It’s been another long dearth of posts, but I assure you, it’s for a good reason. When we last left our intrepid writer, he was modifying Civil Blood‘s sequel to match up with real-world molecular biology. What’s been going on since then?
Writing. Lots of it. By day, I’m working away on Wayfinder for Airship Syndicate. I recently graduated from contract writer to full-time senior writer, and the game is closing in on its Early Access date. Therefore, for the first time in a few years, you might be able to play a game and see my dialogue and text, out in the wild.
By evening, I’m writing the second installment of the Skia Project, the technical name for the world of Civil Blood. I’m not a fast writer, but I’ve gotten up to about 38,000 words, with a target goal of 100,000 to 130,000. That’s about the same size as Civil Blood, which clocked in around 129,000 and fit into just under 400 pages. Naturally, just because I reach the end of the novel doesn’t mean I click on Amazon’s buttons and hit “upload” right away. I put Civil Blood through about ten drafts before I felt it had the punch it needed: pacing, stakes, beautiful turns of phrase. The sequel might not take quite as many drafts, but I don’t want to skimp on quality. The “too long, didn’t read” here is that I’m making good progress, and I’m committed to it.
But oh, are there other projects percolating in my brain. I’ve had not one, but two dreams — literal dreams — about Shadowrun projects that made me wake up and say, “Huh. Could I write that?” It turns out independent authors have been invited to contribute to the game’s universe with a profit-sharing deal, and the temptation is strong. I will probably focus on my own universe for the foreseeable future… but never say never.
And then there’s my daily shot glass of nostalgia. This year has hit me hard with good memories of tabletop roleplaying games. Let me break down just how much TTRPGs have meant to me this year:
1) I play an MMO in which I run into TTRPG gamers all the time. On the Everlasting server in City of Heroes: Homecoming I met up with the players who play Vampire: The Masquerade and Legend of the Five Rings characters. This got me telling stories of the best V:TM tabletop campaign I was ever in, and I thought, “You know, that’d make for an okay series of blog posts, both to amuse the players and help Storytellers with some basic principles.” So I’m posting that ASAP.
2) The Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves movie came out, and it was everything I wanted the 2000s D&D movie to be. I wish it had been more profitable, but I’ll take what I can get.
3) I ended up following some topics on Quora, Reddit and Twitter, and the trifecta means I end up reading conversations about the TTRPG scene, which I haven’t been in for a long time. Doesn’t matter that most of the talk is about D&D and not my preferred games, I still grok the language, and have nothing against the big dog.
4) My son is getting to be an age where his friends are starting to play. We had a boffer-stick LARP birthday party for him, and it was highly successful — no crying, no excluded kids, the teams were even, a generally great experience. Our family tried Werewolf: The Apocalypse during the pandemic quarantine as a way to pass the time without interacting with other kids, but that’s a distant memory now. He’s going to try D&D later this summer.
5) Some of the Bioware fans have found me on Twitter and they ping me with Codex questions and the like, so I’m not escaping that world any time soon, either.
6) Wayfinder is a fantasy RPG that reminds me of some of the high school AD&D games I used to play in. One of the main writers is Keith Baker of Eberron fame, so fantasy RPGs are in the DNA of everything we do.
So, with all that said, I’m going to walk down memory lane with the Shot Glass of Nostalgia page. Because while I have new stories to tell, there is value in the old ones. And to all those who have never heard them… perhaps they will smile as well.
We will start with a vampire buffalo. Or, at least, a would-be vampire buffalo, and why my wife was Prince of a city and never got deposed.
It’s time for a sequel update! While many, many things have been coming at me (COVID, house problems, new car!), I have indeed been making time for Civil Blood‘s sequel. Of course, I’ve also been de-stressing with my favorite game, City of Heroes. But in a strange coincidence, both converged, in an unexpected and delightful way.
A little background: one of my characters is Amir al-Madani, also known as the Milk Sheik. He made an appearance in Unidentified Funny Objects 8 (shameless plug!), but before that he was just a character I fooled around with on the live servers. In his biography window, I mention that he’s a microbiologist from the United Arab Emirates, who got his regenerative powers through radiation and can heal any injury as long as he gets to drink milk, sort of like Popeye and his spinach but less macho.
One night I was hanging out before a raid, and a player called “Pulsar Kitty” pinged me and essentially said, “Hey, I read your bio. Are you a molecular biologist in real life?”
I replied “No, I just write a lot and have some friends who are doctors,” and so forth. But what she said next surprised me: “Drat. I’m actually a microbiologist, and I work on viruses all the time, and I was hoping to find someone to talk to.”
