Tag Archives: review

Show Report: Last Kingdom

The title card from the show

This month I decided to give The Last Kingdom another chance.

The Last Kingdom is a TV series by the BBC and Netflix, based off the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell. The Saxon Stories follow the fictional Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a warlord born to the Saxons but raised by the Danes. Forced into exile in Saxon Wessex, Uhtred fights against the Danes and helps build the modern England.

The Saxon Stories is one of my favorite book series, so when I first heard they were doing a show about it I was excited. It came out, I sat down, watched it, and was very disappointed.

I had two large complaints. One, the story had become more about how Uhtred to show the Saxons how to fight the Danes. In the books, they’ve already managed several victories before Uhtred joins them. Second, they kept cutting my favorite scenes! The first season covers the first two books, Last Kingdom and Pale Horseman (Pale Horseman is one of my favorite books), and I had a mental list of what I was looking forward to. Of the seven scenes on that list, they did one.

I didn’t pay much attention to the next seasons coming out, but friends who watch the show tell me it gets better. I’d always thought about returning to give it another shot, so I prepared myself, sat down and re-started.

Initial Re-Reaction to the First Season

I must admit; on the second viewing, the first complaint fell largely flat. Sure, story they were telling was shallow compared to the books, but that’s largely a function of medium. Movies and TV can’t reach the same depth as a book can.

As I was considering the impact of the medium switch on the story, I also realized that the viewpoint had shifted. The books are almost universally First Person, from Uhtred’s POV as he recounts his story in his old age. He recounts events beyond his knowledge as they were told to him later, which makes sense in a book but in a TV show, having Uhtred tell you what happened would be boring. So the show is Third Person, and we now watch those scenes happening. The switch changes the nature of a lot of the characters and gives the show a different feel.

Still bugged they cut my favorite scenes. Le sigh.

Second Season

The second season of Last Kingdom roughly covers the third and fourth books of the series (Lords of the North and Sword Song). Again, they cut out most of the scenes I was looking forward to. Two of them they did include, but they changed them and removed what made the scenes stand out to me.

Beyond that, this is where the show begins to really come into its own. By that, I mean that yes, they diverge from the books, but they’re getting more comfortable telling their own version of Uhtred’s story. They embrace the differences in characters, give them the room to develop their own plots. They condense and consolidate events to streamline the story, and even consolidate characters.

Third Season (Spoilers)

Again, one season covers two books (The Burning Land and Death of Kings), but the series does the two stories simultaneously instead of each book in half a season. The plot is now different enough that it’s hard to fault them for not doing the scenes I was looking forward to, though there is still that small disappointment.   Except when it comes to the dominating event of this season, the Death of  Alfred the Great. This is probably the only event in the story  that I think the show does better than the books.

In the books, Alfred converses with Uhtred on his deathbed, and just before his death confers upon Uhtred a significant amount of land in order to bind the warlord to his son and presumptive heir, Edward. It’s a nice reward for the often snubbed and disregarded Dane-slayer.  

In the show, the third seasons contains a lot of conflict between Uhtred and Alfred. Alfred has Uhtred banished and his children seized, while Uhtred tries to return to the Danes before his oaths bring him back to  the Saxons. Alfred still wants Uhtred bound to Edward, but cannot force Uhtred to do so. And with his death coming,  Alfred is facing the uncertainties of a future without him.

The Specific Scenes

The scene, cut up into several
bits, is fantastic. It is Alfred the Great and Uhtred of Bebbanberg speaking as
equals. Alfred acknowledges his debt to Uhtred, apologizes for his errors and
mistakes, and salutes the man ‘without whom I would not die a king.’ Uhtred’s
part in the conversation is to minimal; this is a scene for Alfred to shine. It
ends with Uhtred receiving a pardon.

Uhtred’s time to shine comes after Alfred’s death. His political enemies moving against him, threatening him with banishment on pain of death. He forces the issue in public, asking for Edward to confirm his pardon (strengthening Edward’s claim to authority). His responses to the accusations are moving. He confirms his respect for Alfred, his commitment to the cause of Wessex. ‘He was my king!’ Uhtred yells before the Wessex court, gaining the support of many while infuriating his enemies.

