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2018 New Year’s Resolutions

Editor’s Note: Yes, I know this is ridiculously late.  But I finished writing the wretched thing so I’m posting it, cool?  Cool.

People are infamously flaky about New Year’s Resolutions.  If your gym membership card is already gathering dust, then you know what I mean.  Here’s to a fat and ice cream-filled year, eh?

But because I’m apparently a masochist who anticipates disappointment with bated breath, I made New Year’s Resolutions anyway.  I have based my instruments of torture off of the “SMART” goals formula, which I hear was penned by the angel Gabriel before his promotion:

S pecific
M easurable
A chievable
R ealistic
T imely

At first, I thought it might be best to give my characters resolutions, and then celebrate when they met their goals in imagined scenarios.  But Eli has a nasty stink-eye, so here are my real-life authorly resolutions for 2018:

1. Read 50 Books

This one always eludes me.  2018 is the third consecutive year I have set this goal, and I’ve yet to get closer than 36.  But because I’m not insane, I’m slightly changing my approach, and aiming for a book a week, which allows me to plan out how many pages I need to get through each day.  This has already made a big difference – I read five books in January.  And already, the habit of reading so much more is teaching me a lot about story – which will hopefully produce a slew of blog material.

2. Spend No More than 30 Minutes/Day on Social Media

Aside from the fact that I don’t want a cyborg Arnie to hunt down everyone named “John” in my friends list, there are many reasons to cut down on social media time.  For one, some of that time (like, theoretically speaking, when one is on the John) can be spent reading ebooks.  But also, there’s a point of diminishing returns with social media, where instead of engaging with friends and groups in meaningful ways, I’m mindlessly scrolling.  Kind of like that five-year-old addicted to the iPad on the poster of every media alarmist documentary ever.

3. Finish Two Novel First Drafts

Before you ask, yes, one of these will be the third book in the Rogue series.  The second project I have planned is an epic fantasy novel about Draconians (sometimes called “dragonborn,” not in the Skyrim sense, but in the Dungeons & Dragons sense).  I’ve written enough books to know that my first drafts tend to be around 50k – 60k words, so this allows me to plan ahead what I need to get done each month.

4. From a Twice Weekly Exercise Habit (by March)

Speaking of flaky and torturous resolutions, here’s our obligatory exercise goal!  But in all seriousness, writing is a sedimentary lifestyle.  Even though I’m not yet a full-time author, my day job has me strapped to a desk as well.  And as a bonus, exercise allows me to get more reading time in via audiobooks, and the happy hormones it releases helps motivate me to get things done.  Things like writing.

5. Watch 10 Foreign Films & 10 Silent Films

I can just image in the foamy-mouthed “MOVIES ARE EVIL BOOKS ARE ANGELIC” responses being lobbed at saliva-splattered screens.  But film, like literature, is a story-telling medium.  It has something to teachw riters about the mechanics of story, especially foreign and silent films, which will force me out of my 21st century blockbuster box.  This is the same reason writers should read classics, but different artforms can spread a storyteller’s wingspan as well.

And just like that, I have been sentenced.  What say you?  Do you have story- or writing-related resolutions?

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6 Necessary Parts to a Character Sketch

Yesterday I blogged about Will Mize’s 10 Commandments of Self-Publishing.  One of the things I didn’t draw out as much in that post was something he said that really stuck with me: your first priority, even if science fiction and fantasy, should be your characters, not world building.

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.  Show me a wildly successful fantasy book and I’ll show you well-developed characters.  Whether it’s the well-developed home life of Frodo Baggins or the child abuse victim psyche of Harry Potter, these stories are successful because we care about the characters.  Character sketches are an extremely important part of the writing process.

But how do you write character sketches?  That’s not something that’s talked about a lot.  It seems that book marketing, newsletters, social media, and cover design prices take up more of the Internet space on indie writing than anything else.  There’s a time and a place for those things, but I keep going back to the writing itself.  That is the number one priority.  And in that number one priority, having good characters is paramount.  So how do you go about it?  There’s no one right way, which is the great thing about creative writing, but here are six elements that will give you a solid start.

