Writing

A Love Letter to (Some) Critics

For maximum effect, be sure to read this entire post with Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” blaring in the background.

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Few people understand how difficult it is to write a novel, let alone edit it to an acceptable degree. To iron out the awkward phrases, the misspellings, the dangling clauses. An abnormally low amount of people are capable of doing so without professional editing help. The amount of people who can successfully hook an agent is even lower. At this point we’re getting into the split-hairs category of percentages. Most people either drop out here or decide to self-publish their book. (This is not to say I look down upon self-published authors, seeing as I’ve self-published a book or two in the past). But the point stands—most people will, statistically, NEVER land an agent, let alone get that agent to hook a publisher’s attention and make them read your work and send an offer and pay you for words that you’ve plopped onto the virtual page. There’s a rush of ecstasy associated with each stage of the process, and a sense of fear greater than anything you’ve ever known. Feel free to Google the odds of (traditionally) publishing a novel sometime, if you ever want to go insane.

For most people, landing that traditional publishing deal and putting out a novel is the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of work. A lifetime of slaving over a keyboard, waiting with bated breath for every email that invariably takes 6-8 months to arrive, working until the early hours of dawn, giving up, starting over, losing faith, gaining it. All so you can hold a paperback copy of your book or an advance check, knowing that SOMEBODY thought it was good enough to mass produce it and share it with the world.

I know I wanted that. I wanted it so badly that I gave up everything else to get it. And guess what? I did. I landed a trilogy deal with Kensington and sold the audio rights, the foreign rights, the whole shebang. I put in the work, and I succeeded. I hope to God my next series will sell. In fact, I’m confident it will.

But somewhere along the way, a handful of Goodreads e-critics decided to enter an ARC giveaway (seemingly without reading what the book was about) and snag a copy of my book. What they got was a slow, literary exploration of a young girl’s struggle to exist and grow up in a barbaric world. It’s not Game of Thrones, nor is it the Hunger Games. Judging by the critics’ past reads, however, they were into urban fantasy, werewolf romance, YA fantasy, and maybe a dash of sci-fi lite here and there. All good and well. What is not good and well, however, is how lazy and narrow-minded most of these people were in their critiques. Some of their reviews deserve to be in a hall of shame for the mind-boggling nonsense they include. Questions about what happened to the dog from the first chapter (pro tip: there is no dog in the entire book). Complaints about a lack of justice (pro tip: justice is seldom served in life). Babbling about the dark tone of the writing (pro tip: grimdark is dark).

This is not to say that there weren’t GOOD “bad” reviews, of course. This post is not about reviewers with genuinely insightful reviews (Carol Chu’s two-and-a-half-star review, if you’re so inclined to look it up, is a perfect example of this). In fact, I was aided tremendously by the constructive feedback embedded in several of the negative reviews. I don’t think any writer works to get ONLY five-star reviews, as this would go against the spirit of self-improvement and suggest that humans have a hive mind. What set these quality reviews apart from the riff-raff was their emphasis on identifying what DID work for them alongside what didn’t. They wrote a review that told fellow readers what aspects might appeal to a different set of eyes.

Now, compare that to the Hallowed Haters club. Many of these reviewers (as stated by themselves) only read a chapter or two before awarding the book a one-star rating. Others read the entire thing and felt genuine emotions, such as sorrow, frustration, or a pit in their stomach, but they still felt it barely scraped past two stars for one reason or another, usually related to not having a fun time. Most of the five-star Goodreads reviews the book received never carried over to Amazon, but fear not, for the one-star ranting crowd (which received the book for free, mind you) was sure to take the time to leave their drivel on the sales page.

The majority of these shame-listed e-critics read books to have “fun,” not to think or feel any sort of unpleasant emotion (in contrast, tragedies are some of my favorite novels—go figure). They like popcorn books, not literature. And that’s fine. Nobody is entitled to like or love a book. They probably didn’t even think much of their reviews. To them it was a chance to express an opinion and feel worthwhile, seeing as the vast majority of those who gave the book a low rating had never written anything in their lives, and had certainly never published a sentence of that nonexistent writing. It’s ironic, then, that those who have published actual books—including Andre Dubus III, my mentor and author of a little-known book called House of Sand and Fog (a goddamn Oprah’s Book Club choice with a film adaptation)—had high praise for what they read.