“Oh.” I said, my interest piqued. It was time to converse with the catgirl! “Well, I wrote a novel involving a vampire virus, and I’m always willing to blab about it.” I figured since she was playing a superhero MMORPG she’d be cool with fantasy and science fiction.
It turned out, not only had she read about vampire viruses, she’d read a Shadowrun novel featuring HMHVV, the Human-Metahuman Vampiric Virus, which of course I knew about because of my time writing Shadowrun. (Long story there.) So we even had a common point of reference. I e-mailed her a copy of Civil Blood, and we got started discussing the sequel. Particularly the worldbuilding surrounding qi-positive European Bat Lyssavirus-4, the cause of Virally Induced Hematophagic Predation Syndrome. Because it’s similar to, but emphatically not HMHVV.
Some writers would just say “it’s magic, it works how I want it to.” That’s their prerogative. But it’s not how I like to do things. So I started kicking the tires on my world and asking the questions I needed to ask. Questions like:
How long would it be before a vampire who had to feed once every 10-14 days or so and had a practically guaranteed infection each time managed to contaminate a serious chunk of the population?
Can a virus provide amazing benefits like super strength and healing to the human body without being tailored to do so? If so, how could it naturally occur?
How could a virus this infective not shape human history in an obvious way, if it existed before qi (magic) was proven to exist?
Is it possible for an accident to release this virus on the world, or does it need some kind of retconned conspiracy and nefarious motives just to be plausible?
Well, Dr. Kitty went to town on the manuscript. And I was pleased to find out that my story held up okay. I thought I’d share some of the answers here, because, well, they’re neat.
Question 1: How Fast is the Vampocalypse?
As some of my beta readers pointed out, in a straight-up 100% rate of infection every 10 days, the numbers create a lot of doubling. First one vampire bites another, then two have to feed in the next 10 days, then four, then eight. You end up in the billions after about 32 weeks. It’s even worse if there are some vipes addicted to blood who become superspreaders.
Fortunately, the situation in Civil Blood allows for a slower pandemic. There are several factors at play.
Imprecise Numbers: Infinity got about eleven days off of one notable bite in Civil Blood, and she might have lasted two full weeks if she pushed it. There’s also a line in the chapter where she reads BRHI’s experimental notes that say “subject went torpid after thirty-two days without blood” indicating that a vipe could survive more than twice as long in extremes, though they would probably be miserable doing so. While that would not be the norm, every day counts in a massive population boom like this.
Bullets: After a month or so (only 4-8 infections) , someone at the Benjamin Rush Health Initiative did the math and started putting together the Forced Protection team to stop the spread. Somewhere around 16-32 vipes, they started nipping them in the bud, first with capture and restraints, then with targeted killings. Though this started in the D.C. area, it expanded eventually to other cities. BRHI has made a lot of bodies by the end of the first novel. Ranath is said to have “dropped the hammer more times than John Henry.”
When the media break the story four years after Patient Zero, police start being able to recognize vipes for what they are and imprison or kill them. Citizens form vigilante gangs for self-protection, which may cut down on feeding or lower the vipes’ numbers through straight-up murder. A very small percentage of vipes might be lost to cases of individual victims defending themselves. An equally small number might be lost to attrition if they take their cues from popular culture, think they’re immortal, and try to survive a jump off a bridge or some similarly stupid stunt. Again, every vipe taken off the board counts.
Psychology: Many vipes feed first on those closest to them when they lose control, and this can be incredibly traumatizing if the victim is a family member or friend. Some vipes will refuse to drink blood again, instinct be damned. This means they might go comatose and starve to death, or commit suicide. I don’t know exact numbers, but the number of people who’d take themselves out would be much higher than the general population, more on par with active shooters or incarcerated felons.
Jessica’sOld Multi-Bite Trick: Jessica introduces Infinity and Morgan to a technique for vipes feeding off of one another. Sure, it has diminishing returns, but it helps greatly. When Infinity came home after feeding, she could lose blood enough to feed about six other vipes without permanent damage. Since they drank from her wound and not a fresh victim, this slows the number of new infections. Morgan and Jessica, who maintained contact with networks of vipes, no doubt publicized this method in the hopes of minimizing harm.
Question 2: Viruses With Benefits
So, can a virus, with a little magical boost, naturally cause bone ossification and muscle growth so a vipe is strong like a human-sized chimpanzee? “Well, heck,” says Dr. Kitty, “Why don’t we take a look at HERV-K?”
Fun fact: there are viruses in your DNA. Yes, yours. Right now. At various points in human evolution, viruses infected us and used something called reverse transcriptase to insert their RNA into the DNA of our genome. But if they don’t kill the host, and they don’t impair them enough to prevent reproduction, and also if the body can’t stop the infection, sometimes the virus gets integrated into us, like a rude guest who gets adopted. This has happened so often throughout human history that about 8% of our genome is virus code. Like HERV-K.
