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The Things That Shaped Me: Lone Wolf RPG Adventure Books

IMG_20160418_171337_829I’m an incredibly nostalgic person.

It also seems I’m not alone, judging by the popularity of stuff like Stranger Things and Ready Player One.

In order to feed my ever-ravenous nostalgia, I’ve spent many an afternoon on eBay tracking down copies of the old tabletop role-playing games I used to own as a kid: MERP, the TMNT role-playing game, Pendragon.

I loved RPGs as a kid. Every time I went to Waldenbooks, I seemed to leave with another game tucked under my arm. But buying and reading a role-playing game is very different from actually playing one. I learned early on that RPGs only work when there are other people interested in playing them with you.

This became a problem for me. Occasionally, I could rope my brother or some of my cousins into a game. Other times, my brother and his friends down the street would play Battletech and I’d try to shoehorn my way in (unsuccessfully). Most of the time though, I just sat in my bedroom and re-read the rule books. I made up various adventures, characters, and campaigns that I never got to play.

Then, on a day I cannot remember with any clarity, I stumbled upon the Lone Wolf Adventure books. It must’ve been in a Waldenbooks, but honestly, I can’t remember.

IMG_20160418_171607_374The Lone Wolf books were perfect: Choose Your Own Adventure meets solo-RPGing.

Unlike a typical Choose Your Own Adventure, I got to make choices even before the page-flipping began. I could “create” my character: choose his skills, his items, his weapons.

Perhaps best of all, there was a method for combat. The Random Number table served the same function as the twenty-and-twelve-and-ten-sided dice of normal tabletop role-playing. It was far more interactive than a typical CYOA, and it was high fantasy with a dark, D&D-kinda feel. I felt very grown-up playing the Lone Wolf books; almost like I was a teenager. They helped satisfy my desire to play a “real” role-playing game. I still longed to find someone willing to play RuneQuest with me, but Lone Wolf was enough to keep me happy.

IMG_20160418_172037_031Unfortunately, in the pre-Internet age, it was hard to find many Lone Wolf books. I’m not sure I ever found more than two. Just as quickly as I had found them and loved them, I had met a dead-end.

Flash-forward to today: I had completely forgotten about the Lone Wolf books.

Then my husband came home from work carrying three rough-edged mass market paperbacks on top of his stack of paperwork. (Important note: my husband works for a charity that runs a bunch of resale stores.)

“Found these in one of the thrift stores today,” he said. “Thought you’d like them.”

I looked at the books. The dawning realization that I’d seen them before — somewhere in the distant reaches of my childhood — overwhelmed me.

“I know those books,” I said, awed.

They were the Lone Wolf Adventure books.

IMG_20160418_171112_623Then I laughed almost hysterically. It was like seeing a long-lost best friend while standing in line at the DMV.

Books 3, 14, and 17.

IMG_20160418_171826_890I started with Book 3. Every page was dripping with nostalgic memories: the map at the front, the “Action Chart,” the “Combat Results Table.” I resisted the urge to look up anything on the Internet about how to “win” the adventure. I wanted my experience to be fresh, untainted.

I started the adventure on a Saturday afternoon, and by Saturday evening I had fought with ice barbarians, survived the attack of a crystal frostwyrm, made my way through the underground depths of Kalte, and defeated the evil wizard Vonotar without once having to start over. I was stoked. I immediately went to Amazon.com and ordered Books 4 & 5.

Even though I had scoured the interwebs to find copies of the old RPGs I used to own, I still hadn’t been able to find anyone else to play them with me (the story of my life, alas). That’s the trouble with tabletop RPGs: they aren’t made for solos. But the Lone Wolf Adventure books are the antidote for the lonely RPG-enthusiast. They fed my need for role-playing as a kid, and now as an adult, they’ve nourished my ever-hungry nostalgia.

I’ve got Book 4, The Chasm of Doom all queued up, and frankly, I can’t wait.

New Cover for Thirteen Treasures Is Here!