I’m not dismayed with the fact that every human has an internet connection and the ability to rant about what they like and dislike. What I take umbrage with, fundamentally, is the cavalier, ignorant nature of critics who cast lightning bolts down from their great Mountain of Unachieving. The critics who disparage books simply because they can, because they know that somebody will read their words and maybe think they have thoughts worth listening to.

I have my own critiques of my work, but the one thing nobody can take away from the novels is that they were PUBLISHED. A team of people, including agents, editors, marketing assistants, publishers, and promoters, believed in the books and put them into the world on good faith. Because of them, people will be able to read, enjoy, hate, and puzzle over my words for the foreseeable future, long after my death. And that’s ten times—no, perhaps a trillion times—more valuable than any word that a critic can muster against my work, or the work of any other published author. But I get it. It’s a simple thing to sit behind a keyboard and tear apart somebody’s work when you’re unwilling or unable to create something yourself, and it’s a herculean task to identify what you enjoy about the work of somebody who has ripped out their mind and heart and set it on a plate for you to destroy.

It’s fortunate, then, that us authors have minds and hearts that will survive World War 3. Cockroaches have nothing on us, baby. The masses can say what they like about our work, but an undeniable truth will ring through eternity. A truth that few are privileged enough to say, and a truth that will never be known by those who get their kicks from tearing down others:

I’ve published a novel.

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TRANSCENDENCE AMID THE APOCALYPSE

Finding anybody who hasn’t wished, in earnest or otherwise, for a nuclear war during their morning commute would be a tall order. Some waterlogged, reptilian lobe in our brains still holds that perverse desire for a world that has blown itself to bits, erasing every shred of crosswalks, tax returns, and iPhone models in one fell (irradiated) swoop. Of course, the sentiment flies in the face of the human development narrative:

We went from caves to huts, from huts to villages, from villages to cities, from cities to functional societies. For all the doom and gloom that pervades our media, humans have done a remarkable job of keeping civilization’s vast machine up and running. When we compare the tooth-and-nail, skull-cracking reality of our past to the sanitized portrait of the present, what do we really have to complain about?

Plenty, our intrusive thoughts seem to whisper in reply.

Many of us feel enslaved to institutions that are too large—indeed, too entrenched—to ever be uprooted or altered. We feel powerless against the corruption of overreaching police forces, state governments, and corporate interests. We feel patronized by sign-in Captcha systems that demand proof of our humanity.

And so, in turn, what provides respite from this onslaught of modern neurosis? Fantasy and science fiction, of course. But the tropes we embrace are a far cry from the hopeful, utopian visions we ought to recognize as a possible outcome for human development. Instead we grasp at brutal, tyrannical empires and barren worlds. We crave tales in which darkness has already swallowed the masses, unleashing genocidal AI constructs, plagues born of blood rituals, and nuclear winters that make Red Dawn look subtle. If art gives any indication as to our social trajectory, we ought to be worried.

After all, many of today’s best-selling fantasy novels—created in an age of #MeToo and broad pushes for human rights—are chock full of rape and vigilante justice, the very acts that we have universally rejected as abhorrent. They play with the chillingly real dangers of privacy invasion, ideological repression, body mutilation, and a thousand other impending threats.

But even the best op-eds on this topic fall back on a worn-out, even naive, foundation to explain this discrepancy: Humans want simplicity. They want a world in which all of our real fears are sublimated into overblown life-or-death struggles, and our petty concerns bleed into the backdrop of bigger issues.

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In some sense, I agree with this idea. But there’s a fundamental element that underlies our ennui, and rarely have I seen it discussed, let alone named as the prime mover to our secondary fears. This is, perhaps, because this element is not confined to fiction. It is an explanation for true, inescapable human dread, trailing us all from dawn to dusk. What these theories fail to recognize is the frailty of sentient life when matched against a chaotic, capricious universe.

In short, they sidestep the quest for human transcendence.

