Saturday, June 27, 2015

Busy July Ahead

I can't believe how fast this year has flown. Two months ago, I released my first novel, although there were some "hick-ups" (hiccups).

My editor is currently making her second pass of my manuscript and it will be ready by the time the blog book blitz begins on July 20th.  During the blitz, my tour organizer will also be running a Rafflecopter for two $50 gift cards and the professionally edited version of "Heir of the Blood King" will be available for free during the tour.

I've finally set up my MailChimp account so that people can sign up for my newsletter.  After the tour, I plan to hold more Rafflecopters and offer sneak peeks, possibly even full stories exclusively available for newsletter subscribers.

One of the other things that I plan to do is launch a series of short horror stories, but those will probably not be available until the end of summer.

Still working on Book Two of the Adventures of Adam.  I did add the preface for it to the edited version of Book One so readers can get a sneak peak. I'm still trying to decide the right time to release "The Cult of Draenar" this fall.  The manuscript should be ready by the middle of August and then I can submit it to the editor.  I wanted to set up a pre-order during the book blitz, but so much has been going on, I just haven't had the time to give Book Two my full attention.

Next week, I should have my blog set up with an email account so that readers and subscribers can contact me for questions.  I've also been asked to guest blog on a few other blogs, but my schedule is full.  Hope I can do at least one or two before the end of July.

Have a great weekend folks!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Oh, Happy Day!

My wife, children and I want to say Congrats to everyone, especially those warriors and supporters in the LGBT communities across this nation!

I told myself that I would speak very little about politics on this blog and this week seems to have been an exception.

This proves that no matter how daunting the task, we can achieve anything when we put our hearts and minds together, working on a common cause!

Oh, Happy Day!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Southern Heritage and Everything Changes

This post is made up of a few Facebook statuses I've made in the last few hours:

Listen, I'm proud of my Southern heritage.
I've been on the bayou at the crack of down, waiting for the fish to bite only to jump into the muddy waters when the sun was directly above my head. I've sat back and put down a cold one with friends and good conversation around a bonfire with the sounds of crickets as background music. I've hunted. I've even gigged for bullfrogs with a spotlight. I've used an outhouse on more than one occassion. I've drowned my sorrows in the bottle of Lynchburg's finest Tennessee Sour Mash while listening to Robert Johnson plucking his chords that sang the music of my soul.
I know that at times, I seem a bit uppity, but I know where I came from. I've lived it and there is no song, no symbol that can define those experiences.

Words and symbols change in meaning as cultures change and re-examine. For example, the word "awful" once meant "full of awe". In biblical times, a rainbow meant a reminder from God that he would never flood the world again and today it is widely accepted as a symbol that stands for same-sex equality.
The World Trade Center once stood as a symbol of America's power, wealth and influence. But with the actions of just 19 individuals, the WTC has become a symbol that means something else entirely....
By and large, you know your own heart and what certain words and symbols mean to you in spite of how society as a whole views them. Learn to accept that a meaning of a word or symbol can change in a society, but that doesn't mean your heart has to. Give respect and earn it in return. After all, if you can look in the mirror and be proud, what's the worry?

So let's be done with the Confederate flag because it no longer represents Southern Heritage to the rest of the world.  In fact, the many people that it has oppressed have always viewed it as a symbol of hatred. The world sees it today the same way.
Know who you are and don't be afraid to say you are proud of where you come from.  You can still stand up for that and say no to bigotry.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Charleston and Passive Aggressive Racism

Last Wednesday, on June 17, 2015, nine Black Americans were viciously murdered in the one place on this planet that they felt safe, their place of worship, at the Emanual African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, SC.  The 21-year-old white shooter who joined the parishioners for their weekly bible study killed them only because they were black.

What happened after that, to me was even more malicious. As the story spread like wildfire, the mainstream media began spinning the story as an isolated incident, a lone wolf, a crazy man and even attacks on Christianity. If it had been a Muslim man, the act would have been labeled as an act of terrorism.

