Review: All These Shiny Worlds

All These Shiny Worlds anthology, edited by Jefferson Smith

Genre: Sci-fi and Fantasy

Rating: 4-stars

Anthologies are tricky to rate, because there are good stories and there are not so good stories.

This anthology proclaims to include the best of the best indie authors… first the authors have to survive the 40 minute Immerse or Die challenge, then they have to do well on a full read through, then authors are asked if they would like to submit a short story to the anthology, then the stories are judged by a panel of three judges. Also, authors who get invited are given the chance to invite one other author. The anthology is free, with the idea that after showcasing their work in the anthology, readers will find new readers to follow. I really like that, and overall this anthology was quite good. That said, I didn’t like every single story, and I had low hopes after reading the first one…

1 First Man in the World – 2 stars – People who like traditional sci-fi might enjoy this, but for me it lacked any sense of humanity or struggle. Just a vague how-to terraform a planet. Not my cup of tea.

2 Three Demon Gambit – 4 stars – I enjoyed the twists and turns in this story, even though I didn’t like the protagonist, a student in a school of magic. Dealing with demons and rival students was interesting.

3 Rolling the Bones – 4 stars – disturbing use of necromancy, found it difficult to parse the characters at first, but once I figured out the king and wizard were two different people, it flowed well and I enjoyed following the protagonist through his difficult choices surrounding the morality of using necromancy to preserve the peace.

4 All the Way – 4 stars – A future where dying people can upload themselves to robots and work in space. Quite a human story, however, and I felt quite bad for the robot’s ex-wife.

5 Scales Fall – 4 stars – I’m not even sure if I fully understood this story, with how it jumped around in time, but I enjoyed it a lot. It all felt so familiar, possibly because I read a lot of ancient Egyptian stuff as a kid.

6 The Ant Tower – 5 stars – Here was a story I didn’t want to end. The shifting in time with each scene took some getting used to, but the story was excellent. By far my favorite up to this point. With plenty of twists and turns, this trek through the desert didn’t end the way I thought it would. I want to read more from this author.

7 Heft – 3 stars – I found this spy story with a twist rough at first, and I’m not sure I fully got the ending. I think I did, but the uncertainty left me feeling unsure how to rate this one. I was left with the feeling that there was something clever that happened, but it wasn’t explained enough for me to understand in its entirety. Maybe if I read it a second time, but it wasn’t a story I enjoyed enough to do that with. The philosophy behind it was some next-level stuff that isn’t too hard to imagine actually happening, though.

8 The First Acolyte of the Upshan Berental – 5 stars – A story of being true to yourself, even in the face of disapproving authority. I enjoyed the theme, and also want to see all the worlds.

9 Bronwen’s Dowry – 5 stars – This story of a poor shearer and his wife going to a gathering of pipers was genuinely moving. I loved this one.

10 The Spider and the Darkness – 5 stars – This fantasy tale involving an abused girl seeking to escape her lot in life was fantastic.

11 The Dowager’s Largesse – 5 stars – I already bought the next story in this series because I loved it so much. Who doesn’t love the sound of a cursed bounty hunter with a belligerent llama companion?

12 Theriac – 4 stars – A woman who sees demons (maybe? The way others brush off her concerns makes me wonder…) is confronted with the not so difficult decision of what to do about some half-demon children. As written, it’s 3 stars, except that it had me thinking about it afterwards, wondering what the truth of the matter is, so it got an extra star.

13 The Red Flame of Death – 3 stars – This story about a holy man hunting a demon was okay. The pacing and writing were fine, but in the end I didn’t really care how it ended, because the characters were flat.

14 The Blue Breeze – 4 stars – While certainly the most imaginative of the bunch, creating a rich and dangerous world, the elements of the plot felt quite familiar. A forbidden love story, mingled with the thought, “There’s always a bigger fish.”

15 The Rakam – no rating – First person present tense? Ugh. I have other things I want to read, and after struggling through the first paragraph I said, “Forget it.” I won’t count this one toward the average rating, because I couldn’t give it a fair chance.

Review: Crimson & Cream, by C.M. Skiera

Crimson & Cream, by C.M. Skiera

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Rating: 5-stars

This one had been on my TBR list for a while, and I’m glad I got to it. The writing is excellent, pacing quick, and characters interesting.

You’re in Jetsam’s head throughout most of the story, an orphan who has banded with other orphans to survive in the sewers. At night they come out and take what they need to survive.

This story starts out looking like a simple happy-go-lucky tale with a young protagonist, but quickly turns to a life-and-death struggle. With powerful monsters, an irate lord, and tenacious bounty hunter in his way, Jetsam has to use every ounce of cunning and speed he possesses to avoid a grisly death.

The twist near the end didn’t surprise me, but that’s okay. The story was still fun enough that I enjoyed it from cover-to-cover. I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel!