I’m not talking about the uploading of consciousness into hydraulic, nano-augmented bodies. This form of transcendence is one rooted in spirituality and timeless contemplation. A recurring backbone to apocalyptic stories (whether based in reality or an alternate fantasy setting) is the presence of mindless, irreconcilable evil, and, in turn, the pursuit of ideals and benevolence in the face of this uncaring tide. Demonic forces and human savagery are equals in the world of speculative fiction, and they play on the same instinctive sense of morality (and its violations).

Looking out at our modern world, many of us surely wish that we could push back against evil by doing something as tangible as rescuing a colony of kidnapped clones or confronting a race of flame-eyed squid monsters. But our world provides no easy paths to morality. There are no villains with skull thrones, nor fleets of black-clad super soldiers preparing for imminent invasion. Instead we are left adrift in a sea of automated answering machines and charity fraud cases, all the while wondering what the hell we were born to do.

When we engage with fantasy and science fiction set in a ruined world, we see a chance for humanity to rise from the ashes of its cutting-edge, quantum-computing arrogance and follow a perennial path. A path of love, of hope, of appreciation for all sentient creatures. No matter how ash-strewn or ancient the land may be, there are fundamental aspects of goodness that shine through eons, through the rise and fall of cultures, through every aspect of what we consider to be “the world.” In fiction, “the world” is a malleable and ever-changing concept that is determined solely by the writer’s imagination, and the reader’s subsequent investment in it. We feel a sense of human dignity that extends beyond the realm of fantasy and breaches the realm of possibility.

While religion may not have a firm place in fantasy any longer, many of its ideas and traditions still wander into the genres we enjoy. We prize heroes that recognize the sanctity of life, that eagerly give away their possessions, that are ready and willing to destroy themselves and their body if the situation demands it. All of these traits align with the various religious practices of our world, and in that sense, they reflect truths that transcend any human creation. These truths are numinous yet more necessary than ever, and their form—whether in mass paperback binding or issued from a pulpit—means little in the final analysis.

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After all, what values can be considered more necessary for existence than love? Maybe Interstellar had a point. Anything that enshrines a being’s sacrifice to fellow beings (or to deities, for that matter) is an expression of the inherent goodness within all sentient life. And in the midst of worlds that are blackened, scorched, and bloodstained, goodness is the only thing capable of undoing the mistakes of a flawed species. Anything else is an aberration of the human (or alien) ego, which operates on a need for power and domination. Genre fiction, in many senses, presents rejections of this pride and sense of cosmic mastery. It presents tales of machines destroying their creators, weapons massacring their users, and magic corrupting its wielders.

Not everybody who enjoys fantasy and science fiction will find value in spirituality, but those who are receptive to it will find ample fuel within their leisure time. They will find fuel in the wastelands of Mad Max and the circling carrion birds of Game of Thrones. If even one person decides to try meditation after reading my work (or any fiction, for that matter), then the work has been an overwhelming success.

In these troubled times, transcendence of the human condition has become more necessary than ever. Submission to ideals that are greater than ourselves is the only sanctuary from apps, advertising, and hollow pleasures emphasizing self-pleasing and narcissism. This sentiment, in itself, may appear needlessly alarmist, but the reality is far more frightening:

It’s the only way to keep fiction from morphing into fact.

3 Keys to Marketing your Novel

So, you’ve written a novel. Great—that’s 99% of the battle.

Or is it?

You see, in 2018 (the time of this post being written), marketing has become of the largest barriers to a book’s success or failure. It’s no longer enough to slave over a novel, edit it, ship it out, and wait for rave reviews and huge royalty checks to pile up. In this day and age, the market is so mind-boggling enormous (not to mention oversaturated with nonsense creative attempts) that even the next Hemingway will likely be forgotten under mounds of competing mailing lists and retweets.

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Assuming you’ve done your best to create a compelling, well-crafted story and ship it out into the world, the next stage is a bloodier, more visceral one: Marketing.

What I’ve compiled below is not a bible for book marketing, nor is it intended to be your average clickbait article with a dozen links to affiliate organizations that will ultimately suck your wallet dry and leave you sobbing. The three pieces of advice that I’ve put below are merely intended to be the trifecta of my “personal advice” collection, small though it may be. Marketing your novel is hard and inglorious and often frustrating, but most worthwhile things in life are, right? With no further ado, let’s get into it.

