I didn’t know what I had said yes to when my author friend, Christine Nielson, asked me to come to Gen Con. She had been going for a few years and I knew she always had a good time, so I said yes without thinking.
I had done very little research on what this con really was, I just figured it was comparable to any comic con I had participated in. I mean, it’s a con, right? I was warned it was a gaming con, so I thought video games. I put some serious thought into how to make this con special. What I didn’t realize was that this con was already special.
Gen Con, in my own words, is a gamer’s pilgrimage to Mecca.
People flock to the center of the US, being seductively called by the river sirens, for the chance to play games, and ONLY games, for four continuous days. There was no celebrity draws, no movie releases, no photo ops (besides the cosplay girls- shielded from view might I add), only gamers EVERYWHERE. Rows and rows of tables and chairs cluttered with games: new ones, kickstarters, card games, board games, RPGs, dice games, you name it. JUST GAMES! There were tournaments happening in C Hall (a room the size of the room where they hid the arc of the covenant) for Magic the Gathering and Pokemon and who even knows what?! I was flabbergasted.
Being an author there felt rather special, but also really out-of-place. This con was not about books, but the celebration of creativity. And that’s what made the con special to me. Everyone I spoke to was so genuinely themselves.
This con let you be you without judgment. I tweeted snippets of what I saw and experienced (find on Twitter @cjtwrites). Many gamers are introverted, yet here they felt comfortable being with other introverts. The con sold out with a reported 70,000 attending (Indy Star Link). I was impressed.
And even though the Exhibition Hall closed at six, the con didn’t stop . . . at all. The arcade and retro console rooms didn’t close until midnight. The tourneys ran through the night. Hotel lobbies and even the Indiana Convention Center was continually packed with gamers playing until the morning.
As much as I love playing games, I’m not a gamer, not anymore. There are some things that I unintentionally gave up when I dedicated my time to being an author, and unfortunately, games was one of them. Here though, I got a chance to forget about story building and remember the seeds that started my epic journey. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was fourteen, playing with my older brother and his high school friends. This was a huge foundation for my character development, world building, and my imagination.
But honestly, I didn’t feel complete until I found the retro video game console room and completely flipped out when I saw the ColecoVision. I made a serious impression on the guys running the room. (Nick and Kyle – I’m looking at you!) Here I found my nerd and my people, and spent hours playing Coleco, NES, the PS2, and Sega Dreamcast, because sadly, their Genesis didn’t have a cord. Here is where I found my Gen Con heart.
It was good for me to get away from my bubble and experience a con away from those I know; to meet people I would never have met before; and have the freedom of being nerdy without reservation. It was rejuvenating to my soul and healthy for me to remember my roots, and that fun and refreshing it is to just play games.
My house has a strange history, and when we decided to buy the eye sore of the neighborhood, we also became something of legend. It was never meant to be my dream house, in fact, I made it very open that I hated split entry homes, feeling they were the worst idea any architect ever had. Seriously. So, when we bought our first home, it was not ever meant to be our forever home.
If you know me as a writer (and frankly, as a person too), you will know that I personify everything. EVERYTHING. Everything has a character. Everything has feelings or emotions. Everything cares. And the character of this house was a sad one from the beginning.
Back when this house came around, I was a young mom with a spirited toddler. We were living in a small duplex owned by a friend of ours, whose parents lived on the other side. The place was small, always smelled of garlic and was in a less than desirable location. But it kept us out of the rain and safe while we tried to figure out what to do next.
I actively searched for a house outside of this area, daydreaming of a beautiful suburban life, far from the reality of my own unconventional upbringing. At this time my soul was restless to understand a direction, because seriously, I didn’t have one. I wanted to write, had always wanted to write, but everything I had written to that point was complete and utter garbage. Writing was a pipe dream that I couldn’t pursue. Being a young mother, I wanted a house where we could make roots, where my family could grow and be safe. I wanted the things I didn’t have as a kid. I had grown up as one of the weirdos in the neighborhood, and for some reason, I was trying to run away from it. I didn’t want that for my daughter. I was anxious for furniture that was not college hand me downs and the freedom to put holes in my walls. Like Colin Hay sings, I was waiting for my real life to begin.
