San Francisco, CA

Aaron at AppleBack in 2013, when my newest company was just getting off the ground, we scrounged up the money to send a volunteer marketing rep and me to represent Draft2Digital at a writer’s conference in Manhattan. It was a thrill.

Two months later, at another writer’s conference (this one in our own back yard), I got to meet Patrick Rothfuss and (thanks to Draft2Digital’s imprimatur) spend two or three hours talking shop with him.

In the time since, I can’t think of a lot of other opportunities like those two. They came in a burst at the beginning, and then we had two years of hard, focused work just keeping the fledgling company from dying.

Don’t get me wrong! The company has been growing at an unbelievable rate. We more than doubled in size during 2014, and we plan to do at least as much again this year. It’s just that all the big, dramatic developments mostly happened on a spreadsheet.

But last week, I went to San Francisco at the invitation of one of our best business partners. Apple asked us to visit the campus to discuss how we could grow the business together.

I can’t get into the details of the meeting, naturally. Naturally. But my biggest takeaway from the meeting was this:

Draft2Digital is one impressive startup.

Several of the Apple representatives took pains to point out the parallels between our companies, our positions with our respective markets, and most of all, our business strategies. One of the execs went out of her way to say that we’ve basically built our business around the same principles that define Apple: easy usability, customer-friendliness, and first-rate execution on meticulous design.

We grinned like idiots and thanked her for saying so. But, in all honesty, none of this was news to us. We did it all very much on purpose. The startling thing–the astonishingly fun thing–was getting to hear from people who definitely know what they’re doing that, yes, we’ve accomplished our goals. We’ve accomplished them so thoroughly that we’ve been noticed. And that feels good.

Apple treated us like kings, and I like to think we conducted ourselves well. Everyone I met was friendly, well-informed concerning a deeply volatile market, and sincerely concerned about the ways we can work together to benefit readers and writers alike. It’s everything I would have hoped for from a meeting like this.

And that wasn’t our only meeting in San Francisco (even if it was the clear headliner). We arranged meetings with a couple other business partners (or potential partners) while we were in town, and that trip left us thoroughly committed to setting up face-to-face visits with all of our retailers in the near future.

It’s amazing how much we can accomplish once we really start talking.

New Release! The Dawn of a Desperate War (The Godlanders War, Book Three)

The Dawn of a Desperate WarLast week saw the release of The Dawn of a Desperate War, the final volume in the first trilogy of The Godlanders War.

It’s the best thing I’ve ever written.

I understand it’s normal for all creators to feel that way about whatever happens to be their newest work. Maybe that’s the only thing at play here, but I’m incredibly proud of the universe this story is set in.

The Godlanders’ world of Hurope was an ambitious idea. I wanted to write comic book-style high adventure in a (somewhat) traditional fantasy setting. I co-created the universe with my good friend Dan, and before I’d written a single word of narrative, we’d invented dozens of heroes and villains, along with the personalities of nations and vast, shady organizations.

It’s the first time since middle school that I engaged in serious, extensive worldbuilding, and it was thrilling. Then I started writing the stories, and that process was both invigorating (getting to play around in this very cool sandbox) and, at the same time…hard. I hadn’t tried to develop a new fantasy setting since high school.

There’s a big difference between imagining cool characters or strange cultural artifacts and then actually weaving them into a dynamic narrative. Worldbuilding can be a fun hobby, but it’s surprisingly hard to integrate that hobby into the almost unrelated practice of storytelling.

The Dreams of a Dying GodI didn’t notice that back in high school, because I had nothing to compare it to. I was learning both disciplines from scratch, mostly self-taught, so everything felt hard. But over the last two decades, I’ve been hard at work honing the craft of storytelling. I’ve practiced the process over and over again, sometimes discovering new settings within a narrative, but never really trying to force a narrative onto a massive, pre-built framework like that.

So the first time I really encountered that challenge with the perspective to recognize it came when I started working on the first book in this new series, The Dreams of a Dying God. That book was hard to write. As much as I loved the setting and the characters, every page was a challenge. I’d made plans to jot down that novel in the second half of 2012 and then churn out another FirstKing novel and another novella or two. You can look back in the archives here and see where I made that promise.

The Wrath of a Shipless PirateIt didn’t happen. I toiled for six months to write that novel. And in the process I missed four different delivery deadlines, so by the time I finished it I had to shove myself straight into the sequel. The Wrath of a Shipless Pirate felt a little easier, but instead of enjoying that, I pushed the envelope. Finally comfortable writing the enigmatic Corin Hugh we met in Book One, I sent him on a world tour in Book Two and introduced him to the characters that are meant to drive the next seven or ten books.

