In Which I Review Books Because All Else Is Vagueposting

Well, it’s been forever since I’ve updated the site, which was actually for the best of reasons. Shortly after my last post, I got a temporary gig as a lead writer for an Amazon Alexa project. So for the last three months or so, I worked on a voice-operated game.

It was a blast. The game has yet to be announced, but I can probably say it is a contemporary game with a heavy comedy element. And it came at exactly the right time. May and June at Casa de Hepler was, like in many parts of the country, an exercise in stress tolerance. The kids needed their distance learning, the wife was holding down a job and holding us together, and I had to manage a team of three writers in an entirely new video game format. Had I been working on something Big and Dark and Serious, I might have slipped into depression.

But laughing at work every day was exactly what the doctor ordered. I got to meet three very cool writers and plenty of design, programming, and art staff. And I got to throw myself into a new project. It sucked up a lot of my time, but there were free moments, too.

To while away the hours in lockdown, I managed to finish reading two novels off my to-be-read pile, both full of magic and beautiful language. I highly recommend them both, and I’ll tell you all about them, because the gods know that we can all use more books while we’re sheltering in place.

The first is Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Gods of Jade and Shadow.”

The short pitch for this is “The ancient Mayan gods feud against the backdrop of Mexico in the Jazz Age,” though I wasn’t 100% sure of what that would look like when I picked up the book. The short, spoiler-free version is that it follows Casiopea Tun, a young Mexican woman with indigenous roots who toils miserably at her family’s orders. Through accident and magic, she falls in with Hun-Kame, one of the death gods of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld, who had been temporarily killed by his brother Vucub-Kame. With her life bound to Hun-Kame, Casiopea tries to restore his throne to him in a series of magical adventures.

The language is vivid, the characters sparkle, and the whole thing has a feel highly reminiscent of American Gods or The Sandman, but with a refreshing insider’s grasp of Mexico and Mayan mythology. I did a little research into Mayan mythology for my old graphic novel M.I.T.H., and seeing the lords of Xibalba elegantly portrayed here was like letting a NASCAR driver take the wheel on my beat-up old hoopty car. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

Gods of Jade and Shadow can be found here.

The second book I managed to finish off was Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, which is a novelization of the hero of the Iliad as told by his companion Patroclus. Miller is well-qualified to write this story, having both taught Greek and, according to her Acknowledgements section, worked on the novel for ten years.

The result is a well-polished story that remains about as faithful as one can be to contradictory myths. Having written an Achilles-based screenplay as well as revisiting the subject matter for the Diomedes-heavy story Mythkillers, I found the book beautiful and engaging, never taking too many liberties with Homer’s work. I really dig it in comparison to something like Dan Simmons’ Ilium and Olympos, or the movie Troy, both of which picked some favorite characters and discarded the rest. Miller’s work is more reminiscent of Elizabeth Cook’s Achilles, in that it retains the presence of gods and mythical creatures, but it paints a richer tapestry by virtue of being a few hundred pages longer and adding a narrative conceit.

This conceit is the narrator, Patroclus. Miller’s major departure from Homer is that Patroclus, Achilles’ closest companion, is a sensitive boy who doesn’t like the skills of war, and as such is an embarrassment to his father. Sent to Phthia as an exile, Patroclus falls in love with the prince who will become the greatest warrior of his generation. Miller jumps in with both feet to the relationship between the two boys as they become men. In answer to your next question, the sex scenes are tastefully handled and are more about the emotional life of the characters rather than any romance-novel erotica.

As for the rest of the myths as we know them, Miller cleaves closely. No, Achilles’ skin isn’t iron-hard — a decision that almost all modern writers make, since it’s not in the Homer and it makes his fight with Hector the act of a bully rather than a hero. But pretty much everything else is intact. Achilles isn’t the brute of Troilus and Cressida. His tutelage with Chiron, his dressing as a girl to avoid recruitment, his skill with a lyre, the fathering of Neoptolemos, and the prophecy regarding his own death are all used to illustrate his life in loving detail. Patroclus makes a fine narrator, even after the fateful moment which Iliad fans know is coming, and Miller uses the events to place the final capstone on the story.

You can find the Song of Achilles here.

“Anything Else,” You Ask?

