“The Gift of Hadrborg” Out Now!

The Gift of Hadrborg

The big day has arrived. The Gift of Hadrborg is finally available for eBooks on Amazon.

Based on the best selling game from Stoic Studio and published by the hardworking folks over at Versus Evil, the novel is a prequel tale that takes place before the events of the first Banner Saga. The story follows the efforts of Eirik, an undercover agent in service to the Governor, as he sabotages the gang-epidemic across the crime-riddled city of Strand. However his successes only stop the lowest tier of thugs and lowlifes, treating the symptoms but never the cause as the most organized elements manage from afar. But when a trio of strangers arrive followed by a known felon, Eirik is embroiled in an all-encompassing conspiracy that threatens to topple the city itself.

Packed with political intrigue, action, a pulsing plot and complex characters, The Gift of Hadrborg is an great starting point for uninitiated fantasy readers as well as an awesome supplement for fans of the games.

And if you happen to be heading to PAX East this year in Boston, be sure to checkout the panel for The Banner Saga 2 which will host game directors Arnie Jorgensen, John Watson, Drew McGee, Matt Rhoades and composer Austin Wintory. I’ll be signing physical copies on Saturday at the Versus Evil Photobooth before and after the panel—if you don’t download a copy for the flight to Boston, be sure to get the book for the return home!

Available now for eBooks on Amazon. Print edition coming soon. For more information be sure to follow Stoic Studio and Versus Evil on Twitter.

“Fox Pockets: In An Unknown Country” Out Now!

Unknown CountryAt long last, my favorite contribution to Fox Spirit’s micro-anthology series is available now! Fox Pockets: In An Unknown Country contains “Stroppendrager,” a historical fiction piece by yours truly.

I love writing historic fiction. Based on information on hand, I do my best to try and concoct a story around the facts rather than try and warp facts to fit my story. This particular yarn tells the origin of the “Noose Bearers,” whom are celebrated every summer by their respective guild. The reenactors dress up in white undershirts, ropes hanging from their necks as they are escorted down Gent’s streets by pike-wielding guards. This act by the Guild of Noose Bearers recounts the Revolt of Ghent in 1539, when the entire city refused to pay the increased taxes following the Italian Wars. Unfortunately for the city’s guilds, the revolt came to an end once Charles V showed up with 5,000 soldiers under his command.

Since the manuscript was finished, more translated research material has become available. The new information would have peppered the story with more insight of the times, such as the guilds strong involvement in the uprising and the political maneuvering to try and maintain Ghent’s independence. However, I believe the story personal elements of “Stroppendrager” remain unscathed. The central themes function independently of these new facts and do not invalidate the plot. The main character’s patriotic views and his counterfoils theological concerns still serve a thematically satisfying tale that could adapt to the facts rather than the other way around.

Golden Bowie Land

I’m frustrated and angry. Not a single word of literary concern was written this weekend. Instead, a heavy chunk of my time was invested trying to deploy a new website. The efforts left me too mentally exhausted to really write, although I did go through and accept a number of edits for a completed novella. And what I learned about Linux administration will be valuable for my career, despite my intentions to apply these skills in a publishing capacity.

These late night efforts have left me in the surreal half-asleep trance even while I sit at work, listening to “Blackstar” by David Bowie. Likely due to my sleepless state, my mind simply rejected news of Bowie’s death this morning. I don’t mean skeptical, wait-until-the-internet-corrects-itself stoicism, but firm refusal to believe the facts. My obstinate reaction shocked me.

I considered why I felt as I did. In my twenties, I purchased his album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). Yet after listening, I did not understand him. His music and art were always unique and comprehension wasn’t always automatic. So many bands and singers try to find a particular sound that takes them to success, reproducing it with appealing variations for consumer consumption. But Bowie seemed impossible to emulate, even by himself. For all the music he concocted over the years, how often did any piece sound like the others?

The realization stopped me cold in my words. Even when unrecognized, David Bowie was always there.

Always.