I love re-reading that book, but I barely remember writing it. I wasn’t getting much sleep in those days.

And that’s why I love Book Three so much. It was easy. For the first time I wasn’t fighting to reconcile our worldbuilding with the demands of my plot. The world was built, all its rough edges smoothed down by 150,000 words of published canon, and now all I had to do was tell another story in this incredible universe.

Now it’s done. It wraps up the story that began in Book One, but as the title suggests, it also lays the foundation for a whole new trilogy.

I’m looking forward to that. Corin Hugh was a wild protagonist, but the next trilogy will follow Auric Truefaith, a natural hero. It will be grand and epic and hilarious in a very Patrick Warburton kind of way.

But before I get to that, I have some other work to do. The FirstKing’s world has been too long neglected, and turning back to it now is like a breath of fresh air.

I’m diving in. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Spring Break

Swingin'Last week I took a short vacation from all of my many day jobs and went to visit some long-neglected family down in Texas. I should probably include my wife and kids in that “long-neglected” category, but I spent five days doing my best to make up for that.

Before we left, I wasn’t terribly excited about the trip. There’s a reason I’m always working: I really have that much important work to do.

But it also wasn’t negotiable. I missed Christmas with a cold, and this trip was meant to make up for that. Also, as I mentioned, my wife and kids needed some attention. So I scrambled as hard as I could for the last few days at work, then on Tuesday I logged off, crossed my fingers, and headed for the Red River.

At Granddad’s

Our first stop was in Longview to visit my dad’s dad. We hadn’t seen him in several years, so we really introduced Annabelle and Alexander to him as though it were the first time.

For me, it was more like a homecoming. Granddad has lived in the same house for as long as I’ve been alive, and when I was younger, I visited there at least twice a year: once for a major holiday, and once for a week-long stay (by myself) over the summer.

I have so many memories in that house and its sprawling back yard. Alexander raced me past the garden sprouting with Granddad’s onions. Annabelle scraped up her leg climbing (and getting stuck in) the same trees I always climbed and got stuck in.

Granddad played an excellent host. He’d planned for our trip, so he took us out to all his favorite dinner spots (which included some excellent Tex Mex), and he made gifts of some classic movies that he’d picked up for the kids. Alexander got Home Alone, and Annabelle got Annie.

Amazingly, the kids had never seen either movie, so we watched Home Alone on Wednesday night and Annie on Thursday. The kids loved the movies. Annabelle has been singing songs from Annie ever since.

While we were reminiscing over dinner, I asked Granddad if he remembered taking me up to the office back when I was very young and sitting me down in front of the typewriter just to keep me busy.

He’s the one who taught me about the quick brown fox and when it is that all good men should come to the aid of their country. He loaned me an old high school textbook on touch typing. That’s where I learned to use a keyboard (which is now my primary profession).

It’s also one of the earliest memories I have of storytelling. After all, I needed something to do on the typewriter.

Of course he remembered. He said that even as a small child I was typing 60 words a minute while composing stories. Something about knights and dragons, to be sure. I can probably thank Granddad for being one of the first people to push me toward being a writer.

At Gigi’s

Friday morning we woke up early, had a hearty breakfast, then packed the car and headed back to Dallas. We met my Grandma Darlene (or, as the kids call her, Gigi) for lunch at El Fenix (more excellent Tex Mex), and then drove over to the thrift shop/food bank where my aunt Darla works. We bought some clothes for the kids and took a tour of the charitable operations. It was exciting to see the work she’s doing and to hear how much it’s grown in just a couple years.

Then we went back to Grandma’s and talked for a couple hours while the kids played. I told her all about the exciting developments (good and bad) at Draft2Digital over the last year, and she filled me in on the successes and struggles of her tech startup down in Dallas. And we both expressed how nice it was to finally take a day off, while very much recognizing that we’re the only reason we don’t do it more often. It might have been the closest I ever felt to my grandma.

Friday night, she watched the kids while Trish and I had a belated anniversary dinner at my favorite restaurant in the world. Texas de Brazil. There are no words to describe how exquisite an experience that place provides.

Afterward, we did a little recreational shopping at Target before returning home to watch Annie with Annabelle again. That made two nights in a row, and I doubt we’ve seen the last of it.

Saturday afternoon we went down to the harbor on the lake and walked around a bit, took some pictures of the kids, then Gigi took us to the movies to see Muppets: Most Wanted. As soon as that was over, we had dinner with my aunt Darla and uncle Jason. Eric and Shelley joined us, along with my cousin Lauren, and for about an hour there it very nearly qualified as a family reunion.