#1: A Back Story

It doesn’t have to be a tragic back story or even a terribly interesting one.  But there has to be some measure of influence to tell you why the character is the way that they are.  It’s that way with people.  If I was to explain to you some of why I am the way that I am, I would probably begin by telling you that I grew up in a miniscule town in southern Indiana, which I always wanted to get out of.  I might tell you that this desire nurtured in me a sense of adventure, and that’s why I so often went to books.  I might also tell you that I had a secure home life, which has caused me to be more emotionally secure than some of my peers that didn’t have that privilege.

It’s the same thing with characters; after all, characters are people.  There are some personality traits that can be granted as natural or things that are just part of their personality, but other things need explained.  Those explanations can also keep you from firing off things that wind up being inconsistent, which can save a lot of time during the first one or two rounds of editing.

#2: What the Character Wants

According to many writing blogs, this is the most important part of the character sketch.  The thing that moves your story along will be what your main character wants, and how the antagonist’s wants get in the way of that.

Think about your unmotivated cousin living in his mom’s basement (if you don’t have one of those, then just bear with me for a moment).  How exciting is it to hear about his life?  Does it make you want to hear more?  On the contrary, it’s probably rather depressing.  That’s the way your character is if he doesn’t want anything, or if he’s just kind of there and stuff just kind of happens to him.  Your character, whether a good guy, bad guy, or antihero, needs to want something.

This can also be expanded to include little details that will make your character stand out.  Consider not only what their biggest desire is that moves the story forward, but also their hobbies, likes and dislikes, and what they want out of each relationship.

#3: Well-Defined Personality Traits

It seems pretty obvious, but you need to know what your character’s personality is going to be like.  These don’t have to be remarkably original or unique, but they need to be well-defined.  This can be especially helpful if you have a team of characters, because you can create a good balance between them.  The show Leverage is an especially good example of this kind of balance.  Hartisan is funny, Parker is sly, Elliott is tough, and Sophia is smooth.  If you’re crafting a team of characters, they need to be able to stand apart.

Knowing ahead of time what your characters are going to be like also helps you identify potential problems in developing these characters.  For example, if you have two sulking characters with tragic back stories, then you know something is needed to set them apart.  And like the element before it, having well-defined personality traits helps enormously with consistency.  If you already know what the character is like and how they react to certain things, then their behavior will be consistent.  I’d even recommend taking something like the Meyers-Briggs personality test as each of your characters, and use the descriptions to help you craft your characters.

#4: Physical Description

I put this towards the end for a reason.  It’s not as important as the character’s personality, desires, and back story, but it is still important.  Differences in physique can bring with it dynamics of intimidation or protectiveness.  Attractiveness can bring sexual tension.  Even moving beyond relationships between characters, physical descriptions can make your characters stand out, with things such as an abnormally short height or a unique tattoo.

#5: The Way They Talk

I remember a friend of mine describing why she loved Charles Dickens so much.  He was paid by the word, and sometimes it shows, as my sister-in-law likes to say, but the thing this friend of mine loved so much about him was that all of his characters sounded different.  No two people, especially when you include differing backgrounds, talk exactly the same.  Different people use different expressions.  Some have an aggressive conflict style, others are passive-aggressive.  Some use a lot of slang, others try to sound more educated.  If all of your characters sound the same . . . well, it’ll read like most modern YA fiction.  But if you pay more attention to how your character’s talk, the words that they use, the different expressions they like, then your story will be that much better.  You don’t want just as good as everyone else is doing; you want better.

#6: How They Change

Character development is probably the number one thing that you see criticized in book reviews, as well as movie reviews.  There’s a reason for that.  We expect to experience change along with the characters when we go into a story.  Even if that’s not what you look for as a reader, you expect just from the standpoint of realism.  If exciting things are happening in the book, as they should be in any good story, then you can’t reasonably expect that the character wouldn’t change!  So as you’re crafting your characters for your story, you need to be thinking about what changes are going to take place, and then from there look at how they will go through those changes.  As Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “No man steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”

For the next week, I’ll be blogging about various kinds of story and character development.  This, I believe, is the most important part, so it’s quite fitting that it came first.  If there are any other elements of character sketches that you believe are also important, feel free to leave a comment.

