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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.

The mechanics of self-publishing a book

I have written Ohlen’s Arrow and am finished with all editorial changes. It is now in the final proofreading stage. In fact, I hope to only have one more go-through to catch any errant spelling or grammatical errors before I call the text golden.

The cover design has been approved and is now in the hands of the illustrator for the final proof. She’ll next work on the world map that appears in the front of the book.

Meanwhile, I have purchased 10 ISBNs, enough to handle each publication channel. Initially, I intend to offer the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple iTunes book store. There are no plans to print the book in a dead-tree edition, but I’m not opposed to that happening down the road.

I am also currently working on creating the book’s tagline and blurb. For such short pieces of text, they are remarkably difficult to create. They say you should never use a big word when a diminutive one will suffice. Well, try summarizing an entire novel in less than 10 words. Better yet, try doing it in a way that makes people want to buy the book while simultaneously not giving away the plot or the surprising twist you gave it at the end. That’s a challenge!

My goal remains to have Ohlen’s Arrow ready for purchase on-line by June 1st. So far I think that deadline is still feasible. Stay tuned.

Are you a writer or a follower?

When I write, I don’t read other people’s works. I know that a lot of authors are also voracious readers both within their genre and outside of it, and I like to read as well (when I have time). When I’m writing my own new works, I don’t like to be tainted by the voice and style of others.

I am a writer, not a follower. I write my own story.

Imagine trying to write a song while listening to the radio. Intentionally or not, your song will be influenced by whatever you’re hearing whether you realize it or not. My writing is the same way.

I have read articles that ask the question, “How would ____ write this?” They often refer to famous authors, such as Stephen King or Ernest Hemingway. Although it’s worth gaining general knowledge of the mechanics of writing by studying famous literary works, asking the question, “How did ___ write?” is the better way to approach it.

Every writer has their own method, their own approach, their own voice. I’m no different. I have tools and processes and quirks that work for me, and they may work for others, but they may not. At the end of the day, I am writing my own books, not rehashes of something written by J.K. Rowling or R.A. Salvatore.

When I find myself struggling with a certain passage, I don’t ask, “How would ___ write this?” I am a writer, not a follower. I write my own story.

A new book and new tires

The Taesian Chronicles
The Taesian Chronicles is the first trilogy in a series of three.
The Taesian Chronicles, paperback

In personal news, I recently published my trilogy of fantasy novels in a single paperback volume. It is entitled The Taesian Chronicles and is available for sale from Amazon.com or directly from me if you want an autographed copy.

In other news, I just put a new set of Shinko 011-Verge tires on my 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750. I got a little over 6,000 miles on the previous set. Their chicken strips were less than 1/4″ wide and the wear pattern was very uniform and round; no squared-off center strip at all. I am very impressed with the Shinko’s.

As the previous set lost tread, their traction degraded gradually. I backed it into a few corners and was impressed with how gracefully it happened. There were no sudden losses of traction or pucker moments.

When I got the new set put on, and properly broken in, I was amazed at how much grip the new tires have. I’ve been focusing on building up my skills in fast cornering situations, and despite increasing my cornering speed, the tires have responded reliably and with great confidence. It’s as if the Shinkos are saying, “Is that all you got? Bring it, Rossi-wannabe! We can handle a lot more!”

I’ve had several fast runs to Detroit lately, and have really upped my riding game. I still have a ways to go, however, and am always working to improve my skills.

Ohlen’s Arrow is now available in paperback

Ohlen's Arrow is now available in paperback
Ohlen’s Arrow, Paperback

I am proud to announce the availability of Ohlen’s Arrow in paperback format. Since it was released in May 2013, it has only been available for Kindle as an eBook. Now, you can get the dead-tree edition.

It is available exclusively through Amazon.com.

Writing and Playing Dungeons & Dragons

As those who have read my books may know from my author profile, I was exposed to the fantasy genre back in 1980 when I played my first game of Dungeons & Dragons. Not to date myself too much, but I was still in grade school. The game was a big part of my life until I was 25 or so, and for various reasons I won’t mention, I gave it up. The next time I played D&D was Christmas of 2013, when I ran a short one-off game for my family as a group activity.

Dungeons & DragonsThat game had a big impact on me. Although I hadn’t intended for it to be so, it inspired me to write my third novel, and even provided some plot events that made it into the book. I didn’t play again until just a few months ago, when I picked up the 5th edition Starter Set and the three core rule books (Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual for those unfamiliar with D&D).

I walked into Goin’ Gaming, a game and comic store in Troutdale, Oregon, bought some miniatures and got to know the owners, Alan and Becky Schmid. (See other posts about the store and the owners and how that factored into my writing career.) They host D&D games every Thursday evening, and the group needed more players. I showed up at the next game session and was warmly welcomed.

