Monday, March 18, 2019

30 hours and $3,376 to go

Hey all, we are in the final hours (29.75 to be exact)  of the Age of Legend Kickstarter, and to say things have gone well would be a gross understatement. We are just a few thousand away from joining the other 4 fiction Kickstarters that have surpassed $100,000 in pre-order sales. How nuts is that?

Seriously, the support has been nothing short of amazing. Not only have you covered the costs for the print run, but also the cover design, copy editing, the production of soundtrack music by Will Musser, plus I'll end up getting an advance...something that usually only happens when you sign a traditional deal. And since traditional publishing isn't something I can't do for this project (because the audio rights were previously sold and no traditional big-five publisher will take on a project without those rights), that's a tremendous gift you've given me.

In return for the amazing support, I'm able to give back to the backers who pre-order by offering things you just can't get when buying through the store. Here is the current list.

  • ebook delivered April 9th rather than July 9th
  • you'll see your name in print - all backers are listed in the acknowledgments
  • hardcovers delivered as soon as they come off the presses
  • ebooks are DRM free and come in .mobi, .epub, and .pdf
  • signed hardcovers
  • 4 custom-designed bookmarks (one signed)
  • Screensavers for phones, tablets, and computers that features artwork by Marc Simonetti.
  • Soundtracks created by Will Musser (4 songs for Age of Myth, and one song each for Age of Swords, Age of War, and Age of Legend)
  • Save $3 off the hardcover list price for Age of Legend only
  • Save $22 off the hardcovers list price when purchasing all 4 books
  • Short Story featuring Suri and Minna
  • Short Story: Burning Alexandria
  • Short Story: The Game
  • Access to two video calls (one for readers the other for writers)
And if we can reach that $100,000 level all backers will get a free copy of one of my self-published standalone novels. You can choose from The Death of Dulgath, The Disapperance of Winter's Daughter, or Hollow World. Those run from $8 - $10, so that's an exceptional freebie, especially for those that back at the $5 or $10 level ;-)

We have just 30 hours left for the Kickstarter. So, if you've already backed the project, thanks so much for the support. If you haven't backed it yet, check it out and see if it is something you'd like to join. Oh, and if you know other fans of my writing, please tell them about the Kickstarter.  After all, if we reach that final goal, all the backers will benefit.

And as always, I and Robin thank you for your support.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Featured Publishing Kickstarter Project

What a nice thing to wake up to. The Age of Legend Kickstarter is the featured publishing project out of the 417 projects that are currently live.

 We have just 4 days left and here's where we stand:

  • If we get another 82 backers we'll become the 3rd most-backed fiction Kickstarter of all time. (and that will trigger the next stretch goal that will provide another short story to all the backers).
  • We're already the 5th most-funded fiction Kickstarter of all time (and I doubt we'll climb higher than that as we'd have to raise more than $118,000).
  • We need just $1,056 to hit $90,000 - that's pretty crazy!
  • So far the Kickstarter has sold 2,216 hardcovers and 1,781 ebooks. That's nearly 4,000 copies! and it's still 3 1/2 months before release.
  • We've scheduled a live stream during the final minutes of the Kickstarter. You can join us and even ask questions. It'll start on Tuesday at 6:30 PM EST.
  • A few days we finished the audiobook recording, narrated once more by the incomparable Tim Gerard Reynolds.
  • We've scheduled Tim to record book #5 (Age of Death) and #6 (Age of Empyre) in October, so there won't be a long wait between the three remaining titles.
  • Robin is working on the Glossary and an Afterword (because so many people liked the one she did for Age of War) and then all we'll need is the names of the backers. After we get those we'll be done and ready to roll the presses!
Robin and I want to once again thank you all for the amazing support. We'll definitely be doing Kickstarters for the next two books. It's so exciting to see how much people are getting into the Kickstarter and looking forward to an early copy of the book and all the bonus perks.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Top 5 US Fiction Kickstarters Of All Time

So, the Age of Legend Kickstarter, continues to go well. Our thanks go out to all the people joining the fun. We have 11 days left, and so far it has made the Top 5 of all time when looking at the number of backers for  US-based fiction projects.

