Writing Update

The Seeds of Dissolution is out, but I’m still writing! My next novella in the Dissolutionverse is going to be a murder mystery a la Sherlock Holmes. I drafted the outline back in November, and started writing on the 26th of December. As of yesterday, it’s officially over 10000 words long! I usually put my novellas at about 35000 to 40000 words, so that means I’m 1/3 to 1/4 of the way done with the first draft. Not bad for two weeks!

This one features Mandamon Feldo, a council member for the maji, who has appeared in both Tuning the Symphony and The Seeds of Dissolution. However this story is set about 50 cycles before the latest novel, when Mandamon was still a young man, involved with a secretive society of the maji. I’m excited to share it with you when it’s finished!

My plans are to write this novella and another, mid grade adventure, before getting starting on the second Seeds book. As a personal (and maybe optimistic) goal, I’m trying to have the two novellas at least mostly finished by May, so that I can start the outline and maybe writing the next book for an early 2019 release.

If you followed my Kickstarter for the first novel, I may try something similar for the two novellas together, to help raise money for covers and artwork. Seeing those glimpses of the universe is very important to me and I love how they mesh with the text.

So keep your ears open! I’ll try to update this space every few weeks with how the writing process is going. For now, take a look at my already published works:

Tuning the Symphony

Merchants and Maji

The Seeds of Dissolution. You can watch and listen to me read the first two chapters here and here!

Symphonies and Novels

I went to the Symphony a few weeks ago. Their focus that night was the baroque, so I spent the evening listening to Bach and Vivaldi. If you’re not familiar with classical music, the baroque style is regular and easy to anticipate, and if you’ve heard one piece by Bach, the others will seem similar. Vivaldi is more exciting to me, and while listening to his Concerto for Two Horns, I was struck by how the standard symphony and the standard novel are similar, not only in construction, but in what the reader/listener expects will come next. Both symphonies and novels originally come from the desire to impart a story to someone else.

While you’re reading, listen to Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Horns and see if you can identify some of the similarities I’m talking about.

Early music ensembles gave rise to symphonies (“agreement or concord of sound,” from the Oxford English Dictionary), which had a variable number of movements, from one to five. In the Baroque period, the “Italian” style was often three movements: The first fast, the second slow, and the third fast again. This died out, replaced by the four movements that are more popular in later classical pieces.1*

The Opera started in the 16th century, and was the combination of music and a story, where the text was called the libretto: literally “small book.” 2 Operas also generally have from one to five acts. It’s easy to see how the theater evolved into movies in the early 20th century, when filmmakers took those same stories set to music and gradually reduced the amount of singing and increased (most of the time) the amount of plot. But they still go together, and I’d even hazard the theory that soundtracks to movies are our most popular modern classical music. As the construction of the movie solidified over the last century, it settled largely into the three act structure.

Back to novels. The novel we know today came about in the 1600-1700’s, with some early works being The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), Robinson Crusoe (1719), and Gulliver’s Travels (1726).3 The Fantasy novel genre could be said to have started with Le Morte d’Arthur in the 1400’s, and Science Fiction with Mary Shelley and Frankenstein in the early 1800’s. 4,5 As both genres developed, and likely since they developed alongside symphonies, operas, and then movies and TV, they also settled generally into three act structures, which has informed how we view media today.

So what’s the three act structure? There are many ways of breaking down how a story progresses: the Hollywood formula (three acts), the seven-point structure, the five-act structure, Scene and Sequel, etc… They are all just tools to help guide the story in the most pleasing and, importantly, expected format for the reader. Remember the baroque music? Once you’re heard one piece by Bach, you can hum along to the others? The three act structure is this same concept.

What does all this mean? Let’s take The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter as examples, mainly because other people have already done this breakdown for me…

In The Lord of the Rings, the first act is when Frodo gets the ring, gets chased by the black riders, and flees, through adventures to Rivendell, nearly dying on the way. In the second act, we explore Middle Earth by traipsing across it, ramping up tension and learning about the ring, and how it turns good people evil, leading to Frodo getting captured by Shelob. The third act is where everything comes together, Frodo and Sam get to the mountain, everyone else battles bad guys outside Minas Tirith, and we learn whether the world will fall to evil, or be saved by good.6

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we are introduced to Harry and other key players in the first act, learn about muggles and magic, and end with Harry getting accepted to Hogwarts. In the second act, we learn more about the magical world, Harry starts to learn things at school and fit in, and ends as he learns of Voldemort and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The last act is Harry and his friends, at great peril, descending to confront Voldemort himself and keep him from getting the stone. Who will win? Who knows?7

So let’s compare. The first movement of a symphony is exciting, generally fast, and hooks the audience into wanting to hear the themes repeated and brought to a resolution. A book’s first act is the hook and inciting incident, the discovery, introducing the world and characters to bring the reader in.

The second act, or movement, is generally slow. In the symphony, it bridges the first and third movements, and explores new themes. In a novel, it’s the slow section, where the characters encounter their antagonists, develop, and go through try and fail cycles.

The last movement of a symphony is again fast, exciting, bringing the audience in for the final conclusion, often finished abruptly with a crash of sound. In a novel, this is the climax, where the characters are in the most peril. It seems like the villain may prevail, and the heroes’ lives hang by a thread.

