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GREEK KEY is out, so let’s talk about Helen of Troy

27 Oct

All Hope Blackwell wanted was a quiet Mediterranean vacation. Sun, sand, local cuisine…and tracking down Archimedes’ ghost to learn if he’s been tampering with the fabric of reality. But when you’re a psychic whose specialty is communicating with the dead, a trip to Greece means you’ll come face-to-face with legendary heroes.

And monsters.

As Hope and her friends explore the ruins of the ancient world, she soon learns she has attracted the attention of one of the most famous women in history. Helen of Troy is nothing like her stories, and she’s got a problem she thinks Hope can solve.

Hope isn’t too sure about that—if righting a 2,500-year-old wrong was that easy, wouldn’t Helen have found the time to do it herself?

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More Fun with Self-Publishing

16 Oct

Some of you seem to really enjoy these posts on self-publishing and the living nightmare that is the production phase! Please. Come. Read my hair-pulling, head-to-wall-bashing, chew-through-own-bottom-lip-for-the-joy-of-it experience.

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GREEK KEY sample up on Gumroad!

7 Oct

Greek Key goes live today–the first eleven chapters, at any rate. The cover is gorgeous.

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Pickwickian Pickers Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers

25 Sep

Why’s it “pickled peppers” anyway? You can’t pickle vegetables on the vine…Or can you? she asks, turning to Google… Oh. Hmm…an entire subculture dedicated to the Crabtree effect and aerobic fermentation…BUT I DIGRESS.

So. Last week I asked for feedback on my Patreon and what could be changed or improved. Answers were varied. And thoughtful. And varied. Extremely varied.

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More POD Issues from CreateSpace

16 Sep

I’m back in that lovely self-publishing shenanigans hole again.

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Attention Deficit Disorder and First-person Perspective

25 Aug
Nobody understands the sickle weasels.

Nobody understands the sickle weasels.

I’m cleaning up GREEK KEY and…well…

I’m worried about the voice in it, okay?

It’s told from first-person perspective, with Hope Blackwell as the narrator. Hope has severe attention deficit hyperacticity disorder. Keep in mind she’s not just bouncing from one topic to another, as she’s got the variant of ADHD with hyperfocus–when she’s locked on target, she will chase that target until it’s dead.

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Zinc (Velveteen fanfic)

8 Aug

You’re all aware of the Velveteen Vs. stories, right? Author Seanan McGuire has this world full of superheroes and it…rather sucks for them. Think: 80s X-Men with Marketing and HR departments, insurance premiums, and lawyers fighting against corporations for a juicy slice of that superhero civil suit pie. The majority of these stories are free on her blog, although they have also been packaged in handy collections.

I wrote some short fanfic about the life of a random superhero in this universe. Elliot’s not one of McGuire’s, and that’s lucky for him–she’s cold murder on her characters. 

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Cultural property and ownership

9 Jun

I’m in fact-checking mode for GREEK KEY. This is a middle stage of my writing process, and I refer to it as fact-checking because that’s easier than calling it “Make sure you got this stuff right or certain people will crawl down your throat and lay clusters of Um-Actually Eggs in your abdomen.”


I check nearly every detail that goes into a book, and I still get shit wrong. For example, in STATE MACHINE, when Pat finds the hidden room with the mildewed cocaine, I checked to make sure that cocaine can go bad. Yup! It’s an organic substance, and it will rot over time. But wait, there’s more. My copyeditor double-checked with Derek Lowe of In the Pipeline, and found that cocaine has strong antiseptic properties, so it’s not as likely to mildew unless it’s cut with something that dilutes these properties. Easily fixed with some minor edits…but.

A book is made of a lot of…buts.*

Currently, I’m fact-checking details of provenance for GREEK KEY. I’m fascinated by ideas of ownership regarding cultural property. I’ll point you to this short article, “Provenance Factors for Antiquities Acquisition” by Myren (2010), in which the author discusses the many different ways to perceive ownership of items whose creators are long since dust. I have a few problems with this article, especially the idea that moral claims to items which uphold and preserve cultural heritage are “farfetched” (p.9), but it’s an excellent overview of the issues that need to be addressed when antiquities are bought and sold.

Done reading it? What? No? Okay, let’s take this sourced line: “Recognizing that there are multiple views of cultural property is tantamount to identifying the stakeholders involved” (p.10).  Or, how you perceive an unique item with cultural value may reflect on how you think formal ownership of that item can and should be delegated.

