A Christmas Gift – A Story – "You Are Just Like Gods"

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“You are just like Gods . . .”

By David Niall Wilson

 

Myoshi felt his foot slip on the slick, moss-covered rock, and he gripped the rocks above him more tightly.  The sharp lava stone cut into his fingers, but he regained his balance and remained very still, letting his breath and heartbeat calm.  The sun rose slowly, warming his back as he climbed.  Birds cried from the rocks above, and from the depths of the trees.  Myoshi brushed his fingers across his brow, wiping away the sweat.

Fuji rose above him, grim and imposing, but no more so than the formidable drop behind.  Myoshi had begun his climb at first light, and he had made good time.  On his back, his school book bag bulged with supplies.  There was a souvenir shop at the edge of the forest, but he’d wanted to avoid prying eyes.

He carried some well-packed fish and rice, and two small packets.  One was his school work, graded and banded carefully to be saved and shown to his parents.  The other was a packet of letters.  Letters from Myoshi’s grandfather.  Letters Myoshi’s father had kept, wrapped carefully in rice paper and bound with a silken ribbon.  Letters that one day would be missed.

The mountain leveled off for a time, and Myoshi was able to walk normally, sweeping his gaze along the trail that wound up and up until it was lost among trees and clouds.  It was a wonderful day for a climb.

Far below, beyond the ocean of trees that was the ancient forest of Aokigahara, school was in session.  Myoshi’s father had been at work for two hours, and his mother would be home, cleaning and organizing.  Nothing in their small, neat apartment was ever out of place.  Myoshi’s father would not have permitted it, and his mother would do nothing that shamed her in her husband’s eyes.  Perfection.  Myoshi yearned for that. In everything he did, he fell short.

In school, his mind wandered.  His grades were not bad, but neither were they good.  In Myoshi’s household, mediocrity was not an option.  Other children excelled.  Some were athletes, others could calculate in their heads faster than Myoshi could press the buttons on his calculator.  Myoshi could write, some, but even in this he fell short in his father’s eyes.  His marks in penmanship were less than satisfactory, and his grammar was erratic.  His teachers said he lacked focus and discipline.

Myoshi’s grandfather had known about discipline.  He had understood about being different, as well.  It was all in the letters.  Letters written by a man who died before his own young son could bring home grades, or books of letters.  Letters that were Myoshi’s father’s one link to the past.  A fragile link, built of memories half-forgotten and fantasies long rehearsed.  Myoshi had heard those fantasies.  He had met his grandfather through his father’s words.  He had seen the glint in dark eyes, and the shining leather of the uniform.  Myoshi had heard the roar of engines as great birds of war took flight.

“You are just like the Gods,” Myoshi breathed, “Free of earthly desires…”

He slipped under the umbrella of tree-limbs and continued up the mountain.  His father’s voice echoed through his mind.  The mountain slipped away, just for a moment, replaced by white, billowing clouds.  The soft cries of birds and the chirping of insects gave way to crackling static.  He sensed the others, tightly formed squadron of death, moving as a single unit with the sun blazing above.  Myoshi could feel the sweat beneath the flight helmet.  He could sense the symmetry of the squadron’s practiced motion.  One great bird.  One bolt of lightning aimed at those who opposed the Emperor.

 

“To fly as one bolt

From the crossbow of a

Victorious light.”

 

A tree root protruding from the mountain’s rough hide sent Myoshi tumbling, and his mind returned to the moment.  He caught himself on both hands, scraping one palm, and fighting the urge to cry out.  The weight of the pack pressed him more tightly to the earth.  Turning, he seated himself on a rock and caught his breath.  The sun was bright, and as he looked back the way he’d come, he saw that the trail had disappeared, the winding course cutting off his entrance to the tree-line completely.  Nothing below but the green tops of the trees, obscuring the forest floor, and the rocky peak above rising on a gentle slope above a second line of trees.  Myoshi could just make it out, and he smiled.

From his pack, he pulled free a rice cake, and the packet of his graded school papers.  Carefully, he unwrapped the bundle, plucking out the sheets one by one.  He laid them on the stone beside him, tracing the even lines of his script with a critical eye.  He had been doing well on this one.  Line after line of formulas strung together in the proper patterns.  Then the error.  One figure out of place, another line used to scratch the mistake from the paper and the continuation – flawed.  Beside each figure, a corresponding red character in the elegant script of his teacher.  Corrected. Berated.  Imperfect.

Myoshi had done well enough to pass from this class to the next, but with no honors.  No fine words from teacher to parent.  No pride. It had taken him hours to complete that assignment, painstakingly forming each character.  He had wanted so badly to please his father that the old man’s image had formed in Myoshi’s mind.  The words, and the stories, and lectures slipped in to distract.

Myoshi traced the scratched out character’s with the nail of one finger.  He whispered to himself.

“You are just like gods.”

The figures mocked him.  The red letters, so bright in the sunlight, glittered like the eyes of serpents.  His father had not seen them.  Myoshi had kept the papers, folded and tied.  Bound and under his control.  He could not control the characters, or the formulas, but he could control their outcome, for a time.  The birds did not threaten to expose his secret, and Fuji beckoned.

Myoshi glanced at the second packet of papers. He slid his hand into his pack, stroked the silk bindings, but he did not open the letters.  Not yet.  He quickly packed the wrapper from the rice cake, and the school work, and rose, turning to face the mountain once again.

