2020 Looking Back, Looking Forward

So… It’s been a year, hasn’t it?

This year kicked my butt, and all things considered I got off easy. Being a writer isn’t an easy or a secure job, but it’s one that operates pretty much the same in a pandemic as any other time. This year, I sat in my home with my family and I wrote as the world outside became darker and more muddled, more dangerous and more vicious. 2020 cost us all dearly. Long-time followers need not look far to see the greatest toll it took on my life.

But we’re still here.

This is a tiny, neglected site on a forgotten corner of the internet. It exists to share the things I’m excited about with the people who like my writing. But after what we’ve been through, and what remains to be done before the world’s new normal becomes something resembling the old, I feel as though I’m obligated to look for a little bit of light.

What went right?

I set out, when this year began, to release the sixth (and potentially final) books in each of my main series. I achieved that. The Coin of Kenvard, Contaminant Six, and Nova Igniter were all released and it seems that you folks enjoyed them! I also released my first Patreon collection, Paradoxes and Dragons.

It wasn’t my most active year. By April my brain was already mush, and it just got mushier as the year progressed, but I soldiered on. NaNoWriMo was again a success. I had some experiments with audio, leading to not only a flurry of audio-books courtesy of Books in Motion, but also in a few self-produced pieces for the patreon, including what may well be considered the canonical “voice” of Ma.

The Patreon has proceeded apace, with new shorts and novellas (or re-releases of old favorites) each month. I’ve been fortunate enough to support artists by commissioning great artwork for covers and other gun goodies.

Art by Chandra Free

What next?

My NaNoWriMo project, which started off with the name “Rip Off Player One” because it was written specifically to appease my friend who wanted something in the same vein as Ready Player One, evolved into a full novel called “Top Level Player.” I’ll have to figure out to what degree the story can be published, but one way or another you folks will get a taste.

My brand plan for 2021 is to start my first new Epic Fantasy series in 10 years. I’ve had a lot of fun with The Book of Deacon, and it’s been my most successful series, but the time has come to try out a new setting. I spent the last week tinkering with it, and I think I’ve got something you folks are going to enjoy. Chances are you won’t get your first taste until mid 2021, but if I’m a good boy I’ll release at least two more in the same series before year’s end.

I’ll be continuing the Patreon, ideally with more new or re-released stories each month. And since that means heaps of new shorts, I think we can safely assume you’ll be getting a second volume of Paradoxes and Dragons.

There are also some projects I planted the seeds for many years ago which still have a chance of bearing fruit. The first children’s book (the one about Myn) technically isn’t dead, though I’ve been unable to contact the artist in some time. The second children’s book, illustrated by Fable Siegel, is almost certain to see the light of day, and maybe even a related project that’s got me super excited.

And if there’s enough time/willpower left when it’s all said and done, I’d like to add two more stories to Shards of Shadow so that the full story can be told.

You good people kept me afloat this year. I’ll do my best to prove myself worthy.

Thanks for reading!

Nova Igniter Pre-Order

Heads up! At the beginning of the year I said it was the year of six, and I would release the sixth entry in each of my three main series. We’ve already seen The Coin of Kenvard and Contaminant Six. Now it’s time for the final release of the year! Nova Igniter.

Cover art by Nick Deligaris

Nova Igniter is book six of Big Sigma! It is available for pre-order now, and releases October. 27th! Here’s the blurb.

When you’ve lived a life like his, the last thing you want is for history to repeat itself.

Lex has teamed up with mad engineers, clashed with technology-obsessed terrorists, and faced murderous robot hordes. He’s even traveled through time. He has skills no one in history has ever had.

He’ll need them.

Devastating cyber-attacks are targeting him. His closest allies are nowhere to be found. Ominous threats from his past seem to be leaking back onto his life. With the help of an off-kilter ship AI and his ex, Lex will have to get to the bottom of it all. If he doesn’t, the galaxy’s days are numbered.

This one was a challenge to write. If you’ve read the story this far, you’ll know that Lex’s life has twisted and turned in some really bizarre directions. Since it was my goal to make this one (potentially) the final entry in the series, I needed to find a way to tie up as many loose ends as possible.

Writing a book is difficult enough, but it gets even more difficult when potential violations of causality enter the fray.

If you want to read the latest adventure for Lex and the gang, pre-order it today and have it the moment it releases!

