Why the Age of Swords?

In the continent of TIRRA, I am setting the world notes in the Age of Swords. Why did I choose that era?

The ages each have meaning. TIRRA is lacking in iron, and therefore must make do with copper, zinc, nickel, and tin and so on. Swords made of bronze may look impressive, but they really just don’t hold up very well against an armored opponent.  Unless you are very good at only attacking soft spots on your opponents armor, your sword will dull and/or break eventually.

Which is why swords are reserved for unarmored opponents, and are becoming a symbol across large swaths of TIRRA as symbols of repression.

This then is the age when governments are sometimes finding advantage in slavery, and in forcibly keeping populations at fearful and oppressed.  Who will win – the swords or the peasants?


Welcome to TIRRA

From the frigid Ice Barony to the balmy tropic islands of the Spice Barony, there is much to discover in TIRRA.

Tirra is a large continent on a world called Talia, a world that has a large number of different kinds of peoples who are spread across TIRRA and two other continents, and several large islands.

One sun crosses the brilliantly blue sky each day, and there is one smallish moon that has a bluish tint to some areas of it.  Weather patterns and tides are predicatable to a certain extent.

One thing Talia does not have is an abundance of iron.  By whatever act of the gods (you can blame Narvad if you’d like) or evolution, creation, or random visits by asteroids long ago, iron is nearly non-existant for the average person.  Thankfully, there is a plentiful supply of copper and tin so that bronze is easily made. This makes any iron (or steel) extremely expensive, as it is in high demand. Those governments who can afford it are purchasing iron for their armories and weaponers.

It’s a pity really, because many areas would have seen an industrial revolution by now if iron had been available. As it is, the people are doing the best they can with bronze. They can make engines that run on steam, machines of intricate gears and cams, or deadly traps.  Mass production is difficult, and therefore most clockworks, engines, and other devices are painstakingly hand made, which is also quite expensive. For this reason they are often passed down through family lines as a proud heirloom, or gifted to the community in remembrance.


TIRRA Kickoff

This blog has lain fallow for nearly a year. Creatively I was just in a place where I didn’t have anything to say – due to a lot of reasons that should probably be left unsaid.

But, yes, it’s a nice sunny warm Sunday, and I’m inside pretending I’m very far away.

I’ve dusted off a creative project that has been neglected since January 2004. In those seven years I think I’ve made great strides in both writing and graphic editing. I plan to prove it – to myself if not to anybody else.

TIRRA is a continent on a planet in some other place. I’m setting up a detailed continent for RPG gamers and fiction writers.  Following the world book will be a rule book and a critter compendium of some sort. A lot of the groundwork has already been done over the years – stretching back to the 1980s!  So now it’s a matter of cleaning up loose ends, fixing up a few illustrations, and finding somebody to do some book covers or something.

Ideas are welcome, but please let me post a little bit more about what’s going on before we all get too excited. In some ways this is FAR bigger than a novel, with tons more information. In other ways it’s a place for me to put creative bits that I have not found a home for elsewhere. Besides, my writing style is best at characters and setting – I never really did master the whole ‘plot’ idea – so perhaps this is down my alley.

I’m not sure how much of the sun I’ll be seeing this spring….  But don’t worry, I’m having fun.

On Journaling

I’ve had a long flirtation with writing implements and papers. If I just don’t like the pen or the paper, I may as well play Solitaire because I won’t get anything significant done.  Yeah, I might be able to write a little, but I might as well toss it sooner rather than later.

Also, trying to write with somebody else’s pen or a borrowed bit of paper is like wearing somebody else’s underwear or using a strange toothbrush.  It just is not natural!  The media has to fit the message. I can’t write a novel on a chalkboard any more than I can put a dictionary on the back of a postage stamp.

About a hundred years ago, I was working in the broadcast industry during my college years. In those days there was a news machine in the hallway (or several) with rolls of paper inside.  When it was time to clear the machine and sort through the material, the paper was ripped off along a clear plastic edge and then further ripped between stories.  I used to liberate the bitter ends of the rolls of paper, and I gathered them in my dorm.  I taped the ends of the rolls together to make one really huge roll of paper.  I hung this roll of paper on the back of my typewriter when I was feeling somewhat manic about writing, and I could go for miles (well, feet anyway) at a time without reloading my typewriter with paper.  This was not the writing that would win the Pulitzer prize.  This was me just exploring my own creativity or dashing out a draft for a paper due in a few hours that needed to be retyped anyway onto regular paper.  I found the process to be fairly efficient compared to miles of liquid paper, retyping pages, and making rather a larger mess than I had to.