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The Ten Commandments of Self-Publishing by Bill Mize

For our anniversary last weekend, my wife and I went to the Indiana Comic Con.  Yeah.  We’re nerds.  We saw awesome LEGO superhero costumes, got pictures with Jason Momoa and Jenna Coleman, and also heard a really good presentation on self-publishing.

The presentation was by Bill Mize, who is a self-published mystery author in addition to a self-help author.  He’s consistently in the top ten new releases for mystery fiction, and was self-publishing before it was cool.  That means he has a lot of credibility for what works and what doesn’t, so I’m sharing his “ten commandments” here, as well as linking to his blog and books at the end.  Some of these have been editing for language, but all of the ideas are his.  The links are books or products he recommends, but the affiliate links are mine.

#1: Thou shalt not write crap.

One of Mize’s best points was that Amazon has almost made publishing too easy.  You can throw up a horribly formatted first draft that has seen no criticism whatsoever.  I’ve started reading a couple of those.  Bad books have always been around, even in traditional publishing (Fifty Shades of Grey, anyone?), but the first rule is the most obvious: don’t write one of them.

#2: Thou shalt write every day.

The brain responds to habits.  As much as you can, write every day and at the same time and the same place every day.  Depending on what kind of day job you have, this may not be possible, but do it to the best of your ability.  Mize also recommends getting a low-tech word processor like Alpha Smart.  It doesn’t have internet, which limits the number one writing distraction, and it also shows a few sentences at a time, which prevents you from editing as you write (my number two distraction).  The way Alpha Smart works, as I assume most others do, is it holds a certain amount of storage, and once you hit that amount, you transfer it to your computer by a USB chord, where you can edit and format it.  Mize also recommends screenwriting books as a way of outlining, and recommends the book “My Story Can Beat Up Your Story
.”

#3: Thou shalt write only what you love

A lot of writers can get burnt out just writing whatever the latest fad is.  That’s thinking like a consumer, whereas you should be thinking like a creator.  If you just write what you love, you won’t be as likely to get burnt out, and you’ll probably be more successful, because people can smell that kind of insincerity from a mile away.  And I’ll add to those remarks that fads change so often, and books take so much effort to write, that the fad will probably have changed by the time you get it out anyway.

#4: Thou shalt read every day

Reading is important in general, especially for any author, but Mize recommends to take special attention to writers in your genre.  Read the important writers who formed the genre, and read their biographies.  He also recommends reading “how to write” books, but be selective with which ones you read.  Read them on recommendations from people you trust.  And in that vein, pick a writing system and stick to it.

#5: Thou shalt edit

Mize had four primary recommendations for this: read your work aloud, only send your manuscript to people after you’ve hit the third draft, focus on writing style first and do research later, and choose your editors carefully (and focus on people you know read in your genre).  He also recommended the book “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

#6: Thou shalt pay for a cover

I would also add to pay for editing, but paying for a cover is a really big deal.  The mantra “Don’t judge a book by its cover” has almost no sway in the real world.  People do it every day, and if you want people to buy your book, you have to have a good cover.  That makes or breaks a book’s marketing.  If you’re looking for a cover designer, I’d recommend Cheryl at ccrbookcoverdesign.com.  Her design for A Gray Crusade blew my mind.

#7: Thou shalt invest money in your career

There’s a big difference between the indie authors who just publish for free every time and those who pay for professional services.  In addition to stuff like editing and book cover design, you should be reading writing books, getting hosting for a website, getting bookmarks and other promotional materials, and maybe even going to conferences and writing seminars.  That makes an enormous amount of difference in a writing career.

#8: Thou shalt be a professional

“Take yourself seriously and others will take you seriously.”  Where I see the biggest need for this is in paying for professional services like editing, formatting, and book design, but Mize also brought out an area that we as authors need to think about: behavior online.  Too many people get drawn into name-calling and other hateful behavior online.  I’ve personally unfollowed several accounts on both Facebook and Twitter because of that kind of behavior, and I told people about those groups as well.  Word of mouth travels fast, and you don’t want that kind of behavior to be the reputation that preceeds you.