I dreamed bigger than we could afford. And I hated it.
So, after a few hard financial downfalls and realizations, I stopped looking for my dream home and stopped dreaming of a world which I didn’t belong.
When I stumbled upon my house, it was lovingly called “the Graffiti House” by the neighbors. The place had been abandoned for years. The siding was tagged with some gang name from the area. There was a big, blue dumpster parked in the driveway where flippers had tried to do something with the empty house, but then ran out of money as well. No one had been in the place for quite a while. The little For Sale sign was just a small, orange flag stuck into the ground. This house was in the small neighborhood where my brother lived, and also where my husband grew up. I knew the area. Why had I never seen this place before?
Me, not one for rules, snooped around and looked in the windows. The backyard was overgrown and wild, with an already mature Black Walnut tree dominating the middle of the yard. My sister-in-law and I found a way in through a window and discovered that the place was completely gutted. Graffiti illustrated the past gangs and squatters that might have needed a place to hide. The configuration of the split was odd too. They had the kitchen (though completely stripped) in the front of the house where a living room would be in others. Why would you do that? A huge cut out of the wall opened the space to the entry, which was another bizarre thing to do. And in the basement, there was an unknown blood stain of considerable size splattered on the concrete floor (which, when we put carpet down, we drew a chalk outline just to freak out whomever would replace it next).
Immediately, the house had a character, mystery, and an unnamed charm I didn’t expect. I wasn’t nervous about its history and wasn’t worried about it being haunted. It felt quaint, yet sad. It had a deep story and needed help. I told my husband about it and we investigated.
Why on earth would I buy an abandoned house full of graffiti and who knows what? This didn’t seem like the safe environment that I wanted. This wasn’t in the suburban utopia I had envisioned, in fact, it was close to loud freeways, ran right along the airstrip, and later the commuter train. This was city life, something my wild and free spirit wrestled with. But, I like the rejects, I identified with it. I liked this house’s story. I gravitated to it.
In the coming weeks, we looked at it (legally) and decided to move forward. We had contractors finish the inside, moving the kitchen to the back of the house (where it belongs), but still keeping the strange opening to the entry. They left a few unfinished rooms for us in the basement, which now occupies a recording studio and TV room. This was 14 years ago.
Our house has been good to us, but I’ve always felt embarrassed about living in it. It was never my forever house. It’s a Split Entry – how could I love that? The house called to a sympathetic heart that likes ruined things and asked for it to be loved, to feel the joy that one feels when building a life together and raising kids.
A good month or two ago, I was outside looking at it. The facia had ripped off in the wind and needing replacing. This is when I truly looked at my little vessel and saw how sad it was. The graffiti that I had tried so hard to scrub off was still very visible. There were still tag marks from gangs on the brick. And it made me so sad that I didn’t love it as I should.
In a free Saturday decision, while waiting for my girls to finish piano lessons, I went and bought paint and brushes and started a project that I thought would take me an hour (when it actually took me weeks). I painted my brown brick white. I then fixed the graffiti on the siding. I couldn’t spend a lot of money fixing everything I wanted, but I could do these little things.
And though I couldn’t exchange the door for something else, the thought came to me to paint it. It had always been white, very ordinary white. The kind that shows all the scuff marks and fingerprints. With the white brick making everything so clean looking, a white door just seemed so boring.
But painting a door is more than just painting a door. It is a statement about who lives behind it, about a way of life, about a history and culture, about everything the house protects inside. My life now behind the door had changed so drastically from when I first walked through it. The directionless person entering didn’t have the confidence that she has now. This house watched me grow into an author, role-model, wife and mother, and has seen all sides of me. I just couldn’t repaint the door white. It was an injustice to the personality and character this place had become to me. We rescued this place and have cared for it as if we built it.
