Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Book Release: Fated for War, World of Myth #7

So I have a slight confession to make: I've had Book #7 done for quite awhile.


And not just this one either. Right around the time I was putting the finishing touches on my last Reddit giveaway in 2016, I was also touching up the final author-edits on Book #8, An Enchanted Sword. Actually, if truth be told, I've already finished the first draft of Book #9, and I just started writing book #10 in the past week. I'm finally releasing book #7 just now, and hope to follow with the next two books in the coming months.

So, you're probably asking what gives? Why the huge delay? Honestly, it comes down to a bit about money and a bit about life.

Firstly, the money. This can't be ignored, but my first 6 books didn't sell well enough to financially justify spending more money on editing and book covers for future installments of the series, or at least not at that time. I had thousands of free downloads, but relatively few went further than that. Now, let me immediately follow up with a resounding "That's okay!" I did give the book away for free, and I do understand what that meant, and I am not upset about it. It is, however, a reality that the wider audience won't accept an unedited book, and that requires money I wasn't willing to spend.

So I went ahead and released the book in a different way, personally, un-edited, and coverless, to friends, family, and other miscellaneous followers who loved my work. It didn't cost me a thing, and I felt encouraged enough to press on and write more books, the 3 mentioned above specifically. Then, life distracted me further, as late 2016 my wife became pregnant. I won't go into the details, but suffice to say it wasn't expected, and my World of Myth series disappeared into the furthest reaches of my mind. Time marches on, our son is born, sleepless nights, wild trips, paternity leave, and all the while something interesting keeps occurring. About once a month, I get seemingly random PM's and the occasional email from internet strangers with messages not unlike the following:

"I just finished Emily's Saga after reading it only during certain off times (so I wouldn't rush and finish it too soon). I feel like I've lost a best friend. Please tell me there's more!!!"

Well, I have to say, there's only so many of those I can take before I start to feel guilty. The truth was that I had more, plenty more actually, just waiting to be released any time I decided to pony up and pay for a professional editing service.

As so often happens in life, my financial situation changed over the course of a year and a half. Suddenly, the prospect of losing money on publishing more books in a not-so-widely-popular series didn't seem so terrible in exchange for the happiness/fulfillment I was receiving. After a short discussion with my other half, I bit the bullet, and after a long time sitting on the electronic shelf, the World of Myth series continues.

With any luck, #8 and #9 should be coming out relatively soon, too.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Book Review: Brave New World

In short, Brave New World earns 4 out of 5 stars from me. Novel concept, done well, prophetic in some ways, but losing a star to a poor story with too much suspension of belief for a dystopian that wishes to be taken seriously.


Brave New World's biggest selling point is its concept. While novels about authoritarian governments run rampant in the dystopian world, Huxley takes the interesting approach of running the opposite direction. This book posses the question, what if we took humanity's need to remove discomfort and pain to the absolute extreme? What would a society with no suffering look like? In a few words, the answer is dull, childish, and shallow.

To dive a bit deeper, Huxley shows through his world that seeking comfort and avoiding struggle stunts human passion, and thus deprives a culture of art and (ultimately) meaning. He also has a stint where he does some ridiculous arguments on religion's importance, which nearly derailed me with all the eye-rolling I was doing, but let's just ignore that and focus on the good stuff for now. In Huxley's world, everyone is so busy seeking cheap entertainment and zero-side-effects drugs that they don't fight, or create, or seek, or really do much anything except act as robots of a sort, fulfilling a role until their expiration date arrives. He has some great scenes that illustrate this, too, like one of the characters wanting to write a great poem but lacking any motivation, or really anything to write about at all. With no war, no love, no struggle, or loneliness, all his writing is tragically without fuel for the flames of passion.

In a way, Brave New World was kind of prophetic. I see the use of smartphones today as a solid example of how some (most?) are being conditioned to be entertained, all the time, and also to be connected, unable to find solitude in the world's increasing connectivity. I could see a great many discussions being opened up using this novel as the basis, and I really have to hand it to Huxley for doing that.

However, I couldn't find myself capable of giving this book 5 stars on its concept alone. I had to knock one off because the truth is . . .