“Free of earthly desires,” he said softly.

Free of his family.  Free of school, though it tugged at his heart.  He would be a disappointment to his father this final time.  Myoshi had not missed a day of school in five years.  The only desire he could recall in all those years was to please his father.  The most wonderful moments of his life had been spent at that great man’s feet, listening to stories of emperors, and wars.  Stories of his ancestors.  Stories that filled his heart and mind with dreams of other places, and other times.  Times and places where he was not a clumsy young boy, but a hero.  There were ways for those unworthy of honor to regain it.  There were answers to the loss of pride.

The good times with his father had grown fewer and further between as Myoshi had grown older.  As the piles and piles of papers, just like those in his pack, had stacked themselves against his future, and his honor, his father’s eyes had grown distant.  They still saw Myoshi, but not the same Myoshi they had seen before.

Myoshi rose once more, his gaze sweeping up the winding trail to where the peak of the mountain slipped through the clouds.  Eagles soared through the highest branches of the trees, circling slowly.  Myoshi screened the sunlight by cupping his palm over his eyes and watched them.  The brilliant light glittered on a bit of mica imbedded in the mountain, diamond glimmer nearly blinding him.  Myoshi squinted, cocking his head to one side to listen.

He could hear his father’s voice as the mountain faded.  Could sense the shift, and welcomed it.

“We watched from the decks as the pilots swarmed to the sky, a black horde, synchronized and dangerous.  It was not our time.  We were too far from the enemy, and these would return, but they were majestic in flight.

“I remember standing very still on the flight deck, watching them shrink to fly-specks on the horizon, and knowing, when it was my time, that speck would be me.  Shrinking to nothing.  Here, and then, no more, a bright spark in the Emperor’s eyes – a memory in my family’s heart.  Just like the Gods.”

With his eyes squinted so tightly, Myoshi saw the aircraft shimmering against a darkened sky, saw them bank and circle against the clouds.  Saw them focus.  Eagles.  Eagles were like the Gods, as well, but a different sort of God.

Myoshi picked up his things and started up the mountain once more, suddenly eager for completion.  He could feel the wind on the wings of the eagles, and that same wind shivering through his hair.

There were not many letters.  Myoshi’s grandfather had not served for years in the military, or even for a year.  Months, only, and he had never returned.  He had not been a precision pilot, nor had he been blessed with the blood of the Samurai. Still, he had soared.

Myoshi had read those letters again and again.  He had begged his father’s indulgence to allow him to watch over them.  To guard them.  He had seen in his father’s eyes the struggle this had been, but those words, those images, were ingrained in his father’s mind.  That great man no longer required the letters, and so they had passed to Myoshi, who had cherished them as no other possession.

His grandfather’s penmanship had never faltered.  There were no red characters or strike-outs.  There were clear thoughts, worded in poetry stretched to prose without loss of continuity.  It was his grandfather’s words that inspired Myoshi’s own writing, unworthy as it was.  It was the images of his grandfather’s death that stole those words, and distracted him from his own honor.  His teacher said his mind wandered.  Myoshi knew it soared.

The trees had begun to thin.  All that stood between Myoshi and his goal was a ragged backbone of rock.  Far above him, farther than he could have climbed in such a short time, patches of snow were visible.  The air was noticeably cooler, and Myoshi was glad, very suddenly, that his mother had insisted on the sweater he wore, though it had been too hot less than an hour before.

“The higher you go,” Myoshi’s father’s voice, “the colder it gets.  The harder it is to breathe.  It is always dark.  We don’t fly by day, and those few of us who get to practice at all are very sparing with our fuel.  We are not trained to fire at the enemy.  We are barely trained to land.  It is not expected of us.

“We study the great maps daily.  We listen to the inspirational words of our leaders.  I have meditated more this span of two weeks, my son, than I have in the last two years of my life.  Things I have never thought of become clear.  Your mother.  Your face, watching over me in my dreams.

 

“My face reflected

Bright smile, shining eyes, dark

Like the twilit sky.”

 

Myoshi’s eyes were dark, as were his father’s.  He knew that he resembled both men, third generation to bear that visage, first to fail.  There would be no medals hanging on the walls of Myoshi’s home.  Not unless he inherited them.  He would not write wondrous letters to a son yet unborn, telling tales of glory, and darkness, blood and fire.

He stopped again, shielding his eyes and glancing up toward the mountain’s peak.  The eagles had roosted, leaving the sun to beat down on a desolate slope.  Myoshi planned to be across the ridge and safely on the plateau on the far side before the afternoon sunlight waned.  He considered stopping for another snack, but there wasn’t much shade until he crossed, and he wanted to reach the ledge with enough light for reading.

Not that he needed light.  Not that every word in every letter wasn’t ingrained in his imagination, every image fully formed and captivating.  He stepped out onto the bare stone.  The wind whipped up and nearly toppled him from his precarious perch, no longer blocked by the trees.  Myoshi fought for his balance, regained it, and took a quick step forward, then another.  It was easier once he was moving, and he concentrated on the stone at his feet.

Myoshi did not want to think about the side of the mountain, or the lava fields, obscured by the forest below.  He dislodged a tiny avalanche of dust and stone and stopped, waiting for his heart to grow still.

