New Title, New Cover And a READER POLL!

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After consultation with some experts who sell far more books than I do, I’ve altered the title for my upcoming novel. With it, I’ve also commissioned a new cover design. Both the title and the cover fit the genre far better. However, all of us (including the experts) had one question about the cover – and we decided the best answer was to ask you, the readers!

There are four versions of the cover above (click on the image for a larger version). One has no tagline. The other three have variations on the tagline and positioning. What do you think, dear reader? A, B, C, or D?

Polling is open until the end of this week! Vote here in the comments or on Twitter!

New Podcast – Kennings & Cantrips

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My wife Morgon and I have launched a new podcast – Kennings & Cantrips. We recorded the debut episode on location at LibertyCon XXX! We even managed to con five of our author friends into joining us. Due to the length of the recording, we chose to give each author their own episode.

Episode 1.1 features Hans Schantz, engineer and author of A Rambling Wreck – a hard science fiction alternate history novel set on campus at Georgia Tech. Listen via our official feed or on YouTube! Coming to iTunes and Google Play very soon!

Hymn of the Pearl – BOOK REVIEW

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Last Friday, an unexpected gift appeared in my e-mail inbox: Brian Niemeier’s new novella, Hymn of the Pearl. Full disclosure: in case you didn’t guess from the previous sentence, I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. As a longtime friend, this flew straight to the top of my reading list.

Unlike most of Brian’s previous work, this one is short. It’s also a quick, easy read. Given my current schedule, I liked that. Other readers might find it disappointing. Then again, at $2.99 its price reflects that.

Brian’s use of fate as the mechanic for a magical system utterly fascinated me. Given how much fantasy work is out there that I haven’t read, this may not be truly original. But it was new to me, and I really enjoyed it. It drew me in and left me with a lot of unanswered questions. The author, however, clearly understood the system and had it all mapped out. That made it function well in practice.

Even more, the interplay between the two competing “classes” of wizards made for some interesting thought. It carried the weight of an honest religious argument, but without the baggage of real world religions to bog it down.

The author also skillfully weaves personal character struggles with sweeping political entanglements, and the threat of an actual war hangs over everything.

This book kept me fascinated from the beginning. If you’re a fan of Brian’s earlier works, you’ll definitely enjoy it. If you haven’t read his others, Hymn of the Pearl is a great place to start. Highly recommended. 5 out of 5 stars.

Post Traumatic Stress – Chapter One

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My new novel, Post Traumatic Stress, will be available on August 1, 2017. You can pre-order it now directly from Silver Empire, or wait until July 25th to pre-order it from Amazon.com. Either way, today you can enjoy a sample chapter. The prologue is below.

It is through suffering that the soul is purified.

Every soldier brings demons home from war. But when Sergeant Michael Alexander came home to Athens, Georgia from Afghanistan, his war demons started kidnapping local college girls. Things got crazy when Michael tried to stop him.

Then the dragon arrived.

Post-Traumatic Stress delivers on its title. Newquist drills deep into the head of traumatized former soldier Michael Alexander as he tries to adjust back to normal life. The perspective is so tight that readers will feel immense connection to the character. Tension builds with the story at a pace like a landslide. At first, one’s not sure if Michael is crazy or if he’s the one at fault for a string of murders involved. Then comes the incredible action with demons, vampires and zombies! Once the plot explodes, it’s impossible to put down.

Jon Del Arroz
Author of the bestselling For Steam and Country

Sample Chapters:

  1. Prologue
  2. Chapter One

 


Chapter One

A bead of sweat rolled down Michael Alexander’s cheek, dripping onto the orange petals of the Tiger Lily in his hand. Despite the early hour, the temperature and humidity had already launched their neck and neck race for triple digits. He’d missed a lot of things about Georgia. The August heat was not among them. Despite growing up here, he’d never truly gotten used to the southern summers.

He heard a noise behind him and turned, greeting the older man with a nod. The pair stood in silence for a time, paying their respects. His friend had spared no expense on the beautiful stone, nestled in amongst the others in the small private graveyard. Some of the well-preserved stones dated back to pre-colonial times.

The older man broke the silence.

“After all this time, I still never know what to say.”

“I always know what to say,” the younger man replied. “But no matter how many times I say, ‘I’m sorry,’ it’s never enough.”

The older man frowned at him.

“It wasn’t your fault, Michael.”

“If I’d made the flight, she’d have been at the airport to pick me up. She’d have been well out of the way.”

