The Fourth Channel: Cover Reveal and Chapter One!

Okay, gang. I promised a cover reveal for my first novel, THE FOURTH CHANNEL, and I’m going to deliver. The novel is very close to being finished. All that’s really left to do is wrap up the edits and let you read it.

I’m nervous and excited. I mean, you all know how nervous I get just posting “Ridiculous Fan Fiction” on my site, and that isn’t serious. The novel’s a whole different ball of wax. So, yeah. I’m nervous. Over the last year, I’ve worked hard at creating a “platform” with blogging and social media. I’ve met so many of you who enjoy my goofy articles. It’s because of you and your amazing feedback that I keep writing and thinking of more ways that I can entertain, not just you, but me, too.

But the book release is the moment of truth: are you going to like my novel?

God, I hope so.

The Fourth Channel Cover

And there’s the cover. Pretty damn awesome, right? Many thanks to Amber Shah, who designed it.

As I said before, the story is Anita Blake meets Stephanie Plum with crazy talking sacrificial knives. Hit the jump for the entire first chapter. Please enjoy. Continue reading

Apocalyptic Camels & Red Shirts: Crown of Ash Release

Crown-of-Ash Given that my posting frequency is on the light side and I don’t talk much about my writing projects, you probably don’t know that my days revolve around writing. Not only do I work daily on my own novel (in fact, it’s finished!), but I also work with a lot of other writers, providing feedback on their projects, too. Because of this website, I get a lot of requests from other writers — sometimes so many that I have to say no, just so I can stay on top of my own projects and still have time for my writing posse.

Which brings me to the point of all this. One of my posse is a guy you know: Steven Montano. Steven’s been a frequent commenter at this site since its beginning, way back when I was writing the Vote Your Adventure series. During The Relic, I gave away copies of his first novel, Blood Skies.

Yeah. That Steven. He’s one of us.

Anyway, since his Blood Skies release, he’s written three more novels and a few short stories. (He puts me to shame.) And I’m honored to say that I’ve had a little involvement with the last three of his novels, in that he always asks for my feedback before the book goes to print. I’m a huge fan of his series, so to be a small part of his process is a big privilege. I’m excited to tell you that his newest book in the saga, Crown of Ash, is being released today. If you enjoyed my Vote Your Adventure series, you should love Crown of Ash. It’s the fourth book in the series but a terrific place for new readers to jump in. The story revolves around three very charismatic (and sarcastic) characters: the gun-toting mercenary, the hot, ass-kicking mage chick, and the paramount character, who actually seems to be the most normal of the bunch, Eric Cross. There’s such a wide range of personalities featured that there’s something for everyone to enjoy. And I think you guys would like the book a lot, so I asked Steven to stop by and answer a few questions about it.

JK: Welcome, Steven! Your latest novel, Crown of Ash, is out today. You’re pretty familiar with my site so you have an idea what my readers like. Can you tell us, in our lingo, what the book is about?

SM: It’s an action-packed slugfest between humans, vampires, and ugly things. And undead. Lots and lots of undead. It has magic, horror, a bunch of trippy dream sequences, monsters, dry wit, races, underground prisons, giant icky flesh things that like to hunt people down, vampires, guns, darkness, and characters you love most likely getting blown to bits. All that and a bag of chips.

JK: If there isn’t a bag of chips in this book, I’m going to demand a rewrite. But I do know of your penchant for abusing your characters. I feel like everyone should be handed a red shirt — well, all except for one character in particular: the Blood Skies camel. The camel started as a joke between us, but you’ve made it a recurring element in your series. People who catch snippets of our Twitter conversations know how serious I am about the camel. Do you even remember how that started?

SM: Minor spoiler territory: You were reading Blood Skies, and you came to a section of the novel where… well, let’s just say not all of the characters make it. You were upset.

JK: Correction: I was pissed!

SM: Your comment was something along the lines of, “Dude, WTF, you even killed the CAMEL?!” And then the camel came back, and you forgave me.

JK: When the camel disappeared and the main character, Eric Cross, was alone and destitute in the middle of nowhere, I realized just how horrible you intended to make life for your characters — but you do it in the most unexpected ways. I never anticipate what happens in your stories. That inspires me. You probably didn’t even intend the camel that way, but that’s how I took it. The camel has been an element in the story since.

SM: Sadly, there is no camel in Crown of Ash. But he (it’s actually the third camel Eric Cross has used, but that’s besides the point) will make a triumphant return in Book 5.