There were the overt hits and singles. In ’69 came “Space Oddity.” The year before I was born, Bowie teamed up with Queen to sing “Under Pressure.” And he changed and evolved over the years, such as when he teamed up with Trent Reznor for “I’m Afraid of Americans.” These are merely examples that readily come to mind, but the sheer body of work is staggering. 27 studio albums, 111 singles, 46 compilation albums.

When future generations of musical scholars study his discography, “Where should I begin?” is a philosophical debate of which few, if any, could be prepared.

But even when not present in body or voice, his music was felt, such as the acoustic versions sung in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. His influences trickling into the acts and lyrics of dozens of artists, perhaps Lady Gaga the most. It all illustrates the sheer importance of the departed—David Bowie was not so much a person as he was, and still is, a pillar of human civilization. A column upon which rests our perceptions of the modern world.

Guys like me took him for granted.

And Bowie’s influence was never limited to music. While most people best remember him for his role as the Goblin King in Labyrinth, I was more attuned to his unique portrayal of Nikola Tesla in The Prestige. Christopher Nolan was so determined to have Bowie for that role, the director flew out to New York to pitch it to him in person. The act moved the singer to accept Nolan’s offer, even after initially declining.

There are very, very few who could claim to know all the phases and periods of the Bowie era, from his beginnings in the early 60’s to Blackstar, his final album. The shifting costumes, various masks and rotating personas required listeners of the most eclectic tastes and hunger for the nouveau. Yet simultaneously, it is impossible to be oblivious of his importance, nor to admire at least one decade of his time. Some have called him a chameleon and the comparison fits… at least until one examines the sheer scope of what he accomplished. Then you know he was more than that.

He was elemental.

Like water, always taking new shape. The rain that makes the storm, the flurries of the blizzard and the endurance of the ocean. Beneath the madness of garish colors and the ripples of his psychological depths was something ever evolving, ever growing for 54 years. There will be no acts that are quite what he is—not was, for he has earned an immortality reserved solely for the artist.

After him comes only the note of silence, for none could fill his spot. And his death conjures chagrin, for the world he sold is now a far less interesting place.

“Things in the Dark” Out Now!

Things in the DarkAnother short by yours truly is available in Fox Spirit’s latest release, Things in the Dark, now available in print at Amazon.

There’s a bit of history behind “Selachiamorpha Caesar,” my addition to this anthology. Originally, I wrote a fairly different story to submit to Fox Spirit’s Under the Waves. That tale was a simple one about a boy who enjoys diving, having learned from his now-missing aunt. Originally I envisioned a two or three part mystery for inclusion in a few of the themed Fox Pocket anthologies.

That idea first came about more than two years ago, just before a trip to Australia. During that vacation, I (as an American) had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. The experience was my first time diving, overwhelming as I tried to take pictures, learn the art of breathing carefully, maneuver in a rubber suit and try not to touch anything.

All of this at the same time. It was quite a juggling act.

Before I boarded the plane however, I did a fair amount of research into scuba diving to get a grasp of the basics and the theory. That knowledge formed the basis of “Bottom Dwellers” which I submitted to Under the Waves.

Even as I clicked the send button to deliver that submission to Fox Spirit, I doubted it. Ultimately, there’s a point where knowing a good story from an uninteresting one becomes rather instinctive (although being able to explain why is an incredibly valuable skill). Despite knowing this, I submitted “Bottom Dwellers” anyway, in order to tell myself that I truly tried and failed rather than didn’t try.

The plot of “Bottom Dwellers” started by establishing the boy’s love of diving, then flows into a trip to Sydney to celebrate his birthday. His mother helps him dive in an area his aunt loved to explore, where he finds a long decomposed body. The police autopsy confirms the corpse is not his aunt, but was meant to add an element of mystery to be unraveled later.

Though I trusted that the technical details were there, I suspected the plot just didn’t have as much punch as I’d hope. It was one of those situations where the ending was probably the most interesting part, and everything that led to the climax seemed… perhaps a bit cookie cutter. If I rewrote it, I might have begun with the discovery of the body, filled in the emotions and details after the fact, and concluded by definitively connecting the corpse to the aunt in some way.

However, it was not a wasted exercise. The story itself was excellent practice. And I took the research and combined it with two different ideas into a completely new and unrelated tale which found its way into this anthology.