THE THIRTEEN TREASURES OF BRITAIN_mckup11

I ran a contest through 99Designs.com and it was awesome. I would definitely recommend it for other authors. I love this new cover, and I am excited to be working with the designer for books 2 & 3.

The Editing Process, Or How I Read Chris Fox’s Book and Everything Changed

I just re-read my post about being pregnant and wow, does it sound whiny. I won’t lie: things were not good in the first trimester. Sickness, extreme exhaustion, lots to do at my teaching job.

But reading that post now. Eeeeesh. I sound like a whiny whiner who whines.

My work habits have improved since then. Part of that is due to being off for the summer (yay! teacher-life!), but a larger part of my improved work habit is an awesome little book called Life Long Writing Habit by Chris Fox.

Fox’s 5,000 Words Per Hour was a revelation for me when I read it in November 2015. My word counts jumped from 500 words per hour to closer to 1,500 within the span of just a few weeks. If I hadn’t gotten so down in the dumps during the first trimester, I would probably be closer to 2,000 words per hour by now. I cannot recommend Fox’s book enough. His book is the only one I’ve read that has real, actionable steps that can be taken to improve one’s writing speed. I’ve read other books about writing more words per hour, but most of them just offer advice like, “write using an outline” or “don’t worry about typos.” This kind of advice is not helpful for the more experienced writer.

Fox’s book, on the other hand, was immediately helpful, and it will continue to be helpful as I move through my writing career. I am not a novice writer; I didn’t decide to *just* start writing. I’ve studied screenwriting in college, lived in L.A. and tried to get a job in television, took screenwriting courses, wrote articles about classic movies for different online publications, and taught English classes (nothing will hone editing/revision skills like helping teenagers improve their writing). I’ve been writing for a long time. Fox’s book is one of the few that hasn’t repeated a bunch of stuff I already learned in college; it offered me something new, and as of right now, it’s working. It was the kick in the pants I needed to get my writing speed up to “Moderately Prolific Indie Writer” levels (now I just need to level-up to “Insanely Prolific Indie Writer”).

Just a few weeks ago, I decided I needed another kick in the pants. Being in the doldrums earlier this year — and finding my revision process on Thirteen Treasures utterly stalled — I decided to pick up another one of Fox’s books. Lifelong Writing Habit didn’t come as highly touted as 5,000 Words Per Hour; it seemed to be the forgotten middle child in Fox’s “Write Faster, Write Smarter” series. However, it also seemed to be a motivational book, and I needed motivation.

True to its title, in just a couple of weeks, I have developed a ridiculously better writing habit. Whereas (since summer started) I couldn’t drag myself out of bed until almost 7:30, I am now getting up regularly at 6:00 a.m. and starting my day with writing. I used to avoid working on Thirteen Treasure revisions (for fear of failure, of course), but now I know that unless I get to work, my goals for the future won’t be realized. I now have much more concrete (and written down) goals for where I want my life and career to be. And I’m excited about writing again.

This is all thanks to Fox’s book.

Regarding my current revision adventures, I am currently in the trenches. I’m in the middle of the book, revising chapters that are messy, sometimes corny, and utterly mediocre compared to the chapters I’ve already revised. Deep revision like this is comparable to one of those snowball-rolling-down-a-hill things you see in cartoons (or Willow). One small change to a character’s motivation in chapter 2 is now having huge ramifications in chapter 7, and the new character backstory I invented in chapter 4 must be incorporated into the character’s reactions in chapter 9. The chapters I thought wouldn’t take as much time to revise are proving to be just as time-consuming as the utterly horrific chapters I’ve spent weeks revising.

I’ll be honest: At times, this revision process has made me feel like a failure. I had a publication date goal of June 22nd, but that date has come and gone, and I’m still revising the manuscript (let’s not even talk about proofreading yet, please).

My new goal is November for publication. Even though I’m moving my date back, it should be more effective in the long run. This gives me time to do what I originally intended to do: write books 2 & 3 before book 1 comes out. Being able to release all three books within a 6-month span should help with visibility and marketing efforts.