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Know your Audience (and Pitch to Them)

If you’ve written a real genre-bender (this is, as it happens, the case with my book Scribes), you’re fighting an uphill battle to appeal to the right crowd. People who typically indulge in vampire romance novels or sword-and-shield fantasy aren’t going to look twice at a mermaid-alternate-history romp through Byzantium. If they do, there’s no guarantee that they’ll leave a positive review. In fact, the chances of them enjoying your book are stunningly low if you fail to recognize the core threads of why this audience likes their particular niche.

Taking from our earlier example, those who love sword-and-shield fantasy are, more often than not, looking for a sunny-sky ending with neat ends. They expect a hero to fight a clear, unambiguous manifestation of evil. They’ll probably also want a dose of chivalric romance thrown in. If your book is defying these conventions, you’ve not only disappointed the reader in terms of plot points, but also in regards to their moral compass, and, I daresay, their worldview. There’s a reason people seek comfort in genres that they enjoy and understand.

If your book is best described as a mashup of a superhero novel and a western, you’ll probably need to seek out readers that are willing to take a chance with the narrative and thematic elements of a novel. People who enjoy Westworld, perhaps. Or fans of Deadpool. Or fans of literally anything that defies the conventions that an average reader will demand. Don’t look for a one-to-one copy of your book’s content; look for works that tread similar ideological grounds and deal with crucial themes on equal footing.

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Take some Initiative

Another consequence of our highly connected and evolving world is that publishers simply can’t do all the work for you. This is a fact, and one you’re better making peace with sooner rather than later. Publishers often do their best to plug your work and get you into the spotlight, but that spotlight time is limited, fleeting, and hella expensive. Ultimately, this means that you’ll need to put your own time and energy (and likely funds) into building your brand. Consider it an opportunity to hone your marketing skills rather than as a punishment. After all, it’s your brand, so you ought to have some investment in it either way, no?

You probably know what you need to do for this stage, but you likely won’t want to put in that brow-sweat (I understand your reservations). Make a Twitter, make a Facebook page, make an Instagram, make a blog, make a flying banner, for all it’s worth! Those of you who are social media-phobic (again, I get you) are going to struggle a bit here. But there’s a real need to be “aggressive” in contacting reviewers, spreading awareness of your work, and marketing your novel in the least expected places (I’ve sold copies to the secretary at our international school, for example!). Don’t hesitate to reach out to bookstores or universities that you have some personal connection to. Everything and anything counts here.

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Keep your Chin Up

Marketing is a long-term game, not a make-a-buck-and-dash scheme. You’ll need to sit in front of your phone/keyboard/tablet for hours on end, for weeks on end, for years on end, to build a brand that’s worth any attention. Don’t get discouraged if views don’t roll in, or if your initial feedback is sub-par at best. Nobody succeeds fully on their first time around, and this is especially true when it comes to selling a novel and building a brand image. Have faith and confidence in your own abilities. Be adaptive. Reach out to fellow writers and readers to make meaningful connections that go beyond the nebulous (and often repulsive) webs of soulless marketing practices.

Above all else, keep writing. Remember why you entered this craft to begin with. If you came for fame, glory, and money, you picked the wrong path. Write for the hell of it, and don’t stop going.

 

Peace, love, and joy, my friends.

PS the second novel in The Scribe Cycle, SCHISMS, is set to drop in July! Grab a copy here, or grab the first book, SCRIBES, on sale here. Your support means a lot.

“What happened to the cook!?”: Or, An Exploration of Loose Ends and Plot Holes in Fiction

Believe it or not, I am a keen browser of my own book’s reviews. This should come as no surprise to most of you, but my mentor, Andre Dubus, had a strict “reviews are for buyers” policy. I have broken his policy thoroughly and consistently. One of the most common complaints I’ve seen about the book is that events tend to occur somewhat nonsensically, and that story arcs are never completed in regards to telos (that is, the idea of something maturing to a natural conclusion as based on its life purpose, such as an acorn becoming a tree, or a tasty avocado becoming my dinner).

Let’s address that.