Spoilers follow. 

Continue reading

Journal, December 10th

Working on a few drafts for posting later this year, non-fiction research pieces of interest.

The first is an article clarifying who Marvel’s Moon Knight is, after I finish reading the first three Essential volumes on the protagonist (I’m roughly halfway.) This is coming in reaction to rumors that MK is getting his own television series courtesy of Netflix. Speaking of, I also started etching out a review of Jessica Jones first season. I have to admit that the further away Marvel gets from the original “core four,” the better their work generally becomes.

Another article in the pipe is a research piece on real world magic and its history, including its secular and religious branches. I honestly cannot guess how large this piece may grow and it may be delayed all the way until March of next year, as I’ve been trying to do reading outside of Wikipedia to prepare.

Magic can quickly become a fringe subject because certain topics aren’t really magic per say, or even necessarily religious. After reading Robert Lake-Thom’s Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories and Ceremonies, valid questions can be raised as to whether certain views are more philosophical over theological—if not even proto-scientific, as he encouraged observation of nature for clues, hints and warnings.

On the fictional writing front, the second novella for Outliers has been dusted off and is back on track at more than 50% complete. And new, original novel is in the planning stages and will be shopped around to literary agents. The words won’t hit the paper until later next year as I’d rather front-load my research to prevent extensive refactoring against later facts. Magic being one needed subject, as well as the histories of certain European countries.

With regard to input, I’ve finished watching the aforementioned Jessica Jones as well as the latest season of The Leftovers. I won’t be doing a review of the latter, but I will say that I sincerely hope HBO agrees to produce more to enjoy the third and final season that was just (and I mean just) announced. I’ve heard the number of viewers is down, but those who do watch have become cultists for the show and the critics who are applauding this season.

On the reading front, I took a break from my non-fiction to totally absorb Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow. Despite the power of the first four stories, the themes drifted away from their horror origins to become pure Parisian romance pieces. The cultural importance of the work cannot be denied; aside from the first season of True Detective, there are many other references to the city of Carcosa in The King in Yellow, such as in A Song of Ice and Fire and many, many other forms. It’s quite possible that reading the opening story, “The Repairer of Reputations” maybe some kind of unspoken litmus test for genre authors.

I’m honestly not sure why I decided to keep going after the fourth or fifth tale, but I felt it necessary to finish it just to ensure there wasn’t something I was missing. Other than Chambers’ love for all things French, it seems I did not. With this classic piece under my belt, I’ve decided to read Tony Hillerman’s Hunting Badger.

I may also take advantage of the holiday season to go ahead and wrap up several Oscar winning movies from years back. Recently I sat down to watch the rather long Once Upon a Time in the West and still need to sit down and watch 2001: A Space Odysseus. Older movies can be a little tiring because of Hollywood’s tendency to remake them. Thus the ideas are often already familiar and, sometimes, are even better than the original such as Al Pacino’s Scarface over its 1930’s forefather.

“The Gift of Hadrborg”

TBSW

Today marks the launch of the Banner Saga: Warbands Kickstarter! Based on the hit game created by Stoic Studio, the board game continues combining tactical skirmishes with long term resource management to survive. And the even more incredible news is that, within about 30 minutes, the KickStarter has already been entirely funded.

Of interest to readers out there is that my first novel, The Gift of Hadrborg, is an add-on available to anyone who joins the funding. Inspired by The Banner Saga: Factions, the story takes place before the events of the first game and tells the tale of Eirik and the woes of a city suffering from crime and strife.

The Gift of Hadrborg

In the troubled city of Strand, the City Watch and Governor’s Guard struggle to fend off the criminal empires who rule their streets. Between the corruption, smuggling, underground slaving, mass larceny and a rebellious group attempting to usurp the throne, Guardsman Eirik’s life shows no signs of getting any easier.

Yet the arrival of group seeking a stolen artifact heralds a coming disaster for the already rotten city. Uncertain if he can trust his own people, Eirik has little choice but to throw in his lot with two enigmatic varl and a country boy. Toss in a conman seeking vengeance and a slave-turned-bodyguard with an elusive agenda, and Eirik has his work cut out for him.

