Review: City of the Saints by D. J. Butler

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1859; war looms over the United States. Intelligence agents converge on the Kingdom of Deseret in the Rocky Mountains. Sam Clemens, leading the U.S. Army’s expedition aboard his amphibious steam-truck the Jim Smiley, has a mission: to ensure that the Kingdom, with its air-ships and rumored phlogiston guns, brain children of the Madman Orson Pratt, enters on the side of the United States and peace. He races against Captain Richard Burton for Her Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria, and Edgar Allan Poe, secret agent of the clandestine southern leadership, who travels in disguise as an exhibitor of Egyptian antiquities. Against them all are arrayed the counterintelligence agents of the Kingdom, Roxie Snow and the Deseret Marshal Orrin Porter Rockwell. But why are Deseret’s Danite militiamen hunting Rockwell? And why does the Madman seem to be playing his own game?

My Review:

City of the Saints is the only Mormon Steampunk series I’ve ever heard of. It’s four e-books, or one giant paperback omnibus. The characters are fun and compelling. The plot is an intricate pretzel of politics. Best of all, it’s crammed from beginning to end with neo-Victorian machines, which I love. A true Steampunk tale, it has both fantasy and retro-sci-fi in an inextricable braid. I highly recommend it to anybody who is willing to mix whimsy with Utah history and many new shades of color to beloved historical figures. If you can handle Eliza R. Snow as an assassin, then you will not be able to tear yourself away from this incredible, “scientific romance.”

As a side note, Dave Butler is one of my favorite people in the literary world. He’s part of the Space Balrogs crew, and I get endless interest and laughter from every conversation. This book, along with his other works, was recently picked up by Wordfire Press. Soon, the first edition covers will be collector’s items. Trust me, you’ll wish you got in on it early!

Get the Paperback Ominibus
or get E-book #1: Liahona.

Check out Dave’s Website, too.

Evensong by Krista Walsh

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Author Jeff Powell wakes up to find the impossible has happened. He is within his own novel—summoned into the fictional world of Feldall’s Keep by a spell he didn’t write. One the House enchantress hasn’t figured out how to reverse.

When the villain he’s been struggling to write reveals himself, unleashing waves of terror and chaos, Jeff must use more than his imagination to save the characters he created—and the woman he loves.

Trapped within a world of his own creation, he must step outside the bounds of his narrative to help his characters defeat an evil no one anticipated, even if he must sacrifice his greatest gift. In the end, he has to ask: are novels really fiction, or windows into other worlds?

Get Evensong on Amazon.

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Known for witty, vivid characters, Krista Walsh never has more fun than getting them into trouble and taking her time getting them out. After publishing a few short stories and novellas in various anthologies, she has now released her own anthology, the serial collection Greylands. When not writing, or working at her day job, she can be found reading, gaming, or watching a film – anything to get lost in a good story. She currently lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

See Krista’s website.

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This is the last of the “Fall into Fantasy” book promotion posts for this blog tour. Thanks to Mara Valdarran for setting it up!

Self Publishing v. Small Press v. Big Box Publishers

Some time ago I did a guest post on my thoughts about which of the many publishing routes are the best for which authors. Recently a friend on Facebook, Sandi Fanning, asked me the exact same question. I looked up the link, only to find it’s dead. So I’m posting it here for Sandi and anybody else interested in the changing face of the publishing world today. It started with a question…

What are your thoughts on indie/self-publishing vs small press vs big box publishing?

The face of publishing has changed dramatically in recent years, and it will continue to evolve in the future. In some ways that is good. Authors have a lot more choices for how they want to get their books out there. In other ways, it is bad. First, I’ll run over the pros and cons of each publishing method. Then I’ll give you my opinion on each one.

Both small press and self-publishing are called indie (independent) publishing. Really, anything published outside of the mainstream big presses is considered indie. When I discovered indie books, I found that they were better. The kind of books I like to read are more likely to be published independently than by a big press.