Other walk-ins saw our enthusiasm and the group has grown to seven players, all of whom I now consider to be my friends. We play at least once a week. After our current campaign wraps up at the end of June, I’ll take over as Dungeon Master, and that gets me to the point of this post.

Once I read through the 5th edition rule books, I began to get ideas for the plot of my fourth novel. My vision is to write three trilogies in the Taesia world, of which The Taesian Chronicles is the first trilogy. The fourth novel will be book one of the second trilogy. (Forgive the seemingly strange logic for the way I’m structuring the series; there’s a method to my madness.) I brainstormed the plot and am very happy with it. But, that plot would also make an outstanding D&D campaign.

With the group’s permission, I will switch from being a player to being the DM. Our current DM, Joseph, will become a player, and the group will run through my new campaign. In a sense, we will be play-testing my plot idea. I don’t anticipate the game campaign directly translating into a novel. That was done with Against the Giants, and what was one of the best modules ever written failed horribly as a novel. However, as what happened with my one-off adventure played by my family over a Christmas holiday, I think there is some wonderful inspiration to be generated by the game that can feed into the novel.

It is my intention to run the D&D campaign first, at least for several weeks, before I begin work on my fourth book. The creative energy required to write a campaign and the amount of time it takes to flesh it out severely limits my available bandwidth for novel-writing. I can do one or the other, but not both. I don’t usually write much during the summer months anyway, so work on the book probably won’t begin until autumn. At that point I will have a pretty good idea if my plot idea holds water, and I will hopefully also have some great source material from the game itself. Players often come up with dialog or creative solutions to challenging problems that make excellent material for books.

We’ll see how this goes. Stay tuned.

My first book signing event was a big success

Book Signing, May 14, 2016Saturday, I participated in my first author’s book signing event. It was held at Goin’ Gaming in Troutdale, Oregon (www.goinggaming.com) and was organized by owners Becky and Alan Schmid. Three other authors participated.

I was able to meet some old friends I hadn’t seen in several years who made special trips to attend, and I made some new friends, too. One of the things I liked about the event was the chance to meet other authors and hear about their creative and writing processes. We also bounced around some creative ideas for new stories.

Again, I would like to thank owners Becky and Alan Schmid for arranging this event, and for being supportive of my new book.

The method of John Irving

Through iTunes U, I watched a brief lecture given by John Irving where he talks about knowing the ending of his books before he begins them. Something about that talk inspired me to take a new approach to how I write my stories, and after using this approach to crank out a short story in two days, it has proven to be amazingly effective. I feel stupid not having used it before, it’s that simple.

Elevator Speech

In a single paragraph, write what the story is about. This paragraph is called the High Concept. This kind of text could easily go on the back cover of the paperback novel or even as a teaser on the DVD jacket when your story is optioned by Steven Spielberg and goes blockbuster. It’s also referred to as an Elevator Speech and for good reason.

Let’s say you are standing on the ground floor of a New York skyscraper, waiting for an elevator to the top floor. Standing next to you is some guy in a tailored business suit. The two of you begin idle chit chat and at some point you mention you are writing a novel. As the elevator doors open and you both step inside, the guy says, “What’s your book about?”

You must convey the gist of your story in the amount of time it takes the elevator to reach the top floor in a way that makes the guy in the tailored business suit — who just happens to be the CEO of Random House — want to write you a six-figure advance check on that book plus sign a contract for your next four novels.

Create Character Bios

I create simple biographies for each of my main characters. These bios are usually 1-3 paragraphs long, depending on how important that character is to the story. Each bio will contain a brief description of the character’s physical appearance followed by any details germane to the story.

Plot Event List

Once you have decided upon the overall plot of your book and written it out in the form of an Elevator Speech, you must then figure out what actually happens in your story. This is the fastest part of the process. With a blank sheet of paper or document on your computer, write out a series of short, simple sentences, one per line, that describe the chronological events or scenes that take place. Try to keep each sentence short enough that it fits onto a single line. Brief is good. Don’t worry too much about the actual order of the events because you can rearrange them later if necessary. Here’s an example:

  • Alice meets John while standing in line at the coffee shop.
  • John takes Alice out to dinner.
  • Alice and John wreck their car while driving home.
  • John wakes up a month later in the hospital, confused.
  • A nurse tells John that Alice was killed in the car wreck.
  • John’s doctors discuss his prognosis.
  • John is told he’ll never walk again.
  • John thinks he sees Alice standing in his room.
  • Alice’s ghost visits John during his rehabilitation.
  • etc.

You get the point. Each sentence represents a single scene in your story.