Part of my collegiate experience was keeping a journal. In those days it was a spiral bound notebook, and I had to turn it in for review by one of my writing instructors.  I write quickly by hand, almost in a code, and it can be difficult to read. Yes, these journals were also crap-filled but they did help me explore my thoughts a little more slowly and methodically than dashing things out on the everlasting gobstopper roll of newsprint.

I’ve tried fountain pens, felt-tip pens, ballpoint pens of all sorts. With a few exceptions, I really don’t like pens.  I fell in love with mechanical pencils instead.  A mechanical pencil does not need gravity, ink, time to dry, and the carbon lines do not smear very much.  Plus the eraser is a bonus.

I find that there is something in actually writing something by hand first that cements the ideas a little better for me. Plus, I find that when I’m drafting an early stage of a work, I NEED to doodle.  I draw little pictures in the margins, bits of maps to explain to myself how things are oriented, and I literally connect dots between thoughts.  There is no “doodle” function in Microsoft Word, in iWorks Pages, or in Open Office.  I know because I’ve searched in vain.  When I’m exploring an idea I don’t even really like lines on the paper because an occasional sentence may need to run down an edge, or a parenthetical thought may need to be skritched on.  Yeah, skritched.  Especially if I’m trying to get a bit of poetry right or a more sentimental narrative.

I’m convinced that sometimes you must slow down a little and write things by hand.  Would Thomas Jefferson have been as eloquent writing the Declaration of Independence if he were constrained to 140 characters at a time?  No.  Instead, he had the luxury of dipping his pen every few words. This gives an added bit of time for crafting what must be said instead of just blurting out something.  Perhaps today’s youth, on the other hand, are so tied into the digital world that this isn’t going to be an issue for them, and it is a conundrum for old fogies such as myself.

So, at the urging of a friend, I’ve returned to journaling.  I ordered two Moleskine journals and I’m going to see how that goes.  I’ve not really been on a creative streak for quite some time – both due to pressures on this side of the keyboard that keep dragging me back into reality, and a lack of anything to say.  Yes, they are rather a bit expensive for doodles and thoughts, but it is also a reminder to make the time count.  Wasted pages is wasted money and wasted time.  Get focused! Stay focused! Keep writing!

I also find wonderfully coincidental that I find this blog entry today as I’m writing this post [via Rachelle Gardner on Twitter]. I’ll be looking for more by Christa Allen.  Her post is about journaling, and she mentions Natalie Goldberg, who has gotten me out of more creativity jams than anybody else on the planet through her books.  Writing Down the Bones and the Wild Mind are highly recommended – you can find them in the same volume on Amazon.

The verb I don’t use

He leaned over his unfinished dinner, and said, “You don’t love me. You never did really love me.”

She took a sip of wine, perhaps to have a moment to think, then she said, “Well, yes I did. I don’t know how it all ended, but I just don’t any longer.”

“I would say” he said, “it was about the time you met Roger on the trip to New York!”

He said. She said. I find the writing life is much breezier without ever using that verb.  If I find myself reading a section that is a verbal pingpong match with the verb “said” as the paddle, I just lose interest. It sits there like last week’s sudoku puzzle, that still somehow is missing some 7s.

And I go father than that. Many writers try to spice up their dialog by using different verbs.  I really wish they wouldn’t. Instead of a pingpong match with predictable rhythms, it becomes a tangled mass of fancier words that often just don’t fit.

  • Replied
  • Retorted
  • Rebuffed
  • Taunted
  • Spat

You get the idea.  Writing is always better when you show instead of tell.  In the admittedly poor sample I started this blog entry with, the characters are (undoubtedly) having a lively discussion, but it reads like a snip from a newscast or some dry experimental recipe.  Instead, please show me what the characters are doing, and how they are reacting. In the right context, I’ll know which character says what without the crutches of he said, or she said.