Review: Weirdo Company volume 1 by Ben Guilfoy

Weirdo Company volume 1 by Ben Guilfoy

Genre: Modern day military fantasy

Rating: 5-stars

There are five short stories included in this collection, and they’re all a lot of fun! When it started out, it felt like your standard military story that dealt with stuff that was a little weird. But that weird got BIG AND CRAZY really fast! The stuff Weirdo Company deals with is amazing! I mean, the titles of the stories probably give that fact away… but actually following the characters through it all is something else.

I was hooked part way through the first story, with a line that I loved so much I had to make a meme for it…

And it felt like the stories were anticipating my questions, sometimes. I’d be reading, and thinking, “Hmmm, I wonder about X.” When that happened, it wasn’t long before the answer came. That built a lot of trust between me as a reader and the author early on, so I relaxed and enjoyed the stories more as the series continued.

The fifth story had a couple hiccups in it, with what I think was a missing word, and a couple words that I think were typos. I hadn’t noticed it enough to bother me in the other four stories, and I was enjoying it all so much by that point that it didn’t bug me too much.

I will definitely be checking out future volumes in this series, because this was a great read!

Review: Scoundrels anthology

Scoundrels anthology, published by Bushmead Publishing

Genre: A mix of sci-fi and fantasy

Rating: Average of 4 stars over 7 stories, ranging from 2 to 5 stars

 

Miniature You, poem by Linda G. Hill, 4 stars

I’m not usually much of a poetry fan, but I rather enjoyed this one. It starts off as a pleasant sort of thing, and turns pretty dark by the end.

Oceanitides, short story by Laura Johnson, 4 stars

This was written well enough. I liked the Greek feeling of the half-siblings competing for an ancient relic. The twist ending fell kind of flat for me, and nothing stood out to make me say “Wow! That was 5 stars!” But it was enjoyable.

Ties That Lie, novella by Tiffany Woodbeck, 2 stars

There was a lot I didn’t like in this one. There were at least three words used incorrectly (gilding refers to gold, not silver; massive usually refers to something with mass… so a royal garden doesn’t fit the bill; cacophony isn’t one person raising their voice to argue a point, it’s a lot of discordant noises mixing together. Massive I can let slide, because I’ve seen it used this way many times, but the other two really bugged me). The phrasing throughout was bizarre. For instance, at the start of the story every person was described by their hair… and that hair was given such a lifelike quality, I almost expected the various heads of hair to pop off the people and start having interactions of their own. Mien is a fine word maybe once or twice in a story this length, but was overused here. And the “smoothing of skirts” gave me PTSD flashbacks of The Wheel of Time series. Also, so many pursed lips.

In fact, the emotion was so wooden I was fairly certain the main character was a sociopath or psychopath (which would’ve been fine, because it’s a book about Scoundrels, after all). The way she “allowed” her tears to flow at some point made what should have been real sorrow feel like she was forcing it. And then I almost laughed when her betrothed said she was very emotional, because I had seen NO evidence of this. I was figuring at that point that she had somehow fooled him into believing she was emotional, despite the fact that she’s constantly stone-faced. It was all so at odds with itself that I felt baffled when she actually broke down crying later in the story… and just realized that the emotions were poorly written, earlier. It’s the old “show, don’t tell” and I hadn’t been shown that she was emotional. At all.

There were no real twists in the story to try to save it at the end. At least, none that I cared about, as a reader. And I think this calls back to the lack of emotion and caring about the character.

Cuthburt and Crowe, novella by Drew Carmody, 3 stars

I found this story distracting for a couple reason. 1) Run on sentences. I counted 4 “ands” tying together one sentence that just never seemed to end. 2) Incorrect punctuation. When a sentence is spoken, there’s a comma that connects what’s in the quotes with the tag if the tag is directly related to the speaking. For instance, from the fifth paragraph: “Oh, don’t be such a damn stick in the bog, Crowe.” Cuthbert said with a grin, “Yeah, I’d get the princess…”

That’s all backwards. There should be a comma after Crowe, and then a period after grin. This happened repeatedly through this story and bothered me every single time.

3) It was fairly common for words to be missing letters. 4) A super-minor formatting error on the first page made me check the previous story to see what the paragraph indents were, because they looked too large (and they were). But it was only on the first page, so I’m not sure what happened there. I noticed it before I started reading, so it’s not like it pulled me out of the story or anything. Just an oddity. 5) “Massive” was so overused I actually took a screenshot to show a friend when it appeared SEVEN TIMES on one page (and again, sometimes used not quite correctly). There are other words.

All together, it felt like maybe the wrong file was used for this story, because I haven’t seen anything this sloppy in the other stories. It was interesting enough that I still liked it. It felt like a disjointed D&D party (paladin, fighter, rogue, warlock [or necromancer?], mage, and monk), setting up for future adventures.  There were interesting ideas throughout that felt very compartmentalized, like parts of a D&D game. A sort of, “They go here, something interesting happens. They go here, something interesting happens.” etc.

