Ad Astra 2017 Wrap-Up

It's 11:30 at night on a Sunday. I have more caffeine in me than any reasonable person would have in them at this hour. There are no fewer than half a dozen things I could ostensibly be working on right now, and yet I'm opting to write this blog post instead.

Ad Astra is, without a doubt, my favourite convention. This year was my third year attending, and my second doing so not only as a vendor, but also as a panelist (more the latter than the former this time around, if I'm being honest, but I'll get to that later). I always refer to it as "the biggest little con in the GTA" whenever I describe it to people. For something that is fan-run out of a single hotel, it draws substantial attendance, and consistently top-notch guests. Frankly, the fact that they allow me to slum it up with the likes of Robert J. Sawyer, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Ed Greenwood is anybody's guess, but I'd be remiss to not jump at the opportunity and be insanely thankful that it exists. Never mind the fact that the top-billed guest of honour for this year was Brandon Sanderson. Sadly I wasn't on any panels with him this year, and thus missed my opportunity to introduce myself as "the Brandon you aren't here to see."

I'll have to save that for the next convention we happen to both be attending, whenever that happens to be.

I get ahead of myself, though. I suppose I ought to start with the traffic. Friday afternoon saw Deanna and I sitting in far more traffic than I anticipated on our way to the Sheraton Parkway in Markham, so much so that I was nearly late to my own book launch party; I was a little bit tense, to say the least.

To my surprise, I had a wonderful turnout for the launch of Collapse of Kingdoms, many of whom were ready and waiting before I was, old friends and new faces alike. Since the launch of Council last year I feel as though I've gotten stronger as an author doing live readings, and the passages I read from the book were, I think, pretty well done.

A particular note: Nicholas Eames, author of my most recent favourite read Kings of the Wyld was awesome enough to stop by the launch before his first panel that night. Nick and I crossed paths a few times that weekend, including a panel we were on with my friend Agnes Jankiewicz, and although I would have already encouraged all of you to buy Nick's book before the con, the fact that he was such a genuine, stand-up guy throughout the weekend means that I'm basically telling you all that Kings of the Wyld is a must-read.

Speaking of must-reads: Saturday saw me attending the launch of the follow-up to Agnes' portal fantasy/sci-fi YA joyride Q16 and the Eye to All Worlds, titled Q16 and the Lord of the Unfinished Tower. Scheduling made it difficult for me to attend the whole event, but I was lucky enough to catch Agnes' reading, and if any of you are fans of Roger Zelazny then believe me when I say that you are doing yourselves a disservice if you aren't reading Agnes' books.

Saturday also saw me at the pre-launch party for Brave New Girls Volume 2: Girls Who Science and Scheme. Again, due to some scheduling hiccups, I was only present for the first half, in which I read a passage from my contribution to the anthology, The Verne Shot, and was lucky enough to hear Agnes read from her story Skyris.

Lisa Tooheyalso had a reading at the event that I unfortunately missed, and so the next time we cross paths I totally owe her a drink.

Every panel I was on over the course of the weekend was a ton of fun, and resulted in my meeting some really great people. Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, was my reading on the Saturday. Last year saw authors grouped into panels of three or four for readings, but this year each of us was flying solo. To my surprise, I had a really great turnout for mine, including my good friends (and incredible authors in their own rights) Alyx Dellamonica and Kelly Robson. I was, after all was said and done, offered some great advice from Kelly, and when a Hugo-nominated author/colleague/friend offers you advice, you bloody well heed it!

Incidentally, both Deanna and I do regret not being able to hang out with the two of you more that night; we really need to do sushi or something.

Deanna and I tried our best to attend one another's panels, but as it was we maybe spent a total of eight combined hours at out dealers' room table the entire weekend. The panelist/vendor juggling act is a difficult one to manage, and come 2018 we may need to rethink our strategies for how we approach cons where we both have to wear both hats. That said, we had some very awesome people swing by our vendor table, and as always I cannot possibly be thankful enough for each and every individual who did so.

Sunday saw us in the gaming room, playing a session of the tabletop RPG Pugmire. The game plays like an even simpler version of 5e D&D, but in place of elves. dwarves. halflings, and the like, the PCs play different breeds of dogs. It was probably the most rules-light tabletop RPG I've ever run, and it may well have been one of the most fun games I've ever run, in part because of that. If you play RPGs and you haven't given this system I try, I highly recommend it. I think my GMing RPGs on the Sunday of the con might be forming into a tradition, and you can bet that 2018 will be no different.

Among the deluge of awesomeness that went down during the weekend was my opportunity to finally meet Darrell Drake in the flesh. The Toronto native, and author of the historical fantasy A Star Reckoner's Lot, was in the same block of vendor tables as Deanna and I, and much like literally everyone I encounter at Ad Astra, is a very down-to-earth, awesome individual. He is also one of the masterminds behind the Fools of Fantasy, a group of authors adjacent to the /r/Fantasy sub-forum of Reddit, a group to which I now proudly claim membership. (There is not a-one of these authors whom you should not be reading literally right now). Though the collective is somewhat nascent, expect awesome things in the future, possibly beyond the already fantastic library of genre-spanning works already being produced.

Alright, I've waxed poetic for an incredibly long time already about everything that happened last weekend, but not nearly enough about why exactly Ad Astra is great, and why it brings me back into its folds perennially.

If I'm being totally honest, Ad Astra is the one convention I've attended since I first decided to take a crack at this whole writing gig that has consistently left me feeling like I'm actually a capital A Author. At the end of each Ad Astra for the last three years I have felt like more than just someone who has been desperately trying to get people to read the goofy elves and magic books he's published. Rather, by 5 o'clock on the Sunday of each Ad Astra I have felt exponentially more like someone who has a reader base, who has fans, who is a colleague among other authors.

Impostor syndrome is a very real thing, and I am very much of the mind that, among authors who live in the Greater Toronto Area, there is no better cure than Ad Astra, even if the course of the cure is only three days long.

Thank you, truly and earnestly, to the organizers, attendees, and fellow vendors and guests of Ad Astra 2017. I hope to see you all next year.

Ad Astra 2017

Well hey everyone,

It's uh... been a minute or 197,280, hasn't it?

Well, if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, which I hope you do, seeing as it's a much more efficient way to keep up with me than this seemingly biennial blog I "keep", then you know that this weekend Deanna and I will both be at Ad Astra in Toronto. If you're going, I'd love if you stopped by to say hi!

If you're looking for either of us, our schedules are as follows:

Me:

Friday:

6-8pm, Suite 1070 - Book Launch for Collapse of Kingdoms

Saturday:

11:30am-12pm, Markham B room - Reading

1-2pm, Oakridges Room - Transitional Media Techniques

2-3pm, Newmarket Room - Starting them Young: Fantasy and Sci-Fi Picture Books

5-6pm, Markham A&B room - Mass Autograph Signing

6-7pm, Suite 1070 - Pre-Launch Event: Brave New Girls vol. 2

7-8pm, Newmarket Room - What is This Play of Role of Which You Speak?

Sunday:

2-3pm, Oakridges Room - Fantasy from Trilogies to Television Series

 

Deanna:

Friday:

6-8pm, Suite 1070 - Book Launch for Collapse of Kingdoms

Saturday:

12-1pm, Richmond B Room - The YA Revolution: reinventing Sci-Fi/Fantasy for a new generation

2-3pm, Newmarket Room - Starting them Young: Fantasy and Sci-Fi Picture Books

7-8pm, Newmarket Room - What is This Play of Role of Which You Speak?

8-9pm, Newmarket Room - The Popularity of Board Gaming

A couple of notes:

Any time either Deanna or myself aren't in a panel, we'll be in the Dealers' Room, where you can come get books, bookmarks, or just say hi.

There is going to be some point on Sunday in which I'm going to be running a game of the Pugmire RPG - keep an eye out on Twitter or Facebook for that.

In general I'm going to remain pretty active on social media all weekend, so watch that to see where I'll be during any particular moment this coming weekend.

 

Hope to see you all there!