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There’s an emotional response to these scenes that the books lack. The books have Alfred’s death as a catalyst for the chaos of succession early in Book 6, while the show has it as the culmination of the season’s plotlines. As far as  I’m concerned, they worked really well.

Season Four and Five

The latest two seasons break from the two books per season mode, and with good reason: the books after Book 6 sent to get repetitive.

Instead, Season Four and Five each revolve around the death of a Saxon ruler and how that death is used to further the idea of a unified England. Uhtred is involved, of course, as his personal relationships with the Saxons and reputation amongst the Danes comes into play. A lot of the high points of the later books are fused together or touched upon in their own way, but by this point it’s hard to get upset that the show isn’t doing my favorite scenes or is using a character differently.

SPOILERS

Someone I like

One thing I’ve come to really enjoy is what the show does with Lady Aelswith, widow of Alfred the Great. In the books she kind of disappears after Alfred’s death, mentioned in passing when she’s mentioned at all. She was always an enemy of Uhtred’s, even after all he does to protect Alfred’s family and further the Wessex cause.

In the show, she remains a character, either trying to counsel Edward on his decisions as king, or protecting her grandchildren from the cut-throat politics of the kingdom. She and Uhtred are not friends, but there is a grudging respect between them.

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Conclusion

I’m glad I gave this show another shot, and that I took the time to enjoy it as it’s own story instead of holding it to the books. While it doesn’t have the depth of the books, it does have a much wider and more inclusive story to tell. One that’s worth enjoying as complimentary to the books. I look forward to the last installment when it comes out.

Game Review: Horizon Zero Dawn

Who doesn’t like robotic dinosaurs.

Many months ago I picked up the video game Horizon Zero Dawn while it was available for free on the Playstation Store. I knew nothing about the game, but the cover image had a giant metal t-rex, so I thought it would be worth looking into. What I did not expect was one of the better video game stories I’ve experienced in some time.

Horizon Zero Dawn is an adventure game set in the far future, amongst the ruins of our world. The tribal peoples of the area live amongst numerous giant robots that take the place of large wild animals such as deer, bulls, wolves and tyrannosaurs. Each of these robots has their own strengths and weaknesses, that the player must exploit to defeat. The tech level of the humans is bow and arrow level of technology.

The main character, Aloy, obtains a device early on that allows her to interact with surviving ancient computers and eventually the machines. Her effort to become an adult member of her tribe initiates the storyline of the game, and her exploration of the region (the Denver, Colorado, area) advances the story and explores the background.

Aloy, Huntress, Seeker of the Nora.

What I like (Spoiler Free)

There are two aspects of the game’s story that I want to bring up, and if I can do so without spoilers I will.

First, exploring the background and history of the world. I believe that the producers and directors of the game spent a lot of effort to ask themselves ‘what questions is the player asking right now? What can we answer, and what can we allude to?’ Each major point of the main storyline builds on the previous ones, and sets up the next, superbly. By the time you get to the big reveals, you know enough to be prepared for what you’re about to learn, but not enough that it spoils anything.

Second, setting up and executing the final battle. Final battles can be tricky; they need to be challenging, but no so hard that they break the continuity of the game, while also providing an end to the story. HZD did this very well. Not only did they draw together several different threads, but the final battle felt like a final battle. It was a series of tough fights, and none of them were boring. So, kudos for a final fight that felt like everything was on the line.

From here on, there be spoilers.

My favorite scene (Spoilers)

HZD is not just a game that takes place in a Sci-Fi world; I would say it is a full sci-fi story. In the mid-21st Century, a line of bio-powered self-replicating warbots breaks its programmed shackles and begins eating everything, threatening not only humanity but the entire biosphere of the world. They cannot be defeated, and the program to hack them will take too long to finish. The solution is Zero Dawn: to save humanity by repopulating the planet with clones after the machines have destroyed everything. This plan includes re-educating the population with thousands of years of human history and culture.

Yet the world Aloy explores lacks any knowledge of the previous world. What happened?

