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Where it All Started

Book 1: Ohlen's Arrow
Book 1: Ohlen's Arrow

Thwip.

The arrow sank deep into the creature’s throat and it fell backwards in a spray of blood, twitching and clawing at the wooden shaft protruding from its severed windpipe. The man lowered his bow and crouched behind the bushes in case there were others. He watched and listened to see if he had stumbled upon a lone cru’gan or if it had been part of a patrol. The only sound was the wet gurgling coming from the cru’gan’s throat. Soon it lay still and silent, and the only thing the man could hear was the evening breeze through the pine trees.

After several minutes passed, he retrieved his arrow and quickly searched the beast’s body, then rolled it out of sight under a pile of briars. He kicked dust over the creature’s blood, and then moved silently away into the forest amidst the diminishing evening light.


This is where it all started. The above excerpt is the opening paragraphs of my first novel, Ohlen’s Arrow. What does it say about an author who’s first word of their first book is “thwip“?

My intention was to create an instant sense of action and a feeling of mystery about the main character that compels the reader to continue the story. There’s nothing I’ve written that has been worked and re-worked more than that opening section, and in many ways, it is the work I’m most proud of.

I encourage you to read Ohlen’s Arrow and learn the rest of the story. It is my hope that it engages your attention and carries you captivatingly forward.

For Kindle and paperback editions of my books, visit my Books page.

Expanded Ruckerworks.com website

As you may have noticed, I recently expanded the breadth and capability of the Ruckerworks.com website. I changed hosting providers to a system that is far more capable of handling high traffic, and I implemented e-commerce capabilities that allow me to sell my eBooks directly without having to rely on Amazon.

Because I am now selling the Kindle versions of my books directly, I get a much larger percentage of each sale than when I sell them through Amazon. If you are the kind of reader who likes to support independent authors, this is a great thing as a big chunk of your reading dollar isn’t going toward helping Jeff Bezos buy a new yacht — or a small island.

I also have the ability to directly connect with my readers and those who buy my books. I have set up a newsletter for site and book updates, and have a Contact form so readers can get in touch with me directly.

Through this site-wide upgrade, I hope to establish a stronger and more immediate connection to my readers while still providing direct access to my written works.

Let me know in the Contact Me form what you think of the site. Happy reading! – Steve W.

The Value of Expertise

Factory machine

Roughly half of my career as an IT and software development professional has been spent in the capacity of a consultant or freelancer. Part of that involved trading hours for dollars, but another aspect of my work has been providing solutions and being paid for those solutions regardless of how little or how long it took.

One of my favorite stories, likely apocryphal and without original attribution, is a legend among consultants and experts-for-hire. It goes something like this:

A manufacturer used a very large and expensive machine to make their product. One day the machine stopped working. None of the employees or managers could figure out how to get it working again. The company was losing thousands of dollars per hour in lost productivity. Something had to be done, fast!

On the advice of someone on the management team, they called in an expert from the outside. This individual arrived shortly after receiving the call. After being briefed on the problem, the expert carefully walked around the machine, listening and inspecting different parts of it.

After about 15 minutes of inspection, the expert asked that someone bring him a 10-pound hammer. The tool was produced, and taking it in his hands, the expert drew back and smacked the machine in a very particular spot.

Whirrr! The machine came to life and everyone cheered, quickly getting back to work.

Ten days later, the factory manager opened up the mail and saw an invoice from the expert. After looking at the amount due, he immediately called the expert on the phone.

“I just got your bill and I am flabbergasted and very angry.”

“What’s the problem?” the expert said, calmly.

“You have the audacity to charge us $2,000 when all you did was walk around the machine for 15 minutes and then smack it with a hammer. I could have done that!”

The expert politely said, “You aren’t paying me for 15 minutes worth of my time, like you do your bookkeepers or floor sweepers, and you aren’t paying me for my ability to swing a hammer like you do your workmen.”

“Then what exactly are you expecting me to pay you for?” the manager screamed into the phone.