The reason racism is so rampant in the United States is because we like to pretend it doesn't exist, even when the evidence is directly in front of us. We like to say, "Oh, that's from another time in our history and we are past that."  Take a closer look, folks.  It's kicking us in our face right here in the present.

It is more than a lie.  It is Passive-Aggressive Racism.  It is Racial Terrorism against our own citizens. The idea of ignoring a sickness in our society by refusing to address the problem, actually protects the institution of racism, perpetuating it.  Passive-Aggressive Racism grows and seethes just beneath the skins of our citizens until it erupts with violent outbursts.  And that is when we decide to ask ourselves, "How could have this happened?"

These six women and three men were good people. They helped their communities, supported their church and were productive members of society. The only reason they became a target of this hateful racist was because their place of worship had been historically a target for racist violence.

I grew up in the South, the Mississippi Delta.  In South-East Arkansas, racism both active and passive have been prevalent.  I grew up in the town of Lake Village, Arkansas just across the river from Greenville, MS. The town I lived in was 85% black and yet 96% of the businesses were owned by whites.  Segregation of my hometown in the 70's and early 80's was a real issue.  Even though we did have a railroad track that ran through the middle of town, my hometown was segregated in a different way. Once you past Main Street a few blocks north, the imaginary line began that was often referred to as the black ghetto by grown-ups that I heard as a youth and it went all the way over to the old water tower.

When I was around four years old, I remember riding in the backseat of my uncle's car with my two older step-cousins.  My uncle was always a sweet, gentle man who laughed often and made those around him feel loved. That's why I remember my first brush with racism so well because we took a trip together to Greenville, MS and as we approached Nelson Street (Greenville's equivalent to Beale Street in Memphis, TN for blues and folk culture), my uncle rolled down his window and in a big booming voice yelled, "NI**ER!".  My two cousins joined in through the back passenger window.  Like I said, I was four years old.  His voice seethed with hatred and anger.  I was scared.  When my cousins joined in, they joined with a laughing, mocking tone. They had somehow turned it into a game. I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to be left out, so I joined in and uttered my first racial word, "ni**er".

I didn't know what it meant, but deep down in my gut, I knew it was wrong.  It left a pit in my stomach.  Even then, I can honestly say that to me it didn't feel normal.  But that was the expectation then, somewhere around 1976.  Racism was a part of everyday life. I was blessed with a good mom who looked me in the eye and told me that being a racist was wrong.  My uncle and my step-cousins were wrong.  And even though I didn't know what it all meant, I was wrong too.  You see, racism is taught.  It isn't natural or instinctive as some would like for you to believe.

A month or so ago, I wrote a heartwarming story about my pet duck. One of the things that I omitted from the story was that my friend, Marcus is black.  I didn't think much about that when I was writing it because I was simply sharing a fun story that brought a lot of happy memories to me.

But with this tragedy that unfolded last week, I did some soul searching in my past for racism because I'm a white man who grew up in the Deep South.  The story of the duck was a beautiful story, but it wasn't authentic to what I saw in the terms of racism.  Because my friend was black, I was labeled a "ni**er lover" by many of my so-called white friends. My step-grandfather was very racist.  He would tell me that if I kept hanging out with them, I too would turn into a ni**er.  I was taunted for wanting to suck on a black woman's breast because I loved chocolate milk.  Keep in mind, I was just 7 years old.  My black friends didn't come to knock on my door because the rumors about my step-grandfather, who we lived with at the time, was that he killed little black boys.  Of course, that wasn't true, he was just hateful and mean spirited towards blacks, in general, even if he did indeed have black friends that never came to his house.

So let's flash forward to today, where the media wants to ignore racism  and pretend that it doesn't exist and that Affirmative Action isn't needed.  Low-income families living in the ghettos of America are treated as second class citizens, susceptible to racial profiling by the authorities because they have been labeled "too lazy to get a job" or "feel entitled and want to live off the government."  Our prisons are gluttonously full of these black men, disproportioned  to the extreme.