Lifelong Writing Habit has definitely improved my outlook in this regard. No matter what my publication dates are, I know that each day I get my work done, I get one day closer to my goals. This cannot be stated enough, my fellow writers: Everyday you work, you get one step closer. Days spent writing are never wasted days, even if it’s taking you longer than you hoped.

I have to keep reminding myself of this. If I keep working, the book will get finished. And it will get finished when it gets finished; looking back at past deadlines and sighing is not a productive habit. If I want to achieve my goals, I must look forward. I must keep doing the work that needs to be done, even if it’s not perfect.

I think perfectionism can hinder us not only in the actual words we write, but also in the habits we try to form: i.e., “If I’m not writing my 2,000 words an hour, then I am a failure.” This is false; it is a failure mindset. Better to say, “I wrote 700 words today. I want to get to 2,000, but 700 words today is more than I had yesterday.” Let’s call it the “Keep on keepin’ on” mindset. If we, as creative artists, can just keep on keepin’ on, we will achieve our goals.

Swords, Dragons, and the Iconography of Fantasy

DragonsofAutumnTwilight_1984originalI am in the midst of reforging my relationship with fantasy literature. As a youngster, I read a lot of fantasy but fell out of the habit until I hit college. In college, I rediscovered Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, as well as myth and folklore, but it wasn’t until I read G.R.R.M.’s Game of Thrones and Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind that I finally got back into reading fantasy that had been published within the last forty years.

Since beginning this blog and restarting my writing career, I’ve been thinking a lot about fantasy as a genre and why we as readers are attracted to it. In one respect, my interest in this question is born out of insecurity. When I was a kid, fantasy lit was decidedly uncool. Being into fantasy lit was the kiss of social death, and for a girl it was even worse. “Female Geek Culture” was not a thing when I was younger. The stigma I experienced from being into “knights and stuff” has carried itself with me even into adulthood. I embrace my fantasy love now and proudly proclaim it to any who care to listen, but I’m still obsessed with legitimizing the genre. I still need my love for fantasy to be  validated.

I also see trends happening in the genre that I’m not entirely sure I like. Not for any larger social/cultural reasons, but simply because my personal tastes seem to be out-of-step with some (but definitely not all) of what’s happening in the genre. To be a little less cryptic: I like my fantasy to be a little more wondrous and a little less mundane. More on that in posts to come.

For now, I want to focus on the “old school” fantasy that I experienced in the 80s and early 90s, and what that fantasy had to offer for me as a bookish kid who for some inexplicable reason had a passion for swords and dragons. Because swords and dragons (and knights, wizards, orcs, giants, castles…) are the very things I want to expound upon.

“Fantasy” as a genre is hard to pin down. On the one hand, the word evokes images of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, of the standard medieval-ish high fantasy that involves quests and monsters. But on the other hand, fantasy can also include a classic film like It’s a Wonderful Life. After all, It’s a Wonderful Life has “magic” in it (Clarence the angel and his ability to erase George Bailey from existence). There is no scientific or realistic explanation for how George gets erased from everyone’s lives; the angel grants George’s wish, and suddenly the film enters this alternate-universe where everything has gone terribly wrong. This is fantasy.

Fantasy can also include contemporary and urban settings — worlds where things of magic (fairies, goblins, werewolves, etc.) exist alongside contemporary things like cars, skyscrapers, and guns. This too is fantasy.

And yet, when I feel the desire to experience a “fantasy story,” I don’t gravitate towards the It’s a Wonderful Life or I Married a Witch variety of fantasy, but instead seek out the Tolkienesque. Occasionally, I’ll seek out urban fantasy, like Lost Girl or the Dresden Files. Sometimes I’ll look for wizard schools like Hogwarts, or hidden worlds like Fantastica. When I want fantasy, I go looking for dragons, not Bewitched.

What I’m proposing is this: The official definition of “fantasy” is not necessarily what fans of the genre are looking for. I would contend that what fantasy fans want is both a certain kind of feeling and a certain kind of iconography.

In other words, we want dragons and swords.