Did you hear the similarities in Vivaldi’s concerto? It’s intriguing, isn’t it? It’s one way we as a society (and specifically a Western society in this case) have programmed ourselves to expect what’s coming next in our media. This is why the hero’s journey is still popular. It’s familiar. It’s expected. We know what’s coming up, and even if we don’t know the exact words, or notes, we can hum along.

So if you read Science Fiction and Fantasy, go check out a concert. Your local symphony will love you for supporting the arts, and you may even enjoy it.

And if you already like both SFF and classical music, go check out my new book The Seeds of Dissolution. It combines music-based magic, aliens, a little bit of steampunk, and a threat to the safety of the universe…all in a three act structure.


*Notes : yes, I was lazy for this and largely cribbed from Wikipedia

The Seeds of Dissolution now available!

The Seeds of Dissolution is available on Amazon as of Dec 19th. As a special bonus,the eBook will be available for only $0.99 this week, so pick up a copy!


Tuning the Symphony and Merchants and Maji eBooks are free until the 21st, so if you haven’t had the chance to read them, try them out!


New Video


I got the chance to work with a friend of mine who also owns a media production company. He produced a video of me reading the first two chapters of The Seeds of Dissolution. They did a great job creating the atmosphere, filming, and editing the video. If you want to check it out, you can do so right here. We also filmed the second chapter, which I will post next week, so keep an eye out for it!

Book Release!

First off, the big news: my new book, The Seeds of Dissolution, will release on Amazon on Dec 19th. If you’ve read Tuning the Symphony, this story is where that novella came from, because I asked myself, “How did Rilan and Origon meet?” In The Seeds of Dissolution, they are twenty years older, and a lot more has happened between them after that first adventure. If you’ve read Merchants and Maji, the second story in that novella happens just a few weeks before the events of the new book. If you were wondering about a certain plot point that didn’t quite get wrapped up, you’ll learn a lot more about it The Seeds of Dissolution…


You can read the first two chapters here

From now until December 23rd, you can get a copy on Amazon for only $0.99.

Writing this book was both a fun and exhausting process. I already had a good grasp on this story, and it still took almost a year, between writing it, getting beta reader feedback, revisions, running a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the illustrations, making final edits, and getting the final product out the door. However, I’m really pleased with the result. Thanks to my beta readers, and the inspiration from the artwork, there’s a lot more depth to this story than in previous versions.

The new character in this story is Sam, who finds himself in the Nether. Sam must search for what happened to his home, while coping with his anxiety at being in a new place. He’s surrounded by aliens, but soon meets sister and brother twins, also new to the Nether. They support him during his panic attacks, and Sam finds he’s attracted to both of them, but can’t choose. His viewpoint alternates with Origon’s, who is tracking down the strange phenomenon on the moon of Methiem, and Rilan’s, who uses her position on the Council of the Maji to keep the Assembly safe from threats of an ancient, shape-changing species of assassins.

What’s Next?
I’m already in the middle of outlining a Sherlock Holmes-esque murder mystery novella. This Dissolutionverse story takes place about fifty years before The Seeds of Dissolution and thirty before Tuning the Symphony. It will be from the viewpoint of a young Mandamon Feldo as he learns about the Society of Two Houses. I hope to have it out sometime in 2018, along with…

A Mid-grade Dissolutionverse novella. I have some ideas about the general plot and characters (one of whom you will very briefly hear from in The Seeds of Dissolution), but this will be written after the murder mystery. I have a lot of kids and parents come up to my tables at cons, wondering if my books are age-appropriate for younger readers. I feel like many of the topics I cover are not as engaging for young readers, so I wanted something that captures the wonder and vibrancy of the Dissolutionverse, while being a little easier to read. And if kids enjoy it, there is certainly room for more adventures with these characters.

I’ll be working on these two starting at the end of 2017, leading into 2018, and then start in on Book 2 in the Dissolution Cycle.

The Seeds of Dissolution Kickstarter is over, and other writing thoughts

The frantic month-long Kickstarter campaign for The Seeds of Dissolution has finally come to an end! I was a little concerned for a few days in the middle that I wouldn’t meet my goal, but the project certainly ended with a bang, crossing three stretch goals in the last week, two of which were on the last day! I’m very happy with the end result, and I’m working with the artists on the map and illustrations, and with the editor on the final pass through the story (after a couple rounds of beta-readers this summer).

I’ll be setting the book up on Amazon soon, and look for it to hit the store at the end of November or the beginning of December. The Kickstarter backers will be getting their books first, though!

In between finishing up odds and ends on the book, I’ll also be doing the second editing pass on a short story I’m writing for the Kickstarter backers. I’ll make this available eventually, but for now it will be an exclusive for  the backers. After that’s finished, I’ll be starting work on the next Dissolutionverse novella! I have plans for 4-6 more already in my head (along with the Seeds series, which will likely be three books). The next novella will be a Sherlock Holmes-style murder mystery, set many years before the events of The Seeds of Dissolution, or even of Tuning the Symphony.

After that, I’ll be mixing things up a bit. When I go to cons, I often have a lot of kids come to the table looking for a new book, but the ones I’ve written so far are suitable more for 12 or 14 and up. So I’ve decided to expand the Dissolutionverse and add some mid-grade stories, which can still be enjoyed by adults as well. This idea is still in its infancy but look for maybe 1-3 novellas in this genre to join the series!

Back to writing!

