A Look Back / A Glance Forward – January 2021

With the change in calendars, it’s time to do a recap of the past year and explore what to expect in the new one. For 2020, a lot happened. I’m not going to do a blow by blow, but I do think I can summarize things pretty succinctly—2020 was a hell of a year. I can honestly say I’m glad to have that one behind me.

A Lot Happened

As many households did, we chose to isolate ourselves beginning in March. This forced us to find creative ways of getting our mundane stuff done. We discovered that Grubhub and curbside pickup work pretty well most of the time. But it wasn’t perfect. The family’s new joke became centered around who’s takeout order was going to be messed up. Not to mention, we learned that Zoom wasn’t just for business anymore. In short, we adapted.

Despite the difficult circumstances, I did manage to get some writing stuff done. Queen of Curses, the second book in the Coren Hart series, was finally finished and published in May.  I had planned to get this out in April but ran into some Covid related delays with the cover art and getting the proofs printed. Fortunately, we were able to work through those, and eventually, everything came together just fine.

Not being able to get out also improved my writing productivity. (What else was I supposed to do?) By the end of the year, I had nearly completed writing the third book in the series, Assassin of Curses. I was also able to find a new artist for the book’s cover who did an excellent job of capturing the story’s essence.

During the year, I also ran my first Goodreads Giveaway on Thief of Curses. While the contest far exceeded my expectations, with close to 500 people competing for it, I learned that the reviewers on Goodreads are a tough crowd and don’t give good ratings lightly. (It has a 4.19, but William Goldman’s The Princess Bride only has a 4.25, so there!)

This was also the year of being virtual. Through Zoom, I was able to attend the Virginia Writers Club Symposium (which was very good). I was also able to virtually speak to a local Book Club and meet some very interesting ladies.

Looking Ahead

The coming year promises to be a full one. I’m really excited about Assassin of Curses coming out in March (assuming my beta readers don’t find anything horribly wrong). Along with this, I hope to be doing some more promotions on this series, maybe even doing another Goodreads or Bookbub promotion.

Also about mid-year, you’re hopefully going to see more about curses. I plan to put out a short book on the curse marks themselves. My most excellent artist has designed a curse mark for each of the curses mentioned in the series so far. (They look so cool!)

After Assassin comes out, I’m planning on taking a pause on the Coren Hart series and write on something different. I have another series I’m dying to get back to. The working title of this light urban fantasy is Monday after the Apocalypse. I’m hoping to finish writing this one by about mid-year and have it out by the Nov/Dec timeframe (no promises).

Then late in the year, I plan to return to the Coren Hart series and work on book four, Memories of Curses. For various reasons, this book will be more technically challenging than anything I’ve written to date. I am simultaneously looking forward to it and dreading it.

As a stretch goal, I also want to write another short story set in the Coren Hart universe. I’m dying to tell the story of exactly what happened to Zofie after her brother cursed her. You never know, this one might work its way into one of the novels as a bonus story.

In short, despite all the challenges 2020 offered, I am proud to say a lot was accomplished. And as for 2021, I’m confident even more will get done. (Just get me out of the house, please!)

Tools of the Trade

I’ve heard it said that a craftsman is only as good as his tools. I was recently reminded of this while attempting to make a series of exacting cuts with my new circular saw. There was no room for error, and I was deathly afraid of making a piece of expensive scrap. True, I had carefully selected the saw for just this type of thing, but still, this was me using it. After fifteen minutes of careful cutting, the product emerged near perfect. Needless to say, I patted myself on the back and took a victory lap around the yard. (My neighbors are used to it.)

This made me think of the tools I use in my writing and how I’ve chosen them just as carefully. So with Assassin of Curses nearly completed, I thought it might be of interest to talk a little about the tools I use in my everyday writing.

For this post, I will only talk about the tools used in my creative process—planning, writing, and editing. I use several others for different purposes, but I will try to talk about those at another time.

The Setup

Since this is the twenty-first century, almost everything I write is digital. My workhorse machine is an HP desktop running Windows 10 and connected to two monitors (32” and 27”). Why two monitors? I frequently need to reference several documents at once. It’s not uncommon for me to have up my outline, my working draft, my world’s encyclopedia, my browser windows, plus various spreadsheets. It can get crowded with even two monitors.

The Right Word

 My primary creation tool is Microsoft Word. For many years, I used Office 2003 and was pretty happy with it. Then last year, I realized my old version wasn’t cutting it anymore and upgraded to Office 365. After using it for a bit, I wondered why I waited so long. Several of its newer features greatly improved my productivity.

I use Word for composing my drafts, document layout, and all my general writing. I’ve found it to be quite versatile, and I’m even using it to write this article. Unfortunately, some of its more advanced features have a steep learning curve. I frequently have to consult Google on how to do something.

Many people hate Microsoft products, and I perfectly understand why. Microsoft does have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot with their ‘upgrades.’ But since I have been a Microsoft user from way back, I frankly didn’t want to invest in learning a new tool (or operating system).

Modeling the World

I also use Excel extensively. What, you say? You’re a writer.  Why in the world do you need a spreadsheet when writing? Actually, for a lot of reasons.

In my world-building, I strive to make some semblance of following the laws of physics (unless magic is involved). And math is sometimes the best way to figure out what the constraints are. For instance, I’ve used a spreadsheet to calculate distances between locations, how much air time someone would have falling from a great height, or comparing how fast a horse-drawn carriage travels versus a person running.

For the Coren Hart series, I also built a fairly complex model of the ages of all the characters and world events going back for four generations. Using that model, I can tell you when any character was born, their age when major events occurred, and their age when they pass away. Some might argue that this is too much detail. But I find it helps me be more consistent. (Did you know that Zofie is eight months older than Coren?)

