03/16/13

And so it begins…

“Hey, these bones look like they’ve been gnawed on…”

Workers digging a rail line in Central London’s Farringdon neighborhood uncovered the grave site of what could be as many as 50,000 victims of the Black Plague.

Does no one actually watch TV or read books? You fools! This is how zombie apocalypses start! Cover them back up and incinerate your clothes! #hoardingweapons

On a side note, don’t be surprised if the Farringdon grave site shows up in future works…

Enjoy the last days! And remember, in the times of madness to come, only madness will save us.

 

 

02/7/13

Episode 7 of The Scourge Hits the Streets (Or Roman Roads, Anyway)

*** Hi everybody. This is a blog post about Episode 7 of The Scourge, if you haven’t read the episode and are planning to, you might want to wait until you have done so before browsing. Gnarled and violent spoilers wait in the shadows of this post. And in broad daylight too. I may be speaking metaphorically, but I assure you, the spoilers are quite literal. ***

Edward and his knights are nearing St. Edmund’s Bury, and you, good readers, are nearing the end of the book. It’s a bit scary thinking that our story will be at an end after the next episode. I’ve really enjoyed the ride and I thank all of my readers for making this a team effort. You have inspired me to make this story as good as it could be. Each and every one of you will receive a thank you note and a can of sliced mutton in the mail.

Legal note: The above statement does not imply that all readers will get a thank you card and a can of sliced mutton. The author was speaking of metaphorical mutton. Stating that spoilers in the post are both metaphorical and literal does not bear any relevance to the metaphorical canned mutton and thank you notes. The author very likely does not even know the process for mailing a real letter at this point in his life.

So what did we have in this episode? A cavalry charge. More firearms. Naked churchgoers. A witch. A crypt. A plagued Dwarf. And a little villainy thrown in for good measure. A pleasant potpourri of madness, simmered in plague and basted with hyper-religious self-righteousness. Hope you enjoyed the meal.

Before we get too far, I wanted to show you what happened to that sleepy little church in Chelmsford (The Church of the Virgin Mary — the one where they found the witch, Isabella):

The sleepy little church is all growns up and stuff.

Yes, the Church of the Virgin Mary is now the Chelmsford Cathedral. With all the great devotion to Mary you love, and none of the the rustic irrelevance of the 14th century. Edward and his knights wouldn’t have seen it in this state, obviously. In their day, it most likely would have looked like this:

With time and a Lance Armstrong pharmaceutical regime, this church could be a cathedral some day. And win the Tour de France.

Okay, so that’s a church in the Cotswolds (near Evesham), but if you can imagine zombies in medieval England, you can imagine this building in Chelmsford. And while you’re at it, can you imagine a glowing New York Times book review for The Scourge? Much obliged!

So, about the charging knights. I don’t have a lot to add to the topic. I spoke about cavalry charges in the historical note at the end of the episode, but I found a killer image that makes me want to go back and add detail to Sir Gerald and the other knights’ appearance. Have a look:

This would intimidate the fuck out of me

Excuse my French, but if you are reading my book, I think you’re probably fluent in that sort of French anyway. Sometimes only an F-bomb scratches that hard to reach itch.

Okay, and the last thing I want to discuss is probably the most sensitive.

Yes. The little person. The plagued dwarf.

I got mixed sentiments from beta readers about that particular scene, so I want to talk a little bit about the historical context. In the Middle Ages, dwarves (as they were called then) were quite fashionable. In fact, they were quite fashionable all the way back to the Roman empire when most noble families had at least one dwarf in their household. If you recall the dwarf in episode 7 of The Scourge, he was dressed in fine clothing. Dwarves were (mostly) considered lucky and were usually treated very well by the families that “owned” them. I say usually because Henry IV acquired a male dwarf whose mouth had been permanently carved into a smile by previous “owner.” Even so, the dwarf reportedly became one of Henry’s best friends and lived a life of luxury and happiness (Henry assumed he was happy. I mean, the dwarf was *always* smiling). Sorry. That wasn’t very nice. I do joke from time to time, but please know that I don’t make up any of these historical facts.