In Mom-oriam

At approximately 4pm on Sept. 11th, 2020, my mother passed away. Like too many in our nation and world right now, COVID-19 took her from us. She was a few days past her 68th birthday, and had been fighting cancer that had found its way into her lungs. She was the very definition of high risk, but that does not soften the blow. As I write this, my father is still fighting his own COVID-19 infection. His prognosis is better, but we are taking nothing for granted.

It seems proper to take some time to talk about the woman my mother was. Mom was the second oldest of five siblings. She had a rare life, by today’s standards. My father was her only husband, and she was a stay at home mom for me and my two older brothers, Mike and Anthony. Mom was absolutely everything a mother should be. Not just for me and my brothers, but for everyone she met. As Mike said during our last conversation with her, Mom was the mother of the entire neighborhood. People all over town called her mom, from other people in my class in school to grown men who worked in the autobody down the block. To some she was Lillian, to most she was Susan. To almost everyone, she was Mom.

She was, in a word, Momnipotent.

Our door was always open. Food was always on the table. More than one friend of ours, lacking a place to stay, found a home in the Lallo Household. One friend, when he slashed his hand on a piece of broken glass, came knocking on our door. He didn’t call an ambulance. He didn’t go to the doctor. He went to Mom Lallo. (At the time, he thought she was a registered nurse. She was not. Mom had just grown adept at patching people back together thanks to having three sons and two younger brothers, each with varying degrees of bone headedness.) Another friend, who had just returned from a tour of duty in the air force, arrived back in town at 3 AM. He didn’t go to his own house. He came to ours, because he knew we would answer, and that he could get something to eat and crash on the couch until his folks woke up.

Mom’s cooking was the stuff of legend, not just in quality but in quantity. She made homemade popcorn in a frying pan. One batch was approximately half a paper shopping bag. That stuff fueled every party I could remember from when I was barely able to walk until I graduated college. People still tell stories of the time a handful of my brother’s friends stayed over and she made a pancake breakfast for them. Over a hundred pancakes. She had more specialties than I could possibly list: Pepperoni-Bread, Pecan Pie. Mincemeat Pie. Chili. Rice Pudding. Her breaded, fried chicken cutlets were the standard by which all others shall be judged.

One of the last things I said to her was that I owed literally everything to her. Not only did she make me, she installed the software that runs my brain. In a time before the internet, she instituted the “Let’s Look it Up” policy whenever I asked a question she didn’t know the answer to. We had an old set of encyclopedias, and any bit of curiosity would lead to a mini-research session. It trained me to seek answers rather than simply shrugging and remaining ignorant. It made me curious. Hungry for knowledge.

Until a few years ago, the family had some land in Vermont. We would spend every August up there, even before a house was built. We would literally sleep in a barn. No TV. No radio. Just wilderness, campfires, and family. In order to make bedtime something of an event, Mom would ask us to come up with things we would like to hear a story about. Ostensibly it was for all of us, but my brothers are three and seven years older than me, so I dare say they were past the point of bedtime stories when this was happening. We would pick all sorts of topics for stories and she would put them together into a bedtime story, a new one each night, starring ALF (from the 1980s TV show). Completely improvised. It was my first introduction to building a story. That is a skill that has served me well. And because of that, even if you never met her, if you know my books, you know my mother. Her fingerprints are everywhere. She helped name characters like Oriech and Halfax. She actually typed some of the early pages of a book I’ve yet to publish, back when I wasn’t a good enough typist to do so myself. She also wrote stories of her own.

There’s a reason why the brightest and most nurturing character in any of my stories is called “Ma.”

Chronicling Mom’s virtues is an impossible task. The list of things I want to say about what she did for us keeps growing with every new sentence I write. Mom’s scavenger hunts she would put together for Easter morning. Her New Year’s Eve tradition of making a new appetizer every hour until the ball dropped. It doesn’t seem fair that a withering illness and a pandemic should rob her of so many years, and rob the world of her presence. But if one measures one’s life by the impact one has upon others, Mom lived a hundred lifetimes. She will live on in the hearts and minds of everyone who met her. And I can only hope that my brothers and I can pass on her lessons with half the skill and grace with which she taught them.

Goodbye Mom. Thanks for everything.

Contaminant Six Release!

Folks, it is finally here. Contaminant Six, the sixth (and final?) entry in the Free-Wrench saga. Pick it up wherever ebooks are sold!

This one was a doozy to write, but before I dig into that, here’s the blurb again:

The fug that poisoned the world has struck the Wind Breaker crew.

