Excelsior! Part 2

(Part 1 was my last post of last year.)

So …

It’s been a wild year, writing-wise and otherwise. Writing was tough, and touch-and-go at times. I ran into some stress late in the year when things went wrong, and for the first time in five years, I did not complete my NaNoWriMo project (to write 50K words in November).

I still felt like I had solid production, topping out around 481K words, though I did not have solid consistency. I bounced all over the place, off a bunch of different targets. I have a slew of books unfinished or half-finished. So now for a summary. First let’s start with the good stuff.

The Holly Sisters

– I finished the trilogy in March with Sylvan Valley Aflame, after adding a few thousand words early this year. It didn’t get a lot of reads but those who liked the first book seemed to enjoy the rest of it too.

– And on that note, good news, I am 35K words into the first book of a new Sydney series … well, maybe a series. It will either be one chunky book or a duology of two shorter books. TBD. Either way, I am hoping to have it out in the second half of 2022.

The Sentinel

This is a big project for me, and is kind of taking some time. I might have the first book out in 2023, depending on how much work I get done this year. It’s very grim compared to my other work. Still planning on about four books to finish it.

– I added 20K words to the first book, and finished the first draft of the second book with another 60K words, which is now around 100K.

Tales of Bleakwater

This was something new I started, for when other inspiration is not working. The stories concern a cynical middle-aged cat burglar named Kayla, living in the dangerous city of Bleakwater. It’s going to be an open-ended series of novellas, though I’ll be releasing some material for the saga for free. I wrote and revised the first one, though an early reader has suggested some good tweaks I need to make. I should have the first one, No Rest for Wicked Thieves (about 37K words) out in the first quarter of 2022, and aiming for having another out at the end of the year.

Sequel to Pilgrimage to Skara

– I swore I would do a sequel to this story, even though it wasn’t received well. Hey, maybe I can redeem the character arcs. Anyway, for the handful of people who did enjoy it and asked for a sequel, I am still committed to doing it. I started and stalled, unsure which way I want to go at this point, but I am 45K words into it. I want to finish this year.


– I added about 30K words in edits to my interconnected romance series. I really, really want to start getting these things in print.

– I started the fifth one and got 40K into it (my NaNoWriMo project) before I fell apart.

Adult Writing

– Almost 175K words nine different stories. It is amazing how much reading and attention this gets. Since the romances are steamy too (though less so), I hope this will translate some readership when they are published. No, I will not reveal my pen name.


I also cracked out a bunch of smaller pieces, some writing challenges I do with friends, and such. Those totaled about 33K over the year.

Muse: You realize those numbers don’t add up to 481K, right?

Rounding errors, I promise.


Okay, so that’s a quick-n-dirty accounting. We’ll have to see what 2022 holds.

Hope everyone is doing well and kicks off their new year in a good way. Cheers!

The Hidden Lessons of Moving Product

So …

I spent some time this year (local pandemic restrictions permitting) at a handful of live events (craft fairs, holiday markets, etc), where I had a chance to do a little book selling. I’d not done it very much before; I mean, getting out and trying to sell your products live, not from behind the screen of the internet, can be daunting. But I have to say this: taken collectively, it has been an awesome experience. Not only have I enjoyed it but I have learned a ton in the process.

Oh, there are the standard lessons they teach you about doing any type of live-selling, at anything from a yard sale to a curated art show. You know the lessons I’m talking about: having change to make when people pay cash, figuring out the best way to display your goods, and the usual rigamarole. But I did trip on a few things I’ve learned that maybe wouldn’t be in everyone’s first thoughts. So I thought I would share them here.


#1) Keep a smile on your face.

I know that sounds terribly obvious but given how I see other people running their booths, I’m not sure it is. I saw a lot of grumpy vendors out there, and I saw how people reacted to them. In contrast, I was pleasant, welcoming, and open to conversation, even if it had nothing to do with my books. I had a standard routine and verbiage to talk about my stories, which I would vary a little with each shopper, to make it sound a little less rehearsed. I avoided those Valley-of-Death subjects like politics and religion and kept the banter upbeat.

Did this test my patience? Yes, a few times, like when I ended up in a five-minute conversation with someone who had no interest in books and just wanted to talk my ear off about their husband’s dog or something (I kind of tuned out part of it). I also had the mispleasure of someone snapping at me that they didn’t read anything with witchcraft in it, to which all I could do was smile and nod. But on the other hand, I attribute several of my sales to engaging a shopper, asking them about their morning, talking about the weather, if they had seen anything good at other booths at the show, the shirt I was wearing (which was chosen on purpose as a conversation starter), or anything else that crossed my mind. Whatever I had to do to draw them in. If they were wearing a veteran’s hat, I would thank them for their service and mention I was also in the service. If they had a tee shirt bearing the logo of a band, I would ask about that. I was also honest; when one woman asked if Rumble in Woodhollow would be suitable for her twelve-year old who liked fantasy, I said I didn’t think so, because it has some adult language and violence, and recommended some mid-grade books. Other shoppers took note of that and commented on me being upfront. Trust-building is a thing.