Writing Excuses Retreat 2017 – On a Ship, Take 3, Part the Second

This week, I’m continuing my blog from last week, which details the second half of our European writing adventure. Along for the ride were me, my wife, her mother, all the instructors, and about 150 fellow writers.

Last week, I wrote about Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Talinn, and classes on fear and writing, worldbuilding, agenting, action scenes, reading out loud, organizing your life, and working with a translator.

Next up, St. Petersburg! After that, Munich, German castles, and flying up to the pleasant city of Helsinki Finland, for the 75th WorldCon.


The Short Summary:

  • Petersburg has very impressive architecture – just remember to pack a lunch!
  • Learned how to organize your life to get more done, got my query edited again, and got some feedback on cover layout directly from an editor.
  • The lack of conference room meant only one WX recording session 🙁
  • I’ve been on more Writing Excuses cruises than Brandon Sanderson!
  • Germans don’t believe in AC. This is fine except on the hottest day of the year.
  • Say no to Cruise Crud!
  • Mad King Ludwig may not actually have been mad, just “conveniently diagnosed” to remove him from ruling.
  • Traveling WorldCon with a group of authors makes the whole experience better!
  • On the trip, I edited 26 chapters of my book, reading through and streamlining about 140,000 words…


The Long Summary, with pictures!

Thursday – St Petersburgh was the only city that was a little tricky to enter, mainly because it requires a visa to enter Russia, but we didn’t have one. That meant we had to stay with our tour group, and got a stamped piece of paper with our information from the unsmiling border guards. We had two tours scheduled, the first for Catherine Palace, and the second for the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood. We had a class that night I was really looking forward to, about the last magic 5% in your story, and was really hoping our tour wouldn’t overlap. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised that morning when I saw Jasper Fforde and his wife along for the tour, as he was the one teaching. Can’t miss a class if you’re touring with the instructor!

But first we went by the monolithic St. Petersburg city construction. These buildings were big!

Catherine Palace was largely destroyed in World War II, but recently much of it has been reconstructed from historical documents. Jasper Fforde was taking a lot of photos with a couple of old brownie cameras, and I got to talk to him a little about them, as my grandfather had several brownie cameras I inherited.

Inside the palace, each room is watched over by the aptly-named “babushkas” (grandmothers), who take their roles very seriously.

You aren’t supposed to take pictures inside the amber room, but our guide informed us we could just take pictures from beyond the doorway. Turns out the babushkas don’t look fondly on this and I got yelled at…

“No Pictures!”

Our travel agents had nicely arranged with the ship for our group to take two tours back to back. After we finished up at Catherine Palace, we were shuttled back to the terminal, where we waited for another bus. It was a little after noon, and we were starting to get hungry, but had been promised that the tour guide would take a little time out of our second tour to get us all lunch.

No such luck. We got on the bus and started driving, and a few of us asked were we would be eating. The tour guide informed us that was no time to stop—sorry, very busy schedule, have to be going! (This is dust-up #5, MSC).

So we were off to see the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, though it was worth missing lunch! The entire inside of the church is covered in a mosaic. These pictures don’t do it justice. It’s spectacular in person.

We were all very hungry after seeing the church, but our tour guide rushed us off again. I attempted to buy some corn from a street vendor, but they didn’t accept euros. We were dumped off at touristy souvenir shop. Since it sold the same things as the souvenir shop for Catherine Palace, we all instead looked for something to eat. Turns out the souvenir shops sell chocolate, crackers, Pringles, and water. Our sole lunch after walking several miles through Catherine Palace, across the city, and through the Church of the Spilled Blood was a can of Pringles. They were delicious.

We toured the city a little more before heading back, including viewing the academy Putin graduated from.

Once back on the ship, we had a few minutes to freshen up before attending Jasper Fforde’s class on The Last 5%. He made the case that authors progress from Amateur, to Competent, to Professional, to Inspired, but it’s that last jump that’s the hardest. That’s where the pixie dust comes in. The inspired author can do something no one else has thought of—something that stays with a culture. There are even authors that never get past the “competent” or even “amateur” levels, but have that inspired spark and so people read their books despite problems with the prose.

Jasper invited us to explore the world in different ways. Instead of ordering tea with milk, order tea “the color of the Usk in flood” (the Usk is a river in Wales). Make up your own words, like “Scribinate” (writing during the winter), and “well of lost socks” (The dryer, of course). Look for the sparkle in things. For example, instead of “The hungry caterpillar,” which is rather boring, what about “The very hungry caterpillar.” A few words can make a lot of difference, so look for treasure everywhere!

As you can tell, I got a lot out of this class.

Friday – This was the last day of the cruise, spent at sea. We began the day with a giant Q&A session, with the instructors scattered around the dining room, able to talk to individuals or in groups. This turned out to be one of my favorite activities. My wife and I first caught up with Thomas Olde Heuvelt, as we had missed his class earlier that week. He had a lot of good thoughts about making goals, realistic or not, for five years, one year, each month, each week, and down to a schedule for each day. It takes a day or so to set up, but afterwards is very easy to maintain. However, the important part is to go back and revisit the plan you made as you get to it. Thomas changes his schedule at the day’s end to what actually happened, versus the ideal schedule. He adds in notes on what changed and why, and how he feels about it. This means he can react to the schedule he’s made and grow closer to that ideal goal. I’d been keeping track of wordcount, and what I worked on that day, but going forward I’m planning to record some more information to help determine where I can better use my time.