The One Where Joey and Monica Argue Over Who's the Best Beatle

I'm going to just off-the-bat admit that I'm not a huge fan of either Friends or the Beatles (nothing against either of them), but that title was probably the most clever one I could come up with for the topic I wanted to write about.

I tweeted out a couple days ago that I was having a lot of thoughts about ensemble casts, and that I was maybe going to write about those thoughts that night, which is naturally why I'm writing about them today. I probably should be writing the third act of Collapse of Kingdoms right now, but here we are.

I think a good place to start is maybe to properly define what I mean when I'm talking about an ensemble cast. I think that this can oftentimes be confused by something with a large cast of characters. By and large, most fiction has a single main protagonist, maybe two. The key to an ensemble cast isn't the number of characters, but the number of them directly related to the protagonist and their goals; sub-protagonists, if you will, whose own individual character arcs happen to, in some way or another, inform that of the protagonist.

The easy fantasy example here would be Lord of the Rings, which was the prototype for the adventuring party. Every member of the Fellowship had their own reason for being there, and (to lesser or greater degrees) their own character arcs, and yet the story wasn't about Gandalf's sacrifice and resurrection, or Aragorn's ascent to the throne, despite those being significant plot points, and major events in the lives of the respective characters.

I think that's probably at the core of what makes ensembles so appealing. Everyone loves the Hero's Journey. Everyone, at their core, wants to see good prevail over evil, to see the conflict resolved. Everyone wants to identify with that, to feel a connection with it. In works with a solitary protagonist, it becomes a bit problematic: does one write a well-defined character that only resonates with a fraction of individuals, or make a character a blank slate onto which one can project oneself? The former can result in a protagonist that can be disliked, even hated, by an audience, and the latter can result in a bland character met with indifference. Ensembles present a variety of characters prominent enough in the story that anyone can have their favourite. People like having a favourite - Ringo, Legolas, Chandler, Sir Gawain.

I mean, Ringo was never really anyone's favourite, but you get the idea.

Just look at Overwatch. I have neither the time nor the computing power to run the game, but through sheer cultural osmosis I can tell you that I'd probably main Tracer if I did.

So what about the other side of the coin? What about writing ensemble casts? I feel confident in saying that the Four Kingdoms books are definitely ensemble books, and with that I definitely want to add the caveat that I am by no means an expert on the subject. That said, I think there are some key points to writing ensembles that I've unintentionally cribbed from some of my favourite media, the latter of which I'll probably toss in at the end.

  • The Protagonist is the protagonist for a good reason - Whatever the central conflict of the story, the protagonist has to be at the centre of it in such a way that no one else in the cast could be. It's pretty easy to fall into Chosen One territory here (which, if that's your thing, cool), especially in genre fiction, but it's tantamount to making the story make sense.
    Footnote: No, the Eagles couldn't have just dropped the ring into Mount Doom, the same way the RAF couldn't just go and bomb Hitler.
  • The ensemble works because the characters are diverse - This should be a bit of a no-brainer, but no one would have watched Ocean's Eleven if every character was Brad Pitt, or Don Cheadle et. al acting like Brad Pitt.
  • Every character has a story, but not one so prominent as to detract from the main plot - It's easy to fall into the trap of finding your own favourite character as you write an ensemble, often not your protagonist. While each of the characters having their own personal conflicts adds dimension and depth, be careful not to let their stories overshadow the main plot. It will end up being a mess, not unlike the final season of How Barney Dated Robin and WHOOPS! I Forgot The Story I Was Trying to Tell.
  • Conflict within your ensemble is natural, but don't forget the resolution - Spend enough time with the same people, and personalities will clash. That said, your ensemble is also an ensemble because they have something in common, be it friendship, a common goal, or even blood ties. While 100% antagonistic relationships in any of these scenarios are not completely unheard of, actually think about your own family/friend group/workplace, and whether or not everyone therein would be able to function if there was nothing but toxicity between even two members - they probably wouldn't.

Like I said, I'm far from an expert, but I think these are some solid foundation points. I'll also add that, while I think I do a good enough job writing an ensemble cast, I have a few examples of various media that I've looked to for inspiration, so feel free to get into them and geek out with me about them!

  • Patrick Weekes' Rogues of the Republic
  • Final Fantasy IX (I didn't play VII, and this one is magical)
  • Love Hina
  • Erin M. Evans' Brimstone Angels
  • Bones Brigade: An Autobiography

What are some of your favourite stories featuring ensemble casts? Who are your favourite ensemble characters? If Ringo Starr played Overwatch, who do you think he'd main?

Probably Agent 76, right?

'WriMo Wrap-Up 2016 or My Brain is Fried Right Now, and I Can't Conceive of a Better Title

Okay you guys, I'm going to start off the top with this:

I GOT ENGAGED!

October 28th was mine and Deanna's seven-year anniversary, and we celebrated by taking the trip to Walt Disney World that we had been talking about taking for the last two years. Because Deanna is a lifelong Acolyte of the House of Mouse, the setup was perfect. We arrived at Magic Kingdom just after dawn, when the sun was only high enough that the stars couldn't be seen. I was insistent that we get a picture in front of Cinderella's Castle before the crowds show up.
The photographer on site snapped a few photos, and immediately after, with my heart threatening to burst out of my chest, I took the ring box from my pocket, got down on one knee, and asked Deanna to marry me.

There were lots of tears of joy. I still get giddy recounting it. If you really want, there are photos on mine and Deanna's various social media, and even a video Deanna posted to Facebook that was taken by a lovely stranger, who then emailed it to us.

 

BUT...

 

I know you all didn't click on this to hear me gush about that. You're here because of NaNoWriMo. It's December 1st, by my watch, and boy do I have a lot to talk about.

For the uninitiated: NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an annual even that takes place every November, wherein participants are challenged to write 50,000 words of a single fiction piece in thirty days.

I've mentioned on numerous occasions and in various interviews that The Summerlark Elf was a NaNo book. One, I should add, that I was successful in completing in the allotted time frame. That was three years ago, and between then and now, a lot has changed for me. A lot.

In 2014 and 2015, I forewent taking part in NaNo for a number of reasons. The most prominent of these reasons was that, following that first NaNo, I started working full-time consistently. As I spent the bulk of 2014 working on The Missing Thane's War, I found that the days when I was able to write 1500+ words (the daily NaNo goal is 1667) were fewer and fewer, and as any author will tell you, nothing cuts into your writing time quite like life.

Besides, by the time November 2014 came around I was getting ready to release Thane, and figured I'd have plenty of time to write The Council of Tymenthia, so why try to stress myself out more than I needed to?

2015 came and went in a whirlwind. My brother got engaged, Realmwalker happened, people were starting to take notice of my work. I spent nearly a year working diligently on Council, and I believe that it is the best thing I've written and published so far. I had a second draft out to my beta readers by that October, and was getting ready to work on Collapse of Kingdoms, the final book in the saga.

After a year of work, I had less than 40,000 words to show for it.

For any number of reasons, my work on Collapse was glacial, and by the end of the summer it was finally starting to irk me that it was taking so long. I was better than the person who was satisfied pecking out maybe 500 words and calling it a day. I lit a fire under myself in October, trying to get back into the habit of writing 1000 words per day. It's a good number, and when you maintain it you feel the progress.
Halfway through the month, I committed to doing NaNoWriMo 2016, if only for my own good. As of time of writing, December 1st, I wrote 33,000 words in the month of November.

I didn't win. I wasn't able to beat the challenge.

It wasn't for lack of trying, and if we're being perfectly honest, about 40 to 45 percent of the whole first draft for Collapse was written this month. I wrote an average of 1100 words per day (nearly 4000 of which were, admittedly, written in the last 24 hours). I'm proud of what I accomplished, even if it wasn't enough to get the job done 100%.

Among other things, NaNo 2016 was a fantastic opportunity to reflect on who I was when I wrote Summerlark vs. who I am now. So, I figured I'd list off some of the major then/now differences I've come across over the last 30 days:

  1. I am so much busier!
    I think this is just part and parcel with myself and my siblings all being of the age where great life changes are happening. As I mentioned above, my younger brother got engaged in 2015, and was married this past June, shortly before my sister got engaged, which was just a few months before I got engaged. Weddings and the like can really affect your average day-to-day, you guys. Add this to my aforementioned full-time job, and you find that the finite number of hours you have in a given day begin to feel a lot more finite than you're used to.
     