Create characters and scenes in Scrivener

I’m a huge fan of Scrivener. It is a fantastic writing tool and it’s ability to help me stay organized really jumps my writing effort ahead. Part of Scrivener’s usefulness is it’s ability to help keep my story research organized and at easy reach. One way I do this is create character bios in Scrivener. As I’m writing, I can reference these notes with a single click, then jump back to my story, all within the same program.

I then create empty text blocks called scenes and then arrange them in any order I wish with a simple drag-n-drop operation. I can organize them into chapters, too. Using my plot event list, I create a new scene within Scrivener for each line on my plot event list. I use the scene description to label the scenes within Scrivener, so I can tell at a glance which scene I want to work on.

Write out each scene

Once I have created a scene for each item in my plot event list, I can now write the text for each one in any order I choose. Because I’ve broken down my entire story into manageable, discrete chunks, it’s very easy for me to focus my mind on the creative task at hand without worrying about plot holes and other details.

The plot event list is like framing a house. All the dimensions and layout of the rooms is decided here. Writing out each scene is like putting in the floors, drywall, fixtures, and even the furniture, one room at a time. Since the room itself is already defined, I can focus and flesh it out completely. Since all the other rooms have also been framed, I don’t have to worry about how this room will fit into the overall structure.

Mental Benefit

Since writing a novel is a very large undertaking (described as eating an elephant one spoonful at a time) this approach breaks it into manageable chunks. This helps my brain work more efficiently. I start with the high concept first, followed by brief descriptions of my main characters. Next, I create simple descriptions of scenes and key events in the story. This is an entirely creative process and it goes rather quickly. Finally, I flesh out each scene. Since I’m only having to creatively focus on one scene at a time, I don’t have writer’s block caused by feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the overall effort. It’s like walking around the world but only thinking about the journey 100 yards at a time, yet knowing you’ll reach your final destination because you have the entire route planned in advance.

Can you turn a D&D game into a novel?

Book 4: A Riddle of Scars
Book 4: A Riddle of Scars

“Against the Giants” (G1-3, TSR) is one of the best-rated and most-beloved modules from the AD&D era. In fact, it was written before the release of the original three core rule books. It is challenging yet rewarding and requires players to be at the top of their game (pun intended) to survive.

Then TSR allowed it to be turned into a novel and it was a miserable flop.

I have met several dungeon masters who shared a desire to turn one of their D&D campaigns into a fantasy novel. None ever got that far (writing a book is hard) and based on the track record of others who have, it’s probably a good thing they never took their effort far enough to be published.

“Just because each of them tastes good doesn’t mean you should put Hershey Kisses on a pepperoni pizza.”

The premise seems sound on the surface. A D&D game plays out similar to a fantasy novel. It can have all the necessary ingredients: risk and reward, character development, amazing scenery, dangerous villains, and heroic main characters. Even the side characters (NPCs) can lend some appreciated depth and flair to the story as it unfolds.

Why can’t you take the transcript of a D&D campaign and turn that into a fantasy novel?

Like putting chocolate on pizza, it’s a good idea in theory but rarely (if ever) a good idea in practice.

This is because what happens in a D&D game isn’t planned nor will it likely follow the standard kind of flow and plot points most people implicitly expect to find in a well-crafted fantasy novel.

Writing a novel is a different skill and craft than running or playing in a fantasy role-playing game.

There is one caveat to all this. What happens around a D&D gaming table can provide a treasure trove of inspiration for memorable action and even dialogue. Character names and personalities can come out from players who really get into their role. Even NPCs can provide inspiration for side characters that appear in a fantasy novel.

Ensuring the characters have the desired (and implicitly expected) struggles and development throughout the story requires understanding how to write far more than understanding how to game.

There is an integration or connection of sorts between my fourth novel, A Riddle of Scars, and my D&D game. Back in 2019, I came up with the story idea for my book, then decided to play-test it within the game of Dungeons & Dragons.

I converted my book’s plot into a campaign and ran it with a half dozen experienced players. These players knew that I was play-testing my book idea but were warned that what stayed in the book’s plot was still to be determined solely by me.

You’ll note that I already had the book idea first before introducing it to the D&D game. Doing it the other way around is what this article is all about — and is where my warning comes in. Don’t do it.

In the end, what ended up in the book was essentially the same as the original plot idea I created. Play testing it within the game of D&D didn’t change anything substantial. However, I did introduce a new character to the book based on one of the player characters (with the player’s full permission, of course). Other than that, the book’s plot survived being run as a D&D campaign, and according to the players, the campaign itself was immensely enjoyable.

Having gone through that experience and given it a lot of thought, I think it’s a fun source of inspiration to take a book’s plot and base a D&D campaign around it. Conversely, I’ve run many campaigns throughout my career as a dungeon master and none of them would make for a good fantasy novel. I’ve gotten tidbits of inspiration from the game, and as mentioned a great character idea, but the plot and sequence of what happens doesn’t translate very well from game to book.

