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Adrian, a spy for the King, sees a nobleman murder a servant. His desire for truth is pitted against the dangers of a high-stakes political game. When his friend Draken insists on pursuing justice, Adrian must protect those he cares about as the political games of powerful men alter the lives of everyone around him.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

LDS Beta Readers Conference via YouTube

I just finished up a presentation today at an interesting conference. Rather than meeting in hotel conference rooms, this one was held entirely online. The LDS Beta Readers Conference is an annual thing put on by the folks who run a Facebook group by the same name.

They schedule presentations for 30 or 60 minutes and schedule them on a Saturday. The cool part is that if you can't be there, you can go back later and watch the videos. Some are done live, and some are recorded beforehand.

I know some of the presenters, but not all of them. Those I know are great folks able to share good information on writing. It was great to take part in the event and share a little time with fans of writing. You can find my video presentation here:

While I'm on a YouTube kick, you can also hear a flash fiction piece I did called The Art of Getting Lost, read by Zach Bjorge.

And one last YouTube bit, I joined a Fantasy Fiends podcast at the release of Crystal King last fall that you can find here.

Stuff I had to learn to do the YouTube live presentation:

  • Configuring OBS Studio (Picture in picture is a cool effect)
  • Learning the YouTube Creator Studio interface
  • Hooking up OBS as the source for my streaming
  • Deciding not to care what my voice sounds like
Overall, was a reasonable learning curve. The only trouble was when one of my audio sources didn't work and I had the wrong one selected. It took me a few minutes to straighten that out and I had to trim seven minutes and thirty seconds from the start of the video. Luckily I started about eight minutes early so my timeslot was within a minute of perfect. :)

Friday, February 23, 2018

LTUE 2018 Report

Life, the Universe, and Everything was a great success. For those not in the know, it's a writer symposium held each spring in Provo, Utah. It's growing and has expanded from the Mariott hotel to include some rooms across the street in the Provo Convention Center.

I attended several panel discussions and was a panelist on three this year. I'll go through everything in chronological order.

One bit of sad news is that my new phone doesn't take pictures as well as my old phone did, so you'll have to deal with amateur photos from a bad camera.

Write like you're running out of time

The authors on this panel shared ideas on what being productive means. For some, it's a book or two a year. For others, closer to eight books a year. Everyone needs to find the path that fits them and matches their goals.

So you want a revolution

These folks covered the differences between uprising and revolution and talked about how control of power (including magic in fantasy settings) gives control of the government. Any good revolution needs publicity, a plan, and an idea of what they'll do next. One of the more interesting topics was that of strategic losses. George Washington had a horrible record of many losses and few victories, but all of his losses gained important benefits.

Kaffeeklatsch with Larry Correia

Larry has an endless supply of personal funny stories even without delving into his books. He also took a lot of questions. I asked about what to look for in a publisher's marketing plan for a book release. His response was, "Don't expect much." Unless you're one of the big names, publishers won't put a big push behind a new book, especially from a new author.

Kaffeeklatsch with Sarah Hoyt

Sarah talked about a wide range of things including the process of how some of her books came to be. She also answered questions. We had a great hour hearing about collaborations and success stories.

Andre Norton: Grand Dame of science fiction and fantasy

This panel was a lot of fun to be on. I had a ton of notes, and I'd read "The Jargoon Pard" and another book or two as homework. She had a love of time travel, cats, crystals, ESP and other mental powers, mysterious alien races, and had a strong sense of good guys vs. bad guys.

Writers of the Future gathering

I've got a stack of "Honorable Mention" certificates and one "Semifinalist" from Writers of the Future, so I showed up to a little meet-n-greet set up to honor yet another winner from Utah. There were no real presentations, but Dave Farland talked to us for a bit about the contest and how Utah always seems to have a disproportionate number of people in each category.

Write what you know

Unlike what you might expect with that name for a title, there was a lot of discussion on how to write stuff you might not be an expert at. Of course, L. E. Modesitt has a diverse history with an amazing range of skills, and he's used them in his writing. But nobody here had experience with riding in space ships. Take what you know, extrapolate where you can, find experts to help you, and make up something that sounds good for the rest.