Myoshi thought of Cherry blossoms.  His grandfather had often mentioned them, as had his father.  One of the other pilots, younger even than Myoshi’s grandfather, had written a poem that Myoshi loved.  The haiku, so simple, so profound and complete in that simplicity.

“If only we might fall

Like Cherry blossoms in the spring

So pure and radiant.”

 

Myoshi contemplated the mountain.  The distance to the base.  The remaining climb.  There were no cherry trees on the mountain, and somehow, he was glad.  He didn’t want to think about the ground littered with their petals.  He didn’t want to walk over so many great souls.

As the sun warmed his back, and the wind chilled his face, Myoshi climbed.

* * *

The sun dropped fast beyond the horizon, and Myoshi leaned in close, trying to catch enough of the dying light to finish the letter.  It was the last of them.  Eight, carefully penned slices of life; all that remained of Myoshi’s grandfather.  When he had read the last familiar word, he carefully folded the paper, painstakingly matching the folds and tying the ribbon as it had been reverently.  Myoshi tucked the bundle under his shirt, close to his heart.

Next he pulled free a single sheet of blank paper, and his pen.  It was getting more difficult to see, but it would not matter.  There would be no red glaring characters to mar this piece.  Nothing to correct.  No figures, only a promise.  A single promise.

Myoshi wrote slowly as his mind wandered, for once allowing the words to be absolutely his own.  He didn’t watch the paper.  It was getting too dark for that.  He had to depend on his instincts and luck.  He knew his teachers would not approve, but for once, he was beyond that as well. He was not writing a lesson.  He was writing a history.  He was encapsulating his life.

“Since I was very young,” he began, “sitting at your knee, my father, and listening to your stories of grandfather, I have loved the cherry blossom.  I read the haiku, and in my dreams, the blossoms grew to men.  In the words of those who died gloriously, taking the paths of falling stars to the hearts of their enemies, I found dreams.  As I failed in my life, they gave me hope.”

The mountain faded around him as shadows lengthened.  The moon had yet to rise, but only the last rose-tinted hints of the sun licked the skyline.  Stars glittered like diamonds.  Like petals.  So many petals.

Myoshi continued to write, but his mind closed out the reality of mountain and paper, the pen slid silently, marking the trail of his thoughts, but not carefully.  Not with the painstakingly rigid strokes of the school, now empty and silent, like the mountain.  Not with the measured rhythm of his grandfather’s even script.  With Myoshi’s heart.  He penned each character as it felt, and he paid no more attention to it than he did to the breeze.  He mouthed his grandfather’s words and shivered.

“The air was cold on deck.  We were allowed only minimal equipment.  Nothing, really, to prepare for the weather.  If we grew ill, we would find our release.  If we were cold, we had but to think fo the flame, and the glory to come.  Each brow was covered with a single strip of cloth, white, with the rising son emblazoned.

“I remember last night.  I went, alone, to the flight deck.  The Oka  – cherry blossom – stood before me, silent and empty.  I tried to picture the skies, the enemy, the waves.  I saw a coffin.  I saw an end, and a beginning, etched in flame.  My heartbeat quickened, fanned like a flame by the wind as it whipped across that dark, empty deck.  I stood there a very long time, and when I returned to my bed, I could not sleep.  Instead, I turned to the pen, and the paper, wanting you to share the moment.

“Waves lapped gently at the sides of the ship, rocking us like babes in the arms of our mothers.  It is the last night we will spend in the arms of any mother, cradled by the earth.  I want to sleep and let it slip away.  I want to awaken to that last day as I had so many others.  I know I will not.  I cannot sleep.

“Now the sun is rising, and my hand shakes as I hold the pen; my heart races.  The others have tossed and turned all around me.  None found the peace of deep sleep, and those who did sleep are round-eyed with visions and final dreams.

“I will close this now, so that I may seal it and put it in the Commander’s hand.  He will see that you get this letter, and the others.  Tonight, I die, but part of me lives on.  I have a sun, and I am blessed.

“I remember the words of Admiral Ohnishi, by whose grace I have this chance to die so well.

 

‘In blossom today, then scattered,

Life is so like a delicate flower.

How can one expect the fragrance

To last forever?’

 

“May I honor you.  May I honor our Emperor.  May the gods embrace me.

“Farewell.”

Myoshi’s pen did not stop scratching at the paper as his grandfather’s words ended.  He could feel the deck swaying beneath his feet.  He wrote on until the paper was filled, and turned, and filled on the opposite side as well before he set it aside, unsigned.  Only the weight of the pen held the paper in place against the stone, and the edges flapped in the breeze, like the wings of a great moth, reaching into the moonlight.

The takeoff was rougher than usual.  The waves had risen higher, and the deck slanted one way, then the other, great sweeping rolls that skewed the skyline and stole one’s balance.  Myoshi blinked, the strobe effect easing his nausea.  A thousand butterflies had risen to flight in his breast, and his hands shook like those of an old man.

All around him the roar of engines.  Each coughing to life, sputtering drowsily then roaring with barely contained life.  Life.  That is what pulsed through Myoshi’s veins, pounding so loudly he thought of the surf, and the ocean.  The air was cool, but he felt a fiery heat building, felt the glorious binding of man to machine to air as they launched.

The air whipped against his face, and he felt the exhileration, the pure joy of release as the deck/earth/world slipped away.  His breath was stolen, and though he fought against that breathlessness, he could not quite force the words past his lips.

