Writing Mama(s and Papas) Blog Hop

Today I’m contributing to the Writing Mama Blog Hop, curated by the inimitable Sharon Bayliss, whose December People series is burning up the Amazon charts at the moment (see what I did there?).

I’m a parent. Yeah, that’s a heavy thing. Kids, man. They have to eat, sleep, and learn to read and perform higher mathematics. It’s our job as parents to make sure that happens with minimum injury. We’re occasionally successful, but the price every parent pays to keep their children on the path clear of natural selection is the most precious commodity we possess. And that commodity is time.

Which sucks when you’re trying to foster a career as a full-time writer. It’s hard enough making a living writing full-time. I know I can’t cut it just yet. Bills are too big, and it’s not just me I’m trying to support. So I have to work harder to get my books out if I ever plan to quit the day job and fulfill my passion. More like a life plan, really. But it’s not the money that presents the greatest obstacle as a writing parent. As I said, time is an enormous drain.

As a writer, I have to create a far more rigid schedule. I can no longer write on whim. The morning is utterly consumed with getting ready for work, packing the boy’s lunch and making him breakfast, getting him out the door in time for me to leave. Then there’s the day job, which is necessary at the moment. That kills the lion’s share of my creative window, which for me is late a.m. into the early afternoon. Then it’s another hour-long commute home (thanks so much, crappy economy) and the boy’s already at home doing homework. Thus begins dinner-making, exercise, karate and other extra-curricular activities. And if I want to be a parent who is more “present” than “absent”, some quality goofing-off time with the family.

The boy’s in bed by 8:30pm, which leaves me my golden period of time to squeeze in as much word count as I can before either my brain completely goes numb, or the pull to spend time with the wife intervenes. This is basically one hour per day. That’s not much. It’s not as much as I want.

But them’s the breaks when you’re a parent. The child is priority. The family is a very close second. And society pressure is such that men must work full-time at the expense of all avocations. It is certainly frowned upon when a man announces he’s quitting work to pursue [insert hair-brained scheme here]. It’s the stuff of sitcoms, and has been the rocks upon which many dreams have been dashed.

I’m not here to complain about my life… but if you’re an author and a parent, particularly a father working full-time while trying to convert a career into writing, you might take comfort to know that your frustrations are shared. The only way to crank out quality writing in this intense time-squeeze?

1) Keep your belly-fire stoked. If you constantly crave the writing process, the need to spin that yarn, the inexorable siren call of that completed first draft… then you’ll find a way to get your butt in the seat at the end of the day.

2) Kill the Mood Fairy. Your writing can no longer be dictated by mood. You have a small window to create, and thus your muse must punch her clock on your schedule. Be vicious. Ruthless. Unforgiving. It’s your time… guard it with your life.

3) Keep your family happy. You’ll need complete support from the spouse and the children. Otherwise they’ll find benign yet corrosive means of undermining your writing drive. They’ll want you to come watch TV, spend all weekend with them, manage to insinuate that you can always put it off until later. You can, technically… but procrastination has a vicious kind of momentum that’s hard to reverse.

Sometimes they tempt me with beer, because they know my weaknesses!

Sometimes they tempt me with beer, because they know my weaknesses!

Best of luck, comrades, with balancing your family life and your need to write. There’s no magic wand yet that I’ve found. I am lucky in a way that most others don’t share. My wife is also a novelist, and we tend to share our Word Count Power Hours. We appreciate goading one another toward writing. It’s a lifehack, I’ll admit. AND IT’S ALL MINE! HA HA HA HA!!!

This is a Blog Hop!

Spring has Sprung… well, it’s slithering out of its coil anyway…

Ehrmegerd! Ert’s Sprerngterm!

At least in theory. We’ve finally reached manageable temperatures outside, and I spent the weekend mostly out in it. Which is nice, because I’ve fostered a mild degree of Cabin Fever this winter. I needed to soak in the sunlight, and Nature obliged. To a point. It was still blustery and cold, wind slicing through my outer layers to ravage me like Nordic invaders rampaging across the fjords.