Writers of the Future: Utah's 20th winner

Dave Farland talked along with three past winners about what goes into a winning story. Some of it was reminders of the basics like including try/fail cycles, and making sure you have good character, setting, and conflict in the first two pages (or less). The idea, the story, and the style are each graded when they evaluate submissions.

Jo Walton Keynote

And here's the evidence that either my camera stinks or I don't know how to run it. Sorry.

Jo talked about what an individual can to as a genre writer to improve the field. This included loving what you write. This doesn't necessarily conflict with writing to a particular market or audience.

Writing science fiction tropes

I was on this panel, and forgot to have someone take a picture. I know this may crush your deprived soul, but I think you'll get over it.

We talked about how tropes are not always bad. In fact, tropes are not only useful, but necessary to writing fiction that resonates with the reader. Tropes are a wonderful shorthand to get ideas across quickly. You have to be careful not to use the old cliche tropes in the same old boring ways is all. You can even use the old cliches if you put a new and interesting twist on them.


Both Melissa McShane and Dave Butler are friends, so this one was a fun panel to attend. I seem to have shown up to several things with Dave Farland, as well.

Prewriting is an interesting topic since some people do without it entirely (called pantsers), while others may obsess over it so much they never get to their writing. Based on your writing style, it can help to have an idea where you're going and have that in writing so you can refer to it.

Writing Steampunk

I remembered to hand off my camera for a picture. It seems other people can take better pictures with it than I can. It might be time to experiment with taking pictures to figure out how it works best. You can see I got out my wooden bowtie with the spinning gears for this panel.

We had some differing opinions on exactly what steampunk was, but for the most part we agreed that it was a very welcoming umbrella which included a lot of ground. The sub-genre of steampunk has only been named fairly recently, but the community and ideas grandfathered in several works by H. G. Wells and others who died before the term was invented because their writing (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea) fit perfectly.

When the term Steampunk first popped up, some people wanted it to be a dark, gritty afair. The costumers got ahold of it and spun the idea on its ear and made it bright, shiny, and full of hope for a world with Victorian manners and futuristic technology as someone from the 1800's might see it.

Book Signing

We had a book signing Friday night, and I met an online acquaintance, Kal Spriggs, face to face for the first time so I had to get a picture. My wife took the picture, and my camera must like her better than it likes me.

Then there was the incident when I had Sarah Hoyt sign three books for me. She was about to sign the first book when Larry Correia distracted her somehow. The small print here says, "This book has the wrong inscription. It's Larry Correia's fault." Then she made Larry sign it as if it were a written confession.

Powered Armor: Design and tactics

Yes, me taking another fuzzy picture. I must figure this out.

I attended this one specifically because I'd just had one of my short stories, "Unacceptable Losses," accepted for an anthology. It has powered armor as a major part of the story. It turns out that most of what I did matched up with what these guys (three military guys and a scientist) had to say about how powered armor would likely work and what you would need to watch out for. That made me happy. One thing I may have forgotten to address is the problem of managing heat, particularly from weapons.

Short Stories in a nutshell

How do you cause an emotional response in your reader with something as small as a short story? There are some tricks you can pull such as putting children in peril, but you can't do the same thing every time. you have to build investment in a character quickly. One way is to show the character holding back their emotions (just barely) so the reader is free to bust loose for them.

You need to get quickly to where interesting characters are doing interesting things. One trick I heard is that editors may skip to the end of even a story that starts really well just to see if it's been botched at the end. Eric James Stone said those good stories with the bad endings are the worst because the editor has now wasted the time to read the whole thing before rejecting it.

Todd McCaffrey keynote

Oops, forgot a picture again. Todd talked about a lot of things, including writing with his mother. He told some fun stories about how they'd agreed to collaborate on something, and to do so, she would kill a dragon to set up a storyline he was working on. She called him in tears. "I can't kill the dragon!" Sometimes you have to work things out in a different way.