One Last Payday, short story by P.A. Cornell, 5 stars

This sci-fi story was fantastic. A thief gets a job to transport some data from one person to another, and will pay enough for her to finally live her dream and get off world… but there’s a big catch. There’s twists and turns along the way that really captured my imagination. I’d look for more from this author.

From Love to Hatred Turned, short story by Isa Mclaren, 5 stars

Brand made me think of 007 as a roguish art dealer. Suave, intelligent, and one step ahead, he’s a master tactician who knows how to manipulate people. The story was fun and well paced.

The Bridgemaster’s Daughter, short story by John Ryers, 5 stars

I didn’t see the ending of this story coming. Perhaps I should have… the clues were there all along, but I missed putting them together. I love it when that sort of thing happens. With a headstrong female lead, and a charming rogue antagonist, there’s some great, believable banter, and good action.

Dangers of Tensire, novella by Ryan Toxopeus

Come on. I’m not going to review my own story. That’s worse than paying for reviews.

But honestly, I think this anthology is worth picking up just for the three 5-star stories. I plan on looking for more work from those authors.

Review: The Last Light of the Sun

The Last Light of the Sun, by Guy Gavriel Kay

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2 stars

A funny quick of being a writer (in my experience) is that people buy you books because you write. “Oh, you write? I thought you’d like this book!”

I’ve had this one on my shelf for a while now with the intention of reading it, because I’ve heard for years that Kay is excellent.

I have a feeling these people probably really like Tolkien and other classic fantasy novels that are slow, slow, slow and hugely repetitive. This is not the style of fantasy that I enjoy, and if this is representative of Kay’s style, it’ll be the last book of his I read.

We start off with a merchant from a far distant land visiting a town of what I’d say are vikings. An event has happened, and he’s late so he’s only heard second-hand stories.

And then we never see that character again.

And this is my first major complaint about this book: It could have (and should have) been much shorter than it was. Cut down to AT LEAST 3/4 the length. There are so many throw-away characters that have absolutely no agency in the story. You get to see the POV of a single character for a single scene, and anything that you think might be an important take away from that scene simply isn’t.

All of these extra wasted scenes are interspersed with the stuff you might actually care about. There are these interesting princes from distant lands, a hint of faerie magic, viking raids, and intrigue. The stuff that’s on point is INTERESTING and good. It’s all the other bloody stuff you need to sift through to get to the good stuff that is absolutely painful. This book probably took me twice as long to read as books that I enjoy, because I just couldn’t bring myself to read outside of my rides to work on the bus (and sometimes not even on the bus). I’d finish a scene and just sigh, because I knew there was a good chance I just wasted my time learning about the characters in the last scene, or was about to start a scene with characters I wouldn’t care about. I kept hoping for some brilliant ending that tied all these one-shot characters together to make some sort of masterpiece that I never could have seen coming, but it just didn’t happen.

But then there’s Bern, this thoughtful viking who’s smart and strong and has a conflicted past with his father, who was this legendary raider, who is one of the better characters in the book. There’s Alun, a prince who’s dealing with loss and suddenly finding himself in a position he never wanted. There’s Athelbert, the oldest son of a king who’s been building his empire to beat back the viking raiders… a true warrior poet king… and Athelbert has a great sense of humour and is interesting to follow. There are a few strong female characters in the story who piqued my interest.

There were MORE THAN ENOUGH interesting characters who were central to the main story to keep this going. Thus it’s all the more baffling that these one-shot characters are dropped regularly throughout.

My other major beef with this book is that it’s highly repetitive. Like… there’s no way you’ll forget an event that’s important to the story, because you’re going to hear about it over and over and over again. Like I GET IT! BERN STOLE THE DAMNED HORSE! I REMEMBER THAT FROM THE START OF THE BOOK AND DON’T NEED TO READ IT AGAIN! AND AGAIN! AND AGAIN! AND YES, THE HORSE IS MAGNIFICENT! AND HE SWAM ACROSS A FREEZING STRAIT!

I originally rated the book as 3 stars, but I just dropped it to two because there’s so much that irritated me about how much time I spent reading this book. All those annoyances outweigh how good the central story could have been. But no, in the middle of the climactic battle, let’s just shift to a few other characters who aren’t important at all right now. Let’s just break the flow of this event we’ve all been waiting for for over 500 pages. No reason. Nothing important, that’s for sure. But let’s remind you of the other characters who aren’t fighting.

This book is the perfect example of how not to pace a book.

Book launch and GenreCon 2018, coming up!

This is going to be great.

