“The Fires of Tallen Hall” Update

For weeks, I was stuck on the first chapter of The Fires of Tallen Hall, with only nine written. That first chapter was just too choppy. Not poetic enough.

My wife had a brilliant idea. She suggested I write the entire book. Just write it, as a skeleton. Then go back and flesh it out. That way, I progressed and would end up with at least an outlined complete story. Capital!

A skeleton for me is dialogue, action, and description. Then, I add the muscle (the expository that holds it together), and the skin (the lyrical language). I planned to focus on the skeleton, and ignore the muscle and skin.

I am happy to report that as of last Friday, I have completed nineteen chapters. They’re anemic and emaciated, but they have flesh and skin over the bones.

This is an interesting point in the story. I began Aura’s initial tale in 2010. It morphed through six different incarnations: the first graphic novel, and five novel versions. At no time did I ever complete it. From Chapter Twenty forward, I am in new territory.

It would be easy to say that I have the story outlined in my head. In fact, it’s outlined on a dry erase board to my left. However, it has changed. In Chapter Eleven, I wrote a few paragraphs to reintroduce a character from A Path of Stones so the reader wouldn’t forget he exists. Those few paragraphs radically altered what I planned to be a confrontation with the villain’s henchman. Based on those paragraphs, someone else will have to deal with him.

So, there is no telling what Chapter Thirty, or Twenty for that matter, will do to the ending.

To the Death

Duel

Ygraine Pagel looked up from her work table as Aura Lockhaven entered her chamber. She cast Aura a cold glare. She said, “I know who you are.”

Aura frowned. There was a note of cynicism in the sorceress’ voice. It was not that of a merchant receiving a customer. She said, “You should. I wrote you last week. I’m interested in the emerald sphere you have for sale.”

“Hmm,” the sorceress said. “We’re both initiated magicians. There is no need for subterfuge.” She looked Aura up and down, and sneered. “Crimson. I expected death to wear black, and reveal much less skin.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Feigning surprise is disingenuous of you. My order sent you here to assassinate me,” Ygraine said.

“Wait. Excuse me?” Aura asked. She couldn’t believe her ears. Rumors abounded that Ygraine had turned her cloak, surrendering to the lust for power that seduced some sorcerers. The idea that the Order of Sorcerers would send someone from another magical order to deal with one of their own was ridiculous. The mere thought that that someone would be an enchantress, a member of an over-wrought and far-too-sensitive order that the aristocratic and rib-numbing tightly-corseted sorcerers despised, was beyond absurd. The sorcerers had the best internal constabulary of all eight magical orders, and were notorious for dispensing swift justice against members who violated their oath of non-manipulation. If they wanted to execute Ygraine, then Aura would have found a week old corpse. Aura shivered at the thought that she may have just walked into an unpredictable situation. Still, Ygraine was the finest purveyor of magical crystals in all of Ayrdland. “I’m here to buy a stone, Ygraine. I am customer, not an assassin. I don’t kill.”

“Then, that shall be your downfall!”

With that, Ygraine launched herself at the young enchantress. Before Aura could brace herself, Ygraine knocked Aura’s staff from her hand. Then, she grabbed her by the throat. Aura did not need to ponder what the sorceress had in mind. She felt that intent in Ygraine’s right hand as a malignant spell poured down the woman’s arm and flooded Aura’s neck. Aura knew some of the sorcerers’ spells, but not enough to counter them. This one was new. She didn’t have to tighten her hand. The spell did the work for her. It felt like an iron vise upon soft pine wood. Aura felt her windpipe cramp.

“Ygraine,” Aura said with a gasp. “Let me go. You’re killing me!”

“That’s the whole idea, you stupid tart!” the sorceress said.

