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 (, 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:

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?”



“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.”

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

'Eight-Bit Bard' Excerpt: Disarming Traps

I said, "If we want any loot we’re going to have to take our chances. Thus we have Exhibit A, this treasure chest. Jexica, as our rogue it’s your turn to shine.”

Jexica nodded and stretched her fingers, cracking the knuckles. I held up a hand. “Before we get started, there’s two stages. Identify, and then disarm.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve been trained. I know how this works,” Jex said.

“You’ve been trained to identify and disarm, but did anyone mention the Committee Method?”

She paused. “No, what’s that?”

“Before you do anything, we all take a look. You’re the specialist, but the rest of us aren’t dumb. We all take a glance and tally our impressions. You get the final say, of course.”

“I like it,” Caltrop said, kneeling down in front of the chest and eyeing the lock mechanism. “Crowdsourcing is an excellent team activity. My father always had a saying, a few extra sous chefs just help make the bisque better. Hmm. Looks like a shocker trap to me.”

“I’m not really sure that’s the best analogy,” Jexica objected. “Are you sure that-”

Wort interrupted, “Well I think it’s a gas cloud.”

“No, look like dart trap,” Mulk said.

“Don’t be silly,” Wort replied. “That bladder mechanism has to be tied to a gas cloud. Who ever heard of darts coming out of a bladder?”

Siobhan eyed the chest. “I see no bladder. That is a containment bulb for a deadly Mage’s misery spell. We spellcasters must be wary.”

I pushed the elf out of the way. “That can’t be right. I’ve been in six dungeons, and I’ve never even heard of a Mage’s misery before. I don’t think that’s a real thing. It’s got to be a poison needle, if anything.”


“Gas cloud!”

Mage’s misery!

“Poison toad?”

I looked up from the chest. “What? Who said that?”

Caltrop shrugged. “If there’s a bladder and you think it’s poison, maybe the bladder’s holding a toad, so it could be a poison toad.”

I sighed. “I can assure you there’s no toad pushed into that trap.”

The others continued arguing, with alternating shouts of “Darts!” and “Gas cloud!” gaining momentum. Jexica kneeled down to eye the lock. 

I tried to explain, “Look, it really is a simple case of-”

“Okay, here goes, trying to disarm the gas cloud,” Jexica said, poking her tools into the key hole.

“No, wait!”

Too late. There was a click, and then a snick. Jexica looked down aghast at her finger tip. “Ooh, I feel a little sick,” she said, and then slumped to the floor.

“Gah. You fools, you didn’t let me finish. This first dungeon is filled with simple creatures who can’t manage complicated traps. Some of them don’t have any traps at all, but if they do, the only possible trap in the Troll Tunnels is a poison needle. My old team opened hundreds of them, and that’s all we'll see until the next dungeon.”

The noise died down. Everyone turned sheepish, except Jexica, who was turning green and moaning.

This was an excerpt from The Eight-Bit Bard. The complete novel is Kindle format through Amazon

Sunday, May 24, 2015

'The Eight-Bit Bard' is published.

As of today my newest novel, The Eight-Bit Bard, is available on Amazon

It's a fantasy story, a blend of humor and action. It's also the story of seven misfits trying to find a place for themselves in a world where the obvious good guys aren't so good, and the bad guys are the best of the worst.

For gamers, particularly retro gamers, this one is heavy on references to classics like Bard's Tale, Ultima, Might and Magic, Wizardry, and many others from that generation. For those who don't do computer games but like fantasy, I've tried to make the story stand well enough without being distracted by inside jokes.
I'd also like to note this one is a bit more family friendly than my previous novel, Chicagoland. If it were a movie, it would be PG-13, tops.

It's currently only available in Kindle format from Amazon. If you don't have a Kindle, nearly any computer can get a Kindle reader for free. If you have Amazon Prime, you can also "borrow" the book for free any time you like, no purchase necessary.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book Description/Blurb