He talked a little about old Chinese curses, only two of which I was familiar with.
  • May you live in interesting times.
  • May you be noticed by people in high places.
  • May you get what you wish for.
  • May ALL your dreams come true.

Trace the Stars benefit anthology

I went to a little open house for this benefit anthology designed to help finance the LTUE symposium. I've submitted a story to it, and I've made it past one editor. I have my fingers crossed. This would be a nice one to get into even though it won't pay the authors. It's good to give back to LTUE, which is one reason I like to help on panels. It would also be really cool to be in a book with the authors already on board.

Writing Children

Huh. Another missing picture. I must have been distracted.

This is writing characters who are children, not children who write. It can be annoying to have little kids who behave like undersized adults, but it can also fail miserably if you make the character too realistic since most children wouldn't deal with situations writers put their characters into. They need to be believable even if they're extraordinary in some way.

The concept also varies based on who your audience is. If you write for kids, you may write differently than if you're writing for adults and have kids as side characters.

Writing Battle Scenes

Hey, that picture wasn't half bad. Maybe I'm getting the hang of it.

I've addended several panels on action scenes in the past, but this was geared specifically to battles. I wanted to beef up my knowledge base since the next book I'm writing (Crystal Prince) is going to include a war with six kingdoms. That's a lot of complexity.

Skirmishes are more hit and run while battles are more organized and planned out (at least until it starts).

Pacing can vary from the overall panoramic view a commander might see all the way down to the sheer panic felt by someone on the front line.

Two suggestions I picked up are to avoid the blow-by-blow of an entire battle since that would take forever. Also, avoid descriptions that are all I... I... He... He... since that comes off as checklisting the fight to make sure you've got all the actions in the right place. It's better to hit a couple of details, then zoom out and shortcut the fighting.

For dialog, remember that dangerous jobs often lead to odd humor and coping skills.


So, there you have it. Another LTUE is in the books. My next appearance (aside from teaching calligraphy at Wizarding Days tomorrow) will be the League of Utah Writers spring conference.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Wrap-up and Writing Goals

Holidays Winding Down

We had a wonderful Christmas with lots of time spent with family. My wife's birthday party Christmas Eve consisted of making custom tree ornaments. She rolled her eyes at me when I helped one of my sons stuff a clear glass ornament with cat hair and glitter. We had kids, their in-laws, and others over Christmas morning. We visited a local park with a tree lit up as the Tree of Life. I didn't get down to see the lights at Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City this year, but most of the family was there at one point or another.

I hope your holidays were as joyful and filled with family as mine.

Goal Report

Last December I posted some goals, so let's see how things went.
  • Finish and publish “Crystal Queen” with Immortal Works.
    • No, but not by far. Crystal King saw some delays, and I've just now got Crystal Queen to where I can send it to the publisher.
  • Speak at three conferences (panelist, presenter or moderator). Most likely are LUW spring and fall conferences, LTUE, Salt Lake Comic Con, and FanX. I’m likely to attend all five either way.
    • Yes. I presented at LUW spring and fall, LTUE, and Fyrecon. It was a lot of fun. I'll be at LTUE again in February as a panelist and I'm proposing panels for LUW and Fyrecon for next year.
  • $200 in face-to-face book sales at conventions and conferences.
    • Maybe. I haven't crunched the numbers, so I don't know for sure. We had a very successful booth at Salt Lake Comic Con, with some success at LUW, LTUE, and Winterfaire.
  • Publish four short stories. (stepping things up from the 3 and 2).
    • Yes. I sold six. It's a difference in semantics when you talk about sold vs. published. Sold is easier to track. I'm also tempted to bend the rules a little since one of the six was poetry rather than a short story. Also, coming in as a semi-finalist at the Writers of the Future is a rejection, but it's a highly valued rejection.
  • Get 30 short story rejections.
    • Yes. I got 35. I measure rejections because it's a way to turn something that's usually a negative into a scoring mechanism. If I keep my stories out there gathering rejections, I will also gather sales. It worked. I got only a few more rejections this year compared to last but I doubled my acceptances.