Sunday, at least, was mild, warm, sunny… perfect time for a brew day!

Nothing like a little liquid sunshine out of the mash tun!

Nothing like a little liquid sunshine out of the mash tun!

I took advantage of the weather to hammer out a double-batch of an American Wheat recipe. I’ll be adding some fresh ginger and grated lime zest in secondary to create what I hope will be a nice summer-sipping beer for the Frederick Beer Week‘s anchor event, the Beerfest at Stillpoint Farm. My homebrew club sets up a tent, and we pour tasting samples of various homebrews for event goers. It’s a great time (when it’s not raining).

Brewing is good for my soul, especially when I’m given the opportunity to shake off the gray blanket of winter and breathe in a little pollen fresh air.

...and by "breathe in" I mean "drink heavily."

…and by “breathe in” I mean “drink heavily.”

That right there is my last brew… a marzen I made in early January. That was a bitter cold day… gray, snow still on the ground. It’s nice to revisit the fruits of labor months down the road. That said… I’m also getting into the spirit of Spring by setting up an expansion to our vegetable garden. We’re still waiting for the threat of frost to pass, but soon we’ll be building our soil with our compost (hey, that spent brewday grain has to go somewhere!), and set up our pollinator garden.

We added a quaint little fence, because our German Shepherd is kind of a dick.

We added a quaint little fence, because our German Shepherd is kind of a dick.

So I wish all of you a warm and welcome Spring, great success in the projects you’re sowing, and a merciful hand when the tempestuous cascade of allergies storms inside your respective sinuses.

Current Landscape of The Dark Choir Series

Hail, compatriots!

Now that the crazy-busy swirl of activity surrounding the release of The Curse Servant has subsided (a little bit), I wanted to check in and update you on the progress of things in general.

First of all, my latest manuscript, Yea Though I Walk, is now on submission. We shall see how that goes. I’m hoping it goes well, because I’m very proud of that novel. It’s my most ambitious yet!

In the meantime, I’m up to my elbows in Book 3 of the Dark Choir series, The Curse Mandate. Due to some unexpected cowboy axe-hacking, I’m back down to 35,000 words. But things are progressing well, and it’s causing me to ruminate.

Some of the early reviews from The Curse Servant have echoed the following desires:

– to see more magical system at work… theory, rules, etc.

– to learn more about the Presidium… its history, its daily workings, etc.

– to watch Dorian delve deeper into the dark underbelly of his world.

After reviewing the past 35K words of the current manuscript, I’m happy to report that each of these line items has already been covered! We’re digging into the real mechanics of the magical system Dorian operates, well, more or less outside of. And for the Presidium/Illuminati/Trilateral Commission fans, this book is ALL about the Presidium!

The Dark Choir series is intended to be a six-book series comprised of two “trilogies”: The Curse Trilogy outlining Dorian Lake’s descent into darkness, with the Dark Trilogy following his struggle to claw his way back into the light. Thus, as The Curse Mandate marks his arrival to the low point of the series, the tone is growing darker and darker. Also, the snarky tone Dorian so exemplified during the first two books, I’ve noticed, has begun to mature. That’s to be expected, of course, when a character demonstrates long-term development. When all six books are wrapped up, I’m hoping the reader will look back on Curse Merchant and say “Aw, remember when Dorian used to shoot his mouth off like that?”

The Curse Mandate is much broader in scope… lots more world building (such as it is in urban fantasy), with the lens focused out to a wider geography. Also, it’s proving to share a bit of DNA with the likes of Brad Meltzer and his American histori-spiracy subgenre.

In real life, I’m in the middle of two book signing events in Washington, DC. I’m hoping to add another in the Frederick, MD area shortly afterwards. In August I’ll be appearing on two panels during the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writer’s Institute Conference in Hagerstown. And, of course, this year’s Frederick Beer Week frivolity will absorb a tremendous amount of my attention when it hits the ground. For the record, I’ll be brewing a Ginger Lime Wheat beer for the closing festival at Stillpoint Farm. That could go very well, or very… the other direction.

