound to obey her. Toss in a heartless betrayal and a ruthless invasion, and you have all of the elements of an engaging story.

By the way, Fran Wilde took the following picture of the whole WSFA crew. That’s me in the front row…

Fran Wilde Reading at WSFA  Photo Credit: Fran Wilde

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Torment Inflicted at Capclave 2015

This is me looking on as the attendees of my workshop, “Creating an Adaptive Setting,” work diligently on Exercise 3 of the workshop, October 10th at Capclave 2015. It’s always fun watching a group of people learning new skills and stretching writing muscles they didn’t even know that they had. It’s even more fun when you know that this is only the first hour of the two-hour workshop and there’s a serious left hook at the end that’s going to blow their minds.

Watching the Workshop Attendees

Photography: Martin Wilsey, author and workshop attendee.

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