Aura grabbed Ygraine’s arm, trying her best to break the sorceress’ hold on her throat. Ygraine’s hand was fixed to her flesh as ivy to brick. All of Aura’s respect for elders vanished. The sorceress meant to murder her. She threw her considerable weight and height into Ygraine, but her hand and spell remained fixed. Around the chamber they danced their waltz of death, knocking over the bookcase, overturning a chair, then spilling a rack of tinctures. Dozens of small bottles shattered on the stone floor, their contents mixing in a bubbling brew. Then, Aura slammed Ygraine against her table, in an effort to knock the woman loose. It only served to upset the table, sending books, rats, and even a skull into flight. A lit candle fell onto the ruins of the tinctures. The mixture erupted in flame.

The inferno diverted Ygraine’s attention long enough. Aura employed an old tactic she used against boatmen who lusted for her budding breasts when she was younger. A woman lacked the necessary external appendages, but it would still hurt. She kneed the sorceress in the groin. With a yelp, Ygraine released Aura’s throat and fell back against the table.

“Ygraine,” Aura wheezed, trying to catch her breath. “We have to get out of here.”

“I shall. The only way you’re leaving is in a coffin, assassin!” With that, Ygraine advanced.

Oh, merciful heavens, Aura thought. Ygraine was mad. It was bad enough that she wanted to kill Aura. Now, she continued her murderous assault as fire spread the floor of the windowless chamber. Noxious smoke, the result of igniting tinctures that should never be mixed, filled the air. The flames would soon reach the wood of table and bookcase, and the chamber’s timbers. If the fight lasted much longer, both women would die.

Ygraine pounced. Aura turned, dashing toward the back of the chamber. The sorceress grabbed Aura’s cloak and pulled her backwards. Let her have the cloak, Aura thought, gripping the clasp and tearing it open. Ygraine threw the garment across the overturned chair, and dove toward Aura.

As the enchantress turned to flee around Ygraine, she slipped on broken glass and spilled potion. She went down on one knee. That was all the sorceress needed. Again, she gripped Aura by the throat. Again, the vicious spell poured into Aura’s neck. Again, her windpipe constricted. Aura tried her best to wrench free, but her boots kept slipping on the wet floor. If she fell, Ygraine would simply sit on her and kill her. She had to maintain her footing. To keep herself upright, she locked onto Ygraine’s leg with her own.

Black specks appeared in front of Aura’s eyes. The spell was strangling her, ending her life one failed breath after another. Her mind reeled in panic. Aura gasped for air. None came.

“Here’s a kiss for the leader of my order,” Ygraine said.

A ball of pure life force formed in Ygraine’s left hand. It was enough to turn a human inside out. This woman not only could cast one spell, while maintaining a second of a different type, but she cast both without a single incantation. Aura had to speak an incantation, and speech was now lost to her.

The Enchantress of Hartshorn had only moments left. She lashed out with her left hand. She grabbed Ygraine’s face. Claw her eyes! Tear her skin! Rip her mouth! Anything to get her to let go. Not enough. Her hand still grasped Aura’s neck, the vile spell pouring into her throat.

Aura felt her fear and desperation coalesce into a ball of pure vitality, will, and emotion. It formed on its own volition, without any conscious thought from the enchantress. It formed without an incantation. It rushed from her chest, and poured into her right arm. It erupted in her hand as the most lethal spell in her entire arsenal – the Divine Thunderbolt.

I don’t kill, Aura said only moments earlier. If Ygraine did not release her throat, then Aura would violate that statement by shoving the ball of solid light into the sorceress’ face. The woman’s skull would survive. At this range, her flesh would be incinerated. Aura knew, as entwined as they were, that she too would take the force of the spell. She would crawl away with massive burns, burns that could be healed tomorrow. If she did not launch the spell, there would be no tomorrow for healing anything. Aura gritted her teeth. Someone was about to die, and the determining judge was Aura Lockhaven herself.

DAZ Studio 4.9 Pro -> Reality 4.3 -> Luxrender 1.6.

This is not canon.