Crystal King Published

The book came out in September through Immortal Works and you can buy it here. When I sign this book I usually write "It's all about family and friends." This applies to the story, but it also applies to life in general. Families are the bedrock and foundation of society.

It was a long road to publication, about two years in the making. As a first fantasy novel it required a bit more editing and adjusting than my second effort which is already prepped and almost on its way to the publisher.

Short Stories Sold in 2017

I didn't enter the Utah Horror Writers contest for their anthology this year since I was too busy with other projects. Some of the stories from this year are online or for sale in ebook or paper format. Others are not quite in print yet. Here is a list, including one long lead-time story sold over a year ago and still not quite out.

Learning to Run with Scissors (sold 2015, due out in an anthology next year)

Dissonance (due out online next year)
Market Rat (free online at Silver Blade)
Protector of Newington (Storyhack Issue 1 on Amazon)
Unlocked (poetry in a League of Utah Writers Antho on Amazon)
The Bannik and the Soap (due out in an anthology next year)
The Lure of Riches (Clarion Call 3 on Amazon)

2018 Goals

Here's what I want to accomplish this coming year. I'm not going to keep up on the short story rejection list because I'm transitioning more to targeted anthologies along with the novels. The shorts have done well for me in the past, so I will continue some effort there, but maybe not quite as much as in the past.
  • Send Crystal Queen with my publisher (nearly there!)
  • Write Crystal Prince and submit it to the publisher.
  • Get another Semi-finalist at Writers of the Future. I've got a small stack of honorable mentions now.
  • Write a science fiction series outline. Depending on the timeframe for Crystal Prince, I may be able to do this as a NaNoWriMo project in November.
And there you have it. 2017 was a good year. I expect 2018 to be even better.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Hurrier I Go, the Behinder I Get

I'm coming down from a hectic month, and things going forward look about as congested as what I see in the rear-view mirror.

The done list:

  • I finished my first draft of Crystal Queen.
  • Salt Lake Comic Con - We had a vendor booth and sold a bunch of books. I had some early copies of Crystal King and nearly sold out. I did a lot of networking and attended a couple of presentations.
  • Snake River Comic Con - I presented on virtual reality and augmented reality. It's part of what I do for the day job. I met some new folks and had lots of fun.
  • League of Utah Writers Fall Conference - I did some volunteer work, team-taught a Virtual Reality class aimed more at authors, and sold some of my newly re-acquired stockpile of early copies of Crystal King.
  • I did a proofread pass on a friend's book and fired off a list of changes last night.
The to-do list:
  • I may join a podcast this week to prep for my book release.
  • I was invited to contribute a short story to an anthology, due this month.
  • I want to write and send something to an open submission to another anthology due by year-end.
  • I want to send something to Writers of the Future before year end to see if my semifinalist placing can be repeated or beat.
  • Finish my first edit pass for Crystal Queen, then start another pass with specific goals in mind, such as fleshing out scenes or adjusting voice.
  • Prep for NaNoWriMo. I want to get a draft of Crystal Prince done in November, then I can look at the two drafts side-by-side.
  • Move my short story Crystal Prince to be a freebie available on Amazon. This will take some formatting work, but shouldn't be too tough. I've done it before, and it's almost done as-is with the copy on InstaFreebie.
  • Find a venue for my Crystal King release party. Yes, I've let this fall between the cracks and get lost for too long.
So, why did I give you the play by play? It's not to convince you I'm busy so much as it is to convince you that it's possible for you to make effective use of your time, and for you to schedule, work toward, and achieve your own goals.

I've told the kids at our house that I wish I had time to be bored. I would still not be bored, I just wish I had the time. They were not amused when I had dozens of assignments to hand out to cure boredom. It's like my view on sports cars. I'd love to have the cash for a Maserati. I'd go invest it sensibly instead of buying the car. Your mileage may vary.

