Missing @RAGBRAI_IOWA

Today, I should be in Iowa. Instead, I’m in Puyallup, waiting for our house to clear after some work was done on our floors and getting ready to work Oregon Trail Days in Tenino this weekend. Monday, Jeffrey Cook and I leave for our leisurely drive to Indianapolis for GenCon.

But I should be in Iowa. I knew I would miss not doing Ragbrai this year, but I didn’t realize until this week that I would miss it this much. It feels like I’m letting my bicycle down. Since I knew I wasn’t going, I haven’t been riding. I’ve been working instead.

(See: Backyard Dragons, Ethereal Entanglements, Illusive Echoes, Merely This and Nothing More, and Unnatural Dragons, all released this year already. )

Corn isn’t the same without Iowa. Neither is bacon. I’m not saying bacon tastes like sawdust or anything, it’s just not the same as when it’s mixed into the chicken gyro for no reason other than Iowa, which you’re eating because you just biked 75 miles in 100 degree heat and brutal humidity after not really sleeping in 80 degree heat and even more brutal humidity plus a thunderstorm at midnight that almost destroyed your tent.

Muscle aches, saddle sores, grit, grime, sunburn, poor phone service, food poisoning, heat stroke, hypothermia, exhaustion, hail, thunderstorms, fatigue, store-made pie…these are only some of the myriad hardships we all willingly inflict on ourselves for one week. And I’m really quite upset to miss out on it this year.

Because I’ve made dozens of new friends, even if most of them were fleeting. I’ve had the best pie in the known universe. I’ve hit the groove on day 4 and reached the point where I could just ride and camp forever. I’ve laughed with strangers and gotten pictures of myself with people in bacon and cow suits. I’ve picked up souvenirs I could never get anywhere else. I’ve seen chocolate covered frozen cheesecake on a stick (didn’t get to eat it, but I saw it, which is a lot like seeing Bigfoot).

Most of all, it’s so damned uplifting to be surrounded by thousands of people united by one unimpeachably positive thing: a love of bicycling and/or bicycles.

The Adaptive Sports folks are awesome. So are the Air Force folks. The costumes make you smile even in the darkest, deepest pit of despair that comes at the bottom of the umpteenth hill to climb when it’s too hot and you’re too tired, and &^%* that hill, I want ice cream.

Stay cool, Ragbrai. I hope to see you next year.

#CapitalIndieBookCon: Aftermath

As I type this, it’s Sunday night and I’m tired. Saturday, I got up at 5 and couldn’t get back to sleep because I knew I had to run a book fair that day and fifty billion things bombarded my brain–things to remember, things to do, things to take to the car, things not to do.

Folks, I put on a book fair, and it rocked. Jeffrey Cook, my ConBuddy, handled the volunteer side of the affair, among other things. A dozen people did that volunteering to make it really work. My part was all the logistics and venue management. Bookkeeping, paperwork, contracts, payments, spreadsheets, lists, badges, phone calls, emails, maps, arrangements, dragons, tacks, safety pins, tables, chairs, disaster management, tact, mailings, setup, and teardown. So everything I normally do, but times fifty.

From about 6am to 7am, I kept remembering things I needed to put in the car. I’d packed it up the night before, but of course I didn’t remember everything.

The venue is five minutes from my house. I wasn’t supposed to have access until 7:30. I left at 7 anyway, figuring I could unload by the door and move the car. To my delight, the door had been accidentally left ajar. I walked in and got to work.

By 8, I had everything unloaded and tape on the floor to mark table spots. This tape turned out to be one of the early jokes. I will never claim to be great at straight lines. The tape job followed the Pirate Code–it was really more of a guideline for where the tables should be. In the end, we had to wiggle it all to fit everyone. Why? Because I hadn’t actually been able to get into the room prior to the event to measure things out and get a perfect map. I went in knowing I had to wing it. Which is probably why I couldn’t sleep past 5.