I mean, if this pair of celebrities doesn’t draw in a ton of people to Guelph on the weekend of February 9th-11th, I don’t know what will. Charisma Carpenter (Cordellia) and Nicholas Brendon (Xander) of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame are coming to GenreCon.

True story time: I always loved Xander because in a way he reminded me of me in high school. Awkward, not cool, and often unnoticed. I loved the episode where he had his own adventure going on and was on his own while everyone else dealt with a “big bad” in the background. When he was described as the one who sees, I nodded with understanding. I couldn’t remember ever having a character on a show that spoke to me as much as Xander did.

So I’m having a bit of a fanboy moment right now, because I’m excited to meet Nicholas Brendon. I even went so far as to ask my wife, “Do you think he’d make a good Erwin Winston?” She looked at me and shook her head. There was some alleged relationship issue, but by the sounds of it TMZ used an old photo and got the story wrong. Still, in this day and age that sort of story doesn’t sit well, does it? But his partner said it was misreported and there were no charges, so we need to take her at her word. After all, they wouldn’t let him leave the USA if he was in trouble with the law, would they? So let’s give him a friendly Canadian welcome!

I’m not usually one to think about what actors would play the characters in my books, but that thought got my mind rolling on other members of the Buffyverse I could see stepping into roles. Alyson Hannigan as Pellin. Alexis Denisof as Marcus. James Marsters as Arus.

While I recognize it’s all a pipe dream, it’s fun to think about these things.


I’m a speaker on a couple panels at GenreCon! Both are on Saturday February 10th, with the first at 3pm on indie publishing, and the second at 6pm on world building. These are topics that I love to talk about, and I’m hoping for a great turn out! But even if we only have one person, we’ll still go ahead with the panel. We had that happen with the indie publishing panel last year, and the person who came got some great one-on-four time with all the panelists.


At any rate, I’ve got all my paperback books ready to go, and have already started selling some books through Amazon. The official launch for A Hero’s Birth was January 20th, and I blitzed social media and was humbled by the response, with many people sharing my posts. I know I reached some new people, and was happy to hear from existing fans who were excited for the final book in the trilogy.

As is usual for me when I launch a new book, sales for A Noble’s Quest increased out of the gate. Some people are going on to A Wizard’s Gambit. I expect there’ll be more A Hero’s Birth sales coming up soon. I just wanted to share the book rank graphs to show what I mean…

Book ranks – click to enlarge

A Noble’s Quest is performing far better than normal. You can see several peaks in the last month, indicating sales and people who started reading it on Kindle Unlimited. Since the launch of A Hero’s Birth, you can see that it really hasn’t had a chance to dip down at all, which is fantastic.

A Wizard’s Gambit is also doing better than usual. While not as high as A Noble’s Quest, that’s to be expected. Not everyone who reads book 1 will continue to book 2 (which is a shame, in my opinion… book 2 (and book 3) is a much better book). But also most people take time to read the book. While it’s fairly common to see someone blitz through a book in a day or two through KU, I imagine most readers aren’t so fast. So just seeing a couple peaks for book 2 at this point is encouraging.

Demon Invasion had a single sale, driving it up from a very, very long dry spell (You can tell by the nearly flat line before the peak). That long flat stretch is what the majority of my shorter works look like all the time. I’ve had very little success with short stories and novellas. That’s okay. They’re not necessary reading for the series, and I understand many people just want the full novels.

A Hero’s Birth started with a sale, and has been trailing since. I’m… a little disappointed with the performance here. I know a lot of people are waiting for the paperback copies, as I’ve been having people tell me they’ll be getting copies at GenreCon. I’ve got a package to mail today with a copy of A Hero’s Birth and Scoundrels. I gave away ARCs and a few copies for my “fans for life” from Indiegogo. But for some reason I thought it’d do better in the opening week on Amazon than it has.

I’ve also sold 4 paperbacks this week, which don’t show up on these charts because the sales go through CreateSpace. This is an interesting issue. I’d really like to try printing one of my books through Amazon to see how it works, but I’ve heard the tools just aren’t as good as CreateSpace (no author proof, for example). It’d be nice to have paperback sales count towards the rankings to help rise up and maybe get noticed by even more people. But for the time being, I think I’ll stick with the system I know that makes my life easier.

Now, I’m not done yet. My wife’s put together a media kit for me, so once I put some books in the local book store I’ll be releasing that. Maybe it’ll drum up some more interest. And it’s just a slow growth industry, anyway.

Author Rank

I really can’t complain, with what has been my best week ever in terms of sales. My Author Rank has stayed high (for me), and I’ve got two conventions coming up where I’m expecting to do well. Slowly, bit by bit, my empire grows!

If you’re in the Guelph area and would like to come to GenreCon, it’s running February 9th through 11th. Lots of fun stuff to see and do. Make sure to stop by my table in the vendor area and say hi!

A Hero’s Birth, available now!