JK: Viva la camel! Okay, let’s move on. Tell me about your vampires. I confess I’m a little burned out on them. They don’t want to date me, do they?

SM: Last I checked, you’re not pale, fanged, and filled with a desire to annihilate the human race. You don’t have incisors the size of steak knives or an entourage of zombies who carry around your combat armor, do you? Oh, and vampires don’t date — they eat. You’re too skinny to interest them.

JK: I’m too skinny? I’LL BUY 50 COPIES AND BE YOUR BEST FRIEND! Wait, what were we talking about? Oh, the book. Thanks for coming over and sharing the white space of my site, Steven!

Now here’s the book blurb:

Marooned in the remote criminal city of Blacksand, the only way for the mercenaries to get home is to help a local crime boss protect his territories from the Ebon Cities.

To complicate matters, Danica Black is also being hunted by The Revengers, a powerful band of corrupt prison wardens, while Eric Cross himself is trapped in the Whisperlands, a realm of darkness controlled by a cadre of evil mages known as the Shadow Lords.

The team will battle their way through corroding wastelands and deadly vampire outposts, but even their considerable skills might not be enough to save them from the cruel machinations of the Shadow Lord’s mysterious master, a malevolent creature who has manipulated their destinies right from the beginning…

Steven’s latest novel, Crown of Ash, is available at Amazon and Smashwords! If you need further evidence of what a fantastic book this is, Steven has graciously passed along a short action scene to whet your whistle. It’s told from the perspective of a character on which I’ve developed a weird crush. Hit the more link to read it. Continue reading

2012 Writing Resolutions: The Derp Lists

Xzibit Yo Dawg Derp I’ve noticed an interesting trend: A lot of blogs like to regurgitate other blogs’ topics. Annoying, yes. But what’s more annoying is the latest topic that’s making the rounds. It’s the resolutions for having a healthy writing life in 2012.

I’m naturally interested in such a list because I want to be a more productive, more successful writer in the new year. My goals for 2012 involve writing a couple more Vote Your Adventure stories, blogging a bit more frequently, and releasing a novel. Maybe two. I’ve got my work cut out for me, so I was naturally compelled to click a few of these links to find out how I can be a better writer.

Guess what I learned? Go on, take a guess! How to streamline my process? Nope! How to be a better editor? Nuh huh.

I learned that writers in 2012 should eat and sleep.

Congratulations, writer. You just learned how to function like a regular human being. I’m so glad everyone could be caught up in that revelation, as if it wasn’t something our species had figured out millions of years ago, back before humans could speak and we were roaming around in animal skins, eating bark and roots, traveling around to find food, and generally living on the brink of starvation. I’m glad you were finally able to make it to the exciting revelation that the best thing for you to do this coming year is to keep yourself that much farther from death.

I guess that’s important information to know. I, for one, would also like to stay alive in 2012.

A few other bloggers are resolving to do other things, like reading books they can’t stand, just to feel more literary. Because there’s nothing more inspirational than slogging through a bunch of intolerable crap. Writers stand before a smorgasbord of titles and, thanks to the internet, eleventybillon (that’s totally a real number) different genres, topics, styles, voices, etc. are available. From the inspirational to the informational, the extraordinary to the mundane, the mainstream to the obscure, so many wonderful types of books are waiting for a reader who is the perfect match for them. It’s like a pet rescue, but with books. And yet, for some reason, a few wackos have decided to tackle the very thing that is going to suck the life from them.


I bring this up because it’s sort of a topic that’s been quite meaningful for me lately. Over the last few months, I’ve been hiding something from you all:

The joy of writing had been sucked out of me, and I had no idea how to get it back. I was thinking about quitting writing altogether.

Now, when you’re feeling that low, there’s nothing anyone can say to change those feelings. There’s no amount of praise, false or true, to bring back the passion for that creative outlet.

The passion for one’s craft must come from within. It cannot rely on others.

So I went back to the beginning. The very beginning. In my bio (just up above, in the little blue bar at the top of my site) it tells you that as a kid, I used to stay up late to read. It’s true. My mom would catch me at 3AM on a school night, under the covers with a flashlight and a book. That’s how my passion for books began. If I had to take a guess, I’d say it’s how most writers got their passions, too. I read a lot. I dreamed a lot. I had a big imagination in my head and the stories continued well after I read “The End”.

Then I grew up. I got into writing and decided I was going to make it this big “adult” thing and make it serious business. And, while I do make time for reading here and there, it fell off my radar and I lost my steam. So I had to go back to the beginning.