Q&A: Character Development

Q: How do you tap into your own experiences and memories when writing characters?

A: I don’t deliberately scan my memories or experiences for character traits or actions, although there have been times when something interesting happens to me or someone says something in conversation and I make a mental note of it, “I should use that in one of my books.” I’ll make notes of it in Evernote to save for later use. I also keep a paper notebook and pen nearby to jot down ideas.

Q: How do you write characters that are very different from your own personality or values?

A: There are times when a writer has a character do or say something they personally find reprehensible or ill-advised. If a character isn’t very bright, you make them do and say things that you know will produce a bad outcome. Although I’ve never taken acting classes, I think actors would make good authors because they have the ability to put themselves into a role that is dissimilar to their own personality. Those without acting experience, like myself, must simply use some creativity and ask, “What makes sense for this type of character to do in this situation?”

Q: Do you have a specific or formal process for developing your characters?

A: The initial genesis for my characters is based on pure creativity or chance. But once I have the seed idea for a character, I flesh out their background and personality using a formal process. In the Research section of Scrivener, I create a new card for each main character with sections for appearance, goals, background, personality traits, fears and motivation, etc. I even make notes about where the character lives, who they’re related to, and so forth. It’s similar to making a character sheet in a role playing game, minus the stats and equipment. I often refer to these character cards while writing

Q: Is there a method or formula you use to differentiate your characters and make them unique and memorable?

A: Once I have character sheets for each main character, I read through them to make sure they aren’t too similar to other main characters. I even make sure the names of main characters don’t start with the same letter as others, or share too many physical similarities.

Q: Do you live vicariously through your characters?

A: I think it’s human nature for authors to do this to a certain extent. One of the joys of being an author is I get to create an entire world and fill it with characters that are exactly what I want. That gives me a certain feeling of power and control. There have been times when I’ve given my characters certain lines of dialog that is witty or brave. I’m a witty guy, but not until well after the fact, when it’s too late. Through my characters, I can have them do the cool thing at the best moment. In the end, however, my characters are their own individuals that are separate from me and have their own set of problems. I’ve yet to write a character that truly was an extension of me.

Q: Do you have a process to test your characters and their personalities? Do you read them like actors or play-test them at all?

A: Reading character dialog out loud, preferably with someone else acting out the other characters, is a fantastic technique for giving the book life. It also helps the author make sure the dialog flows and isn’t disjointed or out of touch with the action at the time. I, however, never take my own advice and only read their dialog in my head, alone. I also rely on the feedback of my editor and beta readers and modify dialog accordingly.

Q: Do you ever create characters specifically to be matched in some way to other characters? Or do you create them individually and let the chemistry happen organically?

A: Although I don’t think characters should be too similar to each other, I don’t create one character and then think, “I really need another character to counter this one or play sidekick.” My characters are created individually. Having said that, however, I do give my characters some traits or personality quirks that are unique to them with an eye toward what my other characters are like. I prefer to let the chemisty between my characters happen organically, as it would in real life.

Q: Are you drawn to characters more by what they say or by what they do?

A: I enjoy writing dialog, especially friendly banter between characters, more than writing action. However, I don’t like to spend too much time reading a character’s thoughts. To me, Moby Dick was one of the worst books ever written because it is needlessly verbose compared to the action that’s actually taking place. I like books with a lot of stuff going on, at a fast pace. So I guess my answer is I’m more drawn to what characters do than by what they say.

Q: What makes a good villain?

A: To me, a villain has to be evil, but not necessarily in a direct way. Sometimes villains are good from their own perspective, and the definition of what makes their actions evil depends entirely upon the perspective of who’s affected by it. I think Vilos Abbelard, a key villain in Ohlen’s Arrow and Ohlen’s Bane, is that way. When you read about what happened to him as a boy, his actions as an adult make sense. I like the idea of the reader being able to sympathize with the villain, at least to a certain extent. Perhaps the villain takes their reasonable motivation a few steps too far, but deep down they’re people just like us.

Q: What makes a good hero?

A: Have you ever known someone that was really good at everything they tried? To me, those type of people are the most annoying to be around because their ubiquitous success only makes me feel like my flaws are highlighted even more. For that reason, I like heroes that are flawed, perhaps very flawed, and their success in the story requires the help of a lot of other people. I don’t believe in the success of the story’s hero simply by virtue of being good or pure. In fact, I’d argue that the best heroes are the characters that are more flawed than the villain. It’s uninteresting, however, if the hero succeeds by virtue of mere chance. They have to struggle to get their success, but in the end, they earned it honestly.