Greetings and Salutations!

Welcome to the longest-running* yet least-read** blog on the internet! Here you'll find me writing about all the things that I write about, which strikes me, just now, as somewhat recursive. In any case, enjoy :)

* not true
** probably true

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Dear Amazon Customer Service representative,



Good day to you. I read with real surprise that readers had noted 'errors' in my text, and was even more surprised when these supposed errors were listed in your email. They are not errors, typographical or otherwise.

Cloudroot vs Cloud root

In the first instance, I wrote 'cloudroot' and your email suggests I should change this to 'cloud root'. Since my novel is fantasy and these vegetables only exists therein, I believe that I (as the author and creator of this imaginary tuber) have the right to decide how they are to be spelled.  But if further evidence of the correctness of cloudroot is required, I have followed the same general guideline that dictates the spelling of 'beetroot' (a real thing that people eat) rather than 'beet root'. The difference is small, but I stand by my right as an inventor of imaginary vegetables to decide whether they will be spelled as compound nouns or not.

Tssked vs Tasked

In this second supposed typo, the character did indeed 'tssk', which is an audible sound of disapproval.made by quickly disengaging the tongue from the roof of the mouth. Perhaps you might recognize it from childhood, when your mother would look at you unhappily after you'd done some small, annoying thing. I certainly do. I can still hear her making that sound through pursed lips, decades later. Regardless, the character did not 'task' anyone to do anything in the sentence in question, which is something completely different as I am sure you will agree. Here, the suggested correction would make the sentence in question literally make no sense.

I am not sure who might have reported these supposed 'errors', nor do I have any interest in finding out. But you might, perhaps, cast a jaundiced eye on any of their future 'helpful' suggestions.

Sincerely,

Michael McClung, cloudroot farmer and reformed tssker.

Friday, July 28, 2017

How not to write a fantasy series

I do things, as a writer, that are not in my best interest.

When you write a series, there should be a clear progression, an arc that bends toward a final conflict in the story's world, without much deviation. When you write a first person point of view series, you should never stray from that point of view, that character. These are not complicated guidelines, nor are they arbitrary. So of course I ignore them.

Is it stubbornness? Contrariness? Self-sabotage? There may be some element of each of these things, but primarily, my answer is no. I'll tell you a secret about the Amra Thetys series: It is at least as much about the eightfold goddess as it is about Amra. This shouldn't be much of a secret to those who've been paying attention, honestly. But in Amra's world, there are very few straight-up villains. She Who Casts Eight Shadows may very well be the ultimate antagonist of the series, but she is no cartoon villain, twirling Her metaphorical mustache just off-stage. She is the prime mover of the entire story, while Amra is the primary lens through which we view it. There is a balance to be struck, in order to tell the story completely. That balance demands certain deviations from your standard fantasy series arc.

I suppose this is a caution to readers – the series I'm writing may not always be the series you are expecting. But I know where it is going, and I know how it will end.


I do things, as a writer, that are not in my best interest. But I do not do things that are not in the best interest of the story. Or, ultimately, the reader.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A review of Graham Austin-King's Faithless

 I'm going to get a little personal with you here, guys. I've been really, incredibly poor for a couple of years now. Virtually everything I earn, after basic necessities, has been going towards getting my degree. Why am I telling you this in a book review? To explain why I don't do book reviews. Put simply, I don't buy books to read for pleasure, nowadays, because that's a luxury I've had to put on hold. No books means no book reviews.

While this kept me sane during the first SPFBO (when you can't read the competition, you can avoid obsessing about whether another's prose is better or worse), it's been a bit of a disappointment since then. I wanted to read everyone's SPFBO books, afterward. And someday I will. After the degree is paid for.

So along comes Graham Austin-King the other day (one of my SPFBO cohort), and he says “Psst, hey kid, wanna read an advance copy of Faithless?” To which I replied “Yup.” And then he said “So let it be written, so let it be done.” (Okay, I might be paraphrasing.) It didn't hurt a bit that Sarah Chorn had edited it. Sarah was, is and will be one of the ten bloggers who judge the SPFBO, if you aren't aware, and while “Trouble's Braids” wasn't one of her favorite books from the competition, her review of it is one of my favorite reviews to this day.

Wow, okay, that's three paragraphs and I still haven't started talking about the book. I should probably do that.

Faithless is a lot of things. It's an exercise in word-building, an exploration of faith and the loss of faith, and perhaps especially, it's a kind of meditation on morality. All of this is experienced through the lens of Wynn, a boy sold by his father to the Temple of the Forgefather to be an “aspirant” – one who might someday become a priest. As Wynn quickly learns, what this really means is he's to be a slave in the mines below the temple. And while there's a real, if pathetically slender, chance of him making it out of the mines and up to the temple, the troubles he would leave behind underground would only be swapped for other, less straightforward dangers in the temple's candle-lit halls. There is a very good reason that the religion of the god of smiths has gone into steep decline, and why the Forgefather turned his face away from his priesthood.

