Saturday, July 16, 2016

What Evil Dwells in the Heart of the City?

So let's talk about the latest novel. At the moment, it's over on Kindle Scout. For those who don't know, Kindle Scout is a kind of publishing competition where books vie for reader nominations. At the end of a 30-day campaign, books with a lot of nominations are supposedly eligible for a fairly good contract with Kindle. Now, honestly, I have no idea what the odds are of winning this thing. It could be like trying to win the lottery, for all I know, but I thought I'd try it anyway. So if you would, please give Teth of the City a nomination. Its right here. You can also read a sample.

If it doesn't win, I'll go another route with it. We shall see. But let's talk about the book a little bit.

Teth lives in a city that prides itself on its efficiency and prosperity. The motto that citizens learn from the time they are young, "A place for every person, and a person for every place," presents a vision of a society where nobody is forgotten, nobody is cast aside or marginalized.

As our story opens, however, we see a man living in less-than-ideal conditions. Teth's apartment is a small, enclosed balcony, one of dozens of them, possibly hundreds, built into the side of a vast metal wall. It seems like practically a prison, with no easy way to leave. As for the work, Teth spends hours each day putting together circuit boards by hand in exchange for basic daily provisions, which are brought to him by a courier.

It is, at best, subsistence living, and we can't help but wonder how a man would wind up in this condition. Did Teth choose this way of life? Was it forced upon him? And, perhaps more importantly, what sort of a city would create such a working environment?

Of course, there are answers to all of these questions. Ultimately, a city that promises prosperity and purpose to all of its citizens might fail to live up to that promise. Teth, we soon learn, is willfully blind to many things because he is nursing deep wounds from a personal tragedy. Getting him to care about anything, particular things out of his reach, will not be easy.

Unfortunately, beneath the mottos, the ideals, the news feed propaganda, and the promises, there is a reality to the City that is much different than Teth or any other citizen has ever imagined. And when a courier shows up at his balcony one day with information about the cause of his tragedy, Teth finds himself drawn inexorably into the heart of the City, to the truth that is hidden there.

And that, folks, is the essence of this latest novel. With weird creatures, desperate escapes, intrigue, dark and slimy passages, and strange technology, it should be an interesting read. Please give it your nomination. Thanks!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Opening Paragraphs Just Want Your Love

The purpose of an opening paragraph is to quickly pique the interest of readers. There are many ways to do this, of course, but I prefer to open with some indication of the conflict that will drive the rest of the story. A little bit of weirdness, a touch of mystery, a hint of danger, some indication of the setting--if I can work all of these things into the opening paragraph, then I've done my job. Take a look at the opening paragraphs of some of my recent novels, and you'll see this process at work. Here we go:

The Vale of Ghosts (The Archaust Saga Book One)

Ann heard screams through the window, though the shutters had been pulled and latched and a pillow shoved into the space behind it. A tortured scream, the scratchy warbling howl of a monster. She was crouched in the dirt beneath the windowsill, jabbing a crooked stick into the ground between her feet and trying to appear like she wasn’t listening, like she hadn’t a care in the world. A ladybug landed on her knee, and she offered it the end of the stick. It climbed onto the stick, and she held it up into the air until it flew away.

Army of the Inner Eye (The Archaust Saga Book Two)

Enari kicked the coarse wool blanket off the bed and sat up, his head swimming from the lingering residue of a bad dream. Heavy afternoon sunlight filtered through the shutters on the only window in the room, illuminating the dusty air in the clergy house. It took him a few seconds to realize that he was still hearing the voices from his dream, three or four voices speaking all at once, and they seemed scared or angry or both.

Teth of the City

Teth leaned as far over the balcony railing as he dared, feeling the press of the cold metal bar against his stomach, and thrust the hunting pole toward the clothesline. Made of hollow aluminum, the pole was dented in many places, scars from all the times he had banged it on the railing or on the wall. At the end of the pole, a little loop of nylon rope was threaded through a hole. With the pull of a crude trigger, he could contract the loop, but first he had to get it around the head of the line rat. The fat little animal had a long tapered nose, dusky fur, and loose folds of skin that drooped over the sides of the clothesline. But nimble forepaws and a prehensile tail kept it from falling into the hazy, red gloom below.