I hope to see one or two hundred of you at one of my signings soon… keep reading!

THE CURSE SERVANT – Release Day Blitz

Today is the day, me hearties! THE CURSE SERVANT is now available for purchase and download! Today’s a busy day in the social media jungle… I have several guest posts and interviews scattered about the blogosphere. Here’s a quick and handy list for your centralized viewing pleasure. Click HERE for to check it out on Amazon. Or HERE for Barnes & Noble.


Guest Post: “The Plot Calling the Kettle Black, Crafting a Better Beer and/or Novel” at Sophia Kimble’s blog.

Guest Post: “The Human Soul in Urban Fantasy” at Mythical Books.

Guest Post: “A Dorian Lake Playist… of sorts” at Illusions of Intimacy.

Guest Post: “Six Mistakes on My Path to Publication” at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer.

Guest Post: “Hex Peddling in the Age of Entitlement, an Interview with Dorian Lake” at Fangtastic Books.

Author Interview at Urban Fantasy Investigations.

Author Interview at Shut Up & Read.

Author Interview at Deb Sanders. <– This is a particularly good one, btw.

Author Interview at Roxanne Rhoads.

Help spread the word, folks… and if you’re new to the series, you can pick up The Curse Merchant at Amazon, B&N, and Kobo.

First Kiss – Excerpt from The Curse Servant

‘Tis Valentine’s week, ’tisn’t it? I’m not one to pile onto the steaming morass of marketing marshmallow cream that is Valentine’s Day (see what I did there?), but this year the wife and I have chosen not to add to the post-holiday bill-paying stress-a-thon, and are making our own fun. Sans roses and chocolates.

Not to say we’re not romantics at heart… and to that end, I thought I’d share a tiny snippet from The Curse Servant. Posting this excerpt was inspired by a little blog contest, and I thought it was somewhat topical. So, here you go… Ches and Dorian’s first kiss:
~ ~ ~

“Ches, you’re impossibly amazing, you know that?”

“I totally do.”

“So, I’ve wanted to kiss you for a long time now. And here we are, standing in the middle of Fell’s Point, and I’m trying to figure a good way to bring that up.”

She screwed her brow together. “Oh my God, you’re actually asking permission to kiss me?”

“I figured the worst case scenario would―”

She gripped the back of my neck and pulled my head down to hers. The kiss was slow, and anything but delicate. She moved her lips in a constant writhe, her tongue taking furtive caresses of my mouth. It was the kind of kiss that made me breathe heavy. I ran my fingers up into her hair, pulling them down her back as those curls smoothed out over the skin of her back exposed by the gown.

She pulled away and ran a slow thumb around my mouth, wiping away her lipstick.

“For future reference, never ask a girl permission for a kiss.” She turned and continued down the sidewalk. “Unless you actually don’t have permission, in which case you’re just a skeev.”

I watched her swagger up the pavement, and hopped forward to catch up with her.

“How is a guy supposed to know the difference?”

“Knowing is the entire point.”

“Isn’t that a little unfair?”

“Suck it up, magic man.”

~ ~ ~

What the hell’s happening here? Who is Ches? Why is she kissing Dorian then dropping the mic like a boss? The Curse Servant’s release date is February 26th. It’s available for pre-order now… so run and grab a copy and find out what leads up to this moment.

Why Budweiser’s Anti-Craft Beer Ad Doesn’t Worry Me… and Why it Does

Most of you are aware of my “other life.” In my spare hours I pursue homebrewing, winemaking, and have studied world beer styles in order to judge homebrew competitions throughout my area. I know a thing or two about beer, is what I’m saying. It’s a magnificent beverage, full of history and nuance, with over seventy distinct styles available to choose from. Beer is a force for connection, bringing men and women together in the pursuits of conversation, diversion, comradery, and a mutual appreciation for living life to its fullest.

