Wednesday, April 19, 2017

'Stranger and Better' - The Origin Story

Stranger and Better is actually the first novel I wrote, but it's the third that I will publish. How does that happen? Well, I'll tell you.

It began with a story a friend wrote. He was someone who I knew from Oberlin, a good friend there who needed some time off and moved back home to Chicago. When I graduated I also ended up in Chicago, and we continued our friendship there. One day he showed me a story that he had written. It was raw, emotional, triumphant, subversive, insane, brilliant, and funny, in equal parts. It dealt with someone trying to find his way after college, but a good chunk of the action occurred as a flashback in college, a college which wasn't Oberlin, but could have been. 

Among the things that stood out were an acid trip that goes very weird, a foil of sorts with an unpronounceable name (Athmudx), and a few memorable phrases, including: "you're a wingnut", "blah, blah, blah, and like, whatever, blah, blah, blah", "a stomach full of vinegar and beach sand", and "pizzly little drizzle." It was great, and I enjoyed it tremendously. As an aspiring writer with no demonstrable results to show for my aspirations, I thought I could do worse than to start by trying to match that caliber of story.

About that time, my friend returned to Oberlin to finish his degree. I drove out there with him, and during the trip we talked about writing. We shared a love of Vonnegut, and in talking I mentioned one of my own conversational quirks, a tendency to trail off in the middle of a sentence with an "and-" or a "but-", realizing that I'd already said all that needed to be said. "Vonnegut ought to work that in to one of his stories, a running gag or catch phrase," I said.

"Nah, Vonnegut doesn't need to do it," he said. "You should write that book."

"Maybe I will," I said. And I decided then I'd write my own story, and it would be a graduation present for my friend. I placed the story in Oberlin, our shared connection, and I would have a foil with an X in his name (Ixthyaki), and I would use all the catch-phrases. 

It was December 1998, and I figured four months would be plenty of time.

Roughly 200,000 words later, toward the tail end of 2001, I finished the first draft of what was then called Major Dilemmas. It had everything I intended (except the phrase about the drizzle, which somehow I never worked into a novel, despite it being set in Oberlin) and a whole bunch of stuff I didn't know I needed to say until I'd said it.

After that I spent months floating it around to friends and family, trying to gather feedback, sort out what needed to be done. I liked it, but I knew it needed work, and I also didn't know what kind of work. So I let it sit while life went in a dozen different directions. A few years later I dusted it off and cleaned it up a bit. An old family friend was kind enough to look it over and provide some feedback, which included maybe polishing up the strongest chapter and shopping that around. Over five years I twiddled with that chapter, again realizing I didn't know what to do.

So I set it aside, wrote first drafts for another three or four other novels, invented a computer game and spent five years managing that, only ever now and then wondering about Major Dilemmas. Finally I wrote a first draft of a book that seemed good enough to publish, so I did. I tried a second novel, more niche but more successful. I meant to do a sequel to the second, but on a road trip I woke up one morning, got in the shower, and by the time I was clean I had plans to completely rewrite Major Dilemmas: this time more fragmented like Vonnegut, with a library mystery as backdrop, and layers of editorial commentary to make it weird. 

Three rewrites later--and eighteen years from when I started--and it's finally something I'm content with. As I say in the book's dedication, some of these words are old enough to be an Oberlin College student now. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Announcing Book #3: "Stranger and Better"

My third novel, Stranger and Better, is due out later this spring. In the style of Chicagoland, it's a humorous coming-of-age story, set at my alma mater, Oberlin College. It's a quirky search for sex, drugs, and the meaning of life. 

The book is now available for pre-order in Kindle format. The release date is April 21, at which point both print and electronic versions will be available. 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06ZZKVT62 

Monday, July 6, 2015

My First Literary Reivew!

"The Eight-Bit Bard" just received its first literary review, from The Midwest Book Review. Right now I'm flip-flopping between being excited just to have a review at all, and being excited because it's universally positive and concludes "Highly recommended!"

Monday, June 29, 2015

Eight-Bit Bard: Now in Print!

I just got my copies of the print edition of the book, and I'm very happy with the results. It's a real book, in every way that matters. As of today the print versions are available on Amazon for $12.50. It's a little more than I'd like to sell them for, but the costs of print-on-demand require it. 

If anyone is interested in a signed copy, I can do that, too. However, it would probably cost closer to $20, not because my signature's all that valuable, but because I'd have to get copies shipped here, then pay to re-ship them to you. Still, feel free to contact me if you're interested and I'll figure it out. International copies may turn out to be a bit more--depends entirely on shipping.