I don’t have any personal writing that’s ready for publication yet. On the bright side, I finally reattacked my attempt at a cli-fi short story, “The Message,” and got to the end of a rough draft. I polished a bit of my superhero IT department story “Needs of the Client” and have submitted it to my writing workshop — it’ll get some feedback two weeks from now. So things are proceeding, even if it’s slower than I would like.

That’s the news from the Hepler household. Stay safe out there.

In Which I Announce Something New For a Change

After about six months of unemployment and about seven months of no new writing-related news, I felt like I was hitting a wall. I fully expected my wife to break into that song from the School of Rock musical, “Give Up Your Dreams,” but of course she stayed super supportive. Then, finally, in the same week, I got two bits of good news.

The first bit of news is that I have another video game gig. It’s slated to take 8-10 weeks, so by the time you read this, I will hopefully be shaved, dressed, and reporting in to a source of gainful employment. I don’t think I’m free to talk about the details yet, but hey, maybe this game will go somewhere, and take us along for the ride.

The second bit of news has been cleared by the publisher as good to go for social media announcement. I’ve got a short story accepted by the comedy science fiction and fantasy anthology series “Unidentified Funny Objects.”

UFO is an anthology with a nice pedigree. Apparently it has had stories from George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and (to my complete lack of surprise) the Hamster Queen herself, Esther Friesner. I don’t know if any of those three are in this year’s volume (the submissions are still being edited), but I’m stoked about it nonetheless.

The story that got accepted was “The 10:40 Appointment at the NYC Department of Superhero Registration,” which is a brief look into one story at the hero equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicles, because frankly there’s so many of them nowadays that they can take a number. It makes a strong argument why regeneration is the worst superpower to have… and also, the best.

Unidentified Funny Objects #8 has a theoretical launch date of sometime in October. When I know more, I’ll tell you.

Until then… up, up, and away.

In Which I Give You Something Free to Read

When I posted this on the 19th, it was day #3 of my county sheltering in place. By the time I promote this post and you see it, it’s probably #8. We’ve got a little routine down: I take the kids in the morning so my wife can do her work from home, and in the afternoon I search for a day job. The kids are in contact with their schools online, and we’ve got a bunch of educational workbooks picked up from Office Depot. We’ve made sure to take them out in the sun once a day for a little running around, and Sunday we packaged up some meals to give to a food bank.

I was going to write some stuff about how you should glove up, wash your hands often, and stay informed, but if I’ve learned anything from the quarantine, it’s that there are times when your brain wants to take a break. Through this all, movies, video games, and books have been a lifeline for my family. And it’s made me think about how little and how much I can do for others without leaving the house.

So here’s the deal: I’m making the Kindle version of my vampire novel Civil Blood free, all this week, Monday March 23rd to Friday March 28th. (It’s also free on Kindle Unlimited.) I’d do it for the paperback version, too, but Amazon doesn’t make that anywhere near as easy. Besides, right now, who wants to touch a book that might have been handled by a stranger?

I’m not pretending my writing is what the world needs. But it doesn’t hurt anyone, and it could help a little, so I might as well.

In case you somehow navigated here without hearing Civil Blood‘s pitch, I usually sum up the story as “the class-action vampire rights trial to determine who gets to be called human, as told by the people assigned to kill its plaintiff.” There’s a bat virus in it, but it’s a lyssavirus rather than a coronavirus, so my application to be the next prescient prophet is firmly rejected. The book is a 400-pager, so it’s a decent time sink. Here’s the link.

Stay safe out there. Or if you can, in there.

In Which I Succumb to Capitalism but Not Despair

I’ve been holding off on this announcement for a while, but it’s really past time. My employer, Seasun Inc., had a bad quarter with one of its flagship products not doing as well as expected. That meant that upper management had to cut costs to show they were doing something, and that meant layoffs. I am now out on the street and looking for a day job.

It hasn’t been too rough a ride so far. I managed to score a contract gig for about a week with Otherside Entertainment, which took the edge off. I’ve also had lots of interviews and writing tests. This has led me to revise my Writing Tour page to include samples, since I’ve applied to everything from RPGs to interactive romance novels to trivia quiz games.