“I restored to life a critical piece of machinery, without which you were losing thousands of dollars per hour in lost revenue. You are paying me for the value of what I gave you, produced through my years of expertise in knowing where to strike the machine and how hard.”

A Boy Named Marmite

Marmite
Marmite

I tried Marmite for the first time, spread on a Ritz cracker. Here’s how I would describe it.

Molly Molasses, well beyond her ‘best by’ date and bitter from a recent divorce, went to Las Vegas in a vain attempt to forget her past life. In a run-down and smoke-filled bar at the unfashionable end of town, she met a surly local with thick sideburns escaping from under a sweat-stained trucker hat, a bulging man that introduced himself to everyone by saying, “Call me Mr. Beef Bouillon.” They spent one unspeakable night together in a dilapidated by-the-hour motel, its slogan “What happens here, stays here” displayed in faded false prophet neon blinking arrhythmically behind scuffed, bullet-proof glass. Their unholy lust produced a child, a hell-spawn son named Marmite, a boy with a face and disposition only an utterly knackered and jaded mother could love.

Bless his heart.

Second Citizen First Draft

I recently completed the first draft of my contemporary fiction novel, Second Citizen. This is a story I’ve been wanting to write for several years. It is a departure from my normal fantasy genre and was an interesting experience for a few reasons.

Because this book takes place in modern times and is based on real places (all in Oregon, my home state), I was able to use existing place names and locales. In fantasy, you have to create your world before you can populate it. That can be a challenge, especially when it comes to naming people and places. Although the characters in Second Citizen are fictitious, their names are common so I had a wealth of existing source material to choose from.

The downside to writing contemporary fiction is that I can’t violate the laws of physics or reality. In fantasy, I can have my characters do anything I want, as long as they do so within the laws of plausibility. It doesn’t have to be real but it has to make sense. In Second Citizen, however, my characters must engage in realistic activities.

Although I don’t want to spoil anything, one aspect of my book that sets it apart is I include various news reports scattered throughout the story. All reference real news agencies. Although the events in those news stories are fictitious, they closely follow real or realistic events that are happening every day. Since they involve gun violence, it was emotional at times to write — one news story I wrote had a real-life event very similar to it occur just days afterward. Life imitated fiction.

For now, I am going to ignore my manuscript for a month or so before I read it cover to cover. I want to get a relatively fresh perspective on it and then judge what needs work or revision. I’m not in a hurry to get this story published, nor do I have an editor lined up, so it may be a while before this book sees the store shelves — if at all.

Stay tuned.

The Lottery Winner, the Ghost Rider, and the Author

Neil Peart
Neil Peart

The Lottery Winner

Did I win the lottery? I can name a few people that would be very keen to know if I did. I used to play but recently stopped. Would you stop buying Powerball tickets after you won? I would. Stop, that is.

I would stop for other reasons, too. Being a curious person, I wanted to find out how many drawings it would realistically take before the jackpot was in hand. They tell you the odds but that’s not very meaningful to me, or to most people.

Tell someone there are a trillion stars in the sky and they’ll believe you, but tell them the paint is wet and they’ll still touch it to make sure.

Being a software developer (programmer) by trade, I decided to write a simulation program to find out how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop Jackpot.

I looked up the rules for payouts on the Powerball lottery game and wrote a web-based program in PHP to simulate drawings. The simulation is simple. You specify how many drawings you want to simulate, it assumes you spend $2 per ticket, and it conducts random drawings, tallying the number (and dollar amount) of wins along the way.

My simulation presents not only how many times you’ve won, but also how much money you won minus how much money you’ve spent.

What did I find out? After running a few hundred million simulated drawings, you will have a winning ticket roughly 0.04% of the time, your winnings will be roughly 12% of what you spent (that’s an 88% loss), and your average win per ticket will likely be around $6.08.

Try my simulator here to see for yourself.

They say the lottery is a tax on those who are bad at math. They’re right.