After years of daring escapes and dangerous capers, it was only a matter of time before Captain Mack’s crew felt the sting of the toxin that blankets their continent. They must split up, seek the aid of old rivals, and brave secret facilities to find the substance that may be the key to recovery.

Join Nita and her friends on what may well be their final adventure.

Contaminant Six is the sixth novel in the critically acclaimed Free-Wrench series of steampunk adventures.

And final?

Now, if you’ve been paying close attention, you’ll notice I typically include (and final?) every time I talk about this one. The purpose of the Year of Six was to close up shop on my three main series to make room in my schedule for something new. If you’ll forgive the talk about how the sausage is made for a moment, rare is the series that endures in popularity year after year. Typically, for each new entry in a book, there are at least a few readers who won’t follow along to pick it up. (We call this “decreased read-through”, for those of you interested in the lingo.) So each book tends to make just a bit less money than the one before. Add to that the fact that each new book is just a bit more difficult to write, thanks to growing lore and continuity that needs to be maintained, and a long series can be a real struggle for someone trying to make a living.

I hate that “profitability” has to be a part of the equation, but this is how I pay my bills, and it hasn’t been getting any easier.

BUT! I’d never rule out the possibility of more stories in the future. Short stuff on my Patreon is almost certain. And new novels could certainly come along. But those will be later. Once I’ve (hopefully) stabilized my income with some fresh blood.

The Bumpy Road

As long as we’re talking about finances and difficulties, buckle up while I talk to you about the journey this book took. To paraphrase a spooky lady from a horror movie, “The way this book walked was thorny, through no fault of its own.”

We’ll begin with COVID-19. This book was written entirely during the pandemic. Ostensibly, my job is one of the safest and least effected one could hope for. I sit in my office, typing away regardless of rain, snow, heat wave, or pandemic.

But I do not live alone.

I live with my brother, his wive, and his son. My brother Mike works for New Jersey Transit. He is considered essential (because he helps keep the trains running, and the trains get the other essential workers to work). He is a conductor/ticket collector, so he can’t very well work from home. My sister-in-law works from home, but she’s got meetings, she’s got phone calls. She can’t be taking care of the kid all that time. This means, at least a few hours a week, I’m taking care of the kid. And at any given moment, I might have to drop in for a few minutes. It’s a small, but non-zero distraction from the writing. But I budgeted my time and pressed on.

Because of the intense times we’re living in, I didn’t feel comfortable pushing this book into the hands of my full list of Beta Readers, so this one was lightly revised before heading to the editor.

Once I got the book back and got the excellent cover by Nick Deligaris, I put it up for pre-order and started the sale. Except… Amazon wasn’t really interested in showing the cover… For like 10 days. It turns out, when there’s no image on an Amazon Product listing, folks assume it’s broken and don’t click. Advertising is tricky enough to do well when your store link actually looks like it leads to a product. When it looks like it’s broken, it’s more or less a waste of money to run ads. So I lost two weeks of advertising time.

There were more problems. Personal problems behind the scenes which are ongoing. I’ll share the details when we learn how they’ll end. But things have been hard.

But we made it! The book is here! I hope you like it.

Now all that remains is Big Sigma 6… Then? Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Free-Wrench Sale and Pre-Order

Hi everyone!

I’d been holding off on announcing most of this, because Amazon has not added the cover to the sales page yet, but I’m through waiting!

Contaminant Six, the latest (and last?) book in the Free-Wrench series, is available for pre-order. The Release Date is Sept. 8th, and supporters of the Novel level of my Patreon already have their copies!

Here’s the description:

The fug that poisoned the world has struck the Wind Breaker crew.

After years of daring escapes and dangerous capers, it was only a matter of time before Captain Mack’s crew felt the sting of the toxin that blankets their continent. They must split up, seek the aid of old rivals, and brave secret facilities to find the substance that may be the key to recovery.

Join Nita and her friends on what may well be their final adventure.

Contaminant Six is the sixth novel in the critically acclaimed Free-Wrench series of steampunk adventures.

Now, I know a lot of you haven’t read the Free-Wrench stories. I write several genres of story and not all of my settings appeal to everyone. But if you’ve been curious about the series, now is a great time to pick it up, because almost the entire series is on sale until this time next month!

Here’s the breakdown:

BookStandard PriceSale Price
Free-Wrench Collection$5.99$0.99
Ichor Well$3.99$1.99
The Calderan Problem$3.99$2.99
Cipher Hill$3.99$3.99
Contaminant Six$4.99$4.99

You can now get caught up for a bargain price!