By the end of each day, was I tired of being chipper and was I ready to punch my smile off my own face? Yes but that’s hardly the point. I think the technique of being upbeat and cheery in sales making the buyer more receptive is a long-established one. That’s all this is. Keep smiling.

#2) You don’t have too many books.

I don’t mean titles but copies.

Going into one of the shopping fests in November, I had several copies of each book in the The Holly Sisters—maybe twenty books altogether. I thought for sure that given that this two-day bazaar was a holiday market in a small town of under ten thousand people that it would be enough.

It wasn’t. I sold out the first book of the trilogy and was reduced to one copy of the third. To be honest, I was stunned.

I think you have to maintain a sense of proportion about these things. You don’t want to have thousands of copies on hand (and have the money tied up in them) if you are not able to move any. But a couple dozen overall? Or even a hundred? I’m thinking that is the minimum you want, even at a small venue. You have no idea if you are going to get hot on a given day and get just the right blend of shoppers … and you cannot sell books you don’t have. Your rate of return per book of selling physical copies live is likely going to be better than anywhere else. If you’re getting books from Amazon (as most of us are, in some capacity), it is, as of this writing, taking fourteen to seventeen days from time of ordering to get author copies. Plan and stock accordingly.

#3) New tech is a thing.

I get it; having something like a Square for credit card processing has become a (moderately) standard staple of selling at these types of venues. It makes sense. But for the first time, at the above-mentioned bazaar, I had someone try to pay with Venmo, a cash-transmitting phone app that I really had no knowledge of.

It’s hard to stay on the cutting edge of technology and I admit, I lag behind in these things. But like when I said you can’t sell the books you don’t have, you also can’t sell the books if you can’t take payment. In the case above, the person was able to make an alternate form of payment but if they hadn’t? I would have been shit out of luck.

So now? I am looking into Venmo and/or CashApp and seeing if I can get myself set up on them. It may not come up often but when it does, I want to be ready.

#4) A partner is invaluable.

At most of these venues, I set up with a friend and local author, Paula Winskye. She writes mysteries and dabbles in some other genres. Having a partner does several things for us. For one, it gives us an interesting spread of genre fiction on the table. When we ask a potential shopper about their reading preferences and they say, “A little bit of everything,” (a common answer), we can say, “Well good, because we have a little bit of everything.”

Secondly, having someone you trust who can watch the booth while you step away for a moment is great for peace of mind. You don’t spend the trip to the restroom wondering if someone is swiping something from the table. You can cover each other with a five or a few ones when you’re short, secure in the knowledge you will be able to settle up.

Third, and maybe most importantly, you can talk up each other’s books and be a great sales advocate for your partner, and them for you. Granted, it helps if you have some knowledge of their books, but since Paula and I test read and proofread for each other—and because we talk writing when do these things—we’re familiar with the other’s works. That means when some wisenheimer looks at me and says, “Which one of hers is your favorite?” my response is immediate and confident. Mutually boosting each other falls into that territory of “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Of course, it helps if you get along with the other person. Fortunately, we do.


Okay, so that was a quick summary. Lessons learned, and all that. If anyone has lessons to share, I’d love to read them.


Now, back to work. I’ve had a large number of buyers ask when Sydney is going to return, and I need to see to it that she does. As of now, I am about halfway through the first book in her new series.

Finish Something

So …

I’m involved in a local writing group. Even in the backwoods of the high Arizona desert, we’ve managed to stitch together enough interested writers to have some peer reviews, writing exercises, and moral support. Our membership and numbers have fluctuated and we’ve had to make some adjustments during the pandemic but we’ve been meeting steadily for over five years.

We had one member, who I will call Mary, who had been with us since the beginning. Mary was a kind woman, in her mid-eighties. Earlier this year, for health-related reasons, she was forced to move from the area and to another state to live with family and hopefully better deal with some of her issues. We were sad to see her go but understood.

Unfortunately, I found out that Mary passed away this weekend. Complications from cancer, as I understand it. I offered condolences to her family and I’ve thought about her fondly today. But here in this space, I want to focus on the writing implications.