No matter what it is you like to do, it's up to you to make it happen. I like to make things. If I don't schedule the time and put in the effort, I make nothing and I have nothing to show for how I've spent my time. Having plans to build a desk or write a book is a good start, but it's nothing more than that. You can't sit at a desk that hasn't been built yet (aside from using VR) and you can't read a book that hasn't been written yet.

If you want to create something, do it. Ideas are only useful when you do something with them. I have faith in you.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Salt Lake Comic Con 2017

Next week (Sept 21-23, 2017) I'll be at Salt Lake Comic Con at booth 639 with a bunch of other mostly local authors selling books. Look for "Xchyler Publishing / Utah Authors." There are a handful of cool things to note. First, I should have a few advance copies of Crystal King on hand if the order arrives Wednesday as planned. I won't have many, so stop by early! The release date is October 17th, but you can preorder it on Amazon if you can't stop by our booth, or if I sell out before you get to us. My publisher, Immortal Works, may have a few on hand as well.

Second, I'll have a 16x20 posterboard map from Crystal King to give away. Stop by and drop your name in the hat. I'll draw a winner late Saturday afternoon. See us at the booth for all the details.

Third, there's a slight chance you may be able to pick up a copy of Storyhack Issue 1 which is about to come out. This is the second issue since they started at Issue 0. It's a nerd humor thing. The cover is awesome, as you can see below. The cool part if you can find it: You will be able to find at least four of the authors at Salt Lake Comic Con. There may be more authors around, but I know Jay Barnson, Julie Frost, and David West will all be there somewhere in addition to me. You can think of it as a scavenger hunt as you wander booth to booth.

You don't need yet another plastic lightsaber. (waves hand in a Jedi mind trick.) Buy books from our booth instead. I look forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Achieving goals and flipping negativity on its head

I'll put this message in terms of writing, but it's universally applicable. Bear with me if you're not here for the writing, and I hope you'll gain something useful in living a more positive life.

I set a goal the beginning of the year to receive thirty short story rejections. This is in addition to some other writing goals I talked about here.

Earlier this week, I got rejection twenty-nine. Lo and behold, I opened up my email tonight and saw not one, but two emails from publishers waiting for me. My goal was within my grasp. Mwaaahahaha! I reached out and opened the first email.

It was an acceptance. I'd noticed I was about a month past the "query us" date on one of my submissions and had dropped them an email earlier in the day asking for a status update. They responded by accepting the story. I still sat at twenty-nine rejections, but I'm cool with putting off my goal for the sake of an acceptance. Side note: If the publisher specifically says to query them after a given time has passed, go ahead and query. Mine was at about 80 days, and they said to query at 60.

The second email told me my story had been forwarded to the appropriate editor to be evaluated for inclusion in an anthology. Not an acceptance or a rejection. That puts me still at twenty-nine. Augh! So close!

I have six stories still out there at the moment, so I know I'll hit my goal on rejections for the year with ease. I just don't know when it will be. I've had as many as ten out at a time, so I need to get some resubmitted to new markets.

You might think that measuring rejections sounds stupid, but let me tell you why I do it. Rejection is not fun. It's easy to see it as being rejected as a person rather than having a story rejected. A section of one of my presentations on short stories deals with rejection and what to do about it. It can be a big deal emotionally.

My trick is to turn what is otherwise a negative into a scoring mechanism. In order to receive thirty rejections in a year, I have to write stories and submit them. I don't need to write thirty stories since some of them have been submitted to several places over the course of the year. Even so, I need to keep track of submissions, send stories back out when rejected, and all that stuff. It keeps me going.

Another reason to measure rejections instead of only acceptances is the nature of those two scores. Rejections are like basketball scores where you see players score regularly through the whole game. Acceptances are more like soccer scores where you can go a whole game without seeing a score, or if you're lucky you may see two or three.

Larger numbers (like basketball scores) are easier to analyze statistically. It gives you finer measurements for comparison, and it's something I have control over. Last year my acceptance rate was about 8%. This year it's about 15%. I can use those numbers and give you a pretty good estimate of how much I need to submit to publishers to get thirty rejection letters.