So, I painted it yellow – Hawaiian Pineapple Yellow to be precise. It is now a landmark on our street. “Yes, that’s us. We live in the house with the yellow door.” It took courage to paint it yellow. It wasn’t just paint. I couldn’t look at it as just paint. Did I have enough courage to live with a yellow door? As I pulled in my driveway today, forgetting how different my house looks, I smiled. Look how happy my house is? It’s always smiling. It makes other people smile. It has courage to show what it is on the inside to others on the outside.
In ways, the yellow door has taught me to be more of who I am. Being an author has made me grow so much as a person, building confidence in things I never imagined I could. I think, in many internal ways, I needed a yellow door. When authoring I need to project a likability and persona that can be exhausting, but I return again and again to be me, true me behind this little vessel that continues to rescue me, and cuddle me, and shelter me from it all.
I happily wear the editor badge for the Billy Blacksmith series by Ben Ireland. Creatively, Billy is the most fun I’ve had on a project, and a lot of that fun factor has to do with it not being my idea. The idea of Billy and his lovingly called “Billyverse” is too much for my brain to process sometimes. In this dynamically designed story, each character wears their own suit of armor, each has their own piece to the over-arching puzzle. So, in the editing process, there were several times when Ben would add a detail to the story that didn’t make sense, and I would highlight it as a problem, but he would insist it being there, because it would become important – very important, like a locket no one can open hidden in plain sight. I trust his work and believe in the story, so I will move on like a good editor.
I asked Ben exactly how he came up with the idea of Billy. He said, “After writing Kingdom City: Revolt, I was in the mood for something a little lighter. A little more fun. But I had no idea what. Then one day I walked into my kitchen in Houston, and it’s like a voice just popped into my head: “My name is Billy Blacksmith. I like cupcakes, videogames, and baseball, but not necessarily in that order. My best friend is a demon. And for some reason, I’m supposed to save the world.”
A flood of creativity can happen with any overwhelming idea, and sometimes it takes over every logical thought. When I started forming my series, the ideas just came so fast, and before I knew it, I had drawn a map of the world, character bios, a list of Latin rooted words from which I began crafting the magic. I have a binder I dedicated to this creation process. I don’t know what his notes first looked like, but I get the image of a mad scientist scribbling equations and laughing with no one. I mean, the world is MASSIVE.
After Ironsoul, the emotionally driven third in the series had finished and was published, I needed a break and maybe some time to heal from the unexpected middle school scars it opened. I was so heavily invested in the story and the characters, that after I closed the book I had felt like I had trained for a marathon. But then again, I missed the hard work. I longed for more Billy stories, and I knew that the fourth book was not even close to finished.
…and then Bleakwood Lore came along…
During the last few years I devoted to these books, sometimes Ben would mention a side story here and there. I think a lot of us writers like to think of our characters doing other things than just appearing in their story. I usually call mine WRITING EXERCISES in order for me to get used to how the character thinks and acts. In Ben’s case, it helps thicken the depth of the world and the plot. These side stories are not writing exercises, but essential, in some part, to the developing story. Even IN the Blacksmith books you see a folklore chapter here and there, or an excerpt from the Space Vikings. These are all progressing in a direction of a plot with so many moving parts, my brain is blown.
Ben began writing and collecting these side stories, I think in part for his own personal amusement, but others because there is value in the information given to the Billy fan. It’s easy to get hooked on Billy. Demonslayer is the foundation book, Hellforged is a freaking adrenaline rush, and Ironsoul is a complex, psychological thriller. Each took crafting and long hours. And I won’t say that Bleakwood Lore didn’t take a while to craft, but the scope is completely different. And the book just happened. Four months after Ironsoul was released, all Ben did was ask me to beta read. And here were are with a brand-new release.
So, what is Bleakwood Lore?
Simply put Bleakwood Lore is a collection of eleven short stories set in the Blacksmith Universe, plus some bonus material in the back.
Complexly put, Bleakwood is the critical tethering of the current Act One (first three) in the Blacksmith Legacy to the up-and-coming Act Two. But better than that, it’s a chance to get to know the characters, deepen your knowledge of the threads that have already been woven into the tapestry, and just have a really great time reading.