Mary liked science-fiction. She had been working on two separate story lines while she was here with us. The first was a space opera, centering on a space naval officer’s son being kidnapped by an alien race, and his subsequent pursuit across the galaxy. The second involved a government agent with mental powers who got tangled in an investigation of some supernatural / alien attack, and had some intrigue and adventure on the way. She had been working on them, off and on, for years but neither tale was finished.

And now, those stories are lost. Forever.

Sure, someone like me or Mary’s adult grandson (who was also a member of the writing group before the job took him from the area) could pick up the reins and complete the stories. But it wouldn’t be the same. I didn’t read past book five or so of Wheel of Time, so I can’t speak to Brandon Sanderson’s continuation of the series … but I doubt it was the same as what Robert Jordan would have written. I don’t think it ever could be.

Self-published mystery writer Paula Winskye is kind of the den-mother of our writers group. For a long time, she has encouraged the less-experienced members to, quote, “finish something.” Something. Anything. Polish and submit those short stories. Get that book done. There’s a certain satisfaction to completing a project—looking at it in your hot little hands and knowingyou made it—that transcends just simply writing. I’ve long maintained that one of my favorite days of book publishing is the day my first author copies arrive and I hold a physical copy of my novel for the first time.

I’ve lost track of the number of people, on hearing that I’ve written a few books, will say something like, “I have an idea for a book,” or “I’d love to try and write a book.” Well, the sentiment is great, but as the saying goes, time waits on no one. People who know me will know I’ve put it like this:

For every thousand people who say they would like to write a book:

– Maybe one hundred will actually put the first words on paper/screen.

– Maybe ten will finish.

– Maybe one or two will take the steps to publish it.

The written word, even the fictional written word, is like artwork in that it is a form of the author’s thoughts, emotions, hopes, and dreams that survives its creator. Does that mean that your descendants five generations down will be reading your work? No. Could they be? Absolutely. Our work can have a certain immortality that outlasts us all. Or, should someone choose to finish and never share it, there is still the personal satisfaction of having something complete, something whole and completely created from one’s own mind.

I get that not everyone has the same burning desire to write. It won’t be for everyone because even when you enjoy it, writing can be hard work. But if it’s something you really want to do, you should. Without delay.

It’s very easy to put off writing. It’s easy to say, “Maybe I’ll try it tomorrow.” The thing is, we don’t know how much time we have here, on this mortal coil. Our end could come in decades. Or hours. And anything we haven’t finished is probably going to go with us.

So to anyone reading this, if you’ve thought about writing something—a book, a short story, a memoir—and you really want to see it done … don’t wait too long. Get to it.

And finish something.

Books on Sale!!

Hey readers!

So, starting today (23 Aug) through Friday (27 Aug), my series The Holly Sisters is on sale. Book 1, Rumble in Woodhollow can be downloaded from Amazon for FREE. The other two e-books (The Mauler and Sylvan Valley Aflame) are marked down to $0.99 for the week.

So if you want to read about mad faeries and their gang wars, there’s no risk!

Links to each book in the banner above. Check ’em out!

Podcast! Me on One!

So …

I was recently on the podcast over at Ben’s Book Shack to talk with Ben Kushner about family dynamics in fantasy writing and why it’s such a powerful source of material. Links below. The whole thing is about 50 minutes.

Two caveats: one, Ben sounds great but my mic is not the best quality. Sorry about that. Two, at one point when referring to two characters getting to know one another, rather than saying that one is “feeling out” the other, I said, “feeling up.” Faux pas.

Anyway, it was a good discussion. I’ve listened to some of Ben’s other podcasts and they were great too, so check out one or more.


On Apple

On Spotify

On Ben’s page

Book Giveaways — How Not to be an Idiot

So ….

I’ve been on both sides of the book-giveaway, as a writer and as a reader. In a way, I think the concept is really cool. As a reader, it’s a neat way to check out a new author or maybe get a signed copy from an author you like. As a writer, it’s a great way to reach out to people, maybe convince them that you’re an author worth reading. Easy, right?

Muse: It’s never that easy.

No, it isn’t. Someone always finds a way to make things more difficult. And it shouldn’t be difficult. At all. From two different perspectives:

As a writer

I’ve participated in a few book giveaways, for both e-books and print copies. I’ve never had an issue with the mechanics of it; the actual giveaways themselves have always gone smoothly. I’ve been told by more experienced writers to never expect reviews or feedback from freebies, and that’s fine. I think the idea is to try and build some positive word of mouth, or pique someone’s interest so they maybe pick up the next one in the series. All good.

But is it too much to ask for people to say, “Thanks!”?