Authors arrived starting at 9am. I won’t go into the minor disasters, because they were mostly on the order of “Oops, I didn’t think of that.” It did turn out that my Pirate Code tape was a little more off than I thought, and we had some authors who were extremely gracious about making changes.

The show began at 11. Which is to say that I got someone to shout that the show was technically live then, but we didn’t actually have any attendees for a while.

It turns out that Olympia has a giant festival in mid-July, called Lake Fair. It happened to coincide with our event, which is something we had no way to know about or prevent when we booked the venue, because the dates weren’t announced that early in any of the places I looked back in December. We also didn’t have a lot of choices for the date by the time I was able to get in to see the facilities manager in January. For next year, we’re already looking for a good date.

After that, we had some people come in, most of whom knew one or more of the authors present. Random strangers came too! It was exciting and wonderful.

For the most part, because we’d never put on anything like this before, we positioned the event as a chance to get in on the ground floor, to meet other regional authors, and to find new books. For a first year event of its type, we had a good showing and a good time.

I learned. So. Much.

Dealer’s Room Liaisons, I respect you all so much more now, even when you screw up.

Special thanks to Jennifer Brozek, for being wonderful and forgiving. To Madison Keller, for doing me a solid when someone didn’t show. To Matt, for answering with an oddly emphatic and uplifting “YES” when I asked him to do something minor. (I think he was just pleased to hear me admit I needed help with something, since I rarely do.)

CapitalIndieBookCon will happen again. If you’re an author, reader, or relative of a reader who lives anywhere near Olympia, WA, and you think you might be interested in the event, sign up to be notified about CIBC2 news here, on the Clockwork Dragon website.

Though some folks started tearing down early, we waited until 7 and mostly facilitated everyone else before getting our stuff packed up and out. Post-event dinner at a local burger joint featured much chatter about how to make the next one even better. We’re looking forward to it already.

For the record, I got home around 10:30. Jeff left Olympia around then, which means he didn’t get home until much later. My poor co-author, Erik Kort, had to go even farther and probably didn’t get home until after midnight. It was a long day. For all of us.

 

#CapitalIndieBookCon: A Book Fair in Olympia

This Saturday, July 16, 2016, my friends and I are holding a book fair in Olympia, WA, specifically in the Longhouse at Evergreen State College. If you’re nearby and don’t have transportation, bus routes 41 and 48 both go there and run normally during the entire duration of the fair: 11am-7pm.CIBCFlyer1

We’re hosting over 40 regional indie authors for the day, and it’s not restricted to any particular genre. You can find romance, fantasy, science fiction, children’s, horror, chick lit, literary, and more at the fair. This is a chance to meet authors from the Pacific Northwest who will be happy to sell signed copies of their books, and many of them have one or more bestselling titles, either on Amazon or the USA Today lists.

If you’re not in the area, please share this information with your online friends. Some may know local or regional folks who might be interested.

Taking a Time-out for Self-Care #amwriting

Like most people, the shootings over the past few days have stunned me. I didn’t watch the videos because I’m not interested in adding real violence to all the fake violence in my head. But I can imagine the scenes based upon the descriptions and still photos I’ve encountered. And I have no doubt that these events will wriggle through my subconscious and be expressed in my work over the coming year or so.

So much unrelenting horror leaves a mark, on our collective culture and on our individual psyches. Whatever your personal beliefs, no one can take in this kind of thing day after day and be unchanged by it. Fear has been a hallmark of our society for over a decade now, and it looks increasingly like we haven’t hit rock bottom yet. Fear Muslims. Fear the police. Fear black people. Fear the different, the Other. Fear Them.

I don’t particularly have a use for living in that kind of fear. (I do have social anxieties, but that’s not relevant to this.) Carpe the heck outta the diem. Because, as has been made all to clear over the past few days, the past month, the past year, the past decade, life is fleeting and can end in an eyeblink of someone else’s psychotic rage.

Having said that, I present a selection of the newer additions to my garden. Because I like lilies and flowers are a simple reminder of the beauty in the world.

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I’m a big fan of getting the daylilies that have lost their labels, so I wind up with curious colorations like this by accident.

