It’s a Wonderful Death!

A brave knight breaks her vows to fight against a lunatic king calling himself “the Doomsayer” and ends up dealing with unreliable henchmen, political assassins, and a sarcastic disembodied head in a bag. Can she and her friends save the Hidden Kingdom from an unstoppable foe before her prophesied death?itsawonderfuldeath-510

IT’S A WONDERFUL DEATH is a stand-alone novel in the shared fantasy world of Fortannis. The story takes place after my novels ARCH ENEMIES and THE AXES OF EVIL and features Terin Ostler and the squires from those stories. However, you do not have to have read those books (or any of the stories in the various TALES OF FORTANNIS anthologies) to enjoy this book.

It was written by Derek Beebe and edited by me … and by editing, I don’t mean proofreading. I did an editor’s job as I have discussed in this blog before! So I’m really happy with the result and hope you will be, too.

Zachary Didur from Random Chatter magazine had this to say:

“Simultaneously epic and hilarious, IT’S A WONDERFUL DEATH tells a fast-paced story with a ton of heart. It focuses on a handful of characters and really makes you fall in love with them. Nevertheless, Beebe isn’t afraid to ramp up the action to 11 and deliver massive fantasy set-pieces.

Even though the book deals with some very dark subject matter at times, the tone was kept light by clever dialogue and moments of real levity. It never quite becomes a straight up comedy or farce but instead deftly toes the line, and in the end is an enjoyable epic fantasy story.”

So if you’re a fan of my earlier fantasy novels and want to know what happens to those characters later, please check this out! It’s available in Paperback, E-book , Kindle  and iBook !

My Philcon 2012 Schedule

This weekend is the Philcon Science Fiction Convention, which is held every year in New Jersey. (Don’t ask).

The main guest this year is author Catherynne Valente. Artist Guest of Honor is Phil Foglio. I’ve been a fan of Phil’s for years (and I have an original piece of art I bought from him at an Arisia convention way back in 1986!) I keep trying to interview him for this blog, so maybe I can corner him at the convention for a few words.

Here is an incomplete list of guest panelists, which includes many people who have been interviewed on this blog: Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Michael F. Flynn, Gregory Frost, Gail Z. Martin, Mike McPhail, Christine Norris, KT Pinto, Peter Prellwitz, Tony Ruggiero, Lawrence M. Schoen, and Hildy Silverman.

I’m a guest author too, of course. I’ll be there to participate in a few panels… so if you’re attending, be sure to say hi. You’ll probably find me hanging out at my publisher’s booth in the Dealer’s Room when things are slow. Look for the “Double Dragon” sign!

Here’s my schedule (subject to change):

Saturday 3:00 PM: The Reinvention of the Vampire (with fellow panelists KT Pinto, Brent Monahan, and Tony Ruggiero) What can be done in the post-Twilight era? Do we look forward to a time when vampires no longer sparkle? What new approaches can be taken with a monster that has haunted our imagination since the beginning of history?

Sunday 10:00 AM: God 2.0 (with fellow panelists Judith Moffett, Gary Frank, Ty Drago, and Wayne Zimmerman) If we were to design a Divinity deliberately rather than merely let it evolve naturally, what characteristics would we include and why?

Sun 11:00 AM: Reading (with just me!) That’s right, I’ll be reading from THE AXES OF EVIL and, depending on time and audience desires, my upcoming BLOODSUCKERS.

It’s a fairly short schedule for me … usually they keep me much busier, but I’ve been told Philcon has cut back on the number of guests and panels, so I suppose I can’t complain. I’ll have lot of fun talking about books and writing with everyone.

I’ll also be jealously watching my wife, who was assigned to be on two panels with Phil Foglio!

UPDATE: Pictures from the convention are here!


Jeremy Wembley grabbed the broom by the handle. He took forceful steps toward the back of the room where Patrick stood unaware. Patrick paid no notice as Jeremy shortened the distance between them, and seemed completely oblivious to Jeremy’s presence.

Jeremy raised the broom just as Patrick turned around.

“I’ll sweep the stockroom now, Mr. Brenner,” he said.

Jeremy knew that if he continued to impress his boss, it would not be long before he could get that promotion—and soon after, get the real reward he desired: night manager of the Fredricksburg 7-11 on West Norton Avenue.