It's currently sitting snuggly at #4, right between two of my other Kickstarters. Likewise, when we look at most-funded. It's doing well, too. It's currently #6, and the likelihood that it'll push out #5 (my project The Disappearance of Winter's Daughter. Is pretty good. Whether it can get more backers, is another story. We're still 324 backers behind that, and that's a lot of people to make up in the remaining time. Still, even if it doesn't we have absolutely nothing to complain about.  Just a reminder. Those who back the Kickstarter get:

  • The ability to read the book 3 months early.
  • Having their name in print as a backer of the project
  • A Minna and Suri short story
  • Screensavers of Marc Simonetti's artwork for their phone, tablet and computer
  • Custom-designed bookmarks
  • Many other bonus perks.
Oh, and the contest to guess the final funding amount will end when March 12th does. The one who guesses closest will win a 1,000-piece puzzle of Magda.

It's one of a kind! (Or I should say 2 of a kind, as we're getting one of the puzzles for ourselves.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Great Bird Trip of 2019 - Part Two (The Old Man and the Sea)

Traveling southwest along Route 1 (hopping islands and transversing open water like Jamie Lee Curtis hanging out an open sunroof), I had tried to shoot birds—with a camera, not a gun. And yes, Robin was driving. There were many along the wires and railings. Mostly cormorants (which I already had), but a few others looked new. It didn’t work. Even at max shutter speed the shots came out as blurs. The sun was going down. And while everyone else was stopping at roadside pull-offs to take pictures of the orange sun setting over the gulf behind perfectly black silhouettes of palm trees (something I'm sure they were doing to create a screen-saver version of a classic Florida postcard) I was lamenting the lack of light which prevented me from shooting birds.

Around nine at night we arrived at the place Robin had booked for us: a “boutique hotel” called Eden House. Right in the thick of Key West, the tiny hotel with the walled-in oasis was a lovely setting but not much of a room. It had a bed next to a sink, three hooks on the wall, a tiny fold-down desk, a shower in the corner of the room and a toilet in a closet. No dresser, tv, phone, or much of anything else. Robin, who made the reservation and likes television, wondered if she’d made a mistake. I, who hardly ever watches tv, called it authentic.

I wasn’t far off.

Typical home along the many residential streets in Key West
Key West is a different world. The clapboard houses behind white picket fences are wreathed in lush palms and orchids, and they sell for millions. Down on Duval Street, we spotted lavish restaurants with terraces and more gardens. But as we discovered when we lived in Vermont, there is the trendy and then there is the genuine. Nearly all the fancy looking restaurants had average food and terrible service, while the worst appearing eateries, the ones that must have paid off the health department to keep in business, were fantastic. This became our system for finding the best food. If it looked about to be condemned, if the walls were partially built out of old car doors, if birds flew through the dining area and chickens strutted under tables, we knew we’d found a culinary delight.

B.O.'s Fish Wagon (Great Lunch spot)
One of the best is Pepe’s. Established in 1909, it looks like a shack but has great food and served the most wondrous Key Lime pie—the best we found on the island. Traditionally, I have always been more of a banana cream or chocolate cream guy, but what I didn’t know was that real key lime pie is different from the knock-offs up north. Real key lime is made with actual Key limes which are quite different in that they are the shape and size of golf balls and have a thin skin and, of course, a different flavor. Pepe’s key lime pie was so shockingly good, so light, flavorful and simple that we went back the next day just to have it again.

On that first morning, I got up before dawn and armed with my rifle-like telephoto slung over one shoulder, I wandered the streets. I picked up a new gull and a brown pelican at the marina, and a palm warbler in the historic cemetery. I was excited to shoot my first exotic bird—an ibis. This was the snow white wading bird with the downward curved beak so often seen in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Clicking the shutter, capturing this grand find, I felt like a genuine birder, a master of the hunt. Turned out, in the Keys, Ibis are as common as pigeons in Central Park. I later found packs of them poking through garbage containers in the back of Walmarts.

Walking around the island was nice, but I needed to get out in the wild and really hunt. Key West is where Papa Hemingway used to spend time sports fishing. I needed a boat.