This story was kind of boring. Since the culture is so dull, Huxley attempts to create a plot out of bringing in an outsider, The Savage, into the story for an outside perspective, only The Savage is just as terrible as the people he's supposed to reflect in my opinion because he's a serious religious nut-job with a 1500's perspective on women's chastity who apparently didn't learn a freaking thing about NOT being prejudice when he himself suffered such a thing all his damn life. I mean, really, everyone in this story except the ONE girl is a hypocrite and I find it hard to empathize with people I'd rather see miserable for not growing a damn spine and showing a slight bit of integrity.

I mean, really, is that so much to ask?

And let's dive deeper into that view on women and religion I talked about. Another reason I knocked off a star is because although Huxley had a good concept of people being, basically, soothed into a semi-moronic state, he chose some vehicles that were really stuck in the past. Let me see if I can explain.

Huxley uses sex as a crutch pretty much throughout this entire book. Sex and drugs, really, but the drugs part was spot on while the sex part really missed the mark. In Brave New World, anyone can have sex with anyone, and they are encouraged to do so. Huxley goes through great length to imply just how terrible this is for WOMEN only, as in terrible for their HONOR. Although everyone is having sex with everyone, his characters only ever consider the women as meat and female chastity as a problem. It's heavily implied by Huxley that in Brave New World, women are worth less and aren't treated with respect because they get to have sex all the time.

Obviously, none of this applies to men, because you know, Huxley published this book in 1932, and apparently didn't have the foresight required not to slut-shame.

I mean, really, it wouldn't have been much of a stretch for Huxley to push beyond and imply that love was lost between everyone equally for not valuing each other as partners, but no. That's not what happened, and it reflects terribly on Huxley and his work, making Brave New World an interesting view into the future, but forcing the viewer to be forever stuck in the past. I had to suffer this ridiculous slut-shaming view every single freaking chapter, which kept making me sigh and shake my head, jolting me from the real concept Huxley was trying to get at.

Also, Huxley basically does the same thing with religion, implying the christian god is a stated fact and this Brave New World, where everyone is essentially atheist, is terrible for rejecting that. Only adds to what I said earlier.

Could have been five stars, but just wasn't quite there. Brave New World hit the nail on the head, but unfortunately used a rubber mallet to do it.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Book Review: Meditations

In summary, the unfortunate reality is that a good idea conveyed poorly is a poor idea in the end.



Let's start with the good stuff, as I like to do.

Just so you know, Marcus Aurelius is known as the last great emperor of Ancient Rome. As I'm an Ancient Rome fanatic, reading his work seemed like a sort of intellectual necessity. I mean, given the chance to read the words and thoughts of someone long dead over 2,000 years, who ruled such a place at such a time? Think of the implications! Isn't that exactly what makes writing so amazing to begin with? The chance to cross the very barrier of time and live in the moment with those who existed so long ago? Maybe it's just me, but I find it awesome to think about.

So anyway, I was excited to start reading, and at first, this book seemed promising. In brief, Meditations is basically an instruction book on how to live a great life by being a great and respectful person. In a word, Stoicism. Treat people with respect, let your actions speak for themselves, avoid vices of thought such as prejudice and idleness, and just generally try to be a man (or woman) of virtue and discipline. I can only imagine that in Marcus' time, this was a revolutionary philosophy, considering the widespread wars and slavery that ran amok in that age. However, what was most fascinating to me was just how relevant such teachings were to this very day. Marcus' Meditations could be easily and readily applied to any individual walking around in the modern age, and doing so would improve the lives of many by an alarming degree.

Now, I say this because I agree with most of what Marcus' wrote. Unbeknownst to me until readings these works, I'd been "following" Stoicism for a good decade now, and in truth, most good people do, too. Meditations is, I believe, just putting into words those common things that all good people eventually come to realize: that happiness is easy to obtain when you live a virtuous life. And that right there is where Meditations fails.

