30 January, 2012

Cover art: Chalice and Knives

I have absolutely no graphic design training; what little I know about designing covers has been picked up along the way, mostly by trial and error. And I will never claim that I'm actually any good at it.

That said, here's what four six hours in the GIMP and fifteen bucks' worth of stock art will get you:

So, as evident, this is the cover for my next short story, Chalice and Knives, which I'll be publishing in the next couple of days.

The best thing about e-publishing

I'm in the process of finalizing my next short story, Chalice and Knives, but in the meantime I took another look at the cover for The Demons of Lashtë. Someone had pointed out that the title text overlaps part of the background, and is a little hard to read as a result.

Well, I took the cover art and revised it. And now I think it looks significantly better:

Here's what changed:

  • I redid the gold drop shadow on the title to make it more consistent and a little denser.
  • I redid the clouds effect above the city to make it more uniform, as well as a little darker and more evil-looking.
  • I redid the red drop shadow on my name, to make it stand out more.
  • I changed the aspect ratio to 1.6:1, which is the recommended ratio (recommended by Amazon, anyway, for purposes of displaying). Most books on Kindle do seem to use this ratio for their cover art.
The best thing about e-publishing? Once I had finalized the cover and rebuilt the file, I was able to update it on Amazon in about two minutes. Well, it'll take 12-48 hours for it to actually show up on Amazon, but my work is done: now all I have to do is wait, and the new, slightly prettier version will be available for all and sundry.

Unfortunately, I don't think Amazon automatically updates a purchased copy of the story with the new file, so if you've already purchased it, I don't know if there's any way to see the changes. But it does mean I'm not stuck with the first version of the art.

25 January, 2012

Short story sample: Chalice and Knives

Here's the first section of my next short story: Chalice and Knives, concerning the deeds of a thief in a desert city.


Sendi flashed her teeth at the fat old swindler. “I gave you my word, didn’t I?”

The fat man, whose name was Jerez, did not return the smile. He spat into the dust of the tavern. “That for your word,” he said. “I am interested only in the clinking of gold, not the sound made by the flapping of gums. I get you into the palace, and you bring me the Magister’s golden chalice. The gold I get for it, we split, seventy-thirty.”

Sendi would have thrown her cup in his face if there wasn’t so much gold at stake. Instead she swigged what was left of the wine and rapped the empty cup on the edge of the table to get a serving wench’s attention. “It should be seventy-thirty my way if I’m the one breaking into the palace. You get to sit in here and twiddle your thumbs. Nobody’s going to be trying to put a sword in your gut.”

“Other thieves I can find,” Jerez said, leaning forward as far as his chins would let him. “But without my help, no thief will find entry into the palace.” He twiddled an odd little coin in his fingers. It reflected light bright as day, which could only be the work of magic, in this dank tavern in the middle of the night. It could just be a cantrip, a little enchantment to make it glow brightly... or it could be something more arcane. Sendi itched to stab the fat scoundrel and take it, but if it was some kind of ward...

“Fine. Sixty-forty. And that’s my final offer. You won’t find better, not from anyone who has a chance of pulling this off.” She held her cup out as a sullen serving wench sloshed wine into it, and flipped a copper up at the girl for her trouble.

“You are a scoundrel and would beggar me!” Jerez wailed. “I would accept sixty-forty, my way. It is quite generous.”

“My tight little arse it’s generous,” Sendi said. She jabbed a finger at Jerez, making the man jerk back. His sweat-stained silks seemed ready to burst. Maybe he’d stolen them from a smaller man. “Fifty-fifty. Final, final offer. Take it or we’ll see whether you bleed pork fat.” One of her daggers appeared in her palm, and she twirled it with a flourish, then stabbed it into the table. She held out the hand to Jerez. “I always keep my word.”

Jerez let his thick fingers brush hers lightly. “Fine, then. You have your deal, though may Ahman curse you unto all the generations of your children for your impudence and insolence.” He heaved himself to his feet. “You will find the lower riverside door of the palace unlocked for exactly one minute, as the twilight bell tolls tomorrow night. And you will need this.” He flipped the coin to her. Sendi caught it and was startled by its warmth. It felt as if it had been sitting in the sun for several minutes.