From a writer’s perspective, this is freakin’ fascinating. It’s basically a tailor-made opportunity for insight into characters’ motivations.

Hypothetically speaking (*cough*cough*), let’s say Hope, Mike, and Speedy locate a new fragment of the Antikythera Mechanism that’s been in a private party’s possession for the last century. Speedy’s position on ownership is easy: if you can afford to pay the market value of the artifact, then hey! It’s yours. Mike’s position would be that we must strive to enrich the human experience, and that cultural artifacts should be accessible to the public.

Hope’s position is complicated. On the one hand, she needs to obey the law, because OACET. With that in mind, she’d follow the current legal standards used by regional and international organizations to designate the ownership of antiquities. On the other hand, “cultural artifacts” are something completely different to a woman who lives with ghosts. It’s really hard to get emotionally invested in items from the distant past when the dudes who made those items are your drinking buddies.

So I’ve got (more than) three characters with different views on how an item should be managed. I’ve got to get the details for each of these perspectives right, and it needs to be written in such a way that it’s not a teeth-grinding infodump. Fact-checking, whee!

Anyhow. That’s what I’m up to this morning. How are you?

*Quiet, you.

Juggling countries

16 May

A brief post on worldbuilding.

STATE MACHINE has been out for five days and is doing quite well (thank you for making this happen!). The post I put up on Monday had several good comments about the structure of the Rachel Peng novels, and questions about the upcoming Hope Blackwell novel. Lemme try and answer these in the time-honored fell swoop:

The webcomic

A GIRL AND HER FED should be considered the original source material. Thus far, the only thing I’ve abandoned is aligning the comic and novels to “real world” time, mostly because I’m a stupid-slow artist and the Rachel novels would take place back in 2007 or so. Nope, our world moves too fast for that continuity nonsense.

(…she sighed, wistfully remembering how she really enjoys that continuity nonsense…)

I’ve also placed one red herring in the comic. It’s in Chapter 8 if you want to start guessing, but that’s all I’ll say about that.

The Josh Glassman Novellas

Short pulp novellas, between 35k and 50k words. Wacky sex comedies featuring our favorite Pornomancer, and told as a retrospective fantasy to Mare. Josh has been married eight times, to seven different women (and Mare twice), and this is how he bedded and wedded each of them. Josh loves who he is and what he can do, and he revels in the collective. Josh and Mare know about the ghosts, so ghosts are permitted, but will only show up if it makes sense within a given story. THE RUSSIANS CAME KNOCKING is the only one out so far.

The Rachel Peng Novels

Full-length novels, between 110k and 120k words. Mystery-thriller format, with a central crime that sets off the action and must be solved over the course of the book. Over the seven books in the series, Rachel Peng takes down Richard Hanlon, the villain who tortured and manipulated the 500 young kids who would grow up to become OACET. These novels take place in the five-year break between Parts 1 and 2 of the comic. Hints of ghosts here and there, but no koalas whatsoever!  DIGITAL DIVIDE, MAKER SPACE, and STATE MACHINE are the three books in the series that have been published.

The Hope Blackwell Novels

There might just be one of these? I need to see how it performs before I commit to another series. I’m expecting GREEK KEY to come in around 80k to 90k words. Yes, Speedy will definitely be in this/these. The ghosts will be there, too. Not sure how to categorize this book…the draft is reading like Percy Jackson forgot his Adderall and decided to put on a modern-day reenactment of the ODYSSEY, but it’s only half-done and might take a Turn. Due out near Halloween.


(…screaming sounds forever…) Now that STATE MACHINE is done, getting the audio edits done on the books is my new full-time job. Again. Whee.


Hopefully this gives some general non-spoilery answers to any questions you might have had about the different overlapping series. Now, I’m gonna fall down for, like, six days and maybe twitch a little when Brown pokes me in the eye to check if I’m still alive.


STATE MACHINE and superpowers

11 May
Available at all major ebook retailers, and coming soon to paperback (after a proof check oh jeeze I wear so many hats...)

Available at all major ebook retailers, and coming soon to paperback (after a proof check oh jeeze I wear so many hats…)

Hey! It’s Monday! STATE MACHINE just went live, and I’m going to talk about the plot…ish. This’ll be vague to avoid spoilers, but if you’re familiar with the books or the comic, you’re already aware that one of the general themes I use is real-world superheroes.