Self-publishing is easy now. Once an author has a manuscript, it can be entered into createspace (Amazon) and turned into an e-book and/or paperback that anybody with internet access can find and buy. The advantage to self-publishing is that the author keeps all the profits (minus what Amazon takes, of course) without sharing any royalties with an agent or publisher. I know of some self-published authors that have become best-sellers. Another good thing about it is the author has complete creative control over every stage of the process. That can be a negative aspect for some people. It means finding and paying your own editors and proofreaders. It means hiring a cover artist (or more often, sadly, having low quality cover art) and doing all the marketing and promotion work solo (unless you can afford a publicist). The other down side to self-publishing is that it comes with a prejudicial assumption by many readers that the work was not good enough for a publisher to print. They assume the author had to do it because nobody else wanted it.

Small presses have really come into their own in the wake of the publishing revolution. Amazon’s powerful distribution makes it possible for smaller companies to get their books out without what used to be the biggest barrier. The good thing about this is that it brought production costs down to the point where anybody with a passion can start a publishing company and help authors create great books. Another advantage is that small presses are more likely to publish non-traditional and cross-genre fiction, which big presses avoided in the past. The disadvantages to small press publishing include loss of some of the royalties for authors and loss of control over their work. Small presses still don’t garner the reputation of the big box publishers, and they usually don’t have the investment capital to pay large advances or do heavy advertising.

Big box presses have lost their monopoly on the publishing world, but they are still considered the top of the food chain by most readers and authors. Although their power base has slipped, they’ve adapted to maintain their status. Publishing through a big box press is still the most likely way to get a best-seller. They pay larger advances, and have the money and contacts to advertise titles up front and give their authors a better reach from the beginning. The down side is that they run like a machine. If a book doesn’t realize a fast, strong return on their investment, it falls into obscurity. Once the initial print run is over, if there isn’t a significant demand, the book goes out of print and is no longer available.

Although all the publishing methods work well for the right people, I think the best choice for most new authors now is small presses. There are so many low quality self-published books coming out, with authors giving them away free or selling them for less than a dollar, that getting any kind of serious following in that realm is very difficult. I, personally, don’t like to deal with all the production and marketing on my own. I think most aspiring authors don’t realize exactly how hard it is to rise out of the tide of self-published books washing over everybody in the publishing business.

Landing a coveted contract with a big box press is great. If you get one, take it! However, many of the big publishers are starting to consider themselves the major league, making small presses (and rarely self-publishing) the minor leagues. They only rarely take first time authors on, and then usually only one who has contacts or is otherwise exceptional. Like agents, they are looking for authors who have already distinguished themselves before they invest in their work.

I’ve talked to people who feel like they were ground up and lost in the giant publishing machines. Their book hit the shelves, didn’t get traction in four months, and was pulled by the storeowners for credit with the publisher. There’s no reprinting. End of story. A small press through Amazon doesn’t print the books until they are ordered (although admittedly at a higher price per book). So they can leave the books available indefinitely with no cost after the initial production. This gives authors time to build a fan-base over years.

Although I’m generally in favor of small presses for new authors these days, I will say they are not all equal. Some of them are just amateurs dabbling in publishing with no real idea how to make a book successful. Those publishers tend to burn out and quit after a short time, leaving the authors floundering.

No matter what you choose, do your homework. It’s worth the effort after putting so much work into writing a book in the first place. Be patient. Publishing is a slow business. Skipping ahead to self-publish because you don’t get the huge contract you want right away might be a mistake. If you aren’t good at editing, production, cover art, marketing, and advertising, you might be better off getting somebody else to help with those things so you can spend that time writing more books instead. Even with a publisher, most authors don’t realize it’s more work AFTER you sign a contract than it was writing the book before they accepted it. Good luck!

The Disciple Series by L. Blankenship

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War is coming. Kate Carpenter is only a peasant girl, but she’s determined to help defend the kingdom and its bound saints against the invading empire. Her healing magic earned her a coveted apprenticeship with the master healer; now she must prove herself ready to stand in the front lines and save lives.

