The Fires of Tallen Hall

2017 hasn’t been friendly to writing.

I lost January and February to releasing A Path of Stones and the subsequent marketing campaign. March fell to a hard drive failure, and doing my best to keep the old computer running. April was consumed with learning the new computer, as well as a few bouts of depression.

It’s May.

Yesterday, I resumed work on The Fires of Tallen Hall, the second Aura Lockhaven novel. I am happy to report that it is 50% complete.

In honor of that mark, here is the first promotional image of the second novel.

TallenHallSM

Aura Lockhaven in Iray and Comics

Yes, you read that right. Aura Lockhaven comics!

I’ve been experimenting with the Iray rendering engine, and the results are beyond what was expected. So, I had to see what Aura looked like.

Usually, I render her in Reality-Luxrender. That texturing system and render engine gives me more control over the look, and has far greater textural fidelity than Iray. It is, however, slow. Luxrender is the Treebeard of the rendering world. It never does anything hasty. A six hour render is just too time consuming for a comic, or even an illustrated short story. A page of a comic per week is reasonable. One panel per week is not.

Iray, however, is lightning in pixels. I can expect a render to complete between 20 minutes and 90. Extremely complicated sets and lighting require more time, but that is usually limited to fine art pieces, not the panels of a comic.

So. Here is the first image of Aura, rendered in Iray.

AuraIraySM

Aura looks great! Her skin is fantastic, and comparable to Reality. The clothes, however! They’re too orange. I can control the colors better in Reality. She’s the “red enchantress,” not the Orange Bowl Queen. Well, they are three years old, and date from her incarnation as a Victoria 6 figure (she’s a Victoria 7 now). Time to give the lady a new wardrobe.

This scene was … interesting. Iray should have rendered her in 20 minutes or less. It’s just one figure, a few clothes, a simple set, and two lights. She took an hour to reach 15% completion! That is not acceptable. This required some drastic measures. I could only surmise that the issue lay in the fact that Aura is a custom made, slider-by-slider, character. All those morphs had to slow her down. So, I made a single character morph and applied to to a stock G3F. If you don’t know what that means, I essentially turned her into a character I can sell. Instead of ten different morphs for her mouth alone, I have just one that says Aura Lockhaven, and it controls both face and body. That cut load time in half, but did not significantly increase render time.

Oddly enough, I experimented by rendering her in the Beta edition of DAZ Studio 4.9, instead of the public release of 4.9.3. She rendered much faster. At eleven minutes, she had only reached 10% completion. Not great. Not good enough for a comic. Better than 15% after an hour. At that point, I stopped the render to check her pose. Satisfied, I resumed the render. Within four minutes, she shot from 10% to 55%.

What the heck! There is no difference between 4.9 Beta and 4.9.3. They are identical. Why would stopping and resuming the render cause that much of a speed increase? My wife speculates that stopping it freed tied up resources in either the cache or VRAM.

It does matter. I’d like to know the answers so I can correct them. However, this opens the door for Aura Lockhaven illustrated short stories and comics.

I plan a few short comics, as in ten to twelve pages. They will fill in the gaps between novels, and provide a bit of backstory to some of the characters and situations. They will be free, on my website. Why not? Give them away as promotional items, and as fun things to fans.

This also opens the door for the Sarethian Seven to be that series of illustrated short stories I’ve envisioned for three years.

I will leave you with a scene I call “Night of the Wraiths.” Aura seems to be in a wee bit of a predicament.

Wraiths

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?

Reader Reviews of A Path of Stones

What readers are saying about A Path of Stones:

A Path of Stones is a marvelous testament to the human spirit and the ability to overcome one’s past. Filled with heart racing adventure, wondrous magic, and danger around every corner, it truly reflects the creativity and boundless imagination of the author. This book has led me down my own path of stones.” — L.J.

“This is not your basic genre book, a rehashing of the same story with different characters as so many of even my favorite series have become. This is uniquely well written. I like that it moves well, and especially that the main character is one I can relate to. It tells the story of a young girl who loses everything and is then betrayed by the only family she has left on top of that. It follows her self-discovery and how she learns to go from powerless to powerful, and then on to learn to control that power. There are a lot of layers beneath the surface of the story. If you like stories of the “supernatural” or “otherworldly” written for readers who like a story to teach as well as entertain, this might just be for you.”  — K.L.K.

Check it out at www.njbmedia.com.