The brochure said that unless I had skippered a boat on the open ocean at least ten times, I should charter a captain along with a vessel. I never liked the idea of being led around when horseback riding, and I didn’t think I’d like having someone else steer my ship as I hunted birds. After all, that’s one of the reasons I had Sancho. And really, how much trouble could I get into in the open ocean? Okay, maybe there was some risk. So before we took command of the 14’ skiff and headed off into the Gulf of Mexico and the unknown, I bought a bottle of sunscreen. I figured that would do it.

Right now you’re thinking…what an idiot. You’re expecting to hear a tale of a fateful trip that ends up with Robin and I stranded on a desert isle with a professor, a starlet, and millionaires who inexplicably brought multiple steamer trunks of luggage on a three-hour cruise. Turns out the Gulf of Mexico (at least the part we explored) isn’t terribly scary. We powered out away from land for over an hour at a pretty good clip toward Snip and Mud keys, and at any point, if we had run out of gas or something awful happened, we could have gotten out and pushed. The Gulf of Mexico, we discovered, is ridiculously shallow. Even at high tide, much of it is little more than three feet deep.

Using a nifty nautical app, (that the fella who rented us the boat helped set up on my phone), we navigated out to a sandy beach on Mud Key and had lunch--sandwiches that we picked up at a little bakery near the hotel.

Then faithful Sancho took the helm and I perched myself on the bow, camera in hand and we went hunting through the mangrove channels trying our best not to run aground or spook birds. Imagine just about any wildlife documentary where David Attenborough narrates over the muffled sound of a boat motor and there’s this awkward fellow laying across the bow with a massive camera lens in hand, and you’ve seen this part. We tried to reach the Great White Heron Refuge, but the water was simply too shallow and we did run aground in our attempt.

“Aye, don’t get your britches in a bunch, Hooper!” Robin growled her best imitation of Robert Shaw’s Quint from the movie Jaws, as she shut the motor to the skiff off and gave me an almost sinisterly mischievous look. “Give it a sec and the wind’ll drift us right off.”  Between us, Robin is the real salt. She had a Sunfish sailboat as a girl.

My reply: “I think we’re gonna need a smaller boat.”

Just as Robin prophesied we drifted off, restarted the motor, and headed back. Spray breached the bow as we slammed the crests that came sideways so that I had to hide my camera inside my fleece. The day was fading and while I had blasted away a bunch of birds that I still needed to identify, there was one I wanted and hadn’t seen: osprey.

Spotting a big nest in a tree on a distant island, I asked Robin to “bring her 'round and go in slow.”

The osprey or Pandion haliaetus is a large brown and white raptor, which can easily reach more than 60 centimeters in length and 180 centimeters in wingspan, and exists almost exclusively on a diet of fish, the voice of British naturalist David Attenborough whispered in my head as we approached the isle. Nothing moved. The nest was empty. Perched on the bow I scanned the tops of the mangroves looking for any—

Then I saw it.

There it was. The outline of a big bird on the far end of the island perched on the top of a tree. With a wave and a point, I urged Robin to ease over. The sun was against us—behind the bird, meaning all I would get was an outline and that wasn’t good enough. Color and details help to accurately identify.

Closer and closer we came. Binoculars confirmed it was indeed an Osprey, a big one, but I needed a photo and my 70-200mm zoom wasn’t good enough at that range. “Get closer, and swing around. Put the sun at our backs!” Excitedly, I slipped in C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower-speak. “Tacks and lines! Man the sheets! Hard over—hard over, damn you!”

Closer and closer we neared, then we got too close and the bird launched.

“Get in there!” I shouted as I opened fire using my auto shoot setting and fastest shutter speed.
Robin brought us in as I stayed on target adjusting focus and blasting away in a long pan. I was certain I had at least one clean photo when the bird finally disappeared over the tops of the mangroves and I lowered my camera. Robin had a nervous grin that said something happened that I didn’t know about. “It’s really shallow here.”

I didn’t care, and slowly, very slowly, we navigated away from Osprey Isle. By the time we docked, I had bagged 13 total new birds including a Magnificent Frigatebird. My count was now 57. I was ahead of Sarah by eleven, and we still had three days of hunting left!

Magnificent Frigatebird

Anhinga (Snake Bird that swims like a snake

Cat Bird (That mews like a cat


Great Egret

Great Egret

Next up: The Everglades Adventure

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Great Bird Trip of 2019 - Part One

Yes, this is another birding post.