Unless his arch-nemesis, that kiss-up Eric Stoher got there first…

All the elements are there. There is a goal the main character wishes to reach, and an obstacle that can prevent him. There is character development and conflict.

But, you know, who gives a flying you-know-what?

The fact of the matter is that we want to read stories about people and events that are larger than life. We want to read about heroes to do great things, make clever comments, overcome great odds.

This is nothing new. The ancient Greeks didn’t do plays about the guy who cleaned the stables.

And I am no exception. My books have been about wars and world-shaping events and the heroes whose presence made a difference.

However, at the same time, I have consciously avoided the standard hero that is a mainstay of much of fiction (and especially fantasy). You know the type – the Chosen One from Prophecy who is the seventh son of the seventh son who is the only one who can wield the magic sword Noonah because he has surplus midichlorians and blah blah blah. Maybe this hero starts off the book as a nobody, but he or she ends up as the World’s Greatest Swordsman or Most Powerful Wizard by the end and thus, being superior to us lowly humans, saves the day.

In my two published novels (ARCH ENEMIES and THE AXES OF EVIL) and in a short story in the just released anthology TALES OF FORTANNIS: A BARD’S EYE VIEW, my main character is a teenager named Terin. His problem is that, thanks to a mistake, everyone thinks he’s the Chosen One Who Can Save The Day.

By the end of ARCH ENEMIES, Terin is still running when a fight breaks out and still can barely cast a minor spell. So what makes him the hero?

To me, what makes a real hero is someone who doesn’t have all those skills and yet, through bravery and intelligence, rises above what is expected and does the extraordinary. Terin is the hero because he figures out a solution – he finds a way to solve the problem that is more than merely “hitting the bad guy with the weapon until he falls down.”

I like these kinds of heroes because they remind us that we all can be heroes sometimes.

Oh, I don’t mean to knock down the more traditional heroes: I love Batman and Luke Skywalker as much as the next fan. But when I create a hero for my stories, they tend to be average people put into extraordinary circumstances who must then find something special within themselves to make things right.

In the sequel THE AXES OF EVIL, people are now thoroughly convinced that Terin has wondrous powers, even though he doesn’t. Now he’s confronted with a trio of barbarian prophecies which, he later discovers, contradict each other. On top of this, his liege wants him to get all the barbarians off his land, and a bunch of silly goblins think Terin’s the one who will lead them to victory over the evil humans who oppress them.

These are problems that cannot be resolved by being the biggest fighter. Terin solves them all by the end of the book through his cleverness and resourcefulness, and by being brave and willing to risk it all.

That, to me, is very admirable. It’s what I admire about my real life heroes (Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King, to name two). And it’s the kind of hero I like writing about, because I can identify with him and understand his fears and worries.

Plowing Through That First Draft

One piece of advice that professional writers have given me over and over again is to just keep writing until that first draft is done.

It’s also one of the hardest things I’ve found to do!

But it’s true. If you don’t force yourself to write — even if what you’re writing is crap — you’ll never get anything done. It’s better to just plow ahead with your story and worry about the pacing and the details later.

Just keep saying to yourself “It’s just a first draft.” No one will see it unless you show it to them.

But you have to at least get that done if you expect to ever have a book completed.

I’ve met so many potential authors who have commented that they have a book started that they never finished. They do the first few chapters and then go back and polish those up and then polish them some more and some more, and the book never gets done. Meanwhile, others who may not be as talented actually get theirs completed and published, because no editor will be interested in looking at your incomplete manuscript no matter how good it is.

The hardest part is pushing onward, no matter what. It is very tempting to go back and make changes. Instead you need to fight the temptation and say to yourself “I’m not allowed to make changes until I get to the end of the book.” That way, it becomes a reward you can give yourself when you finish.

This is especially difficult when you’re facing that dreaded Writer’s Block. Sometimes I’m at point A and I need to get to point B but am not sure exactly how to do that, so I just plow ahead. Even if what you write is later tossed completely, it should get you past that hump and onto the next section. And sometimes an idea will hit you that you never would have thought of had you planned it all out in advance.