The process of creating the physical book was easy enough I've also started work on a print version of Chicagoland. It's got more pages and will probably end up a little closer to $15. I'm supposed to get the proofs for that book any minute now (I literally just jumped up and ran outside because I thought I heard the delivery truck, but it was only the neighbor). If all looks good it could be available in just a few days or maybe a week at worst. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Print Versions on the Way

I'm looking into print versions of "The Eight-Bit Bard." I originally had the impression it would be more difficult and extremely expensive (like $20) but it looks like I can hit something closer to $12.50. That's still a bit more than $5 for the eBook, but it may be worth it for some. It's probably going to be a few weeks before I can get my hands on a copy to confirm quality, but let me know if you want to be notified when they're out.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

"The Eight-Bit Bard" now CRPG Addict Approved

The Eight-Bit Bard got a nice mention on the CRPG Addict web site the other day, calling it "engaging and well-written" and giving it a solid recommendation.

For those who don't know the CRPG Addict, he's sort of an Indiana Jones of the computer role-playing game world, which is to say a blend of historical archaeologist and adventuresome player, with a sense of humor. (I do not know if he wears cool hats, but I hear he has a birthmark in the shape of an Egyptian ankh.) I've been reading his blog (http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com), initially for the nostalgia of revisiting favorite games from my own childhood (and, who am I kidding, also my mature adulthood) but I continually return to find out about games I missed. Besides the games themselves there's good discussion in blog and comments about trends, mechanics, game design, tropes and cliches, and the like.

I'm particularly pleased with the reaction over there, because while The Eight-Bit Bard was written for a fantasy novel readers in general, it was specifically targeted at his kind of audience: retro gamers, role-players, nostalgic adventurers, and puzzle solvers. If it flopped there I was going to be in trouble, but so far both the Addict's response and comments from his readers have been positive.

His full review is available here: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2015/06/the-eight-bit-bard-novel-with-crpg.html

Thursday, June 4, 2015

'Eight-Bit Bard' Excerpt: Brown-Bearded Dwarf Needs Food Badly



I paused in the street, searching for danger. I smelled frost on the night air, and … “Sssh. Is that footsteps?”

Crunch, crunch, crunch. The sound of boots on frozen snowpack. That could only mean impending danger.

I spun in all directions, looking for signs of someone approaching, but saw nothing.
“Invisible foes?” Jexica asked.

Crunch crunch.

“Flyers?” suggested Caltrop.

“Flyers no walk,” Mulk reminded us all.

“Oh, right.”

Crunch, crunch, cr-

The noise stopped as suddenly as it had started. I fingered my weapon, expecting death to reveal itself momentarily. The silence drew on, eerie and nerve-wracking. Eventually we relaxed. “Maybe it was the ghost footsteps of some lost soldier?” I lowered my weapon and the rest of the crew adjusted their stance, prepared for doom within the half hour but not within the minute. Wort tightened some flaps on his pack and stood straight.

“Okay,” I said, “We’re going to do a loop to the north.”

“Edda?” asked Caltrop.

“Shadow Run. Edda’s got the guardian statues. I’m still not ready to fight that ogre again. Let’s square up and-”

Crunch, crunch, crunch.

“There it is again!”

“Mmmf-hmmf mrr mmf?” said Wort.

“What’s that?”

The half-dwarf held up a hand: smack, smack, gulp. “What could it be?” Wort said, before taking another bite of cracker. The source of the munching and crunching was now obvious.

“What are you eating?”

“Wahbleb.”

“What?”

“Sorry. Waybread. Gotta keep my strength up.”

“It hasn’t even been two hours since dinner.”

“Really? It feels like I’m starving every time we go out. My stomach starts growling, ‘Brown-bearded dwarf is very hungry!’ and if I don’t eat I feel like I’m going to just collapse in the middle of a fight.”

“There’s no way you’re going to starve. Come to think of it, I’ve been out on five-day expeditions and we never bothered to bring any food at all. Just eat when you get back to the Guild, or grab a snack if we pop into a bar for a refreshing drink.”

“But we’re fighting, and you need energy to heal.”

“We pay for magical healing, Wort.”

“Yes, but what does the magic act upon? Your body! And your body needs food even for magical healing. Or so I’ve been told.” He looked around a little shiftily.

“Look, if you insist on eating, can you pick something that doesn’t make so much noise? Maybe a nice sandwich. Untoasted. Without any fresh veggies.”

“But regular food spoils in the wild. You need dried goods if you want them to last.”

“In a few hours? At these temperatures? If I don’t have time to get hungry, the food doesn’t have time to spoil. Try a piece of jerky, if you have to.”