“Sometimes we have less control over things than we think we do.”

Michael shifted awkwardly and looked away. The point hit too close to home. James Covington let it go. The silence loomed over them for a moment. Again James spoke first.

“How long are you home?”

“For good.”

Covington’s momentary shock quickly transformed into a genuine smile.

“Finally came to your senses?” he asked.

Michael shook his head, but his face showed a faint hint of genuine humor. “No good sense here at all. Medical discharge. I fought it all the way.”

“Ah.” Captain James Covington, US Army retired, tapped his right leg with his cane. “I’m all too familiar with those.”

The cane and the injury that necessitated it served as a constant reminder of his eighteen months in the Hanoi Hilton. He paused and waited for the young man to elaborate. When nothing followed, he changed the subject tactfully.

“I’ll have a room made up for you.”

Michael gazed up the hill at the massive house. The Covington family had lived on this land for centuries. Over time, they’d accumulated quite the fortune, becoming one of the richest families in the state. The nearby town was even named for one of them – James’ great-great-grandfather, or something. The generous offer tempted him.

“Thanks, but I’ve got Pa’s place,” he answered.

“You held onto it, then?”

“It made a great rental property,” Michael shrugged. “And it was completely paid for. The last tenants left it in good enough shape. It needs a little work, but not too much.”

“Got any plans?”

“Back to the University to finish that history degree.”

“Good choice. Look up Abigail while you’re up there. Turn on that charm you used to have and lure her away from that obnoxious rich boy.”

Michael actually laughed at that one. “He must be pretty bad if you’d prefer me over him.”

The older man smiled back at him. “You were alright, even then. I had to be hard on you. You were about to marry my little girl, you know.” He turned somber again. “Besides, that little punk boy died the same day Katie did.” He pointed at the stone. “Boys don’t become men when they hit a magic age. Men are made – in blood and pain and struggle. Abby’s pansy ass boyfriend is the son of some rich oil sheikh. He couldn’t struggle his way out of a paper sack.”

“Probably very pretty, too.”

They shared a laugh again as Jim nodded.

“That always was her type,” Michael continued.

“True enough. But I’d still much rather be welcoming you into the family. Her sister always did have better taste. Hell, considering that you were two weeks away from joining it, you might as well be family already.”

Michael David Alexander and Catherine Virginia Covington had planned to wed on September 29th, 2001. United Airlines Flight 175 derailed those plans a few weeks early when it crashed into Two World Trade Center. Katie had been on the observation deck. All they ever managed to find of her was a half-melted cell phone. The beautiful stone before them marked an empty grave.

Michael had called her as soon as he’d seen the news. Miraculously, he’d gotten through. He managed to keep her calm down nearly sixty flights of stairs. It proved to be forty flights too few. He’d been on the phone with her when the tower collapsed. That afternoon he’d found himself sitting in an Army recruiter’s office, bound and determined to kill Osama bin Laden himself.

“Don’t hold your breath. I’m pretty sure Abby still holds me responsible.” And she’s right, he didn’t add out loud.

Covington’s eyes bored into him, and for a moment Michael felt certain that he knew. That shouldn’t be possible, but there it was.

“I guess some things are just too much to hope for. Besides, Abby still thinks I’m some kind of racist because I’m not fawning all over the twerp. She forgets that I never liked any of the rich American boys she dated either.”

“I don’t see how she could possibly forget. Who was that one guy? Rowan?” Jim gave him a quizzical look. “You must remember. The one who had a sex change later?”

Covington tossed his head back in laughter.

“Rupert. His name was Rupert. You know, Abby totally melted down over that one. I paid for a year of therapy.”

“Seriously?”

“She even checked herself into the mental ward for two weeks.”

“She always was a little out of it.”

“A little?” Jim shook his head, and then changed the subject. “Why don’t you come on up to the house, get some lemonade and fill me in on what you’ve been up to?”

“I’ve got to make it back to Athens. My first class starts in a couple of hours.”

“You’d better get going, then.”

Michael agreed, but he took one last moment of silence at the grave. Covington watched somberly as Michael said a soft prayer and laid the Tiger Lily on Katie’s tomb.

“They always were her favorite,” the old man noted. Michael agreed.

They began the long walk up the back side of the property to the house. Out of habit, Michael had parked in between the twin garages on the south side of the house. With the morning heat rising, he wished he’d parked in the parking garage in the rear instead. It was much closer, and he already missed the air conditioning of his car. The older man eyed Michael sideways as they walked, frowning.