I've been working on what would be the "back cover" blurb on a physical book. The Eight-Bit Bard will begin as digital only so it'll just be the description used on web sites, but it's the same idea. In one of those weird ironies, it's more agonizing for me to work on two or three paragraphs that summarizes the book than it is to turn out dozens of pages of novel. I'd rather be loquacious than pithy, I guess.
The evil sorcerer Ssor Ssorensen must have attended the "freeze them with perpetual winter" school of villainy, because when he and his minions conquered the town of Noresha, the first thing he did (after taking a nice, hot bath) was encase the city in ice. Then he laid out a thirteen-dungeon obstacle course challenge, filled with mind-twisting riddles, fiendish traps, and a bevy of the most monstrous guardians a conqueror's shoestring budget could afford, because that's what the best of the bad guys do. 
Strife inevitably brings resistance. A band of heroes led by Yorel the paladin, calling themselves the Phoenix Dragons, are the front runners to challenge the sorcerer and put an end to his menace.
This is not their story. This is the story of Endrew the bard, a fallen hero and humiliated former Phoenix Dragon, who has to join up with a pack of misfits just to make it through the week. His companions include an untrained rogue, an unusually sophisticated half-orc mage, a misplaced pixie, a dwarven monk full of improbable theories, and a halfling warrior who wants more than anything just to be tough. Endrew and his unlikely crew set their sights on surpassing the champions and saving the city from evil, but before they can do that they must surmount their shortcomings just to survive. For a mismatched group that can't even settle on a party name, that may be a tall order indeed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Cover Concepts

I've been working on some cover concepts for the novel. I think I've mentioned by now it's a fantasy novel with themes related to classic computer games, particularly role-playing games. I'm fairly well set on the title, The Eight-Bit Bard, to evoke a blend of older electronics and fantasy. 

You can click on any of the images to get a larger pop-up to see them in detail. I'd love to hear your preferences.

Concept 1: A classic graph-paper map to further emphasize the computer game roots.

Concept 2: A lute and sword for the bard, but pixelated for a hint of computery-ness.

Concept 3: Simpler, cleaner. More old-time bard, less emphasis on computer.

Concept 4: More colorful, bringing back the sword.



Monday, May 4, 2015

Fun with Grammar Check

Before letting anyone else see your writing for the first time, it's always a good idea to run a spelling and grammar check. For a project the size of a novel, this generally means clicking Ignore several hundred times to ferret out a few dozen mistakes. Note that by this point I've reread the thing multiple times, checking all the red squigglies as I go; don't think for a second my first draft doesn't have a lot more mistakes than that.

I'm probably not the only one, but when I write I make choices that the spellchecker doesn't always agree with. Creative names, an accent that calls for innovative spelling, (parenthetical clauses the spellchecker can't follow), and cutting short a spoken sentence--all of these can bring out a swarm of red or blue squigglies. Most of what spellcheck flags can be chalked up as a difference of opinion. For the record, I'm looking at red squigglies under the word "squigglies" right now ... and I'm okay with that.

The grammar checker, though, now that one can be fun. More than just suggested improvements that I'm declining out of some sense of artistic freedom, in many cases it's flat-out wrong, sometimes outrageously so. I know the tool has gotten better over the years. Back in the late nineties I remember a version that would throw out objections like, "This sentence does not appear to have a verb," even when it clearly did. I told myself one day I'd run some great works of literature through a grammar checker and reprint the most hilarious annotations as it corrected Hemingway or Steinbeck, Fitzgerald or Salinger. (I was about to throw out a name like Joyce, but we already know his grammar is intentionally broken; that's part of his charm, so using him wouldn't be playing fair. Same for Kerouac, or even the heavily accented dialogues of Twain.)

But that was nearly two decades ago, and I still haven't managed to get around to the project, so in the stead of laughing at grammar check failing to handle fine literature, I'll use my own writings instead.

We'll start small. Very small: it's. According to the stats, I used "it's" 319 times in my upcoming novel, tentatively titled The Eight-Bit Bard. Of those instances, spellcheck is convinced 11 cases ought to be its instead. These include selections like, "It's okay," "You think it's poison?", "I don't think it's working," "It's part of the job," and "It's his map." All of these cases I do mean it is, and not "belonging to it." Oddly, the software never once flagged one the other way around.

Did it have some troubles with statements and questions? It did. "Next to him lounged a halfling in reinforced leather" doesn't need to end in a question mark, no matter how much grammar check begs. Likewise for "I was happy to let him have it."

Since this is fantasy, I can see how it might try to replace the word "mages" with "images" occasionally, but that's not going to improve the story. And while "I was a bard back then" might trigger the same skepticism, trying to replace it with "I was a bad back then" isn't helping. And, frankly, "I could see a rend in the ectoplasm" is not secretly supposed to be a trend in the ectoplasm. My characters are adventurers, not business analysts, by Infernus.

As for pronoun-verb agreement, I think grammar check has been taking notes from my four-year-old, who still starts sentences with "him went" or "us are". Suggested corrections included, "I was willing to grant the idea that, on a purely aesthetic level, man-flesh tasted much well than troll flesh," "Don't let they touch you," "Teleport we back outside," and the surprisingly simple, "Neither did me."

Homophones are knot just for humans. Grammar check suggested that rather than a whine, the dog sank to the ground with a wine; I cannot tell you know came over me; combat broke lose; and the dwarf has got away with people. The computer has got a way with words, for sure.