The Evolution of Aura Lockhaven

For the fun of it, I put all three of Aura Lockhaven’s 3D incarnations in the same scene. The result reveals her evolution as a 3D character, as well as serving as graphic touchstones of her evolution as a fictional character.

Left: Victoria 6 incarnation. Center: Victoria 7 incarnation. Right: Victoria 4 incarnation.

Auras II

Victoria 4 Incarnation (April, 2010 — January, 2013):  She wasn’t even Aura Lockhaven when I designed this character. She began as my feeble attempt to create a model based on Playboy Playmate Lindsey Vuolo. Since I didn’t know what I was doing, there is no resemblance between the figure and the Playmate. How she became Aura is chronicled on my website if you’re interested. This is the graphic novel version of Aura.

Victoria 6 Incarnation (January, 2013 — August, 2016): I suspended the graphic novel when I started grad school. Upon graduating, I decided to write a fantasy novel, using the graphic novel as the foundation. That required a new physical representation of my heroine. So, I chose Victoria 6. That base figure much more human like roundness than the earlier V4 (I skipped Victoria 5 completely). Her appearance is based on her written description, so there is no resemblance to the V4 counterpart. Around 2014, I decided the gold body jewelry was too blooming difficult to describe in a written narrative, and gave her the outfit worn by the V7 version.

Victoria 7 Incarnation (August, 2016 — Present): I refused to upgrade to Victoria 7 for an entire year. Eventually, the improved posing and sculpting systems won me over. I transferred Aura from V6 to V7, slider by slider. They don’t quite look alike. The V6 base face is more heart-shaped than V7’s, but the new version is close enough. I really like the new muscular body. Aura’s transfer from V6 to V7 occurred at the same time I determined to finish her first novel by the end of 2016 and publish it. It also happened at the time I cut the opening trilogy down to a duology. This is the incarnation who appears on the cover of A Path of Stones. It is how I see Aura at the end of the series, transformed from the unsure wizardess in the brown dress into the powerful enchantress who fights tyranny.

Most of us in 3DLand anticipate the release of Victoria 8 this June. I said no to Victoria 6 and Victoria 7. We see how well that resolve lasted. So, I shall see what Victoria 8 has to offer. She best impress me. As in, she needs to step off the computer screen, perform one heck of a lap dance, and build me a stiff Manhattan. If she does, I will once again, transfer Aura to a new rig.

This is what that one, silly, little Victoria 4 figure back in 2010 started.

The Painting

A friend of mine on Facebook found a copy of John William Waterhouse’s gorgeous painting “The Soul of the Rose” at a garage sale. She contacted me and asked, “What’s her story?” Well …

===

The young woman didn’t know why she stopped at the garage sale. It offered nothing she needed, just clothes and toys and furniture of toddlers now outgrown them, and CDs for her father’s favorite bands. Ancient DVDs for people too silly to abandon that antique form of entertainment. Stuff called books. Oh, look. A blender. How quaint.

Then, she spotted the painting. It was a simple painting, really. Just a woman stopping at a wall and smelling a rose. She liked the woman’s face, caught in a moment of rapture, the same look she had when she closed a major account. The painting would look pretty against the teal semi-gloss walls of the entertainment room. So, she bought it for a measly $ 50. She made that much it one minute.

For a week, it hung over the Harmon Kardon stereo on the western wall. Most of her friends cast it a quick glance as they sipped their martinis, before turning their gaze to the latest movie she acquired on Amazon.

Then, seven days after the painting’s purchase, the young woman sat in the entertainment room. She pondered which of the Netflix offerings upon which to spend her leisurely afternoon. She heard an unmistakable feminine voice. It said, “Look within.”

The woman leapt up. She glanced around. She lived alone, and the alarms had not alerted her to anyone entering by door or window. If the two Persian cats talked, then she would check herself into the hospital immediately. Someone had said, clearly, “Look within.”