Horizon Dawn was controlled by an AI called Gaia, aided by several subordinate intelligences who focus on one specific aspect of the plan: Demeter, to replace and rebuild the plants, and Poseidon to detoxify the water. The intelligence dedicated to educating the new humanity, Apollo, is deleted by the madman genius who started the machine plague in the first place, to keep the new humanity from making the same mistake.

Ever come to loathe a character in a very short time? Boy, did I come to hate Ted Faro. Good job, game writers.

Conclusion

Obtaining and playing the game was a whim, but I am very glad to have done it. The story was fantastic, the world was immersive, and the game play was fun. It was a great game to experience, and I’m looking forward to the second one, coming out sometime next year.

Book Report: Red Queen

The Red Queen (2010) by Philippa Gregory is the third book in her Plantagenet and Tudor series. It follows the life of Margaret Beaufort, a staunch Lancaster supporter and mother of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, from the Spring of 1453 to the summer of 1485.

I liked this book, much as I did the rest of the series so far. But what I found fascinating about this story is how the character stays the same, yet somehow goes from sympathetic young woman to Machiavellian plotter.

Pious Margaret

The Margaret Beaufort we meet is a young child who believes she has been destined for greatness as the English counterpart to Joan of Arc. But as a descendant of King Edward III, her children would have political value. Thus, her belief in her divine destiny was ignored, in favor of marrying her young (only 12) to bear her only child at 13 in a painful labor, made more horrific by her mother’s assertion that the child was worth more than she was, particularly if it was a boy.

Between the world ignoring her views and the horrible experience with childbirth, the first portion of the book left me with great sorrow and compassion for this young woman. Alone, with no real support, and no real say in her future, I found myself rooting for her to grasp and claw any ounce of authority or control over her life. And after some time, she’s able to do so, and I think, ‘great, now she has control of her life. Now she can have one.’

Zealous Margaret

Alas, denied the life she believed ordained to her by God, she comes to believe her destiny is to be mother to a king of England. In the war of Lancaster versus York, Margaret begins plotting for the safety and eventual ascendancy of her son, Henry Tudor.

Know the saying ‘the road to hell is paved in good intentions’? This is where, at least for me, Margaret Beaufort became a villain.

As she was divinely chosen, Margaret shows little care for law or morality when it comes to advancing her son. Her second husband, Sir Henry Stafford, initially supports the Lacastrian cause but is forced to make his peace with the Yorkist King Edward IV; Margaret, however, continues to plot and scheme, sometimes to the detriment of her husband’s affairs. She even chooses her third husband specifically for his shared interest in accumulating power. Together they plot to survive the wars successfully.

Favorite Scene

My favorite scene in the books comes during her third marriage, to Thomas Stanley. In it, her husband calls her out for her divine belief and how divine it may actually be.

‘I am guided by God!’ I protest.

‘Yes, because you think God wants your son to be King of England. I don’t think your God has ever advised you otherwise. You hear only what you want. He only ever commands your preferences.’

I sway as if he has hit me. ‘How dare you! I have lived my life in His service!’

‘He always tells you to strive for power and wealth. Are you quite sure it is not your own voice that you hear, spearing through the earthquake, wind and fire?’

What I love about this scene is how he is so perfectly encapsulates Margaret’s villainous motivation, or that of anyone who believes they’re special. She’s God’s chosen, so she can do no wrong. She is so firm in her belief that even when she does pray for guidance, she still gets the answer she wants.

This isn’t a moment of eye-opening for the character; her husband continues to say that this was their agreement; she helps to promote and protect his family, he helps to promote and protect her son. He doesn’t particularly care about her scheming. But it does put in strict contrast the different between pious and zealous Margaret.         

The Princes in the Tower

This book’s tilt at the Princes in the Tower takes on a decidedly serious tone. Margaret conspires with Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV (from Book 2) to raid the Tower of London and save King Edward V and his brother. But her motive is not rescue; she conspires to get her men close enough to kill the boys.