The Ghost Rider

On January 10th, 2020, it was announced that Neil Peart passed away a few days before (Jan 7) of brain cancer. This crushed me more than I expected.

I have always looked up to Neil more for his qualities as a person than for his amazing ability as a drummer (for the band Rush, for those who have no idea who he is). He was an author and a long-distance motorcycle rider as well as a drummer.

It was my dream to run into Neil in some small diner in a tiny rural town while on a motorcycle trip. Based on his writings, I can confirm that he and I have ridden many of the same roads and even stayed in some of the same motels. We just never did it at the same time.

Neil was famous for being shy in the spotlight. He was more than happy to talk to strangers when he was out and about “just being a guy,” however. I had thought that if I ever did run into him, after chatting about our bikes or destinations or the weather, I’d sign my autograph on a paper napkin and hand it to him with a wink, then say, “I’m glad you got to meet me.” I don’t know if he’d find the humor in it, but considering the fact that he was a genius (estimated IQ 155+), he’d probably get the joke.

Neil, you will be missed for decades.

Oh, and by the way, his last name is pronounced ‘peert’, not ‘pert’.

The Author

This is a quick update on my current project, a contemporary fiction novel titled Second Citizen. I’ve been working on primary composition for several weeks now and I’m currently on chapter 10, roughly 37,000 words. I’m ahead of my usual schedule, as I typically don’t start writing until the first week of January.

I still haven’t found an editor, but I haven’t been looking, either. I’ll worry about that when the manuscript is finished.

Meanwhile, I’m very happy with how the story is coming along. I outline quite thoroughly before primary composition, so I always have a clear idea of where the plot is going to go and what will happen.

Considering this is my first contemporary fiction piece (I have previously only written fantasy), it will be interesting to see how this turns out.

Advertising on Amazon

Amazon Advertising

As I’ve written about many times before, I’m a lot better at writing books than I am at selling them. Those are entirely different disciplines, and it’s just not in my nature to sell.

Recently I decided to experiment with advertising my books on Amazon. It uses a cost-per-click model similar to what Google and Bing use. It’s a pay-as-you-go model.

You set up an ad and define a budget you’re willing to spend per day. Amazon displays your ad based on the various keywords you define and also bid amounts you specify. For any given page view, Amazon decides appropriateness based on your keywords. If you meet those criteria, it conducts a sort of auction between you and other advertisers. The amount each advertiser bids for their keywords determines the chances their ad will be seen. Bid more and your ad gets displayed more often.

The trick seems to be finding the optimal combination of keywords so that when your ad is displayed, it has the highest chance of getting the visitor to click on it. Once they click on it, the chance of them making a purchase is decided by several other factors that are downstream from the Amazon advertising engine.

My intention was to advertise the first book in The Taesian Chronicles, Ohlen’s Arrow. My theory was that those who buy the book would want to read the next book in the series (Ohlen’s Bane), and so on. Those books are not advertised, and subsequent sales would be considered organic.

Although I am still experimenting and learning how to optimize my Amazon advertising results, I have been very pleased to see organic purchases occurring. I can track when people buy Ohlen’s Arrow, and then see purchases of Ohlen’s Bane 4-7 days afterward. Then, about 4-7 days after that, I see a correlated increase in purchases of book three, Paragon’s Call.

I am paying for people to click on my Ohlen’s Arrow ads, but once they have purchased additional books on their own, that effectively lowers my per-purchase costs of Ohlen’s Arrow.

So far I’m paying more for advertising than I am earning through sales, but the cost-of-acquisition is dropping and my revenues are increasing. I hope that soon two things will happen: I will find the optimum combination of keywords and bid amounts for my ads, and organic sales will increase to bring down my overall advertising costs below my revenues.

One of the things I’ve heard consistently from readers is that my books are hard to put down once they start reading them. Getting them to start is the hard part for someone like me who doesn’t have a selling bone in their body.

Writing a book is easy. Selling a book is hard.

Writing is easy. Selling is hard.
Writing a book is easy. Selling a book is hard.