“So… medical discharge?”

Michael frowned.

“Helicopter accident,” he let out slowly. Memories leapt unbidden into his mind, vivid as the daylight around him. Teeth. Sinew. That glowing yellow nose. He forced them down, but he couldn’t keep the look off his face.

“Ah,” Covington answered, sensing the delicacy of the subject. “Come back by for another visit when you have more time and tell me about it.”

The younger man met his eyes and nodded. He supposed he had to tell someone. Who better than Jim Covington?

“I will. I promise.” They shook on it, and then Michael reached for the door to his car.

“Hold on,” James told him, reaching into his pocket. He pressed a button on the chain. One of the three doors on the larger garage bay opened. “You took off so fast I couldn’t deliver your wedding present.” He tossed Michael a key chain.

“That’s because we never had the wedding.”

“I wasn’t taking this one back.”

As the door rose Michael recognized the car at once. The deep metallic gray body of the 2002 Porsche 911 Carrera Turbo gleamed in the morning sunlight. Once, Michael had dreamed about that model car, lusted after it almost as much as the girls he used to chase.

“I can’t accept this,” he said, preparing to return the keys. Covington turned his back before he could throw them.

“Too late,” he replied, striding toward the house. “The car’s already in your name. Insurance is taken care of. Whenever you want it, it’ll be there.”

“Wait – how’d you put it in my name? I never signed anything.”

The older man flashed an enigmatic grin.

“You can do all kinds of things you’re not supposed to when you’re filthy rich,” he answered, before turning back to the house. He called back over his shoulder. “Take care of yourself, Michael. And keep in touch.”

“I will.”

Michael gazed longingly at the Porsche for a long moment. Visions of racing it down the back roads of Georgia flitted through his head. He grinned. Then he frowned and shook his head, glad he hadn’t gotten the car years earlier. He probably would have crashed it on the first drive.

Eventually, he pressed the button on his new key chain and closed the garage door. A moment later, he drove his beat up Subaru down the long driveway of the Covington estate, thanking God for air conditioning.


Pre-order it now directly from Silver Empire, or wait until July 25th to pre-order it from Amazon.com.

Sea of Skulls – BOOK REVIEW

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A few weeks ago, when I included A Sea of Skulls by Vox Day in my Dragon Award nomination list, I promised to have a review out. Events on the ground caused things to shift around, but today I can finally share that review with you.

Before delving into the book review itself, I should point out a few things. First of all, this is not quite a complete book. The author released it in its current form, promising to follow up with a finalized version when it’s actually done. It’s an interesting experiment in the digital world, and I’m curious to see how that works out for him in the long run. Second, unlike many books that I review, I did not receive a free copy from the author. I paid full price for my copy.

This series is, to me, one of the most interesting things happening in the current science fiction and fantasy landscape. Book one kind of blew my mind. Book two continues in that tradition.

The author has stated that he intended this series as a deliberate shot across the bow at George R.R. Martin for a) his inability to finish his epic master series and b) the fact that Martin has clearly lost the plot in later books. As a reader, my belief is not only that Mr. Day has succeeded, but that he’s also created a substantially better series than Mr. Martin’s.

The series share much in common. The books are long. The story is epic in scope – very epic – spanning a huge fictional world. The world feels lived in, with a great deal of history, and included many diverse cultures. Massive battles and dirty politics are the order of the day.

But the Arts of Dark and Light series has two things dreadfully lost in A Song of Ice and Fire: hope and humanity.

When Martin killed Ned Stark at the end of his first book, it produced a shocking effect. It roped me in – and many others like me. But at the current point of A Song of Ice and Fire, there’s nobody left to really root for. All of the honorable characters are long dead. Even the semi-honorable characters have now met their demise. Only the disgusting remain. Westeros has become a bleak and desolate place. The current state of the story leaves us wondering if it can be saved – but that’s normal storytelling. It also leaves us wondering if it should be saved, and that’s where it’s losing me.

Mr. Day, on the other hand, has kept a ray of humanity in his characters even as they face a world of darkness around them. Some characters succomb to the evil. But others do not, and we still have champions worth rooting for.

One interesting thing about this series is the way Mr. Day has developed a world based so heavily on the Roman era. This is an unusal setting for contemporary fantasy writers, and that helps it stand out. More interesting, however, is the way he weaves religion into the story. Unlike most fantasy worlds that present a “psuedo” Catholic church – ie, Catholic in all of its trappings but none of its actual theology – Mr. Day presents what basically is the Catholic church. The beliefs are more or less complete.