He leaned over his unfinished dinner, stabbing the dirty end of a fork out over the table. “You don’t love me. You never did really love me.”  John awkwardly stabbed the fork into the apple turnover that he wasn’t really eating anyway. The handle slowly sank to one side.

She took a sip of wine, perhaps to have a moment to think. She slowly nodded her head, letting her curls lightly bob along the sides of her face. “Well, yes I did. I don’t know how it all ended, but I just don’t any longer.”

John leaned back and jutted his chin out for a moment as if thinking.  “I would say,” he leaned forward and pointed an accusing finger across the table. “It was about the time you met Roger on the trip to New York!”

It’s still some shabby dialog, and here it is without the context of any story. But at least I’ve dressed it up a little.  In my last several fiction projects, I’ve tried to remove all of the little helper verbs in dialog.

Characters or Plot – which is more important?

I have to thank @kmweiland for getting me noodling along these lines again. Her tweet was asking just this question, as a question of the day.

My response (in more than 140 characters this time) is that a really well considered character study can still be a really fascinating read.  I love writing back stories for people I see randomly in restaurants or in the stores.

Why is he limping? Why does that kid seem sick?  Geez, how MANY bags of potato chips do you really need?   When you ask yourself those questions, there are two things to do – either ask them out loud (which may garner some funny looks) or write them down and come up with your own fictional rationale for what’s going on a little later.

A really good plot on the other hand, is really just an outline.  It might be a wonderful plot, never before seen by the mind of man, glistening with new promises of movies or maybe a broadway production.  But without characters to develop, the plot is just… a framework.  It’s the skeleton of the story without any of the meat.

So, I think it is sort of like a sandwich. The bread holds the good stuff inside.  That’s the plot.  It’s full of promise, but you really don’t want to taste just the bread.  Sure, there are different flavors of bread and I love them all – but that’s not enough to make me sit up and take notice.  Well, unless it’s fresh out of the oven, but that’s a different story.  The good stuff is inside. The characters.  And it is how those characters react to the plot (which must be somewhere in the mayo and mustard layers) that a really good sandwich is formed.

Yeah. I’m hungry. Sorry about that.  But I like my analogy. =D

Motivation and Spice

I found my old recipe card in a book under my chair.  It’s a card that I refer to sometimes when I need to color outside of the lines.

Take some card stock or paper and list the following motivations.  Add any others that come to mind.

  • Vengeance
  • Catastrophe
  • Love / Hate
  • Chase
  • Grief / Loss
  • Rebellion
  • Survival / Deliverance / Escape
  • Discovery / Quest
  • Betrayal
  • Persecution
  • Rivalry
  • Ambition
  • Sacrifice
  • Metamorphosis / Maturation

Now, rip the paper up into strips with one entry on each strip and plop them into a hat.  The next step is to create a set of “Spice” ideas.  Add new spice ingredients as you think of them.

  • Deception
  • Criminal Activity
  • Profit / Loss
  • Un-natural or unwelcome affection
  • Making amends
  • Suspicion
  • Conspiracy
  • Suicide
  • Honor / Dishonor
  • Searching
  • Lost / Found

Again, rip the paper up into strips and put these spices into a different hat.

Now what? Well, of course you guessed it.  Now draw one plot element and one spice element from each hat.  Then spend ten minutes pondering how to mash the elements together into a story, and write down a bare bones plot outline.

Yeah, it might not be what you needed.  But I often find randomness to be a great creativity boost.  Just what would a Chase story have in common with Making amends?  I don’t know, so you’ll have to tell me.

I have a 3×5 card with the above motivations on one side and spices on the reverse.  It keeps me guessing about what the possibilities are out there. And as a writer, it’s all about possibilities, isn’t it?

Let me know if it helps you out!

Killer Dreams?

As adults, I think most people discount dreams. We don’t pay attention to them, don’t put any significance in them, and don’t bother remembering them.

I’ve always been glad that I have never had that tendency. I dream often, vividly, in color, and I remember my dreams.

Today it paid off. I dreamed up a whopper, that is still vivid enough for me to think about writing it up as a test thought or two. It starts off with some boxes found in the sand on the shore of a lake that contain odd things, and as an investigator I am tasked with figuring out if there was a crime or not. Yeah! I love puzzles, and I love them when they come in my dreams. The problem is, this was not a puzzle. This was a murder that happened nearly 30 years ago, and the evidence in these boxes is a very sad tale that implicates the father of a friend of mine. We had heard that he was dead, so it should be all over, right? Right?!?