So people say, "Well, if they didn't commit the crimes..."  That's Passive-Aggressive Racism at work right there.  Think back to when you were a kid when you would break your parents rule when they were not looking.  Think about how many times you got away with it and then the rare occasion you were caught and punished.  Now, think about having the authorities watching your every move waiting for your to screw up.  You see, the reason that you got away with stuff as a kid is because your parents trusted you, so when you made a mistake, you weren't always caught.  But if the watchful eye of the authorities watch you with distrust long enough, how long do you really think you could take that?  At what point will you just say "Screw it, if I'm gonna get blamed for something I didn't do and treated like a criminal, I might as well become one because I can't get a job because I live in the ghetto."

When our nation of young black men are treated like criminals and young black women are treated like baby factories by a society of entitled taxpayers who think that the poor are lazy, you will create division.  These young men and women are citizens of this country.  They have a right to the same freedoms to pursue their dreams without being afraid someone is watching over them waiting for them to make a mistake.  They have the same right to walk into the store and buy some food without someone watching them like they are a criminal.

So you say that you don't want them to sit at home and draw welfare or food stamps.  The fact of the matter is, those are stereotypes, just like racial profiling by the police.  It is true that most of the welfare and food stamp recipients are predominately white.  We put people down as they try to survive in the poorest areas of our country, we don't want to get them jobs, we don't want to help them out of poverty and so finally they get arrested and thrown in jail.

And guess what, that will cost the entitled taxpayers of this country to pay ten times the amount to take care of them during their incarceration.  They are exposed to prison violence and network with criminals to learn skills they will need to survive for when they get out. Because with a criminal record, they won't be able to get a decent job.  Our prison system creates career criminals.

Let me correct that.  Passive-Aggressive Racism creates career criminals.  And when the real racist white man starts thinking that the blacks are taking over this country, like Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old white shooter in Charleston, they can no longer contain their spite and violence erupts.

But this stigma is even greater than that. Even a successful black man or woman cannot escape it including some of my heroes like Morgan Freeman and Neil Degrasse Tyson.  They too have experienced some form of racism at some point in their lives.

This is my fault.  This is your fault.  Because we can't admit that racism exists and we want to point our finger at everything else, it breeds and it corrupts. We need to be honest and talk about it. We need to weed it out by speaking up against it.

Racism in any form has a price.  If a white mom refuses to let her child play with another child of a different color, it will add to the epidemic.  When it builds to much, innocent lives will always be lost.  That's the price we pay when we keep our mouths shut.

Speak up.  Speak loud and clear.  Let's not pretend it doesn't exist anymore.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Review: Titansgrave - The Ashes of Valkana

This morning, I noticed a post on Google + by Wil Wheaton titled #SaveTheBeer! and it talked about his anxiety and expectations for the Tabletop spinoff show, "Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana".

My wife and I love watching Tabletop and it has helped us to get our children even more interested in tabletop gaming.  Just from watching Wil and his friends, we have added more than a dozen new tabletop games (such as Castle Panic, Settlers of Catan, and Elder Sign) to our family game nights. We have been anticipating this new series since it was first announced, so today we rescheduled our day to catch Chapter 0 and Chapter 1.

I began playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition when I was 14 years old, almost 30 years ago. My first experience as a Dungeon Master began about a year after that with AD&D 2nd Edition and I actively ran campaigns practically every weekend up until I was around 27.  From time to time, we dust off the ole dice and run an adventure or two, but with having four children, that doesn't leave us the time to heavily invest in running campaigns.  Now, I can vicariously experience a campaign adventure with this new series!