After that, I got to talk to John Berlyne again, and he was nice enough to go over the changes I had made to my query letter, from our breakout session earlier that week. It still wasn’t quite right, and he gave me some more tips. I then caught up with Bella Pagan, who was our surprise addition to the instructor list. She’s the Editorial Director at Tor UK and Pan Macmillan. I hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to her yet, but I listened as she dropped some great editing advice, and talked about different cover designs. I happened to be working on the cover design for The Seeds of Dissolution, and I asked what she thought. She quickly found several places for improvement and had some great advice, turning it into a lesson for everyone in the discussion. We looked at several other writer’s covers as well, discussing how marketing shows what genre a book is, and what to expect out of it, just from the cover. So much for not judging!


Here’s before, and after. You’ll notice the title and author name are bigger, and the back is a lot easier to read. There may be some more changes… Thanks Bella!

I caught up with John Berlyne one more time, even though the Q&A session was finishing up, and he was nice enough to go over my query letter one more time. It’s a hundred times better now, and I’m excited to start sending it out to agents!

That afternoon, we had the only group session of Writing Excuses recording on the ship. I think this was again from the lack of conference room space on the ship (#6, MSC…). We watched the Writing Excuses fabled video feed for several episodes, most of which had instructors and writers as guests on the show.

Then I made the mistake of trying to get hot chocolate for a second time. I had gotten it the day before, and some of our group had no problem getting hot chocolate instead of coffee with the drink coupons we had received. Others had been told it wasn’t included. This day, when I went to the bar, I was informed that I had gotten one the day before, and that was the only one I could get. I was “cut off” from hot chocolate (#7, MSC—that’s really bad service).

We had our last cocktail party, and started our goodbyes for all the new friends we had made. Some were going on to WorldCon, but many had to return home.

For some reason, dinner that night was particularly slow and bad. I think MSC was trying to give us a “special” sendoff (#8, MSC). At least we had a fun last night of games and conversation with our peers.

Saturday – This day we disembarked, and I think most everyone had the same opinion of our ship, though the Writing Excuses activities were excellent as always. Just for one last insult to injury, we noticed MSC had charged us a Euro each for a donation to a charity. I have no problem with the donation, but MSC at no time told us they were going to do this. We left the charge on our account, but while scanning our cards one more time to exit the ship, the lady is front of us was turned away from disembarking because she had not set up her account with the ship (having not spent any money) and thus had an unresolved charge of one Euro on her account! Not cool, MSC. Strike #9. Our entire group was eager to get our survey forms, and I’m pretty sure Writing Excuses will not be using MSC again.

You may have noticed I’ve left one important member of Writing Excuses out of this blog. Brandon Sanderson had already traveled extensively and needed to stay home to get some writing done (for Stormlight Archive #3). So now I can say I’ve been on more Writing Excuses cruises than Brandon Sanderson!

The rest of Saturday was a lot of travel, with a bus from Kiel to Hamburg, then a flight down to Munich. In Munich we met up with an old friend of mine and his family to have some dinner and catch up. We got some tips for touring the next day, and went back to the hotel, where we discovered Germany does not use air conditioners. Normally, Germany is pretty cool temperature-wise. However this day had been about 85 degrees F (about 29 degrees C), and the hotel room was exactly the same temperature. I had to make my own custom AC, as the windows kept closing.

Sunday – After a week of constant social interaction with a bunch of other introverts, all three of us were ready for a couple quiet days before WorldCon. We toured Munich, saw the New Town Hall, and heard the bells pay from the top of a nearby church steeple. While this happens, the figures in the nave spin and move. The machinery was designed in 1899 by the inventor of the 4-stroke engine, Christian Reithmann. After lunch, we went to the Munich Residence, where the Bavarian kings lived, and I got a lot of editing done that night.

Town hall, the clock tower, and the Hofbrauhaus.

Reliquary and the Residence private chapel

Perspective ceiling. From the center of the room, it looks 3 stories tall!

Antiquarium and jeweled statue of St. George

Monday – We left Munich early on a bus for a two day castle tour of lower Bavaria. First we went to Linderhof, King Ludwig’s favorite residence, which was originally a hunting lodge, converted into a small palace. They didn’t let us take pictures inside, but we took several of the grounds.

We then went to the town of Oberammergau, famous for its cuckoo clocks and the passion play they perform every ten years, originally started to celebrate the village surviving the bubonic plague in 1634.

We learned a lot more about “mad” King Ludwig on the way and how he was a patron of arts and advanced technology. His palaces had one of the first batteries, one of the first telephones, and automatic flushing toilets! Only in the very last week of his life was he determined to be “mad” by a group of doctors who were helping a faction wanting to remove him from the throne. Ludwig was founded dead in Lake Starnberg with one of the doctors, under mysterious circumstances.

Lastly, we visited the fairy-tale castle of Neuschwanstein, and got some great views of the castle from Mary’s bridge, named after Ludwig’s mother. We learned of some rooms that were planned for the castle, but were never finished, as well as the next three castles that Ludwig had planned to build before he died.

We were treated to a lakeside horn serenade that night, though no one seemed to know who was performing.

Tuesday – This was another relaxing day, but we toured Hoenschwangau, an older castle than Neuschwanstein, and also toured the Museum of the Bavarian Kings. I got a lot more editing done before we caught the bus back to Munich.