For instance, in AXES OF EVIL, there is a climatic scene near the end where our hero — the coward Terin Ostler — meets his enemy, who has the most powerful magic weapon in the world. Terin, who has no skills whatsoever, must defeat the villain. How to do this? I wasn’t quite sure, so I began writing the scene. I just plowed ahead, figuring I can always come back to it later and fill in the blanks. Instead, when I was done I realized that my solution was perfect — not only did it make logical plot sense for the characters to act that way, but it was even foreshadowed in an ironic way. I guess my subconscious knew something I didn’t.

And don’t wait for inspiration. Writing is work! If you wait for that moment to hit, you’ll never get anything accomplished. Force yourself to write.

Imagine a sculptor staring at a lump of clay. In his mind, he has his outline of what he wants to accomplish — a horse, for instance — but he’s not quite certain exactly what the final version will look like. He starts molding the clay to the form he wants, and after a while, he can step back and look at his “first draft” and realize that even though it’s rough and crude, it certainly looks like a horse. He now knows how it will be posing and the rest is easier, because it’s the clean up and polishing.

If instead he had concentrated on the horse’s left foot, he’d end up having spent the same amount of time with a lump of clay with a very nice foot sticking out of it. Seeing that little bit done doesn’t encourage you to work harder, I don’t think. Instead, I think it depresses you that so much effort has been spent on a foot, no matter how good it is.

I always enjoyed working on the second and third drafts, because that’s where you can flesh out your character’s personalities better, insert some foreshadowing you hadn’t thought of before, and really turn the work from a passable story to something special. But getting through that first draft — that’s the hard part!

The Axes of Evil

One barbarian prophecy says the legendary hero Bishortu will unite the three warring tribes. Another tribe has a prophecy that directly contradicts this, and they want Bishortu dead. And a third tribe, which may or may not be comprised of werewolves, refuses to let anyone know what their prophecy says. Meanwhile, the Duke on whose land the barbarians sit wants them all gone.

In the middle of all of this is squire Terin Ostler, who has been mistakenly identified as the great Bishortu. Under the Duke’s orders to get rid of the barbarians, he heads to their lands without the slightest idea of what to do.

Along the way, he has to avoid assassins, werewolves, lovesick barbarian princesses, and confused goblins while attempting to figure out the meaning of the magical and mysterious Wretched Axes. Nobody said being a hero would be easy.

I am so pleased to announce that my second novel THE AXES OF EVIL is now available.

I’m quite proud of it and think it’s a great improvement over the first. Partially this is due to experience (the more you write the better you should get), a good editor (as discussed in a previous blog entry) and paying attention to good advice from professional writers.

Fantasy author Gregory Frost likens it to Christopher Stasheff’s work. I read THE WARLOCK IN SPITE OF HIMSELF about 30 years ago and remember only that it was a fun adventure about a reluctant hero, and I am pleased with the comparison! (I hope I don’t go to re-read it and find plot parallels, because then I’ll be quite upset.)

“Humor, danger and a twisted tangle of unlikely prophecies make for a page-turning adventure,” said Gail Z. Martin, author of THE CHRONICLES OF THE NECROMANCER series. Award winning author Jonathan Maberry (THE DRAGON FACTORY) said it’s “a taut nail-biter of a thriller. Edgy, funny and dark.”

Readers of THE AXES OF EVIL should have an exciting ride, with non-stop action, humor, and unexpected plot twists. (And no, you don’t have to have read ARCH ENEMIES to enjoy this one.)

Unlike many fantasy heroes, Terin is not “the chosen one” or someone with super powers or special skills. Instead, he constantly finds himself thrown into terrible situations and finds solutions by being brave, honest, and resourceful. I always found myself identifying with average people performing extraordinary feats — to me, those are the real heroes.

The purpose of this blog is not only to allow me to interview professionals and learn from them, but also to promote my own work. (Any similar writer who says otherwise is probably not being very honest with himself or herself.) If you’ve enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy THE AXES OF EVIL. As an aspiring writer, I very much appreciate (and need) your support. I hope you will give it a try and post your comments to Amazon and other booksellers. I am always anxious to receive constructive feedback, positive or negative — I can always improve, after all, so your comments are valuable.

You can order the paperback here.

You can download the ebook here.

You can download the kindle version here.

And you can join my Facebook fan group here.

Thanks for the indulgence. Next week, back to interviews!