I’ve emailed e-books to people and never heard back. Not even confirmation that they even got it. Often, I will send a second email, just to make sure they received what they were sent. More often than not, I don’t hear back again. (I give it two tries and save the sent emails, just in case.) Maybe I am too old-school, but good manners seems to dictate the receiver should hit “Reply,” type, “Thank you,” and click “Send.” It’s an operation that literally takes less than twenty second to perform. How often do I even get that back? Maybe half the time.

I understand that a reader may not be enthused about a free book. Maybe it was a consolation prize for something else they really wanted … and then there’s that psychology of getting things for free, versus paying for them. I get it. But as a reader, you should also understand: that free book is something the author worked on. Poured their heart into. Fretted over. It may not be important to you but it is to them, and them giving it over to you is an act of kindness, of sharing their hard work. Is it asking too much to simply thank them for it, even if it is something you never intend to read?

Muse: Well—

Shut up, it was a rhetorical question … and the answer is, “Yes, if you’re not an asshole.” You entered the giveaway. The author held up their end of the bargain. Common courtesy ought to be the minimum response.

As a Reader

I talk about writing a lot here but I read a lot of fantasy too. Reading and writing … the two go hand-in-hand to me. So as a reader, I have also entered book giveaways, and it’s always thrilling to win something and get a message from an author I like or am interested in.

Except when it doesn’t happen.

Maybe one third of the time, I never receive what I am supposed to get. When that doesn’t happen, I have contacted the authors and heard back … nothing. Not a damn thing. And this really leaves me scratching my head and ultimately, a little pissed off.

Look, I hold up my end of the deal when I give books away. The readers enter such things in good faith and I try to act in the same vein, so it frosts my ass when an author offers a book, you win it, and then you literally cannot get them to respond. I expect the authors to be proactive and lean forward, to reach out to their readers. It’s part of our public-facing duty. But when the readers who entered your giveaway—and I say again, to stress it—in good faith, then contact you in an attempt to claim a prize, answer them.

Not all authors do this. Not even many. And I am sure there are some isolated events such as hard drive crashes, personal life issues, or even overlooking an email. I’m sure it’s happened. But I have been stiffed too often to believe every author that’s done it is merely a victim of bad circumstances. If I entered and won, I would like to get what I was offered.

I haven’t had all bad experiences. A couple of indy authors stand out. I entered a book giveaway by author Allegra Pescatore. I think the giveway had been closed for five minutes when she reached out. I don’t expect anything near that aggressive but it’s impressive that she was on the ball. In another instance, author Christopher Russell offered me a paperback. I told him I would be cool with an e-copy but he said he had the paperbacks to give and would be happy to send one. I accepted and he also sent a signed poster and illustrated bookmark.

These are both authors that are going to get more buys and reads from me, simply for being respectful. Were they proactive and generous because they expected future purchases from me? I doubt it. They might have been hopeful of such but I am sure they were also doing because they thought it was the right way to deal with their readers.

The authors who didn’t deliver, even after being contacted? I am not going to call out anyone directly. But they are on a “never-read” list for me now. There are simply too many good fantasy books and authors who treat their readers with respect to deal with those who don’t. Poor personal interactions are the absolute fastest way for me to make a writer persona non grata. More than political opinions or anything else. I’ve mentioned before but there is a Hugo-award winning author who was an utter jerk to me at a convention. Maybe they were just having a bad day. I don’t care. I will never touch a book by or recommend them.


In the end, I think this comes down to simply treating people as you’d like to be treated. In the old days, this used to be called “having manners,” but I am not hip to modern lingo, so I don’t know how to describe it today. Still, it’s very simple: follow through. If you’re a writer, do what you say you’re going to do. If you’re a reader, saying thank you goes a long way.

Or, if that’s too complicated, how about this: don’t be a douche.

Muse: That’s going to be hard for some people.

Sadly, I’m sure you’re right.

When Your Children Turn On You

Heartbreak … it’s inevitable in this life.

Muse: Unless you’re a pyschopath.

Are you implying something?

Muse (whistling innocently): No, not all.

When I think about heartbreak, I think about disappointment, but magnified. Most folks have experienced it at some point, whether it’s the job you didn’t get, the prize you didn’t win, or that time the Covid shutdown kept you from that dream vacation you’d been planning for years. The worst instances, though, are the ones between people.

So I should I be surprised one of my characters broke my heart?

In a short story I am currently writing, I had a plan for the plot right from the beginning. Point A to Point B, to Point C, and so on, all the way to Point Z, the story’s close. Somewhere around Point Q, I had one of the main characters do something absolutely devastating to the protagonist.

That was the plan, anyway.