Meditations was written by Marcus for Marcus' eyes only, and it shows. This book is not revolutionary, I hate to say it. Marcus did not invent any of the ideas presented in his book, which he freely admits by saying things such as "I learned from father this, from my mother that," which any halfway decent and smart person does anyway. Human beings learn from their surroundings now, then, and until the end of time, and the only thing Marcus can boast is that he was a) fortunate enough to have good mentors, b) smart enough to learn from them, c) wise enough to jot them all down in a book, and finally d) lucky enough to have his book survive to the digital age. Reading Meditations might be rather insightful for anyone who didn't grow up with good guidance, but I'm a firm believer that good people are everywhere, if only one looks for them, and were Meditations to have been lost when Ancient Rome fell, there would still be a great many people unknowingly "practicing" Stoicism to this day.

So now let's get to the bad part, or why I only gave this book 3 stars. Although I feel the idea of living a virtuous life is a 5-star concept, and the fact that I can so easily agree with a long-dead ancient emperor is astoundingly fascinating, the truth is that this book wasn't well written.

The majority of Meditations is simply a bullet list of good practices in paragraph form. Marcus drones on "think well of others, do not judge, avoid idleness," without extending much effort to explain why. There's no compare and contrast with the opposite points of view, little dwelling on why doing these particular things will enrich one's life. He says they will, but doesn't often dive into the meat of it all. The few times he does, for example when he speaks of why it's important to live in the now, are absolutely riveting and absorbed me to no end. Unfortunately, these moments were few and far between, and the majority of the books makes for a dull read that goes in one ear and out the other, which results in me forgetting most of it.

As I said in the beginning, the unfortunate reality is that a good idea conveyed poorly is a poor idea in the end.

You see, I can't recommend this book to anyone who needs to read it. Due to the nature of this book's dry and mostly face-value delivery of information, the only people who'd be able to absorb this book's teachings would have to agree with the writer from the start, or at least that's my impression. I couldn't recommend this book to people I feel could really benefit from it because they'd be lost in a heartbeat, having no frame of reference to tie all these things together. From their view, it'd just be a long rant by some old dead guy telling them what to do.

So yeah, 3-stars. Although the message is a good one, Meditations is a short book of preaching to the choir.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Reflecting back from halfway done

So last month, just before my son was born, I put the last round of edits down on the first draft of World of Myth #9, The Fortress of Ruin. I've received it back from my alpha readers, and the only complaint they have, really, is that that they now have to wait for the next one. Although my editor has yet to touch it, I still feel happy that the hardest part is done.

I'm officially halfway.

When I first started this series, I didn't have any idea how many books I'd write, Perhaps it was two, maybe seven, but once I got to book #3, I realized quite suddenly that eighteen was the magic number. I can't tell you why, of course, because that would ruin the story, but it all made sense at that time. What this means is that at the conclusion of Book #9, I've now reached the halfway point, and in my line of thinking, that calls for a reflection. More specifically, I need a place to write down just why in the freaking hell it took me nine damned books to finally get it right.

It's no secret. Anyone who has read more than one of my books soon realizes that, contrary to most stories out there, my books improve as the story goes on. Without a doubt, the first book is the worst (which is the most devastating thing a writer can do, but what's done is done), but there is a wild ride ahead of anyone who pushes on from there. This is not by design, necessarily, but the reason is obvious. The story improves because I improved, and I'm going to use this post to explain just how, why, and where because I really want to and this my blog and you can't stop me!

If you haven't figured it out yet, this is going to be a long post.

When I started Book #1, Beyond the Plains, it was 2010 and I was a broke recent college graduate who worked two part-time jobs just to pay for my student loans. With no money and too much time, I went to the bookstore looking for a particular fantasy book, couldn't find it, and so decided to write that book myself.

I really only had one goal in mind when I set out to write what was then my 2nd book written ever. I wanted to paint the world in as much detail as I could. I'd spent weeks (years in a sense) researching all these myths and legends, and I wanted to put them all down with the same sense of wonder and astonishment I felt about them. With no plan or outline, I put my fingers to the keyboard and bled out onto the screen. I didn't invent the entire overarching plot until a third of the way through the book, and the characters I chose to lead the story were naive from the start, and thus lacking in today's world of hyper conflicted personalities. However, I got what I aimed for: a beautifully described and detailed world, vivid and alive to any imagination. Unfortunately, my story lacked in all the things I chose to neglect: Weak plot with a predictable story and some prose that leaned on the purple side. I would eventually return to re-write this story because, honestly, the first draft released could be painfully predictable.