To me, this provides a level of verisimilitude that other fantasy worlds can’t compete with. Most authors seem to assume that the trappings of the Catholic church are inherent in organized religion in general. They’re not. They’re distinctly Christian in character, which is why you basically only see them in the real world in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Mr. Day recognizes that these features didn’t evolve in a vacuum. In his world, they belong. And one can’t help but think, given the story’s hints, that the church will come back to play a major role.

This book doesn’t feel like an incomplete book. You won’t miss what’s not there. However, if you get it now, you’ll also get the updates when they come. I, for one, look forward to that.

I do have three specific complaints about the book, however.

First, I really wish we’d seen more of the church again in this installment. I’m hoping for more of that in the update.

Second, the author (who has a natural gift for languages himself, and speaks several) has clearly developed rather involved languages for his elves, dwarves, and orcs. Unfortunately, he uses them just a bit too much in this installment. This makes some sections of the book hard to follow. I’m a long time fantasy fan and used to unfamiliar fantasy words. But I also don’t have Mr. Day’s natural gift for language – and this extensive use of them draws me out of the story as I struggle to understand what’s actually going on.

Third, and finally, this installment focuses a bit too much for my taste on a particular female elf. Her storyline is interesting, but the author spends time on it that I would rather have spent reading about the other characters. This isn’t as bad as it might sound, though. Had her chapters been broken up a bit more, it would’ve been fine. I hope that the updated, final version of the book will address this.

Even with these flaws, this is still a five star book. If you’re into epic fantasy, I can’t recommend Arts of Dark and Light highly enough. Give it a shot.

Writing a Page Turner – Part 4

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Most of the early readers of Post Traumatic Stress have called it a real page turner. Page turners are good. They’re fun to read. It’s a great complement from your readers.

But most of all, page turners sell.

People enjoy books that they don’t want to put down. And – here’s the real magic – page turners make them want to buy the sequel, too. This is how binge readers are born, and binge readers are where the money is.

One thing to keep in mind is that no one of these techniques is essential. You can write page turning novels by breaking any (and maybe even all) of these “rules.” This is just one approach, but it’s an approach that works pretty well.

Believe it or not, the “page turner” aspect of Post Traumatic Stress is mostly intentional. It’s technique that you can learn, and today I want to teach some of that to you.

I’ve already mentioned that chapters are a key element of page turners, and shown two different techniques that you can use to make your chapters more captivating. I’ve also talked about story structure and how it relates to page turners. Today I want to share my final – and best – secret.

Secret #4 – Learn the Art of Verbal Storytelling

You became a writer because you’re an introvert, I get it. Get over it. If you really want to learn how to get people hanging on what you write, learn the old fashioned kind of storytelling: the verbal kind.

Verbal storytelling is a different beast than writing. It’s baser and more primal. Your average person is not a reader (the average American reads less than one book per year). Most people don’t have the patience for it. When you’re telling stories verbally, you’re fighting non-readers and their attention span. Readers are far more forgiving.

On the other hand, you have a lot of tools at your disposal that you don’t have when writing. Body language, tone of voice, cadence, pitch, and rhythm all play into verbal storytelling. If you fail on those scores, you’ll lose your listeners just as surely as if you fail to tell a good story. But those things don’t translate into writing.

Or do they?

I argue that they do, if imperfectly, and here’s one example.

If you’re telling a suspenseful story, verbally, you want to keep building the tension. How do you keep building the tension? You withhold as much information as possible while still keeping the story moving. Great – this is a standard storytelling technique, right? Except verbal storytellers quickly learn that this technique applies at the micro level, not just the macro level. You learn to slow down sentences when you want to build tension, then to speed them back up when you want the release. You learn the value of a well timed pause. You learn the value of subtle emphasis on one particular word. You learn to end a sentence on one word instead of another – and then to let that word hang out there.

All of those skills translate directly into writing.

Bonus tip: One other nice thing about verbal storytelling is that you get immediate feedback from your audience. If something is working, you know it right away. Likewise if something doesn’t work. It’s excellent because it lets you fine tune things far faster than writing does.


Post Traumatic Stress – Prologue

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My new novel, Post Traumatic Stress, will be available on August 1, 2017. You can pre-order it now directly from Silver Empire, or wait until July 25th to pre-order it from Amazon.com. Either way, today you can enjoy a sample chapter. The prologue is below.