When I was thirteen, my brother-in-law—a Detroit police officer—bought me a 30-30 Winchester rifle and took me deer hunting on his hundred-acre farm in western Michigan. I was less than impressed with the experience, which consisted of going out early on a winter morning and sitting in the woods on a bright orange Hot Seat—a round plastic pillow filled with insulating beads that were supposed to warm your butt as you sat in the snow.

I waited alone for hours in a dense thicket watching a power line that deer reportedly traveled. After a few minutes, my legs started to go to sleep. After an hour, my feet went numb and my fingertips decided to join them. My nose ran, and my mind wandered. I daydreamed, as was my habit, and I made up fantastical stories in my head until I was told hunting was over and I could go home. The whole enterprise was less than stellar. I was cold, wet, cramped-up from sitting still for so long, but most of all, I was bored. I never saw a deer, never fired the rifle—not even in target practice. Even after only one attempt, I realized that sitting on a Hot Seat in the snow and waiting for an animal isn’t hunting—it’s waiting. Hunting is the pursuit, or search for something, and you can’t do that sitting on your ass.

As a recreational sport, hunting left me cold—literally. I would later learn (from more accomplished hunters) that shooting a deer wasn’t so important, but more of a bonus. Most of the enjoyment is derived from just getting away from work and family and having a reason to be out in nature—and then there was the heavy drinking with friends in camp. Being thirteen, and having a cop for a mentor, I was missing out on the best parts. As a result, I never took up hunting.

Until now.

For those of you who are just joining us, this last Thanksgiving, my daughter and I began a contest to see who could photograph the largest number of wild bird species in one year. Why? Because we’re strange people. Given I write fantasy for a living you should already have guessed that much.

If you are thinking “Aww, you should let your little girl win,” be aware my daughter is twenty-nine years old and a ruthless competitor. She will stop at nothing (except cheating) to crush her father. My wife, Robin, tries to be impartial, but that’s hard when we live together and I frequently enlist her aid in my dastardly plans to achieve victory in this completely pointless contest. And in this adventure to slay windmills, she has now become my Sancho Panza in that she’s the sane one.

As of my last posting, the score was Fabulous Fantasy Author: 44, Devious Daughter: 46. I was losing. Sarah was beating me by two birds, and neither one of us had shot a new one in over a month despite my frequent hunting among the hills, mountains, and lakes of the Shenandoah Valley while my daughter scoured the Potomac River. All that was about to change. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, were going on safari.

It’s winter here in Virginia. While not Chicago-cold, the trees are bare, grass—when visible—is brown, and wind gusts are chilling. Those unhampered by work or family and capable of arranging flights to warmer climates usually do so. That includes birds. Most of them are gone. I imagine the lucky ones decompressing with their fellow peeps in the berry-laden bushes at golf course resorts, complaining about how the younger generation feel it’s okay to live off of feeders and no longer even know how to forage.

Clearly, I needed to go south, and the farther the better.

Rules for our contest mimic those of The Big Year, which restricts us to only birds found in the continental United States and Canada. A quick scan of a North American map revealed an ideal solution.

Key West is an island and the southernmost city in the contiguous United States. The island is 4 miles long and 1 mile wide. Most of you know it as the setting for the movies True Lies, License to Kill, and The Rose Tattoo. Or perhaps you know that it's the place where Ernest Hemingway spent his winters, and it's the birthplace of the Key Lime pie. Most importantly—for our purposes—it is also the southernmost end of U.S. Route 1, the longest north-south road in the United States, meaning: you can drive there. This was particularly significant because in October our Tesla 3 arrived.

Similar to buying a book on Amazon, Robin and I ordered the car online and the thing was delivered to our door, which was amazing because our door is in the middle of nowhere. Out here in the Shenandoah Valley, a Tesla is an alien thing. I’ve been stopped in grocery stores and questioned by cashiers asking, “Are you the fella that drives the Tesla?” One woman told me her son loves my car, and explained how he had gone to the Tesla site and after having tricked out his dream vehicle, her son was ready to input her credit card info when she caught him. Her son is eight years old.  So around the Valley, I’m not “The Science Fiction and Fantasy author, famed creator of Royce and Hadrian” but rather “the guy who drives the Tesla.”