Myoshi’s body tumbled, falling freely from the ledge of stone, arcing out from the stone and whirling, head over feet over head again and crashing through the upper branches of the ocean of trees, swallowed whole by the ancient, silent forest.

Far above, the clouds opened for one second, and the silhouette of a single plane was outlined – then gone.

* * *

A group of teenage boys, on a hike, came across bones, picked clean and whitened by the sunlight, slipping through the trees.  They turned in horror, ready to bolt, but one stopped.

A packet of papers, mildewed and rotting, lay to one side.  It was bound by a single ribbon of silk.  Forcing his eyes from the bones, the boy reached out and grabbed the packet.

They ran.  It wasn’t until much later that the papers were carefully opened.  Most were very old, but a single page of newer script was tied atop the pile.  On it, this verse.

“White blossom, broken

stained petal, crimson, gliding

Lost in the moonlight”

American Pies – the Print Editions are On Sale Now!

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There was a time when pie was more important.  Fat, fruit-stuffed confections lined the booths at state and county fairs, cooled in the windows of kitchens across the world, sprouted blackbirds in nursery rhymes and rose to iconic glory as a symbol of goodness and patriotism. That was then.  Pies, as so many other things, have been in a slump for quite a while.  This book – American Pies – is one man’s attempt to restore them to their former glory, at least for his family.
Contained in this book are a short history of pies, along with shared memories of growing up in 1950s, 60s, and 70s America, making stops at every pastry-coated fruity treat along the way. There is baking – the author baked a total of 13 pies in preparing the book, including the soon to be famous “American Pie” shown on the cover – a pie that should become a FOURTH OF JULY FAVORITE.  Along the way he shares bits of his life, some dry humor, and a whole lot of useful tips and tricks for baking the perfect fresh-fruit pie.
From the preface: “Pie is important to me, and not just because I like to eat it.  It’s part of my past, my history, my family, and in some ways it’s important to the our heritage, and our country.  At least, it used to be important.  Now what serves as pie in most cases is a 9″ cardboard box with something inside that is more like a fat toaster pastry than a pie, pre-cooked and heated up to be half-eaten and catch flies in the kitchen after holiday meals.  These, I am happy to say, are not the pies of my childhood, or my memory.  I needed to bring it back full circle.  I needed to find the pies that I remembered, to learn how to make them and bake them and serve them up to my family.  In a world where things grow more generic and cookie-cutter by the day, I needed to make a stand…” – David Niall Wilson
American Pies contains instructions and recipes for Persimmon, Pear, Mango, Pineapple, Grape, Honey-Crisp Apple, Nectarine, Plum, Strawberry and Raspberry Pies, plus the recipe for the “American Pie” itself.  Each recipe has been tested – and the results consumed.  As a special bonus, “The Pie Bloke” from across the water, Darren Pulsford, has added in metric and Imperial measurements, as well as celsius temperature settings for ovens.

 

Donovan DeChance – and The Next Big Thing

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THE NEXT BIG THING

Last week Steven Savile tagged me on his blog as part on an ongoing chain of book/author recommendations called The Next Big Thing. Today I will take a crack at the ten questions originated by Paul Magrs, then send them on to five more authors to post answers to them in their various blogs – one week from today.  I will be discussing the latest (and currently in progress) addition to The DeChance Chronicles :

 1.     What is the working title of your next book?

Nevermore – Book V of The DeChance Chronicles

 

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

The series, obviously, has been in the works for a while.  The idea for this particular story, however, comes from several sources, bits and pieces of things I’ve been wanting to work on but never got around to.  I’ve been playing for a while with the notion that my protagonist, Donovan DeChance, has been alive for a long time, and has witnessed some things – from a very different perspective than the rest of the world – and might tell some of those stories.

While researching the fourth book in the series, Kali’s Tale, I found a couple of interesting sites about a roadhouse that rested on the border of North Carolina and Virginia back in the day.  The laws of both states were different, as were the laws about things like dueling – if one party was on either side of the line.

One of the rumors about the roadhouse, which I call simply the Halfway House, was that Edgar Allen Poe stayed there, and that he wrote the first draft of his poem The Raven while in residence.  Just one of many rumors surrounding that work, but I held onto it.

The sub-plot comes from a practice I share with my youngest daughter – picking out faces, animals, and images in things like trees, floor tiles, stones, bushes – clouds.  I wrote a story a while back titled The Fruit of a Different Vine, involving a pole near our home that grows thick every year with vines until it resembles a woman pointing a gun into the woods over the top of a small home.  In Nevermore, we meet Lenore, who is an artist.  She sees those same types of things, and she draws them, paints them – and tries to set them free.

 

3. What genre does your book fall under?

That’s a good question.  It’s dark fantasy, to be sure, with elements of horror and urban fantasy as well.  This particular book also falls under historical fantasy, I suppose.  Donovan DeChance is a magician, of a sort – a book collector bound on gathering the dangerous books and spells of the world, scanning them into a new computerized repository, and most importantly, sealing them away from the hands of those who would misuse them.  You can read his origin story in the third book of the series, My Soul to Keep,  which has him 16 years old in the mid-1800s.

There are vampires in these books, and dragons, rifts between worlds, werewolves – voodoo houngans and new-ageish crystal-toting witches.

