Thursday, September 4, 2014

Fire it Up!

The Forge's coals have been banked for too long. What with bowling and writing and Cons, I haven't spent much time with the metaphorical hammer and tongs. Time for that to change. Time for some new stuff. Let's start with some news and a new short story.

Knight of Flame won a Gold medal for Contemporary Fantasy in Dan Poynter's 2014 World Ebook Awards!  


My new short story, "The Last Dregs of Winter," is available in a great new anthology from WordFire Press, One Horn to Rule Them All: A Purple Unicorn Anthology

Can you believe it? An entire collection of short stories featuring purple unicorns. That's the kind of magic that happens at the Superstars Writing Seminar. Helmed by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta, Superstars is the best seminar in the galaxy on the topics of being a professional writer. All proceeds from the sale of One Horn goes to the Superstars scholarship fund. And it all started as a silly example. 

One of the presentations given by Kevin and Rebecca is about how to act like a professional writer. One of their points is if you are invited to submit a story to an anthology, you had better write the best darn story you can because to someone, it will be his or her first exposure to your writing. It doesn't matter if you hate the topic. If you agree to write the story, don't "phone it in". Even if the anthology is about Purple Unicorns, and you hate Purple Unicorns, the readers who buy that book want to read about Purple Unicorns. Therefore, it is in your best interest to write the best Purple Unicorn story you can. Make sense? 

They used that example for a few years, an each year the class talks about really writing those stories. In 2014, Lisa Mangum, the Managing Editor for Shadow Mountain, attended as a guest speaker. Kevin and Rebecca gave their talk using the Purple Unicorn example. Lisa fell in love with the idea and offered to donate her editing time if Kevin would publish the finished book through WordFire Press. They invited top authors like Jody Lynn Nye, Todd McAffrey and Peter S. Beagle to submit, while opening most of the story slots up to Superstars' alumni. And the result? An amazing anthology filled with wildly different takes on the Purple Unicorn theme. 

Check it out this awesome new anthology.   One Horn to Rule Them All: A Purple Unicorn Anthology

That's it for now. I'll post a Con update soon. 

Have fun,

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Science of Mind Magic - Guest Post by Christine Amsden

[The Mad Muncle is very pleased to welcome Christine Amsden back to the Forge. Her new release, Mind Games, the next book in the beloved Cassie Scot series, recently hit the shelves. Check it out. That's enough of my hot air, here's Christine:]  

The trouble with mind magic is: How do you know if someone's controlling you?

You could drive yourself crazy wondering if your thoughts are your own or the product of someone else's superior will. In the world of magic, there is something inherently sinister about the idea that one person can mess with someone else's thoughts, feelings, and desires. This is a theme I've been building from the first book in this series, Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective, when Edward Scot says:

“Magic itself is never black, only the uses to which it is put, but mind magic is already tinted a deep, dark gray.”

Matthew Blair, a telepathic mind mage who takes center stage in Mind Games (Cassie Scot #3), disagrees. His response to this statement is:

“Any kind of power is already tinted a deep, dark gray. Haven’t you ever heard that power corrupts?”

Of course Matthew would say that. He's a mind mage and he's actively trying to manipulate our heroine, but as with all skilled manipulators he understands the power of truth and subtlety.

Mind control is not a uniquely magical phenomenon. People try to influence us wherever we go in subtle and overt ways. When you go to the store, the packaging of the products you browse screams at you, “Pick me! Pick me!” Retailers know how to use product placement to maximum affect (as every mother who has ever taken children through a candy-filled checkout knows). Advertisers bombard you with messages that work on your mind even when you don't know it. Drug companies fill the airwaves these days with medicine most of us don't need at any given moment, but they know you'll remember when the time is right.

There are people in the real world who possess charisma – a trait I've lent a quasi-magical aspect to in my series. But you know what I mean. Some people just exude charm and grace and a little bit of “trust me.” Trendsetters. Natural leaders. Born politicians. Shapers of men and of the minds of men (and women). These people fill our minds with thoughts we embrace as our own, sometimes without our even realizing we have done so.

Before you ask – no, I'm not one of those people. I could wish, but in person I tend to be a little bit awkward. I'm much better at expressing myself through the written word.