Wednesday – This morning, we flew out to Helsinki and got settled into our surroundings. Heather and I were both coming down with cruise crud, unfortunately, which meant WorldCon included a lot of tissues and hand washing for me.

We got back in touch with some of our group, found out the hotel had AC, and I went off to get registered at WorldCon. Unfortunately I missed a few of the panels I wanted to see, such as Emma Newman interviewing George Really Really Martin, but I also found out they had some problems with room distribution and lines the first day, so I may not have gotten in anyway. My wife Heather didn’t go to WorldCon, but instead was out touring Helsiki, so I’ll sprinkle in her pictures as well.



They had a great display of Lego Discworld figures!

Thursday – WorldCon, first full day! I toured around with some Writing Excuses friends. It was great to see the familiar faces from the week before. We communicated via group message to figure out who was going to what panel, and to trade notes we took.

Schedule for the day:

Non-binary Representation in Fiction – 11:00: This was a really good panel, mainly because there were three out of three non-binary speakers. They all had some good experiences, and good pointers for helping to und erstand and write about non-binary people.

Independent and Dependent Publishing – 1:00: This was a small panel, detailing some of the differences between small press and indie publishing. While it probably had some good tips for beginners, as someone who has self-published two books already, there wasn’t a lot helpful that I didn’t already know.

Any Sufficiently Immersive Fantasy is Indistinguishable from Science Fiction – 3:00: A very cool panel, where Max Gladstone, Farah Mendlesohn, Hanna-Rikka Roine, and Auston Habershaw talked about the different types of fantasy adventures (Portal Quest, Immersion, Intrusion, Liminal, and Other), and how this can serve not only fantasy, but science fiction, though with some subtle differences.

WorldCon bid party – That night, the organizers for WorldCon76 (San Jose) and 77 (Dublin) held parties for their respective bids, which basically gave us an excuse to mill around and talk. I met up with a lot of Writing Excuse Retreat members, and a few new people as well.

Meanwhile, Heather was visiting the Rock church!


Friday – The one thing I was a little disappointed in for this WorldCon in relation to the one for 2016 was the dearth of Kaffeeklatches (and Literary Beers), where you could meet in groups of about 10 to 1 with an author or agent, or interesting person. In Helsinki, there were only a few per day. I had gotten some of the best interactions with agents and editors in those meetings the year before. Instead, I focused on finding interesting panels.

Schedule for the day:

Audiobooks: What’s the deal – 10:00: Mary Robinette Kowal and one of our fellow WX attendees, Yvette Keller, talked about how audiobooks are made and gave some advice for anyone wanting to create an audiobook (ACX) or narrate an audiobook (don’t, most likely).

Introduction to Rapier Fencing – 11:00: I caught the tail end of this demonstration, which showed stances and tips for fighting with a rapier, a dagger, and using a buckler to deflect. Good information for writing action scenes!

Lunch with Howard – Howard Tayler was nice enough to sit down with me and help put together a blurb for my sponsorship for Writing Excuses through Patreon! It also serves a promo for my Kickstarter campaign (though my bio may disappear after the campaign…)

Writing Queer People Well – 2:00: Ellen Kushner helped a great deal in driving this panel to explore some of the different ways people see LGBT (or insert your favorite acronym) folks both in writing and in life. Got some more good information for making my writing more realistic.

New Publishing – 3:00: Another panel on the ways publishing is changing, including hybrid publishing, crowdfunding, and interesting marketing methods. Again, good for people starting in the indie/hybrid market, but I got a little less out of it.

Reading: Charles Stross – 5:00: This was one panel I was very much looking forward to, so I made sure I was in line early. I’ve read many of Stross’ books, but hadn’t heard him speak before, so this was a nice treat. He read us a bit from the next (unreleased) Laundry book!

Blurry Charles Stross!

Hugo ceremonies – 7:30: With all the problems with small rooms and lines this year, Yvette Keller had set up a Hugo-viewing party for us at her hotel, with about fifteen or twenty WX retreat members. We had a whole bunch of Finnish chocolate and snacks, drinks, and games, and were planning to use the streaming service WorldCon had set up for this year. Except they couldn’t get it working, and eventually gave up.

Sooo…someone found a live feed broadcasted in China (with Chinese translation) recorded from someone in the audience. The sound was pretty low, so we also managed to find a site with the close-captioned stream. In the end, we had a laptop streaming the Chinese feed, hooked up to a hotel monitor, trying to hear the Hugos in English, with Chinese translation over the top. I was trying to read the close-captioned feed, except it was about fifteen seconds in the future of the video, so I kept having to look away and lose my place, so it wouldn’t spoil the winner for that category.

Ahhh…fun was had by all.

Meanwhile, Heather got to see Uspenski Cathedral and the Sibelius Monument!


Saturday – I didn’t have any panels I wanted to go to that morning, so I toured the teddy bear museum with Heather, her mother, and one of our other cruise friends. We expected a more traditional museum, but it actually turned out to be run by a couple who might have been hoarders and turned it into a livelihood?

Some nightmare fuel for you…

Anyway, they did have some cool stuffed animals, such as the mascots from the 1980 Russian Olympics, and bears made in the style of the last several Finnish presidents. They also had a bunch of old cameras, and a very large and detailed train set that had a full schedule for when each train left and returned.