 

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

This is a little hard for me.  The perfect Donovan DeChance would be somewhat of a hybrid.  He’s originally born of the old west, so I can see some Sam Elliott, but Sam is far too old – If you mixed in some Jason Momoa for the swagger and a bit of humor, and some Robert Downey Jr. for the culture it would be close.  I’d love to hear thoughts on this from readers of the series.  Donovan is a lot like Harry Dresden, except, Harry gets beaten up all the time, and seems more “rumpled”.  Donovan wears long dark coats, has long hair in a day when it’s not really fashionable, but pulls it off.

Definitely Felicia Day for Amethyst, his love interest, who is adept at Earth and crystal magic.

For Poe?  Someone tragic.  In this story, both Poe and Lenore would be slightly older…Maybe Amanda Tapping for Lenore, and Grimm’s David Giuntoli as Poe? Is he too young to fall for Tapping?

 

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

 

Donovan DeChances shares a memory from his past, dragging his companions into the world of Poe’s The Raven, and then bringing that world back to the present – and to the secrets of The Great Dismal Swamp.

 

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

This is an odd question in that a: it only gives a small fraction of the possible answers, and b: I’m in a rather unique position.  I am the founder of Crossroad Press –and since the creation of the company, all of my books have come out as Crossroad Press titles.  In a sense, it is self-published, but Crossroad Press is a growing force in digital, print, and audio publishing.  The only thing certain is – no agents will be involved.

 

7. How long did it take you to write a first draft of the manuscript?

I am writing it now, during Nanowrimo 2012.  I suspect I will finish the full novel by the beginning of December…and I am scheduled to hit the 50,000 word mark (if I retain my rate of speed) around the 23rd of the month as things stand.

 

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’ve made the comparison before to my early work for White Wolf Publishing and their “World of Darkness”.  I originally created Donovan because I wanted to try writing similar stories, but without the restrictions of their game, their world, and their creative vision.  I also believe fans of The Dresden Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grimm, Angel, etc. will find this a perfect match.  Heck, I even named the crow that hangs out with Poe … Grimm.

 

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

This seems like a very similar question to the one above asking where the idea for the book came from.  I’ve been inspired to write since I was very young.  I’ve got over 30 books out now, with more in the works – I can’t imagine NOT writing – so it’s not so much what inspired me to write this book – but what inspires me to write.

My family – the way they support my stories, put up with my endless “what ifs” and dig in to help any time I need it.  My co-workers, who have been the first group I’ve worked with in all my days as a writer, with the exception of a few small groups on US Navy ships, who paid attention when I said I was a writer – read the books – and seem genuinely interested.

This book is partly inspired by fans.  There are thousands of folks out there now who have dipped into the world of San Valencez, California, and Donovan DeChance.  I don’t want to disappoint them, or let them down.  The magic continues.

Final nod on this question to my son Bill Macomber.  He went in just before midnight and bumped the poll I was conducing to  choose which of three possible projects I’d complete this November to the DeChance win.  I’m now going to make him read them all.

 

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

 

I think the growing dynamics of how “magic” operates in Donovan’s world is fascinating.  The idea that time is more of a static plane one can move across – even influencing events in odd, temporal glitches.  The story of Poe, and Lenore should be of interest to many.  I’d like to think I’ll do him justice, and that my tale will become part of the fictional canon surrounding his life and work.  He’s been a huge inspiration in my own work.

One thing of note – this will be a print book as well as eBook and audio – and we hope to get all of the previous books into print as well, both hardcover and trade paperback.  Heart of a Dragon is already available in trade paperback – we are expanding our print line significantly, and one thing we’d like to see is an attractive, hard cover set for collectors and fans.

All of the eBook editions of The DeChance Chronicles are available from the Crossroad Press Store – or along with my other digital books at Barnes & Noble  – Amazon.com – and most other eBook outlets.

FINAL NOTE:

The five writers I’m going to tag will be: Steven Mark Rainey, Sandra Kasturi, Raymond Benson, Jay Bonansinga, and Bill Crider. They’ll be blogging the same questions in a week’s time.

The Public Domain … and Working for a Living

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One of the things the Internet has made possible is the wide-spread sharing of work in the Public Domain.  This is work that is not copyright to any estate, individual, etc., but is free to use – as a person sees fit – for fun, profit, or what-have you.  All well and good.  We have even scanned and presented a few older titles through Crossroad Press, sort of testing the waters…but here’s the thing.

Sharing Public Domain material is one thing, and trying to capitalize off of the work of others with no effort on your own part is ass-hattery.

Case in point.  There is a wonderful site – Librivox – where narrators and readers are taking their time, effort, and love of books and the written word and making something wonderful.  They are offering public domain narrations of public domain books and stories, as well as public domain podcasts, etc. available to listeners and readers everywhere.  It’s a lot of work.

We have done over 200 audiobooks at Crossroad Press, so I feel somewhat qualified to comment on the number of hours our narrators spend reading, editing, mixing, and tweaking files to prepare them for listeners.  It’s probably a ration of close to two to three hours for every one hour produced, and your average book runs around eight hours.

What I’ve seen lately is this…people going to these public domain sites, downloading the audio, maybe sprucing it up with some music (also public domain) and putting it up for sale through sites like Audible.com … profiting off of work that was done in good faith for the benefit of all…and for free.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind.  Public Domain work IS free for use in any way you see fit, but you cannot copyright it.  If you add music, or content to it, you can copyright that music or content IF that music or content is – in fact – something you own the rights to.  You can’t copyright the “production” of work you did not create and have no rights to.