Now, for more than a decade, Robin and I never took vacations. Kids, work, and finances made it impossible. Now the kids are all grown, we don’t “work” anymore, and thanks to all of you, our finances have improved. Last year we went to St. John’s in the Caribbean, which took two cars, two planes, a train, a jeep, and a boat to get there. Now, armed with the Tesla, we wanted someplace we could go with it.

Key West seemed perfect. We’d never been there, it was almost the Caribbean, and we could drive to it. So why not? Well, for one it’s 27 hours away—a shocking figure since I felt Virginia was already sort of south. When we were teenagers, Robin and I thought nothing of driving the 20 hours from Detroit to Orlando, but we aren’t teenagers anymore. The idea of pulling an all-nighter, even in a car that almost drives itself was even less appealing than sitting in the snow watching power lines sway in a cold breeze. I was ready to give up on the idea but Robin—being the genius that she is—discovered the Auto Train.

You can have dinner at one of the white cloth-draped tables in the dining car, a drink in the lounge, then get a good night sleep in your own private room in the sleeper car. The next morning, you arrive in Orlando…with your car. There are no security lines, no luggage restrictions (people stuff their automobiles like Thanksgiving turkeys). They serve wine with dinner, have coffee bars in every car, and you are taken care of by a steward wearing a neat uniform and a friendly smile.

This is old-world civilized travel. Sancho had saved the day!

My daughter was not at all pleased. “You’re going to get a ton of birds,” she frowned, arms crossed, tapping her foot.

“Maybe,” I replied, and smiled. “Three at least.”  Most birds were still in South America and wouldn’t make the harrowing flight across the Gulf of Mexico for another two months, so my expectations were that I hoped to nail ten. A dozen would really make the trip worth it—that and I suppose there might also be some nice weather, good food, and rum drinks.

I packed my 70-200mm telephoto lens, the new waterproof Nikon binoculars that my wife got me for Christmas, my giant National Geographic Birds of North America coffee table book, my Kaufman Field Guide, and my Birding Journal, along with my beloved fountain pens that I can’t ever bring on planes because of the pressure changes makes them explode. Usually, I travel extremely light. Just a little carry-on and a messenger bag so as to avoid checking luggage. Yet being that this time I could pack like Rose voyaging on the Titanic, I thought, what the heck, and tossed in some clothes and a swimsuit as well—hey, you never know.

Boarding the Train
Now, one of the many strange things about my wife and I is that ever since we were in our twenties, we always found ourselves on vacation with old people—not older people mind you, but truly old people. All the things that interested us: steam-boating down the Mississippi, Alaskan cruises, boat trips down the Rhine—were all filled with the walking dead.

Arriving at the station near Washington D.C. We found nothing had changed. Granted, I recently received an AARP card in the mail, so we now blend in a lot better, but we were still two of the youngest passengers. There are several advantages to this. Older people tend to be more interesting to talk to as they have a greater repertoire of stories.

At dinner, we met a fellow who insisted he had a system to beat roulette in Vegas, and his near-deaf friend who listed his dog as a dependent on his tax returns. The most interesting person I talked to was a little seventy-seven-year-old man who sat across from me at breakfast and whose appearance revealed no hint of his past. The man had been a navy seal who, in his youth, had trained in Key West. After leaving the service, he became a New York City fireman and was there when the twin towers fell. “They had more men than equipment, so I waited outside,” he told me over bagels and coffee. “Thing is, everyone who went in—my friends—they knew the building was coming down. We just thought we had more time.” This navy-seal-turned-retired-fireman was on his way to The Villages in Florida where everyone drives around in golf carts.

The only issue with being on a generationally handicapped train was the momentary hassle of needing to reach the bathroom and becoming trapped in the narrow jostling corridor while tailgating a snail using a tennis-ball-equipped walker. This was a minor frustration, and given my mind was on birds rather than any exotic railroad liaison of the mysterious sultry type, I was fine. After all, I wasn’t looking for a twenty-three year old Lauren Bacall from Key Largo—I was going to Key West.

The roomette
For the most part, the train was like entering a good Agatha Christie novel—that one about the train, anyway. Lots of interesting characters, intriguing overheard conversations, and the world racing by a massive window that panned Americana’s finest eastern landscapes. Our roomette was upstairs, two big seats that faced each other until night when the steward magically transformed them into upper and lower bunks. Robin worked on last-minute edits for Age of Legend, while I drank a pair of Sam Adams Winter Lager and studied my bird books, brushing up on those species I was likely to see. After dinner, we went to sleep and woke up near Orlando, Florida.