She’s not ready for the attentions of a ne’er-do-well knight and the kingdom’s only prince, though. This is no time to be distracted by romance — the empire’s monstrous army will tear through anyone standing between them and the kingdom’s magical founts. All disciples must put aside their tangled feelings and stand in the homeland’s defense.

Disciple is a six-part gritty fantasy romance by L. Blankenship. Part I through Part IV are on sale now!

Get the first part FREE!

About the Author

L. Blankenship started writing animal stories as a kid and it’s just gotten completely out of hand since then. Now she’s out publishing her gritty fantasy and hard science fiction adventures. L grew up in New Hampshire but currently lives near Washington, DC.

See the author’s Book Blog.

And don’t forget to enter the RAFFLECOPTER!

Hobbit Hangover

Last night I was privileged to see an advanced screening of The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies! Thanks to my favorite fantasy author, Jason King, for the tickets.

*SPOILER FREE REVIEW*

I hate it when people spoil movies for me, but I do enjoy a good conversation about movies. So this one will be spoiler free, and I may do a review with spoilers after I see it again on the 17th. Yes, I’m going again on the first day. In fact, I wish I could see it again sooner!

Nobody will be shocked when I say it was definitely a FIVE STAR movie.

I’m still kind of stunned by what I saw last night. It’s one of those shows that leaves me feeling displaced for a while… which I love. Since I’m not going to talk about the actual content of the show, I want to discuss some of the issues surrounding the movie as well as my overall impressions.

First of all, I was thrilled to find the screening was 3D. I absolutely love 3D movies. A lot of people tell me they don’t think it’s much different, but when the Orcrist is sticking out of the screen, the effect is mesmerizing. As a pro tip, if you get a 3D TV, the active glasses give a much more crisp 3D image. There are many movies which, if you haven’t seen them in 3D, you didn’t see the movie at all.

I watched the first two Hobbit movies (extended, 3D, of course) days before the new one. The entire trilogy is incredible. After An Unexpected Journey (movie 1), I heard a lot of concerns about it being so much sillier or childish than the Lord of the Rings movies. I assure you, the last movie felt just like the Lord of the Rings. I believe Peter Jackson and company intentionally made the first one more light hearted to reflect the feel of the Hobbit book in contrast to the Lord of the Rings books. However, the final movie is every bit as serious as the other trilogy. In fact, I would say this one is not appropriate for young children at all.

As the name implies, the climax of the series finally gives us what I have always considered to be the best feature of these movies: an epic battle. If you’ve read my high fantasy book, you’ll know how I feel about big battle scenes. Consequently, I like this movie best of the trilogy.

One of the most common complaints I’ve heard from people centers around the fact that they made three movies out of a single book. First of all, I wish they had made six movies or ten. I love these shows and don’t want them to stop coming. Luckily, Star Wars is picking back up, so I won’t have too long to be disappointed these are over. ;)

Despite my own preferences for more movies, I still think three movies worked for the Hobbit. The reason most people give for not approving is the additions to the story, like Tauriel, which they felt changed the original work. I need to look at that question from two different angles: art changing medium and modernization of old ideas.

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Whenever art changes medium, some parts are lost and others must be added. As an example, imagine somebody trying to sculpt the Mona Lisa. It’s the most famous and valuable painting in the world, so it’s certainly worthy of being the subject of a sculpture. The sculptor must make some changes in order to represent this painting as a three-dimensional statue. Some parts must be left out or altered, like the background. Other parts will need to be added, such as the back of her head and maybe the bottom half of her body. Just because these changes aren’t part of the original work, doesn’t make it any less a sculpture of Leonardo Da Vinci’s classic.

Making a movie from a book is no different. Books are good at inner dialogue and getting inside the character’s head. Tolkien, especially, is an expert of lore and geneology. Those things won’t work in a movie the same way.