Unlike the other books, there is no centralized plot or villain or problem that needs to be solved, and because of it, there is a lot of joy in this book. One of the key elements that makes this journey in reading so enjoyable is you can feel how much fun the writer had writing it. There are stories that are funny, tender, absolutely adorable, heart-wrenching at the expensive of my own tears, and completely adrenaline fueled. I truly adored this book, so let me get on with the review…
“Ben Ireland is an author who appreciates that people are complex and that every person (or demon) has a reason for the way they act and react. This book reminded me that people are very much affected by their life experiences, for good or ill.”
– Amazon Reviewer
I wanted to go over a bit of each story, WITHOUT SPOILERS, so everyone could get a flavor for the book.
(1 and 11) If Bleakwood Lore had a central heart to its plot, it would be the first and last stories in the book. These chapters involve Chris Blacksmith, Billy’s older brother, who I have always wanted more story about. He and his Minor League team, the Sugar House Wasps, get into a bunch of trouble searching for the giant spiders trapped n the world when the Threshold was burned (from book 1). I enjoyed the fast action and the characters a lot. It reminded me of Scooby Doo and his gang searching out the creepy, abandoned warehouse.
I think any story with Ash-Lea is golden and THE RHINOCEROS AND THE FOX is her spotlight. She has the personality I adore and is totally ready to kick ass all the time. In this one, Ash-Lea finds herself alone when a fight comes along. I really enjoyed the setting, the new characters, and the crafting of words and language used.
In THE WALL BETWEEN we get a taste of Billy’s demonic demon squad in a different light. Lilly is always so put together and straight forward, but when a situation pushes her to drink (or not drink) she can become quite the character.
FAILING PRINCESS is one of my favorites. This has Krios taking care of a sick Princess Patricia in the Human Realm, and it’s insanely visual and the interaction with the character Melissa, is a pure delight.
A BIG HELP is the adorable one I mentioned, focused on our dragon friend Osamu trying to take care of those rambunctious demonhound puppies. My heart warmed so much reading about what these little guys were doing and the havoc they were creating. I laughed out loud. LOVED THIS ONE SO MUCH!
SUPER SUCKY POWERS is the one that brought me to tears. In the books, you never like Billy’s foster parents. I was sure they would gang up on Billy the moment he left the house. But, here again, I was corrected by the tender storytelling of Billy’s foster parents back story. It also told me a lot more about Billy’s character and his compassion for others. (HEART)
We’ve been following the Space Vikings, wondering when they will get their moment in Billy’s story. In THE SPACE VIKING’S PLIGHT, we get a chance to really see the real danger they are in traveling in the darkness of space. Queen Natalie shows why she’s in charge in this one and what makes her a true leader of her people.
No Billy book could be complete without a slice of folklore. THE DEMON WHO SOUGHT LOVE is so deep, so beautiful, and so revealing to the plot IT’S INCREDIBLE, and I can’t say anything else, besides I LOVE THE FOLKLORE and IT ROCKS!
THE SIDES WE CHOOSE goes into Belle’s back story. Belle appears in the first chapter of Book 1, Billy Blacksmith: The Demonslayer, but she also appears again in the third. (Remember when I said when editing I needed to leave some things alone? Yeah, Belle was one of those. I tried to cut her character. That would have been a big mistake. See? I trusted him.) She is a complex, layered character, that I didn’t think much of, but now a huge sub-plot of villainy is brewing, and Belle is finally the star player.
OH MY FREAKING HECK! I think THE BALLAD OF GREYSON ASH is one of the most funny and delightfully awkward pieces of fiction I have ever read. Boys can be so stupid when it comes to impressing girls. This one is ALL THE THINGS! I happened to be there when my mother was reading it for the first time, and what a joy to hear her laugh out loud and then read us the parts that were so funny. To see the fiction played out like that is the best way to reflectively experience it.