I’ve met people that could sell sand to someone dying of thirst. They thrive on the engagement and hunt of getting other people to buy what they’re selling. I’m not like that. The idea of selling raises my anxiety and discomfort level and it is something I unconsciously and consciously avoid.

On the other hand, one of the most common reactions I hear from people who found out I’ve written a novel (four novels, actually, with a fifth in the works) is, “Wow, that’s amazing. I could never do that.”

There are a lot of things more difficult than writing a book — getting a college degree, moving across country to live in a new state, getting married, getting divorced, coming out of the closet, etc. Although difficult, these things seldom get the same reaction. “I could never do that.”

Writing books is easy. Selling books is hard. I repeatedly struggle with the “Author as Brand” role I must play as a self-published author. The constant presence on social media, blogging, self-promotion through speaking engagements, pursuit of book signings, etc. is an ongoing and tiring activity. It drains me and feels Sisyphean in scale and scope.

Many also are under the impression that if you get a traditional publishing deal, the publishing company does all the marketing for you. All you have to do is cash your advance and royalty checks and show up to book signings and guest appearances on The Today Show. The sad truth is, even traditionally published authors have to maintain their own author brand and handle the bulk of their marketing effort.

If you are one of those rare few who feel like you have the motivation and energy to write a book, be warned that writing a book is easy compared to selling a book.

My advice is to partner with someone who likes to sell, someone who lives to market. Someone who does it in their spare time simply because it’s fun. Link up with someone who can sell snow to a Minnesotan and has done so repeatedly in the past. Find someone who believes in your vision and talent and writing prowess and becomes your champion.

There are probably more 7’+ centers in the NBA than there are people who are equally and adequately skilled at writing and marketing. They are entirely different disciplines and it’s best to find out which you’re good at and focus on that, delegating the other to someone else.

Writing a book is easy. Selling a book is hard.

A Book About Guns?

U.S. Constitution
U.S Constitution

If you read my previous blog post, you’ll know that I was planning to begin work on my fifth Taesia novel. I won’t go into detail about why, but I have decided instead to work on a different book project I’ve been thinking about for several years but have been putting off.

I intend to return to the world of Taesia after this project is completed.

This new book will be called Second Citizen and it is a work of contemporary fiction, taking place in the real world. The story focuses on a young television reporter dispatched from the big city to investigate a shooting in a small rural town in ranch country.

This is a story of culture clashes and the different, highly polarized views about gun ownership in America. Underneath it all, however, it is a story about the common values we all share as human beings.

I have been burning to write this story for quite a while now and the compulsion to complete it has become great enough that my next Taesia story can take a temporary back seat until Second Citizen is completed.

This is a genre departure for me, but I’m far from famous enough for it to be a problem. Could you imagine if Stephen King wrote a romance novel? Scandal! He’d have to write it three pen-names deep. I’m not burdened by that kind of career inertia, thankfully.

Second Citizen is a story that needs to be told, and I am compelled to tell it.

I hope you enjoy it. Stay tuned.

And So It Begins… Part 5

New Book
I am beginning another book

I have begun work on my fifth novel.

That is a phrase I never anticipated uttering until recently. I’ve always wanted to be an author, even when I was a kid. But it had been a sort of lofty dream without real expectations, kind of like hoping to win the lottery or being able to fly like Superman.

That dream came true, though. And it wasn’t that difficult, either. How?

“Putting a man on the moon wasn’t a miracle, we just decided to go.”

Tom Hanks

Me writing a novel — or five — wasn’t a miracle, either. I just decided to do it.

This fifth book continues my Taesia series. As a reminder, my vision is to write nine books, all connected, in the form of three trilogies. The first trilogy, The Taesian Chronicles, is completed. This new book will be the second book in the second trilogy (“The Pillars of Taesia”).

Confused?

Don’t. Just read the books in order and you’ll be fine.

My goal is to get this book completed and available for sale by summer of 2020. Stay tuned.