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The original books had almost no female characters, in keeping with the old texts and mythologies Tolkien emulated. Obviously, a modern adaptation would want to improve upon such an oversight. Tauriel is a great fix. She brings romance into the story and fills out several of the other characters in a great way. The other additions (which are amazing, but I won’t elaborate on) are not only dynamic visually, but add great depth to the story.

Tolkien himself tried to bring the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings stories into alignment with revisions. These movies do a great job of bridging the gaps.

I could go on and on about this. In convention panels, I regularly do. So I’ll conclude this here and you can go to FanX if you want more.

In conclusion, anybody who enjoyed the other movies will not be disappointed. This movie delivers on all the promises in an amazing way. It is a fitting capstone for an awesome journey. Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien’s work changed my life for the better.

Keep Writing!

Bob Clary from Webucator contacted me on behalf of NaNoWriMo, inviting me to do a December “wrap up” post about what keeps me going as a writer. To begin with, I’d like to paraphrase Terry Brooks when asked a similar question at a book-signing event I attended. He said something like:

Authors write because we HAVE to. If you have a choice, do something else. It is a long, thankless, lonely process. Some of us just don’t have a choice. We HAVE to write, so we do.

That having been said, here are my answers to the questions Bob sent me.

1) What were your goals when you started writing?

My first goal was to finish a novel. Check. Later, I wrote because I loved it. I liked doing challenging things, and wanted to be part of the great literary conversation.

2) What are your goals now?

My immediate goals are to finish the Actuator series and find a publisher for the comic book I recently wrote. I’m also planning to find a literary agent in the near future.

3) What pays the bills now?

I have a day job, teaching. It’s a great career.

4) Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?

I write because I have to. My mind is a jumble of chaotic ideas. I think I’m ADD. When I write, though, all the random thoughts focus like a laser. It’s like meditation, where my thoughts all come together and I can rest from the constant bombardment of ideas that bounce around inside me all the time. Also, I love it when readers enjoy my books. It feels like a deep communication, which is very satisfying.

5) And optionally, what advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?

People will tell you it’s hard to make a living as a writer. If you’re like me, it’s even harder to NOT be a writer. My job feels like it’s taking up valuable writing time. It takes years to build up fans and make a living off writing… usually about ten. So get started fast and don’t look back.

A final piece of advice for NaNoWriMo authors—keep writing in December! Don’t stop just because you won or didn’t win in November. The only time I succeeded at NaNoWriMo, I kept pushing halfway into December until I finished the book. There are too many half-written books in the world. Finish the book at all costs. You can’t edit what’s not there. And even if you don’t sell it, you need the psychological affirmation of being a finisher. You need to be able to prove to yourself you can. A finished book is a much bigger win. It’s a step up on your writing journey.

If you want to see my NaNo-success, it’s Salvation. If you want to know why I haven’t done it again since, read my previous post. I recently did a podcast interview about it on Back Porch Writer. You can get the follow-up notes with advice to new writers, as well.

Good luck!

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NaNoEmo

For the second year in a row, I couldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is a contraction of NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth. Authors try to write 50,000 words in one month, essentially writing a novel. Although I’ve tried several times, the only time I succeeded was in 2012, when I wrote most of the first draft for Salvation.

Last year in November, I spent rewriting and editing the Salvation manuscript from the year before. This year I had rewriting and editing for Actuator 2: Return of the Saboteur, and Sometimes I’m a Monster. The former should be out in 2015. The later I’m preparing for submission. Something I never realized as a hopeful author, before being published, is how much work a book is after getting contracted by a publisher. It’s more work after than before (especially counting marketing and promotion).

So I’m creating my own term: NaNoEmo. For me, November is often NAtional NOvel Editing MOnth. Plus, it sounds all angsty. Having worked through two huge editing projects, I’m declaring a NaNoEmo win. Once I get some other peripherals out of the way, I’ll have time to get back to writing.

For those of you who succeeded at NaNoWriMo, Here’s hoping you can join me next year for NaNoEmo! :)