But even if his questionable allies and the hordes of eager thugs don’t kill him, the plot they discover threatens to rip Strand apart. And may destroy the fragile varl-human alliance that maintains the peace with their giant neighbors in the north…

The Gift of Hadrborg is an action-packed prequel novel to Stoic Studio’s critically acclaimed The Banner Saga Part 1, which was funded through Kickstarter to wild success.

A viking-fantasy meets crime thriller, The Gift of Hadrborg will help satiate story-lovers whether or not they’re salivating for the next installment of The Banner Saga series! But no matter what, check out the KickStarter. Whether you love great games or stories (or both), Stoic Studio, VS Evil and Megacon Games have got you covered!

Open Source Thinking: Author Pay Rates

The Good Fight

Super Hero Monster Hunter: The Good Fight from Emby Press is now available in print as well as for Kindle. Check it out for several amazing stories by yours truly and many other great authors! It’s the start of something big.

So in light of the post yesterday, I’ve been thinking some about how much we would be paying our authors for their work. But I’ve been thinking more and more about the slog to earn our stripes as a professional publishing company.

As I’ve noted before, being a professional author is harder than ever. And the joy and joke is that publishers need to pay off their starting cost debts and return to black on top of the need for authors to get paid. Granted, the debt isn’t much to surmount and people often supplement themselves with another career.

But let’s do some quick math here. E-books typically sell for either 35% or 70% royalties. Some may rush to point out the changes to Amazon’s royalties, but I would counter that it only applies to Kindle Unlimited and Lending Library. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the listed price is $5. Thus, at best we’re earning $3.50 and at worst, $1.75, and none of this includes printed royalties.

On the costs side, let’s focus strictly on what we’re paying the authors. In the past, the anthologies we’ve released have used pure profit sharing. This “nonprofit” (no entity keeps the money, just the creators) approach gave authors incentive to keep pushing the book after the release, and we had no real start up costs to worry about—we used the “free” ISBN from Amazon, and everything worked via a private contract rather than officially starting a company. There was no reason to preserve income because the project was never in the red.

This time around, we would have a minor debt to pay off and need additional capital to grow.

If you’re not willing to pay your authors what they’re worth, someone else will.

The usual approach for small press publishers is to compensate authors with token payments, exposure and a free copy of the book. Overall, not a bad package in lieu of professional pay for a fledgling writer. Let’s say that a publisher pays its authors $15 per a short story. A twelve story anthology costs $180 for the authors alone. And this doesn’t include cover art or editing (for which the business owners will probably be responsible.) If the sales are fifty-fifty on the 70% versus 35% royalty rates, that’s around $2.62 per sold copy.

That means to cover the authors alone, the book has to sell 69 copies. If you optimistically sell just 70% royalty stories, you can actually earn that cost back in 48 sold copies. If just the 35% rate, 103 copies.

So that is the most basic model. Lower the price of the book and you’ll have to increase sales. It also doesn’t cover the cost of the cover art, which one can technically do if they use a public domain image (possibly acceptable) or no cover (not recommended).

Now here’s the secret about artists. The average price of cover art is roughly $500. This is a stiff price to beat in the sales, but there’s actually some economic flexibility if people don’t mind paying for the difference in time.

Explained, a professional artist might have a back list of interested clients willing to pay $500 or more around the clock during the best of times. But on occasion, there maybe a lull in the number of demanding jobs, during which time it makes sense for an artist to take a lesser paying job as long as there is a very distant deadline and a patient customer.

So if you go to an artist and ask them, “I have a limited budget for this, but I’m also in no rush. Can we work out a lesser rate with expected delivery in 9 months? I understand if higher priority jobs come along in the mean time.”

And chances are, you can probably work something out depending on the artist’s schedule and professional philosophy. It helps if the artist is interested in the work you’re doing, because their muse needs inspiration too. But if you go rushing to them, exclaiming that you need this image and you need it now, now, now… well, have five Franklins ready at the very least. Because exposure doesn’t fill the pantry.

Which brings us back to the original point. Yeah, cover art will add more to the cost although as I said, there maybe room for some flexibility on that. Yet here’s what I suspect a lot of small press companies face—costs (should) inevitably grow.