Maybe. Will I write it? I don’t know. I’m a bit busy with other stuff at the moment, but I may very well come back to this one. I’ve never tried a murder mystery.

So take it as a cautionary tale, my scribbling friends. Don’t discount your dreams. Write them down. Mine them for ideas. Follow where they lead.

When writing isn’t easy

I find my muse in the closet, behind the spot where the cat hides in storms, behind heavy coats, in the darkest safest place. She looks up at me above tear-streaked cheeks, with more moisture rolling down rosy tender curves.
I'm not working at that office today. I can spend some time with you. Are you doing okay?
A blank stare.
I need to do some writing, can you please come out for a bit?
I need you to not be afraid. There are no protests in Iran today. Can you come out?
A reluctant pout.
Is it Michael?
Is it Farrah? Is it Ed? Is it David Carradine?
Nod. Nod. Nod.
Or is it Neda?
Hiding here in my closet won't make it feel any better. Would you like some chocolate?
Do you need more time?
I understand. I really do. I'll just have to see what I can write without you.

Publishing Comparisons (POD vs POD)

(Updated because I can’t believe I didn’t include Scribd!)

(Updated again for some interesting International info for non-US folks trying to publish on Amazon!)

I had my mouse cursor hovering over the Upload button at lulu.com, but I am truly thankful that I took more time to research the POD / self publishing / vanity publishing horizon before I settled on a publisher for my current project. No, I’ve not settled on that publisher(s) yet.  Thanks for asking.  I was originally leaning toward lulu.com, but all bets are off at the moment.

There may be several dozen ways to organize this data, so I didn’t. This is a semi-random info dump of what I’ve found so far.  Some entries are lump-able into categories, and others just kind of stand on their own.

Since I don’t have a legal department, I’ll issue a disclaimer anyway.  This information is all gathered recently across many web sites. For all I know it is already outdated somewhere.  This information is for rough comparisons only. Your mileage will vary.

Most of these publishers are a mix of paper/digital, so I did not differentiate unless there is something unique in their approach.

NOTE ->  All places where I report the cost of a copy of a single book for an author, it is either a 5.5″ x 8.5″ or 6″ x 9″ paperback trade book – color cover and black text on white paper @250 pages (or similar as described on their page).   I’ve tried to give similar data where it is available, in a similar pattern in the text.  It is extremely difficult to match apples and apples across these many web pages.  

The other cost I list is the minimum cost for your first hundred books, which is the minimum setup fees and book costs with NO additional services selected.  Also no discounts are accounted for, and my math may be fuzzy, but I tried to be consistent.

Mind your security while you browse these sites. Some of these pages are truly horrific throwbacks to not only Web 1.0, but Windows 98 or something.  They tease with a little information and require you to register so they can send you more data.  I did not bother registering with these sites, assuming they either didn’t know how to spell “Internet”, or they were up to something else evil.  Really folks, this is the 21st century. Put your data out where we can find it, or some of us are just not going to play that game and you’re losing authors. Allrighty then?

I may also have missed some significant publishing vendors.  Let me know and I’ll include them as an update.  So here we go.

POD and Self Pub (paper/digital) Publishers (in no particular order)

Most of these entries have editorial, layout, book design and marketing packages that can be purchased. Sometimes the packages are bundled. 

iUniverse [http://www.iuniverse.com/] has a separate service for everything.  If you’re the author who needs a lot of services, the kind of traveler who demands room service and excellent concierge service, this is perhaps your publisher.  I would not be surprised if they have services for their services.  Setup fees range $599 – $2099.  Author cost per book (for our example size as stated above) is $11.19.  The minimum cost per the first hundred copies (your promotional stash) is $1718.  Layout, design and editorial services are abundant.  They don’t seem to have much of an author community, but they do have author podcasts going.  They also offer hosted web sites to market your book.  Only books, no other media.