So, when I see a major beer company ramp out an attack ad on craft beer, it irks me. Yes, I am well and truly irked. If you’re wondering… here’s the ad:

This is Anheuser Busch’s attempt to take a swipe at the burgeoning craft beer industry. What is craft beer, you might ask? It’s an attempt to create on a commercial level the same kind variety and quality of ales and lagers that are enjoyed around the world… even pioneering new styles to create bold flavors. Sometimes it’s just the refinement of the old standards. Often times craft beer is brewed on a large scale (Samuel Adams, anyone?). It has its own pursuits, its own goals, and sure enough its own consumer base.

Which is why Anheuser Busch feels threatened. They’re losing their consumer base year after year to the craft beer industry.

Now, here’s my token gesture of perspicuity… I admire what the likes of Anheuser Busch, Coors, and Miller accomplish. The sheer staggering volume of lager they produce over several facilities in several continents month-after-month is jaw-dropping. As is their quality control. Can you imaging producing that many million gallons of beer across the globe and maintaining such consistency over the flavor, aroma, appearance and mouthfeel of their product? It’s a science, and one they have nailed tight!

One might argue that there’s a bit too much science, and not enough art. But they are in the business of selling units. Individuals within the world of “macro” beer may take personal delight in craft beer, and the history of brewing in general. But on the corporate level… it ain’t about the beer. It’s about the profit. That’s not a morally “corrupt” thing, either… it’s just business. And it’s important to remember this when Budweiser insists its beers aren’t brewed to be “fussed over.”

Me... being "fussy."

Me… being “fussy.”

So, I’m rolling my eyes over here. Of course they’re going to roll out a caricature of a craft beer enthusiast, and slam a side of ham across our faces with their “pumpkin peach” zinger. But that doesn’t worry me. All it shows is that they feel threatened.

But here’s what does worry me… the spirit of the thing. Remember those consumer bases I mentioned previously? Those are groups of people who are not necessarily divided into mutually exclusive pools. Hell, if they were, then the Big Beer people wouldn’t be losing so much market share. However, I worry that there is, in fact, a looming culture war on the horizon, and this beer ad is just one shot in the opening salvo.

Let’s switch gears and talk about cider… earlier in the football season Redd’s Wicked Apple aired a commercial showing a happy young tailgating couple side-eyeing a cartoonish fop in a neck-tied sweater tasting wine. They elect for the cider and move on as Wine Guy appears to get high on the fumes of his wine, teeth hilariously stained in what could best be described as True Blood.

Different beverage, different commercial… same statement. You don’t want to be like these fussy people. You don’t want to be laughed at because you’re discerning. Don’t stray from social norms, dammit… Only commies drink craft beer. Only one-percenters drink wine at sporting events. THIS IS NOT YOUR CULTURE, SO ESCHEW IT!

Let’s switch gears yet further. Who’s seen American Sniper? Who’s read the kerfluffle that’s ignited online and offline over whether you like the film or you hate America? Yeah. It’s boiled down to that. You get those on the one side who recoil from the film’s gratuitous aggrandizement of the American imperialist message and glorification of our culture of racially-charged military violence-as-culture. Then you get those on the other side who are compelled by its gripping portrayal of an American war fighter, sacrificing much of what he is to secure the safety and freedoms not only of his country, but more specifically his family. You don’t hear a hell of a lot about the in-betweeners here. The movie, as with much of the current American cultural climate… is polarizing. You either side with it or against it.

So, yeah. Budweiser wants you to take sides, here. Either you’re a craft-beer swilling commie with a mustache and questionable sexual inclinations, or you’re a “hard way” American who scoffs at sophistication and discernment. Anheuser Busch, perhaps without realizing it, has managed to level the greater insult against its own client base. Rather than actually offending the craft beer enthusiasts… they’ve just painted their own brand loyalists as incapable of complexity and independent thought.