  2. Beginnings are easy. Endings, on the other hand...
    Summerlark was my first book, and the first in a series. I'm notoriously what a lot of writers like to refer to as a "pantser", or someone who tends not to outline a book before writing it. This works great for a first book, when you can write completely off-the-cuff. Collapse, however? This is the last one. I'm playing for all the beans, and story threads that I wantonly flung about three years ago need to come together. Like it or not, the further into a series you get, the more planning each new book requires, and that takes time, time that could be spent writing. This, however, also ties into my next point...
     
  3. I have become much pickier about my own work.
    This is something that I feel I can take pride in. One of the key components in any writer's evolution is moving past the point when you can't tell if what you're writing is any good, to recognizing that what you are writing is not terrible, this sort of self-criticism state of nirvana, where you can both recognize your flaws without being crippled by them, and recognize your strengths without being blinded by them. The development of such self-arbitration, however, comes with the price of maybe being a bit more cautious with the keys in some circumstances.

Now, aside from the comparative realizations I've come across this past month, there were some discoveries I made that, in many ways, I needed NaNo 2016 to show me. The most pointed of these is also the reason I am probably most thankful I gave NaNo a whirl again this year:
I have the ability to write 1700, 2000, even 3700 words in a day, but it's okay if occasionally I don't.
More than anything else, I needed NaNo this year to get me back into good writing habits. I hate to admit it, but I spent a lot of this past year telling myself that I was too tired to write today, or that the words just weren't coming. Writing can be like rolling a boulder down a series of hills and valleys. Getting started can be an obscene amount of work, sometimes for a bit longer than you'd like, but unless you keep pushing, that boulder will never move.

Oh, and by the way, I should have the first draft of Collapse finished in the next couple of weeks now.

Walk Down the Street and Sing a Happy Song, To Make the World Better

I'm going to forewarn you all now, this post is going to be somewhat meandrous.

I've had a long, exhausting day. I've had a lot of them lately, and I'm sure many of you reading this have been or are in a similar boat as mine. It's hard to muster up the energy to do anything come the end of the day. Heck, half the time it's hard to muster up the energy to do anything by the time the day's half over. It's easy to let it get to you. For a while I really let it get to me. When I released Council, I did a guest blog post where I talked about the tricks I used to maximize writing time. Last October I tweeted that I had started working on Collapse, and nearly a year later I don't even have a finished first draft to show for it.

At some point, I lost my way. I started only writing during the hour at work when I should ostensibly be feeding myself, and maybe relaxing. I would get home and vegetate. Five hundred words a day became a pat on my own back.

Some nights, though, I would suddenly become talkative. Some of you who follow me on Twitter have probably seen my late-night ramblings about music as I spend hours going down the rabbit hole of YouTube punk rock cover songs. Other than that, my nights have, of late, been relegated mostly to catching up on podcasts, watching the odd goofy YouTube show, or idly logging more hours on Skate 3 than probably the rest of the world combined has managed in the last three years.

Somehow, it didn't click with me until tonight, going from feeling like my extremities had all been lead weighted to gaining a burst of energy that came way too fast for it to have been the few sips of coffee I'd managed. Deciding, on a whim, to pull up a few YouTube videos of Toronto punk rock darlings Pup.

I have, since my teenage years, written almost exclusively to music. A part of me always saw it more out of habit than necessity, though. I mean, yes, writing a politics paper while listening to NOFX is certainly apropos, and I admit I wrote Summerlark listening to Bach more or less the entire time, but in those and every other case, it was a means to serve an end. If I'm writing, I need to concentrate, and in order to do that I need to tune the rest of the world out. How better to do that than by listening to music?

The truth is, music has informed my storytelling since I first started thinking of stories to tell. I've been storyboarding daydreams since I hit the age where music began to mean something in my life. Heck, if I'm being totally honest, I'm sure I could think of a few times in my life when I actively tried to score my own life with the soundtrack I chose.

So here I am, making full use of my Spotify account, and somehow managing to write my second blog post in the last month despite wanting nothing more than to find the nearest soft surface and drift into complete torpor not three hours earlier. I suppose I'd better get back to writing Collapse before the magic wears off.

The lead singer from the mid-00s Brampton punk band Bombs Over Providence once wrote lyrics speaking of "when my heroes spoke through headphones, and my victories all had soundtracks", as though it was a time long passed. I think that for some of us it's important that we hold onto those times.

Now if you'll all excuse me, I plan to use NaNoWriMo to help me finish off this book, and that involves me getting back into the kind of shape that lets me write 1,700 words a day again.

Cue up that training montage.

How Do You Structure a Good Narrative? Find Out... In the Adventure Zone!

So everyone who reads this blog probably knows that I am a huge fan of audio books. Last month, I had the opportunity to take advantage of Audible's two-for-one sale to pick up Seraphina and A Darker Shade of Magic.

I promptly devoured both books in under a month.

The only problem with getting through more than one book I really enjoy that quickly, is that my expectations run so high that, unless my next book really grabs me off the bat, I tend to kind of slough through it. No discredit to the title I'm currently on, but I've only gotten about half an hour into it so far... and it's been a few weeks.

What I have been listening to, as a sort of palate cleanser, is a ton of podcasts. One of which is the purpose of this long-overdue post; a fortnightly D&D podcast called The Adventure Zone.

The podcast follows a 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons campaign played by the McElroy family, who are behind a number of the other podcasts I've found myself addicted to over the past months. Griffin, the youngest brother, DMs the homebrew campaign, and his older brothers Justin and Travis, and their father Clint, play the roles of Taako the elf wizard, Magnus the human fighter, and Merle the dwarf cleric respectively.

The campaign, now a little over two years running, started out as a side-episode of the brothers' flagship podcast, My Brother, My Brother, and Me, and was essentiallythe family running through the Lost Mines of Phandelver module that came with the 5e starter set. As one might imagine, the quartet weren't taking themselves too seriously. I mean, 5e was still brand new, only Griffin and Travis had ever played any D&D before, and c'mon, Justin named his character Taako.

Quickly, however, the pet project took on a life of its own, with Griffin crafting his own spin on the Forgotten Realms setting, setting the heroes up with an organization known as the Bureau of Balance, charging them with the reclamation of a number of potentially world-ending artifacts. Taako, Magnus, and Merle are often flippant, if not downright ignorant as to the dire implications of their mission, and with often cartoonish NPCs being manned by Griffin, the podcast and the narrative it weaves goes heavy on the humor with an occasional beat of seriousness, probably as a means of making sure the game didn't devolve into little more than MBMBaM with dice.

About a year ago, however, there was a noticeable shift in tone. The stakes with each new mission were getting higher. More of the world and the inhabitants that Griffin had created were being revealed. The PCs, while still generally maintaining their devil-may-care attitudes, started to form real connections with one another, and with a number of the NPCs. Each of the missions, or story arcs, has become a little more nuanced, a little more serious. Comedy has become less the backbone of the narrative, and more the necessary pressure-release-valve. The past two episodes, the last two of the arc The Eleventh Hour, have been some of the most emotionally taxing storytelling I've come across in a while.

I've never talked about it here before, but one of my most favourite storytelling techniques across media is this sort of sliding scale of levity and seriousness. Final Fantasy IX, Trigun, Love Hina, The City Stained Red, Riyria, and so many more I can't think to name all share this pattern of starting off light, humorous, borderline irreverent in some cases, only to gradually reach the point of throat-punching your heart repeatedly by their eventual resolutions. It allows the audience to more quickly connect with characters, I think, when their quirkier sides are allowed to shine so completely. It plants the seeds of real investment that get cultivated as the characters start to really get put through the ringer, and by each story's climax the audience finds that they, like the characters they've grown to love, are now hanging on for dear life. This technique is one that I've desperately tried to hone in my own storytelling, and frankly it's almost infuriating to see that the McElroys have managed to capture it with such elegance.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that I cannot recommend The Adventure Zone enough. It transcends being simply a real-play Dungeons and Dragons podcast and is truly just quality storytelling, regardless of whether or not you're a fan to tabletop RPGs. You can probably start off with the next episode, as it will be the start of a new arc, but you're doing yourself a disservice by not starting from the beginning.