During the Christmas holiday, I forgot all about writing. I toyed with the idea of what my life would feel like if I never wrote again. For the first couple of days, I didn’t even remember it. Writing, who? We broke up and were seeing other people.

And then I read a book. It was a paranormal book, though that isn’t important. I don’t care about genre, really. It was written in first person prose and the protagonist was incredibly sarcastic. That’s really what I care about. I care about the funny quotient. I picked a book that was right up my alley, something that feels similar to what I like to write.

I ripped through the book in two days. Instantly, I was recharged. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like without writing! To make a long story short, writing and I got back together and we’re very happy. We don’t even need couples counseling. I was so excited that I reached out to my most supportive writing friends and told them how I was feeling. They were so excited and so supportive. I swear, sometimes I don’t know what I’d do without my writing posse.

The point of all this is that sometimes we want to make really ridiculous lists when all we need to do is return to the start. What was it that first sparked your passion? Okay, maybe you’re not a writer. Maybe you’re a painter, a singer, a programmer. What was it that first revved your motor about your craft?

Go back to the start and refresh your passion all over again. Don’t do what I did and wait for your engine to run dry. Or, if you prefer the relationship analogy, don’t wait for the passion to fade. Schedule a date or a romantic weekend. Send the kids to grandma’s for the night and remember why you fell in love with your craft in the first place.

And leave your Derp List at home. Continue reading

Dialogue: All the Time, No Exceptions

Lately I’ve been talking about editing and how I treat my work differently if I know it’s going to be read aloud. Writing instructors and agents have often talked about the importance of reading your work aloud, but they seldom talk about why.

So let’s get into it.

It’s a matter of dialogue. Everyone loves writing it (especially me). Dialogue is action. Dialogue is interesting. Dialogue fills in the holes when we think we can’t convey through narration and description. It’s a safety net. It’s a catch-all.

On the other hand, there’s narration. It’s, like, description and stuff. We’ll go out with narration because we have to, but while we’re taking narration to dinner and a movie, we’re dreaming of dialogue.

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Updates, Edits, and Pantsing

Witty snippets and funny photos are at bare minimum today, gang. My brain’s been focusing on too many other things and the blog was put on hold for a few days. I know the rule of thumb is to make sure a blog has regular content 2 – 3 times a week, but let’s face it: when I don’t feel like it, I’m not going to force it. Still, I do want to give everyone an update on what I’m up to.

Every day, I get closer to finishing my first urban fantasy, THE FOURTH CHANNEL. The editing process has been agonizing and more challenging than I ever thought it would be, but it’s fantastic and I’m excited about the results. Tom is an unrelenting copy editor. We share the chapters in Google Documents, which easily allows editor(s) to highlight sections of the text and attach comments that appear in the sidebar. I can make my own changes and reply to the comments, or just mark it resolved. So far it’s been very handy.

I made it small on purpose so you couldn’t read too much. (No spoilers!) Basically, our intrepid necromancer is talking about how she bought a bunch of ugly lingerie to be used as new punishment fodder for her knives. (A drawer of silk and lace and potpourri isn’t the preferred habitat for aspiring weapons of mass destruction.)

At any rate, I’m about waist-deep in the novel now, working through the Second Act. I’m glad to revisit text that I haven’t looked at in a few months, and the story is getting more and more refreshed in my head. I can’t wait to share it with you.

Human sacrifice. Talking knives. Rock and roll. Just another day in the life of an American necromancer.

While I’m working on finishing up THE FOURTH CHANNEL, I’m coming to terms with being a pantser.

Every time I see the word “pantser” I envision jerking someone’s pants down to their ankles and stuffing them in a locker. Maybe it’s just me? But that’s not even the right word, is it? De-pantsing? Un-pantsing? Screw it. I’ll just switch to wedgies.

Like a leopard who tries to change their spots or a left-handed person who tries to change to right-handedness, I tried to turn myself into a plotter.

Not so great, actually.

After giving myself a few days to recuperate from that traumatic experience, I’m embracing my own process and delving into work on a new novel idea. Thanks to the use of paper & pen, it’s going faster than ever. This eclectic medium has given me the freedom to write quickly and just take my characters wherever seems good at the time. When I try this on the computer, I get way too bogged down with word structure and flow… and the process takes about five times as long. I keep nice journals on hand (discount bookstore bins FTW!), but even those give me a fear of permanence. I’m using crappy old steno pads instead and it’s going swimmingly.

I just feel sorry for my crit partners who will be forced to read some of it.

Commitment Issues

I have commitment issues. Big time.