But I forged on, determined to do better. Blind to my real problems, I selected a new aspect of my writing to improve upon: action. Taking all the world-building I'd used from Book #1, I set out to repeat the same wonder in Book #2, but add in a fast and action-packed story that never tired or dulled. True to form, I got what I aimed for. The Forest of Angor has some wickedly long combat scenes, sometimes chapters long, which are usually the first things to be complimented on. However, also true to form, the things I chose to neglect once again dulled the story. The plot was simply just too predictable for any mainstream audience. By this time, my books were hitting enough of an audience that I was finally aware of this problem, but I just wasn't sure how to fix it quite yet.

And then it was on to Book #3. I felt confident in my world-building and action themes, but now realized my . . . how do I say this . . . "political intrigue" needed some polishing. If there's anything I've come to realize, it's that just about any action and combat is exciting, but true authors can make even the most mundane of conversations interesting. So once again, I set to task, bringing my previously well-done things whilst working on something new. Book #3 was deliberately slower, with more talking and quiet moving, and more focused on character morality than the previous two. I believe I did well, because when presented to my readers, no one commented on the book's slower pace in comparison to #2. Basically, no news was good news, as what I set out to do, no one should have noticed unless I did it wrong. I also did a halfway decent job of not making the story so predictable, though I used a stop-gap sort of solution. I simply just removed nearly all foreshadowing, and therefor neglected the possibility of any kind of twist. It was a band aid solution, but it worked for now.

By the time I moved onto writing Book #4, I'd received only about 10 online reviews on Goodreads, and I did my first AMA on Reddit, which turned into a massive success. I had some 10k free downloads in a single day, which blew my F'in mind at the time. From this, I received LOADS of much-needed criticism, many of which pointed out in resounding detail the issues I was aware of in my own writing. Book's 1 & 2 were simply too predictable to be enjoyed by many, though nearly all loved the other aspects of my writing, such as the attention to detail, my voice, and the action. I knew I'd have to go back and re-write the first two books, because it was just embarrassingly bad at this point, and I was getting tired of hearing the same thing over and over.

But first, I wanted to take a stab at Book #4, and use that book as my training ground for yet another aspect of my writing I felt needed improvement: my tendency to think for the reader. You may notice in the first 3 books, I have a tendency to point things out, as if the reader can't be trusted to notice deeper aspects on their own. I had far too much "telling" basically, and I needed more "showing." I went for this in Book #4, intentionally avoiding saying things to the reader that screamed 'this is the bad guy, and you should think this about him.' I introduced more shades of grey morality, whilst still focusing on world-building, action, and political intrigue. I also got more involved in Emily as a character, putting her on her own and letting her shine as the true star she should have been from the start. Judging from my readers, I freaking did it, too. The response I got back from my (now) much broader audience was overwhelmingly positive. People loved the story, the characters, the writing, the setting, and I felt confident enough to go back and re-write book's 1 & 2.

About this time, it was 2013, and I also realized I needed an editor. Actually, more specifically, it was about this time I realized I could actually afford an editor. I had a good job with a steady income, and among all the criticism I received from my AMA, this one was most apparent, that there were just too many little errors to be ignored. I found an editor I enjoyed working with, and whilst she went to work editing book #4, I went to work polishing books 1 & 2, removing the ridiculously heavy foreshadowing I'd done that ruined any opportunity for a surprise. Although those books are still predictable to this day, at least they aren't annoyingly so, and people can enjoy them without heavy foreshadowing beating them in the face. I then moved onto Book #5.

At this point, I realized there was one seriously big problem with my writing. I had roughly zero twists. I decided it was about time I wrote a damned good book, and so poured everything I'd learned into Book #5 whilst also adding in new concepts. I brought my world-building, action, political intrigue, and lack-of-purple-prose, then added in one or two twists and also a small love-story for good measure. I got it edited before I released it this time, and then sent it out to the world.

The response was awesome.