It is through suffering that the soul is purified.

Every soldier brings demons home from war. But when Sergeant Michael Alexander came home to Athens, Georgia from Afghanistan, his war demons started kidnapping local college girls. Things got crazy when Michael tried to stop him.

Then the dragon arrived.

Post Traumatic Stress is a roller coaster thrill ride. It hooks you, clicks up to the peak, then sends you screaming all the way down. Masterfully done.

Daniel Humphreys
Author of the bestselling A Place Outside the Wild

Sample Chapters:

  1. Prologue
  2. Chapter One

 


Prologue

The conspiracy nuts would have a field day with this one. The Major already knew that the truth would never, ever see the light of day. He could already imagine some of the crazy theories they’d spin. But whatever they came up with would never match what had actually happened over the last few days. That thought almost made him laugh out loud. Almost.

He surveyed the strangers around him, still trying to wrap his head around everything. The Monk knelt off to the side, praying in Latin. The Major didn’t understand a word of it. But there was strength in that prayer – strength and power. It rang forth with the clear voice of a true believer. Its energy drew in everyone around him. For a moment, they all believed.

The Old Man calmly directed suppressive fire toward the cave entrance. He set careful fire zones to ensure a clear path to safety for the last handful of fleeing soldiers. He knew his work well. Clearly he’d had military experience in the past.

His team was the best. Today, that hadn’t been enough. Bodies littered the ground around the cave entrance. Plenty more remained hidden underground. But the official report wouldn’t show that. The casualties would show up on another report from another operation on another day. Families would be told their loved ones had died in battles they’d never fought; some of them in places the soldiers had never visited.

Officially, those men had never been here.

The Commander had commandeered his radio after those REMFs back at headquarters had denied him permission for an airstrike. The Major and his team called in air strikes all the time – and they’d called in plenty earlier that day. He didn’t understand why he lacked the authority for this one.

Whoever he was, the Commander didn’t have that problem. He barked a few strange phrases into the radio, obviously code words. A brief moment later, the authorization came back.

His soldiers held their positions, maintaining fire despite their frazzled nerves. Under the circumstances it seemed like a miracle. Yet despite their lack of preparation for the day’s horrors, they really were the best of the best. Now that they’d escaped that death trap, he knew that they would hold. He brimmed with pride at their performance today. Even by their own superhuman standards, every man among them had gone above and beyond.

The buzzing of an incoming aircraft caught his attention. He snapped his head to the sky, and found it quickly. The propeller driven C-130 Hercules flew low for this one – right around six thousand feet. The unguided “dumb” ordinance didn’t have much precision. To be fair, a bomb that size didn’t need much precision. But it did need some, and that meant flying low. And then he saw it – the parachute popping out the rear of the plane, followed by the gleaming silver oblong blob. It even looked like one of the largest bombs ever built.

The BLU-82 packs almost thirteen thousand pounds of GSX explosive into one package. The five thousand foot blast radius and resulting mushroom cloud often confuse observers into believing that they’ve witnessed a nuclear explosion. Developed during the Vietnam War, its ability to flatten even the flowers quickly led to its nickname. They called it the “Daisy Cutter.”

The Major watched the device fall downward toward the mouth of the cave, noting thankfully that his men had all cleared the blast zone. This one would be loud. And jarring. The parachute took almost three minutes to deliver its payload. Those three minutes felt like an eternity.

A shout rose up among the men as a shadow emerged from the cave. All went quiet for a moment, as they recognized the shape that had terrorized them in the darkness. Then the Knight emerged, injured and weary. Despite his obvious fatigue, he launched straight into a ferocious assault on the dark form. The men cheered.

His team didn’t need orders. Every man among them knew they owed their own lives to the Knight. He’d been the one to engage that thing, buying them all time to escape. They shifted their aim and unloaded everything they had into it. Hundreds of rounds of ammunition pounded it, to minimal effect. Still, they fired away – anything to help the Knight, but most of all, anything to keep that nightmare inside the target zone.

The Knight glanced to the sky. He clearly knew what came his way, yet he never wavered. He never even tried to escape. He knew what everyone else knew. If he let that shadowy terror escape, it would all be for nothing. So he attacked with everything he had, keeping his opponent pinned down just inside the cave mouth.