As someone who has made plenty of bad relationship decisions before finding their “gem,” I find it hard to make a commitment to anyone, especially if it’s long-term.

I’m talking about antagonists, though the rules of relationships still apply. You’ve seen this with couples before, possibly friends of yours. She likes him. She wants more. She wants to make it permanent. And why not? She’s great! Smart! Savvy! She has a job! Together, they could have a very happy life — or, at least, a great long-term relationship.

Unfortunately, he’s not so sure. He thinks he’s in his prime and should keep his options open just in case a lingerie-model-sports-fanatic-sex-addict-gymnast who never wants to talk about her feelings comes along.

Sorry, pal. She doesn’t exist.

Okay, if she does exist, she’s not going for him. She’s going for an old, wrinkly, rich dude who can do great things for her career.

In an alternate universe, he spends his evenings hiding in the bushes outside your bedroom window with a pair of binoculars.

To be honest, I hold out for antagonists just like the delusional friend. With a bit of decent, honest work, I can come up with someone who could make me decently happy. We’d have a nice, long-term relationship. But would they be the antagonist of my dreams? Probably not.

Continue reading

Work It, Own It

I started my local writers’ group a few months ago through my church. Though it’s a church-sponsored event, it is open to anyone and no one is required to write religious material. It is a writers’ group, not an evangelist group. People can bring whatever they want. We have a good time, most of the time. Even my pastor attends.

At our last meeting, we had a great turnout. Plus, everyone had made remarkable improvement since the last gathering. The stories were fantastic. The critique discussions were even better. The new tea selection I brought was awesome. But when it became our romance writer’s turn to read, things took a strange turn.

I could tell she was excited by the way she started reading it so I was excited to hear it. And it really was wonderful! Her scenes were “bumped out” with description and dialogue and the pacing was great and filled with intrigue. As the novel is written in the first person, we reached a section in the middle where the protagonist (female) is thinking about this guy she sleeps with on occasion. The arrangement is not a romance thing. The protagonist is happy with her career-centric life and is fine with being the occasional one-night fling. In fact, the protag is the one who leaves the hot, hunky beefcake in the morning! (I liked that little twist.)

Sense. This picture makes none.

As the protagonist is thinking about her hunky piece of man-meat, she recounts their last few steamy encounters in vivid detail. And as the author is reading this, I can’t help but notice she’s tripping over her own words, sounding less enthusiastic about the story and her protagonist’s explicit thoughts. Her voice is also a little quieter. In the back of my mind I take note that since there is no romance in this story (the protagonist is not interested in love) it’s not the romance genre. It’s technically erotica.

So we’re listening to a portion about this guy’s amazing body and the size of his member and the “motion of the ocean” and suddenly, wouldn’t you know, the author comes to a complete halt in the middle of a sentence.

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First Person Tense. It’s Tense.

Every time I kill someone, their soul lands on the far side of the Styx. The ferryman that navigates the river knows the faces of my victims well since I kill them regularly.

This is the opening of my debut novel, THE FOURTH CHANNEL.

Debut. n. Fancy word for “I rewrote this enough times to qualify for a half dozen new novels”.

Right away, you can see that I went with first person perspective. I did this for a very technical and artistic reason that will blow your mind: This guy said all new writers should avoid first person and I took it as a challenge.

In my defense, his reasoning is that first person perspective demands a strong, unique voice and I was convinced I could do it. I wanted to grow as a writer and thought it would be smart to go the hardest route, upstream without a paddle, dragging the remnants of sad first drafts behind me.

So I did. It took me a few rewrites, but I accomplished it! Ha! Showed you, James N. Frey! Proudly, I handed my brilliantly crafted novel off to someone for editing — an anal-retentive, OCD programmer with a strict, by-the-book grip on grammar who upholds the Oxford comma with an unholy passion: My spouse. And then I waited for his gushing over my story to begin.

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No Right or Wrong: Finding Your Own Way

Over the internet’s relatively short life, I’ve learned a few truths about it:

1. It’s awesome for video and tabletop gaming with friends all over the world

2. It’s optimal for solo, clandestine, adult adventures in the dark (or so I hear)

3. It’s the ideal place to share awesome advice and insight from the heart, only to be told that you’re a clueless moron who should give up their aspirations and dreams and remove themselves from the gene pool, stat.

The internets. Serious business.

No one really has time for me to yammer on and on and on about number one. No one wants to hear me awkwardly try to explain what little I know about number two (you know I’m incapable of writing romance and erotica — especially if I’m prohibited from adding explosions and ninjas). So let’s go with door number three.

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