See my shiny Billy Editor badge? I am proud of this one, as I am of all of them. But Bleakwood just happened. I hardly had to do anything. The writing is getting better, as is our working partnership. I can identify his writing like a fingerprint.
I didn’t pick up Billy because I really wanted to edit it. I’m a writer. Why become an editor? It was because the storytelling was too good to pass up, and BECAUSE I am a writer, I recognized an amazing opportunity to be a part of something great. I feel incredibly lucky. If you stick with Billy, I promise YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. It’s perfect for the teens, but is growing a strong adult audience as well, adults who get the adventure of it, get the humor, and need that missing connection to those books they missed as kids. Here it is.
I always suggest buying paper books, because it gives a textile memory when you read it, but the ebook versions are inexpensive if you want to give it a go first. BLEAKWOOD LORE has some extra material like art, notes, and puzzles, plus it’s only ten bucks right now. I highly recommend this read.
…and I’m pretty sure the world is still turning. The sun still creeps in my room every morning, reminding me of all the things that I have to do that are not “Blogging.” But before I get into my list of excuses, let me deeply say that I’m sorry if you have been anxiously awaiting my return. I have missed you too. I labeled this generally with “why authors struggle,” but it’s personal reasons, more “why I haven’t blogged.”
1. Little Things Become Big Things:
What is an author’s job? That’s right, writing. So, one would think that the first thing that keeps them from blogging would be writing, but it’s not. It’s all the other things that take over their time. When you are in, what I call, “WRITER MODE,” words are what you should be concentrating on. But Writer Mode is a small part of the big job of being an author. There are several “Modes” a writer can get into, much like wearing hats:
I haven’t had a chance to actually BE in Writer Mode, because of all these other hats I have had to wear. It’s the little decisions that I have had to make involving being my own publisher. From design to logo to price to distribution to everything else – every decision is important. With my series slowly trickling out, I have been in Publicist and Marketing Director mode. The re-release of Vivatera happened on February. 22, with Conjectrix following on March 19th. Everstar will be released April 19th at Salt Lake’s FanX Conference. And preparing for all of that has also been challenging.
But saying all that, I don’t regret the releases, it’s been a focus, and I’m very proud with what is happening and the direction the books are heading. This experience has opened my eyes and is preparing me for the adventure ahead of me.
2. Learning Is Hard
I always wanted to be a writer, but when I was in college, it was a pipe dream, not a real career. And I tried a few different things, but the addiction to writing was not going away. It IS not going away. So, sometimes the dreams that you had when you were young do come true. And I feel very blessed with this very cool avenue of life that has opened up.
So, I decided to go back to school. I’ve been wanting to for a while, but the circumstances have never been right. The day job field is not writing based, but science based, and as much as I love the work I do… I don’t. It’s not the dream. I’m not a traditional student with my busy home and work life, so even though I work AT a university, the environment is not right for what I want to specialize in and how I need to learn more about the craft of writing.
So, I looked into online options and found one that I was very impressed with and it’s at UC San Diego. I’m working toward a Creative Writing and Copy Editing Certification. And so far, I think it’s fantastic. This will not only help my confidence as a writer, understanding my craft and helping teach more to others, It will help my editing business as well.
3. An Accidental Project
As many of you know, but not everyone, I took an editing job a few years ago called “Billy Blacksmith” written by my friend Ben Ireland. This is a series I absolutely love and have had a great time working on it. I figured my time was over with Billy, since book three came out in September and that closes Act 1. But Ben asked me to just beta-read a collection of Billy-based short stories called “Bleakwood Lore.” I jumped up and down at this invitation.
Beta-reading is no pressure, and I became super excited about this. If you don’t know much about Billy, the series has a deep mythological lore, with complicated characters that each bring a new level to the storytelling. What Bleakwood is about is eleven side stories about characters to help lay a platform for Act 2.
I had a great time doing this. As I suggested things or saw things in the stories, my tiny encouragements made a big impact, to the end that Ben is looking at a quick release date of May 2nd, 2019. The book just came together in the funnest way possible. There are also secrets, reveals, and really fun illustrations to elevate your experience. I can’t claim this as an edit, but I did have a great time helping.