#9: Thou shalt network

I found this one of the most helpful parts of the presentation.  When it comes to networking, most people think about making connections so that these people can do things for you, but Mize says it should be just the opposite: “Networking is about asking ‘How can I help you?'”  He urged everyone to remember that every person you interact with is a potential reader and a potential marketer, and that if you approach each of those relationships just being about what they can do for you, they’re going to broadcast that.  You don’t want everyone knowing that you’re selfish and just want to use people.  But if you aim to do what you can for others, that gets around too.  Be sincere and be helpful.

#10: Thou shalt not be a jerk

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I want to specifically draw out another especially helpful thing he said: don’t worry about how many followers you have on Twitter.  Being obsessed with that kind of thing is a distraction, and getting into all kinds of online debates can propagate the idea of you being a jerk.  And that doesn’t mean you can never ever touch anything controversial–I tweet about my opinions on things like education and abortion, largely because it’s part of me being real on those accounts.  But take care with how you approach other people.

If you want to follow Bill Mize, here’s his blog, Twitter, and Amazon page.

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A Gray Crusade Available for Pre-Order

After a long writing process, a full nine months after the original release date, I’m proud to announce that the sequel to Finding Sage, A Gray Crusade, is finally available for pre-order!

The book will be released on March 16.  I will have paperbacks available, although as of now, only the e-book is available for pre-order.  To pre-order on Amazon, click this link.

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This is the worst possible year for me to do NaNoWriMo . . . which is exactly why I’m doing it

November means a lot of things.  It means we’re a month into my favorite season, that my birthday is just around the corner, and that my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, is coming up on us soon.  But it also means something far, far more ambitious: NaNoWriMo.

But, in all, honesty, this is a terrible year for me to be doing NaNoWriMo.  It’s my senior year in college, I’m taking 18 credit hours, I’m in 2 student organizations, and I have a part-time job, not to mention I got married earlier this year and I now have a house to keep up with.  Every previous year I’ve shied away from doing it because I’ve been too busy.  But this is without a doubt the busiest I’ve ever been, and I’m taking the plunge.  As a matter of fact, my draft is already started.  Why would I do this to myself?  Because only doing NaNoWriMo when you have a bunch of time really ruins the purpose of the event to begin with.

NaNoWriMo is about writing.  That’s obvious.  But it’s about more than just writing.  It’s about writing under pressure, which takes an all-elusive virtue: discipline.  If you don’t have anything else to do, then writing 50,000 words in a month may seem pretty feasible.  But when you have a job, classes, and other commitments to tend to, then it’s an enormous challenge.  And that’s exactly why I’m doing it.

I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old.  I published my first book in March of this year.  I can say without a shred of doubt in my mind that the most difficult part of writing for me has absolutely nothing to do with writer’s block, editing, or word choice.  It’s discipline.  I can daydream about a story all-day, but it’s difficult to sit down and take the necessary time to write a complete draft of a novel.  I love writing and it’s still difficult!  Like many writers, I’m a bit ADHD.  And, ironically, that’s why I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year.  To set a firm and difficult deadline.  To force me to be disciplined and dedicated.  To break me in the hard way.

So if you were considering doing NaNoWriMo, but think you’re too busy, that’s exactly the reason you should do it.

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Reading List for Fall 2014

All writers should read.  That’s just a simple fact.  If you don’t have time to read someone else’s work, then why in the name of the Infinity Gauntlet would you ask someone else to pay to read your work?  That wouldn’t make any sense.  Now, my reading list is always enormously long, and it accrues more titles faster than I cross them off, but here’s what I want to read in the remainder of this year.

Brave New World by Alduous Huxley

The Ilead

Dante’s Inferno

Wool by Hugh Howey

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Pentecost by Joanna Penn

Undivided by Neal Shusterman (not yet out, will be released this fall, October, I believe)

 

If I finish all of those I have a much longer list to get to.  I won’t try to list all of the books that I’ve read so far this year because quite frankly I have no idea what I read when, but there are a few notables that I recommend:

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis – I just finished reading this a couple days ago.  It’s one of the most unique space travel books I’ve read, and is really different for C.S. Lewis.  I recommend that every Lewis fan read it if for no other reason than to appreciate just how truly diverse his writing talents were.  The man had an ability to jump between different genres and styles like no other.