And let’s be serious…only a jerk profits off of other people’s volunteer work. I just wanted to point out this practice, and to frown upon it publicly.  If the narrators themselves want to make their Public Domain work available for sale, I see that as a way some folks can pay them back for their generosity.  If a third party who did nothing more than download the files and then upload them back into a sales outlet profits, I consider that – if not illegal, at the least worthy of a golden-asshat award. (there should BE golden asshat awards…seriously…).

Go give LIbrivox a listen … you won’t be disappointed.

 

-DNW

Using Facebook and Social Media as an Author – 10 Tips / Rules from my Experience

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Ten tips for using Facebook as an author:

1) Have a personal profile AND an author’s page. This allows you all the perks of both, but gives you a good way to split your personal from professional “imprint” . . . and in case you achieve the fame you crave, you can have more than 500 likes on your author’s page, but not on a personal profile.

2) Do not make a new page for your new book. If you have a series with an actual following, it’s worthwhile to break those fans off with a page of their own, but in general, use your author’s page to build a solid list of readers, and don’t break it into pieces. Most of those who join the new page will just be people from the old page, and it serves no real purpose.

3) If you decided to send a notice to a successful author and they take you up on “liking” your page, or friending you, do not follow up with “Hey! Thanks for that! Here’s the link to my brand new book you might want to buy. As a corrolary, do not post that same link directly onto said successful autors (or anyone’s for that matter) timeline without their permission.

4) Be aware that online “Events” – again – probably only reach the same people as your author’s page, and probably annoy at least half of the people you invite. Just post the information on your author’s page. Concentrate on building the base for that page.

5) Only “sponsor” a post when you REALLY want it to be more visibile. Ther is no solid evidence (none) that promoted posts actually sell anything, but they DO spread the word wider and longer if there is something you are trying to emphasize…as with any Facebook promotion, take anything they say with a grain of salt. FB is a horrible marketing tool.

6) Post regularly and not just links to buy your newest book. Do not post every time you get a new review from a friend on Good Reads or Amazon, people are not stupid. Give them the information on what your book is about, and the information on where to find it. If you have a promotion or contest, post that, and politely request your friends share it.

7) Remember the first rule of Internet Marketing. (My rule) You’ll gather more flies with lolcats than with persistence. You will get more shares, likes, and comments with something entertaining or amusing that you’ve used to draw attention to your work than you will to a review on someone’s blog, or an entire blog tour of places no one was going to go anyway. In fact, my opinion on blog tours is that if you can’t tour on already very popular blogs, they are a waste of time, other than to up your numbers on certain search engines.

8) If you have a blog, and you post regularly there, I recommend Networked Blogs on Facebook. You can post a short note and a link for each post automatically to your various pages and / or personal profile and you you can avoid doubling content while reminding folks about your blog.

9) BE ENGAGING – and this rule applies to Facebook, Twitter, PARTICULARLY Pinterest and other Social Media sites. Nothing irritates me more or faster than a feed full of nothing but links, or a Pinterest page that has one board – My books – or maybe two … My Books and My friend’s Books. Social Media (as everyone knows by now) is supposed to be a converation. If you use it like a virtual mirror and keep TELLING it who the fairest one of all is, you’ll be scratching your head and wondering why no one pays attention. Be yourself – unless you can be Batman. Always be Batman.

10) Do not try to fashion yourself after success. Because Anne Rice or Joe Hill or any other person can create a spectacular following on a social media site does not mean that if you a: copy what they do or b: listen to them because they proclaim themselves a guru (NOTE: I am not a guru, all of this is just observations and my own experience) or c: desperately cling to them hoping they will mention you and draw you along in their wake – that it will work. You, and your work, have to stand alone. If you don’t stand out as a memorable, engaging person, or your work does not prove to actually reach the heights you claim it does…no amount of manipulation of social media will make it so. Spend more time writing – less time trying to figure out how to sell it. Engage when you can, be interesting, funny, and real, and trust your talent. USE your talent. Don’t try to be someone else – unless (of course, you can be Batman, or The Fist of Goodness, in which case refer to rule 9)

-DNW

Some Career Notes on the Past 2 Years

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Since we’ve really kicked Crossroad Press into gear, and I’ve concentrated more of my writing on drawing my big, fictional universe into one entity – and promoting the original series work I’ve created, there has been an interesting shift and upswing.  I have consolidated my sales numbers and earnings across all my many books for 2011 and 2012 and can present some findings.

1) So far in 2012 (which means through sales in July) I have already made almost twice what I did in 2011.

2) Series books sell better than stand-alone novels.   Collections sell fairly steadily.

3) Attaching a cover by a famous artist can boost sales, but not as much as tying works together and being creative in how you present this in your marketing material.

4) There is absolutely NO WAY to tell what will, and what will not be the big seller – though you can sometimes guess.

One of my focuses this past year has been tying Hallowed Ground, Donovan DeChance, O.C.L.T.,  and many of my other works that take place in and around the few fictional settings I’ve created into a larger universe.  This has helped me lead readers from one book and one series to the next, and has significantly impacted sales.