Willow in all his medieval splendor. This movie was my first exposure to medieval dwarves, and probably spurred much of Hollywood’s medieval “little people” craze. Apologies to Time Bandits.

Dwarves weren’t limited to subordinate roles either. The thing about dwarves (as anyone who’s read Game of Thrones knows) is that they could be born into *any* family. Vladislas Cubitas, a dwarf, was the king of Poland in 1305, and he was well respected and considered intelligent and courageous (and not bad with a sword!).

Contrary to every medieval story you read (mine included), Dwarves weren’t as common as you might think in Medieval England. There weren’t a lot of “court dwarves” jestering and being laughed at. I really can’t say what the fascination is with dwarves in the Middle Ages. (Says the man who put a zombie dwarf in his Middle Ages novel).

That’s all for now. Episode 8 drops in a week and a half. Hope the conclusion is satisfying to all of you. If it isn’t, please let me know so that I can remove you from the “canned mutton” list.

Legal Note: Author’s above statement is not meant to imply … oh forget it. Canned mutton for everyone!

 

01/22/13

Episode 6 Launched

*** This post may contain spoilers for Episode 6 ***

So, Episode 6 of The Scourge has dropped and I am anxious to hear what readers think. Do you like or dislike the heavy action mode of this episode? The story is, inexorably, building to its climax and events will speed up now until the novel ends. Not to say there aren’t calm moments, but the tension and emotion will continue to climb now.

I spotted a minor mistake in the text. At one point, the iron-bound door leading out of the manor begins to shake. The next sentence makes it seem as if Edward is standing with his back to that door, when in fact, his back is against the servants’ door on the other side of the room. Sorry about that. I’m not sure how it got like that, but I’ll make sure it’s fixed for the print and e-book release.

Other than that, there isn’t a lot to say about this episode. Lots of action and the return of a familiar face. Please let me know what you think about this episode. It helps me better understand what my readers are feeling when they read my story.

Thanks again for the interest!

01/21/13

Serial – Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

Hey everyone. I did a guest post on Lindsay Buroker’s blog and I received lots of questions about it, so I figured I would talk a little bit more about writing for Kindle Serials, here at my home blog.

First of all, I’d like to define exactly what is involved in serials, so we are all on the same page (screen, for you Kindlers).

I wrote a Kindle-Serial novel for 47North, called The Scourge. A Kindle Serial is a new type of novel that begins life as a series of episodes that are automatically (and periodically) downloaded onto Kindles (or other devices that have the Kindle app installed). A reader pays $1.99 for the novel, and one episode downloads to his or her device every two weeks until the novel is finished. The reader never has to pay for any other episodes. $1.99 covers the entire novel. You just get it a little bit at a time.

But you get the story as it’s written, so if you buy it now, you will get all episodes that have been released thus far, (we’re on episode 5 at the moment), and then you will get episode six on Tuesday, and episode 7 in two weeks, and episode 8 (the final episode) two weeks after that. Confused yet?

Here’s a good example: Let’s say you love The Walking Dead television series (guilty). So you decide you are going to buy the whole season 1. But let’s pretend season 1 is still airing. They are still showing episodes every week and the season isn’t finished. If it were a Kindle Serial, you would get every episode that has already aired, then you would start receiving each new episode at the same time as everyone else. Until the season is over. But you never have to pay for any other episode in Season 1 again. Make sense?

Once all the serial episodes are delivered (the novel is finished) it is no longer a Kindle Serial. 47North turns it into a standard property, which means The Scourge gets an ebook version, a print version, and an audiobook version, and the price goes up. So, in our analogy above, the entire season 1 of The Walking Dead  is over (all episodes have been aired), so it gets turned into a box set and you can watch it as often as you like. But unlike a box set of a tv show, if you paid for the serial as it was being written, you end up with all the episodes as an ebook and you don’t have to pay for the “box set”. Lucky you. Unless you want a print version or audiobook version of the “box set” in which case you would end this metaphor immediately.