Title: A Hero’s Birth

Retailers: Amazon [Kindle] [Paperback]

Genre: Epic Fantasy

 


Blurb:

After more than four months abroad, Eliza, Thomas, and Sarentha return home in the face of dire warnings and sweeping changes in the empire. They go their separate ways to reflect on their lives and look for ways to move forward. New allies and enemies emerge, and grave challenges face the up-and-coming heroes. They will need to come together, combining their wits and strengths, to overcome ancient foes. In the balance is the world of Illuma: will it enter an age of light, or will it plunge into everlasting darkness, ruled by demons and the undead?


Reviews:

Jason Berry, reviewer at The Bone Breaker rated it 5 stars and said:

What I loved the most about this book is that our three heroes start off on three separate quests/journeys, making their ultimate reunion that much sweeter. You will see Thomas begin to fulfill his destiny, Sarentha’s becoming a dragon hunter, and Eliza’s growth as a leader. And the ending… Whoa! Man, it is difficult to write this review without giving anything away. I better just say this:

Toxopeus has certainly grown as an author. If you like your fantasy filled with intrigue, suspense, and mystery, then this book is for you!

Andy Goldman, author of The Only City Left rated it 4 stars and said:

There’s definitely fun to be had in seeing where the story takes them, as the trilogy has clearly been building up to this big finale. For my taste, this single book could have been a trilogy in its own right.

Bradley Rogers rated it 5 stars and said:

Fantastic read. Riveting from beginning to end. Characters developed beautifully in this book. The world that has been created is absolutely amazing. If you enjoyed the other books in the series this will be a most delightful read. Excelent conclusion to a series. Absolute must read.


I’m quite pleased with how this series has come along. Perhaps it’s not a surprise, but I feel like the books just get better, the deeper into the series I go. While A Noble’s Quest has a strong Dungeons & Dragons feel to it, the characters are more independent by A Hero’s Birth. There’s nothing wrong with the D&D feel, but it felt good having the characters off and doing their own things, allowing me to really focus in on each of them.

I do agree with Andy Goldman that I could’ve taken more time in some of the locations, but with the book already over twice the length of A Noble’s Quest, I felt some brevity was in order. And there’s a reason I’m calling the next set the “Strongblade Siblings series.” Calling this set of Empire’s Foundation books a trilogy from the outset sort of pinned me down to just three books, where it could have probably been 4. While I say there will be four books in the next series, it could easily grow to more, depending on how events unfold. I would very much like to keep each book closer to 100,000 words, so they don’t take as long to bring out as A Hero’s Birth. This book is a beast, at 160,000 words. But don’t worry – I’m not going to slow down too much! I do still enjoy a fast-paced story!

If you’d like to read all the stories in my recommended reading order, here’s the list (short stories are only available for e-readers):

A Noble’s Quest

1100 Before Gods’ War

Demon Invasion

A Wizard’s Gambit

Dawn: A dwarven creation story

A Hero’s Birth

All of these titles are also available through Kindle Unlimited if you have it. Enjoy!

Boxing Day Sale!

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

If you’ve been waiting for the completion of the Empire’s Foundation trilogy before you start reading, you might want to get an early jump on it!

Advanced Review Copies (ARCs) of A Hero’s Birth are out. The paperback is formatted and I’ve submitted everything for A Hero’s Birth and waiting on their review of the files so I can order an author proof to make sure everything looks good. So long as there aren’t any delays with CreateSpace, I should have the paperback books ready to roll before GenreCon!

In the meantime, you can get A Noble’s Quest and A Wizard’s Gambit for just 99 cents today! I’ve got a Kindle countdown deal going on, and both books are heavily discounted to help people prepare for the release of book three in January!


In other news, my flash fiction Carbon Concerns has been submitted to a magazine called Futuristic Canada by Dark Helix Press.

“So what’s next?” you ask.

Behold!

 

That’s right, the Strongblade Siblings series will be at least 4 books. Maybe 5. I’ll have to wait and see how book 2 goes, because there’s a TON of content for that one, and it might need to be split into two separate novels.

With almost 75,000 words written for A Queen’s Edict, the only problem is funds. I’m banking pretty heavily on my first trilogy doing well after it’s complete. I need this series to succeed, or the next four books don’t get published. Period.

I’ve already run two Indiegogo campaigns, raising over $2000 that went toward costs for editing and art. It was necessary to complete the first trilogy, because I wanted to finish what I started. Now, after getting developmental editing notes from two different editors I’ve learned a LOT about story structure, so I think I can get away without that. But I can’t keep relying on free editing from my aunt, and I certainly can’t afford to sink money into amazing cover art. There are just too many other things that we need to focus on paying for and I won’t put my family in debt for my hobby, no matter how passionate I am about it.

If you’ve enjoyed my work and want to see where the story goes next, I need your help. I’m just one person, I’m an introvert, and not particularly good at using social media and marketing myself. What helps authors succeed is word of mouth from readers.