Oh, and I mentioned this on Tumblr, but it bears repeating: If Travis McElroy, or anyone Travis-adjacent is reading this: I will make time in my writing schedule to aid in the novelization of Magnus Burnsides' backstory, happily.

Ad Astra 2016

It has been a crazy week here at Dragahold, and we're only at Wednesday!

I have been crazy promoting the guest blogs I've been doing, which, if you're looking for an aggregate for them:

I want to once again offer my sincerest thanks to all those guys for offering up space for me to post on their sites and plug my books - it's a huge honour, and I recommend you go check out their work, too!

I've also been going nuts trying to get all my ducks in a row For Ad Astra this weekend, and I'm thankful that I can finally share my full schedule with you all!

Official Ad Astra 2016 schedule!

This is, of course, only the official programming schedule, and doesn't include the following:
 

  • Deanna and I will both be at our table in the Dealers' Room all weekend whenever we aren't otherwise predisposed with panels etc. Copies of The Summerlark Elf, The Missing Thane's War, The Council of Tymenthia, and Dragon in the Doghouse will all be available, as well as copies of Wealthy Merchant (The official Four Kingdoms card game), Build Them! (Deanna's all-ages deck-building game), as well as several of Deanna's art prints will be on sale!
  • After-hours, you can expect to find Deanna and I doing all sorts of social industry-type things. I'll keep everyone posted via Twitter or some such.
  • Sunday morning at 10am, I'm going to be DMing a D&D game for Deanna, and our fellow Ad Astra guests Aaron Lenk, Agnes Jankiewicz, and Professor Morbius. Location is TBA for that, but keep an eye on Twitter and/or Facebook and Instagram, and drop by and say hello!

This is going to be, far and away, the biggest con, activity-wise, for both Deanna and myself to date, and we're both so looking forward to it. Please, if you see either of us there, don't hesitate to come up and say hi!

Grace Under Fire

It's been eight months. Sorry about that.

I had thought quite a bit about posting this, for some time now. In case you all hadn't noticed, I'm pretty awful about maintaining this blog. Tonight, however, I'm hot off the heels of sending out five guest blog posts I wrote for the Council of Tymenthia release blog tour. I've also got an hours-old cup of black coffee next to me, and I have the entire Ramones discography on shuffle right now, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of their titular debut album's release, so I suppose I'm in just the right mood.

I read once that adulthood, while often referenced as being an unending series of crises, one after the other, is in fact more like a ceaseless dog pile of crises, each one compounding the last. While I think that assessment might be a bit dire for my tastes, I definitely agree that sometimes life just loves to sling all the things at you at once.

My brother is getting married in just under two months. This past fall my sister got an adorable Tasmanian devil of a puppy. My parents have opted to downsize homes in light of much of our family undergoing so many life transitions. Amid all of this, I have been working diligently to assure that my third novel made it into Realmwalker Publishing Group with ample time to accommodate not only the May 3rd release date, but also to ensure I had author copies for the launch party being hosted by Ad Astra.

One month ago today, I got word that Realmwalker was closing its doors. It was a heck of a way to celebrate my 30th birthday (I also read Dragon in the Doghouse to Deanna's grade 1&2 class that day, too, and that was awesome). Just like that, I found myself one month away from a book release and a major convention without a publisher, leaving me scrambling to get back into the folds of self-publishing.

Now, naturally, when RPG dropped the bomb on its authors, people were upset. I'd be lying if I didn't say that I was upset. In truth, I was probably just as upset with myself as with RPG.  There had historically been problems, issues that I and other writers had to deal with that were, frankly, all very relevant red flags that the company was doomed. There were a handful of us who were with Realmwalker nearly from the company's outset, a merry band of pirates in search of the hidden treasures of genre authorship.

Problem was, we had a captain who eventually took on too big a crew, and who wasn't totally sure how to read the treasure map. When our little ship began to spring holes, however, our captain assured us she was still a seaworthy vessel. Some of the crew left at the next port, but several of us stayed on, despite the fact that the holes were so prominent that we could feel our shoes filling with water. I can't speak for anyone else, but I know that for me a slowly sinking ship still felt more reliable than the idea of the ramshackle rowboat I had been manning before.

Fast forward to March, when the crew is finally ordered to abandon ship. I've been expecting this, and I promptly gather my belongings and make for my lifeboat. Some of the other crew, however, opt for outright mutiny. I'm going to drop the nautical references now.

There was angry retribution - jilted authors who wanted blood. A part of me understood the frustration of feeling like you had been sold a false bill of goods, like the golden ticket you saw was just torn up in front of your eyes. What I saw over the following couple of weeks, however, was puerile, vitriolic. People were, and to a degree some still are, acting less like professional authors and more like petulant children. I know that for me it soured my opinion of a lot of people, and has made me more cautious of who I associate with professionally than the initial fall of RPG did.

It's a little ironic, really. Contemporary genre writers are so enamoured with the idea of moral greys, but the speed with which some people were ready to point and cry "villain" in this instance was staggering.

Ultimately, a lot of people were hurt by this, on both sides of the fence, and all I can do is hope that everyone can manage to find peace, and get their sea legs back. After all, being marooned on land does not a happy pirate make.

Okay, I'm done with the nautical references for real this time.

In Which I Actually Update My Blog

"I'll see you in March." I said.

"I figure I can update monthly." I said.

This is why you all have trust issues, I'm sure.

God, has it really been six months? Yes, yes it has. I kept telling myself I would update this blog when I had something worth writing a post about.

I didn't write a post about my reading at Whitchurch-Stoufeville Public library, which went really well.

I didn't write a post about Ad Astra or Atomic Lollipop, both of which which also went really well.

I didn't even write a post about the fact that Realmwalker liked my Legacy submission so much that it was accepted on the spot, coupled with an offer by them to publish the Four Kingdoms Saga, and Dragon in the Doghouse.

Incidentally, I'm now a traditionally published author. And I never blogged about it, surprising no one.

The transition has been kind of weird. I would go into it in detail, but frankly one of my fellow RPG authors, the incredibly talented Graham Austin-King did a perfect job describing it on his own blog, which he manages to actually update.

So, all that said, I guess I'll tell you guys about what's going on for FanExpo. This year, I've upgraded from piggybacking table space off friends, and have moved onto bigger and better things; sharing a smaller (read: less expensive) table with Deanna. We're going to be at booth A75 all four days, where you can get the shiny new RPG editions of The Summerlark Elf, and if you're early/eager enough, the last remaining self-published copies of The Missing Thane's War and Dragon in the Doghouse. Additionally, Deanna will be selling tons of really cool prints, from cubicle-friendly postcards to dorm-appropriate posters, and everything in-between. Long story short, booth A75 is where the coolest stuff is. (Except for everyone else's really cool stuff. Buy all that stuff, too.)

Now, of course, there's always more to these cons than just the dealers' rooms. The Thursday and Sunday nights will be pretty quiet for Deanna and I (unless something REALLY awesome comes up, that is), but Friday and Saturday are for PARTIES!

So to speak.

Friday night, come and join me, Deanna, game designer/writer/artist Corey Reid (Dino Pirates of Ninja Island, Reform School Ninja Girls), my brother Ryan, and whoever else we can drag along as I run them through the latest DnD 5e adventure Harried in Hillsfar. Spoilers: Deanna will play a halfling.

Further spoilers: that's not really a spoiler if you know Deanna at all.

Saturday night you'll be able to find Deanna and I at the RETRO CONSOLE GAMING AFTER PARTY! That's a thing that's actually happening! Specifically at the Loose Moose on Front St.

Alright, everyone, I'm pretty sure I've filled my blog quota for the next six months, I'll catch you all next February.