The raid fails; neither the rescuers nor assassins can get to the children. And once again, the mystery of the Princes comes in. They disappear and rumors abound. Margaret seizes on the rumors to her own ends, but the fact that she doesn’t know

At this point, I’m of the mind that Gregory isn’t going to answer the question in her stories of the War of the Roses. It’s going to be a mystery that will be interpreted by the current character independently. Which I think is a pretty cool way to do it.

Conclusion

The Red Queen is an apt title for this book, given the main character. When I finished the book I figured she would be returning as an antagonist in future books, and sure enough she has (but more on that later). Margaret Beaufort may start as a sympathetic young woman, but by the end of the book she’s spent her sympathy. I can understand why she turned out the way she did, but I can’t appreciate the lengths she’s willing to go to, in order to secure the future she wants.  

Book Report: Lady of the Rivers

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory is a historical fiction novel, spanning about thirty years from the death of Joan of Arc to the beginning battles of the Wars of the Roses. The book follows Jacquetta of Luxembourg as she becomes a duchess of England and confident of the royal family. It is the first book in a series of 15 called the Plantagenet and Tudor novels.

I read this book on the recommendation of a friend of mine from my writing group, after mentioning my fondness for Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories. I got it from the library and gave it a read, and I really got into it.

The book is, mostly, historical fiction. I say mostly because Jacquetta has some very minor supernatural abilities. She can heard music when someone she knows has died, and can divine impressions of what the future will hold, enough to prepare herself but without being able to influence events. The author is very careful to use these abilities to augment the story without unending it.

The main character is not a major actor in the world; she commands no forces and wields no power. But as a duchess she has the ear of the queen, and much of the book is spent either trying to advise the queen on how to fix problems, or cataloguing the events of her era as they impact her family and her life. Her main focus in keeping her family safe.

What I really got into was the court of King Henry VI and how utterly ridiculous it came across. The king and queen (Margaret of Anjou) are shameless about rewarding their friends (the Lancasters) and insulting their enemies (the Yorks). As a reader I kept looking at their decisions thinking, ‘How do you think this will end well? You’re so blatantly playing favorites and then having a tantrum when things go sideways.’ I presume this has at least some basis in historical reality.

Also, I found the book was amusing because I spent most of it annoyed with the characters. First the English lords who burn Joan of Arc, then the Lancasters for being corrupt, then the Yorks for not respecting the Lancaster king. Not a lot of good guys in the leadership.

Anyway, I had fun reading the start to this series. I’ve already got the second one from the library, though I can’t start it until I finish the interim book.

Book Report: With the Old Breed

I recently read through With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge. Published in 1981, Sledge takes us through his experiences as a Marine in World War 2. Sledge enlisted in the Marines in 1943 and trained as a mortarman, assigned to K/3/5 (K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment), in the 1st Marine Division. He landed on the island of Peleliu, a controversial and probably unnecessary battle in late 1944, and then on Okinawa in 1945.

Sledge’s writing is not to provide details of tactics, but to convey the experience of warfare as he recorded it. And he saw a lot of combat. Peleliu and Okinawa were both horrendous fights: the Japanese used defense in depth tactics to prolong each battle into months long campaigns. Terrain and weather (coral reef and extreme heat on Peleliu, mud and torrential rain on Okinawa) were as much as factor as enemy actions. Even friendly units and superior officers had to be dealt with.

As a young Marine, Sledge looked to the ‘Old Breed’, the veterans of Guadalcanal (and in some cases, World War 1) who made up the sergeants of the company. To those just fresh out of training camps in the US, their seniors seemed like men from a different era; their confidence and experience helped prepare the newcomers who were afraid of getting killed or, worse, showing cowardice.

Sledge braves his first combat on Peleliu, experiencing friendly fire, loss of friends, and extreme thirst. Across the coral rocks and into the heights of the island, K/3/5 sees a lot of combat, and Sledge takes the reader with them.

Sledge doesn’t try to elevate the Marines to mythical status; he writes to show the conditions the Marines fought in, down to the terrible details that soldiers often gloss over in their narratives.  He describes the first time he sees a dead soldier, and what it’s like to suffer from an artillery barrage the goes on for what feels like ever. For Sledge, it’s about showing the reader what the Marines went through and discussing why they survived.