Then we said a bunch of heartfelt goodbyes, piled into the car around 8:00 pm, and headed home.

It was wonderful to reconnect with the family I have in Texas, but I think my favorite part of the trip was swinging on the swings with Alexander or hearing Annabelle guffaw in a crowded theater or talking to Trish with nothing to distract us but the long road ahead.

I am surrounded by a rich constellation of some of the most amazing people in the world. I forget it far too often, but whenever I slow down and notice, I am both awestruck and humbled.

To all my family, to all my friends, to everyone who helps me be the man I am: Thank you. You’re precious. I love you.

2013

It’s been a busy year for me. I started 2013 as CEO of a charity that no longer exists, chasing a career as a publisher and fundraiser. I end the year as a part-time employee of an author-services company I helped start, with high hopes of becoming a full-time writer again in 2014.

It’s been a strange year.

The Consortium

I founded the Consortium in 2010. It was the cooperative of artists who helped me publish my first book, and over two and a half years we recruited 34 artists, hosted two major art shows, and published 30 titles.

Support the Artists to Support the Arts

Support the Artists to Support the Arts

And then, just like Al Capone, we were brought down by our accountant. We’d hired a discount guy in the early days (when we were dead broke), and we paid for it in the end. Despite his repeated assurances, he never delivered our application for charitable status to the IRS.

We finally fired him and switched to more reliable agents in 2012, but after reviewing all the papers, they told us we’d waited too long and missed too many opportunities. It was possible to carry on, but it would cost a fortune and probably involve years of legal uncertainty.

So, as much as we hated to, we folded the business. I’d been the first employee in April 2012, and I received my last paycheck in March 2013. We formally dissolved the company at the same time.

Of course, it’s never that easy. We’re still working on closing the books, managing paperwork from the state of Oklahoma, and wrangling with the IRS. With any luck, we’ll get it all settled in the early part of next year.

Legacy Publishing

I also spent most of 2013 experimenting with traditional publishing. That experiment started late in 2012, when I delivered the first Godlanders book to 47North in November.

Based on all my experience with indie publishing, I really mostly thought of the book as finished when I turned it in. Legacy publishing doesn’t work that way. I spent just as much time working on the book in December as I had in October.

We finally finished that book sometime in January, and in February I dove right into the sequel (which was due in May). I wasn’t anticipating any problem with that timeline, but between the pain of dissolving the Consortium and the challenge of expanding a brand new fantasy universe, it turned out to be the hardest book I’ve written since high school.

The Godlanders War, Book Two

The Godlanders War, Book Two

It was due in May, as I said before. I delivered it in June and, once again, kept right on working on it into late August.

Then book three was due in November. Yeesh.

We were also seeing the sales of book one by then. It had been released in May and, frankly, it bombed. It has limped along since then, but it clearly never caught the attention of all my Dragonprince fans.

So we started analyzing the problems with that book even as I was trying to focus on finishing out the later books. We came up with an aggressive plan to rebrand them all (new titles, covers, and product descriptions) to coincide with the release of book two in January.

So that’s looming large now. I’ve delivered book three (and next week I’ll start doing the follow-up work on it), but now all my attention is focused on the launch of the sequel in a few weeks here.

Most importantly, I’m done. I still have another month or two of clean-up, but I’ve completed my three-book contract with 47North. That series will definitely continue someday, but for now (and probably all of 2014), I’m really looking forward to turning my attention back to Hathor and the dragons.

Draft2Digital

And I cannot possibly discuss 2013 without talking about Draft2Digital. If you’re not already familiar with Draft2Digital, it’s an internet company built on the software that I used to format, publish, and monitor sales on all my books.

That software was originally developed as a favor just for me, but over the years I became increasingly convinced it would be a thing of real value to indie publishers everywhere.

Turn Your Story into an Ebook!

Turn Your Story into an Ebook!

Of course, it took a lot of work to convert it from a bunch of command-line code connected directly to my Google Docs account into something convenient, clean, and flexible enough for public use.I recruited the people to do just that early in 2012, and the four of us worked feverishly to get it done by the end of the year.

That was 2012. In August of that year, Draft2Digital hired its first employee. In December we launched a beta site and advertised it with a single post on a single writer’s forum.

So we started 2013 with one employee and maybe nine active users. We end it with six employees and 1,900 active users. We have nearly 20,000 titles in our catalog, in our first year we’ve seen over 2.4 million paid sales of our users’ books.