I’ve got a little routine going — during the day I search for a main job, and at night I write and submit short stories. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve got a few I’m sending out, with the intention being that the proceeds get put in a separate pot dedicated to financing the self-publishing of Civil Blood‘s sequel. Great plan, right?

Well, as with all plans, this one hasn’t really survived first contact with the enemy.

Selling short stories, to misquote Han Solo, ain’t like dusting crops. Many markets are closed to submissions except for certain times of the year. Then there’s the matter of taste, and the fact that I’m not bringing a bajillion readers to the table like some of my competition is. The long and short of it is, the stories haven’t sold yet.

So, what’s a writer to do? Well, the first step is to keep writing. I’ve got that down. Besides the three pieces I wrote about last time, I’m working on a story called “The Needs of the Client” which is meant to be more lighthearted superhero fare in the vein of “The 10:40 Appointment.” I could use some positivity about now, and I bet you could, too.

For the second step, I’m finally joining all the other pro freelancers who have set up a Ko-Fi button on their webpage. Ko-Fi is a service where a reader can effectively buy a writer a coffee via PayPal. It takes small donations of about $3.00 each. And since the website offers a spot to create goals, I hit upon the idea of trying to use Ko-Fi to finance my short story habit.

If I can raise enough money — not much, say, $50, a token payment of about $0.01 a word — through Ko-Fi, I’ll publish one of the short stories here on my website rather than continuing to submit it in the longer, slower process of traditional publishing. You get a story, I get closer to my goal, my website gets more content — everyone wins.

To recap, the stories I have kicking around are:

  • “Stopping the Bleeding,” an election-year story in the Civil Blood universe with a new protagonist.
  • “Infection in Everything,” a Civil Blood universe story about Infinity and the woman who taught her jiujutsu.
  • “The 10:40 Appointment at the NYC Department of Superhero Registration,” a lighthearted story about a would-be superhero fighting bureaucracy and enduring one heck of a road test.
  • “The Needs of the Client,” a story about what it’s like to work in an IT department when your client is a superhero group similar to the Justice League.

I should emphasize that I’m not on the brink of starvation over here, as many artists are. My immediate family are in decent health so far (knock on wood here until my hand breaks off). Honestly, if anything, I might survive the Coronapocalypse longer than some of the publications I’m submitting stories to, since some of their staff may have day jobs that can’t be done remotely. That’s no slam on them — it’s just part of the scary world we live in now.

But since the plan is to hunker down and never go outside, this seems like an opportune moment to get more writing done. And in case you’re a fan and want to see more of my work, I’ve now made it a bit easier to do so.

That’s all. I’m sure I’ll post more about the Black Plague of the 2000s in detail soon enough. Stay safe out there.

In Which I Talk About Violence a Lot

“Behind the judge’s bench stands an American flag, a Virginian flag and, on the wall, the state seal. A woman with a spear, a helmet, and an unbound breast is trampling a man beneath her, with Latin words meaning ‘thus ever to tyrants.’ John Wilkes Booth said that phrase when he pulled the trigger. Aidan Lawrence echoed those words when he detonated a vest filled with fishing weights and Semtex in the Supreme Court. And yet here the words stay, suggesting bloodshed is not only part of legal proceedings but somehow can give them a blessing.”

Civil Blood: The Vampire Rights Case That Changed a Nation

Note: This post contains spoilers for Civil Blood‘s ending.

When you have a novel with only a handful of reviews, you have the luxury of reading and thinking about each one. Civil Blood is still in that magical period where nobody who really hates it has given it a review on Amazon, so the people who really love it give it five stars and the people who have reservations go for four stars. Naturally, I’ve mulled over the points of the criticism, because I think it’s good and healthy for a book when its discussion goes beyond “I liked it” vs. “this is trash” and readers spend some time on the ideas presented in the story.

Recently, I read a review that didn’t care for the ending, which made the reader disturbed that all the good guys appear to be bad guys, and the bad guys appear to be good guys. So let’s talk about that!

Civil Blood has a lot of ideas in it, and hopefully they are comprehensible to an audience without me explicating the intention of the text. But since this website allows me to be as self-indulgent as humanly possible, and since no literary critics are beating down my door for an interview, I thought it might be interesting to the reader to illuminate the theme of the novel, which, really, is the road to political violence in the United States.