The Positive:

Overall, I was very pleased with the introduction to the RPG storyline and the cast that portrayed the player characters. The post-production team and Wil did an amazing job of bring the role playing game experience into a new level of emersion with the sound effects and storyboards. The storyline was compelling and fun as an introduction to the RPG experience. To me, the show has great potential and we plan to watch every episode.  I would definitely give it 5 out of 5 STARS!

You can check out the video below to discover this for yourself.

Room for Improvement:

With everything great that I have to say about this show, there are some things that I did notice that I'd like to see improvement on in future series (I know that this season is pretty much in the box, so I don't expect any viewer feedback to address these things now).

Being a storyteller, or Game Master, can be very challenging. It is not enough for the storyteller to be a rules lawyer.  The GM has to also propel the story forward and is responsible for updating that story as the player characters action change the storyline. I could not imagine the task of running a game with so many intelligent and personable players as Wil did with this story, especially given the fact that he was also thinking about production value as they were playing.  No one person could handle all of those tasks at once, but Wil pulled it off.  Here are some things I noticed.

Non-player characters are driven by the storyteller and are objects just as anything else that needs to be described.  It concerned me that there were times the player characters were dictating what actions the non-player characters were taking such as when Yuri Lowenthal was describing the actions of his character, S'Lethkk.  I like Yuri's ideas and how he interacted with the scenes in this episode, but when he stated how his character would be casting a cantrip to produce a fake fire, he also dictated how the hobbit NPC would react to it by saying "he freaks out and then everybody else freaks out." It made for a great story, but it would have been preferred to have Wil, the storyteller, tell us how the hobbit and the audience reacted to it since it is a magical and technical world where magic may be considered commonplace. The hobbit described by Wil was clearly wanting to be a part of telling the story and offered an opportunity to the adventurers to use his idea of simulating the forest fire as part of the players improv narrative.

Watching this episode was also my first introduction into the AGE system and I didn't like the fact that an initiative roll was made only at the start of an encounter and not re-rolled for each round.  Yes, it does simplify the rules and gameplay, but it is a lot of fun for a storyteller, as well as the players, to be able to incorporate Stunts and Failed Actions into how a combat sequence unfolds.

I can tell by how this video was edited that there were some interactions that were obviously cut from the game session, mostly to have a coherent storyline and to fit time constraints, as well as story pacing.  There was a scene where a character had failed to cast a shock spell that basically fizzled, but it wasn't addressed by the storyteller in the video.  Most likely it was, but Wil probably removed it post-production.  As an RPG tabletop gamer, I have learned that a character's story evolution is based not only upon a character's successes and legendary feats, but also their lost opportunities and miserable failed dice checks.  It would have been interesting to see "misses" get some storyteller love.

And where are the snacks?  The set is MISSING that big bowl of M&M's!!!

Finally, I will say this.  If you are a role player, this video series should be a must watch. Same goes for those who are interested in learning. This series rolled a natural 20 in my book...

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Suggested Reading: 4 Things Every Writer Should Know About Beta Readers

While my editor completes her first pass of my manuscript, I've been prepping the groundwork to be ready for beta readers once we complete the second pass.

I came across this article from one of my favorite writing blogs about beta readers. Check it out!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Summertime Is Here

This past week, the family and I have spent a lot of time outside, grilling and enjoying the sunshine. We got the swimming pool set up, as well as the kiddie pool for our little man.

We do like to grill year-round, but we always pick up the pace when the summer approaches. Usually, we avoid the sweltering humidity of living in the South whenever we can by mostly staying active outdoors as the evenings start to cool.

This year has been different. I believe I've been outside more during the mid-day hours these past two weeks than I have in the past two years.  The children are older and after all of us remained cooped up during all of these storms that have come through in the last two months, we are making up for lost time.

I know I will end up spending a fortune in sunblock this summer, but honestly, we all feel much better than we have in a long time.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Learning From My Mistakes

So while talking with my editor the other day online, we talked about my journey with publishing Heir of the Blood King.

I wrote an article after I first published it and I complained that it was making me pull my hair out.  There is a reason it was so difficult for me.  I was doing it wrong because I not only missed steps, but I got them in the wrong order.