Just kidding, expect a recap post in a couple weeks.

.....

Maybe.

A Playdate in Someone Else's Sandbox

I was going to make some kind of glib comment about missing a post this month, but then I looked through my blog history and realized that the day I keep a regular blog schedule on this website is the day I'm replaced by a lizardman wearing my skin. As such, should you begin to see a consistent pattern emerge in this blog's schedule, dear readers, I humbly ask that you rise up and exact retribution in my name. Thanks in advance for that.

February has been a super eventful month, you guys. I did an interview with the local radio station of a township not far from me, which was a lot of fun. The interviewer, who hosts a weekly show called Shelf Life, was a librarian at the library I'll be visiting in May, and as soon as the radio station gets their website in ship-shape (it's currently under construction) I'll post a link to the interview over on the Interviews and Other Media page. Past that, I've been trying to get all my ducks in a row for my next Chapters signing next week, as well as Ad Astra in April.

Oh yeah, I guess I've been writing a bit, too.

In truth, I've been writing quite a bit this month. As I told you guys in my last post, I'm working on a submission for Realmwalker Publishing Group's Legacy anthology currently, and man have I been enjoying it. If I'm being honest, I don't think this project could have come at a better time. I certainly don't want you guys to think that I got burned out on Four Kingdoms book three or anything like that, but the fact of the matter is that I have, for roughly the last fourteen months or so, been spending the bulk of my free time working on this series. It has been an amazing, rewarding, enriching experience, to be sure, and I do not regret a single moment up to this point. That being said, it has also been incredibly exhausting.

Maybe it's just the way my brain works, but if I keep doing the same thing for a long period of time, especially something creative, I find my creative well begins to dry up. Motivation withers in favour of mechanization, and frankly I'm not the type who can just go through the motions and fix it up later. Looking back at my old blog Between Two Junkyards is a great example of how dangerous this can be for me as a writer, because as soon as I allowed myself to slip a little, the blog posts that I managed to update on a pretty frequent and consistent basis began to trickle, both in quantity and quality.

Creeping toward 2015, I found that almost every time I sat down to work on book three I was asking myself more questions than I was actually putting words on the page. It wasn't healthy for the progression of this series, and it certainly wasn't healthy for my creative process. I suppose taking a break from writing altogether to allow my batteries to recharge was a possibility, and I'm sure there are writers who are able to do that, but the metaphorical lightbulb that is my mind seems not to be powered by lithium ion, but by one of those kinetic-energy science fair projects that involves an exercise bike.

Enter Legacy. The anthology is pretty interesting in that, rather than having a group of authors write stories set in their own worlds that are all thematically related, those of us submitting stories are working within the world of one of the Realmwalker titles, each of us contributing a story that ties into the history of a prominent family therein. The best part is that, while the submission packet offered the various prompts and necessary rudimentary information, we were more-or-less given carte blanche otherwise. I don't know that I have felt this much raw inspiration while writing since I was working on the first draft of The Summerlark Elf. Though I'm still not cracking out the kind of word counts I was back then (I'd have finished this short story weeks ago if I were), what I am clocking on the page when I write is stuff that I always feel good about.

Best of all? Since working on this short story I have had ideas sprouting like mushrooms in a rainforest for book three. In a perfect world, I'd be juggling the two with ease, but the reality is that I only have so many hours in a given day, and while I'm on a deadline for Legacy, I only have the barest semblance of one for my own novels, giving the former precedence at the moment. Know, though, that once I send this story off to my betas I will be charging back headlong into Olhean with a vengeance.

With any luck, Legacy will open up some new opportunities to do more work like this in the future. I guess sometimes everyone needs a change of scenery. If not, maybe I'll try my hand at the odd Four Kingdoms short story here and there and post them here on the website.

What do you think, guys? Would you be up for the odd 10,000 word story in between novels? Let me know in the comments, and I'll see you all in March.

In Which I Discuss Projects, Writing and Otherwise

It just seems like a good day for a blog post, I suppose.

January has been a slower month than I would have liked. Maybe I can attribute that to a general post-holiday consumer dearth, I guess. Maybe people are too caught up with books received over said holidays. Having not had a prior January with which to compare book sales, it's difficult to say, and as such I can't exactly pay it that much mind, an author's journey being a marathon rather than a sprint, and all that.

If nothing else, January kind of seemed like a setup month for what is looking to be a pretty adventurous year. I updated the Upcoming Appearances Page a couple weeks back, which is confirmed events, and therefore excludes the signings at Chapters locations in Toronto, of which dates are being discussed, as well as cons I haven't yet confirmed (Anime North and FanExpo).

Further, I will be doing a radio interview with the awesome people at the Stouffville Public Library next week, and a Reddit AMA over at /r/Fantasy on the 18th. The interview will be pre-recorded, and I imagine will appear in a digital format that I will link to as soon as I'm able. All whilst working full-time and slowly chipping away at book three.

If this sounds like complaining, it isn't. I enjoy keeping busy. I recently had a conversation with my mom and my sister, musing about the fan-favourite hypothetical of winning the lottery, and when I had offered that I would just quit my job and write, my sister balked at the notion.

"You couldn't do it." she said, assuming that I had meant simply becoming an eccentric millionaire hermit who spent sixteen hours a day weaving tales. "You're the only person I know who does the dishes when he has the flu because he can't just relax."

She's right, of course. Sleeping in past (maybe) 10am, doing nothing all day, spending time in pajamas whilst not sleeping; these things all drive me kind of nuts. I can remember going to Cuba some years ago, and having a hard time coping with the idea of spending a week sitting by a pool. I am, by nature, a borderline frenetic individual. This is why I am looking forward to everything I have on my plate for 2015 so far, on top of taking on an additional writing project.

Yup, a small publisher called Realmwalker Publishing is releasing a multi-author short story anthology called Legacy. Unlike most fantasy anthologies, which have authors writing stories that are thematically similar only, this book centres around the timeline of a family of wizards within one of the Realmwalker series, each story serving as a snapshot of an important event in the family's history. I'll probably have to take a few weeks hiatus from working on the next Four Kingdoms book, but I have to admit that it's going to be interesting, even a little refreshing, to take a step back from Olhean for a while and play in someone else's world.

Oh, that reminds me. Olhean? That's the name of my world. There's actually a good deal more about the world that I plan on posting onto the site at some point. Let me know what you guys might like to see in the comments!

P.S. Don't everyone get excited and congratulate me on the Legacy thing yet - it's an open submission format, and they announce who they've chosen all the way in June. Sending me some positive mojo would be much appreciated, though.

New Year, New Fun, New Me

First off, points to whoever guesses what I'm paraphrasing above.

Hey everyone, it's 2015! I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday season. I know I got to spend lots of time with friends and loved ones, ate entirely too much food, and generally basked in the joviality that is ever-present during the year's denouement. I even got a little bit of writing done, which was exciting. This time last year, I was waiting on my beta readers to finish their early drafts of The Summerlark Elf, so the thought of how the craziness of December might affect my writing time/energy just didn't occur to me. As it stands now, I'm about 14,000 words into book three, and decided last night to get into a head space where I hopefully won't be dragging my heels across the page for a little while. The momentum is nice, because it feels like something I haven't got a chance to really reach just yet with this book.

We'll see how long it takes before you guys read my next blog post, wherein I lament the fact that I feel like I'm just a hack who may as well be scrawling in crayon across old newspapers. You laugh, but you know it's coming.

Writers are weird, okay?

I had planned on this post being reflective and introspective, what with the whole "full year as a writer" milestone passed (admittedly it's been about fourteen months, but it's been a while since my last blog post, and New Years is always thematically apropos). I admit, it's odd looking back on where I was this time last year. I feel like I've progressed leaps and bounds, not only in my writing, but in everything in the periphery that, one year ago, I had no idea being an author entailed.