We got excellent falafel burgers for lunch, and then I rushed off back to WorldCon for my last day.


Schedule for the day:

Eurogames we Love and hate – 1:00: I just caught the end of this, but it was a lively discussion of some recent eurogames, and how they matched up to each other. I also found out WorldCon had their own giant set of Ticket to Ride and Takenoko!

Non-binary Genders in Post-human and Non-human bodies – 4:00: Another good panel on non-binary genders, but this one focused more of application in science fiction and alien cultures. More great tips for writing science fiction!

The Singularity: Transhuman Intelligence in Fiction and Futurism: – 6:00: This was my last panel, another one with Charles Stross. The panelists discussed a lot of the tropes in Singularity writing, as well as when it might (or might not) come, or whether it had arrived already and we just didn’t notice.

Afterward there were lots of farewells, as I found many of my colleagues scattered around the convention. The weather had been great for the entire two weeks we’d been there, barring a couple very small showers, so I wasn’t expecting it when I got to the train station just in time for a torrential North Sea downpour! It made traveling a little sketchy, and we had to wait back at the hotel for it to calm down before we could check out and travel up to the airport. We had a flight leaving the next morning at 7:00am, so Heather had the excellent idea to stay at the airport, and roll out of bed in time for our flight.

Sunday – The airport hotel worked quite well, and we even got a full breakfast included, served by one of the restaurants at the airport.

Now, I must briefly cast you back to the very beginning of our trip, when we were setting off, we saw our neighbors from down the street who happened to be flying out at the same time we were, on the same flight. Imagine our surprise to meet them again, two weeks later! They had visited Paris, had been delayed, and were on the flight with us back to the states! Fortunately, the flight was pretty calm, if long, and I managed to get a lot of editing work done. In all, I was able to rework 26 chapters, with feedback, reading through about 140,000 words of The Seeds of Dissolution.


Final Thoughts, or Thanks for Sticking Around

  • Like the last two years, we’ve made more friends on Facebook and Twitter. So many friends! The alumni have their own little society, which is great for asking questions of the Hive Mind.
  • The Writing Excuses Retreat is the type of gathering that can go on query letters. It’s a big deal for writers, not only to make good friends, but to show that you mean business as a professional.
  • If you aren’t able to afford the cruise, consider looking at the scholarships. With our crowd of alumni, there is an attendee-funded scholarship, to pay it forward and help others come on the cruise. In 2016, we funded two new scholarships, and another two this year. We’re already raising money for 2018!
  • If you’re interested to go on this cruise (and if you are a serious writer, you really should), look to the Writing Excuses website for an announcement of next year’s cruise later this year.
  • Finally, when people talk about having an “in” to publish, the writing cruise and WorldCon are great places to meet those people.


Thanks for reading! Heather, her mother, and I had a great time. Thanks so much to the Writing Excuses team for setting this up.

You’re out of excuses, now go book a cruise!

Writing Excuses Retreat 2017 – On a Ship, Take 3, Part the First

Last week my wife, her mother, and I returned from a two week tour of Europe, visiting six countries, castles galore, old friends and new, listening to some great authors teach and read to us. It was a business trip, really. Most of it. Some of it. The parts where I was writing…

We were participating for the third time in the 2017 Writing Excuses Writing Workshop and Retreat, and I did indeed get lots of writing done, or rather lots of editing. Because being the person I am, I was busy editing beta reader feedback on the first full Dissolutionverse novel, The Seeds of Dissolution, now on Kickstarter!

But aside from when I was holed up in my room or head down at a bar on the cruise ship, I was talking with friends from last year’s cruise, or making new ones, or listening to lectures on anxiety and writing, how to get that last 5% of awesome, how to worldbuild, how to write fight scenes, how to work with a translator, and more…

We had an excellent lineup of instructors, as usual, including:

John Berlyne, Zeno Agency

K. Tempest Bradford, writer and teacher at Writing the Other

Wesley Chu, Author

Aliette de Bodard, Author

Piper J. Drake, Author

Jasper Fforde, Author

Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Author

Kathy Chung, Author and conference coordinator for the Surrey International Writer’s Conference

Mary Robinette Kowal, Author, Audiobook narrator, Puppeteer, host of Writing Excuses

Ken Liu, Author and Translator

Emma Newman, Author and host of Tea and Jeopardy

Peter Newman, Author and co-writer for Tea and Jeopardy

Howard Tayler, Author, Schlock Mercenary webcomic, and host of Writing Excuses

Sandra Tayler, Author, business manager for Schlock Mercenary

His Majesty Dan Wells, Author, host of Writing Excuses


The Short Summary:

  • Waiting for seven hours in the Paris airport is not fun.
  • Having the day before the cruise to meet everyone is super helpful.
  • MSC cruises doesn’t serve tap water in the dining room?!
  • Every tour in Copenhagen goes past The Little Mermaid. Also, Walt Disney got inspiration from the Tivoli gardens amusement park. The Christiansborg palace has very….interesting…tapestries.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal gave us great tips on how to read/speak to a group of people (hint: talk to the windows!).
  • I got personalized feedback on a query letter directly from an agent (three times!) I’m excited to send this version out.
  • Stockholm has hot chocolate as big as your face! And Swedish fish (though they probably just call them “fish” there…). It also has a room covered in gold.
  • Tallin, Estonia loves WiFi, started Skype, and may have captured Voldemort in a wall.
  • Played Fiasco! For the first time (as a drunk, layabout, child stealing town idiot), and it was awesome.