Fading Man

“There's nothing you can do for her,” Eleanor said, bent over, her hand resting on his shoulder. “It’s the water. The sickness is in the ground water, that’s what they told us. She must’ve gotten into a puddle along the way.”

This technique, if you want to call it that, is evident in everything I've written, going back to my first published novel, as you can see here:

Mary of the Aether

The lunatic in the long, gray cloak dashed out of the forest and ran right up onto the front yard, waving his arms in front of him like a child playing tag. He skirted the porch, paused, turned a complete circle and fell onto his hands and knees. A hood obscured most of his face, but Mary could see the tip of a pointy chin covered in whiskers. She sat at the living room window, leaning against the sill and resting her forehead against the cold glass, transfixed by the sight. The crazy man crawled through the high, unmowed grass, his face close to the ground, shifting back and forth like a bloodhound chasing a scent. He stopped at the driveway, lifted his head and appeared to sniff at the air. Then he scooped up a handful of gravel and sifted it through his fingers.

My goal is always the same. 1) introduce the conflict, 2) pique readers' interest, 3) give some sense of what is to come. Some of my novels are more effective at this than others, of course, but it's a fun little part of writing a novel. Any favorites?

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Turgid History of Mary of the Aether

So let's talk about the Mary of the Aether series. It's a four-volume Young Adult, Urban Fantasy series, and the first volume was also the first novel I ever got published. Mary of the Aether was originally written between 2009 and 2011, and an indie publishing house called Whiskey Creek Press published it in July 2012.

Some cool things happened with that first book. Chiefly, in the summer of 2013, it wound up on a recommended reading list called "So Many Books, So Little Time," which is part of an annual workshop for Arkansas teachers done by a Harding University professor named Ken Stamatis. As a result of that list, thousands of English teachers across the state heard about the book, and I became a fairly regular speaker at area high schools and junior highs.

Now, I have to give some credit to the publisher at that time. Once Mary of the Aether got on that list, the publisher worked with me personally to create promotional materials to take advantage of the situation. It was an exciting development and led to some sales and lots of feedback (mostly positive).

By the time that book was published, I had already completed the sequel, Mary of Shadows. It came out in August 2013, right after all the hullabaloo with the reading list. Unfortunately, even as I worked furiously to finish books three and four, my publisher was struggling to survive. For reasons I still don't fully understand, Whiskey Creek Press fell on dark times and died a slow, agonizing death. It became harder to get hold of them. A lot of their authors expressed mounting frustration. We got less attention for our books.

Ultimately, Whiskey Creek Press ceased to exist shortly before the fourth and final book of the series, Mary of Cosmos, came out in 2014. Consequently, books two through four didn't get even a fraction of the attention that Mary of the Aether did. Just compare the number of Amazon reviews for the first book to the others, and you'll see what I mean. Honestly, I'm just glad the fourth and final book came out at all.

What saved the day for Mary of Cosmos and the rest of the series was that Whiskey Creek Press's catalog was bought by Start Publishing, and they went ahead and released Mary of Cosmos for me. The name "Whiskey Creek Press" became an imprint of Start Publishing, and the series continued to be available. But otherwise, since then things have been pretty quiet.

I have to say, the relative neglect of books two through four is a shame. They are so much better than the first book. In fact, my original editor, Melanie Billings, in her final email to me, had this to say about the series: "I have to tell you, I have LOVED working on this series. It is one of my absolute favorites! I could definitely see this series doing well if it just catches on like it should! I’m so glad I got to work with you on it." That's a nice little compliment.

Well, not much happened after Start Publishing took over. A quiet couple of years passed with a few sales here and there, some more school speaking gigs, but no major developments. Well, a major development has finally happened. As of July 1, 2016, Start Publishing has entered into a distribution deal with Simon & Schuster.

This means the Start catalog, including the Mary of the Aether series, is now distributed by Simon & Schuster. What does that mean? Well, first of all, it means a much broader reach, with the books available a far more retailers than ever before. It also means I've now got an author page over at Simon & Schuster. What else might come from this remains to be seen, but it can only be positive. Perhaps the whole series will finally get the attention it deserves.

And hey, if you've not given the series a chance, let me strongly plead with you to do so now. It's worth it, I believe. Just click the picture below and get started!