She looked up to send him off with one final insult, but the fat man had disappeared through a curtain already. Sendi pocketed the coin and took some time finishing her wine. It would not do to be seen leaving this dive too soon after Jerez. Many eyes watched in the night, here in Talsalam.

19 January, 2012

Obligatory SOPA/PIPA post

Numerous other folks have covered the SOPA/PIPA issue far better than I ever could, but I'll add my two cents of support here: Even though SOPA/PIPA appear to be on the ropes, everyone needs to, at the very least, contact their congresscritters and express their displeasure at this prospective legislation. Assuming you do disapprove of SOPA/PIPA, which everyone should, since it doesn't even set out to accomplish what the people who support it want it to accomplish. It's like using a tactical nuclear weapon to take out a beehive behind your house. Yes, the beehive will be gone; but so will your house and all your neighbors. The collateral damage is just too high.

The actual magnitude of Internet piracy of copyrighted works is in dispute, but even if you take the most extreme (read: highly exaggerated) claims of Big Media as literal truth, SOPA/PIPA still are a terrible idea. Not just for the sake of principle, but for the sake of practicality as well: SOPA/PIPA are likely unconstitutional (prior restraint); they seek to grant the government and private companies far too much power with far too little oversight or balance; and the things they allow could and would for absolute certain be abused.

Like I said, many others have already gone over this territory better than I ever could. If you haven't gotten in contact with your elected officials, you should do so now. I could say that it'll just take a few easy minutes to fill out the contact forms on their websites, but should I really have to encourage people to do their basic civic duty? Keeping an eye on our politicians is absolutely critical. Voting isn't even the absolute bare minimum; letting your representatives know what you think is the absolute bare minimum, and do you really want to be someone who just does the bare minimum? 'Cause if you do, you'll get exactly the government you deserve: one that ignores its citizens, listens only to the big moneyed interests, and ends up screwing up your life.

14 January, 2012


I did not expect instant success from publishing The Demons of Lashtë on Amazon. I know I'm a new author; it's going to take time, and a lot of relentless marketing, to get people exposed to my work. I'm confident that a lot of people will like it once they read it, but it's still a massive hurdle for me to get to the point where people are reading it.

Nonetheless, I had a very strong sense of elation and glee once I published the story. It was now a Real Thing that had Really Happened. And, unlike previous efforts in my life, I did not immediately decide that, having done this Real Thing, I was done. That was a good feeling. It let me know that I am really committed to the whole endeavor of writing as a career.

I've felt that I was, for a while; Mindfire, which is still in progress, I started last July, and I'm still working on it to this day, with no significant breaks (not counting Demons, which took a few days to write, edit, design the cover for, and publish). I've convinced myself I'm going to finish, and the end is in fact in sight; but the terrain between here and there is bumpy, and it's still going to be painful getting over it.

Building a career as a writer is hard no matter what. The traditional route involves a great deal of rejection, and not necessarily the promise of success; self-e-publishing means you can circumvent the gatekeepers, but then you get to do everything yourself—everything, including editing, design, publishing, marketing, and so on. It's a lot of work in either case. And I keep telling myself I'm going to succeed, because what other choice do I have?

09 January, 2012

The Demons of Lashtë is now available!

I'm pleased to announce that The Demons of Lashtë is now available on Amazon for Kindle! It's only $0.99, and well worth the price, if I do say so myself. (Well, of course I'd say that.)

I will see about publishing it for the nook and other platforms to come, but for now, I'm just happy to have my very first (self-, yes) published work out there and available for everyone to enjoy.

If you buy it and like it, please leave a review on Amazon, and tell your friends. I'll guarantee* it's the best dollar you (and they) will spend today.

* Not guaranteed.