This is the part I have fun with, especially in the Rachel books. The 400 *cough*cough* 350 members of the Office of Adaptive and Complementary Enhancement Technologies have a tiny quantum organic computer chip implanted in their brains. This chip allows them to access and, to a lesser extent, control frequencies in the EM spectrum. Since nearly everything within our scope of existence is affected by the EM spectrum to some extent, this is a pretty big deal. Also, having an adaptive, evolving computer in their heads lets the OACET Agents change themselves…within reason. The implant enhances biofeedback, which gives moderate improvements in performance to athletes who practice every day, or some additional mental abilities to those who meditate regularly.

I especially love the autoscripts. Each time one Agent discovers something new, they can package that learned experience in an autoscript and pass it to someone else in the collective. This second Agent can then use that script, modify the script as needed, and then pass that modified script to someone else, who can in turn modify it to their own needs… Think of it as the ultimate form of the collaborative learning experience. In the Rachel books, I had to make Rachel resist fully participating in the autoscript process. If I hadn’t, we’d be following a cyborg who just becomes progressively more and more powerful over time. Rachel is fun to write because she knows shouldn’t be a cyborg–except for her perception and frequency-manipulation skills, she is terrible at it!–and she’s mostly just stomping through her extremely weird life while everyone around her levels up.

Unfortunately, superheroes need villains. Villains are also fun to play with, but much harder to write, especially as the Rachel novels use an entirely different set of rules than the comic to keep it more relatable to real life.

  • Rule 1: No koala (sorry);
  • Rule 2: Ghosts will never be on-camera;
  • Rule 3: If ghosts do influence events, they will never be identified as ghosts.


I can’t avoid the ghosts altogether, not while still being true to the original material, but they’re downplayed. STATE MACHINE will probably be the most “ghostly” book in the Rachel novels, and it still adheres to these rules. But with the ghosts off of the table, where does that leave the villains? Ghosts are a hell of a game-changer, if you think about it. They’re invisible, invulnerable allies, and they have a crazy range of powers (teleportation, mental manipulation, etc.). If they’re gone, how do you write a bad guy who can take on 350 near-omniscient cyborgs who are motivated by self-preservation?

Well, you’ve got to go big. A single bad guy would get steamrolled by OACET. But a single bad guy who knows how to use societal and political systems as a weapon? There are tons of “systems” out there. Government. Public opinion. News cycles. Tax law!

Gaming the “system”, whichever one that is, is the only way a modern super-villain can go toe-to-toe with our heroes. Systems are huge, unwieldy weapons, and it takes ages to position them correctly, but once they’re set up and good to go, very little can stand against them. Societies are imperfect monsters, and are slanted to favor certain persons. If you know how to work that system to your advantage, bam! You’ve now got superpowers.

Now let’s go back to the part where I said I try to keep the Rachel novels “more relatable to real life.” There’s real life, and then there’s fictional “real life”, and these are quite different because one is usually all about the crushing burden of finances and oh no oh no oh NO so many bills all of the time why do they keep coming aren’t I a good person?

And the other is escapism, which is a major reason why we enjoy reading fiction.

If Richard Hanlon et al. wanted to eliminate the Agents, they should go after them financially. The U.S. government has a long history of defunding unpopular agencies, so why should OACET be any different?

(I can honestly see why Lucas spent so much time discussing interstellar commerce in the more recent films and the CLONE WARS cartoons. This makes perfect sense–control the money, control the universe. Personally, I don’t think he went far enough. If you’re going to travel down Financial Plot Point Road, then the Emperor should have defunded the Jedi. “Oh no, you’ve lost your non-profit status! However shall you pay for your spaceships and laser swords now? Principles sorely tested when buy a sandwich you cannot, hmmm?”)

However, while money may be magic, it’s also difficult to turn into an interesting plot. Not impossible! Just difficult, and I don’t know enough about how money works to pull it off. (Follow the money, they say, and I say, What, where? There was money? Did the bills eat it again?) So I usually play around with the more humanized “systems”. In STATE MACHINE, Hanlon’s back in the role of the Big Bad, and he’s not going down without a fight. He’s extremely smart, and since he created OACET, he knows their weaknesses.

I hope you enjoy it.

The next book in the Rachel series is book 4 of 7. The supervillains are less about working the system, and more about overthrowing it–because if you’re going to have completely balls-out evil villains anyhow, they might as well not bother with pants.*

* My elevator pitch is terrible.