By the time Sledge lands on Okinawa, he is a veteran. The landing feels different for him: he’s seen combat, so he knows he won’t run; there’s just the fear of death and letting his comrades down. Even so, he still experiences and describes the depths that battle on Okinawa went to. The harsh rain and difficulty not only supplying troops but removing the dead turns the battlefield into one reminiscent of trench warfare of World War 1.

Sledge is sparing in his judgment; he does not condemn men who break under bombardment or fall victim to sickness. When he speaks of army soldiers, he does so with respect (they all march into the same combat). Those he does judge are those who act foolishly, such as rear echelon soldiers who come up to grab souvenirs, or orders from on high that feel like a waste of time but must be followed.

Finally finishing the Okinawa operations, Sledge describes pulling back and beginning the process of refitting and preparing for the next assault when word comes of the end of the war. The anticipated (and feared) invasion of Japan would not happen. Instead, Sledge and the marines will face some time as occupiers in China, helping maintain order as the Japanese pull out of that country (described in Sledge’s second book, China Marine). But they will be returning home alive.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It is a simple retelling of a man’s experiences of battles most often viewed from much higher up the chain of command. It made no effort to idealize either friend or foe, but told the story of what was. And that’s all it really needed to be.

Recommended: To learn about the conditions and the mindset of a World War 2 combat Marine.

Not Recommended: If you get squeamish about injuries, death and decay.

Manticon 2017

During Memorial Day weekend, I had the opportunity to have a table at Manticon 2017 in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Manticon is a military sci-fi convention that draws a modest and enthusiastic crowd. Based off the Honorverse books of David Weber (of which I am an avid reader), the convention included a charity auction, panels on various topics of interest, and a game room that includes Artemis and Battletech simulators.

As this was my first fandom convention (aside from an hour spent at a very minor Star Trek con to see Leonard Nemoy and William Shatner speak in 2006), I didn’t sign up for any panels or games. I didn’t sign up for anything, preferring to leave my schedule open, as I didn’t know what to expect. The woman who got me into the convention asked me to make two cheesecakes for the con-suite, which I did (salted caramel and peanut butter cup). There were no leftovers.

My Table at Manticon

My table was a simple affair, particularly on the first day where it was only my book displays and a pile of business cards. After talking it over with two fellow authors at the convention, I added a hand-traced map of the Kingdom of North Mississippi and a newsletter sign up page.

That's a well-traced map.
My setup at the Manticon convention.

Yes, it was not particularly flashy, but without knowing what a convention table was like, I didn’t know what sort of stuff to invest in. Luckily, the other two authors with their tables in the same area were willing to give me some advice on what to do at future cons.

As for location, well, it was pretty much in the middle. It was right in front of the elevator bank, between the panel rooms and the main / vendor rooms. Pretty much everyone going to the convention at some point passed my table, usually many times. I got a lot of people stopping by to talk with me and look over my book. It was quite nice to get such a warm reception.

Being At Manticon

I admit I was a bit apprehensive about being in a public place for so long while trying to get people interested enough in my book to buy it from me. I’m a bit of an introvert (maybe more than a bit), and I’ve never been a particularly good salesperson.

That being said, I have been feeling rather confident lately. And I read a few ‘how to do X as an extrovert’ books, which mostly boiled down to be comfortable and don’t try to be something you’re not. So I put out my display and engaged people who stopped to take a look.

As I mentioned above, the people gave me a warm reception. A lot of people stopped by to learn about me and my book, and I conversed in kind. I had an hour-long conversation with one young woman about storytelling in media, including some shared video game experiences and the advantages that the Star Trek Animated Series had in its stories. Some people were genuinely intrigued by my concept and excited to buy my book.

The Manticon patrons wore uniforms, ranging from technician jump suits to resplendent admiral’s uniforms. They came in from all over the world: I spoke with someone who flew in from Scotland, and there was a group from an Eastern European country that I didn’t meet but heard them conversing.

I did not attend any panels or join in the simulator games. This was my first convention, so I decided to ease into it and I did not want to over-schedule myself. I was there to be an author and do the author thing.