My editor clarified for me that the steps should be:

  1. Writing
  2. Developmental
  3. Copy Edits
  4. Proofreading
  5. Format
  6. Cover
  7. Publish
I have a lot of excuses for doing things the way that I did, but that is just what I have, a bunch of excuses. The main reason, to be honest, was that I didn't believe in myself enough to make an investment into myself.  I cut corners and I did everything the hard way.  Here are the steps that I took in the wrong order:

  1. Writing
  2. Four Revisions by my wife and I with no professional input
  3. Format
  4. Publish
  5. Proofreading
  6. Cover
  7. Copy Edit
As it turns out though, there were a few things that I did do correctly.  As I was writing, I didn't attempt to edit, so it made the creative process must faster.  After I finished the first draft, I did a read through to check pacing.  I wanted it to be fast and I had the result I was looking for. As we worked on drafts 2 through 4, my wife and I took turns reading out loud to catch any errors.

So, when I release book 2, I fully intend on following my editor's advice.  You can call what I do a hobby and there are many people who invest thousands of dollars into their hobby with no hope of recovering any of their investments.  I should be ashamed for not spending the money that I should have spent on my hobby because I am creating works that will still be making returns on my investment long after I am dead for my children and grandchildren.  Very few hobbies offer that kind of potential return.

I also discovered a few more things:  

  1. It pays to be patient because it will cost you not only more money, but opportunities to connect to readers if you rush through the process.
  2. When writing a series, be sure to have at least a couple of installments ready before you begin the release process. No one wants a one book series and you never know what can happen to you before you have a chance to write it.
  3. Reviews are for readers, not authors.
  4. When you get a bad review, never, EVER start a discussion about it no matter the justification.  Let it be.  Find something constructive and work on your craft.
  5. Always trust your editor. They know what they are doing.
  6. Connect with your readers one on one.  Yes, it is a slow process, but in the end, you are building loyal relationships and nothing will boost your opportunities like word of mouth conversations about your work.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Labels and Sexuality in Character Development

After pouring through all the feedback, comments and responses from friends, family and independent readers alike about my book, one of the common complaints I have received is that my characters are underdeveloped. As I work with my copy editor on the book, I have asked her to keep an eye out for character development flaws.

My wife and I had to take a road trip and I became exasperated with a discussion we were having about the criticism.  Yes, there are some things I have purposefully left out of Adam's, my main protagonist, history.  To give certain details of his past away at this point would throw the entire series plot out of the window.  Think of reading Harry Potter and being told Snape was the character that cared the most for him, or that part of Voldemort's soul was trapped within Harry.  This forehand knowledge being revealed too soon would have destroyed an amazing story line.

Now there is the question of why Adam seems more like a support character than the main protagonist.  I promise that this is an intended effect, set to preserve the series storyline. For awhile, the reader has to consider the real possibility of Adam's destiny, but all assumptions are thrown out the window as the truth unfolds.  So the problem in my character development doesn't lie within the plot itself, nor the character's motivations, etc.

If you look at the three main characters in the storyline, Adam, Donadeir and Talia, you can clearly identify their goals, how they choose to interact with one another, their hopes and fears, what they like and do not like.  They also have histories told in varying degrees based on the viewpoints of what the characters know about one another. Adam is an adopted orphan who works on the docks learning a trade who dreams of one day becoming an adventurer. Talia, who lost her mother when she was young, was once best friends with Donadeir and then spent all of her time training to be a warrior to join the Order of The Fates Divined. Donadeir, who was a spoiled, resentful son of a baker enjoys causing mischief as much as he loves to cook and to eat, and relishes the fact that he has experiences of travel very few of the locals have had.

So the way these characters, think, feel, hope and dream, as well as actual information regarding their pasts, is not an issue with the character development. So is the issue in the descriptions of the characters themselves?