HERV stands for Human Endogenous Retrovirus — the “K” is a label for which one, since there are a lot of them. “Endogenous” means it’s a part of us now. It entered our genome when we were primates about 30 million years ago, before we were even Homo sapiens. In some cells, if HERV-K turns active, it’s very dangerous and can cause problems like testicular cancer. But during reproduction, if it’s working right, it allows a woman to safely grow a placenta. This is naturally occurring… well, natural as of 30 million years ago. It was selected for. No nefarious genius with a laboratory needed.
So… do you think viruses can have complex benefits? Because one made you possible.
Question 3: How Come We Haven’t Seen EBL-4/VIHPS Before?
This was a thorny one, because the world of Civil Blood is not like the tabletop RPG Shadowrun. There is no great cycle of magic that infuses the world, disappears, and comes back. Qi, in Civil Blood, is a supernatural science that had a breakthrough and though it has always been there, humans can now measure it and manipulate it clearly. But… there’s a way for the virus to be old and yet new at the same time.
In prehistory, EBL developed a super-infective strain. But just because something is super-infective doesn’t mean it’s going to spread all around the world. It could have appeared in isolated communities, or spread like wildfire and then burned out, because it comes with a limitation — a vipe needs to drink blood fresh from the wound of another living, squirming human. If they don’t, they get aggressive after a couple of weeks and then their body starts to suffer. By 14 to 32 days, they start getting lethargic and comatose. (Ask me about unstable antitoxins and stable toxins in selfish genetic sequences. G’wan, I dare you.)
So if they don’t have a food supply, the epidemic is going to fizzle out. And in a time period before cities, highways, and even the domestication of horses, a lot of vipes are going to keel over before they find enough prey to keep the cycle going. It’s much more of a supercharged pandemic in the modern day. In prehistory? It might not even show up in the fossil record.
Question 4: So How Did Ulan Release the Plague?
So it’s possible the progenitor to EBL got into humans, and over time, adapted to them. One strain could have mutated into a less infective version but stayed in the human germline, giving resistance to the nastier version until the vipes all died out. With no selective pressure to change, the virus would stay in humans until some could have transferred over to European bats, some of whom could eat trash covered in human saliva. The bats are where Dr. Ulan found European Bat Lyssavirus-4, and she could have, in the process of collecting data on the virus and taking out portions with targeted bombardments of yin qi, recreated the original sequence.
Recreating the original sequence is bad.
Bang. Super-infective qi-positive EBL-4 is back, and the clock starts with her as Patient Zero.
So When’s the Novel Coming Out?
That’s a question I don’t think I’ll answer. There’s going to be a lot more to the sequel than this, but it’s been a long time since I gave a substantive Civil Blood update. Here’s hoping I whetted your appetites.
Longtime readers may remember my novel Civil Blood, and particularly attentive readers may remember the reasons I hadn’t started working on a sequel yet. Long story short, I promised my family I’d only begin work once I had accumulated a nest egg big enough to pay for a cover and editor(s), assuming costs in the same neighborhood as my previous self-publishing venture. The catch was, this nest egg would solely be financed by my other personal writing, and my path to that was A) novel sales, and B) short story sales. Since I have little in the way of advertising budget and thus a very meagre novel-based income, I ended up relying on “B.”
Well… with a final anthology sale coming out in 2022, approach “B” has finally put the numbers over the top. So now I have a little news: I’m finally working on a sequel to Civil Blood. Here’s what I can say:
I am currently in the outlining stage. It will take me a few months before I start the rough draft. I should warn the reader that it takes me years to write a novel.
I have tentatively titled it with another blood-related Shakespearian phrase (again, with echoes of the play, but the specific title may give away some of the parallelism in the plot, so I’ll be mum on that for now).
The story will deal with an American presidential election in the time of VIHPS. Though I hesitate to use the word “pandemic,” the vampire virus is the top issue on the minds of the electorate. It is not, however, the only issue, and part of the political dealings is that Infinity and Ranath will have to choose whom to support despite the candidates not matching up with their every ideal.
The main characters of Civil Blood will be the main characters in this story as well. There will be many familiar faces, and a few names only hinted at in Civil Blood will have some stage time in this one.
I might be able to make this story comprehensible if you haven’t read Civil Blood, but I’m not betting on it. As I work on the outline, I realize that trying to sum up why a character is not only a doctor but also a hitman and also has his hands on potentially world-changing research that he didn’t actually do just stretches credulity. I may have to highlight that it’s “The Skia Project, Book 2” and just roll with that.