And it went well. I missed my sales goal by one, and ran out of business cards. Totally calling it a win.

Beyond the Convention

I spent the days at the table, but the nights hanging out with the patrons.

The convention rented out a number of rooms (maybe an entire floor, I’m not sure) for their post convention parties. Consuite had food and a assortment of drinks themed off the books. There was Marine Country, where the Marine fans congregated with their own bar (visited by Dale Dye, who stole the show). There was a Scotch room (which I visited) and a Klingon room (which I didn’t get around to).

I got to speaking to a few people (again hanging out with Dale Dye a bit), relaxing to the point where I could enjoy myself. I had stop drinking early, since I had to drive across the cities to get home, but it was definitely a good party atmosphere. Next time I’ll see if I can’t get a room to avoid an hour of transit every day.

Lessons for Future Conventions

The first lesson is I’m going to admit is; I need a flashier set up. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top, but enough to catch people’s attention. I’ve got some ideas, but I haven’t ordered anything yet. I’m waiting a week to go over my brainstorming list and see what makes it through round two.

Second lesson: get on a panel or two. One of the other authors at the event had two, and he said he had some good discussions with patrons about his topics. Next time, I’ll see what is available.

Third: get a room there if feasible. Not only can I remain longer in the evening, I can avoid a long morning commute.

Conclusion

Did I have fun? Absolutely.

Did I meet some cool people? I did. In addition to Dale Dye, I got David Weber to sign two books. I met a group of people I’m excited to join. And I got to  see people get excited by my book.

Am I looking forward to future cons? I am. I don’t know when the next one is, but I’ll let you know when I have future appearances scheduled.

For now, I’m concentrating on Book 2. Maybe I can have it ready by Manticon 2018.

Thanks for reading!

-Michael

A Renaissance Lesson

With Renaissance Calling published, I wanted to take a moment to write down a lesson or four, to help anyone reading this who is thinking of publishing, and to remind myself down the line of mistakes I made. Renaissance Calling is my first book, so I’m not surprised I made some errors. With Book 2, I’m going to get these right.

Taking notes.

  1. Proofreading versus Editing

My editor was a huge help in prepping Renaissance Calling for publishing. She helped me refine my writing voice, clarify my story, and improve the general quality of the writing flow. I’m thankful she’s agreed to stick around for Book 2. But as it turns out, neither of us are proofreaders; we get into the flow of the story without looking at the details. So when several people who backer Renaissance Calling came to me with issues, I cringed.

Despite our best efforts, a number of small errors made it through to the first printing. Some of them were simple things (example: ‘while he attached’, instead of ‘attacked’). Others were a bit ‘how did I miss that’ (example: Horace spelled Horus on several occasions). One was downright ‘I didn’t know that was a thing’ (the single quotation marks would switch between straight and curly, sometimes on the same page).

A bit embarrassing, but a lot of books, even best sellers, have small errors. I’ve still gotten overwhelmingly positive responses to the story, even from people who handed me lists of corrections. So I’ve made the changes and I’m replacing the documents for future printings and eBooks. I’d like to say no one will find anymore, but I’m only human.

Lesson Learned: I need to spend more time and effort on proofreading.

How: A couple of things I can do.

  • I found a few mistakes when I was practicing reading out loud for my launch party, so I have made reading out loud part of my revision process.
  • A number of the detail-oriented people who handed me lists are willing to proofread future books, which will also help.
  • I’ve made some notes about common errors I made, and will endeavor to account for them in future projects.
  1. Publishing Date

The Kickstarter campaign finished in early November, and I had a tentative publishing date of February 10th (the main character’s birthday). All I had to do was write a Backer Book, finish editing Renaissance Calling, get ISBN’s and Barcodes, get final covers from my cover artist, and load all the documents to the printers. I could do all that in three months, right?

Well, not so fast. The Backer Book turned into a bigger endeavor than I thought it would, finishing at twice as long as I planned. The cover was some back and forth due to differences in RBG and CMYK formats.  And it took a lot more time and money to proof test prints of my book than I thought it would (details in No. 4 below).