Tying in with other authors?  Same effect. We published the very successful LOST THINGS by Melissa Scott and Jo Graham this year, tied in loosely to the O.C.L.T. series, and I have watched steady sales across the series during this debut.

It cannot be said enough – promotions that reach people who have never heard of you, do not attend conventions – or at least not the same ones you do – who had NO IDEA you existed…those are the promotions that bring big new sales numbers and spread you like a fictional plague.  Repeated posts to the same boards, groups, newsletters, etc. can sustain a certain number of sales on new works, but do your already-in-print stuff no good at all.

The goal is to sustain growth.  I’ll try to pop back with some figures as things progress and 2013 approaches.  In the meantime, follow the link below to find all (or most) of my digital works.  See if you don’t find something that appeals to you.

For the record…my top ten bestselling titles over the two year period, in order:

  • Vintage Soul – Book 2 of the DeChance Chronicles
  • The Parting – A Novel of the O.C.L.T.
  • Heart of a Dragon – Book 1 of the DeChance Chronicles
  • My Soul to Keep – Book III of the DeChance Chronicles
  • Kali’s Tale – Book IV of the DeChance Chronicles
  • The Call of Distant Shores – Lovecraftian Collection
  • The Second Veil – Book II of the Tales of the Scattered Earth
  • On the Third Day
  • Ancient Eyes
  • Deep Blue

FIND MY DIGITAL WORKS THROUGH THIS POST:

David Niall Wilson in Digital – 31 Books and Growing

New Interview at HORROR WORLD

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The good folks at Horror World (Blu Gilliand in particular) have interviewed me about Crossroad Press, the state of publishing, and my writing.  Here is an excerpt …

HW: For something that started out as a way for you to get your own work out in the digital format, Crossroads Press has grown at a startling pace. Has the rate of growth surprised you? How have you had to adjust to keep up with it?

DNW: At first, it was sluggish. There’s still some resistance to eBooks, and now that the resistance is breaking down, there is a huge scramble of publishers, agents, etc. trying to tell authors they are the next big thing and to make money off of them. We started slow, kept our heads, remained fair, and as time passed, it started to steamroll. We solicited most of our authors in the first year or so. Most of our authors now come to us as referrals from our other authors, or through word-of mouth. We (very literally) end up with new relationships and properties every day.

So the quick answer to your question is, yes, at first it surprised me, but now I see it as business as usual. We are doing good things, and it’s catching people’s attention.

You’ve got a very flexible model as far as what you’ll take from authors, such as taking books from a series that started with another publisher. Why do you think traditional publishers find it difficult to see the benefits in such flexibility?

We started out with only a couple of “rules.” We wanted works from established authors, preferably with a backlist AND some new content, but either was fine. The other rule was that it is just pointless to let words rot on a hard drive, or in a closet. If you’ve written it, it should be out there. Also, authors are at their best when the rules are lax and they can write what they want to write – what feels right for them at the time. My own series, The DeChance Chronicles, was born of my frustration at the rules behind White Wolf’s World of Darkness novels (of which I wrote about a half-dozen).

Bigger publishers are market and numbers driven. They look and see that book two of something fell off from book one. They never consider it might be a marketing failure, they just drop it. If that happens, when a new “big” publisher looks at it, the first thing they will do is check numbers on that second book – which were bad – and say no. We believe in letting the books sink or swim on their own merit, and we also believe in our authors.

In your opinion, are traditional publishers on their way out? Are they going to be able to keep up with the radical shifts the publishing business is going through right now?

People are always playing the death knell for traditional publishing (we’ve heard it a few times for horror as well, I believe). The simple fact is…they have a lot of money. They still control the top echelon of popular writers. They have the most important keys to the kingdom…the ability to make a book visible, and the ability to pay people money up front.

Authors, as a whole, are an insecure lot. They want validation. I fall right in there with them. It’s rough, even in the face of an overall not-great-deal, to turn down a contract to publish your book. Money up front is a hedge against not being successful enough, and New York City still has money.

Read the entire interview BY CLICKING HERE!

Blessed With Sons, & Daughters

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Off to the US NAVY

Parents joke around a lot about kids growing up, kicking them out into the world, etc…  When the time comes for them to go, it’s just not as funny.  It’s important, and it’s necessary … but it’s never easy.

Trish and I are blessed with a big family.  We have Stephanie, Bill, Zach, Zane and Katie.  Stephanie started pulling free three years ago.  She’s on her senior year of college at Columbia College in South Carolina.  Bill headed out last year to the US Navy, and he’s down in Georgia getting ready to sink beneath the waves on a submarine.

Now – tomorrow – Zach is following, heading off to Great Lakes, and boot camp, leaving another big empty room … shrinking the home front by a voice and a smile.  There are things that we’ll be able to do as the house empties out that we could not do before, but the fact remains, it gets emptier each time.

I have known Zach the longest of any of the kids. He’s not the oldest, but I was there when he was born.  I watched him grow up and then missed some of the most important years of his life – because that’s how it happens, sometimes, with families.  Now he’s leaving again, but I know he’ll be back.

His brother Zane isn’t too far behind him – one year – then we get holidays and visits…their lives and families will expand outward.  I hope we’ll stay a family that is close.  I don’t want to be right up one another’s faces, but I want home to be just that.  Home.  For all of them.  (Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want them to move back in …)  I just want to know that when we are together, it will be a happy, important time for everyone and not a chore or a duty.