Ideally it will not have a cliffhanger ending, because at this moment I don’t know the chances of making a third installment. Also, I like books to have enough of a satisfying thematic resolution that they can stand on their own. So, less The Empire Strikes Back and more Terminator 2.
To all the fans of CB that have stuck with me this far… thank you. I hope to make you happy once more.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Friend has a birthday/housewarming/deployment coming up? Give the book as a gift.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
As the little date indicates, it’s been about three months since the last post. New Year’s Day seems like an apropos time to let you all know what I’ve been doing instead of blogging.
In late September, I flew to Shenzhen for business reasons associated with my day job (i.e. the Pirates of the Caribbean project). Shenzhen is a lovely tropical metropolis on the Chinese coast. Basically, if you go to the island of Hong Kong and then take a bridge to the mainland, you’re in Shenzhen. It’s full of Times-Square-style glitz, but with lots of trees and green spaces.
I came away from the trip with squid-flavored potato chips and red tea, brought my daughter a silk scarf embroidered with skulls (she’s writing horror interactive fiction these days) and swore I would never again be on a plane trying to outrun a typhoon.
Around that time, I finished my burst of reading and reviewing urban fantasy books. Since publishing Civil Blood, I’ve joined a bunch of UF readers’ groups, and posted my reviews to Amazon, Goodreads and Booklikes (the links here are to my rec lists). If you are looking for some new reads, or some old ones, feel free to check out my short list of long reviews. When I wasn’t doing that, I was chugging away in the Critters Writer’s Workshop, critiquing short stories and the first chapters of a lot of novels. The break that let me read instead of write gave me some necessary perspective and a few new online friends.
Then I did a numbers game with Civil Blood: it got a few kind reviews and a few mediocre ones, but neither seemed to drive any sales (literally, zero — I have metrics). Then I hit the extreme down-side of self-publishing: I had cordoned off a specific budget for the novel and, by extension, any sequels. No profit, no sequel, that’s the rule. As an additional stab to the liver, no traditional publisher will touch a self-published series unless it is raking in the readers by the cathedral-full. So any chance of writing a sequel and submitting it would be a nearly-impossible needle to thread.
So I took a break from sequel planning and told myself I should do some short stories — one in the Civil Blood universe and one in the climate fiction genre, something I’ve been meaning to try. I composed the first CB-universe short story, “Stopping the Bleeding,” and got it reviewed in a workshop, because I needed a lot of fresh eyes that hadn’t lived in the novel’s world for the past year. The critiques came in throughout November, interrupting my cli-fi attempt. National Novel Writing Month for me was more like National Kinda Write Um Some Short Story Drafts This Year.
On top of that, a colleague and friend, Chris L’Etoile and his wife Jamie, were hit with what’s politely called a “life event.” Jamie got seriously ill. Complications from the illness led to a stroke that paralyzed her right side. At the time, Chris was on the other side of the continent. My wife and I (and a *ton* of other friends) jumped in to help. So November and December had a lot of online searches for resources, phone calls, and late-night discussions of WTF Will They Do To Get Through The Week. (My explanatory Facebook post that got retweeted all over the place is here and the GoFundMe is here. We raised a lot, but their expenditures are *insane*, so rest assured that any contributions will not be wasted.
So you better believe I wasn’t paying attention to blogging, right?
In late December, things calmed down a little. I did some short story revisions, so I’m going into the new year with the following goals:
Extend Civil Blood’s readership (I have additional plans not specified here).
Get “Stopping the Bleeding” and possibly additional CB-universe material out to readers.
Finish and submit a cli-fi story to a magazine or anthology.
Announce and launch a new intellectual property that is currently secret.
Attend conventions to meet new people — announcements will be posted here and on Twitter.
Do 30 minutes of cardio a day, 6 days a week — I’m on Week 3 at the moment!
Stick it to The Man.
Thanks for sticking with this ginormous update to the end. May you smooch a replicant in 2019, and may the old gods bless your new beginnings.
Okay, okay, this post isn’t about a battle between vampires and a mind-controlled Queen Wonder Woman. It’s just a colorful way to announce that my vampire rights novel Civil Blood is now available in non-Amazon stores.
Thanks to the lovely people and hard-working computer code at Draft2Digital, Civil Blood is now available on Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Kobo, and Apple’s iTunes. It will also be purchaseable through Bibliotheca if you want to include it in a library collection.
It’s $2.99 on these e-reader platforms, and I’m lowering the Kindle price down permanently to match it.
The books are available to be delivered September 21st, 2018. They also feature a few typo corrections and formatting changes that I did while reviewing the manuscript. Anyway, on to the links!