Cover art for The Demons of Lashtë

So I finished writing The Demons of Lashtë, and my next big step was creating cover art. The consensus for short stories these days, when self-publishing, is to find appropriate stock photography and then modify it to make it look professional and appropriate. Or at least as much as one is capable of doing. I have virtually nothing in the way of artistic ability.

To that end, I present the cover art for The Demons of Lashtë:

This was created by combining two separate stock photos from Dreamstime (total cost: about $15), manipulating the colors on both, drawing in a little human figure with a halo, adding some text, and using a GIMP plugin called GIMPressionist to give it a painted feeling. The text is in a free font called Fairy Dust, and has several layers of drop shadow underneath to make it readable. The whole process took maybe two hours, plus a half hour or so of browsing through stock photos to find ones that I liked. (To the degree that the cover looks decent, all credit is due to my wife.)

The story should be published on Amazon for Kindle in the next couple of days.

06 January, 2012

Shorts, and a sample

While my novel-in-progress, Mindfire, is still my primary focus, something I'm going to start doing is producing short stories on a regular basis (scroll down for a sample), and making them available for sale on Amazon (for Kindle). There's three primary reasons for this:


Getting my work out there in a professional format is going to be helpful in building up an audience. I'm really starting from square one, here; aside from a few people who've followed this blog, or followed me on Twitter (hi guys!), or are friends on Mythic Scribes, I haven't exactly got what you'd call an audience. The novel will be several more weeks until it's finished at least; but I can take a little time out here and there to produce polished short stories that, I think, people will like.

Practice writing

One thing strongly recommended by a lot of "new-to-writing" guides and articles is to write short stories on a regular basis. There's a few reasons for this: they're easier to finish than a novel; they give experience with constructing a complete story without getting bogged down in all the elaborate developments that occur in a longer story; they don't lock you in to a particular fictional world and make you spend a lot of time on world-building.

I will be immodest here and claim that I don't need practice writing prose; you can judge that for yourself below, where I've included a sample of the first story I'm going to publish, The Demons of Lashtë. I'm confident that I'm already good at that part. (Not that there's no room for improvement, but...) It's really the process that's important: completing something, publishing it, getting feedback.

Practice publishing

I've experimented with the Kindle Direct Publishing platform before. It's missing a lot of functionality I wish it had, and I hope that Amazon will improve that in the future; but there's more to publishing a short story than just throwing it onto Amazon.
  • Creating cover art. I've been directed to a few good stock photo sites, where I can get good pics cheap, modify them and put title/author's name on them, and use those. They just need to look professional enough that people aren't turned off, and ideally are enticed by the cover.
  • Formatting the doc. I use Linux, and I've already got a suite of tools I use for converting OpenOffice documents to Amazon's .mobi format. There's still a lot of little gotchas to watch out for, and I haven't done this enough to be completely confident in getting the files exactly right, but it seems to work so far.
  • Marketing. That's right, the dreaded m-word. I have an instinctive aversion to marketing, as I majored in Computer Science and have been, professionally, a web programmer for the last twelve years. I always feel like that pimping my work will make people recoil and say, "How arrogant!" But I'm slowly learning that this is (mostly, I hope) not the case. So I just need to get over it.
So, without (much) further ado, here's a sample of the first few paragraphs of the first story I'll be publishing: The Demons of Lashtë. I will definitely be posting here when the full story is available on Amazon. :-)

Sample of The Demons of Lashtë

The demon struck, and Anders Vasik let the blade flash through him, cleaving armor, flesh, bone, sinew. The pain was staggering. But the demon-sword emerged out the other side, cleansed of blood, as the two sides of the wound melded together, trailing the blade’s passage. Anders’s spell left a bitter tang of sulphur in the air.

The strike left the demon unbalanced, and in that moment Anders held out his palm. A blinding pinprick of white fire tore through the demon’s gray hide, making a fist-sized hole ringed in char. The carbonized flesh swirled away on the wind, and the demon’s face twisted with every ounce of the minimal emotion it was capable of displaying. It fell back, tumbling into the jagged canyon, to be devoured by the enormous shale lizards that lurked below.