The date was pushed back to March 8th, then April 8th. As I wrote about before, I got accidentally published on Amazon when I forgot to change the publishing date on one of the publishing sites. This was a bit of a relief, as I no longer had to feel rushed about getting my stuff done and out there.

Lesson Learned: I need to set a publishing date far enough out that I can get everything done.

How: As I’m scheduling my next book, I’m considering how long it took me to get Renaissance Calling into print and adjusting for differences in the book size (I’m anticipating Book 2 to be noticeably longer). My goal is to have everything done, proofed and printed two weeks before publishing.

  1. Figure out prices before committing

A minor error that I should have foreseen, but I assumed the costs of my books were going to be $12 for paperback and $16 for hardcover. I don’t know how I came to those numbers, but I was pretty certain of that going in. So much so that I had the original barcode for the paperback made with $12 on it.

Turns out, however, that after printing and distribution costs (particularly for the hardcover), sticking with those princes was not feasible. If I had, I’d be making less than a dollar on the paperback, and I’d be losing money on the hard cover. I had to raise the price for both formats.

Not a huge deal, except the first round of paperbacks got printed with the price still listed at $12. That’s been fixed and the correct price will displayed on future printings.

Lesson Learned: Do all the math before you set something in stone.

How: Not difficult; most printers and distributors have calculators to help you figure out the math. Take advantage of the tools. Work it out before you commit.

  1. Proofing and Printing

(Note: Proofing in this section was not for content or spelling, but for formatting errors when converting from Word to PDF and PDF to print.)

Proofing printed copies of Renaissance Calling turned out to take longer, and be more expensive, than I anticipated. A lot of this was due to this being my first book, and not being experienced enough to understand what I was doing.

With Createspace, the process is pretty easy. Once a PDF of the internal documents is loaded (and their website can convert Word docs to PDF), it can be proofed through an online viewer that organizes it as if it was a book. I should have spent more time reviewing it online, instead of ordering a proof copy and finding formatting errors in that.

Ingram Spark is much more complex. The files being uploaded have to be corrected by you, the author, which can result in some issues when the formatting is off. Issues that are a pain in the ass to correct, since Spark is so particular. Luckily there is an option to ignore the issues and continue, so when you’re black and white PDF is being kicked back as having color (Yeah, I never figured out what this was), you can tell it to continue with a little waiver. They do provide a PDF to proof, but not the snazzy online program Createspace does.

In both cases, it took a bit longer to get physical proofs than I expected. It also cost a bit more, since I had missed that Ingram Spark requires $50 to set up a file and $25 to correct. With two books set up at Ingram (hardcover and backer book), one correction each, and two proof copies of all three books, I spent well over $200 just proofing. If I had been on the ball, I could have saved about $100.

Lesson Learned: Give enough time to proof and print thoroughly, and be careful before you print off a copy.

How: There are a number of things I can do for this one.

  • Both: Convert the document to PDF and check thoroughly. A lot of errors come from this step, so checking the PDF should catch most of them. Check it several times.
  • Createspace: Proof the online program several times before confirming.
  • Ingram Spark: Proof the provided PDF several times before confirming.

Conclusion

As this was my first novel, I’m not surprised I made a few errors. But the point of an error is to learn a lesson. By writing these down now, I am going to remember them when I get back into the publishing process, which should be sometime next year.

If you’ve got any of your own tips, feel free to share. Thanks!

-Michael

Closing up 2016 and into 2017

Hard to believe the year is almost over, and a new one about to christmas-iconbeing. As I’m closing up 2016, and looking forward into 2017, I take a moment to consider both.

From 2016

In terms of writing, I didn’t get a whole lot done.  Sure, I finished the rough draft of a fantasy novel, which is great, I’m glad to have another one under my belt, but I did little other writing.

I spent most of this year working towards publishing;  I went through a number of artists trying to get artwork done;  I worked with an editor to get Renaissance Calling finalized.

I spent a lot of time getting a plan in place for when the project is done and Renaissance Calling gets published.  Learning the who to go to for what seemed daunting, but you cut through enough advertising you can find what you’re looking for.