Why are they growing? Well, the biggest reason would be author pay rates. If you find a good author who is willing to work for $15 a pop, they’ll probably be ecstatic to be published for the very first time. After a few more stories, they’ll start to wonder if maybe they could earn a bit more, so they start searching. Are their short stories worth $25? Yes, so what about $50? Sometimes? Can they get 1 cent a word? 2 cents? Always hunting for that professional rate of 5 cents a word.

At a 5,000 words pay cap at 5 cents a word, that same twelve story anthology suddenly costs $3,000. Chances are, that cover artist cut you a deal before because you were a small company. But if the authors are earning that kind of money, then the artist will probably want the average professional rate of $500. That means a game of professional ball costs you a minimum of $3,500. And there are bound to be additional costs I haven’t factored into the equation.

If you’re not willing to pay your authors what they’re worth, someone else will. If your readership base isn’t large enough to support higher rates, then your writers will start seeking a company who pays better and has a larger audience. If you’re not paying attention to the market, it’ll kick your ass.

A blog post I once read mentioned that large publishing companies seldom cultivate writers anymore. It took me less than a minute to realize that major publishers really don’t need to, not when you have hundreds of small companies willing to gold pan for them. Even if the little guys don’t realize it until they back a winner who brings in the readers… and then gets poached.

It’s a ceiling that stops many small press companies. And something every publisher has to bust through to join the major leagues.

Sunlight on a New Day

I’d say I’ve been thinking about starting a publishing company. But that would be an understatement.

The fact is, we (not I) have been doing more than just thinking about it. Yesterday I closed my eyes and opened them to a business plan, complete with a basic budget and a five year strategy. It had most of the essentials. LLC filing costs for tax considerations, policies, necessary tools we’ll need, growth ideas, purchasing of a round of ISBNs…

Although there is are initial costs to crest before we’re official, the plan covers the first round of critical questions. On some fronts, we’re not inexperienced in this, having gone through the process three times and figuring out the basics. But in other regards, we’re trailblazing. I’ve never set up a real company before. On the plus side, creating an LLC is cheap. There are tiered costs for converting it into stocks, and equity is an important consideration to maintain the nature of a startup company. But that’s something to visit another time.

For the moment, focus is on structuring our policies, mission statements and marketing considerations. We have a few ideas on that latter point. The biggest hurdle of any author is simply getting their name out there. A publishing company of reputable quality doesn’t take long to attract at least a small following of readers and interested parties. Last I checked, there are roughly half a million published writers in the United States alone. Writing good or even amazing material just isn’t enough to stand out.

Another factor we’ve been discussing is how much of our infrastructure we’re going to in-house. While there are some great services out there that I would strongly consider once we’re of a particular size, I want to handle as much as I can on my own and outsource as I realize that certain tasks are too complex or offer no real benefit to maintain. If I can in-house my own file management system with minimal problems, fantastic! If I’m blowing two or three hours a week dealing with an exploding mail server, I’ll probably just go with Google business emails.

Yeah, it sounds like a great deal of work. But we have a hotshot artist, an up-and-coming writer and a tech guy looking to automate aspects of the job. One could do worse. Yet nothing is happening until the royalty payments for Marching Time and Far Worlds are complete however. As eager as I am to get started, I need to wrap up the old business first.

Genre Writing (And Keeping Your Audience In Mind)

Coming down off the high of writing my first novel, I’ve returned to short story writing. I picked out four submission windows which interest me. Amusingly, I’ve jumped the vein of crime and horror writing and have been focusing my time more and more on fantasy, and am keeping an eye on science fiction. This was all part of my plan to alternate writing “what I know” and slowly expand and improve on what I don’t.

Of the four submission windows, two are fantasy, one is modern-meets-fantasy and the last is military science fiction. These days, it’s important to mention the intended sub-genre. Especially with fantasy, lest the editor be swarmed with Western medieval stories.

It’s not that European mythologies are bad or can’t be done well. The problem is that it’s too easy, too accessible. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, The Lord of the Rings, The Witcher and Game of Thrones along with the books can easily trick hordes of fans into believing they are experts on the original mythologies and/or histories from which these works originated. One submission window I saw sometime back described the resulting work as, “fan fiction with the serial numbers filed off.”