Here are two concrete things you can do to help:

  1. Leave reviews on my books on Amazon.com, Goodreads, or wherever else. The review doesn’t have to be long or detailed. Reviews are a numbers game, and once I have enough of them, I can have a chance of getting accepted by Book Bub, a site that promotes discounted ebooks. Just by putting A Noble’s Quest up on Book Bub for 99 cents, I can make the money back for the investment from people continuing on with the series. My books have great legs, with many people continuing to read into the series once they start. It’s finding readers that’s the tough part.
  2. Tell your friends. A quick post on social media, or even just sharing a post I make that you like, can help dramatically increase the number of people who learn about my writing.

I’ll be doing all I can to promote my work. My wife knows the journalism industry and writes great press kits, so I’ll be casting a wide net across the country with the completion of the trilogy. I’ll be doing book readings, signings, and continue going to conventions. I’d like to hit a bigger one this year to increase my reach. When people see my art, and hear how passionate I am about my books, they often buy them. I’ve had people say they’ll wait until the trilogy’s finished, because they don’t want to wind up with a series that’s incomplete.

Additionally, I’ll be submitting shorter works with the help of my Patrons. If I get some stories published the traditional way, I can start applying for government grants to offset my editing/art costs. I already have two (1100 Before Gods’ War was published by HDWPBooks in their Theme-thology: New Myths collection, and Dangers of Tensire was published by Phoenix Quill in their Scoundrels anthology), so it won’t take much more before I can apply.

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing. I love it and can’t imagine stopping. Who knows? Maybe some year down the line we’ll have the money and I can pay for editing. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to publish them sooner if this series does well.

So many projects, so little time

In some ways, I made great strides this month. In others, I feel like I haven’t done enough. Why? Let’s take a look at the list!

Fan Fic to Anthology

As I’ve mentioned before, I started volunteering as a Dungeon Master (DM) at The Round Table (TRT). The world that we play in was created by Tom Gofton, the owner of TRT and Lynnvander Studios. As such, I have no rights to the IP, and thought I’d just write a little story summary of the games I ran, so I could share it with the players.

Then there was some question as to whether fan fic is actually legal (it’s not. Written works are covered by copyright laws). However, after the good folks at Lynnvander Studios discussed the situation, Tom was more than happy to have fan fic for his world. I just need to sign a legal agreement, which will be done soon. Moreover, Tyler – also from Lynnvander – requested that I hurry up and polish the story as much as possible and submit it for an anthology he’s helping put out. So this 19000 word novella is off to a good home, and I couldn’t be happier with how it all worked out!

If you’d like an exclusive sneak peek at the first scene in the story, get ye to Patreon and select the $2/month donation option. You’ll see it there on October 1st!

DMing

How much work is it to create ideas for campaigns every two weeks? A lot. On our return from Quebec at the end of August, I spent a couple hours of the drive with my nose buried in a notebook, creating maps and descriptions for a dungeon crawl. The next session early this month followed up on that dungeon crawl, and led to the exciting conclusion where the party fled the mountain complex just before it exploded in fiery doom, a dracolich rising from the lava. (Dracolich: Dragon that defeats death by returning as an undead abomination that can use powerful magic)

Later in the month we were low on DM’s for our regular sessions, so I decided to try something new and run a campaign in my own world, with my own unique spin on the D&D system (more on that later). I churned out 7 first level characters for players to choose from, with the idea that I’d have around 5 players at my table, so a couple characters would go unused. This worked well, because it meant people could choose classes that were interesting to them, and everyone seemed happy with what they got.

And then I pretty much winged it, in terms of coming up with the game session. I mean, I knew the inciting event, but I had no idea what the players would do with it. It turned out to be a lot of fun, and instead of it being a “one-off,” I hope to run another session some day when we can’t run the normal campaign.

Editing A Hero’s Birth

I’ve made this project my primary priority, so it’s been swimming along just fine. No issues here. Promise! I’ve been keeping up with my editor as she sends chapters to me, and we’re 2/3rds complete!

Writing A Queen’s Decree

This … oh, this … Work on my fourth novel has pretty much ground to a halt. Why? So many other projects. I mean, I’m about 3/4 of the way through writing the first draft, and my third book isn’t even out yet. So I feel like I’m way ahead of the game. Also, I’m not sure I’ll have the finances to publish it when it IS complete, so … not high on my priority list. If the Empire’s Foundation trilogy takes off with the release of the final novel, that would bump this up the list of priorities again. However, with slow sales on existing books, and just not getting reviews from people who do buy books, I’m feeling discouraged on this front. The last short story I released had a grand total of one sale on Amazon. I hope the book will do better.