“Whoa,” you may be saying. “It’s just a novel about vampires.”

Yes, and no. It’s even a little farther afield than that. It’s a novel about a future America with magic and vampires in it. Whenever one creates a vision of the future, it tends to invite comparisons and analysis with the present. I gave it the nonspecific time period of “a generation from now” because I didn’t want the story to be obsolete too quickly. I did use a calendar for a specific date far in the future to get the days of the week straight, but that is not explicitly called out in the text. (First person to name the year gets a gold star.) The idea is, the future is slightly darker than it is now, but the U.S. is, as the back cover copy states, “still recognizable as our own.”

The political system has changed, to be sure. At some point in this future history, the Democratic and Republican parties imploded at the same time. At that point, the first-past-the-post system of counting electoral votes was chucked, allowing for more proportionate representation in Presidential elections. I think this is the only way you’d get new, viable parties, because currently the hyper-partisanship means if either party has a substantial defection to a third party, the opposing party gets rewarded with electoral victory. And the reason they both imploded is because they started using violence to get what they want. In my imaginary world, this was a bridge too far, and both the red and blue parties paid at the ballot box, spawning the Solar Citizens party (liberals with an emphasis on environmentalism) and the Great Nation party (conservatives who embraced big government).

But the world-building bits aren’t quite as important as the theme expressed through the characters, that “civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” Violence, or the threat of violence, underpins our system of laws. If you violate the law, you have reason to fear that the state will punish you. If you resist sufficiently, the state will use violence to ensure the punishment is enacted. We’re supposed to elect our politicians with the consent of the governed, but unsurprisingly, we don’t trust them much any more. Conditioned by movies, games, and books as well as our preferred brand of political propaganda, we want a leader who is not just a civil servant, but a hero.

The book offers up many point-of-view characters who are the hero of their own story. But to others, they aren’t. And this is where the reviewer didn’t really like the way I executed the climax and resolution. Most of the characters are morally gray — there is, in fact, something to dislike in all of them. There’s plenty of bloody hands to go around.

Morgan expects the justice system to save him: it does not. It is flawed, and the vipes resort to criminal means in their attempt to rescue him. In the process, Infinity and the gang are, to varying degrees, willing to use violence. While the average reader may think Infinity is justified in striking back against a corrupt system, and is heroic for standing up to the forces that murder vipes, she is a protagonist, not a paragon. And I don’t mean this in a 2016-era “you shouldn’t punch Nazis or you’re as bad as them” way. Infinity’s tools include heist-like tricks to get her inside the BRHI facility, but they also include Cass, who covers the vipes by gunning down private security and committing suicide by cop.

“So,” one might ask… “are you portraying that as permissible, or not?” A lot of the language in the climax shows that Infinity is growing into her role as a hero. However, the picture is much more complex than “evil megacorporation = bad, heroes who break the law and shoot them = good.” I was not interested in making a vampiric superhero with an upstanding moral code, as there are plenty of those already available at the local bookstore or theater.

Infinity performs at least one heroic action. When she’s getting Morgan out of the facility and has a clear path to freedom, she chooses to run back into danger, armed only with a disguise, to save Ranath’s life. She sees this as necessary to redeem herself from her habit of running from trouble. Even so, she and her friends don’t succeed in their rescue mission the way they intend. Three out of five of the vipes pay the ultimate price, leaving Morgan and Ferrero grief-stricken. Infinity is numbed by the human cost as well, but her heroism has left her with a direct, tangible accomplishment: Ranath is present to console her, and he gives her a little hope. So despite her early protestations that she is not a hero, she has some reasons to call herself that at the end. Ranath would probably call her that too.

But one of the reasons I went with multiple first-person points of view is to show that when it comes to the events of the climax — the incarceration and murder of vipes and the bloody shootout that exposes it to the world — you can’t just look at just one character. Pretty much everyone tries to do what they perceive as right and it leads to an unholy mess.