Get a Good Editor!

One of the hardest things for creative people to do is to look at their own work objectively.

The final edits on my second novel (THE AXES OF EVIL) are now complete, and I am very grateful that I had an excellent editor this time to help me out. J. Thomas Ross, whose blog you should all be reading, tore apart the manuscript and now the book is 100% better.

Some of the edits were based on grammatical errors and phrasing, but any good editor should point those things out. No, what made the difference was having an editor who also pointed out exposition holes and other problems.

I can clearly see a situation in my head as I am writing it, but that doesn’t mean I have explained it well enough for someone else.

Here’s an example: In AXES, there is a scene where Terin, the main character, is trying to sneak into a barbarian village. He has obtained the aid of some rather incompetent goblins, and they are hiding in a food storage shed. Peeking out the window, they observe the scene and make their plans. This is important. A reader needs to understand the layout to not only get what is happening but also to build the tension and suspense as Terin leaves the building and heads toward the prison where his friends are being held.

I thought my description was just fine, but Judy (my editor) couldn’t see it. “Doesn’t the fence get in the way?” she’d ask. “And I thought the jail was the big structure at the end of the clearing.” I eventually emailed her a quick map of the town as I saw it, and that assisted in the rewriting. Hopefully no readers will be confused now.

Another problem the original manuscript had was mentioning things that made no sense unless you had read the previous book in the series. Judy had not read ARCH ENEMIES, and this assisted me greatly, as I wanted THE AXES OF EVIL to be a stand-alone novel. We looked at the references and eliminated the ones that were irrelevant to the plot of AXES and explained the ones that were. In doing so, I tried as much as possible not to give away all of the plot to ARCH ENEMIES — what’s the fun in that? Still, some spoilers were unavoidable and necessary.

Having someone edit your work is tremendously important. If you’re receiving many rejection letters, that may just be the reason why. I have always had family and friends read my manuscripts before submitting them, but even then they may not catch everything. Someone who does this at least semi-professionally will make all the difference.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

One of my blog readers (Stop laughing! Seriously, I do have some!) said that he appreciated the focus of this blog — helping aspiring writers with advice and examples — but wanted to know more basic information. For instance, he asked, how do I get ideas?

I recall reading somewhere that same question being asked of Isaac Asimov who responded with “How do you not get ideas?”

Most of the times ideas come from a “what if” scenario, especially when you’re writing speculative fiction. Everyone’s played “what if”. My writing has followed that pattern.

I read a lot of fantasy fiction. A common thread in many of these is The Special One who has some prophecy to fulfill and goes through a rigorous training in order to meet their destiny. Think of “Star Wars” for instance. With ARCH ENEMIES, I began with “What if they got the wrong guy? What if he was suddenly thrown into the adventure and didn’t have all those years of training and preparation?”writing

With THE AXES OF EVIL (the sequel, due out early 2010), I asked “What if he was faced with three prophecies which contradict each other and had to solve all three?”

Those were just the starting points, of course, because then the fun was throwing in the monkey wrenches. I love plot twists and turns and surprising my readers. Usually, that just involves looking at my outline and saying “Things are going smoothly in this part. What can I do to mess it up?”

Basically, the adventure should never be too easy and should never be predictable. I dislike books and movies where I can figure out what’s going to happen next, so I try my best to avoid cliches like the plague. (That was a joke.) My readers have told me that they really like the “Whoa! Wasn’t expecting that!” sections of my books, and the “How the heck is he going to solve this problem?” that isn’t revealed until the very last minute.

Doing that well takes preparation (which I have discussed in an earlier blog entry) because in order to work, all the clues have to be in place. Pulling something out of a hat at the last minute is a cheat and feels like one, especially if you’re writing a book with magic. I’ve seen too many movies and books where the solution is something magical: The “All you had to do was click your heels three times” ending doesn’t reward the hero in the slightest. Take Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” — the hero Prince is fighting the dragon. What an exciting battle! How does he defeat the creature? Oh, the three fairies come in and give him magic. Yawn, boring.

I like my heroes to do something special and unexpected yet completely in character. To be honest, that’s one of the hardest parts of writing, but also the most fun.