Now, from the onset, I should be clear in noting that I’m not writing this post to change anybody’s view of the book, nor to teach anybody how to fix plot holes in a novel. Whatever you interpret or feel as a result of its words are your own business, and while I hope you take away something positive, I’m not naive enough to think that the majority of the audience will be left in a state of ecstasy. I’m writing this primarily to explain why the book (and to some degree, its sequels) contain deliberate sabotages of expectations.

One of my biggest pet peeves in fantasy (no, let’s say literature in general) is that there’s surprisingly little reality within the genre. Yes, we have the odd exception that pulls back the wool from our eyes, but by and large, we’re confronted with a genre that acts as a reality escape more than an honest depiction of living beings (and their suffering).

So I decided to write something that defied those limitations.

When I watch the news, my heart breaks for those who are shelled in Ukraine. For those who are gassed and shot in Syria. For those who are taken from their families and enslaved in the heart of Africa. I was fortunate enough to grow up without violence as part of my life, but many others weren’t.

And now, having seen reviews that ask “why didn’t X get revenge on Y?”, I feel compelled to answer.

Reality seldom bends to one’s wishes. Even the most noble intentions of redemption are often led astray, but this is a fact easily forgotten in an age where media forms our earliest perceptions of the world. Narrative arcs have become our reality. The truth is that revenge is rarely granted to us mortals. People disappear in the wilderness without so much as a scrap of fabric to identify their presence. Cars crash and people suffer heart attacks and tsunamis overrun entire nations, all without consequences. This is the world we live in.

Yet when we engage with a novel, which I view as a window into somebody else’s reality more than mere entertainment, we expect to find neat and tidy resolutions to every problem ever faced by mankind. We expect people to get what they deserve. We expect wars to be wrapped up in a ribbon and sent home without paying the postage.

But for me, these stories reflect universal truths.

Children who see their parents murdered before their eyes will rarely, if ever, get a chance to take the life of their tormentor. Those who lose their family to genocide must live with that pain.

For me, a revenge tale (or any form of neatly concluded adventure) is an attempt to sidestep the earnest and pervasive pain in life. I don’t consider myself a pessimist (quite the opposite, in fact), but I acknowledge that suffering is present in the majority of our daily life. I wanted my writing to reflect that, and to reflect the countless masses who live without crisp resolution every day of their lives.

So here’s to honesty, to truth, and to a better world.

Love, peace, and joy, my friends.

SCRIBES is out—Audible codes ready!

Greetings, everybody! A few days overdue on announcing this here, but as many of you know, SCRIBES has finally been released!

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Thanks to everybody who has supported me in the long road to release, and even further thanks to those who have purchased a copy (which can be found here, for anybody who’s curious!).

In addition, I have several Audible codes that can be redeemed at checkout. If you’re interested, leave a comment and I’ll get in touch!

Love, peace, and best wishes.

Hinduism, Buddhism, and Shamanism, Oh My!: Or, a Dissection of Spirituality in Fantasy

One of the most common (yet ironically controversial) axioms regarding “polite conversation” goes as follows: Stay away from politics and religion. Do not touch them with a hundred-foot vaulting pole. By extension, it seems that the vast majority of books (which are, let us be clear, intended to be sold to a curious yet faceless audience) would do well to veer away from these hot-button issues. Those who read my work will find a head-on confrontation with political issues, albeit in a fantasy-based context that takes heavy liberties with analogues and allegories. Spirituality, however, is where most of the veils are stripped away. Even the least attentive readers of my work will find themselves meandering through characters’ experiences of meditation, ego death, and so forth.

This is not a new trend, nor is it confined to the realm of eastern philosophy. CS Lewis and Tolkien constructed many of their stories within a Christian moral framework, and in recent years, we’ve seen stunning releases (The Golem and the Jinni immediately springs to mind) that draw from Judaism, Islam, pagan cultures, and every other religious system under the sun. There is, of course, a distinction to be made here. The authors of stories with spiritual elements do not always adhere to the religions they write about, and that’s A-okay. The world of literature has seldom been a battleground for asserting universal truths or dogmas.