The show ended with an explosive finale. The bombardiers knew their work. The combatants, barely out of the blast radius, found themselves blinded and deafened. If anything, the quiet that followed disturbed them even more. Nothing moved within the blast zone. His men ceased fire. What would be the point? Anything that could survive that would laugh off their remaining weapons.

Hours later, after the blast zone had cooled, the strangers led a hunt through the rubble. The blast had vaporized everything. Not a trace remained of the shadow, nor could they find any remains of the Knight. The Major had thought nothing else could surprise him that day. He learned he was wrong when they found it. It gleamed bright after they wiped the ash off. He couldn’t find even a tiny scratch on it.

The strangers brought it out of the blast zone and lay it in a clearing. Kneeling before it, the Monk led a prayer for their fallen comrade. The Major knelt and joined in. His men followed – every one of them, men of all faiths, even atheists. Not necessarily for God or for the Christ that the Monk prayed to, but for this man, this Knight, who had given his life for them. Soldiers, one and all, saluted a fallen comrade. Afterward, the Commander wrapped the artifact carefully and packed it up.

Night would fall soon. The Afghanis wouldn’t support an assault in the dark, even after the bombing. After what he’d seen in the cave, the Major didn’t blame them. They’d send a team down in daylight to sift through the rubble and see if they could identify the bodies.

The strangers joined them silently on the trek back to their base camp. But they slipped away in the night, bypassing even his watch. The Monk, the Old Man, the Commander and the Knight. He didn’t know their names or where they came from or where they went. But he knew what he’d seen in that cave, and it altered his life forever.

The conspiracy theorists would have a field day, yes. But their wild theories didn’t have anything on the truth.


Pre-order it now directly from Silver Empire, or wait until July 25th to pre-order it from Amazon.com.

Writing a Page Turner – Part 3

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Most of the early readers of Post Traumatic Stress have called it a real page turner. Page turners are good. They’re fun to read. It’s a great complement from your readers.

But most of all, page turners sell.

People enjoy books that they don’t want to put down. And – here’s the real magic – page turners make them want to buy the sequel, too. This is how binge readers are born, and binge readers are where the money is.

One thing to keep in mind is that no one of these techniques is essential. You can write page turning novels by breaking any (and maybe even all) of these “rules.” This is just one approach, but it’s an approach that works pretty well.

Believe it or not, the “page turner” aspect of Post Traumatic Stress is mostly intentional. It’s technique that you can learn, and today I want to teach some of that to you.

I’ve already mentioned that chapters are a key element of page turners, and shown two different techniques that you can use to make your chapters more captivating. Today I’d like to take a step back from the trees and look at the forest as a whole.

Secret #3 – Plot Structure

Your plot structure will have a huge influence on how well your story reads. Good plot structure is intentional, not accidental. Throwing a mishmash of a plot together will usually yield very poor results.

Now, I’m not one to get hung up on rules. However, I do believe very strongly in a few things.

  1. Before you break the rules, you should understand what the rules are and why they work.
  2. The rules describe what your target audience is used to. If you break them, you need a good reason.

If you read this blog, I assume that you write for western audiences, as I do. At the very highest level, there are really only two story structures that western audiences will accept.

  1. A single act. You can really only get away with this in short fiction. For anything longer than about 10,000 words, your audience will expect more than this. Even above 6,000 words, you’re pushing it. And frankly, even most short fiction does better if you stick with one of the other structures.
  2. The classic three-act structure. This is by far the most common structure in western fiction. You have a beginning, or introductory period. You have the second act, where all the fun stuff happens. And then act three presents the climax, resolution, and wraps everything up. This is, generally, what your audience will expect.

This is basically it. You’ll see people out there describing two-act structures, but they’re not common. And you’ll see a few variations, such as four-act structures (which are usually just the three-act structure with act two split in half). Shakespeare, of course, is famous for his five-act plays. From a modern standpoint, however, these can largely be viewed as a three-act structure with act two broken into three.

Don’t get me wrong – there are big benefits to breaking act two apart. Most writers find act two to be the big stumbling block. In a traditional breakdown, it’s half or more of the story, all in one act. Breaking it down into smaller pieces is an excellent tool for getting you through it.

If you want to write a page turner, though, I highly recommend looking at two plot “formulas” that will help you keep things going.