I can promise there will be pie…

And I’m not even ready to start thinking about Katie following them off into the sunset…with her we still have years.  Really fast years that will dribble through our fingers, I know…  But still, years.

You’ll understand this more later, Zach, but Fair Winds, and Following Seas from your Dad.   Bill – we’ll see you soon, I hope.  Stephanie will be here for Thanksgiving.  Trish and Katie can hug me while I try to pretend none of it bothers me…  I’ll miss you bud.

A lot.

And I love you all…

Your Dad

 

Nevermore – Book V of the DeChance Chronicles Underway

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I’ve started (finally) working on the next Donovan DeChance book.  This story will follow directly on the tail of the events in Kali’s Tale – still a stand-alone story, and still something you could read without having read the others, though I realize that as time goes on…it’s less and less true that the full experience is there.  It’s just not possible to rehash everything properly without detracting from the new story.

Those of you who have been reading along will remember we left Donovan and Amethyst in a bed and breakfast near Old Mill, North Carolina, as well as O.C.L.T. Team member Geoffrey Bullfinch.  You’ll also remember that Donovan had decided not to return immediately to California, but to take a break, of sorts.

The whole crew is there, Cleo the oversized Egyptian Mau, Asmodeus the ancient Egyptian crow, and our heroes.  In Kali’s Tale, Donovan referenced a place that once existed on the borderline of Virginia and North Carolina – the Halfway House – which was a bar / hotel that existed in both states at once.

People went there to get away with things that they could not on the other side of the border, marriages at a younger age were possible in NC, and the dueling laws were different.  A lot of rough characters frequented the place, but a lot of famous “others” were known to stay as well.  Among them?

Edgar Allen Poe.

One legend has Poe penning the first draft of THE RAVEN there, and so, I’m riffing on that…and Donovan is going to “tell a story” which will lead to questions – and a quest – taking them into ancient byways, through time and the Great Dismal Swamp, to what I hope will be a satisfying “could-have-been” piece with a twist of history.

If you want to catch up…

The DeChance Chronicles consist of Heart of a Dragon, Vintage Soul, My Soul to Keep (Which is the Donovan origin story) and Kali’s Tale.  All are available in a multitude of digital formats (including digital audio for all but Kali’s Tale, and that’s on the way).  Heart of a Dragon will be available as a trade paperback later this year.

Buy The DeChance Chronicles for Kindle or in Audio 

Buy the DeChance Chronicles for Nook or other ePub ready devices

Buy direct from Crossroad Press

 

Rats scurrying from a Drowning Ship – RUN AWAY

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I’m going to make this very quick, because I’m a day or so behind paying my authors – that’s what publishers do, by the way.  They don’t charge their authors for “services” – they show faith in the work, and they share in the profit and success…

I now know of at least two, and possibly three “services” signing on with or being created by literary agents and/or agencies.  These “services” volunteer to scan, convert, get covers, for, publish, etc. eBooks from author’s old backlist titles.  For a price.  Usually a BIG price.  Let’s be clear, while they probably do what they can for their high-profile clients, they are doing no favors, marketing, or actual selling for most.  Just taking money.

I have even been told that some are being pressured.  They are being told that they can’t go do their own editions of books that agents haven’t thought about, represented, or cared about for YEARS – because originally that title was repped by the agent.

Let me tell you something – that agent better have a clause in their very old contract that says – eRights.  Just like with a publisher, agents sign on to represent certain rights of certain properties.  My old agent did some film negotiation, and did print books.  Nowhere in our agreement did it say he had rights that didn’t even exist when the book was sold / published / first represented, and – my agent not being a crook – he never tried to claim that it did.

An agent’s job is to sell your books.  To represent them to viable markets and find you the best deal.  The agent suggesting you PAY to be self-published and then give them a percentage? What’s that about? I can give them references of at least three agents who know they’d have a better deal through Crossroad Press – and we would charge NOTHING for exactly the same services…so what is in it for the agents?  You can bet they get a cut for everyone they opt in.  Don’t let them strongarm you either.  Even if they DO have the representation for your eRights, you don’t have to sign the deal they want you to – if they got your book a deal at Random House, it’s still up to you to say yes – or no.  THEY WORK FOR YOU…if it ever feels differently than that, you should find a different agent.

If you pay thousands of dollars to have your old titles made into eBooks, you are being screwed.  You are being screwed by frightened people whose existence is threatened by new paradigms in publishing.  They can’t save themselves with this, but they can tie up and ruin successes that you might have.  I’m not even going to pitch Crossroad Press here, I’m just going to say – don’t let them steal your rights. Publishers have been trying – but the AGENTS?  They are supposed to be YOUR representative – it’s your well-being and success they are supposed to care about.  If they have so little faith in your work that they feel they need to grab a couple of thousand dollars up front and run – they aren’t representing you at all any more, just themselves.

I’m not going to start naming names – but the agencies and “services” are not obscure – they are involving big agencies and big names, and I will say one thing.

The first two or three top-shelf authors who either break off and fly solo, or go with a newer, more cutting edge publisher like Crossroad Press? The whole thing is going to tumble.  These people have had TWENTY YEARS to figure out what to do about the Internet…how long will it take them to figure out that they blew it?

Irritated beyond belief – sad for those already taken in – not happy in NC.

-DNW

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