The Worth of a Picture

Even though I am a writer, I tend to be a visual person. So to eliminate logic errors, I will make diagrams and grab reference pictures.

The tool I use for simple diagrams is Powerpoint. And no, I don’t make presentations using it. I use it to make block diagrams of things I describe, such as character placements in rooms (Coren was sitting next to who?), the position of a room’s important features (what do you mean there’s no stairs?), or simple maps (what’s the name of that river going past the castle?) Powerpoint’s organization chart tool is also perfect for simple genealogy diagrams.

For more complex drawings, I use Adobe Photoshop Elements. (Not the full-blown Cloud version.) I use this for more complex maps and simple image manipulation. And no, I do not draw my own published art. Circles and squares are about my limit.

Punctuation and Spelling Are Demons

I will be the first to admit that commas are my downfall. I’ve gotten better, but misplaced commas still get by me. Another common problem I have is selecting the right word from closely spelled alternatives. (Like shudder versus shutter.) I’ve had more than one alpha reader fall over laughing at my mistakes. (He did what to that window?)  

To help me with this, I use Grammarly Premium. While the built-in Microsoft Word tools are pretty good, Grammarly is just a tad better at finding and recommending corrections. I don’t always agree with it, but it does make me take a second look.

 All Together Now

As you can see, I don’t use just one tool for my overall writing process, but several with each one carefully selected for my needs. I’ve found that having the correct toolset has not only improved my writing speed but also the quality.

Now, if only I could figure out how to accurately read a tape measure, I wouldn’t produce any scrap at all.

How about you? Do you have a favorite writing or drawing tool you like to use? I’ve love to hear about it and why you like it. Just send me a message through the contact me page.

Assassin of Curses – November 2020 Update

The writing part of Assassin of Curses is finally done, and we are still on track for an early 2021 release! That doesn’t mean there won’t be some revisions, but the creative heavy lifting is complete.

But things will still be busy as we finalize the book for publication. The cover art concept has been developed, and the back cover blurb written. Also, the first round of ‘beta’ readers have received their review copies, and I hope to hear back from them in a few weeks. After I incorporate their feedback, we’ll do another round of beta readers to catch any final errors.

Admittedly, I might be a little biased, but I think this next volume kicks butt. As you can tell, I’m just a little excited.

To tease you a bit, I have posted the back cover blurb on the web site. So be sure to check it out.

Living in 2020

I bet you were thinking I fell off the ends of the earth. Thankfully, the world is round, so no need to worry about that, right? I wouldn’t be too sure. This is 2020, after all.

(Sounds like an episode of The Twilight Zone, doesn’t it?)

I wish I could give a cool reason why I haven’t put out an update since May, but I have no such excuse. Especially since I’ve been stuck in my home since March (and still am). But it hasn’t been entirely uneventful.

Back in June, I got a message from a friend saying that when she tried to access my web site, it took her to some dubious online pharmacy. I immediately fired up my browser and entered the address, only to find it came up just fine. I thought this extremely odd since my friend is reasonably tech-savvy. So I dug deeper and found out to my horror—the site had been hacked. And the clever suckers made it so that if you entered the address directly, it brought up the site just as you would expect. But if you searched for my site using one of the popular search engines (like GOOGLE!), it redirected you to the malicious page instead of my site. To say I was upset was an understatement.

I immediately fixed the redirect but quickly discovered it was not going to stay fixed. Unfortunately, my webserver was so old, it had about a million ways to break into it. So to prevent further hacks, I needed to upgrade. And upgrading wasn’t a simple matter.  So I ended up getting a new server and moving my site over to it. This was not extremely difficult, but it did take quite a bit of time. The one upside to all this is that the new server allowed me to enable site security. So now, when you visit the site, you no longer get a warning about it being insecure.

Thankfully, the hackers haven’t prevented me from making progress on my next novel. I am just about done with the second draft of Assassin of Curses, which puts me a little ahead of schedule. If I can maintain my current pace, I expect to be done with this draft by the end of October. This puts me in a good spot for publishing in early 2021.

That’s assuming Godzilla doesn’t appear in the Pacific next month.

After all, it is 2020.

Coren Hart Series on Amazon!

I was wondering what was going on with my Amazon listing for the Coren Hart Chronicles. Even though the Kindle books were linked, neither one of them had a reference to the other.  So, I sent a query to Amazon support about it. I found out there was a technical issue on Amazon’s side, which they were able to resolve today.

Now, if you look at the Kindle listing for Thief of Curses or Queen of Curses, they will show the other book in the series. AND, as part of the fix, they created a new series product page where you can review the series and buy both Kindle books at the same time. Check out the new Coren Hart Chronicles page. So now if you don’t already have those books, you can order them together!

Goodreads Giveaway

To continue with the promotion of my new book, I am running a Goodreads Giveaway from May 22nd through May 31st.  The prize is a free Kindle eBook copy of the first book in the Coren Hart series, Thief of Curses. Only a limited number of copies will be given away, so be sure to enter the drawing.

Of course, you have to be a Goodreads member to access the site (but that’s free too.) If you’re not familiar with it, Goodreads is a website for readers to exchange information on the books and the authors they like. They also let authors (like myself) sponsor drawings to promote their books.

To enter the drawing, just click here, sign in or register, and then fill out the required information. When the contest closes, Goodreads will notify you if you won. Easy as pie.

Don’t forget the second book in the Coren Hart series, Queen of Curses is also available in both Kindle ebook and print versions on Amazon.

Good luck on winning! 

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