One of the pointless (circular) existential questions I sometimes like to ask myself is: What do I fervently believe that is simply not true? And since I am so certain of this truth, why would I ever seek to correct that impression? I don't consider myself to be a close-minded person (who does?) but I can only be open-minded when I am aware of a possible discrepancy. I must see that something in the world is inconsistent with my core beliefs. I have to get caught in a lie.

Getting back to the world of magical mind control, I often see authors going to extreme lengths when it comes to mind magic. Direct, obvious controls that the hero is just strong-willed enough to throw off because he or she has a superior... spirit? Intellect? Force of will? A little bit of all those things, I suppose.

In this story, I wanted to show how hard it would be for even a strong-willed individual to throw off competently woven mind magic. This isn't about strength at all, but skill. Matthew Blair tells Cassie in chapter one that he is a telepath and “hears” everything she thinks. He says this to her because he senses that Cassie will be drawn to the truth, and drawn to the genuine sense of alienation he feels because of his power. Cassie has always been drawn to help people in need. Matthew knows this about her, and he uses it against her.

To beat Matthew, Cassie will have to learn things about herself that make her stronger. She is going to have to face certain truths that she has been running from for two books.

Ultimately, she has to figure out that it's happening. How can you change your mind if you don't know it needs changing?

If that's too heavy for you, feel free to enjoy this book as a fun magical mystery. Here are a couple of lighter reader questions to ponder:

1. Would you want to be a telepath? (Why?)
2. Would you want to date a telepath? (Why?)

Thanks Christine. Readers, if you haven't read Cassie Scot yet, now's your chance. The first book in the series, Cassie Scot: Paranormal Detective, is on sale for $.99 for a limited time. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Amazing New Mad Muncle Artwork from Brad Fraunfelter, cover artist for Knight of Flame

I was so excited about the new Mad Muncle artwork that I forgot to launch it on my blog. So here goes. Ahem...ladies and gentlemen, fans of all things amazing and wonderful, I'm thrilled, and a bit overwhelmed truth be told, to present the Mad Muncle. Behold!

The Mad Muncle's Forge

This gorgeous piece was created by the amazing Brad Fraunfelter. That's him to the right. Seems like a happy fellow, don't you think?

Through the use of modeling, photography, lighting, and other...artisticy (I've been told that's the technical term) type things, he creates beautiful images full of light and color and awesome. Check out the composite below, taking us from concept sketch to finished work. Magical!

And to think, it all started with his cover sketch of an intense fireball, Develor Quinteele, the sixth Knight of Flame.

Brad's done many book covers and other magnificent pieces. You can find more great examples of his work, a glimpse behind the curtain into his process, and even buy prints at Brad Fraunfelter Illustrations. Check him out.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Hop

My friend and fellow Twilight Times Books author, MariaDeVivo, asked me to join in the fun of The Writing Process Blog Hop. Check out Maria's novel, The Coal Elf, to get your YA Dark Fantasy fix. Yes! Santa is real. But this isn't your childhood Christmas tale. The story is a lot of fun, and with over 100 5-star reviews on Amazon, you won't be disappointed. Check it out.

For the blog hop, I answered a few writerly-type questions, and tagged a few of my friends to do the same on their blogs. Keep a look out for their posts next week.

·       What are you working on?
I'm finishing up the second book in The Chronicles of the Knights Elementalis series, Knight of Air. The story continues three weeks after the events in Knight of Flame, and adds the point-of-view of Cyndralla, the Knight of Air. In addition, I'm working on the outline for a novella set in the Knights Elementalis universe focusing on Cyndralla's past. We only catch the barest glimpse of her back story in the first book, and I wanted to prime the pump for book two. Look for the yet to be named novella to come out in the Fall, 2014.

·       How does your work differ from others in its genre?
I have a hard time with this question. It's not that Knight of Flame, and the Knights Elementalis series, isn't unique, far from it. I just find it difficult to say why it differs. I would much prefer to tell the readers what it IS…and that, at its core, Knight of Flame, in fact the whole series, is a story about relationships.  Sure there are all kinds of cool and groovy action, and magic, and dragons, and humor, and tragedy, and honor, and…  But, when all is said and done, it's the relationships that drive everything else.

·       Why do you write what you write?
I write what I love to read—character/relationship-driven stories of love and honor, good versus evil, set within a fantasy universe. It just so happens that my fantasy universe lives and breathes within our modern world, hidden (or sometimes not so hidden) in plain sight for those curious enough to look.