Maybe its the flowers being in bloom, or the sudden change from bare trees to full foliage, but whenever I arrive in Florida and step out into the warm air, the state always smells faintly sweet and fragrant as if perfumed by hidden sprayers. Tall coconut palm trees and massive spiky green plants filled a flat landscape where islands of shopping malls were connected by the broad gray lines of superhighways.

The first bird I met was a loud black thing the size of a crow, very active with a vast songbook.  I shot it, only to realize it was a Common Grackle. I already had one of those, dang it!

Common Grackle
The trip from Orlando past Miami to the keys can be summed up in one word: Traffic. Miami has the density of a black hole and that gravity creates a nightmare of congestion. Luckily, we had the Tesla. Aside from the ridiculously painless purchasing process, the Tesla is the best car I have ever owned. It handles so well on Shenandoah’s Mountain roads that we named it the Prowler because it feels like being on the back of a panther. Some of this has to do with the sports car tight handling, but mostly it is due to the strong energy reclaim that occurs when you let up on the accelerator, which slows the car so much, you almost never need to touch the brake, even when going downhill. In stop-and-go traffic, the auto-drive feature stand out. In particular, the smart cruise control that maintains a specified distance between you and the car ahead. This made the long slog around Miami tolerable as we listened to the audio version of Nick Eames’s Kings of the Wyld. Once past the black hole, we hit Route 1 and left the tip of Florida. The world changed: traffic eased, skies cleared, the temperature rose, time slowed down, stress dissolved, and all the ickiness of the world slipped behind us.

We had entered the Keys.

NEXT UP: Key West

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Will Wight Wins!

Yesterday I saw something amazing happen. Underlord, Will Wight's sixth book in his Cradle series was released.

Why is that so special? Well, it skyrocketed. Here's a screen grab I took when it hit #5, but I heard it got as high as #2.

Now fantasy books usually don't get that high in the rankings, but I've NEVER seen a self-published book do that. Not ever.

But here's the thing that's even more amazing me to me. Will doesn't have a huge social network (I went to congratulate him on his success today on Twitter and he only has 1,032 followers. Nor is he in the "rapid release" crowd with dozens of books all produced in a few years. Don't get me wrong, he's a steady producer (Overlord is his 13th book), but he's also proof that you don't have to put out a book every few weeks to sell well.  Here are his releases:

  • 2013 - 2 books
  • 2014 - 3 books
  • 2015 - 3 books (and one bundle)
  • 2016 - 2 books
  • 2017 - 2 books (and one bundle)
  • 2018 - 1 book
So what is Will Wight doing to win? Well, he's following the same secret to success that I have been doing.
  1. Write a good book (defined as one that people will tell others to read)
  2. Get it in front of a core group of people to get the pump primed.
  3. Rinse and repeat.
Sounds easy, right? Well, I assure you it's not. Bullet #1 is hard, really hard. And I congratulate Will on all his success and wish him much more in the if he needs my well-wishes, but hey, I'm thrilled for him, and I think he stands up as an shining example of what's possible with talent, determination, and hard work.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Swords of Spring Sale - All books $0.99

Well, the calendar says March 1st, but it's snowing here in the Shenandoah Valley, so who knows if Punxsutawney Phil lied to us or not. But regardless, I'd like to tell you about a sale that I and 30 of my fellow authors are doing. It's called the Swords of Spring Sale, and all books (and even 7 box sets) are on sale for just $0.99.  Doesn't that sound like a great time to pick up something you've missed or to try out something new?  Heck if you spent the $29.70 to get all the books, you'd receive 52 novels so that's just $0.57a book! The group rounds out to 5 USA Today Bestsellers, and one New York Times Bestseller - that's me! I have The Death of Dulgath for sale at 90% off it's usual $9.99 price. 

Here's the list of what's on sale, and as you can see there are a lot of choices. I'll be back tomorrow with some stats about each author, but please head on over to the sale and pick out your favorites. But hurry, the sale ends March 7th, so you only have a week.