In THE AXES OF EVIL, there is a scene where a werewolf who can only be destroyed by a silver dagger through the heart must be killed. There is an elaborate plan laid out in which the the four main characters, armed with two silver daggers, attempt to accomplish this feat. But that’s too easy. Things go awry and soon Terin (the cowardly hero) gets stuck in a room full of werewolves with no weapon whatsoever. “This is great!” I thought. “This is exactly the situation I want.” Of course, it took me another month to think of a solution, but it’s much more satisfying and surprising than if there was just a great battle and the hero managed to stab his enemy.

I was recently given an assignment to write a short story “using pirates and magic.” Arrr! I love pirates! I had no idea for a story, however, so I just began thinking of typical pirate props — parrots, ships, peg legs, treasure maps and the like. Treasure maps led me to “X Marks the Spot” and being the lover of puns I am (oh, you can’t tell that from the two previous book titles?) this quickly became “X Spots the Mark.” What if the treasure map was a fake and the pirate was merely a “mark” for the scam? That began the adventure, but it didn’t lend itself to much of a story — until I brought out my monkey wrench.

Once THE AXES OF EVIL is finished with its editing (that will be the subject of another blog, I promise), I’ll begin work on BLOODSUCKERS: A VAMPIRE RUNS FOR PRESIDENT. The idea for that began when I heard someone refer to Congress as a bunch of bloodsuckers and I thought “Hey! What if….”

Bottom line: My technique is to start with the “What if”, come up with a basic story, and then throw as many unpredictable barriers in the way of my heroes as possible. This does not work for all types of fiction or all types of writers, but seems to keep me happy with my storylines.

Next week: back to interviews!

Ideas aren’t everything

More than once, I have been approached by someone saying, “Oh, you’re a writer? Listen, I’ve got a great idea for a book. Tell you what, I’ll give you the ideas and you’ll write it and we can share authorship.”

Are these people coming to me because I am not a successful full-time author (yet)? Would they approach a famous writer with the same request?

I’ve actually had one person get upset at me when I refused, as if I had turned down free money. “Don’t you understand? I’m going to do all the hard work; all you have to do is write it down.”the-writer2

Obviously, these people have no idea what it means to write. Everyone has ideas; I have more book ideas than the time I have to write them in. And I expect everyone reading this has ideas as well.

Expressing those ideas? Not everyone can do that.

As a lawyer, I see the same thing in court. Some attorneys are much smarter than I am yet don’t go to court very often and don’t know how to present their arguments. Having control over your words is not an easy skill to acquire.

God knows, I am still trying to acquire it in my writing. Some reviews for ARCH ENEMIES spoke of the great plot twists and character development while at the same time noting that the writing was still rather pedestrian.

Hey, give me a break; it was the first novel I ever wrote. I’m just thrilled it was at least good enough to get published.

But it’s true. The sequel (THE AXES OF EVIL, expected to be published late this year or early the next) is a big improvement over the first. I’m learning each day that little tweaks here and there can make huge differences in the story.

A few months ago, I attended a writer’s workshop that pushed this further, and in the last week J. Thomas Ross, a professional editor, while once more admiring my story and characters, reduced the first two chapters of THE AXES OF EVIL to bits, making points about my writing style that seem so obvious that I slap myself and say “Why didn’t I see that?”

It’s kind of like when I learned to play guitar. I was justly proud of myself, and the bands I played in as a teenager were not bad, but in retrospect amateurish. It took years of practice and playing until I felt really confident. Writing is the same.

This blog is meant to help those writers who, like myself, are just starting out and making mistakes along the way. I learned early on that coming up with a good story is not enough. I am still working on the second part: the writing. And I probably will always be working on that part.

When I think about this topic, I am often reminded of my favorite author, Charles Dickens. I read PICKWICK PAPERS years ago, and had an epiphany at one point. Dickens was describing Pickwick’s meal and dinner conversation, and at the end of the chapter, it hit me that nothing had happened. Nothing in that chapter pushed the plot forward or developed the characters in new ways, but I couldn’t put it down. Dickens, being such a master writer, had kept me enthralled writing about nothing. Ideas aren’t everything.

Very few authors can accomplish that, but the very best can come close. And that’s the lesson for today: The best ideas in the world are meaningless if you cannot express them in a way that makes people want to read them. And that’s a skill that you have to learn.

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