In my own case, I was compelled to write a series that reflects many of my own beliefs and practices in “normal” life. No, that isn’t to say that I keep satyr-like creatures locked in my basement. Frank Herbert’s Dune was a tremendous influence on me, as it guided me toward meditation and a process of deep insight into the nature of fear, time, etc. When I initially started working on Scribes, I was rather lax in my meditative practice, and the book itself reflects this mild relationship with spirituality. Now that I’m neck-deep in writing the series’ third book, Scions, it’s fascinating to look back and examine how the protagonist’s journey has mirrored my own. I spend about as much time meditating as I do writing, and the two activities have become interwoven in countless ways.

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Readers who are well-versed in Hindu or Buddhist traditions (particularly Dzogchen and Vajrayana Buddhism) will find ample material that coincides with their own teachings or experiences, and I hope that these books can bridge the gap between spirituality and fantasy in a meaningful way, perhaps providing a dose of motivation that sidesteps the usual lectures or non-fiction texts.

Additionally, the primary motivation for involving spirituality in the series was to foster the same curiosity in others that Frank Herbert instilled in me. Sure, a fantasy or science-fiction book is a surface-level introduction to the innumerable philosophies and doctrines that exist throughout our world, but it’s something. My deepest hope is that at least one person will read through the book (hopefully series, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves) and find themselves wondering if the book’s descriptions of bliss, cessation, etc., are truly possible for everyday people. I’ve been largely mum about my own beliefs until now, but as the eve of the first book’s release draws near, it seems impossible to avoid speaking about such a weighty and important topic.

This is not to say, of course, that I promote (or even enjoy) literature that reads more like a religious text than a genuine story. There’s a fine line between proselytizing and entertaining, and I hope that I’ve stayed well within my boundaries as a storyteller. People of all faiths should be able to take something important away from your story, even if it’s the intention to perform a single act of kindness in their community.

Tl;dr: Peace, love, and kindness, everybody.

P.S. If you still haven’t checked out Scribes, you can pre-order your copy (on Audible, e-reader, or in print) by clicking this thing!

Your Book is Published Now! (And People Hate It); Or, On Bad Reviews

Greetings, lovely people. It has been a fair while since I’ve posted anything here, largely because of working full time as a teacher (aka soaking up Winter Break in all its glory), but also because of general holiday food comas. At this hour I am composing my posts at a rate of four words per minute; the doctors assure me I will eventually move out of my Cheesecake Inebriation Phase (CIP).

That business aside, I wanted to touch on a topic that many writers may not consider when they’re knee-deep in the mud and guts of the writing trenches, expending both their time and energy on a project that may never see the light of (published) day. That topic is, on a philosophical level, something that speaks to the very nature of happiness, of fulfillment, of seeking and craving in all its forms. But that’s heavy territory, and while we may wander there someday, I’d prefer to boil it down to a microcosm for this blog:

People are going to HATE your book.

I don’t just mean that they’ll shrug and put it down, perhaps shelving it as DNF on Goodreads if they’re feeling ferocious. I mean they will hate itdespise itwish misery upon it and its kin. Media reviews often bring out the most vicious elements in a person’s arsenal of linguistic devastation, and those who frequent Amazon, Goodreads, and IMDB will find a cornucopia of examples to demonstrate this point.

As many of you know, my debut fantasy novel, SCRIBES, is set to drop a month from today. It will be the culmination of nearly three years of writing, rewriting, editing, missing sleep, querying, doubting, loathing, calling, e-mailing, wishing, begging. I got a wonderful agent (Lindsay Mealing!), a hell of a lot of experience, and a keen sense of patience out of it. That being said, the entire process has been a reminder that joy and excitement are temporary states, and that we as writers need to remember to slug on through the peaks and valleys of the journey, never becoming too attached to the elevation.

But more pertinent to today’s topic is the fact that the readers of your book will not know anything about the process of creating this work. They will not judge your book based upon the effort or love that you invested in it; after all, there are plenty of McWriters who churn out 5-10 new novels every year (often with the help of ghost writers), largely using recycled plot lines and cliches to truck their way into the Best Seller list. This isn’t to knock those writers—this is simply to state that the background work of composing and preparing your book is not relevant to the reader.

And because of that, your book will get shredded.