People loved it! And they let me know, too! I was told over and over how they just couldn't put it down, how they didn't see that coming, and how everything they loved before continued to come out in my stories. I felt like I finally did it! I felt like I'd finally wrote a book worthy of a wide audience.

Too bad it was 5 books into a series, though.

However, I wasn't put down much. I loved what fans I had, and I felt good enough about my work (and had enough money) to finally get a cover artist. I paired with a gentlemanly fellow who had the style I was looking for and made great covers for each my books. Up until this point, I'd just had my wife drawing some images by hand, which just weren't cutting it for the audience I wanted to grow.

And then I moved onto Book #6 and took on a new challenge once again: a good ending. Up until this point, I'd never had to worry about that. I always knew the story was moving on, so there was no need to wrap up loose ends. However, for Book #6, I wanted to do something kind of tricky. I wanted to write a story that could both end and leave open the possibilities for others. Although I wanted to write 18 books, I wasn't sure if I was ever going to, because I didn't know if my books would get popular enough for it. Perhaps my talents were better suited to starting a new series rather than continue this old one?

I finished Book #6 and accomplished my task. I brought all my learned skills from before and added another, working on my ending so that it was both open-ended and conclusive in its own way. I received feedback that was equal parts "Ended well, but there has to be more right?" which is what I wanted. I then threw my possibly-last cast of the die. I was strongly considering ending my journey with The World of Myth at Book #6, but wanted to give it one more go to see if people wanted to see more. In 2016, I did another giveaway on Reddit, this time with the complete Emily's Saga, and the response was awesome.

Thousands of downloads, many private messages asking for more, requests to be put on a mailing list, and over 200 ratings on Goodreads plus a good chunk of editing-reimbursement from so many generous people. I felt relieved.

I took a step back and realized I just couldn't stop here. I loved writing this story too much. It was fun, I loved doing it, and this was enough of a response to push on. Although I didn't receive the funds I needed to edit the next books, I decided it was worth it to me.

I pushed onto book #7, and true to form, decided to work on yet another aspect of my writing. I wanted to brush up on my political intrigue, so to speak. I realized that books 1 through 6 heavily relied on lots of action to push the story along and be interesting, and I needed to be able to write non-combat books if I wanted to be a better writer. So I wrote a story with very little action, determined to make it interesting none-the-less. According to my alpha readers, I did okay in this regard, but my action scenes were sorely missed. I took the tip and went back to doing what I did best.

On Book #8, I decided to do something different. I realized that I'd been writing at too slow a pace (roughly 1 book a year), and I really needed to ramp up my speed. I set out to write 2k words per day no matter what. I got about 1/3 of the way through book #8, looked it over and realized I'd done the impossible: I missed my mark.

That first draft of book #8 was terrible. It was boring, unimaginative, no voice, little world-building, lack of character, just bad. At my breakneck pace, I'd lost so much of what made my stories unique, that it was a pain to read. I spent months trying to fix my mistake, but in the end, just deleted the entire thing and started from scratch. So much time wasted, and it took me a whole year to finish the story. But I did, and lesson learned.

So then I went to write book #9, and I still had the same goal. How in the world was I going to write this story fast and yet keep it good? I decided that, for the first time in my career, I needed an outline.

You see, up until this point, I operated with no written outline. Everything that ever was or would be was just in my head, floating around, connected in the web-like confines of my never-idle brain. I simply wrote as the characters would act, and it had worked thus far, but I realized this style had inherent flaws. For one, twists were harder to pull off. For two, I was limited by 'inspiration.' I needed time in between writing sessions to continue producing quality stuff, and that just wasn't going to work at any speed beyond 3k words per week (a terribly slow speed).

So I spent 1 month writing an outline, and then stuck to it. I wrote and edited Book #9 in five months, halving my previous times, and released it to my readers.

According to them, I've finally done it. I kept my previous quality earned from Book #5, and now brought it up to speed to compete on a grander schedule. I feel accomplished as a writer in this moment. I feel glad that I continued this story. I feel like I've finally developed a winning strategy for writing quality stuff at a professional speed.

So here I am, halfway in, 9 books written, and it's about damn time.