4. Life-ing and Loss-ing
The year didn’t start well. I had a dear cousin pass from this world at the end of 2018 and I started this year wearing black. Since that chilly January burial, I have had three more people pass from my life. With each death, I have become more acutely aware of how fast things can happen. And though this selection doesn’t have much elaboration to it, because I think we have all felt the same emptiness to our own extent, it has affected my life, my drive and motivation, and mostly my creativity. It’s hard to be creative when you’re depressed. Everyone could agree with that.
I am not one to claim housewifery. In fact, I may be the LAST person to claim any domestic inclination. But, when it got closer to my book release, I decided I really wanted to do something special for those that came to my book signing.
I don’t like spotlight. I don’t do well with reading. And though I have always liked parties, when it comes to the private nature of something I’ve created, like a book, I don’t exactly know how to party. This being a re-release was a special occasion. A lot of these people have supported me over and over. It’s like I am pulling a George Lucas and repackaging something that they already own and believe in. So, I really wanted to make sure they understood how much I appreciated them and their support over the years.
How else, but cookies. I don’t know why, but I thought maybe I would try to make sugar cookies that looked like stars. I have never made a good sugar cookie. I always burn them or make them too thin. And I needed an easy cookie to do, as well. It had to be super simple because I don’t want to cut a hundred or so cookies.
I stumbled upon a recipe from my own collection and tried it. And I’ve never been so in love with a recipe. It did need some tweaking, because I have never seen an extra large egg, so I add an egg and a half. 🙂 I used a sandwich cutter with a cute fox, bear, kitty, and heart, so I cut it way faster than regular cookies and sugar dusted it before jt bakes. And oh my freak! They are amazing. I’m so impressed with my non-domestic self. I have craved these nearly every day since. So, yes, this has kept me from blogging. 🙂
6. Finishing What You Start
And through all of this, there is still light in writing. I came up with an idea about five years ago about two people who meet in dreams. Dreams have always meant a lot to me. They are a fascination I will never get over. My sub-conscious is vivid and wild, and sometimes uses the dream time to connect the dots of my creative thinking. Several writing ideas came from dreams, and to have a book that has dreaming as its central point, has intrigued me.
I started to dabble in the characters last summer and they really came to life. In my quiet hours, I have let them tell me how to tell their story. This is a little different from my other books, it is written differently, using different voicing with the characters and the dream sequences. I find the telling clever and unique, and I am very, very intrigued with how this will be received.
I am minutes away from finishing it. The only thing stopping me is blogging to you all now. The book has yet to have a title, and I have yet to know exactly what to do with it. It would make an excellent screenplay, and I may look at adapting it. But as for now, I think I will just plan on finishing it and then editing as my usual habits. I haven’t finished a novel in two and a half years, so I am so proud of my efforts.
I wish I had better excuses for not blogging more but I hope this will give you a little depth in to how my real life and creative life are constantly butting heads. There’s still a life that goes on beyond words. And though you may not see it, it’s still here, heart beating, living and breathing. It may be some comfort that I carry my crafts with me always. I’m always ready to write at a moment’s notice. I hope with the spring I will get a chance to blog more, that is as long as I have something interesting to say. I hope you’ll be there with me.
I’ve been keeping this one a secret for a while, but it’s finally time to share…
To those fans of Vivatera, my series is finding a new home. After five and a half years with Xchyler Publishing, I have decided to ask for my rights and take my series in a different direction. There was no serious break up or squabbling over rights, our parting is understood and friendly. It wasn’t an easy decision, it actually scared (scares) me. But, gentle, honest truth – my rights were up. My publisher looked at the contract as an investment, it was like investment stock, and I had vested five years with the company. They taught me a lot about the business of writing, and what a difference a good editor makes.
But what I also learned these past five years were the limitations of a small press and specifically, my contract. I want to continue writing in my Parbraven world, a world my publisher had rights to, and with how contracts are written, I might not have the permission to do so, even if my publisher loved it. Legal stuff hurts my brain, so getting my rights was the smart thing for me to do as a creator.