Anders collapsed onto all fours. The blade’s passage had taken more out of him than he’d expected, but he’d survived. That was all that mattered. He’d recover, he’d live to fight the next demon, and the next.

He looked up, and across the canyon, to where the city of Lashtë loomed, silent behind its walls of blackened stone. They’d shone, those walls, golden in the morning, silver at noon, ochre in the setting sun. But no longer. The erupting wrath of countless demons thrashing wildly to climb, to break through, blasted down by the city’s mages, had stained the walls permanently black. Only by a sacrifice of half their number had the mages created the chasm, buying the city some breathing room. Anders didn’t know if it had been worth it.

The horde was unending. This was no time for introspection. Anders whispered silent words to Umwë, and felt a warmth spread from his heart. Energized by golden fire, he stood again, and waited for the next demon to come.

A stone’s throw along the edge of the canyon, his friend Dródi stood, waiting as well. They’d gotten a respite, by whatever luck. “How are you feeling?” Dródi called. Beyond him was another shield-mage, and another, spaced along the canyon, disappearing beyond sight.

Anders shrugged. “Bored,” he called back. He estimated that it was another two turns before his shift would end. Then someone would relieve him, and he’d retreat to Lashtë, to rest and recreate. He looked forward most of all to seeing Gunnvar. They were as good as betrothed, although her father had not made the offer yet. But he knew it was coming.

A flicker of motion caught his eye. Another demon was coming. Anders brought up his hands, and began to summon fire.

02 January, 2012

Happy New Year!

I see a lot of writers resolving to, for example, write more, Finish That Novel, and so on. I feel like I resolved to do that back in July when I began writing this novel, and my determination to finish it and see it published hasn't dwindled since then. It wasn't a conscious decision; it was like a switch flipped and I realized that I really wanted this, and it would only happen if I buckled down and did it.

When it comes to New Year's Resolutions, if I try to make too many of them, I end up not following any of them. But one or two reasonable, specific goals, I know I can accomplish, because I've done it before. They have to be specific, because otherwise it's too easy to cheat by bending the rules and claiming that whatever it is you're doing meets that goal. "Eat less" is a terrible resolution, because it's so easy to say, "Well, I'll eat this cookie, and then I'll just not have any more for a week." The next day, it's "Okay, I'll eat THIS cookie, and..."

Eight or nine years ago, I resolved one New Year's Eve not to go to McDonald's for an entire year. And I managed it. Never set foot in a McD's, not once, for an entire calendar year. (And no cheating by having someone bring it to me.) I had previously gone there at least once a week, but after a couple of weeks of not going, I didn't really miss it. The following year I went to McD's a couple of times, maybe three or four the whole year. Since then, I don't think I've gone more than once or twice a year at most, and in the last two or three years I haven't gone at all (except once a year or two ago, when co-workers went there, and I was just too lazy to go somewhere else).

The goal wasn't "no fast food"; I still went to Jack-in-the-Box, Burger King, In 'N' Out, and so on. I still ate processed, pre-packaged, unhealthy crap all the time. But I managed to break away from that one particular chain, and it taught me that if I could break away from one, couldn't I break away from them all?

Last year, one of my resolutions was to not eat the free cake and ice cream that the company I work for gives out at the monthly birthday celebration. And I managed it. Again, a small goal; it was only relevant once a month anyway, and I was tempted a few times, but reminded myself that I'd resolved not to do it, for health reasons (dairy causes problems for me, I've figured out).

This year, my resolution (a joint resolution with my wife) is that we both go to the gym twice a week. We've got a membership to a gym that's a ten-minute walk from our house, and it's open 5 AM to midnight most days, so it's not hard. The only thing that can stand in our way is ourselves. We tend to spend most evenings planted in front of our computers, doing non-urgent things, so there's no reason we can't both manage to get out twice a week to work out. Again, it's both reasonable and specific, and I think we'll be able to manage it, especially if we both take on the task of reminding the other that it's their turn to go to the gym tonight.

What's your resolution this year?