Just 9 more to go, and I'm ready to use everything I've learned. Wish me luck.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Book Review: The Millionaire Next Door

In a word, this book was fascinating. 5 out of 5.


In summary, this book was essentially a long stream of curated data distilled into a finely tuned narrative that I just couldn't put down.

At first glance, the title "The Millionaire Next Door" might sound like some trashy novel just begging for glamour and it's 15 minutes in the spotlight, but this couldn't be further from the truth. I assume most people, when they think of the world 'millionaire,' they think of a high class, high consumption lifestyle full of limitless indulgence. However, Thomas Stanley goes through great length in this book to show precisely why this isn't so. Through countless interviews and a vast list of data, Stanley pulls together that the average millionaire is anything but the cocaine-induced celebrity so often featured in mainstream media.

Quite the opposite, being an average millionaire is within reach of just about everyone. The American Dream is alive and well, but only for those who are willing to sacrifice.

It's kinda funny in a sense. This book put into words and data a lot of things I noticed growing up. I've always said that there are two ways to have more money: make more or spend less, and I prefer to do both. As it turns out, most millionaires feel the same way, and they invest their savings into appreciating assets rather than depreciating assets, like real estate and stocks/bonds as opposed to clothing and cars. The average millionaire doesn't reach such a status until late in life, and inheriting large sums of money more often than not dooms any developing child to a life of high-spending with few fulling achievements.

I could go on, but it's really pointless. In a way, Thomas is simply a messenger, presenting the data he found in an easy to follow format that drives home a list of bullet of points. However, despite this, I still found this book amazing and uplifting, because the message it presents is exceptionally hopeful and inspiring. Everyone should read this book, to help themselves and their finances, because there are no second chances when it comes to time and money.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Review: Pride and Prejudice

I think this book was worth rating 5 stars.



Although I wasn't exactly enamored during my reads, I feel that was due to my lukewarm interest in the romance genre in general. Honestly, I can see why this novel's status as a timeless classic is well deserved.

Pride and Prejudice has a lot going for it. Lively and witty language; a diverse cast of characters that range from sassy and smart to lovable but dimwitted to annoying yet crafty with plenty in between; a fiery romance rife with tension and constant ups and downs; not to mention a few twists and turns on occasion, though I saw all the "big ones" coming a mile away; and to top it all off, countless side-stories that were interesting enough all on their own yet complemented the main story at the same time. One thing is for sure, I'm impressed by Austen's plot weaving skills and will never doubt the legitimacy of her legacy. She's an amazing writer.

So, in short, I'm happy to report I've finally found a romance book I actually liked. Hell, I might even be tempted to try another.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Book Review: Horus Rising

The TLDR of this book review is that I went in hoping for one thing, got it in spades, and also got huge helpings of plenty more, and I enjoyed this book immensely.



So after eating the massive whale-of-a-book that was Moby Dick, I decided I needed to digest something light and fun to counter-balance such a heavy meal. I went looking for blood, guts, and glory, and I knew one could hardly go wrong with a Warhammer 40k book. For the uninitiated, Warhammer 40k is a universe in the far flung future where humanity knows only war. It's a soft, military scifi setting and death, destruction, and terror. Grimdark at it's best. The Horus Heresy series, which follows the story of where everything in the universe really went to hell, came highly recommended, so I sat down expecting a superficial read of a book-version of a shallow Hollywood summer action movie, only an R-rated one.

I was not prepared.

There was war, just so that's clear. Plenty of hacking, slashing, shooting, but in additional to all that, there was political intrigue, deep world-building, a huge cast of dynamic characters, and a subtle level of mystery and foreboding. The prose, too, matched my needs to a tee, with colorful and vibrant sentences that painted a picture, as harrowing as that picture might be. I could hardly believe my luck as I willingly dove into this story day after day, even cutting into my TV and video game time as I found myself more interested in following this story than doing anything else. It was a pleasant surprise, and I'm so glad to find all the high recommendations were not just correct, but perhaps even an understatement because this was honestly a fantastic book.

I'm already jumping into #2, and though it's written by a different author, I'm very hopeful.