“Who’s there!” she snapped, trembling.

“You are,” the voice answered.

The woman turned her gaze from one side of the room to the other. In the direction the voice seemed to come from, she saw only the painting. She gulped, and whispered, “That’s impossible.”

“Is it?” the voice asked. “You brought me home. Did you not expect me to talk to you?”

This only happened in movies and to lunatics, she thought, slumping to the floor. “What … what do you want?”

“I already told you. Look within.”

“What does that even mean?”

“You live alone in a 3,500 square foot house. You make six digits a year, working only twenty hours per week. Yet, you have never once examined your life. You have never looked at your own mind and heart. Have you ever stopped to sniff a flower for its own sake?”

“That’s silly,” the woman said. “How does smelling a flower get me ahead?”

“It doesn’t. It just makes you more human. Try it. Look within. Find the flower inside yourself, and sniff it.”

“How?”

“Close your eyes. I will guide you.”

She did. All she saw was darkness. The voice said, “Now. Imagine yourself as me in the painting. Smell the rose. Can you?”

“No. I’ve never smelled a rose. It’s silly.”

“Try. What is the most wonderful aroma you’ve ever smelled? Your mother’s chocolate chip cookies? That first cup of coffee in the morning? The sweat on your lover’s chest?”

“The leather upholstery of my new Lexus,” the woman said, with the first hint of enthusiasm since this ordeal began.

“Oh, dear,” the voice said with a sigh. “Well. Just watch.”

The world erupted inside the woman’s closed eyelids. She saw the painting. A woman in a morning gown, her hair elegantly tied back, paused at the wall of her estate. She clutched one of the pink roses and drew it to her nose. The woman’s face changed from that of the figure in the painting to her own. The aroma of the rose intoxicated her. It smelled like life. It smelled like freedom. It smelled like a world beyond corner offices and titles and new imported automobiles and exorbitant houses and vacations to the Caribbean and lovers wearing Rolex watches and carrying stock portfolios. It smelled like the Earth and Creation and being pursued by Pan in the forest and deliberately not running fast enough. In the heat of her back against the floor of the forest and Pan’s body and hands and piercing eyes, she saw the entire world. For once, it was beautiful. She saw beyond the accounts and clients and meetings and cocktails and sometimes betrayals. In one single rose petal, she saw it all. In one single whiff of a perfumed flower, she inhaled it all.

Then, the woman saw all of Denton, all of Dallas, all of Texas. She flew over the United States. She flew over the hemisphere. She saw the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Parthenon. She watched the first man walk on Mars, the battle of Gettysburg, the Great Pyramid being built, and the first strike of flint against stone bringing fire to people. She saw her father, her mother, her brother, herself, you, and me. She saw … a puddle on a road in Texas in August. The water shimmered in the sunlight for the briefest of moments. Brilliant, like a diamond held up to the light. Then, the water vanished, turned into steam by the relentless heat. It left behind a hole not even deep enough to bump the car that passed through it.

The next day, the woman held a garage sale. The tables held the usual items of someone of her status: last year’s purses, last season’s shoes, the previous model Cuisinart, a stack of CDs for a band that no longer played headlines. After all, she had to make room for the newest offerings at Macy’s. The tables also held a single painting, marked $ 5.

 

dawn

 

Philip K. Dick: Writer or Prophet?

Philip K. Dick was a prolific science-fiction writer. He usually depicted a bleak, dystopian future. His works have become more famously known as the motion pictures Blade Runner, Total Recall,  and Minority Report, as the current television series The Man in the High Castle. He died of a stroke in 1982 at age 53.

Below are some of the things he said during his life. Now, remember, he died in 1982.

Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.

The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use them.

There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.

Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.

It’s the basic condition of life to be required to violate our own identity.

There are no private lives. This a most important aspect of modern life. One of the biggest transformations we have seen in our society is the diminution of the sphere of the private. We must reasonably now all regard the fact that there are no secrets and nothing is private. Everything is public.