I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign.  That was a bit nerve wracking, but I got it done.

I commissioned and artist for cover artwork.  A few rounds of back and forth later, I’ve got a cover (which I will be releasing soon).

And now I’m close to being done with my first book.

For 2017

I have a number of goals for 2017.

For starters, I plan to finish the publishing process and get Renaissance Calling to print.

Second, I plan to finish the rough draft for Templar Scholar, Book 2 of the Renaissance Army Series.  A decent start is already underway, awaiting the arrival of characters created by the backers.

Third, I want to finish the rough draft of the fantasy trilogy.  Book one is done, and the other two are outlined.  I want to get the three books done so I can make sure all three line up before I get the first one ready for publication.

I don’t want to set too many goals for 2017, but I want to stay focused.  Ideally, I’ll publish two books in 2018.  Now, I know that’s a large amount of work (now more than ever) but I think I can do it.  I’m already writing more efficiently: now that I know how much changes between rough and final drafts, I’m not so focused on getting the rough draft ‘just right’.

So as I close up 2016 and look into 2017, I want to thank you for reading this and supporting me, and I hope you have a great new years.

Keep on writing!

-Michael

yWriter

yWriter5

http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter5.html

When I write, I create a rich backstory for the world I’m writing in. And while I can remember many details of that world, I can’t remember them all. Trying to keep track of all those details has been a constant pain for me, especially as I replace computers, send documents from work to home, or even just forget where I put the file with all the information.

One day I ventured onto the Internet to look for a database program. I was hoping to find something that would allow me to create a Wikipedia type database, with links between files so I could move from one page to another. I did eventually find one, but first I found yWriter.

yWriter showed up as a writing program designed for writers. In the words of the website:

yWriter is a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes, helping you keep track of your work while leaving your mind free to create. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. yWriter was designed by an author, not a salesman!

I downloaded it and gave it a try…and I am very glad I did.

Organization

yWriter most appeals to me because of the organization it applies to the writing project.  Before, I would write with either a single file for the whole project or each one file per chapter.  I wasn’t really happy with either one.  yWriter allows me to add chapters to a project, and add scenes to chapters.  The program keeps an automatic word count, and even tracks how many words I add in a given day.

For any scene and chapter I can add notes separate of the words in the actual document.  A writer can also keep track of a number of Details for the scene, including Type, Tags, Importance, and various Ratings (I don’t use these, personally, but they’re there to be used).

yWrite One
yWriter

What I really enjoy is the ability to turn scenes off, so that the program keeps them but they don’t apply to the book as a whole.  For example, I recently read a scene that started strong but petered out into a boring exchange.  I copied the scene and turned the first one off, so I can access it, but it doesn’t appear in my word count.  I deleted most of the copied scene and I can continue writing without losing the first attempt.

Databases

yWriter has three different databases: Characters, Locations and Items.

Adding an item is as easy as highlighting a word and right clicking.  Once it is added, I can add notes and pictures to the database without changing anything of the scenes.  I can get as detailed or as simple as I want.

This is a nice program to keep track of the little things when I add a new character, but it does have a problem.  The database will find every instance of the word and track it, even if it isn’t an instance that you want it to track.  For example, if I have a character named Mars, the program will highlight the first half of the word Marshall.

Spell Checking and Printing

No program is perfect, and yWriter’s flaws come towards the end of the process.

yWriter has a Spell Checker option, but it is not very good.  This would normally be a deal breaker, but the programmer managed to add a way to side step this.  You can export chapters to Microsoft Word and spell check your work there, then import back into yWriter (just be careful not to delete the coding that allows yWriter to import to the correct chapters and scenes).

The printing function is okay, but I’ve found it much more useful to import to Microsoft Word and fix the formatting before printing or changing to a PDF.  Part of this may stem from so much of my first project in yWriter being imported from Google Docs, Microsoft Word and Open Office.  I’m hoping this will improve over subsequent projects.

Conclusion

I have found yWriter to be a very useful program, both as a writing system and as a simple database for notes.  And that is fully admitting I don’t use everything this program has to offer.  I hope some of you go and try it out.

-Michael