Lulu [http://www.lulu.com/]  also offers a suite of services for editing, layout, cover design, and etc.  There are no setup fees, but the services can rack up the cost quickly. The author cost for one book is $8.53. The cost per the first 100 is $853.  Lulu also handles CDs, DVDs, audio books, PDF downloads, and some other media as well.  There is an authors forum area, and they brag about their technical support.  For a confident author with an editor friend and a graphics friend, Lulu can be a low cost entry point effectively.  Lulu has storefront pages for your book collection that is a fairly staid template with your customized background image.


 [http://www.authorhouse.com/]  opens their setup fees from $598 to $1298.  The author cost for a book is $9.83. The minimum cost for the first hundred books seems to be $1581.  Authorhouse will grant a free ISBN number, but they didn’t say anything about US Copyright registration.  They also brag on their technical support.


[http://www.scribd.com/]  Scribd is the single eBook-only venture I came across (but that is not what I was looking for so that’s appropriate).  You may upload any document to Scribd, and readers can read a sample online for free.  If they purchase that book, they may read it all online, or download and therefore print it.  The author may set any price, and keeps 80% of the revenue.  This is seemingly a streamlined system (I’ve not tried it yet) and the home page is already throwing books at the viewer’s browser, which I like as a marketing approach.  The downside is that the browser must load the iPaper application, which streams the document to the browser, and therefore takes a bit of time to load.  This feature has taken some heat in some forums I was reading through.  Scribd has a fairly complete FAQ area to welcome new authors, so that’s a plus.  

Selfpublishing.com [http://www.selfpublishing.com/]  This is one of the sites that requires registration, so I didn’t investigate it very thoroughly.  One odd thing is that a hosted ISBN is $99, and an indie ISBN is $125 and the barcode is another $25.  You can buy 10 bar codes in a block from the source on the Internet, plus bar codes, for that amount.  If you have nine more books in you, I’d venture elsewhere.

CreateSpace [http://www.createspace.com/] This one also requires registration a little sooner than I would have preferred.  The author cost for a book is $3.66 (or less if you upgrade your package). They offer a free hosted ISBN, and an indie ISBN for $35.  They pay royalties as follows:  Retail is list price -20%, and Amazon is list price -40%.    They offer hosted web sites for your book.  One big plus is that they handle multiple media formats (including the only video service I found so far).  CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, so if you publish here the next step for marketing should be a breeze!

Xlibris [http://www.xlibris.com/] Packages run from $299 to $12999 (whew!) and the author cost for one book is $13.19 (whew!). Royalties paid are 25% on retail sales, and 10% of Amazon sales.  The minimum cost for 100 books therefore is about $1618.  

Mill City Press [http://www.millcitypress.net/]  This group has a different approach. They claim to only charge the wholesale printing cost to the author without a markup (which is only $3.90 for our sample size), and the author keeps 100% of the royalties.  They also claim to not use book cover templates.  Packages are either $1497 or $3798.  The cost per the first hundred books is $1887.  The less expensive package does not cover things like web site fulfillment and ebook creation, which cost extra. 

Wordclay [http://www.wordclay.com/] charges an initial setup fee of $245.  A single book costs the author $9.41. The first hundred book cost is $1186.   Layout help is bundled with the Premier package at $999.  Hosted ISBN is $99, indie ISBN is $135.  The scrolling box at the bottom of the sites page says smashwords and ebook formatting is available as of May, but I didn’t see any further info about that.

Dog Ear Publishing [http://www.dogearpublishing.net] gets extra points because I love their name.  They also have gone out of their way to compare themselves to other POD vendors, though some of the data is dated.  Tsk.  Packages are $1099 or $3499. Author cost for a book is $4.28.  Cost per first hundred is $1527.  Hosted web sites are available, and they will handle US Copyright registration – but they say nothing about ISBN availability (or I missed it).

Smashwords [http://www.smashwords.com/]  Multiple ebook formats without DRM.  No costs up front to set up your ebook. Royalties are 85% of retail sales.  The books are available online for free, in a somewhat controlled window that takes awhile to load (because it has to read in a book’s worth of data or some such).  This is awkward for some internet readers. But hey, they know Kindle from iPod, so there may be hope.

Green alternatives?