I think that, aside from the whole writing and publishing two novels and a picture book in one year thing, I'm most proud of what I'm starting to achieve in terms of networking, of finding opportunities to get my work out there. I've talked about the cons I worked, and of my bookstore appearance this past October, but plans are in motion right now for some projects that a) will be bigger and better than what I got up to last year, and b) are farther in scope than I could have possibly seen myself planning a year ago. I can't go into any details just yet, as everything is very much in its infancy, but rest assured that I will keep you all posted, dear readers, and that I will try my best not to disappoint.

Happy New Year, everyone!

SFContario 2014, or a Study on the Effect of Polar Opposites on the Self-Published Writer

When I first opted to self-publish The Summerlark Elf, I'd like to think that I approached the endeavour with decidedly realistic (read: low) expectations. To be honest, I was expecting to be met with little, if any, attention from the fantasy community, nothing but negative feedback from those who did take a chance on my book (because the internet), and an absolute dearth of opportunities to promote myself and my writing past spamming social networks. What I did not expect was to have several local stores graciously offer to put my books on their shelves, to have been embraced so warmly by the fantasy community (readers and authors alike), to have received several positive reviews, and to have been allowed the opportunity not only to promote my work in Chapters, but at FanExpo. As a little indie guy who decided one year ago to start work on a multi-book fantasy series with zero credentials going into it, I am proud to say that I think I've done decidedly well so far.

So well, in fact, that I think I really needed SFContario this past weekend to make sure I wasn't getting carried away with all this good luck.

I had only ever attended a few different conventions leading up to my working FanExpo, so perhaps my expectations going into this convention were somewhat skewed. I want to be clear before I continue, however, that this post is not meant to dump on SFContario; the show's organizers were friendly and helpful, and truly seemed to have their hearts in the right place. The convention is still young, this being its fifth year, and I believe that with time and perseverance the con is capable of becoming much larger and much more recognizable. All this being said though, I would be lying if I said that my experience this past weekend wasn't a bit... underwhelming.

I arrived at the hotel where the convention was being held on the Friday afternoon. The dealers' room opened at 4pm, so I had thought that arriving at 2:30 seemed like a good idea - plenty of time to find my table, get set up, etc. I was met by what seemed like a somewhat surprised liaison, who accompanied me to the roughly 30" x 20" hotel conference room that would serve as the dealers' room. Seven tables were set up around the room's perimeter, with two more tables set up in the hall outside.

"Well, here we are." the liaison, an older gentleman, announced simply. "Seems you're the first one here, so you an have first pick of the tables." (excepting, of course, those booth spaces where two tables had been secured). I opted for the middle spot along one of the walls perpendicular to the door, and he left me to set up while he no doubt attended to other matters. I had been dealing with an unusually high number of unfortunate happenings in the thirty-six hours leading up to that point, but as I began to set up my books, signage, etc, I began to relax. Sure, the dealers' room was small, but that could only be to mine and Deanna's benefit, as shopping traffic would have a difficult time not passing by our table. Plus, as the other dealers began to arrive, it became clear that I was the only traditional fantasy author there, and that Deanna and I were the only ones with a picture book, so we had both those corners of the genre covered.

The bright outlook Deanna and I had going into the weekend, unfortunately, darkened considerably as the weekend progressed. The dealers' room was vacant more often than not, and the majority of people who did pass through were panelists, friends of dealers, or decidedly disinterested in traditional fantasy and picture books. There were two instances that really capped the whole thing, though:

1. I was talking with an attendee who seemed to get openly offended when I referred to science fiction as "Sci-Fi", and not simply "SF". Her reaction really confused me, and I tried to be polite about it, humourously excusing my faux-pas, though the whole time I was simply baffled. "Sci-Fi" is apparently not a thing you should say. The whole interaction really smacked of a kind of elitism that really gets under my skin, especially as someone who writes the type of fantasy that's generally not considered fashionable right now. I'm sure I'm not the first person to touch on this, but I feel like there are way too many people who want so badly for fantasy and science fiction to be "taken seriously" that they forget that the genres are supposed to be fun. So, I'm sorry that I devalued a genre by using the wrong diminutive for it, I'll be more careful next time.

2. Robin Hobb was the fantasy guest of honour at the con. I am well aware of who she is, and how well-respected her works are in the fantasy community. I didn't have any time to read up on any of her work leading up to the con because my reading time is limited, I was in the middle of the Riyria series, and I genuinely didn't expect to be in the same room as she was at any point that weekend. Wouldn't you know, she decided to saunter into the dealers' room on the Saturday and circuit through the tables, talking to each dealer.

"It figures." I whispered to Deanna, "I made a point of brushing up on Elminster for FanExpo, and never once even saw Ed Greenwood. Now I'm about to meet Robin Hobb, and I haven't read any of her stuff."

"Relax, it's not like she's going to ask if you have." Deanna whispered back "That'd be really snobbish and stupid."

Thankfully, Robin didn't ask me if I had read any of her books. She didn't even talk to me, actually, nor Deanna. After talking to the author at the OnSpec Magazine table to our left, she walked past our table, briefly glancing at the books atop it, and proceeded to stop at the table to our right, where a really nice guy named Chad was selling wind-up steampunk automatons.

Now, I don't want to say that Robin was being intentionally rude, that she spitefully avoided Deanna and I or anything, but at the time, it was a huge, driving all the wind from my sails, slap to the face. it made me feel like the kid from the school newspaper trying to cover a story amid "professional" journalists, like any sense of validation I felt prior was false. It felt like there was a clear message being stated: "Self-publishing does not a real author make", and it really sucked.

Past that, I can't say that there were any more overtly negative experiences that weekend. We didn't sell many books, but we did have one person cold-purchase the picture book, which, as Deanna iterated, was her highlight of the weekend. We also made some pretty cool con buddies in Chad (who goes by "Simon Dalek" on Facebook), and fellow author/artist couple Kit Daven and Sean Chappell, who helped us make the decision to try and make it out to Ad Astra next April. Go google them and buy all their stuff.

All in all, SFContario was an experience worth having, as it gave me some insight into exactly what kind of depth and breadth the convention circuit contains. It was a great networking experience, and although I'm not sure if I'll be back as strictly a dealer for 2015, I wish the organizers all the best in the future.

Wouldn't it be kind of ironic if I would up as a panelist?

To Thine Own Books Be True

I've been listening to a lot of Michael J Sullivan audiobooks lately. Binge listening, if you will. For those unaware, Michael wrote the Riyria Revelations series, the prequel Riyria Chronicles books, and is currently in the midst of authoring the First Empire series, which predates the events of the initial books further still. Since September, I've listened to the audiobook versions of the Riyria books almost exclusively. Prior to that, I listened to the two free Riyria short stories offered on Audible. I've talked briefly with Michael himself over Goodreads, Twitter, and Reddit, all three of which he is an active member of. As an author who made a success of his series through self-publishing before signing on with Orbit Books, Michael is kind of a folk hero among self-pub fantasy authors.

I guess you could say I'm kind of a fan.

During FanExpo, I worked through the awkward art of pitching The Summerlark Elf to complete strangers. During the pitches, I tried to think of more popular and familiar fantasy series' that I could use for comparison. Having listened to the Riyria short stories, which featured sell-swords, witty dialogue, and mention of dwarves and elves, I figured I wasn't unjustified in likening my books to Michael's in some respects. Right now, I'm roughly a quarter of the way through Heir of Novron, the last book of the series (I listened to the prequels first), and I have, over my span of time with Riyria, realized that I cannot, in good faith, ever liken my books to Michael's ever again.

The Riyria books are meticulous and masterful in their depictions of a medieval/Renaissance-esque world, so much so that I can honestly say that I think I've learned more about certain aspects of European history from these books than I had from my textbooks when I studied history in university. Everything from the Church of Novron to the treatment of mir (the half-elves of Elan), feels so well-planned that it feels like an alternate-reality earth. My books are... less so.

For a couple of days, this fact bothered me, and dredged up a bit of a case of imposter syndrome within me. What kind of paltry stuff am I writing? So much of my world feels patchworked, fast and loose by comparison. There are so many nuances of medieval warfare, of the social hierarchies of nobility, that I haven't put thought into. How will people enjoy my books if they aren't as believable?