  • Cass thinks that because he’s just shooting hardasses with guns, he’s more like a soldier and less like a maniac with a high-capacity magazine.
  • Jessica and Ferrero try to avoid violence personally, but they are in on the plan.
  • Kern thinks because he can “cure more diseases than penicillin” with VIHPS, incarcerating and murdering vipes is worth it in the final analysis.
  • Morgan abhors violence, but realizes he can’t escape without it and raises a hand in an attempt to save Jessica.
  • Deborah takes it one step further, using a pistol only in a gambit to become a martyr rather than face capture.

This last was important to me because it’s easy for an action writer to get caught up in the bloodshed and portray noncombatants as timid, or ineffective, or dependent upon the violent types to effect meaningful change for the people they care about. The most important blow against BRHI is Deborah’s, bringing out the truth and harming its public status as a savior. In this way, I wanted to return the reader’s perception of the future not as one that is unremittingly dark, but one that ranges back and forth with victories and losses as does our political system in the real world.

As for the idea that Kern is a hero because he wants to cure VIHPS and get stinking rich by alleviating untold suffering — no. Kern is directly responsible for the F-prot program, which is kidnapping, killing, and experimenting on vipes. He set up a system to glean as much biological data as he can out of the vipes because “they’re going to die anyway,” which is only true because he’s laid the groundwork to make it true.

Besides violating the Hippocratic Oath, Kern’s excuses were based on the justifications Nazi doctors used for their experiments in concentration camps — data that was then largely thrown out by the Americans because it was always done with a political agenda in mind, making for bad science. He’s literally got a plasma furnace to cremate rooms full of bodies en masse, echoing the extermination camps. Also, he ordered a hit on Ranath when he was afraid Ranath might talk to the law, so he’s not particularly loyal to his friends, either. He shows no mercy to anyone who is perceived to be an enemy, and the simple act of getting infected makes you an instant enemy. (This “othering” occurs in our political process, albeit more slowly, as we come to think of our political opponents as villains, a process that will lead to violence if left unchecked.)

So yes, he’s an antagonist with a compelling motivation and a set of ideals — but everybody has ideals. What he’s done, rather than what he’s said, sets him in the villain camp, despite all the good that a vaccine or modified VIHPS strain could do. Illustrating this, Ranath takes his work and literally gives it to someone else less compromised, the Centers for Disease Control.

I could probably go on about this theme for a long time — it’s something I intend to explore in future stories, and America’s relationship with violence can fill quite a few shelves. But I think for the moment, I will stop here. There’s only so much illumination you can give before the light starts to get annoying.

Click.

In Which I Plug My Latest & Greatest

I’m happy to announce that my work with Seasun Comics has at last gone to press with Mythkillers, the urban fantasy comic I’ve been working on for the last year. Mythkillers is the story of a teenage demigoddess, her clay golem best friend, a snarky Zulu fairy and an immortal Greek warrior teaming up to stop a dark god from wrecking the afterlife in his bid for power.

We’ve had Mythkillers #1 printed for a while, but now all six issues are up on Amazon Kindle. Here’s the link.

Issues 1 and 2 are available through ComiXology, but as of this writing, they are still processing Issues 3-6.

“But wait,” you may say, “What’s going on with your other projects?”

(Narrator: No one says that.)

The Civil Blood universe is still kicking, and I’m still revising “Infection in Everything,” a short story involving Infinity and her jiujutsu teacher. And I’m still submitting “Stopping the Bleeding” (a post-Civil Blood story about a new character) and the original humorous piece “The 10:40 Appointment at the NYC Department of Superhero Registration.” To make a long story short, there are a whole lot of short story markets out there and they’re all closed to submissions for the immediate future.

Okay, not all. But seriously, it’s a thing.

That’s the latest. I’ll post more when I know more.

Stay cool.

In Which I Come Back from Faraway Lands

Those of you just joining me may look at my last blog post and say, “Egads! It’s been three months since the last update! Where has Chris been?” And the answer, of course, lies in the text of the last update — I’ve been doing my day job, which has, like most hazardous gases, expanded to fill the size of its container.

The good news is, the job is pretty cool. When we last left our intrepid hero, I was Kickstarting Mythkillers. In short, Mythkillers is an urban fantasy that is sort of like if you took the ancient bloody-minded gods from Sandman and gave them to the goofy motherf***ers writing Guardians of the Galaxy.