·       What is your writing process?
I'm a hard-core plotter. I need that roadmap of what happens when, where and to whom in order to make the story elements fit together. Writing from multiple POV's presents the challenge/opportunity of telling the story from different angles through the eyes of fleshed out characters, each with his or her own goals, motivation, and emotional baggage.

My outline consists of a scene-by-scene breakdown of the entire novel. Within each scene description, I determine the setting, POV character, additional characters, emotional drivers, and objectives. Each scene must accomplish at least three things in the story otherwise it gets cut or combined with another scene. Once I know what happens and where "things" go, so to speak, I start writing.

I use the outline as a guide only—a map from the beginning to the end. It is not the end all, be all of the storytelling. That still happens during the writing. I come up with new and exciting ways to torture my characters all the time. The plot lives and breathes until I finish multiple edits, and lock everything down. If you're looking for ways to improve your writing, please check out David Farland's writing courses. His classes are amazing.            

Look for The Writing Process Blog Hop post from this fine author next week:

Colette Black - When Colette isn't caring for her family, dogs, and a mischievous cat, she spends her time writing. Born and raised in the United States, she has also lived in the Philippines and Switzerland. Currently, she resides in the far outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona, where she loves the warm weather and the cotton fields. Colette's newest release, Noble Ark, is available at Amazon and will release to all major book sellers April 25th. Her short story anthology, The Black Side, released March 1st and you can find her recent story, Watchboy, through Isotropic Fiction. For more information, go to

Monday, March 10, 2014

Book Signings – Always Bring Extra Copies

The Superstars Writing Seminar is an amazing experience. The information about the business side of being a professional writer is presented fast and hard, like drinking from a fire hose, by best-selling authors and experts in the field. After wrapping up, I leave with my brain overflowing, and my creative soul bursting at the seams.

One of the most important pieces of advice I took away from this year's seminar came about in a casual conversation over dinner. I had the privilege of spending a few hours with NYT best-selling author Brandon Sanderson. The conversation ranged from royalties, to plotting, to anything and everything Brandon related. When I mentioned that I had a Barnes & Noble signing coming up, he offered up some practical advice. He said to always bring extra copies of your book. Don’t try to sell them yourself because the bookstore wouldn’t appreciate that; however, you can work out a deal to sell your copies as if the store had ordered the books themselves. After the event, they can order books to replace the ones out of your stock.
It's a simple and elegant plan where everyone wins. And I had the opportunity to test it out.   
This past weekend I participated in my second book signing. The Brandon, FL Barnes & Noble hosted an event for several local authors. We were a magnificent group of seven, with books spanning the genres from thriller to self-help, religion, inspirational, and my contemporary fantasy. No two authors' genres overlapped, so we had a little bit of everything to offer. After setting up, and before the signing officially started, we mingled a little, handing out business cards and exchanging information. Everyone was really cool.
For a local author event like this, Barnes & Noble is pretty conservative. According to their stats, most authors only sell four or five copies. Just in case, they may order a few more. They ordered ten copies of Knight of Flame with the expectation they might have some left over.
I was concerned. I shouted the details for the signing from every physical and virtual rooftop I could find, so I had high hopes that I'd have a decent turn out. That being said, I didn’t want anyone who made the trip to the book store to walk away without a signed book.
Other authors had said that Barnes & Noble wouldn't let them sell their own books when the store's stock ran dry. Readers wanting a book had to have it shipped to their house. While they did eventually get a book, it wasn't signed.
So, keeping Brandon's advice in mind, I brought extra copies in the hope the store would go for the plan. There is a difference in the author selling directly versus providing additional stock for Barnes & Noble to sell.
On the day of the signing, I sold out of the B&N copies in the first thirty minutes. It was awesome. At one point I actually had a line four deep. As the stock dwindled and we still had ninety minutes left in the schedule, I made the suggestion Brandon talked about. At first, the Customer Relations Manager thought I suggested selling my books on consignment, and didn't go for it. But, once I explained that I was allowing them to sell my stock as if it was their own, after mulling it over, she went for it. Sweet! I grabbed a few copies from my bag and kept signing.
The bottom line is it’s really a win-win-win. The store sells more books, and makes their customers happy. The readers get what they came for -- a signed book. The author gets the additional sales, happy readers, and a stronger relationship with the book store.
It helps to be prepared. Good luck with your own book signings.
Have fun,
"Against the Shadow, burns a noble light."