So, that’s how the Kindle Serials work. Now, to answer a few other questions I’ve gotten concerning serials:

1. Yes, I have a standard publishing contract with 47North. They created the cover for me, provide copy editing, proofreading and some editorial direction. I received an advance for the book and will get royalties when the advance earns out. (Which it pretty much has already. Yay me.)

2. Yes, The price of the book as a Kindle Serial is fairly low. But the exposure I receive from Amazon is priceless. I am selling far more books with this title than I ever have with my independent title, and I get far more exposure. And, when it becomes a standard property of 47North, the price goes up. Win.

3. Yes, writing this way is difficult. There are many, many challenges, but there are also many, many rewards. I will post on those pros and cons in a couple of days.

4. Yes, working with 47North and Amazon Publishing is a joy. They allow me input into a lot of areas that other publishers never would. What sort of areas? Well, massive input into the what the cover will look like. Input into the marketing blurbs (including bio, synopsis, back cover blurb, and to whom it should be marketed). Their royalties are better than standard publisher royalties, and they pay on a quarterly basis (with ‘standard’ publishers you are lucky if you get paid every six months). And they know how to get things done quickly and efficiently without sacrificing quality.

5. Yes, you receive email notification from Amazon when a new episode is available. And no, you don’t have a ton of little episodes cluttering up your Kindle. It is always just one book, it just grows bigger with each episode. Your place is still marked in the book, but you just have more to read. And your percentage read goes down.

Got questions on Kindle Serials or writing serials? Please let me know in the comments. This is a fascinating way to write and I enjoy talking about it.

That’s it for now. I’ll have an Episode 6 post a little later this week (Episode 6 comes out on Tuesday, by the way), then will post more about serials after that. Thanks for reading!

 

 

12/24/12

Print Cover Reveal – The Scourge

Happy day.

47North just sent me a full-cover mock-up for The Scourge. This includes the back cover and spine, and will be used for the print version that will be available in February.

It billows with awesomeness, and I am thrilled with it!  Have a look:

The Scourge’s kick-ass print cover!

As you can see from the back cover text, this was taken from the Latin translation of The Scourge. Okay, not really. It’s just dummy text (Lorem Ipsum text, for that graphic designer street-cred). What do you guys think? Leave me a comment and let me know. Thanks!

12/10/12

The Scourge – Episode 3

Episode 3 comes out tomorrow. It’s a good one, I think. In which Edward leads his army into battle and then faces execution by a mad king. In the spirit of Episode 3, here are some images from modern-day Hadleigh, Leigh (Lighe), and Rayleigh.

What’s left of Hadleigh Castle

Pictured above are the ruins of Hadleigh Castle. The castle is perched on a hill overlooking Old Leigh, and has such a wonderful feel to it. A feeling of power and tranquility and invulnerability. You can just imagine how magnificent it once was.

Hadleigh Castle, as it once was.

That’s what the castle would have looked like in Edward’s day, after an extensive renovation project by Henry III.

The Great Hall

That square area in the mid-ground is the remains of the Great Hall where Edward’s imaginary meeting with Sir John would have taken place. Just beyond the tower, in the distance, is a view of Old Leigh (Lighe).

The Thames Estuary at low tide, at Old Leigh.

This is the Thames at low tide, just off the shore of Old Leigh. The French ships in my story landed here. I’m fairly confident these three ships aren’t French.

Hadleigh Castle, with Old Leigh in the distance.

This is Old Leigh today, at low tide. It’s come a long way from the sleepy little village it was in Sir Edward’s day.

Moving on to Rayleigh. This is Rayleigh Motte, the hill where the tower once stood. During Sir Edward’s days, there probably wouldn’t have been much left of the castle. I chose to extend Rayleigh’s life a few decades in the story, although it was nothing but a “dung-pit” when Edward finds it.

Motte and Bailey

Motte to the left, bailey to the right. You can still walk the entire castle grounds at Rayleigh Mount, although nothing is left of the stone tower or the buildings.

Rayleigh Castle, how it was

That was how the castle would have looked in its prime.