We were successfully funded on Kickstarter, hit two stretch goals, and have been busily making the comics ever since. Since my last post on this blog, I added somewhere around 37 articles on the Seasun Comics news page, which explains a part of my conspicuous absence. If you’re looking to check out Mythkillers, we’re currently using Indiegogo’s InDemand as our online store. I posted a general FAQ for people new to the comic here.

But like any good act of magic, the reasons for my disappearing act here comes in threes.

The second reason I’ve been absent is more related to an old, long-held vice. From 2005 to 2012 or so, I played a massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game called City of Heroes. The game shut down in 2012… officially. In May or so, it was revealed that a secret cabal of reverse engineers had actually managed to illegally keep the game’s source code and played it on a private server for the last six or seven years. And then they reopened it for public play, free of charge, with the game company tacitly agreeing not to prosecute anyone for literally saving Paragon City.

It is difficult for me to express how much I loved City of Heroes… okay, it’s not difficult, but most of you wouldn’t understand me if I said “I got the Isolator badge the hard way in Recluse’s Victory and Disruptor on my empathy defender.” I’ve toned my fanaticism down a bit this time around, but I can now play it with my son, who enjoys creating characters just as much or more than he actually likes playing the game. So the game is a factor as well — it sucks up time I would have spent writing.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t stuck with my plan to write short stories and sell them to try and finance a Civil Blood sequel. Far from it, in fact. The third thing I’ve been doing in the evenings rather than post updates to the blog is the actual writing of short stories. I finished two recently and sent them off to a writer’s workshop.

The first, “The 10:40 Appointment at the NYC Office of Superhero Registration,” humorously imagines what the superhero equivalent of the DMV is like. It highlights the down side of being a regenerating hero, which is that to register your superheroic abilities, you have to demonstrate them, i.e. get the mess beaten out of you by a big dude in power armor who doesn’t know what a safe word is.

The second story is from the Civil Blood universe and is, of course, much darker and more serious. It deals with Infinity returning to Los Angeles after the events of the novel and meeting up with Katie, the martial arts instructor who was like a mother to her. Infinity chooses to “come out” to Katie as a vampire, but she can’t go home again the way she’d like to. The story’s title, “Infection in Everything,” refers to the vampire virus VIHPS as well as a passage in Musashi’s famous martial arts manual The Book of Five Rings.

So hopefully, both these stories will see the light of day sometime. I suspect “The 10:40” will be an easier sell, since SF magazines perpetually say they’re starved for humorous content. I think it hits a good mix of slapstick and poignancy, and it’s high time someone wrote a story about the super-saturation point of comic book crime-fighters.

They do say, “write what you know,” right?

In Which I’ve Been Two-Timing My Novel

Chances are, if you’re following me on social media over the course of the last month, you’ve seen me become a human spam-bot. In April, I jumped in face-first to the hashtags #writingcommunity and #indieapril. I told everyone I could find (mostly fellow self-publishers) about my legal thriller/urban fantasy mashup, and followed a ton of writers who followed back. I had my best month of sales ever, though at the cost of eroding a hole in my iPhone where the copy/paste prompt comes up.

I swore that at the end of April I’d chill out and stop hustling, and I did… to a degree. I stopped hawking my book everywhere, and, unsurprisingly, sales plummeted back to their barely-moving-any level. If you don’t have advertising in the self-publishing world, you don’t have anything.

But the spam didn’t end there, because I can *finally* talk about my day job. While things have been slow on Pirates of the Caribbean: Sea of Glory, our small team took it upon themselves to see if we could start a line of comic books. We’ve been at it for about a year, contacting artists, writing scripts, turning those scripts into comics pages, and all that — and we’ve finally announced a Kickstarter to get our first 6-issue run done.

My project is called Mythkillers. I’ve written a ton of promo material for it, because we’re trying to have new content to read every weekday. It’s all over at the Seasun Comics page. We’re doing everything for it that I can’t afford to do for Civil Blood — swag, giveaways, introductions to the team, featured articles, and so forth. We’re in the blitz right now (the Kickstarter runs until June 25th) so I have homework every night.

Art reviews.

Press releases.

Finding fulfillment companies.

Social media posts.