The Long Summary, with pictures!


I’ll save you the description of the overseas flight, waiting in the Charles de Gaulle with a 7 hour layover, flying to Hamburg (late), and then an hour and a half bus ride to Kiel, the port city where the cruise ships depart. We only just made it to the last five minutes of the official orientation, after almost 24 hours of travel. Fortunately, this was our third year of the Writing Excuses cruise, so we pretty much knew what was going on. We got to meet briefly with friends from previous cruises, and got to see the fabulous Emma and Peter Newman interview Dan Wells for their podcast, Tea and Jeopardy. During the show, they were afflicted with only being able to say “Writing” and “Excuses” until the audience saved them. We then sampled treats from all sort of European (and North American) countries, which some of the attendees had brought to share. Then we crashed.



The next morning, we gathered into groups to board the cruise ship. There was less security this time than last year. We were traveling with MSC instead of Royal Caribbean (more on that later…). Once on board, we broke up into groups to follow a story treasure hunt, getting clues for the next plot twist. We had the “Regency Romance” story thread. Oh Lord Covington; we thought him such a cad, but he redeemed himself! Ahem. We also got the chance to meet all the instructors and some of our fellow attendees while we wandered around.

Later, we attended our first class, Fear and Writing, once again by Emma Newman, who gave us some great tips for dealing with anxiety and still getting work done.

That night we had our first dust-up with MSC (there would be more), when we found out they wanted to charge us our limited drink coupons (meant for sodas, coffee, ect) for bottled water at dinner, because they will not serve tap water in the restaurant, even though it’s perfectly fine to drink. It is common in European countries to not pour water for dinner, as they do in the US, but restaurants will serve it when asked. Fortunately, the travel agents who organized our travel were able to work some magic and get water for us the rest of the cruise, so we wouldn’t get parched through the 2+ hour dinners!

That night we passed under a bridge connecting Denmark to Sweden, with only a few feet to spare!


(And…I seem to have only taken a few pictures on the ship. Sorry–you’ll have to imagine the interior! It wasn’t quite as luxurious as our ship last year, so, interpolate.)



This was our first port of call, Copenhagen, where we found that every single tour goes by the statue of the Little Mermaid.

They also go by her big sister…

We also learned one of the breweries may have funded most of the royal construction. Then we visited Tivoli gardens, the second oldest amusement park still in operation. Walt Disney traveled there for inspiration, which if you’ve been to Disney, looks very similar.


We also found Grandpa Munster…

Last on the tour, we went to the Christiansborg Palace, which has some great architecture, and very…colorful…tapestries, which took ten years to produce.

(Pictures from the Danish Monarchy Website, because I didn’t get good pictures…)

We also got a cool map of the city, which I am using for inspiration for the front map in my book! I love the views of all the individual buildings.

Because the MSC cruise ship didn’t have a dedicated conference room (dust-up #2), a couple of the classes got over-scheduled with port time this year. Our tour took most of the day, which meant we missed the class with John Berlyne of Zeno Agency about what  an agent is for. Fortunately, there was plenty of time to catch up with him later, and I learned a lot talking to him.

We had a second class that day on Worldbuilding from the tiny details, or how to make your world seem real. Aliette de Bodard gave the class, showing us some great examples from decorating a room based on the culture, to what food would be eaten, to types of religion, body language, and expressions.

I got to play some games that night after dinner, including Splendor, one of my favorites.



This was a day a sea, but it was still packed. We started out with an early class with Mary Robinette Kowal on how to read out loud to groups of people. The common mistakes are:

Volume – If you speak to the windows of the room rather than the person next to you, then everyone can hear you.

Speed – You will speak too fast. A good speed for talking to a room is about 150 words a minute, which sounds really slow to the person speaking.

Droning – If you hear a similar sound for a while, you’ll tune it out. That’s why it’s important to give importance to words with special meaning. Tell a story!

I had my individual breakout session that day, also with John Berlyne, and we went over the query letter for my current novel out to agents. John had some great suggestions, and was nice enough to agree to look at it again, once I made some changes.

Later, Wesley Chu taught us about writing action scenes, like making sure they have multiple purposes, showing lasting effects from injuries, making sure someone isn’t trained, say, as a master swordsman, in an unrealistic amount of time *coughRandal’Thorcough*, having good blocking, using multiple senses to describe the action, and finally, making sure there isn’t too much action, or it gets boring!

Now that Mary prepared us to read out loud, some of us signed up for “Lightning readings” in which we would read for two minutes, or about 300 words. Here’s mine, which is a fight scene from later on in The Seeds of Dissolution.

You’ll have to imagine the part where I was reading out loud…

“I look forward to dancing against you,” Nakan said, sibilant. “This, I have long been waiting for, to show the Nether maji their weakness.”

Rilan flicked her eyes once more to Vethis, and then all her attention was on the newcomer. “So be it, Snake,” she said, trying to goad the Sathssn.

It didn’t work. She feinted forward with a wrist strike to his cloaked head, intending to follow up with a reverse punch augmented by her song. Neither strike landed. Arcs of sapphire blue and a dark, bruised purple, swirled around the Sathssn’s feet and he was out of her range. She moved again and he was behind her, slipping past in a waltz-step. A strike to her kidney staggered her and she grunted.