A pleasant side-effect is that I've already achieved and exceeded my goal for acceptances for the year, just by working toward my rejection count. It's not that I write stuff I expect to have rejected. I really like the stories I write, and I think they're worth sharing. I'm realistic enough to realize not every story matches a given publisher's tastes, so I use these publishers as my short story playground.

Yeah, it's a little weird to measure rejections, but it works for me and helps me to get those stories sent back out when they come home with "no thank you" stamped across them.

What "failures" do you worry about that can be used to create a positive goal instead?

Monday, July 17, 2017

What's In a Name?

I've been thinking about how important titles are for books. Sure, everyone judges books by their cover, but a close second to the artwork is the title. If you can't make it past the picture and the title, it doesn't much matter what's in side, right?

As is typical, I made a list of resources to monkey around with.

  • Amazon best seller lists related to fantasy.
  • An empty spreadsheet.
  • Enough knowledge of spreadsheet formulas to be dangerous.

I typed in all the normal words from a couple hundred titles. No proper names, no connective words like "and, of, the." The first thing I noticed was that certain words were used quite a bit. Here's the top 13 words, those I had more than about three occurances of:

  • blood
  • dark
  • dragon
  • fate
  • city
  • fire
  • king
  • queen
  • long
  • mage
  • secret
  • shade

Then I sorted them and removed duplicates. You may want to save the original copy before you remove duplicates if you're following along with a spreadsheet of your own. I forgot to save a copy before removing my duplicates so I may need to go back and rebuild my word list at some point.

Now comes the fun part. Mix and match, and see how many titles you can make from just that super-common list and the connector words you skipped over when building the list.

Imaginary titles I'm making up on the spot:

  • The Dragon Queen's Mage
  • Secret of the Dark Dragon
  • Fate and Fire
  • Secret City of the Dragon King
  • City of Fire and Blood
  • Fire Shade of the Dark Mage's Secret Dragon-City of Blood

It's like buzzword bingo book titles! With some pretty art, would you crack the cover to see what these stories were about? Except that last one, I mean.

Now to expand things out a little. There are only so many titles if you can only use the hottest words on the list. I took my sorted list and build a little table to pick ten items at random from it. This lets you do the same exercise all over with a new set of buzzwords. I've just hit F9 on my spreadsheet to refresh it, and here's the random set it gave me. No pre-planning on this one.

  • critical
  • failure
  • bone
  • accord
  • bed
  • man
  • moonlight
  • hunt
  • hundredth
  • moon

Now to play mashup and make some titles. If you're a gamer, or have looked through the Amazon best seller lists, you might recognize some of these. Critical Failure is already a book title I saw, so I won't use that one in my mashup list. Romance writers have some good fodder here, but I'll bypass that as well and stick with fantasy.

  • Bone Hunt by Moonlight
  • Critical Accord
  • The Hundredth Moon
  • Moonlight's Failure
  • Moonlight Accord
  • Hunt Man by the Moon

And that was with a pretty bland word set. I've seen some that show a lot more promise. It's easy to combine the hot words list with the random list. Just don't remove the duplicates from the list, and those hot words will show up more often. If you copied my mistake and didn't save the original list with all the duplicate terms, you can just add in two or three copies of the hot words.

Spreadsheet geekery:

  • Put your words in column A. Make note of how many there are. My list ended up 233 words long.
  • Create a colum of random numbers. I did ten items in column F, and the equation is:
    • =RANDBETWEEN(1,233)
    • The 233 here is the length of the word list, so it picks a random word's row.
  • Next to the equation in column G, I do a random lookup in the word list based on that index.
    • =INDIRECT("A"&F2)
    • This means fill this cell with whatever is in column A and row whatever's in cell F2.
  • Copy those two cells (F2 and G2) and paste it to make ten or so lines with the magic equations.
  • Hit F9 to refresh until you like the random set it gives you.

Here's a screen shot of my random lookup:

Let me know if you try this, and what cool book titles you come up with. I may run through some of the best seller science fiction lists and see what sort of words are most common over there, too.