That’s it for now! Thanks for reading!

The Sincerest Form of Flattery!

A fan of mine contacted me a few days ago to let me know that an author had a series of books that seemed a little too similar to mine to be a coincidence. I fully expected to go check them out and discover that they were just the standard hero’s journey fantasy tale, a situation where someone else followed the same tropes as me just as a thousand had before. I’m not a big enough author for someone to plagiarize my stuff. But I was curious, so I went to check it out.

And… I mean… Well, you be the judge.

Here’s The Book of Deacon (Book 1):

Myranda Celeste’s world has been built on a legacy of bloodshed. For more than a century, her homeland the Northern Alliance has fought the Kingdom of Tressor in what has come to be known as the Perpetual War. While her people look upon the conflict with reverence, Myranda’s hate for the war has made her an outcast.

When she finds a precious sword among the equipment of a fallen warrior, she believes her luck may have changed. Little does she imagine that the treasure will draw her into an adventure of wizards and warriors, soldiers and rebels, and beasts both noble and monstrous. The journey will teach her much about her potential, about the origins of the war, and about the threat her world truly faces.

Will Myranda unlock the secret of bringing peace once and for all, or will the world be lost to the Perpetual War?

Let’s compare that to The Eternal War (Fate Chronicles Book 1)

The world is blanketed in snow and death…

The Eternal War continues to ravage the land while mighty forces clash in a never-ending struggle for dominancy.

Laura Stillwater, a young woman who wants nothing to do with the war, is ensnared its wake. She becomes an integral part of its outcome after discovering a magical staff hidden beneath the snow. The staff is sought by many dangerous foes, forcing Laura into a deadly hunt. Along her journey, she meets powerful allies who show her the ways of elemental magic.

Follow Laura’s adventure as she struggles to defeat powerful enemies and change the world.

Now, I mean… That’s pretty similar, but I wasn’t exactly breaking ground with the plot of my book. And the name and weapon are different. Let’s just take a peek inside.

Take a look at the side by side of the first few paragraphs (you’ll want to open in a new tab for all of the literary goodness). That’s mine on the left.

I mean… you know… It could be a coincidence. Maybe the other book covers will differentiate his series.

Clearly an original story! His anthropomorphic character appears to be a badger, not a fox. What about the next one.

Oh, hey! There’s something in his books called “The Drakaran.” Not the D’Karon, like in mine. Though the cover seems to depict a battle against the raised dead like in The Battle of Verril. Moving on…

Whoa! He seems to have some sort of a fire elemental in his, too! And book four has Deadly Diplomacy, does it? The Chosen take the roles of Diplomats in mine, too. I bet Book Five is just as good!

… Now wait a minute. My book five is called “The Crescents” and this one’s called “Mystery at Crescent Islands”? And there’s a red dragon and a green dragon hanging out. And the green one is in armor.

I’ll be honest, I’m a little hurt that they didn’t rip off book 6. I was rooting for “The Doubloons of Karnved” or something.

I guess I’m going to have to do something about this, but it’s just so bizarrely entertaining to me.

UPDATE: I have been in contact with the person responsible. The books have been taken down and I’ve adjusted the post to remove explicit mention of their name, so that this doesn’t follow them around unnecessarily.

One Way To Handle Lore

Hey folks! Because a fan asked, and I’d mentioned it on the podcast I co-host not so long ago, here’s a quick piece on how I do a story bible for my books when I need something reasonably complex yet easy to navigate. I use something called Zim Desktop Wiki. Here’s how I use it.

1. Install

I grabbed the portable app from here. Double Click it, pick a place for the install, and you’re done. For the purposes of this little test, I tossed it on my desktop. When you see this screen, you’re ready. Go ahead and leave “run” highlighted.

Alternately, you can open up the place you installed it and double click the executable.

2. Get Started

First, name your notebook. We’ll call this one Big Sigma.

You’ll end up with the “Home” page open. I like to start laying it out like this.

Just type the headings you like, and while your cursor is on the heading, go to Format->Heading 2 or just press Ctrl+2.

Once you’ve got your headings, start filling them out. You can leave these non-headings.

3. Fill in Details

Pick a section you want to fill out and highlight it. You can either pick “Link” from the top bar or press Ctrl+L.

You’ll get this window. The top box is the name of the file/article. The bottom is the actual text of the link. If you have a red box, it means you put something that can’t be in a file name, like quotation marks. Just remove them and everything should be fine.

The name should now be a hyperlink. Click it.