Rilan whirled, barely catching Nakan’s arm with her fingers before he could slip away. Shiv’s dagger, he’s fast. She added notes to the melody of her fingers, turning major chords to minor, fixing her fingers in claws, dragging herself along with the Sathssn.

He moved a step, then spun, tilting her off balance. She felt a knee buckle when he kicked, and turned piano to forte, strengthening the tendons.

Must get on the offensive.

No time for her mental tricks. This would all be physical, and she had to make changes to Nakan, not herself. She recognized some of his steps, had fought against them before.

“Has Zsaana taught you all his tricks?” she asked. Her fingers were still on his arm, giving her a connection, and she burrowed into his music, turning solid measures into trills, loosening his tendons in a flush of white and olive. Nakan stumbled, but his aura pulsed against hers, blue and purple against white and olive.

“Yes, old Zsaana, he was my teacher as he was yours,” Nakan said. “But he taught me far more than you.”

Annnnd…there was a ship announcement in the middle of my reading. *Sigh* that’s #3, MSC.

Later that night we had our Costume contest, where Heather and her mother were awarded “Best  Regency Mother and Daughter,” and modeled with Mary Robinette Kowal.

I modeled my spiffy new steampunk coat. Works for browncoats, and to model the cover of my novella!

(Old picture because I am bad at pictures…)



Stockholm! This was one of my favorite ports. We visited the Vasa museum first, where we found out how the ship was so over-decorated, tall, and heavy that it sunk about 20 minutes after first setting out!

We also saw where the Nobel prizes are given out, as well as the reception hall, where the architect scoured far and wide for the most comfortable stairs to walk on. We tried many out other stairs on our trip, and have to admit, these were the most comfortable. After that, we saw the Gold Room, where the Nobel Prize ceremony ball takes place.


Gustav says, WTF?

We also got some great lunch and shopped around for souvenirs. I got hot chocolate as big as my face and Swedish fish from Sweden! Lastly we saw the royal palace and went back to the ship.

Those are some sumptuous corridors…

Again, because our tour was pretty long, we missed hearing about Maintaining a Writer’s Life with Thomas Olde Heuvelt (#4, MSC!), but we got to hang out with him later and catch up on what he talked about.

Lastly, we had a martial arts hangout that night, on the top deck of the ship. I had a lot of fun, but it was the only time I got to practice while on the trip, so I was having withdrawal by the time we got back…



Tallin was a cool town to visit, in Estonia. I knew almost nothing about the country, but learned they have a big investment in WiFi, and were partially responsible for creating Skype. We first visited the Talinn Song Festival auditorium, where every five years, 15,000 performers come together to sing for the Lauluväljak.

We also saw the town, which included a restaurant that served only authentic medieval food, made from ingredients available at the time. I also got pictures of Voldemort and a Dementor!

Actually, the first is Voldemar Panso, who was the first director of the Drama School of Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. The second is one of three sculptures of medieval monks in the Danish King’s garden.

That night, Ken Liu talked to us about how to work with a translator.

It was an amazing lecture, which illustrated just how much work a translator must go through to make a book readable in another culture. In the US, we don’t often don’t realize how much of an author the translator is, as we tend to consume our own media. In some other countries, books are bought not based on the original author name, but on the translator name, and some translators have even reinvented a mediocre book in one language into a bestseller into another! Ken also gave us some great tips about what information and assistance is best to offer a translator, if you have the chance to work with one.

That night I got to play Fiasco for the first time. It’s a game where four people set up a deteriorating situation doomed to failure, then watch the world burn! I got to play the town drunk, cousin to the mayor, who stole a baby, tried (and failed) to take over the town, drove an out of control, gold-filled wagon down a mountain, and finally ended up in a penal colony. Fun!


Stick Around!

Whew! That’s not even the half of it, but this ends part one of my European writing adventure, as this post is long enough already. Next week, come back for St. Petersburg and Pringles, queries and books covers, Not-So-Mad King Ludwig, and WorldCon75!

The Seeds of Dissolution is on Kickstarter!

The campaign is running from August 15 to September 16th. There are lots of backer rewards, like buttons, desktop wallpapers, a new short story, and of course getting your hands on The Seeds of Dissolution first!

If I hit stretch goals, then there will be some more interior illustrations, and backers will get more goodies like color maps and hardcover options!

So take a look, and share with your friends!


Writing Cruise, WorldCon in Helsinki, and a little bit of a cover!

I’m getting my things packed to fly out tomorrow for the 2017 Writing Excuses Cruise! I’ll have a week with a lot of awesome writers, plus our illustrious Podcast hosts and their guest instructors. Then, I’m going to be touring around castles in Germany before flying up to Helsinki for WorldCon 75!

It’s going to be an exciting couple of weeks, and right after I get back, the Kickstarter for The Seeds of Dissolution will begin. To tide you over until then, here’s a little bit of a preview of the cover. This is a section of the pencil drawing, but I can assure you the full cover drawing is even better. Look for a cover reveal a couple days after the Kickstarter begins!

Thunderclap for the Kickstarter

Hi folks!

I’ve started up a Thunderclap to spread the word about my upcoming kickstarter. If you want to help out, just go here and you can help spread the word through Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr! it will send out a one-time message when the Thunderclap campaign ends (August 2nd).