I'm a writer. I can't help but read with a writer's eye. To me, the most striking thing about Faithless is the world building. Graham has created, in Faithless, a meticulous microcosm of a world where the wider, outside world is barely a rumor. There is a claustrophobic, inward-turning flavor to the book that, while uncomfortable, is perfect for the material. The world of Faithless is divided into three parts: The Temple of the Forge Father, the makeshift cavern-town of Aspiration below it, and the mines and caverns below that. And for the first book in a possible series, that's quite enough. Wynn's world is grim, and literally and figuratively dark.

In such a world, it's little wonder that the main character is often faced with terrible choices. It's also not surprising that some of the choices he makes echo the title of the book. In the world Wynn finds himself in, the placing of faith in others is a necessity for survival – but keeping faith others have placed in you means never escaping a hellish existence. Ultimately Wynn is an engaging protagonist because of his flaws, his faithlessness, and his own recognition of them.

So, to sum up, I found Faithless to be an engaging fantasy in an unusual, well-executed secondary world, which is something that I love. I also have a fondness for the exploration of religion in fantasy, which is often glossed over. In Faithless, religion is one of the main themes, and it provides the central mystery and the basis for a creepy and bloody third act. What's not to like?


Many thanks to Graham Austin-King for providing an advance reading copy. I truly enjoyed it. I hope Graham continues the story.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Ye Olde Writing Update

So I've got two projects that I plan to finish by the end of February. Here's where we're at on both of them, and after:

Prayers in Steel

This is a rewrite/expansion of the Blood Tempered novella and its unreleased sequel, Weaving Steel. I'm going back and reworking the terse style and fleshing out secondary characters, as well as giving it a more 'epic' tone. It's sitting at about 48,000 words, and I estimate it'll clock in at roughly 80,000 when it's finished.

The Last God

Four interconnected connected short stories set in the Amra Thetys universe, told from the point of view of Lhiewyn, Sage of Lucernis and Grumpy Old Man. It isn't necessary to have read the Amra series to enjoy this one, but it is meant as a sort of companion piece. For those who have read the Amra books, you'll find an Easter egg or two. Also, I'm writing it in Google Docs, so you can follow along if you'd like. Currently at 7,000 words of an estimated 30,000.

After February

Here's what the calendar looks like: Once the first four are back in my control and out of Ragnarok's, I'll release How To Make A Killing In Kirabor, an Amra prequel novelette. Why not release it now? I don't want people to buy the book and be tempted to purchase the Ragnarok editions. I have no faith that I'll ever see those royalties.

I am of course working on the fifth Amra book. If all goes well, you can look for that one around August or September. I'll update as things get more firm.

I'm also considering whether to revive/continue the Comes the Conqueror series. It was an experiment with serialized fiction. I personally really like the story, but readers weren't interested, possibly because of the serial format.

Finally, there are a crap-load of Amra side story ideas that pop into my head on a regular basis. Two of them continue to pester me as I drift off to sleep.

First, the idea of writing stories/novels about the villains that appear throughout, like Red Hand, and the Sorcerer King, and the Telemarch. They've all got back stories, and we only get to see them at the end. They're all tragic heroes, in their own way, like Oedipus or Hamlet. None of them started off as villains.

Second, there's a lot going on with Theiner/Moc Mien. He's actually worthy of a series of his own.

So… I'm contemplating. I don't know if there's a market big enough for these stories. Not that that's ever stopped me before.

Until next time,


mm

Monday, January 09, 2017

Publishing and self publishing: more straight talk from Uncle Mike

I've got some more things to say. Once again, some of it won't be very popular, but I believe it to be true. Better you hear it from me than find out on your own.

1: Embrace the suck

This is army speak for the inevitability of ending up in a situation that sucks, and the attitude that will see you through it. Complaining, time honored though it may be, will not extricate you from the suck. Pretending you are not in the suck will not extricate you from the suck. Flailing around in a panic will definitely not get your suck-stuck behind out of the suck. What will extricate you from the suck is realizing and admitting that you are mired in suckitude, plotting a course to get away from the suck, and then implementing your plan. This is true whether you are a self publisher or traditionally published.

Wow, I don't think I've written the word 'suck' that many times ever.

2: Talk is cheap

Whether it's a publisher, an agent, or a so-called indie publishing expert that you're listening to, remain skeptical. They are in the business of making money from your books. They will say what you want to hear, and it'll sound really good. Just like your prom date. Yeah, exactly. We all know how that turned out.

The point here: get it in writing, and make sure you understand what it says, and what it means, before you agree to anything. Also remember that money should flow to the author in all traditional publishing scenarios. If you're an indie and money is leaving your bank account, it had better do so for specific reasons with measurable outcomes. For example, a book cover.