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel – Really solid apologetic work by a formerly skeptic journalist who studied his way into Christianity.  This is more or less just about the reliability of the gospel record and not as much about creationism vs. evolution (which he talks about in another book I’ve yet to read), but it was quite fascinating.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – I think of Bradbury is a kindred spirit to me in several ways, not just because I like dystopia (which is what F 451 is), but also because the way he describes his writing process is nigh a perfect description of my own.  Fahrenheit 451 is about a dystopian future wherein books have been outlawed and firemen don’t put out fires, but rather are charged with burning books.  The story revolves around Guy Montag, a fireman who begins doubting the integrity of his career.  Too much misuse of God’s name, but otherwise a phenomenal book, and very eye-opening.

 

I have loads of other books to get to, but that’s what my year as a reader has looked like and (hopefully) will look like.

 

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Some Facts About Indie Publishing

I’m going to be doing a couple of presentations at local libraries in my area in November on Indie Publishing, and so I’ve been revisiting some information that is really quite incredible.  Some of it I already knew, but some of it is new.  The stigma typically associated with indie publishing is as follows:

  • It’s nothing more than vanity publishing
  • It’s lower quality work
  • They don’t sell their books except to their mom and college roommate
  • A viable career in writing isn’t possible without a publisher
  • Most of it is erotica anyway

The short answer to this is that it’s a load of bull.  Indie publishing is not only viable, but it’s considerably more viable than traditional publishing.  Before moving on to my longer answer to the typical stigma, let’s first revisit the common misconceptions about traditional publishing:

  • If I can get just get a publisher, I can quit my day job
  • If I get a publisher, they’ll do all of my marketing for me
  • Publishers are the only way to get to most readers

These are lies at worst, and misconceptions at best.  Here are the facts.  Unless you are Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, a big publisher will not do your marketing for you.  That’s almost never the case.  That’s a little bit different with smaller publishing houses, but big publishers (which is what most aspiring authors are hoping to eventually get) do little to none of your marketing for you unless you’re a big name author, which you can’t become without marketing, so they basically put you in a permanent catch-22.

The idea that you can suddenly quit your day job is also a bundle of self-contrived dreamy garbage.  The way most publishing contracts work is that the publisher pays you an advance of royalties, say $20,000, and once your book sells that many copies, then you get a set percentage of the royalties from there on out (which isn’t very much).  The good news is that if your book never meets that amount, you still get to keep the advance.  The bad news is that most books, especially from first-time authors, don’t meet that.  The idea that publishers are the only ways to get to readers is also a fallacy, but we’ll deal with that in a bit.

Looking comparatively at indie publishing, the first and most common negative thing attached with it is the accusation that these books are the dregs of literature, not good enough to be accepted by good editors, and shouldn’t be accepted by readers.  Let’s ignore the fact that these intelligent editors continually turned down the likes of Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and numerous other brilliant writers before others picked them up, first of all.  Secondly, there’s an assumption inherent in this that indies don’t have any access to quality control of any kind, or that they can’t have professionals working with that to get proper editing, formatting, cover art, etc.

To be sure, this is probably the closest to well-deserved stigma on the indie community.  But it’s also not true.  There are some indies who bypass any editing process and are too cheap to pay for a good cover, but I wouldn’t even say that that’s the majority of us.  There’s a vast majority of editing services, cover artists, and other author services that not only serve indies, but that are marketed specifically to indie authors.  It’s expensive, but very doable.

In fact, I would say that the success (or lack thereof) itself would indicate the quality of the work.  And in that department, the indie community has more than enough to go around.  Which brings me to the Author Earnings Report.  If you want to read it yourself, the link is here.  This report follows more than 100,000 titles in the Amazon Kindle library (which, by the way, is the most vibrant book market.  Not only is it the heaviest market for indies, but it now makes up 40% of revenues for traditional publishers, too).  Here are some remarkable facts:

Indie authors earn more in royalties than all authors from all off the big five publishers combined.