Yes, many people will praise your book and offer it full stars and tell their friends about it, but many, many others will take their time to eviscerate your book simply because they can. It’s their right, after all. Everybody has reasons and preferences when judging a book, and I have no authority to sway them, nor do I want it.

The reviews you remember, of course, are not the praising sort. They’re the soul-ripping, face-melting, one-star disembowelings.

As of the time of this post, my book has received a motley assortment of reviews on Goodreads. I must admit that SCRIBES is not a book for everybody. It’s a bit of a genre orphan, in some ways. I never wrote the book with an audience in mind, and I don’t regret that. But here’s the cliffnotes story of its birth, for you, the wonderful readers:

SCRIBES was conceived as a capstone project in my university, largely written in the apprenticeship (for lack of a better term) of Andre Dubus III, who you may know as the author of The House of Sand and Fog. It was written in equal parts during months of pure, ecstatic happiness, months of dealing with my first break-up, and months of moving to new countries and reshaping my entire life. It was a time when ideas and guiding principles were in flux, perhaps free-fall, and the book served as something of an anchor for rebuilding my path in life. Acquiring my agent was a wild process that deserves its own post, but rest assured, it was yet another explosion of emotions.

With that in mind, the book is a reflection of myself, of all the things that are important and worth sharing in my mind:

Occasional moments of depressing nuance straight from literary fiction; graphic, unsettling violence; elements of spirituality; the power and tenacity of the human spirit.

Whatever reviews the book receives are more than fine by me. If the ultimate goal of any art is to communicate something, to make somebody feel something when they engage with your work, then I’d say getting them to leave a review, any review at all, is a triumph. As long as the book reached inside and sparked something, what’s there to complain about?

To make it short and sweet, you (and every other writer) have a worldview and a philosophy worth sharing with the world. I urge everybody to look beyond the fear or disappointment of critical reviews, and to devote all of your energy into conveying your message as skillfully, earnestly, and deeply as possible.

Love and peace, my friends.

SCRIBES review copies now available!

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Greetings, friends and passing readers. I currently have five review codes available for SCRIBES, which is set to drop on February 20th. If you have any interest in reviewing the book (even to say that it murdered your family and deserves to be executed at dawn), just post a comment below and I’ll reach out to you! The review code will allow you to read on Kindle, Nook, or whatever else your heart desires.

Hope everyone’s enjoying the arctic conditions (except Australia and their damnable summer, of course).

Love and best wishes.

SCRIBES Goodreads Giveaway!

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Hey, treasured readers and hallowed friends.

Today I’ve got some neat news.

Kensington, the publisher of The Scribe Cycle, has arranged for a Goodreads Giveaway spanning from December 7th until December 22nd. What does that mean for you, the good bloggers and word-hounds of the ‘net?

Free stuff.

In case you’ve missed my hoard of SCRIBES-related posts, here’s a brief teaser for the first book:

“Born into the ruins of Rzolka’s brutal civil unrest, Anna has never known peace. Here, in her remote village—a wasteland smoldering in the shadows of outlying foreign armies—being imbued with the magic of the scribes has made her future all the more uncertain.

Through intricate carvings of the flesh, scribes can grant temporary invulnerability against enemies to those seeking protection. In an embattled world where child scribes are sold and traded to corrupt leaders, Anna is invaluable. Her scars never fade. The immunity she grants lasts forever.

Taken to a desert metropolis, Anna is promised a life of reverence, wealth, and fame—in exchange for her gifts. She believes she is helping to restore her homeland, creating gods and kings for an immortal army—until she witnesses the hordes slaughtering without reproach, sacking cities, and threatening everything she holds dear. Now, with the help of an enigmatic assassin, Anna must reclaim the power of her scars—before she becomes the unwitting architect of an apocalyptic war.”

Sound interesting? Hate it and want to leave a scathing review? Well, I’ve got both flavors covered.

Click on this long, hyperlinked thingy to have a shot at reading SCRIBES!

Best wishes and ample advent calendar chocolates to all.

Children of Soil: Part One

So, a brief caveat. Typically I don’t post fiction online in full segments unless it’s for a short story or flash fiction, but this is a project that I started work on and had a lot of interest in, yet never really had the time to continue. If anything, it reflects a lot of the themes and style that I work with in my writing, and I’d like to share it with some of the truly talented wordsmiths out there. With no further ado, here’s a brief opening to Children of Soil.