The problem is, as I started writing this story, I became invested in the arc between the protagonist and this other character. I was not only enjoying their interactions and their relationship, I was also starting to like the other character. I began thinking of them as a co-protagonist. And then I reached that point in the story.

And I froze up.

I didn’t want the character to do that horrific action any more. Was it consistent with their personality? Yes, basically, since they were someone who acted out of anger without thinking things through. Was this bad deed consistent with the rest of the plot? Yeah—it was pivotal, in actuality. But I didn’t want that character to do it anymore. I had grown to like them, you see, and the idea of a character I like following through with the planned action made me uncomfortable.

I scoured my brain, looking for a way out. Sure, there are things I could write in place of that event that would be less ugly and make the character look better. But anything I could think of would have soft-pedalled the conflict. Without that terrible issue between the protagonist and the character to resolve, the emotional impact of the story’s peak would have been diluted, lessened.

* * * * *

Some authors and readers would argue that the author is in total control of what happens on the page. I agree to a point. In a logical way, I think that’s correct. Rational thought serves humanity very well when it comes to day-to-day living and making life-altering decisions. The people who navigate these things the best are usually the ones who apply reason and common sense.

But art is not about logic. Creating a story is not about logic, at least not one-hundred percent. There is a lot of emotion tied up in it and emotion, simply-put, isn’t logical. When we talk about something being a “passion” or a “labor of love,” we’re not talking about being rational. We’re pouring our joy, angst, excitement, and despondency into our creations.

In short, we’re making them human.

And I think we’re built to be attracted to other humans. I don’t mean sexually or romantically, but in a “part of the herd” kind of way. We empathize. We feel bad when our friends are having a hard time, or sad when we see people suffering. Feelings don’t do anything concrete but it’s a natural reaction, as part of our shared humanity.

Artists are sometimes stereotyped as moody. Are they artists because they’re moody? Or did pouring their humanity and emotions into their work make them moody?

Muse: Are you saying this is why a lot of the classic writers like Edgar Allan Poe and Sylvia Plath drank and did drugs?

Seems likely.

I’ve written characters to whom I’ve felt little attachment. I’ve also killed off characters I loved and while I won’t go so far as to say it hurts, it does darken my mood a bit, to literally murder my creations.

In one of his Castle Perilous books, John Dechancie wrote several characters trying to concoct a spell to summon a spaceship that could travel dimensions. The first try brought them the time machine from the H.G. Wells book of the same name. One character remarked that it must have been a prop cast-off by the studio but the second stated that would mean the spell cheated; that it had delivered a working dimensional transport (time being a dimension) and that in a multiverse with infinite possibilities, somewhere there was a dimension where the man himself was the fiction, and the creations of Wells were reality, which would mean the time machine worked, and fulfilled the spell’s parameters.

If that logic holds, in some corner of the multiverse, exists a world where Jonathan Pembroke is unknown and my creations are the reality and the horrible things that befall them really happened and I’m responsible for all their pain and misery. Or am I? Did I just channel it—tap into some universal consciousness to see it unfold? Or did my imagination spawn a dimension where it happened? The metaphysics of that concept really make my head spin.

And this is where the heartbreak comes in. Through whatever mechanism—whether something extra-physical, my active emotions, or even just pride in my creations—I’m tied to them. And when the ones I like do awful things, even thought it’s my own fault, it hurts to watch.

* * * * *

In the end, I had to let the character go through with it. It wasn’t pleasant but without that element to the plot, the last third of the tale just peters out. It wasn’t what I wanted but I had to let it happen. It’s a feeling akin to standing by and watching your adult child make (what you know will be) a horrible decision and not being able to do anything. Not as severe but along the same axis. Lesser heartbreak is still heartbreak … even when you do it to yourself.

And with that, I think I actually need a drink.

(Note: the above is a bit hyperbolic but has a grain of truth. I didn’t cry or break down in depression after writing the end of the referenced tale, but it did sour my mood for a while. I didn’t see any way to both avoid it and keep the integrity of the story. I hated saddling the character with that action and subsequent guilt over it—which, as they are a part of me, I got to share. No pain, no gain, I suppose. I won’t lie: I am trying to justify writing a brief redemption arc but I may just do it in my head, for my own satisfaction.)

I like it dark. Dark! Okay, not that dark.

(Note: This blog entry contains spoilers for several fantasy works, including Abercrombie’s First Law series, Parker’s The Folding Knife, Moorcock’s Elric saga, and Tolkein’s Simarillion. If you don’t know or wish to know the conclusions to these stories, abort now.)