3: People love to make excuses

You know what? Crappy things happen to people. They miss deadlines. It's an imperfect world. I get that. But you are not immortal. Your time on this earth is finite. And people who constantly make excuses for failing to live up to agreements are stealing your time.

Scrape them off.

4: Don't be a cheap talker or an excuse maker

You want publishing success, however you define it? You are ultimately responsible for making it happen. Treat others, and especially yourself, with the same respect you want to be given. Don't make excuses that you have no time to write if you just binge-watched Luke Cake or Downton Abbey. Don't throw up your hands and say you don't know where to start if you have access to Google. And don't call yourself a writer if you keep polishing the same 1/3 of a manuscript over and over for months or years.

Yeah, this writing thing is hard. See point 1 above. It's first for a reason – because it will get you through everything else that happens to you along the way.


Give the Suck a big ole hug, and get writing.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

An important announcement

Hi folks,

I've got some disheartening news to share with you this time around, I'm afraid. I've decided to take the rights to the Amra Thetys series back from Ragnarok Publications. The reasons are business-related, and boil down to this: I doubt I'll ever actually get paid the royalties due me for sales of the Ragnarok editions of the books. They seem to be in a pretty big mess over there, so I've decided to cut my losses. I wish I didn't think it were necessary.

So what does this mean? Well, for the next 3-4 months, Ragnarok will continue to sell the first four Amra Thetys books. I'd ask you not to buy them, if you haven't already, for the simple reason that my portion of the money you spend on those editions may well never make it to me. If you'd like to show your support, you could purchase the ebook edition of my short story collection on Amazon, or you could check out Ace of Swords, which is a fantasy geared for slightly younger readers. It's available both in print and electronic format.

Wha does this mean for Amra, going forward, you ask? I'll tell ya :) Of course I'm working on Amra 5, never fear. I've also got one Amra novelette pretty much completed that I've been holding back – How to Make a Killing in Kirabor. Once I've gotten the rights back to Amra 1-4 I'll be releasing it.

I'm also currently working on a series of short stories from cranky old Lhiewyn's point of view. I'm doing something different with this one: I'm writing the first draft in Google Docs, which means you can check in on its progress, make comments, point out my awful typing skills and generally kibitz during the whole process if you like. Sort of like watching the guy at the Italian restaurant make your pizza. I love that guy.

If you like/tolerate Facebook, I'm there. It's where writing things get talked about the most.

And that's about it for this newsletter. I do wish I had better news to report, folks, but the main thing is, the stories are still coming, and as I return to self publishing, they will come at a more frequent rate.

Awkward hugs,


mm

Thursday, October 20, 2016

November brings the fourth Amra book. October brings an apology.

Yes, it's finally (almost) here.

Little did I know, when I wrote 'the end' at the end of The Thief Who Wasn't There, that it would take nearly a year and a half for it to reach readers. Much changed right around that time -- Trouble's Braids won Mark Lawrence's inaugural SPFBO competition, and I was offered a publishing contract.

Both of these things were good things, of course. But handing over the Amra Thetys series to a publisher has meant delays for the fourth book. This is in some ways quite unfortunate, since Sorrow's Gate ended on what, essentially, was a cliffhanger. When I wrote it that way. I "knew" that the fourth book would be following in short order. And then of course everything changed. Looking back, the title of the fourth Amra book was entirely too prescient.

The upside of the situation is the fact that all the books in the series will now be available in bookstores, world-wide (you should go down to your local bookstore and demand that they stock their shelves with Amra goodness!) There's even the possibility of foreign language editions -- we'll see how that goes.

But let me get to what I really want to talk about today: My apology.

If you're reading this, it most likely means you've got an interest in the Amra Thetys series. And that most likely means you've been waiting for sixteen months to read book four. I'm sorry about that, truly. It was President Truman, I believe, who had the sign on his desk that said "The buck stops here." When it comes to my books, written by me, I feel I have to do the same. There are plenty of reasons the book has been delayed, and each time a new delay came up, I had a choice to make: agree with it and let the process continue, or say 'enough' and pull my books and go back to self-publishing. I made the decision, each time, to accept the delay. I did so each time because I felt, on balance, that the ultimate reward for patience was being able to reach a wider audience. Sometimes adulting is no fun.

There's one more delay, friends.

The release date is supposed to be November 8th (some places it is listed as November 1st). There are good odds that the book will not be released on that day.

I am told that we are not talking about a delay of months, or even one month; but I know that some of you have expressed frustration at the state of affairs. Believe me, I share that frustration.

Traditional publishing suffers from the fact that there is no one person who is both accountable and empowered, Self publishing lets the author make virtually every decision, and grants control, along with the responsibility to deliver a good book on time. Self publishing does not, however, give an author access to brick and mortar bookstores.

On balance, and after a couple of sleepless nights, I decided to accept one last delay. I hope that you will do the same, because I personally feel that this fourth Amra book is the best I've written.

When you finally get the chance to read it, I hope you'll agree.