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Book Signing on March 1st at the Brandon, FL Barnes & Noble

The Mad Muncle wants to remind everyone about the upcoming book signing. The Brandon Town Center Barnes & Noble is hosting a multi-author event on March 1st from 1:00-3:00. Stop in, say "Hi", and pick up your signed copy of Knight of Flame.

Monday, January 27, 2014

On the Other Side of the Table - Book Signing Tips

I've been to many sci-fi/fantasy conventions over the years. I've anxiously walked up to an author's table for his precious signature and a moment to talk about his work. I love to hear the passion from the author directly. No amount of marketing text or a silver-penned hook on the back can encapsulate the author's vision, the gift of his soul bound between the shiny covers. Nothing beats that in-person experience. 

Over the weekend I had my first experience on the other side of the table. It was my turn to be that author, to talk to existing and potential readers about Knight of Flame. And you know what? It was glorious. Did I sell a lot of books? Nope. I sold four. It was a small show in the back room of a very nice comic book store. I was the only author surrounded by eight or nine very talented Indy comic book artists. They sold prints and sketches. The artist next to me, Javier, sold like five sketches to eager fans. It didn't matter which beloved character requested, Javier banged out an amazing custom piece in about twenty minutes. And the fans were thrilled. So was I. I'm a big superhero fan, after all, and love to watch a talented artist bring a drawing to life.

So there I was surrounded by a room full of artists doing what they do…drawing. Many heroes and creatures were born that day. What the heck was a novelist doing in that room? "Hey kid, for ten bucks I'll write you a paragraph." Yeah…no. A collection of words, no matter how poetic, meaningful, and life-altering, could not compete against a detailed sketch of Thor bowling, or Batman playing Yahtzee across the table from Deadpool and Cinderella.

What I was doing there, aside from drinking in the creative ambience and soaking up the coolness of every second someone wanted to talk about Knight of Flame, was learning. This was my first event, and I wanted to cut my teeth in a small venue before taking my show to bigger events later this year.

I'd done my homework. In the weeks before the show, I'd read several blogs on the topic and an ebook by David Farland, Blockbuster Book Signings!, to clue me in on the basics. Farland's book dealt mainly with staging bigger events, headliners where I'd be the main attraction and how to draw in the crowds. While all good information, I'm not there yet. Talk to me in a few books and we'll see. Still, I found several tips that really helped out.

Based on what I learned during this event, here's my signing plan going forward. There are three key areas to address:
1.      Planning
2.      Presentation
3.      Attitude

Planning – Once the event has been scheduled, getting the word out is critical. The venue will advertise to some extent, but the author needs to spread the word to the best of her ability. Tell everyone via email, social media, and every other means at the her disposal about the upcoming event. The more people who attend, the more successful the event. The more successful the event, the greater the likelihood that the venue will invite that author back for her next book.

In addition to the advertising, make sure to stock up on the essentials—giveaways, candy, supplies, product. We'll talk more about each of those in a minute. Oh, don't forget to bring enough change. Turning away a sale due to a lack of small bills would be a crime. I'm a very lucky guy in that my wife thinks of everything. She made sure that before I left the house, I had plenty of ones and fives to make enough change for every one of my books twice over. It came in handy too. The artist next to me might have lost a few sales if I hadn't hooked him up.


Presentation – I'm going to spend the most time here, because this requires the most thought and effort. Let's start from the bare bones and work our way up. Assume the presentation space will be nothing more than a plain table, and it's our job to prepare a feast for the eyes, something that will pop, and draw in potential readers. Keep in mind that a professional looking presentation space speaks volumes about the person sitting behind that table.   

·         Table cloth – When buying a table at a con or event, it's impossible to know what state that table will be in. It could be an old wooden table that has seen one too many cons, or a stained plastic mess. No worries. Cover that bad boy up. Bring a table cloth or two in a color that compliments the product on display. My book cover is black with orange accents, so I might choose a white cover. Even though I prefer black, the book would blend too closely with the table cloth. I want Knight of Flame to appear to leap off the table. I got lucky this time. I didn't have a table cloth for this event, but the table itself wasn't too bad, and I covered most of it with my "stuff".

I will have one for the next event.