Look at the world around us today. I ask you, was Mr. Dick a mere writer of science fiction, or a prophet?

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is often presented as the be-all and end-all of marketing efforts, especially to those of us who are independent writers and publishers.

No, it isn’t! The problem is that the presentation of it to us is painted in broad strokes using a massive brush. It’s over-generalized. It has to be broken down into components. Here is my social media campaign for A Path of Stones, the results, and my observations.

I have four social media outlets: Facebook, WordPress, DeviantArt, and Twitter. The first three exist because I like them, and I’ve been active on them for years. Twitter is simply an exercise in mercenaryism because I still don’t understand what a novelist is supposed to do with a mere 140 characters (besides kill them — a George R. R. Martin joke). Between the four sites, I have 600 friends, followers, readers, and fans.

I began marketing A Path of Stones on those four outlets on January 15. By book release day, February 15, everyone knew I had written and published a novel. The likes, shares, and retweets were phenomenal. The majority of my friends, fans, and followers were behind me. A month later, here are the sales results:

Hardback: 2

Paperback: 0

Kindle: 3

ePub: 53

All those ePub sales were through the Apple iBookstore, a marketplace that I have absolutely no control over. It was a last minute decision when Lulu offered it to me as part of an expanded distribution.

If likes, shares, and retweets translated into sales, I would have made enough by now to buy a car.

Those numbers look dismal! It looks like my social media campaign was a failure. Not necessarily. Let’s look beneath the numbers and at each of the four sites.

My Facebook presence is divided into two parts: a personal profile and an author’s page. My friends on my personal profile are old high school friends, college friends, fraternity brothers, friends I’ve made in Texas, and the core of an old LiveJournal forum that stuck together after the forum folded. The majority of the followers of my author’s page are the same people. Most are younger than I am and have children. They don’t have much discretionary income, and the ones who do are not necessarily fans of fantasy fiction.

My fans on DeviantArt are mostly other 3D artists, and those who like Frazetta-inspired images of buxom women playing with swords. They put the fanatic back in fan. But they like art, not necessarily words. If I had published an art book, I’d probably have sold 50 copies that first day.

WordPress and Twitter are made up of the same types of folks, writers and artists who band together to learn from each other and support each other. Not all of us like fantasy, and those of us who do may not take a chance on a freshman writer’s first novel. If I had written a book on self-publishing, it would have sold like crazy between WordPress and Twitter alone.

So, it would seem that my social media marketing fell flat solely because my market isn’t represented in my four sites. That is not something that is reflected in the generalized statement of using social media marketing for sales success.

There is a way around that. I could join several forums and Facebook groups specifically designed for fantasy fiction. Then, I could plug my book. I can’t do that. Not only is advertising against the rules of most forums and groups, it’s also poor manners. I’m mercenary enough with Twitter. If I am going to aim my social media marketing deliberately at a specific target, I’d join it, become part of the group, get to be known, and stay silent about my book for at least six months. Then, I’d mention it in an off-handed way, such as “You know, I wrote a book on just that very thing. Maybe you’d like it.” That is a possibility; I just haven’t explored it yet.

Going back to the likes, shares, and retweets for a moment. I received more of those for my “I’m published!” posts than any other at any time. The attaboys sure felt good. Encouragement is worth its weight in gold.

In no way am I discouraging you from using social media marketing. I’m simply saying don’t be disappointed if it appears to generate little to no sales.

Now, all that said, I can see where social media marketing works in an outstanding manner for certain groups. Niche writers for one. Say this blog were about the life of a childfree middle-aged pagan man writing in a college town (it actually is, but imagine if that were the focal point). Over the years, my readers here would reflect similar lifestyle tastes. If I wrote a book on that subject, based on my blog posts, and offering twelve new chapters never seen on the web, it would sell and sell well. In fact, that’s exactly how some best-sellers are written.