Saving the best song for last: who wouldn't want a finely tuned arm, rather than a finely toned one? Right?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pre-Reader Copies Released

I've just handed out a few pre-reader copies of "The Eight-Bit Bard." Now the fidgets begin, where mostly I feel jealous of musicians and poets, because they can get feedback after just a couple of minutes rather than requiring days or weeks. Who thought being a novelist was a good idea?

If you're interested and think you could return some comments in less than a month, there's still time to contact me for a copy.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

My Next Novel: The Eight-Bit Bard

My next novel hit a major milestone today. I basically completed the early reader's draft. There's a few stray notes and a little cleanup left, but all the major writing and editing is done.

This project is very different from the first: a fantasy novel with heavy references to early computer role-playing games. I think it stands on its own even if the reader isn't big on computer games, but it may resonate especially well with anyone who knows Ultima, Bard's Tale, Pool of Radiance, Wizardry, and other classics, and also with more modern gamers.

The current working title is The Eight-Bit Bard, but that's still up for review.

In coming weeks I'll be sending copies to advance readers for some commentary and revisions. Any enthusiastic readers are welcome to contact me for a copy, if you're interested. 

I'm not sure how long revisions will take. Somewhere between two and four months from now is likely, depending on feedback.

Once things get cleaned up a little more I'll be posting some excerpts and maybe some candidate artwork for the cover.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

'Chicagoland' Excerpt: DEFCON Drunk

The car I was in got back to the house first, while Moses’s car with Dan got delayed. Not wanting to waste any minutes of the bachelor party, everyone with me started drinking quickly. When Dan arrived, we shoved drinks at him so he could catch up. Then we had more drinks so we could stay ahead and keep stringing the late arrivals along.

We talked Dan into doing some shots, him individually against several of us, before the party moved upstairs. A while later, I went back down to the kitchen to find him doing a shot against himself. “Nobody else wanted one, and I wasn’t going to waste it,” he said.

“Why not just pour one shot?”

“I didn’t think of that.”

Soon after that, I found Dan slumped over the kitchen table, head on his arm, muttering to himself in German. I didn’t even know Dan spoke any German. “Mein freunde, mein freunde,” I heard him say, which I barely recognized as “my friends, my friends.” I tried to shuffle him off to bed, but some switch had flipped, and he ignored everything I tried to tell him in English, only responding with more German. I had maybe thirty words in the language total, but thankfully one phrase I could remember was “good night.” Heavy repetition of “gute nacht” got him to agree it was time for nighty-night. I grabbed his shoulder to help move him toward a couch.

Apparently that was a mistake. Angry, belligerent, Dan turned on me and shouted in an evil robot voice, “DEFCON 3, defenses rising!”

“Hey, wait, I’m just helping you to bed.”

Again, in the robot voice. “Does not compute. Nicht Deutch. Error.”

“Look, can we just go and-”

“Misunderstood. Mein freunde sprechen Deutch. Escalating. Approaching DEFCON 2. Nuclear assault imminent.”

“You’re a vegan, damn it; you’re supposed to be a pacifist!” He approached me threateningly, regardless. “Freund! Freund!” I shouted, desperate for any friendly German words. “Gut! Liebe! Freund!”

Dan started to deflate. “Freund recognized. DEFCON levels decreasing. Nuclear arsenals on standby. Gute nacht.” With that, he turned and walked upstairs, lay down on the couch, and didn’t move until morning.

This was an excerpt from Chicagoland. The complete novel is Kindle format through Amazon

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

'Chicagoland' Excerpt: Brownies

As soon as they were cool, Rob cut up the brownies into tiny pieces, handed out a chunk to everyone, and hid the rest before the roommate could return. Then we pulled out Trivial Pursuit and played for a while as we waited.

“Nothing’s happening,” Rob declared after half an hour.

“Yeah, I don’t feel anything either,” Greg said. The rest of us shrugged or nodded in agreement. Rob brought the bag of brownies back out, and everyone took another couple of cubes. Doing the math, I’m pretty sure this gave us each about eight times more than a reasonable dose.

We continued playing. I would have sworn I still didn’t feel anything, but the questions in the game kept on getting weirder and weirder. Someone ate ten pounds of what meat in a challenge? (Eel. Naturally.) From what country is so-and-so from? (Forgive the double preposition.) “Red Dragon” is a sickly prequel to what prickly sequel? (Huh? Is that a spoonerism?) Investigating a horse murder, being what book? (Seriously? What the hell?)

I placed the last card back in the box, convinced it left a broad swooping trail behind as it moved through the air. “Okay, I think maybe I’m feeling something after all. But I swear this game is also independently getting weirder. I’m not understaying what they’re sanding half the time. Um. Understanding, saying. If I didn’t know better, I would say it was on pot brownies, too.”