What worries me is that their fans might not even realize it.

What’s the message that AH is trying to deliver, here? Don’t overthink your beer. Don’t be critical of what’s being packaged and presented to you. Don’t evaluate its qualities and merits. Don’t be associated with people who do. Instead… just accept the brand you were given. Accept the beer your father drank. Accept what is institutionally instilled without discernment or qualification.

Jesus… when you put it that way, it’s almost chilling.

2015, New Years Resolutions, and the State of the Sloan

State of the Sloan. Wow. That sounds terribly official, like some kind of address the President is constitutionally obliged to deliver to Congress. Perhaps it’s more like a province of some banana republic. Our major export is sarcasm, by the by.

So, Happy New Year, faithful Fistful readers! I want to riff on a couple things today. The first being the much-maligned contrivance of the New Year’s Resolution.

It comes like clockwork. First we get Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then New Years… and then we get the fourth holiday season: people hating on resolutions. For whatever reason, people love to side-eye people for opining about their resolutions, and I simply don’t understand the invective. What is a New Years resolution? It’s a pledge to do something. A notion to better oneself. So what that most resolutions are abandoned? Does that mean we shouldn’t put credence in the aspiration? So what that it’s an arbitrary date to start considering your girth or your chosen addictions? At least we manage to take this arbitrary moment… after all, aren’t all moments arbitrary by some definition or another?

Truly, though, I get the sentiment that people should continually aspire for self-improvement, but I’m not the type to declare a thing invalid if it fails to deliver. I’m reminded of a local radio show host who expressed his distaste for those “Coexist” bumper stickers you see out there, which spell the word with symbols of major world religions. He declared these bumper tickers to be a major peeve of his, by simple virtue of the fact that people of the world will never actually coexist in peace, thus it annoys him that people think they can.

I, for one, admit that humanity may never manage to put aside our significant mutual hostilities. But I also maintain that peace is worth espousing. You might not change six billion minds, but you can help to create an atmosphere of tolerance around you. Likewise, when a person publicly mocks another’s New Years resolution, that person builds an atmosphere of defeatism and negativity.

So, instead of indulging in a hearty eye-roll and public snicker on Facebook at the resolver’s expense, why not quietly tuck in the attitude and hope they succeed? Don’t hate.

For example... a good resolution would be "Stop going Full Psychopath at company X-mas parties."

For example… a good resolution would be “Stop going Full Psychopath at company X-mas parties.”

Okay, soap box tucked back under my desk… time for a quick update on my various writing projects.

The Curse Merchant, book one of the Dark Choir series, is out and about, selling well, and has just crested 50 reviews on Amazon with over a 4-star rating. I’m very happy with the BookBub promotion that went down in early December… we got LOTS of downloads!

– The short story prequel “Bait & Witch” is now available for purchase within the Chronology anthology by Curiosity Quills. It’s nestled in the midst of some high quality fiction, folks. A fine sampler of CQ authors!

The Curse Servant, book two of the Dark Choir series, is currently available for preorder on Amazon, and it seems plenty of the readers who took advantage of the Curse Merchant sales have already purchased the sequel! I LOVE YOU ALL! Official release date is February 26th.

– The Curse Mandate, book three of the Dark Choir series, has just begun! I’m already enjoying slipping back into Dorian’s brain. This book will be broader, bigger, with a few more Michael Bay explosions. I… might have lied about the explosions.

– My latest independent novel, Yea Though I Walk, is in the hands of beta-readers. Once I get feedback from them, the fate of that book will be decided. On a personal level, I feel it’s my best work yet… it was certainly ambitious! Now I’ll wait and see if this is just in my head, or if the beta-readers agree.

Oh, and as for New Years resolutions go… mine is to wrap three complete first drafts this year. I know I can do it, and hopefully thereby set a new pace for writing. By the way, last year’s resolution was to lose ten pounds. I lost twenty. BOO YAH!

I love you all… keep reading!