Book Printing Revolution  [http://bookprintingrevolution.com/]  Do you insist that your publisher be as green as possible? There is only one publisher that I found to be bragging on their environmental credentials.  BPR (that’s my shortcut, not theirs) is an offset press / digital combination.  The author retains rights.  Minimum print run is 100 copies.  Your book may hit the press in 10 – 20 days.  They offer editorial, layout, cover design, and distribution help.  I found no information abou
t hosted ISBNs, indie ISBNs, or US Copyright registration.  

How about secure (view online-only) PDF, or print as a book options?

Feeling paranoid about illegitimate downloads of your book? You might want to think about Completely Novel[http://www.completelynovel.com/].   This is a UK-based publisher.  There are no setup or packaging fees.  The author cost of one copy is £3.29 (GBP).  Cover design help is available via a free widget of which they seem to be proud.  Books are all available on paper or online in a variety of formats.  They claim the books online are not printable or downloadable, and can be read by anybody as a teaser for the paper edition.  Another angle is that you can publish your document and embed it in your blog, which I thought was a unique approach.

Vanity Publishers (sorta)

Outskirts Press [http://www.outskirtspress.com/]  A quirky web site that will not cough up much real information without registering (therefore I did not comply).  Setup packages range from $199 to $1099.  Publishing commences up to 90 days after contract.  They claim to pay royalties by check (awesome! ??) have templates for book covers (yawn),  and only include an ISBN at the $699 level package (not defined as to hosted or indie).  Make no mistake – this is your grandfather’s web site!

Raider International Publishing [http://www.raiderpublishing.com/]  wasted my time with a flash intro that did absolutely nothing to explain themselves.  It’s a pet peeve of mine.  Then when I entered the main site the color, fonts, and display contrasted very sharply.  So I’m lead to believe that they are still experimenting with this intarweb thingy…  Raider wants you to submit your manuscript for consideration.  How nice of them!   Listen, are you going to trust a place named “Raider” to submit your manuscript to?  I’m just sayin’.  Setup and publishing packages range from $699 to $2499.  Think about it – you have to submit your manuscript and then you also have to pay the setup costs.  I really have no idea what they think they’re doing. 

Books go to press up to 6 months after the contract is a ‘go’.  Six months?  Geez, I could go faster on Gutenberg’s original movable type press, in German, translating from Latin.  I don’t know either of those languages.  They offer layout help and talk about international printing options, but I didn’t pursue those avenues fully.

No, I’m not a comedian, nor am I a professional critic of web pages. But as a consumer, I have my preferences, right?

NOTE: International Authors! Trying to distribute via Amazon?  You have two options, either lulu.com or CreateSpace. I’m not entirely sure of the connections you might need for lulu.com. I found out that CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, and they require either a bank account in a bank that has a branch in the US, or an address to send the check to before you proof your first copy.  Contact the tech support department of either publisher for more info.

Lessons Learned?

Do your own homework. Some of these prices are easily out of date.  Some of these policies may not be in effect by the time you read this blog entry.  Also, if you Google around, some of these outfits have been accused of being scams.  Is it worth your while to pay $499 for a marketing package that is only going to write a blurb to paste into a news release?  Keep in mind it is entirely possible to pay thousands of dollars, and sell only a dozen books.  There are no guarantees.  Read the fine print!

Find your comfort zone.  Many of the base packages are fairly hefty in cost, yet they contain elements that I can certainly do myself.  I’m somewhat handy with graphics programs, I can handle marketing blurbs, and I have at least a fuzzy idea about how to get visibility for my work.  Your mileage may vary.  If you need these services, go with the package you need for the price you’re willing to pay.

Strike your balance.   There is a huge difference between publishing cost, and the cost of printing the books themselves.  If you publish a book for free but you have to spend a fortune for the books to send as promotional copies, you may not have done yourself any favors.  If you pay for a marketing plan that boils down to sending out a newsletter to some dead-end outlets, and/or they send
you a stack of postcards and news release forms, did that really help you? What exactly did you pay for?

Think it through to the end!  Ask about return policies!  Some booksellers in some markets might see as high as 70% return rates. This means there are books coming back that somebody is going to have to eat, right?

Last rant:  I am absolutely amazed that only a couple of sites knew anything about smashwords or Kindle.  Or DRM.  I was hoping to be more informed about electronic and paper publishing convergence, but I’m a little disappointed in the exercise. 

Now then, I’m off to find my ibuprofen because I’ve typed too much.  Cheers!