Everyone agreed that was a perfectly reasonable suggestion.

With a start, I realized five minutes had passed, everyone sitting in motionless silence. I felt oppressed by my own thoughts and weighted down by an unusual inertia. “I don’t think I can play anymore,” I said.

“I want to lie down, but I don’t even think I can do that,” said Langston, scooched so far down on the couch his head was almost touching the seat, and with his legs splayed across the coffee table. Gravity would get him there eventually.

“I can’t …” groaned Rob. Finish the sentence, apparently.

“We need music,” said Greg. He oozed in pudding-esque fashion across three feet of floor and started flipping through a huge stack of vinyl records. Nobody else moved. It was about ten minutes before he spoke. “Wow, these are oooooold.”

Langston said, “Yeah, I got those from Mom when she moved to Chicago. There’s some good stuff in there.”

“And some really bad stuff.” Greg grinned devilishly. “Ooh, this looks awful. I’m going to put it on.”

It was awful, we all agreed, when we could summon the strength. Greg went from record to record, listening to some for as much as ten minutes or as little as ten seconds, trying to find something worse than the previous song. He was cunningly accurate with his picks.

It did not occur to any of us to suggest maybe we put on good music instead. We just sat and/or lay there and groaned, wishing it would stop.

Greg gasped, eyes wide with a child’s enthusiasm. “This! Here we go! John Barleycorn Must Die. That’s got to be the worst possible name for an album. It’s going to be terrible.” It was. It really was. He played it through five times in a row.

I finally found the strength to stand up. “I think I have to go lie down,” I said, dragging myself back downstairs to my temporary bed. Not since my first experience with the stuff—when I was convinced my arms were shriveling up into little Tyrannosaurus rex claws, and I could feel my tongue turning thin and forked like a serpent’s, darting around evilly inside my own mouth—had I been so disoriented by mere tea. Slumping on the couch, I lay for hours, half-catatonic with one foot in the land of Nod and one foot firmly planted in outer space.

This was an excerpt from Chicagoland. The complete novel is Kindle format through Amazon

Sunday, March 1, 2015

'Chicagoland' Excerpt: The Call

As the meal wound down, I realized Moriarty was still missing. Nobody else had seen him. Loud and noisy inside, I stepped out and tried calling him.

“Yeah?” slurred a confused Morty, barely audible over street traffic, bad reception, and noise from the El he was on.

“Where’d you go?”

“Look, man, it’s no good. I tried and I’m sorry, but I failed, and there’s nothing left.”

I almost joked that when everything is gone, there’s always Nothing left, but Mort didn’t seem to be in a playful mood. “You sound drunk. What are you talking about?”

“I’m through with it. I’m going to go down to the roof of my office, and I’m going to end it all.”

I felt a real jolt. Everything tingled, and my brain seemed to be floating. I desperately tried to pull myself together. “Please tell me you’re joking!”

“No, man. Look, I’m sorry, but this is the only option. I love you, you’ve been a good friend, but I’m through. You can have all my stuff. Except the guitar. Moses gets that.”

“Please don’t do anything crazy. Can we talk about this?”

He said something garbled, and then either hung up or we got disconnected.

I called back. No answer.

Again. No answer.

A third time.

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?!” he shouted.

“Morty, I’m begging you, please. Don’t do this. Tell me where you are. I’ll come get you.”

“I’m, I don’t know. On a hell. In train.” More noise, more garbling. “I’m so fucking sick of this,” I think I heard. It was hard to tell.

“Look, come back, or tell me where you are. We’ll talk.”

He said something I couldn’t follow and hung up.

I called again, but no answer. I tried a second and third time, but he refused to pick up, or he had no signal. I left a pleading message on his voicemail, asking him to call back, asking him to wait and give us a chance to do whatever he needed. All the while, I’m pacing up and down a street, but it’s not a real street. The people on sidewalk aren’t real people, and the passing cars aren’t real cars. They’re imaginary, illusions I barely register as I walk back and forth, shouting and begging on the phone, my only connection to the one thing that matters right now. I heedlessly step in front of a turning car. It brakes. I walk on as if it doesn’t exist, through ghosts of people I do not see. If anything happens to Moriarty, all of this may as well not exist. The only reality is at the other end of the line, where I’m leaving a desperate message for a lost soul who may or may not ever hear it. It could be the message that saves a life. It could also be the message the police listen to as they investigate the phone record of a dead man for clues. It could be the message I play to myself, over and over, when I inherit all his stuff, except for the guitar.

This was an excerpt from Chicagoland. The complete novel is Kindle format through Amazon