I’ll still write stories, but depending on how other things come along, it might just be at a slower pace, with no intention of publishing them unless something drastic changes. With each book costing so much to bring out, I just can’t keep sinking money into it without seeing some promise of return on investment. That sucks. I love writing, and if money wasn’t an issue, I’d keep doing it forever. But at some point you have to evaluate what you’re doing and figure out if it’s a good use of your time.

Creating board game prototype 3.0

Perhaps you remember the frantic pace I set in whipping out prototypes v1.0 and v2.0? I was like an unstoppable juggernaut of efficiency.

This, too, has slowed. There’s been a disruption with the board game developer nights, with the man who ran them looking for greener pastures. Since then, finding answers to questions has been much, much slower. I’ve still had some game testing and minor tweaks. I’ve been putting together a component list for things I need to make the game. I’ve been arranging game board and punch boards so they’re in a format fit to print. But the urgency behind it all has evaporated. This latest version has taken weeks to put together, instead of days.

That said, I’m planning on showcasing the game at my artist table at SkyCon at the end of October. So that at least gives me a deadline to have everything ready to go. I’m hoping the convention will help generate some interest in the game, which will in turn help with raising funds to make the game with a Kickstarter campaign. With the positive response I’ve had to Wizards’ War, I feel like it can do well. The trick will be getting enough people interested in it to get it funded. When you run a Kickstarter, you’re trying to generate enough funds to make a LOT of copies of the game – somewhere around 1,000.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know 1,000 people. So it’s intimidating. But I love doing it. So even if the Kickstarter isn’t successful, at least I’ll have a game I created and enjoy to play with people I know. It’ll just be the most expensive game I’ve ever owned, with over $300 already invested into prototypes!

Creating RPG based on D&D 5e

When I started writing, the first thing I did was create a bare-bones role playing game (RPG) system. Now, the games we played that inspired the writing were set in the D&D rule set, but I wanted something that was uniquely mine. So I created classes and powers with vague descriptions that I could reference while I was writing. “Okay, the party is about due to level up after all that fun stuff. What new things can they do?”

When I DM’d in my world this month (as mentioned earlier), I decided to work with the D&D 5e rules in order to flesh out my ideas. I have several standard class options to choose from: Hunter, Druid (splits later into Mending or Wrathful subtypes), Protector, Aggressor, Stealth, Fast Talker, Wizard (splits later into Air, Water, Fire, or Earth subtypes), and Priest. But the system doesn’t stop there! There are hybrid classes for every conceivable combination of classes, and the ORDER that you take them in matters, giving you different classes. For instance, a Stealth that takes a level of Wizard can create the hybrid Shadow class. But a Wizard who takes a level of Stealth can create the hybrid Illusionist class.

And then there are what I’ve coined the Ultimate hybrids, which are effectively triple-class characters. The Hero, for instance, is Protector + Wizard + Priest. The Sieger is Hunter + Wizard + Druid. And there are more. PLUS unique classes for other races. That’s right. All that stuff I’ve mentioned so far? That’s just humans.

So when I say I created 7 characters for them to play, that was a LOT of work, figuring out what all those vague powers actually DO in terms of D&D 5e mechanics. So that was a major time sink this month, but oh so worth it. If you’d like to read more about that, I posted on Facebook about the game session:

Conventions

This hasn’t taken up much of my time at all, but it’s worth noting. Tyler (mentioned earlier) attended the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival and was kind enough to bring along my books. He even sold a copy of A Noble’s Quest! So that was a nice surprise. EMWF is more of a literary event, so I wasn’t expecting anything from that one. My wife predicted that maybe someone there would have a relative who liked reading fantasy and pick up a book for that other person, and that’s exactly what happened!

I’ve also signed on for two upcoming conventions. The first is SkyCon, which is a gaming convention in Kitchener at the end of October. They’re having Ed Greenwood as a guest. If you haven’t heard of him, he created this little thing called the Forgotten Realms. It only has something like 300 novels associated with it, a chunk of those written by my favourite author, R.A. Salvatore.

I’m going to get to meet Ed Greenwood. I’m so excited. As my wife would say, “NERD ALERT!” I can’t help it. This guy’s a living legend.

Now, it’s the con’s first year, so I don’t expect big crowds, but the table prices are pretty reasonable.

Coming back for its second year (after a hiatus) is GenreCon, right here in Guelph! Last year’s event was … quiet. They kind of threw it together without much notice, they had no celebrity draw, and so it had some problems. But they’ve been working hard at it all year, because they want it to be better. No, awesome! So this year there’s rumour of some star power hitting the con. I don’t see any official posts about it up yet, so I won’t post anything more … but you’ll want to keep an eye on this one.

What’s next?

Great question!

This month I’m going to continue editing as fast as my aunt gets chapters to me, I’ve got DMing at The Round Table, game design nights (with a new one at The Dragon’s south end location), I’m volunteering at Guelph Book Bash on Sunday the 15th, I’m running a Genre Fiction Writers meeting at The Red Papaya on Sunday the 22nd at 2pm, and that should be about it.