Things can stray from dragons and swords a bit, but the further they stray, the less they satisfy that pure desire for other-ness that fantasy promises. An urban fantasy can still scratch the itch for a fantasy fan because even if the hero fights with a gun, she’s still fighting red caps and giants and ghouls, and Baba Yaga lurks in the shadows of the dark, garbage-filled alleyway. But even when fantasy combines with another sub-genre, it still needs the things of fantasy. A reluctant hero may find a sword  stuck in a tree or he may find a revolver hidden in a suitcase, but only one of these images holds within it the allure of fantasy.

We might complain about “too many elves” in the thousands of Tolkien-ish knockoffs that litter the fantasy shelves, but nevertheless, we still want something… elvish. Call them the Fey or the Tuatha or the Fair Folk, but we want human-like, immortal otherbeings who possess a naturalistic kind of magic and a haunting power over those of us who hail from the world of men. We might complain about “another f***ing orc,” but we still want monsters who come from the same deep recesses of human imagination as Grendel and his kin. We might gripe about the glut of fantasy that is too Euro-centric, but the heroes and creatures and monsters of ALL cultures share in the inexplicable qualities of strangeness, of mystery, of “other-ness,” that fantasy fans crave. The djinn and the leprechaun may be worlds apart, but they both spring from the same well of human imagination that seeks to conjure up something beyond the ordinary world.

This entry into something beyond the ordinary — this desire for fairies and their magic — is what I’ve been seeking lately. I want to go back to the classic tropes, to the skies filled with dragons and the dusty roads traveled by surly dwarves. I’m reading the Pern books for the first time. I’m going to be rereading The Lord of the Rings. I’m making my way through the Dark Is Rising sequence. I’ve got A Wizard of Earthsea on my to-read queue. I’m currently on the hunt for original editions of the Dragonlance Chronicles. I’m re-reading some old copies of the Lone Wolf role-playing adventure books. I finally picked up and read The Neverending Story — a book I’ve wanted to read since I was twelve.

As much as I want the fantasy genre to expand and to refresh itself (simply so that it doesn’t stagnate and calcify into something boring), I don’t want to see the classic iconography of the genre disappear either. I still want warriors on horseback, wielding swords and spears, fighting dragons and goblins in dark forests and ancient castles. The things of fantasy matter. They are the blood and guts of the genre, even if we often dress them up in different skins. These are the things I’ve been craving lately; I want dark lords and even darker crystals. I want dragons. And perhaps, most of all, I want a sword of my very own — a sword with spells woven into the blade, with powers from the otherworld, with an ancient history beyond the mists of time. A sword to vanquish a dragon, or to enchant one.

Work Is Hard When You’re in the First Trimester

Good news: I’m pregnant. Due in October.

Bad news: I feel nauseated ALL THE TIME. The term “morning sickness” is very misleading. Very misleading indeed. I feel the worst in the evenings, actually. But mornings, afternoons, evenings — they all suck. Just constant stomach churning. It’s like being seasick 24/7, but without a way to get off the boat.

This has slowed my editing of Thirteen Treasures down considerably. It’s also completely stalled my attempts to write the rough draft of book 2 in the series, Ysbaddaden and the Game of Chess.

I’m still working towards my deadlines, but they loom over me like horrible specters now, instead of like the bright beacons they were before.  Before, my deadlines were finish lines I couldn’t wait to cross. I was sprinting and feeling the rush of oncoming victory. But now, I feel mostly dread. If I’m not feeling sick with nausea, I’m falling asleep because being pregnant makes one INCREDIBLY, INSANELY TIRED. And then on top of the physical issues, I’m sick with worry that I won’t finish the books on time.

If this post sounds like I’m whining, I am. I’m whining. A lot.

I listen to self-publishing podcasts, read blogs by indie writers, keep up on the latest strategies for marketing. But nowhere in the vast self-pub world do I see much information about how to get the job done when one is pregnant and also has a toddler at home. I’m beginning to suspect there’s not much out there for pregnant, self-publishing moms because pregnant, self-publishing moms are rarer than yetis.

And yes, my hormones are out-of-whack. Explains my dour mood, doesn’t it?

Anyway, I’ll do my best to keep chugging along.

Onward to Midsummer!

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