I mentioned in the introduction that I’m one of those employees. They hired me in July to help manage distributor relations, and recently promoted me to Director of User Experience. It’s my job to understand how authors and publishers use our website, to figure out how we can improve that experience, and to design the new features that will make our service even more valuable as we grow.

In Review

It’s been a wild year. I feel like I somehow crammed a decade’s worth of life into 2013. I’ve had some victories and some failures, but most of all, I’ve had experiences.

I haven’t even mentioned passing 200,000 sales of my own books. Or the car that caught on fire in the middle of a road trip. Or the bitterly cold Bedlam game I watched with my dad in Stillwater. Or my lawsuit. Or the writer’s conference I attended in Manhattan. Or spending an afternoon with Patrick Rothfuss.

It’s been amazing. Exhausting, true, but amazing. And as I look toward 2014, I realize the most amazing thing of all:

It’s only getting better.

Oberon’s Dreams is the Kindle Daily Deal!

My first traditionally-published novel came out back in May, and it’s had a little trouble gaining traction. I suspect it has mostly to do with the branding, mainly because the reviewers are saying so.

Seems it’s not the story they thought they were getting (a sea-faring pirate tale), and somehow my Dragonprince fans aren’t getting the word that there’s another story they’ll probably like.

Admittedly…there’s no dragons in it. But there’s action. There’s adventure! There’s a charming rogue thrown back through time and caught up in a war between two ancient gods!

Anyway, it’s been languishing in obscurity for a couple months now, but it’s got a good chance to break out of that because today it’s been selected by Amazon as one of the two Science Fiction/Fantasy titles in the Kindle Daily Deal.

The Kindle Daily Deal is a huge promotion that has a habit of vaulting books onto the bestseller list. Oberon’s Dreams could certainly use that treatment, so wish me luck!

And if you haven’t read it yet, grab a copy during the promotion. You can save a couple bucks and help me climb the charts at the same time.

New Release! Oberon’s Dreams (The Godlanders War, #1)

I have a new book out! I’ve been talking about this one for a while, but Oberon’s Dreams is now available. It’s the first book in a new adventure fantasy universe that I’m really excited about.

Corin Hugh thought his mission had come to a highly profitable end. But King Oberon made sure his quest was just beginning…

After a three-year search, Corin has found the lost city of Jezeeli. The dashing, quick-witted pirate promised his crew that they would be rewarded with a treasure beyond their wildest dreams, but the ancient ruins hold no treasure—only stacks of strange books. Left to die in a fire set by his mutinous crew, Corin is mysteriously rescued and transported back in time to a city ruled by King Oberon.

Only Oberon has the power to send Corin home. But the tyrant Ephitel–a brutal god whose name strikes fear even in Corin’s time–has designs on Oberon’s throne. Can Corin defeat the mighty Ephitel and change the course of history?

With a supporting cast of mystical druids, a gentleman thief, and a banished courtier from the House of Violets, Oberon’s Dreams is an action-packed, richly imagined adventure fantasy.

Oberon’s Dreams is the first book in the Godlanders War. Get your copy in ebook, audiobook, or paperback at Amazon.com.

Souvenir (A Poem)

I do forget from time to time
That I’m a poet in my heart.

I hone my craft. I work and train
Until my words become a job;
Until taletelling’s commonplace
And then I lose sometimes the why.

But then I watch my children laugh
Or my wife takes my hand in hers
Or I climb in a plane and soar
And watch a sunrise over clouds.

I do forget from time to time…
But poetry remembers me.

The Dragonprince’s Legacy

a-darkness-in-the-eastNote: The following is a cleverly concealed new-release notification. If you’d prefer to skip straight to the good stuff, click here.

I just re-released The Dragonswarm (The Dragonprince’s Legacy, #2) with a new Afterword. I thought my regular readers here might find its contents interesting, so here you go:

Welcome to the end of The Dragonswarm. Since you’ve made it this far, I’m going to act as though you enjoyed the story. Now I need to take a moment to tell you how to keep enjoying the story.

I originally wrote the tale of Daven Carrickson becoming the Dragonprince–everything you’ve just read in two volumes–as a single mega-epic novel called Taming Fire. That was fifteen years ago, and the story has changed a lot since then, but it always started with Daven meeting Othin on the little hill outside town, and it always ended with him battling Pazyarev in the skies and then sending the king packing.

Back then, I expected Taming Fire to come with a sequel–a story that’s now available as The Dragonprince’s Heir. It skips ahead fifteen years from here, and finds the dragonswarm mostly subdued, but Daven has been lost (as in “missing in action,” although most everyone does assume he’s dead), and the story is told from the point of view of his first-born son.