So …

I finished reading The Folding Knife the other day. Written by K.J. Parker, the book concerns a man named Basso who, through scheming and chicanery, becomes the First Citizen (a limited dictator) of the Rome-like Vesani Republic. The book was more a socio-economic fantasy, with heavy discussions of politics, currency manipulations, international banking, and the like. It’s a different kind of fantasy book.

It was also pretty much a downer at the end, as Basso ends up broke and on the run, with everyone he ever cared about either dead, or hating him. As I returned to my Kindle’s main menu, I leaned back in my chair, stared at the ceiling, and asked myself, “Why did I read this again?”

I don’t mind dark books. I don’t mind grimdark fantasy. Mass death, maiming of main characters, assault, slavery, some light incest … none of this stuff bothers me insofar as when it is relevant and makes the story go. The world is often a nasty place and bad things do happen to good people. If it is consistent within the story, bleak subject matter won’t cause me to turn aside from a book.

(For the record, I am not bothered by slow-burn romance, noble deeds, valiant rescues, or cheesy hero tropes, for the same reasons, and I don’t consider books that are not “gritty” or are noblebright—a sometimes-used word for the opposite of grimdark—to be inferior.)

But one thing I don’t like are endings that are complete downers, where the bad guys win and there is no hope for the future. Allow me to explain.

(Muse: I sure wish you would.)

To me, there is a difference between a bittersweet ending and a complete downer. In the former, despite the protagonists suffering loss and ruin, and regardless of who is left alive, there is still a glimmer of optimism for the future. In the latter, it seems like that no matter what the protagonists have done, the other side has prevailed and all of the protagonist’s efforts—you know, the side the reader is set up to cheer for—go for naught.

And I really don’t think I like the second one. It feels like a slap in the face to the reader. I don’t mean this in an episodic sense. Certainly, the bad guys can prevail in a certain time frame. But by the end of the story arc, or trilogy or whatever, I want to see the main character succeed in their objective(s). Otherwise, what’s the point?

Some examples of bittersweet endings:

– The Simarillion. On the down side, the elvish realm of Beleriand has been destroyed, most of the high-born elves are dead or have fled, and the world is generally in ruins. However, Morgoth, the ultimate enemy, has been cast into the void and the men of Numenor are ready to usher in an era of prosperity. Obviously, the history of Middle Earth doesn’t end there but at that point, despite all the chaos, things were looking up.

– By the end of Stormbringer, at the end of the Elric saga, the entire world is dead, including the protagonist. All memories of the previous age and its wonders have been lost. However, through Elric’s actions and sacrifices, the Chaos gods have been banished and the world (and humanity) have a chance to advance without Chaos’s influence. There is hope for the future.

Okay, that’s one side. Now what I consider to be downer endings:

– By the end of the First Law series, Logen and Ferro are both on the run and/or insane, and West is dying from disease. Bayaz, the genocidal maniac who engineered countless deaths, walks away unscathed. Jezal, the coward and useless jackass, becomes king, where his hot princess wife is eager to pump out his children under threat of death to the person she really loves. Glokta, an amoral semi-sadist, ends up in the catbird’s seat, pulling the strings behind Jezal’s throne. Talk about depressing. No happy endings for anyone except the jerks.

– In the book I just finished, The Folding Knife, the protagonist Basso—who was a king-figure—is fleeing for his life, doomed to menial labor. All the people he cared about are dead (his mentor, his nephew), betrayed him (his current wife), or hate him enough to want him dead (his sister). The republic he headed is being torn by strife and economic ruin and it’s hinted that it will soon fall to its long-standing enemy. Mass death and devastation and all he has left are regrets.

In the second set of examples, I couldn’t help but walk away from these almost feeling depressed.

None of this new, either. I remember reading Romeo and Juliet circa ninth grade. Great, everyone the audience cared about was dead. I had basically same reaction then: “Why? To annoy and depress? Congrats, Willie, mission accomplished.”

Look, I’m no pollyanna. I try to be realistic. I know bad things happen and there are bad people in the world who do these things. At the same time, I view reading fiction as an escape. I go in for the story, so I can see people overcoming some of these horrible events. There doesn’t have to be a better world at the end but I want there to be a chance at a better one.

At the end of First Law, the main bad guy has gotten away with launching a war that killed tens of thousands for his own personal gain (taking out a rival). He suffers zero repercussions. The only people who end up with a happy ending are the cruel, the selfish, and the amoral.

I din’t really want to read that.

If I want to see bad people getting away with things without any comeuppance, I can flip on the news any day of the week. Our entire world is full of people who do horrible things and suffer no consequences. When I dive into fiction, I don’t expect everything to be wine and roses. But I would like a possibility that there may be something better in the future for the characters I’ve come to cheer for.