 

 

Computers, Content, and Colds

March has been an interesting month.

It began with a hard drive crash on my trusty Sager laptop. Sigh. I replaced the hard drive, and then reinstalled my DAZ Studio content. One. Item. At. A. Time. That took ten days.

Then, my computer CPU spiked at 98C. Whoa! That’s almost at meltdown temperature. Well, Sager made a mistake with their technical manual. They didn’t say to replace the thermal compound every time I removed the heat sink. With all the brick dust in the air (I live next door to a brick factory), I have to remove the sinks once a month to clean the fins. New thermal compound brought the temperature down to a mere 68C. But the damage had been done. My CPU was wearing out.

Time for a new computer. I bought a new Sager 8156. It comes with an i7 7700 CPU, and 32G RAM, upgradeable to 128G (oh, yes, I will!). Not only that, but it has a geehonking big GTX-1060 graphics card with 6G VRAM. So, I can render in Iray as well as Reality.

Time to reinstall all that DAZ content. Again. This time, however, I popped the hard drive from the old machine into the external dock and ghosted the content folder over. That only took six hours.

My wife inherits my old computer. It will serve her well for several years, as long as she doesn’t render on it. No problem. As our content folders are synced, all she has to do is give me a saved scene on a flash drive, and I’ll render it on the new computer, while we sit back with a bowl of popcorn and some beers. The couple that renders together …

Still, it took close to a week to install all my programs and test out the new system.

As if that wasn’t enough, I caught a bad cold. The song lyric “You change your mind like a girl changes clothes” was written for Texas weather. Hot. Cold. Dry. Wet. Blah!

By Monday, I should be ready to resume writing The Fires of Tallen Hall, the second Aura Lockhaven novel. It is a third of the way done, so catching up won’t take too long.

In the meantime, I will leave you with the first piece of 3D art performed on the new Sager, in Iray. I call it Not That Easy … she just isn’t that easy to bring in, much less take out.

Not that Easy.

Book Covers: More Important Than I Realized

Never judge a book by its cover? Baloney! Tommyrot! Poppycock! Book covers are important — more important than I realized.

Book buyers buy books for four reasons: they know the author (Stephen King sells on his name alone), they are following a series (Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files), they read a glowing review and are interested, and finally, the cover grabs their attention.* The latter is especially true for freshmen authors like me. Our names aren’t known, our series are just beginning, and no one has reviewed our books yet.

A Path of Stones is selling quite well on the Apple iBookstore. So far, I’ve sold more than 50 copies, and average at least one sale per day. I’ve finally been able to access the Apple iBookstore, via iTunes, to see what the listing looks like.

Because the title begins with the letter A, my book is smack in the middle of the second row of Popular Fantasy. Nice placement. But the cover struck me. It stood out among the other three rows. For openers, it’s the only cover that features two characters, not just one. Secondly, it’s one of only two in which the characters are actually doing something, not just standing there. All the other covers feature portraits or objects. They aren’t boring, but my one scene of action shines in a sea of portraiture.

This is the cover:

pathcovera

I followed Frank Frazetta’s concept that the cover depicts action and drama, even if it does not convey the actual plot of the story. If you look at his marvelous paintings, all of them depict action. Even the classic painting of Conan standing on a pile of corpses conveys action. The action has just passed, and we have a good idea of the skull-cleaving that transpired. We want to read the story to see it for ourselves.

Remember, the the book cover is marketing. Given that the average online book shopper spends about three seconds scanning rows of potential purchases, it is important to grab the buyer’s attention fast. I’d say the cover to A Path of Stones is doing just that. I’ve made enough from the Apple store to buy two tanks of gas and a cheeseburger.

Apparently, Frazetta’s concept isn’t followed much these days. Also, apparently, it still works.

*  Non-fiction book buyers have reason to buy a book that outweighs the four I listed. They’re researching a subject. That’s rarely the case for the reader of fantasy fiction.

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.

 

 

St. Patrick’s Sale

St Patricks Day 2

St. Patrick’s Day is the day that all Americans think they’re Irish, and my Irish wife avoids restaurants and bars like the plague. In honor of the day, I’m holding a sale on all eBook editions of A Path of Stones. They will be 25% off, for March 17, 18, and 19. So, tell all your friends that they can get in on the fun of A Path of Stones for only $ 2.99, both Kindle and ePub editions.

Visit www.njbmedia.com for details.

Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day, and don’t drink any watered down Guinness.