I published The Dragonprince’s Heir in June 2012, six months after The Dragonswarm, and it completed the original trilogy. If you’d like to read the story as my original artistic “vision,” that’s your next step. Grab a copy of The Dragonprince’s Heir and discover the ultimate conclusion to the story that started when Othin confronted Daven by the little brook.

However, I also always intended to spin out some additional (maybe supplemental?) stories about the time between this novel and the next one. But when I skipped fifteen years and changed protagonists, I forgot that my readers didn’t know my secret intentions.

Because of that, The Dragonprince’s Heir elicited a minor outcry from fans who wanted to see more of Daven in action, who wanted to see how Daven used the powers and resources gained in The Dragonswarm to overcome the tide of dragons, who wanted to meet the “famed dragonriders” who get mentioned in the final book but are already lost by then.

We live and learn. So now, before you jump ahead, I can give you that warning. I’ve outlined ten novellas exploring those stories (which will eventually be collected in The Dragonprince’s Arrows and The Dragonprince’s Blades), as well as an additional feature-length Daven novel (The Dragonprince’s Odyssey), all of which take place between The Dragonswarm and The Dragonprince’s Heir.

And, even better than a warning, I can give you an opportunity to sample those stories. The first of the ten novellas, A Darkness in the East, is available now! It picks up the thread a few months after the end of The Dragonswarm and starts with Daven riding into battle on the back of the mighty Pazyarev.

He’s also a little concerned because he hasn’t heard anything from Vechernyvetr since that fight. And now there are rumors of really terrible things happening in the shadow of the mountains that Daven and Vechernyvetr briefly shared as a home.

The novella works as a standalone story, but it also introduces some of the plot and much of the story dynamic that will drive the other stories in the collections. And I won’t lie; it’s pretty fun to see the Dragonprince in action. Daven kills a lot of dragons in this piece.

Check it out. And thank you for reading. I really hope you’ve enjoyed the experience.

And, because it’s so much easier to embed a functioning hyperlink in a blog post than it is in an ebook, I’ll go ahead and give you the link (in addition to the name). Click here to grab your own copy of the new Dragonprince novella for just $2.99!

An Excerpt from “A Darkness in the East”

I’ve mentioned my upcoming Dragonprince novella several times now, but I don’t know if I’ve ever called it by name. It’s called A Darkness in the East, and takes place immediately after the events of The Dragonswarm.

Last week I was drafting a work request for my cover artist and he needed a description of Daven’s sword and magic effects. I had just finished a new action scene in the novella, so I carved that out for him.

Just before I sent it off, I was rereading it, and thought, “Man, I’ll bet my readers would like to see this!”

So here you go. It’s a sneak peek at my upcoming release, A Darkness in the East:

No matter their intentions, friend or foe, these men had made themselves an obstacle to Daven’s goal. Daven meant to save the people of this village, and six men with sharp-edged swords were not enough to stop him. He nodded to the door and ancient oak writhed beneath his will. It uncurled, shrinking back from the crafted iron bolt, then of its own accord the door swung wide.

A monster of a man blocked the open doorway. He wore a soldier’s chain and tabard and carried a huge two-handed sword. He fixed his eyes on Daven now without a trace of fear or hesitation. The sentry slung his sword in a vicious arc aimed straight at Daven’s collarbone.

But Daven didn’t flinch. He caught a gust of wind out of the sky. He bundled up a thousand little threads of air within his will and stabbed them past his left shoulder and down into the house. Focused, living wind caught the sentry like a battering ram. It hurled him back and crumpled him upon the floor.

Then, for the first time, Daven had a chance to see within the room. He could not tell at a glance the whole situation, but he saw within the house what he’d expected: one wide open room, a knot of women and children on the far wall, and six strong men arrayed against him.

Well, five now.

Still standing on the threshold, Daven flexed his right hand–borrowing power from the monster high above–and summoned up a sword of living stone. Grains of elemental earth almost too small to see swirled up in an inverted whirlwind, gathering first in his palm, taking the shape of a sword’s hilt, and then rapidly coalescing into the shape of a blade. The sword looked something like a rapier, but it shone the perfect black of obsidian and gleamed along an edge as sharp as starlight.

In the same breath, Daven summoned wild fire into a ball around his left hand, the power of a blacksmith’s forge contained, constrained, but anxious to explode. It glowed the angry red and dull black of a smoldering coal and cast long, flickering shadows into the crowded room.

From his place on the floor, the fallen giant groaned out, “Don’t just stand there. Kill him!” To Daven’s great surprise, the men complied. They surged forward as one. Daven shook his head and went to meet them.