 

Church on the hill

St. Clement’s church sits on a hill in Leigh-on-Sea. It is the church that Edward talks about and that he and his knights ride onto. There is a rumor that this church was built using stones from Hadleigh Castle, but I doubt it. King Edward III had made major renovations to Hadleigh in the late 14th century and the castle wasn’t sold for building materials until the mid-16th century. St. Clement’s was built sometime circa 1400, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it might have been around in 1385, when Sir Edward came by.

If you are reading The Scourge, I hope enjoy this episode. It’s one of my favorites. And I hope these photos help flesh out the world that Edward and his knights are traveling through.

 

 

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12/2/12

Learning to Right…uh Write

When I started my writers’ group about three years ago, it was mostly as a favor to the all the other writers in my geographical area. You see, I was a *professional* writer. My career included a three-year stint as a reporter and long stretches as a freelance writer and magazine editor. I had a page-one feature article in the Boston-freakin’-Globe, for Pete’s sake. So, in an act of charity, I decided to allow other writers to read my fiction.

Am I not a merciful?
AM I NOT A MERCIFUL!!?

I promised myself I would be a father figure. When others discussed my work, I would politely ignore the tears of adoration in their eyes. I would be humble and graciously downplay their praise.

When finally it was time for my work to be reviewed, I scheduled another story for that night too. Because, really, what was there to critique in my work? There was only so much gushing I would allow myself to take.

The night arrived and the group gathered. I waved my hand in a Pope-like manner, allowing the critique to begin.

And they tore me apart.

“Do you realize that you have three pages of a guy riding a horse?” one of the writers said. “There’s no talking or anything. Just a guy. And a horse. And bushes and shit.”

I smiled. Ah, petty jealousy. I love it.

“Yeah, I cut most of that out too,” said another. “You’re story really doesn’t begin until page six.”

The night wore on. Page after page after page of suggestions. A few compliments sprinkled in here and there, but mostly constructive critisicm. This wasn’t petty jealousy. This was bad storytelling and bad writing.

“Do you realize that you have three pages of a guy riding a horse?” one of the writers said. “There’s no talking or anything. Just a guy. And a horse. And bushes and shit.”

I smiled. Ah, petty jealousy. I love it.

It didn’t matter that I had spent half my life writing professionally. It didn’t matter that I read more books in 7th grade than most people read in a decade. It didn’t matter that I placed second in a state-wide short story competition in college. It didn’t even matter that I went to school for journalism and creative writing.

Writing good fiction is, quite possibly, the hardest thing anyone can ever do.  (With the possible exception of forcing yourself to sit on a really, really cold toilet seat.) When you are writing fiction, you are having a hand at God’s work. Designing and creating and breathing life into something that is only an idea. Just wisps of thought that must be turned into reality. What a colossal pain in the ass! (The creating, not the toilet seat.)

Sometimes I hold my bowel movement for days.

Despite the magnitude of the task we take on, there is no room for arrogance when you are learning to write. As the Tao Te Ching states, “You will never be a great writer until you understand that you are a terrible writer.” Okay, the Tao never said that, but it should have.

“You will never be a great writer until you understand that you are a terrible writer.”

I read a popular blogist’s post once that told people they don’t have to write every day if they can’t find the time. That’s the most destructive thing anyone can say to aspiring writers. We are all looking for reasons not to write. Excuses. And he gave his readers permission to not take their craft seriously.

The truth is, if you want to succeed at anything, you do it *every day.* You work on it harder than anything else in your life. Because you can bet there is someone else out there working harder. If you can’t find time to make writing a priority, then maybe you really don’t want it.

It has been three years since that first writers’ group session. Three years of hard toil and hundreds of thousands of written words. And you know what? My group is still tearing me apart.

Their criticisms are smaller now, thankfully. More nitpicky. They talk mostly about things that fall into my blind spots. Things that can only be seen from another perspective. Which is as it should be.

My writing mechanics have improved. My storytelling and pacing have improved. My dialog, always my strength (I think), has improved as well.

Am I a great writer now? No. I won’t make the mistake of thinking that again. But I recently signed a publishing contract with 47North for my novel, The Scourge. It’s a sign, that I have improved, and a nod to the writers’ group that tore down my pretenses and allowed me to become a decent novelist.  They were the ones doing me the favor.

And I thank them.