Image result for fantasy underground tunnel

Kesh wandered through darkness with the newborn that did not belong to him, pointing up at stars that were not stars and whispering truths he didn’t really know.

It was Jacha’s child, lifted free of blood-smeared thighs and wrapped in coarse wool swaddling, still without a name. Before Jacha had grown still, a wombwoman — Kesh’s wife, Sarnai, in fact — had squeezed her hand and suggested Teman and she’d nodded at that, mumbling it’s a beautiful name, a strong name, but everything was agreeable to the dying. Its father was surely somewhere near the barrier, loading rifles and staring at the rusted steel slab and dreading the world above, but nobody knew his name, either. Twenty-three men sharing the same caves since birth, and not one had come forward to claim Jacha’s swollen belly.

You never knew your comrades until you heard their silence, Kesh supposed. He couldn’t help but feel wounded by it. Betrayed, perhaps.

After all, they’d grown strong in each others’ arms. They’d been raised on tales of the memory-eaters above, slept with jagged little legs racing over their skin and bones in their bedding. They’d comforted dying fathers, forgotten the faces of their mothers, taken stillborn siblings to the deeper recesses of the tunnels and settled them in crevices. They’d huddled in black caverns and cried when food was scarce, not from despair but from the pain of wasting away. They’d crawled and prayed and bled in preparation for their fate beyond the barrier. Not a single one had broken under the strain, and they were proud of that.

Twenty-three men, some too cowardly to raise their own seed.

But their shame would be forgotten in a matter of hours, Kesh considered as they passed under veins of cobalt, luminous tufts of redshard. “Sky.” He tucked the word into the child’s blankets like a secret and realized, with strange discomfort, that all of these lessons would be unlearned once the child left the darkness. Once he saw the great veil that Kesh’s father had described so long ago, ascending eternally, never striking stone or moss, burning from black to orange to blue, mirroring the cycle in days that Kesh found arbitrary, if not enslaving. Even so, Kesh stopped and stared up at clusters of crystal, at freckles of neon, at the black pockmarks he envisioned as infinite. “Stars.”

The child squirmed against Kesh’s chest and he glanced down, made sure its mouth and nose hadn’t been covered somehow. In the crystals’ glow, its flesh was splotchy and pallid and wet, far too tender for the tunnels Kesh knew. It seemed miraculous that anything could be born here, grown like weeds in the damp and darkness, and it was easy to forget he’d once been just as helpless, swaddled and given his first words under the starlight that wasn’t starlight.

But unlike Kesh, the child would know a new world. A dangerously new one. Nobody could tell it which paths were safe and which were prone to floods. In spite of the hardships beneath stone, there had always been some semblance of belonging and certainty to it all.

When certainty fell away, it could change people. It could make cowards out of comrades.

Kesh examined the child’s pinched eyes and the dark line of its mouth, the vapor wisps trailing out into the cavern’s chill. No matter how tough his own skin had grown, they weren’t so different in the proper light.

He carried the child to the edge of the cavern and knelt down by the pool. Water snaked through cracks in the walls, glimmered in sheets down limestone and mottled pillars, stirred the surface with white wrinkles. Somewhere beyond the pool it drained into another narrow throat, running deeper and deeper to places Kesh couldn’t fathom. He hardly heard the newborn’s sniffling. There was only water, murmuring and gurgling and dripping. “Water.”

Again he tried to envision himself as a child, the way his father had unwrapped the wool and set him on bare rock and doused him with hands full of skin-warm water. It was the way his father’s people had always done it, cleansing them and laying them bare before Suyuk, the Ursine Watcher. Even after the interlopers killed Suyuk. Death had been an easy thing to understand in the tunnels, but his father wouldn’t hear it. He’s alive so long as he sleeps in your heart, he’d explained, and so Kesh had nourished Suyuk’s dead love whenever he could, sleeping with carved idols of the bear and learning his verses in the glowrooms. The child sobbed, and Kesh ladled water over its face and smoothed away the grime, making him pure and beautiful in Suyuk’s eyes.

Making him worthy of a Watcher who no longer stood watch.