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You got me. This is an echinacea, not a lily.

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This year, I elected to plant one oriental lily to see what happened. No sign of red lily beetles, though something is eating it. So this will probably be the only oriental lily in my garden.

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It’s hard to tell, but this one is white with yellow highlights. Another of my blind daylily acquisitions.

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Yep, another blind daylily. All three of these live side-by-side and with other blind daylilies. Because that’s how I roll. Gardening on the edge.

On Being a Professional Writer #amwriting

I participate in a few forums and chat rooms where people ask a lot of amateur author questions. Before I go any further, I have nothing against these people. I had all these questions when I started too. The entire reason I hang out in this places online is to be helpful, and hopefully pick up a few kernels I didn’t know along the way. Sometimes, people who know less than me ask questions in areas I haven’t encountered or considered, and then I learn something when others answer. It’s also a good way to discover new cover artists and editors, and to find people to join online book release parties.

Several questions are asked over and over, and they’re very basic questions.

Q: Do I need to hire an editor for my first book? What kind?

A: Yes. Absolutely. Whether you’re self-publishing or not, do it. It’s usually best to blow as much as you can afford on structural editing and copyediting. Your first book will be your worst book. This is simple fact. Your first editors will show you all things you need to integrate into your writing to make it better. You can get away with only copyediting if you have a very good writing group or use an online critique source, but you may still want to consult with a structural editor for this initial book to get the feel for what they look for and how they work. After your first book, if you’re traditionally published and continue to be so, you don’t need your own editor anymore. If you’re self-publishing, you will never not need some kind of copyediting.

As a secondary matter, if your storytelling approach is mostly instinct, you’ll find that, over time, you come into contact with enough professionals that you learn things you didn’t know before and try to incorporate them into your stories. This is where you’ll have problems, even if you had a smashing first, second, even third book. At some point, you’ll enter the category of knowing enough to be dangerous, and that’s when you really need an editor.

Q: How much should I spend on a book cover?

A: It depends on your tastes, skills, and genre. The first thing to do, regardless of who makes your cover, is to check the covers of the top 25-50 in your genre, on a few different platforms. Those are the conventions readers expect to see on your cover, which tell them your book fits into that part of the store. That’s what you want to emulate without copying. If you–or your significant other/close relative/BFF/whatever–know how to use advanced techniques in a robust graphics editing program like Photoshop or GIMP, and you can find or produce images to manipulate of appropriate style and quality, give DIY a try and see how your best effort stacks up. It costs you nothing but time.

If you have no idea how to do any of that, your cost will depend on who you go to and how custom you need your cover to be. High quality pre-made covers can be found for less than $100. Custom stock image covers–that is, no illustration is involved–can be found for about $250 and up. Quality illustrated covers start at about $500. Make sure you know if your artist expects to do your font work or not, as some prefer not to.

Q: Should I self-publish or go traditional?

A: This is a really personal matter. The basic, underlying issues:  the type of books you write and how much control you want/need.

For the type of books you write, there are many subgenres and styles that traditional publishers won’t buy. Traditional publishers will buy whatever they think they can sell. It’s not necessarily about quality, it’s about what they can market. If you’re writing epic fantasy in the Tolkien style, you can probably find a publisher for that. If, instead, you’re writing Bronze Age steampunk, you might have trouble shopping that around. If a subgenre is established and your writing is a good example of it, you have a decent chance. If not, you’ll get a lot of rejection letters.

Regarding control, this is often the most important facet for authors. A traditional publisher takes your manuscript, pays you, and then you get to approve or deny content edits. They do everything else. Until you’re a big name who makes them a ton of money, you have zero additional input. Medium-sized or smaller presses may allow you some control, such as providing input on cover images. With self-publishing, it’s all on you. Everything. You come up with the cover, the back cover copy, the formatting, the marketing, the pricing, all of it. You pay for it all too, and you get no payments upfront. But you get 100% of the royalties, compared to a pittance per copy from a traditional publisher.