I’ve worked really hard at this author gig, and what an author really needs to do to get books into the hands of readers. And folks, it isn’t easy. Everything I learned about marketing, promotion, and making a foothold in the business I learned myself. All my publisher could do was supply me books. After five years I realized, I outgrew them.
Everything I Learned Was Through Experiments…
I’m a scientist by trade and breaking through as an author came down to trying different experiments. If I heard of something I tried it, if I read about it, maybe I’ll try that next. There is a plethora of ways to become successful, some worked, most didn’t, but I learned and had to learn for myself what worked.
Let me back up to 2010. I decided to self-publish Vivatera, because I couldn’t get an agent to look at it. I understand why now, through several rookie mistakes, but it taught me a lot. At that time in my life, I lacked self-confidence in writing. I didn’t have the avenues in which to know if what I was doing was any good. I didn’t know what my story needed, but it needed direction and that was something a publisher could provide. I knew, absolutely, that if a publisher would read it, they would want it, but I couldn’t get anyone to even look at the manuscript. So, I self-published it, and after a failed year, I shelved it. My self-publishing was a big mistake, I released it too early and I learned a LOT from doing that. I’ve shared my experience before and won’t hash it here, but it educated me on the fundamentals of the indie market and setting a foundation for later experiments in indie press.
Xchyler picked me up in 2012 and Vivatera was published in 2013. There was a turning of hands right before my book was published, and I had to sign a new contract, this one including my series of three. The second one was written already, so I agreed. They wanted all three books. Huzzah! I was so excited that they believed in me. I signed and they were good to their word. I loved the support they provided, they gave me range and included me in decisions.
In 2016, I decided to self-pub a book called Vampire-ish: A Hypochondriac’s Tale. This is a book that I found fun and refreshing, and totally unsellable to agents and publishers – for the fact that it is a Vampire book. No one was even interested, so self-publishing was logical, and I felt after so many years being published, I thought I could do it myself.
Some fun (not so fun) facts…
I was finishing my third book in the series with my publisher when I decided to publish Vampire-ish, so I rushed this one to print. I had a goal to get this book ready for the Portland Book Festival, which was six weeks away at the time. Through my years in the writing business, I have met and made some incredible friends, so I asked for recommendations on cover design, editing, and typography. Through connections, I started a partnership with Ampersands Book Design, whom I contracted for the cover. I have since worked with on the covers for Of Snow and Moonlight and Wandering Beautiful (and the newest Vivatera releases).
The typography though, I had a friend’s neighbor do it, a young thing that was super cheap, doing it as a way to earn a few bucks for college. This was another lesson – she somehow erased all my spaces between words, and made this strange replaced EWE error, which unfortunately, I didn’t catch in the first printing (ooh, you lucky people that have that copy – please, burn it. I’ll give you a new one for free!). I spent so may hours trying to make my deadline. I fixed the formatting and straightened out the quotes, and did everything I could to have a printed book in time. I made it, but yes, the EWE problem didn’t get fixed until later.
I later got the ebook out, as well as audio. I used Vampire-ish as an experiment, in different avenues and directions, with marketing and distribution. I really enjoy this book, it’s fun and harmless, and something I can control completely. I can set sales when I want, control the price, the bookbub, the blurbs, everything. This has been very different from my publisher that I had to run every sale I ever wanted to do by them and get permission. Buying my own books to sell wasn’t scandalously priced either. I went through Createspace (now KDP) and could buy my own books for $4 instead of $7-8 after Amazon and my publisher’s cut.
When I started editing, I also started learning Typography…
Freelance editing just landed in my lap when my series was wrapping up. It became a bit of an escape from the day, and felt good to runaway into someone else’s world and someone else’s problems for a while.
Typography was something I started experimenting with, taking what I learned from my awful experience fixing my book, and seeing what I could do to make a book gorgeous. I learned that I actually have a pleasing knack for it. Ebook formatting is NOT my favorite, and though I learned how to do it, I am still looking for a better way TO do it.