So yes, I’m a human spam-bot on Twitter for this month, too. I wish there was another way, but just like with my indie novel, every connection counts. Every visitor to our site is a victory, every backer is to be thanked. As I say on the Kickstarter page, a fan community is built up through blood, sweat, and convention appearances.

(Okay, we haven’t done any of those yet, since we’ve been chained to our desks, but our producer is going to be handing out promotional materials at the Electronic Entertainment Expo.)

All that doesn’t leave much time for writing that isn’t on the clock, so my short stories are untouched and unfinished. Eery time I tweet in promotion of my novel, it feels like I’m breaking character. Obviously I had time to tweet, so how dare I do it for a personal project?

After June 25th, the Kickstarter will be over, which of course means the real work will begin — making the books and the swag to be sent out to the backers. And, no doubt, we’re going to need someone to write press releases and posts for those months, too.

How do I end this except with the obvious?

You can check out our Kickstarter here.

In Which I Post a Civil Blood Sequel FAQ

Well, the Kindle promo giveaway of Civil Blood: The Vampire Rights Case that Changed a Nation has come to an end, and now it’s back up at the not-so-tyrannical price of $2.99. Some very nice folks on Goodreads are inquiring about a sequel, so I thought I’d better explain my thought process.

1: Was the promo successful?

Considering my average sales of the novel… holy cow, yes. I ran the promo for five days, and if you add up all the copies I gave away, I moved 44 times my best month of normal sales. It sounds like a lot, but to be honest, my average sales per month are miniscule. There’s definitely people out there who like the idea of the book enough to download it when it’s offered. The question, of course, is “are they just jumping at a chance to nab something for free, or do they actually intend to read the book/buy the book/buy a sequel?” It’ll take a little while to gather data on those questions — I’ve got to allow the readers a few weeks to read 398 pages before I can expect any word of mouth to spread.

2: Do you want to write a sequel?

Yes. Without getting into spoilers, it doesn’t take a genius to read the end of Civil Blood and see that I want to publish volume 2 of the Skia Project. I want to revisit the main characters and have them front and center in another adventure that combines vampirism and politics.

3: Can you sell a sequel?

This is a much thornier question. Civil Blood was self-published. I fronted all the costs myself for the editors, the cover art, ISBNs, and advertising. If I want to do that again, I need a certain amount of disposable income that I have earmarked for that purpose only. Sales of Civil Blood count toward that amount. So in theory, when the book makes back its costs, I could take that money and publish a sequel.

The reality is that may take years, and it may never happen at all. The book has garnered a bit of good press from blogs, but they have not translated into financial success. As of this writing, five days after the promo has ended, there are no signs of increased sales. I’m willing to be patient, but I’m also looking at a variety of options.

Option 1: Sell a direct sequel novel to a traditional publisher.

The most obvious pie-in-the-sky fantasy of mine is to write a sequel that’s so good and so high-concept that when I submit it to a traditional publisher, they want to print it themselves. Poof, I don’t have to front any money and they pay me to boot. They get me a cover, they advertise for me, the book shows up in bookstores and libraries everywhere. I appear at conventions and do dramatic readings of the book while standing on one leg, and legions of Infinity cosplayers create a path for me by throwing rose petals and marshmallows. (I’m pretty sure that’s how signing parties work, anyway. There’s always a few grand set aside for the marshmallow budget.)

That scenario is unlikely to happen. First, the sequel would have to stand on its own merits and not require any experience with the previous installment. That sounds feasible in practice, but Civil Blood created a ton of backstory for its surviving characters. If the protagonists and antagonists run into each other again (and I’d want them to), I’d have to communicate their history without delving into giant paragraphs explaining what happened the last time they met. Even recapping the main romantic arc without making it sound like a sequel’s summary would require a lot of fine-tuning. This is to say nothing of the wall-to-wall news that would be breathlessly covering the events of the first book’s climax. Add the cherry on top — the magic system and how vampires work. It would be tricky, and if I couldn’t sell it, I’d be left with a big, fat manuscript that I’d have spent several years of my life on.

Second, if the traditional publisher found out that I self-published the prequel, the first thing they would ask is, “How many copies has it sold?” One look at its Amazon ranking would be all it takes to pass on it. Self-published books get traditional deals when they do so well they don’t need it. Nothing succeeds like success.