Maybe I am too idealistic.

So what’s the point of this ramble? I guess there is none, other than “dark” is not the same as “hopeless.” I can get behind dark, I think I’m done with hopeless in my fiction. (My apologies to Cormac McCarthy.) Nothing wrong with those books and for things like First Law, I know there are a ton of fans who adore them. That’s cool and I wish the authors of these books nothing but success.

They’re just not for me.

(Muse: That was a lot of talk for not saying much.)

That’s what I do.


So, 2020 … a great year all around, amirite?

Muse: Go sit down.

Yeah, it was a rough year for a lot of reasons. But since my better half is always (rightly) encouraging me to be more positive and not such a pessimist, I thought I’d pick out something positive, so here it is: I wrote 505 thousand words this year. Half a million words.

I suspect to some writers, that’s not a big deal—that they do that and more every year. For me, it was an accomplishment. I’d never even remotely written this much in a year and I have to say … it feels pretty damn good.

So what does it mean for next year? Hell if I know. Since there’s one day left in 2020 (as of this writing), I am just going to bask in the glow for the remainder of the year, so I can hit the ground running on 1 Jan and get back to work for 2021.

Here’s a breakdown of how the words went this year:

The Holly Sisters

  • Added about 20K words to the early drafts of The Mauler (book 2) before it was published in Sep
  • On the second draft of Sylvan Valley Aflame, to the tune of 114K words. I have my beta feedback now, so going back to polish it up, with a hopeful publication date of late March.

The Sentinel

This is the new series I am working on, which will be quite a different in tone than The Holly Sisters. Maybe four book before it’s over.

  • Completed the first draft of the first book, with a tentative title of She Who Fights Monsters at around 116K words
  • Began the first draft of the second book (no title yet), with 38K words drafted

Romance books, with—

Muse: Wait, what?

I’ve been working on my interconnected romance book series. Not published yet, as I want to have 4-6 of the books ready to rapid-release.


  • Book 1, added 17K words to the 2nd/3rd drafts, so it’s almost publication-ready (oh, and did the cover myself, too, and it’s not bad)
  • Book 3, got to 36K words in it before I stalled out
  • Book 4, completed first draft of 54K words

(Book 2 was drafted in 2019 and I haven’t gone back to it yet)

Smut Stories (Yeah, I write smut too. Shut up!)

Total of about 89K words in seven different stories. They are getting some good ratings on websites where they’re posted.


I do some writer prompts with friends and some other short stories, which came out to about a total of 21K this year


Okay, so 2020 is about in the bag. Now what? What lies ahead for 2021? Well, here are the goals:

  • 1) Publish the last book in the The Holly Sisters, Sylvan Valley Aflame, around 31 Mar.
  • 2) Write the sequel to Pilgrimage to Skara, with a planned publication sometime in Nov.
  • 3) Revise Sentinel book 1, finish book 2 first draft, start book 3
  • 4) Finish romance book 3, revise book 2 & 4, draft book 5.

No real goal for the smut. I’ll just tackle that as the ideas come … err, arrive.

You all have a happy, wonderful holiday, and let’s kick off the next year on the right foot! Cheers!

Something scary for Halloween, all right …

Okay, I did a thing. I read Twilight.

(NOTE: There are some mild spoilers below.)

Pause for collective sharp intakes of breath. Before I elaborate on anything, a little background.

Five or six weeks ago, I was on the phone with my mom. Mom is interested in my writing so we discuss it sometimes. She asked me if I had considered doing young adult (YA) fiction, since it seems to sell well. I admitted I hadn’t. Then we got on popular YA fiction, including Twilight. Mom asked if I read it. I said no–and then, foolishly, I added, “I probably should sometime, just to have a frame of reference for YA books.” When she asked when, I said I’d get around to it.

Well. My mom is a fantastic mother but she’s like everyone else in our family, in that we all like to antagonize each other. So about a week after that conversation, I get a package containing a shiny new copy of Twilight. Mom rather smugly informed me I had no more excuses to put it off. So I accepted that and read it.

I haven’t seen the movies or read much about it. I’ve only absorbed what details have seeped into pop culture (such as sparkly vampires). So I went into this, trying to keep an open mind. Twilight isn’t the worst book I’ve read but …

Okay, I’ll start with the good. I will give Stephanie Meyer credit. She does write decent prose, in the sense that it maintains a good rhythm and is easy to both read and get lost in reading. It never felt like a chore having to parse words, I never had to stop and reread things because it wasn’t clear. She overuses adverbs but whatever. And I will say Meyer clearly knows how to ramp up the stakes and dramatic tension. For a handful of chapters around the climax, the pace picked up and while I wouldn’t quite call it “compelling,” the action and uncertainty of the outcome kept me reading. Last, I will add that Meyer does a good job of contrasting the bright, hot, dustiness of Phoenix and the damp, cloudy, gray of the northwest Pacific coast. She works the setting to flavor the mood of their respective sections.