First, I recommend a somewhat famous book on screenwriting called Save the Cat. It presents a finer grade plot structure with 15 plot “beats” for breaking down a story. Now, I will put a few caveats on this:

  • The book focuses on screenplays, not novels. You’ll have to adjust a bit to fit the formula to something of novel length.
  • The author is a bit anal, bordering on autistic, about putting the plot beats in exact places. He even puts exact page numbers on them. I think this is slightly too strict.

With that said, I find this to be a very useful framework to hang the skeleton of an outline on. I’ve also used it as a tool to drastically improve pacing issues, both on my own works and on those of authors I’ve published.

The last thing I would add on this book is that the “beat sheet” is useful, and the chapter on the ten basic story archetypes is useful, but the rest of the book is basically boilerplate.

Second, I also recommend looking at Lester Dent’s Master Formula. Dent is most famous for his Doc Savage stories, but he wrote extremely prolifically in the pulp era. His “master formula” is explicitly written for 6,000 word short stories. However, it’s easy to translate the concepts of the formula into longer works. The formula also dovetails nicely with the Save the Cat beat sheet. You don’t have to choose between them.

Bonus tip: The items above lay out “the rules.” But as I noted above, you should also know when to break them. To that end, I’m definitely looking forward to Drown the Cat by Dario Cirello, due out (amusingly enough) this Independence Day. I have not yet read it myself, but my friend Jon Del Arroz recommends it highly.


Cliques and Outgrouping

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Jared continues his screeds in my comment sections. Feel free to read the whole thing. I will only be responding to pieces of it.

First this:

“If he still wants to fight the hugo fight, by all means, the rabid puppies are that away. Have fun.

No, seriously, I mean it. Go forth and conquer, bask in the lamentations of their femme presenting folk, whatever you want.

Jared proceeds from a false assumption – a false assumption that several others who have jumped into the fray have made. I have also been accused of “concern trolling.” What Jared and these others completely miss is that I don’t give a shit about the Hugos, or about Sad Puppies. My original post wasn’t intended to be a “here’s how to improve the puppies” guide. I don’t care. Sad Puppies is a dead brand.

The post serves, instead, two specific purposes. First, it’s a post mortem discussion of why Sad Puppies died (TL;DR – Regina George killed it). For those like Jared who refuse to learn the lessons from it, that’s his problem, not mine. Second, I’m using Sad Puppies as a club to beat Regina George with because she picked a fight with one of mine. Granted, she made it a particularly easy club to beat her with (thanks for that, BTW).

Which brings me to the next point of Jared’s that’s worth discussion today.

You say this is all about an attack on your author. I find that odd for a publisher to intervene in this manner at all, but especially that you demand she drop it while simultaneously being incensed that she didn’t name him in the post.

I am not a traditional publisher, and I don’t behave like one. Get over it.

But the last part of that quote is, indeed the heart of the issue. This suggests to me that unlike others, Jared is naive and not malicious. I’m willing to cut him the benefit of the doubt. I will assume that he honestly doesn’t understand the human behavior he’s witnessed. That’s OK. The gambit Ms. George pulled is a particularly passive aggressive gambit that specifically relies on good, decent people not understanding the intense cruelty that she’s exhibiting.

Once upon a time, I, too, was oblivious to this kind of social manipulation. And once upon a time, I, too, played victim to it. In middle school and high school I lacked the social understanding to comprehend what had happened. Since then, I’ve learned better.

Not naming him in the post *was* her trying to drop it. The event was materially linked to the post at hand, namely explaining what has happened with Sad Puppies and what will happen in the future, and as such needed to be mentioned for the sake of clarity, but dragging the individuals name into it wasn’t necessary, as that would bring up the fight anew, so she didn’t name him specifically. Those who already knew would know, but it wouldn’t change their impressions of it anyway, and those that didn’t, well, for them it wouldn’t matter. Sure, the other comments can be discussed, but that isn’t my place to argue. Of course you naming him for her makes the effort moot now.

Here, Jared couldn’t be more wrong. This is what Scott Adams would call, in persuasion land, the “fake because.” It’s a pretense that’s just plausible enough for good natured people to believe it. This is the smokescreen that hides the actual goal.

The real goal is to ostracize an individual and cast him out of the group. The entire purpose of bringing him up in this discussion is to signal to the “in group” that he’s no longer one of them. His name is left out deliberately in order to achieve this goal.