Here's the funny thing, and it's a thing that I'm glad I realized sooner rather than later. My world isn't as thoroughly premeditated as Elan because I am not Michael J Sullivan, and that's okay.

It's very arguable that I write fantasy that's distinctly more "light" than a good number of other books on the market, but I don't think that fact is to the books' discredit. I have received a number of very positive reviews of The Summerlark Elf, and recently of The Missing Thane's War. Heck, I was recently compared to Terry Brooks! This doesn't mean that I've fooled myself into thinking that I'm some kind of master crafter of epic tomes that will be lauded for their contribution to the literary world, but at the same time, I'm proud of what I create, and the fact that it resonates with people on some level. Sometimes people want fun, and light, and I'm more than happy that I have produced (and continue to produce) books that allow people to scratch that itch.

Seriously, though, my books are pretty short, and I've only just started the third. Go read the Riyria books in the meantime. They're awesome.

On the Glamourous Life of Wordsmithery

So, I concede that I am terrible at keeping a regular blog. I'm sure that I've stated that before, but the fact remains, and the nice, big weeks-long gap between this and my last post made me feel like maybe I ought to point said fact once more. see, the thing is, whenever I sit down to write a blog post, I feel like I ought to have some kind of point I'm trying to get across, some amazing insight or humourous anecdote I can offer to make you, dear readers, feel like your visit to my website was worth your time. Maybe it stems from the days when I furiously blogged away at Between Two Junkyards, when I was trying to write good, print-worthy editorial prose, I'm not really sure.

Fact of the matter is this, guys: my life is, on a day-to-day basis, not terribly exciting, and as such is not often worth blogging about. In truth, October has been such a crazy month, I haven't had much time to think about anything poignant, insightful, or humourous that may have happened in the technicolour whirlwind that has been the last few weeks.

Although, maybe that's not why you read this blog, and maybe it's not the angle I ought to try writing it from. Maybe I should just tell you all what's up, what I have managed to capture within this technicolour whirlwind. Well, here it goes...

My signing at the Brampton Chapters happened. In many ways, it felt very similar to FanExpo, but in many ways it was different. I guess it was kind of like the first time The Ramones performed on a late night talk show... (just follow along with me here). The act of performing in front of an audience would have been nothing new, but David Letterman's studio set held a bit more of an air of mainstream legitimacy than the grimy stage of CBGB. Further, I gather much of Letterman's audience didn't get tickets expecting, never mind anticipating The Ramones, as opposed to CBGB, where the effort needed to get the audience on their side would have been substantially less.

Am I making any sense? I guess the takeaway is that the Chapters event was a really interesting experience, and I look forward to doing more of them, but I found out how much harder it is as a fantasy author to market yourself and your book to a crowd who isn't made up almost entirely of nerds. Not impossible, mind you, but harder.

After the fact, my family had a celebratory dinner, because they are supportive and awesome. There may or may not have been a cake that looked like the cover of The Summerlark Elf, and I may or may not have tweeted pictures of it.

Thanksgiving happened this past weekend here in Canada, and between my family and Deanna's, I spent the weekend more or less with a conveyor belt of food pointed directly at my willing maw. As was the nature of the holiday, I found myself thankful for all those close to me, who have loved and supported me, and would have done so (and did) before I ever got it in my head that I would try and tell stories for a living. I would also like to point out, dear readers, how thankful I am for all of you, as those stories would fall of deaf ears without the lot of you.

Speaking of stories, perhaps it's worth mentioning that Deanna has been burning the midnight oil lately making sure that Dragon in the Doghouse and Missing Thane's War are not only ready for their mid-November releases, but that they look so good my words will pale in comparison. We're hoping to have both sent into the printer for proof-approval this weekend, and we could not be more excited. The buzz we've been getting around both these projects has really been stoking our flames, and you'd better believe we're itching to let them out into the wild come SFContario.

I guess that's it, really. That's all I have to say for now about my crazy, non-stop life. No poignant quip to catchy bit of writing to end on, just a simple, porcine "That's All, Folks!" Maybe I'll loose another mundane update in a week or so - I think this one turned out pretty well.

...Oh, did I mention I started writing Book III?

FanExpo 2014 Recap

Not my most creative title, is it?

Well, FanExpo 2014 has come and gone. Man, it's already been over a week. There is so much that I could talk about, from the enormous beers at the Wayward launch party, to the runaround Jason and I had getting our badges, to casually greeting Neal Adams as I double-fisted slices of pizza on the last day of the con. I sold books, I made some new friends (and saw some old ones), and all in all I had an amazing experience, but of all the possible anecdotes I could share, the memory that will be most indelible to me will be the walk I took on the Saturday evening.

Saturday, for those of you who have never been to a nerd convention, is always the busiest day, and it showed in my end-of-day book sales, every one of which I worked fervently for. I was meeting some friends after the show at a pub about eight blocks or so uptown before we went to the Silver Snail's famous Moonlight Madness sale. I could have taken a ten minute walk to the subway and rode it for three stops, but I was feeling pretty good about myself, and I decided to walk.

No matter what direction you go when you leave the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on the Saturday of FanExpo, you become part of a massive march of the nerds. I may have looked slightly out-of-place with my sport jacket on amid all the cosplayers, but I had my Ninja Turtles t-shirt on underneath it, so maybe not. I listened to Anamanaguchi's latest album Endless Fantasy as I walked, and I was fed by the energy of the crowd, the energy of the music (which I've talked about waxing nostalgic on before), and my own energy from a great day.

It was after about two blocks or so that the crowd gradually dissipated, trickling ever so slowly until I could no longer tell if I was walking amid plainclothes conventioneers or simply everyday non-nerds. I turned onto Younge street and walked north, twilight painting a milky backdrop behind the towering Toronto skyline as music that reminded me of the carelessness daydreamer I was nearly half a lifetime ago provided the soundtrack.

When I was a teenager, I can remember writing little short stories, embarrassing pieces about my friends and I sharing some huge house as adults, and navigating life amid the worst shoujo anime tropes that I couldn't get enough of. They were indulgent and idealistic, and I am so glad that I did not have any ideas to post them online. It had never occurred to me in those silly little stories that I'd end up trying to make a career out of writing, which is ironic in hindsight, but I digress. As I walked up Younge that night, all the feelings I poured into those stories, that bygone sense of wish-fulfillment, all felt real. I was living the kind of dream I would have concocted for myself more than a decade ago, and it felt incredible.

I would go on that night to tell my friends, as I basked in my sense of success and sipped an IPA that was a poor decision the minute it rose a degree above its pouring temperature, that I felt like a king, and that the trip back to reality after the weekend concluded would doubtless be a difficult one. While the latter was certainly true, leaving my skin crawling in withdrawal until my next fix comes in the form of my Chapters signing, the former, not so much. The events of my very first FanExpo were sublime, and left me feeling a lot of things, but I wouldn't say I felt like a king. Rather, I felt like I had unlocked some kind of achievement, reached some kind of milestone. The work I put into my writing is, I would like to believe, very real, and FanExpo was my first real taste of what the payoff of that hard work was. Walking those twilit Toronto streets, I didn't feel like a king, I felt like an author, and that is a feeling I will forever relish.

P.S. Words cannot describe my gratitude to Jason Anarchy, for presenting me with more than just an opportunity, but inviting me to experience the whirlwind life of a professional creator by throwing me headlong into the fray. Everyone reading this (who is of legal drinking age) ought to go to www.drinkingquest.com right now and buy everything Jason has to offer, because I cannot think of anyone who better deserves to be rewarded for the fruits of his labour.

FanExpo 2014

In all honesty, I did not think FanExpo was on my radar, not for 2014.

I mean, Deanna and I talked about splitting the cost on a Small Press table, but opted to wait for 2015, so as to assure we'd both have a body of work to make the cost of a table worthwhile. I did not expect to receive an offer from Jason Anarchy like the one I did this past Anime North:

"So, I have a table for FanExpo this year, but I'm also doing some panels. I had a friend who was going to help me run the table, but he's got other obligations. If you give me a hand, I can give you some table space."