But …

The pace. Dear Lord, the pace. It took two hundred pages before anything of any real importance happened. Very little character development, very little anything. Teenage drama, I guess, but as someone separated from their teenage years by three decades, it came off as insufferable. There was a forty-page span that consisted of not much more than repeated instances of:

Person One: “I like you but we can’t be together.”

Person Two: “I think we should.”

One: “Then maybe we should.”

Two: “Oh, but we can’t.”

Glarg. I like romance–fantasy and otherwise–but this was just … vapid. Anyway, outside the apex of the story, the pacing was way too slow and the book too drawn out. It’s about five hundred pages and I think it could have been written in three-hundred-fifty.

Also, speaking of insufferable, there’s Bella, the female protagonist. She comes off as the world-weary teenager who’s smarter and wiser than everyone else, who realizes that everything in life is shit and awful, and is just above it all–exemplified by calling her father “Dad” to his face but by his first name internally as a way of showing her disconnection with him and how’s she generally “just over everything.” I have hated that trope forever. It was lame when Holden Caulfield sat around pontificating like he was some profound philosopher in Catcher in the Rye, and it is still lame today. (Holden Caulfield needed nothing more than a solid punch in the face, as far as I’m concerned.) Let’s examine Bella: yes, her parents are divorced, but ages ago. She’s never been abused, she’s never gone hungry or been homeless, she hasn’t been the victim of violent crime, she’s not disabled, she hasn’t watched her loved ones die. Until she starts involving herself in the world of vampires, literally every one of her problems would be considered a “First World problem.” After one of her extended moping sessions, I wanted to yell at her to go live in sub-Saharan Africa, where she could eat and defecate into the same creek, and then ask her how bad things were back home. Add to this that she displays some mild feminist leanings with some of her statements and mindsets (which is fine), but then ditches those as soon as a hot guy makes googly eyes at her.

Muse: That’s an oversimplification.

Not by much. Instant hormonal love and she forgot everything that made Bella her own individual person. It made for a very inconsistent character. I admit, she grew a little more empathetic in the second half of the book but as a character, her development was awful.

Then Edward. Vampire’s a hundred years old. Just in terms of life-experience, there is no way he should literally be in love with a moody teenager. Yes, I know it was hand-waved with her pheromones or something drawing him in and his struggle not too feed versus his being drawn to her (which actually came off all right as a source of internal conflict for him). Even so, on a sliding scale of creepy to acceptable, it’s going to be on the creepy side. I’ve heard Edward gets quite stalkerish over the whole series. I thought that aspect was present but mild in the first book. Maybe it gets worse in later books. Besides, Twilight has nothing on Fifty Shades of Grey (though I understand the latter started as fan-fiction for the former). In any event, creepy.

Last … sparkly vampires. I mean, what? Sparkly vampires! I got nothing, folks.

I have to give it a 2.5/5. Overall, an average book. Decent writing with a workable, interesting climax, coupled with terrible pacing and inconsistent characters.

If I had to guess, I can only imagine this appeals to teenagers since they often feel disaffected and isolated, as Bella did, and I think are still innocent (or naive) enough to believe that a handsome stranger can bring some awesomeness into their lives. A handsome, sparkly stranger. (Sorry, I can’t get over that.)

Look, I know I am not the target audience for this. But if we want our young readers to do better, we have to offer them better. I will never poo-poo a teenager reading Twilight, since I am frankly happy if they’re reading something other than their phone. I would just ask them to diversify–to pick up something else and keep it going. (“Hey kid. I know you liked Twilight. You might like this too.”) Twilight is not a horrid place for a young adult to start reading.

But it would be a bad place to finish.

To answer Mom’s original question, I don’t know that I want to write YA fiction. I don’t want to write about the supernatural world overlapping with our world, nor do I want to write about a mage academy of some sort. The YA market is absolutely inundated with those stories, and many are mediocre at best.

Muse: They sell, don’t they?

I don’t know for how much longer. I think people are burning out on them. If I am going to go down the YA path, I think I would prefer to write something like Uprooted by Naomi Novik or The Song of Lioness trilogy by Tamora Pierce, that takes place off-world and doesn’t … pander to young adults or treat them like children. Those books have cross-age appeal.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s getting the best of both worlds.