The most popular genre on Kindle is romance.  In that category, indie authors make 2/3 of the earnings from the entire genre, as well as over half of the earnings in Science Fiction & Fantasy

In a previous report from the same source, it was revealed that more indie authors than traditionally published authors make a sustainable income from their writing.

Oh, and by the way, only 1.2% of gross Kindle sales are erotica.

Even as I’m writing, the number 2 best seller in the Kindle store is an indie book, which also happens to be a New York Time Best Seller.

Still think indie publishing isn’t viable?

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Praise for Finding Sage

LoganJudy_FindingSage

 

I continue to be humbled by the things people are saying about Finding Sage.  This is from a review that was posted on a book blog yesterday:

One word. Brilliant!! 
 
This book was such an amazing read and an amazing adventure to go on.
You can read the whole review at this link.
There have also been some very positive Amazon reviews, such as this one:
Get ready for the ride of your life! This story pulls action from the beginning to the end. It is going to be one amazing series! There are lots of unexpected events, as the characters do things that surprise even themselves. It is very well written in several points of view. You will be guessing what is going to happen at every turn. If you love paranormal or dystopian books you will love this!
It’s really cool to see people see these kinds of things about my work.
In other news, I wrapped up a book tour last week, and now am starting another one!  Here’s the tour schedule:
June 2-9
June 2 Spotlight
Jacqueline Paige
June 2 Spotlight
Booklover Sue
June 2 Spotlight
CBY Book Club
June 3 Guest blog
D’eBook Sharing Book Reviews
June 3 Spotlight
Beverly @ The Wormhole
June 4 Interview
Mythical Books
June 4 Spotlight
The Reader’s Hollow
June 5 Interview and review
happy tails and tales
June 5 Spotlight
3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too!   http://3partnersinshopping.blogspot.com
June 6 Spotlight
The Tome Gnome
June 6 Spotlight
Mom With A Kindle
June 9 Guest blog and review
Cabin Goddess
June 9 Spotlight
Cassandra M’s Place
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A Title Reveal and Back to the Writing Cave

large_Writer_s_Block_Meme

At the beginning of this month, I was determined that I was going to have the first draft of my newest book done by the end of the month. I’m estimating it to be around 80,000 words. That’s right. I was going to write 80,000 words in a day. NaNoWriMo is only 50,000 words and a lot of people don’t make it, so I knew I was being ambitious. I was going strong, writing about 3,000 words a day, when something hit me.

My research paper.

Sometimes I forget that I’m still in college.  It really sucks remembering that, especially when you have a 3,500 word research paper to write.  Plus, there’s also your day job.  Because of these responsibilities, I had to push drafting the novel back.  It pained my heart to do so, but I’d really like to graduate with grades other than D’s, so it had to be done.  However, I’m now proud to say that the paper in question has been submitted, and my coursework for the semester is completed.  I do have summer classes, but those don’t start for another month, leaving me with quite a bit of time in between now and then to get some work done.

So it’s back to the writing cave.  I’d like to say that I can work overtime and still get the book done on time, but I’m not that stupid.  I’m only about a third of the way done, and there’s no way I’m writing 60,000 words in a week.  I’m not that stupid.  But all is not lost.  I still plan to release the novel in the summer, and if I’m lucky, July, but I realize that things often get pushed back.  It took me two years to write my first book, and with good reason.  I was still figuring it out.  Heck, I’m still figuring it out right now.  But it’s coming.

Before I go back into the cave, however, I do have some exciting information.  I have settled on a title for the second book of The Rogue.  I’m throwing it out on the internet so that I can’t change my mind, as I’ve already done half a dozen times.  I do really like this one, and I’m so confident in it that I’ve already ordered the book cover, which I hope to be able to show you sometime fairly soon.  The title is (drum roll, please) . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . .

. . . . .

. . . . .

. . . .

A Gray Crusade.

Like it?  I hope so.  Otherwise all of that drama will have been incredibly childish.

Maybe it was anyway.

Oh well.