So, then my rights become available…
This was not a light decision either. My first thought was trying to find an agent to take on my series. Talking with more of my writing friends, and also with industry professionals, I learned that it is hard to get an agent to look at your already published work. Only after you present something new to them within a genre they represent and that proves to be worth their investment, will they consider your other works.
But taking my books and my rights would mean dead books and starting from scratch. I never considered quitting, ever, but having my books be with Xchyler felt like keeping the kitties kenneled in the shelter, when you knew you could provide a good home for them. My series was still under publication limitations, and someone else was making the money.
And I didn’t just want to self-pub, I wanted to Indie pub…
I can hear you ask, “What’s the difference?” I’m using it as my personal statement, the vinyl lettering on my writer’s wall. The way I look at it, self-pub is what I did when I was too inexperienced to understand the market I was launching into. For me, it felt like a desperation move, since I couldn’t get anyone to read it. Indie pub is me, willingly going away from mass production and using my savvy, my knowledge of every experiment I made in this industry, to better my craft, my product, and share it with others. It’s an division of the same art form, but personalized.
This was a very big decision, because I liked the title “Traditionally Published.”
There is a stigma that exists in the writing world. And though I can pretend it away, I still feel it a little. I am finding the “Indie Published” hat fits better on my little head. I’m no longer worried about my self-confidence or my product not being the quality standard that Traditionally is named to be. In fact, I think Indie is more quality, because of formulaic stitching that happens when weaving a beautiful story into something someone will love. There is more heart, there is more of me in these books. People are reading and enjoying a piece of my heart.
And, the thing that I love most of all, I am in charge of everything.
So, if I fail, I can’t blame anyone else. I think blame has absolutely no value in life at all. One of the things I learned from my laboratory life is integrity. When there is a problem, it needs to be fixed because peoples’ lives are depending on it. Books shouldn’t be so different, no one’s life is dangling in the balance, but your product has a lifeline of its own, and your readers are the lifeblood, the oxygen. They will decide if your book lives or dies, so doing your very best shows.
After making this decision to go Indie, I have studied, because I want to do things right and make the best decisions with the biggest impact. I’m trying to learn as much as I can, so I can also help others with this process. I joined IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) and SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) in order to learn everything I could. I even flew to Austin, by myself, to attend their conference, by myself, and immersed myself in this Indie world, making darn certain I knew what I was doing. And after I had created my plan and worked on my budget, I set up the task of starting my own Indie Press, something that would incorporate my editing services, audio studio, as well as publishing and typography. And then, I had do the hardest thing and I contacted Xchyler, the company that made me an author, and told them I would be taking my rights as of the first of the year.
Vivatera will be released in hardback February 22nd, 2019…
…with Conjectrix following March 22nd and Everstar April 19th. These are the collector’s edition, since I’ve always wanted to do hardcovers. Ebooks will release the same day, newly formatted and edited. A 0.5 companion piece is in the works as well as new novel. Paperbacks and book club editions will come soon, but not for a good while.
The ebook will soon be available for all your favorite devices. I’m going to focus a lot more on other locations, not just the US. So much experimenting, so hopefully other places will like the series too. I own my audio rights, so the audio versions will continue to be available during the transition.
This is going to be a beautiful year…
A challenging year, but one without regrets. I will be experimenting like before, but I now have the ability to play more with my own stories and tell them the way I want. I hope to see you on the journey.
I will miss being part of the Xchlyer family. I know that I will always be a part of them, since my short story Hawkweed will still be part of their anthology. I have met a few of my very favorite people through this company, fellow authors that speak the same language of art, and have expanding my belief in my talents and abilities as a writer. I know, without the support of my writing community, I would never be where I am now, confident and tenacious with such a drive to succeed it’s feverish.
…and am in love with my new covers. Hard covers are more expensive, but you can grab them now at a good deal before the price goes up. Also, Everstar will be released at SLC’s FanX Comic Convention, so if you are in the area, come by and see me.