My wife reminded me that she had a difficult time understanding the ages of the characters in spite of given the actual number of Summers old each character was because they were too innocent. She sometimes had to remind herself that they were teenagers.  Yes, she knew that Adam had raven black hair, blue eyes, a small nose, thin mouth and was slender.  Talia has almond-shaped green eyes filled with a fierce intensity, long braided golden hair and a maturing body, wearing a belt of pouches with a leather vest over a white blouse and leather pants and boots.  Donadeir is round, heavy set with skinny legs and a brown bowl haircut and a cherub-like face, although he is not so innocent, and his brown robes and nice black boots make him almost look like a priest.

So ok, I seem to have some basic good descriptions, so what can be missing?  Why would these characters seem so innocent and come across as childish, I asked myself and posed the question to my wife.

"Well, Adam doesn't have that muscular torso or that chiseled chin," my wife replied.  "Talia doesn't have a full woman's bosom nor a heart-shaped derriere. Plus Doandeir is said to look so round, it could be hard to tell the difference if he were a plump boy or a heavy set woman in the wrong light settings."

That's when I realized she was right.  You see, as I wrote this story for my children, I went out of my way to remove labels such as beautiful or ugly in the storyline, attractive vs unattractive.  I also made a conscience choice not to sexualize my characters.

Yes, Donadeir thought Talia was beautiful and wanted to marry her.  But he didn't think these things because he objectified her.  He did it because he believed that was what people do when they grow up, get married. He thought she was beautiful because she had been the only one that had ever made him feel loved and was the kindest to him among his peers as he grew up.

Adam doesn't look at Talia and sexually fantasize about her, nor she romanticize the idea of being with Adam.  So if I were to describe Talia admiring Adam's muscled abs, would that develop my characters?  Are we defined by our sexual attractions and is that how we define others?  Are these the labels that we must have placed on one another to make us capable of feeling that people we come across in daily life are real to us?

It was my intention to develop these characters to be defined by the reader based on their thoughts and actions, not a sordid love triangle drama.  There is only one sexualized reference in the entire story and it had to do with the sleazy guard who initial believed he had cornered a vulnerable 14-year-old girl in order to have his way with her.  I was even criticised for having that in a "children's book".

But when you look at our society, where you have 8-year-olds with wireless devices going unmonitored online, by the time that they are 12 or 13, (the earliest ages I recommend for reading my story) young females are especially aware of the idea of what a pervert is.  If not, they should not be online anyway because there are too many predators roaming about.  My daughter who is now 13 loves Japanese anime and fully understands what a pervert is.  She also knows that it is ok to call out a pervert and tell them that they are in the wrong because she has seen fictional perverts shame and embarrass some of her favorite characters.

So I ask myself, if a character has to be labeled or sexualized by either a description or an interaction with another character in order to be considered fully developed, does that mean that the author had failed to convey a believable character or have we become so accustomed to sexuality in our society people don't seem to be real without it?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Having Fun Working On Something New

While I've been gearing up getting ready for the book tour and my editor to make her first pass over my novel, I've been working on several short horror stories that I intend to publish over the Summer.

One of the stories is about a young girl who is hearing impaired and it has proven to be quite a challenge writing.  It has required a lot of research into the interactions of people that are hearing impaired.  It is my goal to depict a realistic picture and to also use her condition as a profound skill in her defense against the book's antagonist.

The setting of the story takes a leap back into time to the year 1987 and takes place in Lake Village, AR, where I grew up. Although I didn't put a "Gary Sue" into the storyline, I did draw from many of the experiences and scenes from my time living in Lake Village as a kid. I talk about mixing M&M's into a bag of Doritos to mix up the flavor. I talk about the now defunct boat races held annually at the Water Festival and I reference a few businesses that are no longer in operation that were once held in high esteem when their doors were open.

It should be an exciting journey and I hope that most of my nostalgia doesn't disrupt the flow of the story, but add to its realism.