The same goes for the Millennial generation. I know a few 20 year olds, and they have more than 3,000 friends on Facebook. They are a collective group of young people. If one posted “My new novella comes out today,” 1,000 of their friends would buy it immediately. That’s just how that generation operates. Mine is different. We Baby Busters are loners. We believe if we can’t make it on our own, we don’t deserve to make it (which is why my Kickstarter campaign was so stressful). Two totally different mindsets. I may pick on Millennials, but I admire their optimistic communalism and I hope it never disappoints them.

The campaign for The Fires of Tallen Hall will no doubt be more successful. I’ve noticed a trickling increase in traffic here, on Facebook, and on DeviantArt. In fact, twice now, someone found this blog by searching for my name, and once someone searched for The Fires of Tallen Hall, which appears only at the end of A Path of Stones as a “to be continued in …” line. That tells me the readers of the ePub edition got curious. They will come back. They will tell their friends. Their friends will visit. They will bookmark this page, and my website. That is called the “soft marketing” approach — word of mouth. To my way of thinking, it’s the slowest, but the best.

 

 

After One Week

A Path of Stones released last Wednesday. After one week, this is how the book has performed:

1 hardback sale

1 Kindle sale

23 ebooks on the Apple ibookstore

Not great, but not bad, either. I didn’t expect it to be a phenomenon in the first week, much less on the first day. My marketing approach is known as “soft,” meaning I release the book, do some preliminary announcements on social media, and then let word of mouth take it from there. “Hard” marketing involves phone calls, press releases, and free copies to reviewers. No need in that for the first novel.

What’s surprising are those Apple sales. I signed up for the Apple store simply because Lulu offered it as an expanded marketplace option. All I can figure is the book description appeals to people with iPhones and iPads.

Even more surprising is a hit on this very blog today. Someone found it by searching “The Fires of Tallen Hall.” That is the title of the second book, which I’m currently writing. The title appears at the end of A Path of Stones, on a “to be continued” page. So, someone finished A Path of Stones and wanted to see if The Fires of Tallen Hall was available.

I’ll chalk this week up as a success.

The Importance of Book Descriptions

We publishing Browncoats (Firefly reference; allusion to Independents there) are responsible for all our own marketing. Nowhere is this more crucial than in the book description we write for the various e-marketplaces.

I’m assuming you’re writing fiction. For us, the best option is to use our elevator spiel. If you don’t know what that is, ask yourself how you can summarize your book to a perfect stranger in the two minutes required to travel by elevator in such a way that he wants to buy your book. They’re short, to the point, and juicy.

This works, you crazy hep cats! I just released my book A Path of Stones today. That means, I activated the links on my website. The books have been available on Amazon, Lulu, and the Apple ibookstore for a week now. I already sold eleven ebooks in that week! It can only be because I wrote a humdinger of a description.

Here is the one for A Path of Stones:

Newly initiated wizardess Aura Lockhaven has a strange power within her that enables her to perform miracles. The path of the enchantress offers her hope to harness that power before it kills her. To discover more, she visits the Valley of the Mystic Moon, the home of the Order of Enchanters. The Order is not so enchanting, however. A monster wants Aura’s soul. A vengeful ghost wants her head. A renegade lawman wants both. A mad noblewoman believes Aura is the fulfillment of a prophecy. Finally, there is something about her mother’s maiden name that attracts the wrong kind of attention. Aura may not survive walking A Path of Stones.

My main goals in writing it that way was to convey what the story was about, in suspenseful terms, and to let the reader know this is not another story about a group of mismatched characters walking 1,000 miles to save the world from an evil villain. I must have achieved my goals.

Writing for Bowker’s Self Published Writer newsletter, Penny C. Sansevieri goes into much more detail than I can. I’ll simply link you to her article and tell you to read away: How Great Book Descriptions Can Help Sell More Books.