Third, I’d be giving up some creative control, and if the editor and I got into a kerfluffle over some detail in which I would be invalidating a decision made in Civil Blood, I would not be able to argue for keeping it consistent. Given how often I’ve experienced situations like that in other media, I’m not sure I want to do that here.

This leaves me with less-thrilling but potentially more-workable options.

Option 2: Sell other stories in the universe to a traditional publisher.

The quickest and most feasible option for me, and the one I am currently pursuing, is to write short stories in Civil Blood’s universe and try to sell them to magazines. I’ve got one in submissions about a new character (“Stopping the Bleeding”) and a second in the works with Infinity as the protagonist (working title “Infection in Everything”).

Short fiction in magazines would theoretically provide a little extra visibility as well as income that would go towards funding a self-published sequel. Of course, I have to get that most elusive “yes” for this plan to work… and I have to do it several times. Short stories pay more than they used to, but I’d still have to do perhaps 5-7 of them to cover a novel’s costs.

Were I to go for a novel, the easiest long-form approach would be a prequel, because it would require none of the exposition juggling act that a sequel would. Jessica’s discovery of the principles of qi, her fraying relationship with Ranath and Kern, and Ranath’s eventual slide into vipe hunting could fill up their own story. However, it’d need some special sauce, otherwise it’d just be another “viral vampires in a big evil corporation” story that doesn’t have a unique hook.

Option 3: Take out a loan and hope the sequel pays for itself.

Yeah, you can explain that one to my wife. No way.

Option 4: Run a Kickstarter or other crowdfunding campaign.

This doesn’t work well for me. It’s not that I don’t like Kickstarters, but backers are pretty sophisticated now. Not only would I have to write a good 30% of the book or so to show off some product for the campaign, make a video, come up with rewards that aren’t the book, and then I’d have to face an uncomfortable reality:

I’m a slow writer.

A good Kickstarter keeps backers interested until the product comes out. Who wants me to blitz people with a 30-day Kickstarter campaign and then force them to wait on a sequel that could be years in the making? There is also the serious possibility of failure. If the KS doesn’t meet its goal, I’m back at square one.

How can I help?

If you’re a fan burning to read the sequel, there are lots of ways to pitch in.

  1. Tell people about the book. Because there are many books with the title “Civil Blood,” be sure to use my name or the subtitle “The Vampire Rights Case That Changed a Nation.” That’ll help narrow down any search engine searches.
  2. Leave a Goodreads and/or Amazon review. Supposedly, if I get 50 of these, the algorithm for advertising the book shows the book more often to strangers. They don’t need to be long at all: “I dug it,” and some stars is all that’s necessary. The most successful viral campaigns have people who enthusiastically tell their friends they just rated a book, encouraging them to do the same.
  3. Friend has a birthday/housewarming/deployment coming up? Give the book as a gift.
  4. Tell your Goodreads group or book club about it (I’m a member of a few such as “Horror Aficionados,” “Vampires, Weres and Fae,” “Castle Dracula” and “My Vampire Book Obsession.”) Getting a big pack of people to read it as a book of the month would be super.
  5. Put your favorite quotes from the novel into Goodreads’ Quotes page. Authors are forbidden from doing this for their own books. Quotable lines can sometimes grab a reader’s interest where an excerpt might seem too long.

Conclusion

So when people ask “Are you working on a sequel?” my answer is “not yet,” but the more proper question is “Are you trying to get us more Infinity, Ranath, and Morgan?” And the answer to that is, “Yes, with some obstacles.” Trust me, if I manage to sell something, I’ll be all over the Internet trying to let people know.

Thanks for reading this far and bearing with me.

In Which I Give You My Book for Free

Who needs to pirate books? Not you!

“Civil Blood: The Vampire Rights Case that Changed a Nation” is free to download on Kindles from March 18th to March 22nd, 2019. You don’t get a free 400-page novel every day, so check it out and tell a friend. The link’s right here.

Because of the way Kindle Direct Publishing works, the novel will also be exclusive to Kindles at that time. I will re-list it for other e-reader platforms once this offer has completed.

Dig in!