Y’know… plus all my normal duties as a husband, father, and researcher.

Onwards!

May Recap

I sold a fair number of books this month through Amazon (7) across three countries (Canada, US, and UK).

Best month in a while

Additionally, copies of A Noble’s Quest (The Empire’s Foundation Book 1) sold out at The Round Table in the span of two days, which was exciting!

“Ryan, what did you do differently?”

I didn’t get to play, but it was still a lot of fun to watch!

Games. It might not make intuitive sense, but this month I ran a D&D 5e game at The Round Table, and one of the players picked up three titles all at once (that’s the spike on the picture above).

Also, play testing for my board game, Wizards’ War, has continued, and during one game I had a couple unexpected players. One of them was Brad (from Artisan Maille), who I met at KW Tri-Con this year. He picked up A Noble’s Quest at that time, and then when I ran into him again a couple months later at GenreCon, he picked up both A Wizard’s Gambit (Empire’s Foundation Book 2) and Demon Invasion.

So when we ran into each other at The Round Table, Brad sat down to try out Wizards’ War. During the game, he talked about the cool powers the wizards had in the books, and strongly encouraged everyone else to pick up the books. At the end of the game he said it was awesome, and that my series is quickly becoming one of his favourites.

I’m not sure I can convey how powerfully that affected me. But that night Nat, who was playing, and Mike, who was watching, both picked up the first book in the series. The next day I got a message on Facebook from Dave, letting me know he got the last copy at The Round Table.

So getting out and playing games with people and showcasing my world the way it started-games around the table-has generated interest. That sense of community is astounding.

When I brought Wizards’ War back in for play testing on Sunday, Dave was there for another game, and he scared the bejeezus out of me when he said, “I have a big problem with your book!”

In case you don’t know what it’s like to have Impostor Syndrome, here’s a taste for you…

For 7 years I’ve been writing. With my first book, I brought it out with my own cover art and hand-drawn map, only as an e-book because I wasn’t sure what people would think about it. It’s written as a stand alone story, because I didn’t want to leave it open to a sequel that might never come. I’ve had anything from neutral to positive responses to my writing, with the exception of one stranger who won a copy through a Goodreads giveaway and left a 1-star rating on Goodreads with no review. It was probably my fault for not clearly indicating what the book was about in the giveaway description… then again, I think some people just click on every single giveaway in hopes of winning something. But I’m always waiting for that person who hates what I write. It happens to everyone. There’s no such thing as a perfect book, and you can’t please everyone.

So when Dave said that, I immediately wondered what was wrong with the book. Maybe there was a fatal flaw in the story that I and others had missed. I was about to be outed as some sort of hack. A fraud. Everyone there would think my stories were garbage, and I’d never sell a book again. It was over. I was about to wake up from the dream.

“It’s too f’ing addicting!”

Right back in dream land. I don’t remember the last time I took such a huge sigh of relief. A day later he was 1/3rd of the way through book 2. He says he slept, but I’m not sure I believe him.

James (as Pellin) appears pensive as he marches across the table to assault my city.

After that I played a 2-player game with James, and he had some great suggestions for improvements, both to Pellin’s board, and the aesthetics in general.

I’ve revamped the items you can create with the smithy, glued on the new Ruins tile for Pellin, and made notes for things that I need to do for the final version of the game (like using a sepia map background, instead of the “depressing” muted colours).

The dwarves are hunkered down and set for an undead invasion.

I even squeezed in one more game at the end of the month with Dave and Jon at The Round Table. Jon had people interested in playing his games, so he left part way through, and we had a two-way match-up with just me (Arus) and Dave (Thrak). It was a close fight at the start, with a ton of dice tossed in those first couple rounds.

I made some more notes of things I need to tweak, reducing Arus’ powers somewhat (raise max of one zombie per turn from fallen enemy units, tinker with the speed bonus from the Skeletal Knight) and give Thrak a new power (his ice axe will immobilize any unit(s) it hits for a turn).


I received the first six chapters of A Hero’s Birth from my editor! It’s been a couple months since I’ve done anything writing-related, but after the good month I had in terms of sales, I felt energized and wanted to get it done as soon as I could. If you’re interested in a sneak peek, I shared the prologue over on Google Plus. From now on the game should require just small tweaks (I feel like I keep saying that, and then bigger stuff comes up), so I should have time to write again after finishing up the editing.

The first thing I want to work on is my secret project – digital bonus material for those who finish reading book 3. I won’t post any more about it here, but there’s some sneak peek material coming up for my Patrons at the $2/month level. If you’d like to see that, plus several other exclusive posts, you can be one of my Patrons, too! Just head over to Patreon and sign up.