You’ll get a fresh file that’s blank.

Lay it out however you like. I like to fill out some headings and do the Ctrl+2 formatting thing, then start typing.

Hey! We mentioned Squee and Ma! Let’s highlight them and Ctrl+L to make articles for them too.

Note that every file you start filling out shows up in that Left Pane there. Now let’s click “Home” to get back there.

Now that you’ve written articles for Ma and Squee, you can link them here too. Highlight “Ma” in the character section and Ctrl+L.

If you type the same name as what shows up in the Left Pane, or if you click Browse and pick the “Ma” file, it’ll link to the one you already wrote. Note that the TEXT can be whatever you want. Only the “Link to” has to match the previous name. In this way, everywhere a character or name shows up, you can link to their file. I often find as I write a Bio, I’ll realize characters I think need to be added, and just highlight the text and write the article from there, then add them to Home later.

4. Get Fancy

You can do other stuff like insert images and do fancier formatting. I usually don’t, but go nuts!

Revving Up

Hi, folks!

I’ll be honest. Things have been a little rough these last few months. It’s “nice” to have a very good excuse, in the form of the pandemic and protests. But in truth, those things haven’t changed my life much. When I walk, I wear a mask, and I’ve donated some money and amplified some voices, but all things considered things are as they’ve always been in my little slice of the world. The problem has been me.

My focus has been in the dumps. I’ve been dragging my feet on projects and promotions. And as anyone who’s been in the self publishing game as long as I have will tell you, that’s bound to take its toll on both schedule and income. I’m not in any danger, but it’s well past time that I started taking things seriously again.

Starting today, I’m going to try to ramp up on all levels. My posts here and on social media will become more regular. I’ll start beefing up my reader perk offerings. Daily word counts will get back up where they need to be. I’ll start putting out newsletters more often. I’ll be a proper, grownup indie author again.


But there’s no time like the present to start making good on those plans than RIGHT NOW!

Free-Wrench 6 Update

Free-Wrench 6 is done, unless something goes wrong with the edit. I’ve even got the cover mostly made, though I can’t share it yet since it hasn’t been paid for. But one of the many things I was procrastinating was picking a title.

I think I’m comfortable picking Contaminant Six as the title! It’s very likely that my next announcement regarding Free-Wrench will be the cover reveal and the pre-order announcement. If you’re a Free-Wrench fan, keep your eyes peeled for that! We’re probably looking at a late August, early September release date.

Halfax Interview

I tried to set up a Character Interview a few weeks ago, but because of the aforementioned inactivity I’ve made an enemy of the algorithms and slipped from the mind of some longtime fans. Thus, I wasn’t able to collect very many questions.

We’re going to try again, by loading up my full social media cannon and blasting it out.

SO! What questions have you got for the big green guy?

If you’re not familiar, Hal is the sworn protector and Adopted Papa of Jade Rinton, an important figure in the Age of Ignorance, a time long after the main Book of Deacon series. He’s one of Myn’s children, along with Roka, Thorn, and Winsor. Once I get a healthy assortment of questions I’ll write the interview and share it! Here are the questions we’ve got so far!

From Shirley: Did Jade find a way to fix your wings so you could fly again? It always has bothered me that a creature meant to soar above the clouds was grounded.

From: Siberia-gravity: Halfax have you seen any Malthropes in your life or should say during the Age of Ignorance?

From Kindleworm: Hey, Halfax, what happened to all the other dragons?

Free-Wrench 6 Update

Hey, folks! I’m trying to get better about doing regular updates here on my blog. (In the inevitable event of failure, you’ll find me most active on twitter, and moderately active on Facebook.)

Yesterday I finished the first revision of Free-Wrench 6. I’m still brainstorming a name and cover, but it’s good enough now that Beta Readers can take a look. The story is about 100,000 words, probably with a few thousand more once the epilogue gets added. the edit is due in July, so possibly an August launch?

What am I working on now? Well, while the Beta Readers do their beta reading, I’ll see if I can refill the hopper on short stories and such for Patrons. As it is, the pipeline is empty. I’ll either release a secret sneak peek of a pending project or else I’ll release as a standalone something that was previously tucked away in one of my old collections. Unless I’m REALLY on the ball, and then I’ll get a fresh short out. It’ll be fun to find out!

On the personal front, so far COVID-19 has been relatively kind. My dad lost a friend, but my family has been healthy. I hope everyone stays safe, washes their hands, and gets through this. I’ll do my best to keep the distractions coming!