I still cannot believe it, doubly so because this isn't just a Small Press table. Jason is a featured Gaming guest, and as such, that is where the table is located. Let's just say I owe him a few pints, at least. This is FanExpo, the biggest con of the year in Canada.

There is a part of me that is sufficiently terrified.

I mean, I know it's just jitters. I know I'll be fine, have a great weekend, and hopefully sell some books, but it's surreal. On top of the con, Jason, Deanna, and myself are attending Jim Zub's launch party for his new comic tomorrow night, and the Cyanide and Happiness Banana Bar Crawl on Saturday. While on the more casual side, these are very much industry events, with industry people, and I will be commingling with them, as an industry person (sort of).

As it stands, I still have to pack (I will be at Deanna's during the con), but I did want to let you all know what my schedule was going to be like, and where you could find me, provided you'll be attending.

I'll be at the con all four days, so you needn't worry if you only plan on making it out for only one. I will be at table 563 (just a couple tables away from the LEGO booth). Keep an eye out for the big Drinking Quest banner. I will more than likely be there constantly over the four days, so come by and say hello, buy a copy of The Summerlark Elf, and a copy of Drinking Quest. If perchance I am not there, there is a good chance I'm attempting to find Ed Greenwood and give him a copy of the book, so you could likely find me there.

Anyway, I have clothes, books, cards, and DnD stuff to try and pack, so I will see you all later (hopefully at the con!)

In Which I Write Some Words, Preen About Said Words, and Eat Other Words

It's done, you guys. The Missing Thane's War is finally finished.

Well... not entirely finished per se... the first draft is finished, which, to be fair, is still a 61,500 word gorilla off my back. I still need to do a bit of editing on some things that I realized needed tweaking in hindsight before I ship a beta draft out to be pored over, but I took the day off from my manuscript today (I've been working on it more or less consistently since April, I figured I could take a day).

Part of what I did to preoccupy the time I otherwise allocated to this next book was to pore over the new fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook.

Yes, I know... I just finished complaining the other week about how Wizards of the Coast unceremoniously abandoned my edition of choice, but I did maintain that I'd keep an open mind about 5e. Well, last weekend I started running the 5e starter set adventure The Lost Mines of Phandelver with five players, two of whom had next to no DnD experience. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed running the game (which included five pre-generated characters) so much, that this past week I caved and bought the PHB, having all available character options now gloriously at my disposal.

I wanted to see how character creation felt with the new system, even though as a DM I really have no reason to roll up my own characters, so I decided to see how well one could customize a character by rolling up the four protagonists from The Summerlark Elf.

Rolling up Enna, an elf wizard, took me longer than anyone else, in part because she was the first character I created, and in part because any class that has spells to choose will inherently take longer to create. It took me about ninety minutes using just the PHB and the form-fillable character sheets provided on the DnD website, but after rolling up one character it was easy to get the gist of it, and I was able to roll up O'doc, my final creation, in about forty minutes.

It was a fun exercise, and I have to say I think I was able to create pretty good representations of my characters. I wanted to share the results, so here they are! Feel free to print them off for your own group, and see what kind of messes you can get my characters into (and out of)!

Adrik

Enna

Erasmus

O'doc

Everyone's At GenCon, and I'm Just Sitting Here Creating

Hey Everyone!

What's it been, six weeks since my last blog post? I am not great at this "keeping a regular blog" thing, much as I'd like to be. So where have I been? Well, the three or four of you reading this who don't know me personally, I've been doing that marvelous thing that wound up with me creating this website in the first place, writing books.

...Well I've been writing book, anyway, and I've been working rather fervently on it as of late, if I do say so myself. So much so, in fact, that I feel a little silly for feeling like I was having trouble with it for the last couple months or so (though I've come to realize that mid-draft existential despair is very much part of the 'creative process' for a lot of writers). So much so, in fact, that I feel like I can comfortably announce some things regarding this book, as well as the other awesome project I have going right now.

So, first off, this book, that is to say the sequel to The Summerlark Elf, is titled The Missing Thane's War. I hope to have the first draft completed very, very shortly, at which time I will release it to my beta readers, confident that they will pick every last nit in the manuscript and send me promptly back to my writing hole until I've learned my lesson. That being said, before anyone gets through the first beta read, I'm planning on releasing a small excerpt (likely the first chapter) right here on the website, because I love you all so much and want you to get excited. In terms of a release date, I am tentatively announcing a release somewhere in the area of mid-November, preferably to coincide with mine and Deanna's appearance at SFContario, but I'll have a more concrete date as the process continues.

Secondly, and speaking of Deanna, she is currently diving headlong into the final illustrations for our picture book Dragon in the Doghouse. I'd like to say that it's a concept similar to If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, but with less chain-reactionary mayhem and more kobolds and owlbears. I had so much fun writing it, and right now you can get a sneak peek at some of Deanna's illustrations on her tumblr. Right now , the picture book is slated for an early September release, so Othar willing you will be able to purchase it, as well as the first two Four Kingdoms books if you happen to be attending Contario in November.

Other than that, with FanExpo around the corner, I am anxiously awaiting the stock of novels I'll be bringing with me. I'll be sharing a booth with the awesome Jason Anarchy, creator of the Drinking Quest games, so if you're attending be sure to look for the big DQ banner in the Featured Guests area and say hi! (That's right, Jason and I will be in the same area as Ed Greenwood himself.)

In non-book news, I got over myself and picked up the fifth edition DnD starter set, and have been very, very much contemplating picking up the Player's Handbook. Honestly, the system is really interesting, and the Starter Set adventure is everything, in hindsight, I would have wanted the fourth edition Red Box to be. That being said, I'm still not crazy about dropping a whole new system on my players, but I will likely be giving the starter set a try this weekend with a handful of people, and if I'm feeling chatty next week I'll probably tell you how it went.

Until then!

-Brandon

Excuse Me While I Grognard

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition soft-launched yesterday, with the starter set being released at select game shops, and the free basic rules PDF showing up on the DnD website. This is kind of a big deal, as Wizards of the Coast has been very publicly crafting the release for the last two years. Lots of people are very excited, and seeing as DnD is kind of a large part of why I do what I do, I thought I might take some time to write my thoughts on the whole thing.

A lot of what I've seen so far is interesting. The idea of having a core rule set as a framework from which you then add whatever supplemental rules best fit your table is an interesting idea, and is very indicative of the fact that WotC had one primary goal with 5e: try to please everybody.

...everybody except those of us who play 4th Edition, anyway.

To elabourate, I'm sure that plenty of people who played 4e participated in the last two years of open play test, and contributed to the final result accordingly, and that there are plenty of people who played 4e who are very much excited to give the finalized 5e a shot. My issue is not that the opinions of us 4e players were ignored, but that ultimately, our preferred edition was cast aside.

I get it, when WotC released 4e, most of the devotees of 3.5e cursed the company's name, and jumped ship for Paizo's 3.5 re-skin Pathfinder. Much of the internet panned 4e as "too videogamey" or "un-rollplayable". Truth be told, I'm fully willing to admit that 4e does have it's hang-ups: combat can be slow, especially with inexperienced players, the idea of combat powers can lead to a lack of creative play from inexperienced players, a lack of codified rules on roleplay can make it hard for inexperienced players to rollplay.

At the end of the day, yes, WotC could have made improvements to 4e. Truth be told, later releases like Halls of Undermountain and The Neverwinter Campaign Guide really tried to push a lot of the non-combat options 4e had to offer, but in the end, WotC opted not to stay the course and hope to weather the storm, but to cut and run. 4e materials were only published for four years before the 5e play test was announced. Sure, all the seasons of Encounters up until the most recent were 4e compatible, but by and large, the edition was unceremoniously dropped and left for dead.

That, ultimately, is what bothers me most about the 5e launch, not that my preferred edition is no longer being published, but that it was never given a proper chance to evolve, or at the very least that it wasn't even given a proper send-off.

Anyway, long story short, I'm not going to be an edition snob. I may even eventually pick up some 5e material, but if you're at my table, expect to pick some at-wills, encounters, and dailies, because I love 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, and Avandra knows someone needs to.