I’ve long begun my research on the cultures of one particular story I have in mind and the pieces are coming together slowly. But while I was at a family reunion for the fourth of July, a story came to me like a bolt out of the blue. The idea had everything I really need, from the characters to the plot and the themes.

What made me laugh was that this story idea was for the genre I am least ready for—science fiction.

It’s been three years since I last attempted an independent (as in, not built on any pre-established intellectual property) science fiction story. After my last rejection, my friends explained to me that the intended publishers are tremendous believers (not just fans) of Star Trek. That it was the greatest sci-fi show ever concocted.

Since then I’ve figured that you can really learn a lot about a person from the kind of sci-fi they like.

I’ve wondered why that is and I would guess that as “science” is seen as a measurable metric of progress, science fiction can easily emphasis a positive view of the future. It’s not difficult to see science for the acts of technical, biological or chemical engineering. But stories have also investigated application of the scientific method on politics, history, sociology and exploration, some of which take us off the desired path.

I’ve barely saw more than a few scenes of the original Star Trek television series. But I have watched the original six movies, and both the movies and several episodes of The Next Generation. And yes, both of the J.J. Abrams films. The universe is surprisingly optimistic about our species, as most of the problems tend to revolve around foreign crises, the occasional distress call, time traveling to fix or prevent problems. Intra-humanity problems often take a backseat to Klingon aggression or Borg threats.

Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t some humanitarian pride hinted with Star Trek, as the Federation tends to cast us as a fairly advanced species compared to many of our war-inclined galactic neighbors. Although to be fair, I think most of its fans would stop short of saying the series depicts a total utopia. But if Star Trek is the pinnacle of our views as to what humanity can be, every franchise, book and movie after that slowly steps down that scale, away from the suggested, bright future.

I think from there, one could go down the list and classify each kind of science fiction for each kind of person. Very often, I suspect that it’s less about whether or not people are into sci-fi as a total genre and more about whether the sub-genre is to the audience’s taste. People who would roll their eyes at Star Wars and Star Trek could very well love Blade Runner or The Hunger Games, while never realizing that the latter is post-apocalyptic and both are varying degrees of dystopian visions of the future. Likewise, I remembered an amusing article which reminds us all that the family friend film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is steampunk.

So try to keep this in mind when working with your lab rats beta-readers to best figure preferred genres and tropes.

The Home Stretch

Yeah, I really hoped that the novel would be finished by now. But it isn’t.

I wrapped up the first draft, then proofed it. A good friend edited and returned it to me, and I improved it based on his invaluable input. After which, the draft was submitted to the beta readers and the major sponsors whose blessing I need.

And yes, they’ve provided their feedback.

A few canonical corrections are needed, and some improvements to the logic. But there are no more bottlenecks, so any delays are entirely my own. This would be the third round of editing. I guess I dread the possibility of a fourth round, as there will be at least one final party (beyond those already mentioned) who needs to provide approval before my work goes to print.

Is an author’s first novel always the hardest? The entire process has been a learning experience, and although I was able to apply a great deal of the hard earned experience from my previous anthologies, there was plenty of new lessons, new discoveries, and new stumbling blocks.

I have a rule that I don’t read the blogs of other, more established authors unless they’re a carefully cultivated platform for advising authors, like Anne R. Allen. There are two reasons for this. First, I don’t want their views to spoil my enjoyment of their work. And second, some of them cruelly and intentionally make the process sound more difficult if not impossible, to ward away competition.

But now I wonder if perhaps they could have warned me how hard being a writer can be, or perhaps provided valuable tips to help. I want the emotional explanations, wisdom and the insights they gained without ranting or venting frustrations or being put down for “threatening” their position. It has made me more thankful towards the few authors I’ve grown to view as mentors, and the handful of my writing friends I’ve picked up along the way.

So I intend to have the third and hopefully final draft complete by June 6th, and refuse to post another blog entry until then. Even this post was written on Friday and programmed for release today, just to provide some news and explain my upcoming silence. That is how badly I need to put off further distractions.