The reason this works is because everybody in the “in” group already knows who she’s talking about. Now, we can divide up the folks in the “in” group in several ways. First, we have those who consciously understand the social cue, those who understand it subconsciously and still react accordingly, and those who just miss it. Among those who understand it, we can further subdivide into four groups. There are those who understand it and will gleefully savage the cast out individual because they are cruel. There are those who understand it and will pile on because they fear being the next victim. Some will understand what is happening but stay silent, also because they fear being next. And finally there are those who will understand it and actually speak up. The last group is always small, for reasons we’ll get into later.

The net result is that those in the group pick up the signal, pile on the chosen victim, and cast him out of the group.

What about those not part of the “in” group? They fall into several groups as well. Some of them want to be part of the in group. They also pile on the ostracized individual, hoping to score points. Some will recognize what’s happening, if they happen to have enough domain knowledge. Most won’t know what’s going on and will just ignore it – it’s noise to them.

In this case, a very large number of the “out” group know exactly what’s going on because everything has happened publicly. Specifically, the Vile 770 crew already knows exactly who Ms. George is talking about. So in addition to cutting him out of the group, she’s signaling to a specific set of the “out” group that he’s been cast out and is ripe for being attacked.

I’ve been accused multiple times now of believing Declan Finn’s lies. He has been accused of “leaking” information to me. I have no idea what you people are smoking. I’ve based everything I’ve written off of what both Declan and Ms. Regina George have written publicly on their blogs. Jared and his friends can believe that or not believe it. Obviously, there’s no possible way I could ever prove that, as I can’t produce records of communications that never happened. On the other hand, I also don’t care what paranoid delusions these people harbor. Not my monkey.

There’s a reason I chose “Regina George” and the Mean Girls photos for all of these posts. This tactic is a classic right out of exactly the same kind of clique behavior that the movie depicts. I’ve seen it worked hundreds of times, maybe even thousands. You can watch it happen daily at any high school in America.

Don’t take my word for it, though. There’s an entire book that describes this exact behavior. Queen Bees and Wannabees is aimed at your daughters – and for good reason. This particular behavior is overwhelmingly female. That’s probably why it went straight over Jared’s head. Most women understand what’s happening here immediately and instinctively. They’ve dealt with it since they were little girls. A great many men miss it entirely.

Indeed, this entire recipe relies on men like Jared missing it entirely. It’s a classic passive-aggressive behavior. Ms. George provides enough detail to ensure that the people in the group get the right social message. But she leaves out enough – deliberately – to ensure that she can pretend she’s not doing anything of the sort. Then she relies on decent people, people who don’t want a fight, or maybe people who even feel the need to protect her, to refrain from calling her out on it. And when some of us do call her out on it, she falls back to the “fake because.”

I detest passive aggression with the fiery passion of a thousand dying sons. Thankfully, I also learned a very long time ago the morally correct and highly effective way to deal with passive aggression: aggressive aggression.

Ms. George has decided to play Mean Girls with a man who literally doesn’t grasp the social situation well enough to properly defend himself. I’ve dealt with Declan Finn for nearly eight months now, editing his upcoming book (which is great, by the way, especially with the editing we’ve put it through). The one and true crime that we can absolutely lay at his feet is having zero social skills – maybe even negative social skills. Frankly, I’d lay money that he has more than a touch of Asperger’s. And when people say to me, “Oh, don’t believe his lies!” (as they have in this matter), I only have two responses:

  1. What lies? He literally hasn’t told me a damned thing.
  2. Trust me. My wife and I had to explain to him why certain scenes in the earlier drafts of his books didn’t work… and he just wasn’t getting it. He really and truly doesn’t understand this stuff.

Of course, that second reason is also why Ms. George is picking on him in the first place. Because you see, this kind of attack is always targeted at the weak.

What I’ve also learned over the years is never, ever to give anyone the benefit of the doubt when they behave this way. As I noted earlier, I’ve seen this play out hundreds, if not thousands, of times throughout my life. I’ve never once seen it done unintentionally. The perpetrator always knows what she’s doing.

Had she left this matter completely private, where it belongs, I never would’ve gotten involved. But she didn’t. She took it public on purpose and deliberately. She should’ve written her sad, sorry excuse-filled poor me post without mentioning him at all. But she can’t do that, because she needs a scapegoat for her own pathetic incompetence.

So I stand by my comments. Ms. Regina George is a cowardly bully who has picked a fight on a man unable to defend himself. And there is only one appropriate response to bullies.

You stand up and punch them in the nose.

Thankfully, Ms. George has given me plenty of ammunition. And I’ll continue to use it until she and her cronies back off.