·         Banners/Signage – A colorful banner proclaiming who resides on the other side of the table helps to draw in future fans. Most events provide a little paper sign with the author's name that sits flat on the table. Most people would need to be right in front of the table to read who's there. The heck with that. Develop a colorful image that screams an appropriate message, and either tie it across the front of the table or hang it from a stand behind it. If possible do both. Be seen. Get noticed. Stand out. If someone tries to put Baby in the corner, everyone will still see her.  

The artist across the aisle from me, Stephen, unrolled a banner and clipped it to the front of his table. It was colorful, simple, and proclaimed exactly who sat at that table. I wanted to bring a banner, looked into it in fact, but the artwork I had in mind wasn't of a high enough resolution to print on a large (4'-6') scale, so I let it slide for this show. But seeing Stephen's banner across the front of his table made a big difference in terms of perception. It screamed "I'm a pro. Check out my work." And the fans did.

I will have a banner for my next signing.

·         Product – Having a good product to display is critical. Beautiful covers sell. Period. A striking cover displayed prominently will draw interest. Set several copies of the book on stands to make that cover easier to see. Just laying the book flat on the table is fine for those already standing there, but won't catch the eye of the visitor a table or two away.
I printed the cover on photo-quality paper, and displayed it in a picture frame. For the next show, I'd like to print it up poster sized and hang it up behind me either on the wall or using one of those telescoping stands, drawing the eye of potential readers from across the room or down the aisle.

·         Snacks - Con/event attendees like snacks. Who can resist a little chocolate or a mint? Lure them in with candy, and pounce like a world-class diner waitress as soon as their mouth is full. That'll provide a few seconds to hook them. Make them so interested in the book that they can't walk away without either buying a book or taking a card.

For this show, I picked up a tub of soft chewy mints and a big bag of Hershey's miniatures from Sam's Club. I set the mints at one end of the table, and the chocolate at the other to catch people from both sides. People stopped to munch, which led to a quick conversation. Candy is dandy, my friends. Use it.

·         Mementos (takeaways) – If someone buys a signed book, she has something to take home to remind her of the experience. But what about the other people who stop by the table? Not every sale is generated in the moment. Some happen after the show. The important thing is to make a positive impression and to ensure that a potential reader takes something home to remember the experience. In his web classes, NYT best-seller Tracy Hickman talks about creating a memento of the author-reader meeting. A bookmark is just a bookmark, but a signed bookmark is a piece of memorabilia. It becomes a reminder, or souvenir. It adds that personal touch that can differentiate an author. When thinking about what a reader can take away from the signing table, try to inject that personal touch.

I totally agree with Tracy's philosophy on this and ordered rack cards months ago to hand out in my travels. Rack cards (3.9" x 8.3") are bigger than normal book marks, showcasing the book cover and allowing for marketing text on the back. I think they are the perfect size to act as a bookmark for trade paperbacks and hard covers.

On mine, I added the first few lines of my back cover copy, a promo blurb from David Farland, and a QR code that points to the first five chapters of the book on my publisher's website. Below that I left enough space to sign. At the comic book event, Javier saw me with a normal pen in hand set to sign the card, and yelled over. "Dude! What are you doing? You gotta go bold." He tossed me a gold marker. I signed cards in gold the rest of the day. For the books I still used a regular pen, but the cards…. On my list of things to get for the next show are a collection of different colored markers to step up the boldness factor.

In terms of display, I fanned the cards out across my table, and laid a stack next to a copy of Knight of Flame.  

·         Professionalism – All of the above combine to not only display the product, but to showcase the author's level of professionalism, which, in my opinion, goes a long way to promote the book. In actuality, while the author may push his latest release, he's really selling himself. Be prepared.

Attitude: Be open. Be cheerful. And above all, be nice. I've talked about this in other blog posts, but it is most decidedly true when talking to your future fan base. Be inviting. No one wants to stop and talk to a grump. Say, "Hello." Smile. Make eye contact. Engage the passersby with a simple, leading question like, "Do you like to read fantasy?" Once they answer, ask another, and steer them toward the topics of your book. Don't pressure them. Engage. Discuss. Close the sale. Offer a takeaway. Wish them well. That's it. Easy peasy. 

Keep in mind these public events are not all about the sales numbers. Sure, we'd like to sell lots of books, but I believe the key to a successful event is in making that personal connection. Sales can happen any time. Face-to-face meetings, not so much. Make it the best it can be with a little up front planning, a strong presentation, and the right attitude. Be bold.