Q: What is “head-hopping” and why is it bad?

A: Head-hopping is the practice of switching point of view without a section break of some sort. It’s not the same thing as using an omniscient POV, because omniscience typically has a one-step remove from the characters and conveys information the characters cannot know. In other words, there’s a narrator who isn’t a character in the story. Omniscience requires a great deal of effort and practice to make a compelling story because it’s very easy to fall into telling rather than showing. This is why it’s not popular as a technique in modern novels.

Head-hopping is taking a 3rd limited POV and applying it to every character at the same time. While technically an omniscient POV, it’s jarring, confusing, and generally reads like the characters are all psychic. For most writers, especially newer writers, your best bet is to pick one character and stick with their POV for any given section.

Have a question? Ask! If I can’t provide an answer, I guarantee I know someone who can.

I’m Going to Westercon! #westercon69

As part of Clockwork Dragon, I’ll be at Westercon this weekend, July 1-4 at the Doubletree on Multnomah in Portland, OR. I’ll have copies of both Illusive Echoes and Ethereal Entanglements, and it’ll be the first show for both titles. I’m excited! That makes a current total of 12 novels, 1 non-fiction book, and 2 anthology appearances. And I’ve got more yet to release yet this year.

Yes, I know. You’re tired of hearing about these two books already. So that’s that about that, at least for a while.

At Westercon, I’ll be participating in a few panels, which is both exciting and terrifying. It’s all writing-related stuff: Indie Publishing 101 (Saturday at 2), How to Revise (Saturday at 4), and Challenges and Joys of Collaboration (Sunday at 4). There’s one other thing. I’ve got a reading slot. If you’re going to Westercon, please come by. I haven’t decided what to read from, but it’ll be at 10am on Sunday, July 3 in the Madison room. Come, please. I’ll be a very sad dragon if no one shows up. But be nice, please, because I have anxiety issues.

New Releases and Excitement! #free #ebooks

This past Tuesday, Ethereal Entanglements released. This is book 3 of Spirit Knights, a young adult, paranormal, modern fantasy series about ghost hunting in Portland. Book 4 will have to wait a little while, as I have some other projects with deadlines to deal with. Hopefully, Ghost Is the New Normal will be out in time for Norwescon 2017.

If you missed it, Girls Can’t Be Knights rocketed up the Amazon charts to reach subcategory bestseller status on June 15-17 as a result of some professional promotions work, and it’s now in a whole lot more hands than it was before. I need reviews, though! If you’ve read it, please leave a review. A sentence or two is fine.

I also need reviews of book 2, Backyard Dragons. Comment with a link to your review of Knights–because book 2 has a much better grounding if you’ve read book 1!–and I’ll find a way to get you a review copy of Dragons for free. And if you’ve read Backyard Dragons already, link me to that review and I’ll get you a copy of Ethereal Entanglements. This is a limited time offer, available until July 20.

In other news, Illusive Echoes, book 4 of The Greatest Sin, releases on June 28. This series is epic fantasy intended for the older, adultier crowd. Not because it’s filled with sex and violence (some violence, no sex at all and only minor romance threads), but because Chavali is in her mid-twenties and her issues aren’t teenager issues. I would’ve read it as a teenager and been cool with it, but I was a precocious reader.

Book 4 brings tragedy to Chavali. Again. She’s on the warpath, looking for justice. Or maybe revenge. The spirits torment in new and exciting ways, and she has only her wits, crankiness, and sharp eyes to deal with that and more.

For this series, I’m also offering free copies of book 2 in exchange for reviews of book 1. Book 1 is The Fallen, an origin story for Chavali, who really thinks it’s none of your business. Book 2 is Harbinger, a mystery set in the coastal city of Ket, with plague, murder, and magic. If you’ve already read book 2, link me to your review and I’ll set you up with book 3, Moon Shades. And if you’ve already read that, the same goes for a review being worth a free copy of book 4. Like the Spirit Knights series, this offer expires on July 20.

Happy reading and reviewing!